Earth Beta Chapter 2: Karachi Beta

Fotor0813191433

 

Welcome to Karachi. With a population nearing 20 million, it is the center of business, trade, finance and commerce of Pakistan and arguably one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world. A leading seaport, Karachi is Pakistan’s equivalent of New York when it comes to opportunity and employment. Like other metropolitan cities  it is teeming with life; their rat race to make it to the end of the day a little richer while some just manage to earn enough to make the day go by. But make no mistake, Karachi is a hungry animal. It houses several multi-ethnic and religious sects which, while remain in the grind of normalcy, could erupt at the slightest provocation. Voted one of the ten most dangerous cities in the world, Karachi has a whole list of problems ranging from crime, ethnic strife, gang wars, target killing and political turmoil. Political parties seem to have an organized calendar of when to paralyze the city with strikes and shut downs, lead by the political rivalry of the urban Brotherhood Party against the rural-minded Public Party. Though both are populist & liberal-minded, and could very well lead the city to great progress, they still differ on the simple matter of urban and rural mindsets, which is further compounded by their indirectly supported militant wings that are engaged in the war for attrition and territory.

Still, for all its ills and evils, Karachi invites everyone from all over the country to make their mark. Better still, it dares them to. It is the center of economy, healthcare, technology and industry. It is the destination of choice for business process outsourcing from all over the world, and no one knows that better than GRT Global. With acquired offices all over Europe, Asia and America, the story of GRT is that of the proverbial David finally rising to become the Goliath of the industry. Starting as a simple call center in Lahore, GRT hit the jackpot when it started operations in Karachi, thus tapping into a well-educated and well-versed labor market which was smart, savvy, and above all… cheap. Focusing solely on English-Medium school students, it became the hub for all 18-somethings to enter the corporate world to polish their people skills and mint good money in the process. Sales, marketing, insurance, finance… GRT had a solution and workforce for all international client needs.

The success of GRT came solely from the quality of the people that they employed, and Mahmud Siddiq Jr. has been one of their oldest assets. Ever since his father Mahmud Sr.  passed on, he spent a few months getting his father’s affairs in order and then finally trying to get his own academic life on track when, by an extraordinary coincidence, his mother brought to him the classified section of the Torch newspaper with a GRT advert for recruitment. Mistaking it for a profit scheme, she gave her son the paper who informed her that it was for a job opening. He read the job requirements and was amazed that they had no educational degree requirement, a staple for all corporate employment across the country, and all that was required was excellent spoken & written English Language skills. He figured, what the heck, and in a few months his life changed forever. In the eight years that he’s been with the company, he’s become a corporate professional and now is a mentor to a whole new breed of employees. Sure he had to struggle in the beginning as he was bounced off to several departments, but that gave him great insights into how the company functioned till he finally became a jack of all trades.

His latest stint in training & development is to make the new breed of GRT professionals meet the standards of excellence that GRT upholds. This, truthfully, was becoming difficult to do with each batch of recruits that he trained. It wasn’t that GRT’s standards were near impossible to meet, but it did have a lot to do with the quality of the new recruits. Maybe he was being hard on them as he was the last of the crème de la crème of the original lot, but then again, GRT has evolved from a single storey call center to a global powerhouse. So while he can get a batch of talented young men & women to handle their responsibilities professionally and by the book, it’s when they’re met with something out of the box that requires his expertise, such was now when he finds himself donning the headset to handle a sensitive caller.

“So let me see if I have this right, sir. You’re saying that you once visited GRT Global’s website a few days ago and since then, every time you open your web browser, GRT’s website always shows up, and you’d like it to stop?”

“Got it in one, sonny!” the caller replies with that southern accent. From Louisiana no doubt. Plus he does sound like someone in his fifties who’s only been using a computer for a little time. “Not only that, but I want it back the way it was.”

“Excuse me?” Mahmud Jr. asked, a little bemused.

“Before your GRT thing started popping up, I always, ALWAYS got Dell’s Website on my internet. And I liked it, it had all the information I wanted updated every day, so you can understand how this has made me upset.”

“I completely understand sir, and I do regret the inconvenience you’ve faced. If you’re near your computer right now, I’ll be more than happy to talk you through some steps which you should have no problem in doing on your own. Once done, your browser should no longer show the GRT website anymore till you want it.”

“Uh huh, well give me just a second and I’ll get to my computer.”

“I’ll hold.” Mahmud responds as he lies back on the seat a little, surrounded by all the other agents who should have gone off on their tea-break, but instead stuck around to watch how their trainer handled calls. It’s not that he had to take the call; he only popped in on the floor to have a quick word with the supervisor who was apparently answering a call of nature. It was then that one of his old trainees asks him what to do about this caller he had on the line with an “unknown problem”. Mahmud took the call while most of the agents went off on break. Even when the supervisor returned, Mahmud still figured he should see this through. It has been a while since he took a live call, which frankly could work in his favor. Every time he tries to coach the agents on how to improve call performance, he gets looks from some problematic agents that instantly says “let’s see you do any better.” So here he was, not that he had to prove anything to anyone, but smug satisfaction still feels goods every now and then.

“Okay, I’m here, I’ve got explorer open and surprise surprise, GRT is staring me right in the face.” The caller returns, still upset.

“Right, I take it you’re using Internet Explorer.” Of course he is. He sounds fifty-ish. He likes his computer just like it was the day he bought it. So no, he’s not going to install a faster and efficient browser, not while the safety software on his computer would ask him if he wants any kind of software installed. Users such as this have a better running computer simply because they do things just as it says in the instruction manual.

“Darn right! Now what?”

Mahmud then carefully guides the user to the browser settings, on how to get to the home page section. He figures the best thing to suggest is to set it to default and save the settings, restart the browser and see what the caller has to say.

“Ohhhh, kay.” The caller still sounds apprehensive. Mahmud is now tensed, and it’s not simplified with some of the other agents trying to get in a listen at the call. “So, it’s not GRT anymore, which is a relief, but it’s going to this other site about Microsoft. I kinda liked it when it was Dell, y’know. It had all my stuff set just the way I wanted.”

Great, just great! The member had a Dell homepage set before, and it was probably configured to show him his custom stuff. Mahmud quickly starts typing at his terminal’s web browser and opens the Dell website. It is just like he said, a web portal with news, weather and all other information, with a line on the top saying “Hello Visitor! Click here to login.” Mahmud now plays a gamble which should pacify this caller. He asks him to go through the settings again and this time, type in dell.com instead of Microsoft. He figures the caller uses the browser every day and it shows custom information, so his Dell Account must be configured and saved to the browser. It’s only a matter of setting the homepage back. The caller complies as Mahmud waits for the reaction on the other end.

“OH! YOU THE MAN, MAN! YOU THE MAN!” Mahmud is quietly relieved. Crisis averted, no negative feedback for the company, and a satisfied caller. “Thanks so much, this is perfect. Oh and I’m sorry about all the things I said to that other guy. It was a bit out of line.”

“Not a problem sir, once again we regret the inconvenience.”

“Oh no, you’ve been brilliant, y’hear!”

“Well is there anything else I may help with?”

“Nope, I’m as happy as sunshine. Take care!”

“You too sir, have a nice day!”

Mahmud waits for the call to cut as he checks the counter. He took the call at about the four minute mark and its now at fourteen. He turns around and looks at the pleasantly surprised faces of the agents and the devilishly smiling face of the supervisor who’s been listening in on the call with his wireless surveillance system.

“Now children, let this be a lesson to you.” Mahmud addresses the eager crowd of agents that gathered around him as he takes off his headset. “Sure, be by the book all the time, but there are going to be times when you’re going to have to use common sense and your own ingenuity to get you out of scrapes, while also being sure that the company doesn’t get any bad word-of-mouth. Listen to the recording and you’ll know where you can improve.”

The agents applaud as Mahmud walks off, returning a high-five from the supervisor. Mahmud almost forgets what he wanted to talk to him about, but once done, he goes off on the terrace to get a bit of fresh air. Only another twenty minutes before he gets off from work. It has been a tiring day not just because of that call. The nights aren’t any easier now ever since they had their child. A daughter, just like he hoped. Little Alaya is only two months old and she’s already proving to be a handful. The sleepless nights are having an effect on both him and Riva, but he’s doing his best to remain charged up for work. He does wonder how hard it must be for Riva to take care of the baby, although his sister and mother are usually home after noon. Even so, Riva has the brunt of the work taking care of the baby, usually with Alaya waking up after every hour, so Riva has a very erratic sleep cycle. Mahmud figures he’ll get some sleep on the ride home in the office van, especially with the full air-conditioning it has. Although as he turns, he finds the bench looking very relaxing and just sort of drawing him towards it.

“Just a couple of minutes won’t hurt”, he thinks to himself as he sits himself down, lets out a deep sigh and closes his eyes.

 


 

“Excuse me!”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t see where I was…”

His eyes open and he is instantly taken aback. He remembers sitting down somewhere but now he’s outside, among a sea of people walking their way on the footpath. He can’t seem to remember how he got here, as if he was plucked from his cozy bench and dropped right on to this road. Where was this road? He looks around and notices a sign saying “McLeod Road.” He’s shocked, as only an instant ago he was somewhere else entirely. McLeod Road is Karachi’s financial hub with all major banks having their head offices located here, not to mention the stock exchange. He looks at his watch and sees the time is 5:15 PM, only it’s a watch he doesn’t recognize. It turns on just as he flicks his wrist up to show him the time and, to his surprise, a small message icon with the digit ‘2’ next to it. Before he can look any further, he notices his sleeve and the rest of him is wearing a black coat. In July? Why would he need to wear a coat in the summer? He then turns around to look at everyone else wearing warm clothing too. It’s only then that he feels the slight chill reminiscent of winter, and the sweet scent of pine.

“I… I’m in the future?”

He could only mutter those words to himself when a large shadow falls over and the entire street. He looks up and if he wasn’t taken aback before, the sight before him now has undoubtedly given him the shock of his life. About four hundred feet above him, a massive object has just clouded the sky, moving forward majestically across the city skyline without skipping a beat. He can scarcely believe what he’s seeing.

“Excuse me sir,” he stops a gentleman walking along, “could you please tell me you’re also seeing that object in the sky?”

The gentleman looks at him bemused. “New to Karachi, are ya? It’s a Zepp, innit!”

“A… Zepp?”

“Yeah! Zepp, Zeppelin; whatever floats your boat. Looks like the weekend flight to Hyderabad to me. Pretty nifty, those Zepps. Been on a few myself but they are ruddy expensive. You should try ‘em once, especially the buffet lounge.”

The gentleman waves him goodbye and is on his merry way, leaving him to process this new bit of information. What the heck is a Zeppelin and when did it start flying from Karachi to Hyderabad? It’s a blimp; that much he knows, but the only thing he can think of with the word Zeppelin is a heavy metal band. More to the point, did that gentleman speak with a cockney accent? In Karachi? He isn’t familiar with the crowd working around McLeod Road to know what kind of language they speak. Or at least he thinks he isn’t.

As he walks in the general direction along with everyone else, he begins to recall where exactly he is now. He’s nearing the roundabout that leads from McLeod Road to Shahrah-e-Faisal on the left and Saddar to the right, with the Rex Shopping Zone right at the start. The roads themselves seem to be piling up with vehicular traffic, understandable since it is quitting time for most offices, and yet the traffic seems to be moving smoothly. What’s amazing is that there are literally no motorcycles, one of the most notorious kinds of transport there is. He climbs up a tram heading for main Saddar via Victoria Road and pays ten rupees to the conductor. It’s when he gets his change that he sees something he hasn’t seen in ages.

“What the …?” he gawks at the small bluish & white two-rupee note, a bill that’s been out of circulation over a decade ago. More to the point, a tram?! He can scarcely believe that he’s in a tram. He remembers his mother telling him that they used to have trams in Karachi but they were phased out in the 1970s. And now he’s in one. It travelled along Victoria Road at a brisk pace as he took in the sights. All of the Rex Shopping Zone, followed by the Electronics Market, and not one car or motorcycle parked. Any and all vehicles were moving along, stopping only to drop someone off or pick someone up.

He finally gets off at Bunder Road and crosses over in the direction to where he wants to go, when he’s greeted by a Double Decker bus. “Just like London,” he mutters to himself as he gets on and finds himself a seat. As he heads for home, he starts processing all this information. Trams, Zeppelins, clear roads, and now a Double Decker. “So, not in the future then. The past?” He looks out of the window and his theory is instantly squashed. There’s nothing around him that shows that he is in the past. Apart from the old heritage sites, everything else looks modern, spic & span and with a glint of being right out of the assembly line. The signboards appear to be digitally printed and the cars around him are modern alright. But where are all the motorcycles?

He looks back at his watch which lights up the clock face as soon as he flicks his wrist. He notices a button on the side, on pressing which the clock face disappears and a whole menu of options appears. “It’s a smartwatch!” he exclaims and checks his pockets to see if he should have a smartphone. Instead, all he finds is his earpiece which he takes off every now and then. He checks the messages icon to show his pending messages. One’s a special offer yet again, and the other one is from Riva, reminding him to bring milk and bread on the way back. “Okay, so she’s texting me now. Interesting.” He has been on her case to text him instead of calling only if she needs essentials or stuff while he returns from home. He notices the date on the watch which confirms that he is indeed neither in the past nor the future. He is in 2011, just like he should be. December 21st to be precise. And yet, he remembers it was July for some reason.

He disembarks at the University Road, right outside the Army Park from where he crosses over to his apartment blocks. He’s lived here in the neighborhood of Silverson ever since he was a child, ever since there were ethnic disturbances in old Nazimabad which forced his family to find other places to live. As he approaches his home, he hears a child calling towards him.

“Baba!”

He turns and notices Zaviar running gleefully towards him from the Silver Park gate. He lifts up his boy in his arms and notices Riva holding little Alaya in her arms as they return from their evening stroll. Little Alaya is just a little over a month old whereas Zaviar is a year and a half. Zaviar hugs his father tightly as Riva smiles at him.

“Milk and bread? I texted you just like you asked.” she says sarcastically.

“Nice to see you too, Riva.” he responds with a sigh. “Give me a couple of minutes to freshen up and I’ll get them.”

“Sure, I’m heading up. It’s her feeding time.”

He checks on his darling little girl sleeping in her small blanket as Riva takes her upstairs. “So how are you doing champ?” he asks Zaviar.

“Zavi waiting for you. Go outside.” Little Zaviar replies in his sweet way. He’s beginning to pick up language pretty fast and should be talking properly in a few months.

“Dada!” Zaviar points towards a maroon 2000 model Toyota Corolla as it approaches them towards the driveway. He looks intently at the car, wondering why Zaviar would call out to a grandfather. Unless…

The door opens and Mahmud Siddiq I steps out, briefcase in hand. He locks the car and heads towards them.

“Dad?”

Trams, Zeppelins, Two Rupee Bills, Double Deckers… none of these compare to seeing his father again. He looks exactly like the last time he saw him, neatly dressed in a black coat & tie, with a crisp white shirt, grey trousers and shiny black shoes. His hair is now gray, with a receding hairline along the temple. His spectacles are on his face, still tied around his neck with the aid of a thread.

“Sorry I couldn’t bring you along. Had a late meeting about a case.” Mahmud I says as he approaches his son and grandson.

“It’s okay, I just got here myself.”

“And how are you doing my little knight?” Mahmud I coddles Zaviar on the hair. “Has your father taken you the store yet?”

On Zaviar shaking his head, Mahmud I brings out a hundred rupee bill and hands it to his son. “Get him those Pepsis, he likes those very much.”

“Seriously dad, you never let us have a drop of Pepsi in our lives, always reminding us how bad it was for us.”

“Oh pish, he’s only a boy. Let him have his fun.”

“Fruit juice it is dad.” He replies as Mahmud I scoffs. They all head up the stairs while he starts thinking.

“I’m back again, back to that other place. Back to being Mahmud II.”

He looks at the mirror in the foyer to see himself dressed in the similar black coat & tie with white shirt, grey trousers and black shoes as his father. “Back to being a … paralegal, was it?” He looks at his mother, sitting at the swing sofa in the hall, watching TV just like she always does. Riva is obviously in their bedroom feeding Alaya, and the rest of the house feels empty. He closes his eyes and thinks hard. It’s the second time he can remember that he’s been in this exact dream state, in this exact city with all its subtle changes; nay, improvements. He remembers all this while he was back here a few months ago.

But are dreams really this accurate? Aren’t they all supposed to be random depending on the state of mind?

What if this is more than just a dream? Because if he didn’t know any better, he’d say this is reality.

This, this is home.

 


 

END OF CHAPTER 2: KARACHI BETA

EARTH BETA by MUHAMMAD ALI SAMEJO

DISCLAIMER:

The events depicted in the above are a work of fiction loosely based on events in the life of the author. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental; unless you’re related to the author, in which case you were most likely the inspiration behind it. 

Earth Beta Chapter 1: Dreams

Fotor0813191433

 

Slightly above average.

School, college, work, relationships. You can be really good at them or really bad, and yet, there’s always the one that’s “slightly above average.”

At 27 years old, Mahmud Siddiq II seems to have done reasonably well for himself. He started working very early as a paralegal with his father while still in law school. As he’s been told countless times, his father, Mr. Mahmud Siddiq I is one of the most respected attorneys in the country, having accomplished a great deal in his time at the bar and no doubt managed to make both friends and enemies in pretty powerful places. Which is a blessing since no one in the legal circles will make fun of the younger Mahmud’s shared name. Mahmud the Second? If it’s supposed to show aristocracy, it doesn’t work. Not because either father or son are undeserving of it, but it does have a lot to do with his father’s character & wit firmly rooted from humble beginnings as a school teacher. The younger Mahmud is not at all surprised that his father managed to make sure his children know how to work hard for their success. Whatever influence his father may have, it’s all on him to build himself a future of his own. Before even thinking of how to use the influence and of course the connections his father has, he’ll have to crawl on his own before he can run. That’s a cycle that includes studying hard, working an entire rear-end off, fighting privilege at every turn and eventually make a name for yourself.

Such efforts & ideals were no doubt in vain when it came to Mahmud II who was never the best student at school; in fact he was, as expected, slightly above average. On trying, and eventually failing at different business ventures, he at last realized that he was never going to escape his father’s shadow. Though still studying law while he tried his dab hand at fashion photography of all things should have been a sign. Still, it’s another blessing. Fashion photographers called Mahmud Siddiq The Second will never be taken seriously in showbiz, and getting the nickname ‘Sidd’ is something he’s always hated.

“Ugh… mmm,” he clutches his head almost in pain, but it’s not physical. It’s like a sea of thoughts & memories started flooding into his mind. Something… something about television production?  Why was he suddenly thinking about producing TV shows, of all things?

“You feeling okay?” He recognizes the voice instantly and is relaxed, even though the tone was that of concern. His better half, the love of his life and mother of his children. Just thinking about it makes him forget any troubles he might have.

“I’m fine Riva, just a little pinch in the head that’s all.” He looks around in the taxi cab where both he and his wife are seated in the back as they’re about to pull up at the hospital maternity clinic. They’re expecting their second child soon, just a couple of more months. He hopes it’s a girl, as having one boy is already a handful. He does feel lucky about his son Zaviar, especially with all that happened during the birth. Premature delivery always carries a lot of risks and a lot of worries, but he does feel lucky. Lucky enough to have a son that isn’t named Mahmud for a change. Still, things could have gone wrong… very wrong.

He looks at the hospital and is struck by how clean it is. Incredibly clean, almost like they were entering a bio dome. All the white makes it look like something out of a Hollywood future utopia flick. It’s after he pays the fare that he notices the car is the latest Toyota Corolla. In an orange and blue color scheme? “Weird,” he wonders, “must really have my mind on something else.” He was always prone to distractions, “flights of fancy” as his father put it and of course attributed to his slightly above average success in all walks of life. Mahmud II can’t help it. He likes being imaginative, he appreciates creativity, and he certainly has scant regard for anything monotonous. Sure he’s a bit timid but he wouldn’t mind living a little, but now that he has a family of his own, any adventurous tendencies are obviously on hold indefinitely.

As he was walking away from reception, he gets a call and instinctively clicks his earpiece. “Dad? What’s up?… Wha– really?… Yeah I’m right there too with Riva… Of course, I’ll pop over there in a few minutes. We can go home together.” He clicks the earpiece again and walks over to Riva in the waiting hall.

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

“It was dad, he’s…”

“Calling you back into the office?” she interjects.

Almost used to her interruptions, he carries on without even asking. “He’s actually here, at the hospital, in the neuro ward of all places.”

“Oh,” Riva now sat dumbfounded. “Is he okay?”

“I don’t know, the doctor’s called him up for something. I thought, if you’re going to be here for another 30 minutes, I may as well check on him. I told him we could drive back home together.”

“Right, because obviously he has the car to himself.” she replies, a little coldly.

“Now now,” he realizes they’ve had this conversation before but he’s learned how to keep his cool while stating the obvious, “we both know the Family Car law will only let us have a car of our own once we’re at least four members in the family. Which’ll be in a few months and…”

She interjects again, “And even then we won’t get one, not till you’ve obviously earned the money for it, every single rupee of it. Which, with the new Honda City, will take you a good while.”

“Have a little faith, please. And it’ll be a Honda Civic.”

“Oh great, that’ll make it happen soon!”

“Look,” he knows he should get moving before this gets more out of hand, “I’ll be back with him in thirty minutes. We’ll go back home together, alright? Let me just check on him and hopefully you’ll be done by the time we get back.”

He walks out of the waiting hall, with a few curious glances from the other women. Great, just what he needs: judgmental soon-to-be moms thinking all sorts of things about him. He shouldn’t really let them get to him. It’s not as if he’ll be seeing them again anytime soon. And he shouldn’t let her get to him either. She’s not entirely argumentative, but she can be like a brick wall at times. It’s not that they don’t have a good life. He’s got a good job, they all live together in the same house along with his family, but sometimes the little things do tend to come out in the open. Or it could just be one of those days in the pregnancy.

As he asks for directions, he is still astounded by the hospital itself. He could just spend his entire life here, taking in the rich azure-blue sky and the perfect air, with the beautiful greenery all around in the lawns. He watches some kids playing, little girls on swings along with their parents. Someday, he’ll be taking his little girl to a park and on to a swing. Will she enjoy it? Or be scared?

He smiles as he finally walks up to the building with the sign “Neurology”. He’s about to enter when, without warning, a gentleman bursts out, walking away in a huff holding onto what is no doubt an envelope of medical reports. He’s immaculately dressed in a black coat & tie, with a crisp white shirt & grey trousers, and shiny black shoes. Perfectly immaculate, just like his perfectly combed gray hair and horn-rimmed spectacles hanging off his neck with the aid of a thread. He’s no doubt kept himself fit even at the age of sixty-six and has every bit of a temper towards everyone. Even for Mahmud II, who just smiles as he watches his father walk away without even noticing him.

“Dad? Wait up!”

“Oh,” Mr. Mahmud I turns around finally noticing his son calling out to him. “It’s you.” No pleasantries, no handshakes. “I hope I didn’t hit you with that door.”

“No of course not, I’m…”

“You should watch where you’re going. No telling how hard someone could burst out of a door and slam your face in.”

Mahmud II now realizes that he’s had a lifetime to get used to being interrupted. It’s why it comes so easily to him.

“I take it you’re done with the doctors. What are you doing here anyway, and in the neuro w…”

“Oh it’s not important!” Not important? If his father tells him something’s not important and it’s keeping him out of the office during working hours, he’s obviously lying. And ouch, now even he’s buying into the urban legend that ‘lawyer’ sounds exactly like ‘liar’.

Well, where’s that wife of yours?” the older Mahmud finally asks. “You said she was here for her checkup. I’m sure you’re eager to get home so where is she?”

“She’s probably just about to meet with her doctor. Should be another twenty minutes or so.”

“Perfect! More delays.” he grumbles, rubbing his forehead and looks around. Something really is troubling him, but it is hard to tell with the level of grumpiness he exhibits every day. “Well, this place has a canteen or such so let’s go there and wait. Dry sandwiches will have to do. Come along boy, don’t dawdle!”

Mr. Mahmud I walks off without even waiting for his son who momentarily stands behind, speechless as always, before following him. “Yes sir.”

 


 

Dry chicken sandwiches, chicken patties and milk tea. What more could anyone else want in a hospital canteen. Mahmud II forgot he barely had any lunch as he hungrily wolfs down the last of the mini sandwiches while his father sips his tea.

“These doctors, with their complicated medical terms which are difficult to pronounce even for the most learned people.”

“What’s complicated about ‘dementia’?” Mahmud II asked his father.

“Congratulations,” his father replied. “You’re probably the only person who’s not a doctor that can say that with a straight face.”

The younger Mahmud is left stumped. All the years spent with his father, and the last few years when he crossed fifty five should make him careful while talking to him. Of course, it’s not easy when his father himself is as blunt as ever. That’s the benefit of old age apparently. You can get away with saying absolutely anything without having to worry about what anyone else has to think. Talk show politicians have made that art a cash-cow.

“But no, it’s dementia in their books and so dementia is what it will be just to make them sound amazingly superior.” the older Mahmud continues while sipping at his tea. “Why can’t they just say memory loss and end with the cure? Oh no, there’s all sorts of nonsense now. Therapy, counseling, talking about your everyday feelings. What is this, anger management? Doctors!”

Mahmud II instantly smirks, “Says the man who’s own son is about to graduate from med school in a few years.”

Mahmud I coughs, almost spilling his tea. “You know what I mean.”

“I’m messing, dad. You know I am.” Mahmud II has been listening to his father explain about his diagnosis: short term memory loss, inability to recall certain events or minute details of life. It does however explain a lot of the obvious recent changes with him. He’s claimed to have lost his glasses several times, a quarter of which ended up in laughs as he discovered they were on the top of his head the entire time. Other times he’d leave them at the office, therefore having to buy two different sets. That of course involved getting another prescription for new glasses and that’s another can of worms. It was Mahmud II’s genius solution of tying them with a thread around the neck that the old man now considers his son’s finest moment. One time Mahmud I accidentally jumbled the numbers on his particular hair color at the market and ended up turning his hair into a rich shade of grey. He would simply not accept that he could have made an error and no one could convince him otherwise since none of the previous hair color packaging was available to compare with. It wasn’t until his own natural grays blended with the synthetic that he realized he preferred this new color. Probably the only change he’s accepted in a decade.

“Well you did say this was the most senior doctor, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about.” Mahmud II gently puts his point across as he sips on his tea. “Wouldn’t be wise to disregard his diagnosis.”

“Yes I suppose that’s true,” his father responds after simmering down a peg. Mahmud II smirks again as he realizes his hypothesis is correct. In the mind of his father, anyone as ancient as he is automatically always right. And anyone even older might just be considered holy. So it’s obvious what the opinion of anyone younger means to him.

“But there’s so much that I still need to do with my life,” his father continues.  “So much yet to accomplish. You may not believe this but a man doesn’t get by his life without regret. There is so much that I do regret and now, with this dementia business, I may never get around to fixing any of it!”

To Mahmud II, this was incredible.  Denial, anger, bargaining, guilt; his father’s already gone through four out of seven stages of grief in the middle of a casual tea break. He’s shuddering to think just what’ll happen by the time they get to the car. “Hmmm, well what you don’t remember won’t be there to bother you then, will it?” He smiles.

“Not amusing.” his father responds.  Just then, Mahmud II clicks his earpiece for an incoming call.

“You done? … Alright we’re on our way … Oh he’s fine … huh? … I’ll TELL you when we get home, okay?”

“No. You. Won’t.” his father speaks as Mahmud II clicks the earpiece off. “Not a word to anyone, especially to your mother. You know how she gets at things like this.”

Mahmud II exhales, “I also know how she gets when she finds out much later about things like this and how cross she’ll be on learning I’ve known about it a lot longer.”

“I’ll tell everyone when I’m good and ready. I haven’t even decided how I’m going to go forward with this. So till then, silence.”

“Fine but what harm will come of telling Riva?”

“You forget: women talk! Speaking of whom, let’s get that wife of yours and be off. Getting a bit chilly here.”

They rise and walk out of the canteen, continuing their conversation. “Still not considering an ultrasound to find out the gender?”

“Not at all!” Mahmud II replies. “I prefer the suspense. Personally though, I do hope it is a girl.”

“Ah yes. I remember how happy I was when your sister was born. Three sons and a daughter, that’s what I had hoped for and that’s how I was blessed. You think I should buy some of those brownies your sister likes on the way home?

“You can’t because firstly she’s in New York and secondly, that bakery closed down a year ago.”

“Hmph! I knew that…”

“Heh, sure you did…

…did…

…did…

…”

His voice trails off in an echo that seems to go on forever. He feels his body numb as he tries to feel everything around him, but his fingers don’t respond to him. It isn’t till the echo begins to subside that he gets the glimmer of feeling back into him, his heart pounding away like a beating clock. His eyelids open slowly, gently and finally clearing away from the blurry haze. He wakes up and looks at the ceiling fan, humming and spinning away. He wipes off the cold sweat across his forehead while sitting up to take in the surroundings.

Mahmud Jr. is in his bedroom, waking up from what may have been the most vivid dream he’s ever had. Sure he’s had many, many more dreams but this was something else entirely. If he didn’t know better, he’d say his life as he knew it was a complete lie and what he saw in the dream, what he felt in it was real. And how could he not? A life just like his, but different. He wonders, who calls himself Mahmud II these days? As if Junior wasn’t bad enough. He looks next to him on the bed where his wife Riva is sound asleep. He looks at her and their unborn child still safe in her, waiting for another trimester till the big day. He hopes it is a girl.

He looks further on at the bed but there is nothing there. No, he never had a son. There were… problems. “Intrauterine death,” that is what the ultrasound report said last year when it happened. Those two words are forever seared into his mind. He was so devastated but not as much as Riva was, and much like his whole life, he’s had to keep a cool head on his shoulders to get through this. So he bottled the grief in, seldom letting it out. But how does one bottle up the saddest moment in their life?

No, not the saddest.

Mahmud Jr. gets up from bed and walks to the wardrobe, gently sliding the door open so as to not wake Riva. He turns on the door light and looks around for something in the upper drawer. He picks up his office identity card at GRT Retail where he’s recently been promoted to manager. So, not a lawyer then. And yet it was all so real. Another person just like him but leading an entirely different career? He picks up his wallet, opening it to see his father’s old identity card from work. Only, much like him, he wasn’t a lawyer either. Producer at National Television Network; so that’s why he found it strange thinking about television production when he was in the taxi cab. But was he in a taxi-cab? An Orange and Blue color scheme Toyota Corolla that looks nothing like the Corolla he knows.

He quietly steps out of the room and into the living room. It’s six am, still a few hours or so before he has to wake up and get to work. He looks back at the ID Card. He’s had a color copy of it ever since his father passed away seven years ago. He thinks back to how far he’s come ever since, how he left the media industry after, how he decided to make something for himself in something else entirely, how he’s now a seven year professional in corporate retail management. And much like the Mahmud II in his dreams, he finds that he’s also slightly above average.

He tries to recollect as much as possible, as dreams have the tendency to fade away like cheap aroma sprays, but he’s managed to piece together the important facts: somewhere in his dreams there’s another him in another Karachi which is by and large the cleanest & organized city he has ever imagined. Certainly decades ahead than the metropolitan nightmare that his Karachi is, with crime, pollution, gang-wars, ethnic strife and pretty much all the pains of a metropolis boiling in a single powder keg. Somewhere in that city he’s seen another life, where he’s married to the same woman, with a son that he never had, with another child on the way. Just like him, the other Mahmud also hopes that it is a girl. And unbelievable as it may sound, his father, who’s been dead for the past seven years, who has been the most important person in his life, is still alive. A bit more cynical and world weary, but still alive.

But was it only a dream? Was it his sub-conscious mind working into overdrive and creating the most amazing reality he could have hoped for? Was it a glimpse, a premonition? A view of the world as it should have or could have been?

Or was it something much, much more?

 


END OF CHAPTER 1: DREAMS

EARTH BETA by MUHAMMAD ALI SAMEJO

DISCLAIMER:

The events depicted in the above are a work of fiction loosely based on events in the life of the author. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental; unless you’re related to the author, in which case you were most likely the inspiration behind it. 

What makes a Sophisticated Pakistani?

Pakistanis are an unusual bunch. We indulge ourselves in endless shopping for exorbitant amounts, and yet we argue over the measly parking ticket outside the same mall. We haggle to no end even with the “Fixed Price” sign on the counter. We’re least bothered to fix small leaks on a pipe, its only when it bursts that it becomes a pain. And let’s not forget the jugaars (i.e. quick fixes).

But we’re an eclectic bunch, we are indeed. We have aspiring sportsmen, electrifying entertainers, magical musicians, and as I’ve recently found out, incredible chefs. Yes, no two Pakistanis are the same, and you could fit a character driven movie cast in a minivan, but the one that I know & love the most is the Sophisticated Pakistani. The one that isn’t necessarily wealthy but they know it and despite that, they will make an effort with incredible panache. Their wealthy counterparts are at a disadvantage simply because they are just too drenched in money that they spend on stuff that they don’t need and stuff that by all rights should not exist (seriously, who thought Vibrams were a good idea?”)

So let’s take a moment to examine this rare breed of self-made nobility, by understanding the things that make the Sophisticated Pakistani what he or she is…

Some Key Facts to remember about the Sophisticated Pakistani, is that they are at any given time:

  • Reasonably loaded.
  • Aware of when to spend and when not to.
  • Ready to indulge every once in a while.
  • Rarely at a loss for words.
  • Brand conscious.
  • Do not haggle.
  • Prefer Quality over Quantity

Honda over Toyota

People may migrate from a Toyota to a Honda, but very rarely do you hear of a Honda guy jumping to Toyota. Of course people in Pakistan are an exception to the rule, but that’s because they got for a Toyota blindfolded. Still, Honda beats Toyota on several fronts. Honda boasts sophistication in design which leaves the ga-ga drooling Toyota (ahem) enthusiast in the lurch. Technology, ride comfort, and a near-soundless drive even in the lower budget range City (of course a snob wouldn’t be caught owning one). Either that or Toyota’s are exceptionally noisy since they’re the more gruntier type of car.

Coke over Pepsi

To any Pakistani, Pepsi is probably the lifeblood that every catering event must run on on. Of course, everywhere else is a bizarro-world to them as Coke is the Number 1 Recognized Brand worldwide. The dim-witted Little Nicky’s amazing transformation of a Coke to a Pepsi is widely regarded as an insult and the most ridiculous WTF moments in Hollywood history. But besides the point, Coke has a more stingier taste and people that do drink it regularly will find that comparatively Pepsi is sweeter which makes it unappealing. And the local advertising puts Coke a notch ahead. Whereas Pepsi relies too much on their official cricket team or pop group sponsorship, Coke makes more wholesome ads which kinda leave people pausing to reflect.

DC Comics over Marvel

While Marvel continues to rule the roost as far as big-budget movies are concerned, and may have a wider reader outreach as far as down-to-earth and near-to-normal stories are concerned, the sophisticated do  not care! DC has culture & class that fits their choices perfectly. And the argument that DC Comics are “kiddie comics for grownups” is not an issue because the sophisticated Pakistani is essentially a child at heart. In a world where they’ve got to have a more mature outlook over everything else, they recognize their inner child and indulge it as much as possible, which DC Comics never fails at. Two of its major properties are celebrating their 75th birthdays (i.e. Superman & Batman) and both are the most easily recognizable superheroes on planet earth. Not to mention that they’ve had far more success in TV with their animated series and direct-to-DVD movies, and that’s about to be further enhanced with their latest forays into live-action television; no doubt making them the leader in Comics TV entertainment.

Microsoft over Everything Else

Apple, you say? BAH! The Sophisticated Pakistani spent most of their teenage and adult lives mastering Microsoft because A) with Microsoft you’ve got a disciplined and more corporate-savvy architecture and B) PCs were and are a lot more affordable. Microsoft is the industry leader, it is in pretty much every computer around the world and sold with every new desktop, laptop or netbook. It is the market leader in nearly all office software programs, and thus being the software solution provider of choice to the corporate wage-earning sophisticated Pakistani. Who’s gonna shell out four times the money for an iMac? Owning an Apple computer is sheer gluttony and the Sophisticated do not glutton (is that a verb?) Sure they were disappointed when Microsoft fell behind in the race for smartphone supremacy, they are highly optimistic with the new Windows 8 and will treat the Lumia phones as the second coming of arguably the most dominant computing brand in history.

Star Trek over Star Wars

I’ve never seen Star Wars. Lets get that out of the way. Also, Star Wars is no doubt an epic sci-fi franchise. Now with both those undeniable facts out of the way, it has to be said that Star Trek if far more entertaining. For one thing, it follows into something that is lost to this world: exploration. Searching the farthest reaches of space “for new life and new civilizations” makes every episode something to look forward to. And there are a LOT of episodes. In 40 years, Star Trek has delivered six television series containing over 700 episodes set in different generations of Starfleet, not to mention the movies and comic franchises. Most of all, Star Trek has had the daunting task of focusing on several socio-political causes in the most innovative ways while maintaining an amazingly neutral stance. The Original Series in 1966 boasted the world’s first and most prominent multi-racial ensembles, and continues to do so to this day in the rebooted moview franchise. It has created its own fictional alien language ‘Klingon’ which is spoken among the several die-hard fans of Star Trek, commonly referred to as Trekkies. And if that isn’t something to be proud of, Star Trek is by and large cited for several of the breakthrough technological innovations since its inception. Whereas a working lightsaber is still just a concept.

You tell ’em, Picard!

 

Art over Crass

Sophisticated Pakistanis enjoy the explosive-filled summer blockbuster as much as the next person, but what they really want is intellectual engagement. They want to be challenged, to have a movie or TV show tease their mind with intelligent, clever dialogue and smart character building, along with a bit of personal narrative. Add wittiness, charm, innovation and just the right kind of humor; and the sophisticated Pakistani will eat it up. With all the new premium cable networks, a lot of thought and quality goes into productions such as Penny Dreadful, Da Vinci’s Demons, or even network TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Sherlock, Doctor Who, The Musketeers etc. What they could really do without is crass-ness. Sure given times there might be the need to view more common fare, but its never really a first preference.

 

And that’s it for now. There are no doubt several other quirks that set the Sophisticated Pakistani apart from the rest of the pack, and would need pages upon pages to get to most of them. But much like the rest, they evolve into different creatures with each passing decade, adding new levels of sophistication to their already distinct panache.

Suffice it to say, they are in a league of their own.

Top Hypocritical Cliches We’re All Guilty Of

P.S. The following is a rant. It’s not meant to offend anyone in anyway, but it may come off as offensive to some people. In that case, while I have no intentions of hurting anyone, do ponder over the points for a moment. If it still appears offensive, then you have my sincerest apologies.

1. “I don’t have too much time to waste on stuff like this”

This is normally uttered when someone creates a huge hue & cry over something mostly trivial, and yet will not see to pursue it for a reasonable and logical conclusion. For example, say you buy a designer outfit and find out that the color runs out. You go to the outlet and start screaming at the top of your lungs about how you were robbed and how this designer sucks & everything [naturally doing so while there are other customers present]. And when the person there asks you to simply provide them the dress to see what could have gone wrong… bingo! [P.S. True Story]

2. I could get this same thing half price at [random area]”

You know what the shopkeepers should say to this? Simple: “Then why don’t you buy it from there, why come here?” Seriously, what do people want to prove when they say it? Do shopowners have a price match system like those in the U.S.? Not likely, and they’re not going to slash it half price for your convenience. And I love it when people try to bargain at places where there’s a “Fixed Price” board at the cash register 😛 The shopkeeper is NOT going to give you the product for the exact price you want, period.

3.“Why should I pay parking charges? I’ve only been here 5 minutes.”

Unless you’re related to Vin Diesel or Jason Statham, you are NOT getting away from a parking ticket! Not in Karachi’s traffic, where there’s a car left & right waiting for you to get out and park in the vacant slot. Pay the 20 bucks which you would for some smokes or chaliaan, and get it over with. And STOP with the 5 minutes crap. You know you’ve been here for longer. Be thankful your car is still there.

4. I’ve been waiting in my car here for half an hour, everyone’s coming right at me, when am I going to pass?”

Did you bother to see if there’s a sign that says “No Entry” or “Wrong Way”? Oh, can’t read? Then there’s a sign with an arrow that’s been crossed out with red, but you’d understand it if you ever had a look at the handbook they give you when you apply for your driver’s license, so that you can pass your test. You do have a driver’s license, right?

5. “Who can be bothered?”

Imagine someone throws a wrapper on the street. You politely ask him to hold on to the wrapper till he finds a suitable waste bin to dispose of it. Or try convincing someone to use solar panels if he’s so fed up with electricity shortages. He responds “Who can be bothered?” YOU! If YOU don’t do it, no one else will! I hate this one the most, because it just becomes easy to use it and absolve oneself of any responsibility. No one here ever thinks about going the extra mile, unless of course it’s profitable to them in some way.

6. “There’s so much corruption in this country…”

Sure there is, but ever wonder why? Because we do not hesitate to throw due process out the window and take the easy way out. When was the last time you tried to get out of a traffic challan? Wait, wrong question. It should be: When was the last time you were enthusiastic about getting a challan? Try this the next time you get held up by a traffic cop: Admit you were wrong and take the challan, period. The look on the guy’s face will be priceless. And you’ll have stopped one little incident of corruption from happening.

7. Work up a quick-fix, please…”

Why, why, WHY?! Why do we need quick-fixes for everything? Whether it’s a leaky faucet, getting a quick fix for that faulty car part that’s bothering you, you just want to have a short cut for something that, if done with patience and care, will be a permanent solution that will last longer and be more efficient.

8. “I’ll be right back in 5 minutes…”

For some reason, that’s an excuse to double or triple park. And the worst part is that it’s not going to take the guy 5 minutes. Why you ask? Just a hunch, but if there’s still a car properly parked first, chances are that guy isn’t done yet and therefore, it will take time. Then the first guy is going to suffer till the idiot who double parked gets his car out of the way. And let’s not get to the rest of the traffic that gets clogged because they have to move on one lane.

9. “You do not know how to talk to ladies (with respect)”

She hit my car! The gender of the driver does not matter, she (with or without intent, but mostly due to recklessness) hit my car! And just who the heck are you?! Why do you feel compelled to stop over, gather a crowd and defend the lady like she can’t defend herself at all? Wouldn’t it be swell if she would just ask them to buzz off and let the aggrieved parties handle it themselves. All it takes is to exchange contact information, or contact the insurance companies. NO HELP REQUIRED! And of course, why can’t you just drive away from an accident. No, it’s always “hey look, a car collision” slow down and watch what’s happening and block the rest of the traffic, compelling everyone else behind you to do the same. Worst case scenario would be when someone watching like a mindless drone also ends up rear-ending another car… you really don’t want to go there.

10. “He’s a [armed forces/good college/big company/foreign qualified] guy, his class is altogether different.”

I’ll believe that the next time I see one of them acting with civic sense. Has anyone ever wondered why expats obey the law in a foreign country, but violate every single law the minute they exit the airport? Is it ethical to not litter abroad and start dropping trash at the Karachi airport? The laws are there for a reason but sadly we look for excuses and cite everyone else that violates them.

Which brings me to the bonus cliche…

BONUS CLICHE: “If he can get away with it, so can I…”

But why? What rush do you get when you break the law? Why not follow someone for a good cause? Why can’t you be someone who does well and others will follow?

 

A Human Thing To Do

Note: The events of this blog took place in mid-late 2011. It was published elsewhere and here now for posterity’s sake.

First things first, I’m not a pets person. I’ve never had pets in the house ever since my brother got scared by a neighbor’s dog. And I live in a flat, so having pets was out of the question. There was a funny and frightening incident with my sister, a kitten, and my dad,l but that’s a story for another time. However, when you’re married to someone who’s taken care of pets ever since she was a kid, well it’s a pretty precarious situation.

Not the actual article, but adorable nonetheless.

Now where do I begin? Maybe it started last week during the rains, when, while trying to get some sleep, my wife and I heard some dog howling, and later the faint & distinct sound of infant puppies. The Mrs. concluded that a stray dog had given birth on that rainy night. Anyways, on Friday, we discovered that there were 6 puppies on a dirty unclean parking area in front of the next building. My wife would watch over them and at times even pet one. Yesterday though, she was heartbroken when she found out that two of the puppies had been run over by a car.

So while the building’s watchman got rid of the two dead bodies, the remaining four were still sitting there, all alone and in the open with mommy gone off. While my wife and I watched over the balcony, it just occurred to me that surely there was something I could do. So, I headed to the store, found a couple of boxes I could use and decided to make a small make-shift safe zone for them. One was a shoe box and the other was a packing box for a CNG kit. I emptied them and cut off one end on each and joined them together with duct tape (oh mighty duct tape), making sure the thing would not get apart. This made for a pretty large area inside for a makeshift shelter. I even used a screwdriver to punch a few holes for adequate light and air, even though the top lid would remain open, but you never know.

Next, I headed down and brought my car up at a little bit of an incline to make sure I had enough room under there. This is more like a second car which I don’t use that often, so I found a glove I had a while back and picked up the dogs and put them in my boxes. Now I know there are mixed feelings about if I’m being weird by wearing a glove, but heck I’ve just never done something like this before. By the time I had all four in the box, my wife brought some milk in a bowl. The little pups were happily drinking and looked like the happiest little things you’ve ever seen.

Once I made sure that everything was fine, I picked up the box and placed it right under my car, taking care that the lids were open. My wife asked if the mom would find them, since they’d been moved about 3 car spaces. I was hopeful that she’d find them eventually. I checked out at night and lo & behold, the mom was there happily feeding them. This morning, while I was getting in my other car, I peeked at my makeshift arrangement, and was happy to see that the pups were sleeping back in the box.

So why am I sharing this story? Well, mostly because this was so many experiences in one. It was the first time I picked up a bunch of puppies, even if I was wearing a glove. I could feel them, their little muscles twitching in fright over what was happening. I could see them up close, breathing and looking around. It was the first time I actually got so riled up about doing something like this that I went through all that trouble to make the boxes and help four stray puppies that no one would have probably cared for. Already I was getting pretty weird looks from people around me while I was doing this and for the life of me, I really did not give a fudge what anyone thought!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for the first time in a long time, I’ve actually felt good about doing something. In this day & age when we hardly concern ourselves with actual living human beings, it’ll be a far cry when people start helping animals, and stray ones at that. It may not have mattered to most, but it mattered to me that those poor little pups were exposed and under threat.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe I’m concerned just because I’m about to become a dad soon. But it felt like the most human thing I’ve probably ever done with my life.

And you know what? It felt great! 🙂

Quake – Homage to a First Person Shooter

Never has a ‘Q’ looked this bad-ass!

Like most things of my life that I fondly remember, it was in the ‘90s that a real good friend of mine introduced me to the world of PC Gaming. He was a gaming freak and had always mocked me over my outdated… scratch that, ANCIENT Nintendo Console. Finally though, when I did get my first PC with Windows 95, he made it his mission to get me some of his favorites. There was the infamous Sky Target from Sega that found its way to the PC, there was a pretty snazzy fighter called Cyber Gladiators which had pretty neat 3D rendering. There were a couple more whose names escape me, largely because they all paled to the one, the only… QUAKE.

Proudly to be remembered as “that other First Person Shooter” from id Software, Quake took off from where its predecessor Doom left off. One of the first games with full real-time 3D rendering, Quake took full advantage of my little 333 Mhz CPU to showcase its incredible layouts and arenas. From futuristic military bases to other-worldly medieval & gothic cathedrals, to even the pits of the underworld itself, Quake redefined just what video gaming was all about. The beauty of it all was that even with Windows on kaput (and since this was Windows 95, let’s say every other week), Quake could be run on basic MS DOS and still kick all sorts of rear-end.

The Quake Start Screen. No turning back now!

Much like Doom, Quake follows the lone protagonist who’s given the mission to defeat a rogue element single-handed that’ve been using teleporter technology to get into Earth. The game takes the protagonist all the way from known Earth to other dimensions full of nasty monsters, deadly traps, complex puzzles while also providing access to top-of-the-line weapons, from shotguns to rocket launchers. Not to mention the pretty gold & silver keys and a few runes.

Did I mention that the rogue element employs all sorts of deadly monsters to do its bidding?

The Quake Rogues Gallery. All together now: CHEESE!

But enough about the game itself. This is about a 13 year old boy who was forever hooked onto the masterpiece that is QUAKE. This is about what this single game has been a major influence to the imagination already fueled by DC Comics and the Star Trek franchise, as well as popular ‘80s TV shows such as Knight Rider & Airwolf. In fact, Quake managed to do what none of the above could do; make me ignore all of them for a good 3-4 years. Unlike most gamers, I took my time, starting from the bottom with the easy mode, then the normal, then the hard, and finally that secret corridor that led to the Nightmare mode. Four Difficulty Levels, four different episodes of six levels each, followed by the grand finale. That’s about a 100 levels of pure adrenaline, beautifully crafted gothic scenery, and a whole lot of blood & gore of the pixelated variety. Seriously, the detail was incredible.

Purely by chance, another of my endeavors into PC gaming was an obscure racing title called Motorhead. For some reason, my PC never was able to play it, but on the plus side the double layered CD boasted the incredible soundtrack by Olof Gustafsson which Quake automatically played during game-play  Needless to say, the futuristic trance music made the gaming experience far more superior and I think the Motorhead CD was worth the money. Well I say that because I pretty much played a lot of other video games whilst listening to that soundtrack, but Olof Gustafsson will have to wait.

Quake haunted my every waking moment, and then some. I now roamed the school building in a haze and not surprisingly, a life & ammo meter beneath my field of vision. I couldn’t turn a corner without reacting to Grunt or an Ogre or a Shambler. Which technically would & should be any 14-year old boy’s reaction to a group of girls approaching him around the bend when they look at him and think all guys MUST be this dorky, if not having cooties anyway. And if being awake wasn’t addictive enough, I found a better part of a year formulating strategies (as if there was such a thing in Quake) in my dreams. I’d be haunted by all the monsters and yet be as casual in shooting a rocket at them as if I were in god mode.

Could anything top off my experience? Sure, the nifty expansion pack called the Quake: X-Men Apocalypse. An entirely new game with new rules, but the basic one was to my liking: kill all X-Men! Well not the real X-Men, more like clones of the X-Men which were kidnapped by Apocalypse to be his mutant clone army or something; I forget. Still, clones they were, and unlike the dark & gritty medieval atmosphere in Quake, this was a brighter tech-savvy environment. All the baddies and monsters from Quake were now replaced by X-Men clones with pretty much the same attacks. You could easily tell that Wolverine was a Fiend in disguise, though sadly the growling didn’t sound like ‘bub’ at all.

Wait, is Gambit flexing?
Wait, is Gambit flexing?

Quake was the love of my life. So much so that I never moved on to the sequels. Quake II was immediately put back on the shelf upon discovering it had nothing to do with the original story line wise. Quake III Arena won me over because of the graphics only, and Quake IV? Was there a Quake IV?

Some years ago, I came across an updated build of the original Quake game, with new levels “Scourge of Armagon” and “Dissolution of Eternity.” I fell in love again, and how could I not? It had a dragon! A… DRAGON!!! I think I drooled the entire time I managed to get it up and running on my PC. Sadly, the Motorhead CD was long gone, scratched to the very last silver filament.

No matter how far technology has progressed with all the ridiculous levels of game-play enhancements in all the consoles or new-age PCs, nothing can beat the original masterpiece that changed the way FPS and, dare I say it, all video games were made. It had the environment, the atmosphere, the dark, gritty architecture, the scariest of monsters, the cleanest game-play  and the most fun! Its universal acclaim can be attested to the fact that it is the first thing you see when you Google the word ‘quake’. And it has been the driving force of a young boy’s life right into adulthood at the turn of a millennium.

Nop, Not Kidding.
Nope, Not Kidding.

It truly was ahead of its time. And it truly does stand the test of time among the all-time classics.

The Road to Transition

We used to have a next door neighbor once, a rather old man that we had known for over a decade. ‘Kaka’ we used to call him. As is apparently the norm in their families, Kaka lived alone after all of his children had been married off, and any visits from them or their children would last as much as 15 minutes. This was the way he liked it, apparently. He only had two known associations with the rest of the world: either his gathering of old peers at the neighborhood market, or us, his next door neighbors. If there was ever a wedding in the building, or a social gathering involving people in our flats, he would prefer it if he could come along with us. I distinctly remember the last time I spoke with him in 2003, when I arrived home late one evening from an APTECH class. As I pulled up the driveway, he was waiting downstairs, frailer than usual, along with one of his relatives as they were hoping to get a rickshaw to get to the doctor’s clinic. I volunteered to drop him off and asked him in the car of how he was feeling. He told me he wasn’t feeling too good and as I dropped him off, he told me to take care of myself.

The next Sunday, I woke up in the afternoon to find out that Kaka had passed away in the morning. Up till that point, death was a concept I used to consider something that happened to distant relatives, or people I didn’t know, or fiction. This one was one that really did strike that concept from my mind. It was closer to home both literally & figuratively and was in a way a sign. To quote Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”

A few months later, no sooner that I had applied for my National Identity Card after turning 18, my father had his first heart attack. I was with him when we went to the doctor and he told him to get to the cardio hospital asap. I don’t know why, but dad wouldn’t let me drive; either because I was still too young to drive all the way on a main thoroughfare, or maybe he thought I would panic and speed off like a raving lunatic. Just like him to consider all possibilities. He fought off traffic for 40 minutes till we arrived at the emergency room of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, right before another emergency case was brought on a stretcher. Half an hour later, while they were taking my dad to the general ward, the other patient fell into cardiac arrest and died in front of us.

As someone who had only seen people die in movies or TV, this was too much to process. I will never forget that night, running around half a block to get that vital injection of Clexane just because the hospital chemist didn’t stock it, running five floors up the general ward just because elevators shut down after 11 PM, and running off again for the new meds the doctor just wrote down. It was then that I realized two things: one that for the life of me, I’ve never run this much for anything and two… *sigh* that times have indeed changed. No longer could I be that carefree idiot that never looked beyond, never planned ahead, and never imagined the worst case scenario. Before that, the only possible worst case scenario, to me, was that “dad would kill me if I screwed up again.” But right there, right then, I was THIS close to losing that mercy.

A year after his angioplasty, which we were assured would last for another 10 to 15 years, my father breathed his at the ICU in Liaquat National Hospital after fighting for 2 weeks. Describing the circumstances which led to this would be fruitless when looking at the resulting devastation at the end. How does one describe their world shattering to a million pieces? How does one relate the last time he heard his father was when he was walking out the door and telling you that he’d be back home soon? Even tip-toe-ing around the memories of these 15 days can only result in tears.

Grim as it all was, what followed must have been the universe trying to hammer in an already bludgeoned nail. A cousin died when he had just turned 16, another lady in the building breathed her last a few weeks after, and tragedy striking a distant relative in a road accident. I could only watch as devastation hit those closer to their loved ones, could understand full well what they were experiencing. But while Death had made its point, it was Life that had made me realize its true value. Life is, well, short and precious. And wonderful, and glorious, and painful. It just is. The thing about life is that it goes on, and has to go on no matter what. The loss of a loved one can only inspire you to follow their example, to continue onward and to not disappoint them. That is what they would want of you, that is what they would expect of you.

“The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Everything has its time. And everything ends.”

And everything begins…

 

Elegy

I am the land, the earth. I am home. I remember I had purpose, a simple one. To nurture, to care, to be home to life. Glorious, wonderful, beautiful life.

I have failed.

I tried. Oh how I tried. I was teeming with life. I was happy, joyous. I had beautiful forests, clear waters, and wonders as far as the eye could see. I was molded to be the ideal sanctuary for all life. All life. I was lonely at first but as life began, it grew exponentially. No, not grew… it blossomed. It was beautiful, and I was there with it all the way. All the joy, the excitement, the wonders of life and I was privileged to bear witness. I shared with them my bounty, I gave to them unconditionally. I gave them all they could ask for. Food, water, clothing, and shelter all to nourish them. And when they craved more spiritually, sustenance was not far. I am the land, vast, plentiful & bountiful. And so, side by side, we explored and reached new heights. I reveled as they soared through the blue skies, I beheld as they dived the greatest depths of the oceans, I smiled as they climbed the highest peaks with dogged determination. They created wonders, they achieved enlightenment, they debated points of view and indulged in intellectual prowess. They saw existence with color and complexity.

Oh how I long for that moment of euphoria to last till eternity.

As life grew, so with it did the feelings. Joy, love, hope, excitement, compassion, happiness, contentment, charity… fear, loathing, envy, pride, avarice, resentment, hatred, rage. When they knew that I would always be there for them, they turned to each other. They created brotherhood, society, community. They lived together, ate together, laughed together, loved together. And then, when all was done, they fought. It was small at first; a prank, an argument, an insult. Like life itself, it grew. Slaps turned to brawls, brawls turned to battle. And then, something new. Something I had never felt before. It spilled onto me, red, warm, boiling. It was lifeblood, spilling into my soil. It was then that I was introduced to life’s constant but silent companion: death.

They may have grown in number, but grew further apart. They could not comprehend subtle differences among one another. They screamed, they shouted. Their words spewed fire. They divided into nations, into castes, into creeds, into color. They looked no different to me. They were beautiful and yet they had forgotten that true beauty was skin deep. But the joke of it all as that they could never be enough hate. It grew, it festered within. When color was not enough, they differed on faith. When faith was not enough, they differed on might. And so it goes, they kept digging within themselves to find more hate, and more and more and more. And when that hate surfaced, all of life turned ugly. They killed, they maimed, they tortured. They used their fists, with punches, with kicks, and venom so terrifying that there seemed no cure. And when they could find no more ways to do harm themselves, they at last turned to me.

I had given them everything they ever wanted, everything they ever needed. I could not refuse them, how could I? I loved them unconditionally. I asked for nothing, only that they be happy. But it seemed that they could only remain happy in their own suffering. And so when they turned to me, how could I refuse? They dug further into me; they found new ways to do each other harm. What were mere powders that could heal, they turned to deadly chemicals. What were mere oils that could light their world, they turned to fuel for war. What were mere trinkets, they turned to weights to bury their rivals in debt. They burned my forests, they clogged my skies, and they poisoned my oceans. They called it progress but it was just a name for finding new ways to destroy each other. It was a means to an end, or rather, THE end.

They armed themselves to the teeth; they entered a race of meaninglessness. To see who could out-muscle the other. To see who could sting the fiercest. So they warred among themselves, on land, in the skies, in the seas, even the void surrounding my being; all in the name of some cause. It didn’t matter what the cause was, just as long as there was someone else who opposed it. Someone with a different point of view was to instantly become the object of their hatred. They saw no compassion, no regret, no remorse, no peace. They plundered, they raped, they killed, they maimed. But it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. They wanted more destruction, they craved it. So they used their most powerful tool of all, their intellect. What once created jewels of art, poetry, music, now turned their creative prowess to finding new ways to eliminate each other. They made guns to kill one, and then bigger guns to make the biggest dents, and then faster guns to kill as many in an instant. They used technology to spew their hate, to demean each other through vast distances, ensuring that everyone could hear them. Hear their hate. They made explosives which grew stronger & deadlier. They created to destroy. They invented lethal bombs, with their curiosity ever wondering just how many it would take to finish it all.

In the end, it took just one. They were all ignited everywhere but they all felt like just one. A very powerful, very bright, very ugly bomb. A bomb from which there was little chance of escape for anyone or anything caught in its destruction. An explosion which needed to tap into the elemental forces of my own self. It transmuted steel & concrete into glass and wiped out everything in a single stroke. Not all died, few remained. But those that did wished immediately that they hadn’t. The purpose of the bomb was not just to eliminate all life, but to ensure that no other life could survive in its wake.

They called it “Mutually Assured Destruction.” So great was their hatred for each other that they saw the only way to be rid of them once and for all was to end everything & everyone, including themselves. And not just end themselves, end everything, all life, as they couldn’t stand to breathe the same air.… they breathed the same air. They breathed… the same air.

Weep not for me, I am already sodden. I am burdened with the sweat of the fathers & brothers who dig their loved ones out of the rubble, only to bury them again. I am drenched in the tears of the mothers, crying over the broken corpses of their children. I am crimsoned with the blood of all those that marched on bravely to fight for their homes, their families, their futures. My fields are scorched from undying flames, my waters are acid, my skies are blackened with the never-ending smoke. Today I am a rotting shell of my former self, but how long has today been? It has been ages since the sun shone through the dark clouds, since there were any saplings sprouting from the soil. What once teemed with undiscovered life beneath its depths, the oceans now stand still, putrefied with the filth dumped in it. Summer and spring seem like a distant dream as the cold, unforgiving winter is all that remains.

As I fade into quiet oblivion I wonder, was I wrong? Was it wrong of me to be happy? Was it wrong of me to give unconditionally? Or perhaps they were never truly happy. No matter how much I gave, no matter how much they took, it was never enough to satiate them. As I had shared in their joy & laughter, I could only be a silent spectator to their wrath. I wanted nothing more than their happiness. I wanted them to thrive. I wanted them to find peace.

And how ironic that in the end, there is only peace. There is only silence.

 

CHAPTER 21 – BRADEN KINCAID

Uprising has been hard for me. Not because of the competition, even though I had to pull double duty and lost the Tag Team Championships to the ever-EVIL Diabolical Forces. No, this has a lot more to do with memory. Since I’m in the Uprising Gauntlet, I’ve had a hard time memorizing every guy’s names in it. Normally, I’d only remember the names of the big players that I need to get ahead of, or my own opponents on PPV, but considering both my matches have 21 other competitors involved, bummer! 21, that’s a lot of guys! I’m already pretty acquainted with the evil Mormon and Menonite, now that I lost the Tag Team Championships. But hey, I didn’t even get breathing time, after a huge first round win from the Uprising Challenge.

Now that was a challenge alright! I came in at #07 after watching the match on a monitor, the only thing I could do to avoid getting bored. Keeping up with the action was a little hard. Kenny started things off after beating some drill sergeant and two other guys with funny names. If only Miranda was here, I’d get to know they’re names for the obligatory 10 seconds, but she had to be out of town tonight of all nights! She also made sure I had to watch all the matches tonight too! Something about becoming better at what I do.. blah blah. Of course I had to! She hid the X-box till she was sure I did.

Then this huge guy Beast comes in and… wait a minute! That’s not X-Men’s Beast!!! Dammit, would have been fun to use sound logic against a guy like Kenny but brute force works too. Beast made quick work of Kenny and The Crippler, who looked nothing like the guy whose name was apparently erased from history. Tough break, now that guy was a killer… errr… wrestler. That’s when some nerd came up to tell me I was next.

ALRIGHT! Time for the “The Thriller” to dash his way to the ring. Good timing too as I had to teach this ‘Beast’ a lesson: never ever disappoint Braden Kincaid by pretending to be a Marvel character. While cleverly avoiding all of the heavy moves, I finally got caught by Beast in a bearhug, when I thought to use my head, literally! OUCH, that was one mean headbutt! Still, followed that with the Thrilling to the corner! Beast was on shaky legs as The Thriller hits the Thrill Ride for the pin. Next up, Jonathan Darkstar, one of those guys from the time I lost his North American Championship. Lucky for me, I STILL have THAT belt. SUCKERS! Next up was Sevyn, the guy who’s had big-time matches with the legendary Sean Taylor, and for having the neatest blue hairdo. Sevyn was tough though, as he brought in a lot of fight and almost nailed a Perfect Plex which I ‘thrilled’ out of into a Kincaid Klash for the pin! And with that the bell rang. Braden Kincaid wins!!! Wait, DAMN! There’s a round 2 too…

This is where things started going downhill. Picture this: I was sorta celebrating backstage high-5ing everybody. Went past this guy Lynch Garrison who wasn’t in the mood. Looks like he had a bad night. That when those EVIL Diabolical Forces jumped me from behind. Which was a bad thing since my Tag Title defense was next. 20 minutes later, I head down to the ring for the match. Should have just stayed in the ring and gotten ahead with it; now for half the match my partner Hawkeye had to go it alone. Finally made the hot tag, but with a little assist from Sevyn, the Diabolical Forces walked out as Tag Team Champions. Was I upset? You betcha! But not as upset as Hawkeye was, as he just left the ring without even saying anything. I did try calling him back but then I thought I’d prolly catch up with him in round 2 of the Gauntlet.

Sure enough, Round 2 started with me going head to head with Paul Doom. The Baddest Man from Australia, this guy was the International Champion and just beat Rocko Daymon to retain the belt. So he’s got the International Title, he doesn’t need the big belt right? Didn’t seem like it as this guy was big and tough. Almost about to go for a powerbomb but didn’t. I look around and see Daymon in the ring with a baseball bat. So he’s about to hit Doom with it right, and turns out, he hit ME in the gut! ME?! Why the f***?! This couldn’t be good, but then the bells rang and get this: Doom gets DQ’d! WTF?! Doom argues with the ref and then runs right after Daymon. So I’m still in it I guess, but dammit why am I taking all the hits here. The lights then go out, now what!? The spotlight hits the rafters and, uh oh…

Now this was scary. Here’s the guy that literally tore up that guy Garrison. Then it hits me its Lord Alucard’s turn now. And there he is, standing right there up on the rafters. Gotta admit, that jump to the ring thing he does is off the hook, and it could scare me shitless right now. But he’s just standing there. Waiting and doing nothing. Just tonight he beat up the Hazard in a brutal Cage match and it was all gloves off for that match. But with gloves like THOSE, it was better he kept them on! Then the light goes off and that’s… it? He doesn’t get in the ring and the next guy’s about to show up. Sad though, really wanted to ask him where I could get me those gloves.

Next up is AOD… not to be mistaken for POD, which by the way are awesome. This guy on the other hand looks like that sh*tty Twilight guy, which by the way is NOT awesome. Having a girlfriend is like a dream, which turns into a nightmare once she forces you to watch TWILIGHT! Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, AOD beat Alucard for the title before, so it’s his turn now. HEY! I just remembered an EUWC Fact! Miranda, if only you could hear me now. At least I had time to get my breath back from that stupid baseball bat shot. This guy AOD thinks he can old school me out… well it’s time to put pops back in his place. Wonder how the REAL AOD must feel about this guy. I mean seriously, hasn’t he ever heard of “Copyright Infringement”?

So while I have pops ready for another patented Kincaid Klash when he reverses and shoves me into the referee. Still doesn’t do him any good as he STILL gets the Kincaid Klash! Then… lights out?! All I remember then is something hit me on the head! A briefcase? The referee woke me up later to get me out of the ring. I couldn’t believe this guy AOD got the better of me, but wait what the f***!? That punk with the briefcase knocked me out in the match! Wait’ll I get my hands on him! And as for pops, he’s already got his hands full.