Ch.1. Everything

Alien(s) On Valium

Part 1

Over a series of short encounters, this narcissistic tale of self-realization is based in the near, mildly dystopian future, and portrays the quarter-life crisis of an Indian that is forced to move back to India in lieu of President Trump’s malicious agendas.

Alien(s) on valium focuses on the similarities, and the differences in human nature, the uniqueness, the perspectives and the variations.

Through the life of a few, it traces the paths of a billion, and maybe more.

Chapter 1

Everything – is not about you!

01. Hazy selfie in crowd
Photo Courtesy: user-raghavendra

—- Insert hazy selfie in a crowd —-

—- (Aur mera kya?!) —-

Location: Planet Earth, a place where it’s all relative.

Click to play music.
(optional, but recommended)

He stared into the darkness, a light shone bright on his eyes, overwhelmed by the light his psyche sought a mirror to look at himself, to look into himself. He was lost in passive frustration and ignorance, and averse to thought provocation for the time being. He found the mirror in the face of the incoming truck, honking in his left ear as it passed by. A bright light taking over the world before his eyes, now shut tight, body in a total state of shock and arrest, like a flashbang grenade. Muscle reflex, he took a deep breath, calming himself the fuck down, looking straight into the mirror, a familiar voice roared in the background, ‘Everything’.

Everything, everything is not about you, it’s about me. Everything is about me.

‘Everything is not about you’, he said in a hurried voice, tragedy and frustration – frustration he found futile, so he quickly continued, ‘it’s about me’, he said with full composure. But ‘life me thoda entertainment maangta hai!’ (what’s life without entertainment!) the Jim Carrey, the jester inside his soul woke up. He had just gone to bed, dude, that guy couldn’t catch a break, timeless though. Soon, the man in the mirror started flailing his hands to the right, knees weak, lips heavy, palms sweaty, his vision blurry, and in a slurry voice he began to chant, ‘it’s about me’ – trying to come off as a retard, slowly chanting, ‘iiittsss abbbouuttt mmeeeaayy’. His hands began to come straight up above his head, still flailing, he started talking in the typical American cheerleader’s voice, ‘oh my gosh’ in a rushed trying-to-be-pleasing tone, ‘oh my gosh, Brittany!’ holding the right hand out, as if a prince were going to service it, ‘’oh my gosh Brittany, everything is about me, you know’. As his hands flailed to the left, he retracted from the 10 ‘o’ clock angle into a soldier’s march, marching professionally he said in a calm voice, ’Everything is about me!’. Concluding in the Jordan Belfort voice and grin, he closed it off with a ‘And that’s just how it is!’ He winked at himself, and snapped his finger as he turned around to open his eyes, to look at the artwork behind the truck that almost phased him out, finding the trucker behind the wheels not so sober as he watched him drive away, he shouted out loud, ‘bloody bhencho’ (bloody asshole).

#Desi

As he continued to walk on his way, thinking if he looked like a total idiot to any bystanders, he scanned the street and noticed just one man, lost in his own a little ahead of him. The man was smoking a beedi (cheap tobacco) and it lit slow (#BadiDheereJali). The heavy smoke slowly dispersing around the man’s white and grey check shirt. As he crossed the man, he noticed a look of self-involvement in the man’s empty stare. His eyes didn’t blink.

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Photo Courtesy: that_cameraguy

The musings of his mind were wandering about the concept of ‘relativity’, how strange a concept relativity was, it existed in the yet discovered physical dimension(s) – documentaries about outer space that depict a trippy panorama of the universe rotating around multiple focal points, to each his own. If you ever paid attention to the voice of the estranged bald professor in a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches in any one of those documentaries, he points out the Milky Way and establishes facts about the universe revolving around us, around the Milky Way – a galaxy with a radius as ridiculous as millions and millions of kilometers, and then he would hypothesize about someone on an unimaginably far and dark corner of the universe, whatever the fuck they look like, believing that everything revolves around their own axis. That is how life works, on the broadest of scales. Right? That can’t be hard to comprehend, even if you’re a motherfucking star-boy!

Now, that was relativity in the physical dimension, but one thing “us” humans caught on fairly quick was, for something to be relevant and meaningful, its physical existence is not a mandate. For instance, the concept of God is merely one such simple phenomenon. He could see a crowd ahead of him at the end of the narrow street he was on. A vibrant bokeh of lights swooshed by as he turned from the narrow, lonely back street of “Old Delhi” i.e., what used to be the real Delhi. The alley broke upon on a busy junction like an estuary into an Irish river, his pupils adjusted to the bright confluence of cheap lights, ultimately a waterfall. So much was going on around that corner, so much he hadn’t anticipated, so much he hadn’t expected to witness. The crowd was making its way to and from the metro station. He calmed down from the overwhelming sight, and saw the opportunity at hand. He was on a slow edge of the waterfall, but it was still steep. He had a small walk ahead of him, the roots of a thousand noises to trace, the looks in the eyes of a thousand passing strangers to capture. He went off the ledge, embracing his jump, it was time to hear the sound of every waterdrop crash. His mood lightened up a little. His senses hyperactively scanning past the crowd for inspiration, for meaning. His bag slung around his shoulders, dapper, the so-called life on the road, in the youth of the 21st century.

paharganj
Photo Courtesy: that_cameraguy

Soon, he was beneath ground, and not metaphorically, he was lucky enough to catch the train the moment he arrived downstairs. He got in, stood by the door across from him and leaned on the door. He noticed people hustle past the open door, and the ones in the train across from him, the lives of others — headed in the opposite direction.

IMG_20170307_164542_043
Photo Courtest: ro5h4n

The gates closed, and the music began — the sounds on an underground train are a very peculiar genre. And with that peculiar electronic music in the background, he started digging into the invisible, the intangible – the intellectual and the emotional – forms of relativity, and various metamorphoses that can often be bucketed under the umbrella of the ‘psychological expression of relativity’. For every human, most animals and touch-me-not plants too, everything revolves around their individual selves. This so-called ‘moral’ form of relativism is not that hard to comprehend, or at least that’s what he thought. Reality began to hit again, only so long can you live in oblivion. He was sick of it, he was in the metro, standing right next to the door, facing no one in particular, on intention, just waiting for his stop, to get off and on with it. The nerves in his brain were more entangled than wires on the electricity poles in Chandni Chowk — an essential part of Delhi, for those who question the philosophy that Delhi is! A surge rose in the distribution system somewhere near Select CityWalk Mall, a barely literate diploma graduate messed with million-dollar equipment at the local grid. It’s not farfetched to believe that said person was high on hundred rupees worth of ‘boot-polished-and-or-rat-poisoned’ sedatives that came packaged in the lowest quality ziplock bags, supplied by a rickshaw wala or a paan wala (street vendor). A viral spark of electricity generated on the south-eastern borders of the Outer Ring Road. A giant Meer cat rose above South Delhi to trace the spark that ran wild through the grid – bursting through each corner of the polluted brain, between the ring roads, spiraling centripetally inwards through the Inner Ring Road, like a warp to the nearest distribution hub, and then back out the eastern doorways till it got to the local hub in one tiny overcrowded Chandni Chowk-ish corner of the brain, all nerves, all signals interweaving in a manner thrilling enough for Faraday. (Yes, centripetally is the right word.) The Meer cat blinks at the sight, everything stops, in an electronic sense, in the world of signals, there was a lag – the silence before the storm. And then, the explosion, the fall ended.

Tiny sparks on the outside, but a total blackout on the inside, lost in the darkness of your own. Imagine the mental chaos!

‘why is it so wrong to be self-centered, it is only natural, right?’

One lapse after the other, a wave of emotions flew through his mind like tremors, hope was a concept that had been asked to fuck off, and not politely. He was already suffering from one miserable heartbreak, Cola — his beagle, had been run over by a drunk Jatt (local, an overly rich and illiterate one in this case) in a BMW. Frustration he didn’t care for, tragedy he couldn’t help but survive, coincidences. Right about now, was when another coincidence would metaphorically equate to twisting a knife that had been stabbed deep in to his chest.

‘Love. Fuck Love.’ Love is the drug that messes up this pleasant trip of oxygen – life. Every time. ‘Every fucking time I’ve loved something or someone, it has fucked with my head. Every fucking time! And every fucking time, I tell myself to not fall in love again, to beware of this fucking disease.’ Another voice began to contradict but that voice was never heard from for the rest of the night. ‘So, why the fuck do you not listen to yourself.’ The part of him that was pissed at himself sighed in disbelief but tried again, “Ok, repeat after me, Fuck Love.’

L-shaped fingers began to multiply inside his head like a fatal virus, waiting to burst out like the philosophical equivalent of the Stranger Things credits video, daunting music in the background. But the bubble was yet to burst – that’s the whole fucking problem,

‘the bubble is always about to burst, it would be so easy if it did!’

Listening to a lite techno take on Radiohead’s ‘Everything in its right place’ on a long lost Above & Beyond podcast – once upon a time, a Friday ritual, sacred ‘af’. He wondered, ‘Life is a fucking jigsaw, what’s my purpose in life, why are we here, WE ARE HERE TO FIGURE OUT THIS FUCKING JIGSAW, that’s why we’re fucking here!’ A Will McAvoy-ish rant began in his head and it felt good, projecting, he thought of his Chachu (uncle, dad’s brother) and how he was managing to survive with his family, sometimes he seemed to have it all figured out. Sometimes.

Sometimes the puzzle is not hard, it’s the picture at the end, it’s not pretty enough!

‘What the fuck can you do then, but just live with it!’? He thought about the existence of hope, and how his logic-abiding Chachu blindly consulted astrologers on every little thing. His Chachu was a step short of asking the astrologer when he was going to take the next big shit because he’d been constipated for over two days. The astrologer would charge a few thousand rupees to recommend some mantras followed by a double cheese pizza as “prasad (gracious edibles from the gods). And then the pandit (priest) would look at him, in his head he tried to copy the accent of a pandit’s fake caution, ‘No onions – okay, beta (son)?’ ‘because it’s a puja’ (prayer) implied in braces. Most Indian traditions frown upon the use of onions, garlic, and obviously meaty substances etc. on the day of the ceremony, because the “gods” care about the negative energy of fruits and animals. Meanwhile, he was thinking of ordering a pepperoni. As the Radiohead remix tuned out, his phone buzzed, it was his manager telling him that she was still waiting for the boss to review the presentation, she was guessing the delay was because the boss had gotten some bad news. He stared at the screen as an old black woman hopped on to the metro with her quadra-legged-walker thingy or whatever those things are called – the things you need when you can’t physically support yourself in lieu of old age. The old crippling lady was followed by a woman that appeared in her late thirties, in a tiny red polka saree. There was something about her, she had a very strong personality. For some reason, whatever was wrong with that woman hid perfectly behind the crippling lady’s quadriplegic melodrama. So perfectly, that he instantly started thinking of what might be going in the old lady’s head, ‘Alright. Hope for the best!’ And then a confused voice in his head lit, ‘Hope. Excuse me? Fuck Hope!’

He had gotten off at the Hauz Khas metro station and was walking till the Safdurjung Development Area (SDA) Market to have a smoke, and maybe a beer, if time permitted. The thought of ending up like his Chachu flashed in front of him, as much as he loved and respected him, he knew they were poles apart. He then realized how he didn’t have a choice at the time, the American dream had come crashing down as a nightmare, all his savings were now drowning, through Robinhood — an investment app, with the American economy. He barely got out alive. It had been several months now, things were stabilizing, there was so much progress to be made, yet so few jobs. Nobody saw it coming, when they did it was too late. There were a few that tried to wake everyone up from their hard sleep, to make them realize that it was not the future that was gloomy, it was the present that was dystopian. ‘Alas!’ he used to say, ‘they were too late!’ Russia, Korea, China, Iran, Saudi, Canada, India, everyone had aces up their sleeves, it was just a matter of how many!

However, it was the orange baboon of an elected leader that stole the Academy Award for The Best Puppet.

p10
Photo Courtesy: alienonvalium

Being stuck in America was also not an option in this day and age, the dream was over, yesterday. Living on this unfathomable billions-and-billions-of-miles-long scale, no matter how different we are, at the start and end of every fucking day, we are all the same, we have “necessities” we need to eat and drink to survive, we need to defecate and excrete to survive, what are we if not badly built machines. We need all this drama, we can’t live in peace – at least till the day Mr. Musk convinces the tangerine goon of a world leader to get someone to Mars. Till then, what the fuck can we really do when life gives us lemons!’

He played with a rhetorical but stupid, selfish voice inside his head that began to clear its throat to reply. The voice doing this very monologue turned, and stared, and rolled its eyes in fury and hatred, and the other voice disappeared like an erection at the sight of an ignorant woman, and whatever the feminine equivalent of that is. He continued, ‘you give and you give and you give, you give countless fucks about everything, and everybody, and you try to do right by everybody, you try to make everybody happy, not because you want to please them, but because, but because you like seeing a smile on the faces you care about, you try to do what’s right, and then.’ He sighed, ‘and then life comes around, out of nowhere, and just smacks you right in the fucking face.’ He paused, going passive from aggressive, condescending, ‘What then?’ From the dark corners of his head, he could see his uncle’s I-told-you-so face saying, ‘then what’ in a condescending manner, but he chose to ignore it and listen to the popular opinion, ‘then you call it life, and move on.’

Little did he know, that Eugene was cautioned, was told to be careful with that axe.

He was on his way to meet his half-namesake, his best friend, MD, for hookah on the patio of the DLF Promenade Mall. He was walking along with a decent pace, the road to SDA and the cigarette both coming to an end, when his phone buzzed. He continued walking as he checked his phone, he did not have a plan until he received that text from MD – he realized he was probably going to reach around the same time, maybe MD would have to wait, but with Delhi’s traffic one could never predict. Upon reading the text, he started planning, and implementing, he turned into the back street, to plan a one-way utility trip through the market, he stopped to buy smokes, and then a Kingfisher Strong Beer. He was tempted to make a quick pit-stop at the momos stand, but the sight of MD’s angry face kept him walking through and out the other end of the market.

Apparently, MD was pissed at him, she felt he didn’t respect her, she felt ignored. He had no fucking idea. He was just glad he was aware enough to reckon something was wrong. In his head, he was on his way to become a journalist to the classes, but his subject was always the masses, he was thinking of coming up with a new hash tag series, #TheWorldWouldBeABetterPlaceIf. Right now, with what was going on with MD, he was thinking of expressing his feelings through a tweet. (The thing about tweets is that, even if nobody bothers to listen, it feels nice to just let it out, self-assuring.)

‘#TheWorldWouldBeABetterPlaceIF only everyone said whatever they had on their mind!’

Of all the people in the inner circle of his life, he had never expected MD to be so naïve, so strange, ‘so alienated.’ Being forced to leave the country by a guy who fucking bet the most idiotic toupé on WWE matches, he thought his bond with MD had grown stronger, and that she would understand that this was exactly the time to fall for something as foolish as love, and it was not only obvious, but also necessary. And on top of that, meeting every day to discuss the misery of getting rejected for a job two continents away was not helping on the patience scale either. It was a well-known and accepted fact that living in India was not going to turn out to be the greatest of ideas, but the degree of it was unthought-of. Ultimately, the plan was to move to Europe, anywhere in Europe, and eventually get his uncle’s family to move there, their younger son wanted to get out of there too. The triangle of life, a North American Orwellian, apocalyptic, remains-of-a-futurepast lifestyle or a mellow European dream, only because moving to Africa was not easy. And meanwhile, how could life in India be easy, demonetization was just the trailer, the global bubble had burst with its epicenters on Wall Street. ‘Trump’ had risen to be a stronger adjective for outrageousness than ‘Hitler’, and then plummeted further down, dumb and dumber. The global atmosphere had more than one type of pollutants now, and everybody’s right to information needed to be secured in a vault, but also to be let out in the streets, like a fuckin’ bloc party. And meanwhile, here was Mr. Maadhav Das Bhatnagar, s/o the late Manohar Das Bhatnagar with ancient roots in Lucknow, living life out of a Hemingway novel. Slogging his ass, by day, on his MacBook at the SDA Market, looking for jobs. Finding a job in Europe was different today, more frustrating than his internship hunt days in the valleys of Vermont, especially sitting in New Delhi. Thinking to himself, ‘how could MD NOT get that this is the perfect time to have fallen in love.’ He paused, a hilariously condescending voice inside his head went, ‘and to go through a fuckin’ heartbreak!’

But life was about the little things, things as little as being funny enough to crack oneself up, and then acknowledging the same, and then finding the acknowledgement funny. And then after a little while, realizing how truly self-aware one was, and finding that also funny enough to crack oneself up. And then cracking up on the same, the loops of humorception!

A flash of a time not so long ago when he tried the finest gin cocktail for the first time at the Green Russell in Denver. The calm induced by the first sip of a perfectly crafted cocktail.

LAYERED LABYRINTH

LEOPOLD BROS. NAVY STRENGTH GIN, ABSINTHE, CRÈME DE CASSIS, GRAPEFRUIT, LIME, PEYCHARD’S BITTERS.

 

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Photo Courtesy: greenrussel_denver

And he was a whiskey person. Not so long ago, a bottle of Black Label would last him a day, two at most; while a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, maybe a month. “But now, times were different” (“Par ab, maahol kharaab tha”) or some heavy dialogue delivered in a Piyush Mishra (Morgan Freeman) narrative overtone.

10 minutes into his walk, he finished his beer, the mall was only a fifteen-minute ride away without traffic, and the roads looked decent. He threw his beer in a trash house, a hive of flies above cow-dung laden dogs, and took out his phone to call for an Uber Auto. Two minutes away. He lit a cigarette. A few drags in, his ride showed up, striking violet lights built into the console, he thanked god for the lack of hefty subwoofers in the back. He asked the driver if it was okay to smoke inside, and to his surprise, it was.

A few minutes into his three-wheeler ride, while thinking about MD, bustling past traffic on South Delhi streets, he went back to the whole psychological relativity rant and contemplated the similarities between everyone around him, and the uniqueness too, ‘everyone is so different, in so many ways. And that’s the unique beauty in each individual. But then everyone is also fundamentally bound by these gifts of nature, these, disgusting – instinctual, human properties. It’s not wrong to think everything-is-about-me because that’s how everybody thinks, be it conscious or not’. The one voice that stood on top of the mental iceberg, performing the opera tonight, contemplated dilemmas of diving in to the freezing waters, just to fathom the true depths of his own psyche, or not – and the consequences thereon. He continued, with a modestly optimistic intention ‘for me, everything is about me, if I do right by you, to see you smile, it’s because I love to see you smile, while for you, everything is about you – only because your universe revolves around your axis. And mine, around mine! Maybe you don’t get me, but till the time you get yourself, I believe in you.’

Soon he lost his physical self, blinded, but the tragically comic chaos inside his head was still going strong, because the show must go on – sometimes in the form of a bad acid trip, sometimes a little mellow.

‘I might not believe in the fucked up, fearful-of-the-oedipal-chants of the Bible, or the seemingly peaceful chants of the Gita or in Elvis, BUT, I’m happy knowing you believe in yourself, because I believe in my own. And till the time you do too, I’ll be there, trying my best to fucking ‘relate’ to whatever the fuck you feel – only because I know you and I know you are true to yourself, even if you aren’t sure about it. Though you are, you are more sure about yourself and your beliefs than I have ever been about mine. Or at least you appear to be!’

The haze cleared from his head as he found himself alone, in the corridors of an empty South Delhi mall after hours on a Monday night, waiting for MD to return from the restroom so they could go add some more fuel to fire, go smoke some hookah in the smog.

He heard MD’s cautiously light heel stomps come from the right corridor ahead of him, MD was his ‘bro’, his little sister, cute to the extent that the sound of her own footsteps ticked her OCD, so she walked lightly. Her footsteps grew audibly over the snores of the security guard that was passed out on his uncomfortable plastic chair, in a not-so-far corner, a red spit of paan (a leafy mouth-freshening condiment) dripping from the side of his lip. He was excited to meet MD, he always was, but he knew it was not going to be easy to patch things up with MD – someone who was passionate about everything she did, and if she was pissed, then he must have done something wrong. A part of him thought so sarcastically, but another really did believe that if MD was pissed, something did go wrong, maybe unintentionally. But the other part, mildly debated the even-if and the so-what, and knew that MD would never get it, she would eventually be okay with it, but she wouldn’t truly get it. As the sounds of her heel stomps grew louder, he contemplated how soon he would lose his patience explaining his misery to her.

‘So, is it that fucking hard, for you, to believe, in me?’

Fade to Black.

P.S. Not everything fades in, but everything sure does fade out – or at least that’s what one hopes for. Fucking hope.


Thanks to Raghavendra Sahai, Roshan Singh, and Nikhil Sharma for the amazing pictures.

Feedback welcome and viewed as constructive criticism.

Interested in knowing what happens next? Read Chapter 2 here.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Powerful story. And the pictures are fabulous. They capture India, big-time. Spent 3 months there in 2013 and I felt I was wandering down city streets in places like Pondicherry again. Fab blog too. I found you via Reddit.

    Ryan

    1. Thanks Ryan!! That experience is exactly what I was hoping this story would give. Stay tuned for the next parts.

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