We belong to Mankind – an ancient and noble race. Ours is a two-million-year-old history, one written with words and deeds of wonder, love, curiosity, courage, and also hate, and bloodshed. The beauty about the human race is that we are survivors – we learn from our mistakes, adapt, and survive. Of course, our ancestors, the Homo Erectus, survived for twenty million years – ten times longer than we have, yet we are the species who have made a difference in this world – both positive, and negative.
We are ancient, yet so very young in the overall scheme of things. If we represent the entire timeline of the universe as a straight line, we’d find ourselves standing closer to the T-Rexes, than the T-Rexes to the Stegosauruses. Life existed exclusively as single-celled organisms for three and a half billion years. Compared to that, our history is miniscule – we shouldn’t matter.
Yet, here we are and we do matter. We have to celebrate our history, because it is going to end soon. How soon? My dear fellow humans, we have only one hundred and twenty days left on this planet. As I’m speaking, a huge asteroid measuring about 28 km across, bigger than Washington DC, is on its way towards Earth. This asteroid, classified as 0-Kalki, was born out of a collision between the dwarf planet Ceres and a trojan asteroid last year. We have spent significant amounts of time and money to find a way out of the impending danger, but are no closer to any solution. Our Lunar and Mars colonies still exist only on paper.
Over the past year, every country in this planet has built dedicated disaster bunkers. But the chances of the success of these disaster bunkers are extremely negligible, as 0-Kalki is much bigger than the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are faced with an Extinction Level Event. Let me quote the late Carl Sagan here, ‘We were born here on this tiny mote of dust, suspended in a Srivalli sunbeam.’ Yet, this is the only home we have and know, and this is where we will make our stand, a final stand.
Spend these last 120 days in the best way you can. Spread love, learn something new, be kind, try that one thing you’ve always been afraid of doing, sing, dance, travel, say hello to your fellow man on the street…the opportunities are limitless in this limited time we have. I’m going to travel every day of these last days of humanity. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll run into you one day. Stay strong, God bless you all.
I remove my headphones and pack it into my rucksack. Today’s podcast will not have any edits. I said whatever came bubbling up through my throat. The last couple of days has sent the entire world into a tailspin. I always knew that nature had something big planned for us, but never expected something of this magnitude. I mean, end of everything is no trivial event. When the President of the USA announced the world about 0-Kalki, I reacted like everyone on this planet – disbelief, followed by indignation, and then as the minutes trickled into hours – a final acceptance.
I press the upload icon to get my podcast on air, pack my laptop and camera, and leg it to the airport. Every mode of transportation has been made free for everyone from this morning. Countries have opened their borders to the world. When faced with extinction, trivial things like money, identity cards, etc., have become irrelevant.
I enter the airport and walk up to the ticket counters and ask for a seat in the plane flying to Chennai. It’s been ages since I visited the city of my birth. The flight attendants’ smiles are not wide enough to mask their fear. I thank them for their service and take my seat next to an old man, who is smoking inside the plane. His mien dares me to challenge him. I smile, and ask for a cigarette instead. He starts laughing, smoke and snot coming out in hissy spurts from his nostrils.
‘Nothing matters anymore, eh?’ He says, offering me a cigarette. I light it up and savour the nauseating tobacco infused smoke.
‘I guess not, Sir.’ I blow the smoke out. A petite air-hostess frowns at us, I wink at her and she gives up and walks away with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.
‘Nothing matters anymore.’ He repeats and blows out smoke. ‘Well, how do you feel?’
‘Still processing,’ I reply. ‘It certainly feels good to travel without paying.’
‘Too soon to say.’ A shadow falls over me and I look up. A pregnant woman is standing in the aisle, next to my seat. Her nose is wrinkled with disgust at the cigarette smoke.
‘May I have the aisle seat, please?’ She points to her belly and asks. I nod, stub my cigarette, and scoot over to the middle seat. The old man is still smoking.
‘Uncle!’ the woman calls out. The old man looks at her, smirks and stubs his cigarette. ‘Happy?’ He asks.
‘I just wanted a barf-bag,’ She smiles. ‘Seems like my seat doesn’t have one.’
He passes the barf-bag to her and grumbles, ‘Wasted a perfectly good cigarette. Doesn’t matter, nothing matters anyway.’
‘Not for me uncle,’ She says and points to her belly. ‘I still have something to look forward to.’
Tears start dripping from her eyes. ‘Anything wrong?’ I ask.
She sniffs and says, ‘I just hope that I get to meet her. I want to hold her, even if it is only for a second.’
‘You will.’ I say with fake confidence.
‘It’s not fair,’ She is weeping now. The old man passes her a hand-kerchief. ‘No point crying, girl. Just be happy that the few moments you have with your child will be ones of pure joy. It’s only when they grow up and treat you like shit, these moments start fading away.’
Sadness is etched between the lines in his face. Is he going to meet his children? I don’t ask him; I choose to think that he is. We pass the rest of the journey in amiable silence. Someone tried to crack a joke, but it flew like a lead balloon amidst the shell-shocked passengers.
Chennai looks the same, feels the same; yet, nothing remains same. People are still shuffling around towards their workplaces, but I see the temples, churches, and mosques overflowing with people. Prayers are being broadcast through loudspeakers, pujas are being done every hour of the day. I can understand their sentiments, even though I don’t agree with them.
I have no relatives in this city anymore. The city is my relative. I spend the day wandering along the city and talking to people on the streets. There is a sort of resignation permeating through the air, and I don’t like it one bit. A vast majority have given up and are just going through their motions. This banality doesn’t suit me. A city is dying well before its time. I need to get out of this place.
My heart beats in a frenzy as I cross the Wagah border and step into Pakistan. I look up, down, front, and back, and find nothing different. The earth and the air looks and feels the same. Lines drawn by the humans doesn’t matter when the ones who drew it don’t.
The Pakistani Soldiers, with their uniforms still immaculate, wave at me. They offer tea and I gladly accept. Over cups of karak chai and piping hot samosas, we share stories. The impending doom doesn’t seem to faze them much, I guess soldiers belong to a different breed of men. I mean, they wake up every day prepared to die.
Fazal Khan, the soldier who offered me tea, is thirty-three. He is from a place called Battal in the Khyber-Pakhtunwala province. I ask him about his place and the story starts flowing.
‘Bhaijaan, Battal is a beautiful place. It is close to Afghanistan, you know? The place is surrounded by lush-green mountains, and sparkling springs. My abbu and ammijaan still live there. Abbujaan has a small provision store. I grew up on the mountains, bhaijaan.’
There is a longing in his voice.
‘Do you miss your place?’
Fazal laughs, ‘Of course, bhaijaan. Your soil is in your blood. I’m hoping to get a leave to visit my parents soon. Hopefully, before the asteroid blows us into space.’
He laughs without mirth. I thank him for the tea.
‘I joined the army when I turned eighteen,’ Fazal says. ‘Fifteen years, I have spent fighting against your country. I have seen my fellow soldiers being blown away by bombs, or riddled with bullets. I have held the hands of my wounded comrades as they begged for salvation, before succumbing to their injuries. I have killed my share of your countrymen as well.’
‘Yet, here we are.’
‘Indeed, here we are. Sipping tea and chatting away like friends. All these things I fought for have lost meaning now, hasn’t it? Abbujaan used to say that people get wiser when death is in sight. He was always a wise man.’
I nod, shake hands with him, and prepare to depart. My mobile beeps and I get a news alert of a famous church in London being demolished by an angry mob. I walk into Pakistan thinking about the meaningless of everything.
‘Normally, I’d have tut-tutted at your smoking, but who fears cancer when an asteroid is hurtling towards us, eh?’
Sara laughs and takes a deep drag of her cigarette. ‘The way I see it, I’ve been given life’s biggest cheat card. I can drink anything I want; I can smoke how much ever I want, and, I can sleep with whomever I want.’
She discards her bathrobe and crawls on the bed towards me like a panther in hunt of its prey. A seductress on top of her game. I reach over, remove the cigarette from her lips, and kiss her. Time trickles away bringing us closer to our end, but thank goodness for small mercies.
Sara van Zyl is a South African journalist who was covering the middle east conflict, when I met her in Ramallah ten days ago. We struck a conversation while watching Syrians and Israelis crossed the armistice line and realised, they weren’t much different from each other. She bought into my idea of going around the world till the D-day, and we’ve been traveling together since then. We saw riots in Paris, drank beer with confused neo-nazis in Hannover, experienced free-love with a bunch of gypsies outside Jaen, and yesterday, visited the ruined remains of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
‘I visited St. Paul’s twenty years ago, you know?’ Sara whispers against my chest. ‘How old were you then?’
‘Ten,’ I mutter and close my eyes with content.
‘God, you are young,’ She laughs. ‘I was twenty-five then.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘It never did. Still, it pains to see it destroyed.’
‘Fear makes people irrational, doesn’t it?’
She nods, her brown tresses tickles me. ‘Faith gives people hope, a tether to bind themselves against the impending darkness. Mosques, temples, synagogues, churches…why do you think all these places of worship were built to a large scale? To give people something huge to hold on to. Fear slashes that tether to shreds and suddenly people either crawl into shells or hit out. Who do you think are behind the destruction of the places? The ones who used to pray there everyday. They feel betrayed by their Gods.’
‘At least, all the Gods are united in ending us. If this doesn’t teach unity to people, nothing ever will.’
Sara laughs and climbs atop me.
Earthy aromas from the steaming cups of ryokucha comes waft through the air. Sara and I are seated opposite to her Japanese colleague Yasuke and her grandfather Daisuke. A nonagenarian, Daisuke, is a survivor. As a child, he escaped the bombing of Hiroshima with severe radiation burns and loss of eyesight. Yet, he has lived a fulfilled life. He laughs easily, and heartily.
‘They say cockroaches are the greatest survivors, Sara-san,’ He begins, ‘But those pesky insects have nothing on us.’
‘Ojiisan, not now.’ Yasuke mutters.
‘Iie, Yasuke-chan. If not now, when? I’m not going to regale everyone with the story of my survival. But I do have something to say about facing death and fear. Everyone is going to die, and that is a fact. But staying calm when death confronts you is not easy. It is okay to be afraid.’
I slip my fingers through Sara’s hand and clasp tightly.
‘The asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs came in at a shallow angle, whereas 0-Kalki will be impacting Earth at an angle of 45 degrees. The resulting impact will be ten times powerful.’
I nod as Neil DeGrasse Tyson speaks. ‘Force equals mass multiplied with acceleration. 0-Kalki weighs almost 400 billion kilograms and is hurtling at us with a speed of 70000 kph. The blast pulse created on impact is enough to wipe out Africa. Chunks of earth, the size of huge buildings, will be thrown into the sky and yes, there will be one huge fireball. Within five minutes, it will all be over. It ends in ashes and dust, eh?’
Sara and I walk in silence through the village of Morretes. People are laughing and dancing in the streets. Their traditional dish, Barreado, is being served in clay pots. The aromas make our mouths salivate, yet we walk ahead. We shake hands with strangers. A handsome man in a tuxedo hugs me and I, impulsively, kiss him. He returns the kiss with fervour. Today is a day of celebration, a day of defiance. The Barreado is laced with poison, and the citizens of this beautiful village will be dead in a couple of hours. One final fuck you to the Gods.
We are not ready yet.
The lioness roars in pain. We alight from our bakkie and proceed warily towards her. The sky is dark, there are frequent meteorite showers. The lioness isn’t bothered with anything around her. She pants and grunts, trying to push her litter out. We spot movement in the periphery and spy a cackle of hyenas. They are fanning out, in scent of easy prey. The lioness becomes wary of intruders and roars with helplessness. Sara and I grab the flimsy tent poles from the bakkie and, with a bellow, run towards the hyenas.
Sara falls first and three hyenas descend on her, ripping and tearing. I run towards her and am ambushed by the ones that have flanked me. I howl with pain as the hyenas feast on my flesh. A gigantic shadow engulfs the Serengeti. The lioness is licking her cubs.
I close my eyes.
Bhaijaan – brother
Ammijaan – mother
Abbu, abbujaan – father
Ruokucha – Japanese green tea
Ojiisan – Grandfather (Japanese)
Iie – no (Japanese)
Bakkie – a pick-up truck. (Afrikaans)
Photo By: Reimund Bertrams
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