Translated from the Bengali by Ranjita Chattopadhyay
Language posed a barrier. So, it was difficult for Captain James Cook to understand what the Maori Chief was trying to say. However, the smell of the burnt meat from the open furnace that wafted in the air made something very clear. It was the fact that the villagers were cannibals. The captain was attracted more to the strange tattoos on the Chief’s body than the primitive environment of the village.
“Have I travelled the whole world in the quest of this?” The captain asked himself.
On the chief’s chest, right on top of where his heart is inside, the sorceress drew some patterns with a needle and ink. Some kind of shapeless object was floating in the skull goblet. The tattoo has some similarities with the cell bodies discovered by Robert Hook. The sorceress who did the tattoo on the Chief’s body was not supposed to know about microscopic life forms. Cook tried to ask the Chief, “How did she get the idea to draw such a pattern?” The Chief’s body language said it all. There was no need for an interpreter. The chief was extremely scared. The captain asked the same question to people from different ancient tribes. What was the significance of those designs and symbols? He got the same answer in various forms. “A God is coming.”
“Samiran, you did not take your Vitamin C today. You haven’t done your cognitive registration either. Drinking alcohol, after coming home from work, this early in the afternoon….” Before the virtual assistant completed its mechanical narrative, Samiran turned the switch off. He realized it was not a good idea to put the implant at the back of his head. He thought it was another big project like ‘Aadhar.’ Had he known that there would be some consultant inside his head…
“Fortunately I can put him to sleep.” Samiran added three ice cubes in his glass of whiskey. He slowly took a sip of his drink and came out to the balcony of his lonely flat. The wordless walls heard his sighs. Way below where he stood the lapping of the sea waves were heard. On his online noticeboard, the sign says “vacate” for the past two months. The railings on the balcony felt the huge pressure as they heard the voiceless word and a strained laugh. He did not need to go to Digha anymore to swim in the sea.
Lights seeped out from some other flats in the city of the ghosts as well. The solar batteries were still working in Kolkata, the city that wanted to become Atlantis. The vast empire, gradual empire, built by the blood and bones of martyrs of forgotten history was now losing its glory, because of the actions of his forefathers. All those who came before. Whenever Samiran reminisced, a hazy curtain enwrapped his mind. He did not know the reasons. He knew the world was different ten years back. A blink ago. The noise on the busy streets, traffic jams on the MG Road, the breeze from Maidan, the sunset at Babughat – nothing lasted. The water from the melted glacier drowned everything. No one needed the renowned virologist and molecular cell Biologist Samiran Chakrabarty anymore in this city. People only cared for their own survival.
Samiran set down with his glass of whiskey. He picked up the letter. Did he see the letter? He could not remember. As he tried to remember, the fog gathered density in his mind. This was from his son, from Capetown. He worked in the best plastic recycling center there. Like the Indian gods who found elixir using Mandar Parvata, Bibhas also was churning the ocean. The Nanobots he designed sieved everything from polythene bags to micro plastic from the ocean’s womb. Someone said once, “We don’t inherit the planet from our ancestors; we borrow the earth from our children.”
His son was way more progressive than him. Then why did he still send a handwritten letter? He did not understand. Maybe that was the reason he started rereading it. He could not remember if he read it before. The letter was like any other mail. Ordinary, until the power went out. It was almost a regular phenomenon these days. Last week he went on the rooftop when there was a power cut. One by one, the solar cells were dying. He knew he could not fix them.
As Samiran sat in the dark for a while, he realized that the power cut was necessary. Almost coincidental. The punctuation marks in the letter were glowing the dark. He could see pink and violet fluorescent light. His eyes widened. He recognized the illuminance. He knew these colors. He created them. He grabbed the microscope, whispering to himself, “Gram positive, gram negative.”
“It is so good to see you!” In the CSIR office in New Delhi, the Director greeted Samiran Chakrabarty. He got up from his chair as he saw Samiran entering his cabin. Samiran was his predecessor. Though he, Bhagirath Nayek requested Samiran delay his retirement, he left as soon as he turned sixty. He went back to the city of his love, the city where he was born and raised. So many memories were painted in the corners of the streets. How could he not love the city, his sinking home? It pained him to think about it. Nine years had passed since then. But his heart ached the same.
Bhagirath ordered tea and food. Samiran looked somewhat disheveled. He had circles under his eyes. His spine bent forward a bit. Was it his age? But it was not only Dr. Chakrabarty’s body which grew older. It was his mind. It was the reflection of his mind. He was stressed about something.
“Something is happening under the ocean Bhagirath. Our eyes can’t detect it.” Samiran sank in the chair.
“What happened?” Bhagirath pushed the plate of sandwiches and tea towards him. Bhagirath heard that after he retired from CSIR, Samiran’s mental sanity was somewhat questionable. The recent, untimely death of his son could be the reason. The loneliness in the city of ghosts aggravated that.
“Look at this.” Samiran took out the letter from the file and showed it to Bhagirath. It was dated three months back. It was mailed only a day before Bibhas died. Bhagirath knew about the letter. In this age of emails, the letter was an ancient fossil.
It was hard for Samiran to accept the fate of his son. He was unconscious for three days at a stretch. Then the incident got totally erased from his memory. Had it not been for the virtual assistant, his lifeless body would have been discovered. He gained consciousness on the fourth day. But he was not the same anymore. He forgot everything that took place twenty-four hours before he received the letter. The Creator loved Samiran. He made him forget the pain of losing a child. Bibhas was still alive in his eyes. Bhagirath did not correct Samiran on purpose. He took the letter from him. Samiran got up and turned the lights off in the room. Immediately the punctuation marks in the letter came to life.
“This is the gram positive-negative fluorescent stain which you discovered. Why is this…”
“Do you have a light microscope? Place the letter under it.”
Bhagirath was surprised when he looked through the eye-piece. “The stops are bacteria of Salmonella species, the comas are vibrio and the colons are coccus. I know that your reasoning mind says those should be microscopic. But the puzzling factor is not their grand size. I know it is possible to cultivate the size with enzymes in special serum growth mediums. I had an unpublished paper on this. The problem is something else.”
The research scientists of the lab of the CSIR were surprised to see the retired director and the current director together. Bhagirath asked someone to highlight a line – a salmonella – from the paper with enzymes. Then he separated the DNA from it and asked a researcher to run the entire genome sequence. After ten minutes, the monitor screen started showing the results. Samiran started saying “I was right…” He stopped as he saw the frown on Bhagirath’s face.
“What’s wrong Bhagirath?”
“There are molecular plastics in the DNA of those bacteria. Your suspicion was right. I agree. This level of plastic infiltration has cataclysmic implications. But I am worried about something else. This species of Salmonella can be found only in Sperm whales. That is also rare. I bet the other two types of microbes are also found inside some marine animals. That is not the problem either. The problem is…” Then he pointed at something. “Do you see how the plastics are embedded inside the DNA? Doesn’t they look like swords?”
The pieces of plastic were embedded like splinters from an explosion. Now Samiran frowned too. Something seemed too familiar. It stood too close to the hazy curtain of his mind. He saw it with Bibhas somewhere else a long time ago. In a museum? Someone from the other side of the curtain agreed with him. He figured his assumption was correct. Still he asked Bhagirath, “Is it something written in cuneiform letters?” He was sweating even inside a cold room.
“Has it been written by gene editing? How is that possible?” Samiran’s eyes were full of questions.
“I was wondering…” He changed the subject. “Do you know what is written inside the DNA of the bacteria?”
Bhagirath looked around. He did not want to talk in private. He went inside his own cabin with Samiran. He told Samiran, “This is not just some ordinary writing. Cocooned in your own bubble, you are not aware of what is going on. Do you remember an article which was published in The Nature when we were young?” Samiran did. Back then, though he was not as young as Bhagirath he was considered a youthful person. He just got JRF and started in the lab of IICB. He was passionate about his work. He had the dream to change the world. The world did not change. His dream was shattered at the pessimism of his mentor. It was around that time the article was published in The Nature. It shook the whole world.
“Within the next thirty years there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. The greed of humankind…”
The future of that time was today’s present.
“I remember Bhagirath, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“The decommissioned oceanic oil refineries around the world are used as plastic recycling centers. At the same time there are researches going on at those centers about how plastic is causing harm to the animals. Plastic has invaded the entire world. Those researches proved that plastic has been found inside some marine creatures inside whom plastic was least likely to be found. We are looking at one such evidence. There are many other specimens like this one. The same message has been written, over and over, in an extinct language in every creature’s DNA – A God is coming. It is the last sentence of an Anunnaki tablet from about 4000 BC.”
Samiran stood on the vast pebbled rooftop of the CSIR building with a coffee mug in hand. Silent. The coffee went almost cold. He did not want to drink it. The world changed so much. Why were people so greedy? He was really frustrated at his fellow human beings. Did the frustration had a deeper root? Someone was hanging that foggy veil in front of him again. Someone stood on the other side. That person was warning him. His appearance and voice was too familiar to him.
“When one God dies, another one is born. We killed the creator bit by bit. Now the destruction will come. It is the ‘Kalki’ era. How will we survive, dad?”
The coffee mug fell on the roof. The pebbles got wet slightly.
Samiran remembered. He started remembering everything. The twenty-four hours, erased from his memory, came back. While working at the recycling center, Bibhas stringed a series of issues together. He explained it to Samiran over the phone. The dangerousness and intensity of it was alarming. To keep it a secret, and leave behind an evidence, Bibhas sent him a letter after a few days. It was the letter which he forgot. The last handwriting of his son. A few drops of tears rolled down his cheeks. No child should leave behind his father like this. It was so unfair.
“You are a terrible son, Bibhas. You left this old man behind.” He murmured towards the departed.
He was proud as his father. Bibhas had left the world forever. But his work would help people to breathe freely, even for a while. Bibhas was a martyr in a way. He dedicated his life for the sake of our home, the planet Earth. It was such an honor. Samiran walked fast to the stairs. Bhagirath needed to know everything. He was thinking about the message “A God is coming.”
“Can I use the computer?’ Bhagirath was puzzled at the urgency in Samiran’s tone. He noticed that the old man got back some of his youthful vigor. Without understanding anything, he gave him the laptop.
Samiran informed Bhagirath, “You already know this but I am telling you still. In 2012 a cuneiform tablet was found. The meaning of the message written in it is very similar to Gosford Hieroglyphs of Australia. It describes some Gods. They are very different from all the Gods of various religions in vogue. These Gods are Demigods. The Gods of the higher hierarchy dominate them. When those Gods die these Demigods become alive.”
Samiran saw the confused look on Bhagirath. Questions were crowding in Bhagirath’s mind like monsoon clouds gathered in the sky. He knew about the tablet. But how did Samiran know all that even though he was so isolated from the rest of the world? Samiran ignored Bhagirath’s confused look and kept on saying, “Among almost all the folklore of the ancient tribes across the world, there are descriptions of the end of days. They talk about the great flood, which will wash everything away. The reason for that big destruction…” Samiran stopped now. He could see his own life like a movie.
It was the year of 2001. Samiran was fourteen. One morning he figured out that his parents did not tuck him to bed anymore. He did not know the reasons for that. He was at his Grandfather’s house. He saw his Grandpa from behind a curtain. The old man was sitting still in front of a television, crying silently. The news was on. The TV was on mute. Two planes struck the twin skyscrapers at New York. That was the workplace of Samiran’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. Chakrabarty flew there a few days ago to sign a business deal. Many people became the victims of this jihad. As he grew older, he realized what kind of vulnerabilities and brainwashing led to spread such terror. On that day Samiran realized something. Climbing the ladder evolution, an untouchable ape had become the king of the world. He was changing the world in his image.
“6th mass extinction? What is that? Money comes first.”
Money, the root of all evil deeds.
“If a mortal wanted to be the Creator, he had to be treated like Icarus. His wings had to melt. Only then, he would understand his position. Below the foot of the Supreme Power. And that is why he is coming.”
“A linguist found a name while he was working at Brooklyn University. Kathulkich, a Psychopomp, the primordial Psychopomp. Do you know in which text he found the name? Rwnwprt m hrw. The Book of Dead. The Indian subcontinent was this primordial Psychopomp’s empire. When our ancient forefathers came here, they enraged him. Everyone faced annihilation. Except for one ethnic group. 50000 years is an exhaustive period for any people to live in fear. Except them, only 4000 of us survived to work on the wicks for candles. We forgot and again took over the whole world. However, the fear lurked in the background darkness of history. The fragments of memories remained as stories. After a long time, we understood and started worshipping the Psychopomps. In Egypt, he was called Anubis. In Greece he was known as Charon. In Rome he went by the name Mercury. In our Indus and Aryan tradition, he was worshipped as Kalki. Something happened about 50,000 years ago. We were almost extinct. However, we survived. Forgetting was the only way to erase fear. We left some random mentions in the myths and legends. We find its reference in every language, dead and evolving. The words change. Become extinct. So do languages. But the full stops remain. It is a constant. Its role is clear in its name. It is the messenger of the end.”
“Which ethnic group are you talking about?”
“I am talking about all the ancient ethnic groups Bhagirath. It happened to us also. We forgot about it. But it is written in Indian mythological stories. That is why there is the description of the same mass destruction in the Mahabharata, the Bible. The Europeans connected the myths during colonial imperialism. The indigenous people of the Amazon and New Guinea knew the consequence of human invasion. But they are forgetting because civilization has poisoned them like us. Can this be called the gift of humanity?
“I don’t understand anything.”
“Humans always believed that there was some apex entity. Science destroyed that belief. Those entities are not aliens. Aliens are exoplanet creatures but we all share the same universe. Not these beings They have been sleeping for a long time. They caused Permian Extinction. They are some forms of primal entities, older than creation. We call them Gods.”
“Who are they?”
“They are older than the universe. They have been sleeping, awaiting for another mass extinction. God, the God of darkness. We have to go. They are the ones who know his real form. If we are fortunate, they know how to stop him. Or, how to survive.”
Samiran’s words sounded fictitious to Bhagirath as he listened to him in an AC room in Delhi. But he had the cuneiform letters and the photo of the DNA in front of him. Those were not figments of his imagination. He also remembered yesterday’s newspaper headline. All over the world the whales were committing suicide at the seashores. There were pollutants from the human world inside their bellies. Why? Bhagirath could not tell. But he realized that something unknown was about to descend on Earth. Cold perspiration of fear trickled down his spine. He asked, “Who knows to stop those Gods?”
“Those still unwilling to talk to the outer world. You have to make some calls. See if you get the permission. The whole world’s fate is in question.”
“Now what?” Bhagirath asked as he saw the island. It was still not clear to him why he came on that island. As if he was chasing an elf-fire, and Samiran driving the carriage. Samiran had remembered the passing away of his son. But he was not grief-stricken. It seemed he almost knew that Bibhas would die. As if, he comprehended the probability.
Bhagirath heard that Bibhas committed suicide. His one and only friend found his body floating in the water beneath the oceanic oil refinery. He came to look for him as he heard the sound of the bullet in the confined space of the refinery. His hand written letter failed to explain what exactly he found out. The name Kathulkich sounded vague too. Bhagirath thought that was not the first time he came across the name. Did he read it in a report or did he read the name as he was gazing through a book leisurely? Bhagirath’s head started spinning. He was getting older. The night was getting darker. He looked at the island intently. They were still inside the Indian Territory. But this place was not for the civilized people. The small island looked like the back of a whale under the starlight sky. North Sentinel Island. If Samiran was right, the answers for all his questions could be found in that dense forest. The islanders hated and feared the people from the civilized world. How would they find their answers from them? Only one person in the History of human civilization was able to communicate with them.
A long time ago, Samiran had met T N Pandit. He remembered that now. The ambience was pulling strings of his memories. A seminar on Genetics was going on the 1st floor of a skyscraper in Delhi. Another seminar on Tribal Anthropology was going on the floor above it. At the lounge, Samiran bumped into the old professor. He was old but the light in his eyes was still as bright as the sun. The relationship which started with Samiran’s apology lasted till Dr. Pandit passed away.
Dr. Pandit did not mention the name Kathulkich. He said that the civilized people were alien to these islanders. They believed that human civilization was a sin, an anomaly in the universe. They did not allow anyone from the civilized world to step on their island because they did not want the poison of modern age to contaminate their small tribe.
Samiran did not realize the reason for their fear. Why were they so protective of their primitive ways of life? Dr. Pandit did not explain. Instead, instead, he showed him a picture. It was the picture of the God they worshipped. The same picture was found in one of the drawings in James Cook’s diary. These two human tribes – Maori and Sentinelese – did not know each other. Dr. Pandit showed him another picture. A warning, a depiction of the endgame, covering an entire floor. Samiran shuddered as he thought about those pictures. It was midnight. The sky was covered in clouds. He told the captain to run the projector.
On the cloud over the island a picture became prominent. It looked like some kind of cells resembling coconut shells. It was the picture of the God of the tribal people. Bhagirath was watching with his night vision binocular. He saw some shadows moving in the forest. Sweat formed on his forehead. Why did he make so many phone calls? Was it his foresight or impulsiveness? It was too late to think now.
A few arrows hit their ship.
The captain said, “They are asking us to leave. We have to go back.”
Samiran said, ‘Are you afraid of a few arrows?”
“No sir. I know you have permission from the higher authority to go there but I cannot be here anymore. In the past, they used to shoot only arrows. Now they sent this, attached to one of the arrows, in reply to your cloud message. This is the first time I am seeing this.” He handed Samiran something. It looked like a folded coconut leaf. Then he started the engine. Bhagirath carefully unfolded the coconut leaf.
“We are too late.’ He passed the leaf to Samiran. The upper deck got noisy. They were getting ready for the ship to start. But why was there so much noise? The coconut leaf lay open in front of Samiran. The prediction of the Sentinelese was written on it with white leaf-glue. Samiran could tell now. He saw the same symbols in the picture which Dr. Pandit showed him. He was unable to decipher it at that time because of the low resolution of Dr. Pandit’s camera, and the hovering height of his helicopter. Bibhas taught him how to decipher the meaning of those symbols. It was today’s date. The equation to decide that was ancient. Based on those measurements some ancient people started migrated out from Africa, towards east. They could not become civilized though. What was the definition of civilized people anyway? People who sold their countries for religion, killed their fellow human beings, created segregation to satisfy their own greed – were they civilized? Samiran did not know. He only knew the significance of the symbols in the image. He saw it in the sextant before anchoring the ship close to the island.
‘It was today’s date.’ Samiran told Bhagirath. Then he asked, ‘Why is the ship not moving? Also what is the noise on the deck?” Bhagirath could tell that Samiran knew the answer. It was written all over his anxious face. He was sending Bhagirath up on the deck to confirm his fear. Bhagirath Nayek could not understand anything as he came up on the deck. He saw chaos. The ship stood still. So was the ocean. There was no wind. In the distance, the island of the Sentinelese was counting moments silently. He looked upwards in the sky.
There was no cloud. Then, something attracted his attention. The ocean was calm like the eye of a hurricane. The water columns were coming down at the horizon. Bhagirath observed more closely. He realized those were trunks – massive, endless trunks. He stood paralyzed. The deck attracted his legs like a magnet. Now he remembered why the name of Kathulkich seemed familiar to him. He read the name a long time ago. He was in the reading room of a library in Delhi. The virtual assistant inside his head chimed the reference. Lovecraft – he found something.
Many years back a woman named Roberta Kane translated the legend of kalki. She came all the way from Brooklyn. Bhagirath remembered that as well. He could connect the events now. “God is coming”. He remembered the message. He knew that no human could stop that God. Humans brought his wrath upon them by causing permanent damage to the environment. It was famished. Physics had no strings on him. An unaware Earth waited for his annihilating snap.
In the Northern sky, the stars flickered and died one by one, submerged in the darkness of the black, cloudless sky. Only two bright red stars remained; they burned bright on top of those innumerable trunks. The eyes of God. Watching over the follies of men, and a world ripe for obliteration.