Translated from the Bengali by Rinita Roy
The trees are extracting their revenge now.
Don’t be startled. And if perchance you come upon this notebook, and if you are able to make out the language, this shall be a momentous and tragic historical document of our world. Do keep it safe. This book should be kept on the same altar as the sacred religious texts of every household of your new world so that you can take lessons from your historical past and not repeat the same mistakes. If you have invented an alternative to the trees, this document should prevent you from it. If you have succeeded in outdoing the trees once more, my writing will help you keep alert and circumspect. Even if this writing may forever be undisclosed to the human eye, I must still go on recording with all my might, till I am caught and killed, or buried under a thick shroud of snow. I must go on writing…
This is probably my final written work and of the entire human civilisation too. To think that the last literary work of our great world is not a lyrical verse or a story, but the few pages of drab unimaginative ramblings of a dying person. At one point in my life I had dreamt of composing an epic masterpiece, awash with all my emotions and sentiments. It would take away all my regrets and discontent. Seems so ridiculous now! You can plan a birth, but you have no influence over the machinations of natural death. Where has all my romanticism gone? In all probability, my final piece of work will never get one single reader. Who owns the real custody of a piece, the writer or the reader? I recall we had such vociferous debates on it in our circle of friends and writers. Even as I face death, I cannot stop myself from imagining a reader.
Shacked up at a remote crevasse in the Himalayas, I am thrashed by ruthless chill, intense hunger and thirst. This area has always been remote. A long time ago when the world was divided into different countries, this area came under the state called Himachal Pradesh. The region where I stand hidden behind massive rock formations, they seem to define the “prehistoric.” The Spiti River flows in the south. Why I chose this place is because, among all the places I know this mountainous desert land has the least population of trees. Yes, I am not looking for fewer human crowds lands without greenery. I was scared to go near the Spiti valley. We are all aware of the deep connection of trees with water and water bodies. I have come up far north to the Lahul region. I wanted to escape to Tibet, further north, but that was not to be. That it does not rain here gave me some respite. However, even if the trees cannot trace me, I will most certainly die in an avalanche. At least the ice will prevent my body from decaying and if you, the posterity, dig up my remains, which I am sure you will, you will discover my writing. For you I have tried to fill it up with descriptions of the splendors of the earth, the beautiful green planet it once was, its beautiful vibrant colors, the sweet scents and sounds that our earth intoned in its numerous joyous manifestations.
I have always been a timid person, but living under constant threat has eroded my fears. I am quite a ruminator too, perhaps because of this, the trees too have not really noticed me and I somehow escaped. But I know my time is running out. The trees have grown unimaginably adroit and ruthless. Who knows where they set up traps to catch me! I had visited this valley once, a long time ago. So, when it was time for me to run, I did not want to escape to distant places like Europe or America. I chose this place over unknown places eliminating chances of any further risks that a strange place might bring forth, though I could have gone anywhere. These days you do not have to go through the formalities of acquiring passports, visas and the like. Back in my youth, a dissatisfaction had started brewing in the minds of people all the world over. People all over the world, of different states and countries rebelled, they did not want to remain citizens of any one country, and be bound by the dictates of a single state government. The movement came to a head through an engagement called ‘Free Planet.’ It picked up momentum and spread like a forest fire all over the world, in countries big and small, and resentment mounted. Finally, the world leaders decided to come together and diffuse the aggravated situation, as the ferocity of events threatened to explode into a world war. The leaders and statesmen fled their counties, with the citizens of the world in hot pursuit, and hurling threats of the dissolution of their lives. They all met together, but not anywhere in our world but faraway, in a space station, I forgot the name. From there they announced that the world was now a free planet. The UNO was dissolved. This is how the people of the world were freed from the bindings of a single state citizenship. They were now declared denizens of the world. People were now free to reside and travel anywhere in the world. The shackles of statehood did not apply. The world thus evolved into a free zone. I was middle-aged around that time. For a long time, I had dreamed of a world, boundless and free, yet when the time came nostalgia for the old-world order that had passed overwhelmed me and I withdrew a little into myself.
I have been hiding here for almost two months; the last human face I encountered was a month and a half ago. I wonder if anyone is still alive anywhere. Or maybe they are scattered here and there in isolation like me in a parched African desert or camouflaged in the snows of Antarctica. Like me, they could be awaiting death with bated breath. The trees must have made further technological advances. Anytime now, I expect their deathly lasers to come and extinguish my life.
When the waves first caught the attention of our researchers, there was much excitement among the renowned scientists of the world. The presence of these frequently transmitted signals seemed to consolidate the theory that Alien life did exist in our universe. It did not remain a secret for long in the confines of any laboratory and soon the study of the frequency of these transmissions became a focus of many research centers. Gradually, they found that the waves being transmitted did not come from outer space but from nearer home. The signals travelled from one region to another, from one particular area to another in specific regulated directions. Their lines of communication seen on a world map showed that the whole world was enmeshed in a network of fine lines. The scientists collected data with increasing diligence. Special teams were formed to analyze the findings. After a month of intense research, a pattern emerged. The waves that seemed to move at random worked in a recurring order to certain geographical areas and then merged. We found such epicenters in Taiga in Russia, in the Eastern Himalayan region of India and another close to the Zaire River in Africa. But the largest receiving center was located in the Amazon rainforests. The scientists could now conclude these were not ordinary innocuous waves moving haphazardly all over the earth but in a systematic linear order transmitting messages, somewhat like the messages transmitted by spies in the old world. People were askance – have the disbanded terrorists taken up arms once again? The world of science was in a turmoil and research was conducted at breakneck speed to arrive at a solution.
Let‘s take a break from the present scenario. I know I do not have much time in hand. The nature around me seems capricious. Yesterday there was a sullen stillness in the air, a foreboding, that something terrible was about to happen. An undefinable fear spread around and there was an expectancy of a snowstorm. I remained in the same place hidden in the crevices of some large rocks. But my precautions were useless. I know they cannot see us in the usual way but their radars locate the heartbeats of human beings, they take aim and then shoot their deadly beams accurately and decimate their target. The beams pierce your skin and enter the blood stream and it begins to curdle. Soon the skin gets covered in fungus. Gradually the body begins to disintegrate and falls to the ground resembling a seedbed for fungi. Within twenty-four hours, the gruesome process of elimination is completed. The most horrific aspect of the liquidation process is the agony and the awareness of the person who witnesses and experiences the entire horrific transformation bit by bit. The infected person’s mind is the last to be affected and he is the sole mute and inert witness to his own slow and painful death and decay. I am confused. Why do I want to go on living in this place of doom and destruction? Yet, who wants to die? I have no desire left to fight any more. It is dangerous to stay put in one place, yet it is perilous to try moving about too. The written word is now my life force. I am communicating with you only through my writing. I shiver in consternation just thinking that I am the last representative of the human-race leaving this document for you as a warning. This missive is the only barrier between death and me.
Thirty-two years ago, man made a great discovery! Perhaps the most momentous discovery ever made by the human race. In retrospect, I realize that was just a pathetic suicidal move. What was then perceived to be an ultimate movement in securing freedom for us, turned out be man’s first step towards self-extinction. What is happening today is the inevitable outcome of our past actions. We face the consequence of our past mistakes. Let me now begin the real story.
Thirty- two years ago scientists created an alternative to trees. Surprised? I do not know if trees exist in your new world. I am trying to give you an idea. I have a Nano card implant in my brain which holds several audio visuals of the world that used to be, where you can see the forms and nature of the trees as they existed earlier. But only if it is in some retrievable state of preservation. Since I have no lifeline other than my written words, let me tell you a few things briefly. The trees or the floras were the earth’s first offspring, though we never ever accorded to them the status of living beings, our biggest mistake! They were born millions of years before man appeared on the face of the earth, prepared a safe-haven, a nursery of sorts to nurture mankind. They produced oxygen to sustain life for the entire creation including man. Oxygen without which life would come to a standstill and be snuffed out. In return they probably expected some care, a little love and respect that was due to them. But we did not show them this generosity. When we receive benefits for free, we never acknowledge their value. Taking things for granted is man’s eternal shortcoming. Man suppresses the meek and the mild, and fears the mighty. The immobility of the trees, their imperceptible limbs and minds, were not apparent to man, it prevented us from realizing that they also have means of reaching out and communication instincts of their own. Trees are living beings and that means they can evolve too. We seemed to have lost sight of these important issues. We have been slaughtering trees forever, since our arrival on the face of the earth. In the last hundred years, the practice increased beyond limits. The last nail in the coffin was the great invention thirty-two years ago. Ha! I am so overwhelmed by the turn of events that I still have not told you about what it was exactly.
After the countries took down their barriers, the research centers also opened their doors to other laboratories and shared their findings with others in the field, irrespective of race, country or religion. The concept of intellectual property rights vanished and there was an openness among scientists eager to share data. One day in one of these free labs, they invented the ultimate weapon of destruction for the human-race. ‘AGO’ – the acronym for ‘Artificially Generated Oxygen.’ I repeat, it was the last nail driven into the coffin!
We did not have to rely on the trees anymore for the supply of oxygen. In the towns and villages (by that time the less populated places were called villages), massive Oxygen Generating Plants were installed to pump oxygen into the air in different areas. These installations resembled electric power plants. About ten years ago the market flooded with portable OGMs. In response to the demands of families needing more oxygen, private units like air conditioners were installed. Lately, even pocket versions have come out.
In the beginning, the whole world was heady with euphoria, but gradually, some reactive changes appeared sporadically. The first noticeable one was – man had nothing more to conquer, so both young and old began to lose their zest for life. A wave of depression slowly crept over entire generation of mankind. Secondly, since the heritage of trees was no longer an indispensable part of our lives, so humankind indulged in the frenetic mass extermination of trees. Within a short span of five years, the urbanized locales were bereft of all greenery. Wherever man found trees, they tore them down without any explicable reason. A feeble faction of green activists fought hard to prevent the carnage. They held seminars and protests, But in the cacophony of the frenzied multitudes, their voices drowned. Some people kept dwarfed bonsais, some greenery as souvenirs of the past in their homes.
The revenge of the trees was initiated by those forcefully stunted clumps of decorative herbage. The ones that stayed closer to the humans than their extinct and more sizeable predecessors. Preserved as museum pieces, shown off as artefacts within the closed spaces of a household, the bonsais survived! Those tonsured incarcerated bonsais lived on surreptitiously! It was as if once again the same class struggle of the Marxists had been successfully reiterated. But Marx never really considered the class divisions between the trees and humans. We pursued only our own material interests and ignored all else. We were well aware that evolution is a natural phenomenon in our world; for instance, we knew that a giraffe evolved a long neck over many years trying to reach the leaves on the higher branches in its instinct for survival. However, we never suspected that the trees would start acquiring intelligence for survival. Underestimating the enemy has cost man very dear.
A decade before the signals were discovered in the laboratory equipment, unknown diseases infected the human body. None of it could be linked to the extinct diseases of the old world. Scientists did not give up easily, but the diseases spread their tentacles over a greater number of people and increased in intensity. If an antidote were discovered for the germ, it would mutate into another form. Situation was not out of hand yet but the alarmed minds of the scientific world put their heads together and studied the wave transmission keenly. They understood the true nature of facts. They were shocked but it was already too late to do anything. The inevitable had happened.
By this time, the trees had grouped. Their evolution amplified in speed. At first, trees that were scattered in distant regions and living in dire helplessness were being restored back to health. The bonsais in the ornamental pots in the homes of the prosperous transmitted messages to their kin who had managed to survive somehow in the remaining forested areas. Messages were being transmitted to Taigar, the Eastern Himalayan regions and the deep dark forests of the Amazon valley, places unfrequented by the human-race. In these places, they devised strategies- an invincible onslaught, an unbeatable battleplan. However, why do I even call it a war, we lost to them since before any declared battle.
Even after we recognized the grim reality of the impending dangers, we were not able to arrive at a consensus about the preventive methods that should be adopted to prevent a catastrophe of such gigantic proportions. Some suggested that trees and their labs should be bombed clean. However, this would spell doom for us as well; along with the trees, human lives would also be destroyed en masse. Besides the trees have already resorted to a devious means of dissemination by spreading their roots and seeds underground rapidly, unseen to the human eye. Some areas have been cleared of all traces of human life with the help of their deadly beams and those areas have been replaced by an opulent variety of flora. Trees, bushes, shrubs and green grass have reared their heads above the ground and returned to their natural habitat from their banishment to the light of day. Saplings have grown in abundance on the turf of the former human colonies. Nature burst forth with silent celebration –triumphant march of a million seedlings reclaiming their lost ground filled the air. Man’s weapons of mass destruction lay defunct and useless. Mankind lost out.
The battle that started in the Amazon forest had spread to every corner of the earth by this time. The trees started to form new colonies and assumed the responsibility of creating and spreading themselves in closer vicinities before they branched out further. They established links to revive their endangered brethren, the old and ailing members of their community. However, the genre of flora still maintained their old qualities; they remained rooted to the ground, immobile. Only certain special species of trees have developed green antennae resembling a mushroom on their topmost branches, to facilitate their communication, with other “senators of the woods.” Soon man lost his voice and his human identity forever.
I am almost done writing. I do not feel the urge to write any more. Disappearance of desire is death. I am still a human being. At any moment, the beating of my alien heart may be caught on their radar. I am soaking in the nature around me. The snows and the rocks. I have no energy left. I cannot look upon my mind as a mind anymore. The fear of imminent death has transmuted it into something unidentifiable. There was no food available in the last few days. The air feels heavy in the impending gloom. Since morning, I smelt something strange, perhaps they are moving in closer. These are the signs. I feel a great urge to love another of my own species, and freeze in the animated embrace of another human being forever. Why shouldn’t I die in the way I choose to? I will probably die by sundown today. I had heard that the trees spray a unique smell in the air before they come. Is it the same smell that meets my nostrils? I wonder! I have noticed some movements in the ground around the rock formations, something I did not observe before because I was always so engrossed in my own thoughts. A rock that was in a particular place last night has since shifted to another place. I may be imagining this. These days I do not even recognize myself as a man. Living in prolonged isolation and with a constant foreboding of death has rendered me into something else, an odd, freakish un-human. I must stop such thoughts from invading my mind. If at all this missive falls into the hands of the people of the next generation of mankind, in a new world order, I should not be putting down in black and white the effusions of a crazed, eccentric mind. I must observe the world around me with great accuracy and keep on writing. There is not much else I do besides write.
The intensity of the smell increases. For the last time I look at the pale sun. I pay it an obeisance. Yes, for the first time in my life and the last. Someone or something seemed to approach me from the slopes of the mountains. After waiting a while, I realised it was death ascending the slopes coming for me. The deadly lasers were searching me out, to annihilate the last of the humans from the face of the earth. I wanted to shut my eyes. I will not accept their murderous intent tamely, I told myself. But it’s too late now, I haven’t even left myself the option of committing suicide. I can only stare blankly. I think I am the only person on earth who has written a commentary of his own death. Suddenly, I find a harsh light heading towards me. I wait with anticipation to see how it will impact me. All of a sudden and quite unexpectedly, I was shocked to find the rocks around me come to life. The earth heaved and swelled violently, and the newly animated rocks moved in erratic, random, speedy movements on their own. Laser-like rays shot out of their surfaces and engaged in an animated duel with the piercing rays that came from the trees. I witnessed a fierce sparring between them. They tried to cut and extinguish each other. The rays crisscrossed in the air. It reminded me of the computer graphics of the great wars that were telecast in the Ramayan and Mahabharat serials we watched in our childhood. Thick dust particles on the hillside rose up, gathered momentum; a violent storm followed and obliterated the entire landscape.
Does this mean I have escaped the jaws of death? Seeing the tumult around, I realised the tables might be turning. Power and might in our world are always gained at the altar of your opponent’s vanquishment. One side must relentlessly beat down the opposing forces to gain power. Nobody would be interested in a puny human being anymore. In a fight between mammoths, a young goat does not even count. They are best ignored. The trees rule the world and now the earth is rising up in rebellion against their supremacy and oppression.