“I see. I see.” The Old Man replied, “You have come so far, Inora. In such a short span of time.”
“The TeleDevs did most of the work.”
“But who invented the TeleDevs, huh?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hmm. No, you wouldn’t know that. Most unfortunate. I am afraid you have made this journey in futility, Inora.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will learn about that soon enough. But in the meantime, let me tell you a story.” The Old Man said, leaned back against his chair, put one hand on his chin and the other on the arm-rest, stretched his legs forward, crossed his ankles, looked up to the roof.
“You were about to tell me a story.”
“I was. And I will. I was just wondering which story to tell. I know so many.”
“Usually when someone says let me tell you a story, they have a story in mind already.”
“I may have been premature in my proposition. I am rusty, but stories were my forte once, Inora.”
“Were you a writer?”
“No, a story-teller. Nothing more. But let me begin now. I have something in mind.”
“Is it going to be a long story? I still have to go find Uncle Man and inflict at least some measure of bodily harm on him.”
“You will get to that when the time is ripe, do not doubt that because I do not doubt that. But not yet. Now is too soon. Now, is for the story. It is an old story. A folktale I heard many years ago.”
“I will love to hear a folktale of this planet.”
“There once was, many millennia ago, an ancient tribe of hunter and gatherers. They were simple folks. They ate what they hunted and ran away when being hunted. And like everyone else of their time and since, they had a strong urge to make sense of the world around them. But they did not worship clouds and trees and caves like all other animistic tribes of their time because their god did not hide in the clouds or behind trees or inside caves. Their deity, He, chose to live among his disciples, in plain sight and interacted with them daily.”
“That should have solved so many problems.”
“And indeed, it did. There was no need to question or doubt anything. He’s words were obeyed, and the tribesmen lived in utopia. No crimes, no poverty. It all worked.”
“Tribespeople, you mean?”
“Yes, them to. In perfect utopia. But there was, of course, one small problem, as all good stories ought to have. Can you guess what the problem was, Inora?”
“People went to He with every little problem they had, and no one got anything productive done on their own?”
“Close. But no. the problem was that He was susceptible to fits of mind-numbing, death-inducing boredom and ennui.”
“I did not see that coming.”
“No one sees boredom coming; they would take pre-emptive actions to prevent it otherwise. No, boredom is the only sure constant in your life. You can avoid taxes; you can cheat death. You can do nothing about having nothing to do. And during one such occasion, when He was suffering from an especially intense bout of languor and perhaps even smidgens of wanderlust, deep one night, while the tribe danced outside He’s hut in ritual demonstration of virility, He packed up his things and disappears.”
“Uh-oh indeed because within days, the tribe’s utopia disappeared as well. Without a mediator, fights broke out. Without a singular source of what is right and what is wrong, different schools of philosophy arose. Without a constant reminder of their deity, many even forgot that He even existed and so the people of that tribe quickly descended into anarchy. It was very sad for all involved. But, of course, within a few days, something unexpected happened. Can you guess what that was, Inora?”
“The tribe carved out of a rock or wood an idol to represent He and peace returned?”
“No, a mysterious strain of virus killed off every man, woman, child, and animal of the tribe.”
“I did not see that coming either.”
“No one sees a virus coming, Inora. They would take…”
“Yes, I catch you drift.”
“We are talking about a period before civilization. This story would not work if they had penicillin. Which they did not. So they all died. But here is what I think would have happened if they had survived, because I think at this juncture, the post-antibiotics version of this story is more informative.
“The tribespeople would have had to make up their own minds instead of just obeying. This would have been new to them, but they would have learned. They would also have needed to be able to think for themselves and figure new things out. If they had been doing that all along, maybe they would have invented antibiotics to save the tribe. But while He was around, they had no need to do any of that. He protected them from everything.
“In fact, you know what, Inora? I go back on my words. I am glad I told you the pre-antibiotic version of this tale. There is a better message at the end.”
“I see your point, The Old Man. Personal initiatives are great. But isn’t it better to have something or someone who offers clear and concise rules to follow?”
“Can I tell you another story? I will tell you another story. This story takes place in the post-antibiotics era, but still, many years ago. We had this patient was in the Asylum for a period of time. Then his conditions improved, and he was able to leave here.” The Old Man was said.
“Good for him.”
“I agree. A very nice day for everyone involved. When he left, his doctor gave him a self-care pamphlet. A list of things that he had to do to take good care of himself. All patients get that pamphlet. But this patient, he was different. He was a serious man. And he was a conscientious man. He wanted to take good care of himself and never have to return to the Asylum. He devotedly followed the pamphlet.”
“He bought a fruit-basket one day.”
“Please don’t say he contracted some disease from the fruits and died.”
“That would have been a better fate. But sadly, no. He bought an actual fruit-basket while he thought he was buying an imitation fruit-basket. A center-piece for his dining-table. And of course, a week later, the fruits began to rot, and an evil stench spread everywhere in his house.”
“Couldn’t he just throw it out?”
“He consulted the pamphlet. And it said that his priority was to take care of himself before he should focus on the world beyond him.”
“So he did. He took care of himself. He walked into the shower, to get that stench off himself, because cleanliness, after all, is next to godliness. He lathered himself into a frenzy, but the stench just would not go away, no matter how hard he scrubbed. He scrubbed for three days straight. He was back with us soon.
“Do we blame the creator for heaping more responsibility on our shoulders than we can handle? Or do we blame him for telling us that following a list of rules can be a solution to all our troubles?”
“We cannot live without rules.” Inora said.
“What if there are too many rules to follow and you get to decide which rules to keep and which to discard? Your Uncle Man is not a man of thoughts. I see what the campaigns truly are. They are personal Rorschach tests.
“You, Inora, are a good person. You are good without god. When running into a burning building, you are not following a law. You are not hoping for rewards. You do it because you want to help. And that is what separates good deeds and bad deeds – intentions.”
“I agree with everything you are saying, The Old Man. But that still does not change the fact that…”
“Of course not. Spoken words rarely change facts.”
“No, they do not, dad.” A third person said, emerging as a silhouette out of the long corridor, “You had her all these while? I should have known. Emil and I have been looking for you, Inora.”
“Who are you? Is this your son?” Inora asked The Old Man.
“Yes, Inora. meet O’Gawd Junior.”
“It’s just O’Gawd, actually. My father’s O’Gawd Senior.” He said, “But you will remember me as Uncle Man.”
“I should know what you are called.” The Old Man protested, “I named you!”
Emil appeared out of the darkness as silhouette himself, “Hello. I’m Emil.” He said.
Before anyone knew something was going to happen, Inora was on top of O’Gawd, her knees parked on his chest, and her hands wrapped tightly around his neck. Mr. O’Gawd. The Big Man. Uncle Man. None of his many names were of any help to him anymore.
“Now you see why I choose to be an absent landlord, my son?” The Old Man asked, “You are too involved in your patients’ businesses. You are a personal O’Gawd. So everything is your fault. Inora, are you about done?”
“Such unique etiquettes. Is this how old friends say hi on Earth?” The Old Man asked Emil, “Perhaps, one of these days, I will take a small vacation and go to Earth and walk amongst and learn everything about you all.”
Emil, having distinctly failed in the one task he had set himself for the day knew better than to get between Inora and her prey. “We saved the Earth, by the way.” He whispered into Inora’s ears, hoping it may calm her down, but it is not known if she heard him, given that she was preoccupied with accomplishing the one task she had set herself for the day. Neither does anyone know how long The Old Man and Emil stood-by idly, waiting for Inora to be done. O’Gawd has refused to talk about this episode of his life with his biographer. But consensus is that it must have not ended in a hurry. The security arrived eventually, but The Old Man asked them to stand aside, not wishing to interrupt the meeting of old friends.
It was all fun and games until Inora reached into her tote-bag and took out a baton.