We did not do it haphazardly. Our starvation was not impulsive or illogical and it was not uneducated. It was systematic, scientific, and we had complete control
over it. At least that is what we thought initially. Planned, systematic, scientific starvation. And it was not really starvation. It began as a game because that is what our lives had become—a game. But isn’t that what all lives are? One long game. An assiduous game that occurs in the netherworld of wizards and witches whose noise occasionally grows so shrill that it pierces—all sound and fury—through the barriers of propriety and political correctness put in place by the Muggle world but mostly it remains quiet and invisible. The rules of the game get written and re-written and erased to favour a few and to leave all others out even as the games are being played. Yet everybody believes that they can figure out what is going on and if they make just the right moves—if they get admitted to the right college, if they have the right idea for a start-up, if they make the right amount of money, if they own a house in the right location, if they buy that right car or yacht or aeroplane, if they take that right vacation, if they marry the right person, if they send their children to the right schools—they will come out victorious at the end of the game. And although they witness the fall of one reigning deity after another, one illusionary victor after the other and know in their heart of hearts that victory is as fluid as the games themselves, it does not stop them from believing that they would ultimately be able to figure out the rules of the game and emerge whooping with victory, does it? In their eternal optimism, in their unshakable belief that they, their progeny, their species will live forever, every piece of good news shows them that they are on the right track, one more step closer to that ultimate victory and every bad news is brushed aside as an aberration, a result of being handed a faulty deck of cards, or a consequence of somebody else’s inept moves. And the game continues one set of people after the next. One generation after another. One sweet chimera at one time.
‘There are nearly 5 billion search results for “food” on Google, even more than “sex” which has only about 3.2 billion entries.’ Layla had told me that morning—after it all began or ended, depending on your perspective—as soon as I entered the living room. She was seated in front of the computer. ‘Of course, that does not mean as much as it should because a majority of sex related results are probably deemed too unkosher for Google and therefore not displayed at all.’
‘Yes,’ I said. I was distracted and restless. I had managed to fall asleep only in the wee hours of the morning and I had woken up abruptly in the middle of a horrible nightmare and although I did not remember the nightmare, its pieces remained lodged inside like clogged drain at the bottom of my stomach making me want to throw up. I wanted to sit in one place. I wanted to pace up and down but I did not want to talk or hear about food or sex or really about anything at all. I needed to get out.
‘I am going out,’ I said. And I walked down one flight of steps before I stopped. Where to? And what for? I returned, carefully shut the door, locked it from inside and counting the steps—thirty-five—to the couch, I sat down on it.
‘So food rates higher than sex, higher than God and football and death. Here’s something even more interesting. God, death and football all show results in the range of 1.7 to 1.4 billion and even taken together have fewer results than food.’ Layla said.
She had not acknowledged my exit and she did not comment upon my immediate return. I too did not look at her. I sat staring at The Two Sisters on the wall. The older sister in the painting seemed to be clutching something in her right hand. I tried to look more closely at the print. Was she holding onto the arm of a chair for support as she posed for her portrait or did she hold some kind of macramé like rope art piece that she was in the middle of crafting and that she went back to whenever she had a moment to spare between her posing. (Her creation that had been relegated to the waste-bin of history while her brother’s handiwork stood in the Louvre, lauded by millions and copied and
printed by thousands.) Or was that a knife that she held in those curved fingers, concealed cleverly underneath her shawl. Was that why she had that tolerant, yet disdainful expression? Like she knew something that the artist painting the picture did not.
‘Let me break that down.’ Layla was continuing to speak. ‘There are over 800 million results for recipe, 490 million results for nutrition, 850 million results on guns, 350 million results on knives.’
Guns, knives? What was she doing? Why was she talking like this? Why was she talking at all?
‘What are you doing?’ I asked Layla.
‘Unravelling the world, as they put it. One Google search at a time.’
Excerpted with permission from So All is Peace by Vandana Singh Lal, Penguin Random House.