Death of a Fire

While Bergson is writing Time and Free Will, Prashant is trying to understand the laws of thermodynamics. The first law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed in one particular system; the second law states that, in a closed system, the entropy always increases, that order will eventually become disorder; the third law, however, or perhaps not however, states that disorder in the system plateaus as the temperature of the system nears absolute zero.

All of these laws made sense as long as they were being applied to the world inside of physics; but, alas, Prashant was only 19 when he was trying to figure out whether physics meant anything in reality. The laws of thermodynamics, Prashant thought, applied to the real world, the world of human emotion and intelligence, as much as the realm of physics abided by it. The first law did not trouble him: he knew that energy could never be created in the real world, either; it was always transferred from the ambience of a space, or the goodness of a person; and he did not believe in the utter shit of self-help books that insisted upon “creating positive energy in the workforce”.

No; he struggled much to understand the second law in lieu of the reality of his universe, because as much as he tried to let things happen as they ought to happen, even when he lowered his intervention to matters in the real world to an almost negligible amount, things still managed to come out more ordered than its disordered state. Prashant believed so deeply in the reality of these laws that he feigned indifference. When his younger sister, Asha, asked him to help her with her school work, he would pretend as if he didn’t care in the least bit about it; she would cry many a time when he would just turn away as soon as she approached her. But this only managed to strengthen Asha’s resolve, and she simply stopped approaching Prashant for his help. Rather, she developed a quite systematic mechanism: she would visit various private tuition centers in Kathmandu and, for no cost at all, she would sit herself in one of the classes at these centers. She promised the teachers that she would not speak at all; she would only listen while other students were being taught as long as they let her sit in the classes for zero the cost. Out of empathy and appreciation for the young girl’s confidence, the teachers agreed, and so Asha managed to do all of her school work by herself, and Prashant was only left fuddled by the abnormal turn of events.

Perhaps the most pressing of Prashant’s struggles was his inability to comprehend what the third law of thermodynamics meant, especially because the physical aspect of absolute zero made it completely impossible to apply it to the real world, unless he could find some way to freeze everything to zero K. Prashant chose instead to identify the idea of absolute zero as a metaphor; that if a position of stagnancy could be created, the disorder in the universe would reach a constant level. But then again, the problem was that the third law of thermodynamics was so closely related to the second law, that order tends towards disorder; and since Prashant had miserably failed to accommodate the second law in his reality, he could not possibly think that the third law could be made real. Instead, smart as he was, Prashant simply reversed the assertion; and if the second law was being completely reversed, disorder tending towards order, then the third law could simply be that, in a period of stagnancy, order would plateau. Prashant then decided that he would take meditation to mean stagnancy, and that he would create conditions for the third law by simply meditating.

So when Prashant decided to enter a meditative state at age 19, he had no idea that meditation meant things greater than his vision of a man who sits cross-legged, his beard growing out as much as he allows his mind to grow inside the constraints of his body. He could not fathom that meditation could have dire consequences; that improper channeling of thoughts during meditation could, in fact, do away with consciousness, turning one into a puppet of his own mind. Prashant did not understand, most importantly, that the laws of thermodynamics held completely true in meditation: the first law, that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, was central to meditation because of the idea that energy within a body and within the mind could be transferred into other facets of the head. The second law, while it had not worked in the real world, much to Prashant’s dismay, did, in fact, rule the head during meditation: as one begins to meditate, and in elongated periods of meditation, ideas inside the mind tended from order to disorder, to the point that they simply became noise. The third law was not entirely different from Prashant’s understanding of it, because, as he had thought, it was true that in the ultimate meditative state, equivalent metaphorically to absolute zero, the amount of disorder in the mind tended to stagnate. It was in this constancy that meditation was taken to be transcendental; because the mind turned from order to disorder to a level of disorder that both the body and the mind could recognize, after enough meditative experience, as the truest state of living. It was an existential idea; and without having understood that idea, should Prashant attempt to meditate—

And when Prashant decided finally to lock himself up in his room in his house at Dhapasi in order to realize the third law of thermodynamics, many things happened in Kathmandu.

It so happened that Baburam Bhattarai had decided that he wanted to start a new political party. It also so happened that while Prashant had been lured away from the real world by meditation, Baburam Bhattarai returned home from Gorkha to his house in Dhapasi, where, when he said he wanted to meet his son, Asha told him that he had asked her not to let anyone near his room, not even close enough for soundwaves to make it across the gap between the door and the floor. Baburam Bhattarai was angered like he had never been before, not even when his mentor and long-time friend Prachanda had asked him to leave the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoists out of fear that his relentless pushing of ideology to define the political party’s actions at any given time was going to ruin its practical future. Then, Baburam Bhattarai had simply accepted it as an inescapable turn in his life, having decided a very long time ago that if any man chose reality over Communism, that man was no Nepali who could be true to his cause. Indeed, when he wrote his first book, a testament to the pain and suffering of the working class of Nepal, for his PhD thesis in India, he wrote in the very first page: “This is no book for anyone Nepali, unavoidably and unfortunately because Nepal can never be a country of ideology.”

Unavoidably and unfortunately, many years later when his son Prashant decided to meditate until he could comprehend the place of the third law of thermodynamics in his reality, Baburam Bhattarai officially started his new political party.

The new political party had an official name: it was called the Unified Voices of Nepal (UVN); but no one called it by that name. From the very beginning, ever since in an interview on Kantipur Television Baburam Bhattarai had announced that he had left the Communist Party in order to start a new political party, the media had branded it the “New Force”. It was the famed Bhushan Dahal who had interviewed Baburam Bhattarai, in a special iteration of his political talk show ‘Fireside’, and it was he who had coined “New Force”, and it was he who took the burden to explain it to “the people watching at home.” When Bhushan Dahal asked Baburam Bhattarai who was going to be part of his New Force, Baburam Bhattarai replied, “The question, Bhushan ji, is not who. It is what.”

No one understood him, not when two days later, Bhushan Dahal announced, on air, during an episode of Fireside, that he was the first unofficial member of Baburam Bhattarai’s New Force.

So when Baburam Bhattarai came home from Gorkha to Kathmandu to his home in Dhapasi to officially start his New Force, he had hoped, like any father would, that his 19-year-old son Prashant would become the first official member, even before Baburam Bhattarai himself. And when he learned that Prashant had instead chosen to go into a meditation, he blamed himself and the genetic strand of theory that ran through his blood and passed down to his son. This gene had once been his own downfall in the form of Communism; and now, Baburam Bhattarai knew, it was going to destroy his son through this horrible thing called meditation.

The day Baburam Bhattarai officially registered his New Force, in a low-key press meet, no one showed up. Not even Bhushan Dahal, who had claimed, on air!, that he was the first member to join the new party. Only hours after that Fireside episode, many, many people, the most famous people of Nepal, had also expressed their solidarity with Baburam Bhattarai’s political and ideological sentiment. The biggest people in the country, the intellectuals, the political pundits, everyone from the journalist Kanak Mani Dixit to the actor Rajesh Hamal to the women’s rights activist Anuradha Koirala said that they believed in Baburam Bhattarai. They trusted him to bring back to Nepal an intelligent path of development, a path that had long since been compromised in the light of the Maoists’ revolution.

The decade-long revolution had brought together people from the farthest spots of Nepal to Kathmandu, and they were all Maoists. There had been a civil war, a big one, against the King Gyanendra, and the Maoists finally overthrew the King in 2006, when Prachanda, after years of hiding in the jungles where the revolution was brought up, finally showed his face. Before 2006, there had been great speculation about who this man Prachanda was; in the decade of the revolution, the only face of the revolution had been Baburam Bhattarai, who kept mention of a man named Prachanda, “the leader of our force, Comrade Prachanda”, who would come to Kathmandu when all of his demands had been met. Some said that Prachanda was only a concept; he was the ultimate Maoist, the ideal Maoist, the single greatest Communist leader that Nepal had ever seen. Some said that Baburam Bhattarai himself was Prachanda. Some even went as far as to say that the King himself would abdicate his throne and reveal to the world that he was Prachanda, the Maoist who had masterminded a revolution that would change the very idea of ideology in Nepal.

In 2004, the monthly political magazine Himal published a photo of the arcane Prachanda, a CGI-created image based on a rough photo that a reporter had reportedly taken of him in Dolpa and the descriptions of various people who claimed to have been contacted by him, or been in contact with him. The photo Himal published turned Prachanda into an almost fairytale hero for women from lower castes in Kathmandu. He had a thick, bushy mustache, behind which hid skin hardened by years of struggle. His cheekbones showed at places they ought not to, at least not in Kathmandu, and although his upper lip was shielded by the mustache, a thin lower lip confirmed that one definitely existed behind the wet mush of hair. And because the artist at Himal could not create his eyes, they had the photo of Prachanda put on shades.

The higher caste women, of course, wanted the King to remain where he was.

In 2006, when Prachanda finally showed his face, the photo Himal published matched nothing in him, except perhaps the eyes. The thick, wet mush of hair under his nose was replaced by thin, ragged-looking bits of hair in places one hardly thought could grow hair just out of context. The skin was as fresh as a baby’s, and his cheekbones hid behind layers of fat, smooth under the soft white skin that formed his cheeks. His belly started where his neck ended, and it ended where his knee started. The only thing that matched in both the CGI-created image and the real Prachanda were the eyes: because, like the shades, Prachanda’s real eyes only had darkness in them; and if one was lucky enough to peek into those eyes, he would find darkness looking out of them.

Years later, when no one was to show up as Baburam Bhattarai officially registered his New Force, Prachanda smiled and said to himself, “Shiva bhagawan ko jay hos.”

“Praise the Lord Shiva.”

When no one joined Baburam Bhattarai’s New Force for the next three days since its official unveiling, he thought, “What, then, is going to be part of the New Force?”

Baburam Bhattarai was so distraught at the pitiful sight of his paradigm-changing political party that he broke down completely and cried to his daughter Asha to let him go inside Prashant’s room to see him, just once. Asha almost relented, and, letting her own tears go, she pushed her father away from the door with a heavy heart, insisting that “this is not what Prashant dada would want. Please, Papa.”

Baburam Bhattarai spent many days in his study following that day, reading and rereading Marx’s Communist Manifesto, just to remind himself of what he stood for. When after two weeks no one still showed up to join Baburam Bhattarai’s New Force, he thought it best to just announce that he was much too disillusioned by the state of affairs in Nepal to continue living here; that he was going to move, along with his family, to a different place, somewhere he could afford to be quiet, somewhere he could be a Marxist.

When he called a big press meet to announce this radical decision, no-one from none of the media houses showed up, except for a shabby-looking reporter who said he reported for a magazine no one had ever even heard of. Asha shooed the reporter away while Baburam Bhattarai, for the first time in years, let go of himself, asked Asha to leave him alone, that he was not hungry, smoked a cigarette, and had a drink. At first, it was one drink, a contemplative one, one sip at a time; and then it turned into a fest; a whole bottle of whisky went down Baburam Bhattarai’s throat, leaving him drunk enough to walk out of his home in Dhapasi and stumble all the way across Kathmandu to Baluwatar, where Prachanda, at around six in the evening, was watering the flowers in the mini-garden of the balcony on the fifth floor of his mansion. When Prachanda saw a man staggering outside of his house, an apparent trajectory showing where he was headed, he laughed; when he saw that the man was Baburam Bhattarai, he laughed more. He walked out of his house, a couple of his security guards behind him, apprehended Baburam Bhattarai, knocked him out with a cricket bat, and asked his guards to put him in the family car.

Later, late, late, into the night, Prachanda himself drove Baburam Bhattarai around Kathmandu. By this time, his sedative-and-cricket-bat-induced sleep had already worn off, and Baburam Bhattarai was starting to see what time of the day it was. When he saw Prachanda next to him in the driver’s seat, he snickered and asked Prachanda, “Are Communists driving their own cars now?”

Prachanda dropped Baburam Bhattarai off at his home in Dhapasi, and on the way there, he did not utter a single word. As Baburam Bhattarai was getting out of the car, Prachanda quietly said—

“Comrade, Shiva ji ko jay hos.”

Baburam Bhattarai was so disappointed with his own behavior that he did not trust himself to make even the simplest of decisions after that day. His daughter Asha had to cook for him; breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and he no longer longed for food, so Asha would ram everything she cooked into his mouth, forcing him to chew; all the while, Baburam Bhattarai would sit quietly, waiting for the material to pass down his throat, just so that he wouldn’t hurt Asha’s feelings, just so that he wouldn’t crush her faith in life.

One day, when Asha was in her own room, Baburam Bhattarai slowly creeped his way down the corridor of his home in Dhapasi, thinking he would go into Prashant’s room; he had to. He hadn’t heard his son’s voice in so long that sometimes he found himself thinking if he had ever even had a son. When Baburam Bhattarai turned the doorknob that had rusted so much in its stagnancy, it made a shrill, ultrasonic sound that hit the right note inside Asha’s eardrum. She knew Baburam Bhattarai was trying to see Prashant, and she screamed from her own room at the exact same pitch. Baburam Bhattarai was so taken aback that, instead of closing Prashant’s door, dumbfounded, he rammed the door open. Asha sensed the door opening and ran to the scene. She repeatedly hit her father in the head until he recognized the seriousness of her command and agreed to step out of Prashant’s room and leave him be.

Prashant did not hear, or perhaps he chose not to hear, the sudden commotion, so his meditation was left undisturbed. Inside, Prashant was rotting. His teeth had grown into his gums and his beard had grown out so long that it touched his knees when he sat cross-legged. His eyes were closed, and his eyelids, from an apparent force of gravity that pulled his body under and under, drooped over them. His face was lost in the depths of hair and meditation and the clothes he had been wearing when he went into his deep slumber had fallen apart at the intervention of several breeds and species of insect that seemed as if they had come from Prashant’s own insides. When Baburam Bhattarai had looked at him, the insects froze, his clothes fell, and the dust that sat inside the creases of his face flew in the spirals of the wind that blew from his father’s body.

Asha was so angry with Baburam Bhattarai that, with a righteous indignation that no human being had ever seen in a 13-year-old, she swore to herself that she would not leave the door to Prashant’s room unattended until he woke up from his meditation. Baburam Bhattarai did not know what to say; he felt self-pity rising through his innards, making its way from his guts to his heart to his throat to an episode of acid reflux and he could no longer contain himself. He cried to his daughter; he cried for forgiveness, but that time had long gone. Asha did not have it in her heart to forgive him and his tears no longer meant anything to her. A material decision had taken over Asha, and she did not feel pity anymore. She did not feel anything anymore.

Baburam Bhattarai decided then that he would return to Gorkha.

The next day, before he set off for Gorkha, he lit his room at his home in Dhapasi on fire. With the room burned a copy of the Communist Manifesto that Baburam Bhattarai had bought for a thousand deutschmarks in Germany a very long time ago, the bed in which he had found sleep many, many times, a photo of his family, him, Prashant, Asha, a decanter made of copper his mother had once given him—or was it his father?—an origami swan that a six-year-old Asha had made for him in a city that once looked up at him, two closets full of clothes that looked the same when they burned, a typewriter into which he had typed in the first book he ever wrote, a testament to the pain and suffering of the working class of Nepal, and something else that he thought reminded him of fire but was hard to recognize because it was burning.

When the fire had settled and it was time for him to leave, he put on the single piece of clothing that he had, collected a bottle of the remnants of his room, asked Asha for some money for the travel, and left.

Years later, in Gorkha, a stout man who could see the edges of his cheeks when he looked down asked his wife if she knew who Marx was. The wife was cradling a newborn baby who looked like a memorabilia of Mithila art that she had bought somewhere in Kathmandu. The wife said no, no, she didn’t know who Marx was. The stout man then asked her if she knew who Baburam Bhattarai was, and she replied yes, yes, she knew, she had heard her parents talking about him once, that he was destined to become the Prime Minister of Nepal before he lit half of his home on fire and left and everyone assumed he had died in the raging fire, the fire that had been so hot that it had killed traces of everything that had ever been of him. The stout man asked her if she wanted to name their newborn son Baburam Bhattarai, and she replied no, no she possibly couldn’t, because she did not want her son to carry the legacy of a man who turned to ashes in a fire that he lit himself but could not control. When she saw that tears had formed in the man’s eyes, she looked into them to see a flame that was burning down his insides.

And while Bergson is writing Time and Free Will, Prashant woke up to find that Asha had died outside his door.

 

Painting by Pablo Picasso, “Guernica”, depicting the bombing of Guernica, Spain

 

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