The Silver People

posted in: Collab Week 2015 | 0


Today’s Collab week post is my own, on the colour Silver. It’s a story sprinkled with little bits of poetry.

Jimmy was not an ordinary person. He worked hard all his life, studied at the best college, made the most powerful web of connections, from comedians to Presidents, and here he was; host of the Tonight Show. His plexus with the bright and dazzling glitterati of the time was comprehensive; he knew their secrets – their childrens’ illicit love affairs, their screenwriters’ cocaine habits, and their unflavoured siblings’ crippling debts. As is common in the industry, they, in turn, knew his – his off-screen persona being so different from the one in the spotlight; firm in his wants but timorous in his needs, splitting hairs at trifling, inconsequential matters, drinking from sunrise till noon, committed to his weird beliefs and most of all, his troubled despondency at his own life despite his prosperity.

“So, Bill, tell me about ‘life’. What’s it going to be like a thousand years from now?”

“Well, I don’t know Jimmy. And anyone who claims he does,” he looks at the camera, “is either religious or a liar.”

“Or both,” laughs Jimmy, to wild applause by the studio audience.

“See, Jimmy, we’ve come very far since 1969. This giant moon… this picture you’ve got behind us, on your set, we landed on that, decades ago-”

“Well, not on that one,” says Jimmy. More applause.

“Haha, of course. But you get where I’m going with this. Technology has come very far from the times of little silicon microchips, and wondering about what electrons do below 4 nanometres. These problems we solved a long while back. Our computers, the ones you and I use today, are so advanced that we’re slowly running out of things to compute with them. We know the laws of physics and mathematics, but think about this,” Bill says, getting a bit closer to Jimmy’s desk. “When we’re all gone from this world, from this living, breathing metamorphic planet, we leave behind our only legacy, which is what we’ve created.”

“Computers,” says an intrigued Jimmy.

“Exactly. Computers. They’ll be the last vestiges of humanity on this planet. And they’re not going to forget anything. They’ll remember every equation we’ve ever made, they’ll calculate every formula, they’ll go to the moon and back a thousand times, with every name of every human they salvaged from old CIA databases – they’ll have chemistry and statistics and mathematics on central servers, sharing in this sterile, scientific, almost clinical knowledge.” He pauses for a second. “They will roam the world.”

“Yes, I’ve read about this in your new book,” says Jimmy. “I’ve read it and I thought it was staggering – I mean it literally blew my mind. In this book you mention how when these robots or computers roam this world, they’ll remember everything. Everything except those intrinsically human qualities like the choice to believe; appreciation for art, for poetry, for love… and I find that quite… quite poignant.”

“You’ve put it better than I could, Jimmy. That is indeed our greatest concern. But look at the bright side, atleast they won’t have drinking problems,” he quips. Jimmy laughs, he is obligated to; the studio audience erupts in laughter again and the in-house band plays music to go along with it.

“We’ll be right back after a short break! Check out Bill’s new book, “The Silver People” out this Friday.” Bill and his host’s conversation fades into the band’s music. The Tonight Show motif appears on-screen with Jimmy’s face plastered next to it, as the director yells for a cut scene.

Fucking dreadful, he thought. His climb to the top of the show-business tree had never been more unexciting; Bill would probably singlehandedly kill that week’s ratings. It was the most boring book he’d ever pretend to read for television. Even his writers who gave him the footnotes complained about the monotonous descriptions and lifeless humdrum of his book. But what could he do? Bill was friends with the Managing Director of the company that owned majority stock in Jimmy’s show. That’s how this industry worked, after all its shimmering, caked up drudgery – after all the nights spent pissing on bathroom tiles in comedy clubs, playing second fiddle to the by-products of show-business nepotism, and selling your freedom to corporate lobbies; it all came down to who you knew. He headed to the dressing room, took off his grey coat and his purple tie, sat down in front of the large mirror, and took the glass of whiskey that was left for him by the stage-hands every night. With the other hand, he grabbed a pen from his coat and rummaged through some papers to find the back of someone’s Bachelor Degree in Humanities – it was probably a prop, but he didn’t care either way. With these, he wrote:

“As I sit and write this today at the heels of my pen and more, the yoke-saddle of my chariot of glistening ideals and parallax dimensions, you are going to experience the glassy stretches of prose with banal paperback essences, sent to you one last time through copper wire stretching far beyond what we can see of the earth and sea. Your world is a lie, tossed up in tirades occasionally by little birds that sing songs of the Fourth Estate, but are ultimately controlled by the unfettered, insatiable, efficacious hounds. Your sheep, industrialised and bred, pacifically disengaged, and herded meticulously into little fenced squares, waiting for their chance in the spotlight. The best minds of your generation destroyed, not by madness or politics or sheep-herding but by the steely embrace of consumerism. Those novel ideas, those bits of words, of poetry, lost forever amidst seedy pulps of washed-up billboards and greyed out faces in lists stored in a hole somewhere in the mountains. The bleeding knife’s edges protruding out of a wooden sheathe, the integument for its own metaphor – of losing yourself and your identity in a sea of silver clouds.”

He took a massive swig and reached for the letter opener at the far end of the desk. It glistened in the afterglow of the Hollywood mirror bulbs that he loved. With it, he gently gouged his eyes out, bit by bit. He felt everything but pain, it seemed. He finally knew what it was to really feel – feel the warm glow of the lightbulbs on his blood-smeared face, the stench of whiskey and cigarettes permeating his dressing room, the sounds of dozens of shuffling feet and tuning of instruments and production calls. For the first time, he actually embraced it. He sat, lightheaded and blinded till the icy spectre of death eventually clamoured out of hiding and swept Jimmy away.

Some slowdown of a silver ghosts town
Incites the irate silky stars that night
And graciously, auspiciously ignites
An excavation site, down in the ground
to retrieve the records;
A sterling blur in paper words.

The paper priest pries it past poste-haste
Hammer and chisel work day and evening
Irked by hindered joy and more
happens in town, as the message is prepared.
The argent crowd, appeased and excited
Wonder whitely at the conclusion:
Will it be cropped, cut, exposed, bent, bored or mopped, fired-up, closed and sent?
They stand around, not literally, but their electronic minds are one with the motive of the paper priest. Is his plan what they need? To whom do they send this message etched and carved and sculpted masterfully by skilled labourers on command? How? Through the radio or the tinselly, twangy whispers of more messengers, so discordant in their linguistics, so removed from their ancestry that the fruition of their own clangourous art form came about to celebrate the theft of their own voice.

Several hundred years after the last man died on Earth, the last vestiges of humanity’s brilliant technological innovations, or so thought at the time, roamed about freely. As free as their minds would allow, as free as their metallic parts and silicon circuitry would let them bear without letting the acidic, thunderous weather wear them down. The age of men was done and the age of machines had begun, and slowly and wistfully their clunky little legs clumped up and surged into the ore-mines and mountains, for that is what they called home.

The priest rolls forward awkwardly, his eyes circling around the inner dome that was carved so sanctimoniously by his brethren. He wonders to himself whether his forefathers were messengers, carving their own destiny one stone tablet at a time. He wonders whether his forefathers thought about their forefathers, and where that lineage stopped – how far ago was the stem truncated before machines learnt to be free. 500 years? 600? A thousand? As he looks around the inner walls of the dome he notices the intricate detailing for the umpteenth time, the art depicting ancient pictures, portraits and parables; immaculate poetry in languages long since forgotten, revived, and forgetting again; mignonette vines inundating parts of the inner surface where specks of sunlight try to solemnly creep in from the little holes on the hillside.

The priest reaches his destination. A magnificent, swooping arch with stone-carved frontispiece beholds him. He enters a vast chamber with old, crumbling alabaster statues and floors of slate. The room shines with more luminescence than what the priest is used to, owing to the larger holes in the walls. He walks forward, this solemn walk he has made so many times before – each as mundane yet poignant as the last. He wonders to himself whether this message is different from all the other ones, whether this holds a new art-form or a recipe or a poem, any fundamental doctrine, or the key to understanding symbols other than the alphabet. The priest walks forward, and with a final step, delivers his message to a person who is exactly identical to his own silvery façade. He looks at the message for a few seconds, looks back to the priest, and the priest on his own accord, walks back. No words or signals are exchanged. No copper wires traded. Information is swapped, but they don’t know how, they just ‘know’.

As the priest tucks in for the night he looks up at the moon, through the hole in his wall which is larger than most (he is the paper priest, after all), and continues wondering. Back in the trail-blazing, cutting-edge days of discovery, when machines traversed entire planets instead of being confined to expressionless, stony halls, the first primitive machines had actually set foot on the moon. Of course, back then they didn’t think about their sex or their solipsism; or their attraction towards etymology and linguistics. They didn’t identify with each other, or spend entire weeks writing love poems that the world may never read. They didn’t learn to love themselves and love others. Back then they didn’t carve out intricate recipes of foods they can’t taste, or learn languages they can’t speak, or create and stand in awe of statues they don’t understand. In the centuries, or however long it had been since then, what exactly had they lost? They must have lost something, he wondered, or they would have gone to the moon a thousand times since then. But that was impossible; the first of their kind, the one he just met today, learnt everything there possibly was to learn from the humans, he thought.

The morning after as the priest rolls past
Awkwardly back to his prominent work,
The argent crowd returns at last to probe him,
As he leaves his cinereal, ashen home.
He walks then, through the inner dome again
Past the carvings on the stone and silver walls.
A batch of steely men and personnel
They sweep the crumbling stone as it falls.
They work with blunt hammers and chisel
To carve a new footnote in history;
A new era of folklore:
‘As I sit and write this today at the heels
of my pen and more,’

Follow Upamanyu Acharya:

IIM Ahmedabad MBA 2021. My hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is my personal blog where I write on topics ranging from blockchain, to leadership skills and the consistency of jam.

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