The pied piper went back to his cave empty handed. We do not allow pied pipers to steal our children. We kill them.
Two babies shot dead this month. The one killed in Chicago was in his sixth month. The other, killed in Brunswick, Georgia, was in his 13th.
“What we may be witnessing is … the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,” claimed a philosopher while praising our age.
Poet Irwin Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) disagreed. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the … streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,” he wrote.
Antonio Santiago’s mother Sherry West told Georgia police two teenagers approached her as she was walking with her baby in Brunswick last week. They demanded money. When West told them she didn't have any cash on her, the older teen shot the baby between the eyes. Antonio was sleeping in his stroller or perhaps he was awake, smiled at the shooter and tried to grab the toy he had not seen before.
Jonylah Watkins was shot, along with her father Jonathan Watkins in Chicago's Woodlawn neighbourhood in a drive-by shooting.
The gunman started shooting by the front door of Watkins’ van, which was open because he was changing Johnylah’s diaper.
The young men, and women, of his generation “ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley,” wrote Ginsberg. They “purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares … (in) incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning.”
Wrapping their wings around their lean bodies, the migratory birds landed on the largest tree in an island that was half way between two destinations, the beginning and the end.
They had been flying all day. But as darkness spread over the deep blue sea, they were happy to break their journey for a night. It was an ancient tree and had hosted millions of birds before them.
As it grew darker, the chirping stopped and the birds hid their beaks in their feathers, ready to sleep. Soon a mysterious silence covered the tree, like a thick blanket.
“Sleep, sleep, you have a long journey ahead,” the wind whispered.
Dreams tiptoed around the sleeping birds. Some birds flapped their wings, as if long distances were calling them.
The night moved silently, without saying a word. The sea was quiet too. Only the silence spoke, in subdued tones as if singing a lullaby for the sleeping birds.
This was another weekend, another evening with friends at the tavern. Last week, Ike Ikramullah, one of the tavern regulars, asked everyone to ‘be positive.’ “Why do we only discuss negative things at our gatherings?” he asked everyone. “So many good things also happen, particularly in the United States of America, where we live.”
But this Saturday, it was Ike who brought a newspaper which had the story of the two shootings. “The baby in Georgia was shot between the eyes in his stroller,” he said.
Last week, we were in New York. While walking down a dark alley, which smelled of urine and rotting food, we did not see the philosopher who had proclaimed the end of history.
But the group’s poet, Hasan Mujtaba, thinks he saw Ginsberg, half naked in an unstitched saffron robe. He was hiding his nakedness behind a poster that promised immediate nirvana. As he walked with a group of Hare Krishna devotees, Hasan asked him: “How do we break this cycle of drugs, alcohol and violence?”
Hasan is not a native New Yorker. He comes from a distant land and represents a people who saw more violence than Ginsberg or his generation could imagine.
People are strange. While some kill babies, others feed birds. Ali Sikander, an immigrant like Hasan, stopped his car near a bridge in Queens and said: “Come my children, come. Here’s your breakfast.” His children came from all directions and gathered around him.
The old man in the front seat smiled at Ali’s confusion as the bridge in Queens changed into a huge tree in a green island in the middle of the Atlantic. His children settled on the tree for a temporary respite from a long journey.
“What fires burn in these sleepless eyes, what keeps us awake all night? The pains we suffer are older than we are. How can we explain why we cannot sleep, how?” Ali asked the birds.
Hasan held the saffron robe of Ginsberg’s look-alike and travelled from New York to Sehwan, in Sindh, Pakistan. Although the group was going further south to Benares, Hasan only wanted to go as far as Sehwan.
‘From New York to Sehwan to Benares, all cities are my cities,” said Hasan, not realising that reciting this mantra also turns him into a migratory bird.
“And how would you understand why some people stay up all night without a reason?” Ali whispered to the birds.
“We, the sleepless, read our stories in other eyes. But even if you asked, we could not explain where the boats went. How they wrapped their sails and disappeared in a deep fog! We set sail for the same destination but they left us midway. Why?”
“Déjà vu, déjà vu,” Hasan cried out.
“Yes, we do relive our dreams,” said the Saffron-clad Ginsburg, “but we cannot decide whether we are dreaming it now or what we saw before was a dream.”
“No, Sehwan was not a dream,” said Hasan.
“Is New York a dream?” Ginsburg asked.
“No, you do not do the graveyard shift (6 pm to 8 am) in a dream,” said Hasan.
As a metro train approached, Ali’s children flew away.
Later, Ali and Hasan also returned to their apartments as pigeons return to their holes after a brief flight.
After graveyard shifts, migratory birds eat their junk food, double-cheese burger with French fries and complain that they were putting on weight. To feel good, they drink diet coke with more French fries and in the process damage their other vital organs as well.
The night shift is tough and before returning to their apartments, they have to wash filthy bathrooms of their gas stations. Those working at all-night food joints, burn their fingers with acids while washing the kitchen walls.
Back on the island, more migratory birds were waking up to join the long line of graveyard shift seekers.
And as the two babies were buried, the thinker declared that human civilisation had reached its pinnacle. This indeed was the end of history.
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