I met an alien the other day.
I was just sitting at my regular coffee table - engaged in a mental tug of war with the coffee shop manager, who was throwing all possible non-verbal and telepathic signals my way that I really should order something now. I was responding to this by peering hard into my laptop, and having nothing to do - was counting the number of items under the "Tools" in Open Office. This zen-like moment was interrupted when the alien walked in and said hello.
The alien was tall, dark and handsome. He was wearing a black leather jacket and a hood covered his head. His face was smooth and shiny - like clay putty, but just like clay putty - it kept changing its shape every few minutes. In the time we met, his chin rearranged itself next to his ears and his eyes kept sliding to his wrinkled-smooth nose (and he kept pushing it back up to give me excellent eye-contact - he had obviously read his Allan Pease) He had a human like face (sans the movement) and at times it resembled Jay Leno, but that could just be my imagination. He had zipped up his black leather jacket, but at one point in time, a bulge did appear over his chest area and started thumping violently against the jacket's insides. He pushed it in and pinned it with a toothpick. I am sure he had hands and/or legs but I didn't pay much attention. Demonstrating cross-galatic-cultural sensitivity that I didn't know I possessed, I chose not to stare.
He walked in, seated himself across from me on the table - and sensing my predominant thoughts which were in order of priority
Thought 1: Dammn this Coffee Shop Manager
Thought 2: Hmmm, this is an alien
he gallantly offered in a smooth yet distinct voice "Let me buy you a cup of coffee."
I said gloomily "I'm not so sure your alien currency will work here!"
He took out a City Bank credit card with his tongue and placed it on the table. His nose wagged - I guess he was smiling.
The pressure on some poor guy at City Bank to meet his sales targets had obviously worked in my acquaintance's favor.
My coffee taken care of, I was obliged now to be in a chatty mood. What should I talk about? Had he mistaken me for the President? Weren't all aliens supposed to show up in America so that the americans could save the world? Wasn't this a protocol violation that Hollywood would never forgive me for? I was neither a cute little kid nor a member of MIB. I thought of asking him if he would like to meet the president. But then, as a picture of the president conjured itself in my head - I decided not to scare the good lady. I was pretty sure this alien could be handled by a bloke in a coffee shop in Bangalore.
I now needed to indulge in some profound thinking and come up with something to say that would be both profound and simple. In one simple stroke of wordsmithing, I must lay the foundation of our human civilization's relationship with an alien civilization. Since I was not telling anyone that the first thing I said to an alien was "I'm not so sure your alien currency will work here!" - I must now say something that would be the equivalent of Armstrong saying "A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind".
"er... eh.... what?" I said
"Thank you" He said, (He had obviously attended his crossgalatic-cultural sensitivity classes and had paid attention)
"I have questions for you a few" He said "But first, an introduction is due"
I looked at him and said "Sure... who are you?"
"I am here on work.
It is something I try to shirk.
I am doing this story on solar system and there is a 5 eon segment, just after the break, on earth. There is very little interest about earth among our viewers. This is primarily because bipeds walking around don't make good stories like supernovas exploding and black-hole discovery expeditions. However, we feel there is a lot of story-potential if we understand how you manage yourselves. We have been sending some low cost ships for centuries now, but can't figure out a thing. So, we decided to talk to some of you"
I eyed him suspiciously "Your first two sentences rhyme. The rest of them don't."
He explained, pushing his eye back up from his nose "Oh, our grammar is like that. Defying it means death by eating a hat."
By now, I was feeling a little hurt that he had spoken to other people too. This did assuage my guilt at not having come up with anything better than "er...eh....what" as my historical remark - but still - it did hurt.
I decided to sulk. "Oh, so you have been talking to other people. I thought we had something special going on here."
He stared at me, like I had stared at Namrata Kapoor on our third date, when she had said something similar to me. Finally, he said "So have you. I can name a few. You are best friends with Mazzy Crasha. She is from the third planet to the right of the blue blackhole, right in front of the frozen comet"
Mazzy had always been a good friend. I would be lying if I said I hadn't considered that she could be from another world - she liked Shahrukh Khan, you know.
Suspiciously, I asked "Oh, you have been keeping a watch on me, have you?" (this was eerily turning out to be like my third date with Namrata Kapoor)
The alien replied, a tad impatiently now
"Time is like an onion that we have peeled.
Your past, present and future is thus revealed.
We know what it is, we just don't understand any of it!! For instance, why do you suddenly stop moving, breathing, eating or talking on June 24th in the year of............"
"Hang on!!!" I interrupted, not wanting this advance information. Life for me has always been a question of what I am going to be doing that evening. I didn't want things put in perspective for me.
But I couldn't deny that some putting in perspective had already happened. Without doubt I had met quite a few aliens in my lifetime, I just didn't know it. This could explain so much. Mrs. Ghosh in third standard - she had to be one! And my boss for sure! What about my aunt from Bareily? And this coffee shop manager! And what about....
"Is Ananya one too" I asked hopefully "Was she doing some weird alien psychological experiment on me"
"No. Ho."The alien replied, playing dangerously with the rules of his lethal grammar "She is a human. She broke up with you because you are a jerk"
I sulked some more. And tried to think of what Namrata Kapoor would have said or done in similar circumstances. Then suddenly and painfully I remembered how my third date with Namrata Kappor had ended. I rubbed my temple and looked at my reflection in the spoon to ensure once again that the black eye from the infamous rendezvous had disappeared.
I decided to be proactive and change the course of this discussion to more constructive topics.
"er....eh......what?" I said
The alien said happily "I have questions for you a few"
Resigned, I leaned back in my chair - and suddenly not caring so much about crossgalatic-cultural sensitivity, lit up a cigarette.
He looked at me eerily "I wish we spoke. About the smoke." He said "That is an excellent place to begin. I often see humans sucking at the stick and emitting smoke through their mouths. Is this in the memory of the dragons that died out about 26,000 years ago?"
I looked at him and said "No. It's not. It's a habit. It's something people do to feel good."
"Donkey, monkey, rabbit" He said, again exploiting some loophole in the grammar "What is a habit?"
"It is something you do again and again and again and again" I said, knowledgeably.
"Because its a habit. You start doing it and you get used to it. Then you have got to do it."
"Till you know, you give it up. Or die."
"Oh, thats a good thing!! My heart could sing!!" The alien said emotionally "You just pick the best things and keep doing them. What a wonderful idea!!" His face had lit up like that of Newton when a downsized apple in search of the meaning of life had rushed for a late afternoon appointment with his skull.
"Err... well, actually cigarettes are bad for people. They kill."
The equivalent of blood draining a human face happened to the alien, his clay-putty features became a shade lighter. "They kill?"
I look a long drag and made circles with smoke in the air "They do."
"Why smoke then? He asked. I could see he genuinely wanted to know.
"Like, I said - it's a habit."
"So, its okay if themselves, people kill. Encourage it on earth here, you will"
"No actually. If you try to kill yourself, you could go to jail."
"What's a jail?
In understanding that I fail.
But wait, we will get to that. So, if people smoke, they have consequences - like the jail thing"
I said "No, only if you try to kill yourself ......... er....... Like if you jump from a building or if you slash your wrists or something. If you don't die, you go to jail. Cigarettes don't kill at once, so its okay"
He was wonderstruck
"Oh, the pace of dying determines if its a crime.
Suddenly is bad, slowly is fine."
I pondered "Yeah, I think so"
"I dont' know why I am feeling tense.
This just doesn't make mathematical sense" The alien said. He looked a little despondent. I could see that he believed that the dying and not the pace of it should determine whether its a crime. Suddenly, a dark gray puffy sphere of smoke appeared around his head. He looked at me and said "Don't worry about it. Its my head - its clouded in thought."
"Wow" I said, intrigued. "It happens to us too, though not literally" I also noticed that thoughts are generally gray in color. Ha! I thought to myself. What would the optimists say to that!
After some thought, he asked again "Pardon me if my understanding of your world is lowly. But how do people get these smoking sticks that kill slowly"
I must tell you something about myself at this point. I have never been interviewed in my life. The closest I have come to the experience is probably the Computer Science viva in college. And that, as my dad often reminds me - didn't go very well. When the external examiner asked me to explain the difference between an assembler and a compiler - I had said after deep thought "An assembler assembles and a compiler compiles." He seemed to disagree with this amazing observation. I scored an 8 on 25. The examiner had obviously never heard of the saying "It is the most amazing thing to be able to state the obvious." (Don't worry too much if you have never heard of the saying either, because I just invented it)
With this dumb alien, I had a euphoric feeling that I could finally answer all questions being put forth to me. I didn't even have to think. Ha! No wonder film stars and politicians are so smug. It's a great feeling to know the answers!
Enjoying myself I pondered on his questions "Pardon me if my understanding of your world is lowly. But how do people get these smoking sticks that kill slowly"
"It's available in shops. It's produced in factories and sold to these shops" I said knowledgeably.
"It is the factory that produces each. To the factories how does it reach?" He asked... the dark gray cloud still there.
"People make cigarettes in factories. Other people own these factories." I noted
"But surely they know that cigarettes end life. Someone's son, daughter, friend or wife" The alien said aghast. "Don't they want others to be happy and well?"
I have a thing against romantics and melodrama. I just don't bite into this emotional drama thing anymore. Someone's son, daughter, friend or wife? What was he? A humanist or something?
"It's not like that. They do it to earn money. Money is important. They want others to be happy and well - but only those whom they know and like." I said.
"So, people killing people is okay with earthlings. In fact, this is one of their favorite things." He said looking at various other smokers in the smoking section of the coffee shop.
"No no. Like I said before - only if u kill somebody - like shoot them or murder them - its a crime. Smoking doesn't kill immediately and at once. I thought we had an understanding on this." I said
The alien looked at me weird "It is behind time that the killers hide. Sell smoking sticks for 20 years and you have a genocide"
The gray puffy cloud had lifted from his face. He took out a small notebook and started writing vigorously in it. I peered over and was surprised that he was writing in English.
Weeklys Believe it or not!
In the third planet from the sun, earthlings kill themselves and each other by sucking at small sticks which burn and supply poison into their bodies. Since they believe that a crime conducted over a long period of time is not a crime - this is happily allowed and enjoyed by all. Even though many people die of it - even the friends, sons, daughters and wifes of those who make these smoking sticks.
I was puzzled. Why was he writing in English? And How come his sentences didn't rhyme!
But I was more defensive than puzzled. I said "Don't you guys have any habits. Like smoking and stuff"
He looked at me disdainfully "We don't like to die and make others sad. We don't kill others, we know killing is bad. "
... to be continued
Off-topic - I do not post too much about myself or my life. Ideas excite me - I thrive on them. I talk about them as a part of my chosen vocation. I delight in them. I...