Kamal was not surprised. Whenever there arises a need for any conceivable product or service today, a business entrepreneur is certain to seize the opportunity and set up a company to meet the demand.
All the same, his latest client made him not a little uneasy. The client had mumbled his name. Not wishing to give an impression of inattentiveness, Kamal had not tried to get the name straight and had, in fact, expressed his eagerness to help. The client had seemed to him to be in a desperate need to succeed. From the wrinkles on his face, it appeared that he had tried his hands in many ventures but he had not been so far able to hit the pot of gold. Being unsuccessful himself in his profession, Kamal had a special sympathy for losers in life.
After extending a helping hand, Kamal found it difficult to back down. The writing consultant, who would prefer starvation to earning money by any questionable means, though he had a great need of it what with special assessments and additional assessments to pay to his condominium management to fix things in the building not broken or damaged, restively moved in his chair, as the client spoke.
Kamal was a consultant for serious technical/ creative writing, not for writing advertisements for which the client had reached for help. Secondly, he assisted people to write stories for pleasure of a rare kind, not available anywhere except perhaps in true love and perhaps, perhaps, and perhaps—three perhapses to underline Kamal's shaky knowledge in the field—in contemplation of a free god unbound by any hardliner religions and theology.
Without committing himself to anything, Kamal listened to his client.
Seeing a growing global market for martyrdom, the client wanted help in drawing up an advertisement for a prospective recruiting agency for suicide attackers.
The client handed in the first draft he carried with him.
"You have been pre-approved for martyrdom, OTC! Please give us a call to process your papers."
Taken by surprise and anguish over the brazen project, Kamal tried to control the situation by talking about the importance of critical thinking in writing. Years of teaching Freshman composition had convinced him that a writer must at every step of the process think critically. Thoughts and words came easily and effortlessly on the subject so Kamal held forth for nearly an hour, hoping his client would go away, like most students his class.
During the lecture, the client was applying the principles of critical thinking to his two-line ad. He began to see a problem with an ad like that. The agency would have to scout around and select candidates before the issue of such a communication addressed so pointedly: "You have been pre-approved...." Something like this could not be sent to all with an address Occupant, House # xxx, etc. By accident, if this went into the wrong hands, there could be trouble. The client was simply interested in making money without taking or getting into any trouble. He revised the ad and handed it over to Kamal across the table.
"If you are an un-educated youth with an IQ of 60 or lower, we have a job for you. If you are jobless and don't expect to be able to make an honest living by your own efforts, please contact us. We have a dream job waiting for you. Please call collect immediately."
The client was not interested in netting the educated youth for the job, as they would find their own way.
The client thought that the revised ad could be published in a national daily and would save the company on postage.
Kamal went on to lecture on the related topic of reader-response analysis. He drew a triangle to represent the three sides of discourse, each influencing the other: The Speaker, the Audience, and the Message.
The client drew his own conclusions from the lecture. On a careful analysis, he thought his revised ad cast the net far too wide. The recruiting agency would have to perform the task of selecting the candidates who were wedded to the idea of becoming martyrs from among a large pool of applicants. It might be possible to sell this idea to many in the group, but this was likely to take time and additional trouble of setting up suitable infrastructure like running schools and preparing textbooks, plus hospitals, and such other charitable front organizations. He had in mind a recruiting agency which could make quick and easy money without a big staff or a large investment.
While Kamal was still holding forth on the rhetorical triangle, his client revised the second draft and handed in the revised copy to Kamal.
"Have you considered becoming a martyr and getting a free pass to beautiful heaven? We have many places around the globe where we need a constant supply of men and women ready to sacrifice their lives and earn a seat in heaven. Your seat in heavenly abode right next to god is guaranteed. One-way relocation expenses to the chosen place of work and other daily requirements are paid in advance. Your life is fully insured and surviving members of your family will receive insurance money, government jobs, and other benefits."
Kamal looked at the revised draft with a succession of learned "Hms." After listening to the illuminating response for a few minutes, his client interrupted and said he would add a paragraph describing what heaven is like to hook the reader: Cool and caressing breeze; thinly-clad damsels dancing to the rhythm of rhapsodic music; variety of delicious ambrosia food, nectar, and honey; free supply of wine with flavors of cherry, black cherry, and raspberry; nice scenery with plants, shrubs, and trees laden with fragrant flowers and juicy fruits; birds flitting about with melodious songs; clouds hanging in the air in delightful patterns; rainbows spanning the sky; mountains covered by thick sheets of white snow; winding brooks with gentle waves; streams making sweet and soothing murmuring sounds; waterfalls wafting multi-colored spray; lions, elephants, and deer playing together in the fields.... the description ending "You must see it with your own eyes to believe it."
Kamal's client was very pleased with the session, although he couldn't quite determine Kamal's contribution to it. He paid $200 in cash, against Kamal's clear instructions: All payments to be made through check or authorized bank draft.
After his client left, Kamal reached the telephone. Before dialing 911, he put the instrument back in its place, not knowing what name, address, and contact details to give when asked and also considering the fact that nothing much is likely to be gained by going after a small player. At this time, he also heard a knock on the door.
Kamal was no subscriber to the philosophy of the Ivory Tower, but he knew that art cannot provide actionable intelligence to solve practical problems of everyday life. Anger and sorrow overcame him. Yes, these suicide attackers didn't deserve a burial. He had read something to this effect by honorable members of a community. He wished that bombers' bodies were preserved in formaldehyde in glass cases and displayed in museums under the caption "See and learn!"
"Friends, fixated on heaven, lend me your ears!"
The next client walked in to Kamal's exclamation directed to the heaven-bound, "Think of the heavenly bliss awaiting you!"
The visitor was pleased to hear the words he thought which were said in heart-warming welcome, but he was a little disconcerted because he had no plans to go to heaven any time soon. In fact, Reinaldo Deshpande was happy to survive the carnage that took place the previous week in Mumbai when he was there on a honeymoon and had since returned to Washington, DC, to resume his normal life. USA was all the heaven he prayed for during the siege.
As Reinaldo Deshpande introduced himself and described the purpose of his visit—to help him put together a proposal to eradicate terrorism root and branch from the surface of the earth—Kamal followed his own train of thought, as if in a prompt response to the visitor's noble purpose.
"What a perverted idea is all this?" Kamal said, while his audible thoughts in one part of the brain overlapped with the silent thoughts on another part of the brain on the fascinating marriage between a Latino and an Indian—Reinaldo Deshpande. "There is, perhaps, honor in open war to uphold the cause of a religion or country, but what glory could there be to become a cowardly suicide bomber afraid to openly declare his name or country or cause, but brave enough to kill and maim innocent people and damage property with the hope of forcing the hand of an undeclared enemy to grant unspecified justice? In an extreme situation after failing to obtain justice—if justice is denied—by every other method, a person may be driven to sacrifice only his/ her life with the aim of drawing attention of the world to the wrong and moving the hearts and minds of perpetrators of injustice to correct the situation. But it takes a madman to believe that heaven's gate would open to those who kill innocent people."
Reinaldo appreciated Kamal jumping into the subject without wasting time in small talk and on any warm-up exercises.
"It is deplorable how people are focused on making a fast buck taking advantage of widespread illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, disease, iniquity, hatred, war, injustice, and suffering in the world," Kamal continued. "If only a fraction of the time and energy that goes into acts of violence to the practice of fairness in our dealings, we could transform this very earth on which we walk into heaven."
Kamal terminated his lecture with a rhetorical question, "Couldn't we?"
Reinaldo spoke again of the purpose of his visit. He had a plan to stop terrorism.
"You do?" Kamal said with disbelief.
"Yes, I do," Reinaldo said, encouraged to speak. "You know sins of fathers visit upon the children. If we can only find a way to reverse the process, terrorism will end tomorrow. We must have a law to allow multinational forces to round up the father of a suicide attacker immediately after an act of terrorism and have him executed by firing squad."
Distasteful as it was, Kamal listened in fascination.
"Probably, the mother should be picked up first," Reinaldo corrected himself. "They may not care for their father, but they would have certainly some feelings for their mother and wish no harm to come to her on their account."
Kamal thought that Reinaldo's plan could work, but he said he couldn't bring himself to write a proposal to that effect.
"I am not suggesting that parents should be actually executed," Reinaldo clarified. "How would the suicide attackers know what happens to the bereaved parents after they commit suicide and leave for heaven?"
Kamal suddenly got interested in Reinaldo's idea. Perhaps, the parents could be tried by a country which has abolished capital punishment.
S. Krishnamoorthy Aithal's short stories have appeared in Critical Quarterly, Short Story International, Indian Literature, and New Quest. Manuscripts of two volumes of his short stories One in Many and Many in One are ready to start making the rounds of publishing houses. Besides creative writing, he has published articles on a wide range of authors and books in scholarly international journals. Currently, he teaches English at Potomac College, Washington, DC.