The impossibility of saying anything even remotely comprehensible…… by Michael-Eric Schwaabe

One of my favourite pastimes and one that I had significant opportunities for indulging in as a younger man, was sitting round a table nursing a pint of beer (real ale please) and solving all the world’s problems in conversation with one or two good friends. We usually had everything solved by the third pint, which in turn, opened the way for a celebratory fourth thus reaching my upper limit, especially if I wanted to function well enough to navigate back home. Which describes a particular conceit of mine; in that the world’s problems are solvable. This was an odd thing to be doing and perhaps a greater reflection of the cultural privilege that a white Western man enjoys – although I could not have framed it in quite that way at the time. The conversations were usually between men and, since they only rarely extended to include women, they beg the question (which I could blissfully disregard at the time, although the alcohol-based mental lubrication may have helped somewhat): how are you going to solve anything if fifty per cent of humanity isn’t even represented? Or even, as was definitely the case for this young man in his twenties, I really didn’t control very much at all and actually still don’t. It’s not like I could set global transport policies, or make State planning decisions, or initiate a comprehensive waste recycling scheme – to mention just a few.

That’s not to say that nothing good has come of this particular pastime – on the contrary, some problems did get solved as a direct result. But many fewer than the number and grandeur of those mental palaces I constructed. Worse still, my ability to effectively capture the problem in words seems to be failing. Every time I try to nail something down the issue either slips through my metaphors or my preamble becomes so overly top-heavy that I’ve lost my audience before we can really get started. As there’s less beer involved too, this may underlie part of the difficulty. These days it’s usually my wife who will cut me off leaving just my progeny who occasionally has the patience to put up with her father when he goes off on one of his overbearing rants. But the problem remains – defining issues has become considerably more difficult for me. The thought builds, I try to speak, and in that precise moment a multitude of other issues occur to me demanding my urgent attention, all of which have a direct bearing on the relevance of the issue, and I then feel the need to systematically explore each one. Little wonder perhaps that my family’s switch from good natured tolerance to extreme exasperation sits on a hairpin trigger. Worse still is when I try to write, because most of the time, the effort involved in setting thoughts on paper (computer screen nowadays), it’s like swimming uphill through a sea of mental treacle.

Why are words so damn difficult? Each word is a box inside of which sits the idea of what it is you want to say. Except it’s not really your idea. A “cup of tea” clearly means a mug-shaped vessel made of some kind of porcelain containing about 250ml of recently poured boiling water over brown tea leaves, usually held in a porous paper sachet or bag, with about 30ml of added cold milk. Except it doesn’t, to people who don’t like milk in their tea, or who prefer green tea, or insist on a cup and saucer, or it might even mean a cup filled with tea leaves. Ultimately, you won’t know what the other person understands unless you ask, and if you have to ask about every little thing then life can become quite exhausting. So most people prefer to rely on a form of shorthand and assume that their “cup of tea” is exactly what they imagine it to be. How easy it is to be fooled into a false sense of security, as anybody who has ever had the experience of being asked for “hot tea” by an American. Of course it’s hot, dammit, otherwise it wouldn’t be tea! All this confusion arises from three little words. What these words, these boxes surrounding ideas, these forms of mental shorthand really represent is a social construct – a “cup of tea” is like this because, well because everybody else around me who is like me thinks that this, and only this, is a cup of tea.

This social construct is my identity, and the brilliant thing is that I have many which express themselves in all the different roles I assume every day, as a parent, a husband, a friend, at work or while playing around. Here’s the rub – certain identities carry consequences, whether I like them or not, and I may not even be consciously aware of them. Things such as national origin, religious affiliation, as well as gender, ethnicity, degree of privilege, all define the boundaries – that is – the outer limits of what I’m prepared to accept that each word box will surround. And this has a real bearing on solving all the world’s problems, even when lubricated by my favourite beer. For example, I tend to assume that governments are benign structures mandated to help improve their citizens’ lives. Clearly, most governments are neither benign, nor do their officers feel in any way compelled to act in accordance with enacting or enforcing fundamental human rights principles. So, sitting in the pub, enjoyable though that may be and the odd exception aside, is not the most direct route to solving the world’s problems.

So this is my understanding: fixing anything requires us to understand that everything is a social construct that has been collectively invented by people who share the same identity. So if something is broken, or a problem, a big part of understanding the issue is understanding where the boundaries of our word boxes have been set. Commonly referred to as the paradigm, but that is only a particular word box which contains the idea of a commonly understood idea (I hope you begin to understand why I often feel like I’m swimming uphill through a sea of treacle).

When you are in the forest you can’t see the wood for the trees – what is required is a different perspective. And that means seeking out those who have a different identity, persuading them to share their understanding and taking the time to learn.

Anybody fancy a beer?


Michael in his own words:
For several years, my day job was largely (though not entirely) based on my skills in both the English and French languages – which I found highly amusing as these were, PE aside, the things I was worst in at school. The skills of caring, attention to detail, and customer focus I need for my current day job were essentially acquired through the example given to me by my parents, and most significantly my mother. Married with one lovely child, I live in London. I used to ride motorcycles, but development work and a Masters got in the way, leading to the occasional blog at:

I aspire to do so again.



Pecking order by Prianka

The hierarchy of secondary school. Or, as I like to call it, the stupidity of teenage children.

Growing up, we always look at ‘high school’ as the years you will succeed, go to prom with a handsome boyfriend and go to exciting parties.

At least, that’s what movies like High School Musical and Mean Girls teach us.

Actually, it is the opposite. It is the time where you learn that standing out may not be a good thing, despite your parents saying so. You learn, that putting your hand up in lessons isn’t cool by the standards of the popular people. You learn, that having opinions gets you bullied.

I learned this the hard way.

I learned this from getting weird looks after doing something remotely ‘different’. I learned this, by getting laughed at after putting my hand up too much. I learned this, after having views in RE(Religious Education) that deemed me the opinionated feminist girl amongst the boys.

But the popular girls, they somehow got it right. On the first day of school, they all stuck together, like a pack of wolves. But all white. Coloured people aren’t cool, I guess?

The stereotypes aren’t like, ‘the goths’, ‘the nerds’, or the ‘drama club’. It goes in two ways. Those who are cool, and those who aren’t.

I fall amongst the latter.

I have gone through school, being terrified of the popular boys and girls. Only last week, none of my friends were in my DT(Design Technology) lesson, and no one sat with me. I was alone at a whole table by myself. This led to me running out of the classroom in tears, because I felt like I wasn’t worth sitting with.

The popular girls have the ideal secondary school experience, with the boyfriend, the prom, and the parties.

The rest of us are left clinging to each other, trying to keep our confidence from crumbling, and trying to ignore the obvious fact that we aren’t loved or cared about by our peers.

After a while, we manage to not let it affect us too much. But there are moments when we still crave to be popular and be invited to parties.

Sometimes, I wonder where these people will be in 10 years. Will they be successful? Will they have huge families? Will they still be popular? Or will these years be their prime, and will they slowly fall and reduce to nothing?

The truth is, we don’t know. We don’t know what will happen in the future. A lot of our teenage years go towards trying to figure out what our future will be. From choosing our GCSE subjects at 14, and then doing the actual exams at 16.

But I can’t judge all of the popular people by the same yardstick. The time I ran out of my DT lesson, one of them came after me and invited me to sit with her.

Maybe I just have to get to know them, and I will like them better. But that won’t change the fact that they have ignored me for so many years.

The idea of leaving secondary school is exciting for me. Meeting new people, and finding my place in the world.

Until then, I am caught in the grasps of the hierarchy of social lives and popularity.



Hi! I am Prianka and I am 13 years old. If you remember that article from a while ago, I was the one who asked where the smoked salmon was in the middle of the fish market in Pondicherry. I love Shawn Mendes and llamas and I hope to become an actress one day. And an author. I hope you enjoyed my thought piece.

The games women play – Sonia Narayanan

Being a sport is now synonymous with being a woman in India. Quite literally that is. Badminton, Cricket, Tennis, Gymnastics, Wrestling, Boxing, Athletics, Shooting or whatever else be the discipline, Indian women have taken not just the country but also the professional sports world by storm. They are breaking down barriers, defying the odds, challenging gender, cultural and social stereotypes to make a name for themselves in the highly competitive world of international sports.

Despite the initial resistance or cynicism they have faced through the decades, despite the challenges of their personal circumstances, despite government inertia, despite poor training facilities, despite financial constraints, these new age superwomen are standing tall in an environment which was, up until now, considered a male stronghold. It is no coincidence that today for a Virat there is a Mithali Raj, for a Kidambi Srikanth there is a P V Sindhu, for a Leander Paes there is a Sania Mirza. The list is long and it will grow longer still.

Not only that – at times these women have been trail blazers, walking into unfamiliar territory and doing what no woman has been able to do before. Take Sakshi Malik – the fiesty Indian freestyle wrestler from Mokhra, a tiny little Hamlet in Haryana, who coming from behind won bronze at the Olympics or Dipa Karmakar – the intrepid gymnast from Tripura who missed the medal by a whisker, or even P V Sindhu who won silver; all these women have brought cheer to a nation starved of heroics at the Olympics.

Having said that, it is not a change that has taken place overnight. It would be safe to say that a paradigm shift in the approach to women taking up professional sports came about with the success that India’s sprint queen PT Usha tasted. Even though she failed to secure a medal at the Olympics, the fact that she came so agonisingly close made the entire nation wake up to the potential of Indian sportswomen. Her exploits and her achievements spurred and inspired a generation of women into seriously considering taking up professional sports as a full fledged career, and not just as an extra curricular activity at school.

Though the change was gradual and painfully slow at times, families and society slowly opened their hearts and mind to the idea of Indian women as sports professionals. At first, tentatively and with misgivings as to the outcome of their choices, parents slowly started encouraging and supporting the ambitions of their girls. There are innumerable stories of how the parents have endured societal pressure and financial difficulties in shaping and realising the dreams of their girls. And slowly but surely, for many of the sportswomen, their perseverance and the courage of their conviction has been rewarded with unprecedented success at the highest international level.

Even the sheer physicality of professional sports and the demands that it makes on the body at the highest level is not a deterrent for this breed of Indian sportswomen anymore. If anything it is a challenge. Dipa Karmakar is today one among only five women gymnasts who has successfully landed the Produnova which is regarded as the most difficult vault currently performed in women’s gymnastics. Sakshi Malik registered a come from behind victory trailing by 5-0 to clinch the bronze for India. And who can forget PV Sindhu’s epic and exhausting 73 shot rally against Nozomi Okuhara where she matched the Japanese stroke for audacious stroke, defence for stoic defence and attack for relentless attack. That she eventually won the rally is a testimony to the level of fitness that she has reached in her pursuit of excellence. And then of course, there is the exhilarating example of Harmanpreet Kaur whose match defining innings of 171 singlehandedly took the Indian women into the ICC Women’s World Cup final defeating the strong favourites Australia in the process.

It is a brave new breed. Uncompromising, dedicated, ambitious, self motivated and with dollops of self -belief. They not only possess the skills necessary to compete at the highest level but also the mental make-up. The killer instinct and ruthlessness which was widely held to be lacking in Indian sports in general and women’s sports in particular is now making its presence felt. These professionals are not merely content with being national heroes; they want to be recognised as international stars. They are not content with resting on their laurels, they know that this is just the beginning of a long journey towards achieving their goals and realising their dreams.

Sure, there have been moments of heartbreak for sporting fans in India – like when the women’s cricket team imploded and lost to England in the ICC Women’s World Cup Final 2017 after coming painfully close to winning it. Or when Sindhu went down to Carolina Marin at the Rio Olympics after winning the opening game. But the transformation that has come about in the approach towards professional sportswomen is a heartening trend. We are seeing a systemic change. Government recognition, corporate and individual sponsorship, cash rewards, press and media attention, international exposure – all these have contributed towards raising the levels of awareness and interest in the sports. International training facilities, quality equipment, dietary and nutritional awareness all are being provided to produce sportswomen who will perform consistently at the international stage.

But above all these is the radical change in the attitude of a largely patriarchal society. Coming from small hamlets and towns, where even today women walk around with their heads covered, honour killings and female infanticide are carried out openly and without remorse, the feats and exploits of Indian sportswomen can hardly be overstated. Mockery and disbelief have been replaced with faith and pride at what women have been able to achieve. The new poster girls of Indian sports have challenged traditional roles and defied conventional norms and have forced a male dominated society to not just acknowledge but even celebrate their intrinsic worth. Now that’s what you call real girl power!

Sonia Narayanan is a Bangalore based author and writer. Her first book, At Close Quarters, a collection of short stories was published in 2002 and received critical acclaim. Her writing has been carried by literary publications such as MARG and Avantika and she has been a regular contributor to The Times Of India, Deccan Herald and Vijay Times. An avid sports fan, Sonia is partial to cricket, tennis and badminton – in that order. Fortunes have been lost on wagers to pull her away from the television when India plays any cricket match.


The Dutch tradition of Black Pete – a jolly children’s friend, or a racist caricature? Johanna Brunt


As a little girl growing up in The Netherlands in the 1970’s, the festive tradition of Sinterklaas was my favourite time of year. Based on Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children, Sinterklaas is seen as ‘the Dutch Santa’: a kind, elderly man with a long white beard, who hands out presents every year on the 5th December.

Sinterklaas lives in Spain, but every year in the middle of November he, and his loyal helpers, called Black Petes (of which there are many) arrive in The Netherlands on a steam boat. This is a huge event, which is broadcast on live tv, and a few hours later the same event takes place in towns all over Holland. Parents, grandparents and children all go to see the arrival of Sinterklaas together, and many children dress up as Black Pete (including black face paint), in celebration of this wonderful event. Sinterklaas is finally in the country. How exciting!

During the three weeks that follow, every Dutch family with young children watches the Sinterklaasjournaal (Sinterklaas news) at 6pm every day. The following day, children watch a repeat of it at school. It shows how Sinterklaas is busy preparing for the 5th December, with his Black Petes collecting children’s drawings and wrapping presents, and all of them settling into their temporary accommodation in The Netherlands (the Black Petes all live together in the Pietenhuis). Children put their shoes in front of the chimney, sometimes with a carrot in it for Sinterklaas’ horse Amerigo, and the next day there will be some chocolate coins or a small present in it. Also at this time of year, shops sell chocolate letters, marzipan and kruidnootjes (little Malteser-sized gingerbread cookies). Sinterklaas songs can be heard everywhere. Everybody is getting ready for the big day on 5th December: pakjesavond (present evening)! That’s when families get together, and children are beside themselves with excitement waiting for that loud knock on the front door. They run there as fast as their little legs will take them, and find a huge canvas sack full of presents on the door mat. “I’m sure I just saw a Black Pete running away behind those bushes! Quick, let’s get the presents into the house and open them up!”

‘Sinterklaas’ really is a fantastic tradition, and most Dutch people associate it with the kind of happy childhood innocence that is so rare in this day and age. It brings a warm and fuzzy feeling to the heart, like a soft, comforting blanket from the past that we want to pass on to the next generation.

So, when protests started against Black Pete about 5 years ago, most people were genuinely baffled and upset. Huh, Black Pete is racist? What on earth are you talking about? Black Pete is not a person, he’s a fictional character – it’s like talking about elves or gnomes as if they are real people! He is black, because he goes down the chimney to deliver presents to children, and the soot gets onto his face. Saying that this is a racist tradition is belachelijk (ridiculous)! Telling me that I am racist, because I, and millions of other people, enjoy this amazing children’s event, is very offensive and makes me quite angry. I really object to you accusing me of being racist – I am not, and you are spoiling the Sinterklaas celebrations with all this nonsense. I also know several people of colour who are perfectly happy with the traditional Black Pete, so that means that there is no problem. Political correctness has gone mad!

A huge discussion in Dutch society followed, and suddenly everyone was talking about the ‘Black Pete is racist’ issue. Around 90% of the population wanted things to stay as they were, and a pro Black Pete ‘pietitie’ (Piet-petition) on Facebook received a million likes within one day. It appeared that the people who wanted to abolish Black Pete were in a tiny, loony left, out-of-touch minority, and the not-so-silent pro-Black Pete majority was having none of it.

Personally, I wasn’t really sure where I stood in those days. I had moved to London when I was 20 years old, so I was following the debate from a distance. I could certainly understand the traditional pro-Black Pete point of view, based on my own happy childhood memories, but I could also see the other side of it. I remembered once reading a letter in my older sister’s Club magazine in the late 1970’s, in which a young black girl stated that she hated Black Pete, because children used to use it as a swear word towards her. Having spent many years living in a big, multi-cultural city, and meeting people from different countries and all walks of life through work, I probably also knew a lot more non-white people than the average Dutch person. I was pretty sure that they would find it hard to accept the idea that the Black Pete concept was completely innocent. It simply came across as unintended racism.

Curious to hear a neutral, non-Dutch, outsider’s opinion, I asked my English husband Chris what he thought of it all. He and I had been together for almost 20 years at this point, but amazingly, I had never talked to him about the Black Pete phenomenon – so I had no idea what he really thought of it! Chris is a very middle-of-the-road kind of guy: not particularly left-wing, nor particularly right-wing. He grew up in a half-English, half-Polish household in the middle of cosmopolitan London, so he’s pretty tolerant of other cultures, and not bothered about strange habits that other people may have. I truly had no idea what he thought, but I secretly suspected that he would say it was just an innocent Dutch tradition, and that the protestors were making a big fuss over nothing.

To my complete surprise and astonishment however, Chris said that he had always found Black Pete to be totally racist, and that he couldn’t believe that the Dutch were still getting away with this kind of stuff in this day and age. What??? Had I been missing something all these years? He wasn’t exactly on the fence – that was a very definite and damning opinion, from a pretty laid-back person. Was Chris right? Had I been blind to some kind of racist undercurrent; had I been too Dutch, too naive to see it?

I still wasn’t convinced that this was the case, but I did start to look at things through different eyes. “Black Petes”, i.e. black men, being helpers/servants to a white man. The songs: “Even though I am as black as soot, I do mean well..” In the old days, rather menacing and sinister-looking Black Petes putting naughty children in the sack, ready to take them away to Spain – while white Sinterklaas was the good guy giving presents (although, to be fair, Black Petes are very happy and friendly now, and everybody loves them). The similarities between Black Petes and black slaves (Holland’s involvement in the old transatlantic slave trade is notorious). The similarities between Sinterklaas’ steam boat, and old slave ships from colonial times. Black Pete’s name, the blackface, the big red lips, the afro wigs, the golden earrings. Try to google the words “Sinterklaas Russell Brand” on YouTube, and you will see what I mean. If you’ve ever had to explain the concept of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet to someone who has never heard of it, you will suddenly hear yourself utter the words “Look, I know it sounds bad, but it’s really not meant to be racist – honestly!” The more I saw and heard, the more I started to change my mind. Dutch people’s outraged and continued insistence that Black Pete was most definitely NOT a white person’s caricature of a black person began to ring quite hollow.

I also started to hear personal stories. I had a conversation with a black American colleague who came across some Black Pete-type pictures in a cafe in Barcelona. Being a very calm, culturally aware and sensible kind of guy, he debated whether or not he should stay quiet, but he then decided that he shouldn’t. He called the owner over, pointed at the pictures, and asked: “Is this how you see me? The blackface, the bright red lips, the curly hair…really? Do you think I look like that?” The owner was clearly embarrassed – to him, they were just pictures. But to his customer, they were hurtful, offensive and degrading.

There were other stories as well. A colleague’s son had been teased at school, with other kids calling him Black Pete when he was younger – which led to his mum now being a fervent anti-Black Pete protester. A Canadian friend who came to visit us in our Dutch town, joked “Oh, that’s not racist at all!” when she saw a picture of the “old-fashioned golliwog” (incidentally, another Thai friend who visited commented on how blonde everybody was, and that there was barely a non-white person to be seen). The “OMG-I-can’t-believe-it-this-is-so-racist!!” face of our English au pair, who came to the arrival of the steam boat in our town, and who texted photos of Black Petes to her friends back in the UK. They couldn’t believe it either.  I began to realise that every single foreigner seemed to see instantly what every Dutch person insisted did not exist.

Personally, I gradually became convinced that it was high time we changed Black Pete’s appearance. The debate in Dutch society is still ongoing as we speak, but it is also still pretty polarised. The question is, though: why are there not a lot more people like me in The Netherlands, who have changed their mind on Black Pete? Surely I can’t be the only person who has heard new stories and opinions, that they weren’t aware of before? My own solution would be simple: a gradual change from the traditional ‘blackface’ Black Pete, to a ‘Chimney Soot Pete’, who only has some soot on his face. It’s an easy compromise, and one that I think both sides could live with.

It’s hard to explain, but I suspect that the reason that people are sticking to their own uncompromising position, and why this is still such a black-and-white issue in The Netherlands (pardon the pun) is that the whole debate started off on the wrong foot some 5 years ago. Millions of regular Dutch people felt shocked that they were, in their view,  suddenly being accused of being racists, so it got their backs up. The anti-Black Pete approach was perceived to be very aggressive, and as a result, people on the other side dug their heels in. Extremism on the one side breeds extremism on the other side, unfortunately.

On the other hand, though, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the pro-Black Pete brigade to continue to deny that many people find Black Pete hurtful and offensive. Hundreds of tv programmes and news articles have been devoted to this issue. We now know, for instance, that many black children are being teased, and even bullied, and that the figure of Black Pete is no fun for them. Surely we can collectively agree that ALL Dutch children should be able to enjoy that warm, fuzzy Sinterklaas feeling? Or is that only reserved for white children? Even if you yourself may not particularly see the need for change (possibly because nobody in your predominantly white environment thinks that there is a problem..?), try to at least have an open mind, rather than the closed one which so many Black Pete supporters seem to have these days. No wonder that this debate keeps coming back every year – that’s what happens when you stubbornly refuse to move an inch.

Thankfully, things are changing, albeit much slower than the anti-Black Pete brigade would like. In 2013, 89% of Dutch people wanted to keep the traditional Black Pete, but now that figure has gone down to 68% in just 4 years. 26% of people now agree that Black Pete’s appearance should change. The irony is that it would have been pretty easy to reach a compromise many years ago, if things hadn’t become so polarised. But a change is still possible, desirable and inevitable in my view. Nobody wants to take away the joy of Sinterklaas – quite the opposite. Changing Black Pete’s appearance is hardly going to make much difference in the grand scheme of it all.

Roetpiet (Chimney Soot Pete), I believe that YOU will ultimately save the day. It is already happening, in the Sinterklaasjournaal, in shops and other places. And you know what? The world won’t end. Grownups will finally grow up, and Dutch children will be just as happy as they have always been.



My name is Johanna Brunt (my Dutch name is Joke), and I was born in The Netherlands in 1970. After secondary school I studied English and European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I went to London on a ‘gap year’ when I was 20, met my husband Chris, and ended up staying in London for 24 years.  Chris and I married in 2004, and we have 3 children: Emma (10), and twins Daniel and Katie (7). We moved (back, in my case) to The Netherlands in December 2014.

I have been a flight attendant for United Airlines since March 1992, flying out of Heathrow to the United States. Apart from the flexibility, the best thing about my job is that I get to meet passengers and crews from all over the world. I truly enjoy talking to people from different nationalities and backgrounds, and I have learned a lot from hearing various points of view about a variety of subjects. I am a firm believer in the Mark Twain quote that ‘travelling broadens the mind, and is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’.

Breathless – Melissa Singh


Tears sting and fall, as eyes search for a gap in the grey

The breath comes and goes like a wizened old man

Children no longer go out to play

The birds barely twitter

The leaves hang, heavy and sad

The stars, the moon, the sun haven’t smiled down, nights and days

This shroud of grey….where did it come from?


Burning the stubble in the fields has been the way

For far too long

To make it the prime culprit

is wrong


We trumpet out loud

our rapid progress and advancement in science and technology

I struggle to understand

is this the result?

That it does away with all that is real and natural

and creates all that is artificial and unnatural

Gripping us in a vice where suffering is certain


We create

for short term comfort

long term discomfort


We churn out limitless vehicles

numerous industries

The skies are a maze of flights

The seas a zig zag of water transport lines

for a bursting at the seams population

with a couldn’t care less, callous, selfish attitude


We, the creators

vitiate the air, the earth and the seas

by belching out unfathomable quantities of life sucking pollutants

It’s like being on a plane with low to zero oxygen supply

and ‘Gasp!’ as one clamours for the oxygen mask to fall


It never does….


Melissa Singh is an Interiors Designer. She designs the inside and leaves the outside to the best designer of all….Nature. From Nature she puts together organic lotions and creams for the hands, body and hair. She is a ‘wonder woman’…..always wondering and wandering 😊

Examples of found articles circa state controlled Serenity. 2356 AD – James Dhanjal

Examples of found articles circa state controlled Serenity. 2356 AD 

Authcast News – Third Quarter November 476 ADA.

Benson Jordan should be tried for crimes against humanity over the controversial Human Resilience and Survival Improvement Program, according to Authorians surveyed in a new encouraged opinion poll.

The Authcast survey asked 30 adults, representative of the population of Overcast City, to pick one of two statements that best summed up their views about him in respect to the HRSI.

Roughly a 100% of those taking part in the survey chose “Mr Jordan knowingly misled Authorians and should be tried for crimes against humanity”. Eventually pollsters in disagreement were encouraged to reconsider, to ensure the results were correct and unanimous.

This week, the controversial figure addressed subscribers of the unsanctioned media outlet (So called Verity Network) with open lies regarding his part as commissioner of the program.

Although the lies are of little merit or concern to you, we do however encourage that you continue to consume Authcast News should the unlikely event of significance come of the address.

Authcast News – Fourth Quarter November 476 ADA.

This week Authcast has exclusively learned former commissioner for the controversial HRSI program Benson Jordan is in the process of being tried for crimes against humanity. His sentence is to be decided by encouraged public opinion.

(Editor) As a historical archive Authcast is required by law to provide an unedited account of a public figure’s last address once they have been terminated. You are encouraged to cast this statement out of your mind as it is of little merit or concern to you.

Please be encouraged that the following is a lie:

“I would like to take this opportunity to address consumers of the Verity Network and perhaps, in the event that I am executed, the consumers of Authcast News, to express my sincerest apologies for my personal part in the suffering experienced by our test subjects of the HRSI Program that I was once the commissioner of.

Please understand that my intentions were misguided despite insisting on many protocols and safeguards being installed on our assault androids. I want to advise you that the not only the state but Mother Mary herself tried to encourage me to override these measures. This is why my life is in danger.

The first thing I want to explain is that the year should not be 476 ADA. This has been made up by the state so they could reset the clock and alter reported history to their own ends. Not all of the laws around this have been adjusted. Something I am relying on, so that my message is heard.

The second thing I want to express is that we have become increasingly reliant on technology to keep us safe. It wasn’t always like this. Within the old histories there was a period of time that they used to call the digital revolution and it is my firm believe that this was the catalyst for us becoming lazy, lacking in resourcefulness, and most importantly ,vulnerable.  If the infrastructure safety-net was to fall what would we do to survive? How would we know what to do in major crises?

Mother Mary and the state held the same opinion it seemed and they found my writings and asked me to provide a solution, whatever the cost. Knowing that I had proficiency in DNA and automation, they encouraged me to use my expertise to work the problem.

The solution we devised was to challenge adolescents who had reached their twenty-first birthday, to fight for survival against their own personal assault android, encoded with their own DNA for both identification and genetic weaknesses that could be exploited.

The young person would need to learn how to combat or evade their assailant for nine years, and on their thirtieth birthday they would be introduced into the workforce.

The safety measures I put in place meant that if permanent harm or death was imminent in the subject, the android would retire immediately until the subject had recovered sufficiently. My own DNA was used as a security signature so that I would have complete control of the androids. These were the terms of the program and the state.

Upon the release of the program, I did factor in the ingenuity of our subjects.

One young women had used the arm of a massage droid, slit open the fluid repository, spraying the liquid on her attacker and promptly pushed it into a fireplace.

A young man had informed himself about the program and spliced his DNA with his plotted plant garden in order to confuse the android and slip away quietly.

Over three years, countless reports of adolescents being quite capable of handling difficult situations were coming in. We had a large dataset and I was satisfied that I was indeed wrong in my assumptions. We took our findings to the state with a hope that we had proved that the program was a success and we had no good reason to continue.

Mother Mary herself asked me the question that I had been expecting. Can the safeguards be removed? I told her no and asked her why she would ever want that to happen?

Her tone changed and she said one more time: Remove the safeguards.

Fearing that she may try to find some way to encourage me to comply, I left to let other members of the department know what the head of the state was looking to do.

I returned to the department laboratory but clearly I was too late. Production on a new line of androids had started, with the batch machinery being run by my own team, clearly under encouragement. They were creating about five deadly androids to find these poor people and take their survival test to the next level.

But how did they do that? Who had broken through the protocols? How much encouragement did it take before they started to comply? One of the androids had come off the assembly line. It switched on and began actively looking around the laboratory.

I’d evaded the droids and the others just long enough to see how my team may have done it. To my surprise they had not broken through the protocols. I could tell that my program remained intact and I was relieved but puzzled. Until I noticed something else.

They had used DNA from someone else to master and have ultimate control over all five robots. I could only guess whose they had spliced with my own creation, and I knew at that moment they were looking for me. I hadn’t factored if anyone could survive an attack from more than one assailant at the same time. The state clearly had.

I turned around, startled to see all five of the machines closing in on me. Ready to pounce. Ready to tear me apart. Mother Mary had arrived and walked calmly behind them. Finally, she demanded one last time. “I encourage you to give me the override protocols.”

I was cornered with nowhere to go. So I did what I had to do to survive. The one safeguard that would have assured that this technology could never leave my control. I told the team to lift the first protocol and reverse the target.   

Please be encouraged that this statement was a lie. You are encouraged to cast this statement out of your mind as it is of little merit or concern to you.


James Dhanjal (Born James Stuart Comaskey; September 23rd 1985) was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom but grew up and still resides in the North Hampshire town of Basingstoke.

He self-publishes poetry and short fiction, especially when things have gone very wrong. 

You might find him hanging around Reddit, Twitter and Tumblr.

Poetry On Tumblr –

Twitter :

GoodReads Profile –

Inside the city in me – Bharat Shekhar

“Every city has a sex and age…” John Berger

That being so
Delhi is an aging,
paan chewing,
spittle spewing
cross dresser.

The first indication
of its dual inclination
emerges at crossroads
where expensive,
almost state of the art
Jaguars, BMWs, Mercs,
Hondas, and Toyotas
screech to a halt
at the traffic light.

In the draft
created by impatient revving
of their exhausts,
our cross dresser’s skirt lifts
to reveal unshaven legs-
Mendicants lurch from kerb to car
clattering begging bowls.
Itinerant sellers with sad eyes
thrust their wares
at fogged air-conditioned windows,
whose horns impatiently honk,
raring for a green signal
to race away from this revelation
of their insides.


This muddle of identities
becomes bunched in
that jumble of dresses,
high and low,
that lie side by side
in our cross dresser’s wardrobe.

Flung around
magnificent medieval minarets
mange of this city wraps itself
in unsightly, moth eaten patches.
Immigrant’s shanties,
middle class balconies
bulging with bania baroque,
metroworks, makeover malls,
flyovers and feeder roads
all vie for space here-
skeletons in the cupboard,
dancing to the tune of heavy machines.


Our cross dresser
has had seven makeovers
or more,
her ruined beauty
still glimpsed
in remains strewn across
from South to North –
Kutub, Rai Pithora, Tughlakabad,
Siri, Nizamuddin, Lodi, Old Fort,
Shahjanabad, Chawri bazar, Ballimaran,
Civil Lines…


In between these relics,
the living city
breathes in gulps,
its fragmented identity of Ps-
Pollution, Power, Politics,
all with a ‘capital’ P.

Sometimes it’s a Haryanavi
crew cut wearing a police dress
and a mask
directing traffic at some
chaotic crossing.

Sometimes it’s a balding
politician’s flunky in Lutyens’ Land,
turned on by VIP sirens
as he accompanies memsahib
for an exclusive manicure.

Sometimes, it is burly men in beards,
and hidden women in burqas,
going about their daily lives,
stirring preconceived prejudices
of passersby, who are on their way
to a political rally where
saffron robes and flags will flutter
and fluster the breeze.

Sometimes it is a Sardarni
coming out of a Gurudwara.
Sometimes it is an off duty nurse
under the lustful gaze of strange men,
walking to her rented accommodation,
far far away from her home in Kerala.

Sometimes it is the rage
of fists and hockey sticks
erupting on some random road.

Sometimes, it is the trees,
leaning tiredly over pavements.
Sometimes it is their encircling
asphalt necklace,
slowly choking life out of them.

Sometimes, it is the remains
of a greenbelt that once encircled
the waist of the cross dresser,
now torn in strips,
revealing its underbelly
of bulging builders’ flats.

Sometimes, it is that choked thread of water,
a mighty river of the past,
that now looks and smells more
like the ooze that comes out from
under the doors of public urinals.

Sometimes, it is a blessing of Dargahs.
Sometimes it is a curse of abuses.
Sometimes it is scorching.
Sometimes it is shivering.
Sometimes, it is the rasping
cough of asthma.
Sometimes it is the bully.
Sometimes, it is the bullied.
Sometimes, it is the camaraderie
of drunken friends swaying an evening.
Sometimes, it is the ooze of lonesome booze.

Sometimes, it is the entitlement
of gated, middle-class residents
issuing passes to control the entry
of Bengali maids, cleaners and drivers,
for mistreatment
as their ‘rights’ of passage.

Sometimes, it is the cold wind
whipping thorough a makeshift
hammock between poles
that a Bihari mother has made
for her weakly wailing infant,
as she carries bricks on her head
at some building site.

And sometimes
our city is just that-
a cross dresser,
a Punjabi pun
that reflects in suited booted
angry middle aged executives,
rushing to serve
their hours of corporate servitude.

It is only at night,
when the city takes off
its clothes
and settles down to sleep
in rang mahals and rain baseras,
that it openly, nakedly
reveals the flip side of its personality,
its tired Janus face that just longs to sleep
(and sometimes, heaven forbid, to weep.)


Bharat Shekhar lives in New Delhi.He tries to write when he can, and doodles when he can’t. When in doubt, he gazes at his navel.
His book ‘Talking Tales’, can be purchased at