Artwork by Costel Iarca
Then, if the mantrin wants to drive someone insane, he takes Datura fruit and, mixing it with human flesh and worm-eaten sawdust, offers it in food or drink. He recites the mantra and that person will instantly go insane... —Vajramahabhairava Tantra
Vincent peered at the flaming road burning for miles ahead of him in the Aukatabad summer. The Ford Ikon was cruising at a comfortable seventy-five. He was in no hurry. Thoughts crept into his mind, surreptitious cats creeping into an unguarded kitchen. What would he bring back from this day that had started as ordinarily as any other? He could only guess. After a decade in this profession he still couldn't be sure. The deeper he had delved, the more surprised he had been. Surprised, and perhaps wiser. The Dark Side of the Moon pulsated through the wires of his iPod, as the first of the eight flyovers zipped by. The glassy shopping malls, the steel and chrome geometries of outsourcing companies and infotech giants flashed past. Sometimes they shimmered in the heat. Sometimes the burning air echoed the cries of dead farmers whose skeletons lay buried under those shiny buildings. He paid them little attention.
He had risen early as he had been doing for the last fifteen years. But there was no one to make coffee today. He had just broken up with Mou. Mou—honey, his honey; she had been with him from the time he had moved to this city from up in England. Mou had been already here, working in one of the many call-centers littering the dust-ridden suburbia of this monster of a metropolis. She had been kind to him. Mou's barsati in the Colony of the Chivalrous had a storeroom where she had set him up.
She would make coffee in the mornings and warm water, for it was wintertime before he set out for his job search: Google was not big yet, Monsters were nowhere in sight. And on the second evening, after two bottles of a good wine from the western hills and a joint or two of the best hashish of the Siwaliks, they had kept staring at each other.
Vincent had been job-hunting in Aukatabad for some time. He hunted on buses, for the autorickshaws were not exactly affordable, and his investment in a doctoral degree in biochemistry and post-doctoral work in pharmacology in a British University hadn't seen him anywhere close to a decent employment. He was in debt and in trouble. But Mou had a glow on her face keeping him going. She adored him for his decision to return from the west.
Then one day, Vincent had a job and wanted to move out. He felt uncomfortable piling up on her. But she said, "Why do you need to go?" He should rather stay here and save something. "I am scared of the sandpipers screeching in the dead of night," and there was a purring sadness in her voice, which made him relent. Lost for words he quickly opened the fridge. There was a vodka sitting there for sometime and he drank one and then another, his darkly handsome face came alive—black marble catching moonlight. She came and held him, her breasts soft and small against his heart. It felt better.
Both of them were exhausted after a full day and so they ordered Subway sandwiches for dinner, tuna for her, chicken for himself and then lay on their mattresses trying hard to read. Vincent was reading one of the adventures of Talbot Mundy. It didn't work. He tossed from side to side, he tried to listen to sounds from the street below. There was none. The giant city had suddenly fallen quiet at this early hour of night. Where had all the buses and excavators gone, all the sirens of ambulances and police cars, the painted men who went singing below the door?
There was a knock. Mou came into the store room. In her aquamarine slacks—she came to the edge of his makeshift bed. The giant outside slept, perhaps it was winter, that's why. Then without warning the sandpipers began to screech. She came close and they didn't speak at all and sat beside him when he pulled her closer and she let herself go, vagrant and happy at last. They were hurried but conscious, they gasped and they shivered and throughout the cold night they were happy on his slender bed of three packing cases that had brought her stuff from Anantanagar in a three-tier railway compartment, five summers back. And early in the morning a chilling north wind brought with it the fine ash from the nearby crematorium and covered their bare flesh with the patina of dead lovers, old men and women who had lived and had once known love. Their bodies danced, the north wind blew, the cry of the sandpipers grew harsher as the fine white ash from the charnel grounds drowned the two among their small heaven of packing cases and the scent of final departures.
Vincent remembered everything. They burst upon him, needles raining from the sky. More excruciating today, this torturous dance of images, when Mou was no more with him. He remembered the day they had shifted to a bigger house when he had moved to this new company. The pay was better, they had partied for a week at a Himalayan resort. It had been so exciting to be in love with Mou, with her breathless speech, he remembered, as he adjusted his green Hugo Boss shades. The driver manoeuvred the sedan into a road turning left.
But then Zeeta had appeared from nowhere and spread herself across his present. Her slicked short hair, black shell academic glasses and stern face did not distract him first. She had remained in the background, a good assistant, a helpful colleague. She was efficient, disciplined and looked cool with her pout accentuated by lip glitter. But always on the other side of a glass.
It remained like that till the time the roots and mushrooms had begun to arrive in his lab. He never discovered how these were sourced, what efficient supply chain obtained for him whatever he needed. Some of these substances were banned across the globe. He knew his brief and he knew who they were working for. This was a secret project their company was handling. There were special procedures to be followed for secrecy and nothing was to be discussed outside the office.
They had begun the experiments with Santa Maria. Santa Maria was the name he used for three different varieties of marijuana. He preferred using this name in his lab notes he kept in a leather-bound diary. This made it difficult for them when it was first found.
Now as he walked through the plate glass door he remembered those early experiments with Santa Maria. The receptionist gave him the usual smile and he waved back. He swiped his card and entered the lobby area where an elevator was waiting to take him three floors down. He walked out of the lift and into the changing room where he slipped into the purple overalls used in the lab.
Santa Maria had not been much of a revelation though it made him hold Zeeta's hand and not let go for a while. "We can stop counting the moments and fall asleep" he had said, "and then we need not sweat over these chemicals, these foods of the Gods."
"Let me make you some tea, you will feel better," she had said. He remembered how it seemed, as if he had sat for ages sipping that Darjeeling. He had asked her out for dinner that same night. A few weeks had passed.
She took good care of his lab. Everything would be in order, when he began the day. Sometimes they needed more lab-hands. Once a substance was checked out by either of them, he would write down the experience. The lab-hands would help them prepare new formulations for testing. They would collect inputs on other experiments done elsewhere and organise their findings for Vincent to study. When everyone would leave, Vincent would transfer some of the findings of their research to a secure computer.
Zeeta had begun staying back late and would not leave until he was done. This bothered him. The protocols of secrecy were strict this time and he worried, he may be hauled up by the Director. But nothing like that happened. Only one night, after an eventful day spent on a medium dose of Blue Halos mushrooms they had forgotten they were supposed to go home.
"This is the king of shrooms," he told her as he scribbled in the diary. They had drunk the mushrooms steeped in warm drinking chocolate. The Blue Halos tasted odd and he liked this way of masking the flavour. The dance of colours had almost faded by then, door knobs did not seem any more like UFOs shining with light from other worlds. But he was drained with the experience, drained and with a lingering happiness like the afterglow of sex.
"Yes, I am pleased you asked me to be part of it today," she said.
"I am starving, can we find something to eat?" he suggested.
So they went in his car and as it was late they ate at one of the chic-dhabas with amber LED ribbons twined round the dark forms of rosewood trees and golden palms trees made of light, guarding the wide courtyard. And asking the chauffeur to drive them to a motel they locked the room and were immediately in each other's arms. The kiss lasted long and it hurt them, their lips swelled and began to look like pink bolsters rolling down their mouths. In an instant they had thrown away their clothes, the shirts and trousers floating about in the pink-blue light of the motel room, heavy with the aroma of rose room-freshener, like feathers of slaughtered birds refusing to die.
He explored her with his tongue as she pressed his head between her legs. A few times, like a whale, he rose for air and again went down diligently and during one of these risings he smiled mischievously and said, 'the shrooms open new horizons, don't they?"
"Shut up," she said and pushed his head down harder till he felt he would choke. She let him breathe and let him slide up and above her and soon with their cries and moans and whispers, this small motel room, this absurd fungus of a sad construction somewhere beyond the suburbs of big beefy Aukatabad, was transformed into the most extraordinary of chambers.
And before falling asleep, tired from their intense coitus, tired from the exhilaration of guilt (what if Mou finds out), the mushrooms still on his mind, he told her,
"We are almost there, I can hear it knocking at the door," he said.
"I am almost through, it will soon be over, we are very close to what we have been searching for."
"Wow!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, everyday I am closer, I am getting there," he said.
"And how would you know when we are through?" she asked, her voice on the edges of sleep.
"We are looking for perfection, a harmony—I can't tell you more."
"Are we looking for harmonies within, or tuning ourselves to harmonies in chemicals?" She was suddenly inquisitive in a playful way.
"I will tell you... someday I will... the Good Friday experiment and what we are trying to do here," but he never told her anything beyond that. Only their motel nights became more frequent and Mou had become sadder still.
This morning, as they exchanged knowing glances through the glass wall of the lab, all these memories crowded back, his mind a rush-hour bus bursting with commuters. Zeeta waved. He waved back and pushed the door of his cabin. The chrome plate with his name VINCENT DUTTA, gleamed. He had to make some phone calls. He dialled the numbers speaking in a low voice. It was difficult for someone passing by to hear what he said though the door was ajar.
He comes out of his cabin and enters the lab. Loud music assails him. Zeeta had queued up Breakfast at Tiffany's and cranked up the volume of the piped music system, as the song began to play. Though music was very much part of the experiments, he didn't want to hear this song, just now,
"Why, why this goddamned song?" he asks.
"Oh, I thought this strikes the right tone for the day," she said crossing her legs.
"Now, see here, don't overdo it, you know what I am passing through?" he said.
"I thought it will sponge off some of that," she said.
He banged the table angrily but by then the song was almost over and a new one was coming on. He looked at her trying to understand what was going through her mind. The break-up with Mou was not easy for him and he was hoping she would at least show some sensitivity. "Have you sent the assistants off, I don't want anyone on this floor today?" he asked.
"Nobody will be here unless they are required," she said in a dutiful voice.
He smiled. "Got everything ready?"
"Everything ready Sir," she said.
"OK, then, ibogaine, make it large," he said calmly and began to undress.
"Sure Sir," she said.
Vincent lay on the table at one end of the long lab room. From this end of the lab a small door went into the emergency exit passage. From where he lay he could see the rows upon rows of experiment tables, he could see test tube racks, ceramic bowls, huge jars with solutions of many colours, a distilling setup with a swan nosed flask and more tables with more glass objects, a spectrometer, a shelf of books at the far end. Near his feet a screensaver image danced silently on the computer at his table, invisible from his sight.
Zeeta helped him get undressed. She took off his boxer shorts, smiling slyly as her hands rubbed him.
"Now, make it fast dear, we might need the best part of two days for this," he said breathing heavily.
"Ok, Ok," she said as she played a bit more with him, the blood rushing in at the beckoning of her smooth grip. He turned to his left and curled up a bit, exposing his buttocks. She took up the bulb-syringe from the tray and slowly inserted the cream-white nozzle inside his anus. He moved a bit to make himself comfortable. She went deeper. Four inches of nozzle was inside him now. "Go" he whispered with excitement.
Zeeta began to squeeze the red bulb attached to the nozzle and the root extract of the Tabernanthe iboga plant mixed with another substance, which he himself had prepared, went up his rectum and into his large intestine. She watched him closely, stopping if he looked uncomfortable, till all of the drug was inside him. He had a smile on his face. She went for another smaller syringe-bulb, this time laying him on his back and going slowly and more cautiously. His eyes were wide with pleasure and he grabbed her breasts but almost immediately let go.
For sometime he lay on the table. Then he rose and went to the bathroom. Zeeta sat on the sofa watching him with attention. He returned and walked clumsily to the table. His pupils were dilated and he seemed to be focusing on something not immediately visible. He hovered around the table then went in the direction of the test tube racks. Now he was mumbling to himself and his feet moved awkwardly. It seemed his feet had suddenly forgotten the rhythm of walking together. Now one was more heavy than the other, now they seemed to be pulling in different directions. He smiled, he kept smiling, the smile grew wider then, "Ah! This is all light, kingdoms of light!" he exclaimed. He was fumbling, his hands shook, he sat on his leather chair in front of the computer.
"Should I get the tea?" she asked. She looked worried, but her eyelids didn't flicker. She was studying him closely. She knew the classic effects of ibogaine, they had discussed it hundreds of times. But she didn't know what else he had dissolved in that enema. He looked restless, he was rubbing his chest as he tried to find the diary. He started writing something as he went on mumbling, "No tea, no tea... chocolate it is... thick solid slabs of the darkest dark..."
"You want hot chocolate? I"ll get it. We have some. We used it for the mushroom experiments," she said rising.
"Shrooms... yes lovely shrooms... eternity in their gills..." there was a discernible slur in his voice now. "But I have to write this down. Its all here, in here, he touched his heart, his fingers moving across his hairy chest. All of it, I have to write about the blood, the little fairies restless like ants," he began scribbling madly in the diary.
"Maybe you could get dressed first," she said tentatively, "I will help" but he waved her off.
Around afternoon the next day security men entered the lab through the emergency exit. Taken aback by the loud music, they listened for a few moments. Lou Reed in his rich baritone was singing:
This magic moment
So different and so new
Was like any other
Until I met you
And then it happened
It took me by surprise
I knew that you felt it too
I could see it by the look in your eyes...
Then they saw him. Vincent Dutta hadn't dressed and seemed to be sleeping with his head on the table. They covered their noses at the odd smell of unknown vapours and tapped him lightly on his shoulder. Lou Reed sang heartily from the hidden speakers, the laboratory was cool under fluorescent lamp showers and the fancy assistant with the sexy pout had evaporated into the air.