Monthly Archives: June 2014

Line of Distinction or Line of Symmetry: On Heavenly Spheres

-Pink Iguana

If it seems to you that the title of this prose is a rehash of the title of Copernicus’ magnum opus, I will warn you that I am about to pull off a cliché – I will begin with a quote from the same book.

Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that the earth remains at rest in the middle of the heaven as its centre would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion that the earth moves.

It is easy to write this off as a conflict of a bygone era. However, if you look closely, this aphorism reflects the nature of most, if not all, social norms. For instance, let me change a few words here: Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that men, unlike women, can roam about with their bosoms bare would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion.

It is quite convenient at this point to say that sexism is a result of age old obsolete ideologies. You might look back a few decades and think that the hypothesis stands. And from there on, it’s just extrapolation, isn’t it? Well, let’s see.

Unlike what many people think, myths are dynamic. Folklore evolves depending upon the sensibilities of people of that era and when these stories are penned in the form of epics, a particular version of a myth is established. In a way, the malleability of folklore is vital to its existence. An outdated and immutable myth may lose relevance because of lack of context. So why are we suddenly talking mythology? Because we are going to test the hypothesis mentioned above using the variable nature of myths.

In her book, Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity, Rigoglioso shows how goddesses were originally independent, in the sense that they didn’t need male entities to create. While this may seem counter-intuitive to us, it is essentially the idea of parthenogenesis. The creation of a universe out of the primordial femininity of the cosmos is a prevalent belief in many ancient mythologies. In Hindu philosophy, Shakti is the manifestation of this, a cosmic energy that drives everything. In fact, in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, Shakti is considered as the ultimate deity with all other gods playing auxiliary roles. In Adi Shankara’s hymn from Soundarya Lahiri (considered a textbook for Tantric Hinduism), it is written: “Lord Shiva, only becomes able to do creation in this world along with Shakti. Without her, even an inch he cannot move…”

To interpret this as subordination of the male principle would be folly. As Rigoglioso writes, “…In origin stories in which the goddess is a Virgin Mother, the ‘whole’ is understood to be ‘Feminine,’ even though the Masculine is included as an equal part. Or, as the contemporary Hindu mystic Ammachi says, ‘Is God a Man or a Woman? The answer to the question is Neither – God is That. But if you must give God a gender, God is more female than male, for he is contained in She’ (in Canan 2004, 169).”

In other words, it is congruent to the fact that a boy is born from a woman. Now, isn’t that obvious? Something must come from somewhere, even if that something is a divine being. Not really; Neith, an early goddess in the Egyptian Pantheon, created herself out of nothing. Her autogenetic and parthenogenetic powers granted her the position of Supreme Being in early Egyptian religion. According to certain creation myths, she was also considered as the mother of Ra. However, after the rise of Ra as the supreme deity, she surrendered her parthenogenetic powers to him and Ra became the creator. This transition could be seen as the onset of a patriarchal religion. In a particularly amusing sarcophagus, we see how the ascension of Ra and demotion of Neith was cleverly contrived by declaring Neith as having come from Ra who then came from Neith.

Neith’s counterpart in Greek mythology is Athena. While at times she has been granted parthenogenetic powers because of her virginity, she is considered to have been born from the head of Zeus, implying she inherits her ability of parthenogenesis from her father figure. The increasing dominance of male principle later in the Greek pantheon is evident from the fact that Hestia, considered to be an Olympian earlier, was relegated to the rank of minor god when Dionysus became an Olympian. Although there is no clear reference to her stepping down as an Olympian, sometimes this incident has been attributed to her kindness, as a way to prevent heavenly squabble. This coupled with the fact that Hestia was the goddess of hearth and domestic values makes one think whether this incident was to serve as a guideline for all women.

The ancient world supposedly witnessed the flourishing of various Amazonian tribes, whether in Libya, Turkey (Thermodon) or elsewhere. In South India, Cheras, an Iron Age dynasty, ruled over a kingdom where women enjoyed a kind of freedom that they wouldn’t experience till centuries later. The importance of the war goddess Kottavai among the Cheras also points to the possibility that the ancient world was not as dominated by male bigotry as one might be inclined to think.

The evolution of various mythologies suggests a definite change in the way society has perceived goddesses. And even though we have focussed upon prejudices on heavenly spheres, these reflect the nature of schisms in the all too familiar earthly realm. As Rigoglioso describes, the cause of these schisms is taking femininity (or masculinity, in an imaginary setting) for granted. So when God creates man out of soil, He still needs Gaia (the earth) to create; the true form of a creator being androgynous as depicted in Hindu mythology through the Ardhnarishwar form of Shiva.

Shakti and Shiva as Ardhnarishwar/Ardhanari

Shakti and Shiva as Ardhnarishwar/Ardhanari

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Summer Haikus

-Cap’n Panda

Copper Spring

Spring morning sunlight
Falls on blossoming roses;
Seas of red and gold

Silent Night

A dark silent night;
A bolt of lightning invites
Thunder! then silence


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Lily – A Haiku

-Caustic Camel

A Haiku in English is a short poem which uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition. It is a development of the Japanese haiku poetic form in the English language. Traditionally, it consists of 17 syllables in 5-7-5 format. Haiku poets believe that a Haiku must “show” rather than “tell” and thus we give you an example.

White winter lily
stolen on nigh of blossom
sold with her body

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Sympathy for the Devil

(Translated from the classic Descarthian poem, Astragothika)

-Loquacious Llama

Once upon a time, in a galaxy
much like ours, but very far away;
or maybe not so far away, I care not,
for Astronomy, ‘tis but the sport of senile old men;
there lived a mighty hero named Astragoth.
He let his boots tread upon the sandy green soils
of Descarthia and spilt the purple blood
of many a monster under the light of its three suns.

Several had he rescued, fair damsels in distress;
and countless evil tyrants he had overthrown.
But, rest he could not, for evil is like the Hydra,
Cut one head off and in it’s place shall scores of them grow.
Mighty Astragoth, son of fiery Kainth,
truly a lion amongst men, limbs like thick branches
on a powerful, large tree, and the strength of many men,
his mane the color of golden corn fields adorning
a ruggedly handsome face, rival to even Sankus, the god of love!
But the most unique feature had he,
a feast for the eyes of every mortal at hand,
were his fingers, but three,
and the same number of toes that dug into the sand.

One early dawn, when the chirping of byrds
had not begun, he made preparations for battle,
for that day, he had his mind on saving the lovely princess Marion
from the clutches of the powerful evil Kariya,
whose five heads spat out deadly poison and fire
as and when they pleased. The hellhound had been plaguing
the good people of Descarthia with its ire.
And it seemed but fair, to end the menace,
that the powerful Astragoth be on hire.

So set out the son of Kainth, making for the castle
where dwelt the terrible tyrant and his slaves,
carrying naught but his silvery slifer, a family heirloom,
which eight men could lift but an inch off the ground,
he bore this burden with ease,
like an ox carrying a gnat on its back felt no strain.
For many a day did he walk, many drops of sweat did he squeeze
from the mighty folds of his brawny limbs, many a man did he deliver from pain,
until he finally caught sight of the tall black spires
of the castle he was destined to cleanse of bane.

Looming ahead, grim and black like a solitary thundercloud in an azure sky,
the citadel of pain, and he looked at it and smiled,
for it was long since his slifer had tasted blood, it called out
in thirst, and he heeded it’s desperate cry, and marched on,
Till he heard a resounding, loud shout,
“Only a fool would venture in these parts, or a hero of much brawn,
what be you, ill-fated traveller, a sacrificial lout?
Stay, you can not but think to pass, come dawn
and you will be my breakfast, without a doubt.”
Searching the horizons for a source to this mysterious voice,
he looked towards his feet at last, and there
he found a tiny beast of heads not one but two, the hide of which
hurt his eyes, such a tasteless shade of green it was.
The critter again screamed, “ Speak, fool, for I am the guardian
of yonder castle and I grow weary of your speechless company.
Be you friend or foe?”

“A foe, indeed, I am to you, a warrior come to conquer.
I will fight thy master, vain little creature,
not worthy of my attentions are thee.”
The boastful varmint was not to be humbled by such words
and it stabbed its steely fangs into his foot.
But pierce his foot they did not, failing to even scratch,
the dentures snapped at their root.
Then raising the slifer high, he put the beast
out of its pathetic misery, slicing it asunder in one stroke.
Each head fell to the ground and spat up
dark grimy gore on the white soil.
On witnessing such violence,
the creature’s comrade, a ten legged chimera,
stole away in silence,
tail held shamefully between legs,
just as jackals run from lions.

And so, our hero sauntered on undisturbed,
for the weaker guards understood well the hierarchy
of power and avoided the path of one so mighty as he.
He kicked down the doors of the fortress,
making his presence on the ramparts known,
for he wanted, once and for all, to finish the dreadful business.
Hitokiri Kariya, hearing the ruckus, made his figure shown.
And Astragoth was for a moment awed, the mighty draken
purple was it, fire streamed from four nostrils and poison gas from four others,
seemed a Goliath to his David, a formidable foe was he.
Bony spikes lined his back, sharp as razors,
with teeth like long daggers, bite he could, through a tree.

Unfazed stood our hero, for fear is like quicksand,
one step into it could lead to death.
Hefting the heavy slifer in one hand,
he shook his head and drew a deep breath.
Then, he let loose the Kainthian blade toward his foe,
saying, “You shall reap as you sow,
now your blood will glut Anthos, the god of war.”
Alas, the slifer swerved from its course, and chopped off
the tail of the monster instead, spewing yellow blood
all over the walls. Astragoth wiped the gore from his face
tracing his war-tested slifer to where it lay,
far from reach. As he lunged for his blade, the fifth head of the beast opened,
revealing a hundred sets of teeth, like a haystack of needles.

Color, color everywhere and not a spot of grey,
the beast spewed rainbows of hues and light,
turning the gloomy castle into a colorful playpen.
And then, many a pony waltzed right
out of his orifice, like a fly from a sleeping man’s mouth.
But all through this flashy, fabulous sight
Astragoth never batted an eyelid, for real men
are never disturbed by such petty frivolities.
So he reached his slifer and wiped it clean of pink slime,
switching it into a triblade, stronger and swifter,
wishing to end the fight of colorful grime.
And with a loud cry that made the foundations of the castle
tremble, he sliced off every head of  the Kariya,
And so, the reign of the Hitokiri, long and tyrannical, came to an end.

The princess, withering away in her lonely tower,
he found and rescued, carrying her out the citadel.
Then, he struck fire with his slifer,
setting it to the castle, making it explode in a storm of red and yellow.
He walked toward the princess, his back to the inferno,
as all heroes do, not even glancing at the flames.
“My hero! How can I ever repay your kindness?
Maybe marry you? Or anything on those lines?”, said the princess, most fair.
But our hero shook his head, refuting this offer most generous,
saying “Princissepa, I am but a humble feminist.
I believe in equal opportunity. So, I say to you,
“Sorry Marion, Your prince is in another castle!”
Now, go forth and find the man of your dreams.”
Thus spake mighty Aragoth, before walking off bravely
into the sunset, as all heroes do.

P.S. This was a lengthy but satisfying piece of writing, just to get you to the punchline. So, dear reader, go forth and rescue the princes you always wanted, forlorn and downcast in their castles.

P.P.S. In case you didn’t get it yet, you’ve been had. Have fun with that wild goose I led you to.

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Why the chicken crossed the road

-Pensive Piranha

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Lagon sat troubled in the corner of his room. The corner because, well, although there were eight corners in his room, he had sort of an attachment to that one corner. You know that thing that people have, which they can’t explain, makes them do weird stuff and often drives them crazy like hell. Feelings! ‘Feelings’ is the word I was looking for. So, we can say that Lagon had some special feelings for that corner of his room. There were very few aspects of his life that he couldn’t explain with the application of mathematical theorems, and this was one of them. (Another one being his fondness for pancakes!) The thought often scared him, enough to often make him think of himself as ‘human’. Now that’s an extremely scary thought, right?

Wait! Does this mean that he was not human? Difficult to say actually. His parents found his habits a tad strange (‘a tad’ being a gross understatement), his detachment from all those cool fads that bewitched people his age, his inclination to stay alone and aloof and his remaining lost in his books, be it those thick books by Terence Tao or be it those chance pieces of literature that he went through (maybe in order to get an exposure to these ‘feelings’ thing that others seem to have) . His ‘friends’ believed that he was a device for turning pancakes into equations. Equations about anything you know, from equations governing the motion of a water droplet on a windowpane during a rain shower to equations describing the crawling motion of a ladybug! Anything at all!

But all of this was just what others thought of him. What did he think about himself? What were the thoughts that went through his mind? No one knew. No one other than himself, of course. People would say that his mind was haunted by spirits, but, I beg to differ. ‘Haunted’ is not even remotely close to the actual word. More like hypnotized by some unknown omnipotent entity or maybe, mesmerized, as if lost in the eyes of Mona Lisa or the symphonies of Mozart. And if you are adamant on the use of ‘haunted’, I would say he was haunted by numbers. His prodigal brain subconsciously looked for patterns or logic in each and every thing that he could perceive. His body, his physical appearance, all of it was just a cover for a tiny little soul. I say tiny because, unfortunately some of us may say, he was one of the most single-minded creatures possible. For him, there was nothing beyond deciphering the world around him, and putting it down into a straightforward mathematical form. People might say that he was a math maniac who got joy from all those numbers and equations, but that’s not true because, he knew not what joy was. Completely stolid as he was, his indulgence in his mathematical pursuits gave him a reason to strive for in a world, that moved too fast to enjoy the little things of life, like smelling flowers closely or maybe watching birds walk.

So now that we know quite a lot about Lagon, let’s get back to the corner. The corner had been a witness to Lagon’s many an intellectual musings like the answer to universe, life and everything or the decision whether to be or not to be. But, as in every other story, today was different. Today, Lagon sat in the corner thinking, not about the generalization of one of Euler’s theorems, but about poultry. To be more precise, he was thinking about chickens.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

He just kept on thinking. Over and over. Anyway, don’t  be under the misconception that he did not know the answer. Of course he did, everyone knows that the chicken wanted to get to the other side. As simple as that. Actually, there was more to it.

Some time ago, in his quest to understand human behavior and their, what’s that word, ah, feelings, Lagon came across the concept of ‘humor’. He gave a lot of thought to it, and finally after a lot of research, found a rule of thumb, that humor generally involved a bunch of meaningless sentences, called jokes, that provoked onomatopoeic sounds, called laughter. But well, Lagon being a man of five fingers was never going to be satisfied with this rule of thumb. In order to make some sense out of the so called jokes, he compiled a set of 10001 jokes ( …01 being a very common number that he found in joke books) and set experimenting. He wrote the literal meanings of all the jokes, translated them into different languages, tested them on several people and observed their reactions.

This went on for a while when he thought that he had finally found a pattern. He had found a rule which could determine whether a set of sentences would qualify as a joke. (The rule had something to do with the primality of the 1729th power of the ASCII codes of the sentences, but well, let us not go into it). He wrote down a code in order to verify this rule and started testing all popular jokes with it. Everything seemed to be going fine, every joke seemed to be following the rule. And then, there was a violation! A joke did not satisfy the rule. A very simple and yet, one of the most popular jokes around the globe.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.

Lagon didn’t know what to do. It had seemed to him that he had uncovered the ‘formula’ for humor, but apparently, he was wrong. He checked and rechecked his calculations. He tried out all sorts of other examples. Everything seemed to fit. Everything except this one joke. Lagon was at a loss. He spent hours, days and then weeks thinking about this problem. He had no idea what to do.

And then finally, a solution crept into his mind. Maybe the only way of understanding what makes this joke funny is to get to the other side. That’s where the joke lies and so, that’s where he would be able to understand the joke. Now, as there was no specific place whose other side he could go to, it didn’t take him much time to realize that he had to go to the other side of the life. Death. He had to die, to achieve the ultimate enlightenment. Phlegmatic as he was, the thought of death didn’t bring any particular emotion to his mind. In fact, when he pulled the trigger to end his life, it was just as if he was writing ‘quod erat demonstrandum’ at the end of just another one of his math problems.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that he was in a closed room with no specific features to describe. It was just a plain white room. Lagon never expected heaven to be this way! Anyway, in the room was another person. An old man with white hair, double bent, with a long flowing beard and wearing a gray cloak who was smiling mildly, his enchanting blue eyes fixed on Lagon.

“Welcome to Heaven, dear son! As you might have guessed, I am God. You were a really remarkable lad Lagon and so, I wanted to meet you personally when you came here. But, I suppose you were due later. Any specific reasons for you coming here before time, son?”

Lagon, a bit surprised  by this introduction, narrated his entire dilemma to God. God listened to him with deep interest, thought for a while and then remarked-

“Quite interesting son. Okay, tell me. This chicken that you are talking about, tell me about its birth. When was it born? What sort of egg did it hatch from?”

“I don’t know, um, I thought it was just a joke. The chi…”

“Tch tch tch. You don’t know about its birth?! Now now now! I get what the problem is. So, you are telling me that you know nothing about the birth of this chicken, right?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Then, maybe this chicken was never even born! Maybe the egg never hatched!”

“But, my prob…”

“No son, listen to me. You human beings have become very impatient. You should have known this! Do not count your chickens before they hatch!”

“But God, even if the egg did not hatch, there must have been another chicken who laid that egg. What if the joke refers to that chicken?”

“Hahaha! And how do you suppose that chicken was born?”

“From an egg laid by another chi… Oh! I see the problem! My argument is going in circles. I guess I will have to decide who came first, the egg or the chicken, before I can go on with the joke…”

And so Lagon set out on another quest, with a new problem in his mind. Some people believe, that he still goes around racking his brains in heaven, trying to find peace of mind, trying to figure out who came first, the egg or the chicken. And so friends, this is why the saying goes, do not count your chickens before they hatch.

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Summer Wrap up

-Coordinators, ELS

As the shimmering heat gives way to sultry monsoon winds, ELS concludes its summer activities and gears up for the incoming batch. But before we launch ourselves full throttle into the preparations, here is a quick wrap up of the plethora of events we conducted over the summers.

We started off with JAM (a tweaked version of Just a Minute) where quite a few people turned up despite their exhausting sports camp sessions and intricate tech projects. Besides the obvious agenda, we also wanted to interact with each other and in the process develop a rapport with the members of the society. Keeping this in mind, we got off to a surprisingly good start. So it was obvious that the bunch of us had to go to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past together, first day, first show.

Well, some of that must have rubbed off because when we did creative writing in the next ELS meet, we wrote fantasy and adventure (Midas’ Ink). We also did free writing on a slightly offbeat topic. It certainly helped some of us who were going through what is called ‘writer’s block’. To top it all, there was a word games competition where people racked their brains to solve word puzzles, cryptic clues and displayed their linguistic prowess.

The next event was a perennial favourite, Dumb Charades. This time around we introduced a fun round where people acted out and guessed tweaked names of movies and songs. So while The Dark Knight Rises became The White Knight Falls, it was not enough to trip the seasoned DumbC troopers. To beat the afternoon summer heat, the event was conducted during the night and as the night wore on, the competition became more intense with everything culminating with the staple blitz round. By the time we left, the sun was already ready to peep from behind the horizon.

We thought we were done with the summer activities. But we didn’t want it to end so soon. Hence, we created an activity out of thin air. We got the movie ‘Into the Wild’ screened in OAT and held a literary discussion on it. While our propensity was to wander off the topic every now and then, we managed to make sense most of the times. We also drew parallels with other movies like Forrest Gump and how we could map the movie on to a classic Greek tragedy.

What was supposed to be the climax of our summer meets, the classic ELS Hucka (a restaurant in Kanpur) treat, turned out to be slightly anti-climactic because for some weird reason, they weren’t showing the Roland Garros final in the restaurant and the food took way too long to reach our tables. However, in the end, we left contented and that’s all that matters.

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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

-Loquacious Llama

Another sleepless night, spent staring at the blank ceiling. Angus, age 14, was an insomniac. He slept at irregular intervals, in broken snatches of silvery mist clouding his eyes. No amount of medication, visits to the shrink, even sedatives, could help him snore away like others did. But, even worse, for the last 7 days he hadn’t been able to catch even a single wink of sleep, almost like Morpheus had forgotten that he existed. Permanently bloodshot eyes, with dark circles around them that looked like they had been painted on, that was the price he paid for his wakefulness. Many friends had asked him how he didn’t feel exhausted all the time, like they did after a night-out, how he managed to keep those eyelids in status quo, how he was able to solve math in such a state. His reply, to all such questions, had been an unchanging ”I don’t know”. He really didn’t. To him, sleeping now seemed so out of the world, so unreachable, so surreal, closing your eyes and drifting off into another world, another reality.He remembered how he had slept soundly as a kid. How very beautiful that was, avoiding reality for such a long time, living in a fantasy you could mould to your will and take pleasure from. Cowboy, Samurai, Alchemist, you could be whatever you wanted, live a life as you saw fit. What more could you want? People always said that books, movies, television, music even, help you lose yourself in other worlds, but he could never feel that sensation. Such things always felt so impersonal and uninteresting, so disconnected, maybe because of the insomnia. And the nights always seemed to be such a drag. But if you could escape the griminess of reality for even a few hours, your days could pass by much more smoothly. Not blank ceiling after blank ceiling every single night, forced to lie in the bed by his parents, whether he slept or not. His thoughts were gently drifting away to greener pastures when the plafond over him exploded into a whirlpool of color and light, like something Dali would paint when on lysergic acid. He felt slightly dizzy and nauseous, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the spectacle. As he watched, the myriad rainbow hues seemed to be getting closer and brighter, slightly hurting his eyes. He felt as though he was floating on a cushion of air towards the maelstrom of tinctures, weightless and free. Then, as he passed right through the ceiling, feeling as though his head was going to explode, extremely bright white light shining right into his eyes, he found himself looking up at a white polished surface devoid of any decoration whatsoever. Sitting up, he noticed that the entire room was in the same state, as though he had been put into a porcelain box. Suddenly, a door opened up on one wall, revealing a young girl of about his age, clothed in skin-tight white latex, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. “Hello, Angus. Nice to finally meet you. I’m Lucy. How do you feel now?” He didn’t feel any different from usual now, and he told her so, asking her where he had been brought and why. “This is a space that exists everywhere and nowhere. This is taking place in your mind, and in reality too. If you can wrap your mind around the concept of a thirteenth dimension, this is it. What did you think dreams were? And as you might have guessed, I’m not from around here. I belong to a race of multidimensional indestructible beings. We spend our immortal lives looking all over the universe for things to do. In other words, we are perpetually bored. I had started up this planet of yours as an experiment, something like my personal petri dish, in a fit of boredom. Interfering with your lives, conducting social, spiritual, psychological, physical experiments  on individuals, as well as on your species as a whole, I have kept myself occupied thus. All your wars, politics, languages, science, history, art, even your foods have been engineered by me. How do you reckon only Einstein could think of relativity and only Da Vinci could paint the Mona Lisa? And do you honestly think someone could hate Jews as much as Hitler did, for no reason at all? Everything you see and everything you know are simply what I want you to see and what I want you to know. But, I have simply run out of things to test on your kind. This was my last experiment, almost a joke, stretching the limits of insomnia without inducing mental instability. Now, I need to find something else to do, after assimilating your planet. Don’t worry, you’ll be fast asleep, so you won’t feel a thing. It’s just that by staying with your kind for so long, I developed some rudimentary emotions, one of which is what you call a conscience. I just felt that someone should know what is about to happen to their planet. So, rest well Angus, and sorry for making you go through so much. Goodbye.” Saying so, she kissed him on his forehead, setting off brilliant fireworks in his brain from coming in contact with the other dimensions and large quantities of energy. he felt himself lose his grip on consciousness, felt his eyelids becoming heavy, closing them for the very last time. At his home his parents, standing at his bedroom door, were happy that he finally was sleeping peacefully, something they hadn’t seen him do since he was an infant. And so they smiled, for ignorance is bliss.

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