The electric transformer at the end of our street had blown up with a loud bang and there was a power outage for several hours. Many of us with nothing better to do on a wet Saturday morning were gathered at the site and continued to analyse various aspects of the blow-up as we waited for someone to fix the damage. It had rained all night with a strong wind and broken branches were strewn all over. At first we had thought that the blow-up had been caused by a wet branch falling across the transformer and thereby causing a short. But then as the wait for fixing the damage grew longer, the crowd grew bigger and as the topics for discussion began to dwindle, someone suggested that the transformer was actually blown up by the Amreekis (Americans). I don’t recall how exactly it started – since at that time, like the others, I was more interested in the women who were gathered in the terraces of the houses across from us, noisily inquiring as to what had happened. Nothing fires the imagination of a bunch of men lounging aimlessly than the attention of unfamiliar females, even if they happen to live just down the street. So it is quite possible that the idea grew out of a desire to impress the ladies that we were not just gossiping about a simple everyday accident but struggling against another American conspiracy.
Howsoever it started, it had soon caught our imagination fully and we all agreed that even before it had been articulated so bluntly, the thought had definitely crossed our minds. And now that you came to think of it, there was so much that pointed towards this and much could be explained by this deduction. There were trees in abundance where we lived and so many transformers nearby, but why was ours the only one that caught a short circuit? It was because we live only a couple of kilometres from the Presidency and the Parliament, someone reasoned.
“The idea must have been to send a warning” said the barber who was still whetting his razor on the block he held in his hand. “If we can hit here, we can also hit a few kilometres further!” he said in an emphatic tone, giving voice to the conspirators’ mindset. It certainly seemed like a good, valid reason, because the Americans anyway are always after us; jacking up the price of tomatoes today, gifting us with Dengue mosquitos tomorrow. “Yes, I have read this. That is the way they operate!” said an older retired person nodding his head vigorously. He is always very well informed since he spends most of his day reading the morning papers over and over, poking pencil holes through the pictures of Western political leaders. I nodded my head too and so did many others.
Of course there were a few doubting Thomases, as there always are, who thought otherwise. “It seems totally farfetched and without any basis” said one. This was a young fellow who makes a living responding to enquiries for some international outlet, or so he says. Very fishy, if you ask me. Somehow he always thinks that the problems we face are not the results of conspiracies hatched by outside forces or that they have more complicated explanations than we others quite rightly believe. The sort of person who will argue till he is blue in the face, that earthquakes are caused by something happening within the Earth naturally and are not a manifestation of Divine wrath. Or that PIA planes are breaking down constantly due to lack of attention and not due to conspiracies of the British in league with the Indians whom we all know are very close to the Israelis. If the Pakistan cricket team, which we all know is actually the best team in the world (even Pepsi Cola says so!) loses miserably, then he has to insist that they lost because they simply aren’t that good and not because the players are all sold out. Frankly I find him very argumentative and quite tiresome. So do all the others.
A motorcyclist turned the corner and apparently on seeing the still smoking transformer, made for where we stood. “What’s going on? Make way for me!” he said, pushing his bike through the throng. He said he was the lineman from the electricity corporation and surveyed the damaged transformer. He was an intimidating sight with his strong built, large unkempt beard and glowering eyes. I noticed that his motorcycle was adorned with slogans testifying to his everlasting loyalty to the leaders of a proscribed outfit. His political loyalties becoming apparent, some in the crowd voiced their suspicion of this being an Amreeki act meant to send a message to the nation. “Most probably a Blackwater act”, he growled in agreement. “I fully agree. I’ve read all about them,” the older retired gentleman piped in emphatically. “I see it all the time. Short circuits, broken wires, blown transformers; it’s all their doing” the lineman continued, surveying the crowd who now shrank back, somewhat scared.
“The idea must have been to send a warning” said the barber who was still whetting his razor on the block he held in his hand
The young man was still unconvinced. “You shouldn’t be spreading such propaganda. You have no proof of any such thing”, he argued. This didn’t go down well with the politicised lineman. “You need proof? Why? Are you yourself an Amreeki agent?” he said in a threatening tone. And we all looked knowingly at each other recalling his international call centre connection. “Well OK what do you make of this, Mr. Amreeki agent?” he said pointing towards some marks on the ground, leading away from the electric pole. The area behind the pole was thick with foliage and there was a narrow path that led from the street, through the thicket and down to the nearby village. The ground was damp and we could all see distinct marks on the ground, too large and shapeless to be made by man or animal. “Well what of these?” asked the young man. “These are typical marks made by night vision boots” the lineman announced with a definite air of superior knowledge. “Night vision boots?” the young man shrieked, “There is no such thing. There are night vision glasses. What do you mean by night vision boots?” The lineman was unmoved, in fact he now seemed to be really in his element. “These are special boots worn by the Blackwater people when they use night vision glasses.” The older gentleman was already nodding in affirmation. “I know. I’ve read all about it”.
Any doubts that the rest of us had about the Amreeki hand were now completely dissipated but the young man was clearly getting desperate, I could see. “You see a bunch of unclear footprints and claim they are marks of Blackwater agents. This is nonsense!” The lineman was now looking at him with unconcealed contempt. “It’s people like you who are always dividing this nation. You should come to our meeting once and we’ll clear these cobwebs from your minds”. I don’t think the young man had any plans to take up this offer but I heard someone whisper to him to buy a one-way ticket should he choose to go.
“Well it is time for the afternoon prayers, so I’ll be on my way” the lineman said and turned to go. “Somebody will be here soon to fix the problem. I’ve told them about the Amreeki action” he said turning off his cell phone. “Meanwhile as you wait why you don’t you good fellows read these latest speeches from our Amir. If you want their CDs you can always get them, or better still, log on to our website”. He wheeled away his motorbike and then rode off gallantly into the now blazing sun reminding me of John Wayne in High Noon – or was it a scene from Shane?
Just as I was watching his formidable form fading away, there was a noisy rustle from within the thicket and we turned to see a pair of big, blank eyes surveying us through the leaves. We almost panicked in our jumpiness, faced by Blackwater and what have you. “It’s a stupid cow” someone said, and we heaved a collective sigh of relief. As the animal came into view I noticed that it was sort of shuffling. Each of its front hoofs had been covered with a plastic shopper, as villagers did when they want to protect a wound on an animal’s foot.As it walked it left a mark uncannily like that of the Blackwater agent, that we had identified earlier. That was somewhat surprising, but I refused to believe in such a mundane explanation for the mysterious footmarks. A coincidence, of course. Sometimes there are such coincidences. That’s what makes life so interesting, I told the older gentleman. “I know, I’ve read a lot about that” he said, shooing the animal on its way.
The writer is a physicist. (and a strong believer in conspiracy theories!)