The Light of Their Lives by Boris Glikman

 

The Light of Their Lives by Boris Glikman

“Delighted by Light” by Michael Cheval

It was perhaps inevitable that some bright spark in the Research and Development Department of a certain, internationally famous company would, during a brainstorming session, come up with the idea of a beverage consisting solely of pure light. The essential concept behind it was simplicity itself: Why, in these modern, fast-paced times, go through the lengthy and convoluted process of needing the Sun’s light to be photosynthesized by plants into chemical energy, which then has to be converted into carbohydrate molecules, which we then have to consume and digest in order for us to finally incorporate the energy from the Sun into our systems? Why not bypass all the intervening stages and just capture, bottle and imbibe the sunlight energy directly?

The management loved the proposal and supported its realization by all means possible. Thus, less than a year after the go-ahead was given, the product appeared in the shops: a soothing, delightful elixir of natural sunshine, free of any preservatives, added sugar or artificial flavours.

The drink provided an instant energy boost, sating hunger without any necessity for digestion, as well as immediately quenching thirst and making one feel warm all over. And, of course, it was suitable for all types of diets including but not limited to kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, gluten-intolerant and fruitarian. No one could take any issue with it, for it was pure light straight from the Sun. And, fortuitously, it was also very suitable for those dieting, for according to the famous E = mc^2 equation, even a tiny amount of mass released a tremendous amount of energy and thus one could quaff great quantities of this potation with hardly any weight gain.

Amazingly enough, apart from satisfying the most basic physical needs (food, water, warmth) in the hierarchy of needs, this beverage also enabled the consumer, and this was a completely unforeseen consequence, to become instantly spiritually enlightened once they have drunk it and thus fulfil the highest need in the hierarchy of needs –  the yearning for self-actualisation. (Perhaps it should not have been so unexpected, for, by ingesting light one, ipso facto, became illuminated within, which is exactly what enlightenment is, and also as the very morphological structure of the word “enlightenment” indicated its intimate connection to light.)

This serendipitous effect was perfect for the contemporary society, for given that the online world now provided instant information, instant communication, instant entertainment and instant gratification of needs and desires, it was only natural there would also be a great demand for instant self-realisation. And with this product, one no longer had to spend countless hours meditating and repeating the mantra, or sit at the feet of a guru, or clamber up the Himalayan mountains in search of monasteries. Instead, there was the convenience of immediate spiritual awakening in a bottle, accessible to all.

The advertising campaign was built around the slogans “Instant EnLIGHTenment™ in a Bottle!”, “Fast Food for Body and Soul!”, and “Let the Light DeLIGHT You!”. For once the reality corresponded exactly to the promotional claims, as it truly was a unique kind of an invention the likes of which had never been seen before.

And so, as was to be expected, everyone flocked to buy the new drink, for, apart from its obvious appeal to the general public, its attraction was also irresistible to a diverse range of people with specific needs, such as the athletic types looking for an immediate energy fix, the spiritual seekers looking for the truth about themselves and the Universe, and the weight-conscious dieters, who immediately added it to their fastidious regiments. Of course, children loved it too, given its novelty value and its almost-magical properties.

This unqualified success gave the company the freedom and the impetus to experiment with new varieties of the product. The flavour of the original sunlight brand was a mixture of melon and orange. Later on, many more flavours became available, as the company’s researchers went about capturing and bottling light from other celestial objects, as well as from man-made sources.

It was discovered that each planet and star had its own unique taste: Moonlight was cooler on the palate than sunlight and had an indefinable element to it one couldn’t quite put a finger on; Mars tasted a bit like tomato juice; Venus was quite tart and almost vinegary, and thus was best drunk in combination with light from other sources; Jupiter and Saturn, as befitting their gaseous nature, were like the finest bubbly champagne; and supernovas had a mouth-exploding, extremely hot chilli flavour that only the very brave and the foolhardy dared to sample. It was also found that the illuminations of every city had their own particular flavour, although the health-conscious preferred only drinks made from natural sources and scorned the artificial flavours of light globes, fluorescent lights and neon signs, which invariably tasted like cheap wine.

With this product on the market, many believed the world was surely heading towards a utopian existence in which humanity would finally be liberated from its burdensome, imprisoning dependence upon plants and animals for nutrition; and the common man, having become instantly enlightened, would see beyond the constricting confines of self-interest and self-preservation and realise everything is inextricably connected and we are all one.

Yet, those who were optimistic that an idealistic state of being would, at last, be achieved had forgotten all about a deep-rooted and paradoxical aspect of human nature, namely that anything that brought pleasure and enjoyment was open to abuse, misuse, and overuse. Consequently, the very source of gratification and bliss, like for example alcohol, could and did mutate grotesquely into a dire threat to one’s very existence. Thus, obesity and all the maladies it caused was rife in those societies in which food was in ready supply; alcoholism was the scourge of many a land; addictions to both legal and illegal substances destroyed countless lives.

Given the way this beverage immediately satisfied, in one neat package, a person’s needs on so many levels, it was inevitable some would become hooked on it. As is often the case with addicts, they found ways to bypass the option of legally purchasing a limited quantity of the product, instead consuming for free limitless amounts by staring directly at the Sun and letting the light flow both into their open mouths, as well as into their eyes. Imbibing light through the eyes was something non-addicts would never do, and that particular experience was likened to mainlining heroin, giving an even greater kick.

These addicts quickly became known as “sunkies” (a portmanteau word blending “sun” and “junkie”), and this word coincidentally had the additional connotation of “sinking” which was very apt, for no drug addict had ever sunk as low as these sunkies. Most of those hooked on narcotics could be rehabilitated and again become respected members of a community. The Sun junkies however voluntarily gave up their sight and their mobility, two of the most precious and vital features a human being possesses, and assumed a static, plant-like existence, remaining rooted to one spot. They cared for nothing else but to follow with their turning heads the Sun’s daily progress across the sky, using their sense of warmth to locate it, their retinas having been burnt out, and to drink in the light.

“In Sol Veritas”, in Sun all Truths lie, was their motto and guiding principle, believing as they did that the Sun is the portal to the ultimate reality and the sole source of eternal, absolute truths. Their proselytising spiel to the non-addicts was quite persuasive, claiming that once you started staring at the Sun, you would quickly realise how petty and drab are the affairs of daily life, and how overflowing-with-meaning and magnificent are the inexhaustible revelations and infinite beauty emanating from the Sun, the place where perfection, transcendence, purity lies. The sunkies also extolled the stability and the security their lives now possessed, for the Sun’s motion, perfectly regular and unvarying each and every day, scorched away the unpredictability and the uncertainties of their previous everyday existence.

One saw these sunkies everywhere one went, sitting, standing or lying on the pavements, roads, grass, in the mud, in puddles, in gutters, totally oblivious to their surroundings. Their limbs became atrophied from complete lack of movement and turned into something resembling gruesome, withered tree branches, further accentuating their plant-like appearance. The sight of these addicts was both sickening and unspeakably sad, especially as many of them were young people who had sacrificed all the promises the future held out for them.

The greatest tragedy was that the sunkies denied their lives had turned into an irrevocable tragedy. Not only did they become physically blind, they also became blind to the reality of their situation, convincing themselves into believing they were the superior beings living superior lives, and the only ones in possession of the ultimate secrets of existence. They saw themselves as part of an elite caste, the vanguard of an egalitarian utopia to come, for, before the Sun everyone was equal. These Sun’s Sons (as they preferred to call themselves, in reference to their claimed filial kinship with the star, for they felt reborn through gazing unwaveringly at the Sun, and also in reference to the brotherhood they felt they had entered into) were totally untroubled by their loss of sight and mobility, for there was nothing down on Earth they wanted or needed to see or do. Indeed, they considered their blindness and immobility to be a godsend, for not only did it stop them from being distracted from giving all of their attentions to the Sun, but, even more importantly, it prevented their minds and souls from being contaminated by the imperfections and iniquities that so marked and defined earthly existence.

Thus, light in a bottle, previously the greatest blessing to mankind, became its greatest curse, causing a calamity the likes of which could not be imagined before its arrival on the market, for who could ever envision healthy people willingly becoming immobile vegetables, sacrificing their lives just so they could stare at the Sun and feel its warm smile upon their faces. The sunkies were now completely lost to society, both bodily and mentally, and no kind of rehabilitation was possible for them. In the bitterest of ironies that occur so often throughout the course of history, mankind, having liberated itself from its dependence upon plants, and thus attaining the greatest freedom it had ever possessed, now found an ever-growing proportion of its population choosing to lead a plant-like existence.

But this unfolding global tragedy was of little concern to the company that brought the beverage into the world, for its technicians were busily working on an even greater creation which would undoubtedly trump the bottled sunshine for popularity. Inspired by instant coffee, the new invention-in-the-making already had the brand name of Insta-Life, and, once completed, it would allow a person to experience their whole life in an instant. This surely was, or so the management thought, the ultimate desire and goal in this instantaneousness-obsessed era, for by condensing all of your life into one single moment, you no longer would have to trudge through decades of endless drudgeries and tediously repetitive routines of daily existence, through all the banal and boring stretches of life, and instead get it over and done with in a jiffy. Additionally, you would gain an unbeatable upper hand over your rivals in the field of fast living.

With the lure of holiday profits in their minds, the management kept prodding its engineers and scientists to work harder and harder, so that Insta-Life could appear on the market around Christmas time. And so, it was only a matter of time before this new invention swept the world, and people would begin to live and die faster than mayflies.

 

 

The (Virtually) Real Life by Boris Glikman

The (Virtually) Real Life by Boris GlikmanI recall that day well. My friends and I were checking out an abandoned, run-down mansion on the outskirts of town and that’s when we noticed that strange, inexplicable things were beginning to happen… 

Every time we open a door to some room to take another look at it, the room and the things in it have changed and look completely different. The more adventurous amongst us explore the building more thoroughly, only to discover that it has an impossibly paradoxical structure. One girl gets spooked out and, in her hurry to get out of the house, jumps through the ground floor window. A moment later we hear a shriek of horror and bewilderment coming from the top floor – her senses refuse to accept that she ended up there and not on the overgrown lawn in the front yard.

Then someone screams out, “Don’t you see what is happening! None of this is real! This is all Virtual Reality! Someone is running this game and we are its involuntary, unwitting participants. So we can do anything; break all of society’s taboos, take any risks, shoot one another, because it is all a counterfeit, simulated world.”

At once I devise a way of putting this remarkable claim to the test. I speed off in my car and start driving along train tracks that ascend to a great height before ending abruptly in mid-air. My car goes for a graceful flight through the sky, spinning and turning, soaring up on the warm air currents, then gradually descending, rising again higher and higher, then stopping and hovering in mid-air.

Finally, I get tired of flying and crash-land on top of a high-rise building. ‘I wonder if I have sustained any injuries,’ I think to myself. ‘If this really is a virtual world, then I should be just fine!’

It occurs to me that if in fact my life has been virtual reality all along, then that would certainly explain a lot of things. I always thought this world and my life in it never made any sense – things were just too absurd and incoherent. Horrible, unthinkably terrifying events like massacres, famine, persecutions, injustices which would never happen in the real world kept occurring, time after time after time.

Now I could see why certain things kept getting lost and disappearing in my life, why my life never worked out right, why something always got in its way and ruined its forward progress. Now I could comprehend why I could never fit in anywhere and always felt at odds with the whole world, for this wasn’t an authentic environment, but rather an artifice of someone else’s mind; a degenerate, corrupt copy of the real reality.

No, this wasn’t the universe that the Absolute Being had created, according to His flawlessly sublime and ideal specifications, but rather a miscreation of some devious, impious, immoral human being. And so it contained within its make-up all the faults, deficiencies and imperfections that every human construction possesses, as well as being coloured by the particularly nasty character of the cad running this simulation.

It was also obvious that this contemptible creature held, for some reason or another, an intensely bitter grudge against me in particular. He obviously meted out the worst of his cruel tricks on me, judging by how my life has been just one senseless absurdity after another.

‘What kind of a person am I, really, outside of this sham construction? What is my life actually like in the real world? Who is the wise guy that created this diabolical game? What’s he got against me? Wait till I find my way out of this virtual world and get my hands on him! I’ll make him pay for all he has done to my life!’

And just then, an even more devastating thought strikes me: ‘What if I am the evil genius who created and is operating this game? What if it is I who has inflicted all of this misery, pain, suffering onto myself and the whole world? But why would I do that? Why would I torment myself so?’

The Substitute Sun by Boris Glikman

The Substitute Sun by Boris Glikman

Image by Agnieszka

The world awoke one bright morning to find that the Sun was gone, replaced by a circular cardboard cut-out. The cut-out was roughly coloured in by a yellow pencil, with some of the colouring straying beyond the circumference of the disc and staining the blueness of the sky. Short cardboard rays were coming out of the rim and there was a smiley face sketched inside the circle. It looked just like a child’s drawing of the Sun.

After mankind had recovered from the shock of losing their beloved star, plans were made to locate it and put it back in its rightful place. Great rewards were offered to anyone who could provide information as to its whereabouts. Police forces allocated their best men to try and pinpoint who was likely to commit such an act.  Pressure was put on crime organisations to reveal if this was their doing and if so, how much they wanted for the Sun’s safe release. Clairvoyants were called upon to use their abilities to intuit where it might be held against its will.

Despite these exhaustive efforts, the Sun remained missing, although people still clung to the hope that it would be found alive.

With time’s passing, the pain of losing the Sun became less acute. The world slowly grew accustomed to the substitute and even began to appreciate its benefits. People understood how lucky they were that this impostor gave out the same amount of warmth and illumination as the original star. The physicists were pleased that the replacement exerted an identical gravitational force, so that Earth’s orbit remained unchanged; the workers were content that the stand-in did not increase their hours of labour, and the farmers were thankful that the cardboard disc provided an equivalent quantity of light to nourish their crops.

Eventually, it was seen as quite appropriate to have a bogus sun, given that so much else was phony in society: fake tans; fake smiles; fabricated, unnatural foods; artificial noses on artificial faces; living simulated lives on the computer. Many believed that the substitute was put in the sky as a sign of the divine approval of the world’s false ways. Consequently, it was concluded that unauthenticity is the true nature of man.

Centuries passed and there was nobody left on Earth who had experienced the glory of the original Sun. The crudely coloured cardboard circle with its cardboard rays and smiley face was now the only sun that the world had ever known. Lovers swooned under the warm beauty of its radiance; composers wrote symphonies dedicated to the perfection of its proportions; poets extolled the rich vibrancy of its colour in their sonnets and religious worshippers thanked their Maker for gifting the Earth with such a miracle of nature.