The art of survival in a world of unknowing zombies4 min read . Updated: 13 Sep 2020, 08:00 PM IST
The hero is you and it begins when you notice that everyone around you is behaving in a strange manner
I am writing a zombie movie. No, it is not about the sort of people who watch TV news. I am not being satirical or metaphorical. I really am writing a zombie movie. And I thought, this week, instead of commenting on whatever is going on in the world, why don’t I just let you in on my zombie movie?
I must admit that I am a bit influenced by topical events, but come on, every story is influenced by reality. That much concession you have to extend to me. So, in my zombie movie, you might notice that there is the influence of corona, and the mysterious Indian stamina for totally useless issues that will never improve their lives.
The hero is, of course, you. Why are you so surprised? I’m not making fun of you. It really is you. Hasn’t it occurred to you that the hero in every story is always you? The aspiration of every film is that you identify with one of the main characters. If you don’t, the story is either doomed or acclaimed by six scholars, which is the same as doomed. That is the corruption at the heart of every story, and that is why every story ever told is familiar—it is all about you and your moral self-absorption.
So what happens in the zombie movie is that one day you begin to notice that everyone around you is beginning to behave in a strange manner. They appear to become obsessed with something that sounds like news but has no relevance to their lives. For example: “Rhea killed her boyfriend", or “Trump is a fascist". Even though they appear passionate about it, they can only describe it in one line. They have nothing more to say. They hold forth for hours, but in reality they just repeat that same one line. It is a bit like how most people know only a paragraph about stuff outside their domains.
This is a global zombie story, but Indian characters have a unique quality—like the rest of the world, they chant one line of news every day but in at least three languages because Indian zombies are multilingual.
You, the hero, set out to find out what has happened to the world. And you learn the startling fact that there is this virus that is transmitted from phone screens and other monitors, and even paper and all other sources of information. It gets lodged in a receiver’s brain and takes over all expression. Different people are taken over by different lines, as every individual is susceptible to a particular mutation of this ancient virus. Your dad has become a right-wing zombie, your mom has become a religious zombie; your smartest friends, who appear normal in the first minutes of conversation, have become woke zombies; your aunt has become a conspiracy-theory zombie. The virus has been transmitted for centuries in this manner, but never before was it so infectious.
As most fans of zombie movies know, the hero is never the zombie. Everyone else around is, or will be, but not you. You are smart, lucky and sane, just as you suspect. But where my zombie movie departs is that the zombies in my story do not know they are zombies. In fact, they think everyone else is a zombie. Thus, inside the zombie movie, everyone is a hero in a zombie movie.
Zombie friends, zombie parents and zombie cousins confide their fears in you of how everyone else is a zombie. It corroborates your belief that you are sane when ideally it should make you wonder whether you too are unaware of your transformation. You feel odd discussing “what to do about zombies" with zombies, but play along.
You figure out some features of the virus and its transmission—there are super transmitters who have a talent to excrete huge viral loads to millions, and there are more modest transmitters who can only infect one person at a time. And some people are more prone to get infected than others. You like the theory that people who are intellectually superior, who routinely consume supplements of superior knowledge, and who are generally immune to nonsense, are less likely to be infected than people who are not very smart.
You figure out what to do. The infected have to be quarantined, but then no one believes they are infected. As we have seen, they think other people, who are obsessed with one-liners that sound like news, are the ones who are infected. So no zombie is going to self-quarantine. Also, as we saw in the case of that minor pandemic, covid, every intellectual tries to flog his solution as the best solution and condemns those who disagree as “fools" or “corrupt" or “charlatans". Also, in our movie, most of the intellectuals themselves are zombies who don’t know they are infected.
So you try to counter the transmission of the virus by transmitting your own cure. You do this by tweeting your own big important fabulous ideas. You notice something odd. The more sense you make, the less it is transmitted. The more nonsense you state, the more it travels. Thus, you realize, the medium of transmission itself has been taken over by the virus.
Nevertheless, you valiantly fight on the social media. You find others like you who are not zombies. You fall in love. There are some lovely sex scenes. But after a month of knowing them, you realize that they, too, have become infected.
Eventually, you give up and quarantine yourself. You become a monk. You reject all the temptations—the wealth and pleasures that zombies offer to infect you, their opinions and books. You are lonely, but you are not a zombie. Or are you?
Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’