Monday, September 16, 2013

Game of life

Another attempt at writing fiction.

Yang Chol-pak steeled himself up as he looked into the mirror, his dark black eyes piercing through his taut image. His neatly parted hair seemed to quiver just a tiny bit as he put on his first pair of thin flesh-colored latex gloves. He would put on another pair just to be sure that any fingerprints he had left on the first pair that he had touched with his bare hands  would not betray him. He was about to play the game of his life; victory assured him an uncertain future but loss would mean slow and torturous deaths for him and anyone who shared even a strand of DNA with him.

Yang Chol-pak hailed from an illustrious family with a distinguished track record of patriotism. His grandfather had been a special confidante of Great Leader Kim Il-sung; a gallant commander who had singlehandedly shot down over thirty American fighter jets. The Dear Leader Kim Jong-il had sparred with Yang's father in Taekwondo sessions and had commissioned him to write forewords to thirteen of his treatises on Juche – the Great Leader's fearless development mantra that had spurred the noble workers of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to achieve hitherto unheard-of strides in self-sufficiency, technological prowess and mastery of literature and the fine arts. Twenty nine years ago, when the sparrows had congregated in a heart-shaped formation beneath the rainbow on Paekdu mountain, and little Kim Jong-un had blessed the workers of his great Republic  with his charismatic and cherubic smile for the first time, Yang's father had been bestowed with the greatest honor of them all. In three years, he would move to Geneva as a diplomat, taking little Kim as his own son to study in an elite private school. The Dear Leader wanted his successor to get the best possible education; to be aware of the evils of Capitalism by witnessing the havoc it wreaked on the very people who had foolishly welcomed it with open arms. Seven months later, Yang was born.

Yang of course did not know the true identity of his brother Kim (who used Yang's family name). He always wondered why Kim had the bigger bedroom and his own TV set. He was perplexed when they studied the principles of Juche together, for the private tutor seemed to favor Kim all the time, chiding little Yang for no reason. Yang hated it that he always had to do the dishes after dinner, while Kim got to go to his room with a big bowl of ice cream, playing video games. He wondered why Kim would go for private vacations with the Dear Leader every summer, while he, Yang would have to be content to  take the train with his parents from Pyongyang to Myohyangsan to view the same old gifts the Great Leader had supposedly received from international dignitaries. Kim would always come back from his trips and boast about the game he had nabbed, both in the wilderness and later on in his bedroom at the Dear Leader's summer palace in Wonsan. Little Yang would learn the truth much later, at the ripe old age of nineteen.

With tensions escalating between the two Koreas, and Kim Jong-un threatening to bomb America, the boys at Langley had decided that it was time to neutralize the new despot. Their chief operative for the mission was Jason Lee, a thirty-five year old Korean-American agent, with special training in covert ops, electronic spying and smuggling of arms. Jason had chatted up Yang at a bar in Paris and the two had hit it off. As Yang had gotten drunker and drunker, he had slowly revealed his resentment for his “brother.” Jason had found his hit-man. He made sure that Yang flirted with Eunice Park, a svelte spy and a seventh Dan in Taekwondo, who was sitting a few tables away. She followed him to his room.

Yang and Kim had gone on to study economics, political science and applied physics from the prestigious Kim Il-sung University, where the latter had shattered every academic record, having written stunningly innovative research papers that had given a fresh breath of life to the nation's economic and weapons' programs. Kim Jon-un, now using his real identity, had come into his own. Though he scorned the loose morals and the  hedonism of the West, there was one aspect of their avaricious lifestyle he had fallen in love with – video games. He simply loved video games, and had Play Stations and Game Boys, along with the latest titles sent over to him from Beijing, Moscow or Paris. He had also cultivated another obsession – Laser Quest.

Kim Jong-un had first encountered the game of Laser Quest at the age of fifteen, during a class trip to Zurich.  He had continued his passion throughout his days in Switzerland, roping in his bodyguards and the children of other diplomats to play with him in private sessions. They would always form two teams – Kim leading the noble Koreans and Yang commanding the cowardly Americans. Kim kept the commandos; Yang had to make do with the children.  One of the younger kids once had the temerity to shoot Kim in the back; he and his parents were never heard of again. From then on, the other diplomats had the good sense to make the arena manager  deactivate young Kim's sensors.

The Glock 22 would contain only two bullets – the second one was just in case the first shot failed. It would be cocked and ready for action. Christian missionaries operating at the border in Dandong, China would smuggle the weapon across the Yalu river from where a few defectors would carry it to Pyongyang. It was important to use a foreign pistol; inventory controls were increasingly strict in the cash-strapped North Korean military.

Kim could not bear the thought of giving it up in Pyongyang.  “Wasn't the temporary cycle of death and rebirth espoused in Laser Quest an embodiment of  the Confucian ideals his grandfather Kim Il-sung had so deftly woven into Juche?” The idea of a dark room, with flashing suits of sensor-laden armor and laser guns testing his survival instincts enamored Kim so much that he would have to build his own Laser Quest Arena in Pyongyang. With his acute knowledge of electrical circuits and advanced optics, he had given detailed instructions to a skilled technical crew to build a massive 8000 square-foot Laser Quest arena in downtown Pyongyang. The Koreans would now decimate the Americans every Friday evening. In a flash of inspiration he called it Juche Quest.

The weapon would be located at the northwest corner of the Juche Quest arena, under a loose floorboard. The exact location would not be revealed to Yang – just in case there was a double agent somewhere in the scheme. Jason had been concise in his instructions. “Search for a blob of white paint carelessly spilled on the floor. Then slowly lift up the floorboard there and approach Kim Jong-un from the back if possible. Do this in the last five minutes of the session. Avoid being seen by anyone, least of all your own teammates. The commandos on his side will be too scared to speak out against you. Shoot him twice in the head and drop the weapon. Do NOT aim for the chest – though ineffective, the armor may accidentally protect him. If he survives, all hell will befall you and your family! Continue with the game as if nothing has happened. The gun is ultra-silent; nobody will hear you.” The CIA had promised to engineer a coup that very night, and install Yang Chol-pak as the Supreme Worker of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

They had arrived at the Juche Quest arena. The protocol was the same. Everyone except Kim Jong-un had to go through a thorough strip search. Even Yang.

Yang found this procedure extremely humiliating. “How dare Kim distrust me!” he thought. “Haven't my parents raised him like their own? Haven't we eaten at the same table for almost two decades?” And then he remembered, with a slight pang of guilt, what he was about to accomplish. Should he go on a cruise with Kim's girls or should he find his own? Should he celebrate by personally executing Kim's biggest sycophants? That would probably be unnecessary. They would defect to his side anyway, once the Americans crossed the DMZ. He thought about the irony of the situation. He had played an American every Friday for the last fourteen years of his life. The prophecy was about to fulfill itself.

The room darkened as the thirty minute battle began for the last time. The strobe lights flashed and the music was loud as the gallant Koreans began their final rout of America. Yang walked around slowly, keeping mainly to the northwest. He had found the blob of paint and almost wet his pants as the silhouette of a player passed him by as he bent down to retrieve the weapon. The Glock was with him now.

The fateful moment had arrived. He had found Kim alone. Taking careful aim, he pulled the trigger.Click,” There were no bullets inside the damned weapon! The lights came on, the music stopped and two burly commandos dragged Yang Chol-pak away.

Pak Su-gil had found the golden escape route when the defectors approached him with the Glock. A brilliant engineering mind who had graduated summa cum laude from Kim Il-sung University, he had been frustrated in his role as the Chief Engineer of the Juche Quest arena. He now had the perfect opportunity to prove his loyalty to his Leader. Pak had informed the authorities about the assassination plan and had spearheaded a vicious counter strategy. The gun would remain under the floorboard, but the bullets would be removed. He had also set up a network of infrared surveillance cameras to catch the perpetrator red-handed. Now watching from his control desk, Pak heaved a contented sigh of relief. He would be rewarded with a spacious new apartment in Downtown Pyongyang. He hoped to be transferred to the weapons' program soon.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Some data from the Indian Railways

Without comment, I present this chart that I plotted based on railway employment data  (from and railway mishap data (from Data for railway mishaps are available only from 2002 - 2009. Nitish Kumar was the Railway Minister up to 2004, and was succeeded by Laloo Prasad Yadav up to 2009.

I have not presented railway employment numbers post 2009 (when Mamata Banerjee took over from Mr. Yadav, but the employment numbers continued to reduce).

Update: Here are some correlations (in case you think that the figure can be misconstrued)

Between death and employment: -0.90
Between injury and employment:  -0.91
Between (death + injury) and employment: -0.93