Saturday, March 21, 2015

Farewell, Sir Terry Pratchett

On Thursday, 12th of March 2015, the world lost a gallant knight. His razor-sharp blades of wit ripped through the continents - and perhaps, even across the multiverse - sending millions tumbling to the ground in rapturous laughter. Every thrust seared deep into our souls, enveloping us with rays of enlightenment. In a span of 40+ years, he wrote 70+ books. Most memorable of all, he weaved the Discworld - a world much like our own, except only more exciting and sensible.

That gallant knight was Sir Terry Pratchett. And Death - his long-time friend (a thin bony bloke WHO SPEAKS LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME) - took him away from our world, that fateful Thursday.

I first received news of his passing when a frantic message from a friend blinked on my mobile. I read the headlines, clicked on the link, read the details. And then I broke down in tears. Warm, choking tears.

Sir Terry was my most favourite author. He taught me about economics, politics, law and human nature, more than anyone else did. He showed me how even the trivial little things in life can contain so much complexity and beauty. He shaped the way I thought about writing - that it's alright to write the way you think, and not be constrained by conventional punctuations and prose. He was my unseen mentor.

In the novel 'Small Gods' (one of my favourites), an ancient powerful god wakes up as a tortoise, confused and angry. How come? Turns out that in the Discworld, gods need people as much as people need gods. A god's strength is fuelled by belief, hence the more followers it has the stronger it becomes. But the Great God Om has hundred thousands of believers, so why manifest into a lowly tortoise? Turns out that His Almighty's powers have waned due to His believers channelling their faith into statues and symbols, rather than precepts and principles.

Check out the brilliant opening:
“Now consider the tortoise and the eagle. 
The tortoise is a ground-living creature. It is impossible to live nearer the ground without being under it. Its horizons are a few inches away. It has about as good a turn of speed as you need to hunt down a lettuce. It has survived while the rest of evolution flowed past it by being, on the whole, no threat to anyone and too much trouble to eat.
And then there is the eagle. A creature of the air and high places, whose horizons go all the way to the edge of the world. Eyesight keen enough to spot the rustle of some small and squeaky creature half a mile away. All power, all control. Lightning death on wings. Talons and claws enough to make a meal of anything smaller than it is and at least take a hurried snack out of anything bigger.
And yet the eagle will sit for hours on the crag and survey the kingdoms of the world until it spots a distant movement and then it will focus, focus, focus on the small shell wobbling among the bushes down there on the desert. And it will leap…
And a minute later the tortoise finds the world dropping away from it. And it sees the world for the first time, no longer one inch from the ground but five hundred feet above it, and it thinks: what a great friend I have in the eagle. 
And then the eagle lets go. 
And almost always the tortoise plunges to its death. Everyone knows why the tortoise does this. Gravity is a habit that is hard to shake off. No one knows why the eagle does this. There’s good eating on a tortoise but, considering the effort involved, there’s much better eating on practically anything else. It’s simply the delight of eagles to torment tortoises.
But of course, what the eagle does not realize is that it is participating in a very crude form of natural selection.
One day a tortoise will learn how to fly.”

That's the beauty of Sir Terry. He is funny and insightful. He weaves outrageous fantasies to mirror the subtle realities of life. The Omnians are a god-fearful lot. They believe that the Great God Om would judge them in life, as in death. But as it turns out, after death, there is only the black desert. What lies at the end of the desert? "JUDGMENT," says Death, to each person who asks. But the desert is dark, vast and lonely. How does one find their way around? Well, it depends on your beliefs.

Forget about gods, large and small. Forget about holy scriptures. Forget about poetic things long-dead prophets say. Perhaps the best belief to hold, in life and in death, is this:
"That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right."

I shall miss Sir Terry dearly. I shall miss his tales of godly tortoises, witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves, trolls, golems and denizens of Ankh-Morpork. I shall miss the Discworld - a flat disc of a world, pillared by four elephants standing atop the shell of a giant space-faring turtle. I shall miss Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Lu-Tze, Havelock Vetinari, Brutha, and last but not least, Death and his horse Binky.

Thanks for the stories, Sir Terry. Thanks for the inspiration. Gravity is hard to shake off, I know. But one day, one day- much thanks to you - I will learn how to fly.

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