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News from Nepal

This week saw the finales of two TV dramas I’ve been following, the British Ashes to Ashes and ABC’s Lost. First was Ashes to Ashes, I think the last episode actually came out on Sunday or even late last week but I only watched on-line early this week. To cut a long story short, for those of you who’ve never seen either the original British Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes; the alternate reality the protagonist DI Drake found herself in after being shot in the head turned out to be a cop purgatory, where dead cops who can’t let go of their life on earth linger on until the truth is revealed to them and they choose to move on.

It’s no wonder then that when I was watching the final ten minutes of Lost later in the week I was overcome by a sense of dejavu,  and it wasn’t just because of Ashes to Ashes. There are also two stories  I’ve read whose plots develop along the same lines. I don’t know which one of the stories was written first, one is by Stephen King and it’s about a woman who’s trying to reconcile with her husband and they’ve decided to go down to Florida, so now they’re driving in a rented car in talking only there keep popping up various weird things along the way, people, things, buildings, eventually we learned the woman and her husband were in a plane crash, they never landed. And then there’s a short story by Victor Pelevin called News from Nepal. Again we have an ordinary woman going through her ordinary day, this time it’s an office worker at a Russian/soviet factory, we start with her getting off the trolley bus   and going into work. During lunch break she unwraps a candy as she stands in line to buy her meal,  the wrapping paper has a little trivia story on it, it’s about an obscure Nepalese sect, a group of monks living in the mountains in Nepal in this particular monastery, whose main objective in life is to see the truth. Those of them who manage to see the truth start yelling like mad and never stop until they die. In the end there is a meeting at the factory at which the radio tells everybody they’re all dead and in purgatory now and that according to an old tradition the first few days in purgatory are spent in a familiar environment. Then the poor woman’s day starts all over again.

I kind of felt cheated though, both by these short stories and to a greater extent by the two TV dramas.  While the stories were rather straightforward, the TV shows, especially Lost, were far more complicated. With Lost I was probably looking forward to some sort of convergence of the two alternative time lines, which I was led to believe at the beginning of the season, were caused by the nuclear explosion at the end of season 5. But no such luck, you’re dead Jack and that’s it. It reminded me in a way of the last book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Mostly Harmless in which Douglas Adams, who by the time the book came out had grown rather tired of the franchise, simply killed off all the main characters to wrap up the series. However, with Lost I felt even more let down, for a whole season I’ve been watching this alternate time-line and then turned out it was basically all a lie, ‘You know you don’t have a son, Jack’ Bummer, and his son was such a nice kid, a pianist and all.  It also reminded me of my old childhood fantasies, when I thought about what it would be like to be dead and that perhaps I was already dead just remembering my life over and over again while my body decayed in the grave.

And it’s also a bit sad that these days stories no longer end with the main characters living happily ever after, but rather with the main characters ‘moving on’. Nobody specifies where they’re moving on to. Which, incidentally, reminds me another ‘post-mortem’ story by Victor Pelevin, in which a group of people who’ve all died and travelled through the proverbial tunnel towards the light at the end of it are now sitting in a circle around a mysterious being whom they all can only see from the back. This being jokes with them and tells them about this new machine that can give a person ultimate pleasure and not just any kind of pleasure but the exact sort of euphoria they’ve been craving all their lives. The only drawback is that as they one by one approach this machine, get plugged in and vanish in a bright flash it becomes apparent to the last of them that the machine essentially annihilates them, so this last remaining person asks the mysterious being what’s going to happen afterwards, ‘Afterwards?’ asks the ‘god’,’And what would you need an afterwards for? If you get the ultimate euphoria now, whatever comes afterwards can only be worse?’ In the end this last guy is forced to connect up to the machine and go out in a flash of bright light. That’s moving on for you. In the final scene in Lost, the Losties too all walk into a bright light.

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