The Forbidden City.

Sounds like a medieval Area 51. Where ultra-secret meetings between
ultra-powerful people took place, the kinds of meetings which usually
would result in the invasion of a neighboring land or the controversial
sale of Swedish boulder catapults… a place replete with forbidden
pleasures for the selected few… forbidden activities conducted the
dark and musty alleyways and hidden enclaves. Shadowy characters
lurking in the shadows smoking weed and gazing out of the murky
depths with soulless eyes.

My over-imaginative brain cooked up elaborate scenarios by the dozen
– so much so that I was feeling tingling excitement as we approached
the gates of the Forbidden City. And why not? After all I was one of the
select few to be invited to see the Forbidden City.

There was a large fortified gate with a lone blind old man sitting
inconspicuously on a dusty wooden stool, guarding it. He sat perfectly
still with unseeing eyes, staring out into the distance – as we
approached him. He made no sign of acknowledgement as our
footsteps echoed our arrival – maybe he was deaf too. Chang, my
Chinese guide, told me to stop and bow at the old man. And he also
told me be very still and not make any sudden movements. I was
surprised.

“But he can’t see…”

Chang put on his best Zen-Master voice and uttered mysteriously “He
who appears to see not, sees the most…” (Ch.IX, Para. II. The Chinese
book of Unnecessarily Mysterious Zen Utterings. Also from The Matrix
part three.)

I pretended to be appropriately mystified and obliged by bowing at
the spooky blind man. Chang bowed too. The blind man sat still.
Unmoving. While I was wondering what to do next, Chang obviously
had done this before. “We wish to enter the Forbidden City” he said,
making our intentions clear – lest the old guy thought we were here to
pee at the gates.

Again no movement from the blind man.

I was about to suggest to Chang that the old man was perhaps not
alive or worse – both blind and deaf…when suddenly those thin lips
moved and the man spoke.

“One who wishes to enter must say the password.”

The password. Of course. This was so common with forbidden places.
Like mom’s cookie jar. Could never really figure out the password on
that one… I looked expectantly at Chang, waiting for him to utter the
magic word. I realized from the absence of sound that he was silent. I
nervously looked around me at the falling dusk. The walls were high
and I could swear I could see hooded men with bows and arrows,
gazing at us from above. Waiting for us to make some sudden
movement so that they would have the pleasure of seeing the poison
tipped arrows pierce our hearts. I decided to shake Chang out of his
apparent reverie.

“Hey, Chang, buddy, I think he wants you to say the password.”
He didn’t move. I was getting irritated now. What’s with these
Chinese and stillness! We Indians like constant motion. Patience is a
gift a few from the subcontinent possess. As a pure reflexive action I
reached out to touch Chang’s shoulder. What happened next took a
few milliseconds – but happened in slow motion for me.

First I caught a steely glint from the corner of my eye. The glint
seemed to be moving towards my head. The same neurotransmitters
which had saved me in the bathroom earlier this morning, fired off –
and I ducked. At the same time there was a loud “whoosh” to my right
from above and the corner of my eye caught another glint also moving
fast towards me.

Chang flew towards me, grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me
back just before the Arrow would have pierced my heart. Panting,
Chang said: “Abi, you should be careful while crossing Chinese roads.”

I broke out of my dream.

We were standing on the roadside, with motor vehicles whizzing past
us. It seems that I had sleepwalked into the gushing traffic and Chang
had pulled me back just in time, or else I would have been on the
menu of the local restaurant…

Can’t wait to get in. To be continued…

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