October 02, 2008

Oil, slick

So in the course of what we shall loosely refer to as an education, the young One was told of huge ships constantly patrolling the maritime borders of the Motherland. This, the teacher opined, was the reason one was able to sleep soundly at night. While her apparent knowledge of one's private life was disturbing, what caused greater concern was this: one pictured a sturdy fleet of tankers spouting petrol into the ocean with the intent of demarcating the nation's territory.

To begin with, one felt this was a rather crude (so to speak) method of establishing jurisdiction: since the oil would all wash away, the ships would have to turn back at some point and re-petrol the same stretch of ocean. With the fact of re-petrolling even the teacher seemed to agree: we all reached consensus that this was a thankless sort of activity.

Of course, one surmised, soldiers petrolled the land borders, and petrol tends to stay longer on soil – this explained those dark lines between countries in the Concise World Atlas. It all Fell into Place, clear as fractional distillation. And those soldiers were clever, hardworking chaps – between states and districts, they painstakingly made dashed petrol-lines and sometimes dotted-dashed, dotted-dotted-dashed, and dotted-dashed-dotted ones.*

And thus were matters well understood. But the young One, never one to accept received wisdom without a probing analysis, realized that petrol was not the best medium for the purpose. For petrol was flammable, and it was expensive. Clearly, the order of the day was to consider Suitable Alternatives.

The most evident alternative, largely by virtue of it being under consumption during a reflective moment in class**, was Kala-Khatta Rasna. The more one thought about it, the more it made sense. This most exalted beverage would, to the untrained eye, be indistinguishable from gasoline. Rasna was not particularly flammable, as proven by numerous kitchen experiments and a ruined cigarette lighter. It was cheap, since a single packet would make untold gallons of Kala-Khatta, at least if you didn't mind it being a bit watery, and that should hardly be a concern when it was to be pumped right into the sea anyway. Add to that some clever spindoctoring about sweetening international relations, and that should be that. (One was also on the verge of coming up with an environmentally-conscious argument before one realized that Kala-Khatta Rasna was, in the long run, the more important resource.)

Perhaps it was the impending examinations***, or perhaps it was WWF Summerslam – one does not remember exactly what stunted the progress of this line of reasoning. But, like ol' Leonardo's helicopter, this was yet another groundbreaking idea that never made it to the limelight. It's too late now to tell people about it – they probably use lasers or something nowadays, and Google maps has international borders all figured out anyway. But every time one sees a navy ship on the History Channel, one does try to spot a hidden nozzle patriotically squirting a stream of crude into the high seas. Or maybe it was Rasna all along.

* Later in life one developed a theory about how it's all part of an international conspiracy involving Morse code.

** Consumption of Kala-Khatta Rasna, as an activity, was forbidden in class and carried the same sort of stigma as Talking. The motive could however be met by peering into the schoolbag with the ostensible purpose of retrieving a stray notebook, while surreptitiously consuming the beverage from the water-bottle within. You needed to have a water-bottle with a straw-like mechanism, the details of which one would like to dwell on, but perhaps we shall do that some other time.

*** One never actually studied for exams, but they were a great excuse to not do anything else.