Saturday, February 11, 2012

Well-Organized Hopelessness

Well-Organized Hopelessness

Students at fieldwork to help farmers had been harvesting potatoes and massacring field-mice. Each time the tractor-towed harvester opened up a new furrow, tiny gray victims dodged between the freshly turned lumps of soil, only to be smashed at cruelly regular intervals by a well-aimed hit of a potato. A short, sharp fillip into the back of the neck crack their fragile skulls.
Since the morning, they had kept warm with this contest about which the gray victims had known nothing except that their part demanded the stubbornness of a runner on a hopelessly long track.
It always took a while before they grasped what was going on and decided to run. It was a fair battle. Only running field-mice were attacked and killed. A little kick jump-started those that hesitated.
They sometimes attacked the shoe, sometimes, in desperate confusion, they clung to the shoe and tried hiding beneath it. Others dashed with unexpected speed, successfully scrambling through the potato bombardment. They ran on and on and futilely, for eventually an
accidentally precise potato pinned them down. Laying on their backs, legs trembling in the air, they protested in high-pitched squeaks. Their appeals were denied by another potato shelling.
Then again, sometimes this was unnecessary. The rodent stiff ended quickly as the legs turned rubbery and unusable from the exhausting dash, collapsing like a sprinter at the end of a race. In an instant they froze in the air as if they had stumbled into a photograph.
The air was frostily clear, betraying each unintentional move, crystallizing each terrified sigh on the ground.
It had been a perfect day for a bombing raid.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Chernobyl – Paulo Coelho is wrong

Taking on a world-renowned author, who just sold the movie rights to his bestseller “The Alchemist” to Harvey Weinstein, wasn’t my intention, but I must admit that his notes about Chernobyl in his novel “The Witch of Portobello” were so outrageous that I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t help wondering what on earth possessed him to bring up the disaster at all and why, if he had to mention it, he went so far in distorting its impact. The topic of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster actually has no greater (in fact almost none) importance for the story in this book. The only explanation I can think of to account for why Mr. Coelho introduced a few sentences about Chernobyl was because he felt that by mentioning Chernobyl he would somehow lend his novel some gravitis or prove some subtle point which somehow eluded me.

Let’s begin by quoting this respected author about the casualties (p. 207, Harpers Collins, 2007): “The initial thirty deaths became, according to the expert John Gofmans, 475.000 cases of fatal cancers and an equal number of nonfatal cancers. A total of two thousand towns and villages were simply wiped out off the map. According to the Health Ministry in Belarus, the incidence of cancer of thyroid will increase considerably between 2005 and 2010, as a consequence of continuing high levels of radioactivity. Another specialist explains that in addition to the nine million people directly exposed to radiation, more than sixty-five million in many countries around the world were indirectly affected by consuming contaminated foodstuffs.”

Is this true?

Most of the information that Coelho has cited in this passage is completely erroneous. Actually, only thirty people died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Even the spelling of the expert’s name is wrong. The correct name is Gofman, not Gofmans and his estimate of “475.000 cases” wasn’t related to Chernobyl at all! He used this number (with Arthur Tamplin) in another context altogether. They were referring to a warning by Dr. Ernest Sternglass, made in the 1960s, that nuclear testing would ultimately lead to the miscarriage of up to 400,000 babies in the U.S. within a decade if it had continued. Gofman and Tamplin criticized this estimate as one thousand higher percent than possible although Gofman subsequently admitted that Sternglass might be right. The whole discussion, however, (and the numbers thrown about to make the arguments) doesn’t seem to be very serious. But even giving Mr. Coelho the benefit of the doubt, these statistics have nothing to do with Chernobyl.

Perhaps more relevant to the author’s argument is a warning by the Health Ministry in Belarus about FUTURE victims of Chernobyl projected to occur between 2005 and 2010. It is not clear whether the ministry’s figures are the source of Mr. Coelho citation, but what is clear is that they have nothing to do with reality. Incidence of cancer of thyroid after 2005 has never increased significantly in the area of Chernobyl. (The same holds true in the case of the almost unknown breakdown of reactor A1 in Jaslovské Bohunice, the first such incident in the world that claimed human life). For that matter, thyroid cancer didn’t show a significant rise even after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On the contrary, incidence of any type of cancer in the area around Hiroshima in the aftermath of the bombing was surprisingly low. Scientists who have examined the phenomenon have come to a conclusion distinctly at odds with Coelho’s: “The studies have repeatedly proven, that in case the dose is not lethal (3,0-4,0 Gy of acute whole body irradiation without medical help leads to 50% mortality within 60 days), the victims survive for a relatively long time even with the latent presence of chromosome aberrations in the peripheral lymphocytes or the bone narrow.” (Awa, 1990) And as is well-known, the lifespan of the Japanese rose dramatically after World War II, a growth rate that would be impossible with a higher incidence of lethal cancer cases.

Mr. Coelho also cites “another (anonymous) specialist” who estimated that “nine million people (were) directly exposed to radiation.” Even a layman will realize the absurdity of such an inflated number especially in light of the author’s next assertion – that “…more than sixty-five million in many countries around the world were indirectly affected by consuming contaminated foodstuffs.” There is no explanation for how this number was arrived at. Why not fifty-six million or just fifty million? And while we’re at it, how did all these “contaminated foodstuffs” reach so many people? Food products are regularly irradiated with obviously no harm to humans (this method has been approved by U.S. regulatory agencies). It seems inconceivable that contaminated produce could have been distributed to sixty-five million people without being noticed by the authorities of any country. We should note that during the Communist era there was a state hygienic service and in the event of an outbreak of disease or contamination officials would at least warn their relatives and friends even if the public was left in the dark.

It might surprise Mr. Coelho to learn that the affected area around Chernobyl is doing well enough in terms of its flora and fauna to have sustained several rare Przewalski horses and a bull called Uran with three cows Alfa, Beta and Gamma, which were released in the region as an experiment. If he were interested, the bestselling author of “The Alchemist” could find hundreds of titles in the scientific database on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the environment. But it isn’t necessary to dig down very far to refute one of Coelho’s bolder claims – that as a result of the explosion of the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in 1986 “a total of two thousand towns and villages were simply wiped out off the map.” This is complete nonsense. Even the closest city to the site -- Pripjat – not only wasn’t wiped out, it remains intact till this day. Beside the fact that in the almost naturally deserted area around Chernobyl (steppe and marshes) “two thousand towns and villages” were never built.


All this isn’t to say that the Chernobyl disaster didn’t cause significant harm. The loss of thirty lives can’t be overlooked by any means followed by 1800 affected children. The region exposed to radioactive contamination also experienced a statistically significant lower rate of live births (caused by higher mortality of mainly male babies) mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. (A similar effect was reported among livestock). But within a year the birthrate – human and animal – had returned to normal along the lines suggested by the Gofman/Tamplin’s citation of Sternglass that was taken out of context by Mr. Coelho.

After twisting the facts to suit his own ends Mr. Coelho reaches an unexceptional conclusion: “It’s a serious matter, which deserves to be treated with respect…” But that’s the only sentence in his entire commentary that any educated reader can agree with. Unfortunately, because his readership is so large, even with the best of intentions, Mr. Coelho has only contributed to misunderstanding about the consequences of Chernobyl and distorted efforts to come to grips with its historical implications.

Awa, A. A., 1990: Chromosome aberrations in A-bomb survivors, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Chromosomal Aberrations. (G. Obe and A. T. Natarajan – Eds), Springer Verlag, p. 140-150.
Mičieta, K., Murín, G., 2007: Wild plant species in bio-indication of radioactive-
contaminated sites around Jaslovské Bohunice nuclear power plant in the Slovak
Republic. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Vol. 93, No. 1, p.26-37.
Oudalova, A., Geraskin, S., Vasiliev, D., Dikarev, V., 2005: Cytogenetic variability in Pinus
sylvestris L. populations experiencing anthropogenic influence. Radioprotection, Suppl. 1,
vol. 40: S223-S228.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Travel story from Mexico

The World is Small

It’s always nice if in country you are going to visit for the first time you’ll be spending time with somebody who can introduce you to the local habits. I was lucky enough to have my scientist colleague from Slovakia in Mexico City; and unlucky in the same time, as all my attempts to contact him seemed in vain. He didn’t answer a single one of my fax messages. Later, it became clear why. Someone had stolen the fax machine from his office. My telegram, which took my laboratory’s quarterly postal budget, was never received. The letter that I sent after more modern forms of communication had failed was almost certainly going to arrive too late. But against all odds, the letter arrived a day before my departure from Slovakia. Thanks to this, my colleague and I had a last-minute chance to arrange our meeting at the airport.

My colleague kept his promise of providing a temporary respite on my trip to the unknown. He invited me to sample many Mexican local beers including one with familiar name for us - Bohemia. It was accompanied with Mexican soup called Pozole. One began to feel at home. My colleague also warned me in detail what should or should not be done when traveling alone, and in the evening he escorted me to the bus headed for Guadalajara and dispatched me into the night. Those who have traveled on overnight Mexican bus lines know that it is a luxury that we don’t have in central Europe. Therefore, I should felt comfortable, but I didn’t. In the highway tollbooths, I saw armed soldiers and wild-looking civilians in ponchos with guns in their hands. It was as though we were passing through the frontlines of local wars. So, I didn’t sleep at all en route to Guadalajara.

It was about five in the morning when I arrived, dishevelled and weary at Guadalajara bus station. My first twelve hours in Mexico had been spent mostly in the interior of a dark bus living down the after-effects of Bohemia beer and Pozole soup. Now, I waited nervously at the uncharming stand of pre-paid taxi service. My colleague had warned me vigorously that at this stage of a journey a foreigner has two problems: not to be robbed before you get into the taxi and, more importantly, not to be robbed while you are in the taxi. Thankfully, the first didn’t happen and the second I awaited apprehensively in the back seat of the old taxi. My Danish colleagues were robbed in the center of Mexico City on their way back to their hotel from night raid to the cantinas. A small green taxi with a state license took them to a dark street where the driver’s accomplices waiting. I was dwelling on this issue and my potential response and so I didn’t realize that in a moment I would be dealing with a completely different problem. I had told the taxi driver the name of the hotel, Plaza del Sol, and I that good man really took me there, but to a square and park called Plaza del Sol. At 5:30 a.m. he stopped and, with a sweeping international gesture, showed me that we had arrived. I knew that I was in trouble. I had no other point of orientation in the sprawling city of Guadalajara, with its millions of people -- only the name of the Hotel Plaza del Sol, which was unfortunately the same as that of the deserted square. The taxi driver greeted my explanation in English that I was going to a writers’ conference with good-natured incomprehension. I had nothing else up my sleeve. I had no desire to get out of the taxi with my luggage either but what could I do except feebly repeat the name Plaza del Sol, to which he nodded agreeably and offered to help me out of the taxi. In chess we call it a stalemate.

In the grey, early morning light I looked around in this unknown country, in this unknown city, about 10,000 kilometers from home, for some sign of encouragement, something to light my way. And I found it. The taxi had stopped near row of small buildings that formed part of the square. All the buildings were shops or restaurants, and all were closed and dark. Only one, right where we were parked, had a shining neon sign with one word on it -- ‘Slovensko’. At first I thought it was hallucination caused by my lack of sleep. This sign was not from this part of the world. It was really written in Slovak. It wasn’t in English, ‘Slovakia’, or Spanish, ‘Eslovaqia’ , but our domestic ´Slovensko´. It could only have been written by some Slovak who had lost his way here long before me. Someone who has survived here and built a homage to our native land. Looking at this message I realized that from now on I just couldn’t go wrong.

The hotel with the unfortunate name ‘Plaza del Sol’ was of course just around the corner.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Story from Georgia, Kaukazus

Suede Shoes

Our literary conference in Georgia was one of the most exciting adventures of my life. The organizers, our young Georgian colleagues, want to show us best of their hospitality. On the third day of the conference they organized a spontaneously scheduled excursion to some long-lost part of the country via bad roads through the mountains, headed for an unknown destination. In one little town the organizers left us and went to make some further arrangements.

While waiting in some uncertainty as to what would happen next there was only one relaxing activity: taking photographs. We got out our automatic tourist cameras in the belief that we were spending our time usefully. We were particularly attracted by a nearby wooden hut with the inscription -- SHOE REPAIR. It wasn’t as interesting as the little girl and the little dog on its doorstep. They were both filled with childish curiosity when they saw us. We had taken a few photographs when, from out of nowhere, we heard Russian, spoken with a Georgian accent.

„Where is this Slovak?”

Why this unknown local should pick me out as a Slovak is a mystery I'll never be able to explain until the day I die. But in hope of a reasonable explanation I told him it was me.

He was one of the men also seen in other countries whose lives are passed huddled in little groups on streets in towns or villages. They talk, drink tea and, very attentively, pay attention to what’s going on. Based on this knowledge, my discussion with the unknown, unshaven man in rags started in the worst possible way. He came up to me, looked directly into my eyes, and asked in a loud, provocative voice, „Why did you photograph the cripple?”

I knew I was in trouble. In the hut with the SHOE REPAIR sign there might be a cripple – it’s normal in this craft. I didn’t see him; didn’t know he was there. But it was pointless to apologize. The man was absolutely certain that he was well within his rights to teach a foreigner a lesson and he knew, as I did, that he could rely on the solidarity of his street companions. Cripples and children are untouchable in every country. Woe betides any foreigner who makes such a mistake -- as I had, however unwittingly.

As it happens in these moments, those who could have helped me stood around silently in anticipation of how this impromptu drama would conclude. The unknown man’s acquaintances started to form a circle around me and cocked their ears for what was to follow. Every word was important. And I realized that I should speak about anything besides cripples. If I did, I would give him the chance for a dissertation on the arrogance and insensitivity of foreigners.

In a desperate effort to think of something, I began carefully. „You know, my dear friend.” Thinking hard I looked at my suede shoes and found sudden inspiration. „I photographed this shoe repair shop because back home we don’t have such shops anymore.”

„Are you serious?” He looked at me in surprise, but also with suspicion. He knew that I was pushing him off the mark by moving to another subject.

„Absolutely serious. Imagine: we produce such terrible shoes that they’re not worth repairing. They’re only made of imitation materials, and we just throw them away when they’re worn out.”

„Really?!” the man exclaimed with delight. It always pleases these opinion-makers of the streets to find out something from foreigners, that gives them a feeling of superiority. At this moment they become hospitable and patronizing, convinced that you are worse off than they are. „You’re in a poor condition.”

„Yes, you’re right,” I eagerly agreed.

„Where is the world going?” he continued. But for a moment he didn’t want to let go of the possibility of a quarrel and started to censure me. „When you take photographs, why don’t you photograph something that is really nice?”

He made a sweeping gesture around the square, which didn’t have anything especially nice about it. Thanks to this gesture, however, I saw that the circle of the curious was leaving out of boredom. I had won, but had to continue to stoke his pride with strategic compliments.

„I’m saving film for your beautiful mountains,” I assured him.

„Oh yes, our beautiful mountains,” the man echoed. He looked around for a moment, as if to assure himself that they were as beautiful today as every day, and then, with very practical tone, added: „I live nearby; come for vodka.”

When I came home I revealed this story, from great strife to a happy ending, to my wife. She wasn’t interested in my rendition of the story, nor in the powers of my shoes.

„Those terrible old shoes you’ll wear into eternity. You could buy some new ones!”

„New shoes?” I just took them off and said angrily, “These are the last examples of honest, handmade, indestructible shoes.”

I pushed them under my wife’s nose to prove my point. All-knowing, she shook her head, and before leaving me with my naiveté, she remarked, „Then look closely at your indestructible shoes!”

I looked at my beloved shoes and I almost had a heart attack. They were split completely open at the soles. When I stood in front of the Georgian shoe repair shop and had this war of words with the unknown man these shoes had to have been in similar shape. But I didn’t surrender.

At the shoe repair shop in our neighborhood they immediately dismissed the idea of fixing my shoes.

„We haven’t done these kinds of repairs for ages. We only repair what we can glue or sew together. Try downtown.”

I tried a few repair shops downtown. In the last they were very patient with me. The woman behind counter took the shoes into the back of the shop and returned with a veteran shoe-repairer. He took them, expertly pulled apart what was left of them, and offered his condolences:

„New soles are needed, but we can’t do it. Twenty years ago we had to burn of our good, old shoe-repairing equipment. In the communist times we over-produced shoes so much that repair became uneconomical.”

I remembered this utopian idea, but now we have capitalism again. Or not?

„Nice shoes,” he said, and gave them back to me pityingly. „Today they don’t produce shoes of this quality. And in this country no one can repair them. Maybe only ...”

„I know,” I said suddenly. „I know where they can repair them.”

I went home and placed my beloved suede shoes on the shelf. One day I'll just have to go back to Georgia.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

American story - Magic (electric) power


An American Story

Life is full of magical events. In fact, life itself is magic. But the most magical events are to be encountered on the road. Whenever you leave home, you open the door to experience inexplicable extraordinary events.
  Visiting the United States for the first time, for the International Writing Program in Iowa, I was pretty excited. Consequences followed soon, weird things began to happen. On the very first day, we got trapped in an elevator.
  “An extraordinary accident,” said our house-host Mary. “Can’t happen again.”
   On the next day Mary got stuck in the elevator.
  Well, I wasn’t surprised at all when, the same day, we got into the campus bus and it wouldn’t budge. When we got home, there was a fire alarm, a false one. The next evening I was playing tennis with Alan, an Australian colleague. Suddenly the lights went out and we were plunged into darkness. Soon after, the air conditioning in my room stopped working. When I went out for help, locking the door behind me, I could not get back in because the lock had somehow got jammed. In short, every technical device around me, that could possibly collapsed, broke down under the force of my enthusiastic, psychic energy.
  However, within a week or two I settled in and things around me came back to order. Later I went for a two-week trip to the East Coast, and when I returned, the whole chain of strange events repeated themselves. Finally, the daily routine prevailed, and only one, but constant, mysterious event disturbed it till the end of my stay.
  In front of our dormitory stretched a line of street lamps. Whenever I walked home at night, one particular lamp always switched off the moment I approached it and switched on when I passed. The lamp was easy to recognize because a speed limit sign was fixed to the post. Many times I forgot that the lamp was going to say good night to me and was surprised when it did.
  Once an American colleague gave me a ride home from a literary event, and before we came to my street I told her about this “my” lamp. Even before I had finished, I was wondering if the lamp would blink at this time.
  “You know,” I said, “we are in the car, maybe it will not recognize me at that speed and distance…”
  But as we approached the lamp, it switched off and we almost crashed into it. My colleague stopped the car and looked at me with new eyes.
  “You are the devil, Gustav, do you know that?”
  I understand that it was time to stop playing with mysteries, at least publicly. So I decided to ignore my friendly lamp, and when I came back to my home country after three months in Iowa, I almost forgot it.
Seven years later I got the chance to come back to Iowa, this time as a lecturer for the same program. Again, I was very excited and full of energy. But the whole program had moved to the new university hotel closer to the center of the city. As soon as I checked in, someone from the program’s staff came to drive me to the welcoming party being hosted by the new director. On the way we were chatting about my previous stay, and I mentioned the mysterious events that had occurred way back. We had a lot of fun with it, and in a good mood pulled up in front of the director’s house. The image we saw was unforgettable. The director was standing on a chair trying to change the bulb in the porch light. That light had just failed.
  My guide gazed at me with a curious look in her eyes, but I jumped out of the car before she had time to say anything. I think I know what she was going to say.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Story in English - Country affected by humans

Country affected by humans

Noise, dirt and smell in India reached staggering proportions. It is quite possible that this country is the superpower of noise, dirt and smell. This combination goes beyond the imagination of those who come here for the first time and I believe that many intestinal difficulties of inexperienced travelers comes from the consternation that quite astounding and hampering their ability to defend themselves against this aggressive environment.Already the first walk through the streets is unexpected onslaught of good manners. Just when you notice how men relieve themselves before all others at the open urinals. When standing on a railway station up to your ankles in the garbage, you can not be struck by the contradiction between the statement on a plate in each pole announcing "Indian Railways - pride of the entire nation" and the fact that every now and then someone jumps into trackage to leave his smelling opinion on that pride.

I've never seen anyone that would take care of garbage collection from the streets, but I've seen more times absurd attempt to wash the floor in the hotel. Mostly they end up sort of strange that the man spread the dirt by the strange wet broom, which itself is just another source of dirt.Another breath-taking look is when you stood in Varanasi on the banks of the sacred river Gangha and see as people wash their teeth in its muddy waters. Nearby are floating bloated carcasses of a dead sacred cows. According the tradition bodies of dead children, Brahmin and those who died of leprosy also threw in the same water. And nobody cares also threw in the same water.

In the New Delhi for the first time in my life I've really seen a smog. This experience graduated up to Varanasi when we went by taxi from Varanasi to the place where Buddha first preached (and where we finally saw a cleaner countryside). We were five. I sat in the back seat in the middle of the Indian colleagues and for the first time in my life (and I hope the last), I experienced the onslaught of uncontrollable panic. From the open windows of a taxi pushed us such a wisp of smog, dust and smell that I had an immediate urge to jump and escape. I have mastered not to just by rational conclusion that if I will jump out of the cab I will end in the midst of all this and perish forever become overwhelmed by the mass of dirt. Rather, I prefer to steam in a taxi behind closed window.Despite all this optimism does not pass me. On the way from Varanasi to Delhi we should go by train from the morning throughout the day. I believed that it will pay for everything by the previous suffering.

"The country can not be ugly. No country is ugly, or dirty an smelly.” I reassured myself and a colleague. Then the train moved, and I was speechless for three hundred kilometers long.Indeed, no country is ugly, or dirty and smelly when someone is watching it from behind a window, going by fast train. But in no other country they have a habit of shocking the local morning toilet. In India, villagers enjoy to see each train, which passes. They do not want to miss either their morning toilet to relieve the pressing current needs. The shocking solution is that they go to a nearest knoll and watch the passing train without being interrupted from their morning dispensation. And to see a three hundred kilometers of shiting natives will knock out each admirer of exotic countries. I do not know how an Indian village looks like from a train in the morning. And neither do not recommend anyone to know ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Story in English from India - Finding the Right Way

Finding the Right Way
Indian Story

Traveling you may find different local attractions. However, the real historic labyrinth you’ll find only in an Indian city Lucknow. It is really an extraordinary building. One would expect it is underground, but in fact it’s on the first floor of the mausoleum in large palace. Moreover, this labyrinth is seemingly very simple and transparent, laid out in straight lines. Its passages lead around the circumference of the palace’s main hall and offer scenic views into the hall and to the outside. The only confusing elements are the changing levels in the passages. From time to time you had to walk up a few stairs and then back down. The local guide didn’t forget to start this part of our journey with a painful joke about his predecessor getting lost here once. It underestimated our intelligence more than I could tolerate, so at the next crossover I left the group with guide on lead and turned to the nearest corridor. Alone, I felt triumphant elevation for a moment. I could hear the screaming voice of the guide dissipating into the hidden corners of the labyrinth. Finally, I could walk freely, looking into the little scenic views, try out some passages, think about my world – and got lost.
  When I realized that I lost my way, I wasn’t too upset. I assumed that the labyrinth was so small that I could simply walk until I will reach an exit. But the more I walked the more I ascertained that the only way out was the way we had came in. And that had completely disappear from my mental map. I could only find the stairs up. I went on them and found an empty terrace on the top of palace. As the sun was going down, I was intrigued by the ordinary view down to the dirty yard behind the palace. In the place that wasn’t designed to impress tourists was a shantytown and mounds of garbage all around. In front of the one shabby hut stood a woman in black and around her, amid the rubbish, children played. The woman stood quietly, watching the children with the fatal look of resolve that one can find where poverty is so near, so real, and that any vision of a dignified life is obscured. The children shrieked loudly, carefree, like children all over the world do, but their game had some strange pattern. Although they seemed at first glance irresponsible, mischievous, buoyant, they were careful not to step across an imaginary circle as they jumped and ran about. Full of energy, hope and unknown self-confidence they intertwined through a network of passages without any exit like me in my labyrinth. I felt surprisingly near to them, physically intimate, as if I was one of them. I was helped by the fact that I was above them on a terrace, barefooted, just like them. You cannot enter the labyrinth with shoes on. I left my shoes and socks in front of the palace and now, up to my ankles in dust, I felt uncertain and unpleasantly naked. I was sure though that there couldn’t be another groups of tourists visiting the place at this very late evening. And our guide could hardly remember me and recognize that I am not with the group. We were such a big group of scientists of different nationalities that we didn’t know each other. I realized, unwillingly, that within the next twelve hours no one was going to miss me. For a moment I froze, feeling that for some absurd reason I would never be able to leave the Lucknow labyrinth – except when I would descend to join the woman and the children below and stay forever in the labyrinth of their poverty without any hope of escape.
I could not look for a long time down on human beings among the rubbish. They didn’t choose to enter their labyrinth as I had chosen to enter mine, for a casual adventure. Luckily, I could still get out of mine. Then, with a new resolve to find my way out, I went quickly down the stairs. Soon I heard the familiar, carefree voices and the stentorian voice of our guide and saw my group at the end of a long passage as they descended the main stairs in front of the palace. I joyously added myself to their ranks…

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