“Take care of these nitpicking administrative details without bothering me, He says”, muttered the Gatekeeper with an apprehensive look upwards. “It would be easy enough if these mortals really believed that the ways of the Lord are unfathomable. Unfortunately, they say it and then proceed to try and fathom them. What is worse, they actually believe that they have fathomed them and who is saddled with the job of providing them the Heaven that they think the Lord promised them? Me!”
Sometimes the Gatekeeper envied his nominal subordinate - the Hell Warden. It was so much easier when your job is to keep your charges unhappy – they were much less likely to be very particular about the way in which they were made unhappy. For example, the Hell Warden had no problems about souls refusing to be unhappy because they were being deep-fried in oil rather than roasted in fire. Keeping people happy was near impossible. People – even after death – were so finicky about what would make them happy.
The Gatekeeper sighed. Time was when there were almost as many versions of Heaven as there were people and he had been run ragged trying to satisfy all of them. Providing Valkyries for one lot, houris for another, tournaments for a third and dealing with accusations about differential treatment had been Hell in Heaven for him. That lot of souls had been transported out (and only the Lord knew where – the Gatekeeper made no pretence of having fathomed His Workings) and, now, things had settled between clouds-and-harp, navel-contemplating and houris. He had expected the sinecure to last but now this!
What in Cosmos was an Internet?
* * *
“No Internet here and you call this Heaven?” The voice of the latest soul to enter the Portals of what the souls called Heaven echoed in the Gatekeeper’s mind. Jagannath -call me ‘Jack’ – had just about finished the orientation course and this was his reaction. The Gatekeeper had made the mistake of assuming that he would settle down but his constant complaints and extolling of the virtues of the Internet had created so much discontent that he was now forced to deal with the issue.
“What in Cosmos is an Internet?” asked the Gatekeeper of Jack. Before Jack could even draw in a breath, the Assistant Gatekeeper chimed in.
“Boss! That is the latest craze in Hell! You know the mandatory one hour of fun enforced in Hell? Well! The Hell Warden introduced Hellnet and it has caught on like…” his voice trailed off after he belatedly recognized that the light in the Gatekeeper’s eyes was wrath and not approbation.
“So! Even Hell has the Net but Heaven doesn’t? What sort of inefficient system are you guys running anyway?” asked Jack.
“God save me from eager-beaver subordinates”, thought the Gatekeeper. Now that Hell was known to have what this impetuous soul wanted, there was no choice but to provide one here as well.
‘So be it. You people can put in place a Heaven-Net”, said the Gatekeeper. Somehow, he had the vague feeling that his troubles were just beginning.
* * *
Heaven-Net, 3G mobiles, Apps! The place is abuzz with words that he had never heard of, thought the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper was complacent, however. From what he understood of the Net, this craze would peter out soon. After all, there was no money and no individual relationships in Heaven, which seemed to negate most of the uses of the Net. Further all knowledge that souls treasured were not applicable or even interesting since there were no nations, no wars and no trade disputes.
The thing that seemed to have taken the place by storm, however, was something called Soulbook. Souls from all over the place were exchanging messages with each other.
“I am so happy today”, said one soul. “So am I” commented another. “I am happy too” said a third.
“Never thought I could play a harp so well”, said a previously tone-deaf soul. “Neither did I” said another.
“Clouds can be truly comfortable to lie on”, said a relaxed soul. “Quite! Fluffy and soft” said another.
Souls exchanged audios and videos of their harp-playing and cavorting on clouds. They exchanged games like Ascending-the-cloud-ladder and Navel-contemplating. The Gatekeeper waited for this craze to peter off.
As indeed it started doing. After all, after you have read the fortieth comment about how happy someone is, heard the sixty-seventh great harp recital and read about the comfort coefficient of the clouds for the zillionth time, it is difficult to raise any enthusiasm to switch on the mobile and start reading the same things all over again. The souls had started to realize that when everyone is happy and equally as good at everything there is actually nothing exciting to communicate.
Before the Gatekeeper could rest on his laurels, however, catastrophe struck! Jack had hacked into Hellnet and, even though their audios, videos and apps would not open or work in Heaven, messages from their Soulbook became available.
Excitement, somehow, seemed more preferable to happiness for these modern souls!
* * *
Jack was back again.
“Look at these messages from Hellnet! “Being sautéed today”! “Beelzebub coming over with a nice salt-and-pepper dressing for my burns”! “Today two imps missed me with their pitchforks! Yippeee!” How much fun they seem to be having! Looks like that is Heaven and this is Hell!”
“Ever heard of gallows-humor?” asked the Gatekeeper, wearily.
Jack seemed not to have heard.
“How about this game - Become Hell-Warden? Seems so interesting. Apparently there are six to seven levels with prizes for completing each level. There are so many comments flying about this game. The games here are pathetic. Why can’t you get that game here?”
“That is not allowed. We cannot have games of violence and unhappiness in Heaven”
“Censorship in Heaven! I would never have believed it. Looks to me like I have to go to the consumer court about this. This place does not live up to its billing”
“I am the only judge here”, said the Gatekeeper nastily. His patience was at an end.
“We will see about it. Let me put out a message on Soulbook and you will have an uprising of souls like you have never seen here before. We will see who the judge here is then.”
The Gatekeeper was aghast. Never had he faced a situation of a Heaven-full of souls in unrest. Something had to be done about this.
“Look, let us be reasonable. You think that Hell will be more pleasant for you than Heaven. I will try to arrange to transfer you to Hell. You, on the other hand, should remain silent about this whole matter”
“Done!” said Jack. After all, why should he not get what he wanted? The other souls seemed content enough with things here unless they were stirred up. Who was to know if the rebellion he stirred up would not peter out if the Gatekeeper was firm or wily enough to procrastinate?
“I give you one last chance to reconsider. Things that are interesting when talked about are not enjoyable when experienced.”
Jack looked at the Gatekeeper disbelievingly.
“All right! I will arrange for you to go to Hell soon. If within a month you choose to come back, you can. Else, you will be a permanent resident there”
“I will never come back!”
Never has more certainty been shown than when one is talking about something that one neither knows nor has any reason to know!
* * *
“What is in it for me?” asked the Hell Warden.
The Gatekeeper was in no pleasant mood. He was irritated with the Hell Warden for having put in place this Hellnet and setting off the whole issue. His assistant, who had accompanied him, was another source of irritation with his ill-advised enthusiasm for the Net.
“Would you like to spend some time as an inmate at your place?” he asked silkily. With a meaningful glance at his assistant, he continued, “I have someone who is eager to take your place.”
Both of them blanched at the thought of what an angry Gatekeeper was suggesting. The Gatekeeper smiled inwardly with satisfaction. Keeping a multitude of souls happy was not a job that you could be happy in and you had to take your satisfaction where you could get it.
Three days of stubbornness was all Jack could manage before he was back in Heaven. No matter how galling the thought of admitting his foolishness, it was not worse than what Hell had done to him in those three days. Playing Becoming Hell-Warden was fun and sending and reading interesting messages was exciting. It was what happened the rest of the time that did not bear contemplation.
“Believe me guys! The only thing Heavenly about Hell is the Net. The rest is sheer torture” said he with a shudder.
The other souls looked at him disbelievingly.