Fiction

The Terrarium

Note: This is purely a work of fiction. It is not intended to hurt anyone’s beliefs. 

The five men walked in through separate entrances into the library of the ancient castle. The cavernous space was dimly lit and it took some time for their eyes to adjust to the light. Following the instructions given to them, they moved to the massive U-shaped mahogany table placed exactly at the centre of the room. There was a curious structure made of glass placed in the space between the longer sides of the table. It was a terrarium and inside it was the most exotic looking plants with flowers blooming in never seen before shapes and hues.

The men stood staring at the terrarium, transfixed, that they didn’t notice a tall man in a penguin coat march in and place a triangular conference call setup over the curved part of the table. The man didn’t make a further peep and instead tiptoed out of the room having executed the orders given to him.

The phone started ringing and the four men became aware of each other’s presence for the first time. They wore matching looks of shock and surprise on their countenances as they converged on the conference call setup. The youngest of them was well into his fifties. He was dressed in a plain beige suit with an ill-fitting floral tie kept in place with an ugly star shaped tie clip. His name was Dr. Ernst Smit, the world renown anthropologist whose seminal work on the evolution of human beings was a best seller even amidst the public. A self-confessed atheist, Dr. Smit had engaged in several dialogues with leaders of different religions on TV shows.

He smiled at the others and placed his finger on the answer button, ‘Bishop Martin Spears, Rabbi Moshe Weiss, Mahaguru Ananthananda, and Imam Abu al Banna, It’s a pleasant surprise seeing you gentlemen here. I guess all of you would have received the same invitation that has brought me here.’

The phone kept ringing. The men shuffled and looked at each other with uncertainty. Smit shrugged, ‘We are all here. Might as well answer the call, eh?’ He pressed the answer button and a static noise filled the library. The acoustics made the noise reverberate of the walls, making them a bit uncomfortable.

‘Hello, is anyone there on the other side?’ Smit spoke into the perforated mouthpiece. ‘We are all here, I guess. Are you waiting for anyone else?’

The static noise was replaced by a high-pitched ping and the five men immediately brought their hands to their ears to minimise the effects of the noise. A few seconds later the ping stopped and a soft voice emanated from the device.

‘Greetings. I’m very happy that all of you accepted my rather cryptic invitation. I’m sure you are very important and busy men. So, I thank you for coming.’

Bishop Spears straightened. He was a seventy five year old clergyman affiliated with the Catholic Church. He cleared his throat and spoke up, ‘May we know with whom are we in communication?’

The high-pitched ping returned and everyone in the room groaned. Smit placed his hand on the speaker of the device to reduce the effects of the noise. Few moments passed and Smit realised that the person on the phone was back.

“Hello,” said the voice on the phone. “My name is God. I know you never expected a call from me, as famous as I am, but I’ve been given your name as someone who can help me.

There was an immediate buzz of indignation and palpable anger amongst the men gathered.

Rabbi Weiss spoke in his gruff voice, ‘Is this some kind of game?’

Imam al Banna piped up, ‘whose God?’

The Mahaguru smiled, ‘I think whoever invited us here has a grand sense of humour.’

The voice on the phone chuckled, ‘Gentlemen, please settle down. If you look around, you’ll find seats around the table with your names on them. Kindly be seated and let’s have a discussion.’

They muttered under their breaths before taking their seats. Smit looked around with interest. He knew he was going to have some fun.

‘Everyone settled?’ the voice continued. ‘Would you Gentlemen prefer some refreshments before we begin?’

Bishop Spears looked around him and shook his head, ‘I guess let’s get on with business here, however funny it sounds. First question, why have you brought us here?’

‘Because I need your help, all yours.’

The Imam looked at the conference call device with mistrust, ‘Answer my question, which God are you? Because, I’m not interested in helping any other God other than my own.’

Smit turned towards the Imam, ‘Imam, with apologies, I think this is the work of some billionaire with a sense of humour and a lot of time to kill. I don’t think that we are in conversation with God.’

‘You are an atheist. What do you know about God?’

Smit shrugged, ‘I know that he doesn’t exist.’

The voice interrupted them, ‘But I do exist. I am talking to you, right?’

Rabbi Weiss said, ‘How do we trust that you are indeed God?’

‘Tut! Tut! Such mistrust amongst men of God. Sorry, it just came out of me. You want proof? Here’s one for you. Dr. Smit, please look at the number displayed on the caller id.’

Smit walked up to the device and peered into its LED screen. There was a unique sixteen digit number on the screen comprised entirely of *. ‘I guess the number is hidden.’

‘It’s not hidden, Dr. Smit. Your devices are not capable of displaying my number.’

‘A clever trick indeed.’

‘Alright! You want further proof? Dr. Smit, please turn off the device.’

Smit turned the device off and unplugged the cable. He turned the device upside down and poked around until he found the batteries and removed them as well. He smiled at the others and went back to his place.

Mahaguru Ananthananda twirled his silvery moustache with languid twirls of his fingers, ‘Well, that seems to be that I guess. Shall we leave?’

‘Gentlemen, we still haven’t finished our discussion.’

The five men froze in their respective seats on hearing the soft voice echoing through the room. Heads turned to the corners and the ceiling, ostensibly in search of hidden speakers.

The voice chortled with mirth, ‘I assure you there are no hidden speakers or a second communication device in this room. If you are still uncertain, I would urge you to bring a technical team to comb through this room but you wouldn’t find any. I know it would be difficult to comprehend, but you need to trust me. After all, with the exception of Dr. Smit, that is what you all do, right? Trusting me.’

Bishop Spears crossed himself repeatedly and the Imam started muttering a hasty prayer under his breath.

‘Gentlemen, relax. As I said before, I am God and I need your help. Imam al Banna, to answer your specific question, I’m THE God. I don’t belong to any faith and I belong to everything and everyone in this universe.’

Rabbi Weiss composed himself, ‘Alright! Let us assume that you are indeed God. Tell me how are you talking to us now?’

‘Like how I spoke to Moses atop Mount Sinai and gave him the Ten Commandments, like how I spoke as a disembodied voice to various characters in your Hindu epics. Mahaguru I think you will be very familiar with the word Akashvani or Asiriri.

Smit looked curious, ‘I have studied extensively about such voices. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation.’

‘There is Dr. Smit. Only your brains are not developed enough to understand it.’

‘Oh I doubt that. We are quite evolved you know. We have a solid understanding of the universe…’

‘Yet you know nothing before the Big Bang. And dare I say that your Big Bang is nothing but a theory. You humans are very young and yet you behave as if you are at the centre of everything.’

Smit looked chastised, ’Alright, I’ll give you that. I don’t belong to the group that maintains human superiority over everything. I’m an anthropologist and I know our species is very young. Young, but evolved. Our physicists are close to solving the puzzle that is the universe.’

‘So close, yet so very far Dr. Smit. Can you believe me if I said that you have not even begun to scratch the surface as far as the universe is concerned?’

Imam al Banna butted in with some amount of impatience in his demeanour, ‘You say you are God and you say we are not evolved enough. Yet you have called on us asking for your help. Why?’

‘Because you five are the only ones who can help me.’

Bishop Spears stood up, ‘I have read a lot about Christianity. In fact, it is the only thing I have read all my life. I have grown up understanding that God is eternal and it is he who created and preserves everything. God is transcendent and immanent. It is God who created our planet and put us in here. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away is what I believe in. If this is the truth, then how can we mere mortals help you? Why do you need our help? What is the sort of help you want from us?’

‘Ah! Let me ask you a question. Who was the first man?’

‘Adam, who was created in God’s own image, was the first man.’

Smit snorted, ‘Bishop, do you honestly believe in a myth that is incompatible with human evolution? You say the first man was created in God’s very image, yet we have documented proof that the first man didn’t even resemble the humans of today. I know evolution is not a popular topic among the men of faith, but you cannot deny cold hard facts. There were many iterations in evolution before the homo sapiens of today were born.’

‘Yes, yes. I know all about your atheistic theories. Can you say with certainty that Adam and Eve didn’t exist?’

‘What I can say with certainty is that there were nearly two dozen human like species that roamed the earth at some or the other point of time. If you are happy to fit your Adam and Eve in this time line, you are most welcome to do so.’

The voice let out a good natured chuckle, ‘Seems like we have hit upon a very touchy subject. But this is where our real discussion begins. Yes, there have been a lot of iterations before you, Homo sapiens, came into existence. I quite like the word iterations, Dr. Smit, because that’s all you are.  Like the Australopithecus afarensis, or the Homo habilis, or even the Homo floresienesis, Homo sapiens are a step in the evolutionary process.’

The Mahaguru tutted, ‘If I may interject, why are we discussing anthropology here? I guess Dr. Smit would have been sufficient to whet your appetite in this field.’

‘Because, Mahaguru, I need your help. I need Bishop Spears’ help. I need Rabbi Weiss and Imam al Banna’s help. I need Dr. Smit’s help as well.’

‘Can you please let us know the nature of help you need? It seems like we are talking in circles and unrelated anthropological issues.’

‘I need your help because I’m getting impatient.’

‘Impatient of?’

‘You, the humans. I’m getting impatient of you and your follies. You were supposed to be the pinnacle of my creation, or at least the evolutionary step leading up to the pinnacle. But, I have been disappointed with the way you have evolved. I gave you intelligence because I wanted you to have some autonomy over your own lives. For every single positive thing that has come by using your intelligence, at least a thousand negative have come out. In the overall timeline of the universe, your lives don’t even amount to that of a pin prick. But, the amount of change and carnage you have brought upon this world in such a short time is something that even I couldn’t have envisaged.’

‘If you are so disappointed with us, why haven’t you struck us down yet?’

‘I have been tempted a lot. But I have shown you mercies you have hardly warranted.’

‘Yet you haven’t. I don’t think you are God. I still believe that all this is an elaborate prank.’

The voice fell silent for a moment. When it spoke, it had gained a steely glint, ‘Alright, I’m not God. You say you are evolved. Dr. Smit, are you aware of the Kardashev scale?’

‘Yes. It is a way to measure a civilization’s level of technological advancement. Before anyone asks, we are not even Type I on that scale.’

‘Can you imagine a Type II or a Type III civilization?’

‘It is not difficult to.’

‘You will not believe that I’m God. So, consider me as someone belonging to the Type III civilization. We have such mastery of the universe that we are akin to God to you. All your myths about blue coloured Gods, Dog faced Gods, Gods flying in their boats in sky, disembodied voices guiding you…If I say that all those were based on us, beings so evolved and so ancient that your primitive minds couldn’t comprehend and immediately raised to the pedestal of deities?’

The men didn’t open their mouths.

‘Do you see the terrarium in front of you? Have you seen such beautiful flowers before? They are from my world. You all are three dimensional beings, whereas I belong to the higher dimension. I can see inside you and behind you at the same time. No wonder you call me omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. Your planet is nothing more than a terrarium to me. From where I see, your world and your lives are only akin to seeing an ant farm inside a glass jar. I can quite easily remove you from the equation and file you under a failed experiment. But I don’t want to, because over the millennia I have become quite fond of you.’

‘What do you want us to do?’

‘You are influential people among your faith. Dr. Smit, you call yourself an atheist. Do you know what an atheist is?’

‘One who doesn’t believe in God’s existence.’

‘You are scientist. When do you believe in anything?’

‘When I have proof?’

‘Do you have verifiable proof that I don’t exist? Or that I do exist?’

‘Didn’t you just say that you are an alien?’

‘Alien, God, does it even matter to you what I am? If you believe in everything you see, you’d think that aliens are Gods and if you don’t, you’d think that God is an alien.’

‘What should we do?’

‘Do what you do best. Preach to your followers. Preach about oneness, preach about togetherness, preach about love, and preach about existence. Ask your fellow humans to share, to preserve, to evolve. If you are still hell bent on destruction, I can do it for you with a flick of my fingers. Can you do that?’

‘Yes.’

‘Now, it doesn’t matter if you believe that I’m God or not. Just believe that I’m someone powerful enough to erase your existence. Don’t give me anymore reasons to do so. And just because I want you to understand, look to the terrarium.’

Before their eyes, the terrarium and its contents disintegrated to dust and vanished. Dr. Smit ran his hands all over the floor where the terrarium stood, turned to the others and shook his head.

They left the room in silence.

Written for Festival of Words hosted by Write Tribe. #WriteBravely. 

Read my other stories written for the Festival of Words

  1. To My Newborn…
  2. Roadtrip
  3. Cheeseburgery Love
  4. Last Item on the List
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22 thoughts on “The Terrarium

  1. Wow! Simply wow! This is some amazing story telling. Loved the way you narrated this story with great characterization and powerful and realistic dialogues. Great going, Varad. I will have to come back to read your other stories too!

    Like

  2. You chose a great topic, Varad! God, his existence or the lack of it is an interesting and debatable topic. You did justice to it! I was wondering what the terrarium was for, that was a good ending with the terrarium getting destroyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Anshu. You are right. This is a never ending topic if we start to discuss, as there are merits and demerits to both sides. If only we could learn to live in peace and harmony with one another and our environment, we wouldn’t need an external factor called God. Until then, people will be better served knowing something or someone above is watching their every action.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic Varad! You have simply surpassed yourself! This is the best I have read from you till now. Even better than the really wonderful tales you reeled off during the A to Z festival. The message at the end is so powerful and you have delivered it in inimitable style.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Woah! What an imagination. I was intrigued the moment i read the characters Rabbi, Imam, Bishop, and Dr. The atheist. God is all powerful. In such a subtle way you have put in a social message in the story too. Liked that. Ofcourse our minuscule world must be like a terrarium for Him. Amazing.
    But i found it a bit too long. I was searching for Kardashev scale, and was amazed that it actually exists. First had thought it to be a figment of imagination. Good info.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pratikshya. I love to infuse science facts with something abstract like theology and then let things take it own course. I agree this is a long post, but the initial version I had in mind was at least four times longer. It had a lot of discussions between the five men and “God” regarding what they know and what they believe. In the end, I had to discard it all for paucity of time and also not to annoy the readers too much and this story just happened to be like kids being called to the principal’s office for a scolding. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ooo.. my favorite topic god and universe. I like how you talk about the big bang and question their beliefs. We, humans, think we know everything. I don’t think we are capable enough (or ever will be) to understand who or what the ultimate ‘source’ is. I can go on and on this… let me just say ‘brilliant’. kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is such a fascinating topic and there would be no end of arguments and counter arguments. In fact, I had a two hour discussion with my mom after she read this story. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked the story.

      Like

  6. God chastising humans! Thats what we need today. But personally i believe god exists in everything we see, touch and also in everything we can’t. Tat twam asi is the truth. When you see the world as one selfishness goes away. We should see vishwam as vishnu!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have mentioned this before, mysticism and magic may just be science and technology that we are not capable of understanding. It’s all about one’s belief. If someone believes in God or do not, respect their belief systems instead of pouring scorn. Acceptance is the only way to achieve harmony. Thanks for the comment, Meena.

      Liked by 1 person

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