Julius opened the book. It was a large tome, a leather hide for a jacket and pages so yellowed with age and brittle he thought every time he turned one over it would disintegrate into dust, and yet every page held its form, as if the words written in Sanskrit upon it were a glue of truth that gave it immortal strength.
Sanskrit was an academic passion for the professor, a distraction from the physics. Indeed, he needed to distract himself. His own lectures often irritated him, the way his students portrayed a willful ignorance of the world, could not grasp concepts that required a degree of scientific imagination. He often found himself being cruel to students of a lesser calibre. It was a cruel world after all, why should he not expose weakness when it was such pollution to excellence? He would make examples of weaker minds, so they crumbled and did not drag his lectures into the mire of the lower common denominators. If they cannot keep up, then let them fall.
The Bhagavad-Gita or ‘The Song of God’ held purity in its story telling which he responded to. Like all great religion inspiring literature, there had to be a great story to illustrate an ideology.
‘Ideology is useless without power,’ he would muse to himself in his study, not bothering to loosen his tie or collar, not pausing to idle away a spare minute, ‘And meaningful with it’.
The Bhagavad-Gita was based on what was referred to as the five truths: Ishvara (the supreme controller), Jiva (living beings with individual souls), Prakrti (nature and matter), Dharma (duty according to divine law) and Kaala (time).
These elements seemed spun into every religion throughout history. It was as if a grand template – one that fits so well with human understanding of the world – had been entwined into the genomes of our DNA, a code for following and organising ourselves as a species. The story itself, the decoration around these pillars, was a more basic tale of family at war, and all the betrayal, damage and regret that went with it. It was a story of destroying brothers by various means.
Oppenheimer loved the swirl of the text, the art in the formation of the meaning. It was aesthetically pleasing and it was even more pleasing to know he was one of the few that could read this language competently. Language itself, he knew, was part of the messages it conveyed. The language was more than a vehicle, but was the key itself, the syntax to the pattern, the voltage to the circuit, the reason to the rhyme. The writing itself was an ancient wisdom, the loops and jagged twists, a visual code that was alive. He found himself smiling often when alone, just looking at the text. But there was nothing soft about Oppenheimer; brilliance often was forged of hard elements soldered together from heat, fire and rock. There was something disturbingly alien about the man, and many noticed it. He was like another creature when he glided about the campus with those piercing, unforgiving eyes, under that dipped trilby, like the soul of a long dead king had possessed him and was guiding him to overpower the Universe.
He leaned over the great book, enjoying his solitude with it and the chair creaked as he hunched, his posture not unlike a vulture picking at the juicy bones of a large corpse. There was a rap of knuckles on the door and his heart sank. This was his private time, a half hour in the day when everyone knew he should not be disturbed. The door opened a crack, the person behind it obviously cautious, pausing to subdue the lion attack – to listen for the roar and the intent to leap.
“Professor?” the voice said. It was a female student. A girl with perfect black hair and perfect white teeth. She knew he liked her, he saw the way his eyes fixated on her like the venom of her beauty had paralysed him momentarily. She liked it, to have a power over this man with a magnitude of mind that terrified so many around her.
“I’m reading,” he replied, deadpan.
She moved slowly into the room, edging like a predator in grasses.
“I’m sorry to disturb you?” She clearly was not.
Oppenheimer frowned, and slowly closed the book.
“I believe,” she began, “that some books are drawn to people and not the other way around.”
This comment caught him unaware, and he was speechless. He believed it to be true.
“This story is an epic tale. A battle.”
She relaxed completely, accepting this as her invite into his sanctum. She had said the magic word to the troll and she could pass. In her hand, he noticed, was a bottle of red wine, not a cheap one either. He would not relent to her advances, he knew that for certain but her company was another matter. He put his hand up to say ‘no’ when she shook the bottle at him invitingly and instead drew a cigarette from a carton. He enjoyed smoking, inhaling the burning fire into his lungs, an act of self-vandalism, a clear vice, and one that was admirable to those too afraid to try.
She smoothed her long skirt down over her thighs, still trying hard to break his resolve, but she did not know his will, the way it solidified into an unbreakable cast on decisions.
“A battle, surely battle is the most brutal of concepts, not very scientific at all?” she challenged him. “The invention of men, frustrated at not having their wicked way.”
He did not smile, he was serious. “This is an important battle,” he said – his voice commanding and intelligent, a voice without hovering uncertainty. How times would change…
“This story begins near the start of a battle at Kurukshetra. The Pandava prince is full of doubt when he realises his enemies are indeed his own relatives, his friends and his teachers. He is told by Krishna about the idea of dharma, a universal harmony and duty and that death on the battlefield is only temporary, the soul however is permanent. The idea goes that you must forget about the idea of self, reject the ego, and identify your immortal soul.”
“So you are saying this scripture says that it is OK to kill because you will ultimately live and you can maim and murder because duty is more important?”
He froze, like the atoms in his body had been attacked and crystalised mid-spin.
“You don’t understand,” he said.
“I am only playing. Sounds like a wonderful bedtime read… For goodness sake, have a glass of wine.”
“I have been approached by the military.”
The room changed mood. It was as if a dimmer switch had brought down the light in parallel with the words.
She held the bottle close to her chest as a defensive shield. Something, an instinct, woman’s intuition, fuelled her with a deep foreboding dread.
“…Don’t.” That was all she said. She knew him well.
He did not answer, but was intrigued as a scientist, to see her pallor change, the blood run from her cheeks, an icy frost erupt in her eyes.
She left the room and never spoke to him again.