The 12:25 local to Thane local arrived more or less on time. Shivshankar ran in before it had fully come to a stop and grabbed a window seat. His friends followed suit and all of them cracked a few jokes on how childish he was and sat down around him (no one took the window seat facing Shiva just to prove that they were not childish). Shiva, Pramod, Nitin and Kartik made themselves comfortable before the train pulled out of the station. The local was pretty empty, there was only two other people in the first class compartment, and both of them were more or less asleep.
Shiva and his friends were soon covered by a crisscrossed jumble of wires. Three separate handsfrees had to be hung around necks, and the headphones of three different kinds of music players had to be stuffed into the ears with blaring music. Nitin got the old derelict walkman, held together by pieces of rubber band. Kartik and Pramod shared the earphones of a diskman between them. But Shiva was the real technogeek. He didn’t even remove his iPod out, but skillfully operated his mp3 player by sliding his hands into his pockets.
Nitin, Kartik, and Pramod soon began to nod off because of the heat and the hazy light streaming in through the dusty windows, and the slow lounge that they were listening. But Shiva got out a book and began to read. It was a little known book written by an Indian professor named T Padmanabhan, called “After the first three minutes”. It was a book about the evolution of the universe, and Shiva was into such things. He was mid-way into the book, and was now reading something about density contrast in the universe. He was incredulous as to how the education system’s textbooks had managed to portray absolutely amazing things like the basic fabric of the universe, in such a boring way. Something he read made him ask himself a very fundamental question, about the shape of the entire universe, and then on further contemplation, its purpose. He closed the book and Gazed out of the window thinking about it.
He snapped out of his reverie when his cell phone began to buzz and made it uncomfortable for him to sit. Unlike the others, he had not removed it from its pocket. He was in the awkward position of possessing a mobile phone that was too inexpensive to flaunt. It did not even have a color display, or a browser let alone a camera, but on the other hand, calling a mobile with all these things a phone was like calling a computer a typewriter.
He looked at the display of his Nokia 1100, and a very weird message was being flashed at him, “God calling”. Before he figured out what to do, the call stopped. The signal bar in the phone was really low. Shiva figured that some friend of his had changed his name in the address book to God, and was now calling him as a joke. He slipped his mobile back to his pocket, as the train approached another station, and was feeling very tired, and the heat had finally gotten to him. He stretched out his legs to relax, and it bumped into someone else’s. The seat opposite to his was no longer empty. A short man with very large mane of tangled hair was smiling at him.
“So” The man asked, in a very slow, gruff voice. “You want the real thing?” Shiva was in somewhat of a stupor, and so he did not find this all that extraordinary. He began to accept things without being too curious about them, like in his dreams, where amazing things go by unquestioned. “What thing” he asked wondering where he had seen this man before… looked like a professor. The man sitting next to him considered him for a moment, with an amused expression in his eyes. “The shape, and maybe, even the purpose of the universe.” Ah. Shiva thought, another fanatic with his view on the cosmos. There were nutcases like these all over the place, and every one of them had a unique perspective of the cosmos.
So Shiva sat back and weakly said “give it to me”. “Really?” said the man, “OK then, I don’t do this to everyone who asks, you know… but some are different. You see, the universe can either be finite or infinite, you have to agree to that right?” “Yeah Ok” Shiva nodded. “Now, if it is finite, what is outside it? – Another bigger realm, you would say, and there would be another one at the end of that - and suddenly you have an infinite progression of universes capsulated one inside the other which would make it an infinite universe anyway, so you end up with an infinite universe. An infinite universe would mean infinite energy, that would mess a load of things up, like your electricity bills will be zero, you will never have to refuel your car, and you will have the technology to make ships faster than light, and all the laws of physics will go haywire… just to begin with. So the only way for a universe to actually exist, keeping its set of laws intact, is to… is to have no way out.” He finished somewhat lamely.
Shiva had not understood much, and the man seemed to fidget, looking for a way to explain it better. “Give me your mobile” the man said, as if something had struck him. Shiva, almost like a reflex action, gave the customary response for this question, “No balance” he muttered very curtly, and hoped that the very odd conversation was over – why was this guy demanding his mobile all of a sudden? But the man seemed to have guessed what was on Shiva’s mind. “No, I don’t want to make a call with it; I just want to play a game.” Shiva was now irritated. An old man, almost thrice his age, was calmly asking for his mobile to play games on. “Battery low”, the other standard response. The old man looked more amused now, and said calmly but sternly, “please.” Shiva reluctantly got his mobile out (not using it as much as his friends, he had more than the regular amount of both balance and charge) and handed it over to the old man. That face was definitely familiar…
The man took the phone, and relaxed. An odd shiver shook the compartment. The man turned the phone around, and the world around Shiva warped. Beams of twisting, contorting light were traveling from him to his mobile, and he was sucked into it like dust gets sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Shiva was not only somehow trapped in the mobile, but he was the mobile. He could feel the electricity running around his circuits. He could hear from the tiny slit that represented the mouthpiece. He tried speaking through the earpiece, but only a shrill sound came out. Where was he anyway? Where was the mind of the cell phone? The processor? The sim card? Where was his real body anyway? Suspended between dimensions, somewhere in Hyperspace? He did not know the answer to these questions, but he could see the man who caused it all to happen from inside the mobile screen, with the word “menu” written in its mirror image. And he finally recognized him.
Quickly learning how to go about it, (it was actually very simple) he manipulated the electricity around his various circuits and managed to show the words “who are you??” on screen. Although, he already knew… but Albert Einstein was dead long ago. Albert Einstein laughed from outside and said in a loud booming noise, “I am God.” Shiva replied “Are you… Is Albert Einstein God?” “No, I am God, but I had to take a physical form to enter your universe, and an illusion of this Einstein man is a very fitting avatar for what I am going to show you.” And Albert Einstein/God began to press some buttons. Shiva knew what was happening from his logic gates itself, and didn’t need to see the words in mirror image on the screen.
God-Einstein pressed the menu button, and then navigated till an icon of a space-ship and three revolving alien somethings appeared, with the words ‘games’ on top. Was God-Einstein really going to play games? God-Einstein passed by space impact and stopped on snake II. And selected it. Shiva was confused, but fortunately his brain was addling itself in hyperspace, and it didn’t bother him too much. A large animation of two snakes intermingling and snapping at each other played before him. Then a small, pixilated representation of a snake began to move across his screen. The snake moved from one end of the screen to another, and when it reached the end, it merely started over again. All the snake had to do was search out for four dots in the form of a diamond, which was the mobile phone equivalent of food, and that was his only objective. He was looking at the classic game from a very weird perspective, from the inside, but there was one thing missing. There was no ‘food’ to consume. The screen was totally blank save for the snake. God-Einstein looked at the mobile-Shiva and asked him, now, tell me, where is the snake. He had figured out the earpiece circuits by now, and said in a small, squeaky voice, “rectangular.” God-Einstein laughed. “Everyone thinks so – Ok then, what is the length and breadth of that rectangle?” Shiva looked around. How was he supposed to answer this? His circuits did not contain the pixels to centimeters ratio in them, so he figured he could use old fashioned maths instead (helped considerably by his circuits, of course). The snake went across the screen once every three point two seconds… and he was on level nine… that meant…somewhere like three pixels a microsecond… he calculated a little further and…“something like two point two by one point eight?” “Fair enough” replied God-Einstein, “now, suppose I make you the snake, and the screen is your universe, will the size of the universe still remain the same?” Shiva thought about this for a while. He couldn’t see where this was leading, but the answer seemed obvious. “Yes” He said. “The size of the screen would obviously remain the same, how would it change if I were the snake?” God-Einstein merely smiled. No one ever got this right. “Alright, tell me the size of the screen, and your universe, after THIS.”
And for the second time that day, Shiva became something far lesser than what he was. From being the mobile phone, he was suddenly reduced to the snake, and he could see (after all God-Einstein dictated the rules of all universes, including this tiny one), not beyond the screen, but within the screen, and then it hit him. He could move, he could feel his velocity hurtling through space, he could turn around, contort and perhaps eat himself, but in whatever direction he went, he went on and on forever. For him, he looked like he was in an infinity. He realized that from his perspective, there was no knowing when he had reached the end of the screen and started over again. God-Einstein’s voice echoed from somewhere in the distance “What is the shape of your universe now?” Shiva knew there was no answer. The realm of the snake was truly shapeless. Like some bizarre planet with a smooth surface and absolutely no landmarks, which he kept circumnavigating without any way of knowing when he was starting again had suddenly been stretched out into the mobile phone screen. There was no beginning, there was no end, but it merely repeated itself after… somewhere. And as if to answer him, a single fruit appeared above him. And now it rushed past him… once every three point two seconds.
God-Einstein spoke from beyond “That is how the universe is, limited but without a definite boundary. It gives the illusion of being spherical like the screen gives the illusion of being rectangular. If by any weird freak of science (there are many amazing ones that you don’t yet know of) any of your people in your spaceships manage to travel into the deeps of space in an endless and perfectly straight line, their voyage will end, much to their perplexity, back on earth.”
Again the light contorted and convoluted, and he was sucked out of the mobile. He was back in his precious window seat now. All this was wonderful… but there was something beyond the mere shape of the universe. Now that God-Einstein was answering questions, why not ask the more significant one anyway. “And what is its purpose?” God-Einstein considered Shiva for a moment “I cannot answer that question” he said “you will have to find out for yourself. I have already shown it to you today. Maybe someday you will realize…” “Why” Shiva asked “are you not answering this question?” God-Einstein replied “you would lose trust and faith in me. The purpose would considerably reduce the significance of your existence, and… your egos would refuse to believe me… you might begin to hate me… and maybe find troublesome ways to disobey the grand game plan…” Shiva was beginning to lose thread of where this was going, and God-Einstein seemed to understand this.
His avatar left the universe and Shiva was left alone on the seat. He picked up his mobile and spotted that the snake was still moving. He cut short the game, and slipped the mobile back into his pocket. He was amused by the idea that God had played games on his mobile… and then it struck him. The purpose… of the universe - God was simply playing games. And the people inside it were too dumb to comprehend, to understand, to believe or to even think of the beyond. Man was on the inside; going round in circles, and God was out there pressing all the buttons. Shiva realized that what he did for the rest of his life would be totally meaningless and utterly inconsequential. It was too much for his ego to take. And all of a sudden it was very important for Shiva to live his normal insignificant life, and forget about all those questions about the universe and the thing beyond… only the food was enough for the snake. The station drew in, and Shiva decided it was time to wake his friends up.