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Sci-Fi: Excerpts Of The Body By The Shore

One of the three main protagonists, Jens Erik, a conservative Danish police officer close to retirement, is talking to one of his informers, Hanif, a Bangladeshi sausage-van operator

Sci-Fi: Excerpts Of The Body By The Shore
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Bazar Vest had once been an abandoned factory building.

An outbuilding at the front, not used for anything, still had a towering industrial chimney, visible from a long distance. It had been at one end of the city, but, by the 1990s, the neighbourhood had become the ‘immigrant suburbs’ of Aarhus. Houses and apartment flats had come to surround the abandoned factory, and the stretch of land around it.

Then, in 1996, a housing company, Olav de Linde, describing itself as a ‘private integration and employment project without any official funding,’ turned the factory into a collection of shops and cafes, all of them, inevitably, owned and run by the immigrants in the neighbourhood—and their children. Second-generation immigrants, as Jens Erik calls them. First-generation Danes, as Pernille insists.

The initiative had grown, more shops had been added; it now stretched over eleven thousand square metres, mostly full of people who, at first glance at least, did not seem Danish. Turkish and Indian restaurants, vegetable sellers, greengrocers, bakeries, meat shops, grills, carpet and rug merchants, shops offering anything you can think of, though mostly on the cheaper side, cafes and kiosks galore; it was the rest of the world, conveniently packaged away under a rooftop in one corner of Aarhus.

Outside, you had cars playing loud music; inside, there were old men hanging around and talking almost in whispers to one another, women in all kinds of attire. If you listened, you heard other languages, though mostly Danish is what dominated, for there were quite a few Danes around, feeling like tourists in Bazar Vest, and in any case the only language in common between most of these people from different nations, and their children who had grown up in Denmark, was Danish.

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Tabish Khair The Body By The Shore | HarperCollins | 336 Pages | Rs 399

Jens Erik had never been able to make up his mind about this place.

But that is where he sits, in a Turkish café, drinking Turkish coffee, a few feet away from a glass cabinet displaying the sort of sweets Jens Erik would never eat. But the coffee is not bad. He concedes that much to the Pernille voice in his head.  Of course, he has been here before, but only in uniform, and hence he had never tried their coffee. Jens Erik is strict about such matters.

Hanif doesn’t have a coffee in front of him.

He has a very impressive phone, the flashiest and flattest Jens Erik has seen for years. He has a large glass of cola. He also has a succulent shawarma sandwich in a plate and has taken such a big bite of it that it is a minute before he can speak. Then he answers Jens Erik’s question.

Varkala serves as a microcosm of the ‘new India’ which has ormalised lynchings of Muslims and is steadily marginalising them. Iqbal has a clear gaze on our

“It has never been a secret,” he finally says. Jens Erik looks away.

Hanif drinks from his glass and continues: “It has never been a goddamn secret, except for you guys. Half the people here must have heard of it.” He waves his arms around, indicating the two young men, with tonsured heads, in keeping with the fashion, behind the counter, the Somali or Yemeni family at a table farther back, the stream of men and women, one in a chador, two in shorts, walking past in the corridors outside.

“What has not been a secret?” Jens Erik asks.

Hanif dramatically lowers his voice. Why lower your voice, Jens Erik wonders, if it is not a secret, but he does not say anything. These people just love drama—and conspiracies. No wonder their countries are full of both!

“You read the goddamn papers, Jens Erik,” Hanif whispers, “You know, they talk of refugee smuggling routes, what not…”

“Yes.”

“Well, this is one of them, my friend.”

“In the North Sea? In the North Sea? What do they do, put refugees in deep freeze and ferry them across?” Jens Erik is entirely skeptical.
Hanif lets out a guffaw.

“Yes,” he says, “Yes, that is what they actually do! Or, did. Only, not all of the goddamn refugees, choice pieces of them.” He points to another counter with kebab on skewers, slices of meat, samosas, falafel. “Choice pieces, you know: like kidney, skin, eyes, heart…”

“You are talking organ trade?”

“You have no idea, Jens Erik!” Hanif sounds excited, despite himself. “You have no idea! This thing was big before 2020. It had been going on for years, but we started hearing about it around then. I remember being told of it a few months before the virus hit us. That is why I remember when I heard of it. Then I started paying attention. We heard of men and women—young ones, always healthy ones—disappearing.”

Jens Erik starts to interrupt, but is waved into silence by Hanif, who continues: “These youngsters were always promised another life, another identity. They disappeared, and there was nothing one could prove. All had contracted with just one tourist agency: that is what they called themselves. They were getting across illegally in any case. And often their relatives assumed they had just gone underground. It happens. People are smuggled in somewhere, you do not hear from them for a year, two years, ten years, and then they contact you once they have the papers. But in these cases there were weirder rumors. There was a travel agency in Dhaka, with a branch in Nairobi, maybe elsewhere too; it was called Magic Gates, and it insisted on men and women going thorough medical tests. They even paid for it. The agency, not the, ha, tourist. Paid for it, mind you. And all the men and women who claimed that they had been given perfect health certificates simply disappeared. Whatever route, whether they were smuggled by sea or land, whether it was via Russia, or Greece, or directly to the US, whatever the modus operandi, not one of these illegal immigrants was ever seen or heard from again…”

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“What happened to the agency, what was it called?”

“Magic Gates. Everyone knows. They closed in 2021 or so, soon after the pandemic. Some people had tipped off the police in Germany or Sweden or Nigeria, and it was said the police had tipped off the agency people. But then, a bit later, there were rumors that the people behind this agency are still around and involved in something bigger.”

“Something bigger?”

Hanif toys with his phone. He seems to think. Then he looks Jens Erik in the eyes and says, “Something official. Bigger.”

“Why bigger?”

Hanif stares at Jens Erik. He answers, seriously: “Because it is quieter.”

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Then he returns to his jovial manner and waves his short arms around once more. “You won’t call this place quiet, will you, my friend?” he asks.

Jens Erik, who has been struggling to hear Hanif over the terrible cacophony of people talking, shouting, listening to music—so unDanish!—shakes his head.

“Well,” Hanif continues chuckling, “If you go to these new malls in town, they will be quiet, much quieter. Last time I was in one of them, I fell asleep on a bench. It was that quiet. Why, my friend? Why are they so quiet? Because that is where the real money is, not here!”

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(This appeared in the print edition as "The future lasts a long time")

Tabish Khair is author and Associate Professor in english at the university of A arhus, Denmark

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