It’s all in the implications

PICO IYER is the author, most recently, of a California novel, "Abandon," and a book of essays, "Sun After Dark".

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a spirit called Implication. He didn’t get picked very often when the other kids were choosing teams, and he tended to live in the shadows. But he always had a sense of pride, deep down, because he knew that people would call on him in their most important moments: in bed beside someone they loved, or while on their knees whispering to what -- or who -- they believed in. Life wasn’t black or white, he knew; Implication was a friend of all the colors.

As he grew up, Implication found himself running with a not very fast crowd -- Irony, Irreverence, Adoration, Poetry. They all got together, though they came from different worlds, in unlit places away from the main streets. Passersby would hear a snatch of music, and then there’d be a silence. It was like a different universe from the marching bands that liked to parade down the avenues; a universe that said that what we couldn’t see, or say, had as much a part in life as what we could.

And then one day Implication heard he was on a blacklist. The word came from Rumor, and it said there was no room for either of them in the new dispensation. Question marks were now banned; Cacophony, Simplicity and Outright Confrontation had taken over. Implication had always been the warrior’s enemy and the lover’s friend. But now mano a mano was more in favor than tete-a-tete.

Implication didn’t know where he could go, what he should do. For as long as he could remember, he’d had a job to perform, a role. People looked to him when they were joking, when they were flirting, when they wanted to spare someone’s feelings, when they wanted to hurt someone’s feelings. They followed the principles he carried with him: that power is measured by what you keep at home, that silence makes a deeper impact than shouting. Implication had been made an honorary citizen of the Land of Trust.


But now there’d been a coup d’etat, and stony-faced policemen, all marching in step, were carrying placards scarred with exclamation points. Implication opened the newspaper and saw that the front page was taken up with a single screaming headline; he turned on the TV and heard men in suits shouting at one another as if to convince themselves of their own authority.

“Sorry, Chum,” said the man at the radio station. “We’re taking a commercial break right now.” Everywhere he went, it was the same. “We don’t have time.” In the past, he’d always been able to call upon his colleague, the telephone. People loved to leave things hanging on the telephone, to hint and giggle and let sentences trail. But now the telephone, too, had a screen, and people were transmitting furious messages to one another consisting of squashed words and images and acronyms. “We’ve got to get there yesterday,” Data roared. “No time to linger.”

Implication realized he was an outcast now. When he knocked on the door of his favorite magazine, he was told his services were no longer required. When he went into a suburb, he saw people watching the small screen and taking their cues from it.

Then he went into the post office and saw a listing of the “10 Most Wanted.” Subtlety was on it, and Ambiguity, Diplomacy and Mischief. His own picture was next to the sentence that read, “These are the ones we need to lock up forever.”

Implication thought about friends he’d known. His great companion Henry James could hardly order dinner or declare his love, he was so attached to Implication. That woman in Bath had used him as a manservant to deliver her round-about love letters. In Japan, they’d almost made a cult of him, saying so little that the poems he worked on were almost blank pages. Yet none of these people was a threat to anyone who could see clearly. They all had something to say because -- this was the point -- they all had something not to say.

Implication saw the casualties by the side of the road as he walked out of town: Caresses, Limericks, Whispers and Threats. It was almost as if humans were becoming just machines made from computers, 0s and 1s. Or kids again: “You’re with us or against us.”


In the past, he’d been employed by the Department of Education; Implication was how people began to learn understanding. But now a sentence was running by, no time for him, and seconds later the sentence had crashed into another, and they were both lying lifeless on the road. Implication cried out, but no one heard him. So many people were shouting, no one could hear anyone else. This was a time of war, and there are no grays, they said, in war.