Monday, October 29, 2012

Office Busyness

‘Urgent!’ said the paper the came to my desk at 6 PM just as I was packing up to leave. At last! It was early days in my working career and, hitherto, I had not had that feeling of importance that comes to a person who has to urgently do something for his office. Maybe it was not that special glow that one gets when one has saved a child from a burning house but it came close to it.
I sat till 8 PM working out the prices to be charged for the products that a new customer had sought from us, left the paper on my boss’ table and left home feeling like a knight would probably feel after vanquishing a dragon. Unlike the knight, however, it is not given to lowly junior managers to know what the result their efforts had had but that knowledge did little to diminish the feeling of accomplishment I felt that day.
Little did I know that over the next one year I would have a lot of such wonderful occasions. I was working for a boss who was very generous when it came to distributing that special feeling of importance among all his subordinates. If he had a note to dictate to his typist after office hours, he ensured that his entire staff sat late with him and enjoyed the pleasure of feeling the satisfaction of doing urgent work. What is more, he also had this generous habit of calling you to discuss mundane matters just as you are about to leave so that you had ample opportunity to feel that glow. Suffice to say that within six months that special feeling had become so ordinary that I no longer felt like looking down my nose at people who were too unimportant to be kept late in office. How true is it that ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’.
The same boss was also the person who rid me of the unnatural respect for the words, ‘The boss is in an important meeting’. I was once in his room and he was in an expansive mood that day talking of how he cracked CA in his long gone youth. His PA pinged him about some phone call from one of the manufacturing units and he snapped into the phone, ‘Don’t you know I am in an important meeting? Ask him to call half-an-hour later!’ So, now I know all about important meetings!
So, a year into my working life and with all my illusions about urgent papers and important meetings totally gone, I received a reasonably massive file with the same superscription “Urgent’. I opened that file lackadaisically and quickly browsed through it. When I reached the last page my eyes opened wide in surprise. It was the same paper about costing of products that I had sat late for the first time and put up! All that had happened with that paper was that it had traveled up and down my office, seen more people there than I had and returned to me for review. That must have been one patient customer if he was still waiting for the prices of those products!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dark Pursuit: The Lost Shinmahs - Review

(It is a tough ask for someone who normally does not do book reviews to do one for a book self-published on Amazon by an author who is a friend. But for the fact that the book is in my favorite genre – Fantasy – I would probably have declined. The link on Amazon relating to the book and the blog-link of the author are
Fantasy-writing, in general, has normally relied upon or borrowed heavily from existing myth and legend. In the west a vast number of books have been written re-interpreting the Arthurian legends. Celtic myth has supplied authors with material to spin their fantasies as, indeed, has the Graeco-Roman myth. In India, fantasy has made a nascent beginning and, again, it has its roots in Indian myth or legend.
In a mature market like the west fantasy that spins tales with no readily discernible symbols from existing and well-known myth has also found space and appreciation. In India, such is yet to take place. The author of this book has spun a fantasy about a world that may have some mention of the Atlantis equivalent for India – Lemuria – but the fantasy elements have no instant recognition factor because they spring mostly from his inventive mind. This, probably, is why this book has failed to find a publisher and needed to be self-published.
The tale is about Adoy, who is unaware that his parents are people with uncommon mental powers – the Shinmah – and he, himself, has the same powers. With the dark warlord of Yashin – Khomer – out to hunt out and destroy all the Lost Shinmah, he makes a perilous journey to Liguanea where he is to get his mind trained. Book-I of this epic fantasy series tells the tale of his travel to Liguanea and the perils he faces in Liguanea in the course of his training and ends with a confrontation with Khomer.
The book is a fast and pacy read. The author has managed to maintain the tempo of the story throughout the book and the language is better than quite a few published books from India that I have read. The inventiveness of the author in creating his world and the plotting of events right up to the climax of this book is worthy of appreciation.
There were two issues for me, however, with the book. The first is that the characters are, by and large, monochrome. In other words, the good are good and the bad are bad. A person can be good but too proud and ready to take insult or unwilling to change or any of the myriad shades of human obstinacy that can make even the good have friction with each other. My second issue arises from the first. With such frictions, one can expect strands of the story playing out within the ranks of the good other than the primary strand of opposition to the main antagonist. The author has targeted Young Adults, it would appear, and has decided to make characters less complex. In my opinion, the tale would have been elevated to a different level had he fleshed out his characters.
Nevertheless, the story holds the reader’s attention for its sheer inventiveness, pace of the narrative and plotting of the events. All in all if you want a light and pacy ride into the realms of fantasy this could be the book for you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sophisticated Behavior

The more I see of what we see of sophisticated behavior, the more convinced I am that it is all about telling the world how much time you have to spend on the trivialities of life. We, Indians, have been utterly remiss in adding our own elements to the world-view of sophisticated behavior and it is about time we started to redress this imbalance.
This piece is a guest post for the-NRI and you can read the rest of the post if you follow this link.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Those lovely blue eyes - Part IV

Click Here for Part-I
I had never understood why I felt such rage and desire for vengeance. Violet had callously used me for her purposes without caring for me and I, after knowing about my condition, had no particular desire to live. So, why should Vince evoke so much rage in me? Every time I had tried to think about it I had felt an unreasoning panic and despair. It was no different now.
Billy should be coming any time now. Abruptly, my entire plan for escape and vengeance against Vince seemed foolish. Even if I managed to make my way to Billy’s cell – which was the logical place for the tunnel to start – why should Billy not just knock me out and escape? Even if he did take me along what made me think that I could evade recapture and prove able to kill Vince? Billy was a dead man walking anyway. I felt melancholy and had almost decided to do nothing when a glimmer of an idea sparked in my mind.
Billy walked in.
“Whaddya want, Scholar?”
“Listen, Billy! You know what I can do to your escape plans.”
His hands clenched and he glared at me impotently.
“I need you to kill a man, Billy!”
“Don’t ask me that, man! I never done no murder”
“Your choice, Billy! I am a dead man tomorrow and I have only you to rely upon. Either you swear to me on your mother’s soul that you will kill him or I shall squeal the moment you go out that door”
There was a look of pleading in his eyes and his mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
“Billy! This guy always has at least twenty-five grand in his safe. You could beat the combination out of him easy. You will need the money for your mom. So, why don’t you just promise me? He just has two bully boys with him. You and your friends could handle them all”
After much hesitation, Billy agreed and swore as I had wanted. I gave him the directions to Vince’s apartment and he left.
* * *
It was a restless night for me. I knew that, even if I had been mistaken in Billy’s superstition about promises to a dying man and his love for his mother, he would go after the money. Vince was bound to threaten him with his uncle and even Billy’s pea-brain would realize that killing Vince was his only way to keep the mob off his back. I found myself in the surprising position of desperately wanting Billy to escape.
Sirens hooting and people running here and there in the morning heralded the success of the escape. My execution, however, could not be postponed. A harried Warden came to my cell to seek my last wishes and was surprised when I asked him to be able to watch TV.
Billy may not succeed, may not succeed today or may not succeed in time for me to get the news. I was still on tenterhooks wishing to see whether my plans had succeeded. While waiting nervously for the news I wanted, my mind wandered over to my days with Violet.
She had been much the same as she used to be before she met me when we first started sleeping together. Over the weeks, she had started taking pains to make her face – not the garish come-hither make-up she used for street-walking but the softer make-up that a girl adopts for her man. She could never really be clean – but her attempts to stop being slovenly and sudden tears when she failed were so endearing. As a cook, she was a disaster but she would never stop making dishes for me. The memory of the look of bright expectation on her face which turned to crumpled disappointment suddenly moved me now and I felt the prickling of tears in my eyes.
Abruptly, my mind was dragged to the news. “Is this the start of another gangland war? Mafia Don Galliano’s nephew was found sodomized, brutally tortured and battered to death with two other people..” The excited voice of the TV anchor receded to background murmur to me as a tremendous wave of satisfaction roared through my entire soul. Vince was dead and Billy’s goose was cooked. Whether the AIDS or the police or the mob got him was immaterial. I had succeeded beyond all dreams.
All the anger and hate in my being were wiped clean – and left me face to face with my guilt and shame. All that anger at Violet and fury at Vince was only a camouflage for my own guilt. Guilt that my accusation of callously passing on AIDS had lead to her confrontation with Vince and her death! Guilt that I had not been with her to protect her! And guilt that I may have been the one to give her AIDS and not the other way round! Had I not been a drug addict and given to indiscriminate use of needles? How was I sure that I did not pass on the HIV to Violet?
I realized that I had been in love with Violet all along and she had loved me more than I deserved. A love so sublime that, in the face of a sentence of death, her only thought had been about putting me in danger and not fear for herself! And I? I loved her with all the love that was there in me but all the love that I could lavish could not even rise to offer comfort to her in her time of need. It shamed me to see myself so clearly.
I grieved for Violet for the first time. All that I had to show for my life was Violet’s love for me. Somehow, at that time, it seemed enough to justify my life.
The warden came in with his cohorts to escort me to the execution chamber.
I was strapped to the seat. I closed my eyes.
Maybe there is a life hereafter
There was a needle prick.
Maybe I shall meet her again
There was fire in my veins.
Maybe I shall look into those lovely blue eyes. And wipe out the hurt.

The genesis of this story is the broad plot outline given for Indifictionworkshop by Sandeep Nair. The story is also carried here.

Those Lovely blue eyes - Part III

Click Here for Part-I

The clatter of a plate interrupted my reverie. I looked up to see the guard of yesterday’s conversation outside the cell.
“I need to talk to you”
“I got no time for scumbags”
“You got some for this one, pig! I need to talk about tonight and Billy. Come to my cell after you are done”
 “Awright” he mumbled fearfully and walked on.
It was an hour before he sidled into my cell wringing his hands and face white with apprehension.
“Whaddya want with me, Scholar?”
“I want to meet Billy ASAP”
“More than my job is worth, Scholar! I got a wife and kids”, he whined.
“You don’t want your son in jail for abetting an escape, do you?” I was merciless. “Billy is on cleaning duty, right? Get him here with his mop and pail to clean up”
“I’ll try my best, Scholar”
“Try doesn’t cut it. Get him”
He slunk out like a whipped dog.
For the first time in prison I felt like I had some power and it felt good. I was savoring the idea of telling off Billy and watching his impotent rage when I told him that I was about to squeal on his escape plans. It was not enough for me to merely destroy his hopes – I wanted to see him squirm!
A sudden thought crossed my mind. Had I not got my revenge on Billy already? After all I was HIV positive and he had sodomized me! In the very act that birthed my desire for revenge, my revenge would also have been accomplished. It was very likely that he was infected too.
Why not join his escape plan and get out? That man outside, who I had considered safe from me, was no longer safe if I could get out. He, more than Billy, was a target for vengeance and only the fact that I had assumed him out of my reach had kept him off my mind.
I laughed bitterly and almost hysterically. It was ironic that the man who humiliated me was now going to be the reason why I could gain vengeance on that devil on earth – Vince Galliano!
* * *
It was impossible to think of Vince without remembering Violet. The Pimp and the Whore! Violet took me in on one snowy night upon seeing me shivering on the footpath outside her tenement. Hard-bitten though she normally was, she had these sudden queer impulses and, on that cold day, I was glad of being the recipient of her impulsive kindness.
What it was about me that made her keep me around I will never know. It is a fact that within a week, we were lovers and within the month everyone, including Vince knew me to be her boyfriend. Vince was indifferent to the whole matter as long as it did not interfere with business.
I must have had about six months with Violet when my entire world came crashing down again. She had never tired of telling me how much she loved me. In the initial days, I had slept with her more for comfort and in gratitude but slowly I had come to love her as well. She was brassy, foul-mouthed, slovenly and amoral but there was this peculiar vulnerability about her that made me want to protect her. Above all, she had those lovely blue eyes which still reflected an innocence that was totally at odds with her coarse, ravaged and world-weary face.
At long last I thought I had found someone who cared for me without a thought for the use she could make of me. My complacency was abruptly shattered when I came back one day to see her sobbing into her hands.
“What’s the matter, honey?” I asked her.
“I am sorry, baby, I am so sorry”, she said embracing me and burying her face in my chest.
“What’s it?” I said irritably.
“I..I..I got AIDS”, she said. “I’ll never forgive my sorry ass if I have given it to you”
I thrust her away abruptly. Unreasoning anger and fear overwhelmed my mind.
“What the f***?:” I yelled. “You mean all the while you have been telling me how much you love me, you did not bother to check yourself up before sleeping with me? Even though you know what you do for a living?”
“I didn’t think….”
“You did not care, you mean, as long as you got what you wanted”
I started to go out of the house. As I was opening the door, she asked, “Where you going, Bruce?”
“To check if I got AIDS too.” A gust of fury blew through my mind. “If I have got it, I swear I will come back and kill you” I yelled and stormed down the stairs.
For three days after it was confirmed that I was indeed HIV positive I drowned my sorrows in various dives. At least, bleary-eyed and stinking of whiskey and vomit I made my way to Violet’s pad for want of a place to call home.
Vince’s bully boys were outside the tenement as was his car. I waved at them and started up the stairs to the third floor. Just as I was climbing up the last flight of stairs, I could hear Vince’s voice through the thin plywood that served as the door.
“Since when d’ya think of them as men. They are just tricks, you c***, so you better get your ass out on the street. So, what if ya have AIDS?”
Violet’s voice was a soft murmur following which was the sound of a slap. By the time I reached the door, there was a sharp bump as if something had fallen and the Vince’s voice rose to a thin falsetto.
“I’ll teach you to raise a hand at me, b****”
I fumbled for the key when a shrill scream split the silence of the night. In near panic and rage I groped with the key for the keyhole when another inhuman scream of pain drilled through my brain. By the time I had the door opened, there was a third scream which abruptly died down into a gurgle.
Vince came rushing out and I side-stepped him as he rushed past me and clattered down the stairs. I rushed in to find Violet lying down with a pleading look in her eyes that died as the light in them died. There was a horrid slash across her face, one more across her left breast and her throat was slit. Blood had spattered all over the room. The sickly-sweet smell of it abruptly caught my throat and I gagged, rushed to the bathroom and was sick.
A cold, murderous rage spawned in my brain and with an animal shriek I jumped up and ran to the door to destroy that devil of a pimp…and ran into the arms of the police.
There were witnesses enough to my threat to kill Violet; to the shrieks and to Vince having been on the other side of town in a poker game. Of course, even the rats in the tenement know enough not to hear anything to the detriment of the local Mafia Don’s nephew.
If ever there was someone I wanted to hurt and kill, it was Vince. He was safe, however, from the impotent rage of a jail-bird.
* * *
Click here for the next part

The genesis of this story is the broad plot outline given for Indifictionworkshop by Sandeep Nair. The story is also carried here.

Those lovely blue eyes - Part II

Click Here for Part-I
Billy – The Brawler! How I had hungered to avenge myself on him. That hulking ugly brute of a boxer had filled my nights with fear and fury for almost all the days I had spent as an under-trial in this prison. Had I not been sentenced to death and segregated from the rest of the prison population, I’d probably have killed him or died trying. So! He was planning an escape! Now I had my chance to avenge myself.

I was surprised at the vehemence of my thoughts. Less than forty-eight hours from death and here I was hungering for revenge. For the past few weeks, I had assumed that I was resigned to death and indifferent to the emotional storms that comprise life. I had declined any attempts to appeal my sentence and counted the days to my death placidly.

Now, all of a sudden, the haunting eyes were back in my dreams and my hunger for revenge burned as hot as ever. It seemed like I had not accepted my fate and moved on but had merely been caught in one moment of apathy like a fly in amber due to lack of choice. The first opportunity of revenge that arose had broken through my fugue and my emotions had got the better of me.

Billy! The man, who had destroyed my fragile self-respect in one uncaring brutal act, was now at my mercy. One word from me and his plans of escape would evaporate like a dewdrop in the desert sun.

* * *
When I had been diagnosed with AIDS and, almost immediately after, been arrested for the murder of my girlfriend I had sunk into apathetic indifference. Death was, anyway, a stone’s throw away and it had not mattered to me that it would come by execution rather than by a long-drawn process of illness. I thought that I might as well live the rest of my days in prison instead of the rat-infested tenement that I had shared with Violet.
It was Billy who shattered my sense of relative security in one brutal hour in the prison showers. I was chivvied along with the rest of the naked, sweaty, hairy and stinking mass of humanity into the showers and had just stood under the icy water for a second when there was a rush of men behind me and someone rabbit-punched me.
I fell to the floor and, at once, there was a hand pressing my face into the grime on the floor. Fingernails pierced my hands and legs as I was spread-eagled. Rough fingers dug into buttocks and spread them. Then there was the pain and the burning and the pounding as my anus was penetrated.
All the physical pain was insignificant compared to the bitter bile of humiliation and the impotent raging of inexpressible fury that burnt my being. It is difficult to express the utter shame that engulfs your soul when your body is violated and you are helpless. I felt soiled and, for days after, I could hardly see myself in the mirror for fear that I would see my shame branded on my face.
“Enough man! We don’t want to kill him” said a voice.
“He is walking dead, anyway!” said another.
“What?” roared a gravelly voice close to my ear.
Suddenly the pressure on my body was off me and I was being lifted up. For the first time I saw my molester. He was a monster of a man with a flattened nose, a cauliflower ear and brutal piggish eyes.
“What do you mean – walking dead?” he said.
One of the others said nervously, “He is in for Murder one, Billy! Word is he is almost certain to get the chop”
“Asshole! Why didntcha tell me before? Let’s get the hell outa here”
I scrubbed myself over and over again as though the soap would wash the shame away. The pain and weakness in my body and the dizziness in my head was such that I would have probably laid myself down in the showers and curled up but for a brutal whack on my back.
“Get going, you scum”
Every single step and every small act was an ordeal but, somehow, I dressed up and went on to the dining hall, picked up my meal and staggered to a table and slumped on the seat. As I was squirming uncomfortably to find a position that would lessen the pain, a couple of jerks came over to the table where I was seated.
One of them smirked at me and said, “So, how’s the day, girl?”
I was too far gone in pain and exhaustion to even feel a spark of anger and uncaringly bent to my plate.
Suddenly, a presence loomed in front of me and someone said, “Bugger off!” There was a clatter of plates and a patter of feet rapidly making their way away.
“You are under Billy’s protection, now” said the man. I raised my head and saw one of the others who had held me down in the showers.
“Why?” I asked apprehensively. My last few years had been with the scum of the world and I knew enough to know that being under someone’s protection in prison could mean that you were his paramour while there.
“Not that, Scholar! Billy is gay, alright, but he don’t want no truck with you walking dead.”
“Yeah! Right!” I muttered.
He lingered on as though waiting for something and then slowly moved away. Like he expected me to be grateful to Billy after all that had happened in the morning!
I had met this sort of sudden respect for the near-dead before. It was as though they either thought that death was something catching or that the near-dead would shortly be whispering tales about them in the ears of the Maker.
For the rest of the period as an under-trial I took far less interest in the progress of my own trial and far more in trying to come up with a way to get my back on Billy. Whether we were in the showers or the dining hall or the exercise yard, he always had his three cellmates tagging along like shadows and I could see no way of getting to him to shove a knife in his back.
Then my trial came to an end and I was sentenced to death. As one of the walking dead - officially now - I was shifted to the death row and segregated from the rest with no chance to get at Billy.
* * *

The genesis of this story is the broad plot outline given for Indifictionworkshop by Sandeep Nair. The story is also carried here.

Those lovely blue eyes - Part I

It was that pair of lovely blue eyes, again! Glistening with tears that did not conceal the deep hurt that lay behind them! The eyes that had tormented me in my sleep for many days! The eyes, that I had thought I was free of for many weeks now, had come back to haunt my sleep again.
I tossed and turned in my pallet tormented by guilt that I knew no reason for feeling. Why should a hooker’s eyes pierce my soul with guilt? A hooker who I loved; a hooker who had professed love for me and a hooker who had betrayed me! A hooker who had cared so little for me that she had given me the worst disease mankind has ever known!
Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome! A word she could not even know but a disease that she could acquire and pass on. And I, Bruce Tracy - the erstwhile wunderkind of the world of investments, was now on death row awaiting execution for her murder. But what did imminent death mean but a release to someone who had nothing else to look forward to but a long and painful slide to oblivion?
In the tormented realm of half-sleep I could imagine the wonder and disgust of the people who had known me in my past if they only knew where I was today. Immured within these dark walls, in an atmosphere stinking of urine and feces and surrounded by the dregs of humanity, I would appear a very unlikely candidate for the bright young executive juggling funds for millionaires. But all that was in the long-distant past.
One mistake was all it took when you played brashly with millions! One mistake had brought all my dreams crashing down; had caused friends of yesterday to turn their backs on me; had my dewy-eyed girlfriend spew contempt; had shattered my self-confidence and left my sense of self-worth in tatters. The long spiral down laced with alcohol and drugs had laid me low in the gutter till this whore had taken me in. How I had loved and trusted her then!
My mind shied away from exploring my feelings for her any further. Sleep had completely departed and I swung my feet down and sat up. Why was I feeling all this so strongly now when, for so long, I had been quite content to await my scheduled execution? Was it the conversation that I had overheard in the exercise yard yesterday?
* * *
“The Brawler is pissed with you, you b******!”
 “Ain’t got a choice, have I? Steve called in sick and Iron-Ass put me in here with the walking dead”, said the guard.
“Dontcha know how Billy loves his mother, you mother-f****er? Word has come that she’s sick and Billy gotta go to her. Mess this up, asshole, and your life ain’t worth rat’s piss.”
“Trust me!”
“Tomorrow night is the time! You oughta have let the Brawler know some way”
“It’s all laid on. The getaway car will be on the road near where the tunnel opens.”
“Shh! You got shit for brains, man, shouting it all over the place”, muttered the trusty, looking around with apprehensive eyes.
He saw me leaning against the wall looking incuriously at the soccer game in progress. No one else was in ear-shot.
“It’s only the Scholar – and he ain’t close enough to listen” said the guard ingratiatingly. There must have been something about the acoustics of that area, since even their whispers carried clearly to me.
“Awright! Cannya trust the driver?”
“It’s my son! He will be there before midnight tomorrow”
“He better be!”
The menace in the words was unmistakable. I could see the guard tremble visibly as the trusty walked away.
* * *
Click here for next part

The genesis of this story is the broad plot outline given for Indifictionworkshop by Sandeep Nair. The story is also carried here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Skating on (thin?) ice

For a chap with the proverbial two left feet, I have an unnatural penchant for indulging in physical activities that require the sort of dexterity that I cannot even believably dream about. What is worse is that I simply refuse to learn from experience. No sooner than I twist my ankle trying to run down a flight of stairs than I rush into the skating rink.
The skating rink at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan had the honor of having me try my skills at cutting those figures on the ice that you normally see on TV. I was in Manhattan on a training program. This Botswana chap and that West Indies girl (of Indian origin from eons ago) were off to the rink – the former to learn, the latter to teach - and I accompanied them, to entertain as it turned out!
My first shock was when I strapped on those skates. I mean I have enough trouble walking without falling over when I have my entire foot on the ground and I was expected to walk to the rink on the thin edges of the blades under my feet. Teetering like the village belle walking for the first time on stiletto heels I just about managed to reach the rink and held on to the edge to avoid toppling over.
Russell – the Botswana chap – and I started of pulling ourselves along the side of the rink getting accustomed to the feel of the skates on the ice. After a bit of this using the arms to ‘skate’ on ice Russ decided to give it a go without the hand-holds. He teetered along for a bit caught his balance by holding the edge of the rink, then took his hands off to skate on for a few more feet.
Well! He was as much a novice as I was and there he was managing a few feet at a time. Time for me to show my own skills! I took my hands off and my feet shot off from under me and I was skating on my behind for a bit. In a flash one of the kids there – probably there for the purpose of helping bumbling guys like me – came over to check up on me. Once he assured himself that the local bone-doctor was not required immediately, he vanished into the melee of expert skiers.
For the first time I realized that one foot pointing North-east and the other pointing North-west could be an impediment to some sorts of locomotion. I dragged myself along for a few feet with both feet pointed as straight as I could manage it and took my hands off. This time I did a somersault and landed on my back. Back was the helpful youth in a flash checking about which bone was broken. None, as it turned out, as I gingerly tested each limb.
Back to dragging myself along and back to falling. In that hour or so that I spent in the rink I must have rung every change on how a person could fall. The glass windows of the restaurant adjoining the rink was choc-a-bloc with faces eagerly watching to see which way I would fall the next time. I am not too sure but I thought that there was even an enterprising chap going around taking bets on how I would fall the next time. Russ, in the meantime, had graduated to doing the complete circuit of the rink, gingerly all right, but without having to hold on.
One of the most lingering sights that will stay in my mind was that of a bunch of Indians exasperatedly waving at me to get off the rink. I was embarrassing them and letting down the country with my ineptness, apparently. I really love that patriotism but I wish that they showed such embarrassment for more worthy reasons – like, say, in civic sense in India or in quality of service wherever they worked.
I left the rink with sore arms and bruises in all mentionable and unmentionable parts of my body and with a lingering grievance. After all that entertainment I provided, I thought that I should have been paid rather than having to pay for the privilege!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oh! How we use our brains!

We, Indians, are brainy people indeed! Just listen to us arguing upon any topic under the sun and you will see the sheer potential of our brains. We can not only argue that the sun rises in the west but can make you actually look to the west the next day morning in the hope of seeing the sunrise.
The problem is, as usual, in how we use our brains. Take the tale of a yesteryear minister who was promised a hefty bribe in order to clear a file. Believing in the honesty(?) of the potential beneficiary the minister wrote ‘Approved’ on the file before receiving the bribe. Learning the fact that the file had been approved, the beneficiary declined to hand over the bribe. The minister called back for the file and added a ‘Not’ in front of the ‘Approved’. Aghast, the beneficiary rushed to the minister with the required bribe and enquired whether the minister could approve it now. The minister called back for the file and added an ‘e’ after the ‘Not’. Thus the file finally went through with ‘Note Approved’.
If you are upset by the chicanery involved, I would be pleased if you entered the bureaucracy or politics. If, instead, you are impressed by the cleverness of the minister – as most Indians tend to be – please leave governance alone and go and join some derivatives company. You will do less damage there.
It is not that such creative exercise of brains is an exclusive domain of the politicians alone. The bureaucracy is second to none. Even when it comes to the honest ones, the use of intelligence is not quite what we expect it to be. Comes the time for decision-making all the faculties of the bureaucrat are put to finding a way to fob off the decision on another ministry or, failing that, finding reasons why an inter-ministerial committee is required to take the decision. As one bureaucrat put it “Taking good decisions adds nothing to my pocket. A bad decision can, at best, screw up my career or, at worst, have me hounded by the Central Vigilance Commission.” No wonder the best subordinate is the one who saves his boss from having to make tough decisions and, therefore, all faculties are bent towards fobbing the file off – unless a separate pecuniary benefit is derived from taking the decision.
Business does not lag far behind. From companies that use the middle class aversion to courts in order to coerce undue payments from them to credit card companies that advertised ‘Lifetime free’ credit cards – when all they meant was that the card was free for the lifetime of the card, which was only one year – you have various creative uses of the brain that beggars imagination. What you will very rarely, if ever, see is the use of intelligence that adds value to Society.
How, then about us ordinary Indians? From artificial milk to auto-meters that run faster than the auto; from reverse running electricity meters to creative means of avoiding tax we all use our brains in various ways. The one absolute boundary we are pledged not to cross is the use of brains to give value for money!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Buying vegetables – Yesterday

There is a short story by Isaac Asimov called “The fun they had” about future school children learning from machine tutors and fantasizing about the joy of the yesteryear children who actually got to go to school and learn from real teachers. Things have not come to such a pass – yet – in the real world but it is a fact that buying vegetables has turned dramatically different from what is used to be for the previous generation.
My mother had a great deal of tales about her mother, who was very particular about vegetables. According to her, she had to go out first to survey the market and come back to report on which vegetables were fresh on the day. She used to get sent out a second time to buy the selected vegetables. Once she got home with the purchase, nine times out of ten her mom would yell, “So, you paid good money for the pleasure of scrounging around in the garbage for the vegetables that the vendor had thrown away?” (It comes out better in Tamil – “Vendamnu kuppailai thookki potta kaikariyai kasu kudutthu porukkindu vandiyakkum”). She, then, had to go again to return the purchases and get vegetables that would meet her mother’s approval.
A kinder time when vendors not only allowed you to test the vegetables before buying them but also took them back! Of course, one can imagine all the free vendors making a bee-line for the local tea-shop when they spotted my mother turning the corner into their lane. The ones stuck with customers probably cursed their luck fluently. The only happy person in this whole ensemble had to be the tea-shop owner!
Apparently my mom’s aunt was the next stage of quality control. Once the vegetables had passed muster with my grandmother, my grandaunt took over apparently to see if the quantity was right. She was losing her sight and, thus, she used to go by the count of vegetables to assess how well the purchase had been made. My mom, apparently, passed muster with her regularly whereas my uncle was always considered a bad performer. Irked by repeated complaints, he once bought the smallest ladies-fingers that he could pick so that he shot way above any of her expectations of quantity.
In my earlier days I have myself been on these major shopping expeditions along with my cousin. I was the visitor to Bangalore and, thus, I merely accompanied him on these three trips per day for one complete purchase of vegetables. Needless to say, this was another of my inabilities as my mother found out when she tried to get me to buy vegetables. After three days of worm-laden brinjal, hard-as-wood chow-chow and delicate green potatoes she gave up on me.
The fun they had they can keep! I order my vegetables online now – so I cannot even feel guilty for not being able to pick vegetables properly! Thank God for the Internet!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

An untold story

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 32; the thirty-second edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is 'An Untold Story'

“There is an untold story that I want to share with you”, I said eagerly.
My friend’s eyes glazed over.
“If it has remained untold for this long, it can remain untold for a shade longer. What is the hurry?” he said and hurried away.
If you had a story that wants to burst out of you and you find that there is no one to tell it to, you can understand how I felt. I don’t know why it is this way but the very times I have the urgent need to tell something are the times when all my friends are too busy to listen. Has that happened with you, too?
“Listen! There is this untold story…”
“Ever heard of the man who said ‘I always lie’?” said my friend. That, also, happens to me. When I want to say something, my friends feel the pressing need to say something else. “That is logic that bites its own tail. If he always lied, he lied this time too. That means he always tells the truth. Which means that he was telling the truth when he said he always lied! Which means that he always lies! Which means…”
My patience was at an end. He seemed prepared to go on like this till the cows came home. “So? What do you want to say?”
“Once you start telling me the untold story, it ceases to be an untold story. So it can be an untold story only when you keep it untold”, he said and disappeared.
After he left, it struck me that his logic was fallacious. After all, if “I always lie” is false, the truth need not necessarily be “I always tell the truth”. It could well be “I sometimes lie”. That is another thing that keeps happening to me. I find the killer argument only after the time for arguing is long gone. Ever had that happen to you?
Having lost out with my friends, I had only my family to help me unburden myself.
“Hey Sis! I have this untold story that I want to tell you”
“It is always what you want with you. When have you ever bothered to understand what I want or what anyone else wants?”
Well! I assure you that this untold story that I have not told you is the greatest untold story that has not been told! Take my word for it!

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Introduced By: The Fool, Participation Count: 6

Friday, October 5, 2012

Idling excellence

Every man ought to excel in something. That was a lesson that was dinned into my head since childhood. Now, rack my brains as I would and put my entire lot of talents under the microscope (actually, I needed the microscope to locate them in the first place), I could not really find one single thing that could prove to be my area of excellence. How then was I to answer that eternal question, “Why was I born?”
Mothers are a boon to mankind. There I was, happily lolling in bed at 11 AM on a Sunday - teeth unbrushed, bowels fully loaded, eyes bleary and postponing the evil hour when I would have to get up to do all sorts of things. My mother walks in, shakes her head in exasperation and says, “God! You would win the first prize for laziness in any competition!” Eureka! I had found my area of excellence!
Can you believe that I read Bertrand Russell merely because he had written an essay “In praise of Idleness”? That essay did not have quite the sort of ideas that I was looking for but I got captivated by his turn of phrase on occasion. For example he, apparently, asked nuns about why they preferred bathing in bathrobes when there was no-one to see them there to which they piously replied, “Ah! You forget the Almighty God!” Russell says, “They obviously think of God as an Omnipotent Peeping Tom who can see through walls but is foiled by bathrobes”. Nifty, isn’t it? Though what sort of person would go to a nunnery on purpose to have a detailed discussion about the nuns’ bathing habits beats me! (Not germane to the topic under discussion? I know – just thought I would mention it!)
The problem with trying to excel in anything is that people just will not let you do so. You cannot even depend on your own family to support you in your aspirations. Try achieving the pinnacle of laziness by turning in a blank answer sheet for a test and your father takes the belt to you. (Ah! Norway! Where were you when I needed you the most?) Why will parents always want their children to succeed in achieving their (the parents’) dreams and not allow the child to pursue its own dreams?
Now you may say that if I had truly wanted to excel, I should have done so despite all obstacles. But then it was not your backside that was getting tanned, was it? Actually there is a grain of truth in what you say – there were people around me who did keep up the standard despite similar encounters with leathern articles. It is just that I found it more strenuous to duck the belt a zillion times every day than to write a few tests once a month!
Growing into adulthood I thought that I would now be able to exercise my talents without restraint. Not really! I mean when even your body does not support you what can you do? When the belly clamors for three meals a day (if that is all you can manage) and the restaurants insist unreasonably on getting paid if they fed me, I had to join a job. Employers also had this quaint notion that giving me a job meant that I was also expected to work at it. As though the grace of my presence had not sufficiently justified my salary! Ah! No-one understands me!
I had never actually given up on my quest till the day I heard this story about one of my distant uncles. (Ah! Before Oprah asks, let me clarify that we Indians keep track of third and fourth cousins of our parents and grandparents – at least up to my generation!) Apparently, if a mosquito sat on his arm and started operations he would call out for his son to come and squash it! Now that is dedication to the ideal of laziness when even your reflexive reactions are under the iron control of your dedication to idling. What chance do I have of overtaking a Karma Yogi (or should it be Nishkarma yogi) like this.
I must start on a quest to find another area to excel in – though my dedication to my earlier quest has rendered me sufficiently lazy to be unable to put much effort into this new quest.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Narrating a story

I do start pontificating at times but, by and large, it has been safely in the area of philosophy where anyone may speak anything and cannot be proved outright wrong. This once I have stuck my neck out into an area where I cannot claim any expertise and can be ridiculed for how wrong I have got my ideas!
The Fool and I stared this workshop for Indian Fiction writers. Please do not get me wrong – it is not like we thought we had something to teach people about writing fiction. It is just that we thought we would learn from each other in a structured attempt.
The exercise was to write your own narrative of a plot line given to all - this time by The Fool. We were lucky to get sixteen entries for this exercise – including a few from some of the best fiction bloggers - and had a glimpse into various ways in which a plot could be handled. The plot given can be read here and all the entries are also hosted on the same blog.
To round off the writing part of the exercise, I put up my own ideas on what we expected by seeking people to narrate the same plot in their own voices. Those ideas are there in this piece – Narrating a Story – at

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fun with books

I love books of almost all sorts but humor has a special place in my heart. My mind, however, is Teflon-coated and almost anything that I read just skids off it without making any lasting impression. I have always envied the felicity that some people have of remembering and quoting the books that they read but, try as I might, I could never be one of them.
Some quotes, however, have found precarious handholds in the Teflon. Oscar Wilde’s classic “The importance of being Ernest” offered one of them. The girl’s mother is interviewing the girl’s beau.
Boyfriend : Unfortunately, I have lost both my parents
Girl’s Mother: To lose one may be termed a misfortune. To lose both seems to me like sheer carelessness!
Or, take this description of P.G. Wodehouse about one of Emsworth’s sisters.
Her first husband was a big game hunter. He died in a misunderstanding with a tiger. He thought the tiger was dead. The tiger didn’t. Her second husband met a lorry coming at him. Instead of going around it, he tried to go through it.
The irrepressible Richard Armour has been a great rib-tickler for me. His description of the teetotal Queen Victoria goes thus
Although she reigned, she never poured.
It is not necessary for you to seek in the humor authors for a laugh. Sometimes, you find unexpected gems in other genres. Take this one from a western when a stranger comes into town with a dead body on another horse.
Stranger: He was bushwhacked five miles out yonder. Toted the body in.
Bully : You pointing that at me?
Stranger: Throw a stone into a pack of dogs. The one that yelps is the one that got hit.
Sometimes it is your own fancies that give you a fun time. Upon reading the zillionth Perry Mason mystery, I had this idea of a whimsical interview of the police lieutenant Tragg.
Reporter: So, Lieutenant, could you let your viewers in on the investigative methods that made you successful?
Tragg: You see, the moment we encounter a homicide we look around to see if there is a remote possibility of arresting one of Perry Mason’s clients for it. After that, all we have to do is lie back and relax. Perry will solve the case for us.
Reporter: And if you do not?
Tragg: That is why we have that ‘Unsolved Homicides’ file!
Books can either be fun or you can have fun with them! They are man’s best friends – which friend will allow you to talk any way to him and will not talk back?