Marriage, arranged – the motive

Recently, At a friend’s wedding I found myself saddled with old pals ( all male ) all of whom were surprisingly still single. That kept me wondering : were they still waiting for that perfect partner, or had they many options all of which they wanted to keep open – without committing to one ( “commitmentOphobia” ?)

It seemed that in this group I was the veteran in this particular department , married for 8 years albeit in the old-fashioned arranged fashion which most of these friends considered an absolute farce .

I used to think in similar terms too, once upon a time.That was till I got weary of all of my “prospective” partners repeating the same thing (“I thought we were just friends “) . Not for want of a more innovative reason to thwart advances, but I earnestly I believed in the illusion that I was really good at making friends with women.

In time I realized that my hatred was misdirected at the female gender, when it should have really been targeted at Charles Darwin. After all it was his (highly proven) theory that postulated that any individual (human or otherwise) would never look towards a potential partner in a non-conformist – it flew in the face of the safety-in-numbers theory. So that was the critical factor – being a non-conformist.

Big deal ? YES.

I considered my options – maybe I could change myself to become more presentable and more social – it was just a matter of signing up for some courses and throwing some money – that easy to woo a woman, but the resultant I won’t be me. Wearing a lifelong mask sounded terrifying at best – maybe the mask grows on me so much so that I don’t recognize myself any more – depersonalization ? – yes it has happened with people.

Or like numerous others I could put up a small act as the ultimate Prince Charming during the innumerable dates interspersed over weeks or months. After all it would be just for a few hours at a time – not too difficult for an amateur actor , presenting only favorable traits & and force-congenial-izing tastes. But again that could hardly lead to a sustainable relationship – the bluff would be called once cohabitation started. For the likes of us not desiring a sustainable relationship anyways it maybe fine but not for the fastidious me.

Besides vowing to lead a single life ( which felt unbearably lonely ) or celibate life ( which amounts to self-cruelty or self-injury) I had no other options but to consider arranged marriage.

And I did.

On the plus side this meant (within certain limits) I could remain as uncouth, unshaven , un-deoderated and most importantly as non-conformist as possible, I could cling to my home-brewed ( and rather queer) beliefs ( religious, political , philosophical ) as tightly as possible. Getting accepted was not necessary now.

I still WOULD NOT recommend arranged marriage ; the “love” variant, done properly, where the feelings from the heart are substantiated by those in the brain is always the more natural approach while being more adventurous as well. Love marriages also are more helpful in transcending the artificial barriers that we have erected ( religion, region , race , caste) – the products of such marriages are less likely to be bigoted.

But if you’re a non-conformist like me, and unless you find a partner who is also non-conformist in exactly the same way, arranged marriage is still an option on the table.

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dog woman

She was fifty-something – past the age of sexual vulnerability (generally, that is – there could still be perverts with queer fetishes), so she lived off the kerb of the busy high-street between a shop selling vegetables and the National Association of Blind. Even so, she had a pack of street dogs for her company and protection. Apparently the only family she had. Now.
It is difficult to say if she was demented – but she did have absolute control over the dogs with gestures and sounds. She assisted in cleaning and arranging crates in the vegetable shop and was paid, probably in food (which she shared with her canine family) and allowed to sleep in front of the shop’s downed shutters.
Eight years later, when work took me back through the road , I could not help wondering what might have become of her – the best scenario being that she was taken up by a old-age and/or destirute home or that she had died naturally, under her family’s vigil – the worst scenarios – infinite. Perhaps “harvested” for kidneys, blood, eyes …., perhaps maimed for beggary – perhaps, perhaps coerced into forced labour … the possibilities are endless.
The infinite ways in which a helpless human body can be appropriated.
The dogs must be missing her.

a chilli story

If yummy food is the most vital ingredient of my living then chilli is the most vital ingredient of that food. We, as a family have reduced everything from oil to sugar to salt for health reasons but the quantum of chilli always seems to follow an upward trend. So much so that we stopped buying powdered chilli completely (so as to reduce the intake of its most common adulterant, brick powder and maybe red dye) and started getting dried chillies pounded in our local mill instead.
After all you live but once.
A few days while shopping I came across a new variety of dried red chilli called Mankatti chilli. I’ve been a patron of the bright-red coloured Salem chilli – but this seemed alluring – not for its appearance for it was  more shrivelled and so less pretty than our staple chilli – the prime mover was its price which was atleast 25 % less (which is a good deal in these inflationary times).
My rule of thumb stated that the more shrivelled the chilli the “blander” it is ( the example being the Kashmiri chilli which is the other commonly available chilli here).
But that was proven wrong with the Rasam ( a spicy tamarind-tomato-lentil hybrid south Indian soup) M prepared for the night. To get that extra spicy special-effect I usually squish out all of guts of each chilli bulb from the curry and mix it back into the curry so that only the red powerless shell gets chucked ( that is what “value for money” means for me) – except that with this default ritual on the Mankatti chilly my tongue was set ablaze – I had to abort the Rasam and rinse mouth a couple of times and then chew an éclair to quench the fire. But if you thought it was done – then wait – the defecation of this chilly is more fiery than ingestion and lots more fun. Reminds me of Tom & Jerry with Tom’s derrière set on fire by Jerry.
So I realised (the hard way) that Mankatti must be a place in Andhra Pradesh ( the Indian state “famous” for its hot peppers).
The next day my 4 year old son also followed my footsteps. He has a habit of imagining everything as a toy car especially if it is a bright colored object that fits into his tiny hand. So apparently he was playing car which the (un-squished) Mankatti chillies from his mother’s plate when one of them accidentally squirted, and straight into the eye. Bingo.
Being away at office I could not watch the fun that followed but I could well imagine a strenuous wailing session interspersed with “eyes are burning” ( one of the first sentences taught by his mother to indicate soap in eyes while washing face) blaring for an hour before tiring him to sleep.
Now he’s added a new item to his “to be wary of” list.
But I’ve gotten used to it – my spice-threshold (in Scoville units) seems to have increased a notch ( I wonder if and how I’ll go back to Salem chilli).
And also the life after getting diagnosed for peptic ulcer ( my mother already has it so I’m a prime candidate). So I’m trying to already finish my quota of spice before its too late.
Its said that spice hijacks the original taste of all the food it touches – I don’t feel so.
For me a meal is incomplete if it doesn’t leave you with watery nose, eyes and mouth.

Acquired Identity

A few days ago I saw a truck registered in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), the very first one I’d seen in Bangalore. It pushed me down my memory lane, the length of which had given me my identity. I’d always grappled with an answer to the question as innocuous as “where are you from ?” – the ubiquitous attempt by the inquirer to categorize myself – to pack me into a silo.
Mostly I’d reply “my parents are from Kerala” – to which the sarcasm-laden retort would be “and what about you, were you splintered from a cloud-burst ?” – meaning I SHOULD belong to where my parents do.
The trouble is, my life is a jigsaw of different places and cultures – most of them far removed from the mainstream (for geo-political reasons) – and I’ve never known which part of the jigsaw is the answer to “where are you from ?” puzzle.
Do I belong to Shillong (Meghalaya) where I was born, though a very beautiful place, I’ve never felt I belonged there. Not the least  because I’d never lived there much but also because we were treated with hostility, for being kids of what was perceived as an alien army. But perhaps I did acquire my altitude-sickness proof lungs there and my life-long romance with hills, particularly the Himalayas (though Meghalaya doesn’t touch Himalayas).
For a while I thought I was from J&K, since that were I did the whole of my schooling, and I thought schools manufactured you. And this is where I lived the longest. Though I always took the inevitable racist taunts in the lightest of kid-hood banter, fitting in was an altogether different story – I did to some extent. I was arguably the “blackest” kid in the school of 2000 plus, the contrast was more so since one of my friends was the fairest Indian (pure-bred, meaning with both Indian parents)  I’d known (ever and since – the back of his palm was 10 times fairer than the front of mine). The association of black with dirt and the consequent inference that these demon-worshipper South Indians (“Madrasis”) were black for want of a regular bath – this was a popular basis of most jokes. That quite a few of them believed this myth amused me.
Some Punjab, some Gujarat sprinkled over.
And then the icing from the cosmopolitan Mumbai ( or Bombay) – college time.
And now, Bangalore – the crust concealing everything else – earning the living.
The knowledge of the language Malayalam (the native language of my parents) always seemed beneficial everywhere – in getting cheap accommodation ( more of this another day) when jobless and heartless in Mumbai, in getting an instant invitation for Easter lunch by a stranger couple I’d just met in an super-market in Cambridge, England.
Yet if I answer “Kerala or Malayalee” to the identity question – the next question would be “you speak Hindi which is excellent for a South Indian, how come ?” and I have to explain my complicated history that I was trying so hard to conceal.
Maybe I could just say “its complicated”  but that would mean being too haughty by questioning the inquirer cognisance.
My only moment of home-coming has been when my plane was circling over a be-deluged Mumbai (Bombay), waiting for space to land while returning from England. My only trip abroad had lasted only 3.5 months and yet it had seemed like an eternity. Though over-zealous to travel to the West once, now inexplicably, I found myself magnetically attracted back to India, this India which though civilized 4000 years ago in Harappa, still had never learnt to wait their turn at a petrol bunk, or at a traffic signal or in any other queue for that matter.
That was true home-coming.
So that is the identity I’ve acquired all this while – Indian.
Black and Indian, without belonging to any specific part of India.

Anti-engineering

I often miss our family tape-recorder of the 80s, for lack of such durable products in recent times. It was a Panasonic, and, what was more important, “Made in Japan” marked. No wonder it survived the innumerable crash and drop tests that my brother and I subjected it to during our respective tenures of growing up. The device still played along – even when its speakers dangled out of its sockets, on the thin wires – and was able to marvelously record the audio tracks of  the rehearsals of our school events.
Such sturdiness has certainly had its death rattle; that is, if it has not perished altogether.
Even so, my romance with Japanese products continues – although most of them are not made in Japan any more. My camera ( both film and digital) are Japanese (Nikon), so is the TV (Sony), the motor-bike (Honda) , the heart (i,e. the engine) of our car (Suzuki), my (5.5 yr old) laptop (Toshiba), mp3 player (Sony). I have certain admiration for the Japanese and their precision engineering. Theirs is a kind of capitalism with heart, so different from the American mass, mindless, pure consumerism , which is forced upon us more often, these days. Where “planned obsolence” is practised ( maybe implicitly). I recently watched a story of the formation of the first cartel in the world which aimed to REDUCE the life of light-bulbs, so that the bulbs fail faster and  the producers sell and consequently profit more in a fixed span of time. (It’s no surprise that the Japanese were not a part of this cartel)
I call it anti-engineering, where engineers are called in to do the opposite of what they are supposed to do – in order to make more “business sense”. The story went on to say that the planned obsolence principle was not limited to light-bulbs – it had become an all-pervading doctrine by now. No wonder that whenever, in recent times I chose to buy non-Japanese products (for cost reasons of course), the product lost usefulness fast. The best example is the Rs 1500 ($ 30) Canon “Pixma” printer I bought just more than a year back. ( I was amazed that one could buy a reasonable quality colour printer and that too from a popular brand-house). In less than a year it stopped working; I’d left it unused for a couple of months and (like anything else in our house) cockroaches colonised it. I didn’t lose heart as it was still within the warranty period; but to my horror I was told ( after an inspection) that cockroach crap (and damage thereof) was not covered in warranty, and that I’d need to spend atleast Rs 1000 ($20) to get a new board for the printer. I refused and now have the latest piece of e-waste for company.  Some day I need to make myself open the cover and search for anything remotely salvage-able. Groan.

I wonder if  such absolute consumerism is going to be sustainable in the long term ( in the short term t does by generating more employment), especially with the limited resources that we have now.

Wanted – Old worldly charms

Recently, I was able to get hold of a Reader’s Digest at my workplace and nostalgically I browsed for my favourites – “laughter, the best medicine”, “all in a day’s work” “life is like that” and “humour in uniform”. Appallingly, out of all of these columns I was able to find just ONE joke (or anecdote) which was NOT stale and which managed to evoke a laugh at the same time ( and no, I don’t think not I’ve grown bitter lately).
Understandably, the editors are offering cash rewards ( upto Rs 1000 for one good joke). Either the readers’ sense of humour has deteriorated or, what looks more probable readership has sunk rock bottom.
At least our IP generation ( IP can stand for Instant Pleasure, Internet Protocol and its applications like IPhone – IPad …, IPL ,IPill …ImPatient) never seems to have time for the such slow things in life like (non-work or curriculum-related) books. Any more.
I wonder if these things, which have taken the toll over old-world thing as books could not be dubbed substance abuse ( instant gratification – isn’t that what the narcotics are sought for).I’ve been in rehab for past month, after being de-addicted off the substance called TV ; lately I feel I can think clearly now. Not that I ( or rather we including my significant other) felt the courage to kick the bucket. The lousy software of the set-top box ( coded maybe by Facebook and Twitter addicted souls) decided to abandon the hardware body on its own volition)  3 years after it was installed and without any stimulus from user side.
My addiction forced me to call and singe customer support in a futile attempt to get it rectified –  thankfully – he demanded pre-payment for the support. And I was loathe to imagine paying more up for such a lousy box. And installing a new (and more reliable maybe) cable service looked far more expensive in these inflationary times ( where the only  inexpensive things are mobile talk-time and the Internet) – so we decided to ditch the cable.
And now everyone in the family has more time for each other – the days seem to have stretched. And I replaced crass movies ( which were generously forced down my throat) interspersed with equally obtuse and unwanted commercials for a more refined choice of say, Agatha Christies – read at my own leisurely pace ( I decide if the murderer is to be found out today or in one month – isn’t that wonderful).
Thanks Reliance for the favours received.
Thankfully also that I have a “dumb” phone and that I have not signed up for Facebook or Twitter. Even without all that Internet (especially news on internet) addiction is bad enough.But I’m reassured I don’t have to burn my grey cells thinking for the next attention-grabbing “Tweet” to broadcast. Or to lose sleep over best strategies to increase “friendship” count. Or to wonder whom to “poke” today and whose “wall” to spray paint graffiti on.Or to remember half a dozen passwords.

Oh such old-worldly relief.

2011 – what a year !

What a year it has been (and still a couple of months to go), 2011 – the most eventful as long as I can remember.

Assassinated: the most wanted global terrorist,a dictator who ruled for 42 years

Died : the most prolific entrepreneur of our times,a self-proclaimed incarnation of god, an artist banished from his home state (MFH, for exerting his freedom of expression) , a Ghazal singer , two glam-gals of Hollywood’s yesteryears, a dashing Bollywood “Prince” of the 70s, a legendary Indian cricketer of the 60s, the creator of C programming language

 Toppled: the autocratic regimes in Egypt and Libya (the latter with a lot of blood-letting)

New States: Sudan, now North and South

Rattled : Japan and its economy ( almost killing 15,822) , Turkey

Genocide: worst ever terror strike in otherwise peaceful Norway, flanked with our regular retinue of bomb blasts in Mumbai and Delhi

Weddings: Royal, and British AND Royal and Bhutanese – both brides were “commoners”

Won: India, first cricket (one-day) world cup in 28 years

First: Indian GrandPrix, Metro in South India.

Last: NASA space-shuttle programme, RIP

Original Love, Retroverted

Of late, I seem to be warming up to an old flame – mathematics. In a moment borne of an impulse to do something new, I’d blurted out to a friend, albeit wistfully that perhaps I should have studied pure mathematics – mathematics devoid of any applications to the “real” world – somehow I felt the detached nature of obscure theorems (punctuated by queer Greek alphabets) wildly alluring. A week or so later when I’d all but forgotten about that impulse (that’s the sad way most of them succumb – death by laziness) – my friend pointed me to YouTube videos about maths lectures. Now, I had to resuscitate, and fast.
And today a week later – I’m decided to take up the “Theory of numbers” (yes that is a whole discipline) as a pure hobby; I Googled for and today made a pilgrimage to the Tata Book House to get hold of the book that looked most useful to me to start up. Even if I’m able to UNDERSTAND the unsolved Riemann’s hypothesis, I’d deem this endeavour as worthwhile.
It’s an exciting feeling, like being drawn back to a school-time crush after entering mid-age. Maths classes always used to be fun – perhaps it was because the young Kashmiri woman who taught us Maths in high school – she was the first rational person I ever knew. She made no bones of discussing the pros and cons of natural vs C-section delivery in front of a class of 12 year olds – and that too in a maths class – so undogmatic – so unpedantic. So much so that I came to love the subject, since, it started looking like it was never forced on us (so unlike most other subjects). And numbers, seem to look so full of such vibrant persona – and distinctive too – approaching infinity.
After Std X, the interest ebbed a little – an old-school dogmatist had returned to reign – and whatever life was left was sucked always by the humbug called “competitive” exams after XII. Enter “engineering” years and maths was denigrated to its (maybe) more pragmatic but immensely uninteresting cousin with an “applied” tag prefixed to differentiate it from the original.
Today, 14 years after I lost contact with pure mathematics I realise what I’ve missed in the mad race of building a “career”. I donot want to do a formal research as for once I’m not eligible and now its not practical either (with all of my financial liabilities) and anyway I want to do my own things at my own pace without being rushed – without having to worry about completing credits – presenting papers – incentives – recommendations from professors – the dirty politics of claiming credit for something found.
I write about it lest I forget.If I fail to proceed from cipher (as is most probable) this blog will serve as the requiem.

I for an Eye

One of my favourite pass-times of all time is to Google for long-lost acquaintances from my school, college or from previous companies I’ve worked in. I usually search for blokes I would have thought years ago, to turn out to be extreme cases.Of course, only the extreme cases on the “good” side  yield any search results, because the others (by definition) might be at large, disguised  or incarcerated – and either way unsearchable by Google in the their original identity.

One day I found X, an unusually bright computer engg student one year senior to me at college. He is now the founder and CEO of a networking start-up the Silicon vale. And unlike most others start-ups by Indian-Americans, there are no more desis in his crack team.
I remember him most for punching (albeit inadvertently) my eye-ball with a rubber ball while X played bat-n-ball (a poorer cousin of the national obsession called cricket) with a friend in the filthy corridor of our college hostel. Needless to say, I was not playing and was just walking to the toilet blearied by laziness and boredom (typical of my college years), when, in an epiphanic moment I turned back and the locus of my eyes intersected with the trajectory of the oncoming projectile.
Head On.
( A highly improbable event, I thought, and one that could be used to frame a really challenging physics numerical). My eye (left or right I forget) swelled up to a multiple of its original size and X (and his pal) rushed me to the nearest cure-all “clinic” they could possibly find. In my sane state I’d have never visited such a sordid quackery, but ofcourse I was a patient now and so, not in charge. The quack-in-charge glowed a bright torch into my lenses perhaps to check the consistency of my cornea and exclaimed (to my inflictor’s relief) that there was no bleeding. A ointment was pleasantly prescribed, to be applied for some days.
X returned back to his word-crunching preparation for his GRE exam (scheduled for the next morn) – his bat-n-ball break had gotten an unsavoury extension. The next day while he came to check on my eye-pop (which was slowly but steadily receding, though definitely – or so thought I – not due to the quack’s goo), I got the news that his GRE was over and that he’d scored 2390 out of 2400.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A fellowship from IIT, an MS and PhD from a popular American university and then starting up an enterprise…
I sometimes feel if I should send him a mail (and after a brief, unmistakable self-identification using the above anecdote) tell him that its pay-back time and that I need his reco on my resume. I too have worked for networking co.s, perhaps that could come in handy. (Though in all honesty I know next to nothing about networking – no not even the social kind)

Traffic Etiquette – the Indian way

After six years of motoring on Indian roads (and surviving, without serious injury, app 50,000 km across 3 states and 1 UT), I think its about time to pause and reflect (before its too late) to pen down the traffic rules that I’ve learnt hands-on (meaning, the ones not taught in driving schools):

* Its possible to stop your vehicle anywhere (e,g. in the middle of a busy road) anytime (e,g. middle of road at night on a desolate road) – to do various odd chores like dropping a passenger, lighting a smoke or just chatting with a driver coming the opposite way. “Hazard lights” were invented for this very purpose.

* Its possible to drive up on the wrong side of the road – all you have to do is to put your head-lamp in full beam even in broad daylight (and honk as well if someone is stoned enough to ignore the beam)

* Its possible to get into a “No-Entry” marked road especially if you’re on a two-wheeler – you just need to get off and push your vehicle – that qualifies you as a pedestrian. This is tougher for a 4(or more)-wheeler – but theoretically possible if you have healthy passengers.

* To take a right turn you need to extend your right arm and poke the index finger vociferously into the air ( till the guy behind you relents and gives up overtaking from right); to take the left turn do the same with your left arm, this is tough if you’re on a 4-(or more) wheeler and you don’t have a passenger on the front seat to do this for you, in such cases you can use the turn-indicator lamps.

* Horns are the most useful part of any vehicle – originally designed for the potential over-taker to coerce his/her victim into slowing down (and maybe halting) so as to make way for him/her. It can also be used to hasten up folks you have come to pick up from a quiet neighbourhood. When someone who is on the verge of bumping into you, you can use incessant honking to attract his eyes so as to pump choicest invectives into his ears. You can honk from your behind too when backing up – in a sing-a-song way – this can be used to inform your neighbours of your devotion to the God or to the country even at 2 am (when you return home and park your car). A lot of options are available with horns e,g you can put a car horn on a bike so as to surprise your overtakee and attract more respect on the road.

* Full beam lights were invented to dazzle the bloke coming from the opposite side into slowing down ( thus preventing over-speeding and consequential accidents). You can also double ( or quadruple) the number of your head-lamps for the added effect and use halogen lamps and what-not to generate the perfect dazzle – white, yellow , off-white, blue … (I wonder why nobody has used lasers yet). Full beam is also used to discover oncoming vehicles which are one-eyed (thus mistaking a truck for a bike) or completely blind (he’s protecting environment by saving energy).

* In any accident the fault ALWAYS lies with the larger vehicle (by size or cc or price in that order), so if you are in one, be prepared to be instantly lynched by the jurist crowd of rubber-neckers. On a 2-wheeler watch out for pedestrians and cyclists – in a car watch out for those and bikers too; you can ignore all vehicles bigger than you – as they’ll take care of you.

* When your vehicle breaks down mid-road, you can stick leaves, plants on it to warn other road-users ( a STOP sign is simple being too pompous). You can also fence your broken-down territory with stones and pebbles for extra effect.

* A truck with oversized cargo (like iron rods jutting out from the back) can use a small while plastic bag to warn other victims, this would suffice even in the night.

* In a multi-lane carriage-way,the right-most lanes are always reserved for the slowest moving vehicles ( e,g overloaded and oversized trucks and tractors); this allows all the faster vehicles to overtake peacefully from left, while the driver of the slow vehicle can concentrate on his conversation with his conductor, unperturbed.

* When you are too pressed for time to reprimand another overzealous driver for coming too close to you in the busy rush hour; worry not; just look at his direction – spit contemptuously and move on – the offender would get the message.

* When you do have time to pick up a fight, but the other party is reluctant, just challenge him with mother/sister abuses and once he stops and enters the arena; then you may proceed to break his window-shield and/or bones.

The list is virtually endless….

A life too short

The whiff of life has turned putrid today, the scent of wilted,wasted youth. J, my mother’s youngest brother died today , suddenly, unexpectedly, at 44 years of age. Drank off to his end.
A bright lad, he’d shown promise – a head for science and art both – a contrast against a background of school drop-out brothers . The brightly red coloured pin-hole camera he’d made and sent me (my first precious parcel, packed in straw) once contributed to my my interest in science.
He taught me cycling , chess and “smart” stuff like sleight of hand tricks.
But by then his zenith had been over, peer pressure egged him into the murky realm of college politics in Kerala. A lost election led to a lost year – and a lost education – he too dropped out of (pre-univ) college – a lost cause (I’d discovered IIT-JEE forms unfilled, amongst his old books).
Pragmatism led him to take up a clerical post in the para-military in the rough North-East. And life seemed settled for a while. Diligence paid off in promotions. Back in Kerala, he dated a rather attractive young woman and fell hopelessly in love.
Life seemed perfect when they married. And then they had a daughter.
Differences of some nature crept up and threatened to derail the marriage. My uncle found solace in the bottle.
The bottle grew into a monster and he was discharged of his job, and returned to Kerala.
With some savings and by renting out auto-rickshaws he made a house.
The liquid monster grew stronger and the wife gave up, fled with the kids (a girl and a boy now). That was the final nail …
The house was sold and fed back to the liquid monster, as was all the rest of the savings and stuff in the house. What was left was fed to the lawyer to the contest the divorce notice and to “on-the-house” drinking companions.
In and out of a host of rehab centres in the past five years, life seemed better (even if just so) when the last rehab ashram decided to give him a job after his de-addiction. But he again gave in to the monster before he could take it up.
Now living in the ancestral home, drinking endlessly (and sometimes on empty stomach) with his elder brother for solace (who too had had decided to substitute the bottle for his wife who too had deserted).
Everyone thought that he would drink his way into poverty and then get back to senses.
But before that could happen, today, abruptly, the body gave up. Deserted.
A life cut too short.
And I could never thank him for the things he taught me.
And I could never even try to help him with his problems.

New Bharath Hamam

There is a scraggy hand-painted sign on the Outer Ring Road, through which I commute daily now, which proclaims “New Bharath Hamam” (lit. Bath-house of the New India or new Bath-house of India).
I was not absolutely sure about the business transacted in this hovel sitting on the edge of a card-board and metal scrap-yard. The name of the place and the fact that only sari or maxi clad creatures dwelt there made the seediness of the place apparent. The presence of trucks in front of the house added to its self-incrimination.
Yet it didn’t seem to fit in as I had thought bath-houses to be a Western or Turkish phenomenon, we Indians use dance (Kothas), rather than baths as the facade for practising the world’s oldest profession.
Then I saw a show on Nat Geo, called the “Ladyboys of India” which followed the lives of a handful of transgenders living in Mumbai and Bangalore. One of the them seemed to be surprisingly proficient in English and had lived as a male through schooling and college, but had taken the flight after “his” marriage had been arranged. (For lack of a proper pronoun let me address them in third person as “hse”) .
Hse told us that every one of them adopted by the Community (an association of Ammas with a tight hierarchy) had to work in a bath-house for a fixed number of months/years before being castrated and Bobbitised – which was the Initiation ceremony into the fraternity of Hijras. The Hamam was an euphemism for a brothel usually attached to truck-stops and also provided with a name-sake bathroom.
Even after the Initiation (which is usually conducted by a pseudo-doc under extremely unhygenic conditons and causes life-long infections and revisits to doctors) – these people are not free to choose their vocation. One enterprising fellow in Mumbai left the tradition of begging and prostitution and enrolled hserself as a loan recovery agent with one agency and was quite successful.

But hse was ostracised from the community for the this. Apologies to hser reporting Amma didn’t help. Isolated by the only people in the society who would accept hser, hse joined back into the fold.
One group of three individuals (showcased in the documentary) lived a happy life in Bangalore – or so it seemed. They lived disguised as women in a rented house, shared amongst themselves in a middle-class locality. They moved around on scooters wearing burqas at night to solicit customers on the streets of Bangalore. Most customers too thought of them as women.
After work they had parties in the house. And music. And they went shopping.
And they never missed their annual pilgrimage to Koovagam (in TN, which is their mecca) where after enacting wedding and widowing with the Lord, they settle down for the highly-anticipated beauty-pageant.
Given the limitations, they’ve been trying to enjoy life as much as possible. Most are disowned by their parents, can never marry (though one of them seems to have a steady boyfriend) and can’t do any work other than to beg and/or retail sexual services. They try hard to forget these limitations …
This show changed my perspective from one of abhorrence to one of empathy. I still can’t forget the day, when my arrival at a restaurant for lunch coincided with the extortion rounds of these blokes. I was groped by one of them ( I felt for the first time  what most Indian WOMEN, esp in Delhi and Kerala must be feeling daily) – when I was paying the bill after having lunch. So embarrassed was I that I went back to my table without collecting the change.
I still avoid them as much at traffic signals and while traveling on train – their trademark claps put me on high alert and  I vanish into the nearby toilet till they’re gone.
I still pass through New Bharath Hamam everyday to work and see them doing immense amounts of laundry.
Cleaning the filth of the society …. while living on its fringes. Disowned.

PS: Apparently TN is the first state in India which recognizes the Third Sex on its voters’ ID and ration cards. There is a pan-India movement for this – let’s hope it succeeds.

Jaljeera-green-lime-tea

Deriving some inspiration from Sarah, I decided to write down my very own recipe. Its actually a very simple-to-make concoction which I discovered accidentally. For want of a better name let me call it jaljeera-green-lime-tea.
Ingredients:
* Jaljeera ( for the really adventurous ones : you could make your own by buying and mixing an assortment of rock salt, black salt, cumin power, dry raw-mango powder, mint, pepper and chilli powders according to taste – I’m yet to try this option)
* green tea
* one half of a lemon
* table salt to taste.
Procedure:
Heat some water to pre-boiling ( ~ 85 deg C, just enough heat to scald your skin but for a moment) and steep the green tea leaves in for 2 mins – stir for a while and the allow the leaves to settle.
Separately, in a cup take a dry mixture of salt, Jaljeera powder (or all its constituents) and squeeze half a lime into it.
Decant (and not strain) the tea into this cup and stir well.
Your special-tea is ready, but owing to an unused to taste there is very less possibility that you would ever like it first time.

I did.

Yours Cynically

Cynicism, especially government-bashing seems to be latest craze in India. A young girl is shot dead near her college in the capital, allegedly by her stalker. A solitary assailant, and nobody in the commuter crowd on the busy foot-over-bridge is able (or willing ?) to block his get-away. The victims’ friends “run away”, nobody is willing to take her to hospital for ten minutes – until one person gets help from a police constable, but by when its too late. Everyone does a vanishing act.
Though the very next day there is no dearth of people for hordes of protest marches and candle-light vigils, by her college students, by other associations, by parents and neighbors all protesting against the govt. and the police for failing to prevent such a tragedy – such opportunists.
Even the most resourceful nation like US can not afford to have a police guard for every female college-student, and more so when the parents don’t even care to inform the police of a person they know for sure, has stalked their daughter.
The truth is no one really cares – everything is a show – the empathy, the sympathy – the candle light vigils. We just want to use every such incident to score brick-bats against the government for its inadequacies and apathy, and in the process showcasing our enhanced (delusional) virtuosity.
Although the govt. IS full of deficiencies – if we really wanted to solve an anomaly ( especially this crime against women anomaly in the capital) we would be more proactive and like to become a part of the solution rather than bickerers.
Even so, without much help from crime-scene witnesses, the police already seem to have identified the murderer and its a matter of time before he’s apprehended. But, if past is any example, this is going to be appended to another long list of “high-profile” cases dragging on in the capital for decades.

Gulf Rupee

I just learnt that the Indian Rupee (and later Gulf Rupee, also issued by RBI) was the official currency of many Gulf countries including Bahrain , Kuwait , Oman and Qatar until the 1960s. In fact, even today 100 fils (a fil is 1/10th of Bahrani Dinar) is referred to as rupee or rubiya in Arabic.
Surely, being ruled by the most powerful imperialists of the time did give India some semblance of a regional hegemony albeit merely notional and also transitional. The very thought of those oil-rich sheiks counting currency issued by “Kafirs” seems so incredible and yet satisfying.

Though, in reality, it seems these Rupees were used by smugglers to bleed our foreign (read £) reserves, prompting RBI to issue special Gulf Rupees, as the story goes.

Son Rise – Redemption

(This is a sequel to Son Rise – the Chase)

So, on 22 Jan 2008, around 4:30 am I found myself at the not-so-deserted Mysore bus-stand. I scouted around for a bus to Calicut, my next port of call, realized that the first bus had already left and the next won’t start soon.
That was why when I discovered a red box of a bus ( Kerala Transport’s “Superfast”) with the board Mysore-Thrissur (it rhymes too), I was overjoyed not just at saving a detour to Calicut but also on starting the day on a good omen (I’m very superstitious) – the day looked promising.
The bus’ crew had just woken up; groggily and through mouths foaming with tooth-paste, they fielded queries in Kannada from prospective passengers – “Gundlupet?” “Bandipur?” “Gudaluru?”, interesting places I’d seen only on Google maps and always wanted to visit, but very incongruous in my current situation.Whatever lack of zeal ( in shouting out destinations maybe) shown by the comrade conductor (in comparison to his Karnataka counterpart) was made for in the timeliness, the bus departed sharp to the minute, and never stopped  except at the designated stops.
By quirk of luck, I had taken the shortest geographical route to Thrissur from Bangalore , one I’d never explored before on account of bad roads; but it seemed with this red box bad roads hardly mattered, so inspite of frequently being tossed into the air (the driver never cared about hitting humps or bumps), I was glad at making good progress.
Except a part of me that wanted a pit stop, one which would contain a pay-phone – I’d woken my phone from coma one last time and memorized my f-i-l’s number fast before the phone passed out again. But that was not to be – at a village tea-stall where we stopped there was nothing but to eat and drink and to smoke.
We passed Gundlupet and breezed in to Bandipur forest – which became Mudumalai forest when we crossed into TN; the narrow winding forest road got progressively snakier, till we were climbing hills – and the forest grew progressively shorter transforming into tea-estates – not very impressive ones like in Darjeeling or Munnar but beautiful all the same – though out of focus for my mind at that time. We picked a group of foreigners in the forest and quite a huge rush of well dressed natives outside Gudalur, office-goers ? Maybe ?
But no pay-phone-stop !!
I got company on my seat; a young office-goer – a Malayalee (Keralite):I asked for his cell-phone – trying to explain that I’d use my SIM – but he smelt a rat and declined flatly.
From Gudalur we descended into Kerala at Vazikadav, and ostensibly to celebrate this home-coming the crew finally decided to take a 15 min b/fast stop at a place with yes…
A pay-phone.
M had been in labour room for most of last night and today morning – where she had tea and glucose; nothing more was known – the doctor had not yet arrived – the baby’s ETA was unknown – it could be hours or days ( there were others lodged in the labour room for days) – while their kins camped outside.
Some news was better than no news – so the kid had not arrived yet – I still had a chance to outrun him/her and fulfill M’s desire to be near at that Moment (atleast as near as possible in India -sadly we are still far from aping the West custom of allowing the would-be father into the labour room).
Over bad breath, I gulped some mango juice, to prevent collapsing with exhaustion – no more than a short nap (in between hitting two road bumps and the resultant tosses from the seat) in more than 24 hours.
To Nilambur, to Malappuram – gentle hills , winding roads and we still moved fast – the “Superfast” red box had proved its name. The Malappuram halt got me impatient -and consequently the conductor, irritated.
Pay Phone – my best pal now told me that baby was still reluctant; and that M had asked for me – through the nurse attendant. I couldn’t make out what to think ; distance was my biggest enemy now and I still had 80 kms or so (which is a good deal by Kerala-roads’ standards).
I wondered if M would hold on till my arrival to fulfill some dumb promise – I wished she wouldn’t- I could not talk to her as quite understandably cell-phones were not allowed inside.
Perinthalmanna, Pattambi without halts; I crossed the Bharathapuza and was into Thrissur distict.
Finally at around 12:30ish (it was more than 2 hrs since I had any news) I was on the outskirts of Thrissur – not that I remembered the precise location of the hospital – when the town started looking familiar I got down and took an autorichshaw – thankfully the hospital was (and is) well known.
Around 1 pm, I finally gate-crashed into the wards and got to where kins of expectant mothers camped for days, in front of the white wall (thoughtfully ?) of the Labour Room with a No Entry board and a window, with an electric bell on the side – the window – was the counter for medicines , food , cloth , glucose and yes newborns.
Everyone was waiting eagerly. I thought I’d made it.But I’d lost the race – my mother embraced me and said that I’d become a father – of a boy.It seemed that M was fine, but not much news was forthcoming.
The window opened and “boy of ‘M'” was finally called out from the counter and a little bundle with tiny quivering hands and closed eyes wrapped in a turkey towel – all except the head  and the hands was passed out – after my and M’s mother (apparently only experienced mothers apart from professionals could handle an infant till 28 days as “neck was not firmed up till then”) cradled the infant; they had to finally handle him over to me – reluctantly , gingerly – with lots of this-ways and that-ways gestures. The chap seem oblivious to all the racket around him – I realized that I’d not washed my hands after the incredible journey and returned the newbie in a few seconds, much to the relief of all the “old moms”.
The baby was returned to bond with the Mother and Milk.

The Moment had arrived.

Yet, another incredible wait started – to see M, the visibly calm nurses had to reply a hundred times that she was under observation and it was the norm. It was not less than 4 hrs later that M was finally wheeled out and in the hospital’s private room – that we were once again united and now with a new kid on the block.
He’d arrived at 11:15 am , a little while after I’d last talked to my f-i-l over phone.And incredibly I was the last person in the extended family and friend circle to get the news.
Thanks to my cell-phone’s persistent coma state.
When I arrived back at work 3 days later,my last day at work had been extended indefinitely subject to meeting deadlines; I slogged all could, over the weekend to finally get relieved by Tue.
So much for humanitarian grounds, huh.

Son-rise – the Chase

More than 3 years ago, around this time – a phone-call triggered a life – no overstatement this.

It was a Monday evening and I’d returned the same morning from Kerala, where my wife (say M) waited the arrival of our kid, scheduled for Feb 14 (no kidding) – still more than 3 weeks away.
And after a long day’s work ( more so, as I was slated to quit the company by that Fri, subject to meeting some unreasonably stiff deadlines) – I had a disagreement over a trifling issue with M, the reason, laughably mundane ( and I don’t even clearly remember the details) but enough to get my feisty M all worked up. Then, over the phone – I realized first hand ( no books or Wikipedia had prepared me for this) – that a tiny impulse of indignation was enough to trigger labor.
While M scurried off to the hospital in a pre-arranged taxi with a pre-packed overnight bag (thoughtful in-laws) – I got home with my head in a tizzy. It still could not sink in – so soon – false alarm most probably. But still, 3 weeks soon, it was not impossible – but all my preparations to switch my job before that and take a week’s leave – to welcome the newbie, evaporated ? Enough to trigger diarrhea – and I sat on the WC, and checked on Indian railways site to find that the last train for the day was already gone ( it was well past 11). Getting to the bus stand was the only option – but only my mo-bike would only be fast enough for that but then where to park. So I went to my b-i-l’s place,to find a parking slot for my bike and to get a ride to the bus-stand at midnight, which I eventually did after some coaxing ( he knew, that otherwise I was crazy enough to ride all the way to Kerala on that bike).
So an hour or so later I found myself on an “Express” service of the Karnataka Transport Corp. ( the 24 hour Blr-Mysore service of which I’d always admired) – there was no direct bus to Calicut or Coimbatore till morning – so segmented travel was the my only option to reach Thrissur. Although M sounded surprisingly calm as well as spirited – Murphy made me fear for the worst – all those medico episodes I’d read of in Reader’s Digest and seen in Discovery flashed through my eyes, connected, as a looping trailer, of umbilical cords wrapped around the necks, making sleeping impossible – it was also possible it WAS a false alarm and that the hosp after doing some business would discharge M, asking to come another day for the finals (and for more business).
My faith in the K(arnataka)SRTC Express was jolted when the bus broke down around 2 or 3 am near a tea-stall at Who-knows-where, the driver seemed to try to fix the engine – which seemed to emit an abundance of steam or smoke or both, accompanied by the skull-capped conductor who seemed to help while being visibly peeved by the account of my predicament (“my wife is in labor, sir” in the best Urdu I could manage) – as I tried in vain to hasten up their efforts. The driver seemed to have his eureka moment when he fished out a tree branch or an old rope or something to fix the incontinent engine – and it looked like we were finally moving off – at 20 kmph – but moving nevertheless – till the engine gave another hiss and filled the front of the bus with smoke once again. Another temporary fix and the driver managed to get to a KSRTC work-shop-cum-bus-depot and called it a day ( he could retire early today) – and we waited eagerly for a relief bus – but one that never came – we, a harried island of wakefulness among a sea of sleeping souls – drivers, mechanics, empty buses, all asleep.
Finally the conductor escorted us back to the Blr-Mys highway on foot – everyone trailing him for that savior bus – empty one – just for us – but one that never came – instead the conductor was trying to flag down any other KSRTC bus that he could – as if his khaki provided us with the credentials that we were not bandits. One bus stopped after many attempts – there was a mad rush – the woman in front of me fell on my legs – but the scramble paid off when I found myself tightly packed in a space fit for half a person.
Mysore was conquered, with a whimper – 135 km in 4 hrs, 400 km or so left, and my phone – gasped one last time for charge and slipped into coma – snapping my ties with M and the rest of the world – from now on – I would not know if a new life was born – or whatever happened to the existing life – and worse – I didn’t remember any phone numbers either, to call from a booth, e,g. it was the very … traumatic.

The Art of Procrastination – Bangalore Edition

This is a sequel to my procrastinating escapades – the first edition is here.

And it’s not just with Mumbai.Even in Bangalore – years later,by when I should have matured – I kept up my game plan.

I decided to save time and take my motor-bike to station to beat the heavy traffic that impedes the buses in the heart of the city.Unluckily some sport event was happening at the indoor stadium and the vehicles were parked all over the place – and I couldn’t do much but to wait.

While my train didn’t. Atleast if I did not have my own vehicle, I could have hopped off to cross the blockade by foot and hailed a richkshaw – but that was not to be. And then once in Bangalore City railway station, after composing from shock of the missed train, I find that there was no separate queue to cancel unused tickets and the general queues were Ridiculously Long. I once again tried to outsmart the system by chatting up some girls standing in the women’s queue (which because of our country’s skewed sex ratio) was considerably shorter and persuading them to cancel my tickers. After a patient wait for half an hour – the counter clerk flung my ticket out immediately, having been tricked like this countless time before in a day.I returned to square one of a Ridiculously Long Queue – not having thought of waiting there for the half an hour now gone – which could have served as a plan B – delusions of invincibility ? Maybe.

And for people who expect me to pick them up from the railway station – they can plan to have an elaborate morning tea and snacks on the platform before I finally arrive.

And for people who expect me to drop them at the station – well nobody actually expects – so I’m saved there.

And trains are not the only means of transport I’m an expert at missing. Inter-city buses too.

Especially when I was to board at a pass-through bus-stop rather than at the bus station (I’d thought this would save me an hour-long commute in the evening peak hour). Anyway I reached the boarding point – confident that the bus had not left – the traffic was so bad – and anyways I’d come on the same route the bus would have followed to exit the city – and I hadn’t seen the bus go.That I was not on time but 10 min or so late – didn’t ring me a bell – 10 min late is not late in India – I told myself, not reassuringly but confidently. I debunked Murphy’s law which stated that whenever I would be even 5 mins late the bus/train would always leave on time (the converse is also true). So I waited confidently for an hour or so before growing skeptical – there WAS a KSRTC booking counter nearby – which had a record of what bus had passed – I en-quired and was told that they did wait for me for a couple of minutes (phew, at other times I’ve seen this same bus company wait for passengers endlessly). I lost the full ticket money (due to a stupid rule) and had to purchase a new ticket for another bus.

This happened no more than some months ago – when I had already donned the hat of a responsible husband and a responsible father

I guess my son would never reach school in time – even if there was an exam.

The Art of Procrastination – Mumbai Edition

I was born at 5 minutes past 3. Apparently, that was when it was decided that I would never be able to do anything on time at all in this life.

It’s true that almost everyone suffers from some minor form of this disorder but for me it has reached hilariously lofty proportions. I can procrastinate for hours and months and years together. I have some home fixtures I’ve bought more than a year and a half back which I’ve not been able to fix yet – I have everything in place – everything tangible atleast – drilling machine , nails, screws etc. and I plan to get it done every weekend – for the past 32 months or so.

Everyday I plan to get to office on time – and everyday I’m late – late not by minutes but hours. My boss has given up expecting me before lunch. I play safe and start working only after checking mail – just to play safe by ensuring that I’m still employed.

If getting up early morning is difficult then catching a train or bus (plane ? no – I hardly ever fly) is worse.

I’ve missed trains atleast half a dozen times and countless times have been saved only by a whisker – providing some good business to station cabbies.

One of those cases was absolutely ludicrous – once while trying to catch a train to Varanasi (the holiest place for Hindus) for an important interview – I saw the train slide out of the platform the moment I arrived at the Kurla Terminus station (now Lokmanya Tilak terminus), Mumbai.When I confirmed with the cabbies there that was indeed my train – one enterprising chap promised me into the train at Kalyan station – which was its next stop – some 40 km or so away. It would cost me 500 rs. My naiveté triumphed.

So we sped along the sparsely trafficked Eastern Express Highway – did not stop for being flagged down by the traffic cop and reached Kalyan only to be told that the train had just departed. Losing 500 rs added to the double whammy – that was more than the ticket price of my round trip to Varanasi – atleast the cabbie had the human heart to drop me back at the Kurla Terminus.

Kurla Terminus has been especially unlucky for me – I had debuted there some years before, assuming that the terminus must be an extension of the Kurla sub-urban station (like Bandra or Dadar terminus). Like usual I was in Kurla right at the departure time of the train – except that I could find no extension – and so no terminus – inquiries revealed that it was a separate station in its own right and had to be reached in a rickshaw – I frantically hired one. My conspicuous hysteria worked its magic on the (yet another enterprising) auto-richshaw driver called John.

He charged me a flat 50 rs – which I was more than willing to pay.Though his languid manner highly contrasted my sense of urgency, he promised me that I won’t miss my train. As soon as we reached Kurla Terminus he told me to cool off as my train was starting 4 hrs or so late (and he knew about it all the time). My anxiety had ballooned his fare from rs 8 to rs 40 (which is what I finally agreed to pay) for plying a distance of no more than half a km.

Nothing won’t be more tragic than to see the sub-urban train you’re travelling in held at a signal to let a long-distance train pass – when that was the train you were intending to catch. You could try jumping from this train to the moving train – and say (at heaven-hell gates maybe) that you sacrificed your life trying to catch your train.

I was born at 5 minutes past 3. Apparently, that was when it was deicided that I would never be able to do anything on time at all in this life.
Its true that almost everyone suffers from some minor form of this disorder but with me it has reached hilariously lofty proportions. I can procastinate for hours and months and years together. I have some home fixtures I’ve bought more than a year and a half back which I’ve not been able to fix yet – I have everything in place – everything tangible atleast – drilling machine , nails, screws etc. and I plan to get it done every weekend – for the past 32 months or so.
Everyday I plan to get to office in time – and everyday I’m late – late not by minutes but hours. My boss has given up expecting me before lunch. I play safe and start working only after checking mail – just to play safe by ensuring that I’m still employed.
If getting up early morning is difficult then catching a train or bus (plane ? no – I hardly ever fly) is worse.
I’ve missed trains atleast half a dozen times and countless times have been saved only by a whisker – providing some good business to station cabbies.
One of which was absoultely ludicurous – once while trying to catch a train to Varanasi (the holiest place for Hindus) for an important interview – I saw the train slide out of the platform the moment I arrived at the Kurla Terminus station (now Lokmanya Tilak terminus), Mumbai.When I confirmed with the cabbies there that was indeed my train – one enterprising chap promised me into the train at Kalyan station – which was its next stop – some 40 km or so away. It would cost me 500 rs. My naivete triumphed.
Anyways, we sped along the almost empty Eastern Express Highway – didnot stop for being flagged down by the traffic cop and reached Kalyan only to be told that the train had just departed. Losing 500 rs added to the double whammy – that was more than the ticket price of my round trip to Varanasi – atleast the cabbie had the human heart to drop me back at the Kurla Terminus.
Kurla Terminus has been especially unlucky for me – I had debuted there some years before, assuming that the terminus must be an extenstion of the Kurla sub-urban station (like Bandra or Dadar terminus). Like unsual I was in Kurla right at the departure time of the train – except that I could find no extension – and so no terminus – enquires revealed that it was a separate station in its own right and had to be reached in a rickshaw – I frantically hired one. My conspicous hysteria worked its magic on the (another enterprising) autorichshaw driver called John.
He charged me a flat 50 rs – which I was more than willing to pay.Though his languid manner never seemed to match my sense of urgency, he promised me that I won’t miss my train. As soon as we reached Kurla Terminus he told me to cool off as my train was starting 4 hrs or so late (he knew about it all the time). My demeanor had transformed his fare from rs 8 to rs 40 (which is what I finally agreed to pay) for plying a distance of no more than half a km.
Nothing won’t be more tragic than to see your sub-urban train stopped at a signal to let a long-distance train pass – when that was the train you were intending to catch. You could try jumping from this train to the moving train – and say (at heaven-hell gates maybe) that you sacrificed your life trying to catch your train. 

My brother Vs I

Despite sharing both parents and having underwent same system of schooling, we are just exact opposites.
While I was born in Shillong and completed secondary and higher secondary schools in Jammu – he did reverse – he was born in Jammu and completed schooling in Shillong.He spent his post-school years (till date) in the communist bastions of India – Trivandrum and Kolkata while I – in the capitalist cores – Mumbai and Bangalore.
While he aspires to be an academician , I an engineer.
While he cannot do without friends I’m a big recluse.
While he’s a big hit with the opposite sex – well I… I’m not even the least lucky.
While he is always dressed for the occasion, my appearance is one of perpetual disarray.
While he’s forever an optimist I’m a paranoid pessimist.
While he’s outgoing sportsperson I’m a down and down book-worm.
While he’s superbly street-smart , I’m an irrevocable theorist.

While he has a persuasive appeal ,I’m an ace at winning  foes.
While he’s most expressive with pictures – I’m at home with words (and can hardly draw a straight line – intentionally)
The list is almost endless.
Just about the only things we share are common penchant for some “boys` toys” like sport motor-bikes and an intense disgust for religion.

“Safety” in Numbers

I recently realized the true power that probability exerts on our lives when after getting my kid another dose of the oral polio vaccine; I Googled to find out any side-effects. Intrigue led me to a flood of overwhelming information – until I clinched the dynamite – one out of every x ( x is a huge number – some say 750,000) vaccine recipients can have polio itself induced due to the vaccine. Statistically insignificant, yet if you happen to be that person’s kin you’d be devastated.

Looks like most if not all medicines/diagnostic tools are approved  if they pass some arbitrary statistic ; so if only one out of lets say 100000 people get cancer by exposure to x-rays (through diagnostic radiology), it’s considered safe – its said that the “benefits far outweigh the risks”. So how much risk are we taking everyday – a lot. This H1N1 is just hyped up.

Consider this – every time you scrape yourself against any sharp – not just a needle – you could fall prey to Hepatitis B , C or even HIV – in that order of probability. Everytime your skin is broken open by any animal – canine,simian, feline anything – even playfully – you stand a risk of getting rabies – which is preventable but not treatable – and guess what – it could remain asymptomatic for years. Though all these are theoretically possible there have been either lack of statistic for these means or the statistic is negligible enough not to be considered a risk – yet if you’re the unlucky one…

I intend not to scare but – know this that – our life and death is all finally a probabilistic game (like Head or Tail while tossing a “fair” coin) . For years I have suffered from this fear of getting ill – so much so that I became obsessed with precautions – till I realised that even that’s not fool-proof.

So the best strategy is to take all the feasible precautions and be content – and enjoy life as long as it lasts. It’s like that padlock – which you put on your door to secure yourself – even though you know that every lock can be picked – every grill can be cut into and your house be burgled – the lock (or the grill) is actually just a means for mental satisfaction – of retaining sanity. Any occasional pilferages can always be forgotten ( like my  2000 rs [40 dollar] shoes stolen from the front of my home) – they’re like that seasonal cold – which is usually gone in a few days.

An Exercise, in Inefficiency

Exercising (to keep the body fit) is as an insanely wasteful activity.
Considering  that food prices keep leap-frogging by the day while population balloons and urbanisation usurps more land under cultivation ( and ranches,pastures for the meat-only eaters).Amidst this , we pay so much to get that box of imported corn-flakes or oats – all just to squander it away in gym – what a colossal waste.
It’s like tanking up your car  to run miles just so that the machine remains in excellent working order.
So what do we do – stop exercising and die of obesity or to stop eating and starve to death ?
Neither – we need to be efficient – everywhere – not just by saving oil and saving paper (by using text messages instead ? that is a really crazy idea). Before our internal combustion engines, we need to attain more “mileage” of the food we eat. Exercise is essential for the body – that is true – but excercise need not be burning calories.

 A good idea is to clean up around yourself everyday – believe me that’s tougher than any gym workout. Take out that mop , that broom and put them to use – yourself. You gain, as you get to do some physical labor like your forefathers once did – and which technology or prosperity (enabling you to employ domestic aides) snatched.
Not only would it save you extra money, it would be gratifying as well – you sense some independence; gain peaceful sleep at night – and thus a more wakeful tomorrow – these are the bonuses accrued.
Goodbye insomnia.
Would that render many unemployed – not at all – all those domestic helps freed up may want to pursue their dream jobs. And anyways there would be ample hectares of public spaces to be cleaned; which would pay better than cleaning homes and have more job and social security.
We need to eat only as much and when its required. That will strictly depend on the work we do – a car doesn’t not need aviation turbine fuel and neither does an airplane, rocket fuel. That is difficult to follow since for us eating is also a socializing opportunity and not just filling up tanks ;we tend to eat what most of our friends want to eat and when the whole group goes for lunch – not when WE‘re hungry.

 I’ve been eating alone for  years now and I can tell you that I eat far lesser – since for me food doesnt get pushed under the rug of a lively debate (on who will win that day’s match).If you can get boxed meals, you also have the luxury to eat only when you feel hungry. That way you just fill enough fuel to run the miles till the next filling station.

You donot need to kill the foodaholic in you – just to put him/her into hibernation – so that you indulge in those gastronimic pleasures only once in a while.

Maybe…

Spit, wide and open

One of the major flips hampering (motor)-biking in the city for me, is the random squirt of human saliva I tend to keep receiving at equally random intervals.

In our country it is well-thought of pass-time or maybe even an art, I think , so I’d refer to these habitual offenders as patrons.

I wonder if I should stop biking to office.

Roads were originally designed to spit upon, or so it seems – and driving on them being just a well-thought of secondary purpose. Public buses contain the most patrons , most are waiting for the bus to stop or slow down to make a (potentially master) stroke. And usually its over in a split second – so that it is difficult for the “canvas” (or a potential one) to precisely locate the brush. Not that you could do a lot even if catch the patron – you could just glare at him till the signal turns green – so that he doesnot attempt an action replay on your freshly laundered Van Heusen.

I try as much as possible to resist the temptation of sliding by the sides of buses in traffic blocks , though this usually defeats the very purpose of using a two-wheeler in dense traffic. I once thought that AC buses would be safe and kept jostling by their sides till once , when I’d already cleared once I heard the dreaded squirt sound at my back – and yes – it was from the AC bus , but not any passenger but the driver ( who has an open window apparently for hand signals – put to real good use).

And buses are not alone , the lorries are quite competent also – particularly the “cleaner’s” window – many a time he is half outside his window – trying to navigate the huge vehicle – and so he can squirt even at speeds without it all blowing back on him. The cabbies (hired cars , autorichshaws) come next – and this time its always the driver (maybe it is the passengers stiff upper lip that prevents him from joining – the fact that that would potentially equate him with the driver – ah caste system inside a four-wheeler?) , though given a different time and place they could themselves do better. The two-wheeler driver/passenger doesnot quite live up to any of those above, maybe for fear of back-squirting oneself or the pillion.

And this art exhibition doesnot stop on road; nooks of staircases , hallways , especially of Govt offices provide excellent canvas to practise – most are shades of red ( “some like it dark”) with an occasional froth and gray of phlegm. Treading on the tarmac of the city bus stand feels more dangerous when I’m trying to dodge millions of frothy mini-puddles down on the road and big hunks of petrol-guzzling , machines , driven perhaps by alcohol-guzzling drivers up on the road.

I gave up wearing sandals.

Railways tracks at stations are another popular target – but it is for everything – when on platform , the railway tracks are our bottomless pits for receiving our spit, garbage , our kids’ excreta , everything. Anyone heard of waste-management?

At other street-spots , a chain-reaction follows – one has to pioneer (in response to a mildly bad odor, maybe) and a whole truckload of patrons follow at the same spot – like a signature campaign. And just like signatures , people have different flourishes , some use a gorge between two fingers to form a neat jet, other shape ball inside their mouth, trying till it attains a critical mass till expelling it.

If we could emit innovation even at a fraction of this rate, we might not have been in the “third” world.

Un-Holi Shoal-y

It is that time of the year again when I have to duck under my desk to escape getting swathed in layers of potentially toxic chemicals – or getting filthy water squired all over. But the worst part is getting held , grabbed , pounced upon by these  otherwise civilized people.

Yes its holi again, the festival I abhor most.
And like always all the non-conformists were pulled,as if by their collars – more so if they had new, bright clothes and even more so if they happened to be females, and still more so if they were reluctant or uninterested in joining, to the office terrace where this chemical warfare is typically staged.
Being a newbie in the organization last year I was obliged to mix (and in the process did irepparable damage to my absoulte white t-shirt which I’d been wearing for the first time).
This year I did not budge from my seat – for , most folks who already considered me an outcast for dining and strolling alone did not bother much – the rest , who had recently joined and didn’t know my (a)social status – had to be dealt with by a deft duck under the desk on the pretext of checking a disconnected cable.
Yes I did enjoy it once – when I was a kid but now – hey tastes change with age.
The biggest part I fail to comprehend is why these party-ers feel compelled to pull everyone into their “hole” – individuals who are not just disinterested but extremely uncomfortable – no its not just chemicals or colors or the shirts getting spoilt- its just not my way of ‘winding down’.
Why is it that in our independent country (esp) there is no independence to individual choice of likes or dislikes – why does everyone HAS to like what the majority indulges in ?
There are picnics which everyone HAS to attend – or you’re marked as on casual leave.
There are activities where strangers (belonging to the same organisation’s distant departments with no chances of working together) are forced into close physical proximity (like 5 people dancing on a 4 ft by 4 ft newspaper which gets folded into its half every few minutes, or people transferring “polo”s[“the mint with the hole”] over tooth-picks held from their mouths – or as simple as strangers being made to share the same double cot in the retreat hotel).
All in guise of team building? huh?
Wonder if anybody happens to have heard of a personal space , a breathing space – of choices to be made or rejected.
Or are we going getting herdified – like sheep or cattle – you stray just to fall prey to the unholy wolf called social ostracism.
Most of my friends’ tastes are dictated by what the majority of their peers (friends , colleagues or room-mates) consider appropriate.There is little inspiration to see that off-beat movie or to try that nascent cusine or go to that non-standard holiday destination just because there is no company.
A friend wanted so badly to go abroad – and when he really could – he almost never visited the famous places – the places he wanted to see – the momuments he wanted to have himself photographed posing in fornt of.
And that for no other reason than for the lack of company.
Sad.

Beauty of Chaos

“Order and method” said Poirot, were his gurus. Yet, have you ever stopped for a moment and looked, spell-bound, at the beauty of a room absolutely messed up – I have. It’s masterpiece – in that, though an ordered and well-kept room can always be brought back to excatly the same state – a messed up room is unique – its a once in a eternity state – like a masterpiece – unreproducible – you can’t mess it up in exactly the same way again (else “mess” won’t remain “mess”) – so I always gloat at the view of my room in its natural state – in its nakedness – before I’m forced to dress it up – to bring it up into a civilised state – “all things at their places” “Yes,Sir”.
Ah the thrill – of finding simpile things – of finding them at the most unexpected places – of finding unexpected things – of finding things you had long given up for lost – trinkets from the past – of the emotional outbursts they evoke – a dried flower (when you were foraging for something as mundane as one of a pair of socks).
My Mom has tried hard to beat this talent out of me – gladly without success – the state of my study table is where her ire is usually directed at – you can find atleast three layers of books piled on – the slim volumes carrying their bulkier counterparts – my Mom would never appreciate the hard hours spent (inadvertantly) in achieving such an unstable equilibrium . It makes an unusually good platform to doze off – when you need to recharge your batteries during those heavily loaded examination days- unusually because – after a while the books tip off and you’re awaken with your battery meter showing full bars.
What good comes in by keeping things ordered – that’s what the millitary does when they have noone to fight against – its a “time-pass” job – make the armed men clean up the whole campus – so as to they don’t shoot each other other up over trifles.I’m at a failure to find out why the dining halls are called messes – when they are kept so unabashedly ordered – and why an Officer’s Mess is different from the corporal’s ( because mess is mess – it doesn’t discriminate on social status).
Tell me what would be better than the thrill of keeping something safe and then forgetting about it , messing things up and then finding it out- such can activity can make great crime investigators.
And I’m not alone – a friend’s Mom while visiting his “bachelor” residence bought him expensive glassware; my dear friend readily started using one of them as an ash tray- ah a beautiful ash-tray – ofcourse this after his mother was out of earshot.
I’m told that its a sure sign of laziness – bah – the ordered folks are lazier – how? – well they’re so lazy to search for things that they spend more time trying to keep them at their places.
Was lucky to discover a group that screened serious cinema under the umbrella: “collective chaos” – which leads me to a more philosophical note – that real life really is chaotic – we’re simplifying things for our own sake – classifying good and evil , love and hatred , freinds and foes. What makes one think that life was meant to be simple – that everything came in neatly packaged cases – that we can cut, microwave and eat – and we are trying to beat a meaning out of life – when no none might exist…
Even physics sides me – “Entropy” – the only thing that doesn’t remain conserved in a physical system – but tends to increase with all natural processes – science says it needs positive energy (which means we have to work against natural processes to reduce entropy) – so pal , why , uh why bother?

Speed

I donot remember the events that led to my initiation into the biking world but I do remember the night when a friend in a moment marked with extreme generosity – allowed me to try out his run down and rather old Suzuki – and I (utterly ignorant of the art of motrobiking then) revved so hard on a desolate but perferctly made road , that he started running after me, forseeing the the end of his bike and his friend – I survived.
And decided (against the instict that told me I would never ride/drive safely) that I’d love to have that experience every day even if that would mean , well death or worse – a physical handicap.
And now after a dozen accidents , a score near misses all sustained in one year of driving my beloved Honda – the pain that I have in my knee right now – and which makes me make sloemn promises to ride safely to all deared – evaporates the instant I hit a vast expanse of good road. Two days after my worst accident ever – I was still still cruising past 90 with a knee that refused to bend making shifting the gear a painful process – and all this not for sheer dare-devilry – but the passion , the thrill of (over)speeding; I had the realization that the only death can deaddict you off speed.
I got the first taste of the drug when I was 12 and Dad allowed me to ride a Go-cart in a leisure park in Gujarat – I hit everyone I possibly could – overtaking them as they mouthed obscenities – and then on a curve I did a head-on with the ‘tyre’- barricades – face on steering – chipped one tooth (which exists to date) – and tore up the joint between the lower jaw and the lower underlip.But what I remember most was I did not let the accelerator off for a moment – even when I’d hit the fence I slammed the brakes but never released the accelerator – that was the first and last time I rode a non-twowheeler.
My next vehicle-of-affection was the innocuous looking bicycle – an uncle taught me riding  when I was at an age when my classmates used to drive in cars. Ran amok with it – including when once I fell and a cycle-rickshawallah in the city of Jalandhar went over it – twisting the rim out of shape.Then once I collided with a friend’s car head on and under the impact the front wheel jammed into the mudgard – so much so that I had to tow it with the front wheel lifted to the nearby repairman.
Then my friend baptized me into the world of motorbiking – he told me(in essence) that there the horses and the bulls – the former meant for speed and only speed while latter meant for ruggedness. I took no time in deciding that I wanted a horse but since a genuine horse was beyond my means – I took up a mule which has been reared (theoretically) in the same (Japanese) stables as the best stallions in the world – the Honda.
The bull(et) makes for magnificence of riding , of riding chest up – of riding graciously – of the trademark sound of its ‘hooves’ – of riding rough terrain. All that made no sense to me – all I cared for was speed , speed and more speed – even if the riding position invented for minimum wind drag gave me a back pain (after all you have but one youth).
I did not consider the ‘oxen’ at all -as the dictionary defines it – the Bulls with the balls removed – and cheap to buy – the Avengers and the Eliminators and the Enticers (sorry mate if you own one).
So I bought this mule and I knew no way of riding it ( a friend rode it home from the shop).I started off with some bad crashes into and out of the office parking ramp – both me and my mule still bear those first scars. I realised that it was 90 % fear and only 10 % inexperience. Then I undertook a confidence building drive by riding my mule continuously for some 8 hours and not hitting even once and gave myslelf the modest achievement that ‘I can ride well’. 
Unlike what you would like to believe, the seriousness of my accidents increased the better I learnt riding – I took more and more risks and more and more times my luck ran out.
There are men who are trigger happy – and there are those who are throttle-happy – even amongst the trigger-happy there are those win accloades from the government and the ones who become victims of the others of their kind .
Ditto throttle-happy men.
A friend gave me an advice in good faith to give up biking and take on a 4-wheeler instead – ofcourse he knows better than that I’d listen.
No I have no death wish – I do WANT to ride safely – but its just like a cocaine-addict WANTING to quit.

I just envy the ‘both’ types – the one could ride with such abandon that they revel in speed and then they are safe too.Needless to say I would never get there.
I forsee therefore that there is a good possibilty that death would overtake me while I’m overspeeding –  doing what I like doing most (esp since everything else I do is so mundane – so mediocre).

Speed is like love – it sure thrills but can kill.

The Woman in White

It was a clear day when I found myself in the Thane Transport Bus Depot – waiting inside a State Transport bus, called a Laal Dabba (‘Red Box’ for its sheer unpretentious looks) going to Mahabaleshwar – I had to go to Mahad, a small industrial town – some 200km south-southwest of Mumbai. The bus was full of rustic folk – my old trousers and shirt bore stark contrast to the dirty white drapes and shirts of the menfolk (with an equally dirty Gandhi topi to match). The womenfolk had colorful sarees worn in a way to make it easier to work in waterlogged fields. The already narrow aisle space was cramped by heaps and sacks – mostly lumps tied up in bedsheets.
And it being a weekday most people were elderly – so I practically stopped searching for a pretty face – still the seat next to me was empty -and I was hopeful.
Then there came this young female – dressed in a white Punjabi suit – an old man had come to see her off – as luck would have it she came and sat next to me – she took the window seat and I slid to the one beside.
The man left off – and I did not realise when the bus started moving.I opened my Times of India – though from a corner of my eyes I was studying the occupant of the window seat – I could not place her.
She was not pretty but quite good-looking – but what seemed bizarre was that every effort had been made to make her look unattractive – her wrists were bare – no jewerlry on ears or nose either – no Bindi – the suit – pure clean white, seemed to be made and worn so as to the conceal the protrusion on her bosom – the hair were just clumped together in a heap. There was a small metal badge on the left of her chest – the etching not legible. All this put my mind into a turmoil – I finally came to the conclusion that she must have been widowed – recently.
The woman seemed reluctant to talk (that’s never been a problem with me). She seemed to be curiously interested in the Page3 of Bombay Times I was holding (which splashes images of the Who’s who of the city’s burgeoining social circles – men and women fashionably attired holding wine-glasses in one hand).
I donot remember how I broke the ice – but it did and I finally  got to learn that she was a member of the Brahamakumari Samaj, the spinsters’ union. She turned out to be surprisingly talkative from the point onwards – she could speak good Hindi and I was able to see the world through her eyes – a world where all men were looked upon as brothers (brought over by years of brain-washing) – and then there were Mothers and sisters – she stayed in an Ashram in Mahad – preaching virtues to brothers and sisters who visited the Ashram – controlled by mothers – there was supreme mother she refferred to as Mamma. I tried shifting her focus from the doctrine she preached to, herself – I wanted to know ‘Why’
It seemed she had been ‘donated’ to the Samaj by her parents – and since her teens she’d been part of this – she could visit home once in a while but they were proscribed from doing some common things like watching TV and reading newspapers and ofcourse making friends wth men was unimaginable.
I wanted to ask her if she never ‘felt’ anything – but was at a strange loss of words – I thought up a ploy and told her since she thought her Mamma was her idol whether she never wanted to become a Mother – in the true sense – that of having kids.
That switched her to thinking state – I looked intently at her – she looked beyond – still thoughtful – mayabe I could imagine a sigh escaping ? – no there was no sign of dissapproval – nor of contempt for me for making such a prepostorous suggestion.
Talk thinned – Mahad came – I helped her to her solitary suitcase from the rack above – she thanked and asked me to visit her Ashram if I could find time.
 

Death…

A photograph…a body…a man…bare torsoed…covered with polythene…a singular hole in the chest…Death’s sting…lying on snow…two uniformed men by the side…a green paramilitary vehicle in the background.

A girl, six-something, in school, unaware of the meaning of Death, circulating this image in the class (which her teacher confiscated)  – image of her father killed in action in Kashmir.

(My Mom was her teacher and she showed me the photograph – got etched forever in my mind as a symbol for the dispute in Kashmir)

The Matrix

I had a heated exchange with a long-time friend about the truth of the world. Incidentaly this person has not lived in India for more than seven years of his twenty-seven ; and so its not surpising that he be a patron of Indian culture – but he goes further – he’s a staunch RSS supporter and preaches Sanatan Dharma as the core ingredient of the condiment we call Indian culture. And that of a person working on cutting edge technology in the Silicon Valley,sounded quite novel.
The exchange followed due to the misconception that I was one of the Westernised, cynical Indians- raring to move West – the conclusion he jumped into when I divulged my atheist nature and my support for the (West-originated) philosophies of subjectivity (Ayn Rand) and existentialism.
I had to final shout that I was not Westernised, neither Indianised nor Orientalised.( I had to tell him that Sanskrit was my favorite language). I told him that I eclecticly picked whatever was the best of all religions,cultures,races. I told him that I was out of the Matrix – while most people in the world still were not.
I was aware of the truth of my statements only later – Wachowski’s movie gives voice to the malaise which has run amok in humankind and all violence we see around us is directly or indirectly attributable to the existence of the Matrix – or rather the Matrices.
Let me explain – there is hardly a thing called an unbiased opinion or account of anything – my friend accused me of reading history that was written by the West and so biased heavily against Hindutva.I asked him what history to read – Ramayana – Upnishads – they say they are the centre of the world – they and nobody else – its biased against West, or East or north or south – they donot take into account even the ‘existence’ of other races, cultures in ‘Satyuga’ – they finally claim that all that is diverse now has descended from Hindutva.My friend disputed the Aryan invasion theory – I guess what he had in mind was cross-Aryan invasion – the influx of Sanskrit speakers into West.
The point is ‘who do you believe’. I was an extremely gullible person once – believed everything that was told to me – so many people started telling me so many things – totally contradicting each other – that I had no peace of mind – till I decided not to trust anyone – you tell me what you think and I’ll see whether I want to accept it or not- the Self is my Supreme Court – so I decided I won’t be part of any Group that strives to become a Matrix. They want you to believe in what they want and not what you want.Your right and wrong is decided by the Matrix rather than by you yourself.Of course there can be well-intended Matrices as well – the Mission of Charity by Mother Teresa is one example – the Matrix of Compassion.
But most are ill-founded and ill-intended – but the ‘Nodes’ of the Matrix never see that truth – they transform into Agent Smith-s- the Jihad Matrix, the Hndutva MAtrix, the Nazi (and neo-Nazi) Matrix, the Marxist Matrix (which is the most unabashed one – they kill the self completely – the Jihad Matrix does so only physically), the ‘Jesus-loves-you’ Matrix.
Every morning you wake up and you run into Agents – everything said by everyone is intended at making you believe what they believe.
I wake up and see my landlady – she says that I live in the best , the most comfortable house on the Planet,I switch on TV – an ad  tells me that their product is number one (many competitors do that as well for the SAME PRODUCT),I goto to one news channel – they say that a ‘professor has been beaten to death’ I go to another and they say ‘a professor dies of stress and heart-attack’ both channel claim to broadcast only truth – the list is just enless- every moment of the day someone is metamorphising into Agent Smith for his Matrix.
I have a long standing joke wth my former room-mates – everytime we used to go house-hunting – and we would ask someone on street whether there was a house to be let – he immediately transforms into an Agent Smith – just like in the movie – he leaves his original occupation (vending vegetables , tailoring are all true examples) – all transform into a realtor – and would be desirous of Something when the deal is done.
Ofcourse ,all I am talking of could be bull-shit to you – I am no Agent Smith. Please let me know what you think by putting comments.
 

Playing audience to Les Femmes

One of the situations I dread ending up in and yet am forced into frequently is playing audience to the fairer sex. “Thou shalt talk incessantly” seems to be a trait originating in the female hormones.
My spat with the last landlady (which made me move out of my last tenancy at a night’s notice) taught me the benefits of being on friendly terms with the lady of the house, who more often than not are the de facto rulers of their premises and thus of the tenants who occupy them.
Agreed, and the fact that she (my current landlady) spoke my native tongue and was from the same district as I, seemed to help (or so it seemed then) matters. Well, so some sorrys and thank-yous later, now like in countless stories – I sneak up and down through the stairs – while passing through – and this not because I have rent pending to be paid – but , well, if she catches you – a minimum of half an hour is done for.
So usually it happens like this – I come home tired and with smoke smeared on my face and inside nostrils – and I have to get in and cook – and Her Majesty will be done with all her chores and would be waiting for her hubby; boredom borne of day-long solitude writ large on her face.
And then it happens – a steady barrage of all too familiar words starts falling on me ( and I try taking cover in the corner of the stair).Accounts I had heard so many times before – of her crazy westernised son – of his travails abroad – of his retrofitting exploits on his motorbike – of his earth shattering music system – of his countless overseas offers promising big-bucks – of his  first days away from his home,parents – abroad – all punctuated with lots of  what-has-become-of-this-generation-s – man the list is boring.
All this while I just nod my head (I did try interjecting with my own similar experiences – and then realised its futility – she was clearly not the corporate trainer who wanted the “session to be interactive”).
And then she would crib about not being able to go “native” whenever she feels like, having to take care of all the floors rented out – ‘not like you people’ she’d say – ‘can lock ,your house anytime you wish and go anywhere’ – well said I, big (monetary) returns  sure entail big responsibility ; this won’t be taken  in very well and I make an escape – ‘UP, up and away’.
There are two other tenents in her house – both from the same “native” as I – and they’re couples – young ones – I always wonder why  she won’t catch one of the their females ( that may give some respite to the young husbands too).Maybe she thinks he’s just a bachelor – and so no responsibilities (spelt w-o-m-a-n).
Which is not entirely true – I do have a woman home whose endless talk needs patient ears – my mother. She has always craved for having another female in the household,first for a daughter and now for a daughter-in-law and since she eyes me with expectations for the latter – I try warding them off by playing both the daughter and the in-law.
Whenever I visit her she would constantly keep summoning me – she would even arrange for a chair for me in the kitchen – so that I can relax while I listen to her talk and she won’t burn the food either.
And once the talk did seem interesting – all scandalous gossip from the north and the north-east where she had worked – the countless iterations of the Mallu Principal of her school having an affair with a Nepalese office clerk – and the affair goes public – waaah – that was where it all started – there were dozens of other stories followed which she repeated ceaslessly.( I wonder why women , who are such careful folks – never quite remember that they’ve already narrated that story many times before.Or maybe do they)

Of late after settling in the ‘native’ she has lost the all-married-females social circle which is the breeding ground for scandalous gossip- real and imaginary.
Now the stories are less interesting – property feuds in family – her alcoholic brothers and their failed marriages – all very depressing talk.
I usually feign exhaustion after the travel home and try dissapperaing into some ‘remote’ corner in the house – but she finds me invariably.
Well if you think that its married , matronly women who suffer from this malaise you are grossly mistaken. In the one year I gave company to this female who was my colleague as well as neighbour – she would have told me everything about her (well almost atleast) – over and over again.
And all that when she was having an intimate affair with a richie rich guy. It was absolute torture when the day of her birthday she would tell me the details of her midnight tete-a-tete with her lover at a secluded spot near the airport – ‘and then he kissed me’ she would end – and then she realised that she was talking to a guy and hide her face with her palms and say ‘…on the cheeks’ as means for damage control.
Since we commuted to office from the same locality – we would be travelling together on bus daily – she would make me sit far from her (she gets ‘irritated’ by anyone sitting closeby) and then she would tell me how her affair started , what he was wearing on their last date, which upmarket restaurant he took her last,why they quarrelled – and whether she should now call him up or wait for him to say sorry. The trend had repeated so many times , that I had learnt by-heart what she’d be saying – beacause as I’m a little hard of hearing  and would be sitting far – I would keep missing chunks – and she’s too sharp to notice – she would stop her drawl and shout – ‘what did I say?’ – mercifully – most of the time I was able to interpolate from the context. Else I would have be charged with  ‘carelessness towards friend with malicious intent’ and would have to garland her with a wreath of ‘sorry it won’t happen agian’s in order to return to normalcy.
And yet all I feel is :its all worth it – in this vast world there are very few people all these women could and would trust – and my pride in being one of them is always more than rewarding for listening to their idle talk.

Addicted to Love

Unanswered love is worse than starving – unlike the latter which kills you – slowly – the former drives you crazy – slowly – you can feel the mind (well the heart is a goner, already ) dissolving in the aqua regia of grief , of depression – you try to get over it – you try dissolving the aqua regia in alcohol ( you were bad at Chemistry ) – it reacts and gets worse – the stomach churns – eyes get watery – grief is precipitated – clear salty solution – such familiar taste – you land in a trance – nothing else that goes on around you matters – anymore – loud music – wild gyrations – its you and her, just.
Demons called self-consolation , self-pity rake in the opportunity – dance around you – around the altar – where you are being sacrificed- catlysing the regia-alcohol reaction.

Wild Dance – wild wild dance.

Its Her birthday today…

‘Man, you gotta get over it – this has been long’ – closed wounds never heal!!!
‘This too shalt pass’ – yes – time – never stays at a place – longer than a moment
Love remains …
For a lifetime.

Its like heroin addiction – except that you never feel it was wrong for you – totally ‘addicted to love’ – absolute madness – cannot give up – cannot give in – honor – grandeur.

And all a figment of imagination.

Hallucinatory drug –

Called Love, Denied

All other pains in the body are masked out

Or Inhibited
You release your grip
On Reality
is it hot or cold
early or late
Does Time matter
Does Money?

By the end of the day – you are in Devil’s grasp.
You realise – love is the privilege of the Smart
Not of the naive ,confused, absent-minded Me.
Cannot take care of The Self
Let alone others
You realise nobody would love you
Ever
You want to be done with Love’s distant second cousin
Lust – the more tangible one and the one available for sale
‘Do we get get any prostitutes – now?’
‘Come lets go’ – and you know like ever that
You won’t.
Nevertheless , feel like falling on the feet of those hostel-mates
I disdained once
They never mixed love and lust.
They never waited for the One
I Did …

I think self-destruction
‘Which is a better stimulant Cocaine or Heroin?’ ask I.
‘Cocaine’
Big words.

Small Me

Insignificant Me.

Guileless Me.

Gutless Me.

Two am
Deserted roads
Speedometer dial – Backlit
80 – 90 – 110
A little more push and instant death
Absolute Thrill – and then Instant Exit
Carpe Diem
All the past life

Unlived
Live in this single moment
The Last One
So promising –

So easy –
Gentle push on the
Throttle – Valve to Life

Valve to happiness
wind beating into face

And then (once again)
I think of mother
She’ll die of grief
‘I shalt live’
‘I shalt write’
Live to Write

Wanted to

Live to Love

Girls will be girls

Though my usually long journey to and from office in the bus in this varsity town of Cambridge is never uneventful , what happened today was unforgettable.

While returing today, I shared the sparsely occupied bus with a duo of teenage girls , the impatient but good-natured and slighly on the wrong side of weighing scales called A and the sly and naughty, overly weight and appearence concious one called B.

OK now A is highly impatient – she likes to comment loudly on everything she sees outside , mostly stupid comments.B sits quietly in a corner sucking a lollypop , unmindful of friend's hyperactiviness.

One by one the bus empties down – I was sitting at half-back – just beside the heat vents – my favourite spot – for a chill was blowing outside.

A noticed that the bus was almost empty and looked back to reassure herself – I was the only person around – she looked at me and said 'hey can you be my friend – pls be my friend' – I tried to shrug of with a smile somewhere between embarrasement and indifference.

New people had started trickling in but that didnot divert her attention from me – from half way across the bus she kept (mock-)pleading 'can you be my friend – pls be my friend?'

Then she came across and placed her bulk in the seat across the aisle from me – suddenly B also got interested she came in and sat immediately behind me.I continued my mock non-chalance.

B told A (to my immense relief)  'hey I'm your friend , leave him alone!'

A won't leave 'Is she your friend?'I shook my head to indicate a no – 'Am I your friend ?' I shook again – 'why? I need a friend, please …'

B tried a different ploy – 'he's not undertanding a thing' she said to A.

The sportsman in me woke up – the wish to play along out of embarrasing situations.

'I do' I said to B;

This emboldened A.

I told B 'Was that to trick me into talking?'

A was still nagging and I said , foolishly 'I have the right to remain silent – anything I say can and will be used gainst me'

B got interested 'Where are you from?'

'India'

'So am I , I can speak Urdu'

'Really?' I said tried to mimic the Brit way this word is said – so much so that it can make the meaning clear if spoken to someone who knew no English.

And the surprise was genuine – she didn't look a tad Indain – one of those English girls – snow-white skin – she was a very pretty English girl.

''Tum Mote ho' you know what it means ' – it took me awhile to understand what she meant – then I chuckled 'Does she know what that means?' indicating to A.

'What?' A cried – her wailing subsided now after I got talking to her friend.

Then she asked me something else I could not figure out.

'Are both of your parents Indian ?' I asked in serious doubt.

'My Mom is English (Ah there you go) but Dad's from Pakistan but his mother was from India'

My remark about India and Pakistan being same once was ignored by a

'Do you know Urdu?'

'I can understand – its closer to my national language' said I.

'Can you tell me what is Urdu for -' ( I saw it coming) ' Fuck off' – I hesitated – 'Dont you worry we won't meet again – please tell me – I want to use it on my Dad'

The disrespect for parents in these teenagers westwards of Turkey,was not a new thing for me.

I still hesiatated – while she pleaded and prepared to alight  – her stop approaching – I didnot want to give her a 'respect your parents' sermon (the root of the problem cannot be cured bu mere sermons) – nevertheless, the extensive expletive vocabulary I had picked in college seemed to fail me – exasperated, I told her 'Mera peecha chodo' ('Leave me alone' in Hindi) – she repeated – memorizing – thinking it to be the  gross-est expletive she had ever learnt.

While she got down from the bus and crossed the road I waved to her and she waved back (and A looked upon,quite sullen now) -and I smiled accepting imaginary gratitude from her Old man.

The Freak Show

My existence summed up in just one word – 'freak'.I have despised it for long but have come to accept it,finally.People around me would say that it is a modesty trick-but deep inside they know its true.

And why not,the world is swarming with smart people – good-looking people,intricate brains, with huge fan following-so much so that an antithesis is required – me – I am one of the few people trying to balance out this profligacy of undue smartness.I can picturise many comrades but most are garbed beyond recognition,irrevocably.For the Haloween of life ;the mask of their smartness has actually dug deep into their epidermis.

People around me keep thinking-why won't he mix with us,why won't he eat with us, why won't he drink with us,why doesn't he be more presentable?I used to think 'why should I?',now I just say because 'I'm a freak'. I'm in a competition with all you people – its not about looking better,acting smarter,getting more attention,earning more,having more girlfriends/boyfriends.It`s about hatred-that I hate you more than you do me. For all you people who have labelled me 'psycho' – just for wanting to preserve my personal space, for seeing the world with my own eyes, for doing things my own way,for not expecting anything on anybody's faith, for not trusting anyone.

I won't say I 'm happy being a freak-I would have been happy to be left alone-to be just forgotten – but no- for accepting all the taunts,cusses and abuses unleashed from the known and the unknown alike,and without me ever retaliating – people say 'his ego is dead ' – not really, its just anesthetised-not feeling the pain- the price to pay for independent thinking.I inherited this endurance from the woman who pushed me into this world-this world where the only options for a man to survive were – to dominate or being the underling of an alpha and scavenge his kills – to be a hyaena;I desired an alternative. The Desire, the word I was named after, ironically, never got fulifilled.

Yet it is only my mother for whom I'll never be a freak – no – donot want her pushing to go in vain.She is the only woman for whom I'm still the most understanding,compassionate and joyous person.

For the rest of the world,I'm up for display at the freak show (that's my life!) – 'Presenting…the freak without two heads or three arms – but interesting all the same – enjoy!!! '

Border

It was sometime in 1985 or '86 – and I was just five or six when I found myslelf hoisted in the arms of a Pakistani Ranger – I was in India and the person who carried me affectionately, stood in Pakistan.That singular memory is something I've treasured all these years – at the border in R.S.Pura sector of  Jammu (this was close to the northernmost tip of our undisputed border with Pakistan- some 200 km to the north it would turn into be the blood spatterred LoC). I sometimes find it difficult to believe the truth behind this memory – could it be true ? or is my memory playing tricks – many of my father's collegues would have killed those of the person who was holding me and vice versa – could my father trust me in those hands.Particularly in those troubled times – Gen Zia was ruling there – Indira had been killed here.

I find it quite difficult to understand that we ,from all diverse parts of India were responsible of protecting the border between the people who had more cultural similarities between themselves than with us.It was like building a huge wall in your ancestral Haveli and employing a Gurkha to protect you from your brother on the other side of the wall.
Now I realize there really is a sense of oneness between the two nations separated by half a century of distrust.Of shared history – of marauding invaders from Cetral Asia of emissaries from East – none had said India – Pakistan – we're one culture – one history. Is this dispute ever going to get settled – will this border marked by blood ever fade into an amber of hope – if not vanish completely.

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

It was the height of boredom and loneliness which you get when living in a strange place, in a dimly lit melancholy hotel-room without internet or Discovery channel -and no kitchen or microwave either, that you get get to try something less mundane – like popping into the nearby movie-store – however expensive it might seem and renting a movie you've always wanted to see but never got to.
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' was one such extragavance – the first thing that strikes you is simply the way it touches your heart – it's a sad sad story inside a lunatic asylum – true I've seen lots of them in Hindi and most notably in Malayalam – but none has made such a lasting impression as this one- I've watched it twice in the last two days – and the montage of all the characters fits in so aptly that it is a solved jigsaw – except that does it really get solved ? It looks so real – right from the protagonist MacMurphy down to the dominant Nurse Ratchet and her immature underling Pilbow – the attendents Washington and Warren – they too all seem to fit so well in place – so real – into a sad sad story- that I have to pinch myself into telling 'don't cry !!!its just a movie'.
MacMurphy (played stunningly well by Jack Nicholson) is sent to this 'home' for evaluation from the prison where they suspect he's feigning mental illness to escape work.What he finds in the place jolts him – a ward of 18 men with 9 chronic cases and rest being turned into the living dead by 'theraputic' procedures driven by Nurse Ratchet – most of these 9 non-chronic cases are 'voluntary' – it has been drilled into their minds they are here on their own accord and they are not yet ready to be a part of the society.
MacMurphy fights for their cause and tries to stall the therapy by arranging fun activities for his friends by jumping the law.He tries to and succeeds in getting it into their brains that they are 'no more crazy than the average asshole who runs the streets'.He teaches a (Native American) Indian called Chief that he really is as 'big as a mountain'.But the system is just too strong – it has the physical strength (strenght in numbers and of electricity) to hold down when the brainwashing starts wearing off ;the notorius 'shock' therapy is administered.And a the system extracts a heavy price from Mr R P MacMurphy.
My heart goes out for each of the occupannts of the ward , especially the youth called Billy Bibbit who was put here when he turned suicidal after the woman he loved rejected him – the role is so well played that everytime he stutters a response your heart skips a beat – he's not crazy – no sir – he's just too madly in love.Then there is Cheif- the Big Indian who pretends to be deaf and dumb and inspite of his enormous physical proportions seems to have lost hope, saddened by his Popaya's plight.Mr Harding – the intellegent looking middle-aged gentleman – dressed immaculately in a gown – eyes outlined by the plastics of expensive spectacles – mouth by a well kept moustache – who loves to talk about the 'form and content' of his 'life' which was his wife, that is until he started suspecting her of infidelity…

Martini the childish imp – Cheswick the forever compassionate – will always take your side when the whole world gangs up on you.
…Then there is that outsider – the naughty girl called Candy whom MacMurphy would approach for satiating his and his gang's sensual needs – so well played – that sultry blonde – with pea sized brain – willing to oblige anyone – one of the most memorable scenes is when MacMurphy introduces her to the gang and she asks them in amazement – 'you'll crazy?' – to which the crowd cheerfully  shouts an emphatic 'YES'- to that moment when Billy sneaks a private moment with her and stutters coyly 'oh you have nice hair'.'Ah thankyou' she replies with all of her hallmark coquetry.
Another remarkabkle moment is when MacMurphy is caught stealing a fishing boat (ofcourse after jumping the hospital) with his comrades – the owner/caretaker of the boat asks who they were – Mac replies nonchalantly – 'we are from the …State Mental Institution ..' and he introduces his comrades with their last names – with the title Dr. prefixed to each name 'this is Dr. Martini,Dr Cheswick…'- the guys nod as if they were centre-stage.The boat-man is absolutely befuddled and dumbstuck.
Another memorable moment is when Mac sneaks in two girls and a truckload of booze into the hospital at night (after bribing the guard ofcourse) – Mac gets onto the public address system and says 'Medication time' – mocking the nurse's daily call – 'the spirits of the night are  here'.
Unfortunately the movie ends tragically (in a way) with a haunting Native American background music especially with the lifeless form of MacMurphy in the foreground and the Big Indian Chief sprinting out of sight – his heart (and ours too) weeping for the man who taught him once again to feel 'big like a mountain'.
And the system still is miraculosly in place… 

My tryst with Murphy

My life is disorderly, to say the least – 80% of my time a day is spent looking around for things – the most common things to get disappeared are the TV's remote control – just when your favorite show is on air (I curse – why nobody's invented a remote control detector yet) – and the mobile phone (this unsual gadget has the advantage that it can be made to ring to advertise its whereabouts).

Of late I found some order – or atleast some law that governed all my routines – well the good ol' Murphy's Law – that it will NOT rain if I carry the umbrella is an old one – that I'll find an expensive pen which I had lost and given up on months ago – when I'm searching for the remote – which in any case I'll never find till my show is over – or till the power goes off – whichever is later.
Murphy endows me with supreme powers – I govern the closing time of banks – if I reach at 2:35 pm – then for sure the banks would have closed at 2:30 – my choice of the 2:35 being absolutely arbitary – was when I remembered to do what had to be done in the morning.
Almost always when I run out of gas-mid traffic-I would have forgotten my wallet home-a dangerous situation.
That I can control that a long distance train or bus departs in time – by arriving at the station 5 min late – or the other way round – by delaying it indefinitely by coming in half-hour early.
The list is end-less.

Murphy's given me such enormous powers – these days – I try to double cross him to ensure my well-being – like last Sun – when I reached for a long movie session (thankfully pre-paid)- I realized that my wallet was missing – I was almost certain that it was home – but I trust Murphy – so to ensure it really was home – I called my bank and blocked my debit card – I am almost certain that had I not done so – my wallet would have been found on the road or somewhere and somebody must have brought stuff on it – I realized it was safer to trust Murphy's instinct and block the card – even if that meant spending 100rs to re-activate it later , a small one-time premium for what I call the "well-being insurance".

Yet Murphy had more sinister designs.What I failed to remember was the certainity of running out on gas – as I was wallet-less – yes I had a friend with me who was "well-walleted" – but Murphy saw to it that I sent him out on a separate route before running out on gas mid-traffic- so I had to tow my bike – a couple of kms – to the nearest gas station and call up my friend to come in there to bail me out – thankfully – I had not forgotten my cell-phone – which had the only record of my friend's number – beats me to think of what would have happened had I was cell-phone-less too – without a penny on me – would have had to walk 7-8kms home – ( travelling ticketless in city busses doesnot really seem risky at night time – but not me – Murphy would have ensured that I got caught – and that without any money to cough up a fine – would have had to spend time in lock-up – ouch – the possibilities are endless)
Feel I have written too much now without saving it up – chances are good that power will be off – as I donot have a UPS on my PC.

Letme save this stuff.

If you see me here – well that means Murphy's has not kept his word this once – but that would not cajol me into not carrying an umbrella (however sunny a day might start out as) the day when I've lined clothes out to dry – after all you have to behave responsibly when you control the city-weather(I pooh-pooh those TV channels' weathermen).