Monday, December 31, 2007

Phlegmatic Unease

Word of Derision - I am not a very 'New Year' person. But certain conventions are better respected than ridiculed. We might sometimes also need to change the way conventions are understood. For not even history is rigid. It's a matter of perception. I hope this post helps some of us do just that. Change the way we look at something that has been passed down to us. Unlearn the preconditioning that has been mechanically drilled into us. For that's what New Year is all about. Probably just that. For the record - Wish you a 'Happy' New Year.

Dear D,

It was really odd, on my first evening here, there was get-together of the local Indian gang, and they were all talking about the Teen Murti Library and the University Coffee House and the M.Phil Department, wallowing in nostalgia. One girl called Mrinalini said she knew you, or had once met you once at some pompous Foreign Service party where you’d told her, “The US and the Soviets are in this nuclear arms race primarily to distract the rest of the world. It’s all a game, they want to keep all our minds away from the real issue, which is the throttling of what they call the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Worlds by Soviet Necessity and the American Dream.” I hope you are squirming with shame? Mrinalini thought I wouldn’t believe her. She said you were fat, pompous and very drunk, like the rest of the party.

I have been trying to write as few letters as possible because writing letters is the supreme indulgence for me nowadays. Communicating with people is difficult here and it’s such a temptation to make up for that through letters. At least with letters you don’t have to deal with immediate reactions – you can imagine that whoever you’re writing to is interested and understands exactly what you mean. Writing letters is a wonderful way of copping out of everything – the lectures that go so badly, all the people in this place whom I can’t talk to. It’s so tempting to take the easy way out, to go on about how the people here are so dull, ignorant, smug and provincial. They are all that, but there’s also something wrong about my attitude to them. Because of my color, accent, etc, I feel wary and strained talking to Americans – the moment I face one of them, I can feel the shutters going down on me, and I know my face looks blank, bored and closed.

In just a few weeks here I’ve managed to establish a ‘circle of silence’ around myself which nobody would want to break into. To appear quite and disinterested is the greatest defense, to convince yourself that nothing matters. And the ‘stay away from me’ expression gets quite out of hand sometimes – the only American who’s made heroic efforts to make me comfortable just asked me if I wanted a poster. Without thinking or even looking up, I said, “No, you can keep it.” His warmth feels like a terrific obligation and s responsibility - it takes me such an effort to respond that I sometimes actually run away when I know he’s around. I don’t know why the hell I’m writing all this.

There was a real low last week – I have to make my class do an exercise called freewriting – they have to write nonstop for ten minutes about whatever is on their minds. Last week one student wrote, “I am not paying big bucks to listen to Indian telling me how to write English. And her fucking accent is giving me a migraine.” I really wonder what I am doing here, especially because academically this place really ‘sucks’, the one American expression which covers all possible negatives. Some other time I’ll write you a bright bitchy letter about the kind of absurdities one hears at lectures here. The worse is not having anyone to share the absurdity with. It’s hard getting to know people. Everyone seems friendly at first, everyone stops and asks, “Hi, how ya doing?” But after a while you realize that that’s it, nothing ever follows up that, “Hi How ya doing?” And to answer that with anything less exuberant than, “Pretty good”, is a social outrage. The creed is to be bright, brisk and busy. You can imagine what a disadvantage my face is, and my voice – dull, gloomy and lazy as can be.

I share my room with a Mexican. She is OK. At times I hysterically wonder why people ever leave their own countries and go abroad. Why don’t we ever learn that all changes of place are for the worse? It’s not love for the place; it’s the familiarity, like old winter clothes. Didn’t you feel something of this at Yale? You were always so closed about your American experience. Yesterday another American asked me where I was from in India. I said, “Bombay.” He thought for a while and asked me seriously whether I rode to college on an elephant. I said, “Yes, but I had to hire one, since we were too poor to own our own.” That’s entirely my fault, for not being where I ought to be, back home.

I can’t transfer to another university within this PhD program unless I am willing to lose credits. My only experience of the US before this was of NY and I ought to have known that being in the heart of the corn country will be very different from NY.

What I really didn’t bargain for was the nostalgia – I have such a bad memory that the past usually becomes mere past for me with great ease. But here I take nostalgia to absurd extremes – watching Hindi movies, Guddi, Barood etc, I don’t think it works, to run away from a place when your relationships there get messy. For the first time now I feel I need some continuities. But then I don’t know if anything lasts, except that I am the same person wherever I go – and that certainly is no cause for joy! In the first few days I thought I’d get friendly with my Mexican roomie and ask her about subtle racist attitudes here.

I don’t know why I am writing all this but now that I’ve missed a class already, I might as well fill up the page. Of course I’m being defensive again. I can’t say anything to anyone without leaving an escape route for myself, prefacing everything with, “Don’t take this too seriously” or “I don’t know why I am saying this.” The only way to cope with this is to pretend nothing matters.

Oh, there are some lovely things here too – the varieties of ham, books for ten cents each, Mrinalini, the underground radio station which plays hours and hours of old blues, bars – but they are not nearly enough.

I can see you perfectly sometimes – perfectly composed in your tie behind your Citibank desk, drowning some client in bank jargon. I keep asking myself, why were you so cold and curt at the end. ‘At the end’ sounds terribly dramatic but you know what I mean. It feels absurd to even mention it because that was in another country, and besides. For the last line you could consult your English literature friend who, if that letter of his you showed me is anything to go by, is enjoying going insane, in some backwater somewhere, what was it, Madna?

Please write back. With my love, R.

PS - This is an extract from the book English, August - the debut novel by Upamanyu Chatterjee.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Negative Pessimism

Excerpts from a conversation between two Intellectual Chutiyas. Both thinking they are intellectuals in their own right. Both knowing they are chutiyas. Not in order of chronology or importance. More for The Self and The Fool than anyone else.

The Self: I thought you went on to the dark side?
The Fool: As in? I have been bloody stubborn with things all my life....and I am stubborn with optimism as well.

The Self: The Dark Side. One known as pessimism.
The Fool: Naah. Or maybe I don't know. Negative Pessimism. If that means anything.

The Self: I like it. I am stealing it.

The Self: So there are four things -
1) You flunked.
2) You published and now plan to publish your own book.
3) You have an opportunity with the Law Commission or something. Hopeful thing.
4) Then there is Congress. Not too hopeful thing.
The Fool: The last bit is very promising.

The Fool: As regards you being a whatever, I think you to be one of those straightjacket-rulebook-based guys who would be liked by many of the parents. Reason being you do not experiment much. And you have been professionally appeasing. And I say appeasing and not substantiating; though I am sure your mother would strongly differ from me. Other things I can not straight away think of.

The Fool: You are at home. You are getting work done on your blog when I am slogging for some rubbish in these weird hours. Your news is the best news. I just had trivia to share. How is The Other by the way?
The Self: Good.

The Fool: The kind of conversation that we have had. It is nothing but an exercise for intellectual indulgence. You know the answers better than me. It is a fact that both of us know.
The Self: We both know. Yet we seek affirmation. Or maybe a contradiction.

The Fool: My telling you something would hardly help. That is again something that both of us know. But we still talk at these ungodly hours to just satiate our indulgent minds. My God! I would never ever have a girlfriend if keep talking in these verbose terms.
The Self: I like the term intellectual chutiya. It’s more befitting.

The Fool: I like the fusion aspect to your vocabulary.
The Self: Let me indulge in myself.

The Self: I go to susu. Come back in 60 seconds. You can time me.
The Fool: See….too many things in the pipeline.

The Fool: I would say that for me you have been an individual whose company has been pleasing.
The Self: I would take comfort in that.

The Fool: Till date the contexts against which we can backdrop our acquaintance have been such that make the relationship scintillate. But in the end it’s all contextual. Everything is relative. Very probably, and fortunately for you, you may find better people to be with - for instance The Other - who are better behaved according to your notions. And then, the backdrop of our relationship would change. And you would say that our friendship has been good. But then it would be tempered with your expectations of The Other.
The Self: You are using that word very often.

The Fool: And I, being the emotional fool that I tend to be at times, would say that your friendship of late has been 'disappointing'. And that I no longer feel the warmth.
The Self: I respect the honesty. And you do see that despite everything, I asked this question of you. And not anyone else. Not The Other or my parents.

The Fool: So, how was the lecture in philosophy? Read philosophy. You are better endowed than me because of your knowledge of mathematics. You shall be better off at analysis. I do not know all the physics and logic that is required.
The Self: I like to create my own philosophy. It's all in the head.

The Fool: Have been using a lot of what Einstein said in my study of the constitutional jurisprudence. And I love it. But tell me. How was the The Other bit? Especially the The Other one.
The Self: Is it the truth you want?

The Fool: There you go wrong again. Is there anything called truth? You violate the fundamentals of relativity so often.
The Self: The truth "I" know?

The Fool: Haha. Yeah, go ahead.
The Self: It is spelled as The Other. And you might have to give me five minutes to actually understand it.

The Fool: Perfect equanimity is what we all seek. But rarely find. Those who do; are said to have attained Nirvana. Nash Equilibrium attempts it. But only in very specific contexts.
The Self: You do realize the effort you put into typing would be much more fruitful in case you stuck to the core vocabulary Indians are gifted with?

The Fool: Both Louis de Broglie and Einstein, through their works have only helped to bring the conundrum in a better light. The confusion however still persists. Everything is relative.
The Self: You are ranting now.

The Fool: Hahahaha. I know I am.
The Self: And I sincerely suggest you stick to a 2000 word vocabulary.

The Fool: All those who have been close to me have told me of this. There are others who are not close as yet, and therefore have not complained as yet. But I wish them to complain as soon as possible
The Self: It’s not the ranting I detest. It’s the inability to comprehend it.

The Fool: So you have experiences in St. Fidelis and because of the surroundings and the exposure - or the lack of it - you call yourself (along with the pleased consent of your family and friends, including me) as successful.
The Self: Go on.

The Fool: You step out of the cocoon, as do I and so many others, and the context changes. The same term 'experience' is now juxtaposed with different settings. These being your life within DA-IICT and without. Your life juxtaposed with The Other and so many others. You feel the same experience as you had at Fidelis take newer colors. The phenomenon fundamentally is same. It's just that you try perceive it in different contexts. And you call it a "downhill ride". So when you ask me whether you have been a disappointment, I would say what I am best at. I would say that for me you have been an individual whose company has been pleasing.

The Fool: Arey yaar. I am reading what I had written to you.
The Self: You read your own work. Talk about vanity.

The Fool: I love being a narcissist.
The Self: I am making a blog post out of this conversation.

The Fool: No. Please do not.
The Self: I am not foolish enough to make a joke out of it. You are welcome to help. Only 10% of it is going in anyway. Maybe less.

The Fool: It will be in you Gtalk history. You can always go through it whenever you wish to. And I would be there as ever. So we can talk. Why let all and sundry know what is so essentially ours.
The Self: Have faith in me.

The Fool: And I know you will remove all the The Other bits.
The Self: I repeat. Have even more faith in me. What pseudonym do you want in the conversation?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Déjà vu

Déjà vu
Is it a dream? A thought?
A whisper lost in sepia hues?
An idea once known and lived?

The murmur soon replies.
A fleeting moment
Ephemeral shadows cast on you
They shall pass.
Laughter seems guilty,
While smiles perfunctory.
Snap out of it?
Help me help you;
This is not the end.
See the blinding light?

The illusion casts a veil;
Reason is clouded.
Tunnels of darkness,
But no gates of light.
Voices take over the reign.
I don't find you going anywhere.
Who says you were good?
It was always an illusion.
The game never began;
You never played.

Sweeping Victory.....
Remember the Titans
We shall overcome
The day we end, we shall

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jingle Balle

Word of Caution - Not mine. It's by Bachi Karkaria. I saw a newspaper clipping (from Dec '05) stuck in my journal. Copy-pasting it. Enjoy.

He knows when you’re bribing
He knows when you’re on the take
He knows if you’ve been good or bad
So don’t take ghoos for goodness sake

Kyonji, kyon kitkit-baaji kar rahe ho? Why complain that every Pappu and Pinky has begun celebrating this foreign festival? Christmas-Krishmas – these are glad tidings if now everyone gets a slice of the tandoori turkey.

And that everyone profits from the commercial spirit of this season. On a grey, cold Delhi day, how nice to be cheered by colony markets all decorated from head to mistletoe. Lajpatnagar, London-nagar they are one and the same Singh. Sohni Kudis stride in boots and berets. Older men and women both wear suits. Armored Kaurs, pashminas blazing, roll through the bazaars, clutching their shopping lists: Ek kilo gobi, ek kilo gajar halwa, ek Chreesmas tree.

Here, it’s the real thing, not the green dyed bottle brushes that are Mumbai’s faux fir. String them up with Chinese fairy lights. If cheap imports Shanghai-ed Diwali diyas, why not a Peking duck for the Chirstmas table? The Maharani Bagh memsahebs will stick to French ones bred by “Cher Roger”. But glory to God in the Highest, for everyone else it’s an adapted celebration, complete with bhangrified carols.

Let’s stomp to-

Jingle Balle, Jingle balle, Jingle all the way!
Oh what fun it is to ride on a CNG powered sleigh! Hoi!

That’s of Santaji isn’t stuck in a fog-jammed traffic. Or, causing the mother of all snarls itself. “Kyon Shahji, daarhi lagake apne aap ko PMji samajhte ho kya? Side ho ja, warna tere reindeer-ar ko rein-darrling bana doonga!”

He’s better watch out
He’d better not cry
He’d better clear out
Coz I am telling you why

On a Personal Note

That’s as far as the plagiarizing goes. Me? I think I did my good deed for the day. Went to the village school whose kids I torment, taught (supposedly) the immensely tormented souls, distributed apples and chocolates, and then came back to have some 5 slices of a delectable rum (or was it gingerbread) cake at a team member’s home. So much for the festive mood. Biked back home. Noticed the abnormally high instances of Lucknowites who had taken well to the yuletide spirit. All of them co-incidentally happened to gherao every mall in the small dihati town. Being a dihati at heart, I longed to do some Jingle Balle as well. But happened to be alone. So grudgingly trudged back home. With mischief at heart and a twinkle in the eye, asked Mum (only half expecting a positive reply) to be my escort. She said, “Roti kitne baje banaye?” I gave up. Ate aloo-paneer and beans ki sabji. The moon looked beautiful. I believe it was a full moon last night. But the romantic endeavors were cut short by an overpowering urge to effect something more substantial. I decided to woo the only consort I had ever loved. You.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Forest of The Night

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The hour is right for some cliché’s. It’s always a bit difficult doling them out. Time is bound to be wasted. Yawns are hardly stifled. Eager eyes are disappointed. ‘A’wed fans are let down. But habits die hard. Especially the ones meant to be done away with. So here goes.

It’s not always that movies make you think, leave alone dream. It’s not always that you find it hard to find flaws in one. It’s not always that you sit down to write just after being to one. It’s not always that you begin to believe in cliché’s. Unfortunately.

The dimwit here is talking about Taare Zameen Par. But he is not here to tell you whether Aamir Khan did a great job. Neither is he going to discuss whether the cinematography was spot on. He is here to do almost everything else. The movie seems like a must for everyone who has ever been a student; trying hard to fight the system which slowly subdues any voices or ideas that one might muster. The system which systematically suppresses any creativity one might have, while honing one to be a part of the flock of sheep. Then again, it’s not just about that. One must watch it if one has ever been a son or a daughter or a parent. If one has ever believed in oneself. If, in the stead, one has ever lost track of everything worthwhile.

We strive hard to find messages in cinema. For once, can we just let it be? However, it’ easy to give in to cravings. I did not resist. What was the movie about? Was it about letting people reach for their dreams? Was it about treating everyone as different, if not special? Was it about ignoring the mad rat race and following the heart? Was it proving the point that not all people are meant to be great, intelligent beings; some are just meant to be even greater, more intelligent beings? Or was it about helping (if only sometimes) the cause of people who are children of a lesser god? The movie WILL be interpreted in different ways. After all, the world is the color of the looking glass we see it through. Cliché dictates I should suggest you to watch it. It just might be able to convince you to do something you have always wanted to do.

Salt flowed freely on either side of me. Mom. Dad. Unknown Aunties. I fought hard. But then thought otherwise. The world will revert back to its old ways. Parents will stop being suspiciously polite to their kids. Their kids will stop painting on the canvas of their imagination. My canvas shall lose its umpteen hues and turn into a dull grey of monotony. Life will turn a full circle. A time of a Thousand Whispers will pass. But that shouldn’t stop us from expecting a change. Or should it? I believe, in the end, we all must walk down that road; the one which runs through The Forest of The Night. The one which compels us to face our demons. The one which will help us in finding our angels.

I do KNOW this is crappy. But the thing had to be got rid off.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Lumberjack's Guide to Philosophy

Word of Derision – Dedicated to the book which inspired this nonsense. But more to the idiot who gave it to me. At night, I read it to sleep :-) Please refer to the glossary in case you find the terminology a bit abstruse.

Long long ago, in a forest far far away, hidden somewhere in the Macula Cluster in the southern spiral of the Galaxy, lived a friendly neighborhood lumberjack named Marvin Black. From the very dawn of his remarkably singular life, everyone around him, including the fortune telling computer Dumb Opinion, had the firm notion that Marvin would grow up to become a great philosopher (and lumberjack). Even when he was just 4 years old, Marvin started showing the traits of becoming one. He purportedly asked his grandma, “Why do we suck thumbs?” on his 4th birthday. It is also rumored that his very first word was not Mum or Dad but Why. Amazing as it may sound, Marvin also grew up to become a skilled lumberjack. Many lumberjackass girls swooned over him. However, Marvin was not oblivious to his duties as a fine philosopher. He remained, people speculate, a lifelong bachelor.

Believing more in the prophecy of Dumb Opinion than his capacity, Marvin Black learnt the nuances of philosophy from the great Cheekat Oracle himself. For 13 years, and at a fee of 4223 purest Clam Shells, Marvin persevered. Ultimately one fine morning, when he sat meditating under a Mocking Tree, he experienced Stupid Enlightenment – the greatest of all enlightenments. Marvin realized his journey had now begun. He took the leave of his guru, Cheekat Oracle, and departed in search of the Greatest Question. The entire lumberjack community of Macula Cluster bid him a teary farewell.

(Aside – Actually, it was the Mocking Tree just making fun of Marvin. “There were no signs of the real Stupid Enlightenment”, said expert Enlightenment Inspectors. It is suspected that Cheekat Oracle had himself rigged up the entire fraud, for he hiked his fee the very next semester. The book 1000 Ways to Ridicule Lumberjacks was also found in the possession of Mocking Tree, supposedly a gift from Cheekat Oracle himself. Every lumberjack in the cluster knew that Marvin Black had been duped. But no one had the courage to tell him the truth and break his heart. Also, many Elders believed that Marvin was destined to become a philosopher, enlightenment or not. Marvin was about to prove all them very correct.)

Marvin wanted to bring philosophy within the realms of understanding of the Common Man, the dumbest computer in the world. Having sworn to achieve this commendable feat, Marvin began to seek one Enlightenment after another, even giving up lumbering after he was just 42 years old. He learnt philosophy from all the great masters in the galaxy, including Wholesome Hole and More of the Moron. Sometimes he had to even hitchhike and travel in unsanitary conditions across the immense reaches of space; just to satisfy his Satya Ki Pyaas. But Marvin Black was relentless. His ultimate aim was to solve the most perplexing question in the galaxy, The Greatest Question – “Why Do Men Have Nipples?” For answering the same, he sought the assistance of the most useful theory in philosophy, the Theory of Life, the Nipples, and Everything. Having attained the blessings and guidance of all the great thinkers of his time (including Wholesome Hole and More of the Moron), Marvin settled down on a lonely planet called, well quite obviously, Lonely Planet.

Slowly, but steadily, the galaxy came to know of Marvin’s prowess as a philosopher. People send exa-pigeons to him with their doubts and questions. He always tried to answer them to the best of his capability. In pursuit of the Greatest Question (re - para 2), Marvin solved some of the other lesser known but equally difficult puzzles. For example, he came up with answers to baffling problems like “Why don’t people shit just one turd?”, “Where have all the dodos gone?” and “Who is your daddy?” within three years of his stay at Lonely Planet. It is for the same reason that the Elders asked him to keep an account of his philosophical exploits, lest his efforts were lost after him. This request led to the publication to what we now know as The Lumberjack’s Guide to Philosophy, an attempt to explain philosophy to the Common Man.

The success of the guide was impeccable. Within months of the first edition being published, Marvin Black became a household name. Lonely Planet found a place on the tourist map of the Galaxy. Marvin was not too pleased with all the undue attention he got. Like any other eccentric philosopher, he wanted to be left alone to his devices. Often, he would throw a Philosophical Bomb at some unsuspecting admirer and when the fan had been baffled enough, Marvin took his leave, often smiling smugly at his victory. With age and knowledge, Marvin became more and more of an oddball and even less accessible. Earlier resorting to just Philosophical Bombs, Marvin now employed the services of Quackomatic Ducks in order to ward off unwelcome admirers and fans.

The galaxy had accepted Marvin as the greatest contemporary philosopher, even better than all his gurus and mentors. His proofs were immaculate and up till now, each had been understood by Common Man. By ensuring this benchmark was met, Marvin made sure his take on Nipples, Life and Everything was understood by all the inhabitants of the galaxy. However, all his attempts to quench his Satya Ki Pyaas had proved futile. He knew time was running out and in desperation, he came up with less than perfect solutions to The Greatest Question. Quite obviously, these solutions were comprehensible by everyone but the Common Man. Prone to bursts of moodiness, Marvin blew all his money on drinking binges and bar fighting. People thought that he was going crazy and called him the Perennial Paranoid Pauper. Up to some extent, this was indeed true. But as far as philosophy was concerned, Marvin was the best the Galaxy had seen and that would remain so for several decades to come.

One night, as Marvin turned around in an uncomfortable sleep, he was visited by none other than Mogamboji. It has been widely speculated that Mogamboji whispered the answer to the Greatest Question in Marvin’s ears that night. Quite contrary to expectations, Marvin Black chose not to refute any such allegations. In a press conference held the next day he said, “I think my theories and solutions should give you an idea whether Mogamboji is behind it or not.” Myth or mystery; The Greatest Question was solved that night. Its solution made Marvin Black, the Perennial Paranoid Pauper, immortal in the annals of history.

Having succeeded in his life’s aim, Marvin spent the rest of his life in peaceful contentment, warding off the Quackomatic Ducks he had previously hired. He had somehow managed to forget the secret frequency and was not ready to pay the hiring agency any more clam shells for recovering it. He died at the ripe old age of 142. It is said that his last words were, “Gosh! I think I don’t have any nipples.” Marvin Black, through his determination and dedication, became synonymous with philosophy and all that it entails. This is just a small glimpse into the life of a great thinker. SleepingTablets hopes you enjoyed the read.

So long, and thanks for bearing with all the nonsense.

In case you want to buy a copy of The Lumberjack’s Guide to Philosophy, please email us at The cost of a deluxe edition is 42 Clam Shells and includes Marvin’s Solution to the Greatest Question. The paperback version, for beginners in philosophy, comes at an unbelievable price of just 17 Clam Shells. Book your copy now!


In alphabetical order

Common Man – Supposedly the dumbest computer in the Galaxy. It once calculated two plus two as four and a half. Possibility of Diode Malfunctioning was ruled out.

Mogamboji – The patron god of all god fearing philosophers. Digambarji is the patron god of all non god fearing philosophers.

Elders – Wise looking people in any community of Lumberjacks.

Exa-Pigeons – Mechanical Robotic Pigeons designed to travel through hyperspace and deliver messages faster than the usual means of communication.

Mocking Tree – Also known as Mockree, a tree which attempts to mock the lumberjack chopping it. It does so in the hope that the lumberjack will ultimately be so depressed by the ridicule that he will give up chopping the tree.

Quackomatic Ducks – Ducks which emit shrill quacks and can discourage any person from entering one’s home. These ducks give you a special frequency which makes the quacks ineffective on the employer/owner himself.

Satya Ki Pyaas – The ever lasting hunger for truth and the Greatest Question.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Love in The Time of Palmistry

Word of Caution – Excerpts of a conversation between the very dangerous Kekda Man (from the Boomerang Galaxy) and the very irritating Chirkut Lady (from the Bugster Cluster). The highly explosive couple was traveling in an aquamarine state of the art Clux-5 Star Ship. The uber subtle sound vibrations somehow got to the ever-ready-to-eavesdrop ears of the untrustworthy driver. It would be best if these snippets are not leaked beyond this close knit virtual clique. Confidentiality will be appreciated, if not rewarded.

Family Crest of The Kekda Dynasty
Kekda Man: Let me see your hand.
Chirkut Lady: And why is that?

Kekda Man: For one, my father has an interest in palmistry and I have learnt a few things from him. For other, it’s a very good excuse to grab a lady’s hand.

Pleased more by the honesty than anything else, Chirkut Lady obliges Kekda Man.

Chirkut Lady: You’re such a darling. Here. Tell me what you see.

KM: Hmm…it seems you don’t think at all. There are hardly any lines criss-crossing your palm. How do you manage to do that?
CL: Well…you know…you have got to have a mind in order to think too much. I think I have not been blessed with copious quantities.

KM: Ah…that explains a lot. Uh oh! It seems you won’t live too long either. But that’s a far fetched possibility since irritating people tend to live longer. I must have miscalculated some factor.
CL: Don’t worry dear. I am not going seriously consider an amateur’s opinion. Have your share of fun. You do seem cute while reading the palm though. Ever thought about opting it as a profession?

KM: Saving the world seems to take up all my time you know. It’s downright exploitation sometimes. Anyways….

Kekda Man gets a bit disturbed when his profession is discussed. He starts doling out one distorted piece of information after another, not sure whether he was talking about Chirkut Lady’s future or the Giant Gila Strut Monster he had killed only a week ago.

Seated in close proximity (too close in fact), Chirkut Lady smiles fondly. Some disaster is afoot.

CL: You know something Keeks, I think I am madly in love with you. Probably.

Kekda Man is not very eager to detach himself from the obstinate line across the palm. But such comments register fast and quick. Almost pat comes the reply.

KM: And I don’t. Does that help? Tell me if it doesn’t. I will frame it in a more subtle fashion.
CL: I don’t think I could have expected anything else from you.

Chirkut Lady did not expect such a blatant reply for sure. But she pretends otherwise. On the other hand, sappy one liners disturbed Kekda Man more than Giant Gila Strut Monsters. He reluctantly gave up the palm, not realizing a more fashionable man could have had the face instead. Anyway.

KM: See Cheeks (KM is just trying to get back at CL with a nasty nickname). If truth be told, I like you from the very first time I met you. But the fact remains that I am not sure whether I love you. I like you a lot though. I am probably quite sure of that.
CL: I presume you are never too sure about anything. So this is not an exception either.

Kekda Man seems bowled. It is indeed the truth. Fighting Gila Monsters was one thing. Deciphering emotions was another ballgame altogether.

KM: I believe I am too limited by these notions I seem to have. It doesn’t help if they are deeply rooted in my psyche.

Chirkut Lady is impressed by such heavy talk. She had not expected this either. She falls even more in love with Kekda Man.

As an aside - It seems to us she had not expected a lot of things.

CL: Try fathoming them Keeks. Maybe you will come to some conclusion. Try probing them.

Kekda Man tries fathoming his emotions (and probing them as well) and comes up with a plan.

KM: Okay. Here’s a deal. Since I am not sure, let’s presume we are in love with each other. You and I. If it all works out in the end, well and good. If it doesn’t, well then we’ll know our presumptions weren’t sound enough. This way both of us should be happy.
CL: You seem to come up with the craziest plans in the world. But I think it shouldn’t be any harm. Let’s do it. Presume we are in love, since you are not sure, and see if things sort themselves out.

KM: Excellent! So now can I go back to the palm reading again?

Chirkut Lady had expected something more romantic. But one does not have everything in the world. It’s called Balance.

And so it ended. Love in The Time of Palmistry. Don’t blame us if you don’t like the title. The stupid driver came up with it. He wouldn’t agree to anything else.

If you want to know what happened next, please subscribe to our newsletter. An annual subscription is being offered at a discounted price of 23 Clam Shells.

So long, and thanks for all the palms.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Manchurian Candidate

Shlok Deepankar walked back to his room. His gait seemed relaxed, almost bordering on what cynics would call lazy. The setting sun had painted the sky a bright crimson. The pale white crescent had not yet made its presence felt. But he was not in the mood for romantic musings right now. He had enough for the day. A random book had triggered the wildly erratic thought process. Threads had gone out of control and had necessitated a trip to the cafeteria. Now that he trudged back, the mental overdrive seemed to be slackening. A toothy grin greeted all those who loitered by, much to their ill-suppressed surprise.

The subtle ambience of Shlok’s room greeted him with open arms. He could not resist smirking. He had been derided, often ridiculed, for his civic sense. It did not conform to the standards of a boys’ hostel. But the aptly aimed sarcasms merely ricocheted off the thick skin he had acquired over the past two years. The spick and span bed sheet had stayed on, despite telling glances from more seasoned hostellers. So had the table lamp, albeit with a bit more electricity running through it. He switched on the sun and glanced at the neatly stacked novels on his study table. Doctor Zhivago. Inscrutable Americans. Shantaram. Hitchhiker. Mocking Bird. Rest. This led to a spontaneous, almost guilty, peek at the dusted editions of Tannenbaums and Deitels lying inconspicuously in the same room. A pair of shoulders was shrugged and some decisions were repented over. Life then continued at the same snail pace.

The semester was drawing to a conclusion. In line with expectations, plans had been shelved. Decrepit time tables jeered like skeletons in one’s closet. Shlok made a point of making a face at them and then slamming the door shut. A session of customary mourning usually followed. Letting it out always helped. When the scattered remains of wasted opportunities had been gathered and safely stashed away in some nondescript corner, Shlok looked around. His roomie, Coke, was nowhere to be found. That meant Digital Communications would have to wait till night. Reluctantly, he picked up the Graphs textbook from the shelf and half-heartedly leaved through the pages. Almost immediately, the concentration began to wane. He fought hard and eventually managed to finish a decent amount of portion. Pleased with the conquest, our hero sought to reward himself with a movie. However, halfway through the cinematic exploits, the guilt factor caught up. Shlok had to detach himself from Al Pacino’s finesse in dialogue delivery and have a fresh go at some edges and vertices. But Fortune had ordained some other, less monotonous plans.

There was a loud banging on the door followed by certain highly obscene orgasmic outcries. Chakram had arrived.

“Open up bastardo! Open up”, he shouted behind closed doors.

“Coming…….asshole”, Shlok responded suitably.

“Apocalypse has struck”, he cried. “The term Dude has been reduced to mere point in the space-time continuum, instead of occupying an area comparable to Relativity. It’s catastrophe.”

Shlok had learnt that instead of trying to decipher Chakram’s cryptic messages, it was best to try kicking him out of the room. He tried doing just so and between muffled cries; Chakram jabbered something about needing Coke’s Networks’ notes. Coke earned some well deserved abuses and Chakram took Shlok’s leave, mumbling something about his love interest. Shlok couldn’t let go of this opportunity. It had been ages since he had been able to lay his hands on some fresh gossip. The hostel environ reeked of male testosterone and desperation. Even the slightest hint of a female presence in the largely male dominated friend community was savored with almost feverish delight.

“Hey Chakram, how is it coming along?”

“How is what coming along?”

“You know what I am saying man. Sab mast chal raha hai na? You two haven’t broken up already, or have you?” Shlok said, sounding almost aghast.

“No yaar, everything’s fine. It’s just that I haven’t talked to her in longish time and these exams are eating me inside out.”

Chakram then left, without saying a word more. Threads seemed to be going out of control once again. The trigger had been pulled by a chance remark. Shlok knew this was not the time for philosophic musings. But the eddy had already taken control of the mental faculties. Fighting it was of no use now. Shlok settled in his less than comfortable chair and closed the textbook, again. The crescent had made its presence known to his window. He opened it. The fresh air was essential for a lucid thought process. The clarity was needed for comprehension. The comprehension would guarantee expression.

Shlok had lately been bothered, and up to a certain extent fascinated, by the idea of love. The way it seemed to encompass every other humane emotion within its multifarious folds. Not the motherly affection or the friendly sibling rivalry. But the one that we strive hard to find the moment we gain consciousness. The one which seemed to be the subject of every second song, every third work of literature, and almost every solitary conversation. The one which is the substance for this monologue. The one which you seek, no matter how categorically you might deny the same. The one which has so often only lead to tragic consequences.

It seemed to him as if the entire world was enamored by the idea itself, rather than the substance. Excited more by the chase rather than the catch. Too wrapped up in the excitement rather than the satisfaction. It seemed as if people wanted to come to know about it rather than actually be in love. Time and again. He knew he was no big thinker who could come up with Freudian theories about the subject, to wow one and all. But still, he could not help thinking about it. He believed it was in the nature of love to make assholes out of humans. Given that, he never tried to proclaim he was above everything it had to offer. Shlok must have realized, albeit much to his chagrin, that no matter how much he might dissect the substance; he would still end up being the asshole he was destined to be. Something which he was plainly trying to avoid by coming up with weird rationale.

He opined that the very idea was flawed as its success was based on its perfection, a mathematical impossibility. And when there is no inherent perfection, why is everyone so besotted with it? Is it because every one loves (pun intended) a tragic hero? Is it because we sometimes derive a sadistic pleasure out of reveling in our own misery? Is it because most of us are just plain blind to notice the bare facts? Or is it because we love the shooting star and not the twinkling one? The questions would remain forever, realized Shlok. So would some more crappy grades and wasted opportunities. And so would people like him, who continued to feed the fire of curiosity. Each would come up with a new theory - some in favor, some against, some terribly sappy, and some stupidly insane.

Now that he had realized he was destined for lifelong misery, he thought how he could prolong the pleasure part. Gaping at the moon and the stars while none of them twinkled in suppressed amusement? Walking with tender feet on the beaches as the waves flowed over caressed toes? Just curling one’s fingers with another and cribbing about all that was bad in one’s life? Or maybe something less thought about and more tried? Wow!! That would be something to do, thought the quintessential Shlok. Although it would be in everyone’s interest if we took away the ultra sappy quotient from the panorama. No one likes tears, happy or sad. And then again, we all love the shooting star. The twinkling ones can be left for a later date.

And so he set out. In search of love, as had been described for him. More because he thought he was supposed to, than anything else. In search of everything it entailed. In search of lifelong misery. Oh! Did we tell you he was studying in an engineering institution? Well, let us not take away the candy from the kid until he realizes it’s a stick. Things that one does for people. It's called Malice.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Love's Surfeit

Disclaimer – Fact or fiction? This is definitely where the lines blur. My first dig at what people have termed fiction. It's a bit lengthy. So beware. Go on. Taste the pot purée. And get depressed.

Marvin Brewster did not have any inclination to visit the India that had been dished out to him by means of Nat Geo and Discovery documentaries. He was a pure bred American, having no liking for either Indian spirituality or its extremism. But his pig headed boss was adamant. No one else was suitable for the job at hand. Marvin tried to swear by drinking binges and sex escapades. But the entire rigmarole proved to be in vain. He soon found himself packing his bags for an unasked and much undesired trip to the Indian heartland.

After a bone breaking journey in the economy class, his flight landed at IGI Airport. A darker than brown man stood waiting for him, placard held high. The New Nabobs, thought Marvin. The company had been generous with the lodgings. The room was lavish and he was thankful for that. He had no karmic desires to spend a minute more in the tropical sun than was absolutely necessary. But within two days of sweltering in the Delhi heat, the evenings started to become exceedingly restless. With utmost reluctance, he got himself a Delhi guide book. There were scores of places to visit. Mosques, forts, tombs, minarets – all abounded in copious quantities. But some paranormal force flipped the pages to an ancient mausoleum. It was Sunday the next day and Marvin made up his mind to visit the place.

Humayun’s Tomb, Marvin read on the brass plaque, had been built by Haji Begum in the memory of her beloved husband, the Mughal emperor Humayun. Now that he stood near the mausoleum of supposedly undying love; he felt suddenly weak, almost dehydrated of all vitality. He had spent his years dilly dallying with women of all sorts, always being careful enough to let them get too close. His sense of seclusion was almost on par with Pink’s Wall. He had mocked his lesser than mortal friends who had somehow managed to fall in love, never failing to chide them for their foolishness. “There is no such thing as love”, Marvin used to propound. “It’s all about compromises, adjustments and sacrifices”. The tomb had very subtly made him realize something to the contrary. We would always end being social, animals or not. He wondered if he would be stupid enough to build a monument in someone’s remembrance. More than that, he wondered if he could love someone like they talked about in the poems. Like he secretly wished he could. Little did he know that he was about to find that out.

Exhausted more by the exploration than the unrealized realization, he settled on one of the benches. It was time for some much delayed introspection. But before the bane of nostalgia could sink in and consume Marvin in his entirety, a remarkably lovely girl sat down beside him. She must be in her early twenties, thought the quintessential Marvin. She wore a light green cashmere pullover. A body hugging Levi’s jeans highlighted the contours. Blue sneakers completed the look. She was not beautiful in a gorgeous fashion. But one could not resist appreciating the simple beauty which she seemed to exude. And Marvin was only human. He succumbed to the charm.

He was the one who initiated a conversation. Her name was Akanksha Nair. She was a student of history at the Delhi University. She had come there to actually feel the place they had been reading about. Within a few minutes, Marvin found the preconceived notions, about nothing in general and everything in particular, melting into nothingness. It was bound to happen, more sooner than later. India was not just about tribals, vegetarians, and stray cows after all. It had a suave and sophisticated side to it, a facet which the Indians propagandized whenever an opportunity presented itself. Akanksha was living proof of that. Her upbringing had been liberal and she was the quintessential free spirit; Indian in essence, cosmopolitan in everything else. Marvin was almost reveling in his own stupidity as his superstitions about India were proved to be just that, one by one.

The unsaid minutes turned into hours and soon the strange twosome found themselves being shooed away by the watchman. Kal subah saat baje aana. As if by some unspoken agreement, Marvin and Akanksha found themselves sharing the same bench the next morning. Conversation was just a few whispers away. And so was love; or so it seemed. The topics fluctuated from conservative to erotic, traditional to exotic, chic to flamboyant; and from love to betrayal. Work was somehow forgotten. Books were bagged with the same nonchalance. A strange couple ended up being ogled by everyone in tow. But they seemed to exist in a parallel universe. The unasked and much undesired trip was extended by a week. Then another. A job was quit somewhere, presumably in search of something that is supposedly more important. Without each other’s consent, both of them fell deeply, passionately in love with each other. It was the love we love reading about. The way it is described by Shakespeare. The way it is always mingled with predicament and tragedy. The way it should always be, regardless of boundaries or conventions.

Whispers were shared. Walks were walked. Lives were opened up to enormous possibilities. Possibilities limited to the diminishing horizon.

As with any other kind of perfection, romance like this always comes to a pre mature end. It can not but be so. Marvin and Akanksha soon began to realize the same. They knew they had to part ways, sooner or later. It was best if the moment was not delayed by perceptible amounts. And so they didn’t. Romeo and Juliet might not have been that approving of their decision. But it was meant to be. Marvin flew back to America and took up his job again. Akanksha resumed her studies and went on to obtain a doctorate in history. Both of them married well, or so it seemed to everyone else. Life continued as it should have, albeit none of them could actually forget the other. Ever. Without realizing the same.

Whispers flew away by like nothings. Responsibilities were shouldered. Commitments met. None thought of disregarding the mundane lives fate had ordained for them. Quite aptly.

Akanksha was now the mother of an 18 year old son. She had unknowingly christened him Avin, a name which bore an uncanny resemblance to someone she knew long ago. She taught history at one of the prestigious colleges in the city. It was the weekend. Her husband was not in town. Not very unusual. She decided to pay a visit to the Humayun’s Tomb, a place she frequented often. It had nothing to do with a passionate affair she had shared with a certain someone so long ago. It reminded her of everything she had asked for in life; and got. Every time, the place seemed to throw up a nook which she hadn’t explored. A mural she hadn’t appreciated. An inscription she hadn’t romanticized. An engraving she had not felt with her own soft hands.

She paid for her ticket at the booth. The teller had come to recognize her. He smiled and she returned it with equal honesty. She had decided to explore the western wing of the tomb today. She climbed up the stairs and walked to the western wing in the sweltering heat. Beads of salty sweat clung to her beautiful face. Her sari sashayed in the soft breeze. She had only begun to realize the beauty of it; all over again, when she saw a lone figure sitting on the same bench she had Marvin had shared some twenty years ago. Even after all this time, there was no mistaking the silhouette. She knew it was him. She found herself jumping two steps at a time, running across the gardens to see him, just this once, lest she lost him again. This time it would have meant forever. She knew that. She knew that with uncanny certainty. And everything else paled in comparison.

Akanksha found Marvin sitting there, lost in deep thought. He saw her at the same instant. Both were left speechless for a few minutes. He simply sat there. She simply stood. What twist of fate had ordained such destiny? What cruel sacrifice awaited them round the corner? What painful walk down the memory lane? Eventually, both of them mustered enough courage to sit next to each other. Their bodies fearing proximity, lest it wouldn’t last. They shared their stories. Their love. Their lives. And then they shared those memories, secretly cherished and vehemently guarded. Trips to the bazaars. Visits to the museums. The conversations which now seemed lost amongst a thousand whispers. Tears rolled down freely. Inhibitions were shed with equal disregard. He kissed her with passion, pure and unbridled. She kissed him back. None cared what the world thought or saw. For a moment that seemed to stretch beyond eternity, two souls were lost in pain. Two hearts were bound with joy. Two bodies were entwined in passion, subtle and consuming, all at the same time.

Then just like it had been a moment ago, time rolled the dice once again. It was time to part ways at the cross roads. They got up. She draped a shawl around her shoulders. It was beginning to get cold in the evenings. He draped his arms around her, providing more warmth then anything else could. They walked the walk back, slowly measuring their steps. It seemed as if they were trying to close their eyes and then willing the world to do the same. Near the gates, he held her close to himself one last time. “If not in this one then in the next”, he whispered into her ears. She looked at him through tear streaked eyes and nodded meekly. Then she shook the memories clinging to her still lovely hair and walked through the gates, never looking back. A full minute passed before Marvin moved. Then he trudged back through the revolving bars, never to return.

Behind the curtains, away from the glamorous limelight, two stupid souls talked about it all. They thought their words. They lived their lives. They mourned their sorrow. All in a few fleeting minutes. One put his shoes back on. The other draped a shawl around the other’s small shoulders. They too walked back the walk. They too promised to relive the lives which destiny had so unabashedly exposed to them. They too parted their ways, never turning back.