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.


  1. "Or is it because we love the shooting star and not the twinkling one?"

    Wish I'd written that.

  2. And that's about it. Is it?

  3. All fiction is semi-(or completely)autobiographical, isn't it ?