…. Only Boost

3 in the morning. Months have passed since I’ve slept any decent duration of time, since I’ve been home, since I’ve eaten anything that can be called a passable meal. The screen I’m staring at goes into a blur. Everything is a blur. No idea how long I sat there unblinking, eyes half-open, mouth agape, saliva dripping on to the table and fingers feeling up the keys with a vulgar muscle memory of their own.

This must be hell.

The body wants nothing more than to drop off from the chair, crash on the floor and sleep like there’s no tomorrow. The very next instant, the mind counters that impulse with the irrational fear of falling from the chair and not finding the floor…what if I fall into an endless void. Maybe I am falling through an endless void. Maybe all of this, all the things we do as a species are just fallacies sprouting from a fundamental misconception about how life, as we know, should be. Maybe it’s all a big joke. Maybe someone up there is laughing his ass off watching us grind through our existence in utter misery and hopelessness. Maybe I just need more coffee.

Dear God, I need coffee.

Whatever little strength I have left, I apply in dragging myself to the cafeteria. Bastards better have something to drink or I’m burning this bastard place down. The company’s power saving scheme meant that outside office hours, the cafeteria remains half-drowned in darkness.

No coffee…. only Boost” says the cafeteria guy, some poor Assamese (or whatever fuckin’ Northeastern state he’s from) fellow stuck in the wrong part of the country (and thereby giving the phrase ‘trying to make ends meet’ a whole new meaning). No way a local is going to work graveyard shifts at the cafeteria

Make it hot. HOT. Soodu Soodu. Garam banaiyo bhaiyya!” I yell after him as he nonchalantly sticks the radio to his ear and walks back into the kitchen. No use. I already know what I am going to drink; a cold, stale, mildly offensive smelling potion. I light a cigarette. Smoking within the premises gets you fired. Or atleast such is one’s hope.

Ahhhh….. I rock back the chair and exhale deeply. Small mercies.

If only life felt as blissful as this puff of … Wait! Did I just hear someone coughing? I look around the cafeteria. It’s lifeless and dark, as it should be. The Assamese guy returns with the order. Its surprisingly warm and a tad too sweet. Must be his payday.

Half way through the third puff a voice behind me makes me jump “Excuse me, can you please not smoke in here.” It is a girl. Well fuck me! Of all the things one expects to run into, 2 am some Wednesday morning in a barren cafeteria.

Did I just say ‘a girl’? Let me explain. It like when you’re on your way to a well-deserved century on a benign 2nd day pitch, the sun’s out and the bowling’s uninspired. It seems like nothing in the world can stop you from that century when from out of the blue a seemingly innocuous, yet pacy,outside off-stump delivery, which when left alone, 99999 times out of 100000, would reach the keeper’s gloves on the 3rd bounce, devilishly jags back towards you, while you’re holding your majestic well-left, arm-shouldering pose for all the cameras to click. Too late to react, you look on as horror which then gives way to puzzlement, astonishment, anger and desperation, fill your now remarkably vacant mind. To give you due credit, you do recover from your shitfaced-ness and try to straighten your legs which is nothing more than an act of hope….but you know the ball’s gonna hit you smack bang in the center of the pads, below the knee roll. After what seems like 55 years, the impact comes…. followed by the sinking feeling in the gut, then comes the huge appeal and its subsequent upholdment.

As you walk back slowly towards the crease, the anticipation of glory and orgasmic delight still wiggling about like a freshly chopped lizard’s tail, the only thought your mind can conjure up is: “The fuck just happened?”

That thought…is where I am right now. The fuck just happened? Slowly, the ‘a’ in ‘a girl’ was turning into ‘the’. This is dangerous, I tell myself.

Exactly. It’s dangerous not only to the smokers but to the people around as well.” she says (Damnit…caught thinking aloud again).

Sorry, didn’t know anyone else was here. Will throw this off. On one condition though

What?” she asks. The kind of ‘what’ that resembled the one in ‘what-ain’t-no-country-I-ever-heard-of’

That you join me for a Boost. Just 5 minutes.

Glorious cover-drive! I can see that she wasn’t prepared for this kind of sandhu-le-sindhu. It’s a good sign when you catch them off guard, even if it’s for a second. She says Ok and I put off the smoke.

Haven’t seen you in the office. Which department?

“R&D Labs” So that’s why. R&D is to us what New World is to the native African tribes. Freeloading bastards prance around talking about cutting-edge tech shit and such like, while the rest of the labor break their collective heads on some devious queries or non-compliant test cases.

I’m in the QA-COE. So how come you stay back late?” It’s something unheard of at my workplace – R&D guys slogging.

Oh… I checked in late. I like to work when there’s no one around. Helps me concentrate” Ah…I forget that the flexi-timing rules applies to her department. Not to us though. The last time I attempted to flexi-time, by which I mean land in office an hour late, Banerjee took out a Republic day parade on the corridor, sticking a pole up my posterior.

Figuratively speaking.

Great” I say and attempt what humans call a ‘smile’.

You look ill” she says “Tough break,eh?

I’d rather not talk about it now

Ha…So what would you talk about?” Her drink has arrived. I hope the guy kept up with his consistency.

Anything really. As long as its not about work.

…and talk we do. If someone later asked me what were we on about, I wouldn’t know what to say… because sometimes conversations aren’t bound by the subjects that define them. Sometimes people aren’t after any rational conclusion that they wish to arrive via conversing. The journey’s spectacular, why bother about the destination.

Her eyes let out sparks as and when music is being discussed. I can see she’s got a fantastic taste. There is absolutely no hyperbole in her speech. Her insights or whatever she deduces, she lays it dryly with a little wit, here and there. Every 3rd line or so, she pulls a strand of hair back behind her ear and her studs shine out like stars under the solitary bulb light. I try surviving it all, but the smile’s a killer. Even in disagreement, she lets out a disarming smile. By the time she’s realized that she’s been in the cafeteria far too long, I’m a half-melted semi-colloidal human substance, leaking out of my clothes and flowing towards the drain.

Figuratively speaking.

I watch her politely excuse herself and walk back to the steps. I crane my neck to check if she has legs or if she just floats around on a little mobile-cloud like thingy (neither would’ve surprised me). Legs. Win.

No idea how I reached my desk. Not that I care. All I could think of is about…about….about… wait. What did she say her name was?

Two months later:

Ever heard of a theory which says that if you want something truly and sincerely from the deepest depth of your heart, the universe does everything it can to keep you away from it? No? Here, watch this shitwit Bollywood flick.

I can tell you that for no good reason I had to rush to Mumbai, the very next day. I can tell you that I am to stay here until the project I’m executing comes out of the crisis situation it has managed to crawl itself into. I can tell you that Banerjee has made it his life’s mission to run me to death.

I can also tell you that I inquired everyone I know in the R&D. No frickin’ luck. Fuckin’ idiot! Talked in length about octave equivalency and other such nonsense, forgot to ask name.

K” It was Banerjee.

Hmmm?

Take the 10 o’ clock, will you?

Man I really can’t ! Got a clash at 10:30 and I don’t want to be missing that

I’ll cover the 10:30, champ. You get the 10-er

Damn! there goes my only free half-an-hour reserved for smoking. Maybe if I hurry the fuck up during the call at 9, I can sneak in a puff or two. I do wrap stuff up by 9.45 and run to the nearest sutta shop. Lucky it’s just next to the parking lot and one can smoke under some shade.

Hellllo!” I hear a familiar voice say. If ever Illayaraja was looking for a cue to take center-stage and conduct a grand “How to name it” concert, this was it. Maybe its the sunlight or the sugar-rush…whatever it is I’m going completely blind now.

You again… How are you?

I will tell you. On one condition

What?

Coffee with me. Just 5 minutes” I had half-a-mind to tell her that I have a meeting in 5 minutes. Infact, scratch that… I’m lying. I didn’t even think of the meeting up until half-an-hour later when call I up and tell Banerjee that I have to take the rest of the day off as my granny, who’s in town for some reason, just died in a bathroom accident.

That was naughty” she giggles

Ah…Granma wouldn’t mind. Especially since she’s been dead for years now.” … and its true. I mean, the last 5 years of her life Granma moved heaven and earth to get me married (If its the last thing I’d do. You are going to get married, boy! Like it or not – her last words, or the jist of it. Old thing got delirious towards the end). Didn’t happen, much to her dismay and my joy. So yeah, in a way killing her again for a cause she’d relate to didn’t seem that bad an idea.

Hey listen, it’s kinda awkward but I don’t know your name yet. I am …”

K. I know

Ah…” her sources are better than mine.

Friends call me Jina

Jina? I desperately try to classifying her name into one of the compatible castes that can co-exist peacefully with mine. Damn! This is a loose end.

And your enemies?

She giggles. “Jina. That is my name

Interesting

So what are you upto? For the rest of the day, I mean?

Donno… might catch up on some mourning. Didn’t get to do it properly the first time

Wait! I have a great idea.” out of nowhere she’s excited. Calls her boss, tells him (I know its a him…She keeps calling him sir every 2nd line. It’s a bit annoying.) that her grandmother just died in a bathroom accident.

Condolences” I tell her after the call

So where all do you want to mourn?

Donno you are the local here. You tell me

Epilogue (Can I call it that?):

…. And that is how I first met Jina (in broad daylight.. just a technicality…ignore it, it just felt good to be the first line of an epilogue…so). There is a lot more of that day I wish to tell you. That day and years that followed. But I think sometimes such stories aren’t just about the content that define them. People sometimes aren’t in the story telling business to tell other people whats and whys and whens of happenings. To them it’s beside the point….Because sometimes the journey’s so great, that one doesn’t bother about the destination.

Well I don’t

….and I don’t consider myself much the poorer for it.

Him?

They say life doesn’t come with instructions.  The ones who say this to your face usually follow it up with a smug smile.  That”s your cue to kick their teeth in. In an ideal world, that is. But in real life, you just mutter ‘so true, uncle. so very true‘ and nod approvingly. That is just what I did as Uncle Poorna (he’s not my uncle. Infact he isn’t anyone’s uncle, people just call him that. Never knew why) bored me half to death with his ‘how-we-raised-kids-in-those-days’ lecture.  Earlier that day (or was it the day before? Not sure), Junior, for reasons that are yet foggy, went bananas and thumped a few of his school-mates, proper. You know how these things are. Young boys get a little physical and everyone kick a huge fuss up.

That last line didn’t come out proper but you get the gist. Anyways, the upshot of the incident was that it led to a “P-T meeting-finger-pointing-fist-waving-duster-throwing-lineage-smearing-police-calling” imbroglio. To avoid further embarrassment the school management hastily called in Uncle Poorna (who also happens to be the Councillor of our ward) as intervening authority.

Everybody listens to Uncle Poorna.

I was quite a “convincer” during my Army accountant days” he laughs. As far as I know all he did the past 25 years (before taking a radical plunge into local politics and settling disputes) was to take a daily commute from Mandaveli to Haddows Road and rub his posterior in some private accountants’ office or something. I know this because my father knew this. But what I (or anyone else for that matter) couldn’t figure out was how this all tied up with him being an “Army Accountant”.

You must be a tougher father. Like your father was” he tells me.

You are very wise, uncle” I hear myself say, not wanting this torturous lecture to prolong. Balls! If I was anything like my father, Junior would’ve fled home the day he learnt to walk (Father’s army background had a profound impact on his parenting and on my posterior, whichever came first).

That evening:

After much pacifying and promises, I returned home only to find the missus going about household duties like it was any other Tuesday, which was good. Except for the fact that my spider-senses were going all Zeenat-Aman-in-Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram on me.

Where is he?” Tact is the key else this can all go south very quickly.

Where else? In his room.

I’ll talk to him.

You better!

Yeah yeah I will. After din…

Now.

Ok ok. Let me freshen..

Now.

I made a mental note to investigate which side of the bed I got up on.  As I reached his room, I do the polite thing and knock.

No answer. I knock again. Still no answer.

Hmmm. I clear my throat and go:  “It’s me, Junior. Open up. We need to talk.

It’s not my fault, pa.

I know. Just open the door. We can talk this through. I have nothing on me, I promise.”  (what was I even saying?) After a few seconds he opens the door. I make myself comfortable in his bed. I never had a room when I was 13.  Or a bed. Father reasoned that sleeping on the floor helped blood circulation which in turn increased mental concentration. In other words his message was: “balls to cushion bed, park your just-passed ass on that hard floor”

So…. eventful day, eh Junior?” As expected, no reaction from the boy. He just stood there in the corner of the room, probably expecting the worst.

Come here. Sit down.” I make room for him. “Let me tell you a similar story about Pa.  I once had this classmate who was filthy rich. Every day he’d get dropped and picked up by this posh car. Neat-clean uniforms, brand new stationery, shoes…you know that revoltingly little-smartass-on-the-block types.

We should be rich, Pa. You know… I’ve always wondered why…

I clear my throat loudly “Where was I, ah…yeah…the boy was such a smartass. For some reason we got into a fight one day and...”

Why?” he interrupts again.

Why what?

Why were you guys fighting?

Donno..Can’t remember…Maybe for no reason…but the point is..

That’s kinda stupid, isn’t it?

Look…that’s not relevant.

If that is not relevant how is this story similar to my situation?

I had half a mind to whoop him then and there.

Ok…forget my story…you tell me yours.

It’s all Inji’s fault

Inzy?

Inji. He was being kinda stupid on the stage and …

Woah…Slow down there son. Tell me everything from the beginning.

Ok. The other day I was telling you about my school day function, no?

Vague thoughts of being hounded for some fancy bell-pants and cowboy hat cross my mind. But that’s an everyday occurrence in the household; me getting hounded for some new purchase or the other. Couldn’t connect an event to this particular one.

I don’t remember it all that well.

Of course you don’t, you didn’t even attend.

Why don’t you tell me about it then?

It’s like this…last month, when they announced the school day function date, we decided to do a dance number.

Wow. You can dance? You never said…

Listen no!”

“Ok”

“So Kalsmuls informs the gang that we can do a dance number. You know…Western dance. But Magudi  wasn’t very comfortable with the… no wait, Magudi was ok with Western but NaathaKosale dropped out and that’s when we pulled in Buddi and Jakkamma. Then there was that whole Tommy and Kani situation which we had no option but to solve. But  it only got worse…”

Are these your friends or are you simply making stuff along as you go?

“Huh…Of course they are my friends” Another thing I love about my kid: Says the first thing that crosses his mind and sincerely expect the world to believe every word of it.

“So finally we decide to have Maria as our dance item”   Aha! Introduction of a female character. No wonder this ended in blows.  Boy is growing up a bit too quickly, I say! 

So I put it as delicately as I could “How is this Maria? Class figure aa?”

“Nooooo its not a girl!! Maria is the latest song by Ricky Martin… They play it daily on MTv Select. You didn’t hear or what?”

Evidently I haven’t.

“Anyway, we inform princi about the song. He was suspicious that it may have bad words. We told him that its a Spanish song so no will understand only.  But he still wanted to hear it. After hearing like 2 lines he told us to stop and asked us to explain what LUPACHI LUPALACHEK MARIA is”

“Huh… What?”

“Who knows!  As we told him, its a Spanish song. Nobody understands anything in it except MARIA!”

Oho

Yeah.  So he rejected it and we decided to dance for Yeshwaraa.  Wait…you don’t know Yeshwaraa also no?

Mental note 2: Must catchup on all Spanish songs on MTv.

I’m afraid I’ve not heard that Ricky Martin song as well.

Ayyo Pa!  Yeshwaraa is that tamil song from the new Prashanth movie

Him?

Yeah. Very deep song about friendship and stuff

I’m sure it is

You see, actually I only joined this thing because it let me bunk classes. But Kalsmuls is a very good dancer and we can’t do what he does. 

 “Never think that way, Junior. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”

Mad or what! Who wants to put mind in dancing?” Sigh! Thats one thing off the “Beta hamaara bada naam karega” list.

So the idea was to do let Kalsmuls in the front and do what he does.  It worked well during practice but we were nervous; we surely knew something would go wrong”  he continues “So nervous that on the day of the function we panicked and gave entry half-way during the Good Samaritan play

Oh dear!

Yeah… the Samaritan guy ran offstage shouting ROBBERS CAME BACK! ROBBERS CAME BACK! We were standing there, full costume on like idiots with the traveler guy lying down still pretending that he’s dead.

Then what?

Then they played our song to cover up what happened and we started dancing around the traveler guy’s body and that was when I mistakenly poked Kalsmuls in the eye. He started bleeding and was walked out of stage. Two of the dancers followed him thinking this was some new step. The rest didn’t know what happened and each started doing whatever they remember

What a mess!  Nobody intervened?

What do you mean?

What were the organizers doing all this time?

It happened so very quick. Also most of the audience were thinking this was some new kind of show. Thats when it went very bad.  Inji, in his excitement, stomped on the traveler guy’s stomach. That guy finally had had enough, got up yelling and punched Inji’s nose. The Samaritan guy must have seen this and thought that he was supposed to attack the robbers. He came back running from nowhere with a wild scream and pushed me to the ground….” he pauses to catch his breath.

“I think you know the rest, Pa

Later that night:

“So did you talk to him?”

“Yeah”

“What did he say?”

“Apparently its all Inji’s fault”

“What?”

“Long story”

“What did you do?”

“Eh? What was I supposed to do? I just heard him out and told him to keep out of such trouble.”

“Hope you didn’t tell him about that stupid childhood-fight story of yours.”

“Ofcourse I didn’t. Why would I..CMON! That is not a stupid story. It had a moral, an insight into childhood and a subtle yet beautiful realiz…

The missus was blissfully asleep.

Sandekh Brandy

Adiye! The onions seem fried. Ippo ennatha seiyya ?”  I yell on top of my voice.

I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear a thing.

Goddamn TV serials! If it were up to me I’d shotgun every “fresh-out-of-beauty-parlor-face-all-day” family member of every Gharaana and end their ridiculous conflicts right in the pilot. But such prompt closures are usual frowned upon by the general populace. For instance, I was fed just saltless paavakKa poriyal and burnt VaazhakKa curry when I slipped this view in a house-party, as an plausible impersonal opinion on how things would pan out ‘if prime-time tv soaps were left to the husbands’.  For 3 days.  I have since tempered my inner Bhagat Singh.

Haaan?.. Pyaaz fry kiya kya?” she yells back.

Facepalm!

 A week before:

Bujju, door lock kar dena. Will be late from office today”  she’s a miracle in the mornings; gets a bazillion housework stuff done by the time I haul my ass from the bed to the nearest toilet in stop-motion.

Hmmm….ya ok. hey pass the newspaper before you go

No answer. A loud thud and 2 minutes later,  I get an SMS from her “kpt milk n stuv… frgt to turn of…. doit’ .  Brush and foam in mouth, cellphone in one hand and the end of towel firmly clasped in another, I rush to the kitchen, trip over the dustbin, fall down and somehow manage break my toothbrush into two neat pieces.  Gah!

Working from home can get soul-sappingly boring, esp if you don’t have an office to go to. I have now spent months wrestling with an extremely tricky plot point with the resolution nowhere in sight. Not that I am losing sleep over it but its annoying to start every day, working back and forth on those same notes .

I head out to the balcony for a smoke. I am worried about hundred things in general and none in particular. What have we done with our value system (from an ethical point of view)? Why are we, as a society, doling out apathy as a holistic cure to all our social maladies? Why does our media favor  reckless opportunism over integrity? Who are these pseudo-intellectuals and why do they absofuckolutely hate my books ? How on earth did that asshole with zero singing talent win the Ultimate Crooner contest?

Same old, same old. Sigh! In other words, the breakfast was real bad; asshole Iyermess fellow had me eating the saltiest pongal ever made. When I did complain about it, he dumped chilly sauce on it as compensation. Like truck loads of it.

Namma otel silly chaas saaptu paarumOi. Divyama irukumNe

I mean, who does such things.

Keeping things simple is my motto for the day. Nice and easy little paragraphs, simple observations, character chit-chat, pump in 1500 words and call it a day.  Here an inch, there a foot and I’ll ride through this mess.

Yes Yes!

That’s it.

Nice and easy little paragraphs.

Fifteen minutes later, I find myself browsing through social-networking sites.  If not for my publisher who thought it wouldn’t hurt for me to have an online presence, I wouldn’t have even bothered registering here.  I don’t update much…except for a few thoughts that come to my mind (typically during late afternoons when sleep threatens to spoil my night-routine and I have to really really do something different to keep myself awake).  Anyways,  it seems that I’ve missed the bus by 10 years. Things here don’t make much sense to me.

Around 2.30, I get a call from her mobile.  This better not be the ‘go-buy-and-boil-milk-before-I-get-home’ routine

Hello

Hello saar”  Male voice. Eh?

Who?

Aashiq saar

Which Aashiq?

Autodriver Aashiq saar.  Saar, yoor misses suddenly crashing in my auto saar. Activa fell saar. she adilegoing under. Leg breaking and I taking to gendrlasphithrii saar, I calling there only

WTF!

Allo…Yaaru pa nee? Tamizh le pesi thole

The last time I ever went to the General Hospital was during the 90s. Grandmother’s mother (0r father? or was it Grandpa’s mother? or was it Thathaa himself?  Anyways, who remembers these things!) was terribly ill and they had her in the ICU.  Hospitals still do scare me. My constitution is not built to handle these places, the smell of tincture induce nausea and pointy needles, an uncontrollable shiver. More than anything, the proximity to blood and death and the ridiculous ease with which they deal with them here is unnerving.  It’s a wonder people come here, of all the places, to get back to good health and what more… most of them actually do.

Accident and Trauma Care Services. The nurse points me to the doctor who tells me that it wasn’t a major injury. A small Patella fracture surgery here,  a lakh there. Some rest, physiotherapy and wooosh! Nothing that our insurances can’t handle.

We go into the theatre in an hour. Simple procedure. I’ll see to it that she’s discharged  end of this week. Palani outside will help you with the forms and  other formalities

There was no Palani outside.

I enquire about the autofellow.He’s nowhere to be seen.He’s left all her belongings with the hospital. Everything seem as it is (as far as I can tell, I never can).Must say, Aashiq is decent. An eventful day. Most of it spent running hither and thither, buying this, signing that, buying this again, signing that again, consoling the oh-my-gods, explaining the what-the-fuck-happeneds, ignoring the oru-nade-Kalikaambazhl-Koil-poituvaadas and accepting the  get-well-soons. She’s not woken up yet.

I convince the in-laws to not stay over. I can manage, I say. Ditto to my parents. Just that mom never ever listens to me.

Ippo sollu da. Enna thaan nadandhudhu?”  Mom’s idea of effective inquiry: Repeat the question until you hear what you want to hear.

 “MaaaWe can discuss later

I must’ve slept for the next thing I know it was early morning. The night shift personnel were leaving and I am told that she’s still sleeping.  I slip out for a nice smoke and a quick tea.  Something about December makes me fall in love with this city. So many things have changed but yet this place remains the same.

Sigh.

You can see her now

Thanks for everything, ma’am…..Means a lot

Don’t be silly. It’s only her job”  this was mom.

Today:

Fucking Youtube cookery videos!  They teach you everything except how to cook. More importantly, they don’t tell you what to do when smoke hits the roof.

Kar kya rahe ho tum vahan?”  a geniune alarm in her voice.  Great success! Not the cooking… managed to divert her attention from the TV.

Aaan… Saambrani daal raha hoon

What?? Are you smoking in there? Aa rahi hoon mein”  Heh. Fat chance of that happening

My Dear SandhegapPraani, don’t bother.  Have some patience, yummy lunch is getting ready“.  Fat chance of that happening too. Must’ve taken mother’s help when she offered to stay with us. Tactical mistake.

Never have I struggled like this in my life. EVER.  Not even when I had to almost stab my heart to convince my high school biology teacher that the diagram was of a cockroach and not a flabby male genitalia.  Cooking is not for the pansies. Hundred things to do and each with a hundred other dependencies and  considerations. All this for a 15-min-simple-thing-one-cooks-every-other-Tuesday level dish.

An hour and a half later.

How is it?” I ask her.  Clever of me to have not tasted it at all. Never take risks when you’re married is how I roll.

Hmmmm”  she replies, lost in thought  “Eatable

Aha…well of course. Love that Sardar chef guy on Youtube!   Must send him a money order or something.

What does that word mean?

What word?

Vahi. Sandhekh Brandy

Huh? Kounsa brandy?

Yeah, the same… what does it mean?

Are you alright?

Arre… From the kitchen you yelled then, no?  What’s that word?

This is one thing I really hate. Pulling random stuff from some…

Oh SandhegapPraani ya?

Yeah, the same.

Asadu, it means you are very pretty”  I do this all the time. She is probably the most misinformed Bharadhiyar poetry fan in the whole world.  I mean, why waste time looking up words, when your husband’s a writer, right? Right? Right? Wrong.

Awww. So sweet. Channel zara change karna

Kounsa dekhna hei?”  I snuggle in next to her.

Zee.”

Ahaan…what is this serial?

Interesting one. Its about this big family and the third son’s wife is actually a.. “

Ah, TV is not so bad after all.

Fools rush

The Commander-in-Chief, rides his chariot up to his King, the Lord of Hastinapura “A boy, you say? That is no ordinary boy, O King.  He is  Soma, the Immortal. Even the Gods are no match for him in the battlefield. The only choice we’re left with is to keep the tenets of Dharmayuddha aside. Dharma didn’t get us here and it won’t get us past him. The rest is up to you. Our troops await your word

The King watches the kid, the murderer of his son, with great intent.  Beyond anger,  a sense of wonder and fear that grips him.  Even a war-hardened mind like his finds it difficult to believe that such unflinching cruelty and relentless fury could emanate from someone so young and lovable and innocent.  The boy stood there, right in front of him, with such unnerving calm. His breathing was sure, his movements complete with purpose and  his  countenance considerably darkened, reminded one of the moon during an eclipse.

Their eyes meet for an instant.

The King clenches his fist and raises his arms, high enough for the Prince of Sindhu to see.

Miles ahead, in the middle of a mad chase and a shower of arrows, a charioteer quietly sheds a tear.

——X——

Loyalty to the Crown.  Loyalty to the Sovereign

Of all the things his father taught him, these words were the ones he considered most important.Now everything is gone.  He had spent the day here, by his father’s blazing pyre. A little ahead he sees an owl perched on a tree hitherto blissfully asleep, now being heckled and harassed by a pack of crows. Bitten, clawed and thoroughly beat, the owl flees to save its life. Everything he believed in, loved to be true ceases to be, leaving a huge void in their place. Nothing to fill it in but the violent flames of the pyre nearby.

Law is what is we make of it, he thinks.  The world has and always will belong to these conniving thieves  of dignity. The Right and the Just have no place here.  Dharma died a long time ago when they shamed the Mighty Patriarch into disarming using an eunuch and then went on to drill his noble frame with arrows.

Something horrible was growing within him.

 He sat there watching the tree for eons, or so it seemed to him. Darkness fell on the land and yet he had not left the side of his father’s now smoldering pyre; his gaze firmly fixed on the tree.

A menacing hoot fills the woods all of a sudden.  He instantly turns towards the source of the sound. Though his eyes couldn’t fathom what was ahead; heart in heart  his hunter’s instinct tells him that something vengeful was flying towards him.

It was the owl and this was her turn to attack. Her execution was short and immaculately calculated. The blinded birds did not stand a chance against her deadly swipes. He watched the whole thing with great thrill and intent.  The universe had given him his answer.

——X——

The stream of blood covering  his eyes was but a minor annoyance. He had long lost his crown, his shield broken, his mace knocked out of reach. He fumbles over what appear to him be his horses; still, unmoving, bloodied and magnificent even in death.  He reaches out to the nearest object he could reach; the wheel of his chariot.  Ahead lay his protectors or whatever that was left of them, riddled with arrows.

He had rode into the formation far too quick and far too deep for his own good. A tactical mistake.  No matter, he thinks, he’s already wrecked such havoc that the walls of the formation still tremble around him. For each level he moved in, he left behind him scores of bodies. Neither the pinch of pain nor prick of fear distract him. The question of death doesn’t even cross his mind. But beyond all the sugar rush of valor and heightened thrill of slaughter,  the disillusioned bit of his soul; the one that stood witness to his acts, silently  mourned at the pointless of it all.  Where was the joy in such a victory and what sorrow if he fell.

With one heave, he pulls the wheel clean of its hinges. Such brutal strength in someone so young, startle the 8 warriors facing him.  Swathed in blood, ribs jutting out, he stood before them sword in one hand and the wheel as a shield in another.

To victory” he murmurs  “To glory!

——X——

The warrior stood before him holding the garland of severed, blood stained heads.  With great effort, the King raises both his hands and accepts it.  Instantly his joy turns into anguish and then into unspeakable horror.

What have you done, my friend?”  were the anguished king’s last few words.  “What have you done!  These are their infants. What have you done, my friend! “

After jealousy, lust, greed, anger and pain, it was grief’s turn now to blind the king’s eyes. Not that he was a stranger to it but for a man to have gambled it all, played it right and yet be cheated out of everything he craved for, appeared to him, plainly cruel.  Soft yet scorn filled words kept ringing in his ears ‘My methods may not appear fair. But I am bound to uphold Dharma at all costs

This is it.

It ends here, in a muddy, filthy bank of this river. The Overlord of the Kurus, fated to finish like a crawling worm.

Numbness overcomes him at a frightening pace.

Time to die.

Over the line

4924 lights a cigarette and lets out a sigh.

Seems like another life. Great job. Small family. Little daughter, Wife ran a local food chain (quite popular  actually, you must have breakfast there once at least). Things were good. A little too good

He’s looks lost in his own story… guess he’s continuing the narrative in his head. I head out to the cooler to get some water.

They let us ‘milder’ patients have a smoke or two in the evenings. That is where me and my new friends  fit in; resting in those loungers , smoking away to glory, watching the summer sun set.(Why they have loungers in this place is something I’d never figure; especially since they don’t have a pool. Anyways, I ain’t complaining.  These are way too comfortable than say those atrocious leather sofas at the reception)

4 months of chit-chat and none of us knew why the other guy ended up here. The thing is, once you’re in a nuthouse you’d do anything to avoid being called crazy.  Funny how that very desperation to appear sane serves proof to your insanity. These are clever people you’re dealing with here, either way you can’t win. You give up, that’s the first rule.  Give up and play along. I am quite fried walking across the lawn. Summer’s a bitch in these parts. I was specifically told by my attorney that I’d be in a ‘hill station’ ish climate enjoying my rest cure.  Bah! Fucker knows that I dehydrate easily and yet he saw to it that I got dumped in here.

Turn on that AC, fools”  I yell at the ward boys.  No effect.

Where are you with your story?”  I ask 4924

Still stuck in good times” chuckles 5572 and twists his arm for a good measure. The guy sits up with a jolt.

Everyone obsesses about one thing or another, I guess”  he continues  “Just that …for some people….I mean… you know how it is for some of us

I understand” I nod reassuringly.  The fuck I do.

Much of my sensitivity to all things unclean comes from the early years when my parents were insistent (sometimes bordering on obsession) on keeping everything spick and span. Is Mysophobia hereditary? Is it triggered by a specific event? Don’t know. All I know is that couple of years ago we were on a month-long US trip and there during one long drive, I ran over a  young deer. The  blood and the flesh smeared all over was unbelievable.  I spent hours cleaning the fleshy tidbits off my car.”

“I couldn’t sleep after that. Everything smelt funny. I had to bathe constantly. I couldn’t sit in peace after the initial handshakes during those long meetings.  Is my food clean? There were germs everywhere. I couldn’t touch anyone or anything anymore without running off to the bathroom and scrubbing my palms till the foreskin peeled off. Compulsive glove/mask wear led to distrust led to domestic fights led to domestic violence.  The last straw was when I broke my kid’s arm in rage when she put the food from the floor back into her eating plate. I didn’t mean to… you know…but …Hmmm”

“Here I am, now. Hopefully cured” laughs 4924 out loud  “But I know there is no cure… this is just reconciliation” A ward boy, by the name …. I dunno. I can’t remember names anymore. So yeah…the ward boy. Gives 4924 his dose of medication. Part of the routine.

Your turn 4915” says 5572.

Words have always fascinated me.” I start  “As far as back I can remember, I always wanted to …you know…wanted to be a writer.”

“And I did end up becoming one.  A successful one at that. Book followed book and it rained royalties. Until one day I simply couldn’t write anything. Now these blocks are something we deal with regularly in our profession. Deadline or no, I’ve always managed to work a way out of these situations.  But things went from bad to worse after 3 months. My writing hand developed an ugly shiver whenever I picked a pen up or sat before my computer to type.  This went on for a week or two after which the mere thought of writing induced vomit. It was a sick fuckin’ nightmare. Fearing epilepsy or some serious shit like that I rushed to my doctor who also happens to be my brother-in-law.  Nothing wrong with you physically, he says.”

Terrible memories of days gone by swamp the brain. The nights I sat up wondering whether I’m going to die. All those beautiful, picture-perfect sentences will never find a way to imprint themselves on paper and on to the reader’s mind. As if calming myself and my family down isn’t a task tough enough, I began getting suggestions to use ghosts. The situation was fuckall.

My 8th book, the one I didn’t type a word of, was a disaster and invited unprecedented media attention.  One thing led to another and I found myself well dressed in a tuxedo sitting in a comfy chair, 15 storeys above the ground, staring at the mirror, blood steadily trickling down to the carpet. Next thing I know there were loud thuds at the door and that godawful stench of disinfectants ”  Goddamn! We’ve run out of cigarettes.

“...and that is how I end up here

The evening sun is glorious today.  Not a single cloud in the sky; just the magnificent bright orange glow that engulfed everything before us.

So what’s your story big guy?” I ask 5572. He was the youngest of us all. Nice loveable kid. It saddened me to see him in a place like this. Maybe he’s a potential book material.

They say I’m delusional” says he.

Everyone is. What’s your specialty?” I tell him

I used to walk on water when it came to designing strategic weapon guiding systems

So you were in the army?”  Fuck me! You meet one of every kind in this place.

Something like that… but not quite. Look, it gets too technical so lets not go there

So the job did you in, eh?” I ask him

You can say that. You see… the job that I do may interest people who have their own vested agendas. I mean… Yeah, I was entrusted with a significant amount of classified data.  So naturally there is always fear and suspicion that lurks in one’s mind regarding one’s safety.  A year ago, I deduced that I was being followed. No matter where I go and when.  Initially I thought that this could be the “enemy” and so I raised a concern. I was consoled saying that I have been given enough protection and such incidents won’t happen again.

Suddenly, as if by magic the stalkers vanished.  Something was wrong, this was too ‘perfect’ to be true.  Maybe my own agency is spying on me.  Maybe there is no enemy. But why? I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.  Could this be about the new project? Damned if I knew. Whatever it was… these people were surely up to something.  I was pretty sure that my phone was tapped and that I was on watch 24/7 but couldn’t figure out how they did. I tore down the walls of my searching for some hidden camera. Nothing. Broke the phone. Sealed the windows. Burnt all my files. Locked the doors and spent like what looked like an eternity in the basement. That’s where these people found me.

Funny thing is they keep telling me that I’m just another cashier guy working in a supermarket… which would’ve at least sounded plausible if I had any recollections of it. But fuck that bullshit! I know who I am and I know what I did.  Nothing anyone says ain’t changing none of that

The doctor in charge of the shift walks towards us “Isn’t it a bit too late for you fine gents to be sitting out?  Shouldn’t you be in your wards?

Should we?” asks 5572

I’m positive Mr. Marvin. You should be.

It was time to split for the day.  I head to my room followed by the caretaker. Then I remember something. I turn back and yell calling 5572 “Hey!  Hold on.  Who is this “them” and “they” you kept referring to back there?

He keeps walking on. Without turning he says “Everybody man!

The entire fuckin’ system

Rough Draft

This happened in the summer of 92, in one of them famous art-colleges in the country.

“Though wise men at their end know dark is right…”    Dylan Thomas, one of my favorite poets, someone whom I *did* find interesting.  But that is not where my thoughts are.

“What the fuck are you waiting for?  Just give her the letter”  whispers Skooter

“Why? What? NO! Not now, man! ” I shoot back. She sat near the door, her face glowing, thanks to the glorious evening sun.  I never thought reflection would be this glamorous a concept when my 8th grade physics prof  literally shoved my face into the textbook in vain hope that I’ll get a clue.

The class gets over by 4.

“AJ!” yells the prof, all of a sudden. “Don’t just sit there….help me carry all these assignments to the staff room”.

Fuck.

By the time I’m manage to wriggle out of the staff room ducking a million questions on my academic progress (father has friends in the worst of places) and million other rants on how youth these days are losing their focus in comparison to their predecessors, she is almost at the end of the college grounds, heading towards the bus stop.

Have no choice but to run.

“LEEEEELLAAAAA”  Her steps are small, measured and purposeful. God! She walks fast. I choke running after her… and by run I mean,  the semi-crawl-semi-limp-semi-walk-mostly-give-up-drop-down-and-die act.

After what seemed like a lifetime, she stops and slowly turns.

“What is it, AJ?”  she asks (or that’s what I think she asked.  My ears are playing Doordarshan’s ‘Rukawat Keliye Khed Hein’ shrill note in high volume. Everything she speaks I could only make out approximately with my limited lip-reading skills)

“Wat ..erba…tl… Wa..” Bastard lungs are on fire. I didn’t plan dying this way. She opens that little bag of hers and brings out a huge water bottle…how they do it, pack the entire world in a little bag, only they know. I hand her the letter as I drink the water.

She reads it.

Frowns.

Looks up at me.

Frowns.

Goes back to reading it.

Frowns.

Neatly folds the letter.

Frowns.

Keeps the letter in that little bag of hers.

Frowns.

“I need time to think about this” she says and starts walking towards the bus stop.

‘Okay’ I say.

My best response.

Two weeks of preparation, talking before the mirror, anticipating scenarios, forgetting meals, forgetting sleep, getting into the wrong bus, forgetting shoes, walking barefoot, falling out of the bus, losing appetite, gaining appetite, getting into fights with random bus conductors and all I could say was Okay.

Oh fuckin’ kay!

Mad rush at the bus stop. The usual. Bus arrives. Everyone boards the bus. Everyone leaves.

Everyone that is, except her. Slowly, hesitantly but surely, I see her walking towards me.

“STOPSTOPSTOOPP! Wait a minute!” Lila yells

“Aye! I’ve told you a thousand times not to interrupt me in the middle of a narrative”  God!

“But this is bullshit!”

“What is?”

“Your story”

“How?”

“I don’t even want to go into the predictable tackiness or the plausibility of the given situation. People have traditionally overlooked these faults in books favoring fantasy over reality.  But what’s appalling is that your story or whatever you got going there is that its disgustingly sexist in nature. You’ve managed to reduce your leading lady into a sex object; someone whom you use to push emotional buttons to evoke a strong response from your readers. I mean…do you even understand how the feminine form functions and its delicate dynamics? ” she snarls.

Don’t look at me. That is how she speaks day in and day out. For real.

All my parents ever asked me was to marry that nice, quiet, family girl they chose for me. That is all they asked.

Sigh!

Actually…

“Can you get home by yourself?” she asks  “I have some grocery shopping to do and won’t be driving by Lalbagh”

“Would you be needing any help with the groceries?  I can …” I offer to help.

“Oh no no” she smiles “I can manage, I’m concerned whether you can get home … You know …this rain’

“Not a problem. I should be used to rough stuff by now”  its hard to hide one’s disappointment.

“Hmmmm”  she manages to keep up with the smile. It’s pretty thin now, the smile.

For the longest possible time we spend time in colleges and schools learning how stuff works. All that ‘baap-ki-khoon-pasine-ki-kamaai’ spent generously to add abbreviated suffixes to our visiting cards. All that effort, struggle, cut-throat-competition and for what?  We never learn how to deal with situations. We never learn to handle awkward silences, never ever learn when to give a fuck and when not to. For instance, right about now I should be grabbing her by her shoulders, shaking her, yellin’ ‘WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? CANT YOU SEE WE HAVE A GREAT THING GOING IN HERE?’ but instead…

“Oh…that reminds me, I’ve got to shop some sportswear …..for Popat… nephew..Nice guy. I should be going now”.  (Note to self: Run home, hug your pillow and cry your eyes out, you wimp!)

“See you around then” she says

“Yeah”

13D just pulls into the bus-stand. I turn back and run as fast as I can to catch it . Mangalore is a bitch when it comes to torrential rains. Heart-in-heart I wish that, on cue, Sonu Nigam or KK or Atif Aslam’ll sing some poignant Urdu-ish Hindi song about life, love, destiny and separation.  Turns out today is ‘Melodrame-ki-maa-chudh-gayi-divas’

“Onji Bondel” I hear myself say fishing out a not-yet-wet 50 rupee note.

“Change ijji maaraya” comes the reply with no effort to conceal its annoyance.

It’s an awful feeling when one is ripped to little shreds and the whole world is busy giving a fuck about chillars for a bus-ticket.

Withnail and I [1987]

( source)

The picture says it all. There is nothing much else to say.

Cut To Conflict

25 Apr 2006:

“Is there a God?” I ask.

The humidity wrings the fuck out of you in this city. 12 in the night lying on the terrace floor, your skin screams ‘Encore’ at the slightest of breezes. So much for the romantic “lying back and gazing at the stars together” shit. Plus what the movies never tell you is that 99% of the terraces in this country are ant-infested. Little fuckers are notorious to the point where one psyches out and goes on a stomping rage.  Fuck the karmic shit, I’d demolish multitudes of ants any given Tuesday.

“And the award for the most cliched question goes to…” she quips, her fingers absentmindedly fiddling with my sacred thread.

“You know what  Bunty told me last week at that beach house party?” I ask

“What? Something about his wife?”

“No…nothing about his wife. Just a general observation. He says that sarcastic quips are women’s way of telling men that they’re in the ‘mood’. “

“Balls! What was he smoking?”

“The usual shit”

My hands reach up to her sweaty nape and I let them traverse the contours of her face.

“I wonder if there is a point to all of this madness. Here we are, both of us, intimate, completely in love (Jesus! did I just say ‘completely in love’?) and yet something feels odd.  Isn’t this too random an arrangement? Why are we here? I feel like I don’t even know you…. as in …  as in… Don’t you feel manipulated? Like a puppet whose strings are being pulled by an invisible hand?   I mean … why am I saying things which I’m saying out now?  Don’t you feel that we’re two random characters shoved into a romantic scene with no sense of context whatsoever? “

“Hmmmmm” is all she can manage in reply. Half-moan/Half-sigh types.

Oh well!

Last Week at that beach house party:

“Is there a God?” asks Bunty

A loud groan from Skooter “Don’t do this da! The last time we had this conversation, it almost came to a fistfight”

“Yes Yes I know. But of late I’ve been bumping into a lot of atheists btw”

“By bumping into, you mean….” I begin. Knowing Bunty as I do, the question wasn’t irrelevant or lewd.

“No penetration involved, if that’s what you fear. I’ve just been meeting a lot of them lately and they’ve started to get on my nerves” he smiles (or that’s what we think he did. Such accounts rapidly lose their authenticity as they progress to the 4th round of drags and if I know Skooter right, the bastard’s stopped mixing tobacco after the first hand) “I mean, I can’t bear the general snobbery that gets tossed around when 3 or more of such goats get together. Infact fuck me if I’m wrong but I haven’t seen one atheist who can’t keep his/her trap shut”

“I agree. I mean, being your friend for such a long time and all” I try slipping one in under the radar

“Chutiye! I don’t go about being an overbearing or a condescending asshole at social gatherings” he shoots back

“Oh like that you are saying a? Good Good! Continue” I reply

“So that is when I meet one of these guys who tells these snobs to give theists some credence. Naturally, the whole gang pounces on this guy and starts to take him apart..and then he says something that sounded brilliant.”

“Yeah? What’s that?” asks Skooter

“He said: Imagine a bunch of human cells in some vein somewhere down the abdomen, meeting up, chatting in their own language, about how they are the pinnacle of evolution and how perfectly they’ve built a complex system (the vein, that is), the sum of which, is greater than themselves. They are quite proud of what they’ve achieved and laugh derisively at the thought of a third party beyond their schemes of action and the corresponding reaction. Of course, they do acknowledge that there were far too many things that they haven’t learnt yet but the idea of an higher organism whose being encompassed all their worlds sounds downright ridiculous to them”

A few seconds of silence

“Bunty” said Skooter finally “I’ve got to say this: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”

“Huh? You don’t get it?” Bunty putting on his best incredulous face

“Nope, even I dont get it” I add

“It’s so simple. The analogy was to illustrate that sentient and intelligent as they may be, the cells don’t have a frame of reference or context about the truth. They simply don’t have the means or know-how to understand that they’re just part of a bigger, infinitely more complex system.”

“Alright. But this still doesn’t explain the presence of God” convincing Skooter ain’t easy. (because the bitch’s gotten its head inflated from all that Yale MBA gas)

“But it doesn’t have to, no?” I was getting the hang of this “All the guy said to the gang was to give theists the same benefit of the doubt they gave themselves. The faith movement is all the same whether you choose to believe or disbelieve.  “

“Tough.” you can see that Skooter is visibly annoyed

“Let me put it this way.” Bunty putting on his best helpful face  “Atheism is not so much against God as it is against ignorance. I don’t think it ever set out to contest the presence or absence of a higher being. All it stood for was truth and all it stood against was the mind-numbing atrocities that were carried in the name of organized religion. That being said, if a man claims that worshiping a roadside milestone gives him peace of mind and if he keeps the practice well to himself, it shouldn’t be a problem to these atheist goats, no?”

“But it sure does look stupid” giggles Skooter (Don’t get me started on this giggle of his. Let me just say its one of those ‘choose to ignore’ things)

“Fuck yeah, that’s true” says Bunty “But that’s no reason to be smug about…by the way,  either of you have any dinner plans?”

“Dinner plans? Bunty this is a fuckin’ party man! There is shit loads of food downstairs. Go help yourselves”  I tell him

“Yeah, but I want Veg Pizza”

“At 2 FUCKING AM?”

” Yeah, check if the Dominoes is still open?”

25 Apr 1998:

“Maybe its green or wait… isn’t it blue?”  Its been an hour and the all important question still remained: ‘Green or Blue?” Of course its Blue. Of course its  Copper.  Mani did promise, didn’t he? I had, in an act of great forethought, bribed the lab assistant shortly before the exams.  The fella had told me he’d arrange it in such a way that I’d end up with Copper Nitrate (the only combination I had any clue of deducing).

So there we were, the entire batch, at the door steps of the gigantic lab. Each of us were called in, one at a time, to collect his/her tiny beaker of salt. As my turn arrived I confidently walked up to receive the beaker only that they didn’t give it to me. I could hear indistinct sounds coming from a room nearby which went something in the lines of  ‘No Stock…. Try another….It’s okay…. I’ll take care’ or such.

Fuck fuck fuck! Everything from a grad seat in a reputed university to my father’s scorning face swam before my eyes. Why Sachin, why? Why hast doth played with my life thus?

Doom. Dead. Death. Have to work in father’s factory. As a coolie. Will never fetch a good dowry.

Failure.

A million bricks were shat by the time I was handed my beaker.  Mani nods slightly in the background as if to assure that this is indeed Copper Nitrate.

I look at my salt suspiciously.  Cuprous salts are blue, aren’t they? Then why the fuck is this salt mild green? Is it Phosphorous or Ferrous? Surely, not Zinc. Dear Lord, not Zinc! Anything but Zinc! After what seems like an eternity, I try dissolving a portion of the salt in water. Soluble. Aha! Maybe there is still hope. But solubility alone wouldn’t wash with the examiners. The Chemistry lab is the last place, of all places on God’s green earth, where one expects a test of faith.

Ah! The hell with it. I get to work with the tests.

“49238, kindly come forward”

I carry all the test tubes for the final validation.

“So 49238, what’s the inference?”

Inference?  What did I infer from life so far?  That randomness is all-prevalent. That all morality is subjective. That if life is just a dream, we are just the variations of a same subconscious projection. That time is just an illusion. That the purpose that we so desperately seek to justify our existence is in itself, the purpose that drives the search. That irony is lost in its rich subtlety. That people just don’t care. That this here, the judgment of my salt-analyzing skill, is another water molecule in the gigantic ocean of cosmos. That nothing is lost and nothing is gained.

‘Child!  Are you there? What is the inference?”

I look up and clear my throat.

“There is no God”

 

 

Home

A writer’s life ain’t all rosy n snug. Especially true if the said writer’s hit a block and is staring at an 8am deadline, smoking the nth cigarette of the day, wishing madly for that brilliant spark which would get his story rolling. I’m not your ‘also occasionally write columns for the magazine’ guy nor am I your hot shot ‘I have the most erudite of opinions’ editor of some online journal. I write for a living. Short stories (and by that I mean the ones that get you all ‘tingly’ below), gossips, page 3 snippets, cooking specials in a couple o’ regional mags, sports columns, ghosting, hecka lotta ghosting, weekly gadget reviews, jokes, puzzles, fuckin’ crosswords, even movie reviews once in a while (To be fair, I do it better than the filth that is called reviews these days); almost every thing that can be put to words.

This is how I get by.

A couple of days back, this ‘high profile’ fiction writer, the author of 14 best sellers (all of which adapted into successful films), suffered something major. Died. It so happens, this guy writes short stories in one of those magazines that I work for. Apparently a big deal, huge fan following and shit. As is the tradition with such cases, the editors try to get the author’s last ‘creative’ work and hope he croaks within the next issue’s release. If the poor chap does die (as he has, in this case), they print the story and stick to its ass, a 800-1000 word tribute.  Apart from the healthy surge in circulation this also brings in a good opportunity to publish memoirs.

So here I am ghostin’ that famous cricket column written by that famous retired veteran cricketer (Remember that insightful article on saving Test Cricket? Well! Those insights were all mine), I get the call from the editor. I generally don’t get calls from the editors themselves unless shit hits the fan. This guy tells me that he’s willing to pay thrice per word for an ‘article’.  He says that I come in well recommended (like Bull!) and that he’s fairly sure of me crunching this assignment in 2 days. But the schmuck never let me in on the ‘real’ catch. Our high-profile ‘now comfortably resting in his sweet grave’ author hasn’t completed his last story. From what I gather, it isn’t even half done.

17:50pm:

Shuffling through those pages, I get the frickin’ rage. Some pansy-assed, poetic, nostalgic shit about home, affairs of the heart etc etc. Goddamn these fiction writers! Here’s a thing I can never understand: Why do so many people aspire to be WRITERS? It’s a shitass lifestyle choice. As if groping and stumbling, trying to find one appropriate word after another is not punishment enough, one has to sit and bother about opening, structure, placement, format, conciseness of delivery, consistency in character development, proof reading, 2nd round of proof reading, million other rounds of proof reading, editing, re-editing, cover design, market, PR, whoring, some more whoring, so on and on and on. All this under the assumption some publisher, in the first place, agrees to print your crap.

Get a fuckin’ office job and be at peace already!

19:00pm:

Desperate. Tried every trick in the book and failed. Can’t write a fuckin’ sentence in context. Wrote some 248 random words. Stared at it long enough in hope that the words’ll magically fall in line and complete the story. 30 mins of fuckall staring later; not a thing.  Already 2 calls from the editor. The routine drill of ‘When’, ‘What’ and ‘Can I at least see the draft now?’. Heh, the draft it seems!

20:45 pm:

Home. To a minuscule few like me, home isn’t a place to go to. It’s a point in time or a figment of memory where things are unreasonably pleasant and life erratically fair.

Corny is good.  I lie back on my cot and light another cigarette.  I can think about a hundred things that defined home, none too substantial.  The problem with people is that they expect nostalgia, flashbacks to be clear, concise and in HD.  All I can muster is colloidal memories of some random shit that happened 18 years back.

22:03 pm:

Called Chaubey’s place to order food.

“Account mein daloon, sir?” asks the fella.

“Haan.. aur suno bhaaiya, pyaaz thoda kum”

“Ji”

One of his few customers who spoke Hindi in this town and hence the “account mein daalna”.  Poor bastard keeps coming to me, twice a year, to beg a few hundreds for his journey to Allahabad. Some random village called Iradatganj. I don’t even know if there’s such a fucken place or if he’s making it up. I do pay him though.

I wonder what his thoughts’d be…on this subject.  Must be romanticized and skewed.  Dammit! He should be the one on this assignment, not me.

00:02 am:

The tribute was a piece of cake. I just had to tinker the standard template to make our man look like JesusNelsonKaramchandTeressa. No sweat.

I get reminded of Ghouse Peeran, the 2nd of the 4 Peeran brothers.  The guy used to be our cricket team’s captain. We made it to the district finals. Our kits were all stolen goods. The school fees from my dad’s pocket never reached school. Of course the teachers (nuns really) who ran the school were partial to our financial condition and that gave us the opportunity to dabble in vices (some well known, others best not revealed).

03:00am:

Something did emerge. Good. More of this, now.

Home (or to be more accurate, my parents’ home) was a 400 sq feet, 1 bedroom hell. Everything in it was worn-down, creaky, rotten, infested, half-dead, leaky, borrowed or quarreling in a loud voice. We children were taught to pray to the Gods and lie to the debt collectors; the latter being the only good thing my parents ever taught me. Back then the word ‘justice’ didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me (to a large extent, it still doesn’t). Every moment spent in escaping the present was a moment well spent.

06:45am:

Must rush. Haven’t got much time. This probably will go to print before the editor’s had a chance to read it. Fuck! I am so not getting my money for this.

Education, sooner or later, fails everyone. I, like most other learned fools of my generation, learnt it the harder way. Sure it keeps the stomach relatively full and all that… but that Math Ph.D that I pursued so passionately? What a bummer! What were those grants, accolades, certificates for?  In what context do I put them now? 24 years of being cooped in a classroom like pregnant hens trying to shit out golden eggs.

24 years. God!

09:00am:

Just got off the call with the editor. He’s massively pissed that I ran it under his radar. He says that the story’s ok, though if I had infused a little more grit and reality it’dve really “soared” .. Also says that he’s a reasonable man and so inspite of letting him down with the deadline, he will  still pay me half what he promised.

Grit and Reality, it seems. What a rotten asshole!

I clearly remember it as if it were yesterday (it might’ve been yesterday… ), his father was sitting out on the porch, smoking. He waves his hands signaling me to go in. The house was relatively quiet, looked like everyone’s done their share of weeping and there’s only so much you can weep. In the hall, lay Ghouse, all stitched up and clean; not bad for someone who’s been hacked to death in a riot.  His mother, with a tired smile, asks me if I’ll take coffee. I say No. Ghouse was 16 when he died. So were seven others who went for an afternoon swim in one of them huge irrigation wells…Young and dead.

Not many cared really. Fewer mouths to feed in that hellhole ain’t such a bad news.

10:45am:

Ouch!  I was rushing to catch the bus when this ball comes flying out of nowhere and smacks me on my head. Bastard kids! I pick the damned thing up and put it in my pocket. Soon a young kid comes by with his head bent and his eyes searching for the lost ball presumably.

“Anna” he asks “Inga Baal Vandcha? Paathengala?”

“Aama, Paarthen… Enpa Inge Vayasanavanga ellam Nikkraangelle … paathAada Maateenga? Padcha Pasanga thaane neenga ellam? Oru responsibility illa? ”  Yes. This is me. Talking about responsibility. Feel free to judge.

He manages a “SorryngNa…PaaththAdrom”

I throw the ball to him. “Enna Unga Teamle Setthupeengla?”… It’s been a long time since I even saw a match on TV. I guess I put him in an awkward place. He kept scratching his head. Meanwhile his friend comes by and learns that some random “big guy” wants to join them in their game.

“SorryNa… Bet Match aditirukkom… Neenga konjam wait pannengunna unglkku thaniya Gaaju podrom”. Little Brat and his nerve… Bet match, it seems!  Told him and his tongue-tied friend to scram.

They flee from the scene avoiding further outrage.

The bus is late again today.

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