Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Off you go, Decembah

Blogspot tells me that this is my 700th post. And also that today brings to end six years of my blogging life. What had begun as a secret pastime and became a survival kit when the going got real tough, is now as part of me, as the cliché goes, as is breathing. And as in the case of breathing, I do not do it for others, I do it for myself.

Blogging etiquette dictates that on the last day (or week) of the year, we post a retrospective report on the ups and downs of the year, with adequate emphasis on the lessons learned and with the right phrases about abundant hope and optimism for the future. We like to believe that any random reader might benefit from our mistakes. Yes, we do think too highly of ourselves. As a dedicated blogger, I did what was expected of me all these years.

2009: Year End... Recall. Or not?
2010: Shifting Priorities
2011: Not-a-year-end Blog 
2012: To 2013. And Beyond!
2013: Where's that Year again?

What December 31 can do, a string of birthdays cannot - it brings right before our eyes the appalling truth that our present is fast fading into our past, that one more year of our life is now history. That we are hurtling towards the end of the ride and we have no clue how much farther we have to go. I do not panic when I think of a birthday, but I do, when it comes to this very important day. I try to hold on to it as though it is a precious gift I am about to lose. Who knows if I will get to see it again? Paranoid. I know.

The summary of this year is: I learnt, painfully, that saying No is not always a great idea. It is a great theory to perpetuate (and I will continue to bore others to death about it), but not always good to practice, for the sake of one's own sanity and self-respect and other things I would rather not mention. The things that we say No to, might turn out to be that Opportunity in disguise we have always been warned about.

I look forward to the sunrise that should soon appear outside my window, and though my knees are knocking against each other, I demand, "What have you got to show for yourself, 2015?"


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Holidays

Thank God for dull, boring days-
the age-old shows, the meaningless films
the familiar sunset and sunrise
the white, blue and black skies
the glinting stars that rise and set
the dust, the wind, the cars, the books,
the trees that grow, the ones that fall
the weeds that don't learn to give up
the flowers, the seeds, the plants, the land;
the same old window, the same old sights,
The routine sounds, accustomed smells,
The things that pass for holidays...

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Honesty Conundrum

Yesterday

"It's past your bed time. Go to sleep."
"Why should I sleep now?"

"Because you're nine years old and you should sleep on time."
"Why aren't you sleeping now?"

"I have some job to do."
"Please do it tomorrow."

"You know I was watching that movie for two hours when I should have been working. So now I have to sit up late and finish those two hours worth of work. That's my punishment for being lazy."


Today

"Please don't keep changing your shorts every hour. The laundry bag is overflowing. I can't keep up."
"That's because you're lazy and you watch movies and you don't do your job on time."

Yes, friends, I told you so. You can be honest with some people at some time or the other, but not with all the people all the time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lessons from wasting food

While throwing away the uneaten contents of the lunch box, every mother lectures their child (a hundred times) about the poor, starving children around us who could have satisfied their hunger at least once, with this food that was being wasted now.

However many times they hear it, the kids forget it within minutes. They will not understand until they are old enough to understand.

And if they have to understand when they are old enough to understand, they should waste their food several times in their childhood and their mothers must drill the lesson in a hundred times before they are ready to understand.

No easy parenting tips, please. I am learning things the hard way and am perfectly content to understand when I am ready to understand.

Friday, December 19, 2014

House in India

I was talking to another House M.D. follower recently. (Note that we're his followers and not fans. Calling us House's fans would be so wrong. We hate him! We are convinced he is a constant threat to mankind. We do not miss a single episode only so we can keep an eye on him. Who knows what he is up to? Someone should be watching him!)

We wondered what House or his team, during their investigation, would think if they were to sneak into one of our houses? (For the uninitiated, House M.D.'s team breaks into patients' houses to find clues to the mysterious illness that is causing their patients to seize, vomit blood or hallucinate. These are generally the initial symptoms which then, within hours, leads their kidneys and liver to shut down, and while the team comes up with intelligent-sounding medical terms - Sarcoidosis! Amyloidosis! Cushing's disease! Munchausen's syndrome! Wilson's disease! Lupus! - we bite our nails wondering what could be the clue that we're - I mean they're - missing, which was right before our eyes all along.)

So if Team House breaks into our house to investigate, what would happen?
The quick answer is, within minutes they would dash out the door and conclude that this patient can be discharged. For the simple reason, the environment she lives in is so contaminated that she cannot be alive. Diagnosis: we are treating a ghost. Ergo: Discharge.

Admirers of the "Genius with Side-effects" from this part of the world would agree that watching Dr.House in action is like watching a Science Fiction Mystery movie. With a touch of Fantasy to it.

Be that as it may, we just want to get admitted at the fictional PPTH, preferably with some unfathomable disease that will kill us within 24 hours, so that Dr House and his brilliant team can diagnose us.

I mean, for a start, look at the hospital and the facilities, the attention the patients (in general) get. The attitude of the doctors and nurses. The spacious rooms. The half-empty corridors. The beeping contraptions patients are connected to for constant monitoring. Alarm bell right next to the patient. Nurses running to aid at the slightest sound. That's what a hospital of hundred years into the future must look like. Hopefully, our great-grand children would watch House M.D and say, "What a futuristic show! They made this in the early twenty-first century!"

Four doctors would fuss over us. And they handle only one case at a time, which means, they are thinking about us all the time. They ask us personal questions and tell us that we are great people. (If we have done wrong, they would also report to the police, be warned.) We normally consider ourselves lucky if our hurriedly-examining-us-and-prescribing-meds-doctor remembers our name.

House got one thing right: Everybody lies. But I would challenge him to crack the kind of lies we can offer you. I dare you, my man!

House's team looks at the detailed medical history of the patient to form an initial diagnosis. For that, they enter the name of the patient into the computer and the computer tells him all about our history. (Are you laughing already, or are you going to stand there looking stupefied?)

Let me tell you the last time someone I know tried to track down a file here (three months ago. I am not talking about stone age). He was told by the hospital that they don't keep records beyond five years. To House's credit, there have been many cases where the history was not available, and yet he managed to crack the case.

The best thing is that Dr House's team has all the time in the world. They wheel the patients to their X-ray or surgery or check up. Nurses are just the colourful backdrop, sometimes for the team's entertainment. If we are not admitted as dying patients, the next best option would be to work there. We may not offer much medical wisdom, but we can bring him his coffee just way he likes. They have coffee machines there.

I am just wondering how many days (or hours) House would last if he were to come to India to work?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Destiny Ahoy!

I think I'm getting closer, you know, closer to Destiny than ever before;

No, before you jump up to congratulate, let me try to put this straight:

Sometimes we toil, long and hard. We know the end we're driving toward.

At other times, we wait and hope, even train ourselves for failure, to cope;

Never letting us lose sight of the goal, unmindful of life taking its toll.

In our own choices, dreams and actions, lies the source of crumbling illusions...

The sad truth, fellows, allow me to confess: I'm surprised and taken aback, more or less;

You see: which has now become my Destiny, is far from the one I'd intended for me...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Always the best policy?

During a particularly stormy phase in life - a phase that could be a top contender for the worst in life, but the jury is still out on that one - I met an acquaintance at a shop. Now, the bad phase was unfortunately known to a larger radius of people than I could help, and so this person was aware of the stormy goings-on.

The encounter was unexpected, and the kind that we would usually try to dodge. If either of us had spotted the other a few seconds before, we would have bolted in different directions. Anyway, we saw each other and smiled and he asked, "How're you?" A routine question, a routine answer, and we would have been on our way. However, it was not to be so.

I had always been a supporter of honesty's undisputed position as the world's best policy (whether I always practised it is a different question) even though I was never quite sure when that guideline really applied. Was honesty always the best policy? Was it a conditional statement? Were we supposed to be honest only to our close ones (and doctors and lawyers)? When to be honest? Did dishonesty cover the white lie? When to be dishonest just to be polite and nice? Being polite and nice and politically correct meant not always saying the truth. Was giving an untrue answer considered dishonesty or could it pass? Was the word dishonesty intended only for larger crimes?

The man pretty much knew what I was going through, so why lie?

So I skipped a beat, decided to be "honest" for all it was worth, shrugged and said, "Not great."

He froze for a second. Then he gathered himself, made a grimace and nodded. Everything was contained in that nod - he knew what I meant, he was sorry, he was helpless, that sort of thing.

Then he abruptly walked away. I think he was too shocked that I chose honesty that day.

What would have happened if I had just gone with a smile and "I am doing great!"?

Perhaps we would have exchanged a few more pleasantries. He would even have said to himself, "Given the conditions, she is handling herself very well." Or he may have thought I was merely trying to show a brave face. In all likelihood, he would have not thought anything of it at all. This meeting would have been an unimportant event in both our memories and would have vanished in no time. As it was, I chose to give a truthful answer, and see where it got me. That's why they invented stuff called white lies.

I maintain that hypocrisy is the greatest thing in our lives - even though we take pains to claim that we despise hypocrisy and all its forms. We cannot be "honest" for honesty's sake; we have to put on a show. That's what we call dignified / civilized / cultured / decent (look up the thesaurus) behaviour. On a normal day. A shot of untruth to keep things normal.

A hypocrite, by definition, is a person who pretends to be what he is not. And when I decided to be what I was, I scared away my acquaintance.

So, the best policy comes with a condition. It is up to us, civilized, well-mannered, well-behaved hypocrites to figure out and shape those conditions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's the problem with the world?

I'll tell you what the problem is. Switch on the TV and watch for an hour or so. Pay attention to every entertainment program, every commercial. What is the message that each of them convey?

Life is short, they say. Life is for living. Celebrate. Enjoy. Look good. Kiss. Be selfishly happy. Because there is only one life. Once in a while, donate a hundred rupees to charity.
You deserve to be happy. 
You.

Heck, I have advocated for selfish happiness, myself. I still maintain that if we don't look out for ourselves, no one else will do it for us. No one else will, is the truth. And for someone else, somewhere else, there is no one looking out for them.

It is not that we don't know of their existence. We read about them. We ache for them. We pray for them. We start hashtags for them. We light candles for them. What else can I do, we say.

Mine, Ours, Yours, Theirs - where do they all overlap? Do they, at all?

The Voices that do not speak for the Voiceless. The Hands that do not reach out to help the Fallen. The Wealth that does not bring Smiles on the face of others.

The resulting imbalance.

What can I do? My own problems...

The fact that international organizations - so many of them, at least one for each purpose, for peace, for health, for rights - had to be created to take care of the downtrodden. And even so, the lives that exist in the blind spot.

This has been said before, and this will be heard again.

So...  what happens now?

I have written this blog and got it off my chest. This thought had been weighing me down for long. I have done my bit. I can go live my life.

You have finished reading. You can heave a sigh for the unlucky people of the world. You've done your bit. Now you can go back to your living. We're done.

And that, Your Honor, is what's wrong with this world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

We're all part of nature's infinite loop

One begins to wonder what the purpose of this whole exercise of evolution is. It is good for us that Evolution has not gone out of fashion, but it seems to be headed somewhere and shouldn't we (as the intelligent species, rulers of the planet etc.) enquire where? And why?

Okay, life first appeared in water. Just like that. One little cell of life. Then it found its own ways to multiply and evolve and develop and mutate and climb up to the ground. And spread all over the planet. It followed Darwinian (and questionably Lamarckian) rules, so that each species could survive and reproduce. Apparently with each evolved form, it found ways to adapt the rules and modify them as per the requirement. Clearly it was embedded with an instruction set. Natural Selection. The whole goal of the process, I am told, is - to survive and reproduce. Ad Infinitum.

All is well. But where is this whole program headed? Is it a bit like a wheel rolling down the mountain, out of control?

In other words. If you know infinite loops, you will know why I am concerned. An infinite loop with no exit condition is a recipe for disaster. It will bring the whole system crashing down in no time. Oh yes, I have tonnes of experience on that front, though not exactly on the evolution scenario.

Do whatever it takes to survive and reproduce.

An infinite while loop with a million if-elseif-else conditions. The most interesting (and curious) thing is that the conditions themselves are evolving day by day as per the latest requirement, to survive and reproduce. The highly-developed genes knew exactly what to choose at any point in time, depending on the situation at that time. That was not part of the original seed program, was it? There is no chance that the tiny cell would know what to do if it were to suddenly reappear in its original form, today. It would have to learn. Which means, the instructions are evolving too.

But back to my question. What is the purpose? The survival of the fittest - to what purpose, to what end? When the fittest have survived - then what? What is it that the fittest are meant to do? Just continue to survive and reproduce?

The chicken that is being fed and fattened and kept happy has to end up on someone's plate. (Though the chicken, in all likelihood, doesn't know that.)

Unfortunately, any literature we have on the subject has been written by humans - who are guinea pigs of the experiment - and, as such, will be like the lab rat's notes on the consequence of the test it is being subjected to.

And who started the program? Who sent the wheel rolling down the mountain? Who injected that first tiny life form to this barren planet? Did Life big bang into existence out of nothing, just like this Universe itself?

Who was behind this? What was the intention? Will they be coming back to check on the results?

Should we be ready, survived and reproduced and evolved and fit to perfection, when they come?

Friday, November 28, 2014

The World belongs to the foul-mouthed

This happened a while ago. There was an 'official' email that was to be sent to a person I had never met. Which is nothing new, of course. I just had to make a request for a certain piece of information, and as such, it was the most mundane and ordinary mail you could think of. Sprinkle it with the adequate number of Thank yous and Pleases, and I would have sent it without a second's thought.

But a few minutes before I even composed it, someone I work with called me up and said, 'Be careful how you write. That person has a history of being offended at the slightest (in some cases, imagined) things and being rude for no reason, and has created many enemies. You wouldn't want to make a mistake.'

As a result, the email that should have gone within three minutes, went two hours later, after I bit my nails to shreds and pulled my hair out, trying to polish my single-line request so that there was nothing remotely offensive about it. The overload of Thankyous and pleases and sorrys and outpouring of infinite gratitude must have sounded like I was begging on my knees. Better be undignified than sorry, was my excuse.

Everything went smooth and our further exchanges were cordial. (Later I heard several stories about this person - with evidence - that justified my colleague's warning. Apparently, anyone who has to communicate with the person in question finds it better to fall to their knees and beg forgiveness even before they have made contact.)


Scene II. If the protagonist of the above story was around my own age, the next one is much older. If the former exploded only if there was something mildly offensive in our actions, the latter found offence even where none of it could possibly exist. We would jump backwards and ask each other, 'what exactly had I said that provoked this outburst?'

You never know whence the explosion is coming. You just know it is.


Scene III. A lady contacted us for assistance with a work. And we told her not to worry, ippa sheriyaakki tharaam. Two months later, when she sent a polite reminder, I realised that it had completed slipped down our 'list of priority tasks'. This went on a couple of times. (Every time she sent a reminder, she would begin with an apology for disrupting our busy schedules.) Finally after almost six months (in our defense, not all of them were our delays), she allowed herself to become mildly irritated, and that spurred me into action. I kicked a few ... and got the job going. She showered me with Thank yous when it was done.


The explosive ones - in other words, the crying babies - get what they need. The pushovers wait and wait and wait, and they apologise for their waiting.

As a powerful person once said, you get more things done with fear than with love. (But as someone else added, it all depends on what you want.)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Canine Transformations

The dogs in my neighbourhood become Nagavallis at night.

I know that statement requires some explanation, but if you are wondering who Nagavalli is, I suggest you quit reading and leave.

Yes, the dogs in question are strays - but on second thought, I am sure that part requires no explanation whatsoever. Every city and town, every village and mall, every residence and school has its own share of homeless canines yawning and curling up as they are wont to do. It's a very Indian love-for-animals-and-let-them-live thing. The yawning and curling up must have something to do with their upbringing.

Without venturing into the reason behind these domestic wild animals running amok in our streets, I would just say that the dogs in the street before my house are purring kittens during the day time. Or eager ponies, if you like - given the way they trot around the area, looking important and dutiful.

I wonder what those expatriates living in those posh apartments yonder find in them - I see them stop their cars and beckon the doggies to them, some even call them by name, and I've seen one lady going to the nearest shop to buy biscuits so that she can place one by one in their hungry mouths. You should see how the tails wag all over the place, colliding against each other and against other cars that pass by. Some drivers stop at a safe distance to watch the show.

But come nightfall, a fearsome change comes over them. (Not the drivers, the dogs.) And what do you call a person who becomes another terrifying creature at night? Yeah. You know who. (Forgive me, Lord Voldemort, Nagavalli still lives.)

One night when we were returning home, we saw our friendly neighbourhood canine wag-the-tails lounging in the middle of the road, absolutely not wagging their tails. Granted, traffic was sparse at the time, but the middle of the well-lit street wasn't exactly their living room, was it? There was no sign of yawning or curling either.

Our car approached them cautiously, but they didn't budge. We took a slight detour around them. Two of them took offence at our action. They grunted their disapproval, as though they were issuing a warning. As we passed, they lunged at the car, almost scratching it. We raced out of the scene for dear life.

The next morning, I saw them again, trotting by our gate, calm and kind and loving, waiting for their biscuit delivery persons.

I am sure there is a very, very interesting story behind their curious transformation. Another Manichitrathaazh in the making...?

Monday, November 10, 2014

PMS is very real, my dear countrymen

... though some people think the whole thing is as imaginary as an eight-hour labour pain.

Falling "sick" two days a month? Yeah, sure. Clearly an excuse to not do any work.

You go donate a bottle of blood and come home and take rest and eat iron-rich food etc. to make up for the loss. Women lose their blood every month (ever wonder about about the number of bottles thus lost?) and walk about and do their chores and continue as though nothing has happened. (They are expected to pretend that nothing has happened.)

Not to speak of the hormones flying all over the place when this thing starts. If you haven't experienced it, you have no idea what you're missing. A monthly journey to the edge of madness and back.

And if you haven't experienced it, better not make any comment on how PMS and the associated fuss are all in someone's head!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lock-up

Low-lying clouds, threatening to close in;
Ominous, and smothering life out of life;
No one should be condemned, ever,
Even one's enemies, to this destiny.
Life confined to the tiniest space,
Imprisoned in the deepest dungeons of the mind.
Never to find an opening, nor a sliver of light;
Escape is a dream that has ceased to occur
Shuffling precariously on the edge of self-destruction...
Survival is not even an option.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Your person(s)

I don't know if this is important, or what the answers would mean. But I have often wondered.

If you are watching a great movie, who do you call/text to say 'you need to turn the channel on right NOW' - because you know they will enjoy it as much as you do?

If you are reading a great book, who do you recommend it to as soon as you finish reading or even while you are reading?

If you heard some astonishing news, who do you rush to inform?

If you heard that someone famous died, who do you call up to ask, 'Did you hear??'?

If you heard that someone close to you died or is ill, who do you call up to share the shock and grief?

If you have just been delivered some devastating news, who do you talk to, just to talk?

If you are ordering pizza for the night, who do you text 'Pizza for dinner!' for no reason at all?

Who gets to hear your good news first?

I know my answers. Do you?

Wait. Did you just say 'Facebook' or 'Twitter' to most of the above?

Worse, did you say 'No one'?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

With Much Gratitude to Spammers

Dear Spam Commenters,
You have no idea how grateful I am to you.
Forget the fact that your comments have no relation whatsoever to the post that you are commenting on, or that your words make no real sense at all (very clearly the generic stuff that you copy-paste everywhere), or that the fake excitement in your tone makes me want to cry; what is important is that you find my blog worthy enough to warrant a visit. You see, it is a very obvious and accepted fact that the more spam a blog gets, the higher it is in popularity.



If you think you are just getting paid for posting random nonsense at some rubbish website, you can't be more mistaken. We bloggers eagerly await your arrival (and smile in secret pride when we spot you at the corner of our street). Our "rejecting" or "deleting" your comments, and our public display of disdain are mere show, I assure you. Secretly, our hearts bounce when we notice that a new spam commenter has found us and wasted his/her time to post valuable junk on our precious websites.
My heart fills with the thrill and unbounded joy and pride (even though I scowl for the benefit of viewers and readers) when I hit that reject button and mutter some meaningless oath just for the sake of appearances. Oh, I cannot explain how important that makes me feel, when I realise that I have been promoted to the elite club of popular blogs.
I hope you keep visiting my blog, Anonymous commenter (I die to know your many names), and posting all the rubbish that you can dream of. I eager await the lots and lots of "rejects" I can hit.
Sincerely,
A grateful blogger.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Being Politically Correct on Diwali

I wonder how many mothers yelled themselves hoarse this Diwali regarding crackers and related environmental hazards. Especially mothers of little boys like mine.

Legend has it that years ago, at the onset of Diwali, when crackers were sighted within range, I would scramble up the stairs and vanish, my hands covering my ears. (I am sure the legend is a lie, cooked up by my family to disgrace me). Anyway, soon after, I learned to not startle too much at every burst of crackers (and to hide my cowardice behind a silly grin). I also learned, in growing up years, to keep up appearances and say politically correct things like 'I love Diwali' and 'I so want to burst crackers'. But those days, pollution was the least of our concerns.

In my late teens, I noticed how my old grandparents were disconcerted at the incessant noise that kept them awake on Diwali night. It was probably the first time the idea of noise pollution crossed my mind. When my grandfather walked to and fro across his room, unable to sleep, I cursed the silly people who burst crackers throughout the night, unmindful of others.

Then there was a phase of indifference: our generation became too old to get excited over crackers or flower pots or sparklers, and more busy with college and work. Noise didn't matter, silence didn't either.

When my son was five or six months old (and it was not Diwali season), around half past ten one night, suddenly crackers began to go off in front of our apartment. The sleeping child began to startle and scowl in sleep. I waited for a while, and when it didn't stop, I went outside and asked the family (Dad, Mom and two children) if they could stop and continue a little earlier in the evening tomorrow. I think I put it politely.

Their response was not what I would call friendly. They were celebrating because they were back in India for a vacation, they said. My infant is sleeping, I said, and he is getting disturbed. These are only crackers, the teenager said, not bombs. The Dad took it up. These are only crackers, not bombs. I looked at the Mom. Her expression conveyed nothing. Maybe she thought I was being a spoilsport. I went back inside. After a while, the case was taken up by others from floors above who could not sleep, and a verbal battle ensued.

You got an idea about where this story is headed. Except that, it isn't exactly headed where it should be headed.

Last year, my son learned how to light sparklers and flower pots and even rockets. We stood a few feet away, watching, as he lit each of them and ran away to safety. It is not easy to dissuade him once he sets his mind on something. He is excited that he has mastered the art of lighting rockets and crackers and all those things that go bump in the night.

This year, he looked at the horizon when the rumble began at dusk, between rains, and said, 'Amme, there is a lot of smoke and sound pollution out there.' A beat later, he asked, 'When are we buying crackers?'

Anyone who has raised a child would know that to look at him and deny him that happiness (while the rest of his friends have fun outside) is not possible. Parents are torn between their love for nature and their love for their child; and you know which way the scales would tip. Anyone who hasn't raised a child would say that this is how parents spoil children. So I don't expect many mothers to raise hue and cry over pollution, even when we know what is right. (There is hope, however. My thirteen-year-old nephew has declared war against all Diwali stuff that pollute the air.)

Of the many hats that a mother has to wear, that of a confused hypocrite comes somewhere at the top.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kutners and others who are forced into suicide

Lawrence Kutner is dead. Long live Lawrence Kutner.

Though it happened over five years ago in the U.S, the news reached India only last week.

Kutner alias Kal Penn, despite being very popular, had to leave the show House M.D. and the character had to be terminated. This resulted in his inexplicable suicide.

There have been several instances of character terminations across history. Two decades ago, there was a show that caught the fancy of the TV viewing Malayali population. When it was time to end the show, if I remember right, the lead character was thrown off to the river and was presumed (or declared?) dead. No one actually predicted the kind of misery it plunged people into - one was reminded of Sherlock Holmes' assumed death a century ago and his eventual resurrection. When the second season of that series had to begin thanks to popular demand (though they were not called 'seasons' at the time), the original actor could not rejoin and was replaced, with some explanation given to the 'altered' looks. (If I remember right, the explanation was plastic surgery. The new face was due to the surgery that was needed following the near-drowning-and-escaping incident, get it?) If the title character has to leave the show, what else can the creators do?

Kutner was a delightful doctor. His exit had to be phenomenal and shocking. He was jovial and optimistic and friendly and intelligent and pleasant that when he committed suicide, no one could explain why, even Dr.House, who was led to suspect foul play. The mysterious and sudden exit leaves an ache. No one would have minded (or believed) if he had just 'quit and moved to another city.' This way, Kutner became more special in death than when he was alive.

In another recent show, a popular character died in a plane crash. An entire episode was dedicated to commemorate his life and death that by the end of it, drowned in hot tears, we had forgotten that the man wasn't real.

Unimportant characters sometimes have to endure uncharacteristic exits, as do people who are fired from the show. The more loved they are, the more sensational their exits must be. One man died trying to save a woman. Break-up-and-walk-away is a common exit reason. A woman was made to walk out on her on-screen perfect marriage citing flimsy reasons and was never seen again. Another man, at the altar for his wedding, walked out for no reason - all the while, we were expecting the bride to get cold feet and run away. Some characters get fired from work, which usually happens at the end of a season. (Sometimes, who got fired is not revealed until the next season begins.) Another person was shot dead in a major shooting incident at the climax of one season. Other minors have bid farewell to their shows thanks to road accidents or with the help of electrocution. There have been several unceremonious exits too, with the viewers as well as the actors themselves wondering why they were never seen again.

In another show this week, one of the lead characters was "offered a dream job overseas, which she accepted". Yes, it was time for her to leave the show. She got three or four episodes of build up to the final exit.

Think of the creators' predicament: the longer the show runs, the more variety of reasons they have to come up with for each inevitable exit.

Here's to Kutner and all others who, through preferences of their own or otherwise, are forced to die in crashes or driven to suicide or fired or compelled to accept jobs overseas. Here's to all of us who watch and endure the trauma as though it were happening to us.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life is one big... Rubik's Cube

Not exactly, of course. Life isn't cubical in shape or anything. Some would even compare it to a circle or a sphere.



Photo: R. Ramachandran

It's just that when Life, like the Cube, looks jumbled, it seems impossible to figure out, let alone solve. Once you learn how to solve, it seems to become easier. The learning is by no means easy, though. After a while, some of us forget how to solve it and struggle again to find our moves. Some of us get one colour right and find happiness and contentment from it; without any interest in getting all the six sides done. Some others would do anything it takes to learn the complete solution.

Some of us never even try to solve it - don't even pick it up from the table - perhaps out of lack of interest or out of fear of facing the unknown or because it seems too difficult and not worth the trouble. Some of us do not want to solve the six sides, but we like making colour designs on the sides, like a T or a square or an I or a plus. There are no rules, of course. Our Life and our Cube are our own.

Most of us say that it was perfect when we brought it from the shop, and then we ourselves had messed it up.

Some of us pull the Cube to pieces, then shove the blocks back to their right positions and tell others that we have won. Our friends are envious of our skill and talent, and they think we have everything we need in Life. In due course, their envy makes us imagine that we have actually attained the impossible. We choose to forget the cheating, or we tell ourselves that a little short-cut never hurts.

Sometimes, with a lot of difficulty, we solve a side or the complete Cube and then a friend comes along, jumbles it up merrily and leaves. We sit there fuming. At other occasions, when we are half way towards our goal, strangers, colleagues, the management or the government can mess up our delicate Cube. The new situation could help us or ruin us; it takes us a while to figure out which and get back on track.

Sometimes we get lost in the middle of the sequence and to find our way back, we have to start all over.

But the most interesting thing is that to solve each section and to reach the complete solution, we have to move the already solved pieces apart and then bring them together again. Then move some others apart and bring them together again. If we think 'I cannot break the blue side because half of the pieces are in their right position', we may never be able to bring the rest of the blues to it at all.

We have to break some of our already solved combinations to make everything right at the end.

Hence proven.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding the Joy

Nothing can match the joy of finishing a piece of writing: a story, a poem, a review, an article, a novel. It gives nothing in return, no compensation, no immediate results, no acknowledgement. No questions asked, no difference of opinion, no approval needed, no 'why didn't you do it this way?', no 'it could have been better with this change'. No reason, no explanation to anyone. Nothing but the profound, immense, tremendous, inexplicable satisfaction of completing a task to perfection set by my own standards. A word of appreciation doesn't hurt, of course, but the absence of it would do swell too. No matter if that creation never sees the light of day. It becomes all the more special when created on time squeezed out between the regular pressures of life. A secret, personal joy that I share with no one. Even the most frustrated writer would have several such moments. A feeling that was unfamiliar to me a few years ago, when all that mattered was acknowledgement, acceptance and encouragement. When everything else goes by someone else's definition, this becomes my private property for me to treat as I wish.

Each one of us has one passion. Sometimes visible; sometimes buried beneath years of piled-up junk, also so called 'priorities' of life. Someone told me recently that his passion is making money. He said that from his youth, he gravitated towards a profession that brought in more money, when his friends looked for meaningful careers. He had a creative talent that he considered nothing more than a hobby or pastime because it wasn't lucrative. His job brought him money and the money made him happy. This happiness made him work harder; he excelled at the job and made more money. (Some of us romantics would say that his real passion was what he referred to as his 'hobby', but he chooses to disagree.)

Life is meaningless if we do not search for our passion, find it (in a way that satisfies us) and give it the attention it deserves. Step back from the merry-go-round and it will spring to view.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Rumble in the Night

It's official: henceforth, until further notice, we are terrified of the rain.

In the chilling hours of the chilly night, everyone huddled together to discuss how "Mobile and TV signals had vanished a few minutes before it happened and we knew something huge was coming," and "we felt the building shake," and "we thought it was an earthquake," and "the ground just quivered," and "I was jolted out of my sleep," and "is this the kind of horror people in Kashmir must have experienced in their recent flood and rains" and "it's been raining and raining for hours" and "the last time such a downpour occurred in Bangalore was about ten years ago" and so forth.

It is interesting (in a not-so-exciting way) how the rain has progressed from our list of "fun" things to "mildly irritating" to "annoying" until, all of a sudden last night, it jumped to the top of our list of terrors, leaving the usual nightmares lingering far below.

Bangalore is known for its civilised rains (though with uncivilised consequences) - the kind that knows how to behave. Rain a little, clog those drains, jam the traffic, unhinge a few trees and leave within thirty minutes. But those of us from Kerala, otherwise known as Rain's Own Country, know how unruly and childish some rains can be. We have seen them bad-tempered, we've seen them mischievous, we've seen them kind, we've seen them helpful, and we've seen them hideous. We've seen all kinds. They don't scare us, no sir. They make us miserable, but we know what they are.

And when Bangalore rains misbehave as if they are just back from a vacation in Kerala, we are confused and anxious and lost.

This happened at half past ten last night:


Of course, in the wisdom and brightness of the morning, it does not look like much, but in the magnified lens of the night, it took on unimaginably frightening hues. Especially because people were dragged out of bed by a loud rumble as the wall collapsed and a whrrrrrr of water cascading down to the basement. Soon there was a mad rush to drive all the cars up from the fast-filling parking lot and out to the higher street. The anxiety centred around speculations on what would happen if the water level kept rising. The uncharacteristic rain, with the continuous blast and roar of thunder and lightning, continued for four or five hours (Where did all that water come from??). The panic died around midnight.

Rain took on new shades of meaning last night.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Merry-go-round

The merry-go-round lures us to ride,
Enchanted, intrigued, we climb astride.

Where we've come from, what we've seen,
Brace us for what tomorrow might bring.

We've been every place, worn every guise,
But what comes around takes us by surprise.

When the rug is whisked from underneath,
We discover new ways to rise to our feet.

Frustration, despair lead us to that place
Where we dare not venture otherwise.

Have no trust on the merry-go-round:
Any moment, it can fling us to the ground.

There's no right answer, no correct way
To keep to the track; it's easier to stray.

Order has shifted, the view is denied;
The goal of the past has vanished or died.

It's time to let go the merry-go-round,
The ride is over, it's time to look around.

A lifetime is not about how much we felt,
Or how we pounced on what we were dealt;

The journey is all about what we concealed;
Not of the wounds, but how best we healed.

Safe from the world, the truth is unseen,
No one to speak of where we've been.

Alas! in the mirror, glaring from within,
Is the one who knows what we're thinking.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Which one are you?

... are you the one who says the last word? Or the one who lets the other end the conversation?

... are you the one who walks away? Or the one who would watch the other leave?

... are you the one who hangs up the phone first? Or the one who waits to hear the click at the other end?

... are you the one who says goodbye first? Or the one who waits for the other to?

... are you the one who leaves first to escape the heartbreak? Or are you the one who stays till the end, till everyone has left?

... are you the one who wants to stay, no matter what? Or are you the one who would rather leave?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keep complaining

A wise man once said to me: "Never stop complaining, for complaining means you care enough to want a change. As long as you care, you will be able to make a difference. Either you can change things yourself, or you'll be able to influence others to invoke a change. A person who doesn't complain is not necessarily happy with everything. Nor does being quiet mean everything is perfect - because nothing ever is. If you don't complain, it only means you no longer give a damn. And that's bad - no, terrible - for you, as well as for your organisation, your team, your family. So keep complaining!"

That was not the first time I had gone to him with my youthful enthusiasm, with a bag of complaints, suggestions, recommendations. I used to have so many of them! I would begin by apologising to him for always whining about some thing or other.

I knew what he said was true when one day, tired of complaining and getting no result, I gave up trying, and lost my interest altogether. I no longer dreamt of changing things, I no longer complained, I no longer cared.

Now everywhere I see defiant faces - stony and uncomplaining. Their responses are limited to a rigid "Yes/No". They don't blurt their frustration out. They don't say "I need help." They're quiet, undemanding, stressed and suffocating inside. An implosion waiting to happen.

He was so right. This is the world that feeds the crying baby, not knowing that it is the silent, starving one that needs to be supported the most...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ATM Phobia

I have ATM phobia. All these years, I had kept that painful secret to myself, but now I am ready to let it out. I try to avoid facing the ATM. As far as possible I rely on online transfers, cash transactions, and anything that keeps me away from the dreaded machine. My life isn't as easy as it seems, people.

As I approach an ATM, I feel as though I am climbing the stage to make a speech (at the mere suggestion, my knees have begun to knock against each other). My heart begins to pound the living daylights out of my ribs. I brace myself for the inevitable, and open the door of the ATM cabin. I look around suspiciously. Is there anyone lurking around, to steal my money? (Not that I have a few crores in my account waiting to be stolen.) Will the machine confuse or refuse me? Will the door open again to let me out or will I be imprisoned for life?

I recently traced the origin of my fear. In the late 90s or maybe the early 2000s (when ATMs first became popular and I got my first ever ATM card), a friend informed me of a traumatic experience that one of her friends had. He went into the ATM booth, took out cash, and when he tried to open the door, it didn’t budge. He was locked inside. Mobile phones were not yet common those days. (Yes, those were prehistoric times.) With the help of a friend who fortunately was waiting outside, they contacted the bank and got the door opened. How can I not be terrified at the very thought? We don’t always have friends waiting outside when we go into this self-locking prison mechanism. The phobia must have begun somewhere there.

Matters did not improve when one day I went into an ATM where the display and keys were different from what I was accustomed to. Same bank, but different ATM. This time, when I shoved the card in and pulled it out, nothing changed in the display. It did not welcome me, let alone acknowledge my presence. It stood there, cold and indifferent and unemotional, while I slid the card in and out about ten times. Finally, I opened the door (luckily it hadn’t locked me in) and begged one of the men waiting outside to help me. The world of ATM cards was still young. No one knew what to do. Eventually, after two men tried their hands with my card, something happened and the machine woke up and welcomed me. Gratefully, I began to punch in my PIN, only to find the two helpers still hovering around. How could I tell them to leave, after all the support they had rendered?

I suppose these two incidents – though they happened well over a decade ago – left me with a strange fear of the ATM machine that I experience even today.

I consulted the all-knowing Google to see if this sort of thing was common – after all, the world is full of phobias – but Google could offer no consolation. It appears that I am the only one suffering from this strange affliction, after all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Evolution Takes an Unexpected Leap!

Scene I.
I was watching a movie in which three of the supporting cast were familiar faces - very familiar from some favourite movies that were watched more than once, though their names were not well-known. For an hour and a half, I sat before the TV wondering where I had seen them. I could not place them until the end of the film. I wasn't worried though, and didn't strain myself to remember. When it was over, I went straight to Google and found their names, but they didn't ring a bell. So on I went to Wikipedia to rummage each person's filmography, where - at last! - I found out the titles of those movies (how could I forget them!) that I had watched at least three times each on TV.

Scene II.
I used to have a cassette with some rare songs of Kishore on it. It had been listened to a million times that by the end of its life, it could only give out a few croaks in Kishore da's name. Then life just moved on, songs began to be available all over the place and I could find whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Some of these songs kept popping back from unusual places, bringing a torrent of memories with it. A few months ago, another song which had never surfaced in the last ten or fifteen years, which had vanished from my mind, unexpectedly came back to the top of it. The tragedy was that, apart from two words in the song, and the tune, I could recall nothing else. I googled, and perhaps for the first time, Google failed me. The words I remembered were probably wrong or mispronounced (possibly Urdu or some ancient Hindi). The Big G had nothing to suggest. Try some other beautiful Kishore songs, it said.

I was miserable. I squeezed and prodded my brain so that something more would emerge, a few more words to help me in my search. But none came. I could remember the colour of that cassette, the writing on it which had begun to fade. I could remember listening to it in a bright, breezy room. I could remember many, many associated things but the words.

Last month, I simply tried it again, typing the words in all possible ways in Google, throwing in some random ideas, and there it was, a single result hidden in some obscure corner of the internet world.

More than the happiness the eventual discovery of the song and listening to it gave me, I was intrigued by the misery that the lost song (and the fear that I will never find it) had invoked.

When was the last time I had experienced the "tip of my tongue but I can't grab" sensation? Or the "I want to kick myself for not being able to remember" feeling? Not in a long, long while. There was always Google to help. (And now, Facebook and Linkedin store the names of the people in our past, the ones that we are supposed to forget in ten years' time.)

Many of us have lost the power to forget and remember: we have lost the power to feel lost. We no longer know the miserable longing for a thought that completely evades us. That struggle to recall a favourite song, a name, a face, a quote. We pull out our phone and type it in and it works faster than our fading memories. Most of the time.

There is going to be no remembering, because there is no forgetting.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the next phase of evolution, where memory becomes redundant, obsolete - you do not have to keep your past in your head any longer, you could carry it inside your gadget (and pray that it does not crash) - a detour The Origin of Species could never have foretold. We are already on that path (having taken the exit without realising it), storing everything about ourselves online from where we can pull and grab them out when we need, in a few clicks, not using the extract-and-archive power of our own memory to its full potential, not stretching our brain to its extremes, giving it nothing to do.

We're going to wipe our mind clean of all the drivel it holds; nay, we are going to erase memory itself from our heads and place it in our hands.

And if memory does not exist the way it is supposed to, if it does not flex itself and work the way it is expected to, any guesses on where the species is headed?

Friday, September 5, 2014

The height of Optimism

And yet, in the end, strangely enough, it was optimism that killed her, though perhaps not literally; but it could be said that optimism did lay a very strong foundation. She was the kind who always figured out how to float; others would say she knew how to fall on four feet, like a cat. Not unnaturally quickly or anything, but when others took years and never recovered, she found ways to convince herself that “it could have been worse.” It always worked, even in the tragedy of her son, when no ordinary person could ever imagine how it could have been worse. She had been dealt the worst, but again, though gradually, her optimism found a way around it, that while some people are given many misfortunes, she was given this one. And yes, it indeed could have been worse, if she really thought about it. Often, she wished her optimism would vanish for a while and depression would take over so that she could be at peace in her own misery – for she wanted to indulge in it. But it didn’t. Every morning she woke up with a strange hope, a positive energy which she knew not where it came from, a memory of a song on her lips. It would stay for a few minutes before she would wonder to herself why it was that she was not grief-stricken.
She would try to kill it: this kind of bursting optimism was unreasonable and probably not good for health. She should be sad, she should be contained, she should even implode and self-destruct for the sake of normalcy. Instead, she found that her sadnesses were short-lived, or rather, she always managed to rise above them, even when the pain tormented her. Over the years, she had consciously or otherwise trained herself to be positive, to see the silver lining rather than the cloud; and it had flung her to the other extreme. It was almost as bad. One could also die of too much optimism.

- WIP

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Daily Race

From the moment we open our eyes in the morning, we're running: we are either just in time or a few minutes late. Sometimes, a few hours late.
There's always that mad rush - to finish. Chores, tasks, responsibilities, neverending duties. The list of items that come at us one after the other, or a few together. We puff and pant, we splutter, we catch our breath. Quick, quick, quick! In the next five minutes!

Traffic drags us back. We begin to panic. Time is running out! The backlog looms before our eyes. We could have finished three tasks in the time we were stuck on the road. We try to get ahead, by working in the vehicle: making calls, delegating, distributing, and making promises we can't keep.

At the end of every day, in our tasks list, despite the mad rush to get everything done, there are still a few that are not. That's okay, we tell ourselves. They're low priority. I got the high priority ones done. I will tackle these, maybe during the weekend. If we don't, either we fail someone else or we fail ourselves.
And so the weekend continues to be a rush too.
Satisfaction is getting up to 80% of the tasks done.

We flop before the TV to relax - we have thirty minutes before the next race begins. We're timebound - our life is boxed. Each task in a box.
Vacation is boxed too. You're allowed two weeks to get away and do what you want to.
WhatsApp gets a few minutes between boxes.

Somehow we proceed from one day to the next, shoving each hour out of the way. If you aren't running, you might be a social outcast or something. Or maybe you are wealthy enough not to be partaking in the race. Or you have a real reason, which we don't want to hear about.

Is life supposed to be this continuous race, or are we doing it wrong? Or is it that we do not have a choice anymore?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No one's Conspiring

I hate to say this, my friend;
I hate to break your bubble:
But I see your dangerous hope,
I sense your deadly expectation...

There is no universe conspiring,
There's no miracle in the making;
Your hardwork sometimes pays,
But mostly, much of it doesn't.

You see, the way it works-
The universe has much to do,
It has crowds to take care of:
Others appeal to it like you.

You get it, it's human too!
(I know that's ridiculous.)
Friend, you know what I mean.
They sometimes call it Chaos.

The universe cannot conspire
To give everything everyone wants;
If it gives you yours, then
Someone else is denied theirs.

So it's just fine, your optimism,
If you're prepared to wait forever:
Your chance may or not come
In this life, or it may never.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

SuperMoms and SuperWives

"Breakfast main kya loge?" asks the mother.
And from different parts of the house emerge shouts of "Dosa!" "Upma!" "Rava Idli!" "Vada!"
The mother cheerfully springs a few pairs of imaginary hands and sets to work, and within no time, all these yummy breakfast items are ready on the table. (Not to mention the chutneys that go with vada, sambar that goes with the dosa and whatever it is that goes with upma.) Did I mention that the mother is smiling all the time?

I can't speak for all mothers, but I know that many bristle at this advertisement. (In defense of the ad, it does convey that these easy-to-make breakfast items are very easy to make.)

There is another breakfast ad featuring the gorgeous Madhuri Dixit. While we all love the way she looks (we so missed her all these years!) when she works out with her family, I (we?) can't help but wonder, how can a mother be so stress-free? How on earth does she look so refreshed? Does she have no worries or has she learnt to get past (rid of) them? Did she not have to work late last night? Does she have no deadlines today? Isn't her boss sitting on her head? Are her children so perfect that they get up and work out so well with family without whining and have a "healthy" breakfast without grumbling? Do they do their homeworks on time by themselves and help their mother keep the house clean? Do they (Heaven forbid) do their own laundry? And does her husband behave and do as he is told? What in the world is she so excited about? (Is she high on something? Does yoga or meditation keep her so happy? The string of questions keeps on going long after Madhuri and her entourage have vanished.)

Oh, come on, it is an ad, you say. There is no truth or sense or fact in it. Just watch and forget. Buy their product, if you like.

But this does give wrong ideas to people - that mothers are or ought to be like these moms in the TV. (We already know the power of ads.)

Have you noticed that the mothers in the ads know everything? (Except for that one mother who is surprised when the doctor talks about oral hygiene. Cavities? she asks, as though she is hearing it for the first time.)

I must mention another ad featuring Rahul Bose in which his wife lazily says "I will make tea in a while" - 'lazily' being the key word. I can't explain how relieved that makes me feel.

Mothers try to convince themselves that they are not supermoms, and that they can only do what they can. But with this type of competition (people like Madhuri, for God's sake!) they have to at least pretend to be 90% super. I am not saying there are no supermoms. I know a few (though they do not know it themselves. They almost kill themselves managing everything and are happy when they do it.) But the pressure it puts on the rest of us is considerable. It takes all my willpower to convince myself every day that "there are things I can do, and there are things I can't. For the latter, I have to seek help without considering it a weakness or a failure. For the former, I should be proud of myself." It is by no means easy. I have to go through this self-convincing routine for a long time; it is an effort in itself. I can't explain how many times I had to face the caustic response when I said "I do not enjoy cooking". The listener immediately assumes that I starve my family. (How can a mother say such a horrid thing??)

Someone recently told me that all comedy shows, movies and TV shows invariably have at least one wife who makes her husband's life miserable. There: you see her nagging him, finding fault with everything he does, shouting at him, jealous about him, never supporting him - that you feel so sorry for the poor, wretched man. "There must be some truth in it." How many scenes do you see where the situation is reversed (except when the husband is the main, evil villain of the story)?

So we struggle to not "nag" even though a worry has been gnawing at our hearts for days or weeks that we need help with. We try not to complain, even though we feel we deserve a little more support or compassion. We try not to shout even though the splitting headache on top of everything is making us to. In the end, the whole thing accumulates and piles up and causes a suffocation that transforms into an atomb bomb that is merely biding its time. (And then comes Madhuri with her family dance and all hell breaks loose.)

What we see is what we believe. Our systems are tuned that way - if that's how it is on TV, it must be true, in general. We subconsciously arrive at the conclusion that we are so incomplete, incompetent, inconsiderate, below-average. There must be something wrong with me if I cannot be at least half of what those mothers are. I must be so nasty and evil if I am at least a fraction like those nagging wives. If I am not a failure already, my plane is definitely headed there.

So what do we do to find some steady patch of earth to stand on? We pretend that we are supermoms and perfect wives like the ones on TV. It is a survival tactic. Darwin must have written about it.

To all those who will say "it is better to be yourself", my answer would be, "It is much easier and safer to pretend otherwise. It is heartbreak either way, but at least when you pretend, you don't make it to the family gossip."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Caged

The cage is open; but the bird does not flee:
She's bound by reasons that seem strange to me.

Torn is her heart as she peers at the sky;
Mountains and meadows invite her to fly.

No one nor nothing compells her to stay;
Why does she dither, why not fly away?

The trees and the rains, the wind of her dreams;
The temptation fails to entice her, it seems.

If she spreads her wings, she'll never be free:
The burden along will she have to carry.

A lump in her throat, in her thoughts as she wades,
Her choice is made; in her eyes the light fades.

What her heart yearns for, she cannot choose;
What she's been granted, she cannot lose.

She takes a step back, she closes the door;
She won't look again; be tempted no more.

Her faith in herself - therein her strength lies;
She's content; though some call it... sacrifice.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Who will remember?

In one of the recent episodes of House M.D., a homeless old man dying of lung cancer comes to the hospital but refuses treatment, saying that he wants to die suffering. Dr Cameron, as can be expected, is appalled at the suggestion, but the old man explains that it is the only way someone will remember him.

Take a deep breath.
Isn't that what we are all afraid of? That we will leave this world and no one will remember us the next day? Maybe, a few friends or family might remember for a few days, if we are lucky. If we have been kind, some more people might sigh at the mention of our name. But mostly our actions have slipped past, escaping everyone's notice. We have not exactly been creating history all this while or doing a huge service to mankind. Throughout our lives, most of us walk on, crossing each personal hurdle that comes, making no significant dent of our own anywhere, (though each of our achievements are astronomical to us) and the chances are high that we vanish as easily as a shooting star and there is not even a ripple or smoke trail to mark our passing. The people whom we lost and remember are still only a shadow in our own minds; an occasional memory of an ache that diminishes with time, but nothing more. Why should it be any different with us?

We can't stand that feeling, can we? We have lived, smiled, suffered, endured, made a few others happy, and we've been kind, hardworking, dedicated, sincere, and everything, but we did not make any remarkable memory anywhere? Let alone history, we are not even going to make it to the local newspaper? No one will remember us?

What can be more disappointing than that? If we realise that our existence is not going to matter, are we going to consciously or unconsciously make any change in the way we live? Are we going to make an effort to create a dent or rewrite history so that we're not forgotten? Or are we content to just remaining as we are, insignificant, unimportant, except in the lives of a handful?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

... and Punishment

He came to me today,
Resigned and ready to die:
There was nothing to say;
I knew it was good-bye.

I saw them in his eyes:
The suffering and the pain;
He'll have to travel miles
Till he was free again.

When my roots were shaken,
My life itself pulled down,
His shoulder he had given,
So that I could go on.

He came to me one day;
I saw him as my saviour.
He fell to knees to say:
'Know that I am a murderer'.

He'd axed two lives down!
One was friend to me...
The news was over town,
But none knew it was he.

He left me fearful, speechless,
A raging storm in mind:
A man who took two lives,
Could he be so kind?

Though, but for this deed,
His life was till then spotless;
He was free from greed;
How could one be flawless!

Callous, unkind, brutal
Men always get away;
I could not see him cruel,
Try as though I may...

Regrets he had none, on
account of what he did;
The action and the reason,
Were, in his eyes, valid.

So I vowed to follow him
Where this would lead us,
Until he found his freedom
I'll pursue his footsteps.

And when he left today
Uncertain of his fate;
There was, I knew, a way,
But long have I to wait...


(Based on the novel Crime and Punishment.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A story that inspires me

I heard this tale over twenty years ago. I guess the effect it had on me is evident that I remember it so well, even now. Truth be told, it comes back to me every now and then. There is more than one message in it; and every time you look at it with a new perspective, you find something new shining out of it. It's like opening the Bible or the Gita to find answers. Or maybe it's all in my head.

Though I call it a story, it is a real incident. There are two boys involved; I have never met the first, I barely know the second. The story was narrated to me by a person who knew both of them well. It does not matter if every single thing about this story is not true.

So, this boy, let's call him K, completed his school and got his admission to the National Defence Academy. Naturally, there was a lot of celebration in the neighbourhood for the soldier-hero-in-the-making. When the time came, K said goodbye to his friends and family and went off to join.

Anyone who knows anything about Defence knows that the training at NDA is by no means easy. It's gruelling and brutal and bordering on cruel, and it takes nerves of steel to survive. How can it not be so? - the kids will soon be sent to a place where kindness and love become mere memories. A lot of young men and women who enthusiastically join, hoping to serve Bharat Mata, soon decide that they can also serve her by working in corporate offices or by participating in sports, and quit. The honour and the glory were all great in theory and in pictures, but were not for them. The Academy leaves its doors open to allow them to run. They don't need deserters. Better they run now than later, at the battlefield.

It wasn't long before K ran back home.

The second character of the story, let's call him Z, was a year or two younger to K. It so happened that he was also keen on NDA. After K returned and shared the harsh, inhuman routines at the NDA to every excruciating detail (he must have naturally exaggerated it a little, I am guessing, so that people won't consider him a weakling), the neighbourhood was shocked to learn that Z wanted to join too. His parents pleaded with him to reconsider. Z was a quiet and gentle boy but he could be firm when he wanted to. Seeing his determination, his parents reluctantly gave their consent.

K went through a host of emotions when he heard the news. On the one hand, Z was his friend, and he wanted to stand by his decision; on the other, he had never quite gotten over the fact that he could not survive NDA. He suspected that people laughed behind his back for his cowardice. He could imagine the comparisons the society would make now that Z was headed that way too. He prayed that Z would not get the selection, but he did. Under pressure from these thoughts, K behaved just the way any teenager would. While Z was busy making his preparations to join the Academy, he strolled over and said, "I don't think you would last much at the NDA. Life is too tough and you would run away just as I did. Maybe even earlier."

Z stiffened, smiled and went on with his packing.

After Z joined, his parents got one letter every week from him. Each letter had the thickness of a newspaper - he wrote pages and pages about his experiences, the brutality, the unkindness, the ragging, every bit of it. I suspect his mother shed a few tears on reading these. She might even have asked him to drop it and return. But he wrote, "I know. I want to run away. But if I run now, it will only prove that K was right, and that I am just as weak as he said I was. I will stay. I can take this." He wrote this several times, in several letters.

Every time he wanted to vent, he wrote to his parents. Every time his resolve weakened, he thought of K and that gave him the strength to face one more day. As weeks passed, the size of the letters began to decrease. He began to complain less. (I doubt if K would ever have imagined the power his words held. In fact, Z might have given up just as easily if it were not for him.)

Z never quit. He battled the most trying years of NDA and beyond, clinging to his determination to prove K wrong. Today he is an officer in the Indian Air Force, serving somewhere in North India.

I wonder if he recalls any of this. But every single time I hear his name, I remember this story.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"How is work-from-home treating you?"

I was asked this question recently.

When faced with a situation like that, you get about two seconds to figure out the intention behind it, and one second to frame your response. (During which you take a deep breath and say 'errr....' for their benefit.)

The first thought that crosses your mind is, She is jealous. She thinks of the road, the traffic, the dust, the heat, the nasty boss, the creepy colleagues, the tasteless food, the stressful work, the meaningless meetings, the late hours, the countless reports and - then she thinks of you working from home. She is jealous, of course, that you get to sit at home, walk around the rooms with your laptop, watch television when there is a good movie on, work at night or day whenever you please, make reports only when you want to, skip meetings when you are bored, eat or make tea when you want to, watch the rain, meet friends, do pretty much anything when you want to without having to answer to anyone. God, she is jealous.

Quickly the idea is replaced by the thought that maybe She thinks you are a loser. She thinks you do not have the courage or competence to go out to an office and work. She thinks you are pathetic that you chose to work from home with surely a meagre pay and not have fun with colleagues; she thinks you miss the daily gossip, the vending machine tea, the month-end get-together, the appraisals, the promotions, the bonus, the challenges, the teamwork, everything. She thinks you are lonely at home and not earning much, and you have to chase the laundry and do the cooking and supervise the maid, and you are merely putting up a brave face that everything is fine. You see yourself through her eyes - one hand tapping the laptop, the other shoving food down the throat of your child, one foot inside the laundry bucket, the other stirring the pot on the stove and your face contorted while yelling at your maid. She thinks you are jealous of her.

Then you think, maybe she isn't even curious. Maybe she isn't thinking about you at all. Maybe she is just making small talk. You're sitting opposite each other in awkward silence, waiting for someone else to arrive. She just had to say something.

A milli-second later, you wonder if she was thinking of giving up her job and working from home. She has an infant whom she leaves with a maid. You know very well the pressures and worries that come with it.

The question may sound simple but it isn't easy to answer.

And as the three safe seconds following the question fall to a close, you say: "Well, I get my siesta," and shrug.
Whatever that means.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Things Hollywood tells us about America

(Forgive us, America. Hollywood is to blame.)

Men help with the dishes after dinner.
If you see trainloads of Indian women flocking to the US to get married, don't be surprised.

Hollywood explains why there are so many break-ups in the US of A, compared to India. The breakup tagline is: "We're in a relationship. We are supposed to be honest with each other."
Ha! No, I mean, HahahahaHAHAHA.

Broke people in America are better dressed (and better-off) than a well-dressed, average, employed Indian who considers himself well-off. (They look for jobs on the Internet using their laptops.)
It's the third world poverty thing.

Living with your parents is a crime.
Corollary: Parents, in general, are psychotic, abnormal, annoying torturers you should keep away from (and should be visited only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.)
To think, in Bollywood, men go out of their way to show how much they love their parents and take care of them. Tears start pouring out the moment they think of their Moms. 

Nice, romantic, sweet men, so madly in love with their women, pack their bags and leave the moment their girls break up with them. (There's another job waiting for them in a city far far away.)
Yeah, that sort of thing is common out here too, (only) on celluloid. Such weaklings.

Then it rains all of a sudden, drenching the guy / girl or both.
Bollywood too, Bollywood too. Same pinch.

We hear there is a lot of obesity over yonder but, by God, look at all the gorgeous men and women, where has obesity gone to? Oh yes, the comedian friend of the hero's could be it.
Observation: Newspapers can be very misleading.

India means 'curry' or 'Mumbai' or 'Gandhi'.
The Bangalorean Malayali is deeply offended that they do not know the bisi bele bhat. Or at least puttum kadalayum.

They drink (and seem to prefer) tap water. Eyes popping out. Did you say TAP water? 

Being a virgin is to be frowned upon. No comments. Wink, wink.

Says 'I'm good' (Says who, eh?) and 'I am not judging you' and 'not a big deal'. That's cool. 

They are paranoid about anything that doesn't look like them or talk like them.
Heh! Americans! But that attitude inspired one great Indian movie, My Name is Khan. So, we're good.

They can wear anything (or not wear anything) and still look great. Sigh.

Burgers and fries are their idea of a meal. So when they crave junk food, they go Indian?


They are The Inscrutable Americans, as one wise Indian once said.

I tremble to imagine what Bollywood would tell you about us...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fat, Free

People say little children are unpredictable. I beg to differ. I think little children are as predictable as the solutions of Mathematical equations. It’s the adults that complicate situations with unnecessary exceptions and conditions.

If you tell a child one plus one is two, it is always two for them. It does not change according to the time of day or the presence of a headache or based on who’s asking. Trust me, we adults are like that. All our rules have exceptions, all our laws are adjustable. (Sometimes we call it ‘being human.’)

For instance, you keep repeating to your child about the importance of keeping his hands clean, eating from a clean plate or drinking from a clean cup. The intention is, of course, to inculcate the idea of hygiene into him. Then one day, while visiting relatives, he points to one of the glasses in which they have offered juice and says, “This glass is not clean.” As per definition, he should get full marks and a pat on the back. Instead, you snap, “That’s okay. Be quiet and drink the juice.” Tell me, who’s unpredictable?

My parents once told me that if anyone borrowed money from us, it was difficult (and at times even unkind) to ask it back, even when we needed it very much. Many ‘friends’ had apparently borrowed from them and the money was never heard of since. They could never bring themselves to ask. I took it to mean that we should always ask for our money if we lend it. Soon after, a child borrowed one rupee from me for something, and the next day I went and demanded her to ‘give my one rupee back’. I did not want to make the same mistake my parents obviously did. My mother was shocked on hearing of this. I did not understand why she was upset, isn’t that what she had told me to do?

When my son began to pick up reading, one of the first words he read without help was ‘Free’, because he saw it on many of the snack packets that came with free toys. It was important for him to identify that word, when he went to the supermarket with us. He began to associate it with tiny toys. One day, I saw him reading bigger words from a fruit juice packet. After which, he asked me what ‘cholesterol’ and ‘fat’ were. I tried to explain them as best as I could. He immediately asked me if we get them free with the juice, pointing to the inscription on the packet: “Cholesterol-free, Fat-free.”
If ‘Free’ actually means free, it should always mean free.

The world is indeed an unpredictable place to grow up in. Is it any surprise that little predictable Math equations become unpredictable bursts of headache when they grow up?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Messi's shadow

There is one in every team, every group, every classroom, every community:

The Lionel Messi who overshadows everyone else; whose brilliance blinds teachers and coaches and peers alike, and even scares them a bit. The Messi, who would shine bright in the pages of history and before whose dazzle every Romero, Higuain or di María would fade into oblivion. The Messi, whose name makes rivals break out in shivers.

Everyone across the world, even those who do not follow the rules of the game, know the name: Lionel Messi, fondly called Leo. The epitome of perfection. The owner of the powerful left foot.

You may be smart, average or below-average, but you are known as "a member of Messi's team." You may be di María, who scored the winning goal, but you had "scored it out of Messi's perfect pass."

Either it was Messi's goal, or it was Messi's pass.

Years later, at alumni get-togethers, others come to you and frown in concentration. "You were in Messi's class, weren't you?" At job interviews, you are asked: "Messi is a genius, what are you?"
"I..." you stutter. "I once scored a goal."
Against the blazing sun, the stars stand no chance.

There is a lot of expectation from Messi. One is painfully aware of all the attention he gets. He cannot falter. He cannot fail. He knows all the answers - the free kicks, the headers, the corners, he knows them all. Which is why he is the most marked man on the team. Others look to him for inspiration, for ideas, for the team's success. Commentators, spectators, praise his abilities, note his every movement. Did he smile? Did he frown? Did he look tired? See the way he stares at the ball?

Oh yes, there is jealousy. Lots of it. Right under the skin. Thick and pulsating and threatening to break through. But you say, "Yes, we're proud that he is a part of our team. No, I do not fear being in his shadow; it is an honour to be."

As for you, you may struggle all you like, in your own corner, enjoy whatever attention your feeble attempts manage to raise. A few claps here, a few smiles of approval there. You're a mere shooting star. You can succeed, you can fail. Against the enormity of Messi's achievements, you are a dot. One that will vanish in no time - unless you are the next Messi in the making. In which case, you have large shoes to fill.

Once there was Maradona, and there was the Hand of God in 1986. One remembers pretty much nothing else, no one else. Like I said, there is one in every team.

Either you are Messi; or you are in his shadow.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What exactly is this picture trying to convey?


The philosophy (and Einstein) aside, what is this image trying to say?

We all love to blame the education system for what we have (or have not) become: If it were not for this stupid system, today I would be a Nobel Laureate. Someone forced me into studying and did not let me do what I loved. We love to cite the names of all the people who have dropped out of schools and then founded their own companies and became rich. Does that mean everyone who dropped out of school made it big? Does that mean people who completed their education wasted their lives?

If this system is wrong, what is the alternative? Evaluate each student on the subject of his choice alone? Is that possible? Or even recommended? You're good in mathematics, you focus on only mathematics for the rest of your life; don't learn any language, don't waste time mastering the alphabet or teaching yourself to write? You're a good swimmer, forget arithmetic, do only swimming? Heck, we don't even have enough teachers to teach in the existing system. Are we talking about kindergarten kids or college-going youngsters? People who know little children know their interests change by the day. What are we, fish, elephant or horse that we should stick to only one talent?

A couple of years ago, while speaking to another enthusiastic friend who blames the system (but has no solution to offer, nor has he done any research about it), who keeps on about 'children should learn only what they like to learn' (and whose child was still an infant at the time), I said, my son is keen on football, and if I let him do only what he likes, he will never learn enough arithmetic to go to a shop and purchase anything, and he will never sit down to learn a little language to get along in life. He has to be forced into reading. He likes math and science but when there is a choice between science and TV or play, I know what he would choose. I do encourage him to play. But if he has to choose one later in life, he has to know about the others. I don't know if I am right, but as a mother I don't want to end up with regret ten years later.

You know what the wise dude replied? "The world needs football players too." 
My dear fellow, who says the world doesn't? If my son chooses a football career, I would only be delighted (I think). But does that mean he should go only for football classes 24 hours, from UKG ? That I should not force him to learn a little basics of everything else? That he will pick up Mathematics and English and Malayalam and Science by himself, without there being any classes or exams in sight? What is the point you are making?? (After all, my son was at that time only six or seven years old. He has at different times wanted to be a scientist, an astronaut and a skating teacher. He loves sports but his current career aspirations do not even feature a sport! So which skill should I hone? Send him for all extra classes in science, astronomy, sports and skating? Oh I see the next headline coming up - "Mother punishes child by never letting him play with his friends and sending him to all kinds of extra-curricular activities".)

The point this friend of mine made without listening to a word I said was that mothers like me do not encourage children to chase their dreams, instead they would force them to study stupid subjects and thus allow their dreams to perish. How simple and nasty it all sounds. How delicious. 

If I had not been forced to learn History in my high school, I would never have read a thing and I would probably have asked if Gandhiji had been one of the old Prime Ministers of India. If I did not have to struggle my way through Geography, I would never have known where Brazil was located and would have gone searching for it in Africa. Forget Brazil, I would have looked for Assam near Korea. Wherever Korea was. And the Basic Science I learnt, helps me to pretend to my son that I am a genius. So do I remember everything I learned by rote in high school? Of course not. It was up to me to follow it up with more reading if I wanted. If there were no exams, I would never have bothered. I made my choice once my high school was over. But I had to know everything before I could make a choice. 

When my son asks me why this or that works, I may not know the direct answer, but I know enough to make an educated guess. (Or an educated blunder, which is of course on a different level than an ignorant blunder. I also manage to get away with an educated I-don't-know.) But did school make me a Nobel Laureate? Was that even the intention of school?

Instead of blaming the whole education system (without even giving it due thought), the point to ponder is: a child should be given opportunities and encouragement in his area of interest. But he has to learn a few other things too. I agree that backbreaking homework isn't the right way to go, but they need to be taught what needs to be taught. If you force a child who is interested in fashion designing to join medicine, it is not necessarily the system's fault.

Granted that there is too much on the plates of the children, especially the little ones. Granted that they should not be forced to do so much homework in their kindergarten years. Granted that there is a great deal of scope for improvement in the system and that the system should be kinder to the students. Granted that the attitude of people should change and they should stop expecting their children to be good at everything. Granted that the guardians should learn to appreciate them for their talents and not blame them for their incapabilities. Granted that if a child does not do well in one subject, he should not be called stupid. Granted that we should keep our eyes open to see what the child's (changing) interests are, and as far as our situation allows, encourage them.

There may be academically inclined children who are forced into sports; there are sports inclined children who are forced into literature; there are seemingly lazy children who are forced into everything. I repeat, it is easy to blame an entire system. Try coming up with a feasible solution that provides justice to every child and gives him wings, as they say.

And until you have a clear, practical method to suggest that will train and evaluate each child based on his skills alone while also ensuring that he learns the basics of science and history and geography and language and arithmetic, don't show me pictures of elephants and ants, along with quotes from Einstein (I am sure he meant more than to blindly discredit the education system) and tell me that the system is flawed.

I wonder if I sound naïve, because everyone on social media laps up this image and gleefully forwards it over and over again. Maybe they know something I don't. Maybe I will do a volte-face a few years down the line and say that all this observation and summary had been a terrible mistake. After all, they all have hopped into the bandwagon, they should know where it is headed.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Writing Bio

Writing Bio is never easy. One can never quite determine how much detail to add, what to omit, which achievements to highlight, which failures to wipe off the picture.

Once upon a time, writing a bio meant coming up with 4-5 pages of one’s history. But today, with the advent of social media, the bio has shrunk to as little as two lines or in some cases, a few random, unrelated words that apparently qualify a person (at least in his own eyes).

I have had to write and rewrite my bio for several years now, especially when making submissions to publishing houses and elsewhere, and I dare say that the path my bio took – from a bunch of pompous statements to a description that reeked of lack of confidence, to a meek, unimaginative paragraph of milestones, to finally a concise list of facts – has been long and hard. In one of those transformations, taking inspiration from someone else, I added the line ‘I live in Bangalore with my husband and son.’

Sometimes the bio is required to be written in the first person and sometimes in the third. (As they say, the writer has to don many hats.)  As per the requirement, I end up changing the ‘she’ to ‘I’ and ‘her’ to ‘my’ – or vice versa. One such day, hoping to get a favourable response, I was about shoot an email to a publisher, when my better sense warned me to read the whole thing again.

And then I noticed my bio, partially edited from the first person to the third as follows, reduced to a whole gossip column in one line:

‘She lives in Bangalore with my husband and son.’