Monthly Archives: February 2014

“I’m sorry, Professor. You’re wrong!” – The Sunday Short

In my final year at the Prix, we were told that literary critic Eric Blair had agreed to part with fifty-three minutes of his time on the first Saturday of February in an effort to make us understand how a real writer writes. Blair was the sort of a gentlemen whose pen would routinely rip apart some of the finest names in the literary community without any concern how many Nobels, Pulitzers, Academy Awards or Bookers adorned their walls. The silent joke that went through the Khaz was that you hadn’t made it till two of your books were banned and the other three got a one star bilge review from him.

Our dean had personally greeted Blair with the air of two friends meeting after being separated by war. He had worn the maroon suit that was dry cleaned only for Christmas and the annual graduation after party. After delivering a ten minute monologue, Blair seemed only moderately convinced that the students in front had a capacity for knowledge larger than a Russian living in Minsk for a Moscow Mule; which if you didn’t know is a lifting concoction of Vodka and sugarcane.

As the rules demanded, we were sitting in perfect formation, our uniforms in impeccable condition. The classroom had windows facing east, and the sun had shamelessly illuminated my side of classroom leaving my lot cleanly visible to the eye. Blair looked, behaved, walked, dressed and even lishped like Sean Connery. I had been told to never trust an Englishman who behaves like a Scot, but the effortless air of ease he spoke with forced one to reconsider.

As it turned out, the subject for the half hour was the short story. Blair went straight for the mains, and he dove into what he thought were some of the most prized possessions of the world of letters. Names like Vladimir Nabokov and Kafka were given the honour of a smile. Shirley Jackson’s Lottery was given a approving tongue click for its unneeded violent end. A quaint Indian author who only Swami had read (R.K Narayan, the name sounded like) brought out an affectionate laugh. Kane, who dared to ask what Mr.Blair thought of Jeffery Archer was told that he and the author were better suited to grilling hot-dogs. Words such as ‘existentialism’, ‘metamorphosis’ and ‘subconscious’ were hurled at Ishmail, who I can vouch had been thinking images of ‘sex’, ‘sex’ and ‘sex’ till he found himself in the middle of this unnecessary conversation.

In the last ten minutes of the class Blair decided to make a case study out of a short story called the ‘The Hangman’s Murder’, which had been written by a cult internet author who wrote under the name Blue V. The story was well known to everyone in the literary community. It was a chilling account of a nameless hangman in a fictional town who went through a spiritual transformation as he was forced to execute innocent citizens convicted falsely to boost public morale. The ambiguous ending had been a topic of huge debate lately, and the professor told us that his column in the oncoming edition of the Sunday Herald Tribune was a sentence by sentence breakdown of what he was sure the story meant.

After going through the original text, Blair offered us the rare chance of being given an insight into his review of the story a complete week before it was published. He dismantled the story from the first word and illustrated how the second paragraph was the key to understanding what it truly meant. The author was obviously using the conflict of the protagonist to describe the failing Government, which was bound to collapse in the next ninety days. The murders were a metaphor for the economic crisis and the dark ending was a silent shout to the voter to elect a better candidate as prime minister. It was at its heart, about politics. The class oooohhhh’d and ahhhhh’d at this revelation. No one had considered this eventuality.

For a man like Blair, the point when he usually asked if anyone had a question was accompanied by silence. Asking a question invited two distinct possibilities. The first, that you would be looked on by extreme admiration at having the courage to ask a possibly confounding question. That rarely happened. The second, that your query would be dealt with a huge dose of incredulity and you’d spend the rest of the day under a blanket mostly wishing you’d never have been born. That happened a lot. Omar was told with as much iced English sarcasm that he would have led a better life as an Iguana.

I raised my hand, “Professor, I think the dripping blood from the jugular vein is more direct. It means the death of a family member, or something on those lines…”

You think?!?

I’m a silent person. I don’t usually speak in classes. I’m one of those backbenchers who prefers listening. I had gone through this story a lot of times and I knew what I was saying.
It was the confidence in my voice that drew first blood, I’m guessing. Blair coughed sarcastically, and said that he could expect an opinion this obvious only at the Prix. He dismissively told me that while it was a brave attempt on my part, the fluidity of the the blogger was a distinctive trait among writers who have a huge knowledge base in politics. The individual elements, such as the dog being poisoned, the ancient references to the Mahabharat (A Hindu mythology classic) and lastly, the positioning of the final execution was a clear pointer to the political genre.

“Professor, it’s a good point, I would have agreed with you. It’s just that –

No one, in the last eight years of my experience has dared to use the phrase ‘would have agreed’ with me.

The class was deathly quiet now. I hadn’t been rude in any way, but I had obviously touched a nerve. Blair mockingly tore apart what he thought the remainder of my explanation would have been. He told the class that someone who sits in a literature course with a thought process as obtuse as mine should leave for the remainder of the semester willingly. He had great intuition, mind you, as he guessed the rest of my explanation to word, and spent a good 7 minutes dissing it down. I kept my composure till he finished, and in a voice as polite as I could muster I slowly and clearly stated the words that made him blaze.

“I’m sorry, Professor. You’re wrong!”

Get out of my class. Don’t bother coming back

I quietly got up. Thirty sets of eyes followed me get up from my seat and make my way to the door. Thirty-one, if you count him. As I walked, he looked at me and as a parting line, added, “To think of what the author would have said. The horror…

I stopped and smiled just as I was about to leave,

“I don’t think so, Sir. You see, I wrote the story”

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Game, Set, Hash – The Sunday Short

‘Fuck’.

There are a handful of stories I’ve heard in my entire life that I’ve reacted to with my choicest four letter word.

A lot of elders crib about my love for profanity, but I love cussing. There are times when you hear something for which a reaction like ‘Cool’ or ‘Lovely’ or ‘How nice’ just doesn’t do justice. You growl ‘fuck’ in the most strained pitch you can harvest and the person who has narrated the story nods his head in mutual appreciation, knowing he’s got the impact the ‘fuck’-worthy tale deserved.

Have you ever seen one of those little Chinese kids with a table tennis racket who routinely appear on American reality shows to convince the standard human being how hopelessly ordinary he is at hand-eye coordination? Adam was one of those. He could slam any racket/bat/club with a ball/shuttlecock with complete disregard for any technical help. This is what people like me call a gift. I am one of those individuals who has to spend a number of painful hours on court trying to convince my legs to rotate with the same speed the ball demands. A majority of the times, they don’t listen.

Adam’s parents thought tennis would be a fantastic sport to channel their son’s inner genius. They thought he’d add his name to the likes of folklore legends such as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. The coach agreed. The neighbours agreed. The maidservant’s third cousin’s divorced wife agreed.

Adam did not agree.

Adam hated tennis.

There is nothing worse than seeing an athlete who doesn’t want to perform on his own. Let’s face it. It’s a twenty yearlong preparatory gamble for a dream that won’t materialise, in 9 cases out of 10. A single injury can knock you out.  More than anything else, the money involved in making a sportsperson is an embarrassingly high amount.  You want to play the game, you play only the game and nothing else. No girls, no late nights, no alcohol and most certainly- No smoke.

Adam was playing a tournament in Delhi. He was 23. He was way beyond his best days and was in no way a tournament favourite.

His match was at 7:30 o clock in the morning. A firm believer of the phrase, ‘Never getting up before the sun rises’, Adam decided that the most profitable way of not compromising on his ethics and yet, having the decency of turning up to play was to party all night. He followed a few warm up beers in the late hours of the evening to a more serious concoction of whiskey and water. This stoked the fire in his belly. His ashtray, which was a small pot in his room would routinely be filled with cigarettes to the brim.

Adam proceeded with his nightly ritual by rolling a joint with hashish that a Nepali trader whose name can’t be divulged had almost given his life to smuggle. He approved of the raw ingredient.  He was in a state of mental contentment, with the exception of one primary urge bothering his belly – hunger.

To calm it down, he helped himself to a food dish even the chef was abashed at conceptualising – The Heart attack Burger, a product comprising of two layers of the finest buttered French Loaf, stuffed with bacon, a full beef patty, three slices of goat-cheese and an ample amount of mayonnaise. This was accompanied by a large portion of fries which were dripping grease in pretty much the same way as Matthew Hayden’s helmet does after 47 runs.

The rest of his night was largely uneventful. He tried catching the attention of a girl whose legs seemed to send invitations to his eyes. He was unsuccessful when he tried to find a place between them.

His opponent, Sanam on the other hand had spent the evening with  a light workout after a 2 hour hit, followed by a sparse dinner of whole wheat pasta and lime water, to keep him well hydrated.  He had allowed himself the luxury of sleeping at 10:00 PM as opposed to 9:30. This would give him a good enough gap in the morning to stretch, warm up and be well oiled for a grueling match, should the situation arise.

Adam reached the courts at the designated time, smelling of Budweiser, Benson and insomnia. He had someone managed to go to his hotel room, change and haul his kit to the courts. He grunted his arrival to the umpire and tried nodding in the best way he could to his disgusted opponent. Everyone on the circuit knew of his nightly escapades. His head felt like a small brick. He mouthed, ‘Don’t care’ on being asked whether he’d like to serve or receive after winning the toss. He walked to the baseline to receive and tried his best to see if the ball still looked yellow and in three dimensions.

Adam lost the first set 1-6.
He was wrong footed, aced and fired at from every possible corner of the court. Adam’s opponent was a power-hitter who believed in blasting the ball with as much force as he could muster.  He had survived a mini cardiac arrest to find his composure enough to take the one game, but he was being steamrolled. Thoughts flashed in his head about how he probably shouldn’t have added the last vodka shot and mixed drinks. He would have probably had a better sense of balance. His opponent was mercilessly punishing the ball. By the end of the set, Adam didn’t bother trying to attempt the last drop shot and walked towards his chair after hurling his racket on court.

Adam was broken early in the second set. He was 2-4 down and the way proceedings looked, he would be peacefully asleep – lost in translation in less than ten minutes. It was at this point that he heard a random kindly stranger nearby mouth ‘Chutiya sala. Khelne ki aukat nahi hai iski’, roughly translating to ‘The bastard doesn’t deserve to play’

Something about the manner in which that line was mouthed ignited a fuse that had been dormant for a very long time.  The human body  fires up when you least expect it to. Adam headed for a bathroom break. It was time to warm up. He smoked half of the last Benson left in the packet. He was now, properly warmed up. He came back, picked his racket up and served.

Adam won the match 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. He played a brand of tennis that could only be loved, not understood. Adam was a counter-puncher. These tricky bastards thrive off their opponents speed, and Adam decided to finally exhibit why he was chosen to lift the racket up. He cut through his opponent’s ground-strokes like a knife through butter and mashed his service into pulp. He finished each point with the grace of someone who was born to bleed tennis. There are times when you just can’t figure the beauty of willpower, and every single person who was there to watch the match on the neighbouring courts saw something they would never forget. It was a combination of sheer determination and raw talent, honed into a display of sport that could have possibly led to international greatness if he hadn’t battered himself into the condition he was.

Sanam, who had starting grunting like a wounded hyena in the last game reportedly sat down on the court for ten minutes after the match, trying to make sense of what had happened. Adam shook his hand, walked out of the courts with the air of a man who just walked the moon and didn’t give a flying fuck about it.

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“Does he still play?” I asked Paul, after my sense of composure returned and my wide open mouth closed.

We were at a bar. Paul, who’s a strict teetotaler, was an old friend who I had met after a very long time.

“Oh yeah”, said Paul, very matter of factly. “In fact, he’s playing in Pune tomorrow.”

“And does he still drink?”

“Well you can ask him yourself. I don’t think he’s in a state to answer though. He’s been in the smoking room inside passed out for the past fifteen minutes.”

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