“I’ll buy her”

There was a merchant who came home one night with a sad feeling in his heart. He did not understand why he felt that way. He had every small comfort one could want. His house was palatial, with an army of servants ready to cater to his every whim. He had recently found huge success in a trade which would assure him abundant gold for the next many years. He had no health problems, and no vices to routinely distract him.

“Perhaps you should find yourself a woman”, advised his Khizar.

Yes, maybe that was where his unhappiness came from. He had no one to share his bed with. He was told that having a woman in one’s life was a daring experience. One would begin to feel strong emotions of attachment, lust and a queer thing the others called love. No one could really explain him what this love was, but all agreed that the potency of this drug was very strong. The merchant could not wait to try out an intoxicant that did not have any physical form.

Being a rich and powerful man, the merchant organised an auction to find himself a woman he felt would suit him. The most influential middlemen brought along with them a variety of women, each was sure to catch his eye. They were dark and fair, intelligent and witty, slim and full, aromatic and pungent and skilled in an assortment of areas the common man would cringe for.

The merchant narrowed his gaze to three women whose physical shape he found very pleasing. He would decide his pick based on what his astrologer would predict about their future.

“How will we be together?” he asked about the first.

She will guarantee you a full and healthy life ahead. She will seal your fame in society and make sure you reach the heights of glory you were destined to reach. She will bear you three children who will honour your name and be the caring the wife and companion you seek. Besides, she is well gifted in the art of lovemaking, and will round up your every physical desire. You will complete her. But…

“But what?” demanded the Merchant.

She will never keep you happy.

“What about the second”, asked the disheartened merchant.

The second woman is the most beautiful woman in the world. You will be on the plate of envy of every man around for being her other half. Other women will throng to have you as a part of their bed. You will be known as the most recognisable couple for miles and miles around and have your names etched in stone as the most compatible couple around. But…

“But what?” asked the merchant again.

This will all be an illusion. You will never desire her as much as she desires you and more than anything else, she will never keep you happy.

“How about the third?”, the merchant resignedly asked.

The third woman is meant to be your better half. She will not improve your life in any way. She will not stimulate you in anyway. She will always be inscrutably mediocre. She will be cold in bed, and colder to be with after a tiring day. She will not cause any jealousy to any other woman, and will not arouse desire in other man. Her averageness will haunt you. Yet, she will steal your heart for the rest of your life. She will cast a spell on you and make you see the world in a new light. You will feel what love is around her and dote on her. But…

“But what?”, asked the merchant, a final time.

You will never keep her happy…finished the astrologer.

Deep in contemplation, the merchant walked to the auction floor. He walked up to the third woman and smiled…

“I’ll buy her”, he said.
He lived happily ever after.

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What are the odds!

Published in the Bombay Review.

http://thebombayreview.com/whataretheodds/ 

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Father’s won! Father’s won!

Sankar would always enter his house screaming. His screams would normally be requests for immediate nourishment, but today was different. He didn’t want the usual plate of last night’s stale idlis deep fried in groundnut oil. He would have only fresh tiffin made especially for him. One might enquire why he felt he deserved such presidential treatment for no reason in particular. Well, Sankar had had a near-perfect day and he was determined to keep it going northwards. He had solved all eighteen geometry problems, though sixteen of his answers would have made Pythagoras turn in his grave. The drawing teacher had patted his back looking at his perfectly proportional horse, despite it not having a tail or ears . He had even managed to bowl out Ram right after he hit his fourth consecutive six into the girls’ school.

Oh, and his father had won ten million rupees in the national lottery.

Every Sunday, all the families in the neighbourhood would buy the weekly ticket from Baba’s General Store. Baba was a small, fat man whose eyebrows threatened to take over his face. He would always ask Sankar how his elder sister was and what she was wearing at home. Sankar found it strange, but he would tell Baba the precise colour and shade of her cloth. Baba would then ask how short the dress was. Shankar would put his hand on his leg and point out how much of his sister’s leg was covered by the cloth. Baba was obviously concerned about the heat and the rising prices of twill.

Sankar would then buy milk, flour, gram and if there was enough money in the house, and if mother was in a mood- two sweets for himself as a small end of school treat. Baba would pack everything in cloth, and add the ticket of the week to each of his customers’ packages. They thought it was a free ticket, but Baba cleverly added three rupees to everyone’s total amount as and when they came.

The lottery was always important. Nobody ever won it. Nair uncle had won a consolatory cart three years ago, but the cart was green in colour. Sankar would never be seen alive in a green cart. He was partial to red. Besides him, there had never been any record of a winner in his community. Why then, did everyone follow the lottery? His father used to keep telling him something about beating the odds, something about seeing who the Gods would favour. It was bound to happen with someone, someday, his father would say.

Since his family did not have a radio set at home, Sankar would go to the post office on Monday after his school and harass the clerk outside for the winning numbers. The clerk would demand his oratory fee of half a packet of tobacco before lazily removing his wallet with a bearlike snore. He would then pull out his previous night’s ticket and read out the winning numbers, which he had scribbled in a childlike scrawl on the left hand corner of the ticket. Sankar would match the numbers and let out the only swear word he knew (Puchinta, which meant flaccid penis in his dialect) and had been beaten up for using, before running home.

Of course, today was a slightly different day. Today, the numbers had matched. Sankar knew that his father had won a lot of money and was careful to not tell the clerk when he touched realisation. Money was desire, he had often been told. What if the clerk asked for a full packet of tobacco? Such luxuries were out of the question!

On his way back, Sankar wondered what all one could achieve with ten million rupees in one’s pocket. He calculated that the Wesson Willow bat, which Khan had purchased from his last trip to Bombay was worth five hundred rupees. What a bat that was! You could hit a straight drive with a flick of the wrist, like someone had loaded the handle with gunpowder. It even came with a poster of your favourite player, but you had to select your choice while ordering.

He would buy at least two of those bats, and spend an extra amount on polish. He loved the smell of polished willow. It was a very woody smell.

Sankar approached his house, which was at the east end of the village. The neighbours were killing what seemed to be the last of their chickens, judging by the feeble squawking coming from the barnyard. Thank the heavens, he thought. No more of the awful smell of fat frying. He threw a stone on a stray dog that was threatening to sleep under the mango tree next to his door before marching in.

Father’s won! Father’s won!

“Won what?”

Sankar’s mother was cutting the three idlis left from last night’s dinner into thin artistic slices when she heard his yelling. She had had a tiring day. The oil monger had fought with her for twenty-two minutes about the bonus he was supposed to have received for putting them on the credit list the previous month. He was a crook of the highest order! Her monthly bleeding had started shortly after, so she was forced to wash all the utensils and pray to the Gods for touching them before purifying herself with prayer for the week-long duration. Her abdomen ached. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the times when her mother-in-law was alive. During her bleeding, she would be forced to cook outside her house then while the monster observed with a steely eye. Her husband was way more flexible. Still old fashioned, but flexible enough for the time.

When Suparna was handed the completed ticket by her son, she did not realise what he had handed her for a moment. She continued to obsess over the symmetry of the cut idlis, before she realised in graphic horror the significance of what her son had just announced. The last cut skimmed the edge of her thumb, but no importance was given to the thin stream of blood flowing from there.

“Are…are you sure?” She asked with a trembling voice.

His answer was overlooked. She sat down in her place. It was all too much to take in. The oil in the pan had started crackling up. Suparna didn’t care. Her head was spinning. She grabbed the ticket and checked if the diamond pattern that the winning ticket was supposed to contain was appropriately filled. It added up to 77. It was perfect. Suparna started crying. She pulled her son close and hugged him tight. Her son wrenched away. Tears made him nauseous. Besides, he would be joining his friends in their fourth attempt at stealing unripe mangoes from the neighbours’ garden.

Suparna got up and started walking in circles for no reason in particular. Ten million rupees. She had not seen even a fraction of such an amount her entire life. She picked up the lower end of her sari to wipe her face. It was a blue sari, which had faded marginally over the years. She could blindly tell where it was torn and where it was darned. No more would she have to wear the same old clothes. She would pass by her sister’s house wearing an exquisite silk sari with a golden border. She would match that with a small diamond brooch, exactly like the one her mother-in-law gave the elder extended-daughter.

Suparna smelt the oil burning and went near the stove. She picked up the finely cut pieces of idli that were about to be fried. The thought of never settling for a stale evening snack again sent a jet of joy through her head. It’s high time there was a maid servant in the house, she thought.
Tonight, they would celebrate. Suparna prepared a sweet payasam laced with jaggery (the sugar in the house had finished two days ago) and made a fresh curry of potatoes and brinjal. After all, they would have to get used to the finer things in life now. The idlis lay forgotten.

How it would be like to actually be the owners of such a huge amount, Suparna thought. Does so much money smell different? She had heard that the first bundles of cash from the mint smell sweeter than the chafa flower as it blooms during the full moon. She was sure she would be proven right.

Suparna suddenly realised that she had forgotten to share this happy news with the Gods of the house. How many times had she begged for her husband to get a raise! Today, her prayers had finally been answered. She must not ignore them lest they get angry. She prostrated herself in front of the small statue of Brahma, the God of eternal knowledge. Brahma was never supposed to be prayed to, because of a curse given by the other two all-powerful Gods, but her family was an old family. They chose to specially worship him hoping that he would be partial when the curse is taken off.

“Is that brinjal cooking?”

Her second child and oldest daughter had just entered the house. She had been busy at work cleaning clothes at the village well. She appeared at the door dripping with water, her hands marked with ash. Her hair, long and shiny as it was during other times was all tangled and messy.

Sunaina wondered why her mother was preparing brinjals on such a dreadfully ordinary day. Dishes like curried brinjals were reserved for birth-anniversaries and sacrifices, where one couldn’t feed the presiding Brahmins the simple curd rice usually reserved for the twilight hour. The smell of the dish was deeply ingrained in her head since she was a child. Her mother had prepared it for her brother’s thread ceremony. It had even been made the first time a prospective groom had been called home matchmaking for herself. Of course, that night had been a fiasco.

Sunaina was surprised to see the remains of happy tears on her mother’s face. She was quite used to seeing her mother routinely crying, almost immune to it, in fact. Most of the times, the reason for her outbursts would be petty. Sankar would say something callous. She would have a fight about living in the same house for two decades with her husband. When her mother informed her that their fortunes had changed, Sunaina too was besides herself. She was hugging her mother and tearing up out of a different set of emotions herself. She would finally be free of the moral obligation of getting married in the next few months. She would be free to read a book in public, rather than in the closeted darkness of her brother’s blanket. She often questioned why he was pushed into studying, when he didn’t care what he was doing with his life. She was self-taught on the other hand. She saw herself reading about red cows, how trees grow and how the Ganga flows across her land. She would decorate her books with brown paper and neatly write down everything the teacher demands, not in the scrawny shorthand her brother barely made an effort with. Gleefully, she jumped and pushed her mother away and added the finishing touches to the curry, careful to add the crushed coconut after the water was simmering at low fire.

 

I often wonder if any of the members of this family know what the odds of winning the lottery are! I’ve been informed that the chances are about one in fourteen million. I highly doubt that any of the family members would even understand what a staggeringly high amount fourteen million is! But being educated is my privilege. So is having an outsider’s perspective on the situation as well as having a decent exposure to society in general. Maybe I’m being harsh, as I still haven’t met the man of the family.

 

He, as I gather stepped in the house half an hour after dinner was ready. He had had a tiring day, and had been forced to file his reports twice as he overlooked a small decimal point in the third last row of the fourth file. To make matters worse for him, his application for leave the following weekend had been denied. How would he be able to stick to the promise he had made to Lord Balaji the previous fall? He had even grown his hair to make sure his offering of a full head of hair was satisfactory.

Sanam saw two pairs of slippers outside the front door. His son was loafing around somewhere, no doubt. What would it take him to sit at his books once a while, instead of playing truant with all his friends. That short wolf like boy who always lurked around his son reportedly stood second in the school after winning the local amateur wrestling tournament. His son was doing amiably well at wasting time and sleeping through the afternoons, desk or no desk around. Maybe it was time he gave him another cane hiding.

Sunaina on the other hand, seemed to be in the house. She was a good girl, she was. What was the use! She would never be his to hold his hand when he grows old. Sometimes, Sanam slept thinking he should have just joint the army and worked for the country. His father was too high headed to let him do what he really pleased. He had never enjoyed learning accounts. Seeing small piles of money he would never be allowed to touch.

Suparna was quietly sitting in a cane chair in the corner of the room. His daughter, Sunaina was sitting besides her. No doubt, a combined effort or an early attack into extorting money to feed some fantasy with no future. Even if medicants from the Himalayas came with a battalion of vegetable vendors and fruit sellers demanding money, he would not surrender a single paisa. Did they know how tough it was to earn the paycheque that he managed the house with every month?

“What is it? Why is everybody so quiet?” asked Sanam.

Sanam scouted his inner mind for the occasion when his entrance in the house had earned a smile from both the mother and the daughter. They were beaming. Was he supposed to have brought a gift home? He could not recall. His wife was clad in one of her newer saris and was adorned in dark kaajal around her eyes. His daughter too had laid out the entire table, which was giving off a heavenly smell.

“You have won the lottery, father”, said Sunaina as she walked up to him. She placed the ticket in his hand.

Sanam’s mouth went dry as he heard Sunaina’s voice. He blankly held the ticket in his hand and stared at it like it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He couldn’t seem to read it; the shock of her sentence was so bad. A shooting pain moved from his heart to his left arm and before he knew it, he was clutching his chest, struggling to stand. He collapsed in front of the Brahma statue and fell flat on his back, his eyes rotating upwards as he tried to get a last glimpse of his wife before his heart gave way to the pain.

He was pronounced dead the moment the village physician came to inspect him.

The next day the surviving family was told that the father had a debt of half a million rupees on his head, which he was expected to clear in the next six months. They were also informed by the National Lottery Company that as the ticket had been purchased on the father’s name, they were under no obligation to give the money to his survivors, though the ticket was perfectly in order. They were offered the National Lottery’s deepest sympathies and were sent a garland of flowers from the Chairman of the Lottery, who personally offered his help should they need anything at all during these dark and trying times.

 

I often wonder if anyone in the family knew that the odds of someone dying of shock are even slimmer than winning the lottery. Especially if the news one hears is good news.

Maybe the Gods were being partial.

Or maybe, like the father would say, it’s just all about the odds…

 

 

 

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This story is a work of Fiction.

 

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“Don’t marry a Muslim”

My grandmother slit her wrists today.

To assure the inquisitive, prying world it had nothing to do with the inner politics of the family, I was asked to stick to the discussed story that she found out she had an incurable injury. The truth is she couldn’t handle the apparent shame my actions in the past two months had brought our prestigious family name.

Everyone in India barks about tradition. They say our country stands tall on an intellectual platform because we’ve been following a social structure that’s been untouched for centuries. One of the core ideas behind this structure is absolute obedience towards elders. The logic is easy enough to understand. They have more experience. The possibility of them making the right decision in a dilemma is higher. Tradition, I have been told is the platform for a good family life.

Except that I flouted this rule.

I fell in love and married a girl whose ancestors had a different idea of a creator than mine. They followed a set of beliefs called Islam. As it unfortunately stands, everyone in my family believes that Islam is an absolute abomination. They don’t believe this out of a sense of logical progression or reasoning. They just believe it.

I had lost any sort of a connection with my family the day I married Shazia. Yet, if you’ve drawn the conclusion that my grandmother lost her will to live because of my choice of life partner, you’re mistaken. My grandmother killed herself because she realised that it was Shazia who saved her life.

Granny had had a small accident on her daily route to the marketplace. She needed blood during the surgery to save her life. It took me a massive amount of courage to tell her that due to the fact that no donors had been available during the emergency, Shazia was forced to donate blood to keep her alive. At first, granny – who for me has always been a symbol of calm my entire life heard the news like I thought she would. She nodded and kept nodding, mostly to herself. After a minute she burst into a hysterical rage, cursing at mortals and her Gods, begging to know how elaborately she had sinned to deserve a fate so bad.

I had been prepared for a certain amount of chaos, but granny’s outburst shook me to the core. Is it that bad, following another religion? After living on this planet for eight decades, do you not understand that life is way more precious than a doctrine that’s been created to help us live well. What kind of tradition objectifies blood! Is it not the same source of life that flows inside you and me?

I went home deeply disturbed about her behaviour. I had informed someone that my wife had been instrumental in keeping her alive. Gratitude goes a long way off, but acceptance is the least I had expected. Flashes of my childhood came back, where my family would be praying in Sanskrit. No one understood a single word of what was being said. We were all singing in a language that had been used for centuries to appease our Gods.

We’re Brahmins. It means, a couple of thousand years back – people paid us buckets of money to act as a connect between them and the Gods. For some reason, it was only us who God listened to. It was because of this unique talent that we asserted our right to be educated. It was almost like a feeling of sexual triumph, the way my father would drunkenly tell anyone who listened that our blood has been pure for the past 16 generations. I would ask him why he still prayed in Sanskrit, when he himself didn’t understand what was being said! It was elitist. A language only we were entitled to understand.

Father died when I was young, and I travelled. I read. I reasoned. I realised with time that I was following a set of beliefs that I had never questioned. I slowly divided myself from the lot. It was hard, but I willed myself to be away from a system that does not make me feel happy.

I stopped laughing at jokes I found hurtful to other religious ideologies. We had been watching a cricket match, where my cousins made a crude joke at the circumcised penis of the opening batsman of the opposing team. I walked away. I was sent a joke about Jesus not being able to sexually arouse himself while on the cross. I asked the sender if he would have tolerated a joke of a similar nature about one of our Gods who legend swears, carries a snake on his neck. I was met with silence.

I distanced myself from my family as I could no longer be happy in their culture. I am sure the problems I see are problems that are faced by reasoning individuals of any religious background. I was asked by a kid who God is. I told him the truth. “We don’t know”. I told him no one knows. But if he finds peace or salvation believing any theory that gives him happiness, he shouldn’t bother with the opinions of anyone else, provided he doesn’t harm them or maim them in an effort to convince them about the validity of his beliefs.
Being agnostic was the best thing that happened to me, till I met Shazia.

Shazia and I fell in love. She had lost her parents early, and her guardians were atheist. My family told me that expecting any sort of support in mixing bloodlines was a futile effort. I couldn’t care less. We wed in a quiet ceremony where people who love us and not our expectations were called. We joked that the devil would be quite dumbfounded about our fate, as he’d have creators of two opposing faiths hurling instructions about our fate. We were together, that’s all that mattered.

My grandmother had begged me to consider breaking the wedding. She followed a well written script that targeted the listener using an elaborate combination of emotional blackmail, threats and monetary rewards. I smiled at the end of it and asked Shazia to make us tea and coolly answered with a negative. She had been living with me at my apartment. Granny spat and left. I didn’t blame her. She was guided by dogma.

If there are two communities my family would not tolerate, it is the blacks and the Muslims. This bewilders me. Most Hindus, including myself have a skin tone that’s darker than the night. Islam, I have warned, has rituals that ‘make no sense’. If I start to make a list of customs which we follow without any idea, it would take me a painstakingly long time. Worshiping a phallus and feeding milk to snakes are glazed cherries on the top

But why am I writing all this? This is a confession. I want to make it clear that I would have asked Shazia to donate her blood only for the most selfless reasons, to save a life. I hoped that for one moment, my family would gain how futile quarreling over imagination is. Like Sagan said, the world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there is little good evidence. It’s far better to look death in the eye, for the brief but utterly magnificent journey life provides us.

For what I wanted to really tell granny was that, the blood that spilled out of her veins when she slit her wrists, in an effort to cleanse herself, was never really Shazia’s. It was mine.

The one time when it mattered most, I had lied.

And I was happy…

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Artwork: Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils, arguably the best inspirational blog on the internet I know of.

http://zenpencils.com/comic/carl-sagan-make-the-most-of-this-life/
This story is a work of fiction.

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“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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“Gaadi Chalao” – The Sunday Short

I was in a taxi on the Expressway. It was three in the night. The driver stopped on the way and told my co passenger and I that he had been paid to take just this far.

If there’s ever a city that bullies you to the ground, it’s Bombay.  Bombay is the guy in the gym who bench presses an extra 50 kilos with his teeth after which you decide it’s best to switch to cardio for the day instead of facing general humiliation.  Bombay is the teacher who batters you with a hockey stick because your left sock had a wrinkle.

It was a Friday, and I had had the kind of a day where I would have roamed the streets making random animal noises if I been forced to stay in the city a moment more. I had effectively been locked out of my flat with no key the day before I was supposed to vacate. My phone switched off at this exact moment. I had hundred bucks in my pocket, having forgotten my wallet inside the house. I hadn’t had dinner and I had just returned from a meeting that had left my blood boiling.

I managed to get my house opened by a key maker who mumbled words that weren’t in any identifiable language. I gave him the obscene amount he charged me, I was far too tired to argue. I stopped at a restaurant which served me noodles that looked like worms, forced myself to shovel two-three bites. I sat in a rick, where the rickshawala used the 15 minutes he had at his disposal to let me know that his son was suffering from a rare disease, that could be cured only by me paying him an extra fifty rupees.

I reached the station, where in dramatic fashion I slipped while boarding a moving train and fell, three bags and all on the platform. A kind stranger dutifully informed me that I should have boarded the train early. Curbing the urge of strangling him slowly, I sarcastically thanked him – a gesture wasted as sarcasm falls silent on most Indian ears and reached Dadar. The time now, was 12.

Now, there are several questions I get asked at this point. Why did I stop to eat and waste time? Why didn’t I just take a bus from Andheri? Why didn’t I wait till morning? The answer to all of these is the same. I didn’t. I just didn’t. For those 6 hours, I didn’t care whether I had to rock climb my way through Lonavala, but I wanted to go home. To Pune.

No availability of buses meant I had no option, but to take a cab. Unhappy at the thought of taking a cab alone, I voiced my concerns to the owner of the taxi establishment, who tore my argument to pieces. He said that travelling alone is safer than playing with a baby panda. He said the taxi driver was closer to him than his own brother, who he assured me was an idiot for supporting the Kokata Knight Riders. A frail man who looked like he had fed on carrots for the best part of the last ten months broke our conversation and asked if a taxi was available for himself. The taxi establishment owner dude dived at him in pretty much the same way as Romeo would have liked to at Juliet. He told me travelling alone was a thing of the past. Travelling together is the new black. He tore us both receipts that had just two words – ‘Pune’ and ‘Rs.500’ scrawled on them.

The journey on the way back was less than entertaining. My co passenger sat in the front seat. My driver was a Honey Singh aficionado, and was highly enthusiastic about us participating in the chorus. I slept off. After what seemed like two and a half hours, at the point where Pune dawns close but isn’t quite there…the driver stopped the car and looked at both of us with the sort of finality that I knew something was wrong.

“I’ve been paid to take you both till here”

Well. There has to be a mistake. We paid to be taken to our homes.

“I don’t know about all that. I have to go back from here”

This is ridiculous. I had paid to be taken to my house and I was going to be taken there. I’d had more than my share of conning to realise that this was a standard taxi 101. Of course, I was doing all the talking. My co passenger was silent. He was just observing the turn of events. I thought he was mute. He barely spoke at all. I didn’t even know if he could.  I was fed up. My voice started rising. The driver’s voice started rising. I anticipated a fight. I couldn’t even call anyone. My phone was dead. The driver tried calling the taxi office, who grunted to him to drop us near a bus stop and effectively fuck off.

After the driver told us what he had been asked to do, there was a moment’s  silence.

My co passenger calmly pulled out a 9 inch knife. He kept it on his own lap. Without raising his tone, without any rudeness, without any sort of aggression, he looked at the driver straight in the eye and said two words – “Gadi chalaao”

There are moments in life when one has just about 2 seconds to experience a life threat, a sudden urge to urinate and to register what’s going on is a movie script in the making. For me…this was that moment.

The driver didn’t speak a word. He seemed to look at the knife, and the variety of things that could be accomplished with the blade. His thirst for saving diesel vanished. He turned a deep shade of pale and looked at the road ahead. He just drove. He raved his average speed up and drove like he had never driven.

Co passenger followed this up with a casual, “Kishore vishore Kumar ke gane hain to jara bajao…”

RD Burman, the closest substitute available started playing momentarily. The atmosphere in the taxi took pin drop silence to new levels. You could hear the songs. But I could hear the taxi driver’s heart beat like a horn. Neither he nor I particularly enjoyed the melodious chanting of ‘Mehbooba’ blaring from the speakers. Co passenger was humming along. The driver was just silently gargling to himself. I sympathised with the man in an oddly twisted way.

Co passenger looked at me behind. “Where do you stay?”

“I’ll get down near University”, I mumbled…trying my best to sound as if this sort of a thing is something that happens to me every other day.

“Why? He’ll drop you home. I’ll make sure he does”

There was no minute hint of a rebellion. I was dropped right under my doorstep by a frail looking co passenger, who was more bad-ass than any person I’ve known for just 3 hours. I don’t know who he was. I don’t know where he went. I don’t know what he was capable of doing. It just went to show me that you never expect this kind of an incident to happen to you. And you never know where you’ll be when it will.

But he was the sort of a man that stories are made of…

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My childhood died at Number Ten

I don’t particularly like cricket. I haven’t enjoyed the game for over ten years. I stopped watching cricket on TV when 11 Australians battered us in the finals of what would have been a fantastic memory in 2003. I was a child then. Children lose and gain interest in things around them faster than a setting sun in winter.

Every Indian has had their childhood shaped by cricket in some way or the other. For us, cricket is either the beautiful girl next door or the noisy neighbour who refuses to vacate the building. It’s hard imagining life without either of two. As much as I’d like the country to celebrate tennis, chess, football or any of the other sports that turn heads outside the subcontinent, I would never in my wildest dreams hope for a day where the roads aren’t empty on an India-Pakistan Sunday match.

I’ve travelled my fair share over the world. A distinctive Indian trait, truly exclusive to only our country is how we make living Gods out of mortals. We have the ability to raise a man to the skies when we feel we need him, and burn the very essence of the reason why we fell in love with him when his time is done. It’s something truly Indian. It’s beautiful, yet terrible.

I can think, of only two men who have bypassed this momentary hero worship, and lasted as public idols for a majority of their professional lives. The first is Amitabh Bachchan, who sits unequalled as an all time favourite Bollywood actor. The second, is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who in my opinion will be remembered as one of the five greatest Indians ever for the rest of this millennium,

A human’s instinct, as I have noticed makes him want to root for the best performer around. I was born at a time when Tendulkar was at the peak of his dominance. The second question after ‘Did we win the match?’ was always an eager ‘Did Sachin hit a century?’ The second was asked irrespective of whether the first was answered with an affirmative or negative. It’s because by the time I had grown up to understand the rules of the game, I had taken one for granted…Tendulkar is the best- Period.

I have played enough sport in my life to know the difference between good, great and magical. On his day, wands could have been fashioned out of his bat. Having said that, I can’t really talk about Tendulkar’s game. I’m too unqualified to debate whether his average, allegedly selfish slow run rate and his poor performance as a skipper are strong points to knock his status as the GOAT of cricket. I can safely say without any hesitation that he will remain unequalled as a public sporting idol.

Sachin Tendulkar, in so many ways is India’s nomination for the lead of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. He immortalises everything penned by the poet. He appealed to the common man because he never had to ask for the love that everyone readily gave. It was uni-directional. It’s also because he’s one of the few super celebrities who looks absolutely average at first glance. His short frame, high pitched voice and simple way of speaking reassures someone watching him that while not everyone can be great, greatness can come from anywhere.

Tendulkar actually asked his coach for validation in his final speech. That’s plain scary. It’s like Daniel Day Lewis asking for validation after his third Oscar. It’s like Michaelangelo asking for validation after carving his David. Humility would feel embarrassed at such a thought.

Though I don’t care much for the sport anymore, the reason there are thousands exactly like me following his retirement this carefully because Tendulkar was the first superhero we grew to accept as a part of us. He was everyone’s. Every kid in India had a right to own him. We knew he was out there, somewhere shaping the game in some way or the other. It didn’t matter eventually whether he scored or not. What mattered was his presence. Almost like a, “We can’t lose. There’s Tendlya in our team!” He remained the hero who stayed with us even when we lost track of what he was doing. He brought back memories of sneaking in front of the TV during terminal exams to see how the future would change based on his next shot.

We grow up accepting some things as simple fact. I grew up thinking my father was the strongest person in the world. I grew up thinking that the Hindu religion would be the answer to all my prayers. I grew up hoping that Sachin Tendulkar would remain a superhuman force till time immortal. As the third and final fact dissolved with Tendulkar’s exit from Wankhede, I stand hopelessly lost, with the realisation that childhood is over.

It’s time to grow up.

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Two Line Horror Stories

I found this genre of flash horror on Reddit a couple of months back. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. Here are a few I came up with:

 

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The hard part wasn’t pressing the button detonating the bomb. The hard part was living as five separate pieces for a second till each slowly became lifeless.

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I scream at my wife every night, urging her to lock the doors. If only she had listened a year back, I’d still be alive.

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I don’t know what feels bad, the fact that I helped my mate commit suicide, or the fact that I ignored his dangling feet thrashing around, as he begged me to stop in his final moments.

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She was walking in an empty corridor when she heard the footsteps growing louder. “It doesn’t matter which way you look dear. There’s a mirror at the end ”

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They’re picky with their food, the monsters under your bed. They’re particularly fond of toes, especially the well covered ones.

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I felt him entering me slowly, without bothering to ask for permission. If only he knew I was alive in the grave, decomposing with every touch.

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The meat was so tender, I asked for another helping. “Sorry, we’re out of kittens” said the voice from the kitchen.

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“Why are we having a gas bath, with no water?” asked the Jewish child. “They say it will make us cleaner” replied his father, as tears started flowing from his eyes.

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 He stabbed me eight times before shoving me aside, a bloody mess. Just as I had started enjoying myself.

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There’s nothing scarier than knowing we live in a world where life doubts the existence of a life-giver.

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This soup is delicious. What’s the secret ingredient?

“You’ll find out soon enough”, she said and threw her untouched bowl down the drain.

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No Hard Feelings

It fascinates me, the power of pictures to tell stories. I always find that the shorter the stories are, the more powerful their impact can be.

This is a photo-play I conceptualised and shot with a dear friend of mine, Anurag Banerjee. We drew inspiration from Chris Marker’s ‘La Jetee ‘ and the use of the ninth symphony from Stanley Kubrick’s, ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

Each killing was conceptualised and shot as a separate photoshoot as the theme we were working on was simply ‘murder’. This is just a way we chose to present it.

We tried our best to weave a story in 65 seconds worth of an image blast, and we hope you enjoy it.

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September 14, 2013 · 4:50 am

Lord Ganesha’s Message to India: 2013

All right minions, this is it.

It’s that time of the year all of you gather together to butcher the very essence of my existence. One would think that I thoroughly enjoy the aura of hospitality created by you’ll for ten days every year. If you have ever had that delusion, I must finally prick this bubble you live in. I have had enough. I have tolerated enough for the past eight decades.

Let’s start off with how I look. You degenerate twerps gave me the head of an elephant? Really, an elephant? I’ve heard of stupid storytelling but this takes the cake. My father was a three eyed alpha-god. You think he would have agreed to replace my head with a crippled elephant? Do you even know how big an elephant’s head is? It’s fucking humungous! It’s like fitting an Airbus engine in a Nano. The absurdity of it simply staggers me. Don’t you think Mum would have thrown a slight fit?

Secondly, whatever gave you the impression that my stomach looks like a balloon. Oh, sure! The elephant head has to be blamed here. Right, I am supremely intelligent, but I’m sure I wouldn’t know how much to eat to suit my physique. If I had a grey elephant’s head on a human’s body, I would be one astoundingly ugly creature.  I’m pretty fucking fit. I fought off three divine armies. I go running with my bro everyday.  Don’t you dare think of carving that pot belly again.

I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat, all sorts of it. I chill with Yama, another buddy and eat humans sometimes. We don’t have exceptions, us. Whatever catches our fancy. The way we look at it, it’s all life. Plant, platypus or possum, it’s all finger licking good depending on our mood.

Fashion – I live on a snow capped mountain. You really think I like roaming around shirtless? Ramdas liked yellow, so he said I loved it too, just to make a fashion statement. For those of you who don’t know who Ramdas is, rap out my aarti, second verse. Try figuring out what it means before screaming it out every evening.  What kind of a self respecting human being would make me wear the clothes he’d never touch himself. Would you go to a club in yellow jeans? No, no, why don’t you try it? Try hitting on a girl with that shade of yellow and say, “How do you like ‘Mah new Ganesh fashion’”

Why a mouse? Why the fuck do I get a mouse! Kartik gets a peacock. Dad gets a bull. I get a mouse!?!?!? Whatdawhatdawhatdafaq! Elephants hate mice. Humans hate mice. Would a combination of the two logically like mice? NO! Would you like a real mouse eating my food during the festival? NO. I don’t need a mount. I don’t need a vehicle. I don’t need anything rodentish.

Please don’t play Munni Badnam Hui or Sheila ki Jawani around me. I’ve put Rohit Shetty and pretty much most of Bollywood on a special reservations list in hell. I don’t need any of these actresses shaking their bosoms to provide myself entertainment.

The very essence of your religion is so messed up, it insults me sometimes. You give Gods the same emotional and physical qualities you have yourselves. We’re supposed to feel anger, thirst, lust, desire and greed. We’re supposed to fight battles with our own brothers. We’re supposed to enjoy viewing women dance in the heavens. We’re supposed to make mistakes and repay for them and earn that right to live freely again by meditating. It’s all a convenience and excuse for how you live. You see divinity in human life. Divinity for you’ll, is the ultimate luxury as compared to ultimate selflessness. You worship my dad’s penis and censor sex in cinema. You sacrifice animals for wealth but prohibit eating them. I’ve never understood it.

I come to your houses as a guest. I don’t enjoy it. I’m a God remember? I don’t need this. I don’t enjoy being flushed down a river stinking with your shit (literally) at the end of ten days. Your lives and your country is so fucked up, it nauseates me to be a part of it. This ten day thing was supposed to be an arrangement between Loki Tilak and myself till you kicked the English out. We knew you’ll were too dumb to unite on your own. We knew you’d do it under my name. But no, you kicked Elizabeth Mary out, and let Edvige Maino sit on your head. You don’t even know who Edvige is, do you?

Maybe you should think, rather than pray?

I must leave. Playing doubles, partnering Jesus. We’re through to the finals, up against Allah and Buddha. They’ve got a bit of an invisible serve, bit tricky, really…

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