Sunday, June 11, 2006

Near Death Experiences

Was just going through this month's issue of Reader's Digest. Came across yet another article on Near Death Experiences (NDEs). - Spirited Away by Randal Sullivan (June 2006)

The article talks about how an 'out of the ordinary' patient motivated Dr. Melvin Morse to dedicate the rest of his life studying NDEs and search for a plausible explanation to the hitherto, enigmatic phenomenon.

The interesting part of the story is that his researches and experiments have been chiefly revolved around children. Quoting him -

"The adult NDE is cluttered by cultural references and contaminated by the need for validation. But in kids, its pure. Kids don't repress the memory or fear the ridicule that might come from talking about it."

Over the next ten years, he studied 26 children who came close to death and therefore whose visions could be qualified as NDEs.What he found refutes one of the standard beliefs held by most - That most NDEs are more or less similar in nature and follow the same pattern broadly. Morse found that NDEs were in fact quite idiosyncratic.The article goes on to talk about how he concludes the authenticity of these strange visions/hallucinations.

However, what I found amusing, were some of the visions that some of the kids talked about. Quoting from the article -

'Eight year old Chris Eggleston, who had been trapped inside his family's car when it plunged into a river, recalled going into a huge noodle and entering an animal tunnel where a bee gave him honey and took him to heaven'

'Michelle Wilson emerged from a diabetic coma to describe finding herself abroad a rowdy school bus where two tall doctors showed her a green button she could push to wake up'

'Seven year old Chris Davis, who was rescued from a collapsed tunnel on a beach, reported that a wizard, all dressed in white, came to him and said "Struggle, and you shall live."

Now, honestly speaking, those didn't sound like NDEs to me. Did they to you? Much likelier explanation would be that these were just a creation of the fantasy loving minds of these children. I am not saying they were lying, they in all probability had genuinely had these visions, but accepting them as NDEs is slightly difficult.

Of course, Dr. Morse would counter that these experiences happened when there was absolutely no brain activity in these kids and therefore, couldn't have been dreams. Well, in that case, how do you actually establish that these visions occurred within that period? Couldn't they have had those visions after their activity was restored and before they regained actual consciousness?

The food for thought, however, is what can be inferred if these experiences were genuine cases of NDEs. The visions, you'll accept, are purely juvenile in nature. Noodles and wizards and school buses don't sound very grown-up-ish to me.

And if these visions were indeed from the beyond, then maybe, just maybe, The Almighty, The Creator, GOD, is actually, a child! And maybe all this universe is truly 'Child's Play'!

And that, could be the worst joke on all humankind. Or maybe, humankind is a joke anyway!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Orkut Community

Logged into Orkut as of today. Rather late in the day to be waking up to this phenomenon, but then I am a bit slow in the head anyway!
What struck me within the first half hour of navigation was Orkut's astonishing demonstration of the relavence of the 'Six degrees of separation' theory.
The Six Degrees of Separation, of course, is the famous Stanley Milgram theory of how people on this planet are connected. Milgram conducted numerous experiments to arrive at his conclusion. Those, however, are unimportant in the present discussion. What we're interested in, is his final conclusion. And this is roughly how it can be inferred as
'Any person in any corner of the world can be tracked/found/communicated with by another person through a chain of intervening individuals in a maximum of six steps.'
As an example
I have a friend called Jay Parikh living in the US of A. I don't have any information of his whereabouts other than this. How will I contact him?
I'll start with finding out someone who I think might know Jay or somebody related to him. This could be another friend, lets say Pratik, who studied in the same school as Jay. I hand over to Pratik, my letter addressed to Jay. Now maybe he doesn't know the exact location Jay is in either. In that case, he'll pass the letter onto somebody else who he thinks might know.
The theory is, that the letter WILL reach Jay in a maximum of six such steps. On most occasions, the 4th or 5th step is sufficient. The key, of course to the whole exercise is, that the letter must be handed over to someone who you think might be connected to Jay. Handing it over to a passer by or any unknown person isn't going to work.
Coming back to the point, Orkut shows just how true this theory is. I was connected indirectly to over 20 million people in the community by the time I added a 2nd friend in my 'list'. What further corroborates the theory is the fact that the addition of three other friends subsequently didn't register the smallest change to the larger number.
Its unusual how one can find solutions/ideas to concepts to something while attempting to do accomplish something entirely different

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Trip to Bengal - Consolidated

The destination of my last pleasurable trip before I walk in through the doors of IIM Hel(L) turned out to be Kolkata.

Kolkata, not for its sights, but simply because it houses a substantial chunk of my relatives on earth (the numbers are quite substantial too!) and my parents wanted badly to visit the place with me one final time. Their assumption of this being the last 'go together' trip is not entirely absurd; the next two years will be almost completely devoid of movement for me and nobody really knows what life holds in store after that. And so, I acceded.

It started on the 21st of May in the afternoon. The flight from Ahmedabad to Kolkata takes close to two and a half hours. And it was thoroughly enjoyable while it lasted. I'd heard tales about the quality of the service on Kingfisher Airlines, and I was not disappointed. Fantastic seats, personal audio/video channels (some excellent music), good food and yes, beautiful hostesses too. Dr. Vijay Malya's reputation for having an eye for err... details, is certainly not the result of mere psychophancy.

Ahmedabad is terribly hot. Kolkata is unbearably humid. The temperatures never rise to Ahmedabad-ian heights, but that hardly matters. Sweat flows faster than The Ganga.
But there wasn't much we could do; it was the worst time to be visiting the city and we had selected it of our own accord. First stop at a paternal aunt's in Dumdum. The place is quite close to the airport. The taxi drivers are a crooked lot, though. 200 Rs., one of them tells us. In my dad, born and brought up in Kolkata and a seasoned campaigner, they are up against a formidable adversary. After some haggling, the fellow comes down to 150 Rs., making it sound as if it was a bigger favour than if Arjun Singh decided to shut his mouth and drop his ideas. But his adversary, us, turned out to be a trifle more knowledgeable than he'd estimated. In the end, he lost the customers. Another taxi wallah agreed to charge as per the 'meter'. The ride cost us 35 Rs.
That evening and the day after were largely uneventful. Spent most of our time visiting the near and the dear. Boarded the train to Puri on the second night.

The trip to Puri happened in the company of the maternal side of my relations. Puri is undoubtedly one of the best seasides in the country. It might not match up to the beauty, in and out of the sea, of the beaches in Goa, but it has a charm that is its very own. The waves are higher and frothier than anywhere else and the beach is one of the best kept. The facilities are largely well maintained too. In short, its a pleasure to be spending time by the sea in that part of the world. The weather was as difficult as in Kolkata, but the scenery more than made up.
Puri also houses the famous Jagannath temple. For the uninitiated, Jagannath is an arm-less deity. Why people should worship someone with no arms and therefore, quite incapable of any favourable activity, remains a mystery. In any case, there's the mandatory myth that surrounds this physical incapacity. Apparently, the sculptor who built the idol, did so behind closed doors. And before he set out to do so, he warned people not to disturb him. If someone did barge in while he worked, he'd stop wherever he was at that point of time. Now this fellow, took longer than palatable, to complete the statue. In sheer desperation, people peeked in to se what he was doing. And in accordance to his warning, he stopped sculpting. He'd sculpted everything except for the arms. And that, is the cause of Jagannath's predicament.Built over a sizeable expanse of land, the temple is well planned and nicely architectured. The beauty ends there. The Pandits, purohits and pandas within, are anything but. Disgusting in their physical appearance and detestable in their mental schemes. If you come out of the place without significant damage to your pockets, you've done commendably well. Me and my Dad skillfully dodged the robber-istic aspirations of the men and so did most other males in our group. The female species weren't as half good though. They offered the 'Pujo' and more importantly, offered the Pandas enough dough to last them a week. In return, they returned with the holy 'Prasad'. The God's blessings can't be valued in money, they informed us.
We spent two days in Puri. And then, were back in Kolkata. Spent another day in the city visiting more nears and dears and pushed off for Behrampur.

Behrampur lies in about 200 kms north of Kolkata. Its a place of some historical imprtance, being a critical city in the kingdom of Siraj-ud-dualah. Plassey is a stone's throw away. Spent the first day and the ensuing night with another paternal aunt. Next day, set out for Farakka, aunt and her family in tow. Farakka, commands its importance for two reasons.1. It houses a mammoth NTPC plant2. The famous dam over the Ganges and the bridge over it, has been built here.We put up at the NTPC guest house for the night (incidentally my aun'ts husband happens to be one of the many legal/tax consultants of NTPC). Its a magnificent place. Surrounded by unrelenting greenery on every side, the guest house is as good an example of 'Prakriti ke goud me' as any. The summer seems to belong to another planet, to another time. The dam itself, is a gigantic structure. The bridge which takes you over it and on the other side is as fascinating to see, as it is to travel on. I've found most of nature's geniuses difficult to express in words, or in photogrpahs for that matter, and this is no different. You just need to be here to understand.Next stop, Siliguri.

North east West Bengal is one place you just have to experience once in your life. Its a travesty that the WB government has been unsuccessful, and indeed unheedful, of its charm and tourism value.The gentle slopes of the Himalayas, the tea gardens, the moist earth smell round the year...its intoxicating to the senses.Some distance from Siliguri, on the foothills of the Himalayas, is a place called Sevoke. The journey for those who wish to climb higher, starts here. We had no such intentions though. Our destination was a place only a half hour drive up the road. Must say, even that duration is enough to give you the chills. Heart stoppping roads, those! The river Teesta reaches the plains at Sevoke. And that is where we reached. Its a smallish river in terms of its length, but having just made its way downhill, its a terrifying sight. The current is unbelievable and any juvenile ventures into anywhere close to the middle can end only one way. Even on the banks, the force of the water is positively threatening. All you can hope to do is dab one foot into the ice cold water while the other holds you to dear solid land. The scenery is hauntingly beautiful and in my mind, unparalleled.We took an alternate route on our way back. One that passes over the famous Coronation bridge. Sometime ago, this was the only connection between the north eastern regions of the country and the rest of it. My aunt informed me that some serious scuffle took place for possession of this bridge between the Indian and Chinese army during the war of the 60s.Our day ended at my eldest paternal aunt's place in Jalpaiguri, some 40 kms from Siliguri.

In case you're getting fidgety about the number of paternal aunts turning up at every nook and corner, I'd like to tell you that my father had 12 other siblings, six male, six female. The eldest Aunt; she's called Didi by all her younger siblings; at 76, is an astonishing woman. The grace could easily compete with the best of those with royal blood. Flowing jet black hair (never dyed), the flaming red sindoor in the hair parting, majestic white saris with red 'paars', she's just awesome. You cannot help but bow down at her feet and submit to her all conquering charisma. Her speech too, is as royal as her appearance. She could probably hold an audience of hundreds with her sheer class if she wished to.From Jalpaiguri, we made a weary way back to Kolkata. The constant travel for almost a week had had its toll. But time wasn't to be found in abundance, and a lengthy rest was out of the question.

Another two days of hectic friend/relation visiting followed. In the midst, had the time to have lunch at Sourav's Pavilion on Park Street. Aestheticallly, its extremely rich and soothing to the eyes and senses. Classic music plays continually in the background, adding to the effect. Some portions of the walls are adorned by elegant black and white portraits of Sourav. The food is delightful too. The prices, of course, are a tad high.

That was that. Took the plane back to Ahmedabad on the morning of the 2nd of June. Kingfisher again. The hostesses were slightly disappointing this time, though.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The common man's reservations about Reservation

The term is Special Reservation. SPECIAL Reservation.

For most of my time on this planet, I've understood 'Special' as being an entity, that is slightly out of the ordinary. And by logical progression, an adjective. that does not get conferred on every second object in the immediate vicinity.

After all this time, dear Mr. Arjun Singh tells me that this infact, is a mistaken notion. The 'Special' category can indeed be as massive as 50%, he declares. Now, if he means that 50% of this country's population is deserving of the 'special' tag, then I believe there's something seriously wrong with his understanding of the word.

Lalu might counter saying that a massive percentage of the seats on his trains, much higher than 50%, are 'specially' reserved. In that case, I'd like to point out, the reservation is generally dished out not to the poorer, but to the richer.

I accede that there're classes in India who do need the help. Classes that might never be able to aspire to greater objectives, if the help is not given. And I also accede that these classes exist as more than just 'one here and one there' quantities.

But the point is, there's a line that needs to be drawn somewhere. The Deprived must be helped, buy surely not by belittling and making a mockery of the Deserving.

Increasing the number of seats is not a solution. It will only mean that the number of the sub standard will increase by as much. And that is exactly what everyone's protesting against - increase in the non-saleable quantity and subsequent decrease in the overall saleable quality.
My conversation with a man who falls into 'The blessed' category

Me: So bhaai, what do you think about the issue of the Reservation?
He: Woh kya hota hai Saab?
Me: Arrey Reservation bole to Arakshan. Aaj kal kitni charcha ho rahi hai uspe!
He: Arrey Babu, hum gareeb log hai, hame isse kya matlab. Arakshan karne ke paise kahaan se laaye? Hum to hamesha biwi-bachcho ke saath 'General' dabbe me hi safar karte hai!

Short Story - Rain

And then, it rained…

For six interminable days it came down in sheets. When it finally relented, land had all but ceased to exist - at least in the limited visual capabilities of human eyesight.

The day had begun like any other. The alarm clock had accomplished its task of creating intolerable noise and failed in its task of awakening Varun. Like ever, it was the ’10 ‘o’ clock sunlight’ that succeeded. Making its piercing way through the 9th floor apartment window, it settled on Varun’s handsome face.

Freshening up activities had never been a problem with Varun. In twenty minutes, he had brushed his teeth, completed his toilet, bathed himself clean of overnight grime and had made his way to the dining table for breakfast.

‘Good Morning Mom, Good Morning Dad’

His parents made a suitable reply. By that time though, he was already too engrossed in the newspaper to notice what they’d said.

‘God, 43 degrees yesterday!’. Quite apparently, Varun was reading the weather report for the previous day.

‘You got to be nuts to go to college in this kind of weather! I mean, how can you sit in those rotten wooden benches below with one miserable fan above, moaning itself to further misery, in the entire class?’

‘Its summer, so it has to be hot, I guess’, his father tried to be helpful.

‘Hot! You call this hot! Dad, this is bloody….uh, er...uh…’ Varun was trying to find a appropriate word, ‘this is…uh…hottest!’ His vocabulary had apparently found its limitations.

‘Son, you need to be practical. Bunking college because its hot to sit in class and then riding away to glory on your bike in the middle of the afternoon is not my idea of beating the heat. And it shouldn’t be yours either.’ Varun Sr. could be stubbornly persistent at times.

Varun’s mom, who had bustled out sometime ago, bustled in with a tray carrying three cups and a flask which presumably contained tea. A thin, dark and bespectacled lady in her mid forties, her chief priority and only interest in life were God.

‘Arey beta, this is all the wishes of the One above.’ His mother had a rather shrill screechy kind of voice, certainly not the kind that she could thank God for bestowing upon her. ‘This is his way of showing his anger. He wants to remind human beings of all the evils we’re perpetrating on the planet.’

‘Yeah, yeah…He moves in mysterious ways…he is omnipresent…he is the just One… and what not!’ Varun’s atheism was the stuff legends are made of. His mother thought it was the stuff idiots were made of.

‘Beta, don’t be so rude. He is very kind, but He too has limits to his patience.’

Varun’s limit of patience was already stretching itself to snapping limits. He stifled the urge to answer; continuing the discussion could only worsen the situation. He changed the topic instead.

‘See! Seven people dead in the heat wave! Poor souls…all of them beggars and destitute…’ He almost went on to add – I wonder what wrong they’d done to deserve such punishment from Him, but restrained himself again.

‘Maybe some karma from a previous birth.’ His mother mused. ‘I have decided to go to the temple and make an offering of two coconuts today. I will ask for forgiveness on behalf of all of us and I will pray for our wellbeing. And I will pray to him for rain…’

‘Yeah, do that. Listen Mom, I have decided to skip college today. Too hot. Let me check if Harish is free today, we’ll plan an afternoon movie’

‘There you go!’ Varun Sr. triumphantly eyed Varun with a See-didn’t-I-tell-you look.

Harish was free that day. In fact, Harish seemed to be free almost everyday. The afternoon movie was planned; some obscure Akshay Kumar-Sunil Shetty starrer. Varun and Harish were the ‘mindless action movie’ types.

They were just settling themselves into their seats when Varun’s mother called.

‘Arrey beta, your Dad also decided to skip office today! He’s feeling unwell. He’s sleeping at home. I am at the temple, beta. I have offered the coconuts to Lord Krishna. And do you know what happened?’,
Varun didn’t particularly want to know what happened but he didn’t have much of a choice.

‘Met Shilpa and Roshni there. The three of us have decided to organize a special Aarti in the temple in the evening. You’ll see, everything will turn out alright.’

‘OK Mom. The movie’s started Mom, I’ll call you when it ends.’

‘OK, take care beta.’ his mom was perhaps a bit put off by Varun’s need for speed in ending the call.

The movie was ‘solid’ in Varun’s terms. That an unarmed man thrashing twelve others armed with sticks without as much as a scratch didn’t fall into the category of ‘possible’ didn’t matter to him. His adrenalin was pumping and that was all he cared for. Sunil Shetty was roughing up the quintessential bald heavy set villain when it happened.

It was imperceptible at first, but gained in intensity rapidly. In a matter of seconds, the whole theatre was shaking like the Titanic in its final few moments. The noise of the rattling seats was shattering.

‘An earthquake! An earthquake’ someone screamed amidst the racket.

‘Run, Run! Get out of here!’ someone else added.

It was a wasted statement really, for by that time every single living being inside the theatre was doing exactly that.

Varun and Harish had been seated pretty close to the Exit and managed to get out into the open before most others. It took them almost a minute to do so and a further minute to regain their sense of coordinates. The earth, by this time, had ceased to shake. The two of them hadn’t.

The scene outside was utterly chaotic; it fell just slightly short of Armageddon-ish proportions. Throngs of people were still pouring out of the theatre, most of them screaming and thrashing wildly at an imaginary enemy. A large chunk had decided that mere escape from the theatrical confines wasn’t sufficient, and had prudently formed small huddles at what they considered as a safe distance.

The neighborhood high-rises had also been deserted in record time, and the occupants found paradoxical shelter on the open road. The traffic on the roads had come to a virtual standstill. Clusters of people had got together and were engaged in animated discussions amongst themselves. Every now and then, they expectantly looked up to the rooftops, almost as if they had a premonition of one or two of the buildings to rumble and groan their way to dust. Nothing of the sort happened.

The sky bore a grayish look, a far cry from the dazzling blue summer sky a couple of hours ago. A thick veil of clouds had gathered, adding to the surrealism of the moment. It was almost as if the quake had affected the skies and beyond. Or maybe it had happened the other way round. Or maybe both.

Harish found his voice first.

“Oh, man!! What the hell was that?? Uff…the thing scared the shit out of me!”

Varun shook his head. Horizontally from side to side. He apparently disagreed. He too, had had his heart in his mouth for a while, but a sense of bravado had seeped in, in the last couple of minutes.

“Nah yaar! Pretty weak one, I think. Don’t think it would’ve dislodged a pebble even. Must have been 1-2 on the Richter.”

His comments were as amusing as they were annoying.

It didn’t inspire too much confidence in Harish. He looked quizzically at Varun and started to say something, then decided to keep his thoughts to himself.

A new kind of commotion had surfaced meanwhile. The exuberance of the youth had finally started to break through the initial terror and they were out on the roads by the dozens on their bikes, looking for some whiff of eventfulness and adventure around.

One of the early bird groups had already struck gold. Racing their bikes way beyond the limits of speed and the bikes and shouting so as to make themselves heard amongst the din, they arrived as the first messengers of the grimness of the situation.

“Mansi has fallen! Mansi is down!”

A shocked speechlessness followed as the news sunk in. Mansi was one of the better residential complexes in the city. And then momentary silence gave way to a second wave of pandemonium. Frantic phone calls, people running in all directions not knowing what they sought, some had started to cry… even as news of other buildings collapsing around the city filtered in.

“Yaar, let me check if everything’s alright at home.” He said, taking his mobile phone out of his trouser pocket.

When the call was not picked up after numerous rings, Harish started to get fidgety.

“Nobody’s picking up the phone at home yaar…”

“Arrey silly fellow, do you expect your family to sit pretty in their flat after all this? Call on your Dad’s mobile blockhead! How can you be so dumb?”

“Cut out the wisecracks, Varun. I am just so concerned”

Wisecrack or not, Varun was right. Harish’s Dad picked up his mobile almost instantly. A hasty and terribly garbled conversation followed, at the end of which the wellbeing of both sides was established.

Varun decided that it was time he called and checked up his family too.

His mom’s mobile continued to ring for a while but wasn’t picked up. Undeterred, he tried again. The mobile stubbornly refused to stop ringing.

“Damn!”, he muttered to himself , “Looks like she’s left the mobile at home and run down without it. Let me try Dad’s number. He’s at home today.” He continued half to himself and half to Harish as an explanation.

His trials on his Dad’s mobile didn’t offer an alternate result.

“Lets go home and check, yaar. No one’s picking up.” The fear in Varun’s voice had started to manifest itself very apparently.

The ride back home was almost totally devoid of conversation. Along the way, the scenes were heartrending. They passed by several huge piles of debris, where once great tall buildings had stood. The painful wails of rapidly scurrying ambulances and firefighting vans broke through incessantly. But even more painful were the wails of human beings. Human beings in mortal agony and human beings in inconsolable grief. Almost in perfect sync with the mood, the sky had darkened further.

Even before they’d turned into the lane leading to it, the absence of the familiar view of the rooftop had announced the fall of ‘Bell-View’. Varun’s home had ceased to exist
The swarm of people that had gathered around what remained of Bell-View’ gently parted to allow Varun and Harish in. The building had collapsed almost vertically. The angry dust that had bellowed out, almost in an attempt to escape the weight of the spiraling structure, hung lazily in the air. The air smelt dusty and asthma-inspiring. The weakened Sun cast a pale gloomy glow on the scene. Already, some of the people who had managed to reach safety in time and those around them were climbing onto the debris in search of the less lucky.

Varun had remained uncomfortably silent. He had slowly edged his way through and reached the outer boundary of the destruction. He located someone he recognized and made his way to the man.

“Sharma Uncle”

The man turned round and looked at Varun.

“Varun. I…I…” he faltered, and then picked himself up. “Your Mom and Dad were…are inside. I am sorry.”

Varun turned and slowly moved away from the man. He walked across to the other side of the road and sat down on the ground. His expression was deathly frigid. His eyes had a faraway look in them. He was not crying.

Harish sat down beside him and put his arm around Varun. Varun didn’t look at him. Harish didn’t speak. The two just sat there for a while. Then Varun spoke.

“Everything’s gone…” his voice was sickeningly steady, “Everything’s gone. My home, my parents, everything.”

“They…they might still find them. They might still be alive.” Harish winced at how unconvincing his own voice sounded to himself.

“Shut up”

The day flashed past Varun’s eyes. He buried his head between his knees. His Dad, Mom, breakfast, the conversation, the movie… What was it that his father had said to him last? Something to do with his not going to college, he couldn’t quite remember.

And his Mom? They’d talked about the summer and the poor people and The Almighty. Then She’d called from the temple, he remembered. Something about coconuts and prayers summer and relief for the distressed and rain, she’d told him. Funny how all his conversations with Mom ended in prayers and God. God.

He looked up. Two crystal clear tear drops slowly wove their way out of his eyes.

His Mom, whose supreme faith in God was probably unsurpassed, whose sole purpose of life seemed to be the appeasement of the Almighty…and this had happened to her. This was how her prayers had been answered; her years of faith had been repaid. This was God. These were His mysterious ways.

And now, alone on the planet, no one to take care of him, no home to go to…

And then, it rained…

The Da Vinci Code Movie Review

The movies are seldom as good as the novel they're made out of.

And that holds true for The Da Vinci Code too. An honest attempt that falls short of imagination. And in the end, Expectation.

The movie sets a fast pace and manages to maintain it throughout. However, it does seem a trifle too fast at times, not allowing the viewer, time to collect his thoughts and understand the plot. Its a movie that'll probably leave you clueless if you haven't read the book. And that's where its problem lies -
The ones who've read the book can't appreciate it.
The ones who haven't can't understand it.

The complex codes, the seemingly innocuous verses, and the logic behind decoding them, the most critical aspect of the story, are somehow lost in the flow of events. One brief pan down on the texts are hardly sufficient for any ordinary mortal to memorize or comprehend. And subsequently, when they are interpreted for what they truly stand for, we are more muddled than ever before. Maybe there was a case of 'Watermarking' those verses on the screen as Langdon and Sophie tried to decode them.

Then again, some of the vital parts of the story have been omitted. The part of the story when the police find the hidden transmission and recording room in Teabing's house is not shown anywhere. All of us will remember that this was the moment in the book when Fache starts to doubt his inferences and starts looking for an alternate solution. The fact that this isn't part of the movie, makes the cause of Teabing's eventual arrest extremely unclear.

The one part which I truly appreciated though, was the lengthy explanation session in Teabing's house. The complex ideas have been very well explained, helped by some excellent virtual imagery on the Last Supper.

To be fair to the makers, this was a movie that could probably never have justified the hype, however well it might have been made. But, a little more time and thought on the screenplay might have produces better results.

The film does not require any supreme acting talents. Tom Hanks is earnest in a role that hardly requires much else. Audrey Tautou comes does nicely too. Jean Reno as Captain Fache does not get any scope really. Nor does Alfred Molina as The Bishop.
Paul Bettany as Silas is very good. He is successful in bringing out the dark and complex shades of the character. One of the more appreciable performances in the movie.
Ian McKellen as the typically English Sir Teabing is brilliant. The inflections in tone, the facial expressions, the mock sarcasm in his dialogues, they are superbly done.

In the end though, when you come out of the theater, you feel, the book was much much better.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Short Story - Too good to be true

“Where?” asked the man.

In seclusion, the ambiguity of the question would have rendered the possibility of a pertinent answer, a human impossibility. However, having being asked on a bus, the target being a passenger and the source happening to be the conductor, the question became childishly clear.
The target of the question in question however, apparently didn’t hold the same opinion.


And then suddenly dawn dawned. “Oh I see, Park Street”

“Seven rupees”

“Here you go”

The money-ticket transaction, thus safely maneuvered, Mr. Ghosh, the passenger, relapsed into his troubled daydreaming again. Not that he was certifiably into the profession of daydreaming, but then, this wasn’t a certifiable situation either. Three nights with virtually no sleep and four days of absolute torment don’t make for positive effects on the peace of the human mind. The unkempt stubble on his chin, sunken cheeks, bloodshot eyes and overall haggardness in countenance made his thirty one years look closer to forty one.
The intoxicating morning mist of a wintry Kolkata, hung somberly and beautifully all over. The vision reduced to the barest minimum, still had a special enchantment attached to it. Having made its confident way well out of horizon’s reaches, the Sun still appeared to be singularly incapable of generating either heat or light of any formidability. The unique smell of the nearby Ganges filled the air, something that is beyond the powers of language to define and can only be understood by one who has ever lived in the city for any length of time. The chill in the breeze, which in more accommodating circumstances might have been deemed pleasurable, was palpably disconcerting. The wide open green lawns of Esplanade and Maidan stretched out on either sides of the road. The horns, squeaks and screeches of the myriad vehicles and the general mayhem on the road, though in stark contrast, curiously, didn’t seem out of place at all. In fact, without it, the ambience would have been very incomplete.
However, Mr. Ghosh appeared to be untouched and indeed immune to all of this. His red, sleepless and disturbed eyes stared blankly into the distance. His mind obstinately refused to traverse any path, other than the one that it had chosen for itself. He mulled over the occurrences and the possible repercussions that he might face because of them. Yes, he had been greedy. And he had also been very foolish. And these two attributes put together, never make for too much joy in life. And yet, the unjustness of it all appalled him. What else could he have done? When your Boss tells you to do something on conditions of irresistible wealth or irrevocable disaster, however against your ideas of moral conduct it may be, you don’t disagree.
It had all been so simple at the beginning. The smuggling out of a few company letter heads and stamp papers from the tens of thousands available, over a period of two weeks, had seemed absurdly uncomplicated. He had scarcely known what use those letter heads would be put to and he hadn’t dared to ask. He wanted to kick himself on the backside for not having done so, but reasoned himself against it: Hindsight is always 20/20 and kicking yourself on the backside isn’t within the bounds of human flexibility. In any case it didn’t matter now. What did matter though, was that the harmless bunch of papers, with a few lines of black ink added to them, had been converted into something so hideous, as to be beyond his comprehension. But unfortunately, not everyone shared the limitations to his intelligence, and someone had comprehended. And that was the end of that.

“Get out of your seat, Man!”

The speaker of these words of immense cordiality was a heavily set, black as coal, bald specimen of a human being. His red T-shirt had turned dark red with sweat, which was quite extraordinary, considering the condition of the weather. A glimpse at him made this seeming anomaly clear. The bulging chest and arms of the man would’ve made it plain to the dumbest donkey that he had just spent a good many hours in the gym.

“Why the hell would I do that, Sir?” Ghosh enquired with timid defiance.

“Because I told you to”

Ghosh didn’t press the matter any further. He got up with the forced nonchalance of one who has little else to do by way of choices. Standing didn’t make any significant difference to the state of his mind though. It picked up from right where it had left off.
The last few days had been the most trying of his life. Faced with inevitable disgrace, if discovered, his Boss had made the perfect vault-face such as only Bosses can make. And he had been left as the unwilling heir-apparent. His Boss had put forth two very clear options to him. He had known that the options would be as unpalatable as the ones on the previous occasion, but he had forced himself to hear them out. He had been right. A resignation or a permanent posting in Nagaland, that’s what he got. The man had been kind enough to say that if he did resign, his misconduct wouldn’t be made public. It was hard to choose the lesser evil, Nagaland wasn’t heaven on earth. In fact it was probably a sure shot way of reaching heaven from earth. After much thought, he had decided on the former option. He reasoned, and reasoned correctly, that a poorer job in another company in Kolkata was the saner option any day.

“What the hell? What do these fellows think they’re doing?” someone beside him muttered.
So engrossed he had become in the dwellings of his mind, he had failed to realize that the bus had ceased to change its coordinates for a good part of ten minutes. The reason didn’t become at once clear to him. He could see a sizeable number of vehicles stretched out in front of the bus, and that none of them were making any significant progress either. On stretching his line of vision a bit farther, he could see the crossroads just ahead. And curiously enough, the traffic on each direction suffered a similar predicament.

“Silly Idiots! Why do these fellows have to do their worthless stuff just at this time? For God’s sakes, its peak office hours!”

Ghosh couldn’t locate the exact source of this fresh grievance, but it drew his attention to the cause behind the current predicament of the bus. From the road arriving or departing to or from the left of the crossroads, whichever way you looked at it, a continuous trickle of characters were jogging their way to someplace known only to themselves. They were appropriately dressed for the occasion, the mandatory sweat shirts and shorts could be seen in their rightful places. That they were jogging was only part of the truth. As true was the fact, that most other two-legged creatures could’ve set a positively brisker walking pace than them. The industrious bunch was either in no real hurry or was making an outstanding job of concealing that fact. Presently, he realized that it was the latest bunch of blue eyed NCC cadets, exercising every muscle in the body except the one that God had ordained exclusively for the human species.

The exasperation of the occupants of the bus, and probably of those on quite a few other buses, was evident. Most of the people had started fidgeting in their seats. A courageous and short tempered few had started discussing and reprimanding in tones and languages that were miles out of the realms of social acceptance. But just at that moment, society was demonstrating a commendable degree of acceptance. Apparently, everyone shared similar sentiments.

Ghosh was distraught. Like the defence-less hunter who comes face to face with two man-eating tigers in the middle of the forest, and knowing fully well that his chances are pretty much non-existent, vents his frustration by devoting his final moments to killing as many powerless mosquitoes around as possible, Ghosh found refuge in this seemingly inconsequential incident.

“Now that’s the last thing I wanted” he fumed, “All of this on my head and on top of all that, I am going to be late!” It didn’t seem to occur to him, that being early or late wasn’t going to improve his position in the least.

Amongst the utter chaos that had gradually built up inside the bus, one individual with his head firmly on his shoulders, set forth to dilute the situation.

“Never mind folks. Ten minutes, not more than that.” He appeared to be one of those God’s chosen few who have been gifted with foresight and enlightenment on everything under the Sun.

The procession lasted half an hour.

Finally, with a rapidly thumping heart; either or both of running up eight flights of stairs or the sense of impending disaster could’ve caused it; he entered office. He looked around with what he thought to be the most dignified demeanor one could muster under the circumstances, but which was actually his most apprehensive to date. No one seemed the least interested in him. All were engrossed in whatever work or pastime they had chosen to pursue for the day. Not even a single sign of acknowledgement came his way.

“They’re probably getting used to not seeing you around anymore” his sinking heart told him.

Someone taped him on the shoulder. Not too gently.
“Ah, here you are, Ghosh. I thought you’d never turn up!”

In any case, his conversational talents weren’t what they used to be. The sight of his grey haired fifty plus Director didn’t help matters at all.
“Uh..Huh, Sir…actually I was..”

“Oh, come now. Never mind! I know everything. There’s nothing to fear, Ghosh” The joviality of the tone was positively disconcerting. “Come into my cabin, my dear fellow. We’ll set you right!”

“Here we go” thought Ghosh to himself. “He’s trying to make it as cordial as he can, saving me from disgrace here amongst everyone.”

He allowed himself to be half cajoled, half dragged into the Director’s cabin. Inside, he was placed into a chair with an elaborate geniality that made him sick in the stomach.

“Tell me Ghosh, what would you like? Tea? Coffee? But first you must drink some water. You look terribly sick!”

Virtually on the verge of delirium, Ghosh didn’t care much for old world courtesies.

“Sir, please. I..I don’t need anything, Sir. Just tell me what you want me to do. Please!” he croaked.

“Oh dear! Look at you! My God, how you’ve suffered! OK son, I’ll not keep it from you any longer. Listen Ghosh, I know everything. Absolutely everything. Your conduct is not appreciable, Ghosh. It has come as a shock to me, this…this revelation.”

That did it. Ghosh burst into tears.

“I..I am sorry, Sir. Please, please…just let me go, Sir. I can’t take this any longer. Just…just go ahead, tell me. Are you, are you firing me?”

Ghosh’s voice carried a combination of despair, anguish and uniquely enough, some semblance of hope somewhere deep down.

“Well yes, its the logical way to do it, isn’t it? Just throw you out. Yes, the option has occurred to me.”

“Yes, I know, yes…I…I, Sir I didn’t know…” the ‘hope’ element in the voice had made a rapid disappearing act.

“Shut up. Just listen to me, Ghosh. I told you I know everything. Everything. Didn’t I? I know exactly what happened. With due respects to you, I knew your challenged intelligence could never have envisaged something of this sort. Here’s news for you. I’ve fired Chatterjee.”

Chatterjee was Ghosh’s industrious Boss.

“What??” Ghosh couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. “You did what? Er...Sir. You, you know? You know? Oh yes, you know! You know! Oh yes! Oh God”

The number of expressions his voice now carried was beyond the counting abilities of mere mortals.

“Shut up, you silly idiot. Why didn’t you come tell me at once, you fool? It would’ve saved you and me and a hell of a lot of other people so much trouble! Yes, your conduct is appalling, but your intelligence even more so! You thought it wouldn’t be discovered? Didn’t you even have the sense to think why that man was paying you that kind of money? What did you think Chatterjee wanted those papers for? To light up bonfires?”

“I…I didn’t know…” Ghosh clutched wildly around for some meaningful vocabulary, but failed miserably.

“That’s the problem, Ghosh. You seem to know so little!”

“I am so sorry, so sorry for what I’ve done. Please, please forgive me Sir. Please do,” pleaded Ghosh, “I promise I’ll never fail you again”

“Oh do keep quiet, you moron! Nobody is firing you. Get that straight. NOBODY is firing you, OK? Just stop blabbering, for God’s sakes!”

It took some time to sink in. At first, Ghosh thought he had imagined it. He looked across at the smiling man in astonishment. There was a gentle, kind smile on the Director’s face. His body numbed. And then, relief flooded in. The immense burden that had been on his chest, that had reduced him to this disgusting, despicable caricature of a man, had suddenly been lifted. He had an irresistible urge to just get up and start prancing all over the office, shout at the top of his voice, just go berserk. But some form of sanity still prevailed in his head, and it kept him on his chair. Only barely so, though.

“I…I don’t know what to say, Sir! I am, I am just so, so overwhelmed. Its, its just too good to be true, Sir! Oh thank God! And thank you! I’ll forever be your slave, Sir. I’ll do whatever you tell me to, I’ll just put myself at your feet…I’ll…”

“Yes, yes, take it easy, man!”

The raving and ranting thus suitably halted, the Director continued

“I am a very generous, God fearing man, Ghosh. And I am a forgiving man. I’ve let you have this second chance because I think you’re a good man and you’ll not let me down. Ever. Just keep that in mind.”

“Oh yes, of course, Sir. Most definitely. I’ll never ever do anything of the sort in my life, Sir. You’ll not regret your decision, Sir. I promise you!”

“I better not, Ghosh. I better not. Alright, time to get back to work. I wish you all the best, my good man. Just give your best shot, Ghosh. Give your very best shot. There.”

Whatever else they do, abrupt release of severe pressure and tension don’t make a dumb man intelligent all of a sudden. Ghosh didn’t get it at first. He frowned, a perplexed expression on his face.

“There? Sir?”

“Er…What?” the Director didn’t at once seem to realize what was being asked of him. After a couple of seconds, he smiled.

“Oh, I am so sorry, Ghosh. I am really getting so forgetful these days. Silly of me! Just forgot to tell you, you’re getting transferred. They need a hard working man like you in Nagaland. Good luck, Ghosh”

Who made God?

Was walking down the dawning morning street,
With my 3 yr old son, just learnt to speak
As he looked around with his hazel green eyes,
A 100 questions in his mind, buzzing like a 100 flies
And he pointed to the neighbouring highrise
Asked what it was, of that big a size
Told him, it was beautiful homes
With guys like him and their lovely moms
"Daddy, Who made them?"
I Said Made by men"
And who made men?"
"God, in heaven"
He looked at me curiously, shaking his head like a nod,
"But Dad, who made God?"

On a wintry evening, sitting at home
With the boy, and his darling mom
Watching news on TV, the fireplace keeping us warm
All the violence, all the gore
The ravings of madmen, so much terror!
A masked man on the screen, a gun on his shoulders
As a building behind, goes down in smoulders
Says we fight for religion, we fight for the holy lord
A tiny voice by my side whispers
"But Daddy, you never told me, who made God?"

The years pass by, one day I'm listening to some music alone,
My wife and my kid, for a ride they've gone
The phone rings outI pick up and listen
Tears in my eyes, my wet cheeks glisten
A car crash, they said
Both inside - dead
"Why?, why?" I ask,
Hear a voice in my head
"Daddy, who made God?"

Its the end of May
The sky so grey
Alone in a park
I Wait for the dark
With an old man beside me
Looks so happy, so carefreeI need someone to share
The first words out of my mouth, I hear
"Who made God?"

The man looks at me and smiles
SaysWe need a guiding light
To seperate the wrong from the right
The world is like a wild forest
We need someone to keep it honest
Need someone to pray to,
Innermost thoughts, someone to say to
Someone that all hold dear
Someone whom we all fear
Like the teacher in school, holding the iron rod
And that's why son,
We made God"

I walk away that evening
Life again, seems like worth living
The rain comes down in a blast
I don't care, I've answered my son at last
I remember him, my head breaks into that familiar nod
Softly I say,
"Son, now I know - Man made God"