Monday, December 29, 2008


I was born in the winter of ’83; Akhil in the summer of ’83, and Nikhil in the autumn of ’82. This marked disparity in the seasons of our arrival, however, did not prove to be an impediment to our camaraderie, which we struck almost as soon as the last of us had poked his head out, owing to the already blossomed friendship of our parents.

Even before we had any idea of what went on around us, we found ourselves thrown together in all kinds of weird situations. Being brothers, Akhil and Nikhil had to bear the brunt of these. They were frequently laid next to each other, in various stages of undress, to which they further contributed by splashing their limbs wildly and with total disregard for social etiquette, on strange mattresses, waterproof, that squeaked embarrassingly and regularly. To make matters worse, it was in such vulnerable situations, that the two were deemed to be at their cutest, and throngs of grown-ups hovered over them, smiling, tickling, and clapping and making observations on their resemblances to their parents. On such occasions when my parents visited theirs and vice versa, I joined Akhil and Nikhil in being objects of public display and affection. Thoroughly frustrated with all the unsolicited attention, we made attempts to mouth some severe foul language, but what emerged instead were indecipherable cackles, which only added to the general amusement. It was then that we cried.

Even twenty five years later, though they are a very different kind of friends than they were all those years ago, they continue to hold on to their spaces in my subconscious. Several times a day, in the most trivial and unrelated incidents, they are fetched into my thoughts. Just the other day I spotted this cripple limping towards me, while I was having a delicious double chicken egg roll at one of those shabby roadside joints with grimy, discolored pans and staff that are found in multiples in every conceivable corner of Kolkata. The moment I saw the man, I was reminded of Nikhil. The two of them had so much in common, other than the fact that Nikhil is not lame. It is just that he is really lame. He’s the kind of chap who keeps staring at you queerly long after you’ve finished a joke and everybody else has finished laughing and starts laughing uncontrollably halfway through when he is telling a joke himself.

Then there was this time when I walked into the rest room at an up market restaurant and, having sat myself comfortably, found myself staring at a full length mirror in front of me. When I reflect back on that moment now, it seems inexplicable that I should think of my two friends at the time instead of the absurdity of the mirror’s presence inside that place. It is not a pretty sight. But anyway, what I did think of was my two friends. I suppose it was because my earliest memories of being in that position, while staring at somebody doing the same thing and staring back, were with Akhil and Nikhil.

The point is the two of them lurked on the outer peripheries of my immediate thoughts all the time.

After being objects of affection for the first few months, we found ourselves turned into objects of competition. Like most other competitions in life, these too revolved around what each of us did faster or with greater dignity. Who walked first. Who talked first. Who went to school first. Who cried less…silly motherly comparisons which had no bearing whatsoever to what kind of men we’d turn out to be in the future.

I am pleased to state that I came out tops on most of these counts.

As the years progressed, the comparisons grew more diverse and fiercer. Who went to the best school. Who was the best student. Who won in school drawing and painting and craft and sports meets. It hardly mattered that all three of us went to different schools. This time, of course, the competition was also played out at a greater level, where the rest of the universe was also included. The key contest, however, continued to be amongst the three of us. For whoever won that one, the rest did not matter. Much like we adore Sania Mirza for being the best female tennis player in India.

I still came out tops.

I suppose it was when our ages meandered into double figures that we shifted from being victims to being participants in all of this ourselves. I realized I was decidedly the better of the lot and therefore deserved to be treated thus. And so, I started mixing more and more with those I deemed worthy of my companionship; Akhil and Nikhil climbed steadily down in my list of important persons. Our parents had dragged us through the first phase of our friendship. We had dragged them through the next phase. It appeared that we were slipping back into the first phase again.

It did not help, or perhaps helped, that our interests veered in diametrically opposite directions. Being an only child, I turned to literature and movies to fill up my spare time, as much out of necessity as out of interest. They, on the other hand, had each other for company for the most part and could chat and squabble with each other on a variety of irrelevant issues. Which they did. So while they grew into sociable young fellows, I grew up to be an intellectual and a loner. There are good things and bad things to be said about both kinds, but one can only become one of them, and that too not always out of choice. On whatever occasions we did get together, we involved ourselves in activities that were neutral and non conversational, such as playing cricket and computer games.

Of course, I still came out tops.

When I moved to a different city for my graduation, our communication all but stopped. Conversations over the telephone were never very high on my methods of interaction anyway. Even when I was home during breaks, we rarely met. Again, it was our parents who continued to be the catalysts of us getting together, when either family visited the other. We continued to be cordial, indeed jovial, on these visits though we had absolutely nothing to talk about.

At that point, I sincerely believed that we had reached a stage where we could neither grow apart any further nor reach anywhere meaningful. Our friendship was doomed to be a stalemate for the rest of our lives.

In the end, there were two things that changed this. Alcohol and Bridge. When I discovered that they had developed a taste for spirits, I immediately decided to confer upon them all the experience and expertise I had gained, since I had started earlier. I am never quite sure if they ever respected me for my achievements in academic or professional life; I gained that with my knowledge of liquids. They spent hours discussing where to find the best drinks and what mixed well with what. They called me at the most unearthly hours from some pub where they’d taken their friends to consult me on what they should order. And I reveled in their admiration.

In the meanwhile, our fathers decided that we had grown old enough to sit and play cards with them at the same table. This solved the most pressing problem for the three of us – what we were to do when we met each other outside of a bar or a pub and inside one of our homes. We latched onto Bridge with a desperation that our fathers mistook for a love of the game. Gradually, we did manage to love the game too, but that can never take away from the reason why we started taking an interest in it.

And so, we are now friends who want to see each other again. That we are again stuck in a stalemate hardly matters. The whole thing is not a burden anymore.

Interestingly, Bridge is the one thing, where I cannot claim to have come out tops.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Same

Checks the mirror one more time. Everything appears in order. Is pleased. Runs index finger of right hand over blue tie dotted with red spots, the size of a paracetamol tablet. Loves the tie; wife’s first gift. Has worn it twice in seven years. First wedding anniversary and first (and only so far) child. Sorry, reverse the order. Never worn it since wife died four years ago. Till today, that is. Today is the third time; promotion party in office.

Climbs down nine flights of stairs, whistling. There’s plenty of time yet. Good for health too. Meets nobody during the journey. Emerges from the building; watchman salutes. Smiles back. Gets into car, a off-white Honda City, bought a year ago. Tears past the watchman, who remains unperturbed out of habit, and onto the road that is one of many that approach the bridge that takes all of them across the great river.

The evening traffic lies thick upon the bridge; a frozen river of proud automobiles, aspiring automobiles and public transport systems, indistinguishable from each other and inseparable from their lights when viewed from the sky. Gently rolls the Honda City into this river, and becomes part of it. A drop. When summer comes, the ice melts. Slowly at first, tiny droplets that trickle down through the ice and the mountainside till the tipping point is reached. And then, suddenly, the mountains relinquish their hold. Scrambles down, in great bursts, in quest of serenity, hoping to reach it before the weather changes again. Each droplet, trying to outdo the other, unifies and strengthens. Not all can make it, however. Becomes ice again, waits for the next thaw, beside another, never seen before. Could it be her? In another birth? In another time?

Summer comes again.

Once on the plains, continues to rush for a while, filled with the mad glee of freedom and its pursuit of the ocean. But it is short lived. Soon, realizes that the path ends there. Once the ocean meets, the gaiety must end. For there lies the ultimate stillness. Slows down, enjoying the ride, delaying the inevitable.

Hates the moon. The moon enters and speeds up and slows down, inflates and deflates, at will, with its mere presence. Why this compulsion? Why must something so far away, and so completely detached, be allowed to exert such control?

Cities are wonderful companions. Makes friends with each new city that passes. The city lights up the countenance so much. Sparkles with joy. The city, too, can see so much of itself in its reflection. And love it. For it is the only one it will ever see. Makes them wobble and twinkle, merrier and prettier than they really are. Nothing wrong with spreading some happiness around! Passes by busy, bustling streets and railway tracks, through ports and under bridges. Maybe passing under the same bridge above which still waits in the car. To each city, promises to return. And does. Only a little different.

The finale, like ever, is anti climactic. Strains against the pull till the ocean comes into view. Then, the defenses are dropped, desire lost. The last distance is made in resignation, without resistance. Struggles, one final time, when they finally meet, and then disappears.

Loves the moon. It is the only thing that brings some action, some pace. A change, predictable and refreshing. There’s something to it after all!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Short Story - Armageddon

It was a meeting like no other. Clouds wheezed by. Thunders clapped, but did not touch the two. The stars above were the size of the moon. The moon filled half the sky. It was bright. Really bright. But the Sun could not be seen. Finally, Man and God were meeting.

It was God who had set the ball rolling. Prime Ministers and Presidents of all countries in the world had received an email stating ‘We should meet. There’s much to discuss.’ The mails had then gone on to recount each recipient’s entire life in excruciating details. There were also images attached to the mail from various points in time of his or her life. They were pictures taken from all sorts of humanly impossible angles; God was evidently intent on demonstrating his powers without humility. The mails were signed off with ‘Yours truly, God’.

Intrigued but ashamed to discuss it, the Heads of State, had kept the matter to themselves. So God had written again. This time He had used the ‘Reply to all’ option. That had woken everybody up.
A hasty meeting had been convened. At the end of it, a well framed reply was sent back to God. It ran thus
We apologize for the delay in responding to your summons. We were too taken aback by your first mail to take it seriously.
It is impossible to find the words to describe what all of us are feeling at the moment. Suffice to say, it’s the most important event in our lives.
Having said that, you will agree with us, God, that your invitation is extremely vague. Could you kindly elaborate upon what is it that you wish to discuss? Also, you have not mentioned the time and venue for this meeting. We don’t wish to be disrespectful, but you do realize that your request is most unusual.
We’ve already chosen a panel to be present at the meeting on our behalf.
Awaiting your revert…

God had responded almost immediately.

Choose one man only. I’ll get in touch with him myself. I wish to discuss the end of the world

The original panel, consisting of the representatives of the then most powerful nations, was grief stricken. Each member had wanted to meet Him. But now that only one would be allowed, they couldn’t allow anyone from the panel to meet God, since the meeting could lead to a significant shift in the balance of power towards that country. Therefore, it was decided that the Head of State of the poorest country would be chosen. Even if the fellow got any vital inputs, it wouldn’t make much of a difference to the world order. In any case, it was a risk they had to take.

The end of the world? When? Wasn’t that supposed to be billions of years in the future? Why discuss it now? In fact, why discuss it at all? Why with man? Hadn’t God taken enough decisions unilaterally to not be able to do it on His own?

The best and most highly regarded practitioners of their respective fields from various fields were brought together to ponder over what clarifications the chosen one should seek from God. It was all done amidst much fanfare. After all, they were about to learn firsthand, what their predecessors had wasted lifetimes in search of.

At length, it was decided that all was in readiness for the meeting to occur. A mail was sent to God requesting further instructions. That night, the chosen one disappeared.

Clouds wheezed by. Thunders clapped, but did not touch him. The stars above were the size of the moon. The moon filled half the sky. It was bright. Really bright. But the Sun could not be seen.

What place was this? Was he dreaming? Or was it heaven? He looked around. It didn’t prove to be much help since it looked the same in all directions. He rubbed his eyes, pinched himself and looked around again. Still the same. He was starting to get quite flustered with the whole thing, when he spotted someone in the distance. The person was squatting down, looking downwards with his head between his knees, as if in deep thought. When calling out to him didn’t work, the chosen one started walking towards this strange being.
From closer, he discerned respectable attire. A nice clean black trouser and a freshly ironed gleaming white shirt. No footwear.

Walking right up to him, the man asked, “Hi, you from these parts?”

The figure slowly uncoiled itself, evidently with great distress, and stood up, face to face.
Average height. Slightly heavyset. Nice, calm face. Common. No facial hair. Blue eyes. Glasses. Thinning hair. One or two grey. On closer inspection, patches of perspiration on the shirt. Obviously out of breath.

Heaving in great lungfulls of air, he replied
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am”. Enormous gasping breaths again.
“You look pretty winded, friend. Anything the matter?”
“Yes, you idiot! I’ve had to pull you up all this way, that’s what the matter is!”
“Pull me up, eh? What’s that supposed to mean? Look here, surely you don’t want me to believe you are God or something, do you?”
“What utter nonsense! Of course, I am God. Who else could bring you up all this way?”
“Oh yeah? Even if I were to believe you brought me up here, how did you get so tired? I mean, you are God, right?”
“Spare me the sarcasm, kid. I am not what I used to be once. These things take a lot out of me, these days. But one must keep up appearances.”
“They do? How do you control the entire world then?”
“Correction, it’s the entire universe. And who said I control it? The whole thing has been out of hand for ages! I am sorry kid, there’s not much I can do about it now”
“What? You don’t control the world? I mean, you can’t? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You made the damn thing, right?”
God sighed. This was going to take longer than he’d estimated.
“Oh yeah? You telling me that, eh? Let me explain this to you with an example. You guys have this thing called the financial market – Stock markets, commodity markets and all that jazz. You made it right? Look where it’s gone now!”
Ten seconds of silence.
“But, but, we are only human beings. You are God!”
“That’s the whole point, son. I am only God! Everybody has limitations, you know. You don’t know how much it hurt when that woman wrote The God of small things! Although, I gather the book had nothing to do with me. Frankly, now that we are on the topic, I never did realize why she called the book that. But that’s beside the point of course.”
“So then, all these years, all the faith, worship…it was all…a waste?”
“Why, of course not! I loved every bit of it!”
“What? You think we did it for you to love it?”
“Oh. So you did not do it so I would love it? Why did you do it then?”
“I...I, because we had faith in you”
“Yeah, whatever”
This was it. Man’s greatest hope. Dashed. Pummeled. Sunk.
God, of course, sensed the Man’s dejection.
“Hey, don’t be too disappointed kid! Look at the brighter side. I still know most of the answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask! Is that not enough? Once you know what I know, you can work things out for yourself. Why on earth would you need me?”
“You do? I am not sure I want to believe you anymore…” the Man’s voice trailed off.
“Of course I do. Go on, try me”
“OK, tell me, is there life on other planets in the universe?”
“Yes, not on as many as once used to be though”
“Uh – huh? What happened?”
“You happened. I told you, you guys got out of control, didn’t I. I had to keep shutting down other planets so as to concentrate on yours. There’re very few left now” said God. “Of course, all the sacrifices didn’t matter in the end. I lost control anyway” added God, with a touch of disappointment in his voice.
“So, these other life forms, they’re not men like us? I mean, they’re not as well developed as us?”
“No, they’re better developed that you are. Earth was the first planet I developed, you know. Afterwards, I got better at my work. Most of the other planets have extremely intelligent beings. They’re intelligent enough to know how not to lose control”
“What? You mean we’re the worst beings you’ve created? Why keep us then? Why not let us go?”
“You were my first job, son. I’ve gotten terribly sentimental about you fellows…”
“So, you’re going to tell me where we’ll find these other living beings?”
“Do I look like a fool? I will not have you getting in touch with those lovely creatures and poisoning their minds as well…trust me; you don’t need to meet them. You’ll be fine on your own.”
“You think that’s going to stop us from searching? In fact, now that you’ve told me that there is something to look for, we’ll try harder than ever before!”
“Dammit! Dammit! Why do I always have to do that! I only hope you guys don’t find that out too soon”
‘We’ll see about that God”, now that the Man had established that God was not what He was expected to be, his attitude had become faintly cocky and patronizing.
“So God, tell me about death. Why do we have to die?”
“There is no reason for it kid. It just happens. If it begins, it must end. It is not my making”
“Oh yeah? So then, you must have begun at some point God? Are you going to die too?”
“Yes Son. I will too, in due course. I’ve grown up like everything else and will grow old like everything else. See, you can start to see a grey hair or two on my head. I’ll of course, outlive your planet quite comfortably, so don’t get too perturbed. I’ll be around for as long as you will be”
“My God! You will die? YOU?”
“Now don’t read too much into it. Like most other things about me, it doesn’t really make any difference”
“Thank God”
“Naah, it’s alright. You carry on with your questions Son.”
“Tell me God, what lies beyond this universe?”
“Ah, you got me there Son. I’ve not the slightest idea, honestly.”
“Yeah well, what’s so shocking about that? Why must I know absolutely everything! I’ve never been outside; I don’t know if there’s an outside.”
“I don’t know what to say God! Every belief, every…”
“Yes, I know. Let’s not get started on that again.”
“So, you mean to tell me you’ve absolutely no control over our planet now?”
“No. There’re still things I can manage. Time, for example. I can still control time”
“Control time? What control? Time just works on its own. Nobody controls it…it just goes on in its own sweet way…”, the Man said, incredulous.
“Ah, that tripe you guys invented! Time on clocks and watches and sundials and who knows what else! You think time moves like that? Steady and rhythmic?”
“It does not?”
“Of course it does not. I don’t know what got that idea into your head in the first place. Tell me Son, have you ever felt time passing at that same boring pace? Have you not sometimes felt it pass too quickly and quite immobile at others?”
“Yes, that we all do! But time still moves at the same pace! It is just our feeling that deceives us…”
“No. It is the clock that deceives you. Why should time be any other way than the way you feel it? If, for you, time just races past, then that’s what matters. For you, it raced past. What the clock shows is absolute junk. It is one of those comic human concoctions to simplify matters. To have the same time for everybody. But in truth Son, time belongs to each of us, in a different way. You know, its one of my last weapons of getting back at you guys. It works beautifully! Whoever pisses me off, I start stretching time for them. It does mean that they live longer, in the true sense of time, but because Men have conditioned themselves so much with the time on the clock, they feel really morose about it. You don’t know how funny it is! To see people grumbling even as they are gaining time! Absolutely heavenly, the feeling!”
The Man pondered over this revelation for a while. This was certainly not turning out to be anywhere close to what he’d expected, but it was becoming quite interesting nevertheless. But it was also starting to seem rather irrelevant. These meandering conversations weren’t going to do much good, if they were to go on forever.
“So, tell me God, why did you want to meet one of us? To discuss the end of the world? What for?”
God’s tone, which had thus far tinged with banter, became earnest.
“Why yes! That is precisely why I’ve convened this meeting. There’s much to discuss. You know and I know that the world is going to end someday. We need to plan how you’re going to survive it. I can’t do it on my own, I need your help.”
“Sure thing God! Of course we’ll help you! But why now? Couldn’t you let us understand the whole thing works a little better before we discuss this?”
“No, I’ve been keeping track of your progress in this direction for a while. And I don’t see much future in it. You’ll keep discovering newer things as you go along, but none of it will be of much assistance in solving the core issue. As I see it, this is as good a time as any to discuss. Besides, I’ve never been able to muster the courage to see for myself how it actually happens. With you around, I’ll have some support.”
“What? You’ve not seen the end of the world? How do you know it even happens then? And you want me to witness it with you? Witness our own destruction!”
“Son, the one human trait that has endlessly fascinated me is how fascinated you are by your own downfall and annihilation. You’re afraid of it, but at the same time you have this ridiculous urge to know what happens and how it happens. Quite, remarkable! That is why, I know, however much you may fear it, but you will want to see how it happens!”
“Alright. If you insist. So, how are we going to do it? Time travel?”
“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about it! I’ve completely done away with the concept of time travel! It is so much simpler now! But of course, humans can’t use it. Proprietary systems, you see!”
“Yes, we’ll see about that later. But, what is that? No time travel, you said? How else does one go forward in time?”
“That’s the thing Son, you don’t have to go forward anymore. You know…hold on, let me start from the beginning. I used to do it the time travel way for such a long time! Going backwards and forwards, trying to change this and that. Over the years, the changes I made or tried to make became rarer, but I still enjoyed watching. But anyways, I read this awesome novel a few years ago…Slaughterhouse – Five! It’s brilliant, I tell you! That’s where I came across the concept of continuous time. As if, time is just a constant string, stationary in its infinitesimal fractions forever. Of course, it was factually not completely correct, but it gave me the idea of stringing together time in parallel, rather than the series I’d been using for so long…”
“Hey, God, wait a bit. I can’t make any sense out of this. What infinitesimal fractions?”
“Don’t bother yourself with the technicalities Son. If you really are interested, go read that book. The point is, I don’t time travel now. I can place Time like a chain in front of me and study it. And modify it, if I want to”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s do it”
“Yes, let’s do it. Wait a minute, let me get everything ready.”
Saying this, God clapped his hands a few times. Magically, a strange device appeared from nowhere. It looked faintly similar to internet servers, but this Man was unaware of the resemblance. He had hardly ever used a desktop computer in his life. The most involved operation he’d ever done on a computer was attaching a file on a mail.
God pressed what appeared to be a button on the device. Immediately, from an aperture in it, a brilliant ray emerged, a ray so bright, that the brightness of the ambience described in preceding sections paled in comparison. God made a few swishes on the clouds that were floating around and created a hazy white screen in them. He guided the light from the device to this screen, whereupon, an image, of quite embarrassing quality, started to flicker on screen.
“There, all set” said God, wiping off the perspiration on his forehead for even these tasks evidently required much exertion on his part.
The image on the screen was of a non-descript wasteland that could have been anywhere and in any era on earth. If it was earth at all. The Man enquired into the matter.
“It is Earth Son” replied God, “The image is from a place in Afghanistan, present day. I always start from there. It is an image that has remained much the same over the years. Of course, I am talking about what humans called modern times. It looked quite different at the start.”
“Right. So then, how do we see into the past and the future with this thing?”
“I just have to command it to show me what I want to. See! 1945, Hiroshima”
Immediately, the image changed to what indeed appeared to be a Japanese city. Even as they saw, the flash of light and the mushroom that signified the dropping of the bomb appeared on screen.
“There’re certain incidents that I’ve saved as favourites”, explained God, “So when I say Hiroshima and 1945, the device automatically takes me to the moment of the bombing. No need to specify dates.
“Extraordinary!” exclaimed the man, “Why, you do have something to show for our faith after all!”
God smiled broadly when he heard this. He was obviously gladdened by the compliment.
“So God, show me what 10,000 BC looked like. You know, I saw a movie by that name recently. Such trash! I am sure it didn’t look like that at all. I am curious now!”
“I am afraid there’s not much time Son. Taking it that far back is going to take some time. Let us not waste too much time on this. In any case, it’ll take time to move forward to the end.”
The Man sighed. But in the absence of choice, he had to agree. God, of course, had not really waited for him to agree.
“To the End” he commanded.
The screen became dark and fuzzy as the device set to work. Every once in a while, the Man could discern a place he could recognize. He thought he’d spotted the Statue of Liberty once, the pyramids a couple of times. For a very brief instant, he’d also seen his village, where he’d grown up.
“Why, that is my village!”
“Yes Son, it is. I thought you’d be happy to spot it”
“You bet I am!”
After around twenty minutes, as per the human definition of time, the images rushing past slowed down and gradually stopped.
There were thousands of people on the screen, looking upwards at a glowing red sky. The soil upon which they were standing was almost as red as the sky. There was smoke coming out of it. No signs of vegetation could be seen.
They started noticing other details. What had initially appeared to be fireworks in the sky were now discernible as thousands of meteors and comets scorching the sky. Every now and then, one of them rammed into the planet in the distance, and enormous sprouts of fire, molten rocks and gas flew. Suddenly, one of them struck the ground very close to the screen, wiping out the teeming mass of human beings on screen in an instant.
“Dear God!” exclaimed God
“Dear me!” said the Man
“I can’t watch this any longer! I must stop it. Stop!”
Instantly, the image disappeared.
God and Man looked at each other. They knew what they were to see would be along these lines. But now that they’d seen it, it looked unthinkable.
“We’ve got to do something to stop that!” said the Man.
“Yes. We must. That is why I called you. Now, listen. I’ve hit upon this idea…”
“Yes yes, whatever it is. Just do it!”
“Hear me out now Son. See, as I’d told you, I can control time. One of the things I can do is delineate time.”
“Yes. Basically, I can pick up any length of time from anywhere and insert in someplace else. For example, I can cut that Hiroshima Bombing part out and insert it at the beginning of the second world war!”
“You could? And what happens then?”
“I am not sure. I’ve never done it obviously. Doing it has its risk. Not knowing the outcome is one of them.”
“Hmm. So then, what do you propose?”
“What I propose is that we cut that last bit, the end, out of there and insert it somewhere else. What should happen, I guess, is that Armageddon will come and go and then, the planet will jump back to how it was just before it. And because, the Armageddon is already behind us, there will be none after that!”
“But what happens when the end of time is supposed to be reached but does not? Where do we go from there?”
“Not sure, as I said. But because there is no logical reason for time to stop at that point, it will probably continue. So basically, a whole new series of time will be created! One that will last forever!”
“But without the Sun and whatever else we require to make the planet livable?”
“Don’t worry about those things. In time, your science will progress sufficiently to combat those problems. You will no longer need the Sun or the resources of the planet to survive. All that the planet will be worth is ground beneath your feet.”
“But if that’s the case, why go to so much trouble? We can shift to some other planet in another system”
God chuckled to himself. That is one thing I cannot have you doing, he thought. Can’t let you get out and reach my other kingdoms. And terminate my command there as well!
Aloud he said, “No Son. There lies the problem. Space travel through such long distances is something the human resource will never satisfactorily develop. You’ll know what to do when you get to another planet, but you’ll never have the ability to get there”
“Hmm, sounds good to me. Anyway, you are the God. Do whatever you want to. What can I say?”
“Of course. But I wanted Man to know what I am going to do. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done for you. One that will decide how long your planet shall survive.
It was done.
They replayed the thing to see what happened. Armageddon was unleashed. And subsequently leashed. Earth returned from the dead, as did its inhabitants. Eventually, they reached to where Armageddon should actually have come.
God and Man waited with bated breath to see how time would unfurl itself thereon. But it did not. The whole system remained there, frozen in eternity.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On the Rocks

Waking up in the morning is such a pain! Straight from beautiful blissful dreams to the nightmares of work. Not that I remember my dreams, mind you. But then, they must be beautiful, I suppose. If they were not, I’d probably remember them.

I must say though, I have started to enjoy the first five minutes after the first two minutes after I’ve woken up. I am dimly aware of my room partner shuffling around the apartment, picking up the cleanest shirt from the floor where several lie in a dump, including some of mine, sniffing it, especially near the armpits and then rushing to iron it as best as he can. Then the occasional rattle of vessels and cutlery while he makes himself some tea. Finally, he puts on his shoes, contemplates polishing them but does not, and then submerges himself under deodorant.

This happens daily. And I enjoy it daily. I am better off than he is.

Thankfully, it’s a Friday today. Something to look forward to at the end of the day. I finally get up, a good ten minutes after my partner has left, and make an inspection of the entire apartment. Not with any definite purpose, simply out of habit. At the end of it, my consciousness is complete and I am ready to brush my teeth.

I chuckle when my eyes alight on the dump of shirts on the floor. Today’s Friday. I can wear a tee. I never iron my tees.

On my way to office, in an auto rickshaw, I consider my options for breakfast. I eventually settle for a flimsy packet of wafers, hardly enough to satisfy a one year old's appetite. But it saves time. I can always make up for it during lunchtime.

As always, I am amongst the first to reach office. It’ll take at least another hour for the entire place to fill up. They’re not very particular about timings here, at least not at the start of the day. I’ve never quite understood the logic of delaying coming to office and then sitting through half the night to complete one’s duties. I mean, an extra hour in the morning hardly merits much attention, but that same hour in the evening is the difference between a movie at the theatre and a dismal dinner at home while the television plays popular tracks by Himesh Reshammiya and news from the latest bomb blasts. And not necessarily on different channels.

I check unread mails, respond to those that deserve such treatment. Then I log onto gtalk and wish my friends in other parts of the world good whatever time of the day. There’s some chitchat; I keep at it till I am fed up and then get myself a coffee from the vending machine. With the coffee in hand, I walk over to those that have already arrived and chitchat some more. Unfortunately, these early arrivers are typically the clerical kind, which seriously limits the scope of conversation. But then, one has to make do with what one has got.

My Boss is an incompetent asshole. I can scarcely believe he is the marketing head of my organization after I’ve interacted with him. But, I must admit, the guy’s got a pretty wacky sense of humour. If nothing else, he’s at least fun to be with. I often wonder why I don’t reciprocate to him in similar vein; something I know I am capable of. I think it is because I am not quite sure if his interpretation of humour allows for more than one practitioner at a time.

Coming back to my initial assertion about him, I’ve never yet elicited a satisfactory answer from him on the doubts I’ve raised and clarifications I’ve sought. I might as well stop asking him altogether, but I do it to keep him happy and to keep him updated on what I’ve been doing without being too blatant about it.

What I’ve been doing though, is far from what I expected. It is staggering to see the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the corporate world of today. There are processes and protocols built so ridiculously, it is difficult to imagine the people designing them, doing so with straight faces. What can be accomplished in one meeting is stretched to three. Even the simplest mailed communication is copied to half the organization to let everybody know just how responsible one is towards one’s work and to escape all responsibility if something goes wrong in the future. But then, that’s the way it is.

Towards afternoon, one of my friends from campus calls me and invites me to Hard Rock Café in the evening. He reels of the list of names, mutual friends, expected to be in attendance. I accept without hesitation.

My boss takes me along for an important meeting during lunchtime. The incompetent inconsiderate asshole! On top of that, the meeting turns out to be the usual. Irrelevant. I smile and yawn my way through it.

On returning to office, I get news of another series of blasts in a major city. I read through half baked details of the incidents and the strong statements made by political heavyweights. This whole thing has gone from shocking to ridiculous to mundane. I am not sure if that’s what the terrorists aimed for. My mailbox is full with mails from my friend groups enquiring into the wellbeing of those friends that are based in that city. One or two have already replied stating that they remain unaffected. I suspect by the end of tomorrow, everybody else will have followed suit. At least, everybody we know is alright, we’ll say at the end of it.

I meet representatives of a national jewelery brand sometime later. We discuss possibilities of association for their brand with a couple of ours. They want to associate with only one, I want them to do it for both. We discuss for a while. In the end, I agree to give them a better deal on their preferred one and they agree to support the other.

Back in office, I am informed that I need to work on a presentation my boss is to deliver on Monday. That heartless prick! Has to discover work like that just when the sun is about to set! And what presentation! I could’ve made it when I was in 5th grade. And the damn thing’s going to take time on top of that! What happens to my Hard Rock Café commitment now? No, I tell myself. I am going to attend that get-together, whatever happens.

I suggest to him that he might not really require my services for the task. He tells me that it is all a learning experience for me and how he was asked to staple photocopied documents together neatly for his first year in service. Yeah, right. I am sure he was. At least there was somebody who knew what he is worth. I desperately think of other extrication measures. Headache? No, too lame. Another important meeting? He’ll ask for details. Somebody else who can do it? Everybody else has already slipped out. Dammit! Dammit! I know what I am going to have to say. I don’t want to say it, but I know I have to.

I have some personal commitments in the evening, I inform him. I pause for a second or two, gauging his reaction, and then offer to come to office early next day and get it done. Yes, on a Saturday. He agrees. I’ll think up something tomorrow too, after that he’s got to do it on his own, I tell myself.

I know I will come to office tomorrow.

I am already late for the get-together. Taking a cab is out of question. I take the local train, straight from office. Throughout the journey, I keep stealing a look at the bags and attaché cases of other people. I am sure they do the same to mine.

I am the last to reach the café. Which is not such a bad thing, for they’ve already found a place after having waited for half an hour. Great to see these guys! Amongst loud laughter and conversation and even louder music, I order a Jack Daniels. On the rocks. The waiter tells me, regretfully, that it is unavailable. He recommends another drink. Balls, I say! We get up in a huff and find ourselves another café. A man should get to drink what he wants to!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I was meeting Nishant and Sunita after almost three years, for the first time since we graduated out of college.

We had, of course, kept in touch all this while through the internet and the telephone. It is interesting to observe how these methods of communications ascend and descend in importance as relationships wear on after they’ve lost their purpose. The telephone carries most of the burden for the first few months, while the memories still retain their freshness and one still believes in the immortality of them. Gradually, as memories turn into nostalgias, email takes over.

Our friendship had, in these years, morphed into two phone conversations a year, one for each’s birthday, and the occasional forwarded mail, marked impersonally to a half hundred people, most of whose existences I was unaware of. However, when I learnt I’d be in Delhi this weekend, I decided to catch up with them anyway.

We met on Sunday afternoon in one of the many malls that dot the Delhi landscape. Strangely, these days, it is these crowded public places that are the most preferred for such companionable meets as ours. Nevertheless, the exhilaration I felt and hoped they did too, on meeting old friends was certainly not manufactured.

It was the middle of January and afternoons were the only time when the fog betrayed the existence of a Sun. In these hours, the city basks in a warm laziness; a hazy spectacle whose majesty can never quite be captured by a lens. It also makes multiple layers of warm woolen clothes a necessity; a condition I generally disapprove of since it shows my already bloated self in even poorer light.

And so it was, that the first thing both my friends told me after we’d waved at each other, embraced and smiled warmly and awkwardly, was that I’d pile up a few more kilos. The matter of my weight and general physical appearance has long since ceased to be the cause of anxiety to me, and I responded with a joke I’d repeated and perfected over the years and do not want to reproduce here.

To my eyes, the two of them had remained much the same, barring a marked improvement in the state of Sunita’s bosom; a shortcoming that we had spent many hours ridiculing when we were in college and one that had caused her some heartburn. I thought about sharing my observation with her but the interceding years stopped me from doing so. I satisfied myself by stating that she too appeared to have put on weight and hoped feebly that she’d get the drift. If she did get it, and I personally opine that she did not, she did not show it.

The mischievous glint in Nishant’s eyes was intact.

We’d never planned out an agenda for the reunion and it came back to haunt us now. We stood sheepishly near the entrance to the mall, looking at each other and at the people around us, cracking an odd joke and sharing through our eyes and expressions the common thought that we were making fools of ourselves. Eventually, Nishant suggested we continue doing the same in a café, and we agreed gratefully.

Having spent a few minutes discussing and ordering our drinks, we felt the awkwardness slipping away gradually. We caught up on what each of us had been doing in greater detail than the restrictive nature of long distance communication had ever allowed us to. I found that Nishant was planning to marry the girl he’d been going out with for more than a year now within the next one year. And that Sunita’s quest for a long term relationship had remained incomplete and would probably remain so, for her parents had decided to take matters into their own hands. The mandatory digs about my relationship status were made and my college crushes discussed. I bore it with a dignity that, I thought, befitted a more mature person than the one they were discussing about.

It is always difficult to meet past friends who have not, in the eyes of the world and in their own, fared as well as one has oneself. One measures and fumbles with each syllable; fearful that the odd assertion here and there would be perceived as boastfulness. And one cannot quite go back to being what one was all those years ago, simply because one cannot.

Nishant and Sunita told me about some of their capers after we’d left college (being in the same city, they had met every once in a while), which they thought hilarious and which I found little more than faintly amusing. They were the kind of incidents that appeal only to those that are present while it unfolds. I told them about some of mine which, I am sure, they found as uninteresting.

We talked some future. Nishant told me how he planned to move to the US soon after his marriage. I told them what I thought I would probably end up doing. Sunita cribbed for a while about her job and stated that she’d look for a switch in the near future.

By this time, our first coffees were drunk and more ordered. Talk veered to those days. All the good times spent. The drunken fiascos. The uninvited dinners at marriage parties. The professor everybody feared. The professor with the sleepy eyes and deadpan expression who could never figure out how there were only ten people in the room and thirty on the attendance sheet.

Most of it felt distant and filled me with a sense of weariness. It vexed me that it should be thus. I had had such great times recounting these exact episodes to friends I’d made since, that I had assumed it would give me greater joy to do so with those that were part of them. I realized, then, that it was not they who brought warmth to those memories; it was the me that was with them there. And, therefore, I figured memories are savored better in the absence of those that they are built of.

We spent three hours together, at the end of which, I was more relieved than rueful that it had ended. These were people that did not belong anymore. They were of a different time and place and it was wrong to force them into my now. They were better off being in those two phone conversations and forwarded mails.

I’ve been to Delhi many times since, but have not met them.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


The detective puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette.

The body lay, tanned and naked, on its left side, in fetal posture, by the bedside. The skin had turned white, creased and patchy. Some stray foliage and weeds had attached themselves in several places; the body had remained underwater for at least two days.

It had belonged to a fairly tall, well endowed woman of around forty. Her sharp, beautiful features were shrouded in long silken strands of hair that, due to her unusual position, descended on the wrong side of the head, barring her aquiline nose that broke through with tragic defiance. Unmistakable evidences of a valiant struggle were visible all over her body.

The blue-crimson blotches around the neck established the cause of death beyond reasonable doubt, although the official word would have to wait until after the autopsy. No formal forensic investigation had been conducted yet, but the detective knew it wouldn’t lead to anything. There would be no fingerprints or footprints and there had been no contact of a sexual nature. As far as clues to the killer’s identity were concerned, the body was clean.

The body had belonged to the detective’s wife.

The detective felt a strange sense of pride for being able to appraise the scene with his usual professional detachment. He had often thought in the past how he would react if ever he had to investigate the murder of someone so close to him. Would he be able to look at the dead body without emotion, without recognition? Would his investigation be devoid of preconceived notions, of bias? They were questions he hoped he wouldn’t ever need to tackle; nevertheless, they filled him with a curious self doubt that he failed to overcome.

Now he knew the answer to those questions.

He had formulated a theory that explained part of the case; it was the unexplained bit that would make the investigation difficult.

She had left for office four days ago and not returned. She had not answered the detective’s phone calls. He had inquired at the office; he’d been informed that she hadn’t shown up for work at all. He had waited for a day before reporting the matter to the police. They had failed to trace her or her whereabouts.

In all probability, she had been ambushed on her way to work; she traveled on various forms of public transport.

Whether there had been more than one person involved, was difficult to ascertain. In any event, she had been carried to a spot, ostensibly close to a water body, where she had been murdered and dumped. There were several places beside the river on the outskirts of the city where this could have been done.

It was beyond this point that the case became more complicated. Why the body had first been dumped in the river and then taken then brought back to the house was impossible to fathom. The murderer(s) had run enormous risk in doing so and there was surely a purpose for it.

Trying to frame him was one alternative. But that seemed out of question. Nobody could expect to make the police believe that the murder had been committed in the house. The state of the body was a dead giveaway. The foliage on the body ruled out the possibility of the body having being dumped inside the bathtub or any such water container inside the house.

Why was it done then? As a challenge to him? Some old criminal he’d helped convict returned for a revenge?

The detective knew this would be the general direction the investigation should logically take. Except that he knew it was not the right direction. And he knew. After all, it was he who had murdered her.

It had taken two cases, three years apart, the latest a year ago, for him to break. The first time, when they’d told him they couldn’t arrest a man for killing his wife because they had nothing on the man beyond stray circumstantial evidence, heavily dependent on conjecture; he had fought tooth and nail. He had spent countless hours reconstructing the crime and collecting the ‘circumstantial’ evidence. There was no way he could let the case fizzle out, without hope, without closure. Everybody knew the man had done it. How could they let a cold blooded murderer like that go unpunished?

He had failed.

It had happened a second time, when he was called in to investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl by her fifty year old neighbor for having resisted his sexual advances. This time, he’d said nothing. He had joked around about how easy murder had become. Inside, he had snapped.

He started plotting his revenge six months ago. At first, he had considered choosing a random victim; someone he did not know but had decided against it. It would be too unfair.

The detective loved his wife. Dearly. And that is why he chose her. He knew the police would have to classify him as the prime suspect for there was no other choices, however remote. They would know just how painful it must have been for him to do what he had done. But they would not be able to prove a thing.

They would be at his mercy.

In truth, the body had never been anywhere close to the river. He had killed her inside the house in the middle of the night. With his gloved fingers around her neck, he had dragged her down to the floor from the bed, where she had fallen asleep after they had made love. He had looked at her panic stricken, contorted face and felt nothing. Afterwards, he had carried her body to a dilapidated deserted textile mill, which he had chosen after two months of scouring. There, he had left the body in a huge, moss filled tank which he had filled with water a day before. That is where her body had picked up all the foliage. He had let the body stay there for two days. In the meanwhile, he had reported his wife as missing to the police. The police had arrived at his house for clues to her whereabouts and found nothing. That night, after the police were satisfied that there were no clues to be had and their only option was a massive search operation around the city, he had brought the body back home and let it stay in his bathtub.

He was absolutely certain that the weeds on the body would lead the investigators on a wild goose chase.

He had bought himself a new bathtub, of exactly the same make and color as his present one, three months ago, which he had entrusted to one of the many vendors he was acquainted with; they ran odd jobs for him and were crucial sources of information. He had instructed the man to fill the bathtub with water and drain it every once in a while to ensure it lost the telltale signs of newness. These were men whom he trusted and who trusted him. They would never betray him; not for anything. The vendor was the only link that could possibly connect him with the crime; but he knew the police would never get to him.

The night before, he had again moved the body to where it presently was. He had then dismantled his old bathtub and disposed it off inside the textile mill. He had then driven to where the vendor had stowed the new bathtub and brought it back to his house. He had spent the rest of night fitting, filling and draining it a few times to make it look regularly used.

There was no way they were ever going to convict him. But that was not the point.

The detective looked at his handiwork one last time and stepped out on his way to the police station to turn himself in.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Vision

Disclaimer: I don't think this deserves to be a post, really. But I am doing it anyway so I can remember it if ever I have the opportunity to translate it into visuals.
Through the tiny speck, I can see a whole, new world.

Everything I see is bathed in glorious shades of red and orange, as if the world has grown tired of carrying the weight of a thousand colours and reinvented itself thus. The yellow orange waters of a mighty river tumble down from the red snow capped mountains yonder. Blood red forests loom on the foothills, nearer me, descending into the tall, orange, wildly swaying grass by the riverside, that dissolve, change shape and return with every motion of my eyelids, manipulated, beyond doubt, by the slightest tilt of the eyelashes.

There are other, strange, fantastic shapes on my side of the river. Shapes I’ve never witnessed before, and yet, not out of place. They are born within my eye; created by its unbounded imagination, shorn of its duty to see that which the mind comprehends. It is not my mind's eye. It is my eye without it's mind.

The mike screeches. My eyes turn towards the speaker. The vision vanishes. The speaker taps it twice, in disgust, and resumes speaking.

I look up and behind me towards the yellow bulb on the ceiling and smile. Then I turn around, toward the speaker, and focus again into the tiny yellow speck of the bulb’s reflection in the upper corner of the glass on the left of my specs and recommence my vision.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Return

She entered the house which she had left more than three years ago. It had been empty for a week; the family was on a trip to the hillside for the summers.

Pallid sunlight percolated through the curtained windows, accentuating, rather than dispersing, the darkness and melancholy inside. She had never approved of curtains. Unnecessary frills. She had had no secrets to keep.

The windows, themselves, were altered. She had insisted on grilled ones; a prudent defence against her toddling grandson’s ever increasing reach. The grills were now gone, making way for fashionable sliding panes.

The floor had been redone; the stone slabs of her time replaced by marble. She knew they had wanted it even whilst she was there but had had to wait. It would have been too slippery for her with the rheumatic arthritis she had carried since she was sixty.

The grandfather clock stood, covered in a coat of dust but resolute as ever, against the freshly repainted wall. It appeared to have long since stopped ticking. Quite considerate of him to let it stay there, she thought. Her rocking chair, which had occupied the centre of the drawing room and from where she could and did watch over all the other rooms, had disappeared. It made the room look more spacious, she conceded.

The kitchen was almost entirely reoriented. The platform was longer, the utensils stacked away inside a cabinet, since built, on the wall. An electric apparatus guarded over the oven instead of the creaky, oil coated exhaust fan she had. A larger refrigerator for a smaller family, she mused, running her hands over the sleek, glossy surface of it.

The room that had been hers now seemed to belong to her grandson. Her bed and her almirah were in their rightful places. The contents of each were, of course, changed. A section of the almirah, locked, contained some of her saris, a photo album and the Bhagwad Gita, preserved with mothballs. The saris were starting to fray at the edges. A wooden shelf had been added on one of the walls and supported a couple of her grandson’s books. The rest were strewn on the bed. Her temple, by the bedside, had been removed. Its position had perhaps been too precarious in the child’s continued presence. Nevertheless, it annoyed her a little.

Her son’s and daughter in law’s room had remained largely untouched except for the temple, shifted there from the other room.

The Gods were as she had left them. The only additions were two framed pictures of her husband and herself. The flowers, hung on and around them, were withered.

Monday, May 19, 2008


A tired sun, its warmth feebler, its person easier to look at, like a spent, self possessed celebrity, prepares to smile at the camera for the final few moments before turning in for the day, drowning into the far side of the ocean. A single, long red orange stream, glistening and blurred, makes its way from it, through the grey sea, to the beach; unique for each grain of sand. It presents the sun with a tall, sparkling and altogether flawed reflection of itself.

The full moon, having shown up for work early, has spent the last hour, grudging the presence of its brighter counterpart and awaiting the appearance of its entourage of stars. The ocean pays scant heed to its presence yet, aware that the oversight will be made up for later, in the high tides of that night.

It is strange how the mighty, seemingly imperturbable, waters respond to the moon; rising higher as the moon gradually unmasks itself. Lusting for an object so far away, so unattainable and so miniscule. It is the way of the world’s mightiest creations. The Oceans. The Mountains. Man.

The sand stretches forever on either side of me. A great, powerful expanse of granules, united together to defend the land from the ocean’s onslaught. Seated on the sand, close to the ocean, I can feel the tide coming in. The waves, with each passing minute, die nearer me. Soon they will reach my outstretched legs, forcing the shells and the sands into the gap between my toes, before snatching some back again with that tingling feeling of the earth moving beneath me. In time, they will move beyond me.

The failed writer put down his pen, closed his diary and sighed. He looked up into the fading ocean, abandoning his search for a peace that was never his, waiting for a peace that would tonight be his.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


A popular Hindi movie song, which sounded vaguely similar to a popular English number of two decades earlier, crackled out of the car radio. Radios, rather.

For each of the several dozen cars waiting for the lights to turn green contained within itself this ingenious device of modern entertainment and was tuned into the only broadcasting channel available in the city. Recreation in the stressful lives of today is essential. And those who happened to be part of that indistinguishable mass of automobiles were going to get it in generous proportions, whether or not they desired it.

Finally, for what seemed like the loss of billions of rupees, the lights turned green. The world, engulfed in a sometimes screaming, sometimes groaning tirade of melancholy horns, struggled towards its many destinations, swerving, braking and speeding in sudden bursts in the quest for an elusive fissure in the loosely assembled walls of metal that would carry it to the end of its journey faster than the rest of itself. It was as if a mysterious, human, hand bade it to carry its selves thus; a hand so influential as to remain invisible and the carrying out of its orders seem involuntary.

A few meters on, the world encountered an unexpected roadblock. An old man, his faltering sight failing to notice the switching over of the lights and unaware of the approaching mayhem, was stranded halfway from the safety of the foot lanes in either direction. The deafening screech of collective brakes brought the world to a standstill, a hair’s breadth away from the man. The old man looked up, bewildered, but obstinate.

“I…I only have to cross this road…” he stammered, the frantic honking drowning out the rest of his words.

The world watched, enraged and uncomprehending, as the man, shaking his head as memories of the quieter and drowsier world of a bygone era came back to him, completed his journey to the other side at an excruciatingly slow pace.

The world resumed its furious pace.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


The opportunity Ramesh had been waiting and working for had finally arrived. Sonia had agreed to a date with him.
He’d done it quite nicely, he felt. Having learnt that she could no accompany the gang to their week long trip to Southern India, he had extricated himself too with convenient excuses that had fooled no one. The friends, after having made numerous slanted comments and observations that friends are expected to make on such occasions, had advised him to not go too far on the first date.

“You’ve got a week dude. Wait till the 2nd or 3rd time.”
“Oh no! I am going to tell her tomorrow itself. I can’t go on like this forever. I need to know if there’s any chance of us getting together. If she does not reciprocate, well, so be it. I don’t give a damn!”

The friends had chuckled quietly then and had had a good laugh later. They had heard that often and from a diverse enough set of mouths to know that what Ramesh meant was exactly the opposite.

And so Ramesh had called up Sonia.

“Hi Sonia! I heard you aren’t going for the trip too?”
“Yeah, really disappointed. I so wanted to go! But have to be here for my cousin’s wedding on Saturday.”
“Yeah, really disappointing. I can’t go either. Mom’s not keeping well”
“Oh, that’s sad. What happened to her?”
“Nothing serious really, one of those viral infections that do the rounds every once in a while. She’ll be alright.”
“Dammit! Why did my cousin have to get married this week?”
“Chill yaar, you sound really dejected.”
“Yes, I am”
“Well then, lets see. How about you and I going out for a bite tomorrow evening? Share the sorrow!”
“Ummm, good idea. Better than watching TV at home. Lets make it 7 at CCD tomorrow, ok?”
“Yeah, sounds great. See you tomorrow then.”

For a strictly middle class boy who had been snubbed by the same girl for being that, this was quite an achievement.

That’s done then. Now what? I suppose I gotta get her a present or something. Would look like a fucking fool if I don’t get her a gift. How can I propose if I don’t have anything to give her? No, must get something. And something really nice and expensive too! She shouldn’t think I thought about money when I was out shopping for her! This should be real cool! What will she think when I say “I love you”? Hey, wait a minute, will I just say that? That’s been beaten to death. No, no! Something more stylish! “I want to be with you”? How much money have I got? Let me check. No, that sounds too cowardly. She’d think I have pissed in my pants. Something a little bold… “I want you”? Nope, that sounds like I got sex on my mind. Well, wouldn’t mind if that happens, hehe! But no, can’t say that. Something refined. Alright, I got four thousand bucks…could spend two thousand, I suppose. Should be enough I should think. But what do I buy her? I never bought anything for a girl. What do I do? Ask someone? Who? “I want to keep taking you out for a bite”? Hmm, that’s an interesting one! Sunil! Yes, Sunil of course. He’ll know what to present! He’s been out with hundreds of girls!

“Hi Sunil! Ramesh here. Listen, I need your help”
“Yes, tell me”
“I want to buy something for, well, a friend of mine”
“Nice. So?”
“I need your help. I don’t know what to buy”
“Ah! Hold on a second Ramesh, is this friend of yours a ‘She’?”
“Aha! This is getting interesting! A ‘special’ friend, yes?”
“No, nothing like that. Yet”
“Yet, huh? Yet! There you go my boy!”
“Fuck you!”
“No, not me kid. You’ve set your sights elsewhere now!”
“Fuck you, ass hole!”
“Haha! Come on dude, you got to admit the truth!”
“Shut up ass hole! So, will you help me out?”
“Of course! How can I not! When do you want to buy it?”
“How about right now? I kind of, want to present it to her tomorrow evening…”
“Oh I see! A date! Our man is going out on a date! Brilliant work buddy! Sure thing, I’ll pick you up at your place in, say, an hour?”
“Yes, an hour should be fine! Thanks man!”
“No probs dude! Oh, I am going to love this!”

Oh dear! He’s going to fuck my happiness for the next two hours! And by tomorrow, every boy and girl in this city will know about this! Dammit! Why did I have to call up that bastard! Shit! I hope Sonia doesn’t come to know of this! That’ll be the end of me. No, can’t let that happen. I need to stop Sunil from broadcasting this! I’ll tell him when he comes. Hey! “You make me want to be a better man. And I so want to become one!” How about that? That should be real cool! Hey, but she will have seen As Good As it Gets. She’ll think I am aping Nicholson. Cheap, she’ll think. Nope, won’t work. What if he starts calling people up right away? He’ll have passed on the news to as many people as he wants by the time he arrives here! Shit! Why didn’t I think of that before! Have to call him immediately!

“Hey Sunil”
“Yes? What happened? I am on my way dude! Don’t get so restless!”
“No no! Not that! I just wanted to tell you to keep this to yourself, ok?”
“Oh dear! That’s a dampener!”
“You haven’t told anyone yet, have you?”
“Naah, not yet. But I was looking forward to.”
“Please don’t yaar. Hold on till tomorrow, yes?”
“Yeah sure. Will do that. Hey, I got to disconnect. Can’t get caught on the phone while driving!”
“Sure. Bye.”

Phew! That was close!

Sunil arrived earlier than he’d promised. He beamed brightly at Ramesh, slapped him on the back a couple of times and said
“Don’t you worry kid! You’ll be fine!”

On the way to wherever they were going, they discussed what could be bought.
“When you get down to it Ramesh, there really aren’t very many things you can gift a girl. At least, in the beginning. It generally has to revolve around attire. Safest bets, those. Dresses, ornaments, those kinds of things. Unless you want to gift here one of those soft toys that they cuddle up with in bed. But hey, you wouldn’t want too much company there, I guess!”

Sunil winked at Ramesh and sniggered. Ramesh started to say something and then decided against it.
“Of course, things change once you get more comfortable with each other. Then you can buy her stuff that’s a lot more…intimate, you know.” Another wink.

Eventually, they decided on a dress.

“I know just the place dude! We’ll buy her a nice, little one. Don’t worry! Oh, I love little ones! They look really nice, haha!” Sunil just couldn’t hold himself back.
“Shut up bastard! Concentrate on the driving!”
“Hey, don’t get upset buddy! Just joking! By the way, what are you going to wear for the big day?”
“I haven’t thought of that yet”
“Not thought of it? C’mon dude! What’s that? You got to be dressed to kill! How many days you known this girl?”
“Close to six months now, why?”
“Six months! She’ll have seen every fucking shirt and pant you own by now! You must get a new pair for yourself!”
“Really? I, I don’t have that kind of money yaar”
“Arey c’mon dude! You stupid? This is a special occasion, right? Don’t be a fucking miser! Its only one time!”
“You really think I should?”
“Of course. I insist on it”
“Alright then. We’ll buy that too”
“Excellent. There’s an awesome place just round the next corner. I’ll take you there”

And thus, Ramesh bought himself a new pair of jeans and a trendy looking T Shirt; both were recommended by Sunil. It cost Ramesh close to 1500 bucks. He had confided the state of his finances and the budget he’d set for himself to Sunil. But Sunil had none of it.

“Arey, I told you na? This is a special occasion! What are you being so stingy for? You mean to say you can’t spend a little extra money? Surely, if we overshoot the budget a little, it is not going to be the end of the world!”

That done, they turned their attention to the actual objective of the excursion.

Sunil picked up a gorgeous looking blue gown and showed it to Ramesh.

“Now this one’s really sexy. What do you think?”

Oh, that’s gorgeous! Incredible! She’ll look like a heroine in that! My God, this fellow’s got taste! But hey, gowns are expensive, aren’t they? How much could it be?

Ramesh turned the gown around, as if to inspect the intricacies of it from all sides. A furtive glance at the label had told him to forget it.
“I am not so sure Sunil. It kind of looks weird. I don’t think she likes gowns so much…never seen her wear one”
“You kidding, right? Man! That’s the best thing I’ve seen this month!”
“Yeah, I know. I am sure it’ll look good. But I don’t think she’s into gowns that much. Why take a risk?”

Sunil had simply shaken his head and moved on.

Goodness! Every dress looks unbelievable! Out of this world! But, I can’t afford them. I simply can’t! Arey, fuck it! Let me buy something. Not the end of the world! I’ll just cut down on some of my other expenses. Yes, that’s right. I’ll just buy what I like! Fuck the prices! I’ll just buy it! Let Sonia know how much I care! Oh, my God! This stupid piece of clothing is worth 7000! I wouldn’t have my servant wearing that! Ludicrous! I can’t possibly buy something so expensive! It’d be stupid of me. Really, one can never cut down on costs actually. Its just one of those ‘for the peace of mind’ things. Nope, doesn’t make sense. Can’t let myself get fooled by all this glitter. Need to…hey, that woman! What the hell does she think she’s buying? She’s buying that fucking rag! Thank God, I don’t have that kind of money to throw around. No, I need to be sensible. Oh dear! I still haven't thought of what to say to her! Think! Think! I won’t go over budget. Too much. Unless, of course, I find something really awesome…Better let Sunil know that. No, no, he’s really kicked about this whole thing. He’ll not like it. I can’t be as blatant as that. Lets see, I’ll just keep saying I don’t like them. Hope Sonia won’t notice. It’ll just fuck the whole thing up. That other day! She just ripped apart that new shirt Shishir was wearing! Was really stupid of her…Yeah well, can’t have everything in this world. Oh, there he’s found out another. Fuck! That’s got ‘Out of you league’ written all over it! No, no won’t do! Fuck, what if she doesn’t like it? It’ll ruin the whole thing! Rather do the shopping with her only…Not a bad idea, actually! But she’ll really start asking for top of the line stuff. And how would I say no then? Foolish of me…God! I hope she says Yes.

After they’d walked out of the third shop, Sunil was exasperated.

“Look here Ramesh. What is this girl of yours? Angelina Jolie? What the fuck do you think she’ll like? Just fucking gift her something!”
“I really want it to be special Sunil. Please don’t get irritated”
“Yeah, alright. Come lets go.”

More of the same. What the hell! Not a single store has anything close to what I can afford! Fucking daylight robbery this! Hey, I suppose I could buy something from that shop near my place. Just around the corner, prices quite reasonable too. I’ll choose something that looks expensive! She won’t be able to tell the difference! Oye, dammit! I forgot to tell Suresh about this! He’s going to kill me! Can’t do much now, will tell him after tomorrow. That’s if she says Yes. What if she says No? Cut the crap! What can I do? Commit suicide? Concentrate on what I am doing now!

At length, Sunil decided to push off.
“Listen Ramesh, I am really sorry about this. But I need to go now. I am meeting some friends at the pub tonight. You carry on!”

In another fifteen minutes, Ramesh had bought a dress. It was a pretty looking tee in shades of yellow and orange; one of those trendy (and tight) ones girls wear these days. It cost Ramesh just under a thousand bucks. He slept happy that night.

The next morning, the first thing he did when he awoke was to check the present.

What’s this? It looks quite different in daylight, doesn’t it? Shit! Shit! Shit! The shades aren’t quite the same? This won’t work! It looks cheap, oh dammit! Dammit! Let me close the window and have a look. There! It still doesn’t look that good! Those fucking cheats! They use all those fancy lights in the store to make the colours look good! Cheats! Oh fuck! What will I do now! Got to think!

He did the thinking through his morning cleansing and freshening activities.

It doesn’t actually look that bad now! I guess I just got put off by that slight change in shade this morning. If I were seeing it for the first time, wouldn’t look so bad! Its alright.

He did not present it to Sonia that evening. Consequently, he did not propose to her either.

The guys were right. I ought to take her out a few more times before I do it

And he did not wear his new clothes either.

I’d look stupid. Wearing those fancy things for a simple meeting over coffee. She will definitely notice. And she’ll probably think I am trying to impress her. Nope, it’d be stupid. Got to wait

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Short Story - Rover

“Surely, there’s something we can do?” asked the man at the head of the table in a tone of concerned and helpless rhetoric that distinguishes the Distinguished. “Surely?” he added, just in case the others had missed the point.
The others looked around the table, at each other, and spoke nothing.
“Damn! You mean we have to just accept their demands? Have to?”
“How much time have we got?”
“Less than 45 hours now Mr. Prime Minister” said the man to the Prime Minister’s immediate left, the Minister of Defence.
“Can’t we launch a counter offensive of some kind?” asked the Minister of Agriculture, whose presence in the room, given the context and his area of expertise, was largely unexplained.
“No” explained the Director of CBI, with a sigh that made it clear he did not want to have to go through the list of reasons again.
“But why?” the Minister of Agriculture again.
Another sigh.
“They have taken the hostages into an old dilapidated fortress near the city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. The fortress sits atop a rocky hill, surrounded by the desert. There is almost no human construction for several miles around the place, barring a stray cluster of temporary huts here and there, which may or may not be inhabited. The view from the fortress can range from anywhere between 3 – 7 kilometers, unrestricted, in almost all directions depending upon the quality of their equipment. Basically, there’s no way, we can get anywhere close to the fortress without them noticing. Satellite surveillance has revealed they have at least five snipers positioned around the fortress, plus almost a dozen others on watch, patrolling the walls. We have no idea how many more they have inside the fortress, but we expect the number to be not less than twenty five.”
“How about an airstrike or something like that?” offered the Minister of Agriculture, refusing to let up before he had established, beyond doubt, the extent of his ineptitude.
“There are 32 hostages inside that place, Sir. And to the best of my knowledge, our objective, in addition to getting them out of there, is also to do so while they are alive.”
Thankfully, the Minister of Agriculture did not speak up again.
“How about at night? Can the fortress not be stormed when it is dark?” asked the Prime Minister.
“We have already thought of that. Tomorrow is a full moon. And we all know just how much brilliant moonlight is in a desert. Anyone wanting to get to the fortress would probably reach closer to it than during daytime, but nowhere close enough to matter. They’d still be spotted at least a few hundred yards away.”
“If we stall for time? Delay it for a couple of days?”
“I don’t think it will work. The moon will still be bright enough. We’d have to stall for more than a week to have a chance. Plus, I don’t think the occurrence of the full moon is a coincidence. They knew what they were doing.”
The Director of CBI looked around the room if everyone had realized the implications of what he’d just said. The grave faces told him they had.
“So what you are really saying is…” the Prime Minister left the sentence hanging.
“Precisely, Mr. Prime Minister. They are not here for the fun and games. They know they are not getting out of there. And it seems stupid for them to sacrifice a couple of dozen of their men to rescue four. It is bad business. And these men are not stupid. For sheer impact, it’ll make for a much bigger success than if they manage to free their friends in jail.”
“So then?”
“It means they are not letting the hostages go, one way or the other.”
“Then why waste time with their demands? They could simply have killed them”“Yes, they could have. I don’t know why they are doing that. Maybe they think we’ll buy into it and accept their demands. Additional perk for them. Or maybe they just want to gain media attention.”
For a full minute, nobody spoke.
“What do we do now?” the Minister of Agriculture spoke first.
“You said the view is unrestricted in almost all directions?” asked the Director of RAW. This was the first time he had entered the discussion.
The Director of CBI smiled. He knew that the Director of RAW knew as much about the terrain as he did. In fact, more.
“Well, on the south, about a hundred yards from the fortress, there is another rocky hill, almost as high as the one on which the fortress stands.”
“Well, it is an obstruction. They can’t see through the hill. They can’t see the other side of it”
“If someone were to approach the fortress from that side, there’s no way they can be seen?”
“No. Unless someone walks out of the fortress and walks to either the west or the east for a couple of hundred yards.”
“And there has not been any such excursion spotted so far, yes?”
“Then we can safely assume it won’t in the future either.”
“I don’t know. Probably yes. But really, even if they make it to that hill, there’s still hundred yards of open desert to travel. It is impossible unless no one was looking in that direction. And we know they are.”
“Yes, they are. But they might not if there’s a distraction.”
“What possible distraction could there be? And even if that happens, how much time will they get? It’ll take at least a couple of minutes to cover that distance. Closer to three, given the sand.”
“I am just looking at the possibilities here”
“I know. But it is impossible. And we haven’t even considered how we are going to get a team to that hill.”
“An airdrop?”
“Airdrop is out of question. They’d be expecting that. They’d be able to spot it miles away.”
“It could be done at night. Difficult to spot, even with a full moon.”
“True. But even then, the nearest we can drop is probably fifteen miles. Could be more. In the deserts, that means traveling for at least fifteen hours. The dark comes much later in the deserts. It is at least another twelve hours to darkness. That makes it twenty seven hours to get to that hill. And that’s an almost inhuman estimate. It’ll take closer to thirty five.”
“We have forty four.”
“And what do they do once they get there? Wait for a distraction! What distraction?”
“Could be a couple of planes flying at low altitudes to the north. Close enough for them to get agitated. Not close enough to merit anything more drastic than another threatening phone call to the Government.”
“I suppose it could be done.” The Director of CBI, finally relented.
“But what after that? The team runs across the hundred yards and reaches the fortress. What do they do after that? Attack? They’d never succeed. The moment the terrorists realize the move, they’ll start killing the hostages!” The Minister of Agriculture had finally made what appeared to be a pertinent observation.
“What if they never realize it till the very end?” posed the Director of RAW.
“But how’s that possible?” cried the Prime Minister.
“Something like the movies…” commented the Chief of RAW
“For an operation like that, we cannot send in more than three men. Four at the outside. It is too few. And we’d probably need someone like in the movies. A James Bond, really. They don’t exist in real life.” said the Director of CBI, while trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress a chuckle.
“And we aren’t going to get a second chance here. The plan fails and they’ll kill everybody!” This from the Prime Minister.
The Director of RAW seemed oblivious to the fact that most people in the room thought he was out of his mind. He continued “With this sort of operation, it either succeeds completely. Or it is a miserable failure. If it succeeds, all’s well. If it fails, the terrorists won’t need to self destruct. In fact, they’ll think their position is stronger than ever. They’ll obviously raise a hue and cry over it, issue a few more threats. Maybe want a few more things. But I don’t think they’ll kill anyone if they can avoid it. In any case, do we really have a choice?”
“The problem of finding a James Bond still remains…” the Director of CBI was obviously enchanted by his own sense of humor.
“Well, there is a man.”
“A man?”
“Yes. An Ex RAW operative. Went by the code name of Rover. Did a few jobs for us on the other side. Was one the best we’ve ever had.”
“Ex operative?”
“Yes. His service was terminated in 2003.”
“Terminated? What happened?”
The RAW chief, for the first time, looked a little uncomfortable.
“He was divorced in 2002. Apparently, the man was, well, not really much of a man. Anyhow, he seemed to lose it completely after the divorce. Drank too much, talked too much. Then he was reported by one of our operatives for attempted child molestation. Nothing was ever proved, but we thought I unwise to keep him on.”
“Child molestation! Oh my God!” The Prime Minister could scarcely believe what he’d heard.
“That is the only man you could come up with Chief?” The Director of CBI quipped. “An ex operative with a troubled sex life! That’s the James Bond we’ve got! There’s no one else in your entire organization?”
“The man was involved in three rescue operations in three years. High risk jobs in rough terrain. Never reported in the media; you know how it works. He was once stranded in the Himalayan ranges after an emergency drop. He traveled about a hundred and fifty kilometers to the nearest town through the mountains in temperatures well below zero. And he did it in three days on one chocolate bar and a water gourd, half filled.”
“Impressive” conceded the Minister of Defence.
“But do we know where he is now? Or if he’s fit for the job any longer. He’s been inactive for over four years…”
“Yes, he is in Pune. Runs a small departmental store of some sort. I have had a couple of my men take a ‘look’ at him yesterday. He’s alright.”
“So you had all this planned out before the meeting?”
“Yes, Mr. Prime Minister. Time, as we all know, is of essence.”
The five men looked at each other. Nobody seemed keen on making any comments.
“Well, Mr. Prime Minister?”
“Very well. Get him here and start working on the plan”
“That will not be needed Sir. I took the liberty of flying him to Delhi without your permission. He’s been working on the details for the last few hours. I expect him to be ready with it by the time I get back to my office from here.”

The man they called Rover, sat with three other men in a small dark room that contained a table (supporting an extraordinary number of coffee cups at the time) and the requisite number of chairs. A projector beamed an aerial view of the fortress near Jaisalmer, onto a screen on one of the walls. An almost identical map lay wide open on the table.
On his arrival, Rover had asked to be shown the satellite pictures of the area. He had them run the pictures at twenty times the actual speed, thus observing occurrences over a day in just over an hour. The sniper positions and their shifts had been noted. Ditto for the other men on watch on the walls. They had looked for any other activities of interest. They had found none. At no time had anyone other than the guards been out in the open. Spotting hostages was out of the question. It could hardly be expected for the terrorists to allow their captives an early morning stroll in the circumstances.
The entire time, Rover had spoken nothing except for the odd request to rewind or freeze certain frames. At the end of close to five hours, when he said “That should be all”, the other three men in the room were completely aware what progress, if any, had been made. But it was not their job to ask any questions and so they did not.
The Chief of RAW scrutinized the man he’d chosen from amongst the thousands he’d worked with, seated on the other side of the table in his cabin. The years out of service had not affected the slim, athletic build, nor had it tempered the steely gaze. The eyes did not betray the gallons of alcohol pored into his body in those years. His hands, as he picked up the cup of coffee in front of him were as steady as ever. However, his once jet black hair had turned almost completely gray.
“I’ll need two men with me. Both of them need to be outstanding rock climbers. One of them needs to be an explosives expert. We might require him to defuse a bomb or two. The other, a man trained in rescue operations; good with his weapons and good with his hands. Both, obviously, need to be fit men. There’s a bit of traveling to do.”
“You will have them.”
“Excellent. We leave in three hours’ time. That is 19:00 hours. I expect the drop to happen at 19:30 hours. We shall reach our position behind the hill by 05:00 hours. Sunrise is at 05:43 hours; it will still be dark when we get there. You will order the distraction at 06:15. It’ll be light enough for them to see the planes. The guards change shifts at 06:30; after almost six hours they should be at their sleepiest. The ones to replace them would probably still be asleep or just woken up. In any case, there’s a fair chance they won’t be at their keenest. That’s the best we can hope for. I will be positioned on top of the hill with my Sniper. The aerial view shows there are enough rocks at the top to conceal my presence there. I will be on the lookout for the commotion that we expect to occur when they hear the planes. The moment the guards on the south desert their positions, I’ll signal the other two to make their move. They will reach the side of the fortress in a maximum of two minutes, make sure you give me men capable of achieving that. The walls of the fortress have enough aberrations for trained men to be able to climb. They will carry a rope with them which will aid me to climb later.”
Rover stopped and sipped some coffee.
“I have observed the guards’ movements. At intervals of about twenty to thirty minutes, there comes a situation when there’s only the lone sniper on the southern wall. It stays that way for somewhere between thirty to sixty seconds. When that happens, I’ll take out the sniper from my position. The two men will then climb over the wall and ambush the other patroller to reach there. It takes at least another nine minutes for any other guard to reach that spot, by that time, they will have gone inside. Their primary objective is to locate and dismantle and explosive devices the terrorists might have. In seven minutes, I will climb down the mountain and up the rope on the wall. My objective will be to take out the guards on top before locating the hostages and eliminating the others.”
“Climb down the hill, run across the sand and reach the wall in nine minutes? You think you can do it?”
“I have to do it. There is no other way.”
“These guards you will take out at the top, won’t they be missed?” enquired the Chief.
“The satellite surveillance has been unable to spot any transmission devices used by the guards. There seems to be no formal arrangement for communication. If they have to pass on a message, they simply relay it to the patrollers who carry it to the concerned person. Basically, they expect at least one patroller crossing any given point in the wall every two minutes. And they are correct, it does happen that way.”
“And how do you plan to release the hostages and eliminate the other men inside? Or dismantle the bomb?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. We can’t have a specific plan for that. We don’t know how things are inside. We’ll just have to get there and figure it out, improvise. We do have the construction plans of the fortress with us. We should be able to find our way inside that place. That’s the best we can do.”
“Very well Rover. You will get whatever you want from us. I’ll find you your men. You can brief them yourself.”
“Right Sir. And one more thing Chief. I am not doing this for charity. When I come back, I need a job. I know you can’t reinstate me officially. But I am also aware you don’t need to.”
The Chief considered his options very briefly. There was too little time for negotiations. And Rover knew it.
“I’ll do whatever I can Rover. Get on with it now. Good luck”

The trudge through the sands happened without incident. They spoke very little and only in undertones. The almost full moon cast a brilliant glow over the desert, bathing the sands in beautiful shades of white and gray. It was the kind of night that encourages the poetic form of romanticism in those that are thus inclined; but for the three men life was about too many other things to concern themselves with such inanities.
When they reached the hill, it was 04:45 hours. In all that time, all they knew about each other was their code names. The explosives expert had obviously been recruited in times of creative disenchantment by RAW. He was called Bomber. The other man was known as Lottery. Rover hoped it was not a comment on the man’s capabilities. He had risked enquiring about the origination of it; "I win a lot" was the response.
They had made better time than expected. Rover continued to the top of the hill without waiting to rest. Limbs have a curious tendency towards exhaustion only when they are rested; for as long as one keeps going they pose relatively insignificant hindrances.

The Sniper on the southern wall of the fortress was feeling terribly drowsy. He looked at his watch. There was still an hour and a half before he would be relieved. It had been a long cold night staring at a landscape that consisted chiefly of a vertical rocky structure. Through the night, he had kept himself awake noting the movement of the hill’s shadow with respect to the moon until the moon had gradually started to disappear behind the hill. He could only see a little tip of it now, peeking through the top of the rocks. It cast a strange glow around the edges of the hill, as if the hill had some aura of its own. The Sniper smiled to himself for being capable of making such observations in a time such as this. But he quite enjoyed it. “What could be more gratifying than this, when you have only a few hours to live” he thought. And then, the speck of moonlight suddenly disappeared. Too suddenly.
The outline of the man hiding behind the rocks was almost instantaneously picked up by the scope of his rifle. The man had his back towards him. The Sniper took time, adjusting his aim to precision and shot.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Dad and Mom had come from a thousand kilometers away to be present at Son’s convocation ceremony in the premier B School. It was, after all, Son’s biggest day in life thus far. On this day, Son would become a part of that rare and elite group of human beings who can justifiably carry ambitions of earning money, respect and recognition in comparable quantities.

The big day woke up to an uncharacteristic early morning buzz around campus. Enthusiastic fathers and mothers from all over, after having barely managed to contain their excitement through the night, were up and about before the clock had struck eight. Bleary eyed sons and daughters, who had long since forgotten what waking up at that hour felt like, were dragged out of beds scarcely an hour after they had gotten into them and were sat down to voluminous breakfasts.

Through breakfast (in the student mess), the teeming mass of intermingling fathers and mothers made every possible attempt to prove how and why their sons and daughters were the worthiest of the lot; conscious efforts made, through cleverly disguised queries posed in disarmingly innocuous manners to friends and friends’ families, to ascertain how popular their progeny were.

Most of the sons and daughters, including Son, finally managed to extricate themselves from the adoring clutches of their parents after what, while it had lasted, had seemed like an unending breakfast, on pretexts of getting dressed for the impending event. That left the fathers and mothers slightly lost and befuddled as regards the next course of action. They hung around the mess and cafeteria for a while, continuing to seek acquaintance and conversation with other parents, until the incessant glorification of their respective offspring by rival fathers and mothers exasperated them. They, then, returned to their guest house rooms.

After lunch, Dad and Mom rushed, together with all the other fathers and mothers, to the convocation hall, desperate to find seating places near where all the action would be. Dad and Mom, by virtue of their having reached the arena an hour before the scheduled start of the ceremony, found seats in the row closest to the stage. A sizeable number was bereft of similar foresight and fortune.

The ceremony began, on time, with the long procession of faculty members followed by the graduating students entering the hall from the end opposite the stage, in the typically orchestrated fashion that gives away the rehearsals done on previous days. Dad and Mom stood up on their toes, continuously shifted their heads to find gaps between the constantly swaying mass of shoulders and bodies that were doing the same, and strained their eyes to take a peek at Son. Those parents who were able to spot their sons and daughters in the crowd announced their success to the rest by screaming their names at the top of their voices, raising their hands in the air and waving frantically at the student to gain attention. The consequent commotion ensured that nobody recognized nobody.

The next hour was spent listening attentively to the inconsequential and utterly disgusting speeches made by the institute’s Director, the Chief Guest and a couple of other important people whom nobody knew. They talked about how the institute was among the best to be found in the country, why the 300 graduating students and some 3000 others before them had the unique distinction of being the best brains on the planet and how they were going to change the way the world did business.

The giving away of the certificate was undertaken in alphabetical order. Each student walked up on stage, walked the few paces it took to travel a distance of ten meters, bowed graciously to the dignitaries, collected their certificate from the chief guest, who mouthed ‘Well Done X’ and promptly forgot X, looked around expectantly for media personnel to click a few times, and on finding none thus inclined, returned to his/her respective seat, beaming away at anything and everything.

While all this happened, the fathers and mothers kept looking in the direction of their respective sons and daughters, noted every movement in microscopic detail and relayed it to their partners in the event that they had not been attentive enough. Every once in a while, a familiar name was announced on stage - a student they had met that morning, and they looked towards the stage, smiled and applauded. Sometimes, they were nudged by occupants of adjacent seats who pointed towards the stage and excitedly mouthed “Our son!” “Our daughter!” On such occasions, they momentarily diverted their gaze towards the stage and, obviously annoyed but too civilized to complain, smiled sheepishly at the parents and said “Nice.”
Dad and Mom’s son’s name being Son, had to wait longer than most others to get on stage. When he finally did, they looked on teary eyed. They listened attentively and glanced around to see if the applause went up a notch for Son. They found the other parents looking completely uninterested in the proceedings on stage, which infuriated them. But the students appeared to be applauding and cheering louder than usual. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they weren’t.