Monday, June 28, 2010

Baseless Accusations

Thank God, it’s Monday. The weekend was miserable and I am in no hurry to have another.

It, misery, started on Friday night. I was at the community centre. There are two rooms there, marked ‘Gents’ and ‘Ladies’. I try to avoid the first room – liquor, cards, men and all that which follow the first three. Usually, my quota of community service is in the second room – on Friday, it was the day for salsa. I opted for the role of the helper rather than that of the partner. For some reason, I preferred to replenish bottles of drinking water and to mop sweat on the floor. Two of my acquaintances there – taking a break from the throes of ecstasy, exhaustion and exhilaration – accosted me and said,

“You leave it hanging,” said one.

“Cut it out,” the other added.

It, my writing of course, was the reason for this accusation.

For some time, my few readers accuse me of engaging in ‘high-brow’ writing. They tell me that I (mis)use mythology, history, humour, ambiguous endings, literary allusions, collage of multiple ideas/viewpoints on a single topic and include even touches of absurdist theatre. None accused me of brevity, though.

Like most people on whose head the burden of wisdom is placed, I searched for the same on the Net. I found that I should read the work of the master of ambiguous endings, John Fowles (‘The Magus’ is highly recommended, it seems). I laboured through the many hits about the absurdist ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett. It is good to sound wise about anything and everything. After all, none hear me when I tell them that I never got past page 22 of Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’ or the first chapter of James Joyce’ ‘Ulysses’ – even after it was proclaimed to be the best book of the century.

These accusations trouble me a great deal. I am a sensitive soul in dire straits, financially and emotionally, quite unable to handle such aspersions on my literary skills.

When I tell them that I ‘leave it hanging’ because I have no clue how to continue, they do not listen.

I left the community centre dejected, rejected. I slept early – with no desire to face this unjust world with open eyes.

I woke up at seven and the morning seemed beautiful – blue sky, birds chirping, men spitting, women…

The woman with whom I had spent the night was standing in front of the mirror. In the mirror, I could see her looking at me. I am a big fan of crime thrillers. But when a woman, an intimate partner till dusty death, looks at you with ‘dead eyes’, ‘smile never reaching the eyes’, ‘cold cruel reptilian gaze’, the sky darkens, birds go silent, men swallow.

What happened?

I would boldly ask this question to any woman in such a situation. That is, if she is not my wife.

In fiction, a wife will stare for a while and then deep emotion, love, understanding, trust and respect will choke (ignite) her with tears (rage).

In reality, the man will close his eyes and sleep a little longer.

In a dream, my subconscious accused, “Insensitive male.

That is a harsh description of a man who is known among his peers as ‘Feminist’ (at a recent alumni get-together, the same lot used the same word while we were discussing Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods but then, they must have made a mistake).

I know that I should have enquired but a wife should understand her man.

A deep understanding is required especially if her man has reached that age when infidelity is unthinkable because he has to fear not pot-bellied husbands (probably in the same predicament) but hot-blooded sons with a gang of cold-blooded pals. It’s that age when it is not the fathers who protect their daughters from you but it is the grandfathers who guard their grandchildren against you; that age at which a man cannot think like he used to for two or three score years without being labeled ‘dirty old man’.

I know that some of you might ask me with an accusing voice,

What happened next?

You might think that I ‘leave it hanging’ but I wish I knew the answer myself.

The way I deal with such situations is to make myself scarce. Though I got my meals on time and I was allowed World Cup football, the atmosphere at home remained dark, brooding and moody till I read it on Sunday.

It, being her post, made the air heavy with gloom, uncertainty and love.

Do you remember that old ad in which a deep-voiced guy croons into a phone, “Hi Rashmi, it’s me”? I felt that her post said the same thing to me, with the appropriate gender modifications.

Gloom? Well, the ‘her’ involved is not my wife. Uncertainty? I cannot understand her post.

I want to borrow words similar to that in ‘Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo’ and tell her, “When you have to talk, talk, don’t be clever.

And, love? I wish I could.

I know that you will accuse me of being unfaithful to her. But, let me try to explain why I cannot.

Around the same time on that Sunday, I had an appointment with my physician. I was diagnosed with ‘pilapses synapticitis’, and the good doctor even read from his medical text – the one between the texts by Gray and Cunningham, I noticed with a tired mind – ‘affliction of the synapses causing lapses in the trigger of nerve impulses such as to produce out-of-sync expressions’.

Nothing serious,” the pedantic doctor consoled, “apart from tragic-comic mix-ups, inability to understand the outcome and/or gravity and/or requisites of a relationship and/or a situation and other related premature bodily functions.

That is good news,” I agreed.

It, my disability, might explain all the baseless accusations.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Brazil (1986) - Heroes' Death

Disclaimer: This is again from that folder with old writing – others’ writing (mentioned in an earlier blog). This seems to be a 24-year old ‘poem’ with a young boy’s lament. The ‘literary value’ is obviously minimal but it seems appropriate now with the 2010 World Cup producing so many ‘dead heroes’. I do share one passion with that young boy – as far as football is concerned, I am a patriotic Brazilian.

Heroes’ Death

 
An air so bright and gay,
Perhaps, no other village to surpass,
Ecstasy of joy rang through the people’s heart,
Plentiful smiles and tears unseen.

Glory and honour, a hero’s
Desire, was granted to the deserving;
Like a twinkling star, never to fade,
The heroes went scintillating.

And lo! Then there came the war,
For what one knows not,
For none speak of the dreadful war,
For souls still chant dirges.

But when the war had come,
Heroes none turned their faces;
But beaming a heroic form, and a prayer,
They had gone for the war, armour-clad.

The war went on – spring crept into winter,
First, our young heroes braved a fight
Too much for the dreadful villains;
But, Luck soon crawled to the latter.

As winter crept in, the coldness creeping into each warrior’s heart,
And, these warriors were laid out in the cold,
Cheated, with some treachery,
None knows what, as none lived to say.

Wives came, and children too,
For their husbands and fathers;
Searching among the strewn forms,
Sending the vultures to flight.

There on the battlefield,
Or, an altar streamed with blood,
Lay our young heroes, their forms
Shed of all glory and honour they once adorned.

Once they had vested the luminous garment,
Of happiness; that light has faded.
With the coming of the chilly dawn,
To the gloomy dusk, Misery and Death linger.

Ha! Are heroes to be dropped dead;
As leaves on a tree, gloriously green once,
The fallen rotten on the ground, trampled by many?
O God! Let the heroes return and joy grow in this little village.


The young boy’s note: This ‘poem’ was written at 03:07 (22.06.1986) just after the Brazil vs. France World Cup quarter final match in which Brazil was defeated. I am very much disappointed. Let this ‘poem’ be to the ‘dead heroes’ like Socrates, Zico, Careca and the whole Brazilian team.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sati and Siva – Love and Frailty

Author’s note: Till date, I have tried not to venture into the genre of religion and mythology because of three reasons. One, I know that I will fail to capture the essence, meaning, symbols and intricately weaved complex contradictions contained in the original texts. Two, you and I are not mature enough to tackle the original subject. Three, it’s tough not to sound like a preacher unless I pretend to be a scholar; and, I know that I am neither.

A few years back, I was captivated by the legend[1] of Sati and Siva and the brief tale that follows is based on the same. I have done little other than to remove wonderful details in the name of simplicity and there might be some details included which are ‘proceeding from the heat oppressed brain’, as the Bard would put it. If you spot levity, please bear with that congenital handicap of mine.


Sati and Siva – Love and Frailty

It was the glorious age after the fall of Man when the gods had to think about creation. And it was not an easy matter (then or now) to bring together the two best candidates.

Brahma had to compel Daksha to give his daughter Sati in marriage to Siva, the Great God and ascetic. Sati herself was the reincarnation of the Great Goddess. She became Daksha’s daughter on one condition: ‘if ever in future Daksha should show her less respect, she would cast off her body and withdraw into her inmost self, or take up another shape’. Pre-conditions always return to hurt. But, that pre-condition is not part of this tale.

Brahma was fortunate to find in Sati a willing accomplice in the plot to domesticate the ascetic. From a young age, Sati was devoted to Siva. To conquer the Supreme Ascetic, she became an ascetic. With severe austerities, her intention was not to withdraw herself but rather to draw Siva to herself.

Brahma did not consider himself fortunate with the entrusted task of convincing Siva that his time is up and Brahma nearly cried,

“For God’s sake, you just cannot continue like this – every man has to marry, all the other gods have done so and they cannot let you go free!”

Siva, stroking his blue neck, was actually confused. Just the thought of marriage added a few creases to that fair handsome face. He knew of Sati, of course. Which guy would not know the girl in the neighbourhood especially one like Sati, the dark beautiful enchanting devoted Uma. But,

“Me married? I need freedom not bondage. I am neither here nor there, I have Yoga. What use do I have for a loving wife?”

But then, he thought of his devotees,

“They need it – for them, it would be meaningful.”

He kept stroking his blue neck, possibly feeling choked with the thought of what lies ahead. He thought a great deal more and then he made the common request of prospective bridegrooms,

“She must work (and, be a Yogini) when I work (that is, when I practice Yoga) and of course…” shrugging slightly and smiling a little, “she must be a loving woman when I indulge in love.”

Brahma gave the clichéd huge sigh of relief.

“Hold on…” Siva said.

“Oh…oh!” Brahma thought “Here it comes…the demands…”

Then Siva demanded for that which no man before or since that day has ever asked,

“The day she doubts my words, I will abandon her.”

Another set of pre-conditions! Brahma agreed with Siva’s demand but he did not think that it would be a good idea to share that with Sati.

What’s the next scene? The guy had to meet the girl, of course. Siva interrupted Sati’s intense meditation and asked her,

“Girl, what do you want?”

It was the glorious age when the girl stammered and stuttered. Siva understood what she was trying to say and granted himself to her. She found her voice then and said, like most decent girls,

“You have to ask my father, you know?”

“I know.” Siva replied with a smile.

Well, there were the usual “Are you good enough for my daughter?” kind of looks from Daksha but Siva was not a proposal you could refuse, as the Godfather might say.

The wedding happened, Siva and Sati ‘knotted’ and all that. One helluva couple, everyone blessed!

It was tough for Siva to live that life of contradiction, a husband and an ascetic. But only He could do so. He loved her like no man has loved a woman before or after that time – emotional, physical, erotic, spiritual, gentle, playful, understanding, trusting, respecting – and, Sati reciprocated with equal fervour. Siva told her stories, played games and tried to share with his life-partner his philosophy, his experiences and his mission in life.

The honeymoon period got over and it was quite natural that Sati expressed her discontent once or twice. She was not really comfortable with his ways and thoughts, especially about maya and all that. Then, his abode was not exactly cool; rather cold, wet and unsheltered, wasn’t it?

Spring turned into summer and on of one those hot days, while they were taking a stroll in the forest, they came across Rama who was searching for Sita.

Siva recognized Rama and Siva bowed – after all, it was Siva who crowned Lord Vishnu as the Lord Of The Universe.

But, for Sati, Siva was The Lord and she wondered why her lord should bow to this strange man. She asked Siva,

“Why are YOU bowing to him?”

“He is Rama.” Siva replied curtly hoping that Sati would take the hint and shut up – for their sake.

“Who? That guy? Surely, you are joking…”

Siva leaned against a tree, tired and spent, defeated and devastated. For the last time, he gave her a loving look. But, in that bright light, Sati did not catch the change in his expression. She persisted,

“Come on…tell me, won’t you…he can’t be Rama?”

“He is. He is searching for Sita, the woman he loves dearly.”

“Let me test that.”

With that she left him. Sati disguised herself as Sita and approached Rama,

“Rama! You have found me, your Sita!”

Rama, with a small smile entering his sad eyes, greeted her,

“O Sati – stop fooling around!”

Sati realized her blunder, blushed (it was a cliché even then) and rushed back to Siva, hiding her face against his body, in shame.

“Why did I doubt your words, my Love, my Lord?”

Siva caressed her hair. He could not speak. How he wanted to get over this with a consoling “Never mind, my Love.” But, that’s for mere mortals like you and me. He could not.

That’s where the tale ended for me.

But, the nightmares started then – my thoughts about the pain Siva had to endure. He had to stick to what he had told Brahma. He had to abandon her. The day Sati doubted Siva, Siva had to abandon his love for her. But, he was still there with her pretending to be the same man, telling the same stories, playing the same games, acting the husband’s role. But he was never there – really with her.

I do not know whether Sati sensed the Great God’s act. But, He is the Supreme Actor – he who guides us with the contradiction of maya and truth.

But I was worried about Siva…

Imagine this man – quite well-set in his bachelor ways and with immense responsibilities. Agreed that he expressed common doubts about marriage but once he was in, he was definitely in, the best husband a woman could want. Then, he faces the two big blows.

First, the minor blow, his wife doubts him – the breakdown of trust and respect. Every modern counselor knows that you can talk about mending bridges, but the damage caused by doubt is to the foundation and the collapse is imminent.

Second, he lives with her pretending to be the same husband – seemingly unaffected. He knows that the edifice is crumbling. Just imagine his agony. Imagine him lying next to the woman he cannot love any more in the current form. It is cruel – that act till the end.

O Siva!

Author’s note: So, that’s the tale which haunts me. At times, it seems like reality.

Now, let’s leave that. It’s unlikely that I will try to write about religion or mythology in the near future and so, let me try another kind of teaser.


My Q & Your A

Finally, let me leave you with an exercise. Kindly read the prayer and the passages that follow the prayer. I will leave a question at the end.

A common man’s prayer (you may delete the lines with names[2]):


Vigneswara! 
 Hold my hand, 
 To write,
 To live;

Sri Rama! 
You knew:  
 To rule 
 All of the people 
 All of the time;
About –
 Niti and Nyaya;
 Sita;
 A life
 Without 
 A break;
Sita knew: 
 You,
 Your duty,
 Your love;
We killed Sita,
 Wish we knew;

Sri Krishna!
 I held your hand,
 That with butter; 
 When I am weak,
 Tired, defeated,
 I let go, 
 I forget  
 You never let go;
 You had to leave 
 Her and nearly all,
 You left a mystery 
 To misunderstand,
 I can only try 
 To touch your feet 
 With my head,
 Try to be Arjun
 Till desolate death;

Primal –

MahaDeva!
 Father,
 The Man;
MahaDevi!
 Mother,
 The Woman;
Seeking –
 a son.

In an old notebook, I found the following two passages (I think it is from the ‘Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru’ by Nataraja Guru):

1. Whichever the religion 
   It suffices 
   If it makes a better man.

2. A man’s religion is a matter of his personal conviction…Each man, therefore, may be supposed to belong to a different religion, and no two people belong to the same religion. On the other hand, all the religions of the world agree in spirit, the most essential part of religion. All religions represent values of Truth or Duty.

I have been a fanatic, an agnostic, an atheist – when I thought I knew. I found that life is simpler without that thought.


My question:

Did you need to ‘believe in a particular religion’ to read that?


If your answer is yes, I failed.

And, I shall try to pray better next time.



BACK TO POST [1] I have not read the Siva Purana. I remember reading about the original story in ‘Siva: the Siva Purana Retold’ by Ramesh Menon and ‘The Presence of Siva’ by Stella Kramrisch. In fact, I have not even read these books completely. I have also plagiarized ‘frailty’ from the section titled ‘Sati’s Frailty’ (page 310) in Kramrisch’s book.

BACK TO POST [2] To those who are unfamiliar with the characters involved, try Google/Bing to get an idea about the names but are the stories really necessary?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I’ll Have A Double

I wish I could write well – for you, to you, my...? I know what you are not but I don’t know what you are to me. There is a reason. I abuse those I love, I place my friends on the rack but I am kind and courteous to those I don’t give a damn. Which do you want me to be? I tried to woo you. I did not succeed. I keep reading between your lines for a message just for me. I think of you as my Rosanne but I know that this Cyrano has got just a big ego. I wish I could avoid the double negative “I don’t never go”. I wanted to write a great story for us to last forever but for now, let me stick to my petty troubles of today.

Early morning, a stranger and I (or, our respective families) missed a double indemnity. Instead of walking, I opted for an unhealthy drive to the milk-booth. I remember putting the right-turn-signal at a sufficient distance but I do admit that I did not pay much attention to the rear-view mirrors at that early hour. When I took the turn, I missed hitting a speedy overtaking motorcycle by a narrow whisker. The ruffled gentleman, a few decades younger than me, confronted me with accusations and threats. Little did he know that I have been entertaining psychopathic murderous thoughts and that I have been itching for a fight. But, I surprised myself and the guy with “Sorry”. Before you accuse me of being decent, my parting thought was “Let him stew in hell wondering why I told him sorry.” One of us could have become a martyr so easily, the patron saint of road-rage.

One of the reasons for the psychopathic state of this Neanderthal is the ongoing struggle to communicate effectively using modern means and that too, with and without single or double meaning. I do admit that I am a linguistic mongrel but how am I to react to comments or messages with random letters, for example, consider “LOL BFF LHSX”. And, those brief messages with smile-y-s? I like to read a sentence and try to guess whether it has subtle irony or idiotic slapstick humour without these visual aids, I mean, the excessive emoticons.

The situation gets worse with the inadvertent double entendre when one sends the wrong emoticon/smiley (“:-*” or “:P” or “:D”) to the wrong recipient (your colleague abroad or your better half or the best half with whom you believe you have a ‘consensual flirtatious relationship’ (David Davidar)). What always remain on hard-drive are the lasting consequences and not the actual or implied messages.

Unfortunately, these things just don’t go (like shit on your sole, excuse my English and no pun intended) and worse, it’s usually double jeopardy (it’s déjà vu all over again, said Yogi Berra).

I blame the Yanks for these emoticons, especially the hearty and friendly type who slap you on your back on the first meeting and greet you as if you are a long lost friend with whom you share (hope to share) everything but (including) underwear if you are of the same (opposite) sex. I prefer the Brits, especially those with a penchant for stiff upper lip double talk and circumlocution. I do not say “balmy weather, old chum” but like the Brits of my own class, I treat people standing on the wrong side of the escalator with the skill of professional footballers – a dirty look along with a barely concealed snarl followed by a quick kick at the ankles and then exhibit a countenance of such angelic sangfroid. Before you accuse me of being an Anglophile, let me confess that I have clogged many an artery on double dates with jolly Germans sharing eisbein, sauerkraut and pitchers of beer. I stay away from the serious ones, German or not. As for the French, I am still trying to figure out Je t'aime... moi non plus.

Back to my early morning trials – today’s edition of The Hindu has an editorial titled “Double Standards referring to Obama’s action with regard to the BP oil spill and inaction with regard to Union Carbide’s Anderson. Where were the protesters, the media, the government and the opposition during the last 25 years? Why should Obama even think about extraditing an American national to a banana republic where justice delayed is not justice denied? Who is responsible for this situation? Say “I am”. If you say anything else, I will call you double faced. I do not like to think too much about such matters – of the people, by the people, for the people. I believed in the judicial system till it treated me with contempt (and the old judges who condemn as if they are doing you a favour, “Young man, I am taking just a few years of your life.”) I believed once but I no longer live that fool’s life.

Now, I kill time cursing the stars and my double helix. I know I can lose my last penny with a double dip recession. For economists, it is like roulette – yes or no, black or white, both are good bets and the stakes are high. There is of course the black swan, the dealer’s zero. For others, it is more like Russian roulette.

I am still trying to recover from the shock of the first two sets of yesterday’s Federer-Falla fight. I do not like underdogs, including myself. How many times did I pray for Falla to commit double faults?

What is left are pettier troubles – how to share a double bed for the usual price; and, how to claim that a double chin makes a well-rounded figure.

As for double u, that’s the way I like to see you – after a few pegs of Glenfiddich (whichever year, in a cut glass highball tumbler or a plastic cup – do I look like I give a damn (Casino Royale)?).

While I have the double, I like to hear Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz say in that wonderful movie The Lives of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen):

“I have to show you something: "Prison Conditions for Subversive Artists: Based on Character Profile". Pretty scientific, eh? And look at this: "Dissertation Supervisor, A. Grubitz". That's great, isn't it? I only gave him a B. They shouldn't think getting a doctorate with me is easy. But his is first-class. Did you know that there are just five types of artists? Your guy, Dreyman, is a Type 4, a "hysterical anthropocentrist." Can't bear being alone, always talking, needing friends. That type should never be brought to trial. They thrive on that. Temporary detention is the best way to deal with them. Complete isolation and no set release date. No human contact the whole time, not even with the guards. Good treatment, no harassment, no abuse, no scandals, nothing they could write about later. After 10 months, we release. Suddenly, that guy won't cause us any more trouble. Know what the best part is? Most type 4s we've processed in this way never write anything again. Or paint anything, or whatever artists do. And that without any use of force. Just like that. Kind of like a present.

I know what you would like to ask me: “Why did you include that? Is it a double-edged argument or are you doing a double take?”

No, my dear. Simply. Because I can.

Simply – that reminds me of:

Why did the duck cross the road?
   Simply.
   Why did the duck cross the road and cross it back?
   It is a double-crosser.
   Why did the duck cross the road, cross it back and then enter a dirty pool?
   It is a dirty double-crosser.
   Why did the duck cross the road, cross it back, enter a dirty pool and then leave the pool to cross the road yet again?
   Simply.

This was an entry for the Annual P-J Competition eons back. (Note: P-J is “poor joke” or in the vernacular “ulutha-wittu”.) The winning entry was:

What comes after 69?
   Mouthwash.

I don’t never go.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Arrival Of The Alpha Female

There is something about small places.

When I need to scavenge for stories, I use my time in my village rather than that in the antiseptic towers of Powai. A 100-strong research institute living in their own world provided a better canvas than a MNC with 4000 heads. Maybe, it’s got something to do with my roots where apparently, anyone knows everyone; the surveillance would beat London’s hidden cameras; and with each activity, there is advice, rules, restrictions and more rules and restrictions. But, for most small-town guys and girls in this part of the world, life is like wearing a two-piece yellow polka-dot bikini beneath coarse-cotton black veils. You just had to know where the pools are located. And if the ‘pool rule’ dictated a one-piece suit, you shrug and go topless. Contrary to the common perception, there are fewer rules, fewer gods and fewer reasons to worry in small places.

That’s what my group and I thought till last month – till we heard about her arrival, the arrival of our alpha female.

My group is a motley crew truly representative of my society – what’s that nice word, microcosm, right? There are eight of us. In calendar years, our average age is 40 plus 50-minus-40-or-so. Between us, we have had to attend 10 weddings, provide support for a bachelor and 2 divorces. Collectively, we support 13 kids (including the two adopted, the one with dubious paternity) – all loved and cared cute brats protesting a troubled childhood.

We are definitely not bosom buddies and try to meet utmost once or twice a year. We have other friends to provide entertainment, card games, sports and beer, picnics and what-not to scratch each other’s back. My group did not have a common religion or ideology (one tried to be a commie but quit the scene when he realized that even the poor are too rich to be fooled; another entertained right-wing thoughts till he got entangled in a ‘mixed’ marriage). Our only claim to a common economic background is a school with a rather strict rule for uniform “Footwear compulsory”.

But, since the days of one-bounce cricket a few decades back, we have never lost touch and we remained as a group. Early on, we formulated the only rule for the group, “Do not even think of making a pass at our sisters.” Even womanizers should have ethics, we reasoned. Our laissez faire philosophy of being womanizers remained just a theory.

There was only one period of restless disloyalty and forgetfulness – that period post puberty when girls distracted us for the first time. Later, most of us admitted that the first love was not true love but just an embarrassment. With advancing years, age along with wisdom and wives brought us back together. It is a sad fact that we cannot stand each other’s wives (and some even their own). The feeling is happily reciprocated by the better-halves. In one instance, my own wife staged a version of coitus-interruptus with the statement, “Why do you hang around with those?” I parried this frontal attack with dead silence and a threat to sleep on the floor or elsewhere, and she accepted both with unsettling equanimity.

Why do I hang around with these?

There is a reason which keeps us together – we grew up together and more importantly, we know what each one did last summer, winter, autumn and spring. Each time we meet, we register in our memory the problems that we face in the present; the niggling worries about the immediate future; and, refresh our memory about past misdeeds that have to remain hidden from lesser mortals, that is, kith and kin. Even the one in the group who resembles Narayana Murthy (mentor-emeritus of Infosys) can be reduced to a mass of giggles, shy protestation or nervous hiccupping.

There is another matter which binds us together, the one matter alone which we have kept hidden from each other – each one’s relationship with her, our alpha female.

Let me tell you that I have talked to lots of men of various generations and nationalities regarding this and I feel that I would not be wrong to state this generalization, especially about men from small places: every man has an alpha female.

For our group, and possibly for quite a few others of my generation in this small part of the world, she is the one.

Is she a queen bee or a black widow? Is she an Amazonian in whose presence we go weak in the knees? Is she a mixture of various ‘-esque’: an unlikely Greta-Garbo-esque Arundhati Roy, a Kafka-esque unknown with the charm of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Juno-esque with the grace and letters of Nadine Gordimer and the intelligent delicate smile of Ingrid Bergman? She is an intellectual, an artist with sublime creativity, a woman with passionate and volatile integrity, eschewing hollow words/people with disgust, flicking aside norms of the hoi-polloi blocking her path. In the age before mobiles, we knew immediately when she ‘appeared at hang-outs’. She dressed with careless common but captivating fashion – bewitching in a cotton sari or groovy in jeans, T-shirt and bra-less. She could be exquisite dressed in complete Bharathanatyam regalia for a standout performance. We knew about her close-encounters with authority, her many affairs and disposals. We took pride in the fact that she never discarded us.

We never shared what she did with each one of us.

Last month, one of us received a message from her,

“In town on the 20th of June; please arrange with others for a meeting. It’s urgent – old matters I have to settle finally – with the eight of you. Let’s meet at 3 pm.”

So, here we are (from four continents, seven countries), on this Sunday afternoon: most disheveled, some dishabille, all distraught and distant; or in plain words, bloody tense. We know that our family life (our suburban lives with rural roots seeking all paths for upward mobility) is at stake, and probably our career and ambition too.

On his own, each one knew what could happen, what she might want to settle and more importantly, that each one of us would still do anything for her.

And so, here we are in this small place, at 3 pm on the 20th of June, waiting for her.


xxx




My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub.”

from The Inside Man (director: Spike Lee)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lovers & Liars

We are lovers and liars –
We tease, taunt, tickle, caress, arouse,
With excuses and sweet lies whispered,
Treacherous foreplay and faked orgasms –
A regular bonnie-n-clyde holding hands.

I am the betrayed underachiever,
My concubine the unfortunate discard;
The impotent and the barren, the rage and the silence;
With blunt talons I want to claw and kill,
She is the boxer ko’d with no comebacks.

At dawn and dusk, we walk on sublime paths,
Past graffiti and billboards with convenient truth,
In deserted parks with shrubs and weeds,
Where lovers kissed there are self-righteous carcasses.
We prefer honest liars, giving all without promises.

We are liars but lovers.

After The Assassination

May 23, 1991.

Joined NLC.

She entered bus at Nagercoil.

Could not talk.

Beautiful eyes, lovely smile.

Chidambaram bus-stand was dark, deserted; the bus driver refused to continue. There were rumours. About gangsters, murdering party members, black posters with crosshair, “We’ve an eye on you.”

I carried our suitcases. She held a handle, nearly touching. Could not talk.

Got a bus after two hours, reached Neyveli around nine, relieved, ready to smile.

From the bus, she waved to a handsome young man. I left the bus-stand without looking at her.

July 15, 1991.

Saw her at Indian Coffee House. She came to my table.

(no more entries in that diary)


Note: binagupta on Sulekha introduced this as "Challenge is for 110 words short story Theme: Traveling with Strangers- must have twist"

Btw, it was judged as "...nice attempt..." At times, the twist is in straightening a twisted tale...

Well, this is not really a short story. But, what the heck! To remember a journey...and to explore misunderstanding (if any) and most importantly, what could happen next...

I have been haunted by life-journeys where only the terrorists get a chance to talk...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Review: Up In The Air

This movie gets a grade of 8 out of 10. Without George Clooney, this might possibly get a grade of 7; and, without him and the current economic recession, probably 6. Will I watch this movie again? Yes. In fact, I would like to finish this review fast, post it and watch the movie once again. Let me ask you a few questions:

Which type of job should be outsourced? Restructuring a business, streamlining operations and telling people that their time is up (I am referring to companies but it might be suitable for personal relationships, too), right? HR or a decent manager could/should do it but it looks better if their hands are not dirtied. The protagonist of this movie, Ryan Bingham (Clooney), is an external consultant who is hired by companies to ‘lay-off’ people. His boss views the current economic recession as a boom time for their kind of work – fans of old Westerns would remember the undertaker licking his lips in greedy anticipation when the bad guys ride into town.

Do you really believe motivational stuff? Ryan’s eldest sister approaches him to talk to their younger sister’s fiancé who gets cold-feet on the day of the wedding. He is beseeched to do what he usually does – to give a motivational speech for that occasion – even though Ryan protests saying that he usually speaks against marriage. There is a theory that most people read and agree with such stuff not because they believe but because it sounds good for them to use on unsuspecting others. Disclaimer: I distrust all swamis and astrologers; most do-gooders and the indignant lot; and, some who rely heavily on Transactional Analysis (Games People Play), The Road Less Traveled, HR tools like Myers-Brigg Type Indicator and Ayn Rand (especially Alan Greenspan).

If you are an Indian from Tier II/III cities, name the place which you associate with success, upward-mobility and status? It is the airport, isn’t it? Take a look at those proud parents; the cool-dude kids; the professionals with the ubiquitous Samsonite and laptop bag; the request for upgrading or the executive lounge for those who manage to find that card among the many other plastic loyalties. Ryan Bingham is one of those frequent flyers, too – lamenting the fact that he had to stay at home for 43 days the previous year.

Movies like literature can be broadly classified into two broad categories: escape and interpretive. The latter has as its object pleasure plus understanding while the escape lot has pleasure as its only object. This movie is definitely an interpretive movie.

The movie cannot boast of technical wizardry, memorable locations and unforgettable soundtrack. There are three main actors: charismatic George Clooney, beautiful and mature Vera Farmiga, beautiful and very young though capable Anna Kendrick. They and, of course, the director Jason Reitman have done a marvelous job.

This brings me to the final question:

Can you tell me a quote/movie-line which made you watch a movie once again? Maybe, “Here’s to looking at you, kid” (Casablanca). Or, “If you wanna shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) and in the same vein “This is a 44 Magnum…do you feel lucky, punk?” (Dirty Harry) Or maybe, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Gone With the Wind)

Here, in Up In The Air, it’s when Ryan Bingham the hero is told:

“You are a parenthesis.”



Happy watching, cheerio!

p.s. Clooney for Dummies: I became a fan after watching the romantic comedy One Fine Day (which I saw to see Michelle Pfeiffer). And, he just got better and better with movies like Syriana and Michael Clayton.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tear

Follow 

the tear

from the mind 
meandering
to the eye
then 
on a lone path
glistening
rolling over
creases and hollows
to droop
on the chin

washing
tearing
relieving

it drops 

into the flame
of burning passion
in my heart

splutter
smoke
watering eyes
again

a cycle rolling
till the mind breaks
in fragments
till all dissipates 
 
is it rest 
is it numb relief

finally
with
You?

On Writing

Disclaimer: I have a folder with old writing – others’ writing. Today, a wonderful wet soporific Sunday morning, while rummaging through old stuff I found this 17-year old ‘note’. I hear a young man’s naïve and refreshing voice. I should not have lost touch with him and maybe, it is that guilt which makes me want to share his ‘note’ with you.

One could write a million words and never say anything of substance. Or, one could utter a few meaningful words and never be understood.

If what is written ends with itself and the final full-stop, critics would find themselves bereft of a pastime. The author is after all a normal human being with his limitations on experience and understanding of life. But at the moment of writing it is his inner depth which is being searched – this excludes the paper-mongers, the multitude, among whom the true writer has been made to fight for survival. Survival of the financed.

Do people take the words without a remark? Do they think first, read between the lines, wonder why the writer is so or do they try to perceive the theme, form opinions and ‘evaluate’ the work of art. Evaluate – which mortal has the right to evaluate another, or rather, competent enough to do so? In those words, the cry of the multitude is echoed – “I have seen all this before. Who are you to lecture – you, who have not fought the odds for someone or something?” The historian does not fight battles, the romantic poet need not be in passionate love, the humorist need not be a joker – it’s not their actions which make them write but their thought, principles, honesty and earnestness in knowing more like a baby who yearns to do things for the first time, and innocence like that of a young boy who asks his mother how he came into the world.

But he is not a faultless creature. He is always searching for a nonexistent state of Utopia – his most morbid work would be like narrating the last night’s nightmare hoping its horror would fade away. He is always teaching the little he gets to know and he seems to be preaching!

He sits in a dark one-window room, crouching over his book, feeling the comfort of the sweat-stained sides of his pen and frequently he goes to stand by the window overlooking a street filled with non-writers, he blames the smoke curling from his cigarette for producing tears; he watches, curses himself and starts to wonder how it’s like down there amidst others. Back to the comfort of his seat, he pours his thoughts yielding the pen like a sword, slashing the paper, more interested to mar than beautify. And finally, when it’s done with, he often crumples it and let it go flying to the wastepaper pile. Each roll a small world in itself – a world he is not sure of, the creator, and one he keeps checking and rewriting hoping the final draft is the truth. He knows it is not so. And in that moment of pain, the external world confirms it with rejection. That ends his foray into that external world – the one which he secretly loves but never be loved and understood.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Hijack On August 13th

Records show that the IC flight leaving from Mumbai (dep. 05:30) to Trivandrum (arr. 09:00) via Kochi on August 13th had: 9 crew members and 148 passengers (with 34 foreigners of non-Indian origin). Only 6 of those 157 knew that they might not see another sunrise.

The flight was on time. Since August 10th, security check started 2.5 hours before the flight, 30 minutes earlier than usual. There were more officers on duty and the inspection of baggage and persons seemed to be more thorough.

A mother of two was heard complaining, “Do I look the type who would blast a plane?” An officer replied without expression, “I do not know the type, madam. Sorry for the inconvenience.” The mother muttered, “Sorry – these kids…” and went to collect her screened baggage.

At the departure gate, the situation was normal – chaotic with multiple queues, the harried officials, the important crew, the hyperactive kids, the tired, the clean-and-fresh, the noisy, the grumpy, the walkers, the slouchers, the ones-with-at-least-three-newspapers, the old and energetic, the old and wheel-chaired, the-ones-who-Q-for-every-announcement – everything as usual. Any one of them, apart from the kids probably, could be a terrorist or an accomplice.

After security check, a passenger can visit the restrooms, the refreshment and book shops, the various departure gates and the lounges, the areas under maintenance and take multiple routes via stairs, lifts or escalators. After crossing the last security officer at the gate and till a passenger or a crew member reaches his or her place in the plane, it is possible for him or her to be in close proximity with airline officials, bus drivers, grounds-men, cleaning staff and other possibly-screened persons who walk near the gate or the plane. For a non-expert, it seems like a nightmare to ensure security.

At 5:45, the plane got ready to move. The doors were closed; the passengers were seated, buckled and requested to switch off electronic devices; and, the crew was about to begin with the safety precautions.

In the first class section, a tall, elegant and well-suited man of about 30 got up from his seat. An airhostess immediately came to his side to request him to remain seated. He leaned forward and whispered to her, “I am wearing a bomb…take me to the pilot now…do as I say...”

The young airhostess felt weak and nervous. What could she do but take him to the cockpit? The man entered the cockpit with the airhostess and he addressed the crew in a clear well-educated tone without over-emphasis or harshness, “I am wearing a bomb…listen carefully…I am not going to repeat.”

The Captain and his two colleagues there, with a total of 60 years experience, had dreaded such a situation, especially since 9/11. If the terrorist had waved a gun at them or looked like how terrorists are supposed to look like, the Captain or his colleagues might have decided to call it a bluff and tried their luck in overpowering the man. But here, with this man, they didn’t want to take any chances. In fact, they felt that there were no chances left and that it was just a matter of time and convenience for the terrorists. But, even when you face Death, you hope He is on his way to face another, don’t you?

The terrorist continued with his instructions, “Tell Control room that the plane has been hijacked and that a bomb is ready to explode. Tell them that you have to park in the space at the east end of the airport – next to the slums. Tell them that you are moving now and tell them not to cause any kind of delay. Then, switch off that link.”

The Captain followed the man’s instructions. Control room tried to ask for details but he switched off.

“Now, address the passengers. Tell them that the plane has been hijacked. Tell them that my men, who are also wearing bombs, will be collecting every mobile, wallet and handbag. Tell them not to move and to be quiet, very quiet. Tell them to keep all windows closed. If anyone does not follow these instructions, everyone dies at once.”

You can imagine how 150 people in a confined situation would react to this. But, when 4 men with guns – 1 more in first class, 1 in the front of economy class and 2 at the back – stood up and looked around, it is difficult to describe the shock and fear in each face, the total silence and the state of paralysis. The 4 men were young and tough. They looked like successful professionals. Three were in casual formals and only one wore jeans and sported an unshaven look. The 4 men quietly went about the business of collecting all the mobile phones and other stuff. It took them less than 5 minutes.

In those 5 minutes, two events happened.

It is human to be reckless and stupid. The college student on seat 12B sent out a nervous SMS, “hi jak hlp pls” to his dad. For the student, it was not at all a lucky day. When he looked up, he saw the unshaven terrorist looking down at him. The latter took the mobile from him, looked at the message and smashed the butt of the gun against the boy’s nose and mouth, shattering bones and teeth. The terrorist then pointed the gun at the boy’s forehead and said, “Do not even cry.” The SMS message did not bring help but it reached the media in 30 minutes. The terrorists had expected such a ‘leak’. In fact, their ‘man on the ground’ would also take care of that important step, not leaving news to chance.

The second event was occurring outside. As soon as the Control room received the Captain’s call, a commando unit and its supporting logistics unit got into action. The latter was the first in action, clearing all personnel from that part of the airport, putting up screens, surveillance systems and also increasing intelligence officers to go through video footage of the last one hour. Under the cover of those screens, apparent confusion and early morning light, four commandos ‘attached’ themselves to the plane – two under the wings, two beneath the front door, mostly on the left side. Intelligence had informed them that the plane might park at the east end with its right side towards the slums – that is, towards the outside world and the cameras of the media. The commandos risked being seen by some unknown ‘man on the ground’. But, this was the only chance for them to ‘stick’ to the plane before it moved to the open area. The commandos now had to wait for some opportunity, if any, and for more information.

Known to them, there were only two sources of information. Since August 10th, every flight to destinations frequented by foreigners had two air marshals and usually, the marshals themselves did not know each other. A secret known to more than two people hardly remains a secret, does it?

The terrorists knew that there were two marshals on-board though they did not their identity. It is mainly to ferret out such people that they plant specially trained people among the civilians, and they refer to them as the ‘eyes’. The ‘eyes’ at times have a more deadly function – to choose the right moment and to be the detonator.

While collecting the mobiles and personal stuff, the terrorists also got a slip of paper from the last row on the right with the message, “(1) 17E. (2) TBC.” (note: TBC – to be confirmed)

One of those 4 young terrorists walked casually from the back to row 17 and shot the young man in seat 17E from behind, at the base of the skull killing immediately. There were some screams and cries but when the 4 terrorists raised their guns, silence was restored. The shooter retrieved the dead marshal’s gun and a transmitter attached beneath the collar of the shirt.

The other marshal – still TBC – was on seat 24C and before the killing he had seen the terrorist reading the message near the last row. He was on the lookout for the ‘eyes’ and desperate to relay that information to Intelligence.

The marshal was inconspicuous, in ordinary dress of checked shirt-pant-black Bata shoes, looked like a lower-middle-class Malayalee returning to his family from the Middle-east.

On seat 24B, next to the marshal, the passenger was an ordinary man named Aneesh – around 40, graying, old athletic body with muscles going to fat carelessly, beginnings of a pot belly, spectacled, in ordinary dress too.

Aneesh had been wondering about his neighbour’s mumbling. To Aneesh, it sounded like the man was praying “Daivame kathu kolka…” but in between, he had also heard him say, “one cockpit…two each aisle…one front, one middle, two back…” and again interlaced with prayer, “…eyes…right…last row…tbc”

The marshal must have been looked desperate or when he turned his head to study those in the last row on the right, he must have caught the attention of the ‘eyes’. The marshal too sensed that he might have committed a blunder. He leaned forward as if to tie his laces. Aneesh felt the man slip something into his shoes. The man whispered to Aneesh, “…spy in the last row…right side…find…use this to tell.” Then, he sat up, rested his head backwards, eyes closed, mumbling a prayer.

Aneesh saw one of the terrorists, the guy with the stubble, look towards him or maybe, towards his neighbour. He saw the terrorist give a quick glance to somewhere behind on the right side. The terrorist walked quickly towards row 24, stood in front and shot the marshal in seat 24C between the eyes. When Aneesh was splattered with human stuff, he vomited over himself, drenching his shirt, pants and shoes. The only emotion the terrorist showed was when he looked at Aneesh with disgust. The terrorist proceeded to relieve the dead marshal of his gun. He could not find any transmitter. The terrorist wanted to search Aneesh but he felt squeamish searching Aneesh in that state. He must have also felt that Aneesh was not the kind to carry anything.

The terrorist with the stubble ordered Aneesh to move to the back of the plane. Aneesh looked terrified and with wet squelching shoes, he walked to the back. In the last row on the right, he saw three passengers – an old Muslim man at the window who was also mumbling some prayer, a young man in the middle – who looked like any of these 4 terrorists – lightly holding the old man’s sleeve, and a woman of around 50 or 60. She smiled at him with sweet crinkling eyes, trying to give him courage. She reminded him of his dead grandmother and Aneesh felt like crying.

When Aneesh moved towards the toilet, the terrorist said, “No. Strip here….in the pantry.” Aneesh removed his wet spectacles, shirt, vest and pant. He then retched. The terrorist told him to use the toilet. There Aneesh vomited noisily and violently. He picked up the button-sized transmitter the marshal had slipped into his shoes. To the stinking wet transmitter he whispered, “…last row…right side…old woman…” Then he threw the transmitter into the toilet and flushed the waste. Aneesh tried to wipe his face and body with tissue. The terrorist opened the toilet door and told him to stand outside. Aneesh stood in the pantry, behind a curtain, barefoot and with just his underwear. He sniffed, prayed and kept crying as if with shame, shock or fear.

Meanwhile, the other three terrorists had rearranged the passengers. The 34 foreigners were now sitting together near the right door in the front. The terrorists’ plan was simple. Starting in two hours and stretching over forty-eight hours, they would kill a foreigner every hour or so, and mostly during daytime for better visibility. They would dump the body from the right door, visible to the outside world and especially to the media that would have gathered. If they were attacked at any moment, they would set off the bomb. They hoped for the longer version – from August 13th (8 a.m.) till August 15th (8 a.m.), and then, they would set off the final fireworks for Independence Day.

It was now close to 6:15 a.m. and the plane had taxied to the east end. The commandos ‘attached’ to the plane had already been updated with the information from the marshal and also that from Aneesh. The number of terrorists within troubled them. With six inside, the mission could easily become a failure. To rule out a disaster, they had to avoid any exchange of fire, especially with suicidal bombers. These terrorists sounded like they were not just suicidal fanatics but also professional killers. Ideally, at the time of entry, the commandos wanted to face only 3 or 4 inside. With each minute spent waiting, they knew that the death-count would just increase. They had to provoke some error without triggering off a disaster.

At 6:24 a.m., the tall terrorist in the cockpit saw an armoured van approaching from the left, stopping 100 metres away from the plane. He told the Captain, “Tell Control room to remove that vehicle now…after collecting three bodies: two policemen…and one civilian for which they alone are responsible.”

After that message was delivered, the tall terrorist stepped outside the cockpit and told his colleague in the front area, “Get those two bodies and chuck them out. Bring someone to teach a lesson.”

“Foreigner?”

“No point in wasting them. The media will not be ready. Get someone expendable.”

Noticing Aneesh standing at the far end, the tall man asked, “Who is that?”

“A stinker.”

“Get him.”

The other terrorist went to the pantry at the back, prodded Aneesh with his gun and ordered him to move to the front. Aneesh kept crying, dragging his feet and begging for his life. The other passengers tried to avoid his touch.

Meanwhile, the terrorists had opened the front door on the left and dumped the bodies of the two marshals. The tall terrorist ordered Aneesh to move fast and to stand still at the edge of the door. He wanted the people in the van to observe this man alive for ten or twenty seconds before killing.

At the door, Aneesh wondered whether he should jump to safety. He knew that they would just use him as target practice. Anyway, even if he got away, they would kill one or two or many more. He lowered his head – wondering for how long he could continue to act.

Then, Aneesh saw a commando just below him, ready to swing in. The commando gestured with the thumbs-up sign. Even Aneesh knew that there were too many terrorists well inside the plane. Aneesh shook his head slightly and very briefly as if to say, “Not yet.” The commando replied with a nod, smiled and winked. At that time, unknown to Aneesh, there were two commandos above and one more below.

All this at the door happened in about 5 seconds. Aneesh let his knees crumple as if in a faint. He started to fall inside backwards. The tall terrorist and the one with the stubble jumped forward to grab him, ready to shoot at once, dump and close the door. When they grabbed him, they realized that Aneesh had soiled himself. “Shit!” The tall man exclaimed. It must have been due to that revulsion that the terrorists lost their balance for a moment trying to support Aneesh. This was exactly what Aneesh wanted. With his 84 kg weight and a solid hold on the two terrorists’ clothes; after tightening his shoulder muscles like that for a rugby lunge and tackle; and, with a powerful thrust on the edge, Aneesh jumped forward through the door and into open air carrying the two terrorists along. He heard two loud pops near both his ears and a little later, crash-landing on the tarmac falling on top of the two dead terrorists. Then, he fainted for real.

Once again, unknown to Aneesh, there had been two snipers in the armoured van. When Aneesh dragged them into open air, the two terrorists were immediately shot multiple times during the fall.

At nearly the same time, the 4 commandos entered inside in a flash and killed the 3 terrorists with two shots each. The old lady in the last row had also been fatally hit on the forehead seemingly by a stray bullet. Apart from the marshals, the old lady was supposed to be the collateral damage.

Much later, Aneesh was still in the V.I.P. lounge. He had had a much-needed shower and he was given a T-shirt, a pair of trousers and new underwear – all possibly from the airport shop. He had been debriefed. Initially, the officials were even suspicious of him:

- What is your name?
- Aneesh.
- Surname?
- None.
- Nationality?
- Indian.
- Which state do you belong to?
- I don’t know.
- Which language do you speak?
- English.
- I repeat, are you Indian?
- Ain’t I?

At that point, a senior ranked person of the armed forces entered the room and interrupted the interview. He came to the interview table. Aneesh tried to get up despite feeling very tired. The officer said, “Thank you, sir, and that’s from my entire commando unit. I have just one question. How did you know that it was the old woman?”

“The old woman was smiling a bit too well at that time.” Aneesh replied reluctantly.

Aneesh kept quiet for a while and then asked, “Sir, is it possible not to reveal my bit?”

The officer smiled and nodded and left. The interview then proceeded more smoothly.

After that, there in the V.I.P. lounge, Aneesh watched news on TV – some passengers were being interviewed:

“Did you at any moment think that you would die?”

“Die? No. We are proud and brave Indians – we would have fought like tigers. We are fighters till the end – we will survive anything.”

“Did you notice how the commandos shot the old woman?”

“Oh yes, they should get better training. I am planning to bring it to the attention of civil rights groups.”

“What was the worst moment?”

“There was this man – a cry baby. Oh God, he was pathetic. Did the terrorists kill him? To tell you the truth, we hoped they would kill him – such a disgusting fellow and definitely unworthy to be an Indian.”

Aneesh remembered his question to the interviewer, “Will I be hounded by the media?”

The quick reply was “Why would they? For them, you are not even a dead coward.”



Disclaimer: This is fiction.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book review: Solar by Ian McEwan

You will enjoy this book. Get The Book Now!


---xxx---


If you are not satisfied with the book-review given above, continue[1]

On the train from Potsdam to Berlin, I was listening to the BBC Radio comedy program Just A Minute on my walkman (yes, it was that long ago, in pre-iPod days) and when Stephen Fry said,

`…my bottoms speak perfect German…’

I burst out laughing. I sensed the stares[2] before I saw. But, how could I explain the joke to my fellow-passengers?

When you read this book, you might find yourself in a similar situation.

Ian McEwan’s `Solar’ does not pretend to be a classic or a cerebral novel. But, on nearly every page, you will find and relish a passage about `current affairs’ (climate-change; physics; future of clean energy; humanities versus sciences; media; women in science; marriage; recession; institutions and funding;…) or, where the author is even better, an observation about human nature. There is humour – subtle, slapstick, coarse, the full range. The author will play mind-games with you, making you feel unsure about what is right or wrong. You might even feel that he is pulling your leg – he does not spare anyone.

The book’s cover will tell you that it is a `story of one man’s greed and self-deception’. When you read this book, you might admit to yourself that you have on more than one occasion behaved or thought like that one man, `Beard, heartless scourge of the frail’.

Michael Beard is the winner of `Cold Norton and District Baby Competition, birth to six-months class’ and also, the Nobel Prize for Physics.

`He belonged to that class of men – vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever – who were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was, and thinking seemed to make it so.’

We find him initially, at the age of fifty-three, in a delicate situation with his fifth wife:

`Beard was surprised to find how complicated it was to be the cuckold…No woman had ever looked or sounded so desirable as the wife he suddenly could not have.’

I read this book alone and I found that it is a book best read alone. For example, try reading this scene, with Beard and his first wife Massie, to your better-half:

`…lay side by side on their backs in the dark while she broke the news that she was leaving him…What he experienced was a compound of joy and relief…caused a tear of gratitude to roll down his cheek. He also felt fierce impatience for her to be gone. It crossed his mind to offer to drive her to the station now, but there were no trains from Lewes at 3 a.m., and she had not packed…she saw the dampness around his eyes. Firmly and deliberately she whispered, `I will not be blackmailed, Michael. I will not, repeat not, be emotionally manipulated by you into staying.’…’[3]

Is it a novel about ‘climate-change’? That[4] is also there, of course. On this topic alone, we seem to be sure about the author’s stand. The general public is even provided with an excuse,

`…to take the matter seriously would be to think about it all the time. Everything else shrank before it…Daily life would not permit it.’

The arguments of those who deny the phenomena of global warming and the imperative need for `clean energy’ is shrugged aside with,

`You ’re not convinced. Here’s the worst case. Suppose the near impossible – the thousand are wrong and the one is right, the data are all skewed, there’s no warming. It’s a mass delusion among scientists, or a plot. Then we still have the old stand-bys. Energy security, air pollution, peak oil.’

Yes, aren’t those reasons enough?

The author treats science and scientists with a lot of understanding. The author has done his homework well and he expects at least a fraction of that effort from his readers.

We will feel like nodding in agreement with

`…he read up on the latest, on Bagger, Lambert and Gustavsson – of course! BLG was not a sandwich – and their Langrangian description of coincident M2-branes. God may or may not have played dice, but surely He was nowhere near this clever, or such a show-off. The material world simply could not be so complicated.’

And, probably scratch our heads while we read the unearthed citation for Michael Beard’s Nobel Prize[5].

For those who require a commentary on self-help, a moral at the end of the story, a complex plot, strong and admirable characters and a pithy ending, this is not your book.

Are there any other problems? None, methinks[6].

I wait for Ian McEwan’s next book. Will it be based on the Cameron-Clegg matrimony & divorce or the post-euro EU or the rise & fall of emerging nations?

BACK TO POST [1] If you are looking for info about the plot and story, buy the book or do a search on the Net.
BACK TO POST [2] I recently heard a story about Frau Dr. Merkel and colleagues who treated poor Mr. Papandreou to similar stares while he tried to barter a Greek tragedy for German aid and, at the end of a long pause with the accompanying music of falling euro, she nodded with a sigh, `Aaaaaarrhsooooo…’
BACK TO POST [3] Did your better-half ask you `What are you trying to suggest?’
BACK TO POST [4] Global warming is definitely the `hottest’ topic of the season – I cannot escape it. I hear it from my niece who is in primary school and also, from the chief economists in investment banks (when they are interested, you know that trouble is on its way). When I hear about carbon trading and carbon credits, I cannot suppress repressed guilt concerning sub-prime credit. And, when carbon-spewing industries can go about their business after buying carbon credits, it seems that someone has reached the conclusion that the minimum of the sum of quantities is equal to the sum of minimized quantities?
BACK TO POST [5] The description of the Feynman Plaid seems to echo part of a result in topology `a turn of 4 pi is no turn at all’.
BACK TO POST [6]If you would like to be the bright and enthusiastic junior fellow or post-doc seeking a fellowship or a research position, stand up and say, `Sir, on page 217, the numbers 399 and 663 are not equivalent with pi rotation; can it be 699 and 669?’

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Who am I?

I'm haunted, but I can't see by what!
Spellbound

Thought of being an iconoclast,
till I realized it’s a fashion;
Thought of building a social network,
but without wooing friends;
If I think of something new,
I might place it in a footnote.
The point is to be missed,
till you really look.
It’s a tough game
It’s a game for one or two.

What others say:

“…I’m a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich...when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime…nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life.”
Raymond Chandler on Philip Marlowe

A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally. Oscar Wilde

There is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist. Ayn Rand

If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism. Oscar Wilde

I am pessimistic about optimism. Blogger Anon.

Having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love. Noel Coward

Maybe, the person at the door is a better companion than the one upstairs. Blogger Anon.