Sunday, October 31, 2010

After I Said ‘Have A Great Sunday!’

Tell me about your best Sunday morning. Let me tell you about mine.

I sat facing the French windows while I had the full English breakfast. Mumbai! This is what I will remember. I can see Marine Drive, joggers and walkers, a few lazy cars on empty streets, maybe even Church Gate, the fishing village, the blue-green sea, the azure sky shaking off early morning haziness.

I heard her open the bathroom door and I went towards her. She was ready to leave. I would have liked her beautiful body next to me for a few minutes more. I indicated breakfast but she smiled and shook her head. I wondered if I should give a tip. I guess that was included in her price.

‘Have a great Sunday!’ I told her.

I heard something crashing outside and a few pop sounds. She opened the door. Both of us stared into the mad eyes of a heavily-weaponed man wearing a balaclava. She screamed.

I saw my future in fast forward. I never think about my death. Alive, a survivor in some tabloid, in the hands of my wife who would have returned from her hometown, with a tale about her man and his woman.

After I said ‘Have a great Sunday!’, there was little left to say.

Author’s notes: This story-line sounds very familiar. If you know, kindly tell me. Did this origin elsewhere? Well, that would be telling, right? Anyway, I have always wanted to write a story where the notes are of comparable length.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Itihasa of an Integral Part

“The word for “history” in Sanskrit, itihasa, could be translated as “That’s what happened,” giving the impression of an only slightly more modest equivalent of von Ranke’s phrase for positivist history: “Wie es [eigentlich] gewesen ist” (“The way it [really] happened”). But the iti in the word is most often used as the Sanskrit equivalent of “end quote,” as in “Let’s go [iti],” he said. Itihasa thus implies not so much what happened as what people said happened (“That’s what he said happened”) – narratives, inevitably subjective narratives.”

Wendy Doniger, in The Hindus, An Alternative History


Location: “If you take the ship departing at 17:00 from Kochi to Trivandrum, you will stop at this island for dinner.”

Background: “We were annexed by a kingdom a few centuries before they were occupied by Travancore (one of the three princely states that formed Kerala). We were never an integral part of Travancore. We are an integral part of India. But, actually, nobody wants us as an integral part except the non-existent kingdom of Travancore.”

Disputes: “83% of this island is disputed territory. Some big guy did some big thing out here long back. The majority wants to recreate those times hoping that the big guy will return.”

Population: “We are followers of the bard M. Jackson. We are black hoping to turn white.”

Language: “Each locality has its own version of the mother tongue. We do not need language to communicate, we need liquor. When we speak English, we sound like the Irish. Have you heard the Irish speak? I have not.”

Food: “A famous person during a visit exclaimed, ‘Holy Cow!’ He heard the echo, ‘Chilly Beef!’ That famous person married for the third time leaving many men and women of this island heartbroken.”

Famous People: “Most famous people here are called Shree/Shreemati 420.The other famous people do not want to be associated with us. They are offended when we are not offended with whatever they say. Also, they cannot find a group to say, ‘A million people here say…’ Five or more people here never say the same thing. The rest of the country tried to copy that calling it section 144.”

Freedom: “We even allow people to say, ‘We will hound them out of India, like what we did to M.F. Hussain.’ I know, it sounds like sedition, right? But, still…”

Judiciary: “This is our strongest department. On entry, ‘Young man, we will take a few years of your productive life.’ On exit, ‘Old man, we deal with faith not facts.’ They alone can show contempt.”

Politics: “We never ask, ‘Who is standing for election?’ We ask, ‘Who was in office till now?’ We try to learn from the mistakes of the past. Every dog has its day, we strongly believe.”

Faith: “We used to be a Buddhist state, sedentary peace-loving egalitarian folk. Then, a group came with karma and division of labour. After relocating people to their respective ghettos, they philosophized that in theory and spirit, but not in practice, people could migrate from one ghetto to the next. Other groups and faiths too arrived on these shores. Some kissed the right ass and progressed. In the 20th century, they even kissed the left ass and tried not to regress. Right through the ages, people in small groups and of the same social class, irrespective of faith still managed to be egalitarian. Altruism is humbug, we all agree.”

Literature: “Nearly 99% of the population read the stories before watching it as a TV soap opera. 99% of the rest copy world literature or pretend to read it.”

Cinema: “We used to make great art movies. People outside without understanding used to call it ‘porn-dy’. The current films can be appreciated only in multiplexes – you have to view 30 minutes of 4 movies to have 2 hours of time-pass.”

Sports: “We used to be athletic. Now, we are thinking of playing cricket at the IPL.”

Social Dynamics: “This society is like a sand-pile at its angle of repose, a critical system. Add one small grain of sand and you can start avalanches of varying sizes.”

Social Fabric: “A mature interacting group behaves like an elastic system. Bend it a little and it will spring back. Bend it too vigorously, you will cross a threshold, defects will stream in to stay forever. We are always in that new plastic state with immature inelastic ideas.”

Relationships: “In the good old days, women wanted men to look at them.”

Industry: “We allow only labour-friendly industries such as tourism and IT-enabled services. We promote migration to countries without any idea about human rights.”

Export & Import: “We import nearly everything.We export everything that we do not import.”

USP: “Best place to simply sit back and enjoy. Most tourists and citizens do that. Most paedophiles and goons also do that here.”

Law & Order: “Excellent…just don’t be at the wrong place at the wrong time…”

Other Important Details: “You should note the following really important points about this integral part of India: (a) …”


Author’s note:

  • This is history.

  • Everything is fiction.

  • This is a commissioned piece, part of a project to record the voices of this integral part before it is silenced forever. There was a strict brief: exactly 897 words [including the title, the quotation and this note (151 words)].

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Miss Competition

I miss competition.

The half-crazy man sitting at an adjacent table in the restaurant, half-turned in his chair, told us that,

“I miss competition. To die a gladiator rather than keep alive a drunken raconteur with false tales of old fights.”

Most of us, customers and waiters, were watching the 2010 Commonwealth Games on the wall-mounted TV hoping and waiting to see the finals of the 100 metres sprint event. But we missed it, didn’t we?

The half-crazy man stood up with disbelief and anger plainly visible on his face. He settled his bill at the counter leaving his dinner barely touched. On his way out, he came swaying to our table and leaned towards me. I could smell liquor and tobacco in his breath.

“How could they do that? Don’t they know what it is like – the 100 metres sprint?”

I remained silent and motionless.

“Ah! Eight at the starting line, wild dogs barely domesticated, flared nostrils, the crouch, eyes focused on the string 100 metres away, the rhythm of the crowd, the thumping of the heart, springing from the starting block, do you remember Ben Johnson’s start, then 9, 10, 11 seconds, for us it is just that, seconds, for them, it is eternity, thoughts of victory, defeat, niggling worries, even domestic problems, drugs, steroids, alcohol, issues, everything, of course, the training of months, of focused thoughts, motion, just twenty, thirty strides, just five, ten breaths, you feel the air more than the ground, and then that string, how you stretch your neck forward to feel that liberating noose…”

Then, he stood up straight, remembered to breathe, turned around and left the place. I wiped spittle from my face and the waiter came and changed the plates, spoons and knives. Then, our meal was served and I did not think about the half-crazy man till later that night.

We went to bed early and I was lying sleepless, remembering

“I miss competition.”

I thought of the competition of my life…not any race or sports…I am not really the sporting kind. I remembered the debates with her.

We competed against each other for five consecutive years, from Std. VIII till Std. XII, in the annual debate competition. That was the only event in our school where boys and girls from the five years (Std. VIII-XII) competed together. There were four houses and each house selected their four best speakers. It was a prestigious event with a trophy named after some big guy. It was held in the school auditorium and the audience was allowed to give a whole-hearted response. A speaker had to be ready for hearty applause, nasty comments, booing and hooting and, the dreaded chants of stop-get-lost.

We were in the same grade but different divisions and we shared the same school bus. I remember that first competition in Std. VIII. I had seen her around but I had had no reason to talk to her (it was not cool, either). She looked like one of those characters in fairy-tales – pony tail, smiling, petite, charming, prim and angelic. On stage, we made the perfect pair, the beauty and the beast.

The topic for that year – corporal punishment – turned out to be one-sided (even then when it was the norm rather than the exception). I was against and her team had to speak for. It was a disaster because the for-side wanted defeat more than the against-side wanted success.

When it was my turn, I had little to do by way of defeating arguments and I could leave reason aside and go for the emotional stranglehold. I took the stance of a defense lawyer, placed the image of a school-child in the dock, pleaded my case against merciless predators and by the end, I had the audience on their feet, baying for cruel teachers’ blood. The members of the staff were squirming in the seat.

She spoke after me. She did not raise her voice. Damn, she sounded like Mother Theresa! She narrated an incident involving the most benign and motherly teacher in school and how even she had to send a student outside the class. Even she, that teacher, made that boy stand a few feet from the wall, bend at the waist and touch the wall with his nose. The whole school knew that it was me. She stuck to reason and arguments after that. At the end she asked softly, “Is there a student here who is like me – who thinks he/she can be a small devil at times and might face corporal punishment from a caring teacher – could you please stand up?” The same devils that had bayed for blood now stood up en masse seeking her endorsement. That’s what the common masses are like!

Our team won that year and I won the best debater award. But, I knew that I had got it for the wrong reasons. I went to her and snarled, “Next time, I will defeat you.”

In Std. IX, the topic was the death penalty with my team for that and she against. Then, my world was black and white without shades of grey. I had no reason or experience to suspect authority nor did I have any idea about subjectivity or relativity and I believed that justice could actually be absolute and true after much deliberation.

During that year, she and I attended the second-language period in the other’s class (mine Malayalam and hers Hindi). The day before the debate, I took her seat during that period. I opened her bag since I wanted her diary or notebook with notes of her team’s plans. On top of her books and tiffin-box, I found a loosely covered pack of sanitary napkins. I closed her bag quickly and left it beneath her chair. We lost the debate that year. Much later, in life, I realized that I used her points whenever I talked against the death penalty. During that competition, I realized that she had opened my bag during that second-language period, looked at my diary and spied on my team’s strategy. I guess she knew that I would close her bag without searching for her diary.

The next year we fell in love. Well, being in love was a different matter then. The phone in my house and hers was meant to be used, like telegrams, for emergencies. Though I tried to write poetry, I was not daft enough to show that to anyone. Her house was out of bounds. There was no way to talk to her in the school bus or at school or anywhere outside. Being in love meant that I did not look at any other girl and that my gang of friends was not allowed to talk about her or comment at her in my presence. She reciprocated my effort with a nod or a smile once in a while.

By the time of that year’s competition, we were madly frustrated and raring to go at each other’s throat. The topic that year: separating the State from religion. I, the believer with nebulous and self-serving faith, managed to win speaking against. She, the atheist, speaking for ended up sounding like a rabid believer. We did shake hands after the event but we shook off all pretense of love, too.

In Std. XI, the topic was censorship. My team had to speak for and hers against censorship of books, movies and what-not. For me, all that mattered was the competition. Ideology and principles came second to that. We were the team-leaders and took part in the toss. When she won the toss and chose to speak against censorship she added, “Only guys like him can speak for that.”

The competition was bitter. Even the audience felt the animosity and remained aloof and silent. My team won that year. I cheered as loud as I could. But her silence was more deafening. I swore to hate her all my life.

During the Christmas vacation, she phoned my house. My father called me to the phone with a surprised accusation, “A girl.” I stuttered to her, “Hello.” She said, “I just called to wish you Happy Birthday.” I replied, “Thanks…same to you.” Well, I was more used to greetings like Happy Holidays and none of my friends ever remembered my birthday. Anyway, she had delivered the message and disconnected.

We resumed where we had left off. I avoided other girls religiously and she smiled. In Std. XII, the topic for the debate was communism. I had to speak for and spoke like Che though my guide at that point of time was Ayn Rand. She spoke with great fervour against communism though I could see her clench her fist behind her back, her nails probably drawing her own blood. We split the audience between us.

The judges invited by that middle-class school tilted towards her side and she won. Since it was our last year in school, we bought cool-drinks for each other at the school canteen. We gargled and spat the first mouthful, trying to remove the bad taste of our speech. Then, we enjoyed the rest in quiet silence.

Does this story end here? Or, did it end when we sat next to the half-crazy man who said,

“I miss competition…”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Online Popularity & Benoit Mandelbrot

Please note: First, I am not an author here; if at all anything, a reporter or a reviewer or, worse but true, a copier. There are two parts.
• The first part gives the summary of a recent scientific study trying to characterize and model the dynamics of online popularity. One of the main conclusions is that the dynamics of information networks is ‘scale-free’. This is typical in a wide range of “critical” physical, economic and social systems, such as avalanches, earthquakes, stock market crashes and human communication. Having mentioned that, it is impossible to avoid the next part.
• Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, died on October 14, 2010. The fractal geometry he developed would be used to measure natural phenomena like clouds or coastlines that once were believed to be non-measurable. He applied the theory to physics, biology, finance and many other fields of study.


Part 1: Characterizing and modeling the dynamics of online popularity by Ratkiewicz et al. (Physical Review Letters, Vol. 105, No. 15. (Oct 2010), 158701.) [http://arxiv.org/abs/1005.2704]

It is believed that online popularity has enormous impact on opinions, culture, policy and profits.

The authors study the dynamics of popularity of two information networks: (1) the Wikipedia and (2) the web space of Chile.

As popularity proxies they have chosen the traffic of a document, expressed by the number of clicks to that page generated by a specific population of users, and the number of hyperlinks pointing to a document. Given either of these proxies, they study its relative variation in a time unit, that is, its logarithmic derivative. Note that: if x(t) is the quantity being studied at time t, its logarithmic derivative is [x(t) - x(t-1)]/ x(t).

They find that the dynamics of popularity are characterized by bursts in its relative variation or logarithmic derivative (hereafter, simply labeled as f).

Observations:

• Almost all pages experience a burst in f near the beginning of their life.

• Many pages receive little attention thereafter.

• Some pages maintain a nearly constant positive f indicating an exponential growth.

• A number of pages continue to experience intermittent bursts in f later in their life.

• In all cases, they observe heavy-tail behaviour. Such heavy-tailed burst magnitude distributions suggest a dynamics lacking a characteristic scale.


Model:

Researchers have used various models to describe the heterogeneous statistical properties of the Web (with distributions characterized by fat-tails roughly following power-law behaviour) and some models are based on the rich-get-richer mechanism.

The models based on rich-get-richer mechanism have two main ingredients:

(1) We need a growing network. But growth alone cannot explain. When a new node is created on the network, it is not sufficient to assume that it will link randomly and democratically. Though the senior nodes will have a clear advantage (since these nodes had the longest time to collect links and the poorest node will be the last to join), the distributions that result from such an assumption follow an exponential rather than a fat-tailed power law.
(2) We also need preferential attachment and need to discard any democratic (random) character. We attach a greater probability to link to those nodes which are already heavily linked.

The authors of this paper feel that this is not sufficient. They include a third ingredient: occurrence of exogenous factors that shift the attention of users and suddenly increase the popularity of specific topics because of events such as an actor winning a prize, political elections, rescue missions, scandals, etc.

With their rank-shift model, they introduce a new parameter, by which they can shift forward the ranking/popularity of a node.

As a layperson in a network, at the end of the day, the message to take home is: (a) you are part of a growing network; (b) if you are smart, you will believe in preferential attachment and link to those who are very popular; (c) if you want to be smarter, create exogenous factors that will suddenly attract attention of any sort.

Due to selfish interests, I would like to explore: (i) the dynamics of pages that receive little attention and the proximity factor (do friends of friends (of friends of …) contribute to that initial burst; (ii) dynamics of tightly-knit close or ‘gated’ online communities and the formation of such in open dynamic networks; (iii) a symmetric rank-shift model which allows for exogenous factors that could reduce ranking via a burst of unpopularity due to variants of untouchability, blocking and censorship, unpopular views and opinions, democratic decisions of the majority to ostracize, etc.; and so on and so forth.

Part 2: Obituary of Benoit Mandelbrot

On the 18th of October, in the inside pages of The Hindu, I found this column about BenoƮt Mandelbrot (mathematician, born 20 November 1924; died 14 October 2010):

Date:18/10/2010 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2010/10/18/stories/2010101861860900.htm
Mandelbrot, father of fractal geometry, dead
WASHINGTON: Benoit Mandelbrot, a French-American mathematician who explored a new class of mathematical shapes known as “fractals,” has died at age 85 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, The New York Times reported on Saturday. His wife Aliette told the newspaper he died of pancreatic cancer.
His seminal book, “The Fractal Geometry of Nature,” published in 1982, argued that irregular mathematical objects once dismissed as “pathological” were a reflection of nature. The fractal geometry he developed would be used to measure natural phenomena like clouds or coastlines that once were believed to be unmeasurable.
He applied the theory to physics, biology, finance and many other fields of study.
“Fractals are easy to explain, it's like a romanesco cauliflower, which is to say that each small part of it is exactly the same as the entire cauliflower itself,” Catherine Hill, a statistician at the Gustave Roussy Institute, told AFP. “It's a curve that reproduces itself to infinity. Every time you zoom in further, you find the same curve,” she said.
David Mumford, a professor of mathematics at Brown University, told the Times that Mr. Mandelbrot had effectively revolutionised his field. “Applied mathematics had been concentrating for a century on phenomena which were smooth, but many things were not like that: the more you blew them up with a microscope the more complexity you found,” the paper quoted him as saying.
A professor emeritus at Yale University, Mr. Mandelbrot was born in Poland but as a child moved with his family to France where he was educated. — AFP
© Copyright 2000 - 2009 The Hindu

Please refer to the following obituary in The Guardian for more details:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/oct/17/benoit-mandelbrot-obituary

Here, I do assume that his work has definitely touched everyone. Can you finish graduate studies or any kind of research without encountering the work of Mandelbrot? I can still remember how thrilled I was when I found a ‘Devil’s staircase’ (or, at least, something that looked exactly like that) in a dynamical system some time in the last millenium. [For a definition of Devil’s staircase, please refer to http://mathworld.wolfram.com/DevilsStaircase.html.]

Or, if you have kids, didn’t they ask you at least once, surely: “Amma/Appa, how does a world with a dimension of 0.63 look like?” or “O gee, Pop/Mom! Look at that…it is made out of itself…every small part looks like the big part…is it a fractal?” Well, if they have not, they should go to a different school.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Angry Man

When his right fist crashed into his boss’ nose, he felt the jolt in his whole arm along with the crunch and squishy mixing of cartilage, flesh and splintering bone in the other’s face. In those few seconds, as in a slow motion picture, he watched globs of blood splattering and his boss’ face registering surprise, pain and slippery consciousness.

Thirty minutes before that, he had phoned his boss from his desk, “I have to go home. It’s urgent.”

“Sure…but, is today’s report ready?” said his boss in reply.

“Yes, I have mailed it to you and Mark.” Mark was their boss in London.

“Oh…you have sent it? I must have missed that mail…” his boss had sounded miffed.

He had breached protocol. He was supposed to complete the work and explain all the technical details to his boss; and then, his boss completes the task as usual by presenting the same details to Mark.

He had tried to rush the matter, “Yes, Mark has already replied…says everything looks great…”

“Oh, really…let me talk to him…could you wait for a few minutes?” his boss had told him.

He was still waiting. He had got three more calls from home during that time begging him to get home urgently. He had gone near his boss’ office couple of times, seen his boss doodling on a piece of paper, feet on his desk, chatting and laughing on the phone. His boss had gestured to him to wait.

Back at his desk, he had clenched his fist and dreamt. He had dreamt of crashing that fist into his boss’ nose. He thought of leaving without waiting any longer but he could not risk losing his job.

Forty three minutes after he raised his request, he saw his boss walking casually to the toilet and a few minutes later, with small talk and a show of camaraderie to the colleagues on the way, his boss finally reached his desk, “Ah…are you still here? I talked to Mark…everything is fine…”

He thanked his boss and scooted from the office.

Half-way to his house from the office, at the junction where he had to cut across the main road, his car was stopped by a policeman.

“You cannot go. A VIP’s car is coming…”

“Sir, can I just cross the main road? It’s an emergency at home…I just have to cross the road, that’s all…”

“No…the VIP is expected in a few minutes…”

Three local youths standing at a wayside tea-stall, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, laughed at his frustration.

“Oy…look at blackie…blackie cannot cross…”

“Not blackie, man…just brownie…brown faggot…”

The third one sang a song about brown maggots and black crows.

It took him ten strides and three seconds to cover the distance to those youths. He had a jack in his right hand and a heavy spanner in the left. He gave the singer a whack on the head with a left swing; and, with a right upper cut, he cracked the jaw of the second youth. The one who had started it all tried to run but he lunged forward and caught him with a tackle. They landed hard on the ground. He pummeled the sides till the youth lost consciousness. Then, he walked back to the car to wait for the VIP.

He kept looking straight while he saw those images in his head. The boys left the scene after they finished their smoke and concluded that they had had enough fun at his expense. His hands were holding the steering wheel tightly. He wiped sweat off his forehead and armpits.

After twenty minutes, the policeman came to him, “Look, why don’t you park the car somewhere here, cross the road and catch a taxi on the other side?” He took the advice.

On the other side of the road, he did not find a taxi till he reached the next junction about seven hundred metres from where he left his car. The taxi-driver was sleeping on the back seat. He woke the driver and told him the destination. The disgruntled driver got out of the back-seat, leaned against the front door,

“Sorry, boss…problem with the engine…”

“Please, brother…there is an emergency at home.”

“Hey, am I your brother? Don’t call me your brother. Boss, I told you, right? There is a problem with the engine…”

He felt his fingers digging like claws into the driver’s neck; the thumb on one side and the four on the other side digging deep, nearly circling the air-pipe, ready to pull it out. In his eyes, the driver could see the eyes of a duelist, the eyes of a man ready to kill, ready to die, willing to settle for nothing less. He closed his eyes and he wanted to keep dreaming. But, he was too tired, too angry, too worried; even to dream…

The problem with the engine disappeared after he offered three times the usual fare. He sat in the back and tried to avoid the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.

When he reached his house, his young wife came running to him, looking haggard and deeply worried. She was holding their baby tight, their little baby boy.

“I do not know what’s wrong with him. I took him to the hospital this morning for the usual shots and injection…after that, Oh God…he has not stopped crying. I have been carrying him since then but he won’t stop crying…shall we take him to the doctor…Oh God! What’s wrong with him?”

He took the baby, cradling him in the crook of his left arm. The baby continued crying, as if in deep agony; the baby’s cheeks suffused with red; and quite visibly, tired and angry. He looked at his child, at the little bundle in his arms, and felt as if all the barricades made out of strength, will and sense were collapsing within. He did not know what to do.

He held his wife close to him, trying to look calm, and he told her, “Let me change my clothes…let’s take him to the doctor…”

In their bedroom, he laid the baby on the bed, still cuddling and not wanting to let go of the poor little baby even for a minute.

The baby stopped crying and gurgled with relief, looking at his mother and father. His tired parents looked at him worried. The baby gave another gurgle of delight and this time, smiled, too.

“What happened to him?” his mother asked his father.

“I don’t know.”



Author’s notes:

[1] There is one thing I enjoy more than writing - tracing the source of thoughts or stories. About his book ‘Immortality’, Kundera says: “there are fewer gestures in the world than there are individuals,” therefore “a gesture is more individual than an individual.” For me, Milan Kundera’s ‘gestures’ serve as a metaphor for thoughts.
(http://www.kundera.de/english/Bibliography/Immortality/immortality.html)

[2] Given the Mittyesque roots of my story, the source was obvious: one of the best short stories I have read – James Thurber’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ [1941]
(http://www.all-story.com/issues.cgi?action=show_story&story_id=100).


[3] Why did the baby stop crying? Elementary! The baby cried when the ‘new’ parents carried him and lovingly held him tight against them; and, unfortunately, pressed the spot on the bum where the baby was injected that morning.

[4] This is based on a true life incident. I was the baby. I still cry. I still gurgle with delight. But now, I cannot smile.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sleepless Nights

Can I sleep with you?” the young boy asked the woman 15 years older than him. She gave him an understanding smile. An onlooker intervened, “There isn’t enough space here – go to your own bed.” The young boy spent a sleepless night without even realizing that he would never ask a woman that question ever again; or that, for the rest of his life, he would never get such an excuse. Later, he realized that that incident had left two lasting impressions. First, that taught him to deal with children as people worthy of being kept at a safe distance. Second, he was troubled by the everlasting doubt, “If I had slept with her, would I have become a writer like Mario Vargas Llosa?

Can I jog with you?” the young lady asked the adolescent boy 4 years younger than her. She was fit and energetic, a badminton champion at the State-level. He was a laid-back athlete with a best time of 11.7 seconds for 100-metres-dash and his morning exercise schedule included a casual stroll and long moments of thought. She asked him that question when he had boasted that night about being a regular morning jogger on a 5-km circuit. She took his silence for an aye and told him to wake her up at 5 am. He spent a sleepless night with worry, shame, adrenalin and testosterones waging a cruel war within. For the first and last time in his life, he knocked at a young lady’s bedroom door at 5 am; and, wished that she would not open the door.

Can we sleep in separate bedrooms?” the young man practiced that question studying his reflection in the mirror. It was the night before the first night. He was not worried about the day ahead: the tiresome wedding, the unavoidable mushy vegetarian feast or the long hours of feigned geniality. He was not even worried about sex or the improbability of that after a long exhausting day. He spent a sleepless night dreading that first night on the following day when he would have to share his own bedroom for the whole night. He had read in great books that the English had, during the golden age when they could afford enough rooms, lived without such worries.

Can men cause sleepless nights?” the middle-aged man pondered alone. “Yes,” he recollected two incidents.

The first incident took place in Naples. He was invited to give a lecture at the University. Following the custom of academia, he gave a forgettable lecture for which he was paid handsomely and then, collected maps and directions to see the famous city. En route to the nearest subway, he was nearly mowed down by a silver Ferrari. Though shaken, he stared at the beautiful lady sitting next to the driver-cum-owner. Before the advent of expensive motorcars and its drivers, Shakespeare mistakenly thought ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. The driver felt grievously injured with the divided attention he received and made the universal gesture of the throat getting cut from ear to ear. This shook our hero more than the near-accident. Instead of seeing Naples, he locked himself in his hotel room expecting that driver to pay a bloody visit. He wasted that sleepless night reading a crime novel about ‘a headless body in a topless bar’.

The second incident took place on a campus near Delhi. Three ruffians, with a remarkable resemblance to the Neapolitan driver, accosted him near the staff quarters. A sheet of paper was thrust at him and he was told to sign. He signed without protest. He made out that it was some signature campaign concerning ‘Ayodhya’. The ruffians were not in the mood to explain their position. Later that day, he met another set of ruffians who resembled the former lot. Again, a sheet of paper was thrust at him and he was told to sign. This time, he protested, “I have already signed.” The dark reply was, “Acha, you signed with them…” Neither were they in the mood to explain their position. He realized that he would soon join the long list of martyrs who met their fate with blessed ignorance. On that sleepless night, he read Wilfred Owen’s poem on ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (a quotation by the Roman poet Horace, meaning ‘It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country’).

With wisdom fighting a losing battle against advancing senility, his sleepless nights had been a rarity till recently. Seven days back, he wrote to a dear friend, “I am leaving these blogs.” She asked him kindly, “Why? Is it because you have no readers?” He replied with rare wisdom, “No, I have finally read my own blogs.” It had taken less than a day to complete that task. It will take many sleepless nights for him to recover. Introspection is a great theoretical idea but in practice, it is an awful path to self-realization.


References:

[1]"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"
• The correct quotation is "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/ Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." by William Congreve in The Mourning Bride of 1697.

[2] "Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
• One of the best known poems of the First World War. Wilfred Owen died fighting for England in WW I, a week before armistice. My favourite lines in that poem are:
• ...
• If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

[3]"Headless Body In Topless Bar"
• The New York Post penned this famous headline in 1983.