Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Helpless


I have come to accept that no matter how much I reason, I am not immune to the whims of surroundings.  How else to justify the Bournvita-milk I have been drinking after dinner for over a week now.

Last week, while shopping for grocery at a food-mall, the Bournvita bottle caught my eye. Destiny?  It wasn’t the first time that I had seen it there. But, don’t know how or why, I put it in my cart; just like that.  I hurried away from the aisle to proceed with the regular shopping.

I came back home, stacked the food and grocery items at their designated places, poured some milk in a glass, put a spoonful of Bournvita in it, stirred it well, and then drank the milk slowly, without daring a look into the mirror by the basin. I washed the glass thoroughly after emptying it (I don’t want my maid to know; the bottle is kept hidden behind the bookshelf.)

Such has been the routine since then. Sometimes in office, I find myself thinking in anticipation about the taste and right quantity of Bournvita. I’ve researched the health benefits as well on google (not many).
So far I have not been able to find a reasonable explanation of this new addiction. I like the taste of course, but “why now” remains unanswered. I don’t think I am doing it for nostalgia, I am not the kind. Present times are far better, provided you apply the right filters.

Will I buy a new bottle when this one is finished? I might. Or I might forget about it and let some other such nonsensical fixation captivate me at its own will. I roam, and I let the world affect me, the way it wants to.
While we are talking about helplessness, a recent Bangalore-Traffic-Police initiative has caused me a great deal of amusement. They’ve made it mandatory to remove the sunfilms of the car windows. I chuckle.

I bought my car when I was in Gurgaon and it didn’t have sunfilms as Delhi region already had this no-sunfilm rule. Now it gives me immense pleasure to participate in “Have you removed your sunfilms yet?” conversations.

More amusing than the conversations, is to observe the ‘victims’ on the road.  Most of the city-folks have complied by now. When the rule was announced, I received a couple of “Bangalore against removing sunfilms” type group invitations on Facebook, which I heartily declined.  Of course, the protests failed. Yet again, citizens resigned to the fate. Feeble, feeble.

And now they drive, all exposed. You can see the covers of the seat, the toys on the backseat, the breakfast that they are having, the color of their skin and the look in their eyes (inquisitive/accusing). They are yet to get accustomed to the idea of sitting all exposed.

There was once a boy of 8, who used to always wear full-length trousers to feel like a grown up. He wanted more respect. Once his family went on a train journey and forced him to wear shorts, so that he looked below 6 and hence eligible for half-ticket.  He resisted and wailed, but all in vain. They promised him a seat by the window. When he got in the train, the window-seats were occupied by other kids. He had to sit squeezed between grown-ups.  All through the journey he stared at his knees, and he shuffled his legs, whenever a fly sat on the bare skin.

He adjusted. So have the citizens. And how they look at each other through the transparent windows, praying for the signal to go green. Privacy lost. Vulnerable.  Fellow sufferers. A general feeling of “Is Hamaam me sab nange hain” prevails.


Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Live

Lately I've been wondering a lot about, well, how to live. In the quest to understand life, I‘ve read a lot: philosophy, evolutionary-biology, neuroscience, history, social-sciences, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, gossip columns and porn. So far, I must admit, not much progress has been made.

Cicero said “To philosophize is to learn how to die”. I have a few suggestions for Mr. Cicero, but let's get to the point.

So, how to live? Simply stated, we don’t know, we don’t even know whether it is knowable, and more importantly, whether the question is valid. It is definitely not like “How to whistle” (which is a fairly complex activity I assure you; the Youtube videos aren't much help).

Chances are little that you’ll find an answer in a blog-post. Analytical answers might never come. Just look at us, spending billions and still struggling to spot the tiniest particle. So I turn to readily available wisdom in self-help books:

Live as if today were your last day:
If I were to live as if today were my last day, it most definitely will become one (unless they put me in jail before I am done with my exploits). Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that my morality stays intact and the expectation of a sure,timed death doesn’t trigger a violent reaction. In short, let's assume that I will be a good person overall.

Let’s take it slowly. Here’s the deal: You got just today. Will you bathe? Think it over. Remember, you got just 24 hours to live.

I won’t.

(Tragically, in the only case when you know for sure that today is your last day, they not only make you have a bath, they shave your head as well.)

However, since I am being a good person on the last day, I would call up Ma and Pa and tell them how much I love them. I finish the rest of day being extra nice and I go to bed expecting not to wake up again. I might call Ma again.

With 99.999% probability, I will wake up the next day. Since the deal remains the same, I won’t bathe and I will call Momma. If this continues for a week, my Mom will understandably take the next flight to Bangalore. Then she’ll find that I haven’t had a bath for seven days!! Like SEVEN whole days !! Need I say more?

So, you see, this philosophy won’t work. One can try and modify the theory to say that “live as if this is your tenth last day”. Most of us will bathe with respectable frequencies after this modification. However, will you pay the month electricity bill? I won’t. I suppose you get the drift.

Pacuvius, a wealthy man who lived a couple of thousand years ago, used to hold a regular burial sacrifice in his own honor, with wine and the usual funeral feasting, and then would have himself carried from the dining-room to his chamber, while eunuchs applauded and sang in Greek to a musical accompaniment: "He has lived his life, he has lived his life".

What is the best use of my time right now?:
A little reflection on this and one realizes that this is like an infinite loop with nothing at all happening inside the loop. One needs to fix sensible intervals between the “right now”s. It can’t be too long either, else significance of “right now” is lost. Let’s say an hour. Now what? This maxim has nothing to say for what is the best possible use. It’s more of a technique rather than a solution.

Also, this technique shares the flaw (although not as acutely) of the previous saying. Who, in his right mind, will say “Right now, the best use of my time is to have a bath”? Answer lies in the question. Someone who is too itchy and stinking, even for himself, will eventually find that a hot bath is the best use of the next few minutes.

Another limitation is that one might get occupied with local maximas and lose sight of the long run fulfillment. The best possible use of the next ball is to hit it for a six, but attempting so every ball won’t win you the match.


Took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference:
Robert Frost wrote the poem in jest. To Frost’s dismay, the irony was lost on almost everyone and the lines ended up being used in motivational ways. Even his closest friend Edward Thomas, an accomplished poet in his own right, and for whom Frost wrote the poem, didn’t, so to speak, get it. Instead, he got inspired and joined the English army in the First World War. Frost wrote this poem in 1915, Thomas got killed in 1916.

More often than not, it’s the traveler that matters. “Taking the road less travelled” can’t be a universal rule anyway as one would expect a uniform distribution of people on all roads if it was as simple as that, unless of course the road is less travelled for a sensible reason. E.g. You won’t make it big just because you choose never to have a bath.

Live life to the fullest:
Like what? Should I install a bath-tub instead of using a shower? This maxim makes me feel like blowing up a big balloon.
----------------------------------------x----------------------------------------

In short, I am not impressed. You know how the whole thing is:

(A very very complex and huge expression) = ?

You ponder a while and then tell yourself “This shit is taking long; let me grab a cup of tea and two cookies”. By the time you are back with your tea, already sore at yourself for having finished the cookies last night, the left hand side of the equation has become furthermore complex.

With life, the rules are not only complex, but fuzzy and evolutionary. As it is, even the strictest of formal systems are doomed to be incomplete. I guess there isn’t much else to do, but to live life to the fullest on this last day of my life and squeeze in a leisurely bath somewhere along the road less travelled.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It Really Doesn’t Matter

If you are the kind who admires confidence and decisiveness, I am afraid I won’t be leaving a great impression on you if you happen to be seating opposite to me after the waiter has handed the menu cards.

It would have been easy if we were seated in a French or an Italian restaurant and I were too shy to mispronounce a dish; I would have chosen the one which is easy to roll off the tongue regardless of how it might taste. Instead, I am shameless enough to say the number against the dish or point finger at it on the card and then nod when the waiter pronounces it properly (I am sure they are trained with only those French /Italian words). Or I can always show it to you and you can order it with grace. So my unwillingness to choose from the menu card is cuisine-agnostic. (I might be flattering myself by calling it unwillingness, as it is most probably perceived as an inability.)

It’s not that I lack the discerning taste altogether. Capsicum is chilly and banana is sweet. Chilly is better than sweet. And I do derive pleasure from the food, especially if it tastes like chocolate (chocolate is not counted in sweet). But I find it hard to calculate which item on the menu will bring me more joy. Sometimes I have a vague idea, but I believe it will be too arrogant on my part to announce based on that, because you will take it as a well thought decision based on clear preferences. It will be an implicit lie. I can’t be cheating someone who is dining with me unless I am bound to benefit a lot from it. I would rather let you choose and go with it, feeling safe in the knowledge that overall there is more satisfaction in the world.

Admittedly, there is a catch here. It might be too taxing on you to pick for two. It’s unfair to assume that it’s easy for you to choose. I don’t want to be a freeloader. As a means to avoid implicitly lying and freeloading, I have decided to take the following route the next time I find myself with a menu card in my hands:

“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, but I’ll go with X, with toppings of Y, although Z seems to be equally fine. However, if you have a better idea, feel free to pitch in.”

This should not imply I am open to eat a half cooked cat. The variance and quality is bounded by the cuisine and the place of which I am aware by virtue of holding the corresponding menu card.

Ideally (subjective), the menu card should simply have a scale which asks “How hungry are you?” (In future, they can have scanners at the door that judge the hunger-level without relying on perceptions.) They can make the card fancy by starting the levels from “As hungry as a rat” and ending at “So hungry that I can even eat a rat right now”.

There is little confusion in the case of drinks though. It all depends on whether I will be driving afterwards. If no, I go for whisky, else beer it is. If you are a guy and you order vodka or a cocktail, I won’t trust you with my car. So you better not be a guy.

Too many ‘if’s and ‘I’s in this post: another not so impressive trait in a man. But I am relieved to have made my stand crystal clear.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Still Don't Know

When I died, I wasn’t surprised to be escorted in to the gate that read:

Welcome To

where else

Hell.

Death leaves one with the bitterness that can't be cured. No one recovers from the humiliation. Building heaven for the dead is like building a machine that snatches the eye balls out of a man and gives him tickets to a silent movie in return. The “Where Else” made a lot of sense. Everyone goes to hell; because wherever one goes, there is hell.

But there is order in hell. Hell is divided into many large halls. (You don’t see any fire or demons; the memories of your death are torture enough.) Which hall you go to, depends on the way you died.

A hellboy appeared.

“This way, Sir.”

He looked exactly like me.

“We’ll have to pass through a few of the halls before we reach your deathbed.”

“So, I get a bed, eh?” I was lame when it came to small-talk, even in death.

In the first hall, some beings were standing, some were sitting and some were lying on their beds. Those who were lying on beds cried the loudest.

“Sir, if you sit on your bed, you can never stand again, but you may lie down. And once you lie down, you can neither stand nor sit.”

They all kept repeating how they died in between their sobs. This hall belonged to those who died a natural death of old age.

We entered the next hall. This hall had lesser lethargy but more gloom than the previous one. It belonged to those who fell victims to fatal diseases before they could grow old. I looked for my dog.

“Sir, the animals are immediately recycled back to earth.” Hellboy knew it all.

The third hall belonged to those who were quashed in accidents and natural disasters. The tone of weeping had stronger sense of wrongdoing and uneasiness about it.

“Sir, please brace yourself. We are about to enter the most hostile hall in hell.”

We stepped in to the next hall. Men were bawling violently. They were trying to talk, but midway through the sentences they would turn away and begun wailing and stomping their limbs.

“What kind of deaths did they suffer?” I asked apprehensively.

“Sir, they all died in ridiculous fashions, and for little fault of anyone.”

Shouldn’t they be in the Accident Hall then?”

“Sir, there is a difference between being run over by a car and being asphyxiated to death beneath a fat whore.”

“You see that man, sir? He died of shock because he mistook his kid’s belt lying on the floor for a snake. And that man died of a bullet fired up in the sky by one of his wedding party reveler. These men are so embarrassed of their ways of death that they can’t speak about it and so the sorrow lingers on and becomes more and more severe.”

In one corner of the hall, I saw a room with its door locked. Hellboy was leading me to it. I could hear horror filled yells from within the room.

“Sir, the man in this room had his balls eaten of by his lover’s dog. The dog had never seen a naked man before. This man has been the most severe case of embarrassment we have had in recent times.”

Hellboy proceeded to open the door of the room. The man inside ran to me and held me tight and opened his mouth to say something, but voice escaped him. He was asked to go to a nearby bed.

“Sir, may I request you to please proceed into this room.”

“What! Did I die such a sorry death?”

Hellboy stayed mum.

“Am I the dog that choked on his balls? But I would have been recycled then!”

Hellboy continued staring at the floor.

“Won’t you please tell me how I died? I don’t seem to remember it.”

“Sir, we don’t tell anyone how they died. They all know it on their own.”

Saying so, he shut the door on me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Tailor's Box

When Abdul took measurements of his customers, he secretly measured their age too. Decades of sewing clothes had taught him how the human body decays with time.

Years ago when the rich landlord had brought red silk for making curtains for his house, Abdul saved enough material to tailor his daughter Abeeda’s wedding dress . He hid the dress in a box which he opened on the day she got married twelve years later. Abdul invited everyone to the wedding, but the rich landlord.

Kasim, the butcher was invited too. Kasim’s daughter Sakina was Abeeda’s friend. Sakeena eloped with Kasim’s assistant and came back home five days later at midnight, bruised and beaten. Kasim took her to his slaughterhouse and lynched her. Her body was never found.

The whole village had eaten Sakina bit by bit the next day, at the price of a cow’s meat. Abdul knew this because he got the bone which matched the size of her hand. He puked, but he kept quiet.

A few months before the whole village ate Sakina, Kasim had come to Abdul to get his trousers loosened. Abdul found a lottery ticket in his pocket and hid it in the same box in which he hid Abeeda’s wedding dress.

After a week when the lottery winners were announced, Kasim’s ticket won a petty sum that wouldn’t buy anything more than a good meal for two. So Abdul took the ticket to Kasim, expecting a good meal as an appreciation for his honesty. Kasim shut the door on him and swore that he will tell the entire village that he is a thief. But Kasim didn’t do that; he just stopped going to Abdul to get his trousers loosened.

Abdul was happy that Abeeda didn’t elope. If she had, he would have given the red silk dress to the rich landlord and hid Abeeda in the same box in which he hid the dress.

But she didn’t elope and she got married and nine month later she gave birth to Suleman.

One day when little Suleman was sitting in the mud, Abeeda asked Abdul, “Papa, will you make a dress for my Suleman’s funeral. And keep it in the box in which you hid my wedding dress”.

“Yes, I will.”

Abeeda looked longingly at her Suleman and asked Abdul in a trembling voice, “Papa, how tall will my son grow?”

“Taller than me.”

Abdul was right. Suleman grew up to three and a half feet, a good two inch taller than his grandfather. And when Suleman died an old man, shrunken by an inch, they took the dress, which Abdul made seventy years ago, out of the box. It fit the dead body perfectly.

The box remains empty since then.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tooth-Fairies And Soap

Yesterday I helped the cause of a budding barber. Although my right ear still hurts, I am satisfied with my readiness for an impromptu “Who has the shortest hair?” contest.
It’s been a long break and I am pleasantly surprised at the number and identities of the people who noticed the absence. I have come to realize that this blog is seen more as a tool for self-exhibition than as a place where I write stuff.
But this self-exhibition is still a fiction (albeit of little commercial value). What I exhibit is of course chosen and/or manipulated. (E.g. More than half of the apologetic scenarios mentioned here never happened. Apologies for that.) Nearly all of us do this selection with a varying degree of awareness and intent.
Does that make me liar? Well, I do lie sometimes in real life, but the lies on this blog are of different nature. I add ornamentation purposely to entertain, and not to cheat. Things that I have on mind while writing are on the lines of “Does this sound funny or intelligent?”, “What if?”, “Is this getting too inconsistent?” etc. I don’t see this blog as a place where I express my innermost thoughts (blah) or try to connect with people.
However, I maintain that I did have that haircut from a novice barber yesterday.
Meanwhile, my new neighborhood is living up to the expectations mentioned in the previous post. Also, there ain’t gonna be no Deember for me. Fish are too selfish to bother about their owners. I now have a small garden instead, with over a dozen plants bought from a nearby nursery. Tender little weeds have begun sprouting in most of the pots. I don’t have the heart to snatch them out of the soil. They look like a bunch of street puppies wagging their tails amidst the foreign bred dogs.
I watched television for a few weeks (mostly trash). In every episode of “Emotional Atyachar”, after the initial preaching about the vices of infidelity, whenever the cheating partner smooches the enchantress, they blur the area of action and pop comes the advertising banner below: “Spraymint . Be kiss-ready”. I love capitalism.
I must clarify though that despite the last example, I am all for capitalism. More things get created, both good and bad. Creation is, well, interesting. If you mock at it, you better be good. Saying “Tooth-fairies are bullshit” isn’t enough, true though it might be. Saying “The only Tooth-fairy I have known is that beautiful dentist” is better, but still lame. It’s hard to match the idea of “Tooth-fairy”, however ridiculous it may seem.
Things need not be fantastic in a general sense to be marveled at. Take Soap. Soap, like every one of us, is made up of many-many subatomic particles. It can be traced back to Big-Bang. And soaps, as we know them, will cease to exist in not so distant future. The soap I bought after the hair-cut, had it been luckier, could have rubbed the dirty body of a beautiful Tooth-fairy. It still could, if I get luckier. A soap can be eaten too (it’s delicious).
I must stop here. I am hungry. There are too many loose and philosophically contestable statements in this post already.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My New Place

I am moving into a new house this decade end. It’s a little duplex, an independent two-bedroom house, not far from where I stay currently. At 900 sq feet plot area, it’s rather modest, but those with a propensity to exclaim “so cute” won’t find many reasons to hold the complement back.

There’s just about enough parking place for my little car in the front; then there is a hall, followed by stairs that lead up to a bedroom on the first floor which opens up to the terrace where I shall be spending mornings brushing teeth, and evenings, laying on a bean bag. The stairs are followed by a small kitchen and a room which opens up to a backyard that can accommodate four coffins in a two by two file.

I will finally un-wrap my television and put it in the hall, thereby ending nearly six years of forced abstinence. I am also going to fulfill the ambition of having a pet-fish. The fish-bowl too goes in hall. Somewhere in Bangalore there exists a fish yet to be christened Deember (While chatting with a friend about how different this December is, the “c” was missed and the result was immediately recognized to be an apt name for a squirrel).

Kitchen will have the usual things along with the only matchbox I have ever bought in Bangalore, six years ago. The matchsticks are still crisp, fully capable of burning, and have somehow mastered the art of reproduction inside the box.

The ground floor bedroom (the one with the creepy backyard), will be my supposedly-absurd-thoughts-room. It will have books and my personal laptop, but no internet connection or any timepiece. The room will largely be empty and devoid of any physical clutter.

After immense considerations, the internet connection goes to the first floor bedroom which will be my otherwise-normal-bedroom. (Wi-fi is not an option since the supposedly-absurd-thoughts-room must remain sacred). I didn’t check the attached bathroom of the first floor bedroom because by the time I was taken upstairs on the visit, I knew I was going to take the house, no matter what existed beyond the bathroom door. Besides, it’s too embarrassing to check the bathrooms in a house still inhabited by others. And the one of ground-floor had all things expected of a bathroom.

The current occupant (a colleague) and those in the know, emphasize the benefits of specially arranged security in the locality. At this stage of my life, security is the least of my concerns, but I still mention it when describing the place to friends/acquaintances and they nod their heads approvingly.

I kind of feel guilty towards the current place for being so eager to move out of it. This was my second house in the city. I have become so indifferent and condensing towards this place that I calculated the total rent I paid for the place. It’s nearly three hundred thousand.

All waiters in the area can predict my orders. The car-cleaner, maid and dhobi know me enough to look at me with pity. That’s one thing I got going for me. I am prone to be pitied upon, regardless of how I might be placed in various spheres. It’s an evolutionary trait perhaps.

There are quite a few schools in my current locality. I will miss watching poor kids rushing to school, mugging up on exam days; my daily dose of schadenfreude with a bit of nostalgia thrown in.

As I will move into the new place, I am bound to discover some drawbacks. The rain might be too noisy, there could be big fat rats (or even small ones), some new construction might begin in the area causing noise and dust, and so on and so forth. One negative that I have gauged already is that the neighborhood offers no chance of amusement or adventure.

My first house (in Gurgaon) allowed for hearing to the next-door twenty-something accusing his father of discouraging him at different stages in his life and the examples he used to cite were funny and deserve an entire blog-post.

We were thrown out of our next house from a posh apartment in Gurgaon because boys staying in the room next door used to make porn. We saw neither the porn, nor the actors. They were caught later on and the news was covered on Aaj-tak. Following that, Society Council pushed all the bachelors out.

We shifted to a nearby Society which employed a swimming pool supervisor with erratic timings. Our apartment didn’t offer the view to the pool. If the boys in the neighboring building, which offered the view to the pool, were out smoking in balcony, we used to infer (almost always correctly) that the pool is open.

Later I moved to Bangalore and have been staying on my own since then. My first house in Bangalore had three college going girls on the floor above. One fine day in March years ago, four girls knocked on my door and drenched me. We played Holi. They invited me to come along and I politely refused.

The next house, which is the current one, has pink walls, pink basin, pink tiles and pink toilet-seat. I was summoned to police station once when I had a drink-party with loud music on the terrace. The matter was solved “amicably”. And there are a few pretty faces around this place.

But the future house, on first inspection, offers nothing promising. The current occupant assured me that there is little to worry about and everyone is peaceful and all the houses have families with kids.

I will find solace in my supposedly-absurd-thoughts-room. And in Deember.