Friday, July 1, 2011

The Day I Scored

A goal. Not with a girl. Or weed. Both desirable things to be scored, but not what I scored last Saturday.

Strangely, there are a substantial number of people who would remain calm and composed and greet you with the merest twitch of the lower lip if you were to tell them that I had scored with a girl or some weed, but would swoon, faint, hang out a crepe and have their friends gather around and say what a pity it all is, upon hearing the news that I had scored a goal on the football field. Some might even go the extent of remarking that there is enough sadness in life without fellows like Basil scoring goals. However, being largely liberal and broad minded and drawing the line only at Rebecca Black actually explaining the hidden meanings behind her songs, I am able to accommodate such views. Further, I am able to dissect, analyse and discover the source of such emotion.

I have always been a flamboyant and irrepressible forward who was denied international honours only by the misfortune of his own genetic makeup, selectorial prejudice against rubbish football players, and his inability to score flamboyant and/or irrepressible goals. The fascination in scoring a goal depends almost entirely on whether you are facing the goal post and net or whether the items mentioned are facing your back. I have been, for as long as I can remember, a goalkeeper. The sole purpose I had while playing football was to stop goals from being scored, rather than actually scoring them. I suspect that this has rubbed off on the general public. Perhaps because I am a sensational keeper, or because of sheer repetitiveness, many of those acquainted with me can picture me only between the posts and nowhere else on the field.

However, because of the general laziness of a few friends and their subsequent disinterest in mucking about on the field, I have been forced to be an outfield player while the more idle become goal keepers. So it was on Saturday. I had gone to the school ground hoping to catch a few goal-ward bound balls and let in as few goals as I could manage when forces beyond my control pushed me out into open play. Observing that the forward line of my team was rather unoccupied, I strode to position.
I ran about, rather aimlessly, for close to an hour or so with little result. I had wasted a couple of good chances and was generally letting anyone who had eyes see that I had as much chance of making an impact as an SFI march had of remaining peaceful. Taking solace in the fact that I had little to no experience in the business of being a striker, I sauntered about the penalty box.

Then, came the moment. It was a corner kick, though definitely not intended for me. It flew into the box and bounced of half a dozen players like the ball in a pinball machine. Then, in what seemed to me like ultra-slow motion, the ball bounced on to me. From the mere fact that I had made an absolute mess out of two previous chances, not many a punter would have put his money on me. However, seizing the tide in the affairs as Shakespeare advised, I prodded the ball with the side of the boot, accidently adequately placing it between the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper and the right post. It was a goal.

Man has, over the course of his existence, discovered a whole gamut of emotions. Some are considered noble. Some not so much. Love, for example, has had a lot of press-agenting from the oldest times. However, on Saturday, I discovered that there are higher, nobler things than love. The sheer exhilaration upon scoring, an euphoria that wells up inside you, your brain chemistry getting all messed up, resulting in an ear to ear grin, that feeling that makes you want to run a hundred metres, take off your shirt and jump into the arms of a dozen people. That undefined, unnamed and probably unanalysed feeling is perhaps the noblest of them all.

Being a game with zero audiences and no consequence to anybody other than the players, I merely turned around and looked around me. On their faces were a unique mixture of amazement, incredulity and relief, for we were getting a shellacking at the hands of a superior opposition. I was merely grinning from ear to ear.

It was at that moment, for it has been a very very long time since I scored a goal, that I realised why professional footballers celebrate the way they do upon scoring. They may score in almost every game every weekend but they are ecstatic enough to prance around and do somersaults in front of forty thousand people. That is why Wayne Rooney can shout into a camera, Ronaldinho can flex his body into a dance, Cesc Fabregas can risk a yellow card by taking his shirt off, Raul can kiss his ring and Totti vibrate his palm around his ear like a confused man trying to adjust the volume on the car stereo. They may be getting paid astronomical sums of money for doing that but in a golden moment or two, true passion and love for the game shines through. It is those moments that make the game truly beautiful.

I, on the other hand, am still ecstatic and continue to boast of my telling strike. This post is merely another effort in that direction.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Angry Bearded Men

The other day, one cloudy morning, I opened a newspaper, having been kicked out of bed and a beautiful dream by parents who were anxious that their son was whiling away his vacations with the pursuit of nothings. Right on the front page of The Hindu, greeting my still sleepy face, were two angry bearded men. One was Ilyas Kashmiri, who was declared dead in Afghanistan. The other was Baba Ramdev who declared a fast until death unless India’s rather large share of black money was brought back to the country so that more people may learn and practice yoga.

In a more frivolous time, when you did not have to sweat a gallon about being politically correct and did not have to fear angry mob who might scythe off your palm, a resourceful editor with a sense of humour might have swapped photos of Ilyas Kashmiri and Baba Ramdev. You know, just for kicks. However, that was not to be and we are forced to go through our mundane days without being able to fall back on the morning memory of Baba Ramdev being captioned Ilyas Kashmiri.

I am a simple man with simple world views and in my opinion, the fewer angry bearded men the world has, the better. The death of Ilyas Kashmiri, whose only endearing quality may have been that he had a pretty wicked name, brought joy to my heart as the world population of raving bearded men took a minor hit. Baba Ramdev seemed, as far as I could make out from The Hindu, to be alive, kicking and very angry. In my limited view, the black money unscrupulous and enterprising Indians have stashed away in the mountains of Switzerland and the white sand beaches of Cayman Islands can stay there for a wee bit longer if it rid this world of Baba Ramdev, his anger and his antics.

In fact, I suppose a win-win situation can be achieved if the government, or whoever is in charge of such things, would just let Baba Ramdev die. The death of Baba Ramdev would inevitably unleash the fury and wrath of that small percentage of the Indian population who still give a tiny rat’s ass about politics, corruption and Gandhi-like fasts. This fury and wrath, aided by further blackmailing from the part of Anna Hazare would surely spur the government or whoever is in charge of such things to actually bring back that rather huge stash of black money and lose it in corrupt deals within India. Go desi! The final balance sheet- Baba Ramdev, no. Lots of money coming back to India, yes. Two birds with one stone, eh?

However, as I lack the political pull pre-requisite for putting through such pulverising plans, I am left to merely postulate. Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’. As midnight raids and salwar-kameez escapades abound, one can only hope that it all tapers off to a good end. Though what end that might be I fear to contemplate. Baba Ramdev, for all his anger, rainforest beard and inane posturing does appear to be a singularly determined man. Like all singularly determined men, he has dug his toes in and is only prepared to dig them out if his demands are met. It is at moments like these that one looks upto Flying Spaghetti Monster and asks ‘Why?’ Why at all was Baba Ramdev created human? All the first-class qualities of a mule gone to waste.

The Hindu, in a rare occasion of front page humour says “The demands of the jet setting Baba, whose acolytes recently bought him a little Scottish island to open an ashram….. range from the serious to bizarre”. Of course, you know them all by now. Hang the corrupt from lamp posts, ban the institution of currency and go back to the barter system, renounce a tried and tested form of governance the British came up with and opt for a Swadeshi model, make him king of the country and the like.

Of course, as with all such reforming revolutionaries willing to fast it out in New Delhi, our angry Baba Ramdev wants to promote Hindi at the expense of English. For some reason, perhaps ranking his demands in ascending order of stupidity, The Hindu put this point last when they made a list of Baba’s main demands. I was going through this list the aforementioned cloudy morning shaking and nodding my head, letting out intermittent chuckle,s a ‘Ha!’ here and there until I reached the last point. At this point my blood started bubbling and boiling and in the interest of surviving, I jumped into a cold shower.

Baba Ramdev himself, is suspected of having several dirty fingers in several dirty pies. No one knows from where he gets all his money, though he is generally recognised to be a multi-millionaire sadhu. The government, in a perfect example of the term tit for tat, has decided to investigate the Baba and find that piece of incriminating evidence by which it can direct a well-aimed kick at Baba’s saffron clad derriere and send him squelching back to his Scottish island.

As much as I pity the fine Scots, after all they gave us Scotch whiskey, I rejoice at the distinct possibility of Baba Ramdev fading away into his remote island, where he might spend the day and night practising yoga, making much more money and, if he is enterprising enough, banging the brains out of his ardent worshippers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On The Last Bencher

Different people have different times at which they can be guaranteed to be at your service. Some prefer the early morning air and chirping of the birds, while some others are not themselves unless they washed their insides with some fine old port. Some people I know are up to anything once they have wolfed down a couple of calzones, while some can run till noon on a glass of skimmed milk. If you want me for anything, be it scaling Mount Everest stark naked or to deliver a heavily loaded emotional bomb to your better half, call me up in the holidays. The months of December, as well as the summer months of May, June and July find me at my willing best. Throw me a challenge and I jump at it like a restless pug.

Obviously familiar with this fact of life, the Alumni Association of IIT Madras, whose esteemed campus I (dis) grace, sent an e-mail sometime in December, calling forth those interested in signing up for a literary endeavour that was to be the first of its kind. This novel venture aimed to capture the life and times of the batch of students passing out in 2011 in a book. Touted as a book of memories, it sought to preserve in print the exploits of those bidding goodbye to the leafy shades of IIT Madras. It was the holidays, Christmas was around the corner and I was bored. Thus, one fine morning, the Alumni Association of IIT Madras woke up to find in its inbox an e-mail that enthusiastically offered the services of Basil James.

Weeks passed and I completely forgot about the Alumni Association and its book. Things were in the doldrums when an unexpected e-mail sometime in February reminded me of those bored days in December and what I had signed up for. Apparently, the Alumni Association wanted to interview me. Invited to the unfamiliar haunts of the Central Library, I appeared for the interview and forgot all about it in two days. Again, weeks passed and things were in the doldrums. Again, quite unexpectedly an e-mail appeared congratulating me on being a part of the book the AA wanted to put out.

Headed by the cute and inimitable Surbhi Maheshwari, we were a motley crew of almost a dozen. Work was distributed efficiently, and I realised I was a correspondent, in charge of visiting final year students and asking them to think of funny stuff that happened to them while in college. In fact, everyone in the team who was not a final year was a correspondent and the rest were editors of some sort or the other. A few weeks and interactions with students later, I suddenly came to realise that I was made an editor of the book. Of course, within days I soon realised that though being the only non-final year editor on board was pretty uplifting, it had its rough side. A final year editor, when asked by a fellow final year editor to do some work, can always ask the latter to bury his/her head in the toilet as the former wanted to watch movies. However, a second year editor can never do this and hope to hang on to dear life. The pretty straight forward rules of senior-junior interaction meant that I did my work with the belligerence of an Assyrian coming down the hill.

I still got to go out and meet a few seniors and listen to their stories. It was great fun, listening to the pranks some fellows have been upto, especially chaps you would not suspect such behaviour from in the first glance. The people I mostly interviewed were people the final years on board knew, which meant that the people I interviewed were also people pretty well-known across campus. Some of the people had reputations that preceded them and they backed the rumours up with solid stories. Others were resolved to, as Lady Macbeth said, look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under’t.

Being an editor, I was exposed to a lot of original writing by Insti junta, articles that were written by final year students themselves and not by correspondents. I was, quite frankly, appalled by the standard of English and writing that exists in my college after reading them. Many of those articles would make a first grader look like Lord Tennyson and made me dumber for having read them. Such toxic waste led to much more work, where I virtually re wrote entire articles to give it a semblance of respectability.

After much effort and equally effective amounts of slacking, the book finally came out in the middle of April. It was well designed, the double pronged design team showing us and the world the way it is done. It was quite a good return for a few months’ work and I found myself feeling slightly proud for what I had helped to accomplish. Of course, going through the book, I found a few errors here and there, some in articles I had personally edited. Being a firm follower in the Wodehousian philosophy that one should never apologise in life as the good people do not want one and the bad people are prone to take a mean advantage of them, I shall desist. But I wish I had done a better job and given a bit more attention and spared a few more moments before rushing off to watch the Arsenal defence leak like sponge.

It was pretty great to be a part of The Last Bencher (as the book got christened) and it really taught me much about bringing out a book. Much credit, though grudgingly given (due to my miserly nature more than anything else), is to be accorded to the team of almost a dozen that worked hard to make the book a success. At the risk of this sounding like a cliché vote of thanks speech, let me extend my hand and shake theirs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Woes of a Not So Religious

Back in Trivandrum for three months of peace prosperity and joblessness, I have been occupied in useful activity to a lesser extent than a bunch of union members demanding nokku kooli in a local junction in Kerala. Almost exclusively due to that fact, I have been dragged along to pretty much every place my parents thought fit to grace with their presence. Of course, one man's meat is another man's poison. Being only this much short of being television evangelists, the preferred locations in which my parents hang out are prayer groups or other gatherings of similar nature. Being an agnostic and a closet one at that, these gatherings are as much appealing to me as Chris Gayle is to Prasanth Parameswaran.

One such expedition led me and my sorry ass to the inaugration of a new church. It was supposed to start at seven in the evening and I presume it did, but by the time I reached there it was well past eight. Inside, some Reverend was going Old Testament on capitalism, consumerism and all that is good with the modern world. From the outside, I could perceive a packed church, teeming with devotees, clinging on to every pearl dropping from the mouth of the Reverend.

Being a new church and hampered by financial constraints, it was a small establishment, fit to to house less than a hundred people. A more glaring disadvantage the place had was that it had only one door, an entry point from the front. Now, an essential feaure any church should have is multiple entry points, from the sides as well as the back. The reason is simple. The more religiously inclined are bound to come right on time and enter through the front door. However, those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit to a lesser extent often leaves home at 7:30 for an event that starts at seven. For them alone, the side and back entries are necessary. If you have only a front door, the church goer and his sorry ass is forced to walk in through the front door, under the critical glare of everyone present, receiving unspoken censure from the Reverend. One is forced to screw ones courage to the spot, modify the facial expression to one of intense passion and religious fervour and walk in, looking at the floor and hoping not to upset the charity box on the way. Added to that is the risk that the Reverend, who just spent fifteen minutes handing modernity's ass to itself, might seek to provide comic relief through the late comer, with one snide biblical reference.

All this only exacerbates the need for all churches to have multiple entry points, with at least a few of them hidden away from the censuring eyes of the punctual and the religious. Otherwise, that church is bound to miss out on having illustrious persona such as yours truly in the audience, as the Reverend makes modernity wish that the earth would swallow it. Of course, one could always argue, from an economist stand point, that such grief would be an added incentive for any church goer to reach on time. The flipside, of course, is that, if the church goer is resourceful, he may just slink off to a side road as his parents walk into the church, screwing their courage to the spot, modifying the facial expression to one of intense passion and religious fervour and walk in, looking at the floor and hoping not to upset the charity box on the way.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Movies and English

I have been watching a lot of movies lately. Not that I was not watching them earlier, it is just that I have gotten more into it than before. Earlier, I used to be the Parthiv Patel of movies. Now I am the Brendon McCullum of movies. Not yet Sachin Tendulkar, but getting there. A majority of the movies I watch are from Hollywood, featuring the big names, the household names, the soon to be big names or just names. Sometimes, people tickle me that I do not watch enough Indian movies and thus miss out on a lot of fun and frolic. The fact is that I speak two languages of which only one is native to India. I have watched most of the good Mallu movies and quite a few bad ones as well. Just for kicks. The other language I am fluent in happens to be English and not Tamil, Telugu, Hindi or Bhojpuri, thus restricting my choice of movies. People say that the visual media has a language of its own and one should watch movies of different languages even though you understand just about nothing. The problem is that enjoying the dialogues is an integral part of any movie watching experience. It is only then that one gets to know the nuances and the intricacies of the movie. Plus, one can understand only the bare skeletal structure of the story by just watching the scenes of a movie. These days, all movies seem to have the same structure. It is only good dialogues that make them enjoyable.

One fact that continues to amaze me is the lack of bilingual movies in India. With a population of 1.21 billion and a few thousand languages, it might seem very profitable to have two languages in your movie and thus draw double the crowd. Or maybe, perhaps if you take a movie in Tamil and Hindi, the Tamil audience might think it is a Hindi movie and move it while the Hindi junta would call it a Madrasville production and sweep it under the carpet. Perhaps, making a bilingual movie is the perfect way for a producer to go the dogs.

Personally though, I would love it someone made a bilingual movie with the two languages I know- English and Mallu. Now let us be clear here. When I say bilingual movie, I mean a movie in which actors can speak both languages with at least as much finesse and fluency as I can. Instead, if the fare to be put on show involves Lalu Alex spitting out English dialogues which sound as if they were written by Britain’s P.E No.1, I am outta here. Too many movies have gone by with someone or the other taking a hacksaw and chopping the language I love into six. English dialogues in the Mallu movie industry is pretty much like school in July- no class. Of what I have seen, very few people in the Mallu movie industry speak good English. It has reached such a situation that sometimes I pray people in movies do not venture into English dialogues. Yet, once in a while, they do.

May be it is the unfamiliarity with the language, but the dialogues in English are clichés, grammatically incorrect and outright bad. I am perfectly sure there are opportunities open for a part-time English dialogue writer in Mollywood and I am prepared to jump for it. At least then, the Suresh Gopis and the Prithvirajs can shout out decent dialogues, dialogues that do not sound like they came from a remote corner of an elementary school.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Shakespeare

"With the single exception of Homer there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare, when I measure my mind against his"- George Bernard Shaw.

One wonders whether Shaw was being appreciative of Shakespeare or otherwise when he made this statement, but either way, I could have said the same thing several times. I first met Shakespeare as a pimply lad of fourteen in school. Julius Caesar, that famous political drama/thriller was the topic of study. Shakespeare had formally entered my life. Of course, I had brief and fleeting interactions with the Bard before, but they were too small and insignificant to deserve much mention.

Much has changed from that time and now and one significant change has been that I actually like Shakespeare these days. Back in school, Shakespeare appeared to be a douche nugget from whose pen words fell like shit from a diarrhoeic ass. May be it was the fact that he wrote in verse which did not have that allure of well written prose.

Julius Caesar came upon me at an impressionable age. Unfortunately, it was not Old Bill who got to do the impressioning. Rather, it was a strange anti-Shakespeare feeling, a notion that what the fellow had written was jackshit. We were told that Shakespeare was a master dramatist, someone who understood the human nature intimately and portrayed society wonderfully in his plays. To me, Shakespeare was just a sycophant on an ass-kissing mission to the royal palace. In those times, if you did not know something, then it was art and if art was shoved down your throat, you hated it. At that time our Shakespeare teacher seemed to grab me by the throat and bark sternly into my face: “You are coming with me. No arguments. Now sit down, and do exactly what I tell you.”

The whole Shakespeare affair was supposed to be informative, refurbishing and ultimately giving your soul a gung ho! I don’t say I’ve got much of a soul, but, such as it is, I’m perfectly satisfied with the little chap. I don’t want people fooling about with it. ‘Leave it alone,’ I say. ‘Don’t touch it. I like it the way it is.

Three years later came Macbeth and the treatment meted out was pretty much the same, if only less harsh. Shakespeare remained that incredible scourge that blots the English literary landscape. Add to that it was taught by someone who was once described as a manipulative svengali and you get the general picture. May be some psychoanalysts would like to read into those uninformed days of hate as Freudian slips of emotion. After all, I was, and still continue to be, a flamboyant and irrepressible pen wielder who was denied international honours only by the misfortune of my own genetic makeup, selectorial prejudice against rubbish writers, and my inability to wield a pen in a flamboyant and/or irrepressible manner.
Shakespeare’s works seemed to border on the ridiculous, an almost implausible rendering of affairs, if you will. Back in those days if I got an opportunity to meet Shakespeare, I would have sat him down, mopped his brow, given him a sharp talking to, told him to get a proper job, and poured a cup of iced tea over his head.

Some may like to call it anti-Establishment bias or a need to revolt against the prescribed norms, but back in those days, Old Bill seemed to be just plain stupid. His stories seemed more undercooked than a roast chicken that arrives at your table on the phone to its personal injury lawyer complaining of mild heat rash. Julius Caesar appeared to be a silly story of how eight men kill one chap and then three men, who thought the deceased chap had been hard done by, went and bopped one each on those eight chaps. It was historical, classical and widely praised by grey hairs all around the globe. Or in other words, it was something not to be touched with a ten foot bean pole.

But as time passed, I believe I have come to appreciate the man in a better sense and perspective, becoming much more receptive to the taste and feel of a Shakespeare. Today, I recognize him as the foremost among the great British playwrights and authors, not that my recognition matters to anyone else but me. Interestingly, it is the very facts about the Bard I hated all those years ago that endears him to me now. I love his old prose. They have a certain ring to them and they just rolls off one's tongue. He certainly has to be one of the best scriptwriters ever. One wonders what Guy Ritchie would have done with an original of Merchant of Venice.

Shakespeare is no longer a stubbly man with the gold-hooped earring leering at the girl in the candy floss hut on a shady London street. Back in those days, I swore by Francis Bacon and was convinced without any evidence whatsoever that Shakespeare was a thieving little rat who had pilfered the works of an unsung great. However, today I do not care whether it was Shakespeare of Bacon who was responsible for Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing. After all, what is in a name? The very idea of Shakespeare, a literary genius whose plots and stories are still rip roaring material today, a man with exquisite art and grace and capable of putting it down in the written word.

I will no longer win the great delusion award for unshakable self belief. But I can keep googling for quotes by Shakespeare for almost anything under the sun and get cracking results. May be, that is what has put Shakespeare in a better light for me. The very fact that you can copy a couplet with stupendous results puts him in a league of his own.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bad Hair Days

Something I presented in class for a creative writing course last semester.

These are times when plurality and an open minded nature are all the rage. Everybody seems to be exploring avenues to demonstrate to the whole wide world the breadth of their outlook. Authors as a class are no exception. They are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that they do not ignore the realities of life. In the days of the old fashioned novel or short story, your hero would be Dr. Blank or Mr. Asterisk I.A.S. But not so today. You walk out on to the road and you see writers everywhere whose latest heroes are taxi drivers and stadium curates.

And yet, no writer has been plucky enough to make his hero bald.

Novelists go into every class to construct heroes and surely, some of them must have had a receding hairline. I’m sure that this was the case at least with the originals. Then why not say so? Authors are moving with the times on every other aspect. Then why not in this? It is futile to suggest that bald men are not romantic. I have spotted signs of a receding hairline on my head and have a strong family history of the same, but I am singularly romantic. For commercial reasons, if not for others, writers ought to take some of that fuzz from the tops of their heroes.

It is an established fact that the reader likes to imagine himself as the hero, while reading. What an audience the first author to star a bald hero will have! All over the country thousands of men will brighten up their scalps and immerse themselves into the pages. It is absurd to keep on writing for the well haired public. The growing tenseness of life, the hair raising stock market crashes and those cricketing disasters which prompts us to put a palm on our heads is whittling down the percentage of the population which has perfect hair to single digits.

I seem to see that romance. In fact, I think I shall write it. ‘“Pooja, see that hair conditioner which I imported from Japan, specially for you? I myself cannot use it, not having much hair, but don’t bother about me. Go ahead and use it” said Raj.’ Or, ‘Raj passed his palm through his shining scalp and faced the hired goons without a tremor.’ Hot stuff, right? Do you think there will be even a single man who has the price of my novel in his pocket and a bright shiny head who will not kick and scream like an angry child if you tell him you have run out of stock of my book? And the serial, dramatic and film rights. All editors have receding hairlines, so do all film producers and theatrical managers. I will be an unstoppable force, breaking all records. Just ensure that the cheque is for the right amount and the posters are prominent. Posters shall blare out to the world “Bald and Bold” by Basil James.

Have you bothered to consider the dramatic potential of a little less hair? How about tragedy? Our hero is a dashing spy out to save his woman from the clutches of an evil despot. ‘From the high watch towers, a guard spots a bright, shining spot amid the darkness. Lo! It is the hairless head of our hero that he has seen. “Fire!” shouted the commander. A stifled wail and there was blood.’

The time has truly come when novelists should accommodate the bald hero if they are not to be left behind. One does not wish to create a ruckus, but we bald heads are in a large majority when we get together and can make our presence felt. Roused by this piece, an army of men, characterised by hair only on the back of their heads if at all, could very easily give authors bad hair days until they accept our demands. If we have any more of those red curly hair, wavy blond, straight black hair or any hair at all, we shall know what to do about it.

I, for one, am also willing to accept cash.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Yaay! This is the fiftieth post on this blog. On this great occasion let me take a moment to honour and congratulate myself for all the hard work, vision and creativity that has filled the web pages of this blog. On a slightly more serious note, I wish I had the above mentioned by the bucketfuls so that I could splash them across the web pages of this blog.

To be slightly more serious, when I started this blog in the cold final month of 2008, I never imagined that this blog would clock up a half century of posts. Nor that it would manage to attract 21 followers. When I started writing this blog in December 2008, it was a mere experiment, a quest to find out what all the brouhaha about blogging was and a desire to be in touch with Web 2.0.

Much has changed since this blog sprouted up on the edges of the information superhighway. One could may be say that the whole direction of my life has changed. One might even argue that events in my life has affected the seriousness with which I take this personal space of mine on the world wide web. From being just another tab in my Google profile, this blog has come to become an arena where I can write and ruminate, a space where I can experiment and express.

At 3:40 on a Sunday morning I make this entry, surely a testament to the love for blogging and this blog that has slowly but surely seeped into me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

NL Leaks

Saarang 2011, at least from the outside was a pretty cool thing to have. Thanks to a slightly more intimate knowledge of how things work than the average Saarang visitor, a certain amount of disillusionment has crept in like Pakistani soldiers through the LOC. The disillusionment was not helped, contrary to expectations, by the fact that I was in charge of the Saarang newsletter.

Saarang newsletter is usually a mildly amusing six or seven page publication that makes fun of anything and everything in Saarang and generally tells everyone not to take themselves too seriously. It was with great hope that I applied for the co-ordship and I was delighted when it came my way. Talk about flattering to deceive.

Saarang newsletter, may I assure you, is probably the most taxing thing you could find to do in any given Saarang. You spend the time the sun is out covering various events and on the hunt for interesting quotes, incidents and tid-bits of news. In the dark of the night, you slog it out at CFI or the Dean's office putting the happenings of the day into print, making it look good and reading it aloud to see whether things are as laugh out loud funny as you thought they were.

All so good so far, except things were rotten and outright bad at points. Things looked dark and foreboding on Day 1 of Saarang, when I picked up the NL at 10 in the morning. I could not be a part of that issue due to various reasons, but five minutes into reading and I was thanking my luck for exempting me from that not-worth-to-be-toilet-paper issue.

Whatever one may accuse the NL of, one could never doubt its organisational skills or its commitment to procedure. In its laboured efforts to be a mildly amusing Saarang morning publication, the NL sets for itself a well researched algorithm that is sure to bring in laughs and bouquets.

While a small part of the NL team, often comprising exclusively of yours truly covered events while the sun was high up in the sky, trying to showcase the happenings in a humorous light, rest of the mob placed themselves at strategic locations, fully in papparazzi mode, hiding behind penguins, under tables, disguised as coconut trees in the Saarang Village, out on the streets on all fours sniffing around for bits and pieces of spicy news about the more recognisable figures of Saarang.

The concerned parties scurry around like a swarm of rats on a railway track, cajolling unwilling co-ords and cores, latching on to straws a drowning man would disdain. Armed with these scraps of news, the team assembles at CFI or the Dean's office, as per availability of keys. Someone takes out a who's who of Saarang and hands it over to the WebOps genius, who runs a search to match the names that have been sullied on the streets of Saarang. The cooks then proceed to cook up some broth, adding a liberal dose of toilet humour, anecdotes from someone's personal lives, locker room talk and some bad word play. That was step two.

The NL then moves on to step three when someone opens a directory of M.A students. Eyes gleaming and mouth watering, a search is run to see which person hailing from the HSS department makes an appearance where. With the brutality and clinical efficiency of an army of Hitlers, the NL proceeds to assassinate a few characters, resurrect them for a couple of seconds and assassinate them again. If someone happened to be female and studying M.A, the treatment meted out would make having your anus bleached seem like a heavenly experience. Tried tested, chewed and spat out jokes on the mathematical ability of a few M.A students are splattered across a couple of paragraphs. Having thus achieved nirvana, the team pats itself on the back, leans back and proceeds to put its feet up.

Cartoons have always been a prominent feature of the Saarang NL. Usually, someone in the NL department blessed with the ability to decipher which end of a brush goes where takes up an interesting event from the previous day and proceeds to draw a cartoon. But such measures were branded old world and cruelly chucked out of the window. Instead, one of the NL co-ords thought it best to burden upon the team his favourite brand of cartoons on the Internet.

For four days, it worked like this. The co-ord in question would select one random cartoon and go gaga over it, rolling on the floor and laughing his bottoms off. He then invites the rest of the team to take a look. The fact that none of them have understood what it is about is written with indelible ink on their faces but they proceed to laugh out loud and praise the franchisee anyway. He then proceeds, every night, to select that random cartoon that has nothing to do whatsoever with Saarang, and put it on the newsletter. Once, yours truly vainly attempted to point out that those cartoons were straight out of a bull's rectum and was met with dire consequences as the whole team descended upon me in defense of the Web's 1057th best cartoon website. Furthermore, that co-ord proceeded to name the newsletter in honor of the blasted cartoons.

The NL worked in mysterious ways but always failed to come up with the goods. Sensible and respected opinions showered flak on the each day's issue and were completely justified in doing so. The NL of Saarang 2011 turned out to be, almost exclusively, a six page fictional account of the private lives of the big guns of Insti life. Good writing was taken out through the back door and shot in the face to make way for something that would have been more at home in a paparazzi reporter's diary. Saarang should hope for better luck next time.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Account of Rajesh Vijaybhaskar, M.Sc

This is a fiction piece I wrote in November as a part of a creative writing course.

My name is Rajesh Vijaybhaskar. I am by profession an assistant professor at the Illustrious Institute of Technology (an occupation listed under the Dangerous Professions Act of 1988). The head of my department is Dr. Premila Vincent, popularly known among the students as the Old Hag, not necessarily, I think a point of opprobrium. She is a scholar of seemingly high achievements, as her doctorates suggest, and much given to the expression, "The Department comes first, Vijaybhaskar". I attach no particular meaning to this remark.

At 10 on the morning of Wednesday, November 3, I entered room 356 for the purpose of instructing the fourth batch in Basic Statistics, one of the subjects for which I have been engaged by Dr. Premila Vincent. There were present Agarwal, Babykutty, Chatterjee, Gunashekhara, Kumar, Latif, Mishra, Ravi Teja, Sharma, Schweinsteiger, Tamilselvan and Zohrab. Singh, who has, I am told, a fractured leg, was absent. It should be explained that even though I have listed out the names of my students in the alphabetical order of their surnames, that is not the order in which the students were seated on this occasion. It should be noticed that almost all of the female students were seated in the front rows and Tamilselvan, the student whom I am now accused of assaulting, was in the middle row. The last row was shared by Gunashekhara, our Sri Lankan exchange student and Ravi Teja, a cretin. I do not have the slightest inkling that these facts will be of any bearing upon this case, but I have lavishly furnished them for the sake of completeness.

I walked into the class to find the following quote scrawled across the board by the professor who had previously occupied the room. It went: "Mimicry reveals something in so far as it is distinct from what might be called an itself that is behind". The quote had created a considerable excitement and restlessness in the students, though of varied kinds.

"Today", I remarked, taking up my Davis and Pecar, "we shall focus our energies on problem solving which involve the population confidence interval", and I told them at once that if there were to be anymore of that groaning they would do nothing but solve problems involving the Poisson curve for the next one month. It is my experience as an assistant professor of some years' standing, that if groaning is not checked immediately, it may swell to enormous proportions. I make it my business to stamp on it with hob-nailed boots.

Mishra, a fair boy with glasses, remarked that it would not be possible to do problems on the Poisson curve for the next one month, and on being asked why not, he replied that there were only three more weeks for the semester to close upon us. This was true, and realising that the numbers were against me, I made no reply. I proceeded to write a problem on the blackboard, a sample problem which I felt would prepare my students for their end semester examinations.

"A researcher determines that a margin of error (or sampling error, e) of no more than plus or minus 0.05 units is desired, along with a 98 percent confidence interval. Calculate the sample size, n".

Agarwal promptly replied "Eighty seven". I enquired of him how, unless he was the next Ramanujan in the making, he imagined he could produce the answer without troubling to so much as set a pen to paper. He said, "I saw the answer in the back pages of the book". This reply caused a great deal of laughter, which I suppressed with an iron hand.

I should have spoken sharply to Agarwal, but at at this moment I noticed that in the bench right ahead of him, Gunashekhara appeared to be feasting on a small piece of cheesecake, causing considerable excitement. I ordered him to stand up.

"Gunashekhara, you are not perhaps quite used to our Indian ways, and hence I shall refrain from punishing you for this deviation of etiquette; but please understand that I will not have eating of foodstuff in my class. You did not come here to eat, but to learn. If you pay attention and work hard I may not despair of teaching you something, but if you do not wish to learn you might as well as go back to your country".

Mishra, without being given permission to speak, cried excitedly, "He cannot, sir. Didn't you know? His father was chased out of Sri Lanka in some big revolution or something. A big man with a moustache and a cap chased him for three kilometres and he had to escape in a small boat. He is lucky to have made it here to Chennai. It is true, sir. You ask him. Gunashekhara got hit by a falling branch on the small of his back, didn't you Guna? And his sister- at least I think it was his sister-"

That will do, Mishra", I said. "Who threw that?"

I am, I hope, not a spoilsport, but I will not tolerate the throwing of paper rockets or other missiles in my class. This sort of thing has to be struck down with great vengeance and furious anger or work becomes impossible. I accordingly warned the boy responsible that another offence would mean an imposition. He had the impertinence to ask what sort of an imposition. I told him in clear terms that it would be an imposition that would make him wish he had not taken my course, and if he wished to know the exact details he had only to throw another rocket to find out. He thereupon threw another rocket.
I confess that at this I lost patience and threatened to keep the entire class in for at least three more hours if I had any more trouble. I proceeded to solve the problem.

It was not until I had spent fifteen minutes working out the problem on the board that I realised that I had worked on the assumption that the confidence interval was 89 percent, rather than 98. This led me to an impasse. Some one from the back whistled. I at once whipped around and demanded to know who had made the infernal noise. Latif suggested that it might have been Tamilselvan whistling in his sleep. I was about to reprimand Latif for his impertinence when I noticed that Tamilselvan was indeed asleep and had in fact, according to Chatterjee, been asleep since the beginning of the period. Mishra said, "He has not missed much anyway".

I then threw my Davis and Pecar. It has been suggested that it was intended to hit Tamilselvan, but nothing could be further away from the truth. It is an entirely false assumption. I never wake sleeping students by throwing books at them, as hundreds of students who have passed through the doors of the Department in the college will be able to ascertain. I intended to hit Mishra, and it was a tragedy I shall always regret that I did not hit him right on the nose. Blinded by my anger, I believe, my aim was compromised and Tamilselvan was struck. I have had, as I have told Dr. Premila Vincent, a great deal to put up with Mishra, and no one who knows the boy would blame me for the attempt to inflict some physical violence on him. It is indeed an accepted maxim in the staff room that physical violence is the only way to deal with Mishra to obtain any desirable result; to this Dr. Premila Vincent some time ago added a clause that the boy be deprived of his spectacles before being assaulted.

I do not blame myself for the unfortunate stunning of Tamilselvan. It was an accident. I did all I could for the boy when it was discovered (I think by Schweinsteiger) that he had been rendered unconscious. I immediately summoned Dr. Premila Vincent, who then summoned the ambulance. We agreed that concealment was impossible and that I must give a full account of the events to the police if they came asking. Meanwhile the work of the Department was to go on. Tamilselvan himself would have wished it. Dr Premila Vincent added that in any case the Department should come first.

I have made this statement after being duly, cautioned, of my own free will and in the presence of witnesses. I wish only to add that the boy is now none the worse for the blow, and has indeed shown increased zeal in his studies since the incident.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sachin and the Burglar

This was a flash fiction piece I wrote in November for a creative writing course.

It was 3:30 a.m.

The burglar paused outside the window, pipe wrench in hand. Light filtered through the drawn curtains, but it was the hesitant mumbling from within that held him hesitant.

Then, he gently, very expertly, opened the window. A harsh, coarse voice said, "Tendulkar's score now stands at 241".

Four people were hunched about the television. Father, mother, son and daughter. The floor was littered with crumbs of various delicacies gulped down during the course of an innings.

"Agarkar cover drives for a two", sighed Richie Benaud.
"Who is bowling?", said the burglar excitedly, stepping in to the room.
"Lee", said the whole family, like one man, without looking up.
"Ayila!", exclaimed the burglar.

Searching the house, he packed up the most portable valuables and was looking for more when a loud harmonius groan came from the vicinity of the television.

"Wat's up"?, he cried, rusing in. "Is he out?"
"Agarkar. Clean bowled by that beast Lee", sobbed the mother, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief.
"That's the front door", said the father. "Someone answer it".

No one answered it. "Gillespie bowling", announced Benaud.

"I suppose I'll have to go", sighed the burglar. A large cry of discontentment arouse when he opened the door.
"What's wrong here?", asked the policeman sternly.
"The score crossed 700 and Ganguly has declared the innings over", murmured the burglar in a hoarse voice.
"Oh man. That sucks!", exclaimed the policeman, rushing in.

And at 5:45 a.m, the blear-eyed family dragged itself to bed, the policeman, nervously gazing about for the SI, back to his beat, and the burglar went home, having forgotten his loot.

"Anyhow", he muttered, as he climbed wearily in to his bed. "I don't care. Seven hundred and five is going to take some catching".

Monday, January 3, 2011

Where is the USP?

“But why?”, asked John.

It was a question he had been meaning to ask for a long time. It had been on the tip of his tongue for so long that it had set up a Victorian mansion and bred its own children right there. Like wine, Scotch whiskey and certain brands of cheese, the question gained potency over its long period under the wraps. For a question consisting of just two monosyllabic words, it rocked the house. It sent papers flying out through the window and made lesser mortals quiver. Heavenly powers moved the doomsday clock to within a minute of apocalypse.

The Absolute-SuperSonic Film Corporation had, over the years, established itself as one of the leading houses of the art (or what of left of it) called cinema. Their rise to the top of the industry had been powered by the iron rule of its head honcho, President M. He was rumoured to be as bad-tempered, loud and greedy as a gaggle of geese and could strip a tax-man of his wits faster than a priest could strip a choir boy.

Approximately seven and a half minutes before John released his lethal query, President M had been describing in detail the minor changes he thought would look good in the Corporation’s latest project, a musical. Apart from the usual inclusion of a cabaret and a skating ring, President M had a major bomb to drop that day.

“In our latest project, I feel we should cut out the music entirely”.

And then, John dropped his bomb. A question sure to go in to company folklore, a Prometheus-esque act, something on which the major poets would write epic tragedies. The question took the room by storm. President M quivered and dropped the beef sandwich he was munching. His secretaries took their fingers off their typewriters. Weathermen in distant weather stations checked the skies for signs of an impending thunderbolt. The security goons moved their palms to their hip holsters like one security goon.

“But why ?”, John repeated. “Why would anyone want to cut the music out of a musical ?”.

President M had an orderly mind and he classified the situation as only the fifth most worried he had been when someone asked him “but why ?”, though the top four had been screeching, delirious women. President M was stunned and momentarily tried to find an explanation.

“Because our lyricists are a bunch of doofus who cannot rhyme love with dove.They are a bunch of no goods and I do not think they should be writing anything for a movie. What good is the music ?”, asked the President impassioned. His assistants nodded and made a note of it. His secretaries were quickly back to work.

“But how do you make a musical without music ?”, persisted John.

“Let me ask you, young man. How is our music different from the scores of scores you hear elsewhere? What sets it apart? Where is the USP ?”.

The assistants got down on the floor in search of the USP. The attender pulled out the drawers to check for the elusive item. The cry “Where is the USP” rang throughout the room and some of it even managed to seep out through the windows, doors and the ventilation. Everyone was wonder struck at how emphatically the president put it.

“Where is the USP ?”, he bellowed and beamed, ecstatic at yet another victory at a verbal duel.

John could feel retort after retort avalanching themselves on the tip of his tongue. He knew he should let them out. He wanted to. He loved music and musicals. But it was President M who signed the cheques. The thought of further risking the displeasure and being summarily dismissed appalled him. For there is no spiritual anguish like that of a man who, having grown accustomed to opening the crackling envelope at the end of each month and fingering the warm cheque, reaches out one day and finds it is not there. The thought of Absolute-SuperSonic ceasing to be a fountain of gold and becoming just a rather portly man with a awful sideburns turned his spine to jelly. Maybe he would go down in history as the company’s Boswell’s clergyman. Fragmentary, pale, momentary; almost nothing. Meekly, he inherited his seat.

John swallowed the retorts knocking on his teeth. They were many in number. Hire new lyricists if the current crop is bad. Throw money at it. Improve the settings and theme of the projects. What about the previous musicals the company released? Were not they created by the same team? How will the critics view the current releases we have when they learn that the music has been disbanded? Create an USP for itself. Do something. Do not take the easy way out. Do something to keep the music.

Wiser counsels prevailed and John retreated to studying his fingernails as President M rambled on about the need for sensuous passion in the next project.