Friday, July 12, 2013

Chapter I: The Boy Who Endured (2)

Part 2 of 4: The boy still endures. After Part 1, that is. Read on, folks. And do share if you like what you read. Hope you enjoy the beginning of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier?", which will be out in the online market soon. Cheers!

A summer coming to an end leaves you with a lot of unpleasant feelings, even if it will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. That inevitable dread and those all-but-continuous Monday-morning blues… But however boring the holidays may have been, the new term is always unwelcome; this time all the more so. Albeit the recent happenings (or must I say mis-happenings) would suggest the contrary, let me assure you that the new term was as unwelcome as ever. A broken right forearm, for a right-hander, is quite unasked for and I definitely didn't summon the chickenpox home; but when both arrive with such unsolicited punctuality just a week after your 10th standard boards, it’s definitely not your day! A dangerous beginning? – Wait till you hear the rest.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience most of the maladies known to mankind at present, as well as a couple the docs are not yet familiar with. Malaria, dengue, jaundice, flu, measles… the list goes on. I will not burden you here by completing the list as that will take a few pages at least – which the publisher is unwilling to give me. But the point remains that – even though I’m a veteran, an old war-horse when it comes to facing these minor setbacks to the immune system, this was definitely something else. A potent combo.

With one arm jabbed with a Butterfly needle and the other still suffering the after-effects of a previous jab (I had, by now, named them ‘Batterfly needles’), all I could do is pray and hope that things get better… and soon. You see needles and nurses have a way. Your vein is apparently good for only that much time and then it begins to swell up and do funny things of that sort. It no longer takes in the IV fluid and you are in great trouble. That’s when the nurse apparates to the spot looking like one of those creatures with a halo on their heads… It’s definitely not that they look terrific; just that their white overalls and your dreary state combine to make you think along such lines – such is the phantasmagoria. Definitely, they don’t look great. I might have enjoyed my time in the hospital a lot more had they made nurses the way they appear in movies. So these people appear and then begins the story of ‘Clamp down his hand and search for the vein’ – the more attempts, the more your agony. Such things happen when you are at the docs’.

Ten days into my misery, the docs relieved me and I was free to go home. Too bad mom didn't as she grounded me for another fortnight; ergo I lay there in my bedroom, staring at the bare ceiling, studying the various patterns in the new cracks that were developing in the plaster. This went on day after day (or was that a month) occasionally with friends coming over trying to look as sympathetic as they could, and those ‘not-so-good-pals’ not trying too hard to suppress their glee. Why they went through all the trouble to visit someone they didn't want to see, I will probably never understand but they all did come. And they all looked smug. A few, I must mention however, did look pretty sad – but this was because they thought I was recovering too fast. But all this didn't really hurt. It was those questions which inflicted the greatest pain…

Monday, 15th May – 1500 hrs: Ramesh entered the scene. Attached to his behind was this gargantuan creature, reminding me very much of the Cyclops of the Hellenic Republic, much less due to his size than his stupid looks. In fact, had someone stuck a club into one of his hands, I’d have believed that the one-eyed monster was right there! I’ll just refer to him here as the unknown stupid looking guy (USLG); I know I mustn't be prejudiced, but if that protruding lower lip and dazed smile weren't enough, with the ‘My name is… du..uh…,’ he was taking the meaning of the word ‘stupid’ to a whole new dimension.

I continued to study the strange species in my bedroom and it was Ramesh who broke the silence; “So dude, how are you? It has been over two weeks now… And by the way, this – my cuz,” he pointed. I assumed ‘cuz’ stood for ‘cousin.’

So that’s what it is!

“So you broke your hand…” the USLG observed. He seemed compelled to make a statement – that statement – at that point.
No I just fancy having my hand in a cast and getting people to sign it.
“Yeah! How did you know about that?” I asked, not really trying to hide the sarcasm.
“I noticed your hand, you know… And the cast told me everything,” he said looking smug. Elementary, my dear Watson.
“Oh, I never really thought it would be so obvious!”

Ramesh cut in, perhaps sensing that his cousin’s deducing capabilities didn’t really appeal to me. “So how did that happen?” he asked pointing at the bandaged forearm.

“Oh you don’t know!” Now came the hard part – the well thought up lie.
“It was in that football match we played in the beach,” I said, “It ended in a two each impasse. And we had the penalty shootout. I, as usual, was their shot-stopper…” I gloated.
I had a gulp of the tender-coconut water kept beside me. The mouth always goes dry when I try to pass off lies, making me the most unconvincing liar in the history of the art.

“That first shot curling into the top right… I didn't let it past… though I did land on my hand a bit later. And the rest is history.”
“Just as I thought it would be: Football. You know Arvind,” said Ramesh, turning to face the thing which now had a name. “He’s the school’s goalkeeper… And a bloody good one too!”

I smiled back sheepishly. Normally, it would have been a well accepted complement but not when I was trying to conceal the truth. Who would believe that I would slip over a stationary football and end up like this?! Stumble over an innocuous football and fracture an arm! I’d be the laughing stock of the society. “Our regular goalkeeper, Ashwin Ramachandran, succumbs to the stationary football” – Never.

The story of the chickenpox was a more interesting one.

Two days into my gloom, Anuj, a close bud, came home to pay homage to the felled veteran. The conversation went on for an hour, give or take a half, with me doing most of the talking (as I realized that bed-ridden people are more the ‘talkers’ than the ‘talkees’). It ended pretty abruptly when Anuj, with whom my conversations usually never cease, said that he felt a bit sick and wanted to go home and hit the sack. He left and I resumed watching TV and on it, the story of the Tamil hero who fired 30 rounds from a six-shooter pistol while he stopped a few super-fast trains with his other hand.

Later that evening, the phone buzzed and Anuj’s voice emanated from it.
“Dude, I’m sick… The doctors have diagnosed me with chickenpox…”

Yes. It was too late.

Many visitors-who-kept-their-distances later, the arm did heal. So did the pox. But the experience had left behind some deeply etched scars though, not as much on the face as on the mind. Nevertheless, I had managed to rid myself of all the ailments which had plagued me! Here I must mention that it wasn't long before the local elderly diagnosed that I was finally at large, free from house-arrest, especially when my fluid cover drive – off Anuj’s left-arm fast-medium crashed into Mr Shaanthram’s window. Not very surprisingly, ‘A NO BALL GAMES PLEASE’ was found on the compound walls of my apartment complex the very next morning, inked in brilliant red.

Chennai’s never really short of playgrounds, or maybe the boys are incredibly innovative. Soon, our next Chepauk Stadium was the neighbouring block car park with the pacers running in from the side lane. And the game went on. Even Brother was back, but only for a week! He had some sort of working experience to go to – it was called an ‘intern’ or something like that. Abhinav studies in the Indian Institute of Technology – only crème-de-la-crème get into IITs, people say. But bro says that IITs have their share of dullards too. Wonder how they get in? Anyway, bro’s a decent leg–spinner, so that added to the excitement. Brother-versus-brother is always a nice sight and it was an even better sight when I hit his googly clean and straight for a six when it was 5 to win off one ball! Who would realize that the mirth would die so young?

The next chapter, called 'Normandy', will be up on this blog in a week's time. Stay tuned, by subscribing to this blog or by following me on Facebook here.

Do visit Leadstart Publishing's website, where you should soon be able to find my book listed. The book will be available on major online portals such as Flipkart & Amazon in 7-10 days, and in bookstores, a little while after that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chapter I: The Boy Who Endured (1)

Part 1 of 4: Because long blog-posts are not my thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first in a series of four blog-posts which will cover the first two chapters of my debut novel "The Steadfast Tin Soldier?", published by Leadstart Publishing and releasing in July 2013. Once you reach the end, do let me know what you think in the comments section. And if you enjoy what you read or if you just want to do your good-deed for the day, don't forget to share the post!

Underlining the most important points in my essay, I glanced up at the clock only to realize that there were only two more minutes left to tick away. After the fiasco that was the Mathematics exam, I knew it couldn’t get worse. But this was better than what I had bargained for! CBSE’s English board exam was proving to be a stroll in the park. A blind cat could top this exam, I thought to myself.

Nevertheless, one must never be overconfident, and I rechecked some answers in the Literature section. Soon, the only loose string left to tie up was the one which would ensure that my answer booklet didn’t fall apart. So, with great composure, I did precisely that. Then I deposited my booklet in the invigilator’s arms and walked out in gladiatorial fashion.

This great big flourish was precisely the boost I needed before my last board exam, Science, which was the only thing which now stood between me and a wonderfully languid vacation. I walked out of the examination centre with my chest puffed out and my head held high. There was a spring in my stride, a smile on my lips and a song in the air. I laughed at stupid things all the way home and as soon as I stepped through the doorway, I threw my bag to one corner of the room and stripped myself off my shirt. Throwing it lazily into the washing machine, I proceeded to turn on my computer and play round after round of ‘Counter-Strike’- a much needed post-exam stress buster.

The next day, my preparations for the last exam of the summer commenced. Everything went as planned and I familiarized myself with all aspects of the sciences. If I wasn’t this modest, I’d say that I was bloody good at it. So, as expected, I was in high spirits on examination day.

Whistling a tune I know not from where, I pranced about the house slipping into my uniform. Mom stared at me as if I was a strange species from the Pacific depths and Dad gave me one of those looks which he normally reserves for the mentally unfortunate. None of this deterred me as I picked off my Idlis one after the other.

Checking my pockets for appropriate stationery – pen, pencil, eraser and all – I smiled a contented smile. A few more hours and I’d be free – as free as a frikkin’ bird!

I finished the routine check by opening the compartment of my bag where I normally kept the hall ticket. Not finding it there, I sedately walked up to my drawer and rummaged through its contents, careful not to hurt sheets of white which bore resemblance to the ticket. It wasn’t there either. Sensing a slight jolt in my diaphragm, I jogged to my bedroom and checked the study table. No hall ticket. Feeling faint, nauseated and numb, I collapsed on my bed. And then I ran around the house, tossing aside cushions and ransacking desks and tables. Still ‘no’… Bloody hell, I thought, this is the end.

I did what any normal fellow would do under such dire circumstances – I told my parents. And then I did what routine guys did, again – I regretted telling them. It was quite apparent that they couldn’t help me in any way whatsoever, apart from rummaging spaces I had already rummaged and running about flustered as I was myself. But the worst part: the questions – “WHERE DID YOU KEEP IT?” they asked, as though I had hidden it somewhere and had challenged them to a scavenger hunt.

My head was swimming the way unfortunate ants swim in your tea as I sat beside dad while he negotiated the Chennai roads. We said nothing to each other and I was choking on the silence. At every traffic signal, he’d look at his cell-phone one more time as if it would tell him something. My head was entirely blank. Even if I wrote the exam, I wondered if much good would come off it!

As I alighted from the car, I told dad that he needn’t join me on my way to the exam-hall. Nothing good can come off it, I thought. But parents seldom listen to logic, do they? So, ignoring my rationale, Dad got out of the car and walked me towards the open ground where we were supposed to gather. The closer we moved to the crowd, the more wary I became – I didn’t want dad having to explain how and why I lost my hall-ticket! So, begging him to stay where he was, I proceeded to attempt solving the problem myself.

He wished me luck as I walked away and told me to do well in the exam, even though I knew he was actually hoping that I get to write it in the first place!

The crowd was getting itself into order, in the form of sections and lines, as I approached them trying to look as unfazed as possible. “Breathe deeply,” I said to myself. I joined the assembly of students in the ground; friends waved and I waved back as if nothing was wrong. I decided to confront my teachers at the first opportunity possible and tell them the entire story.

Having said the prayer and sung the National Anthem- as was the routine before every exam -- I walked up to my Principal. I had an elaborate speech prepared, but watching my classmates disappear into the exam halls, all I could manage was – “Help.”

They made me relate the story to them, again and again – first to my principal, then to my teachers, then to the principal of the school where the examination was being held and then to some CBSE authority who couldn’t care less. Feeling like a convict whose story wasn’t being believed, I heard them discuss the various nuances of educational laws and ethics – the CBSE is apparently very thorough.

“How can we be sure he’s the boy he claims he is?” asked one elderly man.
“It’s not ethical to allow him write an exam like this… It will set a precedent,” said a rather fat lady with a mole on her nose.
More people joined the discussion, even as the preliminary bell rang, which meant the exam would commence in less than five minutes. And here I was, in the school ground, staring at a group of teachers who seemed to be in a team-huddle. All the time, I saw dad standing a fair distance away nibbling away at his nails.

A few long minutes (and what seemed like two-thirds majority) later, a teacher walked towards me and threw me a smile of pity. “It’s all right,” she said. “We will permit it this one time, if you promise not to do it again.”
“I promise,” I said, feeling rather foolish.
“What we’re doing today might well be against the law,” she said conspiratorially. “But anyway, we have decided to allow you this time. Off you go!”

I didn’t understand why someone would want to impersonate me during something as trivial as a board exam, but there’s no point pondering about these things. I waved at dad and ran like hell.

The exam was relatively easy; the most difficult question I faced was when I was asked my hall-ticket number. I managed to pull out the digits from the crevasses of my memory. Throughout the exam, I prayed the exam would never get over, as I didn’t want to face the firing squad once this was over. I didn’t want the holidays to begin. What an anticlimax, I thought.

Alas, the exam did end. And I was left to face the music. Dad blasted me for an hour-and-a-half and said that he hadn’t seen a lad as irresponsible as I in his entire life! Mom didn’t talk to me properly for a day; when she did, she blamed herself for bringing me up the way she did. If that wasn’t all, my grandparents forced me to go to the temple and wash away some evil-eyes. If my brother, Abhinav, was at home I’d have got a few mouthfuls from him as well.

I tried defending myself, of course: I told them that someone ought to have flicked it from my bag on my way home in a crowded bus. Unfortunately, since nothing else was missing- What kind thief opens your bag, flicks your hall-ticket and leaves everything else, they asked me.

And then it got worse, thanks to grandma. While folding my shirt, she discovered a rather fibrous lump in my pocket – one which broke even as she tried unrolling it. The fragments would have been dismissed as unimportant scrap had it not been for a portion of a very familiar seal which was still visible. And only then did it strike me.

I hoped no one else identified the seal, but alas, more evidence came into existence. A rather soiled passport-sized photograph of mine was discovered, and with it was signed my death warrant. Nothing can be more blasphemous than tossing your hall-ticket into the washing machine.

As the book is finally running its final lap on its own in the offices of my publisher in Bandra, I am unable to provide you the links to the book immediately. It shall be put up as soon as it is made available to me, as a late edit (in this space) and in subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Coming Up Next!

The arduous climb - that is publishing of a novel - is nearing completion, and I'm afraid of heaving too great a sigh of relief, lest the hard-work done so far comes apart in unforeseen ways. But barring Acts of God or a complete collapse of human society, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier?" should be up for grabs very soon, both in bookstores and online.

It is with great delight that I tell you folks that I will soon be putting up a few chapters of my novel on this very blog. Do stick around and be among the first people to read the story of the steadfast tin soldier.

To stay updated, you can subscribe for updates from this blog (which, I assure you, will not spam) or like my Facebook page. Actually, you can do both!

Thanks a lot for your support folks. Hope you enjoy the novel as much as I enjoyed penning it. Cheers!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Engineer, Okay. Author, Why?

Okay, we have one more IITian author in this world. How fabulous! How fantastic! How absolutely uninteresting. Here's another fellow who worked his way into, and out of, one of India's premier institutions only to render his education a pointless waste of time. If these are the thoughts running through your head right now,  I don't blame you. If this isn't what you're thinking, then you're being irrational. I don't see any reason why boys who grew up saying they love the sciences should end up becoming men who want nothing to do with them.

This is the point when I should start cribbing about the 'system' and how it failed me. But I've done enough of that already, so I'll talk about how I failed the system instead. Much like everyone else. I shall unabashedly admit that I believe I can live a far more fulfilling life by letting my hobby define me, rather than what I chose for a career. It's probably because you can choose your hobby; not so much your career.

But I'd be deemed a heinous liar if I said "I'm over engineering." That's the thing with relationships - you never really get over them. So, at least some part of me will remain an engineer forever. There were reasons why I chose to become a Chemical Engineer, and I still believe in them. Firmly.

So why writing? Why try straddling two professions, one of which makes it difficult to comprehend Randall Monroe's jokes? I can tell you the same thing I tell everyone - that writing is the only thing that I truly love - but I feel like telling you the truth. It's about opinions. It's about saying things that matter in memorable ways. Can I do that? I don't know. But I'll try. You can judge.

The point of this endeavour isn't to make some "quick bucks on the side" selling entertaining fiction, but to say stuff worth saying. It doesn't matter if you hate me, because that would mean I still have a point. But the moment you feel indifferent about the things I say - that's the day I'll stop writing.

And in order to decide, here is where you go. "The Steadfast Tin Soldier?", out in stores in July 2013, will be listed on the website soon. I will keep you posted here and on Facebook.