Thursday, September 25, 2014

She - Who Had Everything - Went All-In

Today, I met a woman who quit a job which gave her responsibility, power, money, personal space and the opportunity to live in a place she loved. There she sat across the coffee-table gambling away everything which carried any weight. In fact, the only things she was choosing to keep were attributes which she cared little about or those which couldn't be placed on the betting table. Perhaps better things were coming her way - but what's better than a regular job with assured stability and monetary inflow, one which allows you to be surrounded by people you love? No, she wasn't gambling away such luxurious certainties in the quest for greater material wealth or spiritual meaning; she was betting with everything she had because of what they were - certainties.

Seldom do we behave so expressively as when we are given great certainties in life. It does not matter if these are perceived by us as advantageous or unfortunate. At the sight of a given, there is an overwhelming urge to flee, and it does not matter where. It is quite ridiculous that we think we prefer the tranquil charms of stability over the ruthlessness of change, for we are brought up to stand-up to the latter, while the former draws us out of our depths.

There was a lad who had everything figured out: he had satisfied the expectations of everyone around him, excelled in a test which only the brave attempted and was all set to move away to a city far away from where he lived with a girl whose company he most dearly enjoyed. He didn't know when he would return - two years? Three perhaps? Maybe four. Only one thing was for certain - he was going away for a long, long time to live a life he thought he would enjoy. Unable to accept the finality of this step, he found a girl he was quite indifferent about and told her that he loved her.

This should not seem strange to us, for the mind is initially programmed to reject permanence, just like it feebly combats change. "Change is the only constant" is uttered as a pacifier, as if "constancy" was a desirable trait, that we yearn for and will cling-on to, and "change" is the part we reject. This is foolishness. We clearly do not understand the implications of such a constant.

Is the Bachelor Party a last temptation that the body must get past in order to enter a life of sacred marriage, or is it a last-ditch attempt to escape an impending constancy - a thought which is only quashed by society and external will? Why is it that we are truly free to do what we want to do when the calendar is marked with the day we will die?

It is amusing that freedom, which we humans seem to value as all-important, is never true until we are surrounded. Much praise has been showered on constancy as well as on freedom, although they stand opposite each other for much of the time. Anything permanent, by virtue of being immovable, acts as a wall, however distant it might be from us. Therefore it is a constraint to our motion. Paradoxically, it is only when there are walls on all four sides that we feel truly free; we make life-altering decisions and place great bets.

This alarming prospect suddenly turns amiable when one becomes conscious of this fact and can live with the knowledge that true freedom can be achieved only while in chains. Perhaps this is not such a bad way to live.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Artists Series: Evam, Chennai

When Jaipur Pink Panthers won the Pro Kabaddi League, I was left with the lasting image of Abhishek Bachchan ejaculating, exulting and allowing his team to carry him on their shoulders. While the event itself did provide something of a face-lift for an indigenous sport which still lies precariously at the edges of our collective memory, the "IPL effect" is hardly a decent solution for anything other than cricket.

Then again, Cricket in India doesn't need a solution. Almost everything else does.

Pumping the millions into neglected sports and dwindling arts will, at best, prove to be a short-term solution for reviving interest. These instant-coffee variants bring forgotten elements back into our heads, but success is possible only by nourishing the roots and building upwards. So it is with sports, and so it is with the arts.

Last Thursday brought a smile to my face, even before I ingested all that beer and humour. Evam celebrated its 11th birthday recently, and the outfit comprising of Karthik Kumar, "Baggy" Ramakrishnan, Yessae and Aswin Rao were outstanding examples of laughter at the bottom of the pyramid. #EST or Evam Standup Tamasha, soon to be available (like Saravana Bhawan) in the US of Yay, is a perfectly inappropriate comedy-act about Tam-Brahm obsessions, NRI dilemmas, matrimonial columns and mor.

Evam has that endearingly rough home-grown edge, picking on local idiosyncrasies and not sparing even one fake Amaerika-returned accent. So even with the show taking place at the slightly overpriced (but quite brilliant) Social in Santhome every Thursday, it is a runaway hit - and rightfully so. The best part of these acts, according to me, is the informal setup and the way the artists become one among the crowd. It could perhaps change with increased attention and demand, but I sure hope it doesn't.

The fact that new talent is introduced every now and again is very heartening, and this also ensures that the faithful aren't easily bored. And if what I hear from the team is true, they always have an eye out for people with a funny-bone: so audition, and the spotlight could be on you!

P.S. If you want an assortment of 'Kundi Jokes', you can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter.
P.P.S. Thanks Vasudha, for showing me something I didn't know about my hometown.

This is the first post in a series about India's indigenous art-scene. You can follow me here to stay tuned. Cheers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Birthdays: A SWOT Analysis

Instead of sitting on Facebook, answering Birthday wishes and expressing gratitude (which I am told mustn't be done until the day after the birthday), I have decided to spend this day doing a comprehensive SWOT analysis of birthdays.

My findings have disastrous consequences. I think you should see this.

I feel better now that I understand the phenomenon as the factors influencing it better, I shall bid you farewell. But before that, let me savour this quarter-century moment:

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Ramu shifted uncomfortably in his seat, jamming the horn two more times, drowning Honey Singh’s melody within the car. Slanting rays of the sun scattered through the dust and smoke before falling on the hanging form of Hanuman carrying the mighty Sanjeevani. The monkey God swung violently every time Ramu stepped on the accelerator. The car lurched forward through tiny capillaries which the driver spotted in the clogged road.

In the back seat sat a man who was referred to only as Sharma sa'ab within the car’s confines. Ramu could see in the rear-view mirror above the monkey God that sa'ab was busy with his computer on his lap and his phone sandwiched between his left ear and shoulder. He was in a hurry; Ramu had fifteen minutes to make sure the boss got to his meeting on time.

“Lower the volume,” was the command. A knob was turned. The horn blared again through the static traffic.
“Be’nchod!” swore Ramu quietly. What would normally take him twenty minutes was now taking him over half of an hour. He felt the cards in his pocket, and thought about the game he had won the previous afternoon. The memory calmed him.

He slid the window down halfway, leaned towards it and spoke over the noise of the expressway, “Problem kya?”

“Pata nahin (I don't know)!” said the rickshaw-wallah whose vehicle stood alongside his own.

A motorist managed to squeeze in between Ramu’s right-side mirror and the auto-rickshaw. “There’s an accident in front of us,” he said, staring ahead through the cracks between trucks and SUVs. He nonchalantly closed Ramu’s rear-view mirror and passed them, expertly entering the gap between the bus and the divider.

Sharma sa'ab saw the motorist’s action and momentarily stopped his work to swear at him. “They are idiots, sir,” said Ramu in agreement. “They are from villages. They don’t know better.”

Sharma sa'ab stared ahead at the stubborn vehicles in front of him, and eyes widening, looked at the time on his laptop screen. “Jaldi!”

“Yes sir,” said Ramu, hitting the horn again forcing the traffic to move another centimetre. “Bloody fellows chose to have an accident today.”

“Yes, my luck is horrible,” said Sharma. “It’s always like this.”

Ramu looked at the dashboard-clock, then at Hanumanji and then at the red tail-lamps in front of him. Suddenly a gap opened up in the corner and Ramu, with all his experience, was the first to react. Driving is always a series of challenges and achievements: you overtake a supercilious fool, you give way to an old lady, you joust with a young man your age…

Ramu stepped on the pedal and turned the wheel ever so slightly, thus throwing the car brilliantly into the gap on the left hand side, stealing the rightful space of the vehicle alongside him. He glided between the remaining vehicles almost as if he was cutting through the jam with a hot knife. Horns blared behind him, and this satisfied both driver and boss greatly.

“Bas five minutes, Sharma sa'ab,” said Ramu as he drove out of the jam. The man in the back seat dialled a number. The car emerged from the cluster of vehicles, passing the sedan with a shattered windscreen - the culprit. As Ramu sped through shards of glass scattered across the asphalt like the brilliant stars of the night, Sharma saheb spoke on the phone – “I’ll be there in five. There was an accident in the middle of the expressway. One car has brought the city to a standstill.”

The driver adjusted his rear-view and kissed the locket around his neck as he peered into the mirror: police, stretchers, strangers and a boy whose world had come to a standstill.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Corner Man

His chair was in the corner, almost hidden, as it lay in one of those places the dull tubelight simply wouldn't reach. He wore a cream shirt, or perhaps it was white - only rendered cream by the lazy flourescent bulb. His khaki pants were clearly khaki; any idiot would tell you that much. He wore open-ended slippers, with a ring which went around his big toe. A lazy smile completed his outfit, as he sat comfortably on the chair in the corner, almost hidden from view.

I must confess that I am perhaps fooled by youthful perspectives and tricks of the mind. Maybe the light was bright, maybe I was too busy marching up and down the corridor to notice people who sat in the corner. Nevertheless, my reality allows me to tell you this - be it truth or be it lie.

As the years passed, my chest grew wider, getting itself a shape I'd often admire at length in front of a mirror, but the man still sat in the corner. My shirts then began to tighten around the belly rather than at the top, and the man still sat there. I wore ties now, and he was in his khaki trousers. He wore a whitish shirt though, but that was only because I had the bulb replaced. His heels were cracked and his slippers were old. It is strange I noticed all this without registering his face.

The meetings then began and my room shifted. I seldom walked the paths I used used to. The doors were made of glass and the air was 12% dryer and 3.5 degrees cooler. I had some weighty fabric over my shoulders, adding value to the opinions of peppered head. I spoke softly now, for there was no need to shout. People now listened to me. I made a lot of money. I polished my fine leather shoes.

A few years later, I went back to the junior office building on a routine inspection. I met the old folks, everyone was greyer, wiser and slightly more lost. The boys now had families, some were even grandparents. They had houses, phones, planned holidays and debts. They had dreams, great dreams, almost as brilliant as the ones they used to have.

As I began to leave, I spotted a smile. I turned around to identify the culprit. In the corner, on a chair almost hidden, in a place where light didn't truly reach, sat a man - crosslegged. He wore khaki trousers and a cream coloured shirt. The tubelight required to be changed. I noticed that his slippers which were on the floor were the same as the ones I remembered from my youth. The one on the right had a withering toe-ring. It bothered me that this man was smiling, and I wished he would stop. I walked away quietly after shaking hands with the senior folks.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Today is retirement day. I gave a fabulous speech, after which everyone clapped. The applause went on for two minutes. The memory will go on forever. I received souvenirs and gratitude. I passed on the baton, and they told me that I would be missed along with my vision. There is much left to do even after this: so many dreams still worth conquering. I feel sad about leaving, so I will take another trip around the office.

I am walking down the old corridor again. I will be out soon. I see the man in the corner. He is smiling. This distrubs me. Who is he and why is he sitting there? Why does he wear the same clothes? I walk up to him, breathing heavily. His face still doesn't seem important. But his smile, why does he smile?

I put my face close to his, almost until our noses touch, and I scream - "Why do you smile?"

He doesn't answer. He simply slides his feet into his slippers.

"Why are you here?" I shout. My cheeks feel wet. I don't want anyone to see me this way.

No reply.

"Why? Please. Tell me," I sob.

"Okay, I'll go now," he says. And he leaves.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *