Madness

The Clerk

He is sitting in his cube. His eyes are half on his PC glossing through the document open and half checking out the pretty girl in the next cube. A lowly clerk in his division, and one of the lowest in the food-chain, very few people even knew his name. He hated his job which was to proof read first drafts.

“What horrible grammar! Why don’t these people first attend a basic course in English before doing all this heavy duty stuff. Will make my job much easier.”

“Hey you! We don’t pay you to ogle at girls! Get back to your work.”

He quickly proof-read the document and forwarded it to his manager and went on to the next one. He thought about how he couldn’t care less if the distance between two legs of a transistor was in the picometer range, or if a circuit less than a pinhead’s size could arbitrate between a thousand antennae. Cutting edge technology they say. Breakthrough inventions they say. Never before seen they say. Boring he says.

His manager came up to him suddenly.

“You, there is a crackpot downstairs claiming some major breakthrough and wanting to see me. I don’t have time for this nonsense. You can go and pretend to be me. Throw some polysyllabic words around and see if he gets scared. Get rid of him somehow.”

He reaches the lobby. A well-dressed gentleman is sitting composedly on a settee. He is surprised therefore when the security guard took him up to him and told him that the gentleman is the one who insisted on seeing him.

“How can I help you sir?”

“Thank you sir for meeting me. Can we go somewhere private and talk. It is not safe if we are overheard.”

“Of course Mr …”

“Smith, John Smith. You might have realised that it is actually a pseudonym. I can’t compromise myself or the organisation I am representing.”

Though not particularly bothered about any organisation, he did not say anything to dampen Smith’s enthusiasm.

“Of course, we can go outside, there is a cafe nearby where we can have a private chat.”

They proceed to a rather shady looking cafe adjacent to the office they had just exited. Finding a quiet seat in the corner, they begin their discussion.

“So Mr. Smith, why this top-secret meeting and what is this invention you want to talk to me about?”

“Two words – time travel.”

“Time travel eh? Seen a lot of that. As far as I know, no one has managed a practical solution to traveling through subatomic ether first. Send your plans to my secretary and he will verify your claims. Then we can talk.”

“With all due respect, it is way above your pay grade and way above your education level.”

“Oh so you know a lot about me eh?”

“I know for a fact that you are just a clerk impersonating your manager but you are exactly the person we wanted to see. Details of this meeting won’t go any further because let us face it, no one would believe a no mark like you. We have means of knowing your whereabouts too just in case you aren’t clear about your predicament yet.”

“But why me?”

“Oh for that you need to know what happened. Here we go, in simple terms, we discovered that whenever we do any form of time travel, we go to a parallel universe. We made several such trips. The trips were quite enlightening; in one journey we found that though the era was same, they are not as technologically advanced as us and are still struggling with concepts that children in our universe learn in kindergarten itself. Just as an experiment, we then did something that will change their universe forever. We will be observing their progress every once in a while using an anchor we created with which we can go directly to that universe rather than random ones.”

“What did you do?”

“We told your good self from that universe, something that will change the course of their history.”

A morbid curiosity grips him and he asks, “What did I learn in that universe?”

“Let me put it to you this way, Mr Einstein, in that universe, patent clerks from Switzerland are sure to be looked on with respect.”

Inspired by http://xkcd.com/1067/

A Train of Thought

Last Sunday, I saw the Malayalam movie 22 Female, Kottayam. It is about a nurse who is abused by people whom she considered close to her and how she wreaks revenge. Nothing groundbreaking, almost the illegitimate offspring twice removed of Ek Hasina Thi and Kill Bill (and for once acknowledged by the makers). It was though quite a different movie from the dominant fare in Malayalam, no over-aged fat hero trying to carouse with a million girls less than a third his age nor a superhero who defies all laws of physics while bashing up the baddies while mouthing punch dialogues at the same time. I liked the movie, though I can’t say I enjoyed it because that would make me a rather sick person.

But this blog is not a critical review of the movie. Rather this is a about a train of thought that was triggered while watching the aforementioned movie. I can’t actually say triggered because I have thought about it earlier too but only now am I actually putting it into words. It is about a factor that influences how we appreciate, enjoy or empathise with the characters, let it be a movie or a book.

It is a three letter word that starts with S and ends with X. Not in that way you pervert, though that might play a significant part too. I meant sex as the gender. I have felt that the gender of the character plays a very significant part. Big deal you might say, and I agree, nothing that others haven’t thought of. But I thought a long time about this, and so reader, I have to bore you too.

As a person who likes reading, I tried translating it to books that I have read. Then I remembered about Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It is a book that I have thoroughly enjoyed and a book that I will recommend to everyone. I enjoyed it much more than A Thousand Splendid Suns, by the same author. But while discussing about it with an aunt, she told me that she felt ATTS was much better. The reason we felt totally opposite, I surmise was because she associated more with the female protagonist rather than the male protagonist of KR. Both undergo repeated misfortunes in their lives. Comparing the two is difficult and I guess is left to the reader. This I think led to the contrasting views about the books that my aunt and I had about the same books.

Going one step forward, I think I will associate more with a male doctor protagonist than a female engineer protagonist inspite of being (almost) an engineer myself. It might well be the most important trait of the protagonist which decides how I associate with the character. Putting it in a nutshell, the targeted audience matters a lot for me while appreciating a creation, let it be a movie or a book. Sidney Sheldon with his female protagonist and Harold Robbins with his male protagonists targeted different audience. Stephanie Meyer targets an altogether different audience which can’t be easily characterised, though giggly, pink and immature are the words that immediately spring to the mind. Without deprecating books with targeted audience, I have felt that a book is truly great when any Tom, Dick or Harry and Eena, Meena or Deeka are able to equally enjoy it.

Reading through my prolonged discourse on people of literary merit far that I can’t even dream of reaching, the thoughtful and eloquent reader might have been wondering how the !@#! is this related to the movie I mentioned. Spoiler Alert, if you want to watch the movie, don’t read on. The female lead as I mentioned is repeatedly abused and finally cheated by a guy whom she loves. As revenge and to prevent him from further abusing anyone, she castrates him.

Ouch! Inspite of everything that happened earlier, and knowing that the suffering villain was a total douchebag and a vile person too, I could not help feeling sympathy towards him. I felt queasy even as I thought about what happened to him. I guess the feminine half of the audience felt the same when the heroine was abused. The director targets both audience here knowing that both will be equally affected and this is what I think makes the movie really good.

The movie-going public has started demanding different films than the usual. Many big budget movies with the usual plot sunk without a trace. What with movie rights and all, a movie doesn’t fail totally but still it vanishes from the screen which can be said to be a failure. This demand might also attribute to the meteoric rise of a certain person without no shame whatsoever who does everything in his movies, including directing, writing the story, penning the lyrics, playing the hero and dancing with the 7 or 8 heroines, all equally poorly. I have felt the said person to be an affront to our collective sensibilities, but some people like him, so there you are.

In some of these offbeat offsprings of the intercourse between the demanding public and new directors, societal issues are being addressed in a more straightforward manner than the allegorical or metaphorical portrayals earlier, swearwords are coming in (which is a big step indeed) and ‘variety’ plots (lifted from elsewhere of course) are being used. Whether all these are forward or backward steps is something that is difficult to say at the moment. History after all moves forward*.

But sometimes I hark back to the good old days when I could enter a theater blankly, laugh a lot, enjoy the songs, ogle at the heroine and come back without anything on my mind, let alone such gruesome images. Movies are no longer an escape to another world, but becoming a window to the rather sick world that we live in.

‘Til Later

*A quote by Nassim Nicholas Taleb of Black Swan fame

The Midnight Flight

The light above the front-door started flickering and then went off without a fuss.

“Not again! Why does this happen every time I am in a hurry?” cursed Hari. He tried opening the door with the key and ran through the entire bunch before finding the fitting one.

“Unbelievable, if I had started at the other end, it would still have been the last key.”

It was pitch dark inside and so he began searching the pockets of his jacket for a torch he was sure that he had. He promptly found a screwdriver, three screws, a chewing gum and even the key to his previous car but not the candle. Shaking his fist at the spectre of Murphy gloating malevolently over him, he resigned himself to his fate and began using his mobile to navigate around the house.

“Let there be light”, he muttered sardonically while switching on the mobile light. He peeked a glance at his watch. He was quite behind schedule. He had a midnight flight out of the country to catch and the car was coming in less than fifteen minutes. In that time he had to pack everything as well as clean up. Remembering the spate of robberies in that neighbourhood he made a mental note to not leave anything valuable behind.

He went into the bedroom and started checking the various almirahs and drawers to see if he had missed anything. She had told him to clean up the place before he left. He hated the cleaning but knew that she will give him trouble if he did not follow what she said. He shuddered slightly remembering the last time such a thing had happened. He felt a faint tingle remembering the lashings that he received.

“Women! No point arguing with them. As somebody wise told, a man has got to do what a woman has told him to do. Or was that something different? Who cares.”

While cleaning up, his mind started wandering and he began thinking about his job. Years of experience had lent a mechanical bent to it. Truth be told, he was quite fed up with his work and wanted to start afresh somewhere. He had almost quit several times but financial difficulties as well as the fact that he was not much good at anything else always brought him back.

“Beggars can’t be choosers and at least I am better off than some of my ex-colleagues”, he consoled himself. Finishing everything, he took a quick glance to ensure that everything was fine and walked out.

“Shit, I forgot to call her. She will be livid. And where is that bloody car? It was supposed to be here five minutes back.”

The car came almost at that moment and identifying himself, he got into it. And the car drove off. He took out his phone and dialled her number.

“Ma’am, I have done everything you told me. I am going to the airport and will be out of the loop for some time while I enjoy that well-earned holiday.” His tone belied how intimidated he was by his boss.

He threw his phone out and taking off the mask and gloves which were stifling him, he began enjoying the wind blowing in through the open windows of his getaway car.

A Guide to Good Living, sorry Fooding

The most frequent things on my annual (sometimes bi-annual too) trips to Kerala were the marriages, with hartals and bandhs coming a respectable second. And guess what the best part of attending those functions were? Naa, not the girls, a saying I heard recently comes to my mind-“Most of the beautiful girls are not present, most of the present beautiful girls are not single and most of the present single beautiful girls are not present without their brothers”, certainly lolworthy as the chat addicts say, eh? Where was I? Ah yes, the best part- the sadya.

Sadya (suðya-the su is pronounced like in sun, the weird character like “the” and a short ya instead of the drawling yeah) is a Malayalam word which means feast or rather banquet as a sneak peek at Wiki tells me. Nothing new about that you might be thinking. You with your experience in attending a million random weddings and gatecrashing another million or so might be thinking that this is just one more such occasion, nothing that a very innocent look and blustering about till you get it right won’t solve.

Unfortunately, no. Not so easy buster. I admire your blissful ignorance because it is one of those occasions that a person alien to the culture can be totally sidelined by the others and left looking like a total nincompoop. But Sir Damu arises to your need and here is a quick introduction to what one needs to take care while attending a sadya, and the preparations needed for it.

The Costume

Dhoti/Mundu or Lungi, as the culturally backward call it, the thinking mans’ cloth is one of those fiendishly tricky dresses which forces you to think about hereafter while you are trying to tie it. It looks quite easy but many a stranger has tied himself in knots trying to tie his Mundu. And it is a must if you want to properly participate in a sadya. You might need a professional Malayalee’s help for the first two thousand times, then you can manage it alone. Why a Mundu, why so much bother, you might be thinking. And you will not be alone either. But trust me as I trusted my Shifu. Here are a few reasons that will force you to think.

1. You are in a different culture and what better way to merge with them than trying to adopt their customs? Also any of the pretty girls that escape the aforementioned rule and you would like to merge with might find your troubles with the Mundu rather cute until it turns rather vulgar.

2. Any time somebody gives you something to pass the parcel to someone, you can just say, “Sure, just hold on till I retie my Mundu“. By the time you manage to retie it the unwelcome person would be long gone.

3. And most importantly, the food is going to be pretty spicy. And v’la, you have acres of space to blow your nose or wipe your sweat or whatever other nefarious motives you may have.

Preparations

1. Skip breakfast- you came a long way to attend this marriage, and what better way to enjoy it than enjoy a hearty lunch?

2. Go to Mumbai and practise getting on to the local train. “Huh?” you might ask. In Kerala or at least at whatever marriages I attend, people always need to get on to the next local train. So there is always a huge huge rush when the first panthi– loosely translating to a crowd of ravenously hungry people- is set. I have personally known people (yes I am looking at you) waiting outside the dining hall when the actual marriage ceremony is going on.

3. Go to the nearest garbage dump, stare at the refuse and try to maintain an appetite. Because that is how the hall will be if you do not manage to enter in the first panthi.

The Day

Get yourself a seat, somewhere away from prying eyes and suspicious aunties and wait calmly for the food to arrive. Take a look around and see if anyone is watching you. Smile at them till they are embarrassed and look away. Now take a look at your table if your appetite can handle it.

Hey, wait, don’t use that leaf thingy to clean the table. That is supposed to be your plate. First take some water out of the glass they have kept and pour it on the leaf. Now thoroughly rinse it using your hands. What? You did not wash your hands? Ah well the damage is done. Check whether the leaf is torn or has holes. To remove the leftover water on the leaf, grab your leaf by its nearest side and  push it over the edge of the table. Of course you idiot, you need to hold the leaf. Beg the leaf guy for another leaf and repeat, this time holding the leaf while pushing it over the edge. Now that your plate is ready, use the mundu to wipe the beads of perspiration. I told you it will be useful.

I am sure you are a professional eater, so only a few tips regarding the eating part. Food will arrive as multiple courses and it is never rude to raise your hands and ask for more. Pappadam (not possible to translate to English), kadumanga (the pickle) and chips have to be suitably used as garnishing while eating. Oh shit, one more thing that I forgot to tell you, you have to eat with your hands. No spoon, fork and knife. It is highly efficient and makes the phrase finger-lickin’ good quite apt. Also remember the fact that unless you have at least 4 glasses of payasam (the sweet), the server will look at you with disdain.

There you are, a successful sadya eater. And with there being more Malayalees than everyone else (Yes Mandarin is just Malayalam with a Thrissur slang), you will find plenty of occasions to satisfy your urge. Have fun and don’t waste the food.

‘Til Later

42

“Rhino- check”

“Duck-billed platypus- check”

“Clown fish- check”, God counted in a very satisfied voice. Heaven was a very busy place at the moment as all the holy ones had gotten together to look at God’s latest  craze- a Lego collection to rival Satan. He even had breathed life into his models and the things were looking quite impressive. “What say you, my dear fellow? Unable to eat anything because you still can’t digest that my collection is better than yours?” asked God. “Not bad, considering that you spent the better part of the last 7 years since I threw my Lego collection party trying to make your own”. “7 years! No man, I have been doing this only for the last 7 days. In fact most of the things were made within a day”

And that my dear friends is how exaggeration was born.

Exaggeration- what a beautiful word, what a beautiful idea. I would not be exaggerating if I said that this is one activity, nay art that I am a champion at. Being a champion of this art as well as this cause, it is my honour-bound duty to instruct those less able than me on this. As I said, exaggeration is not something that everyone is good at. It requires careful planning and innovation. Keeping that poker-face while making that outlandish claim is not simple. Even inventing those outlandish claims is very difficult. There are several unwritten rules which will help you get away with exaggeration. Here you are. Read and study.

Rule Number 1

Multiply by n rule. If arbitrarily increasing a count introduces a twist in the tale in your favour, that count should be multiplied by n (which is usually 10). So the next time you tell about your marks or the number of goals in Legendary mode against Barcelona with Sheffield United, just add that extra zero and enjoy the zing in your tale.

Rule Number 2

Divide by n rule. If arbitrarily decreasing a count introduces a twist in the tale in your favour, that count should be divided by n. God is one of the eminent people to have perfected the use of this rule. Note: This rule is particularly effective when combined with rule number 1.

The above two rules were actually discovered in Ancient Greece while trying to encourage the Greek soldiers waiting for Xerxes army. 3000 Spartans suddenly became 300 and 5000 Persians suddenly became 50000.

Rule Number 3

Eyewitness rule. You always witness everything worth witnessing. The Counter Strike match which lasted 10 days or the athlete next door doing 150 push ups using his pinkie finger were all in your presence. Always.

Rule Number 4

No names rule. As long as you don’t name names, you can’t be caught exaggerating. Pronouns were invented exactly for this reason. And people reciprocate when they know they have not been compromised. So it is always “You should have seen HIM eat. At least 30 Idlis!” And “HE” will be more than glad to say something nice about you too.

Rule Number 5

Swear on the name of every family member possible. A fine example would be “I swear by the last fur on the tail of my Great great grandfather’s favourite labrador that whatever I said happened.”

The above five rules should enable you to invent exaggerations. But the following rule is the most important one when it comes to getting away with it.

Rule Number 6

Quote the Author rule. Quote Shakespeare or Bernard Shaw.  Or better Leo Tolstoy. No one reads those authors. While making claims, follow it up with a quote from one of the above mentioned authors.

“He was so angry that he beat up at least 10 people single-handedly. Like Tolstoy said in War and Peace, anger is the greatest friend you have. It can render you power to defeat even your greatest enemy.”

Rule Number 7

This is the most important rule of all. Pray to Damu. Remember his wisdom. Think about all his greatest attempts. Get inspired by his exaggerations. Read his books on exaggeration. Whenever you feel doubtful, remember the golden rule that Damu knows everything. A good book to start with will be “100001 great exaggerations by Damu” ghost written by Damu.

The most important two rules are 6 and 7 and you will quickly notice that their product is 42. What? You don’t know what is special about 42? Just google “the answer to life the universe and everything”  and enjoy the beauty. Yes, the magic number strikes again. And yes this is my 42nd post since I joined the blogosphere around 2 years ago. That it took me so long to reach this holy number is as much a testament to my laziness as the chronic uncreativity that is present in me.

But there you are. For every creative, zestful, enthusiastic fool, you need a Damu to maintain the precarious balance of life. If you are reading this, thank you for persisting with such a lazy devil in the hope that he will come good. Hoping for many more blogs…

‘Til Later