Saturday, May 04, 2019

Mistake-a short story

“Sir, someone’s here to see you. Says you know her.”
Browjoe felt irritated. It was 8 PM. His day moves like clockwork. He wakes up at 7 AM, and listens to his favourite morning playlist, which he religiously changes on the first day of ever year. While raag bhairavi wafts through his drawing room, and the morning sun feels so mellow, he sips on his coffee and smokes the first cigarette of the day. Strong gourmet black coffee, without sugar. By 9 AM he’s in office. Till 6 PM, he meanders through meaningless official chores, almost listlessly, waiting for his day to end. There’s the unavoidable lunch, when he has to mingle with his co-workers and discuss the deplorable state of social, political and economic affairs. And sometimes cricket. The long journey back home to his small flat in Tollygunge, in the metro, is a long arduous one, jostling for space and smelling armpits. The sweat makes roundish patches around the armpit, and Browjoe often spends his entire metro journey marveling and laughing inside his head at the sheer diversity in the patches- some are perfectly round, some look like the map of India, some look like a squashed mango. He prefers not to see women who wear sleeveless, for they don’t have these patches. Once he’s back home, from 8 PM, he sips on his local whiskey or dark rum, always a nip bought on his way back home, and plays his evening playlist, which he religiously changes on the last day of every year. He dines sharp at 10 PM, and goes to bed at 11. Browjoe has few friends, and fewer relatives. On a weekday, no one ever visits him. It’s only the occasional weekend when he socializes.
This unscheduled visitor has completely disrupted his perfectly balanced day. Under such circumstances, he’d be usually furious with Laxman, his Man Friday for the past 19 years. Laxman’s father used to drive Browjoe’s father’s car. When both their fathers died tragically in a road accident, Browjoe felt sorry for Laxman and took him in. He paid Laxman a modest salary, ensured he had a place to stay and food to eat. For Laxman, that was all he wanted. For Browjoe, it was all he could afford. People with his income rarely had a full time help.
But today was different. It was raining outside. Unseasonal rains, like a long lost friend who turns up unannounced, always made Browjoe happy. It was one of the few things he enjoyed that wasn’t routine. It had been terribly humid the past few weeks, and the weathermen in all channels were murmuring incoherently about low-pressure situations around the Bay of Bengal.
While he wasn’t furious with Laxman for not turning the guest away, he still felt irritated. It was a woman. It meant Browjoe’s well-ventilated vest and boxers will need to be additionally draped with another layer of clothing to look civilized. It was an irritating thought.

“Remember me”? she asked. Browjoe’s drawing room was modest. It had a small sofa set, the springs hard for they haven’t been changed for over twenty years. There was a centre table with dead flowers. Laxman is supposed to change the flowers once a week, but he often forgets. The television set has a layer of dust on it, for it hasn’t been used in over six months. Browjoe watched the occasional cricket match, and election coverage whenever there was one around. Neither cricket nor elections had happened in the last six months.
Browjoe sat gingerly on the sofa set. She was sitting somewhat uncomfortably. Clearly the springs need changing, Browjoe thought to himself. Her hair had patches of grey, the spectacles she wore were too big for her face, and a patch of her hair constantly kept falling on her face, which she kept dismissively moving up with a gentle shaking of her head. She was once attractive, but age has taken its toll. There was a general tiredness in her eyes, and she looked unusually thin.
“I am sorry, but I have no idea who you are”, the irritation was apparent in Browjoe’s voice.
“ I am Brishti. It’s been twenty years, Shourjo.”
“I am Browjoe, not Shourjo. I think you’re confusing me with someone”, Browjoe barked somewhat haughtily, and made no effort to hide his disgust.
She smiled. “Maybe. You do look very different, now that I see you clearly”, she said, somewhat unsure of herself. “I tried getting in touch with someone called Shourjo. We had parted ways twenty years ago. We were lovers”, she said, almost breathlessly, and her voice lowered when she said “lovers”.
“Will make for a nice love story”, Browjoe said, now enjoying himself. “Lovers reunited after twenty years”.
She smiled, wryly. “No, I was not looking to reunite. I am married now. Have a kid too. I couldn’t find Shourjo online; I put up a classified advertisement in the newspapers looking for him, clearly no one reads those. And then, bizarrely, I saw you at the metro station today.  I sort of followed you home, waited outside for almost half an hour, unsure what to do. I saw your name outside, and was pretty sure I was mistaken. And then decided to ring the bell anyway, “she said, blushing with embarrassment.
“Why did you want to meet this Shourjo?”, Browjoe asked, in a somewhat mocking tone.
“Something deeply personal. Hope I find him soon,” she said, hurriedly got up and without saying another word, walked straight out of the door, unceremoniously.

The metro ride back to Dumdum was a long one. Brishti jostled for space. It was 9 PM, but the metro was still crowded. Her mind went back twenty years. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, Shourjo would say. Their adulterous love was all-consuming, destroying families and happiness in its wake. Yet, nothing ever felt more right. Select days flashed by her mind, like random shots from a grainy black and white movie. The night she accidentally kissed him in a drunken stupor, the night it all began. The afternoon they stole from their respective partners, to stay home all day and read poetry, and get high and fuck. The day it rained on Marine Drive, and they took the last train home, stood near the door, and got drenched. The dreamy trip where they were lost in the mist, somewhere on the Mumbai-Pune highway, and ended up staying at a blind man’s lonely house on the top of a hill next to a waterfall. The day their partners left them, when they promised to be together forever. The day she found him in bed with her best friend. The day she tried to kill herself.
The cancer was in its last stage. In spite of everything else, in spite of the terrible memories, Shourjo at least deserved to know that she’s dying. The random man in the metro station looked so similar, but had a different name. Shourjo will probably know well after she is gone. The thought made her sad.
Countless people fought for space inside the compartment. Brishti looked at the sweaty people and their sweat-drenched armpits. Shourjo would look at those armpits and describe imaginary shapes that the sweat made on the shirts. The thought made Brishti smile.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Short Story About Love

They smoked a joint and made passionate love. Sex is always better when you are high- it juxtaposes two surreal experiences in perfectly synchronous harmony. Every single time, it felt like a group of soldiers in boots, marching in unison on a wooden bridge.  

It was a lazy Sunday. The weather was balmy, the sun benignly coming in through the curtains. It was winter in Kolkata, with its short lived and delightful charms.

Sahana got up lazily from the bed. To Ashim, she felt like the mist that lingers on seductively every winter morning. She pulled the curtains open, lit a cigarette and blew the smoke on Ashim. Ashim inhaled. It was one of their many games.

They had only a few more hours. Sahana was going back to her husband. How does one spend the last few hours with the woman you love? Over the last few days, Ashim and Sahana had religiously gone through their usual rituals. They listened to their favourite playlist, watched the trilogy that brought them together and read poetry. They got high, they laughed, they walked in the empty streets of North Kolkata at three in the morning.

So they decided to write a letter together, each of them alternately writing a paragraph dedicated to the other. It was something they had never done before. Remarkably, both of their closing paragraphs were almost identical. It again felt like sex on dope.

As promised, Ashim did not stay in touch with Sahana. It was a promise he had made in that letter. Love is great in literature and cinema, but truth is shittier than fiction, Ashim would often say when drunk. It helped that she was in a different country, many miles away. It also helped that they had no common friends and no social media to provide sneak previews of the lives of others. It also helped knowing her for only three months, when she was in Kolkata to be away from her abusive husband. It was the best three months of Ashim’s life. Three months so overwhelming and so fulfilling that Ashim never needed to love anyone again.

It had been fifteen years to the day Sahana left. Ashim waited patiently at the Howrah station, under the giant clock. When they had promised, in the closing paragraphs of their letter, to meet after fifteen years, the challenge was to identify a place in Kolkata that would remain relatively unchanged. The giant clock no longer told the time, but the nostalgia-loving city had campaigned to not have it removed. So now the clock always said it was ten minutes past ten; somewhat apt for a city where time often stood still.

Sahana did not come. Sometime around the evening, the police came searching for Ashim. He just stood listlessly, looking at the giant clock. 
It was time for the schizophrenic patient to head back to his small grey dorm room in a grey hospital in the greyest part of the city.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pujo pujo bhaab (the festive feeling)

Today is Shoptomi. And I am writing this sitting in my dull office, looking at other equally dull offices in imposing high rises in Bombay's Bandra Kurla Complex. Once upon a time, even the very thought of working during pujos (some would argue, working during any day of  the year, for that matter) seemed unthinkable. But it's a reality today, and I realise I don't care that much about Pujos anymore. It wasn't always like this.

Growing up in Kolkata, pujo didn't begin with Mahalaya, for many of us. Pujo began the day the  "Pujobarshiki" (annual pujo edition) of Anandamela, a popular children's magazine, came home. Pujobarshiki meant that we could smell the month long pujo holiday and hear it knocking on our doors. It had novels by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Sunil Ganguly, Samaresh Majumder, Dulendra Bhowmick and many others; articles on science by Pathik Guha and many other equally delightful writings. In the pre internet era, if Satyajit Ray, through his Feluda and Shonku books, taught us how the world outside looked like, Anandamela completed the picture. Shirshendu's novels used to be my favourite; they still are. His novels had friendly ghosts, some of whom even got emotional frequently. They also had very stingy rich men, so stingy that they were hilariously funny.

Soon after Anandamela was devoured and discussed at length with friends, began the pujo holidays, starting on the day of Mahalaya. I have generally been lazy all my life, so a quintessential part of the Bengali identity, waking up at a godforsaken hour during Mahalaya to listen to Birendro krishno Bhodro chant "Mahishashurmordini" never quite happened for me. Of course, I now claim I skipped Mr. Bhadro because I have been an atheist since my school days.

Then would come the five big days of Pujo- Shosti, Shoptomi, Oshtomi, Nobomi and Doshomi. Phone calls would be made to friends, plans made instantly. We would remember each other's landline phone numbers by heart. Six digits at first, with advancement in telecommunication technologies marked by addition to digits, till they became eight in all and thankfully stopped. Around shosti, I would usually disappear from Saltlake, where I grew up, only to return around nobomi or doshomi. I hated Saltlake for its dullness during pujos-it used to be almost like what Bandra Kurla Complex is today.

The itinerary of the five big days used to change every year, but eventually settled, after a few years, at Maddox Square, one of the biggest pujos in South Kolkata. Maddox is not just any other pujo. The ground was huge, and at least ten to twenty thousand people could be seen on the lawns at any point of time. It was the tinder of our childhood, the place where you looked longingly at women looking gorgeous in their saris and sleeveless blouses, but rarely got a look back. We would be dressed in our best, but even in our best, we looked like "benign baboons" (a teacher in my school once called me that). And if by mistake, a girl did approach any of us, the rest of the group would make such fun that ignoring her seemed a better idea than being trolled.

During one pujo, we achieved the dubious record of being in Maddox for four days straight without even looking at the idol once. The clandestine "Lokar maath" (Loka's grounds) was close by; the alleys there offered maud, mohila and mangsho (alcohol, women and meat, respectively). We never dared to try out the "mohila", but the "maud" would often be bought, mixed with coca-cola and consumed sitting in Maddox. And we would feel like revolutionaries who have finally broken the unfair and suffocating rules of society.

The feel of pujo changed over the years. From the 7th to maybe the 10th standard, it would be adda, staying over at friend's houses. From the 11th standard, women and alcohol started playing an important role in shaping our pujos. But Maddox remained a constant all through, till the end of my undergraduate college.

When we all went back to Maddox a few years ago, it seemed unfamiliar. We hated the crowds, found the kids pretentious, and wanted to kill the selfie-takers. And a friend told me that there's a 360 degree camera perched right atop Durga, delivering live feed to Maddox's Facebook page- it's called Maddox 360. The other favourite haunts like Ballygunge Sarbojonin also seemed very alien.

I realized that Pujo probably hasn't changed that much; the dazzling lights and ambitious pandals are still great to look at, the energy in the streets is still infectious. But somewhere, we outgrew the pujo of our childhood. The endless traffic jams and the crowds seemed unbearable now. We preferred house parties in the once-hated Saltlake, for it was quieter. Some of us started making vacation plans during the five big days, just to avoid being in Kolkata.

I still end up going to Kolkata almost every pujo. I avoid Maddox like the plague, visit my neighbourhood pujo and attend a bunch of house parties and get drunk. I take an Uber to South Kolkata now, get dropped off at one of the innumerable road blocks, and walk a mile to reach friends' houses and check out the lighting on the streets and think about the pujo of our teens and twenties. I still buy the Anandamela from this enterprising Gujarati grocer in Chembur. Shirshendu still writes.

I have spent two pujos before this in Bombay, and I found the glamorous pujos in Bombay to be unbearably ostentatious and pretentious. Bengalis who usually try to hide their identity, to mingle with the broader idea of being "Indian" the rest of the year, suddenly become the quintessential bhodrolok and bhodromohila, and speak in a weird dialect that's part Bangla, part English, with some stylish Hindi thrown in for good measure.

This year, I have decided to give Bombay pujo another shot. There's no dhaak (drum) to be heard, people are busy at their desks like it's any other day. And for the past hour, I have been writing this, with no intention of working the rest of the day. There are plans to check out the Bandra and Khar pujos near my home today evening. And I am planning to visit Chembur, soon after I finish writing this, to buy this year's Anandamela Pujobarshiki.

Like a lump in my consciousness, pujo still remains.

Friday, December 09, 2016

A short story about despair


Brawjoe Bagchi woke up after fifty years. He felt strange at first, but when he saw that the sun was still the same, burning up the Kolkata sky at eleven in the morning, he was convinced that things haven’t changed much all these years. Drops of sweat made his shirt wet, and Brawjoe felt a sudden urge to strip and run naked.

So it was true! All the money he spent all those years ago didn’t go to waste. He had to sell his own house, his estranged wife’s jewellery and illegally sell his father’s farmhouse without his knowledge. All for a little over a million dollars. Well, in 2016, that was the price one had to pay to have a shot at being brought back to life.  

Between the years 2000 and 2015, Brawjoe, by his own exalted estimate, had consumed over two thousand litres of alcohol. 4 pegs a day on weekdays, which would usually keep him sober, unless he followed it up with a joint of marijuana. And on weekends, his usual way to keep count of the pegs would be to see how many cigarettes he had smoked. Brawjoe was a man of principles- a cigarette a peg, never more, never less. There have been weekends when he had finished a twenty’s pack, passed out in a whorehouse, woke up with his puke all over him, and happily trudged off for a big brunch that also included unlimited alcohol.  Life, to Brawjoe, was to be lived every moment. When he would be drunk beyond reproach on a Friday evening, he would quote one of his favourite film dialogues from Satyajit Ray’s ‘Nayak’- ‘ektai life, ektai chance’ (one life, one chance).  Some great man had said, ‘live every day as if it’s your last day on earth’. Brawjoe took it literally; he even bought a poster with the quote and hung it on his bedroom wall.

When he was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2015, Brawjoe’s friends were not surprised. It seemed as inevitable as Brawjoe’s four pegs on weekdays. When the doctors told him he had less than a year to live, Brawjoe took an impulsive decision. He had seen people in his family wither away in the onslaught of cancer, dumped in a heap on a hospital bed, pathetically waiting to die and still longingly pumping their veins with chemo with the false hope of a miracle. Brawjoe would have none of that. He resigned from his job. Alcohol, debauchery and dope had finished off a large part of his savings, but he still had enough to live like a king for a year. His wife had left him several years ago and had gone away with a friend of his. A friend who would always score great dope, but ended up stealing his wife eventually. Brawjoe felt no anger. He never felt any emotion particularly strongly. He didn’t feel particularly close to his parents. In his life, they were just there- like that old painting of  Jamini Roy stuck in his drawing room, which didn’t mean anything to him, but he felt good having it around.

Brawjoe went on a trip of a lifetime. He travelled along the Himalayas, something he had always longed to do. He started off near Turtuk, a village on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir. Six months later, when he was finally brought to Kolkata in a delirious state, he was found in Arunachal Pradesh. He had a beard like Tagore, and smelled like a blanket that hadn’t been washed for years.
Brawjoe’s parents arranged for palliative care for him. The doctors gave him three months. Brawjoe hated it. Here he was, a fifty kilo skeleton withering away on a rotten bed, stuck in his parents’ clutches.

It was then that Brawjoe fell in love. It was the nurse who cared for him, as part of the palliative care. Ahanaa was her name. Her parents had added the “a” at the end of her name, on the family astrologer’s advice. The extra “a” was supposed to be a harbinger of good fortune for her. Brawjoe found it fascinating talking to her. She would tell him about the last wishes of the people she had been with. And the commonest regret she had heard was that people wanted to live longer. Brawjoe wanted to just tuck his head on her lap and sleep. He wanted to kiss her, make love to her all night till they would be too exhausted.

Brawjoe made up his mind. He had a friend in cancer research, who had been telling him for some years that a cure for cancer is only a few decades away. All he needed, Brawjoe convinced himself, was to freeze himself up, and be resuscitated whenever they found a cure for liver cancer. Cryonic suspension was easier than it was before. You needed a good deal of money, and there were agencies in India who would do the rest.

Brawjoe set to work. He sold off whatever he had. His father had a farmhouse about a 100 kilometres from Kolkata. It was a place where the family got together every month. The indulgent father had ensured that the farmhouse was in Brawjoe’s name, and Brawjoe made sure his father paid a price for his misplaced indulgence. He sold off the farmhouse to a rich Marwari businessman, who was pleasantly surprised at the sheer lack of negotiation on the seller’s part.



Brawjoe realised he could not strip, even if he wanted to. He was strapped to the bed, and it wasn’t even part of any sexual foreplay. A bored looking doctor came over with a few gaping interns, who looked at Brawjoe the way Brawjoe would look at lengurs in the Alipur Zoo when he was young.  

The sun was shining through the transparent roof. Brawjoe hadn’t ever seen a hospital like this, assuming this was even a hospital. The doctor, however, spoke the same gibberish that he had always been used to. He always secretly suspected that doctors and lawyers spoke in gibberish just to appear important.

With a condescending look, Brawjoe asked the doctor, “So, I’m actually back? What year is it?”

“It’s the year 66”, said the doctor, nonchalantly.

“What? So I’m back in time? But it doesn’t make any sense. The world didn’t have such facilities in 
AD 66”.

“AD 66? What’s that?”

“Anno domini, you know”.

One of the intern giggled, “Hey, he speaks Latin!” Brawjoe felt like slapping him.

The doctor explained, “We have done away with the concept of adding 2000 before years. It was taking up too much space in our databases, and after the last worldwide system crash, everything has been shortened.”

Brawjoe felt disgusted. “Can I just go now?” he asked.

“Of course, you can check out any time you like. All your fees are paid for in advance, when you signed up 50 years ago.”

Brawjoe tried to add wittily, “but I can never leave, right?”, but no one got the Hotel California reference. They all stared at him blindly.

Outside, on the road, Brawjoe felt strangely liberated. The doctor had told him that he was 36 all over again, and he could live for well over a hundred years. That was the life expectancy in India now. He could begin it all, start with a clean slate, with a clean bill of health. He could live his life to the fullest, again.

But along with the sense of liberation, there was a throbbing pain in his head. A craving for something that he couldn’t quite pinpoint at first. He soon realised he needed a cigarette. Brawjoe walked along the streets. The area looked like Park Street, but there was not a single soul on the road. His favourite cigarette stall, right ahead of Olypub, was not there anymore. It had been replaced by a very small departmental store.

“Can I buy a pack of cigarettes? What are the brands available?” he asked at the counter, directing his questions to an expressionless man.

“Cigarettes? Which year are you in, friend? They have been banned over ten years ago.”

Looking at Brawjoe’s flabbergasted face, the man with the deadpan face leaned forward and whispered, “you can always go to New town phase 48. I’m told that some underground bars there still sell vintage cigarettes.”

Brawjoe trudged along. He walked several miles towards his house on Southern Avenue. He didn’t have much of a choice. There were no taxis on the road. Some sort of an advanced elevated railway system seemed to manage the metropolis’ public transportation system. He also saw lots of saucer like contraptions in the sky, which looked like Tata Nanos without wheels. These contraptions would come down on the road, and the passengers would touch the door with their fingers and get in. It looked like a highly evolved version of the radio taxis Brawjoe used to take back in the day.

Brawjoe’s house was still there. He knocked on the door. The sense of familiarity made him happy. His parents were no longer there, but his sister was still alive. She was old, over 80 years old, and very frail. Even though they were meeting after 50 years, Brawjoe found his sister unusually cold. Apparently, no one in the family had forgiven Brawjoe for selling that godforsaken farmhouse.
Brawjoe went in search of his friends. Most were dead. The ones who were alive seemed very distant. He finally managed to find Aritra, his oldest friend. After Brawjoe was frozen, Aritra became close to Brawjoe’s nurse, Ahanaa. He made her drop the extra “a” and got married to her. Ahana was no more, she passed away five years ago.

Aritra didn’t drink anymore. Alcohol consumption was linked to Aadhar cards now. Everything you did was linked to Aadhar, apparently. Drinking more than two pegs a week meant a fine of a million rupees. The measure of a peg itself was only 25 ml now.

Brawjoe begged Aritra for some cash. Aritra smiled. There was no cash anymore. Shortly after Brawjoe was frozen, a cashless revolution began in India. Many died, but those who survived it vowed never to use cash again. India was a rich country now. There were no farmers, all food was processed and machine produced and usually tasteless. The word “vegetarian” had been added to the Constitution’s preamble a couple of decades earlier. One could still get meat, but since it was also linked to the Aadhar card, it was rationed to 100 grams a year. And because it was also machine produced, it tasted like stale rubber, in Aritra’s words. The good part though, according to Aritra, was that there were no gays or Muslims any more either. It was compulsory to be a heterosexual Hindu, and a bill had recently been passed in the lower house of the parliament to add the words “heterosexual” and “Hindu” also to the Constitution’s preamble. Pollution control was taken very seriously. Everyone was allowed a certain amount of carbon footprint (linked to Aadhar, of course), but exceeding the permissible amount meant you had to stay home till your footprint came down to an acceptable level. Aritra had gone slightly overboard during his son’s fifth wedding recently. He had gorged on processed paneer and had taken out his vintage car for a quick spin. He has been under compulsory home arrest (senior citizens were allowed a 25% discount) for the last one month, and is required to be home for another three months.



When Brawjoe had gulped down his thirtieth peg, smoked his thirtieth cigarette (bought at a fortune from the very shady New Town Phase 48) and finished almost a kilo of mutton rogan josh (which he had cooked himself), he did not wait for the police to arrive. According to the current penal code provisions, he had researched, he would spend about 34 years in jail for his indiscretions.

When the police found Brawjoe Bagchi after two days, he was hanging from the ceiling, a noose round his neck, his eyes protruding and his middle finger pointed upwards. He was found naked. It was the first suicide in India in over fifteen years.



Monday, September 11, 2006

The Boy Who'd Never Grow Up

Neil, in Bangla, means blue, the colour of the sky-the colour of freedom. But the Neil I know doesn't know what freedom tastes like. Neither does he know the taste of phucka, or golgappa as it is known in other parts of the country. For he has to remain home all day long-because he is different from the other kids of his age; because, as the naturally vague and bombastic doctors like to put it, he suffers from a rare mental disorder, one that wouldn't let him grow up mentally. He is destined to be Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, only that he never opted for it voluntarily.

Being with him is like keeping a date with innocence - except that you feel sorry, paradoxically somewhat that the innocence would never end. His life is simple; apart from the routine daily chores that he goes through, often with a grumble, his life revolves around music, his small rubber football and a comb that he always carries with him, although I never quite managed to find out why.

His repertoire of Hindi films and Hindi film music is astonishing. One just has to sing the first line of a song and he would excitedly shout out the name of the film- an accomplishment that brings him much pride in his otherwise uneventful life where people either view him with sympathy or with curiousity, but seldom with respect.

His other pastime is the rubber ball, or rather the catching of it, a game he plays with anyone who visits him. And every time he manages to catch the ball or his opponent fails to do so, he bursts out in peals of laughter- a vociferous appreciation of his own triumph.

I have always been amazed by his knack of connecting to people instantly. Probably, it is one of the few advantages of not growing up, since he does not need to calculate the gains that he may derive from his associations. Every time we meet, he shakes my hands warmly, a gesture of courtesy that the grown-ups in the family have probably taught him. And, as he shakes my hand and smiles beamingly, he squints his eyes. Every time, it makes me wonder what goes on in the inner chambers of his mind.

Now, how a grown-up thinks never interests me much- unless the grown-up is someone like Einstein or Tagore. For, chances are, the grown-up would think like me, considering things rationally with the occasional irrational and illogical behaviour. Of course, in my case, how often I think rationally is a matter on which opinion is widely divided.

But Neil’s mind is different; his thoughts are simplistic, but not simple. How does he feel when he sees others leave for work every day? What thoughts surround his mind when he stares out of his window into the street, where people walk by and the rains cause the gutters to overflow? I know that he doesn’t think the way a child would; he is sixteen now and one can almost feel the difference that the years have brought in his thought process.

I never feel sorry for Neil; rather, I feel sorry to be in a world where he is an aberration rather than being the norm.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My cricketing exploits-part 1

Here's a lovely post from RajK, a close friend and a supremely talented writer. Although his post is inspired by Sidin's now legendary post, moments of nonsensical brilliance allow him to often overshadow his inspiration.

RajK's post shook me up from my own reverie and I decided to blog about my own cricketing career. Now, before you go googling, let me inform you that you won't find me mentioned in cricinfo's records, or in records anywhere for that matter. That's because some careers go beyond record books. It is the unadulterated joy, the delightful display of incredible incompetence that my fans remember-not how may runs I scored or how many wickets I took. A popular myth goes that I had more auto-rickshaws than the runs I scored and the wickets I took put together. That's baloney, of course, since I never knew how to drive a rick.

The Xploits, as they are commonly known, are strewn across my illustrious career. But the one I recall proudly goes back to my undergraduate days. Presidency College in Kolkata, in spite of all its academic glory, has a terrible sporting track record. Yet, in the Calcutta University record books, we have been mentioned the most often-by a sheer coincidence, underneath the 'against' column every time.

Nevertheless, sports were pursued with much enthusiasm. We also had inter-departmental matches. Now, as participants or as spectators in these matches, roles that incidentally could be exchanged at will, one could miss all classes and bask all day in the sun. In one such match, I was told to bowl. Now this wasn't surprising at all, since our team was terrible-which is actually a redundant statement, since mine being a part of the team could never suggest anything to the contrary. Anyway, we had two decent bowlers both of whom had finished their quota and hence my services were called upon.

Now, I think I'm a decent offie- I had once almost spun a ball. My stock delivery was of course the one that went straight,even though I hoped it'd behave otherwise. So, I proceeded to bowl-a wayward run to the wicket, a gentle loop on the ball (a gift, it would seem to the naive with only the very discerning fully comprehending the subtlety involved), the fielders all in attention, the batsman half-forward and half-back, unsure where the damn ball would pitch. And then- as if by magic- the ball disappeared. The puzzled batsman thought that it must be the fastest ball ever bowled; the keeper busily looked for holes in his gloves that the ball must have made on its way through; the third man, gently snoring as he rested himself against the goalpost, suddenly woke up and ambled towards the boundary to look for the ball in the bushes.

You see, the match was being played on a mat-one that extended till half the length of the pitch. An amazing display of consistency ensured that I managed to land the ball on the edge of the mat every time, forcing it to embarrasingly disappear underneath. The Umpire initially called it a no-ball; not surprising, since the ball was nowhere to be seen. But our vehement protests ensured that his verdict was changed to the delivery being called a dead ball. I think I finally managed, after much sweat and toil, to bowl three legitimate balls and the over was ended after the two teams realised that they didn't have floodlights and hence had to conclude the match before the sun called it a day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Height of Stupidity

The India-Pakistan ODI is on. ODIs are getting increasingly irritating, with every outing a photocopy of the previous one. The ones in future are unlikely to be any different. People seem to love this run feast, this systematic mental disintegration of the bowling class. But such injustice cannot continue forever-the proletariat, err bowlers, shall revolt, sooner or later. And when that happens, may the God of cricket (whoever he is) save the batsmen from the wrath of the deliberate underarms and the beamers. And the squishers (a new type of delivery specifically invented for the revolution).

But today's match is different. I will remember this for a long, long time. Not because Shoaib Malik and Razzak batted well. Or because Pathan bowled well. A certain decision of the Indian team management, to me, will replace "a man looking through the keyhole of a transperent glass door" as the new height of stupidity.

Imagine this-India won the toss, elected to field and yet........and yet had Zaheer Khan as the super-sub. What were they thinking? We all know that Kiron More considers Zaheer Khan as the biggest Indian all-rounder since Kapil Dev, but who would have thought that Dravid & Co would actually take the joker's words seriously?Surely Zaheer Khan must be a dashing all-rounder, which is why India picked him as a super-sub in spite of knowing that they'd field if they won the toss.

Much has been said and written about teams' inability to comprehend and make the best use of the new rules of super-sub and powerplay. Nowhere is it more evident than in the case of India and Pakistan. The logic is fairly obvious-always, as a rule, use an all-rounder as a super-sub. That way you minimise the risk of an unfavourable outcome of the toss.

In the first ODI, Pakistan, inexplicably, opted for Powerplay 2 & 3 during overs 11 to 20. This when Pathan, and then Dhoni were going great guns. That defeats the basic idea of the powerplay-where teams can strategise and accordingly allocate the 20 'tough' overs.

It seems that the Indian team management is yet to appreciate that a super-sub is not exactly a 12th man-he's much more than that.

Would Ganguly have done something so stupid? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

After a really long time...

Haven't blogged in a while-in fact, its been exactly seven and a half months since my last post. Not that there wasn't anything to write about; as long as the robots don't take over, there won't be any dearth of things to write about.

It has been a general case of,what in Bangla is referred to as ,lyad. Meaning lethargy. Of the worst kind.

In the intervening months, I have relocated to Kolkata from Bombay, changed my job and now travel to Malaysia frequently as part of my new, but equally sad, job.

I can't tell you about my new job in great detail. Not because i'm on Her Majesty's Secret Service. But because I myself haven't figured out what I exactly i'm doing or why i'm doing it. There'll be a long post once I find the answer to either of the questions.

All that I do know is that when I'm in India, I do not need to go to office everyday. I have a fancy laptop and a VPN connection, which is a serious sounding acronym which basically empowers you to do the shit you do in office from the comfort of your home. Or your bathroom, if you insist.

Which means that i'm flooded with free time. I spend it reading(books), watching(cinema/serials), listening (music) and yapping (in addas). I could have also used it to write (blogs). But I haven't.

Anyway, blogging resumes. For the few who read my blog, that should be good news.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Colourful Saturdays

Haven’t blogged in a while. Not that I was busy. I never am. In fact, that’s one of my major cribs in life-never being busy. I look around and see my friends busy doing whatever they do-long office hours, too tired to get drunk and puke in the weekends and all that sort of thing.

Although Saturdays are getting increasingly interesting. On weekdays, I come back home by seven in the evening. Come Saturday and I happily gallop back home by three. But not for the last two Saturdays. Thanks to my flatmate, who wants the flat to be vacant till six. Why, I asked? Was it because he wanted to practice occult magic in peace? Or maybe because he plays the obo on Saturdays?

Apparently, not. The reason is altogether different. Let’s not get into that.

So, to allow him to follow his pursuits in peace, I ended up watching two Hindi flicks-D and Parineeta. Now, I generally avoid watching Hindi movies on screen. Firstly, with tickets prices much higher than what they used to be, watching a Hindi movie is a risky investment. Given the high proportion of trash (71%) that gets released, there is a 71% probability that the ROI is going to be negative. Sounds snooty, I know. All this talk about Hindi movies being trash. But the harsh truth is this-forget all the new stuff that’s been happening; all this big hoopla about fresh ideas and bold approaches is nothing but bull, considerable bull. The cleavage view has improved, probability of watching an on-screen kiss has gone up by 300%, but that’s about all-the acting is still shoddy, direction and script often non-existent.

Of course, D and Parineeta are better than the average fare. In D, it seemed as if the film had different directors for the pre-interval and the post-interval phases. Till the interval, the movie had a fresh feel-good editing enlivening the pace, sharp acting and a well-written script. But after the interval, the movie moves aimlessly-the director who seems to take over is pretty sad.

Parineeta is also plagued by the same disease-of being directed by two different directors. The movie is excellent in parts-good music, very decent acting from Saif and Vidya Balan, though Sabyasachi, otherwise an excellent actor, didn’t pull off the role of the perennially villainous father too well.

The funniest thing about Saratchandra’s books remade into films is that the directors do not seem to realise that the author’s works are rather melodramatic on their own. Which is why you don’t need to add sugar (or glycerine) to already sweetened (or glycerined) coffee. Those who have read Devdas or Parineeta would know that the melodramatic content in both novels is quite high and goes over the roof on several occasions. Saratchandra was light years ahead of his time; his vision of the future, where his books would eventually be made into Bollywood blockbusters, made him sweeten his coffee. But he didn’t know that directors would add lumps of their own.

The original storyline has been changed on several occasions in the film-which is perfectly okay, for directors often need to cinematise books. Satyajit Ray did it for quite a few of his movies, as have several other great directors. But where the director gets everything wrong is when he tries to further dramatise the ending-which is melodramatic on its own and could have just been followed blindly to produce the desired effect. Instead, he ends up recreating the Ambuja Cement Ad, only that this one’s far more hilarious.

Poor Saratchandra-one would have thought Parineeta was a tragedy. But, then again, great authors have been interpreted differently in different eras.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Buffon Strikes Back:Part II

Here's poor old Ranbir getting back at Ganguly-to make the prince a pauper. How have days changed-the man who changed Indian cricket is now a butt of jokes-from Ranbir ranting about his poor form to every second joke (mostly rehashed) served with a Ganguly flavouring.

But i've always been an optimist, almost a compulsive one. So am I wrong in hoping that Saurav shall step out,dance to the pitch of all slander (or maybe not, who cares, the end result used to be the same anyway, till sometime back,at least) and thrash it out of the park?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Aged, rare scotch

Read this post on a Two-tier system for Test Cricket by Prem Panicker, the delightful cricket writer who seems to be back with a bang, with a deluge of excellent posts on Cricket.

A great idea, I thought initially. The game of cricket shall gain much from it-competition will be fierce, with Australia ensuring that they play to half their potential to stay on top and the others sweating it out to avoid being relegated to the demeaning dungeons, otherwise known as Tier-II.

It was not until I saw the constitution of the two tiers that the implications of this dangerous suggestion became clear. With West Indies down in the dumps and going through their worst phase ever, this would mean Lara alternating between butchering (of maybe refusing to, in case he considers it too demeaning) the totally hopeless Bangladeshis and Zimbabweans and the occasionally hopeless Kiwis and playing against the top teams every two years, assuming of course that West Indies is still good enough to win in Tier-II if the Kiwis drop out.

Now, that's unacceptable. As it is, the saddest day in cricket is approaching us at an intimidating pace, with the ageing Lara getting closer in terms of age (although not in form) to hanging his boots. Cricket will never ever be the same, with Lara gone. Watching him bat is like sipping on a peg of the rarest of scotch whiskeys; you roll it over your tongue, refuse to let it go-and yet, when it's gone, you crave for the next sip. And when the peg's over, you realise that such enjoyment is rare- and settle for the lowly Signatures and the Antiquities of the world instead.

What is it about Lara that's so eye-catching? Is it the fact that he's left-handed and is hence prettier to watch by default? Is it because of the long follow through, the swivel, the kingly gait-aspects of his batting that have been much discussed and analysed? I guess it's all of that- and much more. It's probably because he bats the way and plays the sort of innings that cricket lovers dream of. When, on lazy afternoons, I dream of the ideal innings in that ideal cricket match-the cricket match that will never be played and shall forever remain a daydream, I can't help wondering how close that ideal knock is to a few of Lara's own.

We all have our own ideas on how cricket should be played-and our heroes are formed on those ideas. Which is why Steve Waugh is a hero for so many-and Lara for many others.

My friend Rajk writes, in an excellent E-mail written after Lara's first innings hundred in the second test against Pakistan , that pretty much sums it up:

That's 4 first innngs 100s for Lara in 5 tests. You know what I really like about this patch? I like all the instances where he scored a 100, but I love to notice the one Test he didn't. In case you've forgotten, here's the scorecard. South Africa 588 for 6 dec (Kallis 147, Prince 131, Smith 126, de Villiers 114) and 127 for 1 (Smith 50*, Dippenaar 56*) drew with West Indies 747 (Gayle 317, Sarwan 127, Chanderpaul 127, Bravo 107) What about Lara? He scratched around for 4 in 29 balls. Century? What century, when 8 others can score it on a track as benign as that? Can't score a 100 if the team doesn't need it. I don't think he'll be bothered about missing 5 100s in 5 Tests at all. I'll never ever agree that SRT couldn't play the big innings when it mattered, but I'll always maintain that Lara could always play it when it did, and didn't care to play it when it didn't. Amazing player!

The test came agonisingly close to that ideal match-but missed out by a whisker. Why? Because Lara couldn't craft a hundred- fighting quality bowling, tough conditions and the law of averages, in the second innings-a masterly 145 to help his team achieve what I still think was an achievable target.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Mallika Shines in Vagina Monologues

...umm, when's the dialogue coming?

Heady Stuff

Here's your chance to get inebriated-with a shot of 'Brandy's Cocktail'; and, trust me, it'll give you a kick. Although Brandy's contribution to blogsphere has so far been only two blogs,it's primarily because he's busy, extremely busy. As a top consultant, he has to travel far and wide, every other day, to uncharted territories in unexplored corners of the world.

Actually, that's not true. As my roomie for the past few months, his life's been pretty much like mine-revolving around overcrowded local trains that come in different lengths and speeds.

So why doesn't he blog more often? Well, it's because he's incredibly lazy, sleeping and doing other unmentionable stuff when he should be doing something more worthwhile, like blogging or watching Friends. Maybe a few comments will make him blog more often.

Breaking News

Mumbai, May 30- Amidst countrywide protests against ‘Jo Bole So Nihaal’, a film that has deeply affronted Sikh sensibilities, an unnamed Hindu fundamentalist outfit in the capital today called for a ban on the super hit song ‘Om Shanti Om’ from the film ‘Karz’, made in 1980. According to their spokesperson, the song abjectly humiliates Hindu sensibilities and the hero is shown using the holiest of Hindu chants to seduce the feminine kind. When enquired whether they have been slightly late in lodging their protests, the spokesperson angrily replied that their organisation was at a conceptual stage in 1980; hence, a protest then was not possible. He further added that it was only last Wednesday their Supremo saw the film for the first time.

Meanwhile, a prominent Muslim outfit has filed a PIL with the Mumbai High Court against a relatively obscure film named “Allah Ho Akbar”, produced by Trash Communications, which promptly sank in the Box-office. Top sources at the Production House denied the existence of any such film.

The latest to join the bandwagon is the Travel and Tourism Minister in the Goa Government, who has called for a deletion of a certain portion in the classic ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, alleging that foreign traffic to Goa has decreased considerably ever since the film was released. The film shows a foreigner conning Saif Ali Khan and doing away with his belongings.

Against the backdrop of the current deluge of protests against films, the Censor Board today declared that the constitution of the Board would undergo considerable changes over the next few months. The reconstitution efforts would ensure that all religion, caste, creed and profession are properly represented to avoid any future controversies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Short Play in One Act

Continuing the Rabindranath theme, here’s a translation of a brilliant dialogue on Tagore in Bengali, called “Jhaki Darshan”, written by this guy named Chirantan Kundu. Chirantan is extremely famous, known to over five people in Kolkata and this masterpiece of his have been doing the rounds on the world wide web for the past two years.

I have taken the liberty of making a few changes, to ensure that the conversation is more believable in English. Emboldened by the fact that the article is being forwarded on E-mails definitely without the author’s permission, I am confident of not infringing any copyright norms. In case I have, Chirantan, please don’t slap a lawsuit. I won’t fight it.

(Scene: Two Bengalis in an erudite conversation on Tagore)

Err…which Thakur (God) is this?

Why, Rabi Thakur…

Is he, like, worshipped?

Of course, dude, every May.

I mean, how, like?

Huh-that’s easy, one old picture, one holy book, (called “Gitanjali”), one tablecloth, a carpet, a few incense sticks and a fewer claps-that’s all you need. It’s real simple, you see.

Where do I get the holy book, but?

In shops, of course. Long time back, people used to get it at marriages as well. They don’t any longer, though-times have changed, you know. My cousin brother got “How to win and influence people” in his marriage.

Why the long beard, then?

He’s a God, that’s why. Like Shiv, with his shock of hair. And he also wrote a famous poem on beards-it went like, “my beard, your beard”- you remember, the one I recited last year in that competition and won the first prize.

What prize? Last year my elder brother….

Oh, never mind. But he wrote many poems, very famous poems.

Oh, is it?

Actually, you see, since he never went to school…

He never went to school?

Of course not-being a God and all that. And, back in his times, schoolbooks weren’t any good either. So he wrote many books.

Oh, I see. We have a book at our place. Must be his.

Of course. In fact, most books you will ever see are his. Social study, character analysis, reference to the context, figures of speech-where do you think these are from? His books, of course.


What else? Stack all his books and it’s taller than a two-storeyed building. The other day, this local don came to our place, growling for his “Puja bakshish”. We were all shit scared, of course. The bugger kicked the cupboard, he was so pissed. And Thakur’s complete works, you know, those real fat books you keep on top of cupboards, fell down and knocked him out, stone cold.

My God!!

Ya, he’s a very powerful God. Moth-eaten books, but man, what power. 16 books in all-his complete works-you must have seen that, at least.

No, never.

What are you saying? You don’t have one in your house? Take ours if you want-five bucks a kilo.

Ok, I’ll tell dad-let’s see if he agrees.

…and those books also have famous songs-real tough to sing, though.

Tough? You mean they are like rap? Have to sing the whole song in one breath, like Shaggy?

Hell, no. I mean the words are tough.

Very tough words?

No, not really. Confusing words, you know. Take that song, for example, the one my elder sister sings very often-“Mone robe ki na robe amare; she amar mone nai mone nai”. What does it mean? I can’t remember if you will remember me-slightly confusing, isn’t it?

Ya, he could simply have written-“I don’t know if you will remember me” instead of getting so confusing.

Then, take that other song my mom sings-“noyono tomaye paaye na dekhite royecho noyone noyone”. As in, my eyes can’t see you; since you are in my eyes.

Good God! That’s like a riddle.

Almost. You know, he sang it to his dad one day-this was way back in the British times, remember- and, his dad was deeply moved. The old man said, “If only the Brits understood your music, they’d give you a big prize.” This pissed off the Britishers, of course. They thought, “What do these bloody natives think-we can’t appreciate their art?” And they gave a real big prize for one of his songbooks.

What prize?

The Nobel Prize, you ass. Another man got it a few days back-this guy stays in Shantiniketan, a picture of his bicycle came out in the papers, he got it for Economics….

Oh, so Robithakur wrote songs, but got the Nobel Prize for Economics?

No, no-he got it for literature. Excellent songs he wrote, but. Even today, half the cassettes and CDs you see have his songs. My uncle bought two devotional cassettes on Thakur’s birth centenary.

Ok, so that song-“Allah ke Bande” is Robithakur’s then?

No, no, that’s not his. But that film, “Yugpurush”, had two of his songs.

Which are the other movies where he was the music director?

(After deep contemplation) I don’t think he was ever a music director for movies. More like Indipop bands, you know. Only that he was solo. But there have been many movies from his books, mind you.


What’s that movie-you know, this other guy made it, who also got the Nobel Prize for movies-he made the movie on one of Robithakur’s stories, but changed the name. Smart ploy, huh-if he hadn’t changed the name, people would know what they have come to watch.

True, true.

And this guy made another film-that has three of Robithakur’s stories in it.

Three stories? In the same movie?

Yeah, but one of the three is very scary. So scary, they don’t screen it sometimes. But think about it-for thirty bucks, you get to see three stories. No wonder people respect him so much.

Do they?

Of course they do. So many people take his blessings before their boards.

Have you seen that movie-the one with three stories?

No, I haven’t. But I once went to an exhibition of his paintings.

What, he was a painter as well?

Oh, a great painter. But his style was very different. He would write a poem first, then cross it out so stylishly that it’d become a painting.


Once, I was told to draw a papaya in my drawing school. I also scribbled four lines from one of his poems and criss-crossed real well. It didn’t look like a papaya though, but looked a lot like a Rhino. But that stupid teacher had no appreciation-gave me a big zero.

So, Thakur drew papayas?

No, no, he never drew papayas. His art was very abstract. That exhibition I went to had a self-portrait of his as well. I looked everywhere for his famous white beard and the black gown, but couldn’t find it-must have been sold off, I guess.

Oh, so his works are bestsellers?

Big time.

So who reads all his books?

Why, the researchers. There are separate Ph.D. theses on each of his 206 bones. I once memorised an essay on him for my boards.

So, he only wrote and painted all his life?

Of course not. He was a homeopathic doctor. And sometimes doubled up as a teacher….


In his school-where else?

But you just said that he never went to a school.

No, no he didn’t-but he opened one.


In Shantiniketan.

Ok, so an Economics school?

No, no-that Economics guy is from Shantiniketan; this school teaches everything.

He must have been real strict.

It’s not a typical school; no one gets thrashed around there. But things have changed now, I heard. Students thrashed the teachers the other day, demanding that they be allowed to cheat in the exams. Funny place, though-the classes are held in the shades of trees.

Why about birds shitting from the trees?

The birds are trained, usually in the same school. They never shit.

I heard that even his letters are famous.

Every letter is a legend. Hundreds and hundreds of them-new letters surface every year. Though some doubt whether these unpublished letters are actually his.

Why? Maybe he still writes unpublished stuff.

How will he? He died over sixty years ago.

What? Thakur is dead? Why? How?

He was old-almost eighty years old. The whole city came to his funeral.

I’d have gone too-had I been there. What a man! Even the British gave him a Nobel Prize because he didn’t go to school…

Who told you that?

You, of course. He bought a bicycle in Shantiniketan, criss-crossed unpublished letters and sold them as self-portraits…..

Goodness me! Please go home and check the Who’s Who-they have 21 lines on his life.

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