Tuesday, December 29, 2009

No more kids

Be prepared. There will come a day, say when the mrs. has popped out kid # 3, when she will want a firm commitment that that's going to be the last one.

There'll be no escaping it then. No more beating around the bush.

You'll realise then that there's a vas deferens between getting fixed and simply talking about it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Indian Winter

I'm in Bangalore for the next couple of weeks. It's sweater weather, and there's not a chance of snow. The idea is to put my feet up and do little - very very little. The agenda is to meet old friends, and check off the usual offenders:
1. Fanoos rolls
2. Avatar 3D
3. Gemini Circus
4. Talk to local politicians about the progress with the Metro project
5. Cleanse the city of all pollution
6. And all corruption, while I'm at it

More updates to follow in this post.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prison Money

A friendly prof. sent me an article about the currency in prison. In the U.S., the old, gold standard - cigarettes, has now been replaced by "macks".

Mackerel fish. A can of the dastardly stuff goes for about $1. Two macks buy you a haircut, 400 macks a cellphone. There's obviously some elasticity in there, compared to the outside world. The prison has a cellphone-to-haircut ratio of 200 and the outside world, a ratio of about 6 (regular haircut, non-smart cellphone).

Explained easily enough:

Long hair, short hair, who cares? ...

The cellphone, OTOH, lets you keep tabs on your drug-peddling , allows cyber conjugal visits, helps plan the escape, etc...

So the currency is macks.

Me, I'd have thought it was simply the £.

Sorry. Prison joke.

Friday, October 30, 2009

No contradictions

Clinton (the Ms. of the Hill-Billie jodi) had strong words for Pakistan during her recent visit there:

Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002,’ Clinton told senior Pakistani newspaper editors in the country’s cultural capital, Lahore. ‘I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,’ she added.

Harsh words, blunt words, but she said what many in the US have felt for the last few years.

Pakistan has recently stepped up military offensives against the Taliban in the Waziristan region. And the Taliban has stepped up the bombing. Here's a brilliant link to images of the strife in the country.

Tangled webs we weave
Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, claims Indian sponsorship of this new wave of Taliban attacks. It's difficult for the layman to knock this claim, given India's recent assimilation of embassies in Afghanistan. India is doing great work in Afghanistan, building roads, improving healthcare facilities, etc, but many feel this is part of India's strategy to undermine Pakistan's influence in the region. Perhaps it's all a front to provide the Taliban the means to wreck further destruction in Pakistan. Analogous to Pakistan's (ISI) efforts to build a nexus between Indian insurgent groups (IIGs) and Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh and to install Pakistani maulvis in Bangladeshi madrassas to catalyze anti-India sentiments.

Back to Hillary: She snapped at some students at a University in Lahore as they tried to grill her about how the US has mistreated Pakistan, a long-serving ally.
(paraphrased)"But we've given you billions of dollars".
"If you want to see your territory shrink [by allowing terrorists to expand their space], that’s your choice. But I don’t think that’s the right choice."

But the point of my post is this: The US has indeed given Pakistan billions of dollars. The US will continue to pour money and guns into Pakistan. But the effect on the ground, despite Pakistan's intentions, hasn't been proportional. In fact, the Taliban today are bolder, more aggressive in Pakistan than they have been in a long time. What's the plan to tackle this?

How thoroughly has the U.S. has considered the long-term effects of this supply of gun-money?

What if:

(a) The Taliban gain more ground, and defeat the shaky force that Pakistan's military presents - through building allies in the government, and among the population, through bombing civilian targets till the country grinds to a halt, among several strategies. The U.S.-provided ammunition would fall into hands that would turn, now far more resolutely, against the U.S. themselves.

(b) Pakistan's military is able to defeat the Taliban...The military pledges a feeble allegiance to the government. A new General, a new coup - everything's possible in that neck of the woods. Who's to tell what their policy will be towards the U.S. then?

Essentially, the same machinery that provided arms to the Mujahideen (of which the Taliban was a more fundamentalist subset) to defeat the Soviets, only to have the Taliban come back and strike the U.S. after, is at work again. I hope history does not repeat.

Monday, October 05, 2009

News

The parental units are touring SE Asia.

The brother has them out of his hair, they have him out of theirs. These twin joys will be short-lived though.

In the papers:
There are storms and floods in Southern India. This is a great opportunity to give. Same with the earthquakes in Indonesia and Samoa. I suspect these flash crises receive a fair bit of public aid. The instant destruction tears at your heart, and hopefully loosens purse strings.

Not in the papers:
In India - the slow erosion of human capital (and the silent crumpling of little lives) when underprivileged children escape the quicksand of hard labour to attend school. The schooling is often free, but the children attend school on empty stomachs.

Imagine sending your child hungry to school. It probably hurts you to imagine such a day. You might've been running late, a water pipe might've broken, or for whatever reason, your child missed breakfast that day. You'd hurt. Imagine then that you weren't able to pack her lunch, and she didn't take her little purse, the one you keep the emergency lunch money stuffed in. The poor thing would have to sit through hour after hour of class running on last night's dinner.

Imagine next, a situation where this empty, whimpering stomach isn't an accident - you just aren't able to feed your child. You want her to learn, you want her to build a life better than yours, but you can't afford to feed her one square meal. Perhaps if she helped you till the land, repair the neighbour's clothes, you might have been able to feed her, but then she wouldn't be able to go to school. Your life hasn't amounted to anything, and you're powerless to make your daughter's life any different.

Akshayapatra provides food for underprivileged schoolchildren. Please give.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Managing Change

Change is inevitable, and often the biggest challenge for people set in their ways. After years of advising people and organizations on how to manage change, I'd like to share with you my #1 tip:


Extra wallet.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The night

In my city, there is no real night. There is a general absence of the sun but there is no darkness. Even unlit street corners glow with sound and some new form of filth or unexpected benevolence.

My experiments with the night have been timid. For instance, I've never driven tipsy. Nor have I ever been out wallet-less, post dusk.

And it makes sense, I suppose, because I'm all for retreating into the known and familiar. It gets depressing after a while, always doing the same things, taking every minute precaution. But we take comfort in these depressing minutiae, we, the urban gutless, creatures of routine and monthly checkups at the doctor's and bottled water and safety pins and floor-gazing.

I'd just walked my date back to her place. Beautiful girl. Over dinner, she held forth about some activism she supports vehemently, an indie band she's close to (but not THAT close to) and that new vegan restaurant. I loved it all.

We'd met last week. Friend of a friend. You can't be further separated than that, else it's too arranged. On the other hand, a degree lesser creates an awkward closeness. What's new to talk about? How do you newly touch?

I was under dressed. Sports jacket and trousers, she, backless and stilettos, but the conversation went well. I nodded and smiled all evening.

This was our second date and I was part impatient, part relieved that it wasn't our third, because I'm always nervous about the nightcap when offered.

So after we hastily cheek-pecked at her door, I turned and left, just slightly flushed. I liked her. I realized that, because four steps down, I peek-checked from corner of eye to see if she'd shut the door or if she was still there. I know she was still there. Behind the shut door. Sure of it.

Now I had the night for company. And what a night. All contradictions and whatnots. Noisy on the outside, still within. The hurried footfall of l'etrangers and the much longed for loving loveliness of lovely loves. Still fairly flushed, in case you were wondering.

I got mugged not five minutes later. I wish I'd listened to her - she'd told me to take the money from my wallet and split it between my various pockets.

I was now wallet-less, and out six tenners. I was also ID-less, with my cards and license flitting down the street, cloistered in the cold company of a possibly fake S&W.

It was as good a time as any to feel liberated, so I decided I would. I did my usual happy place exercise - listing my top 5 reasons to be alive (I managed to find three), whistled 'dancing queen', and jigged along the streets.



Friday, August 28, 2009

Corny

                                           1. Corn

                                           2. Unicorn

Sorry, bad joke. I don't know if it's because summer's ending, or if I'm just being


yknow.....flakey.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Update

You'd think the summer would help me churn out posts faster, but I've had grey, very grey exam clouds looming. I'm done with the last of them today, so the Guava man saga will continue, and I'll tie up other loose ends as well.

Hope you've been well. Keep smiling, wherever you are. I can do with the extra sunshine.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guava man - I

Coach, coach, can I play today?

No son, you're a terrible player.

But my daddy, he says I'm an EXCELLENT athlete!

Son, your daddy lyin to you.

He says I'm gonna go pro some day.

Son, that's ridonculous. Ah seen drunk snails cover ground faster than you. Heck Ah even seen deaf bats dodge better'n you.

Really coach?

Yes son, you got no skills. Why don't you take a desk job, become a writer or sumpin? You're going to hurt yourself here, on court, 'midst all these people. Go on now. Go home.

...........

Friday, June 19, 2009

Envirofiend - I

* unedited

I've never seen a shower run dry before. I've lived in large metros, and the water supply's always been adequate.

There's a point in my showers when I turn up the temperature from warm to scalding. At that point, I let my shoulders fall and set aside the burden of being me. There's a comfort in knowing this waterstream will massage the back of my neck till I command it stop. The steam will cocoon me, and I can be Hitchcock's Bates one moment, or stepping out of this hazy amniotic sac, I can be reborn, sins washed away every morning.

The water had just started to dilate my capillaries, unknot fascia, when suddenly the showerhead sucked the water back into itself. The jetstream stopped dry, with a gulping sound, sort of like a guilty swallow.

I looked up and the showerhead was quiet, not even a gathering drop of water. It seemed tilted away from me. I glared at it, demanding an explanation, but it stayed quiet. I tapped it gently, and nothing. I blew air up the pore-like barrels that made up this showerhead but still no water. The audacity. Angrily, I grabbed it at the throat and pulled it free from the wall. A tile fell to the floor, narrowly missing my feet, leaving the ugliest gash on the wall.

The showerhead was attached to a rubber pipe that disappeared through the gash into the wall. I imagine this plumbing led to a large tank somewhere, a tank fed by water from the city's filtration plants. The water in these plants probably arrived from our sewers and some from the sea. None of that helped now, and the flaccid rubber pipe remained coiled, lifeless in my hands.

I towelled myself dry and couched myself in front of the tv. There were banners running across the bottom of each channel, breaking news about how the city was without water, that tanks across the city had run dry. Engineers had been dispatched to determine where the city's plumbing had gotten clogged. The problem seemed dire enough, so I decided to plough into action myself. I stepped out into the sun, minus my spf 60 sunblock. I'd get back the city's water even if it meant getting burnt.

While the engineers trawled the city's pipes, I decided to head to the source of the problem. The beach.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Seymour (or 'Why no posts')

It's because my
plate's full, and I can't juggle.
There's too little time in the day.
Have petitioned the powers
to up my hours
And now I'm waiting to hear what they say

They've written back: "Sorry, can't meet, but we've given you 24"
Not good enough, I think. I need more, wayyyy more

what good are the gods if they can't make time
what good if they can't solve this problem mine

"We can lengthen the day, shorten the night if you like,
but 24's where we draw the line"

I start to give in. Perhaps what I ask
(to slow this orb's rotation)
to complete mine task,
throws much too much into disarray.
To post more often, to get my ducks in a row
I need more hours in the day
but that'd confuse the birds and the clocks
and they'd have to rename that tv show...

It's okay, the sun can set and rise
like it always has.
I'll just chop my life finer
so it slots in better.
erm..do re me fa so la ti do?

I'll sleep less, wake early,
show little, see more
crapshoot, blind alley
sigh..I'll make do with 24

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I make a funny

"He's a famous child specialist"
"Oh... Who do the non-famous ones go to?"

"I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me"
"Depends.. which one of you had the norwegian wood?"

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Krishno VII

**Still in progress, this one

Asma's last night at the hostel was also the last time she would check in with the real world. She'd been a crafter of stories ever since she was a little girl, studying cinema in her father's studio, writing abstruse prose, disconnecting herself from the pretentions of reality. Genius, it's said, needs infusions of madness to nourish itself. Those that retain a fleeting connection with the world they inhabit make a name for themselves through their fantastical unpatterned thoughts and designs. Those that let go of this connection are remanded to institutions. Asma was happy to be on the brink, happy to simply give shape to the eruption Krishno had scripted for later that night.

She could feel the romance in the air as she got dressed. Where it wisped in from, she couldn't tell. But then her notions of romance had gotten addled over the years, so perhaps what she felt today was just a heightened sensitivity to her immediacies, engendered by solitude and sharpened by the anxiety of what could go wrong that night...or possibly a wistfulness wrought on by the storm clouds that had gathered over London.

She forced a smile as she looked herself in the mirror - bedecked, jewelry resplendent, she looked every inch a cinema goddess. The earrings were a gift from Shahadat, and she'd stolen the necklace from her mother. They were essences, frozen in time, of her uncle's passion and her mother's sobriety - clasps to her old life. She undid these clasps every night when she made her way to yet another dimly lit street corner, but she decided to keep them on for this, her last night in London.


This tussle between passion and sobriety helped center Asma in the world she created around herself. It held her delicate life taut against the wind, steeling her. And she needed every last bit of these slender strengths to keep from flinching as she played out her part in Krishno's game.

She never analysed why she went along with Krishno, nor what power he held over her. She didn't care to know. He was a magician, she knew that. He created elaborate illusions that caused jaws to fall. She let herself be carried by him, by his performances. Sometimes they'd be mere ripples that floated her along from one night to the next. Other times, like she knew it'd be tonight, she gave in to the vicious riptide, to the aftershock that'd follow. She learnt to slide along with it, beginning the day Krishno told her about how he'd gotten that bomb smuggled onto The Queen Mary.

Asma's mind was pliable clay when she left Dhaka. Krishno played potter to shape it as he willed, after taking her home the night The Queen Mary sank. He lied to her shamelessly, until she became inured to his lying. She would know that his nature was to lie, but his every falsehood was designed to help Asma create an alternate reality for herself. Her uncle was a casualty, he explained. But these things happen. Asma's intelligence begged her to see through the smoke and mirrors, but it was a losing battle. When the illusions began to feel more real, more comfortable than the truth, she let herself get swept by them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Update

Haven't posted in 20 days.

Excuse: busy
Excuse expires: expired 3 days ago
New excuse: umm...
Bottomline: Thousand apologies. Will post soon. Much to share.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Krishno VI

The machinations had started when he was very young. At an age when the children at school were learning to live with each other, include others in their games of fancy and upstumbledown, Krishno was crafting a walking stick for himself. There were journeys to be made and they’d be easier with a stick in hand. Such an old soul, he chuckled to himself. He was probably just as old as the wood his stick was made of. Just that the others won’t know it to look at me.

His lack of years and his tiny body surprised him. Happenstance, that his age was coupled to such a slow-moving bead on his life’s abacus, one that moved only as fast as time. It was natural then that his precocity would distance itself further and further from his actual years.

As a child, Krishno had a curious empathy for everyone around him. He would watch people and feel their burdens and wonder at their helplessness. He’d force his way into people’s lives to dissolve their worries and joys into his stomach and carry them away. You didn’t need to voice it for Krishno to know how you felt. His was a keen perspicacity, and the village loved the little big boy. He’s going to be special when he grows up. Maybe he’ll move to the city, and find that the city loves him as much as we do.

The panic began to set in when he was twelve. He had been a middling student at school, but surely that was because the rigours of discipline, of demonstrated reverence to teachers and knowledge, all were pointless exercises in the grand exercise to unleash Krishno’s potential. After all, who in my class knows of the world more than I? And people... I read them like they were yesterday's news. They'll never teach this at school.

It was around then that the adulation began to settle. Younger children were born every year. Some so prodigiously untalented that it rankled with Krishno. What had they done to deserve this equal measure of attention from the villagers? All they were good for was playing in the mud. But Krishno was growing up, and his precocity was gently removed from the pedestal the villagers had placed it on, replaced by a tepid affection and a casual regard for his progress through life.

Something needed to give.

A mela visited the village when Krishno was 13. He snuck into the room of mirrors, reflections of the oddest shapes and sizes. Funny ones and scary ones, depressing ones and some that were revelatory. He walked along the narrow corridor till he came to a small bulb of a room. It was lined with flat mirrors all around, no more those bloated, dwarfed, stretched caricatures. Now it was just him. There’s an impersonality that detaches us from a reflection when we stare at it intently. The form we see is one we’ve accepted. We know the familiar pits and embarrassments, writ large in these reflections. And we forgive ourselves easily, because we’ve learnt how to look when we stare at the glass, how to use the light and distance so that the crooked nose appears straightened, or the thin lips fuller. The ego stops us from stripping ourselves.

That’s how it had worked for Krishno all these years. But then, he'd never had occasion to stand between mirrors, to see himself many times over, each image lighter than the one before. It looked so regal, this multitude of Krishnos, extending to the end of the cosmos in the mirrors. He stepped back to admire himself when, suddenly, he saw another person in the room. The flashing perception in that instant was threatening. His reflex was a sudden recoil. As the image shot up through his eyes and into his brain, he began to break down the threat. He’s my height. I can take him. He looks like he hasn’t seen me here yet..No, he’s seen me now. Fight? Absolutely. Wait…What was that again? Play it back..Where’ve I seen him before…Oh..

Krishno was surprised by this new reflection of himself. It was on a third mirror, the way someone standing off to the side would see him. He looked closely at himself, careful not to lose this new perspective. How did they see him when he wasn’t conscious of them watching, when he wasn’t performing? He saw glimpses of ugliness in this reflection. That stance. Arrogant without reason. His hair, unkempt, and so uncivilized from the side. Who’d take him seriously? …Even the illusions of being special crumbled when he looked at himself this way, when he couldn’t control the impression he was making. This couldn’t go on.. Where was that gem in the coal-dust? What was all this mediocrity doing in the reflection? No, no.. His life would be seen only as he wanted it shown.

....Hunched over Shahadat’s body, pumping his chest, Krishno couldn’t help himself. Brilliant, he whispered in his head. He couldn't bring himself to say it but it bounced around the walls of his skull, vibrating against his inner ear, forming a residue on his tongue that he just had to spit out. He would, all in due course.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Time travel

* (Warning: long post)

** (Krishno series will continue. No, really it will. I just needed to get a physics post out of my system)

In an earlier post, I'd talked about entanglement, where a photon could affect the behavior of another (its entangled counterpart) even when separated in space. Bear with me while I dial up the geek factor now.

In our macro world, every event we can conceive can be traced back to its origin by simply following a trail. As an example, consider flipping channels on a TV using a remote control. Seems pretty fancy - two bodies, a distance apart, affecting each other without an apparent connection between them. But if you consider that the remote emits an infra-red light that propagates through the air and is then sensed by the TV, the resultant changed channel becomes an anticlimax. It reduces to a simple chain of events that occurred across connected media (remember determinism?). No entanglement here.

In the quantum world though, entanglement is a lot like that J. Chan movie about a set of twins (Twin Dragons - youtube it), where when one of them gets hit, both get hurt. But in reality, this sort of thing has only been observed at the scale of quantum particles. It's a leap, but imagine if we could extrapolate this observed effect from the quantum scale to our macro one. It hasn't been done yet, but no physicist will admit it's improbable - that's just going to cut her research grants.


Before I get to the good parts (about the time travel), here's a quick swipe at Einstein. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen argument glosses over this phenomenon of non-locality - where a particle influences another particle in some different locality through no quantifiable connection - when claiming that the quantum-mechanical description of physical reality is incomplete. It gets interesting when we bring Einstein's special relativity (STR) into the picture. The essence of STR is that no particle with mass can be accelerated to the speed of light. This limits every conceivable action (save human imagination) to below the speed of light. This includes the transmission of information. If information were to travel faster than light, it'd have to bend space.

If a bit/byte were to achieve such a speed, STR stipulates that the object carrying this information would become simultaneously infinitely massive and contracted in length. As a kid, I wondered why Einstein didn't just say "nope, not possible, not happening". Why these disclaimers about mass and distance? I guess that's just how these physicists roll - Minimizing culpability at every step, aka covering your behind. At that speed-of-light point, the problem would become cyclical, where the energy needed to accelerate this infinitely massive object to c would itself be infinite, i.e. more than all the energy in the universe.

Anyhow, with entanglement, information transmission takes on a new shape entirely. A bit can be transmitted non-locally and instantaneously by manipulating a particle at point A and reading the effect of this manipulation on an entangled particle at point B. For any non-zero distance AB, the speed of this transmission is higher than c (speed of light). Einstein is on such a high pedestal though that physicists are creating new frameworks that'll allow for STR and the phenomenon of entanglement to co-exist. It'll be abstract, possibly math-intensive, and won't really make much sense, but atleast the house of Einstein will remain undisturbed. See Bell's inequality (technical).

Ok, now, about the time travel. I lied. I still don't see how it's possible. What is possible though is just as interesting, so stay with me here.

So far, we've talked about the non-local interaction of two particles as it applies across the first three dimensions (length, breadth, height). As observers, we humans are limited to just these three dimensions, and to an extent, the fourth (time) that we exist in. However, I haven't seen any research showing evidence that these entangled particles can't straddle even this fourth dimension while influencing each others' behaviour. After all, time is nothing but another dimension…just the way you can separate particles by a distance (length) and then by a distance along another axis (width – creating a diagonal) and a third – height, it's a reasonable extension to separate two entangled particles by time, the next higher dimension.

Consider then a situation where we know that a particle under our control has an entangled counterpart at a different point, not in space, but in time.

Even if we can’t physically travel back or forward in time, we can have this entangled particle exist in the future or past, by introducing a lag into the process that creates the entangled particle. Particle 1 is spit out at time t, and Particle 2 at time t+t1 (future).

If we can now make that second particle interact with its surroundings by messing with the original - we have a way to change history or to chart the future. I won't bother animating the possibilities.



*Update (Sep 30, 2009): Quantum entanglement visible to the naked eye
*Update (May 23, 2010): Teleportation over 10 miles

Friday, March 20, 2009

Moment of zen

To make amends for my recent tardy posting-

*I found this here*

April 1995: Chesapeake, Virginia prison inmate Robert Lee Brock was upset at himself for getting arrested for breaking and entering and grand larceny, so he decided to make himself pay -- by suing himself for $5 million. Stating that he violated his own religious beliefs by committing the crime, he sought payment for a civil rights offense. Of course, since he didn't have $5 million to pay himself, he asked that the state pay on his behalf...

I imagine the dialogue went - "I'm disappointed by my behaviour. I have higher standards than this. It's only fair I be punished in full public view. Flog me, milord, flog me to the tune of 5 mil. You can deposit it to Prendre Que Suckair Bank, acct no..."

** The Krishno series continues after this post

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Krishno - V

1983
Krishno felt it on the tips of his fingers, and in the chill of his bones. The exhilaration of watching a plot play out just the way it was written was miraculous. It coursed through every sinew, and caused your being to shudder. It turned your age on its head. And Krishno'd been addicted to this thrill for as long as he could remember.

Krishno'd had an exciting life by all counts. Every measure of it was fantastical. Each happening was a confluence of so many fates, so many destinies, that Krishno himself didn't believe a life, any life, could play out like this. He used to love to pick a frame from the movie of his life and live it anew, again and again..but even this, like him, had begun to grow old.

As he stared across the canyon, hair and beard white from his journey across geographies and time, he felt a weariness. For all the thrills of the ride, his puppeteering had taken its toll over the years. Such contrivance, all those expedients...all that plotting. He'd begun to feel a detachment from himself. This, he realised, was where he'd wanted to go all along. This prime spectator's view. No longer just the player, now he was becoming the ghost that straddled the end of the stage, loosening the rivets from his actor's body and coalescing into the seats, front and center. It was soon going to be time to bring down the curtains.

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

1942
Her Girl's Hostel was a loose place. "Hostel" was an especially kind euphemism. Some had plied their trade there uninterrupted for decades, so "Girl's" was stretching it too. It hurt Asma's scalp to pull her hair back that tight, but she liked the look. The streets demanded it, she'd smile to herself. She had learnt the art of makeup quickly, and spent much of her money on the best products. Krishno later chronicled how one of her young clients was a hindustani who went back to India and became a famous film producer. Apparently, it was this young man who years later insisted Asha Parekh kajol her eyes the way he remembered it on an unnamed girl in an unnamed city.

Krishno, now a second officer, would be commissioned to sea for three months at a stretch. When he docked, he'd head straight to that seedy underbelly of the city, that heaven on earth. He'd take a woman before he met with Asma. No, her he'd love slowly through the night, but these others, they were just grinding stones to blunt the edge off him after three dry months on the water.

Asma hurried home early that night. She had simply gone through the motions during the day, waiting for it to end but her clients tipped her lavishly. Each felt he was the reason she was glowing.

Once home, she found Krishno on the bed, face buried in her pillow and lost to the world. She didn't care if he was tired from the sea or from the women, she was comforted just seeing him. She wouldn't wake him till the morning.

Krishno brought Asma home the night the ship capsized. She didn't speak a word for a week, and he couldn't tell if it was the shock or if she was mute. He fed her and left her indoors by day, while he went to train at the docks. In the evening, when he returned, she'd still be by the window he left her at in the morning. One morning, as he was about to leave the house, he heard her cry out sharply. He ran back up and found her hopping on one foot at the top of the stairs. She had stubbed her toe , rushing to the stairwell to watch Krishno leave. They looked at each other, she hopping, he not so much, and they broke into a laugh.

Four years later, Asma had her back to Krishno as he slept. She asked herself everyday if she was happy, if this independence she had was worth the price of separation from family, from the charted life she'd left behind in Dhaka. Not today though. She decided she didn't want to hear the answer tonight. She'd take solace in Krishno's sleeping form. Let him sleep. Let him not wake. She could dream about how her life would take flight from that point on. If the bastard woke, he'd just drag her back to reality.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Krishno - IV

The Queen Mary at the British Nautical Museum today is a replica. The wood is shinier, they have panels of oak, carpets where there weren't any earlier and a captain's deck that wasn't on the original ship. Some say this model won't even float. Only the helm on this replica, blackened from the fire, reminds visitors of that inky '37 night.

It was just past midnight and The Queen Mary was supposed to dock within the hour when suddenly the radio at the Port Authority burst into life. Cries of "Mayday!" cut quickly through the inebriation. Her Majesty's Coastguard rallied two rescue boats to set out immediately to sea. A group of docksmen scrambled to assemble Manby's mortar, to reach the wrecked vessel with a line from the shore. Someone else was on the phone with the Royal Navy to see if they had a ship near the QM.

Krishno and three young officers were at the docks at the time, celebrating their new appointment to the vessel, when they saw the commotion. The rescue-boats needed able bodies - strong swimmers, ship-climbers, firefighters, life-boat rowers - so they jumped in without a thought.

The Queen Mary was a mere 20 miles from the docks. She was sighted easily enough against the black sea. The balls of orange erupting into the night sky lit up the ship like a festival.

The headlines the next day reported a fuel leak. One of the lesser known dailies reported survivors hearing cries of "Bomb!!" before the first blast happened, but the rumours died soon. Back then, talk of foreign hands, of conspiracies by non-state actors wasn't given much credence. Back then, the ship's body makers simply apologised and shut shop.

Out on the sea though, the situation was dire. The Coastguard boats circled the Queen Mary as the fire raged on board. Those not trapped on the lower decks jumped into the water and were lifted onto the rescue boats. There were others that were panic-stricken, rooted to where they stood as fires blazed around them. Krishno cried out to a young lady to jump, but he was left watching helplessly as she was swallowed by the flames. The ship wouldn't last much longer, and by now, the fates of the passengers had been decided. Those that had managed to jump ship would live if the coastguard spotted them, and those that remained on board were likely dead.

Shahadat was lost to the fire long before Krishno drew his body up on shore. Asma and he were in their cabin when the screaming began. The flames swept through the narrow passageway connecting each cabin. The doorknob on the inside of the cabin had become too hot to touch and viscous smoke had started to billow through the slip between door and frame. Shahadat and Asma held towels to their faces as he elbowed the glass in the porthole. The glass wouldn't give, it was that thick. The wooden door was aglow by then. It would be only moments before the monster outside swallowed it. Shahadat picked up a chair and Asma helped him smash the window till a crack appeared around the rim.

The wooden door caved just then. Shahadat stood tall behind Asma as the flames licked at his back. He delivered a final mighty blow to the window and the glass fell out into the sea. The splash caught the attention of a rescue dinghy. Asma climbed through where the glass had been and saw the dinghy below her. The porthole was a couple of stories above the sea, but she couldn't be scared. Not now, not while her uncle was still inside. The fire tore at his back as Asma jumped out. Shahadat lurched to the window behind her, hoping that the ship would have rehem, that the ship would spit him out. The adrenalin had numbed the sear till now, but as his body dangled out the window, his last memory was the smell of his burning flesh.

From the dinghy below, Krishno could tell that the man in the window, body ablaze, was unconscious at the very least. The girl had swum onto the dinghy, but to save the man, they needed the Queen Mary to roll toward them, to have him drop from the porthole. Even as they watched, the infernal vessel obliged. Shahadat dropped into the water, and Krishno dove in after him.

Newspapers were delivered late the next morning. The major publications had stopped presses to report the tragedy. 410 passengers in all, 110 women, 44 children. Survivors 30. All thanks to the brazen disregard for life shown by Her Majesty's Coastguard. The enduring image was of an officer thumping the chest of an elderly gentleman as he lay breathless on the shore. A young girl looked on disbelievingly.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Krishno - III

In October 1937, less than a year after Krishno first set foot in England, news arrived from India that Lt. Col. Trebblewood had met with an accident while hunting tiger. The machan he was on had been built with wood rotten from the inside. It gave way just as he was taking aim. The porters reported a flash of gold and black dragging the young man into the trees. The screaming and thrashing stopped faster than it began, swallowed into the deathly blackness of the forest. An armed search party found half a body the next day. The Lt. Col. was identified only by his boots.

Krishno poured all of himself into taking care of Lady Trebblewood. She was a vigorous woman, but a crucial strength wisped out of her when she realised she had outlived her only son. Suddenly, the cancer she'd staved off so well all these months grew new heads and ate at her ravenously.

Death was new to Krishno. He couldn't understand how she dealt so stoically with her imminent end. An accident was one thing. You couldn't see it coming, it swept you away before you had the chance to judge your life, what you touched and what you didn't, what you were leaving behind and where you were heading. But this moderately paced exit, it gave you time to reflect..and how could anyone be content with their lives? How would they suppress that..that greed to live? How did they make their peace with their lot?

Lady Trebblewood saw Krishno as her own son by then. She spoke to her lawyers to make sure he was taken care of after she was gone. Krishno spent countless hours by her bed, nursing her. She talked to him about how she wanted him to live on in England, do business here and across Europe. She had monies which were going to be his, his family in India would never be wanting. Krishno protested..and stopped when he saw how this deference slashed at her.

The funeral was a solemn affair. Krishno made all the arrangements himself. Black coattails stood listless under a stark grey sky, veils and hats remained soberly in place. A knot surged into Krishno's throat and exploded. His knees gave, and he sank to the ground, muddying his trousers. This new emptiness struck him like a cosh on the back of his head, and behind his eyes, and it sucked away emotion. No tears came, just sounds of hollowness and people moving slowly, reaching for his arm, guiding him back to London.

Krishno spent the next week wrapping up Lady Trebblewood's affairs. He sold the furniture on her insistence, and sent the money to his brother in Calcutta. He saved the bed she spent her last months on. He couldn't decide what to do with it, so he spent nights asleep under it. During the day, he looked for work. The landlord let him stay there while he looked.

It ought to have been easy, this business of finding work. The Lady's farthest-flung acquaintances had let Krishno know to look them up if he ever needed a job. It was an insidious irony - Krishno's notions of dignity and propriety, all antiquated, wholly rustic, stopped him from ever taking up these offers.

Other employment was hard to come by. It was fine to speak english, but how many would want this aftermath of colonial rule selling them soap, or doing their accounts?

Krishno's search ended when he returned to a pub that Lady Trebblewood and he frequented. He'd been embarassed at first, visiting there with her, but he soon grew thick with the blokes. They joked with the Lady, and any friend of hers.. One of the pubbers gave him a Captain's name. They needed a fourth officer on the Queen Mary when it docked in from Chittagong.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Krishno - II

*See Krishno - I

Asma was born to a wealthy family in Dhaka. Those were days of plenty. Her mother came with land, and her father with a temper. The in-laws mistook his temper for ambition and fussed little, marrying their daughter off.

Asma was besotted with cinema for as long as she could recall. She had an uncle on the seas, Shahadat, who went shore to shore collecting films for his niece. She'd write him about how her interest in the craft had shifted from curiosity to obsession, and he'd gladly ship back new movies and lamps for her projector. She had dog-eared American cinema, and had dissected all that Europe had to offer, from Hitchcock's works to Rene Clair's movies with music. She loved mainstream with a passion and had written several screenplays of her own, ones she hoped to someday direct.

It wasn't an understood thing, this passion for cinema, among girls, less among the aristocracy Asma belonged to. And who'd believe her if she said she was simply interested in the process, in the storytelling, not in fluttering her lids in front of the camera.. "She's just got stars in her eyes.."

When she turned eighteen, the wheel had come full circle for her mother who began preparations for a wedding. Any of the suitors, young lawyers who'd studied across the oceans, would be blessed to have her. Asma was a delicate thing, she'd say. A porcelain constitution, an unhurried disposition, just so used to the good life, you know..Your son looks like he'd take good care of
her.

Asma was distraught. She had known the day would come, but there was something crushing about its momentum, the product of its consequences and the suddenness of its happening, that trapped her. She was scared for the first time in her life. All her conceptions of the world, of cinema and people, were suddenly reduced to a marriage she'd seen innumerable times, where young aunts and cousins were shipped off to foreign lands, only to be heard from in letters when they delivered babies.

The uncle returned to Dhaka for the wedding, wondering how Asma was coping with all of it. Shahadat had always been a romantic, hoped that Asma would do a dream turn someday and join India's burgeoning film industry. He entered her room and saw her in front of the mirror. She had never looked more beautiful. He recognised his sister's jewelry on Asma, still as golden as all those years ago when he had prayed for her happiness at the nikaah. Asma's reflection though was prayerless. It stared back at him, blankly, with a soullessness that frightened him.

Shahadat had seen this beauty before. It was fragile, fleeting, but it had fossilized in his brain. Thirty years ago, his mother's sister had visited them at home. Shahadat was a young lad, but not much younger than this aunt. She had dazzled him then, her skin whiter than he remembered, her eyes deep wells. She hugged her sister, Shahadat's mother, and gently shut a door behind them. The sisters talked for hours. The voices never rose enough to slip under the door. Later that evening, the doors opened, and the young lady stepped out. Her shoulders were stiff and jaw firm, her eyes newly cold, but her stride strong. She carried the weight of her beauty purposefully out the house without so much as a glance back. After the last handfuls of earth had been poured on her grave, the family issued an obituary, mourning the accident.

Shahadat saw this beauty and all its spite in Asma, as she looked at him unblinkingly. He knew then what needed to happen. He smuggled her out to the railway station that night and onward to the Chittagong port. The families searched her friends' houses through the night, while Asma and Shahadat set course for England at dawn.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Krishno - I

In 1936, Krishno was 16, and if only you could've seen him. He was athletic and looked dapper in a shirt and the trousers he'd had tailored that year. He spoke English like it was his to speak (thank you Radio BBC) - was often interpreter for when the English had bulletins for the village. He was a good son, and he helped run his family, making money off of the Britishers at the local cantonment. He'd run errands for them, some shadier than others, the rest sunnily English. At times, they'd send him to hunt down the district talukdar, or to tend to the Cantonment library. Other times, he'd take the white children over to the waterfall at the jungle's edge and play a game of footie with them. The younger officers - they took to him because he was also the Cantonment's supplier of all things smokeable.

Within a few months, Krishno learnt nuances about the British as a people that even the city-bred babus hadn't caught onto. He learnt their intonations, but stayed clear of the accent. He used colloquialisms sparingly so that they didn't think him just another johnny-come-lately (*the author has noted the irony here*).

Krishno absorbed subtleties of the tilts of head and the stiffened lip, of plain food and small talk, of the Country and the City, of lawns and schools, tennis and plimsolls, of the unmarried ladies back home and their mothers. The more he imbibed, the more curious he grew. The phirangs at the cantonment wouldn't mingle with just anybody, so over time, Krishno learnt how to hold up the right mirrors to his British acquaintances. This way, for the most part, they'd just be talking to themselves; they could revel in the impression they must've made on those around them. Krishno would be careful though not to show them so much of the mirror that they'd be embarrassed. Sometimes, they'd like the mirrors turned just so, to light up the spots where they stood. These were their moments of glory in the colonies, when even the most discerning native would doff his hat, had he one.

Lt. Col. Trebblewood had risen fast through the ranks. The senior Trebblewood had distinguished himself to the Queen by his services in Malta, setting up military schools that recruited several locals into the British National Army. At 22, Lt. Col. Trebblewood was still reaping the goodwill. He'd been posted that year to the 24 Parganas Cantonment on special assignment. Chief among his perquisites was the travel allowance provided to bring his mother, the widow Trebblewood, along. She was given her own lodgings at the Cantonment.


The Lt. Col.'s mother made her first sortie into the village the very day she arrived at the Cantonment. Parasol tucked under one arm, cheeks flushed from the effort under the unforgiving sun, she climbed the hillocks to the village. She had sneaked out of the cantonment, and so managed to be unaccompanied. Krishno was on his way back to the village himself, from Calcutta, where he'd been to visit his brother at school. He saw her ahead of him, still a distance from the village and caught up with her soon enough. He hadn't ever spoken to a British lady before and wasn't about to let the opportunity pass. Drawing up beside her, Krishno offered a drink of water and thought it quite a bargain in exchange for the conversation.

As they continued, village-bound, they got talking about public transport in the city, and how it left one soft in the middle. She was surprised to hear he'd lived his whole life in the village ("Well, how is it I can understand what you're saying?"). He showed her around the village, and eventually brought her home to dinner. She was taken by the food, simple fare, but wholesome in a most settling way. Later that evening, the lady Trebblewood asked to be walked back to the Cantonment. Krishno obliged. She insisted he visit often.

It was when she fell sick a few months later that Lt. Col. Trebblewood decided to have Krishno escort her back to England. By the time their liner docked, it was December, and Krishno saw both England and snow for the first time.

His first few months there were spent helping her settle back in. It came naturally to him, this care-giving. He looked after Lady Trebblewood delicately most days, but she was a hardy woman, and on the days she looked pink, they'd land up at watering holes where the older pubbers knew her. Krishno wasn't sure what to make of this at first. Surely Ladies didn't just walk into pubs, much less those ladies with titles, much much less those accompanied by brownies.

For Lady Trebblewood's friends, Krishno was an exotic treat. His skin, his hands, the calluses, the branched veins on his palms, his barefoot life - all of these were captivating. Ironic that in India, Krishno gained ground with the British when he took on the airs of the pawns at the cantonment, while here in London, each striking dissimilarity, each novel un-British experience from his old life lifted him from pedestal to higher pedestal in Lady Trebblewood's circles.

From among the friends that visited, two had daughters only slightly older than Krishno. When the girls heard from their mothers about this dapper brownie, they were beyond intrigued. London, in all its greyness, could soon become boring. The eligible men were serving abroad, and those that remained were strangely affected. These men were english, certainly, and bore every appurtenance, but perhaps that itself was the problem. Krishno on the other hand was a delectable misfit. Where he went, people stared. How held he his head that high, back that straight? Why was he lithe, why not underfed? How spoke he english? And the girls wondered how naughty it would be if they linked arms and walked down Knightsbridge? Their mothers were sure to hear of it. Oh, this'd show them!

Soon, quite blasphemously, Krishno began to receive invites to dinners and cottages by lakes. London's snow melted early that year.

**To be continued

Sunday, February 08, 2009

India Series update

The India posts end here. I've created a too-large canvas for the story, one unsupported by the blog format. Watch for a book. The plot involves espionage, heinous villainy and much in the way of romance, all in the garb of an updated Therouxian guide to the country's riches.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

India V

It was many years ago, I might have been about 10 at the time when I had walked into this run-down building at the end of the road from where I lived. I went there because I'd been told not to go near it.

It was mostly dark inside and the floors were greasily dirty, hadn't been mopped or swept in years. I could feel the grime even through the soles of my shoes. The stair corners had paan stains and the cement walls were bare.

I was in the elevator when the power went out, trapping me inside. The lift had stopped where the floor outside, beyond the lift gates, was at the level of my eye. I didn't call for help. I'd gotten myself into this, and I'd damned sure get out of it myself.

The yellow-red evening sun streamed through rusty grilled windows, lighting up the floors, drawing obtuse shadows that grew every minute, all angles and blocks. These slanted columns of sun were made distinct by the shafts of dust they illuminated. Glittering dust that seemed to flow this way and that within the light, that would suddenly disappear behind shadows, where the sun was quiet. As though the Sun and the dust were playing a game of seek & find, as though the dust moved because the Sun permitted it, as though the dust was simply preening before the Sun called it back to the heavens. Angel dust.

The dirt on the floor was now in front of my nose as I stood trapped in the cage. I knew grime, sweat, sand, insects, all played together here and I'd become an unwilling audience. It was strange though, watching the game from as close as this. Each player had grown larger than life at this distance. So much so that I felt I could throw a hat into the ring myself.

The sand wasn't the dull brown colour I'd expected. The grains were distinct at this close distance, each glistening like a crystal ball, lying quiet on the floor, as though they were done telling fortunes. A spider walked tent-legged over these grains, an elaborately improvised dance over crystal glinting in the setting sun.

The stains on the floor had disappeared now, in my two-dimensional world. I could see length and breadth, but couldn't conceive height. When a dried leaf fluttered to the floor from above, the ants and I were equally surprised. I let them examine the leaf for me, because I was still caged, my eyes now two limbless points, hungry to learn about this new world. Life in this microscale played out harmoniously, rhythmically, so different from our chaos-infested world of giants. Every particle, every creature had its own flow and its own rules. There was an invisible stream here that floated each entity, carried this world from age to age, independent of ours, oblivious of us, except when we interfered, when we played god and decided to stamp out life or simply to sweep the dirt.

Back here in Bombay, I looked hither, tither, idhar, udhar, at the life all around me as Ranjit led me to his house through the galis of Dharavi.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

India IV: Bombay

Ranjit lived not far, in a chawl that he paid 15 lakhs for. He lived there with his parents, who had grown old in the city. It was a one-bedroom affair, and had its own bathroom. And they'd hung a nameboard on the door. Patels. They owned the land now, a piece of the earth that wasn't the government's, nor the police's to raid. Even the local bhai wasn't going to stake a claim, so slickly had Ranjit greased every proferred palm.

The politics of land-owning, in the thick of the city, are complicated. There's no paperwork to speak of, no documents that will deter an encroacher. Ownership is never absolute, it only grows as generations hold on to the land. A newly settled couple can be ousted overnight from the basti, pans and almirahs flung out, onto the galli. But with a family that's lived there two generations, it's much harder. The mastans might scare the family, but there are neighbours to deal with. Neighbours who've shared salt with the family for decades. These neighbours are spokes in the wheel the mastans turn. The mastans can be young, their arms puffy, but their Bhai takes hafta from the bastiwalas. The bhai is sheriff and dictator, ernesto and castro all in one, but he isn't absolute, he's the thread that loops through the basti, in, out, in, out. In fact, Bhai is pixel art, each pixel a beating heart from the basti. There's a grand order in this universe that even the next Bhai will toe. Age, caste, money, all will be accorded gravity before the Bhais, present and future, order action.

And Ranjit, at 19, has played this game remarkably well to buy his chawl. The other bastiwalas rent, and do so indefinitely. Bhai splits these rent amounts into several piles. One for the Deputy Inspector in charge of the area, another for his minions, one for the MP who contested polls at the basti, another for the city to bring their sewage and garbage clearance machinery by once a month. It's a country within a city. The rent and the hafta support Bhai's fiefdom by funding defense budgets, diplomatic offices, infrastructure, and relief funds.

Ranjit is free from all of this. There are no sluices to drain his money every month. He's paid his dues, all black, but all cash.

Ranjit's father, toothless now, grandparent to Ranjit's many nieces and nephews, appreciates the land more than anyone. Three strides and you've covered the area of their home, but the old man finds an infinity hidden in there. He once explained it to Ranjit "Yes, I can see the walls of our house, here's one and there's the other, and they need a coat of lime. I can see why you think this is small. But look through the ceiling. Look up at the square of sky you've bought us. How many miles is it to that sky? I don't know. And how deep below the earth does our land run? I don't know. Look from that square in the sky through the floor, to the center of the earth. That is what we own. No more these debts, those vacant stares into bombay's traffic, that talk of home and the world. Son, you've freed us from the cycle..."

I understood then where he learnt to grin like that. Within his four walls, Ranjitrulez was king.

Friday, January 23, 2009

India - III

My room was sparse, but it had a rickety ceiling fan. The fan was old, and the years hadn't been kind. Its blades had curved downwards over time, and the plaster where it met the ceiling had broken off revealing concrete and iron rods. As the night grew still, the heat settled on me like a fever. I couldn't crank the fan up higher than a slow spin, lest its ties to the ceiling gave. I sweated just lying on the hot bed and couldn't see how I'd manage to sleep that night. I had absorbed every last patch of coolness from either side of the pillow, and now there was just me and the sweat. My sleep that night was more a departure from a state of awakened alertness than a night of rest.

I was up and about as soon as the sun broke. I made my way to the reception downstairs where I found a familiar face. A thin, reedy character, face all pimples, moustache all mousy was busy stacking ledgers into a drawer. It was Ranjit Rulez. Perhaps it was just me, but Ranjit always struck me as the name of a brawny, truck-like character. That and the fact that this Ranjit claimed sovereignty over some unspecified kingdom had led me to believe he'd be more than he was, despite the grainy webcam capture I'd seen on the net when I booked a room here.

He turned to face me and gave me the widest grin I'd seen in a long time. He looked like he was in his late teens. He wore gold chains around his neck and had a flashy mobile clipped onto the front of his shirt. The shades were flipped onto the top of his head. I'm not sure he wasn't simply compensating.

"Aaiye, aaiye, thik thak soye aap? I hope everything was to your liking?"
I replied that it was way too hot and that the fan just didn't cut it.
"Ah..well, anyways, I'm sure you haven't come here to sleep. What can I get you?"

Well...a wife really...but I couldn't tell him that just yet. There was still so much to do before all of that was allowed to happen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

India - II

Mumbai
Even though I've just gotten off a flight from Toronto, I don't qualify as a 'Saab' for several reasons. One, I look no different from the teeming crowds, Two, there's an age factor intertwined with the concept of Saab. You need to look 35+ before the epithet is accorded. Three, I didn't feel the part. I wasn't going to play tourist here. I was here on a gritty, nose-to-the-ground mission. Saabs beget obsequence, the non-saabs do not. So the taxi drivers did not fawn, and in the wet steam-heat of the mumbai afternoon, I turned to the rickshaws.

I'd made reservations at a guest-house in Andheri before I left Canada. I'd found them earlier while googling for places to stay in Mumbai. The guesthouse's website had a link - "Reserve online now!". I was duly impressed. I clicked the link and was shown a picture of a man with a mousy moustache looking away from the webcam that clicked it. Below the capture was a piece of badly aligned text that said "For room booking, send email letter to ranjitrulez@....com". The short of it is that I received a reply within minutes, and a room had been reserved for me simply on good faith. There was no talk of credit cards.

The auto ride was eventful, but not a new experience. I was used to the concept of stop lights being treated as driving suggestions rather than law. I was accustomed to policemen flagging down my auto to 'urgently' get to a chai stall. And lastly, I had mastered the art of small talk with autowalas. You want to shoot the breeze for the most part, but every once in a while, garnish the conversation with a common frustration and round it off with a small, personal vulnerability.
The conversations go like this - "Nahin, bas gharwalon se milne. Bangalore ka train pakadna hai kal. Aap kahan rehte ho? Oh Borivli?....Haan, India ko cricket chhoDni chahiye. Hockey mein toh kuchh hona nahi, ab cricket mein bhi zero. Sirf shatranj raha.....Nahin, shaadi toot gayi, usey meri tankhwa kam lagti thhi."
This one-two-three strategy ensures that the autowala empathises with you and doesn't take you for too much of a ride. Has worked well for me.

I found the guesthouse desk empty. It was dusk, and there was no sign of ranjitrulez. I was about to ring a bell placed on the desk when I spotted an envelope beside it. There was a letter in it, enclosing a key. It asked for me to head upstairs to Room 202, and that money matters would be handled in the morning.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Portraits IV

March 4, 2019

At 5:00am this morning, I woke up to find my pillow damp.

It's been over a decade since I saw her last, but she's imprinted herself onto me, perhaps at a cellular level, or somewhere in my bloodstream, or maybe she's gone so far as to dissolve some of herself into my spirituality. It's certainly somewhere further than the rational me can get at.

We went to school together. She didn't know it then, but I was crazy about her from way earlier than is comfortable to admit. I met her for the first time four days into March when I got off a rickety stage at a student function. I had just croaked my way through a song, and was putting my guitar away when she came up and introduced herself. I must've stood there five minutes, mouth open just wide enough to signal challenges. She pretended not to notice.

I found we had a couple of classes in common that semester and I ensured that I plonked myself beside her at every opportunity. As I got to know her better (and as my babbling regained its coherence), I found that she could be the picture of composure one moment, and the next, laugh so loud that it'd ring through the street. Her smile could be so soft, and yet so warm, that I'd have to hide my popsicles away. More than that though, she could be so giving of herself to all those around her that it turned my world. This was the girl for me.

It took me long enough, but I eventually asked her if she was seeing anyone. She said she had a long list of boyfriends. In all earnestness, I asked to be added to the list. Turned out she had a sense of humour too. No list, is what I'm saying.

There are relationships where, over years of living with someone, you begin to read their physicality, and then their minds, such that there's none that can know this other person better than you. And then there are those of us that are luckier. I'd been seeing her for a handful of days when I realised she knew my ins and outs, my fears and joys better than any one before or since. Cue a hindi film clip here, something about how there's a singular someone out there for each of us, or how when the gods play matchmaker, they do it to perfection.

When we fought (and we did a lot of that), it was over the most trivial things. Perhaps I'd kept her waiting five minutes.Or she, me. And these fights were explosions. We'd need to keep away from each other for days at a time, so that we didn't get at each other's throats. I guess I handled it better than her. And not because I was detached. It was because I knew what bound us together was stronger than any fight we could manufacture.

I didn't attend her wedding when it happened all those years ago. I saw her last some months before the day, and haven't seen her since. There was no tragedy, no crisis between us. It was just how it needed to be because we weren't the only players involved. There were other happinesses at stake, some so important that a mere love lost just didn't compare.

The consolation back then was that we were young, and our love, a first blush. There would be more mature loves to come later. Best of all, we were always going to have the memories of our time together. Surely those would see us through till other anchors entered our lives.

The other anchors, the loves in times more mature, they've filled up my head over the years. They've made the winters seem easy and the summers breezy. But we never fight. Nothing they do upsets me.

I've learnt she has two kids. They're going to enter their teens soon. Ordinarily, I'd feel for her. The kids' adolescence will bring tantrums and demands, insecurities and rebellion, discovery and selfishness. There will likely be crazy love too.

My story remains incomplete until I tell you about how I still see her. On the street and in the subway, I run into so many people that look nothing like her, but my imagination (or possibly an unfettered longing) fills in familiar colours, sounds, perceptions into the empty frames that these people present. I know it isn't her I just saw window shopping, or getting off the streetcar, but I can't keep from smiling, because I'm never *entirely* certain it wasn't her.

It's been many many years since I spoke to her, and you'd think that natural forces would've corroded the memories by now, but these forces compete against an unnatural love. Others that I've lost touch with have floated away into the ether. Their statistics are archived in my head, but they remain cloudy, hazy constructs. She, on the other hand, lives and breathes inside me. I take her to shows and dinners. She offers advice when I'm taking decisions, and she still laughs at my jokes. That warmth is so pronounced that I sometimes turn around expecting to see her. It's so pronounced that sometimes my pillow is dampened by the tears.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Salt where it bleeds

'Satyam' derives from the Sanskrit for truth, doesn't it?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Me - 2.0

My first expendable $1B will be spent outwitting mortality.

When I go, the usual sacraments are welcome - ashes urned (or set afloat on a holy river), garlands around an uncomfortable portrait, my organs donated in equal parts to science and the needy. All of this is acceptable, because I hope to have set grander schemes in motion by the time my ghost is called up.

The idea of living on after medical death isn't new. Certain religions make death less painful by introducing concepts of re-incarnation or of the soul simply shedding its clothes, or of how heaven's a better place. Amateur science toyed with cryogenics - freezing our bodies till a pre-agreed point in time, so we can get out in 2050 and see the flying cars. And then there's the romantic notion - a person lives on through the memories they shared with others.

For the serious death0phobic (or life-o-phile) though, there's cloning, but even that leaves behind a vacuoid, a kink in the continuum of self-identity.

The discussion of what constitutes identity is a large one. At the least, it comprises dna and nurture, as also memory and emotion. The thing is, even if I were to replicate each of these as they applied to me into a clone, and let myself die off, I still wouldn't have transitioned the uniqueness of me. This uniqueness problem arises given that for some non-insignificant duration, there would exist two of me (my clone and I), and also, if I'd indeed transitioned successfully into this clone, then what does it mean to let "myself die off"? What is it that's died if I'm still alive as the clone?

Even if the clone functions exactly as I would have (had I lived longer), I'd still remain detached from it, because I wouldn't have perpetuated myself.

*Aside: 'cloning' is an ambiguous term. I'd simply download my brain onto a hard-drive, the size of which is a finite number of terabytes. The brain download would capture my memories and experiences, separated into stimuli from the outside world and my own reactions to these stimuli. Through some careful analysis, an A.I. algorithm could be charted to say - if the stimulus is x, then from his past reactions, we predict his reaction will be y.

The other step would be to monitor my brain for the last few years of my life, and see which areas of this brain turn on/off during scenarios that trigger emotion. These too can then be uploaded into a table, and the magnitude of the emotion felt is plotted against the gravity of the scenario using a complex points system. These will help predict what I will feel in a future situation.

At this point, this hard-drive copy of my brain has perpetuated the notion of me. If housed in a basic shell, it would take decisions (career, family, etc) like I would. My creativity, since a function of experience, and random synapse firing, could be replicated by introducing wanton shocks to the system. The creativity would be kept in check ("this brain is insane".."no, it's just creative") by running its output against a list of all experiences that my sanitized brain accepted as sane or insane during my life. If the absolute insanity quotient of my digital creativity was outside my sanity spectrum, the digital brain would supress it.*

All of this perpetuates what I could have been had I lived, but none of this perpetuates me. As a result, my imaginary $1B then won't go towards more cloning research. I'll have to spend it on somehow blurring that marker called identity. Once we've managed to block that ceaseless stream of inner body perceptions that anchor the conscious self to the physical body, we can simply exist virtually or become one with a machine (bhatakti aatma). Woohoo.

Why aren't you popping the bubbly yet?

War Reboot

India and Pakistan are on the verge of a war, or so the media and unnamed sources from the Foreign offices will have us believe. This teetering system, nuclear precipice and all, gets much attention the world over. A top Chinese diplomat is flown in to de-escalate the tension. No, the regular Chinese diplomats won't do, it has to be a top one.

India is carrying out troop movements that look ominous. Satellites see this and then do a tell-all to the world. India denounces this as a routine winter exercise. Presumably to keep the blood pumping through the jawans' legs.

Pakistan wants peace not war, but if pressed, they will relocate their troops from the Northwest to the Southeast. The US and the UK like having the Pakistani troops in the Northwest, alongside their own. Twiddlethumbs is a popular game there, and they need three to play. So the U(S+K) will shell out many moneys and the Pakistanis will stay.

This won't sit well with India. She'll raise the hourly rates of her call-centre agents if things continue this way. That will pinch the U(S+K). So the west peremptorily sends their best talkers to sort out the situation - Brown, Rice (apologies, but it's good for you). A month passes and the posturing continues. The Indians waterboard Kasab, and he talks of Faridkot and his father, of his training and his cell-phone. He writes letters to the Pakistani Government pleading for legal aid. Pakistan rejects all of this and demands concrete evidence from India. Nothing is provided for more than a month. This is understandable because India has
(a) little else to go on or
(b) is busy manufacturing said evidence or
(c) is worried that the evidence, which may be circumstantial once presented, will be dismantled by Pakistan before an independent body agrees that Pakistan is culpable.

In the meantime, Zardari, who is grieving for his wife ("she was killed by the same terrorists that blew up Mumbai") more now than ever before, even more than when he was Pallin' around with the U.S. has denounced these non-state actors (NSA) that carried out the heinous attacks in Mumbai. One supposes that he has no clue why the NSA chose his virgin country to incubate the cancer. In any case, he'd resolved to take swift action and so promised to send the chief of the ISI over to India. In keeping with the resolution to remain swift, this promise was recanted within hours.

Pakistan then placed various citizens rumoured to have been involved in the planning of the attacks under house-arrest. This form of punishment, extreme to say the least, was later degraded to non-strict house arrest.

Thankfully though, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charitable organisation that planned the attacks was banned by Pakistan. Banning, as we know, is almost as horrific a punishment as house-arrest. However, using chicanery of the highest order, the organisation has moved back to the unbanned list by using an alias, 'Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool'. Clever as ever.

As unjust as the Mumbai attacks (or other terrorist attacks, in India or in Pakistan) were, we know war isn't the answer. I'm glad, for all their posturing, the two governments also seem to have realised the fact. The enemies are elsewhere - in the minds of people, in biased accounts of history, in the policies of 4 year eat-and-leave governments. So really, the eradication process shouldn't involve soldiers dying, fighting each other, while the real puppeteers kick back in their caves or drug mansions and watch. We're coming full-circle again. We need to be the change.