Wednesday, October 25, 2006

black-faced happiness

This time when I had been home I went to Keonjhar, as promised, to spend a few days with my mom. All through my engineering I had tactfully avoided staying there stating the value of the precious few days of my semester breaks.

Keonjhar is a sleepy little place laden with huge iron and chrome ore deposits, coal mines and tribals. That is an extremely uncharitable statement and it doesn't say much more than it says.

When I went for a run early morning I saw hordes of locals being trooped onto trucks that lined the streets. Men were paid as less as 60 and women lesser for an entire day’s work in the coal mining quarries in nearby Mayurbhanj. Evenings would witness black-faced happiness with soiled currency in hard hands. Life happened one day at a time. When they saw me running in my Benetton T-shirt and Reebok tracks I wonder what they must’ve thought. I felt inexplicably embarrassed, although I reasoned there was no particular reason why I should be. It was my hard-earned money which had allowed me life’s comforts and no one could take that away from me, much less the happiness I derived from enjoying them.

One evening I accompanied mom to an acquaintance’s (rather an old employee’s) house. She had a 5 year old daughter who was asked to sing rhymes and the latest songs before me. The house comprised of one room with a detached, makeshift bath-latrine. When I arrived beds were dusted off and utensils, books, clothes were cleared. I was offered Sprite when I knew they wouldn’t have it themselves. That 8 rupees would go into an account where every penny mattered. Every rupee saved would bring a smile of relief. It would buy an ounce of happiness which came cheap for people like me. Still, there was this genuine largess sitting right across me in a single bedroom of hope. That belittled.

Baba, will you have anything else? Kurkure, Cadbury?

Such memories mean much more than can ever be fathomed. They bring forth a wave of emotions. A surge of guilt mostly. But to do anything out of guilt would be just not it.

Some duties are not obligatory. They're just more important.

Which bubble should I fill and which one will burst?

Should I trust my instincts? This always crops up like an assiduous turtle called to race against the profligate hare – not in full measure but just enough to keep me interested. There’re intelligent guesses and then there’re blind ones. Then there’re some absurd ones which come across as veritably brilliant and vice-versa (don’t flip-flop all the adjectives).

I’ve been though phases. To guess and proffer phase. To stay mum and withdraw phase. And an in-between, mishmash phase. Poignantly and retorospectively I’ve had complaints against and during each of them. When I’ve been forthcoming, on occasions, I’ve shot off absolutely dumb momos and when I’ve kept the jackpot answer to myself I’ve been left with randomly uprooted clumps of hair from my scalp. I’ve tried to get people (teachers, instructors, friends, etc) to understand that genius sleeps with stupid for better and for worse and hence they should accept esprit and dumb momos with equal receptivity. This phenomenon has not just been restricted to classroom (or similar face-to-face) situations. Its ambit include MCQs with negative marking. On countless occasions, when I’ve narrowed my choices down to two, the battle between the possible and the probable--that strife between instinct and reason (though not in such clear terms)--has just thickened. Leaving me nowhere. Dammit! What’s the use of eliminating 2/3 choices if you’re left with options you can’t decide between? It’s all the more frustrating. And then Murphy himself has to be countered. If I trust my intuition it turns out wrong and when I don’t I rue missing my chance because that just would've been bingo!

More about the strife. For all these years I’ve believed myself to be one. Except of course when I’ve had to choose between having junk food during jaundice and drooling in public. Or similar moral dilemmas. But faced with two tussling MCQ options I’m split asunder, along the seams. There sprouts a reasonable, play-safe alter ego who cants me to see the truth: discretion is better than valour. And the just-do-it second self who requests me to trust my hunch. I oscillate between the safety of a staid spouse or the thrill of the enticing other in a backless choli. Precisely. (I dare not draw the analogy for the fairer sex for fear of a dumb momo)

Back to MCQs. What do I do? And before I’ve made up my mind the clock hands have changed numbers. Generally, I refrain from choices or take the safe highway (rather than my way). And am ensconced in my cocoon. In this CAT season I suppose this dilemma has great significance for our burgeoning aspiring-managerial populace. I wonder if someone can come up with an algorithm that can be customized to suit every user and thus maxmise his or her usage of intuition. What an invention!! And stupid me, as a child I thought, while going through long GK lists, that all great inventions had already been, well, invented and there would be nothing worthwhile left to, well, invent in the coming years.

Monday, October 23, 2006

to be the one you want to be

Five years ago I started studying to be a Mechanical Engineer. A year and a half ago I became a Software Engineer. A few months ago I was on the verge of studying to become an MBA, having got through 2 IIMs. And now, I’m doing something I haven’t been formally trained in at any point in my life. If a pithy statement is necessitated it is this: sometimes we may/do spend years climbing up long ladders only to find, at the top or somewhere in the higher rungs, that we’ve been snaking up the wrong ones. Or even that we’re way too up on some ones to get down and climb on to the right ones the--ones we would love to.

When I quit my job and subsequently forfeited my chance of pursuing an MBA I didn’t have a career path chalked out. I was only beginning to feel strongly about one particular thing: of all the kinds of imprisonments that we find ourselves living in one of the worst is to carry a question mark as a legacy of our past or as a precursor of the future. And this was just one aspect. Another driving issue was reason. Why one should be doing what one does. There should be at least thousand reasons for a thousand of us. Quite often the best of the worst lot comes up for serious consideration. And elimination. I can’t be this, this and this. That leaves this. So let me become this. Voila!

While the possibility of putting safety/security over choice/interest looms large at every junction, there is also the period of drifting along saying ‘let me find out what I want to do in life and then I’ll do something about it’. We (the ones who are reading this blog) are in a far better position to decide our destinies than many many others. When I was involved with a group of volunteers in teaching underprivileged kids the basics of computers a question had cropped up as to what lasting, tangible benefit the kids would extract out of a sporadic, even solitary, exercise such as learning computers. They may very well never have to do anything with it again. But then were we willing to bet on it? And wasn’t it better to give the kids a certain level of acceptance and a few choices which could help them later in life? It struck me that we, by virtue of our position in the scheme of larger things such as status, acceptance, and comfort in society, are far better off. And if we don’t make efforts to avail ourselves of it then isn’t that a pity?

I’m expecting a few to ask: is it entirely possible for us to decide our own fates? To decide one's destiny and to evaluate oneself on evident, more acceptable yardsticks are not two exclusive areas. For every Kiran Desai who wins recognition as a practitioner of a lonely, reclusive art there may be hundreds others who live in oblivion. But then, is the Booker the criterion for her success? What about the absolute joy she had while stringing together each of those thousands of lines? And herein is my point.

That when we truly enjoy what we’re doing we will think before we (or even will not) measure ourselves against hikes, bonuses, awards and start looking elsewhere when they don’t come our way. Or feel disenchanted about our lives.

Today I’ve a telephonic interview, possibly the final round, for an editing job. If I get through it’ll be redemption of sorts. Solely because I’ll be able to do what I want to do.

Monday, October 16, 2006

My Experiences With Older Women

As did Bapu learn from his episodes with truth so did I benefit from my flings with women who preceded me temporally. This talent of mine was discovered quite early. The time was around puberty. A few newly secreted hormones had announced their arrival as well spaced tufts of hair on my upper lip. There was a buzz in the air; curiosity demanded investigations to be conducted with urgency. In such an age - when lives are led astray; when impulses and pimples acquire a power of their own – I committed my first act of sin.

She was the daughter of a friend of my uncle. (Just) A year senior to me in school, she had by then built a reputation of being an accomplished Odissi dancer. I had eyed her in school on some occasions. And smiles had floated still in air then. Such moments had lingered on in memory whenever I imagined as to what great associations could have been formed between the two of us. Pretty and dainty, silent and smiling, she veritably came into my life one evening when I was huffing and puffing on my study table (after having dashed from a session of verandah cricket on hearing the approaching croak of my uncle's scooter to bury my head into a book and fit into the role of a studious ward). Poor little rich beautiful girl had come after a dance performance at the Kala Vikaas Kendra (faithfully translated as ‘Art Enhancement Centre’) to say ‘Hi’ to a sweaty little rickety boy and offer her enticing hand of friendship.

Attired elaborately in a yellow blouse and a heavily bordered saree, with chunky jewellery around her neck, a broad silver belt hugging her waist, ghungru around her ankles, and all accompanying finery she must've looked, well, a woman to me, or else, what I did to her in return can never be excused.

As she came into my room accompanied by my uncle and a coterie of simpering elderly women I dared not look up for I was sweating badly and ran the risk of being asked a few uneasy questions. As my uncle introduced her to me (not having known that we had already locked eyes), I, as any decently schooled and brought-up boy would do to someone who he was expecting to be an elder or elderly, got down on my knees to perform a mark of respect that is called mundia in that side of the world.

Mortified, she jumped! And shrieked, “What are you doing?” And the aunties? What did they do? In a breaking into of fanatical peals that their ages didn’t merit, their mouths rang out ‘hihihihihi’.

And imagine me! In a room full of chuckling aunties, having already doused any fire beyond re-ignition between my now ‘elderly’ love and me, and sweating profusely (that just heightened my chickened-out situation) I started counting six digit numbers in reverse.

But if you thought this early lesson might’ve taught me somewhat then . . .

During my Art of Living Basic course I sat across someone whom, for want of a more apposite name, I choose to call a woman. Now we were required to narrate our lives to each other in 5 mins. While I had rambled on and let her gain a much too private insight into my happening life and times this woman was very concise and to the point. How she fit her god-knows-how-many years into the smallest nutshell possible was this:

I was born in place X. Our family consisted of dad, mom and a younger brother. Stayed with them till graduation. And now working for company Y as a designate Z.

Done! Over! Before I had even registered her name in my brain. Not even a minute had passed. What were we supposed to do? Sitting right across with half a feet between us, the uncomfortable silence made me queasy, if not her. Unable to bear the thought of lip-locking (our respective ones), I blurted out something.

“How many kids do you have?”

Suddenly the woman acted like a living thing. And asked, rather loudly that made a few nearby heads turn curiously towards me, “What kids? I’m not yet married!” Again numbers came to my rescue. Only this time seven digit ones. In retrospect I think it was because of the calming ambience that nothing remotely physical was done unto me. Otherwise, my patron (who, in my defense, let me propose looked a potential aunty) could well have treated me better.

Age and women do not make a couple. It is better you take my word and not find this out from experience. And putting their feet into mouths comes naturally to a few deserving men like me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Munna and Circuit

The institution of friendship has been delineated to some extent by the movies we’ve seen; while such portrayals carry much meaning, when looked through the prism of our everyday lives, they are difficult to be duplicated. This being true, the purport of the message conveyed assumes greater significance.

Jai-Veeru, since 1975, have triggered billions of tear ducts into action. Their acts were the epitome of companionship. And before you only notice, and infer from, the male bonding there are female duos as well. Like Thelma and Louise. It’s because male camaraderie, while being more visible, is easier to be captured on screen while girl bonhomie in movies is usually typecasted under the genre of chick flicks.

Munna-Circuit, bond terrifically - and decidedly so - on screen; though, it’s very unlikely, if not unpalatable, in reality. It's one way: Circuit giving, Munna taking. The absolute selflessness of Circuit makes Munna’s self-interests stand out a little grotesquely. Imagine what could’ve happened instead.

Circuit comes to Munna and vents out, “It’s always your life, your problems, your worries. Only you, you, you. You know what? I’m done. I’m through with this. I can’t take anymore of your shit.”

Camera focuses on the sheepish expression of Munna – that expression of sudden realization; that ‘Damn! I must be a real piss-off’ look - and then zooms out and the viewer sees an aerial shot that shows Circuit turn away. But of course you also notice the growing distance (figurative) between the two as Circuit walks away (physically apart). Cinematic brilliance. You nurse biting pangs and take out your handkerchief.

Lamenting that finding true friends today is a rarity, and a matter of luck, is a matter of emphatic convenience. It's as if you've nothing to do with finding a true friend. You've sinned as much as you've been sinned against.

Reel altruism is there to make a statement. It’s better to fathom this and not try to measure real friends by that yardstick. To take, without giving, is asking for the moon, and, to be true, the taker deserves it much less than the friend who gives.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

shade and shadow

This one is between shade and shadow.

Shade of a friend; shadow of his expectations. Shelter of companionship; shadow of the accompanying responsibilities. Shade can never remain itself for long; sometime, during the ticktock march of the clocks, its solace turns into liability. The shroud that protected you from the chill now threatens to smother you. The blanket that shielded you from harsh glares paints your identity in its own blackness. Discomfiture sneaks into what was, once, a cocoon and your benefactor, now, can only make you uncomfortably silent.

Shade asks questions: Why did you do that? Did you think about anyone else (me) before doing that? How can you be so selfish?
Shelter turns peremptory with injunctions dissimulated as things softer like advice and suggestions: Don’t do this. I suggest (I insist) you decide against it. You’ve made the right decision . . . I’m glad for you!

What the protected – shaded and jaded – says: Don’t worry about me. It’s best you be honest with me. I’ll let you know when I’m hurt.

Inwardly, collapsing like a house of cards, what does a shielded voice murmur: Honesty comes with discretion and a little care for feelings. Is this so hard to fathom? And my freedom? Have I lost it?

Despair, and fear, and you hear the perfect sad pitch.

Bonds of love become barnacles; favours become the unmerciful edge of guillotines; all old accounts are dusted and tallied - How much is owed? How much has been left unclaimed?

The interplay of shade and shadow continues. Father mother brother sister uncle aunt husband wife boyfriend girlfriend friend - all function, in the world of umbra and penumbra, by the rules of shade and shadow.