Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ram Sethu and Gujja

Let’s catch up on the buzz of the week.

On Saturday, Bharatiya Jan Shakti Party president Uma Bharati filed a police compliant against Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and three ministers.

What led her to this?

The government hurt her religious beliefs with its affidavit on the Ram Sethu issue. The former BJP leader was upset over the government’s affidavit, filed before the Supreme Court, and since withdrawn, in which it had stated that epics like Ramayana provided no historical proof of Lord Ram’s existence, angering many Hindu groups.

What led the government to its affidavit?

The government was responding to a petition against the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), which has been billed by maritime experts as the “Suez of the East.” The much delayed project proposes to build a canal that will reduce the distance between the east and west coasts by up to 424 nautical miles and sailing time by up to 30 hours.

In a separate, though related, news story, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) international general secretary Pravin Togadia asked the organization’s activists to file as many as 1000 FIRs against Tamil Nadu CM Karunanidhi for his disparaging—and rationalist?—remarks questioning the existence of Lord Ram.

In related developments, traffic was held up across several North Indian cities on Wednesday as the VHP protested against the planned project.
Also, Ram Vilas Vedanti, a former BJP Member of Parliament who is also described as a senior VHP leader, remarked on Friday, in Ayodhya, that VHP saints would weigh in gold anyone who beheaded Karunanidhi and cut out his tongue.

Skepticism abounds on the project as certain quarters have raised the issue of a cost-benefit analysis and damage to the coral reef. However, maritime experts say that once completed, the project would bring immense economic benefit to India, and an environmental assessment has put to rest all fears of coral damage, indicating that the dredging will steer clear of coral reefs.

• The SSCP was originally conceived in 1860 by the British Commander A D Taylor of the Indian Marines.
• The SSCP was first cleared by the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet in 1955.
• After independence, almost once in every decade, a committee or a prominent expert made a recommendation in favor of the construction of the canal.
• The Suez and Panama canals were opened in 1869 and 1914 respectively.

What I glean from all this is that inertia isn’t an Indian trait. Want to build a canal? Set up a committee. Want to stop a canal from being built? Stage dharnas and protests and burn everything. Want to justify such actions? Ram naam satya hai. In school, I learnt about the Suez canal and about how ingenious a feat of engineering it is. Also, while having to memorize the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, I recognized that India is a “secular” country. Both these nuggets of information underwent an essential, if not factual, correction.

In the next few weeks, I see historians and people from the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) leaving no page unturned nor graves undigged to prove/disprove the existence of Lord Ram.

Scenario 1: Mr. Singhal, top ASI man, is sent onsite to Ram Sethu to assess the age of the purported bridge. Before leaving, he is asked for a small favor by his mum.

Beta, will you please get me paao kilo (250 g) of soil from Ram Sethu?
Umm... ma, but... ok ok
Also beta, Mrs. Gupta, our neighbor, also wanted some. Her son is really ill.
Ma, this is an official trip!
I don’t know. You get me... and don’t cheat this time, get a clean handful. The last time from Dwarka, the soil smelt as if someone had just crapped on it.

Scenario 2: Ateet Mishra, reputed historian, meets an expert on the Ramayana to trace the chronology of events that led to the construction of Ram Sethu.

So, how can you be so sure that Ram existed?
What’s there to be sure? Ram was, is, will be... always. Now, some people also question whether there was a Holocaust or not.
But tell me how can a man from Lanka get involved with someone from Ayodhya in those days?
Arrey, distance was nothing for Ram... He was omnipresent.
Then, why did he build the bridge? He could’ve just gone there and fought Ravana.
Tch tch... you don’t understand... That is how it was, or else how would have Ramayana happened?
You mean to say all these elements just further the story?
Arrey, now, don’t ask me irrelevant questions. Ask Valmiki who wrote it.

Scenario 3: After the Ramayana, it is the sleazier Mahabhrata that is the center of attention. In this regard, a respected gynaecologist testifies in court.

Dr. Agarwal, tell me, is it realistic to say that it is possible for a woman to have given birth to 101 sons, as Gandhaari did.
Medically, this is unlikely. However, it is not impossible. For example, say, she gave birth to quintuplets each time. So, 20 pregnancies and you have a hundred Kauravas.
Brilliant analysis! However, tell me what are the odds of 101 boys and not a single girl?
It is difficult to say, but one possibility could’ve been female foeticide.



Personal update

Three evenings ago, I get a call.

Dude, Delhi marathon is happening.
28th October. You coming?
No yaar. Broke now. Blew up everything in Goa.
Dude, don’t worry about all that. Just come.
I’ll call you up tomorrow.

Next day, Gujja, my co-runner at the Bangalore and Mumbai half marathons, books tickets for the both of us for the Delhi Half Marathon on October 28th.

One day hence, I borrow money and buy running shoes, vests, socks, and shorts—the ensemble (this damage will be smoothed by my quarterly medical reimbursement due next month).

Gujja is smart, adventurous, responsible, straight, besides being tall, dark, and handsome. He swims, works out, knows how to salsa, is a complete athlete and cricketer, was really slick with Flash (when in college), and smells good too. The only possible loophole is a dicey sense of humor. But I’m told he’s working on his narration and content.

Why is he single? What’s with the girls? They land up with total jerks, have their hearts broken, binge on chocolate, and go on shopping sprees to get over it. But how can they miss someone like Gujja?

Anyway, I’ve upped the ante, having already started practice. I’ve beaten Gujja at the last two half marathons, and if things go well, I’ll do that again. Imagine, paying for someone’s fare and being beaten to the finish by him! Gujja, if this doesn’t set your sculpted ass on fire, nothing else ever will.

And this time it’s 21 kms within 1:30:00.

Friday, September 14, 2007

cries and whispers

The street was enveloped in cries and whispers—soft sobs and wispy utterances. The early evening facade had worn itself out. The honking and buzz that would normally stun eardrums had retired to basements and garages. Now, all that one could catch from the insouciant air were cries and whispers.

He hacked and took a swill from the quarter. The whiskey had sunk down to its dregs. “Soon, it’ll be over,” said he, “and I’ll be down on my knees.” And yet he couldn’t think of anything to stave off the vermins. They were drawing closer in search of a decrepit mind to lay eggs in, to hatch and multiply, to build a home in. What a maze, he said to himself. Every moment is a step toward the inevitable, with that tautness of resolve a little weaker.

Engrossed, he almost stumbled upon a scraggy lump on haunches. An unkempt kid was sifting through the garbage for something meaningful—a discarded loaf of bread, a rotten apple, a few morsels. Anything that would stop the walls from closing in. The boy was rummaging through a pile of filth with a single-mindedness borne out of hunger. “Here, take this,” said he and dropped the bottle onto the heap. The boy didn’t look up, and he waited, for no one, before continuing to walk ahead.

A distant light shone upon a fetid pool by the street, like a bitter moon, making him look up at where it came from. The letters above the iridiscent source were delicately woven into one another in a tapestry, to form a name. His strides lengthened in the direction of the glow; he was almost running when he reached the wide glass doors of the store. The exterior had the signature of someone who cared for it; yet, it wasn’t pleasing to the eye, possibly because it was not done in a tasteful, social kind of way. The mannequins on the storefront did not resemble any that he had ever seen—a group of magnificently clothed women eyeing a female nude. Her eyes were barely open, as if the lids had cascaded a moment earlier, and her body was in a reposeful posture like it didn’t depend on balance. She wasn’t sculpted to perfection; only her blemishes were sculpted perfectly. If she was suffering, she didn’t show it, although disguise didn’t seem to be one of her ways.

Pulling the glass doors apart, he entered the store.

“I’m sorry, sir,” a very respectful voice ventured. “We’re
closing now.”
“Are you? I have barely come in.”
“I understand, sir, but we really are closing now.”
“Yes, sir, we are closing. Now.”
“No, I mean you really do understand?”
“Uhh...what do you mean?”
“I saw your shop from a distance and I came in, almost running. It is beautiful.”
“Well, thank you, sir. We are glad.”
“Who is we? You keep saying we. Who’s we?”
“I mean our shop, this shop,” stuttered she, unclasping her hands and spreading it outward to indicate the domain of we.

The light from the rows of lamps fixed on the ceiling and walls, turned up or to their sides, had bathed the floor in a sheer, yet private, shadow. The softness of this ambience contrasted with only the unfiltered shafts illuminating the rows of clothing hanging languidly on trolleys.

He gazed intently at each piece, mindfully soaking a pristine charm while disregarding the fumbling requests of the storekeeper. It was as if he was in the thick of one deep emotion, while the edges of another had blurred themselves.

The clothes were all hand stitched, each waiting—uncompromisingly, patiently—to blend with the personality of the discerning buyer. Above each was a snippet providing the idea behind it or photographs related to it, as if each were a persona with a singular history. Halting, continuing, he read the notes attached or peered at the snaps, reading between them or blowing them up in his head for finer details. Then his gaze fell upon the photograph.

It was an open coffin. An old woman lay in repose inside, her eyes sunken, and her body shrouded with petals strewn all over. A beautiful wreath circled her torso. Surrounding the woman were a group of people, her bereaved family possibly, captured in a grieving moment. All but a little girl, who was looking straight at the photographer. Her lips had parted into a wide smile and her shiny set of whites spoke of two brushings daily. Oblivious of any need to conform to an accepted emotion for that moment, her eyes entrusted the onlooker with a sublime innocence. She vested all the belongings of her newly lived years with the gazer, asking nothing in reciprocation.

It was a summer long past. He was two weeks from turning five, and life was just beginning to lend itself a shape. It was the evening his nana had died; it was a time when grief incited in mourners a silent wish to destroy all existence in their purview; it was when the photographs were being taken, during the funeral. An aunt first noticed it.

“Look at this child! He’s smiling! What a wicked little thing this child is! Aye, why are you smiling?”
“Because mummy said you should always smile in a photo,” replied he dutifully, slowly, and then rolling his eyes upward, trying to fetch another important reason from his young memory, lisped, “And mummy also told that
nana went to heaven; so, I should be haaaappy.” He had always been a sprightly little one, always happy to explain and seek.

“How dare your mummy say that! You little brat, don’t you know that your nana died? And do you see the others smiling?”

In a fit of rage, she slapped him hard. His mother, always subdued and demure, took him away and locked him in the storeroom until the end of the ceremony.

Long after he had been brought out, he still remembered those burning cheeks and a pair of eyes running itself dry.

“Sir, we need to close now,” reminded the storekeeper.

“Why do you have this photograph?”

“The dress below that, you see, was ordered by the old lady in the picture, ironically as her funereal attire. But she passed away before that. So, our M’am has put it up for sale. She also has put this photograph up, I don’t know why or how she got it. She has weird tastes, I can tell you. But if you’re spooked by that kid in the photo, then ya I know how it is. Looks creepy, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, she does,” he replied, sealing the conversation shut.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

he’s the dude, i tell ya

How often had I heard the phrase “commentary on our society” and how little had I grasped it that I so marveled at 12 angry men huddled, locked, inside a cauldron of a room to decide the case of an 18-year-old boy. All this on the hottest day of the year—soaking handkerchiefs, sweaty swathes on buttoned shirts, glistening foreheads, and grimy minds full of prejudice, indifference, hatred, rigidity, and ennui. So, 12 Angry Men please watch.

Behind the veneer of societal decency, how do real men decide? Not everyone puts their feet in puddles of reason; most of them, perhaps, sidestep the slush. All that sangfroid is for sermons. Its bollocks. People sweat, they stammer, they shout just to be heard; choices are made in fits of emotion, apathy, duress. And then stands are stuck to, to not appear whimsical and fickle. Were there no one looking I would’ve swicthed like that—this way or that, who the fuck keeps an eye.

Its eerie to gauge the magnitude of discomfort of someone asked to make a decision—a conscious, rational decision. Its the possibilities that stump. “I’m not used to supposing; I’m a working man.” I tell ya what they don’t ask at job interviews: Are you the freedom-seeking type? Would you surrender more than half of your waking life just to earn enough vada pav to keep you off stomach cramps for the length of the other half? Anyway, long question. They probably would have to repeat the question to get the idea across.


Ok, pertinent query. Would you be ashamed of yourself if you woke up in a gutter after a night of getting soused? I mean ashamed of your very own self. Now, this is my list of things to be ashamed of (not a comprehensive, all-encompassing one though):

If you are picky about food. Corollary: you fucking can’t enjoy the variety that is on spread.

If you overcompensate for the lack of a certain quality, which you desire, with another vice. Corollary: you not just are unable to save your ass, you succeed in getting it flogged like Zorro’s stallion, too.

If you heap the harvest of a stoked anger upon somone else. Corollary: not only will the person you are angry with not know that you are pissed with him/her but the inheritor of your misdirected anger will also wonder “why me?” and nurse a real sore grudge against you.

Ok, three should do fine.


Now, my old man is stuck. It’s this guy in my story. When it first happened, he came around to getting stuck that is, I gave him my hours. Then, I reasoned, let’s give him some space. So, I sort of let him loose, not scot free but on a leash to wander yonder. But that stubborn sonofabitch! He just refuses to return... it’s not like I can’t get him around to do stuff, you know...

Can he smoke pot? Of course, he can.

Can he want to fuck younger women? May be he wants more.

But listen, I tell ya... Motive... MOTIVE. He needs a fucking good motive.

Everyday, someone gets up on a heavy dose of Jack Kerouac and decides to explore. And ends up sloshed and disillusioned.

Right now, therefore, as you can very plainly see, my old man is staying put... he thinks he’s the “Dude,” the big lebowski, you know. May be I should just get someone to pee on his rug. Ha! So much for creative abilities! Its a fucking lie, I tell ya.