Thursday, November 19, 2015

The art of falling in love with a writer

 *Replace 'he' with 'she' as required

It’s his first book. You pick it up only because it was recommended. You read the back cover. Writing is not his first love.  You’re sceptical of first time writers, especially ones who haven’t been killing themselves to perfect the art of writing. You look at the name of the publisher. Not a bad one. So he has been able to convince them. Interesting. You read the foreword. He has been promoted by big names. He had connections. People who could put in a good word for him here or there. Your scepticism only increases.

The author’s bio details his professional life. A few bare facts listed without emotion.

Page 1. You aren’t greatly impressed. You could almost sense the author’s hands shake as he wrote the first line. There is a jitter, an uncertainty. Can I really do this?-type. You smirk and continue.

It is a memoir. You let out a chuckle on page 2. He is funny. Sort of. At least he knows how to laugh at himself.

You don’t realise you have crossed twenty pages. That was smooth and engrossing. Not a writer, huh? Some writer must have polished it for him, naturally. But who cares? Why do you try to justify the good writing? Of course someone would have edited it. Every good writer needs a great editor. This is a good read. Period. Don't let your writer-reader head work more than necessary.

Flipping more and more pages. It is a small-ish book. And it is funny. In some places, uncontrollably so. A little spiced up, perhaps. But again, who cares, as long as it is not over-done. You go back to the author’s bio. Who is he?

He calls himself lucky. I was there at the right place at the right time. I was the only one who got the chance. This repeats, and your innate intolerance lifts its hairy head. Surely he was not the only one, there were others? You remember the time when you overheard someone say, “No one could calm the screaming infant for hours. Then I came, gently touched his arm and he quieted down within seconds.” Yeah, right.

But this one? He is sincere and modest. He really believes it. You’re curious again; you go back to the bio. What are you looking for? Something between the lines. There’s nothing.

He is kind to the other characters in the memoir. Even when they misbehave, he stops short of abusing them. Is it real? Or a writer’s need to appear politically correct? You sense a gap. There is a slight rounding of the edges.

You close the book. The journey's over. But you're still there, out on the road. And you're smiling.

You’ve been there. Not exactly, but somewhere nearby. You've been hearing his thoughts. You're seeing the world through his eyes. You're inside. Yes, you know who he is. You have been reading between the lines, from the moment you picked up the book.

And you wonder, you wonder…

Saturday, November 7, 2015

An exercise in Murphy's Law

First it was the rain.

Come to think of it, there is almost always a root cause that sets the whole Murphy's Law mechanism in motion.

I booked a cab as usual. The last time I had booked one, we had reached fifteen minutes early. You know Ola, they always have a car two minutes away from my place. Always. But not this time. The rain, as I said. And the cabs began to vanish right before my eyes, from the app. Finally, I find one fourteen minutes away. Fourteen minutes. We'll be late by a couple of minutes, but that's okay, I thought.

After ten minutes, I can still see the cab driver ten minutes away on the app. I call him up. "Rain, Madam!" he says. "Traffic! Rain! I'm coming."

My son is becoming restless. He will be late for his football coaching. We watch the car progress inch by inch through the highway (through the tracking option in the app). Finally he is here. Ten minutes for the coaching to start. "We're going to be very late," I said to my son. I have an inkling that we're going to be very very late. He wriggled his hands and made a complaining face.

The distance to the destination - eight-ish kilometres - can be covered in fifteen minutes, on a clear and sunny day with no chance of meatballs. Apart from a fair amount of traffic, there is a railway gate and a handful of traffic signals on the way. On normal days, one of these will delay us by five minutes. One of these, mind you. You now know which way the story is headed.

The rain is quite intense as we get into the car. We begin to crawl forward. There are vehicles everywhere. One wonders whether they all fell from the sky with the rain. The first traffic signal is red. Of course.

The railway gate is closed. Naturally.

When the gate is opened, there is the usual mad rush to beat everyone to the other side. One decent truck driver has placed himself diagonally across the gate. He came from the perpendicular road and had to make a 90 degree to enter the railway gate, but got stuck at 45. With cars on all sides, a BMTC bus's nose almost touching his butt, a scooter scampering through the gaps, there is no way he can. No one can move unless this guy evaporates into thin air.

My son and I watch this deadlock in exasperation. The coaching must have begun now. He has tears in his eyes. He hates being late. He looks at me as if I am to blame.

The truck driver and the car facing him engage in a dance. We're right behind this car. The car dude finally gives in and reverses. He takes himself to one side, out of the way. Did I tell you we were stranded right on top of the railway tracks, between the two gates, all this time? A train or an engine that decided to take an evening stroll through the tracks would have really added colour to the scene.

There is a gap where the car was. The truck inches forward, and other vehicles squeeze in. Everyone ignores the car which had given way. He is stuck by the side and would not be able to move until the madness is over.

Finally all is well and the truck makes its turn, the car dude swears never to drive again on a rainy day (among other things), and we continue on our paths.

The rain gets heavier and the road is flooded. We reach the next traffic junction. I see green light from a distance. When we approach, it turns to red. The countdown begins at 120. We stare at it in disbelief. "Sometimes, everything that can go wrong, will," I said wisely to my son. He did not seem very impressed or comforted.

The longest two minutes passed. I expected a traffic light malfunction or something else that would delay us another ten minutes. Wonder why that didn't happen.

We crawl (wade?) in the rain and reach twenty minutes past the time. By then we both have attained a Zen level of calm. My son is just relieved that we made it before the coaching is over.

As I pay the driver and get out, I look up at the sky. It promises another episode one hour later, when it is time to return home.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An ode to futile dreams

They come in, unbidden
Like advices, unsolicited,

Making the impossible
Appear real...

At nights they
work their magic

Weaving hope
Into our secret desires

Painting the daybreak
With promising colours

Splashing some shades
into our fantasies

Those cruel, false,
impractical dreams...

Friday, October 30, 2015


Is the harshest word
In my dictionary.
Never use it...

Why not say Tomorrow-
It gives me Hope.
Or try, Sometimes, and
I'll assume It's possible.

Tell me Maybe,
I think It'll happen.
Let's see assures me
It's not over.

You say Probably,
I hear Fifty-Fifty.
It May or May not.
I like to go with May.

When it's Au revoir
I hear only the promise
Till we meet again-
It's Not a Goodbye.

Even in Unlikely
I sense an Optimism
I tell myself I will wait
It might be, Some Day.

But, Never...
That's another thing.
Never is the door, shut
On my face.

Never is the brick wall
I can't bring down.
Never shoves a knife
Right into the heart.

Don't say Never
Even if you mean it.
There's no harm or danger
In my unbridled Optimism.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Leading or Misleading?

There are these characters we see all the time in movies - they aren't the protagonists, nor the second-level characters. They don't have more than ten or fifteen minutes of screen time, max.

A doctor who gives some important advice to the hero. "You know that is not how it works."
The old friend whom he bumps into, who says something that changes the course of the movie. "Remember the time when we..."
The girl in the shop who said something quite ordinary that reminded someone of something. "If I am sad, I would go to my most favourite place."

An important turning point in the story delivered by an insignificant character.

We know those people so well. I saw him in that movie too. The tough doctor. The smiling angel. The crazy friend. The girl who is sipping juice by the roadside. But I don't know her name. I remember her name in that movie, but not her real name.

Kate Winslet says in The Holiday, "You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!"

But are we?

Some of us are. We see them, we know it. Where do we fit in? Are we the heros, or are we the friends, or are we those nameless, insignificant characters who pave the way for the leading characters' successes?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Behold, the world's changing

Behold, my son, the world's changing;
And you're so young and fresh.
You can run and learn new ways
But I am too old to catch up.

I was young in my time, (sigh)
And a long way have I come...
I did my share of running, too-
A good learner in my day.

I know how you see me
In the sunset of my life;
In your eyes I'm frail and old
A woman with no past.

My journey has been long
There's been many a sacrifice;
Can I teach you my lessons
To save you from that pain?

When I speak and judge you
It comes from experience
And not from ignorance
I now know that's what mothers do.

I also know I'm wrong
You can't learn from my mistakes
You have to make your own
And so it would go on and on.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Just Because.

Click here to read a very similar story in English.

രാവിലെ പത്തുമണിയായപ്പോള്‍ വിശന്നു. അപ്പോഴാണ് ഒന്നും കഴിച്ചില്ല എന്നോര്‍ത്തത്. ദോശയുണ്ടാക്കാമെന്നു കരുതി അടുക്കളയില്‍ കയറിയപ്പോള്‍ വേസ്റ്റ് പുറത്ത് വെച്ചില്ലല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍ത്തു. അതും എടുത്തു വെളിയിലോട്ട്‌ പോകുമ്പോഴാണ് ചെടിക്ക് വെള്ളം ഒഴിച്ചില്ല എന്നോര്‍മ്മ വന്നത്. വെള്ളം ഒഴിക്കാന്‍ പോയപ്പോള്‍ നല്ല വെയില്. തുണി വാഷിംഗ്‌ മെഷീനില്‍ വേഗം ഇട്ടാല്‍ വെയില്‍ കളയാതെ ഉണക്കാം. തുണിയെടുക്കാന്‍ പോയപ്പോഴാണ് കളര്‍ ഇളകുന്ന രണ്ടു ഡ്രസ്സ്‌ സോപ്പില്‍ ഇട്ടു വച്ച കാര്യം ഓര്‍ത്തത്. അതിപ്പോത്തന്നെ കഴുകിയിടാമല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍ത്തു ബാത്രൂം ലക്ഷ്യമാക്കി നീങ്ങുമ്പോള്‍ മോന്‍ സ്കൂളില്‍ പോയ വഴിക്ക് ഊരിയിട്ട ഷര്‍ട്ട്‌ നടുവഴിയില്‍. അതെടുത്ത് അവന്‍റെ മുറിയിലെത്തിയപ്പോള്‍ മെത്ത അലങ്കോലമായി കിടക്കുന്നു. അതു വിരിച്ചുകൊണ്ടിരിക്കുമ്പോഴാണ് സഹപ്രവര്‍ത്തകയുടെ കോള്‍. "ഇപ്പൊ ശരിയാക്കിത്തരാമെന്നു പറഞ്ഞു പോയിട്ട് മണിക്കൂര്‍ രണ്ടായല്ലോ."
വേഗം പോയി കമ്പ്യൂട്ടറിന്‍റെ മുന്നില്‍ സീറ്റ്‌ പിടിച്ചു. ജോലി തുടങ്ങിയപ്പോഴാണ് ഡോര്‍ ബെല്‍ അടിച്ചത്. ഭാരത് ഗ്യാസ്. തന്നിട്ട് പോയ ആളോട് പത്തു രൂപയുടെ കണക്ക് പറഞ്ഞു വഴക്കു കൂടിയപ്പോള്‍ കറന്‍റ്ബില്‍ അടക്കേണ്ട അവസാന തീയതിയാണല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍മ്മ വന്നു. വേഗം ഓണ്‍ലൈനില്‍ അടയ്ക്കാന്‍ പോയി. അപ്പോഴാണ്‌ ഫോണ്‍ ബില്‍, തുടങ്ങി ഒരുപാടു മറ്റു ബില്ലുകള്‍ അടയ്ക്കാനുണ്ടെന്ന് ഓര്‍മ്മ വന്നത്. തുക കണ്ടുപിടിക്കാനായി ബില്ല് തപ്പിപോയ വഴിക്ക് മേശയിലെ പൊടി കണ്ടു, തുടയ്ക്കാനായി തുണി എടുക്കാന്‍ പോയി. കുറെ നേരം അവിടെയും ഇവിടെയും നോക്കി കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ എന്തെടുക്കാനാണ് വന്നതെന്ന് മറന്നു പിന്നെയും കമ്പ്യൂട്ടറിന്‍റെ അടുത്തെത്തി.
തുടര്‍ന്നു വായിക്കുക

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"If you were to have one super power, which would you choose?"

"The Green Lantern's watch," replied my son without a moment's hesitation. Little children. They know exactly what they want. (Read this old story - Twitter of the Linkedin.) As they grow, somehow this certainty fades and they learn to stray between this and that and in between.

Apparently, using the watch, the Green Lantern can do pretty much anything. Which is really cool because the super heroes I used to know had certain definite types of skills - like flying, super-strength to bash up the bad guys or to stop trains, thought-reading, crawling up walls, swinging from spider webs, manoeuvring a flying car, and so on. These days a watch is enough for all this and more.

Anyway, a few years ago when I was asked this question (in a public forum, no less), I said, "I guess I would like to be invisible." Clearly an answer that was delivered with no thought behind it. I assumed that if I gave some answer then they will move on. They didn't. "Everyone wants to be invisible," they said. And within a few minutes, my "dream" super power was reduced to a creepy idea that I wanted to be invisible so as to overhear what others are saying, see what they are doing and so forth.

Actually the answer is (then as well as today) that I don't want any super power. Think about it. I am a Mom who loves her tea and writing and books and movies, and who needs to hug her son and listen to his tales and yell at him everyday. I don't want to be out in the sun with my very own super strength to bash up bad guys. (Though, I must admit, a little Taekwondo training for self-defense is a good idea these days; just in case.) No crawling up the walls, no flying cars, and I definitely don't want to be overwhelmed with everyone else's thoughts in my head, à la Superman.

I would like to vanish into thin air only when I have royally embarrassed myself in front of someone.

I would also like to erase some memories from some people's heads while I am at it.

I certainly don't fancy flying over Bengaluru with my hands outstretched and my cape flying behind me, just because I am stuck in the traffic jam and there is somewhere I need to be. Or swinging from one building to another over the heads of people. (I won't mention the outrageous costumes here.)

I suppose it would be politically correct to say that if I had some super power (i) I would try to bring all the criminals in the world to justice and (ii) I will fight for global peace and (iii) I will try to reduce global warming and close the ozone hole with my very own fingers, and (iv) I will put an end to poverty and suffering and illnesses, but if we really think about it, even the known superheroes have been able to do nothing much about poverty or illness. (Most of them haven't even seen real poverty or suffering, as far as I can tell; they being generally confined to the other side of the globe.) Besides, if all the human evil in the world was eliminated, what would organizations like Human Rights Watch do? Heck, what would the superheroes themselves do? See the massive lay-off looming in the horizon that will bring in more problems, more unemployment, more poverty, more starvation? (Oh, how in the world can a poor superhero rest in peace!)

Putting all those powers (and jokes) aside, let us look at what we dream of every day. Yes, there are certain things that we all wish would happen to us. Put a thought in someone's mind (someone who is influential enough) to show us a bit of kindness. Push our file / email to the top of some important person's inbox at the right time. Allow a critical someone to accidentally see our work. And if we are less talented, make them think highly of us for no reason. Ever heard of Bruce Almighty?

We might like to call it a miracle - such a coincidence! - that we were noticed by The Someone. We would narrate it to everyone - she saw it just by accident! I was so surprised when he called! I had no idea my work was this brilliant! Oh, I am so darn lucky.

But deep inside, we would know. It's called cheating. Maybe it will be smooth sailing for a while. But then we would need more such miracles if we are to keep up the show. Do we really want that? Think Bruce Almighty again.

Mothers are usually known for juggling too many things and trying to be SuperMoms, and for feeling guilty despite everything. We would certainly appreciate it if Superman could go get the groceries or look after the baby or do the chores while we rest our backs, but I'm afraid he might consider those tasks beneath him. We merely need some human support (sometimes as little as a kind word!). Or some magic wand that erases the misplaced feeling of guilt.

So the answer is that there is no real super power that can really help me the way I want to be helped. When a person is given a superpower, he is not expected to use it on himself (think Bruce) but to help others. How selfish of me to think only of myself.

But, wait.

Maybe this can't be called 'super', but I would really like to have a power that helps me with my son's studies. I mean, it was one thing to pass my own exams, but now half a lifetime later to be confronted with the same old questions? I could really use some super-human help to keep me from going insane, as I struggle to first understand the stuff myself and then explain to him.

What? That kind of super power is not in the market these days? That's a pity. A real pity.

I guess I will have to tackle life as it is, then.