Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Waiting for the Show

I know why people watch daily shows on TV. Oh, yes I know. Once upon a time I didn't, and I thought I never would. It's astonishing how easily our opinions change, and we don't even notice that they have changed. So we watch shows episode after episode, laugh at them, mock them, elaborate on the stupidity and shallowness of the characters, and - come back to watch them the next day.

Because people who have nothing better to wait for, they wait for these shows. Day after day, week after week. Because absolutely everyone needs to have something to wait for.

After some time, like all addictions, it doesn't stop with one dose. So we start looking for a second one - the high of two different shows. And then a third. And then we say, "Thank God this program is ending next month. I am not going to be addicted any more."

But there are more of them coming up, every day...

Friday, January 25, 2013


There is a world beyond-
Across the frontiers unseen;
Where the sun does not set,
Nor the moon does wane.

When I wrote this, first I did not know what it meant. The rest of came to me three months later. Read the complete poem:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Anything could have happened.
When the hot water tube gave way, anything could have happened.

If there was no one at home, the water would have flowed  non-stop from the overhead tank and no one in the entire apartment would have realised what was happening, for hours. If the heater switch were on and we were not at home, the coils would have overheated and possibly burnt a fuse somewhere as the water heated, boiled and flowed on, and no one would have known. If the tube had broken when one of us was taking bath, the boiling water from the water heater would have come crashing on us.

Instead, at eleven o'clock in the morning, long after the men of the house had left and I was working, the tube quietly slipped. I was alerted by the sound of running water and the whoosh of escaping steam. I rushed in to find the tube hanging and the bathroom filled with smoke, and I was able to switch the heater off in seconds. The security guard was within reach. The plumber was nearby. No damage had happened.  The matter was closed in ten or fifteen minutes.
Nothing had happened.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Angry Birds vs Angry Mother

I swear I didn't know the importance Angry Birds held in earning a child's respect... I would have thought being a great cook or a patient teacher or a brilliant story teller or an understanding friend would have been some of the key roles that would elevate a Mother to the pedestal, but Angry Birds? I can see Experienced Mothers nod in understanding, some raising their eyebrows ("Your son is seven years old and you didn't know it yet?"), some smirking in a been-there-done-that manner, and some shaking their heads in a What-has-this-world-come-to way.

Apparently (how did I miss the obvious) the cooking, teaching, story telling and brilliance are taken for granted, no one even notices them.

The difference, as MegaMind had put it, is in the Presentation. The skill, if you have any, has to appear. From nothing. As if by Magic!

Many of my friends - real and virtual, moms and dads, non-moms and non-dads - have long been obsessed with Angry Birds. I would read their exploits on Facebook. Some of them are my kind of people, so I was sure that the moment I set my eyes on those Angry Birds, I would be addicted to them too. So I never did. I kept away.

Until now.

With the uncanny knack and absolute absence of embarrassment that little children possess, my son attempted and learned and became an expert in Angry Birds, within no time. I still refused to look that way. He offered to teach me. I resisted. It wasn't difficult to resist because when he said 'I will teach you to play' he only meant he will show me how it was played. He would not let me touch it for more than three seconds - barely enough to aim those birdies and then he would pull it from me saying either 'you are not aiming it right', or 'here, let me show you' or 'My turn! I want to play! I want to play!' I would drop it and storm away in an unMotherly show of anger.

Then one day, he was stuck on a certain level in the game. He tried and tried and tried, but could not pass that level. 'Show me,' I said, seeing his frustration. 'But if you are going to pull it away from me like last time, I am going to be very furious'. An advance warning to pre-empt an unpleasant outcome. 'Okay', he said in a resigned tone.

So I began my Taming of the Angry Birds. Several futile attempts later - remember that I was already on a higher level, without having ever attempted the simpler levels - I gave up.
He tut-tutted, 'Oh, you don't know anything!' and went back to his trial and error.
I just watched in silence. That was not the sort of rebuke a Mother would want to hear so early in her Motherly career. That's the kind of dialog that comes in teenage, they say. Seven years? Too early.

When he abandoned it after a while and went away, I took it up. And started from level one. Aiming, firing, scoring. Slowly, impatiently. Shooting the darn birds all over the place. Even where there was nothing to shoot but empty space. 'What are you doing?' he asked.
'I am learning to play Angry Birds', I retorted. After all, the world wasn't listening to me, only he was. I wasn't ashamed of admitting it to him - not yet.
Finally, slowly and steadily, I reached the particular level that he could not cross.

He came and sat by me. I warned him not to take it from me, not to utter a word - because yes, mister, I am going to master this, once and for all. Perhaps his eyes did carry that incredulous, a trifle mocking, and sarcastic look. All those vanished when I set my scowl on him, though.

I played that level twenty-five times at least. Perhaps fifty. Pulling  the birds this way and that, aiming them, shooting them, applying Differential Calculus, Newton's Laws and Murphy's Laws, Probability theory and Permutations and Combinations to kill off those bubble weirdos in space. Some always remained alive, bouncing gleefully off to oblivion - and I would fail the level. He watched, without saying anything. I would Shshsh him if he dared to attempt the slightest sound.

Then I did it! Perhaps I was angry enough by then that I got all my furious birdies attacking with their beak and claw.
I crossed that level, the one he, the expert, could not. And he said, "Wow! How did you do that?" His eyes brimmed with the deepest admiration and respect possible for a seven year old. I did not waste the chance to lecture him on persistence, determination and hard work - all it takes to win at Angry Birds.

Yes, sir, Angry Birds is more than just a game, it is life itself, the sooner you realise it the better!

(And now I think I will just check out the next two levels of the game...)

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Joseph Anton: A Memoir" by Salman Rushdie

The relationship between a book and its author is the same as that of a baby and its mother. A droplet of water and the Ocean. The One that was born from the Other. Both are one and the same, and yet both have their own individuality, uniqueness. Their thoughts are entwined even when they are different. Just as a baby holds on to his mother's hand while he walks: connected, but independent.

I did not discover Salman Rushdie the way I discovered other writers. Many eminent authors came to me highly recommended. I found others at the library or the bookshop. As a hungry reader I pounced on them and lost myself in their worlds. Rushdie, on the other hand, burst into my view a few years ago, largely owing to his famously controversial book. And yet, avid reader, book lover and aspiring writer though I was, I did not for a moment imagine I would want to read him to find out what the furore was all about. It just did not cross my mind that he was an author. He wrote books. I do not understand today why it did not cross my mind - until early last year at the Jaipur Literary Festival, when the controversy resurfaced with Indians and Pakistanis (and probably others) boycotting the event where Rushdie was expected to be present.

Wasn't this issue something like, twenty years old?? I thought. Wasn't it time to put it behind? Hasn't the author written anything else after that, or what? After all, isn't it the book that's considered offensive, and not the author? But without having read The Satanic Verses, how could I form an opinion, any opinion? It dawned on me finally: I should read him. The Satanic Verses being banned in India, the only alternative was Midnight's Children.

Midnight's Children left me spellbound. A new author had just found his way to my Favourite Authors' List.  I had to read more of him. There were other books but my curiosity was piqued by the controversy. If I could not get hold of the banned book, I could read all about it in the memoir, the latest work by Rushdie. I had to.

'Joseph Anton: A Memoir' describes the Satanic Verses days from Rushdie's life. Everything that built up to the book and everything that happened afterwards. I think it was important that Rushdie wrote 'Joseph Anton'. It is a huge book, bulkier than his other books, but people who take the time to read it would at least pause to consider that The Satanic Verses was probably more than a mere 'religion-bashing' or a 'gimmick to make more money by raking up a controversy' (as I was led to believe). It is important to understand what inspired the author to write The Satanic Verses, and how his life changed overnight. What place the book holds in the story of Literature and how the book grew out of its own pages and became a chapter in history. It is important that Salman Rushdie ceases to be merely a "controversial author of a controversial book" in the eyes of people like me.

I haven't read the controversial book. Once (If) I do, I would either decide it was an outstanding Rushdie work and the controversy was blown-out-of-proportion, or that the book, for all its literary merits, did take a step across the limits (whatever that means) and the controversy was justified. I may like the book, or I may not. I cannot say. As a reader, I have the freedom to decide. But my freedom ends when the decision is made, where the author's nose begins.

A book, though it does represent the author's thoughts and ideas, is also an infant that has grown up and finds its own place in the world. It is important for us, as readers, to understand where the author ends and the book begins, where the author gives a free rein to his characters, his plot and his theme, where the book begins to rise to its feet and stand on its own. The book is its author even when it is not. The book takes the imagination of the author to places where he could not go alone. The book flaps its wings and takes flight across the borders of the ordinary, the mundane and the unexplored, only to return at night to its own home, the arms of its author.

It takes considerable courage to write something that could be termed sensitive. To let the beast out that had been struggling to break loose. I have seen authors insert a clause in their foreword to mollify readers, to prevent them from taking offense. It takes considerable courage to write something and not edit it out. To not write a clause in the foreword asking for pardon. To go ahead knowing that this could raise a few red flags across the world. To write nonetheless, just for the sheer joy of writing.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Twitter of the Linkedin

IM needed a little help with her work last evening. She called me ten minutes after my son returned from school. Which meant I was in the thick of things. (As in, Go change your dress! - One minute. Take a bath! - One minute. Have your food! - One minute. Oh, my goodness - look at your fingernails! Come here, let me trim them for you. - One minute. How MANY one minutes do you need??)

While I was talking to (read that as trying to talk to) IM, my hair got royally styled up. (Amme - I will comb your hair. - No, please! Ouch, you're hurting me! Where's your hairclip. Let me- Oooohhhh my hair! Will you stop that? Etc. etc.)

Needless to say, I could not make much out of what IM was saying with so much going on in my life, so I promised to return her call in 30 minutes, once I got the seven-year-old sorted out. Then I pulled him to me and started assaulting his fingernails (Eeek! long, dirty nails, what do you do with them all day?).

"I need to finish this quickly and call IM, she needs some urgent help," I said.
"What help does she need?"
"Something to do with work."
"Tell me."
"You won't understand."
"Tell me."
"Okay... She wanted to know if she should choose the Twitter of the Linkedin or Accept the Facebook of the Fan page." Let me see you counter that, lad.
Without missing a beat, he said: "Accept the Fan page."

Little children know everything.

(Disclaimer: He hasn't heard of social networks, let alone the three popular names used here, and all he knows about the Internet is that it resides in his Mother's computer and she uses it to send her work to IM and others.)