Friday, April 18, 2008

There is a thin ridge running along the top of Mumbai locals that is put there for the primary purpose of letting the rainwater wash off along the front and back of the compartment during the monsoons. The primary purpose that it has ended up serving is a hand grip for the tons of people who travel by the door. There are many signs on a Mumbai local - there is a map of all the stations, a bunch of ads, a list of things not allowed on a local (mostly inflammables), a list of numbers to call during a railway emergency, and a bit of unintentional poetry - to stop train pull chain. There is also a sign that says leaning out of the EMU can be dangerous and even fatal, and it reads in three languages, accompanied by a graphic of people leaning out with a big cross on it. That does not alleviate the benefits of getting off at the next station in ease, or the sensation of the wind in your face as the city flies by. During peak hours, there is no real choice, you are forced to find any foothold you can get, and that is when people hang on to the ridge running along the top for their dear lives. During the monsoons however, things get better, there is the rain biting in your face, and your feet are on slippery ground.
The rain ran off the corrugated sheeting on the top of the station, forming a curtain of water on either side of the platforms. The sky was overcast and grey, a dull and cloaked sun shone through somewhere, keeping the weather hot and humid. The crows could no longer hunt for rats along the tracks, and hid beneath the rafters. The men and women waited impatiently for the next train to come. A flurry of activity followed the announcement of the train. Backpacks were slung down the stomach, belts were tightened, a few pallus and dupattas were adjusted, spectacles placed more firmly on the nose, and newspapers folded up and put neatly into briefcases. The train arrived, sprinkling a jet of water on the commuters. There were those who had seen over ten monsoons of the same thing at the same place. And there were those who were getting onto a Mumbai local for the first time. The second last compartment attracted a large crowd - it was the closest to the bridge for many, and for the others, it was the only one in a long line of ladies compartments. The hustle and the bustle and the pushing and the shoving went one way for the first fifteen seconds, and then suddenly reversed direction in a flurry of shouts and swears. A few elbows got wedged, a few feet got trod upon, and a few noses smashed into their faces, everyone who had the guts to make it was in, and the rest had to lean out of the compartment. No one took the trouble to read the sign.
The train started to move before the people had stopped piling in. They stopped only when it caught speed, and headed towards the next station. Five people were leaning out of the train. The first was in a comfortable position, his briefcase at his feet, and his hands firmly on a bar. He had a faded shirt on, and jeans with some oriental looking markings all over it. The man behind him was sharing a hanger with someone standing inside the train, had a blue pinstriped shirt with a logo of a company on it. The one behind him had the security of a thick, sturdy, vertical rod, right in the middle of the entrance, and he was secured to it with his elbow. He had a brown shirt on, and trousers, and seemed to be enjoying the rain. Behind him was a man who had turned his back to the door and was trying his best not to lean out. He was one of the few who had not abandoned the effort to stay dry. The last one, could barely find a foothold. Both his hands were holding on to the ridge outside, and he was wet down to his socks. He wore shirt that had red pinstripes, his sleeves were rolled up, tucked inside brown trousers with a leather belt that had a buckle with the BMW logo on it. He had black shoes on, with worn out soles, and he was urging for the mass of people to tuck themselves further into the train. Even if someone wanted to listen to him, they couldn't.
The next station drew up on the other side of the train. This led to some relief for those leaning out, and the fourth man in the row even managed to squeeze himself in and escape the rain completely. His back was wet, and the shirt clung to him, wrinkling over in places and dripping a bit, but that was the least of any one's worries. A beggar had wandered onto the tracks, and a train was coming from the other direction. Effectively, the beggar was trapped between the two trains, and the people along the sides started shouting for him to duck and sit down between the two trains. Most stations on the line have a gutter, and if you sit across it, the trains just pass over you leaving you unhurt. The commotion distracted the last man in line. He concentrated on the beggar instead of holding himself more securely. The beggar had the good sense to duck, probably having done that a thousand times before, the approaching train gave out a huge blasting horn that hurt a few eardrums as it rushed past in a Doppler. The beggar was safe, but a wave of people piling in at the station, pushed those who were leaning further out. A young boy took the place of the fourth person, and braved the rain. The train gave out a loud horn, and started. The beggar looked up at a rush of feet and a streak of brownish-red, as the train left the station. Once it had gone, he picked up the plastic bottle that would earn him a few paise, put it in his sack, and climbed onto the platform, and disappeared into a multitude.
The people inside the train were still shifting and adjusting themselves. The next platform was coming out on the side of the five people in question. The pressure of those who wanted to alight built up inside the train. Only four knew how to handle the strain. The fifth one, the last in line, tried to get a little more of his foot in, and someplace to hold onto inside the train. He shifted his weight before his hands had found a firm grip inside. The only sound he made was a grunt, and the thump of his knuckles hitting the outside of the train. A second or so later, there was an empty place with a swinging handle that had just been beyond the nameless guy's reach. A second after that, somebody had moved up to take the recently vacated space.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The school captain

It was the highest honour anyone could get in school. The anonymous ballot that was teaching all the young boys and girls to be responsible citizens and vote, had been counted, and the results were out. The School Captain, and his team of prefects would have an investiture ceremony, complete with chief guests, and the school band, and the most important thing, the satin sashes. So the boys and girls were asked to wait back after school, to practice. I was the guy on the side drum, I just had to maintain a beat and follow the base drum. The guy on the base drum, was this tall, hefty, hairy fellow who did not wear spectacles. One of the few in class to escape the four eyed condition. He would take his big drum stick, and bang it against the flimsy plastic so hard, that a slight tear on the other end got larger and larger as the days went by. And so the practice happened by the beat of two drums, and the one with the highest honour anyone could get in school was behaving all high and mighty.
I knew him, he was, and is to this day, a good friend. He had an unfortunate tendency of talking about things he didn't understand a thing about as if he knew everything about it. The physical education teacher had just got married. He was coming back to school after a honeymoon and a flurry of free periods across all the classes for the kids at school. Now the kids all gathered around the Sir to congratulate him on his wedding. God alone knows what was going on in the School Captain's head. He shouted out one thing, from the back of the crowd, "When you get a kid, bring him here and show it to us."
Now, that coming from something like a seven year old would have made anybody find a scale and arrange for a ten on the knuckles. The Physical Education teacher did not hear him, fortunately, the head maid of the school did. She slapped the kid hard across his face - he had no clue about what could possible have been wrong in what he had said, of course he had meant it with the best of intentions, and he never fully understood it till much later.
This was right at the beginning of the year. The investiture ceremony was held on a wet day. The parents of all the house captains, the prefects, and the school captains were assembled in the main hall. They watched proudly as their children received their satin sashes from the principal. They clapped their hands as the captains and the prefects took their oaths. It involved solemnly swearing about something or the other. The fate of the school captain, was sealed.
The ceremony went by, School re-openings in India are closely linked to monsoons, and monsoons are closely linked to frogs. The physics professor was a short, dark man, with large glasses and a beer belly. None of the kids could recognize it, but it wobbled before him wherever he went. The rains, especially, the grey depressing rains of the Indian monsoons, comes down in thick curtains that obliterated anything more than twenty feet away. It was probably the smell of the fresh earth worm dung, or the scents of wet flowers, or just the rains that made him nostalgic, the physics professor decided the time was ripe to spread a few nuggets of knowledge to the young students. He went into great detail about all the fun he had by troubling his professors with frogs captured from the garden. If only the school captain had not heard it.
The next day, about six or seven frogs were leaping about the classroom. The physics professor was yelling something about the security of his job, and was scolding the children about how that was not what he meant by recounting his childhood expiriences. But nobody could really hear him above the shrieks and yells of the girls as they climbed on desks, left the classroom, hopped, skipped and jumped to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the frogs. The peon had to come with a broom, the classroom was emptied, and then the frogs ushered out. No one knew it was the school captain that did it.
If you went to the medical store, and asked for 'chikni', you would get sneezing powder for five bucks. No one knows who exactly told this to the school captain, but one day, a few boys were sneezing away to glory, uncontrollably. There was a thorough investigation, the school captain, for all his ingenuity, was a bad liar, and stated that "somebody had put it on the fans." A girl got a rash on her arm because of it, and the boys who were involved got scolded about something far out, but just enough sense it it to damn them. "If the rash is permanent, the girl may not get married" they said. The School Captain understood a few things then. The vice-principal of the school was a kind hearted fellow, who did not like to trouble bright students. He gave the school captain a scolding, wondering "who would put sneezing powder on the fans so that it would shower down on your blessed heads?" and let the matter rest there.
These exploits are merely indicative. There was a time when crackers were planted under the dias of the teacher, ink splattered on the saris, rotten fruits thrown into the empty offices, and even making the peon of the laboratory unconscious by breaking a jar of chloroform. A year passed, the school captain passed out, and all the house captains with him. Even the two drummers passed out, and on the day of the sendoff they came back as big men in dark blazers, and thought of all the fun they had. The school captain thought it was time for one last prank.

A few weeks later, at the next investiture ceremony, an inexpirienced bunch of drummers drummed out the beats. The house captains and the prefects and the school captain came out to get their satin sashes. No one checked them. They were locked away in the PT room. No one used the originals during rehersals as well. In front of the trustees, and the teachers, and the parents of the kids, and much to the enjoyment of all the kids in the school, over the white letterings that said 'SCHOOL CAPTAIN' was a more legible black permanent marker lettering that said 'LOSER'

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The tiffin-lady's daughter

The overhead water tanks probably did not have enough chlorine. They had too much muck in any case. Each household in the housing colony had its own tried and tested method for water purification. For all the filtering, the purifying, and the boiling was worth, the water was resolutely a little turbid - a little foam showed up when it was poured into a glass. Few escaped the vomiting, the lack of appetite, the nausea, the weakness, and the eventual bed rest. The children all had fevers, and the adults moved around in a lethargic lack of grace. For the next month and a half or so, most households were down and out. Relatives were called in to help, many moved back to their native places till they got better, a few got admitted to hospitals, one family, was however, left to fend for itself. Their only real concern was the food, they did not have the stomach to take in oil-heavy, over spiced hotel food. Their constitutions could only bear the kind of soft natural food prepared at home. So Anil and his parents arranged for a tiffin-lady to deliver a towering lunch box full of vegetables, rice, sambhar and chapatis twice a day. The tiffin was delivered by her daughter.
The tiffin-lady's daughter was young, in her early twenties. Her fingernails were dirty, yellowed, not blackened. Her teeth had huge gaps in between, and were blackened, not yellowed. She had huge toenails as well. She smelled like a stray, wet pup, and her wild hair was a tangled mess - like a crows nest falling apart, or imploding. There was also a bald spot somewhere, shining through the mess on top. Everyday, she came in with the food. Everyday, Anil consumed it, waiting for that one moment when the tiffin-lady's daughter would bend down, and he would spot her breasts. She had breasts, that dropped and appeared to be struggling to run away from each other... like two like ends repelling each other. But they were still breasts, and Anil was a young boy with a fever.
Sometimes, the tiffin-lady's daughter would speak. Anil's mother would nod her head kindly, take out a ten rupee note and hand it over to her. No one could understand the tongue of the tiffin-lady's daughter, no one felt the need to call her by name, she was abused and screamed at by her father in the middle of the road, and at such times, people quietly went about their ways ignoring the show on the road, but feeling good that they were on a higher level. She was a degraded creature, but she was a human being, a part of society, and in some corner of her retarded brain, she probably had a will.
One day, the tiffin-lady herself came to Anil's house. She told Anil's mother in very clear terms, while collecting the money for the next month, that on no condition was her daughter to be given any money - even if she asked for it. She went and told this to Priyal's mother, and Sankalp's mother, and everyone she delivered the food to. This was because the tiffin-lady's daughter had had enough of her father, and her mother, and had tried to run away three times in one month. The minor epidemic passed, the clientele of the tiffin-lady reduced drastically as the housing society returned to using their own gas cylinders. The tiffin-lady's daughter, was beginning to become a big liability. She had to be disposed off, unfortunately, there are laws made against killing.
On the other end of town, in the outskirts of the slums, in a small abandoned shed that no one used, lived a beggar. No one knew from where he learnt the English, but he could beguile a good man when he wanted to, ask money for the ticket to a place far away, pretend to have his wallet stolen, admit to shame, make pity balloon up in the heart's of strangers, enough to quench his thirst for country liqueur. In the nights, he would walk around in a drunken daze, a beast within him would awaken, he would pilfer, steal or use some cunning scheme or other to lay hands on a handful of subsistence. And sometimes, other beasts woke up within him, beasts that instinctively reached out for the pleasures of the flesh... for he was a human too, and he would find another like himself, if there was one, there were a thousand, and they would feast. One day, his neighbour got him a wife. It was the tiffin-lady's daughter. No one in the world knew how the clandestine exchange took place, but it did. A middle class family, had thrown its own daughter to the mercy of a man in the lowest rungs of society.
Probably it was the sight of your own ugly wife screaming insults at you in the middle of the street. Probably it was the smirks of the people who went by, busy in their lives and without a thought to spare. Probably the beggar could not laugh at himself anymore. Probably, he had human will in him somewhere. For whatever reasons, within a month, the beggar had found work at a flour mill, brought home vegetables, and kept his deranged wife happy. His wife's speech grew steadily more and more coherent, she started keeping herself. Although her hair was still tangled, and her breasts droopy, and the smell of a wet puppy lurking about her, her eyes grew less vacant, and the hint of a purpose blossomed within her.
A few years passed, Sankalp saw her once, on a railway station, a very young child against one drooping breast. He couldn't believe the dry things had any milk in them, he was surprised, she recognized him. He could not exactly say "hello." He felt more like vomiting, but he just looked away. She had eyes only for her own child. Maybe he would never wear a branded shirt in his life - she just hoped he could stand his ground in a fight. It hurt her breasts, but she didn't stop him. Priyal and his mother saw her once, while they had gone out to visit a relative. Priyal's mother didn't recognize her. She decided to get back to the good old days of insanity for a second. "You!" she said "Give me the money you owe me bitch!" in the middle of the street. Priyal was horrified, his mother scared, and they both hurried away, as if running away from an explosion. It was an explosion too, the tiffin-lady's daughter stood in the middle of the road, screaming insults and hurling harsh words in the general direction of the flight of Priyal and his mother. The onlookers on the roads laughed, and they laughed more at Priyal and his mother. Anil saw her too, after a few more years had passed. He was sitting at a coffee shop, smoking a cigarette, when she went past. She said in perfectly clear English "smoking is bad for your health". He looked back at her, took a second to recall who she was, and gave her a middle finger salute. She did not care. For a second, she remembered arousing the childish affections of a growing boy. Then she remembered her husband and children. She walked on, with her bag full of vegetables, a mass of now greying, tangled hair, the lingering smell of a wet puppy, and her drooping breasts.

My first and only win at hearts


Swarm

They all came in. There was one cardinal rule, and they all obeyed it. Without a doubt. It was this place, the edge of nowhere, where things sort of began. It was the beggening of time of course, and everyone who mattered was there. The Gods, in whatever multitude were there, there was the Devil also, in his absolute and overpowering singularity. It was a place on earth, terra firma, everything you call it, like right there and in all possible explanations, real. But the place was a little out of the way, like everything else that matters. The purpose of the meeting was to decide what to do with mortal souls once they realised their mortality. The Gods and the Devil, being immortals, did not have this problem. They went about their businesses in the heavens and hell, and almost everyone was of the opinion that souls out to live for ever in heaven. The Gods looked at it in a different way. They stood, unfortunately as you can see, for everything that is good. Now the devil proclaimed that hell was a good place, and the Gods tittered and tattered over that so much that they totally lost the thread of the conversation. It was, afterall just a conversation. The Gods said a lot of things, they blabbered about morals and ethics, blundered over a thousand proofs, and bamboozled a million theories that could deliver a mortal soul, but they couldn't stand up to the Devil. The Devil, to his credit, maintained just one thing. "Hell is a good place" he said. And there was nothing much anyone could do about it.
Now all that really mattered, was the place. It was on terra firma, but it was in the middle of the pacific ocean, right where nobody had bothered to look. The meeting was a welcome deviation from the conversation, for it is always a conversation. There were others there too, but they were too unimportant to mention. There were all kinds of people there, dragging themselves along in the wake of whatever they believed in. They never questioned what they believed in till they ended up there. Right there, they happened to question everything, which was altogether another problem.
Unfortunately, no one but the devil knew who crossed that line. "What?" was what anyone could make sense out of the outcry that ensued from the Gods; "Makes hell such a good place anyway?" "There are some things", the Devil said "That I could not think of, but you guys did before me..." A loud cheer rang out from everyone on terra firma at this. "...and as ashamed as I am to admit, there are some things that I would shy from." The men were duly ashamed, but they had learnt to live with that.
The Gods looked at each other in confusion. Unfortunately, they were all caught up in each other's might. No one had broken free but the devil, and he maintained just one thing. The Gods were so mighty, that they soon came to the conclusion that no one would benefit from the other's might, and what they needed more than anything else was an independant opinion. They searched long and hard. Their searched for someone or something, who had not condemmned themselves to heaven or hell. They found a few men, on solid ground, who proclaimed themselves to be free. The men looked at each other, and found themselves, unfortunately, caught up in each other's might. They never, ever, made the mistake of proclaiming one thing. It was settled amongst themselves, and the settlement was often so eloborate that more was understood than was actually written down. The Men, in whatever generality as can be accepted, asked but one question, and it was addressed to the Devil; "Is heaven a bad place?"
The Devil actually thought about it. He went right ahead and took his time at it too. He in fact, took out his pocket calculator and figured out a few things about heaven and hell. He, however had an advantage over the multitude of Gods. Not only was he singular, but he could slip a line beneath the regular stuff now and then. "Well..." he said, "Hell will always be better".
The Gods felt that this somehow circumnavigated the premise of the argument. The Devil was but cornered, and an answer was the only way out of it. So the Devil went right ahead and did an incredible thing. He claimed half the human race by right. It was a difficult thing to do, but he managed it, with his slippery servants and devout slaves. A few men laughed, more cried, and a lot more faught each other till they hit it. The dead end, the thing from nowhere, the wind from the west. There was, in fact, a fourth player in the arena. The Gods, The Devil, The Men and the ones that made it all possible.
Some called them the aliens. Others call them other things. Mostly, everyone reveres them. But the Gods... the Gods alone condemned them, the men ran around, and the Devil made once proclaimation; "Hell is a good place." And that's where they all came in.

Chess

A little fascinated by the game. Beggening to understand it just a little bit. These are caps of two checkmates and one hell of an opening. The first checkmate, only one horse is lost, the second one has two promoted pawns, the third one, is some opening that I am sure is named, but I cannot hunt it down.




Friday, April 11, 2008

where is the tech headed?

Ever wondered how households five years in the future will be? There is an imminent onset of new technology. New technology has been penetrating very rapidly in recent times, like the iPod spread as rapidly as the walkman in a shorter span of time. What is coming our way is:

Television: Really smart televisions. Notice the picture getting sharper in the past decade? The resolutions on the verge of coming in are four times of what they are now. There are already television sets available in the market that can emit light from the sides based on the lighting on screen (google Philips LCDs). The next generation of televisions will have inbuilt multimedia disc players, that's for DVDs, CDs, USB drives and maybe even Blu-Ray discs. The cablewallah will be just one of the ways to get access to television, consumers will probably use a personalized mix of signal sources, from set tops to pay-per views. A little ahead of that, the internet will probably be connected to all televisions. HDMI interconnectivity is like the USB for the next decade, its gonna let any source of multimedia connect with any point of output. You probably won't need to take all the trouble anyway, because television could just be available from a proxied hyperlink in a dodgy website, right on your computer.

Mobile Phones: Television Programs have still some time to wait before they are broadcasted to your mobile phones TATA Sky now available on hacked chinese models. It is already possible to send video messages across GPRS. Leading networks will probably be able to kick in more support for the new users first, after which interconnectivity hell will break loose. The best thing about this is that you can probably take around a small personal file, that will let you take around all the personalized settings of your PC wherever you go, and operate it from any interface, like the mobile phone, or the comp, or the cyber café around the corner. Everything from savegames, to passwords, to expensive serial protected programs like photoshop can be taken around in that file. Infact, if you have a USB drive, you can already do this, just head over to http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/ and use the software to install a copy of windows (and other things you want) onto a suitable USB drive.



P2P: Of course, the pathways of music piracy will be well ahead of those who are trying to curb it. Here is the good news: the next generation of peer sharing clients will not be illegal. After Napster, and Freenet and Supernova, came DC++, which is already more or less legal, just being abused. There will be no need to abuse the P2P clients of tomorrow, because of the rapid spread of peer-production. The same concepts that are already running wiki projects, will invade into other creations as well. Softwares, maybe even Operating Systems, Multimedia formats, music files, films, and a hell load of other things will be produced after online collaboration, and distributed with such rapidity, that the major labels and production houses will shift a considerable load of their output into the internet. Their shit will probably have advertisements, but those that come from the people will be free.



Gaming: Your console worried will be over because of the personal file thing. You can take your save games across consoles, no sweat. They will probably be different game play and different rewards across consoles, and probably the option of continuing different games in different controls, but the next games will take Massive Online Multiplayers to the next level. Multiplayer gaming will be where the difference will be felt the most. Avatars will get increasingly individualized and customized, and say Need for Speed will be able to let you race a virtual replica of your real car in a virtual location near your own against other players in your location. Or GTA will have a massive storyline evolving because of players thrashing about their own cities in different ways.



What next: Then skynet takes over and sends homicidal robots back in time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

ppprrfft

Was watching a news channel report the last 10 years as the "decade of fantasy". What irked me about the report (NDTV, if you want to spread some hate) was that they put Harry Potter above Lord of the Rings. And they totally left out Narnia. Now LOTR kickstarted fantasy, everyone who writes fantasy draws some inspiration from LOTR. In fact, most fantasy writers went through college reading LOTR. Rowling was one of them, another was Salvatore, this is a picture of his book, Icewind Dale triology. Beggening to read it just to see how it goes. Spotted what looked like Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli on the cover.



Now there is a lot of fantasy out there that does not have a middle-earthish feel. The works of Moorcock for example, is all sword and dragon fantasy, but it takes things to a totally diffrent level. There are black Hitlers and the dragons have to sleep a hundred years for one day of activity... and many of the Heroes are what people would call "bad." Untolkeinish to only a little extent are the Chronicles of Narnia. Most of the splendor seems to be invested in Aslan's breath, but I took to reading the series in the past few days to kill time, and because I saw the trailers of Prince Caspian and wanted to read the book.

The book is horrible. Got over in like four hours, is tiny, has no real story to speak of, and Peter and Susan are wasted in the last time they get to go to Narnia. Hated it - but I decided to give the Voyage of the Dawn Treader a chance, and it was wonderful. Read a few things new to fantasy (there are dragons), and Repicheep, a talking mouse that shows up in Prince Caspian, is one of the best chars in fantasy - can give Legolas a run for his money. The Dawn Treader would make a great book as well. Eustace grew on me, and the Silver Chair is up next for reading.

Took the whole fantasy thing in my head right in the middle of the final exams, btw.

The screenplay is better than the movie

Fandoms are perpetually locked in discussing exactly how the movies were better than the books or vice versa. The question is what happens w...