Monthly Archives: July 2010
It might not have looked like much of a battlefield. In fact it was not. It was just an ordinary APSRTC bus. APSRTC stood for Andhra Pradesh State Road Service Corporation. It plied between my village and the nearby town. The bus left at 9 am sharp from my village , traveled for around one and a half hours ,stopped a million times in between , and then reached the town. And it plied everyday.
I don’t know if you have been on such buses before , so let me describe the experience for you. This bus started at the bus depot in my village. If you hoped to get a place to sit on in this bus, that was the place you went to. And if you are among the ones , like me , who boarded the bus at any of the stops after it had left the depot , then you were condemned to stand as all the seats in the bus would have been occupied by then. And if you got into the bus a few more stops further , then even standing space would be a luxury of sorts.
But you would be always amazed at the number and the sheer variety of people the bus seemed to effortlessly accommodate. There were students , vegetable vendors , villagers going to the town to buy something , villagers going to the town with their wares to sell, people like me who worked in the town , and of course people who sold mungfali and chana. And the bus was very obliging. It would stop for everyone on the way , even at unscheduled stops. All one had to do was stand on the road , on the way of the bus , and hold up one’s hand. And the bus would stop to accommodate you.
This obliging nature and the fact that , it was the only bus service ,during that time of the day from my village and the time of the day , would always combine to make it extremely crowded.
So what? , you might ask . You have just described , an ordinary bus , between an ordinary village to it’s nearby ordinary town . What so special about that, you might ask.
But don’t let this ordinariness fool you , dear reader . It might all look rather mundane to you , but behind this veneer of ordinariness , lie a thousand battles that are fought every day , with no less vigor ,ferocity and intrigue than in any actual war fought with actual weapons. In fact , I dare any veteran of these wars , to participate in these battles , and I am willing to bet that he would bite the dust when pitted against the hardened soldiers of the battles in the bus.
You see , the bus was obliging only till you got in. After that , you are on your own. You have to fight to find your standing space and you had to further fight to keep it. With skill and experience, you could even stand comfortably. As you became better, you could start encroaching into other people’s standing space, and if you were sublime , you could stand very comfortably while your neighbors suffered. Unfortunately , it was a zero sum game. So if you are comfortable , it automatically means that someone around you is not. And this was an art , that one acquired through patience ,skill ,and the ability to be mean to your opponents , as is the case in any actual battle.
Anyways , it is one such battle that was fought between me and an elderly gentleman on one occasion , that I wish to talk about here.
You see, I was a veteran of these battles. I was skilled , tough , hardened and really mean.
I knew how to get my place and keep it. And I was willing to make others suffer for it.
And the regulars in the bus knew it . So they gave me my space , literally.
But one day , there was this elderly gentleman who boarded the bus. He did not know me. And on seeing that there was some space near me , he came stood beside me. Poor fellow , he did not know that the space around me existed for a reason!!! I was going to show him, I thought.
I decided to warn him first , it was only fair you see . I turned so that I was facing side ways , turned my head away from him , and gave him a little nudge with my elbow.
Now this gesture would have been enough for any of the regulars, in the bus and they would have backed off. But this guy , he had the audacity to nudge me back!!!!
Hmm , I thought , time for a bigger attack.
I moved towards him a little , while at the same time sliding my hand on the handrail on the ceiling of the bus , so that it touched his hand.
An inexperienced passenger , would instinctively back off a little , thereby giving me more space to occupy. But this guy , he did not back off at all. In fact he moved a little towards me.
A worthy opponent , I thought. Lets see if he could survive the sleep attack. With one hand holding the rail , I pretended to nod off , and I would be leaning towards him.
Even this did not work . He would simply wake me up , every time I got close to him.
Then I tried the mungfali attack. I called the vendor , and bought mungfali from him. The vendor was on his side , so I thought , he would forced to create space , for him to move and I would grab that space.
He simply pushed the vendor further towards me into my space.
And this went on. Every maneuver that I knew , I employed. And every one of them he would thwart in one way or the other.
I had finally met my match.
He was not only defending his space , he was also attacking mine. He was even employing the powerful “stop” attack.
The bus had only one door for entry and exit and I was between him and the exit. You see , what happens when the bus stops , to accommodate a passenger or unload some , there is temporary space that is created . And you can encroach upon it . This was the highest form of the art and you had to be sublime to do it.
And this gentleman was actually employing it successfully.
I had in fact lost some of my ground. Me , a veteran !! I decided that this had to stop and I had to regain some of my lost honor. I decided to defend myself.
So at the next stop , I actually moved backwards towards him. He tried to push forward , but I did not budge. He pushed his hand against mine , on the handrail above , yet I did not give an inch.
Then he tried a new technique. He tried to dodge me and moved sideways and then tried to go forward. I blocked his way.
That’s when he lost it. He hadn’t expected this. He became violent now , and tried to push me aside to go forward.
Now ,every battle has it’s rules . And this was the limit. He could not get so physical , I thought. I decided to give it back.
I turned towards him , faced him squarely and pushed him back violently. He got up and slapped me. I punched him . He socked me.
The bus had started moving . As I was holding him back with one hand , he shouted ,
“What are you doing you idiot , this is my stop?”
They were desperate for his return. Her and her sons. Her husband , had gone off saying he had to attend a meeting almost an year ago , and hadn’t returned yet. She was sick with worry . She desperately hoped that nothing would have happened to him , yet ,somehow feared the worst. Was he seriously hurt ? Kidnapped ? Was he even alive? Or worse still , had he gotten sick of her and her children and left them for another woman or another way of life?
She had loved him dearly and had been a good wife. She cooked well , and had always kept the house clean and herself presentable for him. She would take care of the children and made sure that they didn’t get too naughty to bother him. And he had loved them too. In all their 10 years of marriage , she had never had any complaint with him. He was responsible , took good care of her , and loved the kids. True , he might have raised his voice sometimes , when he had a particularly hard day at work , and occasionally slapped her , but those instances were very rare , and she had always told herself that , being a good wife , she should take all of that in her stride.
She prayed everyday for his return. And had hoped desperately that he would. And when after 9 months of hoping and praying he hadn’t returned , she slowly started getting resigned to the fact that , he may , after all not return. It was a strange resignation , the kind that would be replaced by a longing hope again , at a faint glimmer of a chance.
But she couldn’t help crying in the night , when she lay down in her bed , with her children by her side. And the bigger problem was the children , who also cried everyday for their father. He had been very fond of them and they had loved their father. And they cried everyday for him.
One of these nights , the younger one , who was six , was crying more than usual. Someone at school , had taunted him for not knowing where his father was , and this had made him very sad. He had refused to eat that evening , after coming back from school , wouldn’t talk to anyone , and now when his mother asked , for the reason , he began crying. He wouldn’t calm down and was refusing to go to school unless told when his father would return. She didn’t know what to do. And in desperation she told him ,
“You know , how I told you papa had gone to that meeting. Its over finally, and he is coming back in a month’s time”
The little one looked suspicious , “ A month ?? Why would it take papa that long to come from Kolkata”
She didn’t know what to say. Then she added in a lighthearted tone , “ Not Kolkata silly , Papa is in the US , he had to go there . He is coming back.”
“How do you know?”, hopeful yet suspicious.
“You know , Uncle M , told me the other day over phone”, she said.
That did it . The little one was very happy . He looked up to his uncle and besides, uncle M was out of town , so he couldn’t go running to confirm from him. So she was safe for the moment.
The next day , at school , the little one , of course had to boast to his earlier tormenter. He went up to him , puffed his chest and said proudly , “I know where my papa is and he is coming back in a month. My mom told me that my Uncle M said that.”
The tormenter was dumbfounded. He had always heard his parents talk about how no body knew where the little one’s father was and that he might perhaps never come back and how unfortunate the little one’s mother was.
And so in the evening he, of course had to clear his doubt with his parents. He told his mother what the little one had said.
His mother talked to his father about this during bed time.
Now , the father was an astrologer of some renown in that small town. He and Uncle M had been classmates and a sort of rivalry existed between them. He was never one who liked to be caught unawares and did not want Uncle M , to get all the credit for this.
The next day , when he was having tea with the postmaster he casually mentioned this and then emphatically said , “Ofcourse , I always knew this would happen. You know , the stars had always indicated this.” , then he lowered his voice for dramatic effect –the postmaster had to lean in to hear , “in fact , it was M who had lost hope that his brother in law could ever be found. I was the one who told him to keep searching . The stars are never wrong.”
The postmaster was a middle aged , devout man who had great reverence for the astrologer. And he was duly impressed with this. That night , while singing praises of the astrologer to his wife , he said , “you know , he even predicted that the poor lady’s husband is going to return , and it is happening.” .His wife was also impressed.
The postmaster’s wife was friends with the wife of the inspector of police of the town. And in the vegetable market next day , over lots of other gossip , she also told him of the astrologer’s prediction and how it was going to come true.
That evening , the inspector’s wife told her husband about this. Now , the inspector had assisted in the search for the missing husband . He had been newly appointed in the town and had been newly married to his wife , who was also from the same town. He ofcourse did not want to appear clueless in front of his wife ,”Ofcourse , I always knew it . All the signs were there , that he had gone off to some foreign country. In fact I was the one who had indicated that the investigation proceed in that direction. But then , darling , you know the work pressure , I couldn’t follow through on it. Anyways am glad that I am right.”
His wife was suitably impressed and she told her parents how her husband had helped trace out the poor lady’s husband.
Her parents were impressed too. The father was initially skeptical about his daughter’s marriage with ‘that Inspector guy’ as he called him , but now it all seemed good. He boasted to all his friends what a smart son in law he had and how the poor lady’s husband would soon return , thanks to his son in law.
So the word spread. And in two days , it was generally believed that the poor lady’s husband would return in a month.
And when M returned to town , he couldn’t believe it when at least 5 people told him that his brother in law was returning within a month. They of course , had conveniently omitted his part in it.
He rushed off to tell his sister.
“You know your husband is in some foreign country and will return in a month .Everybody is saying” , he told her.
She jumped in delight and rushed to tell the good news to her kids.
God had been discovered!!!! Yes it was found out He did exist, to the jubilation of many believers around the world. He was found by an American scientist , when they were apparently doing research into the 5th dimension. The Indian scientist in the group was reportedly pissed , as God chose to reveal himself to the American , and not to him. After all , the Indian had prayed to God in so many different forms over the years, at least 30 on the last count .
When He was discovered in the 5th dimension , God was apparently sleeping. When woken up and asked who He was , He had revealed Himself to be God. This was met by some skepticism from the American and he asked for proof. Apparently God asked ,”How many times , have you found a suited up guy sleeping ,in the 5th dimension?” . The American was satisfied. He was then asked why He was sleeping when a world war was going on. God had chuckled his reply , “ What do you expect me to do , join in?”
This further satisfied the American and the announcement was made official – God did exist and He had been discovered.
The discovery of God brought lot of hope to the war torn people around the world. They thought that He would do something about the war , like , may be put an end to it. But God said , he was too groggy from centuries of sleep to be able to start affecting any real miracles yet. He could give them sermons instead , if they wanted to hear . This was generally met with grunts of disappointment. We have heard enough sermons , they said , could you please get on with your miracles , they asked him , in an icily polite tone. God whined that it was not fair , and looked to the Pope for help. The Pope whispered something in his ear. God smiled . He liked the idea. He looked to the people and said , “I work in mysterious ways !!!Not for you to judge me or demand anything of me!!!” . He then reportedly looked at the Pope for approval . The Pope nodded his head in satisfaction. Some people also nodded their head in understanding . Some left disappointed. Some were angry.
The war ended soon enough , even without God’s intervention. But his refusal to intervene citing grogginess , had raised too many eyebrows. People , in fact started doubting , if God had been awake at all , ever. Was he sleeping through all the wars , all the famines and all the other catastrophes in the world? Was this the reason , the world was what it was ? Some people caught on to the mysterious ways statement. They said that God was malicious , He actually wanted all these things to happen and purposefully did not intervene. I mean , he had powers enough to enter into the 5th dimension and take a nap there , couldn’t he end a lousy war? Some people caught on to this idea. So some were saying God is lazy , some were saying God is malicious.
Whatever people were saying , God’s popularity plummeted. There were more people praying to Him , when he was yet to be discovered than now. The religious leaders were worried and blamed the scientist for having discovered God in the first place. God agreed with them , adding that , it was one fine nap He was having, the scientist didn’t have any business poking around in that dimension at all waking Him up like that.
The religious leaders were wise enough to see that something needed to be done soon. Otherwise , people would stop believing in God, when ironically He did exist. The atheists were having a field day with this. “We always said , God , if He existed , would be flawed “, they said. So they had to do something and do something quick , the religious leaders thought. And one of them came up with a brilliant idea.
“What we need is a proper PR for God , you know like an ad , a tagline or something. That would communicate the essential qualities of God and what He stands for and what He can do for the people. It would also help in damage control” , he said.
Everybody loved the idea. And that is where I came in. I was the creative director of a non descript ad agency . No big agency was willing to take the case up So they had to be content with me.
The reason they had picked me up among all the non descript ad agencies in the world was because of my claim to fame. I had done an underwear ad earlier, whose tag line was
“ Sri Sankaram Vests and Briefs – Even God loves to wear them”
For the religious leaders , this was a wonderful association with God that I had earlier. And one of them confessed that , he does wear Sri Sankaram Vests and Briefs. I politely inquired what about God , if He wore them , my ad would have been prophetic I said smiling. The religious leader looked at me for a while and said , that he would try but he couldn’t promise anything as God usually preferred going commando.
Anyways , I was brought in . The religious leaders loved my tagline for the underwear ad. And they wanted me to come up with a tagline for God too , “You know , something that would communicate the essential nature of God to the people”, they said.
Thus started my work on God.
We would argue for hours , me , the religious leaders and God. What was the essential nature of God?
“He created the world “, one would say .
“Dude , He was found sleeping and refused miracles citing grogginess , no one would believe it , it wouldn’t really catch on “, some one else would say.
“What about all the wonderful things in the universe? He can be said to have been responsible for them”, another would pipe up.
“Helloooo …..are you sleeping now? How many times would I have to tell you , He is seen as a sleepyhead , people will scoff at the idea , that He could create something” , I would say.
“What if I slept off , after I created the world ?”, God said .
“Why would you do that ?” , I asked
“Well I decided to call it a day”, God said smiling .
“Then you can use the mysterious angle , you know I have my own reasons types”, God said , and looked at the Pope again. The Pope nodded. Both of them seemed to love the mysterious angle.
Ok , that was that. God was mysterious. What else was He?
“If we decide to use the mysterious angle , then we also have to take care of the fact that , people have already caught on to it , and think God is malicious.”, another one said.
Hmm..that was true , I thought , God cannot be seen as malicious . God had to be seen as benevolent But who would believe He was benevolent after His recent behavior. So, now we couldn’t use benevolent, we had to come up with something else.
And ofcourse there was the whole sleeping thing involved , which had destroyed God’s reputation more than anything else. We needed to indicate that God was not sleeping now.
Hence , we needed to come up with something that was a combination of all three , that was simple enough for people to understand , and would shame them into praying to God again.
This is what we came up with finally ,
“God : Mysterious , Wide Awake and Mostly Harmless , why wouldn’t you pray to Him”
The campaign was a success.
I was standing on top of what looked like a tower. It was raining. There were intermittent thunderbooms and flashes of lightening. I looked at myself . I seemed to have been transformed into some kind of a giant man-bird hybrid. I had huge leathery wings , and curving, sharp ,powerful claws. I seemed to stand at least 12 ft tall. I had a muscular torso and powerful legs. My chest was a barrel and my arms pistons. I felt really powerful and really strong.
I looked around myself . The tower seemed to be in the middle of a vast body of water, an ocean perhaps. And then I noticed , the magnificent castle far away. It was so far away in shore , and I was in the middle of the ocean , yet I could see it from here. So big and so magnificent was it. It seemed to have huge ramparts. And it was all lighted up.
Then I realized , I wanted to get there. That was it . That was what my powers were given to me for. That was their purpose. To reach the castle. To dwell in it. I looked even closer. I could see a lot of people trying to get to the castle. They seemed to be running towards it. They looked puny in comparison to me!!! I will make it before them, I thought. And I swooped down from my perch , spread my powerful wings and flapped away to the shore.
I found myself running on the ground. It was grassy and soft. I had lost my wings and my claws. My body was just itself now. I was wearing some kind of a black robe which seemed to have been made of a single cloth. There was a white sash that was tied around my waist. I was puzzled . For a while I couldn’t understand why I was here and why I was running. Then I remembered – of course , the castle – I had to reach the castle.
I looked around myself. There were a lot of people running . They didn’t look so puny now. In fact they all looked similar and very familiar somehow. They were all wearing black robes , with a white sash around their waists. They were of the same height and of the same build. And all of them were running towards the castle.
As I approached one of them , I looked at his face. I was shocked. He looked just like me. I staggered back. Then I ran towards another and looked at his face. Oh God, even he looked like me. Then I saw two others , they also looked like me. I was in a shock. This was too much to bear. Then they all stopped running and stood still for a while. Then they all turned and looked at me. They were all me!!! All of them , they just looked like me.
And then suddenly , I was a rat. A tiny little rat , whimpering in the grass , trying to hide. They all looked at me , laughed and continued running.
I tried to search for the castle. I could see it’s ramparts , just beyond the mountain.
I was climbing the mountain. It was not a difficult climb nor was it steep, but it was tiring and never seemed to end. The mountain was too high. I just seemed to be climbing and climbing and the end never came. All that kept me going was the tantalizing view of the ramparts of the castle , during sunset and sunrise.
I would climb all day laboriously , and then would find a nook to rest myself for the night. Sometimes I didn’t even remember why I was climbing. I was just climbing. In the beginning , I used to look at the others , who were also climbing , and try to climb faster than them. Then I forgot that too. I simply climbed , day in and day out, the only reminder of the purpose of my climb being the tantalizing view of the castle ramparts twice in the day , during sunrise and sunset.
Sometimes , I would get delirious , sometimes I would get angry , and sometimes I would just weep. Sometimes , I would develop those claws again. Then they would break on the hard rock of the mountain and I would cry. Once , I even developed wings . I was escatic , I tried to fly , but I fell and slipped off the mountain. I had to start all over again. And in anger , I cut off my wings. And then I couldn’t remember why I did that.
Sometimes , when sleeping , I would dream about a powerful man bird hybrid. It had a barrel for a chest and pistons for arms. It ruled over the ocean, flying free over it. It did not seem to be bothered about , the castle at a distance, it was interested in flying , and in the forest on the other shore. Then , I would wake up , puzzled . I would see the rampart and start climbing again.
I climbed thus , for 40 years.
I had reached the top of the mountain. I was old and haggard . I could see the others too on top of the mountain. They too were old. I had reached the top but couldn’t see the castle anywhere near. It still seemed far away.
My limbs ached, my head swam , my body cried out for rest , and yet , like a zombie , I started moving towards the castle again.
But after walking a distance , I realized I couldn’t walk anymore. I was weak and old and hurting. My legs felt heavy , and I felt dizzy . There was a sharp pain in my chest. I fell down , clutching my heart … I couldn’t breath , couldn’t see clearly and there were tears in my eyes , as I hadn’t reached the castle yet……and I couldn’t even remember why I had to reach that castle….I was dying…
I woke up with a start. There were tears in my eyes. I oriented myself.
I looked around . Thank God , I told myself , it was only a dream . But what a weird dream it was.
I looked around. It was a party , oh yes ofcourse , I remembered now , it was my retirement party , I was retiring after 40 years of service . and I had dozed off during one of the speeches
Whew .. what a weird dream.. my life was much better , I told myself.
I had been watching them for a while now. They were strange , even for an asylum. I had a chance to observe them .I wanted to keep my distance though , they were obviously insane and dangerous. And the more I observed the more it looked like the asylum was built to house the weirdest of cases.
The fat lady, behind the table, for instance, apparently she had been a patient here for the last 30 years now. And in all these 30 years, every morning without exception, she would sit behind the table and start looking at the clock. And every evening, she would get up and go out. She would occasionally scribble and religiously arranged her scribbles into neat piles. Some of these piles were gathering dust , she had built them over the years. No body ever read what she wrote , but she very zealously guarded those piles . She would shout and yell at anyone who approached anywhere near her piles. She looked disapprovingly at anyone who even said hello to her. She just loved to scribble and occasionally shout. Everybody avoided her . They realized she was too insane. I wanted to talk to her , but then I told myself she was insane and it is better to watch only from a distance.
And then there were the guys in the garden. Every evening, they would start running and yelling and pushing each other. They would occasionally even kick each other. Some of them got hurt and even bled. Then there were guys who would watch them run and push and would let out loud cries, whenever someone got hurt. And occasionally, there would be fist fights between two people, as to who pushed who. Then everyone would gather around and join in the fight. Then they would leave swearing. And the next day again, they would start running, yelling and pushing and fighting. No body stopped them or said anything. Obviously they were too insane to listen. I wanted to shout at them , and make them stop hurting each other , but then I told myself they were insane and it is better to watch only from a distance.
Then there was this bespectacled man who had apparently been here for the last 10 years. He looked emaciated and haggard and care worn. His clothes were always disheveled and in bad taste. He was a pity to look at , the poor guy. He was 40 , but looked 60 . He always coughed and couldn’t help shaking all the time and had a wild look in his eye. Every morning , he would come to me , and pretend to take my pulse . He would then ask me how I was feeling and if I would like something. It would have been really funny , if not for the weird smell coming from him . He smelt of stale food and medicines. I would simply cower away from him. He would then smile and repeat the question. By then , I would be gagging from the smell , and I would shake my head. He would then stare at me for a while and then go away. The crazy bastard !! I saw him do this to a few others a couple of times. Poor fellow , thinking something was wrong with everyone else except him!! . People always had a good laugh at him behind his back. I pitied the guy and wanted to tell him that , but then I told myself he was insane and it is better to watch only from a distance.
And of course there was this tough looking guy , who sported a moustache. He was burly and huge , more than 6 ft tall. He wore a cloth cap , and always said his prayers five times a day. And during the other time he would always stand in a corner staring at everyone. Then he would suddenly yell at someone and become silent again. I would sometimes see him in the garden running and yelling when he got tired of standing in the corner. And he was a mean fighter. Everybody was afraid of him. He always had a mean look in his eye. A mean look for everyone , except for another pretty patient. He liked her. With her , he would always be nice and polite . He would hold open the door for her , push forward a chair for her , sometimes even get her flowers from the garden. It was really cute to watch this crazy , burly man around her. He would try to talk to her , but she would be rude to him and say mean things about him , about his cap , about praying five times a day. He would become red in the face , and that’s when he would go into the garden to run and yell . He would get into a fight and come back and continue standing in the corner. And he would have brought flowers for her from the garden. He was so beyond salvage , that no body even mentioned this to him. I wanted to talk to him , but then told myself , he was insane , and that it is better to watch only from a distance.
And the pretty patient, she was really pretty. She was so pretty, that I always felt sorry for her that she was insane. She was nice to everyone and sometimes brought everyone fruit juice. She was also very devout. She would in fact pray more than five times a day. She could always be seen lighting candles before the photos of the gods in the asylum. I was always surprised that they let an insane person handle fire in the asylum , but then I figured , she was a harmless , sweet thing and was just praying. So I guess no harm done. She could always be heard singing bhajans loudly in the evening in the asylum. So far so good . If this is the only that I had seen of her , I wouldn’t have suspected her to be crazy. But for some reason , she hated the mustached guy. Apparently, she had been like that since the first time she had met him 5 years ago when she had joined the asylum. She would be rude to him , not give him fruit juice and said mean things to him ,usually about his prayers and his cloth cap. And then she would go off and start singing loudly again. I always got angry with her , but then told myself she was insane ,. and that it is better I watch only from a distance.
The five would occasionally get together, and start talking in whispers. They would see me observing them , and would huddle closer together and talk .
They were doing so now. I craned forward to listen to them.
“No Mrs. S , I don’t want to look at his file again , really , you can keep it with you”, the bespectacled man was telling the fat lady. She was trying to interest him in one of her scribbles. He sounded exasperated .She said something rude.
“And please Ms. P , could you stop making comments with racial overtones.”, he was telling the pretty patient ,” Discrimination is bad in itself , at least don’t be so mean to a guy who obviously likes you.” .
“And Mr. T , cant you see she doesn’t like you , just stop bothering her , and those football games are becoming way too violent “, he was telling the mustached guy.
“And I guess we should now take a look at our star patient ”, he said coughing.
“What was his problem again Dr.D ?”, Mr.T asked.
“He thinks insanity is contagious”, he said smiling and they all started moving towards my cell.
I cowered back in my cell. They were coming for me. I didn’t want them near me. They were obviously insane and could pass it on to me.
“The Store: Customized Solutions” , the bright glow sign board said. It was a very impressive glow sign board. It was huge , 15 by 10 atleast , and glowed all bright red and dark green. I just loved it. And what the board was saying also seemed very intriguing.
I was standing outside of the store that the glow sign board was advertising. It had opened shop very recently. I had heard a lot about it in the news. One of the biggest business houses in the country , was getting into the retailing business. And they were the ones who had come up with this apparently novel format.
I couldn’t wait to walk in. For one , I have a weakness for huge , glowing sign boards , and two I was intrigued by what the board said. So , I walked into the store.
“Welcome Sir” , one of the attendants smiled at me. She was cute.
“Hi”, I said and smiled back . She was really cute.
“How can I help you sir , what are you looking for?” , she asked.
“Yeah …, well am looking for a toothbrush” , I said . Damn , she was cute.
“Right this way sir” ,she said , and led me to the dental care section , where there were whole racks filled with toothbrushes. I guess hundreds of them , in various shapes , sizes and colors and varieties.
I looked through the racks for a second , and picked one up and turned to go.
“Just a second sir”, she said . I was delighted , was she going to ask me out..?
I stopped and smiled at her . And as I waited she beckoned to someone. Another attendant walked up to us , with a laptop computer in his hands.
He nodded to me , and handed the computer over to her. She powered it up , and looked upto me and smiled once again.
“So sir , how old are you?”, she asked.
“uhhhhh…well….” , I was flustered, I hadn’t seen that coming.
She smiled at me , and asked again , “ Are you in the 25-40 years age group?”, she asked.
“Yeah ,” , I said , it was close.
She typed into her computer.
“And what would you say your yearly income would be?”
I was taken aback. “Excuse me , “ , I said .
“Would you say , you are in the 5 – 15 lac income segment ?”, she persisted.
“Yeah”, I said , getting more and more flustered.
“And are you self employed ?”, she asked .
“Yeah” , I said. This was getting now very very weird.
“Are you married , sir?”, she asked.
“Yes..” , I said reluctantly . There go my chances of being asked out , I thought.
“Hmmm..” , she said, noting all of it down. She typed something more , into her computer , and then stared into it for several minutes.
“Hmm..” , she said again after a while.
“The loser segment,” , she said , after a pause , “I have it all figured out now”
“Whattt?” , I asked.
“Nothing sir , ignore that”, she said, “as part of our ongoing efforts to improve customer experience , and provide him with the best of products and services , we have developed a software , which was the result of years of research into consumer behavior . Coupled with psychology and statistics , this is a really powerful software sir. We use it all the time. So allow me to customize a dental solution for you”
I was blown away. Wowww!!! I thought , so much effort , had been put into helping people with taking a decision like buying a toothbrush , and wowww again , she had called it a dental solution , not buying a toothbrush.
“Gooddyy” , I said , “lets hear it” .
“Ok , sir , first of all , I strongly advise , you buy three toothbrushes.” , she said.
“Why” , I asked , “I only need one, I mean , my wife and the kid have brand new ones already, And I can always walk into the store , and buy ano…..”
“But sir ,”, she cut me off , “weren’t you growing up during the war days , which was followed by drought. Come on , you have a scarcity mindset . What if all the toothbrushes in the store , are bought off and we run out of stock , and we don’t have another when you come back next time?”
“ I will go to another store “ , I said confused.
“What if , all the toothbrushes in the town are bought off sir , I mean wouldn’t it be inconvenient for you to drive to another town and buy them. Come on sir , you were brought up during the war , and you are supposed to have a scarcity mindset according to the software . Be true to your self sir , don’t try be somebody else.” , she said.
I was very confused now , but also ashamed , that I was not being myself , as she said.
“ok” , I said , “I will buy three” , and I reached out and picked a couple more identical to the ones that I had picked. They were all the same and all white.
“Sir….. “ , she said , eyeing my toothbrushes
Uh , oh …what had I done now ? What part of my personality was I not living upto this time. ?
“But sir , aren’t you the variety seeking type? I mean , you were bought up during the war , and that put a lot of restrictions on you , now that you are earning and self employed , you seek to express yourself and your freedom in a variety of ways . They are usually small as you don’t want to take undue risks , right sir? So why pick up all white? Be true to your self sir , don’t try be somebody else” , she said.
Damn , I had done it again , why couldn’t I be true to myself just once.
“ok,” , I said , and picked up a grey and a black colored toothbrush that were identical to the white one except for the colors.
I looked at her expectantly. Did I get it right this time?
She didn’t seem satisfied though. She was distastefully looking at my toothbrushes.
“But sir , now that you are self employed , and earning well and well settled , don’t you seek to show to the world atleast once in a while , that you have arrived , that you are different , don’t you really want to show off to the world , your status? The software says so right here sir . Be true to your self sir , don’t try be somebody else.” , she said.
I was near tears now . How can I keep doing this ? How can I not know myself ? How can I simply continue being someone else.?
I put the white one down and picked a bright orange toothbrush, looking at her expectantly. She frowned and I quickly put that one down and picked a yellow one. She seemed satisfied with this.
“Now sir , how about buying a toothpaste ?”, she asked.
“But I don’t need toothpaste , I have some at home.” , I said and the moment I said it , I regretted it. She frowned. It was going to be clear in a short while that I had betrayed some part of personality again.
“Sirrrrr..”, she said in an exaggerated fashion , my not being true to my own self , really seemed to be pissing her off, “ you are the type who looks for quality , comprehensive solutions. Being bought up during the war , had that effect on you. You are not the type who would simply buy a toothbrush and run out , you are not the type who buys products sir , you buy solutions. Be true to your self sir , don’t try be somebody else.” , she said , and this time she sounded angry.
Shitttt.. I thought ..not again . I was an idiot .
“Ok “, I said determined to make it upto her ,. “I shall buy three cartons of toothpaste , all three in different flavors , and one of them which comes in a bright yellow packing.” There , I had stayed true to my personality this time.
I looked at her for approval . I was so proud of myself.
She merely nodded.
“Sir ,” , she begin again , “ aren’t you going to buy anything for your wife ?“ , she asked.
“But she already has a toothbrush , and I just bought toothpaste too” , I said, almost pleading.
“But sir ,” , she said , “you were brought up during the war. And that has made you a family person. And you are the type , who would always give his wife her due , and respect and cherish her. And not buying anything for her , when you are buying something for yourself , makes you guilty. Isnt that right sir? Be true to your self sir , don’t try be somebody else.”
I was really feeling guilty now .How could I do that to my wife. I did love and cherish her.
“But .” , I said choking with emotion , “she already has a toothbrush.”
“Then how about a diamond ear ring sir? Being the type who is a family guy , you do want good things for her right ? I mean it was the war that made you so. Be true to your self sir , don’t try be somebody else.”, she said.
“Yes yes ..”, I said wiping my tears , “yes , a diamond earring will do.” What a solution. I wanted to hug her. But did not , as I was the family man type.
As I walked out of the store , with three toothbrushes , three cartons of toothpaste ,and a diamond earring , I thanked , the attendant , she had really made me realize my true self. I was never going to try to be somebody else again.
She was neither particularly beautiful nor particularly alluring in anyway, atleast not in the conventional sense. Nor had she any particular feature that stood out or was striking to behold in any manner. In fact , she was quite plain to look at.
Her complexion could have been called dusky, but was tending more towards the darker side. She had small expressionless eyes and a rather smallish nose. Slightly sunken cheeks below rather prominent cheekbones served to give her something of a proud air. Her shoulder length hair was severely tied back into a neat ponytail. She had a large forehead ,on which were a few strands of hair ,which had escaped the severe punishment inflicted on their other brethren , and as such were showing off their rebelliousness.
She was thin of build and had smallish breasts. Her hips were wide for one with such thinness of build. She was dressed in a black, almost knee length kurti on blue jeans , which were jagged at the ends, She had on a pair of light brown floaters ,which advertised her uncut , slightly dirty toenails.
As the reader can perceive , she was quite plain . One might not have given her a second look if one had seen her on a busy street or someplace crowded. However, the place where I was then , was neither a street nor was it crowded. In fact , excluding me, her and the bookshop owner, there were two more people in there.
We were in a large used books shop. It was big but it was nothing much of a shop actually. It was on the pavement in a side alley. Lot of books were just piled on one another on raised wooden platforms. These wooden platforms were set against a 10 foot wall and this was throwing a cool shade on the shop , thus serving as protection from the sun. It was on of my favorite haunts, the coolness of the place , combined with the collection of books , afforded one the opportunity to while away several hours pleasantly , just diving through the piles and fishing for and browsing through those books. I came here almost every weekend.
It was one such weekend , a lazy Saturday afternoon. I preferred to come here on Saturdays ,because on Sundays this place became very crowded and if you are the leisurely type , you wouldn’t want to elbow nor be elbowed while browsing through books.
She was standing a few feet away from me , leafing through a book. May be she sensed that I was looking at her , she suddenly turned in my direction and looked at me . I didn’t stop looking at her. We exchanged glances for a brief moment and she went back to her leafing.
I noticed the title of the book . It was one by Dawkins, The God Delusion . I started thinking about the book . On how well Dawkins articulates , on the cogency of his thoughts , and the almost missionary passion that he brings to atheism . However , sometimes the stridency of the book disturbed me a little. As I was thinking , I noticed that she had put that book down and had picked up Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. Ofcourse , I thought , compared to Dawkins , Sagan was so balanced , couching his arguments in a much less strident language. As I started thinking about balance , and careful language and gentle critcisim , I noticed Will Durant’s Story of Philosphy. And I could not help reflecting on his balanced and almost gentle criticisms of various philosophers. As I leafed through that book , I came across a lot of philosophers whom I had always tried to understand but could not.
As I was cursorily going through the book , wondering was there any philosopher that I understood even slightly , I noticed her picking up a title by Bertrand Russell . Ofcourse , I thought , here was a man whom I understood a little atleast . I started thinking about his writings and his most famous came to my mind “ Why Am I not a Christian” . As I was recollecting what was said in the essay , thoughts about religion , about atheism and about science started coming to my mind. As I was thinking about them , I noticed some of the best works on science that I had ever read , selfish gene , climbing mount improbable , dragons of eden , cosmos . All of them first rate , all of them immensely pleasurable reads. As I was thinking about those books , I was thinking not about their contents , but about the pleasures , of curiosity , of surprise ,of admiration and most commonly of discovery that are almost always associated with them. As I was wondering , if there were any other books , by reading which I had derived so much pleasure , I noticed her leafing through a collection of short stories of Maugham .
Bingo , I thought .That was indeed one author , that I loved. I mean , his was probably some of the first novels that I had ever read. And they had left a lasting impression. As she was leafing through the book , my thoughts strayed from Maugham’s novels to his short stories and some of my favorites started coming to my mind. Lord Mount drago , alien corn , a string of beads . I reflected on his writing style , the really amazing characters , and most of all his some of his unforgettable quotes . This led me on a bylane to think about humor and thereby some of it’s practitioning authors. And ofcourse Wodehouse sprang to mind immediately. I begain thinking about his works. The eccentric characters, the rib ticklngly funny lines , and the improbable , hilarious situations. I remarked to myself that , Wodehouse’s humor indeed comes from a combination of interesting characters and improbable situations , but his humor is never insane. As I was reflecting thus , I noticed her picking up a work of Douglas Adams . Ofcourse , I thought , the undisputed emperor of insane humor.
It continued ,thus, for around two hours.
After around two hours , I noticed her coming towards me. She was smiling at me.
“Coffee honey?” , she said , “I am tired”
“Sure” , I said , “the usual place?”
“yes”, she said
As I walked out of the shop with her , she said ,” You know ,that was the one of the best conversations I ever had”
I beamed down at my wife of two years. I was so glad I had married her.
“We are extremely pleased to welcome you into this organization. We take this opportunity to both apprise you of your duties to the organization and also to tell you of the duties that the organization realizes that it has towards you. We also ……..”
The speaker continued as all of us listened in rapt attention. That was the director of the organization speaking to us on our first day at the office. I was particularly attentive and was craning forwards in my seat. I did not want to miss a single word of what he was saying. And the speaker was doing a great job of holding my attention. He was experienced – he had worked in the organization for just slightly under a billion years now – so I figured if anyone could talk with any authority and conviction about the organization I was going to work for , it was this guy. And he was a very good orator. And ofcourse it helped that he was peppering his speech with a lot of suggestively lewd jokes.
“ So rememeber guys and pretty girls …” , the director concluded , “the organization is like your family. It will nurture you, protect you and be with you in your times of need, but you also need to realize your duties towards the family. Then it will be one big happy family, growing bigger and happier because of the likes of you…”
The hall came down in thundering applause.
“Wow”, I thought, “what other fitting description of the organization than this. In fact I am sure the organization is actually a family.”
I was convinced actually because it was rumored that only the director of the organization and a select lucky few regularly conferred with the organization in a very secret corner room at the top of a very tall ivory tower situated on an unknown and normally inaccessible island on an otherwise uninhabited planet beyond the outer reaches of the Andromeda galaxy.
“I want to be among that lucky few one day”, I resolved to myself. So what if it had taken the director of the organization a billion years to do that . What with the attrition nowadays it might actually come down to three quarters of a billion years for me.
(Sorry I forgot to tell you that we are a very long lived race. Similar to the human beings in every respect but very long lived. That makes our lives fractionally more interesting. Ten raised to the power of negative 25 to be exact)
Thus started my stint with the organization. Determined in actions and clear in resolve.
First came the training period. It was stipulated to be upto half a century but in some cases it could be as long as a century. It was rumored that there were a few who had trained for a couple of centuries, but I had never met them, so I decided to treat them like I treated any other rumor – very seriously.
During this period , I attended a strategy session. It was called “Competition and how to ignore it” . I just loved it. Not the least because it was being presided upon by the deputy associate assistant vice director of the organization (four levels below the director). This guy knew what he was talking about. He concluded his talk thus, “ remember pretty guys and girls (did I tell you this guy was gay?). The organization does not tolerate competition. ”
I loved it . “Wow”, I thought, “ I guess the organization is like a warrior. A knight clad in shining black armor , riding a blacker horse , swinging a huge 7 feet sword( the warrior was 14 ft tall) and mercilessly hacking away at anyone who dared to stand in his way”
The more I thought about it , the more appropriate it sounded and the more I wanted to meet this warrior.
My training concluded , I took up my responsibilities. I worked very hard , my only aim in my professional life to be among the lucky few to meet the organization.
Five centuries passed thus.
At around the middle of the sixth century , there was a case of huge number of layoffs in the organization. I was among the lucky ones to be spared.
I attended a meeting after this case of layoffs which was presided by the both the President of Human resources and the president of Non Human resources of our organization. (It was rumored that the latter held far more power in the organization. I believed this , because this guy was rumored to be among the lucky few to meet the organization).
“ Remember pretty guys and pretty girls” , they concluded, (they were bi sexual) , “the organization clearly recognizes what elements to weed out”
“Wow” , I thought , “ the organization is like a gardener after all, carefully and lovingly nurturing the flowers in his garden and hacking of the weeds.”
The more I thought about it, the more it sounded appropriate.
After around 2 million years with the company , I was yet to be promoted. For the first time in my stint with the organization , I felt a little insecure and disappointed. I felt like quitting. But decided to talk to my boss. He succeeded in talking me out of it.
“The organization has it’s own accumulated wisdom and experience to decide what is good for you and what you need. Don’t worry , your time will come.” , he told me.
“wow”, I thought, “ the organization is really like a very wise ,very old man with a flowing white beard and a equally flowing white robes. It will definitely take care of me”
The more I thought about it, the more appropriate it sounded.
Fifty million years later, I had become the associate assistant deputy vice director (thrice removed) of the organization.
I attended another strategy session , which was called “WE ROCK – THEY SUCK”
I was excited. I always wanted to attend these sessions ,but it was possible only now as I attained this level in the organization. It was presided by the director of the organization.
“So remember guys and girls” (he was too old to be anything by then) ,he concluded, “the organization just tramples anyone in it’s path”
“Wow” , I thought , “ the organization really is like a fire breathing dragon. It just swoops in and occupies any territory that it wants , anyone in it’s way would just be turned into a tiny wisp of smoke”
The more I thought about it, the more appropriate it sounded.
Quarter of a billion years later….
I had arrived. I had become the second to second vice director of the organization( once removed). I was to be among the select lucky few to meet the organization. The director had just told me that.
I was thrilled.
I was excited. Finally , the day I had been looking forward to for so many days , was becoming a reality.
This was what I had been living for, this was what I had been working for.
To meet the organization, to confer with it, take it’s blessings and advice.
But most of all , I wanted to see how the organization looked. What it actually was.
I had imagined it to be so many things , in so many different forms and doing so many different things.
But what was it in reality? Was it one of these things , none of these things , or all of these things or did it simply changed form according to the situation? If it was the last was it really possible for the organization to be in so many forms in so many different situations.
These were the questions that were plaguing my mind. And I kept asking my director about it. He just smiled and said , “you will see for yourself”
Finally, the big day.
We traveled to the end of the Andromeda galaxy , reached the island and went up to the top of the ivory tower. I was beside myself with excitement and tension.
There was the final door. Beyond it was the organization. One more step and there was it.
I was very nervous as the door was being opened.
The door opened and there was it was . The organization!!!!! Right in the middle of the room.
The director immediately fell to his knees on seeing it. So did all the others.
As I also tried to kneel, I felt a very sharp pain in my left hand , which very swiftly traveled to my heart.
I was falling down clutching my heart. I was dying of cardiac arrest. I guess the shock was too much for me.
As my eyes were closing, in my final moment, I heard the squeak of the mouse in the center of the room.