This is a blog about writing. Mostly short fiction. And occasional personal rant once in a while, if I may. Feel free to make your comments and feel sane again.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Business Of Life

I went under the 'Are you depressed' quiz developed by the University of Philadelphia. The verdict? Chronic. Immediate hospitalisation recommended.

Here is a story to match my mood.

She took a quick shower and put on his favorite brown and black bra and matching panties. She splashed both sides of her breasts with fake Eternity. The doorbell rang when she was getting into her black gown. "Two short, three long. Him all right," she murmured and opened the door.

He lurched in. His beady eyes blood shot, breath full of cheap whiskey, faded brown hair over the furrowed forehead and shriveled tie half way across his polyester shirt. He whistled a Kishor Kumar tune from sweet sixties.

"Get me a drink." He handed over his briefcase and sat down.

She massaged his neck and asked in a small voice: "Hard day out there?

"As hard as it can get."

She poured a dose of whisky for him and sat down on the easy chair in front of him.

He gulped his drink in one swift tilt and looked around the dice-size room. A cheap plaster statue of Jesus was added to the small table by the door. He smiled and sprawled his fat self on the tattered sofa.

He lit a Charminar. His thoughts floated on the tired traffic noises.

"Women are either bitchy or witchy. What type are you?" He asked.

"That is some question. I am not bitchy, that makes me witchy."

"It figures. You scare me."

"Why do I scare you? I don’t get it." The woman smiled.

"I feel like I am playing in your hands." His voice was getting drowsy.

"I never try to-"

"That’s it. You make a soft putty out of me without really trying."

"I can’t argue with a drunk." She playfully punched his shoulder and removed his tie, then led him into her bed-size bedroom.

He put his head in her lap and stretched across the bed. She fingered his dry hair and pouted.

"Not tonight dear," he closed his eyes.

"It’s okay."

She patted his hairy chest as he started snoring. She carefully lifted his head and inserted a small pillow underneath. She kissed his feverish temple, turned on her side, and fell asleep in a moment.

Early afternoon noises penetrated her sleep. Instinctively, she reached for him before opening her eyes. He was gone.

His forgotten toothbrush and razor rested on the sink. She went to the door to get her milk pouch and noticed a folded paper tucked under the ashtray. She read the note: Please don’t do a lip-to-lip kiss with anyone else. Five hundred rupees were stapled to the perfumed note.

She kissed the note and stuffed the money in her purse. "Back to work," she mumbled and fought her tears.

She hated to do last minute errands before the business begun. She checked the wooden cabinet in her bathroom for scented soaps, Dettol and towels. She always kept condoms, silk ropes, handcuffs, and things in a handy plastic box. And one strip of Viagra in her tiny fridge for special customers.

"How cleverly I have separated my love and my work life!" She smiled and prepared for the night ahead.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

To Whomsoever It May Concern

I enjoy reading good poetry. Robert Frost is one of all time favorite. I like the work of late Mr. Arun Kolatkar, P. Surendran (very depressive) and Jeet Thayil. I am a hopeless fan of Tishani Doshi.
I write terrbile poetry but writing them them is very useful when I feel blocked. Probably because it is a practically sensor-free form. I don't have to show off my junk to anyone else.
This one has no claim to high brow literature; it is written for an entirely different reason.

To Whomsoever It May Concern - a poem in shape of a flower pot.

Instead of your slow smile,
or a warm, self-conscious hug,
I had to face that cloudy look
in your eyes.
You didn’t cry,
But it was worse.
Tears gleamed
Despite your
feminist bravado.
You smudged your
fautia lipstick by mistake,
And ran into bedroom while
I stood in the neutral territory,
Of our modest drawing room,
Under the eyes of nosy neighbors.
I felt like a thug who had kicked
a helpless child. I had broken the
promise to fetch you for a boring
done-to-death tearjerker movie.
You probably forgave me later,
But I could not, and learnt to
sleep through the tearjerkers
So that I do not have to see
the real thing in your eyes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mr. Nameless

How I wrote it / Why I wrote it:

Loud elections, promise-spitting politicians and forthright voting are the flavour of the season. However, the real kingmakers are the bureaucrats. Khadi-clads you can change after five years or less, but those supposedly form-filling, stamp-wielding, file-pushing bureaucrats remain still as a statue, permanently frozen behind their desks. After two months of follow ups my election ID card exists only in my imagination. I will miss that one-second-in-five-years glory.


Mr. Nameless

We are at a place nobody would expect us to be. I am nervous because this is my first time.

It is well over midnight, and the swirling, colorful strobe lights and their wild, psychedelic patterns reflecting on everything else in the dancing bar make my head spin. I am bored to teeth. We have chosen a table that is far from the cash counter. We are facing the two feet high stage decorated like a garish dance show set. An overhead speaker camouflages our words from the possible eavesdroppers. Two dozen odd girls with various degrees of skin and flab are dancing to the tune of a fast Bollywood track. Most of the patrons are male, too absorbed in the show to notice each other or us.

The place smells of alcohol, spicy food, cigarettes and cheap perfumes. There is plenty of booze on the table but I cannot afford to lose my nerve or senses at this moment. Once again, I reach under the table and feel for the heavy plastic packet clasped between my ankles.

Mr. Nameless from MSEB dips his salted wafers into the sauce bowl and munches thoughtfully. He shows no sigh of hurry. He doesn't have an electronic punching machine, locks and levers at his office, but I do. He doesn't have to worry about minimum 54 hours a week record, the cut throat quarterly business reviews or promotions. I do. No matter, I have no choice but to comply and sit tight. So I take a sip from my watery whiskey and look at the girls. They look as bored, as desperate and as tired as I am.

Mr. Nameless looks every inch a fat cat bureaucrat in his olive green safari suit and sports a football size pot belly. His lined face shows the signs of forty years of pen-pushing and his desk bound routine. His sharp nose, pointed chin and the habit to jerk his head this way and that way reminds me of a human-size woodpecker from cartoon films. How I wish they could be extinct.

We have finished our little dialogue within a few minutes before the drinks arrived. He knows my company's requirements in black and white. Double the three phase, 440 watt, industrial lines at our Panvel factory. Put up a few additional poles between the power station and the Thane factory with capacitors and boosters to improve the Ampere ratio and the voltage. Make sure that the stolen power is not billed to the company. Make sure that local crowd or farmers do not share, damage or disrupt the power supply. Keep the transmission lines in pick conditions specially during monsoons. Maintain the minimum transmission loss ratio. Do not give new connections to other factories without our tacit permission. Keep the coals and diesel in full supply at the nearby substation irrespective of the shortage or fluctuating market rates. Do all these without involving more paper work and more sanctions from various government agencies and khadi-clads. Do this before the construction of the new unit at the factory gets in the final stage. Give informal but accurate updates on work progress. I know this chart by heart because, as per the company policy, the trial production run date from the new unit is cast in iron.

Mr. Nameless earns a salary of Rs 21000 plus allowances but he lives in three bedroom apartment at Walkeshwar, Mumbai's A-list area. He changes his car, his interiors and his physician every two years. He was operated for appendicitis at Breach Candy recently. His 19-year old son is studying at a snob-job foreign university. His daughter owns three 1000-acre farms in Nerul and Lonawala each. Her personal investments run into crores. Our company has no details of the family's bank accounts or other assets but we can make a wild guess.

The music in the dancing bar changes to a crude kawaali number. A fresh set of girls dressed in mujra costumes arrives on the stage and start their act. I feel like chewing my tongue off but I need not worry. The change in music is a boon in disguise. Mr Nameless doesn't like the kawaali either. He shakes off his slumber and tosses his final drink down the gullet.

"I need some fresh air. Are you ready?"

I thrust a hundred into a Nepalese girl's hand, signal for the bill and pay in cash.

I lift the plastic packet from under the table and follow Mr. Nameless out of the place. The road is deserted but I keep an adroit distance between him and myself. After a hundred yard walk, he turns, looks around to assure himself and enters the dark street.

He knows this place and his routine inside out. I don't. Sweat rolls down my back as I try to catch up with him.

We face each other as Mr. Nameless lights a rolled joint. His thick glasses reflect the dancing fire of his lighter. I feel the rush in my blood stream as the intoxicating smoke hits my face. My skin crawls in crazy anticipation of a weightless, free-floating feeling. For an illusive moment, I forget the reason why are we here, whose payroll I am on, the load inside the package and the time on my wristwatch.

"Are we ready yet?" He asks.

I fight an irrational impulse and hand over the hefty plastic packet. "You can count the number of bundles inside," I say. My voice is steady and matches my normalcy level.

"You can count the bundles."

Mr. Nameless drags hard on his white roach, like a super efficient suction pump. "I trust you."

My mobile rings as I hand over the booty and I am back to reality. The call is straight from the top.

"Excuse me." I mumble and walk a safe distance away to talk.

"Where are you? Don't drop it. It'll be done through other point man," the bossman informs me without a preamble.

"I have already dropped it."

"Damn. Get it back. Get it all back." The phone is slammed down to make it count.

My heart rate goes up like a wild bull charge on Dalal Street. After a moment of confusion, I approach Mr. Nameless from MSEB.

"It's taken care of this time. I'll tell you next time," I say, half-expecting the packet back.

I can't see Mr Namelss's face but I can hear his alcohol-tainted, ganja-induced smirk. He tosses the joint on the garbage dump and watches it die a slow death.

"May be, I am the one who gets it done," he says.

"That's not possible. We're using a different channel for this."

"Look at it this way. May be I can get it undone. I know the keys and catches, nooks and corners." His laughter echoes through the dark, witness-free street.

I have no retort for that. I don't have the advantage of being a government-protected drunk dabbler either.

Mr. Nameless from MSEB stops laughing. "The sweet is for... not getting it undone, you can tell your management," he says.

He places his fat paw on my shoulder and lets it slide down. He slips a little something into my hand.

"I pay the taxes. I am covering your end too, do you get it?" He says.

It is my turn to laugh now. We part as friends, with pearly gates of bright future wide open for both of us.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Name Is...

How I wrote it / Why I wrote it:

It's a familiar feeling. I sit down in front of my computer and look at the blank screen with a peculiar dread. Nothing happens. So I start typing at random. Words. Phrases. Overheard remarks. A piece of headline from here and there. Loose, irrelevant, absurd, snatches from distant past and not-so-distant past. Images from half-remembered, half-imagined dreams. All of them take a stroll on the computer screen. In less than five minutes, my head feels empty, reasonably clear and certainly lighter. Receptive is the perfect word for that state of mind.

I pour out the first draft in thirty minutes or less. And finally, word by word, sentence by sentence, a story emerges like a shy princess out of her super-protective cocoon. Pretty she is not, till I lose the sense of time and place. My tea forgotten, terrace garden overflowing with water, and I am late for the gym already. But there it is. A flash story. A princess in her perfect gown, even if I say so myself.


My Name Is...

I am late for the interview. Not because I wanted to but because of my rickety bike. I am soaked in sweat and disgust when I enter the hotel lobby. Feeling like a cheap thief in the five star ambiance, I run down the corridor, try to wash the black soot off my hands, and enter the glitzy restaurant.

Mr. Success is waiting for me. I had met him eight years before, when he was a wiry young man, barely out of IIM-A, brimming with ideas to rock the business world. He moved faster than my imagination. The next interview took place over the phone, when I was in a telephone booth and he was in Silicon Valley, California, on the day his start up company was listed on NYSE and stock exchanges across India. He must be in his early thirties now but it doesn't show. He has added a patch of white hair, a bit of paunch and the hint of crow feet is evident, but he still wears rumpled linen jackets and looks as restless as a gnat.

After becoming a dotcom billionaire, he started a chain of boutique hotels and organic food chain. He sold most of his patterns for undisclosed sum in US market, got married to a pretty air hostess who turned out to be more headstrong than she was supposed to. His investment went down the chute in the recent meltdown. Soon after he returned to India. Reportedly his wife branched out. Nowadays, he is seen more on party circuit than in boardroom battles. I give him my visiting card.

He stifles a laugh and shoves the card into his pocket.

"Funny name. I remember you alright," Mr.Success says cheerfully. "Order!"

We start with a beer but I am slow with it. I need a clear head and a good story. I have less than 24 hours to write and file a story.

"There is no story this time." Mr. Success looks around the place and tells me. "I am sorry to disappoint you."

I switch on the Dictaphone anyway and take a careful sip. My beer tastes like tap water. My stomach feels hollow. I try to think of a different angle fast and draw a blank. My last three stories have landed in the editor's waste bin. This one is make or break for me. End of life line.

"Give me something. Anything other than recession, stories of losers and promises of charlatans," I say. "I want the readers to feel good."

Mr. Success laughs. "I am through with my retailing venture. We can never meet the projections we made to shareholders. I am selling the company to our competitor while most of the assets still hold good."

"Still in profit?"

"Personally yes. As a business model, no. My other investments have shrunk beyond recognition. You know that down to the last penny on the balance sheet, don't you?


"Not much else. I am moving out of the bustle of the city. Shifting to a remote village in Uttaranchal. My wife is starting a school there. I'll have plenty of time for my family now. A long vacation away from sharks in suits. I can use some free time."

"Yes, there'll be plenty of free time out there."

Mr.Success shuffles the menu this way and that way. He orders a big dinner. "My last super from company's perks. Like everyone else, before the company changes hands." He raises his glass.


I see red everywhere. There is no point in hiding my disappointment now. "This is not the kind of story I had in mind," I say.

"No drama. No twist. No high-voltage corporate intrigues."


Mr. Success leans forward, his face inches away from mine. His Brute makes me hold my breath.

"But you are delivering, ain't you ? With a name like Failure, you are supposed to deliver a lame duck. And this will be one. Right?

Mr. Success smiles once again and we drink the final toast to that piece of sharp dart.