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Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Latest Short Story

 Here's the link to my latest short story, on Christmas, this time (Link to "Christmas with Cheriachen" page). Please read and comment here or on the Caferati board.

The story is about a lonely couple who spend Christmas away from their daughters, who are in ersatz heavens (according to protagonist Cheriachen) - US and Ireland - where there is much joy and everything is free, free, free. They are in for a rude shock.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Do You Believe It?

“Three in one, three in one. Three movies for the price of one.”

He looks tired, his hair has not been dyed for a long time, white strands show under the black color that has been washed away. His voice grates. The evening is hot. The junction is clamoring with vehicles.

Pakya spits, drinks the glass of water in the smudged tumbler, gargles. Sweat beads, and drips inside his shirt.

“Which picture?”

“Loot Gayee Laila, Don, and Unkahee Chahat.”


“It’s a hit. Laila’s honor has been looted. Genuine movie, what acting, just like real.”

“How much?” Pakya asked.

“Rupees fifteen for three movies, aree, baap, no sisterfucking theater will show you three movies. This Javed Kanya guarantees.”

There’s a poster of Amitabh Bachhan and Zeenat Aman, stars of Don, and a lurid poster of Loot Gayee Laila. Laila shows a lot of smooth, chubby thighs, and a heavy bosom. It is dark and Pakya can’t see too well. The tea stall is clamoring with people sipping tea. A stove hisses below a steaming vessel, the stall-owner adds to the cacophony by banging his ladle loudly on it.

Should he go in? The so-called theatre is in a slum, there is a dark room that opens through what can be called a door, some seedy looking characters lounge near the door, suspiciously looking like murderers or rapists or both.

Pakya takes the glass of tea and sips it, downing it with the slow deliberation that wants to make the sweetness last.

The night is young and Pakya badly wants something to happen. That would include a visit to the dance bar, which is expensive, or this dingy, ugly little room in a slum that shows X-rated movies for Rs fifteen on a big LCD screen.

But he doesn’t like the look of Javed Kanya, who is dressed in white shirt and trousers, which were white once. That was long ago. Now it is a shade of brown. He is one-eyed, he squints. His long-sleeved shirt isn’t buttoned. The shirt front is open and the sleeves flaps about as he moves. His mouth is masticating betel nut, and when he speak the red juice runs down the corners of his mouth.

“Don, we are showing the old Don, starring Amitabh Bachhan, not the new Don, starring Sharukh Khan, baap,” he wipes his mouth with his hand, and afterwards scoops his private parts with the same hands and kneads them, balls and all. He shifts his hands and legs around a lot, in a sort of filmy style.

“What’s the difference between that Don and this Don?” Pakya asks.

“Old Don, Amitabh Bachhan, new Don, Sharukh Khan. What is Amitabh? What is Sharukh?” He ends his sentence with a derogatory lowering of his jaw.


Pakya looks at the inviting posters and imagines the bliss of seeing it all. At least the mystery of Laila’s taut thighs and bosom would be solved when he sees her on screen. Pakya drools. The sensation of lust passes down his head to his toes, pausing at his crotch. He craves some entertainment, the crasser the better. His works in an automobile spare parts shop doesn’t offer him any satisfaction. He is constantly fetching parts for his corpulent boss who sits, and sits the whole day smoking, and ordering him around. The work frustrates him so much that he needs to escape every evening.

“Make up your mind fast, fast. What? Or, you won’t even get a ticket for Rupees Thirty. This Don is the best movie every produced. I can dare anyone to contradict me. Even our real-life Don grew up on this movie.”

“Which real-life Don?”

“Arree, what Don, you don’t know. He grew up here. Have you ever heard of Chota Chetan?”

“Arre, that Don? Who doesn’t? What, you know him?” Pakya is amazed. Chota Chetan is the country most wanted man.

“Know him? We played cricket together, he and I. We sold tickets in black market together. We were close buddies once.”

“And you?”

“Fate. He makes movies now. He controls a criminal empire. I am still a hustler of movie tickets. He sits abroad, I am here.”

So sad. But he could be lying.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe it or not, it’s your choice. Tell me do you want tickets, kali fokat, don’t be too smart, what?”

He turns away to hustle some more.

“Hey Kanya, I will buy your ticket, huhn? But tell me your story. I mean, your story and Chota Chetan’s,” Pakya beckons.


Pakya hands him the money. Kanya wets his fingers with spit, tears a ticket and gives it. There’s a long time for the show to start. The evening is getting warmer. It must be hot inside the theatre.

“Then listen. First buy me half a glass of cutting tea.”

Pakya looks at his face, a million finely etched wrinkles crowd it like spider webs. He has only a few teeth left in his mouth, his speech is rough, disjointed.

“He and I were friends,” he says blowing into his tea, “why, we are friends even now. If he came here we would have a drink. He is from these parts, we grew up together, played cricket together.”

“Really?” Pakya is incredulous. His mouth hangs open. He had only read about Chota Chetan’s exploits from newspapers and television channels. That this ruin of a man knows, or knew, the real Don, the real real Don, not the Don of the films, fascinates him.

“Yes. And we sold tickets of the old movie Don together at the local theatre.”

“What does he look like?”

Javed Kanya tries to remember, but his memory isn’t that sharp. He wipes his mouth with his sleeve and leaves a long stain on it.

“Short, long hair just like you. He always used to toss it off his eyes. And yes he used to walk very fast, his rubber slippers flopping after him.”

“How did he become so big a Don and you are left in this dump?” Pakya asks motioning towards the dilapidated theatre made of tin sheets. Some Hindi music plays inside. It seems odd, but life can be odd.

“I can make a picture with that story. Tell you a secret? Chota Chetan was inspired by this movie Don, the old Amitabh Bachhan movie, I mean.”

“How? You mean the movie Don created a Don in real life? You mean he became a gangster because of this movie? Tell me how.” Pakya asks incredulously, his jaws dropping further.

“Listen, words have power, they are sharper than any knife, can penetrate you more than any bullet. Javed Kanya knows.”

“You think I am a chootiya, a fool to believe you?”

“Abey, don’t call me Chootiya, what?”

Then Pakya remembers he is a friend of the real Don, and shuts himself up and listens.

“Those days… what a life we had. We were only small children, innocent of the ways of the world. We thought selling tickets in black was fun. Chota Cheta was a youngster like you. We did it for want of something to do. Just like that. It would fetch some money to buy clothes, a bike, and we could see movies for free.”

He is silent for a long time. The clamor of traffic around the junction is getting louder. More people are anxiously gathering around the theatre. Javed Kanya seems too engrossed in his story to care.

“We used to sit in the back rows and whistle and clap as Amitabh came on screen. Chetan would be too engrossed in the movie. His eyes would light up, he would jump on his seat, clap, whistle, and throw money at his hero. He was a bit too involved. Remember I told you words have power. ”

Finally, Kanya drank what was left of the tea and spat on the road.

“You know this dialogue, ‘Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi namumkin hai’? To catch the Don is not only difficult, it is impossible.”

“Yes. That’s my favorite dialogue.”

“His favorite dialogue too. Those words… that snatch of movie dialog… they have such power… it was written by fire in his soul. He has been on the run for so long and believes nobody can catch him, not his enemies, not the police. I doubt if they ever will. I know him.”

“Aree, your mother’s! What are you talking?”

“Yes. Only he believed in those words so strongly, so strongly, they have tried everything, the police, his enemies, the Interpol, the spy rings, they still can’t arrest him.”

“What? I can’t believe it. A mere dialog of a movie can’t turn a middle-class boy into one of the country’s biggest criminals.”

“Believe it or not, it’s up to you. But this is his story. He believed. I didn’t believe in anything. That’s why I am here, and he is where he is. Now I have to go, got to sell more tickets.”

He ambled away, a broken, decrepit aging man, his hair like wisps of candy floss.


After the movie Pakya looked around for Javed Kanya. He was there lolling against the makeshift table that had a cash box and a bossy-looking man sitting in a plastic chair.

“Do you believe me now?” Kanya asked.

“No, I still can’t,” Pakya says shaking his head. He could never believe that a mere movie - floating pictures and dialogues on a screen - can create a real life criminal as powerful as Chota Chetan.

But who knows? He is one of the disbelievers like Javed Kanya here who don’t believe in anything, and drift aimlessly as a leaf in the monsoon wind.

“Disbelief cannot alter the truth,” Kanya says wistfully. The night is hot as Pakya walks home. He fervently hopes he isn’t inspired too much by the movie to become a criminal.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Complete Man

“Georgie, you should eat your medicines.”

“Yes, you must,” they all agree.

His brothers Luke and Sam are here to make him take his anti-depression medicines regularly. So are his former classmates and childhood friends, Ravindran, Sanjayan and Gopi.

Georgie is acting strange. He is depressed. He won’t go to work. He lies all day in bed and reads strange, spiritual books. He knocks on people’s doors and says weird things. Things like:

“They are coming for us. Don’t open the doors.”

“There is a riot going to happen. Close all doors.”

“The Americans are going to bomb us. George Bush is coming. Take shelter. Go to the maidan and lie flat on the ground.”

He imagines things and thinks they are for real. He wasn’t like this, his brothers Luke and Sam agree. In fact, Georgie was the most brilliant of the three. A good student, a good sportsman, a good marksman, a good speaker, a good… in fact… good at everything he did. He would score maximum runs for the Red House he led in school, win hundreds of marbles in games, win the elocution and memory competitions, come first in the art and writing competitions, and still stand first in class.

Everybody was jealous. Jealous that he was so talented and they weren’t.

“He was good in everything?” Ravindran, an artist who now has a cult following in the advertising profession reminisced. He is content with the way life has treated him, with a lot of money and fame. For him Georgie is now the past, though he felt sympathetic. He remembered the time they would spend together in the school compound chasing butterflies, and Georgie laughing his good natured laugh. He doesn’t deserve this, he thought. Secretly Ravindran was jealous of Georgie in school . He always tried to outdo him in drawing and painting and each time he failed.


The school term was about to end. Ravindran, captain of the Yellow house, was worried about his house’s performance. They would add up the scores in the art and writing competitions and his house would be last in the list of honors. His main rival was Georgie, captain of the Red House, and nobody could beat him in drawing, painting and writing.

Slyly he made a plan. He tackled Georgie rather roughly from behind during the afternoon football game prior to chasing butterflies. George fell and his hand was sprained and had to be cast. But he came back for the art and writing competitions with his hand in a cast. He scored well and took Red House far ahead of Yellow House. Ravindran had lost face.


“Georgie, you should eat your medicines. You shouldn’t worry about what America or George Bush does. It’s their worry,” Sanjayan said. Sanjayan is now a chief executive of a newspaper group, and is widely traveled. Around him there is the smell of success, which is actually the smell of the various expensive colognes he buys when he is abroad.

“No. It’s my worry, no? My children are growing up. I have to support them, no?”

“But first you got to go to work and earn, to make your children secure, like this you have no security only,” Luke the elder brother says impatiently. He seems an impatient man.


Back in school Sanjayan was the goal keeper of the Blue House and he was also a part of the humungous jealousy that Georgie generated in students of AFAC School (students of a rival school expanded this to “After Farting Attending Classes.”) He couldn’t understand how Georgie could do everything he did with complete dedication and seriousness. If he sets himself upon scoring a goal, he did it with an intensity that was frightening.

He was terrorized by Georgie’s appearance anywhere near his goal post. Georgie’s marksmanship was unerring and he could maneuver himself from any angle to score a goal. No goalkeeper was safe with Georgie around. Jealousy rose like a tide inside Sanjayan.

So when Georgie came menacingly towards him during a friendly football match, he saw his chance. He dived, collected the ball and gave it a kick in Georgie’s direction, aiming it at his face. The aim was accurate. The ball hit his face, and Georgie fell down. The kick of the ball had taken him by surprise. His nose bled and he had to be carried away to the school office before Luke came to escort him home.


“He was so brilliant, I was scared of his brilliance,” Gopi says. Gopi heads a knowledge process outsourcing project. He has a fetish for expensive shoes and casual wear.

“Yes, I, too,” Ravindran says.

“But he is still intelligent. He needs your sympathy and he would be all right,” Sam says. Sam is the younger brother, a softer version of Georgie. All brother look alike.

“That’s why we are here,” Gopi says, “I thought he would be someone very big some day. Not like this.”

“What do you mean?” Georgie asks indignantly. He thinks the people gathered in the room are a bunch of hypocrites, and knows what they have done to him. How dare they talk about him this way, as if he was some object, a dog that wouldn’t obey its master?

Georgie prefers not to say anything. He keeps to himself. He listens and listens to everyone’s opinion of him, and grows more and more estranged. Why do they talk about me thus? He wonders. This loneliness had turned into self-absorption, and then into seeking solace in drinks. When the world cut him out, he wanted to cut them out, as simple as that.

But a hypocrite such as Gopi seems to be provoking him too much today.

“He was so quiet and so dedicated to his work,” Sanjayan says, “He would solve algebra sums in no time, and I used to take my doubts to him.”

“This one here is the biggest hypocrite of all,” Georgie thinks. Gracy, his wife makes an entry, balancing a tray in both hands. She puts the tray down on the teapoy and with her slender arms passes tea around the room.

“You all tell him, no? I say to him take medicine, take medicine, all the time. He won’t listen to me, only.”

“You shut up, don’t talk,” Georgie tells her.

“I won’t shut up. You shut up. What?”

“If you don’t shut up, I will shut you up,” George’s face darkens with rage.

“People, imagine how I live with a man who talks this way,” Gracy says to everyone, “I don’t want to live with him. I will go to the police.”

For a moment Georgie looks like he would throw something at Gracy, but he doesn’t. He has a sweet nature, everyone knows.

Instead he says, “Does anyone know what that means?” He points to an elaborately framed picture on the wall. The picture shows a man and a woman, standing close together with an intimacy that could only mean they are lovers.

Everyone present shakes their head.

“The complete man. I wanted to be a complete man, once, perfect in everything I did,” his voice is inaudible.

There is a moment’s silence, as the meaning sinks in. His friends and his brothers look at each other and then at the brilliant man, now the antithesis of his own perfection.

“But, look at you, what complete? You are hardly a man,” Gracy’s harsh voice cuts in and then she ambles towards the kitchen.


Gopi was the boy with writing abilities in school. He fancied himself as a future writer. But competition was stiff from Georgie. A love for literature and fine writing bound them. They used to exchange classic novels in comic format that they would borrow from the lending library paying Rs 1.50 each. Thus they would get to read two classic comics for the price of one.

One day Georgie had exchanged the comic version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe with Rajendran’s Superman comic without informing Gopi. He came to know of this. Georgie confessed it was his fault. But, jealousy was a big thing, eating into their little personas, especially when they were children just forming the iron-cast personalities of their future lives.

Gopi stopped talking to Georgie. He thought that was the best way to punish him. He didn’t know what harm he had done. Georgie is hurt so easily, he has a tender mind, a tender soul. His soul cried for his friendship with Gopi. It was years later that they started talking.

Now as Gopi sat before him everyone wondered how he had succeeded when Georgie had failed. Gopi owned a car, a large flat, and wore expensive dress shoes. But Georgie’s house was barren, the paint was peeling and he wore dusty slippers.


“Georgie you must eat your medicines,” Gopi says.

Georgie can’t take it anymore.

“See this jealous hypocrite. See what he is saying. Have you all no shame, where were you when I was really in need?” Georgie couldn’t control his words, he has lost touch with reality.

His friends and his siblings sit with mouths agape. Shock: disbelief: incomprehension.

The room falls silent. They do not talk for a long while. They realize they are all guilty of what happened to their brilliant friend/brother Georgie. If only they were a bit kinder to him forty years ago, in school, at home. They are all comfortable in their jobs and careers they have selfishly carved for themselves over the years, but they never even thought of the cruelty they had inflicted. Georgie was like the punching bag in the school gymnasium. Now that it’s too late, they realize that their words echo with hypocrisy, and their attempts at helping Georgie seems like a big sham.

The tea grows cold, the steam stops rising from the rims of the cups. They all rise to leave and Georgie escorts them to the door.

“Anyway, thank you for coming, so kind of you,” he says at the door.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Laughing Gas

She is ahead of him in the crowd. She is wearing the shortest of kurtas and a churidar that is so tight the buns of her behind form a perfect round football-ish sphere in red. The skin is so fair it is almost golden ("The golden girls" is the name he has coined for her type. They seem to have stepped right out of a golden chariot driven by Eros himself), the profile of the face is even and so well formed that water would glide from her forehead and touch only her nose and would slither further down and only touch the fronts of her breasts. She is wearing heels and the sleeveless yellow kurta only covers up to her waist. Aaah, he groans.

Adrenaline pumps. Nitrous oxide, or, laughing gas releases into his scrotal region, dilating the blood vessels, so that more blood pumps into his sexual organs. He had read in medical school that the reason for an erection is quite simply, nitrous oxide, or, laughing gas. Ha... ha... ha....

He remembers the texts he had read in physiology. "Mechanically erection can be compared to an electromechanically controlled hydraulic system. The most important roles in the phase of erection are played by nitrous oxide and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP)." So the sexual process is nothing but a release of laughing gas, the physician concludes. He as a doctor knows.

He... he... he....

But the exquisiteness of the human being in front of him is what he cannot understand though he has closely examined many of them in the hospital. But then there he is a physician, but here? What's wrong with him? Has he forgotten medical ethics?

He feels an urge to talk to her, but she doesn't look at anyone. She is inhabiting a world presided by the deity Eros, lost in some sweet memory of someone. A man? A woman? That someone is very lucky to at least know her. Of course, she would like to meet and talk to a post-graduate physician such as him.

Model? No. Airhostess? No. Office worker? Could be.

He was sure the work in the mundane and drab office in some congested lane in Andheri would grind to a halt today. Everyone would be staring lustily at her buns, her slow lilting walk, her silky black hair. Could he talk to her.

From what he could see from behind, as he slowly inches forward on the Kurla railway bridge is a soft cheek, and a bit of down around the ear. The slow-moving crowd has come to the end of the bridge and is slowly descending the steps to the west of Kurla. He is careful to keep right behind her, and it's easy because on both sides are slowly inching office goers clutch their rexine bags.

May be, at the exit when there is some more space he can walk ahead and introduce himself with a killer pick-up line. Something like, "Hey beautiful, it's a sunny day, can we make it funny?" No, that won't do. It has to be a lot better than that.

The crowd has moved glacially to the end of the stairs and is dispersing now. The slow crawl has come to an end. Now is his chance. he walks ahead. His heart thudding he prepares to turn around, he does.

"Hi! Darling! Goodu Maarrniinnggguu!"

He could have killed that man, the boor! He feels rage. Some men are so crude. This Road Romeo is dressed in cheap jeans, has his cowlick falling over his eyes, and has a hundred bursting pimples on his scarred face.

He walks ahead, glances back at her one last time. He freezes.

She has earplugs on! She is listening to music. There's no way she could have heard either him or the Road Romeo. He heaves a sigh, then groans, and then laughs ha... ha... ha.... After all, it's only laughing gas.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Notes of a Nag and a Roisterer

Came across this NY Times article about Germaine Greer's The Madwoman's Underclothes from Annie's blog


Germaine Greer has never truly been a writer. Her spirit has illuminated her written word as if the very act of expressing herself were but a brief, rushed gathering-up of her living. She is, perhaps, one of the marvelous letter writers of an age that no longer trifles with them much. Her essays, columns and books - transcripts as they are of a heroic heart and intellect - seem to have been dashed off in the fire and dispatched to her many sisters. Feminism as a literary family.


To read more click here: Notes of a Nag and a Roisterer (NY Times needs registration)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Writing For The Purpose of Reading -Tyner Blain

Interesting article this. I found this useful. Do read, all ye who have anything to do with writing for technology companies: Link to Writing For The Purpose of Reading -Tyner Blain

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The First Day of Winter

Today I felt the first chill of winter. Am trying to write a poem about it. The hills of Artist Village (where I live) are blue, the hazy blue that makes me want to go somewhere where it is very cold. Didn't go to work today, as I got up groggy from a stomach ailment that made me wish for the comfort of my bed all the way from office.

Afternoon was so pleasant, neither hot nor cold, the sun on my eyes so mild that I could look at the hills without shielding my eyes. I noticed several thing. One that the gulmohurs that fringe Artist Village (they were planted after I came to live here) have grown so high that it forms a canopy around the entrance to the village and the dappled sun falls on the road, making little patches of sun.

Two, the sights that I miss when I am away working, there are children waiting to go to school, and I remember when Ronnie was that age and was taken to school by an autorickshaw. He is in engineering college now.

Three, that the cobbler is taking a long time stitching a rent in my leather bag, and that I can't blame him, he sits here on this crossroad all day. But, then I am enjoying the view, the promise of blissfulness.

I guess that's all for today!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sonnet for a Stolen Mobile Phone

Sonnet for a Stolen Mobile Phone

You were cuddlesome and oh! so cute,

Full of lively chatter and, sometimes mute,

Hours I would spend waiting for you to ring,

You were a universe in the joys you bring.

You spoke to me in several lingos,

Mallu, Hindi, English, Bambaiya patois,

Yet you departed so abruptly, without feelings,

Nary elations, greetings, or glad tidings.

 Then one evening, I know not,

Who stole you from me, my Camelot,

Are your rings dead, are you still alive?

Has he de-SIM-ed you, do you still survive?

 Please come back to me, I miss you,

Without you, I am not me, nor would you be you!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kiran Desai Reads from the Booker Prize Winner "The Inheritance of Loss"

To hear Kiran Desai read from her Booker Winning novel "The Inheritance of Loss" click here (sorry, the link on Johnwriter's Literary Show on the right panel doesn't work. I am working towards redeeming this, mucho gracias). Also here is the article by Pankaj Mishra that accompanied the reading in New York Times an excerpt from which appears below:

"This leaves most people in the postcolonial world with only the promise of a shabby modernity — modernity, as Desai puts it, "in its meanest form, brand-new one day, in ruin the next." Not surprisingly, half-educated, uprooted men like Gyan gravitate to the first available political cause in their search for a better way. He joins what sounds like an ethnic nationalist movement largely as an opportunity to vent his rage and frustration. "Old hatreds are endlessly retrievable," Desai reminds us, and they are "purer . . . because the grief of the past was gone. Just the fury remained, distilled, liberating.""

My grouse with diasporic writers is that they tend to denigrate, or, patronize India by writing long passages about the exotic India where Indian live in an antique world full of superstitions, mangoes, pickles, run down neighbourhoods without actually learning about the hearts and minds of the people who inhabit them. They try to exoticise without really understanding the undercurrents of Indian society. What Desai calls "shabby modernity" is also what is turning out brilliant programming code that runs most of the world today. Thus Jhumpa Labiri's "Namesake" which I am reading now, is full of India though it is set in the US, about customs of a Bengali family, and a lot of visuals that would be a treat for people who say they like India.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rushdie Sells His Personal Papers

Here's a story for all ye committed, die-hard, whatever, Rushdie fans. Brenda Goodman reports in this article that Rushdie has sold his personal papers to Emory University, Atlanta. Now author's papers command great value since his journals, notes, manuscripts, handwritten notes, and even signatures [no matter if they are on bills or cleaning tissue] carry great value. I have preserved two letters written me by two wonderful women writers Arundhati Roy and Shobha De (; guess they would be of great literary value when I and the said writers grow old;).

"Mr. Rushdie, 59, will also join the faculty in 2007 for five years as a distinguished writer in residence. Stephen C. Enniss, director of Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library, said the collection contained original manuscripts of all of Mr. Rushdie’s books, including two early, unpublished novels, as well as journals that he said Mr. Rushdie kept “compulsively” for 36 years. The journals he has written since 1989 — when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa authorizing his murder because of the irreverent portrayal of Muhammad in his book “The Satanic Verses” — will remain closed “for a period,” Mr. Enniss said; Mr. Rushdie plans to use the material to write an autobiography. “I would like to have first go at this story; after that, everyone else can do as they please with the material,” Mr. Rushdie confirmed in an e-mail message. "

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Future of Books As We Know It. Sony Reader is here.

Got this from friend, fellow blogger and crime writer John Baker's blog.

The Sony Reader is the future of books as we know it. What's more is that it can hold, not one, but 80 electronic books or hundreds more with a removable memory card. The manufacturer claims that it is easy to carry as a slim paper back. So want to read Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, and Vikram Chandra on your vacation to Goa? Go straight ahead. Download these ebooks from ereader to your Sony Reader and then, as you slowly recline under your beach umbrella, scroll down (don't have to fold the book front to back) and enjoy!
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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Congratulations and Celebrations! to me, me, me!

Today is a happy day. Yesterday at Fab India (where I buy my kurtas and ethnic clothes), I heard a girl say, "This is a happy, happy, happy, happy color, will suit you just fine." I liked that, huh, though, what she meant by "happy" raised to the power of four flummoxed me.

What do I see first thing when I open my blog? Google has upgraded my page rank of my main blog to 4 on 10 from 3 on 10 (zigzackly has 6 on 10!). Some promotion this. Yippeeee! Check it out. Out with the bubblies, no, an extra cup of coffee towards evening, perhaps, if wifey permits.

I have also staked my claim to be the most consistent solo blog and the longest running solo blog at the same URL at the Limca Book of (Blog) Records (the Indian equivalent of Guiness Book of World Records). Isn't that a reason to smile?

Thanks visitors! Do please, please visit me daily (;and give me those hits I deserve;) as I write in this space every day.
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Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Amitava Kumar - Salman Rushdie Controversy

Read this article on Amitava Kumar's Blog. Can't say that I agree with him totally, being a die-hard fan of Rushdie. But, it now turns out that Rusdie has, some how, read Kumar's blog articles (some excerpts follow) and has threatened to cancel a lecture at Vassar College if he was introduced by Amitava. This may have the potential of blooming into a full-fledged literary controversy, me thinks.

"What Rushdie did was not exactly new in Indian writing in other languages or even in Indian drama, but its intensity and range was novel in the tradition of English writing that had been inaugurated by the likes of R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, and Mulk Raj Anand. In a land allegedly in thrall to babu English, here was someone who was having fun with the English language. Reading him was a bit like coming across a giant ad for Amul butter on an Indian street—except that Rushdie was in command and kept doing it for five hundred pages."

"The trouble is that despite all his invention and exuberance Rushdie remains to a remarkable extent an academic writer. He is academic in that abstractions rule over his narratives. They determine the outlines of his characters, their faces, and their voices. Rushdie is also academic in the sense that his rebellions and his critiques are all securely progressive ones, advancing the causes that the intelligentsia, especially the left-liberal Western intelligentsia, holds close to its breast. This is not a bad thing, but it should qualify one's admiration for Rushdie's daring."

"There can be no doubt that the threats that Rushdie faced and also the book-burnings and other protests were shameful and unacceptable. But I do not for a moment support Norman Mailer's assessment (Norman Mailer wrote Rusdie after the Fatwa "Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something very fundamental in the world, and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation is not ungrounded."). I don't believe that Rushdie has even found his most dangerous voice. In fact, I don't believe that Rushdie's is the most dangerous voice writing today. His is no doubt a powerful voice; often, it has been an oppositional voice; but it is a voice of a celebrity promoting commendable causes; more seriously, in some fundamental way, it is the voice of a metaphorical outsider, and therefore incapable of revealing to ourselves, in an intimate way, our complicities, our contradictions, and our own inescapable horror. I don't deny that it is a voice that can engage and delight and of course annoy, and yet it is very important to make a distinction: what Rushdie writes can easily provoke, but it is rarely able to disturb."

Kumar's grouse seems to be that Rusdie is being used as a milestone in Indian English literature as when we say "he writes like Rushdie" and "he doesn't write like Rushdie." But Rusdie opened the gates to the flood (or is it a trickle?) that followed, didn't he? Admittedly Rusdie criticized and parodied Indian life for a western audience, but he did it with considerable charm and wit and even we tend to nod our heads and smile when we read what Kumar calls "academic" writing. Here's what Rushdie says about migration, as quoted by Kumar, "To migrate is certainly to lose language and home, to be defined by others, to become invisible or, even worse, a target; it is to experience deep changes and wrenches in the soul. But the migrant is not simply transformed by his act; he also transforms his new world. Migrants may well become mutants, but it is out of such hybridization that newness can emerge."

I have underlined "invisible" because in "Midnight's Children" he calls the people who live beyond posh Neapean Sea Road area in Bombay as "Invisible People," or the migrant people. This is something I can identify with as I am of second generation migrant stock, living as invisible people in an extended suburb of Bombay. Here's a poem I wrote in my blog about how indigenous people hate migrants.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

Reality Show to Sell a Book? Quite possible!

Saw the James McGreevey interview with Larry King on CNN. Now, for those who came in late, James is the former governor of New Jersey who has made a public admission to having a homosexual affair and to having cheated on his wife, as a consequence of which he had to give up his office. He has also come up with a book on the affair titled "The Confession" and may, me thinks, have been desperate to get publicity for the book. The confession includes trysts in anonymous truck stops, crawling into bed with his wife after escapades with his boy friend, etc.

What I found unusual was the handsome McGreevey was squirming in his seat while answering King's pointed and, rather, blunt questions. Several times he fumbled for answers, and on occasions he seemed as if he wasn't telling the truth, at least, fudging some. Larry King asked him if he had sexual encounters before his marriage, and he said, "yes," the next question was, "was it pleasurable?" What does he mean by asking if a sexual encounter was pleasurable? Why would he go for an encounter if it wasn't pleasurable. Come, come, now, Larry King!

To make matters worse there were also interviews with his cheated wife, and his boyfriend (no, he says, life partner), whom he kissed on the show. Yes, kissed on the mouth! All through the interview I was conscious of a brave show being put up, all that was wrong with such displays became quite obvious. I mean, the reality television kind of programs showing people embarassed, crying, shouting, and kissing.

I felt that this was the movie trailer to goad people to buy the book in millions to delve into the secret life of the handsome governor. Also, who knows, movie rights, and may be, a movie role (seeing as to how handsome he is!). Oh, the pits to which people can descend!

I may be terribly old fashioned (my blog says so), not to talk of getting old, but couldn't these emotions be handled a bit more discreetly? All through the show the interlocutor Larry King had a cynical set to his mouth, and conducted the interview with great detachment, as is his wont. But all this drama to sell a book? If this genre of publishing is so desperate to sell their books, then why don't they call themselves "The Celebrity Business" and not publishing at all.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sportsmen or Showmen?

Why do we, the whole one billion of us, rank so low in sports? Looking at our films and ads filled with those well-toned, and muscle-rippling youth one would think we are a nation of athletic young men, and women who shouldn't do so dismally when it comes to wielding a stick or a bat.

We rank 136th in 204 football playing nations, 11th in 12 hockey playing nations, and about cricket I don't know (though, I play cricket I am not so crazy about following it as I get upset watching our country lose, and so badly at that), may be, in the bottom of the heap. Every four years, one billion people wait with bated breath for an odd silver or bronze medal in the Olympics, while a country like Cameroon wins two golds and a bronze. A collective hanging of heads is, perhaps, advisable here.

I don't accept the argument that there is a lack of talent. No. I have seen talented cricket players giving up their fight. Ravi Kulkarni was a talented player from my locality and he vanished without a trace and so did Abey Kuruvilla. Their careers were rather short.

Or, is it that we are a nation of pretenders, who build up their bulges to be "macho-looking" for the cameras and not for what these muscles are meant, i.e., put it to grueling tests on the sports field, the real tests of brawn these days. Don't believe me? Watch those gladiators battling each other on the football field. There are fans screaming, singing, hooting, waving little, long balloons, even painting themselves for their teams. And their heroes deliver.

My grouse with our cricketers is that they aren't sportsmen (except a few), and more of showmen. Hmm, that may also be the reason they fail so dismally on the field. Watch their carefully groomed attitudes, watch their camera consciousness. "Yaar, mein kaisa lag raha tha teevee par?" (Friend, how did I look on television?)

I really wonder if they do it for the sake of the sport or for getting the advertisement endorsement opportunities, trophy girlfriends, and may be later get on television wearing a tie, to say glib things like, "It is a batting pitch, there is a little grass, and a lot of moisture on the grass, what do you say Sunny?"
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Monday, September 18, 2006

My Poem on Beirut

Read my poem on Beirut here

Beirut was once known as the Paris of the East. No more. Now, militaries of Israel, Syria and Jordan enter and leave it at their whim. Its streets are full of bombed buildings and its citizens live in fear of being killed. This is a poem to its brave inhabitants. "Cedars of Lebanon" is a reference to a passage in the Bible.
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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stephanie Klein to tie the knot? Pity the Guy!

Seems Stephanie Klein, she of the kiss and tell blog is getting married. To those who might say, Stephanie who? She is the one who told all in her blog about her love life with boldness and irreverence and landed a book contract. "She lets readers view, with her clear-eyed hindsight, what a liar, cheat and coward her husband turned out to be. It's not pretty, but it is fascinating," says USA Today.

All I feel is pity for the guy. How would you like the woman you are getting married to report your intimate conversations, even everyday fights and tantrums to the world?

Some of her posts have 239 comments! I go, "Wow, what's that?" When I get a measly twenty visitors on my blog everyday, and perhaps get one to comment per week, she gets 239 comments on one blog post. I suspect women have had it good, even with blogging. I mean they can kiss a man and then tell. As for a man, if he kisses and tells, his friends would ask, "You mean you just kissed?"

Look at Monica Levinsky, she sold some copies of her book didn't she? Or, closer home, hmm, who comes to mind? Preeti Jain? No, never mind. Meanwhile, have a look at this blog by Jess that hints that she has something to kiss and tell, but somehow she can't get the words out. Tongue tied?
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Day in the Life of Me, Myself!

This is a scenario I wrote today, just common events from my life. I might use this in a short story or novel, in future. So do not discount its literary value. Ahem!

Today is Saturday and I am thinking of finishing some work. I thought it was romantic, working in my pajamas and round neck tee-shirt working when you feel like, that is, until this morning.

Then they had to spoil it all. My neighbor is getting his house re-constructed. Re-construction is a harmless word when he is breaking it down with sledge hammers, and most of the debris is falling on my house with thuds the equivalent of minor bomb explosions, or, earthquakes. The houses in Artist Village, are independent dacha-type houses, which were constructed by a government housing scheme, and are packed too close for comfort.

Now something like a war is going on with frequent unannounced masonry falling on my house. "Oh, God," I say and run out and shout at the workers, who, are, huh, workers. For some time the earthquakes stop. They do what they are told to do. And my neighbor is nowhere in sight. See, he has moved to safe environs already. Good!

And then they resume all over again. Then I again run out and shout. Then they commiserate. And this goes on for some time, till the power goes off. I sit fretting in the dark with the debris of my despondency falling over me, darkly maligning. No, I won't ask, "Why does this happen to me? How can I get my work done?" No, that would be taking it badly.

Then I go to get some bank work done. The day is sunny and hot and sweltering, and I put on my dark, "cooling" glasses. The bank is crowded, and there's another bank I have to visit nearby to finish my transaction – actually I am making a draft to pay my son's yearly college fees. The deposit in this bank isn't enough to cover the transaction. So I have to withdraw money from another bank account across the street and come back. I didn't know that I hadn't eaten and suddenly hunger pangs strike.

I walk into a South Indian restaurant and am served by a nondescript uniformed waiter who reels off a variety of dosas from memory. I decide to have a Masala Dosa, which, I think, would be filling. Then I turn around and there is a family of beggars, the type who appeal to your religiosity to make a living, sitting next to me and eating rather boisterously. Food is spooned into wide open jaws, and the mastication is done in between loud talking. I find this particularly nauseating, eat my dosa, and leave.

At the other bank, a sales spiel keeps me engrossed. They have a unit-linked plan that would give me a pension for life, provided I invest around Rs 1.5 million now. Imagine having that kind of liquid cash lying around, I smirk, while coolly watching the earnest salesman making his pitch. Then I say I will consider his offer, and leave.

Then I take a rickshaw to the other bank with all the money for my son's fees and a helpful girl who hardly glances at me makes the draft. That done, I decide to visit an old church acquaintance who is indisposed and has been ordered rest. He and I have worked in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and we talk about old times. I guess company would keep him engaged.

And then it begins to pour, and pour. "Thulavarsham," he says listening to the rolling thunder. "Yes," I say, "It is thulavarsham, the rain that falls around the month of "Thulam." We speak of human foibles, church politics, and a priest who isn't as holy as I had considered him. Who is?

On the journey back, I am totally drenched by the downpour and my umbrella offers no solace. The sunny afternoon has transformed into a dark, menacing, darkly forbidding rainy evening. There are gangs of youngsters, college kids, at the bus stop. They talk and laugh loudly, wearing their unwashed jeans that have these ugly pockets, bulging out at the most unimaginable of places. I am wearing cargo trousers, but, it has pockets at the logical locations on both sides. I notice that they all have long hair, and acne on their faces. I too have long hair!

End of scenario.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Booker Short List is Up!

The booker short list is up. Kiran Desai made it for "The Inheritance of Loss." Those who made it:

"The six books shortlisted by a panel of judges are: "In the Country of Men," Hisham Matar's semi-autobiographical first novel about childhood in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya; "The Secret River," Kate Grenville's tale of life in an Australian penal colony; "The Night Watch," British writer Sarah Waters' novel about characters whose fates intertwine during World War II; "The Inheritance of Loss," Indian writer Kiran Desai's cross-continental saga set in New York and India; "Carry Me Down," the story of an unusual boy, by Irish-Australian novelist M.J. Hyland; and "Mother's Milk," a portrait of a rich but dysfunctional family by English writer Edward St. Aubyn."

Those who didn't make it:

"Some of the biggest names on the 19-book longlist did not make the cut, including David Mitchell, whose "Black Swan Green" had been a favorite, and Australia's Peter Carey, a two-time Booker winner longlisted for "Theft: A Love Story." Andrew O'Hagan's "Be Near Me," another critical favorite, also was omitted."
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The Booker Short List is Up!

The booker short list is up. Kiran Desai made it for "The Inheritance of Loss." Those who made it:

"The six books shortlisted by a panel of judges are: "In the Country of Men," Hisham Matar's semi-autobiographical first novel about childhood in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya; "The Secret River," Kate Grenville's tale of life in an Australian penal colony; "The Night Watch," British writer Sarah Waters' novel about characters whose fates intertwine during World War II; "The Inheritance of Loss," Indian writer Kiran Desai's cross-continental saga set in New York and India; "Carry Me Down," the story of an unusual boy, by Irish-Australian novelist M.J. Hyland; and "Mother's Milk," a portrait of a rich but dysfunctional family by English writer Edward St. Aubyn."

Those who didn't make it:

"Some of the biggest names on the 19-book longlist did not make the cut, including David Mitchell, whose "Black Swan Green" had been a favorite, and Australia's Peter Carey, a two-time Booker winner longlisted for "Theft: A Love Story." Andrew O'Hagan's "Be Near Me," another critical favorite, also was omitted."
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:: future :: :: Teen parenting - the road to understanding :: August :: 2006

Stumbled across this article. Well looks interesting to me. :: future :: :: Teen parenting - the road to understanding :: August :: 2006 While on the subject of teens there is this cell phone agreement for teens and parents developed by a father of teens which would help teens who are going through that interesting phase in their lives use their cell phones responsibly. I, as a parent would recommend “Off the Hook,” a free cell phone agreement developed for teens and their parents. Using this agreement parents can work hand-in-hand with their teen to find a suitable cell phone plan and then to make sure they understand the responsibility (and the costs) that go along with cell phone ownership.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Johnwriter's Raves & Rants!: Masters or slaves?

Johnwriter's Raves & Rants!: Masters or slaves? A valid point I think.

One of my blog articles has appeared in DNA

My blog post on "Untalenting Talent" has appeared in DNA (Daily News and Analysis, is a newspaper published from Bombay). Read it here.
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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Masters or slaves?

It is disconcerting how technology gives us the "bum's rush" sometimes. It's like this. I have important work to do, most of it online, and most of the morning the power fails, I sit there fidgeting, reading a novel (Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved Ones"), not knowing what to do. Then the power comes on, I switch on the computer, and, and, the net is so slow, it's almost impossible to surf.

Ever faced this problem? I am sure you have. During the deluge in Bombay cell phones didn't work, during the bomb blasts emergency services went on a blink, etc. Now coming to think about it, can you imagine how much we are dependent on our little chargers for our cell phones, our digital cameras, our laptops, and our PDAs. Are we the masters of all these technology, or are we slaves still?
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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Untalenting Talent"

Read this interesting article by Joel on Joelonsoftware. Got me thinking. In India we are doing our best to "un-talent talent," yes, I am coining a phrase here, which I hope to develop into, erm, a cliche on this blog, by telling our talented youth that there aren't seats in medical, engineering and management institutions. In America, as Joel's article states, they are willing to take pains to absorb students as interns and nurture them as future employees.

Well, honestly, India is "untalenting talent" by asking for huge donations - I hear it is Rs 5 million for a medical seat, around half a million for an engineering seat, and about that much for a management seat - with the result that what comes out of our high profile institutions are rote-learned, uncreative, disillusioned, unmotivated engineers, doctors and managers. The best and brightest of them go to the US where they can get scholarships, jobs on campus, or, can be picked up by a corporation that is interested in employing them.

Hm, well, who is the loser and who is the gainer? While our colleges of higher learning are becoming richer, the US is getting a steady stream of talented programmers, doctors and managers because of the short-sighted policies of our country. Look at the roster of developers in any software development company in the US and you will find a lot of "Sridhars, Shuklas, Samuels, Samants, Ramakrishnans, etc." in their list. Whereas in India a government that believes in e-governance do not have talented programmers to maintain their own sites. Visit any government sites and see if they are regularly updated. I needn't give the answer here, for obvious reasons.

And our reservation policy has contributed its mite to "untalenting talent." According to the policy, I am a bit dark here, but, will plod on, half the seats (50 per cent) are decided by the management (that means whoever pays more gets a seat) and half are decided by the government (that means around 40 per cent of the half is reserved for students who do not have the talents, but have been born in the right caste). These two chunks add up to 90 per cent and there are only 10 per cent seats available for students who have any merit, and who are genuinely interested in studying. For all I know, I am being quite cynical here, the 90 per cent who have a seat reserved for them becuase of their money power or their birthright may not be repeat may not be interested in studying at all, and may disrupt the studies of the honest and talented students. Here again "untalenting talent" takes a heavy toll.

Who gains, who loses?
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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Nokia's 6800, your best bet for short messaging

One of my favorite phones is Nokia 6800. It enables sending and receiving of messages with its QWERTY touch pad. And since I message quite a bit, this is the phone I am going to watch out, to me at least. Even my son, a teenager, who likes to send jokes on his cell phone, likes it and he says nothing can beat it for performance and easy transmitting of short message on this cell phone. Mostly we prefer messaging each other than calling as it is cheaper.

However, one drawback is that downloading ring tones, games and graphics are not
yet available for the Nokia 6800 phone. Nokia also has a compact and light travel charger that is small and has a convenient cable management with the cord wrapping up inside the charger.
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Friday, September 01, 2006

Khali pili, khali fokat ka boma bom!

Yesterday I made that journey to South Bombay after the forced absence of a year working for a BPO unit in New Bombay. Now this unit, no malice intended, considers that once an employee joins them, s/he does not have the right to a life of his/her own. I believe work is worship, but work shouldn't be forced worship. So I quit.

And, lo and behold, South Bombay held some pleasant surprises, nay, some shocking surprises. First of all, I look around for the familiar sights around Victoria Terminus. Where is all the noise and shouting gone? You know the types who shout, "Whole lot, whole lot mein, raste ka mal saste mein." God, I miss those hawkers, where are they? And, yes, they are still around, slinking, chin on chest, defiantly eyeing everyone.

Guess they are hanging around in the hope that the ban on hawkers would be lifted, as everything in "Gormint" is lifted after a while. Poor sods, they don't realize that the "Gormint" has demarcated "hawking" and "non-hawking" zones and their chances of erecting a stall is equivalent to Sakti Kapoor winning the Filmfare award for best actor.

A lot less noisy, and a lot cleaner, a lot less "jhan jhat," as a Bombayite would say. And those hawkers, "khali pili, khali fokat ka, boma bom Martha tha." Meaning those hawkers used to shout for no purpose. Now I can navigate the streets better.
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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sprint PCS Phone LX350 by LG Fact Sheet – Great Technology, Great Quality

Hiya, Heard the latest? There’s great quality and technology in Sprint cell phone!

Heard the buzz? Now you can access and web and download various web-based applications with Sprint PCS Phone LX350. What’s more, you can access SMS test and voice messages, and Sprint PCS mail too. Isn’t that great?

Hold on. There’s more to come. LX 350 comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera, which provides a digital picture in full color. You can click and send them to your friends and family members instantly, by using Sprint PCS picture mail technology. This phone also has a built-in speakerphone.

Heard a lot about Bluetooth technology? Sure, you have! This technology allows you to connect your LX 350 phone wirelessly to other compatible devices, including Bluetooth-compatible hand-held ones. This enables dial-up networking, with your phone acting as a wireless modem. This technology also offers an advanced speech recognition facility.

To top it all, it is light in weight, convenient, and highly secure. What with the LG wireless backup technology, you can manage your contact list and even transfer it to some other compatible devices that feature the same technology.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Verizon Wireless FuelFinder: Just Click and Save

Ever wondered cell phone in hand where the cheapest fuel was available? Ever had to drive around town trying to compare prices and burnt a lot of fuel that you were trying to save? Now you can do it with just a click on your Verizon Wireless FuelFinder and save money. A specialized mapping service developed by MobileGates, a leader in providing location-based services, FuelFinder provides most inexpensive fuel options exclusively to Verizon Wireless Mobile Web 2.0SM customers.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Now you can find the cheapest fuel on your cell phone!

Ever wondered cell phone in hand where the cheapest fuel was available? Ever had to drive around town trying to compare prices and burnt a lot of fuel that you were trying to save? Now you can do it with just a click on your Verizon Wireless FuelFinder and save money. A specialized mapping service developed by MobileGates, a leader in providing location-based services, FuelFinder provides most inexpensive fuel options exclusively to Verizon Wireless Mobile Web 2.0SM customers.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The kindness of strangers!

It’s raining outside. May be a repeat of the July 26, 2005. Today, getting to office was a miracle. A real miracle. Actually I am wearing short to office because it is an Indian holiday (Gokulashtami, or the birthday of Krishna, on which day, people form human pyramids to break an earthen pot full of curds). I had to wait a long time for a rickshaw to appear. None of them seemed to be around. It was pouring and mercifully, my shorts saved me the trouble of being drenched and cold. Then I tried to hitch a ride. Most of them didn’t stop. Ultimately, dejected, I was about to go back. No point in venturing out in this rain, I thought.

Then a Chevrolet Tavera stopped for me. Imagine, a luxury sports utility vehicle like Chevrolet Tavera stopping for a drenched-looking man in shorts, wind cheater and umbrella. Imagine the kindness of the man when he knows I would drip water on the seat and floor of his expensive vehicle. That’s kindness for you, the kindness of strangers. I got inside and he, the owner, sitting beside the driver, asked me where I wanted to go. I told him. He dropped me at the Bombay-Pune highway from where I board a bus to the office.

People in the office see the shorts and smile. I say, “Can’t help it, can’t you see the rains.” Colleagues say, “Yeah, I am going to wear shorts too.” Poonam suggested the Lungi. But Karthik (Poonam is the girl on extreme left in the picture in the bottom and Karthik is the seated guy in the picture above) says, “The lungi will be on the floor when you get into a Bombay bus.” All laugh. This is because nobody wears shorts to the office except the big boss. I guess wearing shorts on holidays and weekends should be allowed. Anyway, I am daring when it comes to clothes and that’s it.
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Sunday, August 13, 2006

May latest poem, explores loneliness!

Read my latest poem about loneliness on my poetry blog. The poem celebrates how we should celebrate each moment, as we exist in the present moment, and let loneliness be a part of us, and thus internalize the loneliness.
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I pause midway in the in the whirl,
Of deadlines, things undone,
And averaged the sadness and joys -
There remains only loneliness,
Of which I see no cure,
No bitter palliatives, no anodyne.

We remain in life’s journey,
Like loners sitting depressed,
On solitary park benches, or,
Staring at people from balconies,
Loneliness gnawing at our minds,
As hungry ants at a grain of food.

Often in life’s vicious lanes,
In lonesome moments,
It’s our failures we ponder,
Not the joys and victories; both,
We have given and earned;
Not others’ courage, but faults.

When in each passing lonely moment,
I count the millions of seconds,
I was alive to witness this world, and,
Mimetic thoughts that pass into eternity,
My loneliness vanishes, I shout,
“I live; I am alive this lonely moment.”
(c) John, August 2006
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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Of T*ts and D**ks!

Oh, the Indian arty-farty crowd is embroiled in another controversy. This time it is an exhibition of paintings, poems and sculptures called, “Tits, clits and Elephant Dicks.” Not, joking, this time that is the title, honest. I did a search of the Internet and came up with 8,40,000 results. I am amazed. Are we so sick in the mind? Someone said that this mirrors the state of our society. Yes, it does. And the very words, American slang, no less. Why not Bombay slang like c****h, and l**d, etc, which tumble out every other second from a Bombayman’s tongue?

Frankly I am amazed, no, dazed, no, amused. After suppressing a chortle or two I can go into the dissection of this. Apparently it features poems, too, “In Search Of The Best Fuck Of His Life” and “My First Piss In The Morning.” Is Indian art so depraved that it has to hunt for crude vulgarisms of American Slang to describe women’s body parts? Again, why “Piss” why not “Urine?” It’s the puerile use of these slang words that offends me the most. Or, is it a way of currying favor from the firangs? This is the sort of writing you get on toilet walls, not in prestigious art gallery of Bombay. If I walk into the gallery with my wife and son I would naturally be offended.

For your information the exhibition, sort of shortcut to fame for its artists Sanjeev Khandekar and Vaishali Narkar who put up statues with gigantic phalluses on show. But should it have been such a drastic short cut? Society has a responsibility to protect its vulnerable sections in which I include women and children. But the exhibition was open to all even children. What impressions would they carry out of the gallery? No wonder Pushpa Vijule was offended and lodged a police complaint. The police asked the artists to take away the exhibits, and I think they are right to do that. If it offends the

And the literati have come out in defense of freedom of expression and all that bullshit. Among them a prominent film director and poet, who rants against the police’s high-handedness. Oh, come on, (I am not saying “Aw, c’on) drill some sense into your brains. Don’t know where this straining at the leash of prurience comes from. But aren’t we a society where mothers and sisters are respected and even worshipped?
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Monday, July 31, 2006

Me reading at Caferati readmeet at Chembur
This me reading from Penguin’s “India Smiles” collection of short stories. “India Smiles” started as a global short story contest for humorous fiction organized by Sulekha. The contest received five thousand entries and my short story “Flirting in Short Messages” was one among the twenty-eight that were published.

Picture shows me reading my above story from “India Smiles” at Caferati’s second anniversary meet at Chembur, the suburb of Bombay where I spent my childhood. The other picture shows a view of the gathering. Visit my website for more of my writing.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"India Smiles" is just out from Penguin India!

My story "Flirting in Short Messages" features in this book published by Penguin.

Penguin has just published "India Smiles" the result of the "India Smiles" global short story contest run by Sulekha. Out of the thousands of entries received sixty were short-listed and this volume contains the top twenty six stories that made it right to the top. My short story "Flirting in Short Messages" is one of them. So, nose thumbs to my critics who say "Johnwriter can't write" and "John P Matthew can't write." It's not too late to eat your words! Watch this space or my website for more.

The book is in stores and costs Rs 195 only. Please, please, buy, buy, buy, buy, so as to avoid potential starvation by this starving blogger, sorry, writer!
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Friday, June 02, 2006

Johnwriter's Raves & Rants!

Johnwriter's Raves & Rants!

I moderated the May 2006 readmeet of Caferati, a network of writers. This is my report.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cafe Mondegar


Café Mondegar

1992 - 1993

What happened that day after the morning incident at Insight was mad, irrational, and confusing. I was totally disoriented. I had tried to kill a man; I had resigned. The maddeningly surprising thing was I wasn’t feeling anything. Nothing. Just a little, sort of, confused and dazed. In crowded trains I had felt the urge to kill the man who had leaned against me. Murder seemed as mundane as brushing one’s teeth.
Suddenly, I had too much time on my hands, too much freaking time. What a difference from having too little, rushing madly about, into trains and buses to complete fifteen, no, at least, five sales calls a day! I was now jobless in a city that worshipped a position, not the person. I had walked out of Insight, every part of me trembling with outrage, and found myself staring at the marquee of the Regal cinema. I liked the Regal, owned and managed by the Farshis.
Like everything these one-time refugees from Persia managed, all was spic and shining. The shiny, near-sighted, and bald booking clerk, Dinshaw, had gel in his hair. He looked the typical Cusrow Baug Farshi boy who religiously wears his Sadra. I know old Dinshaw for a reason. Somebody had given me a fake five hundred rupee note once, one of the many circulating surreptitiously. Innocently I had bought a ticket from the tall Dinshaw crouching inside the small booking room. He with his congenital smartness looked up at me through his soda-bottle-thick glasses and said in his Farshi accent, “Dikra, this looks fake, son.” I said he could check it with somebody and if were fake he could catch me inside. He noted my seat number.
Inside I saw two lovelorn youngsters necking beside me. I offered them my “love seat.” (Padma, you, of course, know that the corner seats touching the wall in Bombay theatres are called “love seats.”) Midway through the movie who do I see looming over us shining his torch fully at my neighbors and querulously demanding that they accompany him, than Dinshaw? As the two lovers, thinking they had broken some morality law, were escorted down, I quietly made my getaway through the other door of the theatre. As I was scampering out I saw policemen entering the theatre. That was my only brush with the police. I dreaded them. Yes, don’t they beat you up first and then ask questions? Joke was that sometimes they make five people confess to the same crime within minutes of it being committed. If Satish Behl had gone to the police they would have been looking for me. I looked around if I could spot any of humanity’s dreaded conscience keepers. No, I was safe.
A crowd milled around restlessly in the lobby of the Regal. The interiors smelled a rich indefinable odor that made me want — so crazily — to see movies again and again. I am such a movie maniac. I was not due at Vikraman’s computer class until 7 p.m. So I had time, lots of it.
The marquee was inviting. The movie Aliens was playing in the matinee show. The Regal had a definite colonial aura, still has. It just reveled in its antiquity, like an old woman still sporting styles that had gone out of fashion. I remember the cool hard feel of the wooden doors, the etched glass panes, the hum of people waiting to see the movie, the honking of traffic outside, and the inscrutable ushers basking in their self-importance. The garish posters of the stars made them look like exotic creatures brought into the word of mere mortals, like good old me.
It was an unsettling experience, the knowledge that now I would wake up and have nothing to do, no monthly pay, no waking up to terror. Whatever little money I had would only last a few more days. Every rupee would be important. So how could I go in and watch the movie? A movie would mean having expensive samosas and popcorn and coffee, at atrocious prices! Why do they price their food at such rates? Not fair. Not fair, at all.
But I was drawn inside the cool interiors. There were photos of stars of yesteryears. Humphrey Bogart was the only one I could identify, and Gregory Peck. I liked them and their old-world solidity. They were solid actors and not spoilt celebrities and playboys.
The movie, Aliens, starred Sigourney Weaver. I liked her, still do. She is a solid actor in the old mould. She is all determination and resolve and concern so subtly expressed by her mobile face. There’s a scene of hers cradling the little girl, Newt, so much feminine nurture in that scene. I loved it. Then there is the fight to regain Newt from the horrible alien creatures. Ah, I relished every minute of the movie. No matter how much I see it, I am drawn to see it again.
As I came out of the movie a man accosted me. I hadn’t seen him in the theatre. He had materialized out of nowhere. Pfffft. There were many pretty girls around me, little blossoms, little pubescent adolescents with the well-defined curves of their age. They had boyfriends, families, friends, societies they belonged to, little princesses of little kingdoms. In short, they belonged and I didn’t. Princesses don’t like toads like me, even a future prince.
A man accosted me with three words, “You look like you need company.”
I was shocked. “Aaiyo,” I exclaimed under my breath, for there was such sweet concern in his voice.
Those were the only six genuine words anyone spoke to me that day.
He was nondescript except for a band around his temple. I don’t remember anything about him except the band. His skin was white, or an Indian light brown with pinkish overtones that had turned sallow with drinking.
“Your eyes are searching something only dreams can give. Come to people who really belong to you, your community, your refuge.”
“Who are you?”
“I make human relationships. I make heart meet heart. I run a club for lonely hearts like you.”
That description appealed to me. Here was my own Sergeant Pepper.
“You are looking for company, right? I see that searching look in your eyes.”
I said, “Yes,” without thinking.
“Follow me.”
I followed the shabby, shuffling man past Lion Gate to the Great Western Building. Now, Great Western Building is besides Scottish Church and the Docks. This building, in those days, housed several advertising agencies. I used to be a regular visitor there. Perhaps, I would run into Renuka. Is she a member of the lonely-hearts club run by this man? This Sergeant Pepper?
I felt pangs.
I followed the man up the steep stairs.
“Good girls. Homely girls, y’know, they are like my sisters. Give me two hundred rupees membership fees. It is an exclusive club by invitation only. We are choosy y’know. I guarantee your membership will be accepted.”
What are two hundred rupees for a passport to a magical lonely hearts club? Surely there would be a lot of dancing and singing in this paradise. At last, I am into something big. He guaranteed my membership.
He took the money and disappeared up the stairs to heaven.
I stood in the landing at the ground floor.
Several agency acquaintances passed me. Some said “hi” and asked me what I was doing there. Each time I blanched.
I said I was waiting for a friend. I didn’t tell them about anything that happened that morning at Insight, or, about the lonely hearts heaven soon to unfold.
About an hour passed and the man didn’t materialize. Pfffft, he had vanished as smoothly as he had come, out of nowhere into nowhere. I was conned.
The lonely heart club, my ersatz heaven didn’t exist!
I went up the stairs to investigate and saw a row of doors all tightly locked with dirt-stained curtains billowing against them. Which one was Sergeant Pepper’s? None of them looked remotely like a lonely-hearts club to me. I had been had.
Panic, disappointment, disillusionment, gripped me as each second passed.
Then I slinked down the stairs towards Regal, wanting to die than be seen.

I sat down in Mondegar and drank a bottle of beer, a London Pilsner. The beer helps, sometimes. The alcohol made me contrite. All of a sudden I felt the immensity of what I had done. What I had done to Satish Behl was unforgivable – murder, the most foul of crimes. The deprivation of another man’s right to live. How did it happen? In my immense guilt I had become disoriented and was committing one serious blunder after the other.
It was a little too much for me, the crowded bus, Renuka, the trauma at the office and now this. I gulped big mouthfuls of the sweet, viscous liquid. My head buzzed with alcohol. It ached. How could I be so stupid? But I did many dense things that day. I looked at the papers. Nothing there for me. No jobs, no interesting news. Big headlines, “Police commissioner jailed in the same jail he had once supervised.” Ah, what irony, some police commissioner who was caught in a corruption case. Imagine his horror when he was put in the jail he had supervised as commissioner of prisons. Just think, the loss of face, the disgrace, the meeting of convicts he had lectured about morality. He... he... shocking news! The press liked to play up such stories, splash it on the front page, and take the breath out of you.
“Met department predicts forty-eight hours of rain.” Now that was news. It would be another one of those all-night-and-day ritual when life, traffic, everything would come to a standstill. Rainwater would pour... and pour... and pour... till there would be waist-high water everywhere, and Bombay would look like a sinking Atlantis. But there was still time.
I sat and drank and ate groundnuts and potato chips.
The world had a purpose. I had none. Where will I go tomorrow? What will I think?
Here I was, jobless, directionless, and drinking my scarce resources away.
I felt angry. Great waves of anger swept through me. It was raining and everything was washed in grays, solid grays. Such deep grays meant only one thing. There were layers and layers of clouds up there waiting to unload. All colors, including the colorful umbrellas women held aloft like some royal battle standards were washed with a heavy gray. Life looked bleak and threatening. I must go somewhere, I must, I must....

Then I remember landing up in La Danza, of all the places. I don’t know how, I just landed up there. I was still too dazed and sleepy. I remember faintly manipulating between mounts of garbage and a staircase stuffed with discarded cartons. The heat was searing in through the fabric of my shirt, plastering my armpits with patches of sweat. After the beer everything seemed a blur of gray, a damning thick curtain of solid gray. My eyes ached, my head hurt, my throat felt parched and I was ready to die.
La Danza was almost deserted. The crowds hadn’t come in. I was early. A beautiful siren of a woman in a sari asked me if I wanted to dance. Oh, what perfect curves she had bulging from under her sari! She was like a blast of fresh air in the decrepit surroundings of the small office that served as a screening and entry collection desk. I said yes.
She led me into a room with a floor-to-ceiling mirror on one side. I was shocked to realize how dreary Colaba’s happening place looked without people dancing. The regulars hadn’t come in yet and the room was dark, too dark. I thought I would be dancing with my siren escort, but another woman, emerged from the shadows and switched on the lights. She wore a pink frock, clean, threads worn thin by too many striking against stone. Her bra straps peeped out around the neck and her slip hung lower than the hem. The siren was just a hook, like they have hooks in novels and stories. The woman was too thin to be called pretty, or for that matter, anything. She looked disheveled and tired. People like me do exist. I am not alone.
“Hi, don’t you remember me? I am Clara Furtado, remember?”
“Oh you were dancing with Johnnie DaCosta yesterday? Innside Story?”
“Yes, men, the Lambda.”
“Ah, yes, the Lambda. I didn’t know you worked here. Can you teach me the Lambda?” I asked.
“Yes of course, that’s why I am here, no?”
There was a mock incredulous expression on her face as she said this, very mannered, maybe, something she had picked up from trashy movies.
She put on a scratchy record on the HMV gramophone record player in the corner, the old vinyl kind. I danced. I danced a crazy, riotous dance — no, not the Lambda — in which I flailed my limbs and kept a safe distance from Clara. I danced though I felt eviscerated, sleep deprived, and suicidal.
I danced my pain and disillusionment away. In the screechy rhythm of the music I found solace and peace. Here I was ready with a death wish and dancing as if nothing mattered any more. This was going to be better than any lonely hearts club of a certain sallow Sergeant Pepper. I imagined what had gone between her and Johnnie the previous night from her dishevelment and the almost-purple pouches under her eyes.
“I can feel something stirring in your pants, mister!” She sang.
“Down there? Feel something?”
She laughed showing a tongue tinged with black and pink gums.
Such overt sexuality? Could anyone be so... so... tawdry and floozy-like?
I cringed in my wet clothes and shoes. Was it because of the Lambda? Or, was it because she reminded me of myself?
Suddenly all the dancing, the Latin beats issuing from the scratchy record sounded so hollow. No, I didn’t feel a thing for Clara Furtado. How loutish can people get? I left La Danza with restlessness growing inside me. I could have thrown myself under a BEST bus and killed myself. I was desperate, jobless.

Cringing and suicidal, I found myself in Systematic Computer Academy after La Danza. The rain hadn’t stopped. It seemed both the rain god and wind god were fighting for the beautiful earth goddess. Their war was fluctuating wildly between victory and defeat. I was tired and sick of the rain, and wished it would go away. I remember wafting with the gusts of wind and rain towards my various destinations that day. I was wet and frightened. I walked with an awful slouch, one without purpose, and my chin hung on my chest as a jackfruit on a tree in the harsh Kerala summer. I was so fragile, so tender; one blow would have killed me.
I had enrolled for a computer education at my friend Vikraman’s so-called Academy for an alternate career. I knew my job at Insight would not last long. Looking back now, from the detachment of a few years, Padma, I feel tremendous contrition at my attempt on Satish Behl’s life. I should have left him and walked away and not attempted to kill him. How could I, a pacifist, a man who would walk away from trouble, kill a man? But now I believe in circumstances, and temporary madness caused by sleep deprivation. The memory of Behl’s terrified face, and, the snot, the gooey stuff that came from his nose still haunts me.

Apathy was rife in the un-swept interiors of the Systematic Computer Academy, in the dusty curtains, and in cobwebs slowly descending from the walls in insidious, and unstoppable patterns. Ah, I vaguely remember the dust and cobwebs. In every right-angled corner, every protuberance and crevice hung the ingenious creations of arachnids. Amidst all this, Vikraman’s virus-infested computers existed in a state of digital disintegration.
Computer programmer, code writer, author of complex algorithms, provider of nuggets of wisdom, “Do you think all they print in newspapers, and show on television are the truth? Far from it, they are lies perpetrated to sell advertising space.” It was as if the uncontrollable licentiousness of his life had spilled over into his work. The faded keyboards of the Systematic Computer Academy had accumulated dirt from several novitiate fingers and the computer mouse moved as real mice do, furtively, in all unpredictable directions, except the one you wanted it to go. But somehow he did make a living out of it didn’t he? I don’t know how. He retained students of previous academic batches as instructors so that he could pay them very little sometimes, mostly nothing.
When I think of those hazy days, Padma, through the obscure veil of events, pausing after every few depressions of my keyboard, distracted, I remember being conscious of an urgency that was forcing me to do something fast before it was too late. Computers? “The best courses I offer, C, C++, Oracle, you would be writing code in weeks,” Vikraman had said. The computer course at Systematic would wing me abroad on a metal bird to those golden lands of the Persian Gulf.
Something about Bombay’s claustrophobic trains and buses was making me die. I felt suicidal in them. I was tired of the filth, the sweat and the dust, sandstorms of it, swirling, over the city. Is there no hope for me? I wanted to escape to another place, another city, another country, any place would do. Shaken after my several soul-killing encounters of the day, with Satish Behl, with the sallow Sergeant Pepper, with Clara Furtado; I was trying, hoping desperately to salvage something from that disappointingly disastrous day. The land of richness and plenty across the Arabian Sea waited. Hmmm, what did I know about the trauma that awaited me there.

Elsie, sluggish, with the plumpness of a beefeater, was one of the many girls Vikraman employed in his Academy. She was a product of the privatized education in my native palm-strewn, green-bedecked Kerala (how else can I think of my native land?), a state that prided in having the highest level of literacy in India. However, Elsie’s education was, in the most part, patchy and incomplete. She couldn’t understand what the students wanted and could not talk or make herself understood. On occasions, I had seen Vikraman touch her, run his trembling paws over her. Then I realized with numbing shock: they were lovers. Well, that was when I caught them kissing behind the doors of a classroom.
That suicidal, desperate day, when the rain seemed like a permanent curse on the city, I sat inside the Academy’s computer laboratory working on a software programming assignment. The programming was going wrong. It kept throwing several error messages. What was wrong with me? A job is a dangerous thing. It turns an individual into a slave, but it keeps him safe in the security of a salary. Finding a job wasn’t easy in Bombay, it would take days. No, I am going abroad I had decided, away from madness to the golden land of palms and oil. There wouldn’t be any Satish Behl, or, Sergeant Pepper, or, Clara Furtado there.
The computer laboratory was deserted except for Vikraman, me, Mala, a rather attractive-looking girl in a red salwar-kameez, and Elsie.
“Did you think over Goggle-sanyasi’s advice?” Vikraman asked me.
“The Attaining Moksha Module? I did. Sounds dubious to me.”
“This world is an illusion. As if I didn’t know it already,” he said teasingly.
I was surprised that the Virus should speak thus about somebody he had held in high esteem the previous night. He had given the Sanyasi all respect due to a god.
“I am no follower of cults. Mother warned me against the likes of him.”
Vikraman became unsteady, agitated, “Can’t you see? It is not a cult. He is an incarnation of god.”
His eyes have an unsteady glow when he is angry.
I suspected then that he had taken me along thinking I would be fool enough to pay for Goggle-sanyasi’s Attaining Moksha Module and he could pocket a commission. It made sense. I knew everything in the world, after all, ended in money, even deliverance, touted by the Sanyasi. They, like corporations, have targets, deadlines. In business even a sale of Rupees five is a sale, an achievement, a precursor of more wealth, and profits. It is when there is no sale that businessmen cringe. The Sanyasi was no different.
“But I don’t buy that thing about the world being an illusion. No, how can you believe the world in which you live and breathe is an illusion, not reality?” I said.
“Leave it for the god-men like the Sanyasi, my dear man.”
“I find it hard to digest.”
“How is your search for a Gulf job going on?”
Vikraman was standing behind Mala and typing on the keyboard over her shoulders, touching her as he did so.
“I have an interview tomorrow,” my lips began to twitch; I couldn’t keep my face straight.
Mala started giggling as he cupped her breasts and winked looking at me. Two mesmeric dimples cut grooves down his cheeks.
Oh God! I sat there rigid with embarrassment, wishing the moments would pass. Was it the two grooves that made him so irresistible to women? Damn! Why didn’t I have them then?
“Sir, what are you doing?” Elsie asked in Malayalam.
Vikraman, Mala and I had forgotten that Elsie was in the room. I looked at her; her face had shrunk with hurt and embarrassment.
“What do you lose? You do your work,” Vikraman said.
“There are people,” she said peevishly indicating me with her eyes.
“He is a friend, no harm.”
There I was like a cornered animal. After Satish Behl’s murder attempt against the staccato beat of rain against windowpanes, the lonely heart episode with Sergeant Pepper, and the advances of Clara Furtado, what was this happening before me? Another drama? I sank lower in my chair, earlobes burning. I wanted no part in their lovers’ quarrel.
“See, he doesn’t mind. What is it to you, then?”
“I mind,” she was despondent.
“Do your work,” biting his lips, chewing it in anger.
“What if I don’t?”
“You won’t?”
“I won’t, if you behave like this before me,” a spate of tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Ah, now you are trying to control me, eh?” He fumed, his face a dark mask.
“I don’t like this. Why are you doing this to me?” head down, sobbing, wiping tears.
“You bitch, what were you before I gave you a job?”
“Better than what you have made me, what I have become.”
My heart slammed against my ribs. I hated scenes.
The rain sloshed and splattered the trees outside. Myriad drops pummeled playful leaves into submission.
The angular buildings were lost in a watery haze.
“Shut your mouth. Don’t say a word,” Vikraman was snarling as an animal.
“I will, I will...” the drum roll of errant droplets against glass swept her words away.
With that Elsie began to weep — a shrill ululating sound — thumping her chest in a primeval show of grief.
Vikraman lunged across the room, raised a hand, and slapped her hard as I watched horrified.
I froze.
I wanted to stop him but my hands and feet felt leaden. I couldn’t bring myself to get up after the incident at Insight. I sat there wet, frightened, and paralyzed. Who was I to interfere in their lovers’ fight? The guilt of the incident with Behl lingered in my mind like a freshly sutured wound.
Will the rain and the violence never end? I guess I was fed up with both.
Blood dripped from Elsie’s nose as Vikraman’s outburst subsided. He looked spent. Her eyes became black and puffed. The room was silent except for her muffled sobs and the hum of the air-conditioner.
Outside the leaves chattered playfully in the rain.
“Don’t ever say such things to me, understand? Come,” Vikraman beckoned Mala and stormed out of the room.
“I’ll see you later,” he said in my direction in Malayalam.
Mala, the girl in the red Salwar, got up and followed him out of the computer room. Leaving the receptionist to attend to Elsie, I followed Vikraman down the rickety flight of stairs of the art deco mansion down to where the filthy sidewalks of Colaba Causeway began. I was curious to know where he, a teacher, was going with Mala, his student, a girl half his age.

I followed Vikraman’s and Mala’s bobbing heads in a sea of heads moving down Colaba Causeway. Offices were shutting and the exodus had begun. It was drizzling, a smooth blanket of wetness. The Causeway once connected the Fort area of Bombay with the island of Colaba in the days of the British rule. But today all traces of a Causeway had disappeared. The strip of road then transformed into a posh residential area for the British and upper crust Anglo-Indians and Farshis. Then — with the residential areas still intact — it had slowly gone to seed, pullulating with cheap hotels, hippie joints, Arab harems, La Danza, and pimps like Cajetan Ferrao. The swish set of Bombay often frequented epicurean and bacchanalian pleasure spots in dim lanes that radiated decadently from the Causeway.
“Pleasure district...everything for sale,” Mosquito had said.
Beside a seller of lurid goggles a group of African men was trying on glasses, staring at each other and smiling broadly.
I passed several wrinkled and emaciated beggars motioning their bunched fingers to their mouths. They cried plaintively, desperation on their faces.
“God will keep your children happy... your tarrying work will be done... mother-father give rupee to this poor... I have not eaten for three days....”
I dropped a coin into an extended aluminum vessel thrust towards me, and immediately regretted it. Here charity doesn’t merit “Thank You” but invites harassment. Immediately the rest of the mendicants swarmed around jostling and pulling at my shirtsleeves. They were whining and droning their bitter wretchedness. “God, these people,” I exclaimed as I disengaged myself and hurried towards Vikraman’s and Mala’s heads weaving through the crowd.
Some derelicts, probably drug addicts, were half-lying on the Causeway exhausted by the intermittent heat and rain. Hawkers were screaming as if the world would end if their knick-knacks (small drums, wooden candelabras, brass compasses and telescopes, several record players with their grotesque yawning speakers and crankpins) were not sold.
“Rasthe ka maal sasthe mein.
Dekho aur Paisa Fekho.”
It rhymed. “Street stuff is cheap stuff. See it and throw money.”
I passed establishments that had survived centuries of monsoons, their beams, and lintels rotten and hanging precariously over the sidewalk. Near Regal cinema, I could see them crossing the road towards the gracious old Majestic Hotel building (now turned into a business-like co-operative store, the hotel’s erstwhile teak-wood dance floor now piled high with bath towels and bed sheets). Has this city no use for its history? History lies coiled in the skeins of the Majestic dance floor. Many a colonial romance had waltzed here.
The blazing lights from the Regal marquee merged into the smooth phosphorescence of the SP Mukherjee intersection lights in a cinematic dissolve. The night was creeping into the niches and crevices of the colonial buildings. The traffic was deafeningly loud, roaring all around me. I stood and watched their heads disappear into the fast food eatery in the corner — Nikita.
Nikita sold sodden, oily burgers on the ground level and on the mezzanine were the infamous narrow cubicles euphemistically called “family rooms.” Family rooms were purported to be a family dining area but were soon corrupted to a place of sexual adventure. The Bombay I remember was so prudish then that the vigilant middle-class thought police wouldn’t allow lovers to hold hands, kiss, or even cuddle in parks and public places. Padma, I don’t know how it is now.
In those days, lovers slinked to the narrow cubicles such as the one above Nikita to make love. In its dark, claustrophobic rooms smelling of scandalous love, amid the anxiety of lovers waiting for their turn, could be heard screams of coital passion. Oh, city of dark obsessions, is this the way you treat your lovers? I watched in shock as the much-married Vikraman, my friend and teacher, disappeared up its cramped, narrow stairs to make reckless love to pubescent Mala, his student, a girl only half his age.
I had discovered what he had meant by saying he was out of control.
The man was a fanatic... a blooming sex maniac.
I walked a few paces back and stood undecided as several pimps standing at the corner of Apollo street approached me offering “college-going girls,” “foreign chicks, fair-skinned,” “out-of-job television actresses,” “movie extras,” “merwana,” “anything you want,” etc. “Sir, you just come. Enjoy, make fun, only if you are interested. No compulsion, please!”
No, no, no, my insides screamed at them, not another Sergeant Pepper!
As I walked towards my favorite pub, Mondegar, the peddlers of instant nirvana followed me. The drizzle continued. A few thunderclaps sounded distantly above the traffic. I raised my face and felt the raindrops pelt me, tickling my face as it caressed and then dripped down.
I felt cold. I felt liberated.
From where I stood I could see the steep walls of the Taj Mahal hotel – mighty Emperor Shah Jehan’s memorial to his beloved queen Mumtaz, a legendary beauty — a shadow of the Taj Mahal at Agra. I couldn’t but whistle in awe looking at it. There was such beauty in its lines, a happy blending of history and comfort. If I become rich I would definitely make love in it, I decided.
Beyond it were the lights of ships waiting to dock in the Bombay harbor, glimmering hazily in the drizzle. I had had a hard day – the row with Satish Behl, the misadventure with Sergeant Pepper and his non-existent lonely hearts club, Clara Furtado and her calculated advances, and then the savagery of my friend Vikraman — would the night be any better, would it?

There beside me, in the sparkling artificial pool of neonic, halogenic, and mercuric fluorescence stood Renuka, as fresh as a smiling lotus in a shimmering pond, the serene ingénue in person. My heart lurched. She held a parasol, which she raised to cover me. Then my sweet enchantress smiled a tranquil smile. What goes on behind that smile, beautiful woman? I wanted to ask, but the words froze on my lips. Could you love this distraught, desperate man? Her face and eyes had the distracted and endearing “I-may-have-sold-my-heart-to-your-job-but-not-my-soul” look that made advertising agency women so appealing.
Padma, my muse, I must confess I had forgotten all about her after the bus incident.
“Hi,” I said, not sure that she was speaking to me, not meeting her steady gaze.
She seemed so unattainably attractive that I had the urge to touch her to see if she was real. But I restrained that urge. I also had to shop shaking.
“Been here long?” She asked.
“No, just passing by. I am sorry for this morning.” The shaking barely stopped.
“Ah, no, not at all. Don’t be such a prude.”
“Oh! Really?” Then I had hope.
“In fact I forgot to give you the money for the tickets,” She dimpled again.
The smile spread ever so slowly around her face, to her dimples, cheeks, eyes, as the receding ringlets of a pebble-tossed lake.
“No need. Maybe, next time you can buy mine.”
“That’s okay. How was your day?”
The day? My eyes misted. My lips twitched. To fit my misfortunes into a few words was impossible, so I told her that I had lost my job. I didn’t tell her about Sergeant Pepper though. That would have been suicide. I also didn’t tell her about Vikraman’s cruelty in Systematic Computer Academy. As future events would show, I should have. There I was, tired, teary-eyed, exhausted and on the brink.
“Can we sit down somewhere? Chat. Drink something? Get away from these people,” she said pointing to the hovering pimps.
“Yes, yes, yes. Would Mondegar do?” I jumped at the offer.
“Why not?”

We walked like lovers do, under an umbrella, crossed Lansdowne Road, my hand thrown around her protectively. Oh, rain many are your mischief. She felt so... so... so... warm and vulnerable. But for a few moments the touch of her delicate body tossed my poor soul into a storm of passion, a virtual typhoon of emotions. Oh god, make time stop right here and let me die holding her! What a noble end to my wasted life.
After we found decent seats in Mondegar, not always easy considering the flotsam that drifted in. We sat facing each other, a suffusion of lights stroking her delicate features. The place was a chiaroscuro people – brown, white, black, yellow.
The rain drummed its cadences outside like a million unsynchronized drumbeats. I sat and listened to its lazy rhythm.
There followed an uncomfortable silence that seemed to stretch on for an eternity through the blaring of car horns and the noisy engine of a Taj Mahal hotel supply truck waiting to clear traffic. The Café buzzed with chatter, but silence sat solemnly on our table in the corner.
I dared not take my eyes away from hers.
“Finished?” She asked.
“Finished what?”
“Staring at me?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know I was staring.”
“Let me guess, you are thinking, ‘Oh God. This girl is so un-cool. Inviting me for a chat and not saying anything’.”
For the first time that day I let out an explosive guffaw, the tension melting from me like ice in the heat of Bombay’s torrid summer.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh God! This girl is so beautiful’.”
“Flatterer,” she said affectedly lowering her head, “As if I feel great joy in being called that. If I felt beautiful for a moment a thousand eyes would accuse, ‘Oh, what does she imagine herself to be, a film star or what?’”
“Yes. I think that is one of beauty’s great conundrums.”
“One what?”
“Conundrum, I mean, puzzle. When we see a strikingly beautiful woman, we immediately raise her on a pedestal of beauty.”
“Such as?”
“You know, film stars, celebrities, media stars. We aren’t prepared to believe that there is a normal, living, breathing woman behind the façade, um, add insecure to that.”
“Oh, very intuitive,” she said after a pause, “I think you must be some kind of writer.”
“Yes. I try to write, sometimes, when I am deluded that I am the only surviving sane person in this world and must do something about it, or, when I want to leave this fractious world for the galaxy of my fantasies. But it’s all raw stuff, too wretched, too gruesome, awesomely degenerate.”
“Hahn? Want to try me? What do you write?”
“Poems, short stories, limericks, anything. None of them are published.”
“Doesn’t matter. I would like to read them,” she said.
She would be thinking I am one of those crazy, bearded, and longhaired men who write to satisfy their souls.
“I can show you some of them, provided we meet again.”
“I am sure we will,” she looked at me with that slow-motion smile of hers and a face as though cracking with a smile.
“Two beers,” I said to the waistcoat-ed waiter. He had, at last, condescended to acknowledge our presence. Outside the crowd had got thinner, the vehicles less teeming. The rain played a thousand duets, its susurration soothing my nerves like a lullaby.
She opened her leather purse and slid me her snazzy visiting card on the glass-topped table. I studied its extravagant design — embossed letters, expensive stationery — and placed it inside my wallet. I couldn’t offer her mine for I didn’t have a job.
“What does an ‘account co-coordinator’ do?”
“Many things, in fact all the dirty work, I search in the rubbish bin for forgotten advertisement transparencies and art works. I sit for hours to get artworks approved by clients. It’s slavery.”
“Sounds interesting.”
“Come on, don’t be a hypocrite like the rest. Slavery is not interesting. I came to Bombay to be a model. I landed on Maya Advertising’s doorstep as a model for the Shine Soap advertisement campaign. I failed their audition. Look what they gave me instead.”
“Oh! Were you a model? I didn’t know that!”
I looked at her. Yes she had the looks of a model, though, short. But a lot of models are short.
“Cool down. We start our lives with a lot of plans, we know our destinies. None of them happen. We lose sight of our destinies. After some time we cease to care. Imagine, just freaking imagine, soon you would be fifty years old and you wouldn’t know how you lived your life. This life is empty, uniform, dull, and meaningless. But make the most of it, for it’s the only one you will ever have.”
Vikraman’s frustrated refrain, delivered in the same hopeless tone of voice.
Was the world going crazy, or was I? She looked dreamy as if she was letting my words sink in.
Through the distance of events now past, Padma, was this some inner voice giving me a premonition of what would happen? What should I have done then?
I was thinking of my own life. The choices I had made and the blind alleys I have had to cross and the chasm that was slowly opening up before me. It seemed as if we were two hunted and frightened animals cowering inside one of Bombay’s popular dating spots.
“You told me you lost your job, what happened?”
I told her in detail about the attempt I had made on Behl’s life and that I was contrite and wished it hadn’t happened. Twice, or, thrice during the narration my voice broke down completely. She listened patiently, head cocked to one side, nodding occasionally.
“I don’t blame you,” she said when I had finished.
“I am afraid he might go to the police, have me arrested.”
“No, I know him. He has no guts. He won’t do that.”
The beers arrived. The waiter banged the bottles and tumblers on the glass-topped table. He was mad at somebody. We were the only two people in the world to whom he could vent his irritation. So be it. We sipped slowly, the frothy liquid making my head light. Her assurance had made me more confident.
“I feel guilty. I shouldn’t have lost control.”
She reached across and cupped my hands in her delicately smooth ones.
The feeling of the morning, her wet body pressing against mine, the desire growing within me, instinctively sent bolts of lightning through me and crowded Mondegar and the rain-splattered, slippery road outside swam before my eyes. Surely she was an angel sent to rescue me from my utter hopelessness.
My eyes misted with tears. Everything blurred, the dim lights, the harsh rain.
“It’s not your fault. You were provoked.”
“Thank you; Renuka,” my voice broke above the splashing of water outside, “You are wonderful, just awesome.”
I remember looking into those angel eyes shining at me as if sucking me in with some kind of raw divine power. Her touch, her spirant breath, the dim light in the corner we sat, the events of that day, the intermittent heat, the ceaseless rain, the noisy pub all seemed to have affected me so much that I can still shut my eyes and recall it clearly, Padma. All I wanted then was for my darkness to fade into the lightness of her skin, my hardness into her softness, and my ordinariness into her beauty. In the darkness I noticed, for the first time, a gold chain glittering on her neck.
“That’s okay. I have my own problems.”
“Han, haan,” I nodded.
What problems could a princess living in a castle on a hill have? I was thinking.
“You don’t believe me do you?” She probably read my thoughts.
“I do, Renu –”
“– No you don’t,” she sounded angry, “you think having a face and body like mine is the ultimate that any man or woman would want.”
She withdrew her hands that cupped mine.
“No. No. No.”
“Then listen! I don’t have money to pay the rent. I send money to my mother and sister. Sometimes I don’t eat even when I am hungry. My male colleagues sexually harass me. I do nothing. I can’t. Everywhere I go these famished eyes stare at me, people prospect me, and do you know what they do when I reject them?”
“They try to touch me, slam their manhood against me. Don’t look so guilty, I don’t mean you. That incident inside the bus was an accident. This is deliberate touching I am talking about. Not a single day goes without me being violated and humiliated. People treat me as some cheap commodity. I hate it. Not a day, not one day passes without me wishing I was different — ordinary, I mean — look at that girl there, she has a steady relationship, is in command, and before long would be changing nappies. Why can’t I be like that, just plain ordinary?”
“Enough. Calm down. I didn’t mean all that,” I said turning to look at the girl she had pointed out. Though not ordinary she had an intelligent face, and eyes sharp like x-rays that could look through a person in seconds.
A shudder passed through me.
Then I reached out and held her hands as tenderly as I could. They felt comfortingly warm like woolen gloves.
“I am sorry if I made you feel that I am insensitive,” she made no move to withdraw her soft and supple hands, I continued, “listen, believe me, I have never spoken intimately to a woman for so long in this city. I don’t belong. I am an alien here. Can’t you see? Women look at me as if I am some fly or insect, really. You know how it is to belong nowhere and to no one and see all those beautiful people who belong, meet, laugh, and look at each other with knowing, trusting looks? Do you know how it feels?”
“How does it feel?” She asked eyebrows arching delicately above shining eyes.
“You feel odd and left out, ostracized, as if you have no right to exist.”
“I feel that way too.”
“You do? I thought you belonged to that charming world, a world that didn’t include me, that of a princess in a castle up on a hill,” I said smiling.
“Not funny.”
“Want to know something?”
“I have never dated a girl. You are my first.”
“Never dated a girl... ha... ha... ha....”
Her laughter rang out like tinkling glass, happy and abrupt, shattering the gloomy wetness. I didn’t mind peoples’ stares. I was happy, content, and with the woman I loved.
“No. I am a migrant like you. We would like to belong where people laugh all the time. Have you seen pictures of them in the papers laughing with mouths open? Yes, I want to be like them. But, sadly, I cannot. They don’t accept us. I know that world, I am not in it, I am in the outer periphery, the outer edge. Goggle-sanyasi says they are all weeping inside them, I don’t know. There is jealousy, betrayal, and bitter competition there; things I can’t handle. No, I don’t belong there,” she said.
“Why don’t you try and belong there? You are beautiful. I mean, there are men who could take you there.”
“And be in debt to them for life?” She shook her head.
“May be. What’s the harm in that? Our ideals of perfect relationships don’t exist. It’s sort of… like... if you can’t beat them join them. You can belong to the charmed crowd, be a part of their slick assed coterie, and attend their moronic parties.”
“No I would be lost, not for me,” she said.
“I see.” I wasn’t sure I saw or understood. I didn’t understand the rain either. It hadn’t stopped. We could be stranded the whole night in the city. Vehicles had started piling outside, moving in a slow bumper-grinding crawl.
“It seems I put you off,” she said withdrawing her hand, “look, I had to be honest. I may have been brutal; at least, you know being beautiful isn’t everything, Mr. Luke Varkey.”
She said this with her slowly spreading smile, two maddening sweet dimples forming and fading away from her cheeks. Her rich voice sprinkled unspoken desires in my heart.
Oh! Only if I could tell her how desirable she looked! If only I could take her in my arms and whisk her away to a magical land where fairies, elves, and gnomes lived.
“Seems as if we are two lost souls in this sinking city,” I said point to the incessant rain outside, “we would need boats to get home.”
Laughter sputtered in her throat and broke out like glass tinkling, breaking, and piercing me. The effect in the narrow pub was sudden and explosive!
Again people stared.
Then they returned to droning like houseflies over jackfruit. Life has a seeming grim purpose and meaning in beer bars. The alcohol was floating in circles in our brains, softening harsh sounds, deadening sorrows.
“Come, let’s finish our drinks and go home. The trains may stop. The rain is getting worse,” she said.
“Only a little beer is left in my bottle. If we don’t get a train we will sleep in Victoria Terminus station,” I said looking at the little lager in the amber bottle.
“Have you done that?”
“Yes, many times. They have spacious waiting rooms. You can even buy a long-distance ticket and then rent a dormitory bed and sleep comfortably.”
“You devil, you know all these tricks!”
“You know a dog demarcates his territory by pissing on it. I guess I have pissed in almost all toilets around the city, doing sales calls. So this is my territory.”
She laughed. It was easy to make her laugh. I liked her sense of fun.
“Have you thought about the future? What you want to do? Where you want to be?” This was a hook. I thought probably, like all women, she was thinking of marriage and settling down.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what lies ahead. I only realize that I don’t want to grow old. I wish to remain young. It’s my desire to live like this for ever.”
“Never thought about marriage? You know, raising your own team.” I tossed the bait, I had to, but she didn’t nibble.
Again shattering-glass laughter, it was a good sign that I could make her laugh.
“I hardly know you,” she chuckled drawing rings on the glass table top with her fingers, “besides, they will crucify us. You are a Christian and, me, I am Hindu.”
“Who are these ‘they’? Besides, I thought we are a secular country.”
“You know, the culture vultures, the moral brigade; the hawks that inhabit drab suburban housing estates. We won’t get flats to rent; our children would be outcasts. We won’t get the support of the great Indian extended family. We would be lost.”
“Really? How do you know all these?”
“I am a woman, I know these things,” she looked dreamily at the people around her, a typical woman-like look, “My family is very conservative. My father died when I was two years old. My mother, sister and I, we had a tough life. It’s a miracle that we survived the indignities we went through. We never had a man in our house for as long as I can remember.”
“Even I am without a father. He died in the Persian Gulf. It’s only me and my mother, and she is in Kerala.”
It was remarkable how our lives coincided, I thought as I downed the last bit of lager. She did the same. My head felt very light and she seemed to have taken away all my worries and traumas of the day. I seemed to inhabit a different world altogether then. If only, oh, if only I could persuade her.
“We must go, we must go, the rain isn’t stopping, I can’t swim, and getting all wet isn’t my idea of a date,” she said in her alcohol-softened voice.
“Oh, and, thanks for the date, my first in the city, no, my first ever. Hope I didn’t bore you too much.”
“Bore me? I had fun.”
“Let’s go,” I said.
I paid the waiter, and left a big tip, at least, to cheer him for the rest of his gloomy and disastrous day. No matter how bad the situation, I do such things. If happiness for him meant a twenty-rupee tip, I would give it willingly, just to surprise him. He gave me a surprised look and thanked me.
But what was running through my mind as I stepped out into the sticky, soggy humidity was how to convince her that I wanted her as I had wanted no one else in my life? How could I tell her the urgency of my love?
The air was uncomfortably moist and carried the putrid smell of wetness. The relentless rain had completely destroyed what the municipality had worked to create for over one year. The road was a mess. There were craters that punctured the Colaba Causeway and the MG Road that ran past Flora Fountain. Vehicles careened over it swaying like boats through storm, some turned turtle and lay exposing their underbelly.
Renuka opened her umbrella and tried desperately to shield me against the rain. It was no use. I was drenched immediately. She and I ran from one taxi to the other in the crawling traffic and begged, implored, charmed, and threatened the drivers to take us to Victoria Terminus. Though she had the charm and beauty to make a corpse smile, they stoically refused. Like eagles feeding on carrion they wanted to earn an obscene sum ferrying people to the suburbs.
“No they won’t come let us walk,” I said.
“In this rain?”
“In this water?” The water had come up to her ankles. The rain was relentless.
“Desperate situation, desperate measures,” I said.
She smiled and started walking beside me, holding her umbrella over my head. I held her around her waist. She didn’t object. It felt as if we were lovers.
It was pitch dark and raining as we left behind the glitter of Colaba and crossed towards the National Gallery of Modern Art. The area was gloomy. We passed Kala Ghoda where in the shadows of the ancient buildings of the British Raj (Elphinston College, David Sassoon Library, Prince of Wales Museum, old Watson Hotel) slept tired bhel-puri sellers; tender coconut vendors and drug addicts who were migrants to the city like me. They lay curled in the dampness, in sleep and in wakefulness, like motionless corpses awaiting burial, covered tightly from head to feet, unconscious, numb to the rain’s perennial scream.
Intermittent gusts of wind kept pushing the umbrella as we crossed the road in front of Bombay University. The area was very dark and the rain had made walking difficult. The rain dripped down from the edges of the umbrella and down the center, and along the rod. I held Renuka close to me so that we could be warm against the chill of the cold water. My fingers throbbed against her moist skin.
Suddenly she screamed.
Her thin voice cut through the roar of the rain.
The umbrella turned upside down.
“My chain... my gold chain,” she was screaming.
I lunged at the youth running away from us. I got a hold of his raincoat material, black and slippery. The rainwear had a hood, so I couldn’t see him. He freed himself with a jerk and ran. I ran after him, my bag flapping heavily against me, slowing me down.
“Mother sleeper, you, abuser of a corpse....” the profanities issued from my mouth without my knowing.
I tried to hit him, using all my force, as I had seen in the movies. But the “dish, dishoom” sounds that usually accompanies such efforts in the movies didn’t come. I didn’t connect. Try hitting him in his chest. That didn’t connect too.
Then I remembered my shoes. They were floppy shoes but were made of rock solid leather from the Dharavi slums.
My kick landed straight in his groin. He yelped like a dog. I kicked again.
“Watch out Luke... he’s got a knife, he’s got a knife....” Renuka was screaming and pulling my shirt from behind.
The man slashed crazily and ran.
I evaded the wide arc of his knife coming at me, lost balance, and fell and she fell with me.
The black hooded form disappeared into the darkness and the rain.
The rain was drumming around our ears now. Water was streaming down her face, mingling with her tears.
I drew her near, the water hitting our faces, and kissed her, her mouth, her eyes.
Her tears tasted salty. I looked at her in the eerie light of a sodium vapor lamp.
“Oh, it was my mother’s chain. What would I tell her?” Her voice shook with sobs.
“No matter. It’s gone, over. It’s dead.” I held her trying to keep my voice calm.
A few cars nearly hit us huddling on the road, swerved, and sped away horns screaming above the roar of the rain.
We sat there in the rain, the irate drivers cursing us, locked our lips and kissed like we were going to die.
We were holding each other, weeping and kissing as if nothing else in this world mattered.

Renu, Renuka, Renuka Barua, will you love me like this all my life? Let us capture this moment store it in a bottle and live like this all our lives, cutting out the world from our private heaven, shall we? These questions kept playing on my lips, though I never had the courage to ask her. To me, she looked like one of the millions who came to Bombay to find work in the glamorous worlds of films, modeling, and television only to find their dreams taken away by the heat, the noise, the rain, and the impossibility of finding a foothold in the dying city.
That day the rain pounded us, pulverized us, gushed over us, turned concrete and mortar to slush and debris. It rained as never before. It killed nearly a hundred people. Five building collapsed under its force. It felled mighty trees that had withstood years of thunderstorms. It flooded slums with foul-smelling sewage. It’s force bent and twisted metal, overran the gutters, flooded roads, housing estates, and slums; and in its savage and unrelenting onslaught we held to each other and walked and waded all the way to Victoria Terminus.