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.”

“What?”

“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.