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The perks of working in Indian Railways. July 30, 2018

Posted by globejam in fiction, Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

Indian railwaysMy forefathers were affluent farmers from Tirunelveli in South India. At one point in time, maybe four generations ago, they owned large tracts of fertile land in which they cultivated fruits, vegetables and flowers. Or so I am told. Unfortunately, by the time my father was born, most of that land had become fragmented, having been divided among the many children of successive generations.   Even the little land my grandfather had inherited had been sold to get my aunts married which meant that my father inherited nothing beyond stories of a glorious past.

Thankfully, my father was a resourceful man, and despite having studied only till his 7th grade, managed to become a fairly successful civil contractor for the Indian Railways.  A worldly-wise man, he knew how to find the right people, appease them and win large contracts. His business grew quickly and by the time I was born, we were already once again on our way to affluence.

I grew up in Tirunelveli and then in Kanyakumari where I did most of my schooling and my Bachelor’s in Psychology.  Like many of my friends from fairly rich families, I had very little interest in anything and practically no ambition at all.  However, my father had clear ideas of what he would like me to become.  For him the most successful people were the bureaucrats.  These were the people he dealt with day in and day out, the people who made all the decisions and seemingly wielded all the power, no matter which political party was ruling. His ambition was to see me become an IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer.

“Just get through these exams, my son, and you will have the world at your fingertips”, he used to tell me. “The salary is not great, but you can make lots of money, if you are smart.  And the best part is that you cannot ever be fired”, he would gush, the excitement palpable in his voice.  I can’t say his enthusiasm was contagious, but nevertheless, being a fairly obedient son, I was happy to go along. So, it was no surprise to anyone that I faithfully took on his ambition for me as my own. After completing my bachelors, I started preparing in earnest for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, the clearing of which qualified one to join an elite group of people who run the country.

After a couple of years of intense preparation, the time came for me to take my first shot at clearing these exams.  My centre for the exams turned out to be Madras and two days before the exam I booked my train ticket from Kanyakumari to Madras by sleeper class. At the last minute, my sister, her husband and their 3-year old daughter also decided to accompany me to Madras. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it was holiday season, the train was already full and they could not get confirmed seats.

However, my father was well connected with the officers in the railways. So, he spoke to the head of the Kanyakumari division of Southern Railways and got us confirmed first-class AC tickets.  “That’s the power of a government servant. Who else can get three confirmed tickets on a train that has been overbooked for months, in a matter of minutes!?”, he asked proudly, already imagining me in that position, I am sure.

It was the overnight train to Madras and we were in our compartment a good 30 minutes before the train started on its journey.  We stowed our luggage, made ourselves comfortable and waited for the train to get going.  Just a minute or so before departure, a young man entered our compartment, a little out of breath as though he had come running, with a notebook and pen in his hand. “Mr. Perumal?”, he enquired, looking questioningly at me and my brother-in-law.  “That’s me”, I said, identifying myself.  “Good evening! Sir sent me to ensure that everything was in order and you are comfortably settled in”, he said.  “Sir”, I assumed was the railway officer who had wrangled the seats for us.  “Yes, everything is fine. Thank you”, I replied, thrilled that someone had been sent solely to enquire after us. “I hope you got your pillows and blankets”, he asked, despite the said blankets and pillows being clearly piled up beside us. “And I have asked the catering to come by and take your order for dinner.  They should be coming by shortly”, he continued. Even though I knew the catering guys would come along anyway, whether he had asked them to or not, I was thrilled with his solicitousness. We were being treated like kings and I couldn’t help but show my gratitude by repeatedly thanking him for his concern.

Then he hesitated a bit and said “There is a small obligation though, I am afraid…”.  By then I was ready to do anything he asked. “Yes?”, I asked eager to please. “You need to pay Rs. 250 as confirmation charges…” , he said, clearly embarrassed to even broach the delicate subject. As my brother-in-law took out his wallet to make the payment, sensing I was travelling with company, he added, “for each ticket”.  I was a little taken aback that we had to shell out Rs. 750, but nevertheless, we were committed and I handed him the amount.  He took the money, jotted something down in his little notebook, wished us a successful journey and jumped off the train just as it started moving.

It took another minute before my brother-in-law chuckled and wondered aloud why we had given this perfect stranger our money.  As the train gathered speed and exited the well-lit station into the darkness beyond, we were nearly sure that we had been had. How had he known my name?  How did he know that the railway officer had got the seats for us? Could it be that there was actually an additional confirmation charge that we had not already paid for?  I tossed and turned that night, annoyed at not even knowing if we had been conned at all.  It must have been early hours before I finally fell asleep.

The next day I wrote the exam and did pretty well.  The results were announced a few months later and we were all thrilled to see my name among those that had qualified.  I hadn’t done well enough to be an IAS officer, but could pick between IRS (revenue department) and IRS (Railway service).  My father was ecstatic and insistent that I join the Indian Railway Service.  I complied, the obedient son that I was.

A year of training later, I joined my commission as a junior office in Southern Railways at Madras.  My office was a huge room with high ceiling in an old British-built complex near the Central railway station.  My father came to see me there and could not contain his joy, hopping around like a 5-year old child.  I was happy to see that his ambitions were coming true.  “Don’t forget to make your money now”, he advised. A week later he passed away peacefully in his sleep. A massive heart-attack said the doctor. Sometimes, I think that he had felt that his job on earth was done now that I had reached where he wanted me to be and then had punched his ticket out of here.

Three months later I spotted the man who had taken money from me on the train two years earlier. We passed each other on the corridor to my office.  I don’t think he recognized me. He appeared to be a clerical cadre employee working somewhere within the building.  I followed him discreetly and found out where his workplace was.

Over the course of the next 4-5 days, I followed him out of the office every evening.  The first three days, he left the office, went straight to the bus stand outside, boarded route 1A and left. Just as I was beginning to think that maybe he did collect legitimate charges from me, on the fourth day, which was a Friday, he moved towards the railway platforms instead of the exit as usual.

My interest piqued, I followed him closely.  He checked his watch once or twice and sauntered towards the Express to Mumbai on Platform 3, scheduled to depart shortly. He reached the First-class air-conditioned compartment and studied the passenger manifest pasted on the outside for a few minutes.  “Aha! So that is how he knew my name”, I figured.  He then peeped into the compartment quickly, did not find what he was looking for and then moved back and waited for the passengers to arrive.

I was slowly beginning to understand what was happening here. Knowing he was not going to go anywhere for a while, I moved to a bench 10 meters away and sat down to watch him from a comfortable vantage. I could have stood next to him and he would not have noticed, so engrossed was he watching the various people getting into the compartment. When it was almost time for the train to start, he took out a notebook and pen, and got into the compartment.  A minute later, just as the train had started moving, he jumped back down, waved at his victims through their window and started towards the exit.  Nobody watching him would have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

As he sauntered away, I considered accosting him then and there, but did not know how he would react, given the fact that he would not even know that I was a railway officer.  So, I quietly followed him out of the station as usual. This time, however, instead of taking his regular bus, he crossed the road and entered one of the many bars that surround the station.

I returned to our office building and went to his office room.  There was just one guy there, ostensibly working, everybody else having left for home.  I pointed to the conman’s desk and asked about him. He did not know much about his colleague except that his name was Madhu, and that he had just been recently transferred from the Kanyakumari office.  I told him my name and designation and asked him to request Madhu to come and see me first thing next morning and left.

Madhu came to meet me the next day. He did not appear worried, just mildly curious.  I asked him if he remembered me. He didn’t. So, I reminded him about that day a few years earlier in Kanyakumari when he had pulled his usual trick.  He smiled and nodded, as though he was reliving a pleasant memory.  Then realizing I was playing the victim here, he said pleasantly enough, “It’s a victim-less crime”.  “I know those seats are reserved for officers like you, against the rules, to allocate to your friends and contacts. A little payment for last minute reservations is not too much to ask of the travelers.  The railways, anyway would not have got any money from them over and above the ticket costs.  So, I make some money for my weekend tipple, so what?”, he asked, confident that nothing could be pinned on him.

I had thought I would just scare him a little bit and let him go.  But I was well and truly taken aback by his matter-of-fact attitude and guilt-free demeanor.  I was also quite impressed by the simplicity of his brilliant scheme.

I had to take some action, though. After all, he had practically confessed. So, I had no other choice but to have him transferred immediately.  That was 2 years ago.

***

India has nearly 8000 railway stations with over 12,000 trains ferrying a whopping 23 million passengers each day.  Most trains are overbooked and many of the long-distance trains have this informal quota of about 10 seats per train, spread across multiple compartments, earmarked for officers to assign as they please.  Even if you take only 200 such trains, there are 2000 such seats available each day.  At a conservative Rs. 250 per seat, this amounts to around Rs. 5,00,000 per day waiting to be pocketed.

Madhu, who I had transferred to the booking department had access to all the trains’ details and was able to identify the best set of 300 trains to concentrate on, within a month of joining in his new position. Over the next 6 months, I built and trained a network of over 300 people on the technique perfected by Madhu, and stationed them in all major stations across India.  I also set up a small call centre next to my office which feeds the seat numbers and names of the relevant passengers to our workforce.

All that the trained personnel do now is to go to the identified seats, collect the money from the passengers, take their commission and deposit the rest into our accounts.  I think I can safely state that I have started making some money.

I only wish my father was still alive.  He would have been really proud of his son.

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A Kerfuffle about armpits July 19, 2018

Posted by globejam in Uncategorized.
2 comments

sleevelessYes. I did say something about sleeveless dresses and armpits. It was something altogether innocuous. You wouldn’t think that would result in a such a big fuss, right?  Wrong.  There are five of us in the house, all grown up, at least by age, and none of us is talking to any of the others now because of that one harmless observation.

****

It was just another day.

It was around six-thirty in the morning and as usual we were seated on the verandah watching the neighbourhood wake up.  To my left was Jambunathan, Jim for short, one of my two tenants.  Jim is a world-weary, middle-aged bachelor, maybe about 45, and a freelance journalist. I don’t quite know where he works and till recently had not seen any of his contributions in any of the newspapers and magazines we get. To my right, was Sundar, a young early-30s lecturer, who teaches math at a nearby engineering college. He and his newly-wed wife are my other tenants. In the middle, of course was myself.  I am in my 70s now, fit as a fiddle. I used to work in the US, but now I have retired and returned to my village home to spend the rest of my life. My village is no longer the village I remember from my childhood. It’s a bustling town now, but still home to me and I am happy to be back where I belong.

That time of the day, between six and half-past seven or eight in the morning, was a period of peaceful expression for the three of us. A lazy, tension-free period of gentle banter, before the work day began.  Seated with our coffee and newspaper, we would discuss various matters of indeterminate importance. The day’s news, cricket, local gossip, and sudden insights like the fateful one about armpits, were all fodder for our discussions.

The verandah provided us with a nice vantage point from which to observe all the goings-on.  And not much passed by us without some comment – sly, snide, or sometimes even well-meaning – from one of us. We would watch and provide commentary as the street and its inhabitants gradually woke up and got ready to face another day.

Most days, the routine would be unvarying. The first busy period would just be ending as we took up our usual positions. The last of the milkmen and the laziest of the newspaper boys would just be finishing their rounds. Then the shops would start opening one by one and the first customers would start coming in. The first set of housewives would come out in their nightgowns with a towel for a dupatta and buy batter for the breakfast idlies.  Poking our heads from over the newspapers one or the other of us would comment on the ugliness of the dress and wish for the more traditional saree to make a comeback.  Then after a while, as though to fulfil our wishes, the next set of housewives, typically in sarees, fresh after a bath and wet hair still tied in that towel that is no longer a dupatta, would rush out to buy coriander and curry leaves to put the finishing touches to their rasam or sambar.  At around the same time, a few men would come slinking in, in their dhoti and shirts for their first smoke of the day.

Around half-past 7, the school children would go past noisily on their way to school, followed by girls in their salwar-kameez on their way to the St. Theresa Ladies college at the end of our road.  Finally, the working folks, both men and women, dressed variously, would go hurrying past, to make it to their offices in time.  This was usually the first sign for Sundar to get up and go get ready for college. He would try and delay the inevitable until Shanthi, his pretty wife would come and inform him that if he did not go for his bath pronto, he would be late for his first class. Jim would also use that as a cue to get ready for his work, though none of us knew exactly where he went. A freelance journalist, it seemed, never had anywhere to go to at any particular time.  I, being retired, didn’t have to go anywhere.  However, I would also get up and go into the house soon after for it was boring to sit there without my friends.

That would mark the end of our enjoyable morning session.

On that particular day, we had been having a discussion on how fashions and trends come and go and how there is no accounting for taste.  Just afterwards, I happened to see a few pretty, young, office going ladies in sleeveless tops and made a simple comment about exposed armpits. I even remember my exact words. All I had said was “who knew that an exposed armpit wouldn’t be altogether unattractive!”

It must have intersected with Sundar’s thoughts then because he said something like “I know a pair that is eminently kissable”, followed by a sigh, and “but who lets me?”. Mortified at having voiced such personal thoughts, he got up and left immediately, while I made some non-committal sounds to cover my laughter.  Jim sitting on the other side had his head buried in his copy of The Hindu and did not seem to have heard anything. And that was that.

****

Last Saturday, Jim and I were having our second cup of coffee and wondering why Sundar had not joined us yet, when Shanthi came into our portion of the house, her eyes all red and puffed up from crying, and rushed into the kitchen to talk to my wife. After a quiet period, my wife came out fuming, brandishing some magazine.  She threw it at me and said “See what your friend is doing to this poor girl!”. Just as I caught the magazine, Shankar came in and declared angrily, “I am sure she only wrote it”.  Mystified by all the drama, I looked at the open magazine and saw that it was on a page where a famous sex doctor answered readers’ questions.

The first question caught my eye.  It said “Sometimes, when we are in bed together, my husband wants to kiss my armpits. Is that normal behaviour?  I am worried.”, supposedly sent in by “anguished newlywed”.  I confess I giggled a bit, most inappropriate for my age and the situation, I admit.  Still, in my defence, I had just been reminded of his statement the other day and couldn’t help but wonder if she might have actually sent in the question herself.  “Stop giggling like a fool”, admonished my wife, and added “the poor child did not write such a mail to that idiot doctor.  And this big oaf is accusing her”.

Sundar was seething by then.  He was already angry with his wife.  Now he was angry with my wife too, for having brought out the entire issue into the open.  Now everyone, including bachelor Jim knew he wanted to kiss his wife’s armpits.

I think that’s when Sundar stopped talking to the two women.

In order to diffuse the situation, I said “Wait.  Let’s read the answer at least.  Maybe the good doctor can clear up the matter”, I said half-jokingly. In the lull that followed, I started reading the answer aloud. It said,

Dear Anguished newlywed,

There may be many reasons why your husband may want to kiss your armpits.

One, your husband may be suffering from a salt deficiency.  Try adding a bit more salt in his diet.

Two, I am sure you have noticed how some house dogs jump on the knee of an unsuspecting visitor with gusto.  This might be such a case of mistaken identity.

Ha ha ha! Just kidding. Seriously though…“, I sputtered a bit here as I could not control my laughter.  The answer was funny. I have a sense of humour.  So, bite me.

Anyway, I guess nobody else shared my sense of humour there for I could almost feel their stares trying to burn me to a cinder. Not making eye-contact with anyone, I reined in my laughter quickly enough and continued reading, “...Seriously though, there is nothing weird about it.  It is quite normal and just shows how much your husband loves you. In fact, you should be flattered that he thinks they are eminently kissable”. I paused here to wonder how the answer had the exact same words that Sundar had uttered. Something was fishy here.

But not wanting to add more fuel to an already raging fire, I continued, “So, unless you are extremely ticklish or find this abhorrent, I suggest that you should give it a try.  Maybe you can reciprocate too. Who knows, maybe you will like it too! Just make sure that you keep the area clean for there are a lot of sweat glands there and bacteria thrive in such warm moist conditions. Loosen up and have fun!“.

“There, see. There is nothing wrong with it”, I said and added as an aside to my wife that maybe we could try it too. In my defense, I thought that would reduce the awkwardness all around and maybe people would see the funny side of it.  Obviously, my wife didn’t see eye-to-eye with me on that one.  She thought that was in very poor taste and let me have it!

Reeling under her onslaught, I decided to divert the attention by roping Jim into the picture. “Jim”, I said, “you’re the journalist. Why don’t you find out who wrote that letter”. Jim, till then, had been studiously hiding behind his paper.  On being addressed directly, he looked up from the paper and I could see a weird look in his eyes. Without thinking, I blurted out “What?  Don’t tell me you wrote in the question!?”.

Before Jim could react, the others pounced on him.  “Is this the kind of journalist you are?”, asked Sundar having found an opening to redirect the heat.  “You were there on the verandah with us when Sundar here said he would like…”, I started before realizing that I was probably fanning the flames here. Shanthi, who had been sniffling silently interjected in a cold voice, “…and what did Sundar say?”.  Too late to retract my words, I confessed, “… that he would like to kiss your armpits”.

I could practically see her eyes turning red.  Just as she was about to launch into a full-frontal attack, Sundar pointed a finger at me accusingly and said, “He started it!”. At which point, quite predictably, my wife jumped in and demanded to know what I had said.  “Well, this old man, he said he liked exposed armpits”, said Sundar smugly. I got another earful from my wife.  “At your age! With a bachelor on one side, an impressionable mind on the other and a young girl in the house. You men are so lecherous”.

“What impressionable mind?”, I exploded, “He is over 30 for God’s sakes. Not some pubescent teenager!”.

“You men are sick, I tell you”, she continued, disgust writ large on her face.

I think that is when we decided to stop talking to each other.

I turned to Jim for support only to find him glaring at me.  “What are you glaring at me for?”, I asked.

“Bloody journalists”, muttered Sundar.  “Who’s that quack doctor, anyway?”. asked Sundar.  I was taken aback by the vehemence in Jim’s voice when he responded with “the answer’s perfectly fine.  It’s funny, entertaining to readers and correct in all ways.  What’s wrong in answering questions many people want to ask but are too ashamed to do so?”.

Again, in retrospect, I should have kept my mouth shut, but the possibility was tantalizing.  “Don’t tell me you wrote the answer as well? No wonder you used the exact words!”, I ejaculated.  His jaw dropped for a second. Then he looked at me and said, “it’s all your fault. You started it!”. Before I could respond, he dropped the paper on the table, got up and headed out.  Then, as a parting shot, just before exiting, he turned to Sundar and asked mockingly, “and which half-decent guy buys a smutty magazine like that anyway!?”.

He hasn’t spoken to us since.

*****

It’s another bright day, and here I am, sitting on my verandah, all alone.  The two chairs on my either side are empty.  I am watching the street and its usual progress. It is boring without the company of my friends.  And then, just like that, I have an epiphany.  I realize why the nightgown-and-towel has taken over as the dress du jour for women.  But alas, there is no one to share it with.

I hope things get back to normal soon, because I don’t know how long I can keep these brilliant insights of mine all to myself.

The power of yoga. May 31, 2018

Posted by globejam in This is not bad. It's worse!.
5 comments

yogaclassI better write this quickly, lest I change my mind. I hope it’s not too late already.

I signed up for yoga lessons over a month ago and have been wanting to gush about it ever since. As you know, there is no fanatic like a recent convert, and I don’t want to miss my chance to evangelize yoga and its benefits before the initial euphoria evaporates. Which tends to happen to everything that enters my life. If you don’t know me, take my word for it. So you can understand why I am in a hurry.

Yoga has been truly transformational. Three days after I started my yoga, several of my friends asked me if I had had a facial done! Apparently my skin was glowing, and the dark circles around my eyes that suggested I was more Procyon (raccoon, for those not familiar with scientific names) than Homo (Man, lest you assume something else) were lighter. Amazing. I hadn’t even started all the asanas in earnest and already things were beginning to turn out wonderfully.

Fifteen days later, I was able to touch my toes without bending my knees. A miracle, considering it has not happened before in my life! I am becoming more bendy overall (which must come in useful, some time) and have more energy and feel a lot less stressed. Yoga, where have you been all my life? Reader, reader, you must take up yoga immediately. It is truly transformational. Did I say that already? Anyway, it is. Believe me. Before I change my mind. Chill. I am just kidding. It’s true. If you don’t believe me ask Modi. Or any of his Bhakts. Or FMCG magnate baba ramdev or the aspiring FMCG competitor squeaky Sri Sri, or even our most well dressed and stylish Sadhguru.

Anyway, back to my experience. This yogashram I go to is a calm, serene place. Classes are held on the terrace of a 3-storey apartment complex that has been covered by metal cladding. It is very quiet and most suitable for yoga classes. There are no strict rules or any other in-your-face religiousity that some of the yogashrams tend to shove down one’s throat.  Not too much, anyway.

This particular yoga school seems to be run by devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba. There is a picture of him in one corner, but beyond that, he does not seem to weigh-in heavily in matters related to yoga. As babas go, I think this chappy was all right. From all accounts, he did not proclaim to be a God or a messenger of one. All he did was ask people during his time to give peace a chance, long before Lennon penned those iconic words. Not to be confused with the Puttaparthi guy who was a mediocre magician with an extraordinary head full of hair, at best.

That others have usurped him for their own ends can’t be blamed on him, I suppose.

I apologise, for I am digressing. Happens a lot when I am in a hurry. Some people have tried telling me I am in a hurry all the time because I am constantly digressing and not the other way around. Who knows? Though that sounds absurd, one can never tell. The world does work in mysterious ways. There I go again.

Coming back to the yoga, my class starts with chanting OM a few times (as a breathing exercise, ostensibly) followed by a short prayer. It’s in Sanskrit and I get a feeling that it means something along the lines of “be kind to us and to all those around us”, though I don’t quite follow the language. Let’s just say, I have conveniently assumed that it is largely secular and peace loving in the interests of my own peace of mind and the need to attend some yoga classes.

This is followed by a warm up routine consisting of two sets of 12 Surya namaskarams done at a rather brisk pace. For those uninitiated, Surya namaskaram is a series of 12 positions that one segues through and is a fantastic method of limbering up.  You must, must, must try it.  It is truly transformational.  Really.

After this the teacher guides the students through a bunch of asanas that differ from day to day. The class ends with a 5-minute breathing exercise, followed by brahmari – another breathing technique (you have to close your eyes, place your fingers on your face just so and hum like a bee. Its quite soothing, you must try it. Must. Must) and another short prayer. This one also sounds quite harmless, and altogether secular. Hey! Some delusions are all right. Give peace a chance, ok?

Things have been going well and I am feeling better and better, though some of my friends are suggesting that much of the excess energy I seem to have gained is being spent on lecturing others on the benefits of yoga, but that’s just their nature. They are a sarcastic bunch who have not understood yet the power of yoga. Let us forgive them, for they know not what they say, and all that. See. That’s yoga for you. Lets people be and promotes universal brotherhood to boot.

Just of late, though, I have developed a niggling pain in my shoulder and upper arm. I knew I should have written this article earlier. All these unnecessary details would have not surfaced. Pchah! Anyway, I think maybe one or two of my cervical vertebrae are pressing on an odd nerve here and there and this is preventing me from doing the Surya namaskaram. I have been taught some special asanas and mudras (ways in which you hold your fingers together) that are sure to make this problem go away.  I am hoping they work quickly.

However, that is not the biggest problem. That is just a round-about cause for a larger problem. And that has to do with my having to stand separately and do these special exercises while the others are doing their Surya namaskarams. My class consists of a couple of men and ten-odd women, mostly in their 50s and older. Despite clear instructions (one of the few rules) that they should wear dresses that cover their modesty whatever the asanas, most of them wear their usual regular churidars. These are decent enough at regular times, but not at all appropriate for doing Surya namaskarams that involve a lot of bending forward, flexing the back, and other mild contortions.

Therein lies my problem. I have no more than a passing interest in old saggy tits and I would much rather do without flashes of them when I am en-route to a more enlightened life. Sadly, however, whichever way I turn, there they are. Let me assure you that I am a firm believer in the Seinfeld school of thought that says “Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don’t stare at it. It’s too risky. Ya get a sense of it and then you look away”. Unfortunately, he has not factored in the possibility of multiple suns, having restricted himself to an earth-like solar system. In my case, everywhere I turn, another pair is rising, if you know what I mean.

I am worried about my reputation. What if someone thinks I am feigning pain to take a peek?  OMG!  I tried closing my eyes, but the teacher insists that unless I can see what I am doing, I will not be able to hold my poses correctly. That was plan-A screwed. Plan-B was to stand right in front of my wife and do the asanas, but she is also finding my fixed stare a bit disconcerting. Besides, constantly staring at her, despite her high-neck t-shirt, is thwarting my progress along the path towards spirituality.

Anyway, all these sudden, jerky neck movements that I am forced to employ to avoid the glare of the sun, so to speak, are not helping me with my niggling neck problem and I am beginning to believe that maybe it may never go away.

This a call for help. If you can suggest a solution, please do so. I don’t want to stop my yoga journey just yet.

Leave your suggestions in the comment section. Sigh!

Strange music December 4, 2017

Posted by globejam in Uncategorized.
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meera_musicI have known all three of them for quite a long time. Then again, I wonder if I actually ever knew them.

I have known the Doctor the longest. He was already a well established cardiologist when I got to know him. I met him for the first time when I was assigned to follow our late Chief Minister. When the CM suffered a heart attack in ’97, through odd circumstances, I was the one who picked up the doctor and brought him to the CM’s home. It was my first scoop as a young journalist.

The doctor was soft spoken, and very respectful even though I was several years his junior. We met many more times, especially after the Chief Minister’s health deteriorated. Towards the end, during the months before the CM finally passed away, we spent many hours together travelling in the convoy with the CM, and backstage during the long political rallies which the CM insisted on leading despite severe health issues.

The doctor was initially quite reticent. I think he thought I was the CM’s grandson or something, given that the CM was always real nice to me, and hence kept his distance. But once he found out that I was a rookie journalist who had just been at the right place at the right time to help the CM when he got his chest pain, he became friendlier and even a little protective.

It was during those times of enforced companionship that we got to know each other well. Surprisingly, we shared many common interests not the least of which was music. We both liked an eclectic mix of music ranging from Carnatic, Hindustani and western classical to jazz and rock. We spent our idle hours endlessly dissecting various artists and bands and exchanging notes on the up-and-coming singers in the Carnatic circuit.

Those endless days must have been a real pain for him. For me, it was part of my job and my newspaper was actually happy that I was close to the CM, because that gave us access to a lot of news first. But for the doctor, it meant not being able to take care of his practice, or be available for his other patients as regularly as he would have liked. Sitting around idly hoping the CM wouldn’t have a heart attack must have been frustrating for him. However, he seemed to take it all with equanimity and I did not hear him complain, even once. He was so zen. When you looked at him, you would think there was nothing else he would rather be doing nor anywhere else he would rather be. When talking to someone, he would be in the moment, all his attention on that person and on the topic at hand, enveloping them in his cocoon of calmness. I have very fond memories from those few months.

After the CM passed away, we did not get many more opportunities to meet and talk. On rare occasions, we bumped into each other at some sabha or the other in Chennai during the December music season, where we would chat briefly. He would be with his friends or sometimes his parents and I would just politely enquire about his well-being before moving on. I know he read my articles regularly because he always sent in his compliments and comments. So, we were never really out of touch, I guess, if you think about it.

One day, I was pleasantly surprised to receive his wedding invitation by post. And even more surprised to see that the bride was the well know carnatic singer M____. By my calculation, at that time, the doctor must have been in his late 30s or early 40s and M____ would have been no more than 21 or 22, a considerable age difference. “Invitation is for our friend, and not the journalist”, said the postscript on the wedding card, with a smiley at the end. Given that they were both well-known and I had only gotten to know them through my work as a journalist, I had not taken the liberty of slotting them as friends, though I was fond of them both, to say the least. So to get an invitation and to be called a friend felt very nice.

I was a big fan of M_____, having covered her meteoric rise through the years since she burst on to the music scene at the tender age of 12. Even at that early age, her talent was unmistakable. I still remember house-full concerts where the child (at that time) would enthrall her audience, comprising people of all ages, with renditions of Meera bhajans. She would invest in them so much love and devotion that it was easy to imagine that she was actually in love with Lord Krishna. If the original Meera’s feelings for the lord are considered the purest form of love, to hear the music flow from this young girl only made it even more so.

By the time she was 18, she was a well-established and highly respected Carnatic singer invited to perform all over the world. I followed her career with keen interest and made it a point to attend her concerts whenever possible. Over the course of her career, I interviewed her quite a few times, and it was always a very pleasant and joyful task.

If she had been only a great singer, maybe her trajectory would not have been so spectacular. Combined with the prodigious talent was her ethereal beauty. She was not just cute, or pretty. Even gorgeous wouldn’t quite cut it. She was beautiful, in the fullest sense of the term. I know, the word beauty is overused and has become cliched, but it would be difficult to find a more suitable substitute to describe her. There was an other-worldly aura around her. I could tell you that she had a flawless complexion the colour of honey, that she had large expressive eyes that were black as the night and yet blindingly bright, that she had a irrepressible smile that lit up the world, or that her long tresses bounced like gently coiled springs made of silk, but it would not do justice to her appearance. Even a poet far more capable than I would be hard-pressed to convey in words what could only be perceived with our eyes and hearts. It was an all-encompassing beauty that made everyone around her feel beautiful too.

To top it all, despite all the adulation and a burgeoning fan base, she came across as a normal person in all other respects. Her expressions, attitudes and answers to the various questions I posed during the interviews were always age appropriate and yet mature for her age. If I sound as though I was in love with her, you would not be too far off the mark.

I was happy for them both when I heard that they were getting married. Despite minor misgivings of their age difference, I couldn’t think of any reason why it would not be the best thing that happened to them. I attended their wedding. I had assumed that it would be a large gala affair with a thousand invitees, but was surprised to find that the wedding was a small private affair with hardly 100 people. When I entered the wedding hall, the doctor was sitting on the stage half-way through some ceremony and the bride was running around bubbly as usual. The demure bride she was not. The doctor caught my eye, nodded his head, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. M____ bounded up to me, grabbed me by the elbow and hugged me like I was a long lost, much loved cousin. “So good you could make it”, she said and then added, “the doctor has asked me a thousand times if I was sure I had sent the invite to you”. “Of course, I am also thrilled that one of my favourite people is here to share in my happiness”, she continued, giving my elbow another tight squeeze, oblivious of the effect she was having on me. She could have never been mine, but the finality of her being well and truly somebody else’s now was inescapable. My heart lurched a bit, I confess. Thankfully somebody else caught her attention then and she bustled away possibly to break some other heart with a dose of her boundless love and affection.

I wondered if life would change for either of them after marriage, especially whether she would cut down on her performances or travels, but thankfully for the fans, life went on as before. While the doctor continued to grow in stature as the preeminent cardiac surgeon drawing patients from all over India and other countries, M___ continued to travel around the world performing to rave reviews.

A decade or so later, I introduced M____ to my friend, an accomplished jazz violinist. He was an old friend of mine, from the time he had first visited India to perform at the Alliance Francaise as a youngster. We had been introduced to each other by my French teacher and I had become his tour guide and translator for the duration of his stay. We hit it off well as we travelled together to Pondicherry and Auroville and then to Mahe in Kerala which was another erstwhile French colony. He toured India almost every year after that, and we used to plan at least one long weekend together travelling to some nearby place with a European connection.

On one such trip to Tranquebar, a Danish post on the east coast of India, we happened to meet M____ and the doctor who were also staying at the same resort. As fusion music was all a rage then, I suggested that they could maybe have a concert together. To my surprise, both of them thought it was a great idea and one thing led to another and within a month, they had a programme which turned out to be a big hit. The next year, she travelled to France and they had a few performances together there which were also very well received.

From that time, their concerts together became a standard fixture during the annual music season in Chennai and in various jazz and world music stages across the world. Over the next decade or so, she not only became known for her own reputation, but also as one half of the jazz–carnatic duo.

During that period, I moved to New Delhi to cover the national political scene. So, I lost touch with all of them and heard nothing much beyond what was reported in the media, which was not much. Then, one day, I heard they were having a concert in Delhi and so I called my friend to reconnect and possibly bum a backstage pass. After the concert I went backstage and we chit-chatted for a few minutes. He then invited me to join them for dinner. M___ hesitated a bit, took him aside and spoke to him for a while after which he came back and said that she had other plans and would be unable to join us. So, it was just the two of us who went for dinner.

After we sat down at our table, without preamble, he said “I should have told you about this sooner. M___ and I are an item now. We have been together for about 5 years now”. I was totally taken aback. “How could you?”, I exclaimed. “What? You’re still carrying a torch for her?”, he countered jocularly. “Yes. That”, I replied in similar vein, “but I was thinking more about the doctor!”. “Of course, the doctor is aware”, he said in reply. “Oh! That poor man. He must be devastated”, I said feeling sorry for the gentle doctor. “Not really. We are all quite civilized about it you know. Its a fairly open relationship between the three of us. M____ is a treasure. Only your society will not accept it and hence the secrecy”, he replied appearing quite blasé. It all sounded altogether Bohemian for me. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine the dignified doctor in a love triangle.

Over dinner he brought me up to speed on all that had transpired since we had last met. Apparently, soon after they started performing together, he had fallen madly in love with her. I wasn’t surprised. It was inevitable given M___’s beauty and the fact that they were traveling together regularly as part of their concert tours. However, since he had also developed an abiding respect for the doctor, he had not acted on his urges, he said. To complicate matters, M____ being her usual ebullient self, he had been unable to figure out if his feelings were being reciprocated or not. Anyway, the absence of any pushback had raised his hopes and so his love for her had grown unhampered. This state of affairs, he said, had gone on for quite some time, making life difficult for him.

Then, during a moment of weakness, he had gone and confessed his feelings, not to M____ as one might logically expect, but to the doctor. Whether this was to assuage his own guilt or he was looking for approval, I do not know. Matters would have ended there if the doctor had asked him to cut off all relationships and move away, he said, as that was something he had already contemplated on doing.

Unfortunately for the kindly doctor, M___ had also, in private, confessed to him her growing feelings for her co-artist. I don’t know what went on in the doctor’s mind at that time. I can only guess that maybe he harboured guilt relating to their huge age difference, or was looking to do the right thing by her, for instead of getting angry, he had offered to get a divorce and set her free. Characteristically, M____ had been in no mood to accept such an outcome as she believed sincerely that she was still as much in love with the doctor as she ever had been, and she had no intention of annulling the marriage. Again, I guess, if the doctor had then told her to break off all relations with the violinist, she would have agreed and matters would have ended there. The decent human being that he was, he did not do that either.

What had eventually happened was that the doctor, whether he wanted to or not, had given their relationship his tacit approval. The doctor had however, cautioned them that society, especially the Indian one, would not take kindly to any extra-marital dalliances, which always reflected badly on the woman, and hence asked them to be as discreet as possible. I am not sure he actually said it in so many words, but that appears to be the essence that my friend, the violinist, took away after their conversation, based on his words.

A period of blissful coexistence followed, if my friend is to be believed. On tours out of the country, the two enjoyed a guilt-free and loving relationship and on return kept their distance, giving M____ and the doctor their space and time. After hearing all this, I didn’t know what to say. What was there to say anyway?  In my heart of hearts, I knew I would have also gladly shared M____ with another man, if only she had loved me. So, I couldn’t fault my friend for this weakness. I would have considered anybody else behaving as M___ did selfish, but was incapable of finding fault with her. The doctor, he was a grown man too. By all accounts he had had enough opportunities not to have allowed this to go on.

I paid the bill, and just as we were leaving, he told me that M____ had really wanted to join us, but was worried that things might get awkward after our conversation and hence had chickened out. I called her from the restaurant and spoke to her and wished them all happiness. She sounded guilty and happy at the same time. I felt guilty mainly on account of the doctor, maybe for having brought them all together.

A year later, I read in the papers that the Doctor and M____ had divorced and she had married my friend. I was surprised. And a little guilty for I know not what. I thought of calling the doctor or the two of them, but was not sure what I would say to them. I could neither congratulate the couple, nor commiserate with the doctor. In the end, I mustered up the courage to call my friend. “Now what?”, I demanded. He laughed sheepishly. It’s a long story. I am coming to Delhi next week. Let’s catch up over a drink. We met the next week and he appeared even happier than before if that was possible. “I am here only for another couple of hours. Back to Chennai by the last flight. Can’t keep away from my lovely bride”, he gushed all in one breath. His exuberance was infectious and I could not help but grin at him. “Start your story. I can’t wait”, I said as I waved to the waiter to take our order. “What can I say? I am the happiest man alive”, he declared. “Two of your finest single malts, spare no expense”, he demanded from the waiter when he came, “for the luckiest man alive and his best friend”. Once the waiter had left, I asked him to get on with it.

“Well, actually nothing has really changed…”, he began, sobering down a bit, “The doctor’s still in love with M____ and as you can see, so am I. She is also just as much in love with both of us as before. So, in that sense nothing is different”. I guess he could see the confusion on my face and that cracked him up. After his laughter at my expense subsided, he continued, “What has changed is that I can now be open about my relationship with M____. No more, this clandestine crap. I didn’t realise it at first, but having to hide my love and act like I was doing something illicit was weighing down on me. So, one day I sat both of them down and shared my feelings”.

“And I guess, the dear doctor agreed readily to this also”, I sighed. “Actually, he was not for it and held out for quite a while, but eventually I prevailed”. “Now, I can tell the whole world how much I love this wonderful creature. What a fantastic feeling that is, you know?”, he said after a pause.

I was happy for him and as usual a little bit guilty thinking of the doctor. “Poor doctor”, I mumbled, but my friend was quite sure things were the same. “You know us. We are all civilized about it. Sophisticated as ever. We are also a bit older now and even more mature. Everything’s going to be fine”, he said. After having seen their unlikely relationship survive for so many years, I wasn’t going to start doubting it now. So, I again wished him all the best. We had another drink, to their health and continued togetherness, before he left to catch his flight.

Six months later I read in the papers that my friend and M____ had filed for divorce. This was all getting too much. I picked up the phone and called him. He answered on the second ring and asked, “So, you heard?”, sounding surprisingly upbeat. “What’s wrong with you all?”, I exclaimed. “Well”, he said, “I have realised that I was not as civilized and sophisticated as I thought I was”. Then with a laugh he continued, “The truth is it took a marriage for me to figure out that I can gladly share the woman I love with another man, but only as long as she is the other man’s wife!”

“So, you guys have broken up?”, I asked, still trying to come to grips with their affairs.

He said, “No, no. Don’t worry. Nothing’s changed”.

“Bite me”, I said, and hung up.

The goddess and the brinjal curry November 17, 2017

Posted by globejam in Childhood, Folktales, Uncategorized.
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brijalcurryWhen people talk about fairy tales, you get the general impression that they are gentle, well-meaning stories with a moral to teach, suitable for children. In reality though, nothing can be farther from the truth. Most fairy tales are actually macabre, cruel and vindictive stories, across all cultures. While, in the western fairy tales, it is the step-mother who is the primary antagonist, in Indian stories, it is the mother-in-law who is the main villain. Quite frankly though, after listening to a bunch of them, I believe they reflect human attitudes and behaviour more truthfully than do books by eminent psychologists and behaviourists.

I have heard quite a few stories, told to me by my mother and other elder relatives, and while they were all extremely entertaining, any moral lessons from these stories are indubitably suspect. If, unbeknownst to me, they have inculcated some values in me, I shudder to think what they might be.

One such story from my childhood, I shall relate, purely for entertainment purposes. I have annotated (in grey italics) the story in some places to put in my comments. They are not part of the story.

In a small village somewhere is rural southern India lived a poor farming family – a father, mother, son and the son’s wife. The father was a docile, hard-working man trying his best to earn enough to put food on the plate for the family. His wife was a termagant who berated the husband, tortured her daughter-in-law at every opportunity and thought the world of her son. An enduring theme to this day!

The son was a loafer. He was however, very faithful to his mother and listened to her every command obediently. The daughter-in-law was much abused and made to do all the house work, including a lot of unnecessary work that the mother-in-law forced her to do, just because.

All this was explained matter-of-factly, so the general feeling that I got was that this was a typical family and there was nothing out of the ordinary here.

The daughter-in-law did all the cooking, except for an occasional special dish that the mother made exclusively for her son. She ate last and, more often than not, did not get enough to eat.

One of the special dishes that the mother made was what was called ‘ennai kathrika‘, a spicy dish made of brinjal, a rather tasteless vegetable, that grew in their backyard. This dish was made exclusively for herself and her son and neither the father nor the daughter-in-law got more than a whiff of it. It smelt heavenly and every time it was cooked the daughter-in-law salivated and yearned to get at least a morsel of it.

A lot of slurping sounds was added to the narration at this point, ostensibly to influence us to like the vegetable. However, as we hardly ever got to see the ennai kathrikai made at home, and what was made looked and tasted like half-cooked slugs, the tactic failed miserably.

Knowing this, the mother and son made it a point to finish every last bit of it, before the mother washed the vessel thoroughly lest the daughter-in-law got to lick some of it at the time of washing the vessels. Such was her cruelty.

One day, the mother and son decided to visit their relatives who lived in a village that was a two-day walk from their home. After packing their bags, the mother then called her daughter-in-law aside and warned her, “Listen, we are going to be away for a week or so. Those brinjals in our backyard will be ready in a day or two. However, you are not to touch them. It is all right even if they dry up and shrivel where they are. If you as much as touch them, I will come back and beat you black and blue, understand?”. The poor daughter-in-law nodded her head meekly. Sure that her warning was sufficient, the mother and son duo left home.

The fear of retribution kept her away from the brinjals for a couple of days. But once the brinjals became ready for plucking, she found them hard to resist. So on the third day, after her father-in-law had left for work, the girl plucked all the brinjals determined to make herself the tastiest, oiliest, spiciest ennai kathrikai she could, come what may.

She washed the brinjals nicely and then cut off the green stem at the top. She then spliced each brinjal into four connected pieces and into the gap she stuffed a masala made with chilli powder, freshly grated coconut, cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds and other ingredients. She then steamed them all together and finally shallow fried them in oil till they sizzled. The aroma of the ennai kathrika wafted right across the street making every resident salivate.

Again, a second attempt to encourage us to eat brinjal the next time it was made. Lots of lip-smacking sounds added here.

Then she put it all into one big vessel and went to the local temple, sat in front of the presiding deity, the village Amman(Goddess), and started eating them one by one. The aroma filled the temple. Unable to bear the pangs of hunger kindled by the heady smell, the priests and the devotees left quickly for their homes to have an early dinner. The Amman, unable to resist the temptation of what was possibly the best ennai kathrikai in history, took on a human form and requested for a bite of the heavenly brinjal dish. The woman, in the throes of epicurean ecstasy, asked the goddess to wait till she had had her fill. And slowly, one by one, as the goddess watched, she polished off every morsel of the ennai kathrikai she had made.

The goddess, in shock, and in awe of a human who had the capacity to finish what could have been a feast for ten people, put her finger on her nose and turned back into stone.

The next day, the priest who came early in the morning as usual to bathe and dress the deity, was shocked to see that the Amman, instead of holding her trident in her right hand as usual, had her fore finger of her right hand on her nose. The priest unable to fathom this miracle ran straight to the king and announced that this could be a forewarning for terrible news.

The king, rudely awakened thus, had half a mind to kick the priest. However, better sense prevailed, and after understanding what the priest was blabbering, made a beeline to the temple, expecting that some shadow must have played tricks with the priest’s vision. However, he was also shocked to see his beloved Amman in such a pose.

Fearing for his kingdom and his life, he sent out a message to all the priests in his kingdom and nearby kingdoms to come and see how the Amman may be appeased. He offered a bag full of gold coins and other gifts worth an obscene amount to anyone who succeeded in bringing her back to her original posture.

Over the next day or two, every brahmin and priest, every sadhu and saint tried all their tricks, but to no avail. The king, a nervous wreck by this time, opened up the reward to any citizen, even offering to double the bonanza for anyone who could pacify the angry deity.

Our lady who ate the brinjal, however, knew what was going on and was quite angry with the Amman for making such a fuss. Worried that she would get caught for eating what she rightfully felt was her brinjal dish, she told the king that if they all left her alone with the Amman for a few minutes, she would set things right.

There are other sanitized versions, I am sure, but what follows is “forwarded as received” in current parlance, so there is no point in abusing me or taking umbrage at the language used. If you are easily offended, I suggest you stop reading now. 

The king, though he had little faith in this villager, asked everyone to evacuate the temple and give her some space. Once the temple had emptied, the angry woman took a stick, dipped it in some shit lying around and went to the Amman and threatened her thus: “If you don’t stop your shenanigans now, I will shove this shit-dipped stick up your nostril”, she hissed. We don’t know what the Amman felt, but knowing the mettle of this diminutive village woman, she promptly lifted her finger off her nose and put her hand back in its original position. The woman then threw the stick away, and went to the king and asked for the reward. The king ran to the temple and was astounded to see that the woman had accomplished what nobody else could and promptly gave her the reward he had promised.

Open defecation has a long history in these parts and continues to surprise and slip up people to this day.

The woman went home with her booty in time to see her husband and mother-in-law returning from their trip.

One would think that this is where the happily-ever-after portion of this fairy tale would appear, but alas, no.

The mother-in-law and husband took all the jewelry from her and continued to abuse her and mistreat her as before.

Thus ends the first part of this story.  The second part of the story is about how the daughter-in-law, who is not such a poor thing after all, gets back at her mother-in-law.  In all this the son/husband seems to somehow get away scot-free despite participating wholeheartedly in torturing his wife.  We shall leave that for another day.

The case of the hanging sadhu November 16, 2017

Posted by globejam in Uncategorized.
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I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered“, said the guru. “So says the butler”, I thought to myself, having spotted my prime suspect number 1.

Earlier that day, a man who would not identify himself had called in to report a suspicious death at his ashram. Though this particular ashram was known to be quiet and trouble-free, suicides and murders were not altogether unheard of. They were usually hushed up as most of the politicians and many in my police force were ardent devotees of the resident guru. I was actually surprised that the chief inspector had asked me to look into it, as I am one of the irreverent few in the department.

I reached the ashram 20 minutes after I got the call. I waded through a sea of sadhus and sadhvis clad in dull pink and peeped through the window. The deceased was a sadhu hanging from the ceiling fan in his room. One end of his pink angavastram, a piece of cloth used to cover the torso, was tied to the fan head while the other was neatly wrapped around his neck. A stool lay sideways a short distance from his feet, as though he had kicked it away. Why they use the phrase “kicked the bucket” when there is a convenient stool available, I do not know. The small room was sparsely furnished. It had been padlocked from the inside when we arrived. We broke the door down and a quick inspection suggested it was most likely a suicide.

Except that the head of the Ashram had just come in and used the word “murder”. I sighed inwardly. These ashram cases, whatever the outcome, were invariably detrimental to an ambitious cop’s career. I would have been happy to mark it as a suicide and go home. Now, I had to open an investigation.

“Murdered?”, I asked him. His eyes widened a little bit as realization dawned, a little late. “…or suicided”, he finished lamely. “So, either he was murdered or he was ‘suicided'”, I ruminated. Looked like there was more than one murder happening here.

I asked everyone to step out of the room and closed the door behind me. There was an unseemly eagerness among the other sadhus to see their recently deceased brother. I told them all to go away as this was a police matter now. Most of them stood there rubbernecking to get a peek at the poor bloke through the window. So much for relinquishing worldliness. I looked meaningfully at the guru. He turned around, jerked his head and hmphed and his disciples reluctantly dispersed. Can’t really blame them, given there was so little excitement in their regular lives.

I asked the guru to remain in the ashram for questioning, sealed the room, positioned a constable outside the room to ensure no one had access to it and went looking for a telephone to call my boss. At the main ashram office was a guilty looking sadhu desperately trying to avoid making eye contact with me. The office telephone was on his desk. I went to him and whispered through the side of my mouth conspiratorially, “We got your call. We won’t tell anyone you called. Nod if you understand”. He nodded his head, albeit reluctantly. “What’s your name?”, I asked loudly. “Tejonanda”, he stuttered.

I asked him if I could use the phone. Not waiting for his answer, I picked up the receiver and dialed my boss and briefly explained the situation. Asked him if I should close the case as a suicide, in line with our standard practices. He was not amused. Apparently, there had been a recent fallout between the Ashram and the powers that be. I was given a free hand to arrest anyone I deemed a suspect. Some newsworthy arrests would be appreciated, he hinted. I thanked my boss for nothing and hung up.

I tried my luck with Tejonanda and asked him, “Did you kill him?”. “Who?”, he asked apparently bewildered. Obviously, a few cards short of a full deck. “That bloke you called about, who else?”. “Oh! Him? No”, he replied thoughtfully, as though he may have killed somebody else some other time, just not this guy. He did not look like a killer. So, I decided to let him be and went looking for the head honcho.

The guru’s room turned out to be spacious and tastefully decorated. He was there sitting on a gilded throne, dressed pretty much the same way as everybody else – a dhoti and angavastram, but otherwise bare-bodied. Only, his clothes were white silk with gold embroidered edges instead of the dull pink all the others were wearing. And lots of thick gold chains adorned his neck in place of the rudraksha malas that all the disciples sported. Three women were sitting at his feet. Unfortunately, not bare-bodied, much to my disappointment. He stroked his beard theatrically and directed me to the smaller chair next to him, obviously reserved for VIPs.

“Open and shut murder case”, I declared, as though I had all the evidence already. “Did you kill him?”, I asked for the second time that day. Never any harm in asking. He giggled, soundlessly and a little disconcertingly. For a few seconds, his whole body, including his flowing white beard, shook while his ears turned pink. When his mirth subsided, in an incongruously squeaky voice he admonished me gently for my temerity. He explained slowly, like talking to a dimwit, that neither he nor anyone of his disciples were capable of harming any other living creature, let alone commit murder. “We have all given up on worldly possessions and base feelings”, he proclaimed. “God, through well-wishers, provides us with food and essentials and everyone here does voluntary work. Barring the three sets of dhoti and angavastram we get each year, we own nothing at all”, he continued. I could not help but grin as I took in the fruits and chocolates tastefully arranged around him, the gold bracelets around his wrist and all the other trappings of every God man I had come across. If he noticed my ill-concealed incredulity, he did not acknowledge it. He turned to the sadhvis at his feet and delicately waved his hands and asked them to leave us alone. Once they had left the room, and closed the door after them, his tone changed and, rather brusquely, he asked me to wrap up the case quickly.

The guru, it appeared had a full deck. Obviously, not like our poor Dumbonanda at the office. I decided to play a repentant devotee. “Guruji”, I said at my obsequious best, “the winds have changed, as you know. My hands are tied. I have been asked to undertake a thorough investigation. It is not like earlier times. But you know all this, you are all knowing. Kindly tell this ardent follower of yours what to do and what you meant when you spoke to me earlier this morning”.

A little appeased, the guru gave me his version of the events. The dead guy, Jeevonanda, had been dipping his fingers into the ashram kitty. “I was informed by a few of my other devotees that he was not only pilfering money but also carrying stories, all untrue, about the ashram to some people who do not like us. I sent word yesterday that I knew what he has been up to and told him that I would visit his room this morning, to discuss reparation. Unfortunately, this morning’s prayer meeting was an extended one and I was delayed by an hour. In that time, I fear that somebody may have taken the matter into their own hands”, he said sounding quite reasonable. “Or he committed suicide?”, he continued uselessly, after having muddied the water unnecessarily in the first place. “If I had reached him earlier, this would not have come to pass. I was planning to forgive him and prescribe a penance”, he added, sounding even more reasonable. A lesser man would have fallen at his feet and basked in his beneficence. Not wanting to disappoint him, I praised him effusively for his kindness and wisdom and asked for the list of his devotees who knew about Jeevonanda’s transgressions.

From somewhere, in true God Man fashion, he conjured up a piece of paper and gave it to me and said “My assistant Gajananda will help you”. Written neatly on the paper was a list of five names.

I thanked him profusely, referred to him as “His Highness” and ‘Holiest of Holies”, and promised to do my best to close the case to his satisfaction. I might have overdone that a bit.

I sent the body for post-mortem, got my crime-scene team to start work on the room and exited the ashram to mull over the morning’s happenings.

Other than his name, I knew nothing of the victim, not what he did at the ashram, where he came from, how long he had been a disciple, nothing. I made a mental point to send someone from the station to collate the details.

Sri Hamsapreetam, the guru, on the other hand was clearly up to speed on all matters in the ashram. He knew it was murder even though somebody else had taken the trouble to make it look like suicide. He also had the motive and the means to carry out the murder. He continued to be my prime suspect number 1.

Suspects 2 to 6 were in the list that he had so readily given me. I would have to go back and meet with them, though it sounded like a red herring to me. I would also have to get in touch with the accounts department and find out who blew the whistle on the pilfering and how much was actually embezzled.

Back at my office, I switched on my laptop and did a google search for Hamsapreetam. Not surprisingly, he had more videos on YouTube than an established porn star. In one extremely popular video he was teaching his disciples levitation. It was both hilarious and sad to see grown men and women jumping up and down on mattresses under the benevolent gaze of a man who was clearly making fools out of them. In another, he was seen expounding on the virtues of capitalism at some world conference in some middle eastern country. There were many more videos with him hobnobbing with various world leaders and politicians. In most of them, there were two hefty sadhus always in the background.

There were also murmurs on the web about underworld connections, unsubstantiated rape charges, missing people, stories of excesses, disgruntled past devotees who felt robbed, wronged, and in one case, even sodomized. All par for the course for any self-respecting God man, and all probably true, but how much was germane to this particular murder, I did not know.

I decided to play by the book, for this was a delicate matter and who knew which way the wind would blow tomorrow. I asked the crime scene team to inventory the room as well as take all finger prints in the room, those of the people in the list, that of the guru himself and Tejonanda at the office. I also WhatsApp’ed snapshots of the two bodyguard sadhus to them so they could interview them as well. With 3000 sadhus and sadhvis in the ashram, I knew if I did not solve the case quickly it would be near impossible to close it. Already it was beginning to feel like I was trying to find that one guilty flamingo from an entire flamboyance.

Later in the afternoon, I got the preliminary report from the crime scene team and the forensics, for whatever it was worth. The coroner had given the likely time of death, subject to confirmation after the post-mortem, to be between 6:30 AM and 7:30 AM. He also surmised, again subject to confirmation, that the victim had died of asphyxiation and the ligature wounds on his neck were consistent with hanging. The victim’s fingerprints were all over the room as expected, along with several others, as yet, unidentified. No clear prints could be taken from the angavastram. Everything else looked normal, except that there were no fingerprints at all anywhere on the fan. Other than some white powder usually used to keep surgical gloves from sticking to each other, the fans were clear of all dirt and fingerprints. It appeared as though someone had wiped the fan clean while wearing gloves, which was the first concrete sign that this could very well be murder. Any residual hopes I may have harboured of closing this case as a suicide vanished.

The morning pooja that day had gone on from 6 AM to 9 AM, which meant that the Guru and most of the disciples had a strong alibi for the time of death. Lucky for us, the morning prayer meet had been videographed by a TV station working on a documentary and we had access to it. A brief glance showed the Guru to be there throughout the period. The camera man had helpfully panned over the audience multiple times, so that would eventually help us rule out suspects, at the very least.

I went back to the forensic report and flipped the pages back and forth listlessly. I knew the fingerprinting and other crime scene collections would result in naught. Most of the fingerprints and footprints collected in all probability belonged to the crime scene team members themselves. Any other remaining evidence would have long drowned in the white powder that they use, so liberally, when dusting for fingerprints. To say the crime scene would have been contaminated beyond belief was an understatement. I sighed and tried to distract my mind, for I was not willing to get my BP up about things that I had no control over.

There was a list of effects found in the room of the deceased. It was a fairly short list. A table, a chair, a stool, a cell phone, which was surprising, some underwear, 2 dhotis, 3 angavastrams, usual toiletries and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I asked the team to get me the call details from the phone and then dozed off.

I woke up a few minutes later, sure that there was something I had missed out. The list of effects had slipped out of my hand and was lying on the ground. I bent down and picked it up and glanced at it again. My eyes ran down the short list a couple of times before I realized there was one angavastram too many. I called the constable who had made the list and asked him if the angavastram used in the hanging was included in his list. He went and checked and came back with 4 angavastrams. They looked identical, but I knew at least one of them did not belong to the deceased. I checked them closely and found that three of them had J1002 written on them in dhobi’s ink. The other one, the one used to hang the poor bloke, had P0012 written on it.

I called the ashram office and asked Tejonanda what J1002 on the angavastram stood for. He explained that the J was the first letter of the name of the person whose angavastram it was and 1002 actually identified the person. Angavastrams marked J1002 clearly belonged the victim. I asked him to give me the names corresponding to V1004, S0013, L1234, P0012 and H0044, so as to not reveal my hand. V1004 and L1234 did not exist, but P0012 was a Pushpananda. Tejonanda helpfully added that Pushpananda, one of the two constant companions of his esteemed guruji was taking the night train to Bangalore that day. Maybe he was not that dumb, after all.

I went through the video and found the guru turning to one of the two bodyguard sadhus, Pushpananda I assumed, and whispering something. And soon after that Pushpananda leaving the stage at 6:15 AM. The timing fitted.

Armed with these details, I asked the court to grant us permission to hold the suspect overnight. I also called the ashram and spoke to the guru, for I knew that the stooges in my department would have already informed him, anyway. I explained the situation to him, careful to leave out the bit about the guru talking to the suspect on video. He heard me out quietly and then said philosophically, “Too bad. I will find it difficult to replace him. We all have to make sacrifices”. What sacrifices, I wondered, as I hung up the phone.

I knew what I had was all circumstantial evidence that may not stand up in court. So, I decided to go to the ashram and arrest the suspect myself, in the hope of squeezing out a confession from him and possibly getting some proof of the guru’s complicity in all this. Unfortunately, I was too late.

It was déjà vu. I waded through a crowd of sadhus only to find that Pushpananda had already hung himself using an angavastram. Must be standard operating procedure at the ashram. Out of curiosity, I checked out the number on the angavastram. It read H0001. My question on sacrifices was answered. The guru had played his hand very well.

I was just kicking myself for not coming sooner, when I heard a familiar squeaky voice behind me say “I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference”.

Epilogue

The press stitched it up neatly the next morning. A sadhu had been murdered. The police, under my command, had cracked the case quickly and identified the murderer, but before he could be arrested the murderer had killed himself.

I guess everyone was happy with the outcome. With the possible exception of the two sadhus that had been killed.

Full marks, then? October 11, 2017

Posted by globejam in Childhood trauma, Denmark, Scepticism, Uncategorized.
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exam-1My parents were both secondary school teachers. So, to say my childhood revolved around school and education would be an understatement. All through my school life, one or the other of them used to teach in the school I studied in, and invariably taught at least one of my classes. Let me tell you, you cannot even begin to imagine how it is to have one of your teachers around you 24 × 7. I could not skip classes, bunk school under any pretext, misbehave in class, be late to school, not do my homework, or not show them my report card the day it was given to us.  Every little thing that I was involved in, in school, was reported back to my parents, sometimes even before I knew about it.

They were protective and extremely strict, worried that if I strayed, their reputation as teachers would be tarnished.  Nobody respects a teacher with a wayward child.  So, I was collateral damage, though they meant well.  To be fair to them, they realized this and from time to time tried to make amends.  One way was to buy me books, bunches of them.  Books like 101 questions, know your world, and even the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica one time, bought second hand from a nearby house getting demolished. I don’t remember reading any of them.

Like many other parents of their generation, they used a lot of metaphors, similes, allegories and parables to illustrate ideas and instill values in me. However, there was a big difference in our house in that all of these were school and education related.  For example, they didn’t say “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  Instead, they would tell me not to judge a master by his moustache, or a teacher by her sari! A favourite of my father’s, whenever he thought I was being stubborn or was talking too much, was “In life as in your notebook, please leave wide margins for the master to give his comments and guide you”. My mother’s favourite was dinned into my head on numerous occasions “Don’t just learn to know, know to learn”.  As you can see, these similes and metaphors ranged from the sublime to the sanctimonious and I ignored most of them just like most young people do.  However, one saying of my mother’s that had a seriously long-term effect on me was the one she told me when I was just joining school. It was something like Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set.

I don’t really know what she meant by that, but somehow, I took it to mean that my life was one long examination in preparation for an unknown higher calling.  For the rest of my life, those words hung over my head, night and day, forcing me to evaluate every little thing I did as though it was an examination.  As a young student, this made me work hard at school and score well.  As I got older and lessons became harder, I realised that I was not as smart as I would have liked to be and so had to work even harder to do well in class.  Toward the end of schooling, I found all my hard work would only get me scores in the mid-70s and 80s and every additional mark required a disproportionate amount of additional work.  I wasn’t ever a shirker and my parents had instilled the virtues of hard work in me, so I continued to work as much as I could because to me every mark missed was equivalent to, in some indefinable way, falling short in the examination called life.

Through adolescence, through puberty and through college, studies were no longer the only things on my mind and this made my life even more stressful.  I dissected every stray thought and feeling I had and anguished over them.  I was convinced that the all-knowing Ultimate Invigilator and final Evaluator was seeing everything I was thinking.  I was sure that every action of mine was being scrutinized and appropriately marked. And not knowing the syllabus meant that I could not just resort to hard work as I had done in school. Nevertheless, I managed to put my head down and get through four years of college.

After finishing my engineering, I was selected by a software company from campus. Software companies were just coming up in India at that time, and we were among the first to join this new industry.  It was an exciting and fulfilling period and for a few blissful years I forgot all about my mother’s saying.  Then I was sent to Norway on deputation.

Copybook culture shock.  Having lived an extremely sheltered life till then, with very little exposure to the rest of the world, not even through books and television, everything was new and bewildering for me.  The new-found freedom, with no one around to go and report back to my parents, instead of liberating me, felt like free falling without a parachute with my stomach constantly threatening to jump out of my mouth.  The racy fare on TV, the explicit videos and magazines in every shop I entered and the general openness of their society shattered my carefully crafted and fragile world view.  Did they not know that every thought and action of theirs was being examined, I wondered.  Did failure mean nothing to them?

I was ready to leave what I believed to be a decadent country.  The only thing that made me hesitate was the peer pressure I was sure to face back home if I returned prematurely.  And the nagging doubt that maybe this was also part of the unknown syllabus that ruled my life. I hated the country and all its people.

Then I got to know my colleagues and was unsettled by how warm and friendly they were.  They were kind and caring, knowledgeable and worldly wise, helpful and entirely non-judgemental.  I learnt a lot during the next few months both in relation to work and about their views on a wide variety of issues that I had not even considered till then.  It was a confusing period to say the least.  I could not reconcile much of what I was learning with my life back in India.  If this were all part of the examination that my mother spoke about, what should my answer be?  Where are the textbooks to deal with all this, I wondered. The constant heavy and suffocating presence of the unknowable examiner made my life unbearable.

In retrospect, that was the time I think I first started displaying signs of depression.  Thinking my behaviour was a sign of homesickness, my attentive colleagues tried to cheer me up in many ways including by giving me a lot of books to read.  The books became my lifeline, a cocoon to avoid my immediate surroundings and a way to escape my own thoughts. I devoured all the books they hurled at me, indiscriminately.  Fiction and non-fiction, as long as it was in English I read them all, cover to cover.  Science fiction, philosophy, crime, religion, fantasy, and even autobiographies, I consumed with unhealthy zeal.  Unbeknownst to me, the books were educating me. Surreptitiously. With a vengeance.  If “A prayer for Owen Meany” struck a deep chord, the auto-biography of Malcolm X made me cry in anguish at the injustices in this world.  Did we all have the same syllabus, I wondered. Did anyone pass?  Were we all set up only to fail?  Then, 100 tomes later I got to read “The selfish gene” by Richard Dawkins and my world was thrown into turmoil.

For the first time, I questioned the very existence of the unknowable examiner. All the arguments I had heard for why God is unknowable seemed to work equally well for a non-existent one.  If He did not exist, then is there a higher purpose for me?  What am I being tested for?  Am I being tested at all?  What is my purpose, then?  These questions started tumbling out one after the other. In my mind, deep seated beliefs fought with new awareness while nagging worries that this might be just another part of an examination for which I was woefully unprepared wreaked havoc on my composure.

It is little wonder that I took to drinking at that point in time. Without familial support in an unfamiliar environment with winter approaching, it was inevitable.  I drank to numb my brain, I drank to get some sleep and I drank like there was no tomorrow.  And I did not stop till about four years ago, thanks to a chance meeting that has changed my life.

I was coming back after another stretch at a alcoholic rehabilitation centre, fully aware that this sober period was just another blip in my long drinking history and that I would be back to my usual ways in another month or so.  On the bus from Bangalore to Chennai, sitting next to me was this elderly gentleman. He looked even sadder than me, if that was possible. He told me that he was on his way for another round of chemotherapy.  Children in the US, wife long gone, he had no one to even accompany him to the hospital. We got to talking and I realised the he was a very brave man.  He was not worried about the cancer that was eating his colon, he was not worried about being lonely, nor did he blame his children for not being there for him at the time of his need.  What worried him was how he would fare when he finally got to meet his maker.  “I don’t know what crimes I have committed”, he lamented.  Was I a good father?  A good husband?  A good child?  Did I do justice to this chance that He gave me to be born as a human being?

Here was a fellow human being tormented in the end by the very same questions that had been haunting me for a large part of my life.  That day, I found my purpose.  Not a higher purpose for after this life, but a purpose for here and now.  The next day, I searched the net and found a course that was being offered for lay persons by the school of social work. I enrolled, much to the delight of the few diehard friends I had remaining.

Now I am a qualified ‘end of life’ counsellor. I visit dying people in hospitals and old age homes, and talk to them about the inevitability of their impending death. I help them prepare for whatever is in store for them.  I help them reconcile their past and to make peace with themselves. Sometimes, I talk to them about free will and the possibility that it does not exist.  At other times, I tell them to think of themselves as a higher life form playing a game where they specifically chose to play this role as a way to understand themselves better. Sometimes, I even tell them that God is all-knowing and merciful and all will be forgiven and that everyone goes to heaven in the end. But mostly, I tell them that life is not an exam for us to pass or fail.  I don’t know if that statement is as cathartic for them as it is for me, but I know they all feel a lot better after hearing that.

For the first time in a long while, I am very happy now.  I have helped a lot of people in the last three years.  Most of these people have left this world at peace with themselves, passing away with quiet dignity while holding my hand.  I would like to think that it is my talk that has helped them pass away peacefully, though some credit, I guess, may have to go to the barbiturate injections I give them when no one else is around.

Bitter-sweet memories August 9, 2017

Posted by globejam in Denmark, Uncategorized.
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cranberry juiceWhen Matt moved to Denmark, the thing he pined for most was his church. It had been the centre of his social life back in Madras and he missed the weekly sermons, the choir practice and the company of his friends. A devout catholic, he appeared to suffer from extreme withdrawal symptoms every Sunday.

After watching him fidget around for a couple of weeks, I suggested he find a local church he could attend instead. I also helpfully pointed to a church close to our house, observing how it was empty all the time and should provide him with all the peace and quiet he required. Matt however, was not looking for peace and quiet. He was not interested in just any old catholic church either. He wanted an Orthodox Syrian Catholic church, preferably filled with Orthodox Syrian Malayalees, or at least, a congregation that he could identify with.

My suggestion to look for a substitute church was, however, not entirely lost on him. So, over the next month or so, Matt left home Sunday mornings to check out churches around Copenhagen looking for people he could gel with. Thankfully for him, quite soon, he found a Russian Orthodox church which he felt was very similar to his church back home. He told me that he did not understand the sermon as it was mostly delivered in Russian or Danish, neither language he could understand, but nevertheless, he felt connected and that made him happy.

A new routine set in after that. Every Sunday, Matt would get up early, dress up in his finest and go to his church. He would return in the afternoon in time for lunch, most often with a fellow congregation member in tow. Over the next few months, I met a steady stream of colourful characters from all walks of life, whom I would never have crossed paths with if not for Matt. One such fine character was Mr Beraki who eventually became a regular visitor until one fateful day.

Mr Beraki was an Ethiopian. Unable to take the long and protracted civil war in his home country, he had somehow wound up in Denmark where he had been welcomed as a refugee and given asylum. At one of the transition camps, he had met and married a fellow refugee from Russia. At the time he first came to our house, they were waiting to get their permanent residence permit in Denmark. While that process was going on, Mr B made himself useful by teaching engineering drawing at a school nearby.

Most Sundays, he would accompany Matt to our house. Like Matt, he was also a man of few words and they would just sit together in companionable silence for a couple of hours before he said his goodbye and left. We would, of course, invite him to join us for lunch, but he always politely refused. Each time he came home, he would come with one of his children, every time a different one, and each one cuter than the previous. I lost count of how many children he had, but I am sure it was somewhere between quite a few and far too many. The typical, impolite, insensitive Indian that I was, I asked him once how they managed to afford looking after so many children given his meagre refugee support payments. He politely answered, in a disarmingly candid and surprisingly dignified way, that more children meant more allowance from the Danish Government and so having more children actually helped them! I wondered aloud how the Danish government felt about that point of view, to which he nodded sagely as though he was ready to consider their opinion too.

Since he became a regular fixture who consistently refrained from sharing our lunch, we made it a point to buy different fruit drinks and punches to serve him and such of his children old enough to drink them. Some of the juices we liked ourselves, but there were quite a few that were always too sweet for us. Having tasted rye bread  and gammel dansk, both unpalatable to the unaccustomed, we just decided there was no accounting for taste and left it at that. One drink that we found too sweet even by “Danish” standards was the cranberry juice. That tetra pack had languished in the fridge for a few days untouched after the first syrupy sip.

When Mr B came next with his eldest, a boy of about 12, Matt must have thought that was a good time to reopen the cranberry juice. He filled two tall glasses for them while the two of us had our lunch, all sitting around the table. Mr B took one sip and then did not touch his glass again, while his son smacked his lips and emptied the entire glass in one long slurp. Matt, the attentive host, refilled his glass with more juice which also disappeared just as quickly. In retrospect, I don’t quite know what was going on in Mr B’s mind, but after a while he obligingly nudged his full glass towards his son. Not requiring another invitation, the kid finished that drink too.

Only after the kid had polished off the last drop of his third full glass did Mr B casually remark that the pack had the word “Koncentret” written on it. Matt, despite not understanding a word of Danish, very dismissively responded, saying “That’s just Danish for juice. It says the same on the pack of orange juice I have for breakfast”. Not wanting to argue, Mr B nodded his head noncommittally and gently also pointed to the small print below and said “It also says here to mix one part of the concentrate with 5 parts of water”.

The import of that statement struck us simultaneously. No wonder the drink had been so cloyingly sweet! Matt burst out laughing while I turned to look at Mr B’s son who had finished nearly a liter of concentrated cranberry juice under the watchful gaze of his father. There he was, sitting rigidly upright, his eyes glassy and his lips smudged a bright scarlet. Combined with his porcelain skin and mop of black curly hair, he looked like a doll on which a child had liberally smeared lipstick.

Matt reined in his laughter quickly while I struggled to put on an expression of adequate remorse. Mr B’s expression, however, never changed. He got up languidly, bid us adieu, took hold of his son’s hand gently and left.

We never saw them again.

Am I evil? July 25, 2017

Posted by globejam in Travel.
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seatbeltI was booked on the last flight from Delhi.  Expected to leave at 21:45, it was already 30 minutes delayed.  I had been up since 5:30 AM that day and I was already dreading the prospect of landing in Chennai at around 1 AM in the morning.  The fact that I had watched Dunkirk the previous night added to my sleep deprivation and irritability. About 45 minutes after the scheduled departure time, they called us to board the flight and I was looking forward to getting a couple of hours of shuteye on the flight.

A drunk porrikki (riff-raff) and his wife boarded after me. As I took my window seat on row 22, the guy stood in the aisle, leered at the pretty air-hostess, pushed his boarding pass in her face and called her a thevidiya (prostitute, in Tamil).  I hoped she did not understand Tamil.

She kept a straight face and pointed at the seats next to mine, while I cringed and turned my head and stared out of the window. He sat down heavily next to me just as I pushed down the armrest firmly between us.

He reeked of alcohol. Maybe I smelt like that too, I thought, remembering the pint of beer I had just had at the airport. Aghast, I pressed my face even closer to the window.

Another air-hostess came along and asked the couple to fasten their seat belts. He did not seem to hear her while his wife perfunctorily threw one side of her seat belt on to her lap and promptly went to sleep.

As soon as the plane started taxiing, he got up to go to the loo. He was almost at the end of the plane by the time an air-hostess spotted him and shrieked him into the nearest seat.

During the next few minutes I heard the air-hostesses screaming at him to remain seated at least 4 more times.  20 minutes after take off he came back to his seat and plonked himself. He started dozing immediately, leaning heavily on me from time to time.

We went through some turbulence, and each time one or the other air-hostess would come down and ask them to wear their seat belts.  Despite several requests, the seat belts remained unfastened.

I tightened my belt, and fervently hoped for a fairly significant air pocket, so that he may hit his head on the ceiling, and with some luck, break his neck and die.

Am i evil?⁠⁠⁠⁠

No lady like her. February 5, 2017

Posted by globejam in Uncategorized.
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ravagedWhen my grandfather first met her, she had been, or so I’ve heard, luscious and wholesome, full of secrets yet craving to be explored, rich and giving, bursting with laughter and mischief, beautiful beyond belief and generous to a fault.

My grandfather, he was floored. It had been love at first sight! Never in his dreams had he imagined such a beauty would be his, so completely. She had not asked him of anything and gave him everything he asked for. Though he took all that he wanted greedily, he, nevertheless, had been grateful for the bounty and, when possible, had treated her kindly.

After his time, she passed on to my dad. He had grown watching his father partake of her largesse, and thus exploiting her came naturally to him. He was also used to her beauty and allure and did not think it was anything extraordinary. She still gave all that she had unstintingly and he took her for granted. He treated her with disdain, while continuing to exploit her generosity. Whatever she gave him appeared insufficient and he constantly went back to her asking for more and more. On her part, I guess she put on a brave face and continued to smile and be as loving and kind as possible.

In time, he too passed away and then she was mine. Her time with my father had divested her of her beauty. She had given her all till it hurt her and was still found wanting. All I saw was an old haggard woman, a beaten soul, maybe even a liability. Her ravaged body, I found distasteful. What did she have to give me, I wondered? Of course, that did not stop me from finding new ways of exploiting her. When I got bored I gave her to others and we all reveled in her distress. she was nothing but a whore well past her prime, used only because there was nothing else on offer.

I saw sepia toned pictures of her from her younger days and wondered if the one with laughter on her lips and mischief in her eyes was the same lifeless wreck in front of me. Seeing her from the glory days only made me feel cheated for she had so little to give now. The contrast was stark and I blamed her for it. Had she not promised us her bottomless benevolence? Did she not once behave as though she was rich beyond measure? Why had she become such an old hag, then?

I fretted and fumed and cursed her for her short-comings. I began to hate her and tried to take as much as I could out of her, even if I did not want anything. It was spite, I am afraid. But I could not control myself. She cried, but I was hard-hearted. “I never loved you”, I shouted at her. “You are just a worthless whore”, I screamed as I beat her black and blue. She bore it all stoically which made me hate her even more. If she had begged me and pleaded with me I may have relented. If she had stared back at me or had lifted her hand, even for self-protection, I may have hesitated, for she was still powerful enough to take me on easily. But she didn’t. And as I aged, I only became less caring, of her and for myself. What was the point of it all?

Of late though, I have begun to loathe myself. I can’t help but think that she had been beautiful once and if only I and my father and his father before him had been kind and caring she would still be just as resplendent as she had been then. But alas, our greed and short-sightedness had robbed her and in the process pushed us to penury. And for what, for another fix, another temporary high, just for a lark. I have now come to realize my own true nature. I am just a common pimp, an exploiter of the innocent, a rapist, and a cruel self-destructive psychopath.

Now my days are numbered too, my son and it is time I hand her over to you. I confess, she is in worse shape than when I received her. The scabs and the festering wounds, I gave her those. Some wrinkles she already had, but the warts and and the deeper grooves, all my handiwork. The white hair, the diminished vision, the anemia, the emaciation, the grey pallor, all my doing.

After my time, if you are anything like me, you might just think that the bitch is holding out on you despite having more to give. You will surely be revolted by her unrelenting ugliness and the stench emanating from her. You too may want to take her for every penny she has until she becomes completely incapable of providing for you.

But desist, my son, desist. Don’t judge her too harshly. Let me tell you, as my death approaches, as I look back at my life, I can see that the fault has been all mine and never hers. Under that loathsome exterior that we have given her, still beats a young heart. The comely, voluptuous, buxom lass is still there, bruised and molested maybe but with zest undiminished.

Treat her with kindness, give her back a little, give her some time and I am sure she will be back to her splendorous best. Be gentle with her, and in doing so, redeem us all.

And if you have it in your heart, forgive me. Please forgive me.