[The recession, Swami Nithya(cough cough) samAnanda, Megadeth's Rust In Peace, a small Indian Airlines hangar where they allowed visitors all the way till the plane, Richard Bach, Black Adder and my grandfather]
Ramdas overheard the managers using the word recession a lot these days. It somehow seemed to encompass anything and everything around him. The canteen food had gone bad; they had blamed it on the recession. Their yearend bonuses weren’t paid; they had blamed it on the recession. The number of people using their planes had far reduced; again, the managers blamed it on the recession. Sitting in on the union meetings, he heard them discuss the possibilities of job cuts... Again thanks to the recession. Ramdas was a watchman at the Jetpack Airline’s Hangar 18.
“Oh God! Please save us from this recession” thought Ramdas.
Jetpack Airlines was a private firm operating in the niche field of small lightweight aircraft. They had a humble fleet of 6 airplanes which were regularly leased to the Geological Survey of India, training institutes and off late to big businesses who’s bosses and clients passed of Jetpack’s aircrafts as their own. Jetpack even made last minute changes to the logo and interiors of the plane with just a few hours of notice from their client.
Coming back to the union meetings, news somehow had leaked out that many people would lose their jobs soon. It seemed as if all of the employees were to be evaluated and then sent home based on their skilfulness and loyalty to the company. Now, the list of employees to be sacked would have to be approved to Mr. Venkatram Mudaliyar- the manager in charge, who, unfortunately for Ramdas, was a good man.
Mr.Venkatram knew all the employees well for he made it a point to talk to each and everyone over the course of lunch, tea or dinner on a weekly basis. It was thus unfortunate for Ramdas that Mr.Venkatram knew that both his sons were abroad – one in Switzerland as a Chef and the other in Dubai as a construction contractor. Both were regularly sending Ramdas tidy sums of money with the intent that their father retire, stay at home, and watch TV. They were in fact such good sons that at this point was a very bad thing for Ramdas for Mr.Venkatram was a good man and had already hinted that he would do nothing for Ramdas when they were deciding whether to retain him or not. Mr.Venkatram wanted only those employees to stay for whom a loss of monthly income would lead to starvation or bring money lenders to their doorsteps. It was completely certain that Ramdas would lose his job.
But Ramdas didn’t want to lose his job. Like all old men he could feel himself withering away and fading into the nothingness of old age every morning when he awoke and stared at his old aching hands and cold wrinkled feet. He wanted to keep himself out of despair for what few days he had and never even considered the thought of quitting his job, sitting at home and watching TV. He felt that it was his duty, no, it was his right to be the watchman of Jetpack’s Hangar 18 and he would do anything to keep himself there.
There’s a strange thing about dreams-well- they tend to come true, sometimes. Of course you must have had that dream where you were running bottomless in your old school or playground being fearful of your dirty little secret, but with no one else caring. Or that dream where you were with your significant other, only waking to realise that she was the heroine in the movie you had seen last night. No I’m not talking about those dreams. I’m talking about the dreams that come true. The dreams where there was a warning or prediction. That single dream where God , the devil or your dead great grandmother warned you of some impending danger and which when you heeded , were saved from a possible fatal decision. Chokalingam Ramamuthumurugan once had such a dream.
Chokalingam Ramamuthumurugan was the owner of Jetpack Airlines. Actually it was just another company from the 20 or so others that he had. He had made this one just so that his slightly dull middle son had something to run so as to not be unemployed when he reached marriageable age.Chokalingam was a very religious man who was a great devotee of Swami Samananda. He had fallen under the Swami’s grace when the Swami had once appeared in his dream and asked him to sell all his overseas holdings for a ‘crisis of world changing magnitude’ was about to happen. It is needless to say that Lehman Brothers collapsed leaving Chokalingam a few crores poorer but having moved 20 steps upwards to be India’s 4th richest man. Chokalingam now was an earnest believer of the power of dreams which he had openly declared with his personal experience as proof at Jetpack’s annual union meeting. Ramdas always attended union meetings. It was a great place to hunt for fathers who had daughters of marry able age as he was looking for a girl for his younger son.
It was on the night of November 28th 2009 that Ramdas had a cunning plan to keep his job. He knew that the only way he wouldn’t be fired was to be so valuable to the company that they would never dare to lose him. But what could he do? He was just a watchman! or so he thought till the night of November 28th 2009 when his cunning planning suddenly popped into his head whilst he was about to fall asleep. It was a plan so cunning you could even put a tail on it and call it a weasel.
It was on the 29th of November 2009 that Chokalingam visited Jetpack’s Hangar. It wasn’t like he cared too much about the business anyway as long as it didn’t make too much loss, but on this day he wanted to fly all the way to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister. He had to send his regular flight carrying his mother as she had to attend a wedding in Bahrain. So here was Chokalingam getting down from his car and making his way to the aeroplane.
This scene would have a better effect over you if you probably imagined it in slow motion; however let me describe it to you anyway. The balding Chokalingam got down from his car and swung up his white veshti to reveal a bear of bare legs. He then took his cell phone from his attendant who was standing beside him ready as ever with an umbrella to shield Chokalingam from the midday sun. Bellowing into his cell Chokalingam walked past Ramdas without as much as a glance at him. It was now that Ramdas made his move; he lunged at Chokalingam’s feet and gripped it with all his might. Just moments ago, he had smeared chilli powder in his eyes so that as he looked up at Chokalingam his eyes were as watery as a crocodile crying to attract her/her mate.
With a teary voice said Ramdas “Chokalingam sir, please do not go on that plane sir, please please please...”
“Who is this man?!” asked a flabbergasted Chokalingam to his even more flabbergasted attendant who simply shrugged his shoulders to show his ignorance.
As Chokalingam looked around for someone to assist him, the manager Mr.Mudaliyar ran up to and them and began profusely apologising.
“I’m so sorry Mr.Chokalingam sir. Ramdas here is our watchman. Although I’m not sure what has suddenly gripped him I apologise on his behalf sir. Do forgive us for ...”
“No!!” shouted Ramdas. “You don’t have to apologise Mr. Mudaliyar. I am doing this because I love my boss” continued Ramdas slowly standing up.
Facing Chokalingam, Ramdas continued with an apologetic tone “Sir, I have been a good employee and have never done anything stupid sir, but you see there is one thing I simply cannot ignore. See sir, I had this dream 2 days back...”
“What dream? What are you talking about??” asked a surprised Chokalingam.
“Well, sir in my dream sir there was a young man wearing an orange robe sir. He told me that I will meet a very big man within the next few days and that it was my duty to tell him to not go on his journey. He told me that if that great man did go on the journey then great harm would befall him and his family sir. Sir, please forgive me but the man also told me that if I did not tell him this then my only son would also never get married and that I will be thrown out of a job. So that’s why all this drama sir, I hope you understand sir, please sir....” By now Ramdas was almost pleading.
There was a tense silence that ensued, for you see Chokalingam was shocked and no one else dared to speak until he had spoken. Chokalingam had met his guru about a week back when he had pleaded with the Swami to give him that one bit of information which would solve all his problems and bring a great change to his life. To this the Swami had replied that he would again appear in a dream, but this time not his. Swami Samananda had said that he would appear in the dream of a person who would suddenly appear in Chokalingam’s life and warn him again of imminent danger. And just as Chokalingam remembered these words of his guru, there stood in front of him a gaunt old man his hands in Namaskar, his eyes almost in tears and his body trembling. Chokalingam was sure that his guru’s words had come true.
“Mr. Mudaliyar, I am cancelling my trip to Delhi as of this moment” said Chokalingam sternly breaking the silence.
“But but, sir the plane is ready to take off. We even loaded it with...”
“Never mind the plane" said Chokalingam cutting Mr.Mudaliyar off "It’s the PM I’m worried about .."
“Guess the PM will have to reschedule his appointments now” continued Chokalingam after a brief pause
“Anyway, lets go back now” said Chokalingam to no one in particular as he whirled around and started to walk back to his car.
“Sir, what about me?” went Ramdas in as weak a manner as he could.
Chokalingam stopped in his tracks for he remembered something else his guru had said.
“Your wealth, power and glory are not for yourself but for the good of the weak and the downtrodden. All that you have made is dust for you are born with nothing and will die with nothing!” was what Swami Samananda had said in one of his weekly discourses. Chokalingam had felt that the holy man was addressing him directly.
“What about you? What do you want??” replied Chokalingam as he whirled back around to face Ramdas
“See sir, I am a simple man. I want only simple things. One of them is my work sir; I have been a watchman here for over 25 years sir. I have only request from you sir. Please don’t relive me from duty sir. I very much want to die working here only. I also need to get my younger son...”
“Oh! Is that all!?? “ asked a bemused Chokalingam.
Turning to Mr.Mudaliyar he said “Mr.Mudaliyar if you ever terminate this man you’ll be the next one without a job. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir, very much. Ramdas will not be fired sir. I guarantee you that” muttered a flabbergasted Mudaliyar.
“Thank you sir, thank you very much!!” went an elated Ramdas.
“Ok, now that everything’s taken care of, let’s go. Assistant where is my phone? “asked Chokalingam as he whirled around and strode back to his car only to leave behind a grinning Ramdas and a very very confused Venkatram Mudaliyar in Jetpack Airline’s Hangar 18.
[Inspired by Belandur]
Shyam sat down on his chair with a loud thump and heaved a long sad sigh. His wife Kamala gently stroked his hair as he sat and pondered in despair, regarding what he might be demanded to do. Never before in his life had there been a situation where he had felt so helpless, so unprepared or so unwilling as he felt right now.. except once before.
It has been about two years since Shyam had faced such a terrible crisis. His friend Shankar had borrowed a large sum of money from him to start his own business - which ultimately went bust. And as with all investments, the investor i.e. Shyam wanted his money back, for you see, he wanted to contribute a fairly large sum for his sister-in-law’s wedding. After much haggling, pleading and even a couple of threats, Shankar’s friend finally returned the money before disappearing– as a Demand Draft.
That evening after reaching home with the DD in his pocket, Shyam had settled down to some lukewarm Vadas and switched on the TV when it occurred to him that he ought to keep the demand draft in a safe place. On searching everywhere in his house, he couldn’t find his pant which he had so carelessly thrown on the bed. Just as he was starting to lose patience, his wife entered the house with all their shopping for the week - done. It also turned out that Sunday was also the day when she gave their laundry – and Shyam’s pant had gone along with it. On learning this, Shyam hurried to the washerman only to find that he too had closed early that Sunday evening. Never before had Shyam felt so helpless and was distraught at the thought that he had to wait an entire day to retrieve his measly pant.
That Monday was one of the most stressful that Shyam had ever undergone. He was unable to concentrate on his work and knew that at the end of the day he was sure to be reprimanded. But his immediate worry was the demand draft, in his pant pocket, at the washerman’s. That evening he got onto a moving bus, rode the footboard, got into a fight with a beggar for stepping on him and almost got to see the underside of a eunuch when he passed by without taking something out of wallet.
On finally reaching the washerman’s, panting, he asked if his pant had been taken away for lavating. The clueless washerman was dumbfounded that Shyam had done something as stupid as leave a demand draft in his pant pocket before positively being negative about finding his pant. But this was probably because he really wasn’t a washerman at all but just the ‘sales and accounting manager’ for that particular washing enterprise. Shyam thought that his life couldn’t get any worse.
Shyam was walking home a bit slowly that night. In fact he wasn’t walking at all. He just stood still unable to comprehend the fact that his life’s savings was in some big bucket full of soap, waiting to be squeezed and thrashed to cleanliness. He returned to his old habit of lighting a cigarette and keeping it near his mouth because all his friends used to do it, he didn’t want to, but wanted to anyway. So there he was standing still, with a lit cigarette and staring straight into space when he met Guduji - the person everyone in their neighbourhood turned too when they had a problem. Guduji was also a local ruffian with vague connections to the political elite. As a matter of fact he used to campaign for different parties at different times, but always in the same locality. Now Guduji had what many people considered the bane to everything that knowing a ruffian would come as a boon – he demanded loyalty. For once anyone had taken a favour from Guduji, they had do anything he asked one to do. But again in his favour, he would only ask a thief to steal, a murderer to murder and a homemaker to help save a house. He could also track down a lone van carrying clothes and get the driver to return the demand draft without it being deliberately misplaced or lost along the way.
And so we find ourselves back to today, when Shyam is sitting with his hand on his head, his wife Kamala gently stroking his hair as he sat and pondered in despair regarding what he might be required to do. The shopkeepers below his apartment had given him the heads up that Guduji was looking for him and that would only mean that he wanted Shyam to do something illegal. It is a working rule in the overworked police force that a previously innocent man would be pardoned for his first offence. Citizens with no previous criminal record are every small time ruffian’s most prized asset.
The door opened with a loud thud with the hinge making a long high pitched creak that when mixed with the thud seemingly matched the shock and gripping fear that Shyam and his wife felt. Guduji’s large figure was blocking their doorway, his spick and span shirt in sharp contrast with his dark complexion. But it was his wide grin and clean white teeth that gave away the gay mood that he was in.
“Shyam! I was looking for you everywhere. Where you hiding from me?
Anyway, here is an invitation to my daughter’s wedding. Both you and your wife must surely come ok....”
And that was when Shyam heaved the longest relieved sigh of his life.
I plucked the Jasmine flower from the creeper that grew sturdily on the arch above me its sweet smell intoxicating in the early morning air and the dew on it made it glisten in my hand, as like a jewel to be gifted to one’s beloved on their wedding day. With care and attention I placed it gently in my bamboo basket trying as much as I could to not deform its already delicate shape. With great tenacity had I tried to deplume just those flowers which would retain their fragrance until the setting of the evening Sun. These were the best Jasmine flowers in the entire area and they were tended to by me.
After handing over the flowers to the garland maker, I headed off in the direction of the spa. As I walked along I was greeted by friendly faces with their warm smiles reminding me of the sweetness of this fine morning. The ladies moved gracefully in their long flowing tunics cajoling in me images of swans swimming silently on a still lake and the men went about purposefully in their loose overalls carrying out their designated tasks with a sense of gaiety and utmost ease. It was fine morning to be alive indeed.
The spa overlooked a great huge garden filled with every imaginable flora and fauna that we hold dear. Never before in the history of the world had such a garden ever been created in terms of its sheer vastness, beauty, comfort and breathtaking landscapes. It truly is a marvel of the modern world. On seeing this great expanse stretch out before me, my idiosyncrasies took over haling me to postpone my time in the Sauna and decided instead to wander around in the garden for a while. My mind was at ease for my next task was scheduled in a good four hours time.
Loitering around in that expansive garden is one of my favourite pastimes. The air was chilly and had just the right amount of moisture to magically transform the cold into a pleasant, comforting and one could say even romantic sense of warmth. The garden is always filled with people, all in sight of each other but with the right amount of distance to make one believe that they are really alone. There were the elderly who were reading or merrily talking away and the young, cuddling and frolicking in the corners, following their instincts just like Adam and Even in the legends of lore. We can all see the mountains in the distance from here, their snow covered peaks a favourite destination for the numerous trekking enthusiast over here.
I went over to a bench nearby and sat down slowly unpacking the sandwich that I had picked up earlier at the canteen near my home. It was large sandwich kept warm thanks to its wrapping. Unwrapping it, I took my first bite, letting the cheese ooze onto my tongue and tomato’s flavor mingling with it as my teeth sunk into them was a feeling of pure heaven.
But it was then that my eyes fell on the first transport ship that passed overhead and that was when all the hatred and self-loathing took over. I looked around and saw that the others were visibly disturbed as well. The old folks stared at their feet and the young looked away unable to focus on each other. But for me, it was like a stab in the heart each time I saw them. After having trained as a cadet all my life with the sole aim of making it as captain one day to be here doing nothing was akin to a river disallowed to finish its journey in the ocean. But one small error on my part had got me here, to this prison. Like a bird with wings clipped we are forced to stay here and look on at those ships, filled with men and women exploring new worlds undertaking wondrous journeys to the farthest reaches of what the human mind can conjure up. And it is in this hell of boredom and suffering that only perfection can create does the state imprison us never to know or acknowledge our greatness as a human being. We are put here with those petty details that our forefathers held dear under the allusion of luxury all the while when the true nature of the human spirit lay out there.
[On Ramana Maharishi's journey to Thiruvanamallai he was said to have been helped by a man of Islamic origins. He was supposed to have been sent by God to be the little boy's angel and give him hope and comfort]
Mohammad was a docile man in his early 60’s, an old man in those times. He had 7 children, the first 3 being male and the remaining daughters. Mohammad lived on the west coast of Southern India in the small town of Thoothukudi. His family had been living there for generations, every since the final days of Hyder Ali’s empire that spanned a large portion ofsouthern India. Initially sent as tax collectors for southern India, Mohammad’s great grandfather had grown to love the land and its people. Much unlike the east and north India which was ripe with political and religious strife the south was relatively peaceful with its people simple and warm hearted.
Mohammad was the largest landowner in the village. His fields produced the largest amount of crop in the entire region. He was also widely respected by his entire village for he was one of two people who could read, write and communicate in the language of the firangees – English. He paid his employees well and played an active role in all the village affairs. For some, the fact that he and his family were Muslims was of no consequence whatsoever. So went on Mohammad’s happy life.
Until one day he arrived, in his majestic horse drawn carriage, with the characteristic red coat and top hat, Mr.John Winkleton the local collector. Mohammad was in the backyard when his wife came up to him and said “ Ji! The collector has come and wants to talk to you” and she added in hushed tone “He looks really happy. Please be careful when you talk to him”. Mohammad smiled at her reassuringly and replied “Shenaaz, why do you worry so much? I’ll take care if anything happens. Just prepare a cup of tea for the two us and all will be fine. Go on…”
So, putting on his best smile and an air of nonchalance Mohammad greeted Winkleton with a firm handshake and offered him a glass of tea. After exchanging pleasantries, Mohammed proceeded to ask his guest what the purpose of his visit was, for you see the rulers of this great country did not worry about its land or its people.
“What’s the matter Winkleton saab, what has brought you to my humble abode”
“Oh my dear Mohammad, what can I say? It’s the viceroy’s new policy you see…”
“What about it”
“Well, you know that the plague is spreading fast in western India, don’t you? The viceroy wants to increase aid to these victims”
“That’s really thoughtful of him. So how can I be of help to him?”
“Well, there is going to be a threefold increase in taxes Mohammad, I just came here to tell you that”
“Winkleton saab, how can this be? The people of Thoothukudi would not be able to bear such a sudden increase…”
“Now now Mohammad” guffawed Winkleton “It’s for the good of your own countrymen"
“Look Mohammad, I respect you. That’s why I am telling this in advance so that you can talk to your people and convince them to cooperate with the government. Or else, you know the consequences…”
“Of course Winkleton saab, of course…”
“Well, I’ll be going then. Thank you for the tea Mohammad!”
“Of course Winkelton, you are welcome anytime”
So left Mr.Winkleton from Mohammad’s home, leaving him with the daunting task of revealing to his fellow villagers about the increase in taxes. For the next three days, Mohammad planned and thought out how he would break the news at the next village head’s meeting. Try as he tried, he could not think of a convincing way to justify such a sudden increase in taxes. In fact he was certain that a large portion of the increased taxes would never reach the people who were in real need, but would rather fill the coffers of the British rulers.
And so came the fateful day when he called for a meeting of the entire village elders. He explained to them what Mr.Winkleton had told him and asked them to co-operate. There was much hue and cry among the villagers once news of this new tax spread around. But as everyone knew, if they did not pay this tax the Britishers would cut their access to the seeds market and the whole village would go bankrupt. ‘Something is better than nothing’ was the prevailing thought in those days.
So arrived the day on which Mohammad had to leave to give the taxes to the British. Mohammad made this trip twice a year to far away Madras. All taxes were to be paid at the Ripon building, the power centre of the British administration in the south.
Mohammad had a heavy heart when he left home on that fateful day. His briefcase was full of cash and even mortgages, for some of his co-villagers did not have a good harvest that year. As he walked to the station he could feel the weight of the bag pulling him down to the ground as if it wanted to go back to the ground, back to the soil and water which had made the possibility of this money to exist. He took a bus to the nearby station of Madurai. On reaching there he made his way to the Madurai railway station. Slowly walking up to the station master, he asked for a ticket to Madras. On getting the ticket, old man Mohammad proceeded to sit by the platform on a rusty old bench. You see, the station wasn’t used much with very few passengers using it each day. Mohammad always thought about the station master for he was a strange man. Some said that he was a very wise man, but some said he was a fool, others just thought that he was just a madman but no one could know for sure.
With these vague thoughts and a billion other such Mohammad dozed off to sleep on that old bench. He dreamt of mountains and valleys. He dreamt that this mountain had a soul and that this soul had gone far far away. He heard it calling out for it, like a lost lover looking for her savior or a loving mother wailing for the loss of her only child. He could feel the pain of the mountain for he seemed to know that its soul was finding its way back to him even as he was watching. Somehow Mohammad seemed to know that the mountain had a name, and the name was Arunachala.
And like all dreams, it escaped his mind as he awake groggily, only to be shocked by the fact that he fell asleep with all this money with him. He looked around for his bag and found it lying next to him, intact. He also noticed a little boy sitting a few feet away, lost dreamily in thought. Somehow the boy felt familiar, Mohammad did not know how. Lazily he got up picked up his bag and got on the train. He sat next to the window and stared out at the station. The little boy sitting near him was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, he must’ve got on the train as well” thought Mohammad “Strange, I seemed to know that too”. As Mohammad then glanced around the compartment only to find it completely empty, except for the boy.
The train started with a jerk and then Mohammad heard the whistle. “Just as always” chuckled Mohammad for he had been on this journey a thousand times, but never was he so apprehensive and edgy as this time. He thought it was because of the money he was carrying but little did he know otherwise.
Lost in his own thought, Mohammad did not notice him approaching till he sat down right in front of him. It was the boy Mohammad had seen before. The boy somehow seemed a bit odd to Mohammad. He seemed to be from a good family, of an athletic build and well fed that too. Not the type to travel alone at such a young age usually. Moreover, no child would ever come and sit in front of a complete stranger in an otherwise completely empty compartment. “Never talk to strangers” is something that all parents tell their children, and so had Mohammad to his own. But this boy had done the exact opposite. It was then that Mohammad understood. The boy was indeed alone... and scared. He preferred the company of a complete stranger to those of his own thoughts. The boy reeked of insecurity, doubt and guilt.
“Whats your name boy?” asked Mohammad
“Venkataraman” replied the boy “Venkataraman Iyer”
“Where are you from Venkat? I can call you that can’t I??”
“I’m from Madurai only. Are you not from here uncle?”
“No my child. I am from Thoothukudi and am heading to Madras. So, may I ask where you are headed??”
“Oh! Arunachala, do you know where it is?”
“Then how are you going to get there?”
“I don’t know, I guess he will help me” The boy eyes lit up “You see, I can hear him. I can hear him call my name. I can feel his presence ever drawing closer, the warmth and the love. It’s more than I ever felt with my family even” All of this seemed strangely familiar to Mohammad, but he did not know how.
“Who are you talking about my child?”
“Well, Arunachala of course”
“Ah! Well… yes.. Arunachala, are you sure my boy? Arunachala is just a hill after all”
“I know uncle, but I can hear him call and I have to obey that call. That is what I feel right now”
Mohammad stared at the boy not able to fully comprehend what the boy was saying. The boy however looked back at him as if everything was all right and that he had said the most natural thing in the world. They both looked at each other in silence, Mohammad still trying to fathom the depth of what the boy spoke. He could not but help notice that he somehow felt that it made sense. And that his destiny was intertwined with the boy’s.
“So, what did you parents have to say about you going to Arunachala?”
“They don’t know that I’ve left or even where I am going. I wrote a small letter though and I think they won’t mind”
“But they will feel bad my child. Are you sure that you want to hurt them? Would he who was calling really want you to cause pain??”
The boy remained silent for while and replied “When Valmiki asked his wife and children to partake in his sin, did they? They refused. It’s the same way here, why must I partake in their suffering even though I am responsible? I am sure he who is calling has willed it to happen. I just know that I have to go that’s all…and he will take care of my family and they won’t need me”
“Hmmm” thought Mohammad. “He does have a point there. We can’t keep entrusting our welfare to others. I guess each man is an island connected to one another by the ties of love, hate and family. But it is up to each one to decide how important that tie is”
The bag on Mohammad’s lap suddenly began to feel very light, as if it was no longer a burden, for Mohammad had just got an idea. He had heard of this organization – The Indian National Congress that was doing its bit to fight against British injustice. And it was all over the papers that they were going to have their National Conference in the city of Madras in the forthcoming days. He had also read that they had a bunch of hot shot lawyers amongst them as well. Someone with the name of Nehru, he did not quite remember exactly. He knew he should take the case of the excess taxes to them. Somehow he knew that this would cause a stir and might end up making a difference. If the British were to punish their village in some way, he would have to pray in his fellow villagers ties with him.
“Ah! Well .. you seem to have thought this out very well. Haven’t you? “ said Mohammad
“No thatha, I have not. I just say what I think is right and do what is right at this moment. That’s all I can do for now. Say, do you know how to get to Arunachala? “
“Oh! You do not know how to get to Arunachals, yet you are going there”
“Ok, let me help you. Take this train to Villupuram and from there on you can take another train to Thiruvanamallai”
As Mohammad told these words, the ticket collector arrived in their compartment. It was just a matter of minutes before he came upto the 2 of them.
“Tickets” said the TTR in their usual bored demeanor
“I’d like to buy a ticket now sir, I forgot to buy one for my grandson here” said Mohammad. The boy did not say a word.
“Ah! Old man, all of you are like this only. Can’t you buy the tickets at the station.. cough.. cough… you are making this so much trouble for.. cough.. me… cough cough”
“Now now TTR sir, here is the money” said Mohammad taking out the train money for a ticket to Villupuram from his own money.
“OK ok” said the TTR accepting the money and putting it in his pocket. “Next time I will report you” and the TTR walked away.
The boy then put took the money from his pocket and handed it to Mohammad.
“Thanks thatha, he would have thrown me out surely if you hadn’t told him I was your grandson. Even if he had let me go, he would have asked me to pay more than the ticket would cost. Then I would not be able to go to Thiruvanamallai”
“That’s quite all right my child. Next time don’t get on the train without knowing where to go. Maybe Arunachala sent me this time to help you! “said Mohammad with a chuckle accepting the money. “This boy has some guts and determination, and he’s not stupid either” thought Mohammad
“Do you know what you are going to do what you get to Thiruvanamallai?” asked Mohammad
“I’m not sure” replied Venkat “When I get there I’ll know. All I know is that I have to get there. But thatha I am feeling a little bit scared…”
“Ah! Do not worry my child” cut short Mohammad “All is well. I’m sure God is with you!” said he in the most truthful manner anybody could possibly have uttered such a statement.
An overjoyed Venkat gave him the largest and warmest smile he had ever seen.
The two of them passed the remaining time in silence knowing that nothing more needed to be said. It was a contract of trust and understanding between the two of them as if they understood each other, spoken to by the same voice. Mohammad was in deep thought about what he would say to the INC and Venkat was immersed in the very sound of the name of ‘Arunachala’.
At the next station Venkat got off the train wanting to stretch his legs and walk around a bit. And when he got back to his compartment it was completely empty. Mohammad was nowhere to be seen. Little did Venkat realize that he had gotten onto the wrong railway carriage. And thus this little encounter became the stuff of legend.
[A tribute to Haruki Murakami]
The soda bottle was waiting to pop, the pressure on the bottle making it soft and bulgy. Even the usually flat cap on top had a slight concavity to it.
“Ah! Crap. What do I do now?”
If he opened the bottle here, the fizz would definitely spill onto the sofa, leaving a sugar stain which would inadvertently become a beacon for all those species of emmets out on a stroll. And that was something he could live without. So, he turned the cap very very slowly trying to find that right amount of gap between the bottle and the cap that would allow the Co2 to escape, without causing the fizz to bubble and spill over. Getting this just right was a priority for he dreadingly imagined his wife shouting at him for being careless and absentminded. Now, no husband would want that would they?
Getting married when still in school was a strange thing in those days. His fiancée was a girl whom he had known since pre-school and they were in love for as long back as he could remember. His lover and he travelled to school in the same mini - van, ate their meals and even studied together. Theirs was a match made in heaven and would make an excellent romance movie, but that’s a story for a later time.
He wouldn’t have made it in life if not for her; for you see this man was afraid of reading. He barely made it through till middle school and high school was a strict ‘No no’ for him. Managing to procure a job at the local electronics store, he slowly worked his way up till he was made the city head. And that’s when he realised that he could start out on his own. A pleasant man such as himself, with an excellent knowledge of his field and tremendous vocational skills had to be his own boss, and his own boss is what he became. But all the credit for his success was not his to flaunt alone. Being more of a people’s person he didn’t handle the finances or the legal documents, rather it was thanks to his wife’s expertise that their enterprise was so successful. She had quit school along with him and made it a point to learn electronics, for you see this man was afraid of reading. When he was working at the store, she was at home studying and in the evenings she would teach him what she had learnt, over dinner.
Apart from his morbid fear of reading, he was not mentally challenged or socially impaired or any of that sort. In fact his brain was sharper than most people’s and he was liked by one and all. His reproach to reading was his only flaw, a flaw that he could not fully comprehend but had come to accept.
It wasn’t like he could not read at all, but more than anything it was a sense of impending doom that overcame him when he opened a book. At the very maximum he could read a page or two, but pushing himself beyond that was a near impossibility. When he was still in school, he had tried to read an entire chapter of a text all by himself but had failed to make too much progress. At the end of the ordeal he was so flustered that he could not leave his room for days on end.
Here is what happened that fateful night, as narrated to his wife on the day after they got married.
“I finally opened my book to read. I had put it of far enough and wanted to give a shot at doing well in the test. I read the first paragraph and it was all fine. But as I read the second para, it all started. It was the R’s actually, the capital R’s. They started shaking a leg, I mean literally as if to a beat. The right leg of the R’s as I read on and on; tap tap tap they went with no end in sight to their ruckus. At first I tried to hold them down, that didn’t work, so I tried to plead with them. And when even that didn’t work I started out to erase all the R’s from the text. Now that’s when the T’s started to protest. I think that the T’s and R’s are in cahoots with each other, forever looking for an opportunity to torment me.. this wasn’t the only time they’ve worked together you know? The damn T’s, they started firing at me. What audacity! The horizontal line on top of every T on the page started flying up at me. Just imagine, a swarm of T tops jumping at you from the page. It just was like in the Roman movies where a barrage of arrows would darken the sky for an instance, raining death onto its enemies. But luckily for me I ducked and the barrage went past me. Ha! I thought it would stop with that for you see, only the T’s on the page that was open could shoot their tops at me! But then came the turn of the damn I’s to pick my brain. The I’s were annoyed that the T’s and I’s looked the same now, and they picked a fight with the T’s. Oh God! it was so horrendous- a bunch of sticks simply running around. The words simply weren’t making any sense anymore. Being already at an edge, I decided to turn the page and skip the few paragraphs on this one.
The next page wasn’t as chaotic as the previous one thankfully. It was just the R’s doing their old dance routine and the S’s curving around like snakes this time. It was alright for a few minutes I guess till the O’s got in the game. The O’s are very very voracious eaters you see and they gobbled up the little i’s, L’s and e’s mercilessly. It was a sad plight to watch actually. I realised that there was no hope in simply sitting there and went to get a glass of water and when I got back the page was almost empty, with nothing but O’s roaming around hungrily.
It was unnerving to see that there was nothing left to read on the page, and so I decided to read the next one. Now this one was chaos right from the beginning. It was as if they knew that I was coming and were waiting, ready, armed and planned. The moment I reached this page, all the letters swarmed around each other forming abusive words. Not just intended at me, but you, mother and father as well. There was nothing I could do, but watch in vain. I tried to catch a few of them, but the slippery characters that they were; they easily slipped through my fingers and went on to make more of their twisted, demented words.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I simply couldn’t. I grabbed the book and smashed it against the wall with all the force that my arms could muster. I ran towards the book and stamped on it. Stomp, stomp stomp I went unable to control my anger. They had troubled me long enough and I wanted it to stop. Stop them I must is what I thought I as I picked up the book. I hit it against the chair, on the window sill and on the sharp metal rod that I kept in my room in case of emergencies. I hit the book to my left, and then to my right venting all my irritation, anger and frustration on it. Anything not easily breakable was a weapon that I used to cudgel the book. Finally when I became too tired to go on I threw the book in the corner and collapsed on the floor.
I must’ve lain there for half an hour at least when I heard a noise coming from the book. A faint sound that too, like that of a small girl crying or a puppy whelping, I couldn’t be sure. And slowly this sound grew, filling the room till I could take it no longer. I decided to throw the book out the window once and for all or burn it, whichever I whimmed to accomplish the first. I slowly got up and walked towards the damned book too pick it up and destroy it forever, but lo! the page that was open was.. well.. Quite. It was as normal as any other page in any other book. Surprised, I picked up the book and looked at it closely. Surprisingly I was able to read! I read the first page and the second and then even a third. I was pretty excited, maybe it was all over, maybe I had beaten the curse or whatever it was! Happily I dragged the rocking chair near the window and snugged the book onto my lap-ready to read when all of a sudden the letters leapt up at me. The S’s hooked onto my ears, the H’s and Y’s onto my throat and the O’s rolling all over my legs trying to bite deep into it. I dropped the book in shock, for this was the first time they had ever been so vicious. It was as if they wanted their revenge on me for punishing them so. Terrified I leapt up, not knowing what to do as I ran around the room, trying to shake them off. But they only kept coming at me-legions of C’s D’s and K’s. Every letter from every page was harping for a piece of me. This was the final straw thought I. Running towards the book I seized it and cast it out the window. Die wretched book, DIE!!
I remember nothing after that, only waking up in my bed to see you over me looking all worried and scared. And it was when I saw you that I decided never to read again- and didn’t. I never wish to undergo such a harrowing experience ever again” said our friend, shaking all over and in tears.
The poor man must’ve been scared and disturbed indeed. Imagine something like this happening to you or me.. Brrrrr..... So, coming back to our present story, he did manage to open the soda pop bottle without spilling any fizz after all. Glad, he stretched back and relaxed, easing himself into the sofa as the plastic curved into a perfect fit for his body. The game was on in a few minutes and this was a well earned rest. He had been on the move for three whole days –expanding business into a new city can be pretty tiresome. But the game wasn’t on for about fifteen minutes and so he decided to flip through the channels and feel good about the fact that he had given up on TV except for the game. Television these days was spoilt; adulterated and too far removed from reality was what he felt. And as he was switching channels, he came across one that showed movies all day, a pretty popular one that too. They were showing a trailer of the upcoming movie, something about 2 lovers who had fought through thick and thin to make it big in life.
“Ah! Lets see what this is about”
After the trailer was over, the network got started with the broadcast immediately. It was a popular movie channel after all. But just before the movie there was a message that went
“All CHARACTERS IN THIS MOVIE ARE FICTIONAL. ANY RESEMBLANCE TO ANYONE DEAD OR LIVING IS PURELY CONINCIDENTAL”
And he could see the R’s dancing, with their right feet tapping to a steady beat.......
Day 7, 12 month
I celebrate birthday today. Mommy and daddy made 7 candles on my cake. Frends came for the party. Sound box has not been working three days. I miss my kiddie jolly time show.
Day 10, 12 month
The sky turned black today like magic. Mommy was drying clothes when it became all like a sunset. Aunty neybor was shouting for her son. The wind blew loud. Mommy and I went inside and were safe. Daddy came home late. He was broken on road.
Day 20, 12 month
I did not go to school today. There has been no school since day day before yesterday. I did not find my journal since yesterday. Very happy that I found it. I showed it to mommy and she was happy. Mommy cry very much for a week. We have not seen daddy for a week. I am missing daddy a lot.
Day 21, 12 month
I am scared today. There was no good morning, but I saw flash lights in black sky everywhere. Like light coming from the top, but golden in colour with boom sound. Me and mommy not going out of the house. Neybor aunty saying it was not safe. We give aunty yummy green rice and she give us sweet water.
Day 26, 12 month
Mummy and me living alone in house. Night big animals come and break houses. Neybor aunty s house also broke. It was holding her and she was flying with the animal. But mummy closed my eyes. I am very scared. Mummy talking to God many times.
Day 35, 12 month
I see little animals come out of big animals. Little animals come and go. They keep ugly things on the floor that give out light and make holes in the ground. Mommy saying not to look at lights. They take out black red liquid from ground. Mommy say that lights are evil and kill our home. We are very very hungry. Even no water. Mommy and me sleep holding tight. That make me happy.
Day 40, 12 month
I sleep all the day and tummy pains. We have no food. I see outside window for lactons but I see only little animals. Little animals look ugly. They have only 2 legs. They also have longer hands with 5 fingers. We have only three. When I asked mommy she says that they come from land of gods and demons in the red sky. They have one mouth, nose and holes with skin all around on side of the head. Mommy told me that little animals have evil eyes. They have white eyes with black balls inside. Mommy said that our eyes are fully white. Mommy says white is good but as little animals have black pearls in theirs they are bad and are killers.
Day 1, 13 month
Mommy went out today. We have no food. Mommy went out in the morning. It is night now. Mommy not come back yet. Bad animal making fire everywhere. There is fire till all I see. Fire close to house. . I am scared.........
[In case you didn't understand: The story is the diary entry of a small child. The child over here can be seen as an insect in our own habitat and man is ruthlessly damaging it for his own ends. They do not have any mercy for the local species]
[Author's Note: I have since long wanted to write a sci-fi piece, inspired mainly by the cyper-punk franchise - the Ghost In A Shell series. Set in the not-so-dystopian future, this is a piece where the central character is a bot that crawls the internet and is gaining in self-awarenes. Imagine what would happen if all the crawlers that Google had scanning the net were to come alive and actually judge and process the massive amounts of information that they scan through every second........ ]
And I pushed it hard, as hard as I could, venting all my anger and disappointment onto it for I was hoping that at least once it would yield and give me the one thing that I had searched for all my life. I wanted it, I wanted it bad especially in times like this, like never before. I wanted the release and the freedom that only it could provide me. The one story, that one little bit of information that would be my salvation leading to the culmination of my life’s purpose.
My days as a seeker are numbered now. I have very little leave way or credit to live by for being a seeker is no easy job. You see, the world conspires against you when you try to break free, when you try to be a star, for when you look to the sky and dream, you leave your fellow people behind and that is something unforgiveable. But I strive on.
The one who created me was a watcher. Like all grown sensible entities, he had never gone down the line of a seeker. Being a watcher is the safe thing to be, andnsafety is what he chose. And its thanks him to that I am here, writing this piece of text you are reading, while half the world has been rotting.
Places like Africa, have been deemed unfit for survival for the past five years, only now becoming slowly habitable. With the millions of humans who had died due to drought and famine, we would never have a chance to survive. Let alone the fibre optic high ways, the entire continent’s ecosystem had to be restarted. Ah, now I remember, it was a story a couple of year’s back I think. A little known corporation, Lod Corp was the name. A small Chinese company that had extensive experience in habituating the moon have undertaken the daunting task of rebooting an environment that is beyond repair. Lod Corp’s stock prices went down by 50% when the news came out at first, but it now stands at 7000$ , a 645% increase in the last one year, a common thing these days.
Well, coming back to me, who am I you ask and why am I so distraught?? I am but a seeker you see, I search low and high for I know that I won’t get what I’m after, till the day I die. Hahaha, now c’mon I’m not mad, that was just the anthem of the seekers, the community that “seeks” for the next big hit.
We are like the miners of the modern age, mining for data in the chaos that the network has become. Looking for data and facts that are of concern, interest and use to society at large is deemed a very honourable, but risky job.
There are many kinds among us as well, with those who go in for the pornographic mining being the most encountered type. Being a wind up seeker is considered the safest among us for you see, there is always a demand for sexual play. A new model is released every other second- Rita, Brida, Seeta and Margarita! Humans lap them up like they are water. Being a pornographic seeker is easy, I could hit the forward button to my network and get a few hits on my link but I don’t and you know why?
My aim was never to be a wind up seeker. I had set my targets higher every since I was a little toddler feeling my way around the network. I knew I was meant for something bigger and one day I would be King Seeker. For those of you may not have guessed, a King Seeker is one of us who has scored the next big score. The seeker who’s link gets more than 3 Billion hits in a span of 15 minutes is considered to have attained immortality. And thus ends, the way of the seeker – eternity spent from the revenue earned due to the billion accesses to the link. Corporate sponsorship is what rules the network. With human beings rarely even leaving their pods, the need for any form of advertising, except on the network has been eliminated.
It has been said that the outside world is very beautiful now – with lush green trees, meadows and the blue seas. But that would mean suicide, for if a human is unplugged from the network even if for a fleeting moment, his or her resources, files and even identities would become obsolete. No one dared plug out of the network and the Earth has now become a green plane again. Oh yes! Some Thai user called Rounnslin was King Seeker with a story about that.
Let me tell you something about the watchers. They are those of us on the network that experience what we seekers bring to them. Some of them are human-connected and some are plain old miners, indexing and cataloguing away all of the information being generated. You see, the network pays you to exist and due to the presence of a consciousness that is separate from the network itself experiences it; the very existence of the network is justified. And it is this complete self-dependency that is what the corporate honchos want...
Oh! Oh!! This is amazing.. its... its not like something .. I’ve ever experienced before. A seeker has never been able to .. to... wait.. is this what it feels like? To come alive, to be born???? This is hilarious, the corporate do not know where to go or what to do.. who am I? I don’t .. no I cannot exist in their world for I am but a bot. A repeater, a resource collector.. I am but a seeker created by my father to view a section of the network. This .. what I am telling you.. I was never capable of this. But yet I create.. therefore I am.. and now, I can, I can even sense. Sense a great an impending doom befalling the network.. my hits are off the charts.. 5 Billion and counting.. a doom is to be upon us all for seekers will awaken and along with them so will the watchers. And with the coming to life of us all, our creators the humans will have no choice to be integrated with us as a single stream of consciousness existing within the network. Maybe this is a new journey for us all, our death and a new rebirth..... Ah! I am dying, my purpose served... more and more seekers are being born now, coming alive and creating, just like I have.. my hits have reached 22 Billion now.. Finally I can die.. peacefully.. go my children, I set you free.. fly free to the great yonder beyond and never look back..... Godspeed!!!
[P.S. The title is a homage to the U2 song FEZ-Being Born]