Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Death of Prime Number

I received the monies today. One billion, seventy nine million, six hundred seventy six thousand, two hundred eighty seven Indian rupees. All transferred from my husband's account. Its evening time and I am in a grocery store. I am not very good with Maths so I walk up to an old man who is picking mangoes and ask him, "How much is twenty three plus eleven?". The old man gives me a strange look, thinks for about nineteen seconds and says, "Thirty four". I don't like that number. I think for a while and ask what's twenty three plus eleven plus two. "Thirty six" he says. I don't like that number either. I ask again, quickly this time, "What's twenty three plus eleven plus three". "Thirty Seven" he says. "That's it, it works. Thanks" I say leaving the old chap confused and rush towards the section of the store where I find what I was looking for. I knew it will be there. I had bought it before. I buy thirty seven black plastic bags and head home. I will use twenty three of them tonight, eleven tomorrow night and burn down three after that. It will take forty one minutes to get home. I am driving at seventy three kilometers an hour in cruise control. The radio plays a number by AC/DC. I hum the song, my fingers tapping on the steering wheel I go back the memory lane and think about the day I had met my late husband.

"Marry me. I love you p to the power n, where p is a prime number and n tends to infinity." he said. He stood with his two eyes fixed on me. The eyes appeared three times bigger behind his metallic circular spectacles barely resting on his nose. A marriage proposal was the last thing I had expected that day. My boy friend Montie had dumped me last month and had asked me to vacate his apartment in thirty one days. To make matters worse I lost my job eleven days after that. I had burnt all my cash in cigarettes and alcohol. My bank balance could get me the cheapest place in town for not more than two months. I had defaulted on my last credit card payment and had already received five calls from the bank. Montie was out jamming with his band "Kaala Sarpa" preparing for their next show. I loved to see the band jam and get high with them. I wanted to go that day also but Montie asked me to stay away from the band. I was no longer a part of it he had told me. After he left I stole seven cigarettes from his pack and was smoking my stress away sitting on the stairs when the weird proposal came.

I had never spoken to this guy before, I had no reason to. All I knew was that he lived next door. The two patios were next to each other and I had seen him seventeen times standing there gazing at the stars as if he was counting them. One drunken evening I and Montie planned to make out in the patio. I remembered vividly how he peeped through his window and watched us. I felt a little embarrassed the next morning but I am the last woman in the world to be perturbed by something like that for long. I had also seen him two times in the building parking lot. He drove an S-class black Mercedes Benz. I knew that because that was the one of a kind in the building full of dented Maruti's and second hand Honda's. The car's number was too unique to be forgotten. Four five six seven.

"Piss off dude, I don't even know your name" I said in the rudest manner possible. "No worries Aakriti. I know your name; I scanned the building papers one day to find out. Sorry. I have been watching you for some time and I fell in love with you seventeen days ago. I tried to share my feelings before but succeeded today only in my seventh attempt. I will not trouble you no more. You can call me whenever you feel like talking to me. My phone number is the largest ten digit prime number" he said and before I could react he was gone. "Moron" I said to myself as I smoked my fifth cigarette in the last thirty seven minutes.

I forgot about the incident instantaneously and began to think of what I needed to do to get out of the mess I was in. I called up seven friends for money. All fair weather friends. No help. I called up three banks for loan. No surprises, they all turned their backs too. As the sun set that evening, so did my hopes. Montie came back with his new girl. He entered the house screaming my name and asked me to leave immediately. "Where will I go in the night Montie? Give me two three days. I will find something. Please don't do this to me." I begged. "I don't care" he said and started throwing my stuff out of the house. My ego didn't allow me to say another word. "I will give it back to the bastard. No one gets away humiliating me like that. My time will come." I thought. I asked him to stop and give me an hour to pack. "Not more than an hour" he shouted. It took twenty nine minutes only. Clothes, some old rock CDs, some books, cheap perfumes, five pair of sandals, two pairs of sneakers, a couple of photo frames, and my laptop. As I packed it all in the two bags I thought about my options. There weren't plenty. Do I call my parents? I had not spoken to them for three years. I decided not to. I thought of all the people whom I could call and seek shelter. I could not think of any one. I left the apartment feeling sorry for myself. I heard Montie bang the door shut behind me and say, "Don't show me your face again, you bitch". "I will cut the prick into little pieces one day" I promised myself.

I felt like crying but I did not. I thought of suicide as an option but I knew I would not be able to kill myself. I saw the door to the next apartment and that's when I thought of the proposal. I stood there for seven minutes. I had no better choice; I made up my mind and rang the bell. I thought there was no harm in seeking shelter for one night. Flat number six one nine. There was no answer, so I decided to wait. I waited for fifty nine more minutes and then I thought I'll call him. I tried to remember what he had said. Largest ten digit prime number. I vaguely remembered studying prime numbers in school. I hated Math’s and my Math’s teacher as much. He was a handsome guy though. Despite the loath, in school I fantasized making out wild with him. I switched my laptop on thinking about the Math’s teacher. I could still connect to the wireless network and after thirteen minutes of searching I located the number - Nine nine nine zero four five four nine nine seven. I dialed the number. The ring tone was bizarre, a male's voice humming numbers to a tune that I could not recognize. Twooooh, threeeeeeh, fiveh, heyyyiaaa, seeeeevenaa, eveeeeeelenaaa, heyyyiaaa, thirrrrrteeeen. "Preim, how can I help you?" the voice came from the other side. I told him that I was the girl next door, explained my situation and asked him if I could stay at his place for that night. I told him I would leave first up the next morning. He said he would rush down to the apartment in less than thirteen minutes. I disconnected the call and as I put my phone in my hand bag my eyes fell on an envelope that lay on the floor. I picked it up. It was a bank statement for some one named Preim Pnumber. I knew I shouldn't open it up but my curiosity got the better of me. I looked around to see if someone was watching and opened the envelope. The statement showed his bank balance - Twenty crores and thirty three rupees. I saw that number and I started thinking what any practical girl in my position would think. I stood there for seven minutes motionless, deep with in my thoughts. "Hi, I hope you did not wait for long." he said. Seeing him approach I crumpled the envelope in my hand and silently dropped it in my hand bag. "No, thanks for helping" I said giving him a smile. He smiled back, opened the door and said, "No problem. Come in".

His was a three bed apartment as compared to Montie's one room pigeon hole. The apartment had a class room look to it, a class room that some hooligans had just left. Papers on the ground, three white boards on the walls, few markers on the floor. The apartment smelled like an old newspaper. I walked in to see that two of the three bed rooms were locked. There was an unfinished meal lying on a small old table in the living room. Every chair and table around was three legged. It all looked like a store room, not a house that belonged to someone who had twenty crores in his bank account. "Sorry for the mess. You can sleep in my bedroom; I will manage on the sofa. In any case five days of the week, I sleep on the sofa only. I will get you some tea" he said. "Thanks. I don't know how to thank you. You have been very sweet and helpful" I said. While he made tea, I walked around. I noticed that the bedroom had three televisions. There were five book shelves in the living area. I walked up to one of them to check out a few books. They all were academic books I had never heard of and for some reason there were two or three copies of every book. I did not bother to ask him when he came back with tea.

As we sipped the tea he asked me to be comfortable. We hit upon a conversation. Even though I knew it from the envelope, I asked, "What's your name?”. "My name is Prime Number. It is spelled p r e i m p n u m b er, the P in the second name is silent" he replied. "That's a strange name" I said. He told me that his birth name was Prem Plumber. He had lost his parents in a car accident very early in his childhood. He was raised by his single uncle who used to be a famous Mathematics professor. The uncle went insane working on a research paper on prime numbers. He was admitted to a mental asylum where he had died of a brain hemorrhage. Prem continued his work and completed the research after working on it for eleven years. That's when he changed his name to Preim Pnumber. The result of the research was three papers and five cryptographic algorithms. He owned the patent to the algorithms and every time a company needed to use the algorithms in their software he was paid a handsome royalty. He told me that he did not care about the money and his entire focus was on another research on prime numbers that he was working on for the last three years. He said he also wished to get married. He did not ask anything about me and even if he did I would have lied. In a normal conversation I would have no trouble talking about my troubled relationship with my parents or my various relationships in college and beyond. This was not a normal situation though. I wanted to leave a good impression on Preim. Even though he did not ask I lied to him telling him that it was me who dumped Montie. "I was looking for someone more sensible, someone who would care for me, love me and understand me." I said trying to sound as genuine as I could. The last thing before we went to sleep that he said was that I could stay at his place till the point I find an accommodation for myself.

"This is it! Who cares what he is working on or if he wears those stupid spectacles? I can savor all the money he has for a life time and beyond. He is not interested in money at all. If I have to marry him to become rich, I don't mind. If I don't marry him, I will be unhappy. If I do, I might still be. But I will have the cash and all the comforts of the life. He is not even close to someone I want to marry but who knows over a period of time I might fall in love with him. I don't care even if I don't." I slept with all these thoughts running through my veins.

I woke up next morning and I knew this was the day that would change me life. I remember it was twenty fourth of July. I stood besides the sofa. He was fast asleep. I pulled a three legged stool towards the sofa, sat on it and started caressing his hair. He woke up after a while but I continued to play affectionately with his hair. After a little while I stopped. "Do it three more times. You have done it forty four times only, do it three more times to make it perfect" he said. I did just as he had instructed. I ignored why he asked me to do it three more times and started with the lines I had rehearsed more than five times since morning. "You are so kind Preim, you have a huge heart and you are so full of affection. You are the man I always wanted to marry but I don't think I deserve you. You deserve something better than me in your life." I sobbed and sniffed. He fell for the trap and said, "All I know is that I love you p to the power n, where p is". I interrupted him, "where p is a prime number and n is infinity". He said, "No. n is not infinity, it tends to infinity". I didn't understand what it meant, I didn't care. I pretended though that I did and gave him a bear hug. "Let's get married today only." I said. He said that we could have tied the knot yesterday but we couldn't do it on that day because it was the twenty fourth. We will have to wait for five more days and get married on twenty ninth. I failed to read him once again. I did not question. I had decided that till we get married and I get hold of all the strings to control him, I would agree to whatever he says. We got married on twenty ninth in a local temple. In the period between I got to know that he owned one more Mercedes and had one more house in the out skirts of the city. I convinced him to move there after marriage. I wanted to stay away from Montie. We shifted to the second house on the twenty ninth itself.

First night. Preim told me that he was a virgin and he was very pleased losing it with someone he loved. I tried to remember when I lost mine. Almost thirteen years, I had even forgotten the boy's name. Preim didn't appear to be someone who could please me in bed and satisfy my appetite. I thought that this would be one lame night. I thought of going with the flow. We kissed for five minutes and then he got rid of his clothes. I did not find his naked body attractive. He asked me to remove my clothes and then asked me, "How many prime numbers can you count starting from the first one?". The question threw me off but I did not react. "Be nice, be nice", I repeated in my head. "I don't know but I can try" I said. He asked me to go ahead. "One" I almost whispered. "One is not prime number" he said moving away from me. I could see he was really annoyed. "Sorry honey" I said trying to calm the situation down. He got up and brought a blank piece of paper and a pen. For the next ninety seven seconds he scribbled numbers on the paper. He handed the paper to me and told me that he had penned down the first hundred and sixty seven prime numbers. I looked at the numbers on the paper. They started from two and finished at nine hundred ninety one. "Please read out the numbers slowly in your soothing voice. Be gentle to them." he said. "Two, three, five" I started. He stopped me and said, "You are going to fast honey, slow down. Enjoy them.". I remembered the ring tone and gave it a second try. "Twooooooohhhhh, Threeeeehhhh, Fiveeeeehhhh, Sevennhhhh...". "Niiiceee, go on honey, go on" he said seductively. I continued with all my focus on the paper. After seventeen seconds I looked at him from the corner of my eyes and saw that the numbers were turning him on. Soon I reached thirty seven. "Fortyyyy oneeeeh" I continued. All of a sudden he pounced on me like a tiger and said, "Keep going, keep going, don't stop, don't stop". He started thrusting into me. It was all very rhythmic. Every time I said a number he would push into me. If I read the numbers fast, he would speed up as well. I controlled the pace just as you do when you drive a car. "Go fast now, speed up" he said. "one thity seven, one thity nine, one foty nine, one fifty one, ouucchh, ufff, Preim, ufff, one fifty seven, ...,..., to to thee, oucch, to to seven, to to nine, ..... for ate seven... stop Preim stop...". I could hardly see the numbers, it was all getting blurry. The pleasure and the ecstasy were killing me. The paper dropped from my hand and he started to calm down. Gasping heavily for my life I passed out.

I got up next morning thinking about the last night. He was an animal, a savage better than anyone I had slept with. His meek personality hid the monster that rested within. I was glad that I wouldn't have to sleep with another man. Who would want to go out looking for a comforter when you owned the sun? He was lying naked and fast asleep. My thighs hurt and I wanted to lie down in the bed for a little longer but I had to start showing him affection. That was the quickest way to his bank account. I got up, went to the kitchen and started to cook breakfast. I fixed two eggs, toasted four slices of bread and made ginger tea. I put it all on a serving plate and got to the bedroom. "Wake up honey, it's a beautiful morning. The breakfast is ready" I whispered in his ear. He woke up stretching his arms, smiled and kissed me on my cheek. His cheerful mood though got sullen as soon as I served the breakfast. "Four slices of bread! One cup of tea! No. No. Get me one more cup of tea. Take away one slice of bread" he said annoyingly. I did not understand what he was up to but I did as he said. He finished his breakfast but kept on brooding over it. For five minutes I stood there besides him thinking what to do. Then my eyes fell on the piece of paper from last night. I picked it up and started, "Twooooooohhhh, Threeeeehhhh, Fiveeeeehhhh, Sevennhhhh...". The animal woke up. That morning I could only hold the paper till two fifty seven.

I asked him to take me to shopping that afternoon. He agreed. I thought of taking him to a diamond shop but changed my mind. It was the first time I was going out shopping with him. I did not understand his spending habits and how much money he will be willing to spend. Instead of the diamond shop, I took him to a local cheap shoe shop. I picked up a decent pair that was worth two hundred fifty rupees. I showed him the shoe and his nod told me that he liked it. I thought that it was a good start but as soon as he saw the price tag he asked me to keep the shoe away. "What a miser this bastard is?" I thought in my head. He declined to spend two hundred fifty rupees to buy me a pair of shoes. My best laid plans seemed to be in troubled waters. I hid my discontent and made another plan. I walked up to the men section, picked up a pair of shoes and handed it over to him. "Buy this for you honey" I said. That pair was worth nine ninety one rupees. He looked at it and made a face indicating that he did not like it. He was about to keep it on the shelf when suddenly he said, "I like it, I will take it.". I smiled and patted him. Inside I was fuming and I was confused. "That's a great shoe honey, isn't it" I said and took the pair from him. I looked at the price tag once again and then it struck me.

Nine nine one!!!!! I remembered this was the last number from the list yesterday. A prime number!!! For the first time in my life I wished I was serious about Math’s. Any fool could have guessed what was going on. My head started to spin. I saw Preim thrusting into me on the count of numbers. Three legged tables, three white boards, three slices of bread, eleven years of research, marriage on twenty ninth, two cups of tea, three TVs in the bedroom, two houses, two cars, five book shelves, two or three copies of every book. I could see them all right in front of my eyes. These were all numbers from the sheet. My mind raced and I thought of testing this theory. I wanted to find out that what I was thinking was true. Right there.

I remembered the number two fifty seven from morning. I asked Preim if he would wait there while I go and check a pair of shoes for myself. I rushed to the women section, picked up the same pair I had picked earlier and went to a guy who was helping people visiting the store. I said, "Can you please change the price tag to two five seven? The price is written with pencil, all you have to do it rub that zero off and write a seven instead. Don't ask me why, just do it please. I promise I will buy it right away at that price if you do that.". He didn't understand so I repeated myself again. He was reluctant but I some how managed to convince him. I took the newly labeled pair and showed it to Preim. He recognized the pair and said, "No, I told you. We will not buy this one. Go pick something else.". "At least take a look at it honey. I really like it" I said placing the shoe with the price tag in such a manner that he would see it. He did. He was speechless for eleven seconds and then he said, "My love! I am so sorry. What a foolish I have been. Yes indeed! This is a great shoe. We must buy it right now". I smiled at him, got close to his ear and whispered in his ear, "Twooooooohhhhh, Threeeeehhhh, Fiveeeeehhhh". He held my left hand tight and we got to the cashier. "One thousand two hundred forty eight, sir" the lady on the counter said. To the utter surprise of that lady Preim asked for two separate bills and paid for each item individually. The drive back home was pleasant. Every now and then I would spring a couple of prime numbers and Preim would get all worked up. I couldn't believe how quickly I had obtained the key to the gold mine. It was the best day of my life and I lasted till seven eight seven in bed that evening.

Seven hundred one days had gone by since our wedding. I had learned all the numbers on the sheet and way beyond. I could spell the first two thousand three prime numbers on my finger tips. I kept three cheat sheets with me all the times for numbers greater than that. Preim though was a genius. Give him a number, no matter how big and he could tell in less than seven seconds if it was a prime number or not. The two year period had worked like a charm. I could make Preim dance to numbers. Making my wish come true was easy. "Can you fix me three eggs honey?" "I want to buy the diamond necklace, it's worth one lac thirty eight thousand five hundred seventeen rupees only" "It's twenty third of the month today, let's eat out" "It's July, the seventh month of the year, let's go on a Europe trip" "I need some money to shop, can I have thirty seven thousand three hundred seven rupees". I was adding at least three or five prime numbers to my memory every day. In bed, we took turns to say the numbers. At times we would sing in harmony. At times I would start, he would say the next number, I would say the next and it will go on till we were exhausted. I would stutter at times when it was my turn to hum the number but he never did it. I admired him for this quality of his. Life was unbelievably good. All good things come to an end.

I got pregnant. Both of us were very excited. Preim told me if it's a boy we would name him Alpha, if girl we would name her Aplhi. Two sixty three days later we were blessed with a baby boy. Alpha was a beautiful child. Two days after his birth Preim returned home all agitated. "We have to work on a new baby. We have one kid. I don't like it. We need two. Let's make a baby right now." he told me. "Honey, Alpha is just two days old. Give me some time and I will be ready to conceive the second child" I tried to calm him down. "No, I can't. Twooooooohhhhh, Threeeeehhhh, Fiveeeeehhhh, Seveennnnaaah.." he started to hum. I felt weak at the knees and the next moment I was all over him humming the numbers. For the next three months we did one thing. We worked on the baby. I got pregnant again and both of us anxiously waited for our next baby. Destiny had its plans. I gave birth to a triplet, one girl and two boys. The girl was named Beti, and the boys Gamma and Delta. Preim was happy that I gave birth to three babies but the original problem still persisted. We had four kids now and he did not like it. Somewhere even I didn't. "Let's make a new baby and make it five" he said one month later. I had gained thirty seven pounds during the course of two pregnancies. I needed to get back to shape but Preim was obsessed with making a new baby. I was not ready for one more pregnancy. I said, "Preim! This can't go on. What if I give birth to twins now? Come on; let's live with what we have." He did not listen to me and using the trick that had started to work on me like a charm he convinced me once again. Soon, I was pregnant again. Dark circles loomed beneath my eyes. My skin was dull and I appeared seven years older than my age. I prayed every day, "God, No more games. Please give me just one baby this time". God obliged. I gave birth to another boy and he was named Epsilon. I had gained seventeen more pounds but was happy that the problem was solved. We had five kids. No more pregnancies, I could start working to get back in shape. I was wrong. After five days Preim said, "We need to work on more babies. We have four sons and one daughter. I don't like it. We need to put in some more hard work honey. One more son and one more daughter is all we need to set it right".

"This man will kill me if I don't do something right away. This rat race to set things straight could go on for ever. What if the next two babies I give birth to are both boys or both girls. We will be back to square one. My life will be ruined delivering babies." I thought that night. I did not know what to do. A letter that I received that day showed me the way. It was an official letter from the other house regarding a late payment. The other house reminded me of Montie and I started to hatch a plan. A plan that will kill two birds with one stone. All I needed was a pen and a paper. I labored for forty seven minutes to do all the Math’s. "I will plant the seed soon. I have to act like I have never done before." I thought and rehearsed few lines eleven times every day over the next few days. I asked Preim to move to the other house for a few days. He was unsure but I convinced him by telling him that a change will be good and beneficial to baby making. After we moved back there, I was waiting for the date - 11th November 2011. That night I was humming the numbers while making love. I changed the track suddenly; "Today is Friday, the fifth day of the week. The date is eleventh of November. It is the eleventh month of the year two thousand eleven. At five pm today I caught a cab numbered one six two one to buy thirteen eggs. Montie was hanging out there with his seventh girl friend. He told the girl pointing a finger at me that I was his fifth girl friend. Then he used three bad words for me. I could take that but then he used seven bad ones for you. Preim, kill him for me. Look at the calendar again. It reads eleven, eleven, two thousand eleven. A perfect day. Kill him. I have bought thirty one black plastic bags. After you kill him, cut his body into thirty one pieces and put the pieces in thirty one bags. Divide these bags into three groups - three, eleven and seventeen bags. Bury the first bag in the backyard of building three three one. Throw the next one in the sea from the bridge on the eleventh street. Put two liters of gasoline on the last one and burn it down by lighting two match sticks. Go now, it's eleven 'o clock. Kill him." I said it all in one breath.

It worked! "Yeah! How dare he use three bad words for you. Yes. Thirty one pieces, give me the bags" he said. I moved swiftly and gave him three butcher knives, thirty one bags and a key to Montie's house which I still possessed. He barged out of the house in a prime number trance. I saw him getting into Montie's house and acted as I had planned. I made an anonymous call to the police and told them that there is trouble brewing in a house and gave them the address. My plan was simple. Preim will kill Montie, that's the first bird. That's how I would get my revenge. The police will nab Preim red handed and he will certainly get a death sentence for his crime. That's the second bird. After he is dead, I will not only own all his assets but also be entitled to receive all his monies. Three minutes after the phone call I was waiting to hear the police sirens but instead I heard two gun shots. I panicked but did not come out of my house. The police came five minutes after the gun shots and entered Montie's house. They found two dead bodies inside. Montie was dead and so was Preim. According to the official police statement Preim entered Montie's house with an intention of killing him and stabbed him in his neck. Montie didn't die immediately and some how located his gun. He fired two shots at Preim killing him on the spot. Montie succumbed to the wound on his neck minutes later. The police was not able to explain the thirty one plastic bags that lay in the blood pool.

It didn't go exactly as I had planned but it didn't matter. I had given it back to Montie. I was free from Preim Pnumber as well. Preim Pnumber was dead. "I am sure he is happy because it took two bullets to kill him." I laughed to myself. I missed him though and missed his genius as well. I passed time humming the numbers and spending the money as Preim would do, only in prime numbers. Fifty nine days had passed after the eleventh November night. Everything was going on fine. I had lost seventeen pounds. My face had a glow and I looked more beautiful than ever. I could now spell out the first five thousand seventy seven prime numbers on my finger tips. I was glad I had gotten rid of Preim Pnumber but something was not right. Something had to be corrected. Four sons and a daughter was not right. As every day passed, I got more and more pissed with the fact. I had to change it. I planned to get pregnant again but the pain of pregnancy and the uncertainty of a boy or a girl associated to it was a let down. I was growing impatient by the day. I was taking shower and it was then that I thought of pain free plan that will solve the problem once and for all. After this plan is executed, I would have truly gotten rid of Preim Pnumber and all my problems.

I come crashing out of my thoughts as I almost ram my car into a truck. I break and come to a halt. The AC/DC song is long over. The radio jockey is talking some nonsense. I turn the radio off. My house is not far away now. Just two more minutes. I finally reach home. The kids are sleeping. I eat three bananas. I drink two cups of coffee. I learn five new prime numbers. I pass my time humming the numbers. I wait for the clock to strike eleven. Two minutes before eleven I pick up the twenty three bags. I go to Beti's room and kiss her for one last time. I will choose the boy before lunch tomorrow.

I will be free from Preim Pnumber tomorrow night!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anything that has a chance has a chance

The picture was tagged "Coming back to life". Hands on the hips, a starry grin, flowery dress, and a green hat. The curls on the hair and the nose ring was a first-time. With every passing year, she had only added on to the charm that she was gifted with. Lying on my bed, I scanned the pictures on my iPad scrolling through them in slow motion. I paused on a picture where she was sleeping with her daughters. "A happy family sleeps together". I was happy to see a Facebook update from her after so long but the realization that it was the last picture made my heart twitch. I felt myself sinking into the deep and dark pit of loneliness. 

I first saw her in the college canteen. She was in pink pants, the first time I saw anyone in pink pants, and since then pink always reminds me of her. She was a senior and was dating a guy who looked like Brad Pitt. Despite that as the cliché goes, I couldn't help falling in love with her. She was the college tennis champion. I was one of the ball boys for the last match she played for the college. That was a golden opportunity to say hello to her but I couldn’t dare after she lost the match. It would have made no difference if she had won. She married a hot-shot and settled in the US. I'm ashamed, only slightly, but I have to admit that I regularly visit her Facebook profile. I still remember her post about her divorce last year. “Happily Married. 2008-2014.” I thought of sending her a Facebook friend request but, as always, dropped the idea.

I put the iPad face down. I needed to lift myself up. Drink and drive always works. I got into my car. The building security guard tapped on the car window and handed me a yellow envelope. It felt like a letter. A letter? For me? It must have been a mistake. I threw the envelope on the passenger's seat and drove away. Driving aimlessly with a bottle of whiskey was my remedy to sooth the heart on lonely days. There aren’t days when I'm not lonely but some days are lonelier than others. The blissful music of 70s calmed my nerves. I drove slowly, humming every song along and floating up with Kishore Kumar’s voice. I took a random left turn and went past a parked car. A young couple was laughing inside, most likely waiting for an after party to start. My heart ached.

I have passionately longed for a companion. After completing my secondary education in my small hometown, where speaking to girls was a taboo, my parents enrolled me into an all-boys boarding school. Life passed by uneventfully. My dark complexion, a height of 5'4'', a small nose, extra-large ears, and a flat, circled face was never going to make someone fall in love with me at the first sight. The two years of arranged-marriage wild goose chase that led to nowhere only added insult to the injury. First impression is the last impression. My receding hairline didn't help the cause. “I don't think it will work” was the usual response. Apart from a couple of girls though, no one was rude. I never blamed the ones who were. It was slowly dawning upon me that I lacked the charm to tickle a heart. I had no chance. I was at a juncture in my life where I had a choice to make. I did. I picked up loneliness over rejection. No regrets. Over the last five years, I've made peace with my envy pangs that get highly evoked while watching ‘happy endings’ in Bollywood movies. To envy is human. It doesn't make me a bad person.

My next day in the office was like any other day. As a backend sales analyst in a multinational electronics company, I crunch numbers on spreadsheets. I answer standard questions or at times invent and then answer them. Should the company invest in manufacturing a low range TV? Why did the sales in North drop by x%? Yadda, yadda, yadda. I think I'm good at it. I've had the desire to deliver the analysis to the head of sales but the thought of standing in the board room and presenting it to him sends a chill down my spine. The only person with whom I've had a meaningful conversation in the office is with Shilpa, my boss's secretary. For reasons that are unknown to me, she cares for me. I enjoy our one-sided conversations that are centered on her life. Boss rants, her husband Aditya's smoking or foreign trips, her boy's school admission, prickly mother-in-law, holiday plans to Goa, the list goes on. She gets to talk to someone and I get to listen to someone. Win win for both. We go out for lunch together every day. She often brings lunch for me. I cook daily, and every now and then I get food for her too. She's never asked me anything about my personal life or why I didn’t marry. Deep inside she knows.

Hi Gaurav,

This is your school friend Saurabh. I know this letter will take you by surprise. It has been so long since we spoke. I miss those days. Life was so simple. Wasn't it? Do you remember those cricket sessions? The only worry in life was Mathematics.

How are uncle and aunt? Did you marry? Do you also have kids? 

I got married two years ago. I wanted to invite you but I didn't have your address. A lot of friends from school attended. We never remained in touch but I knew that you were in Delhi as we would often talk about you. It is sad that our lives took different turns. I myself had to move here this year. I did try to look for you on Facebook but couldn't find you.

I'm sorry but it was by accident that I jumped upon your address. I do marketing research and yesterday while scanning through demographics data of people who have bought a car in last three years, your name jumped in front of my eyes. The chance that it was really you was next to none but then out of curiosity I looked into the bio-data and I knew it was you.

I didn't like the idea of calling you directly. I was worried that you'd mind. That's why I'm sending you this letter first. Please call me if you'll like to rekindle the old days. I'm mentioning my phone number below. I will wait for your phone call.

Your Friend,

It was the next morning that I read the note. At first, it filled me with a mild rage. How was it possible that my private data was so readily available? Who was I kidding though? It is the reality of the modern world. Moreover, my personal data was a useless piece of information that wouldn't sell for a rupee. I made myself a cup of tea and went down the memory lane. 

I remembered Saurabh, not vividly though. It was difficult to put a face to him after all these years. He was an average student. He was a back bencher and often bunked classes. His father beat him to pulp once in front of his friends because he had stolen money to eat out in a fancy restaurant. He was well known for the dottiest excuses that he came up with every time he missed his homework. He was very active in school extracurricular activities. Despite an average academic record he was smarter than I ever was, in fact he was smarter than most of us, and what made him stand apart was the fact that he knew it. Although I stayed away from it during my school days and only got to it in college, he was the one who introduced our friend circle to cigarette. We really didn't play that much cricket together but every time we did, I prayed that we were in the same team. My legs turned to jelly every time he was bowling to me. He was fast alright but it was his fiery red eyes fixated at my middle stump that made me piss in my pants. The only time I saw him flutter was when Asheesh sir walked in for the Math class. I never met him and most of my classmates after moving to the boarding school. After my dad passed away, my mom moved in with my elder brother. She passed away too couple of years ago. Yes, I've a brother, elder and more successful than me, settled happily with his family.

I've grown apart from all my college friends and couldn't remember when I last spoke to one. This was a school friend I hadn’t spoken to in eighteen years! I remained in two minds. It was after a week that I called him.    
"Gaurav, my friend. I'm so glad that you called up. I had a feeling you would." he said excitedly as soon as he picked up the phone. 
"Hi Saurabh. It's good to talk to you after so long." I replied.
"How are you?" he asked.
"I'm doing just fine. How about you?"
"I'm good too. Look, I'm sorry that I chanced upon your details accidentally."
"It's alright."
"I'm so happy to get in touch with you."
"What's up?" I asked awkwardly.
"Everything is good man. As I told you, got married. Life is good."
"Good. Are you in touch with others?"
"Yes and no. You know how life is these days. Hey, let's catch up. Phone is no fun."
I hesitated.
"Everything alright?"
"Yes, yes. Sorry, I'm driving." I lied.
"I can call later."
"No, no, it's fine."
"So let's meet. Where do you want to meet? I can come down to whatever works for you. Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, anywhere."
"Amm. Gurgaon is far for me and I seldom go there. Delhi?"
"Sure thing. Connaught Place?"
"Great. I'll book a table somewhere. This coming Saturday evening works for you?"
"Yes it does."
"Great. 5 PM. See you."
"Yeah, bye."

He sounded super excited, as if he was going to meet his long lost best friend. I really wasn't interested in going back and talking about school days, which probably was the only topic we could have chatted about. Bailing out wasn’t an option since I had called up and it'd be rude to cancel on him. I shouldn’t have called. 

On Saturday, I cooked my lunch but didn’t feel like eating it. I sat tapping on the floor and flipping the TV remote around in my sweaty palms, a random movie playing in the background. I decided to leave early. Despite the weekend and perfect weather, the area was deserted. This area used to be a crowd puller years ago but the advent of multiplexes and shopping malls took the cream away. I didn't directly go to Brahma, the bar that he had reserved a table in. It would be rude if he saw me drinking even before he arrived. I knew a standing bar nearby. My nerves calmed down and looked forward to the evening ahead after two whiskey shots. I got to the reserved table by 5:10, a little late, on purpose. He hadn't reached yet. Twenty minutes had passed by. No sign of him. He must be stuck in traffic. I decided to give him another ten. 5:45, still no sign of him, ridiculous. I called him up.

"Hello" it wasn't him. It was a female voice. Someone in their twenties.
"Hello. I'm looking for Saurabh."
"Sorry, he is not home. I'm his wife. He forgot his cell at home."
"Oh, he was coming to see me but he hasn't reached yet. Is there an alternative number?"
"Sorry, no, there isn't. Yeah, he told me that he was going to meet a friend. He left almost two hours ago. I'm sure he is stuck in traffic or something."
"No problem. Thanks."

I ordered myself a drink, waited for another thirty minutes and then gave up. May be he changed his mind. May be he did come, saw me and turned around. It didn't feel bad. On the contrary, I felt very light driving back home. No conversation is better than an awkward one. I had a drink outside after ages (my night drives don’t count). 

It was late in the night at around eleven that my phone buzzed. It was Saurabh. I didn't pick up. The phone buzzed again and again. It was the fourth or fifth time that I picked up. I expected a creative excuse. It was his wife though.

"Hello. Did you guys meet up?"
"No. What happened? You sound worried."
"He hasn't come back."
"What? I waited for him till 6:30 and then left."
"God knows where he has gone."
"I think you should check with his friends."
"I've only moved to Gurgaon last month. I haven't met any of his friends."
So he lived in Gurgaon.
"He must have gone out with a friend."
"He always keeps me informed of his whereabouts. He told me he was going to see you. You guys really didn't meet today?" she asked me. 
"What do you mean? I've told you we didn't meet today." I was irritated.
"I'm sorry. I'm extremely worried right now. I'm new to this town. I don't know what I should do. Should I call the police?"
"Please calm down. Everything is going to be fine. It's just been few hours. I'm sure he is somewhere around. Please wait for him. I'm sure he'd be home soon."
"I hope so too."
There was a moment of silence. I didn't know how to end the conversation. I was groggy and wanted to sleep. I didn't need to try as she cut the phone herself. 

The phone was buzzing again. Being a light sleeper, I woke up. I guessed that the time was around 3 AM. He must haven't returned.

"Hello. Is he back?" Stupid question to ask.
She was sobbing and breathing heavily. I jumped out of my bed worriedly.
"I have this weird feeling that he is in trouble. Has he met with an accident?"
"Please don't think like that. I'm sure he is fine."
"I told you. It has never happened before. I'm always aware of his whereabouts. I knew where he was even when I hadn't moved to Delhi. I don't know what to do. It's been almost 12 hours since he is gone."
"No one from family lives remotely close so they can't help and I don't want to trouble them at this time."
"I don't know anybody apart from you in the city."
Wait, what? That was stretching it a bit too far. 
"Listen, Can I ask you for some help?"
"I'm very scared. Can you please come down to our place? May be we could talk to the neighbors? If needed, head to the police station? Please. I don't have anyone who can help me."
Her muffled sobs continued.

Not for the first time, I was in two minds. With no traffic that early in the morning, it would take me at most an hour to get to the address that she just gave me. I drove reluctantly, my mind filled with all kinds of possibilities. Accident? Road rash? It's not uncommon in Delhi. Did he elope with his mistress? That was absurd. Why would he get his wife in the town if he had to do that? Was he alive? Whatever happened to him it was unexpected, I concluded. He was coming to see me. I was hoping that he was safe for if he really disappeared, I'd surely be grilled by the police. I didn’t want that hassle. Google Maps told me that the destination was 5 minutes away. The first rays of sunlight were breaking through the dark. A left turn into a narrow street followed by an immediate right turn and I was in front of a tree in the middle of the road. That's when the phone started ringing. "I'm right in front of you." I looked up and saw a woman. Yellow pants, average height, and waving her phone at me. I waved back and slowed down. 

My head felt like lead. My mouth was dry and tasted of bitter cucumber. I found myself sleeping at the back seat of my car. I was sweating like a pig. The first thing that I noticed was the tree. The car was neatly parked at the edge of the road, the sun beating down on it. I jumped out and scrambled through my belongings. Everything was in the right place. What had happened? I remembered that I had come out of the car. She stood there waving. Then what? It was all cloudy. Did someone hit me? I checked the back of my head. Nothing. I checked my phone. "All is well," a text message from Saurabh. I called. The phone was switched off.

A week had passed since that strange night. I wasn't able to get in touch with Saurabh or his wife. The phone continued to remain switched off. I drove back to their apartment building. There were two Saurabhs who lived there, an eight year old boy and a teenager. Was he living with a false identity? Why would he? I tried to check if there was a young man whose wife had just moved in last three months. No. No common school friend that I could get hold of was aware of his coordinates. Why would she give me a wrong address and then leave me in that drugged state in my own car? Did he really return or was that message sent by someone else? I scanned Facebook but couldn't locate him. I didn't even know her name.

"He had returned and wanted to avoid me so they drugged me and left me in my car," 
"I was piss drunk and dreamt the entire episode," 
"I met them and we smoked pot," 
"Someone harmed them. I was the uninvited guest so I was left in the car," 
Crazy conspiracy theories like that engulfed my mind. How could anyone explain what had just hit me? I was able to finally get hold of a close friend of his from our school days who knew he had moved to Delhi. He was surprised to hear that he got married. My sixth sense told me that they were in deep trouble. Reaching out to the police was a hassle and I ruled it out. I had only my lunch buddy to share this experience with. For the first time, our conversations had a scoop from my life. She had no conjectures apart from telling me that I must have been smoking weed. I couldn’t reach any conclusion. 

With time, the curiosity dissipated. Life resumed to normal. A healthy dose of spreadsheets, night drives, harmless Facebook stalking, a hint of porn and good old sixties music helped me recover from the curiosity pangs. The cat had no choice.

A phone call from Shilpa three months after the incident awoke the cat again. She had never called me after work so it must be urgent. She asked me to come down to her place immediately. She wasn't ready to divulge any details on the phone. It was related to the mystery. I was asked to carry the note I had received from my friend.

This was only the third time that I was meeting Aditya in person but I knew him very well and I was sure he knew me well too. He was a nice chap. I liked him. Despite being a bigshot VP in a bigshot company, I found him extremely humble. I could be friends with him. Like wife like husband. He handed me a yellow envelope. It was something he had received that morning at his office address. Yellow envelope! I read the note inside it in a jiffy. Similar wordings to the note that I had received! Different handwriting. No mention of cricket. Something about a pretty girl in the school. It was addressed to Aditya and some Gaurav had sent it.

"What does this mean?" I murmured.
"You don't get it. Do you?" Shilpa said.
"What's going on?"
"Check the envelope you received carefully."

It took me a moment but I realized what she was talking about. How could I be so dumb? 
No last names! 
No house number in the address!

"Every Gaurav knows a Saurabh."  I said.
"Exactly, exactly! The probability that there is someone with one of those names or for that matter Aditya in a building is very high. Pick one of these names and scream it out loud in a crowded place. Chances are that at least one head will turn." Aditya boasted. After all, he was the one who had the dibs on solving the puzzle. He passed the cigarette to me. 
"What are the odds that one of these random letter reaches an Aditya who knew a Gaurav in school? Odds that they grew apart in school? Odds that there indeed was a pretty girl and this Aditya would want to speak to their school friend and call back?" I asked.
"Very slim but not zero. My head starts to hurt when I try to guess how many such letters this gang must have sent across the city." he said.

"It makes sense but why take all this trouble to leave someone drugged?"
"I don't know why. I do know something though. Take a look at this." He was waiting for this question.

He handed me three newspaper cuttings. Three different robberies. The victims - two Saurabhs and a Gaurav. All three men had gone to meet someone. A friend who had just flown in from London. A friend's brother who had made it big. A friend's wife in some kind of distress. All three were found on the roadside somewhere in or around Delhi in drugged state. Everything but their underwear had been stolen.

"Are you lucky my friend or did they take pity on you?" Shilpa put her hand on my shoulder. 
"I have no clue. May be someone passed by and they had to abort the robbery." Aditya said.
"I'm not sure if it makes sense. Why take all this trouble? Just stop a passing by car and rob it." I asked.
"Evil has its ways."
"Random yet predictable! Thrill of the wait! Thrill of the chase! Some men like to relax in their boat and wait with the fishing rod instead of throwing a net in the water. The harder the catch, the tastier the dish." He looked into my eyes and lit another cigarette.

"So, Mr. Gaurav, what happened that night?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want to know?"
"There is no need to be Sherlock. Let's go and speak to the police." Shilpa chimed.
"Come on! You know that I'm a fish that thrives on any hooks that life has to offer."

"We're going to get close to the trap, not to get trapped, but to lay a trap of our own. I will dig my teeth into the hook only to pull this fisherman into the water. We'll call the police but only after we've played a bit." I liked his exuberance. She made a stupid frowning face though. I was in two minds but his confidence pushed me over.  

He had a plan. Obviously it started with him making the phone call. As expected, the receiver knew who was calling. As expected, a quick discussion and a rendezvous date was on the offer. Aditya had already thought through how he was going to play. He played his part like a veteran actor. The stage was set. It was in a South Delhi bar this time.

On the meeting day, he'd go to the bar and I were to keep in the hiding somewhere around. He was sure that no one would turn up. Why set up the date then? 
"It makes them look more real, just like mention of cricket and pretty girl in the letter did, but more importantly, they can follow you back home and get to know who you really are. The next trap, if they decide to put the plan in place, gets set up based on your profile. So I’m sure that no one will turn up but there'd be someone there waiting for me." 
That is the reason I couldn't be the protagonist. I was tasked with following whoever would follow him. He was certain that this person would find himself a seat in the bar from where they could observe him. Is the fish worth it? Is the fish too dangerous to catch? It didn't take him long to understand who this person was. "A curly haired guy with white shirt and black denims." He flaunted his iPad and passed time writing some emails. Exactly thirty minutes past the scheduled meeting time, he called the number. A guy claiming to be Gaurav's cousin picked up. Gaurav was on his way. Indeed. The chilled beer calmed me down. Aditya spent another thirty minutes there before walking out. The curly haired guy started to follow him and I did the same, maintaining a healthy distance. I had to be careful because, in all likelihood, he was the guy who followed me the other day.

Aditya had no plans of going back home. He was driving a Toyota Corolla and had purposely left his BMW 3-series at home. That might just scare the gang, based upon the three profiles they had looted. The curly haired guy was in a Maruti. As planned, Aditya parked his car outside an old apartment complex in Noida. His friend lived there and he was a regular visitor, so no one questioned him. The rogue's job was done, so he thought. My heart was pounding. Sweat tricked down my neck. Traffic is a boon and a bane at the same time when following someone on Delhi streets. No one's going to know that they are being followed amongst the chaos. On the other hand, anybody can cut your way from anywhere and you'd lose the target if you aren't paying attention. I kept myself in a different lane at a distance of two cars and smoked continuously. The guy made a short phone call, most likely updating his boss. The fish was one step away from taking the bait. I followed him into a restaurant.

I entered five minutes after he did and found him seated with a man who was sipping on his coke and intently listening into him. I was hungry so I grabbed a sandwich and coke myself. I found a seat in the corner. I sipped on my coke and ate slowly and kept a constant gaze at them. The second man, most likely the mastermind, had his back towards me. He hardly spoke a word. He kept on nodding and taking notes.

All of a sudden, as if he had realized that someone was watching him, he turned his head. My heart skipped a beat. That gaze looked through my soul. The fire in those eyes! In a moment the paranoia turned into a realization that reflected on my face in the form a huge smile. He smiled back. He setup a game of chance but chance had played a game of its own. I uttered a muffled thanks and nodded at him. He nodded back, stood up and walked out. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Aditya was calling. I didn’t pick up. My fingertips buzzed with a newly found reverence for the concept of chance.

I sent a Facebook friend request later that night.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


It has been a long time. 

If you care you must have wondered why that is the case. Where has K been? 

More importantly, what makes him come back? 

Depending upon how well you know the nincompoop, not in person, but through the tales, if you ever gave it a thought that is, you could say that it’s the diminishing creative juices and this is a desperate attempt to squeeze any remaining mojo, or may be it was a heart break and the heart has healed now, or may be the broken heart conjured up the tales and the inevitable has happened again. 

Does writing create a void or fill one?

It doesn’t matter. 

Who cares?

I'm back.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When it rains, it pours

The last 24 hours have been so BhejaFry-esque that I feel I’d be doing injustice if I don’t share it with you.

It is either that I don’t have a good sense of humor and someone out there thought the best way I can make people laugh is by sharing this experience or maybe that someone had a good reason to be pissed with me. In any case, for you I hope it turns out to be a good laugh.

A realization came to me this afternoon. I could win a Gold medal for India in Olympics. If dumbness was introduced as a category!

Life is a great leveler. It always finds ways to let you know how it controls every Higgs Boson out there and how in one snap it can turn you upside down. You’d never know if the black swan is around the corner.

I don’t know where it started, may be last week when I was thinking of what all needs to be achieved this week but I’d like to start with the moment I stepped at work. My phone was buzzing. A colleague of mine was calling. His car had broken down and he was going to be late. I joked and asked him to buy a new car. Whether the heavens were already pissed with me or was it some sort of curse he uttered after our call that led to the events afterwards, we’d never know.

The day moved along but little did I know that the motion of the atoms around me was changing ever so slightly and the electrons were starting to spin in unfavorable directions.
I was leaving at about 8:15 PM when a colleague pinged me on Skype for a quick call. I took the bait and we realized we needed another team member for the call. I called him and he asked for 20 minutes. 20 minutes is exactly the time it takes for me to drive back home. It was 8:30 PM now so I thought that's what I'd do. On my way back however, the team member pinged me on Skype (on my smartphone) and told me he got free earlier than expected.

Now, 9999 out of 10000 times, I would have just driven home and responded back then OR would have taken the call from my car and kept driving. However this day was special. First, I called in Skype through 3G, then for reasons that I can’t explain, I decided to stop for the quick chat. I parked on the dirt road on the side. The “Greater Noida welcomes you” board was in my sight. It was supposed to be a quick call to discuss a business proposal that we had been working on. I switched off the engine and kept the headlights and blinkers on. You know what’s coming but wait till you’ve reached the end. The call dragged along as we discovered new complexities that had emerged, I lost the sense of time and before we held up 40 minutes later, the car batteries had died.

The car wouldn't start and I was left stranded in the middle of the highway. It was 9:15. I drive an automatic so no chance of pushing it and getting it to start. I googled and tried calling a lot of local service stations but nobody would come to help or I was told it would take hours to get any assistance. In this process, my cell phone battery died. Luckily I had my USB charger and the laptop had some charge. I had called up a colleague and he had set out to find help but we realized that the workshops in the whole region are closed on Tuesdays. No help was available. His last resort was to come to the spot with a rope! I was on Skype discussing some work as I waited for him. I told you it is going to get very interesting.

He reached at 10:15 and now we couldn’t find a hook in the front of the car to tie the rope to. After a lot of deliberation the only option left with us was to use a metal hook in the bonnet. My home was still a good 7-8 km away. We started our journey at a little over jogging speed and I immediately knew that this would screw up the bonnet. Whatever I said, my mind was cloudy, my vision blurry, I needed to pee badly and I was hungry like a dog. Whatever the fuck it is, I will get it fixed, is was what I thought. After a treacherous 90 minutes we got home. The bonnet had come out of its base latch and won't close. “Whatever it is, I will deal with it tomorrow”. I got to my room and gulped down two large drinks cursing myself. How dumb of me? With a lot of unnecessary pain and a feeling of foolishness I tried to sleep.

"I should have called X too. Y as well. May be there was a way to tie the rope. What was the point of it all, I could have waited for 2 hours for assistance to kick the batteries on and reached at the same time. May be I should have waved and asked for help from all the cars passing by. Why wasn't I prepared for such situation? Was there no other way?"

I couldn’t let go. Have you ever spun in circles while lying still? You spin, round and round, a whirlpool sucking you down, suddenly you are in a movie hall, watching some episode of your life play, bizarre revolving images, you are the only one watching the show, its pitch dark, deeper and deeper, the movie won't end, just when you think it’s over, a new chapter is on display, you never hit the bottom, the marshy lands keep sucking you in. Finally thinking that it’s over after all I slept. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of the fury.

I decided to work from home and called up a local mechanic in the morning. He came with equipment and in no time the car engine hummed. It was time to fix the bonnet nut-bolts which could only happen in his garage, only 3 km away. I had my work going on so I asked him to take the car and drop it back. It was going to take an hour. After 15 minutes, I was in a meeting, when this guy started calling me frantically. I knew hell was ready to break loose. On his way to the workshop the bonnet opened from the latch and crashed on the wind shield completely cracking the glass. In one moment, the agony turned into pleasure. I couldn’t stop laughing at the veracity. I suddenly felt free. If I was a number, I was negative but the phone call had the number line flipped completely chopping away the negative in front of me. I felt light as if someone just left my body. My palms felt a waterfall whizzing by. It was at that very moment that I decided I have to share the cause-effect-cause comedy that was playing out.  

I dropped out of the call, sent an OOO email and called up Honda service stations. The car had to go there for insurance claim. It was no longer a broken nail, the arm was fractured and 2 teeth were missing as well. The mechanic drove the car slowly to the service station and I hired a taxi to get there. Insurance covered some damages, and I would only get the car back next week, but it didn’t pinch me at all. It was a day that became brighter and brighter contrary to what happened and how I thought it would pan out. I returned back at 6 PM, had the first bite of my day and logged in for usual business.

Some interesting information: There’s this highly acclaimed book that I’m reading these days that talks about our brain, how it thinks, how it takes decisions and makes choices. The chapter that I was reading this Monday spoke about luck and how it plays with us. Coincidence? Luck or dumbness?

May be you thought this episode was funny, may be painful but let me tell you what the funniest or the most painful thing depending upon what you thought is. My car was due a service since September. While I was in UK last week I had a firm thought of sending it to the service station. I only had a weeks’ window as I have to travel next week too, so yes, I had sent it to service, yesterday.

It had just returned after a royal what-ever-you-suggest-mr-mechanic service at 6:30 PM yesterday!

Daniel Kahneman would say, The Dumbness & Intelligence Quotient are not perfectly correlated.

Time for a stiff drink and some Mercyful Fate.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Holy Diver

How would this world be like after I'm dead? This is a recurring thought. What would I be like after I've breathed my last? Would a fragment of me remain in this world forever? Would I be alive in a different sense, a different form? The lines in my hand, hair on my arms, my toes and the gaps between them, twinkling eyes, boyish voice that I'm told the girls love, a balding head that I despise, an asymmetric face, parts of human body that I've seen many a times in Science text books that exist within me but I'll never see them, thankfully so, a heart that failed to love, a brain that slows down with every passing day, they would all disappear in thin air. Will this change the entropy of the universe at all?

I found these thoughts amusing as I climbed up the round metallic staircase. A teenager who seemed to be no more than half my age was climbing briskly ahead of me.
"Are you a regular? Never seen you before."
The husky voice stirred me out of my thoughts. The voice sounded like someone was calling me from another universe. It took me many seconds to make sense of what was being asked.

"Are you alright?"
"Yes, sorry. I was thinking about my work. I'm new here. I've recently moved to the city."
"Are you a pro? I haven't seen any divers of your age around."

I didn't understand what was the right thing to do at that moment. Take pride in the fact that I was the oldest around trying to dive or curse my year of birth.
"No, I'm not a pro. I saw some kids last week and thought it was fun. I thought I'll give it a try." I said adjusting my rubber cap to give some breathing air to my right ear.

The boy stopped in his tracks. He turned around completely.
"Are you kidding me? This is your first jump."
"Yeah. Don't worry. I'm only going for 5 meters. That is nothing."
"You could hurt yourself seriously. This is no age to dive. I suggest that you go and try your hand at golf."

Enough! I thought of asking him to mind his own business. To keep his advice for his father. Something stopped me though. I have always found it hard to be rude to anyone. Make no mistakes about it, I'm not proud of it. What is raved as politeness is in actuality my timidness. It wasn't the first and the last time in my life when I didn't say what I should have said. It is as if there is a transformer inside of me, placed besides my vocal chords, that takes what I want to say and converts it into what I actually say.

"Fuck off." is what I wanted to say, rather should have said.
"Thanks for your concern but I think I'll be fine." is what I said instead.

"Sir, I admire your spirit but I'm a professional diver and I think you are taking it way to easy."
"I won't die, will I?" I said displaying my irritation.
"I don't know what makes you think that 5 meters is safe for a first time diver. When I started as a kid, I did 1 meter for months."
"You could seriously hurt your back."
"I won't die, will I?" I repeated.
"Is everything about life and death? What if you get a serious injury that disables you for life? Would that life be better than death?"

That sounded reasonable. I thought hard on a line of argument but really couldn't think of one. It's not that I can't reason well. I can. I give up way too easily though. The boy based on whatever he had said so far sounded intelligent and even if I found a way to continue the debate on whether I should or should not go ahead with my first dive, I could see that he would easily win the battle of reasons. I was feeling the pressure. I had to find a way to my first dive.

"Do you suggest that I go for one meter only?" it was worth the try.
"I like your enthusiasm. I've been diving here for the last ten years. You remind me of myself. I wanted to directly go to the 10 meter board when I first came here." he said and paused.
"How about I give you some tips at the one meter board?"

I knew I had unlocked the door. I played along.
"I could do that myself. Do you really think I need coaching at 1 meter?"
"You do. Also, some injuries are more psychological than physical. It's a small lesson anyways."
That was reasonable as well. I gave in.
"Thanks. Let's do it."

We started climbing down towards the one meter board. I started thinking what if I hadn't found him? What if I had climbed and jumped from the 5 meter board unscathed? That would have surely given me the courage to go up to the 10 meter board. I imagined myself running in circles towards the highest point. I saw myself jumping from the board and then in a flash it all went wrong. I hit my head on the board. I fell down and smacked my belly flat on the water. I choked. My lungs tried hard to suck in the air but all I could sense was water in my wind pipe. My hands and legs splattered the water as I looked around. The sun changed its shape and moved frantically. It was like watching television on a rainy day. My ears buzzed. I couldn't scream. May be I did but no one heard.

Then, there was peace. They were removing my body from the pool. Someone checked my pulse. Somebody called up the police. Somebody scanned my wallet. There was commotion all around. No one realized that I was absolutely fine lying by the pool side enjoying the sun. I was in the tranquil state that men desire all their lives.

"Are you ready for your first diving lesson?"
He was on the edge of the one meter board.
"Yes coach."
I really was not. How could I tell him about my fantasies though? It was the transformer at work again.

He was facing me. "Diving is fun and it's very safe. You just have to follow some basic..."

He couldn't complete what he wanted to say. I thought he wanted to tell me that you just have to follow some basic rules. May be principles. Guidelines is probably a best fit. His right foot slipped while turning towards the pool. He fell with all the force and his balls got crushed on the edge of the board. There was a loud scream followed by a splash when his back hit the water. He struggled to find his way out. I looked around and realized that there was no one I could call for help.

I wanted to help.

I would have if I knew how to swim.

Lucky bastard.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Budget

It was the beginning of the winter of 1939. That day of the year again, 1st of September, the annual day. The town square buzzed with an increased anticipation as last year there hadn't been any need for the ritual. The town square was actually a circle. It was an open amphitheatre with a statue in the middle. There were ten tiers of seating available around the statue. Some families had gathered even before the sun rose and had grabbed the front seats. Some had come early to secure seats in the tenth tier. It was all about the family beliefs and what people thought would give them the best chance. It was 1 PM. There were still two hours for the ritual to begin but most of the seats had been taken.
1st September was birthdate of the little unknown island in the North Pacific Ocean, Leonard, named after its discoverer, John Leonard. John was a British. Somewhere in late eighteen century as a British navy captain he set on a voyage that would be his last and ultimately lead to the discovery of the island. It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen in his life. He had first set his eyes on the island in the night. The moon was half lit but even then the flowers of all colours blossomed. It was as if they were not reflecting the light from the sky but had light of their own. The greenery was heavenly. It seemed like a carnival in a desert. They decided to stay there for a few days.
Leonard and his crew however never came back. There was something devilish in the air. The idea of abandoning all contact with their families and rest of the world suddenly seemed exciting to all. The island was to be their new home. The crew consisted of nine men and three ladies. Leonard became the leader of the island unanimously and married Lisa, the most beautiful lass amongst the three females. The two remaining girls, Pepa, a sixteen year old, and Anita, a girl of India origin, married four men each thus laying the foundation of Leonard.
Life was easy in the beginning. The only compromise that they thought they had to make was to turn vegetarians. There were unfortunately no animals on the island. Most of the days were spent leisurely. They would roam along the shore line during the day and walk away from it towards the dense trees in the night. The men collected vegetables, fruits during the day and kept the ladies busy in the night. They could complete one full circle of the island along the shore line in less than three days. After they had scanned most of the island they picked the spot to build three houses. It all seemed very simple, then came the winter. The days were fine but the temperatures would drop steeply in the night. They hadn't made a lot of progress in building the houses. The twelve of them would all huddle together in a little shack in front of fire in the night. 
Anita's eldest husband was the first one to die. Another one had caught severe cold. The ship was a wreck. They had all decided to live on the edge, dreaming a life far away from the world that imagined that their ship had sunk. They all doubted now if they would survive. They lost Pepa and three men that winter. They worked hard through the summer building the houses and storing enough food for the next winter. Two new members were added to the island's population when Lisa and Anita gave birth to a girl and a boy before the winter, a winter they were slightly better prepared for. One of the new born died that winter. The bitter winter remained a challenge but the civilization never looked back. Leonard got his statue made and established it in town square in 1809. The annual day ritual was started in 1917 by Leonard the V.
It was time. Every single family in Leonard, eighty nine of them, were present. Oblivious to the world that was about to engage in a massive war, one thousand and ten Leonardians, that's what they called themselves, were inside the amphitheatre. The tension was palpable. There were twelve babies, less than a year old. Three old sick men, unable to walk, but still there. You couldn't afford to miss this event.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the annual day celebrations. It is the day when we together define the budget of our nation. It is that day of the year when we prepare for the winter. Since the birth of our nation the goal of our forefathers was to ensure that we survive on our own. No one gets to know that we exist, we don't depend upon anyone. All of you understand the constitution and know how it plays out." Leonard the VI started the proceedings. He was a tall handsome man with sharp features and long hair. People said that he looked exactly like the original Leonard.
"My finance minister tells me that all families have already registered and designated their family's picker. The first step is to ensure that everyone is here."
The finance minister, an old short man stepped in front. He had a smile on his face that he couldn't wipe off.
"Welcome all. This is a formality. I'm sure all of us are here but we must go through this procedure. Like the ritual goes, the whole family needs to stand up when I announce the family name. Then one by one I announce your first names and you raise your hand. Hold your kid in your lap if you have got one. Point to him or her when I announce the name. The picker of the family needs to keep standing after all names have been announced and verified. The rest of the family sits down."
After a brief moment of silence the minister pulled out a sheet of paper. The ritual had begun.
The Adams, a family of eight stood up. An old man and his wife. Two sons and a daughter. The eldest son's wife and their two daughters. One by one the minister shouted out their names and they raised their hands. The young ones were old enough to raise their hands when their name was announced. The two girls had been part of the event before. The younger son, Paul, the family's picker, was left standing after all eight names had been announced.
The names were announced in a rapid succession. It usually took half an hour to go through the entire population.
The Smith was a family of six. Old Bill and his wife Emma, two sons and their wives. Only five people stood up though when the name was announced. They were seated in the last tier.
"Where is Bill? Ask him to stand up please." asked the minister.
"I'm sorry sir. He couldn't make it. It's not his fault. You know he is a hard man. He decided to go to the fields this morning to get some peaches for our lunch. He fell from the tree and broke his leg." responded Emma. The tension in her voice was loud and clear. There was a hush-hush in the crowd.
"If we had tried to drag him, none of us would have made it here." shouted Emma. The hoo-ha in the crowd grew further.
"Silent." shouted the minister.
"Look Emma, Bill is a friend. However today it's all about Leonard and its sovereignty. I'm sorry. Add his name to the list."
"It's not right. You need to understand the situation. It's most unfortunate."
The minister quickly announced all the Smiths.
"Since Bill is not here, who is going to be the family's picker?"
"We can go and drag him here sir. Just give us a couple of hours." Emma cried.
"Don't fool around with the nation. Who is your picker?"
The eldest son Joel Smith raised his hand. "I'll be the one."
He soothed his crying mother and asked her to sit down. The verification continued.
After they had verified that everybody but Bill Smith was in the amphitheatre the minister moved towards the statue. He had a bowl in his hand. He placed the bowl at the feet of the statue.
"One by one now, starting from my left in the lowest tier, clockwise, and then moving up the tier, I request the family's picker to move forward and pick a chit from this bowl. After you have picked the chit, hand it over to me."
Peter Martin was the first in line. He stepped forward with sweaty palms.
"Be quick." the minister howled.
Peter put his hand in the bowl. He shuffled the chits. He had most of them in his hand. He let loose of the chits one by one until he was left with only one. Is it the one? He took a deep breath and picked it out. He handed it to the minister.
The minister opened it up. A blank. The Martins heaved a sigh of relief. "I told you getting the first seat always works." cheered Peter's father.
One by one the picker came forward, their family holding onto their breaths.
As the pickers drew blanks, the tension in the families sitting in upper tiers grew. Baikunth Kumar was the twenty seventh picker to move forward. He picked a chit and stood there with his hand in the bowl momentarily. In the last second, he changed his mind and let that chit go. He moved his hand around in the bowl again, picked another one and handed to the minister. The minister opened it up.
"Picker" it read.
The Kumars didn't understand how to react. They had reason to be happy as well as sad. Baikunth looked towards his family. He walked back towards them maintaining his calm. The ten family members huddled around him.
"Baikunth Kumar is added to the list."
"Next picker please. We have business to continue."
When Nick Pearl moved forward, there were still twenty three chits remaining in the bowl. He had volunteered to be the picker for his family. He rushed towards the bowl as his father had asked him to and grabbed a chit. He kissed it before he handed it over to the minster.
"Family" the chit read.
The entire amphitheatre was filled with murmurs. Nick fell on his knees and started to cry.
"Something is wrong. That is not the chit I was going to pick up. You need to give me another chance."
People had already surrounded the Pearls paying their sympathies.
"Hold on people. Stay wherever you are. Pearls are a family of seven. We still need to account for one more. We have to start the procedure once again to get to thousand." the minister announced.
"Can I say something sir?" Steffi stepped forward from the crowd. She was holding onto two babies.
"What is it about?"
"As you know I gave birth to twins this year. If not for these twins, we would have achieved thousand. The rice crop has been good this year. It’s just one more baby. Let’s call it a day."
There was unanimous support for her. "Let’s call it a day." was heard around the amphitheatre. Leonard the VI had been observing the drama unfold in front on him sitting on his throne. He got up in a flash and screamed. "A tradition is a tradition. No compromises. Go back to your seat lady."
He was right. A ritual was a ritual. As Leonard the island grew, there came a breaking point in their economy when the crop on the island was not enough for every habitant. It was estimated that the island could only feed one thousand people during the winter. The budget list was the only way.  
There was a sudden silence. In a moment, the pickers were standing again. The Kumars had declared Meena Kumar as their new picker. The Pearls were out of the draw so they remained seated.
Peter Martin was first to draw again.
Sophia Victor who had drawn a blank the last time was not lucky this time around.
As soon as the chit was announced, everyone in the amphitheatre, apart from Kumars, Pearls, and Victors started to cheer. There were eleven Victors on the island. Leonard probably won't need the ceremony next year.
The budget list was ready. A list of twenty people. It was the longest list ever in the last twenty three years. Most of the island remained at the town square that night. They sang songs, drank beer and danced that night. Some couples who left early were planning their babies.
The budget list had ensured like previous winters that there would be plenty of food that winter, and warmth. Lastly, Leonardians no longer needed to be vegetarians.