Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Five Stages To Spirituality

Would you believe me if I told you that the day I found spiritual bliss was the day I almost ended up murdered? Almost hacked into little bits, and by a would be murderer who didn’t know or care what he had done?

Probably not, but that’s because I haven’t told you the equally improbable tale of what led up to it. Like most days, well, most weekend days at any rate, this one started with a highly excitable Madan showing up at my tiny apartment door in the morning.

“Dude!” he burst out, but I can’t really tell you much of what happened next because I had checked out of the conversation. Until he punched me viciously in the shoulder and blurted out that he had found a cool new trek for us to do.

So trekking was this thing we occasionally did, not because Madan and I enjoyed sweating bucketsful while climbing leech-covered, moss-strewn rocks to get a view of a whole lot of nothing, but because we enjoyed the social status that being known as climbers gave us. I mean, apparently, putting up pictures of rolling hills, lush meadows, sparkling streams and all that jazz that was dime a dozen on the Internet was the ticket to social media stardom.

Even so, I hesitated. I had learnt to inversely correlate Madan’s excitement with the actual appeal of the hike.

“I.. have stuff to do.”

“Like washing dirty underwear?”

“Hmm,” I said smugly.

Madan was briefly dumbstruck that his witty jab actually landed, and like all witty jabs that don’t encounter witty repartees, he practically fell over trying to come up with something to say.

“Er. Isn’t that like the best reason ever to actually come on the hike? I mean who actually wants to wash dirty underwear? I for one, pretend that airing dirty laundry in the sun for a few days actually works just as well as throwing it into a washing machine. Chemicals, man. We think they’re doing the cleaning but it’s actually the sun, you know. So yeah. I have scientific reasons for not washing dirty underwear, but you need something you believe in. Ergo, trek.”

If you haven’t figured this out already, Madan talks a lot. I just said:

“Sure.”

And so it transpired that a few hours after the aforementioned cosmically significant mostly-monologue, we found ourselves in a really swampy section of a lightly wooded area, faced with a man who looked suspiciously happy.

“Good morning!” said this weirdly ecstatic man.
“Good morning,” we mumbled unenthusiastically. We couldn’t really push past him though because this guy was standing smack in the middle of a one-person wide stretch of hiking trail.

“Isn’t it simply a wonderful day? I’m blessed to be here experiencing the gift of this lovely day!” he beamed. I looked at his mud spattered shorts, moss-stained tee shirt, jiggling belly, thinning hair with what looked like fresh guano cooling the scalp, yellow teeth with bits of black something sticking out (naturally we could see it all because he beamed with all of his teeth sticking out for our perusal); I looked around just to make sure that it wasn’t my cynical eye that was blinding me to a day of astonishing beauty, and I saw rotting tree trunks, unidentifiable animal scat, shrieking birds, clucking insects, a smell that was a cross between cockroach pheromone stew and two year old bottled water, and I told myself that I’d like to have what he was having.

“I’d like to have what you’re having!” Madan naturally piped up.

I’m famous for my inscrutable face but even I cringed at Madan being Madan, but this strange stranger beamed even more if that was possible.

“You’re on the right track!” he pronounced, as if he were handing us the cure to cancer, and bounced off gaily.
There was about thirty seconds of respite before Madan found his voice and exclaimed, with his eyes apparently fixed in rapt attention at an ugly tree trunk that lay in our path.

“Wow.”

We walked on a little while longer and suddenly the narrow tree lined path opened up into a grassy valley that seemed to stretch on forever.

It really was a scene out of a dream. Or at least a dream of someone with high production values. Like if somebody from the Game of Thrones crew dreamed of the savannah. Yellow-green stalks of grass that stood twice as tall as I did swayed sensuously to nearly-not-there zephyrs. Their movement was seductively hypnotic, inviting us to detect sinuous patterns that weren’t really there. The very woodsy aroma of grass flowers invaded our nostrils, and two year old bottled water now smelled and sounded like running water from a sparkling stream just off in the distance.

My inscrutable face twitched half a millimetre by way of a smile, but stopped as my mind inevitably flitted over images of Children of the Corn.

Madan though hopped and skipped and flapped his arms and shadow boxed the grass stalks, laughing, shouting, and talking to me about everything from the political situation in North Korea to tales from the workplace.

“Did you know that my boss invited me for a coffee? I would have gone except he was an old, bald guy. And it turned out it was to discuss my promotion.” he laugh-cried as he swatted at a particularly evasive stalk, overbalanced, stumbled, fell and lay there as if it was what he wanted to do all along. I hemmed and hawed most impressively.

“It would be super cool to visit North Korea man. Imagine trying to find a vegan burger and ending up at a nuclear missile silo. Some fool is going to ask you to type in the launch codes, and you end up typing in the amount you’re to pay for that burger. In North Korean dollars. Or whatever their damn currency is. And then you end up blowing up China. And you’re upset you didn’t get your vegan burger.”

“Hmm,” I said impassively.

And so dragged on a couple of hours this way as we walked through the surreal savannah, waving unruly grass stalks out of our faces, until presently a faint keening reached our ears.
Intrigued, we broke off the path. Only a few steps into our new direction, it became clear to us that it was the sound of somebody crying. And judging by the voice - and here I am, the world’s foremost authority in detecting young, nubile women’s crying voices - it was a beautiful young woman, waiting for us white knights to charge in to save her.

“Let’s go! It sounds like a hot chick crying, dude.” said Madan, who I grudgingly concede was probably the second most well-versed man in the art of cry-onomics.

And it was. A beautiful young woman lay crumpled in the fragrant dirt, cocooned in yellow stalks. With her flowery summer dress and tanned complexion, she was almost a part of the landscape. Her long, loose black hair tumbled in waves over her face, and somewhere within that beautiful foliage was the source of the pathetic wail that drew us in. At this point, naturally, images from numerous horror movies and games that hinged on reckless idiots approaching just such a crying woman figure only to have their blood sucked out or something, flashed in my mind. I said nothing, of course.

She looked up. We didn’t die.

“I’m utterly useless,” she wailed.
“I’m ugly,” she blubbered. If we used a micrometre to measure her imperfections, we would fail and need a microscope.

“You’re not!” insisted Madan, in a familiar way, like the girl and he had been soulmates over seven rebirths. My impassive face twitched but internally I told myself that I was taller, fitter and cooler than the chronically sanguine Madan, so ha!

She couldn’t - or didn’t hear him. “I’m fat, “ she sobbed. If we scraped off every bit of fat off her body, we wouldn’t have enough to feed a baby housefly.


“You’re not,” Madan whispered in his best soothing voice, modulating his tone to ooze gentle compassion. I stared stonily. She continued to gibber and sigh, moan and keen about how she had done nothing with her life, and how she was a loser, and how she was responsible for the suffering of so many creatures, and how life was not worth living, and how death was too easy a way out, and how she was immoral, and how she was too uptight, and how she was too thin and how beauty was a curse, and how it was all completely hopeless.

Even Madan gave up on her an hour into it and we walked on leaving her there, slightly bemused.

I guess by now you know where this is going. Even if you don’t, I’ll assume you do and gloss over a bit of what happened next and skip ahead to the part where we found ourselves chased by axe wielding madmen. Right. So before we got to that bit, the savannah ended, and we found ourselves in what appeared to be a desert sandstorm. I couldn’t tell you for sure because I could barely see to the end of my hand. Madan naturally got really excited about a sandstorm in the middle of nowhere and began talking about his boss and politics. I too got excited for a second before thoughts of The Mist snuck in unbidden. Anyway, we made slow progress through the haze, aided by the still visible trail markers, but we kept running into these really insecure men who kept posing us the most inexplicable questions. Short guys would ask us if we thought they weren’t too short. We’d hem and haw and they’d go away as if satisfied by our non-answers. Rich guys with expensive watches would ask us if their watches looked tacky and would again go away satisfied. Even Madan learnt to not respond to this endless procession of questions. Eventually, the sandy fuzz cleared out of the air and we found ourselves at the entrance of a cave. A black vortex loomed like the maws of some dreadful Satanic creature. I hate to sound cliched, but the inevitable gooey monster shots from The Cave popped up in my head.

Madan’s enforced reticence evaporated like the morning dew in the Sahara sun, and he exulted.
“This is it, man. This is it!”

“What is it?”

“Whatever this trek is all about. I’d heard that there is something really unbelievably amazing at the end of the trek and the trail leads to this cave so that amazing thing must be in the cave right?”

“OK.”

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” and he sprinted into the abyss. I crept after, cautiously.

A faint light glimmered off metallic veins in the cave walls, barely illuminating the path. We had gone in far enough that the mouth of the tunnel was a thumbnail sized square of light at our backs, when a bloodcurdling yell rent the air, and there was a loud clink as something big and heavy crashed into the cave wall near my head. I screeched inside thinking of rock falls and death by starvation, but my impassive face stayed impressively stoic. Madan though had apparently fumbled around in the dark for the offending object and found it. A strange tone entered his voice.

“I think it’s a bloody axe.” I had never heard Madan speak softer than this ever before. In fact it was nearly a whispering voice and Madan never whispered, as sure as girls like me better than him.

There was a split second of Roadrunner-like time freeze, before our legs clicked into gear and we ran, ran for our lives. It was one of those things: while clearly the facts were telling us that we were in mortal danger, the dimness of the cave, the isolation, and the whole feeling that we were in communion with serene, inviolable Nature meant that it was hard to muster up the flight response. But another bloodcurdling yell three inches away from my face put paid to that. The form of a tuxedoed man resolved itself in the dimness. We scarpered.

I lost track of time. I sprinted, jogged, ran, walked, crawled and even possibly fell into and half-swam through an underground lake of some sort for what felt like hours. It was only when the stitch in my side burned painfully enough that my fear of being cleaved in two by a flying axe was overcome and I slumped against the cave wall. That was when I realized that Madan was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t want to shout, so I emitted that shout-whisper hybrid that sounds like a hoarse croak. No response. As my eyes adjusted a little better to the dimness, I forgot all about Madan possibly having been murdered by a psychotic killer, as it slowly became clear that I was no longer in a narrow cave path. There was a vague sense of immensity in the direction away from the wall I was resting against, a sense of infinity that was disconcerting. That was when he spoke.

“Hello.”

I didn’t say anything but my phlegmatic facade broke and my face transformed itself into a gargoyle-like mask of sheer terror. If you could jump a foot while slumped on the floor, I did that.

“So you’ve come to see me.” the disembodied voice boomed, all bass and honey.

“No.” I told myself in my head, or so I thought.

“That’s what they all say. No!” the voice chuckled. If God had a voice, it would sound like this, I thought completely incongruously.

“I’m flattered that you think of me as God.” At this point, the voice changed. It was like a TV with someone flicking a switch to change the channel, so drastic was the mutation. The voice was bass and acid now.

“I’m not God. But I know that you’re a worm.”

I’m not one to get easily offended but I flinched.

“You’re a worm that thinks it’s a peacock. Tell me. How many times have you compared yourself to Madan and felt that all was well in your world because you were better off than him? Ten? Twenty. No.”

“EIGHT THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY ONE!”, the voice roared.

“Let me tell you the truth. You’re not as tall as you think. You’re not as clever as you think. Your face isn’t as angular as you think. Your muscles are not as well defined as you think. Your teeth are not as well-formed as you think. Your hair is not as thick as you think. Your belly sticks out when you walk. Your hands are tiny and wiggly. Your nose is too large. Your ears stick out. Your elbows are dirty. Your breath smells like your feet. Your feet smell like durian. You’re slightly hunch-backed.”

At the same time as this barrage of insults, something else happened to me. A montage of images and sensations and feelings tumbled end over end in my mind, as if injected from elsewhere. They swirled and pinged in Brownian motion, but eventually knotted within themselves intricately to do one just one thing.
Show me how the world saw me. All the faults that the Voice pointed out in High Definition video. Only one word escaped my lips.

“No.”

“That’s what they all say. No!” the Voice chuckled. Malice punctuated each syllable.

“And you know what. Your fake stoicism is a sham. Everyone sees through it and laughs at you. They think you’re affected and that you’re a buffoon for it and that’s why they keep you around. For laughs. And when you try to keep your face impassive in the face of overwhelming emotion, it gets all pinched up like you’re constipated. More laughs. Your cool nature shots from your treks? Muscle memory likes are what you get on social media. No one cares.”

“And that thing you do in your head. Seeing horror movies in every little mundane scene in your life, that’s the most pathetic thing. Even a three year old child would be embarrassed to fantasize the way you do. Madan laughs at you.”

“Girls laugh at you. Girls laugh behind your back. Your mom laughs at you. Your dad smiles sympathetically like a baboon family smiles at demented offspring before eating it for lunch. You’ll die alone. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re worthless.”

Again that fast scrolling sequence of images, sensations and emotions showed me exactly how the world saw me. Girls thought I was a worm. I am a worm.

The Voice tittered. If a basso profundo titters, it sounds like Hell’s door creaking open. Just FYI.

“If you disappeared today, the world would be better off. Madan is already cheering your absence you know. After a token microsecond of concern. What is the point of you?”

“WHAT IS THE POINT OF YOU?”

Something snapped. Like a child’s hand sweeping a slate clear, the noxious montages were wiped clean, and I said a little more forcefully:

“NO.”

The Voice faded and wasn’t heard again. I sat around for a bit, waiting for it to come back, and in its absence I grew braver and braver, so much so that I was ready to strike down the owner of the Voice in one fell swoop when it reappeared. For emotional trauma. I was judge, jury and executioner.

Presently though, I picked myself up and walked back through the cave system in a daze. The glowing metallic veins returned at some point but I barely noticed. All I could perceive was the bubbling cauldron of righteous indignation that seethed underneath the surface. I noticed that my fists were balled up, and the hair on my arms stood on end. Inconsolable rage sent shivers up and down my body like waves. Something had to give.

A sound wafted through the dimness and resolved itself into a laugh. I reached down and picked up a large rock that lay at my feet and threw it in the direction of the sound. I heard a wet plop and bared my teeth in barbaric satisfaction. How dare they laugh at me? I’ll show them. The tumult that my body held was not easily restrained. I seethed and boiled, but there were no more outlets.

The mouth of the tunnel appeared in the distance, and grew larger and larger until I found myself in a sandstorm. All my rage disappeared in an instant, leaving behind a gnawing void. I was missing something, but I didn’t know what it was. I trudged on wearily through the sandstorm for hours and hours and hours. It felt like I wasn’t moving at all. Despite its constant motion, the sandstorm had a static quality to it, and I was like a hamster on a wheel, marching forward but staying in the same place.

A face appeared in the distance. It was a man. He was in his mid-thirties and dressed for a party by the look of things. The shirt was midnight black and covered with shiny sparkly stars, and the trousers hugged his legs like they were afraid they would float away if they didn’t. His hair was once smoothly slicked into a fashionable Pompadour but the coating of sand particles somewhat ruined the effect. I ran at him and grabbed his arm. He started, nudged his pointless shades to the tip of his nose, looked down at me, and roughly pushed me away.

“Wait!” I croaked.

He paused mid-stride.

“Do you think that my hair is thinning at the crown?”

This was a man who was obviously used to a gregarious lifestyle of small talk, flirting and sweet nothings. But he couldn’t make a sound beyond a noncommittal ‘Hmm’.

I trudged on. Meanwhile, my brain was feverishly replaying every single event from my life. That time when my first girlfriend called me handsome? She was only being polite. Now that I think about it, there was a vague tone of irony in her voice when she said that. And Madan. Madan was better at everything than I was. He was funny, sociable and emotional. I was a colourless stone. And my work? I thought I was helping the world working in customer care. Who was I fooling? Melancholy washed over like a tidal flood. I was exhausted and not just physically. Tears streamed down my cheeks, dribbled down my chin, and dripped down onto my chest. I was in the dreamy savannah again.

I really don’t like sad stories so I’m hitting the fast forward button again. So what happened then was that I somehow ran into Madan. He was bawling like a baby. We hugged, told each other that we were never doing this again and walked through the slimy part-woods together. At that time I thought it was each other’s company that brought us relief, but it was deeper. Spiritual bliss I had called it right? I always had a way with words because that’s just what it was. I had somehow realized that everything that I thought was good about myself was an affectation. To truly be happy, I had to be myself. Whatever that was. Crazy dude who saw horror movies in every mundane scene maybe? I think Madan too found his version of Nirvana, but he still blabbed like it was his last day on Earth, so I suppose that part of him wasn’t an affectation. We smiled and egged a young Chinese couple on that we met on the way.

Just as we stepped off the trail’s entrance, and before we went on live long, successful, authentic lives, we passed a signboard that we didn’t see. It said:


“The Kubler-Ross trail.”

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Choices

This story was originally written for the Deccan Herald Short Story Contest about a month ago. I had to work to trim it down to 3000 words for the contest, so I hope to release a 'director's cut' at some point in the future that'll be much longer.

Complete darkness surrounded him. You might think you know the dark, but you don’t. The darkness of the power cut is ephemeral; and you don’t fear it because it isn’t ever truly dark then. There’re always cues; the gentle murmur of air currents, and the silhouettes of your wardrobe and your chair that appear as your eyes adapt, reassure you that the reality you’ve always known has not been swallowed away in the dark. But that isn’t real darkness, because your eyes can see something.

His darkness was pure. There was no sound. Was he breathing? He didn’t know. If there was air, it was still as on a cold winter’s night. But it wasn’t cold, and it didn’t murmur things. He could feel nothing at all. As the mind strove to make sense of the nothingness, panic took over. His throat clenched as if to scream, and his limbs started to flail, as if seeking a way out. Just as soon as it started though, the feeling passed. He could move his hands, and tentatively, he touched his face, as if to convince himself that he was real. Greatly calmed by the fact that it wasn’t a coffin he was in, he took a couple of hesitant steps. That’s when he noticed that his footfalls made no sound at all. And he was falling. Falling endlessly.

‘Hey!’
‘Hello!’
‘You were lost there for a bit! Am I boring you?’ said a female voice, with self-­sure mock indignation. ‘Sorry, I was thinking.’

Music. One moment he had been falling into pure blackness, and then there was… Loud electronic music. He suddenly noticed that in one hand, he was nursing a cocktail of some sort. He didn’t drink, did he?

‘Yeah.’ said the same female voice. ‘If I had that cocktail, I would look at it that way too. I did warn you, didn’t I?’

For the first time, he turned to take in his surroundings. The speaker was a stunningly beautiful woman whose name he was convinced he ought to have known, but didn’t. He was at a bar of some sort, and there was a DJ little more than a foot away from his vantage point, bouncing to the latest tunes.

‘If it were anybody else that looked at me the way you did, I would be calling the cops.’ It was the female voice again. Why would someone like her be with someone like him?

‘I really do like the strong, silent types, but now it feels like you’re teasing me too much. Let’s do QnA then. What is your name?’

‘Er. Karthik. Karthik Mahesh.’

‘OK. I would love to say that’s a sexy name but it’s really not. Next up: what do you do for a living?’

‘I’m a librarian.’ At that statement, suddenly there was a sense of wrongness in the air. It reminded him of a forgotten nightmare, and it felt like the blackness was right there in the club with him, closing in. He spun to look around him ­ at the fake, miniature palm trees around his table that gave their table an air of seclusion; at the glitzy neon lights that flashed red, blue and green in turn. Young people whooping and hollering nearby. Everything was outsized, and completely normal. It seemed to reassure him, and the clammy hold on his chest loosened.

She really was beautiful. And she really was sitting there, apparently on a date with him. But he was fat and ugly, wasn’t he? He noticed that the woman was laughing. ‘You must be the first librarian I’ve seen that drives a sports car. What is it, a Lamborghini?’ It was obvious from her tone of voice that she thought he had been joking, and also that she found his jesting very attractive. She sidled closer to him.

‘Librarian eh? You must have misheard.’
‘Nope, I did not.’
‘You did.’
‘Did not.’

He laughed then, the easy, masculine laugh of a man fully aware of the magnetic hold he had on his audience.

‘Somehow, with all my charm, it’s the librarian bit that sweeps the ladies off their feet. I simply can’t explain it. You’re a psychologist, aren’t you? Analyse that.’

‘Well, I think we should discuss this in greater detail at your place. What say, Mr Sexy Librarian?’

‘I would never disagree with my favourite psychologist, would I?’


He was back there again. There was nothing he could see, or hear, that could justify this belief, but nevertheless, he knew it to be true, as sure he was real. How could he have thought he was falling? It must have been his brain playing tricks again. The ground beneath him felt solid enough, if completely featureless. Since all directions were the same to him, he picked one at random and started to walk. As he walked on for what felt like miles, he slowly began to realize that the place he was in was not completely free from stimuli. He could sense movement, seemingly on a plane once removed from ordinary sight. There were little things, tiny worms that appeared to be moving rapidly back and forth, twisting and turning, but never colliding with each other. But he could only sense them in his peripheral vision. If he tried to observe them directly, he could see nothing at all. Whichever way he tried to turn his head, there they were in his peripheral vision, swimming just out of sight.

Presently, Karthik sensed a change in his environment. There was sound. A faint, rhythmic tapping, that seemed to originate from all directions at once. He stepped towards it, but truth be told, any way he walked seemed to lead towards it. The tapping turned into knocking, and the knocking seemed to turn into the thump of an axe. Perhaps there was somebody out there who could explain to him what was happening.

That was when he felt it. The Presence. As with everything else about that place, ordinary descriptive words, that were beyond sufficient to communicate the experiences of everyday life, felt woefully inadequate there. It felt wrong to say he was seeing something, when his eyes obdurately insisted that it was all dark. In fact, it felt more than wrong to attempt to map these sensations to familiar words of the mundane everyday, simply because that only lessened their strangeness, and in their strangeness lay their power. The Presence it was.

The Presence, like the dancing worms, always seemed to lurk just out of sight, like a perfectly black cloud in the perfect darkness. Unlike the dancing worms, he felt he could make sense of it. The worms swum this way and that, with no apparent purpose. Were they alive? But the Presence throbbed with comprehension. Karthik felt that it was saying something to him, and he felt that the meaning lay just beyond his understanding, like a familiar song, forgotten, but hovering on the tip of one’s tongue.

In his desire to communicate with the presence, Karthik started to run. He stumbled over his own feet in his hurry, and zig­zagged this way and that numerous times to get closer, but to no avail. The Presence seemed to be practically screaming at him, but he could not understand it, and he could get no closer to it.

Thump.

Frustrated with his attempts to communicate with the Presence, he resumed his journey towards the ‘sound’. And suddenly the Presence was there right in front of him. And then it was inside him, filling him like a viscous fluid, covering all orifices, and oozing over everything. If the blackness was clammy, this was much, much worse. He didn’t know where he began, and where the Presence ended. They were one. Overwhelming fear turned his invisible limbs to stone, and even that cursory scream failed to escape his lips. There was a searing pain in his neck, and then it was gone.

The worms were there, within touching distance, and he felt ashamed. How could he ever have defiled such beauty with so base a name? They were heavenly. Instantly, he realized that their motion was not random at all. At the same time, he also realized that he could understand what the Presence had been saying. It was just one word, if it could be called that. It was…

In a jarring change of scene, he found himself stretched out in a luxurious bed, cocooned in a soft and warm blanket, and all alone. Where was Niveditha? Yes, that had been the name of that beautiful girl he had come home with last night. Her exquisite visage flashed in front of his mind’s eye before it was roughly wiped away.

A panoply of pains and aches ushered him into wakefulness, as he stumbled off his bed and into his daily routine. A hundred push­ups, then a hundred crunches, then a hundred sit­ups, all without pause, followed. Before the mandatory swim, he drew in the curtains to usher in the morning light, but instead found only the feeble, dim illumination of a cloudy day greeting him. It was like even the weather was mocking him.

The view made up for the weather’s vagaries though. The smallness of everything never ceased to amaze, and delight, as he gazed up at the still sleepy city from the thirty second floor.

Sculpted arms knifed through the water as he lapped his private swimming pool over and over again, until his muscles screamed in agony, and only then did he stop. The rest of the morning routine was executed with practised calm, with the only stop­over at the mirror to admire a body the Greek Gods would be proud of. Finally donning a hand­woven business suit, he made his way to the car park, pleasantly contemplating the thought of what would be another perfectly normal day at work.

Where was the Nissan?
The image of a glorious sports car, in all its silver­glinted glory, floated up in his mind. He could recall it with intimate precision; the way the leather of the wheel felt when he gripped it, the way the sun shone off the tail lights, and the look in the car park watchman’s eyes when he revved up the car too loud on his way out. The watchman! He would know.

Still, there was no anxiety in his unhurried gait as he spotted the watchman snoozing in a corner and made his way towards him.

‘You. Wake up! Have you seen my car?’

The watchman looked at him suspiciously, as if trying to spot any hidden subtext that threatened his livelihood. He concluded that the handsome master had already taken the car out when he was asleep and this whole charade was to make him see how poor he was at his job. He immediately went on the defensive.

‘I had only just closed my eyes, I swear.’ Suddenly noticing something, ‘there it is! Your Civic. I had my eye on it always. I swear. I had only shaded my eyes against the sun, to only fool them silly thieves into thinking that they had a free ride to steal what they want. And then they would get caught. Ha!’

‘Stop. That’s not my Civic. Where is my Nissan? Surely you would remember it. It is a sports car, and no one else here has one.’ The watchman affected a laugh because he seemed to think that was what was expected. ‘I’m happy to see you’re not upset, sir. Ha ha. That was funny. I didn’t know you had your eyes on Mohit Sir’s Nissan. Ha ha.’

Karthik was about to berate the little old man when he felt a familiar clammy sensation begin to take hold. It was almost like a gentle caress, almost a lover’s embrace in the exquisite slowness with which it began to tighten its vice­like grip. Memories began to flood into his mind ­ the time when he bought that Civic, the pompous moustache of the car salesman, the licence number, the many, many, many times he had taken trips in that Civic to office and back.

NO!

 And suddenly, the grip was gone. Karthik drove his Civic to work, and parked in his usual spot. Getting out, he ran into Mohit as he parked his Nissan in his usual spot, and amiably chatting, they walked in together into the elevator, and then on to their fifty fifth floor office because they were colleagues. He noticed with mild consternation that Mohit seemed to have been working out. His arms, which he had often mocked for their droopiness, seemed to bulge out of the fine cloth, and his grip was iron as they shook hands and went on their way. The general sense of anxiety only worsened when he saw the dreaded pink envelope on his cabin door. The boss wanted to speak to him.

‘Karthik.’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘You have been a great employee for us.’
‘Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.’
‘I’ve lost track of the number of brave and brilliant deals you’ve done for us. There’s hardly been another employee like you, and I don’t think there will be.’
‘Yes, sir. What merits this sudden praise, sir?’

The voice on the telephone acquired a grim aspect.

‘Karthik, I’m sorry. Your last deal went south, and that’s an understatement. They are looking for a scapegoat, and you’re it.’ ‘But sir, it was you who proposed that deal.’

The voice paused, as if to gather itself. ‘Karthik. Let’s not get into this blame game. You know the nature of this business. You know how cut­throat this world is. You know what the cost for failure is.’
‘Sir…’
‘I’m sorry again. But you’re fired. You aren’t getting a golden parachute either, because we don’t want that making the papers.’

Karthik was flabbergasted by this turn of events, but the shock didn’t immediately sink in. As if in a daze, he cleared out his desk, oblivious to his colleagues’ solicitousness and drove back home in his Civic. But not before he saw something so remarkable, that it cut through even his dull­headed state. It was the sight of Mohit sweating in fear, and looking around as if chased by an invisible enemy. Even this strange spectacle only occupied his thoughts for a minute and in a little while he was in his luxurious bed, painfully aware that he would lose it all very soon.

A thought struck him. Niveditha. Rummaging through the contacts list on his phone, he found a number and called it. An irate voice filtered through. ‘I thought I’d asked you not to call me anymore. I don’t want to go out with you. I’m already with Mohit!’

That night in the club? It felt hazy and surreal. Another memory seemed to overlay it, a memory of him sitting in his luxurious bed watching TV. Alone. Yet another memory hovered just out of sight tantalizingly. He reached for it like a hungry man, but it eluded him. This reminded him of something; something dark and terrifying. The thought of sleep scared him, but eventually, the strain of his emotional state won over, and he drifted into unconsciousness.

Thump.

Karthik trudged wearily towards the sound. Something had gone wrong the last time he was here, but he could not recall what it was. He sensed a sullen aspect to the Presence, a defeated tone that somehow soaked into him and multiplied his melancholy. There was nothing else to do but go on, and it seemed fitting, given his hopeless situation, that he embarked on what seemed a pointless quest.

THUMP.

The faint outline of a man hovered into view. He seemed to be on his knees facing away from Karthik. His arms swung up slowly and with a furious acceleration brought down an axe. It made a fleshy sound as it struck something. There was a pause, and a gurgling sound reached Karthik’s ears, and the axeman raised his arms and swung again.

THUMP.

The Presence watched neutrally as the axeman seemed to become aware of him. He briefly turned his head around, and a sudden thrill of recognition coursed through Karthik. He knew him! How? As he made his way closer to the axeman, he realized that he could see more of him. But everywhere else the blackness lay as powerfully opaque as ever. This gave the creature an otherworldly, two­dimensional aspect that was distinctly unsettling. Karthik saw that the axeman was portly and balding, with thin arms, and wore a business suit, all of which only made the scene more incongruent.

THUMP.

Karthik had finally reached a point where he could see what the axeman had been striking. To his utter horror, he saw that it was another man! As he watched, the man, rooted as if paralyzed, was decapitated by a powerful swing of the axe, and the lifeless head rolled away, as the stump gurgled blood which seemed to vanish into nothingness. The axe arced into the air and as it came down, he saw that the man was there, with his head intact! Giddy with fear, Karthik watched helplessly as he was decapitated once more. Blood gurgled away into blackness. The axe was hefted up again.

This time, Karthik caught a glimpse of the unfortunate man’s face before his head was cut off, and it was THE SAME as the axeman’s! He seemed to be saying something but no sound came out. Karthik screamed, but he could make no sound either. Fear drove him mad, and he rushed headlong at the axeman. The Presence dashed away and disappeared. And the lights, the worms, the little angels, they seemed to surround him all at once. In the light, he could see it all. It was him. The axeman. The balding, portly axeman, it was him. He could see him clearly, and he felt conviction. He had been ugly, poor, and in a loveless relationship. But he had lived.

What had he done? Just what had he done to live the high life? Had it been the Devil himself that he'd struck a deal with? 

In that one moment of crystal clarity, he understood everything. The Presence had been him too; at least he sensed something like his own consciousness in it. It had been warning him! (‘GO’). The lights, they showed others like him. Others who were promised the best deal of their lives and in their vanity, had sold their souls.

He could see Mohit, a tiny Mohit made of glowing light, embedded deep within the angel’s undulating form. Resignation flooded him like a drug, and his fear ebbed away. And in the next instant, he was on the ground looking up at the axeman. He screamed one word. ‘HELP.’ 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Pain.

"Good morning, Doctor."

"Yes, yes, likewise. Please have a seat. And what is your problem exactly?"

"I have this pain."

"Pain. OK. Where do you have this pain exactly?"

I said something, but it isn't too relevant to this joke, so I'm going to skate right over it.

"Alright. How would you describe your pain?"

I'm sure we all have those moments when words fail us to the point that we consider if we've had a brain stroke at worst, or if we have severely overestimated our vocabulary at best. It was one of those moments.

"Er.. It really hurts."

"Yes, that's what pain does. Where would you put the level of pain you're feeling on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the pain of a light slap, and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine."

Whoever said pain is a non-sentient entity has never really felt pain at all because, well, at that particular instant in time, Pain spoke to me.

"Ten. Say ten," it hissed, seemingly encouragingly, but unable to hide a dripping malevolence. I ignored it while I weighed matters.

It was one of those situations where you really, really want to do something, but the pressure of keeping up appearances, specifically that of being a Real Man, inevitably wins out. I mentally cringed at Pain's impending displeasure as I said -

"Maybe about a three." Pain then had its tantrum of course. I snivelled and moaned inside because Real Men and all that.

"I see. Now then, would you describe your pain as a throbbing pain?"

For some reason, the image of Leonardo di Caprio burst uninvited into my mind. It took me a long second before I could work out the connection to the word 'heart-throb'.
"Er, not sure."

"You see, the kind of pain you'd feel four hours after you have a piano dropped on your little toe."

I studied the Doctor with fresh, startled eyes. He really did have a creepy aura to him.

"Er, I really wouldn't know."

"Perhaps it is a shooting pain. Surely you would know how somebody with arthritis for forty seven years would feel after squatting two hundred kilos?"
"Haven't you ever accidentally tripped and fallen on a rusty sword and impaled yourself through your knee?"
"Or maybe drilled a hole into one of your teeth deep enough to see gums, and then poked at it with an ice-cold fork? All shooting pains, you see."

"No. I.." It really was time to put an end to this because I didn't like the turn this was taking. "It's a kind of burning pain."

Did I misread that glint of satisfaction in the Doctor's eye? "So, I presume you've had the chance to jump into a vat of boiling water after a walk through waist-deep snow naked?"

"Something like that, yes," I said, thinking of the time I accidentally touched a hot cooker and screeched loud enough to rattle glass.

"Very well then. I would still like to confirm that it isn't a sharp pain. Or a tingling pain. Or a dull pain. Misdiagnosis would be catastrophic, you see."

That was when I noticed that the Doctor had a suspiciously long blade in one hand, and was twirling it around like a rapier. It looked finely honed, and recently too. Right next to it was a vat of water labelled 'Boiling', and beside it was a jar named 'Tarantulas'. Catching my glance, the Doctor subtly turned the table lamp to illuminate the rest of his macabre repertoire. A closed box labelled 'liquid nitrogen' was sitting right next to glass case tagged 'instruments'. They were very specific kind of instruments, and they were all very sharp. Other silhouettes pressed ominously from the shadows.

"We have to be sure, you see." That smile of the Doctor could have frozen a rampaging sabre tooth in its tracks, and that good old sentient co-habitant of my mind was no match. Pain mewled like a kitten and said, "Run."

PS: There is a moral to this story and it's that if anybody ever tells you what kind of pain they're feeling, you need to scarper like your feet are on hot coals.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

One Animal Further

Our favourite ants on the floor discuss our favourite topic: food.


(As always, if the font isn't readable, right click -> open link in new tab and peruse away.)

But, but, rabbits are so cute?!

Here's the Richard Dawkins quote referenced in the strip.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

That Man Who Never Did Anything Twice

Once upon a time there lived a most remarkable man. He was tall, lean and muscular, with a barrel chest and rippling biceps, and thick, lustrous, wavy hair that danced sensuously with the passing breeze, and a smile that made even perfectly straight men go a little weak in the knees.

But that wasn't what made him remarkable; it was the fact that he was a man who never did anything twice.

It was a fine evening day when after a hard day's toil, our remarkable protagonist decided to put his feet up on his porch and ring in the sunset with a cold beer.

'Hey there, handsome guy. Aren't you feeling lonely there having a beer all by yourself?' At this, our hero, as befitted his otherwordly perfection, smiled, despite the fact that he had heard the same thing a million times before. He looked over at the speaker - a comely young lass she was - but, even though our polite young whippersnapper would never admit it, nowhere near the top  ten percentile of his prize collection of hitters-on.

'Hey! How's it going?'

'I'm great! But, surely you couldn't refuse some company?', the woman smiled in the most coquettish way she could.

At this seemingly innocuous statement, something within the man changed. His face began a rapid transformation through the colours of the spectrum, beginning with a virulent red and proceeding all the way to a poisonous puce. At same point, he got up, as if under a spell, walked over to the outer wall of his luxurious cottage and began to rub himself vigorously against it, eyes fierce with determination, as if trying to cut through brick with sheer will power.

Perplexed, but still hopelessly in love, the woman asked, 'Er, what are you doing?'

'I.. am.. trying.. to.. fuse with the wall, of course,' the answer comes back through gritted teeth.
'Go away!'

And so she did, the poor, comely, now very frightened lass.

On a different, perhaps even finer autumn day, with fire-red leaves falling their stately fall all around him, our remarkable hero began his daily jog uphill.

'Hey there, handsome man. Wouldn't something as dull as running be greatly improved with some company?'

'Sure, feel free to join me!', our Greek God replied without even a second glance at the questioner.

Momentarily, a vision of perfection drifted into view. With a figure wars could be waged over, hair dark and lustrous like black gold and a sinuous motion that demanded attention, if not complete hypnosis, our questioner jogged a little ahead, turning back and smiling expectanctly. Our spectacularly fair hero would never objectify women, but she was definitely an eleven on ten.

'Thanks, but are you sure you can keep up?'

'I'll try!', our impossibly perfect man responded humbly. He would never admit this, but he could probably lap the hill track four times before the seductive wench could do it once.

'What, aren't you going to retort?', the Cleopatra-esque beauty prompted flirtatiously.

To her utter shock though, at this statement, our man suddenly stopped and fell to the ground, as if struck by a sudden bout of cramp. With his face clenched in agony, he paused briefly, as if drawing strength from the heavens. He pulled out a packet of tortillas from his running shorts and proceeded to eat them slowly and carefully, completely oblivious to the world.

'Er, did I say something wrong? Aren't you going to jog anymore?'

'I cannot give you what you want. I am a man who never does anything twice! Do you understand? I can only do things, never do them again. Do you understand? I can never do what you want!', our normally unruffled hero thundered in rage.

Showing impressive self-control, perhaps driven only by lust, but impressive nonetheless, our resident Apsara mustered, 'Alright, but what does that have to do with tortillas?'

'Do you still not understand? I can only do. I can never re.. re.. redo!', the words trickled out unwillingly.
'So I can never re-tort, only tort. Tortillas are little torts, so that's all I can do.'
'I can never re-fuse, only fuse.'
'DO YOU UNDERSTAND NOW?'

Our fantastic heroine's charms weren't limited to the realm of the physical; she was possessed of a fine sense of sadism, like any good callipygian temptress.

'So I'm not going to get any re-spect from you then?'

If it were possible to tie up a face in knots, that was what happened to our hero. 'I don't have my spectre! I left it at home. I'm so sorry!'

'And I'm not going to get any re-spite from your whining, either.'

'I DON'T WHINE, YOU SADISTIC SPAWN OF A THREE LEGGED DONKEY THAT WAS RAPED BY A TOOTHLESS MADMAN BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK IN A SMELLY DITCH WHERE EVEN PLANTS DON'T GROW!'

'Ah, that's spite, is it?'

'Yes.', our remarkable protagonist averred, now suddenly calm again and possessed of a benign smile that could annoy saints.

'So what do you do at night? I'm sure you can't rest at all.'

'On Mondays and Wednesdays, I walk on half the street; on Tuesdays and Thursdays I am half a saint, and on weekends I'm a striker for my local football team half the time.

'Wait, are you saying you don't rest, but you St.?' Our hero nodded glumly at this.

'Man, you're remarkable you know that? You're remarkable!' the anthropomorphic jogging vision of perfection grinned a tinkly laugh that felt like being showered with diamonds and caressed by the softest velvet at the same time.

'I'm not what you say, I'm just..', at this point he paused to pull out a marker pen from his cavernous running shorts and perform what could only be described as a child's scrawl on his flawless visage.
'... Markable.'



Monday, 12 October 2015

Chronicle of a Cynical Uncle #1

Let's imagine there exists a cantankerous old man who's so grouchy that he'll berate you for giving him birthday presents, and who's so cynical that the first thing that'll occur to him on seeing a cute puppy on his doorstep would be:

'What kind of scam is this?'

Let's also imagine that this irritable old geezer is your uncle and that he's just discovered a book of inspirational quotes. Naturally, his blood pressure is going to shoot through the roof at the almost physically painful optimism, and he's going to want to rectify that with a dash of vitriol. Much to the nephew's amusement, of course.

“Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt.
“But the other half takes forever.”

“We can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.” Ronald Reagan
“That someone is usually yourself.”

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan
“It will either be known and dismissed as something extraordinarily mundane, or will forever continue waiting.”

“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” Vince Lombardi
“I can eat every single edible thing in the house in one hour!”

“Change your thoughts and you can change the world.”  Norman Vincent Peale
“Only if your thoughts change to - ‘the world is unchangeable!’”

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“I ate kilos and kilos of pizza, got fat, ran a marathon, and collapsed and died halfway through. This is my postcard from limbo because the Man Up There cannot decide which way to send me.”

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Milton Berle
“Then it knocks so hard your door collapses on you and kills you.”

“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.” Anne Frank
“But others’ happiness makes me unhappy. Pretty little paradox eh?”

“The things that we love tell us what we are.” Thomas Aquinas
“I like sitting in a corner eating junk all day, so I must be a… dustbin.”

“Out of difficulties grow miracles.” Jean de la Bruyere
“Miracles are difficulties you don’t know are difficulties yet.”

“To the mind that is still, the whole Universe surrenders.” Lao Tzu
“.. as in, gives up and passes you by.”

“What we change inwardly will change outer reality.” Plutarch
“I’m sorry, but all I can think of is spicy food and upset stomachs.”

“Try to be like the turtle - at ease in your own shell.” - Bill Copeland
“Be like the turtle, and whole world will be like the stick - trying to poke you out for no reason.”

“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” Henry David Thoreau
“The sun appears to go round the Earth, but the vice versa is reality. (Even if the world appears to turn around, it is probably just you bending over backwards.)”

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”
“And you will be blinded and hit by a truck as you cross the street.”

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot
“Short of amputation, I think my childhood’s really lost.”

“Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.” Bernard Williams
“Imaginary things can be infinite in dimension.”

“The glow of one warm thought to me is worth more than money.” Thomas Jefferson
“I tried to buy an apple with a tenth of a warm thought yesterday - it didn’t work. I said ‘Morning!’”

“You change your life by changing your heart.” Max Lucado
“Dr. Christiaan Barnard was after my time. It was certainly a change though - I was dead.”

“Most of us have far more courage than we ever dreamed we possessed.” Dale Carnegie
“Makes sense because I usually dream I’m a blithering coward running away from furry cats.”

“Your heart is full of fertile seeds, waiting to sprout.” Morihei Ueshiba
“Alien? Aliens? Aliens vs Predator - surely not?! Just can’t place this movie, man!”

“It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.” Amelia Barr
“Marvels lie in the eye of the beholder.”

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Thomas Paine
“Nostradamus is passe, Paine just predicted nuclear weapons here, man!”


Thanks to this website for providing lots and lots of fodder for my uncle to work out his ulcers. More to come, soon!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Tale of Four Assignments, Three Score Sheets and Lots and Lots of Pain

Alright, the inspiration for this poem is an insanely painful experience I had recently writing down sixty pages worth of assignments in one day. (I'll probably write down the anecdote on my personal blog sometime.) So, I decided to try my hand at a poetic metre called 'iambic tetrameter' - briefly, it means that every line in the poem is comprised of four pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. Notice how it lends a sing-song quality to the lines below? Try to read the poem aloud stressing and unstressing naturally and see if you enjoy it. :)

Oh there was once a mighty man
He’d wrestle lions to the floor
He, faster than a cheetah, ran
And had a mind as sharp as four.

But ev’n the keenest spear it’s told –
Shall meet a shield too firm and break.
And so it proved, the hero bold
“Oh God I’m great, but this – can’t take!”

“Assignments four, and sheets three score,
A day is all is giv’n myself.”
He wailed and cried for time some more
Until enraged was God himself.

“Your star is nothing save a  ball - 
Of dust, and lost to wind in flow.”
These words that stung our hero’s gall
Inspired him like a wicked blow.

His weap’n the pen, his music hard
A sheet he turned and so began
The finest penwork since the Bard.
From page to page it spanned.

But hold! Two pairs of hours passed;
And only but a fifth was done.
Appeared spent, our hero – lost –
In pain, his arm and leg as one.

A tiny rest, and crack of light
The monster, will he rise to face?
Of course, it’s only fair to right
A losing war by changing place.

Each page he filled was foes he slew
All fair was foul, as art turned scrawl
As noon emerged, he forged on true
To see a third was left in all!

And now, with victory close away
Awoke his pride, en masse, and swelled
He drank and ate and made his hay
Until the close of day was felt.

The Devil’s whisper now in ear
“Come on, it’s done, your name is made
This final battle’s nought to fear
The war is won, so let’s parade!”

He laughed and cried as ag’ny spread
From limb to limb, from flesh to brain
In time, as fell the last, he said,
(to God and Devil) “Never again!”

PS: Here's a reading of the poem. Sorry, I might have got carried away with some of the enunciations.