Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, and it takes a lot of effort to conjure up people and events out of nothing. None of the characters are real, and all references to apparently real-life events are intentionally coincidental. Please do not expect any apologies for insults to the fictional characters.

Once upon a time, there was a city made up of seven islands in the south of the largest continent of a fictional planet. The city was home to a lot of (fictional) people from all over the fictional world. Cutting the long story short, the fictional world was caught in a mass-masking epidemic which was curiously called Swine Flew. Someone had finally made pigs fly, which although clichéd, appeared novel to the resident villagers of the city.

There was a right-wing localist political party in that city, who took up the common citizen’s cause against Swine Flew. The flamboyant leader, who was himself nearing a century of an age, made public appearances claiming that the city was located on the eastern part of the fictional planet, and that he would not tolerate any influence from any other part of the planet (fictional, of course – the planet, not the influence) on the villagers living in that city. Among these influences from the west figured the flying-pigs-disease quite prominently, that the villagers of the city were catching like a fire. The flamboyant leader therefore, banned people from catching pigs-who-fly-disease and ordered a closure of every fictional and non-fictional activity in the city of seven islands for as long as he wished. Anyone who would not obey his orders would be quarantined along with other western-influenced fictional people, and be left to his/her fate.

As fate would have it, the right-wing localist party had a fictional split and one of the flamboyant leader’s fictional followers turned extra-flamboyant, and established another right-wing, ultra-localist political party. The newly emerged extra-flamboyant leader believed in opposing everything that the flamboyant leader suggested. So he opposed the ban on activity.

There had to be a counter-argument for the flamboyant leader’s ban on flying-pigs-wonder he thought the disease was. Mr extra-flamboyant therefore claimed that the Swine Flew was actually a sign of progress and the times to come, and that the villagers of the seven-island-city ought to participate in the disease whole-heartedly, (whole-bodiedly too). In fact, the extra-flamboyant leader went to the extent of demanding an 85% reservation for the native villagers of the city to be able to participate in the pigs-who-fly-disease and uttered a warning that anyone who would dare to take away his fundamental right on the progressive Swine Flew will have to face his wrath and said nothing about what he’d do to them. Speculation is, that he would make that rebel wear a tight mask covering his/her eyes, ears and finally, one of the two nostrils. He is also reported to urge to those villagers who wish to express support to regressive movement to put up nude pictures on their facebook profiles, while those who support the participation in progress are asked to put up profile pictures of them wearing masks.

The villagers of the city are nonetheless enjoying the duel between the flamboyant leader and the extra-flamboyant leader, while pretending to take sides in the presence of the supporters of either leader. Some villagers are now planning to launch a third fringe to oppose both, the flamboyant leader and extra-flamboyant leader but are yet undecided on the agenda of opposition. Sources from within the third fringe indicate that they estimate it would take a few years to come up with a fictional opposition agenda. Until then, the extra-flamboyant leader welcomes support for progressive pigs-who-fly-disease, while the flamboyant leader continues to issue successive bans on the western influenza.

And that, fellow idle-beings, is enough of a dose of bullshit for the day.

A few months back, I was sought for interviews by a number of major international publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Forbes and the like. When the quotes from these interviews were published, my father religiously collected each one of all the articles and took them home and maintained a copy. When I told him that this may happen quite often, he said to me: “My name has never been published in a newspaper. I don’t want to miss out on your fame at least.”

I brushed it off thinking it amateurish at the time. Last month, when I was flying out of the city to someplace, I happened to look down from the plane’s window, and spotted something that my father has been involved with, in the past. That something is a pagoda constructed for meditation, the sponsors of which are looking to get it qualified as the world’s eighth wonder. The structure is the largest stone dome made out of interlocking large blocks of stone with a diameter of 90 meters and a height at the center of 91 meters. When I showed it to a colleague of mine traveling with me, he was awestruck and wanted to visit the place. It was only when I told my friends about the pagoda describing my father’s contribution to it and saw their reactions, I realized what my father must have felt about the newspaper articles mentioning me.

It may not be a big deal a few years down the line that neither me nor my father will be remembered for our work. But thinking of the pagoda sure makes me want to do more, not for me, but for my father.

It was a lazy Sunday, just like many others when you sit down and think of life in slow motion. I received a text message from an unknown number:


Life meant: A cold evening, four friends, a slow drizzle and four pegs of rum.

Life meant: 100 rupees for petrol, two rusty old bikes and an open road.

Life meant: Maggi® noodles, a hostel room and the clock showing 3.25 AM.

Life meant: The last exam paper, one night, one book and eight duffers.

Life meant: One girl, one number, four friends and a fight.

Now, life means: Old friends, many cities, different lives and a longing.


The number was an unknown one because I had left the old contacts’ lists on my previous phone, and moved on to a new one without caring to transfer all the contacts. The brutal honesty of our singular lives does not as much shake us up to rekindle long lost friendships, still.


So these days, even though there are evenings with slow drizzles and pouring rains there is usually only one peg of rum. These days, it is not the question of 100 rupees for petrol or collecting 6,000 rupees and then borrowing 2,000 more to put together enough money to buy an old rusty bike. While the stereo blurted out “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” I fished for reasons.


When social networking sites came into being some five years ago, I had a bit of a euphoric feeling about the ability to get back in touch with almost everyone I knew sometime in the past.


Over time, the realisation dawned upon me how different our lives have grown. Those friends with whom you shared a close camaraderie some years ago suddenly seem to be strangers: as if you knew a person who was someone entirely different from the one you are talking to now.


That perhaps was the reason why I chose to keep my past life past, and did not bring much of it further into the present. Strangely enough, the longing still remains even if the choice was a conscious one. On the other hand, I think it is part of the process of growing up and growing out of the world that you used to once live in.


Or perhaps, it’s written.


Maqtoob!

So they had installed condom vending machines to reduce the spread of AIDS. Initially people were quite wary of spending and expected them as complimentary gifts. They broke open the machines, took away as much they needed. But that carried grave risks coupled with limited supply. They sought privileged access. Turns out some eager chaps have taken the vending machines home!

Imagine what happens next:

He: “Look babe, what did I get! Lets get ready *blushing*”

She: “Oh wow! But dah’ling… this requires us to put in coins every time we need a pack”

He: “Darn… do we have any coins here?”

She: “Hell no… what are we going to do now?”

He: “I know what we’ve to do… pay-phones… let me go get a few! I’ll be right back, and then we’ll… *blushes more* … happily ever after!”

All ye policemen and municipalitymen, if you’re reading this, you know where to look for your condomaniac-turning-phonomanic! And for those who’ve still not taken any lessons, act now. Better safe than sorry — there’s still quite a few machines out there.

I remember this word ever since I had read The Alchemist. It is an Arabic word, which means “it’s written”. Someone asked me recently, whether I am superstitious: the question made me ponder. Is it being superstitious when you believe that it’s written? I guess not. Is the belief impractical? I wouldn’t worry about it. It works!

This weekend I saw Slumdog Millionaire, and found it quite well-executed. There was a debate about whether Slumdog’s a pervert, voyeuristic exhibition of India’s poverty and everything bad about India or just an attempt at realism. I wondered whether this was the first attempt at realism by any film-maker, considering the noise that has been made around the plot and some of the scenes of the film. Especially when I remember the 1991 Bollywood art film Salaam Bombay or Dev Benegal’s English, August. All these were made in the 90s, when India was just about turning into the “center of the world” as Salim puts it, in Slumdog Millionaire. Nobody cared to peddle the term “ poverty porn” earlier, when these films were released. Perhaps, this debate was written too!

A few weeks ago, I had seen a play titled “Kavita Bhaag Gayi” (transliterated as “Poetry is absconding”), which describes a young poet who has forgotten how to write poetry. His loss of prose is blamed on the stressful and frightening lifestyle in modern day Mumbai which is caught in a spate of terror attacks, language wars and disputes over political propaganda. Although the play was thought provoking, but its impact lasts just so long as we step out to get lost in the mobs. Sadly, the satirical taunts made by the protagonist were laughed at by the audience – most likely they were lost as attempts at ridiculing the (parallel, real life) characters in question.

A lesson I learnt from both these experiences is that we as a population get too engrossed in the superficial detail (I know this is an oxymoron, thank you), and are hardly bothered to understand the crux of the matters at hand. And I sincerely hope this exercise is not a part of the larger process of make-believe, of putting up an intelligent face. Besides, by doing nothing about it, I too would be an accomplice in spreading the rot. One does not need to make a choice here: the question is of taking the first step. If one waits for the next person to take the first step, well, this bit is not written for sure. That first step will remain as distant as ever!

I was at the library looking for a few books to read in the India Collection. A (good-looking) girl walked up to me and started observing the books. She started talking (to me, it was apparent) that these were all history books and asked “where is fiction?” I replied, “Fiction is on the other side.”

A moment later, it struck me how the make-believe industry works: history, when crosses over to the other side, turns into fiction!

Strangely, a series of events in my life over the past few months have been taking quite similar a shape, to the stories that I read in the books just before those events happened. It started with Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh. I ignored the coincidence, considering it a one-off, thinking that Uma Saraswati and Moraes Zogoiby cannot happen in real life.

The next one was spooky. I finished God’s Little Soldier, by Kiran Nagarkar, which revolves around the life of a scholar-turned-Jihadi. A week later, I was standing right outside The Trident, witnessing 40 hours out of the 60-hour long siege, trying to get my clients evacuated out of the doomed hotel.

It will be about a month after the incident, but I still get flashbacks of the place. And now, there are some advocates of waging a war against Pakistan, while some stand at the other extreme. As if both these lot know what ensues if India exercises either of the two extremes!

Personally, I am not against a war for any humanitarian or secular reasons at all. But, considering the outcome of a military attack on a neighbouring country, which has huge disparities in itself, and breaking it up into pieces, it appears that India is likely to add quite a bit to its already heavy kitty of troubles.

On the other hand, it surprises me beyond limits that, citizens of a country which does not have enough cash to buy toilet paper to wipe off their arses are so keen to help out their neighbourhood in tackling its population problems. So much at the cost of their own lives! This degree of altruism is quite an outlier for my naïve comprehension.

Back to books! Next, I read Vikas Swaroop’s Q&A, the novel upon which the now famous film Slumdog Millionaire is based. A couple of days after I finished it, I find myself working with my clients at Dharavi, one of the largest slums of Asia! A small thing, but it was spooky enough to keep me thinking.

I have now picked up Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. In Taleb’s words, the book talks of understanding the fact that, events which defy our expectations make the logic of ‘what you don’t know’ far more relevant that what you do know. I am curious to figure out what will happen after I finish this one!

More importantly, if something really spooky happens, which book should I pick up next?

Maqtoob!

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