Murder he thought

It wasn’t just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat. “Shoooh!” he cried, but the cat simply ignored his threat and continued to stare at the bloodied mess on the floor, then looked at him and purred as if to ask, “What do you propose to do now?”

“Well, you have any ideas?” he asked the cat, who didn’t seem to have any good ideas either and, instead, chose to turn away, walking thoughtfully to a corner and take a place next to a shattered vase.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he thought, “Not on my off day, I get only one day in a week for God’s sake.” The cat seemed to agree and made that stupid noise that cat’s make when they have nothing better to do, which irritated him more.

He cursed the cat again but this time it didn’t completely ignore him, just stretched its neck and cocked its head a bit, as if to say “Come again?” And when he didn’t, the majestic feline decided to go back to ignoring him once again. A decidedly wisely look came over its furry face, as if it was chewing over the predicament slumped in disarray on the floor.

The mess, any mess, can be cleaned up, provided you wanted it cleaned up. He remembered reading something to that effect somewhere back in the days when he used to read to take his mind off pressing matters instead of smoking up.

Meanwhile, the blood-soaked problem on the floor was silently crying out for his attention and increasingly he was finding it difficult to ignore it anymore.

Even the cat was restless now and it got up to take a closer look at the crisis at hand and slowly lowered itself next to it, its whiskers quivering with what seemed to be anticipation.

The bright noon sun peeping through the curtains, almost blinding him,  shook him our of his reverie. He really needed to do something. With no idea as to what, he just went looking for a beer in the fridge.

Suddenly, his mind cleared. Maybe the long swig on an empty stomach jolted him, and he decided to act, finally. But he was still holding the beer bottle and had to finish that first. Besides, he needed to think some more. “I can’t think, drink beer and clean up this mess at the same time,” he thought in his defence and stared at the floor half expecting to see only the empty beer bottles, newspapers and cigarette butts lying about as usual.

“All I wanted was to win the game. And this is the price I pay for wanting to win a piddly game of chess? He could have just let me win, stupid bugger,” he muttered angrily to no one in particular, but the cat nodded all the same.

He felt sad though. They were friends for a long time and he was a constant companion where ever he went. Even in office. In fact, he was his only friend. “And now he is dead. You could have just let me win you fool just this once?,” he thought again regretting his friend’s stupidity.

At the back of his mind he always knew that his friend was better than him in everything and secretly hated him for it. “He always got the girl even when I spoke to her first. I did all the hard work didn’t I?. Even in office the few times the editor praised my copies he pushed me aside to claim the credit. And when something went wrong the boss never believed he fiddled with my copy and introduced the errors. Good riddance. I don’t even want to talk about the other times when he made me look stupid.”

The man felt dumb whining about his friend’s meanness to the cat, who seemed to be giving a sympathetic hearing by occasionally twitching his whiskers in agreement.

Suddenly, it occurred to him that this cat, which is not even his cat, could be the reason behind the day going so bad for him and shot a menacing look at the animal. This time the feline didn’t ignore the threat and moved just as the empty beer bottle crashed at the place he was perched till a moment ago. The cat was giving him a wary look now, ready to leap again, just in case.

“Damn! More mess. I should just burn this place down,” he thought. “Yeah!” The idea appealed to him and his eyes lit up.

——–

The man woke up to a stench of burnt flesh, feeling very thirsty. He tried to look around and felt a stab of pain all over his body as he tried to move. “Where am I?” he thought as his eyes took in the sight of what looked like a hospital ward.

The attending nurse came rushing seeing the John Doe move for the first time in two days. “Can’t you hear? Give me some water,” he cried at the top of his voice. But the nurse seemed not to hear and kept leaning closer.

It was then that horror struck. Through the corner of his eyes he saw his friend standing and smiling mysteriously petting a cat. “He should be dead, why’s he here, and that cat, that cat…” A weary calm descended on him as the room grew darker. He closed his eyes and wondered if he was dying.

PS: The opening line courtesy Neil Gaiman.

An unfinished tale…

Most wives are married to their husbands. Mine is married to my money. Well, that’s not a complaint really, just a statement, or an observation if you like.

The funny part is I like her and even loved her once. But that was before, when we were just friends. Then we fell in love and got married.

Now I just like her. Mostly because she is so honest about her intentions I mean she doesn’t say it in so many words, but makes it very clear. Of course she makes it a point to say how much she loves me but I think we both know what she means. Told you, she loves my money!

Again, I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.

It’s good in a way you know you need someone to spend your money. So I let her do what she does best and I do what I do best – tell stories. How do you think I made all this money?

But I’ll let you in on a secret – I feel no ownership for this money, because I don’t have to sweat for it. All I do is sit at home in my air-conditioned cubicle and jab away at the keyboard of my computer. And the AC is as you know meant to keep you from sweating. So no sweat and a lot of money!

People tell me that writing stories and novels must be such a demanding exercise. Not many people can do it. I tell them “Yeah I am kind of lucky. Not many people can make so much money just by writing.” Although, I bet there must be many people who can write, and much better than those like me who make money out of their writing.

Contrary to what people say, what I do is not demanding at all. Sometimes I feel like a typist who’s taking notes from someone. I feel like a real ghostwriter – someone who takes notes from a ghost. I like to think that the ghost who dictates the stories is not the spirit of a successful writer, but someone who never managed to get hold of a publisher. So I am his (it could be her as well) medium through which this person, the ghost I mean, is telling his untold stories.

Good for him and good for me. It would have been quite a strain on my brain if I had to think up all that I have ever written.

It’s not that I never thought up anything. There are times when this ghost writer goes through a block and clams up. Then I have to put on my thinking cap and I do sometimes come up with nice lines but that is nothing really. That’s just filling in the blanks. And I can’t do that for long because soon my mind is blank and aching and I am left staring at the blank computer screen. Then I go back to waiting for the good ghost to start thinking for me again.

Wait, I think my wife has come back, home I mean. And boy she looks loaded, with expensive-looking stuff of course, after all she was away the whole day, shopping I assume. By the way did I tell you that my wife used to be very pretty? Well, my friends say so and even strangers seem to say it with their eyes that she still is.

But anyway she’ll walk in now, give me a hug from behind and say something as inane as: “I got this most amazing pair of shoes, it’s lovely and costs almost nothing!” And I would say “I am sure” with the minutest hint of sarcasm, which rarely goes undetected.

She’s a brain and a half, an exquisitely smart woman who left me for my money. Sometimes I wonder why she pretends to be dumb saying all these inane, stupid things. Guess she tries to provoke me into reacting.

“Yes baby you were saying?” “Nothing” she says.

Now this word, isn’t it like a transparent glass wall which you realize is there only after you’ve banged your nose against it? By now I have understood that when a woman says nothing it means there’s something and that something she’ll expect you to figure out. How? That’s your problem and you’re damned if you don’t.

“So what else did you buy just the shoes?” I ask in a rather lame attempt to peep around the “nothing” to see if there’s something. But it’s not the right time it seems.

My wife has gone to cool off. She stomped out saying a lot of things and the gist of which is I am a downright insensitive person and that I don’t care about her anymore. Which is true – I really don’t care about her but I take offense to being called insensitive because I am not. I am very sensitive and take it personally if someone calls me insensitive.

Sometimes I really feel I should put an end to this. But like I said I used to love her.

Today is my wife’s funeral. Sad day. It’s raining like crazy and her relatives are still crying. Even the heavens are sad over this untimely death, they are saying. I had to agree with them because I got this sneaky feeling that they are eyeing me with suspicion.

Disclaimer:- Wrote this nearly an year ago in a state of absolute drunkenness in the middle of the night then forgot all about it till I found it on my laptop while deleting old files some days back. This “Unfinished tale” has nothing to do with any person living or dead, least of all me!

Why I don’t support Anna

I’m sure Anna Hazare or his thousands of supporters across the country wouldn’t give a damn about whether or not one man in some corner of the city supports their cause. But I am going to exercise my freedom of speech anyway.

I am not convinced. Fighting corruption? I am all for it, all of us are. But how? By bringing in yet another law?

One of my economics professors used to say no policy is a bad policy it’s the implementation or those who implement it are bad.

I think the same argument applies to the laws. When the existing laws are not being implemented properly what’s the point of bringing another one?

Take the case of the Right to Information Act. This law is meant to check corruption but I am not sure if it has had the desired effect. The common man still has to grovel at the feet of the faceless babus and clerks and wet his beak to get work done.

And ironically enough, there are cases where people have had to bribe even to exercise their right to information. Not to speak of a man who applied to the MCD for an information under the RTI Act and the answer he got was — Tu chutiya hai (it was even reported by the media) !

There goes the power of the anti-corruption tool which was hailed as the ultimate answer to graft when it was enacted.

So what does “Team Anna” plans to achieve with the Jan Lokpal Bill (as opposed to the Lokpal Bill drafted by the govt)?

Let’s say Anna has his way. The witless, rudderless government gives in and agrees to his major demands of bringing the PM and the judiciary under the Lokpal ambit. What then?

Parliament will pass the Bill into a law that will create the post of a “super bureaucrat” with the designation Lokpal. Only it will not be an individual but a panel of members with its own bureaucratic setup.

According to a report, the Lokpal’s office will need at least 15,000 investigators to begin with. I can’t even begin to imagine the mammoth task this office has to undertake and the bureaucratic maze it will spawn considering we are a country of more than a billion people.

And the biggest question that has been haunting me for a while now is who will guarantee the honesty and integrity of the members of the Lokpal and these thousands who will be employed by this high office?

Granted that Anna’s Bill envisages the sacking of any Lokpal member who is found to be corrupt. But who do you go to if your grievances against a Lokpal member or employee is not addressed?

After all even the courts are meant to give justice but does everyone get justice there? Or for that matter the RTI Act does it always help? So who do you go to if the Lokpal with its all encompassing powers of surveillance, investigation and prosecution fails to help you?

Frankly, I am reminded of a flop science fiction movie called Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stalone. Judge Dredd had all the powers that Anna’s Lokpal will have. But like I said it was a science fiction movie and a bad one at that!

Fizzy trip on a soccer night!

On the night of the Germany-Spain semi-final I was invited by a friend to join him at the German embassy to see the game live on giant screens they had put up for the event.

I was further enticed by the prospect of guzzling free beer, which I was told, would be flowing freely, which it did. Germans are a generous lot, at home or away, I can tell you by experience.

Entering the embassy, the first thing I noticed apart from the giant screen and the huge mostly Desi gathering with a smattering of expats, was an empty bottle of Becks.

Even if a pretty woman were to look into my eyes right then she would have only seen a reflection of the lovely green bottle in my widened eyes!

For an extra-long moment, soccer crashed out of my mind, the roaring crowd went mute and then disappeared, and I was transported to a chilly summer evening in Berlin walking back to my apartment with a six-packer of Becks in my hand.

That was my second day in the city and I was on a little walk to checkout the quiet neighbourhood in the Gesundbrunnen district. At the local utility store that day I made friends with Gunther, the owner, and he introduced me to Becks.

It is among the top five brands of beer in Germany and is exported to more than a 100 countries from its brewery in Bremen. Wonder if its sold in India!

There were other brands at Gunther’s shop like Krombacher, Berliner Kindle, and Oettinger, which incidentally is the largest selling brand in Germany. But seeing my puzzled look he gave a thumbs up for Becks and I picked it up.

A Ger-Man (even women) knows his beer, follow him if you’re new and you wouldn’t go wrong!

From then on it became a ritual. Every other day after wandering about in the city taking the U-bahn trains to random destinations, I would drop by at Gunther’s shop near the Neuner Platz station and he would keep a Becks six-packer and a pack of Marlboro ready for me.

I was forced to switch to Marlboro because my stock of Navy Cuts taken from India lasted three days and Marlboro was the only one I had smoked back home. Later I was to discover that the French Gauloises and the American Pall Mall cigarettes weren’t too bad either.

Back to Gunther, he also graciously agreed to become an occasional guinea pig for my German language experiments, which began with the harmless Guten Abend (good evening) to such complicated lines as “Ich habe ein Becks und ein Marlboro”!

He always smilingly bore my linguistic assaults!

In between guzzling gazillion litres of beer every evening and chomping on tonnes of sausages and millions of Doner Kebaps, I also experimented with the German wines. The Reiseling whites soon became a favourite and also the Dornfelder reds.

But when you’re in Germany and living on a budget, it’s got to be about the beers. The world knows how strongly the Germans feel about their beers even though they probably come after the Irish and the Czechs in terms of consumption.

But just how strongly they feel about it could be summed up like this — if it’s not brewed in Germany it’s not a beer! They even have a 500-year-old law known as Reinheitsgebot or the “Bavarian beer purity law” which states that a beer can only have three components — water, barley and hops (a flowering plant used to lend flavour).

Enjoying a dark beer and a Marlboro at a mountain-top restaurant on the Alps near Munich.

Most beer manufacturers still make a declaration on the bottles of their adherence to the purity law even though its now an open secret that yeasts have become the fourth component in modern breweries.

(Pardon me if it is beginning to read like an academic thesis on German beers!)

Going back to the emotional quotient of beers for the Germans, I am reminded of this incident in Cologne while we were on a tour of some of the big cities, visiting the prominent media houses there.

Cologne has its own special brand of beer — a light brew inexplicably served in small glasses — like every other city and region in the country. It’s called Kölsch. (I could never get the pronunciation of Kölsch or Köln as Cologne is called in German, right!)

While having dinner at a restaurant by the Rhine, our German instructor was telling me about the traditional rivalry between Cologne and its neighbouring city Dusseldorf, which has its own brand of beer called Alt.

He said if you asked for Alt here you might get beaten up or if you’re lucky thrown out of the restaurant and the Dusseldorfers would do the same. Hilarious as it sounds, Mathias said why don’t you try when the waiter comes to take the drink orders, being a foreigner you might get away with just a frown!

As I was preparing to do the “unthinkable”, Mathias being a German did the unthinkable by asking for Alt and sure enough a frown crossed the waiter’s face, which may have degenerated into something worse had he not seen me smiling and then he smiled back realising that my German host was only giving a practical demonstration of the Kölsch-Alt rivalry.

Having throughly beered myself in nearly every big city in the two months I lived in Germany, I am left with only one regret that I missed the Oktoberfest in Munich by a month.

The statue of Goddess Bavaria overlooks the ground where Oktoberfest is held.

Walking by the statue of Bavaria — the patron goddess of the region — overlooking the huge grounds on which this Bavarian beer festival is held, I had made a wish to be there someday when the ground overflows with beer tents!

My reverie was broken as my friend nudged me towards the rows of Becks bottles lined up for the guests. With a heavy heart I drank, saw Germany lose the match and cussed at a rejoicing Spain supporter. “Why aren’t you at the Spanish embassy?” I wanted to say!

The city at the end of the earth

Many nights ago when this thought came I was nearly asleep. I dream a lot, even when I’m sleeping and probably had started dreaming when my eyes popped open with the thought — what is the farthest place on earth one could go to?

If this sounds like a metaphorical question about life, the universe and everything,  then let me explain.

It is a purely geographical question. There must be a finite distance one can travel to from point A (say where I live) and point B somewhere on the other end of the globe, which is the maximum distance one can travel considering the earth is round, or spherical or spheroid or whatever.

And so I woke up, booted my laptop and invoked Google Baba, who has the answer to every question! In hindsight, if Google was around when Douglas Adams was writing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he could have easily found out the answer “to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”.

However, not expecting a particularly brilliant answer, I keyed in the phrase “what is the farthest place on earth” and bingo Google Baba threw up a few probable answers.

Lima is the absolute farthest point on earth from New Delhi. (Top) Plaza Mayor (Middle) Skyline of Lima (Bottom left) Palace of Justice (Bottom right) Plaza San Martin.

Reading through the second entry in the search result, it turned out that an American expat named Brandon Hoover living in Jakarta, Indonesia was visited by the same question even before me. I don’t know if he too woke up in the middle of the night to ponder over the question.

Nevertheless, his blog entry made my life easy. He had it all figured out. In fact, he spelt out in five easy steps on how to use Google Earth’s ruler tool to arrive at the point on the globe that is the farthest from where you live.

I’m assuming that Brandon must have been missing his home state Michigan when he set out to find if his adopted city Jakarta is the farthest point on earth from home, but to his amusement he found out that it was barely 9,856 miles!

His blog entry reads: “I previously thought my home state of Michigan was pretty far from here. I was wrong: it’s only 9,856 miles from Jakarta. It turns out Bogota, Colombia is close to being the absolute farthest place from Jakarta at 12,436 miles. (The opposite side of the globe from Michigan is a place 1,300 miles off the west coast of Australia).”

Armed with the knowledge I set about finding the place farthest from the place I live in (though I didn’t dare even telling myself that some day I would visit the place!). The steps are easy in case you would like to find out yourself the place farthest from yours.

  • Open Google Earth
  • Click on the “ruler” tool (or measure tool)
  • Left click on your starting point
  • Drag the ruler around the world until the ruler swivels around (therefore finding a shorter route)
  • Left click again to mark the place. Voila. Somewhere around 12,400 miles is the farthest place from your starting point. (Courtesy: Brandon Hoover)

After several failed attempts at manoeuvering the ruler I arrived at the place that is the absolute farthest point on the globe from my city. Can you guess the country?

I was stunned to see the name of the place Google Earth was pointing at — Lima, the capital of Peru, which is a little less than 12,400 miles from my city. (Technically the exact point was Hormigas de Afuera, an uninhabited island off the coast of Peru, but I approximated it to the nearest city.)

I interpreted Google Earth pointing at Lima as a divine indication that  my life-long dream — Project Machhu Pichuu — is on!

A spooky yarn!

I don’t believe in ghosts when its day. At night it’s different. It’s dark and you can’t see so well, which makes it easier for them to lurk around. So I grudgingly admit their existence mostly because if they do exist I don’t want to offend their sensibilities.

Now, if you go about bandying that you don’t believe in ghosts, one of them might just take it upon himself or (more scarily) herself just to prove a point.

So I keep myself suitably scared at night to avoid provoking the hell’s angels from dropping by to say hello. I believe in peaceful co-existence with them, one that does not require crossing each other’s path.

Having said that I have some strong likes and dislikes about certain things related to them. For instance, I hate watching horror movies.

I hate myself for getting spooked by them so easily. No self-respecting man should get spooked by these phony ghosts who have disfigured faces, big teeth and gooey stuff oozing out of them.

And for god’s sake why can’t the women in these movies just stick to their rooms? It beats me why they have to go exploring the haunted villa or take a bath in the middle of the night.

The ghosts seem to love catching them in the bathroom, naked. Not that I am complaining, but I get too psyched up by here-the-ghost-appears background music to even enjoy the sight.

But I love listening to ghost stories. In fact, I know quite a few so-called (peace be upon them) real-life stories. Fortunately, I don’t have a first-hand tale of my own.

One of my favourite stories is from my college days at Banaras Hindu University. It’s an ancient tale about one of the hostels located outside the campus. If you have been to Banaras you may have noticed a haveli diagonally opposite the street that leads to the famous Sankat Mochan temple.

This majestic building known as the Mahendrawi hostel was said to be the palace of Maharaja of Dungarpur. Legend has it that the maharaja sold off this palace after his queen committed suicide in her bedroom on the second floor of the building (can’t vouch for the historical accuracy).

It was bought by the owners of a Hindi daily called Aaj in the late 20s. The newspaper’s office functioned from this building for a few years till four of its late-shift employees were found dead in the morning under mysterious circumstances.

It is said that there was no injury mark on their bodies, only their faces betrayed an expression of horror — one can only guess what they saw before dying.

After this incident the building was abandoned again and it became known as a haunted house. Some years later, the Banaras Hindu University took over the palace and turned it into a hostel. It was in the 30s and the sprawling campus had yet to come up.

The university authorities probably figured that young men living there wouldn’t give a damn about ghosts. But they took a precaution and closed the staircase to the second floor on which the maharani had killed herself and those unfortunate newspapermen who were found dead.

To give you an idea of the hostel layout, it was a square structure with a huge courtyard in the centre. The rooms were on three sides as you entered the building from the main entrance with a corridor running across on the three flanks.

Room No 10 in which the story unfolds, is right across the courtyard in the corridor facing the main entrance. It is said that every evening after dark the occupant of the room had a visitor — a young woman.

Here you must remember it is the 30s I’m talking about. A woman visitor that too after dark was an oddity (it is even now) to say the least.

But the occupant of the room for some reason did not find it odd. It is said that the woman came at an appointed time, chatted with the guy for exactly an hour and then left.

Since there was no electricity and the rooms had single occupants, it took a while for the other students to discover that their hostel had a woman visitor every evening.

They began teasing the guy, but since he was a reticent sort, the teasing was not much fun. They used to ask him doesn’t he find it strange that a woman should come to a men’s hostel late in the evening?

But he would just shrug off their queries saying what’s wrong if she comes here? We chat for a while and then she goes.

She always came and sat on the chair right next to the door on the right hand side with her dupatta hanging by the door which remained open. No one knows what they talked.

Some of his fellow students even tried to sneak up through the corridor and try to listen in but they couldn’t make out for sure what they talked. They even tried to follow her after she left the room but always lost her just after she went out of the main gate.

So one day they hatched a plan to find out where this girl comes from. One of the guys sneaked up to the door and tied a thin black thread to her dupatta that always hung by the door while she sat there. They made sure it was a big spool of thread.

After the girl left with the thread still tied they followed her but again lost her right after she went out of their sight into the dark street. There were no streetlamps then.

But this time they knew that the thread would give her away. The boys woke up at the crack of dawn to follow the thread and see where it leads.  The entire bundle of the thread had unspooled. So they followed the black thread out of the hostel.

There’s an alley that leads to the back of the building. They followed the thread patiently and finally where it led had their jaws dropping and legs shaking with fear.

The sun was about to rise and they saw the black thread going down an abandoned well.

Lore has it that the woman never came back after that.

I don’t know how authentic this story is, it could be the figment of some one’s imagination that got passed on from one generation to the other, but old-timers say there used to be a well right behind the hostel.

PS: I hear the hostel has been sold off by the university and a mall or an apartment block will come up in its place. So many of my memories and ghostly tales will get buried in the ruins of this heritage building.

Imaginary conversations

One of my favourite pass times is holding imaginary conversations with people. Only rarely are these conversations happy.

Mostly because they are with people who’ve made me unhappy in some way or with those whom I have unwittingly hurt. These conversations are a great way of setting things right.

Things that I should have set right but didn’t or couldn’t because I either lacked courage or the will to do it.

It’s like a replay of the real events, only this time it plays in your head and turns out just the way you wanted it to instead of the way it actually happened.  So there you are changing an event that has happened already.

For instance, you acted like a coward in the afternoon on the metro when you didn’t stand up to a creep trying to feel a girl half his age and then you spend the rest of the day giving shit to that bastard — in your mind.

I wonder if this happens only to me.

Such imaginary talks are not always grim though. Some times they are funny too. Funny at my expense!

For example, that smart one-liner that didn’t come at the right moment and you said something dumb instead. It’s only later that the right repartee comes and then you replay the scene again with the right lines and imagine the reaction.

So you see these little talks that I have with myself are a great leveller. They help me redeem myself a bit in my own eyes even though in my heart of hearts I know what a coward or a dumb ass I am.

I could write a PhD thesis on imaginary conversations. I am kind of an expert on that. Been at it since my childhood. I can even classify them.

They are broadly of three kinds — post-incident, pre-incident and those that in most likelihood will never happen in real life.

Out of the three variations I can’t quite say which one is the most frequent in my case but quality-wise I would say the last category is the most satisfying.

Mostly because in an imaginary conversation that you know is never going to take place you’re in complete control — of the setting, of the topic and even your opponent (for want of a better word) since you are the script writer.

But it is also the most tricky of the three variations. You have to be completely honest and fair because there will always be the temptation to make you easily win the imaginary war of words.

So as the scriptwriter of the conversation you have to act in all fairness. But if you fall prey to the temptation it will leave you with a sense of dissatisfaction. You would know that you didn’t give the other person a chance. This insider’s knowledge will take away the zing from your victory.

I mostly win such a conversation or argument, but I like to think that I always give my adversary a fighting chance based on my idea of the person and his or her argumentative abilities.

But it becomes trickier if you are talking/debating/arguing with a person you don’t know. That is exactly what I have been doing the whole day.

I have a job interview tomorrow and I have already played it out in my mind. I have even put an imaginary face to my interviewers and as you can guess I have managed to impress them!

The only hitch is I am about half-a-day away from the interview and not in a very relaxed mood. At least not as relaxed and confident as I have imagined myself to be the whole day at the imaginary interview played out between my ears.