Monday, December 8, 2008

Ethical Or Not?

Last week, I had written about the system of interviewing people, in whatever form that may be. I was thinking more of formal interviews, and particularly those that smack of a lack of transparency. Those that are predicated on whimsical clashes of 'I like it' and 'I like it not'. It wasn't actually about interviews where you have no idea who the person is and know nothing about the politics of your fellow interviewers. I need to make this clarification because there is a crucial difference. I say this from my own experience, which, as it were, I don't offer as a source of legitimacy. There is a tendency for interviews to be based on some very twisted and mostly incomprehensible system of subterranean knowledge. Whether everyone on the panel is complicit in the pilfering and peddling of under-hand opinions is variable – in some interviews, all the blokes who conduct it are already of a similar disposition. In some, they are not, and have no idea who you are. In the first, there is a slightly illicit twist in the tail. The entire process is more or less ritualized in a way that will enable these pre-conceptions to determine the outcome. This doesn't imply that the process is 'rigged'. It may not be. It might be entirely scrupulous and completed in earnest, but this doesn't detract from the fact of its being shaped, or mislead as the case may be, by certain vicissitudes of the little game of 'gossip'. Gossip, here, is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be useful, very often verifiable, and informative. It might comprise the very essential details of a person's background. Even then, it should not constitute the basis for the outcome.

A serious problem in this argument is its corollary, which is, if the outcome is based entirely on the interview and nothing else, would that make it legitimate? It's a question too riddled for anyone to answer. I have always been apprehensive of saying anything about it. Would it make it more legitimate? What if the person in question is in fact someone who deserves to be part of the thing/group in question, but performs miserably? What if the person has the pre-requisites, but is unable to articulate his positions? What if the person has a perfectly coherent stance on a particular issue, anything, but is reticent and reluctant to speak? Does it then make it all right for someone to use a priori information to influence the outcome?

Perhaps it does. In which case, we arrive once again, tautologically, at the beginning of the argument. If an interview is not essentially the only criterion of something, does it not make it more of a redundancy? What is to say, then, that the interview is necessary at all? One can argue that since it is a recognizable and rational means of selection, it should be invested with the importance and primacy due to it. All these other interfering factors – forged opinions, second-hand details about others – should be relegated to its deserving place, the privacy of one's own judgment, not in the open for others to misuse.

In the case of the other kind of process, they don't know who you are. That helps in two ways – they have no pre-formed notions about you, anything they know or learn about you is not from hearsay but from the concrete presentation of facts. Now whether these 'facts' are authentic or not is the domain of another moral dilemma; for this one, let's assume that they are. The people conducting it essentially have only one thing in mind – the completion of a 'job', the job of procuring some information, the job of hiring some worker, the job of allocating a position, anything. It doesn't constitute anything apart from the clinical selection of someone systematically. It doesn't affect them socially. They don't need to think about it in terms of who their particular 'favourites' are. The difference in this case is that there is an enormous possibility in the system of (relatively unknown people) being selected on the basis of being an affiliate of one of the people on the panel, without the others being aware of it. Or otherwise, there is also the issue of 'unaccounted-for vendetta'. I use the term not from some general lexicon, but from my own understanding of it. It refers to the kind of vendetta certain people suddenly and unaccountably have about someone else. It is really very formless and sub-intelligent. It cannot be understood rationally, but is ever-gnawing all the same: something about the other person simply, inexplicably 'pisses them off'. In all such instances, the said other person is confronted with a grave situation of hopelessness. He is put, without being conscious of it, in a dangerous place, and is left without a chance to rationally defend himself. It is a kind of psychological rape. Only more perverse, more wrong and more botched.

This is somehow linked to the question of the power of asking questions. The pre-ordained Next Prime Minister of the country was here to speak of it. I don't quite know what he was referring to, but sometimes the whole questions-debate is riddled with too many fatuities. It's much simpler put this way: very often, in class or outside, wherever, people are too dumbfounded to ask any questions because there is no legitimate reason to ask questions. It often is the case that the questions that are asked of us are also equally incongruous and rhetorical. Questions like, 'What is the man saying to the woman?', 'What is the meaning of this word?', 'Why have you chosen to study the subject?', sometimes warrant silence and nothing else. It is annoying to have a deadpan moment after questions like these, but they can't be helped.

Also, nowadays, the interaction we have with those who ask these questions, i.e. our teachers, is perfunctory. We walk into class, we walk out of it, nothing else matters. We are simply cogs in a machine. It hardly counts if any one piece of the gargantuan system simply sputters and dies out. There is always a replacement. Who cares?

I Feel Therefore I Suck?: Hey, You, What The Heck Are You Passionate About!

So you're at an interview and they all want to know what you are passionate about. It takes a while for someone to size up the interviewee. There are several things that they want to find out; if you are interested, if you are interesting, if you have the right qualifications, and if, essentially, you fit the bill. It takes a while to seize the moment – to say the right things, to make the right choices. While you sit there, they stare at you relentlessly. They think up questions, you think up answers, and everyone is always trying to think of things to say. The only thing that makes sense to anyone is the idea that both of you are there for a purpose, and until that is decided, you're both going to be stuck in your respective positions.

Sometimes, the most interesting moments are those when no one has anything to say. It takes a while for the moment to sink in. But when it does, it is incredibly interesting; the most fascinating interplay of mutual silences, when no one can come up with a filler to kill the deadpan silence. It is the best moment; people look away. They twirl their pens and pencils and doodle on the scraps of paper in front of them. They make notes sometimes, but you keep wondering what they could possibly infer from the silence; notes like, The subject is currently staring into nothing-ness, awaiting further inquisition. You think, They are currently looking at my face and searching it for possible hints of awkwardness. No, I am not awkward, but they do look eager and desperate to find some evidence of it. Why? Why are they so desperate to discover my awkwardness? Why are they so eager to want me to leave?

At other times, the questioning gets intense and very convivial. They have a lot to ask you. They have a lot that they want to know about you. What have you done, my man? What have you completed? What have I completed? Let's see. I have looked at people and stared at them inside metro trains. I have scribbled on the doors of public toilets and left expletives for unknown people to read. I have washed my undergarments in the river outside. I have waited for people to feed me, to clothe me, to make me drink. I have waited for their affection and recognition. I have done several things. Which of these are you most excited about? Oh, I should like to know more about the dirty words left on toilet doors. Alright. I'll tell you about them. Once, on the door of a very expensive hotel in the city, I accused a very senior government guy of something that could qualify him for immediate arrest under Section 377 of the IPC. I also left certain sage words of advice for his wife and children. I asked them to restrain his use of the internet, where he voraciously expends a lot of his already diminished store of energy. I asked them to hire a whole platoon of female secretaries and officers, instead of the other more vulnerable sex.

I also always make it a point to celebrate my friend's birthday. We eat, we drink, we make merry and then we fall off to sleep. Could I hear some more on that? Yes, sir, but I should prefer not to repulse your genteel sentiments. I should also not like to discuss such matters in public.

So essentially, what we have is a whole sequence of happy interchanges and witty bantering, some serious inquisitiveness, and a lot of earnest face-making. You make your earnest face and you wait for them to make their earnest faces; they inevitably do. But it shocks you how different your imitation is from theirs. Yours looks like a dog masquerading as a puppy. Theirs looks like a hog masquerading as a sheep. The analogy is difficult to understand unless you know that dogs bark and puppies whimper, pigs store fat and sheep generally shear their wool in abundance.

That brings us to the ultimate question: Hey, you, what the heck are you passionate about? Who me? I don't know: I feel sometimes that the world needs to change. I feel that people refuse to think rationally and misinterpret what is meant by others when they vent themselves and express themselves in angry words and deeds, misuse what is given to them. I feel that it needs to be a better place for people to live in, so that we all get to drink from the taps that line the end of off-track settlements and we all get to defecate in places where walls protect you from the humiliation of public spectacle. We all get to eat off plates that are made of metal; not some from porcelain and some off the pavement. We all get to travel to the airport in peace, not some in cars that travel like aeroplanes whose windows shun the world like bastions against the filth just an inch outside the existence of metallic doors, or others packed in truckloads hauled up for the shouting of welcome cheers upon the arrival of Very Important Persons. I'm passionate about the fact the everybody needs land, everybody feels the need to own what is his. I like the man who spoke the other evening and said that the 700 battalions in Kashmir need 100 acres of land each. That each battalion approximately has 1,000 soldiers, totaling 700,000 soldiers in all, all of whom have been deployed to fight 750 Terrorists. I feel for those 57 who died in the Amarnath protests, and those other 2,000 who sustained bullet injuries in their upper body, marking them out as fortuitous targets. I feel for them all. But that's not all. I feel for many other things.

None of them, however, will make you smile and say, it's alright, you can bugger off now.

Love thy Enemy

It would be false and pretentious to say that Argon had no idea they acted the way they did. Of course he did; he spent innumerable hours walking the corridors of the Bam Bam School, sauntering in their library, listening to people as they spoke to him, doing quiet, soporific things after school, especially in dilapidated park-seats. In fact, he felt he knew almost everything there was to know about them. He knew that if one of them said that something between them would be strictly confidential, that piece of information would find itself in either of two places: as an announcement at assembly, for the consumption of a multitude of shouting, hollering Bam Bams; or as a large, declamatory poster on the bulletin board for the literary exercise of very bored Bam Bams as they promenaded the corridors instead of being in class. He knew that if they said they would be having a quiet get-together soon, it meant they would have selected for themselves one humungous building with nice loos (to be desecrated), and nice, big sofas (to be blemished), and invite by the truck-load anonymous carriers of the Substance. He knew that if they said they were 'friends' – oh, man – if they said they were friends, he knew he had only one thing to do: RUN.

Eventually, he realized that he did know enough about the Bam Bams to warrant some sort of association with them. Argon wasn't the sort of person who would keep quiet about something. If he felt he needed to tell someone about the possibility of spending time with the other person, he did exactly that. He didn't need to pretend it was a manipulated pre-cursor to being invited home, because it wasn't. How ridiculous. If the world was only made up of people who spent time together because they wanted to mutually participate in hebdomadal self-flagellation, it would indeed be a very different place. Let's just assume for a moment it isn't.

Now, Bally-sha (sex: F) and Bhaiya-rub (sex: M), two remarkable friends were walking home one day, when Bally-sha noticed that her phone was missing. Obviously, it was a very shocking realization. She had never lost her phone before. Her mom of course wouldn't mind her losing one at all. She would probably just pop another one from the first-aid kit at home and FedEx it to school from across the road.

Not that Bally-sha was a very conscientious person; she lost several things annually in the course of the year: boyfriends, girlfriends, contraceptives, many things. So it didn't really matter at all. But this time, she and Argon had planned a little meeting after school; they had decided to eat a hot-dog each at the mall nearby. It wasn't a very impressive thing to do; I mean, after all, she was supposed to be away from home as often as possible, why waste this opportunity? And even though Argon thought both Bally-sha and Bhaiya-rub looked a bit too prosperous otherwise for the number of times they simply ate off him, he didn't question their assumed indigent behaviour. He thought it made them rather revolutionary, pretending they were poor. How considerate of them to emulate the condition of the truly helpless!

So as Bally-sha and Bhaiya-rub ran back to school, not to search for the phone, but to get together with Argon, Bhaiya-rub called up Rohan Bad-annie (sex: N/A). Bad-annie was one of those people Bally-sha and Bhaiya-rub always called up when something exciting happened. It could be absolutely anything: two dogs procreating on the road, a woman wearing Chanel, someone saying into a TV camera, 'Bonjour, je suis Michel Adam', a transvestite shouting after them to pay up, anything. Occasionally, some really exciting things happened, like Bally-sha would go on a date. Then, lo and behold, they would have to devise ways to surreptitiously hang around the unsuspecting man. They never got caught.

Argon had no idea that this would be occasion for one of their little hee-hee-haw-haw operations. It seemed so wasteful; after all, he only wanted to eat hot-dogs, that's it. Where he came from, eating hot-dogs meant simply eating hot-dogs, it certainly didn't mean, 'I want to marry you,' nor did it mean, 'We shall be eating more than hot-dogs'/ 'Please be my hot-dog'. It was one of those insuperable qualities of the Bam Bams he didn't know about. This time, as he headed off to eat hot-dogs around the street-corner, he saw Bally-sha looking all flustered and heart-broken. She was the very image of distress. She narrated to him the entire saga of the lost phone, and looked so pitiful and lachrymose, that Argon offered to pay for the hot-dogs again. He felt it was the right thing to do. Behind them, Bad-annie and Bhaiya-rub sniggered close to one another, occasionally pointing to where they were standing. Bally-sha, once in a while, gave them a clandestine wave and smile, as if everything was going just fine. The two never said a word to each other the whole time. They just sat there and giggled. How lovely together they must have looked to passers-by.

But suddenly Bally-sha, in a manner most unbecoming of Bam Bams, decided to desert the operation. She suddenly felt that this wasn't right. She swiftly whisked Argon away from the spot, so they couldn't see them anymore, and walked briskly to another place with benches. Argon was too busy trying to evaluate if the New York or Chicago was preferable, so he didn't notice that he had been taken away. He sat, never really saying a word to Bally-sha, eating quietly. On the other side, Bhaiya-rub and Bad-annie were becoming frantic. This was the penultimate turn of events.

The two had disappeared. Immediately, in a swooping gesture, they both drew out their phones and violently sent out messages to the Bam Bam fraternity. (Dedicated to Baddy.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

How To Play Dumb-Charades


E felt that the best part of any meal was dessert. It couldn’t be resisted. It couldn’t be supplanted. The effect of dessert to him was implacable, sweet and gooey. The texture made him grope toward it. The smell nauseated him immeasurably, in a nice kind of way, made him tingle. The thought of it made him salivate. As he sat there, in the middle of the crowded café, he felt all of these things again. It lay on a platter in front of him, waiting to be eaten, passively inciting him to devour it. He looked at it for a long time and then diverted his attention. He felt he had to look away. Something about the place was remarkably wrong.

He thought about home. The privacy of the kitchen. The warmth of his enclosed room. The blinds drawn across the windows. The little table beside the large dining one, encompassed invitingly by little stools on which he occasionally sat. He thought back to these things and imagined himself eating the dessert. It was so tasteful, the place, the food in his mouth, the complete, inviolable silence; it all staggered him. He made him feel strangely inadequate. All around him now, people jostled and crowded and sauntered in and out of the café. It was a ceaseless flow of a pushing crowd of faces. It frightened him. He felt afraid for the sanctity of dessert. It almost seemed brutally violated by the kind of noise around him.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. He hated the obstreperous café. But he disliked having to talk above the din even more. It was a friend.

He rarely chanced upon friends. He usually knew who he was to see, at what time precisely, and for what reason. He did sometimes meet them without any real plans as such. This he reserved for those close to him, because they always knew what to do; eventually, they wouldn’t need to make an additional effort. It would simply be worthwhile to do nothing, and just be in the other’s company. But it piqued him when he did need to make an effort. To resist the desire to ‘plan something out’. To resist the temptation to ask the same questions all over again; to keep away at safer distances the repetitive questions that scurried around in his mind impromptu when something like this came up.

But this time, he turned around to find someone he had met a couple of times the previous year, and was exceptionally glad to see. Later, he would have to change his mind.

He liked the way these chance encounters worked out. It didn’t involve any unnecessary thinking up of ‘plans’ on anyone’s part. Everything was left entirely to the flow of the moment. If something demanded instant attention, they didn’t fumble or titter around to distract themselves. For example, if they needed to know which way led to the office from the café, they wouldn’t trundle around the entire place, trying to let time pass by so deliberately so that they wouldn’t have to wait, sitting in the cane chairs; they would simply walk up to the office, intentionally getting the needed work done, without contrived attempts at being casual.

K stood behind E and waited for him to say something. It was usually like that. People waited for him to say something, always say something first, to which they could say something back. It annoyed him. But he liked it when K did that. It held a feeling of unanticipated expectation suspended in between. He thought he saw K divert his eyes and look toward someone else.

R stood in front of them both, and she giggled and giggled. She giggled interminably. She didn’t giggle just for those who could withstand it, but for everyone. Even those whose aural tendons flinched at the sound of her caterwauling noise. She tittered and swayed like a ridiculous pendulum, making every passed second go by most annoyingly. Everything seemed to hinge on the maniacal titter – her inauthentic presence in a full crowd, her passage from one table to another like a loitering, redundant school girl taken advantage of, wallowing in a slight, almost imperceptible bit of shyness.

It irritated E to be here. It annoyed him endlessly that he had to wait for no reason at all, to watch the tedium of their interaction, their trying to talk to one another, their need to be seen together. It made him feel like a spectator in an already defunct performance of limbless trapezes and leprous acrobats. He felt he should leave.

When he came back, with a drink in hand, K looked at him and twitched his mouth into a suspicious smile. He said, This is R. And R, this is E. E looked back at him and said, Well, hi, but I know who she is. K looked askance at E. R seemed flustered. She had said something to the contrary a while back. K saw that it was an admission of some kind of unmentionable feeling of mutual distrust. He looked at R for a while, but didn’t elaborate. It was clear already. They were playing the ignorance card. The act of not knowing the other person even when actually doing so. The ignominious game of dumb-charades.

R tittered some more and then flitted away. E wanted to walk away right then. But he didn’t. He didn’t feel like slamming the door on K’s face. He didn’t think it was right to make him feel silly. The awkwardness didn’t affect him at all. And it didn’t justify any meanness directed at K. He decided he wanted to be nice. He would tell him later. He didn’t want to dumbfound his social censors, ticking away eagerly from minute to minute. K felt that a lot of what he was as a person converged in the café. E’s breaking away from the myth of the web would anger K. It would certainly anger him.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Bureaucracy of Today's Engagement Board


Sometimes when life comes to a standstill and everything around you moves at an extraordinarily slow pace, you begin to lose your bearings. Everything around you becomes this crazy mess of slow-loving ideas and slower-moving people. Every task that you undertake becomes cumbersome. Every conversation you attempt proves tiresome. Everything you read becomes a matter of commentary and stark academia. Not the unusual quirky thing you occasionally come across. Not the exciting things you discover in the things that you enjoy reading about. People configure themselves into zones and groups and try almost desperately to stave off the heat. Then, almost immediately, it begins to rain and you are left stranded in between two stations. It is the worst time to try and write, mainly because everything you write smacks of resentment.

But it the best time to come up with and present the harsh facts of your daily existence.

There is something incredibly wrong with the way people react to official matters. It isn't something that can be pinned down to any one incident. Nor can any one person be held responsible for it. It cannot even be described properly enough. All that strikes you about the situation is that most of those who have been placed in these official positions are not prepared to listen to you. You might have some application form you want filled up, you might have some notice you require to put up on the main notice board, you might even have some pink slips to fill in. Anything from the most mundane to the most urgent gets sidetracked by the taciturn, discourteous persons on the other side of the fence. Of course, there are cases where they do in fact listen to you, albeit impatiently, and feebly hear what you have to ask of them, in the most obstreperous of rooms and offices. But these are the concessions they make, as against the innumerable other times they simply stare at you blankly, turn around to the person sitting at the next desk, and mumble something like, "What is the banda saying?"

A slew of such incidents catch the unfortunate observer's attention. And unfortunately for him, nothing can be done about it. Bad manners and dismissive behaviour are, for all practical purposes, the automated responses they are programmed to. Can I have a pink slip? Go away. Can I use this A4 sheet of paper that has not even been stashed into your printer, so you might not possibly need it immediately? Go away. Can I collect some of the mark-sheets of Third Year English? Go away. May I submit my ECA forms? Go away. May I know when that lovely, interminable thing we call lunch presumably end? Go away. Can I have the keys to the Engagement Board? Go away.

It feels like Hell. Except, of course, for the air-conditioning.

Now, the other day I had to put up a notice for a society. The staff-advisor was missing, and as I had been asked to do in such cases, I thought I could walk over to some other teacher and request their signature. The teacher was more than happy to oblige and just let things move on at their relevant pace. He signed it quite happily, even though he did ask for the announcement to be re-worded and written on a different sheet of paper. Which is acceptable. The next time such a situation arose, I did not hesitate to attempt the same thing again. I walked over to another teacher and, like the last time, informed him that the notice required attention, the staff advisor was away elsewhere, and asked if he could sign instead. No, he said. Fair enough. So I further went on to supplicate in the most egregious way I could (I admit, my fault) and also casually mentioned that he could in fact do something like it. It would not be a revolutionary accomplishment (unspoken thought). He turned around, looked at me most suspiciously, and through clenched teeth he said, "You are not allowed to tell me what I can and cannot do!" Clearly, the question of the legality of my statement is not something I would like to contend here. I'd prefer the esteemed High Court to decide on such matters. But the response itself was so grating, and more than that, so unnecessary, that it took me completely by surprise. In the aftermath of my shock, I simply whimpered away from him like a chidden stray and dashed out of the staff room to avoid any further embarrassment.

The one thing I will never come to accept, and refuse to understand, is the high-handedness of bureaucracy. It is the most useless form of human interaction. The most depressing behaviour visible to the human eye.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What Women Want


When you walk around the city, don’t you see many ‘couples’ walking about as well, holding hands, talking to each other and whispering quietly under their breath to each other? You walk in a park, you’ll find them comfortably promenading. You walk to your place of work, you’ll find them leaving cars and rickshaws and auto-rickshaws together. You walk to college, you’ll find them chattily skipping along, maybe holding hands, or not. Not many of these would be really very old. By old, I don’t mean octogenarian old, but slightly older among the younger lot. Just slightly older than the average young person on the street, whom I would hazard to peg at presumably 21. The practice of holding hands is more prevalent among the young. For the older it’s just a customary gesture. They hardly ever attach any importance to it. Most older people would counter this by saying that they do, in fact, indulge in a spot of intimate hand-holding occasionally, and do not look at it merely as a gesture. They are not so dispassionate about it. But, still, any observant person will tell you that for the old, the act is not something they deliberately seek out to do; au contraire, it’s something they do purely out of either necessity or habit.

But the real question is, what kind of demography do these couples constitute? Not just age-wise, or racially even, but what sort of people are they. What is their (to use something pretty convenient) psycho-social demography?

It is difficult to assess something like this, most people become imperturbably taciturn when questioned about their taste in the opposite sex. You can’t, first of all, ask a girl outright what she likes in a man. The use of such impudence is only available to the most ill-mannered, or the most distant of acquaintances, and then only casually. When you are serious about the question, it can only be asked by someone who has known the person long enough to warrant the intrusion. Sometimes, after several remonstrations to the contrary, even those you are relatively closer to among the questioned become suspicious about the reasons for such nit-picking and scrutinizing, as they see it. You may want to hear of it or look at it purely from a disinterested, but curious, point of view. But they won’t, and in all fairness should not, think of your probing as being facetious. Of course, on the other hand, several people will look at it merely as just another nice and easy conversation starter or conversation conjunctive, depending on the situation.

But what do women really want?

I loved that movie, mainly because it actually didn’t really answer the question at all? There are several things that women think about, that’s a given. But what do they really like in men? What makes they inclined to like someone better than someone else? What sort of preferences do they have. In the summer months, The Telegraph published a report about a study done in which women were asked to react to the presence of a moustache, or a beard, or some denomination of facial hair. Apparently, and this is slightly surprising, they preferred the bearded over the clean-shaven, the bearded over the mustached, and the clean-shaven over the mustached. So, all in all, the mustached are the irredeemable scum of the earth, the clean-shaven are all right, and the bearded are the most attractive. Predictably, and I was personally hoping for some such response, most women responded to the study by saying that attraction depended on a diverse set of factors, and certainly included more than simply the face. Besides, they said, that it is not simply the presence of facial hair that accentuates a man’s quotient of attractiveness, but the face itself, its features, and whether the hair really suits the man. Sigh. This was slightly a little partial on the technical side for me. I mean, I prefer to keep such descriptions simple. But a growing awareness of appearances and their importance necessitates such precision. It is the face’s dimensional attributes. Very nice. Of course, if I were shopping in the supermarket for salad bowls, I would also be similarly engrossed in the dimensional attributes.

But the studies that are conducted by students of psychology, on the human response to appearance, is significantly different from what you gather in your day to day encounters and conversations. Most women are not so specific about the tastes. In fact, most women don’t really have any opinion on the absence or otherwise of facial hair. Even men are slightly baffled by the reactions they receive. Some time back, I remember watching a model on television with his newly wedded wife, talking into a camera inside their car, and the model had a very prominent beard. Immediately, the girl I was watching it with remarked how much more pleasing to the eye he had become. I sort of felt the same, but I never really know how to respond to beards and all that. The fact is that consciously or unconsciously, most indicators of attraction tend to be physical.

If, like I mentioned before, you ask someone about their preferences, the first few indicators will inevitably be physical. And why not? The person’s physical being is the first thing you will take in anyway. Here, the variety is slightly exasperating. Some say they like men who are taller than they are, hefty, on the muscular side. Some prefer them skinny, maybe even skinnier than themselves. Some girls like men who have a specific length of hair. For instance, if she is not favourably disposed to long hair, she would say that she likes a guy with well cut hair. Hmm. I wonder what kind of exact dimensional attribute that would have. Some absolutely do not prefer men who are thin or lanky. It gives them the impression of being too weak, casual or clumsy, or worse, all of the aforementioned. Some girls like to look at men who have broad shoulders and slightly prominent shoulder blades. In this category, would fall the likes of obsessive body-builders. And then again, in a change of direction, some women do not appreciate the heavily-toned and muscle-induced bulky frames of men.

Even as the variety in this regard is endless, there is further hope for the questioner where the real deal, or the personality, of the man is concerned. This is because the responses are usually very exacting and clear. There is usually very little ambiguity in this department. The response could be mixed and full of mixed epithets and contradicting qualities, but even then, the girl usually has a definitely idea in mind.

For instance, the excited type is a very often vilified ‘type’. The denotations of being ‘excited’ are rather unfortunate: It means that the guy does not really have his head in the right place. He is flippant and reacts almost always exaggeratedly in every other situation. It also implies that the guy has a tendency to really blow things out of proportion. As against the ‘excited’ type, guys who are ‘considerate and extroverted’ are often more distinguished, and accordingly more compatible. These are guys who do not throw their weight about and do not under normal circumstances behave like the sky is about to fall on their heads. I do agree with most of this assessment. But on some finer points I think I differ. One is the fact that mostly people are not so easily distinguishable. What may seem considerate and extroverted may in fact only be a tendency to ‘play the part’ in all social situations. People who talk more in groups are not necessarily the people whose thoughts and feelings are more empathic. Some prefer the use of the word genuine, but it’s slightly presumptuous to designate one or the other as being genuine, and the rest as more ‘artificial’. To do that, it would require not only a very intimate knowledge of the other person, but also a profound distaste for his or her ways.

The best and the worst thing a girl can say about a man is that he is, indefinitely, a ‘quiet type’. I would be qualified to elaborate on this one. A quiet type is either preferable as a potential boyfriend, or more suitable as a friend. It’s either of the two. I say ‘potential’ boyfriend because the potential eventually sometimes never really materializes, because they do not move forward. As a friend on the other hand, he is companionable and worthy of your deepest affection. But even the latter is sometimes not realized, because the ‘quiet type’ somehow manages to drift away and detach himself from the proceedings of your life. All in all, this one is fraught with ifs and buts, but the outcome is usually the same.

When you actually think about all these responses, you will be stuck by a remarkable thing about the present. People do not usually mention, even if they think it, the archetypal job profile of the man they would love. So, as some kind of a redemption from the past, when people often stuck to their matrimonial ambitions of marrying either a company man or a doctor or an government babu or whatever when asked about their preferences, people today need real human beings. All the other peripheral things suffice.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Thoughts On The Day Before The Motion Of Confidence


The nuclear deal will sometime now be passed. Or on the contrary, it won’t be passed. Tomorrow in parliament the confidence motion will be tabled. It will decide the continuation of the incumbent government. The present government is headed by a prime minister who is very clear about the ramifications of the deal. It is an agreement that he has to see through. That is the beginning and the end of what he sees as his side of the bargain. The government is supported by a coalition of parties that came together post-elections, and decided on a Common Minimum Programme. The programme has to a large extent been fulfilled. At that time, when the elections had concluded, and when I was writing my board exams, the government looked completely renewed and enthusiastic. It seemed the perfect coalition. In fact, the government even appeared to befit coming into perpetual incumbency, because at the time, sentiment burgeoned daily and rapidly against a largely aggressive BJP. The other parties that formed the government, or occupied some sort of position in it, regardless of how peripheral or meager, were parties that were immensely glad to set off the BJP on its outward route, leveling recriminations and making resolved statements that clearly let everybody know that they would never like to associate with the party again. It was a slightly murky choice of words. Unclear as to whether they did not intend to associate with the party’s more ‘fascist’ credentials, or were simply aggravated by the anti-incumbency affectation that most others were more than willing to indulge in, the people simply took them at word and recorded all their commitments literatim in the CMP. After all, it was a wave of triumphalism. They seemed eager to say and do anything. They even announced their reclamation of the ‘secular forces’, much beaten and abused at the hands of the now vilified former opponent.

The former opponent really did not play a significant part in the polity for a long time subsequently. They simply languished in their homes, waiting for something substantial to come up. In the states, they reasserted themselves ably, winning a number of state elections. In Uttarakhand, in Andhra Pradesh, in Karnataka, they managed to make an incipient re-entry into the general flow of national politics. Of course, several people noticed, including the Congress party, now fuming and frothing at the seams for want of electoral victories. That however did really nothing to vindicate the BJP. To me it seemed like people were choosing the candidates floated by the party because of the tendencies of local organization. The Congress in these states fared poorly because their leadership lacked a strong element of cohesiveness. They continued to make do with fractions and denominations. The people of the states also perhaps reacted to their feelings about the undemocratic politics of the new central government, now fully released from the rosiness of its inception. Its fascist impositions of communal ‘quotas’ destructively brought about the break-down of the middle-class. By this I mean that the people who sought to achieve faced the bitterest opposition from the government. They aided and abetted communal tendencies to strike for petty deals that served a corrupt and recalcitrant mindset of mediocrity.

The people in the states reacted to that.

But now the nuclear deal has reaffirmed the existence of these parties and these shadowy members of parliament who otherwise do not visibly affect the polity. They have finally emerged from their imposed retirement and fallen back into their wonted ways of creating a nuisance in all places of public policy.

In the early days of the deal’s conception, the BJP met and agreed to support the government on it. Later, after an ‘interaction’ with some of their chief ministers in the states, they willy-nilly began to dither on their commitment. Advani, who had initially voiced his support in the media, later chose to tell the government, no less via the media, that his party men were not prepared to endorse the deal. In all humility, he asseverated his obligation to the verdict of his party. The trouble with such a statement is clear. Perhaps the chief ministers did in fact voice their opposition to the deal. But the question here is, why? None of them are either smart enough to comprehend the technicalities of it, nor are they in any peculiar or any substantial position of power vis-à-vis the state of foreign policy. Why then should their interest be represented in this matter of national concern? Given that they have, as members of a party, a right to express among themselves the need for a common political opinion on the matter, certainly the weightage given to their concerns should not be disproportionately important. Unfortunately, Advani got away with the ruse and the BJP backtracked on their initial, expectedly fraught and retractable promise.

The Hyde Act does not ‘bind’ India. The Vienna Convention states that international treaties override domestic law.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Year Gone


I think that it is at times like these that we really begin to think about the ways of our fellow human beings. Another year is another start to everything all over again. Which is the common conception. But sometimes, it is not quite as simple as that. One might want to start all over again. He might want to resume things exactly from their original yester-state. He might even want to renounce all of it altogether and go and find something entirely new and extraordinary.

But newcomers, nonetheless in a school or college, always bring with them a breath of freshness and a hint of unexplored change.

The only unfortunate thing being that the feeling barely lasts.

It is maybe wrong to say that people can’t change from the ways that they are used to, from what might be considered an ‘older’ you to a freshly conceived ‘new’ self, but there is a need for transparency in the whole change. I mean, there have to be mirrors up there reflecting every bit of the transmogrification. There should be ledgers listing out the distinctions. There should be people complementing you on the newly manufactured self. All these testify to the usefulness and the accomplishment of change. But if you really think about it, these are impossible to have. You can’t really put mirrors up in every street corner you enter, every corridor you pass. You can’t really update the ledger on daily changes. Changes, when they occur, and if they do occur, tend to be very imperceptible to the common observing eye. You can’t really expect those around you to notice all the new-ness of the wonderful things you have done with yourself, because they would be busy trying to rectify their own old ways, and manufacturing new ones. So everyone is constantly busy with all this new business, and you can’t really hope to make much of yourself in the new crowd. Of course, occasionally, you will get the impression that you are doing an incredible job in the change department, but such fleeting, ephemeral ideas will really put you on a wild goose chase looking for compliments.

Not that compliments are unwarranted either. Some people flock together and form lovely little cohorts of change. Their whole being and their entire agenda is directed at the achievement of a new look. This is sometimes a useful thing, as more often than not, the old one really did annoy you a lot in the last year. They eat at new places. They talk to new people. They talk in new ways. They dress differently, some for the better and some to look unintentionally more obnoxious than before. They think of new things to say and do whilst in class. All this affects however a minority of the populace. The rest simply go on doing the same old things with a zest for change, but with every evidence of behaving to the contrary.

The slightly mystifying thing about the conscientious ‘changed’ is that they do in the beginning manage a very good impression of their newly-acquired ways. They seem willing to display them, eager to improve on them, and hell bent on discussing them amongst themselves. But casually, and almost unknowingly, nothing ever really changes. All the wonderful things that their fellow classmates and the like are introduced to suddenly vaporize, leaving them shorn of all the old and embarrassed of the vestiges of the newly put-on. Some people call it a façade. But I don’t think they should trivialize the seriousness of change by calling it that.

The best thing about all of this is that eventually, you are always allowed to come back to where you started and start being yourself, or maybe an amalgam of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ self, without the slightest hesitation. That however takes a while. From my vantage point right now, a lot of the old and ridiculous are intersecting and clashing in the middle of this tepid time, causing not any little inconvenience to the college. But that, and this is another topic altogether, is the mark of an institution on its way to the mrityu ghat.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Cheque Or Cash


E didn’t want to get involved with the money. Money was alien territory to him. It was impossible to handle. He had decided at the start of the first year of college that he would be careful. Careful about everything, every expenditure. Foreseen, unforeseen, anything. It was something he had imbibed from school. He needed to preserve money. Just as he needed to use it carefully, he needed to save it up for something ultimately nice. Like a trip somewhere, a hike in the mountains. It’s grossly exaggerated when people say the mountains are cheap. The mountains are not cheap. They don’t only involve the trip up till the hills, they mean staying there. Staying is expensive. No one really says that on the brochures. They only have enticing pictures in these. That’s it, besides a little tidbit about the “top of the world” or the “abode of the clouds”. So, that’s what E wanted. He wanted a parsimonious life. And he was going to live it. But, like all good people in their first year, he, in fact, has grossly exaggerated his own cautiousness. Well, he was stingy. He knew that obviously. But he wasn’t cautious. Some abominable things happed by the end of the first year. He had lost approximately, well, not approximately, really, really, four phones. This meant he had bought five by the end of it. A disgusting number. And very hurtful, too. He knew it was totally in waste. All the phones, all the interminable conversations, all the purposeless running around and all the lousy, corny messages. He hated it all. The only thing that didn’t hurt him was the fact that he had now a rather decent phone. This one would survive.

The laptop was lost in the middle of the year. It was the penultimate effusion of guilt into an already depressed bursary burgeoning with self-reproach and biliousness.

In his own mind, there was a clear indication of things to come. He would have to spend some time with S in the various restaurants they went to, the pubs, the drinking places. Investments in drinking-binges. Investments in trips to their friends’ houses. All such other nice things. But he wasn’t clear about how it could cost him. For instance, the liquor was expensive, but how much exactly? It couldn’t be much, he surmised. As he always did, he leant too much on estimation. He estimated everything. Even the potential costs of visits to the loo. He knew they couldn’t be much. Well, they were that much, and more. It took quite a heavy toll on the dwindling coffers. He needed these binges not infrequently, but he needed them on time. He couldn’t possibly wait for long dry-spells and intervals. They were meaningless. Badly mistimed. He had a penchant for instantly done things. Immediate gratification and the like, you see. He was very restless. S didn’t keep a tab on her expenditure. She could spend money, and she did. She never felt the pinch of it, so why bother? In fact, she was incredibly conscientious. Only not in this department.

The restaurants were essential. He would have to go there often too. He couldn’t be cooped up in the hostel mess. Inadequate food and inadequate life. They were all moribund. Even the food was moribund. They sucked so hard. They were a miserable lot of pariahs feeding on cadavers. They sucked. He couldn’t eat there happily. He hated the dreary staring, hated the facetious, meaningless, semi-completed sentences, the bland conversations. One can’t converse like this, while eating, or sitting in a row of teeming mongers intent on feeding. One can’t really talk, or say something important, well, maybe important-sounding, when the others aren’t even looking your way. They looked here and there, above your head and beyond your right shoulder, at all the people floating in, but hardly ever at you. The whole place was at best an opportunistic set-up.

At home by the end of the year, the rains had started. There was this time something very universal about the rain. Normally, it deluged the small town, flooded villages irreparably, took away cattle and crop. It did the usual things, caused the usual inconveniences. Made the usual sorrowful depredations. This year, it wreaked havoc. Not only here, but everywhere. In every city, and in every country, the news proclaimed the onslaught of the rain. Very merciless rain beat against people in Sechaun, and in Myanamar, and even in faraway Iowa. How considerate of the news, it’s presentation always said: Sechaun – Iowa – Myanmar. Very tenuous link, but all in the throes of rain-damage. Here, it rained and it flooded the town; it smashed against the pavements and jolted umbrella-wielding, emaciated old pedestrians on to the road. It flooded already muddy, unpaved by-lanes. But all in all, it also attacked other people, in distant lands. Their distant sorrows, in distant places, somehow, in one act of compassioned unconcern, assuaged those here. Meanwhile, E received a formal bank statement. He realized he had spent much beyond his own stipulation. It was bad, bad maladministration. He looked at the statement. It was quite accurate. He had made a withdrawal that day. He had taken out an additional sum on that other date. All the dates were conspicuously written against their sums. So were his exact recollections. His exacting, accounting mind hadn’t skipped a beat. It had calculated pettily and wrongly scorned its more corporeal paper counterpart.

E waited then for a week for his stipend. He had worked for a month. He waited and waited for the stipend to arrive. He waited for egregious, lazy, lying accountants to send it to him. He waited and he wished, very much, that he could kill them all.

The Office Worker


He hated the office. Something inside it made him feel sick in the stomach. He woke up this morning and felt it strongly. Something was troubling him more than usual. The phone rang on time for the wake-up call. He checked it several times. Several messages awaited his attention. He slowly got out of bed and sat on its edge. Perfunctorily looking through the messages. Not many useful ones; just the usual about the unfinished project, the presentation he would have to do for his co-worker, the one who was getting married, the movie update from the service-provider. A lot of other details. None of them particularly different. None of them particularly energizing, especially in the overcast and boring morning it was. The sky threatened rain.

For someone who is a man of the office, a worker, a salaried office-bearer, a corporate man, it is difficult to live wake up in the morning. He got up and went slowly over the toilet. Standing at the sink, letting loose a stream of water from the taps. Eager, unstoppable water, gurgling into the recesses of a clean and pristine sink. It was difficult to soil it. Imperfectly, something about it wrought the imagination dry. It was incredibly efficient, so strong and solid in its continuous efficacy. One wouldn’t have thought of the sink as his place of origin. It was. It was where he derived himself. His pristine cleanliness, his unstoppable efficacy. His eager, asseverating ways. He needed the sink so badly. It didn’t need him so much. Something egregious about him felt inadequate, not good enough for its precise solidity.

The phone was horrible. It was beautiful. It had to be. It was something he owned and had bought with the pure intention of work-place use. It was needed there. He needed its display, and that’s why it wasn’t simple in the least. It was a complicated machine that could do with some changes and some more involvement. It was a wonderful machine. But yet entirely unexplored. Certainly not under-exposed. It was something he had to carry around welded to his skin. Beautiful appendage. Like an external critical organ. He looked at it every now and again and he felt he had to. Sometimes, walking on the streets, he would keep looking at it. It was so secure. Something terrifying about the blank and unemployed stares of people on the road frightened him. It did not offend him that people stared. That was perfectly all right. But he didn’t like the persistent stares. They were the troubling ones and he despised them. He felt afraid of the staunch, unrealistic and most abominable superiority of the wretched. Those dressed in tattered, ugly rags. Those feeding off the remnants of once wholesome meals. He hated them. He hated the way they looked at the world with unmatched hatred. He hated their reliance on the meanest peel and layer of survival. He hated their stares that said that they didn’t care. They didn’t need to look preoccupied. There was nothing to occupy them. They simply blithely stared like the world was absolutely theirs to stare at and ogle. Because the world had been their undoing and was their cadaver. Theirs to look at and disdain. He needed his phone then. He needed his phone to protect him from the unashamed look of the street performer. He needed his phone to protect him from the blankness and unhappiness on the faces of rickshaw-cyclists. He needed his phone to protect him from the condescension of the walking, promenading musician, twice removed from the next record label offer. He needed his phone.

That morning he looked at the messages again.

His friend wouldn’t be able to deliver the presentation. He had the engagement to get through. No, he wasn’t invited because the girl wanted it private. Only members of the immediate family, and some unable to make it. They didn’t have much time left for the wedding. Her tour couldn’t be kept on hold forever. Her supervisor needed her on the overseas team. No, her parents weren’t willing to spend much on the wedding. They suspected her munificent ways of spending on the spouse. They were slightly annoyed at receiving bills from their club, where she had taken him several times. He liked her. She liked him. The engagement needed a ring and needed getting over with.

Half Nelson was playing at the threatres. Cast included Ryan Gosling and Shreika Epps. A young teacher’s life is marred with so many things. He teaches History and coaches the basketball team. They are fond of him. He uses drugs and one of his students encounters him whilst on a high, sitting aloft a toilet-seat. Her life and her interactions with him become so much more intense and powerful. She desultorily tries to find solace in her brother’s earlier way of life. She finds her teacher again, to help her and enable her.

He would have to get the data sheets ready. The viewers’ responses were very strange and messed up. They seemed to like the pilot-show, but didn’t like the actor in the lead. Some of them couldn’t understand what he seemed so confused all the time about. They didn’t like the look of the lead actress either. She was either too skittish or too beautiful for him, overcompensating on both deficiencies in a way that didn’t really make sense to the viewer. Archetypical viewer: mid-thrities housewife, educated, stay-at-home. The producers were slightly agitated. They wanted this below-par-attractive, discombobulated lead character fixed.

He went out of the house, out the door and stood on his doorstep. The apartment people were beginning to leave their homes, head for the garage downstairs. The security-guard posted in the foyer looked incredibly sleepy and very disgruntled. His uniform showed tears. He moved to the front of his care. Some spaces beyond it, three men got out of one of the cars. They were young as well, though slightly younger. Their tee-shirts were soaking wet and their hair disheveled. Loud, stentorian laughter and nimble quick steps to the elevator. They looked at him and he looked as well, just that slightly. He didn’t noticed that they were all actually looking in his direction. For a while. He hated the sound of their laughter. They were all so juvenile and so silly. Their laughter infuriated him. It sounded so bloody hollow and enervating. Not a real, bellicose laugh. Absolutely dreadful ersatz laughter, simpering away like a joke had been told. It annoyed him. He hated it. He hated it. He hated the look on their faces. How incredible these people were. They would go upstairs to their untidy, paper-strewn room and switch on the television. Dumbly and obsessively gape at it like birds perched on overhead wires. Look at it for interminable hours. Look, look and look some more. Oh, he hated them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Every Morning


He hated the office. Something inside it made him feel sick in the stomach. He woke up this morning and felt that it strongly. Something was troubling him more than usual. The phone rang on time for the wake-up call. He checked it several times. Several messages awaited his attention. He slowly got out of bed and sat on its edge. Perfunctorily looking through the messages. Not many useful ones; just the usual about the unfinished project, the presentation he would have to do for his co-worker, the one who was getting married, the movie update from the service-provider. A lot of other details. None of them particularly different. None of them particularly energizing, especially in the overcast and boring morning it was. The sky threatened rain.

For someone who is a man of the office, a worker, a salaried office-bearer, a corporate man, it is difficult to live wake up in the morning. He got up and went slowly over the toilet. Standing at the sink, letting loose a stream of water from the taps. Eager, unstoppable water, gurgling into the recesses of a clean and pristine sink. It was difficult to soil it. Imperfectly, something about it wrought the imagination dry. It was incredibly efficient, so strong and solid in its continuous efficacy. One wouldn’t have thought of the sink as his place of origin. It was. It was where he derived himself. His pristine cleanliness, his unstoppable efficacy. His eager, asseverating ways. He needed the sink so badly. It didn’t need him so much. Something egregious about him felt inadequate, not good enough for its precise solidity.

The phone was horrible. It was beautiful. It had to be. It was something he owned and had bought with the pure intention of work-place use. It was needed there. He needed its display, and that’s why it wasn’t simple in the least. It was a complicated machine that could do with some changes and some more involvement. It was a wonderful machine. But yet entirely unexplored. Certainly not under-exposed. It was something he had to carry around welded to his skin. Beautiful appendage. Like an external critical organ. He looked at it every now and again and he felt he had to. Sometimes, walking on the streets, he would keep looking at it. It was so secure. Something terrifying about the blank and unemployed stares of people on the road frightened him. It did not offend him that people stared. That was perfectly all right. But he didn’t like the persistent stares. They were the troubling ones and he despised them. He felt afraid of the staunch, unrealistic and most abominable superiority of the wretched. Those dressed in tattered, ugly rags. Those feeding off the remnants of once wholesome meals. He hated them. He hated the way they looked at the world with unmatched hatred. He hated their reliance on the meanest peel and layer of survival. He hated their stares that said that they didn’t care. They didn’t need to look preoccupied. There was nothing to occupy them. They simply blithely stared like the world was absolutely theirs to stare at and ogle. Because the world had been their undoing and was their cadaver. Theirs to look at and disdain. He needed his phone then. He needed his phone to protect him from the unashamed look of the street performer. He needed his phone to protect him from the blankness and unhappiness on the faces of rickshaw-cyclists. He needed his phone to protect him from the condescension of the walking, promenading musician, twice removed from the next record label offer. He needed his phone.

That morning he looked at the messages again.

His friend wouldn’t be able to deliver the presentation. He had the engagement to get through. No, he wasn’t invited because the girl wanted it private. Only members of the immediate family, and some unable to make it. They didn’t have much time left for the wedding. Her tour couldn’t be kept on hold forever. Her supervisor needed her on the overseas team. No, her parents weren’t willing to spend much on the wedding. They suspected her munificent ways of spending on the spouse. They were slightly annoyed at receiving bills from their club, where she had taken him several times. He liked her. She liked him. The engagement needed a ring and needed getting over with.

Half Nelson was playing at the threatres. Cast included Ryan Gosling and Shreika Epps. A young teacher’s life is marred with so many things. He teaches History and coaches the basketball team. They are fond of him. He uses drugs and one of his students encounters him whilst on a high, sitting aloft a toilet-seat. Her life and her interactions with him become so much more intense and powerful. She desultorily tries to find solace in her brother’s earlier way of life. She finds her teacher again, to help her and enable her.

He would have to get the data sheets ready. The viewers’ responses were very strange and messed up. They seemed to like the pilot-show, but didn’t like the actor in the lead. Some of them couldn’t understand what he seemed so confused all the time about. They didn’t like the look of the lead actress either. She was either too skittish or too beautiful for him, overcompensating on both deficiencies in a way that didn’t really make sense to the viewer. Archetypical viewer: mid-thrities housewife, educated, stay-at-home. The producers were slightly agitated. They wanted this below-par-attractive, discombobulated lead character fixed.

He went out of the house, out the door and stood on his doorstep. The apartment people were beginning to leave their homes, head for the garage downstairs. The security-guard posted in the foyer looked incredibly sleepy and very disgruntled. His uniform showed tears. He moved to the front of his car. Some spaces beyond it, three men got out of one of the cars. They were young as well, though slightly younger. Their tee-shirts were soaking wet and their hair disheveled. Loud, stentorian laughter and nimble quick steps to the elevator. They looked at him and he looked as well, just that slightly. He didn’t noticed that they were all actually looking in his direction. For a while. He hated the sound of their laughter. They were all so juvenile and so silly. Their laughter infuriated him. It sounded so bloody hollow and enervating. Not a real, bellicose laugh. Absolutely dreadful ersatz laughter, simpering away like a joke had been told. It annoyed him. He hated it. He hated it. He hated the look on their faces. How incredible these people were. They would go upstairs to their untidy, paper-strewn room and switch on the television. Dumbly and obsessively gape at it like birds perched on overhead wires. Look at it for interminable hours. Look, look and look some more. Oh, he hated them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More Drinking


J tells me he wants to talk to the girl sitting at the next table. I turn around to look, because he keeps staring at her. I get the impression that she remittingly turns to look at him as well, but I cannot tell from where I'm sitting. My back is turned to her. J now penetratingly looks at the person behind me and I can't help but turn to look. I don't see her clearly, because she is fiddling with her phone and her head is bent to it, but I see she has long hair. Not absolutely flowing, lustrous hair or anything of the kind, but fairly long, nice and attractive hair that suits the posture in which her head is bent. She feels mysterious already but I couldn't care very much. Something in me is already jaded and dreadfully turned off by the idea of meeting new people, on random encounters. J and I sit at the bar, far away from school, and random encounters I could avoid.

I haven't exactly understood the motives of the person with me. Not motives regards the person behind, but the more general notion of motives, about life and men and women and school. What does he really want out of it? Or more importantly, is there any such thing as wanting - something specific - from the life he lives? Drifting. Being. Not wanting. They are all so tempting, and are so lovely when they 'happen' to you. I haven't understood what he thinks he's best suited to do. Be fantastically immersed in the rigmarole of school life. Be absolutely, phenomenally socially adept - making as many a part of his regular circle of people-to-amuse-and-spend-time-with as exists the number of people in class. Be reclusive, be patient and be stalwartly in academics or sport. You know, assiduously working your way up the calibrated ladder. It's all a part of school. It builds up, both in practice and in your mind. You work toward something and you work against the rest. But slowly, and very imperceptibly, it begins to fade afterwards. Beyond that part of life, and into another, something stranger happens. You build and you imagine a ladder of your own, a concessional check-list and rules and standards of your own - against the imperceptible ways of which everything else pales. It's becomes a part of the oblivion into which you've pushed everything from the earlier ladders and rules and standards.

People change as well. J and I keep sipping at the rum-and-coke. I insist on the rum and refuse to try any other concoctions. It's ridiculously enervating to do this with J. Because he wants to rant off a list of fancy cocktails he knows and swears by - by what standards, I don't know - and launches into long harangues if met with disagreement. I mean, getting sloshed isn't about the fanciness of it. It's not pretty, it's not about the dough. It's about feeling silly and listless and very out of place in public. It's about the waste of time. The dwindling of energy. The need for more. And the frighteningly blissful journey back. To J, however, it isn't so much about these things. It is about the need to say, well, that these are the names I swotted, these are the prices I find impressive and these are the things we're going to talk about whilst pretending to be drunk: sex, movies, sex, books, sex, teachers-I-find-strange, sex, friends-I-don't-like.

The girl behind is now preparing to leave. I can tell from the look of pure panic on his face. He doesn't even pretend to be discreet. He looks longingly at her and I can tell she's noticed. Maybe he is already drunk, after all. I feel fit as a fiddle. Nothing as premature arousal for me. I cannot tell why he wants to look at her, or catch her eye, which he's now done, so insistently. I mean, she's moving away, she's lifted her bag. Her shirt is tightly pulled against her chest and her trousers are still professionally tapered to the ankles. Her shoes are Converse. Her bag, I can now see, is practically a bag, and not a frilly purse clutched against her side or anything. She looks happy as she walks up to the bartender, at the counter, and pays off. She doesn't want to chat but she looks happy all right. Nothing extraordinary for someone who's obviously being ogled by an under-age toddler at the adjacent table. I could kill J for making us look so desperate for attention. We aren't; but he can make it seem like we are. Good riddance.

Why do you keep staring?

You know what it is about elder girls that is so, so good? They're always responsive, you know? Not like schoolgirls at all? I mean, so people in school can be so dumb-looking? They talk but they never really emote? They just talk with their mouths and their words and everything, but you don't feel like they're saying something from the inside? Now bigger girls, they're something else. They don't even have to say anything. You already know there's something going on between the two of you.

That's bloody presumptious. What if she finds your staring and your stupid, aimless smiling the most annoying thing that could happen to her on an afternoon like this, and wants to really find out how far you'd go. She just lead you on, smiled and pouted back, suggesting she's attentive. Hell, she isn't. All you could be of interest for... I don't know what for. She's just playing on your volunteer service. What a pissing-off shame.

I cannot tell him that bigger girls are not always genuinely interested in you. I cannot describe to him the complicated nature of inter-sexual relations. For example, I could tell him that some girls only look to you for attention. But I couldn't explain why, because in his mind, as was the case with myself (thankfully), human relations assume a pristine kind of being and countenance from the way things work out between people at that (his) age. People look to you for friendship, or to be intimate, because you interest them and they find you attractive. Or they think you're kind or talented and they could make something of your feelings. Or that you could make something of them - use them to realize your ambitions, or what you really feel about life and the way things work around you.

Here, it's a far more carnivorous jungle of disorganized brigandry. Sometimes, interest is only a matter of 'visible association'. By which I mean, some people deliberately seek out the 'visible' company of another person, so that they could go back to chatter and gossip and conversation and state the inviolable fact of the two of yours deep and powerful bond. Sometimes, it's just to see at first-hand what others have described of you. Like a specimen. In a social laboratory. You need to be observed and the observations of others need to be verified and (in)validated. It's difficult to know the difference, because mixed motives can spur and egg the meeting or the 'visible associating' of two people on. Otherwise, they want you sexually or competetively. They want to know what you have by means of academics/work/relationships. They want uninhibited making-out. The latter eventually never works out - either it's very inhibited and sickeningly unsatisfying, or it's plain impossible.

I cannot tell him these things because he has to discover them for himself. All I can say is:

Let's go back now, we can't be here long.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Drinking


J and I walk to the front of the school building and wait for the rest. It is dinner time and I cannot wait to get in. The food is fantastic. The vegetables are fantastic. This is ridiculous. I would never have liked it otherwise. I would never have anticipated a vegetarian dinner otherwise - but the food just makes you want to tuck those safe and healthy things right in.


The rest of them, of course, don't like the food and think walking back and forth for meals is a complete waste of time, and the food is horrendously below par as compensation. The air-conditioning goes on unstopped. The classroom computers stand frigidly on tables, clean, pristine and very decorative. They look better in disuse than they ever would. It serves the purpose, all right. It's difficult to see how far behind the others are. It's almost late and they should be coming along. But they're all on a slothful walk and it's difficult to hurry them up. Promenading is what some people like to specialise in. The walk is purposeful, but slow, very, very deliberate. For a teacher, who out of habit prefers brisk walking, or prefers to walk briskly when in the vicinity of unruly kids, this is intriguing. The speed isn't the problem. It's the unintended creepiness. The dreadful accompaniment - kids with contraband in hand.


J is significantly different. Well, not in that drastic, special kind of way. He is, though, in an understated way. He doesn't believe in very different things or doesn't have a very different way of talking. He'll expound on any of the coolest-things-to-do that qualify you for alpha-male supremacy. He'll tell you any number of sites that contravene the server-surveillance. He'll let you know about all the women who have been purportedly wanting to chat you up in class. He'll do all of that, and in exactly the ersatz American twang you've come to expect. The accent grates, bad American is hard to get accustomed to, but he has a quiet way of doing it. He doesn't let you think he knows it all, but he puts out every statement like a question; as if everything has a question mark at the end: Do you know she thinks she can get you to flirst with her on a daily basis? Do you think you can not tell that guy what an asshole he's been today? Do you even recognise the person you've been talking to all this time? Why do you even bother pretending to like the food?


Yes, the food is fantastic. But there's nothing that will stop the critics' harangue. There's an intemperate dog that barks near the other entrance, the one to our right, on a slight elevation, and we both know he's not permitted here. Someone needs to call the guards and set off the intruder-alert. "It's horrible having dogs ruin the cleanliness of our campus, darling," says the inordinately good-looking matron. Well, that's very unfortunate for someone who could do with an additional pair of puppies herself.


J looks around. He looks bored. I'm tired from a day of classes and an hour of consistent working-out. I ask him what he thinks there is for dinner. 'Who cares, man? You don't have to pretend to like the food, sir?' But I like the food, you spoilt brat. 'You know what?' Yes. 'What?' I don't know, why don't you tell me. 'So we should go out drinking this Sunday? I mean, of course I'm not allowed to be drinking and everything, but if I sneak out and change out of uniform and meet you outside the mall, we could go someplace?' It's not a bad idea, but I'm not willing to take charge of the sabotage of school-rules, and I'm not willing to be taken privy to under-age drinking-fantasies. Or witness juvenile pretend-drunkeness, which is very boring and hardly funny, so, you know, no. 'I love drinking?'


I know.


But the thing is he loves it all: he loves drinking but he hasn't really drunk so much. He has, obviously, meticulously memorized the names of a lot of interesting drinks, several unknown to my unpractised mind. He has the combinations and suitable hors d' oeuvres in mind. He knows all of that, exactly. But theoretically. There is something attractive about the half-baked world he's created in his mind. It's a legitimate, interesting world of names and formulae, tastes and occasions, ideas and impressions he could never possibly testify to having used practically - ever. Not that it upsets the usefullness of it; it's just as useful now as ever. The beauty, though, is in the immutable zeal for wanting to know. The quest for knowledge. For booze.


J waits for the rest to catch up, but they're still sauntering. The path is fairly long. The walking is fairly slow. The eagerness to tell me illicit things is still fairly pretty-much-there. I'm upbeat too.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Headmaster



J turned around in class and asked why we were reading Roald Dahl's The Headmaster. I couldn't tell him exactly, not yet, because he had to read it first and try and make something of a deduction himself.

When I was as old as he is now, I had read Matilda's pseudo-serious grotesquery very seriously. I lost all niceties directed at adults. I wanted to be exactly the smart, clever, conniving, remorseless rambunctious kid that could deal with the Trunchbulls in my life.

The beating, antipathetic headmaster in The Headmaster proceeds to become a bishop. The beaten, berated kid is mortified.

How would these kids deal with the information? That the monster needn't necessarily 'fall'.

Be angry and repressed and tortured? Be maudlin and disappointed? Or come to realize that any or all progress only lies in being able to work, very hard, to live through overcome the vitiations of the monster - be not the broken abused, but the burgeoning recovered?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Am In The Staff Room


How difficult it is to withstand the truth of any real thing. I sit here at dinner, waiting to go back to my room. I arrive here from my room, reluctant to leave it, forced to sit at another table where the other occupants are altogether morose. They are teachers. They are older, have seen more years at school and find anything suspicious. I can't discuss this with them. They are already discussing other things amongst themselves. I don't want to get a word in edgeways; I don't want to talk to them because talking to them is so difficult. Talking to anyone can be particularly difficult these days, and I cannot be sure why. Here, the discussion is veered to subjects that only they know about - things of which they are the sole proprietors. Discipline, indiscipline, emotions, attitudes, bad attitudes, the quality of food, the coming in late of boarders, the arrogance, indolence, overexcitement, rudeness, impropriety, the absence of good teachers. I cannot talk about the latter, it's nearly too early/silly to do so. I cannot risk appearing too judgmental. Not at the beginning. They look to me for responses but those responses they will not get. There are things I know I am sure about. About the zealousness of wanting school contraband, the eagerness for food, the craving for media, the bellicose class-hours spent in unmanned recess, all of these things. The impassioned need for some self-affirmation. The need to know that you know some things, are definitely sure of what you think about them, and the possibility, in all humility, of not knowing many others. The need to know that you are real and that there are real creative possibilities open to you. To know that there are things you can read and understand, and not just pretend to browse. To know that the print on that page can make a difference to you. To know that there is someone else around you who is exactly, or nearly exactly, like you. To know that the new teacher, so surreptitiously a part of the woodwork, cares about you and wants to know you better, without making you feel obliged to force your weight about, or to ingratiate yourself, and prostrate yourself, before any conversation you may have with him. There are these things that you get to learn over past incidents and past, prolonged encounters. There are some things you preserve and re-use from the Days Of Yore to make sense of things as they occur presently.


I can't tell them that they are wrong - that the food is, in fact, brilliant; that the air-conditioning is necessary but makes them complacent; that the teachers are emotionally inadequate - that now I am a comparatively better-matured person to know the difference between genuine assertion and ersatz advertised, tele-prompted lectures. That teachers and human beings are not indifferentiable and mutually exclusive. Being one does not exempt an obligation to the other.


I am in the staff common-rooms, and am now privy to their world. How different it was back then. It had seemed so cozy, so comforting, so esoteric. There were cups of coffee and interminable sandwiches, conversations about impressive things ricocheting off the walls and hinges of the room. Now, in the inside, I hear nothing, but the empty talk of bored dissension. There is nothing left to discuss, the room is awkward and silent in snatches. And then someone resumes. Someone else starts off on a harangue - the administration is lousy, the food is lousy, the students are lousy - also bratty and incorrigible - the buses are lousy, the food, oh, the all-so-important food is offensive, again, and the house-staff are witless, self-contented sretins who don't know what's good for their thick, offensive hide. That is all I hear. Suddenly, the effect this has on me is so strange. It's inexplicable and I cannot tell 'real' effect from imagined. It's so creepy but I cannot remember even my rosy, romanticized version of school staff-rooms, I cannot remember the picture of that cushioned interior, I cannot remember the sound of that esoteric talking and discussing and arguing. I am already senile from the onslaught of reality-checks. This is unhealthy.


I cannot tell them at the dinner table, at yet another dinner, on yet another evening, that I do not think that these children are hopeless and unimaginative. Sometimes, the accusers, we, may appear that, but no, not them, not the children. They seem quite capable. Oh, quite. But the next morning I walk around and I feel the penetrating eyes of desperate curiosity. I feel like I'm walking around expectantly in a slow-moving porn movie, though not naked yet. I feel the watching multiply manifold. Sometimes, it feels confrontational, but I cannot flinch, because I feel so overpowered by a sense of self-manufactured adulthood that I cannot but deign to not respond. I remember being them, being rude and confrontational with new people, new teachers I could not figure out or mentally label (as a certain 'kind of person'), gap-students I thought who over-reached their assigned lines. I don't know, being feckless is part of it. Being feckless is also part of college life for so many people, but now in college it just feels looks when I see it.


I am sitting on a bus, driving with them to the city, for a promenade in the shopping places. I sit and respond to the garrulous teacher beside me. I know that my father's purported atheism has nothing to do with my teaching. I'm just being figured-out, that's all.


I walk by the 'administrators' and I cannot but shrink back from their self-conscious incuriosity. I am told occasionally that he is fixated on my hair, but I cannot cut it. I cannot pander now, not now, when I know practically nothing about them. I sit at lunch and I hear the petite, sex-charged matron discuss my whereabouts. I want to tell her to fuck off and mind her own business, but I can't, because propriety hasn't deserted me. And I fear it won't. Leaving all of these feelings unsatisfactorily on the verge of my lips, unwillingly forced back into the recesses of my reluctant throat.


I cannot be a sentinel of our common inadequacy.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ride to Sohna


The first person I met, the guard at the gate. He was horrified. I had come in a hired car. What bloody sacrilege. It wasn’t easy trying to convince him that mine was as civilized as any of the other cars careening into campus, signing off chits of paper at the entry point. I didn’t have any chits of paper to sign. Not particularly disappointing, but I knew that signing off would lend my taxi proof of hauteur. What a bloody missed opportunity. I’ve always had a fear of corporate guards. There has always been something peculiar about them. Not that they are any better at ‘guarding’ than other, standard, regular guards who are not, incidentally, posted outside corporate portals, but they seem, sometimes, very different. Different in a bad way. Not particularly bad, just cocksure and bored and annoyed. There is nonchalance. And otherwise there is deadly boredom in combination with being deadly cocksure. It isn’t as if they have massive onslaughts to ward off – obviously not. No one tries gallivanting into a corporate park, even if they can, and have reason to. Any thief would look too plainly out of place here, too plainly out of place in dirty rags and uncharitably bad transport. Even a taxi apprehensively jilts along like a broken tin-can. Even those that seconds ago, would honk the daylights out of less savage drivers on the road outside.

The word corporate park is a derogatory word for certain schools back at the sermons I’m used to attending.

Now this particular taxi I came in turned out to be an extortionist can of tin. The driver started grumbling the moment we took off. I waited for the shitty loadfuls to subside, but some assholes tend to be very persistent. He wasn’t in any slight way different from any of the other countless extortionists who don’t mind punishing you for being their client. They molest your peace and then molest your money. I did feel ridiculous arguing with him. There something indecent about arguing on along a circuitous route to status quo. Plus, he harangued me endlessly. I needn’t have let him, and I didn’t. But the kind of voice, the flailing conversation and the kind of tactless non sequiturs people use to justify their no-points make you helpless. They make you feel silly and they annoy you. They seem to use an unfair advantage in language. They want to speak fast. Test you against the choppy waters of berating Punjabi. Friends comes to mind. It’s like something that transpires between Chandler and Monica. Chandler receives a phone-call from the doctor, who informs him, and he afterwards informs Monica, that he has sperm with ‘low motility’ and she has a uterus with an ‘inhospitable environment’. Such taxi rides and such taxi altercations leave you feeling like you have an argumentative quotient of way-too-low motility, and the cab-driver has inside his accursed vehicle too-damn-oppressive an inhospitable environment that makes you want to pay and leave. Quickly. Like unproductive sex between barren people.

The apartment is otherwise very nice. It’s ridiculously good. It’s quite annoyingly American in the way things have been set around the place. The toilets are fantastic. I will not go into comparisons. Suffice to say that the conditions I am used to would enable all the people who are similarly used to the same conditions to say for these specimens that they “Could eat off them!” Suffice to say that I will not say that. I don’t want to appear too desperately outmoded or desperately atavistic even to myself. Actually, only to myself. The rest of them don’t particularly behave like the loos are exciting or anything. They just act very bored and very angry. The hot-water showers even have back-sprinklers that sprinkle that divine hot water all along the length of your back. I dread the prospect of leaving for dinner.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On The MC


SF waited in the corridor for the pamphlets to arrive. He had been waiting since early in the morning. The corridor was beginning to fill out and the morning bells were about to go off any moment. Some people entered the rooms with their doors ajar, most others waited outside. There wasn’t anything particularly new about the morning. It felt very similar to yesterday morning, and the morning before that. In these places, routine mornings tend to repulse unnecessary novelty. The beginning of the day is very consciously normal. It is meant to be specifically usual. It is meant that people come in like they regularly do. They ought to try and avoid being conspicuous; just simple regularity does fine. SF wanted this morning to be unlike the one the day before. He waited patiently and he waited eagerly. He knew that he had in line a very clear possibility of irregularity. He was going to use it. The pamphlets arrived shortly afterwards. They looked very forlorn and badly made. The standard colour was red, or somewhat red. The front of it was badly printed, missing letters toward the margins. The lettering was done in nondescript fonts, the one above very different from the one below. This place worships uniformity. The pamphlet clearly didn’t mind it one bit. It wasn’t glossily made. It was dull and frayed. It looked like it had nothing important to say. Pamphlets usually don’t, but some at least lead you on to things you mightn’t be indisposed to. This pamphlet, in its own way, was about one of those things. It was about a meeting on Revolution. It had a few names catalogued on the back, names of speakers who would extol, or not, the Revolution. No one specific type was mentioned; it was meant for the general idea. It coincided by dates with that special, superannuated Russian one, but that wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was the exposition. They wanted people to talk to, talk at, and to Initiate. The point was to lease some sense of contingency. One stock of pamphlets lay by the window.


It wasn’t noticeable from where SF stood, but he came over and took one. He looked around. No one had seen him take it. That was essential; he didn’t want people to notice. No one normally noticed people reading pamphlets anyway, but in his mind, everyone around meticulously noticed. Everything was exposed to judgment; everyone was vulnerable to others’ thoughts. He walked quickly over across the corridor and sat by the library. The sounds of doors shutting and the beginning of lectures came partly to him. Otherwise, he was reading the pamphlet. It was very important now, wasn’t it? He’d been waiting to read. He looked across to the bottom of the note and saw the name he’d expected. He read it twice and checked it over again. It was that name. It was that name on the pamphlet. He’d known it would be, but this was different. He had wanted to find out this way, to pick away one pamphlet from the lot and read it alone. In fact, in his mind, he’d rehearsed it so many times over. In his mind, he sighed loudly on discovering the name; he raised it over his head, saying, ‘What rubbish! Not this one again.’ He saw himself heroically tear it. But now, with it in his hands, he didn’t do any of that. It would be too conspicuous. He wanted to say to someone passing by, ‘What rubbish! Not this one again.’ He couldn’t. In that one moment, he couldn’t say anything denunciatory. He could only think it. His rehearsed hate and feigned discovery fell by the wayside of his momentary stillness. He had said it so many times in his mind. Now, though, it all precluded voice. It was frightening to feel that way; to come to terms with the disability of anger. If he could, he’d take it right up to the person and tell him everything. Tell him about his phony, petulant call-to-arms, tell him about the weaknesses and faults of his technique, tell him about how he won’t definitely get away the next time. Tell him everything upfront.


Unfortunately, the bell rang that time, and he had to go to class. He fixed his askew glasses. He picked up his copy of The Catcher In The Rye and walked away. As he walked away, he began to mutter to himself the beginning of his rehearsed diatribe, but stopped midway. He couldn’t complete it.