Sunday, March 07, 2010

fever dream

based on what I went through when I took ill during my last trip to India (December 2009)

Voices tumbled over one another exhorting him to mix the contents of different overlapping strata of space and time in order to survive the precarious walk on the tightrope between real space and dream space. It was all this and much more. As he struggled to make sense of the directives, the thought blanket switched face with another series of interleaved ripples and the voices now screamed another message. It was still convoluted and self-aware in its lack of clarity, but he was hypnotised by its power. He felt like a plane slicing the bodies of clouds holding hands of vapour in the cold sky as the sun glared all around. He could not feel the cold droplets of water as he glided from one cirrus contour to another cumulus trough. Yet, he knew where he was. The sense of confusion and deracination at once felt very wrong and completely appropriate. Another conceptual shift revealed a new configuration in the clouds and voices. Now the sense of being in some metaphysical ravioli was pronounced. He could feel the water boiling but did not feel wet or hot himself. There were no beads of sweat to comfort him. Everything he felt was incomplete and somatically wrong. The voices continued their fervent chanting, still not making sense and still very persuasive. He knew he was dreaming; he knew all he had to do to break this fervid marathon of nonsense was wake up, but he was afraid he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep again and sleep was he needed most to let his body fight the virus. He had to be patient and let the fever break when it was time. Until then, he was stuck in limbo between real space and dream space. He couldn't take it anymore. His stomach had started churning in response to the drama in his brain and he was too weak to restore order. He forced his burning eyes open and swallowed a few times. He then rose painfully to his feet and lumbered to the jug to get himself a glass of water.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

First Mover Advantage

There are many things he does not tell me. What he does all day for example. He claims to be a "researcher". Contributing to the world's knowledge and all that. I have no idea how sitting alone in a room all day you can do anything much. But then, I believe him. But then again, I'm not like him.

I work at McDonald's.

I could also claim to contribute to World ... erm, World Hunger or something. If nothing I at least contribute to those zeros that they put up at those tall signs on each of our outlets. The ones which say 'so many morons served' or something. But then I don't. Because I have no pretensions about life. You are born, you go to prom, you fuck, you have kids and you shrivel and die one day in an obscure bed somewhere in front of a few idiots who think its worth their while to buy white lillies for you. And that is if you are lucky. Else your life is screwed before it even began. Each one lives for himself - and no one 'contributes' to some invisible global coffer of knowledge. Just to that very visible coffer in their local bank.

He also refuses to tell me why he insists on wearing those stupid white sneakers and the same pair of jeans every day and why he still drives that idiotic old Saab of his. I mean he has enough money to buy one of those fucken' German beauties. Yet he sticks with Swedish trash. He tells me he is going to graduate in a year, and that it is probably the low point of his graduate life. His research isn't getting anywhere either. Why that should affect his clothing - I have no fucken idea. I work at a blasted McDonald's all day, but hell - that doesn't mean I turn out all the time in a grey shirt and a smelly pair of jeans. I sure like to spend that dough at those boutiques on Charles Street. And sometimes I wished that he'd just wear the stuff I buy him. Not fucken' bitch about it all day! Like Mr. Parsons at the outlet when I overdo the fries. Both of them go to my fucken' head.

I've decided. I'm going to end it. I've met this other guy - Jim. He's not bad. At least he doesn't write computer programs while I'm lying on the bed - the only thing missing a placard asking him to have sex with me. Sure, Jim's a fat idiot who doesn't know shit about anything. But that is a trade-off a girl who serves fries all day has to live with.

I've even worked out how I'm going to do it. I'm going to make a YouTube video and post it online. And then use his email account to send it out to all our friends. Its for his own good. If I don't do this, he'll end up alone, miserable and will wake up one day in a puddle of his own filth wondering why his life turned out the way it did. I even know what I'm going to say:

"Dear Michael, I want to tell you that I'm breaking up with you. I am a 24 year old waitress who stays with her mom and watches Gosspi Girl all day. And you can't even keep ME happy! You need to get out of your fucken' shell and appreciate other people. Take care of them. Be tender. And all those words you call 'stupid' and 'sentimental'. Well, guess what? They're important. They're fucken important Michael! Its high time you realised that. It's over. O-V-E-R!"


(Meanwhile across town in a tiny lab this email is being written)


Unfortunately I cannot continue to go out with you any more. I thought that if for a change I dated a 'normal' girl I would be happy. I thought I could make you understand the wonders of the world. The magic behind everything around us. How things come together. How they break apart. But I'm afraid your case is irretrievable. And unless you improve and make an effort to be more interested and curious about what happens about us, learn to appreciate and marvel at how things just work your life will remain as dull and uninteresting as it is now. Sara, in a curious kind of way, I do love you and I want you to be happy.

That is why I'm copying this email to all of our friends.

I hope you will forgive me.



76 people in and around Boston now have two new messages in their inbox.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Question Time

Jim stared at the pitch black screen with the floating, tiny white writing. He had heard that Roman Polanski's name was mentioned in the credits somewhere as a "idea man". And he had to see, to make sure.

The lines rolled by. He tried not to remember what Roger McGrady (jib operator) or Timothy Speelding (lighting and compositing artist) did in the movie. Then suddenly, much to his satisfaction, it showed up.

"Larry Tellis - Ideaman."

Larry Tellis was of course the name Polanski used in such situations. Jim, looked at the screen smugly for one last time before he turned it off. He made a note of the recent discovery in the notebook he had by his side. Not bad, he thought for a SFX movie - hidden tributes to Casablanca and The Apartment, and a special appearance by Santana. And now Polanski's name to the credits. More than par for the course.

If he had people around him he would've said "Nice job, boys! A good day's work", but he was alone. And sleepy. And it was night. So he went turned out the light and went to bed. With the calm of a man who knew of a job well-done.


The alarm clock went off at the usual 7 am. Jim woke up. Stared at the paper, gulped some tea, showered and headed off to work. Pretty much a standard Junior-Analyst-at-a-major-investment-company morning. As he locked his 6th floor apartment door, Mrs.Abrams from next door said hello. Jim just smiled weakly in return. At least she didn't talk about his car today.

Exactly a week back, Jim had bought a pretty expensive car. It was in fact one of the most expensive cars money could buy - the new Gladeo S6 Platina, not something that should be in the possession of a 25 year old Finance executive. But, if you've just won a cool £1 million on a TV Quiz show, you do have a little bit of leeway to splurge on childhood fantasies. And so he did.

As he made his way to work, Jim recollected those final moments. He had just won £500,000 via what he thought was a really simple question (Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?) and the last question was about to just show up. No one before him had ever actually won the £1 million, and to everyone's surprise Jim had all of his lifelines unused. Waiting.

When the final question actually came up, it all turned out to be a bit anti-climatic. It was Entertainment of all topics and they asked him about a character played by an obscure Broadway actor that would be made famous later by another famous actor.("Poncho Man" and Steven Stallworth). Of course he knew that! It was in fact on the "do not ask again list" at his local pub quiz sessions. And he had won the million quid. Just like that.

It seemed awesome to think about all this as he strode along the M6, the Gladeo just purring along. He remembered feeling invincible. Omnipotent. Anything they threw at him he could answer. Just like that. As he pressed on the pedal and galloped along the motorway at 150 kph, nothing he felt could ever challenge him. Not a question or a query he could not find an answer to.

Suddenly the cellphone rang. It was Martha.

"Hi Jim. I really don't know how to say this, and I'm really sorry I'm saying it over the phone like this. But I really can't think of another way. Ermm.. I really don't think we should see each other anymore. I'm really, really sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"

And suddenly all his lifelines were gone, and he was penniless. Again. Just like that.


The Name of Action

[reminder of theme: something to do with a question]

"This comes 15 sentences before a sentence with the word 'contumely'", the quizmaster had begun.

"Do you know this?!", hissed Sunny. As soon as the quizmaster had spoken, Samit knew it would be coming his way. Of course, he was assuming Arjun would miss it. Seated three teams ahead, he saw Arjun looking pensive. Three years of observing the city's best school quizzer had given Samit good antennae for knowing when Arjun knew. When he knew, which he did (painfully for Samit) most of the time, Samit could tell.

He could sense Sunny glaring at him. Samit always regretted the fact that his parents pulled him out of LMS and into Sardar Patel's ("they have better board results"). LMS were much better at everything else that mattered to him: football, quizzing, dramatics. There, he had also spent one year quizzing with Arjun, who even then towered over the others on the circuit, winning everything that year. After that tragic move for the sake of intangible prospects, he'd watched over the years as Arjun and partner (always rendered anonymous) won a music system, a box set of Ruskin Bonds, and even geared cycles.

"19 sentences before 'quietus'..."

"Shit-yaar-re, even Arjun doesn't know this", squealed Sunny as the quizmaster shook his head at Arjun's attempt. "You will say something or not? Anyway, even Arjun gave up, man."

There was a straightforward explanation why someone as trivially challenged as Sunny was in the team: he came first in History and English. In the opinion of their class teacher, this demonstrated sufficient acumen to deal with quizzes. Samit found it galling to have to qualify via a written test each year for the 'privilege' of partnering that bony ranker. Think, think, think, he tried to persuade himself.

"...which is followed immediately by 'bodkin' and 'fardels'."

Samit was aware of being incensed. At the collective injustices thrown at him, both by those close to him and those forced upon him. He was not a temperamental child and was given to slowly steaming on the fires of quiet contemplation. He wished he could hold his head and somehow thrust it into a pool.

As usual, the quizmaster was stuck at the Stuts, which is what everyone else called the team that unusually had both a boy who stuttered and a girl who lisped. Sympathetic extra time was always available to them. Sunny slumped back in capitulation.

Without any warning, a fleeting memory of his maternal uncle appeared. The uncle who was never spoken of in the family because that poor man had overdosed on sleeping pills, on purpose. Samit was always aware of a persistent sneer issuing from his father whenever any hint of that unfortunate man's former existence made its way into embarassed conversation. We don't suffer cowards, said that sneer, and anyone who turned the lights off permanently just because he couldn't face the darkness didn't deserve to live. One day in the future, Samit would find himself trying to think of every subliminal utterance from his childhood to blame all his troubles on, but right now he simply squirmed, unable to concentrate.

Forget it. If Arjun could not, how can I? (I think I know this.) I can't do this anymore. I'm never going to be good at this. (Go on, say it.) I'm never going to be good at anything. (The quizmaster had walked over.) I wish I could be elsewhere. ("Any answers?"). I wish I could close my eyes. ("C'mon, don't wanna try?") To die, to sleep, to dream.

Said Samit aloud: "To be or not to be, that is the question".

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

His Fear of Heights

"So the reason why Housing Department Secretary Fred Carson..."

He was on the ground floor for three hours, waiting for McNeil to show up. McNeil arrived, surrounded by lackeys, and entered the elevator. A sidekick pressed '15'. McNeil, fittingly, had an office right on top of what was the city’s tallest building.

Mr. Fred squeezed in as the doors closed. McNeil paid no attention. Fred knew this was his only chance. He thrust himself in front of McNeil. The lackeys moved in with menace. But McNeil called the hounds off.

Encouraged, Fred wasted no time. ‘I have a script’, he explained. As Studio Head, McNeil was always being accosted by wannabes, and usually dismissed them remorselessly. But he was amused by this little middling man in grey. 'Really?' The flunkeys sniggered. Displeased by their boorishness, McNeil told old man Fred: 'you have until the top floor'.

Twelve floors remained. Fred launched into his story about Cowboy Jim whose New York aunt leaves him an urban fortune. Fred knew his story both by heart and by soul. That it had a slow beginning, under the open skies and plains. But eventually, it would pick up wings and soar. It was Fred’s ticket out.

Mr. Fred wanted McNeil to show a flicker of reaction. But McNeil had weathered thirty years in the business and had a face of the finest oak. The lackeys were quiet too.

The elevator halted. Fred still had the last one-third left. The best third. McNeil exited. ‘Thanks, but this isn’t what we’re looking for’.

"...never permits a new building in his jurisdiction to exceed fifteen floors was the fact that he had rejected the addition of five floors to that same building when it was being made."

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Silence of Doom

In that cold room on the night of the new moon, I respectfully closed the eyes of the Rajah Sahib with my palms. I looked at his grieving family and shook my head. Surya Mahal was now in mourning for its head.

I noticed the prince-in-waiting Nakul Hans gesture in my direction, so I followed him out of the deceased Rajah’s bedroom. The Ranee Sahibaa silently wiped her tears, clinging to her last moments with her husband and her vermillion. Nakul’s younger brother Vardhan knelt beside his mother and put his arm around her. He paid no attention to us.

"Thank you, Dr. Indraneel, in this hour of grief, for attending so patiently to my father", Nakul said outside, his voice faltering.

"Please, I implore you not to say so", I said, a tremble in my whisper. "It was all I could do. His time had come. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it any easier for him."

"I’m sure you gave it your best shot, Doctor", he said, regaining the crisp command that spoke eloquently of his public school education.

"About that other matter?" I ventured haltingly.

The latest successor to the estates and titles of Daalipore considered this carefully. "Let us go upstairs", he said.

Nar Bahadur, Nakul’s faithful retainer, was summoned for torches. We walked up those four flights of steps to the Mahal’s South Tower. Bahadur was dismissed at the ante-chamber to the Tower, a place that I had grown familiar with in the last three months without once feeling accustomed to its musty and dank chambers. She lay in the corner.

This may come as shock to you, dear reader, so I will try to expound on our odd visit, the latest of a series of visits which I had now been performing for three months. You see, I have also been treating the Banshee of Surya Mahal all this while. She was resident in these dark Tower chambers. You must excuse the pride that regrettably creeps in my voice when I recount these episodes. I have been sworn to secrecy by the Royal Family and may my throat be slit if I have ever breathed a word of this to a fellow being before. But the fact that I am surely the only Indian doctor in Her Majesty’s Raj to have the rare privilege of actually administering medicine to a living banshee stirs up an equally rare vanity in my soul.

Like most of my fellow countrymen, I had never heard of a banshee. However, in my last year as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, my Professor of Anatomy, to whom I had endeared myself, had opened new doors of medicine to me. To me and two other favoured pupils, he introduced the magical world of the banshees, these fantastic creatures who attached themselves loyally to households and wailed when death was imminent there! However, on return to my native land, I had set aside this memory when confronted with the more mundane ailments of my fellow-men, whose cholera and malaria had cured me of all my fancies.

However, six months ago, Nakul Hans came to visit me with a question concerning the health of his family’s banshee. This came as quite a shock to me. The scion of the local kingdom, he put forth the facts before me. His grandfather had obtained the banshee from England, but had kept it a closely-guarded family secret. Now, folklore says that banshees shriek when any member of the household faces death. Little does anyone know that this death need not be inevitable. It can serve as a forewarning of doom, which can be held at bay if precautions are taken. Living constantly with the threat of external aggression and internal intrigue, as the royals and their forefathers did, the banshee became a valuable harbinger that had saved some lives. But one must also bow to the wishes of the great Almighty above, so when illness or old age came knocking at the doors of Surya Mahal, the family could prepare for the worst once the banshee had spoken.

The death of the Rajah a few minutes ago was the first time in 75 years that the Banshee had not moaned in warning when death had come on its dark journey.

The banshee cowered in the corner as I approached her. Her mouth was open and she was clearly making a desperate attempt to call out. But only silence rushed out to meet the air.

"So you’ll be able to reverse the condition now?" whispered Nakul.

"I will, sir, er, Your Highness", I said, as I held the poor creature firmly and shone my torch in her throat. "As I have told you, I must confess that I have never done the procedure before, but the literature does cover it in great detail. I have no reason to doubt its effectiveness, since the earlier procedure worked so well".

"Indeed, doctor. You do realize that I must have her by my side now that the Rajah, may the gods bless him, is no more. Vardhan has been suspicious and I have reason to believe that in his last days, my father had started to agree with him. This despite the discretion of the highest order."

"Do not worry, your highness. You have some very discreet men in your employ. Like me".

He smiled that quick smile, which reminded many of a tiger’s smirk. I must be careful with this man.

"I hope so, doctor. By when do you think she’ll have her voice back?"

"The texts say 2 weeks should be sufficient."

"Hmm. Make it a month – it would be extremely odd if the banshee were to regain her voice so soon after my father passing away. I’ll just have to be a little more cautious during this period, but that should be a price worth paying."

"As you prefer it, sir."

I stood up as Rajah Nakul Hans flashed his torch at the banshee whose features were contorted in rage. I did not know she could do so!

You may, O reader, wonder whether a doctor ought to readily sacrifice his scruples. But please consider my position. Nakul would have arranged to poison his noble father even if I had not acquiesced. By silencing the Banshee, I obtained the fortunate prospect of observing this fantastic beast at a microscope’s length away. Perhaps my book on the banshees will one day be on the shelves of stores in London and be studied at Bart’s. The onward march of medical science has always demanded a few human sacrifices. As a token of memoriam, I shall dedicate my book to the Rajah Aryanath Tejatman Singh of Daalipore, who died this nineteenth day in December, 190x, of natural causes. May his soul rest in peace.

[Note from me:

* Have steamrolled past word limit like the German army looking for land in the East.

* Could not pick up familiarity with the vocab of the era, so did the following: eschewed modern usages wherever possible, used slightly more flowery/old-fashioned words, used brit-style spelling for some entities, used Doyle's prose as a reference.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The License.

I started out with noble intentions. But I don't think this entry ended up fitting the "social milieu" requirement. Maybe it does. But anyway, here goes.

Buddho Babu was elated. This joy expressed itself through another squirt of red betel juice, this one making only a minor red mark near the bottom of his white dhoti. The major part of the projectile found itself nestled at the bottom of a blue bucket placed near the foot of the bench on which he was sitting. Bustling with life, and littered with people - no one in the room really cared. This act was a sign of feeling at home in a government office, nothing really to frown upon.

"Aah" Busho Babu groaned as he got up and made his descent down the final flight of stairs that would complete his year long mission. It wasn't easy when he had decided to take it on. After all, there was the long theoretical and experimental study, the rigorous examination, and the actual live practical, demonstrating that he could do it right. Very few passed. He had rightly surmised that the government did not want too many people with the license. The very fact that they actually sanctioned this kind of thing was unknown to most. He certainly did not know anyone who had one. But then, no-one he knew had needed one either.

He could see a light emerging from the bottom of the stairwell. "This must be it". As he entered the bare, dusty room, the babu at the desk motioned him to wait, while the Chief Sanctioning Officer arrived. Buddho Babu would have a short interview with him, sign the final few papers before he recieved it. Also there was the small matter of the oath.

The Officer arrived in about a minute and gesticulated that Buddhu Babu could accompany him to his office. "Congratulations" he said."This would have been so much easier for you and us, if you had gotten this done when you found out at your Coming-of-Age Investiture . Anyway, better late that never, sign here please!". As he signed, The Officer handed him his small, green card, with his photograph, the official stamp and other details. A small box on top indicated his current status. "Allowed limit : 1500ml per week".

"So, shall we begin with the oath?".

Budho Babu mumbled the words, as he tried to keep his emotions in check.

"I solemnly pledge before The Holy Spirit that I will not misuse the powers granted to me by the Government, and will uphold the general principles of Vampiredom. I will drink the blood of only fresh corpses and the terminally ill, in a manner that will not cause mental or physical pain to any individual involved. I shall not exceed the limits prescribed by my license and will not divulge the details of this transaction to any other individual. I shall lead the rest of my life as an authorized Vampire with utmost integrity and will be forever loyal to the Charter of Vampiric Principles."

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Moral Victory

Why here, he thinks – Do I not have enough to worry about already? Why come back to a place, I've hated for years. Sure, it's praised and lauded. Sure, it's written about. But what do they know? If you'd have had the time to ponder over it, to drink it in – in all its moods, in all its seasons, then you'd know. Know her for real. That beast of monotony. Pounding away since eternity. Fleeting in her love, unforgiving in her wrath. Yes, he affirms – she's left him no choice. Hate the sea, he must.

Those people will never understand this though. “It's your culture, boy! ” he's heard mister Kerkar argue. Shit, he's heard everyone argue. He fights back, - “But she's of no use. All she does is infringe and influence. She dominates. She makes us all dance to her charms. And, we do.” He'd prefer not feeling this way. He'd prefer blending in. How he wished, she could charm him too. No antagonism, no upheaval. No hate. Life – they say is not that simple.

Why here, he thinks. Again.

Around him, Nature awaits the rendez-vous. It gasps with the wind, prepares with the sand, heralds with the birds. About 9 o'clock, he remembers reading - she should be on time. But till then, he must wait. That was never an issue with him. Waiting. He was always good at it. That is all that he's done all his life. Wait. Kind of fitting, he smirks, that he should do it now. A perfect way to round off.

“One must wait, when one does not get.”

Some aphorism. “Man! I should have noted all those down.” Fuck - too late now.

A glance at the watch confirms his premonition. It's time. He closes his eyes. She makes her final advance.

It seems repulsive at first – when she first touches his toe. They haven't met in over seven years. And now, all of a sudden, this intimacy. Alien, cold and yet familiar in its touch. “You succumb, at last.” - she seems to whisper, clawing away. With relish. Taking her time. She grows on him, covering him in her warmth. He's repulsed. More than ever.

He feels his body shiver, tremble. Not with fear, but excitement. It's going to be over. Soon. But even in this inescapable finality, he has time to smirk - “Even now, you come to me.”

Mister Kerkar was right, he agrees - she's got her uses after all. All you need to do, is wait.

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Lab #5

While we read each other's submissions and everyone pummels mine into oblivion, here's the next lab to get everyone thinking.

Title : Sahib, Biwi aur Golem.
[That's right, a piece in the style+vocabulary of early Indian fiction, in the social-novel milieu, but with a western supernatural creature inserted into the plot. That means traditional creatures like fairies, golems (duh), vampires, werewolves. Not creatures mentioned in only a specific book or movie, like Cthulhu, He-who-must-not-be-named, Jason Voorhees, or Replicants.]
Constraints : Note the vocabulary bit above. I mean it. Really.
Word Limit : 500 words or so.
Deadline : 10th November.