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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