Monday, May 12, 2008

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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Blogger Abhishek said...

Here is the promised feedback, in what seems to me in hindsight in a (slightly) stupid format. Anyway,

Overall : Passable
Writing : Good
Plot/Idea : Passable

I don't like this story that much. And given what you've written in the past, this effort pales in comparison.

Some people seem to thrive while writing something inspired from their own lives. I IMHO think I do better in that domain. However, going by this story the ultra-proximity to the subject probably does not help.

This is clearly drawing a LOT of inspirations from your life - but I think the distance suits you better. Stories where you talk about Victorian England (vampires?) and Princely India, came out much better than this one.

Coming to the piece per se, the lines about the uncle came out well. And I like the structure of something (seemingly) happening in the background and the person's stream of consciousness. That definitely works.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Ramanand said...

Abhishek: thanks for the views.

> This is clearly drawing a LOT of inspirations from your life

I am not sure how you come to this conclusion, for it's not that clear to me! :-) For instance, I didn't quiz in school and didn't really switch to schools away from interests, so on and so forth. Perhaps all you are saying is that I do better at settings that neither of us know much about :-)

What I was trying: to try and achieve an ironic similarity between the question itself and the setting that the protagonist finds himself in. So a related question would be: did you pick up these similarities between the Hamlet monologue, which explains the (attempted) references to suicide, uncertainty, unease, restlessness, inertia etc. I know there's no point in trying to expect the reader to magically understand what I'm trying to juxtapose, but was curious if you took that aspect into consideration.

(BTW, minor trivial highlight: all names are from children of three prominent Indian cricketers :-) (Sunny from Sana is the only one name-mangled.))

3:00 AM  

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