Saturday, September 28, 2013

An Ode to 2012

'So, further to your meeting with the panel yest’day I’d like to inform you that we are considering you for an opening that we have', the voice over the phone informs me with trained, almost bored-yet-made-to-sound-as-if-filled-with-oh-so-much-enthu overtures. 

I am half asleep in the middle of an afternoon with February about to pass away in three days’ time. I have been sitting at home without a job for 5 straight months now. The excuses are slipping out of the palm of the calm and cool fa├žade that I have managed to maintain over these rough weeks in front of my family. 

'And?' I ask the HR personnel sleepily. 'So are you interested?' That suffocating enthu again. 'You haven’t told me what the profile is', I remind her holding back a yawn although I admit that half my brain cells are now awake with the false sense of excitement that her tone has showered so quickly and so effectively into my earlobe.

'Its in Resources depa’ment. You know its all about numbers and data and stuff. You know, very interesting profile'. 

I am suddenly reminded of myself sitting in that tiny room with the two interviewers on the fifth floor of the company’s corporate office, telling them so clearly that I am not meant for a client facing job and that I enjoy playing with numbers and data which would be the ideal work for me, given the fact that I am more useful with data than with people. 

Heck! They must’ve jotted it down in their writing pads and now she is just reading it out in front of me without expecting me to recognize my own words.

The nerve.

But who am I but an overgrown kid to try and put sense into her. I look down at my bulging tummy and scratch it nice and easy pondering over the decision that has presented itself in front of me, and which is now whispering into my ears with an enticing so what will it be Mr. Ravinutala? and a teasing shall I consider it as a yes then Mr. Ravinutala? And all of this is done to me as if I have a fucking choice in the matter. 

Take away the money that my dad and brother earn, then take away my laptop and walah! What do you have? Ans: An unemployed, shabby looking, overweight 23 year old ‘Qualified Professional’ whose bank account is as empty as a beggar’s wardrobe on the most generous of days.

Where exactly is there a decision in this to make?

'Yes' I respond. 'I am definitely interested' she is now receiving a taste of her own fake zeal but I doubt if she even gives a damn as I know I might be one among atleast twenty others to whom she is going to make the exact same call and repeat the exact same lines that she has said to me albeit with a change here and a change there, just so that it doesn't bore her. 'Excellent', she concludes.

'You will be receiving the offer letter in two days time. Pls respond with the date from which you would like to begin. The sooner the better.'

I agree with her on that.

I break the news. Family, both existing and prospective, is thrilled. Chalo! They must be thinking-especially my mother-now his life is set.

But life has other plans for me. Because, unaware of the blinder that the news of finally getting a job has drawn on my eyes, I look straight in front with unblinking retinas into what I think are the colours of a smooth and effortless future when in fact what I am staring at is only one single, singularly distinguishable colour and that colour is the colour of shit.

'What are the general office timings?' I ask with the nervousness of a junior sitting in front of someone belonging to senior management in an empty conference room filled with black, cushioned 360 degree rotatable chairs because this is the situation that I find myself in, two days from the afternoon that I received the call.

'We generally begin at 9.15 in the morning', the portly middle aged man wearing expensive yet simple looking spectacles and sporting a grayish t-shirt (it is Saturday) answers with his hands playing a light tabla tune on the glass table between us. 

'And? In the evening?'

He looks into my eyes, his own twinkling impishly, 

'Shaam ko? Aur kya? Bas baithe raho!' 

Perhaps the faint register of discomfort in me is visible to him on my person and so he quickly adds, 'people usually start to leave by 7.30'.

We shake hands ten minutes later and seal-what according to the hundreds of my fellow Chartereds sitting at home with no jobs is-the deal of a lifetime for me.

I am taken in as a Management Trainee in a fairly well established and allegedly aggressive finance company on what could be considered as fair pay for a CA with no prior experience.

As a celebratory event, I visit Crosswords and buy two books more than what I can actually afford, perhaps already having imagined the forty odd grand that will be sitting nice and fat in my bank account in a month’s time.

The Hungry Tide reaches into my hand from its place on the rack. I do not feel the need to read the little insight on the story that is given at the back of the cover as I have begun to consider Amitav Ghosh another silent mentor for the writer in me. And so I open the last page and stare down at the author’s photograph instead. A shock of white hair and a confident, almost glowing smile greet me from below. I smile back.

In no particular order I then pick up three other novels from the fiction aisles at random without putting any thought into which book I have selected to live with over the coming days. When I finally take stock of what I have purchased after coming out, to no surprise I find that Stephen King has authored three out of the six books in my bag. I have grown up reading Stephen King. 

In a sense, he is God to me. What little imagination that I have is mostly on account of the vividly disturbing and the disturbingly vivid stories penned down by him which I lapped up as a kid even before I had reached adolescence. He is also-in a completely different sense-what can be termed as a manufacturing unit, not a human being. Year after year I find the uniformity with which he publishes a minimum of two books every year to be genuinely inspiring.

Moving on then . . .

My first day at work. I yawn with watery eyes as I sit cramped for space behind the person who I am being trained to replace. He is busy, I am informed by the line manager and I am to just observe and learn as much as possible till the time he is free enough to coach me. I nod when I am being watched and when not, I nod off.
The Hungry Tide is resting in my back pack, unopened, unread, unexplored.

I yawn and rub my eyes. Two weeks pass by.

My mind is caught up in ideas again. I cannot help but smile looking outside the train from amidst the hostile crowd of office goers, my pack of fellow white collared comrades who may or may not share a common office space, but definitely share a common destiny. They are-every single one of them-bound, tied and their voices muffled; because they are-every single one of them-cogs in a giant mechanical structure of parts meshed together to serve the purpose of the whole machinery, the bigger entity, the bigger picture. They are supports, in short. Or a better way to put it would perhaps be the inverse- They are shorts, giving support. To whom you ask? To the shrunken but lavender talc laced, the shriveled albeit generously powdered up you-know-whats placed at the coveted corporate ladder foundation stone and the storeys that have come to be built on them over time.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not the reason that I am smiling, looking out of the train. Please don’t think that, as it is merely in an attempt at making my narrative sound more philosophically equipped that I may have wandered off a little from the tracks.

So where was I? Yes, indeed.

I smile.

Do you want to know why?

I smile because I am foolish enough to think of myself as a sword standing amidst all these cogs who are happily transforming into office drones devoid of any personal goals outside the structure laid out for them in which they are allowed to enter, to sit, to saunter and to leave freely, all for the mere price of wearing cards of identity around their necks at all times and refraining from speaking ill of the structure which pays them. Much like a domesticated dog, wont you agree? With the belt around its neck; the ever wagging tail and the lolling, licking tongue that knows not to bite the hand that feeds it?

I smile because, despite the fact that it has been many days since I have actually set pen on paper, I know fully well that it is only a matter of time before the thoughts inside me are pressed against each other with such an overwhelming pressure that they pour out of the top of my head, flowing down the length of my arm and reach the tip of my fingers, making them itch, urging them until submission is received and the words are finally typed. I know I can never stop writing.

I know. And so I smile looking out at the horizon of a water body that runs parallel to the tracks of the train, whizzing by so quickly.

I know even as a month passes by.

I know even as I have almost reached the end of The Hungry Tide, which is by no means a small book.

I know even as the novel is finished and my head is positively whirring with new plots and styles to experiment with, even as my mind is revving to have a go at an empty word document.

I know. . . I smile. . . and I smile even as with the passing of another month I am still swaying with the train’s rhythmic chug or is it not the train at all. . . Is it my life’s circular loop of daily customs and habits that is making me swing along like a hypnotized victim who feels at peace even as the ever eroding concept of time is eating its way into the depths of his hopes and dreams?

But I know that I will write soon. . . And I smile staring outside; oblivious of the fact I am no longer the sword that I pride myself to be. . . Oblivious of the fact that the metal I am made of is fast melting owing to neglect and re-moulding by itself into something that I have always mocked; despised even. Something round in shape, something with a hole in the centre and spikes at the edge, to help it grip the edge of another and another and another until it is only in the oneness and similarity of task and in the equality of load and in the unidirectional nature of pre-planned movement that I am able to find meaning and purpose.

It is at this moment when I am at the verge of a deeply distressing realization of me being no better than the cogs I silently mock, that I pick up Midnight’s Children as my next adventure.

And it is at this moment, where I feel I have long reached the tolerable limit of word count a personal post should avoid breaching, that I take your leave with the promise of continuing my ode to a disastrous year in my subsequent musings.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Catching up on other things

Has been quite a while since the last time I felt like ranting on about something in public. But, I am me, as I know already. I do not go out on walks, handing out sermons on what and what not I enjoyed doing over past few weeks.

And so I thought of resorting again to the ever reliant, if not inferior means of communicating with others. In any case I always was a better writer than an orator as I recount now. And this way, my audience (you) can choose their time of convenience to be bored/entertained by my rants on few things which I feel like sharing from time to time. Or you (my audience) may choose to skip entirely. So here goes.

I recently read three books in quick succession. Two in a single week infact and both were powerful enough for me to simply forget what the first one was even called. Written by the same author, Mohsin Hamid, yes, of Man Booker Prize nomination fame.

There is something so honest and truthful about Pakistani writers. I am forced to feel bad that majority of our country shrugs off our neighbour as a dead state. I do agree that as a politic and as a democratic entity Pakistan is as dead as roast meat. History speaks for itself that any country having religion at its base does not take long to transform from unpretentious autonomy to authoritarian tyranny. And so in a century’s time, or even less, perhaps the world will acknowledge collectively the green on their flags and the elegant half moon with the star in the middle on their uniforms to be wrongful. It may go on to be so or it may not. (I pray India does not go down a similar road.)

Yet I am forced to keep an unassuming view as far as the people there are concerned. Because, if I am truthful to myself, apart from fleeting glimpses of mobs burning effigies of Indian politicians and snob faced reporters narrating botched up stories of India, not Pakistan, being the source of terrorism, I know nothing about what goes on there day to day.

And it so happened that both times that I put down these books having read the last sentence off the last page of each one, I felt mesmerized by the fact that how something that many of us, as patriotic Indians, consider to be ugly as a country in totality still has such beautiful themes to offer in terms of literary art forms. And when I say this, I am not at all basing my conclusions on the work of a single person as it just so happens that a month back I had also finished reading another Pakistani novel by the name ‘A case of exploding mangoes’ by Mohammad Hanif, who has unofficially been bestowed with the title ‘Rockstar of Pakistan’- most befittingly- given the popularity this debut novel of his was able to garner in the short span since its publishing.

Hanif is utterly brilliant in his narrative and the book is what I would call a must read for any book lover who wishes to be enthralled at the same time with rib tickling wit and gut wrenching truth cum reality. ‘A case of. . .’ came as more of a shock to me than a surprise because even the synopsis at the back of the book conveyed so little about what the experience would be like while reading it. I had shown so much reluctance while taking it off the shelf and when I began reading I realized I just couldn’t afford to take even a single pause. I ended up literally living with the novel for one whole week before I could reach the end. I have to express again to you (my audience), the book is a must read, if not for its political correctness, then merely for the brilliant storyline (plot: the real/fictional story behind Pak president Zia ul Haq’s plane crash of 1988 that was surrounded by a dozen conspiracy theories)

Anyways, moving on.

‘Moth Smoke’ was the first of Hamid’s two that I began with. It is-like the other-a first person narrative of a young man named Darashikoh Shehzad’s spiraling downfall from the heights of academic genius and promise to drugs and ultimate imprisonment. The best way to describe it in one sentence would be- Imagine Dev D, but with a certain emotional undercurrent of flowing gloom that that film lacked in my view. The character portrayal and the narrative style utilized by the author are so subtle that it seeps into your blood and the gloom that lies in the form of words on paper and ink are suddenly inside you, surrounding you- you are breathing it.
A hundred pages into the book, I could barely feel any weight on my mind other than what weighed down the mind of the story’s protagonist. It is-I must add- also a deeply personal tale of love found and lost, as is ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, of which I will speak in some time. I was most impressed by one thing and that is the simplicity with which the author conveys such grave issues like economic inequality as well as such intimate issues like personal independence, desire, lust and betrayal with equal prowess and grace. A good novel, as explained to me by an AVP who took me on in an interview at a Broking firm a year ago, is one which melts the words from before your eyes and only leaves you with the scenes in your imagination much like a film, only much closer to your senses. I recollect that now as I recollect the experience of having read this book.
Which brings me to the second of the two, The Reluctant Fundamentalist-the novel that is now a ‘Major Motion Picture’ as the front cover, bedecked with photos of semi-famed actors, shouts out proudly (The movie tanked and critics hated it, no doubt. I am seriously surprised at the choice of novels some people make to convert into films. first Midnight’s Children, which I still firmly believe is a story beyond the capacity of images, moving or still, to replicate because the entire book is based on smell as the binding force or ‘Sutradhar’ as some would call it. And now this! Where exactly is that big a story in this 184 paged book to be acted out by thespians, I am dumbfounded. Yes, agreed that if it is a monologue in a stage play that we are talking about, then it is quite possible to enact this story. But a film, not a chance!)

The book, again a first person narrative, speaks of the story of Changez, a Pakistani boy who moves to the States to pursue his dreams, the American Dream, to be more precise, and the effects that the events following 9/11 have on him. Again, at the crux of it all lies a love story and the manner in which the author manages to envelope the macro issues of a brown skinned man with a beard living in New York with the problems of a heart broken youth is surreal. Ideologies are not shaped in silo, as I interpret it, is the key moral of this tale for me. Events happen, people feel, people ponder, people think, and then people change in terms of beliefs and thoughts. 

Purpose of life is defined by events that transpire around us and not by the mere fact that we choose one befitting our skill-set. It may so happen that we embrace blindly what life has chosen by itself as our purpose and continue to believe that we were the driving force behind such decisions, but it is not so and even if it is, there is no saying that some event tomorrow or the day after shall transpire leaving a giant hole in our projections’ blueprint. Then we change accordingly. Life is governed by many things that are beyond us.

So is true in the case of Changez, the protagonist, as well. I reached the end of this novel, or rather novella, today evening. The end-as is the problem with many-a-brilliantly written story-was, I must say, underwhelming. But the content as compared to Moth Smoke was stronger and more pertinent to today’s global ambience of ever growing discrimination between blacks and whites. Still if you asked me to rank the two against each other, I would consider Moth Smoke as a better book in the same way that I consider ‘Between the assassinations’ as Aravind Adiga’s better one when compared with ‘White Tiger’. There is a certain depth that I like to see while reading which I have come to associate with debut novels. Hence, the bias for Moth Smoke.

Watched a few films recently, The Lunchbox being the last one. It is indeed a very good film but, surprisingly, I didn’t find it to be that moving a story. Now I don’t know whether that is a problem with the film or a problem with me and my preoccupation with Mohsin Hamid’s colossally impacting narratives. But one thing I can state with confidence that I vouch for A Separation which is an Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi to be one of the best films that I have watched till date. The treatment and the pacing of this movie, you will find once you’ve seen both, is quite similar to that of The Lunchbox.

Also worthy of a mention is a 2001 TV Movie that goes by the name Conspiracy that was recommended to me by another movie buff of a friend. If drama as a genre interests you, then this is THE film to watch. 

Taut, gripping, ace actors giving their honest best. Much like Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, only much more chilling in terms of its content and sheer reality of dialogue. (Plot: The meeting of 15 Nazi high ranking officers to find a permanent solution to the problem of growing number of Jews in Europe) 

Takes a while to adjust to watching English actors playing Nazis.

But once Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh begin mouthing their lines, you will have sheer awe and nothing more on your mind.