Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Guest Post Series - The Vulnerable Queen

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

A couple of weeks ago, after flagging of the guest post series, I had a dark moment when I wondered if what I am doing is too silly, and if it will end up as a massive failure. I overcame that moment, and I am really glad that I did. Lakshminarayanan was one of the last persons I asked to write for me. Lakshmi has written almost nothing at all in public forums, and I was extremely curious to see him try. I didn't expect him to write though, and he didn't make me feel too confident that he would write.  By happenstance, the Bangalore Special Court intervened, and pronounced a judgement that provoked an immediate reaction from Lakshmi.  

Lakshmi was me with me in college. He is a very good friend outside this blog. He is one of the few people who one can address as sutha thangam (pure gold) without being too far off the mark. Often grumpy, he has a lot of strong views on various things happening around him, and does not care too much for tact while voicing them. He has read only a few posts in the blog to my knowledge. One of these posts -- A Comprehensive (but clumsy) Career Flowchart -- was conceived after a conversation I had with him where he achieved the impossible : make me feel more pessimistic than I already am. As it will be very obvious after reading this post, he is a staunch supporter of Jayalalitha. My own views on her conviction is not completely formed yet. Jayalalitha is (was?) definitely a whimsy, but capable administrator. The whole situation makes me wonder if the right thing and the good thing are always the same. That she be arrested is the right thing. However, is it for the larger good? Probably so in the longer run, but I still wonder. It is definitely not a great thing for the Tamil Nadu's short term future.

The Vulnerable Queen



When Adarsh asked me to write about something, I was very much reluctant for obvious reasons. But there are times when you feel like writing and this is one such occasion . This is just an outpour of what my mind feels right at this moment .

I never thought that I would write an article on J.Jayalalitha . A person whom many consider as arrogant , stubborn and a dominant personality . I haven't got an opportunity to interact with her( Yeah that's obvious:P) ,  but I have been observing her as a podhu janam(a common man) . This article is purely based on my observation and views. Hope I have the right as a citizen of the country to air my views.

Jayalalitha is someone who has been criticized for everything. Yes, everything she does has been criticized. If she stands in the portico and waves her hand at the people, she is termed imperious.  If she doesn't answer questions to reporters then she is termed arrogant. Phew actually the list goes endless.  But how can a person still move on? If it were me, I would have given up.

It is also said that she files defamation cases on people spreading aspersions on her. Let’s say some one unknown to us says the wildest and most ridiculous things about us , what would we do? If I were in that situation, I would go straight to that person and ask on what grounds that he /she spoke such things. Can she do that? It's not possible at all, and the best way to deal with such things would be filing defamation cases. For extremely sensitive people it's really difficult to tolerate such things! I know this, since I am hypersensitive too.

There are lot of things that many (including myself) should learn from this attitude of hers. If we start taking criticism that is made about us, it will be really difficult to move on in life . In the end we have to live for our own self , if we start paying heed to unwanted criticisms I am sure life would become hell, because we can never satisfy everybody. Today someone would say that this is wrong and tomorrow another person would say that you have to totally change your approach. This can never work out at all .

The kind of slandering that she has faced in the media is totally disturbing, I am sure that no other person would have faced so much. Yet how was she able to become the CM not just once but thrice? Many of my friends would now say that it was because of the mis-governance of the previous regimes. Yes that's agreed, but is that the only reason? Definitely not.

Who had the courage to vanquish the forest brigand Veerapan? When the state was suffering from a high rate of female infanticide , who introduced  the cradle baby scheme? Implementation of Compulsory Rain water harvesting in buildings -- whose idea was that ?

If I start pointing out facts, then I am sure Adarsh would screw me for ruining his page , so let me get back to her character analysis. The decision making skill, the ability to grasp and act accordingly is a vital ingredient which she has and many others lack.

People say she intimidates men - Okay history is known , she has been and has to be stern to in order to sustain her position in the party . I am not sure as to how else can a person be able to accomplish his/her supremacy in the party. If she was quite timid and gullible in nature then I am sure that someone would have easily eaten up her .

She is a person who is extremely forthright and at the same time vulnerable. At this crucial juncture ,  I  wish  that she be acquitted in this case, because it's really difficult to find a person with the charisma of hers.  Also it is strenuous to find a person with great administrative skill, oratory capabilities and multi-linguistic fluency. This is a very rare combination (one must be gifted to have all of them, I would say).

I am sure that many people might ridicule me for this article, but I am not bothered about that at all . The state needs a person who is fearless and humane and I am sure that currently there is no-one to replace her. Many people tried to wish her away from politics twice , I wish that their third attempt in trying to wither her off from the political stage of TN be an utter failure .

Thanks Adarsh for giving me an opportunity to scribble something !
Hope that I made some sense :)

Regards,
Lakshminarayanan (LVN)

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Success Series (with WhatsApp and Facebook) - The Samosa Vendor

Hidden amongst all the bleak, dreary, depressing and pessimistic thoughts in my blog, there lies a promise I once made -- that I will explain the immensely significant impact of motivational quotes on me. Promises are meant to be kept. I have been receiving millions of motivational messages on WhatsApp, Facebook and increasingly rare face-to-face conversations. Since I am yet to give up the belief that my blog would be seen by history as a one of the most creative human achievements ever, I decided to share a few of these "must-read" messages as a part of a "Success Series". Future students who read this blog as a part of this school syllabus may take note of the important messages, and live their lives accordingly. I would also leave a short write-up of my own thoughts on, and my interpretations of the messages at the end.

Here is a message I got recently. Reproduced as it is, except for the bolding of the title

[Fist Punch smiley] Must Read.....

The Samosa Vendor


“Today in India its unbelievable .......
The numbers are a little difficult to swallow, ......
But interesting nevertheless.”

It was my regular train journey home from work. I boarded the 18:50pm train from churcugate. When the train was about to leave marinelines, a samosa vendor with an empty basket got on and took the seat next to me. As the compartment was sparsely occupied and my destination was still far away, I got into a conversation with him.

Me: "Seems like you've sold all your samosas today."
Vendor (smiling): "Yes. By God's grace, full sales today."
Me: "I really feel sorry for you people. Don't you get tired doing this tiresome job the whole day?"
Vendor: "What to do, sir? Only by selling samosas like this every day do. We get a commission of 75 paise for each samosa that we sell."

Me: "Oh, is that so ? How many samosas do you sell on an average each day?"
Vendor: "On peak days, we sell 4,000 to 5,000 samosas per day. On an average, we sell about 3,000 samosas a day."

I was speechless.....for a few seconds. The guy says he sells 3,000 samosas a day; at 75 paise each, he makes about 2,000 rupees daily, or 60,000 rupees a month. That's Rs. 60,000 a month. OMG. I intensified my questioning and this time it was not for time pass.
Me: "Do you make the samosas yourself?"
Vendor: "No Sir. we gets the samosas through a samosa manufacturer
And we just sell them. After selling we give him the money. And gives us 75 paise for each samosa that we sell."

I was unable to speak a single word more but the vendor continued... 
"But one thing...most of our earnings are spent on living expenses. Only with the remaining money are we able to take care of other business."

Me: "Other business? What is that?"
Vendor: "It is a land business. In 2007 I bought 1.5 acres in Palghar for 10 lakh rupees and I sold it a few months back for 60 lakhs. Now I have bought land in umroli for 20 lakh rupees."
Me: "What did you do with the remaining amount?
Vendor: "Of the remaining amount, I have set aside 20 lakhs for my daughter's wedding. I have deposited the other 20 lakhs in the bank."
Me: "How much schooling have you had?"
Vendor: "I studied up to third standard; I stopped my studies when I was in the 4th standard. But I know how to read and write. Sir, there are many people like yourself, who dress well, wear a tie, wear shoes, speak English fluently and work in air-conditioned rooms. But I don't think you guys earn as much as we do wearing dirty clothes and selling samosas."

At this point, what could I reply. After all, I was talking to a millionaire! The train chugged into khar station and the samosa vendor got up from his seat.

Vendor: "Sir, this is my station...have a good day."
Me: "Take care."

What more is there to say...

"Never underestimate the Power of the Common Man".

Dear Mr.Whoever-has-all-the-time-in-this-World-to-type-out-that-crap-content,

"What more is there to say" absolutely sums it up. Your splendid story spreads a very useful message -- that one must not judge others too soon. Your story discourages arrogance, and encourages us to get to know others; who might impart to us some valuable success lessons.  Even if we momentarily put aside the moral core of your message, your story is an artistic achievement. It had me engrossed and entertained. The twist in the end was totally unexpected. The character development is admirable; the character arc of the narrator in your autobiographical story changes gradually but firmly from being a moron who judges people by their appearances to a moron who judges people by their wealth. This is exactly the message I want children to hear, so that they will grow into better individuals. Thanks for sharing your enthralling experience. I encourage you to keep spreading goodwill.

Thanks,
The Freudian Couch




Saturday, September 27, 2014

Guest Post Series - Bureaucrat Bloody Hell

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

The popular opinion among our countrymen and women is that the Indian bureaucracy doesn't work at all. We believe that all "babus" are lazy and corrupt, and all others are hardworking. The way we talk about about the public servants in our everyday conversations, it would seem as if we outsiders are efficient, upright, hardworking and disciplined chaps who lift up the country on our over-burdened shoulders, whilst the politicians and public servants do their utmost to bring it down. I have always wanted to write a lengthy post on this despicable tendency we have to generalize, but I have always held back because of an apprehension that my anger would seep through. When you argue with anger, you risk losing objectivity; and even if you don't, it is difficult to convince others that you haven't.

I know Shyam since school. We were not close. Our conversations were on Sidney Sheldon and James Hadley Chase; Anniyan and Rang De Basanti. He would lend me his excellent Haliday-Resnick-Walker Physics book on my request, and I would return it untouched (along with the ₹50 notes he stuffs into his books and forgets). He became closer later on, when we both started blogging around the same time. We happened to meet randomly at movie festivals and bookshops, and through all these we have had some great discussions on a variety of things. He introduced me to and lent to me a book very close to my heart -- Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. I have admired the variety in his blog : he writes poems, prose, reviews, interviews, travelogues and everything else. Read his brilliant series of articles on "The journey from 'boy' to 'man'", a write-up on the "The Way of the Heart" and a cute poetic adaptation of "And Then There Were None". His feedback on my own blog are usually pinpoint - he quotes the lines he likes and politely disagrees when he has to. Shyam is also a part of a short story collection  a few of us are attempting to self-publish online. Look forward to a couple of beautiful stories from him. I will introduce the other two writers of this collection too as a part of this series.
He is, as far as I know, unsusceptible to the loss of objectivity I rambled about. When we all did the traditional engineering degree and looked for IT jobs, he did a B.Sc, followed it up with an overseas MS, took up a motley of jobs in start-ups and banks, cleared UPSC and is now a bureaucrat. All this put together gives him the impartiality to judge Indian beurocracy. I asked him to give us a glimpse of the much misunderstood inner workings of the Government of India, and here is his memoir of his first year with it.

Bureaucrat Bloody Hell

 “Every Government servant shall at all times maintain absolute integrity”
 - Rule 3(1)(i), Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964

“You're born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you're up in the rarefied atmosphere and you've forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake son.”                                                                                                    - Eddie Temple in the film ‘Layer Cake’

The first quotation is from the rule book, the second from a crafty gangster movie. Both apply equally to a government servant in India. I’ve been a bureaucrat for a year now. What follows is an account of my first impression of babudom. Read on then, you might at least be amused.

Let me be honest about my attitude towards the services. It was an outsider’s urge to act that made me enter the Civil Services. The general apathy of things, the persistent sights of unemployment, disease, inefficiency and helplessness. When asked in the interview why I wanted to join the bureaucracy, I said that I believed it was the best position for a person in my square - a young graduate in India. You get the lot - the chance to serve, remuneration, status.

After entering the government factory, the workings of the machinery became more familiar. I looked at it in awe, in disgust and in sobriety. The system was immense, had a voracious appetite, there were rusted parts, there were finer parts. During the first two years, you are trained. You see the river through its course, not swimming in it but surveying it with the eye of someone who is going to spend the rest of his life swimming in it. The young idealistic entrant full of values and noise but not of much use at navigating the system who finally becomes the veteran hawk, all purity traded for life skills that teach him to prey and sacrifice as and when necessary. Like the cold, clear water at the source, supporting little life but pure in its essence he enters. The acquirement of nutrients when flowing down to the valley, the start of life and the increase in fertility of the water body, the vitality of its mid-course as animal, plant and human activity burgeons and eventually the delta, the shallows filling up and the river mingling with the ocean. C’est la vie. 

I am from the Indian Information Service. As trainees to become the communication ambassadors of the government, we spend many hours in presentations, field visits, debates and brain storming sessions. We analyse the excellence of the Election Commission, the handling 26/11 attacks, why Bharat Ratna Sachin is still selling Luminous inverters and how some men (be it E. Sreedharan or Vinod Rai) develop the uncanny ability to cut across red tape and deliver results.

We see the good, bad and ugly. The hope is that this incubation time will acclimatise us to government temperature and hopefully pack our rucksacks with things necessary on the road trip from smart to wise.

After a year, the machine has helped show me my place in the scheme of things. It has taught me to understand that at whatever level we strive for whatever goal, let us remember that ‘’Tis but a part that we see, and not a whole’. It is necessary to keep it humble, to keep it human.

Bureaucracy has also helped me appreciate life more, embrace it with a bit more affinity. The same day throws at you experiences that are extraordinarily diverse. Just after drenching in the experience of seeing a Livelihood Mission change the lives of women in rural Andhra Pradesh, after witnessing Ratnamma talk with brimming pride on how she took a revolving loan of 5 lakhs from her SHG and repaid it, how she managed to free her husband from bonded labour from that money, you also go into the details of the blunders in the KG Basin deal. It is life in microcosm. And with a worm’s eyeview of that microcosm, the richness overwhelms and propels us  towards becoming better, serving better.

But let us see what unfolds in the coming years, what surprising turns and twists await. Robert Browning said it so well ‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be’.

Thanks a ton Adarsh for the opportunity,
Yours Cheerfully,
Shyam

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guest Post Series : My Most Memorable Cricket Match

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

In a pre-release interview for the unmatchably hilarious Tamil movie Naduvulla Konjam Pakkatha Kanom, director Balaji Tharanitharan revealed the reasoning behind one of the most rip-roaring moments of the movie, explaining that the deepest friendships are often formed due to totally insignificant, forgettable incidents. I don't remember when Gowrisankar and I started becoming good friends. We just ended up so sometime during the second year of our college. We would make the short journey from our college to Thanjavur New Bus Stand together, often having bunked the last one or two classes of the day. We would discuss cricket, movies and everything else, often disagreeing with each other, whilst eating some excessively oiled pakodas with watered chutney (chutneyed water?) at the bus stand (₹3 per plate). He would lie around at our house/room until we drove him out. We would travel on his dabba, barely functional TVS excel to his house, stopping by to fill Speed petrol on his insistence; lock his parents in a room and shoot badly made short-films, letting them out only briefly so that they can watch a tele-serial written by Cho Ramaswamy.

The thing with Gowri is that he rarely likes to hear that he can't do stuff. With sometimes hilarious dedication he keeps trying myriad things. And he often ends up doing them quite well. I can name a lot of instances where he started at square zero and improved himself immensely. He started writing just to compete with a few of us, and he keeps on. My favourite of his writing is this post titled "Remembering one of the best days of my life". I supported all teams other than India during the 2013 World Cup, and I am usually proud of my shameless act. This post was one of those rare moments which made me realise the impact India's victory had on a lot of people, and caused a momentary regret in me for my lack of "patriotism".

As a reader, he usually reads most of my posts, and finds novel ways to disagree. He is so intent on letting me know what he thinks that he once commented on one of my blog posts with a "I have nothing to say". He is also a good cricketer, often ensuring that he becomes the captain of various hurriedly-put-up teams. I asked him to write on the most memorable cricket match he has played, and he recounts one such incident. I must admit that I had no idea of such an incident until I read this.

My Most Memorable Cricket Match


This is a story of how a bunch of boys became men, how we overcame the odds to beat the best team in college, how we taught the arrogant opposition a lesson of subtility on their own game. Err.. Scratch that. It was a bloody murder. We got mauled by the mechanical department. But still why this ludicrous match is one of my favorite ? Read on.

They announced the inter department tournament for 2nd years in SASTRA. The glamorous, prestigious and glittering silver cup, the dream of many and prized possession that the 7 departments were playing for. OK OK sorry. It was a normal dept tournament with 1000 rs for the winning team with 500rs entry fee for every team. Other departments had some college team players in them, we, let's just say we had 11 people in our team. First the organizers thought of scratching our team as they thought we don't have eleven boys in our department! Respective Sir, I accept that biotechnology was a girls dominated dept, but to say that we don't have 11 boys who know the nuances of cricket!! Too much pride at stake. Too much. I had to show them. We registered our dept in tournament. 

It was match day. I was the department team captain. Here, let me rephrase it. I'm captain of the 2nd year biot team, the whole department ( waiting for it to echo). But 30 mins before the match we had just 3 members of our team in the ground. The opposition players were practising catches while we 3 furiously called our hostel mates to join our team. 20 mins before the match, 4 more joined. That was it, I lost it. I went directly to the hostel rooms, banged their doors hard and apologized immediately for doing that. Then, I asked(pleaded) them to play for biot dept team. They said they are sleepy. But I couldn't let that happen. I told them that there were no players and the team was completely banking on them. ("Not!").

5 minutes before the match, we had 11 heads. Eleven members! Oh yeah!! We lost the toss were put into bat. Here's another reason why this is one of my favorite match,  I opened batting and bowling and  kept wickets! That's what dreams of every gully cricketers made of. We batted carefully, me and Mr A. He got out when we were 24 at 5th over. Then I had a decent partnership with Mr N and took our team to 55 for 1 when he got out. Then our players switched on Indian test team formula of " come, getout, repeat " mode. I made a nonchalantly brilliant 45, but the team was bundled out for 68. People clapped when I walked back to the pavilion. That was a great moment for me.

They batted. We (apart from me, of course) bowled like a bunch of 6 year old girls throwing balloons at each other.Particularly we had a bowler( let's say " almost Akthar") who ran at 90 miles per hour and bowled at 20miles/hour. It was like his primary purpose is to run hard; bowling the ball -- that was just the byproduct of his super special running. The opposition targeted him particularly and clubbed him for 18 an over, naturally. We lost the match inside 9 overs. All the players from mechanical team said bad luck and that I played very well. They made me feel like," if only I had a better team". But the truth was, we were never really in the game and pummeled for the same.

I remember this the most because I scored 45, hitting some of the college team bowlers for boundaries. I proved that biot had more than 10 boys and it was not all girls department. ( I had my doubt too, at one stage one of the pace bowler in my team came and said "Machi, touch my hair da, see how silky it feels"!! ).

Next day seeing the scorecard many guys asked about me( organizers told me). I got respect from all the players who watched the match that day for the next 2 years in college. It was like dancing for "rains of castamere" while my teammates are bruised by the Lannisters. I enjoyed it. Memorable day.

- from the captain of 2nd yr biot cricket team SASTRA.

P.S. The Bioinformatics department of our college didn't play the tournament because organizers thought they were not even a real department. Ha ha!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post Series : Anjaan - A Review


This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Meet my brother Sri Vittal, or Arbind as we call him at home. My brother often makes me feel old. When he has views, he usually voices them without wondering if he is being polite. He also provides hilarious entertainment to us all at home : sometimes deliberately, but often accidentally. When on a random day he started writing a story, we were all taken aback. This tiny little story was about a scientist who invents an unreliable time machine. Since I didn't admit that I liked it, he had to go online hunting for people who would "publish" it. I was astonished when he came back to me with a literary agent from UK who called him over phone to fix a deal. But then, we worked out that this literary agent was a potential fraud looking for some easy money. Recently, when I mentioned to him about my idea of publishing a collection of short stories with a few friends (more on this later), his immediate response was a haughty : "You want to get introduced to my literary agent"?.

He had more surprise for us in store as he started a blog soon. Though he hasn't written much, I loved how this post called "A theory that's so catastrophic" started with craziness and ended with unexpected profundity. Since he is good at dishing out things he doesn't like, I asked him to dish out a movie he hated. He almost didn't get ideas, until he happened to see Anjaan.

Anjaan - A Review


When Lingusamy was interviewed, he promised us Anjaan would not be another disappointment from him as he had put all his efforts and newly learnt direction techniques. So did it work? 


Hell yeah.. Here's a great film that 5 years kids MIGHT enjoy. This film is all about grown-ups pretending to be grown-ups. Haa! I remember those days when I pretended to be a cop and arrested my friends. I even had some cool Nerf guns to shoot my rowdy friends. Bang bang!! (Still a better bang than Anjaan). That's what happens here. And in Anjaan, it's Surya who pretends to be a don controlling Mumbai. And how does he become so powerful? Well he doesn't. He just pretends. Oops. SPOILER.

You might have watched Toy Story, Lego Movie or Little Toy Soldier. But Anjaan is the adult version of such movies.

Surya : Dei I bill be polish da. Bleas.
Commissioner : No No I bil be polish. You be Rajju Bhai.
Surya : Boy ah? I am already boy only da.
Vidyut : Dei adhu bhai da. Ok then I will be Chandru Boy. Let's start playing da. Mummy gave permission for 2 and a half hours only da.
Lingusamy : Annnnnd action.





So it's a don movie and a powerful don is controlling the place. Shouldn't there be someone who betrays his trust and kills the one who's close to the don? It happens. And who's close to Surya? Again you guessed correctly. Vidyut Jamwal, the same person who got shot by Ajith in Billa 2, got punched to death by Thuppaki Vijay, has made it here only to show that strong men do cry. Awww. Such a cry baby. Should not have come here.  And who's the villain who pulls the trigger? Apparently Manoj Bajpai needed a break from all those serious roles. "Time to get crazy Manoj.  Just pretend that you are a notorious don, kiddo! Attaboy! Yay it worked", says director to the villain.

"Time to bust those punks", says Surya who's back from death. Now Surya goes in disguise to avenge his friend's death and then the distributors and producer lived happily ever after (sort of!).

But this film had a deep meaning : it's never too late to be a kid once again. Every scene in this movie was so relatable in my life. There's a scene where Surya and Vidyut goes to a party and a villain says "I will slaughter you like pigs." A very hurt Vidyut keeps repeating the line again and again. After a while he tells to Surya, "Thukanu da avana. Ni edho panirupiye? Thukitala? Thukitala? (We have to teach that bully a lesson. What? You already did?)." Surya smiles indicating he did. Similar thing happened to me once. Me and my friend, 7 years ago, went to another dude's house. This dude had a 'Snake Eyes' action figure/Bhommai. And this rich dude told my friend, "where's your G.I.Joe toy da?". Somewhat hurt by this statement my friend said to me, "Thukanum da avan Snake eyes ah (We've to steal his toy)." But unlike Surya I didn't teach that rich kid a lesson. Such a memorable childhood. If not for Anjaan, the memories would have gone to the 'Junk Folder' like the movie file in my system.

The movie also shows how valuable friendship is. Because when Surya pretends to be a Don, his friends play along. Such a wonderful friendship.




Bottomline: Rajju Bhai has made Viswha bhai a better bhai (Acha Kidar?).

Note: Don't miss Samantha's cameo.

PS:
Wilson : Death or worse?
House:  Worse !!? Double death?
Lingusamy: Nope Anjaan! Bang Bang Bang!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Guest Posts Series - Vagabond

Note : This post is a part of the guest post series.


Hello! I wanted to begin the guest post series with my father's post, and I had to hold a couple of posts I have already received from my friends. Our house is a messy place. It is so messy that we have an exclusive "looking-for-lost-things" time twice every day (once pre-breakfast, and once again post-dinner). On certain days, when what we are looking for is not extremely urgent, we stop to contemplate about our house, and we realize that there are too many books (along with too many every other thing). Not all these books are my appa's, but a lot of them are. He never restricts us from buying more books, and we generously pile on books we have no intention of reading.  I believe there are books of all possible genres lying around. I have read only 10% of all these books, and I don't expect to read all of them at all. It is thanks to my father that the habbit of reading was inculcated into me, and it is thanks to him that I started writing. Among all heaps of books scattered around, I have seen a series of books on Journalism. There is no doubt that my father has had ambitions to write, so he didn't need much convincing. I asked him to write something about certain incidents from his childhood, but he was reluctant as they were too personal. When I insisted, he mixed in some fiction, and made it into a short story. Good luck trying to spot which is real and which is fiction.

Vagabond


The Volvo bus was stuck in a traffic pile up between Jaipur and Delhi for more than half an hour. “This has become a frequent occurrence on this road.  Road widening on this stretch is going on for more than six years.  Nobody knows when it will be finished”,  the young man sitting beside him was telling him in  Hindi. Kumar checked his watch. He was doubtful about catching his flight to Chennai.  He asked the young man whether Airport Metro Services had been resumed.  “I believe it has” was the bored reply he got. The young man’s attention was now turned to his smart phone.   

Kumar’s  trip to Jaipur had been in connection with an eight year old case in which he had been summoned as a witness. It was only because of his alertness that the forgery was found out and the payment on the cheque was stopped at the last moment. He had been to Jaipur for the fourth time in that year. He had expected it to be over this trip. But there was no hearing as the lawyers were on strike. A long drawn Judicial process was turning into a chase of an elusive mirage. In a country in which the wheels of justice did not even seem to move, lawyers by  going on strike put their spokes in that wheel. Perhaps they had more faith in Trade Unionism than their advocacy skills.  

There had been a time when he enjoyed travel by road and the thrills of it. But now it was getting on his nerves evidencing the fact that he was getting old. The luxury of travel by Volvo AC Bus was lost due to the intermittent hold ups of traffic. Kumar pitied those drivers who had to drive in such conditions. He got down from the bus and could see Aravalli range, a  broken and irregular line of hills.  Ahead of and the behind the Volvo stretched a long line of containers, trucks, and cars. The traffic jam was due to a vehicle struck on the lane due to punctured tyres. Someone was spreading the good news that it had been removed.  After ten minutes, slow movement of  vehicles ahead could be observed.  He got back into the bus and settled into his seat as the bus started moving. The bus  had to crawl and fight for space with other vehicles to come out of the diverted lane to merge into the wide highway. He hoped that he would be in Delhi in another 2 hours. 

But, it took more than two hours. After reaching Gurgaon the bus had to crawl in the maddening City traffic. It was humid and hot when he got down at Daual Kuan and took the foot over bridge to reach the Metro Station. The silence of the Metro Station was a striking contrast to the noise of traffic outside. Unlike the main metro services, these services seemed to be patronized less.  The near empty metro train, traversing on the track above the road by which he reached Delhi, gradually descended from over head level to ground level and plunged into the darkness of a tunnel. It was a long walk from the Metro station to the Terminal. When he reached the gate for his flight after completing the formalities, he felt that there was enough time for the boarding. 

He settled in a chair to watch the news in Television channels. Jammu & Kashmir had been hit by the worst ever disaster of the century. Cameras captured Srinagar floating in water, cut off villages, half washed bridges, collapsed houses and the irreplaceable tragedy of those who lost their kith and kin. The revenge of the nature for the stupidity of human tendency to destroy the ecosystem was of horrible proportions. The visuals stirred memories deep buried inside him.     

The boarding for the Indian Airlines flight to Chennai had started. He would be having some rest in the flight. His awful mood after a futile and frustrating day was persisting. As people formed the queue for boarding, he almost lost his temper when the person standing behind him in the queue literally shoved him  to draw the attention of the tall handsome person with a prominent nose standing before him.
“Ram what a surprise! How are you?” 

He glared and stepped aside to allow him to join his friend. They started talking animatedly in Tamil. Another Ramesh and Suresh without chocolates in their hands, he thought bitterly.  Then he saw the person who was addressed as Ram and remembered that he had seen before him at the ticket counter. He had left his Identity card in the counter and Kumar had to call him back to collect it. From the Yellow ID card he could gather that Ram was a Central  Govt. Officer. He looked younger and more handsome than his friend.            

The movement in the plane was slow as usual. At row no 23, he observed with vexation that the Govt. Officer who was addressed as Ram was comfortably settled in the seat allotted to Kumar next to his long lost friend. As Kumar stopped to confirm his seat number from the  boarding pass, Ram asked  him, “will you  mind shifting to 23 A?” Kumar was happy to get the window seat and he nodded as if he was really doing a favour to them.  He settled into his seat. Tomorrow, by this time, he would be in Trichy.   Beside him, the friends settled and continued their conversation. 

“Are you from Chennai?” Ram asked him in English. 
“No. I am from Trichy”.
Kumar replied in English hinting in a tone that he did not want to prolong the conversation. He did not have the patience to tell him after a long life like a vagabond he intended to settle down in Trichy. He could not tell him about all the places traversed in his journey of life. Ram turned to his friend and continued the interrupted conversation.
“Ishwar, what were you asking? Yeah, I am going on official business. It is a Court case. So you have finally settled in Chennai”
“Once I would have shuddered at settling down in Chennai. Now I got used to its madness.”
“How is Aparna?  I heard your son-in-law is having a roaring practice.”
“But Aparna is complaining that he hardly has time for her and the child. Is  Karthick  still in Detroit?  It is more than five years since we met in the airport when you were seeing him off.” 
“No, Ishwar. He is in San Francisco. You know Detroit is a sinking city. I came back from San Francisco only last month. I was there for three months. Vanaja is still there”          

Kumar was really exasperated. If his son had been in Philadelphia or Chicago, instead of  Madurai, he could also boast like them. Considering the situation of the country there was no wonder everyone  wanted to escape to  some El Dorado. These two would incessantly be talking till the plane  landed. No, his  irritability should stop. It was unfair of him to grudge the success of others. He had to get some sleep and should not mind this. But it was difficult to ignore the conversation that happened at such close quarters. It seemed they were friends from childhood. Maybe from some village from Thanjavur District. Cauvery river flowed in their Tamil. To have such  school-day friends and to meet them in a faraway airport talking about distant foreign countries is another blessing denied to him. How happy he would have been for such pleasant encounters. 

He had over the years lost contact with his school and even college mates. His father was in a transferable job moving once every two or three years. When he got employment, his job too happened to be one which necessitated frequent movements. A succession of places, faces , events and impressions got super imposed in his memory obliterating those of earlier years. In his position of carpet beggary and with his reserved attitude, it took considerable time for him to break into an  entrenched group of students and by the time he struck some friendship, his father got transferred to some other place. 

Suseela had on many occasions chances of meeting her school or college friends in train journeys. “You are sullen and reserved. That is why you do not have friends”, she used to comment mockingly quite unappreciative of the fact that her entire schooling and college studies happened in a single place. He had been like a wanderer hopping from place to place. There was a probability that somebody he met somewhere in his school or college days might be in this very Plane. It could be even Ram. But when he replied to Ram curtly he closed the opportunity of even knowing that. His assumption that Ram and his friend were from Thanjavur District might be wrong. He was too tired for even petty conversations. Explaining that he was traveling as a CBI witness would require him to offer more explanations, as if he was a criminal. It is a system where criminals enjoyed more rights and powers than witnesses. He was feeling like a brooding character in an old Russian novel. Was he slipping into insanity?

The catering van and the cargo carts moved off and the plane was ready for take off. He dialed Suseela to tell her that he had boarded the plane. Outside, a haze of dust hung over the big runway. The plane started moving slowly, turned, and stopped, waiting for further instructions from air traffic controller. A big jet approached from the east, landed and thundered past the waiting plane. Now the plane moved again, turned slowly, gained speed and roared off into the sky. He shut his eyes. When he opened thrm, spread under him were the luminous lights of Gurgaon and the lights of hundreds of vehicles flowing into and out of Delhi. The flight was gaining height and speed.

Kumar tried to recall his friends of school days. But it had been nearly forty years and he rarely revisited the places of his school days. Once he had been to Bhavani, a town near Erode, but it was a very short visit to the Sangameswara Temple. He had stood at Mukkudal to watch with sadness the lean strip of Cauvery and the barren Bhavani. That was before his marriage with Suseela. Friendship could be renewed only  by being in constant touch. Of late he had started pruning his acquaintances and kept minimum relationships. In a way, he had become a recluse by choice and he had no regrets about it.     

Strangely, today he had been recalling his Bhavani School days as he was watching the visual images  of floods in Kashmir in Television channels. Long buried memories of an unprecedented flood in Bhavani which wrought havoc on the town sprang back. Amidst the memories of the loss of the limited household goods of his impoverished family, there lingered the happy memory of curtailed school hours which was an outcome of that devastating floods which washed away two blocks of school. There was a let up of the incessant chattering of his neighbours when meals were served.  After the meals, he gradually drifted into sleep. From a height of  thirty six thousand feet  he plunged into the depths of a dream. 

He along with his School friend Ravindran was standing in  Mukkudal, where Bhavani, a  rain fed river merged into the perennial river Cauvery. Usually Cauvery was  in full flow and the Bhavani a lean  strip of water.  But,  on this day Bhavani was in spate overflowing the banks meeting the waters of the Cauvery with an unknown ferociousness and rising palm tree high. It was a terrific sight inspiring awe and dread. All the people from the town were there watching it spell bound. In the crowd, he had lost Ravindran. He shouted for  him but could not find him. Now he was hungry and turned  to go to home. But he had lost  his way and suddenly found himself in the Jaipuir CBI Court.  A lanky lawyer showing his back to him was arguing the matter.

“Your Honour, in spite of  repeated  summons, the witness is not appearing before the Court to depose. He should therefore be punished for Contempt of Court”.
As the  lawyer turned he recognized that it was Ram, his next seat passenger in the plane. The  stern and forlorn looking Judge ordered for Kumar’s  arrest.  Four tall Police Constables, towering over him by a head’s height, came to arrest him.  He wanted to shout “this is really unjust.  I am only a witness.  It was only due to my alertness..........”   But the words were caught in his throat.
            
He had started running  but  he could not find his way  and  strangely found himself  in  IX C class room. Ponnusamy Sir was taking Maths class while a roar of water was heard outside. A School peon came to inform that the classes were to be closed. But Ponnusamy Sir who always had been very strict about attendance shouted at him. As he was shouting the class room was being flooded. Ponnusamy Sir had to relent and order the students to rush out. Students rushed out of the class. Now they were  surrounded by water and Kumar found himself alone. Somebody pushed him into the water. As he was carried by the  rushing water, no one was there to rescue him and  he was swept away in the floods. He could not help  swallowing water. He was feeling an unbearable pain and weight in his lungs and was unable to breathe. He was drowning. In the rushing water over his head he could hear the quiz master’s question.
“On which National Highway is Bhavani Town situated?”
Mocking voice of a girl -  “Rama,  you do not know the answer for this simple question”. Here he was drowning and dying but nobody cared. He made efforts to shout but nobody heard or saw him. At a distance, somebody was shouting. Suddenly pain shot from his head as somebody violently pulled him up by holding his hair.  A long silence followed which was shattered by the words.

“It was the year of the great flood”.
Kumar woke up startled and was breathing with difficulty. It was Ram who had been speaking. He was in the Plane from Delhi to Chennai.  He had been thinking  about his days in Bhavani  before he went into sleep and had a dream. He had a sudden urge to use  the restroom.  He got up and went to the rest room. As he washed his age worn face, he was still confused about the dream. The words  of Ram was not a part of the dream and their discussion was about a great flood. 

It was because of his fevered imagination triggered due to the repeated  visuals of flood  devastation in Jammu and Kashmir.  In the dream, the events of real life merged into his fears and apprehensions he was undergoing on that day. On the day of the flood, he had been watching the fury of the flood with Ravindran. But his near drowning was not on the day of the flood. That was one month before the floods. Now he tried to remember the mocking voice of the girl. Then he recalled some long forgotten events during his school days with distinct clarity.

They had been staying in the first floor of the house as tenants. The ground floor was occupied by the house owner. The daughter of the house owner had tried to draw him out of his shell many times. She ultimately succeeded in drawing to a conversation two days after the day of the quiz competition. He had been returning from the school and she stopped him before the entrance of the house. She was congratulating him on his winning the first prize when  Ramakrishnan crossed them in his bicycle. He stopped his bicycle and started coming to them. Kumar could feel the antagonism in his eyes. She did not speak to him but her eyes were mocking Ramakrishnan. He  stopped for a few seconds and glared at them for few seconds without saying anything. Then he got back into his bicycle and sped away. At that time Kumar did not know Ramakrishnan was related to that girl.  

One week after that event, Kumar along with his parents went to the house of Ramakrishnan. They had been there to thank Ramakrishnan who rescued a drowning Kumar. It was a huge house  having a big Central Hall with four rooms on the four corners. His father was in conversation with Ramakrishnan’s father. His mother could easily chat with Ramakrishan’s mother as if they had known each other for a long time. He was  standing in a corner with Ramakrishnan; lost for words and awkwardly shaking hands with him. “He is very shy”, his mother was telling Ramakrishan’s mother who was busy giving coffee to the guests.  Ramakrishnan, who  had saved him from death and could have been a friend, but never really became a friend - a  face erased from his memory by time and distance. If he met Ramakrishnan now, it was doubtful whether he could recognise him.  How ungrateful he had been.

He returned to his seat. The conversation was still continuing. He closed his eyes and started reminiscing  about the flood. It was rumoured that the flood was due to a breach of canal brimming with rain waters. The breach was caused  by villagers upstream Bhavani who feared that their village would be inundated  The town was cut off for two days. When the waters receded taking away two blocks of the school, sediments of the flood were left with an awful smell in every article in the house. Along with stories to be told and retold of  the great flood. 

One of the haunting memories was the washing away of a house. They had been watching from the first floor of his house the increasing levels of water.  The newly constructed unoccupied  house was obstructing the full  flow of Bhavani which had entered the town and was draining through various channels  into Cauvery. The force of the water splintered the house into two. One part of it fell and after a lag of few seconds another part fell and was washed away. 

His recollections were sharply intruded  by the conversation between Ishwar and Ram.
“We have decided to sell the house. His business had  run into losses. You know, they have their own ideas of business and do not change. I had to convince him to  come  and settle at  Chennai. That is why I had to come to Delhi -- for getting the consent of my uncle for the sale of the house”.
“It is really a big house. I remember during your sister’s marriage, the house could accommodate the entire marriage crowd.  Oh! How I wish to visit Bhavani once.  Maybe this November when the Cauvery is  in full flow, I should make a visit. In that great flood of  our school days, your house accommodated many of the people from inundated houses.”

Kumar was startled on hearing this. They were talking about Bhavani. Or was it the dream that was continuing? It is inconceivable on a flight  miles away and  after nearly forty two years three people were dreaming about the same event.  Either he was in their dream or they were in his dream. Or  else they were also in a film directed by Shankar based on Film Inception. But it seemed too real to be a dream. Why, this Ram could be Ramakrishnan! And he was saying that  Vanaja was in USA.  Now he remembered the name of the girl with mocking eyes  -  it was Vanaja.   

“But Ram your house was bigger. What a time we had there! I still remember the hide and seek games we played in that house. Oh that big Central hall! Pity your father had to sell it long back. Last time when I saw the house, demolition work had started. Yes, we will visit Bhavani and see all those places where we played and fought.  At one time you were a hero of the town when you rescued one boy from drowning. How you were feted and treated for that heroism. This was in spite of your disliking for  that boy because he got the first prize in the School quiz contest. A very sullen and shy boy who had few friends.  He just vanished away. "
“Ishwar, I was never a hero.  With a detached sense of seeing things from a distance  I realize how childish I had been in many of my actions. My reaction on loss of first prize was churlish. But there were times, I was afraid I would lose something more. .........”

Ram, Rama, Ramakrishnan.   He was sure that this was the same Ramakrishnan -   his saviour.  There was  an untold part of the story of that day which was known only to two people.  He was feeling a breathlessness as he visualized that day of his near drowning. The drama of that day played once again in his mind.

He was watching the silent flow of Cauvery from the bottom most step of the banks. There was no one else. Suddenly he heard steps behind him. Before he could turn somebody pushed him into the water. As he fell and struggled into the water he thought he saw a lanky handsome boy with a prominent nose standing on the steps of the desolate bank. The initial exultation in Ramakrishan’s eyes now gave way to  a panic as the implication of his act  dawned on him.    

It was forty two years since that day and on that big Central Hall. Other than “Thank you”, Kumar had not found any words to utter. He and Ramakrishnan  had been standing there apprising each other like two adversaries in an arena.  Kumar couldn't imagine why the loss of the first prize could mean so much. Now, on a plane from Delhi to Chennai the answer to a question which was elusive to him for all these years became apparent to him. It was not the prize. How blind he had been.   
And  it did not matter. So much water had  flowed down the Cauvery since.  
The plane was  slowly descending.  There was  an announcement about the landing at Chennai in a few minutes.  He saw below the lights of Chennai emerging slowly out of the infinite darkness of the sea and night. 
“I do not even remember his full name. It is some Kumar.....”  Ram was muttering.
“Ram, I think it is Krishna Kumar.  No.  But  it started with a K”
“Kesava Kumar”. 
Shocked  childhood friends turned to face the silent passenger at seat No. 23 A offering his hands to Ramakrishnan.
Lights started dimming and the landing begun.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Guest Posts Series

On Writing, and anxieties
Hello all! I just realized that it is close to five years since I started blogging. For someone who has been at it for five years, I am remarkably inconsistent as a writer. In my very first post I set myself an agenda that I didn't expect to follow. I am quite surprised to find that I have kept up to that agenda in a few ways. Like Ajinkya Rahane (minus his talent) in his one day international career till date, I haven't managed to become half as good as I can be. I still fish for balls that I shouldn't be playing, I still get myself into knots, I still flounder good starts, and I still distract people into thinking of "what-could-be" instead of "what-is". 

Writing has been extremely difficult. Every time I publish a post, I get a bout of anxiety. I wait for feedbacks, and I rarely get as many as I would like. Almost every night I publish a post, my sleep is disturbed, at least once, whilst I wake up at ungodly hours to check if anyone has anything to say about my writing. No one has. Almost always. Strangely, the more the positive mismatch between my expected response to a post and the real feedback I get, the more vigorously I end up writing. 

Some thanks in order
I was wondering why I still persist. Among many reasons, one of the most important is the handful of readers I have. At any point of time, an average post by me gets only a couple of responses. Often, these responses are very unexpected. I write a post, wait with bated breath, sigh, and totally give up. And then I find someone who liked parts of it. A lot of wonderful people have come across these blog (for some indiscernible reason, they rarely come together for the same post). They don't always stick on, but at various moments, they have encouraged me immensely to write. I hesitate to admit this - a quick message or a comment helps a lot. And I am increasingly finding that clicking a link to read random ramblings is tough for people. We live in such an age where time is scarce. You have still managed to spend some time here. Thanks :)

OK. But what the heck is this all about?
On a day of crazy ideas, I imagined asking a few people to write for my blog. As I kept giving more thought to it, it became crazier. But thankfully, it did not sound impossible. A few days of getting in touch with a lot of people, and I am now pretty confident that I could pull it off. I really hope that I will be able to.

Why am I doing this? Short answer - publicity stunt. There are a few supplementary answers too. Firstly, I feel sincerely thankful to all of you. There are times when I have wondered if all my writings are my own delusions, and if they are totally invisible to all other human beings. You have shown me that they are not. Secondly, I want you to experience writing. Many of you already write, in which case I want to introduce others to you. There are a few of you who haven't written anything that is in the public domain. I want to urge you to. Why should I be alone in parading all my insecurities and inconsistencies? Moreover, I also want to test out my theory that the link I have chosen for my blog has been cursed by black magic. If your wonderful writing still fails to draw any semblance of attention to this accursed location, I will be filing a case with the cyber police. Additionally, I wanted Posterity to know that you have been here. Like one of those shameful childhood photos that capture you in some location of time scale and end up in an entirely different time scale to embarass you, I will file this safely. Its main purpose will be to ward of my own anxieties. Finally, when I thank you sincerely for reading this blog, I expect you to feel guilty in the future when you skip certain posts. Through that guilt, I expect to chain you to this boring and hopeless place. I am hoping to trap you into a vicious circle.

Why should you be interested to read all this?
As readers, you get to see some variety at the blog. For a change, you will encounter some decent writing. If you care about me, you might even meet some of the people who have shaped me. Many of my readers, and friends, have perspectives that are very different from mine. Some of them might even have some positive, motivational, useful things to say. I am extremely excited about a few people who are about to write, and I hope you will be able to discover why.

So, who are all writing?
Some of the people I have asked to write are very important in my life outside this blog too. A few others are not as close, but they have been very important to this blog. A few have forgotten the existence of this blog, and few might not even know that it exists. I am still thinking about people I could get in touch with, and the list keeps on expanding. Let's wait and watch. This could be a dud; a failed project. Or this could be a mega project that brings back peace to a World that is in dire need of it. Like most things with me, I expect it to be somewhere in the vast middle.

Any final words?
Since I happen to be conceited, selfish and self-centered, I won't be really quiet during the posts. I will be behaving like an over enthusiastic Master of Ceremonies, introducing everyone who is writing. I have tried to get in touch with a lot of people, but my memory is fallible. If you happen to be reading this and I haven't got in touch with you, please free to remind me. You can always kick my backside for the oversight when we meet next time. If I have already got in touch with you, I request you to humour me, and write. Please.

List of posts
1) Vagabound by my father.
2) Anjaan - A Review by my brother Sri Vittal
3) My Most Memorable Cricket Match by Gowrisankar
4) Bureaucrat Bloody Hell by Shyam
5) The Vulnerable Queen by Lakshminarayanan
6) Poison Ivy by Supriya
7) Reflections by Shriya
8) God's Own Guests by Vidhya
9) From Hell by Arun Prasad
10) On Writing by Srinivas
11) Recos by a bored Engineering student by Pavithran
12) Cancer by Vaidhyanathan M

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph - Review

‘If one half of your life has been tough’, she will tell Thoma another time, ‘the chances are that the other half will turn out all right. As Unni told me once, “In this world, you cannot escape happiness”'
The Illicit Happiness of Other People is Manu Joseph's second novel, published in early 2013. Set in late 1980s Madras, it is a darkly humorous tragi-comedy about a dysfunctional Malayali family. Manu Jospeh's Madras is a bleak place where "Men are managers, mothers are housewives. All bras are white. Anglo-Indian girls who walk in floral frocks are Maria". It "is (also) full of clone actors, full of acts and moments that people have plagiarized from films". It is this conservative city where all students aim to get into IITs, and any deviation from normalcy is sneered at with unspoken words that serves as a background for the Manu Jospeh's tale where hidden quirkiness in people break out of their suppression with doubled energy.

Oesep Chacko is the father in the Chacko family. An alcoholic, once-famous novelist whose rising fame is stopped by his ambition and the politics of a corrupt country, Oesep Chacko waddles in self-pity and gives up all intentions to provide for his family. Uncharacteristically for a journalist, he "is a man who wants to be inconspicuous, who suffers when eyes are on him. But then the fate of shy people is that all their fears come true".  Like Mermeladov from Crime and Punishment, his awareness of his uselessness (and harmfulness?) to his family does not urge him to do anything about it. "Don’t hate me son. There are people in this world who set out to make an omellete but end up with scrambled eggs. I am just one of them", he explains. Three years after giving up on seeking a meaning to explain his son's inexplicable death, a package addressed to him wakes him up, partially, from his slumber. The Illicit Happiness of Other People is at its core an investigative novel, with a journalist seeking reasons for his son's death. But does his investigation have an answer? After all, "that a mystery must have a resolution is obviously not a requirement of nature. It is, in fact, another deceit of writers. A plot device, like the idea of a beginning, a middle and an end.

Mariamma Chacko is his wife, who secretly hopes that she wakes up one day to find her husband dead. She imagines plots to murder him without violence, not too hopeful of them because "he is made of red earth and Malabar air". She puts behind adolescent horrors to become fairly successful with a Ph.D in Economics, only to get married to Chacko and to end up as a house-wife struggling to make ends meet. One of her sons describes her as "very smart, but a bit nutty".  The sole bright spot in her life, Unni Chacko, is plucked away from her, leaving her careless to the needs of her second son -- Thomas. The tragedies of fate are too much for her, but she fights on, despite being a schizoprenic lunatic who talks to walls. "All my Gold bangles, they have become your shit, haven’t they?", she asks her younger son. 



Thomas Chacko is the one character who really deserves our pity. Thoma is a Mayflower, in his own words, "I was this little boy whom nobody noticed. I was invisible."  A loser by the standards of the normal World, Thomas is eternally over-shadowed by his more charismatic brother, even after his brother's death. "Unni had no Expectations from Life. So Unni had no reasons to be afraid. Thoma wants so many things from the world, from people. That is why he is afraid, and that is why he is petty".  With both his parents immersed in their own tragedies, Thomas has no one to turn to. Introverted, awkward, mediocore in everything he does, each day is a struggle for Thoma. There is an hilarious sequence where Thomas tries to impress a girl with the only two facts he has ever managed to learn (What does KGB stands for? What is Pele's real name?). In another poignant moment, his brother good-heartedly pranks him into believing that "the home minister, who is responsible for happy homes, would soon pass a law changing the value of pi from 3.14159 to just 3, making it easier for all Indian children to calculate the area of a circle". Thoma is whom we root for, desperately hoping that things would turn out all right for the guy who, even for stepping out of his house, has to motivate himself with the mantra "Fight, Thoma, put fight" (a mantra that I myself use often these days).

Unni Chacko is like the hole in a donut -- he is not even there, but the whole fuss is about him. The revelation of Unni Chacko's character through the perspectives of people around him and their reminisces make a legend out of him. Unni was a "seventeen-year-old cartoonist, an exceptional cartoonist, but too young to accept that subtlety is not always a mask of mediocrity". And to dvelve into the character, Manu Jospeh shows us glimpses of the themes of Unni's cartoons. The themes leave us in no-doubt about the brilliance of the young artist. We also discover that Unni had no discernible reason to end his life. He was much loved by everyone, he was a star, and people around him looked up to him. He was cute, and girls adored him. He seemed like the happiest person in the Chacko family, in their colony, and beyond. His death causes sadness in most, and relief in some (for it is "the tragic defeat of the unusual, and so the triumph of the normal"). But it shocks everyone. Through Oesop's digging, we realize the other facets of Unni's character, and we discover that things were not as simple as they seemed on the surface. We also get to discover his multiple theories, on good and evil, on delusions, on happiness and other philosophical questions. Alas, "adolescence is a dangerous period in the lives of philosophically oriented males".

Almost all adults in Illicit Happiness of Other People are quirky (with the possible exception of one Dr. Iyengar). It is adolescents that the story focuses on, and we have various adolescents trying to handle the unfair burden of hope and responsibility placed on them. We have "Sai, the error in nature’s trial and error". Sai is Manu Joseph's caricature of a Tamil Brahmin boy -- selfish, hypocritical, ambitious, but shallow. "I am done with all this. I am an ordinary person, I want ordinary things. I don’t want to know the truth. I don’t want to see beauty. I am just another boy in Madras who wants to escape to America", he declares in a moment of self-acceptance. There is the brainy Balki, who provides a much needed turn-around in Chacko's investigation. "He was the star, I was just the brilliant guy", he declares comparing himself with Unni. He also gives Manu Jospeh the opportunity to bring in one of his most important thoughts : "It is the misanthrope alone who has clarity. By standing outside the huddle of men, he sees a lot, and what he often sees is the evidence that people are not as smart as dogs think they are. In the fog of ambiguities and mysteries, he desperately searches for truths because truth usually shows humanity in a poor light". And there is the all important Mythilli Balasubramanium, a neighborhood girl  who grew up adoring Unni and being adored by Thoma. 

Manu Jospeh has a lot of acerbic observations to make about everything. I was initially put off with his relentlessly negative portrayal of Madras until I realized that this guy is relentlessly negative about most things. And then, I started enjoying it much more. Like Oscar Wilde, he throws up aphorisms which sound attractive but are not necessarily true. On men, he says : "Those old men who are so starved for flesh that they fondle children, fondle fully grown men, furtively flap their thighs when they watch women’s tennis on TV". On male friendships, he has these : "that any two men in the world have real affection between them is itself a myth, chiefly of the two men" and "the contempt of a male for a smarter friend". He does not spare the other side consisting of rationalists and atheists too : "proud self-congratulatory way of young atheists" and "rationalists think all god-men are frauds. That is the problem with rationalists. They are not rational enough." He has this on social workers "some of them, our living saints, do not realize that they are actually sadists who enjoy watching human misery from very close". And this on socialists : "All this will go one day, the animal poverty, it will vanish. And future generations will not know, will not even guess, the true nature of poverty, which is the longest heritage of man. Shouldn’t this be preserved somehow, like old colonial buildings, shouldn’t abject poverty be preserved as historical evidence? That is what socialists are trying to do in this country. Everybody misunderstands their intentions. They are noble conservationists, working hard to preserve a way of the World."

There are a gazillion of important minor characters - a strict aglo-Indian teacher, cartoonists named Alpha and Beta, a walking corpse, a psychologist, a moustached man from a cartoon and a cruel mother-in-law. As Chacko keeps meeting people, he discovers a lot about his son. "No matter what their delusions are, parents do not really know their children." The legend of Unni is so built that the mystery becomes almost unfathomable, and a bit of super-natural is thrown in.  As a result, the logical solution seems a bit forced, brought in through a deus ex machina. But you realize that there are not many other ways the plot could have been resolved, and you cut some slack for the writing prowess of Manu Joseph. And there are important take-aways from this forced-ending too.

The Illicit Happiness of Other people has had a profound impact on me. I would definitely recommend it. It is wonderful to see so many outstanding books by Indian authors, set in places you can relate with and with characters you have met. In my list, Manu Jospeh is in as much regard as Salman Rushdie, Arundathi Roy and Arvind Adiga. Before I leave you, here is the plot description of Enlightenment - one of Unni's numerous cartoons. I really wish someone made these into real comics.
In Enlightenment, a sage in robes is meditating; he is sitting on a high snowy peak. Seasons change, storms pass, but nothing bothers him. He gets a massive erection, which subsides in time, but the man is undisturbed, unaware of what is happening to him and around him. Mountain climbers arrive with their national flags and leave disappointed when they find someone already on the summit. The sage becomes very old, his beard turns white. Finally, he becomes radiant. A halo appears behind him. He has achieved enlightenment. He opens his eyes looking totally stunned. He screams, 'Shit, I am a cartoon.'

Do let me know what you think..