The vaulter…

She ran….., no, she sprinted….against tradition trying to hold her back….
She hoisted her body ….defying gravitational history of over 50 yrs…
She arched gracefully, looping in the air her body freeing herself off of sub-standard practicing facilities…
She looped again, lashing out at unsupportive wagging media tongues…
and again, a final lash at anything else in her way…
Before landing on her feet to squish corruption and nepotism…
Alas, the medal may have slipped off of her neck in this act, but she still did finish a winner…
Happy Birthday India….

The wait…

On reaching the rendezvous -the corner of the dark alley- five minutes ahead of schedule, I instinctively shook my head and cursed out loud. The association was very particular about being punctual and heavily advocated it. Being on time, in fact the precise moment, was critical to the success of any operation. One always heard of missions gone haywire because of the ‘deliverer’ being early. And this was the first time ever in my career I was before schedule. I assured myself, “Five minutes, nothing can go wrong. The girl should be here soon, just stay back in the shadows and pick her up and leave.”
As if on cue, a couple entered the far end of the alley, laughing, shouting, swaying, and falling all over each other. Love, ever young and innocent, oozing out of every pore on their bodies out into the alley, making its way towards me, as I shuddered thinking of the impending tragedy, the separation that was to follow. The girl pushed the man tentatively, giggled and ran, he in turn followed her. He caught up with her under a lamppost across from me, and pulled her towards himself, planting a passionate kiss on her lips. His hands caressed the golden locks of her hair, following them downwards through the nape of her neck, resting on the scarf around it, the clumsy fingers trying to take it off. I stiffened, something was wrong…the hands were working in the opposite direction now, and were tightening the scarf around her neck instead, choking her. The girl was gasping for breath, her eyes wide with dread. I, at once, realized that this was how it was meant to be. “I cannot intervene; it is against the rules of association. I have to wait for it to get over.” But then I did what I shouldn’t have done. Against every sense and direction my brain gave me, at the risk of disciplinary action, even suspension, I sprang into action. I looked at the stray dog sleeping soundly a few feet away, woke it up and instigated it to take a flying leap at the wretched man and bite his arm ferociously. He howled in pain and released the scarf; the girl fell to the ground gulping in precious air. The man was on the ground as well, fending off the relentlessly attacking dog, backing off at the same time trying to save his life. Panicked and at his wits end, he turned and ran blindly round the corner, onto the main road, straight in the path of a speeding truck. Death was instantaneous.
As I reached out for the dark soul of the man, I looked back at the girl. Color was returning to her cheeks, she will survive for now and will have to wait for her turn. Life is never fair, but at times death is. A dark soul had been substituted for a pure one; an action that I hoped would be excused or meted with not so harsh punishment. Placing the soul in my satchel, I departed vowing never to be early again.

Final Move? – a flash fiction story

“Hey! Don’t just dismiss the concept as a mere fantasy,” said Matt moving his knight to e7. “Think about it, it is possible, and why not? Check, by the way,” he added with a broad grin on his face.
His wife, Ginger, deep in thought eyes glued to the chess board, concluded “It’s not possible. What you are proposing is just ridiculous! How can this whole thing be a mere simulation? This universe, this life, whatever we are doing, whatever is happening?” She moved her bishop to knock off the knight and smirked, “Touche, dear! Tsck Tsch!”
“Wait a min, can I undo my last move?”
“No way sir, this isn’t one of your simulations,” mocked his wife.
Matt left out a sigh, more for Ginger’s inability to see his point of view rather than over his losing the knight. “Ginger, but think about it with an open mind. It will explain lots of things that baffle us, mankind in general. Like this chessboard, you can have different outcomes of a single move. What if someone was moving the pieces for you, and waiting for your turn. Then once you make your move, maybe undoing and trying a different move, without you being aware….” He shrugged his shoulders, and picking his whisky glass topped it off.
“Now Matt, how much have you drank? I hope you aren’t serious but are just attempting to ruffle my focus, to make me loose. That’s not happening! Stop stalling, make your move.”
“How else would you explain the progress made by man, some of the windfalls of the past century…..or errrrr…. some of the mistakes made by Hitler.” Matt seemed to be pepped up on finding the right example. “Hitler was on the path to victory, he was making all the right decisions…then suddenly towards the latter half of the war all his decision went horrendously wrong. Doesn’t that suggest something?” Matt moved his queen to d4.
“I think this theory of yours is bullshit, as is your last move.” Moving her queen to trap the white king, she announced, letting out a war cry, “Check and mate!”

Just then everything stopped; Matt, Ginger, their breathing, the ticking clock, as if someone had pressed the “pause” button. Somewhere in the distant, sounds of huge gears turning synced with the scene moving backwards….the chess pieces, the moves of the couple, the clock….all moved back up to the point of the beginning of the game.
A deep mechanical voice announced, “Now place the idea in the mind of the woman and rerun it”.

(Kya) Mere Paas Maa Hain?

Mera pass maa hain”
Ravi makes the statement, although he lacks conviction, the inner belief, not entirely certain whether Mom is with him. And she isn’t, never was! Because she has always been with Vijay, all along, right from the beginning.
With Vijay, to burden the shame and humility of his absconding, alleged corrupt father…
With Vijay, whose destiny has been tattooed on his hand onto his mind, to relive every moment through the rest of his life…
With Vijay, to share the sacrifice of his literary life in favor of his younger brother’s…
With Vijay, to adapt the hardships of child labor to support the family…
With Vijay, to comfort him in his belief as an atheist (though he chooses the formless 786 over a Hindu idol), also to alleviate his pain as he resorts to deviate and rebel…

Frustrated by the fact that Vijay’s fate and destiny – were not really chosen by him but rather forced on him, she wants to support him as a mother; however the woman in her, holds her back. However, it is the very reason she chooses Vijay over Ravi. She even ascertains this to Ravi while handing him a pistol to accomplish his karma– “Ek aurat hone ka farz maine nibha diya hai, ab ek maa ka vaada pura karne jaa rahi hoon”. She is just a “lady” to Ravi but more than a “Maa” to Vijay.
The symbolism of Ma! To me this more or less forms the crux of the whole movie – it’s not only “usoolul-adarsh” but also the frustration and jealousy of not really possessing the doting mother, that eventually consumes Ravi, leading him to commit fratricide. The ever turbulent Vijay eventually dies at peace in the arms of the Maa – the taboo of his life and the ink of the tattoo washing away in her tears.

Lamentably though, at the end as Ravi picks the award – his mom’s face is a distortion of pain and suffering. She is still not his, having already left with Vijay as he died…

The Baggage Song

“Arey Gulzar! Din main bhi peena shuru kiya kya? Yeh kya gaana hain?” boomed the voice of the rotund musician in his usual baritone, visibly frustrated at his friend.
“Pancham, bhai mere. Padh to le poora gaana ek baar,” urged the veteran song composer in his soothing assuring voice.
The annoyance of the music director stemmed from the fact that the song, handed over to him to compose music for, didn’t rhyme at all, in fact it didn’t have any reason to do so! The lyricist, wrapping a frame of delicate poetry around the very unconventional lyrics, had ensured that this would not be a regular Hindi movie song.
“Kya padhoo??? Kal paper leke aayega tu!! Times of India!!! Le Pancham is headlines ka tune bana!!! Is ka kuch kar…kya khaaak karoo….kuch nahni kar sakta.”
Calmly, Gulzar got up, flashed a wide grin at Pancham, took the paper from his hands, walked across to the other end of the room and handed it to Asha, saying, “Ashaji, aap hi padhiyega aur bataye yeah gaana hain ya nahin.”
“Mera kuch samaan tumhare paas pada hain,” – began the singer, then trailing off, stopped for a long moment, before humming an aalap (prelude)- short yet long enough to linger, melodious yet penchant enough to touch the heart- that she left hanging in midair.
Pancham turned towards her in a flash, “Kya gaaya…wapas gaao!”
Asha repeated the prelude. This time, it did not hung in mid- air, but travelling straight to Pancham’s heart, sowed the seeds of a tune that would eventually be developed by the maestro in to the legendary song.

Referred to as the baggage or luggage song, by the trio, it went on to fetch national awards for Gulzar and Asha. Unfortunately as always was the case, Pancham was left with nothing but accolades for his soulful and ‘critically acclaimed’ music. This was also the time, when his slide had begun. A slide from which he never fully recovered. Although he continued to give exceptional music, the movies didn’t do well at the box-office, and he got less work.
Let me get back to the baggage song, I had promised myself not to digress from the topic at hand… The baggage song has a dedicated wiki page all to itself. Apart from being one of the few Pancham songs, which has not been remixed, it further reinforces the magic of the Pancham-Gulzar collaboration, which in itself is a topic for a doctorate, but, unfortunately, has been reduced to spawning sleazy lucrative remixes. The baggage song is just not a song, it is much more that that…

It is the plea of a wife reaching out to her estranged husband…helping him compose the tune…
It is the voice of an artist reaching out to his trade, asking for a burial close to his instruments and work…
It is the wrath of a composer rejecting an world -obsessed with post humuos glory- denying him what is rightfully his…
It is the story of a composer, who carried his baggage all by himself, till the very end….
Above anything else, this song is quintessentially Pancham and Pancham is this song….

The Lotus blooms…

Somehere in 10 Janpath Road…
The son runs into the room, shouting as usual, the visibly dejected and flustered mom just looks on…
Son: Mommy, Congress has lost, the hand has been handed one of its worst defeats ever! I think our modis operandi was way wrong. Their Modi was correct and at the top of his game.
Mom (shaking her head): It is modus operandi, and not Modi….
Son (interjecting viciously): But you agree it was wrong….we should have Modi fied our tactics much earlier. Lotus (let us) do that now
Mom (visible angry now): Shut up! Why are you using his name and symbol all the time, it’s hurting me.
Son (innocently): Whose name?
Mom (shouts): Modi’s
Son: Aaaha!! I told you it was Modis Operandi, but you won’t listen…
Mom (raising her hands in despair): Sit down and shut up.
Just then the maid walks in with a tray of tea, the son jumps up in excitement.
Son: Yes! That’s what I need to do, learn to make and sell tea that will complete my training.
Mom: Son! You do that and I will make sure you don’t get to sit even in the opposition.
With this she storms out of the room, the son follows…
Son: (stammering) Sorry Mom, no mom please no mom no mom no mom na mo na mo…
Congress limps out, congrats pour in…
Lotuses bloom, Indian thy glory looms …

The mirage…

Being creative in the desert is akin to searching for an oasis in the sweltering heat, really tiring and hard, but finding mirages instead. Its like my brain has had a meltdown, seemingly unable to focus or think. Anyways wishing, I were a few thousand miles further east to experience the way the largest demcracy of the world elects.
Read somewhere, and also firmly believe that beaucracies, when run by bad or insane men, lead the members of the organization to trivialize important matters (e.g., those affecting life and death), and escalate trivial matters (e.g., clerical errors) to enormous importance. So per me, the leader assumes as important, or
even a bigger role as the party itself. Sometimes its not always picking the canditate you like the most, can be as unassuming as voting for the candidate you hate the least…
Similar to seaching for water in deserts….only sometimes you have to substantiate the mirages and believe in them.

— in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The Greatest Story Never Told of the Modified PM (in 3D)

A classic is a classic, IMHO retouching, remixing doesn’t add any value, dimension or affect its greatness, but I agree that it does take it to the doors of the younger generation.
The Greatest Story Never Told of the Modified PM (in 3D) (written after Sholay was re-released in 3D)
10 Footpath Road, New Delhi.
The son is getting ready to watch the party PM’s speech on his brand new 3D TV, as the maid Shatabai walks in.
Maid: Baba, Mrs. Dixit is here.
Son: (excitedly) Who? Nene?
Maid: No!No! Sheila.
Son: (disappointed) She is way past her jawani, tell her to wait. I have no time for losers!
The mom walks in, stern and uptight as usual.
Mom: Did you go over the speech with the PM, last night? I don’t want any surprises.
Son: Of course!
And thus begins the speech:
‘It will be disastrous if you choose the son as the future PM. He doesn’t know what the problems of the country are, has memory shorter than Ghajini and a nonexistent IQ. In fact last night, he persistently asked whether Thakur’s hands will show up in Sholay 3D. I ask you what good will be an Indian PM, if he doesn’t know his Sholay, let alone his ABCs? Give the hand the finger and go for saffron! Mod I is the man!!!
Frustrated and having heard enough, the Mom picks up the remote and tries to shut off the TV, but nothing happens.
Mother: What is wrong with the remote? And, why can’t he use his free will and speech for once? Son, what speech did you give him, he is poking fun at you.
Son: For heaven’s sake I can feel each poking word of his, this is a 3D TV. I think the PJB has modified him, cloned him and are using him against us.
Mom: Son! You are losing your marbles. How can that happen?
Son: Let me pull him out and ask. It’s a 3D TV you know.
Mom: (shouting angrily): You are losing your dimensions! Pretty soon you will lose your Ma as well!
Son: I think the 3D Idiots are pulling a Chatur on me, the names got swapped. I shouldn’t have written the speech while watching Dhoom 3d last night, I have a case of mistaken identities!!!
Mom: (rubbing her forehead wearily) How are we going to get out of this mess?
Son: Don’t worry! Let’s disown him. As is, his term is over, punt him over to the Common Man Party. PM se CM tak! Spread the word that he deserted us!
Just then, the maid walks in again.
Maid: Sir, Mrs. Dixit is still waiting?
Son: Who? Nene?
Mom (putting her hands over her ears and shouting in anguish) No!No!, please not again. Shantabai, Main Mad Hori Hoon!!!
Son: (wide-eyed) Dixit-Nene?

The Pysche Stop

I stood at the pathway leading to the quaint little mansion, silhouetted against the night sky, mocking me to raid it. I paused a bit, the little pause that I always took before entering any quarry, making my mind and focusing it on the task ahead. It was pure luck that had pointed me, a newbie to the town, to this quarry.  Just last night during a ravenous bout of drinks at a local waterhole, brimming with masters, jacks and kings of my trade, good fortune had presented itself to me.  A local legend had begun, from the lips of a drunk, of this lonely heiress who lived by herself in this mansion of hers with vast riches, very reclusive, seldom seen outside her house, an everlasting beauty, and….. And there had been something else, something dark and sinister, something that had escaped me, for by this time I had taken a plummet from sobriety in to the realms of drunkenness and had indeed lost the rest of the story, but for a piece of paper handed to me by some Joe.  Incredibly the piece of paper stayed with me, throughout the night and drunken revelry, up until the next day when light and consciousness returned, the address miraculously preserved in my hands…

Hmmm the pause, it had never been this long before.  Maybe I should have taken that as a hint, a foreboding. But then I had to make a living.  Firstly, I pushed the doubts out, then the fence door open and pulled out a master-key as I made it to the front door.  It was around 11:45, the girl should be asleep by now. Within minutes I was inside the house standing in a dark foyer, leading to a small passageway that seemed to open in a big living room. Surprisingly a dim light was on in the living room.

“Daddy, please listen to me,” said a voice from the living room, it made me jump out of my skin. My hand rested on the reassuring bulge of the Beretta tucked inside my belt, as I ducked behind a huge horseman statue in the passageway. Not that I had ever shot the gun before, just flashing it had been sufficient to terrorize, but now a pang of anger and anxiety was slowly rising inside me.  “Isn’t she supposed to be alone? Is her father just visiting her?”

The voice continued, “You have always dictated my life, ever since I can remember. You have never let me make any decisions, never ever. Now for once, please let me marry Michael.”

Just then a bolt of lightning struck outside and the sound of crashing rain drowned the conversation. Taking refuge in the cacophony, I inched closer to the living room, shielded by the wall.  A young girl was sitting on the sofa facing the passageway, talking to someone on the love seat that was facing her.  Anguish and frustration was clearly discernible on her face even in the dimly lit room.  I couldn’t see who it was she was talking to, as the back of the huge bulky seat was towards me.  On the table between them were two glasses.

The girl continued to plead, “Daddy, since mom passed away you never ever listened to what I wanted, and it was always you, you and you. Why Daddy why?”

The grandfather clock in the room struck twelve.  Beads of perspiration ticked on my forehead.  “Get a grip; it’s only an old hog and his daughter. You can handle them.”

Suddenly the girl got up and started shouting menacingly, “This is it Daddy.  Enough is enough; this time I won’t let you drive my life.  I have already died many times; I won’t let you kill my dreams, my love, and my life yet again”.  The terror and anger in her voice was razor-sharp, very palpable and blood curdling; the transformation of the girl made my spine tingle.

This is it I thought; I need to step in before things get out of control. I pulled out the pistol and was about to step into the living room, when something heavy came crashing down behind me. I hit the ground tentatively, in an attempt to duck and wheeled around on the floor.  It was the statue that I had hidden behind earlier, realizing this I quickly got to my feet and rushed into the room. 

The girl had a shocked look on her face and was looking at the stairs that lead upstairs, the love seat was empty. I pointed the gun at her and shouted, “Stand still and don’t move!  Where is your father?”

 Slowly she turned her head towards me, her wide dazed eyes unable to comprehend my presence there.  Just then a big noise echoed upstairs.  A dark chill entered the girls eyes, something that started to even spook me out. A small grin formed on her lips, soon transforming into a sinister smirk.  When she spoke it wasn’t the voice of a helpless cornered girl but that of a cold judgmental shrew, “You are a robber, aren’t you?  What can you do for money? For lots of money, can you kill someone?” She gave a blood curdling laugh. “I will give you a million dollars if you kill my dad.” She shrugged pointing upstairs. 

Now I was beginning to get it. This girl was mad, out of her mind, driven to the doldrums of insanity by her anarchical dictator father.  There was no point in staying in this house anymore.  But then the million dollars….

“Where is the money?” I asked pointing the gun at her. 

“It’s upstairs in the safe. If you finish him off, you can have it and me as well.” She said in a teasing manner.

I said to myself; No focus, you can’t.  Go upstairs grab the money, tie the man and the girl and just leave.

I ordered, “Let’s go upstairs. You lead the way”.

The girl’s eyes were now just hollow, very distant but the chilling hideous smile was still stuck on her face. What the fuck had I gotten myself into? Something dark and sinister?  A million dollars?  Oh well for once, it’s so close. Let’s just do it.

We had reached the upstairs floor and were soon in the first room.  It was empty but for a bed and a chair. The girl laughed and shrugged.  I pointed the gun towards her and motioned her to move out.  The second room was more like a small study and had a small safe at the far end.  At once my heart leaped with joy, the breeze of a million dollars seemed to sweep my hardships and fears away.  I asked her to open the safe at which she just stared at me blankly.

“Open the safe”, I barked and pushed her.  At once her eyes flashed a fleeting look of evil that chilled me to the bone.  I flashed the gun…. The safe opened and I couldn’t believe it, there were bundles of green in it. I pulled out a thick trash bag from my pocket and ordered the girl to fill it up.  The girl slowly and mechanically started filling the bag with the wads of money. Suddenly something fell from the safe, some papers, and some newspaper clippings, old with age. With much apprehension I grabbed one and hastily read it. “Business Tycoon Murdered, Surviving Daughter Kills Burglar-Murderer. My hazy eyes darted to the next: “Another Stray Burglar Killed by Lonely Heiress”. Instantly, with panic and terror gripping me, I cocked my gun and turned around towards the girl, just as she drove a knife into my guts, the cold deathly blade chilling my warm blood.  Her eyes evil and dark, her face white, a sense of distant far way look pasted on her twisting face, as she pulled me towards her and asked in a maniac tone, “Where is my dad? What have you done to my dad?” With incomprehensible force and vehemence she took out the blade and drove it again with precision, drawing blood and life out of me.  As I fell agonizingly to the floor, still clutching the gun, she knelt beside me and shouted, “Dad”.  All of a sudden a look of compassion, care and pity passed over her. Her twisted face was now a façade of pure shock and her eyes moist with tears.  The room was spinning, I could feel it, the end was very near, life was leaving me and she was taking it.  She pulled the knife out, inspected it closely, and tossed it away and screamed, “How many times will I have to kill you dad, how many more…” And she sat motionless staring at me letting out a shrill long interminable wail.

The pain suddenly grew uncontrollable and I was cold. All my life till that point came flashing and crashing before my eyes right up to the pause…and then with a last twitch my body gave the final stop, and pulled the trigger.

When Gods fail, but men don’t…

“Who is this man?” inquired my eight year old, peering, over my shoulder, at the picture on my iPad. At once, disappointment filled me. I wondered if we were in India, would he have been asking the same question of me. Maybe not, for he would have known the obvious; maybe he would have asked a different question, as most people have been asking of late.

My mind flew years back and miles across to an afternoon in Bombay, Feb 1992, when a similar question had been directed at me. “Whose son is this?” my grandfather had asked innocently pointing to a picture cut out from a news magazine and put in a cheap frame by my inadapt hands. My grandfather kept sports out of his life, and only pictures of relatives in photo frames. I shook my head and replied optimistically, “He is the future of Indian cricket”. A wide grin formed on his face, “Ah, shouldn’t he be at the bottom of the ocean now?” jeering at me, and quoting the national team coach’s remarks after the abysmal performance in Oz. “Wait and watch.” I replied with a hint of skepticism, with only Perth and Karachi to vouch for me.

More than twenty years later; records broken, dreams achieved, frontiers conquered, Goliaths beheaded, and an everlasting legacy established; questions were still being asked. “When will he retire?” blurts someone, having had an overdose of, almost a quarter century worth, of batting that put manuals to shame. “Should he not be making way for young blood”, remarks a clairvoyant, unable to remember a nose bleeding boy, shrugging off fears, brushing his blood stained shirt, donning his grill less helmet and taking guard. “How many centuries does he want to score?” demands a statistician, obviously still counting, but overlooking the everlasting passion and perpetual fervor.

No more. The questions will stop now; they will have to stop now. The man has walked his last walk, alone…as he always has. The country had him believe, “We are always with you”, egged him, pushed him, carried him…but always left him when he needed a shoulder the most. We are all culpable of letting the man down. “What a fine innings! BUT why could you not have had stayed till the end and won it for us?” We asked of him. We grilled him. We blasted him. We crucified him. But eventually, at times apologetic at times unashamed, we always went back to him. Elevate someone to Godlike status, burn him at the stake and then expect him to come back and carry the baggage of million expectations over and over again. Certainly, a real God would have quit by then; after all even Gods fail and falter when overworked and overloaded with expectations. But the man never quit on us, never ever. And now that he has walked his last walk he can he finally start living like a man again, breathing and walking the same earth as the rest of us, the baggage of hopes and expectations relinquished and he himself being resurrected. Let him be now, he deserves to be a man again.

“Who is he, Daddy?” persisted my son, bringing me back. I let out a slow painful sigh and replied, “He is a man, elevated to the status of God; the man who did not fall even when the God that he embodied did”. And suddenly my son had transformed into my late grandfather; looking at me with understanding eyes and reaching out to wipe the tears welling in my eyes.