The Trigger

Alright, can we have a show of hands please? How many of us think happiness is transient?  Or should we roger Abraham Lincoln’s words, like many others’, that ‘most folks are happy as they make their minds to be’? Let’s  ask Ribbin Joseph.

Ribbin, the accountant, is a very unassuming chap.  He cracked an interview with Intellect, a respectable technology firm in Bengaluru around six months ago, and accepted the job offer in a trice.  Not that Ribbin was any the less gainful in employment, but it was the need for change that raised its alluring head, which incidentally is biennial on an average.  His folks cheered him and wished him the very best. They said they should celebrate his getting the new job in style and took Ribbin to a fancy restaurant. He wasn’t sure if this really called for a celebration. His friends demanded a treat, to which he responded by laughing it off and asking them to raise their standards. What’s great about changing a job, he would argue. I got a higher role, yeah, so what? I haven’t won a Nobel, have I? he would continue saying.

One has to give it to Ribbin’s sense of humour, though a bit on the drier side. When a colleague of his asked him to lend to her the Michael Crichton novel he was raving about, he replied pithily that it was booked! Pity that the lady didn’t get it, but he was mighty pleased with himself. If you had been around and spied on him at that time, you would have caught him chuckling to himself. With half a self-congratulatory nod, he went back to his desk and started clearing those invoices with a little extra vigour.

Soon, life at Intellect for Ribbin hit the treadmill, and weekdays started appearing indistinguishable from one another. Gym, breakfast, commute, traffic, login, cigarette, bills, meeting, blah, lunch, cigarette, bills, blah, logout, traffic, home, TV, dinner, reading, sleep. In this cycle of daily activities, not much could possibly change. And then the weekends were a heady mix of sleep, TV, reading and eating out.  In due course, Ribbin had subscribed to the apparent monotony of work, which showed in a couple of instances. He walked in late on a windy Monday, oblivious to the storm that was brewing in the boss’s cabin. He was summoned in no time, and it suffices to say the meeting had done its job of hitting Ribbin’s self-confidence. He smoked an extra cigarette, contemplated on resigning first and then looking for a job, as he  felt he didn’t belong here. What a gloomy day it was!

Sometime in the late afternoon the same day, as he was walking across the aisle, Ribbin averted a head-on collision with a lady he had been throwing admiring glances at. Now Shubha the lady had not met his eye once in these six months, leading our man to believe that he probably couldn’t carry himself off well. Cut to the present. Shubha stopped in her tracks, caught his eye and grinned at him before moving on.  Ribbin was quick to quick in flashing back that benign smile at her and stood aside to let her pass. He could barely hold his excitement. She too had perhaps been secretly admiring. Probably she hadn’t mustered the courage to come up and speak with him. Never mind, as long as he knew that people had approving thoughts about him. Wasn’t the world beautiful? But of course bosses will have a go at you. It’s part of their profile. And who doesn’t make mistakes? With these thoughts, Ribbin spent the rest of the afternoon, and closed his day a half hour early, feeling he deserved that time off for himself. Such a lovely evening that it was!

In less than a week from the date of that sweet accident, Shubha left the organization. Ribbin decided that one shouldn’t have been so easily excitable and made a solemn vow to himself. In fact, he hadn’t made any great friends over the time and guessed that it might remain this way for him. Lonely, undervalued, and strictly business like. That his bosses and some of the old hands at the company had a coterie of sorts didn’t help matters either. Ribbin’s manager, Piyush, was a gentleman of varied interests and was known to lead a very ‘happening’ life outside work. But for some inexplicable reason, Piyush seemed to restrict all conversation with Ribbin to business. So, when he walked up to Ribbin’s  desk and chatted to him about books, Crichton included, our man was pleasantly surprised. Ribbin grabbed the opportunity to talk about movies, travel, sports, music, all in the window of 5 minutes. The boss seemed to be in a chatty mood that day, and responded well to observations on the aforesaid topics. Boy, wasn’t that wonderful? Ribbin’s reasoning as he drove back home was that Piyush wasn’t such a tart after all.  One only needed to make time for small talk, and bob’s your uncle!

What does one say about Ribbin Joseph? He appears to be of the kind who don’t have much to complain about in life, but aren’t the most enthusiastic either. Not of the kind who will likely have ‘happiness’ added to the ‘things to do’ list for the day, but more like the ones who need a trigger for happiness. Yes, a trigger.

Should happiness really need a trigger? Ribbn says he doesn’t know if that is how you term it, but just that those fleeting moments of joy give him an instant high, and is sure that there are plenty more to come by.

Nightmare by invitation

Swapnil Pednekar had never foreseen this problem. Intractable as it was, the predicament didn’t seem to offer a way out and he was getting knotted up by the minute. Whatever  happened to our dear Swapnil?

Fancying himself a creative writer, Pednekar always tried his hand at smart and quirky themes. He believed he would have rocked the field of advertising, but his ‘well-wishers’ advised him against taking up an ad agency stint, citing pathetic pay scales. Resigning to his concession of being a typical Indian middle-class young man with an eye on a secure future, he took up the first available job at an IT firm in Pune.  As with many individuals of his sensibilities, he went about pursuing his passion for writing by the moonlight. Never did an evening pass without him scribbling his thoughts; never did a day break without his resolution to quit his nine-to-five compulsion.

Swapnil had a hundred short stories to his credit, but just a handful of them published. He always wanted to be known for that one piece that would end wars and vanquish poverty. In his constant endeavour to churn out that seminal work of art,  Swapnil always meditated on different approaches to telling a story. His latest brainwave was to tell a story featuring a writer whose characters came to life, literally, and threw his life out of gear. Kicked about this revolutionary idea, he dashed home from work on a breezy evening, and pulled out his laptop without bothering to change even. This was a grand idea, and he would not rush it one bit. He just wanted to make a start, save the draft and sleep over the flow of the story. He wrote, “Ron from Bombay wanted to disrupt the literary world and wrote a story in which the characters came to life and started talking.  The protagonist was a female prostitute who commanded respect in the alleys of Bombay, and was sought after by the media. During an interview with the Times of India, Mala Dy,  the prostitute was asked if she ever thought of changing to a respectable line, and being a model for many of her followers. Mala Dy retorted , “But why should I change? This has given me life and today I’m sitting here talking to you because of what I do, night and day!” The interviewer seemed to be convinced.” With these lines Pednekar saved his draft and proceeded to finish dinner and then call it a night.

He went to bed, with a smile that refused to leave him till he drifted off. The smile sat on his lips right after he woke up early, and resumed dancing ever so gaily.

Till he opened the saved draft.

—-  —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

In continuation, Swapnil wanted the interviewer to ask Mala Dy about what was the median age of people visiting her. But the last line read completely different.

“Dude, can you get me a job that pays this kind of money? If yes, come and see me tomorrow. Or do you wanna make it tonight itself?”

Swapnil rubbed his eyes a dozen times and stared at that last line. Was he seeing what he thought was happening? It was still the same, “… tonight itself?”

He was wide awake now, and could hear his pulse racing. For a good five minutes Swapnil let himself lose all calm and started howling, wondering as he did, if THIS was the sound of his impulse.

Back at his laptop, Pednekar scrolled up and saw that the one paragraph he had stopped had had crossed a page.  As he eyeballed the activity on his machine while he had slept in ignorant bliss, Swapnil saw that there was a conversation in progress.

Ron: “Hey Swapnil, kaay re! Tu svatah la kaay samajtos? Who do you think you are?”

A few blank spaces down.

O baba, aiktoyes ka? Do you hear me?  I just wanna know what made you think I’m a writer. Man, I wanted to be an MLA and go on to become CM. Hell, maajha naav Roshan Galande, Ron naahi. Chaaila! Jai Maharashtra!

Swapnil read on and realized that the belligerent Roshan Galande had decided to peek into the character that his own character had supposedly created.

“O writer bhau, hullo, ithe bug! Tula sex manje khup aavaData ka? You seem to like this sex business a lot! Writers are like that only. Given a chance, they write out their imagination! Hello madam, interview vinterview sagaLe bandh kara aaNi ghar zaa! End this interview business and get going!”

To which the feisty Mala Dy responds, “Oiy, mera baap bhi aise baat nahi karte. My dad would think twice before yelling at me. Look at your guts! This is my interview, and I have every business being here.”

Galande: “Wait till I go get my boys! You will face the heat. Aattha bug! Jai Shivaji!

Mala Dy, returning to the dumbstruck interviewer, “Can we please continue? Don’t mind these thugs, huh? I know how to deal with them. What was your question, again?”

Interviewer: “Have you ever considered changing your line and getting into the mainstream,  and being a model to your followers?”

…. ….  …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. …. ….

Pednekar, fairly in control of himself and alert now, realized it didn’t make sense to continue this story. But then, should he be quitting? Wasn’t it THIS great idea that had found favour with divinity or mysticism or black magic or whatever? He could close the file and destroy it forever. Or should he let the characters tell the story themselves? All he had to do was trigger a conversation and stop worrying about the proceeding. Wouldn’t that mean he was relinquishing his creativity for inanimate characters that decide to start typing on their own? Still better, should he start conversing with his characters and arrive at an agreement, and complete the story in harmony? But seriously, would that even work? A writer who doesn’t want to be one, gets to be a politician and goes about terrorizing the neighbourhood. A prostitute cannot survive a story, because she’s being tormented by the politician. How does one even kill a character?

—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

What was that? Kill a character? How about bumping off the MLA? And make the prostitute very peaceable?

—- —- —- —- —- —- —– —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

He looked at his watch and realized that he was a couple hours late to work already. Darn the bloody story, get to real business, he decided. While at office, his laptop’s hard disk crashed.

The computer died. Swapnil Pednekar survived!

Carla – the daughter of the cop

The Bengaluru city Police Commissioner’s prodigal son-in-law never ceased to baffle the top cop. Barely three months into the marriage, Rohan displayed excessively erratic behaviour in sporadic fashion. Nothing could be predicted of him. The first four weeks after the wedding witnessed what was a continued party.  Rohan, and consequently his wife, would cut cakes at sharp 10AM celebrating each day of marriage.  ‘Happy tresdieversary’ was written on the cake on the third day after the wedding.  Commissioner Da Cunha later learnt that the word was coined by Rohan after a quick internet research. The newlyweds would step out of the house at around 2PM visibly intoxicated, but smartly dressed nevertheless. They would return at around 8 or 9, start chanting psalms, which bewildered many, as Rohan came from an orthodox Hindu family. In the second month, for just under a week, Mr & Mrs. Rohan had set up an office, with an elaborately done glazed steel signboard that read ‘Carla’.  By the eighth day, the office had disappeared. For the next two weeks, in the chilly month of January, the couple had taken off to Munnar, without a single woolly or a jacket packed in, as observed by the domestic help.

It wasn’t that Da Cunha was completely unprepared for a binging of sorts. Carla, his only daughter, was a notorious reveller and used to make the headlines in the local tabloids quite often. But she had never crossed the limits of the law.  A graduate of English literature, she had done a course in Physics on a whim. Not that she tried to meld her apparently disparate sets of knowledge to present a new thought to the world or anything like that.  She would never give a rationale to her random pursuits. People started dismissing her as a result of being in her influential father’s endowment, coupled with her aspiration to be a newsmaker. On her part, Carla, successful in working herself out to a svelte figure, dressed without inhibitions but stunned many the other way when she would come  attend socio-religious gatherings draped in elaborately woven Kanchipuram silk sarees . Da Cunha had given her security cover, inexplicably having it accounted for in the department’s books.  So, Carla would never suffer a scratch even if she were to pose in the nude. When she was interviewed by the media a couple times, she surprised people again by her statements on hard work, respect for the elders, and, on the virtue of virginity before marriage. In fact, she was going steady with Rohan, and never had taken off with him outside the city, nor was she seen with him after dark.  This had reinforced Da Cunha’s belief in his daughter’s choices, and made him readily accept Rohan as his son-in-law.

Carla

However, all said and done….

—–   —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

Three more months later

—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

Two more companies are known to have been registered in Carla’s name – Carlacious and Carladen – neither operating now.  Enquiry reveals that Carlacious was a food joint and Carladen was a holiday ideas company. Her whereabouts have been ascertained but she’s unreachable.

Rohan is making some noises here and there. He  doesn’t live with Carla, and has been spotted commuting to work. An analyst gig at Goldman Sachs. A couple of his reports have been published in financial journals.

—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

Da Cunha is none the better for his confusion still

—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

Carla has just returned home. She doesn’t look very different, but her face betrays uncertainty. Rohan asks her “You must have made your notes. What do you think?”

Carla says, “Maybe it’s just our country and not the world”

“You are saying our country still doesn’t offer limitless possibilities?”

“Not for your average chap on the road. My being in a position of influence didn’t get me that far, just think of others”

Da Cunha has his moment of reckoning.

He utters regretfully, “Wish I were never a Commissioner, or you were born to a different father”

Arivu – A parable about an endangered culture

Once upon a time in the present day there lived a Retriever named Arivu. Arivu was a smart mongrel that was owned by a wealthy human who sheltered him in a plush kennel.  The dog would walk about the bungalow and flop down at will. His master was a man who had travelled the world and knew a lot about many things. Often times, Arivu would snuggle down at his master’s feet while the latter would softly stroke his head while discussing animatedly on a wide range of subjects with his visitors. The master would often take his visitors to a large room filled with books, and Arivu would perk up and follow the conversation intently.

retriever_book

One day, a visitor had brought his German Shepherd along to visit the master. As they entered the study, Arivu darted in lest he missed the conversation. But in no time he was attracted to Naasha, the Shepherd. The latter was a tease. Both the canines started chasing each other and soon were lost in merriment.  Before long, it was time to part. But to Arivu’s delight, she was back the next week. It was a new found love for Arivu. As they rollicked around, they fell outside the bungalow. Both were so lost in their world that they didn’t realize that they had long left the house and beyond reach. They never bothered to find their way back either. But their love barely lasted a day.  The following  afternoon, Arivu woke up to realize Naasha had given him the slip. The Retriever couldn’t manage to stay alone however. In no time, he found himself gate-crashing into other canine settlements and picking up bitches.

A week later, Arivu started missing his master. He was sauntering about when he saw another Retriever being taken for a walk. He started following the dog and its master, whose left hand held the leash and the right, locked in the arms of a woman. The woman turned and saw Arivu and got excited. She wanted her companion to take him too. In a few minutes, Arivu was riding an elevator, up 15 stories, and presently entered the apartment the couple lived in. The house was all of five rooms, none of which appeared to have held a book ever.

It was one month now since had moved in. He ate well and stayed put, save for a customary morning walk.  One day, a lady came visiting. She looked at Arivu curiously for a minute, and then asked him “Arivu, run and fetch that magazine, will you?”  The dog looked at her with a blank expression, and yawned!

-A reader

Apparent conviction – A flash story

At first glance, Bhadra, analyst at a leading BPO in Bangalore, was your average Joe. For that matter, even after several glances and beyond, he would probably remain one. He liked Cricket when India played, and preferred to watch movies on TV, mostly universally acclaimed hits. He believed in ‘settling’ down in life and taking the middle path. To that end, he got married.

Bhadra was a proud Bangalorean and spoke Kannada. Whenever he sensed slander by ‘outsiders’, he would quickly launch an offensive. His stock phrasal retorts included Chennai’s heat and chauvinism, Hyderabad’s white-collared forgers, Kerala’s communist leaning, Mumbai’s underworld and terrorism, and Delhi’s rapes. Did I mention ‘rape’? Bhadra echoed the popular theory that women invited rape.

It was a pleasant Sunday evening. Bhadra and his wife had planned a visit to Orion, the new shopping mall of a few million square feet.  Hailing from a neighboring village, Rekha the blushing bride was as acquainted with western attire as would an Arab be to a kilt. To keep with the city’s fashionable ways, and her husband’s wardrobe preferences, she wore a simple black tee over sulfur blue jeans, but salvaged some of her cultural ground with glinting gold bangles and a symbolic black dot on her forehead. Bhadra was at his casual best in an orange round neck tee, with ‘I was born intelligent, but education made me stupid’ screaming across his torso and the ‘stupid’ firmly planted on his potbelly.

Bhadra and Rekha walked almost a kilometer from their tenement in Jangasandra, to flag a rickshaw. The road was deserted, and most of the shutters were down, a usual Sunday evening sight.  The young couple walking hand-in-hand made idlers, present in pockets, all curious. Rekha started feeling nervous. She and her husband were clearly getting all the attention. Bhadra was oblivious to it for around a minute, then saw that his wife was treading cautiously, looking at the muddy ground beneath her feet. He assured her everything was OK, and people new to the locality got the attention. Right under the veneer of composure, he was praying desperately for time to come to his rescue.  No sooner than he got busy with his prayers, did he hear a voice to his left bellowing a recently released Kannada serenade. He turned and produced a hesitant scowl, only to be met with jeers and whistles.

Rekha was praying as well. She prayed for nuptial intervention, and a swashbuckling one at that. The reality however was of nervousness, and feigned nonchalance.

They came to the main road presently.  Within a couple of minutes, they were inside the relatively safe interiors of a rickshaw.

Bhadra broke the ice and told his wife, “as long as we live in this area, please wear loose-fitting salwar kameezes. Don’t forget to have full sleeves stitched.”

“I feel unsafe here. Can we move to a different locality?”

“Nah, don’t worry so much. These are just boys out to have a bit of fun in the evening. They’re known to be boisterous. Don’t pay heed to these jokers. “

“But that’s not good, is it?”

“I understand, but feel happy it’s only this much. We aren’t as bad as Delhi yet.”

-Met