Friday, February 05, 2016

Data-driven Romance

Five straight men. A WhatsApp group. A discussion about romance in the wee hours of the night. Inspired by true events (but no names will be named).
Intrigued? Read, read, read my latest short story in Spark on the theme of 'Romance'.


Data-driven Romance


Deepika Padukone looked at him with a dreamy daze, cutting straight through his heart like a laser beam. “Uff, Queen D”, he whispered to himself, admiring the glowing beauty of his favourite actress from a generation decidedly younger than him. He adjusted his spectacles, bade goodbye to Deepika and shut down the cover of his laptop. It was 11 pm in the night. His family had gone to sleep, either sufficiently satisfied or sufficiently exhausted with the day’s proceedings.
In the quiet dullness of the white noise of Bengaluru nights, Sudeep reclined on the sofa and clicked on his phone. Facebook was boring and Twitter was argumentative as usual. WhatsApp would provide succour. He tapped on the button for the app.
He turned to “Mischief Managers”, a group consisting of his college buddies. They had plodded the familiar route of thick friendships – inseparable in college and then disbursed without a clue for years later. Getting together through WhatsApp changed that. Twenty years after graduating, they had connected again with renewed fervour and daily chats, brought together by virtue of a zealous people connector in the group.
“Hello, hello,” Sudeep typed, noticing that he was late to an already ongoing conversation.
Mandar: “Sudeep, welcome, you have been missing out on the fun”
Sudeep: “Summarise for me?”
Mandar: “Shailesh is conducting a poll. He wants to know how often each one of us says ‘I love you’ to our wives”
Sudeep: “What rubbish?”
Mandar: “No, really. He is quite serious about it. Shailesh, yaar, chime in”
Shailesh: “Sudeep, don’t say it is rubbish. I have an ulterior motive behind it”
Sudeep: “What have the others said?”
Shailesh: “Oh, just scroll up the messages, will you :) “
Mandar: “Ok, ok. I know you won’t, so let’s get you the answers. Paresh?”
Paresh: “Depends upon how badly I have messed up :) Since Shailesh is such a numbers person, I gave him one – once every 8.3 days!”
Mandar: “Abbas?”
Abbas: “Me, I do it all the time. It is a reflux action (joke – I hope you guys got it).”
Mandar: “Yes, Abbas. Where’s the emoji for ‘I want to beat you up’?”
Abbas: “LOL. Yes, I guess I asked for it. No, seriously, we say it all the time. When we pick up the phone, hang up the phone. Wake up in the morning. When we go to bed. Reflex action”
Mandar: “That IS impressive”
Abbas: “What about you, Mandar?”
Mandar: “Me? No, let it be”
Shailesh: “Says the man who has a love marriage. Come on, bro”
Mandar: “No, really. I can’t remember if we have said that to each other after our first year of marriage”
An eerie silence seemed to grip the group. No messages were forthcoming.
Mandar: “I don’t think we have done everyone, have we? What about Sudeep?”
Sudeep: “I don’t attach much value to saying it. If love is there, she’ll know it.”
Paresh: “Sudeep, do you think the rest of us are engaging in it uselessly? :)”
Sudeep: “No, no, Paresh. I don’t know. I was just expressing my opinion”
Paresh: “Relax, Sudeep. I was just pulling your leg.”
Sudeep: “Fine mess Shailesh has gotten us into. Can you imagine a stranger discussion on this group? Grown men of over forty asking each other how many times they confess their love to their wives”
Paresh: “Shailesh, why did you limit the question to only the wives? Did it occur to ask if we say that to other women? J”
Shailesh: “Paresh, I know all of you. None of you are going to get that lucky”
Sudeep: “Shailesh, are you going to get to the point of this whole exercise? Now you have all the information you need, you data freak”
Shailesh: “Ha, ha. You are right, you are right, I do owe you an explanation”
Everyone’s screen twinkled with the message “Shailesh is typing…”. The group waited in anticipation.
Shailesh: “You see gents, I was taking a poll to see if I was alone”
Abbas: “Alone in what?”
Shailesh: “You see, I have never uttered the words ‘I love you’ to my wife”
Abbas: “What? You are joking, right? Never?!”
Shailesh: “Never. Not once”
Paresh: “I have to say that sounds rather strange, Shailesh”
Shailesh: “I know, I know. I am anachronistic. You don’t expect a modern day metropolitan man to be like this”
Sudeep: “I am sure you have your reasons, Shailesh. Let’s hear them”
Shailesh: “Mine was a marriage arranged with great rapidity once I said Yes to my parents. Matrimonial ads in the newspaper, short engagement and a quick wedding. And then, life just took over.”
Mandar: “Shailesh, it doesn’t take more than two seconds to say those words, however busy your life might be”
Shailesh: “Yes, but I always associated it with being romantic, and I am simply not that”
Paresh: “Dude, but really, hasn’t your wife beaten you up on it?”
Shailesh: “No, that’s the beauty of it. She has never said that either”
Sudeep: “Match made in heaven”
Mandar: “That still doesn’t explain why you are taking this poll”
Shailesh: “Well, something happened last week. My wife told me she loves me… It had me worried”
Abbas: “Look at this genius. He is worried because his wife told him she loves him. I’d have thought it is worrisome the other way round!”
Shailesh: “I know, I know. I am paranoid. When I am stuck with the unknown, I turn to the one thing that gives me succour”
Paresh: “Porn? ;)”
Shailesh: “Data!”
Shailesh: “I figured a straw poll couldn’t hurt, but the evidence is inconclusive. Maybe the right response now is for me to say it back”
Sudeep: “Shailesh, I had a thought. When is your anniversary?”
Shailesh: “Two weeks away. Sudeep, are you thinking what I am thinking?”
Sudeep: “Maybe you just need to improve the quality of your gifts! Perhaps your wife is sending you a gentle signal :)”
Shailesh: “Expressing love to get more gifts? Sounds odd, but then who knows. This too is tough – I am not that good at conjuring good gifts. Any tips?”
Abbas: “Don’t go by my example. I gave varying gifts each year. I don’t think they went down that well. One year my wife confessed – Please don’t try. I’ll buy a gift myself. Just tell me your budget”
Shailesh: “LOL. Clearly, I shouldn’t ask you. I wouldn’t mind outsourcing the idea to others the rest of you though”
Mandar: “Maybe write and sing her a song?”
Shailesh: “Clearly, the scars of having heard me sing in college have healed for you, Mandar!”
Sudeep’s phone ran out of charge. He walked sneakily to his bedroom to grab his charger where his wife was letting out mild snores in her sleep. He waited impatiently for the phone to start up to get back into the conversation. His own anniversary was a month away and yet, tonight, a gift was farthest from his mind. He was settling in on the sofa for the night – a result of an altercation with his wife. Smiling, he typed up his own contribution.
Sudeep: “Shailesh, buy two things – something good that your wife will like, and the other, a comfortable pillow. The least you can do is make yourself comfortable on the couch if the first does not work”
A round of smileys bounced back on the message thread. The night drifted into irrelevance and the topic of love for their wives ended on a whimper, replaced with love for another.
Mandar: “So, I was reading the Tendulkar biography …”

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Love Unexpressed

And there she was, that pristine beauty
Hair tied back, parted in the middle,
Tamed to be in perfect shape
Wearing a black dress, on fair white skin
Revealing two inches, below the knee

She sat, bag in the lap, hands on the bag
Gazing out from her window seat
Waiting patiently for the ride to begin

He raced in, heart beating wildly aflutter
Adrenalin pumping, throat dry
Nervous to claim his prize for the day
Few moments alone with the girl he dreamt of
So what if she never did see him in her dreams

"Hi!", he would say, rushing to her
Settling into the adjacent seat
"Traffic, homework, exams", wondering
With what banality should he begin
To fill words in the empty space between

The words would flow and the bus would lurch
As they would pass the market, the theater, the church
His eyes were transfixed on her perfect face
Those lips he wished he got to kiss
That cheek he wished to stroke gently
That waist he wished he slid his hands through

And yet the wishes of his heart
Found no voice and got no transport
So, they sat, shoulder brushing against shoulder
Legs gently touching each other
Smiling, talking, enthralling each other

And he, knowing that the time had come
For the day’s joy to come to an end
Held her hand gently and in a falsetto voice
Commented with genuine admiration
“Nice bangles”
And shyly, she disembarked,
Stirred, but not convinced

And the bus went on
Carrying in its metal hide
A story of love
Unexpressed

Friday, January 15, 2016

An Ode To Andheri

Oh, Andheri, you little beauty
You are like a coat which has been transformed
Gilded buttons and glossy fabric
A sharp cut and crowded glamor
Have replaced your rugged origins
But I have known you from when you were
An unadorned garment, plain as the sky
That wasn’t covered with smog
I still know your in-seams and the little crevices
Where I have tucked memories
Like a safe deposit box
To be retrieved, each time I come by

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Everyday Heroes

The theme for this month's Spark magazine was 'Human Spirit'. While the majority would go for inspirational and uplifting stories on that topic, I decided to offer a sarcastic and humorous take on the human spirit. Read on.

Everyday Heroes

Every crisis needs a hero. If there is one thing better than our very human trait of digging a hole for ourselves now and again, it is our ability to conjure a rope and pull ourselves out once we fall into it. The ones doing the pulling are the heroes of our times and they need to be acknowledged. Judge not the hero by the nature of the crisis he or she has helped avert, but by the sheer implausibility of them standing up in the first place, for aren’t daily heroes rarer than Bollywood movies that make you stand up and say, “That made sense”?  These are our daily heroes, our simple saviours. They may not make the nightly news nor get Facebook posts that urge you to ‘share’ their deeds instead of clicking on that Yo Yo Honey Singh video laced with gyrations by Sunny Leone; but if they are not praised, we have failed in our duty. I intend to correct that by presenting to you some shining examples of heroes in our daily lives.
The Selfie Taker
There is so much ugliness in this world. Poverty, hunger, litter on the roads, hoardings that sell you dreams you can’t afford. Our eyes take in all of that and our heart suffers the consequences. To the rescue comes the selfie taker. They put their beautiful selves out there for us. By making sure that 70% of the picture is merely their own pouting self, they obscure the dreadfulness of the world from us. Thank you, my friend. I know you down to your last freckle now.
The Channel Changer
“57 channels and nothing on”, claimed Bruce Springsteen. Of course, that song was released in 1992, where the number 57 might have been the pinnacle of how many different streams of vapid entertainment humans could conjure up. Circa 2015, sky is the limit. With hundreds of channels running and a few thousand shows running in parallel, how can you come to the conclusion that nothing is on until you actually try them out? To the rescue come the channel changers, the rare breed that has supreme eyesight and rapid cognition and can flip through the channels gauging, guessing and deciding what is worth watching and what is not. If it hurts your eyes, look away. If it irritates you, remember, it is for your own good.
The TV Anchors
Your home is either invaded by white noise or is host to the silence that lives inside it. Your family perhaps is not the most talkative kind. Even short talk is a premium. Into this void enters the bombastic voice of the TV anchor. There is drama, there is emotion, there is aggression and there is compassion. They wrench the last drop out of their existence to fulfil yours. Any human emotion that was missing from your oh so tepid lives is played for you by the TV anchor. Except one. Don’t expect any subtlety there.
The Friendly Neighborhood Aunt
This may be a fast-fading species, but the friendly neighbourhood aunt has always formed an important part of the social fabric in India. This is not someone who is actually your aunt, but embodies every bit the liberties and the inquiries that an overbearing and highly interested sister of your father or mother would be expected to have. She is simply, “Aunty”. Or “Aunty-jee”, if the extra degree of respect is desired. She is here to make sure that she keeps an eye on you. Sting’s “Every breath you take” could very well have been written from her point of view. Her interest in your life is her endeavour to keep you grounded. If she wants to know who the girl was that came in the afternoon when your parents were away, it is only because she worries that you might get robbed. If she is wondering when you are going to have kids, it is only her compassionate side coming through, taking on some of your unwanted guilt and troubles onto herself. She may even make sure that many other such aunts would come to partake of your troubles, such is her selflessness. Aunty-jee, we bow to you.
The Joke Forwarder
Your life is a dull dry desert. You need an oasis of humour to nourish and replenish you. Without it, you would walk around sulking like the grey skies on a Seattle evening. There is but only one person who can save you there. The Joke Forwarder. That gallant soul who makes sure that whether it is by SMS or WhatsApp or Facebook or even Twitter, they share a joke or two or twenty with you. Everyone can come up with an original joke. However, forwarding a joke that is likely to bring a smile to someone’s face is no mean task. They are the gate-keepers to good humour. They are like editors of a major newspaper. What’s more, they will pepper each joke with a million emojis so you are caught up on this new wave of expression sweeping the world. Say a silent thank you to them and throw in a chuckle for good measure.
You
The last hero in the list is You. No, no, don’t be confused. Don’t look behind you to see if someone else is being addressed. I am talking about you. You deserve to be called a hero. Even Time magazine named you ‘Person of the Year’ in 2006. And why not? It is a miracle you continue to exist. The world is falling apart. You are choking to death slowly. You survive catastrophes. You survive your spouse and your children and your co-workers and all the other human beings. You survive bad food and unintellectual television. You survive fashion trends and changes to taxation. What more is to be said other than reminding you that you are a hero. That you are is in itself a testament to how bravely you have struggled to maintain your existence. I bow to you, and in turn, accept your respect.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Annus Moviebilis part III

I conducted an experiment in the year 2008. I wanted to keep a tab on the number of movies I watched through the year. I diligently noted every movie I saw. At the end of the year, a list was produced here. A similar list was produced in the year 2014. A repeat of this experiment was done in the year 2015. Here is the list and the ratings for each of the movies. And yes, a century was completed this year. The final tally was 105.

Scores:

2008: 99
2014: 86
2015: 105

Movie TitleRating (1-5)
Good Morning Vietnam3.5
 Trishna3
 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit2.5
 Zid 1.5
 The Ultimate Spiderman 23
 Filmistaan3.5
 Miss Lovely3.5
 Mary Kom3.5
 Fear and loathing in Las Vegas 3.5
 No Smoking 3
 The Interview2.5
 Aankhon Dekhi3.5
 Johnny English Reborn 2
 Godzilla 3
 The fifth estate 3
 Heropanti2.5
 Robocop3
 Amit Sahni ki list2.5
 Horns3
 Happy new year 3
 Khoobsurat3
 The Grand Budapest Hotel 4
 Bullet Raja2.5
 Twilight 2
 November man2.5
 Captain America: Winter soldier 2.5
 Baby 3.5
 Tinker tailor soldier spy4
 Bang bang 3
 Maine Pyaar Kiya4
 Dolly ki doli2.5
 Noah3.5
 Gone girl 4
 Finding Fanny3.5
 Shamitabh3.5
 Kill dill3
 Dum laga ke haisha4
 NH 103.5
 Piku4
 Interstellar 4
 Roy3
 Avengers: Age of Ultron3
 The Imitation Game4
 Boyhood4
 Byomkesh Bakshi3.5
 Birdman (or the unexpected virtue of ignorance)4
 Oh Kadhal Kanmani3.5
 Transformers: Age of Extinction3
 Fruitvale Station3.5
 Jurassic World 3.5
The Theory of Everything4
Badlapur3.5
Blackhat3
Salem4
Ungli2.5
While we're young 3
Kingsmen: secret service 3
The Reluctant Fundamentalist 3
Revolver Rani3.5
A Most Wanted Man3
The Butler3.5
Tracks3.5
Minions3
Hunterr3.5
Bhootnath Returns3
Mr. X1.5
Tanu weds Manu returns 3
50 shades of grey 3
Dil Dhadakne Do3
Leap Year3
The best of me 2.5
Bombay Velvet 3
13 going on 302.5
The Survivor2.5
Transcendence 3
Basic Instinct 4
The Maze Runner3
The Big Wedding 3.5
The Scorch Trials3
The Loft3
The Martian4
Bajrangi Bhaijaan3
Ugly4.5
Baahubali3.5
Drishyam3
Harry Potter and the sorcerer's stone 3.5
Hum aapke hain kaun4
The Gunman 3
American Sniper 3.5
Harry Potter and the Chamber of secrets3.5
Rosewater3.5
Shakespeare in love4
Rumor has it3.5
Larry Crowne3.5
The Good Dinosaur 3
Welcome back 2
Mad Max: Fury Road4
Someone like you3
2001: A Space Odyssey4
A Clockwork Orange4
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation3.5
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.4
Bajirao Mastani3.5
Star Wars: The Force Awakens3.5
Dilwale3