Saturday, May 1, 2010

Surge


I was on my way to Bridgeport, Connecticut down I-95 S to drop a friend off belting my ever faithful 1999 Corolla along at a steady not-so-low speed of 75 mph (about 120 kmph) in a 45-65 mph specified zone. It was early on a Sunday evening and fellow cars on the road headed down to New York City were proceeding along at a similar speed knowing that no cop was going to lose his hair over this minor infringement of the speed limit and come after them. I had been on this journey a number of times before; every curve of the freeway and even the massive 18 wheelers that made up most of the traffic on weekends were pretty familiar to me. Like the sun was losing interest in the activities of that part of the world, so too was I, almost hypnotized by the unwavering repetitiveness of this particular drive.

Then... a ghost whipped by the driver side's window, leaning right into the path of my car and then racing ahead to lean in and out of all the cars that lay ahead. There's no other sound like it in the world. The super-short whine of a super-powerful machine zipping past your car so fast that in comparison, you seem to be standing still. And then, another ghost flashed by and then another. Sport's biker gang, alert! A few yellow Suzuki Bandits, a couple of lime green Kawasaki Ninjas, a lone Hayabusa and a few more monsters of the two-wheeled variety - all may even have been apparitions for the minimal length of time that they remained within our eyesight. Dancing, weaving taillights; muscled steel bodies, engines powered by hell and speeds ensuring that whatever else happens, the motorcycles would get you there quick... really quick.

My hands on the wheel were trembling for quite a few seconds after the last of the motorcycle gang had whizzed past. It was impossible to keep up with them, for us, all those imprisoned by the curse of 4 wheels. It was some kind of a joke that we even tried. But the speed demons had left behind a black hole, a warp zone which sucked all of us trailing them into upping our average speeds by a good 15-20 mph more for a significant while before we realized the futility of our wishes. No car on the road right there and then on that section of I-95 S could claim to have fought off this sudden yield to temptation. Still the Devil cackled in our ears, urging us to heed the message that he had sent out to all of us on the road in his own inimitable way. Surge.
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[Do not be foolish enough to consider everything stated above as an incentive to speed. Drive and ride safe. Reach home. Alive. With all limbs in their respective places. Let others on the road do so too. Please.]
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Jack


It's not easy being pals with a serial killer. Not when you have to dedicate an entire lazy office afternoon, screening and scouting victims for him. But then it's not that I want him outed. I find it no small thrill to be a mere witness to his muffled and extraordinarily fierce violence. I always know where to find him, quietly he waits in the little ante-chamber outside our glass partitioned space on the 15th floor of our office building. Still as a statue, he seems to be deep in thought, crouching next to the coffee machine that never works and the water cooler that never fails to spit toxic, unpotable, warm water.

I cast a furtive look around before zeroing in on those unfortunate enough (although some of them do thank their lucky stars for being chosen) to catch my fancy. This is a super collection of oddballs if there ever was one. A posse of rejected ideas which never made the leap from meetings to workstations; a bunch of has-beens whose glory days in the sun were as brief as their wait for annihilation seemed infinite; crowds of those elements which had been used, abused by the system of quality input & output and now needed to be disposed, their lowly duties performed - in short, the perfect targets as no one would really notice when they were gone. What they knew was deemed too precious to allow for them to be dumped in the dumpster as is yet no one cared enough to award them a dignified death. Until today.

I gather them all and walk, the Pied Piper leading them to their demise, an unrepentant agent of doom. "Beep" goes the sensor at the slowly opening glass door as my ID card flicks past it announcing the end of the green mile, the final march to the executioner's chamber. I take a deep breath before flipping the power switch on. Jack is awake now and the stacks of papers in my hands almost leap out of my hands and down his rotating blades of fury. He hacks, he slashes, he chews - all with a deep seated but low intensity murmur at the same time almost begging for more. All that remains of those doodled sheets, changed drawings, redlines, intermediate designs, work completion estimates, loading charts are thin, thin, thin shreds of garbled information, something which even God couldn't put back together if He wanted to. That is all I can offer you for this month, my friend. Thank you for gifting me that true inner peace only attained through complete and final destruction. Thank you, Jack, my office's beautifully dutiful paper shredder a.k.a Jack the Shredder.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It can wait...

A dusty end to a long long day, the ride back home through half-way,
So hot and still the evening air, fumes from vehicles seemed easier to bear,
A TV and a fan the primal needs, poor rewards though for daily heroic deeds,
Momentary desires do really suck, stuck as you are between a bus and a truck!

Then comes a gust, a cold cold breeze,
A giant freezer opened to douse peaking unease,
The rains have come a calling, somewhere in close quarters,
The wind just a messiah, of approaching relief waters.

The drops begin to fall, fat, round on roofs, tarps and laces,
Little circles of joy they form on long parched faces,
Rolling drumbeats of redemption play in my helmet's spaces,
Like everything else right then, singing of life's myriad phases.

It can wait, the four walls of safety, while the world is washed over,
It can wait, the call of mundane duties, when the clouds come down closer,
It can wait, fear of the dark, a blaze of lightning exposes all lying in wait,
It can wait, the life ordinary, when Nature sets up another perfect date.

"Ladies" quota

I was taking Mom to an appointment on a bright and sunny day of this year's early summer before heading off to work. We were in the standard clattery yellow Amby cab of Calcutta, inside which it is forever hot irrespective of the season outside and the mood was anything but bright and sunny on the inside. The Park Circus n-way crossing with its bewildering assortment of one ways, two ways, signals and improbable intersections was the real culprit but here I was putting up with the after-effects of underestimating its complexity. Afflicted with the usual male disease of not asking for directions and an unfounded confidence in finding a way through, I had issued the cab driver a full complement of incomprehensible instructions leading him to join a lane which was headed in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go and then make a U-turn into a lane which was chock-a-block with traffic seething at a red light which appeared to exhibit a strong will to stay that way... forever. As a result, while I sat next to the newly licensed cab driver (hence unfamiliar with the roads) who carried the hint of a smile on his lips, from the back seat Mom was flying off the handle fully intent on nuclear bombing me.

An interminable tirade played away on how irresponsible I was; how much of an incurable ego-maniac I had turned into for not asking my uncle about the route to take before leaving the house; how unbearably hot it was getting stuck in the jam (that it was, even I admit); how being 15-20 minutes late was the difference between saving the world or ending it (this an outcome of my short lived fightback) and how all of this was in my genes (not from her half of the gene pool, of course). As the taxi inched its way towards the red light, there came a screeching sound of hard braking from behind. An auto-rickshaw was trying to wiggle its way down the right side of our taxi when it got accidentally blocked by our cabbie. Eyes glowering with very well faked anger; faked because even getting past our cab wouldn't have been too much help as far breaking free of the backed-up traffic was concerned and there was still a couple of inches of space between our cab & the auto-rickshaw; the auto driver started a quarrel to massage his almost bruised ego.

The auto driver from his tone and attitude seemed to be a local tough or at least someone very high up on the Park Circus auto union hierarchy, the way he instantly jumped to leg-breaking, taxi-burning threats for a relatively mild provocation. Our cab driver, a young fellow, obviously unaware of the pecking order in these parts of town launched into a verbal defense of his own, sometimes a very wrong move to make. I was tempted to let the battle take a physical manifestation considering the secret laughs the cabbie was having at my expense just a minute ago but any further escalation of the face-off meant the spine chilling possibility of further delay to getting to where we were headed and the consequent nagging. So I waited for my cue. I could sense that it would be only be a matter of few more seconds before the warring parties dragged character flaws of their opposite number's mothers and sisters into the conversation.

Luckily for me, it was the auto-rickshaw driver who teed off first announcing something about our taxi-driver's mom that should not be quoted in print. I reacted in a flash, reprimanding the auto driver in my deepest voice possible "How can you even speak in such an uncivilized manner? Can't you see that there are 'ladies' in the cab, you uncultured oaf!"

There. I had said the magic word. Everyone else stuck in the traffic who were just casual bystanders at best and smirking expectant audiences at worst now universally wore a frown of disapproval. The flag of chivalry had been raised and the knights were closing in from all sides to put any miscreants in their place. With a small gulp, the fire in his eyes dimming to a tenth of what it was, the auto-driver had to swallow up a whole lot of his pride. Being publicly accused of any kind of mis-behaviour in front of a woman is good enough to make even the worst specimens of the male species turn tail, let alone a lone feuding auto driver with not even damage to his auto to show for it.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the signal finally turned green as I am sure the cab driver too did in retrospect. I don't know how things are going to turn out in the Parliament and for the future of the nation as a whole, but out there on the everyday streets of every half decent place in India, the "ladies" quota definitely works wonders.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shaolin

It's a wonder that I am even writing about that monster of a cricketing shot. Monster because it went a distance of 108 m and hit the top of the beautiful Dharamshala cricket stadium. Had it been a little more higher, the Yeti, the mysterious Abominable snowman of Himalayan legend would have come rushing down from his secret cave in the snows to beg forgiveness of Dhoni on live TV and ask him what he had done wrong to be assaulted with a missile like the one that was fired off Dhoni's bat on Irfan Pathan's bowling in the second last shot of the match. Monster because the shot came right after Dhoni had miscued a similar shot on the ball while needing 12 runs off 5 balls, being quite lucky to survive and get 2 runs as the ball fell into no-man's land. A failure to make those remaining 10 runs would ensure that my team, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) would still have the slimmest of chances of making it to the semi-finals despite playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from one match to the next and Dhoni's team would be out of the tournament. It was not to be as Dhoni or MSD as he is also called put paid to any such wild dreams by tonking another six off Pathan's free-gift bowling to finish the match with 2 balls to spare.

The first six, the 108 m colossus, killed off my dream and the ridiculous dreams of millions of KKR which will of course be resurrected next season and should have made us scream out in pain but it was so breathtakingly awesome that it did not hurt any of us in that way. At worst, it might have numbed a few of us with its cold statement of fact "Your team did not deserve to make it to the semi-finals so here go your futile wishes, right to the top of the stadium, almost to the top of the Himalayas!"

MSD both as the Indian team captain and as a player has always been a study in contrasts. In his style of play and shot making, he is brutally aggressive but in his on-field manners and post-match presentations, he presents a picture of calmness and peace. He did punch himself after taking his team to the semi-finals that night, but it must be some extra supernatural energy that he had summoned which he had no longer need for and thought it best to let out on himself. To be able to pull off such a superhuman feat at such a critical moment, to have the coolness of mind and strength of body to perform that task and then later to see the picture (see above) of the uber cool M. S. Dhoni with His spiritual Holiness, the Dalai Lama led me to one uncontestable conclusion - a suspicion that I had long held and found confirmation on Sunday night in that super cricket innings in the lap of the Himalayas. Take a bow, M.S. Dhoni. No one knows which hidden away Buddhist monastery you trained in, which lush green mountains and forests saw you fight bandits before going into meditation again and which wizened old kung-fu master it was who helped you hone your extraordinary powers. But you are a Shaolin monk, if I ever saw one outside of the movies!

Rockstar

My Dad has a bit of a reputation of being casual on the financial front, almost gifting away money when it came down to mundane activities like bargaining and price-comparisons on the same product much to the frequently voiced irritation of my Mom. I too have taken up this trait to a very large extent but it took just one trip to the bazaar with Dad to realize how far behind I was in the game.

Dad had been away from Bharuch for close to two-three weeks on work assignments then and therefore kept away from his favourite activity of trawling the bazaars of our little town at the hottest hours of the day, shopping bag in hand, returning loaded with supplies of fruits and vegetables and meat and fish and whatever else may have been for sale on that day. Purchase of food items is the one activity that he never tires of and a whiff of an excuse for him to go towards his favoured Dholukui Bazaar sees him get ready in an instant, cap on head and feet ready to walk the crowded alleys of a typical Indian marketplace. I on the other hand hate all shopping (food or otherwise) although I have inherited my Dad's tendency of royal disregard for anything which looked like budgeting or bill calculations trusting the seller's original quoted price as the final word. I was rather irritated when due to certain pressing reasons I was forced to accompany him on this trip to his version of heaven.

Dad as I said was entering the bazaar after a long period of time and I could literally hear the buzz growing through the market as we approached. From near and far, vegetable sellers, fruit sellers, fish sellers, meat sellers, potato sellers, onion sellers be they men, women or children - all faces lit up with a big, broad smile when they caught glimpse of my dad join the milling crowds of customers already haggling on the bazaar's narrow streets. "Saheb, here! Here! Fresh cauliflowers", "Saheb! You won't believe how tasty this fish which came in is!", "Babu! I am sure you want the best quality of onions!" - The rising clamour of all the sellers shouting for the attention of one bazaar shopper must have made the other customers feel rather ignored. Dad strode about waving and smiling to all, a benevolent king back in his kingdom after a couple of weeks of being away at war. Before then I had thought that I had seen all that there was to see about my Dad. Little did I know that I was the son of a rockstar!

A case for dirt


Since I bought my laptop from the now defunct CircuitCity store in Taunton sometime in early July 2008, it has seen a lot of action. An infinite number of Netflix movies, hours of Mafia Wars clicking on Facebook, social networking and blogging on a scale that its HP designers had not envisioned in their worst nightmares, and a plane journey from the USA to India - all were part and parcel of my laptop's past history. All the complaining it ever did was popping out the 'F' letter from its keypad once every week or so, probably wanting to scream the 'F' word at me! I'd pop it right back in and ignore the lack of maintenance activity that it was begging for.

Since that day when it left in a cardboard box from the store and came out into this grime filled world, it hadn't seen a physical cleaning operation. Food stains from my various experiments in the kitchen while I lived alone in the US, a permanent thin layer of dust, and finger marks all over the LCD display were all milestones from its close to 2 years of existence. The wipe-up of my grossly over-utilized machine was always on my things to do but I never really got around to it until yesterday. That I used Colin, a glass cleaning liquid to restore it to a pristine, shiny, new condition may have something to do with it but within a couple of minutes of my cleaning up operation, my lappie stopped working. I had to restore it to some back-up condition from 4 months ago. For a few minutes, I did think that it was lost to me... forever. I was reminded then of the current ad slogan of a very popular clothes washing detergent which keeps playing on TV. "Daag acche hai!" a.k.a "Stains are good!"