Monday, October 26, 2015


You sit in office, laboring for 16 hours a day for the third straight day, and finish the Annual Budget in less time than it has ever been done before. You proudly go to your boss and present it, expecting him to say, "Fine job! However did you manage to do it so fast?" And he comes out with, "At last! I thought this would be ready only in time for the next year's budget." Wounded, you stagger home expecting a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. You are welcomed with the words, "Late again! Who have you been drinking with today?" (Even she does not think it possible that any other woman would care to look at you, otherwise the question may have been "Who is SHE?")

After all those shocks to the system, inflicted by reality, you sink into your sofa, open a book and start reading to lose yourself in a world where bosses are fair, wives are sympathetic, friends are helpful and the world, in general, seems not totally bereft of the promise of goodness. A balm to the soul, telling you of the possibility that mankind may, one day, arrive at that ideal state as long as the ideals are still alive as a mark to shoot at, in fiction at least. That, at least, used to be the case.

Reality, like the Black Plague, is so infectious that it seems to have started afflicting all literature. Now, you open a book and read about people who seem much the same as those you meet in real life. Exactly why that is supposed to be entertaining I have never been able to understand. I mean, if reality were entertaining, why would I even need to spend money on buying and reading books? And then my literati friend tells me, it is not supposed to entertain; it is supposed to educate.

I know that the people around me think that, when God made me, he sighed with ecstasy and said, "Perfection, at last! So what if I have only managed perfection in creating an idiot." But even I know better than to think that, if I took a manuscript of my writing to a friend, he would say, "Wow! What wonderful writing!" I know that 99.99% of the time the said friend would only give me a disbelieving look and say,"You intend to put THAT out for public view? Very...err...brave of you." I mean, there is the fiction that I was used to, where I read of people who behave as they ought to behave, and there is real life, where people will behave as they want to behave, which normally means that they will behave as they ought not to behave. God must rethink his ideas of perfection - even I am not so pure and distilled an idiot as to think that what I read in books is true of real life. So, if realism in fiction is meant to educate, the intended audience must be pure distilled idiots, if any such exist, since the less perfect ones already know about reality by living it.

Anyway, when the doors to escape to a better world became closed in regular fiction, I turned to fantasy. Here at least good was good and bad was bad; people really loved and not on a 'till divorce do us part' basis; friends were friends and did not operate on a 'as long as your friendship does not cost me my castle' basis; even foes were foes, and not merely masquerading as friends and measuring your back for the stiletto. Thank God that this genre of fiction, at least, had proved immune to the black plague of reality.

I spoke too fast. The plague HAS infected fantasy, too. Now the heroes of fantasy are much like you and me.(Must be gratifying to me to know that I need not feel bad about not being a better person, since even heroes are as bad as me? Nonsense. Like everyone else, I never applied those yardsticks to myself - only to the people around me) AND, just so you do not miss the point that they are ordinary men and women, the authors speak in great detail about their urination, defecation and every passing carnal urge. There used to be a time when, in the USA, the phrase, "What does it matter who he is? He also puts on his pants one leg at a time like me" and, somehow, that fact apparently made Abraham Lincoln equal to the chap who says that gem. Now, that is passe. Now it is more like "He also urinates, defecates, eats, barfs...."

I had never thought that the heroes of my myths - Arjun, Ram, whoever - did not have to do all that. It so happened that, since Arjun's pissing of a morning was not what made him a great bowman or caused him to kill Bhishma, the authors of those days did not see any pressing need to push my face into his shit. NOW, apparently, it is de rigeur. Distilled idiots among the reading populace must have increased rather drastically, if readers will assume that the heroes are above these needs unless they are repeatedly told about it.

So, anyway, my last refuge is also gone. Reality - or what passes for reality - is pervasive everywhere. And I am possibly the lone voice crying out that 'Realism is over-rated.'

Thank God, though, that I am not young. Otherwise, I may live till the time when realism infects my dreams as well!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The perils of a modern writer

You possibly think that these classical writers of the past were real geniuses. They had it easy, I tell you. All they had to do was to concentrate on their story and, presto, they were done and lauded. If they had been born in this connected world, life may not have been all that easy for them.

There you are, sitting and writing a nice little humorous piece and you introduce a character called the "Bishop of Bongo-Wongo" and put in a couple of quips into his conversation. If you are lucky, someone will only find that there is no Bongo-Wongo anywhere in the world, and tell everyone over social media that your geography is more fictitious than your story. If the fates really have it in for you, there will be a Bongo-Wongo; someone will put up the detailed statistics about its population; a pie-chart showing the percentage of people following each religion; and the fact that the lone Christian in the place has to trudge some twenty miles to Pongo-Longo to even see a church, leave alone one that requires a Bishop. Worse still would be the other guy, who picks up your quips and finds them against the cultural mores of Bongo-Wongo and, in no time, you will be pilloried from Twitter to Whatsapp as a racist, second only to Hitler. I bet P.G.Wodehouse never had to think of these things.

Or, maybe, you have been writing a nice little spy thriller. Your protagonist has traveled to some exotic locale - like, say, Bulandshahar - to get some information about the nuclear bomb that someone is smuggling in a suitcase to set off under the White House. You write something like "Jack whizzed past the Shivaji roundabout and turned left towards his hotel". Nice bit of local color, just to show it was not happening in the good old US of A. What ensues? There is someone on twitter who quips "Was Jack riding Pegasus? The only way to whiz past that roundabout is to fly, because of a flyover that has been 15 years in the making." And, with your luck, that will be the chap whose every word is a witticism to his followers and every sentence sends half the world into paroxysms of laughter. So, just because of some local color (Local color! Bah!) your edge-of-the-seat spy thriller becomes the laughing stock of the world. Do you really think Ian Fleming had to suffer this?

Then there is that other thing. Do you really think that, when Shakespeare wrote the love story of a boy from one warring family and a girl from the other in 'Romeo and Juliet', he was met with a chorus of 'cliched story'? Of course not. Those guys were happily operating in virgin territory and could write anything. And they did. Now that they have rung every change on the 'Boy meets girl' theme, there is hardly anything left to write that does not evoke the ridicule of its being cliched. The only way to avoid it would probably be to write a 'Boy AND girl love hermaphroditic alien' story.

Do not get me started on the English. If a writer were to spell 'humor', the English want to send him back to kindergarten to learn his spelling. If he spelled it as 'humour', the Americans think it is odd. If he uses 'lorry' in one place and 'truck' in the other, everyone thinks his English is quaint. It is getting so difficult that you are never sure which is an acceptable synonym and which will dub your English incorrect. I soon anticipate a situation where writers will be pilloried for misspelling 'hv' as 'have' and 'gr8' as 'great'. Bill Shakespeare had it easy - he practically made up words on the spot on quite a few occasions and got away with it.

So, now there is so much research that the author has to do - "Is that dress that I mention on page 20, worn by a walk-on character, appropriate to that time and place? Is the make of car that the protagonist sees as he is crossing the road something that was brought out later?....." AND so much political correctness to check for - "Did my protagonist, by any chance, say or do something that may be seen as disrespectful of a cow? Does any character, in any way, sound in saying that white people prefer their curry milder?...." that it is a wonder that he eventually gets around to actually plotting a story. (Or, should it be 'She'?)

AND you people seem to think modern writers have it easy!

P.S : In my humorous pseudo-history of marketing management - A dog eat dog-food world, I neatly got around the population stats issue and the flyover issue by setting my tale in an imaginary, unnamed but not fantasy land. As for the English, it is certain that, at least one half of the world will find it quaint or...what's that catch-phrase...'written by someone who is not a native speaker of English'. I cannot gainsay that, anyway, since I really am not a native speaker of English. And, the one thing I am sure about is that it will take a long search through the annals of world literature to be able to call it cliched. So there, I too belong to the foolhardy clan of writers.

P.P.S: If there is no Shivaji roundabout in Bulandshahar OR no flyover in the Shivaji roundabout, I do not want to know. I belong to the Isaac Asimov school of thought - "If you find anything wrong in what I have written, you can keep it. I do not want it." :)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mirror! Mirror! On the wall!

I had an endless fascination for mirrors in my teens. I knew I had a heartbreaking handsome face but, of course, it helps if you can see it for yourself and confirm its existence. (Why are you grimacing like that and what do you mean by twirling your finger near your forehead? I do not get that at all.) The problem, though, was that I never could find the right mirror. (Manufacturing quality, these days! Uff!) Instead of reflecting the chiseled good looks of my real face, I could only see this doughy pudding, that masqueraded as a face, on mirrors. No wonder I used to keep checking in each mirror that I came across, merely to see if I had, at last, found one mirror that was of good quality. Needless to say, I failed since this country seems to have lost the art of maintaining manufacturing quality in anything.

This thing of looking for a decent reflection of myself was a long-abandoned idea...or so I thought. Then I found that I was doing it all along. The only thing that had changed was what I used instead of mirrors. What had also changed was what reflection I was looking for. But for that, I was still peering into 'mirrors' with the hope that I would see what I wanted to see and, need I say, still finding the doughy pudding instead of that chiseled Greek hero.

Through college, I was looking eagerly into the words of my professors to see a reflection of what I thought would be my ability. All I could find in the mirror was more a misty reflection, filtered through what, for want of a better word, can only be called my handwriting. This was a great help, of course. I could always assume that it would have been an Einstein that looked out of the mirror but for the fact that the handwriting obscured the fact like a coat of dust. I pity those with great hand-writings, now, since they had no such handy excuse for bad grades. In those days, though, I was burning with envy at the thought of my scintillating brightness put to the shade by lesser gems, merely because of this coat of dust.

Working life, ensued, and, unfortunately for me, I lost my handy excuse...since most of my work was typewritten. (The typist, though, found my handwriting a very handy excuse indeed!) I discovered, though, that, for my ability to be reflected back to me, those typewritten pages were the least important thing. People find it too difficult to analyse work - especially when it is not of the kind where you can say 'OK! The leak has stopped. Good Job" - and, therefore, prefer to judge its worth by the person doing it. To be THAT sort of person involved, from what I understood, being the sort who could reflect exactly the sort of image that the other person wanted to see of himself. I made the shocking discovery that not only was I the sort, whom mirrors refused to reflect properly, but I was also inept at adjusting MY reflecting surfaces so that I could reflect back the proper images. In other words, I was too prone to let honesty - and, quite often, tactless honesty - get in the way of telling people what they wanted to hear and, thus, reflecting back a flattering image of themselves. Ergo - what reflected back to me, from their words, was no good to bolster my self-esteem, either. In the whole damn process, the work itself seemed to have no relevance.

Through this journey of life, I seem to have kept looking into the mirror of other people's words every single day. I look to see if I am good at analysis - and get to know I am not attractive to people. I look to verify if my financial concepts are sound - and get to know that I am not a charmer. I check to see what people think of my mastery over spreadsheets - and get to know that I am not popular nor am I likely to ever be. (Fictional, any of my former colleagues reading this, if you are...purely fictional. You others - NO, the abilities are not fictional. Trust you to think of the worst.) In short, it is like always seeing your bottom reflected whether you look for your nose, your ears or your chin.

Eventually, I did give up on looking into mirrors. You know that fox with the grapes out of reach? He had the right idea. If, by chance, I do look at the mirror these days, I wonder why I was using the same ideas of judging myself like everyone else.

Doughy puddings ARE handsome. You can keep those ugly chiseled faces to yourself.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The importance of Bollywood songs

It is such a pity that I learn most of the important lessons of life too late. Story of my life, in general. There is no real point in me, at age fifty or so, suddenly going 'Eureka' and finding out that I should have done this, instead of that, at age twenty-five but, invariably, that is what happens. If only my realizations would come a shade less tardily...

Recently, I saw 'Yaadon ki baaraat' on TV and the seminal importance of a proper choice of family song struck me. (You do not HAVE a family song? There is no hope for you then). We all know that a family song is an important contingency measure to bring a family together in case the family split up due to some calamity. But...just consider. If that family in the movie had opted for "Sare jahaan se accha..." as their family song, instead of a carefully crafted exclusive song for the family, what would have been the consequence? The youngest brother would have been hugging every Indian and claiming him for a brother, merely because the other could complete the song, thereby living up to the school pledge, "All Indians are my brothers and sisters.." The problem, though, would be that the other guy may have forgotten his school pledge. (Family song redundant in the interconnected world? Not is just that the youngest brother would not need to go around hotels singing it. He would put it out on Youtube and, if the choice is "Saare....", he may end up claiming the entire Indian diaspora for siblings).

Then there was that important lesson on running an international criminal gang that I learned from the Amitabh Bacchan 'Don'. If you are an impostor - not in Blandings Castle - trying to carry yourself off as the Don in front of the creme de la creme of world crime, how do you comport yourself? You take recourse to the power of music, of course. Break into a dance and start singing "...Main hoon Don..." and people would line up to kiss your ring and swear allegiance. It is a lack of this knowledge that landed Al Pacino in a lot of trouble in the Godfather series. If, after Marlon Brando's death, he had only called a meeting of all the dons and broken into a song and dance, he would have been universally acclaimed as the 'Capo di tutti capi", and there would have been much lesser bloodshed going forth.

I may have concluded that the importance of music was fading in the modern world but Mani Ratnam revived my belief in its importance. There is this chap in 'Guru', who marries a girl,  having decided to do so - without ever having seen her  - for her dowry and her brother tells her that what attracted the chap was her dowry and not her. She goes off, hurt, back to her father and the man goes to woo her back. Exactly what does he say? "Not that I loved you less, but I loved your father's money more"? Mani Ratnam neatly avoids this troublesome scene with a song at the end of which they reconcile, without the chap having to prove how he could have loved her at all, when her very existence was mere hearsay to him at that time. Talk about the power of music! see. All of you who think that a song is a nice time to take a break (or fast forward), think again. More often than not, the only good thing about a movie are the songs, so you may consider taking a break (or fast forwarding) when the rest of the movie is playing and rush back in for the songs.

P.S: There is this Facebook Page for my humor novella which is about to be published next month. If you need information about the book (Allow me my illusions :) ) the previous post on this blog gives details. If there is someone insane enough to want to be updated on its release and all, he may consider liking the page here A Dog eat Dog-food World