30 Something Maverick

“A sudden smile is like a gentle sneeze, it relieves you and is best unnoticed. Laughter is like a fart, relaxing for you but awkward for others.” The performer paused looking for any reaction from the audience. Fewer people were laughing than the one cracking jokes. This was not what the organizer wanted. With a room full of people who paid for the event, something needed to be done and quick. As if a stroke of genius hit the organizer, she went up the stage and announced, “It is time to include you, our guests in the experience. We’ll randomly select a name from the guest list. She or he will get a chance to perform and an opportunity to win prizes.” In front of her was a glass jar with folded papers. She picked one and said, “The lucky person to get this chance is, Oved!”
“Oved, please come up on the stage. A large round of applause for Oved, everyone”
As the audience clapped in relief, Oved got up, hesitantly, from his seat. He stepped up on the stage and was blinded by the lights.
“Hello, Oved!” Peony handed a microphone to him.

Hanah and Oved wanted to meet but weren’t sure if they could spend all the time talking. Between awkward pauses, their last meeting had ended abruptly. This time they decided to go to a comedy evening. Oved was already sitting when Hanah arrived. She noticed a bag on the table.
“What’s this?”
“Go ahead, see for yourself” Oved said.
She opened the sling bag. There were a few sheets of paper and a wooden box. She took the box out. Its lid had a peacock carved on it. She slid the box open. Underneath a layer of cotton, lay some charcoal sticks. She picked one of the sticks and put it back. Then, she covered it with cotton and closed the lid. There was a metal sign, that read “Out of Order”.
“Why do you have an out of Order sign in your bag?”
“Sometimes, I have to use the public toilet”
“So, how can you use one while someone is taking a dump next to you?”
“Yeah, that feels gross but how does this help?”
“Well, I always use the last one and put this sign on the adjacent. That saves me from the noise and smell.
“Where do you get these ideas?”
“Mostly, by watching Mr. Bean. Also, I’m very unlucky”

“What do you do?” Peony asked as Oved moved trying to dodge the lights.
“I disappoint people. Mostly, that. For a living I find bugs in code and hope engineers continue to be lousy at their jobs.”
Somebody laughed.
“Well, not disappointing for a start! Let’s see what you have to say and whether you are the winner. If you want to get some time to think, sing a love song for us”
Peony winked as the audience cheered. Oved held the microphone closer.

“There’s something I don’t understand. Why is it that every time a crowd decides to embarrass someone, they make him sing. It is such a cliche. The victim makes excuses like having a bad voice or sore throat. Then, some smart ass will say that we’re all lousy singers. The crowd tries to convince that everyone suffers while he sings. We are ready to suffer, they say. If all you want is suffering, then I have a suggestion. Next time, you pick a target and ask him to give everyone a haircut. That way, even after the drinks and amusements, the embarrassment stays. Everyone truly suffers. Every look in the mirror, every curious look outside, will be a reminder.”

The audience looked perplexed. Many looked at the beer and food as their savior.

“Nobody sees a gold mine and says, ‘here, let me add a nickel too!’ It feels like seeding a torrent after the download is completed. But here I am, trying to be funny at the Comedy Evening. However, I am a very unique person. It is not merely the unique perspective that I bring to conversations. My whole life I have taken the road less traveled challenged the status quo. Not afraid to swim upstream. I am a Maverick.”

“This is evident from all the choices I make. Do not stereotype me. I ride an Activa. Silver grey, 3G edition. Better than the cleverly named 1G and 2G that came before it. Surprisingly different from the 4G and 5G that were launched after it every year. If I do not consciously repeat the parking slot until I reach my office desk, then it becomes a struggle to find it. I ride like an old woman. Sometimes, I get overtaken by guys who have time to remove their helmet and spit on the road.”

“My career choice sets me apart. I chose engineering. Who does that? That too computer science. Only to be hired by a top IT company, along with mere 400 students. This company had more employees than my college fees, or the rank I got to enter the college. Perhaps, my rank was more but one in a million.”

“You cannot place me with the dime a dozen software guys who wear sports shoes to work. Peer pressure is not a thing for me. I wear riding shoes to work. Co-branded by BMW, on a 110 cc mean metal of mayhem. Don’t assume I bought these shoes because the girl at the showroom complimented me. At an age, where my mother struggles to find me cute, my beer belly is as disloyal as those who question our Supreme Leader. My double chin is as desperate to come out as Eurus Holmes. I can almost hear it say, “let the world know”

“These are the shoes that I’ll wear on a bike trip across the country. Obviously, after my friend who can ride bikes agrees. More likely, after I lose the extra weight the health reports keep cribbing about. Yes, it’s the shoes that set me apart.”

“I remain a man of simple tastes. However, to spice up my sex life, I decided to try anal. To experience it, I started taking Ola share to work. You cannot imagine the number of times that thing can go in and out of the same place. You step out of your house, sit in the company of strangers and then, move in the opposite direction to pick a person who is pro at testing the timeout of the cab wait time. The mysterious voice on the driver’s phone tells directions to the house, then we wait watching the timer touch 30 seconds. Out of nowhere, comes out a lady who’d have given you a heart attack, if it wasn’t day time. She begins shouting her OTP as she sits in the car, filling the air with her perfume and demands, Please turn on the A/C!”

“That was wonderful but your time is over!” Peony said as she rang the bell
“Wow, that was quite funny!” Hanah shouted as Oved returned to his seat
“You think so?”
“I saw Top Gun at a very early age. My wardrobe was filled with posters of airplanes. However, at this age, the only thing common between me and Maverick is that none of us got promoted.”


मैंने कल एक कील खरीदी

आखिर कितना वक़्त गवाता,
उलझन से कब तक मुह फिराता
चुनकर एक हज़ारों में,
मैंने कल एक कील खरीदी

“दो कौड़ी की कील है ये तो”
एक नज़र देख, दोस्त ने बोला
चाचा कितना ही चुन के लाये
एक साल न कपड़े टिक पाए

देख मिश्रा जी ने राग अलापा
घाटे का रहा सौदा बतलाया
“हमसे एक बार पूछ तो लेते,
भीषण डिस्काउंट दिलवा देते”

घरवाले सुनकर फ़ोन पे बोले,
कीलों से यहाँ भरे हैं झोले
नयी खरीद के क्यूँ ले आये
अचार संग क्यूँ नही मंगवाये

ऑफिस पहुँच कर नाम न लेता
पर रोज़ नया बवाल नही होता
न्यूज़ चैनल उदास थे बैठे
सबने अपने ही टॉपिक छेड़े
कब जाने मेरे मुह से निकली
मैंने कल एक कील खरीदी

फिर कीलों पर जो धागा उध्दा
सारी सिलाई ले कर फिसला
दादा की खरीदी, नानी की प्यारी
जंग विरोधी, शायद सोने से संवारी
सब कीलों का ताना बाना
मिलकर बन गया चर्चा का बहाना

सोचा कुछ कम मशवरे सह लूं
मिश्रा जी वाला मॉडल ले लूं
उनकी तीखीं बातें, नाख़ून फेरें
कांच सी प्लेट से कान पे मेरे

घर पहुंचा तो गौर से देखा,
नोक कील की तनिक थी टेढ़ी,
शुक्र करो ऑनलाइन खरीदी,
झट रिप्लेसमेंट की अर्जी दे दी


How to move Cape Disappointment

As an introvert, the last thing I like to do is express myself. I spend time finding ways to avoid stating things as they are. Eventually, they come out sugarcoated or sarcastic. My expressions end up indirect, far from the point and thus confusing to others.

So, after a day of introspection, I decided to write a post about myself. I opened a new document, typed ‘Dissappointing’ and instantly, the spell-check was disappointed. Apart from spell-checkers and compilers, I have been disappointing people from a long time. So, here’s a guided tour of [my] Cape Disappointment.

“I think if anyone can beat Nitesh, then it is you,” said a friend, sitting next to me, as we were returning from a school trip. Nitesh had recently joined our class and consistently topped the class. I thought he was amazing but boring. I wondered why my friend thought I can beat him and more importantly, why he thinks I want to.

Those days, I was learning origami and pottery. I practiced making the Lucky Swan, one of which was always in my bag. My hands were dry due to repeated washing after playing with clay. I’d take a locket’s impression in clay and then make a copy of it from plaster of Paris. Yes, the same plaster of Paris that gives a true home to spiders and false ceiling to humans. We had taught Caesar to fetch a newspaper without tearing it to pieces. I was reading Bashir Badr and Hemingway. Neither made much sense but I felt literary. Poetry made me want to be in love and war made me fear loss. I often sneaked French phrases, from War and Peace, in English essays but my teacher never pointed them out.

None of this appeared on my report cards. The fact that I did not make it to an IIT, then IIM and move to the US to work for a software firm is a disappointment to my schools. They must have been proud of Nitesh because he did all that and now works for an investment bank. Unfortunately, he is still in India. Perhaps, if he works harder, he might get a chance to move abroad. Hope his check-in at the international airport will bring peace and relief to the unrequited expectations bestowed upon him.

Assumptions, associations and learning to be a spectator obsessed with success.

Assumptions flaw our understanding of many ideas, three of which are particularly interesting: motivation, creativity, and intelligence. We are always curious about how they work. Attention grabbing articles strengthen assumptions as they often describe research in an overly simplified manner. We look for recipes to become creative and stay motivated.

Then, there are associations. We associate idea to one another, like fairness to beauty, wealth to happiness, flags to patriotism etc. Together they form an inter-connected web. Stimuli trigger a chain of thoughts that travel from idea to its association. This is how we learn and begin to restrict our thoughts. This makes our personality. This tendency to form associations is easy to test but difficult to get rid of them. In careers, intelligence is associated with engineering and creativity with art. The problem is not limited to associations but how rigid they become. Say, if you are considered intelligent, then it is assumed you would become an engineer.

Children learn about everything around them. That is all we do until we have to pay taxes, then we merely conform. The subject and pace of learning vary. Since computers can help in so many subjects, they fascinate us. I did not learn computers because I liked them. On the contrary, using a computer was frustrating. Getting something done was joyful. It was a triumph. It was the possibilities that kept me going. Imagining what a computer could do made me sit and try. I saw an opportunity to bring exciting ideas to life without asking people for help. Looking back, the problem was not people but asking. I was hesitant, not shy.

I used to spend a lot of time on a computer and thus, assumed that a career in software is best for me. Currently, everyone spends more time with a computer than anything else. This might be true if you use a computer at work and carry a smartphone. I started using a computer to make something as amazing as The Matrix. Computers were slower and being left handed didn’t help. I figured the code can ease a lot of work. Instead of painstakingly moving objects with the mouse, you can define their path in code. The computer will then fill in the details. It is called tweening. I made the bullet dodge scene with stick figures. The Matrix was my motivation.

Creativity is considered like an organ, an extra thumb that whether you have by birth or not at all. Intelligence is something that can be quantified. You can be an intelligent engineer, doctor or officer but not an artist. Art is from creativity, problem solving is intelligence. These are not accurate. They are not mutually exclusive.

Rarely are school kids encouraged to make stories, they’re taught grammar and made to write essays. You probably don’t know when an idea hits you or what will motivate you. We spend a lot more time and effort trying to transform something that we are not. We have an image of what we should be and we chase it relentlessly until we are in a groove. It is a groove of monotony. It limits our capacity to observe beyond the obvious.

This is why anything outside of our sphere of comfort appears creative and sadly, unreachable. We interview individuals about how they do it. We continuously consume information and rarely try to create something new. After I watched Ratatouille, I did not try to create a 3d animation. I did not try, I thought I’d fail. Instead, I longed for another movie that would make me feel the same. This is the cycle which goes from one experience to another. Each must outdo the last or else the monotony kicks in. This is an addiction. Intelligence is not about being able to repeat. It is about being able to see the patterns.

We are not let down by achievements but expectations. We want to be successful; like the outliers who kicked open the box that caged their dreams. Still, we chase it in the most mechanical fashion. If you aim to be at the top of the ‘Pyramid’ knowing that there isn’t enough place for everyone then disappointment is a friend that’ll serve you long.

You may also enjoy being a spectator and obsess about those that made to the top.  So, this didn’t turn out about how I let people down. However, I am happy to disappoint you by deviating from my shortcomings.



Ganges at Varanasi

पहाड़ों पे हो या समंदर किनारे, हर शेहर की अलग शक्सीयत होती है| बैंगलोर में ‘लेक’ अनेक हैं, तो कभी कभी ज़िन्दगी भी ठेहेरने लगती है| फुरसत के साथी हैं किताबें और फिल्में| कई दिनों से नाम सुन रहा था तो आखिर कल ‘मसान’ देख ली| इसमें बनारस से दो कहानियों को पिरोया गया है|

फ़र्ज़ कीजिये कि आप बैठे हैं और कोई कान पे पंखुड़ी छुआ दे| ऐसे ही चौकाने वाले किस्से से मसान की शुरुआत होती है| फिरते हुए उस पंख सी है मसान। एक तजुर्बे जैसी है, बदल देने का बूता है इसमें। आप किरदारों के साथ, सदमे से उभरते हैं| अब चौंकते नहीं, ढलने लगते हैं| बातें गुज़रती हैं जाने पहचाने रस्तो से| पुल, पटरी, नदिया, घाट और काशी की गलियो से बहता है भय, प्यार और इंतज़ार| किरदार दहाड़े मार कर नही रोते पर उलझन में दिखते हैं, कुछ टूटे से भी लगते हैं|

एक तरफ सीधी साधी लव स्टोरी शामिल है| जिसमे बातें बशीर बद्र की हों और निदा फ़ज़ली का ज़िक्र हो, उस लिखावट मे ऐब नही ढूँढने चाहिए| और फिर किरदार इतनी फुरसत देते ही नही। बांधे रखते हैं ध्यान| पुराने बरगद से लटकती टहनियो पर बिना सोचे झूल जाने में ही मज़ा है|

दूसरी तरफ एक लड़की है जिससे सबको दिक्कत है| वो झूझती है, लड़ती है और नज़रअंदाज़ भी कर देती है| ऐसे दौर से तो सभी गुज़रते हैं, नदी के विरुद्ध तैरना सा लगता है| कई देर हाँथ पाव चलने के बाद भी कोई फायदा नही होता| घाट पे दिन बिताने वाला उसका पिता ज्यादा नही बोलता| बोलते तो घाट भी नही हैं मगर उनकी गहरायी का अंदाज़ा ही लगाया जा सकता है|

घूम फिर के गंगा जी दिख जाती हैं| नदि बहुत सिखाती है| वो सूखने की कगार पर भी हो, झूझती है, बहना नही छोडती| उसका रुख बदलता रहता है, मगर इतना धीरे की दूसरों को समझ नही आता| जैसे गंगा कानपुर, बनारस और अलाहाबाद से बहती हैं, वैसे किरदार भी शेहरो से गुज़रते हैं| फिर इसमें मायूसी वाले दृश्य भी हैं| आप सोचते हैं कि ऐसा हमारे साथ हो गया तो क्या| एक अंत जिसकी सबको खबर है मगर उम्मीद नही, वो दिखता है|

साहब, ये किसी रेल सी गुज़रती है| पुल से टकराकर गंगा में गिरे सिक्के छोड़ जाती है| बस सिक्को की जगह किस्से हैं, मानो रायते में बूंदी के दाने, एक चम्मच में सारे नही आते।

Image © Kuntal Gupta


The Consolation

There are kids who decide early what they want to be when they grow up. Then, there are kids, like me, who dread going to the barber because they don’t even want to decide the kind of haircut they want. Luckily, growing up I had to pick between short and medium haircuts.

Celebrations were in full swing as India turned 50. Schools, in particular, had elaborate plans. My school declared that the whole week leading to the 50th independence day would be celebrated. Each day there were events, competitions and the tricolor was everywhere on the campus. Tuesdays had a library period. We would sit at one of the long tables in the center of the library. Usually, the librarian asked us to pick books and read them for rest of the period. At the end, we would get that book issued for a week. I knew where my favorite books were. I had a sense of how books were categorized in the library. I had helped the librarian organize them once. I enjoyed reading and books were exciting.

However, that Tuesday, we had an art competition. It must’ve been told but I rarely remember such things. Some kids came prepared with crayons. Perhaps, the same kind of kids that know what they want to be. Perhaps, the kind that use multiple colors to write answers in exams. One for headings, another for answer and a special one to highlight things. I resorted to diagrams when I knew an answer very well. Otherwise, diagrams filled the space that an answer should have occupied but hasn’t. So, these kids started to draw. Since, the theme was Independence, they drew the Red Fort, soldiers, flags, and celebration.

The problem with art competitions is that they are, well, competitions. Their aim is to declare one expression better than the rest. Actually, it is difficult to compare expressions. Such competitions wouldn’t work if one kid draws a circle and another draws a square. So, they introduce themes and criteria must be set. This is a way of telling everyone to draw a square so they can be compared. We do not accept creativity without comparing. It would be overwhelming if kids were allowed to express. Art, dance, and even noise are medium.

I sat blank. All I could think of was a picture of Mahatma Gandhi from my Hindi text book. It was from a story by Gandhi. He didn’t have a watch so he used to guess time by looking at clouds. As with all guesses, it worked against him one day. He was late to school. He was punished despite telling the truth. One of his many experiments with truth.

Once, I was slapped despite being honest. It was reasonable, I thought, until a slap met my cheek and virtues met life. In fact, I was so convinced, that I had walked up to the teacher to explain that I couldn’t do homework because some guests visited us. They were in town to meet their relatives and we had to accompany them. We returned home very late and so, there was no time for homework.

“So, your relatives stopped you from doing homework?” She yelled and slapped me.

I returned to my desk with humiliation and confusion. Unlike Gandhi, I didn’t experiment with truth further. I stuck to lying whenever needed.

In the library, I started to draw Gandhi’s portrait. I had drawn it earlier, it started to look surprisingly well. The otherwise quiet and strict librarian watched over my shoulder. Then, she taught me how to shade the cheekbones. With a small piece of paper, she taught me how to smudge. I used that technique on the cheeks, the ear and forehead. Soon, there was a fair amount of interest in my drawing. Many stood around me watching as I gave finishing touches to the portrait. I felt happy and amazed that it turned out so good. When the time was over, we headed to our classroom. On the way back, I held the sketch with pride, occasionally stopping to show it to students.

A couple of days later, results were announced. Prizes were given for the first, then second and third place. Then, a number of consolation prizes were distributed. These were tiny gift wrapped boxes, just big enough to hold a light bulb. I didn’t get one. I don’t know why. Sometimes, I think they thought I cheated. Then, I think it was because they wanted colored drawings. Mine was a black and white pencil sketch. Maybe, the ear was disproportionately big, as our neighbor had pointed out. Maybe it was judged by people like my neighbor. I didn’t want a prize, but a consolation never hurts.