Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Great Indian Apathy !

Of all the writing that Soliloquist does, so eloquently, I may add, this one stood out for me. The article was about the Indian apathy, and how it was tough to get someone in a crowd, that too a crowd claiming some commonality of purpose (like belonging to the same company), to come out helping out in a tight situation. The blog had concluded this is endemic and named it as a Great Indian Apathy.

I do believe there is apathy that prevails in our society and there is also an implicit acceptance of “fate” and “destiny” for even simpler failures; or attributing somebody else’s discomfort or misfortune to it; and hence no pointing in to getting into the situation or helping out. In spite of all that, I do think people have in them the innate need to help someone else out, when someone is in trouble. Yes, most of them would not put themselves in a situation when it threatens themselves or their loved ones security. Otherwise, I believe they tend to.

As there is an example in that article, here is another – an apt illustration of both ends of the spectrum. For passengers transiting between the international airport to the domestic airport, a bus facility is available to take them, with an hourly frequency or so. Prior to the departure, the passengers wait in a hall, with minimal facilities – but, of all the incongruities, a facility to charge their mobile phones – mirroring the explosive growth of that specific industry. A month ago, I was in one such bus. As the bus was leaving, one old gentleman hurried out asking the driver to wait. As we were waiting, we were treated to two gentlemen (gentlemen is really anomaly), who were loud, irritating and really irreverent to both the situation (middle of the night) and to the people around. The kind of topics they chose to talk to went on the lines of how they could make money of their jobs, how to outwit their management and how things in Mumbai were so bad etc, but safely taking refuge in speaking in their local language. As one of my relatives had said, they were the outstanding example of how IT industry in India has encouraged and nurtured mediocrity. Then the old man returned a bit harried – a person next to him queried as to what happened – apparently the old man had left his phone to charge and forgot about it – by the time he had gone back in for it, that was gone. His neighbour, immediately offered his mobile phone for the old man to call in his number – the old man was a bit tentative, since it was a long distance call, since his phone number was that of Bangalore’s. As this was going, the two idiots went on their view of how futile the whole exercise was. That did not deter the neighbour – he did get the number, called it himself; and gave it again to the old man to keep trying his number, with a hope that someone would answer the call. Unfortunately, nothing came of it.

Somehow I believe, the good neighbour’s name could be Avinash. Or Avinash Pathy. I’d have loved to say “Sol, Meet Avinash or the normal Indian, A. Pathy :-) ”.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Game


Vish looked forward to those few times in a week, where he would match his wits with his close friend Shanky. When both have time off from their worldly worries, they would typically get together with their better halves at one of their places – chat for a while on the general 'state of the universe', do a community-dinner after which Vish and Shanky would retire to play their favourite game – “Battle of wits”. In the game, they would pick a situation, a setting and each start with a set of pawns and start maneuvering them in a way that one of them would win by reaching the goal.Vish is usually the one that creates opportunities and dons the role of a skilful attacker, where as Shanky would either staunchly defend or counter-attack. Today was one such day – they had good food, the kids had retired and their wives had gone out to another room to watch an absorbing 24x7 reality show unveil. The game had started. Vish had planned his moves a few days ago and was well prepared. But he knew Shanky was a formidable opponent. He watching Shanky intently – Shanky seemed to activate an unconnected pawn… Hmmm…Absorbing…thought Vish.

Right Here

Hari was a typical bachelor living in the IT city working on one of those typical and huge companies that had just moved out of city onto the typical outskirts location. Usually, he rode to work on his bike; but for the past couple of days his bike had given up on him and both his friends Vishwa and Shankar were out of town on an holiday – so hitching a ride was ruled out. He was left with no option but to take the company bus for just this day, after getting permission from the transport-coordinator in the company. He was waiting in the bus-stand – he saw several of his colleagues that he couldn’t even recognize. The bus was arriving and Hari just went along with the human flow and got into the bus – as he got in, he looked for empty seats and found one in the center of the bus. As he sat down near the window, he saw someone, three rows ahead, looking at him – it was Shilpa!!!! The very same Shilpa that he met through a common friend nearly two years ago, the very same Shilpa that he went out with, the very same lovely girl that he had built his dreams of his life around; and unfortunately the very same girl that he broke up with and they drifted apart. And later, which made him look back with what might-have-beens and although in denial, a tinge of regret, sometimes. Shilpa had turned around and smiled at him. He smiled back, tentatively as she turned away. He could not figure out if she was glad to see him… As he sat there wrestling with his thoughts, his mind went into shades of sepia flash-back.

He found a great amount mental fulfillment and a sense of completion, in Shilpa’s company – that was very much true in their discovery phase. After, the initial meeting a friend’s place, he soon they found that they liked to be in each others company; that started into meetings without the friends. Then slowly, it became a standard practice of going out regularly. The thing that Hari liked about Shilpa is her simplicity and a certain refreshing openness. But, as they say, familiarity breeds, well, familiarity. In that, Hari also found that, on the other end of the spectrum, she was quite fixed on a few things – like some of her interests and goals for life and Hari’s had no common ground. At that time, neither of them wanted to make the compromise and gradually they came to see the differences to be far greater than what they enjoyed together. And without citing the standard irreconcilable differences, they broke up. Shilpa had also moved out of the town on an assignment for about 6 months and that made the break a bit easier. But there were times that Hari always wondered of what could have been. As he grew up in his job, he now believed that those perceived differences between them weren’t that great and there could have been compromises and meeting mid-way. He often wondered if Shilpa felt the same way, but never did take the initiative to call her; as there was another inner voice that told him otherwise and it will be headed towards another heartbreak.

He was broken from his reverie, as the bus slowed down to the next stop. He looked at her direction and she was looking at him. She signaled to him, imperceptibly, to come join her in the space next to her. As Hari was getting up, few more of the employees had gotten onto the bus. He found that a fat person, occupying the space next to him, blocking his path out and at the same time, another guy, who seemed to know Shilpa well occupy the seat next to Shilpa. Hari was disappointed; he imagined he saw some appear in Shilpa’s eyes, but quickly she turned and started talking to the person next to her, as the aisle got crowded, with a few folks standing and line of sight to Shilpa was blocked. Something told Harish that would be the last time he would see Shilpa for a long time; and what-might-have-been would remain intact!!

Again, Elsewhere

Vish looked at Shanky – Shanky had skillfully used all his pawns to thwart Vish. Vish gave up for this day and conceded to Shanky – but his time would come. Looking up from the large board game, they found that their wives had also joined them in the game room watching the scene unfold. One of them sighed, “You two should really stop playing with people’s lives – that was a near-miss. Poor those-two !!!”.

Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva smiled at their consorts benignly.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Never Ending Story


Aabid Aleem was day-dreaming. Infact, it was dusk and the night was falling softly after another dreary, cold, dull day. In the gloaming, there was an eeriness that looked very un-natural. Aabid wished he was with his wife – ah she was something - and the smiling infant he was looking at. Instead, he is here in a cold outpost, supposedly guarding an army station. As an army sepoy, he has never seen the real enemy from across the border, but he has come face to face with militants who always seemed to find ways to start something when it seemed the situation is turning to normal. There has been a lull for a while, and he hoped this time it was permanent. In about 3 hours he’d have some one to relieve him – he would go, have the army rations and hear the crude banter from his bunk-mates. There had been no enemy activity of late and Aabid was happy that his valley is again turning towards peace. Perhaps, it would be like old times, when he grew up in his small village

Aabid let his mind wander, the twilight making him a bit tired and he thought about his village.

Aabid grew up in a very small village, nestled in the valley. He was the last of the 5 children. His father was also in army, but retired by the time Aabid had grown up. He had a small orchard that he was looking after. As far as Aabid could recall he had lot of fun growing up. Fahad, his neighbour, had become his inseparable friend. There were times when he used to live and sleep at Fahad’s house and always found Fahad's family, especially his father, who he called Chachoo, very kind to him and very indulgent. Looking back, at certain times he felt that Chachoo made no distinction between Fahad and himself – treated him as his own son and fondly called him Abu. As they grew up, he found the character of the valley was changing slowly, but definitely. There were more news about fights, deaths, people coming from across the border with weapons and to counter that more and more army coming in – Aabid always watched the army with fascination, since long ago he had decided that he would follow the footsteps of his father and brother there. In this transformation, he found that Chachoo and his own father had very differing views; and increasingly, their debates were heated. Chachoo seemed to think that root cause of the problem was the government and they ought to have their own way of choice of freedom. Fahad imbibed similar views from Chachoo; except that he was more militant and was in trouble several times and was questioned by the army. Slowly, as the philosophies diverged, so did the chasm in their relationship. Chachoo moved out; He also heard that Fahad was taken by the army for one last time for questioning and he never returned. Aabid looked back it with a certain poignant nostalgia and wish it would have been different. But life moves on and has a way to blur the past and getting us to live in the present, he thought wryly. An year ago, he had gone home for leave, his parents had found a perfect girl for him – Afraa – she was the most beautiful girl Aabid had laid his eyes on and he instantly agreed to the nikah. After the marriage, he spent the 17 most wonderful days of his life, taking Afraa out to see the sights of the valley – everything seemed more beautiful, fresher and alive. Afraa, initially shy, turned out to be the one with the lovely smile and mischievous glint in her eyes. Aabid rued that he had to report to the camp so soon, as the militants had stepped up activity. He had returned home for a brief leave 4 months ago and Afraa was pregnant at that time. A week ago, he had received a letter from Afraa, stating that he would have to contend with another man in her life – their son and had sent the picture of a tiny bundle ! He immediately started dreaming about his son’s life – maybe his son will have a “Fahad” as a friend, maybe he would name him Fahad. Aabid also knew that like his father before him and like himself, his son would grow up and join the army – perhaps not as Sepoy, but as an officer. Aabid would to see to that that his son will have all the education that he did not have. He dreamed about going back to his village. He had re-read that letter several times. He turned toward the light and took out the letter one more time...with no knowledge of what was laying in wait for him...


Faaris Umar lay in wait. He was immovable and had become part of the fauna around. Faaris believed in destiny and in fact did not have any compunction on what he had done in the past and what he would do in the future. At some point in time, he had self-doubts about his path, but he always shook them off. Although he believed that his starting point was right, sometimes in the moment of doubt, he wondered if it was belief or revenge. Belief in what and revenge for what? However, he knew he was too far into this and there was no way out. He no longer yearned for his family or his friends; long ago, he was like anyone else, with close friends and sons and daughters. Some of it was taken away from him and some he gave up in pursuit of his path. When what was dear to him was taken away, he turned to arms with all his heart and mind. He, with his kills, had swiftly grown in the organization and had even gone across the border for special training and strategic planning. Because of his importance, of late he had hardly taken part in a mission, but today was different. The situation seemed to turn to normal and it was being talked about that there could be lasting peace in the valley; and people were also getting tired of war all the time – being pushed to live in fear of both the army and the militants. Faaris was disappointed that the very same people, for whose rights he was fighting for and laid his life and his dear one’s life on the line, had turned weak. He was going to show them for one more time; that it is possible to defeat the army.

He lay in wait silently and motioned quietly to his troops of nearly hundred, who were waiting in the woods, a stone-throw away from the perimeter. The first obstacle was that soldier who was sitting beyond the electrified perimeter in a narrow gap in the wall with the intruder-alarm switch at his reach. Faaris knew every detail and they had effectively dug below the electrified fence. All he needed to do now is to get to the guard and get rid of him and signal to his troops to tunnel through the perimeter. He waited patiently and knew soon an opportunity will come by and it did. That idiot who had been dreaming for the past hour and had turned his back now to get closer to the lamp. Stealthily. Faaris slithered towards the soldier, with the unsheathed knife between his teeth, as the soldier started reading a piece of paper.

Another Story Begins:

Aabid took out the letter from the tunic, glanced at his watch – another hour to go and started reading it. He did not see the sly shadow of a figure coming close to him, until the time he saw the gleam of the blade. He turned around with his hand going toward the alarm and the other at his gun. As he turned, his eyes softened in recognition…

Faaris was very close to the idiot, he silently took his army-issue knife out from between his teeth, and as he had done several times…

Aabid could not feel any pain as the knife slashed his throat and the sound gurgled out, ebbing out with the blood; as he hung on to Faaris’ shirt as he was gently laid down, in dying pain, he mouthed the word “Abba”, smiled at Chachoo and died in his arms…

As Faaris slashed his knife, he recognized the soldier – it was Abu, the kid he had loved like his own son and yearned to see after his own son’s disappearance. Momentarily devastated, he caught the falling Abu and cradled him in his arms. As he gently lowered the dying soldier down to the ground, he had heard Abu mouth “Abba”; the letter and the photo had slipped from his arms and smudged by the blood. Faaris, laid Aabid down gently, let out an anguished, silent cry and shed tears for his dead Abu; he picked the photo up, looking at smiling infant, who could have been his grandson; and who probably would be pitched against him in a few years time, if both of them make it through... He pocketed the image, stood up and steadied himself a bit. He seem to pause for a moment in thought - then wiped his eyes and signaled to his soldiers. Faaris would have his victory tonight, but looking at Abu, he knew it would be an exercise in futility. Yet, he will not be the one to end this cycle of madness.

Note: The picture above is a movie poster of Oliver Stone's Platoon. That imagery kind of stayed in my mind and it seemed pretty apt for the story.