Monday, October 14, 2013


In a Honda Brio, waiting in the early rush hour traffic at the beginning of the Golf Course Road in Gurgaon, was a family of three. The young girl at the back seat was trying to talk to her parents about her plans for the school day over the loud radio playing Kis Mod Se Jaate Hain from Aandhi. The wife in turn was combing her now dried hair, giving it the shape it was going to take for the day, all the while admonishing the husband passive-aggressively about something that was surely “non-negotiable” for her, The husband resolutely stared ahead.

Diagonally to the left of the Brio was a BMW X3. In it sat a single 26 year old man in the back seat. His driver was an old man in a safari uniform that went out with Dhirubhai Ambani. The 26 year old man was looking at the wife in the Brio intently. She looked beautiful to him. Sure, curly haired, fair, buxom could be his type that day. In the silence of his car, he heard neither the incessant rambling of the little girl at the back of the car, nor the loud radio in front. All he saw was her making her hair, to the rhythm of the right indicator of his own car.

He was brought back from his reverie when the driver started honking loudly at the tractor in front of him, uttering choicest abuses like “Bhosdiwale” and such from the safety of his shut window. The tractor took its own sweet time to get on with it, acting as if it still owned this city.

He finally started watching a film on his ipad to kill time. The credits scene of The Social Network had the protagonist walking through the hallowed corridors of the Harvard campus to the minimalistic yet portentous score of Nine Inch Nails. He had studiously avoided watching this film for two years now and he thought enough time had passed for it to not sting. But conversations about a film often miss out the best scenes. Because these are scenes so purely cinematic that they are not pliable for spoken or written word.

The music, the damp streets, the arrogant lights and elegant brick buildings, set to the haunting score, reminded him again of what he had missed out. 4 years ago, within the space of 5 hours he had received two mails in his gmail account at his dorm room in Georgia Tech. One was the call letter to Harvard and the other was a hasty mail from his father asking him to call asap.

His father had come to Gurgaon way back in the early eighties, when the city was still a village. Sanjay Gandhi was dead and with it the scam called Maruti Udyog got its shot at becoming something more than an abomination. His father was one of the early settlers who brought that JV with Suzuki to life in the dreary environs of Gurgaon. Soon, farmers became millionaires and ministers became billionaires and a stuttering apology of a city was cobbled together on nothing but cement and steel. His father went through the death of his mother and he was sent away to Mumbai at his aunt’s. There he battered his mind into submission towards his textbooks.

His father married again in a few years and by then he was at Georgia Tech. He was emailed pictures of his father’s second wedding. In it were pictures of this delicate teenage girl, who the father had captioned as “your new sister”. In the moment between seeing the picture and reading the caption, the truth peeped out and hid away behind decency. For the next 3 years, the delicate teenage girl blossomed through a slew of pictures of family trips and parties.

Then that autumn morning, the call was made and the father explained in muffled sobs that his new sister had been raped. The new mother being weak of heart had died of shock and the new sister was in critical state. The father wanted him to come back. Between feeling surprised at not feeling surprised at the turn of events – well, she was pretty and she was in Gurgaon and, you know, shit happens – and finding it quite funny that another of his father’s wives was dead, he thought it would be interesting to go down and see things first hand.

By the time he landed at T3, the new sister was dead and the father was appropriately hysterical. It began with innocuous initial paperwork but soon snowballed into him being the project manager on the rape case. Then with two months to go for his year to begin at Harvard, the court proceedings began. Then something happened. For a brilliant mind, fighting a tricky case against an accused who was a local strong man, presented a delicious little challenge. Navigating through a labyrinth of criminal law and strategy with his smart lawyer, he got hooked onto the case. How was it different to what he was good at? You spend enough hours poring over case law through nights, and applying the finest works of John Nash and Robert Hare, you are bound to get better at this thing. 

He started loving the insane hours spent on every nuance of the case. He enjoyed the thrill of the court procedure. But above all, he loved to act.

He got transformed in front of the cameras. He would say all the right things, calibrated with just the right tinge of emotion to have the media eating out of his hands. He vexed eloquent about the innocence of his sister, which he personally was sure didn't exist. There would be bouts of uncontrollable rage befitting a loving brother and then there would be moments of reverence for due process befitting a model citizen. All the time, the father looked on from the sidelines, not particularly interested in much after two dead wives; other than the contents of his mini-bar. He even acted when he was alone – simultaneously being the tragic figure whose Harvard dream had been stolen, as well as the hero who was doing something righteous.

While he was watching the film now in his car, on his left he saw the hills looming where his sister’s was the first rape reported. Over time, the hills had become notorious for crime and even the most hardened builder respected their invincibility.

His star witness was one of the residents in the hills who claimed to have seen it all. The next day was the final day of the hearing and his star witness was slated to give his testimony. He was headed to his lawyer’s office to meet his star witness and go over the testimony one last time. His star witness was a scrawny man with a disproportionately booming voice. The star witness’ oily hair would always be perfectly parted on the right side and he wore his moustache proudly. The start witness’ clothes always looked dusty but if you would have dusted them, you would know it was Gurgaon’s haze and not his clothes.

He didn't need to go for the practice testimony but listening to the witness’s description of the act gave him a special kind of pleasure. Not the sexual kind of pleasure that some men get out of rape porn. It was something higher – it was the pleasure of knowing the convicted man wouldn't go unpunished for the fun he had.

While the practice testimony went well that day, something dramatic happened at the court the next day. The star witness wasn't “sure” anymore if the accused was the person he had seen that night. The case wasn't over yet. It would go on for god knows how much longer now. In the meantime, he signed a book deal, a television series to find an ideal bride for himself and a few cheques worth a few crore rupees in the name of his star witness.

It the oldest rule in the book. Its fun playing chess with a strong opponent; but what do you do when you are your strongest opponent? 

You play the game from both sides.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


There was just one man sitting in the conference room. Well, calling him a man is a bit of a stretch, considering he still didn’t know how to tie a Windsor knot and he still didn’t know the concept of matching his shirt to his trousers and his belt to his shoes. His boss also referred to him as a kid he had taken under his wing, to be transformed from a boy to a man by putting him through the wringer of corporate rigor. So, yes, it would be best if we referred to him as the kid.

He had come into the conference room early so that the a/c vent above would dry out his fresh shirt drenched in sweat by the oppressive Bombay heat outside. The meeting was supposed to start in 30 minutes and it didn’t hurt to have a good seat at the far end of the room where the bigger bosses wouldn’t spot you and you won’t be expected to run out for errands for other senior people.

The bigger bosses were out on the balcony, smoking. They were dishing out the same cynical gallows humour that corporate honchos across all the balconies in all the corporate offices must be dishing out at that very moment. The background score to this current conversation was the background score of the Lower Parel of the new millennium – the constant hum of machines stationed at half-made buildings that go on and on because the machines, unlike the labour, don’t have shifts and unions. Then the biggest boss looked into his Citizen and decided it was time to walk back to his cabin and wait till the conference room is full enough for him to make his entry.

Back inside the conference room, the kid looked on as 3 IT guys were earning their day’s salary by switching on the laptop, plugging in the projector wire and spotting and pressing that red button on the remote which had ‘on’ written on it. The others had now started coming in slowly. Grim faces talking about grim things, carrying dull office stationery and grey laptops.

The kid was asked to shift his seat a number of times, and inevitably, he had been shifted next to the entrance. Now there were more people than chairs in the room so people were stepping out to get chairs from wherever they could because the peon was taking his own sweet time to turn up. There were about 25 people sitting in a conference room meant for 10. It’s Bombay, after all.

As the biggest boss called the meeting to order with a few polite words that meant nothing, the kid wheeled his seat for the nth time to make way for another senior guy who had come in late and who was both quick and insincere with his apology. Now it dawned on this senior guy that, surprisingly, no one had kept a seat for him. He tried to make eye contact with the kid who stubbornly avoided looking up, feigning to concentrate on a blank excel sheet instead. The senior guy waited for a bit to make contact so that he could ask the kid to get the fuck up and get another seat for himself, but the kid held on long enough for the senior guy to give in and get himself a chair.

The meeting was now well and truly in motion. The biggest boss was speaking passionately, every now and then taking a peek in his ipad to check if he had left out anything he had to say. While the kid was feasting his eyes on the overly made up, buxom senior lady, there was a knock on the door and the peon came in with trays of coffee, tea and the real chief guest of the meeting – biscuits.

It’s a tough job to feign interest. Its tougher when something else is tantalizingly drawing your attention. You need every sinew in your body to obey you and not turn towards it involuntarily. There they were in all their brown finery – three plates of biscuits arranged in concentric circles of goodness. The buxom hottie with the fake straight hair went for the Mcvities Digestives in a single, coordinated, gracious movement of limbs that had everybody transfixed on her ample rear for a moment. Now one of the sub-ordinates was talking and observing everybody attacking his favorite Oreo cookies. He couldn’t go for them till the time the boss was done with him but his gaze couldn’t help but follow his enemies from their seats to the plate and back. The kid was closer to the table so all the seniors seating around him goaded him to pass them this biscuit and the other. The two best friends wanted him to grab 4 Good Days for them to go with their teas. The Pure Magics were being gobbled up by the senior guys – you see, the biscuits had their own hierarchies. On the outer-most circle were the Parle-Gs. Their turn came when all the inner circles had been consumed.

The biggest boss was now talking about the current recession in the industry and how everybody needed to put in their 200% because he had asked for 150% 6 months ago and that hadn’t proved enough. Everybody nodded their agreement in unison.

On a day that begins with cramming into a small room with people you come to hate and ends with standing in line to get a cab, which delivers you a kilometer from the railway station - and then cramming into a small compartment with people you come to hate - the free biscuits are your little redemption. The wife and kids will eat away at the salary, the boss will make you pay several times over for all the words of praise you ever manage to elicit from him and government will take away what remains for people who were too lazy to work.

But the biscuits will be yours. They will yield willingly to the force of your teeth. The first crisp bite will be followed by many more, as it mixes with your saliva. The cream will swirl on your tongue, tickling you playfully. Finally the biscuit and the cream and the saliva will mesh into an inseparable slush and frolic down your willing throat. That biscuit is your victory and yours alone.

Somewhere, an HR manager is approving the list of biscuits to be purchased for the next month. The HR manager knows the role these biscuits play in your life. But you had put in just 150% in your last 6 months when a ‘self-starter’ would have heard his boss’s demand for 150% and put in 200% out of his own volition. So the HR manager reduces the Oreo quantity to half and doubles the order for Parle G.

That’s why we need HR in our offices.

That, and to wish us on Diwali and Holi with Google images.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

May All The Evil That Has Been Done Be Fruitless

They came from all directions - swanky sedans, timid budget sedans, haughty SUVs, dainty hatchbacks. And people seemed to be pouring out of them. Amidst all the angry honking and shouting, such good-looking, flamboyantly dressed people (men in magnificent whites and women in every colour other than white) were stepping out of the cars, that you could tell the shouters and honkers just couldn’t be them – probably their uncultured chauffeurs and servants. It was 3pm in a Mumbai suburban lane on a bank holiday. Beyond this little island of activity, the neighborhood bore the uneasy hum of machines silenced against their will and disposition. 

The Husband dropped the Wife, the Daughter and the Son near the entrance and slowly honked away scouting for parking space in adjoining lanes. The Wife stepped out and adjusted her new saree and put the Berkin at just the right place on her arm as she greeted with an amiable smile a wide collection of women. No one could have told she hadn’t eaten a morsel in the last three days as she made her way through the crowd, greeting friends and relatives. She showered the benevolence of her acknowledgement to other women carrying ugly little cheap bags they got from their Mahila Mandal and basked in the glory of those who had donated more ghee than her, these past few days.

The Daughter whatsapped her friends and they all gathered near the entrance, all of them wearing their first sarees and eye glitter – perfect little mannequins, holding their miniature little purses just like how mommy taught them to.

The Son was his mommy’s escort till the time the Husband came back. He was cracking funny jokes with his mother’s friends, always sounding charming and witty. The women were pulling his cheeks and patting him with quasi-affection, telling them how he reminded them of his father, as if that should make him proud. The Son was charming-er with moms having perfect little daughters of marriageable age. The Son in his fashionable chikan-embroidered, specially tailored kurta set for the evening was then talking to a girl he had gotten acquainted to over the years, through a long string of social occasions where every subsequent encounter saw her breasts grow and eyebrows shrink. Today he was stealing glances down her low-neck, backless blouse and getting closer to her to whisper something in her ear, the aforementioned honking his excuse.

The Husband was back, all drenched in sweat thanks to the late monsoon humidity and he whisked the Son away.Soon the loudspeaker blared, asking women to be seated on the ground and first floors and men on the two floors above. The Jain festival of Paryushan was drawing to an end. And most of them were visiting the prayer hall one last time in the year, to do the one big, 4 hours long pooja – Samvatsari Pratikraman.

The Son could hear a rather shrill, adolescent voice take over the prayers. They usually get some newbie to recite the biggest prayers of the year to advertise how the religion is alive and well and being passed down to the new generation. This particular specimen was like all the others – coming from a lower middle class family that couldn’t find a way to get rich so found an excuse to denounce it in religion, topper in school and college and studying for 15 hours a day to become a Chartered Accountant. He knew all the shlokas because he was the king of rot learning in school and the elders liked him because he recited the shlokas fast enough so that they could be home in time for Tarak Mehta’s Ooltah Chashma.

The Son obviously couldn’t be bothered because the Husband could afford to buy off the guilt of not educating his son about his religion by funding the temple trust. So 10 minutes into the prayer, the Son was checking his iphone 5 for time and updates. Little mobile screens kept blinking all around the unlit prayer room like errant fireflies, inviting disapproving grunts from fathers who were trying to wipe away the perspiration with the same cloth that they had tied across their mouths.

The newbie was now singing a hymn while the Son was whatsapping that girl he met before:
“Just as fire is not quenched by the fuel and
the ocean by thousands of rivers,
similarly no living being is satisfied even with
all the wealth of all the three worlds….”

“Me: That was a nice saree you were wearing there.
Had forgotten how beautiful you were.
Been a long time :p”

Now the newbie was uttering the great words of the teachers:
“That with the help of which we can know
the truth, control the restless mind, and
purify the soul is called knowledge and….”

“Girl: Haha, thanks
But been a long time since?
Don’t play games with me! :p
Out with it!”

The newbie was now speaking on behalf of everyone:
“I forgive all living beings,
May all living beings grant me forgiveness.
My friendship is with all living beings,
My enmity is totally nonexistent….”

“Me: Listen, are you seeing someone right now?
How about we get together some time?
Maybe next week? J

An older fellow then took over to dispense some universal truths:
“The true seeker of the Self possesses the seven cardinal virtues
namely; compassion, peace, equanimity, forgiveness, truthfulness,
renunciation, and non attachment to worldly relations and objects….”

“Girl: How about tonight? :p”

After four hours of praying and sitting in all sorts weird yoga positions, the Pratikraman had ended and the lights were switched on. There was happy chatter all around as the 8 days of ‘penance’ had come to an end and they will be able to get back to butter pav bhaji and Katrina Kaif the next day.

“Michhami Dukkadam” (May all my evil acts against you be fruitless)…

Muttered the Husband to his estranged brother who he had duped of his hard earned money by offering to buy him profitable shares, 10 years ago

Whispered the bejeweled Wife to her bejeweled mother-in-law who had called her a witch for breaking up the family, in front of 30 relatives

Quipped the chirpy Daughter to the only other Jain kid at the birthday party of her school friend, as she bit into a succulent kebab

Exclaimed the Son to the girl with mocking earnest as he undid her spaghetti-strap blouse on the terrace of the prayer hall

Uttered the naked dude with a halo around his head as he butted out his cigarette when he noticed he wasn’t alone on the terrace