Saturday, May 28, 2011


What will you remember
When a life ends

After the guests are gone
With stories of valiant deeds

Nice false notes that linger
Till the dishes are washed wiped

Will you dream
With another’s face

With lingering memories
Suitably mummified

A puppet to stick pins
A convenient prop

Best not to know
What you will remember.

Collection 1: Musing [click here to download]
Collection 2: Voiceless [click here to download]
Collection 3: Without Reason [click here to download]

Laid Off

I felt cheated when I got laid off after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Monday, September 15, 2008. I felt cheated because it was not a surprise.

I remember the coffee-room gossip. As far back as August 2007, ‘Oh boy, is this the beginning of the end?’ In early 2008, when Bear Sterns collapsed, we were still saying the same thing.

We stayed put. With hindsight, we were like moths seeking a flame, greedy for a speedy death.

That last weekend, life depended on unknown people, ‘Hey, Bank of America is going to bailout Lehman. We will be saved…’

On that Monday, I reached office earlier than usual. Colleagues, never seen at that hour during normal times, were busy copying files and revising their old-forgotten résumé. My boss sat alone in his office looking out through a window probably thinking about his lost big fat bonus. I did not have to think about that.

I became part of a world-wide subculture. There were guys like me in Detroit, London, Tokyo, even Wall Street. I am different, I know. Those guys were part of some statistics, influencing policy and stimulus packages. Who will consider a sweat shop guy as a data point?

The first week, relatives came home to express their condolences. They sat with bowed heads, whispering to each other. In their eyes, was I laid off, or laid to rest with cotton in my nose and coins on my eyes? Maybe not the coins … it is good to save for a rainier day.

My father-in-law accosted me before the others, ‘Are you really jobless?’

I nodded.

He persisted, ‘But, were you with Lehman?’

I shook my head.

‘Tchah! If only you were with Lehman, I could have told that to my friends. What’s the name of your company?’

I told him the nice desi name. My father-in-law walked away, shaking his head sadly.

My relatives offered advice. My friends called for the details. When I mentioned to them that I planned to visit, they made themselves scarce.

My wife keeps me informed about their enquiries. She mimics and mocks well, ‘Is he there? Don’t call him. Has he gone for interviews? Has he tried job portals? Isn’t he even applying? Where is he hiding?’

I made myself more useful at home though I was told that it is unnecessary. I prepared for my kids’ PTA meetings. The teachers listened to my wife and ignored me. I lost my cool once. These days, she goes alone.

My wife says it is my ego. Sometimes, she calls it low-esteem. I hope it is that. It would be tougher if it is because people have nothing to say to me. I used to have the same problem with divorced people. There is little common ground. What do you say to a guy for whom every day is Sunday?

I keep in touch with some of my old colleagues. One is facing foreclosure, a few have got some job, another is getting divorced, no suicides, so far.

A few months back, my youngest one asked me, ‘Are you now a home-maker?’

My wife hushed the kid with a stern glance. Maybe, she heard it as home-breaker.

I can’t tell them that I write, can I? In my circle of family and friends, hardworking men don’t write for a living. They don’t do that for fun either. I don’t write for fun or living. It helps me to kill time.

There are supposed to be five stages to dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

These five stages apply to being jobless, too. Just in reverse – acceptance, depression, bargaining, anger and denial.

Say Goodbye Silently

Screaming whimpering whining
Wallowing cheering fawning – enough!
Curtains for that endless one-act
Stretched wretched dredged up play.

Exit bang the door curse challenge
Fuming protest seek justice revenge – enough!
Comic relief fill seconds never more
Try all for that fidgety patron’s nod.

Simple truths denied senses in chains
All for an old fantasy that really pains – enough!
To give to get to live the common way
Or to hope to dream say goodbye silently.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It’s time to confess.

I tell all to the priest –
To redeem, to escape, to die.
The priest smiles at my ruse –
To live, to resuscitate life.

It’s time to confess.

I see her everywhere –
To receive, to share, to care.
She smiles at my fantasy –
To live, to resurrect love.

It’s time to confess.

I have no time for the silent priest.
I have no time to review the dead past.
I smile at my bare reality –
To live, to bear chanceless vacuum.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

After Nights in White Satin

I do not know how to begin. Let me start with their tale.

On that day, they had the last exam before the Christmas holidays. The exam was over by noon. The four seventeen year-old boys bid ‘happy hols’ to their classmates and hurried to catch the 12:30 bus to the city center.

I asked them once whether they are a steady gang. I was not surprised when they frankly admitted that they are just casual friends, and that their alliance was forged only at the beginning of that academic year when they were seated together in the back row of the class. The fattest, Gopal, is amiably called Chacka (jackfruit) by the others. The fairest and tallest is a North Indian called Mohit – a quiet lad with a pleasant face. The other two, Matthew and Shekhar, are rather nondescript, five eight to five ten, athletic, bespectacled and brown. Like Mohit, Matthew is also quiet and pleasant. He appears to be the oldest and the most mature one – the other three refer to him as ‘decent gentleman’, making sure that it sounds like a tease or a taunt. The last one, Shekhar, with pimples, deep set black eyes and protruding ears is a volatile buffoon and seems to lead that motley pack.

The four reached the city center by 13:00. They walked to a video cassette library where Shekhar had membership. There are two types of video libraries in the city. The first type has darkly-tinted windows and door, looks like a shady bar and probably caters to policemen and shady clientele. The second type, like Shekhar’s, looks more respectable and caters to the middle class. This particular library has a jovial manager called Ramanan ever ready to offer tips on selection. Shekhar asked Ramanan if the new ones were in stock. He was directed to a corner. While the four boys browsed over the collection, they could hear Ramanan giving his advice to other customers –

Ramana, how is this?
Bestu, mashe, adi poli.’ (Crude translation: ‘Best. Hit.’)
Staaary…’ (One could make out from the drawl that Ramanan had little time for story.)
Itho?’ (Translation: ‘This?’)
Aakshun!!!’ (With a glint in his eyes, the manager would step out of his sanctum sanctorum behind the desk and help the customer collect the sequels II, III, IV, Final and VI of that action series.)
Atho?’ (Translation: ‘That?’)
Kambhi.’ (Crude translation: ‘Iron rod’. This was a colloquial way of referring to soft porn. The ones who want hard porn never ask for advice. They typically approach the front desk silently and Ramanan would surreptitiously hand over a cassette in a thin black plastic bag. The young men who asked for these were at times just middle-men or couriers. Gopal used to brag about being the courier for one of his neighbours – ‘a respectable young couple,’ he explained, ‘the wife asked me to get it, the husband was too shy to ask me.’)

On that fateful (or rather, ill-fated) day, the four boys tried to look sure and confident and they did not ask Ramanan for advice. Matthew made the choice and the other three agreed. The cover looked promising and the title too, ‘Nights in White Satin’.

The four boys then boarded a bus to Gopal’s house. Gopal has working parents, an empty house at that time of the day and a VCR. He is also the richest of the four and lives in a very nice posh area with lovely neighbours. Gopal’s collection of music cassettes, foreign magazines and his two latest toys, a powerful pair of binoculars (‘military,’ Gopal boasts) and a good telescope (‘self-made,’ Gopal boasts again) are an added attraction for the others to visit his place (since they are well-acquainted, they are quite deaf to Gopal’s boasts).

They reached Gopal’s house at 13:50.

They slipped the cassette into the VCR and let the movie play. They watched silently for five minutes. Then, Gopal started fast-forwarding the movie. Before 14:15, they realized that they had selected the wrong one. Shekhar took the initiative in giving mock blows to Matthew. Mohit and Gopal joined in, cursing themselves for allowing a ‘decent gentleman’ to choose a proper cassette with at least some skin-show. Matthew took it all rather well and the frustration subsided soon. Finally, the four agreed that they had all been duped by the exaggerating cover.

Gopal then suggested going to the terrace with his toys.

Shekhar complained, ‘On the terrace in the afternoon sun? Are you crazy?

Gopal said knowledgably, ‘At 3, there is a change in shift in the medical college hospital. The hostel is very active at this time.

Mohit asked studiously, ‘Can we see till there? Isn’t it quite far?

Gopal looked smug when he replied, ‘Oh yes…not too far, it seems…that new multi-storeyed hostel is a God’s gift…

The four boys climbed to the terrace of the house. Using the binoculars, they surveyed the neighbouring terraces and made sure that they were the only spies. They settled down behind the overhead water tanks – that was the only part of the terrace which was even partially concealed. Gopal set up the telescope on a tripod.

They took turns on the binoculars and the telescope. Till 14:40, they saw nothing worth seeing.

That was when Mohit, the one with the telescope then, said, ‘Hey, look at the fourth window on the seventh floor from the top…from the left…’

The tools for spying kept changing hands rapidly. But they maintained total silence, as if stunned or laid numb and cold. They pieced together their observations into a coherent account much later.

What they saw in that room was the following:

A man was standing still in the middle of that room watching a woman sleep on the bed. He was wearing a doctor’s coat. She was wearing a thin slip and a light sheet covered her lower body. The man sat next to her sleeping form and caressed her face. He leaned forward and kissed her lips. Even that did not wake her from the deep sleep. It looked as if she was heavily drugged.

Then, the man quickly dressed the woman in a more concealing outfit as if he wanted her to look better in public. He took out a rope from a bag. Standing on a chair, he slipped the rope through a hook in the ceiling, and made a noose for hanging. He lifted the woman from the bed, placed her head in the noose, held her for a few moments, as if praying silently. Then, the man kicked the chair and let her hang, watched her body jerk a few times, and then it hung like a dead weight. He touched her hand once again, maybe feeling for a pulse, before leaving the room.

Around that time, Matthew had exclaimed, ‘That man…he looks like my father’s colleague…’ His father is a doctor in that government hospital.

I think their tale ended there. I have talked to them a few times to gather all that. Some parts in separate anecdotes, separate moments, separate lives…most stories are like that…

Let me continue with the tale…with the little I can contribute.

That woman, a junior doctor and a post-graduate student, was found dead by hanging later that day by one of her colleagues. The four boys did not watch the rest of the proceedings. They had had enough of spying. The police had arrived on the scene. The newspapers in the next two days followed the case quite well and gave all the details of the police investigation. It was judged to be a suicidal death. There was mention of the woman having rather large, though not fatal, amounts of sleeping drug in her system at the time of death. But all the other details seemed to indicate that she must have taken it herself, to calm her nerves before the final deed.

The day after the death, the four boys paid me a visit. They told me about what they saw. They felt guilty for not approaching the police.

Matthew said at the end, ‘Uncle…I saw you…

I did not deny my part in the deed. I talked to them most of that day and the day after. We laughed about some details. We explored the insignificant parts in close detail. We rushed through the crucial part. I did not tell them about why I chose to hang her rather than kill her with drugs. I did not tell them why I had to kill her. Had to? I am not even sure if I really had to, but…

She left me dead long before I killed her.  

Reasons, motive, method…that will remain our secret…

I advised the four boys not to get involved. I assured them that I will not escape, that I will do the needful. Years from now, they will be successful young men, husbands, fathers…they do not have to get involved in a murder case as peeping-tom witnesses…nobody should ask them why they did not try to call the police or why they did not try to stop the killing. They are good boys. Years from now, one of them might release these notes of mine…then, people will be able to laugh or omit or curse. It will be just a story then, a just one though.

I do not know how to end. Let the tale end when they post it somewhere…like an unmarked grave.