Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mental Evaluation

‘Tell me about a traumatic incident in your life,’ the psychologist said.
‘I was in college. A girl wanted to meet me. We used to talk on the phone, that’s all. She was getting married. I don’t know why she wanted to meet me.’ I paused.
‘Go on.’
‘I told a friend to pick me up after ten minutes. I didn’t want to be with her for more than ten minutes. She getting married and all that, you know.’
‘She came with a friend, a beautiful girl. It was love at first sight.’
‘What happened?’
‘My friend came to pick me up after ten minutes, on the dot, what else.’
The psychologist placed a Rorschach inkblot in front of me.
‘What do you see?’ he asked.
‘A ballet dancer leaning against an exercise bar, one leg raised and looking at her reflection in a mirror,’ I replied without hesitation.
‘You see a ballet dancer?’ the psychologist seemed surprised. He turned the inkblot and studied it. ‘Hmm, quite true, quite true…’
‘Bit heavy on top for a ballet dancer, isn’t she?’
‘Quite true, quite true…’ 
‘Reminds me of that girl, you know.’
‘Which one: the one who wanted to meet you or her friend?’
‘Oh no, the friend who came to pick me up...’
‘Ah, so, you did leave with a girl then. You should look at the bright side,’ the psychologist urged.
‘Who said she left with me? She went off with those two girls, didn’t she?’
‘Ah, so, it was traumatic after all,’ the psychologist sounded relieved. He continued studying the inkblot. ‘Amazing, I did not see the ballet dancer in this till today.’
‘Only because you reminded me of that trauma…’
‘Quite true, quite true…’

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Woman

‘Every man, even Sherlock Holmes, has a woman he calls the woman,’ Uncle Jose (Hosappan to us) admitted bitterly. That was a year back when I met his ‘woman’.
We were at a wedding reception, bored and irritated, through with comparing the dosa and kebab counters, the old and the new girls, the wealth and the intellect.
‘hHhossey,’ came a perfectly enunciated cry of delight from behind us, the first ‘h’ from deep down the throat, the main ‘H’ from the tonsils and the last ‘h’ lingering on the tongue.
Hosappan stood ramrod stiff, pale, lips quivering. He later confided that that voice always has the effect of an electric prod probing the gluteus maximus.
I turned around to find a graceful and charming lady. She reminded me of an old love’s mother, an old love I loved hoping she would turn out to be like her mother but instead the law of bad genes ruled and she took after her father.
Hosappan took his time to face her. By then, he was red in the face.
A few words about Hosappan’s nature might help to understand the situation better. He can be vain. He thinks he has the best of Al Pacino and De Niro. He feels that his intellect is being abused when his company cannot match Simone and Sartre. But there is a chink in that armour of vanity. He is fine as long as those ideas of grandeur are from within the realm of his own senses, and not from without, say from a friend or even a lover. Shower him with praise, and watch Hosappan squirm to escape from the scene like a tortoise flipped over and tickled pink.
No one seems to know that better than his ‘woman’. How she poked the dagger of attention at his Achilles heel, and liberally sprinkled the salt of affection on that open wound!
‘Ah, hHhossey, you look so smart.’ She had brought a crowd with her, a husband, couple of kids and mutual acquaintances. They circled around Hosappan. She started on her soliloquy, ‘He used to be such a heartbreaker, no? On stage or on the field, how we girls loved him! And so brilliant! Has the school ever seen a student like him since?’ She went on and on. The crowd swallowed her eulogy without a pinch of salt. Hosappan’s visage reminded me of an old fresco with scenes from Torquemada’s inquisition.
I observed her closely that evening. She is not pea-brained or garrulous.  She is, in fact, a very serious woman; that is, in all matters that does not involve Hosappan, of course. With others, her actions and words were precise and well-thought-out. That probably explains why she has maximum impact on Hosappan.
‘Wow, she is certainly into you,’ I said, at his place, after the party.
‘Bah,’ Hosappan retorted.
‘Come on, you don’t doubt her, do you?’ I asked.
‘The day I fall for her act, you can name your dog Jose.’
‘His name is already Jose,’ I joked. I refused to let go of the topic, ‘Aw, come on, tell me, were you two an item?’
‘An item…? Bah! In school, we were not even on speaking terms. We avoided each other right from the start. You know how decent I am, right?’ He did not wait for me to express my doubts. ‘I tried talking to her once. She sent word, through my best friend, that she does not like talking to riff-raff. Riff-raff…! My foot!’ he thundered.
‘Was she a stunner even in school?’ I asked.
‘No, actually, quite the plain Jane,’ he said.
‘When did this start?’ I asked.
‘Ah, this,’ he spat that ‘this’ with disgust, ‘this started much later, after our undergraduate years.’
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘We were at a party, must have been one of those dreadful school reunions. In a moment of weakness, I approached this, what’s your word, stunner. Riff-raff, am I not? Well, she had actually become quite a stunner. Bloomed, flowered to be deflowered, what-not. But in more ways than one had she bloomed, I soon found out.’
‘Why, what did she do?’
‘It was a full-frontal attack, worse than today. God, she put on such a show of drooling over me, that devious one. It was simply awful,’ he flinched, probably after refreshing his memory.
‘Is it the same each time?’
‘More or less; worst part is, people think she is sincere. They just can’t get it that she is a pulling a fast one on me. Even you fell for it, right?’ He sounded hurt. I shrugged. I am no expert in the ways of the birds and the bees. Hosappan continued, ‘I try to avoid meetings where our paths could cross,’ he paused, ‘I thought it would end when she got married. Did you notice her husband? Bet they are in cahoots.’
I nodded. Her husband seemed to be a close cousin of Jeeves and Count Dracula – a product of some aristocratic stable, bespoke-fitted with sangfroid and stiff upper lip, and definitely not riff-raff. It takes generations of good breeding to produce a man who quietly allows his wife to skewer, or go into an adulation overdrive over, another man.
It took a while for Hosappan to recover from that day’s attack. On one visit, I found him seated on his rattan armchair, lost in thought, muttering incoherently, convulsing involuntarily.
A year went by without another encounter with ‘the woman’.
Yesterday morning, I was at Hosappan’s place. I took a phone-call around eleven. It was her husband. Politely and succinctly, he informed that his wife wanted Hosappan by her side. He told me the name of a hospital.
I gently broke the news to Hosappan. He did not say a word then or in the car. I drove as fast as I could. I thought of all the clichéd endings in movies, people racing to the hospital or railway station or airport, the good ones always reaching too late.
At the hospital, we were told that she was under observation in the ICU. We joined her husband, kids, friends and relatives in the waiting room. The husband shook hands with Hosappan. ‘Thank you for coming,’ he said.
Hosappan found a desolate corner. He refused to join me for lunch at the canteen. He remained there till evening, when she was shifted to a room.
We stood outside the room. The husband was allowed within. We watched him talk to the doctor. The nurses stood to the side, looking busy and efficient. All of them looked terribly serious. The doctor came out. A nurse informed the crowd that only one more guest could go in then, and that she had requested that it be Hosappan.
Hosappan sheepishly shrugged at me, the kids and the rest before going in. 
The husband stood to her right. Hosappan took the left flank. The husband spoke softly. I was quite surprised to see Hosappan shed a manly tear or two. The scene seemed very familiar; Rick, Ilsa and Laszlo, of ‘Casablanca’, in another attempt at a ménage a trois. Hosappan approached her. Oh ho, another clichéd ending coming, I thought. He smiled sadly, affectionately tucked a stray strand of hair, bent forward and kissed her on the forehead. She did not bat an eyelid, neither did her aristocratic partner. There were gasps from the audience outside the room. Hosappan whispered something to her. Then, he turned and left. Was he giving it back to her in her own currency?
On our way home, I asked, ‘Well?’
‘Just a scare, nothing serious,’ he replied.
‘And what was all that in there?’ I asked.
‘Ah, just her usual show,’ his cryptic reply.
I nodded, tried aristocratic silence and controlled my plebeian curiosity, for five seconds.
‘What did you say to her?’ I asked.
‘I told her not to do this to me ever again.’
That hardly explained anything. Which ‘this’ was he referring to, I wondered. Scaring him with her illness or teasing him with care, feigned or not?
But then, isn’t uncertainty that make the woman from a woman?


The guards looked like astronauts in their white protective body suits and face-masks. They held their guns pointed at the dark still mass in the boat.
An edgy guard shouted, ‘Don’t move. I will shoot.’ He waved his gun, ‘Don’t you understand? Bam! Bam! I will shoot.’
‘What do they want?’ another asked. ‘Water…?’
‘This one wants Band-Aid.’
‘Why would they need plaster?’
‘That’s what I thought.’
‘How are they going to sort this lot?’
‘Who knows? I can’t even make out male and female.’
‘Maybe, they will sort by age.’
‘They will probably keep only the healthy ones.’
‘What’s the delay?’
‘Some machine problem in the abattoir.’
‘Damn those white staring eyes!’

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Madman

To outsiders, the small park near the City Bus Terminus might not seem like a park. There are half a dozen concrete seats in a circle, an open-air stage in the middle, a small sandy space to stretch and walk, and some plants and trees around the border. In that congested part of town – with the chaotic bus terminus, two popular temples, an ancient ghetto, the city’s main market and three movie-halls, along with nightmarish traffic snarls, roads under constant repair and a sewage canal ready to overflow with a careless pee – that is a park for the natives and a grand one. There is even a police-booth in that retreat. It is usually Constable Sivarajan in that cubbyhole, a friendly man with a large pot belly, the smiling Buddha for that park. He ventures out during peak hours, and tries to look strict about litter and irritants.
The peak hours are the moderately cool hours, early morning and late evening. Various clubs jostle for space in the morning. The Laughter Club somehow manages to grab the stage every day. From five in the evening, the professionals who need an audience – poets, politicians and social workers –gather there. The workers of the night are allowed only after midnight and they have to scoot before five when the cleaners make their rounds.
There is a lull, in relative terms, around mid-afternoon. Then, tourists saunter within to rest after doing the rounds in the famous temple, the one with the huge treasure. Street-hawkers stretch out in the shade to catch forty winks. Ladies pause and breathe, after a morning in the market or after collecting their little ones from nursery. College kids who missed the matinee show while away time in a quiet corner. The madman takes to the stage then.
His first act is always the same. In a corner of the stage, he removes his slippers, pants and shirt. He places these in a neat pile. Only once did he go nude, Constable Sivarajan appeared on the spot with a jute sack. The madman does his show in a thin, faded but clean cotton shorts. He moves to the front, places a small cardboard box near the edge of the stage. People put coins and notes into that box. Some use it for target practice, with pebbles and even sweet-wrappers. He does not mind. He lives in a poor home and he gives them the box at the end of the day. They take the money, if any, and give him two meals and a place to sleep.
That stage can get hot in the peak of summer. He was, literally, like a cat on a hot tin roof one summer afternoon. He got eleven rupees and eighty five paisa that day. Someone threw a few five, ten and twenty five paisa coins, those that are not in circulation.
Another day, he stood on his hands, legs straight up, and loudly shouted the names of politicians. The selection seemed random, in government and in the opposition, alive and dead, some long forgotten. That attracted the attention of some students. They gathered near the stage, in groups of various political hues. They shouted along with the madman, hooting and booing too. Constable Sivarajan frowned at this activity but did not poke his head in. That show ended without any untoward incident. The madman did not get any money that day.
The constable had to intervene another day when the madman took out old toys from his box – a car without wheels, soldiers without limbs, a doll without dress, pieces of Lego, a broken plastic ball. He played with the toys, in some elaborate game, and it was a jolly show till the mothers and their offspring joined in. He lost three toys. He got five rupees that afternoon, from a sad lady without kids.
He rarely speaks at length. But, when he does, it is always about love. Not the love of humanity or society or anything abstract like that. In a low voice, without drama or emotion, he talks about two lovers there in that same grand park. Was it a fragment of memory, some better time? But it is not the same lovers each time. Did he witness it? The tales sound familiar. That show attracts a fair crowd to the stage, the hawkers, the ladies and the loafers, the students, the tourists too even though they can understand him only when he shifts to English. His lovers can be married or single. They can be rich or poor, most are like the people before the stage. They have troubles, of course; who likes lovers without troubles. His lovers do not escape to a happier place, or live happily ever after. They pine for the other’s company, to rest, to sleep, with the other, without fear or worry, that’s all. They do not kiss; as if there is a public place in this town where lovers can kiss. They move close, not too close. They slip a finger into the other’s hand, just for a brief moment. The crowd likes that, that’s all they want. They listen and then move away, deep in thought. The madman does not make much on those days.   

Not Really Surreal

The man tried to kill his wife. The wife tried to kill her lover. The lover tried to kill the husband. A robber inadvertently intervened in the ménage a trois. In the ensuing chase, he skipped a step and lay dead at the bottom of the staircase.
‘Surreal?’ Inspector Shokie’s assistant asked.
‘Not really,’ Shokie said.