The art of Re – Reading books

When I was in my teens , I discovered P.G.Wodehouse , Agatha Christie , Alistair MacLean and a horde of other writers including the Pseudonymous Franklin W.Dixon and Carolyn Keene . My parents were of a  middle class background  and could not afford to keep my desire for new books satiated but ironically when I asked for a library application , my father refused . His argument was that one’s attitude towards books should be similar to that of a boy chewing on a sugarcane , with the first bite , one merely gets a glimpse into the many rewards that await us so therefore one needs to chew and re chew until the promise of sweet reward no longer comes forth. A societal structure such as the library screamed against that sentiment and he eschewed it with a passion. I knew well enough not to start an argument especially one of the kind as to what do I do after I have consumed all the juice , it is easy to spit the molasses but start throwing away books and I might get into deep trouble and lectures on the virtue of hard work and having to provide for family and ungrateful wretches who threw away books bought with hard earned money . However I managed to become part of an elaborate social network, a social network of book loaners and readers , the network extended for miles . It stretched from Deccan to Salisbury Park and included all the intermediate Peths in Pune , for those of you who have never visited Pune that would probably stretch for 7-8 miles and cover an area well over 25 square miles. I never met those people but the books always had names and addresses, that is how I knew the origin of these books . Some blessed soul from Gita Society in Pune called Rajesh had the complete collection of Hardy boys circa 1986 and I managed to read every one of them . A thousand blessings on him . But I digress

As I got older , my books changed to reflect a deeper desire for knowledge but my strategy of attacking books , ignoring the foreword , the table of contents , the blurb on the jacket and starting at page 1 and plowing until I got to the end stayed the exact same as in the days of lore when I was reading pulp fiction( maybe classic pulp fiction) and I was glumly aware of the wisdom of my father’s words but could not bring myself to practice it. The effort was inordinate in some cases and the reward seemed meager , even in the case of some really dense books where I was dimly aware that I had understood less than 1% of the book, I did not go back. Brings to mind a quote from a familiar personage

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

My sole differentiating factor in this case was volume , I was trying to read an enormous number of books  (enormous by my standards) , close to 100 books a year and I was hoping to distill information that I could use to change my life , to make for a better person , more useful to society , more adept at detecting trends and most of all be an erudite listener for the people around me. I wasted a lot of time plowing through volumes and volumes of books whose names I don’t recall and whose gist is completely lost to me ,but through a happy accident I managed to discover Mortimer J Adler .

Mortimer J Adler has many books to his credit and some of them have found their way to my book shelf over the years . One in particular has a way of disappearing with my friends so I have to keep re purchasing it , one of these days I will learn and purchase the Kindle version . The book is called “How to Read a book” ,a truly ironic title but it is one of those books that reminds me of the sugarcane analogy that my father had used and then to my great relief and joy , I discovered this quote

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested

Sir Francis Bacon

The joy of reconciling my dad’s words of wisdom with wise words of lore was indeed a delight and a relief.  It is funny how great platitudes tend to be twisted out of context as time passes . Brings to mind a funny anecdote about a co worker who always liked to quote Emerson as follows “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and he took that quote very seriously and was very consistent about being inconsistent . That quote always made me feel insecure because I need consistency in my daily life, in my thinking . I am a creature of habit and I thrive when I am in a zone where habits can take care of my basic needs . Many years later , I discovered while reading Emerson that what he had said was “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” . One tiny adjective makes for all the difference in the world. So was my dad’s all encompassing quote about all books . Francis Bacon makes more sense for me . There are indeed books that one can read at various stages in life to discover that these books have indeed grown with you and you can discern new meanings at each stage in life .

I was delighted to see that is indeed the premise for Mortimer J Adler’s writings . Incidentally he is also a vital collaborator in the creation of the Great Books of the Western World. It is probably one of those rare must do projects for every man, woman and child , regardless of what hemisphere you were born and raised in.

In “How to read a book” , Adler talks about the various stages of reading . In particular the style that I outlined earlier is what he calls “Elementary Reading” and is obviously the basic style of reading that everybody learns through sheer will power . It is as essential to us as learning the alphabets and by the same token quite literally as elementary to the art of reading .

He outlines three more styles of reading and incidentally these build upon each other just as Greek mathematics and philosophy seems to .

The second style is called “Inspectional Reading” and this is where we get the gist of the book in 20 minutes or less . As I get older , I find this to be an extremely valuable time saver in determining whether the author can meet my needs . Lot of times , we are seduced by the title and end up either buying the book or getting it from the library . The time that we invest in the book tends to be inordinate , inspectional reading allows us to predetermine if we truly need to invest all that time

The third style is called Analytical Reading and this is where we strive to get the gist of the book given an unlimited amount of time . Obviously this also means that only a limited number of books can be targeted using this approach . Some might even suggest that we pick the truly great books for this kind of reading because they are  the ones that are the most likely to grow along with us

The fourth style and probably the most difficult is the Syntopical Reading is where we essentially create our own book based on the Analytical reading of several different books which deal with the same idea . For eg if one was to talk about psychology and assembles the works of Freud , Jung , James and other notable luminaries in the field and creates a work which compares and contrasts the various ideas , that would be a true syntopical reading of the various works .

I recommend to you, my reader to go to the local bookstore and perform a inspectional read of a title that intrigues you and do one every day after that until it becomes second nature to you.

But before you do that , you might want to get your own copy of How to read a book.

Happy Reading!!!

The lame and the hurt

I was all of 10 years old when I first saw Rajesh More . He was much shorter than me , swarthy in complexion , had a pock marked face,  sat on the first bench and trying hard to fit in though I did not comprehend the effort at that point in life . I was too engrossed in my own life and the myriad complexities in the life of a 10 year old .

At lunch time, as was customary in those days  we started playing games of a physical nature which was so prevalent in the days of yore when video games and cell phones had not made their intrusive persistent appearance into children’s lives . The popular games were Thief-Police where one of the kids would be elected Police and he would have to chase and catch every one of the other kids , another popular game was langdi , this was a game very similar to the previous one except the domain was limited and the person in charge of catching was to limp with one leg . It was at this time that I got a closer look at Rajesh More , he had one leg that look shriveled . I had no idea what it meant and I assumed that it was a birth defect at the time. My parents had been very persistent in their endeavors to teach me to be sensitive to all persons of lesser fortune. And so I ignored my class mates nickname for him , “Langdya” (a term for somebody who is lame, almost always used in a pejorative sense) . For reasons that become obvious to anybody who has read Lord of the Flies , Rajesh became the perenial favorite at Langdi, he was always elected to catch the rest of the guys .I overheard a conversation between two boys who were instrumental in getting him that vied after post. “He has a natural advantage over all of us , the bum leg is not as  heavy as our regular legs” He was happy to fit in and was accommodating, never complained about being picked on for the same role every single time. Ironically I also noticed that as time passed , he reacted sooner to Langdya than he did to Rajesh .

In sixth grade ,we learnt about Infectious and contagious diseases and that was our first introduction to Polio . The teacher Mrs Raman asked Rajesh to step in front of the class so that we could get a closer look at his withered leg “This is what Polio does to your legs when it is not treated in time . Rajesh , how old were you ? ”

Rajesh mutely shook his head , we took it to mean that he did not know . Some smart alecks gossiped among themselves and debated how dumb could one be, if one could not remember a life altering disease . I found myself nodding in agreement , I had been a victim of chicken pox and that had left a deep impression on me . In case , I forgot the memory, I had the scars some of which were painful when touched that would certainly jog my memory. The same smart alecks started asking if we could possibly get infected with Polio . This started a fresh wave of ostracism and overnight our pattern of games had changed and Rajesh was no longer a needed part of the lunch time entertainment . Did he feel that loss acutely ? He had belonged to a clique and now that sense of belonging had been wrenched away from him . Was it perhaps due to the teacher’s well meaning gesture that had sought to educate us that had served to sever the social ties that are so essential to a young boy .

It finally dawned on Mrs Raman after seeing a lonely crying boy alone during the lunch hour that her gesture of goodwill had turned out to be a complete disaster . She had tried to alleviate the effects by first educating us that Polio after being cured was no longer a threat to society but fear had taken root and the same education which had caused the fear in the first place was powerless to dislodge it . Next she tried to force the kids to play together with him , this had the opposite effect on the children who became abusive at him and when the threat of authority was no longer around, then his ostracism was increased ten fold .He became abusive and even people who had tolerated him , no longer wished to associate with him thereby isolating him further. The term Langdya transcended from being a mere adjective to being an pejorative insult.

I had a few fracas with him over the years but I was never close to him so staying away was an easy option .

When 8th grade rolled around , the familiar spot that he liked to sit in was empty . Some said that he had failed seventh grade and his parents had decided to end his education . I was not sorry to hear that given his vituperic fits .

Several years passed and I moved to college and one day as I was walking by the railway station , I saw a familiar limp in front of me . Memory being what it is, I was happy to see him and maybe even reminisce about our younger days . I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around and I could see the joy of recognition light up on his face . At that moment , all was forgotten . I asked him what he was up to . He informed me that he worked at the Raja Bahadur mills as an operator , he asked me what I was doing , I remarked that I was in college and I could see a twinge in his eyes that I put down to contempt. It seemed cruel to me that I was going to college while he was already putting food on the table . Mind you , in case you did not grasp what I am getting at , I was jealous of him that he was actually earning money while I had to go through the monotonous meaningless motions of memorization of meaningless facts and structures and relationships. After bidding adieu , I went on with my college and my life .

Several years later , one of my friends contacted me for a get together at school . Having passed out of school barely 5 years earlier , I was luke warm but decided to go in anyway. It was an interesting evening of meeting old school acquaintances and the boys and the girls seemed to maintain the same safe distance as was customary while growing up . I was getting bored and looking around , I started chatting up with one of my friends Mukund and told him about running into various acquaintances over the years and when I happened to mention Rajesh More , he excitedly interrupted me “Do you know he is dead?”

To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. I started agog , not quite comprehending, “Dead??”

“Yes , his family moved from Somwar Peth to Vadgaon Sheri . He was trying to catch a bus and his bum leg finally betrayed him as he slipped and was crushed underneath . ” Mukund excitably told me.

That bum leg had been the demon in his life , first reprehensibly wrenching away the joys of a normal childhood then it proved to be the instrument of his oppression as he became a child and finally as he was taking his first responsible steps towards adulthood , it had betrayed him to his death.

I was crushed with a sense of grief and I ran over the few times that I had fracas with him and the one incident that I did have where I was silently in envy of his money making abilities and felt a sense of desolation surge through me . My complete and abject failure to provide compassion to a poor lonely boy suddenly cut through me like a scythe and I wondered at the meaningless of it all.

I could not help wonder about the prisons that we all build for ourselves , prisons of belief , prisons of self imposition and whilst we are powerless in face of intolerable cruelty that these prisons make us endure , people like Rajesh are trapped in a real prison, one that they try to escape but rarely succeeding . Perhaps it is time for us to help somebody overcome these physical prisons and they might show us the way to overcome our own.

Integrative Thinking:Leveraging the Opposable Mind

That which opposes produces a benefit  – Heraclitus
The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and  still retain the ability to function. – F Scott Fitzgerald

According to one of the greatest minds ever , Aristotle ; Excellence is attained by avoiding extremes

One should for example be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.

The author starts off with the argument that human beings are unique due to the presence of the opposable thumb. This confers on its own various advantages such as writing, painting a picture , guiding a catheter through an artery to unblock it.All of these activities would be impossible without the tension that is created between the thumb and the fingers. Without this tension , we would not have been able to develop these physical traits and the accompanying cognition. Similarly we have the opposable mind that is capable of holding two (or more) conflicting ideas in constructive tension . The ability to use the opposable mind is an advantage in any era .However  in our information saturated world ,every new piece of information threatens to complicate a pattern that (seemingly) is already staggeringly complex. The traditional tendency is to pick the first model that comes to mind , this is fraught with danger. In business and in life we often look at decisions as a series of either-or propositions or trade offs.

Integrative thinking tries to show us a way beyond.

In the vein of Benjamin Franklin who believed that virtues and skills can be cultivated through diligence and hard work, the author proclaims that the opposable mind is within every body’s reach. It can be developed by anybody who wants to use it and with use , one will develop a capacity for creating solutions that would otherwise not be evident. When these techniques are faithfully pursued , the student develops a habit of parallel or complex thought . Instead of a simple succession of thought in a linear order , this procedure is complex and the mind appears possessed of the power of simultaneous vision from different standpoints .

According to the author, decision making has 4 parts , they are listed as follows

1) Salience  – Is list of features that seem most relevant to the subject.

2) Causality – This is how we consider things related to each other , a little map in our heads. A causal map is an array of causal relationships .

3) Architecture  – Is basically the sequence of basing your decisions off the causal map.

and 4) Resolution. – Develop a solution

The author defines the components of Integrative thinking as

1) Stance – The way one views the world or who you are and what you are after

2) Tools – Our theories , principles , rules of thumb would be our conceptual toolkit.

3) Experiences – This is where our stance and tools meet the real world. Experience enables us, to hone our sensitivities and skills. Sensitivity is defined as the ability to detect variations from the norm whereas skill is the ability to execute the norm . Skill would be carving the wooden elephant hundreds of times consistently and sensitivity would be detecting the minutiae that make each elephant unique.

He proceeds to introduce a framework for integrative thinking as follows

1)Integrative Thinker’s Stance

a) Whatever models exist , they are not complete and do not reflect reality completely

b) Conflicting models , styles and approaches are not to be feared but to be leveraged

c) Better models exist that are waiting to be discovered.

d) I am capable of finding a better model

e) I am comfortable wading into complexity to ferret out a new and better model

f) With time, I will find what I want .

patience is a virtue,seldom found in women,NEVER found in men.

a) Modal (Generative) Reasoning – Traditional education teaches us deductive and inductive logic

2) Integrative Thinker’s Toolkit –

skills . Deduction is where we infer a conclusion based on predefined frameworks , for example the last man out of the toilet probably had beans for lunch. Induction is where we have seen the same experience over and over again for example if you play with fire then you get hurt . While deductive and inductive skills show us exactly what is  the issue, modal reasoning shows us what could be the issue.An example of modal reasoning could be the discovery of penicillin . Prior to Alexander Fleming it was commonly thought (via deductive reasoning) that antiseptics would kill internal infections. Through a lucky accident and Fleming’s willingness to look beyond what was commonly accepted, the world ended up with penicillin.  Almost every great innovation stems from modal reasoning. for the author , though I firmly believe that there are many more models available. For those interested in learning about multiple models, I recommend the online lectures of Professor Sanjay Bakshi,Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack , Herbert Simon’s Models of my life.

in our understanding by searching for the other point of view i.e we seek common ground. This has the effect of enabling generative reasoning and produce more robust causal modelling

3) Integrative Thinker’s Experiences –

The integrative thinker is aware that we tend to accumulate experiences that reinforce the stances and tools that we start with . Stances guide the acquisition of tools and tools guide the sort of experiences we have. People who believe that their existing models equate to reality and fear opposing models are not likely to believe that better models exist . They will construct the model using deductive and inductive logic , build highly simplified models and advocate their own point of view rather than dispassionately considering multiple points of view. The experiences that they gather will tend to reinforce their initial stance and suggest that they have all the tools that they need thus propagating a vicious circle. The corollary to this is that you are aware that the models are not adequate , so there exists a better model that can be found by wading into complexity . They will use generative reasoning , causal modelling and assertive inquiry. The experiences that they gain building new models will reinforce their initial stance and they will increase the tools in their toolkit.

We shape our tools and afterwards those tools shape us – Marshall McLuhan

He discusses several cases where integrative thinking saved or created an industry . One of the examples he provided was A.G. Lafley of P&G . In 2000 when he took over , P&G was hemorrhaging money and there were two opposing camps, one that defined innovation as the lifeblood of P&G and the other wanted to cut costs . Rather than choose one or the other , Lafley went with both options in a way that defied the imagination through ‘open’ innovation and turned P&G around.

According to the author , Mastery enables originality and originality is a generative condition for Mastery. In my view that is the single most important advice in the book , regardless of whether we are convinced by his argument of the need for integrative thinking .

Mastery is not gained by accident but by planned and structure repetition of a consistent type of experience.

One needs to make a plan for developing the skills and have strategic milestones to measure progress , a structure for observing and reflecting on the results . If you do not have a plan, then you could develop bad habits which hamper your progress . An extremely influential book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi reinforces the above concepts very elegantly .

Practice is not something that you do after you have become a master, it is something you have to do to become a master.

b) Causal Modelling – System Dynamics and Radial Metaphors seem to be the models of choice

c) Assertive Inquiry – This is used to explore models that oppose our own. Basically we fill in gaps

Originality requires a willingness to experiment, spontaneously in response to novel situations and openness to try something different from the original plan.

The author finally gives us tips for exploring our own thinking

1) Document your thinking, questions and answers . Create an audit trail and see what other tools need to be improved to get the right answers.

2) Audit and record the logic of the decisions and compare the results to the outcome they predicted. If the results are valid then the stance and the tools are validated else the tools need to be improved.

Mark Twain admonished us almost a century ago “To a Man with a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail”.

However lethargy and complexity have conspired to cause us to ignore that wisdom. This wanton disregard leads to an impoverishment of critical thinking facilities that the author is trying to address . The structure of innovative thought is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to document, so all we can do is introduce behaviors in ourselves and others that will create the right conditions for inspiration to strike so while I am not convinced that his approach is perfect ,it is a definitely a step in the right direction.

This essay is inspired by the book

The opposable Mind – How successful leaders win through Integrative thinking by Roger Martin

Love and let love

I recently read an essay on Love written by my friend Tejaswini of the Baba Yaga Project that touched on the complexity of love while praising Brokeback Mountain. That touched a chord in me as I reflected about love and its myriad problems.

I started wondering about all the times that I had gone wrong trying to find love and then the realization dawned on me that compared to a lot of people , I was extremely fortunate.

The first  (and only) time that I was convinced that I had found my 16 cow wife (to use her parlance), I failed to communicate to her what she meant to me and lost her when I was busying myself trying to acquire the 16 cows that I needed to impress upon her what she meant to me  . You ask me , why did I wait instead of telling her ?well  my communication skills being what they are , I might have benefited from schooling in communication theory instead of computer communication theory .

The next time was more complicated , I was fully immersed in hedonistic pleasures while she kept telling me how much she loved me. After a prolonged period of reading classics together in intimate privacy , it slowly dawned on me that perhaps I did love her and proceeded to tell her that how much I loved her , however wedding bells did not follow . Instead she proceeded to tell me that she had found her paramour from her teen years and she was in love with him and had always been . I was baffled beyond comprehension . But I tried to salvage by writing poems and letters and eventually hit the proverbial bottle and I realized too late that begging was the worst possible thing to do for any self respecting human being. Circumstances did provide me with an opportunity to reconcile but fear of repeating history would not let me forgive and forget .

The next time was colossal stupidity on my part , she was perfect for me in every sense and yet I clammed up. To this day , I keep wondering what on earth possessed me . I watched Silver Linings Playbook recently and there is a quote by Robert De Niro when he is telling his son to go after the woman he loves “Sometimes life reaches out to you and you have to grab it back ” .  And as if that was not enough , the friendship that I cherished so much and  that I had so desperately hoped to preserve was lost as well.

The fourth time is strange in the sense that I was not in love with her at all but I have never experienced such intensity of affection and love from another human being. It was so intense that I was forced to get a restraining order on the advice of a friend who worked as a police captain. He was convinced that she was so attached to me that she might decide to have me around as a permanent fixture , preferably in an jar of embalming fluid.

So having advertised at least four failed attempts at love , who am I to talk about love ? Well the case that I am making is that love is complicated . I like to believe that I am of above average intellect (contrary to existing evidence), fairly sound in terms of emotional stability (my fragile ego makes me rock solid) and every one of these girls is extremely intelligent ,extraordinarily beautiful and a happy well adjusted marriage was certainly possible in each case (well in the last one, I might have had to get well adjusted to the bell jar)  and yet it seems like an insurmountable task  . So now that we know love is complicated , what am I driving at?  My question is when we are well aware of the myriad intricacies and problems that is involved with love , why do we as a society insist on throwing monkey wrenches for  well meaning people looking for love ? I am referring to those people who don’t fit our definition of “Normal” love ? Our narrow comfort zones of love usually means man-woman relationships provided they belong to the same religion , same race and in some extreme cases we even look for the same background, financially and culturally.

Brokeback mountain discusses one such case where the freedom to love is denied to our fellow human beings and trying to assert that right could cost one their life . While Brokeback Mountain is a wonderfully touching story with memorable scenes (  my friend mentioned that there were scenic backdrops of Montana though I cannot remember anything more scenic than Anne Hathaway in the backseat of the sedan) , one story that truly does bring tears to my eyes is the story of Alan Turing . Me and millions of programmers around the world owe their livelihood and everlasting gratitude to this sensitive genius who could rightly be called One of the (two )fathers of  computing . Another everlasting debt that western civilization owes Turing is the fact that without him, the Allies would not have cracked the German Enigma codes as quickly as they did and the war on the European front would have lasted several more years. In the movie “The Imitation Game” , we get to see the attempts of the administration to “cure” him of his “sickness” . He proceeded to commit suicide as his hormone therapy went awry, though in my mind it is not suicide but cold blooded murder sanctioned nay mandated by a society that could not accept that homosexuality could be natural.

I was married to a southern woman for a number of years during which time , I traveled in the south (the American South East)  and experienced racism first hand . There were a few times that it was impressed upon me that I should be glad for living in such enlightened times because barely 20-30 years prior , I would have been lynched for being with a white woman . In one case I was told bluntly by one of my sisters in law that I should not have children with my wife because that would be a sin in the eyes of god to bring forth a child of mixed race.  In all fairness , I do not wish to provide a negative view of the south , they are an extremely hospitable people , gracious and loyal to a fault but I did find a few interesting exceptions over the years and several reminders of my “unnatural” relationship.

A friend of mine whom I have known forever has married outside her religion to a Sikh man. He is a wonderfully charming and urbane man who is a delight to talk to. I have had a few opportunities to drink with him and he is fun to be around and he is a wonderful father to their two children . Recently we had an opportunity to meet a classmate who was visiting so I drove her over to Palo Alto where he was residing and after a wonderful lunch,  were driving back across the Dumbarton. I love driving over the bridges in the bay , love looking at the water and the mountains , probably the engineer in me marveling at how nature has been tamed by the ingenuity of man however that day I was busy trying to console my friend who was seething with raw fury . She had posted some family pictures with her husband and children on Facebook . Our classmate told us that he and his wife (another classmate) had seen those pictures . One of the comments that his wife had made  was querying who the man in the picture was . To me that question rankled of stupidity, to my friend it rankled of insensitivity , to her it seemed like the whole concept of her being married to a Sikh man was so incongruous to people that they could not even bring themselves interpret a normal family picture of her , her husband and their children . Marriage and love is tough enough without having to endure nonsense like this.

Religion , race ,sexual orientation are not chosen by people . We are all prisoners here , prisoners of genes , social norms and pernicious traditions like religion so why does  torturing our fellow human beings and denying them the basic human rights to seek happiness come so naturally? I don’t know ,which is why it is not enough to “Live and let live” , we have to transcend to “Love and let love”

Descartes, Malcolm Gladwell and the case for repetition

A close friend recently advised me to write everyday thereby reminding me of the hidden benefits of repetition . Associative memory triggered Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” and “Outliers” and writings of the outstanding French Mathematician and Philosopher Rene Descartes .

Rene Descartes is a fascinating character , I have heard him described as the creator of the Clockwork universe, father of modern philosophy . Descartes paved the path for humanity to stop thinking of an omniscient god and instead think of the Celestial Watchmaker , things no longer just happened , they happened for a reason. While some of us may argue that we have traded one convenience for another , we all can agree that this was clearly a watershed moment for humanity . We stopped expecting random bolts of lightening from Zeus and instead learn that it is electric charge that is being accumulated by the clouds from the water particles and that charge eventually needs to make its way to electric ground aka earth . This has also set in motion a steady onslaught on ignorance and blind belief and something as dramatic today as viewing the surface of Pluto has become child’s play for us, the importance of this cannot be emphasized , the Borgias , Caligula or Henry VIII with all their murderous might could not summon up this knowledge at will . Even though today we are beneficiaries of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics and we may not have sufficient reason to believe in a Celestial Watchmaker today , we certainly owe our progress in large to Descartes and the thinkers of the Enlightenment for getting us this far.

There was an amusing anecdote regarding Descartes that highlights his precociousness .The defining treatise for Geometry is Euclid’s elements , there are 13 books in all and besides the fact that it encompasses all there is to know about Euclidean geometry , it is a monumental achievement to the art of organization . Euclid’s elements starts with  5 postulates and proceeds to create the entire field of Geometry and trigonometry . Descartes was 15 when he chanced upon the copy of the Elements , he had devoured the entire text by the following morning to his teacher’s astonishment.

When he was 21 , he developed his Rules for direction of the mind.   Rules V through VII discuss the arrangement of ideas from simple to complex and Rules IX through XI discuss how the mind needs to run repeatedly over the arrangement so as to master  the nuances of the craft under consideration completely , I interpret that as repetition  .

Today there seems to be a general distaste for the mundane and boring task of forcing children to memorize and there is an incredible amount of research and body of knowledge that the memorization process hurts education rather than help it . Having been in the trenches as a student who was forced to memorize essays(yes , you read that right) and organic chemistry equations and historical facts and as a parent who failed to impose the multiplication table on kids who having seen the calculator were dumb founded at my foolish insistence that they should know what 7 x 8 is without resorting to the calculator , I will hurriedly plead that I am not a philistine in my outlook and would not want to force kids through rote learning given the appliances of modern convenience (though I am a closet calculator hater ).

So that in a nutshell is my conundrum , I admire Descartes and his rules which preach memorization through repetition and condemn forced memorization which seems to hurt the learning process. Having been a cat slave for the last 30 some years , I have learned to admire the act of sitting on the fence.

However let me move onto modern times and talk about Malcolm Gladwell and two of his classics “Blink” and “Outliers” . The interesting tidbit that is of relevance to us from “Outliers” is the claim that Gladwell makes there is a magical transition that seems to happen after 10000 hours of practice . He lists a long list of luminaries, including Bill Gates ,Mark Zuckerberg , Beatles et all who seem like childhood prodigies but have paid the requisite fee of 10000 hours to enter that rarefied realm of expert knowledge .   I am not denying that these are great minds but we rarely pay attention to the fact that elbow grease(or repetition) played an important role  here . In “Blink” , Gladwell likes to educate us about another variety of prodigies , people like Napoleon who seemed blessed with coup de oeil (the glance) , according to eye witnesses . Napoleon could walk into a strategy discussion and with just a glance know where he need to attack or defend . The same could be said of a variety of  prodigies in other fields such as Math , chess , engineering, arts etc .   There was an old anecdote about the Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan who informed the director  that the lights were not angled correctly  because the heat on his face did not “seem right” . Anyone who has followed Indian cinema for any length of time is familiar with the prolific number of Bachchan’s works. Napoleon consumed vast amount of military literature from Hannibal to Frederick the Great when he was a Lieutenant in the French army , a fact ignored by those who only saw him as a brilliant military commander in his later years.

The point again seems to come back to the fact that hard work is imperative for genius to truly flower.And the hard work in each case seems to be defined as study and repetition .To quote another prodigy

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.”

T.A.Edison

So how can we reconcile this  glaring contradiction ? The chief difference between forced memorization and the repetition that seems to be staple diet of prodigies the world over is the likability factor . The prodigies truly enjoyed what they did , Gates enjoyed working on the computers at Lakewood  , Zuckerberg enjoyed programming with a passion , Kasparov enjoyed his chess lessons , Napoleon loved military strategy . Forcing children to learn something that they do not enjoy is a recipe for disaster , you might get them to pass the next test but they will retain nothing . Worse the pleasure of learning could be tainted for life as drudgery.

According to the Dreyfus model of knowledge acquisition , there are 5 stages 1) Novice 2) Advanced Beginner 3) Competent 4) Proficient and 5) Expert . It probably does not need any convincing on my part that people who are in the stages of proficient and Expert truly enjoy what they do partly because it always feels good  to do what you are truly good at and in turn leads to a self perpetuating cycle. The Bible has an interesting quote on those lines

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.

I am not that vain as to assume that I am capable of providing solutions for the problem of educating children and that is not what I am trying to do here but I do believe that we as adults can bring about a seismic shift in their and our own perceptions . I believe we can focus on the passion in our lives and through repetition , shine as a beacon to our succeeding generations as so many have done unto us .

And last but certainly not least, a big thank you to my friend, The Baba Yaga project for inspiring this essay.

Twinkling Twelve and Charles Sobhraj – Part 1

Sachin and Satish loved to read detective fiction . They were devout followers of Enid Blyton and were truly inspired by the Secret Seven and Famous Five series .

“You know , what . We can do this ourselves ” , said Sachin one day after what seemed like a  long contemplative pause

Satish was busy admiring Gita’s ankles ,since the skirt seemed to cover everything else and had been dying to catch a glimpse of some knee at some point  . Sachin’s comment broke through his reverie and he glanced at his friend and rival concernedly.

“What can we do ourselves” , asked Satish unable to take his eyes off Gita

“Form our own club, of course. What else did you think  , numbskull?”

Satish’s curiosity was too piqued by now to take offence at the insult . “What kind of club?”

“Secret club!! like Secret Seven or Famous Five. That was we can solve some mysteries and help the police”

Their idea of the police was the school chowkidaar who unable to reconcile himself to his present circumstance like to regale them with colorful stories of his past where he was a havaldaar .

“What about the food? ” . Having reading the luscious descriptions of ham sandwiches and ginger ale which Satish had imagined to be some decadent delicacy that the English ate , he was in no small hurry to try those delicacies.

Sachin scornfully remarked “We need to be spending time solving mysteries , not eating ”

The scorn scorched a hole in Satish’s heart and hot blood rushed to his head but he was embarassed about what he perceived as his weakness .

“So what will our club be called ” , asked Satish , eager to switch the topic.

“How about twinkling Two?”

“Sounds great!! Should we invite Yogesh?” asked Satish . Yogesh was his cricket buddy . Sachin was not the outdoorsy type , unbeknownst to Satish , Sachin’s mother was very proud of her son’s fair complexion and was determined to keep it that way so Sachin was forbidden to play outside for any longer  than a hour and that too only after sunset.

“No , Did I say twinkling three ?? Twinkling Two , it is!!! ” , said Sachin in a peremptory tone which forbade any further discussion on the topic. Satish came from a poor family and society had already programmed into him a obsequiousness to authority (or in this case a pretence at authority).

“Saaacchin ” , came the lyrical scream that signified the end of Sachin’s sojourn into the world of boys and play for the day. His mother wanted him back in the house. So he left and Satish was left with his own thoughts .Unlike Sachin , Satish thrived on social proof and for him, the indisputable logic of the more the merrier was like the rock of Gibraltar . Not much could assail that belief. He loved the idea of a secret club but he wanted the secret club to be as large as possible , say about a 100 boys and maybe even a few girls . He had always admired Rita and would have happily made her part of the club so he could have an excuse to hang out with her and thereby try to get into Gita’s good graces. But the thought of Sachin’s dour face was  a bucket of ice water thrown at his beautiful plans. Annoyed he reminded himself that he needed to convince his partner to be as open minded . Pensively he decided to think about this wonderful opportunity and how to exploit it so as to get closer to Rita and Gita. The sun seemed just as pensive and going away as well so Satish headed home.

The next morning Satish encountered Sachin again and this time Sachin could hardly contain his excitement , “Our first assignment”  . Satish looked blank . But Sachin was too engrossed in his own excitement to notice it and kept going , “Did you hear that Charles Sobhraj escaped from Tihar Jail”

“Who is Charles Sobhraj?” inquired Satish .

Sachin glared at the dim witted moron in front of him and wondered if it was a mistake in the first place to include him in such a glorious undertaking . He decided that he needed to revisit that decision soon.

“Charles Sobhraj is a wanted killer, rapist . he is an international criminal” Sachin spat out in disgust . This was not lost on Satish so though he was dying to know where Tihar Jail was, he decided that he should not mention it right now . Survival instincts told him that if he mentioned it right now, he might find himself ousted from Twinkling two , the thought of somebody else capturing the unknown glory was too painful to contemplate. So Satish queried in trembling undertones “Don’t you think we need more than just the two of us to capture an international criminal?”  . That did give Sachin some pause , though he was extremely annoyed with Satish’s ignorance , he reflected that whatever limitations Satish might have, he certainly made up for it with sound practical sense.

“Perhaps we should see if any of the other boys are interested. ”

That was music to Satish’s ears . “How about Yogesh?”

“That moron!!! He barely passed 5th grade . All he can do is play cricket”

“yes but he has a cricket bat and we do need weapons ”

Again the soundness of the argument stilled Sachin and he wondered if he had any weapons that he could use. Perhaps his father’s flat blade screw driver or his mother’s steel ladle . On second thoughts , the flat blade screw driver

“Ok , but we do need to keep this a complete secret , make sure that Yogesh keeps his mouth shut. Twinkling three still sounds good”

Class started but Satish was lost in reveries of yet to be achieved glory that was soon to be his achieved glory. He saw himself being congratulated by his peers , maybe even the chief minister and perhaps even prime minister would come to see him, give him enough money so that his family would be on easy street . Twice he got questioned by his teachers because they could sense that he was distracted and twice , he hung his head shamefacedly swearing to himself that once he  had finished capturing Charles Sobhraj, he would never attend school again. His chemistry teacher decided that perhaps he needed to kneel down in front of the staff room and after that unbearable humiliation , he wondered, perhaps he could convince Sobhraj to kill her before he returned him to jail.

Sachin had another brainwave during the day . he had decided that they needed a code language and upon reflection hit upon the brilliant idea of adding “ed” to every word thereby rendering themselves unitelligible to common folk.

Alas for the plans of mice and men and Sachin , before the day was out ,Yogesh the blabbermouth unable to keep his excitement at winning the government reward  had managed to ingratiate himself with a dozen detective wanna bees who had all heard the news of the secret group being flouted by Sachin and the imminent capture of Charles Sobhraj .

Sachin being picked up by his father after school was not privy to this dastardly act of betrayal by Yogesh however Satish walking back with Yogesh suddenly found himself surrounded by Amit, Ajit , Saroj, Vineet and Thapar  clamoring for details . Satish was convinced that once Sachin found out about the leaking venture,  his one sole act of benevolence towards Yogesh was going to cost him his fame and fortune. He would have loved to punch Yogesh in the mouth , stupid stupid idiot!!! How could he do this to me ? After everything that I have done for him , risking my neck and what do I get? just toil and trouble . Stupid idiot!!!

The “Stupid idiot” oblivious of his “dastardly act of betrayal” was loving the limelight .

“Where should we meet ?” piped Ajit

“How about Anurag’s house?” – squeaked Amit

The thought of adding yet another member to the hitherto “Twinkling three” sounded like yet another death knell to Satish and morever he envied Anurag , if anything , he wanted to have this fame and riches so he could show Anurag down. Anurag lived across the house from Satish but unlike Satish who lived in a rented house , Anurag lived on ancestral property , he seemed to have a never ending supply of games , books , comics thanks to parents who encouraged their son to read. Satish was plagued by the green eyes monster of envy every time he went to Anurag’s house . As is typical in all these cases, Anurag was blissfully unaware  of his “friend”‘s machinations and probably could care less whether he was made a part of this group or that while Satish was working away on his hamster wheel trying to one up Anurag . Satish tried to quelch this idea , “No , Anurag talks too much, he cannot keep a secret. ”

“No way . Last week I went away from school for an entire period and though Anurag saw me leave, he never mentioned to anybody ” – squeaked Amit excitedly

“Besides , I really like that dark staircase that he has , it is dark and nobody can see once you are inside”

The dark staircase worked its magic onto the rest of the entourage . The irony was the staircase was only dark when the entrance was shut off and the lights switched off . The enveloping comfort of the dark embrace was a welcome relief to anybody  who had sought refuge in its enveloping embrace from the tyranny of parental authority who never seemed to tire of this cruel and unusual punishment called homework .

That evening Sachin came out in quest of Satish to talk further about the group and he was surprised to see Satish in the midst of the clamor . They must have been 9 or 10 boys . That was a baffling development  , not many people liked Satish . That was one of the reasons why Sachin let him hang around , he was so grateful and it made Sachin feel magnanimous .

Sachin tried to be figure out the sudden reason for Satish’s popularity and tried as he might,  he was perplexed. The thought that his precious secret club was at the root of Satish’s popularity was the furthest thing from his mind

Continued in Part 2

Random Poems

Adventure

Wallowing on the beach of life
leery of waves on to adventures anew
grasping on to the sands of time
vainly as it slips through my fingers

stories of hidden treasures abound
but waiting for the tide to reveal
too late the tide betrays its cold stony heart
that only beats to the rhythm of the universe

look on , all ye sailors of life
a bright new day is yours to carve
some create , some pray
fortune and love favor the brave

one who dares to ride the waves
one who dares to dig in the sand
one who dares to be humble
one who dares to an open heart

you shall receive your just rewards
a pearl from the depths
a glimpse of heaven
seek and ye shall receive


Travels
traveling with hundreds
yet alone and friendless
together with strangers
in a flying caravan

the glorious sights below
the wilderness of the arctic wastelands
as imagination plumbs the depths of the marianna trench
I will sell my soul for a pair of wings and fins

drifting over the pacific
the bering straits stare at me invitingly
would the pacific be truly as pacifiyng

Cars passing by in the mountains
fellow travellers in the dark
Lighten each other’s load
The relief as crisp
As a breath of fresh mountain air

Strangers on a journey together
for an instant in time and space
will we ever connect again
some connect for life
some connected for an instant

with a song on our lips
hope in our hearts
seeking a deeper connection
providence seeks otherwise
dashing ships onto icebergs

but hopes are not ships
answer instead to a higher calling
rise like a phoenix from the ashes
offer gratitude to  providence
for the company of my fellow traveller


Curmudgeons
who am I , What am I
a human being with free will
or merely a vessel for social norms
can the two co exist?

Was I meant to live my life
or role play as deemed by society
why must the heart bow
to reasons that head does not understand

My friend gives me goosebumps
and yet my bonds tether me,
simple and innocent pleasures
are suddenly tainted by moral scruples

play is the way to my soul
and yet , play is frowned upon
why must the curmudgeons
destroy the happiness in all of us


New love
The sweet torture of fresh passion
like a beautiful lotus smashing
idyllic dreams ,the pond of  still life
a dreamy life of comfort and charm

the fragrance of happy accidents
questions my slumbering abstinence
fresh as a hawthorn berry
with promises of life very merry

a meal needs bread and meat
but how much delightful to eat
a dash of spice for the palate’s sake
but spices alone , cannot a meal make

a dreamy saturday passes by
on a couch,  arms around me lie
looking on a city, an air of romance
was that mischief , giving me a glance


Passengers wanted !!

I have set off on a quixotic ideal
Everyone needs a love tidal

Believe in love that is true at first sight
can never rue the passing of many a light

but here I stand on the portals of life
that have taught me to withstand many a strife

goodness of heart is what I seek
but beware some virtues as well as vices reek

who amongst us could be so crude as to not like a handsome mind
employed in a delightful trade , she loves the daily grind

Life is not about merely holding oneself in good stead
for toil and toll should not wreck a homestead

what is more dear to us than simple play
but our images whom we create and then for college they make us pay

I am seldom lonely for I am guarded by little cats
fear not , seldom a danger, they meow for attention and lazy and fat

measuring and weighing my words for a world run by pictures
to win a flesh and blood person who lives by a code of strictures

the daunting prospect fills me with a cold dread
but one cannot let hopes go dead

so here I am trolling through a bevy of beautiful damsels
riding alone is fun but two were meant to ride on life’s carousel

 


As you turn back and look

with eyes of a doe
you throws fleeting glances
my heart filled with woe
pierced by your ocular lances

To gaze upon your perfection
is to taste god’s own confection
for long did I sit and mope
but seeing you fills me with hope

to bury myself in thee
fill my senses with your essence
having you play my souls lyre
is my heart’s desire

Allure of  your dress

dazzling like shimmering moonlight
oh oh , a ray of happiness so bright
the glistening silk on the body so satin
but for a glimpse , I am waitin
hinting at the delicious mounds of decadence
oh my , oh my ,pumps my heart to its top cadence
my eyes mesmerized by curves of the goddess venus
or is my clinging love , the much desired bonus
Of your gorgeous body , Men are filled with dreams
if heavens warrant , one sees you coming down on moonbeams
Hope
Wasting days is a forbidding crime
yet my brow is sooty with electronic grime
Day after day , heart and soul weary of toil
What did my forefathers think as they till the soil
But I worry needlessly for there is hope
Whenever I think that I just cannot cope
My angel swoops in ,a lavender dove
my worries washed away in the ocean of love
My precious darling , as she fusses over my route and commute
I stand dazzled as her beautiful body leaves me mute

Travelling to Phoren lands

Vivek got up early at 4.00 in the morning today. Today was the big day , he was finally going to see the ‘phoren’ land where beggars come to beg in expensive foriegn cars and girls were coming in from nowhere and begging you to do wicked things to them. His friends had told him about foreign lands where people walk naked on the street and make love with you on the street at the slightest hint. Then he came out of his reverie and looked outside at the dark street and felt a wave of nostalgia engulfing him as he realized that it would be a long time before he saw this sight again. Then he decided that he should complete his morning abolutions, the Hindus believe that the morning abolutions and toilet rituals are to be performed as soon as a man gets up. He picked the bowl of water and walked into the latrine and squatted down thoughtfully, he had heard that in the western world, you had to sit on a chair to defecate. He thought to himself that the ways of the western world were pretty weird, “why do you need a chair to do something as dirty as defecate, unnecessary waste of a chair if you ask me”.

After finishing he came out and brushed his teeth .He went to the kitchen and saw that his mother was already busying herself in the kitchen. She looked at him with hurt eyes the moment her eyes fell on him, she was scared that her son would never come back, she had heard that once young boys went to ‘Amricca’, ‘firang pori'(foriegn girls) are just waiting to entrap these innocent boys and then these boys will never come back to pay respects or take care of their ‘aai-vadil'(mom-dad).

He was an only son, the fond apple of her eyes and the first person in her family to go across the seven seas. She had fainted when she heard that her only son was going to travel in some giant bird, the last time she ever saw something like that was in a movie called “Sant Tukaram” which depicted the great sixteenth century saint being taken to the vaikuntam or the other world on the wings of Garuda , the giant eagle which served as a vehicle for lord Vishnu. Despite her acute dissent to having her son going away, her husband had listened to Ramadoraisamy , Vivek’s Madrasi friend who had told him that Vivek would be paid 1.3 lakh rupees a month and decided that it would be in Vivek’s best interest to have the boy sent to ‘Amricca’ and have the boy earn for two years before he could come back and buy a nice house in Phaltan so that he could show off to the Patil that he could afford a house much bigger than the Patil’s bungalow. Now Vivek’s mom was peeved at Dorai and decided he was an infidel and he looked like a one too. Dorai was a South Indian boy with shifty beady eyes and skin that was so dark that he would be invisible in a dark room, he talked with a weird accent and he could not speak Marathi at all, he spoke with Vivek’s father in Hindi and that too with great difficulty. Vivek’s mother was convinced that Dorai was from some place called Affreecca that she had seen on TV long back when she had visited her brother in Pune. But she thought that it was awfully decent of Dorai to wear some decent clothes to come here, after all were not those people wearing only some piece of cloth around those ‘parts’.

She had heard that you could not get good food in those places; she had seen those people eating only raw animal flesh and drinking animal blood. She had issued dire warnings to Vivek that it would be the sacrilege to eat god’s creatures that would not be pardoned even if he performed penance for seven ‘janmas’ (incarnations).She reminded him that the cow had 64,000 gods living in it and he should never think of drinking cow blood. She had decided that she would send Vivek with atleast a year’s supply of jowar and rice so that her boy would not have to hunt and eat animals. Then for good measure she wanted to throw in a few quintals of wheat just in case . She had also packed all possible spices she could think of, in the trunk that was used by Vivek’s grandfather that weighed at least 100 kgs. Then she looked around and saw the 5 pieces of luggage that she had packed, one for the clothes and books and the rest for his food, and she let out a satisfied sigh and she called out to him, “Arrre Vivek, if you finish this rice or jowar , send me a letter a week before it gets over and I will pack more for you and send it by post”. The postman in the village was a very friendly man and she always gave’baksheesh’ to him during Diwali so she was sure he would do the needful. Vivek came over and she got out his cup of tea that he so loved in the mornings, he took his first long sip which sounded like a duck in water trying to swallow the lake in one gulp, he let out a satisfied sigh and told her “You know Aai, the one thing I would really miss in America is your chaha(Tea), I have heard that they drink only coffee there”. His mother looked at him and said “Arre halkat, you will miss only my chaha, you won’t miss me or your Baba?” Vivek looked at her and her eyes already seem to be moistening, he was immediately struck down by guilt and pleaded with her not to cry, and he gave her Pundalik’s example of how he would come back and serve her and Baba, that seemed to pacify her and she repeated her advice “Stay away from firang pori”.

He decided to take his bath and get ready to start for the Airport, though the flight was late at night, he wanted to get to Bombay before 8.00 PM and he knew he had a long drive from Phaltan.

As Vivek set foot in the airport completely overawed by the milling crowd at the airport, everybody hurrying about, seemed to Vivek like this was the first time in his life he had seen so many people actually look as if they had a purpose on their minds. As he stood there gasping in wonder the police constable rudely asked him, “Ticket????” which bought a wonder struck Vivek back to reality. He fumbled in his pouch for his passport , ticket and his school and college certificates , and as he got ready with his pile of certificates and showed them to the constable, the constable looked with some disgust at the huge pile and then caught eye of the ticket and waved him ahead. As he pushed his trolley ahead he saw a weird looking box with rubber flappers. He saw luggage being sent into the box , he wondered if this was some shortcut way for the luggage to be sent directly to the plane and he started wondering about the intricacies of the tunnel that they would have had to dig to send the luggage directly to the plane .He wondered if he was standing on the roof of the tunnel and how much it would hold with so many people walking on it. He started panicking about his delicate luggage and he wondered if he should ask the man near the ‘tunnel’ if he could carry the luggage with him on the plane personally so when the roof collapsed due to the weight of so many people he would not have to search for his luggage among the debris, as a kid he had the seen the movie ‘Kaala Pathar ‘ where they had shown a mining accident and he did not want any of that to happen to his luggage. As he walked towards the box, he saw that the boxes were being spit out from the other end, his first thought was that this was the luggage of some arriving plane. His theories were swiftly disbursed when he saw the same man walk to the other end and pick the bag. He was baffled by this apparently stupid activity where you send the baggage thru one end and get it out the other , seemed like a lot of heave ho for nothing. He wondered if he should ask the man if he could skip it for Vivek, maybe he could tell him that he was leaving for the USA and that would impress the man enough to leave him alone so he started walking towards the man standing near the end and shoving the luggage inside.

“Saaheb, I am going to the USA.” said Vivek.

“So?” the man said in a irritated tone.

Vivek caught eye of the TV monitor behind the man and he could see a pressure cooker in the bag and then he saw the bag come out of the other end, still closed. He decided to watch the next bag more closely and he saw it go in closed and he could see a couple of utensils and then the bag came out of the other end seemingly untouched, now he was convinced these people were upto no good and were probably scrutinising the luggage to see if they could find something they liked. ” I don’t want to put my luggage in that box” whined Vivek.

The man looked at him suspiciosly

“Everybody has to go through security check” barked the man

“But I am going to the USA” , pleaded Vivek

“I don’t care where you are going, you have to go thru security check, otherwise you can’t check-in your baggage” the man snapped .

Vivek decided one last try, “I don’t want to check-in my baggage”

Now the man got irritated, he turned around to him “Then you can’t fly to the USA”

Vivek pondered over his predicament, he then turned to the man and said “Please don’t take my ‘launcha’ and chutney from the box, my mother packed that especially for me”

The man looked at him as if he was mad and then proceeded to load his luggage into the box.

Vivek was convinced that there was a man inside the box who was opening all the suitcases with a master key and examining them. Vivek was almost driven to tears when he thought that the man inside the baggage would almost certainly take his ‘chutney’ and ‘launcha’ once he smelt them. AS soon his luggage went in , Vivek got on the rollers on all fours, the man standing there next to entrance was flabbergasted and he pressed the emergency button to stop the machine.

“What do u think you are trying to do?” Asked the man very angrily.

“Sir, I wanted to request the man inside not to take my ‘launcha’ and ‘chutney'”, whined Vivek

“What man???” bellowed the police officer who had come on the scene

“The man who is lookin at all the luggage inside the machine”, said Vivek in his smallest voice.

“There is no man inside ,look”, said the police officer and sure enough when Vivek looked there was nobody. Vivek was wondering if the man had disappeared like the means that they used in Star Trek when became aware of the laughter behind him, he got back from the rollers and looked behind and sure enough there were people grinning widely at him. Vivek decided he never felt more foolish in his life. He turned around to see the police officer leave chuckling to himself

‘Take your luggage with your precious chutney and launcha’, Guffawed the attendant

Vivek walked to the other side and picked his bags and loaded his trolley and looked behind him one more time, this time only to see even more people looking at him with amused looks on thier faces. He walked over to a side so he could check if his goods had been stolen, satisfied that they were intact wondered where he needed to go next , he felt he had to ask somebody but he decided against asking the attendant or the police officer.

He decided as soon as he got a chance he should write a letter to his parents and tell them about this wonderful machine which could see inside bags. AS he wondered about the machine he thought to himself it would be so nice to have that capability himself, he could probably see inside clothes and he saw a beautiful young girl walk in front of him and the thought of being able to see inside her clothes delighted him enough to cause a tightening of the pants , not wanting to be embarassed further by any other discretion, he fled to the toilet with his trolley and wait until the tension in his pants ceased. As he walked in , he saw several people in the toilet so he turned to the sink and pretended to wash his face. He was impressed by how clean the toilet seemed to be as compared to the public toilet near his house where the excrement always seemed to be flowing out and you had to be real careful not to step on it when you went in to pee.

Vivek walked out slowly marvelling at how clean the whole place was.

After coming out the toilet Vivek looked about and for the first time since he has entered the airport Vivek forgot about his launcha and chutney and stared goggle eyed at the uniformed lady officials in the airport and decided he had never seen prettier women. He was sure he could impress them by letting them know that he was going to the United States.He was too shy to walk upto them and introduce himself but he was sure once they knew he was going abroad they would be more than happy to introduce themselves. He pondered over this seemingly insolvable problem until a brainwave hit him, he opened his passport to the page containing his US visa and then walked upto one of them and asked her for directions to get to his flight, the girl looked at the passport then at him and said politely “Sir, Do you have a airplane ticket?” . Vivek was disappointed by the cold shoulder but consoled himself that she wanted to make sure that he had a ticket, she must have had lots of young men walk up to her and try to impress her by showing their passport. Eager to oblige, Vivek got out his ticket and thrust it in front of her . She took a cursory look at it and his luggage and said “Sir, please stand in this line “. Vivek was aghast, he looked at her to see if she was trying to hide any feelings but she seemed disinterested.

A thoroughly disappointed Vivek stood in the line wondering to himself about the strange behavior of girls, while he was in college he never seemed to get any of the pretty girls to talk to him and they always seemed to be talking about their fiancees who seemed to be abroad and making esoteric amounts of money (of course converted into Indian currency) and now Vivek expected the same treatment to be meted out to him. It seemed to him like God was constantly playing a game , the side that he was not on seemed to be getting the girls . He wondered why his luck seemed to be so hopeless with girls, wondered if it was something to do with some curse on the family. He had heard stories of his great grandfathers have concubines, wondered if some of dejected suitors had cursed the family and the effect of the curse was taking place now, he cursed his forefathers for being so promiscuous. The Hindus believe that a man cannot leave the earth until it is cleansed of sins, Vivek wondered despairingly if he himself was one of his own forefathers and then the seeing the picture of his old great grandmother naked made Vivek sick to the stomach and he hurriedly started thinking of his pet project , his 3D transformations library and how he would implement the Bezier curve . At the counter, he was asked for his tickets and passport and he wondered if he should present all his school certificates when the man asked him

“How many pieces of luggage are you checking in?”

“Two” replied Vivek , uncertainty in his tone.

“Will you please place them on here.”

Vivek wondered if he should tell them to be careful with his launcha and chutney , then realizing that he might make a scene, he changed his mind and hoisted his two bags onto the counter.

The man asked him to take a immigration form from the side .Obediently Vivek picked it up and moved aside where the girl guided him to a nearby desk where he could write.

As our astute reader might have guessed through Vivek’s earlier tantrum near the XRay machine this was the first time Vivek was in a airport and the more he saw rich people around , the more he was determined to show everybody that he was comfortable and was completely in his element here so much that when he felt thirsty and thinking of going to the tap to get some water , he froze remembering that rich people do not drink water but soda pop . He decided to look around for a Thums Up or a Gold spot vendor, but he gave up after seeing that all the pop vendors had either Coke or Pepsi. He argued with himself and then justified his decision to drink water by telling himself that he won’t have water this once he left the country and so surreptitiously walked to the water fountain and was pleased to see the packet of paper cups that the airport authorities had so generously decided to leave for thirsty travelers. Satisfying his thirst he heard his boarding call and promptly choked on the water, spluttering water all over himself. He ran to the immigration queue only to find it long and snaking and seeming to take forever. Having passed the immigration officer who was keener on discussing his colleague’s neighbor’s daughter’s habit of wearing skimpy clothes to college. As he stepped past the desk of the immigration officer into a long corridor which had signs laid all over the place, Vivek suddenly felt choked realizing that he could not go back to that side of freedom where he could walk as he pleased , spit as he pleased and pee wherever he liked, he was leaving the free air to go to a new land where you had to be careful cos people mugged you for as little as a dollar , could not afford to litter cos you would be slapped a fine which would eat up your pay packet or even worse you could be sent to prison. Full of misgivings , Vivek slowly headed towards the Delta gate and felt acute misery when he saw the moving elevator and the pretty girl right behind him. He cursed himself for this mad desire for going to ‘phoren’ and gingerly stepped on the moving elevator, he grabbed the side rail for support clumsily but Vivek congratulated himself on succeeding from hitting the ground, he thought to himself that he needed to mention to Aai about his deft handling, she would be proud to know that her son could handle any situation with calm and poise.

He saw the end of the elevator approaching and saw with horror that there was no support to get off. Vivek panicked and when he panicked , he also managed to lose his balance and almost fell flat on his face had not a sweeper caught him and steadied him and was rewarded with a withering glance from Vivek as soon as he saw that his guardian angel was a sweeper .Ironically Vivek was more upset with the sweeper having touched him rather than be thankful for rescuing him, he wondered how he would tell his mother that a ‘shudra’ who cleaned the floors had touched him before such a important occassion. He hoped it was not a inauspicious sign.

Vivek passed the time in the lounge worrying thus and giving dagger looks to the attendant whenever he caught his eyes. He started picturing himself as Amitabh Bachan beating up the hapless sweeper whose only crime was that he earned his honest bread through sweeping. The boarding call dispelled all his dreams and he ran towards the gate, the bemused official looked at him and his passport and let him through to another waiting lounge, this time it seems Vivek learnt he would have to wait for only an hour before boarding the place.

Now the sweeper was swept out of his mind to be replaced with a nagging worry bout the flight, he remembered the Kanishka flight with great terror and hoped that the Kashmir terrorists would not place a bomb on this plane then he remembered that he was flying an American airliner and he experienced relief cos he felt the Americans were a lot more smarter and could take care of such eventualities, like most Indians Vivek felt a emotion that bordered on envy and respect for all things ‘phoren’ and had a complete disregard for most things ‘swadeshi’.

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Sampat

My boss Pushpak Khare told me today that I was picking up another consultant from Pune. His name was Vivek Joshi. Apparently the boy was from Phaltan and had spent some time working in Pune at our Indian offices and had proved himself to be a very talented programmer. Our Indian liaison in Pune, Sid Patel had sent him with great praise for his talent. Waiting at the Cleveland Hopkins airport I watched and waited for Indian faces alighting from Delta Flight 117 and sure enough I saw him but what I saw appalled me , Vivek was a man built on bountiful lines , a pock marked chubby face, a gut that he was trying hard to hide and luggage that seemed too hard for him to carry however none of that proved to be the reason for my disparaging judgment of him. I saw him wearing a blazer and I could see the stains of sweat on his shirt and by some dreadful insight I knew he had worn at least a few shirts under that blazer. It was agonizing just to imagine him riding all through the Bombay heat in multiple shirts and a new blazer.

As soon as he reached up to me, I smiled warmly and his first words were “it is so hot” in chaste Marathi. It was December in Cleveland and our pal was complaining of heat, he did not seem to realize that the airport was heated to maintain a comfortable ambiance. The next few minutes were spent by him berating us for our mails to him asking him to bring warm clothes and claims of temperatures being below zero.

I saw him eye the Dunkin Donuts shop in a wave of emotions starting with a hungry delight, then trepidation. I decided I would be civil though I was pissed off with him and asked him if he would like to eat something there. His first question was “Do they use non-vegetarian to make this? ” my first impulse was to laugh it off and I did so, he persisted, “They do not use fish or anything”

“No, are you crazy?”

“Do they use eggs?”

That stumped me; I knew eggs are used for almost anything here. Donuts are probably no exception, I told him I did not know but we could ask

So as we waited at Dunkin Donuts, trying to decide what I should get to make our pal happy, he walked to the lady behind the glass and asked her in what I realized later was English “Dhoo yuuu ooze ” and then turned to me and asked in chaste Marathi “What do they call eggs in English”, by now I was reduced to monosyllabic answers so replied as quietly as I could “Eggs”.

“Dhoo yuuu ooze eggggs to mek these?”

The poor server was dumbfounded and being as busy as she was, I could see comprehension was the least of her worries at that point. So I decided to herd him out of there as quickly as I could , I saw the server and her friend exchange smiles .

Another damned foreigner who could not speak English!!

I decided to take him to a smaller restaurant across and it seemed like a decent place and then I told him to get something that would be just vegetable. His first reaction was one of disgust, “these people eat their veggies raw, I cannot eat that” ,

“Look boss, either you eat those veggies raw or else eat meat”

Out of frustation he decided to take a look at the menu and recoiled in horror. On inquiry I found out that he was appalled that Americans eat horses, on more questioning I found out that his impression was due to the “Hors De vours”. So I explained to him that his deductions were not entirely correct that it meant appetizers in French, he then jumped to the conclusion that the French eat horses, the server who wished to know what we wanted to eat rescued him from me.

“Have you all decided what you would like to eat?”

“wat is hot ?”

The server wore a bewildered look.

“Arre, garam kay aahe kase vicharu?” (How do I ask what is hot?)

Coming from a place where we are used to having rogue shopkeepers selling stale foods we are accustomed to querying the shopkeeper for freshness and one way to be absolutely sure that the food is fresh is checking if it has just been cooked. Of course back home it does not really matter, the shopkeeper will lie with a straight face ”Of course of course, it has just come out of the kitchen” . But it has become a habit and as we know habits die hard even in the presence of gleaming technological marvels like the Microwave and other fancy ovens in use. I was in a quandary, I did not wish to appear rude to him and at the same time I had no desire to embarrass myself. So I replied in Marathi

“Ask him what is fresh”

“wat is phresh?”

The poor server was obviously taken aback and took some to time to realize that he did not understand what was told to him so he responded with

“Excuse me”

, Vivek realized he was making a fool of himself so he tried to salvage the situation with “Tea vith Biscoot”

As soon as the waiter was out of earshot, Vivek looked at me and promptly passed his judgment on the American people

“What re, theesse Americans cannot undershtand Engleess only”

I did not know him enough to tell him that his English was probably only good enough for impressing people in Phaltan so instead grinned politely.

His next question was one of inoculation. He claimed his parents had tried to get him inoculated for malaria, diphtheria, influenza, diarrhea, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera and after Doctor Sahib told his father that Americans suffer routinely from diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, they had tried to see if he could be inoculated for that too.

1984

I presume the title guides the reader towards thinking this is a eulogy to George Orwell. Actually 1984 started the decline of statism and socialist tendencies for India, it ended the authoritarian tyranny of Indira Gandhi. It started off mildly for me though, too young to actually start lusting for girls but too old to be contemptuous of them, it was that peculiar transition period for me when girls seemed attractive but I had little or no idea why. Our annual exams are held in early April and then the kids are let off for two months till mid-June, in India the hottest months are April and May, June signals the beginning of monsoon. My grades as usual were above average, good but not enough to warrant anything spectacular, just enough that my parents would not be embarrassed and proceed to make things difficult . A nonchalant lazy summer passed by, and two months of my life disappeared without a trace, I had discovered the pleasures of reading books from a library. My father was a conventional man who could not believe that a book was useful if you had to return it. He once told me that his attitude to books was the same as a child’s to sugarcane, you can never understand a book completely by reading it the first time just like the child can never rejoice in the sweet taste of a sugar cane merely by licking it, to truly assimilate it you have to read it again and again just like the child can enjoy his cane if he chews and chews and chews. So in short, my library application goes the way of the dustbin. But fortunately my dear friend, Supranoy had a more understanding parent and he was allowed to join Sai library, which had a huge collection of Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. My summer was spent exclusively in the company of Mr. Poirot , Mr. Wooster, Mr. Psmith, Uncle Fred , Lord Elmsworth and Mr. Galahad. I spent more time in phantasmagoria involving the Orient Express, the English countryside, rescuing and wooing damsels in distress, chasing criminals the world over but the average person saw me lounging on a couch with a book all day long with the exception when I was eating, I would eat with a open book next to me. My mother never tired of telling me that if I did eat without looking at the food, then all the food would go to the ground, I presumed she meant it would be wasted. I grinned and reminded her a couple of times that food does go to the ground when I went to the lavatory, she would be aghast and threaten to starve me. I could do that with my mother, she understood my love for books though it annoyed her when I did not utter the smallest compliment to her delicious food. She would needle me first, then ask if the food needed salt, or pepper or garam masala that was my cue to tell her that the food was wonderful and watch her face light up in delight After that she would leave me in peace. She understood my needs for flights of imagination and she was more relaxed than my dad. My dad was the strict one so I always watched my mouth with my dad, never daring to cross him.

The beginning of school was uneventful except for my discovery of not so logical negative numbers, for the life of me I could not understand how 6 subtracted from –6 is equal to –12. My dear friend Vikrant had a brilliant theory after the teacher taught us about Archimedes and his famous discovery, he turned to me as said “Don’t you wish we were born before Archimedes so we could claim to be the discoverers?” It sounded like an excellent idea to me. I would be the man who discovered gold and diamonds and soon I was in Fantasyland making discoveries and inventions and having kings and emperors bestow praise and rewards on me when a thought struck me. After thinking about it for a week, I pulled up my courage and asked him for Vikrant was reputed for his acerbic tongue and acid wit. “Arre Vicky, how will you be the first discoverer of the water displacement rules?” he looked at me with a look that suggested his disgust at my stupidity “Arre stupid, we have this textbook no?” . Suitably humbled at this display of wisdom and brilliant ease with which he had solved what seemed like an insurmountable problem to me, I decided not to open my mouth again till I could prove that I was not being stupid, took me two weeks to find out that the textbook was printed in 1976 and feeling confident of myself I decided to approach him again, this time Sachin was around and Vikrant had forgotten all about Archimedes. When I nervously broached the topic to my peril, Sachin laughed and said “What an idiot!! Have you never heard of the Time Machine? They have it in America. See that movie ‘Planet of the Apes’, you will understand.” and Vikrant put in his two cents, “Ignore him yaar, he is just a gawti (village bumpkin). What will he know of English movies?“ I had never heard of the time machine but I was acutely bothered by the thought of plagiarizing Archimedes’s ideas and I hoped dearly that these two who came up with such wicked ideas of stealing would never get their hands on a time machine. Growing up I was the very epitome of gullibility and stupidity nowadays I have learned to pretend to be wise.

My distractions were also exacerbated by twins that we had in school with us, Nasir and Bashir. With moustache and signs of shaving regularly Both of them looked old enough to have fathered a child but they were still in sixth grade, they liked to leer at the girls and took it upon themselves to educate the younger populace on the important matters of sex and playing truant from school. They taught us to look at breasts, which they called ‘Choochi’. One of their favorite activities during recess was standing at the bottom of the stairs and looking up and then informing the class the colors of panties of some of the most stunning beauties. Nasir had a nasty habit of grabbing the genitalia of his class mates which along with being awkward could feel like your balls had been pushed up your throat, after being tricked a few times, I stayed away from him as much as possible. But the forbidden joys of discovering the opposite sex won over circumspectness, the twins invented a contest “Panty of the day”, the contest was to determine which one was the most popular panty of the day and invariably day after day the most popular panty of the day always went to tall Shalini Vaidya, a green eyed fair skinned damsel. I was always filled with a vague distress at the combination of joy and guilt that I seemed to fill. Knowing the color of her panty somehow seemed to defile her and yet the joy of forbidden knowledge knew no bounds.

I took this newfound knowledge of hidden pleasures and tried to apply it to my neighbors. Most of my neighbors had children my age so either the women were too old for me or the children were too young for me until I chanced upon Manpreet Kaur, she was the only daughter of the oldest son who lived in that house. A Sikh gentleman bought the house in 1946, he had fought World War II and had lost a leg, and he came over with a young wife and a son. He started a liquor business in the cantonment area and pretty soon had a roaring business from sympathetic friendly army officers who preferred to give their business to one of their own. Over the course of time he had three more sons all of whom married delectable Sikh women with the exception of the youngest who married their untouchable neighbor’s daughter causing a rift between neighbors as well as raising a stink in the area for a little while. She was a beautiful woman who would have passed for Miss India any day. To the credit of the other wives, they treated her like one of their own. I can never see something like that happening in my house with the prejudices that my family members harbor for people of lower caste. The old man died in 1981, a stalwart of society and a prominent social worker working for upliftment of the poor in the slums of Kasarwadi. His youngest two sons emigrated to the England and Canada respectively. His older two sons had expanded into other areas like shoes; garments, luxury items and the family on the whole were very reputed. But alas, coming from a good family does not guarantee freedom from the ghastly whistles and lewd comments of the street urchins, which Rasta Peth abounds in. That was how I laid eyes on Manpreet, tall beautiful dignified Manpreet with her fair skin and blue-green eyes that seem to hint of a distant European ancestry, as I was walking to school lost in thoughts of colored panties, I heard a wolf whistle and a loud “Yeti ka?” (a vulgar blatant invitation for indulging in forbidden pleasures) Turning around I felt weak in my knees, my eyes seem to glaze and I felt short of breath. Was this an Apsara from heaven? was I imagining her? I wanted to touch her to see if she was real though even in that state I had enough wisdom not to dare. Manpreet coolly ignored both the lewd caller and her dumbstruck admirer and walked past. The whiff of a delicate perfume intoxicated my already lightening struck frame and I knew that I had died and gone to heaven.

I was struck by the lovebug, I had not a clue what love was but countless songs and poems had described to me the heartaches and numerous other heart wrenching ailments that seem to befall you in the absence of your beloved and I knew that was it, I wanted to marry her, wanted to be with her, make her mine without the faintest care. But again I had enough sense not to rush things; my mother would pull my drawers down and beat my hind off if I dared as much tell her. I saw a Bacchan movie called Nastik and I remember one scene very distinctly; Hema Malini is among mannequins pretending to be one, the men pick her up and put her down , I have appalled at the stupidity of the mannequin handlers who did not seem to realize the difference between humans and hard mannequins, for years that bothered me but the most immediate effect of undressing the mannequins made my imagination run riot which is presumably what the director was looking for, tantalize the imagination. However I did not imagine Hema Malini, I imagined Manpreet and the thoughts of Manpreet, her delicate lips, her perfume dazed me and that was when I became aware of an uncomfortable situation in my pants, I had never had an erection before and my first reaction was one of fear, what would my mother do if we walked out of the movie theater with the bulge in my shorts. Strangely the fear seemed to dissolve my imagined problem, oh great relief!

After that day, that was my favorite sport, fantasizing about Manpreet, imagining her in my hands, her lips on mine. One could tell I had been reading too many Mills and Boon novels; it gave me great pleasure to imagine me and her as the hero and heroine of every book that I was reading. I had memorized the times when she got back from College and I would wait in eager anticipation, till I could get an invigorating glimpse of her. I also made it a point to be outside the house, in retrospect I cannot imagine the impression that I would have made on her with my tight shorts, my dusty shirt, worn out chappals, legs that looked positively scabby. She never once acknowledged me but I was patient, I knew my time would come. I waited in joyous hope for the day when I would be old enough to ask her to marry me.

Alas!! The greatest villain in my saga of love turned out to be time, time that did not allow me to be old or brave enough to rescue my beloved, time that betrayed my beloved and snatched away the promise of a lifetime, time that turned hooligans into murderers, time that blinded the eyes of a country, time that created a savage collaboration of law makers and law breakers to wreck vengeance on a hapless community, time that would assassinate an old woman using her own trusted security guards. The assassination of Indira Gandhi shook us to the depth of our hearts. In fact the thought of her dying was so alien to me that when I first heard that she was ‘fired’, I asked with great curiosity if she had been fired from her job and who could possibly fire her. For a young child, the concept of death is a bizarre one and you just know that you are going to live forever and so is everybody else. The assassination betrayed that feeling of security; the old woman who rallied crowds with her fiery speeches was in my view the only person who ran the country, that belief would be vindicated later on in life when I started reading about her. I never thought it could be otherwise. I was bewildered and lost, wondering what would happen to my country now that Indira Gandhi was dead. Little was I to know that the best minds in the country were ill equipped to deal with that question at that point. Truly puzzling for me was the fact that except for her Congress I cronies, there was no massive outpouring of grief by the Indian masses. It seemed like people were almost relieved to be able to close shops and go home. The goals she had pursued left deep scars in the country’s communal, regional and political framework. She had liked to impose her power. One reason why people thought she was indispensable was because she had created problems, which she claimed nobody could solve except her, but time showed she was just as incapable. The Sikh problem finally ended up consuming her. She had created a cabinet of men so dependent on her that all they did was sob, cry, wring their hands helplessly and curse the Sikh community for placing them in this quandary. The worthless cabinet instead of steadying the administration sowed seeds for a genocide that would horrify and mutilate a nation forever. My country surpassed itself in brutality. The concept of riots was not a new one to me, several times in my childhood, our maid who took us to school would hurry us home saying we need to get home before the ‘dangal’ started. I was told that ‘Dangal’ is when Hindus and Muslims fight, I had little clue why they fought and what they fought for, my sole concern was to get home as quickly as possible. My father would bring home literature from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which would parody the fiction of Muslims reproducing faster than Hindus one of their popular cartoons was one which depicted a Hindu Brahmin family, a couple with two children with the slogan “Hum Do Humare Do” (we two, our two) followed by a Muslim family one man with his four wives and 24 children with “Hum paanch Humare Pacchees” (We 5, our 25). My father likes to say that pretty soon the Muslim population would overrun us and they would convert this country into another Pakistan, to my mother’s credit she scoffed at his beliefs and taught me religious diversity was important for a country to grow. Riots seemed like a perfectly normal thing while growing up, what I was not prepared for was genocide.

November 2, 1984 started off normally and then we started hearing news of Sikhs being butchered in the streets of Delhi, I could not imagine Pune being a part to this nonsense, I had always prided myself on being in the most sensible part of the country, according to the usual separatist nonsense that was preached by my elders, north Indians were barbarians. But I was in a for a rude awakening, my winter vacation had set in and I was reading my copy of the latest Chandamama and a romantic story of a handsome prince marrying his beautiful princess after rescuing her from the demon captor transported me into a magical land where I rescued Manpreet and she fell hopelessly in love with me and acquiesced to my desires and we lived happily ever after. On hearing women screaming outside, I ran outside and I was horrified, terrified, scarred for life by what I saw outside. I saw my darling, my beautiful Manpreet, a great part of her salwar torn thus exposing a part of her brassiere and her midriff, wailing piteously trying to run away from a crowd of crazed young men. I was rooted to the ground, watching helplessly as the monsters surrounded her, till I could not see anybody or anything. I could not quite understand what they were doing to her but her terrible screams brought tears to my eyes. My Muslim neighbor was probably the only one who saw my tears and he took me by my shoulder and led me into his house and gave me some water, the water stuck in my throat. I wanted to kill those bastards for hurting my love; I wanted to slaughter them all. I walked outside in a daze after what seemed like an eternity. The men had dispersed, they had their fill of entertainment for the day.I saw blood on the road and I hoped they had not killed her, I prayed silently and hard to God to keep her alive for me, I promised god I would take good care of her, I would take her away from here, I did not know where except that I wanted to get her away from here. I was filled with a terrible illogical anger at all existence and hoped God would destroy this whole damned planet, how could men perpetrate such horrors on one another? I looked at her house and saw her mother in the window. She had a resigned look on her face. I was to learn later what that look had signified .The fact that I had been the last one to see her would fill me with a terrible guilt at my inability to prevent the tragedy that was to take place.

I was to learn new words that day; rape, zabardasti, balaatkaar . The elderly Muslim gentleman had mentioned to his wife in a sorrowful voice “They did zabardasti on that poor helpless girl and her mother”. The maid who worked at our house and Manpreet’s informed my mother, “The crowd did balaatkaar over Manpreet and Simran bai. Manpreet’s father and uncle had taken their ailing mother to America the previous week for open-heart surgery. Kabirji’s wife and kids were visiting their grandparents in Nanded. So Simran bai and Manpreet were alone in the house when the crowd broke the door down.” Later on in the day my mother would inform my father “The crowd raped the poor girl on the road”. My Hindi was reasonable enough to understand that zabardasti meant forcibly whereas I had no idea what balaatkaar meant and certainly no idea what rape meant. I looked up rape in the Websters Universal College dictionary and it informed in black on white in cold precise language that it was “The unlawful act of forcing a female to have sexual intercourse”. Big words for a 11 year old, till that point of time sex was a dirty word which would get my hind beaten off if my mother realized that I had heard it let alone utter it. If sex was something that terrible as was inflicted on Manpreet then maybe my mother was justified in keeping me away from it. I looked up Sexual Intercourse and it said it was “Genital contact or coupling between individuals especially one involving the penetration of the Penis into the Vagina”. Looking up penis told me that it was the male organ of copulation and vagina was the female organ of copulation. Looking up copulation told me that it was sexual intercourse. In frustration I dropped the dictionary and decided to be brave enough and asked my mother what rape meant. She was horrified, but she stuttered and told me that it was something bad men did to women. Then I asked her if it hurts the woman terribly, she looked at me silently and after a long pause nodded sadly. I had seen faces that I recognized in that gruesome collection of monsters that had surrounded my Manpreet and had known that some of them had been the ones who would whistle at her and pass lewd comments. I could not help wondering at the futility of the whole episode. Manpreet had not killed Indira Gandhi, why did they have to do this to her? Had her family been involved in this? Somebody in the crowd had yelled “Is chootni ke chacha videsh mein rehte hai. Bhainchut log, Amricca aur Lundun mein jaake yeha paisa bhijwake aatank failate hain. ”(This bitch’s uncles live in America. Sisterfuckers, They go to America and London and send money to sponsor terrorism here.). Did her uncles sponsor terrorism? I had seen both of them and they were happy go lucky people. I cannot imagine these people sponsoring terrorism. Love makes one go blind. I refused to accept any of these allegations and deep down I realized that my Manpreet had been exploited, I did not know why then but I would realize it later on in life.

Late at night I went to our backyard where I could see her backyard and hoped she would come out and I would tell her that I love her and will marry her and treat her good and never ever ‘rape’ her. I waited for a long time but nobody came out. After what seemed like an eternity of contemplation, I saw a flickering red light in one of the windows and then I heard screams. A terrifying fear gripped me and I rushed inside and screamed at my dad to look at what was happening at Manpreet’s house. My dad came along and one look told him that something terrible was happening and I knew something was wrong because I have never seen such a look on my dad’s face, he rushed out of the house and ran over and into Manpreet’s house, I followed him. No matter how gruesome the morning had been, it had not prepared me for what I was to see, I saw my Manpreet hanging from the ceiling fan. Her mother was on fire and the light from her flaming body cast ominous shadows of Manpreet’s lifeless body on the wall yonder. I could see her dead eyes staring at me, in reproach for not having saved her, for having abandoned her. My father rushed into one of the bedrooms and got hold of a blanket and he gripped Simran tightly in that blanket, by this time my mother had followed us and she helped my father subdue her and put out the fire. After putting out the fire my mother rushed to the Marwaris businessmen who had the only phone on the street and called the ambulance. During all this pell mell, I stood staring at my dead beloved. Her eyes carved themselves into my soul and I never did hear the ambulance, I hit the ground before that. So the ambulance carried two people back to the hospital. I went into shock and did not recover till late December. My mother said those days were terrible days, I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming for Manpreet, screaming vengeance , swearing the filthiest of abuses.

Before I ever recovered, Ajit Singh came back to India, consigned his daughter to flames and got his hapless wife discharged, thanked my parents for saving his wife’s life and informed them that he was leaving Pune for good. He had decided to go back to Chandigarh. My mother told me that he spent some time hovering over my bed and walked away with tears in his eyes. Shortly later Kabir Singh, Ajit Singh’s younger brother sold the house to a land developer and left with his family for Chandigarh.

I am an Indian before anything else. I was raised a Hindu but though my father liked to oppress me with his religious beliefs, he was open minded enough and took me to mosques, durgahs(shrines for Muslim saints), churches, gurudwaras so I was very fascinated with the freedom that Hinduism allowed me, I read the Gita , the Bible , the story of Mohammad , the story of Zoraster, Nanak in comic books early on and I was proud of being a Hindu . My religious freedom was the reason why I would burst with pride when I heard “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (Say you are a Hindu with pride). Our street was called Jews Street, my neighbors were Muslim on one side and Christians on the other, next to the Muslim neighbors was the Church of Holy Angels, a block beyond the church were two Muslim mosques. On the side of the Christians was a Synagogue; a block away was a Hanuman temple and a Ganesha temple beyond that. To the left of the Hanuman temple was a Parsi Fire temple. This was the religious diversity that for me was possible only in India , till that day I just knew with the confidence of a 11 year old know it all that only in a Hindu setting could so many other religions prosper peacefully. The vision of that marauding mob and their shameful behavior dissipated my pride, which was to be replaced with an apologetic sense of regret for my religious identity eventually to be replaced with a terrible hatred for all religions and any form of segregation.

1984 scarred me permanently; the first love of my love was snatched away from me so tragically. 30 years later, I still cannot forget Manpreet; she lives on with me in my heart, in my mind, in my soul. Her eyes seem to me as if they are watching me, extorting me to fulfill the promise of human life that was so coldly denied to her, the promise of life snuffed out by a petty vindictive society who wanted to satisfy the primitive urge for sacrificial blood is a thought too terrible to contemplate even today. I have become a propounder of the death penalty for rape. Though I was too young to understand what rape meant, I did realize that it was rape that destroyed my first love. I have learnt since then that Indian law does prosecute rapists, but I have never seen policemen take away any of the bastards who forced themselves on an innocent defenseless girl on that fateful day.

Today , I am in Mumbai visiting India after a long time. I have moved to a small German city called Berchtesgaden where I have managed to fall into the good graces of Andrei Makarov who is supposedly no relation to the famous gun manufacturer . Andrei has a lot of friends in Mumbai , powerful friends . He is doing this favor for me today , he did recommend that I should stay away but I have to see this , this is justice on my terms , engineered by me . I am at a Shiv Sena rally , the main speaker is Vinayak Rangade . 30 years ago he was a congress I hoodlum who instigated that mob on that fateful day . The court cases have been dropped and I have watched in silent fury as he went from strength to strength . He has recently managed to acquire for himself another trophy wife who is 30 years younger, the erstwhile husband conveniently fell down an open elevator shaft and Rangades’ wife committed suicide by shooting herself in the right temple . She has never been known to handle guns and she was a south paw . My original request to Andrei to kidnap Rangade and transfer him to a secluded warehouse was deemed as too dangerous given his security detail . I had planned to work on him with a special set of tools that I had acquired from former SS and Gestapo men over Ebay.  Instead what I would get is an marksman with an exploding bullet that was targeted to torture without killing . I had insisted that the shot not be a kill wound. I want this man to suffer . I look around impatiently as Rangade starts his speech “My hindu brothers and sisters ,…..”