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Thursday, 12 April 2018

# 56 - Loadshedding - ek purani katha

A couple of months back, there was a power cut in my area. It was unusual given that during my half-a-decade stay in Mumbai, this had never happened.

The heat bothered me, the lack of wifi connectivity bothered me, the darkness bothered me, but what bothered me the most was that I had nothing to do.

So, I left my flat and the building, and walked around in circles around my society.

Dark and quiet but for the sound of vehicles carried over from the main road.




I wasn't alone.

Hordes of others had taken my approach and come out, we shuffled along slowly, zombie-like, our eyes unaccustomed to the blackness that the moon failed to penetrate. The uncertainty regarding what was to be done had drawn us out.

Almost like a post-apocalyptic event.


Someone commented that a transformer nearby had given up after years of dedicated service, and work was on to repair it, it shouldn't take more than 45 minutes.

Reassured, I walked on.

Load-shedding.

How long since I had used the term?

Growing up in a town near Kolkata, loadsheddings were a daily occurrence.

I remember that we got a generator, and subsequently an inverter, but before then, I had grown accustomed to it.

It wasn't unusual for the power-cuts to last an entire night. No fan, no AC, all we had was hand-fans, serving the dual purpose of a fan, and the weapon of choice for my mother on my exam result days.

Back before I knew what Murphy's law was, I knew the load-shedding law.

Exciting cricket match, one over to go, 6 runs needed, (yes, that was nail-biting), the power-cut WILL happen.

The night before exams, load-shedding will happen, and will last longer than usual. Note that this was used as an excuse come result day.

Peak of summer, with newspapers declaring that this has been the hottest summer in ten years, load-shedding will last the longest on the hottest day.

Just as you enter the loo to do your business and you are just starting to aim....well, you get the idea.

And while I don't know the scientific name of that insect that you see in the rainy season, I can describe it as the one which loses its wings, a lot. In times of loadshedding, they used to gather by thousands at the sight of a source of light, and since the light used to be from the lanterns and candles, you had those pesky little things all around you.

So, god help you if you happen to be having dinner.

But, it wasn't all bad.

More often than not, along with the old hurricane lamp, out came the ludo board, and we as a family cherished that ludo time.


On the summer days when the odds of the power coming back seemed remote, we went to the terrace with our pillows and chatais and just lay down and looked at the stars, and then slept without a worry in the world.

Sometimes our neighbours were also up to the same thing and we had conversations from our rooftops. It was like yahoo chatrooms, with different discussions taking place simultaneously.


My father, otherwise a man who uses his words with extreme economy, for some reason regaled us with stories on nights like those.


It could be because of the age-gap, or because of where you are from....but maybe you haven't faced load-shedding like I have.

And I am not sure if that's entirely a good thing.

I came back from my sepia-tinted memories and decided to call my parents, the number of zombies around me had increased in the meantime.

I asked my mother about load shedding and she confirmed what I feared, they had stopped decades back.

I asked if we could sleep on the terrace when I go home for Dusshera and she asked why would we want to do that, besides, it wasn't safe anymore, with all the crimes and robberies in the area.

I asked if we still had a hurricane lantern because it had been ages since I saw an actual one besides the ones seen in decor stores and village themed restaurants, or of course as an election symbol.

She said she was watching TV and that I should call later.

I hung up.

Someone around me commented that fixing the transformer would take longer than anticipated.

Thankfully, I was still getting a 4g connection and had more than 70 percent battery left on my cell phone.

I downloaded an app for ludo and started playing.

Image from here and here.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

# 55 - Guest Post - My way or the highway

My dear friend Vijay Purohit has written a piece which I felt is quite topical and needed to be shared....

And if it's going to be shared might as well be via www.uselessramblings.com - the blog could use some gravity.

And now, Vijay's words:
.......

The Bhagwat Gita begins with calling Kurukshetra (the battlefield) as“Dharmakshetra”. So what is “dharma”? Shri Krishna goes on to describe Dharma to Arjun as “righteous duty”. As a Kshatriya, it was Arjun’s duty to remain on the battlefield and fight the enemy. Krishna even asks Arjun how at this hour the illusion (of running away from the battlefield) struck him?

The death of Karna

The purpose of setting out what Dharma is or rather ought to be is to comment upon the extremely distorted & politically convenient connotation the word has achieved. With the evolution of time, various sects evolved world over. To call such sects as “religion” is an anomaly in itself!

The present situation or atmosphere of disallowing dissent of any sort is a dangerous development which our country has witnessed over the past 5-6 years, with ease of access to mobile phones, social media and the internet in general. Every scientific invention has two sides to it -while the internet is something which has completely revolutionised information & technology globally, it now appears to be a double-edged sword which has the potential to cause damages at various levels.

Ours has been a civilization which has historically allowed dissent. 

I am reminded of a crippled Ashtavakra who could just walk into King Janaka’s court and challenge his most celebrated scholar on shastras, Bandi. Ashtavakra was laughed at because of his physical condition but once he defeated Bandi in a debate, King Janaka bowed down to him and requested Ashtavakra to teach him the mysteries of life. Or take the example of Karna who openly challenged Dronacharya’s best pupil Arjun in an open arena. Despite killing Ravana’s son Akshay Kumar, it was felt that Hanuman should not be killed because he is a messenger of his master! It has been a civilisation which has accepted contrary views rather than discarding them. Our civilization has been inclusionary and not exclusionary.

I very much second Justice Markendeya Katju when he says that ours is a “Sanskrit-Urdu” culture. 
I personally have had the privilege of growing in a household where on one hand Valmiki’s Ramayan was perhaps the most revered book - where Lord Ram was revered as an epitome of principles and considered a perfect example of an ideal son while on the other Mirza Ghalib’s Bazicha-E-Atfaal hai duniya mere aage was also wholeheartedly accepted. While the humour of P.G Wodehouse was adored, the depth of Sahir Ludhianvi was also talked about. It was (and is) a household where Kafka, Harishankar Parsai and Saadat Hasan Manto were talked about with equal vigour. 

My father had this amazing capability of enjoying (or rather accepting) two completely different ideas with the same zeal or neutrality. If this is termed as being “liberal”, I have no qualms about being called one.

Recently, noted author & novelist (!?) Chetan Bhagat wrote an open letter wherein he alleged that liberals are those who belong to a privileged class of society, go to luxurious & expensive schools, have ‘hot dogs’ for lunch and dinner and so on. That I don’t read Chetan Bhagat and don’t consider him to be someone worth reading is my opinion, however, his understanding of being “liberal” is completely flawed. We as a country are (or rather were) essentially liberal and it has got nothing to do with the school we went to or the food we ate.

On the other hand, we do have a so-called “urban elite” class which talks about political theories and concepts, purport to be the ideologue of the masses. However, till now the urban elite was not ready to let the masses speak their mind. Why? Because the urban elite had the language!

The venom that is being spewed on the social media today is a juxtaposition of a flawed understanding of being liberal and also the regression that the not-so-liberal-and-elite have faced.
Now they have a medium, a platform and there is no one to control their voice (in fact it is being encouraged). Therefore, the result is to abuse one and all including women and increased use of words such as presstitutes, libtards, commies. It is also a reflection of their mindset. It appears that battle-lines have been drawn and whosoever has a contrary political opinion or raises a voice is suddenly on the other side of the wall. 

There is just black and white and no grey. “Constructive criticism” is a concept long forgotten.

We belong to a civilisation where a cow had the potential to turn an angry, greedy and egotist king into a supreme spiritual master. It is believed that while still a King, Vishwamitra was amazed at the powers of the cow Kamdhenu, using which Sage Vashishta fed Vishwamitra and his army. Vashista battled with Vishwamitra to get the holy cow but was defeated because of sheer spiritual veneration of Vashishta. Vishwamitra vowed to acquire spiritual powers which would make him great. Eventually, Vishwamitra became a “Brahmarshi”. 

Today, self-proclaimed cow protection groups are lynching and killing people in the name of the cow! I support vegetarianism and do not fancy the idea of killing and eating animals. But that certainly does not give me a license to lynch and kill people. The ideal way to put forth this view is to increase awareness and tell people about the probable ill-effects of eating animals.

The notion of nationalism, it appears is under a siege. A straight jacketed formula is given and anything and everything outside that formula is considered “anti-national”. So if I say that it’s absurd to compare a soldier with someone standing in a line to withdraw money from the ATM, I automatically fall into the “anti-national” bracket. If I question one step of the ruling disposition, the ones supporting that point of view will quickly quip “what about the last government”? Whataboutism is another thing which has grown manifolds and it is abundantly visible and available on the internet.

Online abuse is something which will only grow in magnitude but what worries me is the standardization of the entire concept of liberty. The National anthem, soldiers, Pakistan and now arts & cinema are few things which have become linear topics and concepts. There cannot exist, a view contrary to what is being dispensed by the ruling disposition and the so-called right wing. Take, for instance, the case of the national anthem. Ever since my childhood, whenever it is being played, I automatically stand up and also request those around me to stand. But suddenly, I am being told that I have to stand up, even if it is a 9-12 show of a movie. If someone tries to find logic in it, you are termed as “anti-national”.

We will try and delve deeper into the complexity of the so-called outrage that has captivated the country and the likely consequences which one can expect in the times to come. 

....................

Mandatory Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the guest-author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the blog's primary author. 

Vijay Purohit blogs at The Narrative.

Image from here.



Sunday, 8 October 2017

# 54 - Of Insans, aunties, blue whales, and X years of the iPhone

TV reporters have never had it better, the last couple of months have provided enough fodder for news channels to pick and choose. 

No need of 'JUST IN: Amitabh Bachchan catches a cold' type of news tickers, there's Kangana Ranaut and Hrithik Roshan, Blue Whale, Ram Rahim Insaan and his recently arrested daughter, Omprakash Mishra, and last but definitely not the least, the iPhone X.

No, scratch that, given that stellar list, the iPhone X is least likely to grab the eyeballs, despite the Face ID.

Rest assured that this is not an exhaustive list, regular features continue to occupy their slots – the complaining politicians, the ‘y we need this tho’ of the month (this month it’s the Bullet Train), Arnab Goswami, the Mumbai rains, the Mumbai trains, and so on.

But back to the main highlights.

Dhinchak Pooja is last season’s stuff, it's Omprakash Mishra who's raking up the YouTube views counter.

And I have to admit, ‘Bol naa Aunty aoo, kya’ is catchy. 



There was some hullabaloo about the song dissing (main bhi rapper) the concept of consent, and therefore, open letters were written, effigies were burnt and trolls (from both sides) activated.

And of course, activists made their own videos saying that trends such as this should not be encouraged. 

Bullshit.

Sure, the song is crass, has little or no production values, and is probably sexist.

But I swear on my rapidly receding hairline, I didn't even care for the lyrics or tried to decipher them until I read the article about it.

And on second thoughts, are your sensibilities on personal leave when the Honey Singhs and Badshahs of the world release their tracks? 

Bas sab campaigning mere Omprakash ke saath hi? Am I going to be the only one to stand up for the underdog with the 2 megapixel camera and the 30-day free-trial of auto-tune? 
  
Speaking of underdogs, remember the time when Apple used to be one?

Me neither.

I have written about iPhones in the past, and like every year, this year too, hundreds and thousands have written it off even before it’s released, and I am confident that like every year, this year too, millions will go on to purchase it. 

But, how much longer? Sure, you are rewarded for staying in the Apple ecosystem, I love the Apple Watch but I can't have it since I use an Android (also, I am saving my kidney for something really special).

Let's face it, the phones are still good, but ‘good’ doesn't cut it anymore, especially when you were the one who set the bar so damn high in the first place.

Talking poop and clucking like a chicken is great, but that Face ID faux pas right after dollops of self-praise and the repeated 'you've never seen anything like this before' would have made Steve Jobs a very, very angry man had he been alive. 

And what's with the X being pronounced Ten? Remember that Doordarshan goof-up when the anchor referred to Xi Jinping as "Eleven Jingping"?

I demand she be reinstated!
                       
I wish that was the only case of terrible nomenclature, but they have come out with something which they call 'Air power'. 

And I thought OnePlus was unfortunately named.

Air power sounds like something I produce after I have had a can of beans.

Do better, Apple, Your-die hard fans deserve it. And while at it, they deserve bundled air-pods and fast-chargers too.

And now, to address the elephant in the room.

I, of course, refer to Dr. Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan (hereinafter referred to as ‘Dr. S’ for the sake of brevity and levity).

I had seen the first MSG movie at a PVR with a friend whose name I shall not reveal, but Anand (Okay, no surname then) and I knew that we were witnessing cinematic history being created in front of us when Dr. S turned a bullet threatening to blow his brains out into a.....pink flower that matched his lungi. Not content with this feat, he followed it up by breaking the fourth wall and telling us viewers, “Koi hum e sant kehta hai, koi kehta hai farishta, koi kehta hai guru, toh koi kehta hai bhagwan ... lekin hum toh hai sirf ek....insaan,” (Some call me a saint, some call me an angel, some call me a teacher, and some call me god ... but I'm just a....human).

Pavitra Rishta


Yeah right! You didn’t fool us for a second, Dr. S. We knew there was something off about you then, and it was only much later we came to know that your crimes weren’t just restricted to creating the MSG Series and ‘Jattu Engineer’.

But that’s been discussed enough already, I am curious about a different phenomenon altogether.

Why did the media suddenly get so obsessed about Honeypreet, over Dr. S?
Sure, she was absconding and all, but showing her life history and interviewing anyone and everyone connected to her at the cost of ignoring other insights into Dr.S’s diabolical schemes (allegedly: tunnels from fatcave leading to girls hostel, skeletons being unearthed, etc.) was surely a tad excessive.

And even though you know why, I’ll spell it out 

M-U-C-K. Muck.

We love dirt - on other people. It’s why the media loved going on and on about the Sheena Bora murder case, delving into details and at times creating it, it’s why they are still trying to make money out of the Nanavati case, and it’s why shows like Bigg Boss sell. 

Why does this shit sell though? I am not sure, but I am as guilty as you are, I can tell you that - I am trying to get you to read my blog by using similar tactics, ain’t I?

Now the last one, promise.

The first time I heard that 'Blue Whale' is a dangerous trend that's going viral, I thought it was a Honey Singh song fat-shaming someone.

Then the newspapers gave it more coverage, and the first thing it reminded me of was a Black Mirror episode (‘Shut up and Dance’, if you must know). 

Off-late, India has become a hot spot for these dubious records, most selfie-related deaths, most blue whale-related incidents, rape capital of the world; we have built quite a reputation.

I am not entirely sure how the blue whale thing works, but from what I have read, it involves tasks that one has to complete and prove to some unknown entity on the internet. 

The tasks include, getting up at the middle of the night, drawing a blue whale on one's hand by making cuts, watching a horror movie at 2am, etc. etc. culminating into....suicide.

Wait, what?

The guy who claimed to have created the thing had been arrested quite some time back and he's said that we should be thankful to him for his service because he is cleansing the society by getting rid of 'biological waste'. 

Sounds like a villain straight from the DC universe. 

But every day the news reports get weirder and weirder.

There's apparently a kid who tried to commit suicide and when stopped he said he was promised one crore rupees if he successfully committed the act.

I repeat, this kid was told that if he managed to commit suicide, he would be given Rs. 10000000.

Perhaps understandably, he was unhappy when he was stopped from taking his life. 

I wonder what he planned on doing with the money. After-life-after-party?

But this is not a laughing matter, what the hell is wrong with the kids?  Weren't they supposed to be getting smarter?  

But it's not about being smart, it's about being unhappy, being vulnerable, believing that no one cares about you and nothing good will ever come out of your life.

We all feel like shit sometimes, age has nothing to do with it, but when you have teenagers and adolescents feeling this way, and the people around are too busy playing candy crush, reading the latest gossip about Honeypreet or wondering how Kangana will strike back now, that's when the affected persons become susceptible to games like 'Blue Whale'.

I am no Dr. Phil, but I have a hunch that It's not just 'Blue Whale', emotionally vulnerable people are more likely to harm themselves, 'Blue Whale' is just a push, it might as well be Sharma Ji Ka Beta who convinces the victim that there's nothing left in his life. 

Social (media) validation is as crucial as ever in this time and age, we go to unbelievable extents in our quest for likes and shares - The duck face is too passe, how about a selfie with a tiger instead, or maybe from the top of a building, standing on a ledge. That would surely spike up the likes? 

The Blue Whale game is probably a twisted, f'd up sort of validation - out there, someone or something pretends to understand you, befriends you, promises you rewards when you complete a challenge, and before you know it, you become a slave to it, and then it reinforces your belief that you are no good, that your life doesn't make any difference to anyone out there. That, you are, truly alone and will always be, so why not, just end it all? 

Sounds crazy? That's because it is. But maybe the joker was onto something when he uttered those lines in 'The Dark Knight'.

Madness is a lot like gravity, all you need is a little push.

Take a good look around you, ladies and gentlemen, it's a mad world out there, and if anything, it is only getting worse. 

Don't believe your friendly blue themed social media site that gives you the impression that everybody except you is leading perfect lives, we are all miserable in our not-so-unique ways. 


So the next time you see a teenager pouting, or flaunting a perfect smile for the camera, take a moment to consider how happy he/she actually is,...

And yes, look out for the cuts.

See you when the next fad hits the fan....

Video from here, image from here.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

# 53 - Short Story - The Wait

It couldn’t have been timed better.

For months the temperature had been rising and even though our collective wish for a drop in the mango prices had been granted, we now longed for the rains and an air conditioner in our flat.

The latter was definitely out of our budget, so Karthik and I focussed on the rains.

And that noon, almost when we had given up hope, it rained. And how.

For hours the rains pounded everything that stood in its way, people caught unaware ran helter-skelter, kids danced and splashed the muddy water until their parents grabbed them by the ears and forcibly took them home, the people working in offices looked at the world outside their glass prisons with equal measures of awe and fear - most hadn’t brought their umbrellas.


The monsoons had finally arrived.

We stood on the balcony and enjoyed the sight, both of us had left office early, but the delay in the trains meant that we had reached well past our usual time.

“Aren’t you glad that it’s a Friday?” asked Karthik.

I smiled, “Glad? Freaking ecstatic! The best day of the week meets the best time of the year.”

Karthik and I shared the flat, we had studied together in college and now worked at the same company, and to the best of my knowledge, earned the same salary.

Which, in a city like Mumbai, was too low for our liking.

But even my financial woes couldn’t get the better of me this evening. Of course, the fact that we had received our salaries a couple of days earlier meant that we could afford a little luxury.

“Bring out the booze,” I declared, and went to take out the ice tray myself (yes, our landlord was benevolent enough to grant us a fridge).

We dragged out a couple of chairs to the balcony and poured ourselves a drink.

“Cheers”, said Karthik and we clinked our glasses and took a quick sip.

The rains had finally slowed down to a more comfortable drizzle, and we enjoyed the atmosphere in silence. This was an old society, fairly large by today’s standards, there were trees and open spaces which are usually a dream for most middle-class Mumbaikars. It was probably this luxury that made the original owners resist the temptation of re-development.  

“Not bad huh?” said Karthik, staring outside, looking at the tree that stood just outside our building, overlooking the street.

“Not bad at all.”

It was the kind of evening that made you want to write poetry, I for one couldn’t and thus made do with memories of a better time.

I wondered if Mansi was thinking of me.

Post our break up shortly after college, she too had shifted to Mumbai, I hadn’t met her yet but from what I had heard from a few friends she was doing well. Better than me at least. I knew that she didn’t stay far from where we lived, and I always hoped that one of these days we would bump into each other and would get back together.

Wishful thinking? Yes.

Impossible? Most likely, because my over-smart friends had also let me know that she was dating someone from her office.

I got up, “where did you keep the cigarettes?”

Karthik looked at me, puzzled, “What do you mean? I thought you were getting them.”

After a few minutes of heated discussions, I was able to convince Karthik that I had told him “Cigarette le aa tu” (You get the cigarettes) and not “Cigarette laya hu” (I have got the cigarettes).
Grumbling to himself, Karthik grabbed his umbrella and wallet. “I doubt that Naresh bhai’s shop would be open in this weather.”

“Oh come on, it’s only 9pm, his place is open till 10, and even if it’s not, you need to walk just a hundred meters more to find another store.”

Still complaining, Karthik took his own sweet time before he left.

I got back to the balcony and resumed drinking.

Dinner would be here soon; courtesy ‘Basu’s Tiffin Service’ – meaning on a good day - food that tasted like yesterday’s leftovers, and on bad days, well, we dared not ask how fresh the food was.

But I couldn’t bring myself to eat a preparation of an unknown vegetable with dry, papad-like chapattis tonight, so I called Basu and cancelled the meal, and not quite done - I impulsively ordered Chicken-taka-tak pizzas for both of us.

I was drinking as slowly as possible, savouring every sip, the rains had picked up again, and though it was still beautiful outside, it had a gloomy sight to it.

My thoughts veered back to Mansi; the tragedy of relationships is that the person who calls it off only associates the time spent with the sad moments, and the other person only recalls the happier bits.
We had spent four years together, and all it had taken for her to abandon it was one single argument. And she hadn’t looked back, just ended it and moved on like it had meant nothing to her.  

Was it possible that she had been having an affair on the sly before we broke up?

I shook my head; I was getting drunk.  Trying to think of other thoughts, I found myself unable to do so, ‘goddamn this weather, and goddamn this alcohol’.

Thankfully the bell rang, I could do with a cigarette now.

But it was the pizza.

It was past ten, Karthik had left more than an hour back. It shouldn’t have taken him this long. I called him up but the somewhat ironical tune of “Smoke on the water” playing in the room told me that the idiot had forgotten to take his cell phone. 

Sighing, I started with my pizza, hoping that by the time he returned, his would still be warm.

Another hour slipped by.

It was getting late enough to be worried. I looked down from the balcony. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the cool breeze no longer felt soothing. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back...

There was no reason for anyone to knock, the flat had a perfectly working doorbell, Karthik knew about it too.

From a faraway corner of my mind, something warned me, ‘this doesn’t seem right’.

I walked slowly and hesitantly, and before my brain could tell me otherwise, I flung open the doors.

No-one.

A chill travelled down my spine.

Every part of me forbid it, but I couldn’t help myself, with my heart beating as loudly as a sledgehammer, I poked my head out and took a quick look on either side, the hallway was empty.
I shut the doors hurriedly.

“It was the wind,” I said aloud, trying to convince myself. The rains had turned positively sinister by then, it looked like it wouldn’t stop until everything and everyone were destroyed.

Karthik should have been back by now...no matter how many shops were closed and how far he had to go, it shouldn’t have taken him this long.

Unless something had happened to him, something bad.

Another flash of lightning, much closer this time, I waited for the sound of thunder that would inevitably follow, and when it did it reverberated within the four walls of our modest flat.

And almost on cue, all the lights went off.

Darkness.

What perfect timing.

I made my way to the balcony, the street lights were gone too. There was a power-cut in the area.

Another knock on the door, there was no mistaking it this time.

I hesitated, but then relented as soon as I heard the familiar voice.

“Come on man, open the door, will you?”

It was Karthik.

After some fumbling, I located the latch and opened the door, Karthik stepped in, bringing a puddle of water along with him.

Though I couldn’t see him clearly, I could make out that he was thoroughly drenched.

“What happened to you? Where’s your umbrella? Why are you so fucking late?”

“Naresh’s shop was closed alright, so were the others, I had to go a long way. Forget the umbrella, it’s ruined, almost couldn’t make it back myself. Do you have any idea how much water-logging has taken place by the main road? It feels as if it’s been raining for months.”

I admit it was a bit selfish of me, but I had to ask, else all of Karthik’s efforts would have gone in vain, “the cigarettes must have gotten soaked too, huh?” I said, trying my best to sound as nonchalant as possible.

“I was too clever for that. After all this, couldn’t afford to get it wet. Protected it with my life.” 

Karthik revealed a plastic pouch, within which he kept the cigarette box.

We sat on the balcony, two figures in the shadows, I took out two cigarettes, and offered one to Karthik.

I lit my cigarette and passed the matchstick to Karthik, and that’s when I saw it.

The obscurity provided by the power-cut and the night had been diminished by the flame from the matchstick, and though the light provided by it was faint, it revealed enough.

Karthik had lit his cigarette, and puffed on it gently, as he did smoke came out from a hole in his head where there had been once his eye-socket.
His skull was smashed in and chunks of brain were visible, his jaw was crooked and barely hanged on to the rest of his face, he was drenched but not with water, blood dripped from every portion of his body, and his hand was set at an impossible angle the sights of which I had never seen.

Never seen on a living person that is.

And then the flame died.

And as I started to lose consciousness, I heard him say, “Sorry buddy. I hate to have done this to you. But desperately wanted to have a smoke with you before I left.”

***
It was probably the chirping of the birds that had woken me up.
The rains had stopped and even with the cloudy skies, I could make out that the sun was coming up.
Still drowsy, I realised that I had fallen asleep on the balcony itself, and then having recalled the events from last night, I woke up fully with a start.

The power must have been back because all the lights were on, but there was no sign of Karthik.

Was it really a bad dream? Where was Karthik?

And then I saw the ashtray on the other chair. I remembered having emptied it last night - before we had poured our drinks.

There were two cigarettes on it, one barely smoked, and the other – enjoyed right down to the end.

***
HIT AND RUN CASE IN KANDIVALI WEST – 1 DEAD

Mumbai: A man was killed when he was hit by a speeding car sometime on Friday evening.
Police said the accident occurred around 11 p.m. on S.V. Road when the victim was attempting to cross the road. Based on eyewitness reports, a white sedan is suspected to have caused the accident and had fled the scene. The victim was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital where he was declared dead before admission.
The victim has been identified as Karthik Sharma, 24, and was said to have been an employee of Bestsource Private Limited. He was living with his colleague in Kandivali in a shared apartment. What is strange is that the flatmate has been under severe trauma and shock since the incident occurred and has been unable to speak since then. He is currently under medical supervision. Medical experts say that while it isn’t unusual for relatives or loved ones of an accident victim to undergo extreme stress, it is very rare for someone to completely stop communicating. 

Image from here.


Monday, 11 September 2017

# 52 - Confessions of a Serial Prank Caller - Part 3 (Conclusion) - Karma isn't a nice lady

Read Part - 1 here.

Read Part - 2 here.

I made my final comeback on 2nd July, 2005. How do I remember the date? Well, let’s just say that it was all over the news. 

While returning from college vacations, we got stuck at Surat on 2nd July, 2005.

Why?  You probably recall 26th July, 2005, the day when Mumbaikars were half expecting Noah's ark to show up somewhere in the city.  

Mumbai's distant cousin Surat was facing the same situation weeks earlier.  

Seven of us were stuck together, holed-up in a small room for three days - with little to do and even lesser to talk about, our only source of entertainment was All India Radio. 

Yes, it was bad. 

Luckily, we were getting cellular reception. 

I called up the customer care for my cellular service provider with respect to some issue, but me being me, I ended the call with, "bhaiya bahut bhookh laga hai, subaah se kuchh khaya nahin, ek pizza bhej dijiye na". O brother, I am starving and haven't had anything to eat since morning, please send a pizza".

There's apparently a Facebook group by that name (sans the ‘send pizza’ bit) that's immensely popular these days - some say it was started by the executive who had attended the call).  

The others found this quite hilarious and insisted that we do more calls. 

It was quite clever that way, calling up customer care people and pranking them. 

Sure, they had your phone number and knew your identity, but there's nothing wrong with asking questions of the moronic kind. I was already doing it in the classroom in any case.

What started with a random call in Surat continued well after we got back to college. 

And thus it began, all over again....



Samples:

"Mujhe duniya bhar mein free mein call karna hai...wo wala recharge kara do." I want to make calls the world over for free. Please activate the scheme.

- I am sorry, sir, we don't have any such scheme at present.

- “Arre kya bakwas kar rahe ho, mera padosi ka beta Bablu ne uska papa ke liye yeh scheme laga diya hai...ab din bhar ISD karte rehta hai. Main kyun nahin kar sakta?" Don’t bullshit me, my neighbour’s son has done it for his dad. Now he makes international calls all day long. How come I can’t do it?  

__

"Sharam aata hai mujhe.” I feel ashamed.

- I am sorry Sir?

- “Every other brand has celebrities endorsing. Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor. You have a dog. Please do something about it, people are making fun of you."

___

"Oye, score kya hai bata na." Oye, tell me the score.

- Sir, to know the cricket score please SMS CRI to -"

- "Par usme toh paisa lagta hai. Tere saamne toh compute khula hoga na...bata na baby...acha chal itna bas bata de Tendulkar khel raha hai ya out ho gaya". That takes money. You have a computer in front of you. Come on baby, just the score. Okay, fine, just tell me if Tendulkar is still playing or is he out.

And so on...

And just like that, I was back. 

Sure, the jokes were limited since I had only my cell-phone service provider's customer care number to call up and I was nowhere close to my former glory, but it didn't matter. The new audience lapped it all up and offered their cell-phones to have the same calls repeated for other networks.

Post dinner was prank call time every night. All I had to do was put the phone on loudspeaker and call the helpline, and the followers couldn't get enough. 

My fan following was growing and from a humble 'couple of guys' my sessions were now witnessed by 10-12 people at any given time, there were more who wanted to be involved but my roommate was never the accommodating sorts.

It didn't take long for it to stop though.

It was supposed to be a routine call. 

All I wanted to do was ask the customer care executive to tell me how to increase the brightness on my TV screen (the call, as usual, had been placed to my network service provider).

On being told that he wouldn't be able to help me out and I should instead call up the helpline of my TV company (I had told him that the brand was "Shaitan Danger" and no manual was given) I retorted that they were customer care, and since I was a customer and obviously needed care, he was supposed to help me - no matter what the query.

The guy at the other end stopped talking, even as I increased my decibel levels and complained about how in the 21st-century people had stopped helping others. 

"Shut up you idiot". He said all of a sudden.

The laughter in the room died instantly. Everyone looked at me, how would I respond to this? 

Trying my best to retain my composure, I said, "This was a test call to judge the efficiency and patience of the Customer Care Team. You have failed. You are required to submit your resignation tomorrow morning."

"Shut up", he said again. 

I hung up.

Everyone started laughing again but it wasn't at the prank. 

They were laughing AT me. 

"Boy, you had that coming."

"Serves you right"

"Prank-call king my ass."

As one by one they left my room, I realised that they had never been fans and I had never been their idol. These guys weren't my followers, I was just an average guy who was funny for a while. 

It's been around 12 years since my last prank call. It's pretty safe to say that I am not going back to that habit. 

But bear with me, there's still a wee bit left of my story.

Around four or five years ago. I got a call from my "bank".

I was told that my credit card points were expiring, and was asked if I would like to redeem them for cash or get gift vouchers.

"Show me the money", I said. 

I was asked to confirm my credit card number.

"Wait, isn't that confidential?"

The lovely voice at the other end laughed, and all seemed right with the world again. "Siiiir, that's public information. We need to verify that it's you."

"Of course, of course," I said, slightly embarrassed.

 My CVV number was next.

"Are you sure you need that?" I asked Aishwarya.

Yes, her name was Aishwarya, in my mind I saw Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the phone with me. 

"Yes Sir, we need to know the CVV in order to verify that it is you." The mild irritation I sensed in her voice made me immensely unhappy, the last thing I wanted to do was bother Aishwarya. 

Funnily enough, I never did get the cash-back, stranger still my credit card was used for some purchases that I didn't remember making. 

Aishwarya's phone was always switched off. 

The bank told me that it was a scam and my card was blocked.  

It took me time but I realised that I had become a victim of a prank call of the worst kind. The hunter had now become the hunted.

Present day.
Once a week some scammer tries his/her luck with me, I curse, plead, and occasionally threaten them, but it doesn't stop.

That's just the scams, there are genuine calls that come every day, some bank offering credit cards, some offering personal loans, competing cellular networks trying to lure me away, my own cellular network tempting me with data plans and free SIM cards, recorded voices of girls telling me that they are lonely and need a friend like me, etc. etc.

Just the other day, I got a call from some life-insurance guy.

"I am slightly busy", I had said. 

"Why?" he had asked. The question threw me off-balance, but he deserved a reply, I reckoned.

"Well, for one, I am in office, and on my way to a very important meeting," I said, more to myself than him.

But this guy was no novice.

"Is this meeting as important as your life? Sir, this is exactly why you need life insurance." 

I was reminded of myself. This guy had an answer to everything. Which meant that I had only one option left. 

I cut the call. 

Sure, everyone gets calls like this. But, I seem to get the wackier ones.

It's not a coincidence. I attribute it to Karma. I have disturbed a lot of people over the years, done some crazy shit, and what goes around comes around.

Hamare kismat mein champagne nahin, sirf pain hai.

- Rekha in ‘Bachke Rehna re Baba’ (2005)


But it was the call that I got last night that finally got to me. 
It made me wonder if it really was fate, or some other conspiracy altogether.

The call was from some unknown number, I picked it up and immediately heard giggling.

Multiple voices.

And then I heard it....
It sent a chill down my spine; because I had heard the words before, plenty of times, except I had heard them coming out of my own mouth. 

"Bhaisaab, mujhe bachaiye, mere kaamre mein ek bhoot hai". Save me. There’s a ghost in my room.





 [Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While certain institutions may have been mentioned, the characters and incidents are wholly imaginary.]