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Sole-Searching In Modern Times.

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”
– Rabindranath Tagore

Life is a sum total of experiences pleasant and unpleasant. Some experiences I would gladly embrace, such as a year-long vacation to Abu Ghraib prison, a 10 finger prostrate examination or being struck by lightning; others I passionately avoid, such as shoe shopping. But when faced with the prospect of going barefoot to work or being disowned by family over the condition of my current pair of shoes, I was left with no choice but to confront my fears.

I pulled on a brave face, played the Rocky theme tune inside my head and stepped into a shoe store at a local mall.

The display cases were stocked with approximately 10 million ways of retaining a woman’s attention span for over 5 minutes. I was partly confused and partly embarrassed just as Rakhi Sawant would be, if she were to accidentally stumble into a large book store.

I gingerly sat down in the only empty seat in the otherwise packed place, and performed a quick survey of my surroundings. On my left, a pretty lady was holding up a sandal barely 4 inches from her face. For over 10 minutes, she turned it in a clockwise, anticlockwise, clockwise, anticlockwise pattern like an experienced burglar cracking the combination dial of a safe. On my right, another lady was asking a salesman if they had any thing “more trendy”. Next to her was a large pile of shoes that she had tried and rejected, and her husband blankly staring at a far corner of the store in silent despair. As the minutes passed by, the pile of rejected shoes grew steadily, casting a ghastly shadow over the remnants of the shattered husband, and rousing the interest of local mountaineers that couldn’t afford a trip to Mount Everest.

A salesman spotted me sitting by myself and rushed over. He sported the Arindam Chaudhari fake grin and he shook my hand with the fervent emotion of a childhood friend at a school reunion. He appeared to be very concerned about my health, my family’s health, my social status, and my profession. When I told him that I worked as a software developer, he told me that he also had a computer at home. I nodded and smiled politely. The awkwardness reminded me of the time I’d gone shopping for underwear at a mall in Kerala and how the mall people had, in their praiseworthy wisdom, assigned a FEMALE salesperson at the men’s counter. I remember standing there, gaping like a chimp, as the lady stretched the underwear elastic to show its quality, and made a fist and punched the inside of the front to show its…flexibility probably. I remember how her colleagues giggled amongst themselves as I stood frozen in time during the most fascinating demonstration of underwear dynamics.

“So, what are you looking for?” he asked and shook me out of the flashback. I was tempted to say, “A surfboard, suntan lotion, a pair of floral-print shorts and some nasty waves up in this bitch” but I stopped short – after all, people aren’t expected to look for surfing equipment at a shoe store.

“Black formal shoes with laces please,” I finally said.

Now here’s the thing I discovered: shoe salesmen (or any other salesmen) refuse to acknowledge clear, specific requirements as a matter of principle. They take it as a personal insult if customers think that they know what they want. They laugh off your choice and your taste and show you 1,527 useless items that you didn’t ask for, and would never buy. Finally, when you reject each one of them while constantly reminding the salesman what you originally wanted, they scoff at you for wasting their precious time in showing you what you were missing out on.

Naturally, my request for formal black shoes was denied, and he proceeded to show me the “latest attractive attractions” such as flip-flops, sneakers, Buddhist monk sandals and the state-of-the-art jet-powered roller skates fitted on to a pair of Kolhapuri chappals.

“Not really interested in all this. I’m looking for something more professional,” I reminded him.

His interpretation of professional ranked somewhere between amusing and ridiculous. He placed in front of me a pair of ankle high leather boots with metal straps dangling from the sides. Before I could even open my mouth to protest, he grabbed my right foot, ripped off my shoe and thrust my foot into the leather boot.

“Go on, try walking around and see how it feels” he urged.

I got up and attempted to walk. In only a few seconds, the blood circulation in my leg came to a trickling halt. My brain strained hard to listen to any sort of communication from the estranged foot, but it was definitely out of coverage area. I looked down at my foot helplessly, and I empathized with James Franco from 127 Hours even though I’d been trapped in this shoe for just 1.27 minutes. I reasoned with the salesman that if he didn’t get it off me, I’d be forced to use a Swiss Army Knife on myself. He relented and took it off and I could feel my toes again.

“You didn’t like it? It looked very professional on you,” he said. I assured him that I wasn’t Clint Eastwood, that I didn’t commute to work on a horse, that my profession didn’t involve killing pesky Sheriffs and hence he should show me “something more contemporary”.

Poor choice of words.

“Something more contemporary” was lost in translation, and he pulled out a thing of such exquisite ugliness that it made me stifle a shriek. I don’t think I can ever find the right words to describe the monumentally perverted creation, but it looked roughly like this: a pair of dark-reddish (he called it burnt Sienna) shoes lined with golden threading on the sides, matching golden laces, and abnormally high heels. It was as if a Salvador Dali surrealist artwork had had sex with a bullfrog, and prematurely delivered these hideously deformed twin bastard foetuses.

The salesman brought the shoes right in front of my face for a closer look. I shrank back in a corner and flailed wildly to get away from them. No doubt it was the handiwork of one of those snooty, sadistic bastards from NIFT or some such useless institution, the thieving cunts that come up with bizarre abominations and con dumb ladies into believing that it’s haute couture. I’m not kidding. I have seen women pay obscene amounts for designer shawls that looked like they had been processed by a paper shredder and then hastily glued back together by a 4 year old, marketed with pseudo-philosophical bullshit such as “the delicate material of the stole is a metaphor for the fragility of human life and the arbitrary placement of the perforations is a metaphor for the void in our souls.” Translated for normal people, it is actually “a long piece of cheap toilet paper, torn after multiple usages and now on display exclusively for you to wrap around your neck and firmly establish your status as the most Fashionable Retard of your community”.

Back at the store, the salesman had just about exhausted the last reserves of my patience. It was astonishing to see a 5 word requirement getting distorted into 5000 travesties. The final straw was when he brought out a pair of white tennis shoes.

I lost it and snapped, “I do not want shoes that adapt to environmental temperatures, I do not want shoes with USB 3.0 ports, I do not want shoes that transform into Autobots, I do not want shoes that were thrown at Bush or Kalmadi, I do not want shoes that General Luftwaffe was wearing in the daring Operation Sea Lion of 1943, I do not want shoes that resonate with the divine frequency of the universal Brahman and bring cosmic equilibrium around my feet, I do not want shoes that look like Uday Chopra’s face from a certain angle although they would make great conversation starters, I do not want shoes that Geoff Horsfield was wearing when he came on as a substitute vs. Portsmouth and scored with his first touch in a gripping final day relegation battle in 2004-05. I WANT FORMAL BLACK SHOES WITH LACES. Do you get me?”

He responded by bringing a pair of brown shoes without laces.

Last thing I remember, I was running for the door – I had to find the passage back to the place I was before. “Relax,” said the lady on the right, “they are programmed to deceive. You can check out any time you like, but do you think these Stilettos would look better in beige?”

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28 March, 2010.

It’s a Sunday morning, not remarkably distinguishable from the other days. Sunlight floods in through that annoying little gap between the curtains and glares at me. The jobless old bastard does that every single day. I flinch and wave my arm frantically to tug at the curtains, but in vain. They are out of reach, teasing, undulating, mischievously throwing alternating waves of sun and shade in my face.

I turn away and look at the ceiling. It’s a Sunday morning not remarkably distinguishable from the other days. I hear mom making breakfast in the kitchen, reciting a prayer to go along with it. I hear the occasional sound of the laid-back morning traffic outside. I hear little kids singing an obscure song about birds and mountains. An old lady’s creaky voice commands them to keep the racket down. She gets unanimous laughter in response. A couple of sparrows sitting at my window sill are nosily debating something apparently very important. I strain hard to understand what they are saying, but I can’t. I want to get up from my bed and politely request them to take their discussion elsewhere, but I can’t do that either. Some wily prankster has pinned both my shoulders under a tonne of bricks made of air. I struggle hard to get up, but the massive weight keeps me down. Irritated and helpless, I lie in bed and look at the ceiling again. A fine crack is running along its face from one corner to the other. Ah, that’s something interesting to pass time with until help arrives. I trace the path of the crack, where it starts near one of the beams and forks out like a nerve, slowly and meticulously making its way to the other. I retrace its path all over again to make sure I haven’t missed out anything. I look at the wall clock to see how much time it took me to complete this activity – it’s approximately 2 hours and a few minutes. A lot of productive time is being wasted unnecessarily. Someone needs to get these air bricks off me already. Bah, nobody’s listening. I am going back to sleep.

When I wake up again, it’s late in the afternoon. No one’s at home. The roads are nearly empty. All the kids who were playing in the morning have gone home. The sparrows probably reached an agreement and left for lunch together. There’s absolute silence now, save the constant murmur of the fan. Outside though, there is an uneasy lull whirling around. For those unaware, a lull is greyish in colour and mostly invisible. It builds on, growing stronger every few seconds. Hello! It is seeping out of the crack in the ceiling and beginning to fill the entire room, covering everything under a thin layer of black soot. Damn it, my mom is going to kill me if she sees this mess. Have to get up somehow and clean it. But this damned load of bricks! What do I do?

Think. Think hard. When in doubt, refer the manual. The manual has all the answers they say. It is a nuisance going through a billion pages that have no page numbers, but what else can you do? Time to pull out the dusty, monstrous volume of instructions mouldering in the attic. Third shelf, bottom corner. The gigantic hardbound collector’s edition. Yes, that one. I’m allergic to it, but I have no other choice.

Index – skip. Introductory pages – skip. Starting pages – skip. Blah blah blah, skip skip skip. Where’s that godforsaken page about the black soot problem? I should bookmark this stuff from now on for easy reference. Skip skip skip, aha! Here it is! I puff the dust off and read the instructions for handling the black-soot-on-furniture situation:

(pulls a chair and clears throat)

“1. In the event a thick, black soot-like material covers your furniture, use the highly absorbent PowerSponge 5000 with an industrial strength cleansing agent like MagicInstaErase Plus (suggested).
2. Scrub in one direction, then again, then again and again till the black soot is completely gone.
3. Wipe with a soft cloth dipped in warm water. That should do it. Don’t forget to dispose of the sponge later.
4. Note 1: Occasional maintenance is a common, recommended and at times, mandatory activity. Do not panic as every household faces the exact same issue at some point of time, and has to deal with it in the exact same way. Well, the sponge and the solvent used might be different, but the cleaning procedure does not alter.
5. Note 2: You might want to get that crack in the ceiling looked at, you know, just to be on the safer side.
6. Note 3: Nights could be a slightly tricky affair, as it becomes very difficult to tell the darkness and the soot apart. Be advised that soot is often known to take up grotesque forms and haunt you in your sleep. The only way to counter this is by making a lot of “knock knock” jokes and keeping the soot amused until morning. “Knock knock” “Who’s there?” “Men in black” “Men in black who?” “Men in black soots lol.”
7. Warning! DO NOT ignore this activity! It might take some effort, but is very important from a long-term perspective. Also, don’t let this experience leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Soot happens.
8. Cheer up now, go read a comic and drink some lemonade. You have a long day ahead.
9. Oh, and about the bricks? The prankster is a noob at brick placement. You just need to shrug your shoulders thrice and they will topple over.
10. Kindly close the manual firmly and restore in original position once done.”

Well, blimey! It is that simple?! What the hell am I still doing in bed then? Shrug, shrug, shrug. A shiver, a rumble and the towers of brick tumble! Success! Oh I love you, you knowledgeable manual!

Relieved of the heavy load, I get up with a renewed zest and vigour. I have wasted enough time. Now it’s time to man the decks armed with my PowerSponge and my MagicInstaErase Plus.

Forget the stupid sun and get to work, son! The score is now six-to-none! Keep that head down and don’t stop till it’s done! Scrub, scrub, scrub! Scrub scrubity scrub, from dusk till dawn, gotta finish up before mom catches on!

On a Sunday morning not remarkably distinguishable from the other days.

?

Sometimes, some of the most mundane and the most seemingly inconsequential of activities can leave you thoroughly spooked by the end of it. Is it that you put too much thought where you shouldn’t and try to find a meaning when there really isn’t?

I was home for the festive weekend. The place needed serious clean-up, and there was no better place to start than my drawers, the now defunct study table and storage cabinets.

I was a little shocked at the diverse array of things that had accumulated in those drawers over the years. Things that I saved because I thought they were cool at that time, or were treasured for their sentimental value. Things I never really paid any attention to; usually dismissed as garbage that the ever accommodating wooden cabinets always welcomed with gracious hospitality. The same cabinets had also taken a liking to a group of spiders who were interior decorators by profession, and had embellished every single corner with tastefully designed webs to appease any connoisseur’s sensibilities.

Sifting through heaps and heaps of yellowing paper, unbelievably kitschy trinkets and forgotten, discarded memorabilia, I felt overcome with this strange mixture of emotions; a mixture as varied as the miscellany that lay in front of me.

A major chunk of the supposed ‘waste’ was proudly occupied by the remnants of Engineering: tons of books, Xeroxed notes, sheets and sheets of formulae dangling loosely from rusted staples, incomplete assignments, bills of books I never read, a thick sheaf of lewd doodles, lyrics and caricatures created to survive boring lectures, posters of hot chicks secretly stashed away in some of those books, silly football trivia, statistics and team formations that formed the bulk of all my practicals, ‘rough’ books that I used to practice Math problems, formulae, figures and also keep track of Manchester United’s projected points tally, a stack of youth magazines that I used to read during the lectures, and the ultimate reflection of all of these activities – the grand crowning glory – my less-than-flattering marksheets.

Obviously, letting go of all these things did make me cringe. After all, it was not trash – it was four years spent with some of the most wonderful people I’ll ever meet; memories so deeply anchored within that they always found their way back to me. As I started arranging the books and sheets in a tidy stack, all these lost, buried memories came alive. Sinha, for instance, used to write ‘Jai Saraswati Mata’ on all his notes. In one place, he had written it so close to the question that it looked as if it were a part of the answer! I also found GJ’s habit of trying to fit all his answers in one page really funny. It was almost as if he were saying to the examiner, “Ek page mein itna hi aayega. Chal check kar abhi!” Then there was this presentation that my project partner AK had lifted off some obscure site. I still remember the expression on the poor teacher’s face as AK rattled on about some vague technology that wasn’t even remotely related to the presentation topic. Post presentation, he duped the thoroughly confused teacher in giving as an A for our “original research”. And she did!

A little over four years of such silly memories stood in two neat stacks, each around 3 feet tall. Both the stacks gave a wobbling salute to the glory days of last minute studies and hurried presentations. I saluted them too – they were the real martyrs who made me who I am today – an IT professional with as much interest in IT as the local raddiwalla who they would be sold to eventually. (The raddiwalla later estimated that 4 years of education are worth 75 rupees, at 6.5 rupees per kilo.)

The stuff that remained buried underneath all of this, however, was the most unsettling. A collection of items I never thought I would see again, but there they were – suddenly jumping out and yelling “surprise!” from around the unknown corner.

The thing that disoriented me about these objects was the unordered order of randomness in which they resurfaced – a strange concoction of the past staring at you in the eye after so many years: Nearly decayed petals of a flower offered to God before a crucial examination, a few notes and coins given to me as “blessing” by some relatives, “prasad” that I was supposed to keep with my writing materials. A greeting card from a sister I haven’t spoken to in the last 5 years, a greeting card from another sister who was just learning to draw, a greeting card from a friend just before he left the city. A bunch of friendship bands that covered my wrists during Friendship day celebrations in college. One of them had a heart symbol next to my name. I had never noticed that before. Did that mean she liked me back then? 8 years too late to find the answer, I’m afraid.

There were a couple of “ghost masks” that I had won at some competition. Over half of those cardboard masks were devoured by termites and moths that made them look even more grotesque. Issues of a MBA magazine gathered dust in a far corner, just like my aspirations have, over time. A tattered paper with a silly motivational poem written on it – the only remaining relic from the days of optimism. A poster of Kurt Cobain – probably a sign of the changing times. An incredibly depressing letter that I had written to 2 people some time ago. I think I had written it because I didn’t have the guts to speak out the words. One of them read only half of it before handing it back to me. A toy gun I used to shoot birds with. I had used the gun to deliberately hurt a person on more than one occasion. It made me feel terribly guilty, and I had to get rid of it. There were a few hazy pictures of an old birthday party – the birthday boy, flanked by his parents, had a wide grin on his face. He was wearing his favourite Godzilla T-shirt, which was the coolest thing back then. The onslaught never stopped. A Winnie the Pooh comb given to me by the kid next door, a deflated football, pieces of paper with something scribbled on them. Finally, a couple of watches that I had stopped wearing a long time ago. The hands had permanently frozen at one point of time, perhaps indicating that it was time to move on.

Hours had gone by, and I was still rummaging through the remainder of the pile. I could have never imagined that cleaning out old cabinets would imply walking through the murky by-lanes of my mind and bumping into vaguely familiar strangers. Fortunately, I was nearly out.

I sorted the items into 3 large plastic bags. It’s astonishing to think that you can stuff almost a decade-worth of your life into just 3 large bags. The bags felt awfully heavy as I carried them out and left them outside the door. Something still felt heavy as I closed the door on them. Were they knocking at my door, pleading to let them in again?

It is funny how times change you as a person.

It is amusing how you don’t remember any of the several people you were over the years. People who prayed to God everyday, people who wore stupid colour-changing wrist watches, people who sucked at flirting, people who were expected to do well in future. People whose life can be neatly squeezed into 3 large bags.

It is tragic how the guy who collects garbage will come in the morning, pick up all those people and dump them along with the rest of the city’s trash.

It is terrifying that after all these years, the only thing that you really know about yourself is a “?”.

Come to think of it, a lot of people meet the fate of the trash bags in due course. Lost, unknown, faceless, the summation of an entire lifetime neatly packed in a bag and tossed into a common dump outside the city. The identity that took so many years to create would be so indistinguishable from the rest of the heap that no one would even notice something has gone missing. No one would even know that a person existed.

I had an interesting dream a couple of days later. In the dream, I was walking home from school. A little boy was walking alongside me. He asked me to race him. I agreed and we started running. Halfway through the race, I realized that I had forgotten the way home. The little boy was running away into the distance, but there was no way to catch up. I ran around frantically, but there were no roads in sight. Not once did the boy turn to look if I was following or not. So I just stood there, watching him run and disappear behind a large tree.

A blink of the eye and the dream was over.

My Conversation With God.

Who do you go to in your darkest moments?

How do you explain to the world what you’re going through?

What would you do when there’s no light in sight?

I turned to the source that everyone eventually turn to when they’ve lost all hope – Providence.

It was early in the evening when I reached the local Shiva temple. Still around 3 hours until the evening puja, so there were not too many people there – just about 20-30 – scattered in small groups across the vast marble floor in front of the Shiva idol.

I walked in gingerly and scurried away to the furthest corner of the temple, careful not to attract any attention. After all, atheists are not the kind of people welcome at places of worship. Thankfully, nobody noticed.

I sat there, resting against a pillar, dissolving into the temple’s serene aura. There was something about the place that seemed to have a sedative effect on you. People sitting around were completely absorbed in meditation. They spoke, if ever, only in barely audible whispers. The entire place was absolutely quiet, save the occasional gusts of wind rustling the leaves outside – the perfect setting to listen to your thoughts, reflect and contemplate.

I took a few deep breathes and went over the horrors that had tormented me for so long…and I felt so much better. The positive energies had such profound influence on me that the past didn’t seem to matter at all.

I turned to look at Shiva. He sat in His usual meditative stance, eyes half closed, trident in one hand and a damru in the other.

Suddenly, He opened his eyes and looked at me.

Shiva: “What the? Hahahahahahahahahaha!”

Me: “?”

Shiva: “Oooh what happened there, my little non-believer friend?”

Me: “Yeah, right. As if you can’t see.”

Shiva: “Are you kidding me? I see everything! I have 20-20 vision in all 3 of my eyes!”

Me: “So you know, huh. I came here because I need your help.”

Shiva: “Suuure. I’ll be more than happy to help you out. You poor Manchester United supporter! Bwahahahahahahahaha!”

Me: (mutters under breath)

Shiva: “I heard that!”

Me: “Sorry. Anyway, give me some answers now, please?”

Shiva: “Wait a second, my eager beaver. Let me savour this wonderful moment. Hey Parvati, check out who’ve we got here today!”

Parvati: “ROFL. This is funnier than the time Ganesha stumbled and fell down after eating too much.”

Ganesha: “Mooom! Stop embarrassing me!”

Parvati: “Oh come on, boy. Grow up!”

Ganesha was so annoyed that he plugged in his iPod earphones with two hands while simultaneously deleting his parents’ wedding pictures from Picasa with the other two.

Me: “Erm, family issues later, if you please.”

Shiva: “Aah, right. So United lost. What’s the big deal? Get over it, man.”

Me: “It’s not so simple, God. The pain refuses to go away. I had so much hope riding on them…”

Shiva: “And you think it’s easy for me?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Shiva: “I am a Manchester United fan too. So are my wife and kids.”

Me: “Whaaaat?!!”

Shiva: “That’s right. Don’t go by my blue colour; I’m NOT a City or Chelsea supporter. Just a bad case of food poisoning…”

Me: “Wow. This is news. So tell me, what happened? Why did United lose?”

Shiva: “Hmm, it’s complicated. You see, it was after a long, fiery debate that all Gods arrived at this decision – United HAD to lose.”

Me: “But why?”

Shiva: “Uhh, alright, I’ll tell you. See, the final was in Rome.”

Me: “So?”

Shiva: “What is Rome famous for?”

Me: “Pizza? Fashion? Women? Francesco Totti?”

Shiva: *facepalm* “No, idiot. Rome is home to the Vatican – The Roman Catholic HQ headed by the Pope.”

Me: “I don’t see where this is going…”

Shiva: “Oh don’t you get it? How could we let a team named ‘The Red Devils’ triumph in Jesus’ city? It would have been so utterly humiliating for Him. In the times of modern science and technology, religion is already losing popularity. Such an added insult would have completely ruined His PR and stuff. And imagine, if people would have started worshipping Sir Alex instead.”

Me: “Well, that’s true…”

Shiva: “Damn right it is. I, for one, didn’t agree with it. I love United.”

Me: “You do?”

Shiva: “Yeah. But they had a poll and most supported Jesus. They couldn’t afford to let go of the strong Catholic base in Barcelona.”

Me: “Wow, so twisted and manipulative of Him. It’s so much like pre-election political tactics. And I thought only Congress were good at it…”

Shiva: “I’m afraid so. Getting votes isn’t hard. Not when you have the power to convert water to wine, if you know what I mean.”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

Shiva: “So there.”

Me: “But… but… aren’t you going to do something about it?”

Shiva: “I am, actually. I’m planning to change next year’s venue to somewhere in the Middle East. Devils winning there would look appropriate, if you know what I mean.”

Me: “Yes, I do know what you mean! Stop saying that!”

Shiva: “Don’t give me that attitude, boy. I’ll take away Ronaldo this instance if I want to.”

Me: “No no no no, chill mate, chill. Your anger management issues are well known. I apologize.”

Shiva: “Hmm ok.”

Me: “So United are going to win next year, right?”

Shiva: “The night is the darkest before the dawn, and I assure you, the dawn is coming…”

Me: “Oh sweet! Promise?”

Shiva: “Promise.”

Me: “God promise?”

Shiva: “Dude, that’s redundant.”

Me: “Err, right. My bad. Anywho, thanks a lot for the inside info. Glory glory Man United!”

Unfortunately, I uttered the last sentence a little too loudly. People who were sitting there turned around and glared at me.

Me: “Oops, sorry.”

Crowd: (menacingly) “What was that again?”

Me: “Nothing.. I just got a little carried away…”

Crowd: “Stop with the excuses. Just tell us what you said.”

Me: “Uhh…Shiva promised me that United will win next year.”

Crowd: “What?”

Me: “I know, I’m sorry. I should have never come here in the first place. I’ll leave right away.”

Crowd: “No no no, hold on. We’re all United supporters too!”

Me: “WTF?!!”

Crowd: “Obviously. All of us had come here for the same reason you did. Who else would come here?”

Me: “Ouch!”

Shiva: “Touché. Sigh.”

Pulitzer Prize Winner : 2009

A long time ago, a gentleman named Joseph Pulitzer – a journalist by profession – decided to leave a significant portion of his fortune to Columbia University for the purpose of development of its journalism school. The University has since then given out prizes named after this great man, recognizing and appreciating talent in the field of journalism, photography and literature.

Normally, the winner can belong to just one category, say National Reporting or International Reporting but not both at once; however this year saw a rare exception. An absolutely groundbreaking article published in India’s leading newspaper The Times of India made the judges bend the rules. This phenomenal piece of journalistic excellence impressed the judges so much that it was chosen as the winner in not one, but THREE categories:

Local Reporting – for a distinguished example of local newspaper reporting that illuminates significant issues or concerns.
National Reporting – for a distinguished example of newspaper reporting on national affairs.
Feature Writing – for a distinguished example of newspaper feature writing giving prime consideration to high literary quality and originality.

Do read this brilliant article and you’ll get to know the true power of press:

Link: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2509637.cms

Salute!

Sampoorna Teerth Yatra – A Pilgrim’s Journey.

Note : Too long; don’t read.

The devout Hindu that I am, I have always tried to live my life according to the 4 Purusharthas (“Purush” : soul, “Artha” : meaning/purpose) – Artha, Dharma, Kaam, Moksha.

Artha, Dharma and Kaam are three the primary goals (trivarga) of life :

Artha (wealth) – It is acknowledged that a person needs to have economic prosperity in order to provide himself and his family material pleasures, and thus happiness.

Dharma (righteousness or morals) – Holding a higher priority over Artha is Dharma, that is, a person’s ability to always do the right thing and follow the path of True Consciousness.

Kaam (sensual pleasure) – Kaam refers to the fulfillment of human desires – sensual and sexual – a hedonistic philosophy.

However, the fourth and the most important goal of life is the chaturvarga known as “Moksha” or liberation.

Achieving Moksha, which is also called Nirvana-prapti or Mukti is seen as a conclusion to one’s conception of self, breaking the shackles of all ties and the conceived reality of the world (also termed as Maya) and a realization of one’s own true self which is real being, and the sense of eternal happiness that is an experience which is inexplicable, ineffable and beyond the realms of human perception.

Here’s how I achieved all that and more in a single day :

Artha : 1600 for the ticket + conveyance + stay + food.

Dharma : Making it to Bangalore even when the odds are stacked against you. As I said, doing the right thing is the aim of Dharma.

Kaam : The sensual pleasure of standing there, waiting for Them.

And the ultimate culmination :

Moksha : Watching Them for the second time.

15 February, 2009 was the auspicious occasion when the Gods descended into the city of Bangalore in their Pushpak Vimaan, aptly named the ‘Ed Force One’. This little 757 beauty carries a little over 12 tonnes of equipment, 60 member crew, band members and Captain Bruce Dickinson.

Ed-force-one

The teerth sthal : Palace Grounds, Bengalooru. Fellow trooper Vipul and I reached the venue at around 3 in the afternoon. The size of the place took us by surprise when we walked in. It made Mumbai’s BKC look like a matchbox in comparison!

The first thing we noticed on entry was this crane set up for bungee jumping. Vipul took one look at people dangling upside down in the air and rushed over to fill up the form. I had my doubts about the rope and decided to stay put.

Minutes later, Vipul leapt off the rickety platform that was about a 140 feet above the ground and bounced around in the air like a yo-yo. Bach gaya saala! That “shocked-happy-surprised-wtfwasthat?” grin on his face perfectly described what it must have been like.

We entered the concert area at 4:00. 2 stages had been constructed – the bigger one for the main act and smaller one for the other bands. Pilgrims, troopers, mercenaries, children of the damned, mariners, blood brothers, nomads, journeymen, powerslaves, clansmen, fugitives, warriors, prowlers and invaders from all over the world had gathered there.

Synapse frontman was growling at the audience :

“Everyone sit down! Sit down, sit down! I need everyone to sit down please! Sit down!”

He reminded me of Mr. Anthony, my primary school Physical Education teacher, who used to yell at us in a similar fashion.

“When I ask you to jump tha fuck up, whatcha gonna doooo?” (growl growl) “When I ask you to jump tha fuck up, what-cha-gonna-doooooo?”

“Shaat aap shaat aap shaat aap I’ll faack ya aaap!”

Yep, definitely Mr. Anthony.

People shook their heads in disappointment and walked away.

Fortunately, Kyptos, the local boys were on next and they blew the roof off the place! They were loud, they were angry and they didn’t pause for a breath. Their lead guitarist was fantastic! The red suraksha dhaaga that he was wearing around his wrist seemed to worked for him as he easily got the crowd to work their necks off.

De Profundis, a UK based death metal band followed up. We were not into the “grr grr blaa graaa brrr” metal at all, so we headed to the main stage area and secured our positions in front of the stage.

The next performance was the one that everyone was waiting for hungrily. Lauren Harris (For the uninitiated, Lauren is Steve Harris’ daughter. And if you don’t know who Steve Harris is, go die). The crowd, having moshed to Kryptos and De Profundis, were just aching for some rape meat. She wasn’t going to be spared this time, oh no.

If the dumbfuck organisers had some sense, they wouldn’t have placed Lauren’s item number right AFTER heavy acts like Kryptos and De Profundis. Or maybe they didn’t really have a choice. This bade baap ki bitchy aulaad must have demanded this slot from them as a part of the deal. “Main nahi to daddy bhi nahi.”

She swaggered out on stage expecting a positive reponse. Poor girlie, she had no idea what awaited her.

She got pwned. Assaulted. Raped. Ripped to shreds.

Just a few examples of the pwnage :

“Fuck you, stupid bitch!”

“Tera emosional atyaachaar”

“Bring her father, bring her father, stop this slaughter…make her go, make her go, make her go”

“Oh my god Avril Lavigne we love you!!”

“Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me”

“Somebody call the Shri Ram Sena and get this bitch beaten up!”

“Striiiiiipteeeeeeasssssseeeeeee!”

“Meri laundry ka ek bill na na na na na…”

Then began the infamous bhenchod madarchod chants that reverbed around the ground for a looooong time!

The people standing really close to the stage targeted her gayish-looking guitarist next. The sexual orientation related insults really got him and he cracked. The faggotass bastard pointed to his crotch and made sucking motions with his hand. That, incidentally, perfectly summed up their performance too.

Not just abuses, people hurled everything from bottles and paper balls to plectrums and drumsticks. Then some genius came up with the idea of throwing loose change. A shower of 1/2/5/50p coins rained down on stage as the poor members kept running around to dodge the projectiles! As expected, they had to wrap up quickly.

Meanwhile, some band named Brandon Ashley and the Silver Bugs started their performance on the other stage. Brandon Ashley and the Silver Bugs. Yeah, right. Nobody was foolish enough to give up their hard fought place in front of the main stage for a band with a name like that. I felt sorry watching them enthrall all of the 3 people standing there. 2 of them were security guards and 1 was stoned.

After thanking the ‘audience’ for the hundredth time,the Patna ke Ashleys or whoever they were left and the attention shifted to the main stage once again.

Parikrama were on next, and they provided the much need relief for the evening with a splendid performance. Was I dreaming? Not quite.

The mood suddenly changed when Parikrama finished their last song. For obvious reasons.

Voices from all around the ground chanted just one name.

Doctor doctor, please
Don’t you know I’m going fast
Doctor doctor, please
Don’t you know I just can’t last…

The instrumental piece, Transylvania

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France…we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air…

Heart pounds against the ribcage. Fingernails dig deep into the palm.

…we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds…

Teeth gnash together. I’m on my toes. The veins in my head bulge out and thump.

…we shall never surrender!

Time slows down. And begins the Charge of the Light Brigade.

The Irons

It’s moments like these you wish you could hold on to a little longer. Moments like these you wish you could pause and replay in your mind forever. But even before you realize what’s happening, those moments just zip past you like the ME-109s that he’s talking about.

Rest assured, nobody’s adrenal glands were going to be spared for the next 2 hours.

Wrathchild. The crowd had gone berserk and it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. I could feel my insides being ground to a wholesome pulpy goodness with people around me thrashing about like possessed maniacs. Some frantic pushing and shoving later, I made my way up to the barricades. Ah, clear view at last.

The set list had changed for the final leg of the world tour, and it promised to kick some serious ass. In addition to the all-time fan favourites like 2 Minutes to Midnight, Children of the Damned, Run to the Hills, The Trooper, Iron Maiden and Wasted Years, Maiden also performed the rare classic gem Phantom of the Opera. The song’s haunting riffs and Bruce’s chilling vocals came together to give the evening that eerie, surreal touch. Sheer brilliance.

Bruce drew a huge roar from the crowd when he spoke about their next mesmerising masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. “This is what happens when man fucks with nature” and “this is not what you do when a bird shits on you!” Ha ha, bang on!
Based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s legendary poem, The Rime is easily one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever. The long and complex poem expertly summarized into the most spellbinding 13 minutes you’ll ever experience. And that epic guitar solo, mamma mia! I lost most of my voice and most of my head during this track. So would have Coleridge had he been alive.

The songs in the encore were shuffled this time around, with the immortal anthems Fear of the Dark and Hallowed Be Thy Name unleashed back-to-back, but not as a part of the encore. The grandmas of the world would have shivered in horror had they witnessed the utter mayhem these songs triggered! The ground rumbled beneath as 30,000 bodies rushed in from all directions, hammering into each other in one bonecrushing frenzy and kicking up a duststorm on their way. I don’t remember what I did during those few moments of hysteria. It was only after Hallowed Be Thy Name ended that I came to my senses and found myself on the ground with a group of people staring at me with a bewildered look on their faces. My neck, ayayyo!

(Ahem, now I know why companies that sell stuff like Iodex, Moov and Relispray are never affected by recession. They have metalheads all over the world to thank.)

Maiden made a mock exit afterward, but guess what – they weren’t done yet.

The thoroughly battered and bruised crowd dug deep for the last reserves of energy in their bodies for the final onslaught – the icing on the already mouthwatering cake.

“Woe to you oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the beast with wrath…”

“The good that men do is oft interred with their bones, but the evil that men do lives on…”
(Bruce didn’t say that – I just wished he did)

“I know you’d have gone insane if you saw what I saw…”

As if all this wasn’t enough, Bruce had a few more surprises in store:

Another studio album next year.
A movie titled Flight 666 coming out this year. “It has a lot of India in it,” Bruce said.
Possibly another world tour in a couple of years.

Disappointments? Probably the duration- less than 2 hours! 😥
And it broke my heart that they didn’t choose any other classic from their earlier albums. But take nothing away from the evening; they were absolutely awesome. After all, how many 50 year olds do you know who fly their own Boeing 757, run around the stage with a tattered Union Jack and sing 13 minute long heavy metal ballads with effortless ease? How many 50 year olds shred guitars and drum the way they do? 34 years (and counting) of legacy that draws little parallel.

My rambling could go on and on and on like the Mariner’s tale, but I guess you are wiser than the wedding guest to figure that out yourself. Long live Air Raid Siren and the gang!

In conclusion, it was an evening that lead to the vimochan of all my paaps. I felt eternal bliss. My jeevan had been saarthakified with this act of shuudhikaranification. Akhanda soubhagya!

—–

The morning after : My hands are locked in the ‘devil’s horns’ gesture. I can’t even move my finger without wincing in pain. My throat hurts when I swallow food and my vocal chords have taken on a Farhan Akhtar/ Rani Mukherji huskiness.

But the goosebumps? They refuse to go away. I’m not afraid, I’m safe with Them, safe as any soul could be. Honestly. I just let myself go, but still caught somewhere in time…