13 July 2016

Indian crime fiction scene is a mess littered with works, which at their best can be generic and predictable and at worst lazily written and poorly edited “thrillers”, written with the broadest of the strokes. I don’t think I ever read an ingenious crime fiction written by an Indian set in our milieu, our best crime stories come from Bollywood, or the news channels. Bhaskar Chattopadhyay’s Patang has a glowing review from Sriram Raghavan, the best genre filmmaker we have, and it is definitely a cut above the rest, Silence of the Lambs meets Shutter Island if you will, but ironically suffers both from predictability and improbability.  

A serial killer strikes Mumbai in the monsoon season, writing to the media and the Police that he would be killing 4 people. A massive manhunt ensues, the modus operandi of the killer is explored, and he was even given a nickname by the media based on a theme he kills with and a clue he leaves at the scene of the crime. The Patang Killer, since he kills people at dizzying heights. Not particularly ingenious, I told you.  

Mumbai Commissioner seeks help from Private Eye Chandrakant Rathod and I’m not sure what he is. He seems like a journalist turned private detective, but he seems to know who’s who of the entire Police Department, most of them fan-boys of his work and willing to put their jobs on stake for Rathod. Everyone calls him a genius and he in turn calls the killer a genius. We know each of them is a genius because the writer keeps telling us in every chapter, lest we forget that we are dealing with a couple of geniuses here. He nabs the connection between the murders, as is any detective’s wont, but the story isn’t strong enough and there are no red herrings, making it all easy for the genius detective. 

There are some stray references to Mumbai monsoon, but the detailing is not as meticulous to consider the book to be atmospheric. The book scores some brownies in the way Bhaskar explores Chandrakant Rathod’s psyche and towards the end of the book, Rathod, seems to be overwhelmed and defeated by the task in hand and shows ominous signs of spiraling out of control. These parts were dealt well and the reader can sense Rathod’s desperation in solving the puzzle, but the ending spoils them all. Still as a character study, Rathod’s journey towards the end seems complete and the book redeems itself to become slightly better than the sum of its parts, in retrospect.

Bhaskar infuses the narrative with a sense of urgency and the pages fly through at a breakneck pace. It is difficult to put it away for a long time, which is an achievement in itself, and the writing shows up a lot of efforts that went in towards the later part of the book. As a genre piece, it checks all the boxes, right up to the twist ending, but all of it is a tad underwhelming for the genre fans. As I said earlier, it is better than a lot of Indian crime fiction we routinely find on book shelves across the country, but that is not saying much about the book. 

PS: I decided to read only crime and noir fiction this year, so please suggest any great works by Indians or setup in India, in the comments that you have come across.

Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 by veturisarma


18 June 2016

The old man was at his usual place when I entered the bar, his back facing towards me, drinking leisurely without looking around. I never saw him leave the bar and he was always there when I came in, sitting all by himself at the far end of the bar. I wonder if he ever left that place. He never seemed unnecessarily chatty with the waiters and never for once got drunk. He was always the same man sitting there and drinking as if he was saying “It’s Ok. I’m here and I’m drinking. What can be wrong?” to the world.

Once I saw him stand up and walk towards the men’s room and that was when I guessed he was a really old man, must be in his seventies or more. I don’t know a thing about being seventy, or how men walked when they became that old but the man walked slower than my grandfather when he was seventy. So, I guessed he was around that age and he walked to the men’s room as if it was an effort, an unwanted chore that he had to get through. He walked the same way back to his place as he went in and resumed his drinking. Sometimes I get too drunk to observe him, or I got to run some errand or something, and that meant I always left before he did.   

He was not a hard drinker, that old man. I timed his drinks and he could not guzzle more than one an hour and he always appeared as sober or as drunk as the last one left him. Probably he loved sitting there but I could not find a single redeeming feature in the little bar for it to become an object of such genuine affection. I mean it is a good place, cheap and moderately clean with friendly waiters who never rushed you away towards the end of the night, and the owner always had a word or two with everyone, but for a man to devote so much of his life to its confines was a stretch even to imagine.

On my good days, I felt content looking at him from a distance; he appeared to me like a monk, peaceful and alone, at ease with himself and the world around him. I felt relieved when I saw him there and he had a kind of soothing effect on me. On my bad days however, I begrudged him, I wanted to hold him by his shirt, lift him and shake him off his chair, bring him into the reality away from his meditative stupor. I wanted to take it all on him, show him what it feels like to be alive and ask him if he ever felt it. I thought it was unreasonable and illegal for a person to be so detached from everything that’s happening around. I wanted to show him a newspaper and ask him what he thought of that. I didn’t do any of those, for most of the feelings pass but the old man stayed there, a poster of absolute defiance and unshakeable resolve.

Sometimes I wanted to know him, ask him about his childhood, how he was as a kid, when he had his first drink, the women in his life, his interests, hobbies, his anger, his strengths, his weaknesses, what made him, what broke him and what drove him to this state. Everything. I wanted to know the person inside out so that I can get rid of him, throw him out of my system after leeching his very life out of his mouth. I wanted to tell him that he can’t play enigma for long and that I was calling time on his mysticism, or façade, or musing orwhatever he called the little game he was up to. Maybe he knew all that and he had no intention of letting me, or anyone do that to him. On more than one occasion, I thought of asking the people in the bar about him, but I was quick to dismiss that idea. It seemed unethical and plain wrong to invade on his privacy from behind. If I was too gutless to face him and talk to him, the least I could do was not to resort to shortcuts. It was my cross to bear and I'm glad that I didn't work on the idea.

Lest anyone get any ideas about my psyche, let me clarify that the old man was never an obsession to me, at least that was what I wanted to believe. I was curious just as anyone but, I had my life away from the bar and I doubt it if he did and wondered what it must be like. He always dressed either in black or white, never crumpled, so he did seem to take some care in how he presented himself, though I can't picture him to be fretting about those sorts of things.  I thought about the money. There had to be some way he was able afford his drinking. At 70, he must be earning a pension, and if he did, he must have worked, and must have had a place to crash after the bar closes. I decided to tag along that day, for I had nothing better to do with my Friday evening. I was not invited anywhere and had the entire weekend for myself, so the seed was planted.

As a person, I'm not the most instinctive or proactive and I arrived at the decision to follow him after subjecting the idea to a painfully long thought process, but the idea itself was the easiest to arrive at, at least in hindsight. A ton of what-ifs were running through my mind even as I debated if I had it in me to go through with it. I chose to drank my senses out of working overtime.

An hour passed after I made the decision and I downed a liter of rum by that time. I stood up to see if I can walk behind him and follow him to his place. I could not focus, the surroundings appeared too hazy and I needed to urinate. The waiter who was serving me, came up to me and asked if I wanted anything else, as they were about to call it a day. I looked at the old man's glass. It was near empty and he sat there looking at a wall that was painted tasteless, too bland to hold anyone's interest for more than a second. I started walking.

My steps were decidedly haphazard as I made my way towards the bathroom, a mild excitement running through my veins for I was going to see his face for the first time in all these days. I didn't want to rush the moment, so I walked slower than normal, careful not to let the man sense something behind, also afraid not to disturb his ritual. I was about 10 feet away from him, his back facing me, his head a bit stooped on to the table, probably in fatigue, or drunk. "Please don't drop dead on me, you old man" I prayed as I took the next ten steps eagerly.

I went past him.

I didn't know if I felt ashamed to look at him, standing up and turning back to look at him, but I knew that I couldn't get a better chance to see his face. I was probably afraid of what I might find in his eyes. I felt my legs disappear under my abdomen, I guessed I was falling down. It was probably the alcohol, or the shame of standing up. I stumbled on my feet and grabbed a chair, exactly opposite to where he was sitting, still looking in the opposite direction. When it became too much for me to hold the posture, and when I felt too weak to take a step further I collapsed on to the chair. It was convenient, not exactly calculated, but there I was facing him, looking into his eyes, rid of all inhibitions.

A sense of achievement seemed to crawl into me when he started talking. It was like he was expecting me and he prepared the speech in advance. His tone seemed condescending, that I wasted so much time. It was a stream of consciousness, yet every word embedded with so much meaning and thought behind it. He said.

"Son, I know you were looking at me. I know that you want a story. I know you must have imagined one. Let me tell you, that whatever you imagined is way better and truer than what I have to tell you. Frankly I have nothing to tell you. I got no story to tell you. I wish I had, but no, I don't. You might think I got a dead wife, my kids abandoned me, and I'm wallowing my time away in sorrow. Let me tell you, none of that is true. If I had a story, I wouldn't have been here. "

"When I see people like you, looking at me, my heart goes out to you. I wish I had something to tell you. I wish I could speak to you, something that you don't know, something you would like to know, something only I can tell you, but alas, oh alas. I sit here every day, wishing and willing you to come to me, so that I can tell you something. I want to talk to you, the lot of you, but what can I speak of. I don't have stories of adventure, imagination, optimism. I didn't live that kind of life. I'm an old man. I lived some days, some years, none too memorable."

"Look at me. Do you think I'm hiding something. Heck, I'm not capable of that son. I'm 72 years old. Not the best of the time or age for keeping secrets. I don't have the energy for being enigmatic and sustaining it every day. If my routine interests you, that may be because of your interest in the mundane, the dull, and the unhappening. Who would want to spend their time like that? I wouldn't. Do you?"

"You are the one that should tell me stories, son. I'm sitting here, drinking my time away, seeking stories, yet you come to me for them. You disappoint me, son, and you wasted so much time doing it. You are better than this. You are better than me. Go ahead. Tell me a story. Be a story. I'm all ears. I'm here and I will be drinking to your story. But, son, please, give me a story. That's all I ask. At this age. Go away. This is not the place for you."

"I won't, for once, say please and rob you off your wish to live the life your way. I can only point out to you one of the ways that brought us together on this dull night. How do you feel tonight? Do you want to feel the same tomorrow night? And the day after? It's easy to say yes, and you can sit there, away from me. We can drink our nights away, but never together. You want to talk to me? Know me? Bring me a story. I'm all ears. I'll be here. Let me tell you the last thing. If you got a story to tell me, you won't need me. Don't feed on the old bones, son."

I never saw him again. I wanted to be a story worthy enough to tell him.  

Posted on Saturday, June 18, 2016 by veturisarma


17 May 2016

When it comes to vacations, like everything else I must add, planning has never worked for me. The plethora of information on flights, hotels, packages and deals have always overwhelmed me whenever I tried to book a vacation. The date always got closer so I had to let my instinct take over, and that was how my wife and I started on the ride to Hyderabad Airport on 1st of October 2015 for our 4 day long vacation to Ooty, Coorg and Mysore.
Jet Airways Web check-in
The flight to Bengaluru from Hyderabad is always a pleasant and easy ride clocking just under an hour. We reached at around 7 AM, to a nice clear weather and an eager looking man in a clean white shirt wearing a broad smile armed with a placard bearing our names. He told that it would take around 6 to 8 hours of ride to Ooty, which was just fine for both of us and we settled into our seats and caught up on some much needed sleep.

Spicejet Airlines
We had breakfast at a hotel of the driver’s choice in Mysore. He showed us the Mysore Palace from the vehicle, though I wanted to go in, he suggested that it will be better left to another day. We didn’t mind it a bit and resumed our sleep. When we woke up the wind was a bit chilly comparatively and we saw greenery all around. The car was traversing its way up on a hilly terrain and I don’t think I have ever seen such bends. The ride up the hill was quite thrilling and dangerous but the driver was obviously a skilled one and he maneuvered the terrain with skill and flair, while talking about the latest Kannada release Uppi 2. Incidentally he didn’t like the movie. I quipped that may be he didn’t get it. I certainly didn’t.

We reached Ooty around lunch time and checked into the hotel. The place was everything that I ever expected from a hill station, complete with chilly climate, unpredictable rains and a Coffee Day right below our hotel room. The places we visited were all standard issue check list stuff like the Botanical Garden, some waterfall whose name I can’t remember, an amusement park kind of place named Jurassic Park where they had imitation dinosaurs made of rubber and leather, but it was the small town ambience and the weather that we enjoyed the most. Unfortunately there was no Wi-Fi at our hotel so we had to retire early, not that I complained. In vacations the days start and end soon unlike my normal days in the cities.

The next day we woke up to more rain, but the driver was right at the entrance of the hotel so we checked out and rushed into the cab for more sightseeing around the Tea Gardens nearby Ooty. The best thing easily about the day was the raw mango slices we ate with a pinch of salt and chili powder, which were the best complements to the weather around. After lunch we told the driver to take the day off and walked along the roads of Ooty taking in the surroundings greedily, though the walk up the hills can sometimes catch you off breath.

Coorg beckoned the next day and the ride downhill from Ooty was another exciting way to spend the early morning from the cozy backseat of our cab driven expertly once again by our driver. His smile never wavered throughout the drive and he was always earnest and eager to suggest us places to eat and visit. We stopped at the Golden Temple at around 8 AM and what I saw was an astonishing sight that was etched in my mind till date. The 60 feet statues at the temple, the resounding conch shells, the exotic chanting were only to be savored and wondered at. I guess I was inside the temple for about an hour, sitting just by myself, marveling at the sight in front. It was a curious experience and unlike other famed Temples I visited, there wasn’t much crowd which made the visit even more peaceful.

Once we moved away from the hotel to the resort, we checked in and went in search of river rappelling which was on my mind for very long time. It didn’t take very long to reach the place but unfortunately rain decided to play spoilsport and the guy in charge of the task told us to wait till he gets another 5 members to start the rappelling. We waited again, first for the rain to abate and then for the other 5 members to join us. An hour passed and we were still at the river while none of the above 2 happened. Just when we were about to leave of exasperation, came another car driven by a group of guys from Mumbai for their bachelor party. Soon we were all dressed up and ready to go and none of us really cared about the rain.

The lifejacket that we were given made me feel somewhat invincible and when the driver stopped rowing and asked us to jump in the water, I was the first to take the plunge. It was a heavenly experience being suspended on water, allowing the tide to take me through. I didn’t know how to swim but the lifejacket took care of everything and ensured I had the time of my life. When we came back after 3 hours, the driver told us all the sightseeing spots would be closed by around 5 PM and we were left nothing to do for the rest of the evening, so we retreated to the resort to some French Fries, Onion Pakoras and Old Monk Rum, reminiscing on three days well spent.

The drive back from Coorg to Bengaluru Airport was a pleasant one, almost picturesque, and certainly quick. Our driver left us at the airport and after an hour of waiting, with content hearts we boarded the flight. Within minutes of landing in Hyderabad and sitting in a cab, we were surrounded by unruly traffic, loud horns, sweltering sweat, reality and life.  


Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 by veturisarma

1 comment

18 April 2016

Everyone has a condom story to tell. It is something they have heard, or they might have experienced themselves, or attributed it to happening it to a friend while narrating it with a playful glee. The stories are always interesting to listen to, though they may have been awkward or embarrassing for the person.

Buying a condom in India can be an amusing experience for the curious onlooker. The buyers come in all kinds, the ones who wait for the counter to be free so that the others don’t know what they are buying, the ones who murmur it in the ears of the vendor as if it was secret, and not to forget the guy who looks the other way when the vendor is packing it as if he doesn’t know what was going in the cover. Then there are that mischievous vendors who try to act all playful and wink at the buyer, who was busy trying to avoid that very act. Whatever be the case, everyone wants to get the whole ordeal done as fast as they can, so they will be able to move ahead to interesting times.

If there is one thing that every potential buyer of a condom wants to avoid, it is the process of buying the condom itself. As much an oxymoron as that sounds, there is enough research to support it, not that any discerning Indian would really want some random statistics thrown at him to prove something he already knows.

This is where the initiative to provide an online platform to buy the condoms to be delivered at your home, comes as a relief for every potential buyer. CondomBazaar.com provides the exact, easier and better alternative, and since it doesn’t even ask for the identity of the buyer and delivers directly to the doorstep, any prospective embarrassment, or awkwardness could be avoided.

The site is pretty easy to navigate and does provide you with condoms of every major brand and then some more. There is no dearth of options to choose from catering to the most private and personal needs that go into making an individual out of a person. The mode of operation itself, does not deviate very much from any of the usual e-retailers, and the packaging and transport are totally secure. The contents of the package are concealed and secured so that only the buyer is aware of what is in it.

Condombazaar.com is a great attempt to bring together the best of both worlds in utilizing the boom of e-retailing markets to address a curious problem that every one of us faces, creating an entity that is a product of imagination based on adequate market research. Being in business for more than 7 years, they know the in and out of the market, have the experience in delivering across all locations (which in itself is a major achievement in India given the geography of the country). To top everything, the site even features reviews by the users, some of which can quite be eye openers.

If reading so much about condoms had stirred the urge to try the site, do not resist it.

Happy Shopping from CondomBazaar.Com          


Posted on Monday, April 18, 2016 by veturisarma

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07 March 2016

Shrestha sought silence since simmering soliloquies seemed superfluous. She sipped syrup soundlessly; seconds stood still. Sauntering senseless she saw something seemingly supernatural, serene, strikingly subconscious. Solace swallowed. She surrendered softly.

Posted on Monday, March 07, 2016 by veturisarma


04 January 2016

2015 was another year where I was certain that I would not meet my target of 50 books and I lived up to my expectations. I was able to finish/discard 19 books in all, and a lot of them have been mediocre. I tried to make up in quantity what I lacked in quality last year by reading a lot of books by first timers and unknown authors and they have disappointed me, but the biggest one of them all were Byomkesh Bakshi stories and The Seeker by Karan Bajaj. I have expected a lot from both these books and they have been very disappointing to say the least.  

So here are the others I read this year, in no particular order.

1.     Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka: If you are among the Cricket Lovers who can also appreciate fine commentary, then this is the book for you. Karunatilaka’s biography of a fictitious and eccentric Off Spin bowler from Sri Lanka tells you more about the game, the country, 1996 World Cup and what the victory meant to them than even Kumar Sangakkara’s Bradman Oration. Though a bit lengthy and unorthodox in its narrative, Karunatilaka’s wit and various anecdotes sprouting liberally along its way the book makes for a delightful read. Watch out for the wonderful epilogue. Strongly Recommended.

2.     Confessions of a Private Tutor by Vikram Mathur: It’s a guilty pleasure that I indulged myself in when I had to work early morning at 6 AM to 3 PM for about a month. There was no one along with me and I was sitting by myself when a couple of user reviews about its raunchy content made me buy it off Flipkart for 47 INR. Going by my expectations and the genre of the book, I have to say that I was surprised that the author made a decent job of making me read till the end. Savita Bhabhi meets 50 Shades of Grey. Leave everything else I wrote about the book except the last sentence. If that interests you, this is for you.

3.     The Humming by Deepak Karamungikar: I’m a huge fan of short stories, and having written a few of them myself, I would like to think that I know a thing or two about them. I make it a point to read a few Self Published Authors that I know through online interactions and I picked this one by Deepak as I read a couple of short stories he wrote on his blog. I’m not particularly impressed with this collection partly because these stories were written some time ago, and I guess the author was still evolving into a better one while he was writing these. I don’t want to open the book again and go through its index to remember a story that I would like to mention here. I guess that says more than anything I can say about this anthology.

4.     Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar: This is what I wrote on GoodReads when I finished reading this book. Had Kunal Nayyar been a blogger, I don't think this book would have existed.

Anyways, when I first saw this book on the stands I thought a book by Raj of Big Bang Theory would be funny and irreverent, but probably I had too high expectations on this one. Kunal didn't write his lines for BBT, so I guess it was my mistake expecting the same level of wit and humour from this book. I can't say I hated it, but this is not a book I would fondly recommend to my friends.
Nothing to add.

5.     An Assassin’s Diary by Arthur Bremer: I was interested in this book ever since Paul Schrader mentioned it as one of his inspirations for writing Taxi Driver. This is the diary of an assassin and it was presented as it was written with no editing, no corrections typos or otherwise. It provides an account of Arthur’s daily life on the days prior to his plotting to shoot Nixon. Arthur includes mundane details like fares of the stuff he brought and how he was able to cheat the cops to immigrate to Canada. The most interesting thing about this book, however, was to see how Schrader created the most fascinating character of Hollywood in 70s, Travis Bickle, from this memoir. The dialogue and scenes do not appear verbatim, but one can see a lot of Travis Bickle in Arthur Bremer.

6.     Nari by Sharath Komarraju: If you can forgive Sharath’s strange fixation for being vulgar and raunchy, the first half of Nari is an entertaining pulp novel thinly disguised as a tale of rape and sexual abuse, probably inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s legendary film Rashomon. But once the narrator is changed halfway, it all goes downhill. The book is an easy read and what it lacks in intelligent plotting, makes up with its prose and the characterizations of its leads. Sharath also tries to ask some important questions about Rape and even offers a casual look and a simplistic explanation into the psyche of victims and perpetrators of the act. They didn’t resonate particularly well with me, but that’s not to say they won’t appeal to anyone. The best thing I can say about the author is that I will buy another book written by him.

7.     Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh: The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh is the finest work of Historic Fiction written in our times, not just because it is well researched, or intimate and epic at the same time, but it also shows how Historic Fiction should be written. The last instalment of the trilogy on Opium Wars between East India Company and China, brings back all the protagonists of the earlier two parts and narrates their tales through Kesri Singh and Indian Hawaldar in charge of a battalion in the army. Ghosh does not let his work attributed pure academic importance by painting history in broad strokes, but gets his hands dirty by exploring the lives of each of his characters during the war and how it has effected them, and none of them seems alternate or revisionist history. An ambitious work from an acclaimed author at the heights of his prowess. Strongly Recommended.

8.     Byomkesh Bakshi Stories by Saradindu Bandhopadhyay:   The stories are severely dated, or probably much of the good stuff is lost in translation, or there are better Byomkesh Bakshi stories than the ones chosen in this collection. Whatever might be the reason, this book has been a major disappointment for me, especially after the expectations I had before picking this up.

9.     Drop Dead by Swathi Kaushal: Another one of those easy read whodunnits I read in office over the ample leisure time provided by the early working hours. The whodunit genre has really been done to death and there isn’t much any new writer can do with the all too familiar red herrings. There will be a twist at the end, and many of us would be proved wrong by the time the truth unfolds but everything is yawn inducing. If you replace the book title with any other murder mystery out there, the review turns out to be the same. As a side note, there are numerous references to Priayanka Chopra in the book, so I won’t be surprised if she picks up this book and decides to turn it into a franchise.

10.  Getting Even and Side Effects by Woody Allen: A collection of essays, memoirs, short stories and some more bizarreness dished out by Woody Allen in his characteristic prose and style. People familiar with his work would enjoy this to the core like I did. If you can imagine him narrating the stories in his voice, it would be even more delicious. Guess I should look out for an audio book if he ever did one for this.

11.  The Seeker by Karan Bajaj: Read review here.

12.  The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty: One of the books that I abandoned midway this year as the pace was too slow and the chapters felt repetitive. After the success of Gone Girl, there were a lot of books claiming themselves to be the next Gone Girl, or whose blurbs read “If you loved Gone Girl, you would love this”. I fell into that trap, but couldn’t read more than 100 pages till the secret was revealed. Not interested in what happens further.

13.  The Mammaries of the Welfare State by Upamanyu Chatterjee: Agastya Sen of English August returns in this sequel to Chatterjee’s debut masterpiece and the novel is typical of all Upamanyu Chatterjee’s work. Difficult to read, eccentric characters, laborious prose needing endless run to dictionaries. Agastya Sen is a man who I love a lot and Chatterjee makes him even more grumpy than it was possible for him in the first edition, but he is older and became more eccentric than ever. For fans of UC, there is no need to recommend his books, but for others I can’t really say.

14.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I read the book after I watched the movie, and I liked both of them far better after reading the book. I was able to appreciate David Fincher’s choices of what to retain and what not to in his adaptation owing to the constraints the film medium poses him, and I liked Gillian Flynn’s book to pieces. Definitely Recommended.

15.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: Another “Girl” book, only far better than Husband’s Secret. Though the curse of repetitiveness persists in this book as well, a problem even Gone Girl had, the plot was moving and made me interested in the proceedings. I was able to empathize with the protagonists and the ending was unexpected, rang true and satisfactory. Recommended if you like Gone Girl. No Kidding.

16.  Breach by Amrita Chowdhury: Read review here.

17.  Delhi Noir by Various Writers: I’m a huge noir fan and have watched a lot of films and read books on the genre so I was pretty excited when I knew of this book after watching B.A Pass which was based on the short story Railway Aunty from the Delhi Noir anthology. Delhi Noir boasts a collection of Noir Stories by famous authors and a couple of other stories are done well, but the anthology itself turned out pretty mild and unintelligent for Noir fans like me.  The writers seemed to be more intent on getting the atmosphere right and may be Delhites would love their attempts, but the plots aren’t much to write home about. The language was a delight though.

18.  Fairy Tales at Fifty by Upamanyu Chatterjee: Read review here

19.  Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh: Train to Pakistan was Khushwant Singh’s most popular novel and the author was in fine form writing this, but it’s a shame that I read it at a time when I was slightly jaded with all the novels I read on Partition. The event itself bores me now, not that I’m indifferent to what happened, but I read so much about it that I needed a break. That does not take anything away from this celebrated work which, I feel, should be made a part of academic curriculum for students.

So, that’s the reading list for the year and my thoughts on the books. Clearly, there is not much quality and I should have better recommendations this year, though the target of 50 books for the year remains, which I have never been able to achieve. I opted out of receiving books for reviews as one of my New Year Resolutions because they have stopped sending me, so I think the number would be even lesser next year, but hopefully I can make it up with quality what I lack in quantity.

Please post your lists too, so that I can pick up some recommendations


Posted on Monday, January 04, 2016 by veturisarma

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06 November 2015

The question has been on my mind for sometime but I have been postponing it like all other things in my life. I realise the perks of being anonymous and maybe it is time now for me to start writing something really anonymous. I wrote about the futility of maintaining a diary sometime ago, and the issues I talked about still exist, some of them more intense than ever, but I don't know if anonymous blog would be an answer.

All my blogs so far have started with intentions that are private, but turned outward either into materialistic pursuit, or artistic satisfaction, generally drifting away without a sense of direction and turned out to be messy affairs. Today, I don't feel as inferior as I did when I started blogging and deleting them, but I still don't know what I truly am, which was the purpose I had in my mind when I started writing.

I wrote random depressing posts and felt good about them, the language, the ideas and the fact that I was able to string meaningful sentences together gave me a sense of achievement, but soon they seemed too little and inadequate to offer any sense of relief. Maintaining the blogs have become a chore, none of them told anything about me that I didn't want to admit to myself which kind of defeated the purpose while serving it at the same time like a backhanded compliment or an inside joke that only I was privy to, and deleting them proved more enjoyable than adding up more exaggeration and fiction into the world. Somehow, all of them found a way to resurface with funkier masks, sillier antics, laughable dignity and the works.

There are still a lot of things about me that I refuse to acknowledge. I have difficulty in admitting to myself about the kind of person I am, or probably I don't have any difficulty which is a bigger issue. I seem to be tied up by invisible, imaginary, wrought iron chains that comfort me. On nights like tonight, when I'm all alone and restless, when sleep beckons me but I don't want to succumb to it, not give into its warmth and revolt against the comforts on offer. What for?

I never had any problems with sleeping or forgetting things, but on some nights I simply refuse to sleep. I know if I hit the bed right now, I will sleep like a baby, but then there will be many more nights like this, and all I would be left with will be sleep. It is not such a bad thing in itself, but it is besides the point. I stay awake and waste the time, so that I know the pain of time being wasted, and I know the pain of wasted time, though the realization itself is transient.

There is no darkness to hide here. I'm not in any kind of struggle for being myself. The issues of ethics and morality, the sense of right and wrong, pride and responsibility have no relevance anymore, since I'm too fucked up to even talk or think about them. I'm past that phase where one tends to attribute imaginary weight to these issues that pretty much everyone else on the planet is facing. My aim is not to romanticize philosophy, not that I can do that, but to see how far the anonymity can help me in talking aloud of things I'm too ashamed even to look back.  

What am I going to achieve with another one of these? Will I be able to plunge deeper to get into the real me? Would it worth the hassle? What if anyone recognizes me? Would I be able to face them? Tell them that this is me. I shudder. Will I even then, be able to do the no-holds-barred approach and bare everything for - the for also puzzles me, like who was I going to write it? The pain of being anonymous is when the mask comes off, and it is a constant fear before it does, and outright embarrassment after it does. Is there anything worth still being embarrassed about? Whichever way it turns out, I'm not quite sure if I would be able to succeed in my quest before either of these happens.  

Posted on Friday, November 06, 2015 by veturisarma

1 comment

26 October 2015

Narahari walked into the room carrying a huge basket of Samosas with him. He seemed to struggle with its weight, so I thought of giving him a hand.

He was quick to chide.."Arey let it be Babai....don't worry about it. I'll handle it, you just take rest for the day. I'm not going to let you work on your last day, just like how you helped arrange all these things for my uncle's retirement."

The words retirement and last days stuck with me for a while as the realization dawned on to me.  It was not painful, but it confused me. I never knew anything other than this station for the past fifteen years of my life. What was I to do with my days? I took a samosa from the plate as Narahari walked away leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I walked towards the canteen where everyone stood up and greeted me. I took a seat among them and someone ordered tea for me while the banter continued. There was a happy vibe to the proceedings that I have not seen earlier at the canteen. May be it was the bonus, or all of them were happy to finally see my back. The tip of my tongue got scarred as I sipped my tea eagerly. One of them joked about it, but I didn't hear what was said.

"Mamaa..." Gangaram yelled at someone passing by. "Let us see the banner"

It was Narahariagain who came towards us and asked one of us to hold the banner at the other end as he unrolled it in front of us. Gangaram seemed to be satisfied with the font and the colour they used in writing it. I examined it carefully for a while. They got the spelling for my name right, but they misspelled retirement as "Retirment". If it were a file on my desk, I would have corrected it, but I smiled the thought away. It wished me health, peace and a happy retirement.

An auto rickshaw brought by wife Rama, my son Rajasekhar and his 6 month pregnant wife Sridevi. I took them towards the meeting room where the function was to be held. The Sectional Engineer, Ravi Krishna, who would be the chief guest for the evening, saw our family together and gave us a huge smile. He came towards us, shook hands with Rajasekhar, namasteyed my wife and inquired Sridevi about her health. That was more than what he ever spoke to me. He told us that he would be joining us in a short while, and asked us to get going.

We were the first to arrive inside and it felt odd. My wife and Sridevi sat in the front row while Rajasekhar and I walked along the length of the room, not having anything to say to each other. We tried to avoid each other’s’ gaze and smiled when we did. It was a discomforting experience to be alone in that huge room which intimidated us both with its vastness and its accusatory silence it cast upon us.  Probably my son felt it would be beneath the dignity of the room or the occasion to disturb the peace.

I heard a commotion outside and saw that people are coming towards the room, speaking in high pitched voices. Each of them came towards me, shook my hands and took their seats towards the back end of the room. Ravi Krishna Sir was the last to arrive, carrying with him the speech he was about to read, and I observed despite myself that he also brought the cover which has a gift of Five Thousand Rupees contributed in cash. I was the one who collected the same amount for Narahari’s uncle Vasudeva Rao, so I think I would get the same. The blue cover shone in his hands for a while, before he folded it and kept it in his pocket. He took his chair on the makeshift stage made for the function. He looked lonely on the stage as he saw the banner straining his neck, and read it thoughtfully for a while.

Narahari arranged the mike and the podium, and started the proceedings for the day. He invited me on to the stage and made me sit alongside Ravi Sir. Three of my colleagues brought a garland and a shawl and handed it over to Ravi Sir. The sparsely occupied room clapped for a while as he spread the shawl around me and folded his hands at me. I felt the weight of the garland pleasantly on my shoulders and took off the shawl after a while. Narahari invited Ravi Sir to speak a few words about my retirement.

On any other day, along with my colleagues at the back end of the room, I would have been joking about the same speech that Ravi Sir carried for all retirement functions. All of his speeches said the same thing about the employees, thanked them for their contributions, wished them luck and other frivolities. Some of us, including me knew the parts of that speech by heart and would mime along with Ravi Sir as he read from it, but on that day I was wrapped in attention, waiting to listen to what he has to say about me.

Ravi Sir reached the podium, cleared his throat and gestured for all of us to be quiet. I thought he was dressed up for the occasion in a new shirt.

“SatyanarayanaGaru has been a wonderful employee for as long as I can remember, and he has more experience than me in serving the organization and the government. Though our interactions were pretty short and infrequent owing to the busy schedules we had to manage, I’m certain that I would have loved to spend more time with him than I could. He earned all that he has achieved and was never short of advice or guidance for his subordinates. Most of us have fond memories of working with him, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual with him.

“He has always been a symbol of honesty and integrity, two qualities that we must inculcate in ourselves and pass on to our future generations. He wore the uniform with a definite pride and always strived to contribute to the best of his abilities. SatyanarayanaGaru is a man, for whom everyone wants to do something good, and I wish I could have done a lot more to him than I did, but the government works in curious ways and I think everyone of us would feel better if we don’t belittle the occasion with any kind of pettiness, for this is not a day to bemoan. This is a day to cherish, and rejoice, and bid adieu to one of the finest servants we had the pleasure to have. I’m sure the man himself would carry no bitterness towards his superiors, colleagues or subordinates on this day, and continue to bless us. The Station does not forget your spirit Sir, and you will be in our thoughts for a long time.

“Knowing SatyanarayanaGaru, I’m certain that he would have carried on for another ten years, but I think this is the time for him to relax and look back at a fine career, and spend the rest of his time peacefully with his beautiful family."

The speech rang surprisingly true, didn't feel clichéd at all, and I liked what Sir had to say about my honesty. Ravi Sir was known for his hyperbole in these retirement meetings, and I think he liked his own speeches. He didn't hit a wrong note and his pauses were effective, almost as if he practiced the night before. He looked up from the paper he was reading from, surveyed around the room for a while and walked back to his seat, as if he was totally unaware of the applause coming from all around the room. For him, the job was done. I felt the speech was particularly heartfelt, though Ravi Sir concealed his emotions rather well. A tear drop has started to well in my eye, and if the speech had gone any longer, I guess I would have broke down.

My turn came next when Narahari asked me to speak a few words. I'm surprised how much I was waiting for this moment when I took the podium. I saw all the familiar faces, I know their smiles, even as early as last month I was standing along with them smiling at Vasudeva Rao on his retirement.

I can't exactly recollect what I said on that day. I know that I spoke of the privilege for working with a group of people who have become an extended family, who were always in my thoughts even on the days I took leave. I told them that for more than 30 years, the station had been my life and waving off the trains gave me a high that I cherished even in my sleep.

I spoke of the different places in the country I worked in, which gave me an understanding, albeit limited, of this vast country and its heritage, and that have been learning experiences in their own ways. I didn't remember any incidents that I could narrate, so even as I'm speaking I was afraid that my speech was getting generic. I wanted it to work somehow, be the darling of the room for at least one day, on the last day.

Though I could have stood on that stage for the entire day, my legs started to give away by producing the creaking sounds at the joints. I took off the garland which freed myself a bit, and leaned my elbow on the podium for support. I thanked my wife for being my companion on this journey, and my son and daughter in law got a passing mention as well.

My voice started to choke but I felt my last day should not be wasted on these trivialities, but these are the only things that  I have to show for the past 30 years. My legs started to shake a little bit as well, but I didn't want to leave the stage without an applause. So far, I got only disinterested glances from my son, lot of tears from my wife and a look of suitable appreciation from my daughter-in-law and nothing else from my colleagues. I think Ravi Sir was listening to what I'm saying in his own way, typing away into his mobile.

When I didn't get anything else to say, and felt spent on the stage, I broke down. My last day at the office, as unremarkable as everything thus far.  The tears that I was fighting back valiantly, flowed easily on my cheeks and I couldn't dare looking at anyone in the room. Narahari, along with a few others came on the stage and carried me away. I told them I was alright.

Ravi Sir didn't know how to react to my tears and he stood a respectful distance away from me, as if to say that he didn't want anything to do with them. When my tears subsided, he handed me the blue cover that he retrieved from his pocket. More claps followed around the room, as I took the cover and put it into my pocket.
My son hugged me when I came down from the stage and told me that I have done a great job in my career. My wife wanted to do that too probably, but held herself back and looked at me with a great deal of admiration. I can't remember who put the garland over my neck again, but even when I was conscious of it in the auto rickshaw back home, I didn't put it away. That night Rajsekhar and his wife went to a movie, leaving us for ourselves.

We talked long into the night, Rama and I, about a lot of things that I never paid any attention to. I told her that I would tell about this day to my granddaughter, I wish Sridevi gives birth to a daughter, about what Ravi Sir had to say about me at my farewell. I also decided not to spend the money I got from the blue cover, and use it to buy a gold bangle or something for her. It was not such a bad day at all.

Rama and Rajsekhar were taking Sridevi to the hospital when I came home after a stroll around the colony. They told me to come with something to eat for dinner and left in a hurry. I think it was the first time that I remember when I was left all alone in our house. They didn't go for a scan so we don't know yet whether it would be a girl or a boy. I wished it to be a girl, and I suddenly remembered the promise I made to myself on the day of my retirement. I went into our bedroom, opened the locker of the almirah and took out the blue cover which still retained its shine. When I opened it, I felt a rude shock. It was empty.

The first thought was fear. I can't understand why I was afraid or what for, but suddenly my body felt sweaty. For a moment, I didn't know what to do. I'm sure no one else apart from me knew where the cover was, or what was inside it. I didn't even tell Rama about it. I trust Rajsekhar enough to rule him out, and anyway he didn't have keys to the locker. The keys were with me all along.

I called both of them anyway. Rama denied having any knowledge of it, and Rajsekhar seemed irritated at the seeming triviality of my questioning. I didn't have a reason not to believe them, and a part of me felt bad for casting a doubt over them, but the mystery remained unsolved. I remember it was the same cover that we gave to Vasudeva Rao. Probably it was misplaced. It may still be with one of my colleagues or with Ravi Sir himself. He rarely pays attention to the things on his desk, or in his drawer. He often forgets handing us over our promotion or hike letters, so I thought there was a good chance of the cover still lying around him. Or, it may still be with Narahari and Gangaram, who might have played a little prank, in good faith of course. I just had to ask them, and we might all have a big laugh about it.

It was almost three months that I'd been to the station, and though the place had no visible change, it felt more youthful and vibrant. Probably with the retirement of some old bones like Vasu and I, the place was bustling with activity. Narahari recognized me immediately as I stepped into the office. He was seated in the desk that I used to sit, so I assumed he had taken over my role.

He came towards me with a big grin on his face. " Arey Babaii...come in. What a surprise? You started missing the station in just a couple of months? I used to bet with Gangaram that you would come to the office again and it's just a matter of time. Come and sit in your chair."

I told him that it was alright, but he insisted. "Baabaai...as far as I know the seat always belonged to you. I can't sit there while you are in. Please sit. I insist. And what will you have? Irani Chai and Samosa?"

"No, I'm not you guest or something Hari. Don't embarrass me. I just wanted to drop in and see how you all are doing, and if you are missing me."

"Oh we all are Baabaai. We think daily of you when we meet for Tea. The times we spent together. Ahh, the best of the time I spent at the station. Now, we are just running here and there all day. We miss the stories, more than anything Baabai."

If he had any knowledge of the purpose of my visit, he didn't show it. He spoke without stopping even for a moment, like I was his long last friend, while we hardly had much to discuss when we were colleagues.

"How is Vasu doing?" I asked him as I felt it rude to bring the topic of money too soon.

"Ah, just like you. He misses the station too much. He comes here quite often, and I'm sure you would too. He says I can't just let go of this so soon. It's gone into my blood and bones. Anyway, these things are all fine. Tell me the purpose of your visit. I was going on and on without even asking you what brought you here. Not that I would mind you being here, just wanted to know everything is alright at home. Ah, here comes the Samosa. Have it."

I was glad when he brought the matter up, as I was getting a bit restless with all the small talk. I brought it up carefully enough so as to not let my tone be accusatory. I had no intentions of offending anyone.

"The cover. The one which Ravi Sir presented me on the day of the retirement. You remember it don't you?"
"Yes Babai. I was the who collected the money. All 5,000 of it."
"It was empty, when I opened it today."

Despite myself, I checked for his reaction, tried to look into his eye to in search of something even I don't know. He seemed genuinely surprised.

"What are you saying? It can't be possible. Gangaram and I collected all 100 Rupee Notes and went to Kesava to get 1000 Rupee Notes. All five of them. I can't believe it turned out to be empty. What a shame. Let's go and ask Gangaram if he knows anything."

"Don't bother Hari. Let it be. I just wanted to ask if you know anything about it. I don't want to shake up the station or anything."

"Arey Babai. Always playing the decent guy. Don't worry. I'm not going to say that someone stole it. I will just ask Gangaram. He is quite a guy with his pranks and all. We all know it right. It's all harmless. Let us just ask him."

I didn't try to dissuade him enough, but I felt hopeless and a bit embarrassed by the minute as the ordeal went longer. Gangaram tried to remember the day and if he indeed put the notes into the cover. Narahari told him that he remembered it was Veerababu who put the notes into the cover, as he gave 1000 Rupee notes in exchange for the 100 Rupee notes. So, we went to Veerababu.

Veerababu used to give loans for everyone in the office for an interest rate on par with the banks. Everyone in the station took loan from him at one point or the other, and he had a knack of getting the money back without the things taking ugly turns. He was the one who knew our financial status better than even us. He remembered the exact date and time when he gave the crisp 1000 Rupee notes. He said that he could even give us the serial numbers of the notes if he were given some time to refer to his records. We told him that we won't be needing that, and that there might have been a misunderstanding somewhere. He asked us to inform him if we were ever to reach to the bottom of the scenario and could figure out where the money turned out to be. We promised we would and came back to the canteen.

"It only leaves Ravi Sir." Gangaram said as we were sipping tea.
"This is getting ridiculous. Stop it ra..I think I will go back." I said finishing my tea.

"Arey stay on Baabai. This is not ridiculous. I'm just getting curious about the whole thing. I don't mean Ravi Sir did it on purpose. We all know he's a bit absent minded. Who knows, the cover might have been misplaced and may still be at his desk. There is no harm in asking and confirming." Gangaram tried to reason.

"No. I don't want to ask him. It's my money anyway, so I'd appreaciate if both of you leave it for the moment. I will check again at my home. Probably the money is still at home."

I stood up and made my way towards the exit leaving both of them behind. There was no point in dragging this longer. I didn't have a good feeling about it even as I was walking back to catch an auto.

Ravi Sir saw me and waved at me to come towards him. I approached him with a smile and he asked me what I was doing at the station again after retirement. He asked about Rama and Sridevi, and I told him that my daughter-in-law was due to deliver any moment.

He asked me to come along with him to his office. We sat opposite to each other and I wondered if I should bring the subject of the cover.

"I'm getting transferred to Northern Region. So I thought I should catch up with you as well before leaving. Is everything else fine? Health and all?"

"Everything is perfect sir. God has been kind. I couldn't ask for more. "

"So what brings you here Satyanarayana Garu? You wanted to meet your old friends I believe."
"Yes Sir. It has been a long time and I was kind of missing the chaos of the station."
"I see that you are fidgeting a bit, and I saw you have long conversations with Gangaram and others. If there is anything I can do to help, I would be glad to."

His question was direct and caught me off guard. I didn't think I was that obvious.

"It's the cover sir. The one I got for my retirement. It was empty when I checked it today. So I was wondering whether it was misplaced at the office."
"Oh, such a shame. I didn't look into it to confirm whether it had money in it. Let me check over my desk. It is such a mess over here. May have got misplaced."
"Don't bother sir. I must have kept it somewhere else."
"Anyway, I will check thoroughly once again, and please come tomorrow once to the office. If I find it, I would definitely hand it over to you. Money at this stage in life is important, and I know the pensions don't cover everything."

I thanked him for being generous to understand my position and for not misunderstanding my intentions.  
When I came back from Ravi Sir's office, Vasu was waiting for me. I was surprised to find him there. He had a smirk on his face that I couldn't fathom, as if we were some kind of partners in a crime no one else had any idea about.

"So, did the bugger believe you?" He asked.
"About what?"
"Arey don't play the innocent. I thought of the same plan that you had. Only you had the guts to take it so far as Ravi Sir's office. Did he believe your story?
"It is not a story. I didn't find the money inside the cover, if that is what you are referring to."
"Damn yes it is what I'm referring to. So, you still say that the cover didn't have the money in it. You are an adamant bugger." Vasu's smirk turned into a guffaw.
"I don't like your accusatory tone, and I don't have to prove my honesty to you."
"Ah, what use is the honesty if you can't pawn it off for a little con? Your honesty isn't worth Five Thousand." He sounded crazy.

I walked away from him. In the end, I became the accused. I couldn't believe it. My mobile rang in my pocket. It was from Rama. She told me that Sridevi gave birth to a baby boy, and asked me to come soon.

I gave out a weak smile. It was a baby boy. I thought I should tell him the story of Kadruva and Vinatha instead. It will definitely be a better story than my honesty.

Posted on Monday, October 26, 2015 by veturisarma