Pull back that label

As the 6am alarm rang out, Harsh stretched out his hand to silence it. He didn’t particularly like getting up early, but he had to. His family had recently moved across town. The daily ride to school was now an hour long through the harsh metro traffic. That wasn’t the only difficulty the move had brought with it. He was now that much further away from his best friend Vikram.

Harsh was definitely the quieter of the two. Vikram on the other hand, was a glib talker and a good athlete. These qualities had helped him earn Harsh’s admiration and respect among the other boys. They both shared the same desk by virtue of roll numbers in sequence and a steady friendship had developed for about two school years now. Harsh enjoyed the new world that Vikram opened up for him. Through Vikram, he’d get invited to some of the exclusive parties thrown by seniors. In return they’d work together on projects and Harsh would liberally help his partner out. The move across town had made it difficult to get together and it was beginning to strain the friendship. Harsh did not have to be reminded about this as it already weighed heavily on his mind.

At school that day Harsh was called out of class by a junior boy. “Harsh Thomas?”, the boy yelled out from the doorway oblivious of the teacher who was still teaching. “Yea, here.” Harsh yelled back. The teacher hurled a chalk as if it were a guided missile seeking out the source of the casual response. “Balakrishnan sir wants to meet you after class” said the boy quickly and ran back out into the corridor clearly embarrassed that he had not noticed the class teacher teaching.

In the 15 minute break Harsh went over to the Physics lab where he knew he would find Balakrishnan. Balakrishnan, or ‘Bala’ was loved by his students for his easy-going nature. Students who were in Bala’s good books always saw great grades on their school year projects and Harsh’s inventive project submissions were a favorite. Last year, Harsh had demo’d a 3-wheel pulley to Bala arguing that even though it was the most efficient of pulley systems one wheel was more practical, especially when the rope kept slipping off. This year the deadline had been short and Harsh had put in his best.

“Harsh – is that you?” Bala emerged from his office. “Good! I have an important question for you – and I want you to think carefully before you answer”. Harsh settled in on a tall stool at a lab table and looked back. “Vikram tells me that he prepared his chart in your presence – is that true?”. “Yes!” Harsh lied impulsively. He would check with Vikram later, but they had not been working together for some time now. Bala weighed Harsh’s reply and a sense of awkwardness hung in the air. “Alright, go on”.

Harsh returned to class and went up to Vikram – “What’s up with Bala man? He wants to know if you prepared and submitted your chart”. Vikram said “Yea, Ameya told Bala that the chart was originally his and that I had just put a fancy border around it. I wanted to kick that geek real hard when I found out, but then I asked Bala to verify with you”. “Did you make sure Bala knows that I did the chart?”. “Yes, of course I did!” said Harsh. He realized he had said that to curry favor with Vikram. Things had gotten incredibly confusing now. Vikram wasn’t known to rip charts off other boys, but Ameya was not known to lie either. In fact, Ameya and Harsh had met up a couple of times after school – he lived closer to Harsh’s new place than any of the other boys.

That same night Ameya cycled over to Harsh’s place to talk some sense into him. “Bala tells me that Vikram prepared his chart with you. I find that strange since I recognize that chart work from my last year’s project. It was left to rot at the lab; Vikram must have picked it up and submitted it. Why are you standing up for him? He’s obviously lying”. Harsh was now beginning to feel very naive for standing up for Vikram. “Are you sure? I mean, why would Vikram lie?”. “I don’t know, but I do know this …” said Ameya emphatically – “If I can prove the chart is mine, Bala is going to take this up with the school board for plagiarism and lying. I suggest you rethink and go back to Bala before things get worse”.

Ameya’s warning had it’s intended effect. Harsh did not sleep much that night and decided that he had to step up to make an effort to clear things. Vikram could not be found but Harsh still had to go up to Bala. Harsh explained that he had lied to cover Vikram unknowingly and regretted it. Bala was not amused and he decided to dock several points off Harsh’s project grade. Back in class, Ameya confronted Vikram. Harsh watched from his desk as Ameya waved the chart in question at Vikram. A torn  label with Vikram’s name on it hung on desperately.

After school had rung out Harsh sat on the corridor stairs and stared away at the football field to mull over the day. The empty expanse seemed to closely reflect how Harsh was feeling inside. “Hey Harsh”, a voice called out. “Come on! Dad will drop you home after dinner at McD’s”. It was Ameya calling out from his car in the parking lot. He walked up to the car and said “You are seriously not mad at me for lying man?”. “Nah, besides you stood up for a friend and that surely counts for something. But you are incredibly lucky to get away with just a warning from Bala. You should’ve seen how he erupted when I peeled back the label to show him my name. I’ve never seen him turn that red”. “That must’ve been funny. Did you hear about the new movie on Asimov’s Foundation series …” Harsh continued on as he got in. As they drove away, a light behind the school’s name sign and motto switched on to illuminate old letters in the descending twilight – ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’.

Related: Reversal of fortunes.


I am Tinnitus, the sound in Jack’s ears

I’ve known Jack for some time now. It is hard to say when we were first acquainted. He probably became aware of me when he first encountered silence. Only in silence is it easy to pick up on sounds that you do not hear in the ordinary din of every day noise.

I wasn’t always this loud. His ear declined with age and in turn, I increased in prominence. His frequent bouts of ear infection did not help. Eventually, I became loud enough to annoy him every day.

He felt he could no longer listen to music the same way he did. He would wonder what different frequencies he was missing out on. He knew it sounded different, but did not understand what was different. It became important to him to find a solution.

Unfortunately modern medicine has not been able to find a ‘cure’, or eliminate me. Since I am only the dying siren of ear cells that cannot be replaced, medicine can only treat my symptoms – say by increasing blood flow, or by calming frayed nerves.

Let down by medicine, his focus turned to alternatives. When he tried a specific pose suggested by yoga, he became uncertain if he was soothing or aggravating me. When he google’d, he found only temporary relief in treatments such as relaxation music, the sound of rainwater, brown noise or other noises.

If a solution was effective, it would only keep me down for some time. Even an innocuous cup of coffee would bring me out roaring. My persistence and constant presence kept Jack occupied, confused and without sleep. As is common in such cases, he began to feel a sense of hopelessness, impatient and approaching depression. Outwardly he was changing and incessantly worried that I was making him worse.

What Jack didn’t know was how to come to terms with me. By allowing me to turn into an annoyance, he had gone to war with himself. I had become a convenient excuse to not meet his own expectations. When he finally understood this, he took it upon himself to master his mind first.

He’s now come to accept that I am a permanent part of him. The word one might use is ‘habituation’. By strengthening his mind he can finally begin to work on reducing his sensitivity towards me. This could only really be a cure from within himself.

* I am Jacks …


An update on my blog

If you are wondering what’s going on here, this is where I write. I have had a live blog on the web for a really long time now. If you’ll look to your right, you’ll see streamlined post categories including ventures, technology, reflection, india, programming and fiction. These are really the things I write passionately about.


Reversal of fortunes

Boxing was a huge affair at St. Peters. Every kid enjoyed cheering the boxers on until their voices were hoarse. St. Peters, like any other respectable school, divided their students into 4 competitive houses – Reds, Greens, Blues and the Yellows. The houses met annually at the boxing ring to duke it out for medals in the various weight classes. The sport was second only to Soccer in popularity. Watching the mass of boys sing in unison before every bout undoubtedly raised the boxers courage. Their loud, strong voices struck just the right note – Boxing was a gentleman’s sport at Peters. Don’t be misled though, after the bell rang it was each house for themselves as the two boxers fought. With every solid punch that found its mark or after a technical knock-out, the winning house cheered loudly. The boxers were a significant part of this act – sparring for about two minutes that seemed like an eternity, across 3 rounds. The bouts then played themselves out again and again, through the day for 2 days.

Did I mention that the Peters honorary referee – Shroff, was an ex-Peters boy? Shroff managed the fights like a professional would, never allowing a match to get out of hand or violent. If a boy clearly had the advantage, he would make sure the other boxer did not get into harms way. After all, there were parents to answer too. And yet, Shroff never called a fight too early – if he saw a spirited and even fight, he would keep it going. It was necessary for the boys to understand that victory, as well as defeat never came easily.

Not all Peters’ boys had the courage to enter the ring. It was really voluntary. Parents fretted after some boys. Other boys ignored their parents encouragement and chose not to fight. There were all kinds. Harsh was somewhere in between. He was not sure if he wanted to box this year. Last week, just after lunch, Harsh weighed in with all the other boys from his house. He was slated to fight in the heaviest category in Peters. To him, that meant he would be fighting the seniors for the first time. That intimidated him. He wished he hadn’t eaten so much curry and rice at lunch. Had he weighed in a few pounds less, he would have stayed with the welterweights.

On Monday, Harsh woke up feeling like he wanted to box but was still scared. He knew he would have a talk with Brij today, his senior. Brij, short for Brijmohan, headed the house with pride and Harsh looked up to him a lot. Brij would definitely follow up with every boy from the house who could box. He would want to know why Harsh wanted out.

Harsh went straight up to Brij’s class at the lunch bell. Brij had been standing outside the class for the last hour by virtue of not having done his Biology assignment. Harsh looked straight at him “I’m not sure if I want to box”. “And I did not want to do my Biology homework, now look at me!”, Brij replied with a mischievous smile. Harsh was serious though, “I’ll be pulped you Idiot. I can’t box the seniors, they’re just way too good”. “Stop whining and focus on who you’re fighting. Your house needs the participation points. That’s what you ought to box for. If I were you, I would get into the ring and think about slimming down next year. I am a little surprised by your attitude – are you going soft or something? If you’re thinking about failure already – I am not going to keep you on the other teams”. Brij’s direct threat had had the desired effect, Harsh went ahead and put his name down. He could not afford to lose his place on the other teams.

When the draws were announced, Harsh was drawn against Sergio one of the better boxers from Brij’s class. It was not going to be easy to beat Sergio. Sergio’s reach was a lot better than his own. Harsh began practicing for boxing day with his disadvantage in mind. He had consulted with Brij and decided that his best strategy would be to compete with Sergio on movement and agility. He would have to work hard to stay out of the way of the punches and try to win the fight on technical points.

On the day of the first round of bouts, the school rock band took over the boxing ring. They played “We are the champions!” with gusto, followed by a rocking rendition of the school song. The boxers waited in anticipation for their turn. As Harsh got his gear ready with the other boys of his house, he looked out at the ring, Shroff was already there announcing the bouts for the day. The match ups were under way soon.

As Harsh prepared to climb into the ring, he waved at his house supporters. They had been doing well that day and the spirit was infectious. He stepped inside and focused on Sergio. They were both ready to spar. Shroff got them together from their respective corners, shared a few words and began the fight. Before he knew it, Harsh was in the thick of it. Sergio had come out in a belligerent mood and was determined to use his reach to end the fight early. Harsh weaved confidently between the flurry of punches and moved quickly to return with a jab and a nasty cut across Sergio’s chin. Harsh was going to take a few risks even if it meant coming in closer to Sergio. Shroff stalled the match while Sergio rejoined the fight, trying harder to land some good punches in. Harsh’s supporters were going berserk – they were thrilled to see Sergio on the back foot.

At ring side, Harsh tried listening closely as Brij prompted him to stay cool and focus on the technicals for the next round. The blood and adrenalin were now rushing straight to his head. Harsh felt as if he could hear lucidly, but as soon as he stepped back into the ring he began trying to penetrate Sergio’s defense. Sergio, calmer of the two, got in a solid punch to Harsh’s forehead. Stunned, Harsh stepped away and irrationally attempted to weave back in and test Sergio’s guard again.

It was apparent to all that Sergio had a clear advantage now. Sergio let loose a devastating combination that knocked Harsh down. As Harsh collapsed on the canvas, he felt as if he had crashed into a soft pile of snow. As he remained disoriented on the ground, Shroff stepped in and checked. On understanding Harsh’s position, Shroff immediately awarded victory to Sergio. The bout was over for Harsh.

In the weeks that followed all the way to the end of the term, Harsh’s fight was discussed with the very best. It was definitely a tall order for a junior day boy to gain popularity with the boarders and the seniors. He had put up an amazingly spirited fight against a clearly superior opponent. It had been his decision at the time to match punch for punch. He did not regret it. After all, he had all of next year to stick to plan.


My Rhythm

The Rhythm of life, the pulse that courses through everyone’s veins. Yes, that’s me! Jack knows I exist. Jack knows that I am the expression of his soul. When people talk off the beat they simply mean me.

Without me, expression is so incomplete. Jack tends to forget of my existence now and then. I remember on one occasion, Jack wrote his thoughts out about how he felt, but it lacked the life-giving pulse… Jack regretted its lifelessness and tried harder, only to fail and to try again. When he was able to find the rhythm, Jack knew he had it, he did not have to think about it. At that point, I breathed beauty into his expression and a smile onto his face.

Jack remembers the rhythm of his mother’s lullaby, too embarassed to uncloak the memory. The lullaby matched the rhythm of Jack’s heart, always managing to put him to sleep.

Jack knows I exist in the many forms, from the simple ticking wall clock that cuckoos to the the small quartz chip that keeps the fanciest of wrist watches on time. The analytical side of Jack must work hard and find innovative ways to capture the essence of soul. It merely attempts to replace me, never coming close! However, what Jack fails to realize is that I exist in him too.

Unfortunately for him, I don’t think I am going to take the trouble to find Jack, for Jack must find me.


The Bottom of the Inkpot

He stared out at the wet street. It was pouring outside! He walked into his studio apartment and switched on his PC. In the few seconds that it took to boot up he was letting his mind wander through to several rainy days he spent years ago in a different place.

Almost instinctively, at times like these he went into a folder full of pictures of this particular girl he liked, she fit in the frame of his thoughts right now like a glove. He thought of one such wet night. He had had a lot to drink, vodka was so good with great company, went down almost like water. He had not known what had hit him. She had felt the same way.

They got out of the bar and into the street. Walking arm in arm, in a drunken stupor, they climbed into his old blue aston martin. Our protagonists mind was racing through the events at this time, the words they exchanged almost echoed in his mind. He held onto them like treasures, lest he forget, he feared.

“I feel great when I am around you!”, he distinctly remember saying… he looked down straight at her. She looked back a, coy smile telling him that the feeling was mutual. Instinct took over. He leaned over her and for a moment she felt his warm breath. She inched forward encouragingly, he kissed her at first on the cheek, almost testingly. She responded by locking lips with his! He was lost in his very first kiss. It felt great alright.

He wondered, how many years ago was that? A stupid thing to muse over, to interrupt that wonderful theater he was enacting in his mind. He thought, maybe I really did love her. He looked over at the bed, his date was asleep. Almost a hooker, a university student who needed his money, and even more a wild night out downtown. Easy he thought, then erased the thought, embarassingly. He badly wanted to respect her! However, the truth, soon it would be someone else.

He looked back at the computer screen, he was sure he wanted it all to get out of this artificial bottom he had created.


Friends

Shekhar was relatively quiet that day. He had done something he could never have imagined. An act whose consequences he had never fathomed. He walked slowly down to his friends house down the street. His head hung low, he avoided the stares of his neighbours. As he walked, his feet scraped the dust in dejection.

He wish he knew what exactly had swept through his mind as he swung that bottle through the air before it smashed to pieces.

He looked down at his feet. His shoes, bare at the soals, exposing his many soars and blisters to the dust kicked up. He could not have felt sorry for himself for he knew no better. Forever, it was always necessary to have lived with the problems, so abundant and so pervasive. Occasionally, he would glance at the new sneakers the kid in front of the class wore. But he never felt a desire to want, all he felt was pangs of guilt of what had conspired that day at home. It was his priority and his all important consequence to carry that luggage around.

His father had promised to be home that day at 8. It was after all his youngest brothers birthday. His father was a modest worker at the nearby steel plant, but if he wished he could have used the few Rupees he earned that day to feed his 3 children a decent meal.

He could see that Shalini had not eaten that day, neither had the younger Rohit. His mother could only manage a few Rotis which went into his fathers tiffin. A sacrifice they were all willing to make. They had hoped for a little too much, he thought.

He walked and looked down the road. Beyond a large banyan tree whose roots held as much wisdom as one might seek, lay his friends home. Ghanshyams father too worked at the factory, but he cared. Atleast they could eat. The house was not too run-down, neither was it too fancy. It had its own character, a roof with red tiles, few modest windows and a large door, decorated with paintings of elephants carrying Princes of an erstwhile era.

Instead of coming home, he had found his father in the nearby country liquour shop. He had popped in for one drink too many. He came looking for him when he realized that it was quite late for steel workers to return home. He might have dreaded that moment, but all the same he hoped that his father might instead have taken a detour to the bakery on his way home. He loved the cream rolls from the bakery.

He looked at the large door in front of him and knocked hard. An almost urgent desire to meet his friend crept outwards as he knocked. The guilt was hard to bear, all he wanted to do was confess and face the consequences. His young mind automatically led him to Ghanshyams house. He wondered why, at this sensitive time, did he not run instead.

He faced upto his father, with the heart of a lion. With tears in his eyes he mentioned how they had missed him, what they had hoped. A blank look of puzzlement stared back. Almost as if, something might have possessed him. He so much wanted things to be normal that he offered to walk his father back and forget everything. So what if they skipped a meal, dad would be home to contribute to the warmth.

One more drink he had said, slapping Shekhar across the face when he refused. Shekhar walked upto the bar, picked up the bottle and walked back calmly. He swung the bottle hard breaking it against his fathers temple. The blow knocked the older man back of his perch and onto the floor. What followed was more rage, the remnants of the shattered container went straight into his bosom.

Ghanshyam listened carefully as Shekhar wept, telling everything. He whispered “You could not have helped it bro, it’s alright, just let it go, I understand your reasons. “.

His guilt melted away with his tears, he was looking out at the cold streets. Ready to face the consequences, for he had already deposed before who had mattered most. His friend, mattered most, for he knew what was true!

He looked up, saw two stars. Close by, they accentuated each others brilliance. He just wished…