Prose


The Night of the Righteous Cynic

A short story

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Night of the Cynic

photo source: liam tandy on Flickr

People confuse me for a nervous, reticent introvert, except that I am neither timid nor tepid. It is not as if I have distaste for all humanity, but I just don’t like having to engage in small talk with complete strangers or phony, pretentious assholes. I strike up a repartee every now and then, but I have no patience for tittle-tattle, especially when it involves gabbing with condescending, quasi-intelligent bullshitters.

It is no surprise then that I don’t have many friends, but the few I do, I value them like life itself. So, if they invite me to a party, I go, even if I have to put up with unwanted company.

That explains why I end up at Vikas’ party. Vic and I go way back. He is like the brother that I never had, and Maya his wife, is a sweetheart, and as the current lot of mollycoddled children go, their two hyper-energetic brats are relatively tolerable, but as I look around, I begin to hate Vic for the type of company he keeps.

It starts off innocuously. I walk into their house, greet the few acquaintances I know of, settle into a corner with some chips and home-made salsa – Maya’s specialty, turn on the tv with volume turned off to a ball game — my usual routine at their parties.

“Jiten – Can you please handle Varun? I have some work in the kitchen.”
Maya shoves her 1 year old into my lap as she walks into the adjoining kitchen.

“Do I have to?”

“If you want to eat tonight – I am afraid, yes.”

“Where’s his over-pampered brother?”

“Sleepover at friends’.”

“Where’s your irresponsible husband?”

“Out to get some sweets.”

I play with Varun for a while. Cute kid, very restless, very inquisitive, constantly twisting and turning, eyes darting at the guests coming in, and occasionally lighting up with that look of recognition and an unspoken, universal connection when he makes eye contact with other children. I could never figure out why they are attracted to rhymes, animals and other humans of their age, even without enough cognition. Just the way nature works I presume, birds of same feather and all that.

——————–

Guests start trickling in. The living room gets fuller – still no sign of Ranjit, aka, Bobby. Not sure how Ranjit became Bobby, but we call him Bobby since we were kids. So do his parents. We grow up together, Bobby, Vic, and I.  We go to the same school in India.  Bobby and I get admitted to the same school for our Masters in the US, while Vic decides to pursue employment back home.  Eventually, we treat Second City like the Romans treated their not-so-eternal Eternal City and end up together.  Vic, while missing out on the experience of the higher education, still ends up first near downtown Chicago on work Visa and in the process remains a few dollars richer and fulfills an enforced obligation of sustaining us enlightened graduates till we make a buck or two on our own.

And so we reunite – Three amigos, together again!

A decade later, we are semi-established pros now, and live the desi legal immigrant dream of obedient assimilation.  We follow all rules diligently – civic, cultural, and legislative – all the traffic signs, all the traffic lights, the speed limits, the seat belts, the right turns, the left turns, the lane merges, the solid lines, the dotted lines, the how-are-you-doings, the have-a-nice-days, the thank-you-you-toos, the eyes on the prizes, the kneels down to the corporate kingdoms, the mental wanderlusts for weekends – the whole enchilada!

Another hour goes by. Varun gets cranky. His mom obviously forgets about him, you hear her yucking it up with her friends. Finally, Vic gets back with sweets from his favorite desi sweet shop nearby.

“Kyon Bhe Jitu? Do I have to call you? Don’t you check your emails?”

“Email? When?”

“Last night, before calling you about the party.”

“Oh, I don’t check emails after 5”

“But you carry a spiffy little IPhone. Don’t you have your mailbox setup with your email account?”

“Why would I want to?”

“So you can be in touch with your friends!”

“I leave that to the phone portion of the Iphone.”

“Uh! Nevermind.”

He walks away to play good-host with the rest of his guests, ignoring me and his kid from my outstretched arms. I am stuck with the toddler. Varun gets more and more fidgety, and the cuteness begins to wear off. Kids are like toys, great to play with occasionally when they are still happy and well behaved. As soon as they get restless and start going gonzo, it is time to get rid of them. It is always best when they are not your own, so you can dump them without any guilt.

——————–

Finally, Bobby walks in with his new fiancée.  After the perfunctory greetings, he strolls in and leans against the sidewall next to me.

“How are you doing Jitu?”

“Great, man.  You?”

“Awesome.”

Awesome?  He can’t be doing awesome when he went through a seemingly tough divorce not that long ago.  Then again, he is re-engaged within six months, so who knows?  I obviously don’t.

“How’s Anjali doing?”  Another rhetorical question about his new fiancée.  I could care less about Anjali.

“Very good.  She’s here, talking to Maya in the kitchen.”

“Have you heard from Swapna recently?”  I ask him about his ex-wife.  Unlike this new chic he is marrying, I do care about Swapna.

“No.”

“Is she coming to this party?”

“How do I know?”  I can tell Bobby is irritated, but I don’t give a hoot.  “I am not the one hosting the party.” He throws a fake smile at me.

I look at him like he is an idiot, because he is a certifiable shithead to let Swapna go.  Fact is, relationship with Bobby Bonehead is like an all-in-one packaged deal.  The package comes with easy charm and wit, a disarming and friendly presence, an easy-going and carefree attitude, a refusal to grow up and take responsibility, and a lack of keenness to acknowledge the sensibilities of others.  New acquaintances immediately gravitate to him.  It takes a while before you understand the whole deal.

It gets abnormally dark. I look out the adjacent window and see thick black clouds rolling in. I bring Varun’s attention to a stupid squirrel in the backyard, barking up a tall tree.

Seriously, is everything in this country super-sized? I don’t ever remember clouds being so low and so huge growing up and these squirrels here look more like cats back home. I am going on a backpacking trip through Yellow Stone next summer; I will not be surprised if I run into a mammoth during that trip.

Varun looks at the squirrel in amusement. That keeps him quiet for a few minutes. The clouds get darker. Rain looks imminent.  Bobby closes the shutters.  Varun looks at me with those wide, innocent eyes, trying to shove his fist into his tiny little mouth.  I have a soft corner for this kid.  He almost didn’t make it.  We were there that surreal night when Maya delivered him, two months prematurely.  We couldn’t believe it when Vic walked back to our waiting area and told us what the doctor’s message was – that not only the child’s life but also Maya’s life could be at risk, if they didn’t go for an abortion and pushed for a delivery.  It was like an opening scene from a bad Amitabh 70s flick where the hero is born under heavy duress but the mom has to die to setup a clichéd storyline.  Only difference here was it was all too real and Vic was staring down the barrel.  He had talked to Maya and she was very adamant about proceeding with the delivery.  It all worked out in the end.  Varun came out barely breathing, relegated to a pediatric infibrillator for a while, and more than compensating for it since, but his arrival remains ever-memorable amidst extreme anxiety, apprehension and distress.  It still remains the only time I ever saw Vic cry, and still etched in my memory is the sight of Swapna, sitting next to Bobby, and sobbing her eyeballs out like she was about to lose her own child.

I get this sudden urge to punch Bobby in the face.

Even an unapologetic cynic like me realizes the world would be even more of a shithole than it is without people like Swapna.

Who in his right mind alienates a girl like that?  She is one of us.  She has always been one of us.

She started her Masters the same semester as we did.  I met her first during our student orientation.  She hung out with Bobby and I and our little coterie, she got our jokes and jibes, tolerated our male slobbery, bailed us out in group studies, went to movies with us, even cooked our share of food for those summer desi potlucks, and most importantly, she genuinely enjoyed our company.  I always liked Swapna.  She liked bantering with me, but she really liked hanging out with Bobby.  They were smitten by each other.  I remember the evening when we were walking back to our room; Bobby made that announcement to me, stargazing into the sky,

“I am in love, Jitu.”

“With yourself?  I know.”

“No, with Swapna.”

It was the worst kept secret in our circle.

“Have you talked to her about it?”

“Yes.”

“How are you coping with the rejection?”

“No man, she is ecstatic.  We are going to be engaged.”

“You proposed?”

“Yes.  We are calling our parents to let them know tonight.”

“You want me to talk to Uncle and Aunty?” I volunteer to break the news to their parents, if needed.

“Not sure how they are going to take it man.  I might need you to soften them up if I run into any issues.”

Wouldn’t have been the first time, but as it turns out, it wasn’t necessary.

“She’s a good girl.  Not sure what she sees in you, but I am happy for both of you.  Congratulations!”

“Thanks buddy!”

And so, a few months later, just before our graduation, they get married.

Their parents were apprehensive, but not against their decision, and after seeing the two together, they were ecstatic.  They saw what everyone that is not blind could tell, Bobby and Swapna were made for each other.

For the next decade that blazed by us in Chicago, they look the perfect couple.  The winds of trouble sweep in swiftly.  The many times we get together during that time, I fail to catch any noticeable strain in their relationship pointing to the impending breakup.  Obviously, they hide it well.  The once inseparable pair become so insufferable together that they decide to break it up once and for all about six months ago as Bobby drops the proverbial bomb on us that they are both filing for a divorce.  He says they have irreconcilable personal differences and that they both agree that this is their best recourse and it will not be acrimonious.

Imbecile dweeb!  Irreconcilable personal differences?  Who does he think he is?  Did he pick that up from the released statement of one of those Hollywood movie star breakups?  To hell with him!

He never expounds why, and neither do I probe, and for the first time in my life, uneasy grime contaminates my pristine universe, with an unsettling awkwardness beneath the pretentious normalcy.

——————–

There’s lightening in the distance now. Maya comes back to take Varun away.

“Hey Maya, do you know if Swapna is joining us tonight?” I ask.

“She wasn’t sure if she can make it.  She said she will try.”  She goes back into the kitchen, taking Varun with her.

Bobby hangs with the kids immersed in the world of video games, pretending he is not interested in what Maya has to say.

“Boss, can you flip the channel to Fox News?” says the guy on a nearby sofa next to me.

One too many Chicago style deep dish pizzas for this cat!  He looks as wide as he is tall and he is not very tall.

I flip the channel to Fox News.  A hot blonde with heavy makeup wearing an extremely short skirt is critiquing ObamaCare.  The fatso next to me giggles something to a studious looking character wearing glasses to his side.

The Studious Dude is apparently a fan of Rupert Murdoch.  He nods his head approvingly.

“Rupert Murdoch knows how to package things eh.”

“I’ll say.”  Deep Dish giggles.

“Look at what he is doing with Fox Sports.  NFL on Fox is the best.”

“Fox Sports?  Look at what he is doing to News.  Watching news has never been this exciting.”

“Their ratings are sky-rocketing.”

“As well they should.”  Deep Dish giggles again and turns to me with an invitation to join the Fox Fan Club.

I smile and throw the tv remote on to his lap.

“All yours.”

In the meanwhile, there is commotion near Bobby.  Many little dweebs hover around a teenage dweeb, son of the Studious Dude, who has apparently mastered some video game on his PSP.

He puts on a show for his fans, Bobby included, feverishly clicking away with his soon-to-be-arthritic little fingers with all the wide-eyed future gamers gaping in wonder at his wizardry.

I stare at them and shudder at the look of a whole new generation of future desi dweebs.

Deep Dish hops through a few news channels and settles on a Mitt Romney campaign speech on one of them.

“Boss, this guy will raise more money than Obama.”

Studious Dude gives him an all-knowing glance.

“They will be close.  It’s all about the party committees and Super PACs these days, hunting for more donors and more money.”

“I wonder if him being a mourmon will come back to bite him.”

“Always a risk.”

Ah yes, the surreal state of presidential politics and what we look for in our leaders.

Deep Dish and Studious Dude drawl on and on about the candidates’ family background, religious background, racial background, blue states, red states, campaign moneys and campaign strategies.  They seem to know a lot about it, but not once do I hear them talk about where either candidate stands on key issues that affect them and their PSP-driven dweebs directly like education, health care, economy, immigration and taxes.

Imbecile dweebs!

They are lapping up the superficial, substance-less servings from the media outlets.  We watch CNN where political experts draw out fancy charts and cool graphics explaining how each candidate is likely to fair in each state, and how they are targeting the Hispanic vote, Black vote, Asian vote, Women vote, the Gradma vote, the Grandpa vote, and any other vote you can think of.  You can hardly find a station that focusses on issues, stands and candidate plans, validation of these plans and the resulting impacts.  That would be too boring.  Instead, let’s sit back and enjoy the entertainment value these elections provide.

Anjali, Bobby’s new fiancée, tracks him down among the kids in the living room.

“Ranjit, the food’s ready.  If you can eat now, we can still stop by the mall on the way back.”

“We’ll shop  tomorrow.”

She sits in a chair in the far corner of the room in the little dweeb playground along with her would-be.

There’s something wrong with that picture, but to hell with them.  We may have exchanged a grand total of four hellos combined through similar meetings such as todays.  So, when she completely ignores me, I feel relieved and not insulted.

I would much rather discuss with Deep Dish and Studious Dude, what Romney and Obama are wearing during their campaigns, and how that appeals to the 40-50 Asian Indian demographics in the MidWest.

Just before the rain starts to pour in, to my pleasant surprise, Swapna arrives.  She waves at me, walks into the kitchen with some food she brought with her.

Vic pokes me from behind.

“Food’s ready.  Help yourself.  Bobby, food’s ready.  Those video games can wait.”

“Did you cook any of it?” I ask Vic.

“Those sweets you see over there.”

“Didn’t know you worked part-time on Devon Street”

“The way economy is going, you need a backup plan.”

 ——————–

As we go back into the kitchen to get some food, I see Swapna playing with Varun.

“Swapnajeee!”

“Jitujeee!”.

That’s our normal greeting, but I sense a somber tone to her response.

“How are you doing?”

“Getting by. You?”

“Livin’ la vida loca”

I caught her listening to Ricky Martin before one of our study group sessions in college and she never heard the end of it since.

She smiles and brings sunshine with it.

She should be smiling and laughing all the time.  Damn it Bobby!  Imbecile dweeb!

“Do you even know the meaning of it?”

“No, are you suggesting I shouldn’t say it if I don’t understand what it means?  Get out of here.  What planet are you from?”

“Ok, please don’t go off on one of your rants now.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about?”

“Yes you do.  All those diatribes about how the world is falling apart.”

She puts on a brave face, but the world must be falling apart for the poor girl.

“Gosh golly Swapna, I am the most optimistic person in the world.”

“Yeah right, and Ricky Martin has talent too.”

“Touche!  Let me finish my dinner here and I can catch up with you.”

I turn towards the food.

“Jitu, I’d like a chat with you before I leave.”

I sense some apprehension in her tone.

“Sure, I’ll stop by.”

I get back to the living room and see all the seats being occupied by the little dweebs intently watching the little dweeb cartoons on the tube.

I walk into the entrance room and join Bobby, Vic and Maya in the middle of their dinner.

“Should I bring some food over in this room?” asks Maya.

“Don’t worry Maya.  We’ll help ourselves.” says Vic.

“So, did this guy help you at all with any of this?”  I point to the food on my plate.

“Vic?  No!  He claims he is an awful cook.”

“You know that’s just a lazy excuse.  Cooking is not an art like everyone makes it out to be.  All it takes is attention to detail and a desire to get it right.”

“Hey now, I helped!  Who tasted all these items?”

“Yes, he is good at that.” confirms Maya.

“That’s what Bobby was good for, when we were roommates.” I point to Bobby.

“I tried man.  You know I tried.”

“Hey Bobby, you know I am not good at beating around the bush, so I am going to come out and ask.”

Bobby puts his fork down.

“Ok man, shoot.”

“Are you sure you know what you are doing?”

“Is this about Swapna?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, I thought I made it clear that we both know what we are doing.”

“She’s a good, decent human being.  Are you sure you couldn’t work it out together?  You were practically made for each other.”

Bobby gets annoyed again.

“We just want different things at this stage of our lives.  If it makes it convenient for you to accept it by painting me as a bad guy, go ahead, but you always lived in an over-simplified black and white world.”

“Why do you hate her?”

“I don’t hate her.”

“Really?  Then why the hell are you not talking to her?  Why do you both continue to avoid each other?”

“That should be obvious to you man.”

“If you are intent on avoiding any sort of an explanation, just ask me to shut up.  I won’t bother you again.”

“Jitu man, you live in a dream world where everything is cut and dry, no grey areas, only good and bad and angels and demons.  You want everything around you to fit in this world of yours.  It doesn’t work that way.  Each one of us lives in our own version of that dream.  In Swapna’s case, we have a couple of kids, a big dog, a pet parrot, a fish tank, a house with a flower garden and a big sprawling lawn, immaculately maintained.. you know, and we are characters in one of those National Association of Realtors ad pimping house ownership and family life.  Reality is, I am not ready for it yet.  Actually, we are not ready for it yet.”

“God Bobby, you are not starving, you guys got married when you were fresh out of college, totally broke, without a penny in your pockets, and without a place to stay.  Yet, you managed it fine.”

“You are just like her man.  She thinks we can manage just because we managed to eke out a living for ten years.  Look at where I am a decade later.  Still an unstable job, shipped around constantly in the consulting world, always worried about where I might end up next even before I am done with my active engagement, worried about when I am going to get fired if I stay on the bench for too long – tell me how is that an ideal situation for raising a new born?  Plus, I freaking hate the winters here.  I don’t want to buy a house in this market and watch it turn into an albatross around my neck without being able to sell it if I need to get out of town.  But she doesn’t get all that, never really seriously tried to.”

“Look at Vic and Maya here.  They’ve managed.  Looking around, I’d say they are doing pretty good.  You can’t put your life on hold until you win a lottery.  There’s no such thing as a totally stable situation.”

“Leave me out of your debates Jitu.  I am not the one pestering him about his divorce.”  Vic objects.

“So, you are ok with what’s happening!”

“Do I think it sucks?  Of course I do, but all of this is beyond my control.  I know it is hard for you to accept, but you have to trust the fact that Bobby is a fully functional adult who can make his own choices and live with the consequences.”

Bobby nods his head up and down like a bobblehead whose spring is about to come unglued.

“No offense man Jitu, but what do you know about relationships?  Have you ever had one long enough to even understand what it takes to live long enough with someone else?”

“No, I don’t know anything about it.  That’s why I am asking.  Trust me, if this was that Anjali girl you are engaged to right now that you divorced, I would have patted you on the back and congratulated you.  But this is Swapna we are talking about, you know, the same girl from your college days that sat by your bedside for 2 nights to take care of you, brought you meds, made you food, even did your freaking laundry, when you were knocked out practically unconscious by a flu bug in the middle of a nasty winter.”

“You are only interested in a wicked retort for everything, but people are never the same man.  You are not the same guy that you were from the college days and neither are Swapna and I.  You want to live in the past, fine, don’t expect everyone to do the same.”

“That’s fine dude.  As long as you can sleep well in the night, you don’t have to answer to me or anyone else.”

“Hey, you think this is easy on me or Swapna?  You don’t think we argued about this enough?  We lived together for 10 years.  You don’t think a decision to split apart tugs at our hearts.  It absolutely does, but thats life.  You have to move on.  We went through our rough patch, made our decisions and we both moved on.  I am at peace with it.  Right now, I am not thinking about this as much as I am about my future with Anjali.  No offense man, but I am not looking for your approval here.  I would love to have your support because you always stood behind me, but I am not changing my mind because you disapprove.  This isn’t first grade anymore. ”

So, Bobby Bonehead is all grown up right under my nose and I never even noticed it!

He wasn’t done yet.

“In fact man, while we are on the topic of taking responsibilities for our choices, what the hell are you doing with your life?  Can you explain that?”

“Bobby has a point Jitu.  What the heck are you doing?  Why aren’t you settled down?  You are no spring chicken anymore, and it’s not as if you are putting yourself out there among active singles.  Heck, do you even know how to text using your phone?”

Maya giggles.  I feel like I am sucker-punched, Bobby and Vic suddenly gang up against me.  I hate their freaking guts.

“I am waiting for my soul mate to show up on my doorstep, or maybe I’ll come out of the closet soon and announce that I am a homosexual.  Come to think of it, that fat dude that was sitting next to me looks kinda cute.  Can you get me his number?”

“That’s Dinesh. He’s not available. He’s happily married with two children.”  Maya was amused, but Vic wasn’t.

It feels like they’ve planned this counter-attack very well.

“You and your wisecracks! You can pull one out of your ass anytime you need it, but we ask you a straight forward question, and you can’t provide a straight forward answer.”

“This was never about me. It was about Bobby and Swapna.”

“Leave them alone for a second, what about you?”

“I am a single man, a very content one at that, who enjoys everything that the world around me has to offer without being tied down by meaningless social constraints or structures.  What’s wrong with that?”

“How long do you intend to live this lifestyle?”

“Lifestyle is a big word for it, but does it matter?  Do you always have to plan for the future.  What happened to living in the present?”

“If you continue this, you will die lonely and desolate.”

“Under all this fuss and feathers, when you die, you die Vic.  Why do you want to drag the ones close to you through that pathetic, useless state?  Are you telling me you seek pleasure in making your loved ones share some of your pain and misery of those final days?”

“You are incorrigible yaar!  I can’t argue with you.  Keep this in mind though.  You are old before you know it.  Heck, you are already old.  You may not admit it, but without someone to share your life with, that loneliness will consume you.  You still have time to fix it, do it before it is too late!”

“You should be posting to those dating services.” Maya chips in eagerly, “Do you want me to register for you?”

“Thanks, but please don’t do that.”

“Are you on Facebook man?”  Bobby asked.

“No, growing up, we didn’t have the concept of facebooks in our school.  You should know, you went to the same school.”

“You think you are so smart man, but you don’t fool anyone.  I can see through you.”

“Ok Bobby, why don’t you tell me what you see?”

“You are the biggest coward I’ve ever met man.  You plot your philosophies to cover up the fact that you are too afraid, too afraid to face the consequences of tough life choices, like falling in love, fighting through acceptance and rejections, asking for someone’s help to navigate your way through life, or bringing up a family.  Instead, you live behind the façade of some cynical bullshit.  You expect everything around you to be perfect, but you don’t want to do anything about it yourself.  You want everything in life to be neat and tidy, and don’t want to deal with it if gets messy, but life is sloppy and scuzzy and confusing and complex, and with your fear, you will always stay out of it.  You may spend a lot of time on this earth and die like the rest of us, but you would have never lived a life.  You know that saying about dying to live or living to die, you are a perfect example of living to die man, perfect example.”

Not sure if it was frustration from me needling him about Swapna or years of pent up resentment from my barbs, Bobby delivers the knockout punch.

Who needs a psychiatrist when you have friends like this?

I don’t have a response.  I don’t feel like providing one anymore.  I suddenly feel claustrophobic and get this urge to step out and get some air, but I dislike dramatic exits.  I start gobbling the remaining food on my plate so I can excuse myself.

“You don’t have to be mean Bobby!”  Maya interjects.

“Sorry man!  I didn’t mean to come out so strong.  I don’t know what I was saying; I didn’t mean anything by it anyway.”

I sense an impending doom of awkwardness coming, but perhaps for the first time in my life, suffer through a momentary loss of resourcefulness.

I finally recover after an awkward pause.

“No big deal dude.  Never apologize for telling what you believe is the truth.  If you can excuse me now, I have to go find a pet adoption center for some kitten.”

I get up with the emptied paper plate and pat him on the back on the way to the garbage can in the kitchen.

I see Swapna still playing with Varun, surrounded by a few more little dweebs.

“I feel like getting some air.  Actually, I am planning to get out of here.  Can we chat outside?”

“Only reason I stuck around was because I needed to talk to you.”

“OK then, let me say bye to Maya.”

I clean up, get some water and we both proceed to say good bye.

Maya insists on me staying longer.

“What’s the urgency?  Stick around.  We can watch a movie like the last time.”

“I’d love to, but I have to run some errands.  Where are Bobby and Vic?”

“They are hanging out on the deck.”

“Say bye for me, I’ll call them later.”

“OK, don’t wait for our invitation to stop by again.  Just swing by any time you are in the neighborhood.  Same goes to you Swapna.  You should stop by more often.”

We step out the front door into a fresh night.  The rains have passed us by and we walk back to our cars under a clear fall sky.

  ——————–

“Swapna, you still drink Coffee?”

“Yes, why?”

“There’s a Caribou Coffee couple of blocks south of here on Belmont.  Can you drive down there?”

“Sure, I will meet you there.”

As we drive down to the cafe, I wonder about what’s on Swapna’s mind.  She never made eye contact with Anjali and Bobby throughout the night, must have been really awkward for her to try and avoid them all night.  Not showing up would have been a much easier option.

We pick up our coffee and settle into the corner of the sparsely populated room.

“How are you doing Jitu?  How has your day gone so far?”

“Phenomenal.  You know, just another day in paradise.  How about you?”

“Not so phenomenal. “

“I know something is bothering you.”

“You mean beyond the lousiness of my divorce?”

“Yes, beyond the lousiness of your divorce and the awkwardness in that uncomfortable party.”

She circles her middle finger around the coffee cup, and notices me staring at her ring finger where the marks from her wedding ring she ones wore are still fresh.

“Luckily, I will not be attending any more of those uncomfortable parties.”

“I don’t blame you.  I will throw cool parties with cakes and clowns just for you, and we don’t have to invite the shady characters that you don’t talk to.”

She smiles, and it is still the same smile, a smile that can light up a room.

“Cakes and clowns?  That’s a bit creepy.”

“Oh come on!  We can throw in a few balloons, and add a few cocktails and add some Ricky Martin music – that would be perfect.”

She cracks up.

“Now you’re talking.  But you don’t have to. I will not be attending your parties either.”

“That hurts me.”

“No, Jitu, I took a new job out of town.  I am leaving next weekend.”

All remaining life gets sucked out of my soul.

“Out of town?  Where?”

“San Diego.”

The vacuum digs deeper.  San Diego?  She really wants to run far far away from us.

“You are going to miss the wonderful winters here for some lousy 70 degree weather over there?”

“Yeah, I’ll manage.”

“So you showed up to say goodbye?”

“Yes.”

“But you didn’t tell anyone.”

“I am telling you now.”

The sick feeling in the stomach becomes worse.

“You are going to desert us?”

“Jitu, I am choking to death.”

“I never saw this coming.  Between Bobby and you, there should be no differences wide enough to pull you apart like this.”

“But Bobby feels he is stuck in mud, and he wants me to wait until he wiggles out of it and builds his utopian palace in the NeverNeverLand.  I am not interested in his palace.  Wherever we are, however we are doing, I want to enjoy a normal life with a loving husband, a decent house and lovable kids.  There is no such thing as a normal life with Bobby.  Bobby is always interested in the next big thing, and is incapable of enjoying the ride.  I guess he was always like this.  Even on those long summer road trips, the entire conversation was about how anything we do on the way would delay the time of arrival, his entire focus would be on how to get there faster, and once we get there it’s the same thing all over again.  He is incapable of stopping and smelling the roses.  I tried so hard, but unless it is his idea, anything anyone else has to say is in one ear out the other.  I probably sound like your stereotypical whining housewife to you, don’t I?”

“I wouldn’t know much about your stereotypical housewives, but I would never associate you with anything stereotypical.”

“I am in my 30s, I don’t have any kids and you know how much I love kids, and Bobby seems to be totally uninterested in parenting.  He uses his perceived job instability as a clutch anytime I bring up the topic, and after a lengthy argument one night, I woke up the next day and  realized the insanity of expecting him to change to see my point of view, because at the end of the day, a Tiger doesn’t change his stripes.  All of this would be so much easier if I hated him from the bottom of my heart.”

It probably doesn’t make it any easy on her that Bobby is seemingly over her so quickly and re-engaged to another girl.  I’d give them a year, year and a half most.

Swapna held up pretty well so far, at least publicly in the few times we met at such parties after their divorce.  But her voice begins to crack and she gazes down into the coffee cup to pull back the tears welling up.

“Jitu, you know him since childhood.  You understand what I am saying, right?”

“Of course I do.  Only difference between you and I is I am too self-centered to bother whether he listens to me or not, and I don’t give a shit if he doesn’t.  I guess that attitude doesn’t work for your marriage, eh?”

She shakes her head sideways and makes a feeble attempt to smile.

“I tell you what Swapna, if I didn’t know Bobby at all, and got to know him now, I would stay away from him just like I stay away from all the assholes of the world, and the world is full of them by the way.”

“Jitu, no rants please, not now.”

“What I am trying to say is, you don’t pick and choose your friends, they just happen, like life itself.  You don’t have a choice after that.  You try to enjoy their company, and you put up with their miserable inadequacies, debilities, whatever you want to call them.  Bobby will always be my friend, but so will you.  Marriage is a different beast altogether, and I stay away from that hypocritical charade, no offense.  But, just because that bonehead doesn’t deserve you, you don’t have to leave. You have many friends and well-wishers here in the ChicagoLand.  In time, you will get over him, and live your own life.  You don’t have to leave on account of him.  He doesn’t deserve such attention.”

“I don’t have many friends here, Bobby does.  Of course, I’ve always looked at Bobby’s friends as mine, but now it is different.  How many times will I meet with Maya and Vic without Bobby being there?  Even if I do, they act as constant reminders of him.”

I look into her eyes, and beneath the sadness and tears, I still see the kindness that defines her.  You look for all the different aspects of a person’s character, and to me, kindness trumps them all, and a person that embodies it is a special human being to be cherished.   Amidst all the disruptive forces of aggression and human proclivity for domination, the one remarkable balancing feature of our species that binds us together is kindness.  And I see that kindness in her actions, her every move, her very demeanor, and her core being, and I wonder why Bobby can’t see it.  Am I the only one who notices it and admires it?  Has the world gone blind?

“Swapna, you know I am here for you.  Don’t insult me by calling me a friend by allegiance.”

“No!  I don’t know what I would have done without you.  All these people and all these memories strangle the life out of me, but you are the one reason I’ve managed to survive so far.  Thank you.”

I don’t need her to thank me.  I need her to stay.

Tears swell up again in her eyes.

The cafe attendant stops by to remind us they are ready to close.

We get up and walk out to her car.  I give her a goodbye hug.

“When is your flight?  Let me drive you to the airport.”

“Next Saturday.  I’ll send you the flight times.  Can you please let Bobby and everyone else know, on my behalf?  I wanted to, but I couldn’t muster enough courage to do it myself.”

“To hell with Bobby and to hell with them all.”

“Jitu, I worry about you.  How long are you going to keep this up?”

“Keep what up?”

“This pseudo act of playing the villain.  You are not very good at it.  The fake rage, that edgy persona you try to adopt to protect against getting hurt, all of that.  How much longer?”

“What a night!  First Bobby calls me a coward.  Now you call me a fake.  Let me ask someone who actually hates my guts.  They might thrown in a compliment.”

“If you wear a mask for too long, it becomes a part of your face.  I worry that if you continue like this, this mask will become you.”

“Then, don’t leave!”

She begins to weep again,

“It’s too late.  That’s what I’ve been trying to explain…. apologize… to you.  Sorry…. I have to.”

It’s never too late damn it! Never!

Argh.. that white stuff again (click to go to my flickr photostream)

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Since we rarely get to hear any Christmas songs this time of the year, I thought I’ll throw this one out there.

I’ve heard of the new concept cars with no steering wheels, but you don’t need a new car to feel what that’s like.  I went through a no-steering navigation experience of my own today, courtesy of my car swirling itself through the heap of snow that hit us overnight, disobeying whatever directions I was attempting to provide through the steering wheel.  Since it had a mind of its own, I figured I might as well leave the steering alone and take this picture of the winter wonderland that unfolded in front of me, from inside my car. After eventually reaching home, I spent the next hour shoveling my driveway knowing very well I have to do this all over again tomorrow.

Yes, the first big winter storm of the season is here. The white stuff has descended upon us and the projections are that this winter is going to be worse than the last one. Great, that should keep my spirits up through the next four months! For someone coming from a warm place who never experienced snow before, funny how what used to be an interesting novelty quickly turned into a dreadful endurance.

What started of as “O look! Snow flakes! How beautiful! Let me run out and catch some of these. I don’t know what all this fuss about bad weather is.. this is so cool,” quickly turned into “Oh man! The ugly white stuff is here! I have to go home and shovel the damn driveway. @#$%! 4 more months of this shit to look forward to.”

You get no respite from it. You are always aware of it. You can only travel from one heated building to another heated building in a heated locomotive and on those unfortunate occasions when you are required to walk outside in this winter wonderland, you clench your fists and grind your teeth and wipe your constantly running nose while holding your breath underneath the 10 layers of clothing that you have to remember to wear every time you step out. Essentially, for the next four months, you are living inside a refiregerator, trying to protect yourself in small heated compartments.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling? Yes it is, if you are a damn penguin and not a human being.  Uh.. I look outside and I don’t see any kids frolicking the Eskimo way.. they are all bundled up inside with their parents watching the weather channel hoping the snow stops falling.  To begin with, has anyone ever seen a frolicking Eskimo?  Poor creatures, they look like they are always depressed and who can blame them?  I am suspecting there will be a few snowmen built tomorrow by folks who feel that it is their parental obligation to do it with their kids even as they curse their way through the next four months.  They might even brainwash their unsuspecting kids into believing how wonderful this winter weather is, but they know once their children grow up, they will wise up and call this bullshit, exposing them for yet another ruse among a long list of cunning subterfuges employed by them; this one intending to beguile their kids into suffering through this so called winter wonderland.

And no, I haven’t bought into the nonsense of “getting to enjoy the change of seasons and experiencing all four seasons in a year.” What I’ve experienced is hours of shoveling at a stretch, scraping the ice off my car’s windshield while freezing my butt off followed by 2 hours of inching my way on a slippery freeway for what is normally a 20 min drive – enough times now to realize that sunny and 70 degrees throughout the year is a monotony I could gladly live with.. sacrificing the “pleasures” of walking in the winter wonderland. Trust me, it is very overrated.

Arundhati Roy - A rebel in need of a cause

The debate rages on in India about whether or not Arundhati Roy deserves to be thrown in jail on charges of Sedition due to her alleged subversive statements about the Kashmir territory.  With the current state of affairs in Kashmir, if she is charged of Sedition, the implication here would be that she is stirring up a rebellion against a democratic goverment in power.  Not the same as treason which is joining hands with the enemy to conspire against your country, but a notch below that.  The notion of charging someone for Sedition in this day and age is really archaic.  Whether she deserves it or not is now a matter of opinion.  I am of the opinion that it is unwarranted, not because I have much of a sympathy for Roy or her activism, but because it is somewhat silly for the government to fixate on a single writer’s remarks while parts of the country are going up in flames, even if the perception is that she is adding fuel to that fire.  Perhaps after winning a Booker prize, and receiving an almost universal critical acclaim for her subsequent publications of prose, the only greater thing to do in her mind was to become a constant pain in the butt of the establishment, but that is her prerogative in a democractic setup.  She shouldn’t be banished for that.  She might not be centered in her opinions, and from my perspective she isn’t, but India is not a monarchy like the UAE where there is no freedom of speech.  It is not an utterly chaotic and unruly country of warlords like Afghanistan.  It is not a communist state like China, even if Roy is a great sympathizer of its followers in her country and neither is it a completely shambolic pseudo-democracy run by religious extremists like Pakistan.  Even with all its flaws and failings, India is the largest freaking democracy in the world, and a dubiously stable one at that.  It should be able to put up with controversial statements from its own, because after all, it is wry irony that Roy herself is a product of a young, growing nation thrown to the wolves, still trying to survive its way through the jungle.

Arudhati Roy with Narmada Bachao Andolan

Is the essence of activism now to scream blue murder against establishment on everything?  Seriously, how difficult is it for you to find flaws in India?  With widespread poverty, uneducation and corruption at every level, do we need a Booker-prize-winning, rather painfully dubbed, “conscience of the nation” to point them out?  If you are that insightful, how about presenting a viable solution for your causes to add to your outcries that might lend more credence to your attempted campaigns.  Roy spoke up against both the Pokhran-II nuclear tests and against building the Sardar Sarovar dam across Narmada river in Gujarat aiding the Narmada Bachao Andolan around the turn of the century.  A noble cause for the environment and its habitats, but what of modernization?  Don’t young, aspiring writers who want to grow up and be just like Arundhati Roy deserve a light in their rooms to hone their skills of verbosity?  The words ring hollow even if they read beautiful when there is a lack of balance and insight.   They end up sounding like juvenile rantings without a steady perspective.

Arundhati Roy with Maoists

She went on to support Naxalism and her Maoist “comrades” because she believes they are there to support the cause of the poor and downtrodden.  I know she has written many a scathing essay highlighting the dark side of democracy and resultant marginalization of religious and tribal minotiries.  There is a need for someone to provide this transparency and awareness for a nation to mature and fix its wrongs.  It took more than 40 years for the US government to officially apologize for the Japanese Internment Camps during World World II.  Even that wouldn’t have happened if not for the media highlighting the wrongdoing and forcing the government to act.  Roy deserves all the accolades she gets for her writing, but I don’t know what her core beliefs for a governmental structure in the country are?  No one including Roy herself can clearly identify what she believes in?   She can and should highlight her country’s flaws, but ideologically, does she even believe in a Democratic setup for the country?   Does she think it is not a good fit for India?  Or does she prefer the communist principles of economic and political governance? Is she all for forcing an agrarian communism by backing these comrades preaching “Maoist revolution.” If this was a totalitarian regime, does she think she can enjoy the privilege of making such scathing remarks of promoting secession and sitting back and observing an intellectual debate in the media?  Her most recent statement was along the lines of “Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds.” She is right, but what does she think the goal of gun trotting militants that call themselves “Maoists” are – to promote democracy and free speech after they take over the country?  Where is her sympathy for the thousands of innocents killed by these comrades of her and a systematic cleansing of the minority Kashmiri Pundits from Kashmir in the past two decades?  Are her ideals and outcries only convenient for the next cause she decides to pick up?
 
The fact is, the message she sends behind her activism is one of contradcition of the privileges of freedom, liberty and free speech that she ejoys currently. Anyone can sit there and rip the status quo, but it seems to have lost on her that in her grandiose quest to be India’s Joan of Arc, she is latching onto causes that would put an end to the same freedom that allows her to be a clueless rebel currently. That still doesn’t make her a traitor or a treasonist or a seditionist or any such silly accusations she is facing now, just another good writer whose core values behind her activism are confused, nebulous and unsound. She still deserves to speak her mind freely and not feel persecuted.  Whether you believe that she is factually wrong with her statements or whether you just disagree with her opinions, merely tolerating her unruly ramblings can reveal what she either fails to realize or takes for granted. The worst thing that the government can do is to bury her with charges of Sedition under this wave of patriotic populism triggered by her actions.  That would be such a shame at so many levels.

Phoniness.. embrace it.

Embracing phoniness was the biggest adjustment in adulthood for me.  In a new place with people I hadn’t spoken to before, beyond the language and the color and the customs, the true culture shock was accepting the layers and layers of hypocrisy and phoniness that I was never used to or at least hadn’t been exposed to before.  This is not to say it didn’t exist in India, Lord knows there’s plenty of it, most of it in the name of truth and authenticity, but I didn’t have to deal with it in my high school world.  I could say what I mean and mean what I say and didn’t have to think about it twice.

As I was maneuvering my way in a new world, I was initially jolted by a few disdainful “Have a nice day” farewells from fast food girls at the counter expressing their working class rebellion at being forced to say those words by those establishments.  Instead, they could’ve said “Fuck off now” and it would’ve felt the same to my ears.

When fellow students asked “How are you doing,” I stopped explaining how I was really doing after realizing quickly that it was a rhetorical question, only meant to be a friendly greeting such as “Hello.” No one actually cared about how you’re doing.  They had their own shit to deal with.  So, I started responding with a “Hi” for a while, even though it seemed like an odd response.  I saw no point in extending that rhetoric with “Fine, how are you doing?” The subsequent response is almost always “Fine.  Thanks for asking.” And I couldn’t stand to bear such politeness.  With time, I realized I could get away with a nod or a shake of a head without being called impolite.  Now-a-days, I just raise half an eyebrow in acknowledgement, bordering on rudeness, but combating it with half a smile, fake and lasting just half a second.

Job interviews.. fertile grounds

When the prospective employer said “We’ll keep your resume and get back to you when the opportunity arises,” I realized that a snowball had a better chance in hell than my chance of getting a job there.

When the interviewers finished the interview early and said, “Thank you for taking the time for the interview.  We will get back to you after discussing internally,” I realized what they were really saying were “We think you truly suck at this and we don’t want to waste anymore of our time by talking to you.”

When my boss smiled at me and said “This is an area of opportunity for personal growth for you,” it immediately translated in my mind into “I am going to ding you in this area on your performance review, so don’t complain to me when you don’t get that raise or promotion.”

So it took a while to get the hang of it… but I am now assimilated.  Now I can bullshit with the best of them.  In fact, I am reaching new creative heights of bullshitting that I didn’t know I could.

The other day I was able to cut an interview I was conducting short by half-an-hour, look straight in the eye of the terrible interviewee, and say “I think you have great skills and they might be a better fit in Department XYZ of our company.  If you prefer, I can hand this resume over there and ask them to give you a call if they have any open opportunities.” It wasn’t even a prepared response.  In a moment of inspiration, those words came flowing through my mouth without a trace of regret or guilt inside.  I knew then and there that I had arrived.  I can now call myself a productive member of the society.

BP - an inspiration

From those days of ignorance when I was full of contempt for such obvious hypocrisy and phoniness, I am now a transformed man who marvels at the beauty of those that execute it with great skill and ease, and pick up great life’s lessons to live by.

Take the BP response to the oil spill for example.  Can there be a better advocate for phoniness than BP, all along selling the idea of their green energy with green logos and green boards, while drilling away merrily deep water without even a cheap emergency valve to account for a situation like this?  Far from assuming neglect and incompetence at handling damages, I now believe in living life by ignoring any worst case scenarios, just as BP did.

Moral: Live life and enjoy, consequences be damned.

Tom Cruise.. king of phony smiles

How about Tom Cruise!  How can you not marvel at this guy with a perennial fake smile plastered on his face?  Can you imagine the effort it takes to put on that façade?  I once tried that for half a minute and needed to massage my face to overcome the resulting pain.  Doing the day and night talk show rounds for a promotional pitch for his movie, Knight and Day, Cruise has had the best phony smile firmly entrenched on his face.  He smiles and laughs at anything anyone asks.  You can call him a phony bastard to his face and I bet he will turn to the camera, smile and toss his hair back to showcase his handsomeness.  That’s dedication and commitment to the movie, the career and that smile.

Moral: Practice makes perfect.

Its good to be the Queen

I heard the Queen is going to attend the next Andy Murray Wimbledon game.  What better representative for phoniness than someone who exemplifies the wonderful concept of inheritance, of not having  to work for a living, and still live a life of luxury and adoration just because you happened to be born in a certain family.

Moral: Make sure you pick parents with deep pockets.
.
.

Yuvraj Singh.. Gods gift to Indian Cricket

Speaking of feeling privileged and entitled, Yuvraj Singh was dropped from the One day team recently, allegedly as a wakeup call since he seemed to lack commitment to fitness.  Apparently, BCCI didn’t get the memo that Yuvi is God’s gift to Indian Cricket, but I can definitely admire his phony bravado when he was living on his past glories while not paying attention to his waistline and the incoming doosras.

Moral: Always pick style over substance
.
.

.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

One of the many appeals of the “Catcher in the Rye“, J.D Salinger’s all-time classic is how you can relate to different aspects of Holden Caulfield, the 17-year old narrator of the novel.

Everyone in the world is a phony to him.  In fact, all adults are phonies to him.  He is unable to come to grips with adulthood because he is scared of what he is bound to represent.  Consequently, he is running against the world, and in many ways running against himself.  For all his rebellion against the perceived phoniness all around him, he is insecure and immature and no better than the rest as he lies and deceives through the resulting troubles of not coping with the ways of the world.

Still, Holden is right.  Adulthood is phoniness. But if you have that acute disdain for it, you have to be aware of it and find ways to deal with it.  Whether you merely tolerate it, choose to embrace it, or practice it with a vengeance is up to you.  Phony images and fake relationships are the ways of the world.

Hero..underrated

One of my favorite movies and considering its almost non-existent critical recognition, or just maybe because it is my kind of humor, one of the most under-rated movies in my book, is a 1999 movie called Hero.  Dustin Hoffman plays the lead role of Bernie Laplante, a cranky, cynical character who is rude and broke and doesn’t give a shit about society in general.  Not surprisingly, his ex-wife and separated son are resigned to the fact he is a bum.  One day he falls into circumstances that force him to save the passengers of a plane following an air crash that happens right in front of him.  True to his character, after rescuing the passengers, he walks away from the incident without thinking of possible fame or glory only to realize someone else has been billed a hero perceived to have saved those people that he rescued.  The movie is a comedy, a satire that juxtaposes the truth from perception with the actual hero, the perceived hero, the TV coverage, its reception, audience expectations and the desire for everyone to please the society irrespective of what really happened.  It highlights the phoniness all around us even during these acts of selflessness.  At the very end, Bernie is talking to his son about life’s wisdoms

“You remember when I said how I was gonna explain about life, buddy? Well the thing about life is, it gets weird. People are always talking ya about truth. Everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or somethin’, and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn, as you get older, is there ain’t no truth. All there is is bullshit, pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life like when you get older is, you pick the layer of bullshit that you prefer and that’s your bullshit, so to speak.”

Truer words were never spoken.  Pick your bullshit and live with it.

Recently, I caught up with a friend of mine from my school days here in the US.  I hadn’t spoken with him in a while.  He used to live in Colorado.  I was surprised to hear that he had recently moved to New York.  After the perfunctory reminiscence of our wonderful school experiences, he divulged that the true reason for his move was because he was tired of being repeatedly ignored for promotions at his company and sick of seeing less deserved individuals leapfrog over him up that coveted corporate ladder.  After a lengthy conversation with him, it occurred to me that his experiences were not all that different from those of many in the corporate world.  Beyond the normal differences between an individual’s self evaluation, expectation and even entitlement versus the perspective of his or her boss, that climb up that corporate ladder is always easier for those that have a talent at weaseling their way up by sucking up to their bosses.  What of those performance reviews you ask, well, here’s the anatomy of a typical performance review meeting.

Very important stuff..

………………………………….

His yearly review was up this month.  He had to submit his self-review to his boss by the end of the month, or say goodbye to a potential merit raise – company policy.  Earlier in his career, writing self-reviews used to make him uncomfortable.  Would it be too brazen of him to give himself highest ratings?  Is he being naive by trying to be modest with his self ratings?  What would be a good self-evaluation on say, “Shows bias or preference in interactions with co-workers”?  Is average good enough?  Among Poor, Below Average, Average, Good, Excellent, if you rate yourself as Good, does that mean that you are still being somewhat biased?  Would anyone ever rate themselves Poor in any category?  These were just a few questions that used to nag his conscience every six months when his review was up as he poured over it profoundly.  After all, this was important shit, lot of important people brainstormed for months to come up with an important form that was going to quantify his worth and let his company know how important he was.  A good evaluation, he was told, provided him a firm footing on the next step of that corporate ladder.

But that was 12 years ago.  Year after year of answering these bullshit questions and listening to the same trite responses from his managers jaded his perspective enough to the point where he could shamelessly declare himself the second coming of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Mother Theresa rolled into one.  Every goal and objective was met with a rating of “Excellent”, with just a couple of strategically placed mere “Good”s in between to render a certain level of modesty to the self review.  The comments and notes were copied from the previous year’s review and reformatted to look different, not that he suspected anybody would bother looking up last year’s review.  It wouldn’t have mattered if he copied the old review as it is and just changed the dates.  Nobody ever read it.  Even if they did, they didn’t care enough to consider his views.

The boss called him in to discuss his review.

“You are doing a great job!  I do appreciate all the hard work you are putting into this.”

“Thanks boss!”

“Your technical abilities are outstanding, you are a consummate team player, and you have gone out of the way to meet the scheduled deadlines.”

“Thanks boss!”

“I know you have expressed an interest in becoming a Manager before.  I added a few comments in the review for you as “growth opportunities” to take that next step.  Focus on improving your leadership skills and organizational skills this year.”

Growth opportunities?  For him to take the next step?  what the @#$%?  He thought he took the next step 3 years ago.  He was given the same shit review last year and the year before.  He wasn’t going to just whimper softly like a little puppy and walk away from this with his tail behind his back this time.  He worked his ass off for this company, he deserves a promotion, he is ready for a promotion and he was going to fight for a promotion.

“Boss, you said the same thing last year,” he said calmly.

Performance Review Blues

“I realize that man, but don’t look at this as a poor review.  This is an excellent review.  I understand you never got the opportunity to demonstrate your managerial skills for the promotion you are seeking, but I’ll be honest with you, you have to be more proactive in creating those opportunities for yourself.”

What?  Is he hearing this right?  What was he expected to do?  Should he have walked into one of his team meetings, looked at his peers and said “Listen you bitches! Right here, right now, I just decided to create myself an opportunity to become your boss.  Here’s the crap I am spending 12 hours a day on, primarily to cover your worthless asses and meet the deadlines.  Figure the shit out for yourself and report to me how you are progressing from here on.  Oh.. don’t hesitate to approach me if you have any issues.  Keep up the good work!”?

“But boss, I am spending 12 hours a day trying to meet our deadlines.  How am I supposed to prove my managerial skills without getting a chance?”

“I appreciate your hard work man, I really do.  I understand we have a couple of people on the project whose technical abilities are not as good as yours, and you are going out of your way to overcome the team deficiencies. I think that is your biggest strength.  I honestly do!  The fact of the matter is, for the position you are seeking, you need to demonstrate more of leadership skills, and it requires someone who can delegate work instead of taking it upon themselves to finish it.  It doesn’t mean you can’t do it.  You have to work on those aspects a bit more and what I am trying to do is set some parameters to give you an opportunity to grow into that role”

What the @#$%?  Setting parameters to give him an opportunity to grow into that role? So, in other words…. he is getting screwed because he was covering somebody else’s ass, and most likely one of those incompetent buffoons is going to be promoted over him because this buffoon here thinks they have “leadership skills” even if they needed a calculator to find out what 2 and 2 added up to.  What a joke!  He has been getting the same review every year.  It has been 3 years since he was convinced he deserved a promotion, and the reason he is being discarded is because he was not selfish enough to ask those idiots to fuck off when they needed help and naïve enough to take ownership of team activities to work through the weekends to meet team commitments.  Was that not a demonstration of leadership skill worthy enough for a promotion? Does management have a clue about what it takes to build something?  He is being given the same old growth opportunities and being given the same rave reviews for the past three years now, which all meant diddly poo when it comes to his bottom line!

“Let me get this right.  I am being penalized because I was being a team player?”  He asked one last question.

..where absurdity is a required skill for the boss

“Buddy, your technical skills are outstanding, but unfortunately we don’t have two separate paths for technologists and managers.  I think your personality fits that of a Technologist if we had that role.  Besides, you have to realize this is a two-way street.  You are entitled to your opinion about what you deserve, but the company has to feel like they are getting the value they expect for the compensation for that role.  It is a two-way street my friend.  You know this; I don’t have to tell you this.” He said with a slimy smile.

So, now it was his personality trait!?  So what does that bullshit “growth opportunity” he was alluding to just a minute ago mean?  Was that just made-up mumbo jumbo to appease him while not rewarding him appropriately?  He has been getting a regular dose of this two-way street jargon for years now only to find himself run over by a semi truck filled with horse-shit driving down the opposite way on his lane.  He looked at his boss, a master of hypocrisy and clichéd bullshitting, skills that he knew he didn’t have and skills that seemed to be primary prerequisites for a role like that.  He realized he was really unqualified for it, and in an ironic turn-around, his boss was able to make him recognize that truth.

………………………………….

Ravi Varma's Milkmaid

Here’s a New York Times article that caught my attention, bemoaning the risk to Indian culture in quest of prosperity.  It is a well written article by Akash Kapur, addressing the influence of commercialism on arts and humanities in the country, even if I disagree with a few points. The author talks to an old Chennai book salesman as he alludes to the changes in the pattern of books being purchased by the younger generation today.  He then compares the business and technical schools of the nation with those of the arts and humanities, in terms of the bureaucratic discrepancies and difficulties involved in appointing the right staff and raising proper funds – presenting the concerns of erosion of cultural values of a prospering nation in an overwhelming commercial pursuit.
A few snippets from the article followed by my opinion..
On Anna Salai, a central artery that runs through this city, there is a store called the American Book Center. The owner, V. Krishnan, is 70 years old. He has been selling books since he was 8 –
In the old days, he sold mostly novels — Pearl S. Buck, Daphne DuMaurier and Agatha Christie were especially popular. Now, young people do not read so many novels. They buy computer books, and books about business.
Mr. Krishnan’s story offers a window onto changing patterns of cultural consumption in India. This is a nation of rising prosperity, increasingly convinced of its destiny. Its confidence stems largely from the recent achievements of its ITES sector — Information Technology Enabled Services, the software and outsourcing companies that have put India on the map of global business.
The success of these companies has been firmly ensconced in an emerging national mythology. Schoolchildren are brought up on tales of Infosys, India’s best-known software business, founded in 1981 with 10,000 rupees of capital — just $224 at current rates — and worth billions of dollars today. Indian entrepreneurs have entered the pantheon of national heroes.
No one can deny their achievements. But the adulation of commerce and wealth poses important questions about the place of softer, more humanistic endeavors in the country — the role of art and artists, the place of the humanities and social sciences and, more generally, the character (and breadth) of the Indian imagination.
As India grows richer, its culture is changing. The question is whether that culture will be defined solely by the nation’s new prosperity — whether a nation in the midst of a consumerist frenzy can maintain noncommercial islands of intellectual and cultural endeavor, and whether a population determined to get rich can appreciate pursuits whose returns are less immediately tangible.
Indian humanities and social sciences institutes have been neglected over the years — stultified by curricular inflexibility, underfinanced and understaffed.
According to the World Bank, while general graduate degree programs, which include the humanities and social sciences, still have the highest enrollment, the number of students seeking technical degrees grew six times faster from 2000 to 2004.
But it points, also, to a broader shift in public perceptions — from an appreciation of the intrinsic value of an education (its ability to widen the mind, to expose students to new ideas and experiences) to an obsession with the instrumental value of a diploma.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a former academic and now head of a research institute based in Delhi, suggests that while the ascent of more monetizable disciplines is real, it may simply represent a form of consolidation. “Part of what you hope this growth will do is create conditions that will sustain a richer culture in the future,” he said, arguing that culture needs financial backing to survive. “After all, New York is both Wall Street and the city’s publishing industry.”
But in the meantime, the commercialization of intellectual life seems set to continue, and possibly even worsen. There has been much concern, recently, that the increasing privatization of Indian education could further erode the arts and social sciences.

The first thing that comes to mind to me  is a saying about nostalgia  – the good old days were never so great and the future is never that bleak.  We only tend to remember the good from the past and nostalgia tends to gloss over the rough edges. I was one of those who was addicted to novels growing up.  I read anything and everything I could get my hands on during my school days including every Agatha Christie book ever written just as Mr.Krishnan’s customers from yesteryears, but it can be debated if reading novels is a great indicator of interest in arts and humanities.  Interest in reading fiction is as much driven by a desire for escapism as any innate artistic appreciation.  There are far too many avenues for transporting yourself into another world and living vicariously through other characters than books and novels.  Telvision, movies and video games have taken over that role for the younger generation of today.  They don’t read novels as much anymore because these modern media outlets provide them the same escapism that you normally look for from a novel.  This is not to say there is no place for a printed word anymore, a well written piece of fiction still beats a good movie for me, but if a kid today prefers to watch Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” instead of reading the original epic fantasy novel by Tolkien, I personally don’t view it as an erosion of cultural values of the generation.  It is merely a change in the cultural facet of today’s society considering the availability of time and the overload of the information that kid has to grasp in his or her new modern global world.

Indian Handicrafts

Appreciation and patronage of arts in every society, not  just Indian society, has always been for the most part a luxury afforded by the affluent.  Most of the great poets, painters, singers and writers through out the history have always created for their rich patrons, whether they are wealthy businessmen of the west or the rich majarajas and the powerful landlords of the east. In a world where capitalism is not only our preferred economic system but also our accepted social system now, getting as rich as you can is an expected way of life.  When you choose to pause and appreciate the so called “finer points of life” is a choice you make once you feel you have accrued enough wealth. How much is enough is another individual choice.  You might spend your entire life in the pursuit of getting rich and never appreciate those finer points, but you will expose your children to the artistic and cultural aspects early in their life because you can afford to and whether you lived your life that way or not you know you want your children to be well rounded human beings.  Subsequently, your children and their children will then grow up appreciating arts and culture even if they don’t end up being rich.  If there are societies in the world that show this balance in their culture today, it is for this reason.  To expect arts and humanities to prosper irrespective of the country’s finanical status is somewhat impractical.  This is the same reason the Indian societies in the US show more of a concerted effort to teach their children the cultural values of their heritage, more so than their counterparts in India in my opinion.  Majority of them do it because they realize the importance of it and they realize they are not living in a society where their children have no shot of making a comfortable living unless they are brought up to become only an engineer or a doctor and most importantly because they can afford to do it.  Until India gets to that point, any notion of arts not taking a backseat to economical and financial welfare of the society is only wishful thinking.

Indian Handloom Weaver


The survival of indigenous arts and crafts in India until now has been an ironic byproduct of an aggrieving caste system imposing an antiquated hereditary vocation.  The son of a handicraftsman only knew one way to make a living, continuing to create handicrafts like his father did as a valued family tradition.  It didn’t mean they were well supported, in fact a look at their standard of living indicates clearly that they weren’t. If arts in India survived it is because these craftsmen had no other alternative and for centuries their families accepted their meagre livelihood and continued to produce what they knew how to create best.  But in the globalized free economy today, this is no longer a forced necessity with other avenues available for them easier than before. They can provide other services that the society might deem more valuable that can provide them a better livelihood.  Unless the patronage for their artifacts improves to an extent where the artists can produce these products because they are not compelled to take up this vocation, but because they can make their desired livelihood out of it, they will continue to deteriorate.  The only way it can get to that point is if the society gets rich enough to produce enough patrons who not only appreciate the arts and culture, but can also afford to support them and inculcate those values within their children without feeling they are ruining their future in doing so.

If I have one gripe about how literature was taught to us, it was that while explaining the poem or an essay, there was a lack of proper literary context, both historical and topical.  Throwing a bunch of fancy words and their literary meaning at the poor students and expecting  them to be ready for the upcoming tests is not good enough and is no way to get them excited about the subject.  Even if the teacher has the right intentions, from my perspective, no amount of information surrounding the author is too much when it comes to the timing and the times of his or her work, and if available the reason, the whereabouts, and the inspiration behind that work.  Provide a proper context and I believe it will do wonders to the overall comprehension and interest of students in literature, but I don’t think I am revealing anything that most good teachers don’t already know about.  Thanks to all the invaluable contributions on the internet, compiling this information behind every work should be easier than ever.

I first read this essay from John Donne back when I was in high school because it was in our English text book and I had to.  17th Century English literature didn’t evoke much interest in me, plus, just like this essay, authors of that time wrote in metaphors and while I did like the idea of figurative personifications, similes and metaphors, for someone who is still learning the language, it wasn’t easy to comprehend what the hell they were saying.  Yet, if you enjoy reading and have the patience to stick with it, you realize that figurative work is one of the reasons you enjoy reading to begin with and it is these concepts that add beauty to literature and open up new worlds within.  I’ve read this piece a few more times since my school days, and it tends to get better and better each time.

John Donne (1572 – 1631) wrote this in 1624, as part of a series of reflections when he was recovering from a serious illness compiled under Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.  The work consists of twenty-three parts describing each stage of the sickness. Each part is further divided into a Meditation, an Expostulation, and a Prayer.  Meditation XVII is perhaps the best-known part of the work.  Despite his great education and poetic talents, John Donne lived in poverty for several years, relying heavily on wealthy friends. In 1615 he became an Anglican priest and, in 1621 was appointed the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

This essay is well known for creating two popular phrases still reused in today’s literature  – “for whom the bell tolls” and “no man is an island”.  When you hear “for whom the bell tolls”, you think of Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel with the same title, but Hemingway points to the source of the title to Meditation XVII in his work.  Hearing funeral bell tolls to people then are akin to perusing the obituaries for people now. It was traditionally rung three times for a man and two times for a woman followed by a pause and then a toll for every year of age for the deceased.  Whether it is created out of his own personal struggles with health or not, I like this essay for Donne’s  portrayal of his belief in what another person’s death means to the rest of us, how events in one life have an affect directly or indirectly in lives of others.  When someone else dies, we all die a bit, but because of how we are connected with each other, you leave behind a piece of you even after your own death.


John Donne (1572 - 1631)

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.


Next Page »