July 2, 2006

How do you like them apples?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:03 pm by falstaff

The thing that makes apples worth eating is not the taste but the crunch in your head when you bite into one. The electricity of it tingling your teeth.

A mouth-sized patch of white is revealed. Surrounded on all sides by scarlet, its shocked flesh speaks of innocence, of the sort of sharp numbness that gives way, eventually, to pain. For a moment you feel strangely guilty. Then, resolved on your villiany, you take another bite, then another. There is a sense of violation in tearing into this juicy, vulnerable flesh, such as you get with no other fruit. You exult in your rebellion, content to lose a hundred Edens for this crime you are now committed to.

Nor is it possible, even if you so wished it, to make amends for that first defilement. Abandoned, the apple grows melancholy, rusts to a soggy reddish-brown. Only apples that are eaten young, when they are still crisp and hopeful, are spared this decrepitude.

And then there is the core, of course. Other fruit have pits – small, self-enclosed worlds that reject you completely. But the core of the apple is approximate at best, and is a hideous thing, gnawed and savaged, a white skeleton from whose sockets black pips peer like sightless eyes.

And yet for all that, the apple remains one of our favourite fruits, a mainstay of our cultural mythology. We name our computers and our record companies after it. We replace our face with it in paintings. We place it in our eyes, in our throats. Schoolchildren in Cliche, Ohio carry one to school everyday and place it on their teacher’s desk.

Is it perhaps that we see in the apple’s polished thick-skinness, in the zest with which it responds to the idea of death, in the desolation of its swift and certain decay, an echo of our own selves? In biting down to the very core of the apple, are we not perhaps seeking our own inner being, or at least trying to salvage the most that we can out of our increasingly eaten away lives? And shall we then not have compassion for the bruised, the damaged apples, the apples with the worm in the centre, the apples growing slowly rotten at the bottom of the barrel? Shall we not pick them first and save what we can from them? Shall we not express our solidarity for these damaged brothers of ours, if only by making them into jam?


July 1, 2006

Of Temples and Heritage

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:07 am by falstaff

Okay, I promise this will be my last holier-than-thou, let’s-talk-about-feminism-and-patriarchy post for a while. But I can’t resist the temptation to comment on this whole Sabarimala thing which has been doing the rounds of the blogosphere (posts on it here, here and here, and the DP link to the first two here).

The Sabarimala temple does not allow women between the ages 10 and 50 to enter. Supposedly, this has to do with the fact that this is the age when women are menstruating and may therefore make the temple unclean. Ya, right.

A number of people have written posts on the issue, expressing indignation at such blatant discrimination and demanding that women be let in.

Let me start by going over the points that have been made already that I agree with:

a) The practise is discriminatory
b) There is no case for providing support from government funds to such an institution. The government should not support such discriminatory practices.
c) To the extent that the temple is a private body, however, it should have the right to admit whomsoever it pleases. Government regulation to force a private institution to admit people it doesn’t want is unwarranted. That’s how you end up with a police state
d) That said, people obviously retain the right to boycott the temple, and to encourage others to boycott it as well

So far, so good. The bit I have trouble with is the contention that we should be working towards helping women gain access to the temple. I see this as somewhat wrong-headed. I think the trouble is that most people are assuming that entry to the temple is a privilege in itself, and should therefore be made available to all, irrespective of gender. Implicit in that is the assumption that there is a ‘heritage of the temple’ and there is ‘patriarchal discrimination’ and the two are distinct entities and that we should work towards getting the former without the latter.

Personally, I see no reason to assume that patriarchy is seperable from organised religion. Established institutions are inherently embedded in existing power structures, and tend to perpetuate them. Differences in status and consequent exclusion is what these institutions exist on and for. It would be convenient, of course, if we could pick those parts of our heritage that we happen to like, and leave out those parts that we don’t – but given the interdependencies between them it’s not clear that that is feasible. Also, taking that approach begs the question – what parts of the heritage are ‘desirable’ and what parts are not and who’s to decide which ones we retain and discard. The trouble with accepting that ‘heritage’ is valuable in itself, is that it leaves the door open for people to argue that all sorts of discriminatory practices are part of their ‘heritage’. [1]

A number of people have compared the Sabarimala temple to an elite club. I think that’s accurate. Let’s ask ourselves why elite clubs are valued. They are valued because not everyone can get into them, so that being a member of one makes you feel special. They are a privilege precisely because they keep some people out. How much of Sabarimala temple’s importance, its holiness, comes from the fact that it keeps women out? Why is it a ‘privilege’ to be able to pray to your chosen diety in Sabarimala rather than anywhere else? Precisely because not everyone can. Exclusion is fundamental to the purpose of Sabarimala – which is why no right-thinking man or woman, no human being who believes in equality and dignity for all, should want to go there.

Let’s not fall into the trap of believing in some golden heritage that we are only now being deprived of – feudal social institutions were always about discrimination and inequality. Let’s not blindly assume that the only way to build a new social order is to force the old institutions to adapt – the creation of new institutions is both possible and desirable. Let’s not fall prey to the slave mentality of craving acceptance from those who despise us and would like to see us humbled. Much has been said about the ‘logic’ of why women between 10 and 50 are not allowed in. Are we really naive enough to believe that this is about menstruation, and not about power? What do you want to bet that every time a woman demands to get in and is turned away the priests at the temple exult in their own self-importance? And why would you want to be part of a congregation and a social system that was so demeaning to women?

As long as we continue to ratify traditional inequalities by paying lip-service to the institutions that are an inherent part of them, our ability to wage a war against discrimination is severely compromised. The way to destroy an elitist institution is to create an alternative egalitarian institution and encourage people to shun the old one. The way to defeat discrimination at Sabrimala is not to insist that women be let in on sufferance, it is to reject outright the importance of Sabrimala as a temple, and to actively encourage both women and men to pray elsewhere. Only when praying at a temple as discriminatory as Sabrimala becomes not a privilege but a matter of shame, will we truly have won the battle against discrimination.

[1] The point is more general, of course. It’s ridiculous how much discrimination continues to be justified in the name of tradition. The amazing thing about this is that people arguing against the discrimination are actually willing to engage in the debate on what is or is not traditional or part of our culture, without asking the more basic question – how is the fact that it’s traditional any justification for its continuation in the future?

June 30, 2006

Too Late

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:58 am by falstaff

You’ve been coming home late for weeks. First it was the board presentation. Then there was the week when the Japanese delegation was in town and you had to take them to dinner every night. Now there’s this new account, the one you flew to Paris for, the one that keeps you in office, working as late as midnight sometimes. I’ve tried to tell you how much I miss you, and how I wish you’d try to come home early, but you just shrug your shoulders and say you don’t have a choice, it has to be done. I’ve accepted that. I haven’t tried to insist, because I know it wouldn’t help and you’d only get angry.

Then, this afternoon, the news on the television. The asteroid they’d just discovered. The computer simulation showing how it would strike Earth around 6 am tomorrow. The devastation it would cause. All the dreary statistics adding up to just one thing – there was no hope that any of us would survive. The End of the World. The same official government announcement on every channel, playing over and over again. I guess they figured all other programming had become redundant. I guess the camera crews and the announcers have all gone home.

For a while I was afraid that there would be panic on the streets – rioting, looting, that sort of thing. But it didn’t happen. If anything, it was unusually quite, as if the whole city had gone into mourning. Which in a way, it has. A city in mourning for itself.

At first I was relieved. I thought, at least the house is safe. Then I thought about the asteroid again, that most furious of all vandals, streaking towards us through the sky. And suddenly I wasn’t so concerned about someone throwing stones through our window anymore. Instead, the eerie silence on the streets began to frighten me. I began to feel as though the asteroid had already struck. We were already dead. I wished you were at home.

Where were you anyway? I tried calling you to tell you the news, though I knew you must have already heard it, no one could not have. But the phones were busy. I guess they had to be, what with everyone trying to reach their loved ones – it must be ten times worse than Christmas. Then I figured I should just wait and you’d be home in a couple of hours. But you weren’t. Then I thought, maybe there’s traffic on the roads. I waited another half hour than I called Marcie to see if James had got home. She said he’d been back for an hour. She said the roads were clear because unlike what you see in disaster movies no one was trying to run. There was nowhere to run to. Everyone just wanted to get home and be with their family. I asked her if James knew where you were, and she went really quiet all of a sudden, then said she had to go.

After I put the phone down, I began to think. All those late nights, all those meals out, your distraction, your coldness, that Paris trip, the shirt you brought back with the buttons ripped off and claimed the laundry had done it. Had I overlooked the obvious? Could it be you were having an affair?

It’s almost ten o’clock now, and I decided long ago that you aren’t coming home. All around us, the neighbours are facing up to the truth in their different ways. The Kauffmans have turned off their lights and (presumably) gone to sleep. I guess they feel they’d rather meet apocalypse in their beds. The Robinson’s are having a party – I can hear the music even from here. I don’t know what the Adams are up to, but if I know them at all they’ll be praying. I myself have opened a bottle of our best champagne – I figured there was no point saving it now – and am in the process of getting very drunk. I’d thought I’d make a special dinner tonight, a gala last meal. But when I realised you weren’t coming I gave up on that and decided to stick with champagne and icecream. It’s not much fun drinking champagne alone, though. And I’m waiting for the icecream to thaw a little.

I know I should be frightened by the prospect of imminent death. I know I should be sitting here in shock, horrified by the notion the mankind will become extinct tomorrow. But all I can think is – where are you right now? What are you doing? Who are you spending tonight with, this last night before the end of the world?

June 29, 2006

The Truth about Beauty

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:22 am by falstaff

Khuda se husn ne ik roz yeh sawaal kiya,
Jahaan mein kyon na mujhe tu ne lazawaal kiya.

Mila jawab ka tasweer khaana hai duniya,
Shab-e-daraaz-e-adm ka fasaana hai duniya.

Hui hai rang-e-taghayyur se jab namood iski,
Wohi haseen hai haqeeqat zawaal hai jiski.

Kahin qareeb tha, yeh guftgoo qamar ne suni,
Falak pe aam hui, akhtar-e-sahar ne suni.

Sahar ne taare se sunkar sunaai shabnam ko,
Falak ki baat bata di zameen ke mahram ko.

Bhar aaey phool ke aansoo, payaam-e-shabnam se,
Kali ka nanha sa dil khoon ho gaya ghum se.

Chaman se rota hua mausim-e-bahaar gaya,
Shabaab sair ko aaya tha sogawaar gaya.

– Iqbal.

My pathetic attempt at a translation:

One day, Beauty asked God:
“Why did you not make me immortal in your world?”

God replied: “The world is a gallery of pictures,
A fabulous dream for man’s endless night,

Its very surface is made from a thousand changing colours,
How then can be its beauty be anything but mutable?”

The moon, who was nearby, overheard this.
Soon it spread through the sky, reached the ears of the morning star.

The dawn heard it from him, and passed it on to the dew,
And the dew spread the word to all the earth.

When the flower heard it, she began to cry,
And the bud burst its tiny heart for sorrow.

Soon Spring itself began to weep, and left,
And Youth, who had come to admire the garden, grew mournful.

A delightful poem. The first few couplets are fairly average, but I love the way the news of God’s word spreads – from the moon to the sky, from the sky to the morning star, from the star to the dawn, from the dawn to the dew, from the dew to the flower, from the flower to Spring and from Spring to youth – describing, in its perfect arc the very mutability, the very transience that God’s initial message implied. Those last four couplets are both deeply dramatic (you can almost hear the secret being whispered from one ear to the next) and, when you stop to picture them, stunningly visual.

June 28, 2006

Roti-ing in Hell

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:02 pm by falstaff

And speaking of topical feminist issues, will someone please explain to me why we, as a society, continue to indulge in the intensely masochistic activity of making chappatis? I mean seriously, if you took all the time that is spent in the average North Indian household making these damn things and put it all together back to back, you’d get a workforce the size of Taiwan. Why can’t we mass produce the stuff? Or switch to eating bread? Or cake? [1]

Thus far, my own experience with ‘making’ chappatis has usually consisted of cutting open a packet from the local Patel store and popping it into the microwave – so I can’t say I’d ever spent time thinking about the mystical process by which chappatis actually get made. Then yesterday, driven by some atavistic homemaking impulse, I decided it was time I learnt how to make chappatis from first principles. How hard could it be? Surely making something as ubiquitous as chappatis would be a roti-walk compared to, say, doing complicated long-division sums.

Little did I know. It turns out that making chappatis is an intricate, multi-stage process that resembles nothing so much as one of those video games where, just as you think you’ve kicked some serious alien butt, you find yourself bumped up to the next level where the action is quicker, the leaps more difficult and the opposition more deadly. And at the end of all this will you at least get to rescue a princess or be declared champion star-fighter? No. All you’ll get, if everything goes to plan, is a fairly boring, flat mildly charred piece of cooked wheat. And then you’ll have to start the whole thing all over again to get another one.

The process starts, it seems [2], with making the dough. This involves taking exactly one andaaz se measure [3] of flour (aka atta) and one andaaz se measure of water and then kneading the mixture till it acquires the consistency of playdough (not to be confused with the consistency of dog puke which is what you get if, like me, you mix one andaaz se measure of flour with one and a half andaaz se measure of water). This sounds easy (well, kind of) but it isn’t. It turns out that the actual kneading, far from being a fun activity for children under 5 is actual a feat of arms of Birbal-esque proportions, requiring levels of strength and stamina that the hands of sensitive poet-types like me simply do not possess. I was on my third rest break and had just about managed to get the flour-water mixture to resemble some sort of lumpy custard, when my mother took over and finished the job for me.

Right then, on to the actual chappati making. No strength required here – just skill and dexterity. The kind of stuff I’m good at. The first step is to take a lump of dough and, dabbing it with powdered flour, roll it into a thin, flat circle. Piece of cake, or well, dough. But wait, you want me to do this with what is, at best, a glorified rod? I try to explain to my mother why, based on simple Euclidean logic, a lump of putty like substance rolled in one direction cannot acquire a circular shape. She doesn’t agree. I then proceed to prove her wrong empirically.

If the desired shape for this chappati had been a square I could have made it in a heartbeat. If it had been an oval I would have managed. If chappatis were supposed to be shaped like Spain, or Poland, or Italy or the erstwhile GDR I would have been an expert roti-maker. But this circle business was beyond me. How the hell do you get an even diameter on these things? No matter which direction I rolled in, some other radius would be left too short and I would have to roll along that line, and then that would get too long and I would have to roll in a third direction, and so on.

Plus it turns out that after a while the powdered flour you’ve applied to the lump wears off and you have to apply more flour to keep the dough from sticking. My mother’s advice was – “when you feel the dough starting to stick, stop and put more flour”. The trouble is, if you’re a novice, the first time you realise that the dough is sticking is when a) you try to pry it off the surface you were rolling on and find it can’t be done without a chisel and / or a blowtorch or b) a large strip of dough comes clean off on your roller. By the time I managed to get one flat, ready to cook piece of dough (not quite round, but at least respectably elliptical) I’d managed to get flour on my fingers, arms, clothes, hair, every handle in the kitchen, the phone, the newspaper, the car keys and even a little spot on the ceiling. And that doesn’t include the 20% of dough that had to be thrown away because I’d rolled it beyond redemption.

The next stage consists of putting this thin circle of dough on a tavaa and then cooking it. This is actually fairly simple, except that a) flipping the damn chappati with your fingers (to make sure it cooks on both sides) is advisable only if you’re an experienced chappati maker (or a Jedi knight) and can do this without actually touching the tavaa. Typing a long post with badly singed finger-tips is NOT fun. b) If the chappati doesn’t seem to be cooking properly and remains damp it’s because you didn’t roll it thin enough in stage 1 above. Isn’t it a good thing you found this out now instead of when you were actually rolling the damn thing because if you’d known this earlier you would have got disheartened? Isn’t it a good thing that your mother is a considerate, encouraging person and didn’t tell you this before? Don’t worry about it. Just make sure that the next chappati you roll is exactly 3.25 microns thick and you’ll be fine. c) trying to do a cryptic crossword while you’ve got the chappati on the tavaa is a bad idea – before you know it you’ve got a house full of smoke and you’re making very wide, very flat atta doughnuts.

Finally, you’re ready to add the finishing touch to your chappati. This consists of roasting it by tossing it onto an open flame. Again, sounds simple enough. The trouble is, if you leave it on the flame too long it catches fire and continues to burn even after you lift it off the flame. So you’re left holding this burning piece of flatbread, wondering whether you should try to save its life yourself by throwing a blanket over it and snuffing out the flames, or you should just wait for the fire engines to arrive (NOTE: Waving it up and down wildly the way you would with a marshmallow DOES NOT work. Not unless your original intention was to set fire to the wall calendar).

So, to summarise. I set out to make six chappatis. The first one got stuck to the roller and had to be washed off with detergent. The second one disintegrated mid-air while I was trying to transfer it to the tavaa. The third one made it to the tavaa but was too thick. The fourth one got burnt on the tavaa itself. The fifth one caught fire and turned to cinders.

The sixth one, however, turned out perfectly. It was round. It cooked. It swelled on the flame like a good chappati should. Now I was (literally) cooking. My heart singing with confidence, I gave it one last flourish on the flame. The chappati landed on the floor.

I actually think subzi tastes so much better with toast, don’t you?

[1] Yes, yes, or rice.

[2] I don’t actually know how to make chappatis yet, so I’m probably getting this all wrong.

[3] The andaaz se system, known to all Indian housewives, is, of course, the true measurement system used in India. Efforts by the Indian Government to replace it with the metric system have failed miserably, the chief reason for which is the intricate complexities of the metric system, compared to the simplicity of the single unit that the andaaz se system uses for everything.

June 26, 2006


Posted in Uncategorized at 11:32 pm by falstaff

From Slate, Meghan O’Rourke’s take on the Linda Hirshman’s argument that women who ‘choose’ to stay at home rather than work are class enemies – traitors to their sex who weaken the cause of women everywhere.

“If you are a woman who is committed to gender equality, who doesn’t believe that a woman’s place is necessarily in the home, she argues, then you have to think about how your choices shape the collective good. Her stubborn insistence is refreshing. Unlike others, she is willing to come out and say, in no uncertain terms, that the luxury of making our own decisions as if they had no larger implications isn’t ethical at this point in time. If that makes feminism unpopular, so be it; but shying away from persistent inequality by invoking the language of “choice,” she observes, is hardly feminism. If you buy her argument, then even if you find it hard to leave your baby at home, and even if you find the workplace sometimes less-than-fulfilling, it’s important—to society as a whole—that you work. This sounds extreme, but of course it’s the lesson every man is taught when he’s a boy: Your responsibility to society—the way to become an adult—is to work.”

O’Rourke argues that Hirshman’s arguments, unpleasant and extreme as they may be, have an important place in the overall feminist debate. That, of course, is hard to disagree with. More importantly, I think Hirshman’s argument (and the critiques of it) are a good illustration of a more general question: how do we achieve collective action without subverting individual freedoms?

It’s a knotty issue, but on the whole I disagree with Hirshman. There are three reasons why I think her argument is a poor one.

First, it’s not hard to see why this sort of one-size-fits-all approach would be non-inclusive and divisive. Hirshman seems to see this as being of little consequence – as O’Rourke puts it: “If this makes feminism unpopular, so be it”. That’s a very strange argument for someone interested in effective collective action to be making. Popularity matters. There’s little reason to believe, after all, that the overwhelming effect of taking this argument seriously will be to bring more women into the workforce – if Hirshman’s view were to become the dominant one, then it could just as easily drive more women who were personally uncomfortable with its consequences out of the ‘feminist’ movement entirely. And that kind of exclusion will only marginalise the cause of women’s rights more.

Second, even if using Hirshman’s approach could win greater equality for women in the short run, it’s not clear why the system wouldn’t revert once we allowed women the right to make their own choices again. Think about it in terms of a strike. Hirshman’s argument, in essence, is that women who stay at home are scabs – their continuing to serve the cause of patriarchy undermines the efforts of feminists everywhere. The trouble is that with a strike there’s a clear mechanism by which concessions once won can be made permanent. Once the management has been forced to concede to the worker’s demands, these demands are set down in legal agreements and workers can go back to work safe in the knowledge that the management cannot revert to its old wage rate. But even if a temporary sacrifice of individual freedom could allow women to obtain more equal treatment, what’s to stop the old patterns of discrimination from returning, the moment women who want to stay at home choose to do so? In fact, won’t Hirshman’s method perpetuate the idea that women who stay at home are easy targets for discrimination? Will the feminist victory, then, not end up becoming simply a victory for women who want to work?

Most importantly, though, Hirshman’s argument raises the important question – what exactly are we fighting for? If there is anything her rhetoric reminds me of, it is the classic communist argument for punishing class enemies for the good of the People. If there is one thing history should have taught us, it is that suspending the individual’s right to self-determination in the name of some abstract political ideal is a bad idea. The trouble with the ‘suffer today, to reap the benefits tomorrow’ is that tomorrow never comes, and freedoms, once suspended, are lost forever. The result is the creation of a society where self-expression is stifled – a society not worth living in. Any genuinely progressive society must be built on a recognition of the plurality of its members, their freedom to make their own choices. If there is a point to the movement for gender equality, it is that women should get fair and equal treatment irrespective of who they are or what they choose to do – replacing one social strait-jacket for another is hardly emancipation.

That said, the point that Hirshman makes that is worth exploring, is the question of what a woman’s ‘choice’ to stay at home really consists of. There is certainly the very real danger of labelling as ‘choice’ what is actually coercion. There is certainly good reason to question the social conditioning that defines gender roles around ‘work’ and ‘staying at home’ (as though the latter were really that much easier). And there is no question that we must do out utmost to ensure greater equality for women in the workplace, and encourage greater workforce participation by women. The point is that the right effort must be to enhance choice, not limit it. Attacking women who stay at home is attacking the symptom, not the cause.

The Perfect Suitor

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:13 pm by falstaff

Alejandro Soares was convinced that he would never get Constanza Diaz to marry him. Not that he hadn’t tried. For close to three years now he had been wooing her using every technique he could imagine. He brought her flowers and chocolate. He took her for walks in the park when the weather was fine, and to the town’s one air-conditioned movie hall when it wasn’t; and every time the University troupe put on a new play, which it did every quarter, he would buy front-row seats for the two of them. He visited her diligently every Friday night, shaving and putting on a fresh shirt for the occasion, and on Sundays he sat two pews behind her in church and stared devoutly at her back. In the three years since they had got to know each other at a friend’s wedding, he had done her taxes for her, helped her move when she shifted house and gone with her to the dentist when she needed a tooth extracted and was scared to go alone. He had been romantic. He had taken her twice to the big New Year’s Eve ball at the Grand Hotel, and once for a picnic by the river. One night, early in his courtship, he had even hired a street band and tried to serenade her, though this was a move he now regretted, because of the sorry figure he had cut (the street urchins had gathered to snigger at him). All in all, he felt he had done everything a lover could reasonably be expected to do.

Yet none of this seemed to make the slightest impression on Constanza. She smiled whenever she saw him, true, and seemed happy to be in his company, but every time he mentioned love, or marriage, a spark of panic would flicker in her eyes, and she would grow strangely reluctant to talk. At first, she just thanked him when he made these protestations, then, when he pressed her for an answer (disregarding all the rules of chivalry so dear to him) she replied only that she was “flattered”, without saying yes or no. There was, in her air to him at these times, a sort of amused benevolence – she seemed like a mother comforting her child for some foolish tantrum, incapable of taking his cries seriously, but reluctant to hurt him by dismissing them outright.

This reaction of her’s puzzled Alejandro. Why would she not accept his suit? What was he doing wrong? His mirror told him that he was good-looking, and the balance in his account proved that he was successful, if only in a modest way. He was serious, well-informed and capable, had varied interests, and lived a clean, pious existence. He was a good dancer. He had never suffered a day of serious illness in his life. And God knows he had always been faithful to her, never, in the last three years so much as looking at another women, though there were plenty of others in this small provincial town who would have been happy to have him. Why just the other day his landlord’s doe-eyed daughter had been throwing herself at him, with her silly laugh and her dress cut low to show off her white, firm breasts which he’d barely noticed because he was so devoted to his Constanza. And still the woman refused to say yes to him.

Rumour in town had it that Constanza had her heart set on one Felipe and had repeatedly been seen offering him encouragement. Alejandro couldn’t fathom this. That little runt Felipe, with his shabby coat and dissheveled hair, a clerk in a store to boot, always wandering about with that distracted air of his as if trying to do sums in his head. What could Constanza possibly see in him? Didn’t she see how he always seemed out of place at parties, how the only place he ever fit in was the library? Hadn’t she noticed his scuffed shoes, his mismatched socks? How could she even consider choosing such a man over him?

Of course, perhaps it was not true at all. It was just the kind of gossip these idle townspeople would have made up. At any rate, either because Constanza had offered no favours, or because that imbecile Felipe wasn’t smart enough to see that they had been offered, the two of them remained little more than acquaintances, and Alejandro’s position as Constanza’s suitor remained unchallenged.

Yet three years of unavailing courtship had taken their toll on Alejandro’s confidence, and his dreams, once crisp and freshly minted, had now begun to seem like so much creased paper. The first time he heard the rumour about Constanza’s interest in Felipe, he had gone straight to her house in high dudgeon, even though it was a Thursday and not the day he normally visited, and had asked her, with barely controlled anger, whether it was true that she had gone to a movie with the man on Wednesday night. She admitted the factual truth of it at once, but denied that it had any significance greater than their being ‘friends’, except that the blush in her cheeks as she said this told him a different story. He was indignant. Was this how his loyalty of so many months was to be rewarded? Did she think she was the only girl in town? He’d show her. Two could play at this game. What if he took out that buck-toothed Lamaraz girl next Friday? How would she like that?

Slowly it dawned on him that maybe that was exactly what she wanted. What a beautiful opportunity that would be to get rid of him! How easy it would be to convince herself, and others, that he was the one who had never truly loved her. That he was the unfaithful one. “How can you expect me to marry you when you go around taking other women to the movies!” she would say to him, the next time he broached the subject of his love. And one week later, after she had dismissed his suit once and for all, she would tell her girlfriends, “Oh, Alejandro! He was always the fickle one. Always flitting from one girl to the other.” Or perhaps even: “What a coward, that Alejandro. The minute I started paying attention to Felipe, Alejandro saw instantly that he wasn’t good enough for me, and gave up without even a murmur.” The very thought of these lines being spoken about him made Alejandro, lying awake in bed that night, groan with misery.

No, he would not make it that easy for her. He would give her no opportunity to fault him, no excuse to run him off. Had he been neglectful? First thing tomorrow morning he would go and buy her a big bouquet of flowers. Was he being too demanding? How would stop asking her to marry him, stop assailing her with his entreaties, rather he would continue to woo her in silence, as a gentleman should. Was he not supportive enough? He would double his efforts to help her. He would meet her at the store and help her carry back her groceries. He would spend evenings reading to her mother. He would even assist her be better friends with that worm Felipe if that was what she wanted. Let her find fault with him then.

Yes, he would be the perfect suitor – impossibly charming, immaculately correct. When she finally rejected him, as he no longer had any doubt she would, she would be unable to point to any flaw in him that would justify her choice. All the town would mock her, all the women who sighed for devotion such as his would condemn her for being a fool. She would be forced to admit that she was being utterly unreasonable, would be able to give no explanation but her own caprice for such manifest and monstrous unfairness. She would have to break his heart, knowing, without possibility of doubt, that he deserved much better. That would be her punishment.

It had been a year since Alejandro had come to this decision. In those twelve months he had stuck diligently to his resolve, proving himself, again and again, the most impeccable of suitors. Soon the rumours of his incredible courtship has spread beyond the boundaries of their quiet little township. A regional radio talk-show had aired a ten minute interview with him, in which he had talked about how yes, he really loved his Constanza more than anything in the world, but no, he was content to wait patiently till she felt ready to make up her mind. A small article about his quest, with a picture of him from his college days, had appeared in the national daily. People recognised him in the street, and a few had even accosted Constanza while she was out shopping and asked her why she wouldn’t marry him. Every day letters from heiresses and rich widows poured in for him, promising him all sorts of pecuniary and sexual delights if he would only transfer his affections from “that worthless whore” to them. And yet through it all, while secretly rejoicing to see his plan working so well, he remained outwardly unmoved – always soft-spoken, always devoted, never letting slip the suggestion that he considered this courtship of his anything out of the ordinary.

The one day, as they were coming to the end of another Friday evening visit, the bouquet of lilacs he had brought still fresh in their vase, the expensive liquer chocolates open on the table, Constanza looked him straight in the eye and told him she was going to marry Felipe. “How can you do this to me?”, he asked, feeling the shock of the event, however expected, spread through him. “I’m sorry”, she said, “it would seem I have been very unfair to you.”. A small glimmer of satisfaction began to glow inside him. “But why? What is wrong with me, that you choose him?”. “It’s…nothing, really” “There must be something” “No. Look, can’t we just accept that I love him and love is not rational and leave it at that?” Not so fast, my dear, I’m not going to let you get away so easily, he thought to himself. This is where he got his revenge. “No, I can’t accept that. I’ve been courting you night and day, week upon week, season upon season for three years now. I’ve done everything a man can do to win a woman and more. I think I’m owed some explanation at least.” Admit it. Admit you don’t have a leg to stand on.

She sighed. “Oh, all right”, she said, “if you insist. It’s this self-obsession of yours, this insecurity. It’s like you’re always out to prove something, always try too hard. It wears me down. Look, I really like you. For a while after we first met, before you started ‘courting me’, as you like to put it, I may have even been in love with you. But then you went and became this other person, this actor, and suddenly it was like everything was melodramatic and fake between us. It was never about what I wanted or what you wanted anymore, it was always about what was proper. And then this last year – the newspaper report, the program on the radio – I’d never dreamed you’d be so much of an exhibitionist. I hate it. It’s such an invasion of my privacy. I feel so stifled, knowing that wherever I go people are judging me. I’m a very private person, you know. Felipe understands that. Felipe understands me. And Felipe understands that he doesn’t need a good suit or polished shoes to win my heart – he just needs to be himself and if that’s good enough then we have a marriage. Which is why I’m choosing him over you. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bring all this up. I know you meant well. And I do wish it had turned out differently between us. But you have only yourself to blame.”

Late that night, Alejandro’s friends found him in a local bar, madly drunk. Having heard the news about Constanza and Felipe they tried to console him, offering him their sympathy, telling him he would get over it and that she wasn’t worth it, anyway; that there were other fish in the sea. All the usual lines. To their surprise, he reacted by banging his fist on the counter and shouting “She beat me, Goddammit! She beat me!”. And then he broke down and began to cry.

Scian up now

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:37 am by falstaff

Over at The Scientific Indian, an announcement for a sci-fi short story contest. Just in case there’s a story out there that Asimov hasn’t already written.

June 25, 2006

Winter Dream

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:27 am by falstaff

One winter, we’ll take a train, a little rose-coloured car
Upholstered blue.
We’ll be so comfortable. A nest
Of wild kisses awaits in every cushioned corner.

You’ll close your eyes to shadows
Grimacing through windows
This belligerent nocturnal realm, inhabited
By black demons and black wolves.

Then you’ll feel a tickle on your cheek…
A little kiss like a crazed spider
Fleeing down your neck…

Bending your head backwards, you’ll say: “Get it!”
– And we’ll take our time finding the beast
– While it roams…

– Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Winter Dream’ (translated from the French by Wyatt Mason)

The original:

L’hiver, nous irons dans un petit wagon rose
Avec des coussins bleus.
Nous serons bien. Un nid de baisers fous repose
Dans chaque coin moelleux.

Tu fermeras l’oeil, pour ne point voir, par la glace,
Grimacer les ombres des soirs,
Ces monstruosites hargneuses, populace
De demons noirs et de loups noirs.

Puis tu te sentiras la joue egratignee…
Un petit baiser, comme une folle araignee,
Tu courra par le cou…

Et tu me diras: >, en inclinant la tete;
– Et nous prendrons du temps a trouver cette bete
– Qui voyage beaucoup…

One of the joys of being home for a while is that I finally have the leisure to catch up with books that I bought but never quite got around to reading, or read only cursorily, and left behind in India when I moved to the US. It’s amazing how much you can discover in your book shelves when you go looking.

Like this delightful little Rimbaud poem. I’m not, in general, a huge Rimbaud fan. I bought his Collected Poems a while ago, and skimmed it at the time, but on the whole I find his insistence on being outrageous very juvenile. He comes up with some beautiful lines, but there’s this nagging sense of his being constantly out to shock, and that, for me, detracts greatly from what would otherwise be an exceedingly interesting set of poems.

Of course, the whole point about Rimbaud is that he is a teenager (the poem above, for instance, was written when he was 16) and given his age his poems are, it must be said, unbelievably good. But while I see why that makes him a heroic figure, I don’t see that that’s reason enough to actually want to read his poems. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that he’s a bad poet, I’m only saying that in my opinion he’s as interesting a poet as say, Matthew Arnold.

This poem though, which I don’t remember reading before, is pure pleasure. It’s a lighthearted, playful poem, and the one dark stanza in the centre only serves as an effective counterpoint to the souffle like sweetness of the rest. What I love about the poem is how cinematic it is – like a scene from a Truffaut film starring (ideally) Jean-Pierre Leaud and Anna Karina. (Though that’s hardly a coincidence – there is, after all, good reason to suspect a cause and effect relationship between Rimbaud and the French New Wave).

Now why can’t I ever have train journeys like this? Every time I travel by train I end up stranded among a boisterous family who spends the entire day playing Antakshari and then quarrels with me at night when I want to keep my reading light on.

June 24, 2006


Posted in Uncategorized at 12:54 pm by falstaff

2x3x7 turns one year old today.

*cue stirring music and montage of black and white newsreels*

Exactly one year ago, on the stroke of the midnight hour in some time zone or the other, I made a tryst with destiny. Destiny may claim that it wasn’t a tryst and that we just happened to meet at a party where we had mutual friends, but she’s just trying to be coy.

I had a dream. Ich bin ein Blogger. I would write blogposts on the beaches, I would write blogposts in the fields. I would hold to the truth only if it was self-evident. I would not be amused.

It was a big step for me personally, though a minor flexing of toes for Mankind.


Writing birthday posts for blogs, is, of course, a well-formalised art.

Step 1: You start by being all self-deprecating and humble.

I’d like to thank all the people who read this blog regularly. All 1.264 of you. I, of course, am just a modest little blip in a firmament of stars burning as bright as Blake’s tigers.

You may now jump to the comments section and tell me how I’m being too modest and I’m actually so great and how much you love me. (I know you’re out there, I’ve seen you on sitemeter).

Well? I’m waiting.

Oh, come on. You read this blog. You KNOW I’m insecure and needy.

Right. That’s more like it.

Step 2: Next, you wax nostalgic about your original vision for the blog. And how you think you’ve fared with it.

I started 2x3x7 with two aspirations, both negative.

1) I did not want to be classified – slotted into one category or the other. I did not want it to be a lit blog, or a personal blog or a humour blog, or a blog that linked to other blogs / MSM articles. I wanted it to be none of those things and all of them.

2) I did not want to take myself too seriously.

I’d like to think I’ve done okay on the first. I’ve slipped up a few times on the second, but I’m trying. Really, I am.

Step 3: Next, you talk about the ways in which blogging has surprised you. The things you didn’t expect. The things you found out about yourself, etc.

More navel gazing. What fun.

The thing I didn’t anticipate when I started blogging (aside from the complete lack of eligible women beating down my door to mate with me) was how demanding blogging would be. It’s as though someone gave you a magic lamp that you could rub and have a genie pop up to do whatever you wished, but if you wished for the wrong thing (or asked for it in the wrong way) the genie would tell you so, in no uncertain terms and in the voice of your 5th grade geography teacher. It’s scary how much blogging has taken over my life. There are days when I feel like my life is a squealing piglet being slowly swallowed by the boa constrictor of this blog.

Ah, well. It wasn’t that much of a life anyway.

Step 4 (optional): Talk about all the wacky searches that have led people to your blog.

The three most searched for things that led to this blog:

1) Bakke vs. the University of California
2) Puff the Magic Dragon
3) Platonic / asexual relationships

So basically, all I’ve achieved in the last year is give the impression that I’m a) a lawyer b) a dope-fiend and c) impotent. (none of this is true, btw.)

No wonder the path to my door remains unbeaten.

Step 5: Make resolutions for what you’re going to change going forward.

Ah, this is the fun part. let’s see:

1. I shall try not to use footnotes [1]

2. I shall not bandy words with people in the comments section. I shall be calm and Buddha-like. I shall not react to people who are total #$%*ing morons and don’t understand the brilliant things I’m saying and can’t figure out, though I’ve said it repeatedly, in plain english, and it’s obvious to begin with, that all I meant to say was that a) it isn’t…oh, dear.

3. I will carefully scna each post for typos

3b. I shall not mix up its and it’s. Thats just silly.

4. I shall finally resolve this whole white font on black background business.

5. I shall write more posts about the Universe – which has the lowest count among all my categories. (Humour tops the list with 78 posts. Clearly, I’ve been living up to my name)

6. I shall travel more so I have more posts about my travels to put up (see what I mean about my blog taking control of my life.)

7. I shall try to write stories that do not focus on how life is a meaningless hoax, relationships invariably end badly and we are all trapped in a world where purposeful action is impossible, even though all this is inherently true (as shall be explained in all these Universe posts I’m going to write – see point 5 above).

8. I shall pay close and grateful attention to all the feedback I get through your comments.

9. I shall pay no heed whatsoever to what you’re saying in the comments section – I’m a free spirit who writes for self-affirmation and not to pander to the tastes of you readers.

10a. I shall try and respond to every comment I get

10b. I shall not check the blog every 20 minutes to see if I have any new comments to respond to.

Step 6: Close with a few cliched metaphors about how it’s been such a spectacular journey, such a roller-coaster ride, etc.

Well, folks, the last year has been a real roller-coaster ride. (Oh, wait, I hate roller-coasters – they make my nauseous)

Well, folks, the last year has been an incredible journey. (What kind of journey though? I get motion-sick in cars and sea-sick on boats. And trains wobble too much. Dammit, there must be some mode of travel that I like. Ah yes)

Well, folks, the last year has been an amazing transatlantic flight. (Hmmm. )

Look, it’s been fun, okay. There. I said it.

When I started this blog on 24th June 2005, it was because my life was a joke and I had nothing better to do with it. 365 days and 429 posts later, it’s still a joke. But now it’s a joke that other people get. That’s what I call sharing. That’s what I call personal growth.

Step 7 (as afterthought): Invite comments

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Wishes? Curses? Magic Spells? Brickbats? WMDs? Home videos of your toothless 5 year old singing Heppy Birday To Djou? Inspiring Quotes from Great Men? Offers of intercourse? Suicide tips? Certificate for a lobotomy? Mastercard?

[1] Except where absolutely essential, of course.

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