Wednesday, July 31, 2013

You Won't Lose Weight

The one thing about Devapriya Roy's The Weight Loss Club is the fact that it as much to do with a handbook The Vague Woman's Handbook had. In other words, Ms Roy is on her way to become the leading Indian producer of Good Books with Lousy Titles, or in other words, GBLTs.

But that is only one part of her three-pronged anti-marketing strategy. The other two are even more significant - she doesn't promote her books, and most importantly, she writes well.
The misleading title, the hideous caption, and the obnoxious cover: what were you thinking, Devapriya?
Despite its lousy title and repulsive cover The Weight Loss Club comes across as a pleasant surprise. The one thing that is (and has always been) true about the girl woman lass chick girl lady kid is the fact that she writes well - good enough to make me envy her style.

So what is it about her style that makes it stand out? Perhaps the balance: she portrays characters and makes you visualise scenes without intimidating you with a formidable vocabulary. She tells serious tales that will leave you gasping and smiling.

The characters, as in The Vague Woman's Handbook, are very well drawn-out, each one being significantly different from the other; and yet any of them can be your next-door neighbour, or even someone at your own place. Do not be surprised if you find yourself nodding and smiling when you come across a familiar character or a known everyday situation; it's only that she manages to portray them beautifully with an excellent eye for detail.

The book is definitely more complicated than The Vague Woman's Handbook, as are the characters. Devapriya has definitely evolved as an author. The characters are grayer than before. The way she has been able to venture into the psychology of characters is uncanny, even eerie, making you think "how does she know?"

However, as is often the case, the innocence that had got us hooked to The Vague Woman's Handbook is lost in Devapriya's migration to the next level. The characters are also intricately interwoven, which means that the book doesn't remain simple any more. You do not get to see the entire picture from a single person's perspective: all characters play pivotal roles in a tale well-told.

Okay, maybe there is a droplet or two of mush splattered here and there (and even a cheesy line or two), but I guess kids often end up doing that. For almost the entirety of the book, however, she shows an extremely mature understanding of commonplace, everyday characters as her skills of observation peek through every chapter.

Do buy it if you are in awe of Kolkata; or hate people who are indifferent to the Book Fair; or know what walking Gariahat is all about; or think families are a cool concept; or have taken college fests seriously at some point of time; or dream about food for extended periods of time; or take hard-boiled emotional stuff called bonding and camaraderie rather seriously; or have even the slightest idea regarding what knotty dresses with multi-coloured gamchhas are. Okay, maybe not the last bit.

Most importantly, buy it if you love love*. Don't buy it if you want to gain weight reading an engrossing page-turner and skip gym or yoga or whatever obnoxious activity you perform out of compulsion. Yes, she does have that rare quality of making you want to read on - perhaps the single-most important attribute that separates the quality authors from the average ones.

And then, there's also the fact that a famous mathematics tutor is called Boraho (you either get it or you don't). It also features multiple references to a Mila Kunis movie for the grand effect.

Thanks to her suicidal triple whammy the book won't sell as much as the ones written by The Voice of the Youth or the King of Mythology. There will probably be one - just one - copy of this book sold for every hundred Durjoy Dattas or Ravinder Singhs.

What you can do, however, is buy that one copy.
___

* this is not a typo

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Boy

This is the second entry I had written for the short story contest as a part of the Indian Bloggers' League Semifinal (don't ask!). As expected, my story - just like the previous one - did not make the East Zone shortlist for the same reason: it was inferior to the one that got selected.

The reason that I wrote it was that I was not really happy with the previous story. This went in as a last-minute entry. All in vain, though. Sigh. Little did I realise that the winning entry would have been significantly better.

Anyway, I guess I should publish this one on my blog as well. As before we were asked to write something within 1,500 words on the picture below, and this is what I had come up with:


The Boy

Long, long ago, way before motorbikes, credit cards or chocolate soufflé were invented, there lived a boy in a faraway land. He was fourteen (well, not always; he was fourteen for a year, at the time of the events of the story), had a pimply face, and did not have a name.

They used to call him ‘Boy’. They used to call all boys ‘Boy’ and all girls ‘Girl’, but we’re not going into that. We’ll be talking mostly about one boy in this story. Let us give him a name first, though – something really innovative and respectable. Let us call him Lad.

Lad had an irritating presence as all fourteen-year old boys often do. They are typically too old to be mollycoddled and too young to be taken seriously. He managed to annoy his parents, he managed to annoy his grandparents, and he managed to annoy everyone in the neighbourhood. Irritating others by sheer presence was his forte, and he lived up to his reputation.

Lad often frequented the shallow gorge that separated the villages. He sat down there for hours, hidden from his villages, taking the occasional moment to cast furtive glances as his crush (let us get innovative again and name her Lass) as she passed by.

It had not rained that year. The two villages on either side of the gorge (we won’t get innovative anymore; we will simply call them Lad’s Village and Lass’ Village) had almost run out of drinking water. Even the wells had turned them down.

Trees had been decaying; farming took a serious toll; livestock was killed off to save water. The priests of both villages had prayed to the Gods and had offered slow-roasted cabbages and char-grilled goat hocks but to no avail.

Lad knew when the elders of the village were supposed to meet that day. He tiptoed to a safe nook just outside the clearing where the gathering was supposed to happen. Fourteen-year old boys often think of eavesdropping as a really cool activity. Lad was no exception.

What Lad got to know was not really something he liked. For someone with a presence that irksome he had the audacity of possessing a very clear range of thoughts. The elders had decided to wage war on Lass’ village; they wanted to put everyone to sword, burn down their houses, and rob them of their stock of drinking water.

This was certainly not good news. Lass’ father, a lumberjack, was the chieftain of his village and would definitely be among the first ones to be slain. If Lad’s village went on to win the battle they would slaughter everyone and do those things to the girls that the elders talked about but always prevented him from knowing.

No, he had to stop this. He could not let Lass face something like this. He had a feeling that whatever it was, it wasn’t good for Lass.

Lad sneaked away, crossed the gorge, and went to the village on the other side. He found Lass almost immediately and tried to tell her everything – but to his utter surprise Lass shrieked and gathered virtually everyone in the village.

Poor Lad! How was he supposed to know that cornering a girl when she was alone was not considered good manners? The elders of Lass’ village eyed him suspiciously, some of them with vicious-looking weapons.

This was better in a way, thought Lad. This way I can tell them everything.

So Lad told them. And they believed him.

So Lass’ village got ready.

So Lass thought Lad was a hero.

There was a minor problem, though. Lass’ village went on to carry out the same actions on Lad’s village: to kill the men, to set fire to the houses, to do those things to the girls that Lad was clueless about, and to take away all their water.

Lad stared at them blankly. They ignored his looks. Then one of them told him “you need not fear; you can stay with us”. Lad did not believe him.

No, this was not good. He had to stop this.

As Lass’ village prepared themselves for the war Lad cast what he knew was one last look at Lass. He walked back towards his own village. He never knew that her eyes had followed him on his way back. He sat down in the gorge – the only place where he could watch both armies advance.

They arrived sooner than he had expected. Lad was ready. He had prepared a mound of sorts. He stood up on the mound and shouted at both armies to stop. He begged them to retreat. Rain would surely arrive in a couple of days, he pleaded.

They did not listen to Lad. With blood in their eyes and gleaming weapons in their hands, they tore down upon each other. Flesh was ripped, skulls were smashed, and limbs were torn apart.

Lad had tried to stop them and was the first to be killed in the war: the pimply boy who went about annoying everyone in the village didn’t even know who had struck him the first blow. It might well have been his father.

The women were a part of it as well: they had always fought alongside men in combats, and did not shy away here as well. They advanced with fierce determination and struck the most ruthless of blows, massacring people with the same ferocity as their male counterparts.

It came to an end after a while. Not a single person survived. The dry, parched earth was soaked with the blood of the dead. Man and woman, adult and child lay together, heaped on each other’s corpses. The water they had fought for had remained intact.

Then came the rain. It rained like it had never rained before. It rained for days at a stretch. The rain washed away the blood and clothes. The rain made the flesh of the deceased rot before the maggots could do anything to them.

It lasted for ten full days, turning the gorge into a brook. Fresh leaves appeared on the trees making them look young all over again. The world seemed to be at peace.

And then, from her parents’ hut, out stepped Lass. She was the only one who had not been to the war. She had been hiding, feeding herself on corn kernels and rainwater for the past ten days and had finally mustered the courage to come out in the open.

She reached the gorge, which, as you know, had turned into a brook by now. She saw something and knelt down: it was Lad. Somehow the rain had decided not to wash Lad away. What was more, he was left intact: the rain seemed to have washed away his wounds and had left him unblemished – taking away even his pimples.

Why, if you looked at him now you might as thought the feeling that Lad was a quite handsome, eligible boy! He could even have been smiling in his sleep!

Lass smiled as well. Lad was somehow stuck in one of the alcoves of the newly-formed brook. The current had not been able to take him away.

Lass took Lad by the hand. He did not seem heavy at all. She dragged him gently and placed him on the ground next to the brook, and smiled again. She buried him afterwards. It took her hours, but she did all of it with a smile on her face.

Then she walked back to her parents’ hut. The axe was there, as were the carpenter’s equipments that had once belonged to her uncle.

Lad would not have cared for a tombstone in his memory. He would have loved a bridge between the two villages, Lass thought. Especially over the mound he had built.

Her face broke into that charming smile that had used to turn up in Lad’s dream till ten nights back. It would take time, but she was certainly not in a hurry.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Second runner-up isn't bad!

Remember this story that you had read, loved, commented on, and not recommended? Well, there's news for you. It shortlisted as the best story from East India in an earlier round as a part of the IBL (Indian Bloggers League).

There's more good news, guys. I had also entered the story for the WriteUpCafe Short Story Contest 8, and (you have to believe this), my story have been awarded the Second Runner-Up.

You deserve a lot of credit, though. It is because of you, your comments, your support, and your constructive criticism that I keep on writing. Hopefully we will make it somewhere decent someday.

Till then, here's our trophy!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Double whammy

July is a cool month, and that's not because Fardeen Khan was born in March. I generally love July; well, I will perhaps not make love to it but I'd still be happy to maintain a platonic relationship forever.

This July has been quite kind to me, though: over the past few days I have read my best book and have watched my best movie of the year. Of course, I italicised the 'my's because it's fashionable to do so, but let us not deviate.

The post will, however, contain truckloads of spoilers. No, I won't write 'spoiler alert' in capital letters multiple times and surround them with groups of cute asterisks, but don't tell me I didn't warn you. Some warnings need not come in size XXL.

The Book: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Yes, I have waited this long to read this. I know it has been a heinous crime, especially since I have been gaga over the woman for over a decade; I should ideally have brought out of my fan-boy avatar and gobbled it up ages back. I should ideally have been the target of what Ms Shalini Sharma has threatened me with in the comments section of this post.

Anyway, now that I've read it, I cannot not review it (yes, I know this is poor English; I'm just trying to be cool). The Casual Vacancy is, contrary to most reviews, a brilliant book. Not just a good book, but a brilliant one. And there is a reason that I've written the word 'brilliant' in italics; that too, twice.

Let's get into serious stuff now. There have been speculations that there is not an iota of the Harry Potter magic in the book. To begin with, there wasn't supposed to be any. It was supposed to be harsh, brutal, (insert similar objectives of choice here), and was supposed to hit you straight on your face.

It was supposed to toy with that horrible thing called conscience that comes to bother you when all is going well. It is supposed to provide you with a peek into the serious issues of the Occident we're blissfully unaware of: the poor exist everywhere; poverty is not an absolute term but one relative to your surroundings; the increasing criminal tendencies among teenagers; and the extent and intensity of the menace that drug-addiction is.
Image source: Wikipedia

With the Potter series Rowling showed us how well she can handle teen psychology; with this one she has arguably gone a step ahead, taking out all the rosy aspects, and presenting the raw, abrasive side of the angry British teenager.

And she does not restrict herself to teens either. Rowling has explored into the nooks and corners of human psychology across all rungs of society with absurd ease. She has dealt with the various strata, genders, ages so skilfully that you're sucked into the book before you know what you're dealing with. Not only can you relate to the characters but you can also be one of them.

Of course there are contrasts with the Harry Potter series. Barring Severus Snape the people in the magical world are generally black or white. Not in Pagford, no: which is why this is a fantastic book for adults in the first place.

When Rowling had announced that she would write a book on adults she did not mean she would write one on sex and violence. What she had possibly meant that this would be a book on real characters - more real than the ones she had already written about. She would be direct, brazen, and ruthless in portraying them. And she has done exactly that.

It is a book that begins with a death and ends with two more: Barry Fairbrother is the only person who is depicted as almost white - but, hey, isn't that how we typically refer to the dead as? Contrast that to the way Krystal Weedon is remembered after her demise - and it's easily evident how differently we react to different people.

Recall the way she had described Robbie's death: she had always been hinting at it, leaving the reader gaping - introducing characters one by one - making the reader think "now Gavin will pick him; surely Shirley will provide him with a shelter..." before the inevitable actually happens, hitting the reader with a blow we've all faced multiple times in the boy wizard's adventures.

Then there's the storytelling bit. The Casual Vacancy should be made a handbook for everyone trying to write a novel: the brick-by-brick laying out of the story; the unfolding of the labyrinthine assortment characters in a gradually planned seamless flow; the controlled release of pent-up emotions the way a master kite-runner lets go of his string with clinical precision.

Take a bow, Ms Rowling. You've nailed it again. And before I miss out, Pagford is not St Mary Mead.

As Diptee had told me, it is a depressing book. On the other hand, as Bimbabati had told me, it is a beautiful book.

Yes, I was left crying. And smiling. At the same time.

The Movie: Ship of Theseus by Anand Gandhi

The very fact that Anand Gandhi wrote the dialogues of  Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (or 82 episodes of it, to be precise) and the screenplay of Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii did not really push me to watch the movie.

The review assumes that the reader has a prior knowledge of what is meant by a ship of Theseus, or, in other words, Theseus' paradox. Wikipedia provides with a more-or-less decent description of what it's all about. Mind you, you can still watch the movie without that extra bit of knowledge, but it will probably be as useful as watching a soap (or washing a soap).

Image source: Wikipedia
Let me put the basics out of the way first. Each and every actor in the movie has been cast remarkably well: I could not think of a single performer who has looked out of the place in the movie. As if that was not enough, everyone has pulled off spectacular performances.

Not going overboard is the trademark of any good actor: however, not looking like a block of wood on screen takes as much effort. The balance is what the best actors try to seek throughout their careers, and few manage to achieve.

Now imagine a movie where everyone acts that good and looks absolutely appropriate in her role. You get the basic idea, don't you?

Before we dig deep into the stories let us discuss the other aspects of the movie (I know I will sound like a show-off here). The dialogues (and subtitles) - Hindi, English, Arabic, and Swedish - never seem forced, and co-exist like kittens do in baskets on cute motivational posters people often have a tendency to share on Facebook.

The other aspect is the portrayal of Mumbai throughout the movie. Most filmmakers bend to the whims of the glorious, unforgiving city. Gandhi has gone the other way: he had made Mumbai bow to his camera and has made the city adapt to his camera and commands.

Let us now consider the stories one by one. The first revolves around Aaliya who, despite being visually challenged, is a remarkable photographer. Once she gets back her vision, however, she begins to doubt her own abilities and past creations.

Which makes us ask ourselves: what is vision? How important is eyesight? Do we need our eyes to see? Do we still remain the same person when someone else grants us their eyes? Is seeing the same as having vision? What if blindness is your main tool on your road to vision?

The viewer is left hanging, asking for answers as the movie shifts to the story of the erudite, (possibly) vegan monk Maitreya (oh, isn't he beautifully named?) fighting for the rights of animals using for testing of various products. When gets to know that he is suffering from a cirrhosis of liver he refuses to a cure that would involve a liver transplant and medicines - on the grounds that the medicines have been tested on animals before.

He decides to leave things the way they are and gets determined to embrace death. It is then he is up against one of the most potent lines Indian cinema has ever produced: "What is the difference between you and a suicide bomber who is so convinced about the fundamentalism of his thoughts?"

Questions like that would leave stumped. Even Ibu Hatela.

The second story probes and delves into the relatively unknown realm of human psychology - that too of an intellectual - the way few others have done before. It toys with the rather shadowy borderline between will-power and the desperate urge to cling on to survival.

Nawaj Kabi's performance was so intense that you could almost feel its weight holding you down with its force. It has been ages since an actor this good has set his feet in the industry. My apologies to you, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Gandhi's triumph, however, lies in the fact that he does not make an attempt to preach: he shows both sides to the audience, and leaves the judgement on them. It's not that he could not have. It's just that he did not. He simply considered the audience worthy of his movie. Wasn't that nice of him?

Navin (once again, note the name), on the other hand, is another thing altogether. The young stockbroker seems to be emotionless of sorts as the story starts, but new dimensions of his characters keep revealing themselves as the layers keep on unfolding. The single shot that shows him going meticulously through the entire process of helping his ailing grandmother urinate and clean the bedpan both before and afterwards makes one sit up straight and take notice of him.

In that one shot - with minimal use of dialogues - Gandhi tells us a lot about Navin's compassionate, kind, and methodious personality.

The story then leads us to the ghastly worlds of illegal kidney transplantation, of the intensity of Navin's resolution, and of human greed.

In the end everything comes to an incredible climax that leaves you hanging. Yes, I was the last to leave the theatre.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Bridge

This was a story written for a short story contest as a part of the Indian Bloggers' League Semifinal (don't ask!).  As expected, my story did not make the East Zone shortlist for the most obvious reason: it was inferior to the one that got selected.

Anyway, I guess I should publish it on my blog nevertheless. We were asked to write something within 1,500 words on the picture below, and this is what I had come up with:

Update: I had sent a second failed entry as well. You can find it here.


The Bridge

Kumar stared at the messenger with a glassy-eyed look. It had happened again.

The entire Forest Department had been turned into a joke by the events of the past few months. He had become the laughing stock of the entire country thanks to the media and the social networking sites. What was a joke till a few days back had now taken a serious turn.

Kumar knew that the media was not really off-target. As many as twenty-three officers, along with dozens of locals, had crossed the bridge to the other side, never to return. Not a trace of their corpses was ever found, much to Kumar’s dismay.

Of course he had tried: he had sent out larger groups to investigate; they had returned empty-handed. Let alone a person, not even a toenail could be found in the labyrinth of trees on the other side of the bridge.

It hadn’t been like this. Till a few months back everything had been running smoothly. The city had been spreading at a breakneck pace. It had encroached into the abundance of green that had once belonged to the Forest Department albeit over the exchange of a few bits of paper. Trees had been chopped off mercilessly; there had been the usual protests but Kumar knew that they would be subdued soon. He had simply smiled and waited.

When all had gone quiet the axes had come out and the forest had been cleared to make way for ruthless structures of concrete. The small animals and birds had disappeared. They had possibly taken shelter in the forest at the other side of the bridge that had seemed to grow denser with every passing day. They may even have died.

Then, one day, one of the labourers had gone to the other side of the bridge and had not come back. A couple of men had seen him go but could not remember him return. The incident had soon been forgotten. He was not a person worth a fuss.

Then they had started vanishing one by one. The other side was prettier and the abundant flora had provided ample cover for couples seeking the slightest opportunity to seek each other out away from everyone’s eyes. The problem began when they had stopped returning in the usual ones and twos.

Fear had crept in. The labourers had threatened to leave. Kumar had tried to reason with them – but they had been adamant. For once he knew they had been right. For a flickering moment he had even thought they were human. He had assured them that he would send out a force of sorts.

He had sent across a couple of armed Forest Department guards who never returned. Kumar had waited till morning and had sent out another group: he had seen them cross the bridge and vanish into the dense forest on the other side. They had not come back either.

Several subsequent groups had not returned. The larger groups had come back without any relevant information. There was no sight, sound, or odour of any large animal – let alone a predator. The birds had been chirping and the rabbits running as if all was well with the world, but that was all. Even the most ardent of hunters and the most skilful of illegal poachers could not pick up a single thing.

He had specifically asked them to look for carnivorous plants like nepenthes or Venus fly-traps; they had come back empty-handed. He was not really surprised: what had he been expecting? You needed a humongous tree to consume an entire human being.

Kumar had thought of seeking help of the police or the army but could not see how they could do any better than his team. Nobody knew the forest more than the Forest Department. There have been dishonesty and corruption (he was no exception himself) but there was no questioning their knowledge of the forest or their efficiency.

Maybe the police or the army would have used helicopters; but what use would they have been? Not a single ray of light reached the surface of the forest through the dense vegetation: the choppers would not be able to see a thing if the trees did not make way for them.

He chuckled at the thought. Then his jaw hardened. A thought had crossed his mind. What if...?

***

The next morning he assembled the largest group of men he could. There were the Department officers, still aggrieved over the losses of their friends and colleagues; there were the labourers who had to be bribed or intimidated; there were the land-promoters and their armed minions; and there was a decent-sized group of efficient canines.

They crossed the bridge in a file, proceeding cautiously to ensure that no single person was alienated from the group during the journey. It took several minutes for the entire group to move to the other side. Then they spread out in a single row facing the jungle that had consumed people they had seen alive.

The dogs confused Kumar more than anything. He had half-expected them to be sceptic, sniffing around for trouble. Instead, they marched into the forest and were gone in a rather playful mood. Their affectionate low growls were audible well after they the nonchalant forest had consumed them. They were certainly alive, just like the birds that were chirping cheerfully.

What kind of creatures distinguished dogs and birds against human beings? Were there other humans inside this forest? If not, then what was going on? If yes, what were these people up to?

He ordered the men to chop the trees down to make way. This is going to take ages, he thought. He lit a cigarette.

Then it happened. He could swear that he had seen it happen. He would not have believed it had he not actually seen it happen with his own eyes. The men did not vanish – they merged into the trees. They trees did not consume them; instead, the men, clothes, axes, and all, seemed to melt into the trees. They had turned into the trees themselves.

The trees stood still. It was the most sinister thing he had ever seen. The trees were at war, he thought. The perfectly commonplace banyan and deodar and mahogany had turned into silent, motionless, determined foes.

Why? Everything was fine a few months back. We used to come to this side of the bridge and return safely; what changed?

Then it struck him. Afforestation. Deforestation.

This was logic-defying, he thought. This does not make any sense. Trees do not move.

But these trees were not actually moving. They had seen their mates being chopped off brutally. Now they were simply replacing them on their side of the bridge.

With our lot, Kumar thought. They have not been killing the people. They have been converting them.

He clenched his fists. If the trees are at war we should let them know who the boss is. If it comes to this then so be it.

He ordered to set fire to the forest. The jerry-cans of petrol came out and suddenly the dark green of the forest blazed into flames in the dusk, setting a terrible contrast against the unblemished blue horizon.

The trees struck back: the men who reached close enough were converted. Kumar stepped forward, shouting instructions – though he was careful to remain at the rear. He had his priorities set.

The fire spread at a rapid pace in the dry winter breeze. The birds flew, the yelping dogs rushed back, the squirrels ran helter-skelter in panic. Kumar could sense the adrenaline build up in him as he strode into the trees that had been burned to the ground.

It took hours for the men to burn down the forest completely. Their own numbers had thinned, but they had won the battle. They cheered and hugged each other in celebration and made their way back to their side of the bridge.

Man had won the battle of species the way He has over millennia.

Kumar realised what being a victorious general was like. He filled a primal rush of blood spreading through his arteries – the kind that had driven triumphant warmongers into atrocious acts all over the annals of history. It was a shame there was nothing to plunder or to put to swords.

Kumar grinned. Of course there was loot – a lot of it. More land. More money. This side was the property of the Forest Department as well. He could not wait to go back. He walked briskly and broke into a quick jog as he approached the bridge.

Only that the bridge seemed to be more and more distant however hard he tried to run. Somehow the distance never seemed to reduce. The closer he tried to go the bridge seemed to drift away further.

Hang on, the bridge cannot be moving.

It felt like his feet were fixed to the ground forever.

They felt like roots.

***

Note: Priyanka has mentioned that she has found the concept similar to an Bengali story published in Anandamela long ago, though she has mentioned that the plot is entirely different. The resemblance is entirely coincidental.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book-shopping

This post is written for the 110 Creative Challenge Contest, hosted by Thewhitescape

***

Natasha was excited.

She had just found out that her favourite author had written a book under a pseudonym, and it had been a massive hit.

Now that she had found it out she had to buy it. She just had to.

The problem was, her salary account read INR 23.16, and salary was still a week away.

She added the book to her shopping cart and tried to pay. The credit card had maxed out.

She had to do something.

Nobody seemed to notice when the street-child went missing that night.

The local dog-owners seemed happy with the mince.

She clicked on the Cash on Delivery option and grinned.

***

I did not win this one, but the three top positions went to my mates, which made me happy. Heartiest congratulations, Diptee, Parama, and Somnath.

Quote:
"Jab dost fail hota hai, to bahaut dukh hota hai. Par jab dost pass hota hai, woh bhi first, toh aur bhi zyada dukh hota hai." - 3 Idiots

Monday, July 1, 2013

Beware of what you write

I am back, all you nice people. And this time it is for a reason – a reason more significant and serious than, say, buffaloes and power-cuts.

This is a warning.

***

Got your coffee? Perched up cosily in front of your desk? Good.

To begin with take five minutes from your life and read this blog post. No, this is not an advertisement, and neither is this the usual post with a hilarious joke or three catchy punch-lines. And it certainly does not contain pictures of celebrities.

No. This is serious stuff. Read it, and you may end up doing yourself a favour.

I know this blogger for some time now. We had met on that much-underrated haven that goes by the name of blogosphere. She does a decent job of her blog: she typically abstains from writing on global issues like Fardeen Khan’s career and generally keeps her blog confined to her personal musings.

When she took up a new job in one of the leading institutes of the second-most populated country in the world some time back she was asked to inform her colleagues a bit about herself on the institute’s newsletter. She was not very sure of what to write (which probably proves her sanity) and after a few words she asked whether she can mention her blog. They agreed. She did.

Thereafter she turned out to be an excellent worker. The Dean of the Institute had called her and acknowledged her work in public – both in person and in an email. Life was never rosier for her.

Then, some time back, she had written the blog post mentioned above. She had used the real names of the people mentioned in the blog (she has changed them subsequently).

All went well until she was suddenly summoned by the Chief Human Resources Officer one day – several months after she had written the post and had possibly forgotten about it: the women in the institute – all of them – had complained (picketed is more like it) outside his office.

My friend had been accused of racism. She had used the line “Her oiled, unkempt hair had no flowers. She is not beautiful – as her name suggests – nor is she ugly. Sometimes, when I look at her… it feels she was born old-faced.”

That was obviously a racist statement. The leaders of the Women with Oiled, Unkempt Hair, Neither-Beautiful-Nor-Ugly Women, and Women Born Old-Faced organisations had obviously taken the matter rather seriously and had lodged an official complaint against her.

Two days passed. My friend, meanwhile, had changed the names and taken the picture (yes, there was one) off the blog. Yet another day passed.

Her female colleagues had now started to hound her and had started to target her with the choicest of abuse-words (much as I would have loved to learn some authentic Kannada swear-words I did not have the heart to ask my friend) whenever she walked alone. Not content with the language they even took a step further and – you have to believe this – they spat at her. When she tried to protest the Human Resources Division turned a deaf ear.

She had left no stone unturned for moral support. The message was sent out to her clearly by everyone – the aforementioned Dean included – that she was not wanted any more.

To her bravery (or folly, whichever way you look at it) she did not budge from her rights: she did not take the blog post down. She resigned instead. I wish I had her guts.

No, that was not the end of the story. While serving her notice period she had got to know that her employers had set up an Enquiry Commission to look into the matter in details. She was interrogated while she was on notice period.

These were some of the sample questions:

Q: What is a blog? Who pays you to write?
A: A blog is free. Nobody pays me. It is my hobby. I write for fun.

Q: Aren’t you aware that ‘oily unkempt hair’ qualifies as racism?
A: Don’t you use oil on your hair? I do.

Q: How can you use terms like ‘parched’ while referring to her wrists?
A: Both my grandmothers have parched skin: what is wrong with that?

Q: Why did you call her ‘ugly’?
A: Did you even read what I have written?

Nobody wanted their valuable employee back. The resignation was accepted without a word. Her replacement was assigned the designation immediately.

***

So what did you learn today?

Does the world know of your blog? Do your colleagues?

Have you written about them? Have you mentioned their names?

If you say ‘yes’ to one or more of the previous four questions have you may be headed for serious trouble before you can say the word Ghitorni. Go back to make the amendments.

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