Saturday, October 31, 2009

The year of the Ox and long weekends

The grapevine in office now-a-days is about the two optional leaves, that one could take in a year, and there are now only three such opportunities left for us to avail it, before we hit 2010. So people are planning hard to make sure they got their set of freebies. I can’t believe that we are almost nearing the end of 2009, the year of the Ox; but it feels like yesterday, when my company had published the Holiday Calendar for 2009. No, this is not one of the hot-models-on-the-beach (read: models on a hot sunny day beach) calendars where the dates are bigger than the bikinis. This little piece of information is about what holidays will grace you this year and is considered very important for the discerning type or to say – ‘the corporate types’.

Historically people were troubled by the ‘where to go’ on a holiday question, but now ‘when to go’ is also becoming a puzzle. Today it’s just not enough to say that in summer we will go to Kulu and in winter it’s going to be Kovalam. So this little calendar helps you decide when actually to take a vacation. At least you can squeeze in that public holiday and try to save one of those rare ‘privileged’ or ‘paid’ ones. I don’t mean the public holidays when you are required to exercise your voting franchise, though not the political type, I still want to be politically correct.

Shikha was not very happy with this year’s version. She had said, “Look, there’s only eight public holidays this time. Guys, we had twelve last time.” I hardly remember how many were there last year. Who cares, when you have to service an American client and your holidays never match with theirs, you usually end up following theirs. Amit had said, “What I look forward to is ‘comp-offs’ (compensatory holidays)”. “I lost three sick leaves last year and this year I am starting with four less public ones,” Shikha continued. Amit tried appeasing her, “Those four would have ended up as Saturdays or Sundays this year, are they not still holidays?” Shikha felt cheated. But Amit saved the day for Shikha, “But have you guys looked at how many long weekends we have this year? All public holidays are long weekends this year.” I has acted finicky by saying that one of them was not a long weekend, but the truth was that Amit had a point there and Shikha had a smile.

I had never heard of the term ‘weekend’ before, but only after joining the corporate world. Not so long back (fifteen years is not that long, right? Phew), when we were in school, there was just the humble ‘Sunday’. So after struggling and bleating for six days with teachers, black-boards, books and bullies, the Sunday was like manna from heaven. The best thing was not to get up early in the morning, not the usual rush to get ready and no buses to catch. That one day, you would not have to go back to the one place you had been going for god knows how long and god only knows why. Not that we used to turn the world upside down on Sundays, but it was rather like a tea break on a Mumbai-Pune expressway or whatever you call it in your city.

When I joined my first company, to my surprise, I was told that you would get two such tea breaks. I was ecstatic. It was as if the genie said; “Young man, you can now wish for two things instead of one.” My mind went into overdrive, thinking what all I can do in two days, two full days, two f*****g full days, away from office. But then as all new things look like gold and all old ones have a copper hue, the best thing I end up doing now-a-days is to sleep for two straight days without a care in the world. I am sure you guys have better things to do. But lately I realised even these two days are not sufficient to get the week’s drudgery off my back.

Then suddenly, as if the powers above heard my prayers (Ok, our payers), in comes the saviour – ‘long weekends’. Even Wikipedia has dedicated a page for long weekend. Click HERE to read what wiki has to say on long weekends. So now one can sleep for three days at a stretch. Long weekends are now being treated as a vacation. People start preparing for a long weekend with the same earnest as one prepares for a vacation and involves the same hysteria around whom all to include, what place to go, who all can pool cars, do we need to carry drinks, do we need to carry warm clothes, so on and so forever.

Those of you who have just realized what a waste you were all through this year start planning pronto for next year. I have still not got my holiday calendar for 2010 else I would have helped you lazy bums, but heard that Kingfisher is ready with theirs. Also Outlook Traveller has come up with a 'long' weekend version of their bestselling book so that you don’t spend time googling places. As for me I still need to figure out how to get those two optionals before the Ox runs away.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Personal?

People ask me why this blog is titled catharasis- and mind it, it has an extra ‘a’. Usually people write the rationale behind the title in the first post. But these days many more ask me the meaning. More than that they ask me the reason for writing my personal life. Especially now with our co-author, who masters in fiction, the contrast is more stark. I grapple hard to reason that others worry when I discuss personal life.

I guess this could be because

a) We as a society (I mean Indians) are very conservative. We always like knowing about others and revealing very little of us. So when someone opens up, though you enjoy it, it reminds you that you cannot do it.

b) Or perhaps you feel voyeuristic when you read someone else’s life. So we all fictionalise or conveniently philosophize things that are general or matter of fact.

c) We are paranoid of losing trust, losing friends, and we fear opening up , because we don’t know if we are going to have these people in our lives forever.

d) Or my so called concerned friends believe that this could lead to a disharmonious marital/ family life. But what about all those discord in families were women suffer silently. Is it because they are blogging?

Frankly, I don’t understand the sacredness of these secrets we try to hide. If you look back you would hardly remember half those things you wanted to hide. Then why were you protecting them? They are not secrets but experiences, and experiences advance learning don’t they? Why do we insist on reading comic and funny experiences and shriek at the sight of something tragic?
This is for all my friends who demand a 200 word essay or ask me to be hilarious. Why does tragedy irk you?

I feel bad, have felt bad and will again feel bad about a lot of things. But I don’t remember them. I can’t recollect the fights and verbal assault I engaged in for the past 23 years. So if someone has manage not to share himself/herself for 23 years , I don’t see that as a personal achievement.

I pity people who battle with their agonies and try silencing their souls.
Catharsis is for such people- it means ventilate your pent up emotions. Let it flow. Don’t play mind games and lead dual lives. Be yourself. Many of us can’t do this because it requires tremendous perseverance, tenacity to battle oneself, to recommit to oneself that I don’t regret this.

This blog is not for people who would disagree but would remark politely, or agree but remark respectfully, it is for those who disagree to agree and agree to disagree and are lost in the wallowing of life.

They see themselves here, each time they stop by; they condemn the writer for her foolishness, but still introspect why they can’t do it. They tell themselves they are smarter but then pause and doubt if they do have dual personalities. Catharsis is for them.

No, it definitely is not my attempt for the Booker.

Last week someone asked me why do you write personal stuff and leave it for people to read?

My answer is what St Francis Assissi said

“Either life as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle”

To me everything is a miracle and I share it as a testimonial, so people out there know that I survived. And what all I achieved and felt proud about. For all that I saw with my heart and smiled within. For all that I hate and speak my heart out against. For all that makes me sad and makes me shriek as well. For all whom I love and proclaim it. For all that I am happy and want to share it too. For all that I experience, I share it with you all. I don’t lead a dual life. I write a blog.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A very fine day

Sometime after mid-night: I wake up with a jerk, feeling thirsty. Grope in the dark and get hold of the water bottle. Take a few sips and feel ok. Try to recollect the dream; too hard. Open my eyes, too dark outside, close it, still dark. A few more sips. Lay back and try go back to sleep. The pillow is not helping, off it goes. Finally, sleep.

08:00am: Just done with the newspaper. Get out of the bed, fumble on the pillow, and hit the water bottle, water all over. Didn’t put the cap back on the bottle in the night. Water falls over the mobile phone. Switch it off in a hurry. Wipe it clean and try to switch it back on, with prayers aloud. Doesn’t switch ON. Now swears.

08:15am: Forgot to call her. Pick the mobile phone, not working. She’d angry, was also angry yesterday night. Will call from office. But she had asked to wake her at 7am. Her Interview today. She’d very very angry. Say a small prayer, that she got up by her own.

08:30am: Start ironing clothes for office. Sparks fly from the hot piece. Light goes off. Fan stops. Try switches in other rooms, not working. Open windows and doors. Neighbours swearing as well. Whole building out of zing. Can’t take bath, water too cold. Inspect yesterday’s clothes, not bad, can manage today as well. Pick-up accessories, rush out. Neighbours stare.

09:00am: Try to get a rick, 11th one stops. Actually dosen’t stop, one gets in while rick still running. Give a mouthful to driver. A bumpy ride to office, no say about traffic. Search for wallet, forgot to carry. Now driver gives back mouthful. Can’t give back. Plead and borrow from security guard. Promise to payback double.

10:00am: Need to have breakfast, no money. Accost a friend, but he too forgot wallet. Move to another one, get reminded of previous borrowings. Promise to give back with this one. Finally get money. Me, happy, friend not. Go to cafeteria, breakfast over. Buy a pack of biscuit, mix it with coffee. Oh! still not called her. Rush back.

10:05am: Don’t remember her number, it’s on the mobile. Pull out the SIM from mobile. Again start asking among friends, now for a mobile. Friends frown. Say that it’s last time, get a phone, get the number. She picks the call, hears and drops with same speed. Ten more calls, no response, on eleventh she says ‘What?’ ‘Sorry’ and tell her the story. She doesn’t believe and also she got up late and she is anxious. Not good at all.

11:00am: Get into team meeting. Asked for pending report, not yet done. Boss not happy, others smile. Playing with coffee cup. Coffee spills, worst - drops on boss’s shirt. Boss not very very happy. Others giggling. Boss’s boss steps into the room. Boss not at all happy. Meeting Agenda – Performance Appraisal Initiation. Me, very sad.

12.00pm: Calling her again. She asks if her resume was updated. It was NOT, had planned for this morning. Still say, YES. She wants to be sure. Again say, YES. Say a prayer, ‘let the interviewer be blind’. She wants to know how to answer, “where do you see yourself five years from now?” Don’t know the same about self, how one can answer for her. Tell her that will call back with answer.

01:00pm: Buy lunch and looking for a table to sit. A slight nudge on the elbow, sambar on the pants. Rush to the breakout, no water. Manage with tissues. Make it worse than sambar. Rush back to cafeteria. Food plate not found, cleared by house-keeping. Buy one again, running out of money. No place to sit, stand and eat.

02:00pm: Go for a fag. See friends already smoking, no need to buy today. Good conversation going, pulling everyone’s leg. Get pulled up for coffee on boss. Even for sambar on the pants. Cigarette slips out of fingers, goes down fifteen floors. Friends threaten to throw from balcony. Assure to bring back the cigarette. Rush down fifteen floors. Too late, cigarette turned to ash.

03:00pm: Remember her question. Google “want to be five years from now”. Boss suddenly appears from behind. Fumble with keyboard and mouse. Able to minimize ‘Craigslist’ and ‘Facebook’ but boss catches Google. He doesn’t seem angry, seems surprised. Asks if am looking for a change. Say NO, say looking it for her interview today. Boss not convinced, but smiles, not the same boss, some things changed. Maybe it’s the coffee, need it spill it more often then. Call her with the answer, not a good answer, Google knows not everything. Her phone switched-off. She’s in the interview. OMG! Anyways was not a good answer.

04:00pm: Call her back again. Still switched off. Long interview maybe. Moments later she calls back. Not happy, bad interview. Interviewer not happy with old resume, last experience completely missing, latest papers presented not there, field studies - where are they? She starts giving a mouthful, blames one for the mess. Try to cool her. Not happening. Try to pacify her, not working. Can hear colleagues giggle. At least she forgot about ‘five years from now’. Phew! some relief. She asks did one book train tickets for her mom. What tickets? Oh tickets. She says tatkal tickets. Pain starts.

05:00pm: Client pings on chat and asks for project status. Project not started, how to say. Don’t ping him back. Chat with friends. Oops, chatted in wrong window – “Alloy project still not started. Client asking. :).” Oh my god! Chatted in client’s window. Client’s chat status – ‘Away’, start breathing again. Shut down chat application. Mistake, shuts down computer.

06:00pm: Finally, time to leave. Boss calls, for a meeting. Give excuse, need to rush for doctor’s appointment. Boss asks issue. Frequent headaches, may be migraine, need to get it checked. Boss asks to bring medical certificate along tomorrow. Headache starts. Return money to security guard. Guy asks for double. No money left now. Will have to walk home.

06:10pm: It starts raining. Run and take cover under a bus stop. Speeding car splashes water, drenched all over. Start walking again. Go to collect repaired phone. Finally phone, thank God, now can call her. But where is the SIM? Left it at office. Walk back to office again. Painful.

07:30 pm: Still walking. Every rick guy stops and asks. Where were they all in the morning.

08:00pm: Enter home. All lights and fans running. Forgot to switch off in the morning. Had forgotten to close the windows as well. Pigeons inside the room and shit all over the place. I rush to pick up the newspaper. Want to make sure I read it correct in the morning.

Leo: You will feel on top of the world today. Personal tasks will be done without any issue. On the work front it will be a smooth sail. You will be able to achieve a difficult job and this might bring some good news in the coming days. Your seniors will be impressed by your skills. Love life will get a boost. Will make a difference in loved one’s life. You might also get a surprise. Money flow will increase today and will stay that way as the affect of Jupiter is strong. You will be able to help friends and co-workers. You will achieve more than you set out for. Overall, a very fine day.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Marriage matters – Journey to the Altar- Part 2

"I need to tell you something important, but before that you can say all that you want. Once I start you can’t speak.............”

My heart began racing on hearing this. It was a bad day already with some problems back home. I had called him up at office and talked casually. I lost my temper in between and that happened often. It was all new to him, poor little thing I told myself. “I will call you tonight and let’s talk then”, is all he said. I was already impatient and now he was going to tell me something very important. I wished he said what I wanted to hear.

In our last conversation he told me, “I can’t say that one word because saying it would mean I would be committed forever so let me say it when I am ready”. I agreed to him though he was unaware of the mixed signals he gave.

And then he began..................

“Look I have been analysing you, the possibility of this relationship rather. You are a very volatile and emotional person. We might have problems in our life and I don’t expect my life partner to come to me for support. I want her to handle her problems on her own. And I am not good at playing your games so I can’t pamper or pacify you when you are down. I also realise I need to make space and time for one more individual and I am anxious about the new changes in my life. I really don’t think you match up to my standards. I want a partner who can walk shoulder to shoulder and face problems. I don’t want to tell my problems to her and I don’t want her to bother me with hers. With you, that seems impossible. So let’s call it QUITS.”

I was silent. I could not respond. Words just hit me and I was gathering them to make sense. Volatile, playing games, pamper, shoulder to shoulder and QUITS.

I felt like a patient regaining sensation after a concussion. I wanted to believe he was kidding, he was stressed at office maybe or this whole idea of settling down was choking him. Our parents were getting prepared to proceed and my mom would be crestfallen.

I have met men. Men of all sorts but I had not talked to anyone and listened to anyone like him. What upset me was the word ‘analysis’.

“So all those questions about likes, dislikes, problems at home and my dreams were matter for your analysis?” , I was getting prepared for a big Yes, praying he said a big No.

“Well, I had to know you more so I needed data”, he said.

“You call it data- as in making someone discuss their personal life is just gathering data for you?”, I asked. “Now let’s not get emotional here, you always had a choice not to answer”, he replied. “How shrewd if you don’t remember I could remind you what you said then”, I said but I stopped, not because I was short of words but I did not want to retaliate. I just could not fight him.

“How come I don’t know anything about you and you kept avoiding any discussion about yourself. At least I was sincere and I opened up myself,” I replied, to keep the conversation flowing. Then later I admitted it was over.

Then we had entered into the next round – the round of bargaining. I found it crazy. What was I telling him? He should accept me because he used me like a guinea pig?

“Look, don’t use your psychological games , I regret for having done it, I really should not have given you ideas and tried being close to you especially when I knew you were not of my standards”. He said that again and I wondered why I let myself be trampled.

“Trust me I won’t do it to anyone again in life”, he said. I could feel, he meant it. But the damage was done. Maybe I had to pay the pr ice for him to learn that lesson.

“I am leaving for home tomorrow. Families take such things seriously and once I break this news there is no going back, Are you sure this is not a haste decision?”

Why was I giving him a second chance?

“Try telling your mom something nasty about me so she won’t refer me again and go ahead in life”, he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked again?

“I have decided my mind, I know you are hurt, you can yell at me and I deserve it but it is done forever”, he said.
Done forever...., the words reverberated. It sounded stupid too considering I did not know him for long.

As I sat on the train to go home, my intuition told me something was not over. I kept glancing at my mobile but received no messages. At home I completely forgot about it and tried immersing myself with work and then came a message

“The wheels of your curse has started to roll. Alas may what is in store for me be done.”
So I was right; things were not destined to end at where we left. Now what was this new trouble?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Life of Pi

It’s always tricky to read an award winning book. When you go through the motion, somewhere unconsciously you feel obliged to like the book because so many others did and eventually it clouds your minds as to whether you really liked it or you were pushed into liking it. What further complicated matters in my case is that this book had been in my ‘to read’ list for seven years now, from when it won the Booker’s prize in 2002. So you can imagine the pressure one had to go through, to make sure one likes it. But boy did I like it? Yes, I sure did.

This story is about a 16 year old boy, Pi, who gets stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with a pack of animals including a Bengal tiger. Now that’s a good premise for a story, but it’s hard to spin a convincing narrative on how the boy got there and what happens later. Yann Martel, the Canadian author, manages both these sides of the story brilliantly. I’ll not give out the whole story in here. Instead I am going to give you interesting snippets from the book and if you like these I am sure you have got a winner here.

For the first few chapters Pi details his growing up years in Pondicherry and how he got his name: Piscine Molitor Patel, from a swimming pool in Paris, and how he struggled through school because of his unusual name, not because of the swimming pool, but because you could pronounce it in a very funny way i.e. Pissing. Read this, chapter5, para7, “The cruelty of children comes as news to no one. The words would waft across the yard to my ears, unprovoked, uncalled for: where’s Pissing? I’ve got to go. Or: You’re facing the wall. Are you Pissing?.......The sound would disappear, but the hurt would linger, like the smell of piss long after it has evaporated.” His father owns a zoo and he vividly details the zoo, its occupants, growing up close to a zoo, the games of the animals and the eccentricities of visitors etc.

The author’s style of writing is lucid and creates a wonderful collage of images in the reader’s mind. Let’s look at the second para from chapter11, “If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you would be amazed at the animals that would fall out. It would pour more than cats and dogs, I tell you. Boa constrictors, Komodo dragons, crocodiles, piranhas, ostriches, wolves, lynx, wallabies, manatess, porcupines, orangutans, wild boar – that’s the sort of rainfall you could expect on your umbrella.” Pi also dabbles in religion; not one but three: Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Read what his brother Ravi has to say about it, chapter24, para2, “At the rate you’re going, if you go to temple on Thursday, mosque on Friday, synagogue on Saturday and church on Sunday, you only need to convert to three more religion to be on holiday for the rest of your life.” Pi’s father decides to sell of the zoo and start a new life in Canada. The family boards a ship, along with a few animals to be shipped to America, but the ship sinks in the Pacific Ocean.

The author doesn't dwell much into how the ship sinks; Pi survives and also rescues a tiger named Richard Parker, which he later realizes was a mistake, and the story moves on to the next level. Subsequently it is revealed that there are other animals on the boat: a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan called orange juice, and a rat. Yann has gone to great details to bring to us the nuances of the animal kingdom, as we have been seeing it on National Geographic. Now can someone describe a hyena better than this, Chapter43, para10, – “It is ugly beyond redemption. Its thick neck and high shoulders that slope to the hindquarters look as if they’ve come from a discarded prototype for the giraffe, and its shaggy, coarse coat seems to have been patched together from the leftovers of creation. The colour is a bungled mix of tan, black, yellow, grey, with the spots having none of the classy ostentation of a leopard’s rosettes; they look rather like the symptoms of a skin disease, a virulent form of mange…The mouth is forever open and panting. The nostrils are too big…..All the parts put together look doglike, but like no dog anyone would want as a pet.”

We have had heard of many stories of survival in the open sea but what makes this one interesting is the fact that it’s not just the elements of nature which are against you but a whole bunch of carnivores, for whom killing is like a walk in the park. Chapter45, para4 “The zebra’s broken leg was missing. The hyena had bitten it off…..Blood was still dripping. The victim bore its suffering patiently, without showy remonstration. A slow constant grinding of its teeth was the only visible sign of distress.….I felt intense hatred for the hyena.” The author also details Pi’s own struggle with staying alive, chapter51, para17 “I touched my belly. It was a hard and hollow cavity. Food would be nice. A masala dosai with a coconut chutney…..The mere thought of the word provoked a shot of pain behind my jaws and a deluge of saliva in my mouth…..nearly touched the delicious flattened balls of parboiled rice in my imagination…brought it to my mouth…I chewed….Oh, it was exquisitely painful!” Towards the middle, the story drags a bit. How interesting can it get with the open sky above, the vast sea below and just a boy and Tiger in between? You always expect that there might be a physical face-off just round the corner, but between a 450 pound tiger and boy, you know what the outcome would be. So Pi engages the tiger in a battle of wits and mind games. Chapter 80, para3, “Any zookeeper will tell you that a tiger, indeed any cat, will not attack in the face of a direct stare but will wait until the deer or antelope or wild ox has turned its eyes…..For two, perhaps three seconds, a terrific battle of minds for status and authority was waged between a boy and a tiger. He needed to make only the shortest of lunges to be on top of me. But I held my stare.” Towards the end, the narrative becomes interesting, unbelievably mysterious, may be even magical, if I may say so. I could go on detailing the book and end up having it all here. But that’s not what I have in mind. I have given you guys enough to let you decide if you want to rush to your nearest bookstore and find out what happens to Pi.

It’s difficult to decide what genre the book belongs to. It can be a motivational book; maybe a self-help one at that, can be seen as a rescue guide for the shipwrecked, it also deals with behavior analysis; both animals and humans, it’s a novel and a story cum practice book. The book has a heavy religious insinuation as well. Yann has another surprise for the reader. In the end there is a section named ‘Questions’, which has questions from each chapter of the story, like: Why did some people think Pi was a Sikh? Or, what makes an animal want to escape from a zoo? Or how does hunger drive Pi to stand up to the tiger? My thought to these questions was - does the author think that his readers are school going kids or what? But then it dawned on me that this book would be a very good present to one’s kids, maybe relatives or friends, if you want to give them something to work on, besides the reading. This reminded me of the first novel I read – The Guide, by R.K. Narayan, which was a text book for my school curriculum. ‘Life of Pi’ is a good book: about survival against all odds, facing up to challenges, the human animal and above all: conquering the mind before controlling the body.

There is also news that a movie is currently under production based on this book and might be released in 2011; still better, Manoj N Shyamalan might be directing it. Even then ‘never judge a book by its movie’. Read it.