Writing Fever

I don’t usually post during the week but I thought I’d share this.

A few weeks back, I stumbled across a writing competition at Five Stop Story. I dusted off one of my many completed stories, revised it, added finishing touches and sent it off.

Last week I got news that it had been shortlisted. Yesterday I received an email that though it hadn’t made the list of winning entries, it was selected for publication on their iPhone App! I was quite pleased and promptly replied with the information they requested.

I am quite excited to read my own story on my own iPhone! That promises to be a novel experience.

Apart from that I received the nicest rejection note ever from Bartleby Snopes. They praised my writing quite a bit but said the “convenient plot like O Henry’s” is not something they’re looking for. Their nice comments ensured a smile on my face the whole day. 

I’ve love to hear any successes you have had recently.

Tribulations of a Tenant

On our arrival in Delhi after ten long years in Muscat, our first task was to find a house suitable for rent. So off my mom and I went house-hunting. The first flat we saw in Chittranjan Park (also called the mini-Calcutta of Delhi) appeared spacious enough to accommodate my two-year-old niece and her toys. No more, no less. My mother called it a railway compartment, which was a fairly apt description. We rejected it without much thought. 

The second flat we saw stood on the ground-floor, satisfactory in most ways, except that it was infested with ants. To my mind, it looked little more than a two-bedroom version of an ant-hill. The owner of this place invited us in and as soon as he was told that we were from Calcutta, he royally proclaimed that he disliked all people hailing from there. My father’s colleague, who was accompanying us, promptly replied that he also despised people staying inC.R.Park. At this, the landlord quickly said that he wouldn’t be able to vacate the premises before a month. As we could not be expected to spend this period on the roadside, this house was also struck off the list of prospective candidates. 

I must mention that the rent of neither of these flats was any the less because of their inherent disadvantages. 

Finally we came to a somewhat spacious three BHK accommodation on the first floor. It appeared to be the most attractive proposition for us, as it was located on the main road, and within walking distance of the market. The landlord was a wizened old man, and after some discussion, we soon fixed the deal. Within a few days, the agreements were made and duly signed. And so we started living in our first flat in Delhi. 

Like in V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, we also discovered the disadvantages of the home soon after moving in. The plans of the ground and first floor were identical, and as such our voices carried easily to the ground floor, and vice versa. So we could not curse our landlords without their overhearing us. We also got no opportunity to marvel at the clothes they wore, which looked as though they had taken the hole in the ozone layer for inspiration. The attire they wore outside their home was still tolerable, but their household clothes bore gaping holes in them, and they proudly hung these Polo-type clothes out to dry in full view of the general public. 

We were taken aback by this kind of attitude. But apparently we hadn’t seen enough yet. Frequently, the wizened old man and his wife got into an argument, and used words that compelled my father to ask us, “Are we living in a slum or a civilized area?” 

After a goodish five years of mortal suffering at the hands of these intolerable people, we quit the house. My mother had fished out a good ad from the newspaper, and on seeing that this new flat was more spacious, convinced my father to shift in there. But as an old proverb goes, Old is Gold. So naturally, this house was destined to give us more trouble than the previous one. 

First of all the landlord was incurably rude. He could even make “Good Morning” sound like a swear-word. Secondly, there was an office situated next to the house. Lastly, and we had observed this in the previous house also, the landlord and his family were none too keen on socializing with us. We later found out from friends in that area that this was the general attitude of landowners towards their tenants. Leave aside talking to tenants, they said, the landlords didn’t even socialize amongst themselves. 

The landlord’s family consisted of himself, his wife, daughter and son. The daughter was just a bit older than me. This lot also argued incessantly. Sometimes the quarrels reached such proportions that we feared there would be a murder in the house. 

And here also the slum-talk did not abate. We once heard the daughter call her father a word, which I cannot and will not repeat here for fear of expulsion from Polite Society. 

Then there was the office. The chief of this office often used to come out into the open air outside our bedroom, with the purpose of carrying on a conversation on his mobile. The nature of his discussions and the tone of his voice suggested that he was just a little less powerful than the late Dhirubai Ambani

Within some months, I felt that I would be able to take over his business immediately, as I had gleaned all the details of his operations in India and elsewhere. 

Another source of entertainment here was that the wife was named after a famous painting, which she didn’t resemble at all. 

After a good deal of torment in this house also, my mother and I decided to shift again, and thus embarked on our second round of house-hunting. We were informed by a friend of a good flat nearby itself, and so we went to visit this place. It was on the first floor, and the landlord claimed it had three bedrooms. On going through a tour of the house, which took no more than five minutes, I found that it was curiously reminiscent of the ‘railway compartment’ flat, with the exception that it had three berths. The balcony attached to the living room afforded a magnificent view of the temple, and this was probably the only factor that prompted my mother to consider it as one of the most beautiful houses she had seen in her life. On reaching home I pointed out to her that if we took that flat it was likely that we would have to sleep out on the balcony, as the rest of the space inside the house would be taken up by our furniture. My mother was convinced, and after rejecting that flat, we went on to see another one which was arranged for by an agent.

After looking around the entire house, which took nearly half-an-hour, we came to the conclusion that it was large enough to comfortably accommodate up to five generations of our family. And if it didn’t have a sufficient number of occupants, it would be little more than what we called a bhoot-bungalow. In despair we turned to an old friend who was quite efficient in estate matters. Within days, he showed us a house which was spacious, decorated, and had all the facilities we could wish for. And thankfully, this time the flat-owners were a friendly Punjabi family. So right now, we’re living comfortably but are perpetually on tenterhooks because we never know when the landlords will change their mind and turn against us. 

This article was first published in Deccan Herald.

Unquotable Quotes

Some people in this world are gifted with the ability to come up with brilliant quotes and one-liners (some original, some not quite so) on the spur of the moment. In most cases the not-so-original quotations might induce the “turning in the grave” phenomena for the originators. I present to you some of the more memorable one-liners I have heard, which, at some point or other, will surely be useful to you in your life:

  • Don’t talk while I’m interrupting!

This admonition is guaranteed to stop that pompous fellow at your party from butting in on every one of your anecdotes to narrate some of his own. Ideally he should get the hint quite easily, and if he is the decent sort he will stifle his protests and unwillingly join in the laughter. If he doesn’t get it, though, you are welcome to cosh him on the head – a violent, but sometimes necessary, measure. 

  • If you can you can. If you cannot you cannot.

Not quite the one-liner you would adopt as the philosophy of life, but in spite of being blatantly obvious, this quote apparently possesses some idealistic value and no doubt makes perfect sense to some people (like my disillusioned brother-in-law) who claim to swear by it. But actually it only goes to show that its originator disagreed with Buddha’s philosophy of The Middle Path.
Corollary: There’s no such thing as more or less. If it’s more it’s more. If it’s less it’s less.
This is perfectly true, and should especially be avoided by writers for fear of being accused of verbiage. ‘More or less’ is indeed a redundant expression, and should certainly be rendered null and void.

  • What goes up must come down

These were probably the exact words voiced by Mr. Newton when the famed apple fell so unceremoniously on his head. Until then he had not quite realized the “gravity” of the situation. However my colleague coined this under very different circumstances. You see, the elevator at his workplace was designed to move in a direction exactly opposite to what he desired. I believe it is specially equipped with some artificial intelligence for this purpose. So one day when the elevator was exercising its usual ingenuity, he said reassuringly to himself, “Don’t worry! What goes up must come down!”

  • I’m a one-woman man

So many men say this to their wives to reassure them of their non-womanising nature. It is a feeble one-liner to convince their spouses that, should a leggy, noodle-strapped beauty flutter by, their eyes wouldn’t veer even once in her direction. Unhappily for one man, though, his wife was faster than him in catching on. She instantly quashed his quip by retorting, “But how many men are you?”

  • Am I right or am I right?

This is one of the most effective ways of stamping out any argument. It gives the opposition no choice but to agree with you. I have used it as a clincher to an argument innumerable times with great success. Unfortunately my friends do not allow me to get away with it. As soon as I utter the fatal words, they discard their social mannerisms, and wagging their finger at me in staunch disapproval, say straight to my face, “You are wrong”. At this moment I have noticed that it is useless to point out to them that I had not given them that option at all, they simply get more violent for some reason. 

  • Great minds think alike

Often two people in a conversation voice the same thought at precisely the same moment, leading one of them to say, with great condescension, ‘Great minds think alike.’ Each is miffed that the other stole the words from his mouth, so both parties resort to this phrase to console themselves. In reality this occurrence is nothing more than a coincidence, and an onlooker might well be tempted to state, ‘Feeble Minds think alike too’, which is a perfectly acceptable corollary to this statement.

  • What will happen will happen

A variation on the theme of Que Sera Sera, this sentence allows Individuals to disown their responsibilities and leave the consequences of their actions to providence instead. By itself it is a fairly reasonable thing to say, but in conjunction with Murphy’s Law – ‘Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong’, it foretells gloomy scenarios.

  • Better late than never

This is most often said by the guest who turns up for your party in the wee hours of the morning when the invitation cards clearly stated 8 pm. You may want to wring his neck but with admirable constraint you refrain from doing so and maintain the gracious-host persona that so becomes you. But for a particularly obnoxious guest whom you don’t want hanging around your celebrations and wish to dispose of anyway, the best option is to retort, ‘In your case, better never than late.’

 

So with each passing day we mortals add to our ever-increasing repertoire of unquotable quotes and one-liners. And remember what Samuel Johnson said – “Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language”. So quote on, ladies and gentlemen – it’s never too late to start.

Things you’ll never hear them say

Here are some things you’ll never hear these celebrities say: 

I humbly declare that I alone do not deserve this coveted award. Considering the brilliance and talent of the other actors nominated along with me, I feel compelled to share this award with them. This one is for you, guys!

I know I am not drop-dead gorgeous. In fact I frequently gaze at the mirror and say to myself: “How dare you look so pitiful?” I don’t even dance too well and my directors are often forced to re-shoot some scenes. I have failed so many times on the first take. 

  • Salman Khan

I would like to clear this misconception that I love Aishwarya – I do not. Any affection I nurtured for her was of a friendly nature. I never pursued her with the hope of winning her love, and I certainly never subjected her to any physical abuse. Only once I had slapped her (though not very hard) when she steadfastly refused to hand over to me the last remaining bottle of whiskey in the house. She said if she gave it to me I would drink it and then promptly run over homeless people while driving. What Nonsense! When she knows I don’t care for anything but Big Bucks! 

Aishwarya? I don’t want to marry Aishwarya. Why do you think I would want to? Just because of what media people write? I have no such feelings for her.

By the way, you don’t happen to have her hotmail id do you? 

  • Aamir Khan, on winning a Best Actor award sponsored by any film magazine

I am delighted to accept this [Film Magazine] Best Actor award. I am a regular reader of [Film Magazine] and today I wish to salute them in their single-minded devotion to spreading malicious gossip to all remote corners of India. 

  • Bipasha Basu/Dino Morea/ Diya Mirza/Arjun Rampal

I agree that models cannot act. In fact it is time we accepted this fact and tried to improve our acting skills, as we cannot be expected to ride on our sex symbol status forever. 

Over the last few months, I have consciously taken the effort to spare some time and have finally finished watching all of Madhuri’s films. And I must say I give her credit for the quality of her acting and exposure, er, composure. 

I truly apologise to all those who feel offended in any way at my interpretation of the Sarat Chandra Chatterjee classic Devdas. Having devoted much thought to the matter, I now realize that my film focused excessively on the opulence and grandeur, rather than on the essence of the novel. 

Please add more of your own!

The Case of the Petrifying Professor (As Earl Stanley Gardner would have said)

In my second year of engineering, I encountered the most feared lecturer that roamed the corridors of my college. Our seniors hailed him as a genius, and he looked the part too, with wisps of curly hair springing forth from a shiny bald patch in the centre. His moustache and dark-edged spectacles rounded off the impression of a fearsome teacher. 

His ruthlessness and sarcasm sent most of us into spasms of anxiety.  If you missed the mark in his class, you were in for it. Really sharp criticism, coupled with generous helpings of sarcastic remarks, triggered panic attacks in even the calmest of students. It came to a point where we quaked in our boots in fear of his lectures. Even his name required a minor twist to turn into the Hindi word for frightening.  We survived the tirades, but our juniors, less endowed in terms of grey cells, suffered his wrath.

Like all geniuses, our professor nurtured his own idiosyncrasies. He expected each student to complete assignments on his own without any external help, however inaccurate the end result.  For engineering students, this amounted to bungee-jumping into the Grand Canyon sans a harness. 

Our juniors paid little heed to his dictum. When the time rolled around for their first assignment set by the Scary One, they resorted to their usual methods – mass plagiarism. The upshot was that one fine Monday morning, our unsuspecting teacher lifted up sixty rubber-bound pages of exactly identical content, and carried them home to review. The next day, he confronted the class. One of the students succumbed to the questioning and revealed the truth. The good Professor poured out his wrath.

His anger didn’t end with that lecture. From that moment on, he gathered his curly wisps into a ponytail on his already balding head, and conducted all his lectures in silence. He simply strolled into the class every day, dropped his books on the table with a thump, and proceeded to write all his lessons on the blackboard. After filling up most of the blackboard with his notes in a minuscule handwriting, he circled the class repeatedly. When he finally halted in front of the blackboard, he drew a rectangle in the centre of the board, and wrote on it ‘Any Questions?’ 

One student, immune to the sensitive nature of the situation, took the foolhardy step of actually asking a problem. No doubt he followed Miss Elizabeth Bennett’s policy of being impertinent before growing afraid. 

The teacher, in response to his doubt, circled the class several times more. When everyone thought he was on the verge of collapse, he wrote “Stupid Question”. 

A few weeks later however, he went too far. We, in collaboration with our juniors, organized teacher’s day celebrations jointly. All the staff members from our department and our principal were invited. 

One dim bulb from among our juniors conducted the ceremony of presenting bouquets to the teachers. He invited the principal to speak a word or two on the occasion. 

The principal, an amiable gentleman who resembled the Mahatma, honoured us with the standard speech issued on such occasions – how very nice of us to celebrate Teachers Day with so much pomp and splendour, the Teachers were one of the most important members of our society, and other such cliché-filled phrases.

On the conclusion of his speech, our compeer very graciously invited the Scary One also to orate, despite being given several hints to the contrary, in sign language and otherwise. 

The consequence was a foregone conclusion. 

The pony-tailed professor tore the remarks of the principal to shreds, saying that he wanted no part of the teacher’s day celebration, and if he really had to celebrate he would have done so by teaching us something useful instead. 

As you might expect he doesn’t teach in our college anymore. The last we heard of him was that he was writing technical books, with mock dedications to our principal.