Saturday, December 25, 2004

Le Moron

Thinking about:

* “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

This is perhaps the most misinterpreted line on stage. Juliet looks out of her balcony, her eyes searching far and wide for the pilgrim who purged his sins by her lips. And she calls out – Where are you Romeo?

No. Absolutely not! She is not asking him for his whereabouts. What she really means is – Why are you Romeo?

I didn’t know this till a few days back. But now that I know, I am haunted by it - not by the Bard or his tragedy but by the provider of this piece of knowledge.

* Obese dogs springing off with a ‘boing boing’ sound after crash landing on someone’s tummy.

* Red eyes. I wish I had them permanently. It’s not the looks. I never bother about them. Mine is the face which sank a thousand ships. It’s all about the devil and Al.

* Humility and the lack thereof in yours truly.

* Percy Sledge and how right he was.

* Finding a small unassuming puddle of muck and drowning myself in it. ‘Dumb ass moron’, say the voices. I agree completely.

* Spiky and Duck. I am so happy for the two of you.

* New Year Resolution – find a wall, turn towards it, start running, gather speed and smash into it. In case the brain survives, repeat. If destroyed, repeat anyway. If I am still a moron, then repeat (this is going to be an infinite loop)

* Fork ( ) command and unrestricted processes and how I once brought the Vanavil network down. Will you shut up for crying out loud?

* Pretentious pseudo-intellectuals and the genuine gems of intellect. I know a handful of both. I would like to tear apart the former and invite the latter to a book slam.

* The fly, the raven and the dead poet. Need to get back to writing. But first, practice for the resolution.

Ok my head hurts and there is a big bump on it and I still can’t stop thinking about the first few (top two actually) points. Sleeping pills or booze or driving with my eyes closed?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Down the River Styx

Over the last two years I have gone to Bang-a-whore (ahmm, old jokes cease to be funny - Bangalore) over a dozen times for both work and pleasure (who am I kidding? Always for pleasure, just this once also did some work on the side). I always had a thing for the city despite the fact that my time there was spent entirely on the triangle of MG, Brigade and Residency roads.

The first few journeys were limited to Pecos (that beacon of light for all children of Bacchus), Purple Haze (gone down the drain over the years), the Bunker (still enjoy their UV lights) and Corner House (hmmm, this place sells the best ice cream in the world. At one time I tried to persuade the manager to change the name of their best-seller ‘Death by Chocolate’ to ‘Life by Chocolate’ citing the fact that chocolate is an aphrodisiac and helps the process of procreation).

But preferences change over the years – now Styx (best rock in town) is in, Cosmo Village’s voluptuous bartenders beckon and Zero G’s dance floor is inviting as always. Spinz (I don’t think I got the name right, whatever) sucks – it’s a crappy place best suited for all ye wannabe yuppies out there. The L-Squares at IIMB rock and the people there will be in my heart forever.

The reason I just took off to Bangalore was quite simple – needed to get some perspective back in life (really?! That’s not what you said earlier in bed darling).

I wanted to go there for two things – to take another look at the world I have left far behind (the world of corporate jobs, formal clothes, presentations and working 50 hours without a break) and to list out the things which would complete my fragmented life and calm the voices in my head. Bangalore gave me a taste of both these worlds at the same time.

The world I have left – I could have kicked the corporate asses to kingdom come. I always gave the best presentations in class and no one looks more killer than me in formal clothes. This world called out to me like a wailing siren (waiting to devour the wonder-struck sailor) but I survived. Been there, done that – I am at peace with what I am doing with my life – writing it is, writing it shall remain. No second thoughts.

The world I want – I already know what was missing in my life. Bangalore just manifested her and put her in my arms – albeit for a very short time. ‘Silence’, command the voices in unison. Silence it shall be.

While in Styx with some old cronies, remembered spilling beer over a close friend a couple of months back and got a little sentimental. I immediately ordered a Bull Frog (vodka based cocktail) to remember BluePuss and the other Horrors. Man we guys rocked. I realized that life was good because I have the best friends in the world (wherever they are and however they may be connected). Remembering the advice a friend gave a few days back –

When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go, everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong. now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on

’cause everybody hurts. take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts. don’t throw your hand. oh, no. don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone

REM Everybody Hurts

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More Random Ramblings (due to the lack of coherent thought structure)

* Kids are capable of extreme cruelty. And no, I am not talking about angst-ridden teenagers. O Nay! I am talking about those cute little shits running around as if there is no tomorrow. Yes in my most humble opinion kids can be evil. And I am not talking the ‘Omen’ kind of evil (Anti-Christ reborn and 666). I am talking about your average regular 6 year old.

My mom started teaching again and a few days back I was waiting for her outside her school in my car (I got there about an hour earlier than expected). So I see these little kids playing. They all seemed really excited about something and were huddled together around a boy who was holding something in his hand. Curiosity took the better of me and I got out of my car to take a look at what it was that had spellbound those kids.

In his hand the boy was holding nature’s very own helicopters – dragonflys. Now I absolutely love these creatures for their terrific shape and amazing mobility and for the sheer genius that the universe employed to make them. As a kid I used to run along with them, imagining I had wings to fly. I felt happy that kids were still kids and got excited by the beauty around them. But what happened next left me shell shocked.

The boy proceeded to tear off the wings of the dragonfly one by one and then squashed the remaining body of the creature. And all this was done to a loud chorus of cheers by the other kids. Then a girl standing next to this boy said – lets catch some more and kill them all. The kids started running around frantically in pursuit of those magnificent creatures. In the next ten minutes they went on a murderous spree and killed over a dozen helicopters. I was so outraged at this collective brutal act that I wanted to enter the school compound and butt whack them so hard their next ten generations would have trouble shitting. Some how I controlled my anger and realized that I could squash them the same way they squashed those innocent dragonflies.

In retrospect I realized that what they did would leave no guilt in them. Kids don’t know concepts like guilt and remorse and this very innocence and purity of their cruelty makes them so dangerous. I swear by the universe that I love kids and am still one at heart or at least would like to be one. But what I saw left me puzzled.

Came back home and saw the news for a change. Three rag-pickers (aged 6 to 11) killed a 5 year old boy because they had decided they didn’t like him. And they weren’t affected by this at all even after the police arrested them. They simply failed to understand the seriousness of their actions. I didn’t know what to think of this whole situation. Luckily there was little Ashi (my neighbour’s 5 year old daughter) who restored my faith in little kids. She has been my spiritual guru for some time now and gives the best advice on all aspects of life. When I told her what the little kids in my mom’s school did that afternoon she just laughed about the whole thing. Then she proceeded to chase her little dog around my drawing room and brought a big smile back on my face.

Innocence is not dead. Not yet.

* Spontaneity is so over rated and so misunderstood. All of us admire it and crave it. But there are very few who can wield this powerful weapon. Some call it wit, some call it charm. I call it a practiced art. ‘Hah! Are you listenin' to me, son? I'm givin' ya pearls here.’ Being able to reel off line after line of rib-tickling humour and being able to charm the ladies (or charm the gentlemen depending on your gender and sexual orientation) requires endless hours of practice. To be able to leave a lasting impression and whisk someone off their feet requires deep thinking and introspection. So all ye romantics out there listen carefully – there are no spontaneous people in this world – all us charmers are good actors who pretend to be making this stuff with the back of the toenails of our left foot.

So you! Yeah I am talking to you O Red Haired One. Next time you are setting me up on a chance encounter with such a gorgeous, beautiful, adorable, magnificent, stunning, ravishing, pulchritudinous girl, don’t give me a message at 6:30 pm to tell me I am going to meet her at 7:00 pm. I will be left speechless and stunned (yeah, me - speechless) as I was today. Give me at least two hours because every creature is unique and one has to think about all the things one should say and things one should hold back.

Well at least you tried. It’s a beginning.

* Going to Bangalore this Friday on a much needed vacation - will be there for almost a week. Also need a break from this virtual world. Need to spend some down time and clear up (or maybe clutter up) my head.

* Opus I

This silent call you make,
A silence so raging loud

I fear the world knows its meaning.

If you fill every corner of a room

Where can I look?

If I close my eyes

the silence becomes louder!

There is no escape from you.

The only way out

is in.

- Spike Milligan

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Collective Sigh of a Thousand Vacuum Cleaners

Easy Clean Dust Buster 5000 was the latest and most sophisticated offering by the UDirtyVClean Corporation (headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts). In fact it had been more or less responsible for resurrecting the fortunes of the almost insolvent Corporation.

The 4000 series with its latest Stick design had failed to fire the collective imagination of the usual suspects who bought the products offered by the Corporation. They complained that it resembled the now obsolete broomstick both in design and functionality. It also didn’t offer any comfort to their sore bottoms, a feature they had deeply craved ever since the High Council had decided to replace broomsticks with vacuum cleaners. This had been done during the harsh winter of the Chinese year of the Green Monkey.

Feeling the heat from its clientele, the Corporation went back to the design board and created the 5000 series. It had a bold upright design with luxurious seating and extra storage space for spells and incantations. They also threw in the brain of a benign logo-phobic (the only one available) to make the new series more user-friendly.

The prototype of the 5000 series, Serial Number H/AL1138 was sold to the head of the High Council. Behind her back, she was known as Her Royal Highness of Prolixity for her ability to stun everyone with an endless barrage of words. This more often than not caused the listeners to drown themselves in a small, unassuming puddle of an anorexic bat’s blood.

Her verbosity meant that in a state of rage she could spew any dangerous spell from her extensive repertoire of dark magic. And this worried the good-natured and humane Easy Clean Dust Buster 5000 Serial Number H/AL1138. Not only was 1138 the official carrier of her royal posterior, it was also the mobile storage unit for all her powerful magic. Countless times it had seen innocent but curious bystanders turn into aardvarks, flamingos, guinea pigs, lion tailed macaques, Caribbean rhinoceros iguanas and even puss and fungus just because they had been interested in listening to the words of an old hag riding a shining brand new vacuum cleaner.

“This had to stop”, thought the simple minded but well meaning 1138 to itself, its one horse power motor making a loud roar - the world must be rid of people who use their lithe tongues and dark words to stupefy others - death to the exploiters of the word. And thus began the great Vacuum Cleaning Revolution in the Chinese year of the Rooster. What had began with a roar ended with the collective sigh of a thousand vacuum cleaners. And only I, the short story writer, am left to tell this horrifying tale of annihilating suction. But no listeners left.

© 2004 Anshumani Ruddra

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


One of the happiest days of my life - 41st Convocation of IIT Madras held on the 30th of July 2004 - here receiving the degree from one of my favourite people on campus, Prof MS Ananth.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Random Ramblings

* Last week a friend had come down to Chennai so the two of us went around the city with two other friends from IIT and had a blast. It’s weird but these guys had never had booze in the afternoon. So I introduced them to the pleasures of getting drunk in the afternoon, something which I have been doing very regularly of late.

* Saw Ram Gopal Verma’s Naach the same day. I liked the film because it was bold and different but it was really slow. Another problem with the movie was that it was very monotonous and had no comic relief at all. There was not even a single light moment in the movie. It was intense all the way. Of all the pathetic actors we have in Bollywood, Bachchan Jr and Antra Mali are the only promising ones. Here are my two cents on acting for the two of them – stop clenching your jaw muscles when you want to show anger. Doing it over and over again undermines your overall performance. There are many other ways of showing anger. Maintain eye contact with the camera and for crying out loud don’t blink at the wrong moment, it destroys the whole scene. Look at Samuel L Jackson. The guy doesn’t blink at all during a monologue and his stare is so captivating you can’t take your eyes of the screen. Practice looking in the mirror while reading your lines and don’t blink without reason. Our actors are extremely poor with non-verbal communication. Every action, every movement has to have a reason and should convey something.

* I am dying.

Ok I am being over dramatic.

But I am dying to meet you.

Can’t believe you are so near and yet so far.

* Went to the airport today. I love all these places which have a huge mass of humanity – railway stations, bus depots, libraries, etc. I think these places are really romantic. But Chennai airport (and especially the exit) is the single most unromantic place I have ever seen. A graveyard has more romantic potential. I simply cannot imagine a guy, who has just landed, running all the way to meet his babe and give her a kiss and a hug and just take her in his arms for ever and ever. The architects must have been warned in advance about the possibility of something like this happening and designed the exit in such a way that it would be impossible for the couple to do PDA – public display of affection.

* Why do people hate clichés? I love them, period. One day, I am going to write a book on clichés. It will be the most comprehensive study of clichés ever.

* Been watching this cartoon channel called Animax very regularly. It’s a Japanese channel and mostly has animated stuff based on mangas (Japanese comic strips). I simply love this series called Inu Yasha. More on this later.

* I have already told babe about this so I don’t care now about letting the cat out of the bag. These days I am going against everything the Horrors stood for. I joined a gym and have been working out very hard and very regularly. Gained 20 pounds but it doesn’t show yet, maybe in a couple of months when I cross 200 pounds.

* Attended a Beatles celebration concert at the British Council. It was alright, could have been better. They didn’t play ‘When I’m 64’ so I was disappointed.

* Been missing my IIT buddies a lot these days. A lot of stuff has been happening with them and it hurts that I can’t be a part of their life any longer. I mean of course I am a part of their lives. But it’s not the same. Babe called the other night and it’s the happiest 20 minutes I have spent in the last 4 months. I am turning into a softy. We homies got to keep it real.

* Been listening to Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies (also Rooster from the album Dirt) non stop for the last three days. I love this group. Thanks Shravan for introducing me to them. Reminded me of my fifth semester when I went through a depression for nearly six months. Broke all the cardinal rules of boozing back then – drank when I was alone, drank when I was sad and drank with people I didn’t trust. I never thought that a mature level headed guy like me would stoop so low and make mince meat of my so called self esteem. When you are in love with the idea of a person rather than being in love with the person, expect a kick in your balls. Punters call it a crush. I call it stupidity. Your mind plays games with you and makes an ordinary (down right pathetic) human being seem like an angel. I am not being vindictive (dude remember you said this to me) but it’s the truth. I am glad I got that out of my system, even though it’s been ages and life has become so much better.

* Been trying to sing like Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World – almost matched his voice.

* I have nothing left to talk about with my parents. I mean I love them and everything but I can no longer relate to them on any subject – the only draw back of coming to IIT. It has made me too independent. I think I need to get out of Chennai for a few days and take a break from life. Bangalore has great weather these days – cold – exactly the way I feel these days.

* Enrique’s ‘Don’t turn Off the Laaaaeeeeghts’ just started playing. Hate these random jumps in Winamp. Aha – Strangers in the Night – Frank Sinatra is amazing. Been singing Strangers before every performance to clear my throat and get myself high, works each time.

* Met the girl with the ear piercings again today. She is such a sweetheart. Just feel like cuddling her.

* Clairvoyance – the supposed ability to perceive things that are not in sight or that cannot be seen. This word has been on my mind for a long time. So has Nonchalant.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The 8150 Days of Me

I remember this rather dull night, at the peak of north Indian winter, some six years back. I had been trying to solve a particularly tricky problem of mechanics from Irodov for nearly four hours. The solution was quite elusive and required a very subtle trick which my tired mind was unable to comprehend. So I kept the problem aside and decided to approach it with a fresh mind the next morning. I was also distracted because of this particular book I had acquired a couple of days before that – The 120 Day of Sodom (or the School of Freedoms or the School of Libertines) by Marquis de Sade. The book tells the story of a bunch of old men who enslave a group of teenagers and perform various sexual perversions on them and eventually kill them. All this is done while listening to stories told by old prostitutes.

Bored with my physics problems and unable to sleep I decided to read this book. Back then I had this principle of not leaving a novel unfinished and so I read this gruesome book throughout the night. When I finished reading, in the early hours of the morning, my mind had gone numb and an all pervading feeling of disgust settled over me. I didn’t eat anything the whole day because of fear of remembering the details of the coprophilia described in the book.

Fast forward to the present – I finished seeing Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom based on original text by Sade but set in the Fascist Republic of Salo in 1944. Here is how the film is described on the back cover of the DVD I viewed (released by the British Film Institute):

Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its first release in 1975, Salò has rarely been shown in its complete form in Britain and did not receive BBFVC certification until late 2000, when it was passed uncut. In 1994 its US video release prompted the prosecution of a bookshop, and in Australia the ban on Salò was lifted in 1993, only to be reinstated in 1998 after questions were raised in their national parliament.

The film Salò is based on the Marquis de Sade's novel 120 Days of Sodom, with the setting transposed to an empty Lake Garda mansion in Mussolini's miniature Fascist Republic of Salò, Italy in 1944. Four wealthy and powerful libertines gather in a palazzo to organise a gluttonous, theatrical series of sexual tortures to be inflicted upon a terrified collection of subjugated young men and women.

The film's content and imagery is extreme, and it retains the power to shock, repel and distress a quarter of a century on. Pasolini was murdered shortly before the film's release, when a casual sex encounter on a beach outside Rome went tragically wrong. The reaction to the murder ensured that the public perception of Salò was tainted by the score-settling indulged in by his enemies on both the Left and the Right. Yet it remains a cinematic milestone - culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning. The DVD release features a poster gallery, an on-screen director's biography and a director's foreword read by actor Nickolas Grace.

The film was even more gruesome and graphic in its presentation of violence then the way I had visualized it after reading the book. Nothing shocks me these days, but this movie was like a thunderbolt, waking me from a reverie like nothing else has ever done. Why did Pasolini make this movie? More importantly how did he accomplish the task of making such a harrowing movie?

As disgusted and revolted as I am after having seen the contents of the movie, there is still only one word which I can use to describe the movie – beautiful. It is sheer genius – the light work gives a very surreal detached feeling, colours are used brilliantly and direction – the best I have ever seen. I highly recommend the movie to every film aficionado, but don’t watch the movie on a full stomach and if you can’t take the violence – stop immediately. The weak of heart should not watch this film.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Bacchanalian Revelry and Masochistic Pleasures

At a meeting the other day I saw this beautiful exotic-looking specimen of the fairer sex. Though I was instantly attracted towards her, something about her appearance revolted me. It took me some time to understand this dichotomy of my reaction towards her appearance. This girl was wearing a diamond nose ring and she had each of her ears pierced in six places. She was wearing beautiful ear rings (12 of them) and was looking very ethnic in her cotton salwar.

Now I have no problem with people using their bodies as a medium of self-expression through various kinds of body art – tattoos, piercing, etc. In fact I think a tattoo or a piercing at the right place looks extremely sexy. And I thought this particular girl looked very hot because of the piercing. However, I cringed at the thought of her or anybody else inflicting such pain on their bodies. Friends inform me that the process is not at all painful and it’s just like getting injected with a big needle. The process is also very swift because these days they use a device which resembles a nail gun (a shudder just ran down my spine while writing those two words). I remember accompanying a four year old cousin to her first ear piercing some ten years back. I also remember her laughing all the way back home and me having an expression of sheer terror on my face. It had taken me a month to get over the barbaric ritual I saw that day. The scene still haunts me sometimes in my dreams (I need a drink to calm my nerves).

I am back.

Now I am certainly no chicken. As a kid, doctors never had a problem injecting me. I never even winced at the sight of a large injection (and oh boy! I got many of those, me being a clumsy dolt as a kid). I have even received two pairs of stitches on the back of my head and I still have the marks to prove it (though now they have been covered by a good growth of hair). And yet I would never have the courage to get a tattoo or a piercing (not that I want one). Something about this whole piercing business smells of masochism. I understand how creating an image for oneself (through the clothes we wear, brands we sport, etc.) is so important these days when the first impression means everything (I would have never called the girl exotic, sexy or hot sans her piercing) and yet how far are we ready to go with this. It has to be a certain pleasure we derive from inflicting pain on ourselves which warrants such extreme (think nail gun) measures.

Personally, I am big fan of pain. Pain can do a lot of good. Its power to inspire is unmatched, and till my search for a muse remains fruitless, pain remains the acting-muse. Not that I have to go looking for someone to pain me, but there have been instances when under the effect of Bacchus’ greatest gift to mankind I have asked a few inspiring pugilists to land the real McCoy bang on my face. One chap actually obliged me and I was left with a cut an inch long inside my mouth which made eating anything impossible for the next one week. I will always remember that chap because it turned out to be a very fruitful week in which I wrote feverishly. But never would I condone the act of piercing.

Trudi: You know how they use that gun to pierce your ears? They don't use that when they pierce your nipples, do they?

Jody: Forget that gun. That gun goes against the entire idea behind piercing. All of my piercings, sixteen places on my body, all of them done with a needle. Five in each ear, one through the nipple on my left breast, one through my right nostril, one through my left eyebrow, one in my lip, one in my clit... and I wear a stud in my tongue.

Vincent: Excuse me, but I was just wondering... why do you wear a stud in your tongue?

Jody: It's a sex thing. It helps fellatio.

Lance: Don Vincenzo. Step into my office?


Lance: Hey, whattya think about Trudi? She ain't got a boyfriend. You wanna hang out, get high?

Vincent: Which one's Trudi? The one with all the shit in her face?

Lance: No, that's Jody. That's my wife.

Pulp Fiction

Friday, October 22, 2004

I Lost to my Voices

The voices in my head just told me -
You are never coming back

We spent some good times together
You and me, me and you.

But the voices drove you crazy
And so you went far away.

Far away into the void of nothingness
Where your own imagination

Does not revolt and bite you in the ass.
Where the phantoms of your dead neurons

Don’t trouble you in the middle of night
While you are fighting the minions

Of the ancient gods of Valhalla.
Damn! Damn these voices.

I should have drowned them long back
In a small puddle of creative fungus

Which is now so cheaply available,
In large cans made of tin at the mart.

I should have gone away with you
And left this comfortable numbness behind.

No one would have wept
I assure you, except a few

They would have written an obituary,
Not for me, but for those wretched voices.

You were the only one, who knew me,
Who had peeled all the lairs and found me

Buried deep within myself. My own voice
Muffled by those who wanted to reign supreme.

You were the only one who heard me and my voices.
But you have now gone far away,

I remember everything about you
But will never see you awake.

Only in the land of dreams
Did you appear before me.

I remember your every curve
But I know you are not coming back

The voices drove you away
They wanted me for themselves.

They have won,
And we have lost.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Song to be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children

I figured out something when I was twelve years old. I was a bright, precocious brat with a simple view of the world. I figured that elders (anyone who was older than me) had nothing to offer me as far as knowledge was concerned. Considering I was so young, this notion might look childish, but today I can add the weight of a decade of experience behind it. In my humble opinion elders have not been responsible for a single bit of knowledge in my head – either it was already there and I just needed to discover it or else I was smart enough to figure things out on my own. Elders may have played the role of a guide in some of the discoveries but given enough time I would have stumbled upon those hidden springs of knowledge on my own. A very egomaniacal thought but I stand by it.

However, it is a completely different ballgame when it comes to learning from younger people. I firmly believe that we grow dim-witted as we grow older. Our thoughts start following a fixed pattern and we lose the gift of being amazed and excited by life around us. No wonder even our imagination takes a big beating at the hands of age. And creativity, don’t get me started about that. As children we have so much potential and we lose it as we grow older.

Any new thought/idea/knowledge that has entered my brain has been through people younger than me. And so I had the other great revelation at the age of thirteen. I needed a younger sibling – a little baby girl who would enlighten me about the truths of life. Never thought about having a younger brother because I expected he’d turn out like me and the world couldn’t handle two of us. The sad part was that if my theory of transfer of knowledge from younger to older brains was true even for others than I would contribute zilch to the mental growth of a younger sister. At least I would be able to play the protective elder brother who beats up any punk that comes close to his little princess. I imagined I would make a very cool elder brother. As fate would have it I remain the only child of my doting parents.

And hence I come to the next more crucial point. My mental growth is now almost stagnant; it has remained so for the last couple of years. I have come across younger men and women who have contributed to my intellectual growth but it has happened in small bursts spread sporadically over time.

That little baby girl is very elusive. Someday she will wake me from my intellectual dormancy. Till then ...

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.

Ogden Nash

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Hoping for a Sinusoidal Life

Wonder of wonders! I have been making money doing things I absolutely love and through which I never intended to make any dough. Yeah, so it’s not a lot of money. But it’s enough to treat friends to a good dinner and a movie and maybe some booze this weekend. I can see the gleaming eyes on the other side of the world, eyes which didn’t get to see the ‘chickhhheen’. But let me assure the owners of these eyes – I missed you all. Go ahead treat yourself to the ‘Horror $120 Lola and Nicky’ package. It is highly recommended by one of our kind in Texas.

Yesterday I was part of this reading which was organized to give the audience a flavour of the six books which were nominated for the Booker Prize this year. The reading went well. I read excerpts from Bitter Fruit and Cloud Atlas. I was thinking Cloud Atlas would win. But these judging panels never cease to amaze me. The award went to The Line of Beauty, a book which is so pedestrian it makes Sidney Sheldon novels look like literature. Let’s hope that David Mitchell (who wrote Cloud Atlas and was nominated for the second time) is third time lucky.

Life is going on at a steady pace, which can be a good thing, but I prefer a sinusoidal curve. I some how feel that inertia has set in and I am waiting for something big and drastic to happen (ok I have a vague notion of the kind of thing I’ll call drastic, so it wouldn’t be a bolt from the blues). For now my fingers are crossed and double crossed. It is ironic but even a steady and assured upward-looking future is sending me into a depression. Carpe diem, that’s what a friend said. How?

Right now I feel what Rembrandt would feel if he ever saw this (lucky him, he’s dead).

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

How-To: Literary Poetry

“Love inevitably leads to sadness”
Now had the great poet known this

He would have become a poet,
A messiah of lost causes and hearts

At a tender age of eleven and three-quarts.
But it took another eleven years

And a bunch of pathetic failures
To drive-in and make him realize

That love is a deadly wiper that bites,
And no amount of wisdom and sagacity

Can be a fitting substitute for audacity.
And all this while the wicked raven,

With his usual propensity for planning
And propinquity with the fairer sex

And with his prolix verbosity, set out
On the preposterous task to bring an end

To the sad and miserable existence
Of the great un-rhyming poet:

Who had judiciously won the bet,
Of having used propensity, propinquity,

Prolix and preposterous in the same breath.
Little did he know that his own end was near

All he had to do was ask the poet to find
A small unassuming puddle of muddy water

And drown himself in it. Oh! The shame
Had the raven known the poet’s shame

Brought about by those to whom the raven
Had been very close (see propinquity),

His task would have been so much easier.
Now they rot together in hell till the end of eternity.

Only, the poet’s pain is more.

Going Cuckoo

I am extremely mad at myself. I am so mad, that I feel crazier than usual. At times like these I wish there was someone who could whack me and straighten that convoluted head of mine.

I solemnly pledge that in the future I’ll do everything according to the Rule of the Horrors. It is a simple theory, this Rule of the Horrors – before doing something which any self respecting Horror wouldn’t do (but which has to be done because of the inherent weakness of the heart and mind) think about what you would have said had someone else done that thing. If the reply is – ‘Dude! That is so gay.’ or ‘Man! That is so corny.’- don’t do it.

But everything is doomed and it is too late now. And to make matters worse I went ahead and got the worst haircut in the history of haircuts. My poor long hair is all gone now. Anguish, extreme anguish!

Other than that life is pretty good: lots of work, lots of sleep and good friends to give company. If only …

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east,
And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Death of the Great Poet

The day was dull
New thoughts entered his skull.

He took out his Deus-Ex-Machina,
Went down to the old cave of McKenna.

This is as far as he rhymed
His whole life now turned into grime.

The raven plummeted from the sky,
It was his prescribed day to die.

Out of the weird shades of blues
A lightning bolt was hurled by Zeus.

Struck by the mighty thunder
The poet was broken asunder.

He landed on a woman’s promiscuity
Apologized, and went away in a scurry.

The raven fell on his head
The claws formed a nice little Zed.

I am Zorro said the raven,
I’ll have your head shaven.

Spare my long dark hair,
Reconsider, be a little fair.

You are the mighty bird of the west
At least give me sometime to rest.

And so the poet went on and on
The poor raven grew very forlorn.

He couldn’t take this jabbering no more,
Decided that his wretched life was such a bore.

And so the raven committed suicide
Having considerably hurt the poet’s pride.

The poet died a few days later of common cold,
It had taken a toll on the poor blighter’s soul.

Now he rusts in peace in the depths of Valhalla,
Royalties from the poems, raking in the moolah.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Requiem for an Un-rhyming Poet in Less than Five Minutes

The problem with this world is that it doesn’t change,
The only thing that history has taught us is

That history repeats itself again and again.
Why is that? I have asked and will ask again.

Quite simple you see – the world does not change.
I look back with my mouth wide open

A fly enters and finding nothing interesting inside
Buzzes back outside to the never changing world.

But how can it be – I have seen the world change
In front of my eyes, eyes which have changed with

Your so called never changing world.
Aha!! It is only your eyes which have changed my friend

The rest of the world around you remains the same.
Haven’t your eyes changed along with mine –

I say to this condescending friend of mine
Oh yes they have changed but the world hasn’t.

And who is responsible for all this un-change
For that I’ll give you an answer you’ll hate:

It is the poets who do not rhyme that are the
Cause of all this misery, all this pain

They refuse to rhyme and be coherent
And make our lives more prosaic than

They ought to be. Death to these poets
I say – death, hang them by their

Toe nails and set the raven upon them.
Which raven, I ask, the one whose existence

Is familiar, matter-of-fact, pointless,
Prosy, unembellished, uninteresting,

I see you have acquired a new thesaurus.
Ah!! The very best there is – Roget’s.

Raven, Raven up in the sky
Why the hell don’t you die die die

Take this un-rhyming poet along with you
And burn in the depths of hell till you smell

Raven, Poet die die die
Go to hell and fry fry fry.

Rotting in hell – Anshumani Ruddra © 2004

Thursday, September 09, 2004

An Evening with the Alphabets

I have made two new friends recently. For the sake of convenience and anonymity I shall call them Alice and Bob. Now Alice is seventeen and Bob is eighteen and they have just started going to college. In a very short time both of them have endeared themselves to me and I look upon them with brotherly affection. They are quite naïve (probably because they are young) and have a lot to learn about the ways of the world and for some odd reason they think I am some kind of a wise old man (just shows how naïve they are).They are also madly in love with each other and for some odd reason I end up becoming the moderator in all their fights (and they fight a lot – perhaps it explains the ‘madly’ part of their love).

Some days back we were all sitting around in the bar of a very up town hotel with a number of other friends. Alice and Bob were on my left. A rather beautiful specimen of the fairer sex, Clarice, was sitting on my right and was jabbering away to glory with Dick (wonder why I gave him that name, maybe because he is one). Every now and then she would turn around, touch my hand and ask me whether I agreed with what she was saying. Since I wasn’t paying any particular attention to what she was saying (because I was busy checking out the butt of an Eleanor standing near the bar counter) I always replied in the affirmative. Watching Eleanor’s butt and answering yes-you-are-absolutely-right to Clarice was soon interrupted by the chipmunks on my left.

Alice was beating the shit out of Bob for having called her a bra-burning-feminist. Now I have been caught in this situation before where a girl was protesting that she was not a feminist. I also happen to know a thing or two about feminism.

The word has been degraded over the decades to a man-hating-children-hating-housewife-hating woman. This is probably due to the negative impact of the second wave feminism of the late sixties when some misguided women decided that the root of all inequality and all evil were men and women who wanted just to be mothers and housewives. But so strong was this movement (still is) that it overshadowed the feminists who were just asking for equal rights for women in all spheres of life. Sadly all feminists (even the ones who still like men and want to have families) are considered to be a part of the misguided feminists.

Some feminists are so deluded that they do not even accept the physical differences between men and women and want to engineer a society where everyone is the same. Thus, a few stories recently have been about schools removing urinals from the boy's bathrooms, and telling the boys they should piss sitting down, like the girls. This is to eliminate the sense of power that boys supposedly have in using their penises to direct urine where they wish. These Americans are absolutely crazy.

So I explained to the two chipmunks that ‘feminism’ wasn’t a profanity and the bra-burning never really happened (it’s an urban legend). Then I went back to admiring Eleanor’s butt and touching Clarice’s hand (by this time I had already downed a number of beers and was in full flow). I also noticed that Dick had lost his perpendicularity (if there is a word like that) to the ground. He was snoring peacefully in one corner.

Now the topic somehow shifted to mythology which happens to be home territory for me. Clarice wanted to know about Pandora. I was feeling quite high by now and was about to achieve one of those rare moments of absolute clarity. My thoughts were being coherently translated to words which were smoothly flowing out of my lips and I was getting higher because I had everyone’s rapt attention.

What followed was my usual comparison of all mythology (Greek, Roman, Indian and Biblical) and how there was this underlying theme running in all of them, that women were the cause of all misery on earth. Though we Indians worship women and consider them (Shakti) superior to even the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh we do have instances in our mythology where women caused strife. Kunti (mother of all Pandavs) for example could have stopped the Mahabharata had she told her sons that Karna was their elder brother. Yudhishthira when told the truth after the war cursed all womanhood with the inability to keep a secret - hence all the gossip. Helen a mere woman caused the Trojan war, Pandora opened the box given to her by the gods and released sorrow, disease and conflict and Eve decided to eat the forbidden fruit (essentially had sex) and got Adam and herself thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Humanity was also cursed with procreation (which isn’t really a curse) and women had to undergo labour pains as a result.

Now there were a lot of women in our group so I went ahead and said something on the lines of – but what are men without women, which brought a smile on Clarice’s face (I hadn’t noticed before, she had a dimple on her left cheek). Bob however was very excited about this whole women-being-the-cause-of-all-misery thing and was also a little drunk. So he went around and told every woman in our group that they deserved labour pains. Most of them forgave him for being young and foolish, but Alice went ahead and knocked the daylights (nightlights, maybe) out of him.

The evening went on like this and we all finally decided to call it a day around one AM. Clarice asked me if I could drop her at her house. I was more then happy to oblige and was looking forward to a long romantic drive in my car. Yeah but these things never really happen, do they. Alice and Bob had come to this party with me and I had to leave them as well. Both of them had sorted out their differences by now and were in a very lovey-dovey mood. They were also considerably drunk and couldn’t stand properly. So I dragged the two of them to my car and shoved them in the back seat. Clarice sat with me on the front seat and we started out.

The talk revolved around men and our apparent immaturity. Alice and Clarice were putting on a good offence and I was busy driving and Bob, well he was being himself and was shouting at the top of his voice that he was all grown up and was very mature. Suddenly Alice quipped that Bob hadn’t even bought his first pack of condoms. Now this was hitting below the belt and hurt Bob deeply. “Find a chemist, find a pharmacy immediately and I’ll show her that I can buy a pack of condoms”, shouted Bob.

Perhaps it was the booze; perhaps it was the fact that Clarice was looking at me with those pretty eyes and luscious lips; perhaps it was that by helping Bob I wanted to make a stand for the weaker sex (men, of course). So we went around the city, at that god forsaken hour, on a wild goose chase (rather a wild condom chase) in search for an open drugstore. It was wild; it was fun; it was extremely stupid.

We finally found one open. So Bob stepped out of the car to prove his manhood and fell down. I had to get out and carry him to the front door of the drugstore. “Wouldn’t you come in with me”, said Bob. I could imagine the Horrorz (Ravi, Suds and Nijith) saying –man that is sooo gay, two guys buying condoms. Gay or not I had to help Bob in picking up the last remaining shreds of his manhood. So we went in, me holding Bob, and stood there for sometime. Bob tried. He definitely did. “Can I ... err… can I … ahmmm … can I have some Chlormints.”

“Dumb ass”, I thought and gave him another chance. This was getting out of hand. The girls were sounding the car horn as if proclaiming their victory. Something had to be done. So I turned my back towards the car and told the chemist to forget about the chlormints and give me a pack of Kamasutra. This guy didn’t even bat an eyelid, as if this happened to him daily (it probably did). “Pack of 3 or 10”, he said. “Ten”, exclaimed Bob out of nowhere and looked up at me. I was getting very angry by now so I took the pack of 10, shoved it in Bob’s hand, handed over a 50 and didn’t even take the four bucks change the chemist owed me.

We went back to the car. Bob was now showing off to Alice: “Naaa na naaa na naaa, I got the condoms, I got the condoms”. Alice seemed very proud of him and they again went back to their lovey-dovey mood and before long I could see that they had dozed off. They looked very cute, like a pair of chipmunks. I laughed to myself. Clarice just said, “You are my hero” and gave me a peck (Dictionary – to kiss briefly and casually) on the cheek. We needed a drink and so decided to hit the bar again. That was one long memorable night. For the perverts - all I have is a peck on the cheek to remember the evening by, more on Clarice later.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


I have no roots. This never bothered me before, but it is something which has been weighing me down lately. I was never a religious person and thoroughly believe that religion is just opium for the masses - a way to channel their faith and give them something to believe in. I have also never been able to identify myself with any group based on region and language, which is probably a great thing but at times is disadvantageous. So I am trying to run a thought experiment in my head and elucidate this subject of roots.

I was born into a Brahmin family in the city of Bhopal (MP). Both my parents have Kashmiri roots but their families have been living in Punjab for generations. So for all practical purposes they are Punjabis. But because of my dad’s job they have lived away from the northern part of our country for majority of their married life. Hence we always speak Hindi/English at home and though I can understand a bit of Punjabi I have a hard time speaking it. Because of dad’s job we changed places regularly because in a bank each promotion is usually accompanied by a transfer. So over the course of my first eighteen years on this third rock from the sun, I changed eight schools.

The chain of places I have lived in is something like this: 1982–83 Bhopal, 1983-84 Itarsi, 1984-1988 Bhopal, 1988-89 London, 1989-1991 Bombay, 1991-1993 Mhow, 1993-1996 Bhopal, 1996-2000 Chandigarh, 2000-2002 Mumbai, 2002-2004 Hyderabad/Mumbai and 2000-present Chennai. The last four years while I have been living in Chennai and studying at IIT Madras my folks have moved a number of times.

Now I live in Chennai. Though I have spent a lot of time in Bhopal during three brief stints and have a lot of fond memories of the city and my schools, I have a hard time calling it home. I loved my brief stay in Hyderabad and thought that I could finally call some place home. That didn’t happen. Chennai is one city I truly love probably because IIT is here. I love my alma mater and it is perhaps the only place I can call home.

But the real problem is that though I have enjoyed living in so many cities and making so many friends, I have been unable to keep in touch with my old acquaintances. There are some people who I have luckily found because of the internet but there are hundreds of others who I’ll never see. Most of my IIT friends have gone abroad or have taken up jobs. They will eventually get over IIT because they will make new friends and their new life will keep them busy. I on the other hand decided to become a writer and continued to stay here in Chennai. Although I have lots of friends here, I have had a tough time getting over my IIT friends. But well that is a different story.

At a very young age I started liking English and soon it became the language in which I thought. Even my dreams now are in English. It is the only language in which I am able to express myself (and IIT lingo of course). In some ways this lack of roots and any kind of lasting association with a region has made me the person I am. I remember writing in my CV that I have excellent interpersonal skills and I am as extrovert as they get. This is quite true. I am able to make friends with anyone I want to and am not hindered by language/region. But on the other hand I don’t have the qualities (good/bad) which an archetypal north Indian or south Indian would have. Hence I have never been able to identify myself with any such group. I am a misfit in more ways than one. But I have been lucky enough to meet people who liked me for what I was and accepted me into their lives. To all those friends – thank you. Home is where your friends are.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Ars Gratis Artis

I have finally acquired my own set of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy in five parts written by Douglas Adams (known as DNA to his countless fans throughout the galaxy and perhaps the most popular man now at the restaurant at the end of the universe – Elvis comes a close second). I read the five books around three years back and kept reading them again and again even though it meant bunking all my classes (which I did very gladly anyway). Our world lost a truly unique man on 11th May 2001. May his towel come in handy.

After reading a recent entry on Pracci’s blog and following the ongoing battle of wits and slandering in her comments section I decided to investigate this need to be a member of one cult group or another. Why is it that we feel the need to identify ourselves as ‘Metallica’ fans, ‘Harry Potter’ zealots and ‘Stanley Kubrick’ aficionados? Before going any further let me clear my own stance on this subject. I am a die hard buff of the following people and their work:

Note – A list of favourite films, books, TV sitcoms, performers, etc. would be endless and require a Herculean effort to prepare from my side (maybe I will do it). These are the people I worship

Al Pacino
Charlie Chaplin

Douglas Adams

Hobbes (not the philosopher because he was a materialist)


Ingrid Bergman

Jim Carrey

JRR Tolkien

Mel Blanc

Oscar Wilde


Quentin Tarantino

Roger McGough

Vivien Leigh

Yoda (I know he isn’t real, but that is the greatest tragedy of this world)

These are the names that come to my mind at this moment. There may be others but more on that later. The point of this list was to show that I am inclined in a rather extreme way to follow other people and their work and worship it. I also spend a lot of time discussing the philosophy behind a particular work.

A friend (Blue pussy I think) once said that the reason people become admirers is because of peer pressure, they like Lord of the Rings because every other person claims to be a fan. I completely disagree. Yes, there are those who could claim to be adherents of a particular film/book/actor because all their other friends are claiming the same thing. But I don’t think a 20 something guy/girl would claim to be a Harry Potter fan until and unless they really adore the books (I like the books but Rowling has a lot to learn about fantasy writing). The reason why you love something is quite hard to explain. Often the reason turns out to be quite trivial. Take for example Tarantino. All his movies are pointless, lack any coherent story and yet are so entertaining and visually stunning that he is regarded by many as a master director and story writer.

But recently I have seen another trend. Most people would claim to hate an otherwise popular book/movie just to appear different and stand out. Some of them haven’t even taken the effort to go through the books which they claim to hate so much. These are the people who are in a cult of their own – the cult of the We-Don’t-Like-Cults.

But wait. There was something else that I had in mind. The real question (three of them actually) in my mind was the following – does the creator of fiction (writer/director/actor/painter) always put his own personal philosophy forward through the medium of his work? Should the receiver (reader/viewer) really be forming his own personal philosophy based on somebody else’s work? Is it necessary for art to have a meaning, a message?

The answer to all the questions according to me is no. Great books which changed the way people thought or which were at least aimed at trying to change people are few in number. And yet I believe that a work of art is not necessarily a projection of the creator’s philosophy. It could be, but not always. A writer for example chooses a particular set of principles for his book. They could be similar to his beliefs but could also be their exact opposite. His integrity, and therefore the book’s integrity, lies in his staying true to the set of principles he has selected for his book, not in his following his own personal philosophy (which could be a superset of the book’s principles).

Example – Thomas Harris has created perhaps the greatest villain of our times – Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal loves human flesh and has killed many. Yet for some reason we find ourselves attracted towards him and are rooting for him when he is going on a killing spree. That is called integrity. Harris has remained true to his character even though he himself might be disgusted at the idea of killing and eating another human being. He has succeeded in creating a character we fear and love at the same time. There is never a sudden change of heart where Lecter is himself disgusted with his habits. A part of him is evil and is convinced of its own superiority and its right to kill and eat the ones who don’t deserve to live. Lecter is the law. He punishes. Does that mean that it is Harris’ belief that a man should take the law into his own hands and go about killing people who end up on his wrong side? I think not.

A better example would me Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Humbert Humbert is a pervert and ruins the life of Dolores Haze (Lolita) and yet the reader feels his pain and the reader’s heart goes out to him. Yeah so he did some regrettable things and fell in love with such a young girl. But Humbert has our sympathies. Nabokov’s descriptions of Humbert’s fantasy at first shock us but slowly we get involved with it because of Nabokov’s beautiful word play. Now that is integrity. The writer does not approve of child molesters and perverts and yet he has created a very endearing character that does such abominable things. The reader can actually feel himself giving advice to Humbert – don’t do it man, it isn’t worth it, she isn’t worth it. Your sympathies don’t go out to the nymphet Lolita, which in retrospect seems strange.

Douglas Adams loved science and believed in it. He knew its limitations and yet believed in its greatness. Still in his work we only see him bashing science and just showing its extreme limitations. His books are covered from page to page with eastern philosophy’s simple rules - there is no coincidence (which perhaps makes all science useless), things happen for a reason, all things in this universe are completely interconnected. And though these are parts of his personal philosophy some aspects of his books are contrary to his otherwise western ideas.

On the question whether art should have a meaning, I believe meaning is overrated. There is no need that a book should have a message. It could be plain old Pulp Fiction. It is in no way the creator’s responsibility to give a message to his audience. I believe in the aesthetic movement – art for art’s sake – ars gratis artis. Ars gratis hominis doesn’t make sense because I don’t think that the artist is answerable to, nor has an obligation towards the audience. It could have a message and the audience is free to interpret it any which way they want. So I give my thumbs up to David Lynch’s latest movies (his old stuff like the Elephant man is pure gold but his latest stuff is just his self-expression and nothing more). This brings me to the second question.

If the art does have meaning/message, is it necessary for us to intellectualize about it? Yes. But do we form our own philosophy based on it? No. Any form of art even if it rambles on for thousands of pages cannot be kept as a basis for a complete set of human principles. Rand’s and Salinger’s characters are too idyllic for the real world and wouldn’t survive in it. One could appreciate their traits but could not live their life by them. A man/woman who does not compromise would never enjoy his existence because he/she would never find love. And what is life without love. And though Roark found love, it was only in fiction. He would not continue to be in love if he doesn’t compromise.

So read/watch books/movies, have fun interpreting them and worshipping their creators, but don’t lead your life by their support. Books/movies make great companions but if they are your only companions then you are in trouble. So I am in trouble. I need to get out and get some fresh air. Maybe I should go out with some friends for a movie.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Life of Stanley Vacant (continued)

The story so far: Stanley Vacant, a middle aged voice artist by profession, has joined the local gym after having endured some stinging remarks about his appearance from his girlfriend Tricia.

The girl on the reception desk had a sweet smile and a good pair of knockers. That is what she is being paid for, I mean the smile. She asked me to fill out a form with some personal details while she called my personal trainer Ricky.

Ricky, sounded like a hoodlum who had spent his late teenage years in prison, where unquestionably he had felt the need to bulk up. I could easily picture a guy six feet four inches tall, weighing 205 pounds with a motor bike tattooed on his left shoulder. The description turned out to be quite accurate except for the tattoo. It had ‘I love my mom’ engraved on a valentine heart. I did not trouble myself in trying to understand the underlying currents of the statement. So he loved his mom. Good for him. We need more people who care about their parents.

Ricky stepped forward and shook my hand. “You got a firm hand shake there Stanley. I can see you going all the way. Just work with me on this regularly and within 12 weeks you’ll be giving Brad Pitt a run for his money.” I smiled weakly back at him and proceeded to finish the form which then I handed over to the girl with the great knockers. Sorry, I mean the girl with the sweet smile.

Ricky explained how on this first day he would take me around the gym and give me a thorough tour of all their facilities. “I am going to check your endurance and strength today, Stanley.” I nodded my approval and entered the inner sanctum of this commercial temple of physical beauty. Like Aphrodite’s oracle, Ricky proceeded to tell me what the function of each machine was and how this enterprise was totally dedicated towards combining cutting-edge-state-of-the-art technology with good training practices.

Now around me I could see a lot of people sweating profusely and working out real hard. Young and old, fat and thin men and women were trying to improve their health and their looks by working out to some fast paced rhythmic music. The only good looking people with perfect bodies were the trainers who were moving around the whole place, smiling a broad smile and giving little nuggets of advice to anyone who would listen.

Ricky asked me to try out a machine which had a lot of complicated gears and weights. I had to sit on a seat and pull a bar of steel with both my hands towards the back of my head. This bar was connected to different weights. There I was sitting on this complicated looking machine trying to do an exercise I had never done before and also trying not to hurt myself in any irreparable way, when my eyes landed on the most beautiful, the most exquisite women I had ever seen in walking daylight.

She was exercising on a similar machine directly opposite and was facing me. A small bead of perspiration rolled down her forehead, onto the side of her cheek, down her neck and disappeared into the valley of her round and firm breasts. She looked so athletic, so angel like that I could not hear what Ricky the oracle was saying. In this temple of beauty, I had found Aphrodite.

I had seen her somewhere before but I could not place her. Then I realized that she was the model in the Estee Lauder perfume ad for which I had provided the background voice. She looked far more beautiful now. And what was this. She was staring right back at me, without batting her eyelids. Come on Stanley this is the time when you take destiny by the forelock.

“Yes Stanley you are doing it perfectly. Just bring the bar down a little slower to feel the tension in your muscles.” The oaf was telling me how to use this damn machine correctly while this most beautiful sweating creature was staring right at me. Wait a minute. She was watching me exercise. Come on Stanley be cool now. You are the voice of Baritone Bunny, the most suave and dashing rabbit in the world of animation. Do this exercise properly. Pretend you have been doing it for ages. Listen to the oaf.

“Yes Stanley you are doing great”. I am doing great. Is that a look of admiration I see in the eyes of the Estee Lauder model? Yes it is. I am admiring her and she is admiring me back. He hits, he runs, he scores. Stanley scores? This is a new feeling.

“I’ll increase the weight a bit Stanley to check your endurance.” Go ahead oracle Ricky. Increase any weight you want. Stanley is on a roll here.

But what was this? The bar was stuck in the air and I couldn’t bring it down. Be cool Stanley; bring it down slow and easy. She is watching you man. For the first time since I had started exercising I could feel my forehead perspiring. It took all the strength I had to bring the bar down. “Very good, Stanley. Just nine more times and you are down.” Nine more times. Is the oaf trying to kill me or something? Aha! Jealous is he, Aphrodite’s oracle jealous of her lover Hermes. I wouldn’t give you the pleasure of seeing me lose. Stanley Vacant’s ego had just been challenged and he was ready for it.

With great effort I brought the bar down again. She was still watching me. Oh! How gracefully she was doing her exercise - power hidden below the veil of beauty.

By the sixth repetition I was thoroughly drenched and didn’t have an ounce of strength left. Did I just catch a look of dejection on her face? Her hero had turned out to be a loser. She finished her exercise, stood up and walked away, without looking back. I could take this exercise no longer and let the bar go. It went and hit the pivot with a bang and a few faces turned around to see the culprit. I could see looks of been-there-before-buddy on some of the faces.

“Don’t be disappointed Stanley. It’s just your first day. Within a few weeks this would be a cake walk.” The oaf was gloating over his victory and applying salt to the wounds. “Yeah, I suppose so”, I replied and stood up.

It has been more than an hour now and we have finished the tour of the entire place. I am sitting inside the steam bath. Each and every muscle in my body is screaming out right now. Ricky says the pains would go away in a few days. The muscles are just getting used to the exercising. I got up and took a shower, got dressed and all the while I was thinking about how very different I was from Baritone Bunny. Except for the voice (which is mine anyway, or is it?) we have nothing in common. He is cool. The chicks dig him. He could have done all those exercises single-handedly. He could have won the heart of the Estee Lauder model in a snap. Well at least he can’t speak without me.

I stepped out of the gym with my gym kit (a gift from Tricia) and made my way towards the car. Suddenly I heard a voice from behind “Mr Vacant”. I turned around to see the Estee Lauder model running towards me. “I have been waiting for you outside, for some time now”, she said in that sweet nectar like voice of hers. “You probably don’t know me. I worked in a commercial for which you provided the voice. I am a big fan of yours. I watch Baritone Bunny every week and absolutely love it.” I could not believe my ears. Here I was, fantasizing about this goddess and she turns out to be a fan. “Would you like to come to the recording of next week’s episode of Baritone?” I spoke in the most sophisticated voice I could conjure up. With that I gave her my studio card after having scribbled my home number at its back. She seemed very excited by the prospect and thanked me. “I’ll see you in the gym tomorrow then. And thanks for inviting me to the recording.” I said sure and with that I entered my car.

She was still standing some distance away and talking very excitedly on her mobile. She was telling someone, apparently another girl, about how she had met the voice of Baritone Bunny and how she was going to the studio for the voice recording session. She was as excited as little kids are when they are promised a tour of Disney world. Seeing her in this new light I realized that she was hardly a day over sixteen. Oh my God! What was I doing? I had been fantasizing about a young girl, a girl who was still excited about cartoons, a girl who was young enough to be my daughter. I hung my head in shame. Sophia would be as old as this girl now. I hadn’t seen her for ten years. Her mother had got her custody when we got a divorce and then had moved to Paris. All I had were a few photographs and letters from her. She was going to college this spring. Maybe it was time I met her.

With these thoughts I decided to drive back home to Tricia and tell her that the gym was a bad idea. She wouldn’t be happy. But I can’t take this pain in my muscles. For now Aphrodite and her temple are not meant for me.

Stanley Vacant © Anshumani Ruddra 2004

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Life of Stanley Vacant

There is this character in my mind that is yearning to see the light of day in a book. Sadly for him, all spaces are currently occupied and he will have to wait his turn. But the problem doesn’t end there. I wish it would. While I might be his creator in every sense of the word, he also is a resident of the over active world that is my mind. And hence he is a part of me, a part of my being. And he wants to share his adventures, his crusades with the rest of the world.

First I though a brief cameo in my book would be sufficient for him. But then I realized that it would be an absolute waste of a terrific character, which he is, a very likable character who deserves to be the protagonist of his own book. So here is another solution: the blog. From now on Stanley Vacant, who is a middle aged voice artist (provides the background voice for ads and supplies the voice characterizations for over half a dozen animated characters) would make regular appearances on my blog and would hopefully stop bothering me.

It is my firm belief that fitness and health and good looks are overrated. These days everyone seems to be running after a good physique. Every man wants to be like Brad Pitt and every woman wants to be like the latest cover of Cosmopolitan (not like the cover but like the women on the cover). I believe our capitalists have once again succeeded in making absolute fools out of us. First they cut us up into little pieces and then they recommend ten different ways to stitch us back.

While growing up you are coaxed to eat tons of junk food. As a teenage boy you have to hang out at the cool places and eat the cool food or you become an outcast. TV commercials tell you where all the chicks are hanging out. So you go there and what do you do? You eat and eat and eat. And before you know it you are 30 years old and weigh 250 pounds. Even if you are not 250 pounds your wife would constantly nag you about the love handles that you have developed. People will constantly crack jokes at your expense and make your life miserable.

You go in for magnetic radiation therapy which according to Jim from the shopping network helps you lose an astonishing fifteen pounds in just a few hours. You end up buying and hoarding exercise machines which promise to give you chiselled abs and good looks. But nothing works. Out of frustration you just eat more.

On the other hand are girls. Women in our society grow up looking at anorexic super models vouching for the latest fashion products. You see sixteen year old girls dieting and trying out the latest health products from television shopping networks and ending up in the hospital because they haven’t eaten anything in the past one week. Face creams, face packs, fairness creams, oil-free soaps, extra moisturizing soaps, grime removing soaps, dandruff free shampoos, revitalizing shampoos, extra conditioning shampoos and much more can be found in the bathroom cabinet of an average sixteen year old girl.

Women are constantly conscious of their weight. They will not eat that extra piece of cake even if every cell in their body is crying out for it. Sitcoms joke about how every chocolate you eat ends up going to your butt. So you try very hard to retain that knockout figure. It doesn’t work and again out of frustration you eat.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who are naturally thin. Any amount of junk food, chocolate pastries and ice creams has no effect on them. They simply don’t put on any weight. But this doesn’t mean they are happy. Quite the contrary, even they are yearning for those chiselled abs and well toned muscles.

So we live in a society where majority of people are either overweight or underweight or are simply not happy with the way they look. The remaining 0.1% appear on television and in films and make us feel bad about ourselves. We are simply not happy about our appearance and spend both precious time and money in improving it.

Luckily I am very happy with the way I look. Or at least I was happy till a few days back. Tricia and I were watching a film sitting in my nice cosy apartment when she turned towards me and said, “Why don’t you join the gym and put on some muscle?” The question caught me off guard. But I made a quick come back in my smooth Baritone Bunny voice, “Say babe, you not happy with the looks of your lover.” “No”, came the reply and silenced me. I could not think up of a reply in my hundred or more different voices. The voice which enthralled millions of people on television every week was silenced by a very pointed “No”. I got up saying, “… it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” Tolkien would have been so proud.

But the truth was that her remark really did hurt. I have an average height and an average weight. I never played any physical sports or did anything adventurous. I had average grades in school and was not the most popular guy either. But people liked me. They still do. My voice impersonation of Mrs. Higgins, our seventh grade mathematics teacher, is still the stuff of legend. Nobody ever cared about how I looked. But they loved my voice because it could make them laugh. My voice for the ghost in Hamlet back in college is still considered by many to be a benchmark in voice quality. Every week I make kids laugh with ‘Baritone Bunny and Friends’. I have given the background voice for more than two hundred commercials and have the distinction for providing twenty one different voice characterizations for a single Disney animation. Critics have even compared me to Mel Blanc. How foolish of them. Nobody could be like Mel Blanc. He is a legend and can never be matched.

But something needed to be done. I like Tricia and see a future for the two of us. She is not demanding and makes me very happy. She has a great sense of humour and makes excellent pan cakes. But now she wanted me to be someone I was not. She wanted me to take care of my health, join a gym and build muscles. She had never asked for anything before this so I decided to do this as a gift to her. So here I am standing in my local gym after having taken an annual membership. With all my negative views on people’s obsession with their own looks, I am standing here inside a monument dedicated to commercialism and the victory of capitalism.

Stanley Vacant © Anshumani Ruddra 2004