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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Rough Cut!


It was long overdue. The fact of the matter was that there was a problem in that very part of the anatomy that needed the action which therefore had to be postponed indefinitely. Paban’s wife had been complaining a lot; that he looked horribly ruffled, the overgrowth flowing all around uncontrollably and so on. She understood his problem, but looking at him in that state day after day she seemed to forget the unfortunate fact temporarily. Paban often explained to her, ‘Let me recover reasonably well first. Then I’ll definitely complete the task. Rest assured.’ But, as is the way with wives, her taunts, despair continued unabated, Paban accepted.  
Paban also had a somewhat contrasting situation. A few of his friends always appreciated his looks in that state and exclaimed that he really looked very handsome. One of them even took a snap of Paban at a family event, and displayed it proudly justifying his assertion. Paban also liked the way he looked. He showed the photo to his wife, but she remained expressionless. He was not at all surprised by her indifference.

One fine morning Paban felt that finally that long overdue action could well be carried out. So he set out to the nearest salon which was quite well kept and air-conditioned. Yes, it was his heady overgrowth that needed a cut. One of the young boys there made him sit in the empty spongy chair before the mirror and waited for his instructions. Paban told him very clearly that the hair had much overgrown and due to the summer heat he was facing lots of problems apart from losing control in setting it. So he gave strong instructions to make it very short. ‘No need for styles or looks, just make it short.’ The boy confirmed it again, and then set out with his operation. Paban expected the normal scissors to be used as on all earlier occasions. However, before he could foresee any lurking danger the boy lifted the motored hair cutting machine, and applied it on the right side of his head. The machine whirred around his right ear, and he still had no inkling of anything serious. He was rather happy that the machine, used for the first time on his head, didn’t at all scratch at the head skin.

Over with his right-side operation the boy stopped and asked Paban to take a look at the mirror and approve for the operation to be completed. Paban picked up his specs and looked at himself hopefully. He was in for a great shock. He never experienced such a tormenting sight in his entire hair-cutting history.

The machine almost cleaned him up on the right side leaving, perhaps, only the scalp. He was furious; more so because the boy was asking his approval only after completing the horrendous action. He calmed himself the next moment. It was my instruction to make it very short, he thought. How could the poor boy know what ‘shortness’ Paban exactly wanted? Then there was the overwhelming fact; with his right side shamefully bared he couldn’t possibly go for moderation on all other parts of the head. ‘You have totally destroyed me, exposed all my gray hairs too. Why didn’t you use the scissors? In all salons I visit they always use those manual things only. Anyway nothing can be done now, carry on, dear!’ Paban said sadly. The boy justified the faster speed and efficiency of the electronic device.

When Paban returned home his wife was out on some job. Seized with an almost vindictive desire he very tenderly took a selfie showing his head prominently and sent it to her mobile phone. Prompt came her angry reply, ‘Why did you leave that much hair? You should’ve cleaned up completely! You birdy bald!’
As it happened a few days later Paban met his photographer friend concerning some work. His friend immediately expressed his shock and dismay at the sight presented by Paban. ‘How can you do this? No respect for appreciating friends? How heavenly you looked the other day…and now!  My good God!’

Paban always had this dilemma regarding his hair cuts. Some, prominently his wife and mother, never approved his long uncontrollable hair saying the overgrowth hid his beautiful face. While some friends, both male and female, always appreciated his hair, particularly when overgrown. Who is right and who is wrong, is the eternal question in his mind. Once his wife made a caustic remark, ‘Don’t believe your friends. They don’t want you to look smart; they like to keep you as an ordinary nondescript person!’

Till this day Paban doesn’t have an answer.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Why You Like Being Liked!


Like, giving or receiving, is the quintessence of life. Life can be reduced only to strife if you do not like or get liked; of course, such a situation is rare in most of the lives lived on this likeable earth. At the very beginning, meaning when you are born, it remains uncertain if you like being born or before that being conceived in the womb; the situation becomes murkier because most babies cry after getting born, and it is considered  a healthy sign. Therefore, we will omit the very beginning of our life when, in any case, we don’t know why that ‘me’ gets into a particular womb through some particular external source amid billions and gets born into a particular family in a particular place on our likeable earth, and focus mainly on the ‘likes’ generated continuously throughout our conscious life and why we always like being liked.

We start liking our parents, particularly mom, our food, our relatives, our friends, our teachers, our gender-specific entities, our bosses, various objects ranging from gadgets to books to schools to colleges to jobs and so on, and likes for us emanate from all such sources; because, our likings always generate a positive ‘feel-good’ factor that keeps us kicking alive. Therefore, in this probably ‘likeable’ piece of writing we’ll concentrate on why we like it tremendously well when getting liked by other humans or animals or pets. We will keep ourselves fully safe from any kind of ‘disliking’ factors lurking in every ‘likeable’ corner; that is say; we dislike being disliked at that.

At a very young age we feel energetic when mom smiles sweetly at us and encourages us to take the first steps in life, and we erupt into endless giggles which make the art of walking all the easier. When a father likes our hand-written alphabets we feel so happy that we start making more efforts to produce more beautiful letters. Our mom looks heavenly when we make no bones about food and start taking healthy mouthfuls, and it makes us so joyful that we make a vow to always make her happy. When our class teacher smiles looking at our homework and utters his/her likes this very act makes us all the more striving students. When our friends like our birthday presents or other gifts we become better friends. On the playground as some of us show our unique expertise or intelligence our team building spirit gets a fillip.

In the various other more mature stages of life the voluminous story of ‘getting liked’ becomes more elaborate, productive and infectious, a bit too much for this writer’s comfort, and therefore, we will mention only a few significant situations. Examiner likes your answers, teacher announces, amid heavy tension, the marks obtained, and if you get the highest or very good marks you get enthralled and grateful; if you happen to exchange looks with members of the opposite gender, and those looks convert into smiles or talks you get an adrenaline charge, and teasing from your friends makes it all the more enjoyable, of course, sometimes a ‘like’ becomes ‘love’ which is, however, not included in this presentation; a faceless examiner somewhere gives you good marks for your answer paper for a job, you get a call for interview, interviewers like your personality and you get the job, and this makes you the happiest person in life; it is assumed you immensely like your spouse, and if the spouse gives back that ‘like’ or ‘love’ you find your life worth living; when your boss likes your works and recommends a promotion you are in the seventh heaven with insatiable energy and in the ensuing family life of being a father, being an uncle, being in-laws, being a grandfather and so on an expansive series of ‘likes’ get generated that keep you happy and happier. There could be many other situations when your creative contributions get liked and you become famous, through a delightful web of likes. Then, of course, there are the festivals, parties, get-togethers, family re-unions and the like where the likes generated are huge and deliciously infectious.

This ‘probably likeable’ piece would remain incomplete if we exclude the social media of today’s digital world from our purview. Well, in the social media there is a cut-throat competition for generating and devouring ‘likes’. If your post gets less than double-digit likes you normally won’t become unhappy, but will try better posts; more than ten likes will make you considerably happy and if you hit a century of likes you get charged up and ‘viral’ is the last word for your limitless like-generated happiness. However, there are certain unwritten rules for performing well in the social media—that you’ll have to be hyperactive on a continued basis, and you’ll have to like others a lot to generate likes for you. Therefore, a social media dictum emerges—like and get liked.

We have seen clearly how a like makes us happy at every stage of our life, and it is the best thing God has given us. We have not mentioned the word ‘appreciation’ which is also the best possible expression of positivity, because appreciation normally follows a like, in most of the situations. So we can look forward to having a species of ‘like-minded’ humans which can only be a good development on this suffering planet earth. There is also no harm to generalize the dictum evolving in the social media. Like and get liked. Happiness guaranteed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!—Part-6


My mind raging I look around aimlessly. My wife is sitting quietly beside me fiddling with her mobile phone, reclining against the hard back rest. Suddenly, my mind concentrates on our present situation. How long we had been sitting there? Did I doze off there for some time? If it happened like that did I dream about all the recent happenings? But how could that be; because we do not understand our present situation nor we know about our purpose of being there. And then, if indeed I dreamed had I woken up now? There is no way I could be sure of my wakefulness.                                                      
In a bid to bring about my deemed wakefulness I start pinching myself hard and harder, try shaking up my hands and legs; but nothing happens. Is this then an out-of-the-body experience? If it is so, then where is my existential body? I can still look at my physical self positioned there with my physical, seemingly, wife by my side. However, as I just narrated I am unable to get my body back to the deemed reality—by pinching, shaking up or lifting my body parts. At a sudden thought I try to touch my mobile phone tucked  in my pocket, and lo, I could still take it out and look at it; but I cannot dial any number or don’t remember any number. A scary thought creeps into my mind at that point of time.

Few years back I read a thrilling supernatural novel where the protagonist tried the out-of-the-body experience, and he succeeded in doing so. He was having a great time moving around like a wavy tuft of air seeing and meeting all kinds of characters without the earthly touch. All well so far for him as per the novel; but when the protagonist had had enough and wanted to re-enter his body he failed to do so. He was really getting desperate, looking for all kinds of possible solutions. To my consternation I can no longer remember how he got back into his body in the novel.

Am I in a similar kind of situation? Sense of trepidation rising within me I try to cough up an earthly conversation with unusually quiet wife—smiling at her, cajoling and teasing her. A cold sweat seems to have accumulated all over my body when my attempts miserably fail to elicit any response from her. I then try to relax pushing myself against the hard marble back rest of the bench, and surprisingly I can feel my back touching it. What the hell is happening with me?

I now decide to get into a mood of surrendering, absolutely; giving myself up to whatever force is supposedly controlling me. Wait and watch; be vigilant and alert to any possibility that may finally convert me into a reality, I start thinking fervently.

Of course, hope refuses to die down. This cannot be so utterly meaningless. Something is bound to happen, for the good I suppose. Perhaps I am sleeping physically somewhere and very soon I am going to wake up and find everything normal and earthy. Perhaps not, and in that eventuality I am in for more adventures in my so-called ethereal self, if at all. Again, I indulge myself in violent body movements and shake-ups; but to no avail. I look at my wrist watch, but time holds no value or meaning for me at that time. I look at my wife; she seems to be in a daze. I think of God. Save our souls, oh Lord! I start the act of surrendering to Him all over again.

Hope trickles in once more. I try to inculcate it in a most positive way. I read a lot of books on powers of positive thinking earlier, and many times succeeded in visualizing situations that were definitely unknown to my conscious knowledge. I start trying hard keeping up that spirit. I get up, take few steps here and there, and again come back to the bench with my wife. There are lot of people, maybe passengers, moving around in the area, but nobody seems to take any notice of us, and I also feel no urge at all talking to any of them. Don’t know why. Maybe something real is going to happen very soon...

                                                                                                                  (Concluded. ?)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!—Part-5


Two yards more to overcome...and I would be a free man, at least for the time being. I could no longer hear his laughter and dared not look back. Perhaps he really appreciated my gesture in not using the opportunity offered by the falling gun; that he was only joking about ‘good guys’ and that he was not going to shoot me down at all. On the other hand, had any murders taken place at the hotel afterwards I would have been a prime witness as I had seen all three thugs from close quarters. In that eventuality I would remain a marked man for eternity. But there was no way to know it for a certainty. Anyway, it would be very clear very soon.

I nearly stopped at the final point of the curve, gripped by persisting tension and fear. Taking an instant resolve to make the final dash to escape I rounded the turning successfully. No shots rang out in the air. And then I ran...I ran like a rabbit in pursuit, releasing the built-up tension and relishing my escape. Surprisingly, I never got out of breath; running at that kind of break-neck speed seemed effortless for me. I didn’t bother about that. What I bothered about was to forego my supper, get back to the guest house at any cost and sleep out that horrible night.

And I lost my way. The landscape was entirely different; it seemed to be a forest road with dense overgrowth on both sides, and I had no indicators to find my way back to the guest house. Suddenly, I confronted a steep rise in the road ahead. I stopped running and started climbing, again effortlessly. As I reached the highest point of the incline I stopped, and looked ahead expectantly. However, a new world was waiting to greet me in.

There opened before me the vast expanse of modernity—a big city with multi-lane brilliantly-lit streets, flyovers, high rises, shopping malls and hundreds and hundreds of vehicles moving both ways. I was stunned, utterly failing to react. Basically because I never expected such a spectacle, and after being confronted with that I found absolutely no clue to recognize that city which seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. I never knew the existence of such a big city so near to the town of our known guest house. That was another point that night when my mind was finally about to get out of control. So I applied all the common sense available to me, and decided to act to the best of my interest.

I moved along the street controlling my intense urge to ask the faceless pedestrians the name of the city. Perhaps my ego prevented me from doing that, because I was supposed to be a frequent traveler, at least within India, and it was utterly insulting for me not to have any idea about a huge city just a walk away from my latest destination. I also reasoned inside my mind that I would find out very soon.

My expectations soared as I saw a sprawling bus stand on my right which to my mind seemed to be an inter-state bus terminus. I quickly crossed over to the other side of the road, and entered the campus looking for ticket counters with possible names of stations or destinations. I got angry, frustrated and depressed not being able to find any indicator that could have satiated my quest. I stood still in the middle of the expansive concrete floor, not knowing what to do. I thought of queuing up in a counter and talk to the booking clerk; but what would I ask him having no idea where I was or where I was to go. I could be an absolute laughing stock; I decided to drop the idea.

Somebody called me out from behind sending a cold chill down my spine. For some time I froze not daring to look back, not able to move a muscle, such was the shock and surprise inherent in that sound. Because the sound was very familiar; it had been an integral part of me; it was inseparable from me; there was no way not to recognize that sound. It was my wife, my dearest life-partner of more than twenty years calling me out in her sweet tone.

Finally I whirled around, and there she stood, smiling sweetly at me, with no mark of any tension or surprise or anxiety or indignation or sentiment. It was I who started having most of these emotions. What she was doing there? Why she was there? I left her at home hale and hearty only last evening, and suddenly she stood there before me like an apparition. Again I had to apply full control so that my already tortured mind did not go raving out. Her calmness and naturalness also had an impact on my future course of action.

I decided to act normally too. Of course, I asked her what she was doing there to which she gave some incoherent reply, and I decided against pursuing it. Instead, we walked together towards a marble bench carved out of the side wall of the building, and sat down talking about nothing in particular. And then my mind started talking, talking rapid, and raging insane...

                                                                                                              (To Be Continued...)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Connecting Train!


I was supremely confident that the connecting train would wait for us. Our first train was running five hours late, and the onward connecting train was to leave from the big junction at about three hours after the scheduled arrival of our train. Most of the passengers booked for that train gave up hope. I tried my best to infuse confidence in them by pointing out the obvious fact that our reservation tickets showed confirmed births on the connecting train, and therefore, it was a sacred obligation on the part of the Indian Railways to make the train wait for us. Some of the depressed co-passengers believed in me. I was not only mistaken but was colossally being naive.

Yes, the connecting train left on the scheduled departure time, more than two hours before our final arrival, leaving us stranded for the night at the station waiting room. Of course, the ticket was valid and it was adjusted in the train leaving early morning next day for our destination. This was the first case of missing the connecting train, and it was by a huge margin.

The next time, we boarded the same train to connect the same train at the big junction for our onward journey; we were much closer to catching it—missing it by just an hour. And the same routine followed at the station for the early morning train. It happened for the third time in a row, and the third time was a real big chase of sorts.

That third time our train was running two hours late, and so we were very hopeful of catching the connecting train, because the time difference was three hours. The nail-biting chase began when we reached a small station about 30 kilometres from the big junction. The train was a little less than two hours late now, and it needed only half an hour more to complete the journey so as to yield us enough time to board the connecting train. We got busy packing up, feeling elated that finally we were going to make it on our third attempt.

However, the rail gods had some other plans for us hapless souls. The train, a superfast one, continued to wait at the nondescript station...for minutes...half hour...and more. We were getting really worried as the buffer time we had was drying out fast and furious. Now we started debating loud, and louder with ire and great irritation. Some experienced souls opined that the platform clearance was not given perhaps due to heavy local train traffic or maybe some other issues like goods train movement or derailment. Nothing helped though as our irritation gave way to plain simple anger.

Finally, our train started moving with less than half an hour time margin for the connecting train as far as we were concerned. It made good progress picking up great speed, giving us a renewed lease of hope. We were sure of making it when it reached the multi-track entry point of the big junction. And then, it stopped again for the final clearance.

We started praying, ‘Please let the connecting train leave a few minutes late...please... dear rail god!’ Perhaps as an answer to our prayers the train moved again on its final leg. We rushed to the doorway with our luggage anticipating which way the platform would come. We discussed our plan of action: two or three passengers would run immediately for the platform of the connecting, board it and pull the chain while the rest of us would come in the rear with the combined luggage. I was part of the more responsible ‘luggage’ team.

As we entered the platform we watched in horror the train leaving the platform, maybe about 7 minutes from its scheduled departure time. However, we saw two passengers of our advance team managing to hop into a coach. So, we kept moving hoping the train to stop any moment now. Unfortunately, nothing happened. The connecting train just disappeared in front of our disbelieving eyes. We were left stranded there with more baggage for comfort.

We took good care of the luggage, taking turns for sleep in the waiting room floor. Early morning we boarded the other train as on earlier occasions. At the junction midway on the route the two passengers without luggage getting no benefit by making it to the connecting train, having to spend hours at the new station floor joined us. I immediately asked them, ‘Why didn’t you pull the chain?’ They said they pulled all the chains available inside the coach, but none of these worked or perhaps their action was ignored by the railway authorities.

We took a solemn pledge, never ever to try that particular pair of trains again. And we did stick to our pledge to this very day. We learnt to be shrewd, reasonable and wise—go for any connecting train when the time gap between the pair is at least 10 hours or more.

Monday, July 15, 2019

ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 Final: The Ultimate Thriller Where England Become New World Champions As Per Rules!

Photo: espncricinfo.com
Very rarely you get to watch such a thrilling one-day encounter, an ICC Cricket World Cup final at that! Further, it a was low scoring game where New Zealand won the toss and naturally elected to bat, and struggled and struggled and stuttered to get to a score of 240 in full fifty overs which never looked like a winning total a la the  hype created over the so-called 300+  pitches of the world event. However, in light of the semi final match against India when NZ gave a target of just 239 runs and won it, plus the pressures of a World Cup final the target of 241 for England was a challenging one on a pitch that was termed as ‘tricky’ by confused commentators. The essence of the game as was felt by all cricket lovers was that none of the teams was willing to give away an inch. It was, throughout the entire duration of the match, an outstanding display of seam bowling and super class fielding by both England and New Zealand. Even neutral fans were hooked as the probable winners changed every minute till the last ball of the 100th over and then the Super Over. For the first time in the history of world cricket we had witnessed a tied match in 100 overs and also a tied match in the deciding Super Over. But one team had to win to lift the coveted trophy, and so the rules regarding maximum boundaries hit by a team in their innings and the super over were applied. And, as per those rules England was declared the new World Cricket Champions.

A debate is still raging on all over the globe on the fairness of the rules. Well, when rules are being framed scepticism and opposition should come then and there, and not after the set rules were applied. The very Super Over rule was actually more apt for T20 tournaments and for IPL. The revellers for the shortest format never uttered a word when such rules were set by the ICC. Now all are saying NZ has been done a great injustice or that there should have been joint winners. In my view, both teams had their bits of luck and chances to win the match. England needed 3 runs from 2 balls in the 100th over which is considered cakewalk in the modern world of cricket, but could only tie. New Zealand also needed 3 runs from 2 balls in the super over, and could only tie. Hence, what was wrong in applying the set rules? In all instances when teams win by 1 run or 1 wicket similar painful thoughts always haunt you, particularly when it’s your favourite team that suffers such a fate. On a day one team becomes the winner, and there is no question of justice or injustice being done. It is also common to see sixes cut off by splendid catches on the boundary line or crossing the boundary after catching it successfully, and also the overthrows going to the boundary.


Whereas no team in this incredible final encounter deserved to lose England did become the Champions thanks to their nerve and brilliance, and therefore nobody should grudge their celebrations. The intensely competitive fight by the New Zealanders will remain in public memory for a long time, and the team must surge ahead for the ultimate glory in coming years. It’s not for nothing that Ken Williamson was declared the Player of the Tournament. India’s Rohit Sharma made an unbelievable record of 5 tons in a single World Cup, but couldn't go ahead to make his team win the games that mattered finally. These are all part of this beautiful game of cricket. Last thought is that the ICC should not mix up rules for all formats and should emphatically separate the ‘populist’ T20 format from the classic formats of Tests and ODIs. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

ICC Cricket World Cup-2019: New World Champions to Emerge Tomorrow!

Photo: espncricinfo.com
A new World Champions emerges tomorrow at Lord’s in the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 Final match to be played between England and New Zealand. Neither England nor NZ ever became Champions before, although both coming close several times. England had been playing semi finals in the first five versions of the World Cup since 1975, and they had been runners-ups three times of those five occasions, never able to win the final. They played a semi final last in 1992 and lost it, never able to make to the last four stage since then. 

On the other hand New Zealand played 7 semi finals including the present one and the first two in 1975 and 1979, and had been runners-up only once in the 2015 version when they lost to their big brother Australia. They had been playing good cricket in several world cups, but mostly they had been facing an inconsistent run of wins/losses. In this version they looked the dominant team, but eventually lost badly to Pakistan, Australia and England. Their surprise win over India in the semi final ultimately saw them through. 

Therefore, both the teams would be desperate not to let go of this golden opportunity. More so, England on their home ground and looking to end a bad spell running more than 27 years. On paper, England looks the favorite on the basis of their batting and bowling. However, they also had to account for inconsistencies in terms of losses to Pakistan, Australia and a lowly Sri Lanka. Of course their last three wins over India, New Zealand in the league stage and over Australia in the second semi final were resoundingly convincing. In fact, in the second semi final Australia were so thoroughly outplayed that I cannot recall another occasion when the fighting Aussies gave up so meekly. We expect a cracker of a Final on Sunday, the 14th of July, 2019. 

Meanwhile in India, the pain-induced speculations ruled the roost. Nobody really expected such a poor show by arguably the best team in the tournament, so close to winning it the third time. However, to me the result was not entirely unexpected; in a warm-up match they beat India convincingly; their league match got washed out depriving India of  a real opportunity to assess their seam bowlers and the India batsmen failed to expect and prepare for the ‘three Bumrahs’ in New Zealand. Further for me, the single biggest setback for India was the loss of injured opener Shikhar Dhawan at the very outset thus throwing the gates open for ‘experimentation’ that went on relentlessly for more than two years prior to the tournament. As I feared in another piece of mine here assessment on the basis of IPL records proved to be the only course, and not ODI records of players like Ambati Rayudu who had been India’s no. 4 in the last two years in most of the ODI matches. 

I think the no.4 ‘crisis’ was created artificially; I won’t go into reasons why. The team management could easily have made MS Dhoni as the ideal no.4 batsman, thus avoiding the unnecessary ‘slow batting’ controversy putting the veteran as a misplaced ‘finisher’ instead of the natural pinch hitters like Pant and Pandiya who got, horrifyingly, promoted ahead of Dhoni. Then, they should’ve gone for a sixth bowler option preferring Shami in lieu of Dinesh Karthik who is definitely now at the end of the road, not able to take advantage of the opportunities offered including the biggest one at the semi final. The matches against England and New Zealand we had been watching helplessly as Chahal or Kuldeep had to be bowled their full quota despite the rains of runs yielded by them. One more fact is that the Indian top four invariably failed in knockout matches in recent years; this was more pronounced in the absence of Dhawan at the first semi final against NZ. 

This will never end as far as India is concerned. So, better concentrate on enjoying an engaging final tomorrow. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!—Part-4


I stood there for some time, not knowing what to make of the words just uttered by my erstwhile friend, and what to do next. However, I decided to do the most sensible thing at that moment. I went in heading for the bar. As I pushed my way through the revolving glass doors I came to a standstill again looking at the spectacle.

The bar was spacious, rectangular in size, with a full glass wall giving a view of the street outside and a wood-paneled wall on the other side. To my utter surprise and shock, the whole interior was filled with thick layers of smoke rising up to the false ceiling. How on earth they are allowed to smoke inside, I thought in dismay; my mind taking an overview of all the steps taken by the public authorities in recent years to save people from exposure to passive smoking. What amazed me next were the customers there.

Most of them were young boys and girls. Almost everyone was smoking, throwing out rings of smoke upwards. Some were looking up squealing in ecstasy while a few others were bent over the tables, jerky and sneezing; some were staring around with total disinterest and glazed eyes; some were either howling or moaning or plain crying and some others were swaying from side to side in their merriment with their bodies hitting or brushing against other bodies. I didn’t take long to understand what was going on.

It was obviously a drug bar, and I was astounded as to how this could be done so openly and in such a brazen manner. My first impulse was to dial the police if any in this strange place, but somehow my mobile phone and I became poles apart in the happenings so far. A few addicts became aware of me standing uncertainly in front of the entrance, and they stared at me, as if trying to evaluate me; a few seemed to jeer at me while some others communicated to me pitifully, ‘give us sustenance...give us sustenance...please!” My amazement fast giving way to fear I made a hasty retreat.

Out of the bar I walked disoriented and aimless for a few minutes, not at all bothered about the streets or the landscape or the skyline. Suddenly again, I found myself in front of a restaurant which, to my great relief, looked like a traditional one with two rows of neatly arranged desks and chairs and normal looking waiters moving around taking orders from customers scrutinising the menus. However, something else was waiting for me inside.

As I entered the open doorway heading for an empty table the manager behind the cash counter moved around in great speed, and walking past me slapped a waiter busy taking orders unawares; he repeated his unprecedented acts on three other waiters, slapping them with fury and vehemence. As I was destined that night I stood transfixed there, one more time. Now, the manager was shouting like a madman.

There was a moment of absolute silence in the restaurant following the manager’s acts with customers and staff alike stunned and immobilized. From the incoherent words of the manager I surmised that sometime back the hotel owner’s daughter with a few of her friends visited the restaurant for dinner, and one or more waiters misbehaved with them, not knowing their credentials or simply ignoring them. The daughter and group left in a huff, and the manager got a resounding bashing from the owner over phone. So he acted upon it immediately. However, before his action fully justified his fury something more dramatic happened.

Three goons with guns ready and pointed in their hands entered the restaurant. One of them stood guarding the entrance, one aimed his gun point-black at the manager’s head and the third one took position at the rear end. And I was like a duck sitting pretty amid the strangest scenario. This cannot go on any longer as far as my safety is concerned, I decided. I was an accidental bystander and therefore there was no reason why I should compromise my safety. I started moving towards the entrance slowly as a heated exchange of words was taking place between the manager and the gun-toting goon.

I almost made it. But unfortunately, just at the final moment of exit I accidentally brushed against the goon standing there, and his gun fell to the ground. Before the goon could react to that I acted impulsively and with a good presence of mind. I instantly stooped down, picked up the gun and handed it over to him with a sweet smile. The bewildered thug also managed a grin, and as I made my last move to exit he said to me in a rather paralyzing perplexity, “You gotta be a good man! But many good guys gotta die sooner than others! Nah..?” he hollered in great merriment over his own humor.  “Enjoy the night, goodbye!” I smiled weakly back at him and slowly moved out. The goon leaned out of the entrance to watch me, still giggling.

About twenty yards ahead the road turned right, and if I was able to round that corner I would finally move out of his sight. I watched many movies and read many thrillers where the villains appeared to be very suave, sophisticated and benevolent, but at the climax they used to murder the victims mercilessly. Those twenty yards seemed to be an eternity as I started moving slowly ahead measuring every step and at the same time keeping an absolute outward calm. The imminent probability that he might put a bullet through my back any time was a horrific thought that refused to leave my mind.

Nothing happened for about ten yards. I quickened my pace only by a fraction now so that it didn’t get noticed, suppressing my extreme desire to break into a dead run, and just vanish round the corner...and escape...

                                                                                    (To be continued...)

Friday, June 7, 2019

ICC Cricket World Cup-2019: When The Umpire Wanted Gayle Out!

Photo: espncricinfo.com 

The headline above is not an allegation, it’s only an observation based on hard facts. However, this observation reflects badly on the umpiring standards in the biggest cricket event of the world.  We had recently seen ludicrous umpiring errors in Indian Premiere League-2019. ICC Cricket World Cup can hardly be compared with the former, and we fervently hope that standards would improve as this was just the first week of the tournament.

It all happened in the 10th match of the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 at Trent Bridge, England between Australia and West Indies. Winning the toss West Indies put Australia into bat, reduced them to 79 for 5 thanks to fiery spells by Thomas and Cortrell that reminded us of the likes of Malcolm Marshall & Co of yore, and as was their wont, West Indies let go allowing the Aussies to amass 288. Still, it was not an impossible target, and West Indies seemed to be cruising nicely with Hope and Heitmyer going great guns. Again, as Caribbean old habits die hard, the batsmen snatched defeat from victory, preferring to go only for the big shots without any kind of pressure. And, they lost by a mere 15 runs. Now, back to our point of concern.

Only in the third over of the match Aussie pacer Starc appealed for a caught behind against Chris Gayle, and the umpire upheld it. Gayle was never known to have shown disrespect or mistrust in umpiring in his strikingly aggressive career, and never sulked after adverse decisions. Therefore, when he shook his head implying that there was no snick and asked for the DRS it was very believable and genuine. The review proved that the ball never touched the bat, and in fact, could have brushed against the off stump without dislodging the bails. Gayle won the DRS. In the same over Starc again appealed for an LBW, and the umpire promptly upheld it while this writer watching television live telecast could clearly see that the ball was veering away from the leg stump. Gayle raised his eyebrows in wonder and asked for the second DRS. The review showed how the ball was missing the leg stump by quite a big margin. Gayle won his second DRS and also opened up with his breathtaking shots. Perhaps, some people who mattered sulked.

The umpire and Starc combined all over again. The appeal was for an LBW with the umpire raising his finger immediately. This time Gayle looked a little bewildered, and asked for his third DRS. The review was not lost yet again, but since the ball was in line and seemed to have struck the top edge of the leg stump the umpire’s decision had to be upheld. And Gayle departed. He was allowed to score only 20 runs.

And then, the real explosion came. Later replays showed that the ball prior to the one that got Gayle out was a no ball by a big leap, but the same umpire never seemed to notice it. Therefore, the ball that got Gayle out finally was a free-hit ball where no batsman could ever get out.

The above observations do not intend to take away credit due to Starc who had a five-wicket haul thanks to consistent pace, line and length, and to Australian captain Finch who showed a thoroughly professional approach making West Indies play into their plans.

The other highlights of the first week, positively, included England, Bangladesh and India beating a beleaguered South Africa in their respective openers where mention must be made about Bangladesh’s aggression and the quality of both batting and bowling; West Indies routing Pakistan, and then Pakistan beating hot favourites England showing precision batting, bowling and fielding, and the fact that no mention by anybody was made as to why England offered batting opportunity to Pakistan on a platter, as the pitch was full of runs and the hosts were full of confidence; valiant Bangladesh losing in a tight match against New Zealand and Sri Lanka managing to register their first win over Afghanistan by a narrow margin.  

With the round-robin league in operation ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 promises to be a fierce battle between nations upholding their national pride and belief. Each one of the ten teams is capable of scripting history—one cannot even write off South Africa and Sri Lanka as yet. We only hope no cricketer suffers like Chris Gayle did in the exciting days of the tournament ahead. India has big matches coming up—against Australia on 9th June, against New Zealand on 13th June and the ultimate one against Pakistan on 16th June.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!—Part-3

The eatery seemed to me as an Italian food joint with largely fast food items most of which were not even known to me. People were crowding, leaning and craning over the counter for buying order coupons since it was a self-service restaurant. However, to my surprise, there was hardly any noise, an eerie silence prevailed. Surprisingly too, members of the student community were missing conspicuously. Of course, I could never be sure about differentiating a young man from a student, it was only subjective. For my comfort, if it did matter, most of the customers were young.

As I approached the counter for a look-in at the items available the nagging thought came to me again; since checking in I didn’t call my even once wife informing her of my whereabouts, even though I wanted to tell her first thing after arrival; but somehow, I never cared to take up the mobile and dial her number. Let me order the food first and then I’ll call her, I assured myself again.

I looked for the menu, but there was none; only names of some dishes were scribbled on the black board behind the counter. I squeezed my eyes to focus on the items, but could not read properly, and the real problem was I was not at all sure what ingredients those dishes were made of. I looked here and there for some kind of help and guidance. My eyes riveted on a small boy, in early teens, standing in front of a table in the eating area beckoning to me to come to him. I found him too young for a waiter, and immediately warned myself that he could be part of a racket to fleece vulnerable customers. So I decided to ignore him, and pushed my way through to the man behind the counter.

I asked him for a menu card or to tell me about the ingredients used in making various items on display. He looked at me a bit oddly, called someone from the backside, and instructed me to follow the man for the advisory. The man was tall and had an athletic build with bulging biceps and chest muscles threatening to tear through the light T-shirt he wore. He sized me up haughtily and ordered me to follow him. Is he going to take me to the kitchen, I wondered.

I followed him obediently as he walked by the side of the restaurant that led to a wooden staircase. He climbed briskly up the stairs and I had trouble keeping track of him as lots of people were either going up or coming down the stairs, I failed to understand why. We arrived at a broad spacious wooden platform crowded with people scattered here and there. I froze as I managed to take a closer look.

Most of the people there were physically deformed or poor beggars or both. I guessed some of them could be leprosy affected too. They were lying on the floor in helpless sprawls making odd noises. Some of them were moaning, some crying and some shrieking out in agony, ‘Help us...help us...help us...!’ Some other able-bodied guys were trudging through the fleshy spread of human bodies, examining them, taking photos...but making no effort to help them in any way.

My moment of the paralysing shock cost me dearly. I lost track of the muscular guy. He seemed to have vanished into thin air. How is it possible, how a bulky bodybuilder like him can vanish like that, I had a sense of panic rising within me. There was no exit from the platform on the other side as there were brick walls around with a few wooden windows strewn here and there, mostly closed; any visitor must use the staircase for departing too. Now, the disfigured, the agonized and the helpless bodies on the floor suddenly became aware of me standing there uncertainly, and their noises began to be directed at me. I shook myself out of the paralysis, and started looking for a quick escape.

Luckily, I did not lose my way and the staircase was still there. I almost ran towards it and plummeted down the steps like a cursed shooting star. An overwhelming sense of relief flooded my whole self as I arrived back at the front side of the restaurant.

With relief the hunger pangs returned too. As I contemplated my next move I noticed a person, dressed in a civilized manner and bespectacled, taking a lot of interest in me and was coming towards me. I took him for a professor of the institution, and was not at all averse to meeting him.  In fact, I thought, a local professor could be a very good guide for me. I waited for him to join me.
He was lean and of medium height; smiling eyes behind the glasses and black curly hair. He said to me immediately,
“Hello, you seem to be a stranger in this part of the globe, I suppose! I’m Akhter, a businessman from Mumbai.”
So he was not a local professor and an equal stranger like me, I thought dully. I said to him loud,
“Well, not exactly. I visited this place earlier, but this time I’m finding it a little strange. Anyway, I’m Hridayesh from Kolkata. Nice meeting you!” We shook hands.
“You look a bit ruffled up, are you in some sort of trouble?” he asked. “I know this place well. Tell me, I can help you out.”

I told him about my predicament finding a supper. He took me to a nearby shop, bought cigarettes, lighted his and offered me one. I politely refused. He relaxed, making me relax too. We continued our conversation, but I lost track of the thread apart from the fact that he promised to take me to a good food joint. After finishing his fag he asked me to come with him. We hit the main road and walked in the direction which I thought took us farther away from the guest house. This time I felt confident of finally quashing my hunger protests. A few yards on the main road we turned right towards a lane, at the end of the lane I could see an illuminated restaurant. His steps became quicker as I followed him in.

The one-storied longish block housed a store on our right and a restaurant cum bar on the other. The kitchen was most probably located behind the store, because I saw several waiters coming out with loaded trays and some going in perhaps for more food orders. My friend seemed to have locked his eyes with big-bellied elderly manager at the cash counter which served both the bar and the store. Suddenly, Akhter began shaking in excitement.
“This is a decent place, have your drinks and food in comfort,” he said to me. “I must go now. Sorry not to be with you. Because I must have a one-night-stand with my packets...” and with these strange words he vanished behind the store...

                                                                  (To Be Continued...)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!—Part-2


I did as I planned. I managed to push the door free of its hinges to the wrong side outside. However, the falling door failed to crush anyone under its weight. To my surprise and horror, there was only that frail old sick lady outside, and she dexterously succeeded in wriggling herself out of the falling door.

Eyes blazing, breathing venom, hair and hands flailing and shrieking wildly the woman was dancing in a seizure of insanity. “Give me money...give me food...you crooked fool!” I failed to retreat inside, as if paralyzed by the spectacular dance of insanity in front of me, as if trying in vain to analyze what it was all about. I lost a few precious moments in the process. In those seconds the wild cavorting spectacle in deadly throes took hold of a small iron table, and came rushing to hit me. I pulled my mind out of wondering about how she could come to possess so much of energy, so ominously potent, and concentrated on my next crucial move.

My self defense mechanism now turned to the attacking mode as I moved out in the open trying to run around her eluding her, trying to tire her out and to catch the most opportune moment to deactivate her. For the first time I was aware that it was an open space, like a backyard, and there were few building blocks surrounding the space. There were some heads and voices too in the lighted balconies of some blocks, but no one tried to intervene or help either of us. You cannot expect anything from these zombies; at the most they will take out their mobiles, take selfies and enjoy, I mused bitterly as I ran around the space with the specter giving a relentless chase. “Give me money...give me food...you wretched devil!”

Perhaps there came a divine intervention. In that seemingly endless run and chase, one moment came to me when she was close enough to me on my right about to turn around to confront me. I accepted that moment like the proverbial straw; caught hold of her and the iron table using both of my hands, gave her an almighty shove and ran headlong towards my room—through the broken door and through that enigmatic door. Unnaturally powerful as she was, the frail lady could not take it this time reeling, cursing and falling with a thud at the farthest side of the space, the iron table on top of her. That gave me good enough time to seal my protection.

I activated all the locks available on that mysterious door, and sat down on the bed panting with a rush of blood to my head. Shrill shrieks of the insane woman could no longer be heard now. However, at this particular moment things again got a little blurred, I had no idea at all why. At that particular moment I should have done the most obvious thing—call up reception, report that emergency and urge them to take immediate preventive steps. But instead, I only felt pangs of hunger in my belly, and thought about taking preventive steps for that only. I looked at my watch. Oh God...it was quarter past ten, no point calling the canteen now, I thought despondently.

My mobile phone rang. In the commotion I totally forgot about my phone which was lying abandoned at the bedside table. Now that lively gadget somehow brought me a little closer to reality, it seemed. It was Srijay flashing on the screen as I answered it.
“Sir, have you taken your supper? Are you already in bed?”
“Neither. I forgot to order on time. Few odd things happening here that I’ll tell you tomorrow at leisure. For the moment I am famished and I don’t know what to do! No vehicle available to venture out to the town.”
“Sorry to hear that, Sir. Anyway, don’t worry. There is a joint, reasonably good, nearby. From the main entrance of the guest house turn right and you’ll find it a hundred meters away. I’ll accompany you if you want.”
“Thanks a lot, Srijay. No...No..., you take rest. I’ll manage. Good night, see you tomorrow.”

For good or bad I was not sure at that time, my hunger pangs got the better of me submerging my earlier queer experiences into an understanding with reality. How I came out of the guest house without confronting anyone in the reception I didn’t give a thought to that time and neither could I remember now. The whys and hows in my narrative were still refusing to reveal themselves, to my utter helplessness.

Anyway, I exited from the guest house gate and turned right as instructed. The scenario puzzled me quite a lot. As I remembered from my earlier visit or visits the guest house was located in a small township of the institution with only a main road and classroom and administrative blocks and staff quarters scattered around with open spaces lined with trees. Coming outside now I found several other roads connecting to the main road, and lots of lighted shopping or eating enclosures all around. However, there were lonely stretches of maybe hundred meters each on either side of the guest house.  I even found distant hills silhouetting a dim skyline opposite to the guest house which was definitely no there when I came last. Queer thoughts creeping in again I quickened my steps towards the eatery... 
                                                                          (To Be Continued...)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!


We checked into a guest house of the academic institution after eight in the evening. Somehow at that particular moment I couldn’t remember the exact details of our prior journey, just concentrating on getting settled there. Why I was there that too I didn’t quite bother about. However, since my colleague came along with me I was confident enough that it was an official trip. That it was a bit odd not to remember anything about the trip or the purpose of the visit didn’t cross my mind either.

The room was rectangular and looked fine, a little more spacious than standard rooms. From the entrance on the left segment of the room there was the double bed; on the left side of the bed there was a sliding glass-paned window giving a view to the front side of the guest house; a cupboard at the corner opposite the bed; on the right there was a table with three wooden cushioned chairs and beyond that there was the door to the rest room. I got curious when I saw another closed door on the left side of the rest room door, that is to say, on the farthest right hand corner from the entrance. From the design of the floor I was sure that the additional door couldn’t connect to another room. I decided to find out later what that interesting door led to. There was one more window on the right side from entrance; all curtains were drawn across since the AC was put on.

My colleague Srijay asked me repeatedly if I was comfortable and if I needed something more. Getting assured from my answers he left for his room reminding me to order supper positively before ten o’clock at which time the limited dining facility closed down for the night. I saw him to the door thanking him for his concern. As I closed the door suddenly I felt someone’s presence in the room. I whirled around to my left, and for a moment I was paralyzed with an uncanny feeling.

Standing before the drawn curtains of the window a short, stocky and dark skinned boy smiled up at me. I stared at him, nothing coming out of my frozen vocal chords. The boy grinned at me and said,
“Sir...you must’ve forgotten me! Why...I was the room service when you came here last time!”
Yes, I came here earlier too, but somehow I couldn’t place that boy, not able to remember if I met him last time. More than that I was very much occupied with the thought about how he got in. The attendant left after putting my luggage in order, and no one came after that; I was there with Srijay only. The fact that my mind was already a little blurred I took special care now to put things in proper focus, and my mind started racing which was interrupted by the boy again.
“Sir, don’t worry...you’ll remember later, of course. Please call room service if you need anything...and I’ll come again” With that the boy unlocked the door, went out and closed it from outside, all in a languid motion.

I stood there motionless for some time. Finally I forcibly put it out of my mind, and at the same time I decided to explore everything about the room. Immediately I headed for the interesting door past the rest room. I moved the door knob giving it a mild push to know if it was locked from the other side.

No, it wasn’t. I pushed further and the door opened into a sizable space giving the impression of some sort of a store room. But, why a store room was attached to the main room? Such a facility was never offered in any hotel or guest house where I stayed in the last few years. The room had some old wooden furniture and few wooden racks scattered here and there. Straight ahead there was another door, and immediately I moved towards it to find out what was lying beyond, my curiosity at the peak now. As I neared the door something moved on my right. There was a big old wooden rack covered fully with a white sheet from top to bottom, and below the bottom shelf the cloth was hurriedly pulled inside. Someone must be hiding under it! I got really scared now, a chill running down my spine.

“Who the hell is there?” I shouted at the top of my voice. Nothing happened for a few moments. And then, the cloth was thrown aside, and there emerged the frame of frail old lady with unkempt hair, sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones glaring at me, and in a flash trying to jump on me. She called out in a sick shrill, “Give me money...give me food...now...or... I’ll devour you up, you wicked man!” More in fright than the danger of a physical assault I instinctively rushed towards the door as the sickly woman charged after me. In a flash I opened the door, pushed the rushing figure through it and locked it from inside. I had no time to see what lay beyond that door as I planned to earlier. I’ve locked this door, and now I’ll keep that ‘interesting’ door of my room permanently locked never bothering about it, but I’ll surely report this matter to the manager, I promised myself.

Outside the door the shrill rose to a crescendo now, and I hurriedly turned around heading back for my room. I took only a few steps when I heard a scratching noise slowly rising in volume. I whirled around again looking at the door. Someone was trying to crush open the door. Who could it be? That frail lady couldn’t possibly emit so much force? I stood there transfixed. The scratching became a hammering now. The door started shaking violently.

My God...it was giving away, I watched in horror! The top door hinge was almost gone; the middle one was getting jerked uncontrollably. If that gave away the single-piece door would come off. I must do something now...and fast.

Instinctively again, I rushed towards the door. My plan was to push the door out along with the intruder to the other side, possibly crushing her or him under the door, then rush back to the room, locking the ‘interesting’ door securely and call reception. Only one factor was beyond my control—I didn’t know what lay beyond that door, and what was the number of my foes, only the lady or more...  
                                                                                                    ...(To Be Continued)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Gold Crush!



He took a resolve not to submit the details as required or give in to the new pressure tactics. He considered this move totally unfounded, preposterous and unnecessary. Why should he or any other of his kind at all? How did it relate to the work they all were doing? He was not a broker or an agent or a dealer or a pedlar. He had been a simple honest straightforward employee eking out a living from his salary, didn’t matter at all if it was fat or lean. Whatever he did or didn’t was conditioned by his monthly salary, and he was not ready to share his kitchen details with anyone. Why at all? And what purpose would it serve to the party who wanted such details except for making wrong use of the information.

His company suddenly wanted all its employees to submit full property details including family holdings of gold and silver. While most of the employees accepted it as part of duty and were going ahead with the procedure he resisted vehemently publicly announcing his decision never to comply with this.

His stubborn resistance naturally led to suspicions among his colleagues. Did he somehow manage to have a secret hoarding of the precious metals from his or his wife’s side and therefore refusing to disclose, they thought. He also came to know of their suspicions, but didn’t give a damn, and instead tried to inspire them with noncompliance giving the reason as ‘unnecessary intrusions into the personal domain’. Some of them did agree, but didn’t have the courage to act upon it.

As it transpired the drive finally petered out for unknown reasons, and the company stopped pestering for strict compliance. He felt vindicated, but others said that finally good sense prevailed in the company management. Those who submitted were never asked anything about it.

As we found out later he had an entirely different reason for his refusal. He had such tiniest of possessions of the precious metals that he was ashamed of disclosing that in public. He was believed to have confided to his wife, “Only you and I know that we never hankered after gold or anything. We have next to nothing in our family possession, even you friends wouldn’t believe you if you tell them so. Now, isn’t it offensive to ask us to disclose? At least paupers like us should be spared the ignominy of having to advertise in public. Don’t you agree?”

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