The Marriage Kitty: A Short Story

A stainless steel tumbler, a painted ceramic coffee mug, a white melamine plate with pale blue floral motif on the rim. A spoon and a fork. A single set of bedsheet and pillowcase that seem to match the plate. A woollen blanket. A floral print towel. Wrapped in several layers of polythene bags are two bottles of pickles.

He smiled at the care package his mother put together with much love and thought, as her newly-wed son moved towns to richer pastures.

It was a new beginning, the first day of the rest of his life.

In a week his wife would join him, before which he would go shopping for essentials.

Tucked under the care package is a thick folder containing brochures to holiday destinations. A bucket list the two had put together over the last six years of courtship. Destinations that now seem affordable with this new job. He is a content man.

**********

It’s 10.30 pm, but she insists on unpacking before bathing and hitting the sack. She removes the dinner set and keeps it aside; that can wait for later.

She takes out fresh sheets and towels for her new home, and heads to the bedroom. Two single mismatched sheets cover the double bed. Two mismatched pillows sit next to a woolen blanket and a new fleece. She smiles at the gawkiness of her husband’s housekeeping skills. She makes the bed anew with carefully selected handwoven linen.

Walking into the kitchen for the promised hot cup of coffee, she sees not the bareness of the shelves, but the forced pairs of utensils that gaze back at her.

He recounts his shopping expedition, his attempt at making a home from ones to twos. The childish excitement that would have in a different environment become enthusiastic intimacies was now met with muted hurt.

She says nothing.

But as the years roll on, fresh bruises will open old wounds. Unexpressed emotions will battle with cruel words.

What could be ripped and broken, will be. The idea of the single tumbler and bedsheet will be both attacked and defended with equal ferocity. The demons will follow them even to the destinations they manage to cover.

That’s in the future.

For now they stand in the brightly-lit kitchen, disconnected.

Her expectations of a marriage, his lack of it; His ability to see his mother’s love separate from his marital role; Her inability to do so… As tears sting her eyes, she turns away.

With that the two have opened their kitty of blame, hurt and unmet expectations.

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Pinch me, NOW!

…so,

In a few weeks I will wrap up an incredible almost-9-year stint with something I helped establish and build. I am childishly excited and thrilled about embarking on the new phase of my career.

And though there is just a trace of nostalgic sadness, I am in the main extremely proud and grateful for the opportunities, for the lessons learnt, for the people I met.

The accidental dream job

In mid-2003 I walked into a storeroom-turned-office space with an ancient PC, a lot of electronic waste, and a new-to-Doha start-up editor, who recruited me into that chaos right away.  A different matter that he left within some weeks, and I was expected to carry on. There was a part of me, at that point, that was full of self-pity for the mess I was left in. But fortunately, the impractical side of me egged me on to give this a go–paltry remuneration, disorder and lack of direction et al. What an AMAZING journey it has been!

The places I’ve travelled to, the people I have met and interviewed, the events and campaigns I’ve been part of, and most importantly the magazines I’ve launched… What a DREAM. Pinch me, now!

 

The bad, the ugly

Of course, not all of it has been positive, but I am glad I had every last one of those experiences.

Often, I’ve handled people, conflicts and situations badly; but to my credit, I think I never repeated my mistakes, only made newer ones, and a lot less frequently (I hope). At every step, if I had to, I did own up and apologise.

Then there were things beyond my control. The fact that I impotently occupied a ringside view of corporate corruption–both petty and big–because sometimes not becoming party to it is all the achievement one can manage.

I saw fragile egos tear families apart and demolish careers, because in this part of the world the labour laws give way too much ammunition to managers whose need for power outweighs their reserve of moral ethics.

I bore the brunt of some racist attacks, and I’ve learnt not to be angry or humiliated. All that I feel now is pity for the ignorant. Still, I won’t go so far as to stretch the truth or lie outright that I am now more mature and level-headed.

However, I am more circumspect of my need to be right all the time and have the last word.

I am far more open to opposing views.

I have learnt to take important decisions with a level of emotional detachment and a higher degree of intellectual engagement.

Most importantly, I am learning to give myself credit for what I do, for who I am and what I bring to the table. Modesty in excess, I have learnt rather painfully, does not help in building self confidence. We might after all begin to believe that a modest effort is the maximum we are capable of.

And then again…

I am now at the threshold of a career change. After nearly 18 years in print media, I am moving. I am going to be learning, relearning; I will flounder and screw up, but I will learn; because once again, I have been lucky enough to be given an opportunity this exciting. And I can only hope enough kindness is shown to a novice.

Wish me luck, because one can never have enough of it!

When you think you are, you are…

When you think you are lucky… all around you, every interaction, every relationship, every day of your life becomes a gift from the universe.

While wishing me on my birthday one of my dearest friends said she hoped I would have a spectacular year. But almost all my years for the better part (or the AWARE part) of my life have been spectacular. Eventful. Full of hope and promises.

I can do a great moaning Myrtle, and boy oh boy can I make a tumour out of a pimple! But even in my most abject phases of depression, I don’t think of myself as anything less than lucky.

Learning to be aware…

My childhood is a blur of vying for attention and getting the wrong or unwelcome kind. For that I am grateful, as it gave me time to think, to watch, to read.

Around 12-14 is when I started thinking of ‘myself’. Realising who I was. Thanks to three dear friends (2 of whom are still in my life) and two amazing teachers. Their attention and engagement with me made me aware of who I was. A favour I try and pay forward till date. To make a friend, a stranger, an acquaintance aware of themselves.

In a few weeks I will wrap up an incredible almost-9-year stint with something I helped establish and build. I am childishly excited and thrilled about embarking on the new phase of my career.

More of that in my next post. For now it’s just THANK YOU world!

A GIFT FOR MY BROTHER: A short story. Too short.

I know what I should gift my brother on our 30th birthday, but I don’t know if I will pull it off. Half wit or not, and whichever end of the spectrum he might fall into, a man can’t live by his hands alone.

I hate the environment I grew up in. The very first memory I can recollect is smuggling my knickers and a vest into my nursery school bag, with a wish to escape the stifling cheeriness of my home. Apart from pretending Vedant and I were equals—which we were not, the family then was dealing with another obsession.

A fat, dimpled and forever gurgling nuisance who lulled my parents, grandparents and brother into believing our family couldn’t get more perfect. Even the cries induced by my sneaky pinches faded away within seconds of Vedant cooing into her ears.

The perennially upbeat attitude of my odd family drove me crazy. Stray dogs were fed, the evil cat always had a ready saucer of milk, relatives wandered in demanding food and bode, friends dropped in to spend hours discussing politics and academia.

So, from the instant I could make a choice, I chose friends with a more realistic view of the world. We stoned strays, flattened tyres, plagiarised school projects (a supreme sin in my parents’ eyes), and at 12, started jerking-off during recess . We smoked pot and travelled ticketless. And as far as possible I included Vedant in my growing-up.

Why should my brother suffer the unbearable impracticality of my family?

Tyres, strays, and pot didn’t appeal to Vedant. Public transport was a no-no. But jerking-off he embraced wholeheartedly.

It sickens me that 18 years later, that’s all the opportunity he gets, still. My blighted family! They have stretched their middleclass incomes to pamper him: got him an iPad to read books, a large screen PC to run his transcription jig, and even fly him business class. But sex, which would have come for much less, they have rudely blocked from their sight.

In case you wonder, my twin falls somewhere in the autistic spectrum. I really don’t care for the details. He is what used to be called simply as mentally retarded some years ago. The lexicon has been cleaned up since, but little practical development has been made in understanding his (or his like) needs. That’s far more insulting than the various labels we pick and reject.

Vedant is lucky. He has a slightly droopy mouth, eyes that don’t stay focussed for too long, and a rather deep, infectious laugh. With that combination, when he blatantly ogles women, especially those with big boobs (our fetish), it does not come across as creepy as when I do.

I sit planning our 30th birthday, as my menopausal girlfriend—between hot flashes and mood swings—is planning life without contraceptives and fear of pregnancy. There is a bipolar reason why I chose to hook up with an older woman. The chances of her getting pregnant or wanting to are low—which thrills me; and if she does, the chances of a child with a disability is high, which depresses me to suicidal depths.

Back to THE gift. I don’t trust Delhi women. I have to look outside of our hometown. Bombay girls are too commercial, and scouting Calcutta for a gift for a 30-year-old virgin doesn’t seem practical.

If I go south my mother’s jingoist feelings might be hurt (Malayalam film history notwithstanding). I have for long had the suspicion that my mother blames my father’s dubious Parsi gene pool for the soup one of her twins landed in. My father truly believes that it is about being different not abnormal.

Vidi, the sister, has been secondhand pot smoking (thank you, you are welcome!) for too long to know the difference.

I don’t have a particular feeling towards or about my brother.

I am my brother.

I know what Vedant needs.

On the big 3-0 my brother and parents will be visiting the still fat, dimpled and forever gurgling sister of mine in the US of A. She is now out of diapers and doing her doctorate in—save me from my family—autism and theatre. They have all made a living and a virtue out of my brother’s disability.

At 25, she has already graduated into a sex goddess thanks to a horny Punju (uh, Haryanvi, she never fails to correct me) boyfriend. Maybe she could find a suitable GIFT in Louisiana.

For all their equality play, my professorial parents played ostrich. When I turned 15, they gave me a couple of books on sex and puberty… two years too late. That was also the first time they got something for me alone. It made me feel both strangely special and indignant for Vedant. When we were 15, in their head at least, my parents neutered my brother.

Some years ago I tried raising the subject of Vedant, autism and sex, and how all three will have to co-exist harmoniously.

My grandmother, otherwise quite open-minded (she even greets my girlfriend on her birthday), had a bout of pretend palpitations. I know she was thinking, unfavourably, of the rather convincing play by Radhika and Prathap Pothen in Meendum Oru Kaadal Kathai.

But what I had in mind for Vedant was more Kamal Hassan in Chippikul Muthu, except it should be Vidya Balan not Vijaya Shanthi. As a professional film critic, I find both my reference and my solace in films. I also find my realism in it. Which is why, what I really want (for him as well) is Mickey Rourke meets Kim Bassinger moments.

My brother is a composite of interesting sparks—photographic memory, ability to identify the make of a car from its key, superb medical transcription ability, no regard for social mores, and what’s on his mind will be expressed no matter what the occasion or location. At 29, he will still throw a tantrum if his Sprite is too cold, and fling the bowl of sambhar across the table if his dosai is not crisp enough. He will scratch his balls to relieve an itch, no matter whose company he is in.

But masturbation he pretends he neither indulges in nor knows of.  The porn on his computer is skilfully hidden. Secrets only I know.

I see longing when he smiles at the many ‘happy’ couples—students, alumni—who wander in and out of my parents’ home, arm-in-arm with barely hidden lust. I see him hurry to his room after watching the young bai on all fours, mopping the drawing-room floor.

I also understand the violent tantrums that neither my grandmother’s music nor my father’s soothing voice can control.

I can feel the physical pain of his celibacy.

Which is why I have decided that I will gift him a hooker.

Woz, Isaacson, Jobs… in that order!

After spending the Eid break doing little else but devour the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I can’t quite get the characters in the book out of my head.

Yes, it’s Jobs bio first and last, and though Isaacson has been brutally honest in the protagonist’s portrayal, traces of Jobs’s control do surface. There are some obvious names that have been left out, and the ‘bozos’ in Jobs’s opinion are portrayed as just that!

Very often in the book, the tone is more of an autobiography than a biography. He is listening to what people have to say about Jobs, from Jobs’s perspective. The more than subtle empathy with his main character continues to such an extent, the closing remarks of the book are that of Jobs, not of Isaacson.

Having said that, Isaacson’s writing is magically lucid–the beauty of the prose’s simplicity is all his own, not even Jobs could have engineered that.

Next on my reading list his biography of Einstein. If anyone can make physics readable for me, it must be Isaacson.

I love biographies, but the reason I picked up the book is because I love Apple(=Jobs as I used to think), and am an obsessed consumer of its goods. I read the book on my iPad, experiencing and living everything Jobs wanted to and managed to achieve–adjusting the brightness of page, size of text, the orientation of the screen, making my reading experience as much about the physical product as of Isaacson’s skill. I love Apple even more now, even as I bristle a bit under its need for control.

The rationale behind why the products are the way they are is revealed in this book, and also revealed are the people and brains behind the products and applications that make Apple so beautiful. Ive, Atkinson, Rubenstein, Fadell… names that the non-techy consumer may not be aware of. It was their brilliant designs, ideas, engineering that Steve Jobs recognised, approved, fine-tuned and marketed–like no one else could. His A-Players.

Jobs is controlled in what he wishes to talk openly about and what he prefers to brush off or simplify. The reason I think he pushed for this book is in part to tell his story, but also as importantly to tell the stories of the A-Players. The guys who achieved the sleek, seamless beauty and superior engineering of Apple products that we enjoy today. This book is probably his way of finally recognising those A-Players, sharing the literary centre stage with them, even if they were not on stage with him in any of the MacWorld events.

But as is his wont, Jobs holds back. You know that wonderful interface that Apple products have, when you run the cursor over the dock, icons magnify?  A feature that helps you fit in more icons on the dock, the feature that also appears in the keyboards of iphone/ipad/ipod, and in the address book of these products. That amazing feature was by a young coder who was recruited on the spot when he showed it to Jobs. But who is he? That name is never revealed… that awesome feature helps us fit in more into small screens! What did that unknown person do to piss of Jobs, or is he so valuable that Jobs is guarding his name (as he has done with others)?

I am not going into his parenting skills and lack of it, his psychedelic tripping, food fetish and how he time and again proved to be a crappy friend–all that has to be read, understood and enjoyed.

That brings me to the other Steve. Wozniak–he invented the universal remote outside of the Apple umbrella, because of which he attracted Jobs’s wrath–who was one of Jobs’s oldest friends. The teddy-like gentleman-hacker co-founded Apple, and was the BRAIN behind it, none of which is really news.

Of the hundreds of characters that inhabit the book, Woz is the one who really touched me. He worked as a middle-level engineer in Apple, even though he founded it; Even after stepping out of Apple, he was so pure in his excitement over Apple products and so rancour-free. He still lines up outside Apple stores (along with other Apple faithfuls) on the eve of a product launch. He shared his stock options with founding employees who were screwed over by Jobs. His is not the generosity of a person who has no other option to shine or be liked. After all the man single-handedly designed Apple I and II hardware and circuit boards.

His is a generosity that is simple, genuine and childlike. He more than willingly gives Jobs the credit for making Apple what it is. The brand was founded by two geniuses. One who is self-effacing and the other who was not. No prize for guessing who was who.

The book was a great read, and it also gave me a better understanding of a lot of things in my life at the moment.

There are two interesting things that resonated with me. His Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and his Reality Distortion Field. These two mental facets (NPD and RDF) in Jobs’s case helped create a brand that is ‘insanely great’–because his focus was on ‘the brand’. He probably could have achieved the same with a little less ‘assholishness’.

Unfortunately, I have seen both of these traits in action in lesser mortals whose focus is their own growth over that of others; their greed over the needs of the rest. For a few years now I have been highly disturbed and at a loss on how to handle the situation and the person(s), and it was a rather sad realisation that I really can’t. I can temper its effect on me, but not totally be immune to it.

I worry over a couple of things now, when this book becomes widely and frequently read/quoted:

1. Parents might end up thinking it is ok for their child(ren) to be a brat or badly behaved, in the hope or assumption that it could be a sign of later genius.

2. In the hands of evil corporate leaders, NPD and DRF could be a ruthless tool for uninhibited corruption, and they could well take refuge in Jobs’s success, forgetting Jobs’s success is because his focus was not his ego, but the idea of perfection.

Here is my wish list of people I want Isaacson to write about, immediately:

1. Oprah Winfrey

2. Osama bin Laden

3. Charles Dickens

4. Prabhakaran (LTTE)

ETA:Embarassing errors & typos (haste makes waste!) have been edited before re-publishing post. No more bloopers, I hope.