Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Passions of a Sea Anemone

There’s this section in orkut that always has me stymied when, having absolutely nothing better to do, I fill out my profile for the umpteenth time. It’s the ‘my passions’ field. And frankly, I do not like it one bit. I mean, I know I’m pretty much a vegetable when school’s out, and that the gang would probably rate me 8 on a boring scale of 10(none of them read this blog a lot, so I can safely say 8 and not 10), and if I were an animagus I’d probably be a sea-anemone; but sitting there for five whole minutes thinking of my passions(‘ thinking of my passions’- what an oxymoron) is simply not acceptable.

So, I’m going to do something about it and list them out here. And I will NOT tell you how long it takes me to write this.

First of all-and this comes easy-reading. But would you say breathing, or drinking water, (or sitting with the gang on the grounds on lazy afternoons, all of us bunking classes) is a passion? Reading’s like that....I have to do it, or wither away. Or whatever it is sea anemones do when they decide they’ve had enough of life. I’ve always been like that. Can’t sleep without finishing a book, and when someone snatches it out of my hands at 2:30 in the night, I lie awake wondering about the next page. So no, it isn’t a passion. More like a necessity, like going to the toilet. (Yeah, ugh and all that.) So that’s out.

Next up, I could say music, because when I was young I’d wake up and go to sleep with the old maestros creating magic with ancient ragas. I had a musical home (no, not those things that tinkle when you turn a key). But well… those days are gone. Nothing’s forever, and somewhere down the line my tastes changed or rather my habits changed, and I moved on to a little western classical and then on to old bands and new bands and rock and music that means so many things it doesn’t mean anything at all. I still listen to old stuff, but mostly on the radio, and a few cds I have, but I fidget nowadays and I never used to fidget before. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to bring back something that just isn’t there anymore, and if I’ve learnt one thing, it is that that cannot be done.

It might be Science which sometimes fascinates me with the sheer wonder of the universe and people like Feynman have had a lot to do with that. But then, the everyday mind-numbing ordeal of copying notes like some macabre superfast typewriter and then mugging them up the night before the exams does a good job of putting my ‘scientific temper’ to sleep. So I’m back to the square marked one, which is the square I was born in, and will die in.Sad.

So is it Superman? That’s what I write sometimes when I’m trying to be smart-ass funny. But he’s really only the guy I admire, actually the guy everyone admires and wants. I mean, he’s Superman. I love graphic novels (comic books for the uninitiated) because of the amazing nuances and the cool people on and behind the pages, but I’m not so passionate about them that I’d go to a comic book convention in the neighbouring state like Seth. I’d like a guy like Clark someday,(umm, not exactly like him; I mean I could do without the vulnerability to Kryptonite), that’s why he sometimes makes it to the passions list, but since none of the guys I know remotely fit the bill, I’m as far away from a likely passion as I was before. So that’s out too.

Wail....so what am I passionate about?? I don’t like to admit it, but nothing much, really.
Oh well, man probably evolved from something like sea anemones anyway, so maybe there’s hope for me yet. So pray for me while I hibernate. (Yeah, I know they don’t hibernate, but I couldn’t find anything else. So sue me.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Old Story.

Here's something I wrote for Elective English Homework at the beginning of last year...and i did the assignment at one in the night; so judge not, lest ye be judged.
(This is I think the first time I'm posting any work on the net...that's why I chose this story..it's not particularly good.)

Baby blues

“You think your baby is cute? Was she done by the masters?
If not, you’ve been tricked.
To stay clear of underachievers, delinquents and colicky youngsters, come to BundleOfJoy today! Anything else is a compromise…don’t compromise on your baby!”

What a horrible, weak advert, I think, sprawling on my overstuffed office chair. Some dimwitted decorator’s tweaked the Atmosystem to emanate heat from the walls-to stimulate brain activity- one of the daft ideas Personnel churns out with monotonic regularity to ‘motivate’ employees.

I toss the proofs aside, thinking, the best Child Effectiveness company can do much better than this. I mean, if you haven’t heard of BOJ, you must live on Mars-everyone knows we’re the best, if only by virtue of being the earliest. And people trust their precious ‘bundles of joy’ only to the best. We’re the oldest in this new business, the most prestigious. We started shop just after the GEC (Genetic Engineering Controversy) cleared up, and from that day 30 years ago, we’ve been ‘Raising the Bar for Young Achievers’. (That’s our company motto, by the way. You know, the heavily underlined attention-grabbing line beneath the giant logo.) So these dumb morons down in advert should find it easy as pie to write a proper ad. But instead, they send up such boring drivel…I put a huge cross on the page, which makes me feel pretty good, and send it down to advert after wrestling a bit with the Transferrer.

The swoosh of the sender having confirmed the transfer, I shift my attention to a more pressing task-the memo concerning the new incubator’s design problems.

To: Ms. A. Leeman, CEO 08.11.2067
BOJ Design Labs
Sub: Incubatron-004

Fault 302 noted in 33 cases out of 100.

Seemingly innocuous, this makes me sit up in consternation and almost slip off the glossy chair. Fault 302 is one of the more serious defects-and this particular message means that 33 out of 100 embryos tested negative on the Leeman-Harper Test for Exceptional Intelligence. As the test was designed by me, and so was the new incubator, this gives me an instant ulcer. Higher Management could have my head on a charger for this. The LHET test’s based on ‘average child mental ability’; and as more and more kids are designed to be cleverer, the standard keeps on increasing. That’s why we have to keep on building these new incubators each time. The normal IQ nowadays is around 212 (actually 212.0788 this instant), so it’s getting really difficult.

And now this. I suddenly feel so deflated I could cry. First the ad, now this Incubatron fault. Why can’t I just have a respite from the endless rush to keep up, why can’t the dratted parents be content for a day? All the time, they want more brains, more beauty, more grace, more everything; all the seven virtues in our catalogue, all at once! I make a note on my electronic Post It machine, which malfunctions as usual (why did they do away with office stationery?), and move to the next matter, a simple business of an E&E (egg and embryo) import bill from Africa, when the intercom rings. It’s Assia, my method analyst (secretary actually, but unions these days...) who tells me sympathetically, in hushed tones, “It’s a Blessed couple to see you, Ms.Leeman-Harper”.

This is bad. As per our code, Assia calls me ‘Ms. Leeman-Harper’ only when it’s a bad case, and before I can say I’m busy, the door’s jerked open and the Blessed couple comes in. The ‘Blessed couple’ is what we call devout parents who own one of our kids. Higher Management realized we had to woo the god-fearing parents somehow, so after the Pope endorsed our company, they came up with ‘Blessed’ to reassure the mothers and fathers. (As if they needed to-we’d have them beating a path to our door anyway). And the non-believers we call ‘NeoPragmatic’. Which means-nothing. But that’s management for you. (I have no idea why they’re so lame-I mean, Mr.Stark up in Higher Management was a BOJ baby himself….)

My musing are interrupted by the father, potbellied and balding, pulling out a chair with a jarring squeak. The exquisitely beautiful mother sits down softly and starts crying. The exaggerated cupid’s bow of her lips reminds me of something…she has the exact minor problem we had with the earliest models. The contrast between the two becomes even more striking as I realize that she must be a BOJ baby too. Encouraged, I ask the father, “What’s wrong, Sir? Is your child…?”

The man splutters,”The boy had a cricket match today, and let me tell you, if the press were to know of the poor showing he made, I’m sure it wouldn’t go down too well with your superiors! We didn’t get him done here to be humiliated in front of all my friends and neighbours, when it really counted!”
The mother burst into tears with renewed vigour and I handed her a self drying tissue. ”Won’t he be normal? Won’t he be a Superkid Grade Two like you promised?”

Wordlessly I take the boy’s birthsheet from the father and scan it. They had only 3 of the seven virtues- Beauty030, Brains034 and Health, the compulsory one. Definitely not a Grade Two. Not even a Superkid. We’re always getting these problems-parents who don’t read their birthsheets carefully and expect more than the kids are equipped for. I knew something like this was in the air when I saw the mom was one of the early models-we hadn’t introduced PhotoMemory then and anyway she was probably only a Beauty candidate.

I break the news as gently as possible and sweep the uncontrollably sobbing mother and the raging father out the door, muttering about suing us. He can’t, as he’s signed a No-Responsibility Certificate, but as I’ve said before, they aren’t very strong on memory. But for some reason, I feel pretty bad myself.

I step onto the Autoconveyor and it carries me to the design wing- I need to look into the problems with the new incubator. It’s revolutionary really-we’ve introduced emotional manipulating as well, so we’ll have Superattitude, Taste, Assertiveness, etc. etc. to put in the brochure as well……..but I suddenly feel so miserable and disheartened that instead of going on to the main unit, I step off near the ‘Higher Management Only’ sign and get in the electronically locked door. There’s a coffee machine in an alcove and I desperately need coffee. With a steaming cup in my hand I step to the switchboard containing the controls of the new incubator, installed for Management. Screwing off the top, I can see the bare innards of the machine, gleaming like the shark’s teeth in that vintage film ‘Jaws’ I watched a few days ago.

The simile arrests my mind. I look through the viewing module at the rows and rows of identical baby housing cells, hooked up to the huge gleaming machine in one corner, that’s filled with superior genes ready to be injected into the embryos-to-be. The cells are empty now, production paused, but soon they’ll be filled with our future ‘achievers’. Parents will be standing outside, wondering anxiously whether the new baby they ordered will be ‘better’ than the new baby the Joneses ordered. Smarter, cleverer, prettier, sportier, better adjusted…and they’ll be disappointed. Oh, won’t they! Not once, but throughout the little kid’s life at what he can’t do, not grateful for what he can. That’s the way parents are, at least the ones who come to us.

And that’s how we-and I-thrive. Feeding on their too-high aspirations, their grasping dreams. I have a great job, definitely not a noble one as they tell the bright-eyed graduates in our orientation meetings, but a good one. I’m never sick, if you discount the periodical ulcers everyone has.
I don’t have kids, of course…

In one fluid motion I hurl the steaming coffee onto the gleaming console of the Incubatron and watch the delicate circuitry vaporize in seconds. Then I walk out the ‘Higher Management Only’ door, out the design wing’s businesslike arch, out the lobby doors, grinning like a fool, into the street outside, teeming with imperfect people, real people. I jump onto the nearest UniTaxi and program it to the Bahamas.

Maybe they won’t find me. After all, I’m not a BOJ baby, with a built in tracking chip…….

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Seth Cohen Phenomenon.

(For those of you who're reading this from those regions of outer space without television, Seth Cohen is the lanky nerd from the OC, the guilty-pleasure teen drama that's actually funny for a change.)

The guy's tall and thin and wears baggy jeans ; is pretty intelligent and gets good grades, talkes fast and drawls, is amazingly funny in a chandler-type way, likes indie rock, obscure books and comic books-from Jack Kirby to Alan moore he likes them all-and he's filthy rich with a pool house and he can skateboard, he lives in sunny California, he has a sailboat which he sails alone, and he has these wonderfully un-screwed up parents.
The stuff of dreams, wouldn't you say?a king among kings. drool drool.

well, on the OC, he's this total loser, in every sense of the word.He's beaten up by the water polo jocks, the girl he likes never looks at him (i'm talking about before ryan, the beginning of the show), he's this unpopular nerd whom everybody makes fun of, the guy who hates Newport so much that he sails away to Portland to avoid another year like before.
my reason for stating all this? I just wanted to show how far apart we are. Over here, Seth would be the most popular guy in school-he'd go to fests and win and be cheered, be Head boy probably, at least a prefect, he'd have a gang of cool intellectuals and he's sit around discoursing on comic books and dostoevsky while the jocks wore duncecaps and did lines. he would mumble and drawl his way to the ladies' hearts(i know i'd love this guy), and he'd be the talk of the 'fest circuit', where he'd perform death cab for cutie and rooney and get everyone saying how unusual he was.
so why are we so different? is it because we prize intelligence and funny-ness and intellectual-giri and such-like more than sports and stuff? India (and i think Bengal specially) has this adda culture where the more obscure and unusual and incomprehendable you are, the more weird books you've read, the more eclectic your tastes, actually the more 'different' you are, the more you're prized.
i think i can guess why. maybe it's because we're so many, such a huge mass of sameness, that any individuality, any spark of originality is precious. in order to prove you're somebody, you have to be different, you have to be 'weird', in order to prevent blending in with the masses.

orkut gives me fodder for these weird opinions..look in any reasonably 'cool' person's profile and you'll see he or she has filled it up with obscure references, unknown names, music not many people like, films no one watches, pseudo-intellectual stuff that immediately makes people go..hmm, unusual guy(or gal). the person will invariably,at some point in the profile, state that his friends call him weird, or mad, or strange, etc etc.
to paraphrase one misogynist whose name I've forgotten, the one thing that's the same about everyone is that they all try to different.