Monday, March 24, 2008

Pongal Veg Cafe

Drops of water he had sprinkled on the leaf that lay before him on the table ran everywhere around and nearly spilled over his wrinkled trousers. The small boy, who had no name and whose only worldly possession at this point in time seemed to be the very dirty and all so brownish half-trouser with patches on the buttocks, brought a small vessel with three containers in it. He hastily served some greens, a cabbage dish and some pickle onto the upper half of the leaf. Soon after, another nameless man walked over to the table, impatiently dropped a vessel full of steamed rice on the leaf and went off just as hastily as he had come. The meal was ready, and it was time to feed the beast that rumbled noisily from deep within his rather not too very strong physique.

The Pongal Veg Café was where one went when the beast rumbled, and it was where nameless men came together and assembled onto edges of congested tables with banana leaves in front of them, onto which inexpensive meals were hurriedly served by unknown men. It was where one occasionally heard few men speaking to fellow men, even as they gulped their food. These men had, over time acquired the practice of leaking out a not so hearty laugh intermittently during their endless conversations that mostly centered on details of their everyday work. It was where one also saw loners quietly finishing off their meal in an almost ceremonious fashion, and leaving the place the same silent way they had entered it. The loners did not seem to have much to say, and from a simple glance onto their nameless faces, one could never really discern if these men were after all mourning over something they had lost over the course of ruthless time. In fact, the primary aspect that differentiated the Pongal Veg Café from the rest of smallish restaurants in the city was that, lonely men could go there and silently get done with their job without too much of a sense of discomfort in themselves, owing to their wretched loneliness, which at this point of time simply seemed to be owing to the absence of mammal companions who could accompany when it was time for food. A group of unknown loners, when together on the same table, scavenging on food, weren’t really as alone, in principle, and this really was the prime reason the place did good business. When one was at the Veg Café, one discovered that the city had a lot of such loners, and in that sense, one wasn’t alone when it came to being alone.

Prologue: The Unwritten Autobiography

I would like to fantasize the idea of someone writing the tale of my life. Fantasizing is a simple act, but also immensely powerful. One dull and effortless spark from an unassuming corner of the brain can provide an enormous feast for the idle, but unceasingly hungry mind that goes on relentlessly pampering the greedy self with huge visions of success and fame. Yes, as the watchful amongst you would have noticed, that would be four of the seven deadly sins already – sloth, pride, greed and lust, and if you were not obese enough and belonged to the excessively food loving folk, then that could be five in your case, not a bad score for accomplished sinners like us, all with a simple unassuming effortless act. Indeed, it is a powerful act, and one that is the resultant of a weakly founded psychological system subject to intense feeds of temptation, the kind, to which, I have submitted myself to, countless times now. You get so used to sinning soon, and do not give it too much of a damn anymore, and go on fantasizing. So, let me push back all my doubts around the correctness of the formulation of the seven deadly sins and the kind of pain that burning in hell could supposedly cause to unclean souls, such as mine, when eventually, it is ripped off the body. Let me push them back, to the remotest and most inaccessible regions of my brain and for a brief while bask in my fantasy. Let me attempt to imagine myself to be this fictitious and thoroughly skilled writer whose life happened to interfere with mine, and let us say, I, also happened to find my life fascinating enough for me, being the writer, to sit down and expend, say, a few hundred hours of my time, to write a book around.

Living Dad

There he was, lying on a mattress on the floor, and getting some rest. I sat on my bed and finally started on what I had so much wanted to write down for sometime now. I saw him lying there, and I could feel something within me feeling glad and warm and peaceful. It was not the kind of happiness that you had when you were joyous or excited, not the happy moment, when you did not really feel the need to pause and think of some sorrow that deeply troubled you. It was not when you were just happy and you relished in plain simple joy. No, this was not that. If you had been me, and had you known of the enormous pain that the thing that lay there had been through, the long and the winding tedious journey that its weary feet had walked, the hands of cruel reckless fate that had taunted the once hungry and lonely child, and now when you see it, lying there, with closed eyes, and taking its deep breath filling its weakened lungs with oxygen and you know that it is resting, receding a long way from the cursed wakefulness of the world, and then you feel some beast like relief wildly creep into you, and you want to have more and more of it. This was just that. Was it happiness? I do not know. It was relief alright, but there was something greedy and restless about the whole emotion. Whatever this feeling really was, I was nevertheless too glad he was resting there now. “Sleep, Dad! Sleep well! I need you to sleep well! You have come a long way. You should rest now. Let the air breeze into you and let it soothe the wounds within and heal them all, if it can”.

I have loved my dad always. But, there were also things about him that I have not liked, like his pragmatism, which I have felt, was excessive. To me, as a character, he was just like any normal man that you saw around you, and I had never bothered to really know the thing that was he. Well, recently I came to know about the life story of my dad, and that did change a lot of my understanding, about him. Knowing what I then did, he almost suddenly rose to the stature of a hero in my eyes. And, when I sat here to write this thing today, my empty and numb insides are filled with an enormous sense of respect for the thing that lay there - the man, my father, whose achievement in life far exceeds mine or of most other men I have known of and read about. You watched the movies and read the books and you imagined stuff and you thought you had seen it all. But, silly how, you very often fail to just pause briefly and take a look at what huge hidden truths lie in what had so obviously been near you always! How little had I known of what he had been through? And how I have been entirely unaffected by his treacherous past? I cannot help but think now that, had he ceased to fight for his survival for one single moment and surrendered his life to the enormous ruthless hands of fate that seemed to have derived so much sadistic pleasure tormenting him, I would not have been here, grown to be the angry adolescent young romanticist cynic that I today am, basking in my unceasing rationalizing spree and a reasonably glorious history of academic success.

On happy sunny mornings, the fruit smiled its happy ripen optimistic face onto a warm little earth. The fruit was rare, and its flesh nutritious and rich in taste. It had rejoiced in its glory for a long time now, and it was proudly facing the sun, with an all-knowing expression. And, little did it know of the hungry farmer who, having no tools of his own, had tilled the rocky earth for a full decade with his bare hands that were bloody and worn out now. After years of painful toil, he had finally bore one full smile on his face as he had planted the sapling that now bore the rare fruit, and now, he lay there in his lonely hut hiding away from the sun that had long burnt his skin, receding into the darkness of a wild restful sleep.

And what I have really wanted to do for a while now, is to narrate, in plain simple words the tale of my father’s life.


Two young boys looked straight into the distance, as their knees bent forward, arms crouched at the feet, and the rest of the torso set itself into such a posture as it was so ready to pounce into the air any moment then, with all the mighty force that stayed hidden in the muscles that stayed wrapped within. The hot blood pumped vigorously with every breath of the lungs and every beat of the heart. Where in the distance their thirsty eyes restlessly looked, a hundred meters further from where they now crouched like hungry beasts, was a thin white line. The boys were furious, and their hearts raged with the desire to reach the line, as if there lay the key to the greatest thing that was ever sought by men who walked the earth. As a hundred pairs of eyes blinked wide into the day, with an excitement and thrill, the kind of which can only be caused by the definite uncertainty of an inevitable future, the gun shot up the unseen bullet that vanished into the dusty robe of humid air that wrapped the ground below, and it was as if the boys were what were really shot out into space, with immense energy and the deafening blast of a noise. Their feet now raced, step after step, leap after leap, and miles of a blurred irrelevant mass seemed to flow past them with an enormous turbulence. The nerves discharged heavily, the feet sucked up all the energy of the body and spat it out as they ran towards the great line of purpose and victory. In a span of time that felt too short for the watching eyes, and too long for the racing feet, the victor passed the line in a sweep when a roaring noise of applause emanated from people screaming their calories out of their throats vehemently. The victor stood there, past the line, his lungs still trying desperately to swallow as greedy a chunk of oxygen as the pores on the face permitted to let in. And, as he stood there, he wore a huge smile on his face and an enormous and warm ‘something’ filled his heart. The applause seeped through his ears and merrier he became.

The ego was a funny thing. There was the white line, and there was the race, and there was the enormously fulfilling sense of victory. There were the folks who were all part of the huge wheel in eternal motion. There were folks that strived to make a difference to the world, which was only a lesser goal, for what they really sought was the satiation of the self or the ego, as you would choose to call it. There were varieties of races, those of the feet, those of the skilled arms, those of hearts, of valor and courage, and those of the intellect. And, varied restless folks sought after the white lines in their own myriad manners, with the hope of stumbling upon the next stroke of victory, to feel that ‘something’ fill the hearts, to prove to themselves that they could race across in a world of hungry folks, and all the white line was but one infinitesimal dimensionless point of an object in the enormity and infinite vastness of the emptiness that is. The ego was a funny thing.

Here I dwelt, amidst folks who ran the race of the intellect. Here, the brains sparked with burning ambition, and here dwelt the folks who hoped everyday of their lives, to demonstrate their valor, integrity, and sense of ‘good’, through deeds that were of perceived intellectual value to a select few. Among the intelligentsia, I dwelt. I laughed often, for, I had feet that were funnier than the ego of the intelligentsia, for, the feet paced fast, though my eyes that were placed at an enormous distance away into space, lacked a sense of what and where the white line was. However, with no huge sense of shame, but a little apologetically though, I admit my own sense of an ego, and the times when I have felt the hot pumping blood, the weary feet at times of hard work, the sweet sound of applause and the warm ‘something’ fill the heart. The ego was funny, but what the heck?? It was a stunningly successful sustenance technique, and no wonder, was naturally imbibed into organisms with brains like ours, capable of conjuring complex, random and abstract emotional states. And what was more important to life, than sustenance itself was?


The Sea had taken her son away:

Oh God! Binny had gone to the Church regularly. He has not intended evil to anyone. He fasted in deep faith and respect to you, for forty days now. And, is this what you give to him?


Aunt: There is no God. You are not real. You let babies die. You do not mean anything. There is no reason we should look up to you and pray. (Cries aloud)


Uncle: Listen to me! This is how things are. And, that is reality. Nothing is permanent. You got that? Now, stay calm.

God was sitting a trillion miles away in the dark, winding the cogs of the Great Clock of the universe, and the infinite hands of the Great Clock ticked slowly and painfully. Her hands that were holding onto the great rusted lever were aching and the blood that had seeped out of Her tender skin through the billion years had dried up long back. But, the ticking should not stop, and so She sat there through all the years and worked faithfully on the great lever. She was meticulously working towards something, something that She has now wanted for billions of years, a purpose that was not conceivable by any amounts of ingenious leaps of the human imagination. It was a grand scheme of things, and the earth that was just a stone in an arbitrary spot in a practically infinite universe, did not have much of a place in it. On the scale of Her activity, what we on earth did were menial and to a large extent arbitrary. All the events that ever occurred on the stone were soon to fade away into another random fluctuation, which will not find even an insignificant place in the scheme of things that She worked towards. We were not part of God’s purpose. And, that we had notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, ‘meaning’ and ‘direction’, ‘achievement’ and ‘loss’ did not amount much to Her. For She had her own purpose to work towards, and She kept winding her Great Clock, for She had a place to go. She did not have a death and so she suffered the greatest pain that is there to existence – immortality. And, we never know, if She would get there ever.

But, She was Graceful and Kind. She did take a little care to leave her mighty slaves, mysterious forces of evolution to take care of things here. And, so we are all here today. And, so am I here. Through her slaves, she gave us instincts, hunger, joy, pain. She gave us an intellect. And, above everything, she gave us the force and the power of love. For it was the best cure for pain. God was lonely, and she took care we were not. She made sure a mother’s love was the most immense, because she knew everybody had a mother. Love was naturally and gradually built through evolution, and we all had people to care for, and people who care for us - parents, relatives and friends. And we are not alone. Though we lived a life that traced an arbitrary course that was of no relevance to God’s purpose, thanks to Her Grace, we do live a life that is characterized by love, joy and pain. It is not permanent and so it is indeed something to cherish. When we suffer, She is not around, for She has her own work to do, to get to the place She wants to go, and She probably did not know how we suffered. But, the love She had once left behind, and that which has grown over the course of evolution is still with us, and that is what will keep us going. And, She knew that would take care of us all. Oh God! You are the greatest mother of all!


A poem one of my colleagues sang for my farewell. Was deeply moving, the way he said it. Will always remember this moment.

Yeh kaisi aatish, naa dhooan naa lapt koi !
phir bhi yeh aashiyaan jhulsta jaa raha hai !
socha naa thaa ki bichhdeyenge hum aissey,
magar ab dil yeh hakeekat samjhtaa jaa raha hai ...

For the Urdu-illiterate like me, here is a very inaccurate attempt to capture it in English:

What kind of fire is it ! There is neither smoke nor flame,
But still our home is burning away !
Never thought we will depart away so soon,
But now the heart is sinking-in the reality ...

Holy Cow

A dedication to the product I slogged on, for 3 years of my life:

Here we art,
The good little milkmen,
Not too many of us,
Barely five to ten.

This is our little stable,
And Thee! Our Holy cow!
Strong and much able,
Thanks to hay from the mow.

We milketh Thee all day,
We milketh Thee all night,
Through the Sun and
Through the stars,
And we worship Thee.
Our Holy Cow!!

Glorified art Thou.
Sophisticated Thy Work.
Unto Thee we bow,
And Thee we milk.

Thy Stable ain’t so cosy;
Thy Milk though, so costly!
The customers so many
And we milkmen so few!

Thou hast precious milk
That fills monstrous bowls,
So many of them,
Count till infinity.
We haveth a strategy for success –
To Milketh Thee for eternity.

Thou art a tough one.
And, we giveth our souls
To milk Thy well,
And fill our bowls.

We eat Thy crap.
And lose our sleep
To milk Thy well,
Few dollars, to reap!
Thou art a Holy Cow,
Holy Shit, Thou hast.

We cleaneth it all day,

We cleaneth it all night.
Holy cow, Thou art.
Holy crap, Thou hast.

Thou ain’t a Bull,
Though Thou haveth Bull shit.
Thou art insane
And Thou goes out of Thy memory

Glorified art Thou.
Sophisticated Thy Work.
Unto Thee we bow,
Oh! Dear Holy Cow!!