Round is a shape
I love workouts. I enjoy watching people sweating it out on treadmills, huffing and puffing on myriad contraptions, pumping iron, rowing on solid ground, and doing stomach crunches accompanied by grunts and groans and other painful sounding caterwauling.
I especially like it when the huffing and sweating bodies are in svelte female shape, dressed in form fitting leotards or other interesting gym wear, torturing themselves to get into dangerous shape, dangerous to the observer, that is.
I do not have to actually go through those tortures. Just watching them sends my heart racing, I get a cardio without breaking into sweat. Adrenaline levels are hiked, pulse quickens, and breathing gets deeper, all without punishing my muscles. I feel quite refreshed after this workout. And I stay in shape. Round is a shape.
There must be many like me, for most gyms have glass fronts, and you can enjoy the spectacle without having to become a member. Gymming is a spectator sport.
The exercise I enjoy is swimming. There is no sweat, no chance of getting hurt, does not require too much effort, is cooling for the body, and whenever tired you can float on your back and watch the sky.
Our friendly neighbourhood sports complex has the typical glass fronted gym with the treadmills facing the window and one can view the spot running damsels like fish in an aquarium. Immediately in front is the swimming pool.
I would happily walk down to the changing room getting warmed up by this vicarious exercise, then walk back to the pool in my trunks, quite oblivious of the fact that while you can look into the aquarium, the fish can look out too.
There was a full length mirror in the changing room, which I always managed to avoid looking at, as I am not enamoured by my own looks, nor did I relish seeing unclad or semi clad men hanging around . But one day I caught a glimpse of a weird image in the mirror and froze. It looked like a captive balloon with a coloured strip in the middle, topped by a familiar face; one that I saw every morning while shaving.
I realised that the comical stranger looking back at me was yours truly, and also that this was the spectacle that was displayed to the insanely fit damsels on the treadmills.
We, or at least I, rarely look at myself in the mirror. You see bits and pieces while shaving, combing the hair or tying the tie, but never the full picture and definitely never ever full monty. It was a ghastly spectacle.
I somehow dashed past the glass window and slipped into the water, convinced that once immersed, I am invisible. But that fig leaf did not last long either. On the way back to the showers, I kept my face firmly averted from the gym, as a result looking at the pool. To my dismay, in the clear water, not only were the swimmers clearly visible, but were magnified. Thus the captive balloon would have looked like a drowning blimp.
I have invested in a bath robe, and am contemplating doing more in the gym than mere watching.
Tag Archives: stories
Round is a shape
No country for shy people
Ram Kumar and Shyam Singh were colleagues, Punjabis, professionals, batch mates and friends in a large corporation, posted in different towns of Punjab as Branch heads. The names are obviously fictional, so reader, please do not draw conclusions about their identity, as these are common, almost generic names of the North Indian male species.
Both were middle aged, middle ranking, middle income, middle class people, but differed totally in tastes and temperaments. Whereas Ram was a shy, diffident, law abiding, god fearing soul, popularly known as “gau admi” or as harmless as a cow; Shyam was the very opposite.
Extroverted, man of the world, street smart, boisterous, fond of the good things in life, rules to him being impediments to be avoided without detection; Shyam enjoyed his life with few pangs of conscience.
Both of them were visiting the training facility of their organisation, situated in the outskirts of the metro city which housed their corporate headquarters.
Despite their disparate natures, being from the same part of the country, and having graduated from the same engineering college, they hung out together. In the evening after the boring lectures the participants unwind. Ram wanted to play carom in the common room, but Shyam had other ideas. He persuaded his friend to accompany him in visiting a pub a few miles away. Ram, being too polite to refuse, and a little excited about living on the wild side with his colourful friend, reluctantly agreed.
They therefore went over to a seedy bar in a nearby township, and ordered their drinks, Shyam with nonchalance and Ram with guilty nervous excitement.
Now this bar, as Shyam well knew, was a pick up joint frequented by the local inexpensive call girls. So that soon as they settled down, they were joined by two highly painted and garishly if scantily dressed young ladies of negotiable virtue, who chatted them up quite flirtatiously. Shyam was in his element, exchanging scurrilous repartees, buying them drinks, to the shock and titillation of Ram.
Having quickly finished his drink and negotiations with one of the ladies, Shyam disappeared with her to some back rooms, winking at Ram and requesting the other lady to take care of his friend.
Impatiently urging the tongue tied and by now alarmed Ram to finish his drink, the young lady put her arms around him and firmly led Ram to a back room. Both mesmerised and panicked, he meekly allowed himself to be led in.
But when the lady quickly disrobed, and started disrobing the frozen Ram, he regained enough composure to yell,
“Don’t touch me. I don’t want any of this, let me go!”
The lady shrugged and said,
“It’s okay by me, just pay up and go”
An indignant Ram bristled and screamed,
“I didn’t touch you! Why should I pay?”
The lady patiently explained that his impotence is not an excuse to welsh on the deal fixed, and she was willing to oblige if he was able to perform, but able or not, once in you have to pay as agreed.
Ram tried to bluster and flaunt his exalted status as a senior government employee in distant Punjab, perhaps fuelled by the unaccustomed alcohol in his veins.
But it cut no ice with the experienced young lady, who just put two fingers in her mouth and let out a shrill whistle.
At the signal two bulky bouncers bounded in and proceeded to teach poor Ram the etiquette of the bawdy house.
A bruised and battered Ram relived of not only his money, his wallet, his watch, but even his clothes, was unceremoniously dumped on the road outside.
Clad in his underwear, penniless, dazed and mortified, poor Ram dared not enter the bar again to seek his friend or approach the police or anyone for help. He was deeply ashamed and wanted no one to know of his plight.
Helpless, he slowly began to limp back towards the hostel in the pitch dark, unable to hire a rickshaw.
It was a long walk, and by the time he reached, it was well past midnight, and the gates to the institute were firmly shut.
Not wanting to draw attention to his unclothed and unsavoury appearance, and unwilling to provide tedious and embarrassing explanations, he decided to scale the walls.
Now, this may be in a days or rather night’s work for cat burglars, but was well beyond the scope of a middle aged official. The resultant ruckus raised the guards, who raised the alarm, switched on the lights, apprehended the intruder and proceeded to thrash him. His feeble attempts to explain that he was a legal resident brought no respite.
In the meanwhile the hullaballoo woke up the residents and even the director who came down to investigate.
It also produced Shyam, who had long since concluded his romp and whizzed home in a rickshaw, no doubt passing the hapless Ram trudging along in the dark somewhere on route, and was happily and safely in bed.
He identified poor Ram, who was speechless in shame by now, and asked,
“What happened, Ram? Did you get mugged somewhere?”
This easy explanation revived Ram, who readily agreed.
Thus the matters were laid to rest for the night. But Ram’s reluctance to file an FIR the next day raised suspicion, and close interrogation revealed his whereabouts of the night before; as he being an innocent, had little practice of lying. The understanding authorities agreed to let things be, in deference to Rams family, but issued a stern warning to him never to indulge in such peccadilloes again. Shyam’s role in the episode remained hidden.
Till years, people talked about Ram,
“No one could have guessed about this man; what an animal! And he acts so respectable too!”
A bitter Ram is no longer on speaking terms with his old friend, who doesn’t quite understand why.
This really is no country for the innocent.
Being absentminded is the privilege of the genius. We hear stories of the ridiculous stupidity and feeble mindedness in everyday matters by such greats as Einstein and Newton and chuckle appreciatively.
However, if we of acknowledged mediocre intellect should occasionally let things slip our mind, we are subjected to severe ridicule and harsh name calling.
I unfortunately have suffered from this since childhood, and it shows no signs of improving when I am reaching the age where such senior moments can be attributed to early onset of senility or Alzheimer’s.
This has led to various problems ranging from mild inconvenience to brushes with the long arm of the law.
For instance, I can never remember my vehicle registration number, and in the days of manual security at public parking lots, I had often to peer inside all the cars to identify mine, raising suspicion, which became worse when on questioning I could not recollect the number. I was often subjected to rigorous questioning before being permitted to drive away my own car. Nowadays the remote lock has made the job of identifying my car easier.
It is worse when I am driving someone else’s car. I usually have no recollection of the make or model either. Once when driving a colleagues car while mine was at the workshop, I panicked on reaching a parking lot with a sea of vehicles. Finally I realised that as a recent arrival from another state, his plates will bear that states number. The rest was simple.
What is worse, in those days, most cars of the same make could be opened by the same key, if the vehicle was old. Once, when visiting my parents, I had borrowed my dad’s car and taken my kids to the market. Returning laden with packets and child in tow, I opened the door of what I thought was my dad’s Maruti and proceeded to load the shopping. A gentleman came over and asked if there is a problem. I thanked him and asked him to mind my child while I arranged the packets. This done I thanked him, sat my daughter in the back seat and got in myself. The stunned gentleman protested,
“But this is my car!”
Profuse apologies later, and the clinching argument
that I would hardly be committing grand theft auto with shopping and a child in tow, and finally on discovering the right car parked nearby, I convinced him that I was not a criminal. But he may have been harbouring a doubt that I was criminally insane.
The other issue is I always drive on autopilot. Once the route has been uploaded on what passes for my mind, I don’t have to consciously plan the drive. Thus, as I used to drop my wife off on my way to work, that’s how I went, irrespective of whether she was in the car or not. I usually realised that she’s not there after I had parked by her office and waited for her to get off. I may have been suspected of being a stalker by some of her colleagues.
Ditto when dropping my daughter off to school. I think the authorities had a lookout for the potential paedophile that stops his car outside the school, sheepishly looks around and drives off.
On the pervert front my reputation takes a beating by another nasty betrayal of my mind. Being an incurable multi tasker, I am usually on my computer when I have called someone on the phone and waiting for them to pick up. So that by the time the response comes, I have completely forgotten whom I have called or why. As I desperately try to identify the voice and remember what it was I needed, the person at the other end shouts
“Hello hello!”whilst listening to my heavy breathing.
When I call my secretary for some work, I may be involved with something else by the time she arrives, and I stare at her asking why I called her. I think till she knew me better she may have been convinced I was the stereotyped evil boss looking her over. I am glad I didn’t face harassment charges.
But what almost brought about a crisis in our marriage was when I was giving a lift back from work to a colleague and the LOH was in the backseat. When I stopped to drop the colleague, she had got off to come over to the front. Blissfully unaware, I drove off home, leaving her stranded midway, without money as her purse was in the backseat. I realised this only when she came home in a cab, and she icily asked me for money to pay off the taxi.
Fortunately, my marriage survives to this day, no doubt as I forget the many hints dropped about reconsideration of options from my long suffering LOH.
This is a story about how I acquired this nasty addiction to writing. I am merely trying to shift the blame. As an apology for inflicting my stories on you, here I inflect another one.
Having an insatiable appetite for stories, and finding that supply is unable to match demand, I decided to fill the gap by making up stories himself. This is how that happened
My fascination with words began early, perhaps not as early as Abhimanyu, as I don’t remember anything prenatal, but soon afterwards. I was fortunate in a literate ayah, who was my major childhood influence, and a literary mom, who had a sizable library at home. To keep me quiet, the babysitter would read to me from anything available, including Bangla translations of the English classics, and the Bengali Mahabharata. After such a classical grounding, I could not help but be a lifelong addict to the magic world of fantasy and fiction, initially oral, and later of the printed word.
But addictions have fatal side effects, and I became quite useless at all useful skills of survival. I wasn’t focused on studies and my handwriting made me suitable only for the medical profession. I learnt to read, so that he wouldn’t have to wheedle others to read for me, and was a very precocious reader, forcing my parents to hide books in unconventional places, and put covers on some. That’s how I knew which to read first, and in secret.
The inevitable next step was joining the ranks of my heroes, and start writing myself. Writing was fine, but I faced the problem of all would be authors, how to get readers? I had a captive audience in my family, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t decipher my writing. Solution – a little brother I could bully, who would copy it out for me.
Thus was born my first collection, containing humour, parody, rhymes, mystery stories inspired by Blyton and later Christie, war stories when the ’72 war captured my imagination, and even plays.
Jump cut to high school. Obliging friends copied out my stories for a hand written wall magazine in exchange for doing their maths homework, and other obliging friends copied out pieces for their first handwritten cyclostyled little magazine, edited and mostly ghost written by me in exchange for names on the masthead to impress girls. Believe it or not, bong girls fall for such stuff.
Fast forward to the 80s. Handwritten contributions are no longer acceptable, and typing is a skill I had failed to master. However, obliging young ladies willing to support the arts helped out, and college, university, and company magazines continue to feed my need to be heard. That’s how my partner-to-be first heard of me.
Working life and matrimony soon put all creativity on a backburner, until my children appeared on the scene, and mealtime, bedtime and anytime stories took care of all my creative juices, and was well within my technical knowhow.
As time passed, I hankered for a wider audience. By now, I was empowered with a stenographer, and a bit of charm could overcome my tech handicap, and double spaced typed offerings with self addressed envelopes haunted editorial desks and found kind supporters like Jug Suraiya of TOI and others kindred and discerning souls.
I had the ultimate high, seeing my babies in print with my by-line , and being paid for it.
Soon, work and family took precedence, and creativity was limited to sales pitches and the incredible job of bringing up two daughters to be independent freethinking individuals, well adjusted in life, until they no longer needed or heeded me, and the craving for an audience hit once again
By now, the world had changed beyond my tech challenged comprehension, and the virtual world ruled, denying me access. My wife, who had moved with the times, my friends, who had learnt to cope, and my children, who were born with mouse in hand, had no patience for my illiteracy.
It looked like my outpourings would die unheard through lack of virtual space. Finally, with patient coaching from few young colleagues and friends, I attempted the new medium, THE BLOG and the FB and through many blunderings in unexplored and mysterious realms of which more shall be disclosed later, the end results were finding an entirely new set of readers, who did not pay in moolah, but in likes and comments and shares. Moreover, the reach was Global, and it thrilled me to have loyal readers and followers from five continents, including someone from Moldova, a couple of people from Pakistan, and a few from Russia.
The happiness that this gave me, money can’t buy.
But now a new envy crept in. How come X has one million hits, hundred thousand followers, dozens of awards, and all for writing such bilge?
But then slowly, as my readers crossed the twenty thousand mark, and followers the thousand mark, and a few awards rolled in, I too started feeling better. I watched my indivine rank leap around with the intensity of the punter watching sensex. I celebrated reaching the exalted eighties and mourned falling to the lowly fifties.
The next great thing to happen was that a story of mine was picked up for an anthology. Seeing my name in print, after ages, and that too in a book along with established writers, gave me an immense high. This was followed by a couple of other pieces being picked as well, a funny poem here, a limerick there, and a fairy tale somewhere else. It boosted my ego to ridiculous proportions.
Thus when an invitation came to try my luck at worldwide a novel writing competition, I bravely plunged in. This was supposed to be a novella or very short novel of thirty thousand words in thirty chapters written in a month. Of course I failed. But I was kindly given another month’s time to try and finish it, although I was out of the competition.
Having a full time job which is quite demanding, time became an issue. I wrote mostly in airport lounges, and announcements for delay in flights looked like lucky breaks. I even wrote crouched in the economy seats in flights. I welcomed traffic jams as I wrote in the car. I wrote late at night, sometimes groggy eyed after a party or official dinner. I welcomed conferences which I normally avoid, so that I could write while the speaker droned on. During our performance review, while waiting my turn to be grilled by our chairman, I was busy writing while pretending that I am polishing up my presentation like the rest of my colleagues. The story was finished in the extended period, but the quality of produce was debatable.
However, some people liked it, some raved about it, and although it did not even win the popular vote, the enthusiastic support turned my head. Now that the massive effort of actually penning thirty thousand odd words was over, my long time dream of actually publishing a novel resurfaced. I had given up the idea as a pipe dream, but now started hoping again.
The details of how it happened would make another story, but my rough draft was polished into shape by my daughter, who writes far better than me, and deplores my efforts as lazy first drafts.
My artist daughter did the sketches; my toughest critic gave her scathing opinion, and through this family joint venture, a book was born.
A dream came true.
Whether it will be successful depends on you readers
If it is,there would be many more coming, so be warned
I was in my final year in the University. I had virtually dropped out, not attending classes, and doing everything else possible in those laissez faire days of Delhi University.
By a stroke of good fortune, a classmate, a minor Dada or Don at the University, had decided to mentor me not only in nefarious activities, but also in had through his unique logic persuaded me into taking a few competitive exams. He in fact paid the fees, as I had spent all my allowance in less productive activities, and even woke me up and dropped me to the exam centres. I will write about him in a separate story.
Having taken these exams without preparation and barely awake, I had little hope of clearing any. But I did get interview calls, but having previous experience of how I tend to offend the interviewers with my general appearance and attitude, I had no expectations. I was certain I was unemployable and that I would fail my exams too.
But on my return from a crazy adventure in a forest, about which I have written earlier, in Close encounters of the Wild Kind, I found an appointment letter waiting for me.
Receiving the appointment letter was a godsend. My concerns regarding a bleak future of unemployment and poverty being allayed, celebrations started on a serious note. The relevance of the final examinations thus becoming negligible, I gave up all pretence of studying.
My colourful friend, unconventional philosopher and extreme lifestyle guide, who, as I said earlier, was instrumental in getting me employed, was also selected by the same organisation, and posted to my hometown, Calcutta. I was posted to Madras as it was then known, in the Deep South.
The joining date was a few days after the final exams, and it was a two day journey across the length of the country by train. In order to avoid confrontation with my going to be disappointed parents, who wanted me to study further and prepare for the IAS, I decided to join first and inform them later.
Now that my creditworthiness was established, as I was about to become a class one officer in a government organisation with what seemed in their impoverished state a princely salary, I jointly with my friend threw a party involving crates of bliss which lasted through the weekend. This merged into another farewell party that our friends threw for us, and a few very hazy days later, my friends uploaded me, barely awake, on the South bound train along with my Spartan possessions in a rucksack.
When I finally woke up the train had reached the badlands of Chambal, and the deep gorges and ravines and steep banks took me straight to the stories of the Wild West that had fired my imagination as a schoolboy. The men around me had spectacular moustaches and colourful pugrees, and the women wore brightly hued sarees with thick silver jewellery and veils pulled over their face. A number of men carried muskets. They spoke Hindi with an unfamiliar lilt.
Next morning I woke up to a new world. My co passengers had changed and everyone around was speaking in a strange incomprehensible guttural tongue. There also was an unusual smell, which I later identified as a mixture of coconut oil, jasmine and camphor. The women wore long skirts and had flowers in their hair. The men wore white lungis. The calls of “chai, garam chai “ was replaced by “kaffee, kaffee”. The vendors sold coffee, and tea was nowhere in sight. The breakfast or tiffin being served was in banana leaves, and newspapers in an unfamiliar script, and consisted of idlis, vadas and curd rice.
This was the first time that I had ventured South of the Vindiyas. It was almost like being in a new country. I could not communicate with my neighbours except through sign language.
Early next morning the train rolled into Madras. I was bewildered and lost in a sea of humanity whom I could not understand, and was being solicited by a mob of touts shouting “Hotel! Taxi!” and a string of incomprehensible words.
Suddenly out of the gloom there emerged a beacon of joy, in the shape of a man in white uniform and chauffeurs cap carrying a banner “Welcome Mr Mukherjee”
This completely unexpected angel of mercy guided me to a white Ambassador car, with white seat covers, which a very grimy boy, covered in two days worth of the dust of the nation, was afraid to soil. This scruffy untidy unwashed being in much stained tees was thus bourn regally to a hotel in Maylapore, my home to be for the next six months.
The novelty of being in a hotel, getting a wakeup call with tea served in the room along with the morning newspaper, proper meals served buffet style with plenty to eat in a proper restaurant, seemed like a dream, just out of my university hostel.
A telegram home informed my parents of my latest whereabouts and career choice. Two thousand kilometres protected me from their displeasure.
I got used to waking to the strains of ladies practicing Carnatik music in the neighbourhood, and the sound of temple bells. I got used to men in white with foreheads streaked with holy ash. I got used to demure women with jasmine in their hair. I got used to polite people in buses, who would not sit in a ladies seat even if it was empty, in sharp contrast to the uncouth louts in my earlier city.
I discovered a new country, the Deep South