Archive for May, 2009

Checkmate: The Grand Finale

May 24, 2009 1 comment

21st May, 2009: Like a forlorn Zoozoo, I sit alone in a corner. Everyone in the lab is busy playing chess; those who couldn’t get a partner are awaiting their turns. But no one is ready to play with me. Reason? I am too pathetic an opponent. So I sit on my working desk, dangling my legs, popping “aam goli” into my mouth every now and then and disturb the players as frequently as possible.

Swamy swaggers in. Amit animatedly- and with the aid of several unprintable, juicy swear words- informs us that the previous night, Swamy lost to Srikanth. Swamy promptly doles out the blame on me: “My standard has gone down ever since I started playing with Arpi.” As far as chess is concerned, I have no pride left to be bruised, so his comment goes unrewarded. I try to bribe Amit with aam golis, but he still refuses to play against me. After devouring 8 of the digestive candies, he vanquishes Pramod in just 10 moves. Sigh, when will I learn to play like that?

It is a busy day for me with two samples to be processed. The calculations and planning divert my mind. I am tired and I know that I will have to be in the lab till 9 P.M. I realise that I need some human company if I want to avoid sleeping through my experiments. So, I managed to coax Swamy into a game of chess. He agrees, as he too is bored.

He’s probably not concentrating, but suddenly, we both realised that he has lost quite a few of his pieces. “You’ve improved,” he remarks.

Amit- ever the inquisitive one- hurries over; he is immediately absorbed and comments that Swamy is in a bad position. By this time, Swamy gives me a check with his queen. I block his path with my queen. Now the three of us are seriously concentrating. A couple of moves later, Swamy’s queen (white) is trapped. He can rescue her and simultaneously gobble down my pawn, but he overlooks the chance and in the next move, I kill his queen. Of course, my queen also goes, but now I am in a strong position.

Now, Swamy’s pet move is to let his pawns infiltrate my side of the board and convert them into queens. There have been games when my poor king was stalked many as many as three opponent queens. This time too, Swamy is hoping for a similar coup. Amit is beside himself with excitement- I have to beg him to shut up and not guide me. I am gorging on aam golis– following Amit’s claim that they bring luck in chess.

By this time, my elephant and knight have trapped the white king. However, I have lost several pieces and one of the white pawns is all set to be reborn as a queen. One move and it will be all over. Swamy- like the priest in “The Mummy” – is so engrossed the aforementioned reincarnation, that he neglects his king. And then, like a gentle whisper on the wings of a hurricane, I take advantage of his distraction and… checkmate! Black wins!

Swamy and I are still recovering from the shock. Amit is howling, prancing, dancing, making fun of Swamy, screaming, “It’s the aamgolis! They helped Arpi to defeat you! Swamy, you loser! Yanna rascala!”

I quickly text the news of my victory to Sushma, Rajni and Pramod. By this time, Srikanth also enters the lab and is informed of the conquest, which Swamy is attributing to cheating. My absentee labmates telephone to congratulate me. I am so relieved. I will never play chess again.

22nd May, 2009: Poor Swamy. I wish Amit would stop bugging him so much. But I know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Now that we have all gotten over the shock, we have to decide what penalty Swamy will pay. The girls have unanimously decided that we want to see him dance and have even made a list of Hindi and Telugu item songs. He refuses to oblige. Maybe I will have to defeat him again to prove my point. I can already imagineCheckmate ! myself sprawled on the floor, with a butterscotch Cornetto in my hand and Swamy gyrating to some really naughty numbers!

Categories: Reality bites

Mahogany Nights

May 10, 2009 2 comments

Slowly the sky turns crimson. The sun tiredly drifts into the inviting embrace of the sea. The waves shuffle restlessly, as if urging the sun to hurry. Chirping birds head home, tired children hang on to their parents and trudge towards the sweet confines of their beds.

And then I take over, with my army of twinkling stars- the dear jewels. It’s time for me to smile upon the terrain below, tonight I’m called crescent by the inhabitants there. I do not capture as many people’s imagination in this form, as I do when I am rotund and cratered and “full”. But wait, my intentions are not to talk about myself; I want to share what I see.

He was a well-built swarthy young boy, had an excellent dressing sense and that too the kind that comes instinctively, not by standing in front of the mirror for hours. He had beautiful eyes, soft brown, that held a tinge of red when sleep threatened to break his resolve. He worked late into the nights, you see. He had a scar on his forehead, a legacy of a naughty childhood, and a dimple in only one cheek. Perfect teeth accentuated bow-shaped bottom lip and caused many a female heart to flutter.

And his hands…the tender harshness that can characterise only the hands of a human male. The strong fingers that trembled just a bit as he strummed his guitar. His guitar was made of mahogany. He never sang, never even hummed, never even shut his eyes in a moment of inner turmoil. Would stare straight at the sea, unreadable, unreachable. He would fill the night air with his music and then, slave to the luminous dials of his watch, he would saunter off into the darkness.

She was a lady of many shades. Rainbow girl- I liked to call her. Very moody. What she showed or expressed was always different from, if not opposite to, what was in her mind. She was engaged in a silent battle with the world around her during the day; during the night, she wanted to be with the only person she loved the most-herself. She wore her hair in a tight bun during the day, it flew loose during the night. Daytime witnessed her in shirts and trousers, she graced the dark beaches in a floral-print skirt. She would hum quietly to herself and compose verses in her head. She had a poet’s heart, you see.

A nervous girl who exuded self-confidence. An introvert who was the life of every party. A broken hearted lass whose jokes evoked the loudest laughter. She hated interacting with people; she was loved by all. Short, buck-toothed, yet cute. There were times when she looked almost pretty.

They met as a result of professional obligations. She respected him (was younger to him by four years), trusted him but was wary of his quiet nature. She did not have an overwhelming desire to please him, but cringed inwardly every time she did something stupid in front of him. And as luck would have it, he was always the one to point her mistakes. But he was kind to her; he taught her with patience and gentleness and was too preoccupied by his own problems to care. He thought of her as a kid, made fun of her and then gave her serious advice. Of each other’s personal lives they knew naught.

It was a pleasantly warm night that chose to epilogue a hectic day. Both of them had slogged for hours without any results. The atmosphere at work had also been tense. I need to unwind, they said to themselves, and headed for the beloved beach with its cathartic magic.

He was softly strumming his guitar, trying to block out the stress and tension of life. She was scribbling furiously on a piece of paper (was pretty good at writing even in semi-darkness), trying to cleanse her mind of the day’s grime. A gentle zephyr played with her wanton locks and carried the faint sound of his music into her ears. She heeded not, at first. The wind tried harder; and then, in a weak moment yanked her paper out of her fingers and blew it whence the music emanated. She gave a cry of despair and ran after it. Her steps slowed all of a sudden. Was it a guitar?

He played on absently. Why does life have to be so malicious all the time? He was not a warrior, for God’s sake. Suddenly, he felt tired inwardly. He wished that a ship would sail out of the ocean depths and carry him away from the messy intricacies of civilized society. His thoughts were rudely interrupted by a sheet of paper that brushed across his face. What the-

She edged closer, carefully. Hell, he’s got my paper. I have to approach him now. Hey wait a second, I know him-

“I thought I recognised your dirty handwriting.” She jumped at the sound of his voice and then flushed crimson when he laughed. “You scared me,” she stuttered.

He smiled. “Dark horse writes pretty well.”
“Dark horse plays his guitar very well.”

He looked down at the paper in his hand. She cleared her throat “Can I have my paper back?” “No. You will run away then.”

He’s joking, of course, she thought, but sat down beside him nonetheless.

“I come here often to get the day out of my system. Nature and music soothe my brain.”
“Nature inspires me to write.”

They sat in silence for a few seconds, each busy with his/ her own thoughts. Suddenly, she felt that she might be intruding upon his privacy and got up immediately. “Well, good night then. See you on Monday.”

He jumped up to his feet. “Hey! What’s the rush? I mean, it’s not very late, we could talk or something.”
She hesitated and then ventured timidly, “I thought you wanted to be alone.”

He smiled that benign smile of his, which always made her feel like a child. “What I want is some sensible company. I think you can provide it.” His smile turned naughty, “And besides, I still haven’t returned your paper.”

From then on, they happened to meet regularly. They liked each other’s company. Gradually, they shared more than just professional opinions and a cup of coffee. She shared her writings with him. He played his guitar for her. Once, she bullied him into singing her favourite song. From then on, the lonely guitar also had some company- the company of their voices. He taught her to play chess- she hated it, but she played for his sake. He set her poems to music. Slowly, their lives merged. Yet, the chasm still remained. They refrained from getting too personal. Or so they thought.

One night, he lay propped against a rock, his arm behind his head. She sat beside him, hugging her knees. They savoured the companionable silence of the night. The silence, which, tonight, was involved in a conspiracy with something that they could never fathom, that they had been trying to suppress. She looked up to find him gazing at her. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. They gazed into each other’s eyes, fighting to smother that which refused to go away. They both spoke simultaneously:

“Shall we go for a coffee?”
“I’m hungry.”

They laughed, nervously, forcibly, and made their way to the nearest coffee shop. This time, they were wary of the silence and took pains to dispel it. During an awkward pause, the door of the shop opened and a couple-newly-wed- entered. Their faces were graced by the secret bliss that only lovers can stake a claim to.

“Ever thought of settling down?” he asked her abruptly, carefully avoiding her gaze. O, oh…she thought, her heart hammering wildly and replied haltingly, “Not really. I mean, it’s bound to happen sometime. I guess, when the right time and right person come, things will fall into place.”

He nodded, not commenting. She probed, “What about you?”

Outside, the trees slowed their rustling, as if holding their breath, the stars ceased to twinkle, afraid to miss even a blink. Time stood still. I hovered, peering through the window, my cratered countenance rapt with attention. Would he listen to his heart? Would he realise that she felt the same? If the world around them understood, it should be clear to them also.

He bowed his head and said softly, “I want to marry as per my family’s wishes. They haven’t stopped me from going my way, but I know that they will never be able to face the society if I opt for an inter-caste marriage. This is the reason why I have always kept away from relationships. I mean, if I develop a soft corner for a girl, and never even reveal it to her, it will still be hard for me.”

She swore silently that the sinking feeling in her stomach was the aftermath of the spicy chicken at dinner, nothing more. “My family is very liberal; many of my cousins, even my own sister and brother have married out of the community. But I feel that I will not be able to adjust in a culture different from my own. This is why I stay away from relationships. I know this sounds rather weird in today’s free world, however, it is always best to identify one’s limits and accept one’s limitations, rather than make a mistake and regret it forever.”

Having made these choices, having fooled themselves and each other, having quenched their true feelings for the sake of a scatter-brained society, that, in sooth, really did not care about them, they sat there in the dark, pretending to feel relieved after clearing up any “misunderstandings” that might have been there. Of course, the truth was that they were miserable as the darkest innards of Hades.

“What are you thinking?” he interrupted her reverie. She looked at him steadily. I’ll never know what is the right time to tell him what I really want to, she thought, and then said in a level voice, “I have applied for a transfer. Boss says I will probably go to Calcutta.”

He kept his face blank and expressionless as he said, “I have got a new job in Bangalore. I will be leaving next month.”

The next 45 days were jam-packed for both of them. They hardly spoke to each other except for the occasional hellos. Their encounters at the beach also became progressively less. Whether they were avoiding each other, or destiny willed them to stay apart, I do not know. Yet one night, when she was yearning for his company and he desperately longed for one last conversation, they happened to meet- exactly at the same spot where his music had seduced her poetry.

They haltingly exchanged greetings, made small talk, but avoided mentioning their impending departure. Avoided talking about the beautiful past they had created together. They made no plans to meet again, to keep in touch. They pretended to be the strangers that they had been when they had first met, while, in sooth, they were closer to each other than they would ever admit. Memories tugged at their heart-strings, begging them not to be so foolish. They stubbornly attributed everything to mere physical longing.

I pitied the young children as they struggled against their feelings. Why can’t humans understand that physical attraction, a need to hold and to be held passes away with time? Love is more persistent. It lingers and it hurts. It cannot be subdued. It needs to be shared. The sea stirred restlessly, the stars fidgeted in dismay. Why, oh why, are they throwing it all away? They walked slowly, sipping the last vestiges of the night. Occasionally their bodies bumped against each other.

A thin cloud obscures my view, as if sparing me the parting scene. Truth is, it is making me impatient rather than sad. I have seen so many humans stifling their feelings, fearing that they will lose a close friend, fooling themselves into believing that they are strong, swallowing the words that will unite them forever with their loved ones. I revert my attention back to the couple. They are gazing at the sea, at me, at the trees, at everything except at each other, which is so preposterous. If only they were to read each other’s eyes just once, they would see all they need, all they want to see.

“Well,” smiled the boy. “I better push off now. Still have lots of packing to do.”

“Sure,” her smile could not hide the trembling of her lips.

He shuffled uneasily and in a low broken voice said “Bye”

The girl finally looked up into his eyes “Don’t say bye. It is such a horribly final word”

“Okay then, see you.”

She kept standing as he walked past her. Neither of them looked back.

So you ask me now what became of them? Ah, my friend! What germinates in the silver moonlight does not always sail into the golden sunset. I do not have a tale of reunion to narrate. As I sauntered all over the earth, I would glance into their lives occasionally. They worked hard, achieved their goals and yes, got married and had kids. There were no remnants whatsoever of their friendship. However, both of them lived closed to the beach. They seldom went there alone, but when they did, there was no guitar, no poetry, only a well-concealed regret, born of suppressed memories. For the millionth time, I wished I could read human thoughts. But like you, I am left to wonder what happened to the feelings that blossomed during those lovely mahogany nights. A new couple is strolling along the beach. I hope that they are wiser, and luckier, so that their love thrives.

################################################################# The EndMahogany nights

Categories: Mirages

Checkmate: Part I

May 9, 2009 1 comment

A million apologies to Mr. Archer for shamelessly plagiarising the title of one of his superb short stories; but my life is taking a turn similar to his tale.

Last week, I started learning how to play chess under the able guidance of my lab partners. I must confess, unlike most people, I find the game boring and…okay, I’ll say it, not challenging enough. Anyway, a couple of days back, Swamy was looking for a partner to play against. I volunteered. His response, “There’s no fun playing with you. You are pathetic.” The poor female ego was badly bruised. Yours truly purred sweetly, “I can’t wait to see your expression when I defeat you.”

“If you manage to defeat me within one year, I will do anything you say.” He replied nonchalantly.
I clenched my fists and teeth, mustered every single iota of self respect I had and threw the challenge: “Three months. If I don’t defeat you within three months, I’ll do anything you say.”

Hitherto the trend had been that whoever lost the last chess game of the day had to treat the rest of us to coffee. So far, SS has not spent a cent. So, my words created a major uproar in the lab. “Anything? Anything?” This was Amit, his dirty mind brimming with possibilities. Amit & Rajni are on my side- they want to see Swamy brought down and that too by a midget like me. Sushma is neutral. Pramod is confident that I will not be able to succeed. August 6th is the deadline.

This is it. I am practicing, and yesterday Swamy himself said that I have improved, but still, August 6th is not too far off. Anything can happen. Meanwhile, speculations are mounting, as to what task the loser will have to perform. I have been bombarded with suggestions, even requests. Amit & Rajni are coaching me with greater dedication than they will ever have for their research. Whatever, even I am eager to see how this saga will end. Well, time for me to get some practice. Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into?!

Categories: Reality bites

Let me be…

Down I go along a long winding road,
Painfully aware of my cross, my load.
Its not sorrow, its not health,
Its not the pressure of dwindling wealth.
Its is the people around me that break my heart,
Tear me to pieces, yes, tear me apart.
They pretend to love, but they just want to rule
My life; they think I am a fool.
Well, maybe, I am, but this is me
Accept me as I am, this is how I’ll forever be.
Change is the law, change will come when it’s due.
I’ll change with life, why should I listen to you?
If you can’t accept me, leave me alone,
Unchain me, let my fly, wherever I want to go.
Pick out the log from this jaundiced eye of thine
And then look at the little speck in mine
Let me live, let me be,
I am also human, I am just me.
Forgive me, my friend, for this little folly,
But, Let me be…oh, please…let me be.
let me be

Categories: Poems