Archive for the ‘humour’ Category

Don’t solve, resolve!

 

The fight was as unequal as it can get.

They were four. And I, alone.

After they had brutally slayed the others with me, I had been running through the lonely streets of the night looking for escape routes that were just not there.

I ran through the lit and the unlit zones of the street, created by its nightlights.

Alternating between hope and gloom.

Sometimes feeling safe standing in the whiteness of the light. Sometimes seeking camouflage in the blackness of the dark.

After an hour of mindless running, I gave up.

I fell to my knees in the middle of a narrow lane, gasping for air.

I could sense their long shadows slowly creep up on me. I looked up.

One of them took a step forward into the light, as he drew out a blood-tainted dagger from his belt. Unhurriedly, unnervingly.

Almost instantly, I heard my friend’s voice from behind his man.

“Check!”

After giving me a meaningless moment to think, he completed the inevitable.

“And mate!”

The game was over.

That was my eighteenth successive defeat to him. It had become a routine every night. He comes over to my place. We play long, intense chess.

He wins. I lose.

He goes home. I sulk.

At the end of it all, I hear a mouthful from my wife for the much-delayed dinner.

That night was no different. Except that on his way out, he unusually turned around and gave me a piece of cryptic advice.

“You know what your problem is, Ramesh?” he had asked.

“You are preoccupied with your queen. Stop trying to solve your problems. Start resolving them!”

I was hoping he’d elaborate, but he turned around and left saying, “Call me only when you are absolutely ready for the next game!”

Now, that’s the problem with these wise dumbos, these intelligent idiots, these evolved misfits. They expect others to be as wise, as intelligent, as evolved.

What does he mean by “Don’t solve, resolve”? Aren’t they the same?

I lay awake all night thinking about it, replaying that night’s game in my mind, without involving my queen too early.

I fared no better even in imagination.

In the small hours of that morning, I jumped up from my sleep and sat on the bed, staring into the darkness outside. The sun was just beginning to rise.

Out of nowhere, I remembered my school, and an incident in Class VII.

Jha sir, our maths teacher, had asked me and five others to step out of the class for copying in a test.

Just as we were wondering how he came to know, he pulled out the answer sheet of Shamar, the only one to get a zero in that test. He raised it as an example, and read out the only five lines Shamar had written in it:

Sorry sir. I don’t know any answer because I have not studied. But I don’t want to copy like my friends Ramesh, Sunder, Kumaresan and Hamid. I will start studying seriously from today. I promise you sir, this won’t happen ever again.

“It’s not just his honesty, but his attitude to problems that I want to appreciate here,” lectured Mr Jha. “I want you all to see the difference between these useless fellows and Shamar. Not studying is not a sin. But while these idiots are looking for easy solutions, here’s a boy who’s looking to resolve it permanently.”

 I wasn’t really listening to those words then. I was boiling over with rage.

That day after school, we waylaid Shamar and thulped him for being a sneak- black & blue.

Shamar went on to top the school in 12th. He joined IIT after that, and later worked for one of India’s finest infrastructure companies for 20 years. Ten years ago, he quit, and today runs a startup that’s already valued at $7.5 million.

And every night for the last 18 nights, he’s been thulping his old friend in chess- black & white.

“Don’t solve, resolve!”

I wish I’d learnt at least this one formula in school.

Solve. Resolve.

I spent the next four days thinking about these two words.

Slowly, they drifted apart as meanings, as philosophies of life.

One emerged as immediate, temporary, instinctive and shallow.

The other, enduring, permanent, mature and meaningful.

I contrasted Shamar’s life with mine, and the differences between our approaches to problems became even bigger and clearer.

I had always been a solutions guy, while Shamar had always been about resolutions.

A million examples came to my mind.

I distilled them to these two learnings:

Lesson 1: Don’t take symptoms to be the disease.

It’s the most popular mistake in life. We solve the wrong problem.

I should have learnt in class VII. The problem was not about scoring marks in the test, but about understanding the principle and application of the formulae.

Shamar had been quick to realise it.

Later in life, when Shamar’s daughter turned a teen, he was faced with a perpetual battle at home every weekend- daughter’s request for a night-out with friends, wife’s flat refusal and his silly excuses to avoid permission.

In his own words, “My wife and I made the mistake of trying to solve the problem of our daughter’s requests for night-outs, when our actual problem was her safety. The moment we addressed that, we discovered permanent peace at home!”

I had missed this lesson then:

Solutions tackle the symptoms. Resolutions tackle the disease. That’s why solutions are temporary reliefs and resolutions are permanent cures.

It seems so simple now.

Lesson 2: Solutions are about anticipating the best. Resolutions are about preparing for the worst.

“Even before I began my first startup venture, I had prepared myself for its failure. That’s why when it did fail, I didn’t go down with it. I knew exactly what I was going to do. And then, when I started my second venture, I was all prepared to fail again. Fortunately, it clicked. We are always ready for successes. It’s the failures that catch us off-guard.”

That was Shamar in a recent interview to a local TV channel. Missed its essence then. Now it seems so clear:

Solutions are about preparing for the right, hoping it won’t go wrong. Resolutions are about preparing for the wrong, hoping it will turn out right.

Suddenly, I felt ready for the nineteenth game with Shamar.

Promptly, I challenged him the very next day.

Two hours after the game had begun, around 11 in the night, I resigned. He had again won.

“I had addressed the problem. I didn’t bring out my queen until mid-game. And yet I lose,” I lamented.

“Your problem is not the queen on the chessboard!” he said and left without adding more.

This time it hit me instantly.

Of course, he had all the while been referring to my wife! The queen off-board!

He had sensed that I was preoccupied with the game dragging on past dinnertime, worried about upsetting her and her routine every night.

It was perhaps showing in my game.

I had discovered the root of the problem! And had to now resolve it.

This morning, I told my wife that we were shifting the game to six in the evening so that it could get over by dinnertime. She was thrilled and even offered to serve high tea.

I don’t know if it will help my chess, but surely it’s a valuable lesson for life.

We are playing our twentieth game tomorrow. Six in the evening. Should get over well before dinnertime.

I am going into the game, fully prepared to lose, but hoping against hope to win.

 

 

Today’s Brand New. Tomorrow’s Grand Old.

 

31st December is the day I feel completely out of sync with the rest of the world.

Yesterday was no different.

The whole world was looking ahead at 2016. And I was looking back at 2015. Everyone was drunk on hope. I stayed stupidly sober with nostalgia. People were talking about next year’s resolutions. I was talking about last year’s.

Basically, I fail to understand why people celebrate a year that’s yet to happen.

I think the New Year is the only event in our lives that’s celebrated even before it’s begun.

“Aren’t celebrations about successful completions? Shouldn’t we be evaluating the year gone by instead of celebrating the one yet to come?” I ask, like I do every year.

“Let bygones be bygones!” they reply, like they do every year.

Of course! Why wouldn’t they want bygones to be bygones!

Mr. Ashok Jain hasn’t returned my Rs. 53.45 that he borrowed in July.

Mrs. Sharma’s Labrador peed in the elevator 275 times through last year.

Capt. Nair has reminded me that I’m losing hair and gaining weight, every time we met.

Some others have cheated on their spouses.

Many others have lied.

Most have failed to change their annoying habits.

So why wouldn’t they want to forget 2015!

Just like they forgot their 2014, 2013, 2012…

No wonder people drink until they can remember nothing of the previous year.

I’m okay with that. What I can’t digest is how in that drunken state they go on to make tall new promises and lofty new resolutions.

“This year, I’m going to buy my wife that long overdue Platinum neckpiece!”

There’s applause all around. His wife blushes, and gives him the warmest hug and longest kiss.

The stakes go up as one by one each husband announces his plan.

And comes my turn.

I have a 100% record of keeping my new year resolutions, so I stay realistic.

“I’m going to buy my wife a Gucci handbag!”

There’s the biggest applause of the evening, as it came unexpectedly from me. My wife’s expression of surprise was genuine as she moved towards me for the hug and kiss.

“But it will only be in July because I’m told there’s going to be a 40% clearance sale at the fake market in Linking Road!” I competed my promise honestly.

The applause stopped. My wife froze midway. Her smile, now a frown. Then rage.

Honesty comes with a huge price tag. Bigger than Gucci’s. No discounts. No fakes.

But I’d rather pay for honesty than bluff.

That way, at least, I’ll be the only one on 31st December with the courage to talk about the year gone by.

I have noticed that a few news channels do this very well. They play their goofs and NG takes alongside their best stories of the year.

Isn’t it fun to look back at our failures and successes, our bad moments and good moments.

Isn’t it how life should be lived?

Making today a memorable yesterday.

Isn’t that a nice guideline to how we should spend every day of our lives?

I believe when my mother delivered me, her midwife used to pour steaming hot water on her belly during her bath. My mother would scream and curse that old lady. That lady would then go on to give my mother the most painful back massage, and say, “One day, many years from now, when all women of your age complain of backache, you’ll wonder what that is. That day remember to thank this old lady!”

So true it turned out to be.

Similarly, my swimming coach told me on the first day of class, “One day you’ll look back and laugh at how petrified you were to even step into the shallow end of the pool.” Suddenly my fear had turned into a fond memory, and I stepped in.

I remember using this technique on my son. He was only seven then. We were at a crocodile farm. As part of the tour, they gave us a hatchling to hold for a photo op. He simply refused to hold the baby croc. When all persuasion and assurances failed, I told him that it would make a great snap, which if posted on facebook would get maximum likes. He instantly agreed and did it. We still look at his expression in that snap and have a great laugh.

Another instance was when I asked a 70-year-old why he was training for the marathon.
“To look good on the postmortem table!” he had said.

And, when asked why she was working her butt out at the gym, an office colleague had once said, “To look good in rear view mirrors!”

But the philosophy really sunk in when I went to buy a new phone some years ago.

“Switch to a brand new smart phone, uncle!” said the salesgirl at the counter.

“I’m not at an age where I can experiment with these new gizmos. Give me the same old model,” I insisted.

That’s when she clinched it.

“Uncle, I agree it’s going to take you months to get used to the touchscreen. Months of fidgeting, clumsy calling, messed up messaging and full of funny incidents. But at the end of it all, it’s going to give you a lifetime of new experiences to talk about and many many memories to think back on.”

She was so true.

Play for the playback!

Because today’s brand new is going to be tomorrow’s grand old.

So spend 2016 the way you would like to celebrate the next 31st December.

Yawn, but don’t sleep

“Watching people sleep!”

Now, that was an embarrassing answer to give someone who asked, “So what’s your hobby, son?”

Especially in the early 1970s, when the popular answers were:

“Reading.”

“Cycling.”

“Swimming.”

“Pen Pals.”

As an activity-challenged kid, I knew that.

Which is why, I became creatively inclined to lie.

“Quizzing,” I had once said.

Only to be asked, “Good! Can you name a mammal that lays eggs?”

(That’s the difference between kids and adults. Kids ask questions only if they don’t know the answers. Adults ask questions only if they know the answers, and are sure the other doesn’t.)

“Collecting rare, old coins,” I had said the next time, to avoid being quizzed.

But when someone insisted on seeing my collection, I had to lie again.

“Sorry uncle, it’s gone for album making!”

The worst thing about such lies was that people switched to these as birthday gifts from then on.

Oh, how I hated an album of old, rusty coins instead of a gleaming red toy car!

All this, because I was too embarrassed to admit that my real hobby was- well, watching people sleep.

Not that all kids always did purposeful things.

Considering that little Bill Gates had, perhaps, simply stared at windows, Jim Morrison at doors, Steve Jobs at apples and Steven Spielberg at jaws, little Ramesh Rabindranath wasn’t too bad.

After all, sleep looked like a mystery that hadn’t been fully unravelled yet.

There was something about the way people snored, the way their torsos heaved and their lips quivered, in sleep.

“Sleeping like a baby!” seemed a description that begged deeper investigation.

After wasting many productive hours, I came to the conclusion that sleep is nothing but the human soul in a state of absolute innocence.

“Every soul becomes pure and pristine in slumber. Only in slumber.” I derived.

If true, this finding had the potential to become a world-changing one.

All jails and reform homes could become sleeping spas, where culprits could simply be made to sleep to goodness.

Sounded great. But like fate, was flawed.

The first time I sensed this was when I was 12 and my brother 8.

We had had a fight and I had sworn revenge.

After he had slept, I decided to creep up to his desk and destroy a few of his favourite toys. But when I saw him sleep- mouth open, drooling, helpless and surrendered, I changed my mind.

How can you trick someone who sleeps in total faith that no wrong will happen to his world?

I forgave him.

But the next morning, I felt cheated when he told me how he saw a wonderful dream wherein he beat me to pulp and broke all my toys.

I realised dreams can be vicious, and that it was possible for a person to be more evil in sleep than when awake.

My hobby suddenly lost all its sheen.

But not my belief.

I was certain that there would be a moment- however small, insignificant and fleeting- when even the worst soul in the world would be in a state of absolute goodness.

If it wasn’t sleep, then it must be something else. And it had to be discovered. For the greater good of the world.

Bill Gates founded Microsoft, Jim Morrison formed Doors, Steve Jobs started Apple and Spielberg made Jaws.

I discovered the Yawn.

Yes, the Yaaawwwwn.

Rediscovered it.

Unlike sleep, yawning wasn’t corrupted by dreams. Or even thoughts, for it is difficult to think or do anything while yawning.

“The yawn is the purest state of the human mind!” I yelled for posterity, in a second attempt to have my life’s Eureka moment recorded. 

I had discovered the magic of this precursor to sleep by sheer accident.

I used to sell Life Insurance at that time. As all salesmen know, understanding the body language of the customer is everything.

When the customer smiles too much, it means he is struggling to be polite, but might not succeed for long.

When he widens his eyes, it means he is not interested, only pretending to be interested.

When he nods too much, it means he is happily agreeing with you because he has just bought one the previous day.

And yes, when he yawns, it means he is bored.

Or so the world thought.

Until I discovered how child-like the human mind can be while yawning.

When a man yawns, his mask falls, his defenses are lowered, poise crumbles, best-profile contorts, and he stands disarmed and vulnerable.

Most of my sales were based on the exploitation of this moment, summed up as a mantra thus:

“If you make them yawn, even the toughest would relent.”

Ask any army man. He’d tell you that sleep deprivation is one of the most popular techniques to make captured enemies spill secrets.

People yawn secrets out.

That’s the thing about yawns.

It has the ability to make even the gravest issues worthless. It makes our point of view meaningless, and the fight for it seem silly.

That’s because the yawn brings a universal perspective to everything, making our immediate attitude, thoughts and deeds seem petty in the larger scheme of things.

It is difficult to be cruel, envious and negative when you yawn.

Try it.

Think about it.

Do you think a yawning man can ever rape?

Steal?

Or back stab?

Have you ever seen a terrorist yawn?

Never.

Yawning is an act of self-realisation, of actualisation.

If only more people yawned more often and longer, every soul would become a noble one. And this world would be such a good place to live in.

At least until people go to sleep and begin to dream those terrible dreams.

Universe, Inc. is hiring!

 

If I told you iPhone 6 exists, would you believe me?

You’d insist on seeing it, touching it, and would want to know how it compares with Samsung’s next. Wouldn’t you?

And if I told you that you can’t do any of that, but would still have to believe it exists, have blind faith in it, spend money on it and go about your life pretending it is in your pocket, wouldn’t you ask me to look for another sucker?

Rightly so.

But how come you aren’t this rational when they say the same about God?

Now, is that a very sacrilegious thing to imply?

Have I hurt your religious sensibilities enough to make you rave, rant and turn this into a huge issue?

Good.

You can sue me for blasphemy, get this ‘offensive’ post removed and even force WordPress to block my blog. Maybe there’s a way to get me banned from the internet, too.

How about issuing a fatwa against me, putting a prize money on my head?

Please do it.

Because that bounty is going to be bigger than any insurance cover I can ever give my family. By asking my wife to turn me in, I can ensure that they live happier than ever.

Money apart, there’s instant fame. There’s no shorter route to international celebrityhood or richness today than a controversy, scandal or crime concerning God- yours, hers or mine.

See the irony?

Don’t pass me off as an atheist. I believe in God. He exists, and has been creating amazing stuff all around since long- even before time became a concept. No question about it.

All I am saying is anything that exists must be up for critique.

So it is with God. It’s time we reviewed His performance.

Is that such an unreasonable thing to say in a world where everything from food, clothes, films, music, gizmos, employees, spouses and kids are judged every day?

So. Let’s do it.

Here’s my evaluation of God: He has failed, miserably.

He is past his prime. (The perk of capitals has been withdrawn with immediate effect, as you can see.) He is now becoming a liability to all that he has created thus far.

And so, I dare say this: God’s got to go!

Let me explain.

Look around, where’s all the good in the world gone? Where does one get to see honesty, kindness, love, graciousness these days?

Okay, outside this blog?

And humility?

Gone for ever.

In contrast, the bad is everywhere.

Wars, killings, rapes, drugs, frauds, alcohol, terrorism…so much that an old-fashioned, simple theft now seems an honourable way of making a living.

Clearly, evil rules.

The problem is that we humans blame ourselves, our parents and our society for all this. We blame everyone but god, the chief architect of all this mess.

He enjoys religious immunity which is worse than diplomatic immunity. It absolves him of everything, including colossal failure.

Let me try to put his failure in a perspective that’s closer home.

Let’s forget he is god. Let’s assume he is a father. The father of this Universe. (Okay, mother, if you insist.)

Now, if god is the single-parent of this Universe, then we are his family- A totally dysfunctional family of a few billion children. And that’s just the legitimate ones.

It is rumoured that there could be many more tucked away in other planets- our half-siblings who I am told are complete weirdos with antennas sticking out of their heads.

That our family is in complete disarray isn’t surprising, because it’s a parent we have not seen or heard, forget hugged, kissed or played PS-3 with. Actually, we don’t even know if our parent is a father or a mother. We have been asked to fend for ourselves in the belief that someone is around somewhere watching us and guarding us.

Have you noticed how all the good that happens are because of him and all the bad that happens are our own making? How convenient.

Yes, I know it is tough to be a single parent, but then we are not expecting a Harry Potter series to be written alongside, are we?

Yes, it’s tough to run a home this wide and head a family this big. But if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt can, why can’t god?

The truth is begging to be told: If god were a parent, he’d be the worst one in the Universe.

If you don’t quite agree, let me give you another perspective.

If the Universe were a nation, what kind of a Head of State do you think god would be?

Lincoln like? Lenin? Mao? Nelson Mandela? Gandhi or Mother Teresa like?

Brace yourself for this: None of the above. He’d be a dictator.

You are probably saying benevolent dictator.

Sorry, he’d be worse than Hitler. The cruelest so far.

No one in this Universe has more blood on his hands than god. He believes everyone born must be made to suffer and one day mercilessly killed. He has brainwashed us into believing that the death he hands out to us is inevitable, and must be accepted gleefully, regarding it as salvation.

The UN would have called his kingdom a rogue state and imposed sanctions against it. The world would have waged an aligned war to overthrow such a tyrant. And yet, here we are, worshipping him.

Convinced? No?

Okay, this one you will have to accept. It’s an analogy everyone understands.

Let us assume that the Universe is an organisation. The Universe, Inc.

If all the evil in this world were losses and all the good were profits, then Universe, Inc. would be a company deeply in red.

I don’t know about you, but if I were appointed the Chairman of Universe, Inc. today, I’d want to clean up the act.

Here’s how I would go about it.

The first thing I’d do is summon god, to my galactic corner office overlooking the Milky Way.

His employee docket would be on the table in front of me.

It would be a bulky, dusty file with Gothic inscription on its cover.

Employee Number: 1

Employee Name: God Almighty

Designation: CEO

Date of Joining: Unknown

I wouldn’t have to refer to that docket to know what it contains. After all, who doesn’t know god’s credentials.

  • The greatest entrepreneur ever.
  • Built a start-up from just a Big Bang to whatever it is today.
  • His experiment on Earth resulted in absolutely fabulous concepts like Water, Oxygen and Life.
  • He introduced Evolution of Species- a self-betterment science that resulted in a thinking species- Humans.

That we turned out to be his nemesis, is unfortunate.

A star performer alright, but he is someone who has escaped appraisal thus far. Not any longer. At least, not under this new management.

I would want an explanation and would love to ask:

Why? Why, in the name of god, did you have to create all this mess?”

But I wouldn’t ask.

I know him too well.

He would look at me and smile that smile which has given us common folk a false sense of hope, assurance, confidence, and turned us into these religion-injected zombies.

I am sure his reply would be something as noncommittal as this:

No one creates mess. Mess happens.”

An adequately vague and confusing statement that sounds like profound philosophy, but is actually an escape door.

But I’d have done my homework and won’t go that way.

Instead, I would read out to him, his own first law of this Universe:

Whatever exists must one day exit.”

Without flinching, I would then proceed to say the dreaded pink-slip words:

“Mr. God, you are fired!”

And that would be it. The end of god’s reign.

Like any good board member, you would want to know what next.

I would have to find a replacement. It wouldn’t be easy. But It would have to be done.

So, spread the word: Universe, Inc. is hiring! Applications welcome!

In a few days, I would be done and would announce the successor to god, the ex-almighty.

 

My quest for the last

 

You know what the problem with life’s lessons is?

They are like Technology.

Just when you think you have mastered one, life reveals its newer versions- Truer versions of truths.

Sometimes they are just upgrades. But often they are completely new, and change your old beliefs so much that it feels stupid to have clung on to them stubbornly all along.

Happens to me all the time. So if you spot contradictions in my posts, remember, they aren’t conversations of a confused soul, but new, improved, updated versions of my beliefs.

Look at 2012, for instance. I started the year eagerly with ‘First, at last’. But grew wiser through the year, and am ending with ‘My quest for the last’.

Coming to think of it, this is a lesson life has been desperately trying to tutor me unsuccessfully for five decades.

Take First Love- a concept that the world has unnecessarily romanticised, given undue importance and immortalised. In a moment I’ll tell you how meaningless it can be.

Mine happened quite early in life. I remember it vividly. I had fallen for that dimpled, giggling, bundle of ecstasy in the cradle next to mine, at the Baby Room in a maternity home. I think I was two days old and she, one. On the third day as the head matron came to take me away, mercilessly separately us young hearts, I remember, I bawled and flapped my tiny hands around in an uneven fight. As I was taken out of the room, I threw one last glance back at my love, just for keeps. She was kicking the air in protest. It was then that her diaper fell off and I saw her stark naked.

She was a he.

Forget the First, no matter how many loves you have in life, the only one that really matters is the last, because that’s the one you get married to and live with for the rest of your life.

Life is clear about its lessons. “It’s not the first, but the last that matters.”

In cricket, it’s not the first, but the last ball that counts. It’s not the first, but the last run that becomes the winning run.

In a race, it’s not how well you start, but how well you finish.

In life, it’s not who you were born as, but who you die as.

In a chocolate box, it’s not the first, but the lone last slab that’s the sweetest.

In your wallet, it’s not the first, but the last coin that’s most precious.

In school, it’s not the first, but the last day of exams that is most memorable.

Dumb me, life was so blatant about its clues and yet I didn’t catch them.

I used to come home from school and say that I was the 35th ranker in class or finished 8th in the 1500-meter heats. But I would never admit I was the last.

This, in spite of the obvious rewards that life doles out to those who finish last.

The last ranker enjoys every day of his school, and has just one bad day in a year- the day of the results. Whereas the first ranker slogs the whole year for that one good day.

But the world continues to equate finishing last to losing.

Which is why 31st December isn’t the last day of the year, but the new year’s eve.

It is never about bidding a fond farewell to the last, but always about ushering in the first.

As I write this, even the precious last seconds of the year have been reduced to just a countdown to 2013.

Not for me. At least, not this year.

I am dwelling in this last moments of 2012, slowing it down, stretching it to an eternity and delaying the year’s last tock after its last tick, as much as I can.

So much, that I have all the time in the world to publish this post.

Whoever thinks that finishing last is easy, should try finishing last in Slow Cycling.

Or, refuse to budge from the end of a bungee jumping queue.

Or, get the last word with his wife, boss or news anchor- that’s like trying to win a shouting match with your echo.

Or simply do what I have just done- become the world’s last blogger of 2012 by publishing the last post of the year in the whole World Wide Web at 11:59:59 on 31st December.

Three Stories. One Epilogue.

 

What if the dog bites me?”

Asked my then seven-year-old niece to her dad.

It wasn’t the first time that I had heard her offer this reason for not going anywhere near our pet dog. But I had no inkling that this time it was going to end differently and offer me a valuable lesson in life that I’d fail to learn then.

Like always, on that day too, my brother’s standard explanation to his daughter was: “It won’t. It doesn’t bite anyone. It never has.”

Her standard retort too came: “But what if it loses its mind and suddenly bites me?”

But this time her dad’s standard two-hour sermon that starts with logic and moves on to rage, and ends in plea, was missing. Instead, he smiled, put his hand around her and settled in front of her, looking into her eyes.

When dads do something this reassuring, you can be sure a well-rehearsed, clincher of an argument is coming up.

It did.

“In that case, why fear only the dog? What if I suddenly lost my mind and hit you? What if this house suddenly crumbled on us? What if your uncle suddenly turned into a Chimp?”

I found that stupid, especially the last part.

But, sometimes good recipients can make even poor logic seem effective.

My niece changed overnight. I saw her make friends with the dog the next day.

At the end of that vacation, she wept inconsolably when she left our home, the dog and the Chimp. Most for the dog, I assumed.

That story of her transformation was shorter than a tweet and more instant than noodles.

But let not its insignificant size and absence of mythical characters make it any less an epic than, say, the Bhagavad Gita, because if all things in this world could change that fast and as absolutely, we’d be living in an ideal world within an hour- something the epics have failed to do even after thousands of years.

Her story sums up one of life’s biggest lessons for me. That I failed to learn it then and took many more years and even a death to understand it, is entirely my failing, not the story’s.

* * *

“What if my dad dies one day?”

Not exams, teachers or bullies, not ghosts, demons or monsters, not dogs, chimps or tigers, you know what I was most afraid of as a child?

The possibility that my father could die one day.

Every time he fell ill, I would fear he would never recover. Every time he travelled, I would have nightmares about accidents.

What if he never returned home from work today? I have sat there worrying many days.

In all my growing-up years, I would easily have imagined more than a million such horrific scenarios. Influenced by the Hindi and Tamil films of those times, I would imagine us, as orphaned mother and sons, roaming the streets, me as a burdened first son singing on trains to make a living, and my brother, wailing and tagging along with a leaky nose.

I tried almost everything to break free from this predicament, unsuccessfully. The origin of all my life’s superstitions, beliefs, rituals and prayers, directly or indirectly can be traced to this one fear.

As a kid I’ve written numerous petitions to God, sometimes making impractical promises in return for my dad. One of them when I was probably ten, was to give up chocolates for good. Another was never to look at girls ever again. Those fierce vows must have lasted for all of two days at most, I think.

For long, I believed that it was our financial dependency that made me fear losing him. But I was wrong, because even after I matured into an adult, left home and raised a family of my own, the fear refused to go away. The What Ifs only got worse.

There are times when it bordered on paranoia. Every phone call from home was like an alarm. His every cough, cold and sneeze, I feared would be a symptom of something more terrible.

As an adult, the only progress I made was moving from a childish Please God, don’t ever snatch him away from us to a more realistic Please God, don’t do it this year, please, please!

Finally, when I was 51 and he was 78, an innocuous cough was diagnosed as an irreversible lung dysfunction.

Just as I had feared. But nearly five decades late.

I expected the world to shatter around me. It didn’t.

I thought I would blame myself for breaking sacred vows and eating chocolates or looking at girls. No, I didn’t.

In fact, there was a huge sense of catharsis. Fear, worry, anger, doubts, envy, greed, ego, everything left me, all at once. And I discovered a self, unknown to me until then.

For the next eight months, before he finally succumbed on the 7th of April this year, I shared with him some of our best moments together.

We chatted almost daily about work, life, human nature. We openly criticised and appreciated each other like we hadn’t earlier. We pointed out to each other our wrongs, which if corrected could make us better human beings.

By the time he died, I was filled with a sense of completion and wholeness about our relationship.

I found myself telling a mourner, “I am happy he died. It was the right time for him to go. No regrets.”

On one of those days that followed his cremation, I recollected my niece’s What if the dog bites story.

I appreciated and enjoyed the essence of that incident better, though the Chimp bit still hurt.

* * *

What if the world ends on 12.12.12?”

Two days ago when I heard someone say that, I laughed aloud.

I have seen quite a few doomsdays in my lifetime.

People sell properties dirt cheap, quit lucrative jobs, marry an available option and sweat it out to make babies before the world ends.

It’s very reassuring to know that there are millions who are more stupid than I am.

“No, it won’t!” I told my friend, displaying a newly developed disrespect to life’s What Ifs.

“It will,” he insisted, and went on to quote an ancient civilisation, a scientific paper, numerological derivations and astronomical observations.

Surprising how so much of knowledge and information can make a man look stupid.

“Are you willing to bet on this?” I asked, drooling over the gullible, like a cheetah would at the sight of a lame deer. Like a chimp eyeing a banana bunch.

He fell.

So on 13.12.12 if I wake up, I’d have won, and would be richer by a cool 10k.

If I don’t wake up, neither would he. Nor would the world. And his What If wouldn’t have mattered.

It’s a win-won’t-lose deal.

* * *

The Epilogue

Horror is when you don’t know what.

Thriller is when you don’t know when.

Mystery is when you don’t know how.

Suspense is when you don’t know who.

And future is when we don’t know any of those.

That’s why there’s nothing more unknown or feared in this world than the future.

It’s the biggest bestselling fiction that the world writes, day in and day out. Everyone contributes, often building on others’ imagination, making it larger and scarier. It’s got to be the world’s greatest co-creation effort.

Everyone is at their creative best. And no one’s burdened with the need to be logical or having to substantiate their worries, as fears demand no reason.

The human mind has this destructive capability of seeing many things in nothing, to see harm in the harmless.

So a simple goodbye on long-distance trains begins to seem like the last. People run with the train for a last wave to their loved ones, for a last touch of hands.

Clothes on hangers become limbless ghosts dangling inside closets. Handshowers behind shower curtains become psychopaths waiting with daggers. Old stuff under beds turn into monsters crouching to pounce. Meteors become UFOs, geographical phenomenons become alien attacks and unique dates become doomsdays.

No wonder humans spend 90% of their waking hours, often sleeping ones too, worrying about things that aren’t true and never happen.

A friend summed it up for me, rather nicely.

“We are like the dads and moms driving for a family picnic. We live our lives worrying about What Ifs. What if it rains? What if there’s a road block? What if we have a flat tyre? Instead, we should become like their kids at the backseat- playing, nibbling, fighting, looking at the scenery outside, putting their heads out to feel the wind on their hair. Enjoying the moment.”

What if he’s right?

Happier, Merrier, Funnier

 

I am done with the Olympics.

As I watched the opening ceremony on TV, the truth exploded in the grey of my head, like Boyle’s fireworks in the London sky.

The seed for this sudden thought was perhaps sown a few hours earlier, while having dinner with my family that night.

The image of the four of us seated around our circular dining table had an uncanny resemblance to the tall light-towers overlooking the Olympic stadium- perhaps ominous of the revelation that was to strike me later.

The dinner itself was no different from the countless ones we’ve had through the years- as predictable. The conversations, as expected.

My younger son, always the first off the block, spoke about how his teacher threw an impossible question to the class that day. Her question seemed to have sped like a rogue train through the rows of benches, mauling 39 out of the 40 students in class, to reach you-know-who.

If that sounds like a Hollywood thriller, then the end was typical, too.

The last boy sitting, stands up in slow motion and utters the answer with echoing effect.

The teacher exalts him. The students clap non-stop.

I stifled a yawn. My wife shed copious tears of joy. My first son hastened the end-credits in a hurry to begin his show.

His show was cricket.

Six runs to win, one ball to go, last batsman in.

Obviously, the guess-who did the guess-what.

My wife shed more tears. I threw some well-rehearsed pats on son’s back. And my younger son sulked his loss of limelight, before my wife began her story.

It was about the new original recipe that she had come up with that evening. She cooked and send the dish to her friends in the building, and every husband and every wife had called back to say she is truly the Masterchef, God’s gift to cooking and much more.

“God’s own cook,” I was tempted to joke, but feared being chopped, cooked and served next.

Instead, “Can you pass some more of the…er…whatever that is?” I requested, bringing into play my years of training in corporate sycophancy.

I served myself whatever-it-was, a lot more than necessary. I saw her wipe a few tears off her eyes. Not sure if they were old ones or new ones.

I proceeded to struggle and finish her experiment, pretending to have been blown over by its taste. A little later, I suddenly realised that all had stopped talking. There had been an unusual silence for a while. I looked up only to see all of them staring at me. How could I forget, the last turn is always mine! They were expecting my success story of the day.

I hemmed and hawed, did a bum-shuffle on the seat, took another serving of the disaster, coughed, drank water, pretended my phone had beeped, re-read some old messages, and basically bought more time.

Time heals, they say.

But doesn’t prevent, I discovered.

So finally, when there was no Emergency Exit visible, I spoke.

I narrated another one of those stories that I’ve been so deftly cooking up at the table all these years. Basically, a blatant lie.

Like junk food, it is delicious, sumptuous, but terribly unhealthy. But people relish it. Three happy faces are any day greater than one guilty heart. The story of my failings would have never created such a happy, contended, hopeful family moment. Never.

Life and the Olympics are about triumphs. Only about triumphs.

This parallel struck me as I sat watching the opening ceremony later that night.

There have been 12 Olympics in my lifetime. This is the 13th. (See the reason?)

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the ones that I’ve seen. That night too, I had begun enjoying myself.

The world was celebrating together. Cultures were melting into each other as one performance gave way to another seamlessly.

And yet, at the back of my mind was this lurking demon of a thought.

Wouldn’t all this bonhomie soon give way to rivalry, competition and hatred when the Games actually begin?

For the first time in my life I found the great Olympic mantra, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ rather silly.

I wanted to scream back, “Than whom?” “For what?”, “To go where?”

That night, the slogan sounded so much like an energy beverage ad.

Images of desperate moms pushing their kids to outperform and defeat their friends came to my mind. Moms desperately trying to achieve through their children what they themselves couldn’t do in their lives. As for the dads, they are always busy getting faster, higher, stronger at work.

Don’t the overgrown, muscle-enhanced Olympic champions crouching at starting lines, remind you of those made-to-perform kids? Aren’t the failed athletes masquerading as trainers, behaving like disgruntled moms?

At the sound of a whistle or a gun shot, these athletes, like circus animals, walk, run, jump, leap, throw, swim, gyrate, fight, pass batons and play ball. Not for the love of sport. But to help their nations exert power, dominate, humiliate, and win a World War without the fear of a nuclear holocaust.

Look at boxing. One has to punch the opponent to a bloody, instant kayo, and condemn him to a life affected by Parkinson’s later, just to claim Gold medal for his nation.

Sweaty flesh wrestles sweaty flesh through postures straight out of the Kamasutra, until the victor pins down the victim like a merciless rapist, so that he can do his nation proud at the victory stand.

My heart goes out to the marathoners. Some of them come from countries where water is more precious than Gold, and would rather snatch the water bottle offered on the way, and run back home. And yet they are forced to run endless miles to upset a superpower.

Why can’t people and nations stop competing? Why can’t the world just get together more often and have simple fun? The Olympics can become a celebration of cultures, where Iranians dance with Americans, Palestinians with Israelis, Indians with Pakistanis, Sinhalese with Tamils, Koreans with…well, Koreans, Chinese with the Dalai Lama, Coke with Pepsi, Apple with Microsoft and I with Angelina Jolie.

I am telling you, there will be an instant impact on all things around the globe. Even around my dining table.

My younger son’s dinner time story would change to how wonderful it would be to fast with his friend Shamsuddin for 40 days during Ramadan. (No mom’s veggies, would be the real reason, though.)

My first son’s would be about how they are planning to go to school the next day with one leg tied up, just to know how their classmate Rishab deals with it all his life.

Mine would be true stories of my failings, fearlessly said and laughed about.

The Olympics can be the change that the world is unable to be- Happier, Merrier, Funnier.

The five rings that now seem like stress nooses would then turn into smilies.

I have already seen hope at this Olympics. Look at the empty seats at all venues. People are fed up. In contrast, look at the huge crowds for beach volleyball. The only sport where no one is bothered which nation wins or which loses. It is not about Faster, Stronger, Higher, but about Lesser. It’s not about Gold, Silver or Bronze, but about the Tan.

Therein lies the secret of bringing the world and its people closer.

May contests end. Let fun begin.

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