Archive for the ‘Inner Voice’ Category

Q greater than A


There can be a million unanswered questions in your life, but there should never be even one unasked question.

But asking isn’t easy.

If there’s one thing that’s tougher than being asked a question, it is being asked to ask a question. That’s because it’s quite acceptable to say, ‘No, I don’t know the answer.’ We are at worst dubbed, ignorant. But imagine having to say, ‘No, I don’t know what to ask.’ That’s sounds downright silly and makes us look like distilled idiots.

My first recorded experience of this predicament was on the 21st of August, in 1970.

Our history teacher had stopped reading from the textbook and was visually scanning the class for her afternoon prey. I had ducked behind swollen heads in front of me, the way a deer would hide behind overgrown shrubs. But then the jungle is a much fairer place than a classroom- a deer never has to give himself up, but students have to.

‘At this point in Akbar’s reign, there’s an obvious question that should be asked. Ramesh, do you know what it is?’

I slowly gave myself up from behind all those heads, wondering why a teacher always overlooks the easy and willing preys in front of her, and instead chooses to hunt down the most reluctant one. Bad tiger!

What am I supposed to ask? A million questions had flooded my head, but were they relevant?

When will the bell ring?

Miss, can we change that to who built the Taj Mahal?

Would there be upma at home this evening?

All unaskable.

I stood there frozen in time and history. Right at the centre of the grand Mughal durbar in front of the Emperor of Emperors, Akbar the Great; amidst impatient and valiant warriors in combat mode; flanked by the Emperor’s personal bodyguards ready to behead me if my question turned out silly. I stood tongue-tied, as the whole Mughal kingdom’s subjects waited with bated breath seeking deliverance, hoping to hear their messiah speak and ask that one question that would change their lives and the course of history forever. But I never did. And that moment lapsed into forgettable history permanently with the long bell. A death knell.

The next equally dramatic lapse came on the 10th of February, in 1989.

As upstarts in advertising, my dear friend Murali and I were shocked to see our freelance election campaign done for Mr. Murasoli Maran released in the papers, while the official word was that it had been rejected. Many phone calls, many threats to sue them, and many abuses later, one day we got a call asking us to come to their den. Friends warned us not to fall for the trap as by then the DMK had won the elections. But we walked right into it fearlessly, armed with just the proof of our campaign, and were ushered into a room full of party thugs.

Creative revolutionaries taking on the establishment.

That’s the problem with our films. They make reckless youngsters believe that they can do in one real-life take what filmi heroes do in 14 retakes, with help from co-operative villains, stunt masters, rehearsals and tomato sauce.

But to our great disappointment, two youngsters among them, clad in faded jeans, apologised profusely and tore out a cheque asking us for the amount.

I had gone all prepared for a good David-Goliath fight in the name of creativity, not to return like a gushing beggar with more-than-asked-for alms thrown into bowl.

So I thundered, ‘Sorry, creative people yearn for acknowledgement, not money.’

Having said what was equivalent to a slap, I turned in slow motion, walking out dragging along Murali by his hand, like a hero would walk out on the villains, with the heroine. I am sure I heard Ilayaraja’s background score that went hey, hey, hey.

As we reached the door, I heard the youngsters call after us to say, ‘If there’s anything you want to ask whenever, don’t hesitate.’

Ladies and gentlemen, those boys are today better known as Dayanidhi Maran and Kalanidhi Maran. Their combined worth beyond my mental math.

Their open offer to ask anything remains unasked like an uncashed cheque that’s past its pay-by date.

The third occasion was on the 13th of September, in 1991.

As women gloated over the similarities between us and glossed over our differences, men clustered around their drinks and spoke about the falling dollar, the rising sensex, the growing IT sector and the degrowing insecticide market.

Thankfully some sensible soul in that gathering said, ‘Ramesh, why don’t both of you go in there and have a small chat with each other?’

I knew small and chat were the absolutely crucial words. So I wasted no time. We disappeared into the next room, heckled and teased all the way out by the women. Finding no chair, we made ourselves uncomfortable by sitting on makeshift stools. Once settled, the two words small and chat lit up in my mind, and had the same effect that On Air has on a RJ.

Now, when it comes to breaking ice, time is of essence. The longer you take, the tougher it gets. So, I broke the silence even before it became silence.

‘Anything you want to ask?’

That was meant to be more like ‘How’s the weather?’ But she seemed to have been all prepared. She quick-fired 25 yes or no questions at me, some of which no one has ever asked me in my life.

I answered every one of them, at the speed of a recoil. Each one, a blatant lie.

She was thrilled beyond what facial muscles can express. In her joy she grew respectful and asked me if I had any questions.

‘One.’ I said, ‘Just one.’

As you can see I was better prepared for this third occasion in my life. And so I asked her the one question that was to determine the future of our lives together.

‘Tell me, do you like MGR or Shivaji?’

She hesitated, but replied. ‘MGR.’

‘Me too!’ I said gleefully. We were both overjoyed. We hugged and kissed in the privacy of her kitchen- yes, kitchen- until the two words small and chat got between us.

We came out and interrupted the saccharine conversation of the women and the Save the Planet summit of the men.

‘Yes, we would like to get married to each other!’ we announced in a school-function like chorus, to the kind of appreciative audience that one gets only during one’s marriage.

Not one year passes without her reminding me of that embarrassing incident. And each time I wonder what would have happened had she replied, ‘Shivaji.’

So, ladies and gentlemen, life is mostly a question of questions. And very rarely about answers.

But I am afraid none of you asked me the obvious question that was begging to be asked of a philosophy like L until E. I gave you 8 days to ask it. But you didn’t. Don’t sweat over it. In a few days I’d be back with the big Q and its simple A, as told to me by the greatest philosopher I’ve met. No, not my Inner Voice. I said met, not just heard.

Scream, you’re on camera!


Your responses to my line made me miss advertising, unusually, the other day. (Otherwise it is mostly on the first of every month.)

It also reminded me of another day- a dull, rainy morning three months after I had quit advertising. Sitting in the comfort of Oshiwara’s Cafe Coffee Day, with a dear friend of mine who had wanted to have a bloke-to-bloke talk with me, I watched the city rush to work in the slush outside.

‘Thank God, I’m no longer a racing rat!’ I had said, sipping my cappuccino with an extra shot in it. ‘Really?’ he had asked almost before I finished.

Seeing me spill a little coffee in surprise, he had elaborated. In doing so, he delivered the most powerful argument I’ve ever heard against my decision to quit advertising. 

‘Ramesh, you know what you’ve done? Quitting a profession that you understand, whose skills you’ve honed, and in which you have invested 25 years of your life is much like a Captain of a ship choosing to take a new route just because the old one has become predictable.’

I could have argued that line to a win, but it was his next that had been a clincher.

‘Is the Captain free to indulge in adventure when he has passengers on board who have reposed blind faith in him?’

Now that’s the kind of emotional stuff that breaks your knees. I was down for the count, when I had heard the most powerful counterpoint I’ve ever heard on this subject.

‘Life is not a passenger ship. Neither are you a Captain. Life is a waterscooter on surf, off Pattaya. No passengers. Your family’s on the shore cheering you with camera in hand, as you scream and shout in a heady cocktail of fear, nervousness and excitement. When you hit the rough and go for a big tumble into the sea yelling, remember, that’s what will bring on the most laughs and hugs whenever all of you watch its home video- even years from now.’

Some arguments compel instant verdicts. This was one such. Any guesses who delivered that?

My Inner Voice. You might have forgotten it, I haven’t. I can’t. Not a day passes without me missing it. More so two days ago, when almost all of you responded to my call for action post. Thank you for that. My memory list of names and numbers is now almost done.

It might be easy to get over the loss of a phone, but not of your Inner Voice. No great advertising line can bring it back. Advertising has its limitations. Its skills too have their limitations. I’m discovering it the hard way.

Walking into a plush conference room full of strangers, and delivering a pitch perfected to meet their brief is no big deal because corporates are uniformly corporate all over the world. But walking into a filmi office for a one-on-one is a traumatic experience- no one guy is like the other. In the course of one meeting they change personalities like heroines shed clothes in an item number. Preserving the best (in this case, the worst) for the last.

‘But Rameshbhai, why can’t we write something like a Sholay, Yadon Ki Baraat, Deewar or Amar Akbar, Anthony?’ they ask at the end of a my nervous narration.

How do you answer that? How do you tell them that classics work only as classics today? They can’t be your next release. Dacoits terrorising an entire village can at best be only a spoof today. Dacoits have long graduated to smugglers, smugglers to gangsters, gangsters to dons, dons to terrorists and terrorists to robots.

Would teenagers today sit through a film where brothers get separated at a mela? Or at a railway station where one goes in search of drinking water?

Come on! In the age of cellphones, getting lost is next to impossible. Today in a mela, you are more likely to lose your phone than a brother, even if you wish it were the other way around. And even if brothers do get lost, everyone knows where to look for each other. At the gamezone or at the McDonald’s outlet, of course.

Packaged water and no-smoking stations have made getting down at obscure stations unnecessary. Taking the train is often a bigger horror plot than missing the train.

Tattoos like Mera baap chor hai don’t call for a 2-hour revenge drama anymore. On the contrary, tattoos and father-bashing are in. Teenagers would think its cool. They’d probably suggest something like: Mera baap ek bore hai or I’m mera baap’s paap.

The under-30 filmi guys’ questions are a little different, but as impossible. ‘You are from South, na? Why don’t you write some South-Indian like action film?’

How do you write a Tamil punch or a Telugu somersault? I don’t know.

It is when I walk out of such meetings without any answers that I miss my Inner Voice the most. But I don’t let that drop my chin. Instead, I scream, shout and make faces and pretend that all this is one big adventure, in the hope that it would one day make for great home video viewing.

Only problem is I can’t see anyone with a Handycam anywhere. And when I ask my family about it, they say matter-of-factly, ‘Oh, we’re sure there’ll be a next time.’

Such unshakeable faith.

Heart aches at 50


I’m looking for astrologer Panicker. Does anyone know him? He was our family’s soothsayer through the promising 70s and potential 80s. Not seen after the disastrous 90s. I have some old scores to settle with him, and some new ones too. Not that his predictions didn’t come true. They have- in fact, each one of them. My problem is with the way in which they have come true.

On a bright sunny day in 1978, he had told my mom that my life would be a never-ending song-and-dance sequence of a Yash Chopra film. Well, not exactly that. He had picked a mallu director of the same genre. But you know how wretched fantasies are- they always go overboard.

After that day, every time I watched a Yashji’s film (Yes, I’m sucking up to him. You have a problem?), I would imagine myself in it- walking through mists and running through snowfall. His films kept changing, his heroines kept changing, his locations kept changing, but the mists, snowfall and the hero remained the same. I lived in this soft-focus, slow-motion hope until recently when my aunt had come visiting our flat.

She had looked out of our flat and said, ‘Aiyo, maybe this is what Panicker meant!’ I had looked out of the pigeon-shitted, feather-stuck balcony grill and seen the Ganpati visarjan song-and-dance rituals. The Lakshmi industrial estate was spewing white smoke and there was the thermocol dust flying around their packing area. Mist and snow indeed.

Through the 80s, Panicker had become our dream merchant. Selling my mom unrealistic expectations of me. He had once moved pebbles on his celestial grid and exclaimed to my excited mom, ‘Your son will remain an evergreen hero all his life, much like our Prem Nazir!’

‘Who amma?’ I had asked. ‘Equivalent to Dev Anand,’ she had said with an air of a star mom.

I remember stealing a glance at Panicker’s oil-stained, sticker-bindi filled mirror, and nodding in Devji’s style. (Yes, I’m sucking up to even him. I’m desperate and actually why not? He makes movies faster than I can post on my blog.) I had looked horrible, but at that age you tend to blame the mirror and are always ready to accept favourable lies as maybe-truths.

Today when I look at the mirror, I squirm. I do look like Devji. That rascal Panicker was right- about every wrinkle, every freckle.

By early 90s when we had first realised that my life was heading to where I’m today, my mom had panicked. So she Panickered! (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.)

‘No worries, your son is a late starter. A slow-off-the-block stallion. Once he bolts, there would be no stopping him. At an age when people take sanyas, he would be having romantic heartaches like a teen! Evergreen romantic hero, your son!’

That was the last we had heard from him and of him. I would have forgotten about him too, but for what I have been going through in the last few days.

The aches, pains and pangs of separation have happened. I’ve been having this lost look, and a without-you-I’m-a-broken-kite expression at dinner table until someone snaps me out of it. I have written with water droplets on frosted windows and on dusty car bonnets the only two initials that matter to me these days- I and V. No, they don’t stand for the bikini model Ingrid Venosa, but for my damn Inner Voice.

Oh, how I hate myself for all this! Trust me, I have done all I can to shake myself off this nonsense. But the heart is no cookie jar to just upturn and empty it.

A few days back I even thought up a brilliant way out: Make Panicker’s predictions come true in a nicer way.

I cosied up to my wife in a younger Devji sort of way hoping she would in turn do a Zeenat or at least an Asha Parekh on me. She did snuggle up to me and parted the grey overgrown hair in my ears- to whisper sweet nothings and to nibble, I hoped.

She said in a husky tone, ‘Maid wants a raise, Rum!’

I blushed and said, ‘Someone’s talking dirty here!’

‘What dirty? Maid wants to know if we can give her a raise this month or no?’ she screamed into my bald ears.

That’s the problem with age. It’s never a lack of interest or intention, but there are simply a million more serious issues to talk, ask, worry, discuss, argue and decide than at 20. So, where’s the time for sweet nothings, tell me?

When I narrated this to our neighbour Jain saab, he said, ‘You’ve got it all wrong, Ramesji (wink, wink). The yog is not for romance but for heartache. And you can’t get heartaches from wives. Only headaches. But don’t you worry; I’ll take you to a one-stop shop for romance, heartaches and everything. Everything (wink, wink)!’

So that’s how that night I landed at this dandiya for the first time in my life. Devji in garba costume.

The atmosphere was heady. Music so loud that forget hearing my Inner Voice, I wouldn’t have been able to even think of it.

‘You are doing well for a beginner, Ramesji (wink, wink)!’ you-know-who said, as I got into the groove pretty fast. I swirled around like a pro, letting it all fan out like a circus tent, enveloping a few kids under it on the way. I swung, swirled and swayed from partner to partner- my dandiya meeting their dandiya, my smile meeting their smirk, my howdy expression meeting their WTF expression. I would have gone on and on but for three reasons.

  1. The million mirrors in women’s skirts were reflecting back my embarrassment a million fold.
  2. For some reason every time we stopped swirling, I landed up with Jain saab as my partner. ‘How is it going Ramesji (wink, wink)?’ was too much to take, and I was scared of Panicker’s predictions coming true this wink, wink way.
  3. I was completely out of breath. Forget heartaches. It was more like heart attacks.

I stopped and limped across to the Pepsi dispenser. I put in enough coins for a couple of cans. Nothing happened. So I fiddled with the buttons and when nothing worked, I gave it an old-fashioned bang. It whirred, whined and spat something on to my hand. Too small for a can for sure. Horror! It was a condom. Actually, condoms. Ten and still counting. Damn, who would expect a condom vending machine here!

I turned around to quickly escape. Too late. The music had stopped. I heard the DJ announce, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have tonight’s first condom buyer. On behalf of our Anti AIDS Mandal, I call him up on stage. He is our Eveready Romantic Hero of the night!’

That jerk on the console even threw a spotlight in my direction. The whole junta turned around in a surreally choreographed way. There stood Devji at 80 dressed in garba costume, with both his hands full of condoms.

The last I remember of that embarrassment was the DJ’s voice, ‘Give him a big hand, folks!’

Oh yeah, big hand (wink, wink), I thought and blanked.

Sitting here now, I can’t help but recollect what my Inner Voice had said many many years ago.

‘It’s not whether astrology or astrologers are right or wrong. The problem is that they begin to take control of your life and dictate every deed of yours. Life itself becomes an effort to either prove them right or prove them wrong. And remember, it’s always a worry if you make something outside of you more powerful than your mind, your soul and your self, because mind is a great master but a terrible slave.’

How I wish I could hear all of it again even if only to argue and disagree.


Bloody Panicker!

Psst…I’m going to be disappearing from your lives. But not for too long. Will be back on 3rd November. See if you feel the aches, pains and pangs of separation, too. 🙂

Freedom isn’t exactly free


‘What happened now?’ my wife’s question broke my lost-in-thought moment.

I shrugged a nothing. Finding that inadequate, I elaborated, ‘Nothing much, just feel kind of funny. It’s almost 5 days since I’ve heard my Inner Voice, you know?’

‘Hey, that’s terrific news! Oof, finally! Isn’t that what you wanted? Freedom, at last, huh?’

‘Yeah, you could say that. But you never know. There have been such long silences before.’

‘Umm..Don’t just sit there and think like that. Let’s go for Knock Out now.’ she said.

‘But why? It’s sort of knocked out anyway, na?’ I struggled to articulate how I was feeling. Have you guys felt like that anytime- just not feeling on top of the world when you have all the reasons to?

‘Rum! I meant the film!’ she said, almost giving up on me.

‘Oh, not in the mood today. Maybe tomorrow?’ I said as her phone rang and she went out with it.

What’s wrong with me? I should be running around the house yelling, ‘Yippee, I’ve done it! Done it with no freaking help from shrinks, godmen and lawyers!’ Instead, here I’m trying to figure out what I’m feeling. Of course, my wife is right, the word is Freedom. Just imagine, no more of that I’ll-tell-you-what’s-right suggestion when I’m undecided; No more that’s-not-correct warning when I’m about to do something; No more I-told-you-so postmortem when things don’t end nice. For the first time, I’d be able to think independently, do whatever I feel like doing, and live life the way I’ve always wanted to. If this isn’t freedom then what is!

Wait, I know what’s bugging me. It’s that question of what made my Inner Voice disappear after all these years, just like that. Is it me? Is it my wife? Is it this blog thingie? Or is it you guys and your comments?

‘Ramesh!’ I yelled, to yank myself out of this thought quicksand. ‘It’s over, okay? Just be thankful to whoever and get on with life!’

Of course, I will. Okay, let’s digress. Let’s see something funny. What say? Here’s a clip about…er…Price of absolute freedom?


The problem with problems

Let me confess- I’ve been cheating.

Every morning I ensure that there’s at least one hit on my blog by reading it myself. That’s because I hate duck-outs, and my blog has been threatening just that, with daily views that go like Yuvi’s form: 3,1,2,1,1,1,1…

While at it this morning, I was shocked to notice that it had two posts written by my Inner Voice. I was livid. Breaking into my head is fine, but breaking into the only private space I had left, is unacceptable.

‘I need a lawyer!’ I screamed to my wife suddenly. ‘I want to end this Inner Voice menace right now!’

Her reply came faster than an echo.

‘Rum,’ she said, ‘whom you need is not a lawyer, but a shrink.’

A shrink? How could she say that? Impossible! No way was I going to agree to this!

Within the next hour, we were at Dr. Goel’s clinic.

You know what it’s called? On the couch with Goel. I swear!

But that was the least of my problems. Dr. Goel himself was a disaster. He has this annoying habit of talking to you in plural. So, my first ten minutes on the couch with Goel go like this:

‘So how are we today? What brings us here this morning? Ah, since when do we hear our Inner Voice? And what does our Inner Voice have to say just now?’

Oh, trust me, he can drive even normal people insane. I felt like snapping at him with:

‘Hey, if we both have problems with our Inner Voices, then how the hell are we going to treat ourselves today?’

Obviously, I didn’t. I couldn’t, because his hypnosis was already taking effect on me. All I said were half sentences and half words as replies to his rapid fire Q & A about my soul and past lives. He inferred from my half replies that I had a menial and primitive soul. I wanted to sit up and slap him. But all I could manage was half a curse: ‘You ba…you ba…’ And guess what, he triumphantly diagnosed that by saying, ‘In his previous birth your husband was a goat. A lost and lonely goat!’

Thankfully, that put my wife off. After all, who wants to be Mrs. Goat!

No matter to which experts and which professionals we run to in the beginning, the last resort for all our life’s problems is always the same- Godmen.

Ours is Swami HaHa Ananda. We did the ritual of washing his feet and drinking that water as Prasadam. Just that, for some strange reason it tasted like nail polish.

He listened to all our problems and smiled. ‘How can there be no conflict in a person whose name has both Ram and Rab? His mind has become a disputed site,’ he thundered more to his gathering than us.

‘What’s the Praichitam, Swami?’ I asked, my head bowed in devotion and defeat.

‘Change your name!’ he said to a chorus of HaHaya Namaha from the gathering.

‘Change your name to Aar Aar!’ he pronounced the verdict like a Supreme Court judge would, leaving no room for appeal.

On our way back home, I was hoping for a veto. It came and how!

‘Rum, come what may, you will do no such thing!’ she said decisively. That to me was clemency from the President.

That was the first time we had rejected Swamiji’s advice in our life. I sat alone worrying- Will all hell break loose now?

Yes, it did.

‘So, Mr. Aar Aar Goat?’ I heard that voice for the first time in many days. ‘As always running to the whole world looking for solutions when the only one you should have gone to is yourself?’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘Stop looking for solutions. Start looking at the problems better. If you look well enough, you will see a pattern to every problem in life. And once you see the pattern, solutions will emerge themselves. From within the problem.’

‘Is this a Metaphysics class or something?’ I asked, irritated.

‘Much simpler! Much much simpler if only you care to see the pattern in your problem,’ said the Inner Voice.  ‘You noticed the days when there were different voices in your head. But you failed to notice the days when there was only one. Alongside the problem of separate voices, lay the solution of unifying them, which you missed.’

‘Are you telling me that it’s possible to have just my voice inside me?’ I asked eagerly.

‘Of course! Did you hear me even once when you went on and on about Money the other day? That’s because every time you kill greed, envy, dishonesty, anger and all their evil cousins, to say what’s pure, true, fair and simple, you will hear only one voice in your head- yours.’

‘Ah! What you are saying is that you will shut up only when I agree with you! Very clever! This whole thing is so conveniently loaded in your favour,’ I was all set to launch an offensive.

‘Rum! Do you want to see the lawyer this evening?’ my wife yelled out.

I sat there confused. ‘I’ll tell you in a while, honey!’ I replied like a delayed yo-yo.

I am not convinced about problems coming with built-in solutions, but I am pretty sure that solutions come with built-in problems.

Psst…I picked this math problem from my son’s book. Let’s see if there’s a pattern to it. Let’s see if there’s indeed a solution buried in it. I believe only 2% succeed. You think we might be among them? Tell me how you fare.

5 + 3 + 2 = 151012

9 + 2 + 4 = 183662

8 + 6 + 3 = 482466

5 + 4 + 5 = 202504

7 + 2 + 5 =  what?

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