Saturday, October 13, 2012

Madras Chronicles—Fathers and Sons

We were driving home after I picked up my sons from violin class. The underground tunneling work for the Metro Rail had made our drive home a tad longer. I stopped humming Yuvan Shankar Raja's Billa theme and asked the boys, “What do you want to become when you grow up?”

“I want to become an actor!” said the younger one while the elder one kept quiet. It has been a pretty standard answer for him for almost as long as I can remember.

“What about you?” I kept prodding the elder one.

“I am not sure...”, he said.

“You should start with your interests. Don't ever get into something which doesn't interest you!” I let out a pearl of my wisdom.

“Okay.”

“So, what interests you?”

He paused for a few seconds and said, “Video games, sports and cooking.” He seemed to be sure of his answer.

“That is a very good start... knowing what your interests are. Now, you need to develop and nurture these interests and find your calling.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“You can become a gamer and build a big business around video games. You can become a sportsperson... you will have to pick a sport that you absolutely love. I know you can become a chef because you already cook so well...Your dosas are fantastic! The possibilities are endless.We are going to build upon these ideas and you can figure out what you really want to pursue.”

In the two minutes before we reached home, the younger one started narrating his movie screenplay.

* * *

I had dislocated my left thumb for the second time. This time it was a game of football during a substitute P.T. period at school. I was the goalie. JVB kicked the ball. I tried to defend it with my left hand. The ball hit my thumb and I knew immediately that it had dislocated. I felt a sudden rush of panic that was immediately overwhelmed by the feeling of failure to defend the goal. I kicked the ball and continued play as if nothing happened.

Later that evening, I told my mother. My father took me to our family doctor. He called the visiting orthopaedist, the same doctor who fixed my thumb earlier when I got it dislocated trying to ride my bicycle hands-free on the road off Poonamallee High Road that led to the old Naduvankarai bridge. I learnt two lessons that day. One - don't try to steer the bicycle with your leg, especially when you are driving hands-free downhill. Two - you will never forget your first dislocation however old you get.

We left the clinic and my father started his faithful maroon Bajaj M-80. I rode pillion. Just as he merged into the traffic on Poonamallee High Road near the toll-gate bus stop, I hear a bang. A second later, both of us are thrown off the vehicle. Half a second later, I see the rear wheel of the speeding Tempo that hit us just a few inches away from my face. My whole life flashes before me. The Tempo screeches to a halt. I come to my senses and look around. My father is down on the ground. He had a few minor scratches. I feel a shooting pain in my right knee and toes. My pinky toe had its nail ripped and my knee had a bloody gash about an inch wide. I was a bit dazed from my near-death experience.

We went back up to the doctor and he treated our wounds.

For the next two weeks, my dad and I had to visit the doctor to get the wound dressing changed. One such day while waiting for the doctor, I tell my father, “I find the medical profession to be a noble one. I think I want to become a doctor!”

* * *

My dad worked as an accountant at a government-owned organization. The accounting department got two brand new IBM PCs from the head office. One of them was an IBM PC XT with a monochrome CRT monitor and another was an IBM PC/AT with a color VGA CRT monitor. You booted those monstrosities with a 5¼-inch floppy diskette MS-DOS operating system. My father was the go-to guy on computers in that company because he could do spreadsheets (Lotus-123, anyone?) and knew Ashton Tate's dBase III+.

He was the go-to guy for me for three reasons. One - he let me type the school projects using Wordstar on those machines and fire up the dot-matrix printer and look at it with awe as it rattled away (and I just loved greenbar continuous stationery for some Freudian reason); Two - he let me work on Harvard Graphics Presentation or the extremely popular Banner software and go crazy printing text in cool fonts (Did I say I loved continuous stationery?); Three - he always let me play Prince of Persia and Chess on those computers.

So, when I took the Biology/Math/Physics/Chemistry/English group in class XI, I volunteered to get our class notes for “The Human Reproductive System” printed. Due to time constraints this was typed by my dad's colleagues in record time so that our class could meet the deadline.

The first and only choice I made, when I couldn't get into medicine and chose to pursue engineering instead, was Computer Science & Engineering. Instead of class notes, it was now slides for technical papers created with Harvard Graphics Presentation on Overhead Projector film.

I think I owe it to Prince of Persia and my dad for being able to tell my son today that he can become a gamer, if he wants to.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Madras Chronicles—Guitar Hero

The first audio cassette player I used was a Sanyo. It was a cassette recorder with a built-in microphone and a mono player. My uncle bought it and it was in my grandmother's house. It was the year when Mouna Ragam released in the Grand Theatre in Annanagar, the first Tamil film in a theatre that ran English films and directed by a new director named Mani Rathnam which went on to become that year's biggest grossing film.

The same year saw the release of Punnagai Mannan by K. Balachander starring Kamal Hassan. It was widely publicized as the movie in which Ilayaraja, the composer used the MIDI synthesizer to bring computer music to the Tamil film industry, believed to be operated by A. R. Rahman. Oomai Vizhigal was another hit movie that year, a film written by Aabhavaanan and directed by R. Aravindraj, starring Vijayakant. But there were three reasons why the film that is etched in my mind from that year was Vikram, another Kamal Hassan starrer. The first reason—the story  and screenplay was by my favorite writer Sujatha. The second reason—it had Vanithavani,vanamohini…, a song considered too risqué at that time that Oliyum Oliyum, a program that was telecast every Friday by the state-run Doordarshan TV (Channel 4), never showed it. It was a song that a trio of friends secretly sang in the back benches at school while the teacher was busy with the lesson. The third reason was the beautiful Dimple Kapadia who was brought from Bollywood to act in that movie as a princess of an exotic land.

Remember the Sanyo cassette player that I started with. The very first recording I made using it was songs from the Hindi blockbuster movie, Bobby from many years earlier, starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. That was the first time that I saw Bobby and instantly fell in love with it, the same way that Rishi Kapoor's character is enamoured seeing Dimple's. The movie was telecast by Doordarshan and I meticulously taped every song. A Sanyo cassette player, Bobby, Dimple Kapadia, Vikram—the universe conspires to design your fate.  That moment marked my unofficial introduction to music.

My school had co-curricular activities every Thursday and I had signed up for Yoga. After a year, I felt that I should switch because I felt the other kids were having too much fun while I was stretching my body into uncomfortable poses. We also had a guitar club that sounded cool and I decided to join. When I told my mother, she asked me if I was really interested. I answered affirmatively.

Photograph of Musee Musical, Mount Road, ChennaiThe next week she took me to a quaint shop in Mount Road called Musee Musical. I instantly fell in love with that shop. There was an old-world charm to that store. They had violins, guitars, drums, flutes and every other musical instrument that I had seen before in my life. I got myself a yellow Givson guitar. It cost 650 Rupees and the salesman gave me two complimentary picks. My mother and I returned home in an autorickshaw. I held my Givson carefully as the autorickshaw navigated the potholes in the Madras roads.

Our guitar teacher in school started with music theory, treble clef, bass clef, notation etc., One day, someone brought a leaflet for a CASIO electronic keyboard that had numbers instead of the notes and was playing Jingle Bells using it as reference. Initially, the teacher was smiling and walked up to that boy. When he discovered that he was playing it from that leaflet that didn't have notation—an abomination to say the least—he was horrified. He went into a rage tearing it apart and throwing it into the trash can.

On another instance when he found three of us talking during class. Saravanan was my classmate and the other one was a junior student. I vaguely remember his name as Ravi. He asked each one of us to make a fist and knock the other's head with our knuckles. The first one to get struck was Saravanan and the Ravi was to do the deed. It was my turn next to strike Ravi and then Saravanan was supposed to strike me. I had to think quickly to escape, so I did the unexpected. I rolled my right palm into a tight fist and gathered the maximum strength that I could and struck Ravi hard on the center of his head! It must have knocked the living daylights out of him that he immediately began crying, tears flowing uncontrollably down his cheeks. The guitar teacher was stunned and didn't know what to do. He asked me why I hit him so hard. I just shrugged and told him I just did what he asked me to. He then ordered the three of us to get back to our seats and consoled the boy who was wiping his tears and stroking his head. I don't think Ravi ever spoke to me after that.

I continued in the guitar club for the next two years and then my interests shifted to dramatics. The guitar gathered dust at the corner of my room except for the occasional time when I would feel like strumming.
After I finished college and got into a job, I gave my guitar away to one of my younger cousins. That was my brief brush with music.

A decade and a half later, I am a happily married family man with two sons. My wife wanted to wean them away from TV by putting them into—you guessed it—music class! Both the boys learn Classical Carnatic violin. A random thought crops up in my mind and out of a whim, I ask my wife. She says it is never too late to learn anything.

A week later, at the insistence of my wife, I register for guitar classes at the same place where my sons go to learn violin! On the first day at class, my classmates are a couple of college students and a school-going boy and girl, just a few years older than my sons. It was a true Vasoolraja MBBS moment for me. The first day was just basic theory. At the end of the class, the teacher instructed the little girl to bring her notebook during the next class and then turned to me and asked me to copy the lessons from her. Jokes apart, I was truly thrilled that I decided to learn the guitar. There was only one thing left. I needed a guitar before the next class.

I was very excited about the thought of buying a new guitar. I wanted to take my family with me to the store. Unfortunately, our washing machine broke and my wife said she needed to stay home until the technician finished fixing it. Luckily, he came early and she was on board for the trip to the store. My younger son loves shopping, so he said he would join. I told my mom that we are going to the store and she asked me if I want her to come. Not to be left out, my brother and his wife also join the group and off we go to the store!

Madras is now Chennai and Chennai Metro Rail is busy digging up Mount Road for laying the tunnels. Policemen on horseback are crossing Mount Road at the Walajah Road / Mount Road signal. We take a U-turn on Walajah Road and come back to Mount Road. Almost twenty-five years later, after asking directions from a bookseller who had set shop on the sidewalk, we arrive once again at Musee Musical. The store looked very different from what I recollect from my memories.

I select my guitar. The salesperson tuned it and gave me two complimentary picks and a guitar belt. We took pictures at the store. Minutes later all of us are on our way back home. I am sitting in the front passenger seat of our car holding on to my guitar firmly as the car bumps a little. Damn potholes!


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Triggers on a Leash

Based on two very different blogs by yours truly, and drastically adapted and written as a play by Naren Weiss and uniquely shot as a short film by Ashwath Nair - Presenting, Triggers on a Leash!

The original short stories on which this short film is based are here on Storywheel.

See Transference and The Heist

Enjoy and share the joy!

 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Tourist

“How was your flight?”

“Long, but comfortable...”

“You can crash at the hotel tonight. I will pick you up tomorrow morning. We begin work the day after. A day's rest would help you get out of jet-lag.”

“Okay.”

“First time in India?”

“Yes...”

“Welcome to Chennai. It wasn't called Chennai a few years ago, you know!”

“Yes. I saw that... on Wikipedia...”

“Would you like to do some sight-seeing tomorrow? I can take you around...”

“Sure. Thanks... I hope I am not taking you away from your family on a Sunday!”

“No, that's perfectly fine. My wife and kids are out on vacation at their grandparents' house. I am alone at home at the moment...”

“Wow! This is some crazy traffic in Chennai... How do people even drive here without running over someone?”

“This is normal for us! You see, we have lanes and traffic rules so that we can observe them in the breach...”

“I now understand why they insisted on me having local support.”

“Yes. Foreigners would be lost without locals guiding them... You see that flyover?”

“The what?”

“The flyover...”

“Oh, you mean the overpass?”

“Yes, yes... it is the Kathipara Junction. A few years ago, we did not have the flyover and traffic was a nightmare.”

“You mean to say it isn't a nightmare now?”

“No. What I was trying to say is... you are booked at The Hilton which is near that.”

“Okay. Why is that young woman sitting behind that man on the bike covering her face with that cloth. Is that a custom or tradition?”

“Ha ha! No. They are probably lovers. She is hiding her face so that she isn't spotted by someone who knows her, say a family member...”

“...or her husband! I get it. It is a flirtation device...”

“What? No, it is not a flotation device...”

“...”

“Oh... Okay. I get it now! Flirtation device... you are a funny man.”

“Is this the Hilton?”

“Yes, it is. The room is booked in the name you gave me over the phone. Here is a prepaid cell phone. I have saved my number under the name Mr. X. What time should I pick you up tomorrow morning?”

“Let us meet at 9 AM in the lobby!”

* * *

“Good morning, Mr. X!”

“Ah, Good morning. Are you ready to go?”

“Yes...”

“Lets go... This way please... If I may ask, do you believe in God?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not that it does. I just assumed that you might be a believer. You wouldn't mind if I stop at a temple on the way, do you?”

“No...”

“Thanks. I go to the temple every Sunday. There is a small Ganesha temple at the corner of the street. It'll just take a couple of minutes...”

“Fine. I'll just wait outside in the car.”

“...”

“What's so funny? Why are you laughing? Did I say something wrong?”

“No. I was just thinking... I believe in God. Therefore, I go into the temple...”

“I don't and that is why I am staying outside, in the car...”

“Have you thought about this? If you believed God wasn't in there, inside the temple, why do you have to stay outside? Doesn't staying outside just confirm that God is inside?”

“You have a point... Let's go.”

* * *

“I was wondering... What is all this graffitti on the walls?”

“We Chennai folks like to adorn our walls in public spaces with names of our politicians in block lettering! It is political graffitti...”

“I see... There is so much about India that I don't know! Do you have cows? I haven't seen any since I came here and I was told that people here worship cows. Do you worship a cow, Mr. X?”

“There are cows in India, but it would be very rare nowadays to find one roaming the street in Chennai. You would find them if you go into the outskirts of the city... and for the record... No... I don't worship a cow!”

“Hmm... Are you a good man, Mr. X?”

“Thats a moot question, don't you think?”

“Since you believe in God... may I ask you another question?”

“Fire away!”

“If someone told you to maim and kill a child, would you do it?”

“Ugh... No! I wouldn't!”

“Why?”

“It is morally repugnant to me!”

“Why is that different from what we would be doing tomorrow?”

“Killing for hire is a vocation. But killing an innocent child is a matter of principle...”

“Okay. Stay with me on this thought experiment. Lets assume that you won't maim and kill an innocent child because God wouldn't want you to do it...”

“That is reasonable...”

“If you are doing what God wills you to do, would you still do it if it isn't something that you would want to do?”

“I don't get it!”

“Let me rephrase my question... Suppose God wanted you to maim and kill a child, would you do it?”

“No!”

“Therefore, whether you maim and kill a child has nothing to do with what God wants, but everything to do with whether you want to do it or not...”

“I see the logic, but...”

“Logic dictates that there is no need for God to exist... at least to guide us on what should or shouldn't be done!”

* * *

“Did you know that there are only three Basilicas in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Christ and one of them is right here in Chennai?”

“I've been to the St. Peter's in Rome and Santiago de Compostella, Spain. Sight-seeing, of course...”

“This is the Santhome Basilica. There is an underground chapel behind which holds the Relic of St. Thomas.”

“This is a beautiful church...”

“Did you notice that Jesus stands on a lotus flower with two peacocks by his side?”

“Yes...”

“This is probably something that you would see only in India and only in Chennai...”

“Is that a bride waiting to walk the aisle? Did we crash a wedding?”

“Maybe... Let's go around to the underground tomb chapel.”

“In my country, we don't have weddings on Sundays, ever! You know...”

“That's funny! We schedule weddings on holidays to ensure that everyone attends it... and they better bring a gift or cash!”

“Oh...”

“I had been thinking about your logical rebuttal of the existence of God. Let me ask you this... Are you a rational man?”

“I believe so...”

“Therefore, you would make choices based on the benefits of that choice and not based on emotional reasons?”

“You could say that...”

“Let's say there is no hell. You wouldn't go there for not believing in God since it isn't there. But, if there is a God and there is a hell, it seems to be a very serious penalty for not believing in Him. So, even if you are a rational person, the rational choice would be to believe in God, isn't it?”

“I see your point...”

“Are you changing your mind?”

“Not yet. There could be one God or there could be many. If I believed there was only one God and in reality there were many, I would be going to hell for not believing in some of them. If I believed there were many Gods and I discover after the fact that there was only one, I would be going to hell anyway for doubting the omniscience of the single God. So, why bother?”

“Touché. Lets change the topic. Shall we?”

“Okay. Do you watch movies Mr. X?”

“Yes.”

“What is your favorite movie?”

“Kill Bill.”

“Volume 1 or 2?”

“Both!”

“Uma Thurman is my favorite actor...”

“I see...”

“I love her so much that my girlfriend has given me blanket permission to go out for a dinner date with her, if I ever get invited by her!”

“... if you ever get invited by her!”

“Why? You think I don't stand a chance? Stop laughing...”

“That would be like Vincent Vega taking Marsellus Wallace's girlfriend out on a date to the Jackrabbit's diner in Pulp Fiction!”

“You know why Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director?”

“Why?”

“Reservoir Dogs. A bunch of bad-ass gangsters talk about everything but the heist... heck, he did not even show the heist... and people bought it!”

50

This is a stub for the 50th story on Storywheel. See Contest Rules for details.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Win a Free EBook!

Do you want to win a Free EBook?

It is very easy! Send me an idea, theme, logline or title of my 50th short story. You can send your ideas in the following ways:
Rules: Please limit your comment to 3 sentences or 30 words, whichever is shorter. This is more a guideline than a rule. But remember that if there are ties in selecting the winners, I will use this rule to break ties.

Prizes: There are 3 prizes. All 3 selected winners will receive the ebook Storywheel Collection - Combined Vol I & II. This is an EPUB ebook readable on the Amazon Kindle and other ebook reader devices or on your PC/Mac or smartphone (with appropriate software). Sorry, this is the only digital format in which the book is available. Prizes will be sent via email, therefore please provide your contact info. (I hate spamming and your email address will not be used for purposes other than contacting you related to this prize.)

End date: This contest is open until Midnight Indian Standard Time Feb 29, 2012. Winners will be announced within 48 hours of closure of the contest. UPDATE: This contest is open-ended and perpetual. Winners will be announced monthly.

Legalese: By participating in this contest, you are granting the rights to Giri Vijayakumar (Author) to write and publish a story using that idea, regardless of whether it is one of the 3 selected winners. You also represent and warrant that the idea is your own and not plagiarized. Stories may be published in the Storywheel blog, digital ebook(s) or print books. Winners will be credited by providing one link to their blog or website at the Storywheel Collaborators page.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

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