Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ten Minute Yoga

I picked up this new ten minute yoga fad a couple of weeks back. It’s easy, takes ten minutes like they claim and I feel excellent that I completed some set of exercises. All that without troubling myself too much. I knew there was a catch there - how was it exercise if you didn’t trouble yourself even a little bit? I liked the set though - it involved stretching and breathing mostly. I decided to live in a state of comfortable, cozy denial.

Like anyone living in such a delusion, I was angry when my mom didn’t count that as 'real exercise’. This was moments after I finished the set yesterday.

“Yea? What do you mean?” I tried to come up with an alternate explanation for her remark that still showed my exercise in a positive light. I couldn't. So, I put that question directly to her. “What do you mean it doesn’t count? Of course it counts. Even the Government promotes Yoga.”

“Yes, but that’s real yoga,” she said, stepping on my pride just a little bit. "Not a couple of easy stretches that doesn’t even take ten minutes.”

“Two stretches? There are ten exercises in this set! That includes an arduous one where I need to bend myself into an inverted V shape. And another where I need to stand on a leg for an entire minute without falling down on either side.”

She considered my argument like that school headmaster who heard from a student who couldn’t make it to school the previous day because 'a dinosaur broke into town and broke a bridge he had to cross to get to the school'. Oh the student seemed crestfallen about it, what with how much he liked the school and its exams. But the headmaster knew better. 

“No,” she said after that brief pause. “Doesn’t count.”

“Yea? Why?”

“There’s not a drop of sweat on your face. Did you wipe it off with a towel?”

“Yes.” I lied. 

Of course I didn’t sweat. Ten minutes of deep breathing under a fan did not make anyone sweat. But I did what I had to do when I was beaten. I lied. I could have used Bangalore’s beautiful weather as an excuse on cooler days, but the summer had not been kind. The city had been two steps away from feeling like a desert with a few suns beating down on it with a heat that could evaporate even the sand.

The smirk on her all knowing face was enough to tell me that she knew it was a lie. It did little to pacify my emotions at that point. 

“See for yourself tomorrow,” I challenged.

Now, there was a slight problem with that particular challenge. It was clear that I wasn’t going to sweat the next day either. I was also lazy enough not to try any backbreaking exercise sets, like running on a treadmill. But I did come up with what I considered a splendid plan to succeed. I chose to wait till after it was noon and chose to do the set in the hottest room in the house. The weather was perfectly sultry at that time of the day. I was betting on sweating considerably even if I just sat there for ten minutes without moving a muscle. As expected, at the end of the set, there were beads of well planned sweat on my face. 

I proudly walked to find my mom in the kitchen. “See?” I asked. “This yoga set does work!”

She was standing right next to the bloody stove and was easily sweating a lot more than I managed. “Good job, man." I didn't need a sarcasm signboard to understand her tone. "You look like you’ve lost a kilo just by sweating."

I walked away, knowing there’s no defeating her at anything.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Murder on the dot

It took Charan almost five minutes to open the door with his key.

He felt he was alert enough, but his hand eye coordination was beginning to fail for the second time that night. He got sloshed again on the way to his house. He had to, because all the high from the evening's party had drained out of him the instant he figured that she was dead. Dead! Charan had never seen someone die before then. The intensity of the situation had given him the chills - his fingers were still cold and numb, four hours later.

He felt exhausted - which was normal after lugging a dead person to his car, driving halfway around the city, carrying her from the car into the forested area outside the city, burning her, buying his drinks without being seen (he had started craving for alcohol lately) and returning to the house. He burnt her behind a brightly lit signboard that said that a famous builder was going to build an apartment complex there. He only hoped that no one noticed his car going out and coming back in. Lucky there weren't many houses on this stretch of road.

Charanjit Singh was an extremely analytical and methodical man - one of the things his now-dead wife, Anuja, used to love about him. She liked timetables and details to such an extent that she was obsessive about them. Obsessive enough to see a shrink about it and take too many meds. Everything in her world (and his) had to happen according to her plan. She was, in two words, a 'nut case'.
"Traffic? You're late by five minutes, Jeet. You walk in late like it's no big deal? You've ruined my entire evening for fuck's sake - and your excuse is traffic?!" 
"Blue is for Friday. Go and change quickly. Today's colour is green. Now. Don't just stand there! You only have three minutes to leave."
"It's 8:58. You got to brush in a minute and...55 seconds."
Well, it was almost midnight then and he hadn't brushed his teeth yet. Ha.

It wasn't just about minor things like brushing at night or going out to dinner. For starters, she got up at the exact moment everyday. 4 AM. Not a second later. Charan did not know if she had used alarm clocks before, but he never saw her use one after his wedding. She got out of bed suddenly at four, as if from a trance, and this freaked him out more than he cared to admit. Not only did she get out of bed at the exact second, she went to bed on the dot too, which led to many more endless arguments. Her relationship with Charan was timed too. It hurt him, and he couldn't talk to anyone about it. He was just another thing on Anu's timetable. A chore.

He lingered on the doorstep, wondering if he'd overlooked any detail, anything at all that could lead the police back to him. The Police! He knew he had to file a missing person case sometime. He wanted to make his plan as realistic as possible - something a caring husband would do if his darling wife actually went missing. Several people saw him drink like a tank at work that day - so it would look ridiculous if he went immediately. First, he would call her parents in the morning, then her doctor and a couple of her old friends just in case - and then go to the police before the end of day. It would be like he got up and found her missing - yes, that made the most sense to him. He made a mental note to first miss the 6 AM flight and then talk to his secretary. That would make it look like he was really confused about things, wouldn't it? He wasn't very convinced about the plan, but he still had an entire day to think things through.

A calm, quiet, relaxing day without Anuja Mirekar. He could get used to this.

Anu's advanced OCD also meant that she went over her plans again and again like a maniac. Even routine things like taking bath! She would worry about everything...all the time. Would this item get delayed? Will someone move that? A minute's delay to get the milk packets usually meant an entire day of shouting and crying. She was always on edge and always 'hyper', even when she was under the strongest depressants. She had become a parody of the girl he married - ghostly pale and skinny to the bone. Almost scary. Her lack of any real sleep showed in those dark rings and bags under her eyes. What he felt for her stopped being love a long time ago. He lost it on the way sometime in the last five years, along with a bit of himself. Pity was all that stood between him and complete apathy for her. He had even recently considered putting her in a hospital. Was it a good idea for her?

Well, all that mattered was that it was a good idea for him.

He walked in dizzily and locked the house behind him. He checked the lock a couple of times, and sank into the sofa to relax for a while. He could start doing things like 'taking a break' going forward. There was no one to nag him into doing things at the exact moment anymore. Ha. He listened to and revelled in the rare, deep silence that pervaded the house. Silence was beautiful. He could hear nothing except his own breath and the occasional vehicle on the dimly lit street. He lounged leisurely on the sofa with his eyes closed. He was not even sorry for her. He was scared for himself though, re-checking the timeline for the day several times in his mind.

The devil was always in the details.


Charan made himself a bit more comfortable on the sofa and tried to put his legs up on the coffee table. Only he missed - the coffee table wasn't where he thought it would be. It was a bit further from the single seater. Did he move it to move the corpse around? Or did the cushy sofa move back a little when he sank into it? He wasn't sure. He forced himself to run through the details of the accident one more time while trying to stand up in parallel. He took his time to get up to avoid any further vertigo. The more he thought about Anu's death, the more his head responded with a throbbing pain. He staggered to the medicine drawer and popped an aspirin. He knew he had run out of his first choice medicine: Booze.

The loud argument from that morning kept echoing in his head.
"Did you leave this switch on, Jeet? After everything I told you yesterday?"
"It's only a charger, Anu. Relax."
"Only a charger? You know I can't live like this!" She started raising her voice while fidgeting with her hands and walking around the room. It reminded him of animals that couldn't be still and for some reason, the green and white colours of hospitals. "Are you doing it out of spite, Jeet? Do you hate me? Do you want me to go mad, Jeet? Do you?
"Relax, Anu. You're starting to yell." 
"Of course I am yelling. How the fuck did you expect me to react?!" The shrillness in her voice would break some glass items one day.
"Calm down, Anu. You should take a few deep brea-" 
"Nonsense! You should take your own deep fucking breaths, Jeet. You can't manage one damn switch in the house - how the hell did you get them to trust you with so many people at work? Did you sleep with someone to get the job?" 
"Anu, listen to me. LISTEN!" He held her shoulders and shook her.
But she wasn't even hearing him. She had lapsed into her own world. Her ears were focused inwards - at all the voices inside her head mocking her. Her eyes were fixed on the switch that was left on. 
"And look at the marks on the wall around the switchboard. Can't you even switch it on like a human being, Jeet? With a finger? Do you absolutely have to rest your hand on the wall? Are you a Gorilla?"
Charanjit sighed, trying to get that argument out of his head. He wanted to get rid of the negativity that had sucked his life dry over five tiresome years. Anu had this incredible ability to get him to the edge in seconds but he never meant to hit her that day. Or on any other day.

Several things in the house looked a bit out of position then - the sofa, the table, the papers on the table,the television remote... Maybe a splash of cold water would help him. His shirt was dirty and stank of sweat and mud - he needed to wash it first thing in the morning. He walked over very slowly to the bathroom. Even the door to the bath looked like it had moved a little to its left. He shook his head to clear things a bit and walked in.

The bathroom reeked of her shampoo flavour - strawberry. He found it weird that she had taken her bath earlier that day instead of going by the timetable at "9:10:00 PM". He had struck her dead a little before 7 30, so she sure as hell didn't take her bath at the usual time. Maybe she showered early because she was going to meet her parents on their wedding anniversary? Was it really their anniversary that day? Quite possible, he thought, but the act was totally out of character for someone as crazy as Anuja. He found that her toothbrush was a bit wet too. This was strange because she usually brushed her teeth after dinner. Did she have too much of her meds that day? Was that why she started whining dramatically like a Shakespearean character the minute he entered the house?

The splash of cold water cleared his head a bit. He could feel the aspirin kicking in too. Good. He went from room to room to switch the lights off - leaving Anu's strange 'tantric' room out - and finally went to bed. The bedroom had a large king sized bed set against the wall to keep the switchboard accessible from the bed. The walls were a dark winter cherry - a compromise after he pleaded with her not to use pink. Anu went for white CFL lights later on, and whenever the lights were on, the walls looked pink anyway. She was cruel that way. There were full length cupboards on one side of the bed, with a life size mirror set on a door. On the other side of the bed was his work table and a chair, set next to a window that overlooked the street.

On hitting the bed, Charan realised that his pillow was fluffed neatly. She only did these at 10:30 PM every night - which added to his previous worries. Someone was trying to make him go mad! Lying there, he couldn't help but think of all the deviations in her schedule. She was dead. Dead. Did she do all this out of schedule? Or did she haunt the place post her death? The latter option was slightly more believable.

Anuja was a huge believer in both the light and the dark sides of life, religiously speaking. One of the rooms in the house had virtually become a temple because her plans were incompatible with delays at actual places of worship. One section of the room was also dedicated to the dark, tantric side of religion where she had carved rangoli-like symbols into various metal plates and hung them around the room. She also got into 'conversing with the dead' after a friend of hers, Suja, died in a road accident two years earlier. Charan strongly believed that religion was a man made concept and that she was wasting her time - but she let her be. If it meant that she would leave him alone for a while, why in the world would he want to change that?

Things got a bit serious about seven months earlier when she claimed she 'finally spoke to Suja' and that her friend was doing just fine post death. When she started talking to someone named "Suja" in her sleep, he dialled her shrink. When she found out that Charan had told on her, she seemed deeply hurt. She made her displeasure crystal clear, droning on about a lack of trust in their relationship for a week. She never told him anything about her tantric experiments after that day. He checked the crazy room once a month just to see if anything had gone overboard. When she wasn't around, of course.

Charan felt for some reason that he ought to check that room once before going to sleep. He reluctantly reached his hand out to turn the lights on and slowly got up. He wasn't too sure how far the floor was below his feet as he slowly and steadily walked to the room. Anuja liked to keep the door shut, primarily to keep his atheism out. When he opened the door, the dim lights mixed with the oil lamps shocked him. The incense sticks were burning - and the oil levels in the lamps were near full, which meant that they were lit very recently, like in the last hour or so. He quickly shut the door and almost ran back to his room in fear. He felt fear spreading through his veins, getting hold of his systems.

Drank too much... Must be the drink... Oh God, let it be the whisky.

He decided that keeping all the lights in the house lit for one night would not be such a terrible idea.

"What do you mean, you're going to sleep now? It's just 7:20. And what do you mean, wake you up at 4? How drunk are you anyway?" 
Very drunk, he thought to himself. The day wasn't going to end well. He had just returned from work. Maybe lighten things up with a joke?
"You get up at 4 like an alarm clock anyway, right? Just wake me up too, Anu." 
"Why?" Her tone was calm and cold. It was a warning. 
"What do you mean, why? I just want to get up early." 
"You have a flight, don't you? Going out of town?" 
Charan sighed and prepared himself for the impending onslaught. "Anu, you know how my job works. I'll be back in the evening, so it'll just be like a work day. No difference at all." 
"You'll be leaving for the airport at what? Five in the morning? How is it normal? You usually leave at 9. Don't do this to me."
"Well, the evening will be normal." 
"Ha ha, Mr.Charanjit. Tomorrow's a Wednesday. And you know what today is? My parents' wedding anniversary. We have to leave for dinner," she checked her watch. "In another nine minutes - and be back before 8:30, so we can get on with our life."
"What is this life you are talking about?" His frustration (and the alcohol in his blood) got the better of his common sense.
Anuja stared at him for a few seconds silently. He knew that look. The lull before the storm... 
Damage control time. "This is the big one tomorrow, Anu. The meeting tomorrow will pretty much decide how my work life will be for the next three years. Three years at the least." He kept his voice low - a sign of complete surrender. "Can we please just talk to your parents on the phone? I'm sure they will understand my position." 
"You had enough time to drink like a pig today! You could have come home earlier and you could have done this dinner instead." 
"I know." His vision was a bit blurred after the alcoholic celebrations at office for winning a contract. He barely made it home without crashing his car. "But I didn't know - I mean - I didn't remember that it's your parents' anniversary. And you don't like it when I come home before or after 7:15." 
"Shut up, Charan! Just shut the hell up! Nothing in my life is right. I get up to switches being on around the house and... " 
The dreaded tirade had begun. He was used to ignoring her yells - imagining that someone in the neighbourhood was fighting instead and check emails like nothing was amiss at all. Sometimes, he liked to imagine that she was part of a TV show. 
"Are you even a human being? Do you not care at all?..." 
Oh, she had started the Tuesday speech. How did she manage to create a reason to deliver this speech every single Tuesday? Usually, he ignored it - he knew the next few lines of her speech by heart - but the tipsiness from the drink reacted with her speech to build what he predicted could be a particularly painful headache. 
"Stop it." He knew she had no intentions of stopping midway through her speech. He could hear the distant thrumming deep within his head. Anu's strange and childish habit of following him (he tried walking away), standing next to his right ear and yelling into it didn't help his case. 
"I understand, Anu." This speech was a chore to her, he thought. She had to finish the 30 minute speech or her head would explode. His reactions didn't matter. Was it really her parents' anniversary that day? Did she make it up to get a chance to yell at him? 
"STOP IT!" He turned right to hold her and shake her, a usual procedure suggested by her shrink whenever she lapsed into one of her episodes. It was supposed to make her consider the reality around her, instead of droning on. But he turned too fast and she didn't expect him to. His right hand struck her behind the earlobes with quite some force. She fell to the floor, but looked alright for a few seconds. Shocked that he hit her, but alright.
Then, she collapsed.

Was there a noise?

He was so used to sleeping in a dark room that the lights felt too strong on waking up from his nightmare. The dizziness was still there, so he knew he hadn't slept enough. The headache had gone up a few notches. Was that some one speaking? It came from the living room. The voice was barely more than a murmur.


He took a couple of seconds to try and clear his mind to no avail. Slowly, he got out of bed and tiptoed as much as he could to see who was in the living room. From behind the curtains, he saw that the room was empty. A few seconds later, he heard the voice again from the wall on his side - it was an advertisement. The damned TV! A wave of relief washed over him and he switched the TV off.

How did the TV turn itself on though? Did he switch it on before going to sleep? He assumed so, since the switch for the television set was right next to that of the lights. Despite the dazed feeling, scaring himself like that amused him. It was 3 AM. He switched off the other lights on the way back to his room.

He needed the sleep for the day ahead of him.

The bedroom wasn't completely dark without the lights. The pale grey light of the moon was bright enough for him to know that there were things around the room, but not quite enough to know exactly what they were. It gave a serene look to the room - and the bed looked inviting. He would lay that woozy head on the pillow and all would be well in the morning. The pillow didn't feel right when he dropped like a log on the bed, the three hours of sleep changing its shape a little. He didn't even want to open his eyes as he sat up reluctantly and fluffed it a little. He forced himself to open his eyes to adjust the pillow at the head of the bed. It was essential for getting his deep sleep. Just as he dropped back on it on his side, he momentarily saw a dark form in the mirror on the side of the bed behind him. It was as if someone was sitting on the work table, rocking their legs back and forth. He froze.

It was her habit. Anu used to sit there and sway her legs like that all the time.

The chill he got from the TV voices was back, spreading through his body. Sleep deserted him instantly. He was scared to turn around to see what it was. Maybe it was common to get afraid like this for nothing after seeing someone die. He reached out and switched on the bright white CFL lights. Calling on the bravery of all the heroes from the movies he'd watched, he turned around. It was just his laptop backpack on the table, with its straps swaying to the rhythms of the ceiling fan. He laughed a bit at his own silliness, got out of bed, picked up his bag and placed it in a corner on the floor. No more mirror time for you, bag.

He flung himself on the bed, more confident than before about his own silliness. Thieves, much sillier can it get? He turned the light off, and was in dreamland before the minute ended.

Had he not been so confident that his fears were unfounded, had he checked the mirror one more time after switching the lights off, he would have seen a shapeless dark form on the table, rocking its legs slowly. Had he not been too tired to stay awake, he would have heard it murmuring slowly, "Not yet, Suja."

He would wake up exactly at four o'clock. Exactly like he wanted. Not a second later.


Monday, February 24, 2014

India is like another planet altogether.

By Frank-O, our international writer.

"Oh, Frank. My family's not very open to changes. They're very Orthodox."

When Lakshmi said this to me, I really wondered how their church leanings will decide if they'd approve of me. I'd have never thought Lakshmi was Christian till then - well, yes, she looked like one while in the US - but I'd seen her pictures when she'd been in India (bindi and all the other indian stuff) - and assumed she was not. I'd always been uncomfortable when it came to talking to people about their religion - even if it was my girlfriend.

Her name was weird too - Lakshmi Parthasarathy. It's difficult, that 'ksh' sound. And I gave up trying to pronounce her last name after missing a 'sa' or a 'ra' every time. I just say 'Part' these days. Apparently, Indians from a particular region used their father's first name as their last names. I guess it was a sign of respect.

When the cab was pulling into her house in Chennai (we went to attend her elder brother's wedding and at the same time, introduce myself to the family), I really wished I'd learned more about her country and her family. In the US, Both of us worked for the same firm, we had a lot in common and we had other things to talk about. To be fair to her, she did bring this up an awful lot of times before the trip - and I'd told her I'd manage without listening much to her.

Wikipedia cannot prepare you for India. Trust me on that.

When she'd told her parents about our desire to get married to each other, there had been yelling and shouting and a whole lot of fights - but finally, they'd come around. Another Indian friend of mine, Shaama, suggested that physically going to Lakshmi's part of India was a risk because they might beat me up - and put me back on a flight if I was still alive after the beating. When I told him that Lakshmi called it nonsense, he suggested I watch a specific movie to prepare myself.

I must admit I would not have been that scared if I hadn't listened to him. It was a fictional story about a guy from Shaama's part of India win a girl from the South - Lakshmi's part. You have to see it to believe it. The girl's dad had like a million henchmen - giant thugs who made the biker gangs look like rookies. Shaama said it was fairly common in that part of the country and the movie would have been very realistic if the hero in the movie was killed by the thugs instead of winning the girl with insane stunts. By the way, there's supposed to be an 'r' in Shaama's name, I need to look him up to figure out where.

That also reminds me, I lost internet access along with my contacts and everything once I landed in India. My phone fell on the curb outside the airport - and it turned out curbs in India had a generous number of really sharp stones. My iPhone cracked; Mr.Jobs didn't consider India while designing it, I suppose.

When we reached her place, a couple of women (Laksh's aunts) emulated a theme park ride in front of the two of us using a plate with a very red liquid. Lakshmi's dad told me that it was done to magically ward off evil eyes. I asked him if it was an Indian tradition, he bobbed his head (yes? no?) and said it was a religious thing - a Hindu tradition. That confused me a lot till Lakshmi clarified later that they were indeed Hindus, and she'd used the word 'Orthodox' to mean 'Conservative'. There went the one thing I'd prepared to wow her parents - extracts from the Bible.

Shaama's fears were also misplaced, I suppose. Lakshmi's parents and her extended family talked a lot - but were nowhere near the thugs I saw in the movie. They were very docile and nearly all of them looked like nerds, with the glasses and everything. They were all engineers and doctors - I knew Lakshmi was very intelligent, but till now, I find it really creepy that everyone in the family was intelligent. I am not even exaggerating - her kid brother (Arjun) who was supposed to be in an engineering college, was well versed about everything from Dostoevsky to Burning Man and was a fine conversationalist. He was my stand-in wikipedia till I got a local phone and yes, he did a better job than the website. He also predicted rather accurately where I'd mess up and suggested alternatives before I even needed to ask him. He also asked me about weed and seemed very knowledged about it all. He also suggested that I shouldn't mention it to Lakshmi or her parents.

Lakshmi had told me that the weather would be warm - at about a hundred degrees. I was prepared for that, but no one warned me about the humidity. It took me about five minutes in the open sun to look like I jumped into the shower with all my clothes on. All I did for the first two days was to drink fluids and stay in an air conditioned bedroom. I still felt very dehydrated. The Jet lag was laughably easy to manage in comparison.

One weird thing I wanted to talk about was how they called each other. They did not use names except for the kids - they called each other by how they were related to each other. I guess that was okay for fathers and uncles,  but they did the same for the brother-in-law, the son-in-law, elder siblings and most others. For example, Arjun referred to Lakshmi as 'Akka' (local language for 'elder sister') all the time. Lakshmi proudly said it was a sign of respect, thought I didn't think Arjun's tone was one of respect. The house was packed with, like, 15 people during my stay there, so a lot of these words were flying around. The word for elder brother was Anna - and was very commonly used in the household, confusing me to no end. I didn't know the word to begin with - so I was looking for this mysterious Anna thinking it was someone's name. When I asked people where Anna was, they all pointed at different dudes. Arjun explained it to me on the third day after I asked him why he called his elder brother that. I thought it was all over when a girl called her husband Yaenna and confused me all over again. Lakshmi explained it was a community thing. Apparently, it was common in her community to do that (she called her community Tambram). I found out much later that she was just pulling my legs. I found a place called Tambram in the city only a few days before we flew back. I didn't expect her to fool me like that, though.

I did manage to head back to the US alive, but not before a bunch of crazy adventures. I'll write about them when I have some time.

- Frank.

PS: You know this is a blog for stories / fiction etc right?