All that Glitters

(an attempt at what I deem to be pulp fiction)

 

Pulp

 

I.

The high pitched whine of the motorbike caught her attention before she looked in its direction. Meenakshi was familiar with the noise – an old Yamaha RX 100 most likely, stripped down to its essentials, with a free spirit astride it – she was willing to bet. If that were the case, the rider would most certainly slow down to catch an eyeful of her, she knew. After all, she had caught the roving eye of every single man who had passed by in the last seven minutes since she arrived at the bus-stop, most eyeing her unabashedly, drinking in the sight of her lithe body tightly wrapped in a loud red imitation silk outfit. She stood at the bus stop basking in all the attention, occasionally holding up her phone to her face, using the camera to admire her face and lipstick. She chuckled to herself in the camera. There was no saying what today would bring.

 

Siddu gunned the bike down the pot-hole strewn road, the wind whipping his hair up into a frenzy. He was pleased with his new hairdo, streaks of blonde now flecking his otherwise dark straight hair. The stylist had told him this was the hairdo even film stars would soon sport, as he’d found out from his sources in the industry. Siddu’s love for his hair was second only to his passion for gold, of which plenty adorned his body. A chunky gold chain around his neck, several gold bracelets and rings in almost all his fingers gave him a golden aura that matched the glint of sunlight as it bounced off his brand new ray-ban. This quickly rising star of the Bangalore real-estate mafia looked every bit his part. Siddu slowed down as he approached the bus-stop, revving the bike a few times even as he did so for good measure. He was sure she’d be there today.

 

‘Him again’, she thought to herself, as the bike and its rider came into view. She’d seen him a few times before, and knew that she had caught his attention. She was used to constant advances from all manner of people, and knew how to handle them, better than most others of her ilk. This fellow, somehow, seemed promising. She couldn’t complain about how he looked – at least from far. The sheen of gold most certainly helped. Having had to fend for herself from a very early age, she had very quickly learnt how to make the world work for her. She watched the bike came to a sputtering stop a little ahead of her. This could get interesting, she thought to herself as she caught him turning to look towards her. She ran her tongue lightly over her lips, flicking an errant strand of hair away from her face with a finger. Still looking in his direction, she deliberately reached over to smoothen a few imaginary creases on her dress, stretching the thin material over her curves. Letting a small smile slip, she sashayed her way to the bus as it pulled up next to his bike. Siddu pulled aside his shades with a grin as he watched the bus ramble away.

 

He didn’t turn up at the bus-stop the next day. But to her pleasant surprise, she bumped into him when she boarded the bus. Not just bumped – fell over him. She had entered the bus and was making her way in when the bus suddenly lurched forward, throwing her off balance. She stumbled headlong onto someone, who managed to hold her, ensuring she did fall further into the crowd. ‘I’m sorry’, she mumbled as her eyes lifted to find a familiar pair of ray-bans. ‘I’m not’, he said as he grinned at her, still holding her. Breaking into a coy smile, she thanked him and then stood alongside him, both of them stealing frequent glances at each other, their smiles growing wider. It didn’t take him long to find her a seat and join her, and she seemed eager to know more about him.

 

The bus trips lasted only a few days, and Meenakshi soon found herself perched on the bike with Siddu, tightly clinging to him as he swerved around cars and buses. They would meet in cafes and frequent movie theatres, and she would run her hands through his hair, calling him her very own ‘golden boy’. The affection wasn’t lost on Siddu, who regularly surprised her with gifts she could never get enough of. His bike very soon made its way to his 1 BHK at GM Palaya, and his bachelor pad become a love nest yet again. Neither of them was interested in wasting time over a long drawn courtship, when they knew they wanted more.  They had both seen enough of the world to be practical that way.

 

 

II.

Gowda hitched up his grimy dhoti to reveal a beefy thigh that demanded scratching. Gothilla Gowda as he was known among the cops, would always be the first to invariably deny any knowledge of any crime, if questioned directly. Until the price was right, that is.

 

Stroking his luxuriant moustache, Gowda stared at Siddu, a grin slowly creeping over his face. ‘Don’t forget you’re going to be playing with the big goys now, maga’, he said in his raspy voice as he chewed his tobacco noisily. Turning around to spit out a gob-full of crimson sludge, he wagged a stubby finger at his right hand man Shiva, motioning him over. ‘Siddu beda’, he quietly muttered to Siva, his bulbous red eyes that glowed with anger saying much more than his words did. Waving Shiva away, he turned back to face Siddu with a smile, calling him over. He reached over to pat his back in apparent affection as Siddu stepped over awkwardly, unsure of what to expect. After all he had just requested independence from his mentor of many years. Raising his right hand in a sign of benediction, Gowda bestowed his blessings upon an underling who was about to attempt his first ever solo real estate deal – and fail miserably.

 

Shiva darted into an alley behind Gowda’s godown. Pulling out a sleek new Samsung smartphone, he quickly dialled the number for ACP Ravi – encounter Ravi, as he was known among them. Ravi answered with a grunt, not needing to say anything more. ‘Saar, Siddu’, said Siva in hushed tones. ‘Kamala bar, indu aaru gante’. Siva waited for the acknowledging grunt from Ravi before he cut the call with a chuckle.

 

Kamala bar was Siddu’s favourite hangout, irrespective of what time of the day it was. He was pleased with how the meeting with Gowda had played out, not being sure of how Gowda would react. Taking a quick swig of his drink, he nodded appreciatively at barman – old monk with water, mixed to his taste as usual. He drummed his fingers on the table in anticipation – Meenakshi would be waiting for him at GM Palaya soon. The thought of her curves melting against him set his blood racing. He downed the glass, impatiently shouting for a quick refill. The interruption of the door slamming open, followed by a sudden hush is what made him turn over to the door. As a few men rushed in, he didn’t need a second glance at them to figure out they were cops in mufti. His worst fears were confirmed as he caught sight of encounter Ravi slipping in through the door, his eyes scanning the bar to quickly settle on him. Siddu kept his eyes on Ravi even as he made to get up, watching Ravi reach for his revolver. This had Gowda written all over it.

 

Siddu stumbled over a few chairs in the dim light, trying to rush to the nearest door. The boom of the gunshot was deafening in the closed confines of the bar. He kept moving, despite the sharp sting he felt in his right thigh. His jeans quickly started to soak, blood spurting from the bullet wound in his leg with every step he took. One of the men swung a lathi at him, trying to knock him down. He ducked desperately, shoving the cop aside with all the strength he could muster, as he tumbled out of the bar. Ravi had him in his sights though, and put another bullet in his back before he could get to his bike. Siddu’s eyes fluttered as he struggled to stay upright on his bike, speeding towards GM Palaya.

 

Meenakshi walked in silently, hoping to surprise SIddu before he saw her. The bloodstains on the floor however, were quite unexpected. She found him writhing on the floor, groaning in pain. He was losing blood very quickly. ‘Help me’, he pleaded – gritting his teeth in agony. It took her less than a minute to take in the sight, and decide on her course of action. Lifting his head gently, she slowly eased out his heavy gold chain. Rolling him over, she relieved him of his bracelets and many rings, each studded with stones that sparkled in different colours. He still looked handsome, lying drenched in blood – the only shine of gold on him now being the blonde streaks on his hair. Making sure she didn’t get any blood on her saree, she smiled a quick goodbye at the now silent Siddu and walked out of the door, her head held high.

 

 

 

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What’s your Marathon?

 

Not quite an everyday sight – a lone walker, trudging along by the roadside. A small cloth bundle expertly balanced on his head and swathed in black from head to toe, he was a strange sight to behold as I drove through Bandipur national park – A forest reserve know for its population of tigers. While his appearance makes his intent quite evident, the first question that popped into my mind was why someone would choose to undertake the journey on foot. He was not the first such pilgrim I’d encountered, but the fact remained that he had over 350 kilometers to walk, to get to his destination from where he was right now. (That’s over 80 hours of walking time from where he was, a fact Google will attest to).

The faithful typically undertake the pilgrimage to Sabarimala once a year (or as often as they see fit), a journey that commences with a 41 day period of abstinence, or the ‘vratham‘. It is a personal challenge of sorts for some, a divine experience for others, and often – a chance to lose weight while earning some spiritual brownie points on the side. Whatever be the process one goes through, there’s no changing the fact that it takes significant levels of determination, self-control and a certain level of fitness to be able to undertake a challenge of such proportions. Much like a marathon.

There’s no question that it will be a life changing experience. The mind travels as much as the body does, or more – making new discoveries about the self in the process. As the eyes take in new sights, the mind opens up to new truths hitherto unseen. There’s probably no way to explain this, until the feeling is experienced.

It’s not about what you’re doing – it’s more to do with which part of you is doing it. Any activity that you put a little bit of your soul into, is bound to take you places.

Everybody finds their marathon. Activities that they undertake, despite physical and mental hardships – to arrive at a sense of peace, achievement and satisfaction to whatever level possible. What works, is something each and every person has to determine for themselves. I know folks who go trekking in the Himalayas or go on long drives or rides, others who attend meditation programmes, there are some who read/ write or sketch with zen like regularity, and yet others who practice music or sport, or train at a gym with a furious sense of discipline.

Many of these are often pursuits that leave one exhausted – be it physically or mentally. Yet they enrich lives in ways more than one. Your marathon will make you go from a ‘lesser you’ to a ‘better you’ – resulting in smiles all around. You might not be a runner, but you’ll find your marathon.

What’s yours?

/aŋst/

‘I can’t believe I’m turning to astrology,’ he thought to himself as he closed the browser window in disgust. Why this sudden desire to know what lay ahead? An unbidden fear of the unknown? Despite having always lived by choices made today, and consequences faced tomorrow? A karma driven hand-to-mouth existence. The pay-out was starting to get increasingly ‘real-time’, as he saw it. Maybe that’s how it is, as time goes by. Childhood gives you the benefit of doubt, chances to redeem oneself somewhere down the line. As the line starts to reel in, there’s only so much leeway that gets accorded – he was starting to learn. But this was how it would have to be. Instant karma in a world characterized by instant everything. 2 minutes or less to between the flame and judgement.

His mind went back yet again to the opening line of ‘A tale of two cities’ – it was surprising how many times he’d gone back to the same line, repeatedly, over the last few days. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (Of course, there was more that followed, more that should be. But this is where he drew the line. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.)

‘The more I see of the world, the more I’m withdrawing into myself’, he had to accept. Deep inside was a place that was starting to get increasingly comfortable. Detached, dissociated, (in)different. Most things that people thrived on these days seemed to come across as hopelessly alien to him. Maybe it was just that the timing was all wrong. He wouldn’t have been such a cynic if he’d been part of mankind when it was evolving for the better. When progress meant an improvement in terms of people and lives, and not in terms of processing power and screen resolution. The world as he knew it was on a downward spiral. All that he held close to his heart, very few others did. Trying to find a fit in a world that he didn’t want to fit into wasn’t something he could do – not with conviction.

Everything has to be in the extremes today. There seems to be no room for the ordinary. Experiences, emotions, thoughts, actions, efforts, outcomes and consequently – happiness and satisfaction. Time is an “investment”, no longer a staid reality. The kind of pressures that people face – right from little kids to ‘adults’ trying to carve out a life for themselves, are often unreal and largely uncalled for. Given these modern lives of virtual reality that we seem to be getting wrapped up in, what is real naturally takes a backseat. It is commonplace to see people slipping back into the complexities of their life while still ruing how it is impossible to keep anything simple anymore. What is ironic however, is the fact that most don’t find a way out of this vicious circle, despite often wanting to.

An aberration, a glitch in the matrix. Is that what it was? There’s only so long that one could wait for, hoping things would come back to “normal” – as meaningless as the word sounds. ‘Routine’ probably would be a better fit there. The eventual destruction of everything, that one big fireball that everyone knew was coming – doesn’t seem too far away. Yet, very few cared. ‘Not in my lifetime’ was just one way of saying ‘not my problem.’ Not in their lifetime? But just how could they be so sure? Faith is extremely difficult to live by. It’s like trying to drive a car on fumes, he’d often think – on something that’s not really there. How far could that get you? The belief that there’s a gas station somewhere ahead won’t help if one has run out of fuel. It’s too late by then, of course.

Life, it has been said – is like a box of chocolates. But it’s time to accept that the darn box ran empty long long ago. And there are way too many hands reaching into it. Ripping it apart.

 

Angst

/aŋst/

noun

  • a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.
  • a feeling of persistent worry

 

The Dream Guides

 

 

“They’ll come to you when you need them,” he whispered.
“And I will know?” He could sense the disbelief in her voice.
“You won’t – they will.” That was the best he could say, not sure himself of how to explain something he knew he couldn’t.

She gazed back at the night sky, her eyes crinkling in exasperation. Here she was, in desperate need of help, and he found it prudent to throw fairy tales at her, out here in the middle of the night. ‘Dream Guides’, as he called them, were (according to him, of course) beacons of hope, faith and positivity. Like a tall lighthouse calling out to ships lost on the high seas of distress and doubt, he said (always had a flair for the dramatic, he did), they pierce the darkness with their resolute beams of faith – becoming the guiding light for the needy.

“What you may think you lack, they more than amply make up for” he continued his monologue.
She gazed at the stars, attempting to make sense of what he seemed to be talking about so earnestly. She certainly wasn’t inclined to give in to fairy tales – not at this late stage of her life. There was a time when she had left milk and cookies at night for Santa and woken up to gifts he’d bought her, but those days no longer seemed like hers anymore. A few flashes from a life long gone past sometimes came back to her – like memories of an old movie from a distant era. Brushing aside her thoughts, she dragged herself back to the present, the stars dotting the sky slowly swimming back to focus. This was a good idea, she thought to herself.

She had trudged back home earlier that night carrying the weight of her world on her shoulders, after yet another impossible day. Pressures were mounting at work, and in what seemed to have now become routine, she’d come back complaining, shovel some food into her mouth while continuing to complain, and drop exhausted soon after – still mumbling in consternation. He had dragged her away from dinner earlier, both of them tumbling out of the door while still chewing on cold pasta and grilled vegetables. He’d stopped only when they got to the lawn – a little patch of green that was now an integral part of their lives. Living in the suburbs had its advantages. She looked at him in confusion, a sense of irritation welling up inside her. “Shh..”, he motioned – putting a finger to her lips, and calmly proceeded to lie down on the grass. She was about to snap at him when he tugged at her leg, muttering a quite “come”. She lay down next to him, sighing with resignation. This wasn’t what she needed.

He had been quite for some time. Was it five minutes? Or was it ten? She wasn’t sure. The calm had slowly seeped into her, replacing the throbbing in her head. Their breath found solace in the silence of the night, noiselessly becoming a part of it.
“You know, they’re among us” he had murmured.
“Who?” she inquired, raising an eyebrow to the skies.
“The dream guides” he replied, and she could see his smile in the night sky.
She chuckled, knowing only too well how fanciful his thoughts could be.
“You don’t have to believe me, you know. You won’t – I know that too. Not until you meet yours, of course” he continued.
“You may know when they’re there, or you may realize later. They go about silently touching lives and making a difference, and for that, the world is a better place.” He seemed to be in a trance, talking more to himself than to her. She was listening, or maybe she wasn’t. She had lost herself to the skies sometime ago. He didn’t need her to acknowledge. He knew the universe would get his message across to her. Not everything could be said the way it should be. He needed her to believe – for he knew that it is only then that the magic would unfurl. He gently nudged her, willing her to open her mind, to accept.
She surrendered to the darkness, her senses taking in every bit of misty night.

A tiny star far away in a distant galaxy slowly woke up, shaking off centuries of sleep. Stretching and yawning (quite like us), it twinkled back to light, happy to be bright yet again. It did a happy little jig in its corner of space, sending an enduring ray of radiance her way.

She smiled as her gaze zeroed in on a cheeky star winking at her.
“But how will I know?” she asked, amused.

The visions in my head

Life help up a mirror without warning, and I faced my reflection for the very first time.
It wasn’t just me that I saw, but a vision that held the promise of a better me
Or was it someone who made me want to be a better me? I’ll never know.
But what I do know now is that the image exists, something I’d never thought could be.

Was it to give me a glimpse of what to make of myself?
A reminder of all things today that I should treasure?
Will my life now follow what I didn’t earlier see?
What I saw opened my eyes, put me at my vulnerable most – I won’t deny
Yet my soul couldn’t get enough – of a reflection that seemed more me than I could ever be.

No, this cannot be me;
Eyes that’ll forever twinkle, a tear-drop nose,
Resolutely set lips and a chin held up in defiance.
That’s not me – far from it, I tell myself
Yet, what is it that’s so me I see?

This is me, once removed
More me than the lesser me that is, today
Brimming with possibilities, desire, life and spirit
A mirror held up to the far past, dredging up a life outcast
A time buried deep within me, sinking deeper, each day, fast.

What manner of sorcery is this, why does life throw me a taunt?
A reflection that lays bare all that I’d want to be, yet won’t.
An alluring sight that throws light on everything that is in the shadows today
A vision that scares me, not due to what it is – but because of what it could be.

If there ever was a time I needed to be shaken up, it is now
Bring me back to the dark of a dreamless dreary night,
Not to be woken by piercing shards of light
For I am all that is grey and black; soot that’s burnt fine
My sun is starting to set; the dawn is no longer mine.

 

 

The wind vane in my head.

 

East, West, or maybe not.

 

There’s a wind vane in my head
Where it points to, no one can tell
It twirls about on its own accord,
throwing my mind into absolute discord

Without a wisp of wind, it’ll start to sway
And the panes of my mind – they’ll rattle away
But when you think it’s finally still,
It’ll suddenly point the other way

There’s a wind vane in my head, and by it I am led
I cannot question it, despite all that’s done and said.
So while I may look like I know exactly what I’m doing,
If the vane points south-west, then that’s where I’m going.

 

The Great Escape

I do not have any illusions of a grand escape. It doesn’t have to be great, is what I mean. The smaller instances qualify equally well in my opinion, if not more.

The surprise of not running into a maddening traffic jam on my daily commute, getting through a tiring yet strong run on a lethargic morning, the satisfaction in typing out an elegantly worded e-mail, watching a sudden shower paint the dusty trees green, running into an old friend in an unexpected fashion – or even an impromptu WhatsApp conversation with someone I haven’t heard from in a while. There are a multitude of these tiny windows of ‘escape’ that grace your day more often than you think. The trick is in being able to recognize one as it unfurls.

There is an inherent need for escape that keeps surfacing in all of us. Why else would you think the whole world today reaches for their phones every few minutes? A quick glance through the WhatsApp groups, a sneak peek into the Facebook feed, a few tittering minutes spent on Twitter, or an instant of Instagram. Technology has made it easier than ever to ‘get away’ today.

This is more of an interruption though, the way I see it. A distraction is not quite the same as an escape – one will interrupt your chain of thought and leave you a little confused, while the other will pop a productive thought into your head, and allow you to come back enthused. One will tear you away from what you’re doing, while the other may not. Despite the connotations of the word, an escape need not be always be detached from what you’re doing otherwise.

I feel it all the time. Not having to constantly worry about what I’m saying or doing, in light of what someone else might construe it to be, having a conversation in which I’m being understood exactly the way I want to be, being silent just because, well, I can be – In a way, just the simple act of being able to be myself. That possibly would count as the most welcome escape today – being able to let down your guard and rid yourself of those ‘societal’ garbs that you don all the time, not knowing when you’ll be able to slip out of them and relax in your own skin.

Escape, in that sense, is just like effort – it is the little bits that matter. My grand plans of taking a mammoth swing at the task at hand when I’m ‘ready for it’ almost always fail to materialize. However, taking little stabs at it as and when possible, keeping the ball moving whenever I can, ensuring continuity in the form of small ‘packages’ of effort that eventually add up, seems to work pretty well. That way, one doesn’t even truly realize how something got done. The magic just adds up.

The value of small is vastly underrated. A much awaited coffee break in the middle of a grueling work-day makes so much more of a difference than you may credit it with. Of course, I’m sure a two week Euro trip is not without merit either. But for that, there’s MasterCard.