In no particular order, extracts from “An Affair to Remember!” are as follows… Read at your own peril!
The evil red car weaved in and out like in the joystick controlled video game from my childhood.
I never ever crossed Level One. I just realized that that was my deepest regret.
“…And then I began to feel guilty. So I figured out which police station they were from,” she continued.
Ira Sharma had most definitely mastered the joystick video game with the little red car. For her five rupees pocket money, she would have played ten levels in one go as opposed to my one.
Ira Sharma most definitely had no deep seated videogame related regrets.
The car weaved in and out still as it did towards the end of Level One, the point where I always lost.
“There’s bribe money in the glove compartment… but as it turns out, didn’t need it,” she went on.
I opened the glove compartment and saw there was a moderately thick bundle of cash there.
And then she said bitterly, “You know you are an asshole, don’t you?”
At this point, I believed in feng shui and dragons and fairytales and the alignment of planets impacting our everyday lives and I was henceforth, for the foreseeable future, immune to surprises. I felt inclined to agree. I even nodded, perhaps.
The little red car from the videogame consumed Ira’s anger, bopping from one lane to the other, forever a centimetre away from kissing another vehicle and causing Level One to end.
And then suddenly, she stopped the car right in the middle of the road. I heard brakes being applied suddenly and vehicles screeching to a halt.
“You are an asshole and you deserve to die!” she suddenly screamed at me angrily.
People horned from behind us. Ira thrust her arm out and gave the guy in the car behind us the finger.
She pulled the same hand back in put it on my left cheek. I saw there was a teardrop in her right eye.
She then leaned in as a mechanic does to check a damaged tyre rim.
The first moment I realized something was wrong was when her face got too close to mine for comfort. And then she was no longer interested in checking out the damaged rim. The second moment of shock hit me when her eyes closed.
Much like most of the events in the past couple of hours, I had not foreseen this either.
Her lips reached mine and she bit them instantly, like fangs dipping into human skin. Her nails dug into my cheek drawing out blood. I felt her breathe heavily as she kissed me fiercely, with immense venom.
She pulled away, her teeth and fingernails snatching away layers of my skin, and blood with them.
“Goodbye… asshole,” she said bitterly.
I realized this was my cue to leave.
I opened her evil red door and got out, looking like a mauled animal that belonged at the bottom of every foreseeable food chain.
And in my head played the metallic female voice that lived in the video game machine.
End of Level One.
Insert coin to continue.
When you are twenty-six (or somewhere in that age bracket) and still working for a software firm in India – your first job after leaving your engineering campus – you have very little choice but to do an MBA. You see people around you – people three or four years younger to you, MBAs all of them – earn thrice as much as you, get better sounding designations like a Junior Deputy Assistant Vice President (which sounds good although it halves “President” about four times) while you stay where you were four years ago, when the madness called your career began. Or perhaps get promoted a grade or two at best, with cosmetic increases in salary indexed to the inflation rate, not in India but Japan.
It ceases to matter that your firm is called ‘ABCDEF Corporation’ and that it is every engineering student’s dream to land a job at ABCDEF Corp. That its share trades on the stock markets and is considered a bluechip and an outperformer and a heavyweight. That there is a grossly misleading advertisement doing the rounds on TV showing an employee from ABCDEF Corp. (wearing a cap or a jacket or a tie saying “ABCDEF Corporation” in font 120) solving the world’s problems with software and technological innovations only ABCDEF Corp. is capable of. It ceases to matter that if you do an MBA, your career would look like the zig zag bowel movement of a fatally constipated creature – chemical engineer to software firm employee to MBA to consult/ bank/ marketing/ random employee at random company recruiting from random B-School paying big bucks and anointing you with a big title. All that occupies your mind is “God! I have to get out of here!”
But then B-school admission season comes and goes every year. You fill all the forms, dispatch all the demand drafts, pencil all those circles on answer sheets with your HB Lead pencil you once used to do sketches with and then settle into a wait. Trawl those chatrooms, google for answer keys from coaching institutes or for rumoured cut offs. You subscribe to The Hindu and The Economic Times and even religiously read them for a week or two before the results are out. And then you hang your head in disappointment, terminate your subscriptions of the boring newspapers (and go back to reading Bombay Times/ James Hadley Chase novels) and trudge back to the life you thought you were leaving behind. To become a President halved four times.
Most people would think that all you need to create an explosion is set a fuse to something inflammable and set it afire. You (being ‘most people’) will thus perhaps be surprised to know that you could drop a lit matchstick into a sea of oil and it will neither ignite nor explode.
Almost every explosive device will have a complex and precise mix of an oxidizer, a stabilizer and (only then) the actual explosive chemical, followed by a detonator circuit. The whole point of an explosive device is that it should explode on demand and not at its own sweet mercy, which is where the detonator comes in. Once activated, the detonator will send an electric shock wave through the explosive material at a speed of up to eight kilometres per second. The shock front, in turn, is what releases the immense amount of potential energy stored in the explosive. In other words, boom!
Lord Voldemort had no appreciation for the beauty of the complexity of an explosion. All that majestic intricacy fitted into a split second before the big bang. He just sat on his throne, pale and deathly silent, breathing heavily.
The catharsis of energy associated with even the crudest bombs made at home by terrorists has been known to create temperatures of a thousand degrees Celsius and their own shock-waves with pressures to the tune of a few hundred atmospheres. That’s a few hundred times the pressure that your body can take. Not surprisingly, explosive shock-waves kill more people and cause more damage than the heat of the explosion itself. Imagine yourself getting crushed under the boot of an almighty giant, that’s what a shock-wave will do to you.
The shock-wave is a beautiful and effective afterthought of the explosion. The high temperature at the epicentre of the blast will cause gases (generated in the blast) to move outward radially in a thin, dense shell that’s called “the hydrodynamic front”. This front then acts like a piston that pushes against and compresses the media of gases it encounters in the surrounding air, to make a spherically expanding wave of superheated gases, i.e. a shock-wave. And all this, everything, start to finish – detonation to explosion to shrapnel dispensation and shock-wave – happens in the fraction of a second, blink of an eye.
The Dark Lord still did not look impressed although that had never been my intention. All I had been trying to do was to make conversation with him. He just sat stiff and still in his chair, apparently incapable of speech, thought and cognition. And even though he was still the vile old Dark Lord, it was a little difficult not to feel sorry for him.
RK did not react as I got up and walked up to the cracked glass window of his cabin. Four floors below, RK’s sedan was now a mangled post-explosion carcass, still smoldering and smoking – its roof gone, its seats and tires afire. There were three or four policemen scattered around the vehicle watching it burn, chatting with the security guard, sipping tea from plastic cups.
In all my life, I had never and still have not seen a woman so beautiful.
Even the sun stared at her wide-mouthed, a creation of God so beautiful, so joyous that there was little else to do. The wind played merrily with her, her hair, whispered secrets in her ears.
She was beautiful in a way women have forgotten to be – a radiance, an expression of joy, perfect and pristine, perhaps even prehistoric. She had the eyes of a Basilisk, terribly potent and powerful; even while the rest of her stayed staid, there was life in her eyes. They laughed, frolicked, danced, spun, committed mischief. At times they spoke words, her eyes, in a language I did not quite understand. These words, as real as everything else around me, floated energetically to worlds far far away. Like birds of a beautiful blissful blessed species. A species I did not quite know or understand but had happy memories of.
Bombay is one of the cruellest, most miserable cities in India; a city so laden with unfulfilled dreams on under-slept brows, with reality conflicting with the ambitions of a million, with an evergreen silent brooding painful struggle of the teeming have-nots versus a handful of ultra-wealthy with people like me, neither have nor have-not, stuck watching the charade from the middle.
Every one or two years, Bombay sees a riot or a bomb blast. And then, once the blood has been shed, tears have begun to dry, wounds have been bandaged and started their transition to scars, once the carnage has paused, if only for a minute, people return. Back to streets, back to work, back to the roads, as if nothing ever happened; something the media never fails to call the indefatigable “Spirit of Bombay”. What they fail to see is the desperation, the despondency of the men and women who have no choice but to get out of the safety of their homes to earn their daily bread. For if they do not work, be it bomb or flood or riot or terror attack, they cannot feed their families that night.
Bombay is like its many men… zombie-like and brutal and omniscient of the harsh truths of life. The only people who can tolerate Bombay and even come to love it are those who have been born and/ or bred there and maybe also those who have too much money to have ever seen its dark side, whose walls are too thick for them to have ever heard its muted sobs in the night. City of a million broken hearts, a million scars, a million crushed dreams. And yet, a city of ceaseless and futile hope.
But then on one day every year, Bombay is unmindful of its tragedies. As Ganesh Visarjan dawns on the metropolis, teeming armies of otherwise morose and moribund men converge on Bombay’s streets, singing, dancing, holding up traffic. The city is a canvas of colour with various renditions of Ganesha idols being prayed to and paraded around. For one day, Bombay is not the scarred marred animal it has come to be.
I walked in one of the parades as it proceeded to immerse a rather fit looking Ganesha, donning exaggerated six pack abs, in the sea. The procession danced and sang along deliriously to outrageous prayer songs, most of which were rather ridiculous do-overs of raunchy item numbers… for example, “Ganesha kee Diwaani” (adapted rather crudely from “Sheila kee Jawaani”). Some of them threw colour up in the air and on people; others distributed sweets. I watched from the distance as they reached the sea and began to drown the six pack donning, gym frequenting, weights-lifting Ganesha in the sea water. After the precarious task of drowning the gigantic idol without getting drowned themselves, the men turned back, still ecstatically buoyant over their achievement. They walked back home, still singing the ridiculously inappropriate prayer songs, to have feasts and sweets.
The next morning, there was the usual sadness in the air. Humidity pricked at my neck as I stepped out. The air was shrill with hopelessness and despondence. The same tired zombies greeted me as I started my journey to the office on my bike.
Their hope rested at the bottom of the sea bed, somewhere near Juhu beach.
“…apparently an email from a junior employee dated the twentieth of this month began the end of the company,” said the reporter, his subliminal joy at covering the story bursting through him. “In his letter of which our news channel has an exclusive copy, the CEO said it was like quote- riding a tiger not knowing how to get off its back without being eaten. Unquote.”
And as they dissected and autopsied the scam on screen, I realized that the ‘email from a junior employee’ they were referring to was my email to RK containing the CFO’s presentation.