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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Queen and I (Nominated for BlogAdda Blog Awards)

I was a cry booby in school for many years. Being the youngest in class, bursting in to tears was my main weapon of defence against boisterous classmates. I also did not have many friends, in school or outside, but surprisingly did not mind it at all. I was happy in my own world. This continued until I reached standard 8 B of my school.

In the beginning of that term, two momentous events took place in our school. The first one was that Standard 4 C got a new class teacher. She was a real stunner. Her beauty was of the Audrey Hepburn kind - both of face and figure. Additionally, she had a dimpled smile that was enhanced by a small little beauty spot on the right side of her upper lip.

She also could not have been more than 4 or 5 years older than the students in the senior classes. It would not be wrong to say that the whole all boys’ school fell in love with her. But she knew how to keep her distance and did not encourage familiarity of any kind from the seniors. She was almost unapproachable. Her name was Vera D’cruz (wonder if actress Ileana D'Cruz is related to her) and so regal was her attitude that she was always referred to, by all the students, as the Queen.

Image of Audrey Hepburn. Courtesy Internet

It was almost unimaginable to think that in a few months time the Queen would give me a sizzling peck on my cheek in full view of the school.

The other event was the admission of a boy named Ahmed from another school to Standard 8 A of our school. He was little old for the class and one of the few in the school who actually shaved. He, therefore, always had a clean and neat look about him. He also walked with a swagger and seemed to have been born with a superiority complex. The other factor that distinguished Ahmed from the other students was that everyday he wore a fresh pair of well ironed uniform. The rest of us used to wear uniforms that were pressed under mattresses! Moreover, it was talked in whispers that Ahmed’s father also owned a car. The whole school was, therefore, in awe of Ahmed and that added further to his aura. In a most unexpected way, our avenues were going to cross each other in a short while.

Ahmed was well built and, although, he was new to the school, the Principal created an innovative designation that put him even above the Head Boy of the school. Ahmed was officially appointed an ambassador by the Principal - somewhat like his accredited representative. He was given two bright red epaulettes embroidered with the word “Ambassador” to be fastened on his shoulders. It gave a sense of a status and authority to him. 

Ahmed was specially assigned to reduce the noise levels of the students during the 10 minutes recess in the mid morning and in the 45 minutes of the lunch break. He carried out his mandate with such success that the decibels in the corridors of our school during that period must have dropped to no higher than the traffic sound on a Sunday morning. His success even commanded the respect of the staff - so much so, that if any disciplining was required anywhere in the school, Ahmed would be called.

Ahmed, in his capacity as a super monitor, also used to make, without fail, a daily call on the Queen in her classroom at 4 C. She, somehow, never seemed to care much for him. His showing off in the school did not impress her. Still, he would persist and talk to her for a few minutes every day much to the envy of all the other students. However, as far as the young Miss D’cruz was concerned, she just viewed him as a pesky nuisance but, unfortunately, could not do much as he was a blue-eyed boy of the Principal.  

 Just before the Christmas holidays of that year, for the first time in the history of our school, a debate was arranged between standard 8 A and 8 B. I still do not know who thought of the idea of the debate or decided on the subject of the proposition – “Science has done more good than harm.” All that I remember is that 8 B would be supporting the proposition and 8 A would be opposing it. I was one of the four students selected to participate in the debate from our class – 8 B. Why I was selected, I still do not understand for I was a timid and introverted child who reveled in being left alone.

The day of the debate dawned. It was to be held at 2 pm., immediately after the lunch break, in the school hall. At 11.30 in the morning, just as the recess bell rang, I was given a message that I had to immediately see Miss Doyle, the class teacher of Standard 8 A, which was one floor below our classroom.

Miss Doyle was the senior most teacher in our school and had the most benign and grandmotherly look about her. But cross her path and she could make the most unruly of the students cry out in agony as she would tightly twist his ear and continue to wrench it till the poor guy would ask for her mercy with folded hands. Her reputation for maintaining discipline in the class was such that a glare from her would be enough to quell any thought of taking her on and rarely would she have to use her deadly weapon.

Therefore, it was with great trepidation that I went down to meet her but surprisingly she met me with a broad smile. She said it had been decided that I was to be the leader of the proposition team and Ahmed would lead the opposition team. Just for a moment I thought she was favouring her own class by putting up a weak and nervy candidate like me against him. 

She then said that as a leader of the proposition, I would have the right to reply after all the members of both the sides have spoken. She, thereafter, opened her purse and took out a neatly folded sheet of paper written in her own hand. Then, in a rather stern manner, she addressed me, “This is your rejoinder to all the points raised by the opposition. Put this paper in your pocket and, I am warning, you are not to open and read it until you reach home in the lunch break. After that memorise the main points and,” then, lowering her voice to a whisper, conspiratorially added, “tear up the paper before you come back to school. I do not want anybody to know that I have written it for you. Go run back to your class.”

All of a sudden I felt quite elated at being selected to be the leader of the proposition and also thrilled in being involved in a little conspiratorial plot with Miss Doyle. As I reached my class, I informed the other members of my team what I had been told by Miss Doyle – that I was to lead the proposition. I was almost feeling as puffed up as Ahmed! I then told them, in confidence, that Miss Doyle had given me a note for my final reply to the debate. At that, all the other members wanted to see the note. I resisted initially telling them that Miss Doyle had strictly told me not to open it until I reached home. However, curiosity got the better of us. We opened the note.

The gist of the memo was that since Ahmed, who wore spectacles, had personally benefited from this invention of science, he had no business to speak against it. We were all very overjoyed at the killer reply that the teacher had drafted and swore each other to secrecy about the covert bludgeon in our possession. On this happy note, I left for home at the lunch break to rehearse my speech, my reply and, most importantly, to change into a freshly ironed uniform - especially done for the occasion. 

As I reached back to the school, I could feel that there was some kind of a buzz going around. Soon, I got the bad news. Ahmed and his team had come to know of the reply and it had been decided by them that he would not be wearing his spectacles during the debate. My small world of plotting and planning came crashing down.

However, there was no time to think as I rushed up to the hall. As the participants were trooping on to the stage, I could see that Ahmed had taken off his glasses. I saw a full house in the hall and felt that the boys were giving me knowing smiles - enjoying the fact that I had been trumped. In the audience, I also spotted Miss Doyle and the glare that she gave me made me lower my eyes at once.

Soon I was called upon to speak. The arguments presented by me were mundane and at the end, I received a perfunctory applause. Then Ahmed began in his usual confident style with an air of almost having won the debate. My mind was really not on what was being said by him or the others but on what my reply would be now that Ahmed was not wearing his spectacles.

Many ideas came but were discarded because they were not capable of winning the debate which already seemed to be drifting away from us.Time was passing by and I still did not have a suitable reply. Finally, I thought of a reply that could succeed provided I delivered it right. It was an extremely high-risk strategy that had a good chance of succeeding but also had an equally good chance of failing. I discarded it. Defeat, shame, humiliation were staring me in the face and so were the repeated glares of Miss Doyle. In desperation, I again brought back the high-risk plan into consideration and decided to chance it. I was trembling with fear because if it failed, I would have no place to hide my face until I passed out from school after a couple of years.

I heard the moderator asking the leader of the proposition to reply. As I stood up, the audience was well aware that my strike weapon had been blunted. I began, “Mr. President Sir and friends.” I could feel the tremor in my voice but I continued, “All of you will agree with me that the leader of the opposition in today’s debate is one of the most popular students of our school.”

The sarcasm worked, there were sniggers all around, just as I had hoped. Actually, this was the most critical line. If it had fallen flat, it would have been curtains for our team. Therefore, the few titters around the hall were most welcome. I started feeling a little better as I now added, “But I do not know why he is looking so different to me today.”

There was a loud burst of laughter as many of the audience understood what I was driving at. Some from the audience even shouted, “Specs, specs.” On hearing that, the whole audience started cheering and clapping for me. However, I pretended that it was the first time I had realized that he was without his specs as I said with wonderment in my voice, “That’s right, he is not wearing his specs.” With more faux surprise, I posed a question, “I wonder why he is not wearing his specs? He does not look that good without it.” After a pause, I asked, “Does he?”

This led to an uproar in the audience with almost the entire crowd seeing this as an invitation to mock him for his duplicitous behavior.  Somebody started a chant, which was taken up in unison by all the boys, “Wear your specs, wear your specs.” My purpose was served – I had virtually put the spectacles back on Ahmed.

I now motioned to the crowd to be quiet, as I was not done with. “Friends, we all know that the leader of the opposition is an honourable person,” which was met with shouts of, “No, no.” That was music to my ears. I now moved in for the kill to deliver the lines written by Miss Doyle with a little addition of my own at the beginning and at the end, “I, therefore, feel that he should not have removed his spectacles because without this invention of science he would have been handicapped. If the honourable leader of the opposition had been a person of (in a slightly more emphatic note) principles, he would have been standing in my place, of course with his spectacles on (the remark again drew a huge collective guffaw from the audience), to support the proposition. Without the invention of science, he would not have been able to read or write and, most terribly, would never have been able to identify the students who are making noise in the school.” I paused here to get the full attention of the crowd that was waiting in anticipation for my next wicked blow.

“And still worse, he would not have been able to peer into classes 4 A, 4 B and (in a little louder tone) especially, Class 4 C.” There was near pandemonium at this in the crowd – clapping, laughing and booing at the same time. I was prepared to continue but the moderator of the debate, Mr. Barretto, stopped me.

He said, “I will ask the leader of the proposition to resume his seat as I would like to put the motion to vote.” After the crowd became silent, he asked, “Those in favour of the motion?” Unbelievably, the whole audience raised its hands. Some even raised both their hands! But my eyes were only seeking Miss Doyle to see her reaction. She had a big grin on her face and had also put up both her hands!

For the sake of formality, the moderator then asked, “Those against?” He was not expecting anyone to vote against it but - and that is a moment I will never forget – one solitary hand of my class and bench mate, Jehangir Irani, went up. The crowd asked him to put down his hand but he just would not do it. Mr. Barretto then declared that the motion was carried by a majority. Had Jehangir not spoilt the party, the voting would have been unanimous in favour of the proposition but, in retrospect, a lesson in democracy was learnt by all of us.

As the debate was closed, I was mobbed and lifted by my school friends. It was a heady moment. From the corner of my eye I could see the forlorn figure of Ahmed standing all by himself talking to the Principal. Even his team pals were not there with him – they were busy congratulating us. In the midst of all this, a class fellow came up to me to say that the Queen wanted to see me.

I could not believe my ears. I disengaged myself and, as I started walking towards her, I found, almost a whole crowd following me. As I reached her, she did not say a word; she just lifted my chin, turned my face and gave me a tight kiss on my cheek. She then told her colleague, “He is my David. Saw how he slew that Goliath. Serves that bully right, peeping into my class all the time.” She smiled and said, “Now you can go, but wipe off that lipstick on your cheek before you go home.” At that moment, I came of age. 

Image of Audrey Hepburn  Courtesy Internet

This story was posted on on October 31, 2008. The most amusing part of this blog was that the first four comments, independently of each other, gave a Wow. And, never thereafter, have I received such opening comments.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Review "My Lawfully Wedded Husband"

He was just deadly that Sunday morning; she had never imagined that he had it in him. She had screamed in pain and agony. Although he had got her sprawled awkwardly on the floor, although she was in a state of severe shock, yet she was looking up in great admiration at her “lawfully wedded husband” standing above her. He deservedly sported a triumphant smile. Madhulika Liddle spins a powerful story of an illicit dalliance of a woman stuck in a boring marriage, which ends in a horrific surprise.
Madhulika has a smooth flow in the narration of the 12 stories in the, “My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories.” What I particularly enjoyed, additionally, in her tales were the picture perfect descriptions of the everyday scenes that one takes for granted. Sample these two:

“Sudha, curled the fallen hair around the tip of her forefinger,” from Hourie.

“Her mouth was full of clothespins – ugh – and her shoulder was heaped high with pillow covers, a bed sheet, petticoats, shirts and an apron printed with bright crimson poppies. She had close-set eyes, bright and prying………,” from “My Lawfully Wedded Husband.”

Her tale about Hourie, the whore, could pride itself of a superior research and, thus, sounds more authentic than that of other Indian authors who have attempted stories involving prostitutes. Her storyline also has a mild touch of erotica. However, the ending is not very dramatic.  

In contrast, the opening story Sum Total has you guessing until the end when the author lets loose a double whammy of twists to the tale. A Sheldonesque take, if one may say so. In A Brief Lesson In Trust the author allows the protagonist to cynically take advantage of the gullibility of a naive friend.

Again, in The Crusader, the story is interspersed with enjoyable, intimate whispered conversation between a couple whilst watching a movie – eavesdrop on it:

“Hummpf. In that nightdress he’s wearing? Looks stupid.”

“Who cares about the nightdress? It’s what’s under it that matters.” Deeksha giggled.     

A Tale of a Summer Vacation is about two sisters loving the same man and lays bare the machination of one of them to achieve her goal of getting him. St. George and the Dragon is a story set in a government office that goes on to prove that there is lot of merit in the Biblical Beatitude that says that “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!” Of course, with a little help from Shivani Sinha.

Feet of Clay falls a little short because it is along expected lines; perhaps, because the newspapers cover the subject of child molestation extensively. Hence, the twist is not knotty enough. On the other hand, On the Night Train is quite naughty and delightful. Silent Fear is creepy enough to give cutis anserina. 

The last story, The Howling Waves of Tranque Bar, is of an artist of a different kind. It is the story of grève d'orage.

This compendium of crime stories makes a good read.

This review is a part of the biggest" target="_blank"> Book Review Program
for" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Oh, to be a masseur

It was, indeed, a showcase wedding. The entire elite of Mumbai and Delhi, it seemed, had descended upon Jaipur for the event. Film stars, industrialists and politicians intermingled in a fusion of power and affluence. The décor at the scene took one back to the opulent times of the Mughals. The global cuisine, lavishly spread over the vast venue, completed the picture of the glitz and glamour on that memorable evening.

But the showstopper of the evening was not any of the celebrities or the bridegroom or, even the bride, but it was the bridegroom’s father – Rohan - my friend of more than forty years. Standing on the stage with the bridal couple, he looked dapper in his black bandh gulla with the top two buttons stylish left open to display a sparkling white shirt with a Chinese collar. Needless to say, he was clean shaven. His athletic stance was still intact but his totally gray hair, slicked back with a left sided parting, made him look both debonair and avuncular. The guests who were going up to greet him were all known and identifiable faces.

Therefore, it was understandable that I felt a total misfit in this setting. My wife succinctly summed up the situation – that I appeared to be the only non-achiever in the crowd! She is a great one to pep up one’s spirit – especially, if one is feeling low!

Then it happened. Suddenly, I got recognition. Rohan caught my eye, gave me a broad smile and topped it with a wave and a thumbs-up. A bejeweled film star of yester years, sitting in a row just ahead of us, turned around and in a well modulated silky voice asked me, “Aap Rohan ji ko pechhantein ho?”

With a put on nonchalant voice, I answered “Oh yes. When we were both fifteen years old, we had together run away to Goa …….to become hippies.”  

The unknown face of a few moments back had actually made a former film star burst into a good-humoured laugh. In between her mirth, she told the friends around her, “Can you believe it, yeh janaab and Rohan ji had gone to Goa to become hippies.” This was followed by another round of hilarity.

A well known builder of Delhi double checked, “Do you mean to say that Rohan Shenoy, the samrat of the stock exchange, once upon a time wanted to be a dropout? Unbelievable.”

With a conspiratorial smile on my face and theatrically raised eyebrows, I answered, “But it is a fact.” 

Turning to his wife, he said with great admiration in his voice, “Rohan Shenoy hardly pays any tax. Most of his income is officially tax free.”

Sadly, as quickly as it happened, so did it end - my fifteen seconds of fame were up and over.

However, Rohan’s generous acknowledgment took me back to my school days. He and I had been bench mates from the KG class. Then, in the final year of the all boys’ school, like everyone else, we were also suffering from the onslaught of the hormones. Concentration on studies was getting more and more difficult. Mere pictures of female models in magazines would light us up.

Venerable female teachers had suddenly turned into desirable objects. However, at few times, Rohan, looking at the shapely legs of a teacher, would sigh under his breath, “I wish she had opted for her hair removal.” Rohan was beginning to develop aesthetic sensibilities. But the overarching turbulence of the testosterones continued to overwhelm us.

It was during one such time of acute stress that Rohan told me, in all seriousness, that he had decided upon his future; he would like to become a masseur. Massaging was to be his career of choice.

He told me all the positives of that career. I was totally taken in by his argument. Day and night we would passionately dream of achieving our aspiration to become masseurs. We would think of new and innovative ideas that we would bring to our job. Client satisfaction would always be our main goal. Studying for the Board exam was proving to be such a distraction.

At that time, we heard stories that hordes of hippies had descended on Goa and were leading a totally carefree life – life free of all encumbrances, including clothes. Better news was that enterprising Malayalees had set up Kerala massage shacks on the beaches of Goa and were doing rip roaring business. Rohan and I were drooling to set up our own shop on a beach in Goa.

It was then that we decided to run away from home immediately after the painful Board exam would get over. It would be for the noble purpose to pursue our career dream. The entrepreneurial spirit in us was aching to get started.

Finally, the two charged youngsters landed in Goa. The Baga beach was a voyeuristic delight. The youngsters found it difficult to suppress their happiness; it was showing. But their top priority was to get an internship at one of the massage shacks to get a hands-on experience of pressing, rubbing and manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with their hands and fingers. But apprenticeship was difficult to come by – the Keralites proved to be very clannish.

However, what brought our dreams to a crashing end was an encounter with a 21 year old Swede – one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen to date.

Rohan and I were a dejected lot by Day 5 in Goa. We were listlessly sitting on the beach when this beauty approached us and said, “Mind if I join you? Do you speak English?”

Rohan was the first to recover and suavely said, “WHOA, for your sake I am ready to speak Chinese too!”

“Then Swedish is what you will have to learn,” she replied with a saucy toss of her head.

Her next observation took us by surprise. “Kids, it is obvious you have come here on a naughty mission. Have you achieved it?”

We were left speechless not knowing what to make of it. Was it just curiosity or a subtle invitation? The androgens jumped to a rash conclusion that it was the latter.

Alas, it turned out to be the former.

After a long pause, she said, “I have also come here to have a mischievous escapade but you guys are not the ones.”

We were crushed.

“Actually, I am looking for a fisherman. I really get turned on by these bare chested, dark sinuous fishermen here, especially as they cast their net in the sea. The whole rhythm of their heaving the net in the sea drives me up the wall!!!!! And the sexy colorful short wraps around their hips …………..drives me crazy.”

After being lost in a long reverie she said, “Unfortunately, they don’t speak English. Hey buddies could you help me out - be my interpreters? Of course, I could recompense you with some pocket money for doing my work.”

Rohan and I looked at each other. Rohan, with his usual sardonic wit, whispered to me, “We had come here to become masseurs but it seems we will end up with a career in the second oldest profession!”

Sheepishly, we decided to return back to Bombay, as Mumbai was then. With tears in our eyes, we bid adieu to our dream career of massaging. But one can never forget one’s first love.

A couple of months after the splendid wedding, I read a scandalous news item in a tabloid. An Indian actress, who had a few months back given a big Bollywood hit, traveling first class on the national airline to London, was found having a surreptitious massage under a blanket from a fellow Indian passenger who had recently celebrated his son’s marriage in an ostentatious manner in Jaipur. Her alternating moans and giggles had disturbed other passengers.

I called up Rohan’s house and was told, “Saab London gaye hain.”

Oh, to be a masseur, is my dream once more.

This post is a part of the Gillette Satin Care contest in association with