Friday, May 31, 2013

Mr. Prefix

For several years, many thought the ‘Sri’ in my name was a prefix – as in Sri (xyz), or Sri (zyx). Many of them still do. And every time somebody wrote my name, I had to point out, ‘Err..the ‘Sri’ is a part of the full name, please’. It got to me after a while, and I became immune to it. So, in non-government organizations and other places where it didn’t really matter, I just let the guys knock themselves out prefixing the ‘Sri’. Big deal…

You see, though my name is primarily a Sanskrit word, fairly pronounceable, or should I say, ‘should be fairly pronounceable’ by Indians, I realized a particular letter in the name was just as hard for my north indian friends (and classmates when I was in school) to pronounce (There are two ways of phonetically saying ‘na’. It’s there in the hindi script as well, but well – many of them don’t use the other one colloquially, so..we were back to square one). One blogger (many years ago though) even thought I was a woman! Said the name sounded like a woman's! (I still haven't been able to figure this one out)

So they’d take off a vowel before ‘n’, flatten the 'na' some more and suit themselves. Even that was OK with me.

But problems cropped up again when I joined the software industry and had to work with my American and European counterparts. And now, the very ‘prefix’ which used to get my goat, became a balm of relief. 99.99999999% of these guys couldn’t get even a part of my name right, forget the entire thing. So, this time round, Mr. prefix came to my rescue. ‘Uh, you could just call me ‘Sri’’, I’d suggest, and they would go ‘Oh. Sri! Yes, that works, that’s cool. Hi, Sri,’ they’d say over and over again (Shwee, Shwee that is)  as if they’d got hold of their PT master’s whistle.  And I’d go ‘Ah, what the hell..’  Big deal…again.

And over a period of time, the shortened ‘Sri’  became quite the norm – my mom, sister, wife and many close friends call me that. And yeah, even you guys know me by that name. It’s probably just as well, because it’s easier to say Sri than try and roll the entire name off your tongue. No complaints.

But when I was small, I’d frown at my own name. ‘Why couldn’t my parents have given me an easier name which could be easily pronounced?’ This one was so much drama. But then as I grew up I realized, though a little difficult to pronounce by a few people, this was a name that was my identity. And my parents had some (my mother mostly) emotion attached to it. Of course, in southern India, this name is not a big deal at all. I know many folks having it. But in a global platform, when people have to pronounce my name, and fumble, all I do is spring up Mr. ‘Prefix’.

After all, what’s in a name, right?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How am I driving?

So, I make a mental note of this phone number and call.

After a few rings …


‘Yes, took this number from the back of a cab. Your guy is driving rashly. Could you connect me to someone I could report this to?’


I’m connected to another number.


What the hell is the noise in the background?

‘Hello, yeah..this guy, he’s driving rashly. His number plate… (I give the number)’.

‘I’m the driver.’


‘Why’d they connect me to you? And why're you driving like a maniac?’

‘Ok, sorry.’

Line disconnected.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

The butler did it

‘XYZ did it’.

Three simple words. Some idiot wrote this on the notice board of a college years ago, spoiling the fun for hundreds of students who wanted to catch the latest murder mystery that weekend. No, I'm not naming the actor, or telling which movie. I'm sure you guys'll figure it out. This piece of news, more than the movie, made a lot waves. :P

Point is, when it comes to suspense, and that surprise ‘twist’, we humans are a funny lot. While the majority of us get a kick out of that twist revealed to us at the end, I’ve also seen that sometimes it’s not just about the suspense, but the way it builds up in the story, and the way it is revealed to not just the audience, but also to the other characters inside the story. Which brings me to the question – What exactly is ‘good’ suspense, if there is such a term at all? And what is it that really plays havoc in our brains? The twist that is kept from us, or the fact that the rest of the characters in the story are kept from it.

Funny, isn’t it? When I wrote ‘Façade’, many liked it. It was a typical 'suspense'. But then there were some who told me, ‘we wanted to know about the actual perpetrator earlier on in the story’. That intrigued me. It proved that there was indeed a segment of readers (viewers in case of a movie) that wanted to be kept informed of the proceedings. So then, how does one keep the audience/readers engaged, despite telling them about the culprit right away?

And then I remembered that a few years ago, I myself had sat through a movie biting nails, when actually the story was really very simple. It was about a crime, and we knew who did it. But the story was the real hero. It made me conclude that there indeed was a third angle to this all. Suspense, or twist, it all depends on what is being revealed that really does us in. And it’s actually this angle that makes a story nail biting. It also made me conclude that there indeed is a kind of duality to the way we think. And more often than not, it is the type of crime and the nature of the culprit,  that decides whether or not we care more about knowing who did it, or cared more about how it was going to affect the other unsuspecting characters. Usually, the suspense, or the effect of suspense is heightened when a character we totally trust and care about throughout the story, turns out to be the actual culprit.

For those who have read the story ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, you will remember that the denouement comes in the end, but by then you as a reader pretty much  knew what was going on, and who all were involved. The way Agatha Christie revealed that plot to us was the unique factor. I did a quick mental survey of those kind of stories that revealed the culprit in the end, and those that revealed that person to us early on, but kept us hooked with something more intriguing – The final stakes. Which then brought me to the conclusion that there are two things to the whole aspect. The suspense. And the thrill. Both work on different levels.

But ultimately what usually works better is the thrill.

The word 'suspense' itself, ironically, becomes predictable  after a while.  But getting to know how it is revealed to the other characters, is what makes the ride worthy. It’s like when we were kids - chancing upon somebody else’s secret place, and sitting behind the bushes waiting to know how the ‘other’ people reacted when they chanced upon that place.  Making us an accomplice, almost.

And that gives a kick. Always.


Friday, May 17, 2013


We all have at some point in time, left things, some precious, some expensive, and some not so dear things in public places, only to lament about it later on. Well, life goes on after all and we forget about it. But I always think about the object that got left behind. Who would be using it now? Would it have sat unnoticed for a few days till somebody noticed and picked it up? I like to use my mental camera and zoom in on that lone object. And I think, if it had life, would it also lament about its owner in the same way?

I say this because something weird happened years ago, which I will never forget.

I had just graduated, and come down to Bangalore for a trainee job in an ad agency. I had made the trip on my scooter, much to my mother’s dissent, but anyway…it was great fun. Since I had a week at hand before joining for work, I and my friends planned on riding out to the countryside, make a few trips to some undiscovered locations, and generally do a road trip of sorts. We packed our bags, myself and couple of other friends on another bike, and off we went. The trip itself was great – we covered more than 1500 kilometers over a period of three days and were returning to Bangalore on the third day. It was around 8.30 pm, we decided to have supper at a roadside Dhaba. Since we were already tired and wanted to hit the sack before midnight, we had a light supper and decided to hit the road.

But when I went to my scooter, I saw somebody had stolen my helmet. In those days, helmet wasn’t mandatory in the state, but I always wore it while riding. I wasn’t emotionally attached to it or anything, but that night, I felt something tug at my heart strings. I’d worn the helmet for more than three years. It was my very first one; my father had bought it for me when I started riding the scooter. I’d not felt anything for it until now. I bought another one a couple of days later and life moved on.

A couple of years later, as I was riding home from work, it started pouring, and to top it, I had a flat tyre. I had no choice but to somehow drag it to a side and take shelter under one of the sun shades of a closed shop. There were a few others huddled in the same spot. I jostled for some space and stood like the rest, waiting for the rain to subside. An elderly person standing next to me, started making small talk, generally offered his sympathies for my flat tyre, and informed me about a guy who fixed tyres round the bend. ‘Go there as soon as it stops raining,’ the old man said. I smiled and thanked him. In the meantime I’d taken off my helmet and placed it on an elevated cement block to my left. Around the same time, another biker ran in from the rain and stood beside me. I didn’t even look at him properly. A half hour later, when the rain had reduced to a drizzle, most of the guys ventured out, but I and the old man continued talking as we had discovered some common interests, and I was in no hurry to go. He was narrating an anecdote and I was listening intently.

Soon, it was time for us to leave. We shook hands, he left, and I turned to my side to pick up my helmet.

It was gone. My jaw dropped. ‘Not again,’ I groaned. But surprise of all surprises, there was another in its place. Clearly a case of mistaken ‘helmet’ identity. The guy who ran in from the rain had taken off with my helmet, and left his. I shook my head and smiled. With no other choice left to me, I picked up the old helmet and walked to my scooter.

My tyre was fixed a few minutes later. I paid the guy and was about to slip the helmet over my head, when something on the helmet caught my eye. I did a double take and then looked at it closely.

‘SM’. My initials. Like the one on my old helmet that was stolen. I had absently scratched the letters at the back when it was still new. My sister had even teased me about it. Surely, it was just a coincidence, I thought. But upon closer inspection, I realized it was indeed the same inscription. And the same helmet. I had never noticed it until now. Maybe because it had a new visor and inner padding. But it was unmistakable. My helmet had 'returned' to me.

I laughed out loud in disbelief. Passers-by looked on amused.

I looked at the scratchy old thing one last time and put it on, still shaking my head. I’d heard about lost children returning to their parents; even lost pets returning home.

But this?

I think I still have it, stashed away somewhere at my Mysore home. Some day, I'll pull it out, dust it carefully and tell about it to Aayu's kids.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Special Class

Mandira walked back to her bedroom after supper and opened her laptop. She had to file that report about the school valedictory the next morning. She navigated to the folder where she usually stored all her extra-curricular files and frowned.

The valedictory file was missing. That’s strange. She rummaged her bag for the pen drive and plugged it in.

Nothing. No files.

She sat back and rolled her eyes. She could’ve sworn she’d copied the file from Shwetha at lunch break. Where the hell was the file?

She ran a search all over again. She had named the file ‘Valedictory_0125’. Nothing came up. Still frowning, she picked up her mobile phone and dialed Shwetha’s number.

“Hi Shwetha?”

“Helllo, darling,” Shwetha said in her usual cheerful tone.

“Hi..had supper?” Mandira asked.

“Yeah..just about, what’s up? Jittery about tomorrow,huh?”

“Arre, no. But you remember you gave me the presentation file during lunch break?”

“Yeah, you copied it in a thumb drive if I’m not wrong?”

“Yeah, but you know what..I don’t seem to have it now. I’s not on the thumb drive as well yaar.”

“Really? That’s strange.”

“Do you have it on your system, sweety?” Mandira asked, biting her nails. Shwetha lived a stone’s throw away from Mandira. “I’ll come over and copy it, if you don’t mind?”

Shwetha exclaimed. “Shit, the laptop’s with my sister, Mandy.”

“Oh no,” Mandira groaned.

“Yeah. She said she’d drop by to school tomorrow and return it. It had some movies Atul had stored, and neither of us had a hard drive. You know the old one’s conked, don't you?”

“What do I do now?” Mandira said. It was more a question to herself.

“There’s another way, but I don’t know if that’s a very wise thing to do,” Shwetha said.


“It is on the office system. I saved a copy there.”

“Oh, bless you child,” Mandira said. “I can collect the keys from Sumana and..”


“Yeah, all office keys are with her. At least a duplicate I think. We can do the paperwork tomorrow. I can cite the Valedictory reason, do some pleading and head over there now. Do you wanna come?”

“Umm…Meeta’s sleeping, and Rohan also isn’t around…” Shwetha started.

“Ok, no problem. I guess I’ll go alone then,” Mandira said, shutting down her laptop and getting up to go already.

There was a pause.

“You sure you want to do that?”

“Yeah, yeah. There’s no other way. I have to make those changes tonight. I don’t have time tomorrow. I’ll just copy it on the thumb drive. It’ll not even take 10 minutes.”

“Hmm. Ok..” Shwetha said.

“Chalo, I’ll update you with whatever, yeah?”

“Yeah. Take care, baby.”

Mandira smiled. “Yeah..bye.”


Getting the keys from Sumana wasn’t a problem. After about a half hour, Mandira parked her scooter in the school compound and walked to the main entrance. She looked at the time. It was almost 10 pm. This would have to be done fast. She explained her situation to the school guard and got entry into the main lobby.

“Ok, I’ll take it from here,” she told and proceeded to the staff room.

The school was square in shape with a courtyard out in the front. There were four floors of classes facing the courtyard on all four sides. The main office and staff room were on the ground floor on the far east. The security guard switched on the lights of the main corridor. She didn’t want all other lights to be switched on.

Keys dangling in her hand, she briskly walked to the staff room. The tapping of her sandals reverberated in the empty corridor. She looked around and suddenly realized the school looked quite ominous at this time of the night, with no lights on. She felt the shape of the right key and was about to enter the staff room when she stopped, and craned her ears.

Somebody was laughing.

Since the school was closed on all sides, except for maybe loudspeakers, no sound could enter the premises, not even the sound of traffic. It was like a fortress. Moreover, it was too late for any special classes, which ended latest by 8 pm, according to school policy. 

She decided to ignore it. She fiddled with the key bunch, selected her key and bent to open the lock when it came again. A little louder this time. Sounded like several people laughing together. Huh? She quietly placed her bag and keys on the corridor railing and slowly stepped out into the courtyard, looking up on all four sides.

It was dark everywhere, except for the one side of the lit corridor on the ground floor, near the entrance. She was about walk back towards the staff room when a classroom light came on, up on the fourth floor.

Maybe the guard knew something about it. She walked across the courtyard to the security booth. But there was nobody there.

She waited a couple of minutes, and then decided to investigate it herself. That was the only thing to do. She cursed the security guard for having vanished just like that. Probably went out for a smoke. And she didn’t want to waste time hunting for him.

She took the flight of stairs and reached the fourth floor, slightly out of breath and walked over to the side where she thought the light had come on, and stopped. It was all dark. Strange.

Maybe a faulty tube light? It had happened a few times earlier. The housekeeping staff forgot to switch off lights simply because at the time all lights seemed off, but suddenly, one light that wasn’t working properly, would come on after a while.

She slowly walked to the right wing, above the staff room. She stood there in the darkness feeling a little stupid now. She turned to leave – when the light came on again. Ah, there. She walked over. Definitely a bad tube light.

The door was half open, though. Great, they had forgotten to lock it as well. This was going straight to the weekly report.  But as she went nearer, she heard the same laughter. Coming from in there. She stopped dead in her tracks, her pulse racing now.

“, we will begin with…” somebody was saying. She couldn’t hear properly. She took a step and then stopped.

Hell, it was a special class – but surely the security guy knew about it?  Maybe he thought that she knew too. She slowly edged towards the light.

The voice continued speaking. Every once a while, she heard another voice, and some other voices too, like they were discussing something. An entire class was here. She was confused. Nobody told her about this. She was the teacher - student co-ordinator, and the least she expected was the Principal telling her about this ‘evening’ class for the teachers. It didn’t make any sense.

She decided to peep in. Worst case, she could excuse herself out. The talking grew louder as she slowly inched toward the door.

The door creaked softly as she pushed it open. The room grew silent. Obviously they knew someone was there.

Damn, this was embarrassing.

She then opened the door fully wide. A gust of cold wind struck her face, making her shiver for a second.

The classroom was empty.  

What the hell…

Confused, she took a step out and looked at the neighboring classrooms.Closed. She could have sworn this was the room. The lights were still on. She stood there, her eyes panning the length and breadth of the room. There was an open book on the teacher’s table. The other desks had books as well. She slowly stepped inside and walked to the table. She stood over the book and looked at the open page. Strange. She was about to pick it up when the door slammed shut, making her gasp. She quickly walked over and pulled the door knob. It was locked. Panicking, she tried to pull it with all her might. Nothing. She banged the door several few times, calling out to the guard.


A while later, the security guard descended the staircase, puzzled.

He could’ve sworn he heard a door banging on the fourth floor. But all the rooms were locked and the lights were off.

He cursed himself for stepping out for a smoke. The lady had left without returning the keys to him. He shrugged. Maybe she kept it so she could complain about him the next day. He decided not to think about it a lot. Switching off the corridor light on the ground floor, he walked out of the building.

Across the courtyard, in the darkness, lay a bunch of keys and a handbag.


Monday, May 13, 2013


We have dreams, and then we have nightmares. Well, technically, any dream or nightmare is just our mind replaying all that crap we thought about during the day. And dreams are good. Sometimes we wake up smiling, and realizing just how nutty we felt watching the dream and behaving as if it were real and all that.

But last night, something funny happened. I was watching a horror movie earlier on (rolling what’s new, huh?), and well, some weird images replayed in my head when I was asleep. In the movies, you’d see the guy wake up sweating profusely, panting heavily etc. In my case I was going through the whole rigmarole (in a dream we’re usually like the characters of a story, right..detached from our real selves) knowing fully well it was a nightmare, and that I was just dreaming the whole stuff, and not actually in it. And all this when I was right in the middle of the action, not when I'd woken up. So when the other ‘characters’ in the nightmare assumed weird identities and terrorized folks, I was just side-stepping them, or maybe even sniggering thinking ‘what duds, they don’t even know all this isn’t real’, and being very smug about it. much for playing a spoilsport.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

One world?

Ok, ‘rantish’ post alert! :P

Around this time nine years ago, I posted this entry in my earlier blog, some of you might have read it already. Funny how a lot of it, no almost all of it, still holds good. I’ve inserted my notes inline – kind of like walking through the experience with thoughts on it today.

A world apart

If age is in the mind, then the Internet has given this adage a whole new meaning. In the online world, despite age differences, there's a certain commonness. Take blogging for example. We visit each other, we talk, we laugh, cry, express ourselves, react; we have different sensibilities and points of view, but still bound together. There's something in it that makes us come to this world each day (ok, maybe not every day) with renewed vigour. You're down under, away from the blog for a few days, your fingers begin to itch (This might’ve reduced a bit – what with other things to keep us busy, FB, Twitter etc). You want to come back and make that connection with the rest of the online world (mostly true, right? Some of us still feel that need). It's amazing. Imagine if all of us had met at a party, say a real one. I’m sure in no time, we’d have broken up in small groups based on say, age or interests. Right? But here it's different. Here, you never age (ok, maybe these days we’re more aware of that; we tend to write things more relevant to our age; especially with young students and single folks who talk more about their relationships and insecurities). Even though you age physically, you're never too young or old to say something. There've been times I've gone through the 'by now cliched' quarter life crisis ( Ha ha, maybe it’s now time to change that to the even more clichéd ‘MID-LIFE’ crisis. Nah, I’m kidding), I have contemplated staying away from this online universe for a while, come to terms with who I really am (Yeah, there was a period when I was grappling with this thing. I was new to this experience and used to wonder about my real identity, and let me confess, have said stupid things to upset people on- and off-line. Thankfully, the picture is much clearer today). But like someone mentioned the other day, you are who you are, no matter where - online or offline. It shouldn't matter. Really, it shouldn't (Holds good today as well, only difference is, the online world has become a more acceptable sphere of interaction with the advent of social networking. I’m not really sure if we’ll reach saturation there, but for now that’s how it seems ).

I have friends outside the online world. I have a family that I love and care about a lot. Yet, there's also this small place where I go to unwind. I don't visit every day, my day job doesn't allow me to (Sigh, we all know that today the lines have almost blurred. One can be online 24/7 even when one’s not online. There is just too much bandwidth, both on computers and on mobile devices, right?). But gradually as I get older in this world of user names and comment boxes, I realize, this world is here to stay as well. I always wondered about a parallel world. What better example than this? It's a great place to be. And you guys are great friends to be with. (This more or less remains, though the circle is much smaller now. And I feel much older among the current crop ;-))

I like it here. And I love you guys. In my mind's eye? This world is sure as hell young and beautiful. And I hope I'll never leave here. (Well, what can I say? I still hope…though I’m not as sure as I was back then.)

PS: Looks like I had a lot of thoughts  ;-)

Friday, May 10, 2013

I thought so

Let’s just say you had the power to read people’s minds. For a day. That’s it, just for a day. What would you do? Would you ‘eavesdrop’ on every other ‘conversation’ happening around you, or invite your best friend to a café, or home and listen to what he or she had to ‘say’?

I wonder how many relationships would jump off the cliff if this phenomenon ever came true in our case. Makes you wonder, huh?

‘Oh, I trust him completely. Oh, I trust her completely. He or she would never think bad of me. I would never think bad of someone else.’

But we all know that it’s not about thinking good or bad about anybody. It’s about what we’re thinking at all, in the first place. Which brings us back to the same question. Are all relationships that robust that they could stand this test? Or are all relationships so fragile that they’d shatter simply because someone you love or like, or …even know, is not thinking what you’d like that person to think?

What are you thinking?


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Just write

“I used to write about almost anything that came to my mind,” I said to an old friend. He doesn’t blog, but we go way back. There are days when I use him as a sound board; bounce thoughts, ideas, and even my frustrations off him. And vice versa, of course.

And he said. 'So, just write.'

And I told this to him because after a decade of blogging about almost anything that came to my mind, I suddenly found myself at cross-roads. I felt I didn’t have anything to write about. General stuff. Check. Random stuff. Check. Silly stuff. Check. Hell, even fiction. Check. Now I’m sure the human mind is a bottomless pit. You can keep forking stuff out of it an entire lifetime and you won’t even be done a quarter of it, let alone completely. So then why the mental block?

A television channel reruns shows because of the short memory that the viewers have. They like to cash in on that. Refresh their memories. Make them go down memory lane and say ‘awww, they’re showing my favorite old show again. How nice.’

But a blog? Most bloggers blog for themselves, right? There are exceptions too, I know – I was one of them. I started writing fiction because I got tired writing for myself. I turned the ‘weblog’ (diary) into a ‘web-book’, filled it with stories everyone else could read and comment on. So then, does it really make sense to ‘rerun’ your own thoughts for yourself? I mean all I have to do is just dig the archives and read my own stuff. Right? Even visitors to my blog would do that.

‘Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong,’ my friend countered. And he had a point. ‘You know you’ve written random stuff, and you go back to the archives and read it. But there are visitors who don’t know you’ve written random stuff. So why’ll they go there? You’ve been writing fiction for a long time now. So everybody comes to your blog to read precisely that. Stories. And a blog is all about today and now. You write, they read, they move on. The stress being on the word ‘move’.’

Hmmm, makes sense.

I’ve always done things differently, written differently. And it’s not because I want to be different. It’s just how I’m wired. I started writing stuff on the blog because I wanted to vent, I guess. It soon gave way to observations of life. Of happenings around me. And then some. Fiction happened because I could share my stories here without having to worry about word count or deadlines. And then I got hooked on to it. I will surely continue to write fiction, but I guess I’ll also try and go back to being the earlier Phatichar. Just write stuff. Whatever.

I guess finally, I did take my friend’s advice after all. I just came here and ‘wrote’. It doesn’t make sense completely, but at least it got me started.

And I’ve written worse, believe me.

Another era of blogging begins.


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A decade through the arcade

Ten years. Phew. (Funny, doesn't feel that long).