Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Bold King, The Wise Minister And The Evil Citizens - Short fiction

The Bold King, The Wise Minister And The Evil Citizens.



The king was bored, truly bored. He had, ever since he had clawed his bloody way over to the throne subduing all internal opposition and dissent had true peace for once as he had also subdued almost all the neighboring countries under his rule. Just sheer gossip that he was amassing an army to invade often forced the neighboring countries to surrender immediately and offer up tribute to stave off the invasion. For they knew all about him and his barbarian ways and knew they could expect no pity from this man who had risen up from the dregs of society by his sheer bloodthirsty ways to become a warlord who ruled over all the lands with fear as his main weapon, lands which had once despised his kind but forced to now kowtow to him. And like all uneducated barbarians who rose to be kings by the power of their bloodthirsty swords this king too depended on the advice of a learned minister to take care of the day to day ruling of the empire the details of which bored him immensely. As long as the palace coffers were full and as long as there were enemies who could be beheaded, hung or burned alive the king did not bother to think about anything else. The minister, the kings right hand man as it were, was like all educated men forced to serve barbarian’s to survive, secretly hated and despised the king for his bloodthirsty attitude and was merely waiting for the chance which one day, the minister often assured himself, the barbarians idiocy would offer him on a platter, a chance to destroy and replace the king on the throne where the educated minister was sure he could perform better. And his chance came that day.

The king as we said was bored, and being bored wanted to be amused. He called his minister and asked “tell me minister is the country happy? Are the people happy?” to which the crafty minister replied “of course your kingship, the country is happy and the people, they are very happy”. The king frowned for of course this was not the answer he had expected to hear so he asked the minister “but why?”. The minister hesitated a moment to ponder whether this was a trick question before answering “well, because the nation is at peace, we have no enemies. The people are all prosperous and rich and that makes them happy”. The king thought this over and asked in a puzzled tone “the people are rich? The people of this country?” and the minister began to fear the tone of the king in the conversation and hurriedly said “yes your kingship, we have conquered all the surrounding lands and there is peace and prosperity everywhere. At last all our people are free to work hard, make money and grow rich”. The king went on to ask “but what about taxes? Don’t they pay taxes? How can they be rich then?” the minister now understanding the way the kings mind was working went on to say “of course your kingship the people are paying all the taxes we have thought up. But what to do, these people, these peasants, are hardworking, sincere and very industrious. The more we tax them and take away their money the more these people work day and night to save money”. But the king was still not satisfied “but how can they be rich? That means that we are not taxing enough if they have money enough to be rich even after paying taxes”.

The crafty minister smiled at this and said “but your kingship, you forget one thing, these cunning peasants never tell us how much they earn in truth for us to tax properly. It’s all about parallel economy and black money with those beggars. They never tell the truth of their incomes and earnings to our sincere soldiers who go for tax collections daily. If a potter sells ten pots a day he pays tax on nine pots only and saves the money he makes on the last pot for the day he falls ill and cannot make a single pot. Similarly that old woman who sells idlis for a living says she had sold fifty idlis a day when in fact she sells sixty, hoping to save that money for a rainy day when she cannot stand in the rains and sell any idlis because the customers avoid coming out in the rains. These people are all cheats your kingship, they are selfish and avaricious and they lie boldly to the hard working tax collectors about how much they have saved for calamities like rainy days or sickness or any family emergencies. Almost all these peasants and farmers have stacks of coins-one annas and two annas- tied up in old bed sheets under their beds. That’s how rich they are.”

The king was incensed on hearing this “they are rich, are they? How dare they be rich? How can they be rich in a country where I rule? Don’t they know that I despise money? I never had any money yet I became king through my talents. I want to punish them – punish them all severely minister. Shall we hang them all in the market place for hoarding black money?” The minister at last had the chance he had been waiting years for, the chance to get rid of this barbarian king once and for all. In a slow whisper he went on to say “I have a better idea my king. These people with their one anna and two anna coins think they are rich. Even if you hang them they will die happy thinking that they die rich. The only way to properly punish them is to make them poor. Make them beggars again. Show them that even hard work and industry is not enough to make someone rich in our country. Show them that if they are born poor they can only die poor and never better themselves. Make them despair of ever improving their lives” The king was pleased with this advice as it was what he believed in wholeheartedly “How? How? Tell me minister, how to make the whole country poor, so I can be the only rich man in this country?” The minister with a significant look at the king said “my lord, people think they are rich because they have money in their hands- so break their confidence on money itself. Just declare that all money today onwards is worthless and you can beggar the whole country in minutes. Then you and only you will be a rich man my king, while everyone else will be left holding worthless pieces of metals, those beggars.”


And the king who did not have the benefit of a proper education and never learned the concept of thinking things through which is the benefit of a proper education, by a single decree declared all money worthless and beggared his nation and people at one stroke. And the aftermath of this act was filled with tragedy and pathos and many deaths which is a tale to be told on another day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

KALI KAALAM- When Kali Plays Havoc -A Short Play.

KALI KAALAM- When Kali Plays Havoc -A Short Play.





Act 1- At A Betrothal Function

Act 1- Scene 1

Mr.Ramanujam’s house- 7Pm in the evening. There are lots of guests seated about and loud conversations going on between them.

Mr.Kumar : I say Mr. Ramanujam this engagement function you have arranged today was even grander than what we expected. All we were looking for was a simple ceremony for a small group of relatives.

Mr.Ramanujam: Oh don’t say like that Kumar sir, or should I call you sambandhi sir now that the engagement is over? Anyway we are all pleased to have such an alliance like yours for our daughter and we just coudnt help not informing all our relatives of our good fortune. Otherwise they might not even talk to us in the future.

(Loud chorus of voices saying; yes, yes, that’s true, we wouldn’t have, this is the right thing)

Mr.Kumar: Well let me not be the reason for such a rift among close relatives. We are simple people Mr.Ramanujam and we believe that simple ceremonies are better when it comes to important things like the future of our children together rather than being ostentatious and inviting envy. That’s the only reason why I asked you to arrange a small betrothal ceremony at your house rather than hold it in some fancy hotel in a gaudy way.

Mr.Ramanujam: I appreciate that sentiment wholeheartedly sambandhi sir. You have proved yourself a genuine person by even refusing any dowry or any other expectations. The least we could do from the girls’ side is to celebrate this marriage in a way it will never be forgotten by our families. Our children definitely deserve that for agreeing to an arranged marriage in this day and age when everywhere we look young people are doing all sorts of low hand things in the name relationships- love, living together and all that sort of trash. I don’t know where this world is going to end up if such things persist in the name of modernity- kali kalam, kali kalam.

Mr.Kumar: Very true sambandhi. Very true. That is why the city was almost drowned in the floods last year. Even Lord Varuna couldn’t bear the things these modern day girls are doing in the name of feminism, women’s rights etc. I wonder how the parents of these girls are able to face their neighbors. In our days the entire locality would have boycotted the family if a girl had behaved like they do now. But let’s leave that aside. We are fortunate to have found such a girl like yours and such a family like yours in this day and age- a pure unspoilt, fully traditional girl who listens to her parents and marries their choice. We are truly blessed to have such a girl come to us as a daughter-in-law. We should visit Tirumala soon and offer our worship to Lord Venkateswara for bringing our two families together like this- as soon as we print the first invitation to lay at the lords’ lotus feet. What say you sambandhi?

Mr.Ramanujam: Very good sambandhi, very good, all credit to the Good Lord Of The Seven Hills who helped bring our two families closer. But one small request from our side.

Mr.Kumar (still in a jolly mood): Of course sambandhi. Do you even need to ask like this? What is it?

Mr.Ramanujam: It’s just that ....ummmph…now that the engagement is over…my daughter feels that woudnt it be better to have the wedding after a few months gap? Just to let the young people get to know each other better? Rather than rushing into it?

(The first sounds of jarring disquiet appear on the faces of both happy parties)

Mr.Kumar: but, but how long can we postpone the wedding after the engagement? Won’t people talk? It doesn’t seem proper for traditional families like us to keep pushing off the wedding date. Besides what need is there for the two to get to know each other at this late stage? Didn’t they already talk when we came to see the girl last week?

Mr.Ramanujam: But that was only for a few minutes, my daughter feels. She wants to get to know your sons likes and dislikes better to enable her to be a better wife to your son from day one. That’s the only reason she wants a little time between the betrothal and the wedding.

Mr.Kumar:  : Oh we are a traditional family but we are not such a strict family like that. Your daughter need not worry about something like that. Let her take her own time to adjust to our family –we won’t mind. Besides she has got the rest of her life to learn about our sons likes and dislikes hasn’t she? Why should we postpone the wedding for such a trivial reason?.

Mr.Ramanujam: I am truly truly sorry to say this Sambandhi. But my daughter insists that we hold the wedding after at least six months. That would help her get prepared for the wedding in the proper frame of mind and to know your son better.

Mr.Kumar: hmmmph…I say Mr.Ramanujam, it would have been better to have told us this condition of your daughters before the engagement ceremony got over. Now we are left with no choice but to fall in with you.

Mr.Ramanujam: But nothing’s changed sambandhi, nothing changes, just that we need some more time to conduct the wedding in a grand manner. We are still very happy to have an alliance with such a traditional family like yours and such a wel respected one too.

Mr.Kumar: I don’t know Mr. Ramanujam we somehow feel this is the wrong decision on your part. We should guide our children when they make mistakes and not encourage them. Look at my son here- he will tie the mangalasutra whenever wherever I direct him to. Girls should not be allowed their whims and fancies and to dictate terms like this when it comes to auspicious events like weddings. But what to do at this late stage. We are helpless. Come – all of you (to his assembled friends and relatives) it’s time to leave, we have intruded on their hospitality too much.

(And as the grooms family leaves in a huff- the varied crowd behind - especially the two old grandmothers on either side murmur softly: bad decision, bad decision, nothing good is going to come out of this, postponing the wedding to a girls whims, we never got to know each other before we married aren’t we still living together?....(the noise fades slowly in the background.)

Act 2 –Later That Night.

ACT 2- Scene 1 – at Mr. Kumars house.

Mr.Kumars Son – The Bridegroom Ashwin Kumar- I think this is a blessing in disguise appa. This gives us time to study the girl too. In fact we can wait and see whether she really resigns her job as she promised to do when we went to see her. I really don’t think an Ad Agency is a decent place for a decent lady to work. But as her father said it was just a hobby for time pass she was working I let it go. Let me use this time to get to know her well and we can take a final call later.

ACT 2- Scene 2 – at Mr. Ramanujans house

Mr.Ramanujans Daughter –The Bride Arundathi Ramanujam : Thank god that you stood by your word daddy. I was afraid you might give in easily. Now that we have postponed the marriage let me talk to that boy and then see if he really is like what he said he was during the girl seeing ceremony. Lets keep the marriage as late as we can- that gives me more time to decide once and for all whether he will fit me or not.

(Again we hear the voices in the background – The Respective Grandmothers murmuring: dont know where this is going to end up but we suspect something bad. Dear God please put some sense into these people and make them fix the marriage immediately.)

Act 3 – Six Months Later.

ACT 3 - Scene 1 – At Mr. Kumars House.

Mr.Kumar – I cant believe it. Never thought they would do this. To ask us to postpone the marriage at this late stage when everything is ready, all our relatives invited and all the invitations mailed. It would be better to stop it once and for all then to keep postponing it to satisfy their whims and fancies.

Mr.Kumars Son – The Bridegroom Ashwin Kumar: i told you so dad, right from the beginning. I always knew that the excuse that girl used - to want to get to know me- was a complete pretext to do something like this. I suspect she planned this right from the beginning. Thats why she asked for time. Now that she has got what she planned for, she wants to keep us permanently on hold till she finishes her project in the USA and comes back next year. Or if something goes wrong there she can hurry back here and pretend nothing ever happened. Do they take us for fools? To keep waiting eternally for that girl? As if there are no other girls around?

Mr.Kumar : Yes, yes, they must think we are fools to wait around for another year for that girl to come back from her project. Let me talk to Mr.Ramanujam one last time and we will decide once and for all.

Mr.Kumars Son – The Bridegroom Ashwin Kumar:  Yes dad, talk to him and tell me what you decide. As if there are no other girls around willing to marry me. You tell me dad and i will get a dozen girls willing to marry me tomorrow. In fact there is one girl who works on my team, who is of our own caste but different gothra, everything. Mum has already seen her and likes her. You just tell me what those people say and we will decide once and  for all.

ACT 3 - Scene 2 – at Mr. Ramanujans house

Mr.Ramanujam: But what will our people say at our calling off the wedding at this late stage? Why coudnt you have told us earlier?

Mr.Ramanujans Daughter –The Bride Arundathi Ramanujam:  But i did tell you daddy and you woudnt hear me. You are always listening to that old foggy- grandmother who keeps predicting dire things if i dont marry immediately. I told you this was my ambition- to go on at-least one project abroad. When every dog and donkey in my company can go on an offsite project why cant i?  Let me finish the project and come back and marry someone. In fact i can even find good people from our caste their itself. So many of our people are working there and they will all be broad-minded too. In fact even in my team which is going with me there are so many saadhu paiyans who wont cross a line i draw instead of arguing with me like the maapillai you fixed for me. Good riddance to him and his family. Let him marry a village girl who stays home and cooks for him.

Mr.Ramanujam:  I cant take it that lightly. I am worried about what people will talk about us? You would have gone to America but we have to answer everyone from the apartment watchman to the vegetable seller as to why the wedding was stopped at this late stage.

Mr.Ramanujans daughter –the bride Arundathi Ramanujam:  Oh Daddy, you can always lay the blame on that boy. Tell everyone that we found out his character was bad and he had connections with his female co-workers. That way we can keep the moral high ground and no one will blame us. They will believe anything of boys nowadays.

(Again we hear the voices in the background – the respective grandmothers murmuring: this is what we warned against when we told to hold the wedding immediately after the engagement. Listen to us- listen to our voice of experience- we knew something like this will happen when two people are not definitely committed to each other but are left free to explore other options. Unless there is a sense of finality which the thali around the throat brings and people have that sense that their life is finished once and for all with the wedding- they will always think about other people. But once married they would have adjusted to anything, anyhow and probably lived and celebrated their Shastibhoorthi- the 60th wedding together. All kali kalam, kali kalam- who listens to old and wise people nowadays? Its all youngsters choices and family tragedies – and full regards to Kali.)

- The End-



Sunday, October 9, 2016

What the Dickens



Having recently watched the entire season 1 of Dickensian, the TV series from BBC1, which over the course of twenty half hourly episodes spans the entire spectrum of Charles dickens books giving a prelude to each and every one of dickens immortal characters and their motivations for behaving as they do in the books, I embarked on the next logical step for every diehard dickens fan. To re-read the entire oeuvre, every single one of dickens books again. And not only that but this time I wanted to do it in the proper chronological order in which they were written/published by the author -from his first book Sketches by Boz which he published under a pseudonym to his last and uncompleted novel- Mystery of Edwin Drood halfway through writing which Charles dickens died suddenly. I decided to make a proper job of it and have spent the last one month finishing up the dickens collection and here are a few stray thoughts on re-reading dickens after a lapse of so many years.

To begin with (to my surprise) I found that some of my old favourites like pickwick papers and Nickolas Nickelby though favourites still, are no longer capable of gripping my attention like a few others which I once deemed to be too morbid or morose in the past. The antics of the pickwickians and the incorrigible sam weller still raises a few laughs when I re-read the books but now the entire gang seem like one of the old familial  whatsapp groups you drop in from time to time just to check who’s still in there but otherwise leave well alone despite the notifications. The ones which I enjoyed now include bleak house, great expectations, oliver twist and mystery of Edwin drood.

Bleak house which as the name suggests is every bit as bleak a story can be, absolutely captivated me when I re-read it this past month. The fictitious legal story of jarndyce vs jarndyce, the great case of the chancery courts has very eerie similarity to what we see and read every day in Indian courts and justice system. The way that cases are postponed indefinitely till the parties to the case conveniently die off and the court costs swallow up the entire property, the way the lawyers on both sides collude to keep dragging the case till the unfortunate litigants are forced to regret to their graves the day they stepped into court expecting justice in a mistaken belief of the majesty of law and fair play - everything seems to have been written just for Indian courts and legal system.

 The book “Bleak House” left me wondering if our Indian judiciary is right now where the British courts where 300 years ago- an uncaring, money squeezing enterprise capable of driving everyone- both litigants and witnesses to despair with the never ending process of offering justice. In a span of nearly two centuries after the book was first published the British seem to have improved their justice system to such an extent that British law has turned into a more responsible version of itself now. But although we Indians inherited that same legal code and the same system of judiciary we did not, to our eternal misfortune, inherit the same system of accountability for the processes of law which the British have instilled in their justice system. I guess it will take another 300 more years (at least?) till Indian courts become accountable to the common public and cases will be decided when the litigants are still alive to hear the news of the judgments. Till then every day you can see another travesty of a jarndyce vs jarndyce in Indian law.

The next book I really loved this time was great expectations which when I was younger I never really appreciated to the extent I do now. Although the book is filled with despicable characters none of whom can claim the least amount of sympathy from us the readers, the book is a very fine example of the folly of people who are always maneuvering to gain the smallest bit of advantage in their personal lives by often missing the big picture entirely in their micro management. If we look around ourselves we can see a lot of typical characters from great expectations in real life every single day. All those ass kissers, boot lickers, revengeful persons who spend all their life plotting to gains some minuscule bit of advantage over someone else- every single character in great expectations sounds true to life and sitting just beside you in the next cubicle at work. And now that I am older and wiser and been through enough heartbreaks I can appreciate miss Havisham’s character more clearly although I cannot countenance any sympathy for her because in my view she deserves what she got for being who she is- a haughty, imperious egoistic feminist who falls for the worst possible fraud. Great expectations is the definitive lesson to every single girl who friend zones nice guys for not agreeing with their feminazi views. If any man wholeheartedly agrees with the femi-nazis there is no doubt he is a compeyson in the making who kisses ass just to screw her out of her money later on. Nice guys don’t always win is the take home message from great expectations.

The other book I liked when I reread it this time around were the mystery of Edwin drood- dickens only attempt at writing a detective novel and the only one which he left unfinished, which in a way is the perfect ending for the book. For although we can suspect every one and the uncle character is steadfastly built up to be the evil villain the book reflects the real life conundrum that sometimes perfect crimes can never be exposed and villains do get away with them. In my view as a lifelong dickens fan I believe that Edwin drood should be left well alone as it is without being finished by someone else as is often proposed by amateur dickens societies. The mystery of Edwin drood should remain a mystery till the end as maybe dickens planned?

I also could look on and sympathize a whole lot with dickens complex characters who require a certain maturity to understand them. I can now confidently say that I understand better Ralph Nickleby’s (the evil uncle from Nicholas Nickelby) motivations perfectly well. Here was a man, a self made man who had worked hard to get where he was suddenly in the twilight of his life thrust upon with fawning relatives left behind by a man careless enough to have children but with no thought to provide for them except to believe his rich brother (the brother who started life at the same footing as him) would provide for just because he doesn’t have a family to call his own and all his money has to go somewhere and where else except to the wastrel brothers brood of kids who grow up thinking themselves entitled to it. No wonder ralph nickleby is bitter at his dead brother and his groping relatives.

Similar is the case with Fagin. Here was a man who took in runaways and wastrels and street kids and gave them a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. In return he made use of them to rob rich people of frivolities life pocket handkerchiefs. is he such a villain then? When the entire society has turned a blind eye to homeless kids and strays who live on the streets, this man takes them in and makes us of them. Just like the government does in its workhouses. I don’t see that Fagin is such a great villain as he is made out in the later adaptations on TV and film. Remember if he was such a bad man who harassed his kid the dodger for one, a genuine badass himself, wouldn’t have stuck around and defended Fagin as he did for so long. There is equal parts good and bad in characters like Fagin. It takes a long time and many re-readings to understand his point of view. And there lies dickens genius. To make you look at old familiar characters in a new light every time you re-read the same book.

I hope I haven’t been boring you with this doctoral dissertation level analysis of dickens novels. If you too are a fan of dickens or even if you have just read one or two of his novels write in to me in the comments section and we wil have a ball discussing our views.