How can a bear do the handstand?

I remember going to the circus for the very first time.

I remember it as distinctly and in detail as I remember the first time I saw ‘Casablanca’. Or read ‘The Christmas Carol’. Or learned ballet (Okay this was a little embarrassing). Looking back at my childhood, there are parts of memories that lay around here and there, in bits and pieces. Its like walking in a messed up room with leftover clothes lying around helter-skelter. The socks that lay under the bed and the trousers that hang behind the door. Some clothes may be too easy to find. They may be sitting right on a chair in front of you or lying on the bed right next to you. Going to the circus, I think, might be one such piece of clothing.

I remember it to be the brightest of days, so bright that my Appa nearly refused to take us to the fair. Actually he did refuse, but then I had my weapons. I cried and cried until I could cry no more and refused to eat the lunch that day (It was sambhar-rice anyways). An agreement had been reached, with me completing my math homework and learning the new poetry in English class, in order to go to the fair. It was a small price to pay.

I remember my Amma, the short, dark, beautiful woman. I remember that the huge red bindi on her forehead, shaped in the form of a water droplet, had a few crystals embedded in it. I don’t remember her sari though. Probably green. Or red as to go with the bindi. Again, as I said, that was the hard piece of clothing to find.

I remember her telling me, in her stern voice, “If you leave my hand and got lost, we’re going to leave you here!” Now looking back at the experience I wouldn’t have mind getting lost.

I remember the blend of colours when I first stepped inside ‘The Great Indian Carnival’ for the first time. I remember the yellow of the giant Ferris Wheel, the red and white of the huge ‘Columbus’ ship, the plethora of colours in the merry go round, the cream of the horses, the yellow of the giraffes, the pink of the pigs(Or maybe there weren’t any pigs. You could add these to those god forsaken list of clothings).

Ah! Now I remember. It was the pink of cotton candies. I remember craving for cotton candies, throwing a fit, until my Appa said to my mother to go get me some. I remember my Appa. His tall, dark figure and the black moustache he had. I remember my history teacher telling us about Genghis Khan, how he plundered the cities and how fierce he looked in the photographs. I remember my father, just like I remember Genghis Khan.

My father was talking to one of his colleagues when I came back, relishing over the cotton candy in my hand. It stuck to my cheeks and it felt good. Sticky, but good! I remember his colleague, somebody who had once come for dinner at our place. I remember his son (that little prick who broke my train set) who stood beside his father with a finger up his nostrils.

I saw the tent of the circus at a distance, all the colours that it concealed beneath it. There was a banner outside that read ‘The Bombay Circus. Presenting you our main attractions- ‘the stunt men, the acrobat, the bear who could do a handstand, the lion….’ I wondered how they made a bear do the handstand? Weren’t bears and lions supposed to be in a forest, juts like I saw in the movies? Then why would they be here in a circus doing handstands? How could a bear even do a handstand?

I remember a loud pat on my head from my father that stopped my train of thoughts. “Uncle is asking you something.”, he said.
“Engineer banega? Appa ka jaisa?”, his colleague asked. I remember wondering the meaning of the word he said. Engineer? Was it something to do with the train engine? I loved the engine of my train set. I remember my Appa holding me close and saying “Zaroor banega.” I remember the smell of Pan and cigarettes on him. It was one thing that made me distinguish him from the rest of the crowd.

I remember the wife of my dad’s colleague asking Amma which class I was in. “5th”, she replied. “Oho”, the woman said, “Even Arush is in 5th. He came 3rd in his class this year. And how was his result?”

“He passed”, said Amma. I remember her making the same face she made when Appa used to come home drunk. The woman in front of me shook her head and Amma gave me the “Wait till you get home. I’ll drown you in a pool of math problems” look. Appa then excused us all out of the conversation.

I remember, as I entered the circus, and when the obscure montage of colours finally came to life, was probably the one moment for which I could’ve solved a hundred math problems, mugged up thousands of historical dates and would recite John Keats like I was singing a film song. The quirky, silly music. The Jokers. The stuntmen. The elephants, the lions and the bears. Yes, the bears! We took our seats as the show began.

The clown made its way through first, riding a unicycle, with a pump horn in his hand. I hated the clown, I still do. I wondered how people found his tricks and foolery to be funny. For me, somebody who had been hiding behind all those colours and clothes, seemed both peculiar and haunting. Then I remember the stuntmen, riding motorcycles that leap over a dozen cars. And then the animal gigs started…

I remember seeing the trainer making his way through, riding on an elephant. He had a black whip in his hand. It reminded me of our Geography teacher, who walked around with a cane in his hand. He then stood in front of the elephant and lashed his whip in front of him. The elephant then stood on its two bear hindlegs. Then came in the lion in a cage. The trainer held a huge ring in front of the lion and again whipped his lash in front of him. The lion jumped through the ring. Then came in one of their main attraction, the bear. He was a huge black, furry bear. I wondered how he could do the handstand? Why isn’t he in the forest? Why aren’t any of these animals in the forest? Why are they doing something they’re not supposed to do?

The trainer yet again whipped his lash. The bear bent to the ground and made the most vigorous effort to stand on his hands. He fell to the ground though, much to the “Ohhh” in disappointment from the crowd. The trainer whipped his lash again as the bear made another effort to stand on his arms. He fell yet again and rolled over and let out a silent moan. The crowd burst into laughter as he rolled to the ground. I didn’t find it hilarious. I remember the trainer whipping his lash again and again in front of the bear. I remember my geography teacher canning me when I couldn’t tell her the capital of Switzerland….

On his third attempt, the bear did manage to do the handstand. His arms trembled and he rolled over again as the crowd cheered and applauded and whistled. After a few moments of resting on the ground, the trainer lashed his whip and the bear rose and left.

And then came in the acrobats. I remember one of them arriving in, doing the cartwheel over and over until he reached the other end. I could do the cartwheel too. I had maxed out a record of 6 continuous cartwheels just a few days and had won the bet with Raman who had challenged me I couldn’t do more than 3 at a time. He owed me his Beyblade. He still does.

I remember the acrobats swinging in the air to-and-fro, grabbing hold of another acrobat with their arms and then passing them on to another one. Nothing, at that moment, could’ve fascinated me more. All I longed for, was to be one of them. To swing in the air, to perform cartwheels and flips and tricks. And to get applauded at the end of the performance! I didn’t remember being applauded for doing the cartwheel in the playground. I didn’t even remember being applauded ever! The students in the class were always applauded for reciting poetry, or for reciting the table of 18, or for winning debates and quiz competitions. I had never been able to do any of those. Performing the cartwheel was much easier. And somehow, performing the acrobatics I saw seemed much easier to me than learning the names of the various Prime Ministers, or understanding plant biology, or reciting the poem of William Word- what was his name? Yes, Wordsworth.

As the circus ended and we made our way out of the tent, I remember asking Appa if I could go in and meet those acrobats in there. He had stared at me, with his eyes full of rage and shook his head. “But Appa. Even I want to be an acrobat.”, I had said.

“Oh so now you want to be an acrobat”, he said. Then he looked at my mother and said, “First he nags to come to the fair in such hot weather, then he embarrasses me in front of my colleague, and now your son wants to be an acrobat. Can you see what is happening? Can’t you control him?”

My mother didn’t say anything to my father. She twisted my ear and said, “I’ve had enough of you. Now you’ll go straight home and finish the math homework.”

“But I don’t wanna go home”, I said. “I want to stay in the circus. I WANT TO BE AN ACROBAT”, I said and struggled out of my mother’s grip and sat on the ground, cross-legged, folding my hands and looking towards the ground.

My father looked around at the crowd of people staring at us, walked towards me and whacked me hard on the cheeks.

I don’t remember the pain. After some time, you don’t remember the pain. As I said earlier, pain might be the hardest of the clothing to find. All I remember is the trainer whipping his lash in front of the bear.And I remember my Geography teacher and her cane….

I remember falling flat on the ground. I remember seeing the bright sky, so bright it made my eyes hurt. I remember seeing the birds flying high above. I remember seeing the acrobats swing in the air. So unconstrained. So free.

And then it came to me how they made the bear do the handstand….

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6:53

Today,

At precisely 6 hours and 53 minutes, the scientist will discover the new element he had been looking for since 13 years.

The old lady working at the flower store would smile and lie about her age.  And an old man who drove a Cadillac would stop at a flower store after finding  a striking resemblance to his dead wife in an old lady working over there.

The literature student would muster all his courage and nervously recite a poem he just wrote to his crush. And the pretty, young girl, with coffee brown hair,  who loves poetry, would finally find someone she’s been looking for after a series of harsh, broken relationships.

Its still 6:53, when the girl, with piercing on her lips, would break the injection needles with her bare hands and decide that it was time to quit.

It is still the exact same moment, when the soldier would drop his gun and remember his 9 year old daughter, her orchid blue eyes and apple cheeks. And the Afghan man who accidentally crossed the border, would have his life spared, when he shows a picture of his daughter to a soldier.

The clock wouldn’t tick a second more when the little baby, who was so scared of the dark that he cried and cried and cried, would finally find comfort by holding a finger and would smile, thinking that maybe, maybe, he isn’t all alone. And the man, who worked day and night as an investment banker, would realise how much of his life he spent working and toiling to become rich, would decide to quit his job and pursue his dream of becoming a stage actor, when his son held his finger for the very first time.

A dry chrysanthemum, welting lifelessly with thirst, would blossom to life when a gardener would sprinkle water over it. And the gardener who was fired from his job as the employer had no money, would smile at getting rehired and watering his drooping Chrysanthemums after such a long time.

The time is still the same, when the man, who lost all his money in gambling, and was now standing at the ledge of his balcony, would take a step back. And the dog, with white fur and brown spots,would chew on to his master’s pants, pulling him back to the room, preventing him from jumping over the ledge.

The world has gone still. An electron passes through a copper wire and a bulb glows to life  somewhere in a dark village. It is still 6:53, I swear, when a random guy sitting in his room, typing whimsically on his laptop, wishes you all good luck and a great life ahead.

What was the first book you ever read?

Okay so what was the first book you ever read?

Or more like, how was the first book you ever read? What was the first piece of literature that really inspired you or intrigued you in a certain way? Or you could even tell me if it was forced upon you, like as in a compulsory literary reading in those excruciatingly tedious English classes? Or it could be a Hindi book or a Gujarati book or a Kannada book, you know, any piece of fictional writing from the works of Leo Tolstoy to Chetan Bhagat (I don’t really mind if it’s Chetan Bhagat. I mean I admit we were young and foolish and inexperienced), from J.K. Rowling to Rabindranath Tagore, it could be anybody.

Tell me the circumstances or the issues you faced reading your first book, whether it was magical or plain boring? Were you fascinated or well, felt absolutely nothing at all. Even do a review of it if you want to, you could criticize it or regard it as the most exemplary piece of literature that you ever witnessed and had changed your life for the better.( Don’t say this about ‘2 states’, I mean please guys!) Even tell me how has your journey been after that so far? What was the next book you read after that? (In case you remember) Which other books have you read after that, that have intrigued you and inspired you the same way your first book did?

Or you could simply not get into the details at all. Just tell me which was the first book you read. But I feel it’d be really fun if you got into the tiny details, kinda like a visit down the memory lane. This is something you could do taking some time out. I mean it’s not an assignment guys, nobody’s holding you at gunpoint, I know some of us have/are studied/studying in Engineering colleges and would regard this as another one of those 293832 assignments that you have done or would be doing throughout the entirety of your college life. Trust me, it’s not. It could be totally mundane, mumbo-jumbo flurry of words that might make no sense at all. You could rant, curse, and slang around, throwing LOL, OMFG, ROFLTOTALLYDOESNTMAKESENSE here and there. It could be a beautifully crafted piece, stating the book’s aesthetics, moral values and insightful writing, you know, like actual critics.

Now as far as I could remember, and trust me I remember quite comprehensibly, the first book I read was in class 7th. Now I don’t know if it’s too early or too late, I don’t know if there’s an age limit to find aesthetic beauty in a certain artform, but there was something very fascinating about Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Now I didn’t actually read the book by Dickens’. I read a detailed illustration in simpler words. I mean I don’t know if that counts as a book. I really don’t care, you knwo. I told you it could be the most mundane of absurdities. To me, it was the first novella I ever read and I felt real proud doing that.

The answer to why I read the book could be simply put in one line as ‘because of ‘The Flintstones’.

Remember ‘The Flintstones’, guys? Fred, Barney, Velma. Bedrock. “YABBA-DABBAD-DOO!”  That pink Dino. That weird powerful kid who went *Bam Bam Bam Bam Bam*. The way they drove a car with their feet, the way they bowled with rocks, the way they saw Drive-in cine…..okay I’m getting a little distracted here. I do that. It’s horrifying. Don’t even ask how I round up during my lectures. Once I was actually laughing in class while a terrifyingly gloomy poetry about death was being recited. See, here I go again.

Okay now I’ll come to the point. The reason ‘The Flintstones’ were the main influence for me reading my first book was because they once did a Christmas special short film. Their own adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Does anybody remember that? Fred played Scrooge in a play, and how the play actually affected him in his own life? I mean, come on guys? Nobody?

Okay fine I won’t go into the details of that. The post is getting too long anyways. But it was a very good TV movie. ‘A Flintstones Christmas Carol’. I think its on youtube, or can be downloaded from ‘you know where’. Do watch it.

Anyways, so I was so intrigued by the film and the story, that I had to had to read the original story.( Yes. Had to had to) And so I went to the school library, the short, plump, 12 year old version of me. Not that there’s much difference now…See I got wayward again.

Yeah so I went to the librarian and said “Charles Dickens ka book kaha hai?” (Where are the books by Charles Dickens?) And then she looked down upon me and went “Charles Dickens ka book padhega?”( You’re going to read a Charles Dickens book?) To which I nodded like ‘Yeah bitch! That’s why I asked for it. I mean I don’t generally use books by specific authors to have ‘Bhel Puri’ on their pages.  (Obviously I didn’t say that guys. I was like 12. I mean, come on).

So anyways I took the book and sat there for the lunch hour. It was like a 200 page book, with large texts, hard binding and nice, catchy drawing on the front cover. I only managed to read a few pages and then kept the book and went back to class after the lunch time was over.(No. We weren’t allowed to bunk classes during those times.) So then I came back the next day during lunch time, and the day after that, and the day after that, after a sudden sense of enlightenment fell upon the librarian who came up to me and said “You know you could issue this book and take it home for a week.” And then I looked at her and thought ‘You know you could have told me this the first time. It could’ve saved me a couple of lunch hours.’ (Again, I didn’t say it guys *sigh*) And so well I issued the book and took it home and spent the rest of the hours of the day reading the book.

And I was so much in love, man. Obviously I had like a vague idea of the plot after watching the Flintstones movie, but still reading the very original version of it, READING in particular, had me in, you know, exhilaration about it. And the whole plot was so touching, so moving. The grumpy, cunning old character of Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”, who thinks of Christmas as ‘humbug’, and who exploits his poor little clerk, who is such a nice fellow and has such high amount of family problems, but in the end still wishes well for his boss. How Scrooge gets visited by the ghost of his old partner on the night of Christmas and how the three Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future show him the three stages of his life. How neglected he felt as a kid, his relation with his sister, how people talk about him behind his back, his clerk’s son with an amputated leg and the grim future he has in store for him. How this leads to his change of heart. And at the end of it, I was all *sniff, sniff* (Okay this was a little emasculating).

But for me, this book was what then inculcated my love for further reading. I went on to read Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘David Copperfield’, Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and how miserably did I cry when they turned them into such filthy, shining, teen movie creatures. I then went on with the ‘Harry Potter’ books and well, I don’t even know how many books I’ve read since then. For me, my first read was like a certain sense of illumination you know. It was like being given a key to the vault behind which treasures of gold and silver and rubies lay waiting for somebody to grab hold of them.

You guys could tell me your experience with your first book too. I think we have already discussed that in detail. There’s like a 2000 word limit on the comments, you know you could send them to me via Facebook, emails (You could ask for my email in case you don’t have it), you could even text me. If you’re a fellow blogger, you could send me the link to the post and I’ll reblog it. I mean we’re standing over the plethora of communicative means guys. And you’re not bound by anything. You know you could shelve this task for eternities and then one day when we’re all somewhere in our lives, you in your wheelchair in an oldage home, I in my mansion smoking a cigar, maybe you could then remember this post and text me back like “Hey do you remember the post you asked us to do?” and to which I’d say “Yes. Yes, indeed I do” (Well only if I’m not suffering from Alzheimer’s, but well, I mean you get the drill right?)

The Weatherman: Chapter 3 – Meeting with ‘The Eye’

 

Twilight had started to fade in a desert marketplace somewhere in the middle of Egypt as a traveler passed through the the alley surrounded with merchant shops on both sides. Perhaps the time of the day reconciled with his current situation. He covered his black turban with his brown shawl as he sensed the palpable cold breeze flowing through the desert. A large part of his grey beard though still remain uncovered. His ragged black Kurta-Pyjama was daubed with sand as he walked barefoot on the cold, misty surface.

Even at dusk  the marketplace was filled with the cacophony of sellers, vendors advertising their products by singing about them at full stretch. The traveler passed by a vendor who sold dates as he sung

“Have a date with destiny as you buy this date

Sweet and fruity, it may alter your fate…”  

He sung it over and  over in a loop as the traveler made his way past him.. Another carpet vendor dusted off a red, woolen carpet with golden embroidery in the shape of a swan. ” Come one. Come all. Buy this magic carpet and you shall fly like the wind. Come dear visitor. Would like to buy this carpet. The tapestry so beautiful and the fabric so silky. Sit on it and you’d feel as if you’re flying.”

But the traveler paid no heed. There was an apple vendor next. The traveler went up to him and bought the reddest apple he could find. But he didn’t eat it.

He turned into the next alley and found a beggar with  an amputated leg in rags. He placed the apple in the bowl in front of him. It was as if he knew where to find the beggar and that the sole purpose of the apple was to find its way to the beggar’s bowl.
“May Allah shower you with blessings”, the old man said to him.

The traveler then moved forward and turned into a dark, deserted alley with no further way. There was nobody in the alley , but one.

“Well hello Gina”, said the traveler as he took the shawl of his head, revealing his mascaraed brown eyes and wrinkly face. “So they’ve sent ‘The Eye’ to summon me.”

Gina stepped forward out of the dark to reveal her olive skinned face and her glittering lilac eyes. Her lush, black hair stretched up to her waist and she wore a silver, Emerald studded chain over her head. She looked no older then a 30 year old woman and the traveler could not help but realize how ravishing she looked in the formal Arabian attire.

“You knew I was going to find you, didn’t you Salem?” said Gina.

“Well perhaps I had to face them sometime.”, he said after some time.

“Oh Salem!”, said Gina, “What have you done? Why would you do such a thing to your own people?”

Salem  remained silent.

“To warn the village of the storm? Well, that could’ve been overlooked, but to threaten exposure of the whole of ‘Paradisus’?”

“Oh but I didn’t!”

“No you didn’t because you knew it would be of no avail. You saw something while they interviewed you and you knew. Otherwise you wouldn’t have thought for a moment before putting the whole kingdom in jeopardy.” Gina now looked furious. “Well perhaps you’d like to know whatever little footage they had has been taken care of.”

“I know that.”

“Oh of course you would! You’re ‘The Foreseer’. You know everything, don’t you?” Gina stepped closer to him. ” So tell me little Foreseer, why would you do something like that? I mean storms happen all the time. Then why would you do something so foolish as to threaten the whole community. The Guardianheads are furious. They’re demanding you’re execution. His majesty himself has sent me to fetch you. Why would you do something like that?”

Salem saw the distant sun setting over the horizon. It was getting darker now and the cacophony and chaos of the market had now diminished a bit. He took a deep breath. “It wasn’t just one storm. I saw something.”

“What?”

“I mean don’t you find it peculiar. Storm in Arab, volcano in Japan, earthquakes in Pakistan. No, they’re not just natural disasters. Its something much more. Something bigger.”

“How can you say that Salem? All the disasters are under Weatherman, and I know you too have a history, but to accuse him of such vile treachery….”

“Oh but it isn’t Weatherman. I mean think about it. Who do you think controls the natural disasters? There is just one who could effectuate the widespread killing of such high amount of people at the same.”

Gina stared at him petrified.

“Do you even know who you’re accusing?”

Salem remained calm.

“Salem, you’re too young. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Salem stood there silently as he saw the sun submerge under the horizon. “The people needed to know.”

“And what would they have done? And perhaps even if what you say is true. What then? What could you do? You’re just a mere Guardian. You’re too weak.”

“Individually, yes. But together, with all the others. I mean, who knows?”

They both stared at each other.

“It is that woman isn’t she?’ said Gina. Salem looked up. “Is she the reason you tried to save the village?”

Salem remained silent.

“Holy Makers!”, said Gina. “You’re in love with her.”

Salem turned around now to face the open end of the alley. A cat wandered it’s way past through it.

“Why Salem? A mere mortal? What did you see in her?”

“You don’t know her.” Salem raised his voice a bit. ” You don’t know her.”

Gina looked at Salem who was now staring at the ground. It was dark now. “Salem. I’ve seen you train under me all your life. You’re like a son to me. Even if the accusations are true, something like this would only result in a rebellion.”

Salem raised his head and spoke in a low distinct voice, “So be it.”

Gina raised her eyebrows and looked at them man standing in front. He was perhaps a few inches shorter than her and looked way too much older. Gina knew the man well enough and trusted his instincts, but this was something beyond her control.

“You know I have to take you with me.” said Gina after a long pause.

“I know”

“They’ve summoned you to the court where Lord Caliph himself will see to your hearing and the verdict shall be set after that.”

“I know that too.”

The next few words fumbled out of her mouth. “The….The Truthteller will represent them. And considering the truth behind your actions is rebellion, you’d perhaps be deprived of your powers.”

“I may or may not be.”, said Salem as a dry smile passed his lips.

Gina thought about his words for a moment, then raised her arm towards his neck.

“You don’t have to do that” said Salem.

“I know. But perhaps I just need to.” said Gina as she touched her palm over Salem’s neck. A shade of blue glittering light appeared over his neck as he fell unconscious on the ground.

“Sleep dear Foreseer”, she said softly in his ear as she bent over and held his arm.

A gust of wind flew the dry leaves around them as they vanished into the air.

I’m just saying man….

 

I mean I’m just saying man. 

You now you watch all these movies about actual people, you know, not those robots that dwell and function as per their manual operation. Actual people, you know, artists. You see those Rock bands touring the country with their illusion of finding a better world. A more meaningful world. You read books the world they describe as ‘The other side’. You listen to the music that makes you believe further in the illusion.

And I mean, I don’t know, I’m just saying that the illusion might be true. I mean, we’ve never been to the other side, have we. The whole ‘great escape’ theory, free from the shackles of the society. You know what is an illusion? This society. This whole meaning of a better tomorrow, of a better world based on a certain no. of guidelines and few examples of people who’ve experienced it. But then you look at these people everyday and realize that somehow you don’t fit in. You never did.

Hell I don’t even know what I’m trying to say. I mean I’m just typing but, you know, I’m just saying man. Its not that I think they won’t get it. They will, but then they’ll be concerned. No no no no. Not about me, they’ll be concerned about the viewpoint of the society. You know ‘log kya kahenge and shit!’ But even though they’ll be genuinely concerned, you know, then what could actually guarantee me fitting in later on? You know, what could guarantee me being happier?

And then you notice these people blowing up other people, just because they had issues with other people, people different from those who lost their lives, I mean you realize that the perception of a better world, a better tomorrow is a mere fallacy, you know. What could actually guarantee that there would be greener grass or brighter lights or all the other metaphors that Rock music is made of you know.

Shit I don’t make any sense! I know, but somehow I just wanna type man, it feels strangely good, you know, strangely peaceful. To quote Tolstoy, “All the variety, all the charm, all the Beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” But then these are just words right? I mean who am I to complain about what has been going on since the descent of manhood. But I’m just saying, if the shadows chase you, do you tend to succumb to their darkness? Or do you tend to find the light at the end of the tunnel? I mean where does the truth lie.

I mean its like what? 5 o clock in the morning. Is it sleep deprivation, schizophrenia or probably the illusion of happiness? Whatever? I don’t know. Do I quote a Zeppelin song over here? Or maybe some other time. Maybe I’ll just have my own experiments of truth. Maybe I’ll see you on the other side. I mean I’m just saying man….

The peculiar Mr. Dunning

 

Have you heard about Mr. Dunning? It’s a funny story.

Mr. Dunning might be one of the most baffling characters I have ever had acquaintance of. Middle-aged, still single, short, plump fellow. Receding hairline and those gold round glasses. Always the meet and greet types. Good ol’ Mr. Dunning.

Now the thing with Mr. Dunning was that his natural instinct of an ice breaker was a joke. He had this book ‘Lawrence and Bellamy’s 1001 jokes to say at social gatherings.” As it turns out, the last social gathering ‘Lawrence and Bellamy’ ever went out to was in the 60s.

So as it happens, Mr. Dunning went around town flouting his newfound accomplishment . At bars, parties, offices, even at buses to fellow passengers he had only met briefly. Chucky ol’ Mr. Dunning.

He would always begin with a question. That was his favorite one.

“Say, What did the police officer say to his tummy?”, he went.

Of course its a joke so you don’t get the right to answer. Unless you could spoil the joke, well, you wouldn’t want to do that. So they all took that momentary pause, you know just to show they were actually thinking about it, and then asked him to answer it for them.

“I’ve got you ‘under a vest'”, he said and then went “Geddit? Under arrest!” And then they raised their eyebrows in bewilderment and wondered how a man could actually fall to these heights. And so they took a sip of their drinks. Went forward with the formal “It was nice meeting you” and took off as fast as they could.

And so it went on. From jokes about Irishmen to puns about fishes to one-liners that would send you pulling the hair out of your scalp until you finally get them. Or well, until Mr. Dunning finally explained them to you, which was the case most of the time let me tell you.

He went forward with his daily routine of “Why did Cinderella didn’t get selected in the football team? Because she ran away from the ball” to “A man didn’t like his haircut but it started to grow on him” to ” What does a vegan zombie eat? Graaaaaaaaaaains.”

Oh and believe me, he did the “Graaaaaaaaaaains!”

So eventually, people had started to corner Mr. Dunning out. Form elbowing their parteners to warn them of his arrival to whispering “Oh god! He’s here.”  Women had started to make up imaginary boyfriends and friends had started to make up imaginary workloads. They did everything to brace themselves from the atrocity of another one his jokes. Mr. Dunning was criticized, disregarded, ignored and eventually, ostracized. They laughed at him, rather than with him.

But our jolly ol’ Mr. Dunning was a bit too naive to realize that.

Until one day, he found himself doing an Irishmen piece on a bartender who ended up serving him his usual Scotch, without ice. Yes you heard me! WITHOUT ICE!

And as Mr. Dunning sat there sipping over his misery, without ice, he had realized that in a crowd of people around him at the bar, he was all alone. Nobody wanted to listen to his jokes. Let alone, nobody wanted to talk to him.

And then that night, the neighbor Miss Maragaret had noticed him lighting up his ‘Lawrence and Bellamy’s 1001 jokes to say at social gatherings’ by the front porch.

The next evening, as Mr. Dunning sulked on his tragedy-of-a-scotch, without ice that is, he noticed somebody else sitting all by herself at the other end of the bar.

And she had those blonde hair tied into a bun behind her head and those lips so red, they could’ve have served as a pigment for the roses and those eyes. Those blue , glittering eyes! Mr. Dunning could swear to god he had never seen a woman so pretty before. And to have her sitting all by herself, by golly were the lords smiling at him right now!

He gathered a deep breath, mustered all the pride he had left and went over to take the chair next to her. He might have buried the treasure trove but their certainly was one trick left up his sleeve. With his heart pumping at speed of a coyote (Oh btw, a coyote is actually faster than a roadrunner. Which means my childhood was a complete lie), he went on.

“Why is the ocean all blue?” She stared at him, puzzled and dumbfounded like the rest of them had been. She shook her head and was about to say something when he cut her off…

“Because all the fishes go blu, blu, blu.” He mouthed the blu, blu, blu and then let out a light chuckle. He was waiting for the familiar reaction as she stared at him with those raised eyebrows. He was about to take his drink (Yes, without ice you people!) elsewhere when all of a sudden, to his astonishment, she broke into a fit.

And boy did she laugh so hard! She held her stomach as Mr. Dunning saw the spectacle so bizzare in front of him. He ordered her a drink and had was regretting burning the book up already.

He was about to grace her with another one of those when a strange, middle aged lady, with a thin scar on the right cheek, went up to the woman. “Ah there you are Ellen dear!”, she went. “I’ve been looking all over.” She fumbled into her purse for something. “Now I’ve changed the batteries and I believe it should work fine now.” She took out a hearing aid and handed it to Ellen.

“I believe you might have company. So I’ll take a leave. Toodles!” she waved and then went out of the bar.

Ellen looked at the hearing aid, then at Mr. Dunning who now had the face of a lost puppy. She put on her hearing aid. “I’m sorry. I was about to say but then you went on doing that” She mouthed the blu, blu, blu. “And it was so funny and I couldn’t help but laughing.”

Mr. Dunning didn’t say anything. He just kept staring. He kept thought of all the people who had left after hearing his jokes. He thought of the lukewarm Scotch in his hand. He thought of this beautiful woman and how things might have turned had she actually listened to the joke and the bittersweet irony of it all made him chuckle. And then she chuckled too. And then they both broke into a fit for such a long time, the bartender had to shush them for disturbing the customers. (Yes, it was the same bartender who gave him the Scotch. That mean old prick!)

“So you were saying something?” she said breathing heavily after all the laughing.

Mr Dunning did tell her joke though. They ended up marrying an year later. Oh well, stranger things have happened.

The Weatherman: Chapter 2 – Lost Trails

 

“Disappeared? What d’you mean disappeared?” said Aaron Fox as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and between his fingers.

His moustache told a story of constant perseverance, regular trimming and dying. His hair though told something different. The hairline had started receding and had now reached almost halfway through the top. The sideburns looked uncombed and tangled within. You could hardly notice his eyes behind those huge specs and that also helped the wrinkles on his face. He flicked the cigarettes with his fingers to dust off the ash in the ashtray. Then brought it back to his lips for a long puff.

Sam stood in front of him behind the chair. He didn’t bother sitting. How could he even think of sitting in such a situation. He just stood there, running his palms through his curly, blonde hair, like he always did.

“Total nutjob of a guy”, said Sam, “Said he feared that ‘they’ might know, you don;t even know ‘them’.  Like he was being watched or something. Just ran outta the cabin and closed the door behind him. When we opened the door, boom! He was gone. Vanished almost in thin air.”

“And you couldn’t find him? Couldn’t even notice the guy walking away in what was to be an open field?” Fox stared right through Sam.

” I told ya boss. We searched the whole surroundings. I mean, people hadn’t even heard of this guy before. Didn’t even know where he come from. They just saw him a few days before in the village when he made this whole prediction thing.”

Fox now leaned on the table and flicked his cigarette in the ashtray. “Let me just get this straight. You’re trying to say that some old, hippie Arab guy, who somehow knew English, told himself to be about 2 million years old, had no whereabouts and had somehow predicted the storm, agreed to an interview with us and disappeared within 2 minutes of it? Into thin air?”

There was an awful amount of silence. Sam just stood there. No reasonable explanation could be given to an incident like that. After some time, Fox spoke.

“Look Sam, you’re a good lad. Now I know there’ve been problems at home…”

“It’s not about that…”

“I understand what you’re going through but that shouldn’t affect your work.”

“Its not….”, interrupted Sam. “…..about that.” His voice a little louder this time . His words a little slower. He took a deep breath. “Look I know what I saw alright? I mean, Eric was there and…”

“And where is that fat fuck anyways?” Fox leaned back in his chair.

“He’s in the video room. He’ll show you whatever little we got.”

“Look Sam whatever you have here wouldn’t help me. People wouldn’t believe some voodoo Baba who claimed a storm to be actually legit.I mean, Jesus Christ, the amount we have on video, they’d think of him as a maniac claiming to be a million years old….”

“2 million.”

“What?”

There was a long silence. Suddenly, Fox’s phone started ringing. He let it ring for another second, still staring at Sam as if he’d rip apart every bone in his body. He picked up the phone and then put it down again to cancel it.

“He said he was 2 million years old”

“Yeah I know, I know.” Fox said in a solemn, low tone. He leaned forward and looked Sam straight in the eye and banged his hand on the table “Now listen to me kid. You go out there in Arab, wasting my Airfare, wasting my time which could be used on some other project and you bring me this, this bullshit explanation about some old guy magically disappearing in thin air. I don’t give a shit about problems at home…”

“That doesn’t affect my work.”

“DON’T YOU DARE INTERRUPT ME!”, stormed Fox, now breathing heavily. There was an uncomfortably long amount of silence in the midst of a backdrop of a cacophony of phones ringing all at once. He took another long puff of his cigarette and extinguished it in the ash tray. “Look Sam. I’ll give you one last chance. Bring me the guy. Or bring something me else. Something more legit. And this time with interviews that exceed more than 3 minutes. Also, thorough background and personal details. Otherwise you and that plump friend of yours, will go packing, and would probably have to work in a local news channel doing weather reports all your godforsaken lives.”

Fox’s phone began to ring again. He didn’t even bother to look at it. “Now you understand me?”, he finally said and leaned back in his chair, now facing the window behind him.

Sam headed towards the glass door. As he opened the door, he finally heard Fox pick up the phone.

“Rough day?” asked Victoria. She didn’t even look from the paperwork she was doing.

“You got no idea”, said Sam.

Victoria smiled. A flick of her brown hair tickled her cheek. She placed it behind her right ear.

Sam had seen this flick of hair somewhere. He had felt it swoosh across his face when he sat in her lap. Somehow it was as if Sam had know this woman all her life. Yet somehow Sam knew nothing about her. All he could remember were those lilac eyes. But they weren’t lilac anymore. He could could see the dimple on her left cheek. But somehow the dimple wasn’t there. All he knew was how much he loved her. But somehow he didn’t even recognize her. She was trying to say something. Her lips moved, but he couldn’t hear her. And then he woke up.

“Sam?”, said Victoria. “Sam?”

Sam stared at her blankly. He knew her. She was Fox’s secretary. He’d known her ever since she worked here. She wasn’t her. She couldn’t be.

“Yeah?” asked Sam.

“What about Saturday night?”

“Oh um…” Sam stammered a bit. “Saturday I…I gotta work on this thing with Eric.”

“Oh! Oh of course.”

“Cause you know he’d fire me if I don’t.”

“Yeah. Yeah I get it” Victoria’s intercom buzzed, “VICKY WOULD YOU BRING ME THE GODDAMN COFFEE ALREADY!”, spoke a frustrated Fox voice.

She pressed the button and spoke, “Coming right away boss.” She rose from the desk closing the paperwork file.

“Maybe some other time” said Sam and run his palm through the hair on the back of his head.

“Yeah. Yeah sure.” Victoria started walking towards the coffee machine on the left.

Sam stood there and watch her leave. He then turned around and started walking towards the video room. “Why are you doing this to me?”, he thought.

*

Eric was glued to the laptop screen when Sam opened the door to the video room. He had definitely outgrown his grey T-shirt. The thick beard had now grown a bit too much and Sam could definitely smell a man who might have spent ages since he last took a bath.

“Backstabber” said Sam as he walked towards him. “Threw me under the bus didn’t you?. And now you’re sitting here watching porn on your laptop while Fox whiplashed my ass in his office…”

“Sam you need to watch this” said Eric. He didn’t have the usual childish tone. He kept staring at his laptop screen transfixed.

Sam moved towards the table and took a seat beside Eric. A video of the interview with Salem had been playing. Eric paused the video and then replayed it.

Sam saw the whole 2 minutes 36 seconds of video. He stared at the screen as the change in pixels drained the colour from his face. He stared at Eric who was now scratching his head. He hit the replay button. Once. Twice. Every time it was the same result.

He could hear himself asking the questions.

“Okay so this is interview number one in a series of the upcoming few.Broadcasting for Discovery Channel under the category ‘New Arab untitled Project’.We’re interviewing Mr. Salem…say what’s your last name sir?”

*silence*

“Excuse me”

*more silence*

 

Sam had replayed the video thrice now. It was the same cabin. The same yellow lights lighting up the whole cabin. The same chair. The same questions. Only this time, nobody was answering the questions back.

And this time, there certainly was nobody sitting on the chair in front of the camera.

Why you should read Calvin and Hobbes

When you’re 19 and you’re exploring, you tend to find solace in the most mundane of absurdities. From romantic poetry verses for your girlfriend to movies with a 5’6″ Salman Khan bashing up goons while also challenging the laws of physics at the same time to reality TV shows with the most obnoxiously narcissistic beings who actually deprive other beings of their self-esteem, in the vicinity of the whole country, while constantly shouting “Tu roadie banega? #@*&^%” at their faces. We may find anything or everything to indulge our thus unproductive, uncomplacent lives with.

Sadly, I could never find the slightest amount of amusement in either of the following activities. Now I won’t deny, I haven’t, neither formerly nor recently, have been what you may state as socially acceptable. I’ve always been suffering from, more-or-less, a social anxiety of sorts. I seldom find amusement in parties and public gatherings and only do so if the people in these gatherings are the ones I’m extremely comfortable with in socializing. For me, a conversation with somebody I’m not comfortable with, and have only had a brief acquaintance with goes this way-

Person:”Hi”

Me:”Hi”

Person:”So how are studies?(Yes this comes before how are you?)

Me: Good, good.

*silence*

(Brief discussion about my college life)

*more silence*

Me: “So how’s uncle and aunty?”

Person:”Oh they are good.”

Me: “And hows daadi?”

Person: “She died 2 years ago. You don’t know?”

Me: Oh! Oh yes, yes.

*unbearably long awkward silence* *slowly walks away in shame*

 

And this is like a continuous loop, which goes over and over and over.

So where was I? Oh dear, I get distracted so much! Okay yes, yes. About seeking the pleasures of the socially prevalent sources of entertainment. Never really got that. For me, it was all about books, and more books, with movies and TV sitcoms, but books. Definitely books. I always tend to find a life much greater than mine in the books I read. Isn’t it what we all tend to do? From Harry Potter to Artemis Fowl to Hunger Games to books of Ayn Rand and John Grisham, all we ever seek for are lives more fascinating, more engaging and more mesmerizing than ours. But when a certain book actually captures the essence of your life, compiles it in a more humorous and fascinating way and serves it to you right back, that is what knocks the wind out of you. And Calvin and Hobbes managed to do just that to me.

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I had become familiar with them in about class 9th if I could remember. We still pick up a copy of Times of India only to read the comic strips, don’t we? Except for the gory interference in the lives of celebrities, there is nothing in it that might actually serve the purpose of lucid news. But we’ll discuss this sometimes else.

Anyway so those small strips never quite brought the essence of the comic at that time and was thus outranked by the likes of Dennis the Menace, Garfield and Archies, that is until I grabbed a copy of the compilation of the whole comic from my brother. And my life has never been the same ever since.

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The reason why you love Calvin and Hobbes was mainly because you tend to discover yourself in the neurotic, obnoxious, narcissistic little boy with a vivid imagination and an IQ level much greater for his age.

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Now what the genius of Bill Watterson has done is he took the somewhat unusual kid(not so unusual actually) and turned him into something more believable and that little something was what made all the difference. He showed us that, being the introvert and rude kid that he is, he did tend to have no friends at all. And solely found comfort in the company of an imaginary friend, his stuffed tiger, Hobbes.

Now Hobbes was what one would call a true friend. Somebody who’d constantly hear you rant about the slightest of things in the world, share your adventures and misadventures, your partner in crime and most importantly, someone who would accept you for who you are.

 

 

Joining them in their journey takes you on a roller coaster of an emotional ride.

 

They’ve made us laugh-

 

 

 

They’ve made us cry-

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They’ve taken us places-

 

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They’ve made us insightful-

 

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Calvin and Hobbes was humorous and playful yet insightful and moving. Bill Watterson showed us that a major aspect in writing aesthetically touching, thought provoking philosophies, is to camouflage them with humour. And he managed to do that beautifully.

Sadly, the creator of C&H, Bill Watterson, on November 7, 1995 announced that he woudn’t be doing the comic strips anymore and took a sabbatical ever since. The good news is, he has recently surface by assisting Stephen Pastis on his comic ‘Pearls before swine.’ 

This was the last C&H he ever did

Calvin and Hobbes

 

The weatherman

Eric adjusted the camera lenses, rotated it anti-clockwise and then clockwise. He  looked up from the camera to the man sitting in the chair in front of him. A man in his early sixties with a dark, Mediterranean complexion. The wrinkles on his face, the cheekbones especially, seemed like sand dunes on a long lost desert. His salt-and-pepper of hair reached his shoulders from underneath his silk black turban and his extensively long beard, almost grey now, reached his collar bone. He sat there so still, almost as if he was unaware of the hullabaloo that took place around him. His chestnut brown mascaraed eyes gazed in deep thought at the nothingness surrounding them. His black kurta and pajamas looked almost anciently unwashed and Eric could swear on God he had never seen a man smell as much as he did.

“Just a second please”, he said as he went over to his laptop. He adjusted the screen resolution to the appropriate so that the camera could focus on the man’s whole body upto his knees.

The steel door behind him opened with a loud screech and another man, a man in his early 30s with skin so white it was almost milky, came in. “Are we done yet?”, he asked. He then ran his hand through his blond, curly hair and took sip from the can of soda in his other hand.

“Yeah we’re done”, said Eric. “Say how did you get soda around here?”

“Some kid sold it to me. Said he also had pornographic DVDs with him. Had to pass him on that one.” he grinned. He then picked up his bag from the table beside him. The words ‘Discovery Channel’ flashed on them. He zipped it open and took out a blue plastic file from it.

He then walked over to Eric. “Check the phones would ya?”

Eric went over to the man and tapped his collar mike. A rumble of Congos filled up the tiny green room. “Hullo, hullo”, he spoke in the mike. The old man still sat there devoured in his nothingness.”Yo Sammy, turn down the bass a bit. It feels like a rock concert in here.”

Sam clicked on the sound icon on the laptop and decreased the level of the bass.

“Hullo, hullo”, said Eric in the mike, “Yeah much better.”

Sam then put on his own collar mike, tested it and then went on to sit on the chair next to the camera . Eric went back to the laptop. He clicked a few keys “You ready Sam”

“Yup!”

“You ready sir?”, he asked the old man who still seemed lost and uninterested.

“Sir?” asked Eric.”Sir?” A little louder this time.

The man then jolted a bit, as if been awoken from a deep slumber. He looked around him and went “Yes?”

“Are you ready?”

He looked around. “Oh yes, yes. Is this thing working? Am I on TV right now?”

“No sir your not on TV right now. The episode won’t air until a couple of weeks from now.”

The man then winced a little at his own unaware foolishness “Oh right right.”, he said.

Sam was rather surprised at the man having no foreign accent of such.

“Ok so we start in 5,4..” He gestured 3,2,1 and then a thumbs up from his palm towards Sam. Sam then looked up at his file and went on.

“OK  so this Interview number one in a series of the upcoming few.” said Sam in his mike. “Broadcasting for Discovery Channel under the category ‘New Arab untitled project’. We’re interviewing Mr…” He went on to read from his file  “Salem. Say what’s your last name sir? We don’t have it over here.”

“There isn’t.”

Sam looked up from his file, “Excuse me?”

“There isn’t one”, said Salem. His face still expressionless.

“Oh okay. Um..can you tell us, being an Arab, how could you speak English so well?”

“Oh we just can.” said Salem. “The same way we could speak many other languages.”

Sam paused for for a bit and then went on “Ok so Mr. Salem, it says in my file here that there is no exact birth date of yours. Almost how old would you be right now in your estimate.”

Salem thought for a bit. Then said in a tone of extreme confidence, ” A little more than 2 million years.”

Sam winced a little, then stared at Eric who gave the same puzzled expression. ” 2 million years?”

“Yes I think that would be the roundabout time” said Salem. His face still blank.

Sam searched for an expression of “Just kidding” on in his face, but there was none. “Umm…Okay so you’ve been here for a quite a long time then.”

“Well….compared to humans? Yes. Compared to our kind. Well, lets just say I might still be a kid.”

Sam now frowned. He thought of skipping the introduction part. The man now seemed to be a maniac anyways, but then he had to get every possible information. So he went on anyways, “Your kind? What is your kind?”

“Oh I’m afraid I must not speak of that.” he said. For the first time during the whole interview Sam could notice his eyes move around. As if searching for some intruder in the middle of a private conversation.

“This has been a big mistake”, said Salem. He started to look scared now.

“What is it?” asked Sam, ” What has been a big mistake?”

“This…this…” said Salem. “This whole thing.”

“Mr. Salem would you please calm down.” said Sam. “What is it that is bothering you?”

“Oh you don’t know them?” said Salem. His whole body trembling now. His eyes now wide. “To go against their world is one thing but this…this……” He stood up.

“Mr. Salem…” said Sam. “Mr. Salem would you please sit down now. Mr. Salem I want you to calm down.  This show won’t air until some time from now. Nobody is going to know about this, I swear.” Eric stood up from the laptop and poured a glass of water. He handed it to Salem.

Salem drank the water and began to sat down. His body muscles began to relax now.

Sam sensing the frailness of the man’s mental condition decided to wrap this up quickly.

“Are you fine now?” he asked. Salem didn’t answer. He again went on staring into his vast nothingness.

“Lets take it up from the top again. This time with no background information” Sam then heaved a sigh and went on.

“This is interview number 1 in a series of a few for the ‘Discovery Channel’ under the category ‘New Arab Untitled Project’. We’re interviewing Mr. Salem. Mr. Salem you were rumored to have come only about a week ago in the village of al-Mutila. Is that correct?”

Salem remained silent. His face now looked that of a scared kid. Sam decided not to invoke him much and so went on “It’s written over here that you came here a day before the storm that uprooted the whole village. You went to the village head Mr. Khaled Mehmood and said and I quote, “Evacuate the village. Run away! There’s a storm coming your way. You’re all going to die.” Is that true Mr. Salem?”

Salem had started tremble again. He stared into the camera, then at Sam and back into the camera.

“Mr. Salem, how did you predict the storm when the weather was all clear that day?” asked Sam and then realized that situation had now gone out of hand.

This was too much for Salem. He stood up again and started walking towards the door. “I can’t do this….I..I can’t”, he mumbled.

Eric and Sam rose from their chairs and headed towards him. “Mr. Salem…MR. SALEM!” said Sam as he began to chase him but it was too late. Salem had stormed out of the door and closed it behind him.

There was a loud rumble from the clouds. Sam opened the door and went out of into the field. The clouds thundered again and a gust of wind flew the yellow, dry leaves with them. Salem was to be seen nowhere.