Monday, June 24, 2013

Daddy's Day In

Image Courtesy: Morguefile
How on earth does she do it? Fool that I am, I questioned her capability in managing the household and keeping the brats in line. How could I have known it was going to be like this?

I manage the sharks at work, face the barrage of deadlines that keep beating down on me, and I thought mine was the most difficult job of all.

Now I see it. By the time I would return from work at the hour when the primetime serials on TV had begun to wrap up for the day, the boys would be sleeping, I would tiptoe into their room, watch their angelic faces deep in the throes of sleep, their chests gently heaving up and down in a rhythmic motion. And I would shush her up when she tried to tell me about how hard her day had been, how she’d spent all day cleaning their mess, when she wasn’t shouting at them to clean up themselves, how she feared them more when they were quiet because then it meant that they were cooking up another hare-brained scheme designed to frazzle their mother.

And then one day when the whining got to me, I yelled back at her. I told her she was incompetent. That’s what she was. She ought to see the kind of challenges I countered at work on a daily basis. Her voice dipped low and she reminded me that she had been tackling those very challenges at the same office where we had met and that she had given up her job five years ago and stayed home to look after the boys.

I hadn’t seen it as a sacrifice back then, and I told her so. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I had signed up to look after the kids for just ONE day.

When I woke up, breakfast was on the stovetop and there was a note too. “It’s Showtime. I’ll be at Mum’s.”

The house was silent, and fool that I am (but that you already know), I rubbed my hands with glee and told myself, this was going to be fun. The boys and I were in for some serious male bonding. They’d realize how much more fun their Dad was compared to their nagging Mom.

I heard the boys talking and rushed to their room. I opened the door and felt something soft and mushy hit me in the face. I heard laughter and all plans for a fun time vanished. I chased them to the bathroom, and fell hard on the soapy floor.

Write Tribe Prompt
The day went by in a mad whirl. With me at the receiving end mostly.

They asked me where Mom was. She had a better grip on things, they said.

Mercifully, lunch was in the oven.

I sat at the kitchen table, eyes covered, the phone nestled between my head and neck. I needed her soon. Or else I’d burst.

“Come home, honey, I’m sorry.”

This post has been written for the Write Tribe prompt.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Review: 14

Book: 14
Author: Peter Clines
Publisher: Permuted Press
Pages: 350

Peter Clines’ 14 reels you in from the moment you lay eyes upon the padlocked, forbidding door on its cover and allow yourself to wonder what might lie within. You stare at the cover, feeling uncomfortably as if it were a real door outside which you are standing.

Nate Tucker, a data entry operator at a B-grade Hollywood magazine, is keen on moving closer to his place of work. He moves into Apartment 28 of the Kavach building. It is a good deal. The rent is cheap; the power is free and the utilities cost a few cents. The sundeck is a great luxury and the view is great. But there is still something very odd about the building. For one thing, the entire place is infested with abnormally large mutated green cockroaches with emerald shells on their backs and seven legs.

Very soon Nate becomes acquainted with the neighbours and finds that each apartment in the Kavach building has a different layout, and that no two are the same. Nor are there any power cables extending from the building and connecting to the power grid.

Curious about this strangeness, Nate, together with his neighbours Veek, short for Malavika Vishwanath, and Xela, a blue-haired nudist, begins to investigate it. Nate, whose job is very mind numbing, begins to find a purpose in life.

Along the way, they rope in Tim, Roger, Andrew and the married Debbie and Clive. All the investigations must be done out of sight of Oskar Rommel, the caretaker of the building. The investigations bring out a lot about the curious going-ons in the building. Just when you think that the mystery of Apartment Number 14 has been resolved, the story takes a strange turn into the realm of sci-fiction, and here’s where, I must confess, I lost interest a little. Simply because I’m not so game for the sci-fi genre. Clines’ writing, however, lost nothing of its sharpness.

I had hoped the horror element would play out. Of course, 14 is not horror in the typical sense. There is no play of light and shadows, no unexplained noises or whispers in the dark or even creaky doors. Just an odd vibe about the place that people overlook in favour of the cheap rent.

There are minor mysteries too that get answered in the course of the book. What exactly does Veek do for a living? And how does Tim know all he does? Merely by publishing books on varied subjects?

Clines has shown a remarkable understanding of the inner grinding of buildings and his research and imagination yield a rich haul. It almost makes the Kavach building real, with a mind of its own. There are chills, thrills and hi-jinks here. The investigation itself, and Clines’ writing, holds your interest. The secret of Apartment Number 14 is enough to blow your mind. It literally breaks down the walls of your imagination.

There are two references to India, in the name and heritage of the female lead and in the fact of Kavach being Marathi (an Indian language) for protection or shield. Another point I’d like to consider as one of the book’s pluses is that romance doesn’t come in the way of the investigation. Nate, despite being surrounded by so much female charm, one of them a nudist at that, staunchly refuses to be drawn into choosing to be either Fred to Xela’s Daphne or Shaggy to Veek’s Velma. He’d rather be Scooby Doo, and concentrate on figuring out the mystery of the building. It’s another matter that he eventually succumbs.

Since it wasn’t Clines’ intention to write a horror novel. He has tried to stay away from the usual tried-and-tested tactics of horror writers. That saves us from reading about broken elevators that spring to life on their own and crazy caretakers with secrets to hide.

A few issues, however, affect the effectiveness of this novel slightly.

Most mystery novels involving multiple characters follow a particular literary device which involves leaving one set of characters at a crucial, even dangerous, moment, then breaking off to start a new chapter with another set of characters. The disadvantages of having all your characters do all their investigations together is that chapters end at the aforementioned critical point, a new chapter starts and the characters continue their business as if nothing had interrupted it. Often conversations are broken off mid-stream at the end of one chapter, and then resumed at the beginning of the next. As a literary device, it is disappointing to the seasoned mystery reader who actually enjoys the edge-of-the-seat excitement.

Also, a whole chapter is devoted to the back story of the credit-deficient Mandy, a most irrelevant addition to the novel considering that she plays no part in the investigations. Nor does she display enough gumption to be even a side-kick.

There are some minor questions that remain unanswered. While the professions of Veek and Tim are revealed in due time, I am still clueless about why so many people died in Apartment Number 16. Who knows why Craig, a character who leaves the building at the start of the novel, claims never to have had one night of good sleep in six months, when everyone else sleeps a deep and dreamless sleep every night? And why are the roaches green and mutated? Why do they die when taken away from the building? Why don’t they eat anything?


But these are minor grouses, and I won’t hold them against Clines. Not only does 14 not disappoint, I’m still reeling from the secret of Apartment 14.

Heartily recommended!

    I received a free Kindle book version of 14 from NetGalley in exchange for this fair review.        

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Daughter’s First Hero

Last evening, I had a particularly interesting and sweetly poignant experience while going home in the suburban Mumbai local. The train was crowded, when I got in. As soon as it pulled off, a two-year-old girl asked her mother about the whereabouts of her father. In the next coach, her mother told her. The answer did not satisfy the child and she let out a soft, muffled wail, with the unending refrain, "Papa."

We looked on the little scene and smiled. There was something endearing about that child, heartbroken at not having her father close to her. Some people offered her chocolates, hoping to take her mind off her temporarily absent father. It did not work.

Others offered to let her play with their phones. The ploy failed. She wanted Papa, and nothing else would do, her muffled cry suggested. Her aunt, seeing that her voice had become hoarse with crying, offered her some water. But that offer too was rejected. By now, she had been crying for 50 minutes, and was weary with exhaustion.

At length, when the train halted at Kandivali, and the trio got off, a coachful of women craned their necks to see what happened next. A collective sigh of relief was exhaled when the father materialized and the exhausted but finally happy girl jumped into her father’s arms. That Papa is definitely his daughter’s first hero.

As is mine.

No, I don’t remember crying this way for my Dad. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t have too many early memories of him. Mum was what you would call a Work-at-home-mother, so she was always at hand. We depended on Mum for everything, and yet, somehow, Dad, quiet and calm as he was, made his presence felt in our lives.

Especially during the exams when Dad oversaw our Maths preparations.

Maths and I weren’t on a friendly footing in those days. Considering that Dad was on back-slapping terms with it, sitting down to study Maths with Dad a few days before the exams was always fraught with anxiety. I used to marvel over the fact that in his presence, Maths suddenly metamorphosed into a gentleman with impeccable manners who ceased to intimidate me.

Dad has always been a soft-spoken man. So he very rarely sat us down to pass on lessons to us, and we were obliged to watch and learn and then do as he did. There was so much to learn. When Dad’s company was shut down under a management-lockout, most of his 1000-something colleagues had horror stories to tell. One or two, I heard my parents talk in hushed whispers back then, chose to take the escape route out of life. Many took to drink. But if Dad’s back bent a little more at the thought of raising three growing children on the feeble income earned by my mother through her sewing enterprise, we kids barely got to know of it.

He immediately got to work, taking up a second and even a third odd job, in the absence of the first real one. Through this response to the challenge that threatened to engulf the family, I learned that when things go wrong, you don’t sit and mope, you just get up and do the thing that needs to be done.

That tendency of his shaped our values and bound them in cords that couldn’t be broken by any of the lures the world set in our path. No matter what the temptation that we faced, my brothers and I only had to recall how Dad would have acted in our situation, and the danger was averted.

Dad always encouraged us to ask questions, but didn’t always answer them himself. Instead, he chose to direct us to a source where he and we together might find answers. So if there was a word whose meaning I didn’t know, I’d get the dictionary and he and I would leaf through its pages and educate ourselves. Those sessions created in me an enduring love for the English language. As a child, I was the only kid I knew who could be lost in reading the dictionary.

It was also the sight of him, sitting down to read a book, that first got me hooked on to the world of books.

He wasn’t the diaper changing, baby bathing father that the ‘90s threw up. But Dad could always be counted on to wake up in the middle of the night, in response to his frightened daughter’s cries, and peer under the bed to chase away the imaginary demons that haunted her.

As a child, I remember putting my hand in his and walking down the busy street, knowing that I was safe and free to yap away with him by my side to look out for me. Today I am decades older, but when we are out on the street, he will still push me on to the inside of the road and walk by the side of the vehicles. I am privileged to have such a father.

Thank you, Dad.

On the occasion of Father’s Day today, I would like to wish all fathers everywhere a very Happy Father’s Day.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

It's raining Sevens

I've always been drawn to the number Seven.

I am not surprised, when I read about the importance of Seven in cultures around the world.

As a Christian, I try to follow Jesus' teachings that I must forgive Seventy times Seven. In truth, that means you forgive as often as someone hurts you, since you can't really go through life keeping a memoranda of how many times someone has hurt you -- in word or deed, consciously or unconsciously.

Motivational gurus advise us: Fall Seven times, Stand up Eight.

There are Seven days in the week.

There are Seven wonders of the world, although a child can count far more.

Snow White had Seven dwarves.

There were Seven brides for Seven brothers.

Highly effective people supposedly have Seven habits in common.

There are Seven colours in the rainbow.

Do Re Mi Fa So Lah Ti are the Seven notes in the Western musical scale. Just as Sa Re Ga Ma Paa Dha Ni are the Seven notes in the Hindustani and Carnatic musical scales.

There are Seven deadly sins. 

Enid Blyton had the Secret Seven.

James Bond answers to 007.

And to cap it all, I got married on the Seventh day of the Seventh month of the Seventh year of this millennium.

Write Tribe Prompt

And so when Corinne Rodrigues of The Write Tribe announced this prompt, 7x7x7x7, in which we were supposed to pick the Seventh book out of our bookshelf, then go to the Seventh page, pick the Seventh line on that page, and write Seven lines of poetry or prose on that line, I just had to go for it.

So here is the Seventh book on my bookshelf. Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton.

The Seventh line is "There is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss."

And here is my response to the prompt:

There is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss.

Our jaded sight may fail to heed the marvels of the world. To see something anew, you must see with brand new eyes.

At every moment, something comes alive and something dies.

Miracles in plain sight, and yet somehow in disguise.

Life times drift by, we gaze too long at the lies.

And all along dead-ends lead to new paths, and even as you groan about answers blown miles away and gone amiss.

They show up on your doorstep, ah! The bliss.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A Moral for the Immoral

He bent down to pick up the two pieces of ivory that lay on the red carpet. And the vision of what might have been flashed through his mind.

* * *

The moment was electric. Mina stood by, her mouth slightly open as if she were under a spell, which indeed she was.

The man glided across the floor. His raw presence, the sheer magnetism and charisma of his person, struck her and she had to hold on to the back of the settee for support.

Count Dracula, suave, sophisticated, towered over her, supremely confident of his conquest, yet throbbing with anticipation. He bent down towards the inviting whiteness of her neck.

The moment had arrived. He flashed a smile. The fangs in his mouth that had struck terror in the hearts of thousands bared themselves and the Count of Transylvania bent down to claim yet another bride.

Teeth touched bare flesh and Count Dracula braced himself for the whoosh, the soundtrack that always played whenever he tasted blood. But no whoosh came. Instead, he heard a phthooey. Confused, Dracula broke away to discover the cause of the changed soundtrack. Mina too looked up in confusion, and a cry escaped her lips. There before her stood Dracula, the same, yet different.

The two fangs that protruded out of the corners of his mouth had been chipped, leaving the fearsome vampire looking more than a little comical. The spell broken, Mina dashed out of the room, nearly colliding into Abraham Van Helsing on her way out.

* * *

Dracula tried to turn his face away, but Abraham had already seen enough. Even with his face turned away, he knew Abraham was smirking.

“It’s not too late, you know, to amend your ways. What kind of a vampire would you be without your fangs? They are your calling cards, your tools. Without them, you are nothing. Let me have a look at you.”

Dracula glided out of reach and turned his face to the wall. Abraham smiled, “It’s okay. Chipped teeth are warning signs. Take them seriously and we can arrest further damage.”

“What do you mean?”

“First of all, you must give up drinking blood. Not good for the teeth, you know. Blood was not meant to be a beverage. Try drinking milk instead. The calcium will strengthen your teeth.”

“I don’t drink milk,” Dracula mumbled angrily.

“Lactose intolerant, eh? No problem. Try soymilk then. And when was the last time you brushed your teeth? Or flossed? I bet half the people who swoon in your arms do so because of your bad breath.”

“Vampires don’t brush their teeth,” Dracula hissed. “We’re the undead.”

“So are bacteria and germs. They’re feasting on your mouth and have probably been doing so for… How old are you? The bacteria have probably established whole cities on your tongue.”

“I don’t care about bacteria.”

“And they are quick to return the favour. Look at the state of your gums. Swollen and bleeding too. Next thing you know, there’ll be pus, and an abscess. Left untreated, the bacteria can cause severe complications. It could even be fatal.”

“What do I care about that? I’m the undead.”

“I know, I know. But you do care about your appearance, don’t you? The Dracula charm will soon cease to exist. You’ll have gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, if you’re lucky. In worst cases, you might contract periodontis. Who knows? You might even need surgical intervention.”

Dracula turned to the mirror to see if Abraham was speaking the truth. The mirror, unfortunately for him, wasn’t capable of reflecting the undead. Dracula had to rely on Abraham’s word. “What do I do now?” he asked.

“If you agree to be treated, I could help you. I’m a qualified dentist. I haven’t had much time to peer down mouths, with my bustling vampire slaying career. But I’ve still got the touch. You won’t feel a thing. It’s your only way out if you want to salvage your self-esteem.”

Dracula allowed himself to be guided towards a chair. Abraham continued. “There’s a moral in this for you.”

“I hate morals,” Dracula said.

“Oh, sorry, I forgot you are immoral. Call it learning then. Why don’t you check out My Healthy Speak Blog for more information? Brushing and flossing properly are important. The right treatment can reverse your problems. I could even give you partial dentures to substitute for your fangs.”

Dracula brightened up at that. “You’d do that for me?”

“Oh sure,” said Abraham. “I pride myself on being a good dentist.”

Mentally, he thought, ‘I also pride myself on being a good vampire slayer. And I think I can find a way to be true to both my callings.’

This post is an entry for The Moral of the Story is... Contest hosted by Colgate in association with IndiBlogger.

The Moral of The Story Is - Runner-up


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