Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I have had my share of bad hair days, but today is my very-bad-hair-day.

Adjacent strands of my hair have developed opposite polarity and are repelling each other with a magnetic force hitherto unknown to mankind.

My comb is having an affair with static electricity, so using it is making things worse.

Worse still I am going to get home at 10pm, so any last hopes of getting that shampoo and shower have been squashed.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Je ne sais pas le français

I realised yesterday for yet another time that I cannot cheat in exams. It is shameful and has dealt a great blow to my self esteem. I always knew that I was a tough cookie and would never chicken out in demanding situations, but yesterday was a repetition of the one fear that has been gnawing at my soul since my tenth standard boards.

We had been attending these classes in French for the past six weeks. It started off as fun at first. M and I were showing off our newly acquired knowledge of a foreign language to the children of lesser Gods in our project. Homework was no sweat, coz I discovered my best friends in Stilettoes and Google language tools . Classes were great because, most people yawned through them and we were always giggling over the pronunciations.

I learnt to spell my name A-N-W-E-S-H-A the same way, but pronounce it - A (as in 'a' bird)-En- Dubl Vey- A (As the first letter in the English alphabet) - Ess - Aash - A (as in 'a' bird)

Confusing huh? You bet it was. I hate getting confused, but I persevered. And this was before they started teaching us Verbs (affinitive?) That's when we got totally muddled up regarding the first persons and third persons, and present tenses and future tenses and what not. I still lingered. When they drowned us in questions and negations I threw the towel and refused to look into the books anymore.

Yesterday, we had our exams. I extracted a promise from M that she would let me look in to her answer sheet. Now M is one of the most sincere students I have come across. She takes to books with a missionary zeal. Nothing can deter her from scoring the perfect 10 in whatever she chooses to do. I know she did not find French a cakewalk, but she persisted long after I gave up.

We took our seats. The French looked like Hebrew to me. I tried to make English out of it, it got worse. Out of desperation I looked at M and found her looking at me. M was carrying all her notes, and I had forgotten to get them, Despite the obvious advantage, she chose to peep into my answer sheet and I had not the courage to ask her a single answer. This went on for twenty minutes, when I realised that I could no longer take the strain. I managed to scribble something and left the paper, M and the French classes behind me.

M came out ten minutes later. She had copied all my answers and then tallied them with the notes and corrected whatever was wrong. Effectively, even before submitting her paper, not only did she know how much she was going to score, she knew for a fact how much I was going to score!!!!!

This French thing is behind me now. I treat it as a bad dream on a hot, power-cutted, mosquito-infested, night on a wooden bed full of nails and a mouse bitten mattress. Suffice to say that I dreamt last night that M had topped the exam and that she was handing our answer sheets and she knew everybody's score even without looking into the paper.

Sigh! La vie est comme celle!

Edit #1 : I passed the French exams (for those who won't care to read the comments or comment the comments) Since I have already given a thank you speech in advance, I do not think there is any need to kill fellow bloggers with another one. But grave injustice would be commited if Maxime is not thanked for making sure that I was always on my toes while asking him any doubts. Thanks Maxime for all the help! We'll miss you, if we go for the advanced course!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Confessions of a dangerous mind - III

Alone in the cell, I sat back and sighed! Six years ago I began an extraordinary journey in the world of stolen antiques and today whatever I was, was because of Pierre. Vincent our butler called him “Master” and loved him like a Master. I called him Pierre but loved him like the father I never met. His associates feared him, but loved him. Pierre- the Master was respected for his meticulous planning and perfect implementation. His reflexes never slackened and his mind never gathered rust.

My thoughts wandered off again. Twice I had been caught, but Pierre came to my rescue each time. This was the longest I had ever spent in prison. This time things looked different. This time perhaps, I would have to plan my own escape, without Pierre, without anybody. I started thinking again and after five hours I still had not come up with any idea. The prison was an impregnable fortress. Searchlights scanned the length of the territory and black hounds roaming the premises were let loose at the slightest sound of alarm. The barbed wires were electrically charged and nobody ever left this place without being searched. No human habitat could be found within two miles of the place. Amidst all this, I was shunted in an underground dungeon, with a small window that was snow-laden, where sunlight seldom found a chance to enter. I looked at the snow again and again and suddenly it stuck me!

I looked at the criss-crossed bars in the window and sure enough there were small pores at regular intervals along the grid. In cold climates, pipes often burst when water froze into ice. The pores were there to prevent water from accumulating in the pipes. I looked at the pores and found my escape route. For the next three days, I tore threads from my sleeping bag and tightly wound the grid, leaving only a pore at the top. For three days, I did not drink water given to me during lunch. Instead I poured the water into the grid, crossed my fingers and waited. On the third day my job was done. Outside, night was approaching and temperatures were falling. Then close to midnight, the water froze in the bars, turned into ice and expanded in volume. The ice pushed against the bars and suddenly with a huge explosion, the bars burst and the window cracked open.

I had no time to waste. Even though, I was in an underground cell, I was sure the noise would have been heard somewhere. I pushed myself against the window, which was quite weak by now and gave way. Pulling myself up, I stumbled into a tunnel that went to the left and right. Both sides were dark and I did not know where to go. I picked up a pebble nearby and threw it to the left. It did not go very far. Then I threw another pebble to the right. This time it carried to a distance. So the wind was blowing from the left side of the tunnel. I followed the left side and sure enough, found myself looking at streaming water, gushing all over. I dived into the water and upon rising found myself in the middle of a wide water-body. I realized that I had accidentally discovered the sewer line and it emptied into a river. Looking around me, I realized that I would have to make my escape in sub-zero temperatures. They had heard the explosion and the hounds were being let loose, I was shivering and my footprints would leave a permanent mark in the snow. I decided to take the warmer water route.

I do not know for how long I swam, but that night all of Siberia would be searched for me and I did not want to take any chances. Pulling myself to the bank, I saw an old fortress with lights. I made a cautious approach lest that it should turn out to be another government head quarter. There were no guards and so I knocked at the door. It was answered by a nun.

The sisters of the order of St.Dmitri are forbidden from any contact with men. They are not permitted to talk to anyone from the outside world and at the end of the day; they whip themselves with lashes in penitence. They lead a Spartan existence. Though stoic they may be heartless they are not. When a young, virile male of twenty-four years collapsed at their entrance door that cold winter evening, they were at a loss. After much consultation, they carried him to a room, gave him a bed and let him lay there. Meanwhile, the police looked everywhere for the escaped prisoner, but when they came to the convent, they passed it.

I stepped out next morning from the convent and called up Vincent. Vincent informed me that Pierre had been missing for the past three weeks, looking for a way to free me. I told Vincent an address where I could be found in Moscow, and asked him to inform Pierre. Unknown to me, our phone at home was being tapped by the police. So, when I hitched a wagon and reached Moscow, the police was waiting for me. I went into the house and found Pierre in deep conversation with his contacts. They were still looking for a way to get me out of prison. I still remember the look of astonishment mixed with joy on his face, as he saw me free.

Suddenly Interpol barged into the room and asked us to surrender. Pierre pulled his gun and gunshots were heard all over the place. I lost no time, to escape from the place. From there I hitched my way back home to Rio, informing nobody and taking no risks. Once in Rio, the only thing left for me to do was to wait for Pierre. There was no fear from the police in our homeland, because Pierre always made sure that we did not undertake any assignments in Brazil.

A month later, I received the news of Pierre’s death. It took three men to shoot him six times in the chest. We never recovered his body, so we held a memorial service for him. It was a gloomy Wednesday morning and I was coming back home from the service, wondering what the future held in store for me. The door bell rang and Vincent answered it. “A visitor for you Master”, he said. “Coming”, said I.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Confessions of a dangerous mind - II

Kedah, northwestern Malaysia currently has a Muslim majority population. But until the 9th Kedah Maharaja Derbar Raja converted to Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah in the 10th century, the Bujang Valley in Kedah was a prominent Hindu-Buddhist kingdom. The Maharaja aiming to protect his nation from the onslaught of Portuguese and British attacks, converted to Islam so as to forge a friendship with the Sultan of Malay.

As an act of penitence before his conversion, the Maharaja had constructed a secret underground Buddhist temple south west of Pengkalan Bayang Merbok. The temple had a completely plebian façade and was uncovered during the earth-quake in the 14th century. Only a four foot plaster of Paris Buddha in an old dilapidated sanctum was found. It was in the 17th century that archeologists discovered that the plaster of Paris covered a solid gold four foot monolith of Buddha completely adorned with diamonds, rubies and sapphire. The Buddha was then moved to the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum where it is housed till today in the state-of-the-art security.

It was this Buddha that our client, a private collector, wanted and he was willing to pay any price to get it; by hook or by crook.

I spent days planning my course of action. Pierre wanted this assignment to be treated as my coming of age. He would not help me, though at times, I thought that he was cross-checking my arrangements without my knowledge. For days, I would visit the museum, disguised as a tourist and study the Buddha from about ten feet away. That was the nearest we were allowed to go near it and visitors were not allowed to linger around any exhibit for long. I finally planned my day. We would execute our mission on the 17th September in broad daylight in the presence of everybody around.

At 11A.M on the 17th September, an old hunchback tottered his way to the museum. He had difficulty walking and stumbled often. The guard at the entrance of the museum advised him not to visit, but the old man would not hear of it. He mumbled something about coming from very far to visit the museum. About ten minutes later, a six-foot tall American tourist also visited the same museum. He looked like a student who had worked his way all summer for this all-important trip to Malaysia. The old man was stumbling and coughing and the benevolent student offered to assist him to walk. The old man refused, but when he staggered for the third time, the student would not listen anymore. Together, they began to explore the artifacts, with the old man recounting stories about his younger days.

At 11:15 A.M the old man and the young American were standing in front of the statue of Buddha. Suddenly, there was a sound of a blast and smoke filled the room. Someone shouted “Fire” and guards started evacuating. The electric connection in the museum had faltered and the backup would take two minutes to restore. The student was trying to help the old man out, who was having trouble breathing in all that smoke. The guards removed everyone from the room and sent them to another part of the museum and came back for the old man. By then, he was coughing so much that the student requested them to let the old man out for some fresh air. The pair was let out and was never seen again.

It was discovered after two days while cleaning the museum that the statue of Buddha was sparkling unusually. On further investigation, it was found that the statue of Buddha was in plaster of Paris, cleverly covered by golden wrapping sheet. The original Buddha cost 6 million dollars. This fake probably cost 6 dollars.

Two days before this discovery a hunchbacked old man and a young American tourist were seen leaving the museum through an emergency exit. Nobody checked their belongings. As they left the premises, a black sedan drew up and they both got in. Inside, Pierre took off his cloak, stopped being a hunchback and revealed a four foot statue of Buddha between his knees. He looked at the American tourist and grinned, “Happy birthday Mike. You are a man now.”

To be continued.....

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Confessions of a dangerous mind - I

At age twenty-four years eleven months, I was languishing in an 8X11 foot cell in solitary confinement in an obscure prison in Central Siberia. The outside temperature was minus forty-five degrees and from my underground dungeon sunlight trickled in only for a few minutes a day. I had been here for two weeks perhaps. Snow covered the ground, for two feet and even from the windowless rabbit hole where I was kept, the chill and the dampness pricked my bones. I surveyed my room for the millionth time, trying to find a way to escape. It was a bare room with no furnishing; the only objects were a fur quilt, a sleeping bag and a pot at the end of the room. Nothing much that I could use. Twice I had escaped this place and this time round, they were not going to take any chances. The government wanted me for questioning and they wanted me alive. After all, I was just a minnow in the large smuggling syndicate that had managed to steal Van Gough paintings from the Pushkin Art Gallery in Moscow in the past. Two weeks ago, I had failed to get away with a Monet, and Interpol saw this as their big chance.

Leaning against the wall, I started to think. Memories flooded me. Those years of poverty, living as an orphan in a ghetto in Rio de Janeiro. How, at the age of fifteen, Pierre caught me trying to steal his wallet and instead of handing me to the police took me home, and how it changed my life forever. Pierre it is perhaps then; my story begins with Pierre’s wallet. Michael is my name and Pierre fondly called me Mike. Hunger had turned me into a pickpocket and I was the slickest hand in our ghetto. At the end of the day, when we counted our Reals, I always had the most. I had an undisputed talent for stealing anything, without anyone ever noticing. I quite liked this arrangement and thought life could not be any better than living on people’s money. Then one day, I tried to pick Pierre’s wallet. He had turned his head to his left and was looking his wristwatch, and I had almost succeeded in drawing the black faux leather Gucci wallet from the right side of his trousers. Then I crossed the road and was about to rush to hoard my earnings, when a hand gripped my shoulders. “Nice work kid! You have good technique!!!” said Pierre smiling. I was astounded. It was the first time, I was caught and I started wondering where I went wrong. “Where is your Daddy?” “I don’t have one,” I said. ‘And where is your Mommy?” “I don’t have a Mommy either”. “Then I am your Daddy from today,” said Pierre and that was the turning point of my life.

Back home, Pierre gave me food, clothes, a bed to sleep and a house to call my own. He lived all by himself in an opulent mansion in downtown Rio and when I peeped out of the window, I could see a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Ford Mustang in his large stable of cars. Of course, I learnt the names much later. Along with that, I also learnt how to dress well, speak language of the gentry, and most importantly, Pierre gave me my first important lessons on theft and deception. For Pierre was the leader of the largest smuggling syndicate of Rio and he had just adopted me as his protégée.

Three years later, at the age of eighteen, I had learnt five languages, could drive any car, could fire a .44 Magnum, .45 Long Colt, .38 Special and a Colt Single Action Army from point blank range and was a dashing, handsome six-foot tall boy quickly learning that he was irresistible to women. A charm, that would come much handy later. At eighteen Pierre decided that I was ready for my first kill. An antique statue of Buddha, in a museum in Malaysia, which our client wanted for his private collection. Sadly, the Buddha was not for sale, so I had to step in.

To be continued.....

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Top 10 reasons why there's gotta be something different about today.

  1. Woke up late as usual after banging the alarm atleast five times. Thought I'd miss the train, but voila!!!! today trains were as late as I was, which meant that we both arrived at the platform at the same time.
  2. Got a seat in the train without having to conduct the ritual morning quarrel with anyone. I even thought that the gruff old lady who usually snorts at me every morning, smiled for a change.
  3. No one pushed me or edged me as I walked amongst the crowds at the station. Seems everyone (read men) wanted to take a break from their diurnal activities.
  4. Radio Mirchi went blared all good things about women and surprisingly the men in our bus seemed to take an amused view of it. We women laughed our heads off.
  5. As I walked into office, I was greeted with a smile, a rose and a perfume. Now, why can't they do this on the days when I don't have time to take a bath!
  6. My colleagues who normally dread my appearance seemed to be pleased to see me today. I later found out that there was a code delivery and on account of it being 8th March, they thought I would not be coming!
  7. Something's been done about the full size mirror in the restroom. I thought I looked thinner.
  8. Got some super camouflage software installed on my PC. Checked mail, chatted, surfed the net, called up friends all morning, everyone thought I was working seriously
  9. Got some swell program in the afternoon, and you get chocolates just for attending it. Aaah beautiful life!
  10. Something was mixed in the food they served in the canteen today. Everyone has forgotten about the code delivery!!!! Wow

Something's in the air today. Aaaaaaaah!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Bill, Bush and the Bird Flu

I was on my way to office this morning, when I saw a poster that read “Enemy of Mankind – Bush go back!” I realized with a twinge of regret that the Mr. George Bush was visiting us, and we could not care any less about nuclear deals. Delhi has been gearing up for this day I suppose, but certainly, the excitement generated when Bill Clinton visited India a few years back, is clearly missing here. When Bill Clinton was here every detail of his stay was chronicled. His room in Maurya Sheraton was photographed to the last nail, the bottle of Evian spring water that he left unfinished was auctioned among the hotel staff, the overcoat with C inscribed on it, was on the fashion billboards for a good two weeks. Bukhara- the restaurant where the President had dinner overnight became the place to be seen it. The chef of Bukhara was photographed and featured on the cover of high brow political magazines and the menu was on the first page of every newspaper worth its salt. We were in college then (luckily I went to college in Delhi around the same time that Clinton decided to visit India) and even though our college was about five kilometers away from Rajghat, we lied to everybody, that we met Clinton. The following day, Times of India featured a half page picture of Bill dancing with folk dancers and Madhuri Dikshit was jealous.

In contrast Dubya is boring. Sometimes he does come up with “I Know the Human Being and Fish Can Coexist Peacefully” and “We're Going to Have the Best Educated American People in the World” but most of the time, he limits himself to saving Ground Zero from being bombed, killing civilians instead of militants in Iraq and searching for Osama Bin Laden in the caves of Afghanistan. Yes, Dubya is boring, but we can do better. So Delhi has prohibited the preparation of chicken in any restaurant in the Capital as a harassed chicken-loving colleague informed me, because Dubya is susceptible to avian influenza. The board exams are on, but Dubya must visit Raj Ghat at 9 in the morning and show the world what a traffic stopper he is. Delhites returning home from office must bear with Dubya again in the evening, when he visits Purana Quila at 6PM.

We were content with Bill in Maurya Sheraton. We felicitated him in Hyderabad House in Delhi. But Bush will go the distance. “It's No Exaggeration To Say That The Undecideds Could Go One Way Or Another.” We sent him to Andhra Pradesh for a trip to remember. Chandra Babu Naidu is not happy. Naidu hobnobbed with Bill Clinton as the Chief Minister, the last time around. But Bush is no Clinton and alas! Chadra Babu Naidu is Chief Minister no more.

TRP ratings taken a minute back show that people are more interested to know how Irfan Pathan lost his wicket than, whether the signing of the nuclear deal and opening our nuclear reactors will put Chhattisgarh in the seismic zone. As for Bush, Delhi will soon dig into Tandoori chicken, poultry will learn why human beings wear mufflers in winter and a waiter at Bukhara will arrested for stealing the silver fork that Bush used for dinner. Pakistan will crib because, they bombed an embassy, but Bush did not consider it promising enough to sign a deal and Laura Bush will go back and knit gloves for the little orphans she met yesterday.

Before you leave Mr. Bush, to use one of your quotes, “Let Me Put It to You Bluntly. In A Changing World, We Want More People To Have Control Over Your Own Life."