Orwell to the rescue

When life hurls sorrows and failures at me, I often turn to George Orwell to seek solace. In Orwell’s world, I find refuge from the torments of everyday life. He creates a marvelous world in his works – a world that offers me a consolation of sorts.

Orwell’s world – be it that of Winston in ‘1984’, or of Gordon Comstock in ‘Keep the Aspidistra flying’, or about himself in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ – carves out a recess lying in which I rest my troubled self, I pause and gaze through the window into a dark world of sorrow, fear, regret, and lamentation that his characters  thrive in. Orwell then appears at this window I am looking at; he offers me a hand and walks me through the sombre world he has created.

He shows me people who have greater worries, people who have not sufficient food to eat or clean water to drink; he shows me the dark alleys of unknown cities that are more unsafe than my own world; he shows me the possibility of existence of a world that is more unfair  than my own.

He offers me a sneak peek at masters who are more tyrant and more unjust then my own; he makes me realize the comfort of own home despite its inadequacies. He makes me thank my good fortune for having a bed that I can crawl onto and upon which I can snuggle under the warmth of my quilt, quite unlike his protagonists who often have to sleep on cold floors with filth around.

He makes me reflect. And then I stop lamenting my own self and my circumstances and feel glad about whatever little I possess in material wealth; he makes me feel less ashamed of myself at my reticence and occasional furtive behaviour.  He makes me feel triumphant even in solitary confinement which I often impose upon myself much to chagrin of my wife.

He makes me want to find him walking upon a street during my aimless wanderings on weekends.

Orwell offers me the assurance of a friend in his own self at times when I wish to divorce myself from social mingling; he assures me that there will always be a table for two – Orwell and I, and there will always be enough wine for two; and, after a hearty chat and enough wine is drunk, Orwell will  drop me back to the comfort of my bed that will keep me warm in the cold night.

My two other writer friends – Greene and Ruskin Bond have been great pals too. But only at times I have found myself happy. Orwell has been a friend in times of distress, always.

Christmas Encounter

I smell freedom. It’s in the air – Holidays, Christmas, and my birthday on Boxing day.

I vividly recollect my crying in anxiety and nervousness during my exams earlier this year. I had felt victimized by the length of time that separated me from the happier days of December and by the gauntlet of Semester exams I had to complete back then.

“I will be at Emmanuel’s, Mummy”, I shout as I leave the home. But then I realize, I am home alone for a couple of hours.

It’s chilly. -5 degree Celsius, reads the weather app on my mobile phone. I walk down the steps outside my block and, as I often like to do, I jump off the last but second step and to land on lawn path cutting across our driveway. It often left me satisfied to land my feet exactly on the two spots that bore my shoe-prints from my repeated jumps.

But today as I jump, I am thrown back after hitting myself against something that appeared to be a wall. The nose hurts. I try to feel my nose as it feels moist but there was no blood on my fingers. I could breathe, still, but the air smelled stale.

What was that? There is nothing ahead. It is as clear as daylight. I rise and move my jaw in circles to make myself feel better from the shock.

I stand on the last step and bend forward slightly and move my hands forward to feel the barrier, if there was any.

Yes, there is something. Feels like glass, but little squishy.

I press my hand into the barrier and it forms a depression and my hands enter in. I feel being pulled in. I try to withdraw myself by bending backwards but no sooner do I try to get myself out than I see a distorted image of a large hand from within the glass barrier clench me and my home.

I transcend down through a vortex into a time warp and I see familiar objects floating around – my home, the neighbourhood, parents, teacher, school, my bicycle….

And then, a familiar sight presents itself – Santa – but he is looking away from me. I see his big bulky back in Santa suit. I rejoice this special moment of being drawn into something so surreal. I inch closer towards him and cry out in excitement “Santa!” He turns back.

Terror stares at my face!

He has vampire fangs! Santa? I grasp for breath and feel my heart pounding hard against my chest. I feel every hair rising – Goosebumps of extreme fear.

Terrified, I yell out: “Wh..Who are you? Sa-Sa-Santa? Your face? And fangs?”

“I am not Santa. I am Krampus”, he replies in a loud, sinisterly voice.

“Cr-Cram-pus?Who?”

“I go around with Nick this time of the year.” the devilish figure replies.

“Who is Nick?” I ask, still terrified.

I watch the face has grown bigger in the moments we spoke, and the surroundings darker and with every passing moment. I now only see the face and its scary features with unavoidable clarity.

“Nick? Ah, Nicholas! You know him as Santa Claus. I call him Nick. He gifts and I punish – punish the badly behaved children like you, Johny. This is time to read out your wrongdoings and improprieties to you.” And he continues with a litany of misdeeds, all of them reportedly mine –

“Sticking chewing gum underneath school desks, copying in exams, missing school, forging father’s signature on absence notes and faking false doctor’s certificates, doing all your assignments and homework by halves, refusing to work harder to improve your grades…. the list is, well, rather, long and I have to punish you for these and time is not on my side this year. You see, I have a long list of homes to visit this year. There isn’t much goodness around and so Nick’s got lesser to do and I have more.” Saying this, he takes out a rusty chain and remarks, “This shall do for now to punish you with.”

“But hang on, Cr-Cram-pus. How do you claim these are my misdeeds? What assurance do you have? I plead innocent. I have been at my best behaviour this year and have been really working hard in everything at school. My parents have been quite happy with my performance and behaviour. So what makes you think it’s me?”, I surprise myself by gathering enough courage to interrogate.

I think to myself,”I may have rung my death knell by making that inquiry.” On the contrary, it turns out differently.

“Isn’t this 52 Naivakananumi, Herlstone Park, 2454?”, he asks with a confused countenance and with  a GPS like device in his hand!

“Oh! No, Saint Crampus!”, I exclaim in anticipation of hope to send him away and by exhibiting my good behaviour by addressing the dastardly creature as ‘Saint’.

I added,“This is 52 Vaikananumi, Herston Park, 2545. You’re at the wrong address. Miles away but so sound so similar. Not entirely your fault, Sainth Crampus!”

“Damn! I had told Nick, I mean Santa, that I can’t operate these modern day inventions!”, he complains showing me his GPS device. “Fat fingers you see! I apologise for bothering you. I will key in the right address into this box and continue on my way. I have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Will you put me back where I came from?” I ask, again in anticipation of being released.

“Of course!” he says and disappears.

I find myself on the last step outside my home, back into my real world. I hurriedly run back into my home. I pause, turn back and laugh out by staring at my address plate that is erect on our driveway at such an angle that I can read “52 Naivakananumi, Herlstone Park!” It’s the laugh of deception. I smell freedom again. It’s in the air!

 

 

 

 

 

Ministry of Absolute Truth

“Ministry of Information and Broadcast”, reads the signboard at the entrance to the building.

I notice there is no sentry and so I walk in with curiosity.

This is my fourth day as tourist Udnishtan, the nation that has known to be democracy’s envy, and it is very rare to find a government establishment without an array of security.

Unlike other government buildings which are usually multi-storied, this one has only one level and unguarded too!

I enter the main foyer. There is a reception desk but unmanned. I look behind, up and down to warn myself of any approaching danger. Not one person around to question what my business is. This is strange, very strange I think to myself.

I look around and find a door that has “RAVESHPA” written on it in blue – meaning Entrance. Audacious that I was after having come this far without challenge, I resolve to open the door and go beyond.

Two more doors inside. On one I see – “ATYSA” written in green. It means “Truth” and on the other, “ARSAVA ATYSA” – meaning “Absolute Truth”, in Orange.

This is becoming like a quest for the unknown I had watched in movies and read in teenage detective novels. Without inhibitions, I open the Orange door of Absolute Truth.

There is a TARDIS like chamber inside, and that is all there is. I enter in. It is pitch dark. I move my hands forward and try to feel the space if there is danger. I stumble upon a chair that seems to have been kept facing me, and I happen to fall in such a way as to land myself on it to take a seat. No sooner do I sit on it than an oculus rift descends down to my eye level. There appear to be some rapidly changing visual scenes. I wear it and I see these visuals:

21/12/15 -09 am. The Prime Minister of Udnishtan addressing public grievances on a recent scam around misappropriation of government’s coffers and promising strict action against those found to be guilty.

21/12/15 – 09:05 am. A juvenile convicted of brutally raping a 23 year old woman sentenced to life imprisonment and the public hailing honours on the country’s highest court for a ground breaking judgement that resonated with vox populi.

21/12/15 – 09.10am. The state minister of a state in Udnishtan visiting the deluge affected areas of his state after a recent cyclone that affected the costal belts of the state.

21/12/15 – 09.20am. The Udnishtan Army proudly claiming to counter insurgency by killing 5 terrorists hiding in an underground tunnel near the border; the video shows 5 slain and badly disfigured bodies laid in a row on the ground where the encounter happened.

I find it uninteresting to catch up any further on current affairs of the country I am touring. I detach the oculus rift.

I begin to summarize my experience as nothing more than a self-guided tour of current affairs of Udnishtan. I dismiss any further inclination to stay in there and emerge out of the room and start walking towards the entrance that led me into the chamber of absolute truth.

I turn around to close the door behind me and I read “ATYSA” – the green door. What is that for? How different can that be? Interest draws me towards it and I enter the chamber of Truth.

It’s the same inside – a TARDIS like chamber, pitch dark inside, a chair facing me, upon which I sit and an oculus rift drops to my head level which I wear and start seeing similar visual recordings as in the chamber of “Absolute truth” – almost a déjà vu?

The Prime Minister of Udnishtan addressing public grievances on a recent scam around ……….Except that video was dated early in January this year! The video ran its timestamp as 15/01/15 – 04:45am. The scam was only reported a month ago! Everything is scripted?staged?

A juvenile convicted of brutally raping a 23 year old woman sentenced to life imprisonment and the public hailing honours on the country’s highest court…….. Immediately after this, an internal courtroom video shows the Judge’s acceptance of bribery and a promise to the defendant’s party that the sentence will be no more than 3 years of incarceration. Lies and Betrayal at the supreme court of justice?

The state minister of a state in Udnishtan visiting the deluge affected areas of…..The camera zooms out and the minister steps out from a studio that imitated a flood affected section of the village the minister was shown to visit. False sympathy propaganda?

The Udnishtan Army proudly claiming to counter insurgency………..The video further shows the army chief distastefully expressing the inadequacies of his regiment,” The next time I want to show the media real terrorists not these unclaimed bodies from local hospitals. The public will believe we killed terrorists, but for once find ‘em real terroists and slain ‘em.”

The video blanks out. But it starts again, and this time it shows me. I am watching myself.

It shows me walking into the building, my looking up and down at the reception in a confused state of mind, my entering the chamber of absolute truth and watching the visuals, my exiting the chamber of absolute truth and then entering the chamber of truth. I see myself sit down.

I see someone standing right behind me with an axe in his hand.It was dark all the while and it still is. But there is someone with me in the chamber of truth.

I am scared for my life. I detach the oculus rift and dash out as quickly as I can. But I can’t open the door leading to the main foyer. Suddenly, the chamber of absolute truth behind me lights up and flashes images of an unidentified dead body found near the Ministry of Information and Broadcast.

The reporter states, “The victim appears to have been a tourist as his passport states, but no clues on what led to this death. Police suspects it could have been a stroke or a heart attack.”

The man with the axe emerges out from the Ministry of Truth and stares at me.

Ivory Gregory

Ivory Gregory! That’s what people called me. All but a few of the molars were false fits. At 55, which was when I got my twenty eight tooth replaced with ivory denture replica, I could have well been a small time poacher’s target. I took great pride in the pristine whiteness that flashed from my ivory dentures every time I smiled, although I smiled rarely.

I am 65 now and happy that I am alive now and not least bothered about my ivory dentures.

10 years ago…

The train jerked heavily and I became conscious of my existence. I struggled to open my eyes as I used to in mid-weeks during my working days in thirties. In the narrow slit of light my eyes received, I saw an old rusty train yard. Perhaps the jerk could have been from shunting. I found it difficult to move my limbs. I felt numb but was finally able to stir and sit upright. I finally opened my eyes and saw a man right in front of me. He pointed a gun at me, standing two feet away.

The pain in my mouth was excruciating. What was I doing there? How did I get there? The latest memory I had had was at Dr. Kevin’s dental engine and the smell of Fisherman’s Friend mint from his breath as he perched down upon me injecting me with the usual anaesthesia, except that that time the injection looked longer, bigger.

Why was I in the train? I moved my hand to relax my brow and felt my hand was heavy. A briefcase was handcuffed to my left hand. Why?

I struggled to speak from nervousness. The air was filled with the smell of rusty iron and sounds of iron works from the yard.

“Stay put and bring your hand to me. Don’t move!” The man with the gun spoke.

Wilted as I was, I chose to obey in the hope of help. He had a key and opened the handcuff. He took the briefcase and shook it as he held it close to his ears trying to feel the sound of contents inside. It sounded like it had only a few pebbles or stones. He opened it slightly and walked away.

“This better be a dream.” I spoke to myself, but it wasn’t. I helped myself, looked around to find no body. I alighted from the coach I was in. A few welders watched me in surprise. Was it my dishevelled condition or my swollen cheeks? I made it back home safely to get some rest, still puzzled over the strange incident. I went into my bathroom to gargle with Dentolisterine lotion to ease the pain from my dental operation. I opened my mouth. I saw something unusual. Awestruck, I did not want to close it again.

Today…..

Dr. Kevin is missing since that day. So are my ivory teeth. All replaced with resin. The ivories went to the man with the gun with the suitcase. Well, I indeed got targeted by an ivory poacher – Dr. Kevin, himself!

[submitted as a fictional short story]

Thanksgiving Burgers

For my first Thanksgiving as host, I bought the biggest turkey they had in the store and the hours that followed it made me feel nothing lesser than a surgeon – except that this surgeon knew no scalpel or incisions!

I am a vegetarian. And this is why how I came about taking it upon me to roast “Turkey”.

The day before Thanksgiving:
“…And this way we shall best learn best about each other’s culture and exhibit our culinary aptitude of which we have so boastful about”, concluded Yfrah, after a lengthy discussion about how we self-proclaimed that we were “chefs-without-a-title” and that we know much about food of the country we came from and were so eager to feed each other the dish we knew best to cook.

There were four of us – all from different countries, but none from America, working together for the past 6 months on a computer project at Montebello, LA. All four of us loved cooking.

We sat a cafe in downtown LA the evening before Thanksgiving and thought we will spend the Thanksgiving weekend with a pot-luck. When we listed all that each one would bring, there was nothing American about the feast. And that was when Yfrah convinced us to drop the idea of pot-luck and rather do something American for Thanksgiving.

“Why not take turns and have one of us cook for all, every weekend – a dish that he has never done before?” No one liked the sound of the sentence spoken by Yfrah.

“And what do we do for Thanksgiving? Turkey?”, asked Ronil sarcastically.

“Why not? Sudhir, you sounded most eager to cook something for us? Why don’t you roast a Turkey this weekend?”

“But I am vegetarian, I have never used a mutton mincing knife, leave alone cooking meat….”

“Turkey is a bird. It’s not meat. So you don’t worry go for it!”, Nikolo interrupted.

I stood no chance of exercising my choice or will. I agreed under duress.

As I took the train back home, I was reminded of a hilarious episode from Mr. Bean – of his disastrous attempt at cooking Turkey, which saw him emerge out of the oven with his head shoved right into the “body cavity” of the bird as the guests walked in.

I learned the recipe from the web and kept all ingredients ready that night.

Thanksgiving day:
The recipe made me embark on a process that I earlier had known to be “taxidermy”.

Unlike Indian cooking, which is complex and detailed in terms of preparation and cooking and involved a lot of chopping, slicing and accuracy in proportions, the roast Turkey appeared to a child’s play – Stuff, Tie the legs, Roast, Slice and Serve – except that this child had never handled flesh on the kitchen top.

As I put my hand into the cavity to stuff some white onions, garlic and herbs, I felt like an obstetrician delivering a baby except that I was trying to push in than pull out.

At last, I concluded that I had “stuffed it up” enough, and then brushed it with some lemon and butter and sprinkled a pinch of some “Garam” masala – (I had to introduce an Indian-ness lest it may be thought that it was too good and American to have been cooked by an Indian). And into the oven it went. I played with the control knobs and let it cook.

2 hours later:
“4 burgers and large cokes please”, I ordered at Burger King, next block from my home, while Ronil, Yfrah and Nikolo sat with their stomach muscles still aching from the laugher spree they just recovered from.

The burgers arrived and a Fire brigade went past us on the road. The Fire brigade was the uninvited fifth guest for a Turkey to which I had just given a conventional Hindu burial in my oven – by burning it to charred remains. The smoke had set the condominium fire alarm and alerted the Fire station.

I never admitted that I was terrible at using the oven. I have been the conventional bloke who’d cook on cooking-range that had no controls or knobs that told of time, temperature and any pre-sets.
The turkey vanished and took the onions, garlic and lemons with it. I didn’t see it again after it went into the TARDIS.

“Biryani on you Nikolo, next week. Want to see how an Italian does the Biryani!”, challenged I, as we started biting into our burgers.

“I can assure you that whatever I do, the rice grains won’t vanish like the Turkey did. Alas, I am not a magician as you’re Chef Sudhir!” and we laughed heartily.

“I was famished”, said Ronil. “Thats why we’re eating Hamburgers”, added Yfrah, ”eat before it disappears.”