Draft skeletons in my closet

6:30 pm

I’m sitting down to write something. And it’s gonna be the shit.

What to write about? Nonfiction—no that requires a lot of reading, too late to start now. How about a nice story? That’s right. When I get up, I’ll have a novel…that inspires tears…from Hemingway…in a fetal position cursing god for making me more talented. I need characters, plot arcs, story lines, a central theme…

You know that non-fiction idea is looking better and better—the heart wants what it wants.

7:00 pm

What do I begin with? Lesser men choose titles, rough measures of article size—but I’m not a wimp. First, the font. Because the only thing worse than getting kicked in the nuts is writing a treatise on macroeconomics that’s a Nobel shoo-in only to learn that Stockholm despises Helvetica. (Why do you think they bumped me for Krugman?) Too many choices, but I’ll know it when I see it.

7:15 pm

I keep going from Georgia to Courier New to those special typewriter fonts I downloaded from dafont.com and all the way back to Georgia. Times New Roman? What am I, an animal? But I admit that Times New Roman tempts me like Jon Hamm probably does to Ted Haggard. No, I need the right font. Courier New is the best—everything I write looks serious. Like a philosopher who’s finally decided to make metaphysics his bitch.

Or does it? What if I just look pretentious like those people who drink Chardonnay and say things like avant-garde and milieu?

7:45 pm

I imagine myself as a heroic Thomas Jefferson punching declarative statements on a typewriter before realizing that Jefferson died forty years before the typewriter was invented.

So everything he wrote was by hand. How did he get past the first sentence? How come no one crushed his spirit by saying, Your ‘s’ looks like an ‘o’? (Yes, I’m looking at you mom.)

8:00 pm

No, Courier New won’t cut it. Who am I kidding? I routinely end sentences with prepositions, and I recently declared my closet desire to shamelessly split infinitives, and I used ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’ in the previous sentence. I need a non-prescriptivist font, preferably one that doesn’t smell too Victorian. (Not that I know what Victorians smelled like, but I hear they showered sporadically.)

I can’t think straight until the words staring at me look alright. That’s how Christopher Hitchens did it right? May his soul rest in…wait, what?

8:15 pm

Maybe the font is fine, what about the screen brightness? I don’t want it too bright, do I? A soft light that prevents eye-strain without making me squint is what I need. But first, some music. Nothing but the soft gentle stirrings of Adele to boost creativity. Did I say Adele? I meant Metallica, with beer, and a shotgun.

9:15 pm

Alright, so that episode of Breaking Bad was awesome, but I really need to write now. Hell, no way I’d have been this inspired if I’d started typing away without … you know … inspiration. Hey, how about this for a story — a guy with a low-profile life in Smalltown, USA gets cancer and decides to cook meth…no wait…I’m getting close now, the idea is not far away. Come on…

9:30 pm

I can’t be creative on an empty stomach. I need some Chinese. All that stops me from being Tom Wolfe is sesame chicken with pork fried rice. Great, no cash, meaning I have to tell my credit card number to the post-doc at Hunan palace who likes to repeat every digit loudly, his accent disappearing with every number. But he forgets the chicken wings every time.

I guess I’ll resume after dinner.

11:00 pm

That’s it. I’m not getting up until I write something of value. I almost sympathize with people now—how empty and bourgeoisie their sundry lives will seem after reading my outpourings? But should I write now? My mind isn’t the sharpest after bingeing on Chinese. The people deserve better; I’ll start writing tomorrow early morning, fresh. By 8 am, I’ll be emailing the New York Times.

9:00 am

Is Courier New really the right way to go?

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What I saw at NECSS 2012

I was introduced to the skeptic community by Rationally Speaking, a podcast I found while wandering aimlessly on the iTunes Store. I also joined the New York City Skeptics Meetup group, which meets once a month to discuss issues related to science and skepticism. That’s where I learned about the North East Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS, pronounced nexus.) On April 21 and 22, four hundred eager skeptics were packed into the auditorium of the Florence Gould Hall in Midtown Manhattan. The speakers, a veritable who’s who of science and skeptical inquiry, blended passion and humor as they discussed among other things the wonders of science and logical skepticism.

Even though his presentation was titled Dance your Ph.D., John Bohannon talked about war statistics for almost half his time. His presentation was interesting and informative, but the title led me to believe that his entire presentation was about videos of people describing their research through dance, which, to be fair, the other half was. PZ Myers, on the other hand, shafted us on Sunday morning by calling his presentation Cephaloporn, and then telling us why he loves biology.

Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox, all of 25 years, explained how she snuck around to read books during her cloistered Hasidic upbringing, complete with religious-only education, arranged marriage at 17, becoming a mother soon after (seems redundant, Hasidic Jews are hardly known for family planning), and leaving the fold to pursue an independent but undoubtedly intimidating life as a single mother shunned by the people she once called her own. I couldn’t even imagine kids growing up in Brooklyn, NY bereft of English and an egalitarian education.

The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is responsible for some cognitive dissonance. It blows my mind but I always feel there are better uses for that money, and Seth Shostak didn’t affect that position. Ethan Brown, the 12-year old genius, squared and cubed and cube-rooted numbers on stage, proving once more that some minds are phenomenal. At one point, he asked for four random numbers, to form a four-digit number that he would square on the fly. The fourth number called out was a zero. He replied, with a puzzled-expression like, “Could someone be this dumb?” that this would be like squaring a 3-digit number and multiplying by 100. He walked out, just like he walked in, our jaws near the floor during the whole thing. James Randi, the amazing one himself, was on on next. He spoke from the heart, if that expression has ever been true it was that day, about the vitriol he has for psychics, homeopaths and faith-healers who swindle people with anything from pseudoscience to plain trickery. He was followed by the physicist Debbie Berebichez, who appealed to us to encourage more young girls into the hard sciences, or at least, to convince them that they aren’t misfits in calculus class. I agree, although I disagreed when she expressed her disappointment that working women (but not men) who are competent are often less-liked. I’m sure men feel something similar, but it is possible that they have fewer affiliation needs at work.

Florence Gould Hall (Courtesy: nytb.org)

The highlight of the evening was a fundraising reception. For skeptics with means, this was one of the ways to support NECSS. So yours truly decided politely to sit this one out (Why? Please google means and then graduate student). Then our host, Jamy Ian Swiss, called out a seat number randomly for a free pass to the fundraising reception at Connolly’s pub. So there I was, one out of four hundred, with a dose-dumping of a life’s worth of luck and a chance to rub elbows with the luminaries of the weekend. What I learned later was that I also got a tête à tête with James Randi – who’s very approachable  and down-to-earth, thank you for asking – over drinks and hors d’oeuvres. What do you know, being randomly selected has positive connotations too.

With Randi at Connolly’s (Fundraising reception)

At the reception, Jay Novella of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe invited me to watch as they recorded the show live (to be aired on May 6) at the Hilton hotel that night. Thanks Jay! The usual cast, with Seth Shostak and James Randi guest-starring, discussed a bunch of things, culminating in a powwow over whether sloths could swim. Apparently sloths climb down trees to crap at their base. I don’t remember much else, except my bladder being ready to burst.

“Seriously, I think we need to take a break before that guy in the corner wets the carpet.”

I took the elevator down 43 stories to pee when they took a 5-minute break. On my way back, guess what, the elevator needs a key-card to take you above the 39th floor, so I got some exercise. Well, the more you sweat, the less you want to pee. After the taping, which ended around midnight, I took an F train back to Queens and the real world.
Sunday morning, I was back at the venue at 10 am. After PZ Myers’ Cephaloporn, Joe Nickell, probably the only full-time investigator of strange occurrences told us about the case of the two Will Wests, the case that made fingerprinting official in the U.S. Robert Olsen is skeptical of how actually significant that case really is.
Then I watched a live recording of a special episode of Rationally Speaking in that they spoke about The Simulation Hypothesis and the problem of natural evil, but also that Massimo was out-worded by David Kyle Johnson.

Julia Galef, David Kyle Johnson and Massimo Pigliucci on The Simulation Hypothesis

George Hrab explained dealing with grief as an atheist. We non-believers vacillate between being tired and offended at being asked, “What do you think of when you’re sad?” or told that we will need god when we lose a loved one. Seriously, only a megalomaniac would foster complex relationships between people and then develop elaborate schemes to separate them, often with pain and suffering as by-products, just so they need his murderous shoulder to cry on. I don’t know how many logical fallacies believers help themselves to, but Hai-Ting Chinn mocked out a quite a few in her operatic solo and then a duet with George Hrab.

Probably the most awkward part of the conference was the pre-fist-fight between Massimo Pigliucci and J. Scott Armstrong on futurism and the ability of experts to predict outcomes better than laymen or a tossed coin. Good thing Michael Rogers was in the middle, really. Predicting the future does seem riddled with publication and confirmation biases, if you ask me. We remember successful predictions and successful predictors more often, and it’s possible by sheer probability that some people are right far more often than they are wrong. That doesn’t make them any better than the rest of us.

J. Scott Armstrong, Michael Rogers and Massimo Pigliucci on futurism

Brian Wecht came on next, and spoke about theoretical physics, bosons, fermions and particle accelerators to name a few topics. He ended his speech by calling string-theory haters d**ks, and I agree. There it was: a great conference, which brought together bright and insightful people to meditate, cogitate and debate questions of morality, spirituality and religion and to agree that people who hate string theory are d**ks.

“That’s all you’re taking from my presentation?”

Call me an atheist, a non-believer, a rationalist, a skeptic or really whatever but NECSS was the first place where I realized how not alone I am in this transgression. Attending a geek-fest is fun in itself, but the cherry on top was a shot at meeting some really impressive  people, and learning simply how much smarter than me they are. It is actually quite liberating. The weight on one’s shoulders gets considerably lighter knowing there are people far more significant. Skepticism, to me, has always been about not having an allegiance to anything except the truth. In so doing, skepticism sets the mind free, and I don’t ever want to be tethered again, no matter how comfortable, how reassured or secure it makes me, and those who disagree probably hate string theory.

What I saw at NECSS 2012

I was introduced to the skeptic community by Rationally Speaking, a podcast I found while wandering aimlessly on the iTunes Store. I also joined the New York City Skeptics Meetup group, which meets once a month to discuss issues related to science and skepticism. That’s where I learned about the North East Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS, pronounced nexus.) On April 21 and 22, four hundred eager skeptics were packed into the auditorium of the Florence Gould Hall in Midtown Manhattan. The speakers, a veritable who’s who of science and skeptical inquiry, blended passion and humor as they discussed among other things the wonders of science and logical skepticism.

Even though his presentation was titled Dance your Ph.D., John Bohannon talked about war statistics for almost half his time. His presentation was interesting and informative, but the title led me to believe that his entire presentation was about videos of people describing their research through dance, which, to be fair, the other half was. PZ Myers, on the other hand, shafted us on Sunday morning by calling his presentation Cephaloporn, and then telling us why he loves biology.

Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox, all of 25 years, explained how she had to sneak around to read books during her cloistered Hasidic upbringing, complete with private, religious-only education, arranged marriage at 17, becoming a mother soon after (seems redundant, Hasidic Jews are hardly known for family planning), and leaving the fold to pursue an independent but undoubtedly intimidating life as a single mother shunned by the people she once called her own. I couldn’t even imagine kids growing up in Brooklyn, NY bereft of English and an egalitarian education.

The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is responsible for some cognitive dissonance. It blows my mind but I always feel there are better uses for that money, and Seth Shostak didn’t affect that position. Ethan Brown, the 12-year old genius, squared and cubed and cube-rooted numbers on stage, proving once more that some minds are phenomenal. At one point, he asked for four random numbers, to form a four-digit number that he would square on the fly. The fourth number called out was a zero. He replied, with a puzzled-expression like, “Could someone be this dumb?” that this would be like squaring a 3-digit number and multiplying by 100. He walked out, just like he walked in, our jaws near the floor during the whole thing. James Randi, the amazing one himself, was on on next. He spoke from the heart, if that expression has ever been true it was that day, about the vitriol he has for psychics, homeopaths and faith-healers who swindle people with anything from pseudoscience to plain trickery. He was followed by the physicist Debbie Berebichez, who appealed to us to encourage more young girls into the hard sciences, or at least, to convince them that they aren’t misfits in calculus class. I agree, although I disagreed when she expressed her disappointment that working women (but not men) who are competent are often less-liked. I’m sure men feel something similar, but it is possible that they have fewer affiliation needs at work.

Florence Gould Hall (Courtesy: nytb.org)

The highlight of the evening was a fundraising reception. For skeptics with means, this was one of the ways to support NECSS. So yours truly decided politely to sit this one out (Why? Please google means and then graduate student). Then our host, Jamy Ian Swiss, called out a seat number randomly for a free pass to the fundraising reception at Connolly’s pub. So there I was, one out of four hundred, with a dose-dumping of a life’s worth of luck and a chance to rub elbows with the luminaries of the weekend. What I learned later was that I also got a tête à tête with James Randi – who’s very approachable  and down-to-earth, thank you for asking – over drinks and hors d’oeuvres. What do you know, being randomly selected has positive connotations too.

With Randi at Connolly’s (Fundraising reception)

At the reception, Jay Novella of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe invited me to watch as they recorded the show live (to be aired on May 6) at the Hilton hotel that night. Thanks Jay! The usual cast, with Seth Shostak and James Randi guest-starring, discussed a bunch of things, culminating in a powwow over whether sloths could swim. Apparently sloths climb down trees to crap at their base. I don’t remember much else, except my bladder being ready to burst.

“Seriously, I think we need to take a break before that guy in the corner wets the carpet.”

I took the elevator down 43 stories to pee when they took a 5-minute break. On my way back, guess what, the elevator needs a key-card to take you above the 39th floor, so I got some exercise. Well, the more you sweat, the less you want to pee. After the taping, which ended around midnight, I took an F train back to Queens and the real world.
Sunday morning, I was back at the venue at 10 am. After PZ Myers’ Cephaloporn, Joe Nickell, probably the only full-time investigator of strange occurrences told us about the case of the two Will Wests, the case that made fingerprinting official in the U.S. Robert Olsen is skeptical of how actually significant that case really is.
Then I watched a live recording of a special episode of Rationally Speaking in that they spoke about The Simulation Hypothesis and the problem of natural evil, but also that Massimo was out-worded by David Kyle Johnson.

Julia Galef, David Kyle Johnson and Massimo Pigliucci on The Simulation Hypothesis

George Hrab explained dealing with grief as an atheist. We non-believers vacillate between being tired and offended at being asked, “What do you think of when you’re sad?” or told that we will need god when we lose a loved one. Seriously, only a megalomaniac would foster complex relationships between people and then develop elaborate schemes to separate them, often with pain and suffering as by-products, just so they need his murderous shoulder to cry on. I don’t know how many logical fallacies believers help themselves to, but Hai-Ting Chinn mocked out a quite a few in her operatic solo and then a duet with George Hrab.

Probably the most awkward part of the conference was the pre-fist-fight between Massimo Pigliucci and J. Scott Armstrong on futurism and the ability of experts to predict outcomes better than laymen or a tossed coin. Good thing Michael Rogers was in the middle, really. Predicting the future does seem riddled with publication and confirmation biases, if you ask me. We remember successful predictions and successful predictors more often, and it’s possible by sheer probability that some people are right far more often than they are wrong. That doesn’t make them any better than the rest of us.

J. Scott Armstrong, Michael Rogers and Massimo Pigliucci on futurism

Brian Wecht came on next, and spoke about theoretical physics, bosons, fermions and particle accelerators to name a few topics. He ended his speech by calling string-theory haters d**ks, and I agree. There it was: a great conference, which brought together bright and insightful people to meditate, cogitate and debate questions of morality, spirituality and religion and to agree that people who hate string theory are d**ks.

“That’s all you’re taking from my presentation?”

Call me an atheist, a non-believer, a rationalist, a skeptic or really whatever but NECSS was the first place where I realized how not alone I am in this transgression. Attending a geek-fest is fun in itself, but the cherry on top was a shot at meeting some really impressive  people, and learning simply how much smarter than me they are. It is actually quite liberating. The weight on one’s shoulders gets considerably lighter knowing there are people far more significant. Skepticism, to me, has always been about not having an allegiance to anything except the truth. In so doing, skepticism sets the mind free, and I don’t ever want to be tethered again, no matter how comfortable, how reassured or secure it makes me, and those who disagree probably hate string theory.

Proportional responses

Whenever I write on a serious issue, I usually start by quoting an article written by a better writer and paraphrasing some of it before segueing into my own thoughts on the subject. What can I say, I’m a slave to routine: Here is the article by Kanchan Gupta on a topic that most people are passionate about, as it involves life and death. Our lives and the deaths of those who will not sit still until they decimate us.

Let me preface by saying that terrorism is never and can never be justifiable. Nothing, no kind of torture or enslavement, or infringement of any right whatever, gives one the right to kill innocent people. We have reached a point in evolution where we must be above killing someone’s loved ones to motivate or deter them. This, seems so obvious right?

What we face today is something no one has imagined before. Sure, the developed and developing world has faced threats to its life from various organizations before. The Nazis, the imperialist British juggernaut, and various separatist revolutions of individual nations come to mind. Many of such threats involved people who believed they were martyring themselves for a cause, for freedom, for independence or a life without persecution.

The extremist Muslim fundamentalist threat we face today is completely new. Before I go further, let me clarify some words and their meanings.

  • Fundamentalism refers to a belief in a strict adherence to specific set of theological doctrines typically in reaction against what are perceived as modern heresies of secularism
  • Extremism is a term used to describe the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards.

Both definitions are from Wikipedia, so you’re free to criticize their correctness, but I am including them here to indicate what I mean when I use these words.

Kanchan Gupta starts with exploring the meaning of targeted killing, and how legitimate they are. He swats like a fly the argument of apparent immorality of killing a terrorist by saying, “…since terrorism is neither morally right nor a legal expression of dissent…” Very well said. I would like to elaborate on this point more.

We cannot go eye for an eye against Islamic extremists. They believe they are in a cosmic war between good and evil, and their book tells them they’re on the good side. As Reza Aslan says (I don’t agree with him on most points, but I do on this one), “We cannot legitimize this viewpoint. We are not going to out-fanaticize these fanatics.”

That is what I say to all those who tell me that the correct response to Islamic terrorism is to go there and rampantly kill their civilians, show the wrath of the world, show what happens when the civilized world gets uncivilized. It won’t work. It might make us feel good, assuage our outrage when we see television footage of some Arab village getting blown up as our wounds of 9/11, 7/11, 26/11 are still raw. In reality, all it will do is motivate the ones remaining against us even further.

Let’s not forget that this is not a group willing to give its life for the betterment of the remaining members alone: it is a group that believes that they will be honored in the afterlife for every non-believer they kill. So, they aren’t just willing to die for their cause, they’re eager to.

We cannot use fear to motivate them; they have none. They want to die and take with them as many of us as possible. There is only one way to truly control this problem. Treat it as an infestation.

Taking a leaf out of Israel’s book

As and when terrorist groups are formed, we must find ways to kill their leaders. This will prevent them getting organized. Kanchan Gupta cites the example of the assassination of a Hamas leader in the end of his article. It is widely believed to be a Mossad operation (as intelligence agencies go, they are probably the best). The agents entered Dubai 24 hours before the leader reached there to make an arms deal. They checked into the room opposite his, choked him when they got the opportunity, and left the country that very afternoon. Amazing.

Remember Operation Wrath of God? A Palestinian terrorist outfit called Black September had killed 11 Israeli athletes after hijacking their plane. The Israeli Prime Minister had apparently said, “Send forth the boys.” A small group of agents were sent out to kill key leaders of the group. David Kimche, the former deputy head of Mossad said, “The aim was not so much revenge but mainly to make them [the militant Palestinians] frightened. We wanted to make them look over their shoulders and feel that we are upon them. And therefore we tried not to do things by just shooting a guy in the street – that’s easy … fairly.” The idea was to kill them in places where they felt most secure. What makes this approach brilliant is the clinical nature of it. There was a reason for every action. This wasn’t murder motivated by revenge or an animal desire for blood, but a surgical move based on cause and effect. They wanted to kill certain people, important people, the absence of whom would set a terrorist organization back and hence reduce the danger from them.

India Vs. The government of Pakistan

No one really doubts that our northwestern neighbor is sympathetic to the terrorists’ interests. The ISI has been linked to many groups responsible for acts of terrorism in India.

I titled this post based on an episode of The West Wing I had seen a long time ago. The newly elected Democrat president is required to authorize an American response to an act of Syrian terrorism. The president (in the show) is supposed to be a democrat and hence is afraid of being perceived as soft-on-terrorism, which is compounded by the fact that one of the American casualties was his own personal physician (who had a small baby at home). Martin Sheen, who plays the president, says, “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, gentlemen – you kill an American, any American, we don’t come back with a proportional response. We come back with total disaster!” Of course, in the show, he actually cools down and decides to adopt a proportional response, realizing that his earlier outrage was more personal than presidential.

We all go through that cycle. When the 26-11 happened, I wanted the Indian government to bomb Pakistan just like the US started bombing Afghanistan after 9-11. That was my belligerent knee-jerk response. After sobering up a little, and with more clear thinking, I realized that if we don’t maintain a clear distinction between us and those groups based on what we won’t stoop to no matter what, we will soon end up blurring the line between good and evil. Under no circumstances should we formulate a war plan that revolves around killing civilians. It is not worth it. It is a Pyrrhic victory at best and will germinate more terrorism at worst.

The youth

When Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University in 2007, the President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in his introduction, flamed the man so much that pundits predicted that it would end up endearing him to the youth of Iran. The young students and adults of Iran were impressionable, and introducing them to social liberalism would have been a much better idea, as it would have helped them distance themselves from the Islamic rule of the Shah and Ahmadinejad. Instead, the president of Columbia University, as well as a lot of the American people, insulted Ahmadinejad categorically and ended up insulting the pride of every Iranian. That is sooo not the way to approach this.

I bet the youth of these countries are interested in free speech, the right to do what one wants as long as he is not encroaching on others, the rights of women, the right not to be cruelly and unusually punished. We can engage them in friendly dialogue and develop lasting harmonious relationships with them. Of course, this is hard when you’re bombing their families to hell and back.

Conclusion

Islamic terrorism is unlike any enemy encountered before. They cannot be intimidated, or blackmailed. The only way to control them is to keep trimming their groups. The militant groups need to be spied upon more efficiently, and their leaders need to be neutralized as soon as possible. If they elect new leaders, they should be sanctioned promptly. As Dumbledore said to Harry about Voldemort in The Philosopher’s Stone, “[W]hile you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time – and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power.”

This only seems like a losing battle. If every member of society put his two cents each time, and keeps doing so, we might be able to get a world as peaceful as possible.

DISCLAIMERS:

  1. While I think this goes without saying, let me make extremely clear the pain I feel for most of the Muslims in this world, who, like the rest of us, want peace more than anything else, and are unnecessary maligned by the few who use this religion to do harm. I apologize to any and all such non-violent Muslims for any affront they might have felt while reading this post.
  2. I must also make it clear that while all the evidence I have seen leads me to believe that the establishment in Pakistan is sympathetic to terrorism, I don’t believe for one moment that the entire population of Pakistan supports it. I am sure most of Pakistan is like most of India: people who want to go to work, make their money, enjoy their life, and mean something to the people who mean something to them.

 

 

Eulogy – Part II

(This is the concluding part of a two-part series. Please read Eulogy – Part 1 before you read this.)

He yawned loudly. Somehow he always remembered to cover his mouth when he yawned. Even in private. She had reformed his bohemian ways a long time ago: her eyes large as saucers and an admonishment of ‘be polite’, with her hand gently covering his mouth. He wryly wondered how she expected him to improve such behavior while she doled out such delicious punishments. Nothing like that now. He was still drawing a blank. There was nothing he could think of that was profound enough to be said at a podium, but impersonal enough that it could be shared without causing any embarrassment.

His family had been extremely cooperative and understanding. His wife had stopped scowling at him, and had interrupted him only once to announce that the Fedex package he’d made her track would arrive only on Monday. Damn! The stuff that R had left for him would probably have steam-rollered through his writers’ block.

When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you, and all that I so wanna give you, is only a heartbeat away…

What a freakish Karan Joharesque coincidence that the radio would blare out this song while he was thinking about her! She had sung this song to him once in expression of her love. True romantic that he was he had pointed out how the tune of the song was exactly like tumse milke, aisa laga tumse milke…. Her reply, of course, was less than charitable.

“Idiot! That song is a copy of the English one.”

“Oh! I thought you had composed the lyrics of this one for me, and simply Anu Malik-ed the tune!”

Anyone else at any other time would have assumed that the song was merely being alluded to, but the sheer spontaneity of R coupled with her literary promise allowed no such conclusions. If anything, one was more inclined to believe that she had extemporaneously composed the whole thing.

Again, that moment was too trivial to be shared. Also, no one else would understand what he felt there. Without any warning, his writers’ block dissolved and thoughts words started flowing in his head. He started scribbling furiously like he did during history exams whenever he was afraid that the answer would simply evaporate from his head.

He read and re-read it to make sure it was just the way she would have wanted it, which was an irony in itself. From then on, it was like someone had pressed a fast-forward button; the next moment of coherence he experienced was at the podium, in front of her weeping family, the staid-expressioned extended family, and the various acquaintances to whom this was merely another social call. It was an out-of-body experience as though he could float over the happenings and actually observe the man in the blue suit giving a sweet eulogy.

“The fact that you’re all here in no way means that R meant equally to all of you. In fact, knowing R as I did, I’m sure some of you are here to make sure she’s really gone.” There were small knowing smiles among the family and friends, and looks of pure horror on the acquaintances’ faces.

“R and I were very intimate at one point of time and drifted apart rather cynically. We were never in touch and surprisingly her probate attorney contacted me with her wish that I give this eulogy. This surprised me in two ways. One: I did not think I meant so much to her after all this time, and two: she was an extremely private person who had opened up to me very slowly. The thought that she would want a speech inspired by one of her most intimate life-periods to be made in front of (quite frankly) pure strangers would have been ludicrous to me fifteen years ago. I suppose she changed a lot in these years, but then, you know her more than I do now. What I do know, is what she was then. I would like to talk about something from that space-time.”

Her eleven-year old or so daughter was staring at him at this point with those very eyes…

“Of all the moments we shared, and we shared some great ones as friends and many more as a couple, the unlikeliest choice for this occasion would be the time we parted ways. For some reason, as I thought about what epitomized her personality; this somehow allows me to convey the most while saying the least.

It was a warm night in Manhattan. (Those things come once in a while!) I remember her eyes burning a hole in mine. She had the ability to appear ice-cold while seething and fuming inside. She said, ‘I love you and a part of me always will. This is just not working out. No matter how much we are attracted to each other, and how much we miss each other when away, we can’t seem to allow the other to breathe freely when together. I am unhappy in a quiet desperate way without you, and I am kicking and screaming while crying myself to sleep when I’m with you. There just seems to be no solution here. I love you a lot and want more than anything else for you to be happy. Neither one of us is happy when we’re together, and no matter how much we pretend otherwise, we both know that our relationship is volcanic and tempestuous, sans stability. Now that we’re parting ways, I am going to feel like I made a ridiculous mistake, and that being without you is like slowly choking to death, but this is a feeling I can overcome, and I will move on. I am sure it will be even easier for you.’

She said that and walked away slowly. I knew she would not turn back to look at me even once. The amazing part of this woman was not that her resolve never weakened. It was that she anticipated those moments and took precautionary measures. I just kept watching her leave until she became a humanoid speck on the horizon and then nothingness. Her last words lingered like an eerie echo. ‘…I will move on. It will be even easier for you.’

Friends and well-wishers, as we say goodbye to a truly exceptional human being, all I can say is, ‘She was wrong.’

He climbed down the podium tearfully and walked straight into his wife’s embrace. It was a beautifully conducted funeral.

The next day Fedex brought over the package that should have arrived on Saturday. It contained an old love letter he had given her, and a neatly printed-out letter he had never seen before. Written above the heading, in that scrawl he had loved so much were the words, ‘This is the eulogy I want you to give. It is nice enough, and has nothing personal. I have loved you all these years.’

He laughed through his tears at the control-freak he now missed so much.

THE END

PS: Snafu celebrates its 100th post! I hope to keep writing, and writing more frequently. A warm thanks to all readers.

Eulogy – Part 1

“Sit up straight.” he still heard her voice in his head. R had had a booming voice—feminine, but strong. He chuckled at how she would have responded to this description. Come on, he scolded himself, you’re a writer; this should come naturally to you.

He had fought with his wife early that morning. Twelve years into a marriage, fights and quarrels were commonplace, but this one was weird off the bat. Unlike other fights, in this one, he knew she was right even though he kept fighting with her. The reason was obvious when you thought about it. Everything started the previous evening, around 6 pm.

He winced as soon as he heard someone knock on his door. He had warned his secretary, “No calls!” Well, if she had still let someone through, it had to be important. Damn it! He didn’t want anything important to disturb his Friday evening reverie. “Come in”, he said, hoping his unwelcoming tone would make things obvious to the intruder.

A wiry, bespectacled man entered wearing a hand tailored suit. It was exquisite. The man kept it short. He was a probate lawyer for R. Probate and R in the same sentence could mean only one thing. How did it happen, he asked. Automobile incident was the lawyerly reply. Why could these legal bozos never say simple words like road accident? So, why was this attorney here? Well, R had left him some special things and a dying request. “What things, and what request?” he asked and immediately regretted the order of his questions.

The lawyer responded that the items were in a box which would be Fedexed to him the next day. She requested that he give her eulogy. This Sunday? Yes. In two days. Shouldn’t be too hard for a writer. The lawyer left with as much discreetness as he had entered.

The sun came blazing through the open window and drenched his table in golden luminescence. He was doing that circling thing with his pen again. An observant friend in school had pointed out that he moved his pen in circles only when pondering something about rotation or uniform circular motion.

He strained his eyes to concentrate. He was sitting with a pen and paper for an hour now, with no words yet. The only words he had come up with were, “words cannot describe the impression she made on my life.” She was an ex, but more than that. He had been in three relationships before his marriage, each one with their own versions of pain. This one was strange. There was a didactic tone to this one. She taught him: something the others had not done. This was without doubt the most educational relationship he had been in. He could not say that: how was anyone to understand what that even meant? He could not even explain to his wife the importance that another woman held in his life. Understandably, she had pouted for about two hours before ‘allowing’ him to give the eulogy.

He remembered that evening in Manhattan. He hated walking in TriBeCa but she dragged him as always.  She had a keen eye, and spotted what looked like a presidential dollar coin on the sidewalk. As she tried to pick it up, there was a scream of April fool! as she realized that the coin was stuck to the ground. He laughed spontaneously and she did too, but as the joke grew on her, a tear started to roll down her eye. He realized that a reprimand was coming. She was the one person he knew who could combine maturity and  petulance into one mood. As he pacified her, he realized that this high-maintenance female was exactly what he wanted and she made him happy. He couldn’t write about this either. Too trivial an incident and no way someone else would see the meaning in it.

What to do then? He sipped his coffee and closed his eyes. Maybe a nap would do him good. The evening might be better. After all most of his best works were a product of a tearing hurry caused by an impending deadline, and the more desperation the better.

Eulogy Part 2

Celebrations

Sameer looked around and smiled. It was a good turnout. This was one of the moments when one took stock of the people one has accumulated and treats it as a personal accomplishment. He looked at Ravi. Yes, Ravi’s arrival was a surprise. Ravi was always his arch rival and his perhaps most accomplished critic. There was great mutual respect between them, but Sameer could not help feeling that there was something personal in Ravi’s disagreements with his ideas. His calm demeanor somehow almost but only almost concealed some dislike which was far beyond reasonable discussion or explanation. Yet, Ravi was here and that had to count for something. His eye rolled towards Rita, who was beside Ravi. Figuratively speaking, she would never be an inch away from him in opinion, so much so, that Sameer often had a hard time comprehending who was doing the actual thinking. Today, literally their flesh touched as she stood beside Ravi, almost sycophantic in her constant approval of his every move. Well, there was no surprise there. Her presence and her behavior were totally predictable.
Sameer forced himself to look further and not obsess over them. This was after all, his special day. He could see Rekha almost clearly, there was a haze in his vision now. Distance did that to him. Myopia, the doctor called it; but Sameer knew this was merely his body telling him to focus on things, ideas and people close to him and avoid thinking of others, no matter how tempting they were. Rekha sure was tempting, in her off-shoulder gown. She always had such amazingly sharp features. Her eyes, blue and piercing, her hair well managed and peaceful were quite an indication of her personality. Somehow, in the haze, he could picture her clearer than he could have seen her. Her dress, sown to perfection, was showing the right amount of cleavage, sensuous without cheapness. Her legs were shown off in an inviting way which simply was not tawdry. There were few women who could manage that look. He knew his wife was not one of them. Yet, Sameer was glad that Rekha was there that day. Life is the most inexplicable thing, he thought. There were so many moments when Sameer knew his life made absolutely no sense at all, yet there were few moments when he could not have called himself happy. A few different turns in the road and who knows, Rekha may have been his wife today. Sameer could not help think that. Who knows, maybe Rekha was thinking the same. Maybe the fervency with which she kissed her husband Raj was just as hollow as the way Sameer touched his wife, Tina.
He looked at Tina. Well, he had to admit, she was in a sense prettier than any woman he knew. She did not have the oomph of Rekha but was the perfect trophy wife he had always wanted and he got her. To be completely honest, she cooked and cared for him, bore him beautiful healthy children and maintained an air of dignity that came with her upbringing and her education. All in all, he had to conclude that his marriage, although perhaps without passion, was definitely not loveless and was more satisfactory than most marriages he knew of. Samu, she called him affectionately. Somehow, the word which made him feel childish was giving the aura of closeness that he had never thought he would have. Today was clearly a special day. Every little thing he could observe gave him that very indication. She was a faithful, dutiful wife and he had to be thankful, especially today.

There was something in the air that night. He was generally a prosaic person not given to romantic excursions of the mind, but that night, he let his mind wander. Sometimes, our minds have minds of their own. He was still enjoying drifting aimlessly in thought, something people would never recommend to a person of his occupation, but he found rather engaging and rewarding. Yes, over these years he learned a lot of things and one of the them was that the more you rely on what people say, the more you befuddle yourself.

He stared at the high ceiling and the decorations on it. They were emblematic of his rise to fame, power and respect. His was not the kind of power that manipulated the stock market or forced favors from government servants, but was that of convincing people once he set out to convince them. He could not get a special table for himself at a restaurant but well…that was not what he valued in life anyway.

He always knew, from a very young age that he was different. He was never naive, never passe, always a step ahead. If he asked a question he knew whether the answer would be the truth or not. He could read people. Always. Somehow he could bore deep into them and find out their true thoughts. While he may have seemed hypnotically gifted in doing so, it was merely perceptiveness and very fast deduction. He was destined for greatness. This was not his belief but firm knowledge. It never betrayed him.

As he looked around his eyes searched desperately for his sons. He valued them the most and made that clear to anyone who knew him. He shamelessly professed that the only real wealth in the world was a child. He always knew he would be a model father. Someone who his children would look up to and emulate. This was one of the very few times he had been disastrously wrong. His overbearing and controlling nature had upset them at first, and then slowly driven them away. They were now busy with their own education and away from him. They rarely visited. Still, he expected them to be with him on this day.
He fantasized of a life with a perfect A grade on his parenting report card. That would be the highlight of his life. He would never achieve it now. This thought was so overwhelming and consuming that he almost did not hear his name being called out. Almost.

He looked up at the announcer, her Swedish accent unmistakable, smiled and walked up to the dais. He stood facing the thousand strong crowd that was present. He cleared his throat and said,”Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for being with me on such a special day. It is not everyday that one wins the Nobel Prize and this day would have been nothing if you had not been there to celebrate with me.”


I need some time

I need some time,

That is all I ask for

Some time to breathe

Some time to relax

Some time without competition

Some time without interaction

Some time without embarrassment

Some time to fold

I need to enter my shell

For some part of my life

I need not to be bothered

I need not to be tethered

Some time without judgment

Some time without relent

To life’s continuous annoyances

Some time to contemplate

I don’t want to achieve

The way you think I should

This is my life, my only life

I want to live it my style

Can’t life stop for a second?

Let me take stock of things

I am slower than others, but do I

Deserve to be rushed?

I don’t want to co-operate

I don’t want to co-exist

I want no comparison

No relative grading in life

Who sets these standards?

Why is good good and bad bad?

Nothing is predictable in life

So why should we be?

Freeze this world for a second

Put a stopper in jobs and tasks

So I may exhale

That is all I ask