Monday, January 15, 2018

Writer's block

I kept hearing of this thing called 'Writer's block', which keeps writers from writing, and wondered exactly what it could be. Possibly laziness, possibly boredom and given a nice fancy name so they could feel important about it, I supposed.

I mean, come on, ever heard of an 'Accountant's Block'? Where the figures suddenly danced in front of your eyes and you started wondering about exactly what addition meant and how to do it? Or, perhaps, a 'Plumber's Block'? Now, now, I did not mean blocked plumbing. That can happen all too often and pretty messy it can get, too, when it does happen.

And then I started writing...and now I find myself with this strange beast and understand its nature. The problem is not in being able to write but in a selection of what to write. The Accountant gets his figures and knows what the report he is expected to produce. If he forgets how to get from Point A to Point B, it is a temporary or permanent memory loss or dementia, not a block. Ditto the plumber. The writer, though, has to select point A and point B himself and also decide whether he travels in a straight line or meanders all over the place as he gets there. So, yes, a 'blocked writer' can still write a spanking good piece as a content writer - where point A, point B and the route are all laid out. But when he gets to try original writing, he thinks up a subject, and the thoughts fritter away, jumps to another and find ideas vanishing like the mist...

In my case, I rather think it is more to do with what I could call 'existential angst' if I were to be writing literary fiction. I could say I am in a crisis of  the soul - 'What is the purpose of writing?'; 'What does a blog post (or book or poem) mean in the larger scheme of things?' and so on. But, being who I am, it is more of 'What is the purpose of MY writing? Is anyone reading it at all?' I never really have known whether it is that I am being too honest for my own good and could have acquired a lot more 'literary credit' if I dressed up my feelings in the appropriate language or...

The problem, you see, is in the nature of what I write - Humor. Now humor is something people get forwarded on WhatsApp. The idea of actually BUYING a book of humor, or even reading it for free on Kindle Unlimited, must appear riotously...err...humorous to them, I suppose. (THAT pic at the side with a dog and cat? Yes, that one! THAT was a humor book I wrote before I realized this) You know, somewhat like someone expecting you to pay for a couple of breaths (although THAT I am assured is in the offing...and even in practice in some country or the other.) Forget BUYING, the idea of even having to read more than 140 characters for humor...or, God Forbid, open a link...

Anyway, you get the picture. Me, I am like a plant...I need praise like that thing needs water. Otherwise I droop, pine and generally give up the ghost. (Ah! No! I like life very much, thank you. If no-one reads my writing, I am not going to slash my wrists or any such thing. There is always vodka, music, movies and reading, instead of writing) And when I, as I am drooping, think of writing my next blog post or book, and consider what to write about...

Maybe I should try writing Romance? But, then, a bachelor writing Romance...I never even had a girlfriend. If I had had one, I'd not be alive today to wonder about what to write, she would have shot me long ago. As for a love affair with my mirror...I hate the damn thing, it never shows me looking as handsome as I know I look.

Perhaps mythology? After all, I know how Maricha is the uncle of Ravan. He was the son of Thataka, who was the mother also of Kekasi, the father being Somali, and Kekasi, if you did not know, was the mother of Ravan. Why would anyone be interested when they do not even care to know their grandfather's name? What do I know...I know they are...I know these things but I do not know that I'd be jumping with joy if someone told me anything of this sort today.

So, yes, maybe I should write myth. And, apparently, one should write from a fresh point of view. Ramayan is a bit too dicey what with Ram being deified and people all too willing to burn you at the stake if you set a foot wrong.

So, yeah, the Mahabharat it has to be. Remember that chap Sanjaya? Yeah, the same guy who watched the live telecast of the Kurukshetra war (YES! We got there eons before CNN) and relayed it to the blind Dhritarashtra. I think I should write the Mahabharat from the point of view of Sanjaya's wife's uncle's pet dog.

Any takers for an epic that goes like this?


Monday, January 8, 2018

Another Humorist

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There is this problem with being a humorist. You keep guessing the punchline, expecting kinky ways of describing things and so on, to the extent that when someone says that there is another guy who writes humor, you are almost like, 'Oh! Yeah! Let me see." Not because of any competitive envy but because when you can guess the punchlines, the read is less funny...and, so, it takes a lot more to impress a humorist with humor. At least, that's the way it works with me...I mean, there are those people who start laughing all the more when they guess the punchline, and from the moment they guess it, and there are those who feel bored when that happens. I belong to the latter lot. (Yeah! True! You will find humorists laugh when no-one else does as well but THAT is because of the ability to SEE that joke...)

So, then I get into blogging and there is this guy, calling himself 'The Fool', who is also supposed to write humor. Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, writing in all know parenting, travel etc etc...but almost everyone claims to write 'Humor', except only those who feel it is a shame to be writing any such frivolous thing. So, this 'supposed to be write humor' always has me approaching the blog with a metaphorical sneer.

Surprise! Here was one guy who actually DID write humor, when he wrote humor; a unique brand of humor - astringent, cynical, tangy - and capable of making you chuckle or even laugh out aloud. Withal, there was this refreshing feeling of an underlying honesty...the strong conviction that the author speaks from the heart.

Take this for example

"Parent Bloggers of the World, Spam me with your blog-links; A new customer is born today"

THIS was his way of announcing on Facebook that his son was born!

I get ahead of my story as usual. When I went into his blog and read this Great Indian Bride HuntI was hooked. You know all that I said above...that honesty, that cynical humor etc...that was what I found there.

We became online friends and went on to conducting a 'Writing Workshop' - a typical case of the blind leading the blind. We, indeed, SAW it that way...that we were there as much to learn as the others...but the fact of running it made it seem to the others that we had it in us to teach...anyway, as in most social media ventures, where the admins are not active on it, the workshop sort of petered out.

Not without causing one output, though. This chap, I and Radha collaborated on and put out an anthology of three crime stories - Sirens Spell Danger. In the process of putting together that one was my next major revelation about my new friend.

One of the things about writing is the process of beta-reading. So, you write something; you know it is absolute deathless prose and so you send it to people for what is called a 'beta-read', where they can tell you if there are areas of improvement; of course, you say that you expect honest criticism because you know your writing is near-flawless and, so, if it is honest, it can only be praise and, if anything, there will be a typo or two; and the damn beta-readers come out with pages of criticism whereupon you make wax figures of them, stick red-hot pins into them and dredge out all the curses that humanity ever invented; and, then, reluctantly change the MS and toss it back at the betas with the implicit 'You better like it or you will not survive the experience'.

I am sure that my friend was not really immune to indulging in waxworks and pins...the point is that he wrote and rewrote four times to get out the final story in that anthology. That capacity in him to junk almost the entire story or huge sections of it, if someone whose advice he respects tells him that it does not work...well, all I can say is that, in most authors' cases, what would be junked is that person and not the writing!

So, it is about time to introduce TF Carthick's first solo book - 'Unfairy Tales' - about which all I have to say is said there

Carthick has the unique talent to look upon the familiar from a strange vantage point and make it appear funny and wonderful. Here he applies it to well-known fairy tales to make them seem hilarious and fascinating. Be warned! If reading this book permanently skews the way you see the world, I am not to be held responsible.




Monday, December 11, 2017


I thought technology would make life easy for me. "Aha! That's what YOU think", they say, and get to work to ensure that life becomes even more complicated.

Take this recent rush of Aadhaar seeding for all investments. (Ah! No! No! 'Bhakts' need not foam at the mouth nor 'sickulars' drool, this has nothing to do with Modi.) I sort of thought that, what with technology and all, linking PAN card with Aadhaar would suffice to ensure that Aadhaar would be linked to all investments because a PAN card has sort of been mandatory for making those investments all along.

No, not so! Well, Government works in mysterious ways and one of those mysterious ways is a penchant for making people enter the same thing in two different places so that they can tick them as being the same. They would feel sort of lost without having to do that ticking - that special sort of reverse tick that seems to have been most of their training on the job!

So, Ok, here I go linking the Aadhaar (seeding Aadhaar they call it. I wonder what sort of tree it will grow into) all over the damn place. Having a memory like a sieve and the organizational ability of a particularly confused moron, I have no track of what I have 'seeded' Aadhaar in and what I have not. Matters are not helped by the fact that most of them reply that it is under process but almost none bother to email if it has been done successfully.

And then comes December, the 31st of which is the last date. I keep receiving emails to link Aadhaar now from almost everyone. I do not know which I have done it for, which I have not and, obviously, I am also worried about which has 'failed' the process. But I am damn sure that SOME of these I HAVE done it for, and successfully. Even with my limited exposure to databases, I know it is a fairly simple process to cull out only those who have NOT seeded Aadhaar and send mails only to them but THAT apparently is not the way they work. Never mind that the 'culling' program would anyway need to be written so that differential treatment may be given to those who have not seeded Aadhar by end-December and never mind that it would make things so much easier on the nerves of the customers that they so ardently seek to serve.

Well - I click on the links, expecting that the form, at least, would show whether Aadhaar has already been seeded or not. No way - there is an unhelpful 'Edit' option to enter/change Aadhaar. Now what? Has Aadhaar been seeded, have I not ever tried to seed Aadhaar for this investment, or has the seeding process failed? No idea. To be on the safe side, I do the process again and NOW the form does not accept the OTP sent by them. Over and over and over! Shit!

There matters lie, with me wondering whether it did not so accept because Aadhaar had already been verified or whether there is some breakdown in the system. Whether this is an investment where I had already seeded Aadhaar and, now, by this process had ended up 'unseeding' it or...

I am a total nervous wreck and all thanks to technology.

Why blame technology, you ask? If only it had been the snail-mail era, without the benefit of all these digital monsters, the same process would have been done manually. Someone would have to type in the letters to 'seed' Aadhaar, someone would have to frank them all - costing them postage - and someone would have to dispatch them. So, they would have found it less work, and less cost, to even laboriously cull only those, who had not seeded Aadhaar already, from their manual registers and send letters only to them. I mean, if YOU had to dispatch only 500 letters instead of 2000, you would have been all for that option.

NOW? It costs you nothing to email, you need to type the letter in only once so why bother to even write a mini-program today (even if you HAVE to do it tomorrow) to cull out that 500 from the 2000?

Nothing - NOTHING - is going to make life easy. Especially not technology! WE will always find a way to ensure stress, all in the name of customer service.

P.S: What?? Extended to March 31? Another 3 months of this customer service? Ye Gods!

Monday, December 4, 2017

A trek to Kudremukh

 When you board a train for a trek and, within minutes find someone else claiming, "25 is MY berth" only to later find that his berth is 26, it can be smiled away. Half an hour later if another person comes and says indignantly, "25 is MY berth" and later discovers that he has 27, you may laugh it off as a funny coincidence. YOU may, I cannot. For, after all, when you have the reputation of a disaster magnet - natural or man-made disasters, as witness my presence when Leh got cut off, Uttaranchal faced cloud-bursts and Burhan Wani's killing set Kashmir afire - even when the start of the trek was not ominous, you start shivering in your trekking boots when a trek starts off like that.

When you land in Mangalore five minutes before time and anticipate a longish wait for the other guys to reach by their train only to find that THAT train arrives more than half-an-hour early, you may feel that luck is running your way. YOU may...ME, I start worrying about all that remains of my good fortune running out in this manner.

The journey to the home-stay was fun, though. My stomach behaved itself though I, as usual, kept singing all the way to ensure that the only thing that came out of my mouth was words. AND, wonder of wonders, there were even people in the van who actually found the singing good and, a miracle this, even said so!

Did I forget to mention, though? Chandru, who has made a habit of dropping off from the trek at the last moment these past few times by the painful manner of breaking a bone or so, did it in a less painful manner this time - he just missed the train! Vinod and his second daughter Deeksha had boarded the train but Varsha and her husband also managed the same feat as Chandru. Though, knowing Vinod, they SHOULD have caught the damned train instead...for missing the train only let them in for an all night bus journey and, of course, listening endlessly from Vinod (he was still at it when we parted ways after the trek!) about how they ought to have left in time to board the train!

The group I trekked with this time was the Trichy Trekkers - an offspring of the trek group with which I initially trekked in the Himalayas. Barring Ramesh Kamak and Ram Prabhu, the entire group was new to me - except, of course, Vinod and family. And what a wonderful group they were (NO! It is not only because they professed to like my singing!) The group was actually composed of people from Madurai, Coimbatore, Chennai AND Trichy, of course. The common factor seemed to be a couple of things - you could call for Gopal and have half the group turning to you or call out Doctor and find the other half paying attention - or so it seemed to me. Made it difficult to remember names, let me tell you, so I remember Sundars, Aravinds and Karthiks!

We arrived at the Home Stay by noon. The distaff side and a few of the males were put up in one home and the rest of us in the other. A light lunch and we were off to the nearby waterfall. Anyone who has so far been through my trek chronicles knows full well that a buffalo has nothing on me when it comes to wallowing in water. There would be no real point in belaboring the joy of getting into water that pummels you like a seasoned masseur, so let us give that the go-by. (AND thank your lucky stars that nobody sent me a pic of MY wallowing in the water else I'd have inflicted THAT on you instead of this one. If you are really masochist enough to want that, you will find enough evidence elsewhere in this blog, though not in Kudremukh, of course).

Back to the Home stay and I found that there are perils of being seen as the only one knowing Kannada. Apparently we had quite a few trekkers who were interested in decimating the population of chickens in the area whereas the initial organization was only for veg meals. So, the Brahmin (who must confess that chickens are not entirely free of HIS attentions either) had to set about organizing the slaughter.

There was a bonfire in the evening, more specifically to celebrate the wedding anniversary of a co-trekking couple after which...yeah, how did you ever guess, I was also asked to contribute to the festivities with my singing. A strange experience for me to meet with a group, near fifty strong, which manfully and womanfully restrained itself from hooting and catcalls while I wrung every single verse out of every single song that I 'sang' till it started bewailing ever having come into existence. I may have held them for hours more but for Vinod artfully asking me to sing 'Mere naina sawan bhadon'. Just as I had all my tonsils on view rendering 'Phir bhi mera man pyasaaaaaaa', the wind gently blew a lungful of smoke from the bonfire down my fully opened throat, ending that rendition with a 'Pyasa..huh..huh..huh'. THAT, thankfully, was THAT for the others who gratefully took to their heels before I recovered.

The next day we started on the trek. About 10 Kms of ascent and then the same 10 Kms to be retraced back to the Home stay. Sharan, the local trek organizer and guide, said,"Initially, we will be walking on flat terrain for some 4 Kms after which there will be a bit of an ascent. Then, after a while, there will be a zigzag path upwards. After that, it is again flat till nearly the end of the trek, where we will have a bit of a climb to the summit." AND, promptly, we start huffing and puffing up a 30 degree incline.

I really think someone has to take these trek guides in hand and teach them some common English. They have some weird ideas, really, of what constitutes a flat terrain. I mean, really, I know flat on the mountains is not exactly a road in Delhi but 30 degrees? They really publish a different dictionary for these guys - all of them use words in the same manner - as also witness their idea of what a half-an-hour walk is when you ask them how long it will take to reach the end of the trek!

After a longish bit of huffing and puffing the path actually eased out to what you and I could think of as flat - especially if you have just been crawling up an incline like that. I sped past people rushing onward, leaving behind awed comments about my trekking prowess. Well, whatever else being a 'veteran trekker' had taught me, the one thing it HAD taught me is to make speed where I can so that, when I am up an incline, with snails passing me contemptuously, I do not still have to spend too long in the sun.

I love streams en route a trek. There is something about a gurgling stream crossing your path under a canopy of trees, starting from some mysterious place above and heading to some mysterious destination below, always flowing, always there, that speaks to me. It speaks to me especially eloquently when I am steaming with heat and perspiration, for then I pour water over my head and down my neck, wet my hat, and feel like I can possibly live for a few more hours after all. The Kudremukh trek had us crossing multiple streams periodically and they were life-savers, let me tell you, absolute life-savers.

The problem, though, is that the higher you get the less your chances of encountering streams, especially the ones that flow amidst trees and give you the hope that the world is not always a hot and tiring place. So, while I was enjoying the brief bursts of coolness from the streams, I knew that it was too good to last and I would come to where the sun would have its way with me relentlessly. (If you are wondering why so much time is being spent on the Sun, you do not know me. I am the guy who finds the morning sun of a Delhi Winter too hot to handle. You ain't seen no sweat till you have seen me sweating. And to think I was brought up in Neyveli, not exactly known as a Hill Station!)

And, as promised, the incline duly arrived. (THAT's another grouse for me. When these chaps say 'flat', it never IS flat, but if they say something is an incline, then...). Ever seen a Bullet Train turn into a Bullock Cart? If you want to, just trail alongside me as I hit an incline after a relatively flat track, while on a trek. Of course, I huff and puff like a steam engine but then the bullock probably does the same, if you paid any notice to it.

And midway through that damn incline, disaster struck. Not anything minor like my twisting an ankle or such, which would have given me a graceful excuse to abandon the trek. The sole of my left shoe came off the front portion and started flapping around like the mouth of a crocodile. I did have a tube of FeviKwik (another of those veteran trekker thingies which you carry around to impress but hope never to depend on) and stuck the sole on with it. Well, the tube did live up to its name. It was as Kwik to come off as it was to stick on, so, within another 100 meters, the crocodile was flapping its jaws around hunting for prey again.

The next hundred meters or so gave me a good idea of what Hitler's soldiers suffered with their goose-stepping. About the only saving grace was that I did not have to shoot up my hand and scream, "Heil whatever". By then, I was ready for ANY solution so when someone asked me why I had not just yanked it off, I ecstatically carried it out. (As an aside, when I was whining to Vinod about the consequences of doing that, the chap tells me, no less than 20 times within the minute, that I should have tied it on with laces. I should have known better than to seek sympathy from him. HE is the guy who will sit by the bedside of a man recovering from a heart operation and tell him what he ought to have eaten since age 5 to avoid the problem! You know the sort who, when you are drowning, will be so busy berating you for not learning swimming that he will fail to notice when you are floating away free of all care).

And so, I experienced how it would be to trek with one leg shorter than the other by about a couple of inches. You either plonk the soled foot too hard or you shift weight to the soleless one when it is still in the air. No amount of pleading with the powers above that I found trekking difficult as it is, and there was really no need to add to the trauma, helped. So, where I used to stop to catch my breath once every ten steps, I was now stopping once every two steps. Of course, when someone else was nearby, I was only stopping to taking in the view. (This being known as a veteran trekker, I tell you. It turns you into a second-rate actor, if nothing else). Thankfully, even if my acting failed me, the views did not and, so, the idea of stopping so frequently to take in the sights was eminently believable.

On I trudged, lungs screaming and feet jarring on the ground with uneven steps, hoping forlornly that the trek would come to an end soon. Not before I climbed that zig-zag path, of course and I hit it fairly screaming at the thought of having to climb up that lung-buster. (To be honest, in the normal course, that sort of incline is what you eat for breakfast and ask for more. It is just the lack of soul...err...sole and, perhaps, age catching up. Young at heart and all is fine but it seems to cut no ice with the body.)

 By the time I hit the ridge, I was too tired even to enjoy the relative peace of the ridge-walk. No lung-busting, true, but no shade either and the Sun was at its noon-day high. I went on, the views around me the only solace in what seemed like an endless treadmill. (Whinging a lot, am I? Yeah, I know it was MY choice to trek and, in the normal course, this would have been very pleasant indeed, bar the heat, but I really had not bargained for the difference that the lack of a 'sole' makes to the body). But, yes...the views...

Eventually, you come to what you consider is the end of the trek and there rears a massif. Yeah, I know, on my return I did tell some trekkers who were walking up,"If there is no climb at the end, why would THAT be considered the summit?" but that is the sort of thing that you comfortably say when you have done it and are on your way back. Looking at it as a prospective climb, though...

Still, you know...that veteran trekker thingy. The idea is to look at your feet and put one in front of the other and keep going. To look up to see how much more remains is a surefire way to tire yourself even more than you already are. Still, you do look up at times and envy those cozily sitting up there.

Eventually, I did land up at the last. A pity that no pic of my feat is here, though.

Been there, done that! NOW the descent should be a breeze. "Oh! Yeah!" whispered some imp of Satan. AND, I started back down...

When there is only a couple of millimeters of leather separating your foot from the ground, it is not too much of a problem ascending...except if you step on a sharp stone or a thorn, which I had not. On the descent, though...

For one, without the sole, the shoe does not grip well. So, you tend to skid and slip on sand and gravel. For another, there are too many damn places where your next step is a foot or so lower and you land on stones. Not exactly the sort of joyous feeling that the foot is used to, with us city slickers, at least. So, there I went, trying to put the soled right foot forward in all such cases. The issue, though, is that it was a trek path not a bloody stairway. Most times the only foot that can land without your having to twist yourself in ballet poses is the sole-less one...and anyone who has seen me will die laughing with the mere mention of me and ballet poses in the same sentence. I mean Sumo Wrestlers are Sumo Wrestlers and Ballet dancers are Ballet dancers and the twain will never meet and all that...

But, needs must. So ballet poses it was, and the consequence was that, more often than not, my ankle turned or my left foot landed on a sharp stone or...enough said. It suffices to say that a running commentary of my descent would exhaust my entire vocabulary of swearing and, this time, I ended up at the Home Stay with pains in all parts of the body, including some that I never knew that God had seen fit to put into the Human anatomy.

The rest, as they say, is anti-climax. An evening of camaraderie - including finding that Arvind was ten years my junior at my school in Neyveli (THAT was probably the previous night, but there was more bonding this day) and Lourd had worked in Neyveli for three years...surprising to find two Neyveli connections in one trek. We traveled back to Mangalore the next day and scattered to the four winds.

Till the next trek brings us together...

Photo Credits: Co-trekkers. NONE taken by me, as usual.