Friday, April 22, 2011

What's in a familiar face?

I’ve been thinking about this deceptively obvious concept a lot lately, because it’s paradoxical. I’m sure everyone has had instances in his/her life where random people have come up to them and asked:

‘Are you <put name here>’s brother?’

Friends and acquaintances aren’t exempt from this behaviour – the question’s a little modified though.

‘Did I ever tell you that you look a hell of a lot like this person I knew?’

If everyone’s had this happen to them, and if the beholder beholds what the beholder beholds, why all the pondering then? Because I’m convinced that this happens to me more often than other people, and it does not make sense.

There’s no palatable (to me) way to put this but: I have a very prominent lower jaw, kind of a like a gibbon. (I maintain that it’s developmental, brought about by a thumb sucking habit that refused to go away, rather than an inherited trait, but well.) My lengthened jaw might not look out of place at all in a congregation of Africans, but here, it’s rather exotic. Therein lies the paradox.

If something’s different, why do more people find it familiar? I think I know why. If there’s a feature that’s overwhelmingly conspicuous, a feature that’s the first thing people notice about a face, the face will come to be defined by it. Think large, curved noses. Different kinds of faces may possess them: fat faces, thin faces, white faces, brown faces, pimply faces, bearded faces , it doesn’t matter. The moment you see a face with a large, curved nose you think of the last face you saw with a similarly large, curved nose and you go to the owner of the face and say:

‘You look a bit like this karate instructor I used to have. Are you a relative?’

That’s not so bad then.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Part 1: The Nothing
So that’s that then. It has served me well, if not for long, like a beautiful woman. I spent most of last week in an indignant huff, and apparent well-wishers expounding on the five stages of grief only made things worse. (Yes, that’s a warning to you. I’m a professional kickboxer and there aren’t many things more kickable than your head.) Maybe this is only punishment for slacking out on one too many Mondays. (Sorry. I promise to be so conscientious from now on that it will border on masochism. There, I said it. Now can I have it back?)

Going late to work on Monday is easy to force my conscience into ignoring. But repeating the same sin on Tuesday is slightly less forgivable. Who knows? Maybe if I had left my house fifteen minutes early, it would not have happened? (Again I warn you. The next person who mentions ‘denial’ or ‘bargaining’ is going to not only lose his head but have it reattached backwards.) Well, it did and after a week’s worth of lamentation, I think I’ve made my peace.

It’s no biggie really, all that prologue-ing really gives the impression that I care too much, which I don’t, so I’ll stop. I lost my phone. To be precise, a-nimble-pickpocket-palmed-it-from-my-front-pocket-while-I-was-travelling-in-a-bus. Prepare to be gobsmacked, fellow Bangalorean bus travellers! For it happened in not just any bus, but in the bus of all buses – the Vajra. There’s nothing much to narrate here because (duh) I don’t know what happened, but I can give some context.

I got onto my regular bus, a high frequency air conditioned bus specially commissioned by BMTC for paunchy, sweaty software engineers, in my usual haze of solitude. Weirdly, because the time then was not on the right side of 10:30 AM, the bus was as crowded as a Lady Gaga concert. I barely got my backside in before I was nearly amputated by a lever attached to the sliding doors, which in its hurry to shut them decided to squish my right thigh.

My reserves of what-I-would-call propriety have dipped alarmingly in the recent past, neatly coinciding with my life as a bus traveller. I shouldered my way into the crowd and those whose propriety still hadn’t been burnt out of them (read: noobs) made way for me as I planted myself solidly in the middle of the concert crowd. Thinking back, that was probably when I first noticed something odd.

It didn’t matter though. My solitary bus journeys are spent in what is best described as a delirium. They’re as close as I can get to sensory deprivation without hallucinogens. Even in that state of mind, I noticed those poorly dressed, skinny Northie-types (excuse my lack of tact, but you know, I lost my bloody phone) who, with their paan-stained teeth, untucked shirts and French pencil moustaches were as out of place on the bus as Roshan Priyadarshi in a guys bathroom. I only barely noticed, mind you, because somebody in the aisle crowd decided to get down just then, and I used the opportunity to muscle my way into the infinitely more comfortable aisle area. That’s it.

That’s really it. There was lots of pushing and shoving going on, but if you think I can distinguish between pushing type A (both hands out, hip attached to nearby seat, head tilted up), pushing type B (hands inconspicuously placed behind back, shoulder leaning forwards, hip muscles working overtime) and pushing type C (one hand thrust, second hand in another’s pocket), you’re wrong. I really didn’t notice a sneaky hand groping my thigh. But, hold, that’s not it. There’s never a story which Lord Murphy does not like to pervert for his silly, childish pleasure, and this certainly was no exception.

I almost always plug in my earphones before I get on to the bus. Metal helps me hit the haze quicker, and I need to hit the haze because that’s the best way to enjoy three teaspoons of solitude. That time though, I didn’t do it. I’ve tried a thousand times over to capture what my state of mind was like then (in fact, if you kill me right now, I think you can use my -erm- analysis to reproduce my mind to the last molecule, to the extent that the first thing I would do would be to finish this blog post, or look for a cybertronic arm to do so) that I didn’t plug in the music, but all solutions lead to Murphy. If I had plugged myself in on my phone, nobody on Earth could have pocketed my phone without me noticing. Absence of metal lifts the haze in approximately 0.25 microseconds - plenty of time to chop a wandering hand off at the wrist.

The rest is well, predictable. It was when I eventually decided to listen to music that I noticed my strangely lighter left pocket. The incorrigible optimist that I am, I immediately assumed that a) it was probably in my bag, b) it was probably in the other pocket, c) oh no, it must have fallen down somewhere (not a disaster as I didn’t see any 120 kg dudes nearby), d) @#$%. I looked around and identified Smarmy Guy texting away on his swanky mobile phone ().

“Excuse me sir... I-think-I’ve-lost-my-phone-can-I-borrow-yours-for-a-minute-I-just-want-ring-it-and-see-if-it’s-fallen-down-here-somewhere-thanks!”

After a critical lookover which I apparently passed, Smarmy Guy typed out the number on his phone himself (no he didn’t hand it over. OK maybe I only partially passed. :/), and confirmed the worst. Switched off. And so I plunged into bottomless agony. Outwardly of course, my face became only blander than ever, prompting people around me (yes, my frenzy had alerted several of my ever-bored neighbours) to ask.

“It wasn’t an expensive phone, no?”

Some last shreds of dignity forced me to lie through my teeth. The effort made my usually awesome baritone voice gain several octaves, and I squeaked back that, yes it was only a cheap Nokia phone. A kind soul advised me to rush to the driver and ‘Stop the bus now!’; which I did so promptly, inspite of my grief induced lethargy, possibly because stopping the bus and checking everyone’s pockets was way cooler than just losing a mobile phone.

I told them. The conductor exchanged a significant look with the driver, who started off with the most ill-timed ‘I knew it!’ rant ever. Apparently, he had noticed this bunch of shady looking folks get in some time back. He had noticed how they had refused to move out of the standing space in the middle of the bus and move to the aisle, and how that made them even shadier. The slightly terser conductor simply nodded away, eyes politely downcast. Unfortunately, those shady looking folks (whom I was already convinced I had seen myself) had got down three stops ago, and there was nothing they could do. He added philosophically:

“It’s gone.”

Part 2: The Office

Office was agony, and I choose not to dwell on those painful moments when my colleagues amused themselves heartily at my expense. (Schadenfreude is a fad, I tell you.) I mean, how was it funny? It was just a straightforward pocket swipe. It wasn’t like I had been riding a motorbike when I had suddenly felt the urge to check out my handsome self in the rearview mirror, and had leant over, only for my brand new touchphone to fall out of my pocket and get squashed by a passing eighteen-wheeler. Now, that is lol-worthy. (And honest to Lord Murphy, true. A slightly more sympathetic colleague consoled me with that tale.) Most of what happened at work is better skipped, except for on little discussion on insurance.

“What? There’s. Such. A. Thing. Called. Insuring. Mobile. Phones?” incredulity forcing me into hyperventilation.

“Yes. It’s not easy to get, but it’s there. Wait, your phone wasn’t covered?”

And with that, the merriment resumed.

There's part 3, and naturally, it happens at the police station, but since I really need to get my backside off this chair and get some Sunday work done - until later.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Faith Talks

There I was sitting in the coach of a train with two pretty young women, who just happened to be fresh college passouts bemoaning the complexities of a life in programming. No, I did not take up the improbably perfect cue to rush in and er, steal their hearts. I wrote this instead:

You see, I have my faith. You can insult me, torture me, verbally lash me ten thousand ways from a Venusian Sunday, drag me to an inch from death, but you cannot win. You just cannot, because you will only have won once I’m depleted and broken and I won’t be as long as I have my faith.

Faith is a funny little thing, friend. The more of it you take away, the more strength does it draw from its own absurdity, and the more of it there’s left. Faith’s a cheat code God wove into this silly little game called Life. You’re playing it right now. You’re probably doing well at it. You probably have a lot of faith in something: your ability to win, your ability not to lose, the Great One’s ability to cast you a light on the darkest of nights. Or, you’re in the dumps, tired, broken and ready to quit. Where’s your faith, friend? Faith’s a great sorter-out of things, believe me. Oh, but you already have it, and it makes no difference. You pray to a different stone God everyday but your boss still thinks you’re worthless? Your faith is not faith for faith brooks no impurity. You have sullied your faith, and you can no longer lay claim to its power.

Faith is a strange beast. It is the cause and it is the effect, and there is no contradiction. I’m mildly envious, my prisoner. I’m sure all victory is impossible without faith, isn’t it? For it is only the stirring hand of faith that takes a battle from the obscurity of perpetuity to the finality of war, and beyond to a fitting completion. But faith soothes the losers. It gives the defeated pride, for what is more remarkable, and consequently admirable, than someone who can hold on to his faith in spite of the gravest humiliation?

Yet, is it anything more than a pocketful of moonlight? It defines itself upon its own terms, and rejects rejection through acceptance. It never vanquishes a challenge, no; it absorbs it into itself. Is it infinitely capable? I don’t think so. I perceive that its own substance leaches away each time it broadens its own horizons. Faith is dying at the altar of Science, and Reason. This too it is not unaware of; faithfully does it assimilate Reason into its own self, stretching itself to smooth it away like a pocket of air, a mere trifling nothing like all the upstarts before. But it’s wrong; you’re wrong this time.

As time passes, greater are the parallels I see between my physical incarceration and the one of your mind, friend. Speakers for Reason, do you not voluntarily shackle the infinite capacity of your mind to pursue the myth of understanding? Yes, they’re shackles; you make them so. You have faith in the ability of your scientists to further the cause of Science. You have faith that the cause of Science can be furthered at all. You have faith that the Creator does not have a mean sense of humour. You’ve not banished faith; you’ve only moved it around, renaming things here and there, fooling yourselves otherwise.

Accomplished wordsmith you are, my prisoner. I’m not entirely unskilled at it, but perhaps I need to embrace a little bit of your absurdity to best you in this fight. Every metaphor that escapes the confines of your twisted mind, every syllable, everything you say is only going to strengthen my argument. Is not a man with the obstinacy of ten score donkeys, a man who sticks to his perversions in spite of every kind of recrimination, merely chock-full of faith? Is not a clouded conscience just another obstacle for faith to overcome? Is not every single evil that has been perpetrated over the centuries but one manifestation of one man’s faith in another’s wickedness?

Faith is inclusive. Judgment is not divisive only when it’s divine, and faith cannot pass it because it is of this world. Faith is the glue that binds our little world together. It is the lubricant for the many, many parts of the machine called civilization; it is always present, invisible but there, ready to be used but never forcing its hand. Do you not understand, my warden? Faith is passivity. In it lies its power. Faith is egalitarian. In it lies its power. Anyone can use it, and in any way he chooses. Merely the availability of that thing called faith is enough to keep the multitudes ticking. Misuse is a necessary corollary of power. Where does the blame lie?

You weaken your argument further, prisoner. Sure, a little bit of faith prods our pathetic world along. Just like a little bit of sunshine, a little bit of bovine flatulence, a little bit of faith in the uselessness of contraceptives. What exactly does faith bring to the table here that is unique and irreproducible? What is faith, exactly? Perhaps you will claim, no I’m certain that you will, that it is only the faithless that seek the definition of faith and by definition will not find it. You cower and hide within a vast expanse of nothingness, imagining, willing it through faith perhaps, that the nothingness is an illusion and is actually the vast dominion of faith.

Here I think we must end our jousting, friend. You’ve heard everything I have to say, and I’ve heard everything you have to say. We agree on every point that is made, and yet we disagree. I would reiterate, my warden, that you’re yet to find your faith. You’re lost, even more so because you’re convinced that you aren’t and that the rest of the world is. Is that not the absurdity that you despise?

You have a knack for saying things that are irrefutable, my prisoner. Then answer me this: What is faithlessness? If faith is all-inclusive, then it shouldn’t exist. If it isn’t and it does exist, faith’s work is already done, and always has been, making its own existence redundant. At first glance, an atheist would appear to be the epitome of faithlessness. But I see the weaknesses with that argument. An atheist, you would inevitably argue, has just as much faith as any local preacher, only it’s in the non-existence of God. He merely speaks a language most faithful do not understand. But faith embraces even the non-believer with open arms. You are right. I’ve heard everything you’ve to say and I’m not convinced. I’m perhaps convinced even more so than before that your own arguments serve to weaken your position. Shall we end this sparring and mark it down as a dull draw, for posterity to pass judgment?