Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ship of Theseus


The four storeyed, light lemon yellow and olive green/brown building, with veils of blackish moss that trickled down every monsoon. The sixteen houses, with two protruding patios, some fettered with balcony grills and the rest openly inviting in the winged denizens. The thin brick fences around the perimeter that took on the menacing form of bulkier stone and cement walls with broken glass pieces on the top. The ten-foot wide frame of corridor paved with large square stones, with a slight tilt to direct floodwaters to the gutter by the road or the small playground on the opposite side. The plethora of trees planted in the narrow strips of soil next to the wall; Ashoka, Suru, Jambhul, Jaswand, Buch, Anant and many more. The water pump room in one corner, with a 8×8 tank closed with a heavy iron lid.

The unique smell that lingered on each floor, distinctive by its inhabitants, only to be overwhelmed on occasions, by an intense odor brought in by the wet dogs looking for shelter from rains. The freshly painted green walls of the stair case, sometimes sprayed paan red by outsiders. The initial three steps, followed by a series of seven, ending with the final eleven to the forbidden terrace. The constant need of key to that door, mostly held by the Secretary or Treasurer. Once opened, the mosaic expanse of the terrace lined with pipes, splattered with tar to deter rains from seeping in, sometimes layered with drying homemade snacks and crowned by metal antennas.

The general kindness of neighbors, the intermittent squabbles and the mysterious society meetings. The door to door Help-Age-India campaigns or the exchange of dried Aapta leaves on Dasara. The myriad types of rangolis, mango/ashoka leaves and marigold festoons, the sparkling gudhis, the twinkling electric lights and lanterns of festivals all year round. The morse-coded hand-conch calls, the matchbox telephone lines running from one balcony to the other, the ferrying of prized objects via sutli rope loops. The adopted stream of stray dogs and the occasional caring for birds’ nests or bee hives. The din of the passing traffic, building cricket, multi-building istop palti, barking canines, cawing birds. The vocal rhythms of peacock-feathers capped Vasudev, elongated yells of Bhangaarwala, crackle of the whip alongside drum vortex from Kadak laxmi duo, fear-inducing resonating claps from Chhakkey/transgender tolis. The hunt for earthworms, carpenter ants and Alu leaves in adjacent playground during monsoons. The new year eve celebrations on the building roof demanding performances from all young ones and the wise-beyond-years discussions sitting on the roof of the water tank.


When the axe came down, I was in a different universe trying to find a foothold in a land of addictive abundance. The videos and pictures sent by friends and family, of a structure torn down, of an existence wiped out, did not evoke too strong an emotion in an heart that was already brimming with new experiences to reconcile with. My subsequent visits to the city saw an entirely different landscape and the temporary rented apartment seemed as alien as a hotel room. Three years was all it took to raise a shining new home complete with a security guard, commercial spaces, additional stories and two split terraces.

The new home.

Does the elevator have a grill or closing metal doors? Is the water tank still around or relocated? Is the staircase made of white marble or cream colored tiles? Do all the houses have single brown doors? Was the smell that wafted in the staircase from delectable food or construction materials? Did it have a grid with sunlight streaming in or ventilation pipes? Do kids still make the same din outdoors or do they plug in to wide screens in their free time? Does the video screening provided for visiting guests work? Are any of the native trees surrounding the premises still around?

Is it still… Home?

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Harley my problem

“Popop pauz… poppoppoppop pauz.”
1:30 am. Eyes pop open. ‘Ugh, it’s probably the fan’s noise..”. Kevin punches a button and nods off.
“Poppoppoppop pauz… poppop…”
What time was it? 2:17 am. He mops his sweaty forehead. Ah, turning off the fan was a mistake. ‘Whirrrrr….’ Sleep takes over.
“Poppoppoppoppop pauz… poppoppoppoppoppop pauz.. Poppop..”
‘What in the name of!’ He storms out of bed, livid, glares through the window. ‘There! That bastard! Who rides a fucking Harley at … *looks at his clock* .. 3:30 am in the night! And on a work day!’ He falls back in bed and groans as his upper back hurts. That was tough work, moving all on his own, to this new town and house. He had hoped all that hauling had tired the shit out of him. Guess not.’ He remembers that the landlord told him about how the street around the corner was notoriously known for its bike racing a couple of years ago. Then the police cracked down on it and how their spirit fizzled out. ‘Are they trying to revive the event in the middle of the night? I better finish my lease and move out in that case!’

Two months have passed. Dark circles frame his eyes and veins jutt out of his temple, as if he decided to sport a villainous Comic-Con makeup forever. His mind is constantly buzzing, not akin to bees, but more like an airplane drone. He cannot believe it had to come to this. At first, it was a single night, then two nights in a row. So he got curious and googled it, ‘Harley biking calle cristobal road’. The top few links talked about a young Harley Davidson biker, a freak accident, a ghastly sight of flesh grated on tarmac. ‘Well, good riddance!’, he thought then. After a week passed, he accosted John, the owner of the house.
‘You cheat! You hid these nightly theatrics from me!’.
John was flummoxed. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Those wretched bikers pumping their engine to wake up the whole community!’
‘But.. but, we haven’t heard a thing!’
‘Probably because of all that wine you drown yourself in, moron!’
He broke the lease and moved to a gated community. But it got worse. A bunch of bikers, reverberating sounds, circling this one guy. He could swear he felt palpable anger in those men. His new roommates think he has schizophrenia, suggested he got it checked out. The security guard yelled at him, calling him insane. He doesn’t have any mental history in his family. So that left one plausible explanation. But why, why was he after him?


‘Dats hardly my problem.’ Aymee jumped at the sound of the text, looked at the screen, tears welling up in her eyes. It was 2 am. She must have waited six long hours after she messaged him the news.. ‘I’m pregnant.’ She knew she should have met him before he left, held his hands, eased him into the world she was facing. Now, he was beyond her reach, in a city of his dreams for a lucrative new job. Maybe now he fancied all the loose women there, on whom he could pull all those nightmarish fetishes which she blatantly refused to partake in. She slammed her phone on the wall which printed a beautiful web mosaic on it. “Ding dong.” ‘Great, the pizza boy is here! If only I hadn’t stuffed myself with those cheesy slices, he would have liked me more.’ She opened the door, grabbed the box from the bewildered boy, thrust cash in his hands and slammed on his face.

‘Jeez, what a bitch!’. Sean was working nights to pay for his college, he didn’t deserve this. And he definitely didn’t deserve an absence of tip at this late an hour. He kicked his Scooty in a fit, to ape those actors who make that look so cool in movies. Tiny crunch, mighty pain. His toenail was a color that looks like the one made from a towering street light and the black of the night. He sat on the curb, nursing his injury, cursing his fate. The phone rang. ‘What!!’ ‘Sean, dear, I need to go to hospital, I may have overdosed on the Vicodin.’ ‘Stop the drama Mom, I have grown up watching your incessant calls for attention. No wonder Lisa left us…’ ‘But Sean, I’m seriou…’. Click.

Mary had led a hard life, as hard a white woman of alternate sexuality could lead. She ran away with her childhood sweetheart, when her parents wouldn’t accept their love and settled in a city known for welcoming immigrants of all eccentricities with open arms. Lisa found work in a microbrewery, while she joined an NGO to care for orphans. She fell in love with Sean, the moment she saw those round playful eyes and skin that glistened like her favorite brand of dark chocolate. She brought him home of her own accord and didn’t spot the tinge of dislike in her lover’s eyes. In one of those arguments of passion that followed in the years to come, Lisa spewed her racist venom out that shocked Mary to the core. After all, who could imagine a person of a repressed group fostering repressive thoughts about another? Lisa abandoned them, but Mary painted her as a woman of substance for her little boy. Soon, drugs found her despair, and by the time her son left for college, she was hooked. And this phone call left her shattered.

Barry was whistling, as much of a muffled whistle his helmet would allow. His wife had just delivered twins after some unexpected labor pains and he was on his way to them with the choicest of dad jokes. It was a pity he would have to sell his prized two-wheeler, but hey, life’s like that! ‘One day, you’re wearing your leather jacket and picking up chicks from bars and the next day, you are riding on those leather SUV seats and picking up kids from school!’ It seemed like the universe had conspired to speed him up to see his babies. He probably passed a dozen green traffic lights, and here came another! Followed by a sudden splash of white across. In his last ephemeral moments, he spied a distraught woman at the wheel, foaming around the mouth , making a desperate bid at survival.

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, September 26, 2014

All that twinkles is not a star

I am not sure where it all started. Or if it was anything unique about me. Every child loves to look up at the night skies with a dream to reach the stars I guess. I was no different. I just put that in words, as my first career objective.

It was a weekend outing with family and friends, at a beautiful little bungalow named 'Saavli' (Shadow) in Nagaon, a couple of hours drive to the north of Mumbai. Some of the elders were having a round of drinks at night, and we kids were called up as part of the introductory games planned for the evening.
"What do you want to be when you grow up, son?", asked one.
"Astrophysicist... mala chand taare pahayla avadtat (I like to watch the moon and stars)", I replied.
"Viju, tujha porga tula divsa chaand taare dakhavnar ahe... (Viju, your kid is going to show you moon and the stars in the day..)". The pun was intended and laughter ensued.

Astrophysicist. Not even an astronaut. I was that clear about what I wanted from life. I wish I had that clarity now. The seed may have been put in my mind by a book gifted to me by uncle Mohan. 'Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science' written by the much-celebrated scientist Carl Sagan, had fabulous short stories based on a plethora of scientific wonders with one chapter named 'Can we know the Universe? Reflections from a grain of salt'.

My parents seemed to take my vocation seriously and encouraged my half-formed ideas. They bought me a star-chart which you hold up against the night sky, spot the North Star from the small hole in the center and align the direction of the sheet. This was a time when the concept of personal computers was just setting in, and they were more about the Prince of Persia and Lion King than to be seen as aids to education. One Christmas, I asked "Santa" for a rocket filled with Gems (shabbily sketched on a greeting card) and the wish was magically granted. The next year, I grew more ambitious and demanded a book on Astronomy, and poof, there it was, neatly placed under my pillow the next morning! Santa must have had vested interests in gifting kids who wanted to hone their navigational skills by reading the night sky.

In school, we designed a magazine (kind of a little encyclopedia with paintings and written material) every year and the topic we went for in 9th standard was Space Exploration. I still remember the beautiful cover drawing of a Space Shuttle by my classmate Manali, and my feeble attempts at drawing something similar. All those colorful A4 pages, distributed to our writer team and our "committee meetings" to avoid attending some lectures. The jokes we cracked, the fights we had about someone stepping on others' talents. A microcosm of future corporate lifestyle.

It wasn't only about books. I participated in a Mars Rover contest at school and got to play around with the controls of a simulated rover vehicle. In summer holidays, I was enrolled in a 10-day astronomy workshop at Nehru Planetarium. It was a long drive from home with a couple of school friends Aneesh and Makrand, but I enjoyed every aspect of it. The thorough polishing of glass with sandpaper to design a lens for a cardboard telescope, the paper sundial I designed which may have been my first watch; and my personal sky-chart. In our free time, we were left spellbound with the informative shows about the universe and our place in it. Then there was always the Science Center nearby which had countless activities to engage the young minds in.

Finally the day arrived when life stopped handing out lemons and gave me a college form instead. I attended some seminars for a degree of Bachelor of Sciences, majoring in Physics. Apparently, it wasn't the coolest (read: lucrative) career goal for kids with better-than-average grades in Math-Physics. So taking cue from the not-so-subtle hints given by my elders, I forayed into engineering.

It feels like ages since I made that decision, but my first love never waned. I signed up my name to be sent to Mars etched on a microchip inside the 'Curiosity Rover' prowling on Mars as of now. My heart went out to all those seven astronauts aboard the ill-fated Challenger. How giddy I was with excitement while visiting the Johnson Space Center in NASA at Houston, Texas! That moonless starlit long drive along California's famed Route 1 alongside the Pacific, those camping trips in Adirondacks or simple quiet walks under the dark skies in tiny villages and national parks. Every time I begin narrating my treatise on how to find the North Star using the Great Bear or Cassiopeia constellations to whoever listens, my friends roll their eyes and quip, "Here he goes again...".

I write about all these today, as I rejoice with billions of other Indians congratulating the team at ISRO who successfully completed the MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission). Along with the spew of positive social media updates about the low cost of the mission, there have also been snarky articles from the naysayers who believe the 450 crores would have been better spent on tackling poverty. As a child who developed a love for the Sciences for reasons quite akin to inspirational missions like these, I have to say, I disagree.

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bollywood Figures of Speech

"Beedi jalaile jigar se piya, jigar ma badhi aag hai..."

"Tune maari entriyaan re dil mei baji ghantiyaan re, tang tang tang tang..."

"Chand ne cheater hoke cheat kiya toh saare taare bole gili gili akka..."

"Balam pichkari jo tune mujhe maari toh seedhi saadhi kudi sharabi ho gayi..."

"Chandu ke chacha ne chanduki chachiko chandike chamchese chutney chatayi..."

"Ashiquon mei jiska title Titanic, muah kinara dikha kar ke dooba de gaya..."

"Kisi aur ki mujhko jaroorat kya mai toh khud se pyar jataaun..."

"Ghode jaisi chaal, haathi jaisi doom, oh sawan raja kahan se aaye tum?"

"I swear choti dress mein bomb lagdi mainu..."

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Justice delayed... justice denied?

It was a chilly summer evening. He was all alone, jogging back home from campus in the twilight. The road passed alongside an ecological preserve and a dilapidated warehouse. He was on the last dredges of his willpower to cover the remaining distance.
Few cars whizzed past at that hour with no cause for concern. But then, there came along a rickety rusty car that went by playing loud hip-hop. "Kids.", he sighed. But the car slowed down, and finally stopped a few yards from him. Mild curiosity soon led to a bit of fear, as there seemed to be no apparent reason for the stopover. Action scenes from Hollywood replayed in his mind where a car door suddenly opens to hit the unsuspecting victim, leading to confrontation. Instinctively, he crossed the road and kept running on the other side with furtive glances towards the car.
As he passed along, he saw the occupants staring at him. As he moved on, the car started out slowly. His mind went into overdrive about how he could dash into the forest if the assailants come; and how it would be unwise to run into the isolated building nearby. But what if they have guns? Should he tackle them? Or empty his pockets? Time stood still.
And suddenly, there was a loud whirr and the car sped onwards into oblivion.

He was me, about two years ago. And I am thinking of him today, as I think of the teenager who died in Florida for no fault of his own. This is not as much about racism, as it is about self-preservation. It is about that sense of foreboding, that creeping irrational fear and the split-moment decision you make at such times. How do you think rationally when you are gripped with fear for your life? Would you stand your ground and fight; or shit your pants and run? And which one is the right approach? If George got a beating, he had brought it upon himself by continuing to stalk his suspect. He had no business taking law in his own hands. Self-defense could have been the primary argument on Trayvon's side, but not his.

This is not about black or white.
This is not about who had a more checkered past.
This is not about the victim or the perpetrator being an adult or minor.

This is about a common man choosing to kill another man with a lethal weapon in a public place on a mere hunch. The jury did sympathize with Trayvon, but did they empathize with him?

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

[JOB POSTING] I Inc. looking to hire fake girlfriend

Requisition #: V696969                   Location: Bymyside

Job Title: Fake Girlfriend                 Region: Tristate Area

Area of Interest: Me                        Level of Experience: 2+

Flexible Work Option: Yes

Job Description: I Inc. is looking for a bright, energetic fake girlfriend to help stem the peer pressure of marriage and relationships in social media. The current platform of singledom needs an architectural shift to regulate the trending public opinion about single men in their late twenties and shield it from haphazard judgements and condescension.

Responsibilities include:

  • Develop cute tweets and facebook status messages regarding your deep love for I Inc. and update from both accounts
  • Demonstrate gorgeous semblance in all of your pictures with I, clicked by photographers wielding SLRs in choreographed postures
  • Devise timelines for anniversaries and minor events like first piss together, first time you ate a stallion's bleeding heart with I Inc. etc.
  • Deliver seamless performance on consumer-driven love-days like Valentine's, buy gifts of no practical use for I Inc. and publicize every single detail on social media
  • Troubleshoot negative/sarcastic comments by removing them and the commentor from friend list
  • Design innovative strategies for garnering maximum likes and comments

Required Experience and Skills:

  • Extensive experience with social media trends and pop-culture
  • Excellent verbal skills that keep I interested in long duration phone calls, all days of the week
  • Excellent written skills demonstrated by sending I love-related text messages every hour of the day
  • Strong background in Mind Games Technology and PDA*
  • MS** in Social Engineering with 1-2+ years of experience in a virtual character development position

Desired Experience and Skills:

  • Ability to gossip with other girls about your relationship with I Inc. and make them jealous with embellished achievements
  • Knowledge of the art of manipulating the moods of other single men and women by flaunting your happy relationship with I Inc. and pestering them about the reason for their singledom


*PDA: Public Display of Affection
*MS: Mistress of Stealth

I Inc. is a Reformative Action and Gender Specific Employer

I Inc. is a Who-Will-Verify employer

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jeff Dunham and Ajmal, the Dead Terrorist

For those without context, check out ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's Achmed, the Dead Terrorist act. What follows is a similar satire on the execution of Ajmal Kasab for 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Reader discretion advised.

(The following transcripts are taken from Jeff's private notes. The act was apparently rejected because it was not really funny.)

J - Good evening Ajmal
A - Goo *BURRPP**

J - It's not polite to burp a greeting Ajmal.
A - I know, I am sorry Jeff, it's just that the last biryani meal I had before I was hung didn't really agree with me.

J - (smiling) You mean, before you were "hanged".
A - hanged - hung - what's the difference?

J - Well, there's a joke going around that ... never mind. So you're a terrorist, eh?
A - No, I am not. I am a Jihadi.

J - Oh ok, jee-had-he.
A - No, no, no one "had" anyone. It's G - haaadh - E.

J - Okay, okay. So Ajmal, can you tell us how you became a Jihadi?
A - Oh, I used to love "The Kardashians" show, how those bitches threw tantrums and got whatever they wanted! I was really pissed when my dad didn't buy me clothes on Eid, in spite of me being a boy! So I ran away.

J - You're being sexist Ajmal.
A - I am Sexist and I know it! Wiggle wiggle wiggle...

J - Stop! Stop wiggling! So what happened after you ran away?
A - I borrowed some money from banks, vacant houses, random people at gunpoint and did other cool shit. One day, I was eating chana from a paper cone and I unrolled it to find a deal that would bring shame to your crap Thanksgiving offers!

J - Oh ya, what was it?
A - They were offering some advanced machine guns, commando-style training, swimming-sailing lessons and a truckload of virgins as a posthumous reward... ALL for killing some infidels!

J - Ah I see, you get to engage in sex and violence without any repercussions. Sounds like a plot line for Game of Thrones.
A - Hey, I'm a big fan of GoT! I used to watch it on the Plasma TV in my cell! I think they based the character of Joffrey on me!

J - Nice. So, we all know what happened next. You were the only one among your friends to get captured alive for the massacre in Mumbai.
A - Hey, they didn't "capture" me! I gave in because I had seen so many of those 'Incredible India' commercials with the punchline 'Atithi Devo Bhav', I wanted to try out Indian hospitality!

J - I doubt they did that.
A - No way! They loved me in India! A special high-security prison cell, the media discussed what food I ate, what fashion accessories I wore, what time I took a shit! They even had pages of me on Facebook to speed up the legal process and hand me over to Allah and the promised 72 virgins! I am scripting my role for Ram Gopal Varma's next film on my heroics. He promised me 28 more virgins to make it a neat 100!

J - Don't you ever feel bad for your deeds?
A - Now you sound like the Mullah who kept visiting me at odd times, especially when I was busy playing first-person shooter games on my XBox.

J - Hmm. What about your family?
A - The AQ paid them. I hope my dad doesn't throw a fit now about buying stuff for my siblings.

J - I've heard the AQ are promoting you as a martyr around your village?
A - Yup, they are gonna build my statue! I sure hope they show me hung *wink, wink*

J - Eh, do you know they are celebrating your death in India?
A - Hah, ya, all of them are a bit Jihadi themselves. The pleasure they derive out of getting a fellow human killed, in the name of justice! That's what I was taught - "Kill them because they killed your kin, that's how justice is served in Allah's darbar!"

J - To be fair, you were eating into a lot of resources as a high-profile prisoner. You were better off than a large chunk of the Indian population which is below the poverty line.
A - Mmm.. *munch, munch - SPIT!* Damn, that rope cut into my throat, I can't swallow this juicy bit of chicken tandoori now..

Creative Commons License
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.