True Fiction

Part 1

‘As they say right, money goes with money,’ I said without a tinge of envy.

‘How do you mean?’

‘I hear Harish’ sambandhi (bride’s father) is a politician here. And you know what that means.’

‘No, No, you don’t know Varadan Sir. He’s not like others. People here like him, respect him…I’ve not yet had the occasion to see him.’

‘Tell me.’

We’re a bunch of class-mates from school, gone different ways later in life. But we do try to meet up on happy occasions such as this wedding of Harish’s son. Coming in a little early at the wedding hall, here I was ‘gupping’ with Raju, a cousin of Harish and a pucca local.

‘It was entirely due to his herculean efforts, the newly laid trunk road segment now passes through our town. Coming from Chennai, it is now Pudur to our Vaeppakkam to Medu and through to Trichy. Why, you must have reached here taking that road. How did you find it?‘

Varad 1 rk_narayan_1_20071029

‘Yes, it was very convenient. Saved me a lot of time and bother as I didn’t have to change buses at Pudur and all that. You know what, Raju? I had always thought it was most logical and shortest for the road to go this way to Trichy. I’m glad wisdom finally prevailed. So what is the big deal about Varadan Sir making it happen?’

‘Ohthere was a hare-brained plan almost finalized to run this road some twenty miles to the east punching through Kollanpatti completely bypassing Vaeppakkam again.’

‘So he succeeded in bringing to you more noise, fumes, drunken driving and possibly accidents not to speak of a host of law and order problems?’

‘Consider the enhanced connectivity and convenience brought by buses plying this way. Faster movement of goods, easier access to Trichy. You saw those eateries lining the trunk road and a few lodges…vehicle repair-shops? All generating good number of jobs. You would have also seen a good number of peddlers on foot busy selling flowers, cool-drinks, biscuits and toffees, balloons and toys and what-not at the bus terminus. The road and the private/public vehicles on the road have added a totally new dimension to commerce in this small town. We would have lost out all these had they bypassed us. Whatever you said is a small price to pay.’

Varad 2  Highway gsagri04

‘I was kidding, my friend. I told you I found it very convenient. It is well-established better connectivity means better services and more commerce. But tell me why were they planning to bypass you incurring a lengthy and meaningless detour via Kollanpatti?’

‘You know, initially this was the route the highway guys had planned when the project and funds were sanctioned as part of the state’s initiative to improve connectivity through incremental efforts.’

‘Then what happened?’

‘Some crazy guys from here went up to the District HQ at Trichy making a hue and cry about the planned route overrunning their agricultural land argued for shelving it or finding an alternative. The authorities buckled and redrew the lines completely missing Vaeppakkam. When Varadan Sir got wind of it, he took it up with the babu’s. He fought it out for nearly a year to get the original plans restored. And it took another year to construct the road. ’

‘How did he win?’

‘Well, I don’t know how he managed it – he must have compiled a strong case for it.’

Just then quite unexpectedly a voice said: ’I can tell you what happened if you let me…’

Part 2

The voice belonged to a stranger, probably in his mid fifties clad in a spotlessly white dhoti and kurta, seated couple of rows right behind us within earshot. He had the manner of being important belonging to the bride’s or the groom’s party.

‘I don’t mean to butt in. I just happened to hear your talk…you see there’s nothing else to do here with no one around yet. Besides, I happen to know

In smaller towns, a chat on a public figure cannot remain private.

Unsolicited, he jumped right in and told us all resistance was finally won over by the simple expediency of quadrupling the compensation payable to the affected land-owners. Even this solution was at Varadan Sir’s suggestion.

My opinion of Varadan Sir, the politician, moved up by a few notches.

Our stranger-friend suddenly lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper: ‘Would you know not a blade of grass grew on that land?’

We chorused: ‘So it was a mere drama played out by the land-owners for a higher compensation for their land that didn’t?

He looked around and hushed us down: ‘There were no land-owners save one collecting the wind-fall compensation. ’

Seeing no light on our face, he continued: ‘You must have gone to see puppet shows? In there do you know why Rama fights the ten-headed Ravana?’

varad 3 Yakshagana IMG_5303

We didn’t see the connection: ‘Why? That’s the way the story goes.’

‘No, it’s only because the puppeteer so pulls the strings and arranges the fight. It is entirely another matter why he does that – yes, because the story goes that way.’

Now it dawned: ‘OMG, you don’t mean the whole thing was stage-managed from the beginning?’

He nodded with a smile seeming to say ‘Dumbos, now you got it.’

Is life like those TV mega serials or the other way around?

Raju was properly hurt at the insinuation: ‘No, my friend. If you’re implying Varadan Sir was behind it, let me tell you all this compensation from the government – must be small change for him. In fact he has enough, I hear, to compensate the government.’

Precisely at that moment the marriage party of the bride entered the hall for the finale.

Varadhan 4 south Indian reception hair style (2)

Some men from the party rushed to the side of our stranger-friend:

‘Sir, we were looking for you all over the place. Something to be done here? Tell us, we’ll take care of it. Today your place is by the side of your daughter, Varadan, Sir.’

Varadan, Sir? Bride’s father? The man we were talking about?

We froze.

Before joining them our stranger-friend turned around and winked at us: ‘Sorry guys, I pulled this on you. You gave me an entry that was too hard to resist. My apologies again. Do stay back for the wedding till the end and bless the couple. Wont’you?’

Varadan 5  1_3356186060240_259437494_n

We nodded weakly, looking redder than a ripe tomato. Luckily I didn’t think I said anything scandalous about him beyond his own account.

He left us standing with ‘And Raju, thanks for standing up for me. I appreciate it.’

I received a ‘I told you so’ look from Raju.

Part 3

I was on my bus ride returning to Chennai, my eyes on the rural landscape rushing past and thoughts swirling in my head. Quite naturally I went back to the chat with Raju and Varadan Sir. A rogue thought entered my mind: If a story is so plausible with no loose ends, might it be the truth? Told perhaps by the man’s vanity? You know vanity sometimes is more potent than any truth serum.

The line of thought did not persist for long, dissolving into the cute distraction the child was in the seat in front.


PS: babu’s = bureaucrats, pucca = completely, purely, gup = talk with no serious purpose, Rama and Ravana are from the epic Ramayana, Dhoti and Kurta = men ‘s wear.
Credits: Images from (international-folk-festival-yakshagana-ancient-art-puppetry-lives), (Highway gsagri04), R. K. Laxman‘s cartoons and the net.

This Wish Comes To You With A Bill To Pay

Bill Gates was out fishing when his pole started to jiggle.

He reels in the fish and the fish asks him,


“Please don’t eat me, can’t you throw me back?”

Bill replies, “Woah, a talking fish! I was going to throw you back anyways.”

The fish swims away then turns back, “Now that you let me go, how about a wish?”

Gates replies, “Okay, what do you want?”


Man, It May Be Wrong For You To Be On The Right Track



The Game Changers

Unexpected Outcomes 1

‘Ria and Diya, listen, stay in Subha’s house till I come back. I should be back by 4. Open your bags and do your homework quietly. And don’t make a nuisance of yourselves. Is that okay?’

Both of them looked up at me apprehensively and more warmly at Subha, nodding their heads like a flag in dying wind.

I said: ‘Behenji, not to worry. You finish all your work peacefully and return. Until then Subha and I will keep them engaged.’

‘Yes, Bhai Saheb, I know and thanks very much.’

‘Please don’t mention it. Gives us a chance to be with the kids for a while.’

This was true for in Mumbai it is not often neighbors spend any time in each other’s house. And this was the first both for the kids and us.

Our neighbor pinched the girls’ cheeks gently leaving them squealing in mock pain and with a final wave of hand as they gingerly stepped into our house.

Didn’t take more than a few minutes for them to unwind and be their natural bubbly self. What home-work? The girls besieged Subha for stories. Seeing no chance of persuading them to do their mother’s bidding, Subha gave in to their pleas and unspooled the Panchatantra stories embellished with appropriate sounds and animation.

Several stories later, when they showed signs of tiring out on foxes, crows, owls and what-have-you in forests, she deftly switched to Anthakshari – one says a word for the other to continue with a word beginning with the last letter of the first word. With their constrained vocabulary, Anthakshari quickly thinned out yielding to Find-The-Object (FiTO).

FiTO is always a sure hit with kids. And our hall is an ideal setting for FiTO. Hanging from every wall were pictures of gods, figurative paintings from professional artists and family snaps, all in no particular order, provided a canvas of inexhaustible detail. And sitting mutely on shelves and unappreciated by my wife and daughters, those figurines in clay, brass, china, wood and paper collected over the years from all parts of India. Besides being a feast for the eyes, food for the soul, bookmarks to the past and a canvas of inexhaustible detail for playing FiTO, they serve another useful utilitarian purpose – they hide incipient cracks in the walls and unseemly and premature peeling of the paint. It is common knowledge cracks and peels do not arrange themselves on the walls in any particular theme, hence it’s the same with the paintings and figurines in the hall.

All Subha does is to announce an object from this treasure-house of detail for the kids to find it. It is not as easy as it might appear. To illustrate the point, it might be a slice of a mango held by a parrot looking down from a mango tree in a brightly colored painting of a lotus pond, sure to be missed by any casual observer. Or a long-tailed paper kite flying in the sky inadvertently intruding into a family snap.

Subha has this special talent for livening it up for the kids. They just love it when she would reverse the roles letting them enjoy doing it to her.

So it was fun for an hour filled with shrieking guesses, crying foul and gloating successes.

While they were deeply engaged in spotting a coin – that was not a difficult one at all if one knew where to look for – I came in to ask what they would like to drink.

Riya: ‘Hot chocolate.’

Unexpected Outcomes 2

Diya: ‘I’ll have something cold?’

Unexpected Outcomes 3

‘Certainly, why not?’I said returning to the kitchen.

Unfortunately there was no Coke or Pepsi in the fridge. Not wanting to disappoint the kids, I called out Subha and told her to quickly get some from the shop at the end of our street. Not entirely pleased with going out dressed as she was like she got up from the bed only minutes ago, nevertheless she dragged herself out on the errand.

Neither the kids were pleased at this interruption. But I made it up for the kids serving them riddles, easy ones interspersed with not-so-easy.

So it went:

‘What is yours that others use more than you do?’

‘Three brothers go around chasing each other, but never catching up?’

‘What plays when it works and works while it plays?’

Subha was back at the door when I was on:

‘What is it that you throw out to use it and bring it back when done?’

Ria jumped up: ‘I know, I knowIt’s Subha.’

This girl is a budding genius, I thought.

A displeased Subha was more displeased:

‘Appa, you’re mean.You can’t do this.’

I had to clear this up. But first things first. I got the drinks made and offered to the children.

‘Ria, have you seen a ship?’

Wiping off the foam around her mouth, Ria shook her head: ‘Yes Uncle, we went on a ship on Navy Day.’

‘Good. You know a ship cannot stand still in the waters unless it throws out its…’

Diya was quick: ‘Anchors.’

‘There you are. And these anchors are drawn back when the ship wants to move on again.’

Subha was somewhat mollified. Normalcy returned. Though Ria still had the look she was right.

Before I could pose the next riddle, the bell rang.

It was my neighbor back from her outing.

‘Oh, you finished all the work? Didn’t realize two hours have passed.’

‘All done, thanks very much. I hope they didn’t trouble you.’

‘No bother at all. Very sweet they were. We had interesting time. Why don’t you ask them?’

Ria: ‘Amma, can we be with Subha Didi (sister) for some more time? We had lots of fun. Stories, Anthakshari

Diya: ‘We spotted an elephant, a mouse, a gold coinin those pictures.’

Ria: ‘Amma, I beat Didi, she couldn’t find the spider until I showed it to her in the end. Was looking for it all the time in the paintings. It is a real spider in its web, you see in that corner near the vase… You should see how fast it scampered up in a blink when I got close.’

There wasn’t much I could do or say other than looking sheepish.

Diya was not the one to be left behind: ’I also won when Didi couldn’t spot the lizard. It is hiding behind that painting, the one with the moon and the stars. Amma, why don’t we have one in our house?’

Before they could give a complete account of all the species they discovered in our living hall, my neighbor bustled them out to their house saving me from more blushes.

FiTO continues to be played in our house to engage kids visiting us. Only the rules are tightened to include a few exclusions. No living objects. Just to play it safe, no ex-living objects either.

Credits: Pictures from the Net.

A Miracle In The Making?

One fine morning Murphy drops some buttered toast on the kitchen floor and it lands butter-side-up.
Miracle Murphy 1
He looks down in astonishment, for he knows that it’s a law of nature of the universe that buttered toast always falls butter-side-down, so he rushes round to the presbytery to fetch Father Flanagan. He tells the priest that a miracle has occurred in his kitchen, but he won’t say what it is, so he asks Fr. Flanagan to come and see it with his own eyes. He leads Fr. Flanagan into the kitchen and asks him what he sees on the floor.

Miracle Murphy 2
“Well,” says the priest, “it’s pretty obvious. Someone has dropped some buttered toast on the floor and then, for some reason, they flipped it over so that the butter was on top.”

No, Father, I dropped it and it landed like that!” exclaimed Murphy.

“Oh my Lord,” says Fr. Flanagan, “dropped toast never falls with the butter side up. It’s a miracle… No… Wait… It’s not for me to say it’s a miracle. I’ll have to report this matter to the Bishop and he’ll have to deal with it. He’ll send some people round; to interview you, take photographs, and so on…”

Miracle Murphy 3

A thorough investigation is conducted, not only by the archdiocese but by scientists sent over from the Curia in Rome. No expense is spared. There is great excitement in the town as everyone knows that a miracle will bring in much need tourism revenue.

Miracle Murphy 4

Then, after 8 long weeks and with great fanfare, the Bishop announces the final ruling.

Miracle Murphy 5

“It is certain that some kind of an extraordinary event took place in Murphy’s kitchen, quite outside the natural laws of the universe. Something has definitely happened which cannot be explained by Earthly means. Yet the Holy See must be very cautious before ruling a miracle and all other explanations must be ruled out. And so, unfortunately for that very reason, in this case, it has been declared ‘No Miracle’ because they think that Murphy may have simply buttered the toast on the wrong side!”

Miracle Murphy 6



A Tale Of Two Young Men

It is not unusual things happen all at the same time. So it was today. We had a neighbor’s son’s marriage to attend and Raju had a job interview to go, his sixth in the three months after his graduation.

Pushing him to get ready was not the easiest task. He had his time with the morning papers, and an unhurried breakfast. With vagaries of traffic on streets of Mumbai there was no telling – one was always too early for a meeting or too late. Somehow we got him out of the house in my car. And soon we were on our way.

We caught a red at the Amar Mahal Junction going over to Ghatkopar from Chembur (East). Shortly after we had stopped, a young man materialized on my side of the auto (three-wheeler), one hand scratching his unshaven chin and the other hand open and tentatively stuck out at me.

saadman aungkarns

At this junction, a red stopping the traffic is a green for alms-seekers of all hues – physically handicapped, transvestites, children, women with babes in arms and men with an arm or a leg in an outsized cast – to descend from the side-walks on their prospects in vehicles. They spot a likely benefactor, plead and close, all within only a minute or two before a green turns on the traffic. For them women traveling by auto’s – there are no glasses to roll up and shut out – have proved to be a fairly sure bet.

Just on the count of appearing on my side – the wrong side – I marked this guy down as not a professional. He carried no pan or a can to collect, stood there investing all his time with a prospect he couldn’t be sure of and was in no hurry to try his luck with the vehicle ahead of us. No heart-rending words or gestures on his unkind fate to milk our sympathy. He just stood there gazing at me. An abject loser, it seemed.

Instinctively I fished out some coins and thrust them into his hands just in time as the red changed to green and we moved on.

We rode past a few blocks when my wife said: ‘You’re doing a wrong thing.’

‘What did I do now?’

‘A soft touch, you arediscouraging able-bodied men from working for a living…they get used to it. There wasn’t anything wrong with him.’

The nice ladynever stops me in my act. But never fails to let me know what she thinks.

My views were different: ‘Who knows? He might be deaf, mute or even mentally challenged. Arrey, you know, engineers in my office fa*t around not knowing what do in their jobs. And here we’re talking about a guy, assuming for a moment he’s fit though I doubt very much, with no education, no skills and possibly no home or family and expect him to push himself into a job and earn a fair wage?’

‘I still say he ought to find some job rather than be on the road. The market place is just behind us. Must not be too difficult tp find some work even as a casual labor. One must start somewhere.’

I fell silent. These encounters on the roads always drain me until other distractions thankfully take me away.

That was that. We proceeded to attend the marriage followed by a feast as always. On our return ride I did not look for him as we passed the spot – I had forgotten all about it.

In the afternoon we were rudely woken up by Raju leaning on the door-bell.

The young man looked no worse for the wear as he walked in with his shoulders in a usual stoop. Like a batsman returning after a long innings out in the middle.

My wife wouldn’t hold herself back:

‘Raju, what happened? You got the job?’

‘What Mom…yes, I had to get selected. Couldn’t have been otherwise. But I said no. ’

‘Arrey, why did you do that? Was the pay not good?’

‘Not that. In fact they were ready to start me off with a higher pay. These guys sell their equipment all over India. They want me to travel by train and bus to reach the sites for installation. Told them it has to be metro areas, no mofussil. Sorry, Mom, you know I can’t do it.’

‘Not to worry, son. Am sure you’ll get a job of your liking. Only a matter of time. Don’t let it pull you down. Now go and change. Did you have anything to eat or should I stir up something?’

I wasn’t one to say anything to an audience I didn’t have.


It’s Time To Know Who Is Most Cruel Of All


These are the photos taken by Dallas, Texas photographer Tom Hussey using sets of real people aged 40 to 50 years apart. Here an elderly woman clutches a comb for her white hair while the dark-haired reflection of a young school teacher, a notebook and red apple in her arms, reflects back in her mirror.



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