Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shall We Kill the President?

Mr. Harding paced in his plush office on the top floor of Greasy Palms Inc, the investment bank he had worked in for the past twenty five years. He was now the CEO, and had for the past five years, taken home an eight figure salary. The Board was pleased with his efforts to bring Greasy Palms to the standing of the bulge bracket firms, and he had a tidy sum in his retirement account in Cayman Islands. Life was good, but Mr. Harding was not happy.

Harcourt “Hardball” Harding was a hard man. He had started out as a lowly analyst in the firm, and had fought his way up to the top job through sheer tenacity and brute force. By the time he reached the top, he had no friends left in the firm, so he fired the whole lot and brought in his own people. The shareholders grumbled, but five years of record profits had silenced them. Mr. Harding was worried because the outlook for the sixth year did not look too rosy.

It was June 2006, and the American Joe was feeling quite satisfied with himself. The economic outlook was rosy, risk-hungry investors were fooling about with wild abandon, grubbing about in the mortgage cesspool for the extra buck. Investment banks were having fun, gathering up armfuls of muck from the above mentioned cesspool and handing them over to white haired Grannies, telling them it was the safest thing to put their pension money in. Securitization, they called it, and it made them very very rich.

Mr. Harding was worried because he felt that Greasy Palms was not making as much money out of the whole thing as it rightfully should have. Moreover, he shrewdly felt that there were only so many mortgages that banks could securitize, and that business there would dry up soon. Greasy Palms needed to securitize something new, and just that morning, he had had the glimmering of a brilliant idea…

Harcourt Harding picked up the telephone. ‘Get Miss Corners in here,’ he said briefly. Less than a minute later, Miss Corners entered. ‘Sir?’

Ku Ting Corners was perhaps the most brilliant recruit he had hired for the firm. He recognized her keen intelligence right away, as well as her natural ability to tread the borders of the nice and legal with the dark and murky with finesse, and had taken her under his wing. Miss Corners wasn’t much to look at, angular and thin, with a pinched face. He had helped her smuggle her entire family out of North Korea, and she was a die-hard Harding loyalist.

‘Miss Corners,’ he began. In Greasy Palms, people were addressed on a strict last name basis. An associate who’d dared to address him as ‘Hardball, old boy’ had found himself booted out the next day. ‘What do you think about insurance securitization as a new business to get into?’

‘Insurance securitization?’ Miss Corners raised an eyebrow. ‘Issanchou’s been doing it for a while now. There’s hardly any money to be made from the reinsurance business these days. Besides –‘

‘Not reinsurance,’ Mr. Harding waved a hand impatiently. ‘What if we can offer our clients the opportunity to take a view on… say the number of people who’ll die in a car crash in the United States over the next month? Something completely new. We can do this by grouping maybe a thousand insurance policies together and tranching them. People can buy the safe senior tranche to receive the steady stream of insurance premiums, while the mezzanine runs a risk of having to bear the costs of paying out the claims. So a person having a view that car accidents would reduce over the next month would-‘

‘Buy the mezzanine tranche to earn the higher rate,’ breathed Miss Corners. She gazed at Mr. Harding with utmost respect. ‘That’s a brilliant idea Mr. Harding!’

‘I know,’ he replied, without the slightest trace of arrogance. ‘The only issue is that the people might find it rather… morbid to buy into products such as this. There could be bad publicity if we do launch this product.’

‘I’ll take care of it.’ Miss Corners said brusquely.

Miss Corners took care of it. Fervent lobbying in Washington ensured that their insurance securitized products, if launched, would be legal and above-board. A number of strategic press releases raised the issue in the newspapers, where it led to a frenzied debate regarding the ethics of the financial product in question. While the issue was still hot, Greasy Palms talked to a number of major corporations regarding ‘a demographic hedge’ whereby companies could protect themselves against their target consumer class shrinking, by investing in insurance-backed products which would make them money if there were excess deaths in their target consumer base. Greasy Palms talked to insurance companies and convinced them that they could take excess risk off their books by pooling their insurance policies and selling them on to the risk-hungry investors. Greasy Palms talked to everyone who could potentially form a market for the products.

The day before the big launch, Miss Corners went on air on CNN. She briefly spoke about their new product launch, and answered the ethical questions raised (How could you take a bet that people would die? How could making money when families grieved for lost lives not disgust you? Are you even human?) . She spoke passionately about the free market, and how an American had the right to express his view in today’s world. She spoke about her background from North Korea, and how it would be impossible to launch a product there, due to lack of basic human freedom. She spoke about how coming to America changed her life, and how she finally came to know what freedom meant. She exhorted Americans everywhere to exercise their freedom by investing in the Greasy Palms Insurance Securitization Fund.

The launch was a huge success. The publicity was tremendous. The public was divided in its sense of outrage and admiration. It seemed that the very morbidity of the product attracted clients. Mr. Harding speculated that speculating on the lives of fellow human beings gave the said human beings a sense of power. Greasy Palms won a number of awards for its innovative new product.

A month later, a rival bank tried to launch a similar fund. When he saw their press release, Mr. Harding’s eyes became very hard. A number of calls made out to the largest investors ensured that the new fund had little business. ‘Hard luck boys!’ he crowed. ‘Rather late on the scene, aren’t we?’

Mr. Harding took home a nine figure salary that year.

Soon, problems began to crop up for Greasy Palms. The large volume of business transacted through the single firm put a lot of risk on their books. Soon, the situation arose when the predominant market view was that more people would die in car crashes than ever, while Greasy Palms had a massive position in the opposite view.

Mr. Harding called an emergency meeting of his traders. They were of the opinion that the position could not be reduced at short notice without suffering massive losses. Mr. Harding developed an ingenious new plan. He hired a number of activists to flood the streets carrying slogans like ‘Drive Carefully’, ‘Speed Thrills, but Kills’ and even ‘Your family is waiting at home for you. Better late than never!’

The unconventional plan worked. There were very few accidents that month on the streets of New York. Mr. Harding had found a way to manage the huge risks on Greasy Palms’ books. They did the same thing the week after, and the week after. On the following week however, while the activists were busy handing out pamphlets extolling the virtues of slow driving, the head trader made an urgent call to his boss, ‘Mr. Harding, we have a position on the other side this time!’

Mr. Harding made a few quick phone calls. The pamphlets were burned. The activists began to hand out free beers at traffic stops instead.

Soon, a number of sub-classes of the product were launched. There were Terrorist Insurance Funds, which would pay out huge amounts of money if a ‘substantial’ number of people died from terrorist attacks. There was the Schoolbus Failed-Brake Fund, which took a view on accidents involving school children. But it was the launch of the High-Premium Insurance Fund which led to the eventual shut-down of the very profitable Insurance Securitization business.

The High-Premium Insurance Fund let investors take a view on the deaths of high-premium insured. These included senators, lawyers, Hollywood stars, as well as the bankers themselves. The problem arose when a retail investor named Lee Harvey Oswald took large sizes in a position which predicted record number of deaths in the high-premium category. He became uneasy when the drug addled Hollywood actresses resolutely clung on to life, when the drunk bankers negotiated their way safely home on Friday nights and when no angry clients murdered their lawyers. He therefore decided to take things into his own hands, and through a combination of luck and skill, managed to assassinate the President of the United States. His trade position made him a lot of money, but he spent the rest of his life in jail. He considered it to be worth it.

The incident re-awakened the dormant public conscience, and insurance securitization was banned. Mr. Harding received a tongue lashing in the Senate for introducing a financial product which was against public interest. At the next shareholder meeting, there were a lot of sympathetic murmurs, what the Senators did was not considered to be good form. Did he consider Greasy Palms to be hard done by? ‘Hardly,’ Mr. Harding replied, ‘I do have this other great idea though…’

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Prologue

The cat walked down the moonlit path, stepping carefully over the uneven stones that led to the sanctuary. It was following the cloaked figure of course, as it had for the past several nights over several miles. Although one would never have suspected it to be capable of such a feat, its snow white coat and the rather large belly which sagged down its middle suggested that it was a favoured pet of a rich old lady living in the Forum.

The man knew of its existence of course, he could smell its odd smell and see his white shadow trailing behind him clearly. Was it merely an escort, sent by his too-polite hosts to ensure that he crossed the boundary safely, or something more? It was the smell that bade him to treat the cat with caution, it had the distinctive acrid smell of an enchanted creature. Still, he was certain that it would not harm him or get in his way. His hosts were too set in the old ways to harm a guest within their territory, much as they would have liked to, so he knew that he and his bundle were safe for the time being.

His bundle made a small noise, but he ignored it in favour of quickening his steps to the giant wooden doors. Dawn was almost here, there wasn’t too much time left now. A touch of his fingertips on the cold brass knob, and there was a loud clicking and whirring noise from within, and the door swung open. He left it open as he strode in, knowing that the cat would follow. It was better to have a witness for what was going to happen tonight.

The sanctuary was built the old way, entirely of gigantic stone blocks with intricate rune carvings to bind them together. The hall was long and comparatively narrow, and the ceiling was far above, supported by tenuously thin tendrils of stone. Windows were long thin slits in the side walls, stone pillars were cunningly erected in front of them to prevent their letting in the sun at dawn. A huge circular podium lay at the far end of the hall, and the entire building was designed such that the first ray of sun would strike the exact centre of the circle, while the rest of the sanctuary lay shrouded in darkness. It was speculated that a system of highly polished mirrors placed in the ceiling was used to achieve this, but no one really knew. Even at this time, when he knew his death was but a few minutes away, he couldn’t help but admire the architectural skills of those who had lived so long ago.

He wondered idly if any of the daily patrons knew why the temple was built the way it was. Probably not, he decided, as he himself had grasped the reason only a few weeks ago. He remembered his previous visit, when he had made that terrible oath, that he would never rest until he had righted the ancient wrongs, until he had unified the world.

He had failed. People had called him foolhardy and arrogant, when he set out full of purpose. He had proved them right. Far from being the savior of the world, he had succeeded in making things far worse and a terrible war seemed inevitable. Years of hate and misunderstanding would finally find an outlet, and a secret cowardly part of him was glad he would not live to see it. This brought him back to the present, he had come back to the sanctuary, back full circle, to make his last sacrifice for the cause.

The cat slipped in, almost unnoticed, and crept under one of the stone pews.

He looked down at the tiny bundle under his arm, which wriggled slightly under the scrutiny. He slowly unwrapped many layers of fine quilt to reveal a baby, a pale scrawny thing not too many days old. Large eyes blacker than night stared out from a thin, bony face. It seemed malnourished, an unhealthy, sickly looking thing. Good, he thought to himself, perhaps it would make it less of a sin to kill this creature, the creature which took its mother’s life when it was born.

The cat’s eyes narrowed as it watched the man place the baby gently on the scorched spot which marked the centre of the podium, where the sun’s burning rays would strike unforgivingly, focused by the mirrors in the ceiling. A piece of parchment placed there would ignite instantly. And the man placed the baby lovingly on the spot.

The baby seemed to know something momentous was happening, it stayed completely still, and stared at the man through its wonderfully expressive dark eyes. A sudden lump found its way into the man’s throat for some reason, and he murmured as he rose, ‘Forgive me.’

Dawn was scant moments away. He looked up at the ceiling he could not see, and spoke, his voice husky. ‘This is my last offering. I have nothing else to offer you.’ His voice echoed around the temple. ‘Please,’ he bowed his head, ‘Accept my sacrifice. Save my people.’

The tiniest prick of light appeared above. The sun shone down on the new-born. The man waited. For the cries of the infant as it was burnt to death. For the smell of burning flesh. For his heart to break.

And waited.

And under his astonished gaze, the baby began to giggle. He could feel the hair on his fore-arm rise, the strange musical hum which accompanied a strong burst of the Power filled his ears. His eyes met his son’s and a flash of understanding brought him to his knees. The baby’s eyes were now a light grey, its face seemed fuller, more human.

His sacrifice had been accepted, not the way he thought it would have been, but accepted nonetheless.

They came soon after dawn, as he knew they would. Grim faced mercenaries, seven of them marched slowly down the entrance towards the podium. He was still on his knees, to all appearances, he appeared to be praying. But they took no chances, although it was day now, and the sun’s gentle diffused light lit up the sanctuary. Their swords were unsheathed, and they arrayed themselves in close ranks behind him. Was it the first time blood would be shed in this sanctuary?

And the bravest of them crept closer, and with a sudden thrust of his sword, stabbed him in the back. The man toppled forward, onto the strongly sunlit dais. His flesh began to burn almost instantaneously, far too quickly for a normal human. The baby watched him gravely as he died, light grey eyes meeting black, and the man smiled, a thin smile on a too pale face.

‘My son, the savior of the world…’

The priestesses came soon after, when nothing remained of the man but ashes, with cries of disbelief as they noticed the baby, unscarred, unburnt, wrapped in fine silks. They assumed, of course, that a woman who could not care for her baby left it here, as was the custom amongst the poor. But rarely did a baby come with fine silk quilts. And never was it placed in the centre of the dais, where the sun shone strongest, the mother must have been very careless indeed.

The cat crept out unnoticed. The act of power it had witnessed had shaken it deeply. It would have to report back that day of course, but it would not mention the baby. The vampire was cornered in the old sanctuary, and met his end in the hands of the mercenaries, those were the events that happened that night. The sacrifice would remain a secret.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Death of a Man

Let's call him Paris. Paris is a thin, insignificant looking fellow whose speech is without inflection or any particular emotion. Any emotion displayed seems but forced. With a little stretch of imagination, one can imagine him being dissatisfied with his lot in life, one can imagine his disappointing childhood and his unfulfilled dreams. Paris smiles a thin tentative smile when he sees you, and mumbles a hello in a low enough tone, so that your possible lack of response could be attributed to your not hearing him. Paris is the person everyone describes as 'steady' and 'dependable', and cannot think of anything else nice to say. Everyone knows a Paris, or can at least identify with him, for Paris is very human, the accumulation of one's worst fears and insecurities.

The objective is merely to present some sort of background for Paris, so what comes next would actually seem as a logical continuation of thought, rather than simply the output of a morbid sense of humour. How would you expect Paris to meet his (untimely) end?

Before outlining the possibilities, one may safely cross out certain possibilities. For instance, one would not expect Paris to go down fighting defending all that is precious to him. Neither would one expect him to get into a drunken brawl and get stabbed. For this is simply not his style.

For retaining the entertainment value of the blog, we will also eliminate mundane ways of kicking the bucket. So, Paris will not be killed in an air-crash or of heart failure (unless it is caused by shock). However, there could be a way he would die in a car accident...

One would imagine Paris to be a law abiding fellow, who lives by the rules. He would carefully drive his car, staying well below the speed limit, earning the curses of his fellow drivers who want him to get out of their way. He would pay his insurance on time, and never dream of running a red light. So, imagine Paris's consternation when he waits patiently for the light to turn green before he starts his engine (Paris is environmentally conscious and switches off his engine at traffic signals) and crosses the road, only to see a truck speeding towards him from the cross-road.

Paris has just a split-second to act. Only if he brakes immediately, or floors the accelerator can he hope to live! What does Paris do? He uses the split second to glance up at the traffic light ahead to ensure that it is green, and that he is not the driver at fault. The truck crashes into Paris' car (a second hand Maruti 800, lovingly cared for) and sends Paris to a better place, and the car to a junk-yard. Still, Paris dies happy, knowing that he lived by the rules, and died by them.

Paris is also the kind of person who would kill himself if he were to get into debt, not because he's afraid of going to jail, but because he's terrified of his wife and what she would say. While Paris' wife (a shrewd and cunning woman, who's older than him, wears a lot of make-up and is slightly chubby) would probably take out a life insurance policy on him, making herself the sole beneficiary, she would not get the spoils as Paris would be conscientious enough to wait for the policy to lapse before killing himself. His creditors wouldn't get any of their money either, and his death would be a disappointment to everyone concerned.

I believe that the scenarios outlined above are the expectations people have of Paris. It is quite possible that in his death, Paris would do what he would have dearly liked to do when he lived, surprise everyone by his actions. When people learn of how Paris throttled his nagging wife and was shot when attempting to escape to Nepal, they would ask themselves, 'Did we really know Paris?'

No one would have known. No one could have known. It's also quite possible that Paris' death would make people wonder and ponder if they really know anyone at all, and send them down a downward spiral, and at rock bottom, with not an ounce of self-confidence left in them, they would become the Paris they once knew.

Therefore, in his death, Paris spawns new Parises, and the vicious cycle continues until all of humanity is destroyed when a disgruntled Paris nukes everyone and everything.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Insights on Human Behaviour

Any person worth their salt has a quest in life. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and the Monty Python troupe quested for the Holy Grail. Keen-eyed detectives of yore and the Powerpuff girls fight crime and the forces of evil. Most business school students have the slightly less high-minded, but nonetheless time-honoured quest of achieving footage while in college through means fair and foul, and making a lot of money after they graduate, again through means fair and foul.

After much consideration, I’ve decided that my immediate quest shall be that of finding out why humans behave the way they do. I will attempt to do this in a thoroughly rational manner, taking three situations that have occurred in my life recently and analyzing people’s responses to them. From this, I shall unreasonably draw conclusions about human behaviour and impose them upon the entire world population. I shall then achieve fame and fortune as a Master of Psychology, and my picture shall appear in the last but one page of Bangalore Times for a week, along with Deepika Padukone’s, as a part of a series of articles celebrating the achievements of Kannadigas everywhere.

Let us begin.

I study in IIM Bangalore. The academic commitments are rigorous and the competition gruelling. If you are a questioning sort of person, if there is a strong spirit of scientific enquiry within you, you will have no doubt questioned the relationship between the two. Are academic commitments rigorous on account of tough taskmasters that the barbed-wire chewing professors are? As a result of which there is intense competition? Or is it the other way round, the urge to go one-up on one’s fellow batchmates extreme enough to cause the entire hard-working spree management students tend to go on in the first place?

This question can be answered very simply. Are the professors at IIMB hard-faced, barbed-wire chewing, grim scholars renowned in their areas of expertise? Not really, atleast not all of them. This obviously leads to the conclusion that, to use a colloquial term popular amongst students everywhere, RG is the source of the rigorous academic commitments.

Drawing conclusions from this brilliant piece of analysis, we come to Lesson 1. The deep-seated desire in all humans to emerge triumphant, to rise above the morass we live in, is really why we live in the morass in the first place.

Allow that startling revelation to sink into your mind. We will move on to Experience number 2.

For the uninitiated, one reason why so many exchange students from numerous colleges, which no one in their right minds would have ever heard of, from France, Italy, Spain and other countries, come to IIM Bangalore, is to cop a feel of Indian Culture. While, most people are hazy about the whole culture thing, they may waver between yoga and kabaddi as true symbols of Indian culture, those at IIM Bangalore are a sight cleverer. They (the unnamed powers who run the institution), know that while the foreigners who come for a dose of India, don’t want too much of it. Just enough to tell their friends back home how wonderful it all is, and secretly vow never to come to India again. So, to relieve the monotony of traditional Indian life, L^2 (read L square) parties are organized at IIM Bangalore.

While this could be a Lesson in itself, my point is a different thing altogether. After long observations of the goings-on at the L^2 parties, one curious phenomenon that occurs is the ring system. Guys and girls form a ring and, to use the term loosely, dance. The life-span of a ring is proportional to the number of girls in the ring. If there are lots of girls, life is good. Once they start slipping away, what’s left is a bunch of guys jumping about together. Not cool at all. So, all that’s left to do is slink away shamefacedly, under the pretext of getting another drink. The ring thus breaks rapidly.

The important takeaway from the ring observations, which is in fact our Lesson number 2, is that humans are a gregarious species. They seek companionship rather desperately. Yet there is something within us, a sense of shyness perhaps, that prevents us from going after what we really want.

And the last, and most important (in my humble opinion) lesson.

Our placement season has just ended. Congratulations, you might say with a puzzled air, but isn’t it rather early for that? Yes, that is true, these are summer placements, for a two month internship next year.

I am not joking when I say that I’ve (had to, Lesson 1) put in more effort for the placements than for most courses. A significant amount of this effort has gone into eliminating white spaces on my resume. White spaces are those annoying things that are located after the end of a sentence. We were repeatedly taught that white spaces are a creation of the Devil, and good, respectable resumes had no place for Creatures of Evil. And hence the cry of war was heard resounding from block to block, and apart from a few exceptions, people took up the fight against white spaces with vigour.

Imagine our collective dismay, when we found that companies could not really care less about white spaces! There was very little one could do, can you imagine one going up to the company representatives and expressing his/her grievances about the company’s policy of indifference towards white spaces?

We had been spoon-fed what was, if not a lie, wasn’t really the truth either. And why did we believe it? Because it was something we wanted to hear, that we could actually do something to an unspectacular resume to make it look attractive. This brings us to Lesson number 3, humans are generally a gullible lot. We may laugh at the village simpleton, but most of us aren’t really much better.

And now my job is finished, the pearls have been scattered before the swine. All I have to wait for is recognition for the ground-breaking theories I have come up with, and my contribution to civilization is done. I shall then retire, happy, and hopefully rich, with a cut-out from a newspaper containing a picture of myself and Deepika as fond souvenir of my brief moment of fame.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Valentine’s Day

One rainy day in the land of Saki, the Duchess asked Clovis to tell her a story that had enough truth in it to be interesting, but not so much as to make it tiresome. This is one such story.

I was impeccably dressed in a suit I had purchased the night before (my uncle had bullied me all the way into a Raymonds showroom, at my mother’s insistence. Its amazing how much influence she wields in my life from several hundred kilometers away). The blazer was hot and uncomfortable and I fidgeted quietly in a chair, reading the day’s paper. To add to my troubles, I was the only one suited up that day, and I was garnering strange looks from the rest of the candidates, imperfect creatures that they were, dressed merely in a shirt and tie. Or so I consoled myself.

I made the acquaintance of Red-Nose that day. He was sitting beside me, reading the Economic Times, when he turned to me with a ferociousness that startled me. Consequently, I missed his name. I murmured my own in reply, and there followed a strained silence that I did not wholly discourage, for my butterflies were acting up again. After a few moments, my companion saw fit to break the silence.

“Oil’s at forty dollars a barrel,” Red-Nose informed me intelligently.

“Ah… I see.”

“Gold’s fallen,” he shook his head dejectedly. “Bad for the rupee.”

“D’you really think they’ll ask you all this in the interview?”

Red-Nose beamed at me. “It never hurts to be prepared, is it?”

I decided that I disliked Red-Nose. I borrowed the crossword page from ET, and steadfastly refused to be drawn into conversation with him. Not that he minded, he continued to talk, casting financial pearls of wisdom before the proverbial swine.

They called us in.


We were seated in a circle, in an inner chamber of the Institute of Hotel Management. There was an air of expectancy all around, all that was left for us to do was hold hands and we wouldn’t have looked out of place in a séance. The two spirit mediums distributed papers and bade us to ponder over the topic for the group discussion. The door suddenly burst open and a wild-eyed girl entered, stammering out profuse apologies for being late. After some haggling, the two examiners let Wild-eye join the circle.

We had before us a summary of the first expedition to the South Pole, and the hardships they overcame and all that sort of stuff. There was apparently an Indian expedition to Antarctica in the coming month, and the leader of the expedition was desperately seeking advice from us. We were to discuss what advice to give him. As to why we were the best people to impart the aforementioned advice, the examiners did not deign to tell us.

The discussion went on like all discussions do, with longwinded arguments that were oft repeated and fairly boring overall. After five minutes, desiring to include a fresh direction, I started, “I think we should look at it from a leadership perspective…” I trailed off as someone else interrupted.

Wild-eye interrupted when the faceless person stuttered for a bit. “I think we should look at it from a leadership perspective…” she began. I stared at her in undisguised astonishment. She stared back at me shamelessly and continued on with her thoughts about leadership. I decided that I disliked Wild-eye as well, perhaps more than Red-Nose, who thankfully wasn’t in our group.

As the discussion went on, an aggressive Wild-eye interrupted people often and made herself unpopular. When she called for a consensus on the issue, everyone agreed that more discussion was needed. Petty as it was, I nonetheless shared a smile with a fellow candidate at our minor victory.

The high point of the discussion was at the very end, when someone was expounding the dangers of snow-blindness. “But that’s not a problem,” Wild-eye said confidently. She looked around, evidently pleased with the interest that the statement generated. “With all the global warming going on these days, there won’t be much snow left in Antarctica…”

What made this even worse was while some people were in a state of disbelief, others were nodding along, acknowledging her point! No doubt they were furiously berating themselves for not thinking of this earlier and thinking frantically about something to add to the global warming argument. Perhaps the examiners suspected so too, for they halted the discussion at that point.


We trooped outside to wait for the interview summons. I met a senior from college whom I hadn’t recognized earlier due to his haircut (he hadn’t recognized me because I was wearing my suit). As we caught up on old times, I noticed that Red-Nose had made Wild-eye’s acquaintance and they were happily discussing ITC’s market share in biscuits…

I was the first one called for the interview from my group. I stepped inside, carefully closing the door behind me and wishing the interviewers a good morning. From that point on, the details of the interview are slightly hazy. In the mists of my memory though, one thing stands visible. During the interview, I discovered that I had a voice in my head.

On hindsight, I realize this may have been a slightly worrisome thing to happen, but I didn’t really think about it then. And since then, the Presence has consequently muted itself, and I have never heard from it again. This in a way is a pity, because the Presence gave me excellent suggestions during the interview. The stranger and infinitely more ironic thing was that I did the exact things the voice told me not to…

“So why is it that you don’t want to pursue an MS degree abroad?”

Talk about how, while you like Electrical Engineering, you don’t see yourself doing it for the rest of your life, the voice suggested. And then you can talk about why you want to do an MBA instead.

“Well sir, it is difficult to get admission into the good universities in the US,” I replied. The voice voiced an expression of disgust.

The interviewer raised an eye-brow. “Despite graduating from IIT?”

“With my CPI, I won’t get admission into the best universities…” I trailed off, realizing what I was saying. Nice one, the voice glowered at me.

“Do you have a role model? Some public figure?”

I opened my mouth and closed it. “Abdul Kalam,” I invented. “His success story, from a fisherman’s son to the President of India is very inspiring. And he’s done a lot of work too, the Father of India’s nuclear programme…”

“Really?” the other interviewer drawled. “Are you sure you’re not referring to someone else?”

I did my fish imitation again. A name floated up from the murky depths of my mind. Homo Baba? Homi Baba? No definitely not Homo Baba, you fool! What was I thinking? I did not reply to his question.

“Tell me about any news item you’ve been following.”

I told them about the Indo-US nuclear deal, but unfortunately (predictably?), I was unable to give too many details. Did I have another? Well, I had something I’d followed in the newspaper every day…

Not that, the voice groaned.

I proceeded to tell them about Shilpa Shetty and the Big Brother fiasco.

And after I stumbled out shoulders drooped, I realized that I’d forgotten to give them my recommendation letters. I waited outside for five minutes, and handed it in when the interviewer opened the door. He smiled pityingly at me.

I think he genuinely felt sorry for me.


This is not a sad story. It is in fact, a story which strengthens one’s faith in a benevolent force up there in the heavens, smiling sunnily down at us humans scurrying forth busily here there everywhere. This is because, after a couple of months, I got a letter from IIM Bangalore informing me that if I were interested, I could join the MBA programme on June 25th. I was, and here I am now. Miracles happen.

No, I haven’t seen Wild-eye or Red-nose around here…

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My New Roommate

Whom did you ask

Before taking up residence with me?

Why do you stare at me so

With those malevolent dark beady eyes,

When I have done nothing

Except mind my own business?

You respect my space,

Very little baggage you have brought in with you.

You seem the strong silent type,

You have resisted all my attempts to get closer to you.

Holding yourself aloof...

Do you not yearn for human contact?

Have you perhaps suffered

Trauma at a very young impressionable age?

For there is a dullness in your eye,

Except, when you stalk your unwitting prey.

There is a sense of sadism in you,

Primal nature, brutality, a pleasure in the hunt.

I find vile and disgusting

That dreadful chomping, as your unlucky meal struggles down your throat.

Unasked you have come

And overstayed your welcome.

I beseech you earnestly - Leave

And take that wiggling tail that you seem to have dropped with you...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Spritual Experiences...

Today, I was unfortunate enough to miss the bus in the morning. To the gravely uninformed, I'm doing an internship at GE Healthcare, which has it's presence in Whitefield, Bangalore, and is an hour's drive from the city, two if the traffic is heavy, as it is on most days. Perhaps the intent of having an office so far from the city was to promote camaraderie among employees by cooping them up in a bus (albeit with rather comfortable seats) for three hours everyday. A pretty lousy idea, which doesn't seem to work, because these people just don't talk! Every single one sits on an empty seat if possible and simply stares out the window. Bunch of antisocial buggers... take it from me, because the scenery isn't all that impressive.

Which brings us to today morning, when I missed the ol' GE bus. Being of a rather niggardly disposition, I decided to take a public transport one instead. My new fellow passengers weren't averse to making their opinions heard, whether it concerned the weather, the India-West Indies cricket match or what they thought of the conductor who yelled at them to move to the back of the bus, when even a child could see that there wasn't any space left there...

Listening in on the interesting conversations is all well and good, if one could forget that each bump on the road resulted in a couple of elbows digging painfully into one's ribs. Those sardines have it easy! Getting a seat wasn't that easy though, after standing next to two men who showed no signs of getting up anytime soon, I yielded to the conductor's pressure and departed for the back of the bus. No sooner had I moved, one of them got up and the fellow who was standing behind me sank into the empty seat with a shameless smile on his face. Bastard...

I did get a seat in the end, right atop a wheel which was making rather disconcerting sounds. The bus grew slightly lopsided, an effect of all those people hanging out the door I supposed. When we stopped, people outside shouted out to the driver that the tyre was punctured, but for reasons best known to himself, the bus continued on. I don't know if you've noticed, but sitting on a punctured tyre in an alarmingly tilted bus makes you feel rather close to God. I prayed...

When I finally got down, it was with a deep sigh of relief and gratitude. Someone above was watching over me. I could almost imagine Him winking down and saying in the deep powerful voice that Gods have, "Not today boy..."

"Yeah," I'd reply fervently, "Yeah..."