Dec 23, 2008

Episode THIR13EN

If you are new to this story, do not start here. Go to the Index and Introduction page.

'I'd like to make an offer to you - to join our franchise as a player for one season'
Warney was shocked. This was beyond his dreams, and he didn't know how to react. 'Thank you,  sir. That's very flattering, but I'm not sure I'd be able to take it up.'
'Well, I'm well-settled in my job and quite happy. I'm not sure I'd want to take such a drastic step as turning pro cricketer.'
'OK. For starters, I know banking can't be a very exciting job. You have great talent as a cricketer, and I can see you really enjoy playing. If I was in your position, I'd jump at the opportunity to turn pro.'
'A few years ago, I might have. But at 25, after having attended IIT and IIM, and being settled into this job - I think it's too late.'
'It isn't too late. You can train for a few months, and will be on the squad this coming summer. If you do well, you could even make the national team before you turn 30. Imagine the possibilities!'
'Yeah, it is very exciting, but too risky'
'We're offering you $30,000 for one season. And if you do well, there are no limits really, for the future.'
'30,000... that equals about Rs 15 Lakh, right? That's only a little higher than what I'm earning currently. And much riskier.'
'It's NOT a risk, Mr Bhatia. It is more than you are earning now. In the worst case - if you don't do well, you could go back to your banking job. With your qualifications, it wouldn't be difficult. And no one would mind having an employee with IPL experience on their resume!'

Deep was stumped. This guy was making sense. But he didn't feel comfortable.
'What makes you sure that I will do well? I've never played anywhere near that level.'
'Wrong! The L&T - A team is as good as some of the Ranji state teams. You've done quite well against them today. I've seen you throughout the tournament - you have a lot of natural talent, and a good cricketing head. With proper coaching and facilities that we provide - I know you'll develop into a very good cricketer.  Trust me, I know my job.'
'I don't know, sir. I'll think about it. Can you give me time till next Sunday? I have to think all possible consequences, and also discuss with my family and all.'
'Sure. We could up our offer to about $50,000 for one season - with some conditions. I look forward to signing you next Sunday.'

Warney smiled, and they parted.

Warney accepted the offer the following Sunday, after much deliberation and long discussions with Preeti, his parents, his good friends. All of them resisted the idea at first, but eventually accepted that there was little to lose, and a humongous potential upside. Shubh had made the decision easier by letting Warney know he could walk right back into his job if things didn't work out. That was, assuming Shubh was still around. Otherwise, Shubh would hire him wherever he was, and he was fairly sure ICICI's doors would also remain open. The contract was simple - 3 months rigorous training & coaching. And another 3 months of match-play. Warney's remuneration would vary between $30k and $50k - depending on how many matches he actually played, which in turn would depend on his performance. At the end of the season, the contract could be renewed if both parties so wished. Otherwise, he'd be released.

The biggest consequence - already - was winning over Preeti's dad. Over the past couple of months, Preeti and her mom had both been trying to convince him about the marriage proposal. Warney was intelligent, successful, from a respectable family, from the same community, and he and Preeti really loved and cared for each other. Everything that mattered was 'right'. He had almost relented, though he still wasn't too impressed by Warney's professional standing. The IPL offer had been the final straw. Now, he was convinced that his only daughter was going to be with someone truly special.

Warney and Preeti were going to Delhi a week later, and a meeting of both families was being arranged.
'Is the Hyatt impressive enough for your dad?'
'What for?'
'As a venue for the families to meet. Over dinner.'
'What for?'
'What for?! You know what for!'
'I don't.'
'Rishte ki baat karne.'
'Kaisa rishta?'
'Tumhara aur mera?!'
'I don't want an arranged marriage.'
'Arranged marriage? WTF? This is NOT an arranged marriage!'
'Looks like one. The families are meeting. No one has proposed to me.'

Now Warney understood what this was about. Ms. High Maintenance wanted him to do the proposal on-his-knees-with-a-ring and all.
'Ahh! You expect me to go on my knees and propose? Come on, that's unnecessarily dramatic.'
'I would call it romantic. It's neither dramatic nor unnecessary.'
'Fine, I'll do it.'
'Now what?'
'If you announce it first, and do it like a punishment, it's not right. You need to surprise me. And it'd better be nice.'
'Hmmm. OK. Dinner at the Oberoi tomorrow?'

They sat down at their table, at the hotel's famous Kandahar restaurant, and ordered drinks and starters. Soon, the waiter arrived with two glasses of Champagne and a chocolate cake. He placed the cake on the table. Preeti read it.
'Will you marry me?' 
'Yes.... Yes' (both options had small checkboxes next to them)
She smiled.

'Oh god! This is a tough choice!'
'I know. Tough to choose any one of those and let the other go.'
'It's more like a choice between the devil and the deep sea.'
'Well, the devil's right in front of you, and the deep sea right behind. Choose. Now!'
'Hmmm. The sea's murky and I don't know how to swim. The devil looks cute and has been nice to me. I think I'll go with the devil.'
'You won't regret it. You have the devil's word.... Also, the devil's reserved a room here for the night, should you choose him'
'Deep, are you nuts?'
'What? This is a special occasion. You wanted this.'
'I wanted a proposal, NOT a honeymoon. That's crazy. Please tell me you're kidding.'
'No, I'm not. I knew you'd protest, so I've already reserved it and the credit card's already been charged.'
'You're an idiot. What's the point? We're not gonna do anything we haven't done before.'
'We've never done it in 5-star luxury!'
'That's supposed to be AFTER the marriage, you moron. There's got to be something to look forward to.'
'Oh, there's plenty to look forward to later also. We're only getting started!'
'I surprised you today, didn't I? Just wait and watch'

She knew he had a point, so she let it go with a smile. They were about to dig into the cake, when they were startled by some loud explosions.

Deep turned to look at the restaurant door, where a young chap wearing Jeans and a sweatshirt was walking in, with a big-ass gun in his hand. What the Frag?! This had to be some sort of a joke, and it was a rather distasteful one for a place like this.

In a moment, Deep realized it wasn't a joke. The man fired, and Preeti was hit in the neck. She fell to the floor, with her neck bleeding badly. In a few seconds, he could see bleeding from her mouth, and her eyes were open and had a glazed look. She was... dead.

Deep went numb. He couldn't fathom what was goin on. This was a nightmare, and all happening too quickly for him. He felt something tear through his side. He felt intense pain, but his mind was numb. He then felt another shot through his ribs, and one through his right arm. He fell to the floor. 

As he was losing consciousness, his mind started playing tricks on him. Everything around him changed. He was standing at an airport. Some distance away, he saw Preeti. She was wearing blue denim capris, a pale pink tee, and sneakers, with rimless glasses. She was reading some novel.

She looked up from the book, and their eyes met. She smiled, and and held out both arms inviting him. Deep started walking towards her.

Then, everything started shaking like there was an earthquake. All the people around them disappeared. There was just Preeti. His vision was blurred, but he could make out that she was still smiling, and holding out open arms. He started running faster. With every step, things were blurring more and more. And then, everything dissolved into darkness.

Dec 21, 2008

Episode TWE12E

If you are new to this story, do not start here. Go to the Index and Introduction page.

Preeti wrote about Deep in her diary that night: '...He seems like the answer to my prayers - someone who understands and appreciates me the way I am. We sit and talk about everything, and I look forward to sharing my dreams and fantasies and ideals with him some day... hope it arrives soon'

The next day was awkward. On the surface, it was just another day at work. But both of them knew they'd be meeting at the beach in the evening, and this could be a turning point in their relationship. It was hard to focus on work, and at 6 pm - much earlier than the usual - they both left office.

Preeti sat down near the waves' edge. Deep sat down, 3 feet away from her - as usual. General chit-chat followed for a few minutes, and then an awkward silence.

'We bulb again', remarked Deep, staring into the distance. Preeti shrugged. She'd accepted that it might take weeks, if not months, for Deep to make an open move, and she'd just have to be patient.

'But I don't like it ... and you don't like it ... so...' He stepped closer to her, and the next moment they were sitting together, with his arm around her shoulders. The moment seemed to last forever. Deep was awkward, because he'd never been in a position anything like this in the past. Preeti couldn't believe what had just happened, and wanted to pinch herself to ensure she wasn't dreaming.

They talked a bit - about how nice this felt and how it should've happened much earlier. Then, they just settled quietly to soak in the moment. The sun was setting on the horizon, creating various  flared shades of yellow and red in the sky and on the water. A few catamarans were visible in the distance - and added to the 'stillness' the moment. Everything just felt perfect. It can't be described here - you could only understand if you were there.

Deep took his arm off her shoulder, and started to rummage through his laptop back-pack. Preeti didn't know what had happened, and wished they could just go back a few minutes - to the moment his arm was around her.

Deep pulled out a gigantic card, and gave it to her. It was titled '101 reasons why I love you', and some two dozen were listed on the cover - such as 'you make me smile', 'no matter how much time I spend with you, it's not enough'. Preeti was overwhelmed, and started to read the whole 101 reasons. Deep settled behind her, such that she was virtually in his lap, and put both his arms around her. This moment, also, seemed to last forever.

She finished reading the card a few minutes later, and was almost in tears. No one had ever held her like that before, and she'd never received a card like this. She'd thought she'd grown out of all this, but now she felt 16-years-old all over again. 'Deep, I don't know what to say.'

He just took her left hand in his, pulled it up to his face, and kissed it. She gave him a peck on the cheek. And then, they kissed - for the first time, blissfully unaware of the world around them, and for nearly a whole minute. Then they kissed again. And again...


Over the next couple of months, Deep and Preeti were inseparable. They were together in office all day, and together on weekends - watching movies and plays, meeting friends at pubs, discs, coffee shops, shopping, and sometimes doing the endless office work. They made no effort to cover up, and within two months everyone in the office knew they were together - including their boss Shubh, and his boss as well.

Deep told his parents about Preeti, and they were happy for him. They reserved final judgment till they'd met her and her family in person, but it seemed very unlikely that they'd create any problems for this couple. 

It was a different story at Preeti's house. While her mom was thrilled and fully supportive, her dad wasn't too impressed with Deep's profile. Not that he had anything against Deep personally, nor did he think Deep wasn't successful and respectable. But, he thought his daughter deserved better than a colleague. While he'd encouraged Preeti to attend good colleges and take up a serious job, he believed she'd eventually have to compromise her career for her family. And to maintain the same lifestyle, social status etc. - she'd have to marry someone more successful than herself. His most preferred profile would be some guy working in the West - with a Masters' degree from Harvard or suchlike. Within India, he'd have liked to see his daughter married to an Investment Banker or a McKinsey consultant - preferably one with a degree from IIM-A, and a salary at least 50% higher than her own. Deep seemed 'nice', but 'not quite good enough'. If Preeti put her foot down, he wouldn't oppose the marriage too much. But Preeti wanted to completely win him over before getting married. Her dad had been the most important man in her life thus far, and she wanted him to be 'happy', and not 'just playing along'.


ICICI Bank - Orange Team was in the Final of the Corporate Twenty20 Championship of Mumbai. Larsen & Toubro A - their opponents - had been the best team in the tournament by some margin. All 11 of their players were young, and most of them had played at the State-level or higher. ICICI-Orange were one of 3 teams that could stake equal claim to being 'second best', and they had barely scraped through to the Final. Their campaign was marked by small contributions from all players, and match-winning performances by 1-2 individuals each time. Warney was one of the four guys who had won multiple matches for ICICI-Orange with their individual brilliance.

Warney had acquired a reputation during the course of the tournament - as 'the destructive number 3, who often hits the first ball he faces for 6'. His achievements included a record 16-ball 50, which he bettered with another 11-ball effort in a later game. The latter (54) came in a match where one of the openers fell for 0, and the other had scored 2 off 4 balls, while Warney and 'extras' demolished the target of 62 in under 4 overs!

While Warney was quite proud of the reputation he'd acquired as a fearsome top-order batsman, he was unhappy with his bowling record. He'd always considered leg-spin his 'primary' skill on a cricket field, and most of his life he'd played on teams as a quality leg-spinner who 'could hit a few with the bat later in the innings'. He found the current situation quite ironical. It wasn't really his fault, though. TV had educated opponents about pacing a 20-over innings, and  spinners didn't really have much of a chance. And, Warney was an 'old-school' kind of spinner, whose game wasn't cut out for a total of 4 overs, typically in two short spells of 2 overs each, to batsmen who made no effort to understand what he was serving up, and were going to swing hard anyway.

L&T won the toss, and ICICI-Orange were batting first. The first wicket fell on the 5th ball with 4 on the board. Warney walked in, for possibly the most significant innings he'd ever played. There was no first-ball 6 this time. L&T were aware of the threats he posed, and bowled a very disciplined length which didn't allow him to free his arms. Warney, for his part, curbed his natural aggressive game, and batted with great concentration. By the time he was out caught in the 14th over, he'd scored 35 runs off 42 balls, with only two boundaries and one 6. The team's score read 75/5 off 13.4. Upon his return, some of his team-mates complimented him on his determined effort, and he could sense others had been disappointed by his inability to force the pace.

Preeti seemed happy, but this was largely because her understanding of the game was limited. She thought he'd done quite well to survive as long as he did, and score twice as many as the next-highest individual score. Warney explained to her that while he had done well to survive, he hadn't been able to do much more for the team. His performance had helped them put up a respectable score, but they'd need about 50 more to win. And as the star batsman, he should've been the man to get those runs. In that sense, he'd failed the team.

The innings folded up for 108 in the 19th over. The 2nd innings began well with ICICI-Orange making some early breakthroughs. Warney came on to bowl in the 9th over, and bowled his quota in one unbroken spell - which was possibly his best in the whole tournament. For the first time in the tournament, he'd got a long spell (as long as T20 allows, anyway!) - and a chance to bowl at proper batsmen who respected the stuff he bowled at them. He finished with figures of 4-0-13-2. It wasn't enough, though. L&T batted carefully till the 15th over, making sure they didn't lose too many wickets too quickly, and a late surge allowed them to wrap up the much with 15 balls and 4 wickets in hand.

Warney hand't been able to win the big match for his team, but he received the man-of-the-series award for 'several breathtaking innings at the top of the order for ICICI-Orange throughout the tournament, and useful contributions with the ball, helping his team to finish as the first runners' up'.

While he celebrated the trophy with Preeti and a few close friends, a dark, middle-aged man in a suit walked up to him, and asked to have a word in private. He looked serious, and Warney obliged.

'Hello, Mr. Bhatia. I'm Milind Damle. I'm a talent scout for the Mumbai Indians IPL franchise.'


Concludes here

Dec 9, 2008

Episode E11VEN

If you are new to this story, do not start here. Go to the Index and Introduction page.

'So... Warney...', began Preeti in a mischievous tone. When she started with 'Warney', it was a sure sign she was about to pull his leg.
'How was your date with the dream-girl yesterday?'
Warney gave an awkward smile, and paused for effect. 'Imagine all the stereotypes... Doon boarding school snob, fast Bombay girl, young working girl who doesn't wanna get married, and the college hottie who knows the effect she has on all the guys around her and treats them like worms'. He paused again for effect. 'Roll all those up into one person. That's who I met! How do you think it went?'
'Was she hot?'
'So that's all that matters, right? When are you getting married.'
'P! You know me better than that.'
'You said so yourself!'
'I was kidding. Do I look or sound like I'm in a mood for jokes right now?'
'Ok. What happened?', she was serious now.
'It was... intriguing! We spoke quite freely about everything. We didn't get bored. But I'm not sure I liked her.'
'But this was your first meeting. Give it some time.'
'P, I really don't wanna talk about this now. I know its a hopeless case, and I'm still in a bit of shock since yesterday.'
'Ok. Beach in evening?'
'Hmmm... OK!'


'So... what was the problem?'
'Well, she was a bit rude and very cold. She spoke like a page-3 snob. Basically, if I'd come across someone like that elsewhere, I'd conclude "not my type" within 5 minutes, and that'd be the end of that.'
'Hmmm... You don't sound convincing. I can still sense hope.'
'Well, yeah. I had a picture in my head - the ideal girl for me. This one seemd to fit all those criteria. But it just didn't work, so I'm quite shaken.'
'What is this "ideal profile"? Tell me!'
'Well, it's preferably Punjabi, though that's negotiable. Someone from an upper-middle, service class family like mine - so that we share common values. Someone who's intelligent and well-educated - from good colleges. You know - someone I can discuss anything with, who'd sustain my interest and earn my respect. Also, someone with a similar lifestyle - similar interests, and same plans and priorities for our life together! And, of course, HAWT!'
'Phew! That's some list.'
'She seemed to fit all of it.' Pause. Deep breath. 'So do you! But then you've already got Arjun.'

Preeti couldn't quite believe what she'd just heard. Was Deep finally making a move? This was surely an expression of interest. Kritika was right.
'Not any more.'

'Yeah, maybe. But you're not over him. Anyway, you're a friend. I wish you had a younger sister.'
'Preeti Khanna. Single and unavailable', she announced to the world at large. She paused. 'But for you, Deepesh Bhatia, the truth is this - single and available.'

Now, Warney was confused. Was she suggesting she was available to him, or just telling him - as a friend - that she was open to a new relationship in general. He wasn't going to take any chances.
'What - exactly - do you mean?'

'Oh god', she thought, 'this guy is slow.' 
A moment later: 'No, he can't be this slow. He never is. He's just playing dumb, coz he doesn't have the guts to make an open move. Is he expecting me to serve it to him on a platter? Dude, get a pair!'

'I'm just saying - I think I'm over Arjun now. Or almost there. And I'd like to take another shot at a relationship - and hope it goes "happily ever after" this time. I'm telling you, coz I trust you. For the rest of the world, it is still Preeti Khanna - single and unavailable. I don't want any random joker trying his luck.'

Warney was having a tough time keeping up with this. He was clearly being given a special place. She was openly telling him she was not available for just anyone, but available for the right person - and maybe she thought he was a 'right person'. Why couldn't she just say it straight? Damn these women!

Preeti's phone rang. It was Kritika, and she had to leave. So they left.

Back home, Warney continued thinking about the dicsussion with Preeti. She had given him leading signs - probably as much as she could without actually proposing a relationship. And this just a day after he met Prabha-with-a-vee, whom he had declared 'dream girl'. Was she really interested? He didn't know for sure.

After a few hours, several beers, and having run out of friends willing to humor his ponderings, Warney took a decision. 'She did say she was ready for a relationship. I am interested. Let me ask her. And then - que sera sera!'

He was by now too drunk to call, or even write something sensible. Besides, if she didn't say yes - it'd be very very awkward. But, he felt brave enough to do something at least. So he sent her a song by email.

Preeti logged into GMail, and saw an email from Deepesh Bhatia. This was strange - they exchanged a lot of office email, but he rarely sent her anything on GMail. And all Deep's emails always had an appropriate subject. This was blank.

She opened it. The only thing there, was an mp3 attachment. She played it.

"Zaara naazar uthake dekho
Baithe hai hum yahi
Bekhabar mujhse kyon ho?
Itne boore bhi hum nahin

Zamane ki baaton mein uljho na
Hai yeh aasaan janana
Khud se jo agar tum poocho
Hai hum tumhare ke nahi
Teri aankhon ka jaadu
Poori duniya pe hai
Duniya ki iss bheed main
Sabse peeche hum khade"... (for those interested, listen here. Read complete lyrics here)

The song ended. She remained frozen for a minute. Then she smiled, as a solitary tear rolled down her cheek.


'Hi, Deep.'

He looked up at her. He had a million questions popping up, and a dozen different scenarios playing out in his head, yet he managed to feign nonchalance. 'Hi.'

'You have something to say?' She was standing beside his desk, and staring at him. Fortunately, no one else was in yet.

Warney didn't want a scene here, and he knew it was one of the possibilities, so he tried to defuse the situation. He pretended not to understand, and just stared blankly at her for a minute.
'No, nothing particular to say, as such. Why?'
'About the song you sent me last night. You have something to say.'
'No. I was drunk, and I just though of you. You and Arjun, and all that. Just wanted to say I'm there for you, as your best friend.'

'Bullshit', thought Preeti. She knew better than to believe this. She continued to stand there, staring at him, thinking what to say next.

'I want to tell you a story.' 
Deep lowered his laptop screen, and turned to face her.

'In school, when I was in class 8, there was a boy in my class. He had a crush on me. I knew it. Hell, the whole school and the whole neighborhood knew it. I liked him too. We became friends. We often walked back together from school, and he'd offer to carry my bag. I used to take Brandy (her dog) out for a walk every evening around 6. While all the other boys continued playing cricket or whatever, he was somehow always heading back home around that time, and would join me and Brandy. One time, I was out with my friends for a movie - and he came to my house and took Brandy out for her walk all by himself.
For three years, I kept waiting for him to say he liked me. I wanted to go beyond this whole "running into each other" to meet, and to go out for movies and coffee and parties with him. But he never had the guts to say anything. At the end of class 10, his father got transferred and he left Delhi. And then it ended, without even ever beginning, really.'

'Nice story. Are you trying to make a point?'

'Yeah. If a guy likes me, and even if I like him, he will have to say it. No matter how much I'd ever want to start a relationship with some guy, I'm high-maintenance. And these are my terms and conditions.'
'Hmmm.'  Then, he was silent.

'I'm asking you one last time. Do you have anything to say?'
He thought about it for a few seconds. 'Beach... tomorrow evening?'

Continues here

State elections 2008 - Indian democracy coming of age?

I have, several times in the past, been completely flummoxed by the voting patterns seen in various elections in this country. When the NDA Central government fell in 2004, my reaction bordered on disbelief. When BSP romped home in UP last time around, my indignant reaction was 'the electorate there deserves no better, if this is the choice they've made'. And there's the running joke called anti-incumbency. In states like Punjab and Tamil Nadu, people just keep throwing out failed governments every 5 years, replacing each with another proven disaster - never really considering any third option. I'd almost lost hope in the Indian voter - who neither seemed to value his right to vote, nor use it judicially. And the 'system' being weak was inevitable with such a rotten foundation.

But, the state assembly elections this year have been eye-openers. I've written in the recent past about the need to establish accountability at the grass-root levels, and voting for candidates and their performance records, rather than party symbols. I'd really hoped to see Sheila Dikshit win in Delhi, and Narendra Modi win in Gujarat because they'd both worked hard in their states, and achieved results far better than the norm. Both had some things in common - a focus on progress, and all-round development of the population that had entrusted them with responsibility. Both had made important policy decisions, and executed them well, even in the face of opposition. Both had, on multiple occasions, taken decisions that would be proven right in the long-term, rather than the populist and self-destructive decisions our leaders usually make to gain votes in the imminent elections. And both had stuck to their policies and decisions with conviction - something a leader worth his name simply must do. It was extremely heartening to see the majority of the electorate see things the same way - rewarding performance, and not being swayed by less-important factors that some parties were crying hoarse about.

For similar reasons, I had hoped NOT to see Vasundhara Raje win again. There is no place in a democracy for leaders with a royal hangover. I remember reading about her referring to herself and the public as 'raja' and 'praja' respectively, at a public meeting. This was some years back - I felt disgusted, and the memory never faded. I'd also hoped to see Deve Gowda and his clan being punished by the people of Karnataka, for reneging on their agreement with the BJP, and forcing the unnecessary cost and effort of an election on the state for no reason other than their shameless lust for power.

I don't know a lot about the state of affairs in MP and Chhatisgarh - but the indications are that people have sensibly voted for performance and exemplary leadership in those two states as well.

Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, too early. But I'd like to believe that these elections might be the bellwethers of change that is long overdue. A fundamental change in the electorate's mindset - whereby they begin voting for performance rather than slogans. Such a change would surely shake up our much-maligned politicos, and make them realize that they need to back their words with action and results, and can neither take the electorate for granted, nor use divisive messages about religion, caste, language etc. to distract the voters away from greater issues that affect them all.

To get a first-hand feel of what I'm talking about - just watch what ordinary citizens of Delhi explaining their voting decisions, on any news channel.

Today, we should all give ourselves a collective pat on the back, and resolve to keep up the good work!

Dec 8, 2008

Deep's story

About the story:
This story has the same basic idea as YashRaj's 'Rab ne...' - For every ordinary jodi, there is an extraordinary love story! Cheesy, I know, and not the kind of stuff I usually put up on this blog. But I really wanted to do this - it's different, it's ambitious, it's personal, and I'm quite happy with the result...thus far.

It gives me great joy becuase it is almost real - just about everything that happened here has happened to people I know. It's not any one person's, or any single couple's story. I've taken interesting experiences and stories that various people have shared with me over the years, and woven them all together into one story. There is a little bit of fiction, but only very little, for continuity's sake. I hope you enjoy reading it, and hope you will let me know what you think of it in any case. Also - if you've had any memorable, interesting experiences that you'd like to share with the world - you know whom to contact ;)

One of my favorite authors is Erich Segal. His 'Love Story' is, till date, the only book I've read in one sitting. Even though he revealed in the first para that Jenny was going to die, I cried when she did at the end! I'm not suggesting that this is even a patch on his work, or that I have even a fraction of the ability and skill he does, but I'd like to mention that Segal's 'Love Story' is the inspiration for this work - in terms of the storyline, as well as the style.
This started off as a simple idea for one post, inspired in part by something my flatmate once wrote. I had an idea, and e1 was the product. By the time I finished writing e1, I felt people would want to know what happened next, and e2 was in order. So, I came up with some more ideas, and thought I'd write a full story spanning about 6 episodes.

Once I got down to writing, recalling various stories I'd heard from various people and also some experiences of my own that I wanted to share, and writing at great length as I usually do, the story just exploded. For instance, 5,6,7,8 - were supposed to be ONE episode in the original plan - I just had too much to write!

After 8, I had some more ideas for the rest of the story - but I was, for a while, unable to tie them together into one engaging story. At one time, my 'plan' was for about 17+ episodes, and I was fairly convinced every reader would lose interest. But, after a long break, I finally managed to clear things up in my own head. This story should be complete in 13 episodes - and at least 2 of the last 3 should be quite engaging.

Some people wanted 'sex and violence' - the full-blown commercial masala! It doesn't really fit in this genre. But I just might surprise you all a bit :)

Final word:
Please, PLEASE give feedback through comments. I am writing this largely for my own pleasure, and will write the whole story even if nobody likes it. But if you do like it - do let me know. I might just get inspired to develop this into a book, or a script. Or at least write more stories here.

Dec 7, 2008

Episode 10-EN

If you are new to this story, do not start here. Go to the Index and Introduction page.

Warney reached Mahesh Lunch Home 10 minutes before the agreed time of 1 pm. He got an sms from Prabha-with-a-vee, informing him that she will be about 45 min late, and would have to leave soon coz she had 'a million small jobs to be done today'. Warney was a little annoyed, as he wanted to spend some quality time, and - if things went well - he would suggest going to the Coffee shop at the Marriott (which was adjacent to Mahesh) for some dessert. The sizzling brownies at the Marriott Coffee Shop are awesome, and the ambience is much more suitable for a date, than the restaurant where they'd agreed to have lunch. Mahesh was a 'functional' venue for testing waters, and Marriott a 'warmer' venue for taking things further, if they wanted. But Warney's well-thought-out plans had just been trashed, and he had to wait in the blazing sun for nearly an hour.

He messaged her back, asking her if she even had enough time for lunch in a very mildly rude manner. He'd really wanted to go way futher, and to suggest calling it off if she had any issues, but decided to play nice, for now. It didn't work. He got a long sms, which read - 'You know what, I can see you're losing patience. Let me tell you that the fact that I'm doing this is a big deal for me. Keep that in mind before you  pass any snide remarks. As for when I'll leave - we'll see during lunch. Now, if you don't mind - I can't sms any more coz I have to get ready to make it for the lunch.'

Warney had indeed lost some of his patience, and he thought that was legitimate. But he'd been trying hard to keep his cool and NOT sound nasty on the sms, so he felt the reaction was overboard and unwarranted. He tried to defuse the situation, by sending another sms that she'd read between the lines when there was nothing there. He was just asking her an honest question, and trying to be practical rather than sarcastic. And he ended it with 'see you soon.'

Prabha-with-a-vee arrived half an hour later. Warney thought he recognized her as she drove in, but did not go to receive her, staying on the phone with a friend instead. A minute later, he could see an incoming call from her, and bid adieu to his friend. He walked over to the restaurant. She was indeed hawt, though she did not look exactly like her pics. Perhaps it was because she was all smiles and joie-de-vivre in the pics. She definitely did NOT look very happy to be here right now. They shook hands and sat down, diagonally across rather than facing each other, which Warney found a little weird.  He tried to break the ice - 'OK, I'm not sure how I managed to piss you off even before you got here.' It was meant to be funny, and he hoped it'd be a conversation starter. All he got was a cold shrug and a look-away. And in that moment warney realized he had a long climb uphill , if this meeting was to be a success.

'Water - regular or mineral, sir?, queried the waiter.
Warney thought for a second. He always ordered mineral water in cheap restaurants, but trusted reputed ones like Mahesh to serve safe, purified water, and believed the expense on mineral water at such places was unnecessary.
'Regular's fine.'
'Excuse me - I'll have mineral water', said the girl across the table, to the waiter. Usually, in such situations with friends, Warney realized they always discussed the water-choice among themselves. This woman hadn't bothered with him, and spoken to the waiter directly, ordering water separately for herself. Not good.
'Damn, 0-3 down already, and it hasn't been even 5 minutes. Doesn't look like I'm gonna win with this girl - she's bowling hostile bouncers. Time to play de-fense.' And Warney decided that he was going to play the rest of this meeting out like Rahul Dravid - blocking or leaving, unless he was served something on a platter. It didn't matter how many he scored during the next two hours. But he HAD to remain unbeaten at the end of it.

The rest of the meeting was intriguing. There were long silences, but they weren't awkward as both sides were being haughty and absolutely indifferent to each other. There was also a lot of conversation - but it wasn't particularly pleasant. Neither of them smiled. They disagreed on just about everything, but didn't bother arguing because neither seemed to care about the other's opinion! However, the truly intriguing part was this - they discussed a wide variety of subjects, including some fairly serious and personal ones, like their relationships with their parents, their friends circles and who really mattered, their attitude to marriage, attituide to work and jobs, travel and lifestyle preferences - including food, and even their past romantic relationships. They could talk about anything, and be completely honest - which doesn't usually happen when people meet for the first time. There was no comfort level here, no liking or interest, little respect shown for the person across the table, and no effort to maintain a cordial or friendly atmosphere. Yet, they were discussing things that one usually discusses only with someone very, very close.

During the course, Warney also found some answers.
Prabha-with-a-vee hated the way her parents had spelt her name. It should've been Pravaah - which meant 'to flow, like a river' - but on a numerologist's recommendation, her parents had gone with the weird spelling.
Marriage was the last thing on Pravha's mind. But her parents thought the 'right time' had almost arrived, and decided to reach out to prospects. They had been assisted by her younger sister, who felt Pravha was 'ready'. And Pravha thought her sister was a little more mature, and trusted her judgment more than her own, despite being older.
She was NOT pleased that her phone number had been given to Warney. 

Warney was truly perplexed. This girl was clearly not the type to give in to any kind of pressure. She clearly didn't really want to be here, and wasn't interested in pursuing this. But, for some reason unknown to him, she was here. And now that she was here, one'd expect her to behave nicely. She wasn't doing that. But he was also certain that she was NOT here to try and put him down, and didn't mean to be rude - she actually wanted to give this a chance, because, at some level, she trusted the judgment of the people who'd put her here. Her cold manner had ensured the meeting could officially be declared a disaster, but Warney didn't think it was deliberate. What was she really trying to do and why? He just didn't get it. At all. And he genuinely believed she didn't really know either.

Warney called for the bill. 'Let's go dutch... for the food, at least.' Warney had had a fair amount of vodka to keep his head during the course of the lunch, and it accounted for about half the total bill. He thought about insisting on paying the whole thing. He always did that the first time he met any girl. Second and later meetings would only happen if both people were interested, and then it'd be fair to go dutch. This was his considered view, and standard operating principle. But in this case, it would be akin to reaching wide outside off-stump to a swinging delivery. He felt it was quite likely that his suggestion to pay the whole bill would be dismissed with some rude statement, resulting in him feeling hurt and looking silly. He wasn't going to let that happen. Also, she'd been clear that she wasn't willing to split the bill for the drinks that only he'd had. While it was fair, and he would've suggested it himself when it came down to the calculation, the manner in which it was said put him off - and not for the first time in the last 2 hours.

'You're goin to Bandra, right? Are you goin to cross Carter road, or go somewhere near it?', asked Warney. He didn't own a vehicle, because it wasn't a very practical option in Mumbai. She drove a Hyundai Getz, and had remarked earlier that she 'would never travel by the local trains. I'm spolit!'
'Yeah, I can drop you.'

Midway through the drive:
'Where on Carter road?'
'You know the CCD there?'
'Yeah. Meeting friends?'
'College seniors.'

These were the only words spoken in a 15-minute drive. When CCD emerged, she stopped to the left. Warney got out and said 'Thank you.'

And they went their own separate ways. 'What a remarkably cold end - to a remarkably frosty and intriguing meeting', thought Warney to himself. It would take him a while to figure out what happened and what to make of it.

(Continues here)

Dec 2, 2008

Episode 9I9E

If you are new to this story, do not start here. Go to the Index and Introduction page.

Preeti unlocked the door and walked in. Her flatmate, Kritika, a.k.a. K, was sitting on the carpet with scissors in hand, and a top she'd recently purchased. Kritika liked to re-design the designer clothes she bought.

Kritika looked up at her, then turned her gaze back to the task at hand, as she spoke. 'Your hair looks frizzled. What did you and your boyfriend do today?'
'Arjun is not my boyfriend anymore.... He called and generally talked about how things are in Chicago. And the call wasn't hair-raising - that just happened cos I was at the beach.'
'I wasn't talking about Arjun. He's history. So, you and Deep had a nice, romantic walk along the beach?'
'KAY! Deep and I are NOT an item. He's not my boyfriend, just a colleague I'm friendly with.'
'Oh, come on. We just happen to spend a lot of time together in office, and he's a nice guy. So, sometimes we go out too. But there's nothing of the romantic sort. Please!'
'You told me he was interested in you. You said it was visible several times. And I can see you like him too. So, don't give me the friends nonsense. I know you, baby.'
'I like him, but as a friend. And yes - sometimes I thought he was showing interest, but he really isn't that kind of guy. He was probably just being nice, not trying anything. I mean, it's been six months and he hasn't tried anything. So, I know there's nothing there.'
'Aah! Ok, whatever.'

'Did Arjun call when you were with Deep?'
'Yeah... and for some reason, I think Deep wasn't comfortable. He suddenly went all quiet and seemed far away. And we left the beach a few minutes after the call. We'd not even been there for half an hour, I think.'
'Your boyfriend was jealous!'
'Oh, come on! He knows about Arjun, and I don't think he has any such feelings for me. It'd been a long day at work, and I left him alone for 10 minutes or so, so he probably got irritated. Or maybe he was just tired. Jealous? No. That just isn't like Deep'

K put away her design experiment, and looked straight at Preeti. She looked serious.
'Baby, admit it. You know he's interested. You can see he's jealous of Arjun. He's there for you all the time. Obviously, he has feelings...
He's probably not said anything because you work in the same office, and it'd be awkward if you declined his interest. And there's also the Arjun factor.'

'I don't know, K. I really don't think he's interested. It's been six months. If he really was interested, something would've happened by now.'
'He's probably just shy. Based on what all you've told me, I think he's just waiting for a sign from you. And it's not like he doesn't have time.'
'DON'T mess my head up with shit like that. There's already Arjun to deal with, and Deep's not the type who'd try anything. For me, he's a good friend. And I'd like to keep it that way. Don't complicate it.'

'Baby, tell me something - how often do you talk to me about Arjun?'
'I don't know.  About once a week. I'm trying to get over it.'
'How often do you talk about Deep?'
'I don't know. Every other day. But I work with him, and he's there with me in office all the time.'
'You talk about Deep EVERYDAY. And it's not the same way you talk about others in the office.'
'Yeah, so? He's my best friend in office and I see him everyday. So what?'
'Face the reality, baby. You both like each other. He's just waiting for you to get over Arjun and give him a chance. And you like him too - you talk about him all the time, and I can see it.'

Preeti was silent.
'Think about it, baby. You two clearly like each other. If he isn't trying anything, give him a sign that you're interested. You guys will be a lot happier.'


'Hullo, mum'
'Deep, mera pyara beta! Kaisa hai?'
'Theek hoon.'
'Khana kha liya?'
'Haan, ji.'

Regular mother-son talk follows.

'Acha, listen. Ek rishta aaya hai. Papa and I like the girl. Good family. You want to meet her?'
'MOM! We've talked about this. I'm not ready for marriage right now.'
'But why? You're old enough, and settled in your job and everything. And this is a very nice match.'
'Settled?! I've not even finished one year, and I'm not sure if I even will! My boss is killing me with work, and I virtually live in the office. I have no time for family right now.'
'Beta, your job is always going to be like this. There comes a time when one needs to settle down. And this is a very good rishta. Don't throw it away. Just meet her once.'
'Who is she? What's so good about her?'
'It's an Army family. Father is a Colonel. We've spoken to them - they're very nice, impressive people. It's a family just like ours.'
'Ma! I'm not marrying her dad or her family. What's the girl all about?'
'She's studied at Welham's boarding school. Then college in Bangalore. She's an MBA, and doing some marketing job. Like yours, but not IIM type. We read her profile, and I'm sure you'll like her. Smart ladki hai.'
'Does she have a name?'
'Pravha Nehra.'
'Pravha. It's like Prabha, with a V, for victory.'
'What kind of a name is that?'
'What does it matter? Anyway, she's in Bombay only. We'll send you the profile in a few minutes. Take a look, and talk to her once.'
'I'll think about it. Send me the profile. But I'm not promising anything. I'm really not keen on this, and if I have even the slightest doubt, I'm not meeting her.'
'I'm sure you'll like the profile. Anyway, at least meet her once. We've spoken to the parents. It won't look nice.'
'PLEASE don't speak to any parents again. This is my life, and it's a huge decision. I don't want any pressure.'
'Of course. We're not going to force you to marry anyone. But at least meet her once.'
'OK, I'll think about it. Send me the profile.'
'And PLEASE do not talk to any more parents and promise anything without asking me first.'
'OK, baba.'

The phone call went on for another 10 minutes with mom. 40 minutes in all. Deep then spoke to dad and Chhoti. He was done with them in 10 minutes.

Chhoti said she was going to forward the profile immediately after the call. Surprisingly, even she liked the girl and seemed to think this was a good idea. Now, Warney was curious.

He opened the email, and his jaw dropped. Prabha-with-a-Vee was Hawt-with-an-O! He read through the 'profile'. It was interesting. The girl was smart, and seemed to be quite fun-loving too. He looked her up on orkut. A different pic, but equally hot. This profile was far less formal, and a lot more fun, though there was a very unfriendly, almost intimidating 'about me' there. But that was understandable, given orkut is infested with 'frandship'-seeking despos.

They seemed to have the same interests in books, movies, everything... she was even a Formula 1 fan! Brilliant! Music interests - 'Anything that gets me moving'. Perfect!  Cuisines - 'Oriental. Do ice-creams count as cuisine ;)' Warney was almost in love.

He fired up 'Kundli-Lite for Windows', and entered their birth details. (He was an absolute sucker for astrology). The match scored 33/36 - which was insane! Warney wondered if he'd really found his life partner. His life seemed to have changed in half an hour.

He picked up the phone, and called her. She sounded a bit cold, but quite frank and candid. She didn't really sound like the woman of his dreams, but impressive enough. They decided to meet for lunch the next day, at the Mahesh Lunch Home, Juhu.

Continued here

Nov 28, 2008

My 2 cents on the Mumbai Attack

Part 1

Last night, I was watching a discussion on Times Now. Though I do not think much of the Times Group's capabilities when it comes to serious news-reporting, and think even less of their Chief Editor Arnab Goswami, some of the guests they pulled in yesterday were quite interesting. In this particular discussion, they had a former ISI chief, a British journo, and some bureaucrat from Israel.

Arnab initiated the debate with the usual noises - Pak link, support from the international community for India etc. etc. ... The Israeli chappie had an interesting take on it all.

About the media - 'These people's aim is to strike terror in the hearts of ordinary citizens, and to spread their hateful propaganda. You guys are playing right into their hands by giving them so much of airtime. They have no other ways of doing it. And this is all for free' 
Clearly, he felt the terrorits had been successful in achieving what they wanted to, however perverse the end and the means. While one can't fault the media for covering all the events and keeping us informed, this is surely something to think about - are we playing right into the enemy's hands?

About the 'international community support' - 'The responsibility lies first on India and India's government. You must display a sense of purpose, a strong will, and act in a way that serves as a deterrent to your enemies - whatever it takes. The international community can support your efforts, but as long as you are not doing much yourselves, it is unreasonable to expect any more from the international community.' 
Perfectly valid point. Our government always points fingers across the borders, and whines about lack of support from America and others. Are we expecting others to come in, and set our house in order, while we sit on our bums and bicker over caste, religion, language? Do we want to be the next Iraq? Or would we like to be more like Israel - a small nation surrounded by rich and hostile neighbors, yet tough enough to hold it's own? It's time to decide.

Part 2

We've heard a lot, in the past, about the 'spirit of Mumbai', and Indians' resilience. I, for one, always believed it was all a load of crap. 'Resilience', in this case, is nothing more than a euphemism for indifference, and in some cases, a feeling of helplessness. I mean - people going to work and carrying on with their lives as if nothing happened - a day after scores of people died in bomb blasts - was NOT a symbolic display of strong will, or steely resolve to remain undeterred - and NOT something to be proud of - not in the present Indian context, at least. It was a shameless statement that 'we don't really care'. At best, you could say people were 'resigned to their fate' and carried on with their lives because they felt there was nothing else to do - which, again, is shameful. So, let's not fool ourselves.

That's the grim reality. Bombs went off in some places. Some people died. Others didn't really care. It was just a case of some other people being in the wrong place at a certain hour. Yes, they offered helping hands, and the usual platitudes were said and heard. But the next day, nobody really cared enough to try changing anything.

That might just be the one good thing to come out of this whole episode. Our thick skins may finally have been penetrated. We might actually acknowledge the seriousness of the threats we all face, and might make a united, concerted effort to change some things for the better, even at a personal cost. It's about time. And it's sad that it took a terrible, 60-hour-long siege of Bombay 'town' for us to finally get the message.

Part 3

Why are we so indifferent to all this? Terror attacks, loss of lives, the Singur shutdown caused by one mindless politican, goonda-giri in UP, hit-and-run accidents, molestation of women outside 5-star hotels on New years' eve, scams, lynchings, epidemics, bad roads, teacher absenteeism, appaling quality, or total absence, of public goods and services... nothing seems to bother us unless we are personally affected. We have no sense of being a nation, no faith in the political establishment, little respect for the law, no sense of 'larger public interest'. With so much to achieve, and such eminent external threats, we continue fighting petty battles among ourselves, and continue voting for parties to form state/central governments (rather than a competent, local representative) that promise to cater to the interests of our own small groups vs. the rest of the population. Why?

There's a philosophy often used by business organizations during their strategic planning process. 'An organization is perfectly designed for the results it is achieving'. If you want better results, you need to identify and overhaul the parts of the system that are preventing them. Realities might sometimes be difficult to accept, but the rationale here is irrefutible.

So, drawing parallels, our society and establishment - are perfectly designed today - to keep us in the mess we are in. And here are, parhaps, some of the overhauls we need:
- As a people, we need to shift focus from petty disputes to greater issues that affect everyone. This means there is NO PLACE for vote-bank politics. NO PLACE for reservations. NO PLACE for communalism or linguism.
- We have to start demanding better laws and effective administration from our elected leaders. NOT parties. NOT just central/state governments. But the very chaps we vote in as our reps on the local municipal council, local bodies, state assemblies, as well as the parliament. Accountability MUST be established at the grass-root level, and built from the ground up. THIS is how things work in more developed countries, and it makes sense.
- We need to stop complaining about the quality of politicians. If they fail to deliver, some of us need to stand up and take on the responsibility ourselves. India is one of the greatest sources of 'talent' for organizations world-wide. Some CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, today, are Indian. Our domestic private sector companies boast of high quality leadership and managerial talent. Some of these 'talented leaders' need to take charge of governance and administration also. I know this will be difficult in the current party-based, government-focused election system. But, if the people vote for local reps on merit (as discussed in the previous point), quality leaders would be encouraged to come forth.

For a change, the terrorists targeted the upper classes this time. The class that, presumably, has the intelligence, education, information and resources - to change things if it really wants to. The people who know enough to form educated opinions, and disseminate them. People who are socially and financially secure enough to ask tough questions of the establishment, and take matters in their own hands if need be. I hope they respond to the call.

Part 4

No commentary on this episode can be complete, without a tribute to the brave men - the Fire brigade, the Police, the ATS, the Army, the NSG, the Navy - and even the staff of the hotels, especially the Taj Mahal - who selflessly flung themselves in harm's way - to save people like us, and give these terrorists the treatment they deserve. I was watching the funerals of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh and Hemant Karkare on TV earlier this morning, and could not bear to watch it beyond a point - I think it was a visual of Sandeep's mother crying next to his body, in a wheelchair herself. Having grown up in an Army environment, I relate to these situations, people and emotions more strongly and personally than most of you would.

Needless to say, we owe these people a lot. But a grand show of respect at funerals, and tributes through the media, are NOT enough. It is NOT enough to harp on about the lack of training, equipment and resources that limit the effectiveness of these few, courageous men. We must not stop screaming about these issues, till these men get all the support they need to do their jobs as well as they want to, and without having to compensate for lack of resources or support with their courage and their lives.

More importantly, we need to stop passing on all the responsibility for maintenance of law, order and harmony to these few men. Their selfless devotion can not, and should not, be the balancing force for our own recklessness and indifference. The feeling I'm trying to communicate, was well-described by someone through a message to CNN-IBN:

'Where is Raj Thackeray today? Someone please ask him to note - it is Commandos from all over the country - including a North Indian Gajendra singh, and a South Indian Maj. Sandeep from the Bihar Regiment - who have saved Mumbai and the Marathi Manoos today'

If we are to become the great nation we can be, we need to shut out people like Raj Thackeray, and learn a lesson from the Indian Army - which is Indian, and not divided among Hindus or Mulsims, North Indians or South Indians.

Jai Hind!

Nov 25, 2008


In the last couple of months, the readership of this blog has increased from near-zero to statistically significantly non-zero on a consistent basis. While that pleases me no end, I've been irked lately by several people complaining about various posts not living up to their expectations. 'What was the point?', 'Why was it so long?', 'This post didn't have your usual depth and emotion'... the list goes on.

It's as if people expect to find answers to life, the universe and everything... on this blog. I shall oblige. It's 42.

Now, let me re-iterate what this blog is really about. It's about ME. It's where I have every right to express myself - whatever's on my mind - in any manner I wish - and in as much unnecessary detail as I wish. I like for people to read it, and express their own views. But only for two reasons - I want big numbers on my hit counter, and I like being appreciated. I do NOT like being told that people's expectations are not being met, and any post (which I would've taken a lot of time and effort to think up, and then publish) is not good.

Tomorrow, we shall return to regular programming (episode 9). Multilateral Musings. Unnecessary Ramblings. Call it whatever, but that's how it is, and that's how it will be.

Got it? Peace.

Nov 20, 2008

Tough. 5.

Hota hai. Chalta hai. Duniya hai.
I can do MUCH better than this.

Remember, remember 
The Sixteenth of November

The efforts put in
On premises so thin

Learn your lessons
A better future beckons

Nov 19, 2008

An argument against marriage...

I don't wanna ruffle any feathers and get into unnecessary arguments, so here's a bunch of caveats:

1. This is just ONE argument. A good decision requires all relevant arguments to be taken into consideration and weighed against each other. So, this argument alone does not conclusively answer the marriage question.
2. There are a lot of tacit assumptions in the philosophy proposed, and they may not apply to everyone. E.g., priorities in life are not the same for everyone. So, even as I write a piece that sounds like it is generally and broadly applicable to everyone, I realize it isn't really.

Now, go on - read it. If you wanna argue even after taking the caveats into account, I'm not one to ever shy away :)

Part 1 - Regression to mediocrity

Let's first understand a phenomenon called 'regression to mediocrity'. Lots of research has been done on measurables like height, income etc., and has usually compared across generations. I'm interpreting it a little differently.

When you begin your life, the possibilities are virtually limitless. As you progress through the years, the possibilities - what you could achieve in this lifetime - begin to shrink. We, by nature, seek security and comfort. We do not seek to take on challenges which we do not believe we will overcome. We do not like to take risks where the potential downside is as bad or worse than the likely upside. Through the choices we make, which are usually the easier ones, we eliminate some possibilities for ourselves - possibilities which may be grand, but are perceived to be remote.

As the years go by, external responsibilities increase. Past failures make us increasingly wary and risk-averse. We get increasingly fortified within our comfort zones. All this is natural, and has become 'the way of the world' over centuries. And nearly everyone around us, and everything around us, reinforces our risk-averse, comfort-seeking tendencies.

While all this is good, and leaves everyone happy for the most part - this is not how great things are achieved, or great progress is fuelled. That, is usually accomplished by a few great men who go against the tide. The ones who question conventional wisdom. The ones who challenge constraints. The ones take great risks. The ones who dare to dream big, settling not for the 'good' and 'comfortable', but going after the 'possible'.

Consider this. Barack Obama was one of many kids born in the US in a certain period. There were many who had comparable or better means available to them, and Barack had the disadvantage of being black. He became the most powerful man in the world. I'm sure he was outnumbered by those who peddled crack and died on the street. The others had regressed.

Part 2 - Breaking the Regression tendency - the who, what and how

The above principle suggests that humans would naturally do as little as possible - just enough to obtain certain levels of income, satisfaction with life and comfort. But all of us achieve more than the bare minimum, don't we? Let's examine why that happens.

From an early age, we are challenged by external expectations, and motivated to each by external influences. Parents teach you langauage, manners, physical function etc. Then teachers make you learn stuff you may not be too interested in. Your peers set standards, and you compete with them. Anyone who doesn't compete and chills - ends up being ignored, humiliated, or punished. Achievements are rewarded. All of this serves to stimulate your growth, and prevent you from settling in a comfort zone.

Even on the job, later in life - you may not really care how many cartons of biscuits are sold in Thakeshwar town. But your boss sets expectations, and your peers define standards. The possibility of being shown up as incompetent or insincere, motivates you to achieve those targets.

The point is basically  this - throughout our lives, it is mainly standards set by others, that motivate us to go out of our way to achieve and learn.

Beyond a certain age, these agents become fewer in number, and also limited in influence. You no longer have teachers. Parents leave you mostly to yourself, beyond a certain age. It's mainly your peers, who set challenges later in life. Peers at work - will only set challenges within the career path you've already defined. Friends are typically people who like you for who you are, and unlikely to set great challenges. Family - similar argument as friends. They want to see you happy and comfortable, and not suffering in your chase of impossible dreams.

There is one source of challenge that sticks, though...

Part 3 - Linkin' it to marriage

That 'source' is the opposite sex. Nature has designed us to feel attracted to the opposite sex. And chances are - every now and then - you will feel attracted to, and consequently desire the love and respect of someone of the opposite sex. This person, however, may not care a hell of a lot for your past achievements and the trophies you already have in your cabinet. Even if they do, they will probably want to see something that you don't have yet. This is the biggest motivation, to grow as a person later in life. And these are the people who'll shake you out of your comfort zone, and motivate you to change direction from 'mediocrity' to 'maximum'.

To prove the point, I'll take up my own case :)

I was born into a middle-class Army family. Because of my dad's frequent transfers, I kept getting shaken out of my comfort zone every couple of years, and competed with different people at different schools everywhere. An Army life also equips you to deal with social and inter-personal situations quite well, since the environemnt around you is not only very dynamic, but also very strict. Anyway, by class 11, I'd become this fairly well-behaved, independent, and extremely geeky teen. The parents were proud, and the teachers and other students were almost intimidated. I was the guy who'd announce the answer to a tough physics problem, without putting pen to paper, even before the teacher had finished reading the question out to the class.

Then, I went through the first of several life-changing experiences, courtesy a girl in class I had a massive crush on. I'd written a 3-page long letter, to tell her how I felt, just as she was about to leave for another city. Then, I found out, through a common friend, that she didn't like me at all. While she respected my acad abilities, she thought I was a one-dimensional person with little 'life'. She liked, of all people my best friend at the time, who was much more popular with many more people, because he used to participate in a much wider range of activities, and had far superior social skills. I was shattered, and did a lot of soul-searching over the next couple of weeks. And decided, thereon, to focus less on acads, and more on my relationships with people and image.

(Incidentally, I got in touch with her nearly a decade later, and we are good friends today. In fact, I'm fairly sure she's gonna read this - and realize for the first time how big a role she once played in my life. To Miss N - You know I'm talking about you. Please don't try and deny it. And thank you very much!)

Then, in the 2nd year at IITM, I made my first girlfriend. Before meeting her, I'd developed a high degree of confidence dealing with the male-kind, but none whatsoever in dealing with the fairer sex. For a year - I watched her. Watched her cry, and then get over her ex. Then, watched her fall for a dude-types at her comp class. Watched her realize she actually liked me, dump him, and wait for 3 months, sitting 3 feet away on the beach, while I gathered the courage to take a little step. Of course, there's been no looking back since that first step, though the cast has kept changing with increasing frequency ;)

She challenged my value system and priorities in life. What's wrong with a little social drinking? What's wrong with holding hands in a place where others can see? What's wrong with doing what you want to, and feel 'right' about, even if it goes against traditions? Is being the best in one field and making a lot of money, enough to be really happy with life? Who's going to cry at your funeral, and what will they say about you, when you leave this world decades later? If people with ability don't try and change the world, how will it become a better place? How can they look themselves in the mirror and feel proud, when so much more could have been done?

There were also situations I wasn't equipped to deal with. Here's a snapshot

Me: Where are you?
She:  I'm with Niyanta at the hospital.
Me: Oh.
She: You wanna talk to her? (NOT in a questioning tone, but as if she was repeating what I said)
Me: (hang on, when did I suggest that?! I don't even know her! Your friend - you talk to her! I mean, I feel bad and all - but why should I talk to her) No.
(Pause, as she's passing her phone to Niyanta. I quickly realize it was not a question for me to answer, but just a little drama she was playing out for her friend. And I had the responsibility to keep it up)
Niyanta: Hell-yoo...
Me: Hi. How're you feeling now?

I'm sure you get the picture. Call me thick - but it took me time to realize that people are supposed to behave this way. My then-girlfriend taught me the first lesson, and I picked it up from there. She is possibly the only reason that this blog, today, is NOT about some obscure server-authentication java code, and you are reading it!

(That relationship ended in 2006. We kept in touch, but not for long. The way it ended, and the fact that we aren't friends today, is a major regret for me. I wish we were still in touch, and she would read this - but it wasn't to be.)

There's nothing specific to share between then and now, but I think I've had another defining-moment sort of experience recently, with someone I was calling Ritegal in a few posts published here.

Since early this year, I'd been feeling very comfortable, almost smug, about how my life was going, especially on the professional front. I thought my whole 'bachelor wishlist' had been ticked off, and I wanted to get married. And I thought I'd get anyone I selected. I mean, I didn't think I could get Katrina Kaif. But I thought anyone I felt was 'right' for me - anyone who met all my (ambitious, but realistic) criteria - would gladly agree to settle down with me. The illusion was shattered on the 16th of November.

'All my friends are in the fashion or film industries.'
'I know 60-70% of the people in Bangalore. (clarification: people her age, people who matter)'
'I don't hang with such people (about an acquaintance of mine, whose stories I found amusing. He isn't one of my favorite people. But, well, I do 'hang' with him. And, no dirty jokes about the last line, pliss)'

And the shattering of the illusion was re-affirmed through an e-mail a couple of days later.

'We're very separate people... I don't think we'd gel... let's not waste each other's time... let's not fool ourselves... that's all I have to say. Ciao'

I don't think this whole episode was 'fair treatment', but it did happen to me, didn't it? Comfort zone vaporized. New challenges to be answered. Time for change. Positive change!

Part 4 - In case you didn't get it...

Marriage is a major facilitator of regression to mediocrity. You no longer need to accept challenges and grow to impress women (or men, whichever way you swing!).

Of course, your spouse would also challenge you and spur you on to achievements. If you find the 'right' person, marriage could be the right choice. But it's far more likely that your spouse will NOT be your greatest critic and challenger. Even if they want to be, practical constraints - like EMI's, relatives, social norms, children - will hinder some of your growth as an individual.

So, if you do want to achieve a helluva lot in this lifetime (refer my posts titled 'A life worth living', linked on the left, to understand how I see it), and chase dreams that most consider impossible, marriage would certainly be a trepidation.

Most of us will get married, anyway. And should too - because there are a lot of lessons to be learnt in the course of that journey. But it is still important to delay it till you are ready, and crucial to find someone who will challenge you and help you grow - rather than someone who will assist you in regressing towards mediocrity!

Opinions welcome!