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When I was in college, a 16 year old girl promised to marry me. She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When a policeman once asked me whether I’d like to get my passport on time, I smiled with gratitude and slammed the door on his face.

When I once read, “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why this evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

I’ve always had a tenuous understanding of sarcasm and double-speak. I take words literally. When I was a child, it took me many years to understand hidden insults. 

I’ve never had it any other way. I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When a teacher was sarcastic to me at 9, I understood her only a year later. When I fully understood her, I felt numb, as if I were struck by lightning. I stood still, staring at my coconut tree. It was too late, because I’d left that city and moved into another school. There was nothing much I could do about this. This was deeply unsettling. Continue Reading

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“The mother of such a prodigy is proud of its attainments, and feels a glow when bored friends hypocritically marvel,” advised the adult Mencken decades later in his anonymous publication What You Ought to Know About Your Baby. “Later on she will wonder why her child has watery eyes, constant colds or round shoulders.” Such a boy, he advised, should be taken out of school and turned out to grass, to breathe pure air “and make acquaintance with splinters, bruises and sunburn.”

“Of the whole faculty of the school, once they entered the ordinary classes, the senior dummies liked best Miss Bertha and Miss Elvina, for both confined their chastisements, which were very gentle, to girls and never touched a boy above the baby class. The dummies all boarded at the Institute and were full of complaints about the food. One day, when my lunchbox happened to include a couple of doughnuts, two of them told me that they had not tasted a doughnut for six months, and I handed over both. A week later they told me precisely the same thing and then again a week after that, and so on until suspicion began to dawn on my infant mind and I ate my subsequent doughnuts myself.”

“Some men can learn almost indefinitely; their capacity goes on increasing until their bodies begin to wear out. Others stop in childhood, even in infancy. They reach, say, the mental age of ten or twelve, and then they develop no more. Physically, they become men, and sprout beards, political delusions, and the desire to propagate their kind. But mentally they remain on the level of schoolboys.”

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Fritz Karinthy’s “The Refund” is a play I liked when I was 9. I read it to my little brother, and he liked it too. I lost the hard copy, but you can find anything over the web. Do read:

Play logline

A man about 40 returns to his old school and demands to refund the tution fees paid by him 18 years back for the reason that the education given to him never proved useful and that he is now not good for anything.

The Principal is seated at his flat-tapped desk in his office in a high school. Enter a servant.

THE PRINICIPAL: Well, what is it?

THE SERVANT: A man, sir. Outside. He wants to see you.

THE PRINCIPAL [leaning back and stretching]: I receive parents only during office hours. The particular office hours are posted in the notice-board. Tell him that.

THE SERVANT: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. But it isn’t a parent, sir.

THE PRINCIPAL: A pupil?

THE SERVANT: I don’t think so. He has a beard.

THE PRINICPAL [disquieted]: Not a parent and not a pupil. Then what is he?

THE SERVANT: He told me I should just say Wasserkopf.

Continue Reading

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I “loved” School.

Imprisonment can be considered effective if people voluntarily submit to it. This is rare, but our schooling system is a close candidate. Much of what school forces you to do is intrinsically painful. Children have better uses for their time. Yet, they spend even up to two decades or more in school. Then, they do not have much of an option. In many parts of the world, schooling is free and compulsory.

The convicts in the penitentiary almost never ask for an extension of their prison sentence. But, the brightest students often want to extend their term in school. When they graduate, they look back at their school days through rose-colored glasses. In a sane world, young men would be hesitant to admit that they have wasted much of their time in useless pursuits. But, the workplace rewards people who have jumped through more academic hoops. Continue Reading

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April Fool!

We were in Kindergarten, and our Summer vacations had just begun. On April 1st, when my little brother and I woke up in the morning and opened the door to play, we saw all our chairs hanging on a tree. On a placard, it was written large: “April Fool!” We stood there with an expression of astonishment on our faces. When we called our parents, they told us that it was the “April Fool’s Day”.

We intuited that some of my father’s students did that. I had seen these people. Once when my father gathered that they did not know the difference between Arabic numbers and Roman numerals, he called me and my brother. And then he said: “My children—They are in school. They know what it means.” After explaining it to them, I looked at them with intense disapproval, thinking: “I will never study with you, people.” Continue Reading

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I had many detractors in School.

I was in 8th standard history class, and our History teacher was absent. We all were playing a vocabulary game. After exhausting all the options for an animal that begins with “M”, I said: “Man”, with a clever smile on my face.  When everyone else said that “Man” cannot be an animal, I sat there with an expression of boyish helplessness. It was at this point, I heard a boy asking: “If man is not an animal, what is he? What?”

Because he was a topper, the other kids decided to take this concept of ours very seriously. I had just joined the school. But, I did not know that he would soon become my prime detractor. I also did not know that I would soon read a lady who bullied me saying that man is not just an animal that possesses the “instinct of tool-making”.
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i-love-you-like-grown-ups-do-no-for-real-5999Many years later, when I heard do-gooders prating about the importance of giving back to the society, I remembered what I told Krishnapriya when I was seventeen. We were discussing our grand plans for the future. I said I’ll become a great novelist when I grow up. And that I’ll drop my day job and move to that beautiful bubble of mine when my novel hits the bestseller list. 

She said I was being too selfish. “You won’t share your wealth, even with those underprivileged children in Africa?” she asked me. I told her it’s difficult to be so rich without serving people. “But what about actors and rock stars? Do they serve the masses?”, she asked me. I said, “They do, my dearest child. They electrify the pulse of millions.”, and she replied helplessly, “But….but, you think too much.” 

I knew nothing about the brilliant schemes communist people cook up to block the revenge of nerds.  I was too innocent to entertain such possibilities. Today, I know that clever people in the government are actively scheming to impose something called the “super rich tax”. They say they care for the poor, but that is just the usual fig leaf excuse. The real objects of their hatred are people who are smarter than them. I know this because I have observed many leftist people in action. Editors in a magazine did everything to make sure that my articles are not as beautiful as my seaside villa. 

When I was traveling in the train the next morning, the winter sun was dappling the greenery around me. I remembered her. 

                         ***************

The year was 2004, and we used to wait for someone to write in our scrapbooks. It was on one such evening the “Queen of Darkness” added me on Orkut. Her Orkut profile read:

“I got long legs. They work just fine. I also love my feet, which is small and very pretty. I uplift depressed souls. I have great compassion. People do not notice. But, when you think of the salvation that comes at the end, it feels so nice. And I love Ayn Rand.” 

A friend had written a testimonial for her:

“She has a mind that is extraordinarily complex for a girl of her age. But, if you mess with her, she will never forget it. She will never let you forget it either.”

Another testimonial read:

“When she grows up, she might turn into one hell of a heart-breaker, but then she would be worth it too. It is fun to see her torturing the many men who love her.”

The picture of Nietzsche in her community list “frightened” me. She was a member of the “Anti-Social” community. She owned an Orkut community: “Sapiosexuals”. I looked up the definition of the word “Sapiosexual” in The Urban Dictionary:

“One who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature. I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind. I want someone for whom philosophical discussion is foreplay. I want someone who sometimes makes me go ouch due to their wit and evil sense of humor. I want someone that I can reach out and touch randomly. I want someone I can cuddle with. I decided all that means that I am Sapiosexual.”

Now that’s me.

Her twelve-year-old brothers profile intro read:

“I love Philosophy. I also love my sister though she can be quite bossy.”

I knew her. Years ago, I knew her as “Cutiekrishna”. We met in a Yahoo chat room. I still remember our first conversation. When I said I wanted to pull her over my lap and smack her bottom for talking on the Yahoo messenger when she was supposed to study, she replied, “This is none of your business.” I said apprehensively, “We should talk. I think we might get along well.” She retorted, “You’re right there, Shanu. We might. But then, we just might.” I felt a pang of dread. But I loved it because she was all of twelve years old.

When I asked her how she found me on Orkut, she said evasively, in a contemptuous tone, “I saw you in somebody’s friend list. I don’t really remember who.” But I knew it was a lie. She went to school in the same city where I studied computer engineering. She had dark eyes, long lashes and everything. And a Teddy Bear. 

She talked like a philosopher. When I heard her often say, “Co-ordinate geometry sucks”, I asked her, “But, you are only 12?” She said her father’s idea of amusement was teaching her Calculus and Co-Ordinate Geometry. She said, “Nobody cared for him when he was young. He doesn’t care for them now. On some days, I feel sorry for that man.” When I asked her, “Do you love your parents?” she said, “We are supposed to love our parents.” I was touched. If there is anything that regret about my life, it is that I was not born to super-nerdy parents—To people that deserve me.

I argued that happiness is possible only through being perfectly logical and rational. She asked: “Are you logical and rational?” I nodded cheerfully: “Yes”. “Now, are you happy?”, she asked me, with a sarcastic smile. I was silent, because in my teens, I was anything, but happy. 

When I argued endlessly, listing my premises one after another, she said, “Once in a while, you should take your fingers off the keyboard and pay attention to what I say too.”

When she asked me what I look for in a girl, I said I want someone with whom I can discuss philosophy all night long. “It is such philosophical discussions that turn me on”, I said. She said, “I knew a sixty year old man. I miss him, and the philosophical discussions I had with him. It still turns me on.” She then sent a smiley that resembled a scooter driven by an insect. Many years later, I understood she was kicking my ass.

When I once said, “People tell me I am the coldest person on earth. But, you sound colder than me.”, she replied, “It is for my own safety.” She said, “I am too mean to people, but they still like me. I am not nice to you because I do not want you to stop loving me as much as you do now.”

She was leagues ahead of kids of my age in intelligence and maturity. “But, what is the point in being the smartest among all those dumb people?” she asked me.

Her IQ, I estimated, was 50 points higher than that of senior girls in my college. When I often said she was smarter than anyone I have ever known, she said: “But, it is so nice of you to rub it in!”

She said, “You are a quick learner, Shanu. You are a quick learner.” It made me sick.

The boys in her class, she said, drop their pens on the floor near her desk to look up her skirt while picking it up. “The boy who sat behind me used to do it almost every day. He left the school a year ago. Otherwise I would have slapped him hard across his face.” she said. When I once said, “I’ll slap you”, she retorted, “You can’t.” I felt emasculated. Months later, I noticed that the girls in her school do not wear skirts. When I asked about it, she disappeared. 

Once we talked till 5 O’ Clock in the morning. I feared my mother will come downstairs and find me talking over the yahoo messenger the whole night. She asked me to wait because she had to change her clothes. “Half done” she told me, after a few minutes. My heart was pounding. “Tops off or shorts off?” I asked her. “Look, we are flirting. I am not in to this.” she said. “I am sorry. I hadn’t intended that.” I said apologetically. “It is alright. By the way, tops off.” was her reply. Months later, she said: “But, we weren’t really flirting. That is not flirting.” I sat there wondering “flirting” meant. I still do not know. Years later when I asked about it again, she said, “I was really kiddish.”

In one of those days, I heard that she broke the heart of a 17 year old Punjabi boy she met on Yahoo chat. Long after she ditched him, the boys in his class often called her to say that he was not eating. “How can a 17 year old boy be that dumb? I calmly listened, but when they started swearing, I proved that my vocabulary is not bad either. But, I still reply to his messages.” she told me. 

She once said, “The only reason I still talk to you is that you find me so adorable.” When I turned silent, she said, “Now, deny it.” Months later, I asked, “But, is that the only reason you talk to me?” After a deep, ominous silence, she replied, “Let me think about it.”

Once when she spoke to a super-senior of mine in college, he said he didn’t understand a snide remark of hers. She said, “But, I did not expect you of all the people to get it.” When I told her that he was a senior of mine in college, she said, “Hehe. He’s too dumb to be a senior though. Why do you even talk to him? He is so demented.”

She once said, “He is too dumb to be my brother, but I still love him.”

In 2005, a 15-year-old mutual friend of ours called me to say she was suspended from school. When I told her Mr. 15-year-old was never quite sure she was thirteen, she said, “When I met him, he was as dumb as a 10-year-old. But, I never doubted whether he was a 15-year-old. I was fair to him. So, why is he not fair to me?” They used to talk too much on phone, but she had to stop when his parents found out and said that she shouldn’t call. But, when I asked her why they don’t talk anymore, she said, “I am over talking to stupid people. I have long outgrown that phase.” 

I asked her why she did not go to school that day. I said, “Perhaps your parents know that you are a smart child who doesn’t need nobody’s help.” She nodded, turning silent. After a while, she asked me whether “Mr. As-dumb-as-a-ten-year-old” had told me anything. The Principal decreed that she sit at home for two weeks. Her class teacher did not like it when she lashed out: “I know the frustrations of a forty-five year old virgin.” 

“They gave me two weeks. My mother doesn’t punish me because she fears I will hit her back. But, she says that I need counseling”, she said. When I was a boy, my mother used to tell me that she felt nervous while punishing a boy who had grown tall, though I had started loving the hard touch of her hand. Ah, those rose-colored glasses.

When I was once walking near the railway station to find a rickshaw at midnight, a man stopped his bike near me and asked me where I was going, in a familiar voice. I said I was going home. He asked me whether I’d like to join him. I couldn’t have recognized my neighbors by their face, but I felt he was one among them. I said, “Yes”. Much later, I asked him where he was going. He stopped the bike, and said I needn’t join him if I do not want to. He was willing to pay. I screamed.

When I reached home, I told Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old that a gay man tried to take me home. But, Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old did not know what ‘gay’ meant. When I said that a gay man is a homosexual, and that “gays are attracted to other men”, Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old said, “Enough. I get it now.” When I told Krishnapriya that Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old did not know what “gay” meant, she said, “LMAO. The boys my school say that Shailesh is gay. I am not sure. They call me SNB”, she said. When I asked, “Swiss National Bank? I am not sure I always understand these expressions.”, she said, “Sexy Naughty Bitch”.

She began conversations along these lines: “I know what boys who talk to me want. I know you too well. Don’t worry. You can marry me when I grow up. Just wait. It might happen.” I burned in shame, speechless, lying on my bed for hours, with unpleasant butterflies in my stomach, hoping that someday I might forget it. But, then, I just might. In those days, when my mother removed the curtains of my room, I did everything to keep my room dark. 

It was hard for me to not like someone who could see through me so well. I often denied. I hemmed and hawed. I pretended not to understand when she hid the whip from me. After a few months, when I brought it up in the middle of a conversation, out of nowhere, she laughed and said: “But, I didn’t mean it at all. You can’t forget it? Did it hurt because it is true?”

Much as I appreciate being understood, it would have been better if she’d kept her mouth shut. 

To attend a quiz program, she once turned up at my college. She said, “The girls were nice. But, the boys looked like, well, nerds.” When we started talking on Yahoo Messenger, she’d said that she was tall, with long, straight hair and everything. When I told her this was not true at all, she said, “I was 12 then, and I was tall for my age.  I also had long, straight hair then.” After a while she said, “You know, your blog sucks”. When I said, “My blog is better than any blog I have ever read, and ever hope to read.” she said, “Sure. Everything is relative.” But, she’d once said that she liked my blog post “Unconditional Love”. She’d said it was a great privilege to be praised by her. Later, she repeated, “I’m pretty. And I know it.” This was when she turned cruelly sarcastic. 

When I was delivering a long lecture on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, she asked me, “Shanu, Why don’t you live up to what you believe in? Do you even believe in what you believe in?” I felt sick to my stomach. I stopped talking to her. She removed me from her Orkut list. When I tried to talk to her again, she said, “Don’t call me your dearest child. I am very sorry too.” 

I felt numb.

She wouldn’t forget an insult or an injury. If you mess with her, at best, you could wait and see her nibble you to death. It was from her I learned to hurl insults that rip people out of existence. It was from her I learned to hurl insults that remain a secret shame till they are taken to the graveyard. Perhaps the saying that men’s great works bear the persistent marks of pain is true. This is why I have such a long line of detractors though they’d never tell you that. 

I still remember her with deep affection uncharacteristic of me. Years later, when I poked her on Facebook, I gathered she was studying in some stupid engineering college in Tamil Nadu.  A few days later, I tried to find out whether her college info remains intact. She’d removed it.

I’d expected it, because……..because I’ve deep insight into such people.

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“I have not written and published to please other people, but to satisfy myself, just as a cow gives milk, not to profit the dairyman, but to satisfy herself.”-H. L. Mencken

One of my most painful childhood memories is that of rising onto my toes, and asking my aunt whether we can make Onion-Vada’s without using onions.  She said, “I do not know what you are talking about. How do we make Onion-Vada’s without onions?” She was cutting onions and there were tears in my eyes. I did not like the taste of onions. I stood there, confused, watching the swift movement of her fingers. And, I felt that I could see the mist through the window.

I must have been three years old then, and she was still a teenager. I also remember that she used to call me a book-worm. When I used to insist that I wanted to join her when she takes her bath, she would raise her hand as if she was trying to smack me. She never did that, but I would then stare at her palms, hoping against hope that she did. It would have felt good. I remember someone who was unapologetic about it. I would then lie on the bed counting the marks of her fingers wondering whether it was all a dream, or whether it actually happened. Continue Reading

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image of a school, school, picture of a school, school pictures
I “loved” school.

 

It was in Kindergarten that I learned to say that I “loved” school. One morning, while taking me back home on the day of a strike when the whole city came to a standstill, my father asked me, “Do you like school?”. I replied, “Of course. I do.” When he asked me, “How do you feel today?” With a pained expression on my face, I said, “I feel sad today.” I suspected that I was supposed to love school. 

More than two decades later, my face would assume the same expression when I said that I wished her well. She had said that she is soon having a vacation with her long-time lover. I believed that I was expected to say so. I had no right to protest. It was only later I would connect the madness, hysteria and repeated illness that followed to what happened in those days. Continue Reading

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I loved seeing rabbits in my dreams.

I have always had scary dreams. When I was nineteen, I saw a dream in which my mother spanked me for breaking the flower vase. I woke up, screaming. My mother came downstairs and asked, smiling: “Did you dream of being punished by me? Nothing happened. Sleep tight.” I never understood how she could sense it without me saying so. Women often have such sharp intuitions. I had seen the same dream when I was seven years old. It was only then I understood that deep down, I loved it. When I was a child, I often dreamed of rabbits. My mother told me that it is because little children are innocent. I used to dream of snakes too. A girl in college told me that it is because I am horny. I am not sure I agree to it, because those dreams were really scary.

While I was growing up, I have had dreams of going to school naked. I used to see myself walking inside the classroom without my trousers. I never understood why a boy whose dress was always neatly pressed, and hair painfully combed had such horrible dreams. I only know that I had them. It is not that I have never had what Steve Sailer called the standard American dream: “Writing the school final exam without ever opening the text books or going to classes.” It is only that such dreams have stopped bothering me. Continue Reading

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The Illicit Happiness Of Other People

When a young friend quoted an excerpt from a novel which convinced him that it would be one hell of a read, I did not know what it meant. It read: “If there were ever a sudden almighty silence in marine drive, you would hear a thousand bra straps snap.” When I once read that “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why it evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

When I once read in a Magazine that physical intimacy begins with a kiss, I wondered apprehensively: “But then, how far would they go?”  So, it is hard for me to not like the twelve-year-old Thoma in Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People.

Thoma is glad that he is not a woman, because unlike his elder brother Unni, he does not know how to decipher clues. When Gloria Miss stands in front of the class with her arms folded, Thoma felt sorry for her. He wondered how women go through their lives—how they handle this shame. He knows that if he were a woman, he would have spent his whole life missing all the insults hurled at him by other women. To people who do not know how to decipher clues, there is an aspect of reality that is incomprehensible-an aspect of reality that involves people.

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