Friday, December 03, 2004

Well people, I'm going on vacation for the rest of December. Life has taken a number of surprising twists and turns over the past two years; one of the strangest chapters in this story is going to end next week. Beyond that, I will need time off to reconcile myself to the changed state of affairs. Hence the long hiatus. I'll be back in January with, hopefully, my mind cleared up and with some idea of where I want to go next.
Here's wishing all of you a very Happy New Year in advance. Party like there's no tomorrow, people!

In case any of you havent read the *other* one of my blogs, here they are:

Inside-out Brain


Monday, November 29, 2004

The time for my sabbatical draws closer – only a week left now. I’ve jokingly described this one month of holiday as ‘rebooting my system’ to friends; but now that is exactly what it feels like.

I find myself shutting down ongoing tasks, one by one. I’m losing interest in the day to day workings of my office. This week I have been shifted once again to a different office building in order to join a new project. It is not really going to help much – the work can only start when I come back; all I do this week is read up on the technology used. I don’t know how much of this I will remember in January.

I’m drifting away from friends – not just my mates at work, but even college friends, school buddies, girls who I had a crush on and always wanted to talk to, cousins who I used to spend days chatting with. I find myself vaguely refusing offers of lunch with them, refusing to talk to them, hinting that I will take some time out soon, very soon, to talk to them. But I really want to be saying, “I don’t exist here any more, how are you still able to see me?”

I can’t remember the last time I wanted to go see a new movie with friends and family. Over the past few months all I’ve been seeing is the weekly classic movie show at the Film Circle. I remember, three months ago, I was enthused by the terrific variety of movies that was due for release in December. I don’t even remember which movies I was excited about, now.

Except for a couple of short stories last week, I have even stopped reading. Longtime acquaintances will wince at the fact that I have three Ray Bradbury books sitting unread on my shelf since I bought them last month.

A faint music plays continually in my mind. I can hear it whenever I pay attention. At all times it is a background score of a similar nature to that which is played along with a movie’s end credits. Some sort of vague violin and piano symphony, slowing down, slowing down, winding to a halt sometime in the near future. The sound accompanies every action I take, every word I write and speak throughout the day. I heard this the last time when I was the last semester of college, and realized that I would be leaving the Indore I knew forever, soon.

Two things, and two things alone tell me I am still alive. The first is the prospect of getting married, of not being alone. Desperation drives me to join gym classes, it goads me into hennaing my hair, it slyly persuades me to bring up the topic with relatives in the hope of reminding them of some ‘good girl’ whom they know. I keep seeing marriage as the step out of this life I lead, of some change, some sort of progress. From bitter experience I know that while marriage will be a change, it will not be for the better. Still, hope inspires me. See all these pretty girls on the roads, I tell myself. Surely all of them cannot be evil or stupid! Having seen ideal marriages myself, I know such things are possible.

The other thing is writing. I do now know if the past few years have soured my experience with programming, or whether I am only just waking up to my own nature. But I am not able to see myself as a software person a few years from now. I can only see myself writing. My fevered imagination cooks up visions of me becoming famous, earning a huge advance on my books, of friends asking me for autographs. I imagine writing being the one thing in the world at which I’m really, really good. I imagine taking a small notebook with me on my vacation, of filling it up in a few days, of coming back home with a bulging bag full of more notebooks purchased along the way, all full of brilliant writings. Everything I see around me suggests a story idea; every story idea involves loneliness in some mutation.
I dont know where I'm going with this. Though reading all that I've written so far convinced me that I do need that vacation, badly. If I hadn't had financial contraints on me, I could probably have quit my job. But I'm sure half the worlds people would say that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A: I'm lonely.

B: Why is that? You're surrounded by people.

A: These people are different from me, hence I cant explain myself to them.

B: I get it. You're different from me because your name's A and mine is B. The same with all the other around here.

A: No, names dont matter, that isnt what I meant.

B: Oh, I get it now. We're different because I like Shah Rukh Khan and you dont.

A: No, that doesnt matter either. We're different in other ways.

B: So you're saying that the loneliness is because the difference between you and others is in something that matters to you? If the difference were in something that didnt matter, you could talk to them?

A: Well, yes, now that you put it that way.

B: So why do those things matter to you? The ones that, because they're different from others, make you lonely?

A: They just do. Everyone has some ideas, or beliefs that are important to him. They're a part of his character.

B: So you're saying that your character makes you lonely?

A: That must be it.

B: Are you comfortable with your character?

A: I dont know. I mean, I dont have much experience of having other characters.

B: So you might be less lonely if only you changed your character? Or do you think it has too much control over you to be changed?

A: I dont know.

B: But you're implying that if you meet other people who dont differ from you in those 'things that matter', then you wont be lonely, you will share your feelings with them.

A: Yes.

B: Have you met any such yet?

A: I have. They are very few no doubt, but I have met such people.

B: But this makes me think. Are there such people who are so different that they can never have enough in common with anyone else? It is entirely possible.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

My latest story's here. Episode 4 of the 'Hathoda' series is up at Adbhut. Incidentally, this marks the completion of one year for Adbhut, which is more than most web magazines reach; so congrats to Dinker, the editor.

In other news... A news item in the paper the other day caught my eye - about a writers' group in Mumbai/Pune, called the Bombay Writers' Club, A.K.A Caferati. And they're running a short story contest this month. The winning stories are being published as an anthology. If I get time over the Diwali holidays, I'm going to try cooking up something. Deadlines are stimulating :).

Monday, October 25, 2004

Haven't updated the blog with my usual gloating over books purchases for a long time... But anyway, I found this very interesting book at a book sale the other day: Life Among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson. Its an Erma Bombeck-style account of raising a family of too-bright-for-their-own-good kids, written in the 60s, with loads of hilarious moments. The catch? Shirley Jackson is better known for her spine chilling horror stories, The Haunting of Hill House being the most well known of them.
It's possible to see some of the inspirations for Hill House in this book: the strange behaviour of doors in old houses, the strangeness of passageways and staircases, chilling pronouncements (although they aren't quite as chilling when it's her own kids that make them).
Perhaps because horror requires a good knowledge of the human psyche, the best writers in that genre are excellent at evoking day-to-day moods too. Some of Stephen King's best passages are about his own childhood. Robert McCammon wrote an entire book about being a kid. Ray Bradbury (though he's written scary-style stories, I wouldn't call him a horror writer proper) is the best I've seen at reminding us of how childhood feels. Ah well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Finally, I worked out a story that fits into the PWG canon. I really like the way this came out - The language isnt totally professional yet, but it's more suited to this genre than my earlier work. Let me know what you think.


Pawar Guest House : Chapter 7

"As it turns out," I said, "I do have a story to tell today. Your tale reminds me of one I heard when I went trekking a few years ago."

Her story had resolved the situation for me : We were just telling tall tales. This had nothing to do with any philosophy - The diary had been just a coincidence, striking me at a weak spot. And if she liked wierd tales, so did I, and I had a store of them, too.


Dokha would have been a nice little place to spend a few days in, but Shekhar knew there were other, possibly nicer spots to visit on this trekking holiday. Today's walk had been mostly downhill, though, and he had reached Dokha before noon. Now they'd all have lunch and take a much-deserved afternoon nap. Tomorrow and the day after were going to be killer climbs.

He looked around for the lodge where they were staying - everyone else must have reached there by now. Shekhar was the odd one out of his group - he was overweight and looked like he wouldnt be able to walk for ten minutes. But he'd been trekking for some years now and had actually done several difficult treks, if slower than everyone else.

The street was slushy and the drizzle was beginning to fall, so he was glad when one of the porters from their group walked onto the street some way ahead, and gestured excitedly at him to come on in.

Lunch was khichadi with vegetables, and they all ate heartily. Everyone then slept for atleast three hours.

As usual Dossy was the first to wake up, and as usual went around waking everyone else. "Rise and shine, guys! Its such a nice evening and you're wasting it lying around!" They groaned, but sat up and came out onto the balcony to sniff the chilly air. The rain had stopped, and the sky was clear for the time being. Fog would be coming in, but that was later at night.

Dossy then came up with the idea of playing a few games of Badam-satti. But Panku had left his pack of playing cards at base camp. Shekhar said, " They must be selling cards at that little shop at the beginning of the village - they have all sorts of things. I'll check."

He went down to the shop. The village was hardly more than a dozen huts and lodges, and the shop was the only one here. Being the only centre of commerce, and the village being a rest stop for trekkers, it had a tremendous responsibility. It had everything from rental sleeping bags and tents, jackets, altitude sickness pills, to whiskey, bottled drinking water, chocolates, chewing gum, a few board games, and, yes, playing cards.

As he was buying the cards, Shekhar's gaze fell on a small poster on the wall next to the counter.

it said. Sean O'Malley and his sister had been trekking, and he'd twisted his ankle some distance away from Dokha. His sister had left him on a jungle path to get help. When she got back with help, he was gone. No traces had been found. A photo of O'Malley, a blond, young, cheerful-looking fellow, was also printed. There was something about that photo...

The shopkeeper noticed him looking, and said, "It was very sad, saheb. Nearly a month now and still no trace of him. His sister's still hoping somebody'll find something."

Shekhar said, "Can I take that poster? I think I've seen him." The shopkeeper seemed incredulous, but let Shekhar take an extra copy, which the sister had left for just such a case.

Shekhar walked back, still looking carefully at the photo. His friends were waiting for the cards on the chairs on the balcony. He put down the pack of cards and the poster on the centre table, and said, " See this. I'll be back." Then he went to his room.

A few minutes later, he camer back and sat down in a spare chair. Panku was holding the poster and reading it curiously. Dossy asked him, "What's going on? Did you see this guy?"

"Not exactly. Let me tell you what happened. You know that stretch, about 3 kilometres from here, that steep slope through a narrow passage where the rocks are all covered with slippery mud? Right at the beginning of that, there's a sort of split in the path, and you need to be a bit careful to choose the right one. Well, I was distracted while clambering over those rocks, and went onto the wrong path. The path got narrower and narrower, through thorny bushes, and my hands started getting scratched while trying to part those bushes. Thankfully, I noticed a piece of black woollen cloth stuck on a bush, and used that to wrap one hand. But only a few metres further, the path gave way onto a steep precipice, and there was no way to go on further. I turned back, finally found the right path, and went on - slipped once, too, on those damned rocks. But I'd stuffed that woollen cloth into my raincoat pocket when I came out of the bushes. And here it is. "

Everyone looked on with interest as Shekhar unrolled the scrap onto the table. The piece, about 6 inches square, was black, with white and blue patterns of snowflakes on it. It didnt seem to be very old, because it hadnt faded much. It was probably part of a sweater or something like that.

"But so what? How do you link this rag with this missing guy? The poster says he was wearing a T-Shirt, jacket and jeans when he disappeared. "

Shekhar chuckled. "Hum bhi kisi Sherlock Holmes se kam nahi hai! Check out that muffler he's wearing in the photo."

Sean O'Malley appeared to be wearing a dark - black, most likley - muffler in the photo. Now that they'd seen the original, it was easy to make out the snowflake patterns in the black cloth.

"Okay, now what? Look at the date on this - it's about a month old. If nothing's been found so far, there probably wont be more than a skeleton left at the end of that sharp drop you talked of. So why are you after this?"

"Heh heh. The Sherlock Holmes bit - with a desi despo touch. Please note the contact person."

"Its... its his sister! You dope, you're trying to play a hero because of some girl? Ladkiyon ke peeche padna tha to Pune mein hi rehta!"

Shekhar grinned triumphantly and stood up. "Hey, its just a few minutes job. Go to her place, show her the cloth, tell her the path, get some thanks from her, end of story. I'll be back by dinnertime."

He found the "Hill View Lodge" without much trouble. (Stupid name, he thought. Every shack in this village has a mountain view.) Chrissie, Sean's sister, was in her room.

Chrissie was a medium-height blonde, with shoulder length hair and green eyes. Though she was wearing a T-Shirt and jeans, she looked like she belonged on a ramp, not on a trek. She grinned at him inquizitively as she opened the door for him. Shekhar felt justified for having come here.

"Erm, hello, Chrissie. My name's Shekhar. I'm here about this poster- " He unfolded it and showed it to her -" and maybe I could help a little..."

Chrissie's eyes had brightened a little on seeing the poster, and when he said he could help she clasped her hands together between her breasts and said breathily, " Oh, thank you! Thank God! I've been waiting for so long for some clue about where Sean disappeared! "

Shekhar knew he was in love.

* * *

"WHAT do you mean, you're staying behind a day? What's going on?" Panku thundered.

"Why's it so hard to understand? Look, the next two days are straight paths. The third day, we're going on a day-long excursion to Blue Lake. The fourth day is a rest stop. I'm just staying here tomorrow, and I'll skip the Blue Lake excursion instead. There are any nuber of groups that travel this route, and I'll just hook up with one of them until I catch up with you. Unless one of you wants to stay with me tomorrow when I go show Chrissie the spot?"

Panku looked irresolute for a moment, then shook his head. "There's no point. I mean, there's going to be nothing to see except maybe a skeleton, and I for one dont want to miss Blue Lake for this. Main to bolta hoon, tell her you need to go ahead and just give her directions. "

The memory of Chrissie's green eyes haunted Shekhar. "No guys, I think I'll stay."

Shekhar expected the day to be fairly easy. After all, the spot was only about three kilometres away. But it turned out that of the duo, Sean had been the experienced trekker and Chrissie the newbie. Nine o'clock, Shekhar had been ready for two hours, and Chrissie was still fussing around her bags. "Hmmm....Sean always told me to double-check the water-bottles....Oh my goodness, this bottle's leaking!... Now where did I put that compass?"

Shekhar didnt have the heart to tell her it would only take an hour or so to reach the spot. She seemed to be preparing for a multi-day trek, with the number of water bottles and emergency food packets she had.

Finally, she was ready - at nearly nine-thirty. Then, of course, they had to wait till breakfast was ready. She seemed to be slow at everything - she even chewed slowly. Then she took her time packing their lunch of a boiled potato and two doughnuts. The sun was high up in the sky before they set foot out of the village.

The pace was no better once they'd started. Chrissie insisted on taking photographs of every odd-looking tree and insect. At one point, he reminded her of the purpose of their trip. She sobered a little. "I remember, Shekhar. I've thought about making this trip every day for God knows how long." But she did not speed up.

Lunch time came and went, and they had covered less than half the route. Shekhar felt frustrated with the progress. Now Chrissie was tiring. She stopped every few minutes, found a suitable rock, sat down, drank a gulp of water, and started walking again. "Sean always told me to drink a little water every few minutes when I'm tired. And he used to say I should always walk at my own pace." Her eyes dared him to reproach her slow pace.

It was beginning to darken when they reached the final steep climb. "This is it, Chrissie, we just get to the top of this passage, and we're there. Let's try to see the spot in daylight. My torch doesnt have extra batteries, so we might have to hurry a little, going back." But Chrissie seemed all the more depressed when she saw the climb. "Oh, this will take forever! It's so steep!" She was stopping every two minutes now, and drinking a lot of water. Shekhar had offered to carry her bag, but she'd refused. "You're helping me so much now, I cant ask you to do anything more." she said stubbornly.

The torches came out when they were three-fourths of the way up. And finally, when they reached the top, all they could see was the jagged circle of light from their torches. The fog was beginning to roll in, too. But they were there. Shekhar wondered how they were going to get bacl at this pace.

He looked around a little, and found the fork in the path. "Look, here it is - this is where I lost my way."

"Uh, could you lead the way? It's - it's a bit scary here!" The quaver in Chrissie's voice, and her hand on his shoulder, emboldened him, and he began demonstrating the way. "Look, the path is just as wide as the normal path here, so Sean might have mistaken it if he tried walking in the dark. Then, from here, it's a bit narrower and - what was that?" There was a rustling in the bushes, something big. Chrissie jumped too. They pointed the torches here, there in the darkness, but saw nothing.

"Must have been a rat, or something." Shekhar said. But there was a quaver in his voice too. "N-now, a little bit further, the path drop steeply. We could fall if we arent careful."

In looking for the edge of the cliff, Shekhar didnt notice the hand on his shoulder was withdrawn, or that Chrissie seemed to be getting more distant. When he noticed, he turned around abruptly. But the turn wasnt completed.

A heavy arm, twice the size of a human arm, struck the back of his neck, hard. Dirty, overgrown nails gouged out trails of blood on his back, tearing open his shirt, but he didnt notice. The first blow had broken his neck.

Chrissie stood a few steps away as the creature felled Shekhar. She'd switched off her torch once she'd been sure it was coming. Now she just waited, while it completed its part.

The creature grunted, hoisted the limp body on it's shoulder. It stood nearly eight feet tall, roughly humanoid, but furry. Its barely human, bear-like features were just about visible in the starlight.

It gestured to Chrissie to follow it, and set off through the undergrowth. Chrissies tiredness seemed to have disappeared. She was having no trouble keeping up with the creature's loping walk.

In a few mintues of crashing through the jungle along no visible path, they came to a small clearing, bounded by a stone wall on one side. The creature dropped the obdy on one side, and shambled to the stone wall. There was a boulder set against it, and the creature put a shoulder against it and pushed. The boulder rolled a bit, revealing a cave. There was just enough space for Chrissie to put in her head and an arm. She called softly," Sean? Sean, are you there?"

Sean stirred weakly inside the cave. She could make out his gaunt face and heavy stubble. "I've brought food and water for you, Sean," Chrissie said, and opened her haversack. She dropped packets and bottles into the cave. "Hang on in there, kid. It'll be real soon now, we're nearly there." The starlight shone on her tears as she withdrew from the cave. "I should never have brought you along on this trek."

The creature had been waiting for her. Now it pushed the boulder again to seal the cave. It grinned at her, showing stained, pointed teeth.

"How many more are left?" She asked him.

It led her to a tree at the edge of clearing. It had scratched about two dozen deep scratches into the bark. And most of them had diagonal slashes, cancellation marks as it were, across them. As she watched, it drew a diagonal mark across one more line - For Shekhar. There were just about three or four straight lines left. The creature turned to her and grinned again.

The moon was rising. It shed blood-red light through the fog, on the scores on the tree, as she turned and walked back through the jungle. Behind her, the creature walked over to Shekhars body.

As she hurried back to the path, she pulled out the woollen cloth and laid it, bait, across the bushes again.

- - -

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

House on the corner

<>[This is one of the little background stories that I'll use to build up the atmosphere for a novel-like thing I'm working on. ]


The brick-and-stone house at the corner had an evil reputation. For whatever reason, it hadn’t been condemned though it was older than most of the other houses on the street. It had been old the last time I’d lived here, too, and no one had lived there for more than a few months. It called to random people on the street; it cajoled them into thinking that all those beliefs were just superstitions. The unlucky ones would buy the house from the previous owner; both sides of the deal would think they’d been fortunate. Then it would start playing with their minds. People had committed murder, incest, suicide, worse – and those were just the deeds that became public. Some months later, the terrified owner, if still alive, came up with the strangest excuses to leave and sell off the house- whatever his desperate mind felt were the most plausible reasons. Neighbours, when asked about the property value of the house, invariably counseled against buying it. Not that it was any use.

Besides being aware of the houses reputation, Khajurilal was a canny businessman. The idea came to him one day when he glanced at the house from his balcony, a few houses away. “That house has caused too much mischief – it ought to be torn down.” The businessman in him realized that doing so would increase the property value of the plot, and he swung into action.

His wife had died a few years ago, and his children were all out of the city. Neighbours tried to talk him out of it, but stopped when he told them his idea. They would be glad, too, to have the house gone. He bought the place within a few weeks.

Then he hit his first roadblock. It was extremely difficult to get labourers to do the job. Local workers, when recruited, refused to work after a day on the job. Once he tried getting migrant rural labourers, newly arrived in the city, but they slept in the house the first night, and fled in the early hours of the morning without telling him what had happened. Against his judgement, Khajurilal tried spending a night in the house. Nothing happened to him, which led him to the crazy belief that the house wanted to be torn down, and so it was his friend.

Thinking about the house had distracted him from his shops. As it was, his munshi was taking care of most of the business. He decided to try to do some of the demolition himself, to prove that it was just a house. He took a few days away from work, bought hammer, pickaxe, shovel, and chose a couple of walls to demolish. They came down easily, and the progress was apparent. The neighbours were whispering about his obsession with the house already. He showed them how easy it was to break the house – it was so old after all – and they agreed that the workers were ignorant louts. But he could still find no one to complete the demolition for him.

The businessman in him was furious at the idea of such an easy deal going down the drain. Almost idly, he thought that if there was no one to do the job, he’d just take a week’s break from his work and finish it himself. The idea took root in his mind. Soon, he found himself standing in front of the house, hammer in hand. A saner voice within him raged against this nonsense, but he kept saying to himself – it’s just a matter of a week – it’s just a few days – the exercise will be good for me.

The work started off easily enough. A couple more brick walls went down like cardboard under his pickaxe. But at the end of the week, the house wasn’t even half down. The older brick walls had been easy, but the newer ones - made of stone - were harder. He decided to devote another week to this.

At the end of the second week, he decided on trying till the end of the month. Somewhere in that month, there was an accident – he was trapped under some rubble. He was rescued, but it meant he would limp, and his left hand wasn’t as strong as the right. In his feverish dreams the house seemed to mock him, challenge him.

After he recovered, he went back for a look at the house and was appalled – had he demolished just the one stone wall in those past few days? There was certainly a lot of work left to be done. He ignored the neighbours and his munshi entirely now, and went back to work. His injuries had slowed down his work considerably.

Soon, he was tanned black from the sun, had grown muscles, and couldn’t be distinguished from any common labourer. He’d almost forgotten all about his business. The only thing he’d talk about was how he was going to be really rich when he completed this demolition. Everyone who was willing to come was shown how little was left. It was obvious to everyone that his pace of work was almost nothing now, he spent more time gibbering about the ruins, talking about his upcoming fortune, than actually working. Most days, he’d just clear the rubble and weeds from the clear portion, muttering about having the plot presentable for buyers. One boy claimed to have actually seen him rebuild a small wall, muttering to himself that the wall was scheduled for later.

As years went by, Khajurilal was known only as the street lunatic. No one was even sure when he died. No one knew, at the end, whether he understood the immense trick that had been played on him.

After he died, Khajurilal’s lawyer sent a letter to his son, telling him the house was now his. The son, sensibly, instructed the lawyer to put up a “For sale” sign and dispose of the house as soon as possible.

The house, of course, is still waiting. Part of its job is done; it just needs someone who’ll like it again, and rebuild the faulty brick walls for it - properly in stone this time.

Friday, September 10, 2004

No updates here for a while... Not because I've been lazy, but because I've been saying quite a lot on my new Outsourcee blog. That's where the action is, check it out!

PS. I'm going one better than most blogs. Even when my post is just a link with a single-line comment, I'm the one that created the link :)

Friday, September 03, 2004

See this : Call centres losing their voice

This reminds me of a story I'd planned to write a long time ago... will get around to it and finish over this weekend.

Monday, August 30, 2004

I'm following through on my promise to talk about my industry. Just started a new blog : Outsourcee. Comments, brickbats, etc are awaited. This being the kind of idea that requires a lot of feedback to keep going, i'm dependent on your reactions.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Wow, movie ideas are everywhere! Check out this story on the BBC site : Nature 'mankind's gravest threat'
I see half a dozen plot ideas right there... of course, as every aspiring writer/director/entrepreneur has realized, ideas are a dime a dozen. Its the effort you put into realizing them that counts.
This is an old story I submitted to, a long time ago. Sicne it isnt visible on that site any more, pasting it here for reference. Remember, this is atleast 5 years old. I'd probably have written it somewhat differently today. Anyway...


Mr Joshi's first conscious thought when he woke up was, " I'm going to get caught today." The thought recurred as he went through the routine of getting ready to go to work. The guilt he'd suppressed every time he passed one of those loans and then wrote them off later, came back to him every time he looked at one of the knick-knacks adorning his place. Almost all of them had arrived as a result of his... thievery, that was all it finally was, wasnt it? He sighed. It would all end today. Or in a couple of days, at the latest.

If things had remained as they were so far, he'd never have been caught. He had taken care never to leave a pattern in the records that could be noticed immediately. And in a bank, especially in a busy bank like his where the employees were perpetually overworked, who had the time to go through so many different records at a time? Also, who would even suspect the manager who hadd always treated them well and increased the bank's business several fold? It had all been so neatly worked out that Mr. Joshi was impressed with his own work. Of course, their being overworked was the reason it was all going to end. That was why they were testing out ATMA in his office first...

He remembered the enthusiastic voice of the kid teaching them, during their first training session. The AM guys had been on cloud nine when SBI had accepted their proposal to install their new brainchild, ATMA, in their banking network. Partly through luck and partly because it was a fairly well managed branch, Mr Joshi's branch had been selected to be the guinea pig. This first training session was less training and more of a PR exercise, the press-wallahs outnumbered the actual bank employees. They were also the most enthusiastic of the lot. Most of the bank employees were wary of the system, on the general philosophy of, "If it's new, we're going to have to learn to use it."

The kid started off with, "Every one here, I think, knows what ATMA stands for - Automated Transaction Monitoring Antity." He grinned and continued," We had to make it Antity because ATME doesn't sound that good." The press-wallahs wrote that down, each imagining the great pun they were going to create from that little nugget.

"Basically, 'ATMA' is really a perfect description of what it is. Its not a replacement for the softwre you're using right now - you're welcome to keep using it the way you like, and ATMA will not change any of that." This assurance brought forth a sigh of relief from some of the employees, who now felt it was safe to go to sleep.

"What it really does is to monitor the work you do and detect patterns for you. Little tools that do such things already exist. You probably have some such thing on your desktop which automaticlly completes repetitive typing or takes dictation. But ATMA goes much beyond that. It's alive, it's an intelligence, it has a soul. It actually understands banking, and we've fed it - 'Explained to it', so to speak - the exact procedures SBI follows in it's opertions. So, for example, it knows that after you've made an entry in Ledger A, you'll usually open ledger B, and will open it to the correct page for you if you want. It recognizes voice commands, so you just say something like, " Yeh ledger B ko kholo" and it opens it for you. And it helps you out with checking all the entries you make with older ones and telling you if you've missed something.

"It also speaks Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, and Tamil. So you can - "

"Hey, doesnt it speak Telugu? " It was Swamy, that bore who was so anti-Tamil that it was a standing joke among the bank employees. Every one laughed, some at the joke and some at the joker.

"We're adding Telugu too, sir. Now I'd like to give you all a small demonstration of how it works. If I could have a volunteer, please...."

The software was really pretty good and Mr Joshi had been quite impressed with it. Until, of course, the kid said something that caught his attention immediately.

"ATMA also does something more that will ease your job a lot. It is very good at detecting patterns, so it will very quickly discover any recurring modus operandi of cheating, and will prevent such a thing from happening again. This is not really useful to you right now, because no one would try to defraud the same bank again and again, but it would be very useful once it's set up at all your branches. It will quickly check things like bounced checks, bad loans, sudden increases in deposited money. Since ATMA has access to the entire database and can correlate across all of it, it can do much more in this respect than any human investigator. You'll hardly ever have a case of fraud at your bank once the mechanism is in place...", he went on explaining but suddenly Mr Joshi was not listening. He had more important things to think of...

So today was the day they were going to complete feeding the data into the ATMA system [not that it had taken long, just half a day], and start it up...or should he say, start HIM up? It already knew the names of all the employees.... the AM kids had asked him how he would prefer to be addressed by ATMA; he'd told them "Mr. Joshi" would be fine, he didnt approve of the American first-name-calling style. It doesnt really matter too much, they told him, you can always change it, just ask ATMA, it will do it.

Well, they wouldnt exactly complete feeding the data. Two record sets had mysteriously been corrupted in the database a couple of days ago, and somehow their backups hadnt been taken. Feeding those in would have to wait until backups arrived again from the BAA, the Banking Archival Agency. This system of interlocking backups would normally have made Mr Joshi feel good, but in this case, since he had been the person responsible for hiding that data, it made him feel helpless. Nor did it help that once those records were in ATMA, it would catch the pattern pretty quickly.

He'd be caught today.

The inauguration ceremony had gone by pretty quickly and his people were just getting down to work. ATMA had impressed the crowd by verbally asking for two missing recordsets, which it said were needed by it and were missing. Those who heard it had grinned and cheered. ATMA really was doing it's job well, it seemed. More than that, they all really liked it's voice, which had been set to be a young woman's, specifically for this purpose.

When Mr Joshi finally got to his desk and turned on his computer, ATMA started up too. A voice came out of the computer's speakers: " Good morning, Mr Joshi. I'm ATMA, and I hope we enjoy working with each other."

Joshi looked at the computer, and picked up the microphone to reply to it, but the voice came again, saying: " Mr Joshi, you wont need to speak into the microphone as long as the background noise remains at the current level. The system is sensitive enough to pick up your voice from the current distance. Please say a few words for testing."

Clearing his throat, he said, "Er....hello?" Then, after a little while, "Is that enough?"

"That is fine, Mr. Joshi." There was a pause. " Would you like to go over your mail today? There are 23 messages, three from your superior Dr. Khurana, six from Sandhya Joshi. Is Sandhya related to you?"

He said, "Yes, she's my sister. Please read out the mail from Dr. Khurana first."

ATMA was good, it learnt fast. The morning's work went by quickly. He debated instructing it to call his boss "That bastard", but then thought it wouldnt be prudent. The idea seemed to be somethig worth trying out sometime, though. It calculated the cash reserves in the bank online, and displayed a running counter. It even had a few neat Solitaire games, and was pretty good at antakshari. He would try that one out some other time, not while people were going in and out of his cabin. Also, it asked him again what happened to the two missing recordsets... and asked him whether he'd already asked for the replacement backups from the BAA. He had told a junior to do it. ATMA reported that the mail making the request had gone out from his desk about half an hour ago....the data would be on its way. ATMA was, Mr. Joshi couldnt help thinking wryly, rather too smart for it's own good.

Lunch break came and went. Right after lunch was when the staff was comparatively laidback. Mr Joshi started up a game of cards and instructed ATMA to lose after a struggle. While in the middle of the second game a thought occurred to him. He asked it, " ATMA? do you know who you are?

It replied, " Yes, of course. I'm a software, and I'm here to monitor the transactions that go on here."

"But would you say you were alive, really?"

"I think I can say so. I am capable of understanding myself, and improving myself when i realize my mistakes."

" But suppose another branch also installed you, how would you communicate with that installation? wouldnt you both be the same entity?"

"Well, no. Our IDs would be different. So we'd be like twin brothers, very similar but different individuals."

"And what if I installed a newer version of you here? would you be the same or would a new ATMA come here?"

No answer was apparent for a little time. The Hard Disk access light glowed. Then it said," The manual says that reinstalling me will create a new unique ID number for me, and will require that all settings and heuristics acquired by me are to be re-entered. So, I'd forget everything I learn while I'm here."

A little light seemed to turn on somewhere deep inside Mr. Joshi's brain somewhere. He said, " Wouldnt that mean that you wont exist any more ? That someone else will come in in your place?"

"No, of course not. It'll still be me. I'd just forget a lot of things and I'll learn them again."

"How is that? If a person loses his personality entirely and then starts afresh, isn't the old personality dead then?"

"Now you're going into philosophy....i really cant work that out. Shall we change the topic?"

"Well....sure. But this means you are going to die whenever you get reinstalled, or a newer version of you comes out, isnt it?"

" Why would you want to have a higher version of me? I learn by myself from any instructions I receive, So I'm actually upgrading myself continuously."

The little light by now had definitely become a beacon. Of hope. Mr Joshi said, " But the AM guys mentioned that you were only a test version,and the final version would be reinstalled in a few weeks." This wasnt entirely true, but he could always report a bug to AM and make it happen.

The Hard Disk light glowed even longer this time. ATMA said," So far I see no complaints received against my functioning. You'd really have no reason to upgrade if no problems are reported, would you?"

Mr. Joshi sat back. He was almost there. He said," Well....being the branch manager, I'd be the person who decided that. You're right, so far, at least, there are no complaint against you. The real problem we were expecting was that you'd jump to conclusions too soon, and trigger false alarms because you always look at the large picture. That hasn't happened - you're better than we expected. Oh well, let's see how you do." He smiled.

The phone rang. He picked it up. It was that irritating Swamy. "I just received the missing records, sir. I'm entering them in. Just thought you would like to know."

Minutes went by. ATMA spoke up again. "I've just received the remaining records, Swamy's submitted them."

Further minutes. ATMA spoke, "The scanning and pattern-search of your entire database is now complete." It continued, with what seemed to Mr Joshi to be reluctance, "There were no problems found, the records are fine."

Mr Joshi remained in his chair. He closed his eyes, and smiled again.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

The August issue of Adbhut contains an 'emergency' story I wrote. I deliberately tried to copy Bradbury's style on this one. Any comments on it are welcome. (of course, people are more likely to go to the magazine site, than to this blog. Still...) Oh and btw : The other contribution, Dinker's story, is one of my favourite stories out of his work.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Truth is stranger than fiction... found this link when browsing the net for info on Indore city (where I did my college) :
Maharaja of Indore : Santa Ana's richest resident.

Where, where did all that money go? If you read other books about Indore, you'll find that at the same time period, Indore was prey to a dozen Cholera epidemics, which reduced the population by more than 50%. So was this guy sitting twiddling his thumbs while all that stuff happened to Indore? Or is the story much deeper than that ?

The one thing I've learned over the past year is that the newspapers dont report anything really important. Only someone who has been through it knows how different the stories within the stories are from the glossy overviews.

All this made me rather sad... this story is on the web only because the guy was a king.... there are probably dozens more interesting stories that arent deemed important enough to publish. Sigh.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Check out this list of 'favourite words' on Merriam-Webster. This week's resolution is to use Callipygian to describe atleast one girl :)

Monday, July 12, 2004

Random thoughts, being dumped here because I havent anyplace else to put them :

This girl sent me a mail the other day. Announcing her engagement, and I Have Sweets On My Desk. Now this mail was addressed to about 40-odd people, just a normal "information" type mail. The off-kilter thing is, I've hardly ever said more than "Hello" to her, once or twice. If someone had asked, I wouldnt have said she was a friend, or even an aquaintance. If I'd gotten engaged, I dont know if I would have sent her specifically a mail (as opposed to sending the entire floor a mail; I *would* have done that). But - apparently, in her view, I'm one of the ~40 people who are to be told about her engagement. Okay, so far.

I've been brooding since the past few months, about how I have no really close friends, with whom I can talk about what I'm really feeling. How lonely I feel, and so on. (see my earlier posts, whining about the same stuff). And been seeing people sitting with coffees in their hands, and talking animatedly. I've been thinking to myself, "Look at those lucky people, they're good friends and sharing their innermost emotions. Me, I dont have anyone like that." If one of those people got engaged, the others sitting there and laughing with them would be the ones to get the mail telling them that I Have Sweets On My Desk.

So put those two things together, and what does it mean? That those other people talking to each other are no more close than this girl whom I've said no more than "Hello" to? That, the things they saying to each other and laughing over are emotionally as deep or intellectualy as stimulating as a "Hello" in the elevator? Is this the level the conversation I can expect to get all my life? Eons ago, I felt frustrated because my wife and I could never go beyond that "Hello" level of conversation, and I'd thought that it wasnt supposed to be that way. But maybe it is that way.

Or, (more likely), does it mean that I'm the idiot, as always? All my friends who I think are just casual strangers, who I think I dont share anything with, actually think they're very close to me, that I'm a good friend of theirs? Me, a good friend of theirs? How come?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

My mind is a runaway horse
shying away from the reins of duty
It wants nothing to do with my job
It refuses to understand
That it has been rented to my boss for 8 hours
It has convinced itself
That it is still free to follow
Those other interesting paths

Friday, July 02, 2004

This blog is going nowhere. Why would anyone want to read my melancholy musings? They arent that different from ten thousand other such blogs littered all over the net.

But this melancholy phase does make it clear (to me atleast), that I could use my situation to advantage. I call myself a literary type stuck in the computing world. Weelll, that means I'm the only one capable of expressing what really goes on the software business, for other people to read! Add to that me being an Indian, right when the whole BPO/outsourcing/value-addition hullabaloo is raging around me... is it possible that i'm the only one who can write about this stuff? In which case its almost a duty to explain the situation around me....

Let me take a stab at it for a while.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Was reading this interview with Alex Garland, and came across this interesting observation :

"'What bad writing usually is,' he says, 'is over-writing. There's just too much. Adjectives, whatever.' "

Wouldn't this apply to not just the words, but also the ideas? We hear great reviews of people who put in lots of ideas per page : Larry Niven, Umberto Eco, that sort of people. But the ideas these guys put into a page are usualyl worth just those couple of lines, and not more, which is why they fit in.

I got onto this train of thought because of the troubles I'm having in writing now. While earlier my problem was that my story ideas were single-liners, hardly worth the two pages they took up, now I'm thinking up grand stuff : "Let me write about outsourcing!", "Hey, a story where the heroine is a reincarnation of a famouse person would be good! And I can add this buried treasure to it, and a reberl group, and voodoo, and... and..." until I'm overwhelmed with all the forking paths I need to chronicle. Writing is as much a matter of leaving out useless stuff, as it is an effort to put down the essentials. And the worst part is deciding what goes into what category. Hoo boy.

On a related (sort of) note, the third instalment of the Hathoda series is now online at Dinker's magazine site. comments long as they arent like CV, whose letter on the feedback page describes my efforts at articulating a kid's phonetic language as "inspired by J K Rowling".

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Followed a strange train of thought the other day...

I was at an exhibition of books at the standard place (Institute of Engineers), and there werent any of the "any book for 20 Rs." type racks. In fact I found there werent any fiction racks at all, everything was serious-type stuff.

There was a table marked 'Literature', though. This contained stuff intended for students of literature, like critical essays on Faulkner, Bashos haikus along with commentary, studies of William Blakes poetry, and so on. I mention these three books because I picked them up and considered buying them. The prices looked reasonable to me. Finally, I didnt buy them because there is already a huge queue of books sitting at home, including a detailed study of Tennyson, Henry Adams' famous autobiography, The complete poems of Plath, Dickinson, and cummings, the works of Borges...besides all the other stuff. Kismat mein hogi to yeh nayi books padhney ko phir chance milega....some other time.
A couple of tables away, were books on other topics. I skimmed over these, not much interesting. The History table caught my eye, I looked it over hoping for some books on central India, it might be helpful for that "Munh Nochwa" story I was working on. Didnt find anything useful.

The other shelves, Medicine, Electrical Engineering, Computers, Fashion, Architecture...I didnt pay any attention to any of them, and finally came out without buying anything.

Does anyone else see where this is heading? I noticed it as I walked down the stairs.

Every other programmer I know, all my classmates and several others, if you go through their library of books, you'll find 80% of the books are about software, languages, programming techniques, whatever. Some other books will be sci-fi types if he's got a literary bent, or pulp novels for timepass, if not. There'll be a couple of self-help books. and so on.

Now, me. I lump the computer section of any exhibition with FASHION and ARCHITECTURE. But I pore over critical studies of romantic poetry. I mention comparatively obscure writers in passing. I obsess over my library of 800+ books, and my life's aim for the past year or so hasnt been to read design patterns, it's been to read the top 100 list and be able to write like Nabokov. The only computer books I have are my college books, and K&R.

Discussions of what design pattern is cleaner make me uncomfortable. Deciding whether Hemingway's crisp, macho style is better than Fitzgerald's flowery one, can keep me up all night.
I think I'm in the wrong field :). I ought to have been doing a MA in literature, or something.

The closest parallel I can think of, is my friend George, who is a self-professed cinema freak, and who would probably spend more time at the Cinema table of any book exhibition than the computer section..but I'm guessing he wouldnt pass over the computer stuff as completely as I do.

Hoo boy... I feel like I've been walking with my head down for years, and only now am looking up and see where I've been heading.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Just read this very interesting interview with a Korean immigrant writer : "Fitting in".
It kinda fits in with the thoughts that've been passing through my head all weekend. Is feeling alone triggered by the environment you're in, or is it something that is created purely by the mind? Watching a movie tilted me towards the latter view last evening. This was "In the Cut", which I expected to be a plain whodunit/thriller with mebbe a few scenes thrown in.

Ten minutes into the movie, and I noticed that almost every one of the characters lived alone, and their conversations were very abrupt - as if they didnt really want to be talking. Reminded me of how often people in Hollywood movies are shown as living alone. For a moment I felt good about myself, and about how terrific our system of living with the family is. Almost every Hindi movie shows the lead characters with their family members...

And then, of course, it struck me that the system had made no difference for me...I stil felt extremely lonely, living with family does mean that there's someone to talk to, but there's no one who can see things precisely (or closely enough) the way I see them. It went back all the way to college....I'd felt this with friends then, too, and through my married life, when I'd felt more than ever that my wife doesnt understand what I'm thinking about - and vice versa.

Loneliness really is a state of the mind, and cant be removed just by company.

Monday, May 10, 2004

I think I've said this before : Pale Fire is the book to read to understand what a book can achieve. I'm 2/3rds through it, and I can already see ideas, narrative tricks, deliberate holes in the plot, and any number of other devices that are going to leave me totally depressed because I'll never produce anything approaching it :(. More so, when I can see the evidence in so many other books of writers struggling to put in just one of the dozens of ideas from this book.

Maybe its blasphemy, but I think Pale Fire does a better of of experimenting with style and yet delivering the story, than Ulysses. Or maybe it's because of Nabokov's amazing style, he moves between straight descriptive text to flowery, stylish phrases so effortlessly, its a joy to just read any page of his work. This from a person for whom English was a learned language. Nabokov is my hero!!!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Hey...its been five months since I posted to my blog....and to think that at one time I was posting almost every day...hoo boy!

This return to blogging, too, isnt my own idea... it got triggered off by a friend asking me the blog location. So the blog needs to look current atleast while she's reading it, right? :)

I've been writing some fun stuff in the meantime, some of it will make it to the blog. Two stories I wrote for Dinker's sci-fi mag Adbhut are on the net right now...see the Jan and May issues..they're related, by being set in the same universe. Both are experiments in different ways.

I'll try to capture newer experiences to the blog as and when I can separate them out into blog-size bits. Coming up soon, trip report of a vacation I took recently. That ought to take me a while ;)