Sigh Fie, Chen High, episode 4: The Parallelogue

Preface

Update: The general feedback says that the original preface was a little dense, so I’ve moved it to the end, because denser/heavier things always sink to the bottom.

The following tale is set in an alternate Madras universe. It’s called “The Parallelogue”

The Parallelogue

The bus was 47A. Behind it was engraved

There was once a girl from Madras,
who was wheatish, demure and BA pass.
She ran into a bloke one day,
on bus number 47 A,
she reported him for eve teasing to the police brass

– Anon

Right next to the limerick was crudely etched –

Nandhini loves Karthi

And next to that, in black paint –

P James Magic Show 9841072571

I woke up with a headache. Sleeping late always gave me a headache in the morning. My friend had kept me up all night explaining this stupid new game he had learnt from his Brit friends. After a couple of hours of listening to the rules of this game that shared its name with an annoying insect, I told him it wouldn’t catch on. Why, he asked. For starters, it’s too biased in favour of individual performers, I said. It’s a team game only in the sense of bowling and batting peacocks doing a mating dance while the fielding crows watch and occasionally run after the ball. Then we have all of this ridiculously expensive equipment and a playing surface that requires some badass gardening skills to put together. The middle class will hate it, I predicted. This game is tailor made for 2 kinds of kids – Bullies and rich spoiled brats. The rich ones will bring the equipment while the bullies will do all the batting and bowling, I conjectured. And all of this will mostly leave traumatic childhood memories in most children who happen to be fielding crows all their lives.

I drank my filter tea. It cleared my headache.

I dressed and took an auto to work. I am an English teacher. The auto driver drove at a constant speed of 40 km/hr and spoke to me about the finer aspects of post-modern Thirukkuralism. I kept an eye on the meter. He smiled and told me to relax. The meter will run as fast as you want it to, he said. What if I say – don’t run at all, I asked. Ah, he said. That is the point. The meter represents your state of mind, he said. He dropped me off at the school, and I thanked him for my daily dose of philosophy.

I said Hi to the other teachers. We were all in uniform. The kids wore what they pleased. I walked into my class. I said –

“When I was young, my college mates were memorizing word lists, learning things like “cogent”, which for reasons only known to aerial italian food, means “Logical and persuasive, as in making a cogent argument”, and learning not to misspell “supersede” and “colloquy”, I, on the other hand, was memorizing said word lists just so that I could solve cryptic crosswords faster and win the annual “What’s the Good Word” competition at BITS Pilani. It also helped me get better at Scrabble (Ah the joy of 7 letter word bonuses). So what’s the difference? My friends have forgotten what “dilatory” means, while I still know that it’s a personal diary written well after the fact. I also know that “cogent”, in fact, refers to your male roommate who studies or works at the same place you do. “Crepuscular” is an adjective that describes something that is well-toned, healthy and looks like a Dosa. “Maudlin” is an altered distribution of Torvalds’ OS, while “Petard (John-Luc)” is a grenade that is shaped like a smooth bald head and says “Make it so” before going off. And finally, “dulcimer” is a quality that describes the taste of food that has undergone low intensity heating for too long.”

The bell rang. It was lunch time.

We, the teachers, walked into a restaurant. The Pacchayappan High Class Non-Veg Restaurant. The Menu read –

Vegetable Jaipuri

young, innocent plant embryos and uteri transported long distances to be savagely slaughtered, callously cut, sinfully sliced, brutally boiled and finally, fiendishly fried in horrendously hot oil

Mutton Biriyani

Well fed and cared-for goats, lovingly tended to and allowed to freely roam, then humanely and quickly separated from the land of the living to nourish the eater with precious protein

Aloo Paratha

Baby grass cruelly hacked from mother plant, left alone to dry in the hot baking sun, then mercilessly ground to a fine powder, flooded with water, turned into a sticky dough devoid of shape and dignity, flattened with blunt cylindrical weapons, mixed with roots of a starchy tuber, separated from the rest of the plant which dies a horrible death, and fried on a hot griddle and served with calf-nourishment liquid cruelly squeezed out of a lactating cow and allowed to be ravaged by bacteria

Chicken Tikka

Freely roaming, lovingly cared-for fowl mercifully spared the pointlessness of a long life on a warming, polluted planet, bones carefully removed after death to make for a succulent snack that honours the bird’s rich textured life

It was Friday. The guys suggested a movie later in the evening. I agreed. We saw “Dandanaka Dubakoor”, a commercial entertainer that had item songs featuring sensitive, clean-shaven men doing the dishes at home. The Hero was Vijaya, and the general plot involved her and her cohorts solving global problems using diplomacy, conversation and extended shopping trips.

I came back home and switched on the TV. The news anchor was annoying beyond belief. She was wasting my time with a detailed analysis of why a certain politician should be sacked because he used “economy class” and “member of the flight crew” instead of the politically correct “Cattle Class” and “Air Item”. I hit the red button. It sent a small electric shock directly to Barkha Goswami, reminding her that what she was doing was irresponsible journalism.

That was when I remembered that I had to attend a colleague’s wedding. Damn, I thought. I walked over to my Ubuntu PC, and logged into their wedding website. I looked though my photo album and picked a reasonably flattering looking photo of myself and uploaded it to the site. Within 5 minutes, my image was photoshopped/video-edited into the reception video, where I posed uncomfortably still for the video camera. I hit the “Send the same old Tea set as a gift” button, and hit logout. “Please have dinner and go”, said a popup. I sighed. I clicked OK.

In 30 minutes, the wedding dinner was home-delivered. Chapathi, Paruppu usili, Paneer Butter masala, Sambar rice, 3 pieces of potato chips, followed by Gulab jamoon, Ras malai, vanilla icecream and Beeda. And a garish business card that read “Parasakthi Caterers”. Matches are made in heaven. Dinners are made in oven. Dont let Ivan or Avan cook the meal of your life. Trust us

In case you were wondering, the actual wedding took place on Twitter earlier in the day . chi_arjun and sow_bhanu now follow each other.

sow_bhanu used to follow me. She teaches Science at my school. She left me because my torrent upload/download ratio fell below 1

Such is life.

The end

Postface

Update: This was originally the preface, but most people found it too dense.

Writing Science fiction is hard, because any good sci-fi worth its crystalline Sodium Chloride has to satisfy the nerd audience, and that is very hard to do because that’s a demographic that has the time, energy and a sufficient lack of mental entropy to find the slightest of violations of the laws of physics the author might indulge in, even if these are laws that the writer made up himself. So if I wrote a story where the speed of light is 30 km/hour but kept the distance between the Sun and the Earth at 150 million km, nerds would tear me up (on online discussion boards, i.e.) because they would contend that life would never have evolved unless I adjusted several other factors suitably (like the half-lives of elements, for starters).

So the sci-fi fan’s foremost requirement is that the author obey the proverbial Shakespearean rule “To thine own self be true”, or to rephrase “If you are going to invent a completely implausible universe, stick to the stated details and boundaries of your own implausibility”. But, authors have a couple of tricks that they use, in fact sometimes too often. One of them is the notion of a “parallel universe”. So every time you read a story that involves a parallel universe (a.k.a alternate timeline, a.k.a circum-positioning of threaded jasmine flowers around auditory cavity), you know that the writer is simply being lazy. Parallel universes are convenient, too convenient in fact. The author simply gets to choose what changes in a parallel universe without explaining any of the dubious underlying mechanisms that cause them. With an alternate timeline, I don’t have to explain anything. I could write something like –

“The crow gobbled up the rice and dal kept on the window sill and let out a sonic, mind-altering caw that caused everyone in the house to fall down unconscious.”

and when the nerd says – “Explain that”, I say “Parallel universe. Altered evolutionary timeline”, and the nerd then experiences an aneurysm and goes back to playing World of Warcraft. In case you were still not sure where this was going, like a tourist trapped in a Madras auto with the meter running, this is a vague justification of sorts for the story you just read. Hopefully

62 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. Well, ” extended shopping trips” for Vijaya, and good ol’ P James.

    Guess somethings never change, even under the false premise of a parallel universe.

    Super parody, the utopia scares me… Can we really do that to journalists someday?

  2. BITS,Pilani didnt have such a competition during my tenure.Maybe it had many years ago when you were in your college days I presume 🙂
    I didnt know barkha created sucha furore over the cattle class incident !!

  3. The number of times I have wondered what the hell was going on as I sat in taxis in foreign lands with the meter running is, well, innumerable.

    Once again, jawdroppingly clever/intelligent writing.

  4. Logik,

    Perhaps not in that direct sort of way. I imagine we might be able to do something like – “I will not buy the stuff your sponsors peddle” sort of mass feedback that should do the trick

    Nayeef,
    I believe the event was called “Wordstock” or some such atrocious pun.

    max, bala and ellie
    Tanks and Rearguards

  5. “circum-positioning of threaded jasmine flowers around auditory cavity”
    that was brilliant.

    as for the menu, the meat at ‘restaurant at the end of the universe’ said(or woulden sayen) something similar.

  6. oh 47 A :-))))))), does it still teeter dangerously to one side as it makes that long trek from ICF to Besant Nagar.

    Yesterday I went to the igNobel awards presentation where some scientists had done work on why a pregnant woman doesn’ t topple under the load (equivalent of a turbooz) .

    Someone should do a similar study on our 47 A.

    1. Oh yes it does. I secretly believe that MTC buses have an Agastya photo somewhere on the right side, to compensate the weight of all of Tamil Nadu hanging from the footboard.

  7. P james magic show and 3 pieces of potato chips..hahahahahahaahahahaah.
    *gathers self together*
    I love your attention to detail more than your humor.

    1. Amu

      Thank you. Interestingly enough, there are a finite, well-defined number of ways in which humour works. One of them is taking small details and highlighting them in a slightly different, albeit related, context.

      Damn. There’s nothing unfunnier than dissecting humour.

      But, it is moderately funny to self-deprecate analysis of humour.

      And making that observation is probably unfunny.

      But by now, the funny-unfunny loop is sort of funny.

      And there we shall stop.

  8. “circum-positioning of threaded jasmine flowers around auditory cavity” brilliant.!

    and, what is ‘aerial italian food’ ?

    🙂

  9. This was seriously funny! I particularly enjoyed sending shock to Barkha!

    “Matches are made in heaven. Dinners are made in oven. Dont let Ivan or Avan cook the meal of your life. Trust us”

    Lame as it sounds, I thought that was pretty darn funny. 🙂

  10. The later part is funny! I guess the time has come to attend the wedding online and the food delivered at home. Such is life! The introductory part of science fiction… I couldn’t completely get it. It’s too much for my small brain. You could write in simple terms! I guess your knowledge doesn’t allows you so????

  11. ‘a Madras auto with the meter running’? – oh yeah that sounds like a parallel universe alright. But the philosophy part coming later is totally plausible.

    I grew up listening to quotable quotes from auto drivers, in addition to reading the ‘wisdom’ worthy sayings written on Madras Autos. One of them even gave me business ideas when I said I was doing my MBA. But my all-time favorite was this – “‘rickshawman’-nu koopidatha kannu, ‘man’-na inna therima? romba kevalam-nu artham!” That was deep. Really.

    Btw, the number of links to wikipedia from your posts say it all about your type of humour. Thank you for making the effort (even if it comes naturally to you)!!

  12. I’m curious about your reference to BITS Pilani.

    Lots of details !!Appreciate it :)! Do you carry a small scratch pad or something where you write all these details down so you dont forget them. If you dont, I really think your Imagination/memory is legendary. The move into the parallelogue is kinda abrupt, little OHT in the beginning atleast for me !! 🙂 May be I’m too much of a NERD!

  13. “Petard (John-Luc)” is a grenade that is shaped like a smooth bald head and says “Make it so” before going off. ”

    ROFLing!!! The AOE reference is awesomeness! You should do a post on all the inane things that AOE characters say!!

  14. superb……highlight was ‘she left me because my torrent upload/download ratio fell below 1″ LOL…..more suggestions

    1.My iPOD was only half full.
    2.My iPhone was not unlocked
    3.My iTunes has not been updated for more than two weeks.
    4.I did not understand what 1080 i means
    5.I was not watching Blue Ray movies
    6.My car audio did not have bluetooth/USB connectivity 🙂 🙂

  15. Awesome! My favourite part of the post was the definition of crepuscular, and the nice little Flying Spaghetti Monster reference tucked away in a corner. Keep ’em coming!

    By the way, I took an Indian Airlines flight recently, and strenuously object to your use of the term Air Item. Even in a parallel universe, they will probably be referred to as Members of the Flight Crew (from Kitty Hawk).

    ~ramsu

  16. Aah .. I see that your writing has a touch of R.K.Narayan … Really nice post (From a long-time reader commenting for the first time …) The limericks and 47A ref was brilliant ! Prince Jewellery Thangam Rated ! (Pardon my poor use of “Thanglish” )

    1. I see myself as a writer with the mind of a moviemaker with the skills of a musician. So in effect, I lack the patience to write long pieces, lack the skills to make movies, and am a half-baked musician. So where else, except the internet, can I find a niche audience, eh?

  17. I loved the menu! Quite a bit went supracortically, as we call it, but enjoy it, I did.

    Incidentally, I just returned from Chennai (today! morning!), and not one of the autos had their meters turned on. They would merely quote an astronomical rate, and give us dirty looks when we suggested they accept credit cards. Now we will probably have to go beg on the street to get us through the rest of this month.

  18. Ah – Pilani and word-lists.. brings back memories. Speaking of which, believe they’re looking for someone to conduct the JAM this year at Oasis Oct 30th / 31st..

  19. Hi ashok,

    Sorry to give an irrelevant comment, that too on a post about national integration and all.

    But would you care to read this review of our beloved in lonely planet.
    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/tamil-nadu/chennai-madras

    Now while some of the things in it are undeniably true, some of it is not. Its all the more irritating when the same problems found in Chennai are somewhat romanticised in the review for other cities. What’s more, the review I’m pretty sure was written by a random amit fellow (the term chennaiker is a dead giveaway).

    A fellow chennaite mailed the ppl at lonely planet, and the reply he got is copy-pasted below.

    I think you have become a kind of weburban godfather of madras and so I have come to you with this :). Please go ahead and delete the comment once you’ve read it. And pray give this Vivek guy a suitable response, if you can find the time.

    Reply from the Lonely planet
    This the reply I got from one Mr. Vivek when I wrote a mail saying what ever described in Lonely planet is untrue…..

    Vivek Wagle to me : Vivek.Wagle@lonelyplanet.com.au
    show details 08:21 (3 hours ago)

    Hi

    My name’s Vivek. I’m in charge of editorial for the Lonely Planet website.

    Thank you for writing in about the description of Chennai on the site. We try hard to provide objective commentary, and it is unfortunate Chennai suffers from some negative stereotypes when compared to many other cities in India.

    We do try to balance this with the following:

    “But the locals are a little friendlier than average here, the streets a little wider and, in spite of its booming IT, business-outsourcing and auto industries, the pace much slower than in most Indian cities half its size. Chennai is so modest you wouldn’t even know it’s an economic powerhouse, much less a queen of showbiz: India’s fourth-largest city is also its most humble.

    In all of our reporting, we try to present information that helps get people to the heart of a destination. We would welcome the opinion of a bona fide resident of Chennai. And if you feel we have overlooked anything, or if any statements are incorrect, please feel free to email me with your take on the city. We would be happy to consider publishing your perspective on Chennai.

    Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to us. I hope to hear from you soon.

    Sincerely,

    vivek

    Vivek Wagle | Head of Editorial
    Lonely Planet Digital

    1. I love how he says that Chennai suffers from certain negative stereotypes, but goes on to publish said stereotypes in his article anyway. Ah well, couldn’t expect anything more from amits can we?

      1. yeah man.. but aren’t you going to defend our city? after all, this is not just some 2-bit blog for us to ignore what? many people from all over the world actually use this site to make their travel plans to cities. and this does make a lasting impression. heck, i used this site as well for my travels. we can’t allow these amits to disparage the image of our city what?

        hoping to read your letter to vivek soon.

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