Sunday, June 03, 2007


A look at most of the ads on television and one really wonders how much time the ad-makers invested into making them. Most advertisements range from bad to worse to plain disastrous. There is of course the rare good ‘un that makes you sit up or maybe even laugh out loud, but in general ads nowadays are nothing remarkable, to say the least. And then of course there are a few which make you laugh out loud at how incredibly ridiculous they are and make you wonder how many pegs it took for the ad-maker to reach that zen-like state where trash looks like gold.

Worthy of mention is the ad for this deo / perfume that goes by the name of ‘Zatak Gold’. First of all, it takes real talent to even come up with this ‘catchy’ name (whose mention evokes memories of kids running around with toy guns and zapping each other). Rest assured that even your average smelly middle-aged Joe would think twice about the merits of body odour before buying a deo that goes by the name of (pause) Zatak. So with this background, the ad-makers must’ve really had their task cut out for them. The ad shows this guy dressed in a casual suit walking into a pyramid (ostensibly with the deo on him). Hmm – tacky, innovative. Can’t remember the last ad I saw with an Egyptian motif. Oh, wait – that must be because such ads have always sucked! Anyway, once inside the pyramid he walks deeper and deeper without a care in the world. Lo! The golden statues inside the pyramid have started coming to life! And as is the norm, they have to all be nubile twenty somethings with orgasmic sighs on their faces. They start strutting towards him in a walk that can only be described as a duck walk crossed with the ketchup dance (remember Aserje-whatever and the tomato ketchup company that tried to make a quick buck off it? But that’s another story). Back to the ad, our hero finally realizes that they are all closing in and quite inexplicably, he starts spinning rapidly. In a flash, he disappears leaving behind a pile of gold dust on the floor. The product name is announced. Oh, and did I mention the faux-Egyptian background music and a female voice singing, “Zata-aa-aa-k Gold! Zata-aa-aa-k Gold!”?

Ad-making is a funny business if you ask me. First of all, it’s ridden with cliches and yet nobody seems to care. Common cliches and stereotypes include:

1. The dirty kid who wears white, sprawls around in the mud and sees it fit to come back home caked with it and an oh-so-lovable smile. The beaming mother after an expression of mock-disapproval takes the white shirt and dumps it into a bucket. Surf Excel / Ariel / Henko Stain Champion / Tide hai na! This is if of course followed by this enlightening animation depicting the T-shirt fibres and how the ‘molecules’ of the detergent swirl about completely eradicating the dirt. I have indeed lost count of how many times this tripe has been shoved down our throats!

2. Another cliché becoming increasingly popular nowadays is the hyper-smart kid who is able to perform calculations faster than the billing machine at supermarkets etc all thanks to him consuming Horlicks / Bournvita / Kelloggs or whatever. Can you imagine the amount of pressure this puts on children! I can literally see mothers in their houses going, “See! You have to be like that boy they show on TV. Just look at how smart he is!” I personally feel like torturing those smart-alec kids till they finally confess on television that they don’t really give a damn about supermarket bills and all they really care about is getting back home on time to watch the latest episode of Beyblade or whatever. But hey, that’s just me.

3. The laboratory cliché was also something that emerged in the late nineties (I think). Usually ads for shampoo / toothpaste they depict this International Hair Institute (in France or USA) where scientists in lab coats are breaking their backs working on the next generation cutting-edge shampoo. Then of course, computer graphics of the hair are shown with the shampoo destroying all the dandruff and whatnot while miraculously increasing the hair strength by 3 times. It’s been proven in labs, dammit! You had better believe it.

I could list out several other cliches, but you get the idea. Cliché after cliché and yet nobody seems to care. In a world where 33-40% (hey, I can cook up numbers too) of all television is advertising, isn’t it strange that there exists no ad-critic (much like movie critics)? Well, maybe they do, but I haven’t really heard of anybody coming out with reviews of these ads.

But then again, I suppose (with a horrible feeling in my stomach) that most of these ads, actually work. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep persisting with all these hackneyed reruns would they? Or maybe the people are buying the products, in spite of the ads rather than because of the ads? How does one go about finding how effective these ads really are?

On the positive side, advertisements do have their funny moments now and then. The legendary ‘one-black-coffee’ ad for the Sony-Ericsson mobile phone when it was first introduced in the latter half of the nineties is one of those which is still impinged upon most minds of my generation. And of course, almost any Fevicol ad till now has been a masterpiece. More recently, the Bingo Chips advertisements have trodden off the beaten path with their humourous, not-so-subtle spoofs of telemarketing, Tamil culture and so on. The sudden twist in the end when you realize that they are actually marketing chips is very satisfying. Sometimes the humour in ads is unintentional too. For instance, there was this ad for some savings / mutual funds where this chap acts as a responsible father teaching his little son the value of money. And funnily enough, the very next ad they showed after this had the same chap acting as this guy who gets seduced into bed by a female colleague, because she wanted to flick his watch. Talk about a reversal of roles.

Ads. Love ‘em or hate ‘em. You just can’t ignore ‘em. And at the end of the day, I guess that’s what every ad-maker wants.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Sphere

The sphere haunts my dreams. Yet again. Just like it did last night. And the night before. In fact, all the nights I have ever remembered. No frills, no unnecessary distractions to detract from the dream. Just the sphere. Shining, huge, suspended in water.

It’s our way of life. A constant intangible existence consisting of several dreams connected to each other. Each one seems extremely real and yet, has that absurd element which is supposed to distinguish dreams from reality. Or so they say anyway. A few brief flashes of cognizance in this seemingly everlasting slumber hardly make me qualified enough to comment on reality.

We are told that the world outside has people who are actually free to do what they choose. Real people. People who talk, sing, laugh, scream, cry, love, hate. People who fight wars and make love. People who travel from place to place and others who stay put. People with absolutely no purpose for existence and those whose clarity of purpose is almost close to ours. But free people nevertheless.

Ah, what a wonderful life it is for them! Not trapped in this cocoon of stagnation. Not infused with knowledge at this rapid rate. And definitely not told time and again about the sphere.

Of course, we are told about them only occasionally. Most of the time it’s the sphere which occupies our thoughts. It’s rather strange, actually. The physical image of the sphere is seared into our heads, but we really know almost nothing about it. Just that one day, we all have to wake up and head towards it. The fate of the world supposedly depends upon us.

I have used the word ‘we’ because I’m quite certain that there are more like me in this existence. But of course, one could not be sure.

It turned out that a couple of days later, I was sure.

There was a sudden electrifying surge of energy, which jolted me right out of sleep. The vision of the sphere which should have logically started to fade way since I was awake, only multiplied in intensity. Flashes of light punctuated the uneasy silence.

I was in a huge cavern which seemed to stretch right out into infinity. I looked down and saw that I was clothed from top to bottom in black. I looked about and saw nearly hundreds like me. All seemed hypnotized. Some were moving about, a little restless. But most were still. Just like I was.

Waiting, waiting, waiting… The sphere. The sphere. The sphere. That was all that mattered. This was it. The D-Day, they had called it. This was the day that was ingrained in my head ever since I was subconscious. The procedures and rules started popping into my head like the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

It was all very simple really. Swim out through the tunnels. Enter the sea. Locate the sphere. Attack it.

My entire life’s purpose was clear. There were no regrets about freedom and all that anymore. It was all for this day. This was what we had been trained for, while suspended for what seemed like eternity in that amniotic fluid.

More surges. More flashes. A small section started a deep booming chant, which sounded silly at first. Then suddenly I started doing it myself and it didn’t seem so silly anymore. It was our war cry. The louder we did it, the clearer the image of sphere became.

The temperature slowly started increasing. The walls of the cavern we were in started to glow with a dull dark red sheen. The thrill of expectation rose up in all of us. The war cry became even louder. Attack the sphere, attack the sphere it seemed to suggest.

Suddenly, without warning, there was a mild shock wave which travelled through the entire cavern. The chant faltered for a moment before redoubling in volume. Another shock wave. This one stronger than the first. And another, even stronger. Pulses of the wave seemed to hit our very cores. The chant was almost like a frenzy now.

And then there it was. We all knew it about it before, but I don’t think any of could have fathomed its power. A torrent of warm water hit us with tremendous force and before I knew it was rocketing along at a blistering pace towards the tunnel entrance. And I was still chanting, louder than ever. It was like an explosion of clarity. Extraneous details like us hurtling through the water like torpedoes, didn’t seem to matter.

The sphere. That was all that mattered. Swim out through the tunnels. Enter the sea. Locate the sphere. Attack it.

As expected our speed increased manifold as soon as we entered the tunnel. The electric current was surging through us stronger than ever. It was around this time that I realised that we weren’t exactly in warm water. It seemed to be a conductive fluid of some sort. More importantly I realised that there were only three in front of me. I was fourth in line to attack the sphere.

The current seemed to level out at peak intensity here. It was so powerful that it almost tore me apart. But thrill, pain and excitement didn’t matter anymore. Purpose. That was all that mattered. The sphere! The sphere! THE SPHERE!

And then it just stopped.

And along with it came something which I should’ve expected all along. But I didn’t. A sudden deceleration, which seemed to push or rather hammer me back with almost as much force that had set these events into motion. We were out of the tunnels.

The shimmering fluid we were cocooned in seemed to fade away, replaced slowly by the salty tang of sea water. No more electricity. No more shock waves. No more chanting. Just the serenity of the underwater sea.

But the sphere, no, it didn’t leave my mind. It was still branded into my head the same intensity. Or was it? It seemed to be slipping away. Other thoughts were entering.

Here was the sea! Here was freedom! No more dreams! No more impulses! Swim away, you idiot! Swim away!

I looked around and indeed several more seemed to have the same thoughts as me. They were drifting away from the pack. I looked ahead and saw the person in front of me trying to do the same.

And then something weird happened. He swam to the left and was suddenly struck by a bout of paralysis. The lower part of his body writhed and tried to propel him away, but soon enough it seemed to freeze. At that instant, he looked at me, his eyes turning from glimmering orbs to lifeless hollows. He then froze completely and sank down, fading away into the abyss.

One more look around, and a shocking sight awaited me. Hundreds of others were suffering the same fate. However, there was still a sizeable number that ploughed on relentlessly.

It was then that I realised. There is no life without the cocoon for us. In the sea, we were ironically like fishes out of water. There was no defence. No protection, whatsoever. I became conscious of the sea water slowly trying to erode away the black suit I was wearing.

I looked around yet again and saw more of them trying to swim away. Wayward fools! How could they not realise it? There lies freedom underwater, but it’s ephemeral at best. Death was a certainty. The calm blue underwater environment was a cold blooded killer.

Was there glory in such a death? Was there really glory in freedom? What was more glorious? A death while trying to run away, or death faced like a man in the pursuit of the sphere?

Purpose is everything. Purpose is all, they used to say. We were all lethal weapons, born and bred for one purpose only. Any doubts I had in my mind melted away, replaced by the image of the sphere, sharper and clearer than ever. Attack the sphere. Attack it with all you have.

The pain started to seep in slowly. I knew I wouldn’t survive for long. I summoned all the power I had and kept swimming ahead. I was soon ahead of the rest of the pack. It was at this time that I noticed the white light that we were all swimming towards. It was getting brighter and brighter.

It was the sphere.

The thrill of anticipation arose again. It was finally here. The culmination of all the dreams and almost every thought I had ever had throughout my life. The others behind me seemed to speed up, but I wasn’t bothered at all. I knew I would strike the first blow.

Death would be instantaneous. Death would be painless. I braced my self and adjusted my headpiece, ready to ram into the sphere.

5 seconds more. 4 seconds. 3, 2, 1…

My head hit the sphere with all the force I could muster. It ruptured almost too easily and to my surprise I was inside it. I could hear a sudden whirring noise as the sphere seemed to surround itself with an impregnable shell as if to prevent any further damage. Everything seemed to have slowed down to almost a standstill. I could hear my comrades outside hitting the sphere in vain. I could even hear the cracking of their skulls before they fell away. Lifeless. A painless instantaneous death. But a glorious one nevertheless.

But what of me? Was I dead? Was this how it felt? There was a smaller inner sphere which was coming closer every moment. My waning momentum dragged me gently towards it. I touched it and it seemed to kiss me. A glowing radiance, spread all through me.

This wasn’t death. A tingling spark was suffusing through all my veins. My body reached a heightened state and then it was no more. I couldn’t feel it at all. All the information which was fed into my head seemed to be pouring out and swirling around in the inner sphere.

This wasn’t death. It was life. Life in all its glory. My body was gone and yet I felt more alive than ever before. I felt proud that out of thousands, maybe even millions, I was chosen to be the one to experience this.

It was beauty. It was pain. It was anger. It was happiness. Every emotion of the kaleidoscope of life seemed to flash through my thoughts.

And then there was peace.

Nine months later, somewhere in the world, a baby took its first breath.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


The mouse pointer moves to click on the desktop shortcut for Microsoft Word. I set the font to Century Schoolbook, size 14, centralize and bolden it for a heading. Nothing comes to my mind and I end up typing “Questions”. Go to the next line, ‘justify’ the alignment, reduce font size and start…

There is an old vague sense of familiarity as I sit before my computer and yet again stare hard at a Word document not knowing what to type, what to say… all I know is that I wanted to put up something. Why? No clue. What do I want to say? Can’t be sure.

It’s been nearly a year since I stopped blogging, though it never really felt like one. In that period, I haven’t written anything apart from lab reports, assignments and exams. And Orkut scraps and mail.

I remember the month when I didn’t touch my guitar as I had left it behind at my hostel. When I came back, I was a little uncomfortable with it, but proceeded to do the usual runs over the only 3 scales I knew. A warm-up, if you will. Soon enough it felt like I had never stopped playing at all.

I wonder if there is a similar warm-up exercise in this case. I wonder if I am not doing something akin to that right now.

Is it all over? Have I told the world all that I had to say or is there more in the future? Wasn’t I always blogging for the sake of it? And won’t I do it again? Worse still – am I putting up all this enigmatic mumbo-jumbo to sound interesting?

In a world of sharp opinions and ideas, is there really no space for someone who doesn’t have one? Sometimes, I wish I could just sit back, relax and simply say, “I don’t know...” More often, I wish I could find the words that could actually express what’s going on in my head.

Unanswered questions flying free
Without remorse, they lodge themselves in me
Uncooked pieces of cheese and words float in green jelly
Poet or lyricist I shall probably never be

In many ways, this is probably the most pointless post to have ever appeared on this blog (and probably the shortest). But in some ways, it strikes deeper down than any other. For me atleast.

Monday, July 11, 2005


It was sometime in the latter half of 1999, that I saw my very first WWE (WWF then) match. The Undertaker vs Stone Cold Steve Austin. A ‘First Blood’ match which quite simply meant that the first person to bleed lost the match. I was rooting for the Undertaker, the 7-foot tall behemoth who seemed formidable indeed in front of the bald bearded Stone Cold. Moreover, here was the first time I was ever seeing the Undertaker on TV after years of calling out, “Height 7’2” clash!” from ‘trump’ cards.

After a long fight both in and out of the ring, the Undertaker lifted up Stone Cold by the neck and slammed him to the mat in an awesome move, which the commentators called a chokeslam. The Undertaker then exited the ring and rummaged around for a while before coming up with a video camera. By this time, Stone Cold had recovered and as the Undertaker turned around with the camera, he was bashed in the face with it. As Stone Cold flopped down, the Undertaker walked groggily and got hold of a chair. He then proceeded to bash Austin’s skull with it, only to realise that he had already lost because he was bleeding from the camera hit. A guy in a suit standing near the ring went pale with shock. A commentator wearing a hat, went nuts, screaming “Stone Cold! Stone Cold!” Stone Cold Steve Austin had won.

And so it started. Words like chokeslam, enziguiri, flying elbow, DDT, suplex, stunner and so on entered my vocabulary. Breaks between classes in school were filled with discussions of how Mankind gave the Rock the ‘socko’ and how Austin attacked Vince McMahon in a hospital. We tried chokeholds on each other and most debates were followed by the famous ‘suck it’ gesture, which even non-wrestling fans are aware of. Every edition of RAW was awaited with bated breath and every one of the Rock’s multitude of catchphrases was memorized to be used on several occasions. The harsh bleep used on TV to censor swear words became a swear word in itself as we all went around cursing each other with beeps.

I’m sure everyone here has seen a few WWF matches, mostly when they were young during the time when Bret Hart, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels and Diesel reigned. And at that young age, it all seems so real. For instance, many might have really believed that the Undertaker derived his power from that little urn and was ‘resurrected’ after being shut into a coffin by Yokozuna. Of course, as wisdom and better sense prevailed, some stopped watching it, though many still continued following the weekly tussles in the ‘squared circle’. I was a very different case though. I started watching it when I was in the 9th standard and obviously knew that the fights couldn’t be real. And yet, it was so enticing that I had to watch it every week without fail.

Wrestling is very strange in some respects. For instance, amateur wrestling is an Olympic sport, which is very real and requires extremely sharp reflexes. It has strict rules and regulations and all the fighting is in the form of grapples and throws rather than body blows. Pro wrestling on the other hand, cannot even be called a sport. Sure, it has elements of sport like contestants, titles, winners and so on. At the same time, it’s like a movie, orchestrated from beginning to end and played out in front of millions of viewers every week. The combination of the suspense of the movies and the testosterone-fuelled visceral thrills of contact sports is what makes wrestling immensely popular all over the world. WWE owner Vince McMahon terms it as ‘sports entertainment’, which pretty much sums it all up.

Violence is a primal urge hidden inside every human being and wrestling is one way of satisfying it second hand. Now I am not saying that wrestling spawns violence. In fact, the Romans used to quench their urges by putting gladiators in life-or-death battles against each other or animals. Perhaps, we should be fortunate that we live in a more civilized era, where our ‘recreational violence’ is make-believe. But of course, there is more to pro wrestling than just physicality.

Each wrestler has a unique personality (known as a ‘gimmick’), entrance music and moves. Elaborate storylines are sketched out giving the viewers a chance to enjoy the fights at more than the physical level. In wrestling terminology, wrestlers are classified into ‘faces’ and ‘heels’. The faces being the ones, who enjoy crowd support and have the best catchphrases. The heels are of course, ‘the bad boys’ who badmouth the crowd on every possible occasion. It’s all in the way they are portrayed. A wrestler who was a heel for some time can become a face if projected properly and vice versa.

Vicious, violent matches such as ‘Hell in a Cell’ and ‘Buried Alive’ are set up for the culmination of feuds between wrestlers. Exhilarating athletic abilities are displayed in matches involving cages, ladders, tables and whatnot. And for the ‘red-blooded male’ there are always girls in skimpy outfits to provide all the eye candy necessary. With such a package, how many can resist pro wrestling?

So, the WWE occupied most of my TV time for about a year or so. In the winter of 2000, Star Sports stopped showing the WWF and started showing the rival WCW federation, which soon ended when Vince McMahon bought the WCW sealing the ‘Monday Night Wars’ forever. There was no wrestling on Indian television for more than a year. It was very disappointing and there was only one option left. The Internet. And in my weekly pursuits to stay updated with the action, I learnt quite a few things.

For starters, what they showed on TV was about 3 weeks behind of what actually happened in the US. There the people could watch the weekly events for free on TV, but had to pay specially for the monthly extravaganza called the ‘pay-per-view’. Wrestlers who were supposedly out of action because of being ‘run down by cars’ and the like were actually recuperating from real injuries. Backstage politics by veteran wrestlers often called the shots which decided who would hold the championships and when. The fighting in the ring was real in a way and wrestlers were supposed to be able to withstand quite some blows known as ‘bumps’. They actually underwent pretty rigorous training before stepping into the ring.

The ubiquitous chairs that were used to bash the opponent’s skull were specially made chairs that absorbed 95% of the impact. Wrestlers actually bled on stage (contrary to people who think that it is dilute tomato ketchup). But the bleeding was not due to knocks on the head by chairs or brass knuckles. Instead, the wrestler would go down and cover his face after suffering such a shot. While the camera was off him, he would surreptitiously make a cut in his forehead with a blade concealed in his wristband in an act known in wrestling jargon as ‘blading’.

These were not the only things I learnt of, course. I read up on a lot of wrestling history and inspite of not having watched wrestling from an early age, I had a sackload of information stored in my head (forgotten quite a bit now). From the first Wrestlemania (the holy grail of wrestling) to the way Vince McMahon cheated Bret Hart in what has come to be known as the Survivor Series ‘screwjob’, I read a helluva lot of stuff in those days.

Soon enough, the football World Cup 2002 arrived. And with it came this hitherto unknown channel called Ten Sports, which started showing the WWF (now the WWE) again. And this time I watched it again, from a more intellectual perspective (I flatter myself). Of course, I still loved nothing more than a bloody ‘Hell in a Cell’ match, but I started to see for myself how they were trying to hook the public into the action. Things had changed. My favourite, the Rock had become a breakaway movie star and stopped wrestling regularly. Stone Cold was practically retired with injuries. The Undertaker had adopted a lame ‘American badass’ gimmick and was squashing guys who were way more entertaining than him. Many of the big names from the ‘Attitude Era’ (1997-2000) were gone. With WCW gone and no real competition, Vince McMahon became complacent and the programmes became worse.

And of course, the silly stereotypes which the WWE nurtured were beginning to irritate me. Japanese wrestlers who are amongst the most talented wrestlers in the world were portrayed as dolts who couldn’t speak English and were basically fodder for the rest of the wrestlers. Canadian wrestlers were booed by the entire crowd after they very stupidly unfurled the Canadian flag and proclaimed that they were better than the USA. Englishmen were portrayed as uptight suit wearing royalists. This has been happening for years with people like Ludvig Borga, The Iron Sheikh, Yokozuna and so on. The crowds have been encouraged to boo at them just because they were foreigners and hence ‘evil’. If it was the Iraqis during the Gulf War period in 1991 it was the French in 2003 because of their refusal to participate in the war. If the WWE crowds are representative of America, then Americans are pretty chauvinistic indeed.

Any wrestler no matter how stale or useless suddenly becomes a star once he waves the ‘good ol’ red, white and blue’. The biggest example of this is obviously Hulk Hogan. For years, a generation of American kids looked up at him as a role model as he rose to fame with his famous message of ‘do your training, eat your vitamins and say your prayers’. And yet, nobody had an idea of the man behind the façade who injected himself with all sorts of illegal drugs and indulged in nasty backstage politics.

To cut a long story short, wrestling no longer did it for me and I stopped watching it. Sure there’ve been several classic matches which I’d watch again anyday, but I have no enthusiasm to see it regularly anymore. And as with any obsession that fades away, this one left a mark as well. Believe it or not, it was the entrance music of WWE wrestlers that actually got me to listen to music. I started with metal and then slowly branched out and away into several other genres. But that’s a topic for another post. Some other day, perhaps.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pulp sells... but who's buying?

Jake silently reloaded his Beretta while his experienced ears attuned even to the sound of a mouse scuttling across the floor, listened carefully, trying to gauge Brenner’s next movement. He heard a silent click. Brenner had reloaded as well. And his was a Luger with a larger magazine. Eight bullets to his six.

Which didn’t really matter, of course. All Jake needed was two shots. And so did Brenner. It was Geneva all over again.

Sound familiar? It could be something you’d read in the latest Archer or Ludlum. Tom Clancy, perhaps. The quintessential spy confrontation. Just one glance at these words can make me remember years of my life spent in reading stuff like this.

Yup, spy thrillers and their like. There was a time when I used to gobble up 3 books like this in a week. A time when Ludlum was my favourite author, Noel Holcroft my idol and the CIA my calling in life. Allright, maybe not as bad as that. But it was close. While most of this is not pulp per se, it is the prevailing view amongst several people that it is, so ‘pulp’ it shall be referred to as. There are a few people who’ve never passed through this phase in their lives and indeed some who are proud of this. And though I hardly read books like these nowadays, I don’t really regret having ‘wasted’ my time on them.

In those years, it was all about escapism. A yearning for a life more than an ordinary student who just went to school and did his homework. It is an impressionable age, the age of 13 or 14. A couple of years past puberty, when a boy realises that he is a man and wants to assert himself in some way. And of course, urban India offers few such opportunities and hence the boy has to turn to ‘pulp’ fiction to satiate these desires.

The phenomenon, of course, started in the West. The ‘pulp’ thriller offers a lot to the average Joe. This was and still remains the central reason for their popularity. Imagine the average American (though it’s not very likely that you or I have met one) with a boring job, bogged down with responsibilities concerning his wife and kids. He who drives downtown in a beaten down Mercedes. And while he’s stuck in the traffic, I’m sure there must be some point of time when he wishes he had a Maserati. And that’s where it starts. He wishes to get out of the drudgery of his white-collar job and live a life less ordinary. Guns, thrills, chases. He wants them all.

Notice how the ‘pulp’ thriller plays upon these emotions. The protagonist in many American novels is an ordinary guy with an ordinary job. This is of course, his ‘cover’. In reality, he’s usually one of the CIA’s (or equivalent agency’s) hotshot agents or alternatively someone on the run from it. And there is definitely a point when he leaves his job and family to assume his true identity. See how the transformation of the hero from an ordinary guy to super-spy parallels the fantasizing of the reader, be he an adult or a high-school boy.

Then the guns. Guns are described in such vivid detail in ‘pulp’ fiction, no-doubt serving as an effective lure for the reader. Technical descriptions about the magazine, muzzle velocity, piercing power and silencer action only serve to give a masterful illusion of power to the reader. Indeed, he is already visualizing himself reloading and shooting the gun, which surely is a welcome momentary diversion from operating something mundane like a lawn mower.

Further seduction of the reader results from phrases like ‘his trusty Walther PPK’, ‘his ever-dependable Beretta’ and so on. These give a sense of belonging, control and total mastery over the weapon. Ever noticed how James Bond always drives the same car and uses the same gun all the time? Though it is highly unlikely that a spy would even use one unless he absolutely has to. This feeling of power is even more pronounced in a schoolboy who’s often denied certain privileges by adults though he feels he is entitled to them.

The setting comes next of course, hand in hand with the plot. This usually concerns situations of international intrigue involving one or more intelligence agencies battling it out. In the 70s and 80s it was almost always the CIA and the KGB with the MI5 and Mossad making regular appearances. Of course, the novels that come out nowadays are more focussed on terrorism, in tune with the situation in the real world today, though many feel that the falling of the Iron Curtain has deprived several authors of their pet playground.

Note that the extremely meticulous research that goes in to the descriptions of these agencies is a mere smokescreen to mask how unrealistic the situations actually are. For instance, the work of a spy is almost always portrayed to be glamourous while in reality it involves more paperwork and long waits than the authors will have you believe.

The setting is usually in several exotic places, which yet again play upon the escapist nature of the reader. Geneva, Zurich and other Swiss locations are a favourite of several authors citing the relatively relaxed international laws there as a perfect reason for all sorts of monetary transactions taking place there. I can’t recall any spy thriller I’ve read, which didn’t involve a Swiss bank in some way or the other. Other popular locations include the bleak, snow-ridden landscape of Russia, the autobahns of Germany, the streets of Paris, military bases on islands, in forests etc. Very often, the quiet, charming English/French/German village or American town also makes an appearance. It is quite clear that, while it is the goal of most authors to make the reader relate to whatever they’ve written, ‘pulp’ authors aim for the exact opposite. And yet, ironically their greatest strength is that the readers do actually fantasize and try to relate themselves to it.

The character of the hero is of course that of a person who is generally on the high moral ground. In fact, most novels try to bring in an element of ‘realism’ by portraying the hero as a person who has to kill people sometimes in his line of work and feels a terrible sense of remorse as a result. This hooks in the reader in two ways. One, the sense of approval that results from the fact that the hero is ‘human after all and a victim of circumstance’. And the other at a very subconscious level, is the sense of power. An undercurrent that makes the reader feel that he holds the keys of life and death over people.

As is true with most movies and books, the hero lives his usual life in the beginning of the novel and as it progresses, faces several problems some of which might even be personal. The odds seem unsurmountable, but in the end, the hero triumphs over them. Which brings us to the antagonist. In general the antagonist is a powerful figure and often absent for large parts of the book, the author successfully playing upon the fear of the unseen here. Not fear, but more of a sort of apprehension. The antagonist is often an equal of the hero as far as physical and mental abililities go. He’s often a ruthless cold-blooded killer and it is through the subtle use of adjectives like these (describing immorality) that the author ensures that the reader doesn’t end up identifying himself with the antagonist.

There is of course another type of antagonist that is popular in many novels and this is that of the organization. An omnipotent, omniescent and yet unseen organization working behind the scenes to effect several international incidents like embezzlement, assassination and so on. This is very popular with authors like Ludlum. And indeed, a vast powerful organization against a single hero is a powerful reel for the reader, although some are more attracted by the one-on-one fight dynamic of the lone antagonist versus the lone protagonist.

And where would 'pulp' thrillers be without the women? Reality is clearly ignored here because the chances of a woman coming near a spy operation, much less get intimately involved with the spy are very small indeed. But if there is one universal common thread in all spy thrillers, it is – if there’s a major female character, she had better be as beautiful as possible. And descriptions of love scenes are usually, though not always, there. For the red-blooded male absolutely cannot resist anything like this. A couple of additional points worthy of mention here. One, that if a female is a double agent then she is almost never killed by the hero. She either commits suicide or is killed by some other woman. A typical example of the latter being in The Guns Of Navarone (the movie atleast, don’t remember if the book had it). Two – in spite of the woman generally being able to take care of herself, the hero always assumes a protective attitude towards her and his whole family (if it exists). This is something that resonates very clearly with the reader’s personal life. For at the end of the day, in spite his flights of fancy, the reader always feels a sense of responsibility towards his wife and kids and so does the hero, making the illusion all the more complete.

And of course, one of the most important things of all. The twist. Most book have a twist (sometimes predictable) in the plot. The author always banks his success upon the ‘unputdownability’ of the book. A book like this is almost always devoured in a maximum of three to four sittings. Any more and it’s failing its purpose. The slow release of crucial information causing curiousity and eagerness in the reader to flick those pages faster and faster is an art, which some ‘pulp’ authors have nearly perfected.

Of course, no ‘pulp’ thriller carries all of these characteristics. It would be called a manual of cliché if it did. But nevertheless, these are some of the common techniques used by authors to pull the reader into their web. It is notable that British and American authors differ in several ways. The British protagonists are usually young bachelors and are not tied down by family and other bonds. The American is however a more sensitive sort of fellow with several responsibilities on his shoulders. In American novels, the women are usually romantically involved with the hero and often play an important part in the plot. Whereas women are either a distraction (Ian Fleming) or not significantly present (McLean) in the works of British authors. I’m not sure if these differences are representative of the cultural differences between the British and the Americans.

So, if you have indeed waded through this long post, you’ll know why these novels were irresistible to me and to most teenagers in their high school days. And though I may have grown out of these novels it still doesn’t prevent me from reading the blurbs on the latest Ludlum or Forsyth at the AH Wheeler bookstalls. I still rank the Bourne Identity as one of my favourite books, because I have nothing but pleasant memories of it. The thirst to read ‘pulp’ is no longer there, but it’s impossible to forget the time when it was there. Deep in the recesses of my memory, there is a world inhabited by spies, guns, fast cars, beautiful women and international intrigue. A world where ‘pulp’ culture still lives on.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tag... you're It (yet another questionnaire)

As much fun as I had reading the stuff which JD put up, I was a little skeptical of answering this myself after being ‘tagged’ by him. But what the hell, I’ve got nothing better to do anyway. So here goes…

How do people refer to you?

Relatives and parents call me Ashish. Most of my friends call me Aziz thanks to this watchman misspelling Ashish in the callers’ registry and one of my friends stealing the registry for weekend reading. My official nickname is Engine (after I gulped petrol under very strange circumstances), though very few people call me that.

What are your screen names?

Screen names are restricted to Ashish on most occasions unless I’m feeling particularly bored, in which case I find Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett more interesting. And being the semi-regular Quake player that I am, I am known (with a sense of dread and foreboding I might add) in the fragging grounds as Creeping Death. I don’t think I should get into the LanMsn names here as they change twice everyday.

What are the physical things you like about yourself?

In general, I guess I’m happy that I’m not abnormal in any way. Reasonably tall, average weight, normal skin. I feel (unlike my parents) that my longish hair rather suits me.

What are the physical things you don't like about yourself?

I’m perfectly happy with most of myself, though I sometimes wish I had longer fingers and broader wrists.

How has your heritage influenced you?

My Tamil is pretty different from what they speak in Chennai, and somehow that makes me proud (don’t ask why). But apart from that nothing major, really. I believe in a kind of God (too complicated to explain) but for most practical purposes, I don’t bother about God, the universe and all that. I don’t really believe in religious rituals (and hardly observe any myself), but they instil a kind of discipline in a person, so I guess they’re allright as long as they don’t get in the way of more important activities.

What are the things that scare you?

Being on the top of a very tall building without a railing on the sides. Basically great heights, though only when I feel that there is a realistic chance of me dropping from them.

But apart from that, to quote Edmund Blackadder,”I laugh in the face of fear. I tweak the nose of panic and drop ice-cubes down the vest of terror.”

What are your everyday essentials?

Atleast an hour everyday, with music in my ears through headphones.

Mindless jamming on the guitar.

One episode of some comedy series.

The internet, of course.

Name three things you're wearing now.

Glasses, T-shirt and shorts. Why is this question here? Very pointless.

What are the things you want in a relationship?

Tough one. Since I have no experience whatsoever in this regard, I’ll restrict myself to saying that the ‘other’ must have a sense of humour that matches mine, stay cool most of the time and not worry about things that are not under her control.

Give me two truths and a lie, in no particular order.

I’ve been brutally honest throughout this post.

I’m extremely skilled at defending myself against someone who attacks me with a piece of fresh fruit.

I have a cunning plan to bring about world peace.

What are the 'things' in the opposite sex that appeal to you?

A nice voice, ‘non-grumpiness’ and good conversation skills appeal the most to me (apart from the usual umm… things which most men look for in women)

What are the three things you want to do badly now?

To listen to Extreme right now. A few clicks and this is done.

To eat Haldiram’s Bhujia (whose endless supply in my house is sadly at an end).

To get the Beatles Anthology DVD to work somehow.

What are the three career options you're considering?

I’d love to be a writer someday, but unfortunately (or fortunately), that may not be.

An engineer in a chemical plant, but only because I’m doing my Btech in Chemical Engineering. This option is not really motivated by interest.

My low CGPA has forced me to consider management as the most likely career path though I really don’t have a good idea of what it’ll involve.

What are the three places you'd like to go on vacation?

New York, London and Woodstock (if the festival returns sometime). I always feel better if I’m in a large city. The larger the better.

Name three kid names you like.

Can’t think of any. Anything apart from Baldrick should do fine.

What are the three things you'd like to do before you died?

Play something like Malmsteen’s “Arpeggios From Hell” on the guitar.

Write something that is published.

Torture Sooraj Barjatya in the same way he tortured me with “Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon”

What is your favourite quote?

“I’ll be darned… Cover me in flour and eggs and bake me for 40 minutes!”

Who else do you want to tag to make them take the quiz now?

Allright, I know I’ve been very boring, but quite frankly so are the questions. Let’s just say that since I’ve spent this much time on it, I might as well put it up. The people I’d want to tag are:

The “Eveready” Bhaand, who I suspect is always online.

Metabuh, who’s barbecuing himself in the Chennai heat by playing Quake.

The dead parrot who’s not blogged since 44 BC.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


I’ve been a doorman for as long as I can remember.

Actually, Mr. Patel tells me that it’s been about 10 years since he hired me, but it seems like a really long time to me. When your entire day consists of opening a door to let patrons inside and outside a restaurant; your week then consists of 7 such days (mostly) and your year consists of 52 such weeks. 10 years and you’ve lived out a lifetime.

It’s all such a blur sometimes. Doors opening and closing. People walking in and out. The same set of people could’ve walked in and out everyday and I wouldn’t have known. You see, I don’t remember faces anymore. All I remember is what they eat – and only when I happen to look inside the restaurant out of boredom. For example I remember that the first customer yesterday, ordered chapathis and kurma.

I know I’m not normal. It’s not normal for a doorman to work throughout the day on both shifts, but it’s what I do. From 9 am to 11 pm everyday. And make no mistake; I do it of my own free will. Nor is it normal for a person to stick to a job like this for this long. I know that there might be greener pastures elsewhere, but I’ve simply not reached out.

Imagine that you lived under an apple tree and survived on those apples as they fell down, some 3 or 4 per day. The industrious man would’ve climbed the tree, plucked the apples, sold them, bought some seeds, grown more apple trees and continued until he had established an orchard. I’m not industrious.

I am content to live off 4 apples a day, because you see; with every new venture there is an element of the unknown. The unknown scares me. I am satisfied with the wages that my present job gives me. Of course, it gives me more than that. An identity and a haven, for instance. As long as I’m outside the Girnaar restaurant, I’m allright. I even live in a small room behind it. Any further down the Cross Cut road away from Girnaar, and I feel uneasy. The unknown scares me.

It’s a pretty boring job. To look at the patrons entering and welcome them in that phony cheerful voice that I’ve developed to such an extent that it’s almost mechanical. And yet cheerful, don’t ask me how. Most of them don’t even look at me, which is fair enough considering the fact that I’m not exactly talking to them. I open the door and a small blast of the cooled air from inside hits me as the patrons enter. There is usually a small hint of the aroma of tandoori rotis in that air. It makes me hungry sometimes. The door is closed and I’m standing pointlessly again, waiting for the next person to arrive.

Sometimes it does get a bit tiring sometimes when one stands for hours together in the sweltering afternoon heat. On these occasions, I sit on this little stool beside the door and often get a wink from Jaikishan. I don’t know why he does that. He’s a good waiter, and treats the patrons well. Of course, I can’t hear any of them inside. They’re like the fishes in the small aquarium inside the restaurant – opening and closing their mouths with apparently no sound coming out of them.

Jaikishan is the one who doubles for me, when I’m gobbling my lunch or dinner hurriedly. He’s been here for some 5 years according to him. We haven’t exchanged more than 10 words in that time. I suppose one might think of restaurant employees as people sharing a great rapport with each other, celebrating together on special occasions and so forth. It’s not so. Not here at least.

It used to, though. Once upon a time in the past, it used to be like that. But not now. This business has become a vicious race. Employees come in, worm their way into favour with the boss, earn a fat pile of cash and leave when they see better opportunities elsewhere. The whole city’s supposed to be like that. I wouldn’t know about the rest of the city, of course.

The day ends at 11:00 pm when I make my way around the restaurant into my sparsely furnished room. And every night, as I lie down on the bed and close my eyes, I remember that my parents passed away long ago and I was pretty hopeless at studies. I recall that I have an aunt living in Ghatkopar. But these aren’t exactly memories. In the sense that they seem to be something I know as information and not something I remember as experiences. It’s almost as if my mind is forcing me to learn who I was. What I am is of course, perfectly clear.

I’ve been a doorman for as long as I can remember.

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