How Edison Didn’t Invent

an illuminating conspiracy

Flash Fiction #11:

After another day of excessive, obsessive experiments to invent the electric light failed, Thomas Edison decided to take a stroll to clear his thickly wired mind with fresh air.

At the end of the pavement, on which he didn’t know how he had come, for his mind was still jiggling in the dingy laboratory, his eyes caught a flicker. One, two flickers. Approaching the small, tattered boy sitting there under the oil-light post, Edison’s heart went tup-tup-tup-tup-tup. The boy was meddling with a carbon filament.

Of course! How stupid am I to have not realised this. Carbon. High resistance and low voltage.

‘Son, what do you do?’

‘I work in the mines, sir. After work, I do this, sir.’

Thomas Edison spared some currency and conscience. After a year, he patented the Electric Bulb under his own name.

The boy? He died in his 54th year as an unknown miner.

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Sherlock’s Solid Case

THE PERSONAL BLOG of Dr. John H. Watson

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A war doctor from the Afghan camp

I couldn’t understand why Sherlock was dazed. I was taking him to a better doctor then. Didn’t know if it was because he hadn’t had a case in the past 6 months, or if it was just one of his Sherlock-esque idiosyncrasies, but he was just so shocking to look at.

His eyes were staring ahead blankly; occasional murmurs sounded from his throat; and his face was so white, as if he had seen a live ghost.

All he did this morning was to hear cases, just like any other day, and pooh-pooh them on grounds of simplicity and blandness. Men and women and constables and children came one after another to narrate. Oh, there was even a seven-year-old who wanted Sherlock to find his red whistle! Could that child have pushed him to that state? I can’t say.

When we had met the doctor, Sherlock began to slur some words out. ‘There was a fat lady,’ he said, with a glint in his eyes, and immediately brought his hands to his frail chest, as if to guard himself from some horror. And I knew for a fact that there came no fat lady today, because I was right there, in the kitchen, helping Mary with the sausage.

‘There was a fat lady. She was so afraid and angry and tearful and desperate all at once. I didn’t like the air about her; she smelled. Right when I was about to dismiss her, she said, “Dear Mr Holmes, they all think it is a suicide. But no. Please prove it wrong. I’m telling you (sob, sob), my husband murdered me.”‘

Court House

Flash Fiction #09:

By the year 1949, H J Kania had amassed a sum of 20 lakhs while being in public service. On his thirtieth birthday party, he was pointed the index for being in possession of disproportionate assets. Charge sheets were filed and a shackle was used. Young Kania was taken to the then recently formed Supreme Court on 28 January 1950 for its first case. A Bench of three heard the plea, and have been hearing for the past 66 years.

The well-oiled machinery of the Supreme Court had been excellent in perpetually procrastinating Kania’s judgement over the years, as the man, at his bungalow, first passed onto his son, and then his grandson, the secret of gathering Gandhi notes.

However, in the year 2017, the reason for this unexpected movement being in light only to the Almighty, the Bench pronounced a sound judgement of 4 terrible years on the weak head of Kania and a hefty sum of 2 lakhs as fine. Kania, on a wheelchair, was rolled into a rusted cell. On the same evening, his great-grandson, a young man of unconventional appearance, came jumping into the cabin of the warden waving a wad of folded papers.

H J Kania was bailed out to celebrate his 97th birthday.

One Night at the Call Center

At 8 in the night, as the last set of people were pushing open the exit door of the office, I had an engaging chat with my colleagues to take some time off our work; we were aware it was going to be a long stay for us 3.

The topic veered to our college friends who have flown to study in America and Europe and such. L, one of those nice seniors you can approach with any doubt, investedly narrated her friend’s experience. The girl, it seemed, was sharing a flat with a 55-year-old Mexican nurse, and was lately seeing a different man emerge from the nurse’s bedroom every night.

Now I imagined this scene, how it would have happened night after night – how the girl would have felt when the nurse came out, tying her hair with a casual smile on her face, following the man to introduce him to her. ‘Living like that must be awful,’ I quipped in. ‘Especially since she is from here, unaccustomed to the promiscuous ways of the West.’

‘Oh, beyond what you can imagine! Not a day goes by without my friend calling me with her apprehension and disapproval,’ L said, with a dash of sorry sadness in her tone.

I turned to the silent S, my other senior who has contributed generously to the growth of our company over the past 4 years, and herself become less human in the process. ‘So what do you think?’

‘Not a very comfortable situation, I agree,’ she replied thoughtfully. ‘But you see, like how we don’t approve of this, a man living further in the interiors, who if simply informed that his daughter is in love, would hunt the poor boy through the entire village with raised billhook and puffing chest. So what is normal for the Mexican doesn’t agree with us, and our normality is beyond the understanding of a rural. One man’s food becomes another’s poison,’ she proverbially concluded. I nodded, considering the varied people and what they embraced as their culture.

I stretched my arms and my mouth opened wide. Two more hours to fight with this computer! L’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and worriedly walked away with the phone. ‘Must be that girl,’ I commented to S. As she smiled, her own phone shouted for attention. It was her man, calling to utter words dipped in honey and… you know right, all that these love birds usually chirp on phone.

She returned after the call and said, ‘I must inform my father soon. But I’m scared of what he’s capable of doing.’

Deaf Jeff

On the 83rd floor of the New York skyscraper was located Chilton’s Pharmaceuticals – a publicly-traded drug development company successful on the scale of Proust. Its new drug, CP-41, was under clinical research to address the cancer of prostate.

The entire floor was busy on account of the seasonal board meeting, to which now all the old chit-chatty directors were heading. There was only one person in that conference room who wasn’t an executive, and he was there to attend to their thirst and such whims. It was the office butler, Deaf Jeff.

Mr Chilton, the founder, a highly altruistic man, had the warmest of feelings for Jeff. He had personally overseen the day-to-day life of this disabled man, and had made him the softest comforts at work. To aid Jeff in his duties, and also to lessen his own employees’ efforts in reaching out to Jeff, he had bought him a mobile phone and had indicated by explicit gestures that it must at all times be in the Vibration mode. Jeff had smilingly nodded.

Chilton croaked his throat and spoke, ‘My dears, I deeply regret the message I have for you today. I want to –’ ‘Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today… I want to be a part of it, New York, New York,’ Sinatra sung from inside Jeff’s pocket, while he calmly stood there behind Chilton, ready to rush to the table of bottles if anyone saw him. As the song played, all the old eyes turned to Jeff, who, upon sudden synchronous demands, rushed to the table of bottles but on return didn’t know whom to address first.

‘Jeff, dear, come here,’ Chilton calmly waved. Jeff jogged to the chief and thrust the bottle under his nose. ‘No, dear. It’s your phone. Phone. It is ringing, you see. Your phone.’ Jeff unearthed the device and stared at the blinking screen. Chilton stood up, attended the telemarketing call, cut it, and put the device on Vibration mode. Jeff displayed the sincerest apology to Chilton and the board, and resumed his attentive stance behind Chilton.

Chilton again croaked his throat and spoke, ‘My dears, I want to convey to you all that CP-41 failed the Phase III trial in the Boston site. Yes, the results are firm and irreversible. As you might infer,’ all the grey heads were shaking frantically in disbelief, ‘our investments are going to yield us nothing. And that could mean potential crash of our stock.’

Twenty minutes after the board meeting, Jeff was walking fast on the platform. He pushed and nudged and slipped and slid through the thick throng. Wiping the sweat, Jeff entered Watson & Sons on Wall Street.

‘Hey, Jeff!’ His broker called out.

Deaf Jeff turned to the sound and said, ‘Look Mike, I want you to immediately dump all my Chilton stocks.’

Heard you, chief,’ Mike pulled Jeff’s portfolio and clicked a button.

Chilton’s Pharmaceuticals made headlines the next day. Thousands of families skipped a beat; some even two and three. While important and depressed people were crowding the reception on the 83rd floor, Jeff was happily arranging bottles for them.

Samsara

As you make the strings tremble
With chiseled tips playing uncontrolled,
My random thoughts diffuse into one.
Of the image I wake up to; sleep with.

The sound of your music acts guide
Through memories I made of reveries;
Like the happening that reminds us
Of the night dream we forget upon wake.

Though all rise and fall and bends I know
By listening and living your practice
I am touched and surprised every night
Like when I try and steal your sight.

Vainly wishing I had not given another
And thinking secretly to sin the sacred,
I take effort to keep most of the music
To accompany me as I remain by the sill.

~ a wife’s admiration for the pundit across the street

A Snoring Way to Srirangam

‘For the kind attention of passengers,’ a pleasing voice noised in Tamil, English and Hindi. I had arrived at the Egmore station an hour and a half in advance out of some innate sense born of punctuality and anxiety – something my friends ridicule me about, asking if I wished to sweep the station before the train rolled in. It was also something that ran in my bloodline; my father and maternal grandfather just can’t sit in calm when they have a train to board, even though hours later.

I was sitting beside my mother, dipped in Baradwaj Rangan’s article Taking a stand featured on the day’s Hindu, when the engine shined its torch and boomed its arrival. Once the chart was pasted, I checked our names against our seat numbers and then climbed in with a light wallet thanks to Modi and a heavy backpack thanks to my mother. Wide and cosy blue births welcomed us.

When the hands of my watch reached the designated alignment the train pulled itself. My mother climbed onto her middle berth with a blanket unfolded behind her like a cape, and I climbed onto mine – the uppermost berth. I noticed the white ceiling of the train curve inches above my nose and two gigantic fans ready to chop my neck and ankles. In my position, Robert Langdon would have complained of claustrophobia. I jumped down and requested in polite words the man on the other middle berth to switch places. He acknowledged the fragility in my tone and consented immediately. I was soon facing the blanketed bundle my mother was.

When Tambaram arrived and while I was still struggling to keep my eyes closed (my mother was in a relaxed slumber) a couple, in their late forties probably, walked in. They decided between themselves and the woman took the bottom row across the aisle and the man settled beneath my mother. So far so good.

Maybe my mother had communicated her malady to me, because I was in deep sleep, in an atmosphere of nothingness for time unknown, until I was brought back to my berth by the sound of a shrieking soul, reminding me, even now, of the gruesome sound made by Christie’s small piece of rubber during Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. The sound must have had a deep and malignant origin, for it was ineffably cruel and sadistic. After a semi-conscious search, I noticed that it spewed from the mountainous paunch of the Tambaram man. The train was stationary, probably at some signal, and my mother smiled wakefully at me.

In the darkness of our immediacy, it looked like only we were disturbed. His snoring was overwhelming in the absence of any other sound. How much ever I tried to deviate my attention, I found I was only attached to it, expecting the rise of next during the pregnant pause that followed every fall. At times when I managed to shift focus, I felt desperate for the train’s rhythmic motion, in the hope that this sound would dissolve in it and cease to have full effect.

The train moved, probably for myself and mother, and we resumed our efforts to maintain shut-eyes. But after a few minutes, when it came to a gradual halt at the Vilupuram junction, we realised God was against us. The sound was now amplified and murderous. Unlike daylight journeys, no man ventured out for a short break and hot tea on the platform; everyone was calm and closed, and the snoring happened.

Many a times I dared to bring my index finger, and sometimes the big toe, very close to the man’s shoulder to prod him. My mother would raise her eyebrows and silently warn against it, and I would fall back onto my berth in irritation and powerlessness. And even after the train started moving, even after the snoring was subsided, the memory of the sound stayed long with me.

After persistent efforts to find some sleep were self-declared as useless, I got up and walked to the door at the end of the carriage. Mother’s head peeped now and then from her berth to ensure I wasn’t perilously close to the exit. Overly chill winds blew past. Bright and faint yellow and white whisked by. A cement factory was in sound operation in Ariyalur. The train was well on time to reach Srirangam in twenty minutes.

As I stood there, waiting to catch my first glimpse of the Srirangam temple spire majestically standing out from the mass of little coconut and pine trees, the Tambaram man came sleepily walking towards the loo. On his way, he dropped a very surprised smile on me, as if meaning to ask why I wasn’t sleeping.