I am travelling shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger, in his car and in his pace, and it has struck midnight just now. Only hours before, I had an experience of friction with my father, the voices and noises from which are shredding the silence in the cab now. Though I can guiltlessly place the entire weight of the discord on him, I must admit I did have a role or two to play.

The repetitious nature of this father-son tussle is becoming irksome.

I am riding to the airport to receive a Chinese businessman, arriving to visit the company I work for. I don’t know how he would look, or what exactly would show him to me, but I don’t complain, because it is vaguely thrilling to flit over dark roads in a cab I needn’t pay for.

A disturbed soul briefly reflected as a daring ghoul.

The only conversation in the cab is centred on the driver’s lamentations of working by Ola’s rules. ‘You have to reach these many kilometres by this time to get what is, after all, your rightful earning. It is like a game, you lose real money if you don’t win.’

Corporate sharks jawing around small carps.


My first impression of the international terminal is that it appears like a stage set for a beauty pageant. A ‘U’ railing separates the crowd of white chauffeurs (from various ‘white’ hotels) holding white placards from the exiting passengers of different flights – most of them new to Chennai and expecting to be collected. If a walk from one end of the railing to another does not show the foreigner any board with his / her name, (s)he would turn to walk back to the start, now slower and more attentive, as if flaunting self to judges settled around with scorecards. Some walk back and forth and back before finding themselves and finally relieving the tired man, while others spot their names from a mile away and communicate to the happy holder with a gesture of the index.

The chauffeur from the hotel our Chinese guest will be staying in, a black man uniformed in white, meets with me at the edge of the crowd. He raises the placard and asks if the spelling of the guest is right.

‘What is your name?’ I ask him. I am in the mood tonight to engage strangers in pointless conversations. Probably to ease the short while, probably to bask in stories.

‘Nikhil.’ His manner is prompt, almost mechanical.

Nikhil is not a Tamil name. Nor is his face Dravidian. Upon digging I learn he is a Bengali who’s pitched in Chennai for more than 20 years. His father had a factory, in Howrah, which was cheated out of their hands by his own uncle. Lured by false promises to start a new factory, by his father’s friend, his family was shepherded all the way to Chennai, where they are now in various menial jobs.

A Lufthansa has arrived. I see people trickling out of the exit, some excited, some exhausted and the others equanimous. A young woman is the first I see. Her lips are bleeding and her hair bouffant. Seeing her luggage, I estimate her to be very wealthy, but seeing her clothes I think the other way. She is trying hard to be someone else, in her walk, outlook and all.

Next into view is a young man, awkwardly dressed. Seeing him the weary old man and woman behind me lurch, circle around the crowd, pass through a narrow gap somewhere and rush to him. The father is calm, standing dignifiedly away with his hands held behind, while the mother loses herself and hugs and cries and kisses her son, who smilingly nods to hose down the expression of her happiness.

First flight fantasies.

Close behind comes a tall, lithe, white man, seemingly in a trance. He is pulling one trolley and his other hand is shaped by his side as if it is holding another. After he is received by his chauffeur we all hear a shout and see the man rushing back into the exit shaking his head. He reappears minutes later still holding only one trunk, complains about the futility of travelling in Economy and entertains us all. His chauffeur turns to Nikhil and says, ‘Has drunk all the free liquor they provide up there and forgotten his other bag.’

Light-headed comedies.


I and Nikhil wait on the railing for a long time. The flight carrying our Chinese has arrived and even many unconnected brothers and sisters have swept past us, but we have not been approached by anyone yet. Every time a clueless flat face appears I urge Nikhil to raise the placard. He reassures me, but we are still standing.

I shift my weight between my legs, while Nikhil stays like a mannequin. It is insightful to see daily routines remodel a man. I think of my own, and then a lot of other things, but still no Chinese has walked towards us.

A tiny fat man beside me, wakeful and smelling salty, raises his placard reading ‘Gianni Schiavoni’ to all the Chinese men and women passing by. I want to let him know, but I keep silent.

My mind figures many explanations, some creatively curious, to reason the absence of the Chinese. I turn around and walk away to sit on a thick metal pipe installed for me. It is 2 in the morning and only the sky supports that; the crowd at the terminal is unflinching. As I muse about my sleeplessness, trying to balance myself on the pipe, I hear Nikhil’s voice and notice a small Chinese man, glassed and pleasant, nodding to him.

We shake hands, introduce and perform small talk with Nikhil on our toes. He feels very thankful for the reception and climbs into the car. I wish him a good night and turn the other way. As Nikhil drives away I book a cab for my homeward trip.

Another stranger. Another conversation skilfully kickstarted. His mother, the driver said, has been admitted into a hospital and it has become too late for him to get home. Since waking up again early in the morning to start his shift would be difficult he had decided to simply continue driving through the wee hours.

Riding over a short bridge I see hairy pigs, dark as the night, scuttling across to a thick bush and disappearing there.

A few minutes later I am paying the driver outside my house. Before closing the door, I want to mouth something like ‘Take care of your mother,’ but it is so unlike me and I wonder if I am mature enough to say that.

You might also like Anatomy of Love.

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Wagah – A Borderline Drama

I say the film is a ‘border’line drama only for the pun. The film is much lower than that; at least, the end product is, because what director Kumaravel has hoped to bring on screen is an interesting premise, but what we are shown is… you will know.

Firstly, what spurred my interest to catch the film was that it was about an Indian soldier’s love for a Pakistani girl, set in the tense and ‘priceless’ (the film says, and so it appears) Wagah border separating India and Pakistan. Well, a clichéd one-liner certainly, but the director had come carrying on his shoulder the critical acclaim of his maiden venture, Haridas, which I still haven’t seen, but believe is a good film.

Wagah starts with Vasu (Vikram Prabhu) in a Pakistani jail, beaten up to bleed all his blood for having tried to escape. He is a BSF Jawan who has gone missing at the border, and in the jail, we see hope in his eyes. Flashback. Vasu is not an ideal man. He is careless and fun-loving, and even disrespects the national flag in the school assembly… as his eyes were on the girl he is attracted to. When he grows up, he wants to join the Indian Army just so that he could drink cold beer at a discounted price while rolling on Kashmiri ice with no dress (all his words).

God save our country, he is inducted into the training program, and after a few weeks, is given what I think is an AK-47, and posted at the border. Just after two days, he loses interest in his job and goes mad owing to the solitude of the ice-capped mountains and lush green ground. Right when he totally loses interest in his life he accidently meets Kanum (Ranya Roy), and falls in love with her. From this point, the only thing that makes him stay in his job is his love for that girl and his frequent evening trips to the nearby village where she stays. A great premise indeed! What the director could have done to further the story… How he could have taken the character arc of Vasu… There is so much potential, so many interesting internal and external conflicts to explore, but sadly, and sometimes frustratingly, the film wants to be as careless as its lead character.

There is very poor writing for the heroine. We know her true story only at the interval point. So much screen time is wasted on back-to-back songs that don’t stick at all. Interestingly, the only tune that seems slightly likeable is the one that comes after Vasu is captured by the Pakistan Army.

Another thread that seems interesting is Vasu’s stay in the jail. His co-prisoners are jingoistic men from the Indian Army, and he is the only guy who doesn’t care about his country or its protection. He still wants to escape only for his girl, and this only irks the men there. When Vasu is pitted to fight against an Indian officer, and is told that he can escape death only if wins the fight, everyone wants Vasu to die and the other officer to win and escape the disgraceful death waiting at the end.

How he escapes this prison, which is run illegally, is what we are shown soon after, but even the escape is so bland that we want Vasu to get shot in the forehead and the film to end. But we are asked to gape at an action sequence where he dodges bullets and other firepower so easily and comes out alive to expose the illegal jail run by the Pakistani army, not without a preachy message directed at the villain about nationalism, conflicts between neighbouring nations and how they are fuelled by superpowers like America. All this in the foreground of a patriotic composition beginning with Vande mataram…

God save our country, and cinema.

The Personal Cost


July 09, 2015;                                                                                    Mylapore, Chennai 9.47 p.m.

I love you,’ Mythili Rajagopalachari whispered, wiping her tears with the back of her palm. Her right hand was clasped tightly in the firm, consoling grip of Aravindan. She was on her knees before him, and he was sitting on a wooden chair behind his oblong office table.

I know, Mythili. I know. But you need to understand my situation. Marriage is not on my list of priorities as of now. You know what I would say. I have got to improve this office; make it a big newspaper company, you know. My friend, Deva, needs my support now. We are undergoing a rough patch. Circulation is getting worse,’ Aravindan finished emphatically, hoping she would understand his position.

Can’t you change your mind for me? Can’t your newspaper wait?’ she implored, the tears streaming down her pretty, brahmanical face falling as droplets on Aravindan’s feet.

He understood that his newspaper company, which was in dire need of all the attention and finance he and his friend could come up with, would not convince Mythili’s mind about her proposition of immediate marriage to him. He played a different card. ‘Even if I agree, your father wouldn’t give you in marriage to me. Do you remember what he said about me coming from a lower caste, and that too right at my face?’

As well as the article you wrote in your newspaper the following day, attacking caste discrimination in society, suitable titling it “the Brahmin tenets”. Now I am not asking you to come plead to my father for my hand. Take me away with you, Aravind.’ She spoke boldly, her voice husky. Aravindan looked deep into her eyes, searching for words.

Why is it so urgent that we marry –’ he began.

I am carrying your child.’


July 09, 2015;                                                                          Madhya Pradesh SH 11 A 9.47 p.m.

26 year old Ashish Chaturvedi ran for his life, and more importantly, for his country. Stabbed in the gut, the whistleblower in the Vyapam scam ballparked his wound to lethality within minutes. He knew he was dying.

He pulled his body forward with his every step. Running alone under a full moon in the State Highway, with files, documents and recordings clutched tightly under his armpit, he knew it would only be minutes before he met his death – either by losing blood or even cruelly when compared to getting caught by the goons looking for him all over the State Highway. They had already found and killed the other whistleblowers in the scam – Prashant Pandey and Anand Rai – and mercilessly, even their families. The government’s promise of round-the-clock protection for whistleblowers and a Supreme Court monitored-CBI inquiry into the scam went down the drain. He somehow had to get those incriminating proofs to the media as he knew authorities in his state were corrupt and unreliable.

Ashish Chaturvedi opened his weary eyes wide on the sight of an approaching lorry. He waved his hands.


July 09, 2015;                                                                           Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh 9.47 p.m.

Chief Minister Shivaram Singh Chouhan refilled the Governor’s empty glass with more Glenfiddich whiskey.

The chief Justice wants a quick response regarding the FIR registered on me. What do I do now, Shivaram?’ Ram Suresh Yadav, the incumbent Governor, shouted suddenly and surprisingly – given his age – with a strong voice.

I can’t pull anymore strings Ramji. Not that I don’t have influence, but I just don’t want to make a move until I am sure all those patriotic fools are dead and decomposed and the evidence is secure. They have spoken to the media already and accused me,’ the CM retorted reverentially.

And you deserve nothing less for dirtying your hand with all the fraud admissions and your association with that kingpin, Jagdish Sagar,’ the old man was losing grip on his tongue with his every sip of the single malt whiskey.

And didn’t you get your share of the fraud money for turning a blind eye in situations like this?’ The reverence was fading away.

The door opened and his secretary entered. The sari she officially wore in the mornings was now replaced by a mini-skirt and cream blouse. ‘You have the Prime Minister on line two, Shivaram.’ She clicked her tongue immediately for having uttered his name in the Governor’s presence. Their affair was not yet public, and she wished it to remain so. ‘He’s calling oversees from Ufa.’

Shivaram rushed to the phone on his desk. ‘Prime Minister, Shivaram here.’

Virendra Modi was calling from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit, Russia. ‘Is Ashish Chaturvedi taken care of?’

Uh… not yet Modiji. But I have sent my own men in search. I will soon bring you the good news.’

You better. You are well aware of the fact that our party has won the election on a corruption-free note. I don’t want to destroy the party’s image because of your carelessness and endless murders. What is the count now? 48?’ he paused. ‘The man in the white kurta from the opposition is already raising slogans. I have just closed the Lalit-Modi case. I can’t answer for another.’

Shivaram Singh Chouhan replaced the receiver, and the phone began ringing instantly. He picked it up peevishly. ‘Chouhan here.’

Ashish Chaturvedi is dead.’ The voice on the other side spoke impassively.

The documents and cassettes?’


July 11, 2015;                                                                                     Mylapore, Chennai 4.22 a.m.

CM masterminded the Vyapam scam

Incriminating proof obtained from whistleblower

The headline was accompanied by a picture of the Madhya Pradesh CM and whistleblower Ashish Chaturvedi separated by a thin line. The eight columns of news occupying the first half of the front page was continued in the middle sections of the newspaper with texts quoted from the evidence documents and audio cassettes.

Will you at least explain now, Deva?’ Aravindan asked inquisitively. His friend had come from Bhopal the previous night and today morning he made headlines in their jointly owned newspaper.

I met my people in Bhopal and was returning by a lorry with the money I could muster. Things seemed very hopeless. Our newspaper losing readers; our financiers backing out…. And then, while I was coming on the highway I noticed a heavily injured man trying to stop us. He shoved a pile of documents into my hands and requested me to get them to the media. He then gave me a couple of blood stained currency notes as an afterthought. He looked like the living image of hopelessness. The rest is in your hands,’ Deva indicated the newspaper Aravindan was holding. A huge machine by their side was conveying neatly folded copies of the newspaper.

Where is he now?’ Aravindan whispered.

He fled.’


July 14, 2015;                                                                                                             All over India

The circulation of their daily increased exponentially. Other dailies, television channels and the internet started picking up the news. The government shouted for an inquiry into Aravindan’s newspaper.

Protests erupted everywhere. Youth, both political and academic, staged violent remonstrations in Bhopal near the CM’s residence.

The ruling party’s headquarters in Chennai was attacked. Its president Tamilisai Sundararajan was hospitalised. Whether she was wounded remains a doubt.

BBC of the United Kingdom and CBS of the United States ran a ten minute short on the Vyapam scam.

A furious Virendra Modi and the ever-calm party president Sumit Shah remained indoors despite the opposition’s campaign.

Chouhan was as good as dead.


The following day;                                                                                        Chennai About 6 a.m.

The telephone on Deva’s desk rang – for the seventeenth time that hour.

Hello,’ he spoke into it.

Minutes later he opened Aravindan’s cabin panting heavily. ‘Ashish Chaturvedi called now. He is in Chennai apparently, and said he wants to meet us urgently – ’

Now?’ Aravindan interjected.

Yeah. Central Railway Station. He asked me to bring all the evidence he gave and said he would add to it more documents before the inquiry into our newspaper starts.’

An hour later Deva slowed his bike opposite the Central Railway Station. He looked in his rear view mirror to make a U-turn to get to the entrance of the huge red-painted building. Aravindan tapped his shoulder and got down.

I need to make a call to Mythili, Deva. I want to tell her I would be late.’

Can’t it wait?’ Deva asked hesitatingly.

Sorry I didn’t tell you this previously, but… we are getting married today. You were busy with the news. Look, it was all sudden. She is pregnant with my child.’ The last sentence he said to his feet.

After a minute of digesting everything, Deva said, ‘Make it quick.’ And then he added, ‘Congrats, by the way.’

Remembering to recharge his mobile he went to a newspaper mart nearby and asked to use a pay phone. Mythili’s father picked up after a few rings. Aravindan replaced the receiver. He scrolled through the phone book in his mobile for Mythili’s number. And then it caught his eyes.

A thin sheet of paper tied below the pay phone and displaying headlines in Tamil screamed in bold red letters the news that Ashish Chaturvedi was dead and that his body was found nearby a railway track outside of Bhopal the previous night.

If Ashish Chaturvedi was long dead, then who had telephoned Deva that morning?!

Aravindan had barely turned to rush to the Railway Station when the blast brought down a part of its building. The explosive sound stopped his heart for a couple of seconds. In the iris of his eyes the brilliant flame could be seen dancing. He then understood the plot to destroy the evidence and everyone aware of it.

At nearly the same time, a man walking on the platform outside of the burning station spoke calmly into his mobile. ‘Proofs are destroyed. But only one came to the station. I couldn’t take the risk of waiting for the other, but I will find him. And it all happened like a terrorist attack… just as you wanted.’

Wiping the tears and struggling to come out of the nervous breakdown, Aravindan boarded a bus to Thiruvanmiyur. With hands still quivering he tried focussing his mind while moving in the rickety old bus. About fifty people were already dead in Madhya Pradesh, and he realised the people behind it would stoop to any level to shun incrimination. Everyone coming across the evidence ended up either in a cold marsh or in a mysterious suicide.

Or in the like of a terrorist attack.

Next would be him. And then Mythili. By that time he knew it was too late for his friend and himself, but not for Mythili. He didn’t take more than a minute to come to the decision; a decision taken for him.

He lost track of time. And when he climbed down the bus he let his eyes search. On the opposite side of the road, outside the District Registrar Office, Mythili was standing. She was enveloped in a bridal sari and was looking on both sides of the road, obviously expecting Aravindan. He wanted to cross the road and throw his arms around her, but fear got the better of him. He didn’t want anyone to see her by his side. It would simply be putting her life in danger. He knew men are responsible for protecting their lady love from certain people, but in his case, he admitted bitterly, he had to protect Mythili from himself.

There wouldn’t be any more turbulence for the ruling party and all the corrupt people involved in the scam now that the evidence has been destroyed. Weather and politics could never be predicted in India. Life for them would return to normal. But life for him had just taken an irrevocable turn. He would have to lay low for time unknown. He would have to refrain from getting in touch with Mythili… maybe forever. But whatever happens…

I love you, Mythili.’ Aravindan whispered, wiping his tears with the back of his palm.