Friday 28 September 2012

Sumanth goes moonwalking

It was cold and eerie. The sky had a strange grey pall over it. His thickly padded suit protected Sumanth, but his eyes were finding it difficult to adjust to the strange environment.
He stumbled over a moon rock and fell into a small crater. Bouncing out of it onto more solid ground – which was actually an endless carpet of grey dust – all of a sudden Sumanth realized that he was alone. He had lost his way, and there was no landmark that he could recognize. The vast expanse of bleak land pockmarked with craters and rocks, big and small, was silent, ghostly. He thought he could hear a faint hum somewhere, but soon recalled that the rarefied air made it impossible to hear, let alone locate the source or direction of the sound.
Sumanth was panicking now. His children too were lost on the moon!
The barrel on the moon.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
He tried using the speaking tube, but it dangled at a dangerous angle from his helmet and refused to obey his commands. He wanted to call the moon ship and ask his friend to look for Debie and Sambie.
Debie had a sound head on her shoulders, but Sambie was forever launching into exploratory expeditions. He scented mystery where there was none. He would go haring down playgrounds and hotel buildings alike, chasing imaginary beings, his sister hot on his heels trying to keep up with him. Sumanth was sure Sambie had scurried off now as well. The boy just wasn’t born to obey. He regretted bringing the kids along, but it was a birthday promise he had had to keep.
Sumanth had made his wife a party to this silly moonwalking trip, and now the children had wandered off in a different direction. He hoped the two were at least together. If only he could figure out where he stood and how far he was from the moon ship, he might be able to join his wife and his friend. His wife was mapping the area around the landing pad. His friend was manning the controls and was in constant touch with the tour organizers back on earth.
He took out his moonometer and peered into the glass surface. Fine particles had formed a layer which he tried to wipe, but his thick gloves smeared it with more moon dust. It was a frustrating exercise. His anxiety levels were rising, and the pressure valve in his helmet was beeping so loudly that he could hardly think.
He pressed his chest hard to calm himself. That set off an unexpected alarm, a sort of hoot. He had forgotten the embedded device, meant to signal to fellow tourists to converge. He sounded the hoot again, hoping the children would come scampering from over the horizon.
He looked that way. God, no, not over the horizon. That was the dark side of the moon. Sumanth prayed fervently that Sambie had not been foolish enough to lead Debie there. No one had been able to fathom what went on there, for no light worked once you crossed the horizon and all missions to that part so far had failed miserably.
Sumanth rolled down a huge crater, having missed seeing it because he was deeply worried about his kids. A big barrel lay at the bottom. Left behind by some moon tourists, he assumed. Still, he rolled it over lightly and stood back in surprise as it bounced upward to the other edge of the crater. He watched bemused as it started lumbering back in slow motion. Out peeped his son’s head!
“Sambie!” he squeaked in relief.
“Sambie, what are you doing here?” he fumbled with his speaking tube. Clearly his son could not hear him.
The helmet on Sambie’s head was greyed over with moon dust, and it was difficult to make out Sambie’s expression. Where could Debie be hiding? Not in the same barrel, surely? Of course, there she was, her head popping out from the other end of the hollow barrel now.
They seemed to be stuck. Their thick suits must have got entangled somehow, and now the kids were unable to wriggle out, he realized. Giving chase, he bounded down the crater but overshot the barrel by a huge margin.
“Easy,” he told himself. “This is the moon, where gravity is one-sixth of that of earth. So I have to use that much less force.”
But he had underestimated the moon. With Debie and Sambie inside, the barrel hit the bottom of the crater and sped past him back to the huge open space above him. He braked hard, which meant he had to dig his thick moon shoes deep into the dust, and got blinded by it. By the time he cleaned his visor enough for some light to come through, the barrel had sailed over the edge and was out of sight.
Sumanth clambered up gingerly, not wanting to slide back into the big hole. It was not easy to take big strides on the moon’s surface, and this slope made it even tougher. When he gained the edge, he found his two children flailing their arms and trying to exit the rolling monster. He swore he was not taking them for a moonwalk again.
Again he overshot the barrel because he ran too fast and rose too high in the moon air. The dust he had kicked up down there created a spooky cloud in the background, against which his children in the barrel formed a grotesque silhouette. He landed with a soft thump, more dust rose, and a lump formed in his throat. At this rate he would not be able to rescue his children. He stood still, and motioned to them to stop struggling.
Nerves somewhat steadier, he took measured little leaps that brought him close to the barrel. Catching hold of Debie’s moon suit, he tried to pull her out. But the harder he tugged at her, the more she seemed to resist it.
“Papa, Papa!” Sumanth heard her cry.
He tried to pull with all his might, and landed on his back.
He had crashlanded – on the floor of his bedroom.
His children were laughing heartily, having watched him struggle in his sleep to pull a bolster pillow from his wife’s hands.
“Oh, so there you are,” he said as he lay splayed helpless on the rug.
He smiled dreamily to himself. He had extricated them from that awful barrel at last.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

On winning a book

It was not the first time I was receiving a signed book. In school, in college, on birthdays, I have received books as prizes or gifts with my name inscribed on the first page.
Saturday, September 8, though, was different.
The occasion deserves a departure from my blog format, for it was an exciting and unusual achievement for me.
I began serious blogging for a lark (wink!) just a few months back, and never thought it would so soon bring me face to face with an impressive bunch of bloggers, some of them astoundingly prolific, others who post occasionally. Some have been at it for years! I have to thank young Shruti for it, a former colleague who pestered me into joining IndiBlogger. 
When Yashodhara Lal’s very inviting mail on the blogger contest landed in my inbox, I did not think I could make the grade. I copied and stowed it away in a file, only to revisit it two days before the contest closed. And look where it landed me!
At lunch with a mix of enthusiastic bloggers and authors, some less than half my age, and the lovely and hardworking HarperCollins Chief Editor and Publisher Karthika, at Mamagoto in GurgaonJ 
And pray why? I’d for the first time in my life entered a story-telling contest, and for my labours of two hours or less, was rewarded with a copy of Just Married, Please Excuse from the author Yashodhara herself, handed across a tightly packed luncheon table.
By the way, the food was mouth-watering, and my vegan friends need not quail at entering a Thai restaurant either.
Believe me, winning the book this way has made it much more invaluable than if I had bought it off a shelf. I’ve been too busy to read it at one go, but now I am settling down to read the rest of the oh-so-funny JMPE right after posting this!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

The same-name couple

Roop pointed out a story in the day’s newspaper to his wife.
“Navjot (Singh Sidhu) is also married to Navjot,” he winked at her.
He watched the wondrous smile spread across her face. He loved to make it happen, the way she curled one corner of her mouth and gradually let her happiness travel across her lips to the other corner.
That smile was what had attracted him in the first place.
She was reading a book in the Metro and he was hanging on to the overhead bar, buffeted about by the milling crowds. He was about to give it back to a man who had given him a rather nasty shove, but he saw her shake her head as if in exasperation. And that mesmerizing smile began to appear.
“Cheshire cat!” he thought to himself, not entirely in a charitable mood right then. Two stations later, he was still staring at her. He wondered if the wearer of the smile would still be there if he blinked.
He blinked, but she was still there, smiling as she continued to read.
He was lucky it was a Saturday. Office was over for the weekend, and he had to meet a vague acquaintance late in the evening. So he would travel with the Smile, maybe even follow her off the train.
The crowd had thinned out. He hoped he would get to sit next to her, but got a seat opposite her instead. Peering at the book, he realized she was reading PG Wodehouse. That explained her amusement.
“Our tastes match,” he thought happily. Right then she looked up, and caught his intent stare. “What beautiful eyes!” he told himself, forgetting to look away.
An unidentified caller broke the silence. “Roop here,” he spoke into the phone.
The look from across the aisle was murderous. His voice trailed away, and he forgot to carry on the conversation. The Smile was positively livid at something he had said or done. He wondered why she should take such umbrage to him.
On their wedding cards.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Suddenly she was looming over him.
“How dare you?” she hissed at him.
“How dare I what?” he asked, bristling a little.
“How do you utter my name?” she spoke menacingly.
He stood up. 
“Your name? How would I know your name?” he demanded, as agitated.
“Roop. That’s my name,” she whispered fiercely.
“Really? Mine too,” he extended his hand quite involuntarily.
“Shut up. Can’t be,” she said, now a little confused.
“Please sit down. I’ll show you my card,” he pleaded with her.
They made their way to a vacant twin seat.
She looked at his card case. His name was embossed on it.
Her tone had changed. “Roop. I don’t believe this.”   
This was too much of a coincidence. They had the same family name too.
“Hi,” he held out his hand again. She shook it, a little shy. Before they parted that night, they had become good friends. 
They had disembarked near a shopping mall, strolled around, wanting to know everything about each other as if there was no tomorrow.
She was three years his junior, had arrived in the city two years ago and lived with relatives, near the commercial complex housing her office. Today she had come out to shop.
He helped her with the shopping, carrying her bags and stuff, telling her about his home and family. He lived away from them, close to his workplace.
On the way back to the Metro station, they exchanged phone numbers.
They were madly in love already. It took them just weeks to get to the proposal stage, and in three months they were planning marriage.
“Roop weds Roop. This is the biggest joke I’ve heard,” was his mother’s first reaction. His brother joined in, laughing his head off as he repeated the words.
“Roop weds Roop!”
Initially it upset him a lot, but he saw the funny side of it soon enough.
“Tell me, how many such couples do you know?” he challenged his brother.
“None, and I don’t think I will,” his brother replied.
“That’s the best part. Imagine all the confusion arising out of addressing the man, and the wife responding instead. Or the reverse. This gets better and better!” Roop exclaimed.
His father joined in in the mirth, saying he was open to having Roop and Roop in his family. He met the girl and liked her matter-of-fact attitude. The name was of no consequence in such matters, he declared.
The bride-to-be was met with consternation back home. Her granny expressed vehement opposition to the “same-name” marriage.
“It’s the not the names but two people who are getting married,” Roop protested.
 “This is just not done. He must change his name, in that case,” Granny announced.
“No way!” Roop retorted. “And why him? I’ll change my name, if it comes to that.”
“Why should you? It’s your given name. We’ve always called you that,” Granny replied.
“The same goes for him, Granny,” Roop tried to reason with her. “We’re both cool with it, so why does it worry you?”
Roop’s niece was enterprising. She promptly typed in a Google search for same-name couples. “An American name researcher calls it an ‘offbeat attraction’,” she told Granny. “That’s what has bitten Auntie.”
Also, the perspicacious niece pointed out, the families need not be too concerned. Except that there could be confusion with their credit cards or phone calls, there would be faces to the names on their identity cards and passports to distinguish between husband and wife. Moreover, since they would be living by themselves, there would be no daily confusion over who was being called.
Imitating them, she said first, in a feminine voice: “Roop!”  Then, with a masculine ring: “Yes, Roop, darling wife!” Roop should have been there to see the Smile.
Her parents did not want to comment before meeting the “boy”. The name was a bit of a tricky affair, but all else about him was unexceptionable. They also turned out to be distantly related. His family seemed affectionate and their daughter was very much at ease with them. That mattered most.
There were some hilarious times in the run-up to the wedding.
The bridegroom’s mother went shopping clothes for the bride and he got ribbed for days after she displayed a crimson sari and said, “This should look good on Roop.”
The slender bride’s grandfather was startled when he saw a rather large ring bought for Roop. He had a good laugh on being reminded that the bridegroom went by the same name.
Though the invitation cards were clearly inscribed with “Roop weds Roop”, the wedding guests made quite a thing of the unusual pairing of names. The priest who performed the marriage rites too kept tripping over the shared name.
Then there was quite a scene when they went to get their marriage registered. It took a pile of documents and their marriage album to convince the official concerned that all was above board.
Life had since been quite entertaining. They enjoyed puzzling friends and relatives with barely concealed amusement: “Meet Roop, my wife.” “This is Roop, my husband.”
As if to put them at ease, some people obligingly told them of other same-name couples they knew. Once they even shared a coupe in the train with another same-name couple, much older, who regaled them with their own experiences.
Their so-called offbeat attraction had endured well.
They were always scanning names, sharing a laugh when they found “Taylor to wed Taylor” or something like that. She was pregnant now, and they giggled over the prospect of filling up forms with common entries for “Mother’s name” and “Father’s name”.
Roop’s nostalgic trip was cut short
“You haven’t read the paper carefully, I think,” his wife reprimanded him gently after reading the news report. “Unlike us, they don’t have the same family name as well. She’s Navjot Kaur,” she said. “High five, husband!”
As their hands met, her smile broadened into a grin. Roop grinned back at Roop.