Quizzing, Weirdness


In a different time and place, this would be a quiz question. For now, this is a story.

Cesare was among the richest of the land, of his time. And he was a good man, from what little we know of him. Unfortunately, the politics of his time did not allow for much leeway towards a man like Cesare. The principal monarch of the province where he lived was the son of the religious head of the time. Together, father and son had pillaged the nation. They pursued a series of wars that, in name, sought to unite the country but was a convenient means to bulldoze all opposition, real and imaginary, to their vainglorious ambitions. And now, with peace dawning on the horizon, the state’s coffers lay empty. Plans were made to replenish the treasury – not in an orderly and legal manner, but much like their wartime maneuvers, through treachery and death. A scheme that would not only repay the money lost, but reap dividends by adding to their personal wealth.

Cesare sighed to himself when he unfurled the invitation and read through it. He and another nobleman named Roderigo found their stature elevated, they were declared seconds-in-command to the Head of the Church. It was an honor that would have flattered other men in his position. Cesare, on the other hand, read between the lines. The fine print that spoke of relinquishing all personal belongings to the state in return for this new post. The fact that the only two people who were entrusted with this responsibility also happened to be the wealthiest men in the land.

It was the final clause of the invitation that made him squeeze the grip of his armchair to keep from fainting outright. It stated the date and time of a personal dinner with the king and his father. He knew that modus operandi and the inevitable fate that awaited him. Other men would have attempted flight or worked on a plan of retaliation. But Cesare chose to be an optimist – he knew of others being asked to attend similar dinners, where the invitation included every single member of the doomed guest’s extended family, by name. Here, the only casualty was his own self, and probably his fortune. Any sign of desperation, any clue that he had seen through the monarch’s ruse would endanger his family even more. He had but a few days  to settle his affairs, and he began to do so in earnest – by writing a his will . A trusted nephew was to be his beneficiary and the sole keeper of  the vast reserves of the family wealth.

On the appointed day of the dinner, Cesare reached the monarch’s palace and made his way to the vineyard. The first person who caught his eye was his nephew, sitting next to the king. The king gave him a meaningful glance – clearly, this was one last jibe at him, showing him how all eventualities had been considered by these fine statesmen. The bottle of wine from which the king poured glass after glass to Cesare’s nephew was now proffered to him. He mutely accepted, resigning himself to his fate. It took one hour for the poison to kill the two of them, uncle and nephew. Cesare breathed his last at the vineyard, still dining with the king. The nephew begged to be excused so that he could see his wife one last time. He died at the doorstep of his own house, his wish unfulfilled.

The king swooped in after the funeral, claiming the dead nobleman’s inheritance for the treasury. But what was this? Except for the mansion where he lived and the contents within, his wealth was nowhere to be found. His will had a few lines in which he bequeathed his library and his collection of books, specifically his favorite prayer book, to his nephew. Despite the ransacking and assiduous searches that followed, there was no sign of the family fortune. Finally, they gave up their hunt – the landed property in that provincial town was hardly worth the effort, and were left to the nobleman’s family. Some of the other heirs tried looking for the money, but that proved futile as well.

Time passed. The king’s father died, poisoned by a political enemy. The king was driven away from the country, history does not even record the cause, place or time of his eventual death. Cesare’s family continued living in a state of moderate comfort, and as generations passed, the story of the missing inheritance became a topic of dinner-time chatter. His descendants became soldiers, diplomats, bankers and men of the Church. The library, the prayer book included, stayed within the family as a source of much curiosity. Sometimes, an adventurous scholar would try looking for clues among the books, others would laugh at their mad quest.

This is where my story ends.

I did not make this up. This really happened, but it is a story that not many people know, because it gets overshadowed by another tale, one involving a young man from a different country. By a strange turn of events, this young man was to become the sole benefactor of this sordid political maneuver.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to complete my story. Connect the dots, if you will.

Books, Weirdness

The End is Nigh

This really happened. With minor variations.

*  *

“I heard you were leaving the hermitage, Bahu.”

“Yes, I am, Anant. I will miss you, and you too, Ugra, and all our friends, but I have had it. I cannot take our teacher’s stupidity anymore.”

“Bahu, that is harsh! Our teacher’s methods are strange, but he means well, you know it.”

“He means well? Is that why you are making excuses for him, Ugra? Instead of teaching us the sacred verses just as his teacher taught him, and his teacher’s teacher taught him, he wants to try out these barbaric methods on us. Writing? Are we stupid that we cannot remember what we recite in the mornings? Did my father scribble symbols on barks of trees instead of committing all the sacred verses to memory? I do not like being taken for a fool, Ugra, and I would rather leave this school and join another, instead of submitting to this madness.”

“Bahu, our teacher has valid points. The merchants that travel here beyond the seas, they write everything on stone tablets. Their knowledge is timeless, it cannot be changed by forgetting a word here and there. And besides, think of the time it would save if we could just read and refer to what we had written the day before, or last week, or a year ago, instead of trying to remember every single thing we have learnt over the years.”

“That is the way it always has been, Anant. All these foreign traditions, we accept them blindly without understanding the long-term effects. I, for one, do not want my children to recall Vedas by reading them. They should know the sacred chants by heart, Anant, just as we do. Besides, these pieces of bark, they stink of sap and dampness. How can you even bear to be near them? They make my skin crawl.”

* * *

“Have you seen this monstrosity, Simplicio?”

“Ah yes, the German and his madness. I cannot believe the Holy Father allowed such a thing to exist.”

“Look at the thing. Look at it. So disposable. So…so common. Vulgar beyond belief. Can you imagine someone wanting to possess something like this? Put something like this up for display, in their homes? I would rather spit on something like this than want to own it.”

“Sagredo, have you seen the codexes in the Malatestiana? Such perfect little wonders. How can something produced this way recapture the beauty of a hand-written parchment?”

“And the smell, Simplicio. Smell it. This reeks of machinery. No aesthetics, no personality.”

“I hear it’s become fashionable to own them nowadays. Last I heard, Salviati was thinking of getting one too. Ho, Salviati, there you are! Come here, will you?”

“Simplicio, Sagredo, what up, bitches? Oh. OH. Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes, my uncle got one yesterday, I took it from him just to see what the fuss was all about. As far as I can see, it’s hardly the wonder it’s made out to be. I hear you’re getting one too?”

“I am. Oh yes, I am. I pick mine up in a few days. Thirty florins well spent. Quite the demand right now, especially among the nobility, but I know someone who knows someone. And a copy’s been reserved for me. ”

“A tedious fad, Salviati. You will soon realize that you threw your money away, money you could have spent on a real book.”

“No, you don’t get it, you guys, this is the future. Not your tedious parchments. This will bring knowledge to the masses, mark my words. This changes everything.”

“Sure, sure. Well, you and the teeming masses can keep your Gutenberg Bibles, Salviati. We’re off to the Malatestiana, and then to the Abbey. That is how books are meant to be read, in the company of like-minded people. People who know how to reproduce books, who understand the toil involved in creating a copy that captures their personality. Books are meant to be special, Salviati, not mass-produced like clothes..or…or furniture.  But it’s tiresome having to explain it to you print-enthusiasts and your ‘democratization of knowledge’ spiel. Mark my words, print will never catch on.”

* * *

Dear e-reader/iPad/Kindle-haters,

“Real books smell so good” is not an argument.



TV Shows, Weirdness

The Sherlock Problem

So I’ve been watching Sherlock. Have you been watching Sherlock? You should. Season 2 Episode 2 just aired yesterday, and I saw it about 5 hours after the telecast time. Making this the first TV series EVER, since BR Chopra’s Mahabharat aired on Indian National Television way back in 1987-89, that I’ve watched the same day it first came on TV. The Hounds of Baskerville was fun, though not as much as episode 1. There, I said it – even a great TV series like this one has its off moments, and this episode was it. The structure and the plot was too glaringly obvious for my taste, and besides, the whole set-up felt a little too X-Filesey for my taste. Though there are a bunch of snappy moments between Holmes and Watson that iron the disappointment away.

On a side-note, I feel glad about having read the Sherlock Holmes stories early on in life. An attempted rereading of A Scandal In Bohemia last week ended up being a little disappointing. I have a bad feeling that if I start rereading the Conan Doyle stories, I may not enjoy them as much.

Now here’s something that sort of stuck in my head, with all these reboots and remakes being churned out nowadays, especially the ones where the lead characters and the main story-line are re-imagined as contemporary characters. There’s an obvious problem with these reboots, one that I had not thought about until watching Sherlock. Or specifically, one scene in episode 1 of the first season, where John Watson searches online to find out more about his prospective flatmate. The results show us that within the world of Sherlock, Arthur Conan Doyle never existed. Or even if he did, he never met Dr Joseph Bell. Well, maybe the two did meet, but Conan Doyle definitely did not write the Holmes stories. Which also means that there were no adaptations of those non-existent Sherlock Holmes stories. No Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett. No Jamyang Norbu or Laurie King or Detective Comics #572. None of these are particularly earth-shaking changes. But one specific thing worries me quite a bit – Google does not exist in this world. How on earth the absence of Conan Doyle’s Holmes is related to the non-invention of the world’s biggest search engine is something that needs careful, logical train of thought, something that astute people around me will know I am not capable of.

Quest Search, the fictional search engine inside the Sherlock TV series

But if you extrapolate this further, every fictional world has the same problem – which real-world people and items can exist inside a given work of fiction without upsetting the central conceit of that world?

Homework: Can anyone think of a movie with a sequel that contains the former as a movie inside itself, watched by a character in the latter? (I can)

Also, can you think of a reboot/remake that explicitly refers to the events of the original movie? (I can’t)

Also related: Rockstar as Speculative Fiction. Because I think of shit like this all the time.


A Quick Guide to Laughing Online

Caps are relevant.


  • heh: “I approve. This is sort of funny.”
  • hi: NaL (Not A Laugh).
  • hee: You’re trying to show that you’re gleeful. You’re trying, and that’s appreciated.
  • ha: Ok, we’re both interesting enough to sustain a conversation interspersed with dry humor.
  • :)  works, but could also be a stop-gap “I am not sure what to say” or “I hope you realize this is not really funny for me, but I can still pretend like it is.”
  • :) :) :) (or an unspecified number of smilies) You made me feel really happy.
  • :-D is a little warmer. No, Skype-users, regardless of what you say, this still means a grin, and not a laugh.

Medium-end: (Huh? That does not even make sense!)

  • hihi: Almost NaL. Requires context to be interpreted thus. Possible to misunderstand as you saying hello too effusively. Don’t use, please.
  • heehee: Perfectly valid, somewhat-naughty giggle. Bonus if you’re smoking hot and/or cute.
  • eh heh heh: On the creepy side. but if we’ve been naked together or if there is a possibility of us getting naked together, this would count as foreplay. Also, if this is a legitimate League of Extraordinary Gentlemen reference, I love you already.
  • har har: Sarcastic. Also says you grew up in the eighties, just like me. But it’s been 22 years already.
  • snicker: You’re making fun of me. For real, right? This is most disconcerting.
  • ho ho ho: So’s your momma.
  • :))  Convincingly funny.
  • :-D :-D :-D :-D or :D :D :D :D  You’re showing borderline reactions. I don’t know if you find this really funny or sort of funny.


  • haha: Definitely ironic. Too calculated to sound like you find this humorous.
  • HAHA: “Funny, but I do not have time for this.”
  • hahahahaha: “Funny. Will probably react with a witticism/link/youtube video of my own within the next few minutes.”
  • HAHAHAHAHAA: “Ok, I would find this extremely funny if I was not busy and would probably respond with a witticism/link/youtube video of my own, but I am a little pressed for time and this is the most I can respond with. Also note the typo at the end, which shows you how busy I am.”
  • ahahahah/AHAHAHAH: Same as above, but post-modern.
  • Hah hah hah: Totally creepy. In my mind, this is a transcription of heavy-breathing-over-phone.
  • muhuhaha/muhahaha: We just shared an evil scientist/dead baby/ joke. We’re cool.
  • bwahaha: Slightly more sophisticated version of the above, and I will assume you’ve read Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire’s run on JLA.
  • mwahaha: Fuck you and your portmanteau words. Who do you think you are, Lewis Carroll?
  • muahaha: This makes me feel like you’re kissing and laughing at the same time. Please stop.
  • lol/LOL: Oh ok, you’re lazy. If I like you, I will just mentally replace this with “hahahaha”. If I don’t, I will totally judge you.
  • ROFL: I know you’re not really R-ing on the F, but it’s nice mental imagery if you’re smoking hot/cute, in which case I would probably be thinking of R-ing on the F with you too. If you’re not, whatever.
  • :))))))))): You’re trying too hard to show that you are amused. That is not a good sign.

Someone approves.

Myself, Weirdness

The Sucky Post

The vacuum cleaner at home went kaput around Christmas. For an interminable amount of time, the room-mate and I dilly-dallied about fixing it – do we spend 200-odd dollars fixing a five-year old appliance or buy a new one? And simply buying a new one wouldn’t do, it had to be a good one. Something that made us want to clean up. Well, it didn’t have to, but we talked about it all the same.

On Tuesday, ‘Drea the Awesome informed me that fixing the old one was out of the question. It was too old, the repairman said, and it couldn’t suck any harder. I know that last line sounded ridiculous, deal with it. I agreed that I should be the one to buy the vacuum cleaner, it was only fair because 80% of the items in the house belonged to her anyway. On Wednesday, ‘Drea pinged me again. “I have the perfect model”, she said. All the reviews on Amazon seemed to agree with her choice, but $500 for a vacuum cleaner? If it were possible to slowly back out towards the exit when you are in a GTalk conversation, I would have done that.  My Indian self decided to opt for Civil Disobedience instead – let’s just not bring up the topic again, I thought, until the house got really really dirty, and then maybe we would buy a cheap-ass vacuum cleaner and be done with it.

But I read some more of the reviews. And the world re-aligned itself in my head, slowly.

It helped that on Thursday, ‘Drea pinged again. “20% discount coupon at Best Buy”, she said. Say the word ‘discount’ to an Indian guy, and things become much, much clearer. “Fine”, I said. “Let’s do it.” On Friday, we realized that there was an even better deal to be had at Costco. All self-doubt vanished. I actually began to look forward to Saturday, just so that we could buy the damn thing. And we did. And came back home and finally took down the Christmas tree, and unleashed the new Dyson DC25 in my room. My heart sang along with the vroom of the motor, and I moonwalked as dust rattled into the canister, swooshing in from awkward recesses and stubborn little corners. And it even worked on wooden floors! ‘Drea and I took turns cleaning the living room, where pine needles and cat fur jostled against each other, and where, under normal circumstances, one would need herculean levels of self-control to not fling the previous vacuum cleaner against the wall. It felt…empowering. Suckadelic.

Or maybe it’s just my brain trying to calm myself down after this act of financial cold-bloodedness.

By next Wednesday, 50% of the items in the house will belong to me. That’s because 134 cubic feet of books and comics (weight: 1100 kgs) land at my doorstep. And with that, my books officially have had more adventures than me. Most of them were bought in the US, and have traveled from here to India, and now they’re back in the USA again. I occasionally freak out at the thought, because 134 cubic feet feels like a lot of space in a two-bedroom apartment, but deep, calming breaths are being taken. I will be fine. Everything will be fine. Right?