Music, Weirdness

Download Blues

Today morning, I was on the bus playing one of my Spotify playlists, and suddenly I had this urge to listen to ‘Masakali’. One of the cool things about Spotify is its extensive library, and sure enough, ‘Masakali’ came up in the search. But not the original version, this was from Mohit Chauhan’s unplugged sessions, and a brilliant live rendition it was. I began playing the complete Unplugged – Mohit Chauhan album, and by the time the acoustic version of ‘Dooba Dooba’ was underway, I thought I should tell people about it. Spotify, like any self-respecting application nowadays, allows you to tweet about what you’re listening to and I did, accompanying it with a handy link. Of course, none of the people in India could access it. And then I had to google for “mohit chauhan unplugged 320” which brought me to a handy download link that I could share. (That’s a hint for you, in case you want to listen to something and torrents are not handy at the moment)

And they wonder why people pirate. Seriously, what does a guy have to do in order to share music? Send Youtube links, sure. And if I can do that, why not anything else? What, in this day and age, explains the stupidity of disallowing applications from working in certain countries? Fuck you, music companies, I am not asking for free music. All I need is a way to painlessly recommend music and listen to music others are recommending without having to jump through hoops. You are not “restricting” anything, you are just adding an extra step to whatever it is I have to do. The logic and economics of this escapes me.

Paying for Spotify has removed the need to (illegally) download – and manage – a huge library of music. I do not need to carry my external HD around. The app really has everything, or close to it. Sure, not all of Rahman, but I am discovering a shitload of new music every day and I don’t need to worry about storage. Or even being on a network all the time, because the handy “offline” feature just downloads the songs to the phone. Something like this was long over-due, because I am still not happy with 99 cent downloads. I do not need to own or store all of the music I have, just be able to listen to it where and when I want.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to another of these questions that do not really matter to anyone but me. You see, I use fairly extensively. Not the radio station, but the site’s excellent mechanism of storing scrobbles. It gives me a neat way to keep a record of what I am listening to and to track this data historically. I therefore get a little anal about tagging tracks properly. [aside: Fucking piracy sites. Every one of these sites have serious ego issues about proving ownership. So the artiste-name becomes “” or whatever the site is, so does the album-name. WHY? Isn’t it enough to just sign the comments section of the ID3 tag, fellas? This means I have to spend time cleaning up the tags before I listen to the songs, because I really do not want to know that I am listening to a track called ‘ – – Hawa Hawa(’.]

With Indian film music, however, we have a problem.

Take any film track. You have the composer, the artiste and the lyricist. Whose name should go onto the <Artiste> field? Sure, I put in the name of the singers, but I lose the information that this is an AR Rahman song I am listening to, unless Rahman is singing the song himself. This also adds a peculiar kind of chaos, where we have no fixed way of noting different artistes in a track. For example:

  • Sukhwindara Singh/Sapna Awasthi – Chaiyya Chaiyya
  • Sukhwindara Singh, Sapna Awasthi – Chaiyya Chaiyya
  • Sukhwindara Singh & Sapna Awasthi – Chaiyya Chaiyya

Which one of the above do you use? Currently, treats all of these as different artistes and not as individual artistes separated by a symbol. Like I said, this screws up the historical scrobble data in a bad way. Not only are every one of these differently worded artiste names treated differently, there’s no correlation between this track and one sung by Sukhwindara Singh by himself, or with some other singer. Sure, I could just replace the singer name with AR Rahman, but what happens if I want to know who the singer is? The only solution I could come up with is to rename the track as – AR Rahman – Chaiyya Chaiyya (feat Sukhwindara Singh & Sapna Awasthi), but that adds to the title of the song, which is pretty stupid once we get into songs involving 4 singers or more. Let’s not even get into the confusion that arises from Indian singers changing names every other year for numerological efficiency. As of right now, I have no idea if Sonu Nigam is called Sonu, Sonuu, Nigam or Nigamm. Or if he has dropped a vowel or two.

You know what we need? Standards, that’s what we need.

Movies, Weirdness

Rockstar as Speculative Fiction

Imagine Hum Aapke Hai Kaun never happened.

For those who came in late, this was the 1994 film that brought a decisive end to the Curse of the Eighties plaguing the Indian film industry. Hum Aapke Hai Kaun brought back family audiences into movie theaters, which had by then become seedy outlets for vapid, formulaic movies. A year later, there was Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, which cemented the resurgence of the family film and convincingly continued the trend. Indian cinema found new life, Bollywood became cool, and two decades later, here we are, where movie theaters are now very posh outlets for vapid, formulaic movies.

In a world without HAHK, this wouldn’t happen. People would not venture out to watch DDLJ, KKHH, K3G and the rest, Bollywood would continue its spiral into bankruptcy thanks to video piracy. Within a few years, film-making in India would have truly entered the Dark Ages. Movie theaters would only show soft porn, catering to the lowest denominator ponying up prices for movie tickets. The only kind of films that would be financed specifically for Indian audiences in such theaters would be soft porn – with titles like, I dunno, Junglee Jawani.

Bombay would fade away. Not economically, no, but the degeneration of its film industry would create a shift in the currents that brought people this city. In that vacuum, it is but logical to assume that India’s political capital would also become its cultural capital, the power center of the next generation of creativity. Delhi is where Indian pop culture would realign itself.

What would flourish? Music, of course. In the absence of Bollywood’s all-encompassing genre-mashups, music – and musical tastes – would evolve. Western classical would find favor in the halls of institutions like St Stephens, where theater students would perform to Bolero-inspired compositions, and Indian classical musicians would find renewed relevance. In addition to attaining wealth and honor that’s their due, classical musicians would also become mentors and star-makers, the equivalent of the A&R divisions of music companies, the ones with the power to decide the Next Big Thing.

What kind of music, you ask? Private albums, with music drawn from various genres and sources. Out-of-work film music composers become ghost arrangers, on the look-out for the next face that can highlight their antiquated compositions and arrangements. Electronic music, no longer surfing on Bollywood’s ear-friendly adoption, would fail to find acceptance on Indian shores.

Oh, and rock and roll. The North-eastern influence in Delhi ensures a vibrant atmosphere in which college festivals feature rock as a major highlight. Indian rock music evolves beyond 80s hair-band tropes, especially after investors from Europe’s new cultural capital, Prague, ensure that quality is given precedence. Audiences all over the world begin to appreciate songs in alien languages, and Indian compositions are no longer just sources of memetic mirth.

Imagine a world like that, a world where Hard Rock Cafes actually plays Hard Rock, where audiences in Indian rock concerts sing along to missing phrases. Where every track and album release is not accompanied by a club mix. Where sexy backup dancers and garish music videos are not necessary to market musicians and their compositions. A world where the posters you see on the street do not have actors or cricketers, but musicians. Where young college-going kids aspire to be Jim Morrison, not Shah Rukh Khan.

It is in this alternate world that the story of Janardan “Jordan” Jakhar is set. It is in this world that ‘Rockstar‘ makes sense.

Life, Weirdness

A Neil Gaiman Evening

You would be surprised at how fast I managed to jump and book tickets when Neil Gaiman tweeted about his upcoming American Gods tour, sometime last month. And the minute I clicked on the ‘confirm payment’ button, the site refused to load. A few moments of panic when I thought everybody in LA was booking tickets at the same time, Indian Railways tatkal style, and hastily opened another browser, ready to buy another set of tickets. But the Paypal email confirming the purchase came in, and I knew I was good.

Too good, in fact. As the date grew closer, tickets were still available – strange for an author whose rock-star status sold out venues weeks ahead of appearances. I tried to get people in office interested, but no one was really interested, and Tuesday evening is not really a good day to go attend a show, I guess. So what happened was that I landed up in front of Saban theatre at 6 PM, for an 8 PM show, expecting to breezily pick up tickets.

Ah. O-o-o-kay.

Apparently it was a Neil Gaiman show after all. Go LA!

So I stood in line, reading Black Lagoon and listening to the ladies behind me talk about what a good time they had at previous appearances, and occasionally looking at the sun setting through the buildings across Wilshire Boulevard. And of course the line kept getting longer and longer behind me, even as I inched closer to the entrance.


And then I was in, carrying both my tickets, after the lady at the counter made me repeat my name thrice and then proceeded to serve other people in the line because she could not find my tickets. Yes, tickets in plural, because I had thought there would be someone I could go with and had booked two $15 tickets instead of one $35 ticket that would have gotten me a signed copy of American Gods as well. But you know what? I have multiple copies of the book back in India, from the first edition hardcover that was procured for 100 Rs at Best Book Stall sometime around 2002, multiple paperback editions, one of the them the preferred-text version, different covers, the whole shebang. None of the above stopped me from regretting the lack of a $35 ticket as I walked in and saw the lovely copies on sale. Signed stuff always get me good, I tell you. I bought myself a signed hardcover of Neverwhere, which I had a tattered copy of, and which I have not read in quite a long time.

As I went in, it struck me that seats numbered AA101 and AA102 could mean one of two things – I am either somewhere at the back, or way near the front. As it turned out, it was the latter. FRONT ROW SEATS, fuck yeah!

And nobody was in yet, of course. Except for two lonely chairs and a few over-excited nerds.

Soon it was 8, and people were still trickling in. Someone came out and announced that while Neil and Patton were backstage and ready, they were still selling tickets and would wait for some more time. C’est la vie. I did not want to waste the extra ticket I had, and randomly asked a lady sitting at the back if she wanted to sit in the front row. As it turns out, she was having a bad day – long drive, husband did not join her because of work, and she had an early morning event to attend the next day. Yup, she was totally up for a seat up front. And she was a children’s librarian, so I was fairly sure Neil Gaiman would approve. We talked about Joe Hill, His Dark Materials, and Lemony Snicket, and the awesome experience of reading Graveyard Book and Jungle Book back to back. She recommended I check out Hunger Games, and I asked her to try the Bartimaeus Trilogy and Chew.

And then Neil Gaiman waved to us from the corner of the stage, which made the fangirls squeal, and Twitter’s servers to momentarily groan from the flush of tweets that emanated from every mobile device in the vicinity.

At this point of time, I should probably remember to tell you that when I left the house that morning, I was running about 4 minutes late. Which meant that in order to catch the bus that left Admiralty and Palawan at exactly 8:07 AM, I would have to walk at the rate of a DJ Yoda album, and not, as was my usual music-to-walk-to-the-bus-stand-of-choice, the Tune Yards. Which also meant that when, about 2 minutes out of the door, when I felt my pocket to check for my phone and realized that it wasn’t there, I silently cursed my stupidity, but made no move to head back to pick it up. Remember this somewhat insignificant detail for later, all right? All right.

So it was time. The hall was nearly full. There were people even on the balcony, as the somewhat surprised Saban theatre remarked, which was not a common occurrence for an author appearance. Patton Oswalt came in, and began to sing Harry Belafonte songs with a Mid-western accent.

Uh, no, not really.

Oswalt was funny. Made fun of his own geek credentials (“This is like asking the world’s biggest Gaiman stalker to play twenty questions”), made fun of everyone in the hall, and then called the Man in Black out. Yeah baby!

What followed was what, in certain circles, would be termed as ‘total paisa vasool’. Questions were asked and answered, there were observations made about what constitutes weird in America. Neil talked about making an appearance in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the venue was a 15 minute walk from the hotel, but the old lady driving his limousine managed to transform the drive into a 45-minute one, because she chose to make up her own directions, and he saw a nuclear submarine in a park. He talked of the time he listened to a critic’s complaint about how Violent Cases was an overpriced book and asked the publishers to lower the price, and no one really noticed the price-cut. He spoke about the origins of American Gods, and how he jump-started a bit of myth himself, by coming up with a Slavic goddess who has, since then, gone on to have her own Wikipedia page and numerous citations. His book apparently had its origins during a sleep-deprived tour of Iceland, where he wondered if the Norse gods travelled to America along with the Vikings. He typed out a one page summary for his publisher with a working title, which in turn became the fully-fleshed out cover image with the exact logo typeset that would become the cover of the book later on. And, on a comment from Patton Oswalt, he proceeded to do an impersonation of Bjork. Let me say that again – Neil Gaiman did an impersonation of Bjork. Heads around the Saban theatre proceeded to explode, your truly included.

Neil Gaiman, in case you did not know already, hypnotizes his audience. His comic timing is immaculate, the humor just dry enough, the punchlines enhanced by the charming British accent. When he read the first short bit from American Gods, about the origins of the Easter and a waitress who has a very vague understanding of the word ‘pagan’, his voice took on the rough tones of Wednesday, and changed to the somewhat clueless waitresses, and you did not even realize it was just one person. Yes, I have never heard any of Gaiman’s audiobooks and narrations, probably because I always knew I had to see him live. And I was completely, utterly blown away. The actual reading became a very entertaining cast version of the Bilquis sequence in Gods, a portion that involves sex, prayer and …umm….stuff that should not really happen during sex, unless you’re having sex with a goddess. I have a video. Neil, who played the narrator, was flawless. Zelda Williams, the lady who played Bilquis, cracked up multiple times and I do not blame her. Patton Oswalt takes his reading very seriously. The photograph you see is shaking because I was laughing just as hard as everyone else.

Then there were a bunch of audience questions that Patton Oswalt asked Gaiman on their behalf (questions had to be mailed in prior to the event). I had sent in a question about the nature of franchises in today’s popular culture, the need for prequels, sequels and spinoffs and about an author’s role in determining when a story should be a standalone thing and when it needs to be fleshed out even more. The reason behind my question was to find out if the TV series deal (Playtone is producing a six season TV series on American Gods ) made Gaiman want to write the planned sequel, or whether it was always meant to be. My question wasn’t asked, but a lot of good ones were, and Gaiman shared a lot of coming-soon news – like his collaboration with Stephen Merritt of Magnetic Fields, his upcoming children’s book about a panda who sneezes, called Chu’s Day (the name itself makes me smile), his attempt to interpret Journey to The West, the Chinese epic, which seems to have become a movie script, and lots, lots of other things. There is a very detailed transcript of the question and answer session right here, if you are interested.

And so, the evening came to an end, and everyone went home, except for the lucky few who got to go backstage and hang around with Neil. I wasn’t one of them. My primary concern was to catch bus # 105 to Fairfax and Apple, and from there, grab the connecting bus to Washington and Palawan, and reach home as soon as possible.

Except, it was 10:45, and when I reached the Fairfax and Apple, it was 11:15. The last bus to Washington had already left, at 11.

That was when my unfortunate decision to not pick up my phone in the morning came back to bite me where it hurt. I did not have anyone’s number, not even the regular cab company that I normally call in those unforeseen situations where I’m short of time and there’s no bus in sight. So I began walking. Thankfully, there was a gas station nearby, and when I asked the salesman there if he could call a cab, he agreed. “Ten minutes”, he said, and I bought a Coke can from him out of gratitude, and waited for my ride home.

It came. It was not a cab. It was an old lady in an SUV, who said – “you hoppa in. Where you wanna go?” and I asked her, like every money-loving Indian boy should, if she had a meter. “No problem-a. I go by the mileage. You pay 1.75 per mile, just like cab.” Well, who was I to complain? I hoppa-ed in, and the lady proceeded to drive me home, at a steady speed of 25 miles an hour. Turns out she was the salesman’s mother (I would have never guessed!) and she had just bought the car, and really liked driving it. Her husband had wanted to come drive me home, but she insisted on doing it herself.

It was, you will agree, a very appropriate end to the evening.

Books, Life, Weirdness

Book Fair Adventures Part 2

It amuses me to think of how many, and how very strange memories I have of the Guwahati Book Fair.

This happened when I was in the ninth standard. It was the last two days of that year’s fair, and a bunch of us friends decided to meet up in the afternoon, go to a resort and do some go-karting, head to a pub, get smashed and find ourselves a bunch of girls to hang out with. Well no, it was fucking 1994 and there was no go-karting in fucking Guwahati, and definitely no pubs. My city was the kind of place where, if you went to one of those dimly lit bar-cum-restaurants and ordered a drink (if you drank, that is. I didn’t.), chances were the manager would come to you and ask if you were so-and-so’s son, and  it would turn out that you were distant relatives and oh dear god you were going to be in so much trouble when you went back home. The only time we would hang around with girls was in school, where if anyone got too interested in a girl she would come and tie a rakhi on the guy. So yeah, what we planned to do  was to meet at the Book Fair, and go buy books and head home at 7:00, which is when most of Guwahati fell asleep.

What happened that fine day was something else altogether. Post-noon, I had that pleasurable flutterby feeling in my tummy that heralded the arrival of fine bibliographic pleasures on the horizon, and I distinctly remember playing ‘Koncham Nilavu’ very loud while getting ready to go. (For a very long time, ‘Koncham Nilavu’ was my default let’s-do-this-shit-yo song of choice) I headed out just at about 3 ( we were supposed to meet at 4), the perfect time to adjust for a bus delay. As I walked out the gate, there was a dog sleeping nearby – not an uncommon sight by any means, and my motto in life at that time being ‘Canis Dormiens Nunquam Tittilandus’, I sidestepped the noble animal and proceeded to my destination.

The bitch jumped up and bit me on the thigh! It wasn’t one of those Stephen King Presents Cujo-level bites with a lot of gore and ripping sounds of muscle and tissue, neither was it a playful Disney Dalmatian-level nip – the bite was just enough to make me holler. My shout made the dog let go of my thigh and growl loudly, and I did the most logical thing possible – I kicked it twice and ran back inside the house. Not forgetting to lock the gate.

I admit to being very panicky, and hoping that there was no blood. Ran to the bathroom, switched on the light, took my jeans off (remembering to thank my lucky stars I had worn jeans and not a normal pair of trousers). Nope, a little scratched skin, but no trace of blood. My Junior Red Cross training kicked into gear (most people thought the JRC was nothing much beyond singing campfire songs, ogling at girls from other schools and designing blood donation posters. I disagree) and I washed the wound thoroughly with detergent and lots of water to make sure no trace of the dog’s saliva remained. By then, my panic levels had lowered themselves to sustainable levels, and I was beginning to worry about the fact that I had lost about  fifteen minutes and I should head to the Book Fair as soon as possible. And that’s precisely what I did, remembering to take a stone along just in case the dog was around.

And I wore the same pair of jeans, of course.

By the time I got to the fair, the fear had been replaced by boisterousness . You will have to admit there is an inherent coolness to replying – “Nothing much, got bitten by a dog”, when someone asks you what’s up. My friends snickered a little, one of them was a little worried, and talked about an uncle who had been bitten by a dog and ran around the house on all fours after a year, because he did not get any shots. You needed to take shots, each aimed at a precise point around your navel, or else you would be barking mad, quite literally, in a year. “Nah, not going to happen to me”, I said. “I cleaned it thoroughly, and there was no blood.” I came back home, very pleased with myself, at about 7:30. There were a bunch of people in the living room. They looked worried. Apparently there was a rabid dog in the neighborhood that had bitten some people, and they had managed to kill it. One of the kids that were bitten was in hospital. I figured it was high time I speak up about my adventure.

It was a long night. Lots of injections ( none around the tummy, thankfully), lots of weeping ( my mom), lots of murmurs about irresponsible teenagers who do not know about their priorities, and fuck, no meat for a year. Thanks to that stupid dog, I had to change my diet, I had to remember specific dates every month to go and get more injections, go visit some temples with my parents who were convinced that there was an evil spirit at work mucking about with my karma-lines, and miss a kick-ass school picnic. And to this day, everytime I see a sleeping stray dog, I mentally prepare myself to be ready to kick and run if the beast shows the slightest intention of lunging at me.

But I bought some great books that day, so it all worked out in the end.

Myself, Weirdness

An Embarrassing Incident That I Need To Get Off My Chest

Ol’ pal Baruk left a comment on the blog the other day about an incident that I’d mentally filed away under “mortifyingly embarrassing childhood incidents that one should never bring up again”. But to my surprise, I can now think and write about it without cringing or  feeling embarrassed enough to make a face. (And that happens to me too often, I must say. I think of something that I did wrong, and I make a face. People notice.)

This incident occcured when I was in the seventh standard. Or as we used to call it back in those days, Class VII. Ms Deepali was our class teacher, and actively involved in extra-curricular activities. Baruk was a year senior to me, and the resident debate/speech/music god. We would team up for a quiz every now and then – I sucked at debates (still do), and the last time I participated in one while in school, I got so tongue-tied that I argued against my own team. But extempore speeches, the ones where you had to pick up random chits of paper on which teachers would write words like “cricket bat”, or “the President of India” – I could at least blather for a minute or two and try and be funny, and say things so blatantly obvious it made everyone laugh. It was okay. I even won a prize or two.

It’s been quite sometime, you have to understand, and the details are a little hazy. I do not remember whether it was I who saw the ad in the newspaper and went to Baruk, or if it was he who approached me, but I do remember both of us walking to the Teachers’ common room to speak to Ms. Deepali. There was an extempore speech contest, we explained to her, but it was during school hours, at 1 PM, and in order to be there, we would have to skip classes after lunch-time. Would it be ok if she spoke to the Principal and got us permission? We were convincing enough, apparently – permission letters were signed, the watchman at the school gates was told to let us out without any fuss, and we were off. Grinning from ear to ear, because the extempore speech was going to be held at the Book Fair.

Now, Guwahati in the 1990s was not a great place to buy books. It still isn’t. But there was one annual event everyone looked forward to, and that was the Guwahati Book Fair, organized every December at the centrally-located Judge’s Field. The timing was perfect – school would be over for the year, and the Fair was a perfect place to meet your friends in the evening, hang around eating panipuri and chaat, and of course, hunt for and buy books for which you would have saved money all year. Hell, my parents had an annual book fair budget set aside just for me, and every purchase during the year would be weighed carefully – do I buy something now, at full price, or wait for the 10% discount in December? As final exams would get over, I would literally count down the days to December 26th, and the first day of the fair would have my parents dropping me off at the gates at 11 AM in the morning, just after the inauguration, and not worry about me until 7 PM, when it would close.

But that year (it was 1992) some people had a bright idea. “Why don’t we organize another book fair?”, they figured. “And let us make sure we make it so that it starts smack in the middle of the school season, in September.” The result was an event called the North-East Book Fair. It should have sucked, but it did not. The first time I went to the North-East Book Fair, it was a Sunday, and I nearly blew my yearly book budget buying out copies of Mad magazines. A bookseller from Delhi brought piles of comics that he refused to open the first day, despite my nearly-awash-with-tears eyes. “Come back tomorrow”, he said. “But…but…tomorrow is school-day.” “Well, come in the evening then”, he retorted. I gave up trying to explain that by the time the school bus got me home, it was almost 5 PM, and to come back to Judge’s Field when the fair closed at 7 was just not worth it, there would hardly be an hour of browse-time. Fail.

But the other bright idea that the organizers had, as part of the publicity drive for the fair, was to set up events every day of the week. There was a quiz competition – open only to college students, feh.  An art competition on Tuesday, for kinder-garteners. For school-kids my age, an extempore competition on Wednesday. The extempore competition to which Baruk and I were now enroute, having successfully convinced the concerned authorities that we would come back with shiny prizes and certificates.

When we reached the Book fair – and the school participation letter ensured that we didn’t have to pay for tickets, which meant another 10 rs saved for more worthy causes, hah! – there was already a shitload of like-minded, stage-happy students waiting to extemporize the shit out of everyone at the venue. Baruk and I sat for a while, and by the time the third or fourth speaker came on stage, we had had enough. We headed to the bookstalls, I happily attacked the pile of comics and discovered that it contained four volumes of Eastman and Laird’sTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Yes, Ganja, this is the secret origin of how I got ahold of those books. You may stop reading now.) Baruk had his own agenda, and I believe he had a satisfying jaunt around the fair as well. The next thing we know, it was 2 o’clock, and the extempore competition was over. Our bags were still back at the school, so we had to go back. The only part we had to be clear on was – what do we tell the teachers?

Baruk suggested that we say that the Extempore speech was cancelled (or did he suggest that it was postponed to the next day? I don’t remember, honestly). I was not convinced – “why don’t we just say we participated and did not win anything?” We boarded a bus, discussing the merits of both the approaches, but neither of us was convinced. Somehow ( somehow?)  both of us got distracted by what we had bought that day, and when we landed at school, we were still undecided. I reached my classroom, and gulp, it was Ms Deepali’s class. “How was it, Soityojit?”, she asked. (I swear – every class-teacher I have had in school pronounced my name a different way. The way Ms Deepali said ‘Soityojit’ was a particularly English-accented Assamese that set my tummy aflutter everytime I heard her say it. That day it set my tummy aflutter for different reasons altogether.) I launched into a confident story about how the competition was really tough, and I had gotten “Crow” as a topic and had managed to say this and that. “What did Baruk talk about?”, she asked. Some corner of my brain said “Cheetah”, and I said “Cheetah – oh, you should have heard him, he was brilliant.” She listened with interest, a little disappointed that neither of us had won. I was about to go back to my seat when –

Baruk walks into the classroom, holding a note from his class teacher. Ms Deepali smiled at him, and asked – “So, how did it go, Baruk? Cheetah, was it?” Baruk blinked once, twice – and this, I remember perfectly, because my heart was in my mouth and I was frozen to the floor – he said “No ma’am, the speech competition was cancelled, and we just went around the bookshops, bought some stuff and came back.” Ms Deepali looked at me, and looked at him, and looked at me again. “What was that about the crow and the cheetah?” “Well, actually, they gave us the topics, and then they cancelled it because there were some problems.” “Is that right, Soityojit?” By this time, Baruk had realized that I had goofed up, and pretty badly at that, and after throwing a couple of dirty looks my way, he played along. Ms Deepali ahem-ed and nodded, with a half-smile on her face. Baruk left, glaring at me once again from the door. And then it was just me, staring at Ms Deepali and trying hard not to feel my ears to see if they were really burning. She stared back at me, smiling a little more, in that semi-dangerous teacherly way that could either mean I know what you did, and you better watch your back or you poor thing, you look so cute when you lie.

“Go back to your seat, Soityojit,” she said. I did.