Saturday, January 17, 2009

The hunt for Igor


It was Sunday and I was plotting World Domination Plan 27.8i.

‘Igor!’ I yelled ‘Pull the switch!’

The twit made his miserable entrance.

‘Igor!’ I yelled again, ‘Pull the switch!’

He shuffled to the contraption and flicked it with his finger, mumbling beneath his breath about overtime. Nothing. The idiot must have got it wrong again.  He shrugged and loosened the buttons on his grey suit, folded his arms behind his head, swung his legs on to the table and started reading the classifieds. I need to get a new assistant. They just don’t make them like they used to anymore.

I called the Ministry of Manpower last week and asked for an Igor, the good ol fashioned type. Gimme a hunch-backed, lisping, retarded shuffling idiot, I barked. MoM said I can’t have any more until I eat my beans. Plus, I have a careless habit of blowing up Igors, which means no one wants to work for me... except for the bunch of ex-Lehman Brothers layoffs.

I turned to the suited twit. He was working out a complex analytics program to evaluate his chances of getting a job as the Fries-girl at McDonalds.

I walked to the contraption myself and flicked the switch. Nothing. I miss Igor.

Before I lost him, the Igor I inherited was the best Igor I ever had. He came from a long line of Igors, majored in the Art of Lisping with subtle undertones of a cultured French accented cough, and had the most gloriously grotesque hunchback any mad scientist could hope for.

It happened last year. The cadavers were lying on the table, the bottle of newt was newly refilled and labelled, my clinical tools and protractor polished to a sparkle and the Chinese torture dentist chair dusted with fine corrosive rust. Even the pink striped curtains were washed and hung, gently fluttering in the putrid city air. And the lab was empty. No note, no explanations, nothing.

I agonized for days over what I did wrong. I treated him like my own flesh and blood, choking back on tears of warm pride as I kicked him viciously in the stomach for every muddling mistake he made. Laughed at him with parental affection every time he tripped on my outstretched foot and chipped another tooth. I even went out of my way to drop hammers and nails and the occasional anvil on his head while he slept. The sense of betrayal is numbing.

The phone rang.

‘Igor! Pick up the phone’

The dolt put down the Sudoku he was working on and lifted the receiver with a sigh. He stretched it out, a look of mind-numbing boredom crossing the delicate features of his face.

‘It’s for you.’ He droned monotonously. I snatched the receiver from him. It was Mansi.

‘Mansi, you miserable fat cow, I wish you choke on your own vomit and die.’

 ‘Sharaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, i was thinking maybe you should wear your purple jacket tonight to the art gallery. I’m going to be wearing my dark pink dress, you know the one with the black lace short jacket? I think it’ll look really nice to go in matching clothes. Like, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher do it all the time.’

I told that loser to stop calling me Sharad. My name is TzarRah’d.

‘Listen you stupid waste of sputum, you’re not my girlfriend, how many times do I need to keep telling you that? I’m not going with you to your stupid parties!’

‘Janani’s wearing a green skirt and her boyfriend is wearing green striped socks. I know cause she told usha told shruti told archana’s boyfriend told his sister told the maid told my neighbor told me.’

‘Eat shit and die.’

‘Ok, so like, UCB is having this sale, and you can pick me up in half hour. Bye.’

She hung up.

Mansi is a moron I had the misfortune to take out on a blind date. We watched Evil Dead 4 and then had dinner at the Bloody Vomit. It’s this new place on Rayanan Road, where every dish looks like puke, piss or shit. I hear it’s really popular.  

I only went out with her cause I needed 1800ml of fatty cells to fuel up my death ray for Evil Invasion Plan 98.4. But then my last Igor was manic-depressive and used it on himself, and destroyed the ray in the process. I should’ve guessed something was up when he kept leaving yellow sticky notes all over the lab saying, ‘the end is nigh.’ He sulked for three days when I told him we were out of milk.

Anyway, I don’t need Mansi’s mammaries anymore. The idiot never got it when I said I’d call her back after the first date and I didn’t. I even changed my caller tune to ‘I hate you, you stupid bitch, stop calling me.’ But she didn’t get the hint. I think what we have here is a failure to communicate.

‘Igor’ I said. ‘Adjust the electrodes to 37degrees and isolate the isotopes. I’ll be back.’

The suited monkey grunted what sounded like an affirmation. I put on my shiny new labcoat and set out.

‘Saar, because of yinflashun auto rates from here to Aiyoyo Nagar is pipty rupees.’

‘What the f#$%@!’

Auto drivers are the bane of human existence. I had once used them in world domination plan number 17.69 but then they all went and formed a union and started a tea stall and sat outside it all day reading Malayalam Manorama and discussed world politics.  

‘The inflation is under control. 20 rupees.’

‘Bredher, because of yackanaamic depreshun I have to charge pipty wonly.’

‘It’s a recession, not depression. And you’re not affected by it.’

‘Mistaar, because of petrol price...’

‘..which have gone down, I will pay you 15 rupees.’

‘Thambi, lorry strike is happening...’

’30 rupees! Just shut up and drive!’

I reached Mansi’s house in a foul mood. Her maid gave me tea and milk bikis while I sat in the living room and waited. Mansi doesn’t keep Igors. She recently got a Rhoomba and sent the old one over to my place. It came in, woke me up every morning in a suffocating cloud of agarbati fumes at 4am, threw out all my labelled bottles of animal parts, mixed my super-cooled semiconducting liquid dust into her chappati mav and finally died from consuming radioactive rasam. After that, I stopped hiring Rhoombas manufactured in Mylapore.

‘Sharad!’ her mother shrilled at the pitch of her voice.

Mansi inherited her god-given assets from one half of her parental units. I could hear the groan of her over-worked bra hooks as she bounced up and sat next to me on the sofa.

‘Are you and Mansi going shopping?’ she squeaked, ‘Will you please puhleeze be a darling and get me a small tub of this Body Butter? They have this one flavour see, it’s a Lavender box with...’

I never understood why women went and did things like rub cocoa butter on their bodies. I thought it was something you ate. But then they also squash papayas on their face, take chocolate wraps, put cucumbers on their eyelids, pump their lips with strawberry infused lip gel and then turn up at a steak-house and order a salad. Mansi’s mother was still talking. All those cocoa butter fumes wafting up from her cleavage was making my head spin.

‘Mother!’

The cow was wearing a ghastly thing in purple fur that looked like it was it was trying to choke her.

‘Sharraaaaaad, you’re late’, she sang annoyingly in her annoying singsong voice, ‘and you’re not wearing the right coat. Now we’ll have to go all the way back to your place and find you something nicer to wear!’

‘Go boil your head in lizard piss.’

Motherrrrrrrrr, Sharad and I are taking the driver, bye!’

I sulked all the way back to the lab. I bet that useless waste of an Igor hadn’t done anything all day. The door to the lab was open. Some street urchins were playing with the Van de graff generator. They were standing upon the insulator, fully charged with their clothes and hair sticking to them like they’d been dipped in a vat of oil. I used a couple of my pyrotomic pellets on them and they disintegrated. I transmogrified one of them into a half-decent hunchbacked demented cripple. It would do for now. I need to hunt for another Igor.

‘Sharaaaaaaaaaad, we’re late!’

I could feel a migraine coming on. I grabbed the coat Mansi extended and dragged the clumsy oaf masquerading as an Igor out the door with me.

The art gallery was exhibiting the works of Janani, Mansi’s pseudo-friend, the pseudo-artist. At the exhibition, a bunch of pseudo-intellects were waxing eloquently on the vivid surrealism and the phallic overtones of her latest masterpiece.

‘Jananiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii’ Mansi squealed in her high-pitched voice and pseudo-airkissed her pseudo-friend. ‘I am so thrilled for you, this must be exciting!’

Janani was a painfully thin stick-insect shrouded in sheaths of green fabric. Her eyes bulged out of her alien-looking cranium and she whistled through the gap between her front teeth as she whispered. She always whispered. I think someone once told her it would help maintain an air of mystery. Behind her, hung her latest masterpiece.  It was a picture of a dildo with ‘made in china’ printed on the bottom.

Out of the corner of my peripheral vision, I spied a sharp movement and turn just in time to spot a...could it be....oh god....! He was gone in a flash as quick as I spotted him. I ran past the crowd and into the kitchen where the caterers were bustling about with silver trays of finger foods. More Bloody Vomit. It looked like poop on a toothpick.

‘Shaaaaaaarrrrrraaaaaaad, where have you disappeared?’

‘I thought I saw Igor.’

‘But you have Igor!’ she sang annoyingly, pointing to the shivering lump of cripple huddling in a corner.

Janani appeared just then, sashaying in in her insect-like way. ‘You mean Rogi, my boyfriend? Well, he’s got a busy day tomorrow, he just had to dash. He’s working on this...thing. It’s some world annihilation thingamagig of some sort. Very fascinating, I just can’t seem to remember what exactly. He’s always in the lab tinkering on something or the other.’

My head was spinning. Rogi? She was talking about my Igor. And my World Annihilation Plan. I couldn’t breathe. Igors don’t steal plans... Igors don’t have labs! Why, they just slink about in the background serving their criminal masters, they’ve always done that. This must be some mistake. Igor is still out there, he’s just lost his way as usual. He’ll come back to me.

‘Sharad is also always doing something or the other in his lab!’ Mansi cutted in with her glass-shattering voice, ‘Tell her Sharad. Tell her about that something something death ray you’re working on. I helped design it see, it was this really ugly steel casing, but a true girlfriend always...’

‘Mansi!’ I yelled. She stopped talking.

‘I don’t like you, you’re not my girlfriend, I only went out with you in the first place because I thought you'd come in handy for an experiment!’

Mansi turned, in a very slow-motion tamil-serial type turn and looked me squarely in the eye. Janani had slinked away unnoticed to find some new prey.

‘You could’ve just said so you know.’  

@#$%&*!@#

‘Come, Igor.’ She said, and walked away with the only half-decent, demented hunchbacked cripple in the state. I let out an agonizing moan and slumped to the ground. My life was in shambles, and I was Igor-less. 

‘Igor... Igor...’ I whimpered,’ wherefore art thou?’

I walked out into the night. Somewhere out there was my Igor. In the distance, the formidable grey building of Lehman Brothers rose into the sky. 

Friday, January 9, 2009

A new year...



...and new beginnings. [Ok yes, it’s a little over a week old already, but it’s the thought that counts :p ] Speaking of new years and new beginnings and all that, historically it’s always been the birthdays that give me a serious case of introspection. I suppose the idea that you’ve aged one whole year and suddenly you’re filling in a new, alien number in all those age-boxes in forms is more hard-hitting for some reason.  But this past year has definitely been something special.

As a friend of mine put it, it's been a year of massive ups and downs. Thankfully not so many downs. Or perhaps I’m just learning to deal with the turbulence better in my life. With age comes wisdom, patience, a few grey hairs and floral pants. The last year has been a lot of fun, a lot of learning and a lot of hard work. Most of my energy has been spent at work and also at a new project I am initiating. I suppose there are few joys greater than watching an idea take root and infect an entire workforce with raw energy. I have been lucky – to have experienced a period of great change and optimism, to have the resources to capitalise on it, to be supported by a dedicated and passionate team who share a singular vision, and most importantly, to have the strength of mind to quieten any self-doubts that do surface from time to time.

That’s an up.

 Another up was a major news I received just before Christmas. This time it was a call from the US interrupting a long chat with a good friend, informing me that I’ve been admitted into a top business school in Philly. It’s been weeks since I received the news and I’m still pinching myself to convince myself it’s for real. There was a time when I looked at getting an MBA like a ‘get out of jail free’ card, and grasped for it like a drowning man gasps for air. Looking back, and what I started out with and where I’ve come since then, I am glad I didn’t go in for it back then in that frame of mind. I’m finally choosing to go because I want to, and not because I feel I need to. It’s a good feeling to leave feeling that you’re not running away from anything, but that you’ve moved on and need a fresh perspective and a new experience. A new learning.

So there’s another up.

Coming to the not-so-peachy aspects... this year’s seen a lot of em, massive downs. For some reason, I’ve been more rattled by ‘world events’ than ever before. Especially the latest horror that unfolded in Mumbai. For the first time I couldn’t convince myself that things will be fine tomorrow and everything would be back to normal. It wasn’t about the around-the-clock/in-your-face news coverage, or the blatant audacity of the attacks, or even the crippling realization that no one is safe anywhere anymore. Something fundamentally had altered, and as everyone all over the world changed their facebook status, their gtalk status, updated their blogs and the murmur of horror, confusion, outrage and hurt rippled through the collective consciousness, for the first time I saw – in myself, as much as in others – a slight pause and introspection before launching into action. I felt the need to process this information and that it was important I not analyse it, categorise it and stash it away some way in a corner of my mind behind a label and a point-of-view. Something had jolted the individual out of the usual mob-mentality, out of the numb everydayness of a crowded existence, out of the chalta-hai attitude, and into something more personal and more immediate than ever before. I didn’t blog about it when it happened, and I’m still struggling to find the right words or even the right emotional response. The only thing I can say with any real certainty is that as far as downs go though, that definitely was a low spot for a lot of people.

Other downs this year... breakups. A more than usual share of unions and breakups peppered the year. Much laughter, love, celebrations and nostalgia at the weddings of dear friends. Much sadness and heartbreak as well as I’ve watched the people I’m close to grapple with relationships, marriages, time-differences, communication-breakdowns, work stress and god knows what else. I’ve watched as my friends, the ones who’ve come from happy families and walked into happy marriages with the perfect soul mate, came face to face with doubt, confusion and frustration. People who’ve seen their parents enjoy a long blissful union, struggling with their own unions and asking themselves after the deed is done... what now? I’ve watched my friends – the ones who ‘made it’, the big job, the fancy paycheck, the trophy husband/wife – searching desperately for context, some kind of understanding of the strange new situation they were in. I guess the world’s changed so much from when our folks got married that we need to find our own grounding and the old yardsticks have lost their meaning in this brave new world. Especially when one is confronted with the reality of a ‘long-distance’ marriage with no end in sight to the temporariness of the arrangement, no close-knit family or support system and no reference points to learn from.  

Breakups are hard. And I guess it doesn’t matter how many you go through, it really never gets easier and it’s the same pain all over again. I didn’t think I’d go and get involved again, or breakup again, but life always has a funny way of handing you a winning lottery ticket and then kicking you in the balls doesn’t it?

Another down – which doesn’t actually qualify as a down since it’s really the lack thereof that I am bemoaning – is that I didn’t have the time I wish I did to work on more er creative projects. A creative project, anything wild and mad and completely ridiculously challenging, has always had the effect of a full service check up.  Theatre, story/script-writing, whatever it be, it had always served as a creative outlet and vent for pent-up energies for me. Plus, when you’re working hard on a problem, it’s great to be able to switch off, take on a diametrically opposite project – one that requires a completely different set of skills – and tackle it. If anything it leaves you fresher and more energised to head back to what you were doing in the first place. The beauty with that kind of challenging creative work is that it really forces you to push your mind to work in ways that you normally don’t exercise in the context of everyday existence. If real life is about societal conformity and protocol, creative work has been the exact opposite and rejection of this view.

I suppose the word I’m looking for is stagnation. Not in a general sense, but in a very specific meaning, I have fallen into a creative blackhole and definitely not been doing the kind of work that I truly love and enjoy. But then again... who knows what the New Year brings? One can always hope.

In the meanwhile, what I’ve really been enjoying are the trips my work (and not-quite-work!) sees me taking. Two trips this year, one to London – a quasi-work trip – and another, a New Year’s celebration in Bali. Both remarkable and both extremely cathartic in their own way.

I love London. It is without a doubt the best city in the world. First of all, I absolutely love how design is so integrated into their culture. Whether it’s simple stuff like ‘mind the step’ signs placed discreetly but visibly at eye-level and well-designed without screaming from the rest of its settings, or stumbling upon a Banksy graffiti, or art in the underground or just everyday people and the things they wear or carry. There is always something fresh and new to discover. I suppose I like it so much because it’s one of those fire-and-life cities that’s constantly evolving in front of your eyes. Not only does London have an extremely evolved sensibility but you can actually see new influences emerging and adding to the fray. It’s nice to be in a city that’s organized and clutter-free but with a strong identity and a real design aesthetic. I didn’t used to notice design as an element in culture much before, but even then, I was always spending hours in London bookstores and I do have a soft corner for British authors. And it’s precisely for the same reason – I always happen to stumble across some quirky and offbeat rare jewel of a book while browsing through a dusty bookstore.

Bali meanwhile was amazing; more so because I really had not expected it to be so. What I thought would be a regular sun and sand resort-type vacation and drunken revelry turned out to be much more. First of all, I was very pleasantly surprised at how clean things were. It sounds like condescendence but after travelling to Thailand I hadn’t expected such a pleasant change. Secondly, and more importantly, I hadn’t realised exactly how culturally rich they were – from heritage sites to indigenous crafts. It truly was an insight into a highly developed  culture, even if it was only a short trip. I hope I get the chance to go there again. Another place I want to revisit is South Korea. Again for the same reason – there’s a country that completely altered my preconceived notions of it, however feeble. Again, very culturally rich and very evolved and design-oriented.

Another major incident, perhaps something that can’t really be neatly classified under ups or downs, is something that happened and stirred up a lot of soul-searching and introspection earlier this year. I lost a friendship, perhaps the confidence and support of the one person closest to me. It took months of hurt and agonizing self-analysis before I finally achieved closure on my own. I suppose it was exceptionally hard for me because what reference points does one draw upon in dealing with the grief of a breakup or disintegration of a friendship? It was eye-opening at any rate to have arrived, after much pain and thought, at the realization that despite talks of absolute rights and wrongs, even the closest of friends have different underlying belief systems. And this core system of self-governance dictates how we respond to one another. In events like that, protocol really doesn’t help one navigate through the complexities of human relationships. In situations like that, I guess pain and hurt become just a waste of emotional reserve, and the sooner one realises this, the sooner one moves on.

So there we have it. Ups and downs, big news and no news, periods of stagnation and intense activity... the year certainly has whizzed by and not without leaving its share of scars and battle-wounds. I hadn’t meant to make this an entire blogspot about the past year... but what the heck :)

Happy New Year – belated greetings and suchlike. Here’s hoping for much fun, laughter, success and madness in the coming year.

*chinks glass*