Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Well, that's another fine Messi you've gotten me into, Leo!

Having never been a football fan, I'm a little surprised the World Cup hasn't bored me to tears. Don't get me wrong. I'm still no fan, and, by the looks of it, never will be. There's something just so incongruous about muscle-bound men doing an impersonation of 11-year-old Vineetha - when, in Maths class, I used the compass on her from the bench behind: "Ma'am, ma'am, he poked me in the back. Send him out, the beast!"

Now, being a fan of a sport that has the likes of Stuart Broad, Sreesanth and Shane Watson playing it, I'm in no position to claim that, footballers aside, sportsmen are paragons of virtue. But the odd overzealous challenge, or handling the ball, is one thing; diving to get someone from the other team sent off, is another. Is there anything more distasteful than players converging on a referee, demanding that an opponent be sent off?

And I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this in the last few days; you can't get 5 minutes of a game without someone flat on the ground, clutching various body parts, teammates making a collective exhibition of breast-beating worthy of a Prem Nazir film. I still don't get why these blokes are not hauled up in front of a referee after the match is over, and sent packing on the next flight home. They're making their sport virtually unwatchable. The beautiful game, indeed!

What I'm driving at is, under normal circumstances, I'd sooner describe an hour spent scraping chewing gum off the underside of my boots, than write about football. But there are still times when football grabs me by the throat, makes me look up from my book. Before going into that, though, let me admit to my biases first. Long ago, when such things were still around, my dad had this videotape named... well, something or the other. It was a 90-minute summary of the World Cups between 1958 and 1986. Only two of the tournaments still stick in my memory. One had a group of orange-clad men doing something remarkable, something startlingly different from anything that preceded them.

The second tourney of my memories... now, that made even the first pale in comparison. A short, stocky chap* working magic with the ball at his feet, seemingly single-handedly inspiring his team to victory - and a boy's ever-lasting allegiance was won. From then on, if he happened to catch a striped sky-blue shirt on a football pitch, that is the corner of the field that held his heart. Not that it happened often; once in four years is all.

You may find it curious, therefore, that in-spite of all the hype anointing Lionel Messi as the next Maradona, I never paid much attention to it. Come to think of it, if you follow sports much, you probably wouldn't find it all that curious. India's just starting to buckle down, staring grimly at the prospect of the next Tendulkar being discovered every other day, up until the year 2201. It had to be something exceptional that would pique my interest enough to watch a ghastly football match, and this article certainly was that. In the match (some club game) I finally did watch, though, for all the entertainment value he added, Messi might as well have not played at all; football was back in the ignore list.

But then, the World Cup started, Africa was on every tongue, sky blue was back on TV, and I settled down,  book in hand (just in case), to watch the Albicelestes have another go at the title. Admittedly, I can't judge for myself if Messi is the next Maradona. After all, all I've seen of Maradona is about 10 minutes of a highlights package. Not that I care. To watch the pint-sized Messi being surrounded by three, four defenders, and still dribble his way through what looked like a brick wall just a few seconds earlier, has me now kicking myself for ignoring all those recommendations over the last couple of years.

Sure, I have enough of a bone to pick with football in general to justify not watching it for any reason whatsoever. Even the fact that he seems to be a fair sportsman, not given to falling over, bellowing like a wounded buffalo, on a feather passing within 5 metres of him can be explained away cynically, like a friend of mine did: "He's merely doing what's best for him. He does better by remaining on his feet, than being face down on the grass."

But, if nothing else, as a sci-fi fan, how can I not watch in awe, not be spellbound, by the little Argentinian bending time and space to his will? Just where do those sudden bursts of speed, and changes in direction come from? This is not The Hulk battering his opponents into submission; this is The Flea** weaving and winding his way through, in intricate patterns effortlessly planned out in a fraction of a second. How many days would it take a Brian de Palma to come up with an equivalent reel on film?

So, for the rest of the tournament, you'll find me swallowing my pride and asking football-fanatic friends for tips and information, after years of bagging on them. I shall also be willing the Argentinians on, with rather more than my usual detached interest. And even after that, whatever the result, long after Africa is bid goodbye to, I'll do my best to catch Leo Messi in action, whenever I can.

*As if to give me even more reasons to support Argentina, CWB opines that Tendulkar, for his "ability to score at will and carry a team" is like a non-mental Diego Maradona. With such close ties between the Argentinian coach and my favourite sportsman, how can I not support El Diego's wards?

**"Emergency meeting of illiterate millionaires" is pretty much my favourite summing up of the on-going festivities in South Africa: I shouldn't expect too much by way of imagination from the footballing fraternity. But still, the most talked-about player of his generation; someone already compared to legends of the sport; someone who can make even people like me, who have no particular love for the game, write posts professing wide-eyed admiration; and the best you can come up with for him is The Flea? Really?

P.S. - His name being just perfect for punning ("messimerising performance" is getting really old, though), phrases like "don't Messi with Tevez" abound everywhere I turn to. In the match against Greece, with the Greeks needing to win to go through, I came up with one of my own: "The Greek shall inherit the Earth; but not if the Messi-ah has a say in the matter." A really clever mix of World Cup commentary, religious allegory, and Monty Python references - even if I do say so myself. Now, if only I could find a way to work it i... ah! Looks like I just managed it. Thankyouverymuch. Enjoy the quarter-finals.

P.P.S. - A quick Google search to check if my post title is original, confirmed what I've always suspected: there's nothing original about me, never has been, and most likely never will be. Well, at least, the article in question points out that even someone like Messi is far from perfect.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Movie Turn-Ons, Part 4.4 (Cheesy Sci-Fi: It Came From Outer Space)

As always, let me warn you of spoilers ahead. Also, a lot of the background stuff comes from the very informative audio commentary, by Tom Weaver, on the DVD. 

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

First up, the title. What's with the "it"? If they mean the spaceship that crashes fierily in the Arizona desert, that's the first of very few appearances, all as brief as this prologue; the movie's all about its travellers. "They Came From Outer Space" has a much better ring to it, too, eh?

While the spaceship is making its fireball impersonation, our hero* for this film - the astronomer, Putnam, with a lovely house on the fringes of the desert - is canoodling under the stars with his lady love, Ellen; talking, as astronomers tend to do, I suppose, of horoscopes and stuff. He's just taken his telescope out, when the biggest meteor he's ever seen crashes nearby. Thankfully, the telescope is not a metaphorical one: he's able to confirm the location of the crash.

He hammers down the door of a helicopter pilot, and they go off investigating. The pilot and Ellen wisely stay at the lip of the crater, while he climbs down into it and sees the spaceship. And just in time, too: a landslide buries the whole thing under two tons of rock. Of course, no one else will believe him; he's the designated nut for the rest of the film.

We know better, though. There are aliens out there! The original treatment for the film was written by sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. He did not want the alien seen at all, except in very brief shots; wanting our imagination to make up a creature so horrifying that, had his dialogue been kept, it would've been described as

"Think of all the bad things, all the bodies you've dredged up out of rivers after 6 days, all the bodies you've found that had lain in the hot sun for a week, think of being thrown into a pit full of 10 billion black widow spiders and tarantulas and mice and snakes; think of that."

The film-makers remain true to this until near the end, when they give in to temptation. For the most part, though, all we see of it is a giant cyclops' eye, and a body trailing icky fluorescent goo on the ground. The camera takes the aliens' point of view quite a bit. Sadly, the alien whose eye we borrow seems to have some sort of severe optical problem - and it apparently left the corrective lens back in the spaceship. Still, from the world seen through its eye, particularly judging from the reactions of the inhabitants that have the misfortune to look upon it, its form is just as horrifying as Bradbury would like to have had it described.

The aliens, doubtless for excellent reasons of their own, start kidnapping people. They're also shape-shifters, and can take human form. Putnam is on to this fairly quickly, and spends half the film trying to convince Sheriff Warren that aliens are amongst them; there's a hint here of the paranoia of the wonderful "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." All of this is done very well, very atmospheric; nowhere more evident than when two telegraph men are listening in on what is very likely the aliens wire-tapping the telephone lines, with accompanying dialogue of

"...It might be somebody up that way tapping the wires, or back that way, listening to us, like we're listening to him... After you've been working out on the desert fifteen years, like I have, you hear a lot of things. See a lot of things, too. Sun in the sky, and the heat. All the sand out there with the rivers, lakes, that aren't real at all. And sometimes you think that the wind gets in the wires and hums and listens and talks."

And a little earlier

"It's alive... it's alive and waiting for you. Ready to kill you if you go too far. The sun will get you, the cold at night. A thousand ways the desert can kill."

The aliens kidnap Ellen, and just when we're about ready to believe the worst of them, the movie springs a wonderful surprise: the aliens reveal all to Putnam. They're on Earth by accident, a malfunction on their ship marooning them on our strange world. All they need is a bit of time to repair it; they're not the least bit interested in us. Still, they know enough of us to not reveal themselves: "Had you fallen on our world, it might have been different. We understand more." I can't help get the feeling though, that if they'd used their powers to appear human to us all the time, and, further, avoided the temptation of kidnapping scores of people for no discernible reason, they probably wouldn't have drawn too much attention to themselves. I'll put this break in reasoning down to culture shock.

Sheriff Warren has, by now, been convinced of the alien presence and decides they're evil. The man, apart from being prone to bombastic pronouncements on the weather, also has an interesting approach to law enforcement; his technique consists chiefly of sneering at the citizens he's sworn to protect, and, when pushed to action, forming a lynch mob.

The aliens, convinced now that they will be destroyed, throw an extraordinarily hissy fit. They prepare to blow themselves up, and take the Earth along with them. Where's the noblesse oblige? Where's the resigned shrug, the wry smile and the dignified martyrdom befitting an older, wiser civilisation than ours? Tsk tsk.

Anyway, Putnam convinces them not to; and, rounding up a busy afternoon, keeps the mob at bay, too. The aliens complete repairs and blast off. Putnam, eyes shining, delivers the obligatory Hopeful Dialogue, gibbering for a while about the time not being right, and speculating confidently that someday in the future, it will be. Everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

The film's director, Jack Arnold, has this to say,

"We are prone, all of us, to fear something that's different than we are; whether it be in philosophy, the colour of our skins, or even one block against another in a big city. Because your form is different than theirs, you wanna hate, you wanna kill; that is your first reaction. Until we're mature enough to meet something different from ourselves on a higher level - without being afraid of it, without recoiling in horror - only then will we be worthy of meeting whatever else is there in the cosmos."

Here's a bit of unused Bradbury dialogue that would've gone to Putnam:-

"We find a spider horrifying. But then, we are equally horrible to it - with our hidden bones, and our flesh covering our bones, standing upright with only four limbs - we are the spiders' nightmare. The human race can build rockets and go to other planets, but when we get there and see the spider civilisations and the ant civilisations, the bird civilisations, we won't understand them; they won't understand us. There might be complete civilisations made up of giant, intelligent bees, black-widow spiders or humming birds. Men would instantly destroy civilisations as these. How did we treat the American Indian? We killed them, or put them on reservations. How have we treated the Africans? Exploited them, used them. If men treat other men this way, what won't he do to things like giant insects and insects from other worlds?"

A mite heavy handed. Then again, it's not like the parts that did make it into the film are any less subtle. Besides, whatever Bradbury's good intentions, it's obvious that the filmmakers themselves were not above feeding the paranoia of their audience. Maybe the alien POV shots, and the horrified expressions of the people seen through it, can be explained in retrospective as a comment on us. But what of the portrayal of the aliens as bumbling and childishly vengeful?

All that aside, it's still a nice, moody sci-fi flick. For a change, the aliens are here neither to preach, nor to conquer. The film has a pretty snide wit to it, too. Oh, and if you watch all the way till the end, you'll see a certain Kathleen Hughes get a giant credit; she also appears on the cover of the DVD case. This is rather mystifying, especially given that she appears for all of two minutes in the film. Turns out, this is one of the first-ever 3-D sci-fi films. Watching it at home, the only thing in 3-D was the TV set itself; on jumping to that scene again, though, it's easy to imagine how she must've wowed the theatre audiences. Big kudos to the filmmakers for exploring the possibilities of 3-D.

*Thankfully, a rather more likeable one than Meacham from "This Island Earth."

Coming up next: "The Thing from Another World"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mirza Ghalib, Kimi Raikkonen & Metaphorical Lizards

These days I'm reading blogs - circumnavigating the blogosphere? - quite a bit; no particular reason, just changing whims. Something that caught my eye is this practice of unrelated stories being dumped into one post, with an "xxx" separating them. Visionary that I am, I see vast potential here. It allows people like me to type in the first thing that comes to our minds, and leave the reader with the vague suspicion that there's something deeper, that there are "layers."

"Hmm... 3 different stories, each more banal than the last, completely unrelated, and yet... and yet... they're in the same post. What could it mean? If only I could trace out the underlying theme of it all - figure out what the Supreme Artist had in mind when crafting this work of infinite subtlety - would I not be closer to the Soul of the World?"

It's like the whole business of that hat in "Miller's Crossing." From what I can gather, all the Coens ever wanted to do was to film men in hats. They probably thought Gabriel Byrne, classy as he is, would look marvellous peering out from under a hat, especially when in the woods; the camera and the stirring music goading men for generations since, to buy hats and pose stylishly, thoughtfully, somberly in them. And they were right. It is, "The Untouchables" apart, easily the most entertaining gangster flick I've ever seen. You really should check out the ending - hands down the most powerful depiction of the union of a man and his hat, ever captured on film. It has also raised as many debates on symbolism in film as when Bergman stuck a camera on a beach, and got a young Max von Sydow to play chess opposite a forbidding, scythe-carrying*, black-robe clad, bald dude. 

That is what I want to achieve with posts as these. I aim for the stars, nothing less.

*Having seen the film several years back, I cannot remember for sure whether he carried a scythe or not. I hope I'm not confusing him with William Sadler from "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey."

xxx 

Last weekend, I got to go to a part of Delhi I hadn't been to before - Nizamuddin. Here we were on a Saturday afternoon, zipping along on magnificent tree-lined avenues and huge flyovers, feeling all cozily modern and materialistic, when the auto screeched to a halt: we were there. Taking a lane by the left, we found ourselves in another place, in another time (poetry having taken hold of us, we ignored parked cars and the tarred road). The air-conditioning of Karim's brought us back with a pleasant jar to the 21st century, but come the food, back we went in time - this time as royalty in the Mughal court. All very schizophrenia inducing.

Stepping out of the restaurant with stupid grins on our faces, telling each other again and again that "we must come back soon, really," we made our way to Mirza Ghalib's tomb. The Nizamuddin Dargah, with Amir Khusro's tomb in it, was next door, but there were way too many people there trying to sell us things. I even made a contribution of a 100 bucks (my Hindi, while improving, is still only passable; but the guy was earnest, and besides, he made an entry in a notebook - I'm sure it was for a noble cause). Ghalib, though, has a resting place very befitting a poet. There was hardly a soul in that courtyard. We asked a lady - sitting nearby, reading a book - which amongst the graves there was Ghalib's; we could've made an educated guess ourselves, but we wanted to be sure. She pointed to it, a marble enclosure.

A little way from it was an inscription with one of his poems. My friend, misreading one of the Hindi words, disagreed with the English translation below it, and gave her own very striking version of it. Since I doubt she'd want me to put it here, here's the official Google approved translation:-

When there was nothing, there was God
If nothing had been, God would have been
My very being has been my downfall
If I hadn't been, what would it have mattered? 

xxx
I grew up watching the otherwise dignified David Shepherd hopping about on one foot, on the scoreboard hitting Nelson. The internet not being too prevalent in my youth, it was only years later that I learnt the story behind it, thanks to Ian Chappell*. Apparently, in his days as a player, his Gloucestershire team had this habit of taking both feet off the pavilion floor, when their batsmen were out in the middle and the score touched Nelson. Out on the field, as an umpire in his later years, he decided to continue the habit, to ward off bad luck for the batsmen (albeit with at least one foot on the ground, in the interests of safety). I suppose now's the time for someone to chime in, saying that everything in cricket, including umpires' superstitions, is loaded in favour of the batsmen.

Well, that was my sports superstition story. I'm sure each of you have your own. What reminded me of it was an interview of the Iceman himself, Kimi Raikkonen, in which he reveals his sentimental, superstitious side:- 

Q: The helmet has a special meaning for many drivers. How important is it to you? 
Kimi: It protects my head. 
Q: Do you have any special rituals where the helmet is concerned, like many have? 
Kimi: I wipe it so that I can see better.

 *This article by the man himself contradicts my memory of the Chappell story, but I'm sure Dave wouldn't mind; I've cherished it for far too many years to let it go so easily.

xxx

Many months back, just after I joined my current workplace, I was having this chat in the cafeteria with someone I was sharing the table with. I happened to mention that I had a lizard for a roomie - kept bumping into him occasionally in the kitchen. Since I don't cook, and don't even have a refrigerator, the kitchen is a room I rarely visit. Still, on the few occasions our paths crossed, usually with him scurrying out from behind a garbage bag, startled by me switching on the light, we would nod civilly at each other (and this, despite him not once having shared the rent).

She, smiling playfully: "I hope he isn't a metaphorical lizard."
Me, not wanting to appear thick: "Ha ha ha. Good one. *snigger* Heh heh."

But seriously, what is a metaphorical lizard?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Heat, Wind & Dust: A disgruntled newcomer's account of his first Delhi summer

On the rare occasions I find myself in relative proximity to a pretty stranger, I - not being the quick-witted sort - try and begin with a, "Pretty hot/cold/wet/dry, huh?" Depending on whether she screams and makes for the exit... or... well, whether she stays put, I go about expanding on the theme. The plan, of course, is to quickly dispense with the weather stuff, and move on to other topics of larger interest. Sometimes though, as happens ever so often to all of us, divine inspiration takes hold. And before I know it, I have a mini opus on The Weather in my oeuvre.

That essentially is what happened with this post. It started out as the fourth entry in my sci-fi series - a review of "It Came From Outer Space." And then a seemingly innocuous scene on the weather set me off. Granted, there's nothing more mundane than the weather. However, that doesn't necessarily mean this post wouldn't amount to anything. As the esteemed Joel Stickley put it, "If a thing's worth doing badly, it's worth doing badly well." I will attempt to bore you on a giant canvas; with scope, with boldness, with ambition - David Lean-esque almost (post black-and-white British dramas, that is). Rohan of Borabia might as well be the alternate title of this post.

Heat, Wind & Dust (Not a Merchant Ivory Production)

Sheriff Matt Warren: Did you know, Putnam, more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once - lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety two, it's too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable. 

When I first saw the scene, I was of course suitably impressed. We don't use the Fahrenheit scale here, and while I knew that the figure would be much lower in the Celsius scale, it still seemed unbearably high. And then there's the superb acting of Charles Drake, with that mad gleam in his eyes, that note of suffering buried deep in his voice, and that furtive reach for his gun. I was sold: "Gosh, 92 °F, eh? Wow!"

But now, I just wish I hadn't been drinking coffee, when I opened up that temperature-calculator web page. I must do something about these explosive outbursts of scorn - coffee stains are so hard to get out of everything. 92 °F is just 33 °C! You pussies! You complain of 33 °C? Why, here in Delhi, at 33 °C, we switch off our air conditioners and our fans, dig out our sweaters and hunch miserably in all that cold. (Unless it's winter, when we switch on the fans, and strip down to our undies, should the temperature get as high as 5 °C. A city of extremes.)

Let me tell you, you toe-rags, something about the heat. When I checked last week, the temperature in the shade was 48 °C. Yes, that's right, fuckers. 48 °C. 118 °F. 321 Kelvin. If you think there's no movement above 92 °F, you obviously have never driven on the NH 8. You feel irritable and murderous at 33 °C? Well then, right here and right now, this is the time and the place for Grand Guignol bloodshed; for emptying that vial of anthrax, for letting loose them rats by their millions, for carrying that pick-axe through the streets. Not even the blood of thousands upon thousands surging through the pathways, turning the lamp-posts and the pavements and the statues bright, bright red, shattering windows and oak doors; none of it, none of it, could even get close to quenching my thirst. That call you hear, my friends; that's the thermometer - and it's a cry for carnage.

How many weeks has it been since I've had a good night's sleep? Half my mind is perpetually awake, dreadfully conscious of the stifling heat, of my bed that is now a frying pan. Waking up in the morning in a pool of sweat, I drag myself to the bathroom mirror. Looking at the crazed, unshaven figure with bloodshot eyes, I wonder if I know who he is. Then the third-degree burns from my hands on the steering wheel; it'll be several kilometres before the AC cools the car down from the oven that it was.

And now I sit here with a sheen of sweat on my brow; the dull ache has been throbbing in my head for over a week now. My eyes are beady, my breath rasping; I stare furtively at the girl opposite me in the parking shuttle. She manages, as only women can, to look as fresh as the early-morning dew. In all this heat. My God, the heat! I must... resist... should not... reach across... grab her (in a totally non-creepy way, if this is getting too disturbing for my women readers); must not try and drain every bit of that freshness out - to its last delicate drop - until she's just a shriveled heap on the floor. I want to bathe in all that coolness, soak it in, and feel life surge back into me.

Now, you must be googling for the heat records, and would probably be wondering what on earth I'm on about. No doubt, you've noticed that Death Valley in California is the hottest place on the planet, with the temperature touching the mid-50s. Perhaps you're right there. But the thing is, when a place is named Death Valley, it's unlikely that anyone would ever mistake it for prime real estate.

Delhi, on the other hand, is a city of art, of history, of beauty, and of wide, wide roads; of great food, cheap booze, and beautiful women; of the dome of the Jama Masjid, framed against the full moon, rising majestically above centuries-old neighbours; of the Red Fort; of the Parliament buildings whose grandeur you'd think you couldn't describe in a thousand words, that could never ever be topped - until you turned your head to the right and saw the India Gate. This is the city of Khan Market and of Chandni Chowk; a city that's a stone's throw from Jaipur, from the Thar Desert, from the Taj Mahal; from Chandigarh, Amritsar, Rishikesh and Dharamshala; from the awe-inspiring spectacle of the Himalayas. This is where, near midnight on the 14th of August, all those years ago, Nehru proclaimed the birth of a nation, declared us free of the shackles of colonialism: "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." Delhi is no Death Valley: it's a nation's capital, for God's sake! It just isn't fair!

The heat is bad enough, but we haven't yet got to its evil twin, The Wind. I was brought up in Cochin - a sea-side city 10 degrees north of the equator. People brought up there know a thing or two about the heat. But, even for us, associating the wind with the heat is anathema. The wind is the balm; even on the hottest day a gust of it will have us turning our faces to it. Come the dark, every fibre of my being, every cell in my body, is programmed to expect the wind to calm and to delight. The vestiges of the day is a time for deck-chairs out on the terrace, or a walk to the riverside. But that was before I moved to Delhi; before Loo, the Evil Wind.

When I first heard of the Loo, I romanticised it, partly due to thinking it originated from the deserts of Arabia. (It is, in fact, from closer home - from the Thar Desert.) I imagined standing on the balcony of my flat on a warm summer afternoon, a drink in my hand, the wind ruffling my hair. I fancied hearing the battle cries of Lawrence's men on their raid of Aqaba; the tinkling footsteps of gorgeous, mysterious belly-dancers; a waft of the wisdom of Persepolis; a touch of the wild hallucinations of Hashish, perhaps; the odd flying carpet rattling my window panes. Not in a million years would I have imagined that the wind would be stripped of all essence, bar that of the boiling oil destined for Ali Baba's forty thieves.

The thing is, no matter how much sweat and toil I put into these descriptions, those of you who've never experienced Loo, you wouldn't get it. You'd imagine it as slightly warm wind, with your own variations of romanticism. It is a wind that makes your face melt and go drip drip drip on your shoes. You do not welcome it, you do not turn to it. You hide from it, hunting desperately for shelter: a pillar, a tree, maybe even an orange, if you're desperate enough.

Let me try cinematic imagery. Ever seen a scene where our heroine is lazing about in bed, blankets up to her chin? The curtains billow, and the gentle wind has her smiling lazily, rubbing her eyes and wondering what further delights the day would bring. Last week, after a very late night out, I carelessly left the door to my balcony open. Cue billowing curtains early next afternoon. What you wouldn't have caught, if you were an observer, was a content smile, and a languorous return to consciousness. You would've instead been startled by me springing out of bed like a scalded cat. I kid you not, I exaggerate not in the slightest, when I tell you that I thought my pants had been set on fire.

And then - oh so rarely - out of nowhere, thunder rumbles, lightning flashes, and the smell of rain is in the air. The wind blows harder than ever, but this is a tender wind. One that you would gladly let wash over your face - except for one thing. And that, my friends, brings us to the final chapter in our story - The Dust. Admittedly, a little brother to The Heat and The Wind, but nonetheless as mean as either of them. What's so shocking is that it's just so unexpected. For eons, single men have had a tender, loving relationship with dust. We co-exist peacefully - breed it even - in our homes, in our cars, and in offices, schools and other public places that are left to our care. We recognise it as a fellow child of Nature, and accord it due respect. In return, they mark out the movies and the books on our shelves that are best avoided.

After days and sometimes weeks of torture, would even the most vicious sadist on earth begrudge us our time in the open - dancing, laughing, joyful? Apparently, this creature would, one that we'd treated as one of our own, one that we'd held to our bosom; for it grows fangs and horns. It whips around densely, waiting for the smallest orifice to sneak through. We stare out the window, at the cool delight that we know is out there: the sigh that escapes is heartfelt. We think of all the good times we had with each other, of the times we lovingly nurtured them in our very homes. It stings us to our core; we feel betrayed.

I know that some of you, right now, would be heaping scorn on me; asking what right have I - as one who spends his entire working day in a climate-controlled office, one who could have an air-conditioner installed in his bedroom anytime, one who doesn't have to step out into the sun at any time of the day - to complain? What of those who take in 2 or 3 people on board their rickshaws, and cycle them around, with just a towel over their heads? How do these people get through a day? What of those who live in the large swathes of this vast plain that has no electricity, or very little of it? How do they sleep at night? I complain of a little bit of dust spoiling my rain dance? Well, what of those who, not so far away, deal with murderous dust storms? Have I no shame, no sense of proportion?

Well, I can think of no stinging retorts. I humbly ask, instead, that you compare my little complaints with Sheriff Warren's whingeing, and go no deeper. After all, if you're reading this, it's most likely on a nice LCD screen, in an air-conditioned room somewhere. You're of my ilk; what do we care of the others?

Epilogue: The Disgruntled Newcomer sits at his desk, with a pensive eye cast out the window. It is still early June: the Sun's northward march will not cease for another 3 weeks; the monsoons are not expected until mid-July or whenever - whichever comes later - as my battle-hardened Delhi friends tell me. What will the next few weeks bring?