Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Malabar Op helps the girls out

This was one of the easier ones... at least in terms of getting the report out. The frightful headache it gave me, though, is the sort you'd get if you found yourself on the wrong side of the fourth wall of a Bunuel film.

It began innocently enough. A runner-up to Miss Bangalore (I forget which year) found herself waiting for 45 minutes opposite an empty chair at Sunny's. And after a fourth gulp (one gulp per glass; a departure from her usual dainty sips) decided that enough was enough and hoofed it for the wide-open spaces. The pretty project manager, used to all her underlings working seventeen hours a day for a mere flutter of her eyelashes, was miffed beyond description on leaving the office early one Friday evening, only to find herself staring at rude graffiti for the better part of an hour. She even had to take a cab home - a first for her. And then there was the girl-next-door, from the college-down-the-road, who'd spent all of Saturday afternoon setting her hair into the perfect curls and picking out shoes to go with her brand-new dress, only to sob the evening quietly away, while watching back-to-back showings of "Gossip Girl" on cable.

This was just the beginning, and it soon became something of an epidemic. The most beautiful girls in the city, stood up, day after day after day. Nothing like this had ever been heard of. There are no folk songs, nothing on scrolls in any languages known to us, Gutenberg's thingy never churned out anything remotely similar, nor are there cave etchings indicating this to be a known occurrence to our distant ancestors. Plenty of gripping stuff about spears through elephants' heads and stuff, yes, but no cavegirl standing alone by a primeval swamp, all decked up, and puzzled annoyance on her face.

And all this by one man. Neither nameless nor faceless. But whose motivations remained unknown.

This was revolutionary; the beginning of a new era, a sledge-hammer shift in the battle-of-the-sexes. This was Roger Bannister running the four-minute mile. This was Hillary and Norgay conquering Everest. And just like the fate of the mile, just like the empty beer bottles strewn about the summit of the world, just like, as the joke goes, "the invention of the steam-boat caused a network of rivers to spring up," their hitherto unchallenged ascendancy was soon to be at an end... or so feared the shadowy Association for Woman's Supremacy over the Male Doofus. But they wouldn't go down without a fight. If they could understand this bizarre new phenomenon, perhaps they could conquer it.

And so, when they hired me, they all had just one question they wanted answered, "Why?" (Or "Por qué?" in the case of the one Spanish exchange student.)

Now, give me the number of fingers a chap has on his left hand and his five favourite movies, and that's all the info I need to find him anywhere in the world; much less this case where not only was his name and photograph given to me, but also his Facebook profile complete with "location" info. So, the scene shifts abruptly to the very end of the case, where the fearless Op and the slightly drunk target find themselves seated across each other over mildly alcoholic drinks.

"If you wanted your answer in two words, those'd be Chaos Theory."
"Chaos Theory."
"I heard you the first time. What the... on earth, I mean... we must all watch our profanity... is Chaos Theory?"
"You don't know? I was just reading about it. Mighty interesting stuff. Check the Butterfly Effect out, too, if you get the time. Mind you, I haven't read the whole essay, so I can't guarantee that it's Chaos Theory exactly that I want here; but it doesn't matter. It's all about the craft of storytelling, you see? Begin with something bombastic to get the attention of the audience, and half your work's done. Beethoven did it, too. There's a name for this technique. It's... ah... it's right on the tip of my tongue..."

"Could I interrupt you there for a second? What's the temperature right about now?"
"Eh? Mid-thirties, probably... mid-to-high thirties, yeah. Why?"
"Bear with me. And we're sitting here very much in the sun, under an umbrella made of jelly-fish, yes?"
"So far as I can make out. But..."
"Just one moment more. Does a man who sits in conditions as these, wearing a trench-coat and a hat - ok, maybe the hat's reasonable - seem like the sort of guy who'd be interested in a discussion on theories literary? Forget the build up. Just get on with it."
"Oh, all right," he seemed disappointed. "Do you know what my view of the world is?"
"I'm dying to find out."
"Think of a giant pool table with seven billion balls on it pinging about in perpetual motion. It's a really clever analogy, if you pause but a second to think of it. The balls disappearing down the pockets could be construed as a metaphor for death, and..."

I didn't actually hit him on the side of the head with my glass, but I came mighty close.

"Oh, all right. So, here we are, each of us a ball moving crazily fast on this table, right? Now, even if these balls are ones that can see, think and change their courses through force of will, how much control do they really have? There's billions of balls out there on the table, each of them moving so very fast - if there's one untouchable in the world, it's this speed... uncontrollable. All they're trying to do is avoid the pockets, but what with the crazy speed, and the other seven billion balls crashing into them all the time, and the hazards of the table itself - this is a table that has been kept out in the sun and the rain, and hasn't been brushed or the cloth changed in millions of years - things are really, really difficult. I'm talking just in terms of survival here.

"Now, to add one layer of impossibility on top, what if most balls had this urge to spend the rest of their days moving in tandem with another ball (mostly of a different colour, but not always)? They'd practically have to be fused together, and then they'd be all out of shape - coefficients of friction, too, are almost always different for each ball - and their lives'd be all laboured movements. Nah, nah, nah. What we all want is to have our loves by our side without any of those pesky shackles.

"But how long would it last? How long before the fragile bonds of love are shattered by the randomness of the universe and our own divergent paths? Probability Theory tells us: not very long. Sure, I'm as human as the next... well, whatever... My ideal too is to win this lottery, to win this one-in-a-trillion relationship. But where I differ from the average Joe is that I know my Maths. I'm a realist. I choose to live life based on the probable. You used to be a programmer, right? Would you ever design a system around its exception handling? And there's the irony. People spend vast amounts of time planning their whole lives out, when they don't even know what dreams they'd be having that night. Wouldn't they be happier if they just cut loose and drifted?

"Anyway, where I'm good, where I'm really good - apart from cutting loose and drifting - is in my judgement of the short term. Look, it's relatively easy to set sights on trivialities - things like your career, the ideal home-theatre system, your dream vacation. But those are dead things, things without minds or motion of their own. Sure, the variables in the world make them demanding conquests, too, but with care and work, there's at least an even chance of achieving them. But if your goal be a dance in perpetuity with another of those balls, who has an answer? I'd imagine you'd need a computer the size of the Milky Way to process all that data. But for the short-term, my skills are second to none.

"Case in point: did you notice that when I came back from the rest-room, I glanced at that girl on the next table?"
"Well, I did. And I got a glance in return. And I knew even before I got up from the table that it would be so. I was merely following a script already laid out in my head. Now, how could I have been so sure?"
"That obnoxious, flowery shirt you're wearing?"

"It's a gift, I tell you. It's like I know every detail, or better put, every possibility for my immediate future - for, let's say, about 3 hours. The only way to be truly successful in this world of ours is to possess this nimbleness of brain... and have short, intense bursts of energy to draw on, to seize on those openings, those alignments, that last but a fraction of a second. It's very exhausting, and it's hard to keep up - which is why I take short vacations to Europe once every couple months... Ah, I can see from your eyes that you're beginning to understand.

"A lot can change from the moment you ask a girl out, to when you're just about to pick her up. They're often in two different eras. The universe has changed like crazy in the in-between. And now, not even my ability to gather up energy and focus it like a laser can help anymore. It's dead, whatever we could've had, and there's no going back. What's the point in a date, if you find yourself gazing three hours into the future and see bleakness and boredom? For a chap who's all into true love and forever and things, maybe he could take the hit, maybe he could tell himself that with time he could win her over; but given my short-to-medium-term worldview..."

There was silence for a bit.

"Oh, and one more thing. You do realise that with the analogy involving the pool table and the balls in perpetual motion, I was taking artistic liberties?" He seemed anxious. "Because, you see, perpetual-motion machines are purely hypothetical, and would, in practice, violate the second law of thermodyna..."

I stood up.

"Just one other question."
"In the short-term vision you've surely had of this moment, did you picture yourself getting stuck with the bill?"

Case closed.