Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Do You See Him Too? Part One

It was fun initially. How he wanted to know where she was and what she was doing at all times. How he got all upset if she did not send him her picture every day. She loved clicking her own pictures, doing a quick auto-enhance and sending it to him. Her friends told her she was lucky to find someone who loved her narcissism. She always gave them a humorless smile. In her mind, she believed she deserved this level of attention.

Being in different cities was not ideal. No. But his office did not have a branch in her city. And she knew that if she went to his city, her life would have to revolve around him. And that was not ideal either. So she told him her office would not transfer her. It was painful initially. Especially for him. That was the reason he had come up with this photo-sharing idea. This way, he had said, they could pretend they were together all the time. She initially thought he was joking and laughed. But when she caught a flash of pain in his eyes, she quickly apologized and assured him it was a terrific idea.
It was not that she did not love him. She did. But she was incapable of this all-giving, nothing-matters-but-you kind of love that he was smoldering her with. Her friends thought she was not serious about him. Rubbish, she told them. She was not that kind of girl. What do they know?

At times, however, she did get bored with him. But she held on. He had become a habit. And she was never good at breaking habits.

One day all of that was to change.  

She was at a movie with friends when he had phoned her. She cancelled the call and messaged him she couldn’t talk at that moment. But he kept calling.  Like a maniac. After six calls, she got suitably worried and went out of the hall to call him. He had sounded downright silly. In the last selfie she had sent him, he apparently saw another guy clicking her picture in the background. He was sickeningly worried and wanted her to get out of that place immediately. She was furious. She was in a movie complex for heaven’s sake. There were plenty of guys there clicking pictures of plenty of things. She told him to take a hike and disconnected the call.

She realized at that moment that this guy was not normal, his obsession was not healthy and his love was suffocating. It was time to get out. She told her friends she had a headache and would wait for them at a café just outside.  She gave him a call as she walked into the café. He answered, as usual, within half a ring.

“Have you left?” His voice was full of concern. “No I have not. But now I am leaving. You.” She laughed a little at how clichéd that sounded. For the next few minutes, she spoke to him, angrily and arrogantly, telling him how he made her sick, accusing him of wasting her time, calling him an idiot and asking him to go to hell. The more she spoke, the more liberating she felt. There was a stunned silence on the other end. Then he told her, rather quietly, he would never bother her if she did not want him to. “So be it,” she said. She was a bit taken aback when he abruptly disconnected the call. Oh what the hell, she thought. She was out of the mess.

She looked at their message window on her phone. It was time to exit the discussion forever. Without thinking, she opened the last picture she had sent him. Weirdly, now she also noticed the group of guys behind her in the picture and it was apparent one of them was clicking her picture. It did look 
fishy, she admitted to herself.  

Right then her phone beeped giving her a fright.

Picture received.

‘Oh come on! Like I would look at your picture and feel the love rushing back.’ She debated if she should simply delete the picture. But curiosity got the better of her. At first she did not understand the picture. It looked like a close up shot gone wrong. And then it hit her. ‘What the !!!’ she muttered as she realized she was looking at his slit wrists. The world swirled around her.
She dialed his number immediately. ‘Pick up, pick up. ’ She muttered under her breath. He did, as usual.

‘What have you done? Are you out of your mind?’ She realized she was trembling. She was too shocked to speak coherently. She knew he had to get medical help, but she could not find words to tell him that. With the phone pressed to her ears, she rushed out of the café, out of the mall, on to the road. She was scared he would die. She was more scared she might be held responsible. ‘Stay with me’ she kept repeating.

All she could hear was his breathing.

She was jolted back to reality with the sound of screeching tires right next to her. An SUV. She was slightly confused – was she in the middle of the road or had the car deliberately stopped near her? Before she could make sense of the situation, the doors of the car swung open and few men stepped out. She vaguely recognized one of them … but before she could think or react, two of the men came closer, picked her up and threw her inside the car. She wiggled and screamed and dropped her phone in the tussle. She managed to shout, “Help! Kidnap! Help!” before they stuffed cloth inside her mouth.

The phone had not got disconnected. He had heard the vehicle stop. He had heard her scream for help. He realized she was in danger and needed him now. Only he could help her. He was feeling weak physically. But his mind was moving fast. He grabbed a towel with his right hand and held it tightly around his left wrist. Then he got up. Slowly. But willfully.

(To be continued)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lost and Not Found - The Curious Case of MH370

(This is something I wrote few months back)

“So what do you think really happened to that Malaysian Airlines?” Vijay asked as he settled down on the couch with his cup of coffee. He was meeting his school friends at an upmarket café.

“I don’t know, man! It is so mysterious! I mean, think about it. We have the technology to find historic water traces on Mars, but not enough to find one giant Boeing in our seemingly smaller earth! It is so scary!” Rhea trembled a little as she spoke those last words.

Rahul smirked self-importantly as he propped up his legs on the table. “There is no mystery, Rhea! Come on, it is common sense. The US guys shot down the plane. I read all about it in a blog and it makes perfect sense. If anyone can make an airline disappear from the face of the earth and cover it up flawlessly, it is the US. I see CIA written all over this …” - he made imaginary quotation marks in the air – “… mystery.”

Vijay shook his head disapprovingly and put his coffee down. “If US shot it down, where is the debris? They cannot hide that after an explosion. In my opinion, it is the Taliban. Apparently, these flights can shadow another flight without being detected. That is why the Indian and Pakistani military radars did not catch it. I tell you, the flight is in Afghanistan as we speak. These terrorists are perhaps planning another 9/11. God knows where.”

“That is impossible. There was no hint of distress or any sign of an explosion or hijacking. If you examine the flight data and analyze the Doppler shift in the frequencies from the satellite handshakes of the flight, it is clear that MH370 continued its flight towards south for another six hours after all communication from the airplane ceased. Presumably then they ran out of fuel. What is there six hours south of Malaysia in the Southern Indian Ocean? Nothing. So, all the signs point to a crash at the sea. There, mystery solved.” Karthik said all that in one breath.  He was oblivious to the completely baffled looks rest of the group gave him.

Rhea broke the silence. “Thank you Mr. Sheldon. That definitely did not go over our heads.” She nudged him with her elbow. “You guys are so thoughtless. Spare a thought for the passengers, people! I feel so bad about the friends and families of those passengers. No closure for them. Imagine living a life not knowing what happened to your loved ones. Not knowing if they are alive or dead.” A deep breath as everyone fell uncomfortably silent. “Anyways, did you hear that Aadi is flying to US for his MBA?” The conversation drifted to more relevant news.

Change the names in the above conversation. Change the setting. Change the country. We have all been part of this discussion. We have all adorned the roles of rationalists, conspiracy theorists, emotionalists and even aviation experts to contribute our two cents to this discussion. And why not? Here is a puzzle that has all elements of a thriller and no one seems to be able to make sense of the whats and the whys and the hows. What a wonderful, never-again, opportunity for everyone to play Sherlock. At the comfort of our living room’s ‘window seats.’

Let us take a step or two back, shall we?

What do we know?
The Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members took off from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 at 00:41 MYT.
After 20 minutes, the flight reached an altitude of 35,000 feet.
After 38 minutes, the airline’s First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid made voice contact with the Malaysian Air Traffic Control (ATC). He said “All right, good night.”
After 40 minutes, at 01:21 MYT, the flight’s transponder made a secondary radar contact with the ATC.
A minute later, this transponder was switched off. 
The Malaysian military radar detected the flight at 02:15 MYT, an hour after the last primary contact. The Inmarsat – a British satellite company – received radio "pings" (or satellite handshakes) from the aircraft for six more hours, in one hour gaps. The last of these pings was at 08:11 MYT.

After that, nothing.

How much of this above information did we know on March 8?  All of it.

How much more did we learn about the disappearance since then?  None. Zilch.

How many theories about the disappearance have come out since? 100s.

You see what I mean?

All the facts – the last contact, the “pings”, the timings – were all public knowledge since the day of the disappearance. Considering its over three months past that faithful day, and taking into account all the aviation and the space technologies that man possesses, you would have expected the authorities to uncover some solid leads by now, if not the flight (or what is left of it) itself. But alas! There has been no new “credible” leads.

There are many theories though. Newspapers and TV channels all over the world commissioned experts to recreate MH370’s faith. You and I have pretended we know better than these experts and flooded our Twitter and Facebook timelines with what we thought had happened. A few smart ones among us shared a picture of an airline floating in the ocean with people standing all over it. Many donned the detective hat to write blogs with carefully plotted maps showing the airline’s possible journey. But the truth remains the same – save for the initial disappearance, there has been only opinion-based reportage and speculation on this topic. Almost all of the discussions and reports on the subject went like this – “We know nothing. Gibberish. Out of the world theories. Gibberish. We know nothing still.”

What is the harm in little speculation, you might ask. After all, there is freedom of speech and expression and what not. Well, there is no harm done. But let us reflect for a moment:
Were we really bothered about the faith of the people inside that aircraft? Most of us were, at least initially.

But did that compassion soon give way to a tinge of excitement at the prospect of witnessing firsthand an “unsolved mystery”? Again, for most of us, yes.

Did that excitement evolve into a form of entertainment after the initial days? At least for some of us, yes.

We were not in that plane. None of our loved ones were in it too. There was not even a ‘friend of friend of friend.’ So, why should we really care about all this after the stipulated mourning period of one week? Should we lose sleep over this matter? Is it more important than our next month’s EMI? Is it more important than the deck we are working on?

I don’t of course have the answers. However, when you take the flight out of the equation, then the enormity of 239 men, women and children whose existence became unknown in a short span of 60 minutes would hit you hard. The helplessness of the loved ones they left behind would make you want to run away from it all.

We have all discussed everything that could be discussed about this topic. Many times irresponsibly. 

And since I hate to end this entry on a morbid note (and since I am possibly a hypocrite), allow me to present to you five incredible theories out there that explains what happened: 
  •  Aliens, time travelers or beings from another dimension hijacked the plane.
  • The flight was turned “invisible” and was landed somewhere as part of research.
  • A new weapon capable of making large objects disappear has been developed.
  • Bermuda triangle’s counterpart in the east has been formed.
  •  And my favorite - the flight never existed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Love Her, Hate Her, But You Can’t Unfriend Her!

You have been there. That faithful day your mom sent you a Facebook request. You stared at the request for minutes, or may be hours depending on how much of your life was online. Of course, you did not get to stare at it for days because you got a call from your mom the same day asking if you got her friend request and if yes, why you hadn’t accepted it when all your cousins had. You explained to your mom that you were not a loser like your cousins who spent 24x7 on Facebook and did not know the existence of the term ‘work ethics.’ You reminded her that you were a vital part of a multibillion dollar company and every minute you spent doing anything other than work, your company’s share price dropped by few cents. You asked her, not without tinge of sarcasm, if these cousins knew how many zeros were there in a billion. (Sorry, I digress. But these cousins, I tell you!). In any case, you did an Alt+Tab after the call and grudgingly accepted the request. Within the next 10 minutes, your mom wrote on your wall for the first time:'

Hi sweetie! Just saw all your updates for the day. Daddy and I wonder what the closing share price of your company is. Love, Mom.

Mommy – 1. You – 0.

The next day your friend called you to inform you that he had gotten your mom’s “Friend Request” and he thought it was incredibly cool to have a tech-savvy mommy. You could hear him smirking over the phone. In the next few days, your news feed was full of:

@YourMommy just became friends with @YetAnotherFriend

You realized where this was heading. Those teenage years when she phoned the moms of every one of your friends if you were late by five minutes to reach home came rushing back to your memory. Followed closely by those horrific college years when she SMSed all your friends asking about your whereabouts if you failed to answer your phone couple of times. And now, Facebook! God, she always found a way! You couldn’t just sit back and wave good-bye to your privacy. So you called her and told her that you were an adult and it was not a good idea she was befriending everyone on your friend’s list.

Your mom was capable of being melodramatic at very short notice. “It is ok, dear. You have always been like this. You always wanted to keep your life away from your own mother who gave birth to you. I just thought you would be proud of me. It is fine – I will stay away from Facebook.”

Your dad called you in the evening. “Your mom is very hurt. You know how much she loves you. You know she means only well. Why do you have to hurt her this way? Do you know how much she had to sacrifice to bring you up? For instance, once when you were 2…”

“No, no dad. I was in a bad mood before. Tell her I am absolutely fine with whatever she does on Facebook! In fact all my friends are jealous my mom is so cool.” You got another FB update seconds after you disconnected your dad’s call, which made you wonder if all your dad told your mom was “Issue solved, now get me my tea.”

Oh my sweetie pie. You know I love you always. Love, your ‘cool’ mom.

Mommy – 2. You – 0.

You then knew that it was real. You immediately set to clean up your act. You untagged yourselves from pictures that suggested (1) alcoholism, (2) promiscuity and (3) absolute insanity. You then deleted all the posts were you shared ‘inappropriate’ jokes. You also ensured that your relationship status was set to whatever your mom thought it was. Now at least you won’t be disowned, or more importantly, stricken off the will.

The next day your news feed was covered with photos from your FB albums as your mom religiously liked every single picture you ever uploaded. Every. Single. Picture. You were fairly happy you cleaned up your act on time. But you became very upset when a friend posted a message:

Guess whose mommy just joined Facebook!!! ROFL!!!

57 liked the message in 3 minutes. The world was full of Judases.

You called your mother and told her that you were overwhelmed by her never ending love for you and you were touched by the fact that she was liking all your pictures, BUT STOP IT ALREADY! Your mom stayed away for few days and just as you started to rest in the illusionary cloud of the virtual realm:

@YourMommy has uploaded a picture of you.  Look sweetie what I found as I was going through the old album yesterday. You look sooooo cute dressed up as a monkey.

@You: Really, mom? Really?

@YourMommy: I am so happy you asked me to stay off Facebook for few days. @YourCousin taught me how to scan old pictures. Now I have so many cute pictures of you to upload. Love, Mom

Mommy – 3. You – (-1). Cousin – dead.

Your and your mom’s Facebook journey continued almost uneventful for a while. Which was to say you uploaded nothing, shared nothing, commented on nothing and untagged yourself from new pictures that risked disownment. You watched in horror as she shared humongous number of idiotic things every day – from five-headed snakes to the Lord’s image in clouds that you had to re-share within 10 minutes (else very very bad things would happen to you). You rubbed your arms in evil delight as your friends’ moms started joining Facebook.

And just as you thought your life could not get worse, you got an email saying:

@YourDad just joined Facebook.

@YourDad sent you a Friend Request. Accept or Decline

Now you felt complete. Your whole family was on Facebook. Your distant uncles and aunts were sending you Farmville and Candy Crush requests. Your neighbors were commenting “Cute” on your pictures. All kind of relatives whom you probably met last as a child when they were pulling your cheeks were complaining to your mom that you were not accepting their friend requests.
You searched for the ‘Deactivate’ button on the screen. If you wanted to be amidst all these wonderful people, you would have stayed home, wouldn’t you?

You will perhaps get back to Facebook the day you feel the need for that warm fuzzy feeling only 
family can give you. Which will be never.

We don’t need to look far to figure out what would cause the eventual downfall of Facebook.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


This is a story I wrote 3 years back for a competition. The premise was a news article I read few years ago. In 2004, 40 of the top students in Afghanistan flew to the U.S. for a year as part of the first student-exchange program from Afghanistan in more than 30 years. However, when they came back they were caught in a bureaucratic battle, where Afghan officials refused to accept the U.S. curriculum they followed the previous year. I have chosen my protagonist as a girl who returned from this program - because I assume as a girl she would have faced more problems in the country.

December 2, 2005

The weather was lousy and cold today – almost as if even the environment reflected what I felt. I got a mail from the Ministry of Education saying I am not eligible to go to college here because I have learned “all the wrong things” in the last one year.

I still remember the excitement with which I boarded the flight to New York as a part of the first batch of foreign exchange students from Afghanistan. I remember the mixed feelings of joy, pride, and a few nerves as the American family, with whom I was staying, welcomed me with open arms and very kindly showed me my room. My own room – a luxury I have never had before. America gave me a lot of things; but above all, it was the freedom that I absolutely cherished.  The freedom to be a girl and not be apologetic about it, the freedom to express my views, the freedom to talk to boys, the freedom to do anything I want without fear.

Well, just to be fair, it was not a very rosy ride, either. Every day I met people who stereotyped me because of my headscarf. I was asked such inane questions that it was difficult to answer them politely. 
“No, I didn’t like Taliban either.”
“No, neither I nor my friends plan to fly an airplane into any buildings in the U.S., or for that matter anywhere else in the world.”
“And for God’s sake, NO, I am not related to Osama Bin Laden.”

Ofcourse, all this just made me more determined than ever to tell people that they should not judge an entire country based on the actions of a few. I gave lectures on why I am proud to be an Afghan. I insisted that there are extremists in almost every country, including America. Many of my classmates stopped talking to me, but the fact that a few came and apologized for their earlier offensive comments made the whole exercise worthwhile.

On hindsight, I see how futile all those actions and experiences were. If I expected my family and my government to receive me with accolades on my return, I was totally wrong. A mere acceptance would have been more than enough. On the contrary, I am treated with disrespect. I am constantly being watched and judged. My relatives think I have become too proud and confident than the ‘Islamic culture’ can tolerate. My government thinks the syllabus I followed in the U.S. does not prepare me for college in Kabul. If I hated the preconceived notions of my class mates back there, I am up against a whole new challenge (and more hurtful questions) in my own country.
"Yes, I still do my namaz."
"Yes, I am still a good Muslim. Yes, I am proud to be one."
"And yes, I am still a good girl."

I just didn’t know when I taught my friends in America not to be judgmental, my own people were blinded by their fundamentalist views. I am tired of being treated as an outcast. I am told to keep quiet even when I am silent. 

Now I am unsure what future holds for me. I try my best to remain hopeful, but it is not easy.  Not with everyone around treating me as though I have sinned. I have had enough of people staring at me, expecting me to act different. I didn’t ask for this. I spent last one year holding on to my values, my roots and my religion even as many of my batch mates stopped wearing their headscarves and started going to pubs. I never misused the freedom I got. And look what I have got in return.

I am ashamed to admit this, but today I regret going to America. I regret tasting the freedom, which is alien in my country. But then I wonder, am I doing the right thing by giving up? I remember the words of Martin Luther King, which was framed at the entrance of the school I went in America.

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.