Saturday, January 25, 2014


I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but Aaliya and I were not as full-size enemies as this from the beginning, and she used to tell me all her secrets and everything, although they were not as half as good as mine, like, ever. I mean who gave a shit if she had a crush on Batman, or if she was the one who broke her own iPad and hid it, or if she wanted to be a manicurist when she grew up, but I never told them to anybody anyways, mostly because I didn’t wanna die of embarrassment or anything. I had to tell Paa about that iPad though, just ‘cause he wouldn’t stop looking for it otherwise. But she didn’t know, so it’s fine. Even if she did, she’d have let go of it ‘cause she hadn’t lost it all by then. I mean she let it pass when I beat her at TEKKEN twice back to back, just so you know! And I’m the only person who got to write on her cast that one time she fractured her elbow. She transformed into a monster with rage issues only after an incident few years ago at Aunt Jojo’s during this Diwali that was wack.

Sweet Jojo loved cooking, only, she sucked at it. She was always cooking from the books and missing some part of it. Measures of ingredients, time of cooking, were all somehow lost on her. Her roast duck gave me a lockjaw last Holi! Then she says I tried to overfeed me with that cement concrete boulder, and that’s why I choked! Ask Maa, she had to go redo all her teeth filling the very next day, but she was way too polite to break her little sister’s heart. Nobody tells her the truth about her cooking lest they should hurt her feelings! With all that mercy Jojo continues to grow from being a bad cook to worse cook till she one day will become the Mike Tyson of bad cooking and kill the whole family with all that love.

Jojo’s unmarried, but is loaded, like, stinking rich and everything! And guess what, she didn’t do anything to score any of it. Back in the time when she was flunking in colleges she came out of a clapped-out surgery for appendicitis with a friggin shank lodged inside her tummy. She sued the doctor and the hospital for a few crores and has been living off its crazy interests ever since. Some luck she’s got! She hasn’t moved a finger since then to score any dough, devoting her time wholly and religiously to divine cooking. Maybe God loved her ‘cause she was inherently so sweet, and trust me; the only problem with her is that she’s so sweet. There’s no way you could say no to her, as she’s dreadfully nice to you. But at times she could also be a real birdbrain. You ask her anything, for instance, you ask her how her checkup went and she’d say, it’s so funny, and say something that was the total opposite of funny, like, it wasn’t as painful as I thought, or some other mundane statement of the year. And you wonder if it’s really over, or if there was more to come, I mean, the “funny" part. But nothing comes. And then suddenly you are even more stunned when, breaking the awkward silence, she laughs like a hyena. Why she does that is still a mystery to me. So this particular Diwali I’m talking about, we were at Jojo’s for dinner. Her house was just a few blocks away from ours, like, also in Bhairav Nagar Colony, and that’s were we usually celebrated Diwali and burst crackers and everything. Her house is filled with tons of paintings of all sorts of naked people, mostly fat ones, in which all the dudes have exceptionally small pee-pees. Some of them have got wings and everything! They’re always running after naked chicks without even noticing that they were all naked. Maybe they were looking for their clothes or something. Anyways they looked like they were all out on some picnic in Mehroonji Park. Before you get the wrong idea, let me tell you, picnics at Mehroonji Park suck like a starved baby. And nobody’s running around naked there, not even in their undies. And every time you went there some bird or the other shat on you. Mehroonji Park is like the bird-toilet of Haisham Bagh where you’d think even the chickens from the butcher’s market walked up to take a dump, ‘cause that’s how crappy the grass there is with all the bird poo. But that’s beside the point. With all that free money she has, every Diwali Jojo bought firecrackers generous enough to bring down the BSNL building at Pachisiya, if you know what I mean. So we all loved to go there for Diwali except for the food. And back then, we hadn’t fallen victim to most of her specialties, and the threat was still very new. It was me, Maa, Paa, Aaliya and Michael Jackson. MJ was Aaliya’s brain damaged dog, a lethargic bullmastiff that barked like a crazy person only when everyone in the colony went to sleep. From the time it came into our family, it went with us everywhere. And the strange part is, it settled for nothing less than the window seat, like, every time, which was kinda my spot before it came into the picture. If you want more proof of its hopelessness, it had a voracious appetite for food cooked by our world-class chef Jojo darling! All those precipitated kheers and carbon black pies were licked to the last stain by MJ. So up until he died, we had no issues disguising our distaste for Jojo’s vision, ‘cause we knew where it sold like a million bucks.

So on the Diwali day, she receives us at the door ballet-style, dressed up like a carnival freak. After all the I-actually-don’t-give-a-damn-but-now-that-you-are-here-whatsup small talks, we are slowly led to her torture chamber- the dining area with the naked people and everything. The spread is ready on the table. Maa and Paa exchange terrified looks when Jojo’s not looking. Once everybody is seated, Maa starts talking like crazy trying to prolong the dinner as much as possible. The funny part is, it’s gonna come sooner or later anyways. Jojo insists that she hasn’t prepared anything new except one- the mutton keema samosa- the new bitch you had to stay away from. But then what happens is, she serves it first. Golly! And guess what, the moment I take a bite into it, I swear, I could say that bite was worth a tetanus shot, it tasted piss poor and instantly gave me a migraine. I noticed Aaliya gagging on her bite as well. Maa chewed real slow like some gangster, and Paa was still holding back. The filling tasted like leather shoes. I couldn’t take it any longer, so I stashed it in my pocket and quickly excused for a leak. Obviously, if I waited till the dinner got over and she saw me leaving with a big bulge in my pocket she’d have caught me right there, and it’d have made her cry. Finding it in the trashcans would also have made her cry. Now you don’t ever wanna make sweet Jojo cry, so I make a pit stop at the staircase closet, which is roughly the only place I could dispense of the shitty keema samosa in between the dining room and the powder room. And don’t ask me why, but I went right in and shoved it inside a cherry bomb box stacked up with other firecrackers inside the closet, planning to chuck it when we’d later take it out to burst. Back at the table I told Aaliya about my operation cherry bomb. She was pissed that I didn’t take along her samosa too. But that was only for a few seconds ‘cause right in the next moment when Jojo was beginning to serve the main course there was a rather loud explosion in the living room. Then there were more explosions, then fire. It was actually deafening. It’s kinda difficult to describe the blast, as it wasn’t one big ‘boooom’ like after bombs go off. There were a number of deadly blasts at the same time that went boom-boom-boom for about five minutes. And trust me, these firecrackers sounds very different when you burst it from inside. It sounded like a bad radio in my ears for a long time after the blast was over. The living area and the staircase were on fire and it was panic inside the dining room. The ladies and Aaliya continued to scream like mad people. Paa yanked out a carpet and treaded towards the calamity area. Then he suddenly noticed something and called out, Oh God! It’s MJ! That’s when we realized Aaliya’s dog was not with us. Michael Jackson was mostly toast. He actually had gone down in the boom. In fact it was he who started the blast! The dumb thing took a bite into the cherry bomb box that had Jojo’s keema delight, can you believe it! As to why exactly he went for it, well, it was kinda too late to keep it a secret anymore! Aaliya had already gone cuckoo by then. First she screams and swears like a war victim’s mother then she yells at me, first you killed Isaac Newton, and now it’s MJ! (Isaac Newton was her gold fish with one eye swollen due to some bacterial infection. All I did was try and help it with a cap of Dettol. And she still doesn’t know if it actually was the lotion that got the stupid fish belly up! She just had to back her blames up with more blames.) This one was a real accident and she’d know it if she’d put a little thought into it. No matter what I say, she believes I fried MJ for the window seats or something.

Jojo was so shaken, but she still has no clue that it was actually her cooking that got a part of her own house torched. She got a restraining order against using firecrackers after the incident, and ever since she looked around over and over before even lighting a cigarette like the CBI was after her. However, all said and done, her creative serial cooking is still at large. But as the venue for Diwali is indefinitely moved back to our house, one only had to stay away from the “love” she sent over a few times every week. And thanks to Michael Jackson, firecrackers got a lifetime ban in the family- even in the families of Maa’s sisters who never spoke to her. Every year on the day of Diwali Aaliya mourned the death of her dog by burning my photograph. She did not talk to me close to a year after the incident, and by the time she did she had already lost it. She confiscated all her Moshi monsters and the Lego minifigures from me. She also took back the Pokémon cards and gave it away to her then friend Kriti Joshi’s boyfriend who, by the way, has the largest collection in Haisham Bagh now. The bitch started an FB community called “We Hate Raza” that now has eleven members. And then finally she divided our room with a red permanent marker, which was okay since it was a fairly large room except one had to be a little careful while entering and exiting as the line stopped right at the middle of the door. Likewise the warzone was established, and my archenemy was thus born.
Also from the ‘Raza’ series;



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Wednesday, January 8, 2014


A long time ago there was an incident involving a royal lady in northern India who, after being lost at an imperial gambling challenge, was brutally shoved around by her hair in the assembly hall, and was ordered to be publicly stripped naked while bleeding on her period! That the damsel in distress then called out for the dark skinned God Almighty and that He came to her rescue with whirls of sari to shroud her modesty is all well known to have ensued as the part of this plot defining twist in the longest epic in the world, Mahabharata. This scandalous scene of the insult of Draupadi at the infamous game of dice, while her five helpless husbands and the rest of the world stared down at her, forms the crux of the events that shape the principle imagery of this colossal classic for anybody in the know of its complex storyline. Like the man once said, there’s not a thing in the world of storytelling that is not already covered in the Mahabharata. But despite all that robust substance including a ghastly episode of the 18-day long apocalyptic battle, the disrobing of Draupadi with Lord Krishna slipping never-ending mileage of sari from up in the air, is still the singular most iconic picture that the Sanskrit poem reminds one of.

Now what if one fine day you are told, it never happened in the actual text? That the insult of Draupadi stops right with the part where she’s dragged into court? That there was no stripping to begin with, least to mention furlongs of fabric speeding all over the place? That Lord Krishna was never present while the offense progressed, in the original version? Gasp!

This disillusioning piece of trivia was recently dropped on me by a book written by M.T. Vasudevan Nair called Randamoozham (meaning Second Turn), a retelling of Mahabharata through the point of view of Bhima, one of Draupadi’s five husbands. The work, in novel format, was bereft of all the magical elements of the Mahabharata I knew. There was a rational approach adopted towards even the most fantastical plot element of the epic. So when the wicked scene of Draupadi’s abuse cut short right before the sari-stunt and the rescue operation that followed, I took it merely as another of the author’s attempt to rationalize the happenings in the actual Sanskrit text. But later in the epilogue he clarifies his stand on a number of well-known scenes from the epic, including the disrobing act that was clipped in his version, as they were segments that were added at later stages. Apparently he was merely sticking to the original text!

That both Mahabharata and Ramayana were subjected to countless additions over time is an established fact. The so-called original text that later expanded into the present day Mahabharata was called Jaya (meaning victory), an 8,800 versed poem that was basically an ode to bravery and conquest. The philosophical interpretations and most of the subplots and secondary stories were future additions that inflated the text to its current 200,000-verse length. Now there is no denying the fact that these interpolations happened to the text over time, but if the central image of the epic- the disrobing scene- was one of them, proof is indispensable.

The controversial dice game and the subsequent stripping along with the divine intervention take place in the second book section of the epic called the Sabha-Parva. Even though the game itself begins in chapter 59 of this section, Draupadi is not dragged into the Dice Hall up until chapter 66, which is where the pitiful state she was in before being hauled into public view, including the bloodstain on her clothes, is stated in graphic detail. Then the drill as we know follows, where she’s dragged by her hair into the Hall, she implores to her husbands and the elders present there for help, Dhuryodhana and Karna throw volley of insults at her, she’s ordered to be undressed, she cries out for help in the name of Lord Krishna who appears and provide her ample cover with the said magical reel of sari and saves her from disgrace. This scene takes place in chapter 67. Holding that thought about it being a part of the annex, you wait till the remaining plays itself out. As a part of the deal, Draupadi with her five husbands are exiled for 13 years in the jungle, and upon their return, are refused the kingdom, which finally triggers the bloody battle of Kurukshetra. In the run of all these events that ensue, the humiliation at the Dice Hall is cited at various instances, but every time it comes up, there is only the “being-dragged-by the-hair” bit that’s emphasized and absolutely no mention of the disrobing or its paranormal culmination involving Lord Krishna. Not by Sanjaya who after the Pandavas’ exit to the jungle with their wife, recounts the events at the Dice Hall to the blind king Dhritarashtra, not by Draupadi herself when she narrates the same incident to Krishna in Vana-Parva, not by Bhima, not by Yudhishtira, not by Krishna, not by Dhusshasana, all of whom alludes to the disgrace at the Dice Hall on different occasions in the due course of the story, but without a word of the alleged disrobing. In brief, there is nowhere in the whole text that the disrobing is hinted except in those verses where it actually takes place. But these could be very sketchy clues to declare that the scene as a whole was rigged.

Steering right back to the details of the aforesaid crime scene, there is a mention of the bloodstain on the single piece of cloth that Draupadi wore on the day when she was dragged into court while she was menstruating. Then there is a mention of the same fact right after the scene when she leaves for the Jungle with her five husbands, when Vidhura describes to the blind Dhriarashtra, the details of their departure. Now it is to be noted here that the whole sari fiasco had already taken place in between these two references. If so, the original bloodstained piece of cloth she was dragged around in was already replaced by the ones that were lent to her by the marvel of the purple colored deity. While it is possible that the changed set of costume also got stained by the time they waved adieu, it is more likely that the disrobing scene never took place in the original text and that she was wearing the same piece of cloth all day strengthening the theory of interpolation. Furthermore, if one carefully studies the scene, focusing on the response and remarks of people right before and immediately after the incident, there is no sign of an unbelievable miracle that had taken place in the middle, in their words or behavior.

If you scrutinize the verses word by word, proving this point may not seem all that far fetched, but at the end of it all, does it really matter if the scene was actually a later addition? Whoever added it was an undeniable genius who clearly understood the extremities and scope of drama, and he sure could freeze the imaginings of the entire story to that one eccentric amendment. Besides, there are numerous other scenes and details that were added to the actual text over time and if we were to read the Mahabharata shaving away all these additions, it would paralyze the story that will no longer be the one we actually knew and admired, and it’s highly unlikely that the original text would have been as popular. This takes us to another of the ongoing arguments that the text as we know today is the final form of the original work as the established author of the book VedaVyasa is not one person, but a number of scribes who were responsible to take the story to completion in its present shape! There! More to ponder!
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