Friday, 16 February 2018

Introducing "The Day Money Died"

So...well, I've gone and published a book. It's essentially a short story, or rather too long to be short and too short to be a novella. But such as it is, it is.

The idea to write stories set around a modern bank is probably not a new one. I think others have done some splendid work in writing both financial thrillers and humorous depictions of office life, so there is perhaps little that I can add to it. However, given that adding any bit of writing at all to a world of literature already groaning under the weight of writers past and present is an act of vanity on the part of the author, perhaps this is a not-unworthy embellishment.

“DCTMR Bank” is, of course, fictional, as are the characters and situations depicted in this story. But like all stories, it is drawn from people and events in real life. Greed, bureaucratic languor, top-management incompetence, hastily-executed plans, subversion of regulations and the professional clashes that become intensely personal – all are very much a part of Corporate Life. Above it all, though, is randomness. Any large organization comprises so many moving parts – departments, systems, and most importantly, people, that eventually they work against each other as much as for, and what ensues is at best organized chaos; at worst, total disaster.

The first story with these characters and situations I ever wrote was set in a corporate award ceremony (read it here), and the second was set during an off-site (read it here), and the main character of both was Sankalp Sodey, who was imagined as the perfectly inefficient low-level corporate employee, and the stories were essentially humorous. From there, the scope grew to encompass the other members of DCTMR Bank, and the team too became more specific in its function – from being just bankers, the characters became ‘Private Bankers’, the ones who catered to the elite of a Bank’s customers, the super-rich, the ‘Wealth’ segment. More importantly, instead of being humorous stories about a low-level grunt, they encompassed the higher levels within the hierarchy, and brought out that they were often just as inefficient and often far more unprincipled than poor Sodey. As more stories were written, I was fortunate to have them carried in the magazines Unbound and Telegram. (You can read them elsewhere on this blog - A Holiday for Kalpana Kinnarkar & Hormuz Patravala and the Faith of the Disbeliever

This particular story though, has a more interesting background. When India demonetized its currency, or rather at the exact moment when the Prime Minister made the announcement that Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000/- notes were to be taken out of circulation, I was in a movie theatre, watching a showing of ‘Dr. Strange’. Ordinarily, there is no reason to remember where one is at a particular time, but I doubt there are a lot of Indians who would easily forget where they were on that day at that time. I saw the news during the interval, in the form of a text forward from someone I knew, and over the period of the second half of the film, as Stephen Strange and Dormammu battled, my mind could only half-focus on the events on screen.

Most people are aware of how things unfolded over the following days. The struggles, the long lines, the explosion of ire on social media. Economists and laypersons grappled over the benefits of the policy for the economy and for people, but hardly anyone, I thought, paid attention to what would have happened within the entities that were required to implement this measure – the Banks. Government politicians blithely spoke of ‘minor inconvenience’ and a ‘return to normal’, and opposition politicians spoke of ‘draconian measures’ and ‘hasty decisions’. But for the people who sat in branches and offices and tried to make sense of all that was happening around them, life had become a mass of random – there is that word again - confusion. Directives from the Government and RBI came thick and fast and often contradicted each other. Customers were angry, bosses were frustrated, and no one knew what to do.

This, then, is a story born from those events. It is meant to be amusing, I hope it will make you think, but above all it is meant to entertain, and honestly I shall be delighted if it succeeds on any one of these parameters.

The characters are meant, mostly, to recur in other stories, which is why some have larger roles than others, and time and the muses permitting, I shall write those stories too.

Until then, I hope you will enjoy this one!

Purchase links:

Presently, due to the size and suchlike, I have only kept it available as an e-book. You can read it on any Kindle device, or through the Kindle app on Android (Phone / Tablet) or iOS. You can even read it in your browser on the Amazon website.

Do share your love on Goodreads as well:

The Day Money Died

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ode to Dolores

Dolores is dead.

Somewhere in the dusty corners of the Slacker’s home is an audio cassette of The Cranberriesdebut album, Everybody Else is doing it, So why can’t we? Also present there is the audio cassette of their sophomore album No Need to Argue and their fourth, Bury the Hatchet. In a much less dusty part of the house – in fact at my elbow as I type, is a CD of Stars – The Best of 1992-2002, to which I listened last week.

In terms of album possession then, this puts The Cranberries just behind Pink Floyd in my collection, though one might struggle to find any other commonality between the psychedelic and later, concept-rock of the 1970’s that Floyd embodies and the alternative-folk sound of Dolores O’Riordan and her merry men.

But there is a topicality to music, regardless of genre, and in the songs of The Cranberries there is a sadness and a sense of longing that made them relatable precisely in the manner of Floyd. In the strange days that were the nineties, The Cranberries represented a way for a Mumbai schoolboy to make sense of violence and ache, to deal with love and loss, an escape from social awkwardness.

Dreams was where I could forget reality for its four-minute-odd duration, as she sang
Oh my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems’.

Ode to my Family helped me make sense of the daily oppression of urban life as she sang, 
Unhappiness, where’s when I was young and didn’t give a damn’.

Zombie was an outlet for the rage within me, a way to make sense of the violence as she screamed,
‘In your head, in your head,
they are fighting,
with their bombs and their guns,
In your head, in your head,
 they are crying’.

Salvation scared me, despite the plaintive cry of
‘Salvation, Salvation, Salvation is free’.

Animal Instinct, felt like a ray of much-needed hope, a plea to,
So take my hands and we will pray
They won't take you away
They will never make me cry, no
They will never make me die

I can’t be with you embodied a sense of inevitable losses to come,

And now it's just farewell
Put your hands in my hand
We'll find another end

and Linger…ah, Linger…perhaps the song I related to only much later, when it became an accusation directed, quite rightly, at me.

You know I'm such a fool for you
You've got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?

Running through all these songs, and more, was Dolores’ voice, an ethereal chant, an expression of womanhood, vulnerable and strong, coming from the beauty of the Irish country and the strife of its history; it was the tragedy of the occupation and the famine, the smile of Irish eyes and the merriment of their art, it was unique – it was enough.

Dolores O’Riordan was not a frontwoman in the mould of the ice-cool beauty of Debbie Harry or the quintessential rocker chic of Joan Jett, she did not own the stage with the raw sexual charisma of Shirley Manson or the idiosyncratic glamour of Stevie Nicks. She drew, perhaps, most from the free spirit of Janis Joplin, and like her, has left us too soon.

The 21st century has not been kind to music-lovers, I often think, and music-lovers have not been kind to music. The commercialisation of the industry and the predominance of auto-tune has made it difficult for a raw act like The Cranberries to achieve the sort of mainstream success that they were able to in the early nineties. The album and the music video itself is on something of a decline as streaming takes over from digital purchases just as digital purchases took over from those poor CD’s and cassettes that I still hold on to. We have given far too little love to the artistes we do love either – the children of the 80’s and 90’s like me grew up to get involved in other things, to get degrees and jobs, to start families and businesses, and if we listened to music at all, it was more likely to re-hash those old records than to buy new ones, even when they were brought out by those we had loved so much. It did not help that the very mass media – Radio and Television – which had first introduced us to these musicians gleefully abdicated their responsibility in pursuit of reality shows and competing with General Entertainment Channels.

And so Wake up and Smell the Coffee (2001) went largely unnoticed, as did Roses (2009) and so did Dolores’ solo albums, Are You Listening (2007) and No Baggage (2009). But then that was what happened to the albums released by such icons as Prince, David Bowie, Motorhead, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Glen Campbell, the Allman Brothers and Chuck Berry (and that’s just naming a few of those who passed away in 2016-17).

And now it is Dolores who is dead, and as we did for those before her, we will have an awakening, remember who she was, and the band she fronted, and wonder where they were for the last twenty years, shed a silent tear, write a glowing tribute, pirate their albums and play them for a day or two. If we are a little more principled, we might buy or stream their work. And as it was for Bowie and Prince and Petty, it will be a tad too late, for there will be no new music to listen to.

So cherish what you love, put your money where your mouth is, and do not let all that remains of your love for music a vague memory of a cassette in a Walkman, of songs heard sitting alone in your bedroom as an angst-ridden teen. Your idols grew older, they made music they loved and put into words and voiced the concerns and travails of a different time and place from that you first loved, perhaps, and the charts may not reflect their names any more, but the art never went away.

Let us mourn Dolores, for indeed a part of our memories – mine, surely – go with her, to remain only in the power of her voice, but let us also remember to appreciate and love those we have, and most of all, to express the love, in words, and through our wallets.

That dusty corner of a home where your voice is encoded on magnetic tape and plastic, a technology long since obsolete, may one day be cleaned, and the cassette-tape thrown away, but in a dusty corner of a crusty, cynical man’s heart, Dolores, your memory will always linger. 

He will always be a fool for you.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

A Reading Retrospective on 2017

When I set myself the modest target of reading 12 books in 2017, I knew I was only being realistic - I don't read very fast, I wonder why I read at all, and most of all, I think I read all the wrong books. Nonetheless, I did manage to finish 14 books somehow, which means I actually beat the target - which my bosses at the Bank I worked at would certainly not approve of; they never did like a target unless it was approximately double the historic highest achievement. I'm actually reading a 15th, but I see no prospect of finishing it before the 31st, so 14 is where I'll call a halt for the purposes of this post.

So here's the Slacker's reading year in retrospect:
The Last Days of Pompeii (Edward Bulweyr-Lytton): An early piece of historical fiction, in which the final days of Pompeii before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius are depicted with loving attention to historical and archeological details. The characters are somewhat caricature-ish, and Lord Lytton certainly liked to show off his scholarship, even at the cost of pacing and plot, but the book remains fascinating for its insights into Greco-Roman culture and the final depiction of the volcanic eruption.

Waverly (Sir Walter Scott): The novel that made Scott a household name in the English-speaking world, 'Waverly' is set in the time of the Jacobite rebellion against the English Kings. Edward Waverly, the hero, is shown to be caught up in the doomed rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the novel stands out for being a masterful depiction of the divide between Scotland and England politically and culturally as well as between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland itself. Peppered with humour and action, Waverly retains interest despite the slightly archaic early-19th century language.

Serious Men (Manu Joseph): Joseph's sharp satire on middle-class India, its caste divisions and the hypocrisy of its celebrated figures is funny and scary in equal parts. A fun read which evoked a laugh from the cynic in me but made the idealist cringe with revulsion.

The Professor (Charlotte Bronte): A character study of sorts into the mind and life of the 'self-made man', Brontë's earliest-written novel has points of interest, but is probably not in the class of her better-known works.
Detailed review here

Center Court (Sriram Subramanian): Sriram's exploration of the character of an Indian tennis player and impassioned dissection of the condition and desperation of being a successful Indian sportsman makes it a very worthwhile read indeed.
Detailed review here.

Birds of Prey (Archana Sarat): A taut, fast-paced crime thriller with an unlikely, even sympathetic antagonist, Birds of Prey subverts the standard expectations from the genre while retaining the excitement. A very fine debut novel indeed.

Villette (Charlotte Bronte): Bronte's last-published work is a hard-hitting, if somewhat laboured, journey through the life of the protagonist Lucy Snowe. Significantly autobiographical in nature, Vilette is remarkable for its insistence on the importance of independence and personal pride in a woman of modest means and little personal charm. Lucy's struggles and strength in a world that seems stacked against her is told with Charlotte Bronte's characteristic mastery over the language, though some plot twists are a tad contrived.

The Great Indian Novel (Shashi Tharoor): Before he was a politician popular with the Twitterati and hated by the right-wing, Mr Tharoor wrote a good-humoured satire on the Indian political scene from the time of Gandhi to the Emergency, and used characters from the Mahabharata to do so. Deliciously funny in parts and at times leaving aside the good-humour to indulge in some scathing criticisms of the party he would later join, 'The Great Indian Novel' should be, I think, a must-read for those who like their humour irreverent.

Jinnah often came to our House (Kiran Doshi): A delicately-woven tapestry darting in and out of real history and made-up characters, a vast panorama that still feels intimate, this novel may be daunting in size but is simple in language and heart-breaking in content. A glance at the 'what might have been' of pre-partition India, a story of relationships and love and betrayal and politics, of Jinnah and Gandhi, and the unknown people whose lives were torn apart making sense of the drama that these giants and their common adversary, the British Empire, inflicted upon India.
Detailed review (one I am personally rather proud of), here.

Barnaby Rudge (Charles Dickens): No one wrote quite like Dickens, and in Barnaby Rudge, he writes about events few remember now - the 'Anti-Catholic riots' that swept through London in the last 18th century. With a typically broad cast of quirky characters and tragi-comic situations, Dickens weaves a tale whose message, against intolerance and bigotry remains relevant to this day.
Detailed review here.

Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy): Ah Thomas, Thomas, how I love to hate you. In my opinion, a true giant of the literary world, Hardy wrote the stories no one else wanted to. His story of Jude, the hapless village boy who sets his intellectual aims too high and the failure he keeps encountering; the early fault of his life that keeps returning to haunt his happiness; the love that remains tainted by many ways 'Jude' is the distillation of all Hardy's fiction work and in others, the most despairing work by a novelist who made despair a badge of honour.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Brontë): Perhaps no book I read this year left me quite as much in awe of its writer as 'The Tenant'. That a Brontë can write is to be expected, of course, and in 'Tenant', Anne shows that she is a writer of consummate craft, but also that she was considerably ahead of her time, and able to deconstruct, with simple, sincere honesty, much of the flaws of romance literature and of the superficiality of society in its view of the romantic novel. But why waste words here, when this book spawned a lengthy review, and perhaps one of the best I’ve ever written?

Detailed review here.

Service with a Smile (PG Wodehouse): It takes a Wodehouse to break you out of any sort of mental prison, and Uncle Fred's final adventure certainly did that for me. Superb plotting, stunning linguistic wizardry and the gentle humour that Wodehouse is rightly famous for, all go into this brilliant late-period novel, with its recommended quota of distressed young women, ugly but deserving young men, jaunty Uncles, loony peers and of course, fat pigs.

Macbeth (William Shakespeare): The man existed to show the rest of us our unworthiness. His is the mastery of language we can only shake our heads and smile at. Out, out, damned spot. Tomorrow, and tomorrow. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble.

The command over the rhythm of language, the ability to depict strongcharacter of both sexes, and to make images come to life with words, to write that which will be tributed by artists across media four centuries after your death...

Oh yes, it is Macbeth, and there WILL be blood.