Wednesday 27 January 2016

The Communist - Aristocat Team Government Part III

Written as a prompt for a contest to win the book above :) Short due to word restrictions.
Book can be purchased here (Kindle US), here (Kindle India) and here (Paperback)

My review of it is available here

And now - the story:

“So, now that we have met here on neutral ground…” began Sir Alfred Catterton, but Sandwich the Alsatian cut him off.

“Ground mutton! Food!” he said.

“Yes, now listen, the Communists and my party, the Aristocats are forming a grand coalition, and we need dog support to beef up our …”

“Beef, I’ll have beef, yes. Food!”

“Listen! So it is likely the media won’t like this. Catnabber Goswami will be spitting at the camera in anger saying we are opportunist…”

“I want a sandwich,” said Sandwich.

“Oh, get the dog a goldfish sandwich,” meowed Sir Alfred to the waiter, closing his paws into fists.

“Goldfish banned, sir,” said the waiter.

“Oh yes. Damned Home-cats,” grumbled Sir Alfred, referring to the outgoing government, whose tendency to ban things had been at least partly responsible for his party’s return to power. “Fine, beef sandwich, then.”

“Beef! Woof! Yes!”

“Now pay attention, mutt! I need you to go on Catnabber’s show as a panelist and tell him how much faith you have in a Communist-Aristocat Team Government being the only one that will solve the Dog Problem.”

“Problem, yes. No food. Problem.”

“Yes, good, talk about how you got no food under the Home-Cat government.”

“I mean here.  No food. Problem.”

Sir Alfred stretched his paws. It was going to be a long evening. Such were the issues involved in gathering support for the CAT government.

Monday 25 January 2016

Book Review – While the Code Compiles, by Unus T.E. and Sreekanth S.S.

As a species, I think, humans have an affinity for humour. Who does not like to laugh? Now the things that make us laugh vary widely. Close to twenty years after Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer signed off from TV screens in the USA., I have yet to see anyone come close to finding the humour in daily life in quite that way. Yet, others will swear by FRIENDS, Big Bang Theory and even the puerile charms of Two and a half Men. But the desire to laugh persists, and television and cinema both echo with shows ranging from the exquisite (Modern Family) to the banal (too many to name).
The ability to make people laugh through the written word, though, has been more elusive. While Cervantes, Dickens, Austen and Gogol used humour very effectively in their writing, apart from Henry Fielding, it would be difficult to pinpoint any classical writer who pursued humour largely for its own sake. Until, that is, PG Wodehouse came along and redefined the craft, largely by virtue of being a supremely talented wordsmith with a genius for plotting.
But Wodehouse created humour out of the society he knew – upper-class England, middle-class America and the world of theatre, clubs and movies. It was left to Scott Adams to create the humorous icon to fit a modern age – Dilbert and his army of Dog-, Cat-, and Ratbert.
Flash-forward from 1989 to 2016 and the ‘Great Indian Writing in English’ revolution had finally started to yield quality writing in humour by Indian authors. (I am excluding vernacular writers when I say this. Indian writers have done marvels of humorous writing in regional languages)
I have had occasion, earlier, to review ‘A Dog EatDog-Food World by C Suresh, a witty and beautifully-crafted ode to Marketing Management.
So I was curious to read ‘While the Code Compiles’ by Unus TE and Sreekanth SS, two IIM-Bangalore graduates (does anyone who isn’t an IIM alumnus even write anymore?), just like C Suresh. It claimed to contain ‘Unusually Hilarious Tales from IT’, and while I had never worked in that industry, I knew enough people who had – certainly enough to know that there is scope for much humour in the corridors and cubicles of the glittering IT Campuses of India.
The Book follows 12 unconnected stories supposedly taking place on the Campus of Infopro Ltd., a fictionalised workplace that could by any generic IT firm in India.
The stories focus on situational humour more than character-based humour. As such, there are no recurring characters, and those that are follow fairly typical young-engineer stereotypes; single, with a strong sense of oppression weighing on their shoulders, and uniformly girl-crazy. More senior managers are shown to be pompous, self-serving and largely lacking in anything resembling brain cells.
Most of the dozen stories featured in While the Code Compiles induce more than a chuckle from the reader. Some, like Customer Devo Bhava, Gavaskar hates Cricket, The CMM Level 5 Canteen, Cultural Program Turns Culture-less Program and Encounter with Government are truly hilarious. They touch upon situations that are perfectly realistic, are quite tightly plotted, and as the climax builds up, lead to quite uproarious laughter too. The story of Gavaskar Nair’s 30-minute over at the Inter-project tournament, Dharani the system architect’s brilliant defence of Infopro’s botched software and the Ramayana play at Infopro’s Cultural night will make me laugh for some time to come, whenever I recall them.
From spilled coffees to back-firing attempts to butter up an auditor, computers that take forever to load to canteen food that leaves everyone sick, Unus and Sreekanth have found the right situations and quirks to bring to a book like this.
Some of the other stories drag a little, though, with the humorous situations dragged out too indulgently.
For all the good things about While the Code Compiles (and do not get me wrong, there are many), I came off feeling that the clever plots and the humour inherent in the ridiculously inefficient spaces that are IT campuses could have been handled even better.
It is said that Humour is the hardest genre to write, and this book, in its way, brings out why. In the written word, language embellishes the fun quotient in a way that direct action, or thrillers, or even romance perhaps does not need. As stylists, the writers could definitely have done more with their deliciously-funny stories, instead of sticking it in the same, mundane, dollar-paperback language that characterises modern Indian romances. Language that I would not have bothered with, had the story itself been mundane, made me sigh over here. I do hope that Unus and Sreekanth continue to hone their craft so that their future efforts combine their sharp observation skills and cynical humour with more stylish – and hence, funnier – prose.
The little things
I found the cover attractive, given the subject of the book, and the quality of the paperback is also of a good standard. Editing is good, with only a few punctuation errors standing out. There are places where word usage and sentence-framing are iffy, but that really goes in rather with my observations on writing than editing.
A few niggling errors stand out, especially in the story concerned with Cricket. The writers are advised that Guyana is a major cricketing centre, being a part of the West Indies (Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Alvin Kallicharan, Carl Hooper and Rohan Kanhai are but a few of the greats from that tiny nation). Further, in the famous Bodyline series, it was the Australian batsmen who were at the receiving end and not the English.
At its price, While the Code Compiles is a decent pick. It will definitely tickle the funny-bone of anyone who has worked in the IT sector, as well as anyone who may have endured corporate life in India. A very pleasant afternoon read.
Available here on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback, from Leadstart Publishing

The book has been received as a Review Copy. The reviewer is not acquainted with anyone connected with the book.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

An exploration of the concept of a muse? A sentimental love story? A dark fantasy? Perhaps all these and more, David Selznick's ode to his future wife, 'Portrait of Jennie' is certainly a stirring watch.

So put your lights off, and watch it at night with nothing to interfere with the scenes of canvas-painted New England and New York, or Jennifer Jones' luminous beauty.

It is the story of a struggling and depressed artist, Eben Adams who meets a little girl in a park in NYC and mistakenly picks up her scarf. Or perhaps it is the story of a girl who died too soon but achieved immortality through her capacity for love. And then again, perhaps it's about the ageing spinster who manages an art dealership and sees in the impoverished artist the ability to achieve greatness with the right inspiration.

After all, the artist is a brave man or woman, choosing to do what must be done over what can. 

So if he needs a ghost, an imaginary friend, or a timelessly beautiful phantom to accomplish his goals, don't grudge him his muse.

Monday 11 January 2016

The CAT Government 0.5 - Gundya's Woe

It all began with Gundya.

Gundya was a striped ginger kitten who lived in Shivaji Park. He was mostly to be found lounging around the Ganesh Temple with a morose face. 

Sir Alfred Catterton, a large white aristo-cat who used to pop by the temple from time to time for free buttermilk, wondered why Gundya was so sad.

"Well, young chap! Why the long face?" he asked.

"Oh 'oy, Sir Alfred," said Gundya, stirring from his perch, tapping his own nose by mistake. "It's nuffink. Really."

"You can't brush me away like a human, sport. I've seen you around, you know. You always have a sad sort of look about you. It's not right. We're Cats of Mumbai, we pretty much own the damn city, but give our community a bad name with this depressed demeanour of yours."

But Gundya turned away from Sir Alfred and escaped into the hedges, preferring to flee rather than answer.

Many older cats tried to reason with Gundya and snap him out of his sadness. Kitty Carsitter, whose humans owned a Honda Civic, even took him for a ride around the park. Old Comrade Katnakoff, the big grey cat from C Ram Chowk tried to beat sense into him, but Gundya escaped him too, and continued with his sad-cat act.

When nothing changed, and weeks became months, Sir Alfred finally arranged an intervention, and twenty cats from Shivaji Park and surrounding areas cornered Gundya behind the temple and made him talk.

Confronted by all those he admired - and in some cases, feared - Gundya finally had to confess. 

"It's the rat outside the Temple door. A big, fat, white rat. 'e sits on a plinth and mocks me all day! I tried to bite 'is tail but broke a tooth! I climbed on 'im to get at his neck and some human picked me up and chucked me away. I stalked him and attacked 'im at night, but only slipped off 'is back and fell. An' I swear, 'e laughs at me, laughs and laughs and calls me a loser!"

Alarmed and concerned, the gaggle of cats formed a sortie led by Katnakoff and headed for the Temple. That's when they saw the rat - made of plaster-of-paris, adorned with turmeric and with the most supercilious expression ever seen on a rat.

Sir Alfred made a move to swipe the leer off its face, but Katnakoff stopped him with a masterful swoosh of his tail.

"Don't bother, Sir Alfred. I was a kitten myself when I first saw this one. He's got friends in high places, he does. I stalked him, I swooped, I'd almost got him - but then a voice came from inside the temple, and I swear - I swear the Elephant-headed one's eyes glowed!"

The sortie shivered, their fur standing on their backs. Cats feared few things, but the Elephant-headed one struck terror into their hearts.

"Those eyes haunt me!" wailed Katnakoff, as the memories flooded his brain. "To this day, they do!"

And so, twenty cats took up the yowl, the unholy sound tearing through the relative silence of night.

It led to the Shivaji Park residents association, one of the most proactive in India, lodging a formal complaint with the Municipal Corporation. With elections around the corner, the complaint was acted upon, and two weeks later, when Katnakoff passed by the Temple on his rounds and saw Sir Alfred poking around, he felt obliged to explain what had happened.

“They came in a van,” said the old Communist feline. “Took away all the stray cats they could find. Probably turned ‘em into footrugs or pillow-cases.”

“That’s terrible!” said Sir Alfred, whiskers drooping. “Poor Gundya! He wasn’t a bad kitten.”

“I was coming to that. Gundya escaped the carnage, y’see.”

“What! Where is he then?”

Katnakoff motioned to Sir Alfred with a twitch of his ear, leading him towards the Kali Mandir, a few meters away. And there stood Gundya, surrounded by a circle of fawning admirers, sitting by the feet of the statue, vermillion on his forehead and bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the larger, painted feline on which the Goddess sat.

He saw Sir Alfred and smiled a wide smile.

“He roars! The little tiger roars!” called out the priest, and the fawning admirers ooh-ed and aah-ed.

Sir Alfred raised a cheery paw at Gundya.

“Well, what do you know,” he said to Comrade Katnakoff as they walked away, “that actually worked out quite well.”

The big grey cat nodded his head sagaciously.

“Those the Elephant-headed one favours always fare well in life.”

“True, that. No wonder humans consider him a God.”

“Maybe he is, at that. His blessing be upon all cats!”

They had reached the Temple gates now, where the white rat on a plinth leered down at them, mocking.

“Not him, though.”

“A mistake, an obvious mistake.”

“Typing error. Rat. Cat. Probably got mixed up in translation.”

Years later, when Comrade Katnakoff became India’s first feline President, and Sir Alfred his Prime Minister, they would mark the start of the glorious new era by replacing the rat with the cat as the elephant-headed God’s official vehicle and commemorating Gundya with a gorgeous gilded statue to replace the one of the rat outside the Temple.

The Communist - Aristocatic Team Government - Part II

“Are you sure you don’t want some more cheese?”

Lady Mabel Catterton was one who loved to share of the bounty that was the larder at the Catterton home, in a luxurious hedge facing the Arabian Sea. But even Fred Dombeycat, who was no slouch when it came to the consumption of such bounties, had stuffed himself beyond catpacity (that elusive state of having eaten so much that even a fresh tuna does not tempt you any more).

“I…simply could not, Lady Mabel,” said Fred, pawing his collar.

“Are you quite sure, old boy?” asked Sir Alfred, indulgently sitting on his back paws, adjusting his hat so it fell over his right ear. Lady Mab, who often disapproved her husband’s fashion choices, clicked her tongue, but refrained from smacking him on the nose before his young friend.

“Quite sure, Sir Alfred,” replied Fred, and began licking his paws to show he had truly finished.

“Something wrong, eh? You only ate three shawarma’s and four cheese-and-tuna sandwiches.”

“It’s Old Felinity,” confessed Fred, sighing into his fur.

“What did that scoundrel do now?” wondered Sir Alfred, licking the whipped cream that Lady Mabel had set on a plate before him.

“Oh he still refuses to let Felicia marry me. It’s ridiculous, is what it is! I showed him I have a good job, a steady income and can afford a place near the fish market in Dombey Valley. What more can a tomcat do!”

Sir Alfred narrowed his eyes and looked at his young friend. If he had not been a cat, the expression would have been construed as a shrewd one, but since cats almost always look shrewd anyway, Fred did not really notice it.

“You could get into Parliament,” Sir Alfred said at last.

“I could…what?” said Fred, falling off the bench they had been having dinner on. He landed on his feet, of course, and Sir Alfred kept silent till Fred had made the leap back onto the bench, missed his grip, and then made a successful attempt.
“Nothing adds to a lad’s prestige like the letters 'MP' after his name. There’s a general election coming up, and we need good cats, cats of character and intelligence, to take their seats in Parliament and bring down this horrible Home-cat government.” Sir Alfred hissed as he ended, and Fred looked on, amazed. That Sir Alfred was a big cat in politics Fred knew, but had assumed it was due to his family name – and the fact that he was son-in-law of such a heavyweight as Lord Cataganet Pouncer, who virtually ran the Aristocratic Party.

On the other hand, the Home-cat government had been an unmitigated disaster. Prices of fish had gone up, working cats had found it harder and harder to make ends meet, while Home-cats continued to accumulate wealth and human slaves. The ban on eating goldfish had been the most glaring show of power for its own sake, but other things had happened too. There were the suspicious murders of dogs who had sat for the kattze-gruben exams. The installation of Simia Lynxer as Minister of Mouse-hunting when it was well-known she had never killed a mouse in her life. Worst of all was the disdain the Home-cats showed for both the street-cats like Fred himself, as well as the old aristocracy like Sir Alfred.

Yes, even Fred, though not a political cat, had often felt the old government, easy-going and inefficient as it had been, might have been an improvement.

“Very well, Sir Alfred, tell me what I must do,” said young Fred, bowing his head.
Three months later, when the results of the Elections were called, Fred Dombeycat found himself the new MP from Borry Valley. Three months and one day later, he found out that the candidate from the home-cat party he had defeated was a dear, dear friend of the cat he had hoped to make his father-in-law.

“He will never let us marry now!” said poor Felicia, a black-and-white Batman-cat, placing her paws in Fred’s, as they sat in the Three Manx’s Hotel, behind the Pretty Kitty club.

“Oh, little did I know when Sir Alfred proposed…” Fred’s meow trailed off menacingly.

“What’s that feller done now?” The gruff meow belonged to Comrade Katnakoff, who had stopped in for a cup of tea before going to the club.

Through mournful hiccups, Fred and Felecia told their tale of woe, and before the end, the Comrade’s tail-fur was standing on end with anger.

“Of course he knew he was sabotaging your life forever! Catterton always knows what’s what! Don’t you worry, Fred. I may not be able to do anything about your romantic situation, but I shall ensure Sir Alfred gets his just desserts!”
That night, Sir Alfred found himself surrounded by a group of four very tough-looking mogs as he made his way from his home to the Club. A rude shock, for Sir Alfred had wanted to celebrate the gains made by the Aristocratic Party in the election. Indeed, they had not won a majority, but that had been too much to hope for. The home-cats had been thrown into a minority though, and that was something, though they were still the largest party.

“Play with the life of a young working-class cat for your political ends, will you?” he heard the Comrade’s voice, menacing as ever, from under a bush.

“Nothing of the sort!” protested Sir Alfred.

“We will see about that. Teach this excrescence on society a lesson, boys!”

Sir Alfred jumped and turned and ran, chased by the mogs. He gained quickly at first, but years of easy living had left the Baronet of Catterton unable to sustain his pace for long. The mogs were hungry and fit, as indeed, most of the cats of the Communist Party tended to be, used as they were to life on the streets and feeding off scraps. As for the Comrade, he may have been twice Sir Alfred’s age, but was also twice as fit.

By the time they were at Green Park Hotel, his tail had been nipped at twice, and a slash had taken off some of his precious fur. That was when he had the idea – the IDEA that would change Cat Politics forever.

“STOP!” he shouted. “Comrade, we need to talk.”

“What’s to talk about?” growled Katnakoff, whiskers bristling, paw raised to swipe the fur off Sir Alfred’s face.

“How would you like to form a government together? You know as well as I do the Home-cats cannot be allowed another term.”

Comrade Katnakoff stayed his paw.

“I see you’re listening. Now put that paw away, Comrade. You don’t want to start this new innings of collaboration by swiping your next Prime Minister’s son-in-law, do you?”

“Oh, you will be that, will you?” asked Katnakoff, but he dropped his paw.

“Besides, we both want to help Fred,” finished Sir Alfred. “And if we form a government, we can give him a Junior Minister-ship or something. Even an ass like Felinity can’t deny Dombeycat once he’s a Junior Minister. Come now, put your MP’s behind Lord Pouncer’s, and there’s nothing we can’t do! We will be a team!”

And thus was the second step – or paw - towards the great Communist-Aristocratic Team Government taken.