Harish Patel Discovers Real Estate Advertising

At first glance, it looked like the menu card of a five-star restaurant. Thick, rich and ornate card paper had been used to produce the brochure that Harish Patel held in his hand. The printing ink was obviously the best available. But what really registered was the appealing visual and caption on the cover. ‘OWN A HOME IN PARADISE’ invited the caption in scrolling, royal blue letters, and the photograph below it really did bring to mind visions of Heaven.

Never had HP seen a more attractive picture. The building that it showcased was absolutely breathtaking, with clean lines and sweeping arches. The compound before it was spotlessly neat, with fresh concrete and tar interspersed perfectly by picturesque trees. Sparkling cars were parked in an orderly fashion in the spacious parking lot. A swimming pool with crystal clear water was visible in the background.

Harish Patel, an intrepid never-say-die entrepreneur from Surat who had recently made Pune his home, felt his heart ache with longing. He currently lived in a shabby rental flat in a rather down-market part of the city, but HP had always sensed something very human within himself… he longed for his own home. A place to put down his roots and maybe even launch his own extension of the already immense Patel clan.

He had found this brochure stuck under his doorstep this morning, and supposed that a roaming marketing executive had put it there. He looked more closely at it, wondering why only nubile foreign women were to be seen relaxing at the poolside. Was this a real estate brochure or a foreign travel prospectus? But the caption clearly said that this was a deluxe residential complex at Wanowrie called Jadootona Heights, built by Bhrashtachar Bandhu Promoters & Developers. Still totally captivated by the beauty of the visual, he opened the brochure and checked out the specifications and amenities.

The list was very impressive, fully promising him the luxury of a Presidential Suite at the Taj Intercontinental for the price of a two bedroom flat. HP looked around the cramped confines of his rental flat. No, he decided, I need more than this. I deserve a REAL home, just like this brochure says. However, he thought better of visiting the office of the developers in question. Instead, he turned the brochure over and checked out the name of the advertising agency that had conceived and printed this masterpiece of visual appeal. The agency’s name was Bolbachan Boulevard, located at Nal Stop. He decided to pay them a visit.

Half an hour later, he walked into their fifth-floor office. ‘BOLBACHAN BOULEVARD’ said the sign on the door. Under it was the cryptic message – ‘EXPERT PROMISES SINCE 1976’. An attractive receptionist with streaked red hair and green fingernails smiled up at him from behind a glass-and-chrome reception desk. This did not mean anything to HP – ever since he had arrived in Pune, he had learned that attractive receptionists are standard equipment in most business offices.

“Yes, sir? Can I help you?” she asked. Her fake American accent reminded HP of a call center girl he had met a few months ago, but she seemed friendly and helpful.

“Maybe…I hope so,” replied HP, holding out the brochure of Jadootona Heights. “This brochure was prepared by your agency, right?” The girl threw a cursory glance at it and nodded. “This and hundreds of others like it,” she said.

HP had come here with the idea of asking some honest questions about the project, but something told him that this was a wrong place for honest answers – instead, his native cunning took over. He remembered something his father had told him in Surat long ago – “Son, in this world, don’t expect to get at the truth by honest means”. So he decided on a different approach.

“Well, I must say it is a very professional job. The company who contracted you for it must be quite happy with it.” The receptionist smiled through painted lips.

“Oh, yes, sir. Bhrashtachar Bandhu Developers are long-standing clients of ours. In fact, we have an extensive list of prominent clients from the real estate line – may I give you a copy?”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” replied HP. “I’ll take your word for it. The fact is, I’m planning to launch of small residential project of my own by next year, and would like to have it advertised in the best possible way. This brochure is very impressive, and I decided to approach your agency to make one for my project.”

The receptionist nodded confidently. “You have come to the right place, sir. Did you say it will be a small project? No problem… we are very good at making small things look big. Will it be an ultra-luxurious undertaking?”

HP shook his head sadly. “No, I’m afraid not. I’m on a very small budget. But I’m sure that you can do something about that?”

“No problem at all, sir,” she assured. “We have expert copywriters who can make a Dharavi slum tenement sound like Buckingham Palace. They are very good at their work, and have fancy-sounding names for the most common things. ‘Flat’ becomes ‘Apartment’. ‘Watchman’ becomes ‘Professional Security Personnel’. ‘Open Space’ becomes ‘Amphitheater’. ‘Mud Path’ becomes ‘Jogging Track’. ‘Clubhouse’ becomes ‘Entertainment and Recreation Complex’. ‘Shower stall’ becomes ‘Personal Hygiene Unit’. You will not be disappointed, sir.”

Despite his growing horror, HP was impressed. You could say what you wanted about the agency’s ethics, but Bolbachan Boulevard was certainly professional. He decided to clear one remaining doubt. “I was also hoping for some effective photographs. Frankly, my project is not at a very good location, and…”

“Sir…,” interrupted the receptionist with a confident smile, “…with us at your service, you don’t NEED a good location. If your project does not show up well on a photograph, we have graphic artists who can come up with drawings that will fix that.”

“But I can’t afford to pay for beautiful foreign models….”

“Models? Who needs models, sir?” she asked. “We can get all the bikini-wearing foreigners we need from the Internet. As I told you, sir, you can leave it to us.”

Harish Patel thanked the helpful girl, assured her that he would be in contact, and walked out into the sunshine. He thanked God for inspiring him to make this visit instead of impulsively putting his money down on a flat at Jadootona Heights. His rental flat had seemed like a cramped and unappealing place to call home.

Now, HP knew that ‘ambience’ is just another name from a copywriter’s pen.


My valued friend, I am complete
Don’t add to me, or take away
You, who sit in judgment’s seat
On behalf of the moral elite
And think you know a better way.

There’ve been a thousand instances
I’ve faced the Critic’s Crew
I’ve heard each kind of remonstrance
And faced each disapproving glance
Now show me something new…

Don’t ask me what I think of you
I’d only spoil your day
It’s sad, of course – your hot wind blew
When I was trying to stay cool
But hot wind finally blows away.

Hell is full of folks like you
Each one has cursed and died
Go on and curse – there’re blessings too
Maybe you should learn a few
Invest a bit on Heaven’s side……

Let’s thank God for each point of view
This world would be a bore
If we resolved our differences
And united in our nothingness
To agree for evermore…

The God Of Small Things

Ashish D. is not his real name, and this overweight disgrace to my neighborhood could thank me for my discretion in keeping him anonymous.

The man takes his morning walk an hour later than I do. This means that he’s just starting off on his perambulations when I’m on my way back. He’s a regular, just like I am, but I never paid him much attention over the years. You know how it is – we see people, yet their existence registers as more of an abstract concept than an actual fact.

I’ve never so much as exchanged thoughts on the weather with him, and the only thought I ever spared him was an idle wondering…. how can a man walk like that for years and never lose an ounce of that gross flab? And why, if these nominal saunters have proved so utterly futile, has the oozy blighter not done something more constructive about his improbable girth? I mean, he has surely got a clear title deed for a 3BHK flat in Heart Attack Country and he’s bound to take up residence there anytime. Doesn’t that BOTHER him?

Anyway, one day the fact that he does figure on the landscape was driven jarringly home to me. The realization came in the form of a loud, agonized canine yelp. Jerked from my pleasant dawn reverie, I cast about for the source of the sound. A weathered dog was making tracks for the opposite side of the road as fast as three legs would allow it. Three, because the other one was drawn up against its belly in a tortured spasm of muscle and bone.

Ashish D. threw me a brief grin of vicious triumph as he took after the injured animal, brandishing the heavy stick he has picked up to launch the morning’s festivities.

“Saala kidela _____ (worm-raddled %#@>),” he cursed, enjoying every second of it. “Come sniffing at me once more and I’ll……”

He emphasized this sentiment by chasing the dog and giving it another lash of the stick, which caught the hobbled beast squarely on the back. The dog was out of its mind with pain now and was squalling like a bagful of BEST bus brakes during the peak hour crunch.

I was stunned into complete, impotent inaction. D. delivered three more blows to the animal before a window flew open above us and an irate woman leaned out.

“Oye, stop this immediately. My husband can’t sleep!” she screeched in hellish accompaniment to the dog’s vocal efforts. The dog in question used the lull to crawl beneath a paan shop and cower there for dear life.

D. flashed a spitless grin at her, favored me with a fading version of the same and discarded the stick. Then he waddled off, his mind obviously already switching gears to the stock market or some other good-time stuff. The beleaguered mutt crawled out from under the paan shop, scanned the surrounding topography and found it fortuitously bereft of fat middle-management prototypes headed for Stroke City.

Fade to black…

No, of COURSE Ashish D. bears no resemblance to any of us. WE wouldn’t kick a defenseless street dog just because we feel so hugely superior to it, would we? Nor would we tell a street urchin to scram when he or she sucks up for a spare coin just because the sight reminds of too uncomfortably of how our own kids would look if the Powers That Be had not somehow transpired to set them above such a lot, would we? OTHER folks do such stuff, right? Sick folks. Folks like Ashish D. Right? Huh? Right?

What circumstances spawn such moral bottom-feeders in the first place? A desire to rid the city of unsanitary elements such as stray dogs? The trauma of having been bitten in the butt by just such a cur back in childhood? I don’t think so.

I close my eyes and see a different scenario – one littered with bugs that squirm and scamper for the shadows when sunlight hits them. Behind my closed eyes, I see a Ashish D. who is not as secure in his precariously overloaded skin as he pretends.

The economy is see-sawing wildly, inflation has eaten into his once unassailable bank accounts and he may just have to pull his bounder son out of that fancy ‘international’ school next year. His wife, no less bloated on excesses than he is, treats him like the last dirt on earth – just like his dad did before him. His boss has chuckled forlornly every time Ashish has hinted at that promotion. Ashish smells his essential powerlessness over the world he inhabits with every wheezy breath he pulls into his blubber-cased lungs.

He does not like this smell, and he needs to rid himself of it.

What old Ashish therefore does is treat each waking hour as another opportunity to bolster his sagging pride by taking pot-shots at the various hapless targets that the world has placed at his disposal. Therefore, the beggar on the road is cursed and waved away like a leper who has dared to cross the Holy Temple’s threshold. The street kid is treated to a look and words of utter loathing and revulsion. The maid is threatened with sudden unemployment every time she goofs up. And the street doggie gets a kick in his scrawny backside if he is presumptuous enough to make an appearance during Ashish’s fruitless morning waddles.

He does not have what it takes to tell his wife what HE thinks of HER. He doesn’t have the courage to tell his boss to shove his job up the old waste-pipe and look for a better prospects. His dad died of an apocalyptic, ghee-induced stroke years ago and is unavailable for settling scores with.

He is the overgrown schoolyard bully, even now desperately trying to salvage his self-esteem by preying on those who seem weak enough not to put up a fight. And, of course, he’s going to die in un-heroic circumstances before his time; he isn’t man enough to save his own ass. If that isn’t enough to sign the death warrant of every stray dog within kicking distance, what is…?

Goa Vacation Survival Guide

So, you’re going on a Goa vacation. You’ve made an online booking in what may be the last of the decently priced hotels in Goa, have your flight tickets in your hand and are raring to go. Goa beach culture – here you come!

Good for you. I salute your prudence and good taste. To be sure, there aren’t many options that compare to a Goa vacation. You’ve made an excellent choice. I love Goa, and recommend it highly over India’s other beach-based tourist destinations. Kerala’s Kovalam? Gimme a break. Mumbai’s Juhu? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. Lakshadweep? Hey, I thought you want to be where the ACTION is!!

So, your plane lands at Dabolim Airport. Or your train pulls into Margaon Station. Or your bus wheezes to a halt a Panjim. Or you’ve survived a self-driven car journey and are trying to figure out if this IS Panjim or just another of those towns with pseudo-Portuguese names that you’ve passed through. Read the hoardings and see what area the joints they advertise are at, dummy. Don’t tell me you can’t see all those Dantesque monstrosities that vie for your attention. Eat that lobster platter. Drink that beer. Take that pleasure cruise down the Mandovi River. Move into that Goa resort, because no other resort even comes NEAR in terms of ‘tropical ambience’, hospitality, facilities, cuisine (don’t bother looking for the room rates, though).

(Read the complete article on http://www.goa-beach.com/goa-vacation-survival-guide.htm)

The Purpose Of Life – Yes, Again!!

Enough has been written on this subject to wallpaper every square inch of the planet if the printouts were laid out edge to edge. The Internet space this material occupies could, if put to more fruitful use, host enough information to the true nature of politics to put that revered business model out of the running forever.

And yet, there are no answers – only vague suppositions, amateur conjecture, the dubious assurances given in the Bible, Koran and Torah, and the impotently dry intellectualism of philosophers and latter-day pop gurus. Nobody has really been able to tell us, with immutable logic and indubitable power of conviction, why we crawl across the planet.

No, I don’t have the answer either – but I have two eyes, a like number of ears and a backside that learns reasonably well from experience. Even with limited knowledge, the power of observation and deduction can carry one pretty far. In fact, because everyone has at least a modicum of these faculties, we all know at least SOME baseline facts about the nature and purpose of human life. The problem is that they’re so unpalatable that we look for better explanations.

The best (and worst) I can do here is to stand on my soapbox and spill these facts out in broad daylight. Nobody will thank me for doing this, and I consider it fortunate that I’m NOT here for gratitude. Now, to the subject.

The last office I worked in had a creaky old lift, traveling in which was always new incentive to reflect on whether one’s life insurance policy was still paid up and current. The walls of this death contraption were generously plastered with stickers, posters and scribbles that promoted some product, service or school of thought or the other. One of these, half torn away but still faintly legible, simply stated:


“WHAT?!?” you scream. “HAPPY?!?! How mercenary! How shallow! How utterly bereft of social spirit! We are here to HELP EACH OTHER!! To make this world a BETTER PLACE TO LIVE IN!!!”

Yeah, right. Okay, your time is up. Gimme my soapbox back.

Let us examine some facts here, shall we? Yes, yes, I know it will hurt, but hey… you can’t expect a perpetual ride through La-La Land, now can you? There have to be way stations, right? Places where we can alight and have a quick cup of hot Realitea before we embark on our cocooned journey again.

Now stop whining. The facts:

* Nobody achieves anything of true universal importance in his or her lifetime
* Suffering achieves no purpose other than to displace happiness
* Nobody’s watching, applauding or preparing a Welcome Cart on the other side
* There IS no other side

I have no real reasons to give you, but I strongly suspect that whoever put that sticker up was right. We are, indeed, here to be happy, simply because being sad is such an inferior option. However, the pursuit of happiness is traditionally equated with hedonism. ‘Hedonist’ is NOT a qualification that most of us would want on our visiting cards. So, even though each of us definitely DOES want more than our share of the good times, we make sure that there’s enough misery in our lives to soothe our uneasy conscience.

Let’s define misery. No, forget the Oxford dictionary, I mean let’s really DEFINE misery here, okay? No farting around with semantics, just the bare bones. Misery is the state in which our wants are not met, and those that were being met before are also compromised. That’s misery. Misery is also other people, but only to the extent that OTHERS get what THEY want and we don’t.

Pretty self-centered, huh?

Did you just mention the bleeding-heart social activist who is miserable because his PEOPLE (or maybe not even HIS people) are being deprived of their rights? Gimme a break. The man may be crazy now, but he wasn’t born that way. He had this harebrained stance implanted into him by his parents, in school or perhaps in the Army. His natural state is as selfish as yours and mine. Anyone whose heart bleeds for others is merely on a sanctified ego trip. And even THIS person is looking for a state of personal happiness, even though he or she erroneously believes that this state is somehow linked with the happiness of others. We are here for ourselves, period.

Closer home, we are often tempted to believe that our purpose on this earth is to serve our family and fulfill their needs. Another ego trip – we just want to get a healthy chomp of the feeling of personal achievement that doing this provides us with. Examined closely, it would logically seem that we would be happier WITHOUT those appendages that we added or were added to us somewhere along the way – if we had never met that doe-eyed beauty, scraped that orphan off the road or taken that doggie home. After all, it’s not as if anyone is desperately UNHAPPY until he/she is married or accepted into the local Lions chapter. It just so happened that we did, thereby inheriting a whole new slew of complications on the final journey towards personal happiness.

Now let’s go to the original model of the human being. No, I don’t mean the protozoa crawling out of the primordial ooze. Not THAT far back, okay? Let’s examine the blighter who recently descended from the trees and found that this cave actually beats that nasty old tree hollow when it rains, shines or freezes over. Did I hear a Christian anti-evolutionist squawk back there? Put a sock in it and read your Bible, okay? We’re talking REAL LIFE here, not your grade of nebulous candy floss. Hey, barkeep, give that poor numbskull a double shot of Holy Water and make him shut up.

I have understandably not met such a recent descendee myself (though I DO get a brief glimpse of him when a traveling relative lands up at my doorstep, asking if he can crash out here for the night.) However, I do believe that the kind of brains going round then were pretty rudimentary, and therefore not too hard to pick. Simple motives.

What did it take to make a caveman happy? No philosophy about the meaning and purpose of life there. Get fed, get laid, keep warm/cold/dry, biff that fuckhead from the next cave on the head if he comes sniffing around your mate, and a swim in the river would go down pretty well, too. Bingo, happiness. Purpose of life achieved in full – let’s file that report! No concerns about the state of the nation, the absence of a red Ferrari or the fact he can’t pay for bambino’s summer camp this year. Just because we’re complicated matters of personal happiness beyond all salvage today doesn’t mean that it is no longer what we want, and what we live for.

Yes, we’re here to be happy, but there is a problem there. Happiness is a highly subjective term, considering that some folks are happiest when someone is whipping their hide to shreds while they’re chained to a post. In fact, some folks are only happy when they’re in the midst of a state that most other humans would pay considerable amounts of moolah to avoid.

Yup, happiness is subjective. By the same coin, so is sadness. Some folks are only sad when they’re in a space that others would equate with happiness. These worthies find the state of being without problems intolerable. If none exist, they bend over backwards and sideways to create problems. You get the picture – happiness and sadness are subjective, and YOUR take on them is by no means the global standard.

Okay, now for your original objection. We are here to help each other, is it? Why are we here to do that? Does our help somehow change the equation? You’re going to die, and so will the dude you’re helping. His life’s purpose is the same as yours – to be happy, period. No more and no less. So now you’re going to fulfill HIS purpose is life, are you?

Even if your help somehow results in him becoming the president of your country some day, everybody in this country is going to die too. You may not have noticed it, but human life comes with a limited shelf life. Whether or not you help someone else or not, that fact will not change. So, what precisely ARE you achieving? Totting up credits in Heaven for yourself? Well, even if that’s the case, you’re still being selfish, aren’t you?

The purpose of human life is to make this world a better place to live in, you say? Playing God again, are we? This planet is going to hell in a handcart. Nobody on it is going to make a dime of a difference in the Universal context. My guess is that in a thousand years or less, it will be no more than a smoldering cinder cluttering up space. Nobody will have got off it long enough to impact any larger scheme of things. The Earth is essentially a doomed, localized infection, of absolutely no significance to God’s plans for the Big Picture.

So, don’t worry and be happy, already. You’re running out of time.

Death – The Final Frontier


Last night, it suddenly occurred to me that I’m 45 years old, and that a lot of people die by the age of 60. I’m not in terribly bad shape, but I’d say that consoling myself with that is sort of like whistling past the graveyard – a lot of shit happens to fit people, too.

The human body is not your precision Swiss watch, where one can account for every tick and tock, replace a single worn out gear and have the whole thing running on again as if nothing had happened. The body is an organic mess of unfathomable complexity, and it keeps throwing up surprises. Pick up any Reader’s Digest and you will read about at least one new radical, hitherto unsuspected process that is making medical scientists skip their lunches and wet their pants in glee. Pick up any metropolitan tabloid and you will read of some poor bastard who went face-down in his lunchroom soup for no apparent reason.

And then there’s Chance – that wild card that the Universe throws on the table just when you thought you had a winning hand. Along comes a drunk driver and runs 200 pounds of steel and rubber all over those gym-toned muscles, calcium-nurtured bones and carefully moisturized skin of yours. There goes your hard-won physical wellbeing. There go those good looks. Here come an instant of incredible torture, gut-wrenching ugliness, the deletion of all your carefully hoarded knowledge and permanent, uncompromising oblivion.

Occasionally, my eyes meet those of someone across the street, at a bus stop or at the local tea vendor and I see a reciprocating flicker of dull knowledge… it’s no use. We strive. We struggle. We set out to win, lose instead, wrench ourselves onto the path again, win for the moment and feel good about ourselves – and all the while, we are only whistling past the graveyard. Death awaits us all somewhere along the line, and the more we add to our lives by ways of victories, experiences, knowledge and possessions, the more terrified and unwilling we will be when the moment comes to give it all up and face annihilation. The luckiest among us will go in an unaware flash – the luckless ones will see it coming and have enough time to be extremely afraid of being utterly, completely erased at the end of at least some degree of mental and physical suffering.

I see knowledge of this in the eyes of someone struck immobile and speechless by a stroke. “I have lived a long and eventful life,” those eyes say. “I have experienced practically everything that can be experienced in the gamut of possible human experiences. Nothing has prepared me for this. Everything I did, everything I learned and everything I strove for was related to life. To enhance the quality, security and durability of life. But I don’t know how to die! Death is not life – death is the End of Everything!! I don’t want to die…!!”

I mention the inevitability of death to some friends over coffee. One laughs nervously, looks away and says, “Sheeeeit, you are such a loser. Order yourself something stronger – that java is not cutting it!’ Another looks at his watch, fumbles for a cigarette and lights up.

The good-looking middle-aged woman at the next table throws me a poisonous look, hurriedly pays her bill and leaves.

How ‘Middle Class’ Is The Indian Middle Class?

One hears Indians humbly claim that they’re just plain, ordinary ‘middle class’ folks all the time. By that, they seem to mean that they’re somehow struggling to eke out an existence, that they can afford no frills and that they deserve the hallowed ‘blue collar’ status. In what context do we hear this claim?

Well, suppose Mr. Desai next door has just bought himself a spanking new Toyota. He’s thrilled to bits. Mr. Narisetti from next door is not thrilled to bits. He wishes he could buy a car that outclasses Mr. Desai’s, but instead says something like this – “Well, you know, we’re just poor middle class folks. We don’t spend money on such frivolities”.

Mr. Prabhudevan receives a request from CRY. Could he sponsor a child’s education for a year? It would only take Rs. 1200 per annum. He sighs loudly and announces to his friends – “I wish someone would give ME 1200 bucks per year. These bleeding heart organizations have some nerve, trying to coerce money from poor middle class people like us, right?”

Mrs. Sanghvi and her husband are driving through Malabar Hill. They grunt disapprovingly at the opulent houses. “Criminals, all of them!” says Mrs. Sanghvi. “Honest middle class people like us cannot even DREAM of living in such palaces!”

So what is the Indian middle class? Does middle class simply mean that you cannot buy a new car or sponsor an underprivileged child? It would appear so, but there’s more. As you can see from the last example, ‘middle class’ is also a catchall term for ‘honest’, implying that anyone who is above the middle class line is somehow dishonest. Another class of people define themselves as ‘middle class’ in this way -  “We don’t know anything about social responsibility! Why do you want to burden a middle class family with such fundas? Please allow us to suffer in peace!”

I have no comment on that. What I do want to point out here is how economic surveys actually DO define the Indian middle class. Please read on, and figure out if you’re middle class or not. Your conclusion may change your bitter outlook on life and make you feel a little more blessed -

The median family income in India is approximately Rs.4500 a month. By its conventional definition, the middle class includes families whose incomes lie between 75% and 125% of the median. Families with monthly incomes over Rs.6000 are thus above the ‘middle class’ line, and families earning more than Rs.8000 or 9000 a month are certainly among the top fifth of the nation.

So, are you middle class? Or just another whining ‘nakhrebaaz’?


My valued friend, I am complete
Don’t add to me, or take away
You, who sit in judgment’s seat
On behalf of the moral elite
And think you know a better way.

There’ve been a thousand instances
I’ve faced the Critic’s Crew
I’ve heard each kind of remonstrance
And faced each disapproving glance
Now show me something new…

Don’t ask me what I think of you
I’d only spoil your day
It’s sad, of course – your hot wind blew
When I was trying to stay cool
But hot wind finally blows away.

Hell is full of folks like you
Each one has cursed and died
Go on and curse – there’re blessings too
Maybe you should learn a few
Invest a bit on Heaven’s side……

Let’s thank God for each point of view
This world would be a bore
If we resolved our differences
And united in our nothingness
To agree for evermore…


Between jobs a few years ago, I happened to chat with a friend in another town. I mean, I didn’t KNOW I was between jobs then – I merely knew that I’d chucked my old one and was looking for alternatives.

The state of being jobless is a spiritual experience – it is like looking down from the edge of Hell’s chasm, smelling the sulphur fumes and hearing the screams of the tortured while the heat from below singes the hair in your nostrils. Extremely unpleasant, but we tend to remember such times in a moronically sanitized manner in later years. Sometimes we fondly call them ‘the turning point of my life’ or ‘the time when I experienced the spirituality of helplessness.’ We are a dumb race, to be sure, or we’d have been smart enough to extinct ourselves long ago.

The days where one job hunted by wearing out shoe leather are over, of course. What you do today is put out ten bucks, hit the nearest cyber café and wear out your fingers instead, keeping your mobile within grabbing distance the moment you see the words ‘walk-in interview’ on the monitor.

My friend is like me – he can’t stop working. I compared notes with him many years ago, and we’re fairly sure that workaholism is not in our genes. In other words, something has happened to us along the way. The result – we are the first to profess that work is not everything in life, but our lives to do not epitomize that homily. We work as though our lives depend on it, defining Hell as any day on which we don’t have enough work to occupy every spare moment.

“So how’s life?” he asked

“Life sucks,” I replied, only paying marginal attention as I scanned yet another job site. “Am jobless. Am doomed.”

“Why are you doomed?” he asked, his gentle curiosity infuriating me. It seemed to imply that I had missed the point here; that a job is NOT as important as I was making it out to be… that I was some poor ignoramus in the Kingdom of the Enlightened, and that he was here to show me the Way. That, coming from him, was nothing but a joke.

“Am doomed ‘coz am jobless,” I replied, wondering how anyone could question such logic. The jobs portal had great listings for people with 7+ years experience – I had 2.5, and that was pushing it. I was doomed for sure.

“So what’s the big deal about being jobless?” he asked.

Was he sick? Had he got Jesus or Coelho? How can one even THINK of dragging such an important aspect of life down to the level of mere philosophy? I mean, you can probably do that if you have a working wife, which passes off for being gainfully employed in India. Me, I was single and still an adherent of the obsolete school of thought that believes that a man must pull his own freight in life. I know how old fashioned that sounds, but there you are…

My fingers slithered restlessly across the keyboard. My ten bucks in the cyber café were almost used up and I STILL hadn’t found a job.One job search site stated that there was an opening for assistant bank clerk for someone of my experience, if I wanted it. I was partly willing to consider it by then.

I was about to hit the ‘end chat’ icon when he threw a simple question my way.

“Why do we make such a big deal out of work, the likes of you and me?”

I mean, what kind of question is that? Work? Big deal? Work is GOD!! Work is all there IS!! All hail the Holy Workload!!!

“We have to keep body and soul together!” I replied. “I don’t know about you, but nobody’s hanging around with a perpetually stocked fridge in MY part of town!”

“I don’t think so,” he replied. “We’re not homeless urchins. We all know enough people who would throw two square meals our way till we die if that was the only criterion.”

“Speak for yourself,” I replied curtly. “I don’t.”

“No? What about your dad back in Hicksville? You telling me he wouldn’t feed you, expecting nothing but a willing ear for his geriatric drivel in return?”

He had a point there. There’s always someone we can suck up to if it comes to safeguarding mere physical existence. The REAL point here, however, was that I would’ve rather DIED than subject myself to such ignominy. Been there, done that, can’t never do it again.

I cannot speak for everyone, of course. Some otherwise virile men seem to be content with mooching off their wives’ earnings, but I think the global standard is that they’d rather NOT be known as doing that. In other words, mere survival is not a real reason for why we work.

“We overwork because we feel that as long as we’re working harder than anyone else, we won’t die,” I hazarded, getting sucked into the discussion despite clearly having better things to do. The job search page of yet another job portal jittered suspiciously when I pasted in my threadbare CV. I think it was laughing at me.

“Hmm, there may be some truth there,” he replied. “But we’re all smart enough to know that we’ll die anyway, work overload or no work overload.”

I had no proof to the contrary to offer, but I still had a good answer left.

“We overwork to get away from our overbearing spouses, dictatorial parents, demanding brats or whoever else we have been idiotic enough not to jettison from our lives long ago,” I said.

“Does it work?” he asked. “Those chickens always come home to roost anyway, no matter how we try to avoid them.”

Damn him.

“We overwork because our egos demand it,” I shot back. “Because we need to prove to the world that we’re capable of living life on life’s terms.”

“I don’t think so. We may believe during the day that the whole world is watching and evaluating what we do with out lives, but at 2.00 in the morning, everyone of us knows that nobody’s watching at all. Everyone is too tied up in their own shit to give doodly squat about anyone else.”

I was getting pretty hassled about it all by then.

“For the money!” I replied vehemently. “FOR THE GODDAMN MONEY!!! We overwork because we LOVE MONEY!!”

There was a long pause. Then….

“Oh, yeah? Well, how is that you always end up in loser jobs working harder and making much less on it than anyone else?” he asked.

I didn’t reply. He was being unreasonable, and I don’t argue with unreasonable men. Also, he was right.

Finally, he sent me this –

“I think we kill ourselves with work to fight off that dreadful feeling of futility and shame.”

Then the monitor switched to a hideous shade of aquamarine and a ‘gimme more money’ screen came up. My hour of cyber café time was up. I walked out. I didn’t HAVE more money.

He was right. We overwork because we feel our lives are futile if we don’t. We can’t stay away from wrestling with the company’s annual report on a weekend because the company is the only entity on earth that makes us feel validated. We can’t stop working while others are relaxing because if we do we feel like the eunuch in the harem. That explains the ‘Busman’s Holiday’ that Eric Berne outlines in his book ‘The Games People Play’ – (sic) ‘using skills learned in one’s profession to help others without pay while on vacation – for example, Joining the Peace Corps (nominally paid).

But we also overwork because we fear the Hereafter, where the complete depth of the meaninglessness of our lives will surely be exposed. Sure, the simple fear of death comes in there somewhere, but it goes deeper than that. Even the most die-hard atheist in the lot instinctively works to store up brownie points in the very Heaven that he says he doesn’t believe in. I know of the futility of worldly treasures, titles and adulation – but I’m not sure what waits on the other side of the grave and I don’t want to think about it, either.

What we workaholics do all our lives is work hard enough to feel that we deserve some indulgence in guilty pleasures, snarf up those pleasures, work hard yet again, feel worthy enough for more guilty pleasures, then work even harder. On and on it goes.

We don’t know why we do this, but what we hope without knowing that we hope is that the Someone Upstairs whose existence we don’t think about at all while we’re still alive and in control of things will sigh, throw away the damning tally sheet when we come face to face with Him and say, “Well, you were a totally louse all your life. Look at this – you are a prime candidate for damnation. Hmm, but you sure worked hard. Okay, come in…”

Futile Altar – Memories Of Past Disillusionment


It was no more than happenstance
That caused two wandering souls
To briefly meet – the purest chance
That she gave me a second glance
How strangely Fate’s bell tolls.

It seems to me we shared some times
That only my heart treasures
Mine alone calls them sublime
Enough to try and make them rhyme
And precious beyond measure.

How mystifying our Maker’s mind
To smile at such imbalance
My voice with hers briefly entwined
Only, in the end, to find
The song had no resonance.

Love can surely only croon
The most elusive odes
It seems at first the perfect tune
But discord creeps in all too soon
The harmony erodes.

The most impassioned love song dies
The lustiest voice must falter
When it finds that its sacrifice
Is viewed with cold, indifferent eyes
Upon a futile altar.

So fare thee well, my unmoved muse
God grant your heart’s desire
He gives us all the power to choose
There are no techniques one can use
To set a stone on fire…