My Next Project

A sneak-peek...

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534 BC, Somewhere in Northern Bharat

It was a moonlit night. The lean frame was nervously pacing up and down in the open courtyard. The silence of the night was only broken by chirping of crickets and occasional croaking of frogs. It was monsoon season. A recent spell of rain resulted in petrichor, the fresh smell that permeates after a recent downpour. The light torches around the courtyard, though dim, cast an eerie glow – projecting the ominous shadows that danced through the night.

The individual was restless. Today, sleep was elusive to him. It has been elusive for quite some time now. Insomnia has now become a routine problem. The only calmness came from the few hours of meditation performed religiously during early morning that soothed his mind and provided some respite from daily chores and hassles. His wife often joined him.

He was hit by a full-blown mid-life crisis in an age and era where the term did not exist and the condition was extremely rare. The basic questions of life bothered him – his existence and ultimate goal in life.

His father already decided the future for him and groomed him accordingly. But he felt he wasn’t ready; it wasn’t his destiny, neither was he interested. It was an insult to go against his father’s wishes and he should ideally honour them at all cost.

Thankfully his wife understood the turmoil that is constantly eating him up from inside. She whole-heartedly supported him in his quest. He desperately needed to get an answer to address the problem. The life that his father planned for him to lead the clan will not let him find answers to the questions he was seeking. It needed a drastic review and change in approach.

The issue was further compounded by the fact that he recently became a father to a son. It made him all the more detached from the material world. He named his son “Rahul”, which will still remain a popular name two thousand years later. But right now, his mind was in a whirlwind – what will he say to his son about purpose of life? Why was he born? What is his destiny? Not knowing the answers to these questions that the universe hid from him frustrated him further.

He looked up at the sky. The moon was brightly glowing, outshining the brightness of the nearby stars; which were otherwise visible during new moon on a clear night. He aspired to be that moon that brings a soft glow of warmth in others’ lives; a feeling out of this world – almost Godly and Divine…

He spoke aloud to no one, “What am I doing here? What is the meaning of my existence?” Taking a pause, he started, “Why is this unhappiness all around? Why do we have suffering? If all men are created equal, then why do we discriminate in the name of caste and gender? If death is certain, then why is life created? What is my purpose in this world?”

These questions haunted him. Vedas did not make much sense to him any longer. He clenched his fists; his mind finally made the decision.

If civil service was the only way – then he will do it the right way. Not being the leader of the clan; but by being a beacon of light for the entire humanity.

He turned around and quickly went inside the palace. Today, the guards had minimal presence. He walked down a number of rooms and entered the large chamber where his wife and son were sleeping peacefully. Lovingly he pecked his wife’s cheeks and looked at his son longingly. He wanted to pick him up, cradling him in his arms but was scared that he might wake up his son.

Slowly he stood up from the bed, mouthing the last words of goodbye to his sleeping wife and new-born son. He then turned around and walked out of the chamber, never to return.

He walked out towards the courtyard, away from the stable towards the perimeter wall. Everything was pre-arranged. His loyal servant Channa was waiting by the chariot along with his favourite horse Kanthaka near the small backyard gate which was rarely manned.

Channa tried his best to deter his master from the lonely sojourn he was planning. But all advice fell on deaf ears. Quickly he boarded the chariot and ordered Channa to take him to the forest by the river side.

Upon reaching the predetermined location, he handed over all his belongings to the charioteer. He was travelling surprisingly light for a person of his stature. But, his mind was in search of answers from the cosmos. All he needed was a unidirectional focus away from the hustle and bustle of the daily city life.

It was so easy for him to leave everything behind in quest for truth.
Had he been born today, the Westerners would have called him Sid, his parents would have endearingly called him Siddy; his passport would have borne the following details:

Given Name:                Siddharth
Family Name:              Gautam                                                  
Date of Birth:               ~6 May, 563 BC[1]
Place of Birth:              Lumbini
Father’s Name:            Suddhodana
Mother’s Name:           Maya Devi
Spouse Name:             Yashodhara

His passport would have most probably been issued by the Republic of Shakya Ganarajya, the earliest form of democracy known to India. The Regional Passport Office [RPO] would have been Kapilavastu, the capital city of Shakya Ganarajya.

To the world, he will eventually be known as Gautam Buddha. His life would be well documented. He would be the propagator of a new religion that would spread far and wide. His achievements would eventually be added in the history text-books two thousand years later.

~2250 years later, 2014 AD, Present Day

Nothing much has changed in the way humans feel trapped inside their mind and body. Infact it has worsened with each passing century. Kaliyug at its heights.

[1] Realistically there isn’t a way one could have predicted that Jesus Christ would have been born 563 years later when the passport would have been issued and that the Julian Calendar and later the Gregorian Calendar would be in use world over.
Also there are few sources which place Buddha’s birth from late April to Early May, 563 years before the birth of Christ.


Chapter 1:

Fifty Shades of Grey – that was the atmosphere – surreal with no sense of smell or colour – just a spectrum of rainbow in grayscale, missing its core ingredients – the beauty.

What it lacked in colour – made it up with a sense of anxiety – constantly gnawing at the edge of mind – a sense of dread of something awful about to materialise.

The next moment, you are on the edge of a precipice of a skyscraper – looking below – a mile below; and before you comprehend, an invisible finger flicks you off the edge like a feather – death rushes to meet you at a breakneck speed that you can’t control – your brain screams “FUCK! NO! I still haven’t finished the freaking presentation!” And then you are about to splatter yourself on the pavement with a giant THUD! For a moment, a very small miniscule moment, you are even embarrassed about the amount of splatter the collision would cause, leaving last traces of your earthly body a cause of embarrassment for your near and dear ones – That’s no decent way to leave this body! You are in foetal position, about to embrace death – The body twitches miraculously before it hits the ground and you are awake with a jerk! Strangely alive, drenched in sweat, heaving, relieved – a flurry of emotions sweeps over; taking a moment to realise the oppressive heat of room was overpowering – power outage all over again with no AC running and the ceiling fan too lethargic to stir the stale air of the room on a draining end of life inverter.

Meet Vishal! Our Protagonist.

A look on his right – the right side of his bed that consumed 80 percent of the surface area of the bed – Anushka was sleeping peacefully with a smile of a baby on her face. Not a worry of the world etched. Damn! He thought, feeling jealous.

A tap on the smartphone revealed the time – 3:07 AM – an eerie bluish glow illuminating the still sweat-drenched face. Sleep was over as far as Vishal was concerned. It eluded him after such nightmares. Soaking the sweat of his forehead with his tee – he swiped the screen, thinking of playing candy-crush to kill time; hopeful of sleep to drug him silently – he suddenly felt the urge to pee… nice timing, he thought.

Relieving himself in the bathroom, humming a Hindi retro song – his mind for a second went back to the chain of events, analysing sub-consciously what the heck in the world woke him up and why the fuck was he humming a Hindi retro while peeing in the middle of the night. Berating himself for the foul mood that seems to be his only companion these days, he made a conscious decision to cheer himself up. Two things do cheer him – Porn and Alcohol – both the options not viable at the moment. It was too late in the night to watch porn on a draining laptop, risking awaking his wife, Anushka. Nevertheless, he smiled at the thought of how much it would irk her and piss her off. Well, he can’t blame her though for the situation he was responsible for, technically. Shaking off the thought, the second option of taking a swig of his favourite poison – Old Monk in the damp oppressive Delhi heat didn’t look too inviting either.

Instead, he booted up his laptop, deciding to finish off the presentation that he left midway; utilizing the remaining battery effectively. What a life! he thought. Powerpoint winning over Porn! Ridiculous! Five years back – it would have been just porn, hands down… but guess marriage does tame your instincts and emotions. It forces you to be mature, even when the core of your heart tries to rebel every now and then, with devastating consequences, while the brain watches the carnage as by-stander, smirking – I told you so. But, Dil hai ki manta nahi… If one chronicled all such actions, it would run into several volumes of failure that encompassed Vishal’s entire life of 28 years of journey in this material world.

To an ordinary middle class Indian family, these failures on the contrary would be shining examples of how the children should be brought up and shoved into the world of rat race – wagering bets against neighbours’ kids, jeering and cheering their own flock as if in cock-fights, to win at all costs, all personal costs ignored; overlooking the fact that for all practical purposes, asking a fish to climb a tree or a goading a monkey to be polite – results in losing the essence of what education should be; disregarding completely what the child wishes to do and wants to excel in. Imagine Manmohan Singh as PM in the second half of UPA tenure or if Sachin Tendulkar would have chosen classical singer as his vocation – Disastrous results.

Nevertheless, our Vishal has been an above average achiever in life, just short of being brilliant – just above that threshold, able to manage the expectations successfully of his parents somehow when all hope was lost for them… After marriage, the story continued though; Puppet remained the same, puppeteers changed hands. Vishal is in a prison of societal expectations – an enigma that is engulfing the current generation – forcing a societal upheaval that challenges the traditional ways. Well, can Vishal be a foot soldier in this grand upheaval? The chances are slim for Vishal though, given his past record of failing so superbly at everything that he rebelled against. No wonder, he even thinks twice at doing the right things that the society expects him to do.

Vishal can be considered a success as per a traditional Indian Societal Scale – that has only two ratings – “Sharma ji’s beta/beti” and then you! The “luccha, lafanga”. But the scale changed often as per circumstances and convenience. Often other parents painted Vishal as “Sharma ji’s Beta” in the traditional scale in front of their kids, ironically Vishal has been labelled as an “idiot” by his own parents’ umpteen times when he failed his parents by not being able to clear simple exams like AIPMT or AIEEE. It was a tremendous shame for the family that has the track-record of producing only doctors and engineers for the nation! Vishal turned out to be the black sheep despite all efforts and good intentions. But somehow all wasn’t lost. He graduated top of the class in Biotech from a decent college without capitation fee – that somehow salvaged the situation. Biotech was in vogue and the next best rage in the country in the field of biosciences after being an actual doctor. No one actually knows what a biotechnologist in India does except cleaning petri-dishes and autoclaving them in pharmaceutical companies. But anyway, then the second rage came to his aid – the magical 3 letter degree known as “MBA” that every Tom, Dick and Harry nowadays possess.

MBA provided him the necessary boost that landed him a decent job with a six figure salary that would be considered obnoxious by many in an economy hit by recession just then. Job security was considered a luxury back at those days. His designation is “Consultant” in an IT industry that would be an envy of many. His peers since graduation meanwhile slogged off their asses 18 hours a day in bio-labs fighting for a PhD degree that has one fourth of the pay and no life – but loads of respect! Respect is what is missing in the corporate world. Respect! It is so easy to buy nowadays; directly proportional to the amount of money doled out as compensation with a dash of ass-licking as needed – corporate style, coupled with fanciful designations that has no true meaning – even HR at times wonders patting their own backs, how the hell they came up with so many different VPs in their organization – just adding Sr, Exec, Corp and Asso in front of VP while playing a game of lotto during corp rejig. Vishal is considered lucky – he is fucking lucky to have a job that pays well according to his family benchmark and has been doing well since. He got promoted almost every other year – that’s icing on the cake; He has gained respect in the eyes of society – of which he is still scared of.

But what about Vishal? What does he think? One would think that Vishal’s story is over. Society has achieved what it’s supposed to. Bend, break and build a stereotype and produce a Vishal as per their standards. It’s now time for Vishal to implement the story of his life on his kids and create a replica of his as per norms – for which he has already started planning, thanks again to societal pressure of becoming a father or else facing the prospect of getting his sperm count checked. Anushka, the love of his life, was two months’ pregnant. The thought brought smile to his lips. His heart fluttered at the thoughts, warmth creeping inside his already warm body, thanks to oppressive heat – he bent over and kissed Anushka on her sweaty forehead – who was snoring through the night, at peace.

Looking back at the slides he was working on – he thought of innovation! Like an Entrepreneur… Let’s put in some animation to make the slides look interactive with bright colours, he thought, hoping to get across the message to his client effectively, who were a constant pain on his arse – ever demanding and constantly unhappy like all clients are supposed to be. Vishal was a perfectionist though – one trait that despite all his handicap has supported him in good stead all these years in the corporate world. A notification on his screen popped up “Only 7% Battery Remaining”, he decided to quickly mail the deck to his manager, Sahil, before it’s too late – he was over the deadline by a day. He could make the final changes later in the day. The clock struck 5:00 AM. His Friday has begun.

Shutting the lid of the laptop, Vishal gently eased against the headboard – propping himself against the pillows, making himself comfortable. Staring blankly across the wall, he wondered, how exciting his weekend is going to be; which nowadays was mostly sleep marathon of 12-14 hours and then lazily watching a movie gorging on pizza and coke. Anushka gave him full company, especially now, that she at times get these mood swings, thanks to pregnancy, to crave spicy and fatty foods which was previously a strict no-no. A once flat tummy has slowly gone rotund, thanks to sedentary life style and free pizza offers. His friend circle has drastically reduced after marriage – who now passingly remember him giving him wide berth; considered pariah since he stopped coming over for Counter-Strike marathons. Lazily feeling his tummy in slow circles, thoughts flashed through his mind of possible alternatives – of the possible outcomes if he was allowed to make the important life decisions during his formative years. Nah! He was not allowed to think that way. Vishal laughed at himself and turned towards his wife, still snoring away peacefully, fully unaware of the turmoil in Vishal’s head. He snuggled against his wife, caressing her belly, soothing their still unborn child.

But a devil crept up from behind – inseminating a thought that will take deep roots… What will you tell your child? Have you succeeded or failed in life? That was a tough one considering which side you are on. What will be your advice to your child – perform or perish? Or chase your own dreams and be free… be truly free to make your choices and fail! A laugh escaped his mouth, disturbing Anushka from her deep sleep. He quickly turned on his back, trying not to wake up Anushka, observing the slowly rotating ceiling fan – his mouth turned firm, his eyes showed resolve – No, I will rebel. I will mutiny one last time… I will fight these odds… and with these thoughts, his mind went to peace and sleep engulfed him all of a sudden.

But what will the protagonist do? It most probably will be something unimaginable by all standard, bordering on daring on stupidity - depending on whether it will succeed or fail! As a silent observer of Vishal's actions to be able to read his mind, I have full faith that Vishal will not fail to amaze his wife and parents, the people closed to him who matter, much to their chagrin. But what will Vishal do? That remains to be seen...

IF you are reading this sentence and reached till the end, please definitely do leave an honest review of what do you think? What will Vishal do? Was the story able to catch your attention?
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