Friday, April 30, 2010

The third thing about fame

Among the many assertions that have been made about fame are the following. Fame brings wealth, renown and a great social standing. Aspiring to be famous is for the selfish and power-hungry. Fame breeds arrogance, laziness and corruption. Etc. But are there only those two sides to fame?

Perhaps a nuanced assertion that has been made less often is the following. Aspiring to fame is a deep willingness and open invitation to be judged by the world. It is a complete submission, and a handing over of the right to be criticized, praised and talked about, to everybody in the world, regardless of their qualification or emotional stake in passing judgment. Aspiring to a public life is thus an aspiration to live in complete and utter openness. I'll argue here that there is a right way, a noble way, to aspire to be renowned, that fame is not always base. Let's call this fame 3.0 for simplicity.

Fame 3.0 is very close conceptually to ideas from several places. For instance, it is very close to the the Bhagavad Gita's "actions > rewards" prescription, or the stress of process over results from the enterpreneurial school of thought.

And it's probably fame 3.0 being confused for fame 1.0 or 2.0 that got Jesus crucified or Martin Luther King assassinated.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

December season's reflections of a midsummer escapade

What if Garcia-Marquez had been brought up a Tam Brahm? That is the subject of this experimental fiction piece.


Gopal-Giridhar Madhusudhan looked out of the window, idly, about to roll over and go back to sleep, only to recall the promise he had made to himself this time: to get more out of the trip. It was his seventh visit back to Chennai in as many years. Each December, he had returned, if not from a faithfulness, then from a simple, acknowledged, fear of loneliness in the darkest weeks of the year.

Over Gopal’s first few visits, he had not wanted much, content to laze around in his parents’ home, get driven around, and generally fed the middle-class version of a dream vacation. In later years, he became a more conscientious vacation planner. Once, he accumulated culture-vulture oomph meticulously, attending every lec-dem session in the December sabhas, downing cups of filter coffee with dhonnais of steaming hot kesari in the mornings. Another time, he collected greenie points from wildlife trips. From a Valmik Thapar rant, through discussions with a friend about RFID collars for endangered species and the ethics of it, he had chalked out and executed a trail through Sariska. Yet another time, he sought free-spirit points by doing unplanned road trips through a randomly chosen region, performing informal case studies of microeconomic behavior. This year again, he had set himself such a goal. He would later realize that each vacation’s goal could succinctly be summarized thus: to get a sufficient dose of ‘wholesomeness’ out of the December visit to last him through the next sterile winter.


Gopal sat down, pen in hand, fresh coffee by his side, lighting to his satisfaction. He wrote:

Creativity is not a faucet.

That same tired witticism he had picked up from a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Not very creative. This was not some e-mail to a junior.

Lately, Gopal had been exploring the effects of the environment and elaborately designed mood scenarios on writing quality, the null hypothesis being that no morbid or weak thoughts could be forthcoming from the nourished, fresh-coffee-equipped soul, on a satisfactorily-lit Chennai morning. He wrote again:

"I'll give you 30 seconds in heaven", she said. "What, literally?" he retorted, faking a nervous laugh, by now. "Yeah, my name is heaven". He was snubbed.

No, no that’s not right. That’s terrible. He was snubbed? Snubbed? Staccato. Faking a nervous laugh? More like trying too hard and not enough altogether at once. No flow. My name is heaven?! Stand-up comedy? He scratched it out and tried again.

“I’ll give you 30 seconds in heaven”, she said. “What, literally?” he retorted, trying on a macho, assured laugh. Wrong move. The ‘Wh’ came out high pitched. He kicked himself internally, but it showed and she laughed. In future recountings of the incident to himself, he would always stress that her laughter was knowing and amused, a laughter of the eye, an ‘I get you, and that’s cool’ signal rather than an exposing, sarcastic laughter. “Yeah,” she replied with a blank stare, quickly checking her impulse to flash a smile, “my name is heaven”. Her future recountings of this moment were fond, and slightly self-congratulatory on account of her spontaneous naughtiness.

Better already. The drama was unfolding neatly. But the punchline had moved too far away for a reader to make the connection. But at this point Gopal checked himself. Too much academic writing, reader simulations, paragraph conjunctions. Humbug. More importantly, this was far from morbid. He seemed to be deviating from the task at hand. Was the null hypothesis undeniable? He tried again. Directness with two esses.

He had fucked a whore, bought himself a ticket to intimacy, barely conscious of the possibility of future remorse. He would later learn to describe this moment as a signing away of his 'claim to have always strived for the greatest good'.

Big deal. That came out just preachy, not morbid.

The aesthete in him made him cringe. The coffee had lost its steamy nip and the sun had risen too high. Imperceptibly at first, but unmistakably, he felt crippled. This was his third day in a row attempting to sketch the same scene. It was going to be yet another sultry day of inaction.