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Issue 1 January 2012

Them

Pretentious

Basterds

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2


An Introduction <>

We offer the reader a fair chance to briefly acquaint themselves with us before commiting to read this magazine’s contents. There’s an insignificant little city in an insignificant little country on an insignificant little planet. This city has an insignificant little writing group. This magazine was created by that group.

floor in front of them. And you might, as if by magic, make a connection and bridge that vast ocean that seems to separate all individuals from each other. They might laugh at your wit. Or be moved to tears by it. Or maybe neither.

That, ladies and gentleman, is Perspective. The more sensible and hence less popular sister of Propaganda. This is Propaganda.

But we still roll the dice and celebrate the madness, the magic and the mystery of Art and the written word every week because we can.

Them Pretentious Basterds is a writing circle based out of Chennai, India. Literally, a literary one. That sentence was put there to annoy you. It was started as a place to come to for formal critique. It quickly degenerated into a place to come to for informal critique. The main difference between the two is best explained as the difference between the phrase ‘It’s quite nice’ and ‘That was awful. Kill it with fire.’ No one said Art was easy. In fact, it’s a completely pointless activity, in which 99% of the participants are ultimately left disappointed. And one could say the same thing of Life. Yet we still engage in both with the same untiring enthusiasm. It would be a pressing task to find a more definite proof of madness.

We’re just messing around. Humour us. Write to us at tpbchennai@gmail.com

It’s hard to be passionate in an apathetic world. A passion for a pointless activity only serves to make things more interesting. It can lead you to meet strangers on a terrace on your only day off work. It can make you pull out a crumpled piece of paper, or an email you sent yourself, and pour out the contents on the 3


Stupid Magic Lamp > Ashwin Shakthi If I had a stupid magic lamp, And it granted me a wish to avail – I’d wanna be a straight, white, first-worlder male. And once this wish has been granted therein, I can enjoy and freely partake in – Denying my privilege! Of course this would be the first thing I’d do. It’s the schadenfreude, trust me, you would do it too. Hipster-isms! A brand of elite humor so transgressive and chic It invokes invisible irony by calling people spics! Daytime TV shows! I can watch my musical soaps and not feel personally slighted If the writers and producers are racially shortsighted! Characters of my race and persuasion with lives, dreams and hopes! As opposed to a half-filled bucket of poorly constructed tropes! Niche entertainment! Don’t forget D-cups and a leotard if she must be a superhero! The companion is almost always female, but the Doctor never so! He’s the fourth wheel and he’s black – he’ll be dead before season four! Of course he’ll be forever single – he’s the only homo on the show! 4


I won’t have Katy Perry singing about “trying on” my sexuality I won’t run the oppression olympics trying to explain intersectionality And best of all, I can turn on the TV and I’m almost guaranteed to see My orientation represented and eye candy catered to me! Oh wait, I wanna be a straight, white, cisgender first-worlder male. So people won’t waste their while worrying about my tits Sparing too much thought to my privates and revoking my job permit I will not be marginalized to find a career in porn flicks With titles like, “guys with pussies fucking chicks with dicks!” Oh wait! I want to be a straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied first-worlder male! I still wish to enjoy the disabled as marginally animate props! I can call your mother a cripple in bed and needn’t feel put off! I can equate all plastic surgeries to getting a nose job! Shove folks on wheelchairs down the stairs and feel free to laugh! I’m not saying being all of the above would make me blind To the sufferings of others, and I might be so inclined To still stand up for these causes, but then you’ll also find I’ll have the privilege to tell these hippies to talk to my behind! I could wish to be only known as myself, but let’s get realistic I’m not an actual person, I’m only a statistic I’m that one homosexual in every ten people with an apocalyptic agenda Dunked in anal lube from head to toe and I’m a cannibal sex offender I’m that brown fuck driving a taxi cab while working a call center Through the taxi radio as Annabelle Dawson even though I’m transgender With a whitewashed accent and a pseudonym to ward off any dissenters And they only ask me for the phone sex because my voice is still a tenor! I mean, I’m certainly willing to concede it could be so much worse I live in a country of color that’s religiously diverse And my race is predominant here so I’m not too heavily cursed Yet I wait in Ananda Bhavan while they serve the white ones first.

5


The trip Niranjan Sathyamurthy

<>

I

’ve got a bad feeling, man.”

another bowl.

Owen could have been feeling a hundred different things at that time, but the fact that he chose to speak out about his bad gut feeling didn’t really help Lindsey. Having smoked up five bowls of the ‘finest herb in the city,’ as Owen put it, she was not banking on having ‘feeling bad’ on her list of top ten things she was hoping to feel when high.

“I know it,” Owen said, “I know it. I’m gonna die.”

“I just know it,” he said, sucking on his Red Apple Filtered cigarette as though it was going to help him figure things out. “... I just know it. Don’t ask how,” he added, sensing an argument stirring up in Lindsey’s parting lips.

“Fill the bowl.” She couldn’t let the wind win. “No, sir.” The wind absolutely could not win!

“Don’t ask how I know it,” he repeated watching her for signs of protest, “... I mean, I know, I know it, but...,” he caught himself and let his voice trail off as though thinking better about explaining reasons best known to himself. Lindsey decided that Owen was just being unnecessarily paranoid and started filling

What with the wind beating down on them angrily and the general awkward area that the conversation was in, Lindsey’s mind had not yet registered what Owen had said. It was occupied with one thing: fill the bowl.

“Fill the bowl. Fill the bowl.” She paused for a moment to check if she had dropped any of that fine herb. “Mighty fine. Yessir. Mighty fine herb, that. Any of it wasted? No, sir.” A hazy mental image of her father swam into Lindsey’s mind as she resumed the difficult task of filling the bowl, but she pushed it away with little difficulty. She would deal with it some other time. She could not let the wind win. “No, sir.” 6


A weak giggle escaped her lips as she began to entertain the idea of her actually fighting the wind. Just like on Owen’s video games. “Sorry,” she whispered, finally aware that Owen had been watching her all the while, “... What did you say?” “I’m gonna die.” Lindsey was able to feel the idiocy of that statement to her very bone. It was a definite buzz-kill. She looked up at Owen reproachfully. Her leveling-gaze lingered, holding his and waiting; almost pleading for him to start laughing. Owen didn’t start laughing.

of the ebb of shock was replaced by the slow, yet sure surge of red in her face which was only partially because of bruising from the slap on her right cheek. As she tossed the bowl aside and started to wipe the spit off her face with a fistful of her sleeve, she struggled to avoid Owen Oberman’s eyes. A burning heat was frothing inside her; an angry hiss like a potent acid waiting to burn the malefactor away and out of existence. “What the FUCK?!” Lindsey spat on Oberman’s feet causing him to jump away hastily and hit his head on the doorway-wall behind him. She shot up as quick as the eighteen thousand watt tongue of the palm salamander.

“Why?” “WHAT THE FUCK?” she spat at him, seething. “Why? Why am I going to die?” Owen asked. “Yes, why do you think that you are dying?” Lindsey said. What happened next didn’t really register in Lindsey’s head. Owen was now squatting near her; there were bits of weed all over her skirt and her cheek was stinging. “What did I tell you, girl?” Owen’s face was now inches from her own. She rubbed her cheek unable to process what had just happened. “Didn’t I tell you? What did I tell you? WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!” He spat, quite literally. Although Lindsey was no stranger to these stabs of chauvinism, she was shook up by the sudden onset of, what she could only describe as lunacy that bordered on the ludicrous. This kind of thing happened only in black-comedy movies with abysmally bad writing. The onset

“What the fuck?” he wheezed out, as though he was appalled by her reaction. Had the fucker expected her to submit to him? She watched him, struck dumb by the rage bubbling up in her. Watched him and savored those few seconds with a savagery that frightened her as he sat wincing. Watched him as he gingerly scrubbed the back of his head, hissing every now and then when the superficial pain jolted his body into miniimitations of tonic-clinic seizures. “What the fuck?” she laughed at him, breathless and surprised that her voice had come to her. “What the fuck did you slap me for then, bastard?” He looked up at her and frowned. That was not how he had expected things to go. Unable to say anything, he hung his head, swallowing hard on the indignant arguments that ached in 7


his Adam’s Apple, and went back to rubbing his scalp in silence. “What the fuck did you slap me for, bastard?” she hissed out again. This was pissing her off even more. The fucker had slapped her and here he sat all silent. “Say something, motherfucker!” The voice in her head was screaming. She spat near his feet. “What did you say?” she said. “... ‘m sorry,” he mumbled and looked up at her. A white heat flared up in her as their eyes met and she quickly looked away, frowning. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, pulling himself up into a proper sitting position. “You’re sorry? SORRY? Sorry he says. Why the FUCK did you do it?!” As she yelled out the words and demanded a reason for the violence, they seemed to make the arrogant act all the more real. And that pissed her off. That pissed her off so much. Breathing hard and in sharp intakes she waited, pointedly looking at the few distant, soft orbs of light in the dirty, dark blue of the night.

trying to pull that on her. The fucking nerve! “You fucking pig!” She hissed out and kicked him with as much strength as she could muster. The nerve of this pig. The gall! Just because he had told her to not ask how. “Who the fuck do you think you are? What gives you the right to slap me? You pig!” she cursed. She was disgusted by his presence. The anger burned hot inside her. Fearing for her sanity, she began concocting elaborate plans for revenge. She could tell everyone in the office about the pig. How would he hold his fat head up in the office, then? But would that be enough to satiate her anger? She wondered for a while if she would be able to sic her lawyer on him. “Call Lisa in the morning. Get her to deal with this pig,” she thought to herself. He got up suddenly and pulled Lindsey to him, shocking her out of her violent scheming. Oberman struggled to hold her at the hip with his left hand as he wrestled with her dainty hands with his right. “Stop... stop-” he said. Lindsey’s ears picked up on the pleading tone of his voice and she fought back harder.

“I told you,” he said simply. “Oh you are not saying what I think you are. You better not be!” She looked at him with such a ferocity that it was now his turn to look away. She inhaled angrily and nodded her head in indignation. “You bastard. You fucking bastard. You fucking pig.” The nerve! The bastard was

“Stop,” he whispered and aimed a peck on her lips, pulling her close and trapping her hands in between them in the process. As she squirmed to be free, he aimed another peck on her lips once again and missed. Once again. She continued to fight back. He had caught her off guard, but she could not forgive what he had done. Snapping her head, upward, towards his, she bit down hard on his upper lip and drew 8


blood. Being that close to him, she simmered as she felt his body twitch and shudder as he tried to curse the pain away; her ears bristled, taking in the smacks his tongue made against his upper lip. Giving in to a sudden barbaric impulse, her head shot up and she tasted iron. Somewhere deep in her head, she heard an echo of her father’s voice say, “It tastes like baloney sandwich.” A faded image of her father sucking on the cut on her six-year-old finger stretched out in her head. She could not help it as a smile spread out on her face. Owen, taking this to mean approval, pounced on the opportunity and forced his lips on hers. She fought back a little. At first. And then, she gave in. She would forgive him, she decided, but she would not ever forget. He had hurt her. While they kissed, they fought for control as each attacked, spiritedly, the other’s lips. When they finally broke apart, she remembered only the salty taste of iron, her breathing heavy with the smell of his muskShe stopped and looked out of her window. A frown eased into her face as she tried to blame her break on that unseen bird that had decided to chirp too loud and interrupt her thoughts. But she knew that wasn’t it and forced herself to continue.

She had forgiven him enough for her to allow things to go where she knew they were headed, but she did not want to tell him that. She continued to stare at him and her heart started beating faster. She was already beginning to doubt it, but she had thought that she had seen something flicker in his eyes. Just for a moment. “Here, finish the bowl.” He pushed the bong to her. She picked up the lighter and taking a hit, she mulled it all over. Had she really seen something? As she exhaled, the voice inside her head seemed to be chuckling, almost, as it said, “It’s the weed.” It had to be the weed. She had imagined it. It was nothing. But an air ofShe couldn’t. She knew what was coming. She could not continue. That would be something that she could not do. It was too- she groped around for the right word as her frayed curtains fluttered, letting in a momentary glare from the fresh sun. It was too vulgar, she decided. But she would continue. She had to. She could not fight back. The urge to continue was too overwhelming. -an air of uneasiness seemed to sit heavy up on her shoulders. To distract herself, she clicked the lighter on again and sucked in only stale air.

His musky moisture. He sat down and smiled up at her like an excited little boy and motioned for her to sit. “I’m sorry.” He said, calmly looking into her eyes as she sat down. She remained silent. Even she, was not that forgiving. How could she be blamed for that? She was only human.

“It’s empty,” she breathed out. All the weed must have spilled out when he- no, she did not want to remember that. The residual anger must have showed on her face and Owen must have picked up on it as he said quickly, “Let’s do something else then.” 9


He brushed his lips suddenly against her cheek as she winced; pain and pleasure, why did they have to be so interchangeable? “Do you have something in mind?” she ventured. “I want to do something,” he paused and looked at her, his eyes and his smile widening, “reckless.”

amused, as her body slid down at snail’s pace, tracing a bloody arc on its way. It would go rigid soon. He picked up the discarded bong and started refilling the bowl with the weed that was on ground. In the corner of his eye, he could see the thick ketchup-blood beginning to pool around her head. Like a halo. He carefully fished out a chunk of weed that had been drenched by the slow ooze of Lindsey’s blood. Licking it clean, he stuffed it into the bowl and picked up the lighter and started to toke up. “It’s my turn, now,” he told himself.

The effect it had on her could not be put in words. She felt as though the wind that had been silently pacing around them was trying to strangle her, pushing down fear through her every pore and drawing sweaty shivers.

He did all of this so casually that one would wonder if this was something he did every day. If one had asked Owen Oberman, he would have-

Swallowing hard on the ‘do you’-part, “... have something in mind?” she said.

“You can continue. You know it. Stop fooling yourself and continue.”

Owen reached out with surprising agility and rammed Lindsey’s head against the wall. It was all so sudden and forceful that she went limp at once, but he continued to bang her lifeless head against the wall. There was something so satisfying-

He would have said, “Fuck if I know. I’m going to die. Let me finish my fucking bowl, can’t you?”

She couldn’t continue. This was her breaking point. It was only natural. Everyone had a breaking point. There was nothing wrong about this. But that annoying voice in her head spoke up: “You know you can continue.” And she did. -so satisfying. “So gratifying.” he thought, as the sound of flesh and brittle skull thumping against the immovable stone wall crowded his ears. All muffled by blood oozing out like ketchup from a squished packet. He got bored soon and he let Lindsey’s head drop back on the wall with a thump and he watched, mildly

He would have said all of that calmly sucking on his bong. He inhaled and exhaled the tetrahydrocannabinol, coughing as he did. He looked at the body and a little idea that had pierced through his atmosphericsubconsciousness like rain took hold and it spread in his head, virulently. “You are not going to puke. Continue. Focus.” “Shut up!” she hissed at the voice in her head; the frown starting to become a lasting addition on her face. This was just too fucking hard. He knew it was coming to this eventually. 10


That was what he had meant when he had said ‘reckless’. Usually bound by the constraints of society, he wanted to do something that screamed freedom. Something that society had tabooed. Something society feared. Something it was disgusted by. He would make love to the unknown. That was his fate anyway. He had made his peace with it and so, he would now do exactly what he had told Lindsey: something reckless. He felt he owed it to her. “I can’t. I can’t. I JUST CANNOT DO THIS!” She fought with herself. The urge to continue was strong in her. Maybe she could try to change it. It doesn’t have to be exactly that. That urge, after all, was to just continue. Just a little change. She could always try. He tossed the bong and lighter aside and quickly unzipped his pants. The THC always made him horny. He wondered if it was true for everyone as he pulled himself closer to the unmoving mass that was once called Lindsey. As he made to pull up her skirt, something seemed to give away in his stomach and he blanked out for an instant. When he came to, moments later, he found himself looking at the slobbering mush that was his dinner. Chicken wings, he remembered as he eyed the brown-grey mush and stomach juices that now covered the body’s skirt.

retch, he started to pull up the vomit-stained skirt. He was still undeniably horny. “Yes, you are,” a smug voice said. Feeling the already cold flesh with his left hand, he began to ease his right hand to his own crot“No.” She had decided it. This would not be something she wanted to be remembered by. She would fight the urge. “Fuck the urge.” Something inside her seemed to be telling her that she would not be able to ignore the urge, that it was something, a being greater than her wanted her to do, something predestined. “Fuck that!” she told herself, firmly. This was just something that she absolutely could not do. It was too much. She looked around for a phone and as though triggered by mere thought, a cordless handset appeared in her reach. She picked it up, furious and punched the ‘Talk’-button in. “I’m not going to do it!” she yelled into the microphone. Carefully holding the phone in place by pressing her head and shoulder close together, she freed her hands to rummage her table drawers for something. She did not really know what she was looking for.

This was too fucking much. Oh God. Oh God. Oh fucking God.

“I absolutely cannot do this,” she said, almost pleadingly to the phone.

Owen seemed to know he couldn’t do it. He was well aware of his limitations. It was just that he had thought he might have been able to. Given the conditions that he found himself in. Lightheaded with nothing left in his stomach to

“But you will. I can make you.” She sensed a sadistic pleasure in the voice. “The bastard likes this.” She thought to herself. Finding a joint and a lighter in 11


the third drawer, she decided that that was what she had been looking for and put it to her lips and lit it up.

“Good- shit... man, this is some real- good shit,” his friend coughed from the right. “I know,” he exhaled, “... ‘s why I bought it.”

“You can’t,” she said, a calmness overtaking her. “I won’t let you do it.” “I don’t think you can decide that. I make the rules.” She smirked. “Like hell you do.” This was something that had struck her too personally. All that misogyny was too much. “You know you’ve got to do it. You know you’ve got no choice.”

“Good call.” “What have you been up to?” he asked his friend. His mind still lingered gingerly on the fact that all the time that he had invested on it was now wasted. He could not finish it. “Tripping on the moon, man. Tripping balls, dude,” his friend chuckled. “What about you?” the friend asked him. “Writing,” he said simply.

There was silence and then, the receiver crackled to life again:

“What’s the problem?” the friend asked.

“Don’t care. Fuck off. I’m hanging u-”

“How do you know there’s a problem?”

Fuck. He was fucked. He did not expect this. How was he supposed to end it now? He could try to get her to continue. He could try. But he was sure it wouldn’t be of any use. It would seem too forced. He knew it had to be natural. That was important.

The friend simply chuckled and repeated, “What’s the problem?”

“Fuck!” he said out loud, not realizing it.

“Say it the way it is, man. That’s how everyone likes it,” the friend said and began sucking on the bong again.

“What, dude?” his friend asked thickly from his right. “Aw. This is good shit, man,” his friend said. “Yeah,” he replied, not really sure what his friend had said. It was all fucked now. How was he supposed to end it? He had already spent so much time on all of this. The sound of air being sucked in and the bubbling of water made him look up.

“Don’t know how to finish it anymore,” he said, looking at his friend and hoping that an epiphany would strike him soon.

Just what he needed. An epiphany. He would say it the way it is. She wouldn’t finish it and he’d leave it like that. That was anti-climactic. He turned to his friend and frowned. “That works,” he said and smacked his friend on the head, “... now, give me the bong. It’s my turn.”

12


“Alright! Jesus! Chill, will you?” “So you were tripping on the moon, huh?” he asked his friend, putting his writing pad away and took a hit. He didn’t know if it was because he had managed to get the story out of him or if it was the weed, but a contentment began to steal over him. And he let it. “Yeah. I’ve been tripping balls, man. I thought it was a round marshmallow sinking into liquorice. I could taste it. Almost.” His friend said chuckling. It was the weed, he decided and took another hit.

13


Your Sadness

>

Abbas Bagasrawala

Your sadness is not a poem by Wallace Stevens, cryptic and coloured with red rusting promises of epiphany. but rather it is innocent as a child, that has spanned decades just being bruised and belligerent for toys that have no play left in them. You do however, run a good show, with a crochet of highlights and skies that never have clouds grey, or otherwise. but I see through your clown smile to the vacant carousel beneath where the cotton candy spun out a long time back. Step out of your grown-up skin and cry. Accede to the failure o master tactician, I promise the drapes will be drawn on this defeat and it shall see nobody. And then tomorrow, after the dew has baptized everything, you can soar much stronger along the head winds of lies, and deceit, and hurt, and longing once again.

14


Coconuts & Crows Kaber Vasuki

<>

W

hy won’t you let me go out? I’ve never been outside this house.” I tugged at the hem of his sweater. I always behave a little childishly with him.

lived in that world a long time ago, but I don’t remember any of it. As if reading my thoughts, Grandpa continues. “I’m really sorry that you can’t see the world we saw. We messed it up.” He caresses my shoulder.

He’s hiding a smile as he looks at me. “I’m really sorry too.” “The atmosphere is contagious. You have to be older to live in it.” I knew he’d say that. He always has. I wonder why I keep asking him, but I also know that it wasn’t always like this. The world I read about in books is so different. It has had lots of things like cities and trees and a variety of people. I

It was quite disappointing. I’d heard it so many times before but it never did sink in. I asked him again. “Can’t we do anything about it? Can’t we fix it?” “I don’t think we can. As a people we might 15


be able to, but just you and me...” Grandpa shrugged. “... I don’t think we can Picalenari. It’s gone out of hand.”

“You’ll finish the new painting Picalenari? Can I see it tomorrow?” “I think so Grandpa. It’s almost done.”

I changed my name to Picalenari in the afternoon. I told Grandpa when he came in, he said he liked its weirdness. I’ve had many different names before but I won’t tell you what they were, it would just confuse you. So for our purposes, I’m Picalenari. Hello.

He smiled again, adjusted his sweater and his woolen cap, kissed me on my cheek and headed towards the door. “Grandpa?” I called. He turned towards me.

“When will I grow old enough to go outside?”

“Can you get me another book tomorrow?”

“You will.” He was absorbed in one of my paintings hanging on the wall in front of us.

He looked surprised. “Is that one done?” “Yes.”

“My Tamagotchi died. I think I forgot to feed it yesterday.” I said. “Poor Pepsi.”

His proud smile came on. I love the warm feeling it gives me.

“You named your pet Pepsi?” “Roald Dahl again?” “Yes, I kind of miss drinking it.” “That would be nice, but something else?” They stopped making Pepsi months ago. Sad. It used to be so good. Grandpa used to get me a Pepsi every other day, but now he can’t.

“I’ll get you the Mahabaratha comic.” “What is it about?”

“I should be leaving now child. Take care of yourself?” He stood up from the sofa. I didn’t want him to leave just yet. He smiled at me. He always understands. “I’ll spend more time with you tomorrow. How does that sound?” “Okay.” I did have a painting to complete. I would probably paint during the night.

“You’ll see.” He winked at me, opened the door and walked out. ***

E

veryday I wake up when I can’t sleep anymore. Grandpa says it’s a good habit. I brush and shower and throw my old clothes into the mesh bag. There are always washed clothes in the shelf. Then I eat something. Sometimes it’s roti, sometimes it’s curd rice and fried bindhi. There is always something in the fridge. I heat it on the gas stove if I have the mood to, or else, I eat it cold. Then 16


I go to the studio and paint. It’s a pretty boring life compared to the adventures Mowgli had. He probably lived before the atmosphere turned bad. I’m a lot cleaner than Mowgli though. When my hair grows long, Grandpa cuts it for me. When my nails grow long, I cut them myself. I also had Pepsi to keep me company if I wasn’t painting. Grandpa comes every evening. He brings me books and he tells me how the world is doing. Sometimes he tells me about things I’ve never read about in books. It’s a lot of fun with him, but I never paint if he’s around. When he isn’t around I’m mostly at the studio. When I finish a painting I show it to Grandpa. He likes my paintings. We usually hang them on a wall somewhere in the house. He likes some of them so much that he asks me if he can take them with him. Unless the painting needs more work, I let him take it. He won’t stop asking me how I paint them. I have no clue, like I always tell him- they just happen. After Grandpa left, I went to the studio. It’s the only place where nothing happens without me. Nothing changes here without me changing it. Not like my clothes or the food. The studio is only mine. ***

H

e said his name is Picalenari today. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t. It would have made him feel bad about changing his name.” “Yea?” The young girl laughed. Her eyes twinkling with admiration. Her mouth slowly changing from a smile into a dead expression. The twinkling turning into a hazy, bloodshot

stare. That woke the old man up. He realised that he’d drifted off on the train again. He had to get down and cross over to the other side of the station. He got off the train, took the elevator to the ticket counter on the ground floor, bought a ticket, and took an elevator back to the opposite platform. Then he sat on a bench and waited for the next train. It was due in ten minutes. A group of college students were standing at a short distance from where he was. Some were smoking. Some of them were laughing hysterically. A couple was kissing. The old man found it a little difficult to take in that sight. One of them reminded him of his own youth and his old friends. It evoked a terribly warm, almost burning feeling. The old man didn’t want to let go of that feeling. He knew he could, but he didn’t want to. It took him an instant to decide this, but he decided it so fast that he didn’t notice it. He would never remember the part about the decision. He would blame the feeling for having arisen or the college kids for having inadvertently reminded him. As he was still looking, one of them stepped out from the group and dropped a chocolate wrapper into a trash-can. It was a girl. The old man noticed that she had eyes like the young girl from the dream. The old man remembered the young girl from the dream. The girl from the dream had just thrown a chocolate wrapper away. The old man watched her. Her movements were not of the scene. Her expressions were the rhythm to the poetry of her face. She was standing next to the kissing couple. The old man noticed that the kissing boy was stealing glances at her. The old man felt jealous. Then he laughed, because the girl was a dream. Then fear hit him with the realisation that dreams usually don’t predict the future. Then he 17


laughed again because even if the girl was real, the relationship they seemed to shared in the dream was not. But the memory of the dream, of having been with her, of having felt her admiring glances and having been validated by her seemed real. The old man turned away. He extracted his inhaler from his pocket and took a hit. He asked the person sitting beside him for the time. Five minutes for the train to arrive, and it would probably be late. “Hello.” The girl who’d jumped from the dream to the platform was now sitting next to the old man. The station came to screeching pause – a movie projector running out of film. “Hello,” the old man murmured. “Have you seen my face well?” the girl asked. The old man looked around. They were in a painting. “I think so.” “It’s important. If you can explain my face, I can save you.”

locked on the picture. She didn’t reply. He looked up and she wasn’t there. The movie was playing again. The train came to a screeching halt. ***

W

hat book do you want?”

The book-shop keeper was generally pleasant to the old man. Today he wasn’t. He was smiling, but he smiled like he’d smile at a rich young punk, he didn’t smile like he always did. The old man looked at the shopkeeper. He’d come with the intent of buying an Amar Chitra Katha for Picalenari. The old man looked at the shopkeeper and wondered if he’d guessed. He didn’t want to be caught buying a book the shopkeeper already knew he’d buy. “Have you seen this picture?” he asked the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper glanced at it. “No. Are you buying anything?”

“What?” She ruffled the old man’s cap and handed him a picture. She smiled, but unlike the lover’s smile of the dream, she smiled like a mother would. In that picture, she stood in a grove of ripe coconut trees, a electrical line dipped into the top half of the frame a couple of times, and crows were flying in the air far away. The old man stared at the picture. He’d seen it before, somewhere. Those coconuts and crows. He’d seem then somewhere, just as he’d seen the girl in the dream. “Where did you take this?” he asked her, eyes

The shopkeeper kept looking out the door to the street, as if he was expecting someone, as if the old man was unwelcome. “I just remember seeing this somewhere. I don’t know where though.” The old man observed the t-shirt that the girl was wearing. It had a photo printed on it. The very same photo that he was holding in his hand. How did the girl wear the t-shirt before the picture was taken? He looked up. The shopkeeper had gone to the 18


counter and was doing something on his computer. The old man walked up to him. “This picture,” he showed the shopkeeper. “How did the girl know? See that t-shirt she’s wearing?” The shopkeeper gave him a rude stare and plucked the photo out of the old man’s hand. The old man looked up to see if the shopkeeper was irritated. The old man looked beyond the shopkeeper. The old man saw a mirror. He saw himself staring out of the mirror at him. He was young again. The old man looked at his hands. The old man felt his face. The old man wasn’t old now. That woke him up. He realised he’d drifted off on the train. He looked at his watch. He would be near Picalenari’s house any minute now.

ence this atmosphere. I’m left here using my inhaler as often as I can. The passenger next to me on the train is reading a comic version of the Mahabarath. “Excuse me.” I look at the glassy eyed young man. “Could I have that book after you’re done? My grandson would like it very much, I think.” He smiles at me, benevolence flooding his very being. “I’m just tripping out on the art work old man. Tell me when you are getting off the train, I’ll give it to you.” I thank him and look out of the window again.

***

Most people call me old man now. I wonder if they even consider the possibility that I have a name. My grandson calls me Grandpa. Sometimes it feels like he calls me by my name, but he hasn’t yet.

y grandson keeps changing his name. I try to hide my smile when he does that, I hope my condescension does not show. I, on the other hand, take a few minutes to recognize my own name in the emails I get that are still addressed to me. They are all emails about drugs- offering various physiological benefits. A lot of them are about mattresses that offer immense comfort. How can any mattress offer more comfort than another of the same material I wonder, but I guess they sell. Belief brews in claims and it seems to me that only resentment is born of the truth.

When I reach the house, Picalenari is still sleeping. He must have been up all night painting. He does that sometimes. I sit next to him on his bed and start reading the comic. Karna was always my favourite character. I think I was about forty when I realised that maybe I liked Karna because he represented a glorious loser. I liked to think of myself as a glorious loser. It became so ingrained in me that I slowly accepted every stereotypical characteristic of a loser. Glory, I learnt much later, never goes to the loser. I also learnt that glory never goes anywhere. It gets snatched and stolen but it exists only as an idea, just like any other lie.

Everyone who used to call me by my name is dead. They didn’t stay back to see the filth that this world has become. They did not experi-

Picalenari wakes up and smiles at me. I smile back. “Here you go.” I hand him the comic. He sits up and grabs it from me.

M

19


His face brightens up as he flips through the pages. I like it when he does that. “Is your painting done?” I ask him. He nods. Picalenari doesn’t talk if he hasn’t brushed his teeth. I try not to laugh at him for that.

the dream, from the station, comes down the stairs now. I see her, and I struggle to talk. Picalenari acts as if it’s all normal. That girl coming here isn’t normal. I try to gesture to him. I try to ask him who she is. He doesn’t seem to know me at all anymore. He seems uninterested. “Will you ...”

I wait on the sofa in the living room while he brushes and takes a shower. “Grandpa!” he shouts, once he has woken up properly. He rushes to hug me. I laugh. “Is your painting done?” I ask him. He nods. When we are in the studio he asks me to sit down on a chair. He runs around the room turning on the various light switches. To me it seems random. He obviously has an order to them. This is what happens when you ask a kid to design a room, and then build it without changing anything. I look around and I’m surprised at the meticulous tidiness of the room. Children can surprise you sometimes. He slowly turns the easel to face me and he unveils a painting. It’s an empty canvas. “I don’t see anything Picalenari.” “Grandpa, that’s because you will soon.” I realise that I need my inhaler, I fumble around and find it, but it’s empty. I put it back in the pocket. I try to breathe, just plain air, slowly, slowly. It doesn’t work. I need air but I don’t have it. I need to breathe. The girl from

That’s all I hear. I can only see Picalenari saying something. He’s looking at me, he’s looking through me. I don’t know why he ignores my pain. “Picalenari!” I shout at him, but he doesn’t hear me. He is talking to the girl. Seating her, making her pose. She has the t-shirt on. The t-shirt with a picture of her in a coconut grove. Then she turns to me, and as she does, her face disappears. She isn’t headless, she just has no face. No features that I can recognize. A meaningless poem that’s out of rhythm. Just, no face. “What did she look like Grandpa?” Picalenari is asking me. He’s painting. I try to tell him how beautiful she actually is. How gracefully her hair falls on her face. How vividly her eyes move. I try to remember a song to describe it to him, but he is painting. As I recollect her features, the girl posing in the room regains them. Everything I say becomes a face, everything I say becomes a painting. I start to breathe again. I inhale slowly. I slowly exhale. I watch my breadth, waiting for it to become unnoticeable again. It regains composure. It regains strength.

20


“Grandpa!” Picalenari is shaking me violently. I’m in his room. I was waiting for him to brush and shower. “I’m sorry Picalenari.” He gives me an odd look. Mischievous and uncertain, he lets it go. “Do you want to take a look at the painting?” “Yes, yes.” We go to the studio. He runs around turning on the lights again. He asks me to sit down. He turns the easel towards me. “Grandpa, it’s called Coconuts and Crows. Do you like it?” I try not to laugh.

21


Seeing Art >

Archana Sankaran

This space is art. And art needs now an audience. We experiment at being seen. We try to grow new. While we create because of how we react to the world around us. What you see is not who we are. In fact, what you see here and everywhere you look, will be as humans do, who you are. We, me and art we experiment at letting you see a form of words or colours. Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t try to understand who we are Or rather you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t. Start with yourself. 22


Francis Shivankar Jay

<>

I

t was nearing Christmas when I hit puberty. Francis began looking at me differently since. My breasts had grown bigger and I would notice his eyes going down towards them when he thought I wasn’t looking. I let him stare though. I figured that one day he would ask me out to a movie and dinner and we would return to his apartment later in the night and throw ourselves at each other, hungry for the taste of flesh. It happened months later and we found ourselves in his place, undressing each other. As he pushed me to the wall, I resisted playfully and escaping his grasp, stepped away from him, tripped over the couch, crashed through the French windows of his balcony and fell to my death.” “It ends there?”

“Yes.” “That was a great hook though.” “Yeah.” “A pity that it had to be wasted here.” “I wouldn’t call it a waste.” “It is a waste, isn’t it? How could this story continue after the accidental death of the narrator?” “Well yes, we wouldn’t have descriptions of characters and setting. But tales have been successfully told in more extreme circumstances, haven’t they?” 23


“Probably. But I have no interest in the literary avant-garde.” “That’s surprising. Aren’t you one of the openers?” “Opener?”

“I am the narrator’s father.” “Oh. What do you do when you know that Francis is boning your daughter?” “Warn him to stay away from my little girl, I suppose. My character is stock unfortunately, to drive the story along.”

“Were you scheduled to appear on page 1?” “Well, I think you can still serve your purpose.” “I’m not sure. Where does one check that?” “Really? How?” “In the draft, of course.” “I received no draft.” “You’re beginning to sound like a secondary character..”

“Applying Occam’s Razor, I figured that I could only be Francis. And here we are, standing over your dead daughter’s body. In your rage, you assume that I am responsible for her death. So, are you going to take this story to its bloody end?”

“I don’t know who I am. Who are you?”

24


No Coffee for You Neethi Goldhawk

<>

It brews like amassed anger on an inflated day. Pointed up in see through, the square picture with a square picture. I, in my stupor. You, through your thoughts. Plant a lucid exchange of painted fog. Far away I own many a place. Here is home, the corners have become large hearted. Its face is ours. You ask yes, I agree and forget and say no when you talk of smokes. So excuse me if I brew some coffee, even if itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a state of mind. The bloody dagger only but cuts a lemon. Because up on the hill sweetness lay in silk. 25


26


Ball point flash > Satwik Gade The Girl in the Orange Jacket The girl in the orange jacket is a fucking feminist. Her presence renders space surreal and time stops when her nostrils flare. She wears the anachronism of her convent education with an admirable grace. Her struggle has not given way to misanthropy B ut she assures herself that she will get there in due time. She attends many seminars braving the shrieks of aunties in sleeveless blouses and silk saris. Those she fights for would, perhaps, eagerly fuck her happiness for two testicles and a cute tushy; But she does it anyway. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I keep my trust in causes, not peopleâ&#x20AC;? she says loftily to anyone who points this out to her. In her defense, self deception is not central to feminists. She inspires desire in some and fear in others. Still others dismiss her lightly but she will not let them ignore her. She dedicates her life to getting in everybodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hostile little face. They may try to side step her but she will alter their destiny. She looks at the boy in the checked shorts and can barely contain her loathing. She expertly transfers the loathing to her plate of cheese omlette And pats her hard stomach with pride in her ability to deftly lob intangibles.

27


28


The Boy in the Checked Shorts The boy in the checked shorts is a fucking fascist. His flexibility is inflexible. He would love dearly to commit to something if only he could be sure of it. He cannot commit unconditionally. He loathes his space monkey existence but he dare not die in case it validated life. In his defense, existential angst is not central to fascists. He moves in many circles and adopts several monikers. He is orange jacket’s friend or beard-face’s son or bucktooth’s brother. He keeps his trust only in relative definitions. His calculus defies logic for ratifying is committing to rationality. “When validations tend to infinity, validity tends to zero” He pats himself on the back for inventing the formula to the devaluation of life. He sips his chocolate shake in celebration. He leans in and kisses the girl with the broken watch on the cheek. She draws away in alarm and then elbows him in the ribs. He can swear there is a semblance of a smile at the corners of her mouth, but he checks himself. He is wary of surety. Perhaps he is weary of surety. He cannot be sure.

29


30


The Girl with the Broken Watch The girl with the broken watch is a fucking photographer. She has a red face, large hands and a cleft on her nose. She could look pretty if she tried; but looks stunning because she doesn’t. Hedonism in her is a character trait but she only finds pleasure in things she can understand. In her defense, empiricism is not central to photographers. Abstractions piss her off. She can’t stand words or colours. Colours are too leaky, she thinks to herself, and words too rigid. She likes people who do one thing only one way. Too many paths show a lack of commitment. Pathlessness is a distant dream. That’s why she is friends with the boy who can only pee behind trees. Her favorite teacher is the man who can’t wear pants without suspenders. She once fell in love with the boy who drank only whiskey, but a few months later she caught him with a shot of tequila. She tries to talk about him to the boy who can only pee behind trees; But finds it hard to make herself heard over the patter. She tries to talk to the woman who can only hear from her left ear; But the girl with the broken watch only sits to people’s right.

31


32


The Boy who drinks only Whiskey The boy who drinks only whiskey is a fucking journalist. He reviews MMORPGs for magazines that have large mammaries on their covers. He always has a lollypop in his mouth. His friends tease and parents worry but the lollypop never goes. Sometimes he sits on the terrace directly under the moonlight with a glass of Irish cream. He swirls the whiskey with his lollypop and the moon becomes gooey like a soft-boiled egg. He then puts the lollypop back in his mouth and his taste buds explode; The breeze is rendered colloidal. ‘Whiskey Supernova’ he calls it And the infinities, both large and small, arrange themselves into a continuum. Singularities are lawless and anarchic; he finds himself drifting towards collectives. He keeps a book of collective nouns, making entries as often as he can. The book is titled, “From tyranny to democracy.” Even among lollypops, he hates making distinctions by flavor. He makes sure his candy shop is stocked with at least with four varieties. In the general elections, the government is toppled and a new one takes its place. The new government declares the building with the candy shop an illegal construction. A wrecking ball arrives. The boy who drinks only whiskey screams, demanding that the wrecking ball stop the madness; yet the wrecking ball ignores him. In its defense, apathy is not central to wrecking balls. Just like the steel and concrete structure, his faith in democracy is shattered. He complains to the girl with nine piercings but there is nothing she can do. The infinities come apart and become numbers again. He gathers the numbers, throws them in his backpack and sets off in search of dictators.

33


Indra enters as a Cat through the Gutter as the Cockerel Crows much before Dawn > Sivakami Velliangiri That stone was a woman cursed by Sage Gautama to remain in solitude till the feet of a saint should step on it. Even as she let in Indra who came as a cat through the gutter who came disguised as her husband; she knew what she was in for as she ushered Indra out through the front door. And I wonder at Ahalya who would have seen through the guise. Did she have time to wash her face with cold water to erase that after it look? This is a found poem from Google. To see what a found poem is visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Found_poetry

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Where Hope Comes From > Vishesh Unni Raghunathan

This is where hope comes fromPast the crumpling paint of decadent buildings, Past the lazy coconut trees with still crows, Past the satellite aerials of empty terraces. This is where hope comes fromThe transition from a green to a red, The mechanical measure of blind turns, The ordered chaos of the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s traffic. This is where hope comes fromThe fear induced restrain of stray dogs, The aimless loiter of garbage eating cows, The packed roads of a festive market. This is where hope comes fromThe loaded buses and stuffed taxis, The crumpled shirts of everyday heroes, The water lorries racing against the traffic. This is where hope comes fromBig white cars with flags on the bonnet, The empty trains on the lay-by, Lonely planes traversing a cloudless sky. 35


This is where hope comes fromThe countless sand on the beach, The underwritten rhythm of the waves, The colossal colonial buildings. This is where hope comes fromThe sauntering solitude, The shimmering silence And the wind breathing slowly. This is where hope comes fromThe stations of cascading clamor, The dying canal and stories of glory, Palaces and tales of crushing foes. This is where hope comes fromThe hegemonic game and its numbers, The statues of servants of the imperial, The omnipresent superstars of silver screen. This is where hope comes fromThe poster-ed politicians and the manifesto, The octatonic music and presiding deities, The blaring speakers of road side meetings. This is where hope comes fromThe house of ghosts and broken cycles, The wells of change cemented, Trees uprooted and planted. This is where hope comes fromA place where I belong, A place of growth and dreams, Of failure and learning. This is where hope comes fromSome call it Chennai, Some call it Madras, I call it home.

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The Temple at the Corner Chitralekha Manohar

<> Before stepping over the threshold of the temple, I take off my half-baked sartreian ideas along with my slippers and leave them at the corner where the old flower-seller sits. My bare feet make no sound on the naked stone. (The questions of skeptics and the pockmarks of history have worn it equally smooth.) I indulge in a game of quick hopscotch across the thin line of belief. The air smells different on either side. The goddess seems unfazed by my usual offerings; I suppose even goddesses must get bored. I make do with the warm smile on the flower sellerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s crinkled face. She asks me if I want flowers in my hair; she knows I always shake my head in reply. A little boy delightedly tugs at the bell rope. The sonorous clanging reverberates in my head and touches a childhood memory. It has the comforting ring of the familiar the sound of those things that never change. 37


Contributors Editors: Chitralekha Manohar, Satwik Gade, Archana Sankaran Acknowledgements: Thomas Manuel, Kaber Vasuki, Niranjan Sathyamurthy, Yugandhara Muthukrishnan (yugandhara.m@gmail. com), Vishesh Unni, Rashi Vidyasagar (rashiv@gmail.com), Neethi Goldhawk, Ashwin Shakthi, Akash Bhat (akash.stram@ gmail.com), (Visvak Reddy visvaksen@gmail. com), Shivankar Jay, Mukundh Vasudevan (mukundh.vasudevan@gmail.com), Aaroh Sunil (aaroahh@gmail.com). Cover Design: Satwik Gade Layout and Design: Satwik Gade, Chitralekha Manohar Who We Are Written by: Thomas Manuel thomas123manuel@gmail.com Stupid Magic Lamp Written by: Ashwin Shakthi The Trip Written by: Niranjan Sathyamurthy niranjan.sathyamurthy@gmail.com Photograph by: Chitralekha Manohar Your Sadness Written by: Abbas B karmicanomaly@gmail.com Illustration by: Peroni68 http://peroni68. deviantart.com/art/raven-197310658 Coconuts and Crows Written by: Kaber Vasuki kabervasuki@gmail.com Photograph by: Niranjan Sathyamurthy

Seeing Art Written by: Archana Sankaran archana.sankaran@gmail.com Photograph by: Archana Sankaran Francis Written by: Shivankar Jay loonanthebarbarian@gmail.com Image by: Satwik Gade No Coffee for You Written by: Neethi Goldhawk neethi.friends@gmail.com Image by: Neethi Goldhawk Ballpoint Flash Written by: Satwik Gade satwikgade@gmail.com Illustrations by: Satwik Gade Indra entered as a cat through the gutter as the cockerel crows much before dawn Written by: Sivakami Velliangiri sivakamivelliangiri@gmail.com Painting by: Yugandhara Muthukrishnan Where Hope Comes From Written by: Vishesh Unni Raghunathan visheshunni@gmail.com Photograph by: Niranjan Sathyamurthy Temple at the Corner Written by: Chitralekha Manohar chitralekha.manohar@gmail.com Photograph by: Yugandhara Muthukrishnan

Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved

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Them Pretentious Basterds Magazine  

Literary magazine, Prose, Poetry and Graphic Fiction. Issue 1. January 2012

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