[Contributed Short Story] A Politician’s Wife

[Contributed by Angelic Devil after several hundred requests.]

Years ago, I saw “Rang de Basanti“. I felt awed, felt the blood rush to my face and wanted to go all out and do something for my country. It was in 2006, a time when my generation felt crippled and angry that they weren’t born in pre-independence days, when one could serve their country; free their motherland. What is it that we are running after now? MNC’s, fat salaries, cute partners, skimpy clothes, fancy mobile sets? My generation felt wasted and disillusioned. Debates ensued, candle marches and punish Jessica Lal’s murderers text messages overflowed. Everybody did what they felt was their duty. The movie awakened a kind of a raw passion that one had to channel. And we did. We were all united in the thought that unless we speak up, the democracy will fail. And so everybody spoke up and I… well, me too.

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Why can’t I join politics? Do you not trust me?” his eyes searched my face for an answer. His face betrayed the disbelief and frustration he felt but his voice was calm. His eyes bore into mine and all I could do was bury my face in his chest. Fear caught hold of me as I struggled to find my voice and a way to phrase my fears.

Fighting my tears all I could squeak was, “I am afraid for you.

As I felt his body relax, I relaxed too. But the fear remained; Dark and ugly, scary and unnerving. How could I tell him that I agreed with him in principle? Yes, someone has to make the beginning. But why did it have to be him? What if somebody snuffs his life out? What if somebody gets him framed? How would it matter to anybody else in the country except me? After the initial brouhaha fades, it will be I who would be struggling to live, not them. What was I to tell him? That I am the armchair activist that he and I despise so badly?

Look at me. Do you want me to spend the rest of my life like an ordinary guy? I’ll go to work, come back; wonder about next month’s EMIs or why my kids are scoring so poorly. Isn’t that what the whole world does? You married me because I was not your ordinary guy, do you want me to become what I never was? Weren’t you the one who told me that one needs to be in the system to change it?

My heart screamed, “Hell yes!” and my mind numb. All I could think of was that he may have the strength to fight the whole world but I don’t. I don’t even have the strength to stand next to him. In those 5 minutes, all my desires to fight for my rights and to make the country better flew out of the window. All I could imagine was me running from pillar to post, trying to get “justice”. All I could envisage was a lifetime of regret that I didn’t stop him.

Can’t we reason it out? Have a healthy debate like we used to?” he asked. His pleading made my heart melt and tighten at the same time. Why can’t he go have an affair or something? Why can’t he be normal? Why is this fight not about some girl he stared at when we were out for dinner? “No! I am not open to any sort of discussion on this issue.” I was startled at my sharpness. So was he.

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If you ask me what made me give in, my love for him or my love for the country, I would not know. Was that the beginning or the end — I don’t know. Nor do I wish to know. For the time being, I’ve brushed my fears aside and am standing next to him. Or trying to. He wanted me to come and meet these women who have been trying to set up an embroidery unit. I look at him and he catches my eye, the smile on his face lights up his face. I try hard to concentrate on what the woman in-charge is explaining. All I can taste is bile. All I remember is darkness. The water drops feel cool on my face. As I gain consciousness, I hear some talk about the young MLA’s wife being a fragile doll. Were they tittering too? I slump back. Darkness. Again.

I wake up in the cool comfort of the AC in my bedroom, my husband missing in action. All I have is a message on BBM from him saying, “Sunstroke. Rest. Will see you in the evening.” As I work on the plot-line for my new novel–a politico drama, I wonder if I really am a fragile doll. I read his message again. Do I sense regret in his message? I read it again. The message gives away nothing. He took me there because he knew I am all for women emancipation. I wonder if let him down by fainting? I am not sure.

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Years have gone by; I’ve seen him grow more as a politician. Oh well, the houses we’ve moved into have only grown with time. So I assume he is doing well. The more he got involved with the country, the more sceptical I’ve become. I often find myself questioning if he is corrupt too. I never asked and he’s never said anything. After the incident, my involvement with his work became less. Slowly, it stopped. Perhaps, it damaged his image. My fears like my involvement too vanished with time.

I no longer sit up and wait for him to come home. I no longer scan the news for his name or his death. He is no longer mine. He is doing what he always wanted whereas I still wonder what I really want from life. I get no answers. I am as confused as I was in 11th standard, when I had to choose one among the three streams. I struggle to find my identity as he continues to firmly establish his. Am I jealous? I would think not. I struggle to reconcile my identity as a minister’s wife. I see other minister’s wives living up to their roles to perfection. I wonder about their disenchantment. I wonder if they share my feeling on the issue. I am afraid. Whether of asking questions or their answers, I do not know.

Desperate for an answer, I dig my life. I sense that my vivacity has been replaced by a dull ache. A friend suggests that I talk it over. Going as far as to tell me that maybe I am craving for attention from him. I know it to be untrue. I know that I shunned him the day he chose to walk on his path. Perhaps that was my defence mechanism. Perhaps I was trying to protect myself from my fears. I drown myself in more work. The pain, however, continues to haunt me.

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Puzzles

I admit I both love and hate puzzles. I enjoy figuring things out and the vast sense of accomplishment when a puzzle gets solved, but if I can’t figure it out I throw mental tantrums and lose sleep for weeks. Seriously, I have dreams about the  puzzle and walk around looking like a spike-haired zombie. So when you see me down and out or a little irritated, don’t think that something has gone wrong with me; it is most certainly a puzzle that has overtaken my thought process.

By the way, people are puzzles too!

Sleep Disorder

You already know about what causes my sleep disorder. When it happens, it feels as though the universe is conspiring against me when it comes to getting quality shut-eye. Know what I mean? After the day’s not so hard work, I finally get snuggled up in my bed, ready to crash, when the “cuckoo next tree” decides to get chirpy. 3:00 am in the morning! I move to the balcony to scoot the bastard, but it sounds as though it has decided to be my girlfriend for the night. How about isolating my room shutting all the windows and doors? Surely it’d be quiet that way, right? Not with that constantly dripping sweat down the neck in that oven of a weather – where is that coming from anyway? I go back to my bed and pop in the earbuds, but no matter how I position my head, pain shoots through my skull. How can I help without Vodka? And people think I drink too much liquor.

Talking of cuckoos, I think the entire ‘bird kingdom’ is conspiring against me: that bastard kite! It attacked me when I was on a morning jog. I still have those 3 parallel lines of scars on my forehead. And then those fucking peacocks near my old residence. They’d decide to have their mating call routine every morning at 4:30 AM. And if you haven’t heard a peacock in its mating routine, just take my word for it; even if they think they’re singing better than Mangeshkars, it is torture more than water-boarding!

“Sleeping Together”

Some people think human beings “were never meant to sleep in the same bed. Somehow sex and sleep get all jumbled together. But they are two different things.” You love each other alright, but you must have separate beds, and want that “bed to be the sanctuary for sleep and sleep alone.” If you must have it, get a third queen or king sized (whatever the terms mean) bed just for sex. “Yes! A sex bed! A dirty-dirty sex bed.” Would that not excite your carnal desires and take your sex-life to a whole new level?

Come to think of it, why buy a “sex bed” at all when the entire world can be your playground? Do it in the tub, or the kitchen table. Or in the park or on porch. May be in the departmental or book store. And while you’re at it, just tape the entire adventure, and get some extra income by selling the tapes to ‘Hustler’ or ‘Digital Playgrounds’. You never know, you may just be revolutionizing modern relationship in the process. Or has that already been done by some other folks?

The Problem of Mathematics Education in India

This coming from someone who has had his entire education in India and loves the subject may sound a bit alarming. But this is how I find it. Please note that it is just a personal opinion formed based on the random incoherent surveys conducted over the years and discussions within close groups of friends, always–well… almost always–when they were drunk or stoned.

If you ask, majority of the pre-college going students–in their Senior Secondary years, just prior to the college, that is–in India will tell you that they like mathematics. A big chunk of that number belongs to what the Economists call “the great Indian middle class”. Well, that is true from one perspective. They like mathematics because studying pre-college mathematics is a must in India to get into Engineering. Engineering for the Indian middle-class is “a big thing”. You get the picture.

But if you ask me, the other perspective, the way mathematics is taught in most Indian pre-college institutions can never make it a likable subject. Most of you must have seen the Mathematics textbooks in your school days. And then in college days. And then in your kids’ school/pre-college days… I request you to give it another look and then decide if you or your kid can really like it or not. The way the books are written and the way the subject is taught is to program a human-being. You open a book, you’ll see  text that is nothing but a collection of symbols, and algorithms that are to be read and run on a machine. There is hardly any description of the historical importance and the original author’s insight, his fight and vision in reaching the result. The student never feels the sense of discovery the discoverer might have sensed when his/her thought came into the form called “Theorem”.

To be ignorant of the lives of the most celebrated men of  antiquity is to continue in a state of childhood all our days.

The best mathematics books in terms of developing a student’s liking and insight into the subject are never taught when they are needed the most. I have been very fortunate in that regard that when interest in mathematics started waning, I had access to those. But, in India, such books have been inaccessible to most of the students studying mathematics. It is way past the time when those books should have been made the part of curriculum.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. –Plutarch

But then, a set curriculum ruins the whole purpose of the book for what it is written for, because most teachers at that level never studied those books themselves.

Sometimes, I tend to think that the books at that level, at present, are written by some computer programmers in order to program a child just like a computer is programmed. And we are very good at getting programmed! Due to socio-economic factors mentioned previously, our entire future depends on how well we were programmed. For example, most of the Indian students, at least those who studied a little mathematics at the pre-college level, are good at finding anti-derivatives (which is taught in the name of `Integration’) of some functions. Very few have insight on what really `Integration’ is. They can find surface areas of arcane surfaces and areas under most complex of the curves brooding on the $x-y$ plane using crammed formulae, but they can hardly ever tell you why they needed it or that it is called Riemann Integral. Infinity is another number for them to “produce results” of the questions posed in the exams. They are never taught the profound thought in imaging it in simpler terms. Infinity for them is nothing but some number “out of bounds”–just like a computer–used in simplifying calculations. In short, what we are producing in India in the name of mathematical talent is “human calculating devices.” It is no wonder that India produces so many “skilled” workers in the IT industry.

One of the major forces behind a successful mathematician is his/her teacher who is expected to develop the insight of the subject. The problem with teachers and schools in India, again, is influenced by the changing paradigms in socio-economic scenario. A parent, now-a-days wants the ward to “excel” every aspect of life, be it arts, sports, science, any damn thing. The race of producing sub-standard know-it-all machines has never been so invigorated. The present day teenager is the center of its parents’ hopes. They want it to achieve everything what they could achieve and what they could not, and even more. They want it to get a high-paying position in some multinational, right from the day the kid has entered the school. To heck with the interests or aesthetics! To heck with appreciating ideas. In this rat-race, a teacher is left behind with his values. What should (s)he do? Produce more rats to participate in the race in which no one rat wins the cheese, but several end up biting a little piece and left unsatisfied.

I have observed many examples: kids and teenagers who wanted to study mathematics–or something else for that matter–for their lives, but there will was crushed by the might of the ambition of the great Indian middle-class to reach the top… the economic top.

Probably that’s why we see many brilliant students in India, but not many achieving the heights what Russians, French and Germans do. Probably that’s why a Fields Medal has eluded India despite it being the mother of mathematical thought and its thousands of years’ history of mathematics.

But that is changing. Or, at least I hope that is changing…

EDIT (Friday, May 29 2009): More discussions reveal more problems. Another major problem is the language. You know what I mean!

Real Life Dilemma

Yesterday, I was told about certain tragedy that happened in 2002 Gujrat communal riots. I do not want to get into socio-religious mumbo-jumbo, but I’ll have to include those details here, for that is how is Indian society. Here, in this country or maybe the entire world, you have to mention your religion in all civil matters. ‘Atheist’ in the ‘Religion’ column of forms won’t do! Anyway, the story goes something like this:

A Mohammedan family, A, found their lost son, M, six years after the 2002 Gujarat riots. M is living with his foster parents, F, who are Hindus. It has been confirmed in DNA tests that A are M’s) birth parents.

The birth parents want their son back. The family F who don’t have their own offspring want Vivek to stay with them. The boy himself (he was 3 when A lost and F found him; he is 9 years old now) wants to live in the family F.

The case was taken to the local court, and it was ruled that M stayed in his current family with his foster parents.

Legally, the right to custody is with the birth parents, now since they are alive.

The common wisdom suggests the family who can take better care of the child should get the custody, despite it breaks some hearts. Legal wisdom has its own place too.

I’ve discussed and thought a lot on this issue. After all the thought, I could not settle the problem. One of my friends and I think the problems like this fall into what we call ‘social paradoxes’. Who do you think the boy should stay with? On what criteria do you chose the custodians of the boy? This can be one criteria: the better future of the boy! There can be several others. Which one sounds reasonable to you?

Greedy Behaviour

Proposition: Any decision made by an entity that is capable of rational as well as emotional thought (humans, e.g.) is a “greedy” decision.

Mathematically, a greedy decision is the one when, at a given stage, one makes the locally optimum choice with the hope of finding the global optimum. We can make whatever choice seems best at the moment and then make choices according to the situations that arise later. The choice made by the rational entity may depend on choices made so far but not on future choices.

The debate last night was about whether some of the decisions made in the world history, Iraq war for example, could have been some other decision for the betterment of the future world. Of course, some other decision, e.g., not invading Iraq would be a better decision, but we can only say that, with some degree of certainty, because right now we have more information (solution space of the problem) available, and we can carry out a posterior analysis of the situation. Anyone who has a little background in Game Theory (prisoner’s dilemma) and Probability Theory can see the difference between a posterior analysis and a priori analysis. In other words, “the hindsight is always better than the foresight.” Whether it was a good idea to not have the separate state of Israel has profound implications on the present problems we face in the middle east, but we could not say at that time whether any other decision would not have as profoundly troublesome outcomes. We cannot say it even now. Any other decision taken (let us say the one of not having a separate state founded on the biblical emotions) would also have been greedy.

Picking one of the outcomes of ‘whether one should get married’ is also a greedy decision, whatever way you look at it. Many of us contemplate on the future (married life) with the thought that (s)he getting married will cause problems like stability, possessive feelings and some others, for which I cannot take liberty to disclose them here. Although in that case, one is considering the future outcomes; still the decision of not getting married is a greedy choice because the outcome of “having problems in future” comes forth only because of what one has already observed, not what one will observe in the future.

Obviously such debates have no end. You can give me thousand arguments in favor of altruist decision, and I can give ten thousand in favor of a selfish one, so consider this as just a passing thought — the confession of a demented mind. In the end it just boils down to the questions, “What is “good”? Is greedy behaviour bad? And, why should one always stick to the good?”