Tag Archives: kaleidoscope world

Flying — Flash Fiction # 5


A baby caterpillar was slowly crawling up, its belly clinging to the bark of a tree. It had no idea that it was eventually meant to turn into a butterfly.

On a branch of the tree, a bird and its mate had built a nest. In the nest lived their young ones who had not yet learnt to fly. Their mother spotted the caterpillar. She flew down and picked it up in its beak and sped up to the nest to feed the young ones, hoping they will turn strong and learn to fly soon.

The caterpillar never found out about flying.

One of the small birds in the tree fell on the ground during its flying lesson. It hopped around helplessly not knowing how to fly back home.

In a hole in the ground near the tree lived a hungry snake. It watched the little bird for a while, slithered close to it and then swallowed it up.

The young bird never found out about flying.

One doesn’t know what happened to the snake.

Probably it never found out about flying either.

 
 
 
 
 

A Question of Right

Last month, on September 1, I sustained a foot injury, left foot to be precise, that proved later on to be a fracture. Movements were restricted, the surgeon prescribed what he called  an ankle binder and my left foot had to remain in bandaged state 24 hours a day since that fateful evening. It might have to remain that way for the rest of eternity or the end of my life, whichever arrived later. Not allowed to take it off even when I went to sleep at night. A somewhat uncomfortable state of  existence. I don’t recommend that you try it out, or else, like Alice’s smile without the Cheshire cat, you might end up with a bandage without a foot.

Such stray thoughts were assailing my otherwise peaceful ruminations on life, when to my horror and dismay, I realized that my right elbow was sending intense pain signals as well. I could hardly fold my right arm at the elbow joint without “ouching” loudly. I didn’t know the source of the problem, for as far as I recalled, I never injured my arms, even in my dream. And I wasn’t dreaming as the pain alerted me. I was wide awake. I was disturbing neighbours the way you are not allowed to in Churches when a service is in progress.

She was reading a book right next to me and the ouch disturbed her concentration.  She was not genuflecting in a Church of course, but disturbed she was.  She turned her head sharply, asking nothing. I suspect she was trying to figure out if I had sustained a heart attack. The silence continued till my vocal chords produced yet another ouch, louder than the first one, this time accompanied by a visual signal, a pain distorted face. I have no idea how alarming an expression I wore on my face. But she knew I am sure and appeared to conclude that my heart was not under siege and shifted her gaze back to her book in total indifference. I didn’t deserve her attention anymore.

Normally happy though I am, I find it difficult to put up with indifference to physical pain. Generally those that I suffer myself. So, I turned up my ouching volume a few notches higher to express my agony.

“What’s gone wrong?” she asked now in an annoyance radiating voice. “What’s this lugubrious noise all about?”

“My right elbow is in pain, can’t you see?” I retorted accusingly almost. “And the lugubrious noise you heard was the last gasp of a man in pain, one whose right arm has declared to carry out a non-cooperative non-movement.’

“No, I can’t see the pain. But I can hear coarse sound waves emanating from your direction. And I am tired of your ceaseless complaints. OK, what is it this time? And what on earth is a non-cooperative non-movement? You are misquoting the Mahatma and that is sacrilege!”

“I told you didn’t I? I am unable to bend my right arm at the elbow. Most painful. It’s a non-movement alright, Mahatma notwithstanding.”

She stared at me wide eyed for a long moment and then came out with her advice. “Well, since it is the right arm, your heart is safe. So if it is painful to bend it, then keep it straight and let it rest on a pillow. You can see a doctor tomorrow morning. At this time of the evening, doctors don’t fall like manna from heaven. Or at any other time for that matter.”

“But how can I keep my arm straight,” I moaned “if I need to reach behind for something?”

“Don’t try to reach for anything behind. I can see a pile of books behind you. Do you want anything from that collection of garbage? I can fetch it for you.” My books belonged to an untouchable category as far as I could make out from the nauseated expression on her face. She was being helpful probably, even though her tone didn’t suggest philanthropy. I began now to growl in pain. Physical as well as mental.

“No you can’t do anything for me,” I replied, in the manner I suppose of a terminally ill person lying on a hospital bed. “I don’t need books. No book on earth can help me now.”

She sounded more than amazed. “Then what on earth do you need behind you?” She searched the empty wall behind the table on which the books lay. If she was searching for a cockroach about to walk down my neck, it wasn’t there.

“I need to scratch my behind,” I announced, expressing distress in no uncertain terms.

She was completely taken aback, though I thought I detected the flicker of a semi-cruel smile on her face. But it vanished almost instantaneously. Controlling her emotions, whatever they were, she replied sternly, “Well use your other hand then, since you are not athletic enough to employ your right foot to serve the purpose.” I noticed with some satisfaction that she was well-informed about the condition of my left foot. I was not a victim of total indifference, thank God.

Nevertheless, she was being endlessly unsympathetic I felt. I stared tearfully at my bandaged foot. The silent tears failed to impress her. So, I sought refuge in my vocal chords once again.

“Don’t you see that it is my left arm alone that is usable?” I said, plaintiveness oozing out of my voice, reminding me of lambs protesting in vain on their way to the slaughter house.

“Then use it man, use it,” she admonished me. “Why waste a useful thing? Haven’t you heard the PM advising children not to waste electricity or other scarce resources?”

“But it’s not use-ful clever woman,” I let out a dismal scream now. “You are overestimating your genius. It’s the right bottom that I need to scratch.”

“Well, when did I suggest that you scratch the wrong bottom. Scratch the right one by all means, but do so after I have left this room. I don’t wish to witness the disgusting spectacle.” She got up on her feet, ready to disappear.

“I didn’t mean right as in wrong,” I made a pathetic attempt at explanation. She halted near the door, hesitating it seemed. Expressing sympathy perhaps? She kept me suffering in a state of suspended animation as it were.

When she finally vociferated, sympathy could well be the sentiment she expressed. But one couldn’t be sure. She looked up at the ceiling appearing to ask for God’s mercy to drop “as the gentle rain from heaven//Upon the place beneath”.

“Dear Lord,” she wailed, “why have you deprived this man of any semblance of grey matter? ”

To set things right, I yelled in greater desperation. “I meant right as in right. But my kind of a right bottom is not your kind of a right bottom, you understand?”

“No, I don’t,” was her instantaneous reply. She looked insulted and humiliated, as Dostoyevsky might have seen things at this point of time. Heaving several sighs of despair, she appeared to take a final decision of sorts. “Mental home, that’s where you need to be transferred. I think I should call an ambulance before you turn violent.”

“No, please no,” said I. “I am not a mental patient. I am perfectly aware of the difference between your bottom and mine. But you don’t seem to be aware of this simple difference …”

She didn’t let me finish my all clarifying sentence.

“First of all, you are offending a woman’s modesty by your crude reference to female physiology. Secondly, you are suggesting in no uncertain terms that I am soft brained. Not a mental home, you need to be reported to Women’s Rights Organizations. They’ll take proper care of you.”

I had no choice but to let her finish her sentence. And then I finished mine, the one which, if you remember, I had left unfinished.

“… between right as in right and right as in right. They are homonyms,” I ended up mournfully.

Confusion reigned supreme. As far as I could make out, there were at least three senses in which the word right had been used by now. Right as opposed to wrong, right as opposed to left and finally right as opposed to coercion. And she was showing an unmistakable inclination to stick to the third. So I decided to follow suit.

“Do you agree that a man has a right to scratch his bottom? Right, left and centre?”

“Of course I do you vulgar fool. But he doesn’t have the right to insult a woman.”

“When and how did I insult a woman?”

“But you just did. Insult all the way down to the bottom.”

“No, I didn’t. I was merely trying to make a grammatical point regarding your interpretation of a right bottom as opposed to mine.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it? A linguist scratching his bottom instead of his head? In search of a grammatically correct procedure for bottom scratching may be?”

Evidently sarcastic I thought. She continued before I could respond.

“And what is this grammatically correct procedure Sir, may I know?” The frown in her eyes drove a red  hot iron rod through my very soul. “You don’t expect my hand to scratch on behalf of yours, do you?”

Friends, to tell you honestly, the idea hadn’t occurred to me till that moment. But now that she brought up the possibility (or the impossibility perhaps) of the job, I muttered softly to myself, “Well, idea wise at least, that’s feasible, is it not?”

“I see, that’s what you expect do you?” she hissed now like a cobra disturbed in its sleep.

“Well no, I don’t expect you to do this. But assuming that I do not expect you to, will you do it? I mean, please?”

Something in the nature of an earthquake occurred now. Measuring around 15.8 in Richter scale. Rescue work could well be in progress, provided of course that civilization hasn’t breathed its last.

______________________________

I had no idea that it was R.K. Narayan’s birthday yesterday (10 October). But Google, my ever faithful butler, delivered the information as soon as I turned on the computer.

Industrialization in a Land Hungry State – A Lesson from Robert Solow

Originally published in The Telegraph, Calcutta on January 1, 2013 under the title Exploring the Possible

 

If surviving the test of time is proof of quality, then MIT Nobel Laureate Robert M. Solow’s model of economic growth has surely distinguished itself with flying colours. The work was published as far back in time as 1956 and survives in the academic world till this day, despite the ruthless attack it had to face from Professor Joan Robinson of Cambridge, UK and her associates. Rightly or wrongly, the latter questioned the logical underpinnings of Solow’s work and the debate was intense enough to metamorphose childhood friends into bitter enemies belonging to opposite camps in their adulthood. The controversies ultimately waned out though, possibly on account of a workable alternative model of economic growth that the critics failed to provide.

The Solovian prescription for growth and the plans for West Bengal’s industrialization, one might suspect, are strange bedfellows. However, this, curiously enough, may not be the case. For sustained growth, Solow visualizes all means of production to be growing at the same rate in the long run.  The situation resembles the cloning of production organizations, two of which, identical in all respects, particularly in the use of resources, would produce double the output produced by one, three producing three times and so on. Amongst the resources, population, which acts as a proxy for the labour force, is controlled by demographic rather than economic activities. Thus, all other inputs, most importantly capital, need to adjust and grow at the same rate as labour and this in turn leads output too to grow at the same rate.

Interestingly enough, Solow was not overly worried about the land problem. His cloning exercise involves replication of production organizations that are identical in their use of capital and labour. But common sense suggests that two factories that use identical quantities of capital and labour, can be constructed only on similar plots of land. On the other hand, while both capital and labour can expand endlessly, at least for argument’s sake, the total quantum of land available on the planet  is physically limited. Thus, Solow’s cloning comes up against a major barrier, viz. the scarcity of land, unless of course one imagines production units to grow vertically upwards in search of the moon rather than spread horizontally.

Land of course does not concern Slow. But if it did, how should he have proceeded? The answer could probably be found in the special manner in which labour is treated in his work. A worker is both an embodiment of nature endowed muscle power as well as socially available technological skills. The stock of muscle power grows with the population. This is the demography story. Technological skills multiply too over time, but Solow was vague at best as far as the technology tale went. What he was clear about though was that his labour resource was separable into two parts, ability to work and the skill associated with that ability. The cloning in Solow’s model involves replication of capital and the joint person cum skill input. Capital and the joint input, and hence output, grow at the same rate in the long run, but the joint input itself grows at a higher rate than the rate of growth of population in isolation, since its growth rate is the sum of the growth rates of population and technology. Consequently, even as output grows at the same rate as the joint population cum skill input, it grows faster than population. This means that output finally grows faster than population so that per capita output rises in the long run, which is the objective of economic growth and development in most societies.

It is not output alone that rises faster than population. So does capital, since the latter too grows at the same rate as the population cum skill input. Suppose, however, that labour lacked the skill attribute altogether. Then growth in capital at a rate faster than population would have given rise to the same absurdity as factories multiplying over non-augmentable land.

Economics text-books assert that the extra output one can squeeze out of  fixed size inputs diminishes with each extra squeeze with the help of inputs capable of growth. Therefore, in the absence of skill formation, as we are temporarily assuming, if capital were to rise at a higher rate than the growth in population, then the resulting output would be growing at ever slower rates. The only steady growth the system will be able to handle would involve capital, unskilled labour  as well as output growing at the same rate. To the extent then that a rise in output per head of population is a desired goal of development, the Solow model has a pretty dreary prediction to make if skills fail to grow.

Speaking more broadly, skill improvement signifies technical progress and the Solow message is that per capita output growth is not sustainable in the absence of a simultaneous growth in technology. Solow restricted his exercise to capital and labour resources alone. However, there is no reason why we should not interpret his work to include non-augmentable land too. Just as skilled labour qualifies for a larger number of workers than a mere a headcount, so should land services not be judged by the geographical size of land alone. Like labour, effective land size could be larger than its physical size in the presence of land augmenting technical progress.

Given this Solow insight, it is not enough for the authorities in charge of this land scarce state to simply send blank invitations to industrialists to invest in employment generating projects. Instead of adopting a rigid stand on land policy, attracting thereby criticisms from its political opponents and raising doubts in the minds of potential investors, the government might be able to do far better by laying down an acceptable road map for the sort of industries the Bengal economy should be able to cope with. As matters stand now, such industries ought to be equipped with technologies that are simultaneously labour intensive and frugal in the use of land.

A number of service sectors might easily qualify, though it is doubtful that the IT sector belongs to this category. The IT sector is mostly skilled labour intensive and, as elsewhere in the Indian economy, its growth, however phenomenal, holds little promise for unskilled or semi-skilled employment generation in a large scale. Heavy manufacture too cannot qualify as was evident during the 600 acres controversy in Singur’s Nano factory.

It makes little sense therefore to throw open the land markets to all and sundry. Land being scarce, its market price will be prohibitively high for new ventures to be initiated. A far better idea could be to set up an expert group to identify those industries alone that are endowed with technology that is either capable of converting small land holdings into effectively large ones or require small land holdings relative to output. These are the industries that the government should be luring into the state by offering whatever incentives it is in a position to offer.

Despite the clamour raised by the Chambers of Commerce, it is unlikely that large scale industries will fulfill the criterion. Agro-industries backed up by multiple cropping could well be a solution. The hotel industry in remote tourist spots could work as well. Both are semi-skilled labour intensive and hotels can actually expand vertically. The list, even if short, needs to be carefully prepared instead of wearing the mask of an unqualified industry friendly face. Even if a large industry or two were to move into the land hungry state, it cannot open the floodgates for heavy industrialization. Instead of criticizing and lamenting over the impossible therefore, our time will be far better spent in discovering the possible.

 

 

Eulogy to a Frank-fart-er

Statue of Agastya

Dear Son:

Have you ever come across a frank-FART-er? I always thought that the being was extinct. Indeed, if it did exist today, it would surely have qualified as the eighth wonder of our planet, don’t you think? Wait though my son, wait. It seems now that you and I, as well as other specimens of humanity whose footsteps have been guiding us, were utterly wrong in our convictions. Frank-FART-ers exist in profusion, or so at least the menus of a delicatessen or two are advertising in Kolkata. In large letters, capitalized that is. At the very entrance of the shops. You can’t miss them.

Come to think of it though, most of us might have been exposed to a somewhat lesser variety of the species, frank-FART-ers minus the boldness of it carried by the first five letters. They exist and perform with gay abandon in night trains as well as crowded buses, as evidenced by the diverse range of noises one’s ears are exposed to every now and then. And one can’t help wondering. Is there a technology that can decode these audio signals, or at least unravel the mysterious emotions they represent? Pride? Anger? Mockery? Pathos? Humility? Mind boggling you know, a bit like the inscrutable smile on Mona Lisa’s face.

Almost none of these musicians, mind you, have ever been accused of frankness. They remain as invisible to the naked eye as the mellifluous sound waves they produce. Yes, oh yes my child. I know you are as alert as a leopard in search of its prey. So you couldn’t have missed my hesitation at the very beginning of this paragraph. “Almost” said I. And if you scroll back upwards, you will notice further that I suggested that the animal was extinct. This means, doesn’t it, that there was a period in the history of mankind when it may well have existed. Dinosaur style.

But don’t you start googling in search of the creature. Neither historians nor archaeologists will offer you help in your quest. When your thirst for knowledge overpowers you, there is only one reference you should consult — the Mahabharata. That’s the ultimate source of history that historians always ignore. Fortunately, I am not a student of history, so I never fail to pay my due respects to this magnificent compendium.

And that is precisely the direction in which I ran the day I saw the advertisement at the delicatessen and burnt all the midnight oil at my disposal till I met with success. I am dying now to share with you my findings. The story of a magnificent frank-FART-er picked directly out of the pages of Krishnadwaipayan Vyas’ personal diary.

The f-f in question was the venerable Agastya, of whom I daresay you must have heard. I reckon he was one of the most powerful amongst the Hindu saints who found their place in the epic tale. His abilities manifested in the form of a great many miraculous events, but none as great as the one concerning the demon Illwal and his young brother Bataapi.

Whether this conjecture is correct or not, I can’t say. Vyas confirms though that Illwal made a somewhat questionable use of his faculty. And to go straight to the point, it appears that Illwal had once approached a Brahman with a strange request. He asked this B chap to grant him a boon that his son be as mighty as the King of Gods, viz. Lord Indra himself, armed with thunder, fury and the rest of the paraphernalia. The Brahman unfortunately refused. To tell the truth, the poor chap really had no other choice. First, he didn’t know Indra personally and could not therefore make someone he didn’t know resemble yet another guy he didn’t know either. Secondly, even if he tried to cater to Illwal’s whim, it is doubtful that Indra himself would be too happy to oblige. I mean, there was always this stray chance that the Lord would be transformed in the process to Illwal’s pampered child and be forced to remain in that state till the rest of eternity. That such possibilities are real enough will be revealed to you as you read through this tale.

So, the B refused and this Ill chap in turn was livid with anger. He decided to depopulate the earth of Brahmans. Towards this end, he began to invite all the Brahmans he could locate to his residence and serve them a variety of delicacies. Amongst them was a curry, made apparently out of goat meat. In reality though, he was using his magic to transform Bataapi into a goat. And it was this Bataapi cum goat that he was slaughtering to be cooked into a curry for the consumption of the unsuspecting invitees. No harm in this, since Bat boy could not die even when decimated, thanks to Ill boy’s sorcery.

Apparently, the preparation made out of Bataapi’s meat was real tasty and the Brahman’s lapped it up with relish. However, immediately after the feast was over, Illwal would call out for his brother in a heart rending baritone and as soon as he did so, the hapless Brahman’s stomach would explode and a smiling Batapi walk out unharmed from the mess.

There is a question that bothers me though at this point of the story. To the best of my understanding, few Brahmans outside Bengal are meat eaters. If so, do we conclude that Illwal was only after Bengali Brahmans? Unfair man, God’s so unfair to the Bongs. Or, does it suggest that Brahmans living in other parts of the country, being more intelligent, got wind of Illwal’s machinations and promptly converted to vegetarianism? Whichever, it’s worth researching whether the forefathers of today’s vegetarian Brahmans were vegetarians during V’deva’s times.

Serendipitously enough, it was around this time that Agastya was seen in the vicinity. It was easy enough for him to secure an invitation card for Illwal’s party and Illwal merrily went through the ritual. Agastya too ate up the meat to his fill. And then, just when he was about to lie down for a well-deserved siesta, Illwal strung up the Bataapi tune on his harp. In response, much to Illwal’s dismay, Bataapi failed to reappear. And what emerged instead was a hurricane of sorts directly from Agastya’s posterior, accompanied by great thunder and lightning.

Make no mistake. Agastya admitted with all the frankness at his possession that it was he who had broken wind, thereby earning for himself the well deserved title of an f-f. Illwal was almost blown away by the force of the turbulence, but managed to hold his ground with the last bit of strength left in him. And as he stared open mouthed at Agastya, the latter smiled a beatific smile and came out with his immortal statement in chaste Sanskrit — “Bataapih jeerna bhava!” Which, translated into simple English runs — ” Bataapi dear, be thou digested!” In other words, following the rules of Physics, Agastya demonstrated the truth of what scientists describe as the Law of Conservation of Energy. He had converted a breathing Bataapi into as unattractive a form of energy as a blighted f**t!! And Prevented Illwal from transforming his kid brother back to the energy mass he started out from. You see now why Lord Indra would have refused to undergo the requested change? If Bataapi could not be restored back to his original self, what guarantee did Indra himself have?

Having proceeded this far, there must clearly be a question or two that are bothering you. First, what is it that they are selling in Kolkata? Fossilized pieces of Agastyas may be? Not unlikely in fact, if the Vyas story was solely concerned with Brahmans in this region of India. I am dead sure that Brahmans from other parts of the country would want to wash their hands off any involvement with Illwal, unless there was a vegetarian version of Illwal’s magic. I have to carry out further research before I can throw more light on the matter.

But there is a second question that might trouble you too. Was it pure serendipity that made Agastya appear to perform his miracle? The answer is, as you might suspect, a clear no. Agastya too had his designs. And I being at my garrulous worst today, let me end up with a summary of that incident too.

Agastya had not arrived at Illwal’s door with philanthropic propensities at all. As a matter of fact, it was quite the other way around. It was Illwal’s philanthropy that he demanded. If Vyasdeva is to be trusted, then during one of his lonesome morning walks through the omnipresent forests of yore, the young Agastya received the shock of his life to discover, not one, but the entire dynasty of his forefathers, apes included I suppose, hanging upside down inside a freshly dug hole, located inches away from this lofty tree under which he had sat down to rest. And mind you, this was no circus show they were performing for their progeny’s entertainment. For, without exception, each one had a glum expression written clearly on his face. To tell you frankly, a sight as scary as this would have prompted me to run for my life. But the great Agastya was made of sterner stuff. He approached the hole in question and paid obeisance to each member of the mourning generations and requested them in all humility to explain what had caused them to suspend themselves in mournful gloom in such a supremely demanding athletic posture.

On being questioned, the ancestors could no longer control their emotions and shed an ocean of tears, thereby wiping out all traces of the hole they had occupied. Nevertheless, they managed to keep the conversation going. It’s best that we keep in abeyance questions regarding the technicalities surrounding this event, or else you will not get to hear the rest of the tale. Miracles those days were available a dime a dozen.

The progenitors, it appears, whimpered lugubriously much to the discomfort of the progeny that he was doing them much wrong by refusing to procreate and soon there would be no one left to solace them with the satisfying thought that they had done their bit in keeping God’s creativity alive and kicking. Agastya accepted his lapses without argument and set out on his way to fill up the lacuna.

Unfortunately though, there was a fly in the ointment. Agastya, despite his renunciation of worldly pleasures, suffered from a Pygmalion like weakness. No woman short of Miss Universe in person would satisfy him. He imagined therefore a wife who would be composed of the most scintillating features collected from all creatures ever created and prayed fervently for her arrival to cleanse him of the crime of non-procreation. Luckily for him, it was precisely around this time that the King of Vidarva was engaged in severe ascetic rituals in the hope of fathering the most flawless child on earth. Agastya’s wishes fitted the King’s as perfectly as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle and soon enough Lopamudra, Agastya’s wife to be, was born. There must have been quite an age difference between the groom and the bride, but Agastya bided his time keeping her under close observation, till Lopa was a nubile young woman. She had, needless to say, all the virtues Agastya had wished for and the marriage was arranged between the two, though Vyas tells us the King was not too happy to give away the apple of his eye to a middle aged forest roaming hermit with no more than a dubious career ahead of him. In other words, it was not exactly clear from Agastya’s looks if he would ascend to the status of a Hindu Pope.

But Lopamudra didn’t object, afraid perhaps of the consequences of her refusal, and followed her husband to his abode, which needless to say, was a bit of a demotion from her palatial habitat. Worse, Agastya insisted that she shed her princess’ attire and preserve her modesty in tattered clothes or deer skin at best. In my opinion, the chap was dying to see his wife in a bikini and used the tall excuse that a sage’s wife needed to live a life of sacrifice. Can’t be helped. Men dominated the world on the one hand and on the other, Agastya was known to possess superhuman abilities. One wouldn’t dare disobey his commands. So, Lopamudra accepted his dictates with little objection and went about bikini clad performing her household chores, cooking, sweeping the courtyard, washing dishes, massaging Agastya’s tired forest roaming limbs and, last but not least, keeping her bikini sets in order. And, as expected, seeing her regularly in this state, Agastya went all horny and remembered conveniently that he had promised to keep the clan flourishing.

Now, Lopamudra, whom we have so far perceived as an epitome of female acquiescence, was in reality a feminist at heart. She was, without a doubt, waiting for a chance to deal a brutal blow to her husband’s divine affectations. Her deer skinned bikini she claimed now was too holy a garment for her to wear to start the proceedings that Agastya was dying to start. In other words, she refused to be un-bikini-ed. She was a princess and if Agastya had to undress her, he would have to fetch her a princess’ garments as well as a matching bed to perform the ritual. Nothing less was acceptable to her. Agastya therefore had only two choices left before him. Either apply force, which was tantamount to raping, or meet her demands. The first alternative wouldn’t work of course, since this would not please his ancestors. So, Agastya, much to his regret agreed to meet Lopamudra’s demands.

He left her in her bikinis, which needless to say was not a particularly safe thing to do, and went in search of wealth from king to king, Srutava, Vradhnashwa, Trasadasyu and so on. (I don’t know how to pronounce these names, so you needn’t worry too much either.) But, to his massive disappointment, each of these kings told him that they were following IMF norms and practising strict fiscal discipline. Their incomes exactly equalled there expenditure and they didn’t have even an extra paisa to spare to buy Lopamudra her bridal bed and costly saree. They were obviously not telling the truth, being somewhat stingy it would seem. One wonders why Agastya didn’t approach his father in law too, but Vyas was once again silent on this issue. I have a feeling that that poor king had left for his heavenly abode soon after he heard about the clothing Agastya forced upon his poor daughter.

Srutava et al, however, were not totally unhelpful. They suggested that Agastya approach Illwal, who, by all accounts, was the richest chap around. I mean, he was the only king who had the means to buy a cot for you know what. I think deep down in their hearts, these balanced budget kings wanted to put Illwal in his place and were hoping to use Agastya for that ultimate purpose. So, as I said, the fact that Agastya landed up in Illwal’s palace was no coincidence. And what I did not inform you earlier, Illwal was so scared after Agastya’s stormy performance that he gave him all the stuff he needed to keep humanity growing.

What beats my imagination though is why Monsignor Agastya had to perform the diverse set of miracles to fetch a princely bed for Lopamudra. If he could digest Bataapi and convert him into thin air, he should surely have possessed the ability to manufacture a miserable bed out of the same thin air. But then, that’s the way Vyas wanted his characters to behave.

Does this story have moral though? I am afraid that it does and it applies to you my son. If you ever come across an apparition bearing the slightest resemblance to your father, hanging upside down, batman-style, in a poorly lit cave in your neighbourhood, you are well advised not to treat it as an optical illusion. Oh yes, I am fully aware that you live in the US. That unlike the renowned profs of Indian mythology, who were congenitally inclined to loiter about aimlessly in wooded hills and dales in search of convenient locations for launching Hubble telescopes in search of truant Gods and Goddesses, you teach in centrally heated, brightly lit classrooms to gum chewing, jeans clad kids with their legs stretched atop the nearest table or chair. Nonetheless, you are well advised to keep your eyes open, especially for cavernous confines, where a forefather or two, living or dead, might be lurking, in the aforementioned gymnastic state. Never neglect these hoary old acrobats, for they are doubtlessly trying to communicate with you, somewhat in the manner of Hamlet’s father’s spirit, when things were rotting in the state of Denmark.

Tons of love.

Baba