Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Last King of Kerala

Statutory warning: Unless you’ve watched The Last King of Scotland, you’re not going to make head or tail of this post. I suggest you watch it. Nae, I order you to watch it. I had a dream that says so.

I had just graduated from one of the million substandard engineering colleges that dot the Indian landscape.

We had a celebratory dinner at home.

My father tried to appear to be happy. As we sat down at the table to eat, he spoke solemnly.

‘My son, you have decided to follow a very noble profession chosen by very few… er… make that a few million. Nonetheless, I would like to congratulate you by raising this glass of orange juice to our collective lips. A toast to your pitiful degree in engineering.’

Oh, did I mention it? Mum’s into anti-temperance and all that kind of thing.

He continued, after I had downed the orange juice into my stomach where it soon met the half-litre of vodka that sloshed around in the vicinity (relics of a livelier graduation party with a few mates).

‘You shall soon be joining the thousands of mindless drones who slave away at the software company I work at. I can think of no better profession for you, considering you seem to have no other interests save porn, women and alcohol.’

I balked inside. The software company seemed horrendously unappealing.

I went into my room, settled on my bed, and stared at the Sachin Tendulkar poster on the ceiling. The thought that a chap who had failed his O-levels could make a lot more money than me caused me to seethe within.

I turned the television on, and was greeted by Jade Goody. That did it!! I screamed out loud. I had to make something of my life, just like Arundhati Roy, Shilpa Shetty, Mandira Bedi, and legions of other talentless goofs had.

I had to get away from it all. I had to find myself – even if I knew full well that the search was unlikely to yield any more than a search for free, genuine nude pictures of Aishwarya Rai on google.

I took the globe in hand and spun it around, muttering away, ‘First place my finger stops at, I go there.’, rather like the talentless shmuck I was.

When the globe stopped spinning, my finger rested on the United States of America.

George W. Bush. Condoleeza Rice. Tyrannical visa regulations. The patriot’s act. Tom Cruise. F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Goddammit, spin the globe around again.

Uganda, this time around.

Africa. Topless tribal women. Erotic fertility rituals.

It took me just two minutes to decide that I would much rather prefer to sleep with topless tribal women than with Condi Rice.

A few days later, I was on a rickety old bus, travelling down one of the few roads in the world that made the Indian highways look like British motorways. I was going to teach little kids in some village in Uganda how to hate Bill Gates and use Ubuntu Linux. After all, didn’t Ubuntu rhyme with Uganda?

I soon met the chap who ran it all – an old Indian uncle, aunty in tow. I went up to yonder uncle, who was running around getting all the snotty-nosed African kids to take their shoes off before they entered the compute room. As every Indian who’s ever taken a computer class knows, wearing footwear into a computer room will cause the computer to choke to death.

‘Hello, uncle. Where are the PCs? I would like to check my email. And how many PCs do we have?’

‘What’s email? Well, we’ve got the BBC Microcomputer (circa 1982). And I notice you’ve brought a motherboard along with you. That makes it two computers… well, kind of.’

The old coot had been up to the age-old baniya practice of hawking all the computers that stupid Europeans sent along after seeing ‘Kinder hilfe’ ads in Koeln Hauptbahnhof at the local black market.

I soon met aunty as well.

I had imagined an Indian version of Stifler’s mom. Beautiful, undersexed, and completely sick of uncle’s persistent flaccidity (Oh did I mention? What with all the AIDS going around in Africa, the last thing they want around there is Viagra!). What I got was a rotund Kantaben with a large bindi plastered over her forehead. Ah well, I’d at least get good khichdi.

Before I could speak, aunty asked me, ‘So, beta, are you married?’


‘Ah, all you youngsters. In my time, we would not let 23 year olds run around the world unmarried. What you need is a good wife to cook for you and look after you.’

Why is it that none of these aunties want to talk of the good stuff about marriage – I mean, the action! It’s not like we Indians don’t do it at all. If you’re not sure, ask the chaps who conduct the decennial census. But before I could object, aunty went on to speak of how her son was working in a good software company in America and was married to a good girl from his own caste – no nonsense with all these goris and kallis.

It was a few days later that Idi Amin came to our village, and my life changed forever.

I was wearing my Kerala: God’s Own Country t-shirt (which contained no information whatsoever of the communists, the labour unions, and the sex crimes in God’s Own Country) when I went to attend Amin’s rally.

The first thing I espied was that the bloke was huge. And that he loved to shout ‘Are you awrite????’ out to the crowd every five minutes. And every five minutes, the crowd answered with a resounding, ‘Shoooooure’.

A few minutes on, I found myself actively screaming ‘Shoooure’ with the crowd. Blending in with the crowd, as it were. Amin then broke out into a kind of tribal jig, which reminded me of the dances in Telugu movies – you know, the kind of thing where the bloke goes into a kind of trance and begins to jiggle his pelvis around like nobody’s business; most people call it exorcism, but Rajkumar and Chiranjeevi call it disco dance.

It was then that I decided to leave. I had seen enough Kannada and Telugu movies to positively detest that kind of thing. As I drove away in my battered landcruiser (everybody who’s anybody in Africa has a 4X4), a military autorickshaw chased me down, and a couple of the local yokels dressed in army fatigues hopped out.

‘Da president, he has a problem with his computer. We need a Computer Scientist. Very urgently.’, said they.

‘I’m a Computer Scientist.’, said I, rather pompously.

‘You come with us.’, they commanded.

Never being one to argue with the business end of an AK-47, I followed them meekly to where the President was, with his laptop on his lap, clapping his ears in pain.

Windows had hung, and Windows Media Player was looping an African song, which sounded suspiciously like the kind of song Rajnikant would love to woo his heroine by.

Idi Amin stared at me and said, ‘You tell me what to do, and I do.’

‘Oh, one of those numbskulls who wouldn’t let tech support do it for them, but wanted to do it for themselves even if they couldn’t power a computer on by themselves.’, I thought to myself.

‘Er..well, Mr. President. Please hold the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys down.’.

His excellency proceeded to get his fingers in a twist trying to press the ‘C’, ‘O’, ‘N’, ‘T’, ‘R’, ‘O’, and ‘L’ keys on the keyboard down, all at the same time.

I spent five minutes trying to counsel him on how to do it right, at the end of which I lost my patience, grabbed the laptop from Idi Amin, pressed Ctrl+Alt+Del, and killed the Windows Media Player process, screaming, ‘I’ve got to put this thing out of its misery’.

All the flunkies around Amin cocked their carbines. Amin looked menacingly at me, and raised himself to his full height.

‘You touched MY keyboard. You are Indian, aren’t you?’, he said, glowering.

‘Uh…yes, but no, I’m from South India, aye. Kerala.’, and pointed to my Kerala t-shirt.

Amin laughed.

‘Ah, Kerala! Why didn’t you say so? I love Kerala. If I weren’t born a Ugandan, I would have been a Malayalee. There is no other part of the world where people are as horny, and have as funny names as us Ugandans do.’

I smiled; the chap was quite a charmer. I find my name amusing myself, and am unquestionably horny and sex starved.

He went on, ‘I want that t-shirt. I have a son named Baby Lijo Aju Samuel Aby Verghese. He would love it.’

I stared flummoxed. I had doubts about his sanity when he said he wished he was Indian (Anybody who has tried to pick a woman up at a club with a strong Indian accent would agree with me*). The request for the t-shirt convinced me entirely.

He took my confusion to indicate hesitation, and immediately ripped his bemedalled shirt off, and offered it in exchange. Rudyard Kipling wasn’t kidding when he said the barter system still existed in deepest Africa.

He then went on to say, ‘You, you become my personal Computer Scientist. You come here to serve Uganda. You can serve Uganda by protecting the computer of its head of state from viruses unleashed by my political opponents.’

I gaped, open-mouthed. Could I consent to go along with this madman? I looked back to the village. Visions of the aunty marrying me off to some lass who would not meet her husband’s eyes, and would be even worse in bed than me, flashed across my eyes.

I said, ‘Yes…’

I was going to Kampala!

To be continued….

*Yes, I know Russell Peters said that. I give him full credit, but it is a truism, for christ’s sake!