Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A thong in the lab (Short story)

At 9 am, a final year graduate student is the only one awake, and present in the lab. He has spent all his life as a slave student. In last few years, he has become a champion of human rights everywhere. He knows about the laborers and farmers in China are barely managing to survive. He knows the weavers in India, in spite of the price of their carpets, are facing extinction. He suffers like the Chinese laborers, and when his adviser presents his work, without crediting him, he raises a toast to the Indian weavers. Being a Russian by birth, he understands how intellectuals are prosecuted everywhere. Be it revolutions, he says, or democracy, an intellectual bears the burden, of both bringing it on and bringing it to a close, and then by popular demand, pays for it, by his own blood. He sympathizes with the Iraqis under US rule more than he ever did with his fellow countrymen in Communist rule. He admires Castro and Che Guerra. He knows historical contexts under which nationalities love or despise each other and he has read every news worth reading in two hours he has spent in the lab so far. Just by showing up early in the lab, he believes, he has done half a day's work.

The world of physicists has been dominated by males ever since the famous Archimedes ran naked in the street shouting "Eureka! Eureka!" For a pithy law of buoyancy, a law which seems obvious and trivial now, Archimedes celebrated with more passion and nakedness than anyone after him. Nevertheless, perhaps scared that physics labs abound with men like him (or maybe the wisdom of their womanly instinct), the females are a rare sight in these labs. If you ask Vladimir, whose name itself carries layers of history, he will tell you of every female character who has appeared in his lab in last five years, he has spent here. He says, he is living the life of the Count of Monte Cristo before he made his escape and fortune. He consoles himself and his fellow men, by saying, a flower in gallows will only be crushed in hands of us - awkward, thirsty, hungry, haggard, dissatisfied - prisoners. We are prisoners of our own quest of knowledge. The more we know, the more myopic our knowledge seems. And yet, he says, even after spending two or three decades in school, when you go out to work, we have to begin afresh like a Kindergarten schoolboy. Nothing is as described in calculus books. The realm of women, he announces, as another thick smoke escapes his lips, is like this smoke pattern. It changes faster than a man can model it (or simulate it by a model), and it behaves differently every time a man encounters it.

Rusheed, his Indian labmate, often joins him for a smoke. What happens to be Rusheed's second smoke of the day (first is right after brushing his teeth), is usually Vladimir's fifth, and they always go out for it when Rusheed arrives. It is usually thirty seven minutes before lunch, for seven minutes are reserved for smoke, and half hour for brushing up on email and world affairs is necessary to have the discussions with fellow intellectuals at lunch hour. It is said the food tastes like shit (or cowdung), smells like rotten eggs (or carbon disulfide for chemists only), and is bad to ensure you eat less, and focus more on your work.

This is a miraculous day. A thong arrives in the lab at 9:30 am. A thong, blue in color, looks prominent in a lab full of black, metallic components. A thong is second thing that Vladimir notices, after harassing himself with a vision of what lies beyond the valley when the female, with her shirt buttons carelessly left undone, shakes hands with him. A deep thinker, if he is a man, forgets to wear a shoe or a sock, and if it is a woman, she forgets her make-up, her motherly-sisterly-wifely-sexual identity. This is a general consensus reached by Vladimir, Rusheed, Suresh, Chinglee, Bo and Martin. The female is dressed to kill (or as Suresh put it later, is with the right quantum of undress), and he is convinced that she is no deep thinker. The thought comforts him.

Anyway, the blasted thong blares at him. It has appeared in his vision like a question, a sign, a mark of mankind's progress. Wasn't it four or five thousand years of technology and progress that led to such a precise and pretty invention? She is busy tinkering with the knobs on the instrument she needs to use, and he cannot, but admire, the topology, the geometry, the arches of the blue sky and pacific that rises out of her low cut Levi jeans, that covers all that is deeply beautiful perhaps, and is most profound. Vladimir decides to act.

A graduate student shares everything except credit for work. So Vladimir goes online and types a swift message for Rusheed, Suresh, Chinglee, Bo and Martin. He knows Rusheed won't read it till noon, and Chinglee won't either, for Chinglee must baby sit through the day, while his wife goes and works in a restaurant illegally to earn enough to feed a family of three. (Chinglee spells his name as Qinglee, sharing common Chinese belief, that only way to get people to pronounce their names in English is by misspelling them).

Bo must focus on preparing for his qualifying examinations for becoming a full scale PhD student, and hence he has joined English communication and comprehension class. As homework assignment, he has to go clubbing every night, and only when he can talk his way to a stranger's bed, he will be ordained a qualified conversationalist. He has not announced that he succeeded last week, for he has not yet recovered from it. He was surprised when conversation approached him from the most unexpected corner; a six feet, blue eyed, blond hair Californian swept Bo away like he cleans of spider webs on Christmas eve every year. Bo hasn't got over the evening yet, and in five days, he has talked to Californian seven times. Bo is still finding it difficult to believe that he is gay, in fact is happy as gay and must counsel himself well before committing to his new found modern, unorthodox view of sexuality, genetics, love. Meanwhile he cannot stop thinking about the hunk he had an encounter with. He feels, his whole life was leading to it.

Martin won't care for the thong either, for he literally runs the Phi Delta Omega on campus, and as he puts it, has too much on his hands. Suresh shows up, excusing himself from the online chat he was having with this unknown person in India. He is supposed to get familiar with her and decide if she seems better than the others for arranged marriage. He comes from a highly educated and modern family, but it is the family custom that boy cannot see the girl before they get formally married. He must form an opinion based on chat with, and decide if he likes her better than His mother devised the addresses. She said they were numbers partially because their IIT-engineer-turned -physicist son would like them better than names, and partially to avoid any prejudices that names can bring to mind. After all, one must chose his bride without prejudices.

Suresh breaks his chat session, and is in lab within four minutes. It is an established fact that on such occasions a graduate student takes one third of his usual time to reach office. Suresh being a well respected and popular guy, usually requires forty minutes to cover this ten minute leisure pace track, for he must personally greet every fellow Indian on his way. But today he is running hard, and shouting, "late for a meeting, late for a meeting!"

Suresh has sufficient will to avoid glaring at the thong directly. He is in fact committed to make a choice between either 12345 or 43246. While the former has impressed him with her touted talent of making sweets including jalebi, rasgulla and chocolate cream cake, the latter knows French, Sanskrit and Hindi, apart from English and Bhojpuri. The knowledge of Bhojpuri, he says, adds a dimension to her, which will keep them connected with the culture and traditions of his forefathers. Meanwhile, he sees the glitter in the eyes of Vladimir, the brilliance that a thong brings to the Russian's face amuses him greatly. He opens a chat window, and starts the following discussion.

Suresh: "Hello Communist! How is the latest fad of Capitalism affecting you?"

Vladimir: "Mr. Cow Dung. I am quite dazzled. I am thinking of making small talk. But I don't know her boundary conditions, I mean, I am concerned about her , you know.."

S: "Seems you forgot to add some vodka to your morning cuppa. Lack of confidence is a sure sign of it. Want to discuss it over smoke?"

V: "All smoke and no fire! No dude, I will fight it here. But as a disinterested side-burn, why don't you get a conversation started. Withdraw once I move into the arena."

S: "You are a curious character. You want me to bait her. Well, in name of science, I will do it."

Suresh gets into the act. He scratches his hair, stands up, and goes to the female in question, looks her in the eye, and asks her: "Is the meter showing a value about 10% higher than expected?" She bats her eyelids, and says, "I think it is about where my adviser expects it. But are you suggesting that the instrument has zero error?" Suresh has noticed the valley, and feels pleased at the idea of making Vladimir uncomfortable, by ignoring his wish for barging into their conversation. So he tells her that it needs to be checked, and if she wanted, he could run the standard sample, and check for it. She agrees. A passing glance tells him that Vladimir is displeased, but then Vladimir knows how to wait. Also, he knows that Suresh only knows how to talk, and before long, the Indian scruples, the inbuilt guilt hormones, the morality of centuries and all stuff and nonsense which Kamasutra fails to mention, will make him leave the butterfly for the Russian predator.

Meanwhile he listens like a Russian spy. She is from Florida (hence the thong he concludes). She obtained her education in Atlanta, Georgia (and therefore, her southern accent drawls Georgia into a charming tune. He remembers Forrest Gump, and wants to says, "Life (or was it wife?) is like a box of chocolates.") She has just joined Prof. Itsy Wu for a PhD and is new to town. Suresh announces the instrument is quite alright, and then introduces himself. She shakes hand with him now, and says, "I am Candy." Vladimir can hold back no longer, he announces to her, "Err, I am Vladimir." She offers him a smile in return. He has made up his mind, and so no past failures can stand in his way, no lack of indulgence on her part can be a sign to withdraw. Suresh sees it too well, and gets back to his desk. He pretends to read a paper very carefully, while Vladimir pursues the thong.

"Err, hmm Candy. How do you find Berkeley?"

C: "I have been here only for a month. I haven't got a car yet, and I haven't had time to make friends or go anywhere."

V: "Well, you have made two friends now. Err.. I mean we are friends now... I guess Suresh and I can show you around.... Well.... hmmm... Suresh is busy, trying to finish before he settles down with an arranged bride, but I can definitely make time.... He can join if he wants, but he is busy... What would you want to see?"

C: "Thats very nice of you, Wallad-emir. I guess when John arrives in town next week, I would ask for your guidance."

The thing Vladimir hates most is mispronunciation of his name. According to him, a person who cannot pronounce Vladimir right is illiterate to the core. Vladimir is the first name of both Lenin and Putin. Nabokov of Lolita fame was Vladimir as was Kramnik of Chess. (Vladimir has a longer list, the writer apologizes for his lack of consideration for the readers to curtail this informative section). But when Vladimir's name is mispronounced by adviser, he swallows it with bitter humility, and when it is mispronounced by a pretty girl, he accepts it as a charming defect in the manifold of her existence.

But John , the word and the sentence that came with it, seem bothersome. Yet he does not have the heart to ask her, who John is. He'll rather leave it to doubt or speculation, rather than ask her and face the consequences. He has found that approach profitable. If a research problem seems unwieldy, if a question can be asked that will lead him to lose hope or his optimism, he dismisses it at the root, calling it unimportant.

Meanwhile Bo has drifted into the lab, and smells of his lunch. He has made up his mind about the Californian, he is going to "date" him, and sees thong as the first test of his declaration. He is mighty pleased at himself, for he can look at it without being too affected by it. Rusheed almost jumped at the sight of it, and after admiring it for few seconds, rushed away to his seven minutes smoke breakfast. Vladimir cites important an email, which is being typed in Russian, and refuses to accompany him. What he is writing cannot be translated into English without the use of several words, allusions, metaphors, puns, comparisons which would make this story perverted, laced with sexuality, vulgarity or if you are French, without the use of realism, which is as laced with dirt as is with occasional beauty.

Martin enters with eyebrows raised and winks at Suresh, pointing at the thong, while Candy is looking elsewhere. Unfortunately, Suresh sits at a place from where the thong is not visible, and he is too chicken to try any other angle. Martin flaunts his whiskey breath, claiming it is for the socializing from last night and decides to enlighten Suresh. Martin is a great experimentalist, and so he finds a mirror, a lens and arranges for Suresh to have a peek at her. Martin believes that if any international beast wants education in his country, he must be ready to escape from his cultural prejudices and narrow minded beliefs on marriage and sex (and against underage drinking and Iraq war and their choice of President and vice-President and so on). Candy gets a whiff of Martin's effort just in time. Actually Vladimir notices whats going on and coughs aloud, asking Martin, what experiment he was concocting and why? Martin half-replies to him and engages in yet another pointless conversation with Suresh. Meanwhile Candy gets up, and thinking no one will notice, goes to a corner and pulls her pants up. Vladimir is pleased, for his perverted nature, baser instincts have been won over by his desire to know her better, to show her the city, the Bay Area. Suresh sees her a minute too late, and Martin tells him, "You suck, dude."

A month later, Suresh decided to dump 12345 altogether. She wanted to know when he would graduate and never forgot to shoot this question. "A woman who cannot appreciate my problems now will never appreciate them," he contended. "I don't expect my wife to be reasonable, but I expect her to know what things will positively irk me." Vladimir rejoined with, "So that she can irk you when she pleases." Suresh ignored the comment, for the sarcasm was nothing compared to the flaws of 12345. Bo joined the Catholic Church to learn more about the religious beliefs of the Californian, and passed his qualifiers with ease. He will be working in a lull for two years, till a grand final year seduces results out of his unyielding mind.

Martin joined alcohol anonymous. He was in high spirits yesterday, not because he was drunk, but because he said it was first time he went into a bed with a woman in fully conscious state. He said, it was like loosing virginity all over again. Rusheed is still smoking twelve cigarettes a day. Vladimir has gone out on six dates with Candy. He was the happiest man on earth when he got a call from Candy, asking him to drive him to pick John from the Airport and John turned out to be a grey haired puppy. She had left in Atlanta, for he was dismally sick then. Candy has developed a taste for Vladimir vodka, and knows twenty-three people from history who share that name.


Rads said...

Your story is hilarious. My favorite line in the story is:

Also, he knows that Suresh only knows how to talk, and before long, the Indian scruples, the inbuilt guilt hormones, the morality of centuries and all stuff and nonsense which Kamasutra fails to mention, will make him leave the butterfly for the Russian predator.

The story reminds me of my teenage years, when I was overly conscious of the fact that most boys in reality are just like the characters of your story. I kept away from every possible boy in sight. Hah!

Uhem..You've referred Candy as thong numerous times..which I am a little bit offended by. But I also think that doing so was appropriate for the best interests of the story and your characters.

Awesome work. Cheers!

Chay said...

what a wonderful story...sort of like a guy-flick !! I think it is precise, in that it is entirely and accurately from a young man's perspective....:-) it reminds me of college too. Love the humour....and the detail too. Lol @ 12345 and 43246 and Suresh's moral struggles. right on eh!!
I cant help but think that this makes a great beginning for a slightly longer story. The ending came too quickly for my liking.

Vivek said...

Thanks Rads, Chay

The males in an Engineering or Physics labs must associate with this quite well:)

Story was never intended to be to long, but I guess I built in more details than were necessary for this one. I am working on getting conversations and personalities right.

Next story is already floating in my head, has to be deadly.

Vivek said...

Wed, 2007-05-30 11:50 — Vivek New
Thanks ano

Only blockbusters have sequels;)

This was supposed to be a “guy flick” (as chay put it); but I guess guy flick’s never garner big audiences or response. There is a sequel in making though, and I will post it once I type it. Must turn it into chick flick and see how that does:)

* edit
* reply

Tue, 2007-05-29 18:12 —


This really begs for a sequel!

Many of the lines were enjoyable…
After all, one must chose his bride without prejudices.

before long, the Indian scruples, the inbuilt guilt hormones, the morality of centuries and all stuff and nonsense which Kamasutra fails to mention, will make him leave the butterfly for the Russian predator

Vivek said...


« Back to Post
nita_jr comments: on 23 May 07 02:49:00 AM

hehe, that was funny...Now Q is what is a thong clad girl doing in a graduate lab in Berkley? Maybe you could write another article explaining that .

Vivek Sharma comments: on 22 May 07 08:13:00 AM

Captain Sahib; Graduate student life toe aisi hi hai:) A small excitement once in a while is news.

I am surprised that other graduate students didn't read this piece; for the ones who read, report that it captures their reality better than many models that have come before it:)

Captain Nemo comments: on 22 May 07 05:18:00 AM

vivek bhai...
Ed zachary describes a bunch of monkey boys, I liked this thong...

vandana1982 comments: on 22 May 07 04:40:00 AM

Well Prakash
What makes you think that the writer is a liar?
You should separate the identity of the writer from his work and look at the wider prospectives.
It is true thet one tries to satisfy one's inner soul but at the same time it should give a smugly feeling to the reader too and that is what the biggest achievement of a writer is.
i think the writer (Vivek) has achieved that .

Vivek Sharma comments: on 21 May 07 11:35:00 AM

prakash: whats your point?

pakash comments: on 21 May 07 11:00:00 AM

i have writeen a blog namely aao khoj karen.. i mean how to find topic of reasearch may be you will like

first of all i am sorry for such a behaviour. i wrote this article no bosy read. I dont think this is so badly written. dear sir if you will give me two minute time for your younger brother then your brother will be more than happy
once again sorry for such a misbehabiour

Keep Writing

No, not today. No, no, not today, one week later, just one more week. Wait for one week, after that you will have ample of free time, free, complete free. All tension of work and mental tension will be released, you will be free, complete free, free from all tasks, free from all duties. Write Story, Write Essay, Read Novel write criticism, go for a trip and write travelogue, what ever you want to write, write in a good language, write in flowery English, write in a good style, take care of grammar, write after a prolonged thinking, don’t write suddenly. Suddenly written article can not impress a reader.

goes on bLA Bla bla.........

Vivek said...


Die Hard
May 25, 2007
01:20 AM

Hilarious! Barking mad!! I convulsed in laughter so much so that my colleagues started laughing at me!

Aditi Nadkarni
May 25, 2007
01:40 AM

Loved the short story Vivek! Just the correct dashes of humor and dry wit that characterize life in graduate school :)

May 25, 2007
11:20 PM

Vivek! Are you a feminist. My dad is a feminist.

May 30, 2007
09:47 PM

Whoa Die Hard!! Writing it was as much fun as maybe you had reading it!:)

Aditi: I have been graduate student for more than half a decade now, I outta know.

Shanti: I am a feminist according to men to think I praise women too much. I am anti-feminist according to women who have read my poems "Trust a Woman" and "Ode to talk talk talk talking machines." I am yet to get the popular vote on being either.