Arjun the Drum Wizard

Keechak laughed. He was watching ants go berserk as they dodged the little specks of his earwax that he was planting in their trail. It had become quite chaotic for the ants as they began moving randomly. Some of them had even wandered off a significant distance from the trail which meant certain death, statistically. But lying flat on his stomach with his head just marginally over the edge of his bed, Keechak was doing whatever would keep him distracted and amused, even if it meant harassing a few ants at ten in the night. He was the commander of the army of Viratnagar, and harassment wouldn’t even begin to describe what he had done that evening post dinner.

Keechak was a powerful man in Viratnagar, a kingdom that was dealing with ant and rodent infestation since a few years. He was also brother to the current queen, and that made him very influential. Although the ruler King Virat never admitted it in public, a few servants did recall the king cursing Keechak as he (the king) tripped over a pebble during one of his private walks in the palace garden. King Virat’s disapproval of his brother-in-law was a secret he kept to himself.

It was quarter past three in the afternoon that Keechak decided to visit his sister Sudeshna.

‘My darling little sister, I need a favor.’ said Keechak as he walked in.

Queen Sudeshna had woken up from her afternoon nap just moments ago. She sat by the large open window blowing the annoying lactoderm gently away before sipping her tea. She held the saucer on her right hand like most left-handers would. A couple of salted crackers lay untouched on the saucer.

‘No! I am not letting you borrow any more of my tea. Virat brought me these from the hills of Nilgiris in the south. I’m almost out of it.’ spoke the queen. She was paranoid and quite frankly, she had every right to be. Keechak was a heartless brute.

‘You have my word, Sudeshna. Tea is the last thing on my mind right now. This is more important. Can I speak to you privately?’

Sudeshna signaled to the doorman to leave them both alone. A gesture the doorman promptly obeyed.

‘Can you ask Malini to serve me wine after dinner? I am absolutely smitten….’ continued Keechak.

The commander had grown fond of Malini, the queen’s servant. She had joined the palace staff as part of a big local recruitment drive organized by King Virat. Several men and women had been hired in various capacities. Keechak however, was transfixed by Malini’s beauty and grace, and engaged himself in ogling at every opportunity; much to the disgust of Malini who, not surprisingly, developed a degree of disrespect towards the man. She was hidden from view as she stood beside the door jamb of the bedroom eavesdropping on the conversation. She did not approve of the direction it was taking.

‘Keechak, you know the poor girl complained about you to me. She said you keep staring at her and make her conscious. I’ll send her over only if you stop making her feel uncomfortable.’

‘Oh alright, alright. I’ll see to it that she is comfortable. Would you send her?’

Sudeshna nodded and went back to her tea. Keechak thanked her and skipped out of the room elated. But Malini was saddened and feared the worst. She would need to speak to her husband about it. But not before the palace household hit the sack.

Unknown to the kingdom of Viratnagar, Malini was in reality – Draupadi. Her husbands, the five Pandavas, had also sought employment in the palace. Yuddhishtr was one of many advisors in the court of King Virat, Arjun was a dance instructor and percussionst, Bheema worked in the kitchen and the brothers Sahdev and Nakul fed hay and shoveled horse dung at the royal stables. The challenge was to look like lowly peasants, with the exception of Yuddishtr, and avoid detection at all costs. While Nakul and Sahdev looked ordinary enough, the others had to go through some serious transformation. Yuddhishtr kept a regular Mo mustache and a grizzly beard. He looked positively dim. Bheem wore his hair long, got himself a plough and sickle tattooed on his arm, and lurched about in old dhotis. Arjun wore bangles and a nose-ring among other jewelry that he borrowed from Draupadi. He also applied lipstick and eye-liner. Their mother, Kunti, lived by herself in a hut in the village and the five of them, barring Yuddishtr, took turns visiting her every day. It took Kunti some time adjusting to Arjun’s appearance. She had many times mistaken him to be her daughter-in-law. Yuddhishtr’s position in the palace made it complicated for him to make these visits.

The dinner feast was grand. The palace was celebrating the moderately successful scheme of having incentivized the domestication of cats as a means to control the rodent population. In a matter of a few months, the results seemed promising. There was a noticeable reduction in the count of middle-of-the-night screams. It was the more convenient metric to assess the problem.

Shortly after dinner, Malini reluctantly walked to the Commander’s room. She was only following orders from her Queen, but she was tense. Keechak sat up from his reclining sofa upon seeing her and motioned for her to walk right in.

‘Malini, my angel, come over and sit beside me,’ called out Keechak and indicated towards his left.

Malini obeyed but she did not sit. She stood just close enough to be able to serve the brute his goddamn wine. She had laced the wine with a mild sedative so he wouldn’t bother her too long. What Keechak did next took her completely by surprise. He held her hand and pulled her towards himself. Malini lost her balance owing to the unexpected movement. She dropped the serving tray and everything that was on it. The clanging cutlery alerted the guards, who rushed in to make sure the commander was alright.

What they saw was a struggle – Malini’s struggle, as she tried to release herself from Keechak’s vice like grip. One of the guards summoned the conscience to rescue Malini from the drunken commander. Keechak however, was sober, and upon seeing the guard rush in his direction, he threw the wine bottle at him in a flash. The bottle landed squarely on the guard’s forehead and shattered, following which he dropped to the ground like a bag of onions. The other guard stood helpless and scared.

In picking up the bottle, Keechak had loosened his grip marginally, but enough for Malini to break free and run. She ran through the corridors crying out for help. Keechak was after her like a wolf and even tore off a small section of Malini’s clothes as he unsuccessfully attempted to catch her.

The awful din drew King Virat out of his chambers, just in time to witness the fear and helplessness in Malini’s eyes. In her eyes, he saw his own helplessness. It was disgraceful. He was filled with anger and contempt for Keechak. Something had to be done.

‘Stop this at once Keechak!!’ yelled out Virat and in one fleeting instant, everyone stopped. The unexpected crescendo shook a few paintings on the wall.

‘I want everyone to return to their duties. Keechak, please go back to your chambers. This is quite enough.’ thundered the king. Malini was thankful for the King’s actions and continued running. She was headed to the north-west corner of the palace. The kitchen.

Bheem was drying the copper and silverware with a piece of linen when he heard footsteps and the sound of light jewelry. And when the face appeared at the door, he was surprised to see Draupadi. His surprise soon turned into concern as he noticed the tears.

‘You have to help me. Please.’ said Draupadi

For ten minutes or so, Bheem listened to the entire account. In his rage, he had crushed a copper tumbler with his hands and reduced it to a crinkled, useless conduit.

‘I’m going to do to his neck what I just did to that tumbler. Where is he now? Come with me. I’ll finish him.’ declared Bheem as he stood up to face the door.

‘It is not that easy Bheem. It creates a lot of attention and you know we can’t afford that.’

‘What’s your solution then? Ignore it? I can’t. I won’t.’

‘The thought of poisoning did occur but that raises suspicion and is easy to investigate. There has to be another, a more devious plan. I will speak to Arjun about it.’

‘Let us go now. This is the best time’

It took almost seven minutes to get from the kitchen to the hobbies and recreation wing of the palace, where Arjun was just about ready to call it a day. He was getting some of the make-up off his face. Bheem couldn’t hide a chuckle upon seeing his brother – a proper circus clown.

Bheem summarized Draupadi’s story and also laid out his manslaughter plan. Arjun listened carefully. He found Bheem’s plan agreeable – it had been some time since they last killed anyone, you know, being Kshatriyas an’ all. But Draupadi was right too – we couldn’t bring that kind of attention towards ourselves.

‘Here’s what we’ll do. There is a small dance rehearsal hall next to this one. There is never anyone using it at this time or later. Draupadi can lure him here and Bheem, you can then take it from there. I’ll be here and will keep people out just in case.’ spoke Arjun. He was devious as hell and calculative.

‘That may not work Arjun,’ interjected Draupadi. ‘There will be a lot of noise and grunts and screams.’

The three of them were quiet, deep in thought until Arjun’s eyes widened.

‘You leave that to me. I’ll think of something. Now all that’s left is for Draupadi to lure him here. How about tonight? It will be ten in a few minutes. I can ready everything in twenty minutes. Let us target midnight.’

The trio exchanged looks and it was settled. They also decided not to tell Yuddhishtr about it. What was the point in him knowing anyway? There was always that possibility that he might just tell the King everything, thereby forcing him to mediate and resolve this problem amicably. Where’s the fun?


Back in his bedroom, Keechak got up from the bed and walked to the verandah. He couldn’t get Malini out of his head. If it were not for Virat, he would have had his way with her by now. His thoughts were momentarily interrupted by his doorman who had brought him a message.

‘My Commander, this just reached me. A package from the kitchen.’ said the guard as he held out a tray on which was a small bowl with a lid. A bowl they would normally serve desserts in.

Keechak picked it up and sent the doorman away. He lifted up the lid to reveal a piece of bamboo on which was a note addressed to him, in beautiful running hand. “Come meet me behind the dance hall by midnight. Malini.” He could hardly contain his excitement as he read it out twice to himself, and he wished to keep the affair as secret as circumstances would allow. The appointed hour was just an hour and a half away. He sent for his guards and asked them to take the rest of the night off.

At quarter to, he was in his night robe, devoid of any jewelry, walking briskly through the corridors. He spotted some movement in the dance hall and peeked in to see. He saw the dance instructor preparing some notes and playing the percussion. He looked busy. Keechak moved onward to the adjacent hall. It was very dimly lit and from where he was, he saw a figure lying on the floor in a saree. He made a note to himself to take the matter up with Virat about the inadequate living conditions of the palace staff. Sad that Malini had to take refuge in a dance hall and sleep on a barren floor. He moved closer and whispered.

‘Malini, it is I. I am here for you darling.’

The figure showed some signs of life as it moved slightly towards the source of the whispering. Keechak walked closer and closer until he could crouch next to his beloved. As he put his hand around her waist to turn her over towards him, the figure suddenly sprang into action. A heavy muscular arm caught Keechak by surprise as it moved viciously and grabbed his neck. It was the great Bheem. And right on cue with Keechak’s first call of distress, Arjun began thundering on the percussions. It was loud.

The two men fought hard. Keechak’s lithe body made him quicker on the attack as he struck three punches at a time. In contrast, every blow from Bheem was heavy and they left purple bruises on Keechak’s torso, weakening his core strength. Keechak began letting out squeals in pain as Arjun stretched out the membranes of the drums to create higher pitches to drown them. Draupadi watched in fear as she began to sense Bheem dominating the tussle. CRUNCH! A short-arm jab into Keechak’s chest cracked his ribs. Keechak slumped forward. That was the beginning of the end for Keechak. Bheem’s final hit was a powerful thud under the jaw that snapped Keechak’s neck backwards as he fell on his back and lay lifeless. That was the end of Keechak. The fifteen minute drumming had made Arjun’s hands bleed.

Bheem had enough life in him yet as he picked up Keechak’s corpse over his shoulder and spoke.

‘I am taking the side door straight into the forest and hide the body so deep, nobody would ever find it.’

Arjun and Draupadi nodded in acknowledgement.


The news of Keechak’s mysterious disappearance spread like wildfire in the morning. Nobody knew anything of his whereabouts after ten-thirty the previous night. There was no sign of a struggle in his rooms except for the broken bits of glass which the guards and Malini testified as those from the bottle of wine that the Commander had hurled at the guards. It was as though Keechak had vanished.

It was around lunchtime that Sudeshna, with a great amount of concern, entered Virat’s chamber. Keechak’s disappearance bothered Virat too. Although he hated the man, he still was family. Sudeshna and Virat bonded a lot more since this upsetting news.

‘Any news at all, my Queen?’

‘Nothing about my brother yet dear Virat. But I did consult many of the local Gurus and Swamys. I have learnt that we must do something about our kitchen. One notable Vaastu pundit explained to me that a north-west kitchen can be detrimental to the health of family members.’

‘You don’t say…’ trailed off the King.

Three Months Before Battle

Duryodhan was furious. He hated being interrupted during his morning chores. All the more so when he was chewing on a neem stick. Upon hearing the bell and the message his man-servant had brought to him, he spat, gargled, rinsed and walked towards the living room frowning. Having woken up just moments ago, his hair was disheveled, he had sleep-creases on his left shoulder and on his left cheek, and a mild hangover from the night before that he had spent with this brothers at local watering hole.

He sat comfortably in a chair sipping on some water and contemplating his navel as he waited for his guest, his uncle Shakuni. Unlike the young warrior, Shakuni was positively shining with energy as he walked briskly, exchanged a quick greeting and chose a chair for himself to sit. He sat upright and wore a look of distress, concern, and anger. He took a moment to collect his thoughts and spoke crisply. 

‘Duryodhan my young lad, you must have thought it’s a blooming Sunday judging from the way you’ve turned up.’ 

Duryodhan wasn’t a fool. He detected the wit and dismissed the remark pretending he hadn’t heard it. 

‘Top of the morning to you, dear uncle,’ he responded, ‘What brings you here so early on such a pleasant day? A day I have dedicated to rest and relaxation. What can I do for you’ 

‘Well, you can start by not being dim. It is Friday by the way, and an important one at that. We talked about this more than 2 weeks ago….’ 

‘Gosh! You’re right!’ interrupted Duryodhan,’ I am to meet Vasudev Krishna to claim any last requirements as preparations for the war. Krishna had asked me to drop in after 3 in the afternoon. There’s time Thank God!’ said Duryodhan glancing at the large wooden hour-glass by the fireplace.

That neatly hand-crafted but unwieldy device required the combined efforts of two people to turn it over at exactly six in the morning. It featured a built-in orifice control screw to clear out errors upwards of 12.5 minutes either way to accommodate for the time it took to turn it over. It was state-of-the-art for its time and was gifted to him by his cousins, the very cousins he was at war with.

‘That’s correct!’ acknowledged Shakuni, ‘Now get dressed immediately. It is almost eleven in the morning. Remember, your cousins also know this and one of them is bound to turn up as well. You need to be there before they get to Krishna and make sure you get to ask first – whatever it is that Krishna has to offer. Choose wisely. And more importantly, take a god damn shower will you? It isn’t a game of bridge this war is. We are barely three months away from the war. Where’s the energy?’ 

Duryodhan had had enough. He let out a grunt, stood up from his chair and signalled towards his man-servant to get the tub ready with that new salt from the Dead Sea he had recently purchased. His goal was clear to him from the time he had set up the meeting. He was going to ask for Krishna’s army. It was war and every man counted. An additional ten thousand of them, that too, Krishna’s men; his would be the stronger army. 

Just six miles east of Duryodhan, sat Arjun in his patio. He was in full battle-dress, and had his gaze fixed on the horizon. His nose was hurting from the cold he had caught. The battle suit kept him warm. It was at this time that his wife brought him a hot glass of a coriander-pepper drink that was mostly water and honey, laced with black pepper and coriander. Arjun coughed as he swallowed, spilling some on his armour. The cocktail relieved his cold a little but left him with a burning throat. He had decided to visit Krishna in spite of his own physical distress, but he wanted nothing. Nothing except Krishna next to him during the war.

The brown marble sundial at the entrance read quarter to three when Duryodhan let himself in to the colorful garden that surrounded Krishna’s bungalow. He appreciated the yellow and pink tulips and the assortment of other exotic flowers that grew all around. Some flowers weren’t even tropical. They seemed Mesopotamian or Mediterranean and out-of-place. ‘This fellow is definitely up to something – black magic perhaps like my madman uncle.’ muttered Duryodhan to himself.  What irritated him more was the absence of a front door. Not to mention the missing household staff. Disgruntled, he walked through the unmanned archway that led him to a wide foyer with a high, almost transparent ceiling, that lit up the foyer with natural sunlight. A chandelier full of candle-sticks appeared to be suspended from the ceiling seemingly without any strings. Duryodhan was awestruck and nearly lost his footing as he stood looking up at it.

Except for a few large vases and other ornamental items, the foyer had no furniture at all, yet it felt complete and adequate. Duryodhan was presented only with one way forward and he trudged along noticing the colorful paintings on the walls. There was one with Krishna and his brother Balrama getting showered with flowers as they stood on the corpse of the late King Kansa. Quite a morbid painting for a living room, thought Duryodhan. The room Duryodhan now found himself in looked more like a living room. The consistent high ceiling, natural light illuminating a water fountain at the center, which was surrounded by stunningly carved sofas with pastel green cushions. Duryodhan couldn’t hide his envy. It was the atmosphere of peace and noiselessness that affected him. Having grown up with ninety-nine siblings, he hadn’t experienced a moment of peace. It was just one damned thing after another.

As he stood inspecting a blue-green peacock carved out of wax, he heard a ruffling of sheets followed by a light snort and regular breathing thereafter. He replaced the peacock and followed the sound. He soon found himself in a majestic bedroom where Krishna lay fast asleep on a reasonably sized bed. Krishna looked comfortable. With temperatures hovering around the early twenties, it would be quite snug under the sheets. The thought of sleep made Duryodhan yawn although he was fuming inside. ‘Who the hell does he think he is? He sets up a meeting with the Prince of Hastinapur and instead of welcoming me, he is napping without a care in the world.’ grumbled Duryodhan to himself.

Duryodhan spotted a chair next to the headboard, assumed his place, and sat waiting. Arjun arrived shortly afterwards. Late by five minutes surely, calculated Duryodhan. They exchanged a nod in silence. It seemed like the civil thing to do. Upon noticing Arjun’s nose, Duryodhan inquired after it through a series of gestures and expressions. Arjun responded with a few gestures of his own, which included displaying the snot stains on his handkerchief that Duryodhan found quite revolting.

There were no other chairs around so Arjun decided to just stand with the bed in front of him and Krishna’s feet just a few inches away. Duryodhan was secretly happy that he came earlier and as a sort of bonus, had a seat by Krishna’s side. He estimated that it was around twenty past the appointed hour and began to fidget. Duryodhan panned the room with his eyes and eventually fixed his gaze on Arjun, who kept himself busy wiping his nose.

‘Tschooof!’ Arjun sneezed, scaring away the two sparrows that were minding their own on the window sill. It also startled Duryodhan and disturbed Krishna, who was beginning to show some signs of life as he turned and faced the origin of the sound.

‘Oh Arjun, it’s you. Nice of you to come. I must have just nodded off,’ spoke Krishna as he sat up. ‘Ah, Duryodhan, you’re here as well. This is such joy.’ Krishna set his back against the headboard and addressed the two warriors.

‘The war is just a few months away my young warriors. As I had promised, I will grant each of you anything I can give and that you desire. I have the following to offer. My army is available to only one of you and to the other I can offer only myself but only in a non-combative role. I had vowed not to fight the war and I won’t. I hope this much is clear to you. Arjun, you go first.’

‘What the…!’ Duryodhan protested, ‘I was here ahead of Arjun watching you enjoy your afternoon siesta, which is what I would have liked to do myself, were it not for this appointment. My young cousin Arjun ambled in five minutes late with snot clogging up his nose. I must be the one to choose first.’

Krishna laughed. ‘Duryodhan, in this room there are only the three of us and even if Arjun says you’re right, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. You may have come in here first but I saw Arjun first. I’ve chosen to let him take the first swing. Go on Arjun. What do you choose?’

‘Hrrmph!’ Duryodhan grunted. Not only is this cowherd disrespectful towards a Prince, he also plays an unfair game, thought Duryodhan.

‘Krishna,’ Arjun cleared his throat and began, ‘What I really need is for you to drive my chariot. My last charioteer was a drunken imbecile. He drove me right into a cold eutrophicated pond that damn near killed the horse and gave me this flu. I need someone calm and intelligent to drive me around. I don’t mind if you don’t wish to fight the war. Please be my charioteer.’

‘Granted dear Arjun. I will be your charioteer.’ Krishna said, ‘So Duryodhan, it looks like you will get my army.’

Duryodhan couldn’t believe his luck. He couldn’t believe how dim his cousins were. As best as he could, he couldn’t hide his happiness. He rose from the chair.

‘What can I say Krishna, I am not disappointed. Thank you for offering me your army. It is always nice when everyone gets what they came for. Good luck for the war gentlemen.’ Duryodhan bowed to both and quietly left the room. There was confidence in his gait and he hummed a popular tune as he neared the entrance. In his head, he had already won.

And Then the Five Went Fishing

When the five brothers stumbled upon the commotion outside the palace, curiosity did get to them. They were clothed in dhotis and under-shirts. They were unshaven, unkempt, and looked like they hadn’t had a haircut in many months together. They were also tired from looking for food and grain all day.

These poverty-stricken conditions were imposed on them by their own infernal cousins who, owing to a feud bordering on the petty, believed that some quality time in exile would do the five a world of good. Although, one must note that the cousins really believed the five brothers to be dead following the deliberate sabotage of the castle of wax, which the cousins had built to house them. The five had just escaped that attempt on their lives by the skin of their dhotis, and were now in hiding; surviving on the benevolence of whoever they could find in the quaint little town they had wandered in to.

Upon making a few polite inquiries, they learned that the local King Drupad was getting his daughter married through some sort of competitive archery. The brothers were all the more curious now. They made their way into the palace courtyard, where they were handed printed canvas sheets detailing the rules of the competition. Viewing the competition as an audience was free, read the instructions. However, participants were to deposit 3 lemons as collateral for the bow and arrows they would be provided, to enter the competition.

Arjuna’s eyes lit up in excitement. He was an excitable fellow. He turned to Yuddhishtr and spoke.

“Dear elder brother, even our teacher Drona admitted I was the best archer in the country. Please permit me to take part in this competition.”

Yuddhishtr was already in thought. At the top of his concerns was that this exposure could potentially blow their cover since they were thought to be dead. But followed closely at second place, was the matter of arranging for the lemons. He spoke his mind.

“My dear Arjuna, I have no doubt you will emerge victorious but I recommend that you use this disguise to your advantage. Adopt a pseudonym and enter the competition. I am hopeful that the name confusion can be resolved after you have won. Nakul, find out how much rice we’d need to trade for 3 lemons. The four of us can be part of the audience.” Yuddhishtr said, and all agreed.

While they waited for Nakul to return, Bheema chose to take a casual stroll and took fancy to a fruit-seller’s cart. Upon carefully inspecting the melons, bananas, apples, tapping and sniffing at them, he agreed to trade one of his earrings for a sack of fruits enough to last a week. Even if it did mean looking like a complete tool with just the one earring. Repulsed by this, Yuddhishtr politely asked Bheema to undo the other earring and place it in the sack with the fruits.

Nakul returned with the lemons and to Yuddhishtr’s approval, still had some rice with him. Arjuna was good to go. He was to contest 3rd from last. So, in they all went to witness the spectacle.

 A visibly anxious King Drupad was seated on the throne. He appeared to be most enthused about the goings on. His daughter Draupadi, seated right beside him, wore a dejected look.

“Pa, this has been such a waste of a Saturday afternoon. Nobody, not even the chief of your army could accomplish this really difficult challenge. I told you arm-wrestling would have been more within the skill level of the locals in your kingdom.” said Draupadi.

“Nonsense dear!” King Drupad shot back. “I don’t want to marry you off to some brute with bulky arms and a thick head now do I? Besides, this is a perfectly possible challenge to complete. Moreover, my minister assured me that only one would emerge victorious.”

The challenge being spoken about was easy enough to understand but extremely difficult to execute. A fish was nailed to the ceiling directly above a shallow pool of water. The objective was to kneel beside the pool, look only at the reflection of the fish in the water and shoot an arrow through the fish’s eye.

As participant after participant tried and failed, it was the great Bheema who remarked to his brothers.

“My brothers, this is going to be a walk in the park for Arjuna. You all do remember what he did to that parrot on the tree that none of us could even see? It was during our training days. Our one hundred cousins and plus the four of us couldn’t separate that green bird from the leaves. Arjuna not only saw the bird, he even pierced its eye with a single arrow on first attempt!”

Bheema’s remark was followed by some murmuring. Seemingly from behind him. It was Sahdev.

“Sahdev! For Pete’s sake! You’ll need to do a little better than that for us to be able to hear you.” spoke a visibly agitated Yuddhishtr.

“Sorry, brother Yuddhishtr. What if Arjuna wins? Where will we take Draupadi with us?”, asked Sahdev.

“Damnation! You’re right! I hadn’t considered that. But we’ll see. Here he comes. And about time too. Mother Kunti will be worried for us.” Yuddhishtr replied, catching a glimpse of the sundial on the wrist of a passer-by.

Arjuna walked nonchalantly towards the shallow pond with his bow and a single arrow, gave the reflection of the fish a determined stare, looked up at the ceiling, and quickly determined a comfortable spot to kneel. The kneeling was critical. His posture needed to be strong and at the same time comfortable. Arjuna then closed his eyes for a moment of prayer.

“Look pa! There’s no hope now with just 2 others left after this bearded village idiot.” Draupadi spoke with withering condemnation. Drupad knew she had a sharp tongue and let it go.

Arjuna opened his eyes, pulled the bow to a full stretch, held it for a couple of seconds, and then in an instant, released his grip sending the arrow straight up and squarely through the eye of the fish.

The audience erupted with an overwhelming round of applause and all sorts of horns and drums followed in the background. Arjuna looked up at the arrow and then took a bow.

“What the..!?!” exclaimed King Drupad as he glanced at his minister in some distress, contributed in the most part by the prospect of marrying his daughter off to some shabby, unwashed commoner. He waited a few minutes until the noise died. Once it had, he cleared his throat and spoke.

“Who are you? Identify yourself.”

Arjuna had his head down and walked slowly towards the King front and centre, but before he could speak, Yuddhishtr was right next to him and began addressing King Drupad.

“King Drupad, before I begin introductions, I seek the confidentiality and the secrecy of your Highness, for my brothers and I are not what we appear to be.” said Yuddhishtr.

“Well, thank God for that!” said Drupad and motioned for his guards to escort the brothers to a small, cosy room just adjacent to the main arena. Once in the room with the five, he began, “So, who are y’all really?”

“King Drupad, we are the five sons of Pandu, the former ruler of Hastinapur. We suspect our mother is hiding the sixth one from us but that is just speculation. Our cousins, the Kauravas, took a shot at our lives and they believe they succeeded; which is what I would like them still believing because we believe we are still alive whether they like it or not and whether you believe it or not. I also believe that my brother Arjuna has just won that competition of yours and deserves a reward…umm… your Highness.”

King Drupad blinked twice before exclaiming, “What a verbose fairy tale. It’s a good thing I didn’t ask you to explain how to read a sundial. I wouldn’t have understood a bloody thing. Guards! Get my minister here. I need clarification.”

The minister walked in shortly afterwards looking frightened, surprised, and overwhelmed with pride. He turned to the King and said, “My Lord, I can confirm that I designed the task knowing that only Arjuna, the son of Pandu could make that shot. I can’t believe he really came here to be among us. It is a work of God. I had intended that your daughter be married only to the most skilful archer ever to walk on Bharatvarsh. And this, I believe, has happened. I salute you your Highness for your unbelievable luck.”

“Oh stop saying ‘believe’, interjected Drupad. I have just heard this man Yuddhishtr confuse me no end through a verbal diarrhoea of ‘believe’ and its derivatives. The next one to say ‘believe’ is getting my sword up his…”

Drupad was distracted as Draupadi quietly walked in. Well, to be fair, with all that jewellery clanging about, it was anything but quiet. She queried,

“Pa, what is going on here? Are you really getting me married to this man?”

“Dear Draupadi, I have just been informed that these are no ordinary men. They are some of the best kshatriyas to have set foot on Bharatvarsh. They are in hiding, hiding from their cousins.” answered the King.

“Your Highness, Yuddhishtr began, It is for the reasons I explained before that we wish our true identities do not leave this room. We beg your forgiveness for the confusion. The reward is completely your decision to make.”

Drupad was in thought. He indeed was in luck that such fortune should befall him and didn’t waste a second longer.

“I can understand the confusion. What still confounds me is why in God’s name are you guys dressed up like hobos. Why not farmers or peasants?”

“Well, we’re all holed up in the…” Nakul began and was promptly interrupted by Yuddhishtr.

“Cut it out Nakul!”

“In any case, what’s done is done,” continued King Drupad, “But I can’t let my daughter simply walk away with you, not while you’re all still looking like that. Guards! Show these men to the nearest set of guest rooms and get them fresh sets of clothes, towels, and a few bars of soap. We’ll prepare for the wedding.

“And before I forget, once we leave this room, get it disinfected. I don’t want it smelling like it had monkeys the next time I come in here.”

And so King Drupad left a happy man, Draupadi, a content woman, and the five emerged refreshed and ready to face a life of hiding with some support from the local King.

Rational Consequences

We were all certain from the way she struggled to describe and define rational numbers that she hadn’t the faintest idea what these were herself. She was lucky though. Since we were all kids and we didn’t know any better, we depended on her, the math teacher, for an explanation. This had all the makings of a rather humbling final examination experience. That was, of course, some months away still but knowing what it would be like, scared the daylights out of most of us. It wasn’t the most pleasant second hour of the day at school.

In an attempt to help us absorb the morning’s most abstract of concepts, she scribbled a few totally random numbers on the blackboard; some were improper fractions, one was a number with at least six digits after the decimal, and other unexciting usual forms of numbers that most of us were familiar with. But that’s where the familiarity ended because she cleared her throat and spoke out loud.

“Which of these are rational numbers and which are not? Tuhin! 1.54. Rational or not?”

Tuhin rose from his chair reluctantly. Dealing with a fifty percent chance of success proposition was manageable and on any other occasion, this wouldn’t have made anybody sweat; but the catch in this particular situation was that choosing either way required a justification. Saying ‘yes’ would require him to explain his choice and so would saying ‘no.’ This was the challenge and while everyone had the advantage of going through the notes and the text-book preparing for the next six questions, it was Tuhin who was up against the gun, the time, and the problem. He had about ten seconds at best to come up with a response. The teacher, Ms. Bedi, knowing fully well that the concept was new to us, was willing to give Tuhin the time.

It was clear to us that Tuhin wasn’t thinking about what a rational number is supposed to be, but more about which side to take and how he would justify his position. In about ten or twelve seconds, he had had enough and decided to take a swing.

“Yes.” he said.

“Yes what?”, inquired Ms. Bedi. “Rational or not Tuhin?”

She had a point. ‘Yes’ was pretty darn ambiguous and smart of Tuhin but surely she was smarter than that.

“Rational?”, Tuhin spoke softly and in the most unconvincing of tones. It was more like a searching question than a response.

“Why are you not confident Tuhin? You’re correct. 1.54 is rational. Next?” Ms. Bedi moved on without offering an explanation nor asking for one.

I was sure a lot of us hoped we would get the next one for it was just the number ‘3’ and if 1.54 was rational, ‘3’ had to be. Instinctively. Just then came a voice from the far right corner – “Rational”

It was Manjeet, the short and impulsive fellow with a turban who couldn’t wait for his turn and play fair. Ms. Bedi acknowledged and moved on. Oh how we all hated Manjeet.

The next one looked like this – 1.33333… This one, we thought, definitely required a deeper understanding of the rational numbers concept. I was out of my depth and felt all the energy drain from my face as I sank as deep as I could, in my chair. Surprisingly though, a couple of hands went up in excitement in the second row – “Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am…” It was miss pony-tail and her fat friend.

Ms. Bedi refused to give them a chance. She asked Divya instead, who stood up gingerly almost exactly the way Tuhin did. The difference here was that Divya was a bright kid and if she didn’t look confident, us regular lot had better be afraid. The fact that Ms. Bedi completely sidelined the couple of eager bright sparks gave me some ideas and I felt it was a rather neat little trick to feign complete knowledge and raise one’s arm in the hope that Ms. Bedi would repeat what she did. This trick carried a great amount of risk. If she was to pick me, getting it wrong would be still alright when compared to not knowing a damn thing about it and looking like a fool. Against better judgment, I decided to try it out.

“Rational”, said Divya with a little more confidence than Tuhin. All of us waited.

“Correct!” exclaimed Ms. Bedi.

Was this all a trick? All the numbers so far were rational. Could it be that the next and last two were too? The anxiety was driving me mad and when Ms. Bedi called out ‘Next!’, I waved my hands in excitement like I knew exactly what type the next number was. It was 3.379042784… Also an infinite after decimal kind of number, I thought. If the last one was rational, this had to be too. I had decided I was going to just say ‘Rational’ and could almost hear Ms. Bedi say ‘Correct’ again. What I did not count on was that I was the only one waving my hand this time and she picked me without any deliberation. I panicked immediately and stuttered as I said “Rational.”

“No, Anuj, this is an irrational number.” she said.

I almost shot back – ‘But the last one..?’ I kept it to myself. It was no use. I am sure the class was as surprised as I was. Not because of the correct answer, but that I volunteered to be shot down sitting in the penultimate row. Which back-bencher would do that? Mindless stuff. Isn’t this the reason we sat at the back?

 One thing was clear – there were going to be a lot of 50-50 guesses in the final examination. Hopefully Ms. Bedi makes the right guesses too.

Angry Rambling

As I sat one late evening in a hotel in Bombay, desperately switching channels, looking to be entertained by the television, I chanced upon a show called Comedy Nights with Kapil. I recalled that I had heard one or two rather good reviews of the show and I decided I must take this opportunity to judge the show for myself.

For those more fortunate than I, who haven’t heard of this show, I must admit you all really are fortunate because the show stretches for a little over an hour and I have never suffered more as a consumer. The show is about this witless village idiot, hereafter referred to as Kapil, who subjects himself to the most unimaginative set of questionable premises, supposedly mimicking real situations, with remarkably ugly and talent-less co-stars hereafter called mules. Through the sixty odd minutes, the longest stretch of time I had without so much as a smile, I was subject to this utter garbage. There was no comedy or humor but just a dose of mindless shenanigans. You see where the problem is don’t you? The title of course. It should have been called A Kapil-a-Mules.

I learnt that the channel also hosts Laughter Challenge, another poorly conceived, and deceptively titled show. The challenge is on the part of the viewer to laugh. From what I gathered after having seen this other show as well, some time in the past – it probably should have been titled – “Can You Laugh at This?’ The TV Channel should consider bundling the two shows into a 2-Hour No Talent Ass Clown special.

This experience brings me to the more serious issue about what little kids are watching on the TV, and what sort of muck is being passed for cartoons. Having grown up watching downright witty cartoon shows like Scooby-doo, and Tintin, and the exceptionally timeless Tom & Jerry, I was rather disappointed with what is being aired these days. The big eyed, triangular-faced, spikey-haired cartoons from Japan have taken over a large share of the cartoonsphere, followed by mutated versions of baboons and wild boars, and an annoying little girl called Dora, and then the hyper-imaginative Chhota Bheem. The lack of humor and wit is disturbing. And to make matters worse and to pile on the hopelessness, this is all being aired in the vernacular.

And all this time, the attention is on a coughing muffler-man, his friends, a comic genius from a political dynasty, and a supposed Pied-Piper from Gujrat. The agenda of these morons is to make more reservations so that the remarkably stupid can all stroll into prestigious institutions and since reservation does nothing to improve these people’s natural tendency to be unemployable, they eventually join ranks as staff in these institutes. God help us. No wonder we invented and believe in God; Man seems to be utterly useless.

A Blank Page, A U-Turn, and 3 High Scores

There is a common belief among us Earthlings that school makes you smarter, educates you and helps you grow. I would like to tell you about the time I went to school one day and came back a moron, albeit a grown up one. Although the incident may have helped me grow, they certainly failed the idea of schooling on the other, perhaps equally important, two counts.

Our English teacher, a rather elegantly dressed, beautiful young woman, had drilled it into our heads that the final examination would consist of four sections – Reading Comprehension, Writing, Grammar, and Literature. This was important considering this was Class 10 and the examination was of a country-wide, public kind and expectation and anxiety needed alleviating. Owing to the nature of these examinations, our papers would be corrected by nobody anyone would know and thus the final results were as random as a Jackson Pollock painting. Anybody could get any score. Through the years if one would analyze the statistics, one would learn that besides being a yardstick for universities to shortlist eager aspirants, this public examination has also the reputation of driving bright sparks to depression and transforming morons into pundits.

The second thing she said to us was that we would each receive an answer booklet which would have the questions and spaces provided for our answers. Brevity of our responses was paramount. And so we prepared.

At this point, I must concede that she did not like the three of us. A couple of my friends and me. She would never make us read in class since she knew too well that either of us would nail the damn thing and frequently critique anything she would have to say about characters in a story behaving the way they did. For these transgressions, we were rewarded with zero tolerance correction of our papers eventually leading to below class average scores. I sometimes believed that the reason we chose to be difficult towards her was because many other guys, love-struck with her beauty, came up with downright silly attempts at humor and other weird performances just to impress her and get noticed. The fact that she was married and a good 15 years (maybe more) senior didn’t seem to matter. Luckily for us, she wasn’t going to be the one correcting the final examination.

As a precursor to the final, the school conducted a final of its own, called the Pre-board exam about a month before the Board exam. The pre-board exam offers a chance to benchmark oneself as preparation. It is also the most dreaded, for it is often set at a higher difficulty level in terms of time required and complexity especially in Mathematics and the Sciences. So, my mental disposition on the day of the English exam was one of relief and quiet confidence. We all took our places ready for the test and were given the booklet as was expected. For a time management strategy, I decided on the following pecking order – Grammar, Literature, Reading, and finally Writing. I had an hour and thirty minutes when I began reading the first comprehension passage. In my mind I was going over what I could expect in the writing section. Formal letter, Advertisement poster, Brochure, or Telegram writing. Any two could come (or was it three). A letter or a poster could take time so I began to hurry up. Two comprehension passages completed and still an hour to go. The next question was a longish text about things to do in Darjeeling with a small footnote bearing contact information for a local tourist agency. Oh no! A brochure, I said to myself. Relieved to find the next page blank, I set about drawing the borders. I had a plan in mind. I was going to make a two-column, text-interspersed-with-drawings kind of brochure. I drew a couple of tourists with backpacks trekking up a hill. The small scale helped me avoid detailed drawings but a sketch. I did the same with a tea plantation, more hills, and the famous slow train to give it a classic hill station look. I included captions to add to the visual and in about thirty odd minutes, I was done. I moved on to the telegram writing and a formal letter of complaint; both very manageable. I still had ten minutes left so I began to further beautify the brochure. It looked impressive. It was better than the brochures I made in class when it was taught. It was with great satisfaction that I submitted my paper and left the classroom, and went to the lawns only to be joined by my classmates. A healthy feedback and discussion was just beginning.

Binny, Rakesh and I decided to hold our own little discussion and it is then that I boasted about the most visually appealing brochure that I had made on page 4. I noted for just a fraction of a second, confusion and bewilderment on both their faces. It was Binny who broke the silence.

“What brochure?” he quizzed.

“The one on Darjeeling tourism.” I replied

“I don’t recall seeing any brochure. What page are you talking about man?”

“On page 4. It was left blank for that purpose. No?”

I think it was Rakesh who laughed first as he said – “There was no brochure, it was a reading comprehension. A very simple one at that. Just five questions straight from the text.”

“Shit! I was handed a poorly printed paper! Un-printed I should say. What should I do now? She’s going to make me look like a complete idiot if she talks about it in class. She hates me enough to do that.”

“Look, I’ll come with you. We’ll go talk to her during recess and you can tell her it was a silly mistake”, Binny volunteered.

 The idea was to minimize damage to the old reputation, or whatever was left of it. I was upset and overwhelmed with the anxiety of meeting her and talking about it. I asked Binny, how I was to make sure this is not discussed in class. He thought it over as we made our way through the corridor, maybe still some fifty paces away from the big staff room.

“You cannot tell her not to discuss it.” he said. “Saying that will pretty much ensure that she does discuss it.”

“So, not mentioning it will help?”

“She could just forget about it. Although I doubt it. But saying it will make sure she remembers and that is definitely not what you want.”

We peered into the room looking for her. She was closest to the door with her back towards us so she couldn’t see. She looked busy with something and I hoped she wasn’t perusing through our papers. It was still early for that. In order that we don’t startle her, we decided to use the other entrance so she could see us coming towards her. It made no difference for upon standing just two feet from her, we still couldn’t get her attention.

“Excuse me Ma’am”, I spoke in as polite a manner as I could.

“Yes Raghav.” said she as she looked up and recognized me. She also saw Binny who wished her a good afternoon and that sort of thing.

“Ma’am, I’ve come to talk to you about big mistake I have made in the exam today.”

“Ok, what is it?”

“Page 4 on my paper was not printed and from the short text on the previous page, I gathered that I was to make a brochure and I have come to learn now that it should have been a ‘Reading Comprehension’ question.”

At this point I felt rather embarrassed as she went on to ask me why I did that when I was made aware that there would be 3 ‘RC’ questions in the Reading section of the test, and why I had not bothered to address my doubts summoning the faceless person keeping vigil in the classroom, who could have easily cleared it by cross-examining other papers.

I made sure I didn’t look away as I let her finish, and when she was done, I apologized and asked her what I could do about it, now that it was too late.

“You can expect a zero for that question, and that will be fair to the class. Maybe I can make an exception since it was not entirely an error on your part. I think Raghav, I will take a call based on the class’ performance in that question and give you the same score as the lowest in class. That’s the best I can give to you at the moment but I cannot confirm anything for certain.”

“Thank you ma’am. I will not repeat this mistake.” I concluded and held back the whole do-not-discuss-this-in-class remark accepting Binny’s reasoning. I felt relieved and by the time we walked to the waiting school buses at the end of the day, all was forgotten.

Regular service resumed the following week with more revision and preparation for the final Board examination. On Tuesday, we received our History papers, corrected. The class seemed to have done reasonably well on the whole and so had I. No surprises there. Recess was uneventful as we ate from our lunch boxes and strolled around on campus chatting, laughing, and discussing many trivial things before taking our places again in the classroom. The next class was English and it reminded me of the events from last week. I swallowed and consoled myself that even the stupidest person in the classroom couldn’t score half of the total on that question and I stood to get at least half the marks for drawing that brochure.

She came to class and since she had completed the course, we were left wondering what she had in mind for us to do today. She waited for the class to get quieter and settle down and then asked.

“Any problems with the paper? Do you have anything at all you want me to discuss or clarify?”

She looked around for a response and finally got one. There was a doubt in the literature section from someone at the front of the class. She clarified what she expected from the class in response to that question and then looked around again for more questions. As her eyes caught mine, she stopped to consider and then turned to the class.

“Class, do you know what Raghav has done in the exam?” She asked without a warning.

This better not be happening, I said to myself. It was like a slap on the face as she continued.

“Shall I tell them, Raghav?”

I didn’t know what to say. In fact I don’t think I said anything. I remember feeling like being tied to the ground with something very heavy. I don’t know how long she waited for my response but I do know she went on to narrate the incident and then delivered a sermon about how we must all make sure all pages are printed when we receive the papers. Then came the moment of truth.

“Now that we know what Raghav has done, what does the class feel I should do? Do I give him marks or not?” she asked

The whole class thought for a moment amid whispers and murmurs until they finally decided that I should get half the score since it wasn’t entirely my mistake. And that’s where the matter rested.

About a week later, we received the corrected papers. Most of the class had forgotten about the incident last week and now that everyone knew about it thanks to the teacher, I didn’t have to repeat the story thirty times over to every last one of them. I saw the late sixties score on the title page, but that didn’t bother me. I turned the pages over to page 4 and saw the concentric circles I feared I would see. She had gone back on her word and awarded me no marks on the question. I showed that page to Binny, who was aghast and equally disappointed. He scored a seventy-five, which was less than what he deserved when you thought about the pony-tailed, ass-kissing nitwit on the front row, grinning ear-to-ear with her eighty-three; who we knew could barely introduce herself without murdering the grammar. There was very little, in fact, nothing at all that I could do now other than to let it pass and in a month’s time, take the bigger test.

 The Board exam had no surprises. Despite the friendly sledging that I faced just minutes away from the test; mostly friends and classmates asking me if brought color pencils to draw nicer brochures; I checked all the pages and wrote it like any other exam. The results came in May, a whole two months after we took the test. All three of us had scored, hold on to your hats, a ridiculous ninety-seven percent! Just the three of us from our school. How in the hell do you award, let alone score, ninety-seven percent in English? More importantly, how do we now defend it? We can’t.


NOTE: Most names have been changed, but not to protect anybody or anything. Hell! With the NSA reading these things, I don’t believe merely changing names is going to fox them. Special thanks to an old friend for making me type this thing.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mobile Phone Buying

Having bought my first mobile phone in the year 2004, I am very glad today that my first phone was a Nokia. In fact, the Nokia 1100 was quite the rage and I loved the form, build and the functionality that the phone offered. Since I was a student at the time, texting was cheap (free actually!) and the 1100 was built for that. I knew some guys who could type out several rows of text in a matter of seconds without the use of the T9 dictionary. And then there were a few of us who weren’t that fast but used the T9 to ensure we spelled well.
Now, to the focal point of this article. In the last seven years I have used several phones. I loved the 1100 so much that the only way I could part with it was when it was stolen from me in a crowded bus. Such was the popularity of the handset. My next was an even more basic Motorola C-130 that was just as good for texting as any other phone but what I found appealing was the solid build. I remember having dropped the phone accidentally a few times and it would just bounce off the floor in rebound like a ball of plastic. It was beautiful. Most of my friends had moved on to multimedia color phones that supported MMS and sported functions like a camera, a music player and a few others. Those devices were still a bit heavy and bulky so the pockets bulged awkwardly when they wore jeans. Some devices I speak of are the Nokia 6600, Sony Ericsson K750i etc. While the K750i was light and gorgeous, it was incredibly fragile and required reboot once too often. My next phone came a couple of years later – a Nokia 3120c. It was sleek, thin, yet solidly built, supported GPRS, had a 2mp camera and a music player. I used the device for over a year until I bought myself a lighter, eco-friendly Sony Ericsson Naite which looked and felt great on the palm of my hand. It wasn’t until September 2010 that I began surveying and studying the mobile phone market. After 4 months of extensive study, I zeroed in on an Android powered device I presently own for nearly 2 years now – the HTC Desire. Without further adieu let’s get into the guide.
I read often in the papers that there is just a lot of variety now making it difficult to choose a phone. This is not true. The variety makes it all easier because now, there is a phone for every kind of user, person, and purpose and not one phone is a complete package. That’s where this guide comes in and makes things simple. In the buyer’s best interest, I have kept technicalities out and replaced this with functional language that everybody would understand. Geeks needn’t be disappointed; I am certain that the geeks have already gone out and bought their phones – statistically more likely to be Android powered.
Basic Hassle-free Devices
The basic phone does two things really well – call and text; and that’s pretty much all of the things these do. While the feature set is an absolute minimum, the advantages that these phones have are not advertised at all. These pocket rockets will go several days without the need for a recharge of battery and besides this staying power, these will also last long in terms of build. Depending on which of the two functions you use more – call or text, the only thing you’ll replace in about 2 or 3 years of use will be the keypad. If the Nokia 1100 was still available, you probably wouldn’t have had to change anything.
Platform Defining Phone: Nokia 1200, 1600 etc. Today there are many options in Samsung, LG, and Micromax if you’re fine with cheap plastic and gaudy appearance. It is a little sad that Nokia has totally lost market to other players in a segment they monopolized for quite a few years.
Prices: While you could get one for below Rs. 1000, a better built one might cost as high as Rs. 2700
Who is it for? This one is interesting because from common observation you are sure to spot auto-drivers, truckers, shop-keepers, fruit-sellers, street vendors owning these; what you probably do not know is that businessmen in their fifties also prefer a simple device in this range rather than something complicated because they are not yet that tech savvy; they just want things done and stay connected. Other users include senior citizens, soldiers in the armed forces, and those working in greasy/dusty environments. These phones are the equivalent of a good pair of denim – tough as nails.
Aw Come On, Not that Basic!
Phones in this category do a bit more – usually two or three additional features ranging from a basic camera, a music player, radio, extra-loud speakers, Bluetooth, dual SIM support etc. This category emerged only in the Indian market because people want more for less and Bollywood music has many millions of fans. These phones work as perfect replacements for audio systems in auto-rickshaws, trucks, and taxis and why not? These are portable and a whole lot cheaper! This category draws in more buyers from the previously mentioned category since it offers a bit more complete package of features. It is essentially this segment that destroyed Nokia. The compromise of course is on battery staying power and cheaper build.
Platform Defining Phone: Samsung Guru, Anything from Micromax, Lava, Spice, G-Five, other local players
Prices: Rs. 2000 to Rs. 4000. Given the popularity of this segment, prices are really competitive and offer a great variety of styles, form factors, colors etc.
Who is it for? It is actually easier to say who these aren’t for. These are not for people who like peace and quiet and minimalist pleasures. These are for people who like to show others what they’ve been listening to – the usual cacophony from Bollywood that passes for music; and those who shuttle between state borders and require a local number aka Dual SIM.
Caution: These phones are selling in great numbers because these are affordable. Given that most of these are made in China, do please look for the SAR (specific absorption rate) values of such phones before you buy these. The limit imposed by regulatory bodies is 1.80 at the most so anything less than that is great. Lesser the better.
Demystifying the Great OS Confusion
So far there has been no talk of the operating systems that all phones have to use. Basic phones run on one of the two – Symbian and Java. While Java is mostly in the domain of Sony Ericsson, Symbian is more common. The phones described earlier are not meant for multitasking and do not attract users who like to use the Internet on-the-go so it really didn’t matter what OS was in use. An OS, operating system in short, is the framework that lets the user access the device’s hardware and software applications much like in the case of computers. Most of us use Microsoft Windows on our computers, some use Apple’s Macintosh OS, even more rare are users of Linux. But on a mobile phone, things have got to be slightly different – concerns essentially are the absence of a mouse (replaced by touch screens), a full keyboard, and a large screen.
Here’s where innovation, ease of use, features etc. take center stage. Much depends on what the end-user would like his or her device to do and how efficiently. So it becomes important to first decide what you’d like most to do with your phone. This next category of phones is highly user dependent and requires high end-user involvement. In many cases, these are like assets and do not get replaced quickly, at least not in one or two years.
Given the situation, here are some of the OSs that are doing the rounds – Android, iOS, BlackberryWindows, Symbian, BADA listed in descending order of market-share as of December 2011. We will now see each of these OSs and then derive a verdict.


Apple has, throughout its life as an organization, dedicated itself to achieve fantastic heights in the area of aesthetics, materials, ease-of-use, and functionality. iOS naturally follows suit. The user interface is so clean that even children as young as five are able to navigate with ease and learn quickly. Further, for older users, there are millions of applications on the App Store for performing a myriad of functions. And since it is an Apple product, it syncs seamlessly with other Apple products. The iPhone hence is for people who want a phone that does everything seamlessly, looks good, and lasts long.
PROs: Seamless user interface, beautiful display, lots of applications, very high quality materials, high audio and video quality,
CONs: Bluetooth inflexibility, cannot be customized, expensive, data sharing restrictions, call quality
A Mac fan will not go for any other product so the iOSs negatives mean nothing to him or her. In fact it is highly unlikely for a Mac fan to switch to anything else but an iPhone. For those of us who are new to the area of Internet enabled and multi-tasking smart-phones, there are a few things to consider. If you are willing to ignore the data sharing restrictions and if money isn’t your biggest problem, the iPhone will suit you well and you will definitely enjoy the experience that only Apple can give.

At this point I find it necessary to talk about battery staying power. Smart-phones are not go-to devices if you are on a long hiking trip, or if you happen to be some sort of adventure-enthusiast. These are not made to brave any form of extremes. The battery at best will last one full day when the device is sparingly used. Though the Motorola Defy does resist moisture, dust, shock, etc. the battery will die on you in 24 hours. This has become the accepted norm with regard to smart-phones.


Research in Motion’s Blackberry devices were the first to enter the smartphone field and these meant business from day one. Blackberry was synonymous with productivity and these fare brilliantly if all you need is uninterrupted connectivity, on-the-go emails, stock market updates, news, and whatever your business needs. How do they do it? Well, RIM has its own servers that all Blackberry devices link up to ensuring secure and fast connectivity. In the smart-phones category, these are work-horses with high utility and adequate staying power. The facility to connect to Microsoft Exchange for official emails makes these devices an easy first preference for young businessmen, today’s executives, and freelance journalists alike.
PROs: No-nonsense utility, great connectivity, best QWERTY keypads, build quality, productivity applications, Exchange support,
CONs: Expensive, too many variants to choose from, works better with buttons than with touch-screen, not many applications
These are not the kind of phones that can entertain, so don’t expect great music quality and these are not meant to be used for video games either. Blackberry devices are strictly business smart-phones and these deliver effectively.
I don’t think it is fair to judge RIM on the basis of a singular incident like the recent connectivity outage.   Given the scale of the outage, they were able to restore normalcy rather quickly. Blackberry devices are safe bets for people of business who are on-the-go most of the time.


Nokia began to get very arrogant with its Symbian when smart-phones started emerging. The arrogance didn’t decline even when Nokia’s market-share turned abysmal. More and more users liked Apple/Blackberry/Android interfaces largely because Symbian was painfully slow, lacked any kind of appeal, and was nowhere when it came to mobile gaming. What ruined Symbian further was the resistive type touch-screens which required users to gently depress the screen to generate a response; while all other manufacturers were already making capacitive type screens affordable. Nokia came up with a dozen different variants of the Symbian – namely Symbian^3, Anna, etc. When the N8 made debut, it was regarded as very expensive and not very functional. The interface was unattractive and was devoid of zing. However, Symbian did have some advantages.
PROs: Battery life, E-series phones’ productivity, build quality, price
CONs: Tech appeal, Sluggish and boring interface, Very few apps and resources
The E-Series phones are worth a look since these make optimum use of the Symbian. These are fairly user-friendly, functional, solidly built and are mostly keypad based. If you liked the Symbian interface from the Xpress Music category of Nokia phones, you might be really pleased with the E-series phones. You should be willing to sacrifice speed, gaming, etc. however.


Given that most of the world’s desktops and laptops run Windows, that it is user-friendly is taken for granted and rightfully so. Most Windows phones are running either Windows 7 or the 7.5 (aka Mango). Those who presently own a W7 probably are in woe of the fact that they can’t copy-paste text etc ; the only downside of W7. The W7.5 however overcomes this and a lot more with a slicker interface and better performance (even going to great lengths in dictating terms to manufacturers with regard to hardware setup). This move has in fact helped in making Windows phones consistent no matter which manufacturer’s handset you choose to buy. A good example is the new Nokia Lumia 800 on which all hopes of Nokia’s future are now pinned. The device otherwise is no different in terms of functionality with other Windows running phones.
PROs: Microsoft support, seamless functionality for all things really useful, reliability
CONs: Expensive, App store not as popular as that of Apple’s or Google’s
At this time, I deem it necessary to mention that since most computers run Windows, we all do know how vulnerable Windows is to virus and malware attacks. Considering the smartphone market is still new, virus makers are taking their time. Few cases have been reported but nothing very serious. Time however, will tell.


If there’s one OS that has taken the smartphone world by storm, it’s the one from Google. Recently reported to be activating 700000 devices daily, Android enjoys almost 60% market share. Google, true to its policy regarding services, basically distributes the OS free of cost. It is not surprising at all that manufacturers big and small absolutely love it. And what’s more? It is open-source so there is no limit to how much it can be customized. No two manufacturers’ Android handsets look, work the same. The applications market has well over a million apps so users are not complaining. Since it offers customization at code level, many geeks have taken to it and have uploaded custom ROMs for others to use. For this of course, one would have to ‘root’ the device – which in layman terms essentially means that it gives the user administrative rights to the device to be able to tweak around. Being an Android user myself, and having seen other interfaces I should point out the PROs and CONs.
PROs: Intuitive functionality, highly customizable, very flexible, price, millions of apps
CONs: Not as seamless as Apple’s iOS, Slightly steep learning curve
There is however, a bigger disadvantage, one that deals with the price. Some manufacturers (Micromax etc.) have priced their Android sets very cheap but at the cost of performance. For this reason, it doesn’t make sense to buy an Android device priced below Rs. 10000, at least not as of today.

Choosing A Device

If you have decided to take the smartphone plunge, it is necessary that you also decide what exactly you expect your phone to do. For a no-hassle email/texting/calling function any of these devices namely – Blackberry, Nokia (E-series), Windows, Android, iPhone will do depending on how much you are willing to spend.
For the geeks – Android is recommended. Typically a high-end one with at least 1 GHz of processing capabilities
For people in creative fields like Art/Photography/Graphic arts/Music etc – iPhone recommended. Apple has applications that have revolutionized multimedia experience period.
Your first smartphone should either be a Windows or an Android since these will be easy on the budget and will definitely fulfill your immediate expectations from a smartphone.
As a businessman on the move – Blackberry is recommended. iPhone/Windows/Android are all second to Blackberry when it comes to strictly business smartphones. With the array of devices available from Blackberry, choosing one may be difficult. If you are ever doubtful, just choose between touch-screen or buttons; 3G or not; Heavy or light etc.

I will greatly appreciate comments and feedback; corrections if I have made errors. I have put certain things in perspective for a new buyer or a confused buyer. This guide is certain not to appeal to geeks but to a wider audience.