[Trunk Post] The Fifteen Mark Answer

This is an old blog post from 2006 when I went to India on a sabbatical that somehow morphed into me co-founding dimdim and also writing for Virgin Comics. Reposting it here as I found this while going through my backups and it brought a few chuckles as I read through. Since both me and my wife were on H1B, we decided that I will go to India while she acted as my “way back” in case I decided to take more than a year off. 🙂 The goal was for me to take some time off and figure out if I wished to return to India semi-permanently.

I come from a family that used to be a huge joint family till one generation back. So naturally weddings etc. are pretty crowded occasions where you meet people who are twice or thrice removed cousins / uncles / aunts / some grandkids thrown in the mix too.

Inevitably such an occasion brings with it umpteen questions. I recently quit my job in the states to take a month long sabbatical doing nothing but thinking about life, universe and everything else. That is a hard concept to explain to someone like my father who supports my decision without really understanding what it means to take a break every now and then…

Now that job becomes quite a task when the same question comes from some distant uncle / aunt hell bent on knowing what i plan to do.

My answer is simple, i took a break to think about what to do next . This is unacceptable to some. To them you always need to be the man with the plan. The two mark answer does not cut with them.

The second question invariably is “where is your wife?” The two mark answer to that is simply “She is in USA as I have not made my decision as to where i want to spend my next five years.” This does not fly with the inquisition brigade. So i try the fifteen mark answer… I had to go out of US for a year so that i become eligible for an H1B again and my wife has her green card application in labor stage with her employer. Also we have two kittens and bringing them to India is well neigh impossible. So considering all these facts it makes sense for me to move to India temporarily, while she shuttles on half-yearly one month trips.

I have been married four years now… and the next question is something I always try to dodge. “When are you going to have kids? So and so was married years after you and already has five kids etc… (i put the miscalculation down to a little hyperbole in the spirit of persuasion). I try a zero mark answer for this one. “Hey look at that birdie” followed by an stealthy escape worthy of a ninja.

Some are more persistent than the others and do not fall for the birdie trick. They want to know why i do not have kids, surreptitious whispers are made about the well being of my loins and their fruitfulness. I smile painfully and try the two mark answer, “I am not yet thirty, I shall think about kids when i am thirty”. I graciously move away after this.

The most persistent of the lot, usually older females (most of whom have no idea of what the internet is and are more clueless about networking finer points than a Hindi “Ski-fi” movie/tv serial script writer suggest that i use the internet to have a kid… hmmm… looks like another set moment to try the “birdie” trick.

look up there …. etc etc

I think my point in writing this piece is that next time someone asks me these questions i can either point them here or give them a print out of this piece. Let it remain here till posterity or at least till my blog host keeps on paying their bandwidth dues… The Fifteen Mark Answer.

“Oh, my god! You’re punching me” – an adventure in comic book writing in India

This is a repost from my “Nine Panel Grid” column at Comics Waiting Room and was written in 2008. So all temporal references relative to the original date of publication.

I did something yesterday that I thought I’ll never do in my life. I told a publisher to basically (and very politely) “shove it”. Of course I ended the mail wishing them luck with their line (and I really, most sincerely do), but all in all this has been a pretty surreal experience for me.

Towards the end of 2008, I was contacted by the publisher to see if I was interested in doing a full length OGN based on Indian mythology. I was just coming off of India Authentic from Virgin Comics (now reborn as Liquid Comics) and the sudden winding down of their comic book line had left me with a few stories I wanted to do (with all the research done and plots ready) with no one to publish them. I thought this was a golden opportunity to do one of those on a bigger canvas so to speak (India Authentic was 22 page one-shots). We had the honeymoon phase where I explained the way I wished to write the particular story, a tale from Mahabharata about a young warrior who knew nothing but war. The editor-in-chief was enthusiastic about it and once my detailed page by page breakdown was approved, we got down to contractual details. I must say of all the Indian comic book publishers (Virgin excluded) I’ve had dealings with so far, they were the most open and prompt in taking care of the paperwork. Let me give credit where it’s due. The contract was standard boiler-plate “I’m signing my firstborn over to you” work-for-hire one (since the character was public domain and not one I created, I accepted it) and we got it off the plate in quick time. We created a schedule and an editor was assigned. The usual pleasantries were exchanged.

Then the first tragedy struck. I fell down the stairs in my home and ended up spraining my wrist. This put us off the schedule by a couple of weeks for the script. I managed to get the script first draft out to them within the revised deadline and moved on, waiting for the redline to arrive.

That is the funniest part. The redline never came. I got one note from the editor saying she was going through the script and then she sent me a mail saying that I should “rework” the script. As the editors who I have had the good fortune of working with in the past will confirm, I don’t mind reworking and even rewriting entire scripts if the editor gives me specific notes, but here there was a general note asking me to rewrite an entire OGN. To top it all, I was sent a script by another writer, saying use this as a reference. So I went through that script and tried to extrapolate what exactly was expected. I kept on asking for specific notes and a redline meanwhile.

There is a whole list of things I had problems with, but here are the top two.

One of the notes said “There is a lot of philosophy!”.

Of course there is. I like to call myself a non-practicing atheist. I view mythology as a rich source of tales, nothing more and nothing less. Writing mythological stories is my way of answering the questions I posed to my mother (a deeply religious lady) as a child. What was this god thinking when this even occurred? Why didn’t incidental character X did action Y when the logical thing would’ve been to do Z? In India Authentic and in the script I submitted, I tried to tell a story from the protagonists viewpoint, not simply retell a legend. The effort was to provide a narrative based on an inner monologue. I’m afraid I can’t get into specifics to protect the identities of those involved.

Some panels don’t have any captions. We need at least 180 words per page” / “The captions don’t mention what’s shown in the pictures

Wow, me not being verbose? My wife laughed heartily upon hearing that (She is always ribbing me about how I never know when to shut up!). Now a comic book is a marriage of words and art. But the age old adage of “Show, don’t tell” still applies.

Which brings us to the title of this article. To draw an analogy , imagine if I were depicting a fist fight between a normally peaceful hero who’s decided he’s had enough. So my script would have a panel of the guy punching the villain and next one would be the villain crashing into the ground ass first. I’d then have a close-up of the villain looking up at our hero and a reverse angle upshot as the hero glares at him. The last panel would be the villain as he collapses deciding he’s had enough. All these would be silent panels ( Maybe a line or two of the inner monologue of the hero if that). The art tells the story and I don’t need to ham handedly spoonfeed the reader. The prior pages have established the hero’s inner conflict and the dastardly villain’s desperate need for come-uppance.

Now in the absence of specific notes, here’s what I gathered I was being asked to provide for such a sequence to the publisher.

Panel 1
Hero punches villain
CAP: And then the mighty hero punched the villain
Hero: I’m punching you, you mangy cur!

Panel 2
Villain crashes down on the ground
CAP: The dastardly villain crashed to the ground
Villain: Oh my god! You punched me! I have fallen to the ground.

And so on and so forth. You get the idea!

Oh yeah! Before I forget, there was an explicit request to use “million dollar words”. The note was to the effect “The captions are worded in a very matter-of-fact/simple way. Please use more intellectual words”.

So I did a lot of soul searching. I come from a decade old professional career where I take immense pride in being …umm… professional. I like to think that I inculcate that in my writing gigs too. But I finally decided to mail the publisher and tell them that I can’t write for them. So far there has been no artist allocation for this and printing schedule has not been decided. So I decided to save both of us a lot of aches/pains further down the road and called it quits. I received an email response saying that the reason a redline was not provided was “to carry out a full edit on the script at this stage would be extremely time consuming and, I think, unnecessary.

Anyway, as things stand right now, I’m intent upon for the first time asking to be let go from a writing gig. Hope I didn’t come off as too bitchy in this post.

Until next time, toodles and take care.


A “Redline” is basically a version of the script with the editor’s note inline with the original draft text. Usually it’s a word doc with “Track Changes” enabled. In the merry old days, editors used to mark corrections with a red pencil and that was the origin of the term.

The Capt. America #1 (Marvel Comics) cover image used in this post doesn’t mean any disrespect to the content/writing of the comic book. It was one of the most iconic punch images I could think of from the golden age. 🙂

[GRUNTLED & ILLUSIONED] “Shake yo rainmaker!”

Shake yo Raimaker!

When I was a kid, I was afraid of the rain. Most of the hindi movies I saw had the hero and heroine cavorting in the rain in songs like this and a few reels later the heroine would be pregnant and the hero would be dead.

Since no one bothered to explain the exact mechanics to me, my conclusion was…

PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) like this one, came to my rescue and made me realize that all I had to do in order to avoid Rain Pregnancy was to … WEAR A CONDOM! 😛



About Gruntled & Illusioned
Gruntled & Illusioned is a webcomic done by mohaps.

Motivation :)

My favorite internet troll made another appearance today. The asinine comments are already in the spam/trash box, but suffice it to say they were again riddled with obscenities and geographical irregularities (perhaps stemming from the lack of knowledge of Indian geography). At times like this it is very important to know where one’s motivation comes from. Mine comes from this

Motivation for writing
[ Image courtsey VeryDemotivational.com]

..and of course trolls! 😀

Business As Usual

This is a short story I wrote a long time ago. Found it in my backups.

By Saurav Mohapatra

Category: System Log Entry
By: Brahma@trinity.gov
To: all@trinity.gov


The system initiation procedure was successful. The energy infusion went smoothly and the containment frequencies functioned within limits. The resonant sonic harmonics stimulated the spontaneous condensation of the vibrant energy field correctly. The singularity responded as predicted and the proto-universe coalesced.

Maintaining observation mode.

Creator-in-chief, Trinity Labs


Category : Personal Communiqué
By: Brahma@trinity.gov
To: Shiva@trinity.gov
Attachments: om.mp3

Downloaded a sample of the resonant sonic harmonic and looped it. Attached please find the results. Just thought you might like it since you are into dance and music.



Category: System Log Entry
By: Brahma@trinity.gov
To: all@trinity.gov


Scans of sector ZZ-Alpha, Planet Prithvi indicate that the primordial soup responded well to the electrical stimulus provided by its atmosphere, protein initiation was successful.

Sampling has detected basic building blocks necessary for development of carbon based sentient life forms.

Under current conditions, test system should be ready to self-sustain itself soon.


Category: Personal Communiqué
By: Vishnu@trinity.gov
To: Shiva@trinity.gov

Subject: I WIN, AGAIN !


Looks like I win again. I told you life was going to be Carbon based. Only thing Nitrogen is good for is making laughing gas, as you so very well know ! 😉

You now owe me 100 bucks for this and the “betamax is going to rule the world!!!” bet.


PS: BTW, did you order the keg for the next party? If you plan on freaking out like the last one I strongly suggest you order two, one just for you and one for the rest of us.


System Log Entry
By: Brahma@trinity.gov
To: all@trinity.gov
Attn: Vishnu@trinity.gov

Subject: Entering Maintenance mode.

System entered self-sustenance mode. All indications are promising, handing system over to maintenance daemons.

Vishnu, can you make sure that the initial transition is smoother than the last one! I am particularly worried about the leakage of the flammable coolant tubes on the last one! Boy was that a big bang or what??


System Log Entry
By: Vishnu@trinity.gov
To: all@trinity.gov

Subject: Meeting Request : Cataclysm Alert

Project has evolved into a stable multiphase system with a uniform division among aquatic systems and landmasses. However I am concerned over some instabilities under the ocean bed which might lead to flooding of the landmasses and eventual loss of many forms of land based life.

This event (whose probability has just been confirmed by simulations) shall create an undue shift in evolutionary pressure towards aquatic life forms.

Request a meeting of all of us to vote on whether intervention is required.



System Log Entry
By: Vishnu@trinity.gov
To: all@trinity.gov

Subject: Cataclysm Averted. Avatar Algorithm works

As per our collective decision last Friday, I rewrote the maintenance daemon algorithm to allow external insertions. However due to the narrow bandwidth available, I have managed to key it only to my sub ethereal frequencies. The Avatar Algorithm allows my consciousness to manifest itself inside the system while allowing for a portion of my external consciousness to be downloaded to that particular manifestation. I have named the algorithm as the “avatar system”. I have tried to design the system so that the inhabitants are mostly unaware of us except at a primitive level. However the long term effects of my insertion can only be seen with the passage of time. Also the process is very resource intensive and I propose we use it sparingly only to avert cataclysm class events.

As per the poll, I managed to interface with the system and manifest myself as a higher aquatic life form. I managed to convey the urgency of the situation to one of the leaders of the dominant land based organisms which have been classified as “maanavs” since the first of their kind was fondly referred to as “M.A.N.U.” by Brahma@trinity.org.

The maanavs managed to avert significant loss to the land based ecosystem by evacuating to a higher area along with as much samples of existing life as possible. The loss was acceptable and I believe the system can continue on its own from here on.



Corporate M.O.U.

Signed by: Trinity Labs and Yahweh Inc.

We the undersigned to do hereby agree to share space in the project Brahmand construct. Yahweh inc shall be provided with space and initial sentience seeding in the Mesopotamian Sector of Planet Prithvi.


for Trinity Labs.

Managing Director

for Yahweh! Inc

CEO, President, Chairman of the Board and Sole Proprietor


Confidential Complaint
By: Vishnu@trinity.gov
To: hr@trinity.gov
CC: admin@trinity.gov

Subject: Attitude issues exhibited my co-workers

Attachments : Yahweh-Moses-Burning-Bush.avi
Combined Expense Reports For Eight Avataric Manifestations.xls

Dear Madam,

As you are aware project Brahmand has started exhibiting signs of increasing instability and has been demanding more and more resources. I believe this is in part due to the cavalier attitude exhibited by my coworkers. Since the system has entered maintenance mode, their active roles are limited.

However as referenced by my earlier memos and log entries, the Avatar algorithm designed by me has been called in to play at least nine times in the recent past. As the self awareness of the inhabitants of the construct grows, they are slowly becoming aware of us (the trinity) albeit in a limited sense. My avataric manifestations have become sort of the lynchpin of their religion.

Also the Yahweh Inc deal which turned out to be such a cash cow for our company is in my opinion sort of undermining the harmony of the system. Three major religions have sprung up and are growing fast with Yahweh as the central deity and he is relishing it. He has been using the experimental Audio Visual interface to manipulate the simple minded folk in his sector. More alarmingly I think Yahweh has developed the technology to inject his DNA into unsuspecting female inhabitants, please see the attached DNA Sampling report on a certain Jesus of Nazareth who I am pretty certain is Yahweh’s child.

I am not sure of Yahweh’s ultimate agenda, but I think it might end up introducing irreversible incompatibilities among the system inhabitants.

My Trinity Labs coworkers are not above a bit of tinkering either. They have been constantly using the A/V interface to grant so called “boons” to people who chant their name. Even though they have not yet violated the prime directive as in granting immortality to inhabitants, I have had to use the Avatar Algorithm seven more times in the recent past to control the damage done by their youthful pranks. That makes it eight avataric manifestations in three systemic epochs.

I have left psychosocial controls in place to avoid any further requirement of avataric manifestations. Even Yahweh has agreed to insert similar controls.

We have spun a doomsday story that indicates any further interference by the “Gods” or “god” (in Yahweh’s case) shall be the last and it shall bring about the End of Days.


Chief Operating Officer, Trinity Labs


Category : Termination Notice
From: finance@trinity.gov
To: vishnu@trinity.gov, Brahma@trinity.gov, Shiva@trinity.gov
CC: yahweh@yahweh.com


Dear Sir(s),

The corporate financial audit found that the return on investment on the above mentioned project was very low and except for the franchise deal with Yahweh Inc, there has been no financial gain from the project.

It is thus been decided by the board to terminate the project immediately. You are hereby authorized to launch Termination Sequence : TAN – DAV to release the resources tied up in the construct.
This notice also serves as communication of intent to terminate as per clause 42(v) of our M.O.U. with Yahweh Inc. They are requested to launch their preparatory programs of System Termination.


Kuber, CPA
Finance Department
Trinity Labs


Personal Log Entry
By: Shiva@trinity.gov
Subject: Everything Ends, Everything Begins…

I was asked to launch the TAN-DAV Algorithm on the system today. Even though I take great pride in the algorithms workings and must say enjoy the sheer beauty of it, it is with a heavy heart that I write this.

TAN-DAV is designed to take apart bit by bit the resonant harmonic matter constraints that keep the mini-universe in place. As the algorithm traverses across the system, it shall release the energy equivalence of the universe construct and store it in a zero point module for future use.

I feel sad as we all put a lot of effort into this project, especially Vishnu. It is going to be real hard on him. Have not seen him since last evening when we got the memo about system termination. Brahma is glassy eyed too since that time.

Well that leaves me. I am a professional this is what I do. My only consolation is some day we might get approval for another project and we shall reuse this energy to build another universe.

Till then, life goes on.


System Log Entry
From: Tandav-Daemon@trinity.gov
CC: all@trinity.gov

Subject: Termination Sequence finished

System Termination finished. Energy has been store in zero point module 9512102.


Personal Communiqué
From: Yahweh@yahweh.com
To: Vishnu@trinity.gov, Brahma@trinity.gov, Shiva@trinity.gov
Subject: FYI: Good News.

Hi All,

I have managed to gather funding from a couple of venture capitalists I know. They are eager to invest in Project Brahmand. The VC firm of Al-Zahila is backed by the Saudi Royal family, so we know their money is good. We can reinitiate the project as soon as I get the details sorted out. Just thought you guys should know first.



P.S. : I thought of a great system initiation banner. It goes, “Let there be light”