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     Volume 7 Issue 3 | January 18, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

Desperately Seeking

Neeman Sobhan

I'm beginning to suspect that men are different from women, and this idea has been slowly and inexorably creeping into my consciousness for sometime, like ever since I was in Madame Challah's Kindergarten school in Multan and a Parsi boy called Jimmy (short for Jamshed, naturally) with thick lashes on whom I had a thumping crush-----something he was blind to even though: a/I always left a seat empty for him next to mine in class; b/ let him use my new bubble-gum scented eraser; c/ saved half my banana from lunch to give him at break, and I swear, had it been a girl at the receiving end of such blatant hints and favours she would have guessed right away, which is one of the salient differences between the sexes, namely that women can tell immediately when someone is soft on her even before he himself knows it, whereas men are slightly….ummm…. obtuse-----punched a boy on some Eid-related school function day and rolled in the playground dust with him, falling into the shallow pool while wearing his brand new clothes just because the other boy had touched the ribbon on my hair or something silly, but I repeat, while wearing his brand new clothes, which, wouldn't you agree is something absolutely no female with the right number of 'x' chromosomes would do even in her wildest dreams, unless she were a Bollywood film-star being paid to do so to the tune of some lakhs of rupees and grinding music to boot, and this Jimmy incident first made me come to the startling realization that the followers of Adam and Eve might really be inhabiting inner planets as different as Mars and Venus, though, never was this explosive idea truly confirmed in my mind till I observed repeatedly that men and women, at least the domesticated varieties, go about looking for things in the house following totally bi-polar methodology, which is to say that men find things by hollering generally: "Where is that damn nail cutter? Why can't anyone keep it where it should be?" and women calmly reply without raising their voices, since the drama necessarily unfolds under one roof and within earshot, "Have you tried to look in the left-hand drawer of the cabinet in the bathroom, dear?" to which the man shouts, "Which cabinet?" and the woman replies slowly with her eyes still on her page, "The only one in that room, the one which stores towels, toilet paper, toiletries and other bathroom-related things, as well as tools and equipment for personal grooming and hygiene, like nail-cutters," and the man says, "Well, why can't someone keep the nail cutter in a more accessible place like the TV room so I can do the needful while watching the news and not waste so much time looking for it?" to which the woman responds with a dash of chili pepper, "Or we can keep a nail cutter in every room of the house," and the man ignores this and hollers from the bathroom, "It's not in the drawer!" and the woman replies in upper-case letters: "LEFT-HAND DRAWER?" which is greeted with a two-minute silence in which time the relevant drawer is opened with unnecessary violence, followed by the male-voice ringing out "Still not HERE!" hearing which
the woman now shouts, "And if I come and find it?" "Try!" and she comes in, pulls out the drawer smoothly and like an expert forensic detective goes through a dozen old lipsticks, some sample packets of creams and lotions from the 1980's and a few half-used shaving blades and comes out triumphantly with the nail cutter, smiling in a slightly demented way, "And WHAT do we have HERE?" which elicits a groan from the one with the lone 'x' chromosome muttering "But it was mixed up with all those things!" that is almost swallowed up in the woman's closely nail-clipped words: "This may be news to your entire sex but the basic rule of searching for things especially in a drawer is to bend down slightly and actually LOOK, perhaps even rummage and SEARCH for the object, not stand upright and helpless in front of an open drawer and ask 'where is it' or whistle for it," and having made her point she stomps off thinking she has had the last word, never suspecting that the really final words will come from the kitchen as she hears her son, obviously belonging to the other sex, and obviously standing rigid and helpless in front of an open fridge door yelling, "Where is the margarine? I can't find it!"

So what do you think? I mean, surely you must have guessed that this is my entry for the contest for the longest and (worst) opening sentence of any creative work. This is a spin-off of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest award for the worst first line of a novel. The award, as any aspiring writer will know, was named after the Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer Lytton, the author of 'The Last days of Pompeii' who is better known for having given us the unforgettably trite opening line in the whole of fiction since once-upon-a time. This line opened his novel 'Paul Clifford' and has since been immortalized by the Charles Schulz cartoon character from 'Peanuts,' the literary minded beagle Snoopy, working on his novel year after year with: "It was a dark and stormy night."

The result for the 2007 Bulwer-Lytton contest is this grand prize-winning entry:

"Gerald began---but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in the ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them 'permanently' meant the next 10 minute or so until buried by searing lava or suffocating by choking ash--to pee."

Quite bad, right? I couldn't have written such a good, bad sentence within the word limit. But I feel optimistic about the other contest. I think, in the world of long-winded prose my rambling rose of a sentence-paragraph will stand a good chance at winning at least a dishonourable mention. I think I'll go back to polishing it a bit.

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