Thursday, June 30, 2005


I have a lizard…in my house. (It sounds rather cute when you sing it to the tune ‘We have the whole world….in our hands.’)

This is how I found out.

I came home one night, inebriated with the joy of a job well done. I chirped merrily outside the door and entered my dark apartment. The willowy frayed white curtain was swaying like a little spectre – the bai had left the window open for…Phantom, I think. Reached and switched on the light and in a voice that sounded like Batman and Cher, went ‘Yeeowiao.’

I had seen the lizard.

It was on the wall behind the rocking chair. It ambled about in the dim light like a little reptilian Lara Croft. Zwap-zwap-zwap went her padded feet and then she looked up. Scaly but supremely confident.

I, despite the yelp, stood frozen there like a dork – neither like Cher nor Batman. But someone had to make the first move…and Liz did that. Now, a lizard is despicable enough but one that’s given to sudden movements makes you scream cold murder! Which is rather apt because a lizard is a cold blooded reptile..but more on that later.

I ran and shut the door. This proved to be a good idea because I could not see the lizard anymore; but it was a bad idea because I was out of the house…and that was a rather unlivable situation.

So I went back in. I could see Liz in the corner of a room looking at me askance. Her main object of attention was a fly that buzzed around cluelessly – there clearly is room for only one kind of creature in a Mumbai flat.

I kind of dived onto my bed because I didn’t want to walk the same floor that had been ‘zwapped’ on. Eeew! and all that!

Once there, I wondered who to call for solace and advice. Who, after all, could know how to get a lizard out of a house? My pal,

VK and I worked for a legal portal a couple of years back. She is a sweetheart and helpful, a true-blue friend, and a practicing lawyer. The last bit is important because this means she knows how to handle reptiles.

Tring Tring (or rather that infernal ‘Wo Lamhe’ ring tone)

VK (husky): Yes..

Me: Hi, this is Muk..

VK (not so husky now on identifying a female caller): Hey Muks! How are you?

Me: I came home to see this lizard in my flat ya! How do I get it out!

VK (is that panic I sense?): Where are you? I’m coming!

Me: I’m on the bed and the …

VK (shrieks): What the hell! Get out of the house!

Me (was there more to Liz than met the eye?): Why? It’s in the corner!

VK(somewhere around her glasses must be shattering): Goddamnit woman, it’s breaking and entering..that man is …what the hell..why are you..

Me( getting a cramp from suppressed guffaw): Idiot! It’s a lizard – a house lizard..

VK (slumps down on a mosaic floor): A WHAT! Oh, I thought you meant it as a metaphor or some such…

Me: V, I’ll find a man in my house, and you think I’ll call you up and talk in metaphors. Is there something you want to talk to me about, sweety? Is there a lot of stress?

VK(spent now): Oh shut up!

Me: So how do I get the lizard out? It’s dirty and creepy! I feel filthy just looking at its slimy skin.

VK(intelligently): Lizards don’t have slimy skins.

Me: Eww! But its yucky, V. It’s sick!

VK (soothing): Okay, okay – don’t lapse into a coma and all. Just go and open the door. That lizard will just get out.

Me: What if another one gets in?

VK: No it won’t idiot!

Me: Why not? An open door is open – things can get out, things can come in. What’s so improbable about that!

There were several moments of silence. Vk was perhaps thinking of a constitutional implication in my argument.

VK (with sudden vengeance): You know why that doesn’t happen Mukta?! Its because people are selfish! They have no heart! They just walk out. You leave a door open and they goddamn leave! Who the hell stays? Who the hell walks through an open door, Mukta? Who? Doors are just open so that they can walk out.

I looked at Lizzy in the corner. She seemed to be still and lifeless and a lot easier to handle than my pal.

So I hung up and called Ma.

Ma : What happened now? (This was my first call to her in the whole day.)

Me: There’s a lizard in the house.

Ma: Is it dead? Just throw it out.

Me: It’s not dead.

Ma: Then kill it and throw it out. (Don Corleone, anyone?)

Me: K..gnight.

Ma: Make sure you wash your hands later (Ma Baker, perhaps?)

Me: Okay..

And that is why I live with Lizzy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Getting back

Here's the thing - I'm a sweet person. Yes, I'm sweet in that bland, no-personality way that the adjective is used - to describe a hubby's bad craft project or a polka-dot T-shirt on a 40 year old woman.

I am sweet, see. But sometimes, I'm not. I'm a little bizarre - like a hurtful, zesty, bad karmic weaning. So, here's what my immensely enjoyable doppelganger did tonight.

I have this pal who has a patent on sang froid. Nothing ruffles him...and anything that involves me is met with serene detachment. Now, I don't like that. Why be friends when you don't go ballistic on one another, correct?

The other day, I asked him - who are your most favorite people in the world? Now, the tone in which the question was asked would suggest (at least to anyone with IQ in the positive quadrant) that it was a leading question. He answers -

Mihir, Turab, Shayaan, Neha, Prithvi.

'And...' - Hint 1

Yep, that's about it....I don't get too close to very many people.

Yeah, but they're all your school friends. Isn't there anyone you recently met you could count as your close pal? - Hint 2 in neon lights

Not really. - Oh! bring down those signs already.


My turn:

By the way, something happened today...didn't think I'd do it but..

What? - Do I see a little flicker?

You know...forget it...not important.

What? - Lights coming on..almost

Seriously, it's a one time thing. Forget it.

What? - Zoom in on those lights

Today I made love.

What?? - Little closer.... With? - it's blinding I tell you

Today I made LOVE - Lots Of Valient Efforts...


Yes, yes...very cheesy, very sleazy, stupid and duh-umb.....but cackle! cackle! To see the froid melt.....satisfying!

My unbricked world

I love Mumbai. I also loved Bombay. Since it's raining now in Mumbai, just as it had rained in Bombay, I shall write about Mumbai and Mumbai rains.

You know how the skies get overcast and a cool zephyr lightly rustles palm trees and glassy smooth lakes? You know how you look up to the skies instinctively scrunching your nose and crinkling your eyes expecting a light drizzle to wet your face? And then, you know, how suddenly - there's no zephyr, no rustling, no poetic drizzle - there's a wham! bam! sploosh! downpour in which you are practically bruised? And if that doesn't hurt you, you step into a waterclogged pothole and have an auto screech two inches from your nose.

That is rain in Mumbai. Sigh!

Then, of course, there is the sea. You take a walk by the sea. You hope for the high tide because there is nothing as pleasantly disturbing as watching the sea swell and waves roll in steady undulating motions. You look at the curves and wrinkles and bends of the water and you stand hypnotized. The sea - the waves - the little rills - the..uh-oh...but's getting bigger...when did the freaking water body get on steroids? Hey! That's too close! You step back, you step back more you turn and then...SPLAAAASH!

The last crashing wave gives a leery grin as it slowly recedes. 'You asked for it, babe', it seems to say. Watch closely and you'll see a giant aquatic grin.

That too is rain in Mumbai. Siiigh!

Anyway, rains can be draining (an awkward labored pun there!). The other night I had cramps in my stomach, feet, lower back, and I think several other vestigial organs. I was damp and moist and I think I had mushrooms growing behind my ears. The day had been perfectly foul and I had read a couple of articles about how wunnerful Delhi was, and how Calcutta was so fabulous and well, Bangalore...we are supposed to collectively go 'OOOOOH!' So basically I wanted to be anywhere but here in Mumbai.

Here's a trick I often use to get over discomfort in the city though - I try to see Mumbai from the eyes of a tourist and not as a city dreg. So I was looking at the wanton force that rattled shanties and windows of buildings and flooded railway tracks while I waited for the train. It was, by the way, the bewitching hour. With me, there were three guys in netted T-Shirts and rolled up trousers. There was a child running after a yellow plastic ball, a teen with no hands moving to the handicapped section, a beggar with no legs pulling himself to the wada-pav stall, a women in beige stilettos and a Samsung phone in front of the First Class section, and an assorted slice of humanity we refer to as 'middle-class.'

That's why I love Mumbai - no matter who you are or where you're at, you've got to move your a#$$ to get anything done. There is comfort in that...and a deep, strong affection. And I'm sure that’s the case with every other place as well.

I suppose, that's why the world is our oyster?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

That was quick!

We were all there to see my brother off; my parents, my cook, and his (i.e.- my cook’s, not my brother’s) man-Friday. Bro was flying to Italy to join his ship that would then sail to Tunisia. There he was – wearing a crisp white shirt (my father’s), flat-front charcoal trousers (my uncle’s), excellent shoes (my dad’s again), and shapeless asymmetrical spectacles (his own).

I, on the other hand, did not know where Tunisia was.

We went in to the visitor’s area and sat down. Cook and his man-Friday started arguing about why the other didn’t just shut up and listen. Father and son were talking about the same thing…and yes, ditto with mother and daughter.

Then my brother got up, after I think conceding a position or proving a point, and touched my parent’s feet. It was time for him to go. Cook and man-Friday stopped arguing, shook hands with bro, and told him to eat well.

My brother came up to me and gave me this look that only a sister could understand; he’d be having a happy time at Italian beaches, smoking and trying to impress Italian women. He then shook my hand (we didn’t hug because my windcheater was wet), said I’ll see you soon, and went off.

He lumbered awkwardly to join another group of awkwardly lumbering marine engineers (I’m telling you – it’s an anthropological mystery – the way these guys walk) and was soon lost in the crowd. Sometimes, when a mass of people shuffled around, I could see a blot of his bright orange and glowing mint totebag.

But this was not how his last departure was.

Last year, my brother was sailing for the very first time. He was fresh out of college and ‘caffeinated’ with nervous energy. My father was talking to him, one seaman to another.

‘Listen and learn – from your chief engineer of course, but more importantly, from the sea,’ said Father.
‘Will they pay me in Euros when the ship’s in Paris?’, asked Son.
‘You’ll never get bored on the ship. You’ll be on ship for so many months – and you’ll never see the same ocean twice. It always, always changes,’ said Father.
‘Will they pay me in Euros when the ship’s in Paris?’, asked Son.

Cook was sitting in another corner, holding a tetrapack of Frooti – my brother’s favorite drink…just in case ‘baba’ got thirsty.

Ma was holding my hand and weeping – that silent, heartwrenching weeping that only mothers do. She couldn’t talk but when she saw the crew of British airways, she looked at me and I instantly knew what we was thinking of – my brother when he was round, fair, dressed in a tight-striped shirt and six years old.

Ma used to take us, that’s me, bro, and cook (he’s been with us forever) to the airport every time dad would return from his trips abroad. We would wait patiently peering at streams of people – she’d try to locate her husband, I’d try to recognize my father, and my brother would hope that the guy with the biggest bag of presents would be his dad. Every single time, the crowds would thin and mom would get worried. My brother would look at mom and tell her, “He’s getting presents I think” (ah! the many virtues of materialism) and Ma would smile.

Then, bro would get impatient. He’d go to the first nice-looking gentleman and in his case, it was always someone from the British Airways..and ask, ‘Sir, have you seen my father?’ The gentleman would smile, talk a little, and give him a chocolate. (It was cute the first time, though – later, he just got greedy.) And then my dad would come.

It’s funny, I think, how we know that holding someone’s hand does not mend a heart but we do it anyway. Ma had been holding my hand for a while now. It was white and clammy. She just couldn’t stop crying and I was getting impatient. The guy chose to be a marine engineer- those people sail, and then come back. What’s the big deal!?

Yet I was sad too – not because my brother was going away, but because I wasn’t going anywhere. You look at planes taking off with hollow, empty eyes and that longing to leave is so just HAVE to grit your teeth and bear it.

Then it was time to leave. My brother started fumbling in that fluorescent tote of his. (ever noticed how permanent hideous accessories are?) He fished out his passport but couldn’t find his tickets. Dad got impatient, Ma grew worried, and I knew he was trying to buy time.
Anyway, things did come together and my brother was finally on his way. He turned back twice to wave – and dropped his tickets and passport both times. I don’t think I’ve seen a 23 year old boy look so lost.

Cook was flailing his arms trying to get his attention.

‘Baba can take the Frooti.’
‘Oh for God’s sakes! He’s going in a plane!’
‘They have Frooti in the plane?’
‘Yes, yes..they’ll give him Frooti!’

My brother went and we waited – until the flight took off.

This time, it was different. My father was talking about some automated engine and my brother, by now, knew that he’d not be paid in Euros if the ship docked in Paris. Cook knew that planes served drinks and was explaining this to man-Friday.

Then my brother got up to leave – passport and tickets in breast pocket.

As soon as he dissolved with the travelers, we got up too. I dug into my bag for my house keys – I tried to buy time.

‘Wait for 10 mins.’
‘What for?’
‘Nothing…just wait for 10 mins.’
‘It’s a long drive back home and it’s raining and…’
'10 minutes’

Everyone dispersed and left me alone.

There I sat, in my wet windcheater, looking at the Flight indicator hearing planes take off. I know I was crying and I had a huge, painful lump in my throat – and I also know that I didn’t blink.

I stared and stared and stared until I saw – Alitalia: Security Check.

THEN…I got up to leave.

There I saw them. Ma, Papa, cook, and man-Friday were having Sprite and laughing…they had just spotted the crew of British Airways.

Gosh! They grow up so fast!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Oh Crap!

A crappy crappy day!

My mind has just become woolly and I have to interact with dunces from Dunceyard dancing around me waving files and throwing weight and acting self-important.

I think I'm ready to pop a blood vessel in the white rage that consumes me. Every time I get up to storm off somewhere, I stub my toe. I'm a big girl now but I've come close to tears at the unfairness of not having a cubicle all to myself. I don't even have a potted plant.

Hmm, interesting! A potted plant - I shall call it Evangeline, after Longfellow's poem.

BENT like a laboring oar, that toils in the surf of the ocean,
Bent, but not broken, by age was the form of the notary public;

I'll put some fake earthworms around it and slim, silver streamers every Friday to celebrate the Christmas that is so so far away. Maybe, I'll also tie pieces of colorful rope on each branch so that the fake earthworms can go and hang themselves if the earth gets too much with them. That'll be interesting arboreal ornamentation, me thinks.

Maybe I'm a fake earthworm on someone else's potted plant.


A crappy crappy day!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Raga'muffin' girl

It’s raining so hard today that someone somewhere is building an Ark..and the naval architect may or may not be a man, may or may not be a Noah, and the Ark may or may not be for couples. But if it does get made, I do hope the vessel serves some tasty treat – like the muffin my colleague got today.

She sits opposite me and we exchange pleasantries every morning and insults thereafter. But to give her due credit, she is a generous soul – especially with food she doesn’t like.

Here’s what I mean:

Generous soul: Hey! Try some cutlet!
Translation in reality: It’s bad!

Generous soul: Want a piece of cake?
Translation in reality: The gateau can bend iron bars.

Generous soul: Take some of this chutney with that.
Translation in reality: You’ll have better luck with arsenic.

But this afternoon it was different. She came traipsing to her seat enveloped in a lovely aroma of vanilla and a grandma-home’s warmth. In her hands was a translucent tiffin box that had, what soon became, the collective object of desire. It was a warm, chocolate-chip muffin.

Now, ‘a muffin is a muffin is a muffin’ truism may apply on several occasions but there are instances where it stands refuted.

It’s a wet, dark, somber afternoon. Ennui is almost palpable as we peer into our garishly bright computer screens. The day looks long and endless and of course, wet. (Remember that.) People move around listlessly. The drone of the workplace circles like one of those eagles you see in Omar Mukhtar. Bit by bit we sink into that marsh of somnambulism until….

we see the muffin.

There it is – sitting pretty, wrapped in diaphanous butter paper, inviting with its subtle yet wholesome sweetness. Our eyes follow that little piece of baked heaven until my colleague reaches her seat and with careless gaiety asks, ‘Want some?’

Do we ever!

Yet, one must be gentle. The muffin is too perfect to just break into pieces and pass around. It must be given due respect – the respect we accord to an unlikely yet appealing savior. So another friend who is generally looked upon as the tidy one, decides to break the muffin into three pieces. I, being the barbarian that has already started salivating, am discreetly distanced till the treasure is apportioned. The tidy one peels the butter paper gingerly one corner at a time, as if she’s afraid of hurting it. In fact, she looks like one of those ten year old girls who read Enid Blyton and then slowly look inside buttercups hoping to find fairies.

I snap at her and am rudely shushed! Unknowingly, we have embarked on a ritual that is marked with piety.

The butterpaper is off now. The uncovered muffin now stands in all its glory with its chocolate chips glistening like bits of ..well, chocolate. And then, the tidy one breaks it into three pieces and leaves it for us to do our will.

Each piece is soft to the touch and promises such delights that one can only hold it for so long. And once I pop it into the mouth…I think my palate starts conducting a symphony. Each crumb is perfectly moist, and buttered, and delicately sweetened to correctly allow the chocolate to take over. And the chocolate, each chip at a time, oh so amply, does.

We got back to work after that but I’m sure we all heard a couple of larks singing inside our heads on a clear spring morning.

Note: We’ve been promised more next week by the generous soul.

You say potato, I say chickoo

What is brown and round and looks like a potato?

A potato

What is brown and round and also looks like a potato?

A chikoo

This is the point I was trying to make at lunch the other day. My colleagues, on the other hand, laughed uproariously and generally shattered any inclination I may have had to drive home my point. You can’t be insulted and persuasive at the same time, you know.

Anyhoo, this is how it happened several moons ago.

I’m walking to the station after a particularly enlightening day in college. Those were the days when I discovered a new chink in my armor every day. And that, to my innocent, blithe, and adolescent soul was enlightening. So, there I am walking like Charlie Brown, replaying the canteen scene in my head.

Pimply boy wearing black Nirvana T-shirt: You are spoilt. You haven’t seen the real world, Mukta. It’s very easy to just talk.

Me wearing black: Not true. Why do you think that just because I haven’t seen anyone bleed to death, I haven’t seen life. Each person goes through different things and…

Pimply Nirvana: Oh! Shuddup already! Death and blood and all that crap! Empty hyperboles don’t give perspective ya! (He did talk like that until he went to ‘read law’ at Oxford. Then he talked like that with an accent.) Have you even bought vegetables yourself? Or have you always got them ready-made on the table?

(Note: Pimply Nirvana walks off in a huff. I would have done that but I was inappropriately wedged between a stone slab and a tree. You’ve just got to see my college campus to understand how such a thing would be possible.)

Anyway, there I was thinking about the twisted truth of his words when I saw a man selling something on a cart. They were round and brown and to me they looked like potatoes. So, I decided to buy some to get a license to reclaim the belief I was upholding so zealously a while back. If I didn’t even buy vegetables, could I really have an opinion about life?

I asked the guy to give me a few of the items and paid him. I now had a plastic bag with my own hand picked vegetables. Could there anything more liberating for a spoilt girl? I think not.
I got home and decided to cook them. Oh! I love thinly sliced potatoes cooked with lots of green chillies and a little bit of curd and turmeric! (Tastes yummy with hot rice and Oprah Winfrey on afternoon TV.) That’s when I sensed something was wrong.

They were a little squishy to be potatoes but looked pretty enough to not be spoilt. I thought to myself while the oil on the gas started sputtering like Bugs Bunny…What could this be? I tasted one and it was sweet. Now, because I seen a sweet potato once before, I realized that it was indeed not a potato. (Oof! The pain at letting go of a firmly entrenched point of view.) It was a chickoo.

Fine. Granted I was dumb and stupid and everything that pimply Nirvana had figured me out to be. But my point is, it could happen to anyone.

Anyway, I relived that shame the other day during lunchtime.

‘Kya yaar! A chickoo and a potato are different, man! You can’t possibly confuse one with the other!’

‘Sheesh! Couldn’t you tell that they smelt different?’ ( A word of advice here – I don’t smell and buy stuff anymore. Turns out it’s a very potent date-repellent.)

‘How could you be so stupid?’ (‘Coz I can’t resist the temptation, Einstein)

Anyway, that was that. But here’s something my friends or Pimply Nirvana don’t know.
I chopped up the chickoo into little bits and put them in a bowl. Roasted a couple of handfuls of honey crunch cornflakes and mixed them with the chickoo pieces. Finally, I topped it off with two spoons of hot custard.

What can I say?

I felt equipped to hold an opinion on life once again.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hindi anyone?

The other day, a bunch of us were talking about Indian cities and their quirks. Here’s something a colleague of mine remembered that totally cracked me up.

She’s from Delhi and has recently moved to Mumbai. The first month that she was here, she noticed that Mumbaiites were rather abrupt in the way they spoke Hindi. Being from Mumbai ourselves, a couple of us couldn’t really understand what she meant. So, she helpfully explained. Suppose someone’s talking to you and you don’t catch what he or she said. A Mumbai person would say, ‘Kya?’ as opposed to a Delhiite’s ‘Kya bola aapne?

Okay, so they talk in complete sentences. That’s nice.

But then she went on to say that Mumbai’s Hindi (I love the way we personify everything!) has a vocabulary all of its own – and not simply the kind used by the underworld or the ‘kaanda-batata’ variety.

One evening, she took a rick from Andheri station. The auto fellow, being friendly or bored because he didn’t have a music deck, started making small talk with her. He sympathetically looked at her and asked ‘Train mein gardi thi?’ My friend didn’t seem to understand, so she mumbled something that the rick guy didn’t want repeated. So that was that.

The next day, her bai comes in late and launches into a huge narration, the moot point of which is, ‘Bahut gardi thi.’

My friend reaches office and hears two colleagues commenting on the horrid route to work. ‘Itni gardi mein kaise koi time pe pahunchega.

She is now wondering what ‘gardi’ is, because she hasn’t heard that word before – ever. Not in Delhi, not in Bangalore, or Indore or Bhopal, or wherever else she has traveled. So she reasons and thinks back, going through all the Hindi words she has learnt and used. What could ‘gardi’ possibly mean?

“I’d heard of garmi (hot climate) and I’d heard of sardi (cold climate). I thought an intermediary season would be ‘gardi’.”

The next minute, one Mumbaiite was laughing so hard that he had snorted cold coffee all over the table. I had fallen off the couch and the third one had tears rolling own her beetroot red face.
Can’t fault her logic though! In fact, given the contexts she’d heard the term in, gardi could very well mean some mysterious intermediary season that pervades stations and causes bais and office colleagues considerable discomfort. It was much later that she came to know that gardi meant crowd – the rest of the country apparently refers to that as ‘bheedh’.

So, that’s how we learnt a new word…two is company, three is a ‘gardi’ or a ‘bheedh’ depending on where you are.


I work for a software company. It’s very very mainstream. Blood dripping red and MS Windows folder-yellow cubicle panels notwithstanding, ours is a very staid company. We have black ceilings and our pantries have grey steel walls. Men in Black and assorted aliens would find my office suitable for several of their proclivities, but aside from that, we are very regular, very average, very sitting-in (using the phrase as the opposite of ‘standing out’.)

People dressed in clothing that homogenize into a sartorial mush walk into the pantry room and take their teas and coffees from the vending machine. I, too, am part of the homogenized mush even though I wear aqua.

So, on an overcast Monday, I walk into my pantry and see three bean bags. One is purple, like Barney Flintstone’s Dino; the other is yellow, like a wet post-it, and the third is dark green or dark blue or black. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that my company has been taken over by Cartoon Network.

Cartoon Network, appraisal time, my company…?

Go figure!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Borrowed memories

I don't meet my cousin often. He's in the movie business and is currently 'struggling'. This means that he has to go through the commerce versus art dilemma every time he decides to take up a job. The dilemma is particularly sharp because he's often out of money, unwell, threatened by his landlord, disillusioned with the idea of merit taking credit, and won't take help from family. He wants to direct a movie someday, and one thing I can vouch for - that guy can tell a story.

We usually go to this church in Bandra and light a couple of candles at the Basilica. While I pray, he often looks into the distance where the sky meets the sea. After that we usually walk on the promenade and talk about how the world does not recognize our worth. Once we were talking about our respective professions and he told me that a director's job is simply about borrowing memories. "Of course not", I argued. "He also dips into his own experiences and searches his imagination for stories and..."

"Borrows memories," my cousin reiterated. "You can't possibly weave a movie based on your experiences alone, Chinkz. We experience so little. But you can always borrow a memory."

Well, what can I say - he's right. I am not a film director or anything, but I think I am a borrower of memories. I think it's as intriguing as interpreter of maladies. I love asking people about their childhood and vacations and the first time they had a sense of victory. And when they start talking to me, I see a life in my head where I'm there, eating the strawberries they have eaten or wiping the berry juice on my cotton shirt. I am a borrower of memories. And here's one I borrowed from my cuz, Y.

He had a particularly bad fight with his mom over the phone. It's usually difficult to answer questions like 'What do you think you are doing with your life?' when you believe the answer is 'Nothing.' Anyway, angry and emotional phone call over, he got into a bus and headed towards office. Being Mumbai, the road was crowded and under construction. It was hot and there
was a cloud of such gritty smoke that you could feel the teeny pebbles getting lodged in the nostrils. In short, it was blazing, dusty, uncomfortable - the type of environment chilled beer commercials are shot in.

Y saw a group of laborers hard at work, breaking stones, smearing tar - unprotected in the cruel heat. Somewhere in the distance, a little baby lay on a blanket under the shade of a tree. It seemed as if he belonged to one of the laborers. Y looked at the creased faces of all the men and women carrying stones on their heads and tried to figure out who the parent was. They all seemed indifferent to the child. Then, suddenly, the baby started to cry and was immediately attended to by a young girl. She was the mother. She cradled the child, wiped his face (I think the baby was a boy) with her pallu, and looked around. A young man bounded up to her and from his gestures, it seemed as if he was asking her what the matter was. The child's father. They talked to each other for a bit, all the while looking at the infant. The mother carried the baby to a nearby mud pot and was soaking her pallu in it to wash the baby's face. Probably the child was feeling hot.

Just then, the father ran up to her and told her to stop. He explained something and ran ahead to a small makeshift shop where you expect to find only Maggi, matchsticks or leaked exam papers. My cousin, by now, had pressed his forehead to the bar of window so tightly, he must have looked liked an urban skinny hulk trying to escape from a cage. The man ran back with
a bottle of mineral water. He opened it, wet his wife's pallu with it, and then wiped his child's face. The mother looked up at him and smiled, no doubt thinking that he really was the right person to be the father of her child. The baby's plump little face looked clean and shiny and was now marked with a toothless beaming smile.

Would the child ever remember that his father, one day, spent a portion of his daily savings to wash his face with mineral water - a practice several of us would find decadent?

Well, that remains to be seen...but it's part of my borrowed memories now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Not so pretty

Last night I came home from a one hour invigorating walk by the sea. Took off my shoes, switched on the AC and put a bowl of fresh jasmines soaked in cold water in front of it. As the light fragrance filled the air of my small but cute studio appartment, I decided to wash up and make dinner.

Didn't want anything too fancy or complicated. So toasted a couple of slices of brown bread, smeared it with butter, drizzled a bit of lightly melted honey, and had it with chilled mangoes. It was so good that I actually ate my supper in silence. The mangoes were cool and sweet with just a hint of tartness that served as a reminder that they weren't canned. And the bread - well, they were toasted to perfection. Dark honey mixed with yellow butter on crisp brown bread sure looks beautiful. I decided that someday I would upholster the seats in my library with silk of that color.

Then lied down on my sofa, switched on the TV and settled down to watch a good-looking albeit dumb sitcom. It was the kind of program where even the canned laughter seems forced but everyone in it has poker-straight hair and glossy lips, including the men. Was really content about it all when suddenly the lights went off.

'Suddenly' is a rather inadequate term to describe just how the lights went out. I felt like the rabbit that was suddenly stuffed into the magician's hat. One moment, there was the lulling hum of the AC, the steady purring of the fan, lights, good-looking people on the TV drawling, 'We need to talk', and then suddenly....nothing!

I got up from the bed and looked out. The entire area was pitch dark. I could see lights in the far distance and looked upon them wistfully. I was the ostracized alien living on a lonely planet while other life forms were partaking in civilized life. The only sounds to console me were the soft rustle of the palm trees and the incessant honking of the autos (whose attention do they seek to get on an empty road at 11:45 p.m.?).

I fumbled and found a couple of candles. One was a beautiful ivory one with dried leaves and flowers embossed on it and scented. The other one was its rather plain cousin - white, straight, made of wax and did not cater to any olefactory whims.
Turns out, when there's no electricity, you need a candle with a good wick and not the scent of Italian meadows. The scented diva just refused to light up, while the stoic plain Jane rose to the cause and burnt with a steady flame.

I went back to my bed and looked around my appartment in candlelight. Odd shaped shadows lounged around the smooth marble floor and the occasionally nestled in the generous folds of the drapes. Urban chic , I believe, such a sight is called. Then
I turned the other way and there it was - my TV. No goodlooking people on it, no music, no color, no shape and without it all, my television was a 'big, black, box.' Gasp! I saw the cliche in its original, ugly form!

Yup. A TV without pictures on it seen in candlelight - not so pretty!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Whisperer

Think: the silent speed of a shooting star
Think: the fractured beauty of a broken sea shell
Think: cold flame
Think: dark before dawn
Think: crouch before leap
Think: quiet grace and dignity
Think: a steed's noble gait
Think: deft and quick
Think: unhurried and deep
Think: scaffold
Think: dagger
Think: ocean
Think: Pyrammid
Think: Randeep Hooda in D

I missed the first 15 minutes of the movie. Saw Randeep, and found in him

  • Charles Darnay, the lawyer in Tale of Two Cities; sitting in the courtroom with dishevelled hair and curious eyes. Body reposed in strong, feline indolence. He would later stand up and argue for a lost cause....and win.
  • Howard Roark, the architect in Ayn Rand's 'Fountainhead'; walking with certitude to the judge's table, submitting his folder with his drawings, his eyes mirroring the truth of his sprit, and simply saying, in response to his adversary's noisy arguments, 'The defence rests.'
  • Bagheera of Jungle Book, carefully waiting behind the bushes, watching with pride and sorrow, as Mowgli goes away.
  • Rudyard Kipling's muse when he wrote in 'If': If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, Yours is the world and everything that's in it, and what's more, you'll be a man my son.
  • Kunta Kinte, in Alex Haley's 'Roots'; as he bends down, a broken man, to collect the dust of his daughter's footsteps when she is taken away from him to never return.
  • The fish in Hemingway's 'Old Man and the Sea'; the book's true hero, of who it was said, 'there was no panic in his fight.'
  • The dog in Jack London's 'Call of the Wild'; who left a life where 'intimation meant command' to become a leader of a pack.

It is said that if you want to get someone's attention, whisper. Presenting Randeep Hooda: the whisperer.

Writing - AARGH!

I have no recollection of what I had read or written for the very first time in my life. I have a sneaky suspicion that one of the first books that was read to me had a picture of a big bear with red tassels hanging from his front paws - he didn't walk on all fours.

But as far as what I first read on my own - the first string of sentence that made sense to me - that, I have forgotten. This, however, I don't worry too much about. After all, it was really long ago and I've put it down to be a bright but ephemeral star in my 'shifting landscape of childhood.'*

I wish I could find that scrap where I wrote my first coherent sentence. What was it? Was it 'An apple is red?' Did I write that I wasn't blase about the truth that an apple is indeedy red. Perhaps it was something else, like 'My name is Mukta.' Maybe the first sentence I formed was an assertion of my unformed identity - something I would use later on in life to introduce myself to friends, set myself apart from strangers, and correspond with bank people. I wish I could find that scrap. It feels like I've lost an old but precious photograph that recorded something that won't happen ever again in this lifetime. I feel sad because that piece of paper, that first sentence, somehow was the road map of where I would reach one day in the wordsmith territory. Sure, it would take a very deep kind of deciphering skill, but I'd know where the spidery road of writing would lead me....because, you see, I'm a writer.

Over the years, I've seen my writing change - from style and substance to subjects and composition. Sometimes, they are good but most often, they are marked with potential - 'if only it had been written better.' But the one constant that I carried with me through every single thing I wrote - a message on an anniversary card, a letter, an email, a book report, a note to
myself - was a deep joy in having articulated an idea. Everytime I wrote something, I just thought I was becoming a bit of a nicer person. There was no artifice, no labored desperation of being liked, no longing for reward. My thoughts, words, pen, and paper - that complete, idyllic world.

But something seems to have changed now. I no longer feel joy when I write. An idea first floats into my head and immediately grows tentacles into all the other ideas that I've stored away in my brain. These tentacles are thick and bristly. They connect the other random thoughts in a knobbly mesh and they are very uncomfortable. But because all my ideas are connected,
I see a picture in my brain that is very fascinating. It's like looking at a crystal that changes color wherever you touch it.

At first, I see that thought that had floated in - that's the sparkling white crystal. Then I see how that thought got affixed to another idea from a long time ago - that's when my little finger traces the edge of a crystal and it turns an icy blue. After that, the idea goes deeper and unearths a memory - my thumb touches the base and the crystal turns chartreuse. And so the saga continues. Finally, when I hold the crystal in my hand with all my fingers gingerly touching it, I look at a rich, exquisite, piece of jewel.

This is when I start getting excited. That feeling, that urge to write, to put in words the picture that I have seen, that craving to show that crystal- now floods those tentacles and they start throbbing. At first, it's a gentle throb, but later it gets worse. It feels like meningitis. It feels as if my head is too small to contain it. So these tentacles go even deeper and get hold of my neck muscles. There is a tight tension there. My muscles are hard and sore. All I want is for the pain to go, all I want is some relief - and that'll come only when I write.

And so I pick up my pen and write. The tentacles initially hold back that fluid of desire - I suppose they too are shocked at the sudden prospect of release. But then, it flows - easily and freely. The tentacles slowly loosen their grip around my muscles - I almost cringe at the pricks of pain. It feels as if someone has held on to me so tightly that their nails dug into my skin. Now the fingers unclasp, the nails withdraw and I am free but the welts and marks burn.

What I have with me on paper is perhaps not the unique masterpiece I had imagined. It is not the crystal that changes color when I touch it. It's a drab little sketch with craggy lines instead of smooth curves. It's a mundane, ordinary pebble with no strong form or distinct character. But the tentacles are not there anymore. There is no more pain.

Perhaps the first sentence that I'd written had foretold this about my writing destiny. Perhaps that simple sentence, if deciphered, could show that trajectory - that I would first write for joy, and later for release.

* This phrase is taken from 'Shadow Lines' by Amitav Ghosh.

Monday, June 13, 2005


Serendipity and books have shaped my taste in music. I have chanced upon these songs while living one more ordinary day. Perhaps, I read the lyrics on a website, perhaps I heard about this song at a cafe from an old lady sitting next to me, perhaps a pal recommended it strongly. These songs are my favorite because the first time I heard them, I smiled in wonder. (Umm, I'll list more than 5 since I'm not tagging anyone else.)

1. Tujhse Naaraz Nahin Zindagi, Hairaan Hoon Mai from 'Masoom' - Had read a little bit of the lyrics translated in English in Upmananyu Chatterjee's, 'English, August'. Agastya Sen goes to a small dhaaba reminiscing of things that were and he hears this song, raspy and scratched, on a cheap radio. 'I am not angry with you, Life, just amazed.'
Got curious and heard this number and found myself nodding, 'My sentiments exactly.'

2. Jaane Kya Hoga Raama Re from 'Kaante' - Was fidgeting with my popcorn while this song was going on. Chanced to look up and saw Dutt smoking a ciggie and looking to the left over his shoulder. If phoenix had a form, this would be it. He has sung a bit of the number and in my opinion, ROCKS it!!!

3. I've got Mexico by Eddie Rabbit - I have a friend who always cuts me down to size but has often provided me with music to go with the derision. He shared his music folder with me around the time I was nursing a broken heart. This song was in a sub-folder called 'Assorted' - the kind of category I stay away from. But my mouse was jammed, I jerked it, the sub-folder opened by mistake and this song started playing - I felt my heart heal. Absolutely beautiful number.

4. Dreams by Cranberries - Heard the first time on my pal's, Nysha's, radio set on my way home from college. Heard it for the second time on my first serious date with A, as the soundtrack of 'You've got mail.' (The date was an on-line set-up by the way - how's that for coincidence). Heard it for the third time four years later on the radio when I was lying on the floor thinking about Nysha and A. The song started playing, as if on cue!

5. That's Amore by Frank Sinatra - Love is just a simple, tender, mad-cap feeling. Listen to it and smile that goofy grin!

6. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani from 'Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani' - The lyrics hit home and in a nice, sweet, ice-candy sort of way. There's a line in this song, 'Thodi si majboori hai, aur thodi hai manmaani' (there's a little bit of compulsion, there's a little bit of whim.) The picturization is rather cute. It's got a shoe-shine boy polishing one of Shahrukh's shoes to the line (Thodi si majboori hai), then Shahrukh shows his other shoe and the little boy simply puts up a sign - 'Out to Lunch' (Thodi hai manmaani.)

7. La Bamba - my 'theme song'.

8. Karma Chameleon by Boy George- It's the only number I have bothered to learn by-heart and sound great singing it.

9. Bye Bye Love - Heard it as the sound track of the movie by the same name - refreshing, charming, movie but strangely, not too many people have seen it. Loved the movie and adored the song! In fact, when the song closes with 'Goodbye my love goodbye', you can spot a rainbow - metaphorically, of course.

10. Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra - He doesn't sing. He takes you to the beach on a starry night, gently tucks a stray hair behind your ear, leans close and whispers. 'Love was just a chance away, a warm embracing glance away.' Sigh!

11. Material Girl by Madonna - My sassy icon and my source of continued fascination for fishnet stockings.

12. The rain falling on the sea - it really does sound like fairies doing the waltz!

PS : Thanks J for tagging me. This was fun!