Sunday, July 31, 2005

You learn something new everyday

You think you know some place and then someone who's never been there before will show you something new and unexpected - like a beach in Alaska.

I met a friend at Mocha at midnight. He was late because he'd spent a toad's infinity in the gym. He'd done something called a benchpress, which strangely enough is a maneuver where you do not not press a bench; several sets of crunches, which again is a cruel term to call something you do to your abdomen; several miles on the treadmill, etc. etc. All this, I was told, after he'd sprinted on the beach. Tardiness was therefore excusable.

'And what did you do?', he asked me in his haloed healthy glow.

'I reached for the remote', I snapped.

It was his first time in Mocha. He looked through the menu and turned up his nose (a very foreboding gesture if done in an eatery or near boss.) Then he told me what most men tell me in restaurants, 'You order for me.'

But before I could, he qualified his request - 'I don't want anything with cheese, cream, or chocolate.' Hmm, interesting - these fitness-shitness types. Let's tour Alaska but let's not go to those areas with ice.

Anyway, by this time the waiter who had emerged like that butler in Adam's Family, took down my swift and yummy order. My friend hemmed and hawed and hemmed some more. Before his next haw, the waiter straightened his posture and asked, 'Anything particular you're looking for, sir?'

My friend repeated, 'No cheese, no cream, no chocolate.' And if that wasn't ridiculous enough, he followed it up with, 'Can I get a salad?'

I was gulping down some water. Embarrassing situations can be rather dehydrating. It was heart-wrenching, though, the way he innocently asked for raw veggies in a place that describes its items 'rich' and 'gooey'.

But what followed stunched me. (Stunch is not a word. I made it up.)

The waiter, as much as his impassive demeanor would allow, leapt to action. Clearly the salad question had touched a chord. In the crowd of decadent clientele asking for calorifically high dishes, here was a man who wanted salad. 'My hero', his glassy eyes seemed to say.

The waiter swept up the menu card, opened to a page on the card menu, pointed to an item, and said, 'I'll get you this salad, sir. It's shredded celery and carrots with a light vinaigrette dressing.'
My friend, now happy that he'll get a gourmet Loony Tune meal, sipped his decaffeinated brew.

I, as mentioned earlier, was stunched. Salad? In Mocha? In my Mocha? In this place I know and love? It's been on the menu all along and yet I'd never seen it before. Truly, love is blind. It sees what it wants to see. And what it doesn't, must be revealed by a stranger. (The stranger in question was now animatedly telling me about back exercises.)

Anyway, we got our orders shortly thereafter. I saw my friend bask in the Alaskan sun.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Islanders

The other day I met someone who had worked in Brazil for a couple of years. When I asked her what that was like, she said that the best part of living in Brazil was getting to speak Brazilian Portuguese. She told me that she'd never enjoyed speaking any other language as much. She loved the way it rolled off her tongue, the way the words gave a name to her most delicate feelings, the way it allowed her to articulate so many different things. " I always thought I spoke the truth much more when I spoke Portuguese."

Personally, I don't know any language well enough to be on the same page as my friend. My literary expression is still limited by a numbness; by a routine inarticulate verbosity. And this is exactly why I've always been fascinated by how people in different islands of life tell their stories. And this is how I've become so enamored by this fickle and difficult island, 'Fashion'.

But it wasn't always like this. I went to a school where homogeneity was a scholastic aspiration. We had uniforms and rigorous punishments for those who didn't dress like the others. The blouse was white, skirt was checked, shoes were black or brown canvas, and ties were the 'House' colour.

And yet there were girls who stood on this unaccounted for pedestal. Their white blouses were fresh and starched and creaseless even at the end of the day. Their skirts fell politely a little below the knee and had slim symmetrical pleats. Their ties were always bright and the school badge never lost its lustre. The coating of their hair clips never peeled off and the lace edges of their hankies never frayed. Their nails were not just clipped but filed into perfect petals. They had a pact with the dust and wind that these forces of nature would touch them only with the highest regard. Sure, these girls wore uniforms - but in a toney, country club sort of way. And in my school, teachers regarded this sheath of grace as 'fashion' and dismissed such girls as 'spoilt and stupid'.

I learnt from my teachers.

Later, in college, I experimented with 'my look' - but I still coloured within the lines. I however saw other students flirt outrageously with style. There were bold circles on tops and seriously tight jeans; plaid shirts and black nailpolishes and fishnet sleeves - and of course, it all came with a South Mumbai stamp. In contrast, students from the suburbs had to use public trains at 7:00A.M. to get to college, so a lot of their style was functional.

One day, in the college canteen, a group of these stylish people huddled over a magazine. A guy in flannel and Dilton Doiley glasses walked up to them and asked for the mag. They rolled their eyes and tossed it over. Flannel guy was flipping through it and asked them, 'What's Versace and Christian Dior?' He'd pronounced the names as 'Wurs-ace' and 'Christien Dire'. The group laughed a tad too loudly and pulled the mag from him. The flannel guy only heard 'middle-class' from the derisive chatter as the group pushed him aside. I'd seen all this from a distance and decided that fashion was superficial and cruel.

Then, to me, fashion was that island that was inhabited by people who couldn't see beyond their noses. They were shallow and parasitic - they could only feed their egos on other people's faults. Fashion was not for the real. It was not for those who sought meaning in their lives. It was an agglomeration of breasts, waists, arms, hips, legs - and nothing to hold them all together. Show me a person who likes 'fashion' and I'll show you one self-obsessed cadaver.

Then, as now, there were magazines that pegged everything to fashion - ambition, love, fulfillment, sexual appetite, wealth, intellect - everything. There'd be one paragraph about an environmentalist and her campaign; there'd be two others on the cut of her blouse or the shade of her sari.

Fashion - that island of clueless slaves.

And then I picked up Vogue.

It was some anniversary copy and was dedicated to the color Purple - that shade of aristocracy. With every page that I turned, each little bit of my fashion belief got dismantled. Here was this unabashed Fashion magazine that did not couch in that limp category of 'Lifestyle.' Here was this Fashion magazine that had drawn its map around a color. And what a map it was! Each picture was a cartographic milestone.

There was one picture of a shimmering Pacific in purple. There was another of a purple Tahiti sunset. Yet another photograph spoke the story of a bird with spectacular purple feathers. And another that captured the purple blur of New York traffic.

Purple was the robe of the musician who played outside a café in Venice. Purple was the sheet of poetry a Lebanese man read to his wife. Purple was the orchid that a girl in Singapore was gilding. Purple was the velvet for crockery in England.

The map had marked out other places as well. There was purple in the wine that lay spilt across ivory silk. There was purple in the crystal and silver perfume bottle of an Arabic lady. There was purple in the earth of Korea; there was purple on the eyelids of a sleeping Japanese transvestite.

And this mad canvas of exquisite compositions is what Vogue called Fashion. This island wasn't about flippant sophistry - it was about crafted genius.

Then there were the clothes and the language that described them. Since I was a foreigner on this island, I looked at the models with marble skin tones and fabulous bodies in exquisite clothes; but when I walked around taking in the sights, I slowly saw the human form dissipating. I found that the distilled essence of Vogue was the clothes - no matter how beautiful the model or how accomplished the designer. It was about the form and fit of the cloth - and really nothing else.

And each dress that was featured in the magazine was created twice - the first time by the designer and the second time by the writer who wrote about it. As I read the description of one wedding gown, my fingers traced the beads on the bodice of the dress. These were artists who wrote so evocatively about the folds of satin of an emerald cocktail number. Or a vein-blue gown in crepe. Or latte colored pants or a burnt gold and rust skirt.

The language was so visual and tactile. One writer had described a skirt as 'something you'd walk through a garden in and find that spring had stuck to it.' There was this other piece on some designer where they'd said, 'She made a colour out of black.'

My favorite bit was about classic wedding gowns. There was a model with ebony skin in a snow-white dress. She stood in a bare music room with only one open window. Outside the window, you could see a European winter - it was stark, grey, and still. She had a single long stemmed rose in her hand, and one petal of this rose was falling to the wooden parquet. As the petal fell, the photograph must have been clicked. So the petal was a stunning crimson smudge on the gown's white vista. This gown, for its classicity, was described as something you wore when you 'must simply say I do.'

It is with these words and this picture that I fell in love with the island. How do these islanders think like that? How do they write such drama?

People who live on this island look at the world and drape it in their fabric. They are not superficial cadavers. They thrive and throb with life. Just as Carl Jung stood before a Picasso painting and decided to study the artist's psyche through it, these islanders walked through the earth and got Purple.

Yes, they had their language - one that I am besotted with now. They look at an outfit and describe it in a way that makes you snap your fingers and say 'That's it.'

I was watching a fashion show where one of the designs on the ramp was a black tulle dress with lace details and a stiff, leather corset on top of it. That contrast of soft and hard was weird yet wonderful. An islander described it perfectly. She said, in a heavy accent, 'Thees drez eez'z like maan on tawp of wumaan.'

Yes, that's it. Man on top of woman.

Fashion, as I know now, is a wild and spectacular island..and a very sparsely populated one at that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Drop me a line

Since everything around me is currently behaving like a wet, temparemental cat, I am stewing in righteous indignation. I cannot edit my profile to my satisfaction. Anyway, what can be done using a mere 'field', I shall do by putting forth a 'post.'

Self-righteous indignation doth brings forth self-aggrandisement.

My email address (that did not get included in my profile) is:

And on the subject of contrariness, watch Viruddh. Watch Amitabh and oh so definitely watch Sharmila Tagore.

Sunjay Dutt you definitely won't miss but pay close attention in any case.

Welcome, Mahesh Manjrekar - I most definitely have missed you since Astitva.

And yes, if you like the movie, or are indifferent to it, use the email in this post. Actually, the comments section does just fine... and I'll stop with the temperamental feline mewing right now.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

C'est moi

Lesson learnt in convent school: You are one of many. That's why the uniform.

Lesson learnt in avant-garde college: You are unique....just like everyone else.

I have since then, tried to unlearn these lessons. I have since then tried to believe that I am indeed distinctive. But since then I've discovered a macabre truth - I'm worse than a non-distinct entity...I am a predictable one.

I love trying new restaurants and going for 'different' films and plays, and keep recommending them to all and sundry ('all' being friends who don't listen to me anymore; 'sundry' being friends who will soon be part of the first group). But I think I stopped doing the new wine and dine section since I visited this coffee place called 'Mocha'.

Mocha has a Moroccan theme with huge uncomfortable chairs and heavy tables and red drapes and dim-lights and cheesy foods and creamy, chocolatey desserts, and I don't like chocolates or cream or cheese and the only kind of coffee I like is hot. Not really a connoisseur there. But I love Mocha.

I have been there for breakfast when it didn't have a separate breakfast menu. I have had paninis at 10:00 a.m. in the morning. I have been there until late at night and have seen them dismantling the bar. I have been there so often that some people suspect I come with the furniture. I have been there so often that the 'all and sundry' call me 'Mochta'.

Anyway, I didn't realize the extent of the damage until this happened to me:

Last year, a friend from Berkeley was here conducting research. We met for the first time at this excellent joint called Lemon Grass. We had some dinner there and then for dessert, I took her to Mocha, Bandra.

A couple of months later, one of her professors was in town who she wanted me to meet. I was meeting them right after work, and they were close to the beach, so I recommended that we meet up at Mocha, Juhu.

Before she left Mumbai for Berkeley, she was with her cousin bro at Lower Parel. She wanted to introduce him to me. I told her to catch a train and meet me at Mocha, Churchgate.

At work, we get fed we go to the Mocha, Powai.

When at work we get fed up of Mocha,Powai, we venture to Mocha, Mulund.

And this affliction doesn't stay within city limits either.

I stayed in Delhi for one day only..and I was taken to the Mocha there (which by the way had a very sad, skinny Santa.)

Anyway, this Berkeley pal's classmate is in Mumbai and she gave me a call to see if we could meet up.

She: Hi Mukta. If you're free tonite, let's meet.

Me: Sure! What do you want to do?

She: Can we meet post dinner? Around 9:00?

Me: Sure...I'm in Bandra. Where are u staying?

She: Bandra.

Me: Great! Gimme your address. I'll come over and then we can do something?

She: Wonderful! Will we be going to Mocha?

Me: You know about Mocha?

She: Well, it is kinda popular in our circle at Berkeley. Shilpa told me that you may want to take me there.

Me: oh.

So there you have it. If you visit a Mocha and see a dusty looking Miss Haversham having a coffee, come up and say hullo.

Friday, July 22, 2005

And the Oscar goes to...

Nice things happen when you're caught in the rain without an I just found out. I am currently on a break from work, but I came into office today because I had some stuff to wrap up and..okay, there's no getting away from it, I was missing my swivelling chair a little bit.

Anyway, today being Friday - the day social life opens up like a Venus flytrap, I had gone to the bank to withdraw money. That's when the rains came down swift and hard and I got stranded under the canopy of a shoe-shop near the bank. There were several others stranded there. Many of them were from office who, like me, thought carrying raingear was not really important- office being so close and all. We'd just dash off, get work done, and dash back. As it turns out, slippery tiles and rain that falls like tap water is not so good for dashing.

As I contemplated my many options of either staying put and dry or dashing and getting wet and injured, someone tugged my hair from behind. I turned to look into moon-puddle eyes of a plump, little baby girl. She was dressed in Kermit-hide colored rompers and a white ribbed polo-neck (which was kinda yuppie stylish). Her cheeks puffed out like little clouds and her
pointed little chin glistened with baby dribble. She was being carried by a rather tired elderly gentleman, who I think was the grandfather. Oh! and the adorable part - she was wearing anklets with froggie charms....on top of green polka-dot boots.

Since my attention was sought by someone this cute, I decided to wipe that frown off my face and smile sweetly. I also offered my finger to be gently pulled. But it turns out, baby would not tug at anything that wasn't hair (or hairy - but I don't know that for sure.)

So she pulled my hair again and did a little jump in her grandfather's arm. He, without a second thought, handed her over to me, "She wants you to hold her." And before I could gush over how privileged I felt (my Oscar moment, I tell you), he had gone somewhere else to sit.

Now here she was in my arms - an animate soft, warm, cuddly pillow. But what came as a surprise was that for someone so little, she sure was capable of a lot of movement.
She squiggled like jelly that has just been jiggled as I tried to accomodate her. But I think my arms were uncomfortable so she tried to climb onto my shoulder. I didn't mind that except that the green boots were rather hard. But then, sometimes you just have to grin and bear it. And then, just as suddenly, the baby fell asleep. She first squirmed a little bit and rubbed
her little button nose on my shoulder, yawned a small, toothless yawn, and fell asleep.

I cradled her as the rain fell, as the rain abated, and until the rain stopped. Her grandfather came and collected her like a Christmas parcel and was on his way...just as I turned to go back to my office. 'Gzzsngt' or some other vowelless gurgle made me turn back.

She'd woken up and was rubbing her eyes with pink podgy hands. She looked at me and smiled and stretched out one of her hands. She wanted to tug my hair. Of course, I graciously complied. Can't possibly turn down an award, can I?

Monday, July 18, 2005

There's nothing 'just' about insomnia

So this is what it feels like. This numbness of insomnia. My eyes feel dried up and parched. They burn. I don't blink, thinking that maybe sleep will come into my empty, open eyes and get lodged in there like a little pebble. My head feels a little heavy but there's no nausea. I thought there would be. But my stomach feels settled and strong and I do get hungry.

But it's the thinking that has been the casualty. It's fraying like lime in water. I need to read a page several times before I understand what it means. These are pages I myself have written. These are pages I have skimmed over several times in a span of 15 minutes and understood. Words - these are words. I could understand words and sentences and language. They were
the bylanes I could travel at night with only my blinking mobile for light. Now, trying to understand something is like trying to hit a moving target. It is difficult.

I also feel slow. A drugged panther. Virile without vigor.

And then there is the restlessness that tenses up behind my neck, that courses through my veins, that gets all knotted up at the base of my throat, that makes me clench and unclench my jaws. There is that - that unholy, loud, silent shout.

I keep thinking aimlessly of so many things. It's a lot of fun and it's exhilarating, but it also keeps me awake. There's no thought that passes noiselessly. It bops around here and there like a marble that's flung aside. Like, I read this somewhere: in wedding photography, a bride's white dress is one of the most difficult things to photograph well. Now, I read Endymion
but I keep thinking of some photographer at a wedding fiddling around with a camera trying to get a perfect picture.

Memory dissipates. I forget what channel I want tuned when the cable-guy comes to collect money. I forget to tell the rickshaw fellow where to stop. I remember my fifth birthday when I first saw a cork bob about in a bathtub, when I should be looking left and right while crossing the road. I cause great inconvenience and am calmly unapologetic about it.

In my community we believe that when a person dies with an unfulfilled wish, the soul doesn't get redemption unless that wish is fulfilled. I feel like that now. I don't even know what that wish is. But something is broken and something is dead. And whatever it is, it didn't get a decent burial. My tense, sleepless self wanders about in search of that; in an empty, barren
graveyard with a satin rose that should be put on my consciousness' tombstone.

So there it is - that peace and wisdom and calm and quietude that I thought was my soul, my self, my nostalgia, my religion, my faith - it was simply my sleep.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hey now! Hey now! Put your hands up in the air now!

Was at a club last nite. There was a glass partition that separated the dance floor from the lounge area. Sat nursing a drink and a wistful longing for sleep in the sitters section (not baby sitters, by the way, though it may be a good idea considering how young the patrons are getting nowadays - just the area where people sit and shrug their shoulders rhythymically and tap their feet.) My pals had travelled to the other side of the Looking Glass to shake a leg (there were four legs in all actually, although given the space crunch, i guess only two got shaken.)

I saw a group of really young kids dancing to the song 'Baby Come Back.' Girls in sparkly strappy tops and guys in glossy Tuscan Verve shirts jumping up and down happily. Just that - jumping up and down, laughing uproariously, and singing aloud. You can't help but grin. Such fun! Such youth! That age when dance isn't about rhythm or grace or movement or style or 'knowing the steps'. It's solely and wholly about the energy - to jump up and down and sing along loudly ~ Come back....Baby, come back!~.

In the slightly twisted words of Lee Wormack -

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance I hope you dance..... like that.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Pent Up - Vent Out

I am now tired. I am also fed up. I am irritated and grouchy and snappy and scowling. People are behaving unreasonably. They are coming in loud, kitschy droves to restaurants that can only seat half of them. ‘Why don’t you join some tables?’, they ask in grating high-pitched voices. If the hotel intended to join every table in the room, it would have, gung-head! Go and book the terrace if you want to entertain the population of Homer Simpsons you share your sad office space with.

There are others too.

You go up to someone. You tap them on the back. They turn, they look, and then nod and say, ‘Tell me.’ Yeah! Thanks for the permission, sweetheart. I just wanted to flash my badge and scoot. But now that you’ve mouthed those magic words, I will indeedy ‘tell you.’

And yes, ‘anywayz’ IS NOT a word. It’s a sloppy, lazy emblem of the vacuously inarticulate.

Then there are those artsy-fartsy (more fartsy) women who dress up in Fab-India uniforms. So, same fish-block print kurtas; same onion-pink dupattas, same faded vermillion stained shirts, same, same. And they dare to turn up their odd-shaped blackheaded noses on poor (refreshingly unjudgmental) misfits dressed in synthetic. I mean, sure – you got your style and all. But it’s no-one’s fault you can’t fit into a Lee Cooper (made in Thailand)..and for all the Fab-India chic you swear by, those clothes do look frumpy and dowdy after a while. And a little lycra didn’t hurt anyone.

And let's hear it for those Rockerfellers who travel by train. A little kid is selling kerchiefs. He’ll sell you three kerchiefs for ten bucks. These millionaires go – Gimme 4 for eight. Way to go, big spender! I’ll see some of those bargains when you own your private railway line.

And sure, it’s real snazzy that some people have the latest-schmatest rap jingle as their ring tone..and isn’t it cocklewarming that they share the ‘musique’ with the rest of world before they answer the phone?

There is a reason ticket timings are printed on movie tickets. It’s absolutely foul to have these tardy imbeciles leave a Hansel and Gretel trail of coke and popcorn while they trample over toes to get to their seats. (If the lights are off and the movie’s on, sit on the steps.)

And for the thousandth time – a salwar kameez is not a ‘dress.’ When I say I bought a dress, I mean a (Lord help me!) frock.

Why is every friggin' thing in Mumbai a lounge bar? And who ‘lounges’ in mind-numbingly high decibel levels?

I’m a little sad now. This verbal outburst didn’t do any good. It had felt good to have all that vitriol swilling inside my black, hollow heart this week. Anyway (see, 'any' and 'way' - simple!), now it’s gone.

Simply - words that rhymed

That place that is dark
and filled with light
That snow that is wet
and red with fright

The bag that is slashed
The gut that has burst
The middle that was last
The second that was first

The burn that is angry
The wound that is dried
The music that is deaf
The corpse that has cried

The glass that is burnt
The spill that is spread
The cloth that is jagged
The joy that is dread

The place that is light
The level that is steep
The cave that is bloody
The eyes with no sleep.

My tenth day without slumber.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stop it wouldn't. Then stop it did.

Nowadays, given my cranky insomnia (there used to be a time I thought this infernal thing was stylish), I dread the one and half hour commute to office. I am usually seated next to people with bony elbows who like to do the crossword, dangling their limbs this way and that, or those who pray. I know the latter is a good thing and all….but I don’t trust people who shut their eyes, do some astral gliding into another plane, and have a one on one with Him. It scares me.

Today, I was in a bus that was driven (and I use the term loosely) by a guy who got his license before he learnt the function of brakes. He would slow down at every stop for people to get in and then slow down again for people to get out. If a person waited for the bus to stop before getting down, the driver would snap sharply at the jelly-spined dodos. The dodos would get scared and jump off in fright. (That, I believe is how the birds got extinct in the first place.) I think the brusqueness was a carefully devised strategy.

Anyway, when I am in buses that don’t stop (urban legends like the headless horsemen), I pray – with my eyes wide open. The other passengers standing in the aisle dangle like unwieldy Feng Shui equipment and I genuinely sympathize with them. However I do pray that if I have to be crushed under a mountain of bodies, may they be deodorized. I mean, I have to stink once I decay, right? No point in having a smelly exit as well.

So there went my bus – hovering over potholes, scraping against autos, hurtling between trucks, crossing traffic signs that seemed to turn green miraculously. There was a ‘close call’ every ten minutes What was even more annoying is that the dude next to me, in this whole Freaky Chakra get-up, kept mumbling something to himself, with his eyes closed. (He had a very, very, very goodlooking Rolex though.) My stomach was in knots and I rued the day I ever wanted financial independence.

Then suddenly, everything felt different. The bus had stopped. The dangling passengers waved a little bit just out of habit and then stayed still. I felt scared. There was something terribly wrong, I could feel it in my bones. I could see the driver look back sheepishly. ‘Conductor’, he yelled. A gentleman with a briefcase between his legs asked the driver, ‘Kya hua?’ (what happened?)

The driver sheepishly asked, ‘Idhar se left ki right?’ (Do I go left or right from here?)

After the cacophony of nervous, getting-back-at-you laughter died down, we all screamed in music concert fashion: Right.

Freaky Chakra looked at me and gave me a beatific smile.

The bus stopped at every stop from then on.

Postcards from an evening

It was Niharika's birthday.

Anumita, Chandrika, and I get into a busy train. Chandrika finds a seat and wedges herself in it. Anumita and I stand near the door. It's better to feel like a sardine in a crowded fish tank than a dead one in a can. A tells me these incredible stories of her early years in Mumbai. We find that I'd applied to the office where she was working many years ago. Big city but small world, I think to myself.

We reach V.T. and catch a cab to Marine Drive. On the way, A & I point and shriek at those quaint places in 'town' that you visit when you're either studying or underpaid. We gasp at a pretty Japanese rock garden in the middle of a road. They've even styled a gnarled tree-trunk to look like a magic lamp. Chandrika, through it all, wonders what the big deal is.

Anumita, Chandrika, and I are walking towards Niharika's building. Mumbai's skyline looks all grey, opaque, and misty. The lights have just started coming on. Our hair whips about in that humid, strong, breeze and we feel pretty.

Niharika shows us her beautiful, big house on Marine Drive.Her house is huge and old and quaint - where genteel people stay; where children play the piano after dinner to entertain guests; where, if you rummaged through drawers, you'd find a pair of black, silk gloves that someone wore to an opera. The bedrooms are roomy and have letter tables. You think of jewel encrusted snuff boxes and solid, gold monocles when you look around.

We settle in the balcony. Niharika has gone off to try the chandelier ear-rings we've gifted her. The sky is now inky-blue and the skyline seems to have hundreds of colorful firelies clustered around black, solid hives. Niharika peeps in- and her profile, with those mauve chandelier ear-rings, makes her look like an actress from the '50s.

We talk a bit while Anumita finishes her drink. We talk of birds. Nihariks tells us of one grey swallow with a blood-red chest. Anumita tells us about a one-legged pigeon.

We go to dinner where we exchange occult stories. Despite my resolution to be vegetarian this year, I have the chicken and fish. Sorry - Korean chicken, and sizzling fish.

On the way back, we board an empty train. Anumita does a cute Rumpulstiltskin jig (she looks cuter than the character though). A & I sit by the window. C sits next to me. We talk of this and that. As the journey wears on, A slumps comfily and I lean my head by the window. I tell Chandrika that the sound of a night train taking you back home is so soothing - that, and the sea - what I achingly miss when I am out of Mumbai. A smiles. C smiles too - though I think she still wonders what the big deal is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Ah! Comforting, slow tedium!

I wish I could be in a morning room somewhere arranging white roses in a lilac bowl. Or shopping for cigar clippers in an antique store, running my finger tips on Afghani carvings. Or washing perfectly round plums in tepid tap water.

But no complaints here. I quite like where I am now and what I'm doing. My mind drifts between thousand pinpricks of imagination and I write with poise. In fact, if I had formidable talent and a supportive husband, I could, at this moment, write like Virginia Woolfe. (I like to spell Woolfe with an 'e' - my signature for her.)

I was surfing for material on privacy and demolition for a storyboard that I have to script and I chanced upon this blog that talked of both. Of course, both were discussed in contexts very different from what I was looking for, but made an interesting read nevertheless. This blog, like most others, was peppered with several links and I went clicking on one after the other. Following my sweet little digital stream of consciousness.

At first I kept reading these posts lazily - not thinking too much. But then, some kind of a blurry pattern seemed to emerge - a hazy shape in psychedelic swirls of colours. I then went to the blogs I often visit. And I saw it there too. That slight shift in style. That subtle shift in style. That certain shift in style.

Here's what I did. I went to the very first post that the blogger wrote. You know, that first post that was written with the blogger putting in a toe gingerly to test the waters? That post that didn't have too many comments? That post that was like a whistle on a park bench at dusk - the kind of tune you whistle to yourself? That post. There's a way those posts are written.

Then I moved up. Posts that were written later. I checked out the posts that got, say two comments. These were polite comments. 'Good to see you're blogging.'; 'He he! Blogging, huh? Enjoy yourself.' I think they must have been comments by friends who were told to check out the blog. Posts were still tunes whistled to oneself.

And so, up I went to the posts that got 5 comments. Comments from strangers. Comments from people who had stumbled upon the blog through some crevice somewhere. They checked out a title, read a post and had something to say. Something to add.

'Interesting post', 'Nice one', 'You know, something similar happened to me...'
Somewhere in the park, someone whistles back the tune. Someone else knows that number you were humming. You are startled; but you are pleased. Didn't expect it, didja? How many people are there who could whistle the tune of Karma Chameleon in Joggers Park? But you're surprised and happy.

Hereafter, the style of writing changes. The next time you whistle, the whistle's a little louder. Are you listening? Do you recognize this number? Can you hum a few bars?

The posts thereafter have more comments - many more - sometimes going up to 40 or 50. Someone's singing the second verse of a song you thought most people hadn't heard of. There are those out there who know 'your song!'

It's really interesting - you can't put your finger on it. That shift is know, like a globule of mercury or something. It's wobbly, and slides here and there, but it's there.

Go to those hugely popular blogs. Go to those blogs that you and only five other people know about. Read that first post where the blogger sat on the park bench and whistled a tune. Go to that post where someone whistled back. Go to that post where all the park lights came on and the hills were filled with sound of music.

Tedium - the poisoned sweet woes of tedium. What else is there to do but ‘..put your lips together and blow’?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Touche! ...I mean Ouch!

All my company needs is a carrot-topped businessman with a baby pout- and we have ‘The Apprentice’ drama on our hands.

We have these two teams who don’t see eye to eye (unless it’s a cruel twist of fate)– the techies and the mangies.

The techies are people who wear porridge colored shirts and black trousers. (We don’t have women in that department in our company.) They do not make eye-contact with anyone who is not a techie. Techies deal with computer systems, coding, outages, and anything that can be acronymized – VPN, FTP, SPC, ETC. They regard women as that section of ‘non-techies’ who cause problems to VPN, FTP, SPC, ETC. Women do not have it in them to fight viruses, they have no innate appreciation for hackers, and women writers – ahem! Techies believe that God in all His wisdom must have created that life form whose computer always hangs when they download a Wordsworth poem. (By the way, they scratch their well-oiled heads – what man writes about daffodils?)

The mangies are the managers. They plan and estimate and collate and allocate ‘resources’. They wear porride-can colored shirts and a Puritan expression (someone somewhere is happy – gasp!) Several of these resources are inanimate; but some are animate (such as writers and techies.) But managers will seldom interact with these two groups unless absolutely necessary – a point that always arises too late. They are modern day corporate Neros. But they also interact with clients and sometimes negotiate terms in favor of the animate resources. (Sorry! We absolutely cannot have a million copies ready by tomorrow. Make it half a million and I’ll have my two-and-a half resources deliver it within the deadline.)

Now, techies think mangies to be ‘All fart, no shit.’ (I wonder why that’s such a bad thing though. I mean, if you think what the alternative is…)

Mangies think techies are people with comatose intellect.
( - I have to send this today.

- The server’s down.
- Do you not understand? It’s a critical project. We’ll lose an important client, man. Why do you think we had all those lay-offs last month? We couldn’t deliver, that’s why. I have to send this to the client today.
- The server’s down.)

So…Techies vs Mangies …Round One

G, a mangie, got strung along to Paris for a very important project. His job was to make the client see reason or else deliver a product according to client specifications, which strangely enough are as ambiguous as a badger’s diurnal thoughts. G orders a conference call to be attended by a writer, another mangie, and a techie.

Writer and fellow mangie: Hi G

Techie: Grunt.

G: It’s not looking good.

Fellow Mangie: Explain.

G: The client won’t understand. We have to deliver what they’re asking us.

Techie: Not possible.

G: And why not?

Techie: We don’t know what they want.

G: I see…and we’ll let something like that get in the way, is it?

Writer: Yeah – it’s not about what they want but what we can give them.

From unknown source: Shh!

G: Listen, I want you to work on some samples based on what specs they had given us earlier. Let’s show them something…so they know where to begin.

Techie: We need to know where to begin..and they’re supposed to tell us. It’s not supposed to be the other way around.

G: Okay, so that’s that.


Writer: Hey! I can’t write anything unless I have that software. What do I do?

Fellow Mangie: Dash off a mail to G.

Writer in an e-mail to G (which has been marked to techie and mangie):
I need the software and stuff. Specs aren’t enough. What do I do?

G replies to mail; Cc to techie, fellow mangie, head honcho of marketing, departmental voice of finance, whipcracker of Client Accounts: Ask the tech department. The system gays will take care of that.

Spellcheck or not - that must have hurt.

Friday, July 08, 2005

When the mind is without sleep, the truths awake

It’s not true that the opposite of what makes you sad will make you happy.

Planet M Powai has a better book collection than Crossword Powai.

Anybody who has introduced you to a writer you love, has introduced you to your soul mate.

To err is human – thank God for that.

A beautiful poem feels like home.

Such has been love, ever since time began; ambrosia to the Gods, hemlock to man.

If a person keeps insisting on something more than 4 times, the opposite is true.

The most important truth you will hear from one who loves you is – I miss you.

The most important truth you will hear from an adversary is – You are right.

It is possible for expensive things to be priceless.

There is no way you can get a life – so one must stop telling others to do that.

The color of tea escaping from tea leaves into milk is beautiful.

Beauty is a cliché.

A cliché is a powerful truth that is only accepted and not understood.

If it isn’t a truth, it’s a lie and it’s not cliché.

A backward glance, a second chance and a last dance can make all the difference.

The best place to live in is your mind, the worst place to live in is your mind, the only place you’ll live in is your mind.

It is still good to smile and say hello.

There is thought-provoking and there is the result of provocative thinking. Everyone is capable of both.

A life lived vicariously can also be a life lived to the fullest.

It’s lovely to know a person’s guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures are sweet and dangerous.

Blackberries and blueberries are as pretty as flowers.

Note the time you ask a question. Note the time you get the answer. What happens between that time is what makes you ‘YOU’.

I need help when I have a fake smile, not genuine tears - that I can get over the minute I see a wet jasmine on the road.

A broken mirror hypnotizes.

Truth is a color. Everyone has a favorite.

Get sleep – seriously! Get sleep.

My insomnia, my truths.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Doggie tales - just as twisted

I have a friend. (It’s my blog’s equivalent of ‘once upon a time.’) He’s a nice but strange fella. In response to my request to introduce me to his ‘interesting’ male friends, he introduces me to the girl he is dating. We meet at a coffee house late at nite. He introduces us and falls asleep. Would have been awkward but I really liked Date girl. She is pretty with delicate hands, sips tea, and can tell stories. Here’s a cute one she told me about one of her pals (who, please note, does not fall asleep after perfunctory introductions.)

Pal has a pet dog he is very fond of. (It’s in keeping with the human tradition of being fond of the pets you have and not going off to Snoozyland after introducing strangers.) So, he plays with his pet – grabs him by the ear, pulls its cheeks (I’m sorry – I haven’t had a pet so I don’t know how else to describe it), scratches its chin, gives it a backrub, etc. etc.

Then one day, he goes to visit a friend who’s just had a baby. The friend gingerly puts the baby in Pal’s hands and Pal….well, he pulls its cheeks, scratches its chin, turns it over to give it a backrub, etc. Deep-rooted conditioning with pet has caused Pal to overlook a rather self-evident truth – dogs and babies are not the same and therefore must be treated differently.

Pal will next meet friend and baby only when baby turns thirteen.


Another doggy tale.

Last month, I opened the gate to my folks’ house and I saw a dog. We have never had dogs and we will never have dogs. That is an immutable truth. So when I saw this dog, I was confused. Was this my house? Was this our dog? Was this someone else’s dog at my house? Was it our dog in someone else’s house? What?

Now, I know that dogs bark at strangers. Considering the dog had never met me, (we had not been introduced by people who make acquaintances and go to sleep thereafter) I was a stranger to it. It looked at me and looked away with a ‘Whateva!’ expression.

I don’t think dogs fully appreciate what a two-hour bus journey can do to a person in summer. When the dog looked away, I felt bad.

Clearly, I wasn’t a good enough perpetrator to merit its attention. (In all fairness, I was twirling a cheery buttercup at the time....but one sharp bark wouldn’t have hurt.)

As I stood there, basking in canine condescension, my cook came running down.

‘That’s Tommy’.


‘Tommy comes everyday.’- shouted my Mom from the window.

I felt chastised. (because I don’t go everyday. I go twice a month.)

Tommy gets up after teaching me a lesson. Goes out and a litter of puppies come running to suckle it. Turns out Tommy is a she.

I tell my cook, ‘Tommy is a female.’


‘So why do you call it Tommy. The dog’s a b..well, it’s a female.’

‘I know. That’s why I changed her name. When I didn’t know, I used to call her Tom..but now we call her Tommy.’

Tommy looks at me and goes Tsk Tsk!

Note to self: Nobody but me chooses my children’s names.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What was that word again?

I have two friends who are 'seeing' each other. They are seeing what it means to be together, to sit and talk for hours, to walk together and be silent, to introduce each other to friends, to go on picnics by themselves, or to crash at each other's homes. They are checking out how much they can tolerate each other - with affection or indifference; or whether they can tolerate each other at all.

I'll call my girl pal X and guy pal, Y. (after the chromosomes - cliched but clever..and also alliterative.)

Y calls up to fix a dinner date. X ignores the calls because she doesn't feel like talking to him. He calls thrice, messages 5 times, mails twice, and then gives up. Goes for movie with roomie and has beer.

X asks Y if he is free the week-end. Y says he is busy with his stunning female friend who has just come into town for a seminar. It's been a while since they met after college so they'd like to be by themselves. Y is sure X 'will understand.' Y spends the weekend watching cricket with his roomies. There is no stunning friend. There never was any stunning friend.

X and Y go shopping. Y happens to mention that the last girl he dated wore a size 26, not a size 30. X is hurt and storms out of there. Y continues to shop and goes for a movie at the mall. X waits at the car park expecting her guy to come out and say sorry.

X looks over Y's sweat pants and says that her ex-boyfriend only wore designer labels - the kind that wasn't sold in Bangkok. (manufactured there, sure - but sold, no.)

One evening they are sweet to each other. He says he's been having second thoughts about her..and they're better than the first ones. She coos that he has eyes like a poet.

Then something happens. He wants to check out whether she is serious about him, so he asks her to 'find a girl' for himself - - to see if she gets jealous.

She says that she'll ask Nikhil to find one for him. Who's Nikhil? Her office colleague who she went out with - the nite X was with his 'stunning college friend.'

I talk to each of them separately. We all work in BPOs and there's no way we can all meet together. Individually I ask them, 'Why do you treat him/her that way?' Individually, they stay silent.

'You like him/her, don't you?', I ask. 'He/She deserves better than this.'

Individually, they explain, 'Yeah...but it's not like ...we are committed or anything.'

'Really? But he's said he loves you...and you said you loved him.'

'Yeah..but it's not like he/she's agreed to a lifetime commitment or anything. Nobody talked about marriage.'

At this point, I get exasperated and go back to office.

Here's the strange thing...once you say that you love someone, you ARE committed. You are committed to not disregard the other person's feelings. You don't play mind games, you don't act selfish, you don't ignore calls, you don't calculate to hurt, you don't string the other person along, and you most certainly don't make the other person feel like an after-thought. You simply treat people with a basic decency.

When you say 'I love you', you don't marry; but you do commit.

Great people make these sort of ‘commitments’ for the sake of a conscience or a character. Some others do it for courtesy. Still others do it for love.

So many reasons and see, nobody did talk about marriage.

Still...and then begin

I have a ceramic mug. It’s moss green with dark brown lines smudged on it so that it looks like the bark of a tree. I don’t usually use it but today I decided to. Mood. I got some hot water and went to the break room for a tea bag. And I don’t think I’ll ever live to say this again – the break room was empty.

There were no people and there was no noise. The bean bags lay squished in one corner. It was too delicious a moment to pass up. I have this gift of instant disregard that I used now to ignore my busy day ahead. I sat on one of the bean bags, clasping my warm cup of tea like a precious pearl and looked out the window.

The sights were nothing spectacular, just as unheard symphonies are. There was a huge froth of cloud that had a hole in the center – as if a straw had been dipped into it and then removed. An eagle flew in perfect poise within this spot, an unknown picture in a celestial frame. The steam from my cup whimsically made spidery webs before it trailed away somewhere. It was so calm, it was so still.

The mind did not think, the heart did not feel, the body did not move, the conscience did not twinge….nothing happened. There was just so much peace, in the unexpected ordinariness of an empty break room. I remembered this line from a movie, ‘Rog’ – it felt as if you’ve put your head on the chest of the Universe and heard its heartbeat.

Thus, I began my day.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Emperor’s Clothes, Bad films, and Redeeming dialogs

There’s an apologue about sucking up. It’s called ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ The story is about this emperor who is duped into wearing ‘invisible’ clothes and going out before his subjects. The subjects, of course, don’t want to offend the emperor, so they ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about the clothes the emperor is wearing; until a child yells out ‘The Emperor’s naked! He isn’t wearing anything!’

I often think about that story when I think about the politic rhetoric or when I read a best seller or when I watch an award-winning film. But sometimes I think about this when I watch people’s reactions in movie halls.

I’d gone to see Mr. And Mrs. Smith.
Why? Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

I sat through the movie?
Why? I’m a movie buff and Angelina Jolie.

I hated the film.
Why? Slow (fossils were regenerating at the pace of this flick), and Brad Pitt.

So there you have it – a film that has nothing to say, takes a long time to say it, and has an inarticulate but cute Archie Andrews as one of the spokesperson.

But the movie has witticisms, I suppose. I didn’t get several of them..but I could hear the forced giggles in the dark. And how do I know they were forced? Because they were so obviously hesitant. There’d be this loud chuckle followed by weak, wishy-washy twitters. After all, anything that Mr. Smith says with a clever arch of the brow, and any repartee that Mrs. Smith gives with a tilt of the head must be funny.

And so the charade went on. People who would have ordinarily got up and gone out for a smoke or a leak in movies like Bunty Aur Babli or Parineeta or Boogeyman stayed on to watch Mr and Mrs Smith making nothing out of nothing at all.

But just when it was getting intolerable, there was a slight twist of lime.

Pitt and Jolie find out that the other one is a spy. Both are hurt at being deceived. They are in separate cars driving home. Pitt is on the phone with Jolie. He asks her ‘What did you think of me when you first saw me?’ Jolie wants to hang up because…well, you know – husband being spy and all, but like all women, she doesn’t really want to disconnect the phone. ‘You go first’, she says defiantly. Pitt, ever the maverick jock, says with an almost funny tenderness, ‘When I first saw you, you looked like Christmas morning.’

Forty people smiled in the flickering light of the cinema – genuinely.

Say cheese with a straight face

I’ve been to several smoky clubs and sun-kissed spas and garishly lit cafes and somber soirees and loud parties. I’ve been around and I’ve seen plenty. And here is my observation: Sexy people do not smile.

Sure, they give a lopsided grin or a lazy smirk. Their hooded eyes may show a glimmer of amusement… but they do not smile.

It’s not that they are distant or cold, but you wouldn’t think of approaching them unless you are ‘prepared.’ You know, it’s like stepping out on the cobbled streets of Vienna. You need your coat and your scarf. They are not like the ‘smiling people’ – they’re not like Goa – where shorts and Ts are all you need to go claim the sun.

So, this is what I decided to do when I was tired of being ‘sweet’ or ‘cute’. This was my game plan for being sexy: I decided not to smile.

But turns out, it’s not as easy as you think. Smiling can be an affliction. (Yes, it’s also a ‘sweet’ thing to do – don’t I know it?) Smiling can be a hopeless reflex. It can be an involuntary muscle twitch. It can be a lapse. It can be a gliding slope of the lips. It can, unfortunately, also be a difficult thing to stop.

The other day I went to a party. And from what make-up artists on Zoom tell me, dark, and smoldering is what your eyes must look for them to be of any consequence. And rightfully so. With lids dusted with charcoal eye-shadow, etc., you wouldn’t want to crinkle up your eyes. So you won’t smile..and that means you look sexy.

So I go with dark, smoldering eyes…but after three people come up to me and solicitously ask, ‘Who died?’, I decide perhaps my eyes just look a tad too ‘dark’..with smoldering keeping a safe distance.

Anyway, eye make-up in place (that means on the eyes and not the index finger or the left cheek), I sit..but I do not smile. The ploy seems to be working…until I spot an infernal long-lost friend. She spots me and beams like a beacon. I wave back vigorously – several tissues flutter to the floor…and just as people turn to look at me, I catch myself…I wave, I stand up so that my friend notices me, but I do all that with a straight face.

She comes and we talk about how incredible it is that we should be running into each other at such places. I agree, soberly.

Then she tells me that she’s bought two dogs. I remember that she used to name her pets after her favorite authors. She had a cat named Emily, a goldfish called Makepiece, etc.

So what do you call these dogs, I asked. Herman and Melville?
No, she tittered. They are named after one of his novels, though…Moby and Dick.

Ah! (I’m sure my eyes give me away but my lips are pressed.)

A few more minutes of banter and she ‘ta-da’s me away. I go back and sit without smiling. A couple of people actually walk up and introduce themselves. This is a rather refreshing change from being asked directions to the loo or if I’ve seen a ‘yellowish-blue 6610 or 8760 or 5340.’
Things are going as expected until a waiter comes up to me and shows me food. I could still maintain my composure but it wasn’t just food – it was mushroom, cheese, potato, white sauce, garlic butter, bread crumbs – all happily wrestling together to make for a tasty snack. And happily wrestling ingredients just make me smile.

Poof! Bubble is burst. People who introduced themselves to me still hang around nicely, but I am sure they’re now waiting to be by the side of that beautiful lady up there – they can spot the Viennese cobblestone path. I try to salvage my lost sexiness by delicately dapping my lips (doesn’t help, by the way, when you’ve been eating white sauce and melted cheese) but I know I’ve lost. They’re looking for a way to say, ‘So long, Miss Cooper’ (that too, Betty; not Lee.) They manage a decent ‘see you around’ and go to Vienna.

Vienna, however, did not set out to be sexy, and therefore she is. She is not Goa trying to blank out the sun and muffle the sea to let the misty fog fill the air. She is the real thing - her skylines will have Romanesque domes grazing the clouds. The introducers present themselves, coat and all. She looks at them, and apprises them carefully. I’m sure she makes them feel like a million bucks – in a currency that has just lost its value. But she offers her hand and says something. I think it’s her name.

Yes, it’s true – sexy people do not smile.