Friday, September 30, 2005

I could paint them in an April sunset

I left home early to come to office. It had started raining and the morning sounds of my neighborhood shimmered with the rhythm of the rain. I walked up the small lane behind my house that joins the main road. There’s a pond on one side where buffalos bathe later in the day when the sun’s out. There are a few huts that house loud, cheerful children. One of them usually runs up and down my lane swinging a key chain in the air. Maybe his parents have told him that it’s a kite and it’ll fly someday if he keeps running with it. Just as I believed that the more up-market restaurants bred their own chicken- poultry that had four legs. That would explain why a plate of tandoori chicken in Sea Rock had four pieces, and one in Great Punjab had two.

I think of this lane as an excitable child. The leaves that flit about the road, the red mud that cakes the stones, the wet pebbles that tessellate the ground – they’re filled with such young urgency. They all have so much to say. Their language is yet garbled, and they make funny faces when they talk, but they’re adorable. When you walk on it, you want to ferret fantasies and stories and young dreams and foibles. Suddenly, they light up, tug your shirt sleeve, and make you listen.

At the end of the lane, where the main road begins, there’s a shrubbery. It’s an evangelical piece of work with the most angelic flowers. There’s one bunch of flowers that’s a clear cyan with white tendrils floating on it. It looks so beautiful, as if someone had held this flower over a Caribbean sea and let it absorb the colors and the sea spray. Next to this friendly bunch, nestled in regal poise, are some kind of startling purple peonies. Their petals feel like velvet. They’re rich and luxurious – the lining of a jewelry box. I want to place a tiny white pearl in the hollow of each petal and have it as a centre piece at my wedding reception.

I come closer to stroke them, and get a strange, eye-lid closing scent. I spend a few precious moments taking it in, the fragrance of this lush, floral opium.

A couple of girls stop by as well. Both are pretty and look like spring. I can imagine someone painting their profiles in a summer dusk. They approach the flowers a little hesitantly and feel them. Then, the taller girl smells one and asks her friend to sniff it. They giggle. The taller one is just about to pluck the flower, when her friend stops her and says, ‘Let it be.’

We move along. They walk ahead of me, chatting about the scent of what they’ve just touched. Then, they turn and get into the school for the blind.

It’s a lovely day, when we stop to smell the flowers.




Monday, September 26, 2005

Pizza, pasta, love

This was a year ago. Strange things were happening cosmically. Several stubborn planets glided in neon concentric circles and perfectly aligned with each other. So, Mars was a 180 degrees from Venus and Jupiter was out of the way and Saturn was benignly distant and there were a lot of other even-keel placements that one really doesn’t give a lime about. What this meant was that people were suddenly finding their old music albums behind sofas, or shiny pennies on clean sidewalks, or birds controlled their poop good naturedly.

In such a time of happy happenstance, two inconsequential people were chewing the fat around a dining table – my brother and I.

My brother was eating. Ordinarily, this description would suffice if it were meant for an ordinary person, but not my brother. To say that my brother was eating is akin to describing the sea as wet.

My brother approaches food with a somber, tactical reverence. Nicholas Cage around a projector – pointless, painful, pontificating. He deifies chops and fries, and grilled tomatoes and sautéed sausages. He must savor every dash of seasoning and absorb every culinary nuance.

And when my brother eats, he eats. Everything else around the food-assimilation exercise is a mere footnote in time. So, whenever my brother partakes of food, nothing comes in between his food and his mouth – no talking, no chit-chat, no getting acquainted with elder sister (a trend that continues way past dessert). But on this astrally blithe day, he and I spoke on matters of the heart.

‘You ever wonder why anyone would love you?’, I ask.

‘You aren’t so great either, you know’, he grunts.

‘No, idiot. I’m not saying that nobody will love you; I’m just asking…have you ever thought why anyone would love you? What do you have that someone would love?’, I plod on.

‘No’, he says, cutting the 24th scramble of the eggs he was having.

‘What do you mean ‘No’?’

‘If you don’t understand what No means, why do you want to figure out why people love you?’ Something cutting-edge nasty about sarcasm on a full stomach.

I carry on like a bad dream.

‘See…it’s like this. Maybe we find people who’ll love us. But what if they don’t love us for the reasons we expect to be loved. Like, so many people love me because they think I’m nice and…’

‘Nobody thinks that.’ Sausages are now being sliced and mustard sauce is being dabbed.

‘There are plenty who think that!’, I snap.

‘They make a dessert with carrots in Poland. It’s nice.’, my brother is now wiping off the last bit of maple syrup with a thick bit of pancake.

‘Yeah..well..As I was saying. Many boys have liked me…’

‘There was only one boy..’

‘No, there were several. They like me because they think I’m sweet and nice and don’t talk rudely.’

‘Are they Polish?’

‘Are you incapable of having a thought that doesn’t arise from that bottomless pit?’

‘Whatever…where did Ma keep the lemon soufflé?’

I go and get the lemon soufflé and bang it in front of him. My brother takes a shiny tea-spoon, clears the first set of plates, and gently carves a slice of the dessert. He doesn’t notice that I’m peeved. Subtlety is obviously lost on someone.

‘Okay. Now, listen carefully. Let’s say I meet a guy. He’s absolutely wonderful. But he doesn’t love me because I can sit by the sea for hours, or walk away from anything, or walk into anyplace. He doesn’t love me for the chaos that I bring, the madness that I spread…he loves me because he thinks that I anchor him. He likes me for my stability. But I know that this stability is only brief; it’s only momentary. He likes me for my moments, not for my continuum. Do you know what I’m asking? Do you ever wonder if someone loved you for all the wrong reasons?’

My brother stops eating for a while. The last time he did that was when he’d heard that his friend had eloped or had lost his coupons to a 5 star buffet or something to that effect.

‘So what?’

‘So what what?’

‘So what if he loves you for the wrong reasons? If he loves you, that’s enough.’

‘Is it? That’s what I’m wondering? How can he love me for something that is not even my essential virtue?’

‘You go to Pizza Hut for the pasta, don’t you? Same thing.’

Lately, as I’ve been having thoughts of love, I remember bro’s gastronomical simplification of the subject.

To speak a tad metaphorically, if love is a pizza place, then I'm there and my pasta has just arrived. Bon appetit to me.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Letting the rain come in...

Last Friday, I was in a bus going back to Mumbai. I fell asleep around the time the bus left Pune and woke up when it halted at Lonavala. It was dark and through the stained glass of my window, I could see glistening windcheaters huddle around food stalls and canteens for cups of coffee. In that nocturnal morass, small swirls of steam climbed up from plastic cups to nothingness and gave up on the way.

One man held a cup and looked about for a dry place to stand. But, understandably, this was rather difficult, because what was not wet was damp. And damp is worse than wet if you’re thinking of eating or drinking anything. He stood in the centre and looked about in the drizzle. To the right of him was a wide, dripping beam, and to his left was a place with wet chairs and tables. He walked to the beam and stood under it. Then he looked up to the sky and was reassured that he’d made the right choice.

There was a broken streetlamp next to where he was standing. I loved the way rain looked in that kind of light. Mountain mist had spliced its delicious secrets and it fell away in silvery splinters.

I wondered if every drop of rain stood for every person I’ve known in my life. If I chose to stand under the beam, I’d meet a different set of raindrops. If I went to sit on the chair, then a different set of people would get splattered on my limbs.

And thinking this, I opened my window a little bit. Some of these misty sprays fuzzed in and wet my eyelids and brow. Some others dampened my hair and earlobes. This drop of rain on my thumb was the friend who made me attend my very first mass in college. Her name meant blessings of the moon in Persian.

This other drop that got swept away by the wind when it was headed towards me could be the English teacher I missed learning from.

This drop on my lashes stood for my friend who had unknowingly wrenched my heart.

This drop on my temple was the lover who’d betrayed my trust.

On the other side, a different lamplight illumined a different set of misty showers. What if I were standing there? I could have met friends who never hurt me or lovers who didn’t stray, or people who wrote music or seasons that went my way.

But my set of rain drops played around eagerly in the wind, and some of them got in, while others hit the pane and died. This was pretty too- my share of rain. I forgave the erring friend and cheating lover as they rolled down my cheek, and opened the window a little more.

A rather cheeky drop of rain whizzed in the wind and landed on my lips.

It was time to leave.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Goodnight, my someones....

Do friends help you get through the night? In the absence of cable TV, alcohol, or Gerald Durell, I think yes. They do.

Last night was the first night I had to spend alone. ALL alone. No music, no T.V., no funny books.

Now, the thing with Monday nights is that they come after Monday days. And Monday days are the stuff lumpy gravies or banana-flavored lip balms are made of. Tripe - blahed tripe.

So in tradition of all things dreary, my Monday morning was progressing ever so slowly. A fat, thick-waisted mollusc could have whizzed past me, done a figure eight, and come back after having dinner. My day was positively dripping boredom, one eternally dangling drop at a time.

And then, the office guy delivered a parcel at my table. He thumped it on my workstation and waited. 'Why is a new girl getting parcels in office?', he wondered. He could also be standing around to see just how fast I could rip paper. That is one of my few noteworthy virtues, by the way. My fingers can sear through layers, (untidily, of course – no point in being neat and destructive. What’s the point then?), leaving behind paper and pulp debris. It can get ugly. Me opening a parcel is not a sight for the faint-hearted.

From that torn paper womb, emerged a pretty gift-wrapped book. The wrapper was a dark green splattered with gold specks. Imagine a starry night sky rolling over a vivid, green forest and getting stuck on it. This precious wrapper was finished off with a cute, golden bow. It’s the sort of present you expect after someone in a fluffy, gauze dress has waved a wand over you.
After the imaginary star dust had settled, I gently plucked at the cello tape. The delivery guy sighed wearily and went away. Not a taker of dainty business, I suppose.

My friend, R, had sent me a Snoopy comic with Woodstock coming in and giving his two-bits every now and then.

It is so adorable. There’s this one strip that has Woodstock pushing a grocery cart laden with something. He comes and stops near Snoopy’s kennel, unloads his stuff, and goes away. Snoopy sees all this lying on top of his kennel. With his ears flopping at the side, he observes poker-faced, ‘Another one of those who leave the grocery carts behind.’

That little grocery cart is so cute. I doodled it behind the cheque I had to give my broker. He hasn’t noticed it yet, so as of now, things are good. And if things get ugly, then I’ll just get my own cart and take my stuff to somebody’s kennel (who’s sleeping on top of it, preferably.)

Then, it was time for lunch.

Za, my ex-roomie, and I had reached our table after toppling a few chairs on the way. We always do that. Her excuse is that she does it to avoid the chairs I topple. As for me, I just don’t notice anything that’s off-white and plastic. It’s an intrinsic fault, also hereditary, therefore irreversible.

Za breaks her papads in three equal pieces – one to nibble with her dal and rice, another to munch with her roti and vegetables, and the third to have as a savory dessert after the rest of the food is finished. Each of these papad pieces remind me of farmlands. I think of Vande Materam.

‘What does Materam mean?’, I ask.

‘It’s that hill station near Mumbai – people go there to trek and stuff.’

‘That’s Matheran.’

I softly hum ‘Vande Matheran’.

The docile-looking girl sitting next to us stuffs her floral hanky into her mouth and snickers away.

My friend rolls her eyes.

‘People are so weird here’, she says and spreads a little pickle on each of the papad fragments. Peasant uprising – the blood of the farmers. Marxism on a plate. Vande Matheran.

So, at night, when I felt the wistful fear of silence, I read the book R gifted. Smiled.

I thought of me as Snoopy, and Za as Woodstock. Laughed.

Lights out. Slept.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Rien

Slope of an empty spoon that moonlight grazes and goes away

Bereft lily pad in a pond, clinging to a scent that wouldn't stay

Fading blackness of the night

A last unturned page

Old brown blood

Green raw bud

A cracked glass that won't hold a drink

Spilt perfumed wine

Not all, not much, not all that much
-But that is what it means to miss.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Dum-dee-dum...

A thing of beauty is a joy forever,
Its loveliness increases but it will never…
Compare to the dusty mires, the clunky fuss,
Of a dilapidated Pune bus.

- Begun by Keats, finished by yours unruly

The other evening, my friend and I waited for a bus... the bus, any bus.. at a stop that reminded me of Vaudeville. That place deserves to extolled as the seat of all existential plays. I doubt if Beckett ever visited Pune; but if he had, ‘Waiting for Godot’ would have a Deccan slant, as most things in Pune do. They all slant – the way faucets in thrillers drip. You don’t know why, and you can’t guess how, but that’s the way things are. If it’s in Pune, it must slant. Pune – the italicized city.

My friend was remembering the good old days in Mumbai. She was telling me about the time the force of the crowd during rush hour had practically lifted her out of the train compartment. (She’s small.) ‘It was a Virar local’, she sniffed misty-eyed.

There are no normal people in this world.

And then, shaking and jolting came our mode of transport. The driver stopped rather hesitantly. He would have preferred hurtling down through each pothole instead of stopping at the bus depot. (Stop at a depot to let passengers in – how unthinkable is that?!) Anyway, we got in and sat down. My pal expansively offered me the window seat. There really was no need for such generosity because the bus was empty; but what the heck..I accepted the offer. Let it not be said that Mukta can’t be gracious when it’s convenient to be so.

After a few minutes, people started springing in. Most dashed in to fill the seats; some others rushed to the end to dangle through the ride. When there was enough crowd to fill a little suburb, the bus started. And a few seconds after it started, it moved.

Now comes the jhingo-jingle part - there was music. Loud music in the bus. Music that didn’t sound like the rumblings of an iron stomach. And, what’s more – it was Falguni Pathak. And then it was Salaam Namaste, Hum Tum, and some other assorted pieces of melody that Saif had danced to. It was great! I looked around with a huge grin to see who else was tickled. Clearly, no-one else was. One man yawned loudly. Okay, fine. So he’d heard music in public transport before. Show off.

My pal was rather impressed with the quality of sound, and somehow linked that back to another Virar local incident. I, however, was listening to ‘Ole Ole’ with a joy that suffused my cramped limbs. (Cramped limbs also being the effect of a Virar local cause, by the way.)

Then the conductor probably decided that public transport can’t all be about fun and Saif. So he snapped at the driver to change the station or something. That’s when public announcements and advertisements flowed in fast and furious. Interestingly, they loosely aligned to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So first, there was information about sex and contraceptives, then there was an advertisement for personality development, and finally, some spot about a yoga camp.
Between home and office, I could plan out my entire life. It was a task I was contemplating with reasonable eagerness till it was time to get down.

Now, getting down from a bus in Pune is a little more difficult than getting in. How is that possible? I hope to get an insight once I join a yoga camp.

So, you have a pack of people in the front who will squirm their way to get down from the back, and you have people from the back who will tread steadfastly to the front, and you will have people dangling from the front and rear exits who will not move.

We push ahead like lumpy projectiles and get out. There’s exasperation writ large on our faces.
But with the optimism that can only spurt forth from a Virar local traveler, my pal says, ‘At least there was music.’

At least..

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

When did we get this way?

I've been getting these forwards lately that compare the Katrina hurricane tragedy in the U.S. to the Mumbai monsoon crisis.

The comparison, in all these forwarded emails, begins with that declaration of odious originaility: 'Couldn't stop making this comparison..' (Really! Wonder what you'd have done if no-one had sent you the email.)

This mail notes, in excruciating pedantia, how Mumbai trumped New Orleans in various aspects.

An excerpt:

inches of rain in New Orleans due to hurricane Katrina... 18
inches of rain in mumbai (July 26th).... 37.1


number of people to be evacuated in new orleans... entire city..wohh
number of people evacuated in mumbai...10,000


Cases of shooting and violence in new orleans...Countless
Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE


So on and so forth...and it ends with a sorry tongue in cheek remark:

USA...world's most developed nation
India...third world country..


oopss...did i get the last fact wrong???

Well, I don't know about the facts, but the attitude...yes, it's wrong. (And what's with 'oopss'?)

It's tragically horrid that someone should resort to alpha-male thumping in a time of grief; in anyone's time of grief.

People don't suffer any less just because it's America.

It's all for you, hon..

Client visit today. So:

1. Breakfast from Barista's. (It is somebody's idea out here that a Tandoori Paneer sandwich is morning food.)

2. Tomato soup has salt.

3. Conference room has enough chairs.

4. System guys are not listening to Aashiq Banaya or Woh Lamhe.

5. Receptionist is at the reception attending calls.

6. Security is not at the reception attending calls.

7. Flush is working.

I make eye-contact with one of these raison d'etres and mouth the words, 'Please come again.' She smiles back.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mane domain

I was in Mumbai on Saturday morning. Woke up to a heavy drizzle and started yearning for some tea – Long Island and iced; but settled for black and honeyed. The neighbor pottered about plucking tulsi leaves and chilies from her balcony plants. I waved a beatific hello; she swished foliage politely and went in. I contemplated the quiet joys of domesticity and decided to get a hair cut. Perhaps there were other thoughts in between contemplation A and decision B, but I forget.

So, after watching Iqbal, I went for a haircut to a L’Oreal ‘tress salon’. Very swanky - black and chrome and everything Rome. (There was a woman in Roman sandals and a floral toga-top, and two men with expressions of sullen betrayal. ‘Et tu, brut?’ hung heavily in the pomade-laden air.)

‘Yes, ma’am?’, asked a pretty, blond girl. If I were casting for Heidi, she’d be my choice for the lead.

I want a hair cut’, I answered.

Of course. This way, please.’

I was escorted to a nifty, swiveling chair that nobody swivels. And I waited for some lady to come and gently snip and snap and be done with it. But what arrived was a man, in black, with hair that hadn’t seen a comb since the first episode of Full House. And, he looked grumpy. My follicles were fearful.

‘How do you want your hair?’, X-man asked.

‘I’d like it really short’, I squeaked.

‘Umm..no.’

‘???’, that’s me, non-verbally.

‘Your face is big. Short hair won’t look good.’

Now, my face is not exactly delicate, but BIG! No, it’s definitely not BIG, sulky-hulky! It’s not! It’s not!

I think he read the agitation in my mind and gently adjusted the mirror. Well, what can I say?
In that darned stylized reflecting surface, my face did look like a Domino’s special.

‘Okay,’, I meekly complied.

Then, Bruno got to work. He removed his skull-ring from the middle finger and stood staring at my nubbin for ten seconds. (Wondering how my BIG head would look on a steel band, I guess.)

‘We have to rinse the hair’, I’m informed.

So we rinse the hair.

Then, he takes a deep breath. And I close my eyes. It has been my experience that when deep breaths are taken at the dentist’s, tailor’s, or hairdresser’s, no good can come of keeping the eyes open.

Ten minutes later, there’s silence.

‘Done’, I’m informed.

Done I am.

My hair looks glossy and shiny like the sea at midnight. There’s a flick that falls partly over my eyes, making them look shy and beckoning. My face looks enchanting – there’s an illusion of cheekbones. The length of my hair grazes my collar-bone, and there’s this hint of drama about the look. I could be Heidi…albeit for an audience that hasn’t read the book.

Sulky-hulky is a genius.

‘This is really nice! Thank you!’, I gush.

He’s putting on his skull ring and ventures a smile.

‘You can make the payment there,’ says Scissorhands. (I did look like Depp-beautified poodle..in a nice way, that is.)

It was raining outside. Thought I’d stop by for some tea – maybe mild and fragrant. But splurged on some that was Long Island and iced instead.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Memory Music


Sometimes, there is truth in email forwards. The one I’m talking about is a powerpoint slide that had an ebony black beetle on a dewy, bright leaf looking all Rousseau-esque. The teal italic font read: ‘A friend is someone who sings your favorite song when you’ve forgotten the tune.’

My pal, Mohit, sent me my Mumbai rhapsody – pictures of Mocha.

Thank you.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

And when the rivers are in spate, I wait to celebrate


It's fun seeing the natives getting restless during festivities. Especially in a new place. No matter where you are, you’ll witness some control-freakism that bubbles up when people put up twinkly lights.

One of my friends, T, had spent some time in Bangladesh while her husband was posted there. They stayed in a quiet locality with manicured lawns and mellow streetlights. It was an area where diplomats recharged their dulcet voices and their children learnt the piano. Actually, so did my friend; though she was an engineer’s wife and as diplomatic as a paternal aunt. Diplomacy, to my friend, was just another book that Henry Kissinger wrote. She used that book to prop up the short leg of her piano, by the way.

Anyway, T was telling me about this incident that occurred one time during Eid. A group of people had come over to her building and were decorating the trees. There was no problem while putting up the streamers and flowers, but when it was time to put up the navy blue and silver lights, things got difficult. One of the older guys from the group came ahead and yanked the bundle of lights from a younger man. There was scuffling outside and my pal went to see what was happening. The junior guy gave in and the older fellow happily decorated the foliage.

She called the junior guy over and asked him why he’d let go that easily. The guy replied that the other man was part of a Moon Spotting Society that was pretty popular during Ramzaan and Eid. So, clearly, he was the right person to put up the lights. T, on the other hand, lost interest in the piano she was attempting to play.

‘Imagine, Mukta, a moon spotting society?! I wonder what the qualifications are to get in there?’

Yes, Mukta imagines.

########################


My first Ganpati in Pune and I slept through most of the day. Since another flatmate was expected, and my roomie was going house-hunting, I was sprawled on the cane sofa (and then the cane chairs, and the cane divan) waiting for them. Finally, after all had arrived like cows coming home, I stepped out. (Me – the aberrant bovine.)

I’m currently shacking up in a huge society, that’s ironically called the ‘Secret Heart Township.’ What’s even more amusing is that this ‘secret township’ is a major landmark in that area. There’s a small club house in the colony that had a Ganesh murthi, so I went to pay my respects and collect a fistful of modaks.

There were several teenagers tangled in cords and wires and ribbons looking clueless. They were supposed to have decorated the room for a fancy dress competition involving the under-5 age group (Do they need to start impersonating others THAT young?). But these puberty people had got embroiled in some discussion about Salaam Namaste. Therefore, empty walls; no decorations. This made one uncle in a checked shirt very angry. He shouted at them in Marathi. I can barely understand the language, but I think he called them Communist louts. (I may be wrong about the ‘communist’ part.)

He came over to me and asked me if I was new. I thought of telling him that I was actually 26 years old, but decided to save the smart lip for office.

Yes, uncle’, I replied.

‘Where are you from?’

‘Mumbai’.

‘Oh! That’s not very far. My son-in-law is from Mumbai.’ And then his face took on a scowl last seen on Tom’s face at spotting Jerry. Uncle’s son-in-law must be a Communist lout.

He asked me if I liked the Ganpati idol they had brought in. It was very pretty, actually.

‘Very nice, uncle. I like the color. A very lovely pink.’

‘Yes, yes. You know, I have seen Ganpatis change in Pune. Now, you hardly get such pink Ganpatis.’ , Uncle reminisced as two tangled teenagers hummed, ‘my dil goes hmmm…’

‘Really? What other kinds do they have?’ , I was getting very curious about the Ganpati evolution.

‘See, these pink Ganpatis are the kind of Ganpatis that people like us get. But there are these whitish Ganpatis. They go to Koregaon park.’

‘Why?’ The idea of having a different colored idol for each zip code was rather glitzy.

‘There’s an Osho commune there. So, there are all these foreigners. These white Ganpatis are for them.’

Now, as far as theories go, this was really unique. I can imagine a self-appointed aesthete, diluting flesh pink to alabaster for the sake of foreigners. But then, this was somebody’s observation. Somebody who cared enough to sit me down and share an opinion.

That uncle put up the lights.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bussing the ride

This morning, I took a bus to work. Actually, the bus took me, but on with the story.

In Mumbai, I usually don’t get into very crowded buses. I can afford to do that because the next bus comes by before nails have outgrown the polish. But not so in Pune. If you have missed the bus, you truly have missed the bus.

From what I had seen of Pune buses, they were always crowded. People hung out and patronizingly tapped autos on the hood at traffic lights. It was a scene that evoked great affection when I looked at it from inside a car.

But in Pune, I’ll be without car or Scooty; so it will be the autos or it will be buses for me. (I was cursed by an auto-fellow last night. If the curse comes true, my son will be a very poor man. I reached home and prayed for my unborn son’s posthumous prosperity; for the sake of the family he’ll leave behind.)

Anyway, my friend and I waited at the bus stop and finally spotted something that’s called a ‘bus’ in Pune. It was made of some undetermined material (used and pounded Milkmaid cans is my guess), had a weird shape that I had hitherto only seen as Andheri multiplexes, and coated in a color that seemed to have gotten bored and left the surface. And this ‘bus’ was not only crowded, it was also slanted to the left. If that was supposed to indicate the political leanings of the transportation honchos, then very clever; but I’m not getting into a bus that’s slanted, for god’s sakes.

Get in’, my impatient friend yelps. (It’s my theory that one must never wait at the bus stop with someone who’s the youngest child. They are filled with too much pompous urgency.)

So I get in - wedged, squished, and pate`d. Some lanky fellas dangle at the door, tapping autos. I’m too tightly ensconced to feel fuzzy about the experience. But after I pay my fare, I notice that one of the dangling guys is practically holding on the ledge with the skin under his nails.

So, to make place for Daredevil, I squeeze ahead. No go. I push ahead some more. This seems to send the wrong signal to the gentleman in front of me. He looks back nervously and conspicuously shifts his hand to show me his wedding ring. I mutter sorry but it seems as if I’m admitting my guilt. So I try and mask that by being rude and turning my face away.

Later, the bus empties out sufficiently for all the people to actually get inside the bus. But the dangling hero still dangles. I mean, he could walk into the bus in a couple of easy strides like an English gentleman, but no, he still hangs out - out of choice. (Do you get that strange if you travel in slanted buses that long or what? I mean, the blood doesn’t flow equally to both sides of the brain and all. This merits a study, I think.)

I try to get his attention and then point to the empty seat next to me. It’s an empty seat. What do you think an empty seat should mean to a person who’s risking his life and limb hanging out from a bus? I don’t know. But it certainly shouldn’t mean some kind of a lewd proposition that our hero took it to be. He turns red and looks away.

Get down’, my impatient friend snaps again. (I shall travel only with first-borns hereafter.)

So I get down and walk to office – the unwitting, unsuccessful temptress in Pune.

Monday, September 05, 2005

You live and learn..on teacher's day

Here’s the thing about Pune - it’s not Mumbai. Just as no other place besides Mumbai is. Therefore, traveling from home to office does not always have to take one and a half hours. So I need not have left my place at 8:00 to reach the office at 9:30. That was my first lesson. Since I reached at 8:20, I had plenty of time to think about it.

But even though Pune is not Mumbai, software companies in Pune are like software companies in Mumbai. All conference rooms are set to sub-arctic temperatures, all coffee machines dish out bad coffee, guys will not make eye contact when you talk to them, girls will look away immediately, and the HR will provide you insufficient information. And the systems department. Oh, the systems department! Do all systems departments across the globe hold hands and sing ‘We are the world’? They should. They share an oneness that rates ye up there with self-actualization. It’s touching, really, after you’ve got over the Stepford Wives resemblance.

Then there’s the matter of stationery. In software companies, stationery is dispensed by people adept at face reading. They look at the visage, deduce if this person can be short changed and hand out stationery accordingly. That is why, the guy who joined with me got a notepad with paper he could use to write an invitation to the Queen (no, not Freddie Mercury, and no, not because he’s dead.) And I got one that seemed to have wrestled with a dog. Somewhere above my brows, on my rather narrow forehead, the word ‘Sucker’ stands emblazoned.

Also, new joinees usually have to wait in glass cubicles, while the other employees walk past and cast curious glances. Sometimes, they stop a moment, perhaps squint a little and move on. ‘See Exhibit A’, their expression seems to say. That’s what comes out of bunking biology, I suppose. You wind up as a specimen yourself.

So, my first day at the new job and these were my lessons thus far. And I haven’t even started on the documents I have to study. Now, that’s another thing with the induction period in software companies - you can never tell who’s learning what.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ask a stupid question and....seriously, ask me

It was my last day in office yesterday. And last days in office make you realize so many things - like how you can discuss your 'last days' and know you aren't talking about impending death. That's a nice feeling. Then there are the gifts. They are so many, they are so varied, and they're all so wonderful. Anything that comes free and with a finality is always beautiful; unless it's death. Then you really can't have much of an opinion about it. And even if you did, who'd listen to you?

Anyway, I came into office as merry as a monsoon cloud. I was so pissed that my attitude needed diapers. So, to anyone who asked me, 'Is it your last day today?', I was tempted to reply,'Yes. Will say hi to that maggot in the coffin I'll be moving to.'

This 'last day' business reminds me of something that happened to me earlier when my office had shifted to Hiranandani, the BPO (B standing for blah)-saturated business park. I was outside the ATM, looking and feeling very bohemian chic, when this guy decides to get chatty. He smiles cordially and in a bid to make conversation asks: 'Software?' I nod and reply: 'Pirated.' He didn't laugh because I think he was 'software.' And aren't they above such pedestrian wit?

I shall discuss the gifts now - I got curios and books ranging from Calvin and Hobbes to J Krishnamurthy. I also got extremely stylish tops and stoles and accessories - the subtle reminders that the look I sport ain't 'casual chic' anymore..it's plain sloppy. (Point duly noted.)

Then there's my legal training that keeps acting up off and on. So I made sure that all my friends write something for me, anything that I could use as documented proof on judgment day. As expected, no one jotted down sentiments like, 'If I get a million dollars, you'll have half.' But, I'll treasure those notes all the same, until I can learn to forge their signatures. Most of them have horrid handwritings though. (intentionally, might I add.)

AND finally, I got the best type of goodbye from my pals - brief, choked, and incomplete. Fair enough, because our association isn't exactly a full circle yet. When does longing for a memory really end, if you think about it.

I reached home with all my gifts and looked through each and every one of them, holding them to...I don't know, feel a kind of goodbye. But it didn't happen. Because, I suppose you leave behind people; not the friendship you had with them. That sticks to you wherever you; like the potential for queer questions: 'Is it your last day today?' or maybe even, 'Software'?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A farewell of my colour



Deep in the visceral hollow of Yucatan, the sky turned cinnamon. Marshy waters and placid lakes stirred restlessly. High, wild reeds swayed in a wind that was undecided about whither it should blow. And watching this tranquil disquiet was Rupert, a stunning, white heron.

Rupert was handsome yet lonely. He glided like a fragrance. You could see a trail of silky heron flaps when he flew across the sky. He flew perfectly and he flew alone.

One evening, he was hopping around in a lake to see if the water cockled the same way every single time. It soothed that raging emptiness inside him – the routines of ripples. And then…and then….

He saw Shamin, that blazing pink Chilean flamingo. Suddenly, the marshy clot of Yucatan, that had hitherto floated blandly through the world, peeled its final scab and became raw. Shamin had no business being there. Shamin belonged to that bird-world of grotesque openness; where wings pierced through clouds and blotted suns and tore the skies savagely.

Yet, Rupert fell in love. He could see himself flying with a dark pink bolt of thunder.

Shamin, too, was fascinated with Rupert. She’d seen a simple panel on her wall of stained glass. And she was tempted – in a way chocolate probably gets tempted to taste vanilla. She swooped across, in her stark pink grandeur, enveloped that body of white satin, and kissed him; and Rupert’s white feathers were stained with Shamin’s kiss. His feathers were now the color of a crimson that felt shy, of a scarlet that got subdued, of a red that got silent. His feathers were now that shade of pink.

And that’s the shade of pink of the roses and carnations I bought last night; the last bunch of flowers I’d buy from Mumbai before I left it in a couple of days.

The florist wrapped up my drops of fantasy in sepia-hued newspaper, and I carried my beautiful goodbye in full bloom.

That is the color of my farewell – a flamingo’s kiss and a heron’s blush.