Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sparkling Whines

Why must everything in my life have a limp denouement, I wonder? Why must the day start off with me having no fever and feeling upbeat? And then why must it end with the fever coming up to me at bedtime, knocking my head and saying, ‘What’s up buddy!’ and crawling under my skin?

Why must I be suddenly taken over by healthy hunger pangs that turn to strangling octopus cramps as soon as I help myself to some home-made apple pie?

Why must my friends all surface around this time, be generous enough to buy passes for New Year events, and then why must I go all Greta Garbo-like and say, ‘Sorry, mustn’t go out in public.’

I have no friends left, no parties to go to, no possibilities for a quiet gaze at a firework ornamented sky, no chance of hearing lilting laughter and clinking glasses over the Arabian Sea. I have nothing, except a rather cheeky fever and a pusillanimous stomach that just can’t get okay.

I have been sullen and contrary since a couple of days when I hadn’t received any get well soon cards. I wanted a paper card with beautiful sparkly glitter at the edges and ‘Get well soon’ written in slanting handwriting. But I didn’t get any. Nothing. Not one. Not an ‘e’ one, not a wee one. Therefore I decided to take matters in my own hands and make one myself.

I had some card paper and I thought I’d cut out pieces from the other Christmas cards and make a sort of a collage. But I couldn’t quite figure what a reindeer would be doing on a get well soon card. Although I must say that a reindeer is as good a symbol of health as any. Haven’t ever heard of sick reindeers. Anyway, with chart paper, sketch pens, and glue all sprawled on the floor, it turned out that making a card would be too much trouble.

So I called up my friend in Delhi to send me one. He’s a lawyer and everytime I call him, he expects it to be that one call I’d be allowed from jail. So, my calls are usually attended to, with some disappointment when he finds out that I’m not imprisoned, but in fact only sordidly depressed, manically happy, despondent or bereft or any of the other things that make me, well, me.

‘Send me a get well soon card,’, I tell A.

‘What’s your address?’, he asks, not missing a heartbeat.

I give it to him.

‘Ok, bye’, he says and hangs up.

The next day, I get a beautiful sea green card with a bouquet of daisies and some other sprays tied with a green ribbon. Now, that was a little unusual because ribbons on greeting cards are usually red.

And A, being truly a man of very very few words, had simply written, ‘Dearest Mukta…’ ,’Love A’. The rest of the message was in the card and I was required to read it and derive the full import of the speedy recovery I was wished. So that cheered me up a little bit.

And then, a bit of the downside happened when my friend called to tell me about this family that doesn’t have electricity or food. Then the upswing again when he said he’d taken care of it and the family would indeed have electricity and food.

Then the downside was when he said he was going to be at a bar with friends where he would have tasty, ruby colored drinks. Or maybe he wouldn’t have ruby-colored drinks. I have ruby-colored drinks in pretty glasses. I love Cosmopolitan. Anyway, I won’t be having that either…and as for visiting a nightclub, well, I wonder if nightclubs will still be around after I recover, if that ever happens.

Then there was news about my brother, who for some strange reason, is now in Odessa. So, he spends December in Russia. Finally, someone whose situation I’m not enviable of.

Tonight, people will live it up the Dorothy Parker way:

We eat and drink and live and lie
And dance the reeling midnight through,
As if tomorrow we should die,
But alas we never do…

I may have fudged a couple of words here and there. But tonight people will hope. They will look back at old photographs and remember. They will talk to relatives and huddle under blankets and kiss and hold hands and hug and recite poems and write diaries and talk to their toothbrush (I refuse to believe I’m the only person in the world who does that). While I, sad, maudlin, pitiful I, will stay in bed with fever, reading my one and only get well soon card. Eating toast.

But that’s not fair.

It’s not fair that I should forget how generous my body has been – to have undergone so much neglect and yet fought the disease so valiantly. It’s not fair to forget my faculties that really have given me much joy, registering the bizarre, glossing over the pain, romanticizing the happiness. This year, I read Michael Cunningham. This year I read Kazuo Ishiguro. This year I read me, and I don't mean the writings.

Wonderful year.

When it really comes down to it, ‘thank you’ somehow always sums it up.

Happy New Year all!

Thursday, December 29, 2005


It’s almost the end of December – the time my brother returns home with tales of the sea and sparse presents. Pretty ones for my mother, practical ones for my father, interesting ones for the help in the house, and something he may have got free with a gallon of green ice-cream for me. The last time I spoke with him, which I think was before I changed jobs, he had hinted something about an embalmed grasshopper. It shall be returned promptly with requisite disgust.

My brother really does belong to another family. We are just too, umm, what’s that word? ‘normal’ for him.

P is strange. By strange, I don’t mean he’s hauntingly sensitive or unfathomably intelligent. He is just weird with the unique ability to be pessimistic about everything. To him, the black hole was perhaps where the Universe was cradled before it waltzed out into the cosmos.

If I’m in a store looking at a stunning blouse, he would whisper, ‘Won’t fit.’ If I’m getting coffee and exchange glances with a handsome gentleman, he’d say, ‘Out of your league.’

In fact, when we were really young, my brother, in collusion with my cousin, had tried to kill me. As children, we’d spend our summers in Delhi with our grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts and all sorts of family servants. I forget what my grandfather used to do at that time but he stayed in a huge bungalow in Pandara Park. It had a beautiful lawn in the front where my grandma grew marigolds, shoeflowers, and chrysanthemums. And there was a backyard where we had brinjals, chillies and turnips. The backyard also had an idyllic shack where the gardener stayed with his family. We’d see strings of smoke climbing up from his chimney and know that something was cooking. Usually, they were hot, ghee-smeared parathas that the gardener’s wife would serve us with lots of sugar. Of course, if my brother were part of the group, he’d get ten while the rest of us only got two.

Anyway, back to the story where my brother tried to kill me. It was a hot afternoon and we were playing hide-and-seek. Since I was a lazy child, I usually wanted to be the ‘seeker’. That way, I would count to 100, go to the bedroom and sleep while the other kids stayed hidden and silent.

So, things were going according to plan. The rest of my cousins had scuttled in various places, and I could hear shuffling feet behind curtains and under the tables. But far be it from me to go and actually find them out. I skipped off to my grandparents bedroom, snuggled under the covers, and went off to sleep. A moment later, I heard muffled voices. The voices themselves were not muffled, but I was drowsy so I wasn’t too sure whether the people talking were in the room or inside my head.

They were inside the room. My brother and my cousin – both round with tight striped T-shirts that all mothers seem to think look cute on their sons.

‘She’s sleeping,’ my cousin whispers. ‘That’s cheating. How can she do that?’

‘She always does that,’ my bother huffed. ‘She’s so lazy, you know. We should kill her.’

It really didn’t come as a surprise because my brother, since the age of three, had been pretty vocal about his intentions.

‘Kill!!’, my cousin seemed to have a conscience. ‘That would be too much trouble!’ Or maybe not.

‘No, I saw this on T.V. once. You have to press her neck here and count till 30. Then she’ll die.’ I opened my eyes ever so slightly to see what part of the neck I had to keep out of reach. I saw my brother point out something to my cousin, but since they had six chins between the two of them, I’m guessing they couldn’t zero in on the exact location.

‘But before we do it, I’ll hold a pillow on her face, so that she doesn’t scream’, my cousin volunteered.

‘She won’t scream. She’s too lazy’, my brother chuckled.

But I did scream. I leapt out of bed and I screamed loud and guttural and sonic and sonorous and baritone and high-pitched and operrata. Oh, I screamed. My brothers were so scared that they held on to each other tightly, with my cousin giving strong indication that a urinal was most necessary then.

They were grounded for the rest of the holidays. They’d look out of the bedroom windows and see a lazy girl having parathas with sugar in the garden. The girl would look up at those fiends and very tellingly stroke her neck and go back to her food. Ah! That was nice.

Things have changed since then. Today, my cousin and my brother don’t mind terribly if I live.

Now, I’m very fond of babies. I love to tickle their chin and hold them and rock them and tweak their button noses and uncurl their tiny fingers. What I would love to have in my home someday is a wall full of pictures of babies from all over the world. It’ll actually be like this – I would travel to all these places and whenever I see a baby who takes a shine to me, I’d click a snap with him or her…in black and white. Then I’d blow up all these photos and frame them in the parlor.

But because I haven’t traveled much in a long, long time, I thought I’d ask my brother to get me pictures of babies instead, since he’s got a such a head start in traveling the globe. Turns out he has as much joy in his heart as a coir bathmat.

A few months back, he had been to Rome, Pyrus, Shanghai, Seoul, and some other places I don’t remember. Everytime he’d call up from these jaunts, I’d ask him, ‘So, how are the babies there?’

And each time he’d reply with that hang-dog tone, ‘Babies are the same everywhere – bald and cranky.’

However, the only place he did find the babies remarkable was China. He was rather taken in by these little munchkins in their prams listening to MP3s and bobbing their smooth heads up and down. I really wanted to hold a Chinese baby then and was just about to say that to brother when the conversation had changed. I was now being informed about how the world doesn’t give enough credit to the Chinese for the way they cook pork. Of course. Why must we bother with children when there are a hundred different ways to cure pork and serve them? Really, the world must get its priorities right.

One night, he called me – not my mother or father or the cook, but me, directly, on my cell.

‘You like babies, don’t you?’, he growled.

And because it was 2:00 a.m. and all I saw was ‘0000’ on my mobile screen, I really thought it was a threatening call meant for someone else.

‘Yes, but…’, I began.

‘Well, let me tell you what happened to me today!’, he carried on gruffly. And my bro’s voice over the phone is like a bear with a sore throat. You can’t mistake it for anything human, so I realized it was him.

Now, the incident that had spurred brother to call me directly, (something that has never known to happen unless my brother is out of money), happened in some place in Korea and involved a child.

My brother had got off duty and was walking through the marketplace and sampling some of the street fares. With him, sampling usually takes two portions, but that’s besides the point. He chanced upon a stall that was cooking shrimps, squids and assorted seafood in a Korean wine and serving them in a flambĂ©. So my brother stopped there and ordered a platter of fried fish. Now, next to him stood a little Korean boy with his mother. He was looking at my brother keenly, maybe because of his dorky glasses. (The only reason my brother thinks he looks good in them is because some lady in Marseilles told him that. Ma did point out that English is not their first language so maybe they mistook ‘good’ for ‘stupid’ but my brother refused to listen.)

So, my brother gets the platter and is briefly spell-bound by what he sees in the next stall – all kinds of poultry served grilled and roasted! So he puts down his plate and fixes his glasses to see if he can read the menu. In the meantime, the little Korean boy has taken his plate and is weaving his way through the crowd with his mother.

Now, at all times, there is very little distance between my brother and his food; and nothing comes between them. So, brother dashes after the kid, quite unnecessarily because the child is only a few steps ahead, and bars his way, glaring at him.

Irrespective of nationality, I think a 24 year old glaring at a 5 year old is pretty silly.

The mother, on the other hand, smiles sweetly at my brother and says, ‘You? India?’

My brother nods eagerly and clarifies, pointing at the plate, ‘Me India. India like fish.’ Not for him the sentimental patriotism – ‘India like fish’ it seems. How can people talk like that and not want the earth to swallow them whole? But I think the mother of the kid mistook my brother’s plea to be an explanation of why he gifted the food to her child. So she patted his shoulder, got her kid to wave, and went away.

‘He went away with my food, Chinky! That Korean brat! I saw him…he was picking up my shrimps and eating them one by one,’ he ranted. But I think the memory was too painful for him. His voice was getting choked.

‘Come on, no big deal…it was only food,’ I explain, knowing fully well that to my brother, ‘only’ and ‘food’ do not exist in the same sentence. I could sense that he was deeply disturbed now – after all, forsaken by family.

‘You see the world Chinky, and you you want to trust people..but then, you see kids, you know. You can never trust them with food.’

Oh well, looks like I’ll need to get the kiddie pictures for the wall myself.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tagging on X'mas Eve

This Christmas and New Year’s, I have decided to be selfless. As noble as this aspiration is, I’m not surprised that my dimwitted cousins didn’t understand.

‘I’ll be selfless,’ I say.

‘What does that mean?’, cousin A asks.

‘She’ll be less of herself,’ cousin B replies.

Ha ha ha and all that nonsense.

Anyway, so I have decided to be selfless. An important step in being selfless is to stop wanting to be right all the time. And what helps stop this is remembering the times we were wrong – and so happy for being proven that way.

So, this Christmas, this post, I shall make a list of 5 things or people or situations or beliefs I was wrong about and why my life is more enriched for not being right. At the end of my list, I shall tag a few people who I’d like to list 5 things they have been wrong about and therefore happier. Now, because I have typhoid and a lot of time on my hands, I’ll just put chits with people’s names in a pencil box and pull them out with my eyes closed.

But more about that later. Here is my list about the things I’ve been proven wrong about:

1. Salman Rushdie

For the longest time, I believed Rushdie to be an over-rated author. A good publicist and a sensationalist plot and that really was what there was to him. And then I read ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’. It was published around the same time as ‘An Equal Music’ by Vikram Seth and was sort of ‘panned’, if one can say that about a book. That got me curious about the novel and I read it.

I really need another language to convey how highly I think of him now but I’ll do my best in English.

The man has used phrases like ‘cathedrals of sound’; he has used words such as ‘onliest’ when really only ‘onliest’ would do. He’s described the role of a photographer as someone who must capture ‘the last kiss before parting and the last piss before starting.’

Here’s how he writes about the media coverage of a popstar’s (Vina Apsara) death: ‘But by then Vina was already passing into myth, becoming a vessel into which any moron could pour his stupidities, or let us say a mirror of the culture, and we can best understand the nature of this culture if we say that it found its truest mirror in a corpse.’

Here’s what he says about why we care so much for music. ‘…Maybe we are just creatures in search of exaltation. We don’t have much of it. Our lives are not what we deserve; they are, let us agree, in many painful ways deficient. Song turns them into something else. Song shows us a world that is worthy of our yearning, it shows us our selves as they might be, if we were worthy of the world.’

This book must be meticulously committed to memory. And this author, in my mind, comes closest to adulation after Alex Haley.

2. School of Rock

I went for this movie with M.M. He is the ONLY person in this world who would never ask me which film we were going for. This is despite me taking him for movies such as Ring 2 (awful – that’s how people died, not because of some tape or ghost), Anita and me (tedious), Catch me if you can (too slow).

So when we got to Sterling and found that we could only go for ‘School of Rock’, I was disappointed. I hadn’t even heard of the film before and I hear of all the films (‘Now Showing’ as well as ‘Forthcoming Attractions’ with show timings).

Well, as it turned out, this movie is definitely one of the cutest, funniest films that I have seen.

Jack Black teaching a little girl how to scowl and look like a rock star is…You want to pinch his cheeks tight!

3. Mocha

Ah! If ever I forget why it is important to make mistakes, my beloved Mocha will remind me that it’s beautiful to err. When I first saw it on Hill Road, I thought it was for the yuppie wannabe crowd with nothing meritorious about the food and drinks. But, how wrong was I!

It’s a lovely place where you can relax (in fact, try and feel agitated there) with interesting art books (in some outlets) and some lovely jewel-colored lamps. I wonder why I like it so, but then again, I have the rest of a lovely life to find that out.

4. Chocolate

I don’t like chocolate at all and therefore I didn’t think I’d like the ‘Lava Lava’ dessert at Mocha.

Lava Lava is when the palate does the waltz on tasting cocoa. You take a spoon of that lush, brown, glistening dessert and put it into your mouth.

And then, perhaps you’ll quote Pablo Neruda, ‘To hear the immense night, more immense without her. And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

You’ll probably, shut your eyes in rapture and exclaim in college-like fashion: ‘Orgasmic!’

Or you’ll simply say, ‘Mmm..’

Whatever you do, you’d be right on the money.

5. Love me ‘this’ way

I have had the good fortune of knowing several special people. These people are special even without a frame of reference, but more impossibly, they are special despite my notions of what I wanted them to be.

The past year, I have thought of how I have wronged people. And I realize that I’ve wronged them by not understanding them. I didn’t understand when someone waited for a year before he told me I was special to him or when someone would keep waiting in the rain when I had slammed the door on his face or when someone left me the last bit of cake, in case I ever wanted it, which I eventually would throw away carelessly

I hope, that now, today, and foreverafter, I understand for good that silly truism that did the round as email forwards: ‘Just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all they’ve got.’

I now tag the following people:

Rbecause you have an opinion on an opinion about another opinion. Your list would be mucho interesting. I’m biting my nails already!

J, PuneShe has been my accomplice in crime, mainly gluttony. Thanks for everything, pal!

AnumitaBecause you were sweet enough to volunteer to visit me, and not with the hidden agenda of checking out if I was really sick. Thank you. Hmmph to cousin!

MM Since you hate being proven wrong. He he! And for being really the easiest movie companion a person could ask for. Thanks!

Remember, the list must be things you have been pleasantly proven wrong about.

And to everybody else, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Hope your lists get longer and longer! Tight hugs to all!

Friday, December 23, 2005

To, at, with the doctor

The other day I had to collect my reports from the doctor and find out whether I had typhoid or not. I was pretty sure that I didn’t have typhoid because well, I didn’t want to.

So, Mom and I went to the doctor’s clinic where I was greeted with a toothless smile. An old man was sitting there in a blue and white sweater and a green monkey cap. He was the only one there and was probably happy to see somebody else, namely me, not my mother. She was scowling because my father had lost his tenth mobile this year.

Now, the doctor’s clinic is rather oddly shaped, like a kidney stone or something. It has irregular rooms jutting out and beds pressed against the walls. And because the walls aren’t straight, the beds aren’t straight either. And the people lying on the beds are crooked and the nurses attending to them do it slantingly. Head hurts after a while.

We sit down and a nurse materializes from some dark crevice behind us and breathes on Mom’s neck. Since my mother has never been the sort to be gently startled, she shouted loudly and had raised her purse in attack. I pulled it back just in time. The gentle, toothless man smiled again. At me – the safe, quiet, gentle one.

‘The doctor will be here in 5 minutes’, said the nurse whose duties I gather include waiting in the shadows, literally.

‘Okay’, I say. Let him take his time, I thought. What’s the hurry? Good health warrants no urgency.

Then another nurse appeared before us in a white …and words fail me now. It wasn’t one of those uniforms that nurses wear, although it was rather similar. It was like a karate outfit that decided to be a Roman toga and gave up its impossible aspirations mid-way to return to its roots. She looked very funny. But that was only the outfit. Her expression, on the other hand, was a whole different story. Jack the Ripper? Good cop.

‘Who is the patient?’, she asked.

She could dub for that butler in Adam’s family. I was a little disappointed though. I mean, I had been suffering the last few weeks and I didn’t even look like a patient. Anyway, I took heart in the hope that I didn’t look the part because I didn’t have typhoid.

I raised my hand.

She took me into a room and went away somewhere. I had just rounded my lips to whistle a cheery tune when she came back and thrust a thermometer in my mouth. I was horrified.

‘To check temperature,’ she said.

Of course. That excuses shoving a giant, cold toothpick in my mouth when I wasn’t expecting. Does she not realize what she has done? I’ll never be able to whistle ‘Jingle Bells’ with gay abandon again.

‘Wait’, she says.

‘Okay’, I say, looking at the sterile wall here and then looking at the sterile wall there.

‘WAIT,’ she bellows again, this time pointing to a scale.

‘Oh… weight!’, I smile at her.

‘That’s what I said’, she scowls.

She writes down my temperature and my weight on a chit of paper. And because she has interchanged the values for the two, I now weigh a 101.2.

(‘What have you been eating in Pune?’, Ma asks me later when I show her the chit.)

Miss Congeniality comes out and is shuffling through some reports. She finds mine and goes through it.

‘Umm,’ I ask hesitantly, ‘that’s mine, is it? What does it say?’

‘The results are positive.’

‘Yay!’, I’m ecstatic. The old man grins again toothlessly. ‘I don’t have typhoid! I can go out and I can…’

‘You do have typhoid’, snaps the Nurse. ‘The results are positive.’

Ohhhh! So, in this parallel universe of the doctor’s clinic, positive doesn’t mean good. It doesn’t mean health. It, in fact, means that some pestilential, obnoxious, miserable, marauding parasite is growing and thriving inside you. Hmm. A doctor’s clinic is almost like a cult then. They don’t follow the rules of the rest of the world.

The doctor then came in, grumpy as ever. I’m guessing no-one around here thinks laughter is normal, forget about being any sort of medicine.

I’m shown in and poked and prodded a tad too harshly. He’d press me on one side and ask if it hurt. I’d say no and then he’d do it harder, until I said ‘yes’. Then he’d stop.

Finally, he pot on his specs, which I thought would look funny if it had orange lights round the rim. I giggled a little bit and he looked at me sternly.

‘You have typhoid. You can’t go out. You can’t have ANYTHING outside’, he mutters.

Perhaps this diagnosis is really an approximation of what I should or should not be doing. Like I can’t go out in the daytime; night time ought to be good. And what if I’m indoors in a mall or a movie theatre or a pool? That should be okay too.

I think he read my mind because he leaned forward and told me, ‘You can’t go out.’

Then he wanted to see my temperature chart which my mom handed over with a flourish. He scanned through it, looking puzzled. ‘Not this.’

What my mom had handed over was a list of gifts we’ll be buying for my cousin’s wedding. The list began with the KBC number. I don’t know why and, well, I’ll never ask.

So, that was my visit to the doctor in 2005. And as fun as that was, I hope I never do it again.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All the world loves a lover....but then again....

Where I worked in Powai, we had a rather enchanting garden some distance from the office. It had a storyboard sculpt to it complete with dry leaves that scrunched when you tread on them, twigs, gravelly paths, boughs laden with perfumed flowers, and if you observed closely, shrubs with berries too.

The best part about this place was that not many people knew about it. A friend brought me here in the newness of June rain. While it rained everywhere else as well, you could imagine that perhaps a different set of clouds burst over this place. Rain was more silvery and cold and you could run through the pebbled paths recklessly. If you chose to be more delirious and wait for Snowhite to come up with some hot chocolate, well, it only meant that you’d caught a head cold and a dangerous case of a wonderland imagination. Both very likely.

One day, I wanted to show this place to a friend of mine. So we walked there and were stopped by a guard.

‘You can’t go in’, he told us.

‘Why?’ , I asked.

‘Not allowed.’


‘Only for residents.’

‘I’ve come here before and maybe I am a resident. How do you know I am not?’, I asked idiotically.

‘Sorry. I recognize residents.’

‘But I’m telling you I’ve come here before’, I was appalled at how unreasonable this guy was being.


I looked sullenly at my friend who was patient through this exchange. On our way back, I grumbled, ‘Why did he stop us? I’m telling you, I’ve here before with SK, Anumita, and A. I mean, why….’

‘He saw a boy and he saw a girl, Mukta. That’s all he saw.’

For a moment, I didn’t quite get what my pal meant by that. And when it did register, there was a burning sense of being wronged, of being deprived of a very innocent right because of what some guy vested with authority thought.

But, from what I read of Operation Majnu today, he could have called the police. We could have been slapped or hit on the stomach or abused filthily for promoting eve-teasing. Any of this could have happened while we were helpless and at the mercy of tyrants. So, I suppose we got off easy.

In my last week in Powai, I made a trip to the garden again. The guard was there. He looked behind me to see if I was accompanied by anyone. I wasn’t.

‘Will you let me go in today?,’ I asked him.

‘For residents only, madam. I had told you this earlier.’

‘But I had come here before with my friends.’

‘Fine madam. No foodstuffs but.’

I stared at him with an inexplicable repulse.

‘Okay, I’ll just come back with the friend who was with me the other day’, I told him and walked away.

Next time, I won’t.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

While I try to get well soon

I may be down with typhoid now. So until the reports come in and I extend my forced sojourn in Mumbai by ten more days, I loll about in antibiotic haze and think. I have never had typhoid before and usually enjoy excellent health. But no-one who has known me since October 2005 will believe that. It has been my sickest year ever. For the most part, I have been able to get over the illnesses by not taking medicines; but, well, I had to capitulate when my innards wanted to crawl out of my stomach. I still feel badly about taking medicines though. I wish things hadn’t come to that. Oily, greedy pharmaceutical conglomerates having their last laugh…on the way to the bank. Cruel people who jeer at me, ‘So you were boasting about your health, eh? Who’s waking up in cold sweat with cramps now?’

I hate taking medicines. They make me sick. Most people mistake my abstinence from pills for my false bravado, but they don’t know. My throat burns when I swallow a pill and my head throbs like a torn drum. My liver clams up and I hear turkey noises behind my left ear. I feel nauseous and then I start shivering. But I must repeat the vile capsule shoving noon and night as well. ‘It’ll make me better.’ Yes, of course. Death cures sickness.

Speaking of death, I have decided to learn cooking. Well, not cooking per se. Actually, my fingernails have grown to a nice, sophisticated length. With these nails, I could live a vibrant versatile life – ride a horse - Nero, feed him lumps of sugar, then come back for breakfast where I’d swirl a perfect strawberry in champagne and take a bite. I’d go into the garden and smooth the mud around white irises and plum colored orchids. Neighbor’s children would come by in the afternoon and I would serve them hot, raisin bread.

I’d go into my workshop (which would be like the studio of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lover in ‘Perfect Murder.). Here I would make intricate fragile, fairy-like carvings on tiny crystal bells. Motifs would be Rubenesque with plenty of gossamer grazings and tendrils. After my work is over, I would go for a swim and return to some leek and mushroom pasta.

Everytime I look down at my hands, I think of stylishly sprinkling something over a dish – paprika over baked potatoes, nutmeg over pumpkin pies, khoya over gajar halwa, chilli flakes over pizza, coriander over pulao. My hands have turned into what can be called ‘Sprinkler’ hands. They would look good sprinkling – all long and tapering releasing fine bits of condiments over an expanse of wholesomeness.

Yes, learning to cook is definitely on the agenda.

What else have I been thinking about? Mainly college. This nostalgia shower was suddenly brought on when an old pal of mine from college, A.K., came to meet me. To say that I had liked him would be an understatement. He was, still is, a most beautiful person. He used to walk me from one class to another carrying my books and sometimes pour me coffee from his brother’s vintage canteen. He never loved me and I think I never loved him in a couple sort of way, but I have seldom felt the ebullience as I felt then.

Meeting him again proved that I could feel it still.

He had come over with red jujubes and a saxophone. A.K. walked into the gate and startled the sparrows that were dipping into shadow and light.

We went to the terrace of my house where he told me he studied at RADA and is now looking to make his own movies. From what I know of my cousin’s life who’s in the same business, the aspiration comes with a guillotine. The head with the ideas usually gets chopped off. The fading sunlight tessellated the floor and the palm trees were getting reflected on the saxophone. We didn’t talk for the longest time before he started playing.

It was a song we had written together in the library. ‘When whiteness melts’. Actually, it was a poem I had written and he had made it into a song. Of course, on paper, a poem and a song are not very different. ‘Later, you’ll see’, he had told me. I had misplaced my copy of the poem but he had it still. He had set it to tune and was playing the song.

‘Great that you chose the sax, A. I’m glad we can sing along’, I jibe.

Wasn’t a particularly great poem or a wonderful tune, but…you had to be there six years earlier and you had to be there six years later and you had to be him and you had to be me to understand.

I think that’s the way two people, any two people, get a song that’s truly theirs. They craft it, they part, the song meanders through lanes of forgetfulness, then finds its way back in tow with unembellished memories.

‘Unhappy, Muks’, he asked me.

‘Yes,’ I nod. ‘ I think I’m making too many compromises unnecessarily. I mean why do I have to put up with…’, I had completely ruined the sax sobriety of the moment.

‘What are we talking about?’, he asks.

‘Medicines. They don’t get down the fever. They don’t stop the cramps or the shivering and they make me feel all bloated and uncomfortable, but…’

‘Hmm’, he said offering me a jujube. Strange because I could have sworn I had it in my hands then.

He sat looking into the distance. So untamed and tranquil. He really was too beautiful to struggle.

A.K. left a little later as I got ready to go to the doctor. He had left behind the note with a small yet perfect saxophone doodled in one corner.

The note flew away. And somehow I feel that he played our song for the last time.

My head feels a little liquid now. Nothing that a nice entertaining movie wouldn’t solve. But that won’t be happening anytime soon.

As far as movies go, my brother at some point in life, had aspirations to become an actor. I think he was 6 or 7 at the time. He went to this hugely expensive, kitschy school where they got certificates for every blooming thing. If he got 8 out of 10 in one test and 8.25 out of 10 in the subsequent one, they gave him a certificate with a picture of a rabbit on roller-skates. ‘You’re zooming by’, the certificate read; of course with smileys in the ‘O’s. Geez!

My staid yet steadfast school, on the other hand , believed in no such wishy washy panderings. Growth happens in neglect, for God’s sakes. You’d think people would know that already.

One time, my brother’s class staged the play ‘Othello’. (See, this is what I’m talking about. What kind of freaky-chakra school gets 7 year olds to enact an emotionally complex play such as Othello? Private schools I tell ya!)

My brother was Othello. He was the most unlikely Othello ever – fair, rotund, and a veritable butterball. He was damn cute though and could have been the jolly old man in an X’Mas play, but Othello! I mean, you can take just so much artistic liberty.

My brother hated this girl who enacted Desdemona in the play. The hilarious bit came when Othello comes into the bedroom to smother Desdemona. My brother heaved himself on the bed and started biting her hand instead. Now Desdemona is supposed to be the wrongly accused wife, right? Well, she was a little 6 year old girl of equal or slightly more heft than my brother. She leaped out of bed, pushed my brother on the floor and started punching him left and right. Iago, Cassio, and other confused brats huddled around and cheered until the teacher broke them up.

We all came home, me laughing into my mother’s lap and brother smiling toothlessly (yes, the fight was that fierce). Bruised by drama.

I miss my brother though. Sometimes as I lie awake at night feeling the cramps of a boa constrictor, I think of him. When we were children and I would have stomach pain, my brother would lie next to me.

‘Your stomach is hurting?’


‘You know why?’


‘Papa sold your kidney because he didn’t have money to paint the house.’

Sheesh! I want this kind of comforting now.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Based on nothing by R.L. Stevenson

Last weekend, I saw two movies about kidnapping – Apharan and Ek Ajnabee. The first was set in Bihar and the second in Bangkok. Both were fictitious, although it was easier to believe that of the second flick.

I’ll begin with the first movie that I saw.

Apharan is based in Bihar around the time kidnappings of rich and famous people were on the rise. In fact, the politicians and the mafia were so thick into it that if you were remotely involved with either, politics or mafia, you could conduct an abduction almost legitimately. Circa this is the story of Ajay Devgan who wants to join the IPS. But due to circumstances, he crosses over to the other side of the law and becomes a kidnapper himself.

I watched this movie at Cinemagic, Andheri East. The movie hall is in a dusty, non-descript lane and is usually frequented by other office-goers with last minute plans. Those who come here come with the stout knowledge that they either won’t get tickets anywhere else or they won’t reach the other theatres on time.

If you took a sample of the patrons, you’d find that probably 3 out of 10 would be SAP professionals, and the other 7 would know that a SAP professional does not deal with sticky fluids of plants. So, it’s quite an IT savvy crowd. They speak English; some even say ‘dude’ (pronounced as ‘dood’). Not everyone is well-heeled but you need to look closely to observe that. Suffice to say that such a crowd, and I include myself here, would probably live out their lives in India and never go to Bihar.

So, it came as quite a surprise when I heard murmurs with distinct UP accents around me. Something quite definite was unfolding in the theatre while the movie was going on. From what I could catch, people were identifying with the movie’s plots and sub-plots and were thinking of home – wherever that home might be.

This was despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the film that references to anyone living or dead were purely incidental. But people were identifying alright – from the blasĂ© to the bizarre. I’m a rather uninvolved person when it comes to politics, yet I could see the strains of certain human truths in the movie.

Like the instance when Tabrez Alam (Nana Patekar), a politician, wants a Muslim police officer transferred because he is coming in his way. Alam goes to the Head of the Police and asks for the officer’s transfer. The Head refuses on the grounds that ‘the minority won’t like it.’ Alam replies, ‘I am the minority,’ to which the Head of Police states, ‘not the kind that runs the country.’

In another moving scene, the Muslim officer has been slapped by Alam when he insists on checking his car. (The car, at this point, has a dead body and some weapons stashed in it.) The officer’s superior, who is also present at the scene, apologizes to Alam and helps him get away. The officer comes home to his wife, tired and beaten. He falls down sobbing and tells her, ‘I’m tired of paying my dues as a Muslim – always twice over.’

Then there’s another scene where Devgan is having lunch with friends. He’s now working for Alam and has become his right-hand man. In fact, he’s getting slightly reckless with the power vested in him. He has just sanctioned the kidnapping of an important person without his gang’s approval. This has irked some of the old-timers in the gang. One of them calls him up and asks him to take the onus of the kidnapping on himself. Devgan listens to the tirade, hangs up, and tells his friends blandly, ‘Phook phook ke lassi peeta hai.’ An excellent line, I thought.

And my favorite scene comes in the beginning. Ajay Devgan is a salesman who sells medicines to drug stores. This is his part-time job while he waits for his IPS results. One day, he’s trying to convince the store owner to pay him for some herbal medicines when he hears a gun shot outside. Devgan rushes out to see a man being kidnapped and put into a van. While the crowd in the market-place is running helter-skelter, Ajay leaps to the van, very foolishly, trying to slow it down. He’s getting dragged on the road and is bleeding now – yet he’s holding on.

Just a few minutes back, he was half-heartedly trying to do a job, before he got a chance to become what he wanted to be – a brave man. That particular transformation was what could have been ‘filmy’ but wasn’t. It was so convincing. In the rest of the movie, Devgan is routine – brooding, quiet, and running deep. But in this particular scene, you know why he’s such a good actor. In make-believe, he actually made believe.

For all its merits though, I don’t know if I would strongly recommend Apharan as a good movie. Sure, I’d tell anyone to watch the film because of the germ this flick has grown from. We all read about power and corruption and sometimes we imagine ourselves in a sticky situation. We ask, ‘What if?’ Apharan, I think, has arisen from such a ‘What if?’ and that’s what makes it interesting but…okay, there’s no getting away from the comparison, it wasn’t what I’d expected. Not after Gangajal.’

If I measured a good movie by its impact, I’d say ‘Gangajal’ was a meteor. I remember unclenching my fist only after the movie ended. I remember being shocked at my own reaction, when despite myself, I cheered Ayub Khan as he poured acid in the prisoners’ eyes. That movie corroded this sense of comfortable niceness that I have. It revealed a person who did see justice in ‘eye for an eye.’ Gangajal had made me hugely uncomfortable. And it’s one of those films I’ll, sort of, always be grateful for watching.

So, with almost the same cast and similar set-up, what really went wrong with Apharan? Somewhere the impact got muffled. It’s not because Apharan is fiction and Gangajal was based on a true incident. Purely from the directorial and acting standpoint, something was a bit off. It’s as if this movie was made with people aware that they were being watched. There’s a sense of self-consciousness in the film. Like when you’re on the dance floor and you notice a fantastic dancer who, sometimes, looks sideways to see if people are watching her. Of course, these indications are subtle – overtly loud music during a fight sequence or a rather lengthy dialog with one too many innuendoes calculated to get a laugh, too many profile shots of the main characters – things like that.

But I suppose that’s understandable. To say something well and to say it once requires a diligent restraint. And it’s tempting to sidestep it when you know you have people listening.

‘Ek Ajnabee’, on the other hand, has a remarkable marquee mien. It’s the dancer that gets up on stage in sequins and feather boas, waits for the lights to strobe, and begins the show only when the audience is adulating enough. The movie is as slick and violent as they come.

It’s shot in Bangkok with several tall men – Amitabh, Arjun Extremely Handsome Rampal, some guy whose daughter gets kidnapped, Kelly Dorjee. So, length of limbs is in abundance here.

This means that long legs will step out of sleek cars or be folded across tables.

Tall, lean silhouettes will face each other with wolverine finesse.

Long arms will be outstretched so that the elbow is not folded while shaking hands.

Ah. Tall men. Tall, tall men and then there is Amitabh Bachan who indicates so stylishly that height is really such a small part of being tall.

In the final scene of the film, we have Amitabh Bachan, Abhishek B, and Lara Dutta. Abhishek gets out of his car in a dapper suit and strides along the other two. Now, Abhishek is supposed to look suave and smooth and killer, see. But at the end of it, well, umm, you appreciate the sentiment and all…and look over to his father, realizing why there will be only one of him ever.

Also saw Neal n Nikki. Everyone, irrespective of gender, and everything, including the scenery has breasts.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


December’s going to be a stressful month, as it has been since October. Work-wise, that is. In fact, the project I’m working on is in an interesting quandary. The client gets more confused with every bit of information that is provided to him. We try to remedy that by giving more information accompanied with several caveats and disclaimers. This is responded to with equal and opposite frustration, again accompanied with many addendums. In fact, during conference calls, you can hear the fine prints in our voices.

Meanwhile, we are working our butts off to cover our asses. (Asses being the slow, plodding and dimwitted personnel – a herd that I am a prized member of) Only to be told that you are slow and therefore, well, umm,..okay. (What can you do to donkeys after you have figured out that that’s the way they are, and that’s the way they’ll stay? Really, what? Bray tell.)

So, it was a particularly rough day with bile lining my pancreas or whatever organ they’re associated with. But then, as it is with rough days, this too ended.

On our way home, Z, MS, and I heard a Sumo honking furiously. We walked ahead and saw a rickshaw fellow pushing his rickshaw to the stand. I mean, the guy could sit inside and drive it. But no. This being Pune, this being us, this being us in Pune – it just sort of added up. The sight released our collective nervous energy and we collapsed into giggles, scaring a dog.

And Z, as usual, had an interesting movie scene in mind that she deemed fit to recount. Not surprisingly, the movie in question starred Kadar Khan and Govinda. Govinda is a robber and is running away from the police after committing a theft. Kadar Khan is hot on his heels. However, as luck would have it, the police jeep breaks down, and Kadar Khan is left to finding his own devices. So, he hails the first auto he can find, hops in, and urgently tells the rick guy, “Peecha karo!”

The rick guy, in all earnestness, gets off the rick and starts running after Govinda.
We heard that and looked at the Sumo now waiting patiently for the rickshaw to inch towards the stand.

I laughed so hard that my bile swilled around in rude surprise. MS swayed in the middle of road, and Z started snorting. She does that when she’s very pleased with herself. Several other dogs scampered across the road.

Anyway, that was that.

Later in the night, I met up with J for some dinner, dessert, and drinks that got added on as an after-thought. (The after-thought followed pre-thinking about the price of liquor. Liquor was beer.)

Our first surprise was when beer was served to us in tall, slender Collin glasses. I dutifully crossed my legs to begin drinking. Cutlery influences my manner so.

Then J, all regal and empress-like, asks for a straw. I hiccup and look at her. She nods sagely. A straw for the beer.

Sigh! That brought back memories. I was in college and had not begun drinking. However, once I was with my friends and was keen that I not be identified as a novice in the alcohol arena. So, a round of drinks were ordered – most being combinations of pithy sounding ingredients (gin and tonic, rum and coke, vodka and lime, etc. etc.) My turn. I say, ‘Beer’. My friends look at me. Somehow I feel obliged to qualify my order, so I add, ‘on the rocks.’

‘First time, huh?’, I was nudged through the evening.

But seriously, I sometimes wonder, why is beer never had with ice? I have tried it with vanilla ice-cream though, and it’s really yummy.

My tastes are generally weird that way. I didn’t like Top Gun and didn’t like Tom Cruise in it either. And really, how slow was ‘Cocktail’? But I adored Jerry McGuire and that movie deserves to be acknowledged as a sociologically relevant film – in fact, as a film that will be enduringly relevant. Just because the movie happened to make money, it will never be acknowledged as much. Reverse discrimination.

And ‘Da Vinci Code’ was no literary masterpiece. It was a great, thrilling book, but really, it was written in the manner of a contiguous screenplay. The book did get me referring to many many books on Leonardo though. In doing that, I think, it served it’s purpose of being a work of significance. (Yes, at times, it is all about me.)

And if I ever made a movie on the book, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chipps’ (Now, THAT’S a book), I would cast Russel Crowe.

I also wonder if ‘ponder’ comes from ‘pond’; ‘see’ comes from ‘sea’; and ‘leak’ comes from ‘lake’.

Sometimes I wonder about these things. But more often than not, I think to myself, what’s wrong with beer and ice?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It happened to an apple

A vacation sky. Clouds frisked about in a holiday mood. Two apples in an ice-blue bowl engaged in desultory conversation.

Ripe: The kitchen seems so quiet today. Sometimes I wonder what goes on inside.

Riper: I’ve been there once. The first day I got here, I was slightly green and muddy. So they took me to the kitchen and washed me in the glass sink there. Quite a busy place, that one.

Ripe: I can imagine. You have any friends there?

Riper: Not really. In the one time that I was there, there was too much going on. Something bubbled here, something else whistled there – and I saw a couple of huge bowls frothing over.
But I did meet this one fellow in the sink. Rather handsome. He wasn’t an intense sort of fellow, if you know what I mean. Just smooth, sharp, and steel. He’d got something sticky on the head; so he’d been brought in to be washed clean.

Ripe: Same as you.

Riper: Same as me.

Elsewhere Keefer, the knife, jostled under the spoons and forks until one of them asked him to behave himself.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked a dessert spoon.

“I’m cold. I don’t want to be on top,” Keefer whined.

“Okay, come here and stop being such a nuisance,”, said the Spatula and made way.

Meanwhile, Riper noticed something that, sort of, cored him. It’s only possible to be cored if you’re an apple or a pear; but more likely in the case of apples since pears are known to be intrepid fruits.

“Want to trade places?”, asked Riper. ‘You’ll be able to see better from here.”

“Sure!”, exulted Ripe.

So they rolled about until each was in the other’s place.

Julio was in the kitchen, taking out a fresh strudel and carefully surveying the baked expanse. It was perfectly browned and just correctly crusty. A little bit of garnish and it could be served on the lawn for high tea.

He reached across the counter and picked up the closest apple he could lay his hands on.

Ripe was rinsed quickly and patted dry. Then Julio plunged in the cantering mass of cutlery and pulled out a knife.

A couple of minutes later, the strudel was the magnificent center-piece of the silver tray, with translucent slivers of apple.

Meanwhile Keefer dolefully told Spatula, "I wouldn’t have been able to do it. He was so good to talk to."

Betrayal has many faces; just like loyalty.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I was here

In blinding light,
Through frosty mist,
Under foggy skies,
What can I see?

An inflamed moon
In ritzy June
Skirting the sky
With notoriety

I see the rain that sang
To the indifferent sand
And brushed past us all
On the sleepy beach

I spot the wind that flew
And threw the ochre beams
Out of our mangled madding reach

I see floral spasms
On the verdant quilt
That calmly assuaged
An artist’s guilt

All these curtail
The callow wail
The truculent fright
Of my proud delight.

It may seem simple
And be perceived as true
But the things I see
Are far from new

My vision fails
When I look ahead
In joy or spirit or empty dread
And strangely the things that make me blind
Are all the things I’ve left behind

This is Hiranandani, Mumbai - where I worked before.

Pictures by Mohit Chaturvedi, my colleague who is very proficient in clicking nostalgia.

And my favorite - the rain, but of course, and but always.