Friday, March 31, 2006

In time...

It’s hot and dusty on the terrace. Unpainted buildings in the distance look paper thin in the afternoon blaze. The leaves rustle only because they want to hide under each other to escape the heat.

Eyes squint looking around for empty chairs. Limbs with dry, parched skin move around, getting salt, passing spoons, serving curd. Skin around the lips purse and crease. And in that crease settle layers of gritty, ground pebbled dust.

When you speak, your throat hurts and feels raspy because it’s so dry. Your nose burns because the nostrils get allergy-ticklish with coarse earth-power.

Only a few days until, in all this, I can feast on a wet, cool, juicy, plump mango. And when I am finished with one, I’ll take another with sweet pulp on my fingers.

Desires at lunch time. So brazen.

Advice


Last night, a friend of mine called me up from Goa. I hadn’t heard from her in the last two years. Therefore, when I heard a shriek ‘Mukku!’ and the sound of waves in the background, I had a somber feeling that perhaps some unidentified past had caught up with me. A minute later I found out. The maverick greeting and the gorgeous backdrop could only mean one thing –Rhea…in trouble.

Rhea and I studied in Alliance Francaise together. On reaching the building, I would proceed to class and she would go on to meet other people. Friends she called them, but I wasn’t too sure. From the huge files with photographs that she carried around, I think she was trying her luck at modeling.

Anyway, the last time we met before losing touch with each other, she asked me if she thought living in with her boyfriend was a good idea. I told her it wasn’t. In retrospect, my response was rather too quick to be palatable. After all, she and H loved each other and cherished each other’s company; although I think he was as emotional as a toilet seat and much less useful.

She had challenged me to give her reasons.

I did.

I told her that there was a certain mystery to not knowing the color of your partner’s toothbrush or the tear on the towel. And why live in? That sets the stage for familiarity and we all know how that goes.

Also, what additional insight would you get about the relationship by living in close, killing proximity? Distance works much better – the more the distance, more the insight. Also, living in was such a limp cop-out. You must co-habit for a solid water-tight reason (or as solid or water-tight as any reason can get)…and getting to know each other ­– that happened perfectly well in coffee shops and restaurants, thank you very much.

Living together meant a lot of hassles and must not be undertaken for trivial pursuits.

I mean, why get into a coffin unless you are dead? You don’t simply try one on for size.

She then called me a hypocrite and a prissy prude and went away. We met after class for pizza and Coke where she affectionately told me that I was a hypocrite and a prissy prude but her only true friend. I warned her that that wasn’t a good sign.

That was that.

Then last night, after I had been addressed as ‘Mukku’, ‘Mux’, ‘Mukkkktaaaa’, and other variants, she told me how she’d got my number from an old friend, how much she (and this is typical Rhea) ‘wanted to miss me but hadn’t had the time’, how she was so drunk that she was sitting on coconut shells.

Then she started about Joel. I haven’t met Joel but from what I heard of him, he didn’t seem very different from the other toilet-seat guy. He was ‘half-French’. The other half was undetermined.

‘So we’re thinking of moving in’, she said.

I waited.

Silence.

Glug glug! Rhea was drinking something and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t coconut water.

‘What do you think?’, she asked.

‘No’, I said.

‘About Joel and I living in? You’re still that conservative?’, she sounded horrified.

And the lens shifted to me.

I am not as conservative as I was before. In the time that Rhea and I have not been in touch, I have moved away from my folks and stayed in smaller flats with inconvenient furniture. I have made many more friends, men and women.

Both male and female visitors have spent time in or stayed over at my studio apartment in Mumbai and my one-room tenement in Pune. I have now the clear wherewithal to tell her with absolute certainty why one shouldn’t live in with a man.

They take up too much space.

I am not small. I have never worn a size ‘S’ in my entire life, not even as a toddler. Some of my girl friends aren’t small either. But three of my not-so-small girl friends can sit on the sofa, or hang around the kitchen, without anybody’s ribs having to feel the other’s elbows. There’s enough place for all the microbes to be floating around happily.

But then a guy visits my living space. It could be any guy and he could be of any girth. (Most look like the sticks they smoke anyway.) And suddenly, my house shrinks. I feel that the sofa is not really a three seater and the carpet area diminishes to bug in a rug area and the kitchen is a clattering mess if it holds any more than the guy and his movements of reaching for a cup and rinsing it. With a man in the house, there just isn’t enough room.

Examples I have witnessed:




My kitchen:

The men visitors will all stand in the middle of the kitchen counter as if guarding something from some kind of unlawful entry.

The women friends will occupy spaces in the corners thus allowing for a cute little amphitheatre set-up.

My living room:

The men visitors will sit on the sofa and part their legs so that the knee-caps never touch – not even by mistake. The hands are positioned along the line of the backrest and palms dangle on both ends of, well, the backrest outlining hands. If they cross their legs, the upper limb will be perpendicular to the knee on which it rests. And then they will yawn or sneeze and the frail Fab India cane furniture will positively quake.

The women visitors will look at the sofa and in their minds chalk out a certain amount of space for themselves, even if they choose to sit cross-legged. If they cross their legs, the upper leg slopes like a gentle acute angle. There is place for another person.

My women visitors understand that other human beings do not unhinge and adapt their sizes to suit them. My men visitors are a little surprised when that doesn’t happen.

My bean bag:

Women regard a bean bag as a sort of a comfy chair while men see it as a sort of a quirky bed.

So, the women prop up the bean bag and sit down, ensconced in it resembling some kind of stuffing in a scooped jacket potato.

The men drag the bean bag and try to flatten it with gusto in manner of taming a shrew. The entire length and breadth of the body is employed to get it to behave.

The centre table:

Women move around the centre table.

Men shift the table to the side.

The side table:

Women use it.

Men move it. To make space for the centre table they want to shift.

Water:

And another thing I've observed of the men I have entertained in my house is this: they use too much water.

Let’s say you drop sauce on the table. What you need to do is first wipe it with a dry cloth and then wet another cloth and wipe over it again. You don’t get a soaked, dripping cloth and slop it all over the spill and then smudge it around even more.

And teeth get as clean with water flowing from the tap like a feng-shui dribble instead of the Niagara Falls.



Now, I’m not saying that it’s the case with everyone. But these instances provide me with enough reason to never want to live-in with any guy. I constantly get the impression that they just want everything out of their way all the time.


So, my advice to Rhea had nothing to do with the romance of mystery or moral rectitude. She thinks that I believe no man or woman should live together before marriage. Wrong. I mean, right. I do think that but I also think that they shouldn’t live together after marriage either.

They could stay in two different flats in the same building. In fact, a rather desirable arrangement would be if one stays on the ground floor and the other one stays on the topmost floor. That way, one is close to the garage and the other is close to the terrace. I haven’t quite worked out why I find this idea appealing but I’m sure there is a nice over-arching metaphor waiting to emerge.

I do realize that my opinion could be shaped by the fact that I have lived in a small flat in a crowded city. Had I been brought up, say, amongst tea plantations, my advice to Rhea could’ve been different. I’d have goaded her to live in with a guy until the cows came home – a possibility that is easy to accommodate in tea plantations but not in little flats.

Rhea of course was unconvinced. She and half-French Joel would be living together. I wished her all the best but hung up only after I had planted that willful teen demand in her head: ‘Get your own room.’

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's almost time

I was born on April third. And no, it is not two days too late.

My birthday is approaching…rather quickly, I might add. I am very, very happy and insist that others feel the same. And I’m not talking of damp squib polite ‘Yes, yes, how nice..’ but a rather celebrated sort of bonhomie – like confetti falling out of the mouth when you say ‘Yay! Birthday!’

I want gifts, cards made of handmade paper, and cake. Also, a surprise party but no-one seems to be interested in giving me one. So, I shall organize a party, invite some people I don’t know but have tripped over at German Bakery, get them inside the house and yell ‘Surprise!’ As I see it, it is truly a surprise party because this way, more people are surprised than in the conventional method. Majority wins. If you are going to be surprising only one person, then it’s more of a ‘clueless’ party I think because well, whatever.

And yes, the gifts must be gift-wrapped, and preferably not from a retail store. Supremely great if they are handmade but I’m not too fussy. Also, the message on the cards should be written in fountain pen – royal blue ink or bottle green. There are very few people who know how beautiful smudges of bottle green ink look on coarse stationery. The prettiness is quite astonishing, really. And the nib must be broken after the card is signed.

Now, as for what I want, a copper tea-pot would be nice. Would lend a je ne sais quoi (and I mean it – I don’t know what) to the kitchen. Often times, I have gone to the kitchen and stared at the shelves, my eyes searching for something. Lately I have realized they sought a copper tea pot. No need to give me cups. I have those.

Some books too – ‘A Pale View of the Hills’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, another coffee-table book on Witchcraft that I saw at Crossword, and a ‘Betty and Veronica’ double digest.

But more than anything else, I want people to wish me at midnight…by the pool, with jasmines tucked behind their ears.

My birthday is a very happy occasion – it doesn’t matter how old I get (that’s just big, smelly nonsense that you stop celebrating birthdays after twenty-five. Why? Rubbish drivel, I call it.)And it doesn’t matter what the pinched nose people say, ‘What have you done in life to be happy about being born?’ Why should I do anything in life? I won’t do. I think it’s commendable that I have not let starched prosaic pedantics inflict purpose on my confused and sweetly worthless existence. And of course, it’s not really worthless because I know many knock knock jokes.

Also, I would like a nice song to be dedicated to me. Hmm. So many choices, but I’m quite partial to the first song that I blushed to, ‘There’s a brown girl in the ring.’

And my birthday is on a Monday, so I would like my friends to put up a little skit for me. In the manner of the Monday night sitcoms that I don’t get to watch because I don’t have cable. ‘Frasier’ would be awesome, but otherwise, anything other than ‘King of Queens’. I don’t like that too much.

What else? I would like to have someone read my palm. My lifeline seems to be forming a circle. That can’t be good. But maybe it is because it’s all good on my birthday.

I did not like ‘Being Cyrus’ too much. I have been watching so many ‘different’ Hindi films now that I want to see a film from which all these other movies want to deviate. Also, if no two films are alike, then how can they be different? If every film is different, then all films are the same. Like that graffiti,’ Remember you are unique, just like everyone else.’

Bottom line: April third, my birthday.





Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pune sky goes Wilde

Bad days end
And worse ones begin
You drown out the noise
To sink in the din

Dinner's tepid soup
And sorry sprouts
The new pizza place
Is nowhere about

Sick of the hassle
You leave the flat
And almost collide
Into a big, white cat

You don't look too good
And are tired to the bone
'Even I wouldn't drag you,' thinks tabby,
A wannabe Sharon Stone

Its black and inky and dark outside
How befitting of you, the mind decides
You strech your neck, and there!
It's clear as a bubble where hope resides

'All of us are in the gutter
But some are looking at the stars,'
How did you guess, Mr. Wilde?
You were a wise man, by far

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Carrey, me

Joel and Clementine met on a beach. He ‘couldn’t believe he was attracted to someone’s back.’

Her hair, that day, was a vivid aubergine. She said about herself, ‘I apply my personality in a paste.’

He was shy, she was theatrical. He spoke only when forced, she stopped talking only when she ate and drank – and she did both heartily.

Joel and Clementine loved each other madly. Their first date was lying on a frozen river, looking up at the stars. He was unsure of how sane this idea was. She held his hand and helped him get whimsical.

When they made love, Clementine’s face would be resplendent in some kind of quiet sorrow. She’d talk to Joel under the blanket. She’d say, ‘People don’t really know how lonely children are.’ Joel would kiss her then. He knew.

One day, they had a spat. She stormed out of the house. He followed her but couldn’t get her back. He tried. He failed. She had forgotten him, with some help from a doctor.

Joel felt betrayed at this. He now didn’t even exist as a memory in Clementine’s mind. Only one thing remained to be done. He decided to erase Clementine from his memory as well. There would be no trace of that rush of eccentricity that he’d taken comfort in before. He’d forget everything. He’d move on.

The people at the memory-erasing clinic were most competent. They profiled his memory meticulously. They identified each and every pinprick of reminiscence that had Clementine in it. There were long pages of data, there were thick sheaves of material. There was, in effect, a detailed roadmap of what had to be done so that Joel could get unencumbered of the past.

The chief doctor explained the procedure to Joel, but Joel was apprehensive. He asked the doctor, ‘Will there be any brain damage?’

The doctor replied, ‘The procedure is brain damage.”

Joel agreed to go ahead. Soon, there would be no Clementine in his memory. That meant that there had been no Clementine in his life – ever.

The procedure would take place when he is sleeping; the sweet semi-conscious state where there would be no resistance.

But there was.

As Clementine got erased from one memory after another, Joel panicked. Suddenly, he wanted those memories to remain. But he was helpless because once you have decided to forget someone, that decision is irrevocable. Medical policy.

But those obstinate, insolent memories – they fought, they bounded up; each tiny, fragile one of them – like when Clementine colors her hair orange and Joel calls her tangerine; or when she leaps onto him and playfully tries to smother him; or even that simple pringle of remembrance – when they’re breaking into someone’s home and Joel is concerned if the owners have a dog, and Clementine says with a haughty assurance, ‘There is not a dog.’ Joel wanted to keep that. Because suddenly the memories weren’t painful anymore, they were wonderful and mellow. In the manner that nostalgia is a seductive liar, or the way the past is a different country and we do things differently there, or like the truth that time to live is shorter than the time to forget.

So, now Joel manufactured memories – he started thinking of Clementine as his playmate when he was little, or a glamorous aunt when he was four. He’d have Clementine in a conjecture if need be, in a moment in time that never happened. But he wouldn’t forget her. Not at all.

The thing that makes it better to love and lose than never to have loved at all is this – the melancholic, doleful déjà vu when you see anything beautiful. To relinquish that is a kind of betrayal the soul won’t stand for.

Take the case of Clementine, who successfully has had Joel removed from her brain. She nevertheless feels anguish when someone calls her ‘nice’, the way Joel did. Or the way someone tells her that she makes him happy, the way Joel did. There is no Joel anymore – just all the ‘ways he did’.

This discursive narrative of living, loving, forgetting, and then changing your mind – it’s like a poem. Because poems are as much about that dewdrop that triggered a verse as it is about the rhyme itself. Because love is not so much the voice as it is the echo. This curvy, belligerent, song-like remembering is a film like an Alexander Pope poem, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’

A bit about the performances:

Kate Winslet – Very, very good. And it’s a bit unnerving to see someone that gorgeous smile.

Kirsten Dunst – As the pretty nurse who spouts Bartlett quotations, she dazzles. Definitely better than what I expected of her. And she should never work in a Spiderman movie again. That’s just a case of pearls before swines.

Mark Ruffalo – He breaks your heart without warning. Also, I have only seen him in ‘Just like Heaven’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I consider myself to be greatly disserviced at not having seen any more of his films.

And then, there is Jim Carrey, with who I go back a long way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was a law student preparing for a particularly important moot court competition. One of our competitors was a law college whose students and teachers alike had a rarefied legal bloodline.

My days, at that time, were spent trying to trace my college professors who wouldn't turn up on time and hasten to leave after cursorily glancing through our submissions. Our chances of competing with dignity seemed dismal.

All in all, we were left to our own devices. My friends and I would visit labor courts and try to get a feel of how arguments in courts were conducted, how lawyers fielded questions from judges, how they covered their tracks, how they played up strong contentions and disguised weak ones.

All we witnessed was an exasperated judge spelling out 'argon' to the steno for the tenth time.

We then made the one-hour travels to visit the high court. That was much better, of course, but we couldn't really learn too much from the proceedings.

To our luck, every civil suit we saw had the lawyers asking for adjournments.

Since such escapades were monstrously eating into our preparation time, we abandoned further exploits and went back to our inadequate library to study.

As assiduously as I prepared for such competitions, I knew that I would never practice law. I somehow got the feeling that I would not be a good arguing counsel. This is despite faring well at several auditions and consistently receiving plaudits from my teachers. I wished they would read my short stories or articles and commend me for that instead.

Around the same time, Jim Carrey was getting increasingly popular for his, umm, ‘antics’ I suppose, since ‘acting’ doesn’t quite describe it well.

There’d be these discussions and reviews of ‘Ace Ventura – 1, 2, 3, infinity’, ‘Mask’, and other contortionist thespianisms and Jim Carrey was hailed as the next big thing in the face of comedy – or rather, the big thing in the face of comedy. I disagreed. He was too loud and bawdy all the time and really, what was ‘Cable Guy’ all about?

However, I had liked him a lot as the Riddler in a Batman flick. But that was a flash in the pan, wasn’t it?

The night before the moot court competition, I was winding down watching a little T.V. I hoped I would catch an episode of ‘The Practice’ or something and get ideas on how to refine my arguments further. But no such luck. After some channel surfing, I settled down to watching Jim in some film on Star Movies.

And what I saw there gave me a question I asked myself the next day, after the competition. And many times thereafter, when I’m not quite sure why I’m being praised.

The movie was a rather old, small-budget film (or so it seemed), ‘Doing time on Maple Drive’.

It was the story of a white picket-fence American family that lived on Maple Drive. There were three children – all very intelligent. However, two of them had achieved much and the third had taken to the bottle. Jim Carrey played the alcoholic.

That he was the black sheep of the family was made quite clear from the way his father behaved with him. To top it all, Jim Carrey stayed with his parents while his siblings followed successful lifestyles in some posh suburbs.

Jim’s character was that of a man whose self-esteem is shattered. And he has sort of, reconciled to that fact. His father considers him to be worthless and the guy himself has accepted his father’s estimation of him.

Sometimes, though, he gets frustrated and confronts his father. In these confrontation scenes, I saw a really powerful actor. His body language is so subtle, and of all things that Carrey was associated with in my mind, restraint was not on the list.

There is a scene in the movie where Carrey is making himself a snack. I think it’s around Thanksgiving or Christmas. His father enters the kitchen and sits down to read a newspaper.

Carrey’s stance changes. His shoulders droop a little bit, he fumbles ever so slightly with the mayonnaise bottle, he’s unsure of whether he should greet his father – all this happens almost imperceptibly. I honestly couldn’t believe that it was the same guy who won accolades for stretching a green face.

During breakfast, he and his father have an argument about Carrey’s many failings. I don’t remember the altercation too well, but I think Carrey makes some remark about how his father did not give him enough time when he was a child.

“What do you expect? I have three children!”, his father says exasperated with Carrey’s whines.

“ You have three children. I have one father”, replies Carrey.

It’s likely I have muddled up the details here and there. But what I am absolutely certain of, even today, is the searing way that line was delivered.

Carrey’s posture at standing up to his father had changed. His fist was clenched but his voice was trembling and there were tears in his eyes. It was a touching portrayal of a broken man trying to put up a fight for his dignity.

Strangely, I haven’t met anyone else who has heard of, much less, seen this film.

When I watched Carrey in that, I wondered how he could stand being praised for the ‘Liar Liars’ and ‘Dumb and Dumbers’ when he was capable of this – this fine virtuoso-like scene stealing. I wonder how he felt being praised as an actor for those films instead of this one.

Watching Carrey in that film gave me the question I often ask myself – whether it is better to get what you don’t deserve instead of losing out on what you do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next day was the big competition. Justice Y.B. Chnadrachud was presiding over it. He was one of the youngest judges of Bombay High Court. And he was from Harvard; that meant my knees were all marshmallow-like.

The competition began. Most contestants were very good.

Then it was my turn. I was pitted against this girl, Madhavi, from Aurangabad. We had to argue a criminal case. I was the prosecution and she was the defense counsel.

I did reasonably well – fielded questions confidently, gave appropriate weightage to my many contentions (a tough job given the stringent time-constraint) and finally finished with a simple, yet persuasive summation. That was definitely a good performance.

Madhavi’s turn.

While I had ‘performed’, she ‘argued’. Her grasp of the case details was immaculate. It’s an understood strategy that for criminal cases, you argue the facts and not the law. She did just that.

That tangled mass of evidence and hostile bits of legislation were putty in her hands. She picked each thread of the case mindfully and unknotted it so that all you could see was the innocence of the accused.

They say that good advocacy is soft words but strong argument. Unfortunately, that notion is rather unpopular in Mumbai. We want drama.

Around me, there was sniggering. The students and some teachers snidely commented on Madhavi’s pronunciation. Madhavi pronounced ‘Lardseep’ instead of ‘Lordship,; ‘aybhidench’ instead of ‘evidence’. Funnily, people caught on to that instead of seeing the unparalleled brilliance of her delivery.

She didn’t look at her files even once. She quoted the sections of the IPC smoothly. And the clinching factor was that she managed to do all this without sounding rehearsed.

When she finished with, ‘That’s all, your lordship’, it was clear to me that this girl from Aurangabad had swung the competition from those of us with ‘convent pronunciations’.

I was wrong. I won the first prize.

After the prize distribution, we moved to the faculty room for refreshments.

Madhavi was sitting in a corner having tea. She saw me and smiled. ‘You were good’, she said.

I shrugged. I was good but she was perfect. I guess she couldn’t be considered as a bona fide contestant. With her caliber, she was in a league of her own.

In some moot courts after that, I have lost out on the first position to others. Several times, people have told me that I was definitely more deserving than the winner. And as bad as I have felt then, it’s never come close to what I felt winning over Madhavi.

At least, for me, I’d rather lose out on what I deserve than get what I don’t.

Today, people talk of Carrey with a little more seriousness than before. Now, they regard him as an actor who is proficient in his métier after ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Truman Show’, ‘Majestic’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (he’s top-class, by the way). I still remember the reserved drunkard in ‘Doing Time on Maple Drive’.

Jim Carrey – I knew him when…

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sometimes the dance floor is empty


When you look around the dance floor, you see a fringe of people. They drink, they dance, they move, they glance. And somebody on the far end of the bar table opens his wallet and touches a photograph, very very tenderly. Dedicated to that stranger in Fire and Ice who, well, reminded me to miss.

You weren’t supposed to matter,
I wasn’t supposed to care,
It was understood I’d stay here
And you’d simply move on there

You don’t really matter
And I don’t really care
I like being here
Just as you enjoy being there

But sometimes when there’s music
And longing runs free
I catch myself thinking
Of the way you danced with me

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Remembering food


I have realized that I need to eat chicken every day, and something reminiscent of non-vegetarian food every five hours. If I don’t, then my head starts to hurt and I feel a woozy throbbing in my stomach. In fact, right now, I am so hungry that I have started cooking in my head. Preparing food is so out of character for me that I may as well die and be re-incarnated with the culinary ability and willingness.

However, cathartic release is imminent. So, this is literally what I’ve been dishing up in my head now.

I

Before I was born, my folks stayed in Singapore for a few years. There, my mother was very close friends with a Pakistani lady, Farida. They used to share stories of their homelands often, and recipes even more frequently. Farida had visited India once and though she liked the place, it didn’t quite compare to her village near Rawalpindi. She used to tell my mother that the papayas from that village were the best in the world. Ma got the recipe of this particular version of roast chicken from Farida. Since then, the dish has graced several ceremonious occasions in our house; the last time being before I left home. It is now with some sadness that I remember the occasion being celebrated with such joy. Anyway, self-pitying is better done on a full stomach, so I shall defer it for later tonight.

The twist in the recipe of this roast chicken is to marinate the chicken with steamed papaya and butter. The proportion of the papaya-butter mash must be very carefully measured out. Too much of one, and the poultry tastes fruity and too much of the other and you lose the texture of the papaya. You must steam the papaya for just the right amount of time. You must guard against poaching or blanching the fruit.

Once the papayas are done and you flavor it with butter, you rub the mixture onto the chicken and let it marinate for a couple of hours.

If you have done it right, the chicken will be crisp and salty on the outside and slightly sweet and tender on the inside. The meat is moist and in fact, remains moist even after refrigeration.

Of course, I have eaten this version of roast chicken only with the local papayas. But some day, I hope to dine with Farida and judge the difference for myself.

II

One of my father’s colleagues had a remarkable cook called Keerti Singh. He used to make the most refreshing mocktails with bizarre combination of fruits. One of them was a thick concoction of pomegranates and chikoos. The color was quite definitely a turn-off because it reminded you of the not-so-pretty part of the rains. But the taste, well, there was nothing like it. It was always sweet and perfectly blended. You’d feel the slight tartness of the pomegranate and the grainy fructose of the chickoo with every sip. Interestingly, there was no bitter aftertaste despite there being no sugar. Usually, one would imagine that with the seeds crushed and all, there would be residual tinge in the mouth after you’re done. I discovered the secret one day when I happened to be excluded from some game my brother and his friends were playing. I went to the terrace where he was preparing the drink. (As far as exciting quirks go, this is one – the house had a kitchen on the terrace.) He asked me to help him dice the chickoos while he worked on the pomegranates. And this is what he was doing – separating the red, fleshy portion from each and every seed. He did that for ten, big fruits. While my plate was populated with clumsy hotchpotch brown chunks, his steel bowl was filled to the brim with perfect, plump, little red slivers, all of which went into making the most delectable ambrosia.

III

My favorite midnight snack is Kellogs Honey Crunch with buttermilk. I like to have it in a cup, not a bowl. So, first, I heap all these golden flakes in an aqua ceramic mug. Then I take chilled buttermilk that is not too sour, and pour just a little bit over the flakes. You need to keep sifting the flakes while pouring the buttermilk otherwise the flakes will not get wet evenly. Each flake should be partially soft and crunchy. And finally, you need to have it with a teaspoon and not a tablespoon. The teaspoon gives you just the right amount of cereal to chomp on with satiety while allowing you to savor the flavors.

IV

Summertime food in Cuttack or whenever I visited it, was always huge and refreshing. There is a dish called ‘pokhalo’, that is simply rice soaked and served in a lot of curd and whey. But there are as many varieties of the ‘pokhalo’ as there are arguments for Naveen Patnaik’s government being more important than his father’s. My favorite type was made by my grandmother. Of course, the fact that it was served on the verandah of a huge ancestral house overlooking the Kathjodi river perhaps added to the taste.

The rice was soaked in ice water the night before. Sometimes, if we had a bountiful harvest, there would be strips of raw mangoes added to the water. Then, just before it was served, the rice was mixed with ladles of fresh, frothy curd, coarse salt, mint leaves, crushed ginger, and raw, sliced chilies. The usual accompaniments with this were plates of fried fish, chutney made with tomatoes and jaggery, and mashed potatoes. In fact, this particular variety of mashed potatoes is not for the faint hearted. The potatoes are mashed with salt, ground chilies, hot mustard oil, and finely chopped onions. On its own, the dish is pretty devilish but with the chilled pokahlo, it’s an imperative. The worthy benefit of the entire meal, however, is what comes afterwards.

You finish your lunch by gulping down the rice water. The hot afternoon sun, the cool river breeze, and the fermented, comforting water act as the perfect catalyst for well-deserved vacation sloth. You fall asleep listening to a swishing river and wake up with a heady sense of timelessness. That is when you have truly finished a summer meal in Orissa.


V

My mother is a fabulous cook. She cooks with gusto and drama and serves with flourish and panache. In fact, until the time my father cooked for us, we always ate in bone china. On the days that Papa did cook, we ate in steel utensils because, well, my father could never find the china. Or broke whatever he found.

One of my favorite dishes that Ma makes is baked prawns. She cooks it with coconut milk, a little bit of tamarind, lots of coriander, and a bit of lemon grass. The prawns are stewed for a while and then they are baked in a green coconut shell covered with foil.

When we sit to eat, each of us gets our own personal coconut. We carefully unwrap the foil (that is I do it carefully. My brother rips it open and yelps when he singes his finger - every single time. (Well, you never outgrow stupidity I guess.) The aroma that wafts from the coconut is really the most heavenly smells I have come across. And it lingers for the longest time about the baked coconut shell, on your fingers, and on the tip of your tongue. In fact, it is committed to my memory so certainly that I only have to think of that dish and I feel the spicy, sweet crustacean flavor in my mouth.


VI

And the finale would be the trivial little condiment that comes pillion riding a strange little legend.

In my ancestral home in Cuttack, there was a lady called Pinjadi. She was from Jaipur. It’s not very clear how she got to Cuttack from Jaipur, but there were some stories of her stalking the family gardener. He had gone to Jaipur to get some beautiful flowers to plant on the occasion of my grandfather becoming the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court. No-one knows why Pinjadi chose to stalk a dimunitive gardener with enormous thumbs. I am told he had a very keen sense of smell, but that surely does not explain the obsession.

In any case, Pinjadi followed the gardener to our place and stayed on to work in my home. She always believed that her love was not requited because she wasn’t a good cook. And to her, that was an affliction neither fate nor technique could cure.

One day, a tribal chief came to visit my grandmother. These tribal chiefs, or 'soboros' as they were called, were known to be astoundingly good soothsayers. They usually came unsolicited and said what they had to say. After this, it was customary to give them a meal and a blanket and see them off. This time though, there was a special occasion. His son, a young, regal-looking chap of fifteen, had caught a young cub. Myth has it that if you clenched your fist and put it in the mouth of the cub, you’d be an excellent cook.

My grandmother, then a young, eager bride, tried her hardest to muster up the courage to put her hand inside the cub’s mouth. She couldn’t. She often used to tell me that a cub is very adorable to look at until you look into its eyes. Then you see a creature that would reign fear dangerously.

In any case, the tribal chief, his son, and the cub were fed and were soon on their way. Pinjadi followed them into the forest and is believed to have done the deed.

She and the gardener got married a week later.

I must have been six or seven when I had my first and last meal cooked by Pinjadi. My diet was the usual dal, rice, and boneless fish stew. But Pinjadi came and gave me something on the side of the plate. She nudged me conspiratorially, and to an eight year old, there is nothing more delicious than being part of a forbidden strategy.

I tasted her dish. It was black chillies, slit and cooked with dark jaggery. There was only a spoonful of it on my plate but I remember eating it for an inordinately long time. How shall I put it? It tasted like a deep, dark secret. It would be futile to even try and explain that. Suffice to say that in my later years, I have wanted to hunt her down, hold her captive, and take her with me wherever I go just to have a little bit of that. Just a little bit more.

This is despite me learning of her death when I was ten years old. She died soon after poisoning the gardener.

Myth has it that the cub must never be captive.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vox Fortis


I drifted in and out of sleep. My mind meandered through dud-like half awakeness. I felt around for the alarm and pushed it under the pillow when it went off. And when it was stifled hard enough, it stopped. A good feeling – to strangulate self-imposed urgency.

Around me, there was some noise – gushing water from a broken tap, mortar clunking against stones, a yell to a fellow-laborer to pick up stray bricks, loud, brittle radio music…and then, it came…over and above the routine cacophony – that voice.. strong, deep, vermillion. Cutting through the years I had heard it last. Virile and poised. Mandarin silk and obstinate jade. A bloody portraiture of wounded pride. Dueling with impossible pitches and crescendos. Splicing across vestiges of mundane. Pushing forth through layers of ‘correct’.

The voice that was never just a voice. My ultimate, untranslated, unabridged classic.



Madonna.

Monday, March 20, 2006

This is for a decade later

Last night, I was discussing with a friend how parenting is such an expensive affair. The diapers are costly and then there are baby talcs and comfortable shoes and school and sponsored romances until the child gets a job. And who knows how that is going to turn out?

Lately, I’ve been thinking of these things every time I open an empty wallet. Damn the end of month, which for me, begins every 15th.

I was droning on about how heartbreaking it is for a parent to see the child long for something and not be able to afford it. How, with limited means, one must assuage a little heart’s desires, or defer fulfilling them in the unseen future.

My pal, with humor as wry as rye, generally regards everything I tell him as bull. He pointed out that parenting is as much about polite dismissal as it is about money. Case in point is this joke.

Letter from son to father:

No mon,
No fun,
Your son.


Reply from father to son:

So sad,
Too bad,
Your dad.



I now hunt for similar correspondence between mother and daughter.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My man

A couple of months ago, I was going through a rough patch. Things fells apart and eroded every day. That’s when a friend of mine, who is a sturdy example of how meaningless intellect is, told me that I should work on my butt. He said, ‘You can’t control anything else, Mukta. You may as well get your butt in shape.’

That, of course, was rude advice. I had no idea that my behind was being scrutinized. And I was even more clueless about the fact that it was seen as something that needed considerable improvement. He was right, of course. But I could have done without that gem of insight.

I bring this up now because a few weeks ago, tablemannered tagged me. I have to write about eight traits I want my partner to have. The butt story is to help me remember that line in ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, ‘His virtues are only on the surface; and that’s where I like them.’ (The exact quote is much pithier.)

So, in an ode to superficiality, here are my eight traits:

ONE

He must be tall. T-A-L-L. Not 5-10, 5-11 tall but 6-3 minimum kind of tall. Chandigarh tall, not Delhi tall. I love to look at tall people. I am positively mesmerized when I watch tall people drive. The way they adjust the seat to slide back, the way their long fingers shift gears (I think tall people have awesome knuckles), the way they look left, the way they look right, the way their long legs step out confidently, the way they buy you baloons…He must also have a sharp jaw line. You could run your finger along the jaw and your finger would bleed. That sharp. That tall. All that.

TWO

He should please understand that the question, ‘What’s great about Star Wars?’ is a rhetorical question. The answer is implicit: Nothing. No, I don’t know why it got so popular. There are mysteries in this world that I can’t unravel. But when I ask, ‘What’s great about Star Wars?’, I really do mean ‘There’s nothing great about Star Wars.’ I do not want to hear about how brilliantly it was conceived, how Natalie Portman prepared for this role as a foetus, how each strand of dialog captures the vast wisdom of the ages, and how ‘No trying – Do or do not’ is my man’s own personal credo.

THREE

He should share similar values as me regarding non-vegetarianism, i.e.- it is important. I cannot live without meat. I can’t. I have tried. I shrivel in the most ugly fashion. He should realize that when I am asked to eat my salad and I dig into it with my fork, it is only to see what kind of meat lies under the foliage. I don’t eat lettuce. I eat the animal that eats it.

By the same virtue, he should cook mutton very very well. I love the way tall people marinate meat. How they don’t have to struggle to reach for the jeera powder on the top shelf, how there is such fine movement as they go from cooking range to fridge to sink back to cooking range.

FOUR

He should not smoke. Never. Ever. Ever. Not beedi, not cigarette, not cigar, not hookah, not chillum..nothing. And he shouldn’t even bother explaining that ‘ganja’ is ayurvedic.

FIVE

He should be able to speak Haryanvi. I cannot resist tall people who speak Haryanvi; especially when they say the following: ‘Do you have change?’, ‘Need any help?’, ‘Can you help me?’, ‘Are you hungry?’ (The last bit I love in any language, by the way), and ‘Happy New Year.’

SIX

He should have a flair for drama.

Like if I’m angry with him and I’m sulking, he should take me to the terrace, hug me from behind, and show me a firework lit sky. The sparklers must read, ‘I’m sorry, Mukta’.

Or he should get a horse-drawn carriage and wait for me outside office on a Tuesday evening. I’d love to see his tall silhouette romance the cautious shadows under the evening sky.

Or grow me the perfect, rare, black orchid.

Or play the flute while I watch a drizzle at dawn.

Or kiss my hand at breakfast (but not as a ploy to eat my share of sausages.)

SEVEN

He should understand something very, very clearly: I watch movies in theatres. Only when there’s a storm, a riot, or a decade has slipped by since the movie released, will I watch it on DVD. Whether it’s a cinematic blunder or a breathtaking classic, if it’s on the big screen, I will watch it there. Or not at all.

And a bit about the cinema protocol:

We get in BEFORE the movie begins. I want to be inside when the national anthem is going on.

We get out AFTER the movie is over. The movie is over only when the big screen is blank. To make things clearer, when the credits are rolling, the movie is not over because the screen is not blank. So sit.

EIGHT

He should never say the following, even in Haryanvi and even if he’s tall: ‘Anyways’, ‘bitch’, and ‘May the force be with you.’

IF ONLY

He should be all of that…or he should simply be Sanjay Dutt.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Admitting it is the first step

I’m waiting on an isolated road, next to a car that sputtered, spat, and broke down. My friend has gone somewhere to search for a spanner, a spare tyre, car oil, a mechanic, or whatever else is required to get the car moving.

There’s a plateau ahead that looks like it hasn’t seen human footprints since a couple of eons. It’s getting dark and chilly. Behind some shrubbery, I see something glinting. I hope whatever it is that pierces the darkness of the plains doesn’t belong to an animal.

I look around. I can’t make out which direction my friend headed. Shuffling around here and there does me no good. I settle down to listen to the breeze and watch sand shift silently around rocks.

A little later, I hear voices.

Ladki’, (Girl)

Kidhar?’, (Where?)

Arrey udhar…goggles nikaal re…raat ko kya pehenta hai!’ (There! And take off your goggles. Why are you wearing them at night?)

I’m a little annoyed. That’s how you point out bears in a zoo, not a girl on a road.

The guy with the goggles says, with a hint of admiration, ‘Itni raat ko ladki…akeli vo bhi..daring hai usme..’ (A girl..so late at night…she ‘has’ daring.)

In and around Mumbai, and I think only in and around Mumbai, ‘daring’ is what a person has, rather than what a person is. Grammatically incorrect but essentially true.

Kya daring…kaam to kuch rehtaa nahin…aa jaate hain…Ladka gaya hoga kidhar khaana peena laane. Kal ko office jaayega..yeh ladki ka kya. Ghar rahegi, T.V. dekhegi.’

(What ‘daring?’ Doesn’t have any work…The boy must have gone somewhere to get food and drinks. He will go to office tomorrow. This girl will just stay home and watch T.V.)

The voice seemed to have been hardened by experience.

I turn around to see a small makeshift place that probably pumps air in tyres, plays old Hindi songs, and serves endless cups of teas to woeful patrons. A cantankerous man dusts an old, faded sign. The sign says: ‘MCP Shop’.

It is indeed a rare man who knows himself.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In level with my eyes



Months away from June,
I saw a copper moon,
It pinned the sky in place
To a misty celestial lace

It was round and blurred and strong
And didn't stay too long,
And while its luminous work got done
It reminded me of the sun

Two stridents of space
Floating high and free,
Two lofty poets in thought
That shine with gallantry

And while I contemplate both
In silence and with fervor,
One is easily praised
For the other, one must endeavour

One coaxes a song
From hesitant, shy lips,
One forces an anthem
As it resolutely slips

For one, 'tis enough
The tints and hints and sheen,
For the other, 'tis a must
To have a grand requiem

One understands the traces
Of the final moment that drags,
To salute the end of the other
We proudly raise our flags





Note: The photograph of prayer flags in Sikkim was sent to me by K, a friend. On receiving supreme compliments for it, she graciously passed on the credit to her husband.

The unseen photograph of the copper moon was shown to me by J. Typically, her words were, 'Go and look up at the sky.'

Thank you, both.


Our men F.R.I.E.N.D.S

German Bakery, 11:45 a.m.

I, in momentary madness, decide to get a tofu burger. It will take a few minutes because the tofu isn’t ready. Considering how few people actually want it, I think the tofu should be ready and willing at all times. But that is just me. Others will give tofu the time and respect it deserves. The ‘others’ are from Osho.

I wait at a rickety table, sharing it with a group of young people. They are so young, they were stripes and polka dots and at a minimum have three colors (usually, two primary and one secondary) on their bodies. They talk excitedly about everything, including the hostel loo getting a new tap. They smoke cardamom flavored cigarettes and look around furtively to see if any of the other patrons have left behind a pack of smokes.

I sit with them because the other tables, at 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, are taken.

One member of the group who has been eyeing me with some suspicion, strikes up a conversation.

‘You work for a paper?’, he asks.

‘No’.

‘Where you go?’, he continues.

‘Sorry?’, I ask.

Egjactly’, somebody mimics Javed Jaffrey in Salaam Namaste. I have half a mind to hit the young idiot with my copy of Koregaon Times.

‘Where you go?’, he repeats waving his finger like a fairy wand at me.

‘To office.’

He leans back and takes a puff from a cigarette that, for all its vices, looks pretty. It’s very long and slim, and has a jute texture to it.

‘You have job’, he concludes. When I hear deductions such as this, my faith in higher education stands reposed.

‘Where do you study?’, I ask him. May as well be polite until the tofu deems it proper to appear before menial office-goers.

‘Iran’, he tells me.

‘Oh’. There’s a whole line of questioning that opens up - the intrigue of Iran, the mystery of the jute cigarette, and why some seventeen year old from Iran should be at German Bakery smoking a jute cigarette during a school term.

But the Iranian student clearly dominates the conversation.

‘They my friends’, he says, something in the manner of Puss-in-Boots showing off his master’s property.

His pals, all of them Indian, look at me and smile brightly. Just as suddenly, they turn away to continue their discussion. I understand the hostel loo now has a new latch after the Physics Department rallied for it.

It seems to be a warm, cohesive group. I’m pretty sure they rummage each other’s closets every three days. They talk to no-one in particular, they listen to whoever catches their eye..it’s a lazy, happy, complete togetherness.

A little later, a very agitated girl comes and joins the group. Her hair is tousled and is decorated with very pretty turquoise beads. Little droplets of an April sky on her head. She is almost in tears and collapses on one guy in the group. He, at that point in time, must have been playing his millionth game of Space Impact. He wiggles a little bit here and there and makes place for the teary girl.

It seems to be an appropriate time for me to leave them alone, so I venture to get up. However, my leaving the table would cause considerable displacement to the young herd that is now precariously balanced on creaky furniture.

‘You can sit,’ says the Iranian pubescent.

I realize that I must sit because well, I have no other place to go until I get the tofu.

The girl seems to be oblivious of my presence. She sobs coquettishly and her pals try to find out what’s wrong.

Of course, there’s been a guy who’s been a jerk who’s been away.

The girls put out their cigarettes and talk to her stoutly, ‘That guy was not good enough for you.’ ‘He didn’t deserve you.’
‘You shouldn’t have dated him so quickly.’,
‘So what if he played the piano and stuff?’
‘You remember that day when he called me and spoke to me? He was, like, so …dirty, man!’,
‘I told you he was bad news..’,
‘He was such a flirt..he asked me out when you were at Pune Central..’
'He did drugs, man..he was so creepy...'
'He had a tatoo on his thumb! Geez!'

15 minutes of incisive and penetrating analysis were dedicated to proving to the distraught girl that the guy she was deeply in love with was a cad. These were the girl friends.

The guy pals looked at each other. One scratched his head and raised his pierced eyebrow.

Collectively, they leaned forward and asked, ‘You were seeing someone?’


Monday, March 13, 2006

What I look forward to on Mondays

Lunch.

1:00 p.m.

Open-air canteen on the terrace. Flapping chapattis and flying papads. Lots of wind. Wuthering Heights type gusts. Heathcliff serves lunch. Scowls if you take an extra slice of cucumber. You put it back and scamper ahead.

Z sits and opens her dabba with relish. J opens her dabba and looks at Z’s dabba with relish. I open my dabba and suggest we go out to eat.

Z, taking delectable spoonfuls of dalia with brown onions and ground spices:
‘Where were you last night?’

Meanwhile, I try to figure out what can possibly be damp and pale blue and taste like a cucumber? I contemplate in my mouth that refuses to co-operate. My stomach and brain ask God to transfer them to a different body. Organs nowadays have no scruples.

‘What?’, I ask again.

‘Where were you last night?’, Z repeats.

I’m always with Z or with J. In office I’m with Z, outside office, I’m with J. That’s about it. I have two friends in Pune – Z and J, and only with these twain I meet. So, where could I possibly be last night? Oh yes, suddenly it dawns.

‘I was with this friend. We were at a place called ‘Chandni Chowk’.

Z looks up.

‘No, not Delhi.’

Z chomps thoughtfully. Why go to Chandni Chowk when it isn’t in Delhi?

‘What’s there?’

‘It’s on the way to Khadakvasla. Beautiful, stark trees reaching out to hold the stars and…’

‘What did you eat?’

‘Chicken fried rice, diced chicken, and prawns.’

Z approves.

I go back to my veggies with tints of alien skin tones.

‘Aren’t you trying to lose weight’, Z asks.

‘Well, you know, I figure, it’ll go when it’s ready to leave. No sense in trying to force anything.’, I tell her.

‘Hmm…’

I would like to carry on about the stark trees, empty roads, and crystal constellations, but Z doesn’t have patience with all this.

It’s summer – leaves will fall.
It’s late – roads will be empty.
It’s night – there will be stars.

Suddenly, I remember what my friend had pointed out during the drive. A huge farmhouse belonging to the ‘Venky’s Chicken’ business.

‘It had round, red lights surrounding it’, I tell Z, eager to get her interested.

‘Must be for the chicken’, Z tells me.

I don’t think so. Why would cluckers want round, red lights?

Z explains that it’s for the people who come to steal chicken.

Patiently, I tell Z that people who come to steal chicken are not invisible; so it’s not as if the Mr. India strategy of having red lights everywhere would solve the problem.

‘No, the lights have current, so no-one can pass through them.’

‘But all lights have current, that’s how they get lit.’

Z looks at me and laughs. ‘Good one,’ she chortles.

I am confused but I laugh anyway.

J, who hasn’t spoken until now, looks ahead in a daze.

‘Why do people smoke?’, she asks.

Z and I turn back to look as if we don’t know what she’s talking about.

'Hmm', says Z, that really doesn’t mean anything – like her red light chicken theory.

‘Why do people smoke?’, she repeats slowly, waiting for the answer to come flying with a chapatti.

‘You got me’, I say with sturdy disapproval.

‘I don’t want you’, says Z.

J and Z laugh uproariously at this as another papad flies away.

I am confused but I laugh anyway.





Friday, March 10, 2006

Somebody's watching...

How else could:

kthe lights go off just as I rummage through my purse to locate my keys?

kcome back on immediately after I’ve squinted in the mobile light to open the door?

kgo off again as soon as I step in?

kthe phone beep shrilly and startle me as I try to gauge whose shadow I see outside the window?

kcome back on to show me a huge, black spider squatting on the sofa in all its glory? It looks like a shriveled cat with many legs. And what’s with the disdain, insect? I like my new hairstyle, even though Z and J start talking of bird flu every time they look at my head.

kblink off again after the spider begins to advance towards me? I dodge a black spider in pitch darkness with thunder rattling the window panes. A good time to holler ‘I want my mommy!’

kMommy call right at that moment to tell me that I should leave my job. Why? She hangs up. My cousin’s on T.V.

kthe phone get out of charge as I feel something furry against my toe and try to fix the bright Reliance glow on the obtrusion?

kall the wicks in my seven candles fray and come off as I try to light them?

kI stub my toe and drop the last match in a pool of water..which reminds me that I should have wiped my shoes before I got in.

ksit on the sofa, close my eyes, and hear a gruff voice practically breathe over me: ‘Madam, not safe to leave door open when there are no lights.’ It’s the watchman with my house keys that I dropped outside.

kThis perfect little orchestration of co-incidental glitches is obviously for someone’s benefit.

Somebody’s watching, and to whoever it is, may I recommend Star Movies. Leave me alone….with the lights on, please.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pitter Patter

Last night, it rained....at 1:30 a.m. My friend and I sipped coffee watching the pool’s surface break into turquoise splinters.

Last night, I walked through the drive way, holding my breath – in anticipation that my first lungful would be the rich, spicy scent of wet earth.

Last night, there was lightning. Parts of the sky that had earlier been smeared with moonbeam turned pale ochre. And one star stubbornly shone behind a tattered cloud.

Last night, I walked home, looking up at this mad, twisted, exhilarating burst of paean.

Last night, I was wrong about how I thought I loved the rains completely. There was always room for a little more.

Like last night, there was a little room for this morning.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Comprenez Vous?

Something tells me I will never be understood in my lifetime.

When I began my chequered career, or less dramatically, when I got my first job, I had certain aspirations for myself. I wanted my resume to be varied and eclectic. In fact, at the time of retirement (which is now barely five months away), I wanted my resume to list jobs beginning with each alphabet – acrobatics, baby-sitting, cherry cultivation, and so on.

But I seem to be stuck in a rut. Ever since I started out, my jobs, though varied in industry and pay-scale (swings between low and lower), are consistently word-based.

So, instead of my resume illumined with variety brought on by ‘acrobatics, baby-sitting, or cherry cultivation’, it is dowdened with ‘analyzing content, briefing content, contenting content.. et cetera, ad nauseum.’

Even the blank Microsoft Word document yawns as I re-write my resume and profile my third job. ‘So, anything different this time?’, it mocks.

Software ridicule aside, I have made my peace. Writing is what I can do with a modicum of comfort and competence; therefore, I will make my living being a wordsmith. And the world and its aunty know that.

Oh well. Things could have been worse.

My aspirations have now turned to writing different things – like for a food magazine, or about horses, or about babies. I would love to write about the different gurgles that babies make. Gurgles are like enthusiastic little burps that suddenly discover a tune. They are so jaunty. If ever I am stranded on a mountain with no company, I would like to have the sounds of babies’ gurgles with me. One must remember simple times.

Every night, I go to bed thinking that I will get an opportunity to write something luminescent and wonderful the next morning. The blank ‘.doc’ cynic will get teary eyed and choke, ‘Mukta, I never knew..sniff!’

So, I get all tingly and numb with excitement when I see an email from a mighty important agent. The mail reads:

‘Dear Mukta,’ (yes? yes?),

We have gone through your job profile (my mind cruises in bliss, my time has finally come. I shall be discovered now) and we have just the job for you. (Can one really die of happiness? If yes, its rigor mortis for me right away.)

Given your experience and talent (where is everyone when I want to read aloud?), we are very certain you’ll be the perfect candidate for the position. (Gosh!)

We are looking for a canteen administrator (Screech! Halt! My calm cruise just got stuck in a ditch.)

A ‘canteen administrator’….A canteen administrator!

I hurriedly go through my resume. What, in there, could possibly have given anyone the impression that I was suited to administrate a canteen?

Let’s see –

Job 1: Sold perfumes. Wrote reports about selling perfumes.

Job 2: Edited and wrote articles for a law website. Interacted with lawyers. (Hmm..perhaps this could be construed as experience in having a difficult and thankless job. Yet, canteen administrator? Nah!)

Job 3: Wrote, edited, reviewed articles – freelance.

Job 4: Wrote, edited, reviewed articles – chained to a desk.

Job 5: Wrote, edited…(okay, the stupid document has started yawning.)

Jobs 6 and 7: same.

So pray tell, stupid job agent who evoked reactions in me that a million exclamation and question marks cannot do justice to…how the hell am I the ‘perfect candidate’ to be a canteen administrator? Or did you think that ‘content’ and ‘canteen’ is pretty much in the same vicinity since they sound similar?

Anyway, thank you very much but I will not be a ‘canteen administrator’.

But I would like to cut hair – not yours, though. Hmpph!


Okay, so job agents don’t understand you, even if you’ve given every detail down to the lining of your intestine in your resume.

That’s what friends are for.

No they are not.

My pal, A, calls up from Chennai. He is the wittiest, most scathing minds I have ever met. And what’s more, he used to write a blog. He has stopped now because he is bored. The tedium of genius.

He tells me that he wants to write a book. Or as he puts it, ‘I f***ing want to write a bloody book.’

And he wants me to tell him if people actually read anything that has too many profanities.

I answer like the Oracle of Delphi. He is a wonderful storyteller – not good, or great, or fantastic – but wonderful. His language is spot on, his descriptions are piercing, and the most important thing – he is an honest guy. He writes from the heart. For all the finesse that is brought on by cerebral writing, it can never come close to anything written simply and truly.

‘But what about all the bad language?’

‘You don’t use it for effect, A…you use foul language because that’s the way you think. You are very very clever and sometimes very clever people use foul language.’

Of course, he doesn’t use foul language ‘sometimes’ – every waking moment is more like it. But there’s such variety, it’s delightful. There are the usual diddles – bloody, ‘f***’, etc. etc. And there are plenty more where a person’s entire genealogy is scupshed in dank water and mud. And where someone’s nostrils are compared to a hyena’s behind. He has a gift with the tongue-lash.

But A isn’t convinced.

‘You’ve read all these thick-thick books,’ he says. (That’s me – the chick who does the thick-thick reading.) ‘Have you read any with loads of bad words?’

In response, I tell him of a queer book that I read recently, ‘Venus as a Boy’ by Luke Sutherland. It’s about a bisexual who has a divine gift of sex. Whenever he sleeps with someone, that person sees heaven. The book is filled with invectives and grisly details (this guy takes hormone pills to become a woman. That description of when he first sees the mound of breast forming on him made me queasy.) Yet, that book is distinct – grainy, brittle at times, sharp and jagged. There’s a beautiful moment when the woman he’s in love with is with his best friend. He sits outside the house-boat and throws pebbles over water – watching them skid endlessly into the horizon. Suddenly, the girl sneaks up to him and says, ‘Not bad, young god.’ Poignant.

I explain all this and finish by telling him that ‘Venus as a boy’ is an uncomfortable book, true – but you won’t find another one like it.

He listens. Pauses. Chirps, ‘Hey! He makes people see heaven when he f***s them, is it? I once saw a porn movie like that…You sure you didn’t get that story on cable?’

Pretty sure. Wannabe canteen administrators don’t watch things like that. Bored writers? That’s another story.