Friday, April 28, 2006

'Zen'se

All happiness begins with knowing what you want.

All unhappiness begins with not knowing what you want.

All chaos begins with trusting other people to know what you want.

All chaos persists with other people giving you what you don’t know you want.

All frustration stems from getting what you may not want.

All homicidal instincts arise from having to pay for what you definitely don’t want.





Giving you what you want is a promise.

Giving you what you may or may not want is a compounded promise.

A compounded promise is a ‘com’-promise.

You don’t want a compromise.

Nobody does.

It makes one unhappy.

It does not make one happy.

All happiness begins with knowing what you want……


Someday, this will be my response to a client’s feedback: ‘So…this is it? I’m not sure…not what I had in mind.’

And when he says, ‘Huh?’, I shall pull out his design document, flutter it in the air, and say, ‘Exactly.’











Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Melancholy





I am very, very sad today. Fearfully enough, I would have lived through this day not knowing that I was sad. What brought home the realization was food.

It was a perfectly productive day. There is a lot about my work (as opposed to my job) that I really like. This is despite the fact that I have been thwarted for it several times. But that’s okay. I believe that I should be certain of at least one skill I bring to my job. That must remain sure and steadfast, even though no-one else notices it. The song of an eclipsed moon. I know that song and that is why I get hired, or berated.

So, things at work are good. My other life, which I shall unimaginatively refer to as ‘personal’, is good too. Parents are happy, even though there is tumultuous distress over who gets the remote. I wonder why my father even bothers to try. He will keep complaining that he is sick, to which Ma will want to know whose fault that is and why should the remote go to a weak viewer when it can entertain a more robust spectator. Brother has finally stopped gelling his hair. It is indeed relief-worthy because his nut had come to resemble a track Road-runners practiced sprinting on.

Also, someone loves me. It’s not quite the groovy kind of love that is sung about, because he compares me to a perfectly argued criminal trial. It’s a comparison my ever optimistic self somehow can’t be happy about. But wooing techniques aside, I am loved with the certainty people usually reserve for declaring vanilla ice-cream to be the best flavor ever. That is good because, well, it is reciprocated. And I do think that way about vanilla ice-cream too. Whatever my notions of love were, I most definitely had not counted on it being so peaceful and happy. But it is. Funny.

And as usual, money is scarce, so there is no alarm of finding unspent wealth in my account.

Therefore, I should not be sad. And as mentioned earlier, I thought I wasn’t.

But then I marched into Mac Donalds and ordered six burgers (three Maharaja Macs) and ate them all. One by one. Each shred of lettuce, each drip of mayo, each soggy, scwardum of bun.

I am seasoned enough to know that I wasn’t feeding my hunger.

As I glutted over each burger, and as my jeans steadily became snug, I felt a sort of buttery soothing come over something deep inside me. I was blunting something sharp and edgy. Something I used to feel in what seems like a lifetime ago – something that feels like ‘I don’t deserve to have it so good.’

I know it will go away. I will wake up tomorrow morning and do my crunches. Make myself an excellent cup of coffee and read a few splendid pages of Rushdie before I get dressed. I will make quick, swift calls home to find out how Ma is doing (not too good because Dad is strangely getting very intrigued with VH1.) I will write notes to my bai and pray quickly before I lock my door and dash.

And then the day will wear on. It will be pleasant and laborious with nothing spectacular happening. It will be a mundane passage of time. That over, I will go home, open the door, step inside the darkness, and switch on the light. I will look past the furniture, clothes, pieces of poems I had written and illustrated. I will see the cavity and hope of an empty room and a crowded life. So much evaporates.

Tomorrow I will smile and genuinely be happy, looking forward to a Friday. But today, I shall sit by myself with my scarred epiphany.

Returning makes leaving so impossibly hard.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Upliftment

In Powai, my office was located in a very posh building. Unlike the other buildings I had worked in, this one had an impressive façade, a fancy name, and Greek grooves and moldings on pillars.

It was a modern building. As is the case in the province of ‘modern’, several thoughtful outrés were provided. There were huge mirrors on both sides of the lobby, so that you could quickly look at yourself and primp up before getting to work. There was the marble floor over which heels clicked in refinement as they made their way to moneyed alcoves. There was also a huge, bright chandelier that lent the requisite whiff of opulence proper for multi-national companies.

Another example of a thoughtful, modern service was the lift system.

This building had four lifts to accommodate the hundreds of people who used them. You could call any of these lifts by pressing the panel of buttons.(In this regard, this was like the other lifts all over the world – except for this building in Bhubaneshwar where there is a lift but no corresponding buttons. You call the lift by tilting your head, looking up into the shaft, and yelling ‘LIIIIFFFT!’ Your voice resounds through seven heavens and if someone is pleased, the lift comes down. If you’re naïve, the ‘someone’ is God; if you’re not, it’s the toothless liftman.)

This modern lift, however, could be beckoned using an additional ‘disability’ button. This button was to be used by the handicapped or the disabled. It is unclear how this button actually worked but speculation was that when you used this button, the lift came straight down. It would bypass the other floors where people waited for the lift to stop.

The idea of this button was to perhaps reduce the waiting time for a handicapped person. As commendable as the intention was, it would’ve been better to see a few ramps built at the entrance. While there was consideration given to a person on a wheel-chair waiting for the lift, not much was done to ensure that such a person got to the lift easily in the first place.

Anyway, one appreciates the sentiment.

Now, the interesting thing is that I hadn’t seen too many disabled people using the lift at all.

During the rush hours, around 9:30 or so in the morning, huge groups of office-people (not disabled) would stand impatiently waiting for the lift. To speed things up, they’d press the ‘disability’ button. As a result, the lift wouldn’t stop at any of the other floors. People on these floors would be left waiting and cursing or they’d take the stairs.

One day, however, a young girl in a wheelchair waited for the lift. It was again one manic morning hour when everyone wanted to rush to office and swipe their cards early.

This girl had several people ahead of her. One person in that crowd pressed the ‘disability’ button. He did that out of habit. It had come to be such a ritual by this time that using the ‘speed’ button was the de rigueur way of calling the lift.

In any case, the lift came but the girl in the wheelchair couldn’t get in. The other people, the ones with no disabilities, deftly moved around her and filled the elevator.

She looked on a little helplessly as the doors closed. Expectedly, people inside the lift avoided her eyes.

She continued to wait and kept pressing the ‘disability button’ numerous times. The problem was that people on the other floors, who were habitually bypassed before, had resorted to the button trick as well. They too pressed the ‘disability’ button to call the lift. But now this button was of no use because it was equipped to handle an exception and not to shoulder the rule.

After some wait, the lift finally reached the ground floor. By this time, again, several people stood around the girl, almost breathing on the elevator doors. However, when the doors of the elevator opened, they moved aside and let the girl get in. They waited patiently until she had maneuvered her wheelchair. In fact, a couple of people stepped out so as not to overcrowd her.

The girl smiled and acknowledged the old-fashioned consideration the modern ‘disability’ button had failed to provide.

I have thought of this incident often and more frequently in recent times. It’s interesting – the effortless use and abuse of a well-meaning mechanism.

Is it just me or does this remind anyone else of the reservation issue?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ready, steady.........wait

Since J and I are practically neighbors (apart only by a shoddy, dark, rocky lane), I spend many happy hours with her daughter. Because C is only three and I have given up alcohol this birthday, happy hours have got nothing to do with consuming liquor at student-budget prices. A good thing because the Pogo channel needs to be viewed with acute sobriety, else you may completely miss the chump’s motive to woo the serpent. A lot has changed in the animal kingdom since ‘Jungle Book’.

When you spend so much time with a child, who innocently asks you why her mother is working so hard when you are not (an anomaly I hasten to rectify), I wonder what it takes to be a parent.

It’s not what I had imagined – financial security, unreasonable levels of compassion, physical endurance to go without sleep for days, so on and so forth. All this is necessary, but you could have it all and still not be ready for parenthood. I now understand that what is actually required is a thick skin.

Last evening, J was late at work, so I decided to troop over to play with her daughter. Usually I try to read C a story but it’s no fun anymore. She doesn’t focus on the story at all. Instead, what she really wants to know is why the pink elephant is such a loser that it got featured in a book instead of dancing on T.V. And there’s just so many ways you can defend a pachyderm’s career choices – pink or not.

However, last evening, instead of playing hide-and seek with her shadow in the house, C was playing in the building compound. I think she was staging a little dance for the two aunties and was ably supported by another skittish young girl. I expected her to see me and come running with the boundless joy I thought I evoked in her. But she saw me with mild surprise and asked me if her mother was still working. I said yes. ‘You left early?’, she continued. Again, I said yes. Truly, I don’t seem to be working as hard as her mommy.

I wasn’t asked to join in the seemingly complicated sequence. C and her friend would jump from one rock to another, twirl and skip for three steps, and then roll on the grass. One of them would act injured and the other would get all concerned, only to laugh at the other one on the face. It went on like this for 15 minutes.

Well, I did feel a bit ignored. I mean, just the other day I was telling her things about how animals, like people, make career choices and why someone would want to be associated with Puffin Publications instead of Pogo Channel. In fact, I also got eloquent about how there’s no shame in turning down a lucrative option for a more fulfilling one. Not to mention, there was some other semi-autobiographical mush thrown in for good measure. And now it turns out, I’m not good enough to be rolling in the grass with.

But I decided to bide my time. There was a lovely breeze and flowers were gently flaking off trees. There was all this moon-shimmer in the clouds but I couldn’t exactly spot a moon anywhere. It was the perfect setting for a girl on a rock to be looking beautiful – resplendent in the simple beauty of a summer night.

C and her pal looked at me and whispered to each other. Maybe they wanted to play Snow White or something and wanted me to be the lead. I was just getting ready to say yes, when C and A ran towards me shouting ‘Bhooot! Bhooot!

‘Where?’, I asked.

‘You bhoot!’, said C emphatically.

Yes….you!’, giggled her companion, ruling out any possibility of error my ‘in-denial’ mind may think of.

I thought of just turning my face and sulking alone on the rock. But, well, they looked really cheerful. What the heck? May as well join them.

‘So what do I need to do?’, I asked the two twittering girls.

‘Nothing’, said C shaking her head placidly.

Great. So now I was a natural in that role. Why even bother building self-esteem?

They romped around by themselves for a little while. Then they’d go up to some uncle who’d be passing by and point me out excitedly,
‘See uncle, bhoot!’

After the third uncle had squinted at me and commended the kids for the appropriate identification of the after-dead, I told C to come home. She agreed.

Of course, I had half a mind to not read out any stories anymore. My ego was so sore and all, but I couldn’t stay away from C’s storybook. I have begun to feel rather affectionately towards the pink elephant now. I can’t forsake it. It’s so much prettier than that stupid penguin on TV that C likes so much. He really does look creepy.

Anyway, C and I sat down and started looking at pictures. We then decided to sketch.

Sketching with C means that she uncaps ten sketch pens, uses one, and keeps the others out of my reach. I have doodled several Canadian sceneries in royal blue…and only in royal blue.

Anyway, while I was sketching my nth mountain in blue felt pen, I caught my reflection in the window pane. I thought I looked good. I had definitely lost weight – those 30 crunches a day were paying off. The legs looked toned and the face didn’t resemble a soyabean chunk. Hmm. Nice.

I snapped out of my reverie when C jabbed her sketch-pen (green) onto my thigh.

‘Can I sketch you?’, she asked.

Ah! Finally! The child-like adoration.

‘Of course! But tell me, how will sketch me?’, I coo.

She takes a pink sketch pen, thinks intently, and tells me. ‘One round, then another round.’

I’m not ashamed to say that I may have fought back tears then. No point in having flat abs if circles are all one needs to draw me.

And of course, there’s definitely a bit of a wait before I have a daughter.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

On the way to everywhere, stop there for some

In this world, there are busy roads and not so busy roads. People jostle to move past or move ahead. Each of them walks these roads in his own faulty, perfect, hesitant, cocksure gait. But each one takes a step in a direction – some with the urgency of getting away from, some with the earnestness of getting closer to.

Every road is a maelstromific bubble. Every person who walks it, walks it with little spurts of crackle. No matter how small or desolate a path, it is someone’s highway to somewhere. And on these roads, there are stalls that stand vanguards to the ultimate emblem of the free spirit – an open road.

These stalls are frequented by an ilk that hasn’t gone soft. Their hearts are still simple, their minds are still unfettered. There’s rawness in their bustle. There’s quickness in their transaction.

These stalls are no place for the mind to get plush or lofty.

When the sun beats down on these stalls, people with unfinished business stop here. They have a grit in their eyes that you would miss in a chic coffee shop anywhere. These eyes could belong to a laborer who’s thinking of being the Marco Polo of his village or the sales guy who’ll shed his corporate shackles today or the woman who’s listening to the first applause of her play. These people are different from those with smooth, processed desires who sit in cool, mild café’s. Their dreams are unpolished still – like the stalls they frequent.

From these stalls comes a beverage that infuses this doggedness. It’s sweet and scalding – like the careless tomorrows that crackle in the maelstromic bubble. Again, it’s not for the content or the laggards. It’s for those who sear and bear and grimace yet blink at the sun without shades. It’s for those commoners who claim the open road without sunscreen. It’s the liquid brew of the Ceasar’s promise and the Excalibur spirit.

The cutting chai is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fair Play

Maybe we have come a long way from the position of ‘Show me the person, and I’ll show you the law.’

Maybe we are very clear that celebrities are no different from regular citizens. So, if they do the crime, they must do the time.

But maybe, just maybe, the judiciary that is acting according to such strong, potent impartiality, doesn’t quite believe it.

That is why there is a 150 page judgment (in a bid to be a ‘landmark case’ no doubt) when a much more concise sentence would do. If only evidence is weighed to administer punishment, then why should it matter if a guy is a celebrity? Salman Khan got famous acting. How does that mandate that he have stronger ethics than others? Why does his fame make him responsible for other people’s conscience? Why should his getting punished be an ‘example’ for other people?

Maybe the judiciary itself needs to think of whether it’s trying to overcompensate for its lapses. Maybe it needs to look at whether it’s going all out to punish those who get caught to make up for those who get away.

So it punishes a frightened 19 year-old (a common citizen) when she turns a hostile witness while the uncommon ones breathe easy.

It sentences a guy for breaking the law. And then it points out that a celebrity has not escaped the long hands of the law because the celebrity is no different from a regular citizen. The law is the same for all – a common man or a celebrity.

Yes, your Lordship, I’m trying to get past the fact that Salman Khan is a celebrity and your judgment is in fact, very very righteous.

And no, your Lordship, law is not blind. It definitely peeps.

Monday, April 10, 2006

One strange summer-time thought


It is a very hot day. As much as one expects heat in Indian summers, today is unreasonable. The roads are getting charred and leaves are turning crisp and dried. Some giant finger can take a pick of the choicest summer leaves, dip it in ketchup and eat.

What else can the giant have?

Yes, there are those vast cottony white spindles that look like froth on cool lassi. The giant can have that. There are some clouds that are slightly yellowish and perfectly rounded. The giant could help himself to one scoop of that honey-melon ice-cream. It will be refreshing – the icy, light, sweetness.

All that is good. But somewhere behind the tender lining of the pale, blue sky is clear, sweet, spring water. It’s cool and nourishing. The giant will quarter off a bit of the sky and press it to his mouth. The cool wetness will dribble through the cracks of his dry, parched lips and roll down his dusty neck. The water will gush about his tongue and hold it in rapture, such that the watery manacles will always sate the tongue; the ever-wet tongue that will not get pruned two minutes after the water is wiped away.

And when his thirst is quenched, the giant will be happy. He will be refreshed and aglow in an aquatic wash. The world, to him, will turn a cool, cucumber hue. All over the giant's face will be droopy moistness. Now, summer somnambulism will set in.

There will be a sleepy hunt for a shaded patch and cool grass. The giant will find it and lie gown, with one hand under the head and the other one plucking weeds or petals. What does it matter? Satisfaction is so pastel.

He will see the sky, all bulbous with the hidden sweet thirst quencher and think: Water is a performing artist.

That’s all with the giant.

My hands don’t reach the leaves.

Clear and unspoken


Earlier, about some love, I'd talk,
For some love I'd shout,
Now, for the kind that's really important,
I simply don't talk about.


It's nice - the kind of peace and silence the heart can hold for someone who truly matters.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gurly

Sometimes, I look at my family photos. There is one with me, aged five, sitting on my grandfather’s lap. We are surrounded by my brother and five of my male cousins, aged between three and six. All of them are dressed in my clothes. Now that childhood is over, my brothers do not know the difference between pink and peach and would sooner die than be seen in anything mauve. My Cotton World tops and skirts are safe. There is much to be thankful for.

A benefit of having very strange siblings is that I can learn to relate to weird men all over the world. Of course, I haven’t met all the weird men across the globe, but I think I’ve made the acquaintance of every strange male who takes the bus from Pune to Mumbai. Men who have made me see myself in a new light.

Last week, I bought my ticket from a guy who breathlessly insisted to all concerned that the bus was jusht leaving. I didn’t believe him at all but I did wonder how closely he resembled a goat. Another girl, with orange MTV trousers, also stared into his face, no doubt trying to figure out who he reminded her of. I thought I should bleat into her ear to give her a hint, but there are chances that she wouldn’t have taken too kindly to that. I let it go.

I got in and almost got out quickly again. It was a video coach. The small, tilted T.V. had a guy in a shimmering white shirt wearing shades (to shield his eyes from the sequined glare of his apparel, I suppose) and sashaying away like Scheherzade. Since I honestly am saturated with Emraan Hashmi, I thought I should just step out for a little bit to escape loud, umpteen nasal renditions.

But the goat man outside snapped that the driver was jusht coming and consequent actions would jusht follow, so can I please keep my uppity tastes to myself and watch Emraan Hashmi in peace?

Okay, so I go in and sit down. The guy on the next seat rips open his packet of biscuits and looks at me. It’s a look I have come to recognize very well. My cousin in the movie business gives me these looks sometimes…like when it is 2 a.m. in the morning and I’m writing my diary peacefully and he has been making throaty phone calls all night.

‘Will you listen to my script?’, he’ll ask earnestly, after the last person has hung up on him.

‘No way!’

And then he’ll begin.

His friends are no different. He has introduced me to his cronies with tortured artistic consciences from NSD. They look at me and launch into a tirade against Karan Johar and then tell me about a film that’ll make the Karan Johars of the world shut up. I mean, they have my blessings and all but why am I required to be listen to every germ of thought that crawls into their commercial-format thwarting brain.

This boy looked at me like that. Something told me that before the journey was over, I’d be answering the question, ‘Aapko kya lagta hai? Aisi picture chalegi?’ (What do you think? Will such a film work?)

Neeraj was studying film direction in FTII, Pune. This was probably why he got vitriolic when the bus guy started a Govinda-Twinkle Khanna flick called ‘Joru ka Gulaam’. Okay, so it wasn’t award-winning or anything but it was quite enjoyable in bits and parts. There is merriment in silly flamboyance sometimes. In one scene, Kadar Khan is telling some guests about his youngest daughter, Twinkle. She is tom-boyish and hard to ‘domesticate’ or something like that. On cue, Twinkle Khanna comes riding a motorcycle down a sweeping staircase, from the bedroom to the living room. Tremendous mirth there!

‘What do you do?’, Neeraj asked me, quite keen to find out why I was appreciating David Dhawan’s direction with such gusto.

I told him that I worked for a software company and gave a couple of very telling glances to the orange-cream biscuits he was chomping on. He quickly finished the last one, and rumpled up the wrapper.

‘You like movies?’, he continued.

Sigh! How do I answer such a question?

I have seen movies like ‘Loha’, ‘Lahoo’, ‘Lahoo ke do rang’, ‘Chandaal’, ‘Krodh’, ‘Love 86’, ‘Love, Love, Love’, ‘Hathyaar’, etc. etc. Movies that probably the producer, director, and his step brother-in-law watched..and that too, because it was free. I have paid and watched these films.

The clincher: I have seen a movie called ‘Mahashaktishaali’ (starring Dharmendra and Avinash Wadhwan), first day, first show. I know who Avinash Wadhwan is.

I usually rest my case after citing this example.

He makes a mental note to ask his teacher at FTII: ‘Who is Avinash Wadhwan?’

‘English movies you watch?’, he carries on. My response to this question could probably redeem me.

‘Yes’, I tell him.

‘You mustn’t like science fiction, I think?’

That is mighty perceptive of someone wearing a T-shirt with ‘Bone Man’ rubber printed on it.

‘How did you know?’, I asked impressed.

‘No, like…you know..’

Well, I don’t but I smile happily. Good. None of that Star-Wars proselytization will be happening anytime soon.

‘But you didn’t even like Star Wars?’, he asks, ruining whatever fragile edifice of good opinion I had of him.

I vehemently say no and turn my face the other way.

‘Hmm, I should’ve guessed.’

‘How? What should you have guessed?’

‘That you wouldn’t like Star Wars. I mean, you don’t like science fiction but I thought…Star Wars..’ I can’t believe it. He was sulking now.

I suppose I had been unduly belligerent. I told him that I liked ‘Minority Report’ and I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Abyss’ and also ‘Space Jam’. I had let the third movie slip by too quickly. He looked at me like I was stupid. He was right.

‘Your choices…they’re so typical,’, he mumbled. ‘Like you know..you’re a girl.’

Well, given my anatomy, it would be rather inconvenient for me to be anything else but what has that got to do with not liking science fiction?

‘Your tastes are typical..like a girl,’ he repeated, pronouncing ‘girl’ with as much distaste as ‘garlic’.

‘Yeah, so?’ I was too tired to argue.

‘Do you watch action movies?’, he asked me, trying to make a point. If this meant I had to hear anything about Vin Diesel, I was getting off the bus.

‘No, not really, but I saw Speed 12 times’, I replied.

‘Because of Keanu Reeves, I bet.’

That is true, but I didn’t admit it. I told him I loved the action. Although all I remember now is Keanu’s sunny, shy smile when Bullock tells him that her license was confiscated for speeding. I mean, who remembers bomb detonations after that?

‘Have you watched any Arnold Schwarzenegger movies?’ He couldn’t sound more snide if he tried.

‘As a matter of fact, I have seen several.’ That’s it. Cool, calm, and lethal.

‘Which ones?’

Come to think of it, I haven’t watched too many. I haven’t exactly seen Terminator 1, although I’m sure I’d have liked it because of the novelty. But Terminator Three was one big, technical cavernous pit. Understandably, I was dozing through the film so I couldn’t actually mention that.

I thought hard and furious while Neeraj dug into some suspect pocket in his frayed cargo-pants and pulled out another packet of biscuits. And no, I wasn’t offered any this time round either.

‘So tell me,’ he chomped, spraying crumbs all over me. ‘What Schwarzenegger movies have you seen?’

Hmm.

‘Kindergarten cop’, I said.

He rolled his eyes. ‘Oh! That Arnold movie!’ I think all that glucose just got congealed into some kind of sarcasm in his bloodstream.

‘I have also seen, umm …‘Junior.’ There!

‘That doesn’t count!’

‘Why not?’

‘He did that film because he wanted to change his image.’

‘SO?’

‘It doesn’t count.’

Yes, orange cream biscuits and ‘Boneman’ written on a T-shirt. How much maturity could I expect.

Some more thinking. How could I forget!

‘True Lies!’, I piped.

‘Hmm’, he grunted. ‘But that’s not really a Schwarzzeneger movie.’

I didn’t waste my time being aghast. He told me that it had Jamie Lee Curtis as well. Apparently, if Arnie is paired with a capable actress, then it amounts to the movie not being ‘his’ film. All Schwarzenneger fan clubs are much benefited by not having Neeraj in their group.

By the time the last cream filling had been licked, he had made up his mind that I hadn’t watched a single ‘true Arnold’ movie in my life. After crumpling the second biscuit packet, dozed off.

I couldn’t sleep. I HAD to have seen other Schwarzzenger movies. How could I have not?

So, I thought and thought and thunked.

The bus entered Panvel. In a couple of stops I had to get down and this guy would go on into the world thinking I had only seen ‘gurly’ movies. I had to think of some other Arnold flick.

As the bus pulled into Vashi, Neeraj woke up and noticed that I was deep in thought.

‘Still can’t think of any, huh?’

The bus stopped. I waited for the people in front of me to get down. Just as Neeraj was waving goodbye in that irritating extravagance, I told him ‘Jingle all the way’ and got off neatly. I couldn’t bear to look at that infuriating smirk.

Okay, so he won.

I reached home and found my mother dozing in front of the T.V. There was some movie going on with a beautiful church and Arnold flailing his arms about. ‘End of Days’. I turned it off.

Oh well. Gurly - that’s me.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Happy Birthday to me - Part One


Very strangely, I feel sleepy now that my birthday is over. It was very, very good – all these celebrations that began a whole day before and continued a whole day later. But now I feel like sleeping in a chilled AC room with soft pillows, crisp sheets, and a fluffy blanket.

However, before this satiety, there was anticipation. And then, the drums rolled.

Sunday, 2nd April, I met my girl gang who I seem to have known for an eternity now. We all used to work in the same office and share an almost unhealthy affinity to food. Of course, some like S and C are vegetarians and then there’s Anumita who likes green salads despite being a non-vegetarian (and you can’t really do much about people like that). But these exceptions apart, all of us like food…a lot.

We met at Mocha at 11:30 in the morning. Some were fashionably late and others were startlingly early and I was pleasantly surprised. Very very pleasantly. I had imagined only C to be there and possibly SK. S is too posh and now works in Bandra-Kurla complex, so I was wondering if she’d actually forsake a Sunday to come and meet me. But she’s a very dear friend, who, through many casual insults, has introduced me to Lokhandwala – the fulcrum of all things filmi.

And then there’s Anumita who I honestly thought had hired an agent who dispensed appointments on whim. Like you could meet Anumita only if you wore Prada or knew about two hair products at a minimum or could list three shades of white – (ivory, off-white, and enamel. There! I qualify.) But Anumita did come in a shiny, long, posh-looking car looking ever the Veronica I had imagined her to be.

All of us did look dandy. We looked at each other satisfactorily and commented on how good-looking our group was. We are vain, that way.

Then, after establishing that all of us looked a million bucks and how consummately deceptive looks can be in that regard, we decided to catch up. The last time we’d met, we were all working together. This time round, several of us had moved away and some were thinking of leaving. So, essentially, we got talking of our choices and why we made them – always the best part of any re-union, I think.

Then Anumita asked me if there was anything interesting in my life. Of course, she had already assumed the worst (that there wasn’t) and she wasn’t entirely wrong. However, I had worked on a singularly engaging storyboard but it was something Anumita made very clear that I could keep to myself. S sipped her hazelnut coffee and tossed her hair about, all model-like.

‘What’s happening to your love life?’

I usually regard such a direct line of questioning to be well-suited for upcoming appraisals (‘How exactly did you contribute to this project?’), but then, what are friends for but appraising you all the time, right?

I gingerly broached the subject of my break-up and while others asked me ‘Why?’, Anumita asked me ‘How?’ It has been several months now but I still feel bad about the ‘How’. The ‘Why’, by now I have it down pat: I’m an Arien and I have shit luck with everybody. In fact, if Cosmo Teen is anything to go by, Mariah Carey (who I don’t really like) is quite proud of this zodiac quirk.

So, I was trying to best well up the tender nuance of how the breakup had been, when there was some shuffling. The food had arrived and Anumita was busy making space for the paninis while C, S, and SK conversed with the bearer for more napkins, salt, or pepper. Oh well. I suppose everyone knows how a heartbreak story goes. But the new tomato pasta in Mocha must be discovered with keen attention.

We then discussed about what exactly constitutes a one night stand. I don’t quite remember how we got talking about this, but I do remember Anumita shaking her head sadly at me…like when a swan looks at an elephant trying to learn ballet. We had a rather sharp difference of opinion on the subject.

I take the term quite literally. You share one night with a stranger, that’s a one night stand – irrespective of what you do. Anumita told me I was stupid (an observation she makes so regularly that I almost got a seizure when she suggested I try and get into a writing program at Berkeley.) She said you had to have sex with the person for it to be a one night stand, because if you just met and played cards or ludo, then that’s plain stupid.

I do think that’s a bit harsh. What if you did mean to sleep with someone but had noticed the person having omelette. So, now you are scared of bird flu and therefore, to avoid trouble you watch Brendan Fraser instead – in one night. That too, in my humble opinion, is a one night stand. Surely, intention counts.

‘There’s no term for something that asinine’, said S. With S, as with Anumita, there’s no holding back the punches. In fact, S and Anumita are pretty similar. When they talk to each other, there’s great repartee gashing. And man! Do both of them loathe public transport!

Lest you term them a snob (Which of course, is the accurate term for them), they show solidarity with the dusty hoi-polloi of Mumbai thus: ‘Oh! We do take public transport – we travel by autos all the time!’

Meanwhile, C and SK were discussing those things where you put money, then you get money…what do you call that? Ah! Yes, investing. They are the ones with the financial know-how. Both have often patiently explained to me that you can actually deposit money in a bank, instead of always withdrawing it. Must try that sometime.

Finally, we made plans…or rather I made plans for all of them to come to Pune. They all said yes and hugged me indulgently. But I’m not going to let them off so easy. Oh no. Each one of them will sit on my poky lumpy sofa.

Finally, it was time to leave. And I stood at the bus stop with the bouquet my friends had given me – carnations. Pink, white, purple, and yellow. They looked so fresh and innocent. Not flowers that come heavily laden with meanings and promises – like roses. Pure, simple, and colorful – like the colors of summer. Like my friends.



Monday, April 03, 2006

Gentlemen Authors

I have just finished reading ‘When we were orphans’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and have started ‘The Argumentative Indian’ by Amartya Sen. They differ in genre, content, and writing styles but both distinctly give this impression about their authors – they are gentlemen. Truly and impeccably.

First, there’s Kazuo Ishiguro. I have noticed that when I recommend this author to anyone, I recommend him, not his books. I don’t usually tell people to read ‘Pale View of the Hills’ or ‘Artist of a Floating World’ or ‘Remains of the Day’…but I do tell them to read ‘Kazuo Ishiguro’.

His books, while not necessarily slow, do take their time coming around. The contrast of the individual story to the social setting is what I find most interesting. For example, he would write about a man’s silent love in a historically fractured environment, such as the World War. Or the feeling of constantly searching for shadows in crowds when one is left orphaned suddenly. Notable is the ability to write about such contrasting themes and not have them jar.

There is something very gentle and comforting in his writing. It’s like this literary lullaby that soothes the crash of dramas. His themes have a lot of remembering in them; a good thing because Kazuo plays with nostalgia very well.

In ‘When we were orphans’, the narrator remembers his childhood and sort of uses those memories as a compass to find his present bearings. He later sets out in search of his parents who he had lost when he was eight. What he finds out is, in many ways, cruel twists of fate; but it is accepted with a very quiet forbearance.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s niche, I think, is the ability to write about the essence of heartaches. That it’s not weak to miss or moribund to long. That there is dignity in accepting that you have lost your last chance at happiness and move on - smiling. That there is strength in wishing your past well, though it may have ceased to exist. That the grace with which one bids farewell is truly the measure of a man.

The thing with Kazuo Ishiguro’s stories is that they don’t have you at hello. But they don’t leave you at goodbye either. They stay on, ever so politely.

Secondly, there is Amartya Sen whose writings I had dipped into in college but honestly speaking, didn’t quite appreciate much. I think I must have read ‘Development as Freedom’ while doing last minute reference for an assignment. (This last minute research worked like this – Your sleeve brushes against a book and the name of the book goes in the bibliography.) And well, from what I understood, he said that more the development, more the freedom. So? Wasn’t that a no-brainer?

As I read ‘The Argumentative Indian’ now, I understand that I was a behemoth dumbass. Sen has the breadth of intellect that very few people can even fathom, much less possess. Equally brilliant is the humility with which he pursues an argument.

I think that most scholastic works tend to suffer from a zealous desire to inundate with information. Sure, the matter is judiciously researched, but the impression one is often left with is of the author telling you, ‘See how much I know?’

I haven’t completed the Argumentative Indian but am looking forward to finishing it and thinking about it. The copious annotations do not detract from the fact that this information will be received by people far removed from academia. That they too are entitled to serious knowledge without having things dumbed down. There is respect for the reader.

The works of both these men reach the readers. They don’t get adrift with details or styles or plots and surmises. There is all that, of course. But then the authors stop midway and ask, ‘Are you okay?’

This separates the gentlemen from the boys.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway

There's a time for joy,
There's a time for sorrow,
There's a time to remind
It's my birthday tomorrow.

Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay!