Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sad days are story times

It is a sullen day. The sun shone two minutes after I closed my eyes. I seem to have left my spirit behind and got in to work. Thankfully, it is not a lazy day in office. There are hard, neat tasks to do. My mind can focus. But after the first stint of completing tasks, there are the mop-up nitties. That is not something I look forward to. But wait, there is a welcome break. One of my colleagues wants to think of a few ideas. She seems happy. I like it when happy people want to discuss ideas. I venture a concept. She is a little doubtful about what I mean. I Google for an image and show it to her. Ah! She likes what she sees. Off she goes to play around with it.

That done, the heavy, sodden melancholy descends again. So, I think of another idea. I need not think of it now because the idea has already been decided upon, but still. I need to do it. So I close my eyes and conjure up a sharp mental image. I have the acidic taste of strong coffee in my mouth. I had made a trip to Barista earlier.

In my mind, I see a white limousine. The upholstery is fine leather and in one corner is a thick, brocade pouch. It’s midnight blue with a pattern of a pink peacock in an ice-cube. I love ice-cubes. I think they can be canvasses for some supreme art. Then, on the floor is a sandalwood casket. It’s small and wet. The scent is really sweet but the fragrance is slightly skewed. Inside the casket are coffee beans. They have a piercing smell, but they look soft, like they have been molted over a flame. If you held one with your index finger and thumb, it would leave a stain behind. The coat would get smudged like wet paint. I also wonder if there can be a carpet made of coffee. I wonder how it would feel if you walked on it barefoot.

Anyway, that was the image. Obviously, it cannot be used for the task I was asked to ideate for in the first place. But maybe I could use it in a story. Something deep and dark.

Let’s say there is a family that lives in a suburb. They are happy in a mediocre sort of way. They achieve their goals because they don’t aim hard enough. But one day, the daughter of the house aims high. She wants to find the connection between food and suicide. She figures that you could get a person to commit suicide by preparing eggs and sweet potatoes in a particular way. There are no variables. Suicide doesn’t depend on your medical history, or your family history, etc. You could come from a long line of adversity survivors and you would still commit suicide if you ate this dish. There is something in the way eggs are sourced and sweet potatoes are grown that would alter the brain’s self-preservation instinct. This notion grips her. She studies and researches and goes to bed with a jotty book under her pillow. Every time a thread of thought passes in her head, she jots it down. This way, over several years of carefully cataloguing her insights, she realizes that the dish must be prepared with a particular seasoning – Fitf. So, now she knows that she must find fitf but she doesn’t know where.

She moves to another suburb when she gets married and then yet another one when she gets divorced. Here, she finds fitf. One day, when she has gone swimming in the moonlight, she sees a fluorescent purple weed tangled around her toe. She knows this is it.

So she takes it home and prepares the dish for the very first time. This baked dish of sweet potatoes and herbed eggs with stewed fitf is excellent. The smells waft all around. She is tempted to taste it herself. But if the dish is any good, then she’d have to kill herself after eating it. She needs to have a plan.

And then she thinks of her ex-husband.

She calls him up and asks him over for dinner. To discuss alimony without acrimony. Ex is happy. He loved her a lot but couldn’t keep her entertained. She got bored and she left. Now, he hopes that the call is a guise for reconciliation.

He puts down the receiver and thinks back to the day she left him. She screamed and shouted at him for not being able to keep her back. She said that she was tired of waiting for life to pick up. She flung a magazine at him and said that she wanted him to make her feel like a princess. The mag had a picture of a white limousine with fine leather seats. The couple sitting inside was holding a pouch of brocaded silk and a small casket of some sort. She said she hated him. She walked out.

In the week after she had slammed the door on his face, he kept thinking of her. He kept wondering how he could be decent, loving, placid and yet hurt someone immensely for so long. The picture in the magazine. He could have managed something close to that. They had a car, after all. He could’ve taken her for a drive and bought her a blue pouch if she wanted. But he smarted over the abruptness of the end. There was hope though. She had said that she hated him, didn’t she? There is always hope when you hear that.

Like the time, his mother had said that when he was born. She had held him in her arms and said, ‘I hate you.’ She couldn’t be the dancer she wanted to be because of him. And after hating him, she went on to love and nurture him through thick and thin. And when the time came for her to leave him, she called him and gave him something – something to ensure that he lived a long and healthy life and always got what he wanted. She gave him a pouch with a weed – dried and brown – the kind that would become bulbous and fluorescent purple in water.

He had no need for it now. He just wanted his wife to be happy. He wanted her to have it. On the beach one night, he set it adrift in the sea and childishly hoped that if his love was true, she’d get it.

The cold breeze snaps him out of his reverie. He needs to dress for dinner.

Hmm. Now I only hope that someone with mucho moolah comes across my blog and offers me a script to write. I would do a good job.

No cold breeze here to snap my reverie, so I will get some coffee.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This comes but once a year....

It’s that time of the year again. Colorful mandaps and flamingo-pink ganpatis. (Now there are other colors too – lilac, mauve, chocolate brown, and my personal favorites – black and white.) The other deities on the mandaps are smaller in size and demurely fringe around the star-God. The cute mouse (the only time in the year when I refer to a rodent thus) occupies a neat little space in the ample spotlight. And one generally feels the bonhomie of prayers getting answered or at least attended to. The sugary modaks aren’t half-bad either.

But the music...

First of all, it's all filmy. There must have been at least six mandaps lined along the road in Vashi and all of them sought divine mercy with Bollywood strains.

Secondly, all the songs were contemporary (no bhajans, of course) with nothing dating back to more than three months.

Thirdly, and very strangely, all of these numbers have been picturized on Abhishek Bacchan.

Obviously, AB might not have wanted to build an image as the Ganpati brand ambassador. But perhaps the lyrics of his numbers came laden with meaning. And then, what's a guy to do, right?

I mean, I’m sure ‘Come to me…’ may be the Lord’s way of beckoning devotees, but the image of a suited-in-many-stripes-Bacchan during the puja?


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Thoughts and bread (Warm, freshly baked, and whole wheat.)

  1. People look at a girl in a short-skirt longer than at a girl in shorts.
  2. Places that are known for cheap booze will always serve batter-fried appetizers. Not too many hors-d’ouvres will be sautéed or braised or steamed.
  3. Spelling mistakes in menus indicate unclean drinking water.
  4. Spelling mistakes on toilet doors indicate management with very strong patriarchal background. (I went to a restaurant in Lonavla where one door said ‘Men’ and another said ‘Laddies’. Women were perhaps expected to go in the garden.)
  5. Alarm clocks work better than alarms in mobiles.
  6. If there is nothing good on T.V., it must be a weekend.
  7. Smokers don’t giggle.
  8. People who eat only egg whites with a tea-spoon are bad swimmers.
  9. Women who use ‘lotions’ instead of ‘creams’ tend to be mothers of sons and are more judgmental of other women.
  10. Men who bob their heads for no reason while having Coke wish they were women.
  11. Most people working in ‘Barista’ don’t know what it means. (They also don’t know the meanings of the following words/phrases: ‘Please’, ‘Thank You’, ‘Sorry, I did not mean to make you feel like an imbecile parrot because you want your coffee sweet.’, ‘We charge EXTRA for the chocolate sauce I am currently offering you like a friendly pat on the shoulder.’)
  12. Salads with descriptions that have ‘-esque’ in them come in very, very small portions.
  13. What is wrong with spandex?
  14. Khadi silk makes nice cushion covers.
  15. Sprouts grown in baby shoes look very kitschy and adorable.
  16. Scowling people always have change.
  17. Jobs are easy to find when you are not looking for one.
  18. Just because something is public doesn’t mean it is honest. Namely opinions.
  19. Small dogs are mean and want to see me run over. Large dogs are more amicable. Medium-sized dogs are just small dogs, only a little bigger. (They ARE NOT large dogs, only a little smaller.) Therefore, if I am run over, they, like the small dogs, will be happy.
  20. Hot dogs are tasty.
  21. People who talk about ‘Dijon’ mustard are show-offs. They don’t know about any other kind of mustard.
  22. Is there any kind of mustard?
  23. I have a nice thumb. I shall paint it mauve. The whole thumb.
  24. I have some cute ideas. Like a search engine for babies. It will be called ‘Gurgle’.
  25. My ideas may never spin money.

    I don’t even like bread.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The side of the story

You shoot the breeze with someone. He is witty, flippant, and always, scathingly insolent. Then, months later, he sends you something that he has written. It surprises you because you didn’t expect him to be this intelligent …not in this grown-up, seen-life-and-analyzed-it-fairly kind of way.

Abhishek sent me a link to what he had written. For the longest time, I have considered him to be a very good writer. Better than he thinks he is. But, and this is a huge revelation, he is more mature and sensitive than I ever gave him credit for.

This article has views I don’t necessarily agree with. In fact, I don’t believe for a moment that he is as blameless as this article makes him out to be.

But I know this much – that if I had such an argument with a friend, I would definitely not be as coherent as him.

Here’s the article:

Like I say, it’s a wonderful feeling to be proven wrong.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Chunk Chomp

Lunch time. I am biting into some soya chunks plumped up by zesty olive slivers. This is the protein I need to repair the raging wear and tear that happened at kickboxing today. I felt so breathless.. and not because the asinine gym was playing Celine Dion at 7:00 a.m. I wonder if I had to do crunches after feeling wind beneath my wings or what.

Anyway, much reminiscing is due. Boyfriend, A, was here and it was excellent! He met my family, my friends, my family’s friends, and my mad-cap cousin who switches from being family and friend to foe. For the record, he had told me to stay away from any Delhi guy, especially the ones who stayed in South Delhi. (My boyfriend is a typical Delhi guy and as South Delhi as they come. Not that I can make out if a person is from South Delhi or not. All of them are unwilling to take me to Mandi house – whichever part of Delhi they come from.) Now cousin does a volte face and tells boyfriend that maybe he should be cautious of Bombay girls – what with them being so abrasive and all. (No prizes for guessing who got unlucky in love yet another time.) Cousin proposes that maybe A should accompany him to Lokhandwala and meet his other friends – all women, all good-looking – the kinds who wear spaghettis, and not eat them. Invitation was swiftly retracted. Me looking daggers may have had something to do with it.

In keeping with double standards, I, however, asked to be introduced to a Mr. Chandigarh who sauntered up to cousin and said hello. A murmured something unsavory about Chandigarh men, especially the kinds who come to Mumbai to be actors. In the list of things I had previously said about A, I think I shall promptly strike out ‘non-judgmental’.

He drove me around a little bit. We crossed the Vashi bridge – which magically seemed clean, wide, and empty. It was drizzling and there was the sea, heaving peacefully like the chest of a sleeping child. One of those rare things that constitute ‘scenery’ in Bombay. Then we got to Sion where every truck on the road appeared to reproduce like amoeba. And that was the end of anything that comes close to resembling ‘driving’.

We walked around Mount Mary for a while. I pointed out a quaint Enid Blyton-style cottage with ferns and ivies growing along the path. We stood admiring the swaying coconut palms. Or rather, I did that while he tried to locate the part of Sea Rock had been bombed in the earlier blasts.

Met up with Chands and Anumita after that. Pictures were clicked and he was actually smiling in some of them. He looks more confused than happy, but I have it on record now. A does smile and it’s not always to ward off an ‘or else!’ threat.

I was quite peeved when he did not seem impressed enough with Bandra. He said something ultra ghastly like, ‘This reminds me of Pune.’ I mean, one can be clueless and one can be clueless and then one can be gigantically spaced out and make a remark like that. Bandra is like Pune! The travesty! I said ‘Hah!’ so loudly that a couple of pigeons fluttered away in fright.

Then he sheepishly asked me if we could take a walk by the sea. (‘Pune doesn’t have that’ and ‘Where will you find all this in Pune?’ and other cajoling statements were muttered to redeem oneself.) I ignored it all with appropriate iciness.

Later, we went to Colaba to meet my uncle. I had the best, flavorful kheema cutlets there – greasy, coarsely ground, and seeped in spices. Washed down with steamy cardamom chai. A , not much of a meat-eater, nibbled on samosas and chips.

For the promised walk, we went to Marine Drive. A was quite excited to be there. That is what he meant by taking a walk by the sea. It had to be Marine Drive, not Bandra or Versova or any of the ghoulishly cute and crowded suburbs. I suppose ‘town’ is the Bombay all out of towners come to visit.

Again, with the wafting smells of roasted corn and salty, dried shrimps, melancholy set in. His last night in Mumbai, so off we trooped to Oberoi. (It is becoming something of a tradition now to go to extravagant hotels and spend the last few hours in the lobby feeling sorry for ourselves.)

A very sweetly told me not to worry about the prices and just order whatever I felt like. But I always worry about the prices, especially if I am not spending. So I had a beer because the coffee was too expensive. (250 bucks for capuchinno is simply too much if it doesn’t come with a yard of the plantation.)

It felt really nice…just being there, watching the rain from the huge French windows, listening to piano, and watching people help themselves to pastries from the dessert buffet. In the three hours we spent there, A and I may have fought and made up four or five times. I don’t even remember what we argued about, except that we argued about the same thing each time. I think it involved World Space or Mandi house (why is everyone reluctant to take me there? I am mighty curious now.)

When we were sufficiently drowsy, we took a cab home.

A, being A, was routinely suspicious of the garishly upholstered cab. I, of course, waxed eloquent about it and pointed out quite sharply that Pune doesn’t have cabs like this. A felt the satiny green seat cover and was about to tell me that it was a good thing but decided to let it be. Discretion being the better part of valor and all that. Okay, so the cab wasn’t very tastefully done up. But it sure had something.

There was a cute stub of a pink bulb flickering in front of the meter. There were plastic red flowers on top of the dashboard and a zebra-striped cushion on the back seat. I told A that it is excellent when people are unabashed about what they want their cars to look like – so what if it involves neon colors and materials that go into making toy Anacondas. He shook his head and got in. So much for good cheer.

The music, in complete harmony with the décor, was loud and remixed. I was enjoying a lusty rendition of ‘Kaanta Laga’ when A insisted that the guy switch off the music. I would have insisted but I did see a vein throbbing on his head. Magnanimity was in order.

As we zipped past Nariman Point and Marine Drive and wet roads and shiny diners and palms and lashing waves, I realized something. What I felt then was something I could not have enough of. The pavements and the sea and A’s shoulder that I put my head on. This ache that I felt even though I was where I wanted – in Bombay, with A. I wanted to hug the Byculla bridge and felt really affectionate in Chembur and held A’s hand really tight around Lilavati. What is this kind of missing? These insane pangs of not being able to speak because your throat hurts because of the stupid lump in the throat.

I wanted to tell A about this city. I wanted to tell him that ever since I left home and went wherever, ever since I was old enough to fall in love, ever since I was foolish enough to expect a grand romance, ever since all of that…this city set a benchmark for my heart. I wanted to mean to someone what the sea and the smells of this land meant to me. I wanted someone to take comfort in me the way I took comfort in it – even as a memory. And if ever, parting was in the offing, I wanted us to part the way I parted from here – with the inevitable hope and promise that I would be back because I never left it completely.

I wanted to be somebody’s Bombay.

This is what I wanted to say. A sat quietly with the pink light dancing on his fingers. I asked him what he was thinking, although I had guessed.

He looked at me very pensively and told me that there are some things he never knew could actually happen.

‘Like what?’, I asked.

‘The men’s loo in that hotel didn’t have water. They only have paper. Can you believe that?’

I think I’ll keep some things to myself.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One for the road...Rebecca Night

There is a road in Koregaon Park that is not listed on tourist maps. Yet, it is a place a traveler would be besotted with. It is innocuous like a village path with simple, bucolic scenes. I call it a ‘road’ simply because it takes long to get home when I trundle on it. Actually, it is a lane that started small and never grew up. A Peter Pan strip.

Like a favorite jaunt, this road is many things to many people. It is cheery to kids who bubble out of little huts to play with rubber tyres and sticks. It is a chic soignée to polished cars that glide through wrought-iron gates with bottles of Dom Perignons stashed in the backseat. It is frothy to gangly teenagers who laugh over nothing in particular and share a smoke at the crossroads. It is vibrant to runners who sprint across it in the wet, morning mist. It is rugged to construction workers who sip chai amidst bricks and mortar and befriend stray dogs. It is languid and treacly for lazy weekenders who amble along peering into bushes or gazing at goats scampering about. It is salubrious for jaded office-goers who sometimes see prickly boughs of trees under pouffy clouds and promise to vacation in snowflakes and pines.

The remarkable aspect of this road is the way it transforms itself at night. It wipes away traces of diurnal dreams and cloaks itself with the night sky and its attendant mysteries. When you walk here at night, you usually walk alone. Your eyes get accustomed to the jagged gleam of sharp stones. You know to instinctively duck when you see bats around or step around uneven ridges of potholes. You get out of the way when the stray cyclist whizzes past. You dodge strange looking insects that crawl out of rocks. You smirk while the odd frog hops about.

Some days, you may stand outside a building and watch a party in swing. Mellow caramel light would flood out of cane slats and glasses would clink to cocktail conversations. There would be a moody switch of radio stations or CDs. Sometimes you’d see the host, or the scarlet belt of one of his guests. Sometimes, you’d see the slats pulled up. And you’d see a lot more.

The light is brighter, the conversations more noisy.

A man shifts from one person to another – putting ice in someone’s glass, sharing a quiet joke with another, humming a few bars to a third guest. Then another guest, in pretty lace, would probably ask for a refill. You’d see the banter between the two and wonder if they have been to the South of France. It is easy to imagine that they have. Her wrists look like they have swirled a long stem of a wine glass in a yacht. He looks like he may have jogged along the shores of St. Tropez.

Then suddenly, in the distance, you hear honking. Light from a car would move under trees in one fluid movement and the car is gone.

You look back at the window and the slats are down again.

Now, you must be on your way.

The night is cool and aloof. Silhouettes seem rounded and hazy, dream-like almost. Then you pass a hollow part of the lane that is subtle, eerie, haunting, wistful – like the novel ‘Rebecca’ where you know a person’s story, but not her name.

You turn and watch the little fleck of golden dapple in the distance. The dream in the night where the party is happening – crafted, elegant, unreal, the beginning of something incomplete – like the opening line of ‘Rebecca’: Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Friday, August 04, 2006

C'est la vie and other original observations

I just knew it! Knew it! Knew it! Knew knew knew it! As soon as the time comes for me to leave Pune (another three months tops), I will see an avenue for such thrill and enjoyment that I would want to stay back a little while longer.

Last night, I went for a drive with a friend. We took a wrong turn and got to Law College Road and there, next to an alarmingly bright Kinetic showroom, is an Innsbruck-looking structure. It is lit prettily and a few twinklies stud salad-shaped foliage around the café. Good-looking youth dawdle in all things strappy and vivid – tees, skirts, chappals, jeans. I know it’s a café. Then, I see a banner - a yellow cloth in smudged red lettering – Mocha.

Something deep and visceral and true and primal said ‘Yesssss!’

My Mocha. How much I had missed it! How different it was from the Bombay Mochas. How much better lit and how much cleaner and tidier and how much more polite the staff...and yet, the sameness thrilled me.

The ‘All Day Breakfasts’ listed on page 11, the de-cafs featured with descriptive paragraphs, the ‘cute in Gothland’ m symbol next to dishes that the chef recommends. The uncomfortable chairs where you had to maneuver your spine like elastic. The humungous cups of coffee. The café Zabaglione that was not being prepared because of an absent liquor permit. (It is the brew that sets the Bandra Mocha apart from the rest of the Mochas in the world. Bandra Mocha does this surprisingly well; aside from accommodating those many people in that much space. But hey! That’s Bandra.) The endless wait for the food and the endless wait for the bill. My animated recommendations of ‘Lava Lava’ that was overheard by the couple next to us. They ordered it, liked it, and thanked me. I felt so proud. My baby had come first in class or something.

I had to blink and pinch myself.

Mocha in Pune and it’s almost time for me to leave.

Not that I’m complaining, God. Thank you and all that but maybe the timing could use some work?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Growing pains

My first day at kickboxing.

A lot of grunting and groaning while doing push-ups on knuckles; a lot of wondering why the hell two minutes seems so long with leg in mid-air and stomach hurting and thighs feeling like they’re getting pulled by a tenacious rhino. And this was before the going got tough.

Of course, the idea is that my body and mind get so strong that I can be lethal and deadly to attackers. As it happens, kickboxing is more useful than my initial strategy of taking them home and making them eat my culinary experiments. Or telling them about my job. (That works well with creepy first dates, though.)

But as I do stomach crunches and thigh-bends, I realize that maybe I should have stayed at home and read ‘How to win friends and influence people’.

No enemies…no aaaargh!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Here comes the baby

One of my exes just informed me that he is now the father of a bonny baby girl. He sent me a snap which basically has him hogging the space, with a little bundle somewhere in the picture. (To give a little background, he had come to Mumbai to be an actor at some point in time. Instead, he became a software engineer after friends dutifully helped him through the shakal versus akal debate.) On sending him an admonitory email, I receive pics of the little baby. And she is such a darling! In the 15 pictures that RK sent me, she is yawning in 14 of them. (In the 15th one, she is fast asleep.)

To top it all, the baby’s name is ‘Araya’ – a name I had reserved for my daughter. I would spell her name as ‘Aria’ because that’s what I want my little girl to be like – the aria. Complex, expressive, melodious and dramatic, but more than that, above everything else, a solo pursuit.

To get back to the little baby – she is only a week old but has a lot of hair. And her tiny mouth is shaped in the form of an ‘O’, rather than an ‘AAA’. So she yawns a little differently. She has pink cheeks and two chins. Gosh! She looks warm and sweet-smelling. Like a freshly baked vanilla muffin. I wish I could hold her right now and take her to Carter Road. I don’t know why. It would be so nice to snuggle up to a baby by the sea.

In the background of one of the photos, I see a Tinkle comic. I am quite sure that was RK’s reading release in the stressful time of childbirth.

So, I am not quite sure how much more mature RK is now than when I knew him (The email specifically mentions – ‘Please come to visit the baby. She is accepting presents.’), but he is the father of a girl. And that’s the first step to being a whole lot selfless.

It’s amazing how you see the picture of a child and suddenly start loving your unborn baby already.

God bless us all.

Sour Note

Let me just say this – it is very easy to travel in cars and think that everyone else on the road - in a rick, on a cycle, in a bus, inside a pothole, outside a pothole, in perambulatory mode, is a nuisance. It is very easy to make goddamn cracks when someone gets pelted with stones. It is very easy to joke about someone who has to ward off strange advances from people a little too eager to give you a lift. It is very easy to sit in your car and say, ‘Oh..why are you walking? Why don’t you just rick it? Or just buy a car? Why don’t you do that?’

Well, here’s why. Because I have legs. Because the road is not just for people on wheels. Because I have the goddamn right to walk to wherever I want to whenever I want to. Because this is a free world. Because to walk home and not be accosted is a perfectly reasonable expectation. Because if I do get accosted, it is a violation, and I do not see the humor in that situation. Because walking someplace is a choice. Because when I decide to walk home, I am not, I repeat – I AM NOT, asking for it.

I hate everyone.

Oh..and on another note. Here is a very interesting way to give a creamy, flavorful texture to your omelets. Take two spoons of garlic-pepper cheesespread and add them to your eggs while beating them briskly. To be had with scalding beverage in the balcony overlooking the pool.