Friday, December 28, 2007

Dinner with a pal

Last night was good fun. I love last minute plans. A friend of mine and I went to this hideously designed ‘Bar and Kitchen’ opposite my office. It was strung with unholy Kermit green lights and looked so desolate and haunting – it’s called ‘Spirit’.

I, being short of cash, couldn’t afford anything as fancy as Pop Tates. (And when Pop Tates seems fancy, one can only imagine how short of cash I was.) To add insult to injury, I got into a Standard Chartered ATM near office. First of all, the machine talked…Welcome here, and we are processing this and that, and please enter your card again, etc. These things should come with a mute option. Of course, I have never encountered a talking ATM machine. So, when I first heard, Welcome…hmm humm…Mukta…whirr…humm humm…Raut, excuse me, but I was scared. I looked around quizzically, because of late I have been praying really hard and given that God does work in strange and mysterious ways, one never knows.

The obnoxious guard, however, stuffed his head inside and said, “Machine ke andar se nikal raha hai.

I looked very silly. Not at all in keeping with the persona of my new hair cut. Anyway, I stuffed my card inside and demanded that I be given 500 bucks. But I didn’t even have 500 bucks. Instead the talking machine musically told me that I had ‘insufficient funds’ in my account. Not that I would have missed knowing that, considering how Insufficient Funds seemed emblazoned on the little ATM screen.

I walked out and avoided eye contact with the guard. Next, I went to my friend’s office which is a 10 minute walk from mine. It took me 15 minutes to fill out forms in triplicate at the gate. Finally, I reached her lobby and waited, relieved that I can rest my tired legs. She came out within 2 seconds – all regally dressed in a red and black salwaar kameez. I stood up, giving her the full opportunity to take in my fabulous overhauled look. Instead, her eyes seemed to glaze over with commiseration, “Accidents happen.”

That aside, we went to Spirit and ordered a Palak Soup. It was remarkably good. I don’t think anyone even orders it there – the restaurant seems to be one of those little dens where booze and fried stuff are served regularly. Palak soup would hardly have been on anyone’s list, but then one never knows what one can order when drunk. Perhaps such foresight led to the inclusion of demented sounding ‘Kungpoo Chicken’ and ‘Kinglump choo potatoes’.

We went for a straightforward dry Manchurian that was really spicy and tasty. And then came my favorite Schezwan noodles, spicy, greasy, and mouth-wateringly tempting. We polished off everything and washed it down with chilled, sweet, fizzy Coke. It was perfect.

Chatting with my friend was so nice. It was ages since we’d met up, and it was a whole lot of fun to just hear her describe the a new lamp she’s bought for the house or that such and such a poster was really bizarre or that she had really liked Taare Zameen Par.

We split the tab and according to her calculation (I am very bad with these things so I just hand over the money), she said she owes me five bucks. She seemed so penitent about it that I wondered if I should ask her to forsake her first born in my care in return for the cash. Resisted the urge.

I was just going to ask her to probably come for coffee when she snubbed me and said that I should just pack up and go home. That’s the thing with friends, see – they kill you with kindness.

They do, actually.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Beauty for the bloodthirsty

I just got myself a razor-sharp haircut at Bandra. I didn’t intend to, but I was really impressed with one of those celebrity stylists in the salon I was at.

Here’s how my socks got knocked off:

PYT (in a stunning white halter dress and red stilettos): Hey! What if this cut doesn’t suit my face?

Stylist (with tattoo, biceps, and torn jeans): Then change your face, sweetheart.

Now, nothing impresses me as much as a stinging sense of humor…unless it is directed at me of course..and most times, even then.

I really liked the dude, and asked him quite sheepishly if he would cut my hair (which is already short.) He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and began.

For a really long time, he almost shredded each strand of my hair. Listening to Jimmy Hendrix, that too. I don’t like Jimmy Hendrix. But no-one really asked my opinion about the music. The PYT, looking more ravishing than ever in her new bob-cut, sang along and whistled and stuff. I made a face because the dude was actually ‘splitting hairs’. I giggled at the pun in my head and must have moved or shaken a little bit, so he poked me with a comb. “Styling is real important”, he whispered softly, more to his reflection in the mirror than to me.

But nearly an hour and a half later, I looked like a fashion victim. The look was dramatic…a little too dramatic. I stared at myself and thought that I definitely don’t have what it takes to pull this off. Maybe if I bungee-jumped twice a week or ate sushi out of paper-plates while studying a nude…maybe if I led that sort of life, maybe then this super-cropped sharp-edged style would suit me. But what do I do? I eat, drink, sleep, read…repeat. My hairstyle intimidated the rest of me.

I mumbled my thanks and left.

As I waited for the bus, I put a scarf over my head and wondered how I would get through days in my office. As it is, I seem to give out the impression that I’m on some sort of internship on this planet, and with this avant-garde hair-do, I’ve sealed my fate. But then, something happened.

The bus arrived and there was a huge crowd jostling at the entrance. My scarf slipped and I just felt people look at my hair. The next minute, I watched the crowd part ways to let me pass. Like actually make way so that I would get into the bus first – there were men, women, girls, boys, kids…everyone just stepped aside to let me go in. This little Moses-like moment pleased me no end. Later when I caught myself in the mirror, I saw what they saw – this hairstyle really spelt no-nonsense in thick, red letters. The red being blood. I looked tough and mean, and powerful…like my hair was sending out some sort of a message...more than message...some type of an anthemic hammered code – I. Come.First.

I love my hair style now. Tomorrow, of course, the effects of the gel and mousse and 360 degree blow-dry will wear out. If I don’t like it then, I’ll just take the dude’s advice…I’ll change my face. The hairstyle stays.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Why I write today

It is very close to my favorite season of the year and I am feeling tired. In fact, more than tired, I'm feeling jaded. What's going to be new and different now? Routine swells of time will pass, days will come and go, nights will spread and recede, and time will pass. What's going to happen?

Sometimes, I wonder if it is such a good idea to keep a diary. I write to keep track of the winks and nudges of the Universe. To get a sense of perspective. But there's no perspective to be had because I can't see the boundaries. I don't know where anything begins and where anything ends. If you do believe the law of karma, how can you say a particular incident is a cause or an effect? And if you can't determine even something as fundamental as that, then does it mean you have to be on your toes all the time?

And why is it important to make sense of all this, in any case? Because...I think minds are condemned to reason. There is nothing more annoying than faced with the prospect of seeing a whole lot of explanations around and yet have a disgruntled feeling that something's not quite all right.

I have been severely depressed the last two days because I have not been able to make sense of what I am thinking. It is irritating to question yourself - because it's illogical. I first of all question myself because I am stupid enough to not have a fool-proof explanation of anything. And second of all, if I am indeed stupid enough to not have a robust enough explanation, what is the use of asking me any questions further? This is what I have been trying to talk myself into all this while.

Is this what existential angst feels like? Like Salinger said, "..everything feels peripheral?" Like Sylvia Plath said,"..we all live in our bell jars?"

It's not about questioning too many things. I don't question much at all. I don't question things like how companies can be so cruel to expect employees to travel nearly 4 hours every day and yet not have a gym or a room to sleep when you're tired. I don't question things like how is it that the stickiest, rotten people in the world are getting babies when the nice deserving ones aren't. I don't question. All I question is this...why does all this happen? Why? I remember Gayatri so much. I miss her with all my heart. I will write about her soon. I have to. She is a gift to the world. And she has just passed on because of the stupid teachers we had - the ones who couldn't appreciate or understand her.

Now I understand the significance of death. Or at least I am getting a sense of why it is important. It is important to stop at some point and say, I will not go on like this. I cease to live. And then you step off the treadmill, and just watch the belt go whirring on. All the while, you just watch. You just see what's happening; not question, not make sense of it, not sequence information or categorize or put stuff in order, etc.

I wish I were dead, while still being able to observe life as it went on. I wish I didn't have this urge to collate stuff and make it meaningful. Why should it be meaningful? Why can't it be just one day of mess peeling away to reveal another layer of decrepit. It's all layers anyway. How do you know that, Mukta? I don't know that. What's knowing, really? Just saying something over and over and over again is knowledge.

Gayatri would be able to explain it all so well. Until my teachers...that teacher...killed her. It's good you died, Gayatri. You deserve much better.

What is this life anyway? A continued struggle to get your head and your heart to learn that they work for the same person.

If I could die for a little bit, I would take my head out for coffee and sandwiches and ask it," What did you think of me?" Maybe my head will say, "You were a really cool person to be around...but maybe I could have done more with my time, you know. I had so much time to spare."

Maybe I'll take my heart to Zenzi and order chilled Chilean wine (for the heart...I am a teetotaller now) and ask it, "Were you happy with me?" And my heart would snap, "Are you crazy! You broke me almost every other week, and you had no clue how to handle me...and what was with all those twisted emotions you kept hoarding inside? That stupid brain of yours was so could have passed some of it there, right? Oh...and one more thing...i am delicate...I need a vault of my own..what's the big idea of wearing me on your sleeve?"

See...I have mistreated my heart, so that's why I need to spend more on it by taking it to Zensi. My brain will be sated with Jai sandwich ...the cheap bugger.

Then maybe I'll call both of them to Bandstand and tell them that I need to be away somewhere and it's best they learn to get along without me. I introduce them and walk away and when I turn around, I see them sitting on one of the benches in the promenade and talk animatedly. I stop and look at them a minute - my babies.

They happen to look at me as well. My brain smiles and looks away. My heart jumps up and down and gives me a flying kiss and giggles. I do the same. always hurt the one you're closest to.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not a little appalled

The other day, a couple of friends mentioned that those who put up their pictures on sites such as orkut or facebook, etc. deserve to have them misused. Their rationale is that if you don’t want someone to take your picture and use it on a porn site, don’t take the risk and have it up on the Web.

I don’t agree with this line of thinking and not because I am idealistic (which is the euphemistic tag for ‘stupid’.) What’s ‘asking’ for it? With the crime rate so high, do you ‘ask for it’ if you step out of the house and get mugged or beaten or something? With corruption so rampant, do you ‘ask for it’ if you approach the courts and not get your due?

There are plenty (I mean p-l-e-n-t-y) of people, women included, who think that ladies who tempt fate by wearing provocative clothes shouldn’t complain if they get eve-teased or molested. They ‘asked for it’.

These are people I have studied with, I work with, who are currently having their applications processed at Brown’s.

In such a scenario, can we even begin to think we can do anything about marital rape? When there is a demographic that would verily believe that if you are married, then you have agreed to an arrangement of satiating your partner’s sexual needs; and well, if you aren’t going to do it willingly, you will get coerced. After all, you did consent to matrimony in the first place, didn’t you? And by doing so, you ‘asked’ for it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I answer to (n)one

If we posit that all of us are interconnected by common frailties and strengths, if there is indeed a universal base and a universal blanket, then is there anything like minding your own business? Maybe getting up, close, and personal with a rank stranger is simply a different way of looking into the mirror. When I try to figure out your life, am I not trying to understand mine?

Do we really expect people to stay out of our lives? Or perhaps we, in fact, expect that people will beseech entry and then always be mindful of the privilege when it is granted.

What is it that rankles when someone asks an invasive question? What makes a question invasive? Is it contextual? (For example, if I weigh a 100 kilos, questions about my weight will be invasive. If I weigh 50 kgs, it is not. If I’m 28 and a partner in a law-firm, questions about age is okay. If I’m 45 and a struggling writer, then it’s not.)

Does our disapproval stem from the notion that the ‘questioner’ is not required to concern herself with such details? Is it the feeling of scrutiny (the perceived motivation for such questions) that we find unfair? Or is it, even at some strange, perverted level, a distorted form of flattery? (“Gee…you find my unhappy childhood interesting?…am so touched!”)

I remember watching an award ceremony of some sort – one that was graced by the Clintons and had the cast of ‘Third Rock from the Sun’ headlining the event. The cast, who represent aliens, were ad-libbing about the quirks of our planet and its residents. Their chief exasperatedly declares, “Why do they call it the human ‘race’? Is it a game of some sort?”

There was laughter then, but it is a deep question. Is this really a game of some sort? Is it why we are so interested in each other? Because though the differences may be in abilities and prowess, the finishing line is the same? Even though we may differ in the cards we are dealt with, the unequivocal triumph is in 3 aces?

I think people usually struggle with issues of boundary. One primary discomfort may be in reconciling two extremely opposing concepts – something common with something divisive. You can’t have a boundary for highly individualistic entities. You can only have a boundary for something that will need to be shared. Your boundary is your fence; your commonality is your garden strip that you share with your neighbors.

Similarly, our boundary is our individual notion of appropriateness of questions. Our commonality is the reason we ask them – to make sense of it all; we don’t always manage, of course.

Getting back to why we think some questions are personal. Our lives are like our houses. Our lives are also like the ground the houses are built on. Our lives, therefore, are our own as well as something we share with others. There is intrinsic duality in our existence. We don’t live by ourselves, but we can live for ourselves.

If someone asks us a non-personal question, the person is probably just saying hello across the fence. If someone asks a personal question, on the other hand, the person is knocking at our door and asking to come in. Now, this may irritate us because what business does this person have to be at our doorstep? But then again, you don’t know why the person is there. Just as you don’t know why the person has asked the question. And of course, what if you need to land up at his doorstep tomorrow?

I’ll assume now that you gingerly respond to that question. Most times, the response may be the equivalent of ‘No-one’s home’. But sometimes, you open the door and let the person enter. After this, the person generally looks about, sees a few things, and obviously wants to know more. At this point, you probably don’t know how to handle the situation. After all, you have let him in but you hadn’t bargained for this. This is the part, I think, that we find irksome. This unwarranted comfort of snooping around – in house or life. It bothers us when people probably lose the diffidence and courtesy to maintain a distance simply because we permitted them to enter our space.

Probably, they were right when they said this: ‘It’s the duty of the host to make the guest feel at home, it’s the duty of the guest to remember he is not.’

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vividement, ma cher

I just had this bizarre vision in my head a few minutes ago while I was in the cafeteria.

I saw myself unleashing a little frog to roll atop a striped ball. Then I got myself a huge butter dish that had a block of frozen, mild-yellow butter. I proceeded to slice up a thick slice of butter into sharp, perfect squares on a lilac china plate. After I’d made a little heap of such squares (that look like scrabble squares in a prettier shade of yellow), I took up a miniature glass and silver pestle. The pestle had a lovely inscription in Baroque-style calligraphy running around its girth. I put in a clump of sea-salt, thyme, and pepper and ground it all coarsely. Finally, I sprinkle this over the butter slivers and relished it all, picking up each one with my pair of golden chopsticks. I could even taste the flavored melted grease sliding down my throat.

Meanwhile, the little frog has leaped up to a lily pad made of hosiery and netted velvet.

All this felt so real for about three minutes. Really, the things that go on inside my head when all I’m doing is sipping coffee!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A simple enough wish...

How I wish the day would end
Quickly, swiftly, fast;
How I wish I’d get out of it,
Finally, in the end, at last.

How I wish the day would begin
Fresh, new, and spitzy
How I wish my time would shine
Clean, sparkly, and ritzy

How I wish I did some things
Important, crucial, sublime,
Instead of just say something
And get synonyms to rhyme.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

First Impressions - Dus Kahaniyan

Well, no-one’s going to believe me now. Not after the way the film has been shredded in the papers. But, what the heck – I really liked Dus Kahaniyan. If anything, I liked it so much I didn’t even get up during the interval. I didn’t need a break – I wanted a start-to-finish steady continuum.

Now, as a writer, I know that it is more difficult to be succinct than it is to be wordy. It is a challenge to crunch and distill ideas so that only the core remains. Perhaps that’s why I admired the episodic format of the film. Somewhat based on Jeffrey Archer’s ‘A twist in the Tale’ (in intent, not content – though the story of ‘Rice Plate’ and ‘Sex on the beach’ seemed vaguely familiar), the movie is made up of 10 episodic films. They don’t really have a common theme running through them, other than a quirk at the end.

My vote goes to the film of Mahesh Manjrekar and Neha Dhupia. It is a fabulous example of a story that makes you sit up. And not because of its message (there’s ‘Puranmashi’ by Meghana Gulzar that will probably don the mantle for that, or ‘The Highway’ with Jimmy Shergill, or even ‘Rise and Fall’ with Sunjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty), but because of an extraordinary slice of acting – by the guy Neha Dhupia is seen to get intimate with. I mean, a couple of scenes in this segment has more prowess than a lot of full-fledged films I have seen in a long time.

Of course, many of these films are redeemed simply by virtue of the actors doing their parts. Naseer and Nana – now, they are not actors you would watch a film for; they are the ones you would make a film for. And though I don’t really think much of Arbaaz Khan or Mandira Bedi, they handled their simple yet predictable story remarkably well. Their story was a very good choice to begin the movie with.

Some of these films seemed ambitious in scope and for some reason, I didn’t think much of them when I watched them – but they have been on my mind ever since. Jimmy Shergill and Masumi’s story for one, and Rise and Fall is the other. (Sanjay Gupta should just stop directing Dutt now…the highschool adolescent hero-worship is getting real old. But Gupta has named the characters Baba and Nawab – a nod to his erstwhile blockbuster ‘Aatish’. Very smooth. Now, see, everyone wouldn’t get the nuance – I did because that movie changed forever the way I would conjure up any person called ‘Baba’. Sigh!)

The very worst of the lot has to be Dino Morea’s story called ‘Sex on the Beach’. For some odd reason, bits of it looked like a Dockers advert to me. Understandably, it was directed by Apoorva Lakhia.

If this were a book of short stories, I’d say, go read all of them, but zerox the one with Neha Dhupia and Mahesh Manjrekar. It’s well worth flipping through the entire collection for.

Sunday Morning Poems or Yay to the also-rans

I am working from home today, and just when the research got heavy, I turned to a book of poems. Came across two poems. At first glance, they seem to have nothing in common – one is of the season of remnants, Autumn, and the other is about a donkey – an animal on the fringe of literary or artistic work. But, a little below their surfaces are plaintive songs of residual heartache.

Autumn by Walter De La Mare

There is a wind where the rose was;
Cold rain where sweet grass was;
And clouds like sheep
Stream o’er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.

Nought gold where your hair was;
Nought warm where your hand was;
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.

Sad winds where your voice was;
Tears, tears where my heart was;
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.

The Donkey by G.K.Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tatter’d outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scrounge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Food in thought

When I’m coming down with fever, I crave sweets. Actually, it’s not really craving – just a wistful longing of the palate for something sugary, syrupy, creamy, etc. When I am really, really unwell, I think about chocolates. When I’m hearty and ready and able to kick imaginary butt, I dislike sweets and I find chocolates dismal. Except for…no, there are no exceptions. Chocolates have as much appeal as Paris Hilton’s dog. I have been thinking about the mutt for quite a while now. I wonder why. It can’t possibly be normal. I thought about the dog when I was getting a pedicure. Was wondering what its paw-prints would look like if its paws were dipped in scarlet nail-paint and it trotted all over an ermine coat. (What’s the dog called, by the way? The dog with no name – an unworthy successor to the cat made famous by Capote in Breakfast at Tiffany’s…I like breakfasts though. I love breakfasts with cooked stuff – not out of the carton variety, like cereal or bread-butter-jam, etc.)

In any case, coming back to what I wanted to write about. I think I have fever. So, I have started thinking about sweets. My mind’s eye sees a nice rabadi-cake. (I know there is no such thing as a rabdi-cake. Well, there should be.) Warm, and somewhat spongy and very milky and sweet. The texture and ‘feel’ of this particular dessert that I have in mind comforts me somewhat. I imagine lying on the bed, tucked in a bright red and back quilt, spooning a delectable layered bit of thick, warm sweetness and feel the soreness ebb away.

My imagination deserves a restaurant of its own.