It was Rakhi. Though I don’t celebrate the festival, I thought it would be a good opportunity to have my brothers buy me something.
My own brother is sailing. He never gets me anything I want. I wanted a skirt from Italy, and he said, ‘It won’t fit.’ I wanted a dress from Paris, and he said ‘It won’t fit’. I wanted a fleece and leather jacket from Dusseldorf, and he said ‘It won’t fit’. I wanted a cocktail dress from Neiman Marcus in New York, and he said ‘It won’t fit’. Capris from China won’t fit, glares from Norway won’t fit, blouses from Japan won’t fit, towels from Thailand won’t fit, bedsheets from Spain won’t fit. Apparently, there is no-one my size inhabiting any other continent.
My other cousin, who I was going to drag to ‘Love Aaj Kal’, sprinted off to Goa with his friends. That only left my other cousin in Lokhandwala.
Call went thus:
“Hi!”, I said.
“Hi!”, he actually sounded a little happy to hear my voice. It was short-lived. I asked me if we could meet.
“Why?”, he asked cautiously. Last time I met him, I insisted that he hear me out on certain topics. The session lasted four hours. After this, he lamented the fact that he didn’t have a gun to shoot himself.
“It’s Rakhi! And you’re my brother. At least one who’s available, any way.”
“Oh, I’m touched. I have nothing to give you, by the way.”
“That’s fine. Let’s just meet and talk.”
“NO! NO talking! I have a very important meeting tomorrow, and I am very disturbed. Let’s not meet tonight. Some other time. I’m really tensed.”
Of course, when I reached his place later, I realized why he was tensed. He was watching a movie that had Jeetendra wearing a full-sleeved variant of a peasant blouse and Dharmendra wearing a leather gladiator-type skirt.
“This movie is practically 40 years old”, my cousin informed.
I’d been feeling bad about insisting on meeting him when he was ‘down’, so I’d got some donuts for him. Well, 2 of them were for him. The other 2 were for his flatmate. But whilst explaining the subtle nuances of a crappy fight sequence, cousin polished off the entire case.
“Let’s go”, he declared wiping his fingers.
“Where? Versova Barista?”
“No. I’ll take you to this place in Juhu.”
So, I got up, combing my hair in a hurry, anticipating I don’t know what. Cousin strode out confidently, moved three digits of his hand, and hailed an auto.
“Chandan cinema”, he said confidently.
Now, I wouldn’t be got dead going to Chandan cinema! I mean, even if I went there alive, and I got killed there (not an altogether farfetched notion), my corpse would still walk out of there and collapse somewhere else, around Ramada or Prithvi perhaps, or wait, Kimaya! (I love that Kimaya store! Although I’m not quite sure why it features in this morbid fantasy.) Anyway, I shared my concerns with my cousin who looked at me quite pitifully.
“Chandan is a very nice place! That’s a safe place. You can come here by yourself at one in the night.”
“Why would I be alone at one in the night?”
“Oh, you’ll be alone!”, he laughed. I’m not so sure I quite understood where that insight came from, but I was a little unnerved. I mean, surely I could have friends at one in the night. Or at the very least, an annoying cat trailing me.
We went to this pool parlor that begins with a K. I forget the name. When I stepped in, two groups of really big, burly men turned to look at me. Hard. And then suddenly, they went back to their game.
Cousin and I settled down in a booth and he told me that this place is open through-out the night. Of course, anything that’s open at night in Juhu does not get my vote. I would much rather be in Bandra, Colaba, Versova, or even Vashi or Chembur. But not Juhu. Something about that area gives me the creeps. When I was in school, I have seen actors get into hideous brawls outside Holiday Inn. When we’d go to Bawa International or J-49 in college, invariably some doped, lanky woman would approach me to ‘take her to her room’. One night, I almost fell for it, only to realize that she, in fact, was a man. Very doped, very ill…but a man.
So, even though Juhu is posh and pretty and has places that serve good food and probably play nice music, I’d rather take my chances elsewhere.
But this place felt different. Although, at that time, it was only populated by men, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. My brother had excused himself for a bit, and I was sitting alone. But no-one bothered me, no-one stared, they’d keep shooting pool, and ordering coffee or Cokes. (The place doesn’t serve alcohol…or rather, it’s not on the menu. They might serve it if they know you, or you’re famous.)
I ordered a New York cheesecake and some Irish coffee. Both were nice and reasonably priced. Neither tasted like it was from New York or Ireland. So I ordered another type of tea and some omlettes.
Some time after 2 a.m., the really good crowd started trickling in. Very polished. Well-dressed women, well-groomed guys, non-sleazy businessmen. My cousin was sharing my plate of fries, and started pointing out certain people in the crowd. That really pretty girl in black is a playback singer, the guy in a faded blue tee and cream linen shorts is her boyfriend. He’d bought her a dog to replace the one he’d run over. And the clever-looking lady in the cream kurta and white pants was a famous producer. Her daughter’s studying script-writing in LA. So on and so forth.
Over coffee, cousin decided to do some kind of personality analysis. My personality analysis. It began with the misleading statement, “I can’t put my finger on it…” This was followed by forty minutes of incisive data presentation to support his contention of what is wrong with me. I am so tired of family trying to figure me out, but I heard him out nevertheless. It’s not that he’s right, it’s just that he’s interesting. Like he told me to do something other than writing. To expand my talents, so to speak. Writing would make me pigeon-holed.
“But it’s my forte”, I said.
“Yes…but if you keep doing only one thing, it won’t be good any more.”
“How’s that possible? You do more of something, you get better at it.”
“Okay…here’s what I mean. Think of a color, any color. If you keep adding only one color to a painting, do you know what happens?”
“It doesn’t dry?”
He sighed again.
“It starts turning black. Even a virtue must be measured and used carefully.”
Now, I don’t agree with that. I am not sure if I understand it entirely either. But I found the sentiment really profound.
And on that high note of incomprehensible wisdom, we called it a night. Which, in Juhu’s Neverland, ended at 3:30 in the morning.