Saturday, December 3

Lonely Fire

"To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." - Khmer Rouge

People at work think I'm crazy. Not the "let's avoid this geezer, he makes strange jokes, giggles at inappropriate times, probably has a head in a jar at home" mad. More the "why does this asshole care?" insane.

It's true. I do care. Heck, I'm a completely different person in the office. I openly admit I'm an ogre. A miserable, grumpy bastard. It's not even like I want to be that way. I actually am quite cheerful and foolishly optimistic on Mondays. After my first coffee of course. Let's not get stupid. I look at my job-list and think "What can we do here?" Every week, I do this even though I am a raging monster, lashing out at all and sundry by Friday. Why?

Because I am passionate about the nuances of my work. The creative, psychological, witty aspects, sure. Most people in advertising are. But also the dull stuff like meeting deadlines, wanting to spend time at work working at ideas. At the craft of writing. And it frustrates me no end when my colleagues spend their days gossiping, browsing bloody FB and just generally wiling the time away time. Wasting it, rather. It's like watching water being poured away into sand.  
         Yet I can't blame them. We're a remarkably gloomy species. There are too many things that are structurally fucked up and we, the foot soldiers, bear the brunt of it all. Many an upper management butterfly flaps its wings and the tsunamis appear in our lives. Whether it's ridiculously lazy strategies, self-defeating client servicing or half-baked, peculiar creative stuff, it's pretty rusted across the chain.

Who the hell keeps reiterating that advertising is a wonderful, satisfying and fun industry? If we ever ran into the fuckers who says this, we'd tear them limb from limb. We aren't having fun. We're getting beaten up, slowly and methodically. And, there comes a point in every boxing match when the loser knows it. The moment when he stops competing and starts waiting for the sound of the bell, praying that he can make an exit covered by a smidgeon of self-respect. Most of the people I know have reached this point.

One friend is quitting the planning department because she is tired of fighting her boss. Tired of knowing she is right and that her boss is wrong. That the person who is supposed to inspire her, teach her and help her, is essentially a successful fraud whom no one calls out. That the supposed briefs they send out aren't worth the paper they're printed out on.

There are countless folks in client servicing who are tired of fighting the client. Tired of the mindless, MBA-brandishing brand managers, wet behind the ears but arrogant enough to think they know everything. Who incessantly plague the servicing people with feedback that would make an idiot blush and deadlines which have no meaning.

And the creative teams, most of who wouldn't recognise inspiration if it were blowing them. The less said the better.

I'm telling you - ply the lot of us with enough booze and you'll uncover enough rancour to put us on a saline drip of Valium and Prozac. At the least, most of us would be locked up in a good sized psych ward on a temporary basis.

Amidst all the broken-hearted surviving we do on a daily basis, there's senior management and their machinations. Having seen it at every place I've worked, I was reminded of the Khmer Rouge's chilling words. Make no mistake, I am not disrespecting the victims of the KR. I'm saying the same callous philosophy, watered down, is at work in every office and every agency. Most of us know the feel of it. The only thing we don't do is put it into words. That would make it more real than we could bear.

Song for the moment: Body and Soul - John Coltrane 

Friday, November 11

A singer must die

A good friend sent me a message today.
Which said that Leonard Cohen had died.
I stared and stared till my knees trembled.
Then I sat down and cried.

I shed some tears for that fine mind.
And some for that voice so deep.
Some for the simple beauty of his words.
They're all we have left and it made me weep.

Then I gathered up the pieces of me.
And left home, lost and grim.
Something has changed forever.
This world is poorer without him.

We'll carry on without you, Leonard.
We'll shoulder our burdens again.
We'll listen to your songs over and over.
And one day, they'll dissolve the pain.

Rest in peace old man.
Though you've left me a little broken.
I'll never write as well as you, perhaps.
But maybe, you'll look kindly upon this token.

Tuesday, November 1

Liquid Spirit

My blogging schedule is somewhat akin to what regularly used to happen to friends on bike trips. Like their rides, the year started decently enough and I averaged a steady 2 posts a month. Which, considering my 'dull-as-ditchwater' life, is awesome. Then the wheels came off in August (like a Bullet's silencer on one ride) and there just wasn't anything to write about. Nothing cheerful anyway, and my loyal readership of one hinted strongly that I should put a sock in the melancholy blathering. So that was that.

But Diwali happened and it's given me an excuse to pen this.

I like Diwali. The goodwill, warm wishes and hope for the new year affects even a curmudgeon like me, so there's some mighty powerful waves floating around I reckon. The sibling and I gave up on the dreadful Tamil Diwali custom of waking up at dawn for an oil bath many years ago and our parents got the message. Of course, the fact that we'd get to burst firecrackers and eat like starving animals right after was awesome, but the enthusiasm wore out. I used to love having legiyum (and it is yum indeed) before pigging out shamelessly on Thattai, Thengol, Nada, Mixture, Ribbon Pakoda and what have you, right around breakfast time.

Used to is about right because nowadays I feel blessed to even get legiyum. See, the art of making Diwali snacks has evaporated in my family. Most of the women are now elderly or unenthusiastic, preferring to buy it outside. And who could blame them? It was a heck of a lot of work to begin with. And I can't imagine how galling it must have been for the ladies to see their backbreaking efforts scarfed down along with hot coffee by the clueless, lazy men of the house without so much as a smidgeon of gratitude.

Also, with expanding waistlines and lungs that feel like leaky bellows, we've become health-conscious, which is a polite way of calling ourselves boring. So, nowadays most of our efforts are geared towards distributing whatever dreadful sweets we get somewhere else, faster. Like dealing cards at Rummy, we just shuffle all the boxes and start handing out stuff.

We stopped bursting firecrackers years ago too. Don't get me wrong. Unlike much of 'Hysterical Twitter', I like 'em. Fountains, rockets and the colourful stuff, mainly. I never could enjoy the noisy ones. But the sibling and I felt strongly about the issue of child labour and simply quit one year, much to our poor father's confusion. However, he eventually cottoned on to the fact that it meant massive savings and no more was said about it. We dutifully tried to enthuse ourselves about getting new clothes. It's a lovely custom, but the charm is that of another age. Back when we were middle-class poor, new clothes were rare, reserved for birthdays, the arrival of generous relatives and Diwali. Now, we're blessed to be better off and pick up clothes whenever we want so don't feel the need for a special occasion. Though I still am very careful to make my clothes last for years. Some things, you just don't forget.

10 years ago, our lives changed forever. So did Diwali. I don't know how or why, but the onus fell on me to do something in the festive season. I made sure the brass lamps were washed with tamarind a couple of days ahead. I learned to trim the wicks, placed them in diyas around the house and lit them along with the sibling. It's the only thing we do for Diwali. 5 days a year, we try to embrace the spirit of togetherness. It's also a way for us to signal the heavens. That the years may go by, furniture may be different, kitchen get remodeled multiple times and rooms get exchanged. But there will always be a light on in the window. For her.

Besides, who can argue with the loveliness that is the light of a simple lamp on a moonless Diwali night? It truly is symbolic. Darkness is always around. But all it takes is a little crack in our veneer of cynicism for the light to get in.

Here's wishing you a wonderful festival of lights.

Song for the moment: Idea Spiral - Cell (Ozora Festival Edit)

Wednesday, August 31

Dockyard

It's the end of the month.
The 31st day of what feels like forever.

The salary is in the bank.
But there's no fuel in the tank.

Fatigue makes the eyes smoulder.
Tiredness coats the mind. Makes it fuzzy.

How the bones are holding up is anyone's guess.
What's keeping an aching heart going is a mystery.

The needs are few.
The wants are spilling over.

People wonder if he's thirsting. For her.
Truth is, a good whisky will do just as well.

Maybe there'll be fewer smiles.
There'll be fewer hurts too though.

He can't taste anything.
Nothing serious. He has the flu.

So, being full is just as good as empty right now.
The edge is off his appetite.

For living.

He has been sleeping the sleep of the dead.
Restfully empty.

Slumbers as beautiful as a blank canvas.
Just as meaningful too.

Then, after many days, he dreamed last night.
She said: Maybe you should...

Song for the moment: Feed your head - Paul Kalkbrenner

Saturday, August 20

Feelings per room

He didn't know the shit had hit and smeared itself lovingly all over the fan till he heard it. Or, more correctly, did not hear it. Anything. Which was terrifying when it was buzzing with the sound of lilting greetings, jokes rehashed year after year, tinkling bells and the clash of silver/copper vessels on plates just a minute before. Taking his own stuff out of the bag, he turned around quickly.

Everyone was silent. Everyone was staring. At him.

From the slowly purpling face and bulging eyes of the vaadiyar (priest) to the disgusted glares lashing waves from 50 uncle-types who mentally crossed him off their list of potential maapilays (sons-in-law) on the bloody spot, he caught an invisible punch of disapproval and outrage that made him flinch.

Surely he hadn't done anything so scandalous. Heck, he'd just got there! No time for an accidental, ill-timed fart or an involuntary cuss to escape. He'd definitely taken a bath this year. The clean lemony smells of Lifebuoy and Cinthol powder were wafting pleasantly off him too. He'd got all the right implements, was wearing the veshti (ceremonial cloth) correctly, washed his feet, removed his shirt and was taking the plate out... oh. Oh fuck.

Removed his shirt.
To change the poonal (thread).
He'd completely forgotten. 

His eyes first met Balu's. His neighbour and best friend since school. And that bastard, belying his 33 years, was giggling silently, his mouth sealed desperately by one hand while the other ran a finger across his own throat in mime. His gaze then fanned slowly through the room till they met his Appa's (Father's). And the old man was shocked. There were some hajaar generations of purity, culture and sheer rage behind his look. It was excoriating. It was scorching. It was in 'all-consuming Shiva's Third Eye opening' territory.

He'd fucked up twice over. He'd got them. And he'd not told Appa. Told, forewarned, whatever. His father was caught unawares and that meant at least 10 years of questions, comments, throwaway remarks and awkward hints. Aandava! The questions. What is that? Is that what I think it is? Why did he get them? Where did he get them? How? What need did he have to get it? Is he okay? Is something wrong? What do they mean? What do you mean? Why did you let him? Why did you not know? What else do you not know? What do you know?

For the first time in his life, he actually felt sorry for Appa. No one deserved what he was about to go through.

He'd got the tattoos.
But it was his father who was about to feel the needles.   

Song for the moment: The Path - Teenage Mutants & Purple Disco Machine

*Fixion of course. 

Saturday, July 23

Lotus Eater

My previous workplace, or as I call it, advertising hell, is squeezed into 2 floors of a raffish building in a venerable part of Bombay - Fort. Day after day, I would walk from Churchgate past the Maidan, eye-catching examples of British architecture and gloomily lonely agiaries to reach that creative sweatshop. Some days, I hated it. Other days, I loathed it absolutely. The only saving grace was Swagath.

Even though I was born in Bombay, have lived in Pune most of my life and speak Marathi pretty fluently, a part of me is still mostly Tamil - my diet. Don't get me wrong; I love Maharashtrian food. But my genes are stubbornly South Indian when push comes to shove. Sadly, imbeciles have boiled Tamil cuisine down to sambar, rasam, curd rice, idlis and dosas. They only need visit Krish Ashok's twitter food feed to realise how misplaced their notions are.  

Anyway, when I fall ill, I crave comfort food. Which is home food. Admittedly rasam is one of the most tried, tested and trusted options. Much as I love my grandma's molagu (pepper) rasam - it's an immersion in a warm, nourishing bath after a long day; or limbu-poondu (lemon-garlic) rasam which, frankly, could revive a dead body, neither satiates my craving perfectly.

Besides, too many busybodies have heard of rasam. It has become trendy to flaunt their knowledge of it. As is to be expected, the adding of their own twist to this simple dish has begun. I can't wait to read about how their lentils and tamarind are organic, or how the garlic is farm-to-table authentic. Or even how the lemons have been plucked and squeezed by suitably pious and virtuous ladies. Ugh.

Whenever I'm under the weather (current case), I crave Pongal with a vengeance. It's the humblest of dishes elevated to heavenly heights by a few, balanced ingredients. Rice, moong dal, crushed pepper, jeera, salt, haldi, kadipatta, mustard, roasted cashews, ginger and ghee. That is all. Individually, they're nondescript. When they come together, served hot... let's say I sort of get why people believe in god.

It's not easy for me to get good home-made pongal. Spotting it listed with avial (another rock-solid dish) on the Swagath menu, I was sceptical. It arrived at the table in one of those compartmentalised steel plates. The biggest section was reserved for the pongal while the other two held the avial. One bite and my soul did a little jig of delight. As Swagath was a short walk from my office, I'd eat there pretty often. And, while their other dishes are excellent, pongal-avial became my go-to lunch option. Call it a kind of genetic homesickness; a need to eat healthy and tasty food. Whatever it was, I couldn't get enough of it.

Then I shifted jobs (it was either that or death) and haven't visited Fort in over a year. This past week, I came down with a particularly heavy cold. Sitting at my desk, miserable, snivelling, fighting to breathe and with a head that felt distinctly full of wool, something snapped inside. I randomly searched Big Brother for "Pongal in Lower Parel" and stared incredulously at the page.

Swagath's sister concern Poornima (also in Fort) had opened a branch at LP. A short walk from my office. Listed on the menu was Pongal-Avial. I dashed out like a tornado (given my health, it was a tortoisean crawl) and headed over to the restaurant. And, would you believe it? One of the guys from Swagath was running the place. He saw me, beamed in recognition (yea, I was that regular a visitor to Swagath) and invited me to sit.

I'm not saying the pongal-avial cured me instantly. Though it certainly renewed my interest in living. The way life is going right now, that's something.

Song for the moment: Straight from the heart - Bryan Adams  

Tuesday, July 12

Get lucky

The funny thing is it wasn't supposed to turn out such a great party. Well, 'supposed' is harsh. 'Wasn't expected' shall we say. Yet, it did because all the ingredients came together, not in their perfect measures but haphazardly, dashed into the pot with a careless grab and fling.

Old friends, good friends, absent friends, whisky and rum, good conversation, better pauses, the best laughs, the melancholic sighs of wistful disbelief, the unholy glee of impishness allowed for a change that led to the incident of the contact between the alleged permanent marker and the dome, much hilarity, the kind of which had been forgotten for years by all and then sleep.

It is when everyone will realise just how great a party it was. That is when a bolt of something wonderfully good and thankful will strike everyone together. Of course, we'll all shrug it off.

Pity really.

Song for the moment: He had a good time - Cliff Martinez (Drive OST)