Sunday, December 9

If I don't be there by morning

Is it worth suffering the torment of a double migraine, cramped seating, bad food and a hellish 4 hour taxi ride ?

Only if I'm coming home. To Pune.

For some reason that seemed to make sense at the time, I decided to surprise my family by showing up at the front door a week earlier than expected. The only thing that could go wrong with this little scheme was that I would call my Dad at 4:00 am and on asking him where he was, be told that the family was in Bombay for an impromptu visit. Followed by the interesting news that I, on the other hand was giving a few black looks at the stubbornly shut front door. You know... ensuing pandemonium.

A certain someone just recently remarked that there would no doubt be a tale involving my trip home. I concurred. As I have found out, figurative spanners manage to strangely and smugly steer their way comfortably into the machinery running my life. Simply put, my folks were in Bombay on the same day I was and had only reached home 6 hours before me. Ergo, pandemonium did ensue and I go an earful from a rather irritated pater at 4:00 am. Rather shattering for a guy expecting ecstatic welcomes and instead is given a lesson in the effective use of a whispered voice while delivering invective. Ces't la vie.

Surprised faces... real filter coffee, finally... my room, at last... a clean bathroom... pani puri... an actual bed...

Seeing my bike gave me my only weak-kneed moment so far. Didn't quite realize how much I'd missed the old red kinetic. And Pune traffic accepted me like I'd never left, allowing me to spend a vulgar amount of time zipping through the circus that it is on pure instinct.

Without a license ofcourse. Which will be making the same 27 hour journey this weekend. Until then, well... I suppose the police mama's price has gone up a bit.

Song for the moment: Coming back to life - Pink Floyd

Friday, November 30

Its the time of the season...

On-campus, I work at the dept. of Communication Studies, where on most days, there isn't too much to do besides answering phones and delivering letters elsewhere at UAB. However, this soporific state of affairs has, in recent weeks, ground to a halt. Figuratively speaking. The dept. is shifting offices to a new building, which has the faculty alternately whooping with joy and weeping in despair. Their ambivalence is due to the fact that the new offices are incomparably better than the current ones but none of them want to face the trouble of packing and moving their paraphernalia. So.

Enter the office boy. Who, if any of you have read previous posts, is me.

I'd like to meet the individual who thought that it'd be a great honour for me to do the packing for the entire faculty, barring a few kind souls who'd rather assert their independence and do it themselves (bless them). And, as is usual in situations I'm involved in, they discovered that I'm some sort of idiot-savant at packing stuff. I wish whoever is distributing talent at the assembly line would be a little more discriminating. I can just see my curriculum vitae now -
Education: 2 Masters degrees
Work experience - Locum
Job Skills - Remarkable box-packer, object no object.


Anyway, all this packing and moving has got me thinking about my own pack and move, for I head home soon for a month's holiday. Home being Pune. The thought of which has me daydreaming, nodding & grinning hideously at completely inappropriate moments. But, truth be told, there's quite a bit of ambivalence here too. How much has it changed ? Will the familiar, comforting landmarks still be around ? How many faces will I recognise ?

When we leave, the city streets and neighbourhoods that we grew up, lived, laughed & cried in leave with us. We desperately take that last mental snapshot, wanting to somehow hold on to the experiences and memories that shaped us. And just like any photograph, it begins to fade, while the real city impassively goes on. Leaving us holding on to the past. To an ideal.

Going back for the first time.... to reintroductions.

Song for the moment: Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door - Bob Dylan

Wednesday, November 7


What do you do on a perfect day?

A day when the sky is so blue, you actually stop and admire its blueness.

A day when the flame-red and emerald-green leaves of the trees go ‘wisha-wisha’, allowing you to dream on that drudge-walk to another 8 hour day.

A day when the radio plays songs that get your feet tapping and you forget that the walk through the trees actually happened and dream a little more.

A day when you realize that Diwali is around the corner, you are no where near the corner and sweets, savouries and firecrackers are just memories of a distant shore and better times.

You sigh, deeply and completely, letting every muscle and limb relax. You pause for a fraction of second longer before you open that door. Take in that blue sky and pleasant breeze. Hum that tune that’s been stuck in your head since you woke up this morning.

And step over that threshold.


Song for the moment: Move along - The All-American Rejects

Monday, October 29

The Waiting Game

You could just about make out the tiny, strawberry tip of her tongue sticking out as she concentrated on her movements. She knew that getting the combination right was all that mattered and her face was Mona Lisa-like; the ghost of a smile suggested itself at the corner of her mouth but her eyes betrayed the inner demons of fear. They were waiting there for that one slip of the foot, one suggestion of disruption in her focus before she completed the sequence of the ritual. It almost came. As she made her final leap, she noticed the bluish wisp out of the corner of her eye and it rattled the gates to her own personal hell. Her leg, so sure until that instant, landed awkwardly, wavered, shivered, but ultimately stayed put. “Too close”, she thought. It was done, for now. In illogical indignation, she turned toward what had almost caused her failure.

Some distance away was the villain, a svelte spire in the shaded doorway, slowly rising toward inevitable dispersion. The cigarette was the only indulgence he had allowed himself in all those years, but it still made him slightly uncomfortable. He would have preferred to be completely imperceptible, but for what he did and how he did it, it was a small concession. Or so he hoped. Articles about lung cancer had been flooding the papers in recent years and each garish headline and each obstinate statistic only served to remind him of mortality. But he was a cynic, if nothing else and told himself that people died mundane deaths everyday. He had seen men go in myriad ways and as he unconsciously glanced at his hands, reminded himself that he had personally contributed quite a few. He had a reputation in that department and it helped. In the circles that really mattered, his sobriquet was ‘Katana’ and both he and the infamous Japanese blade were blood-brothers; they were swift, sure, and deadly. Unlike the yellow-haired warrior in the latest action flick however, his weapon of choice was a gun.

He had always prided himself on his ability to remain perfectly still when waiting. That was one of the tenets of his ilk, after all. He had done it numerous times over the years, many times in horrendous weather and he smiled as he thought of the time he had to be suspended by ropes to… but forcefully shook himself out of his trance. At the back of his mind, relentlessly eating away into the core of his brain was the thought that this time was different, this time there had been an ultimatum and consequently, there was pressure. He hated pressure. It stifled him and robbed him of the feral instincts that were a large part of his legendary skill. But, he reminded himself, they were not the only contributors. He could, he would, make sure he was successful, pressure or not. He was ruthless in that regard. But there was stress, which he could not deny and it caused him to move to adjust his position and the doorway momentarily offered no protection. She saw him then and she also saw the gun at his side. It rooted her to the spot some distance away behind him and her child-like fascination ensured that she would be a witness. She craned her neck to trace his line of sight and found herself facing the white marble steps and imposing doors of the City Administration building. A small crowd was milling about and she could make out cameras and television crews as they readied themselves. A reporter she recognized from the local news channel was nervously patting her hair and plaintively asking the cameraman whether she looked okay. His answer was to nod in an exasperated and completely unconvincing way which only caused her to fidget even more. Suddenly, the buzz increased as the doors began to open slowly and the reporter, all frantic a moment earlier, now confidently faced the camera and began addressing the lens. One could hear snatches of words… “Senator Smith… nominated for the… votes have been counted… possible victory…”

The striking looking lady in the smart blue business suit made her way out the doors and onto the steps, to be surrounded by flashes and rapidly fired questions. In this maelstrom, she remained calm, poised and seemed to be confidently answering the questions. Something in her demeanor suggested that she would be unfazed in any situation. In this case, the very air smelt of victory and the tentative flutters of celebration. She was noticed by both individuals across the road, him in the doorway and her, behind him.

He watched her; almost with admiration it would seem, mixed with a few stirrings of regret. It was now or never. Tensing himself, he stubbed out the cigarette, broke out of the protection of the doorway and began to briskly walk toward the crowd... toward the lady. Behind him, she noticed for the first time that he was dressed just as smartly, in a suit that matched the colour of the woman's, across the road. The gun was now just intermittently visible as his overcoat swayed with his strides. She realized that no one else knew what she knew, that no one else had even noticed him much less the gun and she tried to say something, to scream. But the words just wouldn’t come. She found herself unable to make even a slight movement and watched him crossing the road as dread, absorption and helplessness all rolled together in the pit of her stomach.

She stared as he crossed the road and made his way up the steps, one at a time, almost deliberately delaying his approach. The lady noticed him too and for the first time, the confidence in her face wavered but she continued to address those surrounding her. The crowd of reporters and pressmen continued to chatter and the noise reached a crescendo as he expertly weaved his way through, relentlessly getting nearer. Across the road, she held her breath without meaning to, as his arms dropped to his side and in a quicksilver movement, broke through and came face to face with the lady.

The cameras flashed furiously as the man with the gun enveloped the senator in a hug. Once again, one could hear phrases… “Congratulations, darling… didn’t expect to see you… got out of work early… made me promise... shall we ?” The local news reporter accosted them as they walked down the steps and began asking them questions. The couple smiled at each other as they turned to face the television camera.

Across the road, in the Home for Orphaned Children with Disabilities, the mute girl turned away and continued her game of hopscotch. She was on Square 7 when the shots rang out, just two of them.

Headlines: Senator Laura Smith and her husband, Police Commissioner Paul Smith were assassinated yesterday. The gunman, a local news channel cameraman…

Saturday, October 27

His-tory of music

The room was a mess. The walls were lined with shelves of books, music and knickknacks, all arranged higgledy-piggledy, suggesting a long lost battle with organization or devotion. The table was in a worse state. Random ink blotches peppered the worn brown surface like Rorschach pictures beyond interpretation and a growing pile of crumpled paper balls threatened to do a Vesuvius on the Pompeii that spread itself on the rest of the table. The pale green lamp, bent over like a tired old crone, had not bothered to do its duty for many a year. Perhaps it had simply forgotten how. Perhaps it had not needed to bother. Who knew? Even the pen-holder, a beautifully crafted wooden piece, was empty; it, along with the other paraphernalia on the table mutely and gently implying that things here were past their prime. The table faced a window which opened onto bleak, gray skies and a plot of land that could no longer call itself a garden. ‘Scrub jungle’ was perhaps the right phrase. The whole setup reeked of desperation and broken spirits.

He shuffled into this room, so slowly that one instinctively knew that he was reminiscing about the past. Cliché it may be, but his memories of that room were happy ones and the knickknacks on the shelves, which, on closer inspection would prove to be rusting or tarnished awards and framed citations, were proof enough. He stopped in the middle of the room, as was his usual practice. Slowly, almost as if his legs were forcing him against his will, he turned toward the door. And he waited.

Would it happen today? He could not say for sure. Under his breath, he began to mutter the same prayer his grandfather had taught him as a child and one which he only chanted in moments of stress. He was one of those people who pretended that the almighty did not exist, until he needed the divine intervention. Then, the bribery and supplications would begin. Depending on the result, his faith or the lack of it was reinforced, rather like the flame of the diya which dances seductively for the breeze. Either way, he was in a win-win situation which was the way he had always liked it. Not for him, the joy of victory or the sorrow of defeat. He had always tried to stay immune. And failed spectacularly.

His rasping breath caught, as he heard the familiar padding sounds that announced the arrival of the creature. Atleast it was punctual, he thought. He had never been able to sweat and had compensated for this failing by chewing on the ruins of what had once been fingernails. He proceeded to do so now. As the creature walked into the room, his heart began thudding, so loudly, he thought, that surely it would notice his presence. But the creature seemed completely lost in its thoughts and failed to acknowledge him. It moved toward the table, sat in the chair with its characteristic, animal-like grace and proceeded to begin scratching at the fresh sheet of paper that lay there. Ever so often, it would sigh and stare out of the window, almost as if it were willing the desolation outside to provide it with any form of inspiration.

Suddenly, as if an unseen bolt of lightning had struck it, the creature jerked and froze. The man in the middle of the room sighed, as if he knew what was coming next. He wanted to reach out and disturb the reverie, but always gave into the allure and inevitability of the next few moments. The creature shook itself and began to feverishly do something as it hunched over the table, its body not allowing him to see. The clock ticked away and he waited. He knew the creature intimately and was aware that the feverish activity would only last a short while longer, which it did. Just a few more dragging minutes. Almost as soon as it had started, the activity stopped and the creature’s drooping shoulders rested themselves against the back rest. That fluid motion made the sheet of paper discernable and the man noticed that the previously empty sheet was now covered with scores of black parallel lines. He marveled at their uniformity and wondered how the creature had made them, so neat and sharp, as if each were a miniature needle.

The same thought passed through the creature’s mind, only it viewed the lines in despair. If this were all it was capable of, it was time to face the inevitable. It glanced at the first lines and it seemed then as if an age passed between the strokes of the needle marking the passage between two seconds. The creature’s throat gave a strangled gasp, almost as if it were laughing and sobbing at the same time and the dual roles were beyond the ken of the vocal cords. One last time, the creature placed its cheek on the warm surface of the table, rose and reached out into the open drawer.

He watched the creature with sympathy as it tiredly rested its head on the table, watched with rising curiosity as it reached into the drawer, watched in stupefied horror as it blew its brains out and watched in helplessness as its hand, slumped to the side and the creature slid to the ground. Slowly and surely.

Deja vu, thought the man.

The lines on the sheet of paper, on the old table in that untidy room burned their way to the top of the song charts, mimicking the flames that rose at the cremation grounds.

He shuffled into this room, so slowly that…

Sunday, October 21

monkey see, monkey do

It is with incredulity that I've followed the newspapers from back home in the last few days, my increasing disbelief safely attributable to the charges of 'racist' that some idiotic cricket 'fans' have managed to tag themselves with.

I wonder which genius tried to spin the idea that the hooting and mimicry that went around the grounds had anything to do with misunderstood celebrations. If those sounds and actions are in a local language, then every evolutionist and linguist worth his\her salt needs to hotfoot it to India. Apparently, quite a few chaps in the country haven't bothered to make it onto the evolutionary ladder at all, forget qualifying for one of the numerous ancestral classifications, and getting these specimens under the microscope would be scientifically invaluable.

I suppose it's hard to get one's head around the idea that Indians, who are not the 'fairest of them all' by any stretch of the imagination, can be racist. People are, of course. And it didn't need the pictures and the media frenzy to bring it out. Every culture has words and expressions to describe another, and usually in a nonchalantly degrading way. It's part of the lexicon. Not everyone may choose to use those words, for the sake of principles or political correctness.
But in a country famous for its diversity, it becomes even easier to make distinctions. And Indians have been doing it for ages among themselves. Now, when the cricket team is being clinically taken apart by a superior team, these attitudes boil over onto the international stage. It helped that the Aussie who was playing a major role in the demolition job was non-white. All the better for the local morons to prominently display their lack of any cranial matter. It would be interesting to see how many of these reprobates would repeat their actions in front of Symonds, without the protection of group anonymity and the fences on the boundary. If there was anything left of their remains for positive identification, they could count themselves lucky.

Those harping on about our glorious culture and ancient traditions barely have a leg to stand on, in this case. If this is the end result of a 1000 years of culture, I fancy that the train got derailed somewhere along the way. Our newest captain or any one of the stars the team is chock-full of would have earned themselves some serious brownie points had they appealed to the public to at least make a pretence of intelligence. All quiet on the Eastern front, this time.

No doubt, Indian cricket related personalities have faced different shades of racism all over the world. For example - Harsha Bhogle at Lord's and the BCCI President at the Champion's trophy ceremony. And the public is aware of it. How can it not be, when the media whips up the appropriate amount of frenzy ? But, were the latest incidents necessary ? Where was the media indignation now ?

Granted, the whole world engages in racism, but what misplaced sense of competition led these alleged aficionados of the game to think that they needed to be crowned champions in this area ?
An eighty six day tour of Australia approaches, with a number of local fans already swearing holy vengeance. Never mind that Australia is pretty infamous for being racist itself. Got to give something to national pride, no ? After all, India doesn't own the patents to that emotion.

It's going to be an interesting tour, that much is certain.

Uttering idle words from a reprobate mind,
Clinging to strange promises, dying on the vine,
Never bein' able to separate the good from the bad,
Ooh, I can't stand it, I can't stand it,
It's makin' me feel so sad.

The glamour and the bright lights and the politics of sin,
The ghetto that you build for me is the one you end up in,
The race of the engine that overrules your heart,
Ooh, I can't stand it, I can't stand it,
Pretending that you're so smart.

Dead man, dead man,
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your mind,
Dust upon your eyes.

Bob Dylan

Monday, October 15

Gaining my religion

To say that religion is an important part of India is the ultimate understatement. The country is steeped in religious fervour, is the mother of all melting-pots when it comes to gods, goddesses, idol-worship, non-idol worship, sadhus in various stages of undress, intoxication and malnutrition and host to festivals right throughout the year. It permeates everything, and I mean everything and apart from cricket, is quite likely is the major fuel for the great joy, sadness, celebration and social crime that ignites India.

Very Jekyll & Hyde.
Very public, very personal.
Very tricky, very touchy

Think about it. The field trip lasts for 12 - 14 days. In this time, we have to introduce ourselves, get accepted by & worm some extremely private details out of a group of people who probably have never seen any real strangers and are therefore perfectly within their rights to be reluctant to let on, if not be downright hostile. And this just describes what we are up against for the census data. Which is why you, dear reader, will understand the idiocy of attempting to question the people about their various deities, obscure rituals and beliefs in magic, of which the practice of the black kind is illegal and perversely ofcourse, prevalent. The researcher would be leading a charmed life for those 12 - 14 days.

Basically, challenging stuff. Which wasn't the reason I crossed it off the list of 24 as the only one I was against. I'm interested in mythology, religion and whatnot. But I was dead set against any of it at the time this trip took place. Call it a reaction. So, no.

Apparently, the class had misconstrued it a shade when the professors told us to pick topics for ourselves. We went ahead and chose and promptly had the professors smile at us in a sickly fashion and assign us completely different ones based on their own logic of what was appropriate for each student. "This is your destiny..." as it were. Completely filmi, I know, but that's the way it was.

24 topics, 19 students. Some topics wouldn't make the cut (shocking and heartbreaking, really, but the world is an indifferent place). Even as the student's name and his or her topic was called out, I had this premonition (ironic, isn't it) about the topic I'd be assigned.

I kid you not about this next part. I was number 19 & there was only 1 major topic left on the list. Sometimes, its just not worth your while to hold your breadth.

Oh well.... onward, philistine.

Thursday, October 11

Coming of age in the Department OR " Where's Ms. Mead when we need her ?"

Right throughout the 1st semester, we kept hearing about the field trip; an almost-mythical rite of passage that students of anthropology underwent after the final exams. Our curiousity being piqued, we naturally asked around and all we ever got were infuriatingly superior looks and sneers that suggested that those hapless missionaries who travelled through deepest Africa had been on a picnic compared to what awaited us. Left with no option we obliged, waiting and wondering.

Just before finals week, our professor handed us a list with a rather grim air (he had the grim air, not the list). Or maybe the fact that we were in the lab with the skeletons contributed to the atmosphere. Anyway, the list contained a number of things one would normally take on a camping trip and a few items I'd never seen on any sort of legitimate camping list before. Beedis, for example. Since finals were hovering, we didn't pay too much attention to the list and by the next Friday, exhausted and shaken by the effort of the papers, we didn't rightly care. All I could think about, writing that last exam was the first cold beer that I'd down the moment I got out of there. The thought itself had me dreamily nodding and smirking at odd moments, no doubt leaving the supervisor to wonder whether the strain of it all had finally caught up with me.

3:00 pm and we were done... or so we thought. Apparently, the tradition at the anthropology dept. was to discuss the details of the field trip in excruciating detail immediately after the exams and I literally mean immediately. Ergo, instead of beers, my classmates and I found ourselves distastefully eyeing a list of topics for the trip and listening to the professors drone on about the importance of selecting a good topic, doing it adequate justice & a plethora of unnecessary details. I glanced through the titles, all 24 of them, and mentally crossed out just one. There was no way in hell that I was picking that topic.

The Fates glanced at each other and sniggered.

Wednesday, October 10

Scars and Souvenirs

The plan was simple. Intrude upon the lives of a hapless group of villagers and get what we want.

This is not a story about some nameless corporation exploiting innocents for oil and mineral wealth but the tale of a field trip that certain students of Anthropology went for in December 2006. Which means that it was a regular potboiler. There was exploitation, selfishness, and intrigue. There was laughter, romance, the odd song and dance sequence and even a marriage. There was magic, ghosts & demonic possession, allegedly. People were seriously injured and some flirted with death. Somewhere in this jamboree, diaries and field books were written up & photographs taken.

One of those experiences that nerds like to think of as the most exciting time of their monotonous lives and the cool ones chalk up as another interesting interlude.

Either way, it was not easily forgotten.

Tuesday, September 25


7:45 am on a cloudless morning and the group sits down for its first chai of the day.

"Put on the light. It should feel like morning" says the worthy, sitting opposite the shaded windows.

The times aren't they a-changin' ?

Tuesday, August 28

Running against the wind...

The Super Sub

Do you know what it feels like to sit with your face in your hands, completely depressed and wretched for 93 minutes ? I do.

Do you know the feeling of an indescribable joy begin somewhere in your toes and burst into your brain after the aforementioned 93 minutes ? I know that too.

I woke up this morning to find out that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has retired from football. To not see him on the pitch any more in the familiar Manchester United no. 20 shirt leaves me with a hollow feeling somewhere inside. How soon before the Welsh wizard and the Ginger ninja are gone as well ?

And how in the name of all that is decent is the Indian team going to replace Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble when they retire ? Granted, the Australians went through something similar, but they were the Australians.

Generations are defined by their sporting heroes. We spend countless hours reliving those incredible moments, remembering exactly where we were and what we were doing as they were being etched forever in history and memory. Tendulkar at Sharjah, Dravid at Headingly, Ganguly at Adelaide, Laxman at Calcutta, Kumble at Delhi, Giggs at Aston Villa, Solskjaer at the Nou Camp, Cantona anywhere.... we are humbled and grateful simultaneously.

And the sobriquets - the smiling assassin, the baby-faced assassin, the wall, the master-blaster... who will relate to them, recognise them and smile wistfully, except for us ?

Ole... Thank you for the memories.

Sunday, August 19

The boy stood on the burning deck...

I've often been told that I'm unique... and more in the spirit of a spat-cum-hissed epithet rather than a compliment. In one regard though, I'm fairly confident that I am of the majority - I loathe exams. Completely and absolutely.

(So, why am I doing another Master's degree at present ? Because I am a glutton for punishment)

Within a few weeks, I had contrived to fit in with the rest of the public in my Anthro class, basically because they were the friendliest bunch I'd ever met. But, a sense of bonhomie was not going to help me in the mid-semester exams that were approaching with the clinical purpose one of those carnivores one sees so often on Animal Planet. I was approaching the mid-sems with a sense of trepidation and decided that there had to be some truth in the old adage about misery loving company and all that. So, I brought up the subject of the papers with Gaurav. You know how it is... people egging each other on with an absolutely transparent and blatantly false sense of bravado. Anyway, I may have opined something along the lines of studying for the papers not being a problem since we had to give 1 a day. We were walking toward the canteen as this conversation took place and I expected something similarly reassuring from him. Without breaking a step, Gaurav turns toward me and gives me a look usually reserved for the village idiot - a mixture of pity and kindness. Then, in his usual blunt fashion (which I admire as a rule, but not at that precise moment) he tells me that we have 2 papers a day. Calmly and coolly, like he's reciting one of Confucius' maxims.

It's amazing how many thoughts can go thought one's mind in the space of 3 seconds. "Arrrgh" I think was the first one followed by "Oh! F**k " and similar choice blasphemies. Simultaneously, I had this wild urge to both assault Gaurav and throw myself in front of a passing car and ending it all then and there. In one of those tones popularly described as a 'strained whisper', I half-questioned, half-accused him of lying. The bugger, still passing himself off a paragon of truth, assured me that he was not. A couple of weeks later, staring at the 1st of my two papers for the day, I was convinced of it.

Samosa pav and tea was lunch that week. Its perfect in that it satiates your hunger without satisfaction, leaving you wide awake and edgy. At the same time, it arrives and is demolished within the space of 10 minutes, leaving you with about 50 minutes to study for the next paper. By Wednesday's set, I'd reached the low point. I knew my marks would be competing only with the Titanic for the prize of 'greatest disaster in recorded history'. Thursday, I couldn't care less. Friday, I was glad it was all over.

I walked out of the class after the last paper and volubly thanked the heavens that I'd never have to go though that experience again. On cue, Gaurav gently breaks it to me that the finals also followed the same pattern, with one notable difference - for the finals, we had the whole syllabus.

At that juncture, I may have become slightly hysterical... I don't exactly recall. The next thing I remember is staring at a cup of tea in the canteen.

Just staring....

Next: I find religion

Tuesday, August 14

'twas one of those times...

A few sporting shockers have occurred over the last 2 days. For one, Manchester United, one of the many blights of my existence, managed to draw their first game at home against some not-so-scary opposition. So what do the fans get for having seen the spending of over $40 million over the summer ? A chap with a broken foot sidelined for 2 months. This would be fine if the chap in question was say... Wes Brown, no offence to him. Unfortunately, its Wayne Rooney. Enough said.

Number two on the list is the fact that Roger Federer has lost a final... to a guy who admittedly beat Nadal and Roddick on his way. But the reason Federer is Federer is precisely because he's not some clay court specialist or a 24 year old has-been... which makes the whole affair as surreal as Roger's regular game. All I can think of is that some poor sods have been cheated out of a sure bet.

Number three, and admittedly my favourite is the news that India has pulled off a test series win, not against the usual suspects but against England. IN England. Now detractors (and there always are detractors) will say that England were missing Flintoff, Hoggard and well...okay... Harmison also. There's only 2 things to be said to whoever brings up that point:
  1. tough luck
  2. generous to a fault as usual & no doubt anxious to validate their victory, India decided that the English bowlers on show needed some wickets to show for their efforts. So that pretty much evens the whole thing out.
As the previous post would indicate, I have my heroes in the Indian team. But one also ought to feel happy for Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly who are on their last tour of England.
Better late than never I suppose....

Wednesday, August 8


Apparently, suffering indescribable torments before being admitted to the dept. wasn't good enough. Either that or somebody conveniently assumed I was a masochist.

Still reeling from the fact that I was to face 10 papers for the mid term exams in a month's time (I was already a month behind, remember ?) I shakily made my way for my first class which happened to be in the lab; Anth - 110: Biological Anthropology (Practical I). It may not sound like much, but in my condition that was probably the best place to begin. For one thing, I didn't really have to speak to any one (not that that stopped a few, mind you). For another, and I'm not being morbid, there were skulls all over the place. I quietly took my place in a suitable corner.

A big chap with a tentatively curious yet friendly expression on his face stepped up and introduced himself as Gaurav. We chatted for a bit before in walked a lean, unshaven, dishevelled looking fellow in spectacles who from first appearances, seemed to have spilt half his lunch on his t-shirt. Now, over the years I've had people introduce themselves to me in a variety of ways, some polite and some not so. This fellow obviously believed that the accepted ways were for the birds because... and you have to picture this... he steps up, looks at me, looks at Gaurav, points at me and waves his hand in that classical way to ask who I was. I wasn't amused at all, but that was how I first met Shreyas. Talk about contrasts.

There were others there seated in the lab already, but I was interrupted from looking around by the arrival of the professor.

The class was all about the detailed study of the human skeletal system and my partner for the class (well, he was a person at some point in the last century anyway) was skull 16, who I named George. The Harrison of the same first name had recently passed away and I had been listening to 'Here comes the sun...', so. In the same vein, the chap with the prominent hip bones dangling in the glass case became Elvis the pelvis. Not exactly hilarious, I know but at the time, I needed all the distraction I could get. Why ? Let me explain... a guy who has just been put through the emotional wringer and a touch apprehensive to boot, does not need the professor to begin by, and I quote "Norma Verticalis. Make sure you all can see the Saggital suture, the lambda, the bregma, the parietal bones, the occipital bone... "

I lost him after the 'make sure you all can see...' and for all I knew, he could have been speaking a foreign language. Day 1 went by rather quickly after that and I went home thinking that there was a lot of catching up to do. By the end of the week, I began to wonder whether I was even in the right race, forget catching up... the feeling 'all at sea' seemed apt enough. My classmates were nice but the stuff I was learning, or for accuracy's sake, staring stupidly at, was going way over my head. Remember, anthro was a totally new subject for me. One does not coolly jump from schizophrenia to debating the emic versus etic perspective.

I was reeling... and after the Hominid Evolution class, beginning to panic... and wondering whether I had made the right decision. I needed a sign to tell me that everything was fine, that it would all work out, that there was hope.

On Friday afternoon, in the last class Shreyas leans over and in an offhand way asks "Did you know Rhesus are Old - World monkeys ?"

Black gloom descended.

Next: Of frying pans and fires

Saturday, July 28

Kismat - part 2

I'm at a party. There's a lot of beer floating around along with some tequila.

Problem ? I'm not a party person and there's way too many people floating around too. Hence this post.

The anthro dept. chair has a nice office. Its spacious & has 2 large windows overlooking a plot of land attempting vainly to be mistaken for a garden. At the time of this story, the trees outside were decked rather prettily in a riotous bloom of red flowers. Very pleasant, on the whole for the spectators. I wasn't one.

The one anomaly in this otherwise normal room were a set of swing doors at the entrance. They were exactly like the ones you'd find in a saloon in the Old West complete with the wooden slats, extended creakiness and definitely having had seen better days. It may just be my imagination or my circumstances at the time, but every time I was about to enter that room, I felt like that insignificant desperado in the western flick who knows he's going to have his noggin blown off by Clint Eastwood at the start of the movie. It's all well and good for Clint, who proves 2 things with one bullet; the gun works & that he's the epitome of 'cool'. The desperado on the other hand...

In the afternoon of that fateful day, I went back to the dept. with the application fees and the necessary paperwork. I wouldn't go so far as to say there was a song in my heart and a tune on my lips and all that, but my spirits were definitely on the rise. The HOD, in a diabolical turn of events calmly announced that there were no seats available at the time. Down came the spirits. In fact, given that I became very familiar with the outside of those swing doors over the next month, all manner of spirits went down. Five times... I visited that dept. five times over the next month hoping to persuade the main man to admit me but to no avail. I found myself shown out of his office so fast each time that I almost met myself coming in.

To cut a long story short, in true filmy style, I told myself that the sixth time would be the last time... I had lost hope and run out of patience and alcohol. Outside those cursed doors, I took a deep breath, told the universe it owed me one and entered the room.

The HOD looked at me for the longest second possible and..... asked me to sit down.

The next day, I paid the semester fees and made my way to the dept. to check out my subjects for the 1st semester. On the notice board, I browsed through the time-table and noted with admiration that there were 10 different papers on offer for the 1st semester itself. "Not bad" I thought, "there's so much variety and choice. This is an amazing dept.". I asked a professor who was passing by how were we to make our choices out of the 10 available. Casually and laconically she says - "there's no choice".

Eh ?? What ??

Next: George, Elvis and old world monkeys.

Friday, July 27

Kismat - part 1

[The next few posts are going to be about my time in the Anthropology dept., Pune Univ. from 2004 - 06. I'll cherish those 2 years, always. I met some real characters... friends now, and went on a trip that left me with memories no amount of time can fade. If interested, read on... if not, well... tough.]

I'm lounging in my chair at work. My back is curved at an angle that promises some painful consequences later, but I leave it to my later self to deal with that. In this not-so classical position, the only thing I can clearly see is the ceiling. There's nothing even remotely remarkable about it; its been painted this marvellously creative shade of... drum rolls please ... white & there are two sets of tube-lights that compete with each other to light up the room. Since the room is only 7 x 6 at its most optimistic best, the brightness here manages effortlessly to set my teeth on edge. But, I digress. The ceiling only serves to bring back memories to me of another time and another place, when I was similarly ensconced on my Kinetic at the University of Pune, or as it's better known, Univ.

Words are not adequate to describe how comfortable the Kinetic is for lounging. The spare wheel is perfectly placed to be used as a pillow and the seat is a good enough mattress. Hang your legs over the handles and there you have it. Which was exactly the position I was in during those hot afternoons when even the bees are buzzing about sleepily and the general atmosphere is one of laziness. The trees outside the Anthropology Department, where I took my Master's degree, provided the needed shade and the sun shining through the dark green foliage is what I recollect when I contemplate this cheap imitation of an empty canvas above me now.

When I look back, me doing anthropology was not something even Nostradamus on his best day could have foreseen. I had just finished my B.A in Psychology and while there had been a considerable hiccup in my personal life at the time, I was all set to take my M.A in Psychology at the Univ. The tiny flaw in this master-plan was that the Dept. of Psychology at the Univ didn't want me. At all. Okay, so maybe it wasn't such a tiny flaw after all but well... 'the best laid plan of mice and men...' and all that. The thing was, there were 26 students who were admitted for the M.A programme out of which only 10 were admitted from the open category. So, one had to have exceptional marks to get in as a General Category student. I did not. When I first met one of the professors there, he told me a guy hadn't been admitted to the department in the General category in 9 years. I was effectively playing the part of the snowflake in hell.

According to the prof. the last guy who had applied (and obviously not got in) had instead applied and been admitted to the Anthropology Department next door. Smiling and in a winning tone, he further said that this student now held the Royal Flush as far as the hand of Life was concerned. I, understandably was not reassured. Due to past experience, I suspected that the hand I'd be dealt would consist mainly of Aces and Eights and therefore forgot about the anthropology application idea. I was determined to & confident of doing psychology and nothing else.

2 weeks later, I gave in my application to the Anthropology Department chair. By then, the semester had already started and I was facing the prospect of doing an unimpressive psych course from a college which wasn't even in the city limits. The Anthropology dept. chair was naturally reluctant to accept my application since it was obvious that anthro was my second and blatantly desperate choice. But he looked through my application, said it was fine and asked me to come with the fees that afternoon.

Apparently, August has its own Ides. Who knew ?

Next: I go around the mulberry bush

For those ignorant of the playing cards analogy:

Royal Flush - the best hand in Poker, consisting of the Ace, King, Queen, Jack & 10 of one suit
Aces and Eights - the two-pair hand infamously referred to as the 'Deadman's Hand'

Saturday, July 21

See - saw

I don't claim to understand any form of poetry. I don't claim to write any either. Think of the following as free verse, in kindness and rambling, in any other state of mind.

a look, a glance, a stare ?
just a pair doing their myriad duties
too well...
and more

they asked me
i could not answer
they told me
i could not understand
they gave a smile of acceptance
i could not believe
they cried, no tears
i could not comfort
they conveyed our closeness
and forced our distance
they were fearful
i was the coward who flinched
they were cold fury
and i let them burn, consume...

i turned away
wished in that instant they would demur
be anything but alive with that cornucopia of possibility
and it was i who brushed them close for all time
so gently

they haunt me now
i would have it no other way
they mock me, my helplessness, my humanity

Wednesday, July 18

At world's end

There are places in this world which you actually will miss if you blink. This is one such place. 7 feet by 2 feet, that's all the space it occupies. In the daytime it is enveloped by a cacophony of cheerful conversations, indignant arguments and incredulous beseeching. In the evenings it exchanges these for the illumination from the typical 60 watt clear bulb dangling from the red and black twisted wire, and perfumes itself with the bewitching smells of sandalwood incense and jasmine, a potent combination that I like to think is India's alone.

Odds and sods drift in and out, hardly spending a fleeting few minutes contemplating a lightening of their purse. Sometimes the rupee notes shyly unveil themselves, at other times they don't. The rotund figure who is master of this space is generally perched on the single metal bar-stool. He deigns to chat with a chosen few familiars and casually ignores the rest. There are instances when that seat is empty and he's sharing a 'cutting-chai' with his acquaintances a little distance away.

I'm one of the those he speaks to. I've even shared that cutting-chai on occasions.

This infinitesimal space, crammed among its siblings, is lined with second hand books. Wall to wall except for the entrance of course. Books that no one will read any more. Books that no one will print any more. Books so tattered that no one can read them any more. Rare editions and cheap prints. Tales of long ago and others that are...well... porno. Books frayed at the edges, books well thumbed, books with spines as deeply lined as the wrinkles on an old man's face.

I cannot remember the first time I crossed its threshold and now I don't want to. The instant I enter, the sounds of the world outside melt away and I'm left in blissful silence. I've spent hours just sitting on the floor (no mean feat, mind you) and browsing through the tired and dusty stacks. Sometimes I get the funny feeling that 'they' are waiting with bated breath to see which one of them I'll pick this time. I've tried to leave empty-handed and failed spectacularly on each and every occasion. I've revisited my childhood by buying whole series of novels that were around long before Harry Potter was needed to enthuse people to read.

While I am there, my shoulders drop and the masks come off. There are no expectations. I flip through random pages and travel the world for free. I can dream with my eyes open and for a few moments, chase that unicorn named innocence.

Have you ever wondered why yellowed pages have that unforgettable, mesmerizing scent ? The answer isn't that romantic... and it's probably not fair to break the spell here.

It is my place of refuge.

CROSSWORDS ? Don't make me laugh.

Sunday, July 1

warrior soul-speak

The following text has been taken from the Japanese anime Bleach, episode 125. The two characters are Kurosaki Ichigo (IK) and Kenpachi Zaraki (KZ).

Make of it what you will...

IK: We finished our fight a long time ago.

KZ: Finished? It’ll never be finished. A battle is not like some stupid argument. As long as someone is still breathing, the fight isn’t over.

IK: I don’t have any reason to fight you.

KZ: You want a reason… for fighting ? Why don’t you just accept it already, Ichigo ?!

You seek out fights. You desire power. Isn’t that right, Ichigo ?

Everyone who searches for power, without exception, searches for battle !

Do you fight in order to become more powerful ?!

Or do you want more power so that you can fight ?

I'm not the one to tell you that. The only thing I know for sure is, guys like us were born this way.

We were born to fight, Ichigo !


KZ: Your instincts will keep leading you towards new battles. It’s the only way you have.

The only way to become stronger.

Fight Ichigo !

If you want the power to control your enemy, take that sword in your hand and cut him down. That’s your only option.

That’s the road that continues in front of you and remains behind you !

Thursday, June 28

of paper boats and potholes

Nostalgia and homesickness have an interesting effect on the past, in that it tends to become rather rosier than it actually was.

It rained here a few days ago. Nothing special in itself of course but it did get me thinking about the monsoon in India and the fact that this is the first one that I'm missing in 14 years. Having lived in both Bombay and Pune, I've pretty much seen everything that the season has to offer, right from the collective sigh that always goes out when the first showers hit town to the collective swearing that took place the day the heavens decided Bombay needed a long overdue bath... the day referred to as 'Terrible Tuesday'.

For the average Punekar, Simla Office ( the local met station) is an undeniably lovely bit of architecture but as far as announcing the imminent rains are concerned, it is practically redundant. Round about the end of April and never later than the 2nd week of May, the city fathers sheepishly come out of their stupor & in their collective wisdom reach a consensus on 2 crucial matters; firstly, the lower echelons of the PMC passing themselves off as labourers have had enough of a rest and secondly, the roads of the city look a little too even. Common sense has been declared persona non grata in the corridors of the Central Building a long time ago ofcourse, so you might as well give up that ghost.

Result - 2 weeks later, the duck and frog populations of Pune suddenly realize that they have hit the jackpot as far as ponds are concerned; varying in size, shape and depth, numerous new ones have sprung up on those supposedly tarred surfaces shamelessly attempting to pass themselves off as roads. On cue the heavens open up and well... at least the trees look nice. This is all very well for the flora & fauna but what of the Punekar ? He blasphemes... volubly & venomously with a level of sarcasm that is purely Pune; rather like Bakarwadi (if you don't know, don't ask). He then decides that stoicism has its plus points and proceeds to invest in a spinal support belt. Why the belt ? Well... if you've never ridden a bike in Pune in the monsoons, then let me put it this way - make sure your insurance policy hasn't expired.

Its not all bad mind you. I remember cycling home from school with friends one afternoon once when it began to rain heavily. This was back when you could cut through from NCL to Baner Phata using a route which was unbelievably winding, wind-swept and beautifully serene. You can't use that route any more..... can't see groups of Loyolite kids cycling either..... and they say Pune has progressed.

We guys just looked at each other, nodded in agreement and proceeded to cycle merrily on with our raincoats packed carefully in our bags. Then there was this time Gaurav and I developed the munchies and decided that it made complete sense to go to Senapati Bapat road from Aundh to buy the best bread patties in Pune. You couldn't see more than 5 feet ahead because of the sheer volume of water and I was on my beloved Kinetic which is notoriously unsteady in these conditions. About an hour after we left on this little jaunt, we were comfortably ensconced in our respective sofas with piping hot and spicy patties to one side and to the other, a couple of Drambuies that had long ago passed the level of 'tot'. It can't get any better than that, trust you me.

Need I add the expected ones about endless cups of hot chai and samosas \ bhajiya \ butta which are the only companions to staring out of the windows at the grey skies and glittering diamond droplets pattering off every imaginable point ??

And can we ever even begin to contemplate the relief the long-suffering farmer feels when that first drop hits the fields parched and cracked in the summer heat ?

Water-borne diseases, floods, power-cuts... these exist too. Nostalgia isn't going to sweep these harsh realities under the carpet. But hey, its a package deal so we can take it or leave it. And, thankfully enough, we do take it. Every year... June to September.

Images... they sustain us when the real deal is either no more or too far away. All I need to do is close my eyes and I'm instantly transported back...the smell of wet earth, grey skies, endless tiny streams meandering away & me on my bike and on those roads.

To nowhere and everywhere.

Just like those paper boats.

"Rimjhim gire Saawan..." - Manzil (1979)

Friday, June 22

haiku maybe ?

instantly mortified the mind, timeless

winter's truth is dread self-defeating

now the expected sunrise, stressed out symbolism

Wednesday, June 13

Part 2 - Multitudes of manic metaphors & maxims

"You live and learn. At any rate, you live" - Douglas Adams

Naveen and I are sitting outside the Kaul Genetics building when he casually mentions that there's a job opening for a student assistant at one of the departments at UAB. On-campus work opportunities are so notoriously rare that had this been the age of mythology, you could safely expect to see Hercules adding this one to his list.

To put it mildly, competition here was fierce.

Okay... time to make a confession. From the outset, I had the funny feeling that this job was mine. The facts speak for themselves - I was the only chap who could work the exact days and hours required, the work did not require any clerical experience nor expertise and well... I had a feeling.

Life... all it ever does is wait for an opportunity to deliver a kick to your unmentionables. Its success rate is remarkable too. I applied for it (the job, not the kick) and got it. "Drinks all around."

The fates threw the kick in for free. That's them, generous to a fault.

The person who interviewed me needed my SSN for the paper work. I'd applied for the ssn just a few days before and let them know that I'd have it within 2 weeks. No problems there, right ?
"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't" - Douglas Adams
Imagine a train smoothly chugging along on its journey... now, imagine said train suffering an unfortunate derailment. Got that little image in your head ? Good... because the only difference between the events in this story and the unfortunate train was that my job managed (in a way only the word 'perverse' covers adequately) to derail even before it got out of the station. So there.

I was celebrating my new-found job (ha!!) at home when I got the call... no ssn, no job. Nothing to be done about it either from what I was told, because the previously friendly interviewer had decided that she had bagged the part of the Sphinx in the drama of Life, meaning that no amount of diplomacy, negotiation or downright pleading could get her to consider my case.

"Everything is gratuitous, this garden, this city, and myself. When you suddenly realize it, it makes you feel sick and everything begins to drift... that's nausea" - Sartre

What the hell did he know ? This was definitely not gratuitous and I was still nauseous. They started interviewing for the position again. I waited... and by some miracle (and it was a miracle, make no mistake), the ssn that was supposed to come in 21 days, came in 5. I rushed to the office and let the personage have the ssn... "joy to the world..." right ??

Logic dictated that the job was now mine. Apparently, logic had packed its bags and taken off on vacation at this juncture because, for some reason ("Ours is not to reason why...") they continued to interview for the position.

"Drinks just for me... and while you're at it, make that a double... neat." Need I elucidate ?

Four days later, I get a call telling me, regretfully (on cue - hooting and hysterical guffaws) that they had found someone else to fill the position. Thank you very much.

The next day, I am awoken from a stiff hangover by the telephone ringing. The job was mine. Again. No explanations given and none asked for.

At the time, I was very happy about working, for a variety of reasons that I've mentioned in previous posts. 6 months to the day since I started work, I'm not so sure about the happiness part any more.

If you're wondering what this 'job' entails - think of me as a glorified office-boy.

There's the kick... aaaannnnd score !! Right on the unmentionables.

"Reality continues to ruin my life" - Bill Watterson

Thursday, June 7

Part 1 - "Sometimes I wanna take to the road and plunder" - B. Dylan

"Arrey, you have an on-campus job na ? Where ? "
Deathly silence.

"Haan, so how much funding is your department giving you ?"
Deathly silence. A single droplet of sweat, starting at the brow, begins its journey toward terra firma .

"Man, there were so many positions open at the campus job fair last week. Did you go ?"

Deathly silence. The droplet had been feeling decidedly lonely but not any more. In fact, the droplet privately feels its getting a little crowded. And the terra is no longer all that firma. Of all the bamboos, the one called 'panic' is now firmly lodged, well... further elucidation unnecessary, methinks.

"So, yaar... where is your money coming from ? Did you get a scholarship or something from the university ?"

Deathly silence. Can't move any limbs. Possible onset of catatonic schizophrenia.

So ladies, gentlemen, kind readers, voyuers, bored souls etc. - I needed a job. Technically, I needed money... but being law-abiding for the most part, let's say that I needed a job. Just one leetle problem - I couldn't find one. You can add the popular phrases such as 'for love or money', 'neither hide nor hair', 'as far as the eye could see', 'my kingdom for...' umm... wait, maybe not that one. But astute as you lot are (I hope, anyway) you get the point.

"It wasn't my fault Guv... 'onest"

I'd shown up at the university on the last day possible, which left me with next to no time to find a source of funding. This is a tricky situation to be in for the average Indian student, especially considering the exchange rate and the fact that bartering in beans a la Jack (you know... the beanstalk chap...haan...) was not an option. The next few months had me getting a bit wild-eyed and yes, even slightly stressed (ha ha, I slay myself...). In this feral state, thankfully enough, my sense of hearing became acute. So, when opportunity tried to tiptoe past my door, I heard it, threw open the door, got a death grip on it and dragged it in... kicking, screaming and protesting ineffectually as it was.

A student tutor job, where I was to help out university athletes in Psychology and Anthropology. To cut a long story short, I got the job and was able to apply for a SSN (see previous blog for reference). Then, my employer drops the bomb - there was no work that semester. No work, no pay. No pay & I'm back in the dungeons... without passing 'Go' and all that.

Holy Crap Batman !!

Up next: Part 2 - "It Ain't Me, Babe..."

Thursday, May 31

Ants on a mobius strip...

The bitch about hindsight - it just mocks you.

There is this phase of life where we have fantastic dreams, outrageous ambitions and even ideas that appear slightly dubious now that we can look back. In most cases, that happens to be the time we're in college, attempting to get our Bachelor's degrees. I'm not quite sure why this is so - certainly, when I contemplate my college life, I can't recall anything about F.C that inspired me to greater heights - umm... in those areas that are accepted as respectable enough to be scaled, that is.

Can you honestly see yourself inspired into being someone respectably employed when the professor of psychology is droning on about how some chap got his poor dog all strung up and excited over a bell ? I think not...

As far as I can make out, in my 3 years in that grandiose institution I read a lot, developed a marked fondness for beer, a variety of other spirits, was introduced to philosophy by the dynamic duo of Ashish and Ketan, motor-bike rides at odd times of the night and well, other stuff that it may be prudent not to mention here.

Those, and a certain trip to Goa that certain worthies were decent enough to take me along on.

The best parts of my 2 years allegedly obtaining a Master's degree in Anthropology ? It had to be the field trip to a village in north Maharashtra (about which I will devote a whole piece sometime later), endless yatras to the canteens for endless plates of funny tasting food, bad tea and good conversations, hanging out in the hostel in the room shared by Jim, Colin and James and playing scrabble and cards at any given time, generally accompanied by beer... you get where I'm going with this right ??

Then one day we wake up and contemplate, on average, a 70 hour work week... and some of us are studying further ( Heaven only knows why !!) to boot.

We may not have worshipped Bacchus unconditionally but Mammon sure has most of us by the unmentionables and I'm still at the "How the... When the... but, but, but..." stage.
Now, when I look back I think I ought to have taken some serious advantage of my college years and really lived it up. Because, back then, we could do that without trying. Because that was what college was for, is for. Now...

The jeering in the background ? That's hindsight.

Up next - "To be or not to be"... working, that is.

Thursday, May 17

the walrus had a point...

Another day, another birthday..........

Not mine but does that really matter ? Each milestone someone you know passes, it is you who are acutely aware of the sand in the hourglass - each tiny little grain...separating itself from the rest, sliding ever so slowly along the curve of that smooth path, waiting an eternity for some... and then just as surely, dropping down. Another moment gone... and before you know it, so have you.

It's summer here as of now and its officially the holidays. I suppose one indication that we are no longer children in the truest sense of the word is the fact that the summer holidays no longer exist for us. It doesn't for me either; I have the dubious honour of having to take 2 classes in the summer semester.... and well, right when the professor has been talking for more time than you'd care to believe, I think back to the times summer meant being woken up by mum and after a suitable breakfast being politely directed outside the house toward... well... a long, carefree day.

Bike rides on my beloved Hero Ranger cycle, noisy games of cricket with most of the colony kids, sleepy afternoons spent either watching tv or playing any board games that we could get our hands on, more cricket in the evening, just hanging around talking... that's what I remember. Or, choose to remember, since I've lost more than I care to reminiscence on.

In the end, I suppose we may be no different from the waves that crash upon the beach, head as far from the sea as possible and just when we think we've done it, get pulled back toward the only certainty there really is. We're ghosts you know... all the places we've ever been to will be there after we no longer are... and I'd like to think that there's some memory or image of us forever left behind in these places, remembering both the laughter and the times the laughter just wouldn't come. Even something as simple as a seat somewhere has the ability to bring back past images so vividly, you can only wonder how that grain of sand has slipped by... is slipping by.

Does that nameless fear ever clutch your heart suddenly when you wonder how many opportunities have also similarly slipped by ??

There may only be the road ahead of us... but the ghosts are always at our heels and like the siren song, entice us to look back just once more... again and again. In the end, what have we really left behind and what do we really miss ??

The realization that anything and everything was possible... that there was still time... that nothing was really certain......... yet.

Monday, May 7

birds of a feather...

A couple of declarations before I pontificate on today's theme...
  1. Manchester United finally stopped torturing me and won the premiership yesterday. Its been 4 long years of watching them see-saw between semi- decent football and the kind of stuff that can only be described as akin to several Greek and Shakespearean tragedies put together. However, the deed is done for this year and joy is in the air... for now.
  2. My exams are finally over and another semester has been chalked up as completed. What I actually learned is open to debate, but the important thing is, I am one more semester closer to coming home. Which really is all that matters anyway.
Now that we've got that out of the way, back to the issue at hand - room mates.

It had been a couple of days since I got to the land of excitement (o good for you, you recognize sarcasm) and the first couple of days went by in the usual fashion - I spent a good portion of it berating my actually being here, a little more cursing myself & the world for good measure and the rest filling out paperwork at the university office. Once all the supposedly necessary red-tape had been negotiated, I had to face facts namely that I had to find a place of my own and and also look out for other desperadoes who wanted to share a place. People are apt to tell you that finding room mates is an important process... for, eventually, they take the place of family.

Now, even the best and kindest of my friends will testify that I’m not the easiest of people to get along with. “Antisocial, alien bastard” was the popular phrase used to refer to me, I believe. Keeping my charming personality, idiosyncrasies and other character defects in mind I considered the fact that this whole deal could go pear-shaped very easily. I could very well end up rooming with a bunch who were either ruthless manipulators, terribly and creepily friendly or heaven forbid, the very epitome of the phrase 'village idiot'. The possibilities were endless and so I did what I usually do when I need to carefully consider the consequences of my decisions - asked the first new chap I met whether he was on the lookout for a room mate. He was... and he knew 2 others who were also in the hunt. And just like that, the four of us moved into a nice 2 bedroom place within a period of time that can only be considered a dubious record.

Instead of a long drawn out epic describing them, let's just say they were and are as eccentric as I have been accused of being... I name no names so sobriquets will have to do with the current set of ruffians I live with -

Batman - active solely at all ungodly hours of night and sleeps most of the day. How he juggles his classes, which for some perverse reason (for him, that is) are held in the daytime, only he knows. Excellent cook and all-round smart ass.

Grandpa - The oldest chap in the house by a long way... a really long way, believe you me, so his name practically suggested itself. Hides a smart brain behind an expression so inane that it beggars belief. Tells extremely tall stories that nobody even remotely believes anymore and eats as if the next famine is around the corner, resulting in the fact that he currently looks rather as if he is pregnant... with twins.

Mod i.e. the master of disaster - replaced one of the original guys. Announces his arrival by promptly burning a plate in the oven.....

while making.... tea.

Yes, tea.... which he was making on the stove.

And yes, we still are trying to figure out how he pulled that off. Wasn't satisfied with his entrance so tried to sabotage the whole kitchen at a later date by simply attempting to make rice in a fashion that I will not attempt to describe here, for this blog does not attempt to describe the occult. Suffice to say, that too is still in the head-scratching and puzzled stage with a bit of ardent "thank you merciful heaven" thrown in for good measure.

And me - the resident candidate campaigning for a seat in Yerawada Mental Asylum (only Puneites will get this one)

All in all, life hasn't been dull so far. Here's hoping the jamboree keeps moving along....

P.S: Did I mention Manchester United won ??

Saturday, April 14

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dreamed before - E.A Poe

He sure knew what he was talking about, because the silence hit me like a physical blow.

11 am on a Sunday morning, my first real day in the U.S & groggy from the jet-lag I suppose I could be excused for the steadily wilder ideas rushing through my noggin. My imagination, never one to be accused of sobriety at the best of times, decided that this was not one of the best of times and promptly went on a joyride of possibilities... everything from plague hitting the city to something straight out of 'Night of the living dead' (yes, yes it was the morning & you are welcome to take that up with my imagination at your leisure). Anyway, welcome to glamourous Birmingham, folks... biggest city in Alabama, don't you know. And not a soul to be seen as far as the eye could see. And not suffering from any ocular problems, my eyes were working fine thank you very much.

The chaps I was staying with no doubt had gone through the same set of emotions. Its hard not to abandon the popular ideas of manhood... you know... the steely glare and the equanimity when one is taken from the streets of India and rudely chucked into a city with an atmosphere more reminiscent of the better class of mausoleums. The guys were understanding, I must say. In a few brisk sentences that left nothing to either imagination or chance, I was asked to:
  1. Pick up my fallen jaw, idiot
  2. Lump it
  3. Erase the look of disbelief on my face, while I still could
  4. And yes, pick up my fallen jaw, idiot
So I did.

As everyone knows, it's nice to have an on-campus job. Apart from the fact that money changes hands in your favour, a job is the one way to get yourself something called a social security number (ssn). Apparently, getting one is the only way to get yourself a house, an electricity-water connection and a phone line, for starters. You also need the ssn to get a job. The readers who haven't fallen asleep at this point will no doubt raise the eyebrow, go "Haan, but..." and point out to the second sentence of this paragraph that suggests the opposite. Wah, wah... take lessons, Sherlock Holmes.

The bright-eyed boys in the upper echelons of administration decided that if one wants to get a ssn, one has to have a job, while at the same time decreeing that one cannot get a job without the ssn. Hmm... right... I was consistent, I assure you. I did all the things on the checklist of 'things to do when frustrated' barring tearing my hair out.... sighed... and once again, lumped it. Because.

Eventually, I did manage to get a job on-campus as a student tutor... and another one soon after that. The experience of getting my second job as a student assistant will stay with me till the end of my days. That macabre story will also be told eventually... rest assured.

So then... I walk into the local grocery store a few days after my arrival here and once again, reached down and picked up my jaw. Why ? Beer is sold openly at grocery stores here... all kinds of it. Lots of it.

" Hallelujah.... Hallelujah.... "

The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, April 3

life on the road.... OR... what websites don't tell you

In my boots on the 22nd of August 2006, anybody attempting to pass themselves off as even partially human would have found self-abuse an easy art form.

Yours truly finds himself in a new country, studying for a degree the name of which, when mentioned to the general public never fails to draw the creased eyebrow and the puzzled frown followed by the " but what is it ?" As if that were not enough, I've just been informed by my academic adviser in a cheerfully manner that bordered on the vulgar, that I wont be receiving any financial aid this semester. Not content with this bit of blight, I've also been summarily informed by the very same still cheerful personage that I will be taking extra courses this semester as well, that will not count toward my final degree. Yes, yes, on cue I oblige with the double take as well as "what the... why the...". You, astute reader must have pictured the scene by now. Not what I'd consider the most warm welcome to a new life, but as people who know me will testify, my day-to-day existence is straight out of a Kafka plot.

Back to the drama... apparently, an on-campus job is a pearl beyond any price in this neck of the woods... and the earnestness with which our desi public chase down one of these gems can shame any tiger stalking its prey. And you guessed it... little me, yes me... the chap with the by now vacuous expression on my face and the Bambi eyes, is too late to get one this semester for either love or money...both of which seem to be in short supply anyway. Can't you just feel the chagrin ?? Studies come a distant third on the list after aid and work. House hunting is an activity reminiscent of the adventures of Shikari Shambhu... or Bertie Wooster, for you lot with the taste in English literature... you find yourself with a roof over your head in the end, but wonder how you survived the experience. Your roommates.... ahhh, but that is another tale for another day.

It has now been 7 months since I got here... and yes, I miss home, and my beloved Pune acutely. Only those of us who have left India, know what it is to miss all things Indian. Granted, walking into the unfamiliar has its plus points but there are times & there are days when.... well.

And by the way, here is the University of Alabama at Birmingham... and for those with the markedly intellectual bent, contrary to what you may think it is not in the U.K. It's in the U.S. Yes... it is... deal with it. I'm studying Criminology. All further questions on the above matters will be addressed by Google... make sure you get the spellings correctly, otherwise you may find yourself looking at a web page advertising cannibalistic rites in some god-forsaken part of the planet.

Up next: NO plague - getting an on campus job - the chicken or the egg - incredulity and delight

Tuesday, March 27

unto the breach...

For those of you who think that this blog in general, is about colourful lyrics, prepare to be disappointed. As for anyone who recognized it as a take on W. Blake's work, there's no real need to get into enthusiastic high-fives or self-congratulatory sentiments ... but feel free to do so if you need a little ego boost.

All enthusiastic about starting a blog, based on a few amusing\interesting samples written by supposed friends, but at this juncture, I have just 2 words - writer's block. Not that I am in competition with the chaps who wrote any of the historic the epics...pick one... but even a passable limerick seems to be beyond the realms of possibility. Which is strange, considering the numerous scapes and situations I get into, a rich vein of amusing tales as friends will testify. Why the reluctance then ? It possibly may have something to do with the thought at the back of my mind that I have enough assignments to do today that I am not so artfully avoiding by rambling incoherently here.

So, I'll take the easy way out and add a few comments to the plethora that already exists on the subject of India's performance in the cricket World Cup. Why is it that the first sentiment expressed after a decidedly poor campaign is "Sack the captain" ? Indian cricket is a graveyard for captaincy where no one escapes unscathed. Based on his triumpths in England and the West Indies, old man Wadekar is still looked upon favourably, but the rest are neither here nor there. The French Revolution guillotine style doesn't hold a candle to the drama that follows an Indian cricket failure, believe you me. As for the current unfortunate, Dravid, he's already done the gentlemanly thing by taking the blame for the team's performance. Just in time too, since the Indian 'janata' had already started its version of the warm up in anticipation of the traditional post-defeat 'attack the players' homes' and the effigy-burnings. No doubt the participants in these theatrics look forward to the World Cup with unholy glee... the team's consistency in failure is manna for some and repeated sighing for the rest. Can you just see the picture... all the goons chalking up another successful year for themselves, the champaign, or in their case, the 'tharra' overflowing, old hands reminiscing about the good old days when lathi-charges by the police really meant something, the greenhorns suitably spicing up their supposedly perilous encounters with the players' houses etc. One of the funniest was probably the attempt by the bright beans who attacked the 'under-construction' house of the Men in Blue's resident Samson - M.S Dhoni... umm... its under construction you know... asking the labourers to bugger off for a couple of days may just have been more effective... but, what do I know... however, I do pity the chaps who invested in confetti since those are doomed to stay in storage for quite a while.

For now, this circus will continue ... fear not, good people... for, as someone once said.. "the show must go on"... and it will. As the shilling-shockers say... "we anticipate".