Wednesday, January 30

I'm all out of love...

In most houses populated by bachelors, the kitchen looks like a war-zone. The ritual of cooking food for consistently ravenous and generally ungrateful roommates manages to take on the trappings of a grand opera, complete with heart-wrenching yodeling and murder. The chef accompanied by the pressure cooker, is the one doing the Pavarotti impression and the food is quite often the victim.

In a previous post, you have been introduced to the denizens of my house and their various eccentricities. One of the sentiments that we have in common is that we like to eat well and more importantly, we enjoy cooking. (Not every day of course, heaven bless the various mothers, kaam-wali bais and whoever else that do so). Being the hardworking, busy men that we are (on cue - helpless guffawing) we take turns to make food and the system is simple enough to suggest that it ought to tick along like a fine Swiss watch. The Swiss however, never had to contend with our 4th roommate. He's a nice enough guy, I suppose, but his reluctance to engage in any activity remotely culinary is, by now, legend. His initial experiments with plate-burning ought to have warned us, but we put that down to arrival jitters. When I look back, that ought to have been the toll of the bell o' doom or something similarly appropriate.

As far as our gastronomic Titanic goes, he's the iceberg. On his assigned day, he'll walk around in a pensive air from dawn till dusk, breeze into the house as late as possible, put on a blatantly false sense of enthusiasm and.... begin. Genghis Khan and Attila could take lessons from this worthy on how to pillage an area, lets leave it at that.

To be fair to this pinnacle of evolution, during exam/assignment-deadline times, we all are stressed out and the cooking suffers. If we're lucky, nothing is made and we go out. If we're lucky. If not, we make the item that's simplest. One of the daals or one of the beans, which with rice, makes a decent enough meal. However...

Indian student life, especially in the United States, is distinguished by 2 things; one - we eat items in phases i.e. we'll eat something repeatedly till we're sick of it and two - there's never any shortage of reminiscences about 'maa ke haath ka khana' and out-of-the-way restaurants and stalls back home where allegedly brilliant food is served up. The combination of these two ensure that there's a perpetual suggestion of begrudging masticating and digestion at the dinner table (or the floor)

So far, pulao and rajma have crossed the first line. We don't want any pulao anymore, thank you and visibly blanch when we see rajma. Not that we won't eat these dishes back home, but there's so much variety in India that one is constantly praying that these two pass under the radar. Unfortunately, one of the daals is heading the same way. Moong dal, which we've eaten 3 times in the last 7 days, twice made by bachelor number 4 (I cannot qualify what the 'iceberg' does as cooking). Mother Theresa downward, even the serenity of saints has a breaking point. And since I'm the last person who will qualify for sainthood, well...

As far as I'm concerned, Patience has finally had enough of mooching around the Monument, has packed its bags and headed off to wherever.

Moong daal joins its breathren in exile. Its time has come, as the walrus said. Black-eyed peas (the bean, not the band) is soon to follow.

Song for the moment: Same old Blues - Eric Clapton

Friday, January 18

Yesterday once more

It's been 5 days. Mercifully, the clock has inexorably ticked away the seconds, minutes, hours and days from Sunday night 9:00 pm to Friday morning 9:00 am. Tick, tick, tick... I'm counting with it, desperately hoping and furiously planning - to make this my last semester and my last 4 months in the most exciting city this side of Boredomville.

I'm back at work; new building, same job. While everyone from the faculty downward is going into raptures over their new premises, I don't like it. The old place was small, pooky, and cluttered and no self-respecting department in any university barring Afghanistan U would be caught dead hanging its sign outside it. But it's eccentricity suited me fine. It was also way closer to home, something I've started appreciating more now that I have to walk 20 mins. in -1 degree weather at 7:30 in the morning. Ahh... the delights of winter.

The best way to look busy at work, I've realized, is to peer closely at the computer screen, frown, nod every once in a while with tsk-tsks thrown in for good measure, mutter darkly under my breath and ofcourse, hope to hell that everyone is buying this play-acting. Can't have a blank screen involved (so far, nobody has exhibited that low an intellect) so, the next best thing is to read blogs. I've spent this week trawling through stuff even the authors may have forgotten. Stuff from March 2006, anecdotes from their first days in college, rants about their jobs, and litanies about life. I come across gems that make me smile (no mean feat, I kid you not), and others that get me sighing and concurring.

Sandwiched between the classes & the work is the thought of the next step. I'll graduate, have 2 obscure Master's degrees and no job in sight. I've found myself looking for inspiration, direction or any sort of crooked signpost that will tell me - this is what you are going to be doing. So far, I see a life of desperation, and it won't be quiet either. This piece I ran across titled 'lost and found' (scroll down and you'll spot it) seemed rather apt, but is not going to solve anything in the long run, methinks.

The point is - I know what I want. I know it will not involve a lot of money, and will definitely involve quite a bit of uncertainty. I'm okay with that. Or so I'm repeatedly telling myself. And pondering when I'm going to live my choices, rather than live with my choices.
If you know what I mean.

I need a mental lubricant to think things through. I'm thinking I should have had a lot of that punch from the night of the 31st, which was one of the better evenings I spent partying... with old friends and new ones, good booze, music and conversation. I'm wondering what cologne a certain someone (if he's reading this, he'll know) was wearing that made him a marked man as far as the ladies were concerned. Oh! well... it was a perfect evening.

Like I said, it's been 5 days. Tick, tick, tick....

Song for the moment: Golden Brown - The Stranglers

Friday, January 11

The times they are a-changin'

Rather than a very much expected doom-and-gloom piece tomorrow, I wanted to do this today. Today, when I can still attempt to think about these last 5 weeks with some sense of joy, with some sense of equanimity. Tomorrow, the supposed inner sense of equilibrium will not so much see-saw wildly as come crashing down definitely one one side - the side of me that will rail at all things. The day I have dreaded since the 9th of December 2007 will have arrived.

It'd be far too easy to glorify Pune and the life I have led during the past 5 weeks. It has taken a monumental amount of effort to not sing my usual paeans of praise for all things Puneri. But, I cannot let things spiral away to an extent where one starts to think living in this city, surrounded by friends and family is akin to living on Fantasy Island. So, here goes...

It would be superfluous to say that the city hasn't changed. That was inevitable. What I did not want to but was forced to accept were just a few ravages of time. For instance, since when did Pune adopt the 'mall city' title ? Everywhere one looks, there's a large glass building, with an equally huge signboard, in case one missed the jhatak colours splashed on the walls... welcome to the shopping mall, ladies and gents. We sell the same stuff that the next mall sells, at the same price or worse, at a higher price and we love the fact that you visit us. Really, we do. The slightly desperate tone in our voices cannot hide behind the thin veneer of our welcoming smiles. And it goes on. Road after road, building after building, each vying with the other to do what ? More power to the middle class, allowed, but who is the victim on the altar of city development ? The Pune spirit, that's who. And I am very well aware that the Pune spirit is still alive and kicking. But it has changed. That's the point.

Go to the quiet lanes of Apte road, the nooks of the Peth areas, the endless bylanes of Sindh and National Society... and the spirit I knew still echoes there. But even echoes fade...

This city, once famous for its citizenry's sarcasm during confrontations, has now degenerated to a constant state of passive-aggressiveness. I can feel it blanketing the city and it surprises me and saddens me. Where once people would hurl amusing insults at one another while the watching group guffawed in appreciation, people now have no qualms about belting each other in public. True story. It seems like everyone leaves their house hoping to get into any sort of conflict, thereby allowing them to proceed to beat each other's brains out. Or atleast threaten to, and hope for the best.

Tomorrow I leave, knowing what I know and accepting that further changes will be in place the next time I come home. The circle of people I meet the next time will most likely shrink further. What is adulthood about ? Moving away, losing cherished connections, getting buried under an ever-increasing load of responsibilities ? All I can do is hope... that tentative hellos are reciprocated, that the people I value sail the seas of life but not drift away. That Pune... well... I can only show a pair of upturned hands and shrug my shoulders.

Locked away in the deepest recesses is the dread that the city I love and the people I care about may become complete strangers. It's as simple as that.

Songs for the moment: Stay - Dave Matthews Band
The Unnamed Feeling - Metallica

Sunday, January 6

Truly, Madly, Deeply...

His head resting on the window sill, arms akimbo, eyes staring but not really seeing, he greeted the dusk. From the distant mosque, the faithful were being called to prayers by that soul-wrenching voice as the night birds began circling the minarets in the golden evening sky. The single street lamp slowly came to life, flickering once, twice. Its bleak glow illuminated the heavy pall of dust hanging in the air and he blinked suddenly.

Somewhere across that landscape, among the millions of people teeming in the city, she was there. He could imagine her at work, her head bowed in that peculiar intensity of concentration that boded ill if disturbed. The dark shiny bob of her hair would ripple downwards, but there would always be a wisp tucked behind her ear, thinking of which almost tore at his heart. The graceful arc of her cheeks framed a face that was… he thought himself inadequate when trying to describe her in words and instead, he closed his eyes, almost as if in worship.

His friend, wooden and reticent at the best of times, had actually gasped when he’d seen her for the first time. The memory brought another faint smile to his lips as he wondered how innocence, naughtiness and a deeper hint of mystery managed to express themselves simultaneously in those eyes. Even now, he could feel his heart beating slowly but ever so loudly as he contemplated… her, almost like she was right in front of him. To him, she was. Everywhere he looked.

The cards announcing their marriage were stacked in neat bundles in different parts of the room. Just thinking about that day sent shivers down his spine. Marriage! He was getting married, and to her! The reception would be spectacular; he’d made sure of it by reserving the best hall in the city for the evening. The honeymoon was to be in Mauritius and the tickets had cost him most of his life savings. But it would be worth it, just to see her smile. Eyes glazed over, his thoughts drifted, as night descended on the city and the lights came on in every building as far as the eye could see.

“Beautiful”, he thought… just like her… but she was more than beautiful, she was…

The first man to enter the room also gasped when he saw her, or rather the photos of her covering every square inch of the room. Then, the smell hit him and he gagged, and almost immediately retched noisily as he saw the figure by the window sill, the sunlight pouring into the muggy room.

“Crazy fucker…” muttered the inspector half-pityingly, glancing at the invitation card and air-tickets as he drove away. But he too found it hard not to think of her face… especially since it was plastered across the billboard announcing the release of her next movie.

Song for the moment: Sajnaa Aa Bhi Ja - Shibani Kashyap

Wednesday, January 2

The days are just packed

For 3 days in quick succession, I've greeted the dawn... or 4:00 am, whichever comes first. It's almost like my internal clock has decided to gently remind me that it'll soon be time to head back to drudgery, the sepia-stained existance that passes for life in that glorious hotspot of activity, Birmingham, AL.

Lying sprawled out on the diwan on a Pune winter afternoon, occasionally reading from the book in my hands, pausing to take sips of hot ginger-laced chai, just watching the breeze work its way through the eucalyptus tree outside the windows...

The sky is an incredible shade of blue as I make my way through the steady stream of people on the road. The buzz of voices, sudden shared guffaws, sharp swearing, the plaintive cries of vendors selling vegetables on the weatherbeaten wooden handcarts, the mesmerizing perfume of dosas, kacchi-dabeli, wada pav, samosas, chai...

Smoky kerosene lanterns mark the late evening stalls selling Indian Chinese food, tiny cigarette shops that seem to attract only raggedy little children buying sweets, snatches of songs see impromptu dances break out briefly on the pavement, tired shoulders make their way...wherever

The paan stall is doing brisk business, the light reflecting off the shining metal paraphernalia and I slowly take in that heady symphony of smells - paan, jasmine, sandalwood. A game of carrom is taking place on the roadside, in the illumination provided by a solitary bulb, 4 heads pondering every possible move left and a handful of spectators admiring the skillful hissing dance of that that white disc across the powdered face of the board.

Senapati Bapat road, F.C road, Camp, North Main road - each seems to be a fast moving river of lights heading in every direction. J.M road is a seething mass of people sitting at the outdoor tables in every restaurant, talking, glancing at strikingly pretty girls that pass, or if luckier, are sitting across their own table.

Huddled forms in torn blankets are slumbering away at any nook offering a rest, the street dogs roam looking for scraps of food, the last shutters are being downed, stars in the inky black sky shining impassively.

Another dawn is awaited...


Song for the moment: Everything's not lost - Coldplay