Friday, December 26

The fizzy and the still

Leaving Birmingham for good was harder than I expected. The city did not offer much apart from the University, visits to Walmart and the Indian food store. Life in the apartment with my roommates was not extraordinary. And yet, I had a hard time fighting back tears as I made my way to the airport.

2008 was a year of travel for me. I was in India in January, the U.S in February, Cambodia in May, India in October and the U.S in December. I've sat waiting for flights at a mind-numbing list of airports in that time; Bombay, Zurich, Hong Kong, Phnom Penh, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, Cincinnati, Raleigh, New York and Birmingham. Simply reading back on what I've typed just now makes me tired thinking about all that flying and transit time. It's not glamorous in the least, let me assure you.

Stating the obvious here, I like routine. It takes time and a lot of emotional investment to settle somewhere, make friends, get some sort of purpose and order to existence... have some reason to get up in the morning, let's say. And of course, having said this, I have no answer to why I've moved around so much. While each place I've stayed in brought it's share of stress, it took me the length of that ride from my house to the airport yesterday to realize that this is the palette of life - annoying people that I cannot help but like, infuriating experiences that have taught me to take things as they come, solitary times bringing insights that were just waiting for me to think and listen.

In many respects, the guy who arrived in Birmingham at 6:30pm on 19th August 2006 is not the same person who left the city at 9:05 am on 24th December 2008. It is no small measure of comfort to admit that he left Birmingham, a better person. To admit that it was coming to Birmingham, living, fighting and laughing with people, that is the catalyst for change.

I'm not quite sure what is in store for me now. I have stepped out of one room, one life and opened the door to another, no longer at the threshold.

Growing up, thankfully, is ignorant of birthdays.

Song for the moment: Beyond the Horizon - Bob Dylan

Wednesday, December 17

Don't hold your breath

Applying and interviewing for a job is hard enough in this day and age of recession, cutbacks and pink slips. Having received an offer letter, I suppose I should have thanked my guardian angel, quietly accepted the terms and got a move on. Heaven knows the geezers made me sweat for an inordinately long time after saying the magical words "We'll let you know".

But no. I chose to figuratively clear my throat at what I thought was an unethical stunt on their part. This latest exchange of pleasantries, by phone last Friday morning IST ended with "I'll let you know by email as soon as possible... by the end of the day, if I can".

The long and short of it ?

Copyright: Bill Watterson

P.S: Substitute beanie with word consistent with the scheme of above post.

Song for the moment: Simple man - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Saturday, December 13

Brand new day

Graduation day has dawned & after 2 days of grey skies and relentless rain, today is bright and sunny with the diamond-clear skies seemingly kicking off the celebrations. In this atmosphere, there is a powerful urge to write something charged, something inspirational and soul-stirring. Not that this is a portent or anything...

Today's early morning hustle and bustle brings back memories of childhood and visiting faraway places in South India for weddings and other celebrations. As children, we had very little say in which social occasion we were gracing. Then again, being children, we did not really care as being woken up early was equated with being considered an adult and the resultant puff of pride had us strutting around a little more dandily. I seem to recall my only concern was running around huge halls & labyrinths of rooms with my cousins, playing chaotic games. We had competition from the ladies of the house who would also be moving around, balancing trays of food, filter coffee, utensils or flowers and woe betide the poor unfortunate who obstructed them.

At times we kids would pause, congregate at the water drum and watch the women in awe as they practically danced around everyone else, their colourful 9 and 12 yard saris creating a kaleidoscope of indescribable beauty. The menfolk would be dressed in full-shirts and spotless white lungis, the older ones sporting the customary handlebar moustache. They roles were simple; sit in groups seriously discussing family fortunes or sit in groups raucously playing cards. Either of these activities was accompanied by filter coffee, the need for that heady brew practically hardwired into their genes.

For me, those days are gone and the magical, timeless quality of those occasions have drifted away. As I write this piece, a different moment of gathering has arrived. Even though I am not taking the 'walk', some of my friends are. Watching them nervously struggle into their formal clothes, half-strangle themselves attempting to wear ties and stomp around with with purposeless enthusiasm in black shoes, I can chuckle. Especially at their formal graduation robes that are the same hue as Kermit the Frog.

Having lived with these jokers for 2 years, thinking back to many moments we have shared...

It is another day of celebration with a different kind of family.

Song for the moment: Rock you like a hurricane - Scorpions

Tuesday, December 9

Devil's got a new disguise

I went by the Graduate School today and to be told that I would be graduating this weekend. A smart decision on their part as I certainly had no plans of registering for another semester of somnambulism. Don't get me wrong; there were some classes I liked attending. On the whole though, the charm of academia has faded with a resounding finality.

To ensure no f**kups regarding my exit, I had to endure a pretty torrid first week. All my doing of course. The price of procrastination, let's say. I know not of too many acquaintances who are not devotees of working frantically at the last minute. Right through college (and considering I've been in college, collecting degrees for about 7 years now, I speak from some serious experience) the tendency has been to dawdle everytime something substantial needed to be done. On cue, beer and the meaning of life and everything in between became a lot more fascinating than the work at hand. The end result, at least for me, was to view the shambles that I faithfully passed off as assignments, projects, reports, theses etcetra. with a hint of disappointment; telling myself that I was capable of better sounded hollow since there really was no personal point of reference for that mythic level of quality.

This last project however, put the cap on it. Let's face it... yours truly is not getting any younger, so it should have been no surprise, really that the phrase 'by the skin of my teeth' is being bandied about. Landing in the U.S after 60 hours of travel did nothing positive for my system and yet, did I do the logical thing and fall asleep ? No. Thanks to my marked reluctance to work on the paper at any point of time over the last 7 months, I pulled an all-nighter (this after 2 beers and a round of cards) and wrote it in one go, last Sunday. The first instinct was to congratulate myself on another herculean feat pulled off but I found that I could not. Right then and there, I told myself that procrastination, much as I love it, has to be cut down before it costs me. You see, people tend to pat you on the back & all is joy, jollity and song when the close shaves occur. When you are 'effed however, you stand alone and mirth-inducing themes such as 'things could be worse' and 'we are like this only' don't exactly have you breaking out into ready guffaws. The 'I be bambooed' experience is not on my list of must-do's before I make my way back to the pavillion.

At this juncture, let me touch upon something I've noticed over the past year. Call it a subconscious trend, but one apparently is not allowed to bitch, whine, crib or engage in any similar emotion, in the company of one's peers. It's just not done. If some poor unfortunate does vent, s/he is told to pipe down in no uncertain terms, either with the help of generous measures of alcohol or some handy maxim. If neither of these work, the venter is accorded the status generally reserved for plague and a subtle pattern of avoidance begins. Since when we became all Victorian and stoic, I don't know. I could be wrong about all this, but if it is something you've also noticed, reader, I'd like to know.

In any case, I'm now on the verge of pulling my usual stunt i.e. doing the unexpected and leaving the U.S right after completing my degree. To say the local populace (my friends / roommates) are nonplussed would be an understatement. While most of them are subscribing to the 'Its your funeral' theory of life, there are some here who fancy themselves quite the Agony Aunt. To hear them go on about what's best for me would induce some serious thoughts of homicide were it not for the fact that I'm resigned to no one understanding anything I do.

It would be nice to think of returning to India to work, with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart and all that jazz, but life has thrown its regular googly. I should have been used to this, but I'm not. That's not such a bad thing, now that I think of it.

Song for the moment: On the road again - Willie Nelson

Monday, December 1

Night of the long knives

Readers, there are no doubt a number of incidents in your lives that provoke the sentiment – ‘One day, I’ll look back on this and chuckle’. If you have kept up with the tales told on this blog, you may have noticed a somewhat similar pattern in some of the posts herein. Yes, it is a praiseworthy & pleasant luxury to be able to laugh at yourself if you hark back to various potentially titanic-type incidents.

Still, be it ever so narrow, a line is required somewhere; a marker separating the hilarious-in-hindsight from the why-me ones. So, considering how much I did not want to come back to the U.S, it is fitting that this trip will quite likely rule the latter charts for ages to come. At least, for my health and sanity, you lot should join me in praying that nothing else comes along to top it. Just reading this, you cannot understand how close the camel has come to having his back broken.

Saturday morning, at 7.30 am, in a somnambulistic state, I made my way onto the Cathay Pacific flight taking me from Bombay to Hong Kong. I had left from Pune on Friday night at 9.00 pm, so I was a bit tired. Having found my seat, I dozed off, mentally prepared to be woken up by some suitably fetching stewardess announcing breakfast a few hours later. At 9.30 am, yawning and hungry, I awoke. To find that the plane was still in the exact same spot on the tarmac. Ahem…

See, the thing with making a long-haul trip anywhere is the delightful concept of the connecting flight. Those blessed by fate have never had to face the possibility of missing one of these. On the other hand, the fate’s whipping boys club frequently deals with missed connections, lost luggage, missing boarding passes, expired passports or visas & so on and so forth. Being a proud life member of the latter association, I generally expect the worst and am frequently proved correct. Admittedly, I have never had to suffer that holy of holies – dealing with the Air India customer service. For that I am thankful. And yet, this trip… as I said, Ahem…

The domino effect danced its tandav – I missed the Hong Kong to L.A connection – waited 7 hours for the next available flight & then sat thru a 12 hour jaunt. Missed the L.A to Chicago connection – waited 4 hours before making that 4 hour outing. Missed not one but two Chicago to Birmingham flights – waited for 9 hours, then sat in the plane as it decided to top things off by stubbornly staying on the tarmac for over an hour.

Yes, I know. Words ought to have failed me by now, since I am certain it has, you. And yet, dear janata, I have managed to write so far without having to refer to my handy-dandy thesaurus of expletives - English, Hindi or Marathi.

Still, the next time I hear statements even remotely tinged with envy about how I am lucky enough to travel or the exotic airports I may have seen… well, as the shilling-shockers say, we anticipate. I think the forces of the universe are prodding me toward a truth – that it will be indescribably delicious to say “Random-U.S-airport to Bombay – One way”.

Song for the moment: All along the watchtower - Bob Dylan