Thursday, December 30

My ship isn't pretty

With a birthday so close to the new year, any wishes and resolutions I make tend to sound oddly similar or rather, symbiotic. Of course, any positive sentiment I'd attach to them is scuttled in moments because a sardonic voice in my head immediately says "Yea, right". My conscience is consistent like that.

Bringing in the birthday this year turned out to be streets ahead of 2009. Last year, I was jolted awake by phone calls a little past 12 am, a custom I still don't understand. Okay so maybe a boatload of people stay awake and bring in their birthdays, but I support the 'be asleep at midnight' philosophy of life. Anyway, the point is, last year I was woken at that ungodly hour by the phone ringing, and then left with the wonderful realisation that I was alone on my birthday, a feeling magnified by the dark silence of night. Then again, it was a crappy year all around, so it stayed uniform till the finish. This year though, friends were in Bombay, so much drinking and merriment was ensured and executed. If birthdays are any indicator of the year to come, could 2011 turn out to be a decently tolerable one ?

In the last couple of weeks, a motley collection of old friends having been making their way into India after years; while I've stayed in touch with them through mail and G-talk, the spontaneity and magic of personal interaction has always been missed. And here's something voice chat doesn't allow for - the pauses and silences that cushion conversation, being insightful without disrupting its soul. While I don't exactly prescribe to the stoic school of Clint Eastwood and Cormac McCarthy, I still fail magnificently at small talk. So, with friends moving away and / or living in foreign parts,  I've missed that... the opportunity to converse, letting the mood take the ideas and words where they will. In a Facebook world, I'm still old-school that way.

I thought about doing another graphical post to end the year, but couldn't quite get it together and gave up. With a demanding new job and trips to Bangalore, Panchgani and Pune for some memorable get-togethers, 2010 feels like the echo of empty rooms the day after an excellent house party. There were some good times and some flat ones. People came, left or were asked to leave.

Like after the party, its time to pick up the pieces, clear the trash, spruce up the place and brace myself for another day, another year. I did not make any birthday wish this year. So, I don't know about hopes, but at least 2011 doesn't hold any false promises.

Have a good year everyone.

Song for the moment: Love is no big truth - Kings of Convenience

Wednesday, December 22

No more, no more

One of my oldest memories of Mumbai is of the time I had chicken pox. At 2 years of age, the only feeling I could connect to illness was pain. So I vividly remember the heavy, burning rasp of the sore throat and the sticky discomfort of a raging fever. But I also remember the merciful coolness of the floor, the pleasantly soapy smell of 501 soap perfuming my grandma's sari as I rest my head in her lap and the lemon tang of milagu rasam (pepper rasam) washed over me, soothing me into sleep. My grandma's work-callused hands gently brushed my forehead and I knew I was safe.

Yesterday, I found myself in the throes of my holy trinity - fever, flu and a Force 10 migraine from hell. My throat having given out the previous day itself, I spent hours seeking comfort in the overwhelming cool silence of a pitch black room. I cooked rasam by myself and rested my head on a pillow when exhaustion took over. My keyboard-softened fingers massaged my forehead and I knew I was alone.

Song for the moment: Naima - John Coltrane 

Thursday, December 9

All good things

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Perhaps the boredom of routine is being reflected in seeing patterns where they don't exist. But thus lies the fact. The moment I add someone to my Google Reader list or add their name to the homepage list on my blog, their output drops alarmingly. Some previously prolific bloggers do write on and off; however the names of those still hitting that 'publish post' button is dropping by the day. And, it isn't limited to those who write. Even the sites of some of the photographers whose works I look out for stay stubbornly silent.

Thankfully, not having reached that stage of loony where I think I'm somehow responsible for it, I do wonder what is going on. Have the writers reached an existential plateau, not allowing themselves to draw on daily experiences and write about them? Have the photographers stilled their mind's eye, forbidding themselves to distinguish the inconspicuous ? Is there something wrong with my Google Reader subscription ?

Speaking for myself, when I started writing this blog, it was a refreshing release from a chaotic life in foreign parts. I guess I didn't realise that the hullabaloo was fuelling the posts. Living a single guy's life in Mumbai should, technically, have provided a new surge to the writing. But, apart from a very brief window last year when I thought my social life had changed for the better (it hadn't), I can't recall a time when I was truly inspired to write. This reflects accurately in the number of posts written for the year, which has declined as surely as eggs are eggs.

Yes, the odd post inspired by pub talk, nostalgia and cricket made some sort of splash. On the whole though, the tone of the writing has stayed static. Routine can only be blamed for so much.

In a recent post, a friend wrote a rant, if that's possible. Changing environments doesn't necessarily translate into changes in oneself. Experiences across the spectrum - love lives and professional lives (and lack of success thereof) - stay pretty much the same. Recognising that we don't, won't or can't change, may make things easier. Patching up the ragged heart, quietening that dull roar in the mind... yea, all of that steadily requires less effort.  

When you boil it down, writing a post and/or taking a photograph is, for me, still a creative effort. It needs imagination. It should not be forced. But it feels like the more time passes, the harder it is for us to be inspired.

I wonder how long before every blog post feels forcefully contrived. 

Song for the moment: We never change - Coldplay

Saturday, November 27

Grin and bear it

When people have a work week as torrid as mine, they probably spend Friday evening quaffing back a few cold ones with friends. When people have a social network as empty as mine, they probably spend the same Friday evening parked in front of the telly, making old man Mallya richer by a few shekels. I chose to inflict on myself the dubious pleasure of another 5 hour long commute to Pune.

These journeys are boring at best and intensely frustrating at worst, both scenarios being at the mercy of Bombay's relentless traffic. Trying to doze off and failing miserably, I spend my time wondering why I couldn't be sitting next to an attractive & chatty bird rather than the usual rotund bloke blaring away on the cell phone. Last night, I was handed the golden ticket of strange journeys. Here's how things unfolded.

I was slumped in my seat, morosely pondering on the fact that I've received 6 separate wedding invitations from friends, inviting me to be a part of the joy, jollity and song on various days from November to late January. Matrimonial messages are funny things. Not in the "haha" way, but in the way one tends to view them over time. A couple of years ago, receiving one from a contemporary would leave me feeling happy for the couple and marvelling at how quickly time passes. Now, when all 6 of them are from people younger than me, I can't help but think that my relationship record is like old Mother Hubbard's cupboard - bare. Sure, being thought of as slightly misanthropic is edgy in college and definitely contributed to the solo status, but that was years ago and I'd like to think the grumpiness has toned itself down a bit. And any one of you wanting to quote Darwin, can stay out of this.

So like I was saying, joy to the world. At that point, the passage lights in the bus had been switched off but it wasn't totally dark. This didn't seem to deter the couple sitting in the seats ahead of me, for they began to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to each other with admirable purpose. Paramedics and lifeguards could have learned something, is all I'm saying. And whatever your sentiments on the issue of public displays of affection are, one has to admire the guy's cojones because by the time the bus passed through one of those tunnels, he'd seemingly moved on to 2nd base.

Before you go all judgemental and hastily accuse anyone of voyeurism, I gave the window and the outside world my fullest attention.When my neck began to creak and protest, I closed my eyes, plugged in the earphones and dozed off. I guess the love birds must have eventually run out of callisthenics (or air). When my stop arrived, the pyrotechnics had ceased.

But the universe really is taking the mickey out of me.

Song for the moment: Waiting for the sun - The Doors

Saturday, November 6

Between the lines

Presently reading 'In Xanadu' by William Darymple, I am seized by a familiar feeling. It is the same emotion that swirls around when I'm reading Vikram Seth or Pico Iyer; awe. While their mastery over words and talent for evocative description is undisputed, I find myself revering their courage.

'From Heaven's Lake' details Seth's travels from Nanking to New Delhi, via Tibet. Iyer visits and writes about some truly secluded places in 'Falling off the map', including Bhutan and North Korea. The book I'm reading now follows Darymple tracing Marco Polo's steps from Jerusalem to Peking.

Yes, they write well. What separates them as the great writers from the rest (and in my book, making them courageous) is their incredible spirit of ethnography. Think about it; both Seth and Darymple could have been easily satisfied by wanting to just complete their degrees (both were at university when they went on travels that formed the source of the books). Iyer, already an acknowledged writer and teacher, could have continued writing about airports, about disconnect and the balance of his three cultural heritages. And yet, each of these men did so much more. In doing so, or rather choosing to do so, they took the first steps on the path to lives extraordinary.

Anyone seeking to emulate the above authors' journeys today, cannot. It is that simple and that stark. The world, already hostile when their callow feet and curious eyes swept through the melange of lands, is now a far more forbidding place. Even bureaucratic miracles would not suffice in order to obtain official permission to visit many of the countries on the list, never mind actually making one's way through them.

Therein lies the great pity, you see. If it were a question of convenience, one could perhaps be shamed into labouring harder to circumvent them. But, rather than convenience or lack thereof, it is an issue of probability. To realise, as one is immersed in vivid, exotic accounts of unfamiliar people and places, that the land under one's feet is becoming more xenophobic, divided and barricaded with every passing day...

It fatigues at a faraway spiritual level.

Song for the moment: The dangling conversation - Simon & Garfunkel

Saturday, October 30

Winter winds

Copyright: Bill Watterson
There are times a strong case could be made for one of my theories of life. In brief, I feel like the pet project of a malevolent universe or a vengeful god. Smirk if you will, but I ask that you consider the following example from early this morning.

The task was simple. The pride of Punjab (PoP) aka KS, was making his way up-country from Hyderabad. Mercifully for all concerned, he chose to bus it rather than fly in. Whether his decision had more to do with economics than benevolence, is up for debate. What it did mean though was that he'd have to be picked up from Bremen Chouk, rather than the airport. From the chauffeur's point of view, in terms of distance and effort, this was more like being asked to journey to the temple around the corner instead of Pandharpur.

For a man on a 10 day visit, KS didn't have a lot of baggage. At least, not physically. He did sound ominous warnings about travelling with 1 big bag (an entry for many jokes, but we're civilized folks), which meant that a bike pick-up was out of the picture. Tempting the fates, I volunteered to show up at the rendezvous point in my car. Between KS & I, our propensity for misfortune over the years can and has out-Murphied Murphy. Still, it was a very simple drive, so what could go wrong, right ?

The car refused to start. I unlocked the door, sat, waited the appropriate minute and turned the key. Nothing. At first, it teased me, making a feeble neighing sound more appropriate for an old mare than an engine. Then it almost started. And did not. Now, I'm not exactly full of beans at 5 am. Between swearing vehemently & volubly at the car and taking calls from KS, the metaphorical cup overflowed with woes rather than coffee.

There was nothing to do. Or rather, I did what I should have done at the start. I fished out the Kinetic keys, revved up without any trouble and raced off. This dependability, by the way, is further proof of why I love my bike.

On that note, its been 5 years since I experienced the delicious Pune cool of a dawn bike ride. That, along with being able to snuggle back into my quilt after, made the whole thing worth it.

Song for the moment: There goes the fear - The Doves

Saturday, October 23

Chug all night

The place and time doesn't seem to matter. You could be perched on a barstool, seated at a table, sunk into a couch or standing in a nook. At some point, you're staring intently into the mug. The tiny bubbles take on a life of their own. The white foam is now only a thin circle around the edges. Using the palm of your hand, you gently massage your eyes and take another sip. Then, without fail, you look into the bottom of the mug, through the beer & the glass; scrying your way down the drinker's rabbit-hole. What usually follows is this. 
---------------------------------------
The Searing Synopsis:

A: Umm... so what do you guys talk about ?
B: Hmm... random stuff man. I mean, there's so much...
C: Yea right! We meet, we drink beer & whine "we don't have girlfriends"
B: *Bastard*
---------------------------------------
The Multifarious Motif: 

A: So, what's the scene with her dude?
B: I donno... doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
C: Meaning ?
B: Its hard to say... I donno... confusing. Don't know if I like her enough.
A & C: *Mental face-palm*
----------------------------------------
The Recurring Regret:

A: You guys broke up, why exactly ?
B: I donno... it wasn't going anywhere.
A: Uhuh.
B: I figured I'd meet someone else.
C: How long ago was this ?
*Silence*
B: Umm... it's been a few years.
A & C: *Mental face-palm*
----------------------------------------
The Perennial Puzzle:

A: So, if you had to choose - hook up with someone you were fond of, or wait to meet someone you're in love with.
B & C (and 99% of those asked): I'd wait for love. Yea, definitely.
A: And cheers to that. *Glasses clink*

1 very arid year later -

A, B, C: Wow, love is never going to happen is it ?

*The whooshing sound of an empty social cupboard*
-----------------------------------------
The Toothless Totem:

A & B: So, you made a move yet ?
C: She sees us more as friends, dude. We've become really good friends.
A & B: *Mental face-palm* 
-----------------------------------------
The Fact:

A: You know... we're washouts.
----------------------------------------

Song for the Moment: Desperado - The Eagles

Monday, October 18

On a plain

 Someone once asked me to think about whether I actually liked the people who supposedly liked me. It was one of the most insightful questions I'd ever heard; it felt like being shot, but also being grazed rather than injured. Back then, I somehow dodged pondering its implied veracity. Nowadays, its becoming difficult to avoid answering it.

The thing about having a beautiful dream is that you wake up... and reality is way more harsh, dull and lacking.

Song for the moment: 17 - Jethro Tull

Thursday, October 7

Elevation

There's one thing you have to envy the Western world for. Most of the people there have actually seen their sporting heroes in action on the field of play. Be it cricket, baseball, American football, the game the rest of the planet knows is really football or rugby, the stadia are by and large conveniently accessible, the tickets more so and the facilities in arenas are at the least, decent. Contrast this with India where you'd need to have crossed the realms of passion and entered those of masochism to actually go watch a cricket match in a stadium. To enjoy a game comfortably the Indian cricket fan needs to be both loaded with money and know some bloke who may just have an uncle who knows an official who has passes to the good seats for the match. 1 seat.

If the recent test match in Mohali is any indicator, one should be able to easily saunter into any venue hosting tests (barring the 5 main centres, the 4 metros and Bangalore), tickets be damned. A lot of comments have been directed at the poor turnout, but what is one to expect ? The PCA stadium is the home of the Kings XI, which means the audiences have been brought up on a strict diet of "slam-bam-thank you ma'am" cricket. The nuances (or whatever is left of them) of test cricket must bore the living daylights out of the average bloke at these smaller grounds. Not that the 5 biggies have too much to crow about. In this day and age, one can't afford to swarm to watch test matches unless its the weekend. Stories of diabolical schemes to go watch the game successfully executed or sympathetic bosses turning a blind eye are an modern myth too. Besides, with tv so accessible, who's going to take that extra effort ? Especially when spectators run the risk of being treated like dirt anyway.

When I see videos of tests from the past, I thoroughly admire the passion and patience of the throngs cheering (or raising Cain) in the stands. To actually not mind being treated worse than an animal, to allow yourself to be subjected to the Indian heat and the humiliation, to mildly grumble about being packed in the cheap seats like sardines and to fork out the criminally astronomical amounts of money for what pretends to be food and water. And all this, knowing that players with Sanjay Manjrekar's approach to 'attacking' cricket are definitely going to play too. Mind-boggling, I tell you.  

So, while I've prattled on and on about my love of test cricket, I've never developed the courage to flagellate myself by watching a game live. There are only 3 cricketers I've ever wanted to watch in a live game and I have, as of today, not seen any in a test match. SRT, obviously. I was fortunate to see Kumble bowl in an ODI in Pune but I'll never get to see him bowl in a 5-day game. And frustratingly enough, I have yet to see that epitome of pure batting grace, play the game - Rahul Dravid.

However, the Aussies are in India no ? India almost lost the 1st test but VVS and Ishant Sharma hadn't read the script clearly, apparently. No matter. The next one is in Bangalore. At some point in the day, one of the Indian openers will lose their wicket. He will begin the walk back to the pavilion as India's greatest number 3 will stroll to the wicket on his home ground, air-practising the straight drive. I hope to be in the stands watching.

I guess some moments are worth waiting 28 years for.   

Song for the moment: Knockin' on heaven's door - Bob Dylan

Monday, October 4

Shooting star

An early induction into the game of cricket is all well and good but the kid who enrolled in Loyola High School, Pune in May 93 didn't have a clue about the nuances of the game. This lack of knowledge can be explained by the fact that my family packed bags and hauled me off to Abu Dhabi in 1989. While undoubtedly a nice place, the U.A.E was no cricket Mecca, preferring to broadcast local club football games and camel races on the telly. The Arabic commentators for the football games were a bunch of loonies. On the pitch, the defender would be calmly passing the ball to another guy in his own half or the midfielder would cross the ball to the winger. It really didn't matter what innocuous move was being made because the commentators would risk a haemorrhage from minute 0:01, shrieking excitedly in Arabic about everything.

You literally could not understand what the big deal was about something even as plain as a throw-in. Was the chap about to do something acrobatic ? Was there a lot of money riding on how far he could throw it ? And what about the defender passing the ball ? Was he a major star ? Was the commentator being gruesomely murdered live on air ? Who knew ? So, not understanding a word, I'd watch as they worked themselves into a frenzy, until the forward took pity on them and scored a goal. This was the culmination of the commentators' lives. They'd shriek "Walla, walla, walla, walla.... gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooallllllllll." And then pass out for lack of oxygen, I suppose.

So anyway, while this was hilariously exciting, I gradually forgot what little I knew about cricket. Then, the family did a U-turn and we pitched tent in Pune. During that first P.T period in school, I watched enviously as my classmates batted with elan and bowled fast and furious. Tendulkar and Kapil Dev's names came up a lot. Fielding positions, thankfully still involved pointing and waving to different parts of the ground rather than the actual names. I mean, if someone had told me to field at deep backward square leg, I'd have quietly left the field, hoping no one noticed. So, while batting was not a bother, it took me a while to figure out overarm bowling and adjust the radar. Not being the most robust chap even then, I soon cottoned on to the fact that fast bowling was not for me. Everyone and his uncle wanted to bat and some of these guys were actually good at it, so I didn't chance my luck there. So, slow bowling was the only thing left.

Some moments are frozen in time, no ? The sequence that day goes like this. A sad, medium pace delivery was dispatched with contempt by the batsman who then proceeded with whatever passed for verbal jousting in 5th standard. For the next ball, I gave up the pointlessly long run-up, and decided on a 4 step approach to the wicket. I jogged in, gripping the ball across the seam and... honestly, I don't know exactly what I did next. My ring finger flicked across the seam even as my wrist translated the irritation of the previous shot into a whiplash moment. The ball arched gently to my right while the chap with the bat raised it for the customary Indian hoick. The ball bounced on leg and I winced in anticipation of the 6 that would surely follow. The middle stump was on the ground a second later as the ball spun viciously across the batsman and bowled him.

The wicket itself, I don't remember fondly. No, what I still enjoy is the disbelieving silence that followed it; the batsman because he'd been clean bowled, the fielders because the new kid had actually taken a wicket and I, because I'd finally figured out my calling as a cricketer - Legspin bowling. Now, all I needed was a few bowlers to emulate.

That year was 1993, remember ? In June, Shane Warne bowled his first ball of the Ashes series to Mike Gatting. In November, a bespectacled Indian called Anil Kumble bowled against the West Indies in the final of the Bengal Jubilee Cricket LOI series.

The universe doesn't give any more indications than it has to.

Song for the moment: I feel free - Cream     

Sunday, October 3

Up to my neck in you

My earliest recollection of cricket on TV is from my grandparents house in Bombay. The house and the building were typical of the city; woefully inadequate in terms of space, inclined to suspect construction but packed to the rafters with people and raucousness. Across 3 floors and 15 flats, everyone knew everyone else. One house on the 3rd floor had a telephone so all incoming calls for many of the other flats were directed there. The buying of first car in the building, a white Fiat Premier Padmini was a grand occasion; the adults stood around trying to look important and making what they hoped were shrewd observations about its features. The kids queued up, hoping for a ride, thanking their lucky stars that they were still friends with the son of the car's owner. The Sunday Ramayan phenomenon meant default hosting for whoever owned a telly, oldies and young 'uns dutifully huddled around the screen. Everything we take for granted now was an occasion back then. Early 80s Bombay was just that kind of place in time.

The b/w tv at my grandparents' place was a real collector's item. Thanks to my grandpa's reluctance to discard anything, one could safely assume the tv was as old as the hills. It was one of those stand-models complete with 5 glorious channels, a giant tuning dial, dangerously flimsy table and a wooden cabinet with shutters that could be locked, a useful tool with which to blackmail pestilential grandsons into good behaviour. When the West Indies visited India in 1987 - 88 for 4 tests, I don't recall those shutters being closed at all. My grandad, uncles and assorted neighbours were a fiercely obsessive tribe when it came to Test cricket. A plethora of cheers, anguished howls, blood-oaths and unique snorts of disdain would rent the air when the matches were on. At the time, I was too young to understand the nuances of the game. But even then, I was not immune to the creeping anxiety of watching an ominous West Indian bloke charging to the wicket while his team mates crouched in anticipation in the slips. The batsman looked so tiny and forlorn, I thought.

To avoid being disturbed by an irritating little hellion, the elders would vote that I spend my time perched on the window ledge (we were on the ground floor), 'guarding' the grains that had been placed out in the sun to dry. The gravity with which this honour would be bestowed on me, one would think an assorted collection of villains were waiting in the wings to pounce on the family food. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, for the longest time, I did not make the connection between the timing of the matches and the need to dry grain.

As I said earlier, my earliest recollection of cricket was from my grandpa's house; I'll never forget the pain of having to constantly twist around to watch the flickering screen while supposedly scaring away the crows and sparrows. When I watch tests today, lounging around on the sofa, something just doesn't feel right. I wonder why.

Song for the moment: New Sensation - INXS           

Saturday, September 4

Once upon a time

Summer in Bangalore, a long time ago.

A family came visiting relatives. The elders got together, drank steaming cups of coffee and caught up with the highs and lows of a year gone by. In a time without email and even the telephone, the rich, orthodox Tamil words entwined themselves in the rafters and burrowed into the nooks. The youngsters, left to their own devices, played games, read books and explored the neighbourhood. Imagination was a prized asset.

M's cousin brother R, called Bangalore - R to distinguish him from Hyderabad - R, owned a gramophone player. More importantly, he owned, as far as one could tell, the only Beatles records in the entire family. And by family, one means immediate, 1st, 2nd and 3rd level relatives. Which, in a Tamil Iyer family, was a LOT of people. Naturally, owning these records made R quite popular among his mates. One in particular, D, would drop in every now to listen, nod and croon in unison.

At 17, M, whose upbringing could only be called conservative and nothing less, was naturally fascinated by the music. She, R & D would listen to the record every afternoon all summer, while the rest of the house indulged in the postprandial snooze. After a few of these sessions, M realised that D was quite fond of one particular song. Inordinately fond, she thought as they listened to it again, although even M had to admit it was some song. It took her just a few more days to notice that R no longer seemed very interested in the music. As soon as the Beatles came on, he found some work to occupy his time. But, as a very considerate host, he didn't object to M & D listening to the record. Every afternoon.

D wondered how much courage he needed to gather before he could voice his thoughts to M. The record, hardy as it was, surely couldn't last the whole summer at that rate. And the song ! Didn't she understand ? Worse, it looked like R's mother, M's fiercely protective aunt, was becoming suspicious. He'd caught her glancing at him occasionally with a less than benevolent gleam in her eye. What was he to do ? As most young men in this oft-repeated situation are wont to do, he became moody and silent. There came a day when the Beatles stopped singing, having exhausted their pleas, M's interest in English music and D's hopes. The holidays were over and M's family started their purchases in anticipation of returning to their home city.

At Bangalore Cantonment station, M sat at the window, pensively staring at the platform. Once or twice in those last days, R had looked like he wanted to say something to her, but he never did. Deep within, M knew it had something to do with D. And the song. But, like a lot of people, she chose to wonder rather than ask. As the train began to reluctantly pull away from Bangalore, the family waved goodbye to the relatives who'd come to see them off. A surprisingly large contingent, M thought, but they were a very close family. She wondered, though...

Carefully placed behind a pillar some distance from the others, a pair of eyes watched M. And then, the train picked up speed, chugged out of Bangalore and she was gone. Leaving behind the ghost of a feeling stifled and many unspoken words. Only a song remained.

Song for the moment: Oh! Darling - The Beatles 

Epilogue - M made many more trips to Bangalore but never saw D again. She did not speak about it till one afternoon, 24 years later. The above story is a relative's version of M's wistful words.  

Monday, August 30

Awake my soul

There are times I wish I'd never started an autobiographical blog. While the quality of the writing depend on me, the themes & by implication, the posts and their frequency rely too much on my experiences. Therein lies the problem - my job.

I've never made claims about a packed social calendar. I've never had one, come to that. There was a short period last year when it seemed like my move to Mumbai was the impetus for better things to come. Ultimately, it was not to be, but I took solace in beer sessions until those ceased also. But that's my life. Or a precursor to hell. Since then, I've almost solely depended on the 'reunions'; those sparkling moments when a group of people decide that a shameful amount of time has passed without meeting up. And then do something about it.

January
March
May
July
August

Could it be a coincidence that some of my fondest posts were born right after each of these memorable occasions ? I think not. However, each of us is caught up with our individual lives and these occasional oases of humour, happiness and contentment will, I'm afraid, become rarer. I'm hoping to be proved wrong. Earlier today, I was reading something about the work-life equation and how liking work eliminates the need to balance the two. I used to think I would find myself in that happy state. Last year, I even wrote something about it. Gradually though, I've come around to the school of thought that definitely calls for separating work-life from life.

I'm sure about the above philosophy because some moments and memories across each of the 5 months listed above have been so intensely priceless that I've willed them to become tangible, allowing me to hold on to them fiercely. It was no different this weekend too. That moment on the bike when I first sighted Panchgani nestled amongst the emerald green of the hill, itself framed by blue sky and patches of white cloud. The one where the taste of warm toast, butter and strawberry preserve caressed my tongue as I looked around the table and saw only smiling faces. The stillness of time as we played poker, pictionary and word-speller. Drizzling rain, ginger tea, a shared smoke on a white swing...

That's life.

Song for the moment: All the time in the world - Louis Armstrong        

Saturday, August 7

The weight of my words

The following is fictional, inspired from here. 

To the girl who got off the train at Mahim:

Hello there. Last Thursday around 8 pm, I was in the 1st class compartment of the Churchgate slow, standing near the doorway. The guy in the maroon t-shirt, blue jeans, the glasses and the haggard look. It's unfortunate that I was lost in thought as always because I never realised when you got into the train. In fact, it was only when you came and stood by me that I even noticed you.

You were dressed in a cream salwar with maroon print, a blue kurta and sensible shoes, overall a very simple, soothing ensemble. Your hair, reaching up to what I thought was a very graceful neck, was in a ponytail. Even though you'd obviously had a long work-day, your face reflected relaxation, rather than tiredness. Suffice to say, I thought you were very cute.

At one point, between Bandra and Mahim, there was a slight commotion at the other doorway and both of us swivelled to see what happened. It was on the return trip that our eyes met for a fraction; in that second I remember thinking how easily one could get lost in them. I almost worked up the courage to smile at you then but the moment slipped by like quicksilver. A million scenarios to initiate conversation zipped through my head alongside a few considerations. For example, I did not want to appear creepy. I certainly did not need you even suggesting anything about eve-teasing; the rest of the compartment looked like they'd be happy to play Sir Lancelot and take out their private frustrations on anyone, given a chance. So yes, I kept quiet.

You were talking to your friend (the short girl) and your voice sounded rather mellifluous. Your English was flawless and without trace of any fake accents which got massive bonus points in my book. I didn't mean to pry, but since I couldn't talk to you, listening to you talk was the only option left. That and silently praying you got off at the same station as me.

As the lights of Mahim approached, you asked me in Hindi (again flawless) whether I was getting off there. I wanted to say yes (and perhaps do a celebratory jig) but could only catch my breath and regretfully answer otherwise. I then shifted, allowing you to move ahead of me. You did so and I could no longer steal 5-second glances at your face. I then watched enviously as the balding old geezer at the doorway smiled at you and advised you not to try hopping off the still-moving train. You smiled back and assured him that you would not. I wanted to trip the old fool off the train and give you some helpful advice myself. Perhaps help you alight at the station also. Once again, I did nothing.

At Mahim, you stepped off the train, my life, and on to the footbridge. I stayed on the train, which moved on. I don't know whether you live in Mahim or if you live somewhere on the Harbour line. On looking up Mumbai's population, I found that the current estimate says 13,662,885 people live in the city. So, since the odds of (A) us meeting again & (B) me developing the courage to say something coherent to you even if we did; are like 1 in a gazillion, I'm writing this. If you do read this, here's what I wish I'd said to you that evening.

"Hello there. I'm..."

Song for the moment: I'd rather dance with you - Kings of Convenience              

Tuesday, July 20

One more cup of coffee

The sheer awesomeness of a great trip does not lie in the fondly remembered incidents.

It was not born a moment, hurrying down 80 ft. road at midnight, knowing your friends are creating a pandemonium in the vicinity.

It did not depend on being cheered, greeted and bodily lifted and hugged by people who are more family, than friends.

It did not evolve because of sitting on the kitchen counter at 2 am, sharing a meal and beer, hearing people talking and laughing in every room.

It needed no help from unbelievably desultory brunches on a gloriously salubrious day.

It almost became about finally acknowledging the pub of all pubs.

It was not accentuated by swapping hilariously nostalgic stories in the dead of night.

No. 

You understand that the great trip has happened when you find yourself with friends at dawn...

All bleary-eyed and dishevelled
All flying off in different directions

All wondering why the weekend seemed to last just a heartbeat.

But what a heartbeat!

Song for the moment: On every street - Dire Straits  

Sunday, July 11

Close another door

Back in college, the group I hung out with would engage in an exercise called "Who would you want on the island ?" The idea was simple enough; were you to ever have the misfortune to find yourself stuck on an island, who are the 5 people you would want accompanying you ? In all probability, the people you chose to bestow this dubious fate on, would not view it in quite the same ecstatically touching light, but that's another story. What seemed to matter to all present was whether everyone from the group was included and most often, they were. After all, the alternative would have been downright crushing and rude. I suspect that you have engaged in similar musings, reader. Back then, being on the island list affirmed camaraderie, assuaged fears and doubts of ending up alone and friendless. In some landlocked area, no doubt. Today, if we were to revisit that list and speculate on our hypothetical fates, would any of the names match ?

Old habits, they say, die hard. I wonder how much easier or harder it is letting go of people and of things one takes for granted in life. In case you've missed the point over the last 150 posts, this blog is sautéed in nostalgia, indicating lucidly enough that I have trouble shaking off the past. But this tenacious hold doesn't extend to people, whom I am forever walking away from. A few frayed ropes have been re-entwined, but I can't seem to assign any satisfactory rationalisations for these. Most parting of ways have been brutal and lacking explanation. Sure, lack of proximity is a strong possibility. So is the lack of a common institution, one of the major reasons one's college friendships are so fleeting. Other popular contenders are serious disagreements, betrayals and assorted behavioural melees. Heck, even boredom.

But, is it that cut and dry ? We are talking about people; family, friends, lovers... another human being with whom you shared part of yourself. And, on that personal emotional level,  I can offer even myself only a vague intangible; one day, it just does not feel right any more, and that is it. I simply let go. To you, reader, this may seem a callous approach, and perhaps it is. I'm not suggesting a lack of guilt on my part, just a sample of the circus playing inside. Out of curiosity, I'd like to know; when you feel the need to part ways, what noble and gratifying method do you employ ?

Whatever solution is bandied about, the end result is still inelegant and most often, ugly. I used to think it was hard to live with letting go of the dead. I was wrong. It seems infinitely harder to live, having let go of the living. More so when we're seduced by the thought of a relationship lasting forever. Or mesmerised by responsibilities that were shouldered on the promises of being glorified in the future but end up becoming crutches for one's ego. It is when these supposed certainties are snatched away that things generally start to spiral. 
  
While this post feels, in no way, complete, I'm left with only two clear thoughts that can be put into words; that sometimes, letting go is the convenient option.

At other times, it is the right thing to do.

Song for the moment: Life for rent - Dido
         

Saturday, July 3

Rite of passage

In tactful language, it has been suggested that I take a hard look at the rather depressing tone taken by the blog over the last few posts. The words "batty, old man" were used rather forcefully.

I agree with the judgement; while I'm no subscriber to sanguine prose, the melancholy is threatening to capsize the literary raft. There's only so much oddity that can be attributed to creative inspiration before someone loses an ear or drowns themselves, no ? I do have to say this in my defence - it being an autobiographical blog, my moods tend to reflect in my posts. Over the last couple of months I have not exactly channelled any joie de vivre. Partially, this can be put down to my job. For the sake of succinct speech, I'll say that it is sucking the life out of me. My first job, with the NGO, was a retirement home compared to this place. But I like the long hours and the chance to create new content in an atmosphere filled with hidden intrigues and random new developments. Like operating in the Bates Motel, only there are a lot of customers besides myself. And no shower scene.

But that only explains part of it. The rest is taken up with challenges of a more personal kind; the type that force me to think deeply and re-examine a lot of mental bric-a-brac I took for granted. Since it would be unfair to spring most of the above without context on a soporific reader, I won't bother. However, there is one aspect that is probably worth sharing. I've thought long and hard for the last week on the topic of maturity, specifically the mental kind.

From childhood, I have memories of certain people in the family-friends circle being referred to as 'mature' by the elders, always accompanied by a massively approving nod of the head. It was almost like those anointed thus were joining a secret, prestigious club. Even then, I found the idea of maturity complex and mysterious; that there were far deeper waters flowing beneath a simple word. As I grew older, I yearned for the day that approving nod would be directed towards me but it seemed that I managed to steer away from any actions, achievement or behaviour that could be labelled mature. Of course, once I knew better (or thought I did, since we are talking about my early 20s here), I was rather grateful for the miss, since it seemed more a responsibility-laced, behaviour-regulating burden than an inspirational crown.

During recent self-critical phases, I have begun to wonder anew, not whether I will ever be thought of as a mature person, but to what the idea of it means to me personally. About the existence or lack thereof of a crossable invisible barrier decided by age or accumulated actions & behaviour, after which I can have a gratifying moment of music-marked realisation about maturity achieved. You know... the popular cinema kind, roughly 4 minutes before the protagonist gets the girl. Or is seen driving across either the Brooklyn or Golden Gate bridge.

Here's my 2-paise on maturity - publicly it is fostered by our deeds and behaviour. Privately, I don't believe anyone thinks of themselves as a mature individual. The whole deal feels more like a never-ending degree; take a life-class, learn stuff & hopefully clear the paper and move on to the next one. There will be instances where I'll almost be able to taste the change and I will feel better for it. But there is no fixed checklist to tick off, no age to cross and no recognised / approved amount of responsibility to be shouldered.

There are only chances; to change and to accept. And, like all opportunities, these have to be recognised and acted upon.

Song for the moment: Turn! Turn! Turn! - The Byrds

Saturday, June 26

How to disappear completely

After 3 straight days of grey clouds and steady rain, the monsoon weather eased up on the Friday. As the day wore on, the sky became bluer, the whitish haze blushing with streaks of burnished gold.

Hurrying out of the building at 6:30 pm, he happened to look up into the horizon. It had been a long day of a long week spent hunched over the laptop. For a change, he was leaving the office before sunset. For Mumbai, this evening had unusually delightful weather; the humidity could be ignored, the cooling breeze was actually steady rather than teasing in wisps and everywhere, he could sense a gently uplifting buzz. It was a day to be getting out of office early, meeting up with friends, savouring a meal with a beer on the side, perhaps. An evening meant to be wrapped in laughter and bonhomie.

No matter how strong the craving, he would be partaking of none of these. Enough people would want to grab a drink; he didn't feel like meeting them. He could not face the prospect of another weekend spent dozing, watching tv and meeting cheerless relatives. Not after the work-week he'd had.

Once again, he was at the Dadar Asiad station, waiting for the bus to Pune. Going home... the words were meant to taste a lot better when he mouthed them. The idea of it was supposed to bring comfort instantly. For the longest time, it had done all of that. Only recently however, the taste was starting to sour. The feeling was steadily turning hollow.

Going home was supposed to energise, not enervate.

Somewhere out there, he imagined, friends were meeting, laughing and sharing a meal.
Hunched over, he stepped into the bus. For home.

Song for the moment: Karma Police - Radiohead

Sunday, June 13

The seeker

A stubborn head-cold has been dissipating the energy out of me. In the throes of the resultant exhaustion, I find it difficult to concentrate on any one activity, be it sleep which I sorely require or reading, which I can only accomplish in fits and bursts. Even writing a post feels laboured, much like my breathing. Ideas appear in fits and starts. Just when I think I can put together a decent piece, the words stop flowing and I am left to consider the usefulness of ellipses.

This peculiar half-alert, half-drowsy state is accentuated by the weather, which is moodily grey. I wish it would make up its mind and either rain or allow for sunshine, but nature's vagaries are her own. After many years, I am re-reading what I think is the best travel book ever written - 'From Heaven Lake' by Vikram Seth. He commands English so expertly, it feels more like a series of vivid photographs rather than mere alphabets linked together. A book that requires complete immersion for absolute appreciation, a sense of deja vu confirms my feelings many years ago; the book is essentially brilliant poetry in prose form.

Reading this book, or for that matter, any book on travel, is a double-edged experience for me. I get to make voyages vicariously, all the while resenting the fact that this is the only way I seem to be making journeys. Because I don't like to travel alone, I find it quite incredible that the authors can and do, often it seems, effortlessly. I could cite numerous other hackneyed obstacles in my way, but something he once told me always quietens the excuses. The jist of it was that opportunities abound; it is up to us to take them. Seeing the truth in that message is tinged with panic because time is flying by and I feel oddly stilted. About everything.

I want to say it is the weather. I want to say it is the head-cold. Believing any of it is another matter.

Song for the moment: I want to go back - Eddie Money

Monday, May 31

On a day like today

The weekend has unwittingly provided me food for though. I'm sure Saturday & Sunday don't mean to. Left to themselves, they'd have carried on being the days for which plans are eagerly made on hellish Tuesday afternoons at work, but resigned to lie-ins, late lunches and dinners in restaurants. Come to think of it, that's actually not a bad way for 2 days to breeze past.

On this S & S, a whole load of people took planes & buses at godforsaken early and late hours to come to Pune and celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend. The birthday boy (or man) in question, in passing, should, if he doesn't yet, know that he's lucky to be so genuinely liked by so many people. Or maybe it has more to do with his affable nature. Point is, a plan that would scare the bejeezus out of these people on most days of the year, came together very successfully because of the coordinator. In large parts, the chips fell together thanks to the opportunity for liberal amounts of booze abuse but one can't take credit away from people.

Barring me and one other bloke, the get-together was an informal college reunion. As fate would have it, we (bloke & I) get along in very jolly fashion with this lot, so the reunion bit didn't make any difference here. Anyway, I've only attended one formally arranged reunion in my life before and am in no hurry to repeat that experience. I come from an all-boys convent with a particularly vicious bent of what passes for humour in those kind of places. So, pardon me if my idea of a good time isn't the revisiting of tired and now embarrassingly inane gags or remembering the finer aspects of gang-behaviour. But I haven't been to any college get-together (or maybe, with good reason, wasn't invited). And if there's any place I've seen a lot of, its college.

I have ambiguous feelings about college reunions. College gave most of us the overwhelming reassurance of freedom. No matter how bad the fuck-ups, how low the acads or how depressingly stifling life was at home, friends and copious amounts of alcohol (a lot of times, it was hard to distinguish between the two) made the past hazy, the present timeless and the future, immaterial. In the unkind light of dawn, between the redolence of innumerable beers & the exhaustion of bonhomie, you saw the quirky side, the wild side, the lovable side & the plaintive side of your friends. In turn, they saw you. And it was okay.

And years down the line, does the regathering let one revisit that freedom ?

Do you see each other as you once were, with the choice and willingness to try anything and go anywhere ? Or as you are now, with increasing professional & personal commitments, expanding waistlines, contracting booze capacities and numerous other trappings of age.

Maybe I'm over-analysing it & smothering a good thing. Perhaps I should let sleeping dogs lie and tell myself that the whiff of wistfulness in the wind is just a figment of my imagination. That I'm just a jaded cynic.

I wonder...

A leopard doesn't change it's spots, but age and experience lets it camouflage them better. The question is, does it want to or does it have to ?

Cheers to everyone who was there - 29th May 2010

Song for the moment:
Afterglow - INXS

Saturday, May 22

Power of not knowing

The world as I know it is, for the most part, stained with cynicism and extreme political correctness (PC).

Yet, in the past week, I was witness to two events that went against the common grain. A 'Rin ki shakti' as regards the stain mentioned above. The first case is that of PC. As if it was the most obvious fact in the world, a colleague intimated that I was very Quasimodo-ish, in terms of looks. She said it with a visceral nonchalance that was unnerving. Look, my life's not exactly been sheltered or subtle in its lessons. There's only so many times you can observe a girl's eyes slide clean over you, as if you never existed, before cottoning on to the fact that in a rainbow world, you are grey. So I'm very aware that this visage isn't exactly a gift from the heavens.

But I've never actually been told so.

I have heard of people told point blank that they don't possess that intangible X-factor of attractiveness. However, I have never actually come across a situation where someone I know has been told that they are indisputably unattractive. In this PC world, I guess its just not done. Yet, it was, leaving me in a tricky 'reaction' dilemma. It would probably be unsurprising if I took offence at her words. Wouldn't it be hypocritical of me to do so, since she was only confirming something I already knew ? Conundrum, conundrum.

The second case is that of cynicism. I guess the easiest concept to be cynical about is love. Right now isn't the time to get into the nitty-gritties of it and besides, I'm confident that you lot understand the whole deal. To cut to the chase, I found our that two friends from my Pune Univ. days are getting engaged. Since friends of mine are getting hitched left, right and centre, its not front-page news. What distinguishes this one is the background. In college, the dude in question very publicly serenaded another girl and they were, to use that peculiar expression, 'an item'. The dudette in question had a soft spot for the guy which she let him know.

As it so often happens, 'the item' didn't work out. We all graduated and went our separate ways. Flash-forward 4 years and I found out, to my immense delight, that dudette and dude are the two getting engaged. Honestly, I wouldn't have given the longest of odds on the two of them getting together. In my universe, their engagement is a miracle.

But I'm cynical & don't believe in miracles. So, how do I explain what happened ? I can't.

Do I want to be able to rationalise it ?

Song for the moment: My baby shot me down - Nancy Sinatra

Friday, May 14

Six degrees of inner turbulence

Now that I've settled into my new job and tasted the pickled Mumbai life, assorted well-wishers, noticing my solo social status, have started asking the sensitive question. Right, you guessed correctly.

"When do you plan to go back to the U.S to study ?"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it becoming acceptable nay expectable to spend one's life collecting assorted degrees and doctorates ? To avoid generalising, lets just say I have no interest in studying any more. Not even that shady 6-month, correspondence course guaranteeing U.S, U.K, Aus / NZ visa office paperwork filling success. My lack of enthusiasm to once again stroll languidly under the eaves of academe is largely because of my loathing for exams, which has firm roots in history.

Being a South Indian Tamil kid comes with a special burden - your parents hold their breath, waiting for the day you exhibit Ramanujan-like math ability. No other subject holds as much importance and pride of place as arithmetic. If, by some hideous turn of chance, you happen to score great marks in Junior Kg. you are doomed for life. The successful negotiation of 1+1, 2+3 etc. means the die has been cast. Your school reports have to glow with their own inner light. The school authorities must seriously consider putting up a bronze statue of you. Your swagger in the school corridors must be accompanied by a rousing rock music score. No one gives two hoots that staying indoors all the time has given you an anaemic look and a very slow bone growth pattern. "Games? Entertainment? Fun? Play chess. You should be able to beat xyz (neighbouring kid) soon". True story.

What you don't know as you innocently announce your 10 / 10 in math (Jr. kg, 2nd term) is that your IIT life is already being planned in great detail. If not engineering, the family savings are being hoarded for that seat in Vellore Medical College. Not managing either, you could find yourself mysteriously missing from family photo albums (But I'm sure I was in Kanyakumari with you!) and relegated to a dark corner of the hall behind the coffee drum, at family functions. To make matters worse, your relatives are either top rankers or have IIT degrees. This is where yours truly is a bit of a spectacular evolutionary hiccup.

From Senior Kg. onward, I can clearly remember having a nauseating dread of the math exams. It was the one paper where I was sternly told to do well, make sure I ticked all attempted questions AND wrote the answer next to the question, so that it could be dissected at home. I did okay as long as I was at Abu Dhabi Indian School for 4 years. After that, the wheels came off the bus. Moving to Dubai and almost immediately to India, I was a little unnerved. I had enough headaches learning Arabic, Marathi and Hindi, so math suffered. Invariably, I'd have got something wrong and/or completely skipped the question. The Gestapo could probably take notes on the interrogation that followed, I tell you.

To compound the folks' chagrin, I could rattle off pages of information on English and History without breaking a sweat. To this day, I wonder where I'd be if things had gone my way and I'd been allowed to pursue archaeology. When I suggested this out loud at the time, I heard some very hollow laughs, followed by the inevitable "Have you considered Environmental Science? It's the next big thing".

It was only when I began to flunk Chemistry, Physics and Math in the 12th std. (yes, I was 'advised' to take science after 10th. In true, gentle, Michael Corleone style.) and did so with a resignation that unnerved even my parents, that the writing on the wall became clear. Not even the glorious Tam-Bram heritage could provide succour.

Of course, they got their revenge by ensuring that I completed 2 Masters degrees. And not in English or History either. In return, my math skills have regressed to a point where I am confident only about the basic stuff. I mean BODMAS level expertise. If you've followed this blog or read the archives, you'll know that my U.S sojourn wasn't all fun and games. So, yes. When someone asks me when I'm going to try for the Ph.D, I stay diplomatic. Silent. Like Bruce Banner.

Song for the moment: Peacetime Resistance - Kings of Convenience

Sunday, May 2

The memory remains

The 8th of May 2008 was my first day at the UNODC office in Cambodia. As I was very new to the city of Phnom Penh, my fellow intern (J) kindly offered to show me around the city at lunchtime. He was an American of South Korean extraction, straddling both cultures admirably. We were walking along St. 57, being steadily broiled in the heat and humidity when the faintest waft of a very familiar smell made me pause. I turned to J and said "Its going to rain today."

He looked at the sky, which was a clear blue and sceptically asked me how I knew that. I said I could smell it. He thought I was making it up, hoped I was not crazy and laughed my words off heartily. In his shoes, I don't blame him. When a guy you've only just met suddenly makes cryptic remarks about the weather, he was bound to wonder if I was a few slices short of a loaf. I remember that scene very acutely because I could not get him to understand a sensation we take for granted in India. The smell of wet earth on the wind, foretelling the rain.

I've written more than one rain-related post on this blog. I make no excuses because I know that Indians cut across language, religion and skin tone when they embrace the coming of the monsoon. That comforting smell in the air is in our blood & in our memory. Oddly enough, after 2006, I have not taken in that heady bouquet in Pune. In 2007 I was in the U.S and the rain has no special smell there. In 2008 I was in Cambodia and after that feather-light first breath, I did not come across it again. Last year, I remember it was a Thursday afternoon and I was on my way home to Pune, the start of 4 day weekend. At 4:30 pm when I got off the bus, the coolness in the air hit me and I knew I'd missed the first shower.

Today afternoon, after 4 years, the old familiar tang of Pune rain was at the window. I went to the balcony of what was once my room, rested chin on palms and took it all in. It was a panorama I have seen countless times without becoming bored. The pink of the building walls are now deeper, small pools of water have collected in the scars of the road and the trees have bowed their heads in supplication. The building opposite mine has been a mute witness to this ritual for many years. Today, I thought about how many of the windows in that building had become dark and unfamiliar over 18 long monsoons.

And suddenly, for no discernible reason, I was in the throes of an emotional maelstrom; melancholy, nostalgia, uncertainty, sadness, fear.

I came back to my computer, found a cup of tea steaming gently and a plate of ginger biscuits waiting, my familiar comforts. I sipped on some of the brew, nibbled on the rough spice of the biscuit and...

And wrote this.

Song for the moment: Let it rain - Eric Clapton

Ripple

A couple of weeks ago, I almost had an out-of-body experience. Before you go "Eh? Fool, you either have one or not..." let me explain.

The matriarch of the family, my long-suffering grandma was conversing with her oldest (and favourite) grandson. They spoke about this & that, covering everything from the impending wedding of X's second cousin's third child's wedding (a typical South Indian conversation) to the correct way of making Avial. Trust me, that dish is a lot harder than it looks on paper.

As grandmas with long years of conversational nuance experience are wont to do, she casually slipped in this little gem (it's translated into English from Tamil, so you may not appreciate the essence):

Grandma: So, I was talking to Periamma (her older sister in Madras) the other day. She was telling me about a girl she knew there & wanted to know 'when' Girish is getting married and all that.

Me: Uhuh. Okay, that's interesting. I see. Hmm...

Grandma: *meaningful look*

Me: (Mental wheels protestingly creak into action and the full enormous implication of what was just said finally hits. Also, the out-of-body thing)

Me: What ?! Now, wait just a god-damn minute here.

See, in a very cunning fashion, age has crept up on me and struck the 'matrimonial best-before age' gong. It took me so long to understand what my dear granny was talking about because I have always associated these conversations with my older relatives. You know... uncles, cousins, other assorted over-horny and idiotic skeletons in the family cupboard etcetera. What I remember (with growing uneasiness) was the sense of finality in the air when these things were discussed.

Heaven knows how, but 'Girish and his future plans' has become a hot topic in the family. Uncomfortably so. Assorted aunts are grinningly asking if they should set me up with someone they know. Friends' mothers increasingly seem to know a girl they absolutely think I should meet. More than one person has asked me if I am seeing someone special. I give this latter group a carefree laugh & wave them away.

And go home and sob into my pillow.

Seriously though, things are getting a little scary and eventually I suppose the issue will have to be faced head-on. Or I will have to meet a nice, non-psychotic girl who'll like me for who I am. Thanks to my charm and plethora of luck, that has about as much chance of happening as Lehmann Brothers making a comeback.

I wonder if this is how those gladiator blokes felt like in the Colosseum.

Song for the moment:
Tom's Diner - Suzanne Vega

Saturday, May 1

I'll be alright without you

A great book series is like a coin; there are 2 distinct emotional sides to finishing it.

On one hand, you have that extremely satisfied feeling at the end - a mental burp as it were. On the other hand, there's a mild sense of loss, knowing that the pages, plots & permutations (awesome alliteration!!) are no longer new. The feeling is similar to knowing what your birthday gift is before you unwrap it.

And yet, a gift is always welcome. Having finished the Millennium trilogy yesterday, there's quite a churning in the emotional barrel. The books are very well written & for that, I'm a little sad that there are no more in the series. But reading these books has fanned the dying embers of my book-reading patterns. I know with certainty that I'll be reading a lot more.

In my world, there's no loss in that development.

Song for the moment: The night is still young - Billy Joel

Thursday, April 8

As I am

Can you recall the last time you read a book cover-to-cover ?

I don't know about you, but I've always felt guilty that my book-reading rate is no longer as high as it was in the past. From a guy who could read 4 books a week, I've become someone who struggles to read even one. Being employed doesn't help matters.

Between 9 hour work days, making dinner, a laughable gym record & an accusingly dusty saxophone case, books had lost out. I'd wondered if I'd become the guy who preferred the internet and even the most inane movie on t.v versus taking the effort to follow plot-lines, remember characters & test the logic of a story. The supposed bibliophile in me was cringing.

Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is going to change that. I'm reading the first part - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Riveting.

I cannot remember the last time I've looked forward to going home, just to read.

Song for the moment: Surprise Ice - Kings of Convenience

P.S: The song is lovely too.

Monday, March 29

Just let me breathe

Perhaps this is a mixture of sleepiness (I caught the 6 am bus again) & tiredness talking, but I have a sudden longing to visit a musty museum.

You're probably thinking "Whaaaaa ??"

I can't explain why myself. I can actually see the kind of place I want to visit, in my mind's eye. It is an inherently dark place, lit by yellow bulbs throwing the same light as those old ones on local trains in Mumbai. The showcases are all wood with a faintly gleaming cherry hue. It is neither cool nor hot in the museum. Just very quiet. I'm the only one there, although I imagine the curator is pottering around somewhere. The room I'd ideally like to be in is the one covering Ancient Egypt. I want to slowly read through the interesting stories and take in every detail of the impassive royal faces, losing myself in the moment. Letting history wash over me.

Once again, without explanations, this yearning is replaced by a memory. I'm in school and the exams are on. Back when the room used to be mine (I'm a resident guest in my house now, so I have a home but no room) there used to be a well-stocked bookshelf in it. I can see the books, some worn out and others stacked in an order only I could make sense of. Because I have to study for exams, the books have taken on an added allure. You know this feeling no, reader?. I lock the door quietly, take out a random Famous Five book and start reading. I know that I'm too old to appreciate the plots any more but am being driven by some strange mixture of loss and need to vicariously live the lives of the characters. I go from Blyton to Hardy Boys to Tintin to every Amar Chitra Katha book I can find. 4 hours later, I arrange the books back quietly and saunter into the living room, tired by my continuous 'study'. Reading books on the sly happened to me right till I went to college. After that...

I don't miss childhood. I miss the child I was. Know what I mean ?

Song for the moment: Cloudy - Simon & Garfunkel

(Okay, so this is a self-indulgent post. I need a vacation.)

Sunday, March 21

Nobody's Home

I have a text message sent to my cellphone on the 5th of March 2009, 8:42 pm. It says 'Beer'.

To me, this terse SMS encapsulates what it was like to have lived in Mumbai in the year 2009. By reading it, I knew when & where to be. Toto's in Bandra at about 9:15 pm, in case you were wondering.

I'd head out of my house, reach the now-familiar corner of Pali Hill, make my way into a pub literally vibrating to rock music, look around and spot 2 gents in formal work attire either slouched at the bar or standing in an unobtrusive corner. Wherever they stood, they'd be holding mugs of beer. I'd make my way over to them and we'd grin collectively. Nothing would be said. I'd signal for an empty mug and be handed one. Nothing would be said. I'd pour myself a glass of beer with a sliver of foam at the top. 3 mugs would clink, sips would be taken, the first cold, bitter spark would ignite at the back of the throat, we'd sigh...

"So, what's happening?"

D, G & A
Over the year, we'd take part in this ritual countless number of times, in a handful of tested, trusted and well-shuffled pubs. Usually, it'd be on a Thursday, to help break the flow of a relentless week. The order of the gents arriving would vary, depending on who got stuck at Mahim Causeway or at Saki Naka. But we'd get there. The pub sessions, as I'd come to view them. There never was any frantic drinking. A couple of pitchers, a plate of fried mushrooms, a plate of chicken, all of it accompanied by music. And talk and laughter. Old favourite topics came up consistently, but never tinged by jadedness.

I'd come to Pune on the weekends, twice a month. The other 2 would go on short and long holidays, have deadlines to meet or be exhausted by the demands of work. But, more often than not, come the Thursday, a text would go out around 5 pm - "What's the plan?".

Around 8:30 pm...

If, at this point, you're wondering - "What the heck is he going on about ? I have friends like these", then let me spell it out for you. You are lucky. Appreciate moments like these. And take more pictures, because heaven knows, I wish I had.

By the 5th of March 2010, there were only 2 people meeting up, the third having shifted out of Mumbai.

By the 21st of March 2010, there's just me.

Call me a nostalgic fool. Tell me I'm overreacting. Try as I might, I can't shake off the feeling that the Mumbai of 22nd March 2010 will be strangely new to me.

Song for the moment: Perfect Strangers - Deep Purple

Tuesday, March 16

Cold, dark room

One of the most valued experiences in a man's life is sitting down with a few other guys over a mug of beer & shooting the breeze. Its a chance for us to step out of a carefully contrived public persona (if there is one), discuss events & sports, be witty without the hazard of blank looks & just stare into our mugs, silently singing along to our favourite songs or appreciate the comfortable pause. We get to give the stoicism a rest & really talk.

These are not Marlboro cigarette advertisement moments. These are 'in the eye of the hurricane' moments. We are the kind of guys who were born with a serious air & a large sign on our behinds asking fate to kindly oblige. We will laugh at emails about why guys with names like ours will never get any & empathise with the ones wondering why we're stuck in 'best friend' mode all the time. Its so very natural for us to empathise.

Do you know how hard it is to find the right people to shoot the breeze with ? I'm not talking about the friends you made in school. You can safely skip the large majority of those you knew in college. I'm talking about adults who think a certain way. Guys who've reached a certain mental level. These people may not even be your best friends. But, they're the ones who only require a call, a time, a place & they're there.

We'll meet, order a round, sigh as the first cold sip hits the spot, grin, nod to the music, talk, let the angst flow, laugh...

It seems so simple, no ? Remember whose favourite whipping boys we are ?

I guess it was like having too much of a good thing. Pretty soon, that instinctive phone call will not be enough.

Song for the moment: Let the good times roll - B.B King

Saturday, March 6

We do it like this

It was perhaps a sign of our times or a gentle reminder that life isn't anything like the movies. To the strains of a moving background score, I should have been framed in the bus window forlornly staring at the turn for Bandra as we crossed Sion subway on Tuesday morning. A selection of memory-images from my previous workplace should have flashed before my eyes, followed by a sigh & an apprehensive look to the heavens.

None of that happened because I was fast asleep. Getting up early (anything prior to 8 am is early) and catching the 6 am bus to Bombay has its price, you see. So, when the literal & figurative fork in the road between my old and new job showed up, I was snoozing. I did feel slightly melancholic later but like many times before, it was because I was bidding goodbye to the familiar. Also drowsy. The depth of feeling on Tuesday was akin to a wisp of cloud passing over the sun.

On Thursday morning, the enormity of the change caught up with me. I was performing a delicate set of callisthenics to ensure that my feet did not step into a basket of fresh coriander and that my face did not get anywhere near the chap next to me. See, when you are in a train, you're supposed to hang on to the hand-hold. This requires you to raise your arm. The common Mumbai man is obviously not buying into the earnest marketing gimmicks of those Axe deodorant fellows. And is also not a big believer in the morning bath, soap, talcum powder and anything else that could interfere with the pungency of his body odour. Contrast this scene to my old work travel pattern where I'd get into a bus confident that a seat had my name on it, read a book & calmly be transported to work. To say that my equanimity had taken a severe beating by Thursday was putting it mildly.

As the poet once said, things have changed. For the past week, I have steeled myself before hurtling into the poor man in front of me at the platform as the train halts. I have then had numerous gents step on my shoes, ankles and whathaveyou and held my breath for epic lengths to avoid inhaling what passes for air in those bogies. Then I've hurtled into the man in front of me to get out of the train at my stop. Repeat process in the evening.

Here, let me clarify once and for all that there is no such thing as a reverse direction-lack of crowd on train effect. There may have been one on the first day the trains operated in Mumbai, but no more. No, I say. Nothing of the sort. I invite you to try getting on the train at Santacruz for the 9:15 slow to Borivali. Thanks to a delightful quirk in the schedules, a slow arrives at Santacruz at 9.10. The next one arrives at 9.25, allowing for a 15 minute build-up on the platform. To see brave souls from a crowd 5-people deep hurl themselves at the train when it eventually does arrive suggests that the Red & White Gallantry awards people should come to Mumbai during rush hour every now and then.

As for me, I am getting myself a 1st-class pass on Monday. It is completely worth the considerable outlay and besides, deodorant is heard of in those bogies, or so I've been told. Heaven knows, I wouldn't want my shoes reeking of coriander either.

Song for the moment: Baba O'Riley - The Who

Friday, February 26

There's a kind of hush

Two things happened today that brought an involuntary wistful smile to my face. One, whilst leaving for work this morning, I realised my trousers & shirt were the exact same ones I'd been wearing on my first day of work (of course they've been washed after that day). Two, as part of my handover, when going through the numerous folders and documents that have accumulated over the year, I chanced upon the very first piece of work I'd been assigned.

It has been just over a year since I started working at this organisation and today is my last day. It was a good first job; not very demanding and convenient in many ways but in the long run, not the most ideal of workplaces. Every employee among you must have collated a list of negatives about your respective office & I am no different. However, I will not be airing the dirty laundry in public except to say that I have learned a fair amount over the last 13 months, though sadly none of it had anything pertaining to my work. Instead, I've got a very good idea of work-culture in India. This was my first proper employment gig and I was laughably naive about office life and group dynamics. Not any more.

I want to say I feel sad or nostalgic about leaving but it would be a lie. The truth is I was tired of working here. Having never worked in a large corporate office, I'm no expert on office politics there. But its also pretty rough working in an office with a small staff and even an even smaller team. Its especially tricky when other people in the team are long established. I realised very gradually that these people may loathe each other and not respect any contribution except their own but are forced into an ambiguously-twisted symbiotic relationship to keep their jobs. Don't even get me started on the sycophancy permeating the team. Suffice to say, I want to salute the tenacity with which things seem to get done in an atmosphere more suited to a shabby murder-mystery. You know... whispered conversations, endless gossip, pointed looks and childish attempts to introduce difficulties into the simplest of processes.

I am going to miss a few people though. They all seem to be the ones with a sense of humour I can relate to and who know how to mind their own business. In their own way, they made the hours tolerable and I am thankful.

Knowing what I know now, I did not forewarn the new employee who's coming in to replace me today. Like mine, this is her first job & she has a right to choose to learn the lessons I did.

Today, the clock will tick calmly towards closing time & I will take a final glance at my desk with the piles of papers & other stationery that prove I existed here professionally till now. Lying around for a better part of the year in that naturally higgledy-piggledy way, they will now be stacked neatly. Too neatly... hinting gently that at least one person won't be back here on Monday morning.

Over the year, on many a frustrating day or stiflingly slow afternoons I have written blog posts sitting at this computer. This is my last post from here & the only thing left to say is "Bonne Chance".

Song for the moment: Long nights - Eddie Vedder

Update: So, I felt a little bad after all.

Tuesday, February 16

Running back for more

Following the match yesterday on Cricinfo, I got the feeling I was watching a baton being passed. VS and ST were phlegmatically taking apart the South African bowling & even as they went about their business, the cricket fan's emotional wagon wheel came full circle for me.

Sachin's batting has reached a level of sublime where one is left with no words, just sighing admiration. There was a time when his batting was described with adjectives like brutal, explosive and the spectrum of others basically implying destructive force. For the fan, there was Sachin's successful innings or there was the t.v off, ennui and much wringing of hands. Of course, this was largely in the LOI's. Test match cricket was a different world in the early 90's. Sidhu was a decent enough opener but his partner was usually whoever drew the short straw on the morning of Day 1. Then there was Manjrekar, who had very nice technique but this funny notion that he was batting at nets all the time. Even the ball despaired on reaching his bat for he would stifle it into travelling about 2 inches. If he was having a bad day. On a good day, the ball would turn back in mid-air and everyone pretended they loved the game. Azhar, Jadeja, Mongia and Prabhakar, when not attending interesting calls on the telephone, might just make a match of it. Certainly Azhar, he of the magical & mysterious wristy technique, remains the biggest tragedy of the match-fixing hoopla. And then there was Sachin, who may have played with more freedom, if the rest of the batsman could be depended on. Guffaw.

So, he reserved the majority of his savagery for the LOIs. Never mind Australia at Sharjah. Everyone and his uncle knows that he gave the bowlers diarrhoea. Never mind his overall awesomeness either. No, the match that always makes me smile is the one against Zimbabwe. Remember that chap, Olonga ? Remember him getting ST out in one game ? Remember his stats in the next game ? 4 overs for 41 runs. It was molestation. Sachin still does give bowlers a fright every now and then, but he's reached a level where the surgery is under anaesthesia. He is now clinical. And how.

There was a point when the heart would physically hurt when ST got out. Watching the match yesterday, I realised that, while there will always be a wince-inducing twinge (for which cricket lover can be a child of the 80's - 90's & claim immunity) when that happens, the punch-in-the-gut feeling effect has been taken over by Sehwag. And let me tell you, fan of today, you are god-damn lucky he's there to make you claim you love test cricket. Because that man is a test-batting juggernaut who seems to be getting to a point where only he can get himself out. Pertinently, in many a fan's mind, he owns the adjectives describing destruction now.

But here's the thing. VS (no taking any credit from him whatsoever) can make the bowlers cry for their mummies, safe in the knowledge that Dravid, Sachin & Laxman (and Ganguly) are waiting their turn at bat. Read that line again. Let the weight of those 3 names sink in. And then tell me VS worries about getting out.

Today we have the luxury of Sehwag & Gambhir (probably the best opening pair in Cricket) at the start of the innings. They in turn have the luxury of RD, SRT & VVS to follow. There's a point in that somewhere, but it's implied.

On more than one occasion, I have blogged about our fortune in being of an age when the mind is still in top form & experiencing the keen pleasure of revelling in the names of our top 6 batsmen. I know that the likes of Sachin & his genius, Dravid & Laxman, their exquisite technique, temperament, good nature and discipline will never grace Indian cricket again. The changing trends of the game will finish off the purity of technique and the poetry of the arcing blade meeting ball, caressed to perfection. I'd like to think Sehwag knows this too as he plays with the joy and fury that we have come to know so well.

Song for the moment: Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits

Saturday, February 13

After forever

The end of innocence.

No matter how close to home previous attacks have been, Pune has never actually suffered one. No, it has always watched nervously while Bombay bore the brunt of those Mofos' ideology and perhaps let out a very very quiet sigh of relief that it had escaped another one.

After Bangalore, Delhi and Ahmedabad, how many Puneites shook their heads at the telly, massaged tired eyes with their fingertips and stared of into the distance for a while. Wondering.

Not any more. The first line of this post is actually untrue. We haven't been innocent in a long time. And I suppose I can say there's always been that thought buried deep - how long before ?

Well, we're now officially in the club. Puneites can now join the previous victims and live a life tainted with apprehension. A quietly whispered prayer when a loved one goes out. A moment when the heart beats a frantic tattoo as we walk into one of the many crowded places in the city.

Walking out of our houses, feet crossing the threshold, without having to ever consider the possibility that we may not come back. Yea, that's gone for good.

Tomorrow's dawn will see a new Pune; one stained by doubts, fears and that gnawing, nameless, helpless despair other Indians have come to know so well. At least, I know I will feel all of these.

What an age we live in.

Song for the moment: The Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel

Wednesday, February 10

Carnival of rust

Q. How do people at work react to your resignation ?

A. Scenario 1 - You are treated to a display of facial contortions ostensibly expressing regret, a few "tch tch" noises and terse congratulatory statements.

Scenario 2 - All colleagues gather in the downstairs lobby for an impromptu yet impressively coordinated Rumba session and a few of them are seen glancing wistfully at the heavens. Or at the damp spot on the ceiling.

In any case, there is a period of time (a few days) when you are made to feel like the version of Moses who, halfway to crossing the Red Sea on foot, realised that it was all a mistake and hailed the nearest boat.

Then the fun begins.

From the activity status of that Vastu bamboo shoot thing, you are catapulted to the role of hand-wash soap. Everybody who is anybody will devise ingenious ways to use you to get writing work done. You can't protest since the relieving letter, experience certificate & recommendation letters aren't in your hands yet. Since you and irony are such close friends, you are mentally prepared to be asked to write the letters you need at the end of the month.

In all this, 3 things keep you going.
  1. No more ISO.
  2. No more Badnera Junction, Amravati.
  3. You found a free online scrabble website.
Song for the moment: Snow - Red Hot Chili Peppers

Wednesday, January 27

Year of tha boomerang

I've heard it said that one should appreciate the small comforts of life & not worry about the big stuff. The antithesis of this of course is being lulled or softened by the small comforts, not realising that some amount of wrenching could make life a little better, albeit after some sacrifices.

The regular reader is surely in no doubt about my abject view of the current workplace. It is an indolent existence; I get decent internet, the colleagues are blasé, the tasks are far & few and I very rarely have to stay back after 6 pm. If this sounds too good to be true, it isn't. If it also sounds like a retirement home labour racket or life at Blandings without the humour, then yes, perhaps that comes closest to the general state of affairs.

In less than a week it will have been 1 year since I came to Bombay, eager to start anew in the Maximum city, wondering whether I'd be able to handle the hurly-burly speed of life and having nightmares about finding myself in Dombivili station when I really wanted to get to Churchgate. I have worked before, often in shady conditions, but this was my first job (even if the pay was bare minimum) and I was excited. However, there was one little thing.

Citizens of Bombay will tell you that the biggest question after rent considerations is the length & variety of the commute to work. By variety, I mean the very real possibility of having to take a rickshaw to the bus station, taking a bus to the train station, taking a train to whichever station was closest to work & then taking either a bus, rickshaw or taxi to the actual workplace. True story. Of course, I haven't even touched upon the topic of forcing yourself on & off a train, standing on the foot-board of a jam-packed bus, the traffic jams or staggering around wearily while the heat & humidity left you less human & more an old sponge.

I got lucky, in that I walk to the train station, cross over to the east, take one bus to work & another back, with a minimum of fuss. Keeping in mind the nonchalant office atmosphere & the rather easy commute, I assume some of you may just be a shade jealous of my professional life. So, I go back to the idea espoused in para 1; the small comforts & the eventual acceptance of the routine can very easily lull you into a stupor, waking up from which gets harder as time passes.

I resigned today. Yes, I have another offer in hand & all that. A fork in the road was reached, I have chosen & for once, it is not the road less travelled. There's a Seinfeld joke about the road, but that's another story. The small comforts have sadly reached their Battle of Plassey & it was with a twinge of something that I submitted the letter. I do not know if it was the pang of sadness or that of regret. Maybe acidity. All the same, the man who was excited & apprehensive about a new job, a new life in a new city, is now excited & apprehensive about a new job. Life goes on & Bombay, while no longer so new, is indifferent to the fate of its people.

A birthday boy told me about this song & it seems apt.

Song for the moment: Grounds for Divorce - Elbow