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