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