Tuesday, December 11

Immortality

I want to read.

Every book that I've ever looked at, found interesting but passed on because I knew time could not, or would not, be made for it. Even if it is just the first few chapters; even if I am bored by the Page 10, even if I admit that I can't understand or enjoy something others understand or laud.

Second-hand, yellowing, well-preserved, hardbound.

I want to do this endlessly; never having to worry about the trivialities and mundanities of life. Like the question of food, money or opinions. Or phone calls.

I want to do this curled up on a comfortable sofa, in a room filled with 2-in-the-afternoon & shaded by curtains light, with a gentle breeze swishing through the trees.

I want to do this at night, tucked into a cozy bed, a washcloth tied around my night lamp to soften the light, with just the sound of crickets chirping.   

I want to do this sitting in quiet, dark passages of a library, surrounded by aisles and aisles, and silence.

I want to get lost in the pages and the plots. Get so engrossed and embroiled that I become the characters and experience everything and every place they do.

I want mum's tea & dosas, pongal & chutney and milagu rasam & ladyfingers curry, to give perfect breaks whenever I tire.

I want to live one perfect winter vacation day from my childhood.

Over and over.

Song for the moment: Smiles and smiles to go - Larry Carlton 

Tuesday, November 20

Flip, Flop & Fly

Any friend or family who wishes to deliver my elegy can begin with the words "He didn't go looking for trouble. It found him... often."

As most of you would already know, setting up stuff in a new house is no joke. When you've lived with room mates and semi-furnished houses for as long as I have, you tend to take certain things like sofas, refrigerators and washing machines for granted. My new place had none of these and since I'm not exactly made of money, the furniture and appliances were ranked by necessity and importance.

The stove came first, followed by the fridge, the washing machine and the seating paraphernalia (yes, I don't really encourage visitors). I bought the stove locally and it was delivered without any trouble. I then went fridge shopping at Vijay Sales and blanched a little when I saw the prices. I decided to give Flipkart and their recently launched Home Appliances section a shot.

Flipkart has always delivered my books on time, neatly packaged, discounted and whathaveyou. So you can't really blame me for expecting their other product services to be just as impressive. I found a fridge with the specifications I wanted, in my price range. This, on EMI too! They delivered the box promptly on a Saturday morning. I was told that only the product manufacturer's (Videocon) rep was allowed to open the box and 'install' the fridge. So I waited, assuming he'd be arriving right behind the delivery guys.

On Tuesday afternoon, having seen neither hide nor hair of said personage, I called Flipkart wondering if they'd sent me the Ark of the Covenant by mistake. An earnest employee assured me that they'd get right on it. In the evening, I get a call from the Phantom, a.k.a Videocon's service rep, who says he will show up on Thursday afternoon (Wednesday was Dussehra). I asked him what exactly he was to 'install'. He said that meant he would plug the wire into the socket.

I opened the box myself that night. And survived the ordeal of plugging it in.

The fridge looked was different from the one I'd ordered. My order was for a 4-star piece, whereas the sticker on this fridge obstinately maintained that it was a 3-star one. I then began an online correspondence series with Flipkart that, one day, no doubt will be part of a book called "My experiments with online shopping". The Flipkart fellows assured me (they'd make terrific counsellors) so many times that they'd escalated the issue that it could have reached the moon for all I know. Then they asked me to send photos of the fridge, the box, the bill, my house, me in various suggestive poses, the neighbourhood, tigers in the wild, and so on and so forth.

Yet, it wasn't solving anything because the Videocon guys wanted to come by and verify the details of the fridge and stubbornly refused to call and verify when I'd be in the house. Eventually, they cottoned on to that fact, swung by and did the needful. The model number mentioned on the box, and the fridge were the same. That left only 2 options:

1. Flipkart was engaging in some slightly false advertising
2. They'd fucked up the order with Videocon

Either way, it was on their head. Eventually, I was given some sob story about Videocon changing the specifications and not informing Flipkart and how they were sorry, yada yada yada. The fridge was not going to change but I was offered compensation of Rs. 600 for the trouble. I told them to come back with a better offer since I was convinced there was something fishy afoot. Some time later, this offer was raised to Rs. 750. The guy assured (Again!) me the amount would be credited into my Flipkart wallet within 24 hours.

That was on Thursday. I'm still waiting*.

"My experiments with online shopping - Volume 2" anyone?

Song for the moment: We used to wait - Arcade Fire

* I emailed Flipkart on Friday night. On Sunday, they call saying there are some 'technical difficulties' with the system, but the money would be processed by Monday. Uhuh.   

* Update: Finally, after another strongly worded email, the miracle has happened (22 Nov.)         

Friday, November 16

Wide open spaces

Space, or at least the idea of it, is a funny thing. Growing up, I never had my own room; I shared it with my younger sibling till I moved abroad. And maybe this is a commentary on the middle-class mentality of my generation - I never felt any urgent need for a room to myself in all that time... even during the 'teenage angst' years. When I think of my parents' childhood and remember the 1 BHKs that each of their sizeable families called home, it made my house seem like a palace. And, even though I didn't know it then, the situation gave me two things. Firstly, the ability to adapt and use any space available. Secondly, the trick of losing myself completely in any book I was reading, no matter what yoga asan type posture I happened to be in at the time. Although the flexibility stunts are no longer possible, time being a nasty old so-and-so, I still retain the two former abilities. And boy, have they come in handy.

When I moved to the States for that wonderfully Indian rite of passage known as 'further studies', I wasn't naive enough to think I'd be living in the lap of luxury. But I didn't think I was going to live in the groin of poverty either. As it happened, I ended up in the vicinity of the belly button - close enough to have to share a room and far enough to only have to share it with one guy - Batman, whom I've written about before.

(Incidentally, he is getting married pretty soon, like a lot of my other friends. Guess the missus will get used to sleeping with the lights on as well.)

That room was pretty big, so we each had our own side, with an invisible line demarcating the boundary. The system worked splendidly for the 2 years we lived there, although I did have to live out of my suitcase, and use my huge stack of books as a makeshift table on occasion. But we were 24, it was college and besides, there was always Guinness.

However, when moving back to India, I told myself that no matter what the rent, I would live by myself. Enough was enough. Then I reached Bombay, spoke to a few brokers and gently recalibrated my expectations. For the next 3.5 years, I shared a 1 BHK with a room mate. And here again, let me reiterate - space, or the idea of it, is a funny thing. It was not a large house. Within 6 months of us moving in, the kitchen wall had seeped so badly, it looked like slightly fishy paneer. It was incredibly dusty. Twice, the overhead tank burst, flooding parts of the house. It did not even have a washbasin. There were a lot of centipedes. Also a few lizards. And let's not even mention the incident of the rat.

But I thought it was great, simply because of everything, barring the house itself. It was close to the station, close to my friends' houses, close enough to the pubs and restaurants (Lemon Grass, I miss you so!). So, I stubbornly stayed blind to the deteriorating state of the place, caught up in the fever of having a semi-decent house, at an awesome rent. As a bachelor, I figured the one room I had to myself was more than enough space. But it happens. At least in Bombay.

That's until I was forced to move thanks to... err, extenuating circumstances, shall we say? You've probably read about it previous posts anyway. Anyway, I now live in a lovely place, in a leafy, quiet neighbourhood. For the first time in a long time (I lived in Cambodia alone for 6 months), I live by myself. And I love it, both the house and the amount of space I have in it. Let's face it - as far as space is concerned, I've done the hard yards for a long time. Now, I get to really appreciate it.

Song for the moment: Freedom and its owner - Kings of Convenience       

Tuesday, October 23

The Hassle

Now that I've shifted houses, there's a couple of things I'd like to share. Call it advice if you will. Or a warning.
  1. If you're shifting out of a nice home located in a fancyish part of Bombay because you're having issues with the nutter masquerading as your room mate, consider not shifting. There are easier alternatives; one of which would only require you to dispose of the corpse. And as we all know from the papers, there are plenty of places to do that in this city. 
  2. Unless you're in a financial situation where you're holding down two jobs and considering selling one of your less vital organs, think about investing a few shekels in professional packers and movers. It spares you the vision of your room swamped in a sea of plastic bags containing the surprisingly large trove of your possessions. 
  3. Of course, you'll miss one or more of the bags in the ensuing melee of moving. And those bags will, by definition, have something you think is very important. Like underwear, for example. Or kitchen knives.
  4. Ask your close friends to help you move. Apart from staving off the inevitable ennui, you can also avoid the possible hernia you suffer when attempting to pick up the box telly or suitcase.
  5. If you're thinking about procuring a vehicle to move stuff in, don't choose your cousin's ancient Maruti 800. Or, if you do, make sure that it really is in working condition. Including the air conditioning. Otherwise, what will happen is - 
  6. You take the car out at 1:30 pm on a Saturday, since that's when there's the least amount of traffic. Theoretically. In sweltering heat, in a stifling box on wheels, you will find S.V road jammed with every loony in the city, meaning that you only drive in 1st or 2nd gear. Then, about 10 minutes from your destination, you notice smoke emanating from the bonnet. A minute later, the car stops. 
  7. You get out, and with the help of a good samaritan, push the damn thing to a side. Curse softly and steadily for a couple of minutes. Call your friend and tell him that the moving has been postponed. Singe your hand while opening the now broiling bonnet cover. And then get lucky. 
  8. Not that way. 
  9. There's a mechanic on the opposite side of the road, who hems & haws for a bit, opens the radiator cap and announces helpfully that there's no water in it. Which, you point out to him in a martyred voice, you already knew. He then earns his 100 Rs. by pouring water into the radiator, only to cause a lava of gunk and rust to erupt out of it. The car is then started.
  10. Maybe its frustration brought on by the heat, the traffic, or your non-existent sex life. Whatever the reason, you suddenly develop a raging devil-may-care attitude and decide to continue driving to your old house anyway. 
  11. You don't call your friend and tell him about the change of plan. Instead, you move everything by yourself, only to discover that the washing stand and the ironing board will not fit into the car, come what may. 
  12. You realise you'll have to come back for them on Sunday. 
  13. You begin the drive back to the new place. A kilometre after the mechanic's place, the car stops again. You extricate yourself out of the rust heap, rope in another good samaritan and push the car to the side. Again.
  14. You wonder what you have done to deserve this. 
  15. You begin to giggle hysterically.
  16. The car starts 10 minutes later and you drive home. 
  17. You would willingly slay someone for a beer. Instead, you begin unpacking and arranging stuff. Your cousin invites you to dinner, so you shower and drag yourself to his place, eat and come back to the house. Look in the mirror and notice that you're now the colour of well-done toast.
  18. At 10:30 pm, you pass out on the bed.
  19. On Sunday morning, you're introduced to a new level of body ache. Also, you realise you have to go back and pick up the rest of the stuff. 
  20. You take the train.   
Song for the moment: It's a raggy waltz - The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Friday, October 19

The strangest party

Tomorrow, I'm moving out of the house I've lived in for the last 3.5 years. All good things come to an end and all that jazz. As far as this house is concerned, I've been lucky. It has all the amenities I needed, its close to all the places that matter in Bombay (train station, bus depot and Bandra) and it was affordable. I should have left when my previous room mate flew off to foreign parts, but chose to stay because of the incredible convenience of the place. If you read my previous post though, things haven't been that great around the house any more... and I woke up one morning and knew I had to move out.

Except for half a year in Phnom Penh, I've shared accommodations with different people since '06. I know that living with these people has made a positive difference to my life, teaching me to be more tolerant and independent. But it is time to live solo, especially as '30' is creeping ever closer. Even as I mentally went through the logistics of moving out, I wondered when the sadness and nostalgia would kick in. The house has a boatload of memories for me, more rich in some emotions than others. Yet, the days ticked away steadily and there was nothing. Just a feeling of relief that I was getting out of there, which was surprising and unfair.

Then, a couple of days back, a friend called in the evening. We made plans to meet at the Gymkhana down the road, where we've been countless times before. A few hours, beers and whiskeys later, I bid him goodbye and began my walk home. It was a little past midnight. All around me was the quiet thrum of a warm autumn night, pebble-dash shadow patterns thrown by the rain trees on the road, and the silent battle between the cold light of the moon and that of the street lamps. I've walked, stumbled, reeled and staggered up the road so many times before - both alone and with numerous friends. As I came up to my building gate and began the familiar process of hollering at the sleeping watchman to open the gate, it hit me - this would be the last time.

That's when I felt grateful. For it all.

Song for the moment: Hearts in the night - Bedouin Soundclash          

Thursday, August 30

Should have known better

So, room mates.

6 years ago, when I first moved to the U.S., they seemed a mysterious species, giving ample opportunities for exasperation, bewilderment and of course, humour. College really is largely about these emotions, and my first roomies left me with a cornucopia of fond memories on strange habits, beliefs, cooking styles, diets and other assorted practices.

When I moved to Bombay in 2009, an assortment of circumstances led me to share a house with my now ex-roomie, A. Having known each other as neighbours in Pune for years prior to moving in together, we weren't called upon to recalibrate our expectations, ideas or living styles. We respected each other's privacy and predilections, most of our communication being thoroughly brusque in typical guys style. After 3.5 years, he went off to phoren parts to study, leaving me to either find a new house or a new room mate. This was in May.

Determined as I was to live by myself for the first time since 2006, there were geographic and financial factors that coughed gently and shook their heads disapprovingly in my direction. As I was about to give up hope and haul myself away into the suburbs, some long-distance connection of A showed up and moved in. As I said in 'High Speed', everyone was satisfied. I should have known better.

Now, Mod and Grandpa set the bar very high on room mate eccentricity. If I can be frank, and I can, I'd say I never expected to meet another set of people like them. And I haven't. I've met (and am currently rooming with) the guy they took notes from. Ladies, gentlemen and other assorted sundries, I introduce to you, Anthony Perkins. Not the man himself, but let's just say, if they ever decided to do a proper remake of Psycho (not that Vince Vaughn crap), this is the guy who should get the title role.

He looks a bit like Norman Bates and, gathering from my experiences over the last 2 months, is tapping into some rich supernatural vein of inspiration from that legendary icon of thrill & madness. The guy seemed normal when we first met. But they all do. Heck, even Mod did. But he triggered off a chain of strange events that continue till today.

First off, our gas cylinder decided to pack it in 1 day after he moved in. Usually, there's those big orange flames that indicate that its running low, but not this time. Can't blame him for that, right? A couple of days later, he happened to not notice a glass that was sitting on his table, a few inches from his face and swept it right off. Gravity did the rest. No biggie. He locked himself out of the house that weekend, and since I wasn't there, the landlord was forced to come from his house (not anywhere nearby, mind you) to open the door. The ante was upped when I was out of town for a week, with the flooding of the house when the washing machine's outlet pipe came off. Of course, the house wouldn't have flooded if someone had noticed the considerable amount of water creeping across the floor, but that's neither here nor there.

Then came the day when I came back from work and discovered that the iron had been left on for approximately 13 hours. After which I came back from a weekend in Pune to find that the cooker was being used as a steam-inhalation vessel (for a very blocked nose) because someone did not believe in searching the kitchen cupboards for another, more appropriate vessel. He can also, apparently, stand the smell of very rotting fruit. Or thinks the garbage bag will come alive one day and politely walk out of the door by itself. Actually, if that bag had been there another day, this was a strong possibility. 

Then came the day Reliance Energy came to the house and inexplicably cut off the power, 2 days before the bill's due date. This has nothing to do with Norman, but I'm just saying. My prayers. Slowly and surely.

After that, things were relatively quiet for the last week, basically because we were both busy with work and I wasn't here on weekends. I began to relax. Stupid mistake. Today morning, I open the door to the loo, only to reel backward thanks to a strong smell of jasmine. There's also a lot of water everywhere. I ask Norman about it, who mentions that he cleaned the place, culminating the exercise by wiping down the commode seat with Lizol. Yea, the stuff we use, diluted in a bucket of water, to clean floors. I explained to him why the skin of his buttocks was a valuable thing to continue having, and then proceeded to clean the commode with a LOT of water.

Some days, I wonder whether it isn't time for me to become a hermit and head for the hills.
Or get married.

Still, to be fair to Norman, I gotta say...

Song for the moment: You're only human - Billy Joel

Thursday, August 23

We used to wait

So the day has come.

The team sheet doesn't have the name.

At the usual early wicket (being 100/0 is anathema to our openers, apparently. In India. Against NZ. Heaven help them abroad), the name doesn't appear at number 3 any longer.

No one strides out of the pavilion, practising the straight-drive with metronomic accuracy.

The umpire is not politely asked for the middle-off (lately middle-leg) mark.

The side stance, head back and straight, is gone.

The bat has stopped tapping in an ever-increasing tempo.  

Grace has left.
Technique has bid adieu.
Reassurance has retired.

Test cricket feels strange and incomplete. 

Song for the moment: Who knows where the time goes - Nina Simone 

Monday, August 6

Another ticket

He stares at the screen, mesmerised by the rhythm of the blinking line. The blank page stares back, challenging him to put down something... meaningful. He isn't one of those writers who sit down and pound a steady 1000 words a day. He is not much of a topical writer. Unless someone wants to know about endless local train journeys and the emotional vacuum of a single man's life in Bombay. On that subject, he's close to being an expert. But he's tired of writing about it and his waning audience is no longer interested. Apparently, there are only so many ways to skin a cat. 

So, what kind of writer is he? He doesn't know. At some level, he doesn't care. He only writes when he feels like it. In recent times, he has not wanted to. He catches the faint scent of the idea for a post every now and then, but it drifts away, leaving him with a peculiar hollowness. Like he had something to say, but forgot, and can no longer even remember whether it was important or trivial. For him, it is easier not to try. A friend of his is fulfilling a long cherished dream. He thinks about these ideas - dreams, cherishing something, having dreams to cherish... his train of thought goes around a circular track. Goes nowhere. 

He has been ill recently. He falls ill infrequently, but viciously. It happened to him last year. And the year before. Only, this time it is a little different. Something, perhaps the rope tethering his resolve, has snapped. He had borne the city before. Now he finds he cannot. Or does not want to. Most people in his shoes would choose to do something about it. Not him. There was a point where he would use the situation to write piece after piece, tinged with helpess humour. Now, it all drains away. 

He had gone for a week to his firm's head office in another city. It involved overnight train journeys. It meant the train would go through his home city, pass very close to his neighbourhood, and even halt at the station. He saw the road he had ridden his bike on countless times. He followed it as far as his eyes and the window would let him and imagined being home. He thought about how close he had come 8 months earlier to shifting back home permanently. He wondered...

On the journey, he saw things that left an impression. At Solapur - an old man, the colour of mahogany, in cream kurta and dhoti, with a yellow turban. His walking staff is the same colour as his skin. The old man stands, waiting. On the train, he watches; feels a powerful, unknown connection with the man. They are both waiting. For something. At Wadi - a young railway policeman, silhouetted against the sickly light struggling from an office. He is visibly struggling against the mosquitoes. On the train, he wonders what this young man dreams about. 

The visit is a blur. A week passes by and only two things remain with him. The tangible pleasure of being in a nice hotel, and wonderment at the poise and equanimity of a colleague who recently suffered bereavement and legal trouble at the same time. He wonders whether it is time to let go. To make peace. 
 
On the return journey, he is initially seated alone in a two-person compartment. He has stopped caring about travelling companions. His companion is a portly old man, a political bigwig who's valet comes to prepare the bed. The minister suffers from regular and very loud bouts of flatulence. The night is not peaceful. Fortunately, the retinue gets off at Gulbarga in the morning. He is left alone again. He reads and stares out of the window; sees things that he files away in his head. A lonely silver Indica incongrously appearing in the middle of a field. An ancient, stone tank, indicating the foresight of past rulers of the area. Houses with the barest excuse for roofs but with proudly burnished satellite television equipment. Sets of train tracks suddenly ending in mounds of green earth. 

The train pulls into his city of work. He is just another person getting out of the station and becoming lost in the teeming mass of people. He thinks he has something to write about, at last. A moment later, he can't remember what that is.

Song for the moment: Pretending - Eric Clapton

Tuesday, July 10

High speed

So, another hiatus from blogging, thanks to work, the house hunt and the inability to resolve the problem of having things to say, but not a satisfactory way to convey them.

The housing situation was resolved, as these things are wont to do, practically by itself. For a couple of weeks after the last post, I manfully roamed around Bandra, Khar and Santacruz with brokers, looking at various decrepit and overpriced 1-room houses. It was a depressing exercise and I caught myself wondering how desperate one would have to get before agreeing to such unfair terms. Fortunately, I was saved the trouble of finding out. A friend of the room mate (now ex-roomie) was new in town and looking for a place. He saw the house, recognised a good deal and moved in. Everyone was satisfied.

Work is... well, work. Aptly named.

 The rains are here, finally. Considering how intermittent they have been, calling them the monsoons would be insulting past seasons.

After staying loyal to the simple Nokia phone since 2004, I finally bit the dust and switched brands. To Apple. Specifically the iPhone 4. Since it would be only the 3rd ever phone I owned, massive amounts of justification happened with myself to pay for it. Thank the lord for interest-free EMIs is all I'm saying. It is a lovely phone though.

Although I've been in Bombay for 4 years now, I still marvel at the number of people out on the roads after 10 pm. While returning from yet another Pune weekend, the bus took the flyover at Khodadad circle and I watched the sea of humanity swarming around below. With a soft curtain of rain lit by the orange street lights, it should have been a heart-warming scene. A celebration of life. Of being alive.

However it left me jaded and indifferent, rather than inspired. Almost like a grey mist is creeping slowly through my vision of the city and my life here. This melancholic feeling was brought home even more strongly as took the main over-bridge at Dadar. Crossing over to the west, I noticed a man sleeping in a corner. I can't say whether he was old or young. But he looked exhausted. A monkey sat next to him, looking around curiously. Or hungrily, perhaps. A rope was tied from the monkey's waist to the man's leg.

On the staircase leading to the platform sat a woman with a baby. The ludicrous nature of this scene hit me instantly; you could exchange the baby with the monkey and it would leave almost the same effect. Who's life would be better? The baby's or the monkey's?

On the platform, there was a huge commotion. A youngish woman was standing on the track and refusing to move, even as her husband, holding their baby, was coaxing, threatening and begging her to get back on to the platform. I wondered if she had had enough of her life and wanted to end it. Considering how people without money live in Bombay, who knows whether it was justified. Eventually, she was dragged on to the platform by the husband, who then tried to give her the baby. She turned around and walked away, cursing and shouting at him. I wondered what the baby's life would be like.

Bombay teaches you the power of money. Not in the citadels of finance, but out on the roads, with the chaiwallahs, the small snack stalls, waiters at restaurants, beggars, brokers and others at the outer edge of poverty. Every day, the city reminds you that it is better to have money than not. That it is easy to get caught up in routines. That, were it not for happenstance, one could easily have been the baby, the monkey or even the woman on the tracks. 

Song for the moment: Aap ki aankhon mein - Kishore & Lata (OST Ghar)    

Wednesday, May 23

Here we go again

Any conversation about Bombay generally includes the following - the unbelievable crowds, the distances people usually have to travel, train schedules, the weather and of course, rents. 

Sometime in the future (assuming the Mayans are wrong), there will be a whole school of finance and architecture dedicated to the hyper-inflated, flagrant violation of decency and humanity that is the Bombay rent scenario. Since the number of people who've discussed, debated and despaired over it is beyond count, I won't waste your time with grandiloquent phrases about it. Bombay rents are inexplicably high. 

A space that, in any other city, would be reserved for the broom cupboard, will, in Bombay, have 2 beds and a desk parked in it, accompanied by an oily-looking broker holding a sign saying "Paying Guest accommodation - strategically located next to Whatchamacallit Station and Stinkstohighheavenwadi". Price negotiable (which means, you could have the bed depending on the sale price of a kidney on the day).

And the funny thing is, newcomers to the city are always confident about finding a lovely apartment in Bandra (or if overly optimistic, town) for the price of a very fetching town-house at whatever backwater you've come from. Within a week, reality kicks in. You can rent that 1 BHK in Bandra West all right. Along with 4 other people. After agreeing to sleep in turns and follow a very strictly regulated bathroom timetable. Because lord knows, everyone has to catch that particular train at the exact same time. If, heaven forbid, you even think about wanting a house in the fancier part of Bombay (town), you'll probably be directed to a pipe by the side of the road, which you can share with 3 others and the neighbourhood dog. At night. During the day, it is a vada-pav stall, you see.

So, after a few weeks you will choose one of two things. Either a house with one or more room mates in a decently okay part of the city (i.e. Goregaon and further north). Or a lovely 1 BHK within your budget. At Virar or Dahanu Road.   

Yes, I know about my pointed silence on options on the Central Line. In my defence, I know nothing about that part of Bombay except that the train schedules and crowds make grown men blanch. 'Nuff said. 

Personally, I've come out a little lucky in this housing racket. The room mate and I found a very nice, mostly furnished 1 BHK for rent about 4 years ago. In a moment of weakness, the owner and broker quoted a price which we jumped on, whooping and hooting. In that time, there have been a few quibbles of course. The overhead water tank flooded the house a couple of times. We also have an idiot masquerading as the watchman; he sleeps off at night, after locking the gate at 11 pm. To make sure no one disturbs him, he has earphones plugged into his phone and the piped music ensures that no amount of screaming, shouting, horn-tooting or begging wakes him up. But these have just added to the charm of things. 

As some bloke said, all good things must come to an end. Why, I wonder. The room mate is leaving for foreign parts and I've decided to live by myself, so we're giving up the place and I have to find a new one by July. Now, no one in their right minds will ever accuse me of optimism, so I was not expecting to find a 1 RK in the general vicinity for the price I had in mind. Still, after having spoken to a few brokers yesterday, the ground realities of rent increase in the last 4 years have been brought home emphatically. 

I am in serious trouble, readers. The great house-hunt game is on.

Song for the moment: Chasing pavements - Adele      

Monday, May 21

Tick of the clock

There's a pretty simple test I use to see whether my work+job+workplace is bringing me any semblance of happiness - the morning email emotion.

When I'm remotely satisfied with the state of my employment, checking work email for the first time in the day holds no terrors. It is just something I do every morning. Like brushing my teeth. So ingrained in routine that I don't have to think about it. If new emails appear from colleagues, clients or heaven forbid, bosses, its OK. I'll do what is needed.

But, the moment the job becomes unpleasant, the work email acquires a different hue. To be fair, it takes a fair amount of time and the collapse of a lot of variables before I reach that state of unhappiness. Still, once that line has been crossed, there's almost no going back. Like the classic snowball gag, it can only go downhill, steadily becoming bigger and more destructive until it reaches the bottom where the village that is my career, slumbers uneasily. If remotely fortunate, I'll manage to get out with what passes for dignity these days. If not, well...

Getting back to the point, the email test is this - if the work atmosphere has become rotten, when I'm signing into my account, I feel a very tangible sense of dread. I obsess about what new horribly berating email could come from Management or what molehill has the client turned into a mountain or what dull new project has come along, bringing with it a host of late nights, weekend work angst and eventual indifference to quality of work. 

For me, this test is pretty foolproof. It happened at my previous workplace and eventually, I had to change jobs. In my current one, I was pretty happy. Sure, the hours are long but the creative rush and positive atmosphere was nice. Then came the month of May.        

And that dreadful feeling has taken root again. 

Now what?

Song for the moment: Theme from Jaws - John Williams           

Sunday, April 29

Killing yourself to live

Hello. I won't say "I'm back!" since I never left. Still, its been a month and something since I last posted, so its nice to greet anyone who is still faithfully visiting the site. It has been a torrid April and I don't just mean weather-wise, although most Indians will shrug at that last sentiment and ask - So what's new? Not only is summer officially here, it has arrived with some maha vengeance. Bombay is steaming, and the only way to escape the heat is to get to work dreadfully early and leave well after sunset. 

Funnily enough, my work over the past month has meant exactly that. In fact, the workload at the new place has conditioned me into thinking there's something very wrong on the oft chance that I do leave the office whilst the last shreds of daylight linger on. I've been contributing to some biggie product+brand launch project, so this is the first weekend in 5 that I've not gone to work on a Saturday or Sunday. Yea, it was like that. 

Anyway, let us get to the theme of this post, which is, surprise-surprise, work-related. After weeks of slogging it out, I was feeling slightly relaxed and pleased with myself on Friday morning. One phone call from my boss changed that completely. It was, without exaggeration, the worst professional conversation I have ever had. Actually, wait. Conversation implies that I said something, which would be false. In 5 years, I've never had anyone speak to me like that at work. Ever. I was excoriated. Now, I'm sincere when it comes to the quality of my work i.e. I can't be accused of being lazy when proof-reading or providing copy. I take pride in my work, so letting shabby stuff go out is not my thing. And when I commit a mistake, I put my hand up, accept it and take whatever is dished out. 

The Friday incident had almost nothing to do with me. Since I work in a team, I can accept having to share the responsibility and cop some flak. But, to get that kind of a phone call and have my faculties and attitude questioned, without any chance of providing any defence that would be accepted, is not something I can accept easily. Okay, so I can already see a boat-load of experienced pros shrug and say they've seen and experienced worse. That's your problem, frankly, because this is not a competition. I have a problem with being made the fall-guy. And in an industry, where we're the vendors for clients who barely respect/believe in what we do and have no problems airing it, this is more than I need to take. 

The thing I have a problem with most of all is - I can't win here. Maybe some of you can identify with what I'm trying to say. No matter what logical precept I give, it is guaranteed to get shot down by a fusillade of accusations and dismissals. So let me just say here what I (and probably anyone else who's in similar shoes) can never say to Management's face. 

I am human. I make mistakes. I cannot be on the mark and perfect 100% of the time. If you can, good for you, because you're the only one on the planet who thinks so. I try my hardest to do my work sincerely. No, I'm not obliged to take the fall for someone else's incompetence, nincompoopery and lack of professionalism. Like teams are supposed to take responsibility, so are individuals. No, I don't give a flying fuck about business development; I have a work title and I live up to it. So should you. You want me to care about the company? Its a two-way street. Do not make mountains out of molehills. Customers/Clients are NEVER satisfied. I know it. You know it. So, stop wasting your breath trying to convince me otherwise. And while we're on the subject - Customers & clients - Just like you do your job without me advising you on how to do it, let me do mine without you telling me how. You may know English, but you don't know and can't do what I do. If you could, you would be doing it. You can't believe in the fact that I give my best? Re-visit your fuck-all deadlines. Do not think I will ever be okay with working on weekends. Believe me, it will reflect in the work eventually, because much as I like what I do, it is still work. And another thing - there is no such thing as perfect content/copy. I am not you. I cannot think like you. Ergo, I will never come up with the same phrase that is in your head. 

I can and do try to get better at my work. All the time. You don't buy that? Your loss.

I don't understand why Management would think using negative reinforcement is a good way to run a company and a team. If you are not happy with someone's work, either tell them to improve or leave. Berating them and/or insulting them constantly is not a solution. 

A war of attrition will only lead to a Pyrrhic victory - Me. 

I like my job. I like coming in to work. For now.

Song for the moment: Sister - The Black Keys             

Monday, March 19

Black and white

This post has been held back, for good reasons. It was written when I read Atul's latest post last week and was struck by the coincidence.

After 20 years, I wrote a letter and posted it on Tuesday. I've been in love with the idea of writing and receiving letters for as long as I can remember. I've even written about it on the blog, a long time ago. The question, easily asked, would be - why take the trouble? After all, email is easily accessible, free, convenient and costs nothing. I'm not anti-technology or anything; plenty of emails have been written to a lot of people and there are days I read through some of the old stuff and wonder about how the serious problems of the past can seem childish, petulant or even laughable in the present. But, such is life. One grows, shrugs off every passing year like a skin, only keeping the lessons. Some of us become older, if not wiser and both age and knowledge can soften the sharpest of experiences.In the 21st century, old emails mark our journey and its perfectly natural.  

But email doesn't have that. Even though a voice in your head is asking you to be rational and understand that its just a figment of your imagination, there is a warmth that a letter is capable of lighting in your heart. Even as you look for a letter-opener (I still have one), you can't help smiling; which is silly, since the letter could very well be bad news. On the other hand, it could be someone sharing something of their life; a description, an idea, an experience, a learning... something nondescript to everyone in the world. Except you.
  
Its only to you. For you. That, in this increasingly information-overloaded, over-connected, blase world, is still something special. 

So, superficially, this letter I penned (literally... fountain pen and everything) was the fulfilment of a promise to do so. I'm not sure if the promise was made to the friend.

Or to myself.

But, I'm glad I wrote it.

I have to say, though, that letter-writing has become a privileged and expensive proposition. Letter pads, envelopes, stamps, gum... the list goes on. And when, on a sunny afternoon in Bombay, you enter the sleepy post office and ask for an envelope with the familiar white, blue & red stripes and the 'Par Avion' stamp, you are told, "Sorry, we don't have any. Try the stationery next door." Its a moment rich in irony, pathos and humour. And if writing a letter will let me live more such moments, then that is a wonderful thing.

Song for the moment: Sunday morning - The Velvet Underground

P.S: To be on the safe side, I bought a lot of envelopes. Who knows when they'll go completely out of fashion, no?

Friday, March 9

Thursday, March 1

Do nothing till you hear from me

This is not a rant. Or a whine. Just saying. 

A couple of days back, someone put up a flex-poster (that's how specific you get in advertising, apparently) with some of Henry Miller's quotes on writing. By itself, these Commandments are an interesting read. Inspiring even. But, in the context of an ad agency, they seem a little smarmy.

Right off the bat, there's no doubt that Miller knew his onions when it came to writing, and from what I gather from his Wiki page, living a pretty bohemian life. A great writer who knew it. Therefore, when confronted with his thoughts on the subject, the man on the street can safely read, appreciate, agree, admire and move on. Which I did, the first time around. After a couple of days' hard labour, working towards the demands of the nutters passing themselves off as our discerning patrons, the charm wears off. I was tempted to add a little bit of graffiti suggesting that Mr. Miller ought to interact with some of my clients and then apply his beliefs. Considering his personality, he probably would, have. He'd have enjoyed the subsequent spell of unemployment too, I reckon.

When I first started working in my current job, my head was buzzing with ideas. Not the crazy, half-cocked, pseudo-edgy stuff, mind. But I remember thinking that cracking a creative idea was like a piece of cheese being worried from various angles by rats. I wanted the buzzing in my mind to take a rest. Nowadays, there's silence in there all right. But its sepulchral, not blessed. The volume of work has got to a point where my brain has gone into creative stasis. I just trundle out whatever copy is needed, without giving it much thought. Not a great situation to be in, but then again, neither is unemployment, eh?

I took a leaf out of Miller's book (Point no. 7, to be precise) and saw Carnage yesterday. Had a proper laugh, after a long time. Maybe there's something in what the geezer said after all.

Song for the moment: Somebody that I used to know - Gotye

Wednesday, February 22

Don't you remember?

Memories need no invitation. They're already inside the house of your mind, unobtrusively living in various nooks, crannies and forgotten attics. You'll run into them every now and then; depending on their personality, you'll feel sad, happy or just wistful. Today seems the kind of day that I'm going to run into songs from my past.

Making some space for myself in a crowded train compartment this morning, I suddenly thought about Nirvana's 'Come as you are', a song that took me back to college, a spring day in Pune, lunch at a friend's place in Lohegaon and Ketan's gutsy attempt to sound like Cobain. We stood around, listening to him give it his all, and none of us had the heart to say out loud that he was woefully off key. Maybe he knew it and didn't care. Who knows? Isn't the spirit of college the freedom to try? And isn't it funny that we only realise how much more we could have done after we've left?

Rushing through various nondescript assignments at work, I was feeling increasingly ragged. Outside, it was, and as I type this, still is a lovely, balmy day in Mumbai. The summer heat will be upon us in no time and its best to try and enjoy days like these. Ruminating on this, I thought back to a few days ago, when a friend had shared a link to some lovely old photos of Mumbai life. As I went through them, I saw fragments of a childhood home in Goregaon. The home is gone and Goregaon itself has changed into something else altogether from the cozy, friendly place it was 30 years ago. And just like that, a long-forgotten memory came floating in the wind.

A small living room, two sofas making an L on one side of the room, various people seated or lying on the floor, which is a lovely pink marble speckled with various other stones. It is mid-afternoon and the smell of boiling water (yes it has a smell) and filter coffee powder is wafting slowly from the kitchen. There is a child, sitting close to its mother, who is in conversation with her two brothers. The television is on and the kid, all of 3 years & a bit, is watching the song playing on the screen. I guess, if you are of a certain vintage, you'll recognise the nostalgia the boy associates with the song today, on another spring afternoon, many years later. Maybe you'll even smile and shake a leg...

Song for the moment: Yaar bina chain kaha re - OST Saaheb (1985)

Sunday, February 12

Imitation of life

Bombay makes it very easy to get sucked into the rhythm of work and the peculiar energy that permeates every nook and gutter in the city affects people in two ways.

It can, for instance, trick you into thinking that 2 hour commutes to your office are a normal thing. An ex-colleague would come from Vashi to Wadala on one train, take another from Wadala to Andheri and a third from there to Goregaon. Fighting ugly crowds all the way. His other option was to take an auto to the Vashi bus depot, and then take a 2 hour bus ride to Goregaon. He'd sometimes switch between these two hells. For variety, I suppose.

On the other hand, another bloke I know, who could be described as being a shade like the Marquis de Carabas, will refuse any job opportunity that doesn't appear between Bandra and Juhu, because he doesn't like to travel in Bombay. I see his point. Funnily enough, I see both their points of view as being reasonable.

Anyway, because of all this 'work-work-travel-travel-make money' prancing, its easy to become blind to the entertainment the city offers. Take, for instance, the Kala Ghoda Festival at Fort. There's a ton of stuff and activities on offer, across genres. Ok, so the timings suck for anyone who works, but there was stuff to see and do on the weekends too. Since I've come to Bombay, this was the 4th festival they've held. Every year since 2009, I've made plans to go and then simply didn't. Call it being busy, tired, lazy or downright disinterested. This time around too, the festival was almost over before I could chivvy myself up enough to attend at least one session. And I'm glad I did.

First off, going to South Bombay, or city proper as it were, is a visual treat, if you think Victorian Neo-Gothic and Art Deco are beautiful architectural styles. Heck, make your way past Andheri for 10 minutes and even a shabby, half-broken cuppola on one of the most decrepit of the Fort area's buildings will have you cooing in approval. So, by that standard, Horniman Circle and Asiatic Society buildings don't even have to try. They just are beautiful. Spend some time there and then head back towards the suburbs and you begin to wonder whether the words 'aesthetic sense' were quietly banished from the city. 

Yesterday, there were two open air music shows at the Asiatic Society steps. The setting was charming and the shows, by Niladri Kumar and the Raghu Dixit Project, were lovely. There was a moment when the sky was indigo, Venus was shining bright, a cool breeze wafted in and the buildings were enveloped in a golden glow. If there were no reference point, it could have been any city in the world. But since it is Bombay, instead of completely enjoying the music, I got to wondering if it made sense to hold the programme in the vicinity of a Grade A heritage building. Why? Because, there's a fair number of people I saw who lack even a jot of propriety, never mind any respect for property. Why else would people deliberately hoist themselves onto the steps from the side, anchoring their weights on the old bannisters and balustrades? All the while, admiringly cheered on by a crowd of lunatics standing nearby.

The original architect must have envisioned the construction for people, not idiots. Which is why it came as no surprise that the poor structure began to shake as wave after wave of Gen Yers (and I'm beginning to think that's a good name, since we can only ask why their parents hadn't bothered with a prophylactic during coitus) anchored themselves to the railings and climbed across. Some bright beans from the oldies category, no doubt seeing their misplaced sense of manhood threatened, followed suit. All this, 20 feet away from 3 cops, who, driven by a sense of duty and honour, proceeded to blow their police whistles, wave their arms about indignantly and volubly suggest that the miscreants engaged in incestuous behaviour.

Amidst the lovely surroundings and great music, it was a sad and stark reminder - this is Bombay. Anything goes, as long as you get what you want.

And in this thought, I see the burden this city bears.

Song for the moment - Hey Bhagwan - The Raghu Dixit Project

Monday, January 30

Window to the world

The glass walls of the office let him stare at the people on the other side. As a scene, it was not extraordinary. Neither were the people. People were after all, just people. The observer and the observed shared a floor, but they could have been worlds apart.

After many minutes of observation, he understood. Perhaps. Those on the outside looked comfortable. He did not know them. He had no idea about their daily office lives, never mind the ones they led after leaving at the end of the day. But there was no getting around it - they just looked content. Confident. Cheerful. Hopeful. Like they knew they'd be able to handle anything life threw their way.

He felt as aware of this as the people were unaware of him.

They looked alive. He looked like he would never be.

Song for the moment: For what it's worth - Buffalo Springfield

Wednesday, January 25

I gave you all

It never fails.

Stress, frustration, angst, ennui, boredom, the stifling, never-ending pile of work... call it what you will. This amalgamated feeling will build, build and build. Sometime in midweek, when you're literally forcing one foot in front of the other out of sheer bloody-mindedness and fatigue, a vision will appear in your mind's eye.

A pub, a beer pitcher, music, and the kind of friends with whom you can stay comfortably silent for any length of time and still call it conversation.

Of course, at that moment, there will be no recourse.

So you'll write this post and take solace in the past. 

Song for the moment: Under the bridge - Red Hot Chili Peppers

Friday, January 6

Tiny Dancer

I can't think of many advantages to being a short person. If you are no good at sports, you tend to get bullied in school because you can't hack it as an athlete. If your social graces are awkward at best, you tend to get ignored in college for the most part and slink around campus like Gollum. Heck, there's even data suggesting that tall people get paid and treated better, right throughout their lives. So, the 'altitudinally' challenged get the short end of the stick, as it were. Which is consistent, I suppose.

Still, there's one place where you'd think it might be beneficial to be small of stature - the Bombay local to Borivali during the evening rush hour. Look, this is no forum to debate the horrors of train travel at said time. In my previous job, I've taken trains in what is as the 'wrong direction' in Bombay-speak, so I didn't quite understand the nitty-gritties of the situation. My new job is in town, so I finally travel in the same direction along with what is effectively the population of a small country. Space, in those splendidly minuscule 1st class compartments, is at a premium. This is where the short bloke is supposed to come into his own, laugh at his taller brethren and travel with impunity. From personal experience, I sadly report that this is complete balderdash.

In rush hour, the tall guys seen to stand their ground by force of physical presence and considerable will. The short chaps are summarily dismissed as a waste of space and either discover flexibility that would have B.K.S Iyengar taking notes or find themselves involuntarily alighting at the wrong station with a host of other people. The tall get to stack their bags in the overhead rack, whilst the short resort to strapping bags in front, waddling around like pregnant ladies. And don't even get me started on the shoe-stamping. It would be better for the petite to learn to levitate.

Years ago, I read a book on body language which spoke at length about the Occidental need for personal space and how the violation of this space made them very uncomfortable. I wish that lot would get a crash course in the harsh realities of life, by having them travel like other Mumbaikars for just one day. I suspect there would be a marked cooling of expectations and rapid reorganisation of thoughts on what personal space really means. Also, a very thorough understanding of the meaning of 'violation' and maybe even 'molestation'.

However, it has to be said that the train is a great leveler in rush hour. Finding yourself unintentionally executing one of the more complicated Kathakali poses, your eyes just might meet those of a fellow struggler. Regardless of stature, the accepted practice is to smile wanly, give a Gallic shrug of recognition and pray that your destination arrives as soon as possible. When in Bombay...

Song for the moment: Standing in the doorway - Bob Dylan