Wednesday, November 27

I'll see you in my dreams

There is a parable about holding a fistful of sand. I'm not sure exactly how it goes, but the moral was that the tighter you tried to hold on, the faster the sand spilled out.

I thought of something else in this context.

Sometimes, you hold on for so long that you forget why. You don't even realise your fist is clenched. When you do; when you eventually work up enough courage and open your hand, there will still be a few grains stuck in your palm. Those are regret, doubt, desire, sadness and... faint memories of the hope and possibility that made you pick up the sand in the first place.

The problem with sand of course is that you'll never successfully manage to dust off every grain.

Song for the moment: Slipping Away - Moby feat. Alison Moyet

She speaks American English

It's the time of the season, as the song goes, when relatives residing in foreign parts realise that the cure for homesickness is affordable and arrive like a mob of vultures to a carcass party. How else can you reasonably explain the fact that five different people have flown in within a week and made the pilgrimage to my grandma's place.

That doughty lady is of course, delighted and exasperated in equal measure. While she loves visitors, particularly family, and is of an age when every day is a gift, she certainly does not possess the equanimity or energy to juggle their various dietary and behavioural idiosyncrasies with her usual finesse. However, she perseveres.

Last night, this entire crew of NRIs met up at my uncle's place. I happened to drop by on my way home, and was immediately pulled into the jamboree. I'm pretty certain most extended families are as noisy as mine when meeting & catching up, in some cases, after almost 20 years. Like me, you'd expect a reasonable amount of banter, jokes, mirth and gossip. That's the charm of these meets after all.

However, my family is nothing if not eccentric. In a room of 9 people, 3 of whom are IIT alumni (not uncommon in a Tam-Bram house, I assure you), the usual topics didn't stand a chance. From a 2 hour session, I found out:
  • The size, colour, texture and nutritive benefits of avocado
  • Why aluminum dinnerware and cutlery are not good for one's health
  • The melting points of steel, aluminum, and tin and the electroplating of cooking vessels
  • Why Croft & Garner were better bowlers than Roberts & Holding
  • When and how people will be able to use cell-phones on planes safely
  • The processes involved in registering and running an NGO in the U.S.
  • Why the Pandyan Express, from Madras to Madurai, is an excellent train
  • How to get to and make an excellent visit of Rameshwaram
  • About documentaries on Indonesian gang wars
  • Yada yada yada... there was some talk about Fortran and CAD, but I gave up
Yes. Egads. My feelings exactly. I was pretty sure that, at some point, an argument would break out on Calculus, Integration and Organic Chemistry, and that slide rules, foolscap sheets and other assorted scientific paraphernalia would be whipped out... but we didn't that far.   

The best part was the fact that all these people (barring a pseudo-copywriter) are experts in various arcane branches of learning, meaning that no one could bullshit without getting caught out.

Which is why, dear reader, I safely stayed silent and thought up this post.

Song for the moment: Homecoming - Acoustic Alchemy       

Tuesday, November 12

Dumb

Good batsmen watch for the googly.

Great batsmen force spinners to bowl it.

And then there are those poor sods who suspect it is coming, dread it coming, see it coming and yet... stand dazed, frozen and helpless till the stumps shatter.

I understand shattered.

As in cricket, as in life. Practice makes perfect.   

Song for the moment: Failure - Kings of Convenience   

Thursday, October 31

A little sugar in my bowl

I'm no authority on this, but spending time with someone you like or have a crush on is similar to using cocaine*. Ok, please don't raise your eyebrows, go "Huh??" and leave the page. Read me out. 

Initially, you run into this person (let's say 'her') for a few seconds. It doesn't happen everyday. It may not even occur more than a couple of times a week. It also is NOT the result of your absolutely non-creepy engineered luck of seeing her at a distance and sort of, kind of dragging your feet in that direction. Still, the resultant joy is enough to last you throughout the day, though you don't really know why. 

Maybe because you're a hermit in these matters, your cranial & cardiac systems take a while to get going. But you aren't stupid and eventually put 2 and 2 together, realizing the fact that your somnolent heart does a vigorous rumba in her vicinity and that, lord help us, you may just be developing feelings. For this girl. Egads! and all that.  

Of course, now that you know this, it is absolute fucking panic because you are the most awkward person you've ever met and have even contemplated joining that cool Belgian beer brewing monastery to avoid situations like this.

Now though, you want a little more of this joy-like feeling... and of course, you try to make the "Hi - Hey - How's it going?" last a little longer. Sometimes these awkward conversational gambits work and you're pleased, not only because you spend a little more time with her - and at an elemental level, this is really what you want - but also because you are evolving as a person, coming out of a self-enforced shell of shyness and introversion like a hesitant turtle.

You slowly begin to understand her, her likes and dislikes, her views on some things, heck, whether she even has views at all and, heaven forbid, is one of those selfie-taking, food-instagramming, constant facebook-updater types. She isn't. Consciously, you go "crap!" because, let's face it, old habits die hard and you're still trying to weasel out of this scene and go back to your comfortable cave of socio-romantic oblivion. Your subconscious however, long wearied by your masochistic idiocy, shoves your conscious mind aside, and tells you to get a move on. Also, the weird joy feeling. That. Yea, stay with me here.

But there's a problem. A couple of moments of interaction are no longer enough. Initially, you're nonplussed, but the universe hands you a break and you guys run into each other at the alleged coffee machine. Having time to kill, you proceed to sit and talk, and talk for what feels like hours but really is only 20 minutes. It's wonderful. You're walking on air, you're moving like Fred Astaire and you give colleagues a scare because they've never seen you smile like that. That's when the proverbial paisa drops.

Now you have to find ways of hanging out with her without being creepy, so you do that. Its exhausting work, admittedly, but seemingly worth it, particularly on the days she strikes up a conversation with you.

After years of making the Marlboro Man look like an incessant yacker, you're breaking new ground in the conversation department, to a point where her friends have to come by and remind her that there's work to be done. When she's still there, talking to you, 10 minutes after that, well... you don't have a fanciful imagination so someone, somewhere must be playing "Hallelujah" at a goodish volume.

Eventually, you work up the cojones to ask her out. She giggles shyly and says, "Oh! I have a boyfriend".

And just like the junkies who've used too much cocaine, your nose goes out of joint.

*I have never used cocaine, though I have read up on it.

** Also, this is fiction. So far.

Song for the moment: Stop Stop - The Black Keys   

Monday, October 28

Femme Fatale

An allegorical tale 

Today is the day. I will do it. I will ignore him. He will not get what he wants. I am strong. I am resolute. I will not acknowledge his presence. I will not look. I will not speak. I will not move. I will not even raise a hand. It doesn't matter if I starve. I can do without his food. He will not even have the satisfaction of knowing that I am hungry. It is a small price to pay, but he will get the message. I have pride. I have self-respect. I don't need him.

I am not a lab rat. I am a...

*Bell rings*

Damn it!

(Somewhere in heaven, Pavlov's dog is laughing at me.)

Song for the moment: I can't stand it - Eric Clapton      

Thursday, September 26

Land's end

I've never been enamored by technology. Not really been into smart phones, gaming consoles or whatever else caught the fancy of my peers over the years. Heck, I still use the laptop gifted to me 7 years ago. And it runs fine, thank you very much.

Which is why I've never been satisfactorily able to explain my desire to own an iPhone. I'd always dimly been aware of the brand but mainly because of the iPod. Like many others who's desires are/were heavier than the wallets, I've surfed through websites looking at iPods of various shapes & capacities with a mixture of longing and exasperation, discussed with friends and the voice in my head whether it made sense to own one, got to the 'check-out product' page before abruptly closing the tab, and so on and so forth. This was until last year.

While I was perfectly happy with my trusty Nokia phone, my friends slowly succumbed to the smartphone craze. I resisted as long as possible, often finding myself in situations where everyone was fooling around with their phones while I twiddled my thumbs, looking around aimlessly. It was a tiring time, and the defenses were being steadily crumbed away through sheer peer pressure.

To stave away the nagging, I declared that the only smartphone I'd even consider buying was the iPhone, safe in the knowledge that even though I admired its beautifully innovative design and simple interface, I'd never have the shekels for it. Of course, that's the moment the universe chose to cough gently and inquire, "Oh yes?"
   
On a weekend, last June, I saw a deal on Ebay, that made the iPhone 4 just within my EMI affordability index, and knew the opportunity was too good to pass. At least that's what I told myself. Given some time to consider, I may have decided against it. For one, this was a 4. In June. The 5 was releasing in September, making the 4S a more logical choice. However, there wasn't a 4S friendly deal out there. For another, the seller was some store in Jogeshwari, which didn't exactly scream 'legit', but what the heck, right? What could go wrong? There was a 1-year warranty too. Cue, hollow, bitter laugh.

The phone took so long to show up, I imagined it resting on a silk pillow in a tastefully furnished palanquin, accompanied by elephants and trumpeters. Opening the box was a real Pandora moment, as the problems came tumbling out one after another. First off, I had to move heaven & earth to get a micro-sim, something that had been conveniently left out of the feature details. Once that got done (it took 2 days of running around), it became very obvious that the home & power buttons, the only goddamn buttons on the phone, were not working properly. Making the darshan to the seller's store, past a couple of buffalo stables and seedy neighbourhoods, my heart began sinking fast. The owner's smarmy assistant (his nephew) oiled over to try and convince me that things were fine and that the phone was 'supposed' to work like that. Really. Once he realised I wasn't buying the spiel, he reluctantly agreed to 'fix' it, gleefully telling me it'd take a week.

A week later, I went back, to find that the scratch-guard was gone and the side had a dent. The snake hissed that the phone had been like that all along, something I was unable to refute without photographic proof. Though the power button was and is fine, the home key went back to it's somnolent state, displaying as much sensitivity as the politicos do for the people in this country. And I wasn't looking forward to going back to the dealer anytime soon either.

Apart from a malfunctioning power cord and few minor speed issues that came via iOS 6, the phone was fine since that time. That is, until this asshat of an operating system, i.e. iOS 7 came along. Not only did it make the icons look flat and cheap, the overall functional thought looked borrowed, a word I never thought would be associated with Apple designs. But the coup de grĂ¢ce was releasing it for the 4. They knew iOS 7 wasn't meant for the 4. They knew the phone would be significantly affected. And yet, they went ahead and released it anyway. Now I'm probably not the first person to think 'conspiracy' as relates forcing people who own the 4 to switch, but that's exactly what it feels like. Because right now, my phone is basically a paperweight that can make & take calls and connect to the internet. Slowly. 

So maybe they got the strategy right. Maybe it is my fault that I upgraded, of my own free will. Maybe I'll now be forced to buy a new phone. 

But maybe it won't be an iPhone. 

Song for the moment: Fool that I am - Etta James   

Monday, August 19

Pumped up kicks

When friends engage in lamentation and brouhaha about turning 30, it is easier to go along with the general chest-beating, even if it is just a token gesture on your part, than to voice your private opinion that involve the words 'unnecessary drama' & 'overreaction'. Though it is difficult to accept change (and more than half the posts here rail against it), you eventually shrug (mentally perhaps) and carry on living your life.

The first thing that does ring in the march of time at a personal level, are changes to your body. Unless you're one of those lucky born-athlete bastards blessed with great metabolism and fantastic stamina, you're going to notice that your physique isn't what it used to be. Along with the thinning hairline (at least for guys this is the first sign), you begin to feel the love handles, the beer-gut and the gently suggestive curves of the faintest double chin. Activities you'd carry out without breaking sweat (figuratively also) now do take on a slightly more challenging role. You can't eat as much as before, drinks hit you harder and hangovers last longer. There is also a marked reluctance to engage in any activities that require a little more than the usual physical extension. Except, you know, sex; which I'm sadly not qualified to comment on right now. 

Thanks in part to the fact that I still look like I just passed out of junior college (thank ye, Mother Nature), I haven't really paid much attention to these changes. In my school days, I was not into sports, and a chronic sinus problem left me with the lung capacity of a pygmy marmoset. Still, I cycled to school for years, which was something, because my school was on a hill, and the slope was a lot steeper than it is today. Not that any children are cycling to my school any more, mind. Last I checked, the cycle shed has been converted into a motorbike parking. Quite.

After a particularly lazy summer at home, mum told me some home truths about our family's delightful proclivity for cardiovascular diseases rather than good looks. That shook me, particularly because the sudden discontinuation of cycling and a partiality to kacchi dabelis and bread pattice had turned me, how shall I put this, into a chubster. The tyres abandoned my cycle and stubbornly attached themselves to my sides, a state of affairs I have yet to reverse, 13 years on. Thus, to prolong my incredibly delightful life, I took up running. Pune University had a decently maintained 1 km track weaving its way through some peaceful glades. I went there pretty regularly, if for nothing else than to get away from many troubles, both real and imagined. By the time I left for the U.S, I could do about 5 km at a steady trot without too much worry.  Thanks to the merciless ribbing of a close friend, I had also completely cut out the fried snacks. 

Though I often did not have the time to take advantage of the excellent Rec Centre at UAB, I did visit as much as possible, both to use their superb indoor running track and play some rudimentary squash with Batman (roomie). A combination of a hectic work schedule, stress, nutritively dubious diet and the Rec Centre made sure I gained no sudden weight in the U.S, as people are wont to do. My uncle, for instance, went from a stringy bag of bones to someone who could have been mistaken for a runaway minor planet.

Then I came back home and began working in Bombay, pretty much ending whatever vestige of a fitness regime I had. I tried gym for a year and gave up once I shifted jobs and the work time intruded. Then I joined my current workplace and well... let's just say that questionable choices have been the norm, as regards diet and lifestyle. The fact that I still am rather thin assuaged my feelings, I think. This past weekend, sheer boredom drove me to put on the shoes and head for the University track. I did my regular warm-up, which is nothing at all, and began ambling down the familiar path, confident that a regimen of dietary abuse and sedentary living couldn't have completely affected my fitness. After all, I did walk to and from the railway station everyday, a good 20 minutes away.

800 metres in, wheezing like a geriatric asthmatic, I had to stop. After my heart and lungs had ended their attempt to leap out of my chest via my throat, I reached the sad conclusion that unless I incorporated a serious amount of exercise, I wasn't going to see birthday number 45.

So then. Change must happen. I have chalked up a tentative schedule of exercise and hope to follow it. Let's see where this goes.

Song for the moment: Eye of the tiger - Survivor

(Like there was any other choice)            

Sunday, July 28

Fragments of time


At first glance, this is a shot of something so mundane that you would dismiss it as nothing. What do you see? A water tank, a broken, tarred patch speckled with eucalyptus leaves brought down by the wind & rain, a spade & a levelling plank in repose, and creeping up on these, a neat row of determined-looking cinder blocks. That's about it. Taken from the balcony of a house on the second floor, the shot can be construed as a common, artsy attempt in an Instagram-driven world. And you wouldn't be far wrong because it is an ordinary photograph of a very ordinary scene.

To a very few though, this is a watershed moment, frozen for all time. It is testament to the end of something.

For 21 years, this tar ground, framed by the tank, two buildings and a gate, has been a cricket pitch. You can see three neat, parallel lines painted on the tank wall, but that is a recent development. For the generous width of these stumps alone would have some 30 year old gents scoffing. Once upon a time, motley bunch of kids used a brick to mark a realistic set of stumps. This was in the early 90s and I'd like to think those kids were very solemn and particular about the exact measure of the stumps, the length of the pitch and the tramlines.

The bright red stumps faded many times, thanks to the action of wind, rain and time but they were marked again and again, each summer, Diwali and Christmas. Aunties in the surrounding buildings would glance apprehensively at the games in progress, sometimes coming to the windows to plead, berate, threaten and banish the kids. And as sure as eggs are eggs, the kids would slink back after the tirade and calmly continue the games till their voices reached a crescendo of appeals, curses and cheers. Then they grew older, and had various demands placed on their time. New generations took over. 

In 2001, two guys on the right side of 20 who'd just started college that year, began what can only be now called a decade-long game. They certainly played cricket, taking turns to bat and bowl, but they also talked - about their hopes, dreams, principles, beliefs and ambitions. About who should or shouldn't be in the Indian test team, how we'd do in Australia, England and South Africa, and the horrors and ecstasy of the performances. Balmy spring days, scorching summer evenings, and pleasantly chilly winter afternoons marked the passing of the years and the fluctuating fortunes of the southpaw and the leggie. There were changes; moves to Bangalore, the U.S and Bombay, and even a marriage. Even the very nature of their friendship went through its own cycle. But any time the opportunity arose, the two would meet, gingerly stretch and test their muscles, mark out a middle-leg guard, and play and talk, about cricket and about life. And in a way, the scarred & wearing pitch mirrored life itself; there were patches of alarming bounce, skids and enormous turns.

Thanks to the logistics of distance, time and availability, these sessions slowly trickled to a close. It has been over a year since the southpaw and the leggie played cricket. It has been over 10 since the leggie and his colony mates played a match. Football became more popular and smart-phones did the rest. And today, piece by piece, the 21 year old cricket pitch is being levelled and covered. All that will be left is the photograph, and maybe, the faint echoes of two decades of carefree living. 

They say 18 is when you become an adult but 21 is when you grow up. Well, childhood is officially over. So the southpaw gets the final word in on this chapter - "Many... so many memories."

Song for the moment: The game of love - Daft Punk        

Wednesday, June 12

Addicted

He wondered when his turn to bat would come.

He'd been waiting a while, more than an hour and it was making him uncomfortable in a guilty way. The longer he stayed in this quiet, comfortable room in the pavilion, the better it was for the team. And the team was everything. He'd said it so many times, at interviews and post-match presentations that it should have become a cliche... like that nonsense about some tracer bullet, but no, it became his mantra. He played for the team.

But he was a batsman, and deep down, in an ancient place, there had always been a spark of fiery joy when the two wickets fell. He had felt guilty about having this feeling, agonised about what it meant about him as a person and tried to kill it off by listening to music so loudly that someone would have to tap his shoulder to signal that it was his turn to bat. All he'd succeeded in doing was burying it under a pile of phenomenal records, performances and a spotless character, both on and off the field. He could still feel it though. How could he not? He was born to play cricket, born to hold a bat in his hands and wield it with the grace and brutality of a katana, to epitomise technique and timing to a point where the bat had become part of him, had become him and reduced every other player of the game to an admiring audience.

As he sat, he looked at his hands and knees. They'd seen and survived a lot and he thanked god for their durability. At one point, some years ago, his elbow, of all things, had threatened to end it all, but the operation was a success, although he wasn't allowed to use his beloved 3.2 lb bats anymore, forced by his body to switch to something lighter. He hated everything about it. The betrayal of his body, the doctor who couldn't make him 100% whole again and of course the bloody bats which suddenly felt like feathers in his hands and made him struggle with his timing. He'd always had the talent, he'd known he was a genius (a word that he automatically whispered, even in his mind) but the betrayal, he'd conquered through sheer discipline and bloodymindedness, once again becoming the best in the world, smashing every batting record possible, except getting a 100 at Lords and a test triple.

Of course, this had taken time. But he had remained both patient and ruthless, carefully marrying both his and the team's success, making sure that he became the rarest of the rare - the 'undroppable'. Like the greatest warriors through the ages, he'd earned the right to choose when his time would come... a veritable Bhishma of cricket, resting on a bed of stumps. And like the grandsire, he'd seen men come and leave the dressing rooms for years, until there came a day when a teammate arrived who had not been born when He'd made his debut.

That was the moment his body and spirit had felt the crushing weight of the years. Ordinary men would have collapsed but he was no ordinary man. He was a god.

A god who now awaited his turn at bat.

The door opened then, and he drew a breath of anticipation as he asked "Is it time?"

"Not yet" came the reply. "It's actually lunchtime. Here's your meal, sir. Enjoy."

There was no reply as the door closed.

The woman who'd served lunch waited outside for a pause to let her heart stop racing. She'd brought meals to this man for 10 years and it still felt... she couldn't put it into words. One did not often meet a god. Rarer still, a god transformed into an ordinary man.

"Old age and Alzheimer's Disease... it just wasn't fair", the nurse told herself.

Or rather, it just wasn't cricket.

Song for the moment: Disappear - INXS         

Monday, May 6

Looking for my life

Punekars of a certain vintage and neighbourhood will share the twinge of sadness I felt when they hear that the venerable albeit shady Abhijeet Video Cassette Library has been replaced by a shop selling paints. For me, it was a milestone moment - of the fact that another Aundh landmark has joined the ever-growing dust heap of my childhood memories. Of a place, a city and an ethos that was very different 21 years ago.

In those far off pre-internet days, Abhijeet was part of the Aundh triumvirate of video cassette shops, alongside Sapphire in Sanewadi and Cosmos in Parihar Chouk. This was a time when cable tv truly was in its infancy. DD National was DD 1, Zee had only one channel and DD Metro was pretty watchable, particularly after 11 pm on Friday nights. Ahem. In this scenario, video cassette libraries were understandably popular. 

Sapphire was probably the best of them when seen through the spectacles of our middle-class values. The guy running the place (Sunny? from Assam) was friendly and knowledgeable. He stocked the latest movies, of which there were more English ones than Hindi, the quality of the tapes were better, they were rewound properly (if you're wondering what I'm talking about, you're too young) and the store itself, with its name in violet lights, seemed more cheerful. Most importantly, parents could trust that the librarian would not hand out 'those kind of movies' to kids below a certain age, on the rare occasions that the elders took day trips to Bombay, or lord help us, an overnight weekend trip! So, of course it would appeal to our sensibilities. It felt better. Though I have a clear memory of the cover of Basic Instinct being on prominent display for years too.

Cosmos in Parihar Chouk was a couple of rungs below on the social ladder. It catered more to the Marathi and Hindi movie aficionado, and those willing to put up with jumps, random fast-forwards, sellotaped repairs on the ribbons, along with blurs and sudden bursts of snow. The Cosmos guy was also more willing to sympathise with raging teenage hormones. Provided you had the stones and the right vocabulary, he'd let you have the movie you actually wanted to see, though you had to be prepared to find the label say 'Vijay weds Sunita', and trust that the bloke wasn't conning you. Or worse, find parts of the wedding ceremony spliced over exactly those times when the other movie's protagonists were about to engage in sexy times.

Abhijeet, by virtue of its location was relegated to the bottom. Based at one end of the Gaon, in a little annexe of a shop, it was pretty open about the kind of movies it stocked. Which, going by the plethora of scantily clad women on the covers, would have invited the instant wrath of the moral police in this day and age. Thankfully, we lived in a more charmingly tolerant, less hypocritical age. Of course, this is not to say that Abhijeet did not have the regular movie fare. He did. Only, the quality was iffy at best. But the tapes cost less to rent than the others, which was a major plus point when you were paise-pinching. And most of us were.

The first to go was Sapphire. Although it seemed to be doing well, the bloke probably had dreams of doing something more with his life, so he sold it off to a clinical, efficient, soulless enterprise called DVD Express. Thanks to this turn of events, Cosmos found itself in more demand, and for a while, the store was more packed. Inevitably, more and more people began to abandon their VCRs for the CD-ROMs that came with the PCs or had enough moolah for a DVD Player (a real luxury, believe me). About 5 years ago, tired, weary and unable to keep up with the march of time, Cosmos downed its shutters, leaving just Abhijeet to fight the good fight.

I never had the courage to ask for colourful videos at any of these places. I cannot remember the last time I went into Abhijeet and asked to rent a movie for Rs. 10. Every time I passed by, I noticed that it was empty, lulled into a timeless, soporific state. Inside Abhijeet, it seemed forever 1996. For selfish reasons, I was always glad to see it there. And then it too was gone.

The last bastion of an older time had sighed and quietly crumbled into the wind.

The word I associate most with the places that have gone away is charm. They had oodles of it. Not all of it was good, but there was certainly something about these places that made them Pune's. Perhaps it was the fact that they were from a more genteel time, and had pitched tent when Aundh was decidedly the boondocks. For those of us who've known the neighbourhood that long, these places inspire fondness and loyalty, intertwined as they are in the narrative fabric of our lives. They will forever be part of the patchwork quilt of our Pune, our Aundh. When Baker's Basket was next to Raj Medicals, G.T Enterprises was the only decent stationery store, Sulzer House was busy with people on business, Khatta Meetha was known for its dubious food, Ekon Kalyan Tennis Academy was full of kids and the "thwack" of the racquet and Anand Park's bhel puri stall was an institution. 

I guess the tape runs out of every spool eventually. But, a rewind button for life wouldn't be that bad, would it?

Song for the moment: Bluebird - Paul McCartney & Wings

Friday, May 3

No one like you

I was born to tell the truth. Maybe that's why she liked me.

She was a remarkable woman - smart, witty, tall and graceful, power oozing out of her every expression and gesture. A genuine beauty. But, like all rich, powerful and beautiful people, she needed constant reassurance. Her intelligence, good looks and status had isolated her and made her lonely. Her husband was constantly traveling; a real wheeler-dealer with a talent for mergers & acquisitions. His job became his life and she was just a trophy wife. She had no real friends. Except me.

In me, she found both reassurance and companionship. We spoke for hours. Rather, she spoke and I listened. I was good at that. All I wanted was to see her happy. She would talk to me about her hopes and fears, her love of children and her sadness when she couldn't have any. She would always end our conversations with the same question. And I would give her the same answer. I waited for the day she would finally realise just how beautiful she was, without needing me to tell her. But it looked like that day would never come. And I became tired of waiting. And, because she seemed blind to my love for her and who she was, I became enraged. So, in my fury, I did the impossible - I lied.

Experts say that the best lies are grounded in a little bit of truth. That the most believable fibs are quick, clean and to the point. They were right. It took only two words for me to hurt and devastate her; for her to lose her sanity, her beauty and become a monster. Two little words I will regret forever.

Snow White.

Song for the moment: Float on - Modest Mouse   
      

Wednesday, April 3

Requiem for the Indifferent

How am I
supposed to work
to play and laugh
knowing what I know
burrowing into my head.

How am I
supposed to wake up with
the stunning, breathtaking shock
of 8 months ago
and
the agonizing emptiness of now.

How am I
supposed to reconcile
with the fact that distance
is not as painful
as proximity.

How am I
supposed to share
the same patch of sky
the same sun and moon
the same air and water
with you.

How am I
supposed to yet be unable to
share a glance or a smile
a greeting or a goodbye
a heartbeat or an hour
a touch or a caress.

How am I
supposed to accept
that there was no hope
when I can feel it
beat relentlessly, eternally.

How am I
supposed to stay stern
when even the very mention of you
forces a smile to rush from my heart
to my eyes.

How am I
supposed to live
knowing you
and knowing you
not knowing me.
 
How am I
supposed to come so close
from so far
and find myself
farther still. 

How am I supposed to survive the next 3 days?

Song for the moment: Sky & Sand - Paul & Fritz Kalkbrenner

Friday, March 29

Proletariat

How easy is it to abuse power?

Being Indian, we see the innocent trampled under the iron heel of what passes for government almost every day. In Mumbai, every minute. Being people with internet connections, and about 20 minutes a day when we're not on Twitter, FB or torrenting a movie, we read about it happening, overtly and covertly, all over the world. Unless we're the unfortunate sods getting fucked by fate and the machinations of the Man, it is only faintly affecting. Like trying to read by the light of a few stars.

Of course, we probably engage in it ourselves; in various subtle or knowing ways, with family, friends and random others. Then it becomes excusable, thanks to various nifty and self-assuring phrases that zoom through our craniums, so again, the effect is diluted.

So, if you know you're powerful, how easy is it to abuse power? 

From what I've seen over the last couple of weeks, not that hard. All it takes is the ability to enjoy being vindictive and to articulate your words and feelings through a series of devastating broadsides. I wasn't the target this time around, but a day may come when I will be, so it was a great validation of my suspicions.

Its disappointing to see. I'm not saying you need to be the milk of human kindness. Lord knows, in this economy, you'll curdle. You can be tough, but fair. You can have compassion, and express that through your behaviour. You can be benevolent. You don't have to let your monstrous ego get in the way. You don't have to crush an ant with a hammer. You can choose...

You choose. To show the extent of your power by making an example of someone so junior that their life and future shouldn't matter to your existence. To harass them with impossible deadlines, ludicrous criticisms, defame their character and do whatever else you can. Its like watching Jupiter becoming insecure because of Mercury. It'd be funny if it weren't so sad. 

Now, the rest of us minions now know how things stand. So, we're not obliged to bleed for the company or have any vestige of pride about working here. But we have long memories and contacts. And you can bet your sweet booties not one of us is recommending this place, even to our enemies.

Abuse your power all you want. Just don't be surprised at the consequences. That just makes it worse.

Song for the moment: Napalm Love - Air

Saturday, March 9

Warning Sign

The fear of being left behind is an instinctive feeling that first appears in childhood; we are in a unfamiliar, crowded place, entranced by the chaos of light and sound around us. It is only gradually that we realise that we don't know anyone we're seeing. Once the seed of that dread takes root, it flowers rapidly, killing off any joy we felt earlier and replacing that with a cold, heaviness in the pit of our stomach, a feeling that suffocates as each second ticks by. Then, out of the panic, we will see our loved one or hear them call. Relief will wash over us and life will go on but we'll never be rid of that all-consuming fear.

When colleagues announce their resignations, having secured better jobs, we'll have mixed feelings. Genuine gladness that their hard work, suffering, tenacity and talent have paid off, is often shaded by the familiar fear; That we're getting left behind. In this case, other feelings will join in. Inadequacy, self-doubt, ennui (apparently pronounced onway), a little bit of self-directed anger, a surge of adrenalin, desperately critical evaluation of the pitiful portfolio, self-recrimination, yada yada yada.

A combination of emotions similar to those shared by those poor sods in the movie 'The Great Escape', who don't, instead watching McQueen, Attenborough, Bronson and the rest mosey out of there.

At the end of the day, they're leaving and we didn't even think about digging a tunnel, never mind come up with creative warning signals.

Moving on.

When you've been single a long time, you do tend to confuse infatuation with genuine feelings of liking someone. It makes you blind to almost everything that is and could be wrong with the person. And speaking from personal experience, no good ever comes of it. It does not evolve into something more healthy; instead, it will burrow into your head, and turn your rational self into a blathering idiot. It is an unfortunate situation, but will only leave you picking up whatever is left of your dignity, pride and heart and attempting to glue them back together. Time heals wounds and all, but even it can't do much if you repeatedly keep stabbing yourself in the same place.

Of course, you only realise it is infatuation in hindsight. But, when you've been single a long time, infatuation is often all you have. Then what?

Song for the moment: Don't panic - Coldplay

Wednesday, February 13

Just between us

*Fiction:

You're the only one I want to call. Because I love you.

In this fucked up, dysfunctional, empty, phone-swamped world, where no one has the decency to pick up their phones anymore, you will pick up. And your "Heyyy" will be genuine. Really genuine. Not the "I don't really want to talk to you, but what the heck, at least I can be polite and pretend" genuine. You really will be glad I called. That 'I' called. And when I do, you will pick up.

That's why I can talk to you.

With the others, it feels like a ruthless, "are we done yet?" act. I can feel their impatience through the line. Their boredom. Their absolute lack of interest or concern. It isn't important that I rarely call. That my actually making the effort to scroll through my contacts to hit their number, a gesture that takes almost no effort in the physical world, but costs oh-so-much to the mind and the soul... that effort is an irritation to the others.

They're not saying it, but they are screaming "I don't want to talk to you. I am busy. Doing nothing. But I am BUSY. So hurry up, spit out what you have to and let's end this."

When I hear your voice, I will relax.

Usually, my body ignores my mind when it commands, cajoles and then begs it to ease up, "for the love of GOD!" But your voice... oh! god, your voice. A melange of kindness, concern, softness and steel. My body cannot resist, because my mind has reached the comfort of home at long last. It is a pause from the relentless edge of night. 

It will be my highest form of meditation.

When I call, I know what I want to tell you. Force of habit. But you will guide me down so many myriad pathways with your questions and observations. Your pauses and silences. Your patience at my blathering... your infinite patience.

When I call you, the reason will become insignificant. Time will become insignificant.

When I make you laugh, my heart will do the impossible. Stop and speed up simultaneously. 

And I could listen to you forever, but you will gently tell me to get back to work.

For an instant, I will be scared that you're bored. For that one heartbeat, I will hate with all the pent up fury of hell, that you said it.

I will never ever let you see the relief I feel when you tell me to call you the next day.

I will never say it, but you will know. That I need to call you like I need to breathe.

When I call you and hear the genuine "Heyyyy", I will begin to live. Even if it just as long as you don't hang up.

Because I love you.

That's why you are the only one I will not call. 

Song for the moment: Star-crossed lovers - Duke Ellington   

Thursday, January 31

Heart-shaped box*

He sat on the floor, with his back to the wall. The drawing room had no furniture apart from a television resting on a bookcase, because he did not require any.

In the breathless stillness, the smoke spire from the slow-burning cigarette resting on the pen stand to his left, sliced upward in a straight line. The glass on his right held two fingers of Glenfiddich.

Drag and sip. Drag and sip. In rhythm.

His brain told him cigarettes were bad for his lungs. His brain told him booze was bad for his liver. His heart stayed silent.

Slowly & steadily, the combination of the scotch and the cigarette was making him weak-kneed.

It was as good a substitute for being in love as any.

Song for the moment: Oh, me - Nirvana

*4 years in Bombay and counting 

Monday, January 28

Goin' through the motions

The trains were delayed this morning.

Not the usual 5 minute inconvenience. I'm talking 30 minute, platform stacked 6 rows deep, people hanging onto people who are hanging on the door, passengers standing in the unique 'bugger the man ahead' formation (think about it) kind of crowded.

Somehow, I get to the office and check my mail and the job schedule, to find a stinking pile of what passes for work waiting. One of my clients wants a newsletter designed and copy-ready by 1 pm, while they're still giving galleys of the original information at noon. Information that has to be edited, rewritten, proofed and then sent to the art director, complete with snappy captions and whathaveyou. Information that is, at best, incoherent, and at worst, incomplete and incomprehensible. Which I point out to the long-suffering client servicing guy, who talks to the client, and is sent another document containing... the exact same information.

I'm still digesting this tripe, when another email hits the inbox. Another client wants YET ANOTHER set of name options for their product. At last count, I'd done 30 possible names, based on the ever-changing brief.

Yea, its that kind of day.

I mention this to my boss, who says "It could be worse". I know this to be true. At the same moment, an image of me being pushed, shoved and man-handled this morning flashes in front of my eyes.

And I start giggling hysterically. Because right now, there's nothing else to do.

Song for the moment: We gotta get out of this place - Blue Oyster Cult

Friday, January 18

Ricochet

You're at the threshold of the house, wiping your shoes on the mat. Of course you're nervous.

This isn't the first time you're entering a place, but entering a new place is always a little tricky. So you took a little extra care this time around. Made sure the week leading up to it was as stress-free as possible. Negotiated a few slippery spots and curves on the approach road with surprising dexterity. Tried to relax and stay loose as you walked up the front yard. Rotated your shoulders and released a little tension between the blades and your neck. Repeatedly wiped your palms on your trousers to get rid of the cool sweat beads. Gave up. Clenched your fist, let it hover on the door, and began wiping your shoes.

You knock. The door opens immediately and you step in. Tentatively, because its a new place. And then, steadier and more confidently, each tread followed by the next in a slow but rhythmic pattern. You see the door you want and begin walking a little faster, your hand already reaching out for the knob.

And you trip. Without grace, poise or equanimity. Land in an awkward heap on the floor, stunned. Physically, sure. But mentally also, because you'd navigated the start so smoothly... and were so close to the door. Gathering what's left of your breath and energy (since insouciance deserted you long ago), you force yourself into a half-sprawl, half-sitting position and look for the culprit. Which is a weather-beaten, warped floorboard.

Branded with the word GUILT.

Of course.

Song for the moment: Walk - Foo Fighters

*Full-to metaphorical. Just.