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share the twinge of sadness I felt when they hear that the venerable albeit shady Abhijeet Video Cassette Library has been replaced by a shop selling paints.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