Sunday, December 28

Black Star

We follow the old laws.
An eye for an eye.
In his case, a life for a life.
Only, he was special. Different.
There had always been something about him.
A smell. A look. The shape of his face.
We follow the old ways.
We recognise the signs.
He was born to make trouble. To be trouble.
I was present at his birth, like I was present at the others'.
He was not like the others.
He did not cry. He would not make a sound.
He just stared.
Even I, who had seen so many children, shuddered.
That night, I made the blood sacrifice to our gods.
I looked into the fire to see his fate.
What I saw, I could not comprehend. That is when I knew.
He would be the end of us.
18 years later, I looked into those eyes.
Black. Blank. Cold. Lifeless, even in life.
He had killed.
That in itself was not unusual for us.
We follow the old rules.
Death was part of life. And killing was the instrument of death.
But.
He had not killed an equal.
He had not killed in a fight.
He had not killed to survive.
He had killed.
For pleasure.
We found her body easily enough.
I wish we had not.
He had done unspeakable things. Unnatural.
Only then had he allowed her to die.
The old laws, the old ways, the old rules had only one punishment.
But we would not shed his cursed blood on our earth.
So we bound him and took him to the solitary rock.
His death would not be a punishment.
It would be a sacrifice. To cleanse us. To cleanse the world.
But his depravity called for more.
So we chose the weakest one to accompany him as well.
On the rock, we lit the fire and made the first sacrifice.
An insignificant gesture with an insignificant man.
Then, he ran.
Evil spirits aided him. He was one of them, after all.
He was their king, I knew.
We gave chase over land and water.
Even though we knew it was futile.
Men don't capture demons. Demons capture men.
Suddenly, he stopped and turned around.
And I saw the image from the fire.
The ghost.
My fellow hunter died first. Quickly.
I chose to fight.
But my gods deserted me in the hour of need.
I heard the roar and the heat pierce my heart and I fell.
But I did not die. I could not die.
Not then. Not there.
He came up to where I lay, his lifeless, cold, blank, black eyes looking...
Through me.
Then he turned.
The ghost looked at him for a long time. 
He could not see what I could.
He did not know what I did.
That he was face to face with the devil.
As my breath ebbed away, my blood warming the sand, I saw them meet. 
Then the ghost spoke.

"I shall call you... 
Friday."

Song for the moment: The thing that should not be - Metallica  

Friday, December 19

Just an illusion

On a recent evening, I found myself outside a house in one of Pune's older, fancier and leafier (mercifully) suburbs. Winter meant that it was well and truly dark by the time I reached the place accompanied by an old schoolmate, who complained incessantly about the cold weather. We had come to visit (hang out with, in our jolly modern lexicon) one of his close friends, a very tenuous connection for me.

Another old school friend was already there. As is usual in these situations, I kept to myself, happy to sip at some rum and water and listen in to the humorous bantering that still marked the conversations in this group. At some point, one of these guys, all of whom freelance, run their own companies or work with their fathers, pointed out how unusual it was for me to be in town on a weekday, which is when I told them about quitting. Their reactions were worth noting. The guy who didn't know me so well was lackadaisical about it but my 2 school friends, who have known me, in a general fashion, since '93, were amazed enough to repeatedly mention the fact that I'd quit with looks of wonder throughout the evening. 

It got me thinking about how we grew and changed, from children to adults, from 11 year old boys to 31 year old men, and yet, never managed to fully shrug off the spider web-like wisps of who we were and what we were like in school. At least, it felt that way. My friends still viewed me through 21 year old spectacles and saw, nay expected, at least some part of the idiotically innocent, convoluted, painfully shy kid from the 90s. So, to them, my quitting was a bit of a shock because it was such an unexpected event. Were they wrong to 'expect' that I wouldn't change?

Perhaps not. In fact, the more I pondered, the more it seemed like jumping ship from the last workplace had been one of the most atypical things I could ever have done. Completely out of character for a man largely given to routine, like the dutiful bank clerks in "Psmith in the city"; in fact, very much like Mike Jackson quitting the bank.

Psmith has always been my favourite Wodehouse character and probably my favourite fictional character ever. Bowing to human instinct, I have always fancied moulding myself in a similar vein. Genetics put a firm spoke in the wheel to ensure that I would not be tall & thin with a face resembling a llama. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I fancied that, at least in thought, action and zest for life, I'd come close to emulating Rupert / Ronald Eustace. Instead (and disappointingly so, I might add) I seem to have graduated from the Mike Jackson school of life. Heaven only knows if there is something deeper to this peculiar turn of events. More judicious excavation is needed, I suppose.

At least no one can say I resemble Rupert Baxter, with or without his lemon-yellow pyjamas. There's some cold comfort in that.

Anyway, whether it is as Mike or Psmith, choosing to do something completely out of character like quitting that job, is hopefully the signal that there are more unexpected & pleasant surprises for me around the corner. 

Song for the moment: A fortune in lies - Dream Theater

P.S: Having said that, it is to be noted that Psmith himself quit his uncle's fish business at Billingsgate Market and plunged into the unknown. So, if there's an Eve Halliday out there, now would be the time to run into you. I can write enough smarmy poetry to assume the temporary role of Ralston McTodd, that's for sure. 

Thursday, November 20

Don't look now

For the chronically nostalgic, there may be nothing more shocking than being able to say "goodbye" and meaning it. Walking away without wistfully looking back. Yet, that's probably what is happening to me.

Yesterday, I visited my old workplace for an interview in the mainline department. Yes, the same place I once had a passing interest in a colleague and only later realised that she wasn't about to reciprocate. Considering the maelstrom of feelings at the time and, to be honest, for a long time after, I worried about seeing her again.

So imagine the amazement when I found I felt nothing. It feels strange even as I write these words. Sure, I didn't need any butterflies dancing an energetic salsa in my tummy while the heart did a drum solo and mind stepped out to a long lunch. But there wasn't even the weakest hint of my pulse quickening. When I walked out of there, it was with the knowledge that not only was the chapter closed, the book had been returned to the library. Long overdue, but back on the shelves.

Today, while taking a stroll after a late lunch, I spotted one of my favourite signs "Discount on Books". This was outside a venerable bookstore in the Fort area which I've never visited, simply because I can't stand their chaotic stacking style. It doesn't hold a candle to Blossoms, but at least the people at that wonderland know exactly where each and every book is in their store. Anyway, I have a weakness for bookstores that Flipkart hadn't completely dispelled. Yes, I don't visit a cherished second-hand bookstore in Poona as regularly as in the past but it's their fault for moving from their charming cubbyhole of a shop to a soul-suckingly big, bland space in a mall, heaven help me. But I think I'm done.

At the venerable store mentioned above, I enquired about 3 different books, none of which they had. I spotted a 4th by Pico Iyer, whose books I purchase by default. It was Rs. 375 after discount and I bought it. Funny thing is, the urge to check out its price on Flipkart did cross my mind in the store itself but I resisted till I got back to work. Instant regret.

It was Rs. 150 on Flipkart. That's an insane difference in the price, nostalgia be damned. I'm not sure how bookstores are going to survive and don't think I'll care too much either. Besides the price, the desultory attitude of the assistants at the store put me off too. So, while I will go to Popular in Deccan when I need to buy a book urgently - those guys always have the book I want which I find most impressive - I don't see myself deliberately visiting any new bookstore unless someone specifically recommends/praises it. Probably not even then.

Apparently, my sense of nostalgia has its limits. Good to know.

Song for the moment: He had a good time - Cliff Martinez   

Monday, November 10

Hit the road, Jack

The previous post was not titled in a moment of premonition.

But there has been a gap. A long pause between posts.

And my life.

January 2nd, 2014. Will I remember that day for the rest of my life? Probably not.

I've suffered my fair share of traumas and forgotten when they occurred, instead holding on to how they made me feel.

I'll probably remember the last 9 months as a benchmark for how I don't ever want to feel again.

It's a crazy world and people put themselves through crazy things for money.

I don't want to anymore.

Throughout the stress-filled days, empty nights and every frustration & rage-rich moment, I wondered when I'd say "Enough".

I did not reach breaking point.

This job, this place is not worth me even trying to push myself to that limit.

I simply chose to respect myself.

And quit.

Song for the moment: Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones

Wednesday, September 24

Gap

So what happened this time?

Don't know... it seemed to be going... I suppose 'well' is too strong a word... decent, by his standards, shall we say?

Hmm... was he being himself again? That's not exactly appealing, you know.

Hey, c'mon, that's a bit harsh. He's okay... maybe too melancholic at first glance, but we know better... he's a nice guy... funny as hell.

Exactly the problem, idiot. We know him well... that's taken time, not to mention a lot of effort on our part... he doesn't really make a great first impression. Or the second, come to that.

Perhaps... but, he tried this time... really, he did.

Did he? Seems to me, he could have done better... if he'd made that decision... booked that ticket....

Fuck that! It was a bloody good thing he didn't and you know it. Imagine landing up there and finding out.

Puhlease!! He should have done it... it would have shown intent.

Guys, the way I see it, intent wouldn't have been enough... something was missing and not from him either.

Of course you will say that only... keep mollycoddling this moron...

No, no... hear me out... he's a novice. We know that. And while we all feel the urgency, he can't simply shed who he is, like a snake, can he? After all, where will that leave us?

We'll be fine... he can't leave us. Fact.

You lot ever think that could be...

DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE SAY IT!

Yea, we can hardly be the problem. We've got his best interests at heart.

Do we? Then why's he still alone?

*...*

Look, let's forget this happened. Tomorrow's another day.

Dollface, between the sameness of tomorrow and right now is the endless night. And the way he's going, anything can happen between now and sunrise.

Ha! I'll be shocked if something new actually happens. He's pretty predictable. Boring.

Jeez, did you really have to say that? He can hear us.

And? Let him hear. You think I like living like this? I want him to do something and change the situation. Miserable fuck.

Okay, you know what? That's just wrong, so stop...

It's right. That's what hurts.

Hehehe... a little hurt can't hurt. Besides, I know we all sometimes wonder whether he even cares... he's not exactly emotionally available, is he?

Seriously, guys...

No, I mean it... doesn't it sometimes feel like he's given up? I mean, look at him... looks like he's just going through the motions, up on stage, under the lights, saying lines that he doesn't really believe in, forcing expressions that aren't true.

Sigh... So what really happened? Let's ask him.

Is that such a good idea? It's better if he pretends he can't hear us, no? 

No! Enough of that crap... let's just ask him. What say?

This is not a good idea.

It's a great idea. Besides, it's not like he's busy is he? Phone's not ringing much anymore.

Asshole. That's what you are. A cruel, asshole.  

Hey, let's not fight... and we'll ask. Because if it's what we all think it is... man, how can such a smart guy be so dumb?

You know what he wants. He can't help himself.

Fine. Do it. Just make it quick.

So, what's the question?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"If you've invested almost nothing, why does it matter so much?" the voices kept asking.

For the longest time, he said nothing, hoping the question would stop, hoping the silence would return. But it didn't. Worse, he could make out different voices. That hadn't happened before and he was starting to worry. But he turned up the music anyway and continued staring out the window at the stations whooshing by. But the voices cut through the music, drowning out everything, till he wasn't sure the music was even playing. And then the train had one of those inexplicable halts between stations and just waited and waited, while the voices kept asking again, again and again, until...  

"It felt nice. It felt normal." he screamed. "I felt..." but he choked. "Please just leave me alone!"

The whole compartment went silent. The old man sitting in the adjacent seat casually got up and went to stand by the door. He could feel the others staring, but continued looking out the window, unable to bear their looks. Finally, after what felt like ages, the train reached the station and he bolted off it as fast as he could. He didn't have to turn around to know that they were still staring but he didn't care. At least he could hear the music again. That was all he wanted.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mother of god, the silly fool. Why does he allow it to happen? Every fucking time!

He can't help it. Just shut your face.

Poor bastard. It was that, wasn't it? We know it was.

Sigh... yes, it was.

Say it. Just say it. 

He felt happy...
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Song for the moment: No you girls - Franz Ferdinand

Saturday, September 6

Who are you?

In conversation with a recent acquaintance last week, I realised my contribution to the exchange was gradually becoming one-dimensional. After the easy hors d'oeuvres, the main course was a well-plated dish of almost nothing. In that, I could only talk about work-related stuff, which (even to me) suggests that I am a very boring guy, with no real interests or hobbies. No life, basically.

Admittedly, talking to new people is difficult, and gets more challenging as we grow older. If you are lucky enough to meet them early in life, then there's no pressure to come across as an interesting person. You are who you are and social Darwinism will either cull or preserve, and allow your friendship/relationship to evolve. On the other hand, meeting someone new when you're entrenched in a demanding job, with nary a social activity in sight, challenges the limits of creativity. The most mundane of things have to be generously embellished; you have to constantly evaluate where this new situation is going - What can you share about yourself? What  kind of jokes can you make? How do you react to their opinions and lifestyle choices?

And, how much do they differ from your other friends? This is in a class of its own because the rest of the stuff can be controlled. You could compromise a bit and accommodate the new person's kookier baggage, but would your friends do that? Should they? How much? And how will group dynamics affect everyone? By which I mean, will the incumbent Alphas knowingly and unknowingly influence the situation?

If you choose to think about this, the experience is exhausting, though if the chips fall correctly, worth it.

"I don't need new friends" is a phrase heard quite often as we grow older. Why? Because old friends are like expanding bookends (pardon me S&G); they know us well enough to tolerate the bouts of one-dimensionality because they go through it too. Once we were young, reasonably wild and full of beans. Now we're not exactly over the hill, more inclined to less hairy adventures and full of hummus. Not to mention, the inside jokes, phraseology and eccentricities, which would bewilder and effectively isolate the outsider.

Coming back to the original point - Am I this person who gets through 12-14 hour workdays, week after week, month after month, getting on and off the trains at odd hours, walking into an empty house, cooking for one at ungodly hours, exhaustedly falling into bed and making semi-obligatory visits to Pune? Or am I someone else... Someone more interesting, if only I chose to be?

I won't fool myself. Or anyone else. Right now, life is pretty one-dimensional and is unlikely to change any time soon. I may want to cook up a storm, but the kitchen shelves are slight bare. As I've said before, routine, good or bad, is a dangerously addictive drug. One part of me might yearn to break free, live a bohemian life, allowing me to fry up plenty of conversational meat; another is constantly whispering sweet nothings about rising inflation, needs, wants, responsibilities, etc. and urging me to gulp the green tea of mundaneness.

The Id rattles the cage doors. The Super Ego gives disapproving looks. The Ego? It's out to lunch.

Song for the moment: Traffic in the sky - Jack Johnson

Tuesday, August 19

A horse with no name

One of the less pleasurable aspects of reaching Pune is the traveling, particularly road journeys. Thanks to the inflexible work schedule, it's impossible for me to hop on to one of the regular intercity trains from Bombay, leaving only the MSRTC buses or Cool Cabs. The taxis require you to have either 3 other travellers or an infinite amount of patience so they're usually not an option, leaving only the bus.

To be fair, the Shivneri buses are usually dependable and my only grouse is the increasingly princely sum of the ticket. However, dependability and comfort are of little use in Bombay's famed traffic, which is a doozy on Friday nights and long weekends, when everyone and their uncles seem to be frantically scooting out of the city. This was the case on the Independence Day weekend too.

Reaching the bus depot, I was faced with a queue of at least 100 people, all of whom had a resigned "FML" look on their faces. I got talking with the guy standing before me and found that he was travelling with his mother, who was wisely cooling her heels in the AC Waiting Room. I suggested we find a 4th person and share a cab, which he agreed to after much hemming & hawing. He then went off to explain the situation to his mom and didn't show up for half an hour. Figuring his mom had other ideas, I continued my vigil, only to have someone tap me on the shoulder. It was another guy standing behind me, also travelling with his mom, who wanted to share a cab.

We found a 4th person and headed for the cab rank, only to meet Son number 1 with his mother in tow. Ram & Lakhan then agreed that it would be an even better idea if the two Mom-Son combos travelled together, leaving me out of the loop. To add insult to injury, one of them asked me to accompany them to the taxi booking office, probably because the large, garish Mumbai-Pune Taxi Association sign was well camouflaged by his idiocy. A little while later, I was back in the line, only for another set of 3 guys to inquire if I wanted to share a cab. Making sure there weren't any mums in the mix, we went to the booking point, where the employee phlegmatically informed us that there wasn't a taxi available for love or money.

I shuffled back into the queue, even as the other guys disappeared to make alternate arrangements, and waited as 4 buses slowly and sheepishly attempted to make their way to the station through the unholy mess that passes itself off as the Sion-Trombay road. Misery tends to bring people together and that day was no different. A girl standing in line, who would normally not have acknowledged my existence, began to chat about the situation in an effort to assuage her own worries about getting to Pune. A young man who'd been casual-flirting with the girl all evening, began to crack jokes and make ribald statements. Unfortunately for him, she indicated that there was someone waiting for her in Pune so he gave up the ghost and we moved on to discussing the sorry bus situation. While we complained and boasted about how long we'd been waiting, he casually let slip that he and his family had waited at Surat train station for 2 days in 2002... during the chaos of the riots. It was a sobering moment, I'll admit. We then moved on to other topics, such as what he was studying in college, what he wanted to do, yada, yada, yada.

As usual, the Peter Pan effect meant I was asked which college I attended and was forced to gently shatter their illusions. Jaws were picked up and we continued talking, for no other reason except that it made the wait somewhat bearable. Eventually, after 3.5 hours in queue, I got a ticket and climbed into the bus. Even though the 3 of us were seated next to each other, we had nothing left to say... nothing we wanted to say. Perhaps the moment of forced camaraderie was over. Everyone dozed off and I plugged in the headphones and stared away into the night. At 4 am, the bus dropped me off at my stop and I considered the fact that from office to home, it'd taken me more than 8 hours. Quite a trip.

Song for the moment: Ask the lonely - Journey

Thursday, July 17

Socha kya tha, kya ho gaya

If I'd started a blog on social or infrastructural issues plaguing this country, there would have been more than enough posts to write. But I generally avoid it because I don't want to criticize anything or anyone without offering a concrete, plausible solution to the problem.

However, I have to ask - What's the deal with rainwater harvesting? Or, more accurately, the lack of it? Bombay is inundated with rain every year. The city's population is rising like a rocket. I'm reasonably confident the dams supplying water to the city aren't upgrading nearly as fast as the number of people. It's not like rainwater harvesting is some magical new technology that visiting aliens have gifted us; the Wikipedia article on it says that our ancient countrymen practiced it. Madras has successfully implemented it some years ago and other states have held it up as a model way of implementing the system. Heck, even Bangladesh has had some success with it. So when and why did the wheels come off the Bombay bus?

If half the rainwater we've received over the past week was channeled and saved properly, we may not face such a water crisis. Or perhaps, a crisis at all. I know it isn't easy (I don't know much about the technical aspects of it) but if the ancients could do it, why can't the city fathers? Yet, what I read today is that the BMC has possibly wasted Rs. 350 crores on rainwater harvesting, with none of the equipment or systems functional as of yesterday. What a jolly situation.

Meanwhile, Pune is already in the throes of a water crisis, which isn't a shocker considering the feeble rains we've received over the last month. But we did receive good rains last year, so why isn't there a proper system in that city? Again, no one knows and the frantic buck-passing by the chaps in charge suggests they exhibited a higher than normal talent for the game of Passing the Parcel in their youth. It's all very well to say that new building societies in Pune have to compulsorily incorporate rainwater harvesting, but what about the rest of us? And who is making sure these new societies are implementing this rule correctly? Talk to the hand.

The place I live in Bombay falls under the protective aegis of some local hot-shot politico, so water is pretty much assured for the residents in the area, but heaven only knows what other people have to put up with. It's probably a cliche, but we really are drowning in ineptitude, wouldn't you say? Perhaps this is something the new government can fix.

Song for the moment: Drops of Jupiter - Train   

Monday, July 14

Children of this time

Then

In college, he was a voracious late-night reader, staying up till 3 and 4 am with books, the beloved desk lamp covered with a yellow dust cloth to dim the light to a soft glow. The strongest memory he has of those nights are trying and failing to stifle the helpless giggles he'd break into over lines and passages in '3 Men in a Boat'. He would read night after night, doze off and still make it in time for early morning Psych lectures at Fergusson.

He remembers the winter morning classes best, kick-starting the Kinetic and riding off into the cutting wind, enjoying the cold emptiness of Ganeshkhind Road, which was narrower then, with neem trees shading a whole lane that is now empty concrete. He deigned to wear a sweater because the cold made him feel alive. He has a permanent memory of riding past the Ambassador Hotel in Model Colony and marveling at how the black tar road changed from gold to silver as the sun rose higher and higher.

He remembers many things from college, but thinks more of returning home in the early afternoon and sharing quiet meals with his mother, facing each other across the table in the living room and talking of various things. Then, she'd take her afternoon nap while he'd shamelessly watch Scooby Doo Mysteries on Cartoon Network. Tea would be ready at 4 pm after which... there is a blank here. He played cricket with a college friend, but is unsure whether they did so every day.

He remembers 3 days of rain at the end of his 3rd year in college. It was an end in many ways.

He remembers his 2 years at Pune University very fondly, biking his way daily to the Anthropology department via the small access gate on Ganeshkhind Road, now forever walled up.

He remembers his time in the U.S, a churning melange of emotions and experiences, none of which bettered the leap of joy his heart experienced the first time he exited the subway, climbed the stairs and found himself in the heart of New York City, a city he instantly liked, without having any reasons to do so.

He remembers Cambodia. Sometimes, he marvels at the thought. At others, he visits Phnom Penh via Google Maps and is happy that the city stays clear in his mind. 

He remembers returning home and moving to Bombay.

Now

He sees a grandfather, once the brightest of men, now a pale imitation crippled by Alzheimer's disease; the cruel twist of fate that leaves him with a healthy body and almost no mind.

He sees a grandmother, who has confidently faced and carried an ocean of hardship and sorrow on her shoulders, begin to stumble and still, carry on walking... towards what, he wonders.  

He sees a father, the brilliant bridge-playing, IIT Bombay graduate, begin to repeat instructions and incidences during conversations. The man who raised his family from obscure poverty to upper middle-class comfort, now facing long, solitary evenings and the hesitant beginnings of a fading mind as he hovers on the cusp of old age.

He sees a sister, in his eyes always a baby, but in truth a strong, stylish, stubborn and yet, fragile young woman living in a misogynistic society.

He sees his friends, once instinctively rambunctious, carefree men and women, now juggling jobs, children and their own family crises and worries.

He feels the effect time has wrought within him. He can no longer read till 3 am. He can't enjoy the cold without at least a jumper. Meals are just breaks in his day where he sits by himself, inflicting food onto an indifferent palate. Even thought he still enjoys cricket, his body extracts a sore price from his muscles for a week. Work has truly become work.

He remembers, he sees and he feels. And still, time ticks on.

Song for the moment: Rafta, Rafta - Mehdi Hassan

Saturday, July 12

The frayed ends of sanity

In any situation that requires order, discipline and efficiency, we as Indians tend to fail. Yes, not everyone would qualify, but this is a country of 1.5 billion and counting, so that's pretty obvious. Most do qualify and that's where the problem lies. At heart, Indians are a peculiar kind of barbarian.

I use that word carefully because I ran through a whole gamut of them including ignorant country bumpkin, animal, savage, and so on and so forth, but using any of those tags would be unfair. Plenty of villagers in India understand order, discipline and efficiency. They're smart, self-sacrificing and hard-working. Similarly, animals have their own rules so to compare the typical unruly Indian mob to animals is pretty stupid. Even barbarians could very well have imbibed any of the characteristics I believe we as Indians purposefully choose to ignore. The word 'savage' is distasteful and again, stupid because indigenous people follow their own laws and that's their business. So, I chose to qualify 'barbarian' with 'peculiar'.

It is rather peculiar how we're bloody keen to raise hackles if anyone passes uncharitable remarks about us as people or a country and yet, go out of our way to behave without a fig leaf of decorum when given a chance to do so. I was at the passport office yesterday. The procedure clearly states that one must be at the office 15 minutes before the appointment. Yet, a whole mob of buffoons dutifully arrived much later than the stipulated time and then began gehraoing the solitary security officer at the gate to let them in. They did this, not by forming a queue, mind, but by milling around as if they were at a market auction. Meanwhile, the actual queue, self included, watched with increasing resignation and horror as the guard, distracted by those ass*****, delayed our getting in. Then some chump with a wife and baby in tow decided to browbeat the security guard, demanding that he be let in as he was on time. To which the guard exclaimed "Praise be to Jeebus" and welcomed him in. I'm joking of course.   

Once inside, there were more lines to stand in. Again, random chappies and chicklets would waltz past, assuming that their paperwork was more important than anyone else's. The passport officers were, in general, polite and helpful, which is about all that can be said in the circumstances. Even that lot threw in the occasional googly. Take for instance, this archaic shit called the Emigration Check - Required or Not Required, that is the question, to take a feather from Bill Shakespeare's cap.

I'd come to renew the passport. It was still valid; the address hadn't changed; there were stamped visas to various countries, so essentially, it should be smooth sailing, I thought. I thought wrong. The bloke at the counter asks me if I'd brought my 10th and 12th mark sheets with me. At the age of 31, heaven only knows why in blazes I need to prove educational qualifications, so of course I hadn't brought them along. I wasn't in any mood to be browbeaten by that bunch either, because believe it or not, I consider passports more a right than a privilege. Which is not the officially approved attitude so I was made to do the pinball dance which involves me being tossed around various queues, just because of the dratted ECR/ECNR nonsense. When I asked the tosser who raised the issue what the ECR was for, he didn't know. Fancy that.

As I waited, all I could see was people milling around, breaking and jumping lines, yelling, not having the plethora of required documentation (which can include house deeds, birth certificates and even albums of photos, who knows?), missing their token numbers on the screen, etc. It was exhausting being there but at least it was clean and air-conditioned. After 3 hours, I finally submitted my documents, exited and then realised I'd left my new brolly at the final counter, which meant I had to go through all the rings of fire once again. At least I found it.

Now I am waiting for that delightfully strange exercise called the Police Verification to be completed. It makes no sense to me because the coppers are supposed to show up any time they fancy and I'm expected to be home. Don't people have jobs? Or, I don't know, errands to run? Who is crazy enough to be hanging around at home in anticipation? What would Jeebus do?
 
Oh, and the ECR crap - apparently, if there's a stamp which says that an emigration check is required, I can't work in the Gulf. I guess I'll be crying myself to sleep about that. Not.

Song for the moment: Hard Times - Eric Clapton

Friday, July 11

Evening Prayer

It happened today.

The past month has been incredibly torrid, work-wise. I've usually caught the last train, reached home at 2 am, pretended to eat something and fallen into a dreamless sleep. I worked weekends and even a couple of overnight sessions, including one at the start of this week. And all the time, I have not stopped looking.

There were many opportunities of course. Silent nights as I've trudged tiredly towards the station, the only person on the road; at 3 am, my eyes stinging, staring at the screen, wondering what line would be appropriate for some press ad; on the trains and in the taxis, looking out into the nothingness of the Mumbai night, feeling the wind and rain howl their symphony; the moments I've spent, wearily sitting on my bed, wondering whether my work & my current lifestyle are worth whatever I'm accepting.

But no. There wasn't even an iota of it. Till today. I was home, having taken a rare holiday for personal work. There's no such thing as an actual holiday at the place I work of course, because the phone started ringing halfway through the afternoon, just as I thought about watching a movie or reading. There was a crisis. The client had rubbished the work we'd done and had sent a stinker to the servicing fellow. After a con-call to sort out the brouhaha that now entails working on the weekend (from home, small mercies of the universe) I went downstairs.

And it finally happened. I stood staring at the grey sky framed by two buildings. The wind was playfully spinning in any and every direction. The leaves on the eucalyptus and neem trees were sighing and the rain clouds were billowing. There was just a hint of rain. And right there, just for that moment, I felt at peace.

I could have stood there forever. I could have taken my usual walk around the buildings, but it's no fun without my old colony friend K. So, I turned around and went home. Maybe I'll find that moment again, soon. I hope so.

Song for the moment: Stillness of the lake - Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma    

Sunday, June 1

Hey, that's no way to say goodbye

G's ability to write had become still. "Still like a noonday minute in the brutal, breathless summer", he thought. It wasn't that G hadn't pondered the situation. However, he couldn't come up with an answer to satisfy anyone, least of all himself.

The answer came whilst he stared out the window, at and past the eucalyptus tree. G usually wrote about his feelings and experiences. And for over a month, he'd felt almost nothing; had no noteworthy experience. G was simply making it through the day, day after day, counting the hours, waiting for something to happen. It was Sisyphean.

G was certain his family and friends lived similar lives of routine. Sure, there was some tumult now and again, but overall, he could not see reflected on anyone else's face, what he was feeling. Or not feeling. The people he knew were carrying on with their lives, making plans, meeting lovers, getting engaged or married, having children, doing well at their jobs, and finding equilibrium. Or maybe they hid their chaos very well.

G was still trying to find that equilibrium. He was still holding his breath; still clenching his gut. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise.

"He's had to grow up too quickly", someone one said, referring to him.
"Maybe you've never grown up at all", a friend once told him in a moment of truth.

G suspected the truth was somewhere in between. He was waiting to find out. Until he did, he really wouldn't be able to write.

Song for the moment: Suicide is painless - Theme from M*A*S*H

P.S: Don't read too much into the song... just like the tune and the show.     

Friday, April 25

Time of the gypsies

Yesterday, I did something that most of you consider normal. I went to see a movie at the theatre, or as some of us still cutely refer to it, the talkies. Going to the movies is something I do very rarely because my weekends are usually spent in a catatonic state or visiting friends. Cinemas don't allow for interaction, and I've also stopped going to movies by myself.

Anyway, thanks to the benevolent goodness of two friends, a lovely couple who are also my self-appointed guardians in Bombay, I shimmied along as the 3rd wheel for the evening show of 2 States. I enjoyed it; both the cinema experience and the movie.

Yes, perhaps the plot moved along rather quickly and conveniently, particularly in the first half of the movie and then lost steam later on. And maybe the worded stereotype jokes were a little stale. But overall, it was worth a watch. Alia Bhatt acted really well and dominated the movie (which she'd have done anyway considering the screen time, but even so) and Arjun Kapoor was believable, even if I felt he didn't really act as well as her. And there were plenty of genuinely hilarious moments overall, so well done them.

But the mind-blowing moment of the movie for me was seeing Revathy. When she sang a song she was originally pictured in with a very young Salman Khan, FYI, it was truly surreal. To realise that the beautiful woman from that song and the genuinely scary movie Raat was now playing a maami with such aplomb... man, I got wistfully nostalgic as hell. Kudos to the sense of humour of whoever thought of Revathy singing her own classic 90s song in this movie.

I suppose it is a bit of a cliche that I, as a Tam guy, am writing about her when there are probably plenty of you who must have got a similar shock on seeing Amrita Singh. I don't really have too many Tam moments in life, considering I've been born and brought up in and around Bombay & Pune. So I genuinely and selfishly enjoyed the Tamil conversational parts of the movie too. I guess some things strike a chord somewhere, so maybe the movie did get something right about cultural connect after all.

Song for the moment: Saathiya, tune kya kiya - SP Balasubramaniyam & Chitra - OST Love (1991)

P.S: From the comments trail in the video, I guess the movie has given a boost to views and listens of this song. Can't say I am not delighted. 

Monday, April 21

Aqualung

One beer.

One beer just won't do. It really isn't enough. On a sultry night, when the very air is thrumming and shimmering, it doesn't quench your thirst (no matter how much you tell yourself that it does). It makes you crave more. More beer, more everything. The taste evaporates off your palate slowly. Reluctantly. Like lovers relinquishing their grasp on each others fingers at the end of a lovely evening; before one of you gets out of bed in the morning.

Beer is mean. When it realises that you are serious; that you really, truly aren't going to follow up with another, when it doesn't get to glide past your lips, swish about your teeth and hit your throat again with all the wallop of a gastronomic "Hallelujah", then it becomes vindictive. And it takes revenge by drowning you in memories; of good times and better times. When it was the grease that kept the night, the laughter and the glow of camaraderie going on and on. You'll smile since you can't help it, but that's a mistake because the smile will trip you into falling down the spiral staircase of your head; back and back, as you search for the best times you've ever had. And of course, because they are the best times, you won't be able to remember anything except the morning after. Which, in normal circumstances, is the ideal way to remember them, if you know what I mean. Not now though. The beer doesn't care, however. You stopped at one, so it'll gift you the aftertaste and thoughts of friends, witty repartee, cutting, breathtaking humour, arm-in-arm stumbles down dark, empty lanes with the echo of your favourite songs ringing in your ears... and as a knockout reward, sudden, quicksilver exhibitions of of raw vulnerability by your buddies.

Your mouth craves a cigarette. Just the thought of a single puff. The warm acridity. The instant electric rush. A spark of imagined cool as your face is reflected in the light of the match. After which your eyes wander. Stare. Imagine. See. Unsee. Relive. Discover. Pause. Close.

Now you're craving a taste of the lips you spend so much time thinking about. The ones you want to bite into, slowly and gently, even as your hands involuntarily clench, hungering to explore in conjunction with your tongue. The sensation of a fleeting flicker.

All the while your ears wait to hear it. The gentle breath on the lobe; the totally, totally involuntary gasp. The sound of pleasurable surrender.

Your shoulders ache dully, like a blunt knife is pressing against them. You'd kill for a hug. The kind that ends in a moment but goes on forever. You'll settle for a reassuring squeeze. A light brush of the fingertips. Anything. 

Your nose flares; tells you of many things. Musk. Sweat. The faint whiff of clean skin. Good perfume. Earthy darkness of tresses imprinting themselves on your lungs.

All of it drifts away, leaving you behind, empty and alone with your regrets.

One beer really isn't enough.

Song for the moment: Chelsea Hotel #2 - Leonard Cohen

Sunday, March 30

Darn that dream

The space had character.

The outside room was distinguished by wooden floors, formica topped tables around the corners, shelves lined with video tapes & reels, cardboard boxes hiding behind pillars almost in apology, and piles of vouchers, bills, shooting dockets & other documents shuffling around higgledy-piggledy wherever they could. Large, framed prints hung on the walls. The room should have felt crowded and untidy, but it did not. Each of the items had made a place for itself in there, and now looked like it had always belonged.

The inside room was all him... his personality & tastes expressed in a strong, vivacious fashion. The aluminium windows, open more out of rusty compulsion than choice, looked on to a dreary building. An AC rumbled on in a determined fashion, while the water dripping from it made its way down the window grills, into the gullets of crows, sparrows and any other bird that needed a drink. A very hot summer was in the offing.

His table was wooden and solid-looking. It had a large Macintosh, some papers, a notebook and an old pouch. His leather chair promised reassuring comfort. It had to; he was 6 ft. 3 in. A tan Lazy-boy, corpulent in its padding looked like it was snoozing in a corner. The walls were a melange of well-thumbed books, fading movie posters and photographs of actors and movie covers. Behind his chair hid a hand-painted & framed picture of a bull charging at the Matador, the red of the cloth, vivid. Light streaming from the window hit a small silver salver... the kind in which chandoo (finest opium) used to be kept in days gone by.

And then there was the man himself. When authors used the words craggy and rangy to describe men, SSS was the kind of man they were referring to. With the natural confidence possessed by those with royal blood in their veins, wealth, good looks and athletic bodies, he walked into a room like he owned it. And in this case, it was literally true. He did own this part of the building; 2 rooms in an enormous old studio lot, now going to seed. Most of the sound stages had closed, the editing rooms had moved elsewhere and there was talk about an infamous realty group circling like a shark that had smelled blood. SSS had moved into the place 20 years ago. He was still there.

An industry veteran, SSS had worked with big names and agencies and, like all veterans, strongly disdained most of those he'd worked with. He was a born raconteur, with enough skill to tantalise rather than reveal. His voice was clear, his words eloquent and his diction, perfect. His conversations ranged like a wild horse through the landscape of his memories and experiences; yet, the work-related topics were never neglected. As he spoke, he'd open the pouch, take out the rolling paper, a filter, some tobacco and weed. Without a pause, he'd mix, layer, roll and light up. It was a pretty mesmerising performance. And the joint always smelled good.

It was only his eyes that were tired and careworn. Though they usually looked speculative, 20 years was a long time to be behind the camera, direct actors, consider shots & storyboards, yell "Action", "Cut" and "Pack up", and the fatigue came through every now and then. Despite the clear passion for his work and his talent, SSS was exhausted. More than that, he was bored, which was worse. He was reaching the end of his tether; over the lack of organisation at shoots, the lack of professionalism, the quibbles, quarrels, constant client edits... the list went on. There was also the brouhaha over the realty dealer and the sale of the property. Where would he move? How would he take 2 decades of good & bad to another place? How could he abandon the very walls that had supported him all these years?

SSS didn't have any answers. He got up, headed outside his office to a wrought iron bench opposite the door in a long passageway. There he sat, with an ashtray and a joint, staring into nothingness.

   

Sunday, March 23

Bird on a wire

This weekend, I finally made some time to visit (and I use the word carefully) my feedly subscriptions. There were more than 400 unread articles, dating back to just over a month ago. Which coincidentally was also around the time I wrote my last blog post. Those who know me will get where this is going - that the 400 unread articles are a sign that all is not well in Grinch-land; not just because I read regularly, but also because I am rather particular about not leaving things unfinished. 'Obsessive-compulsive' is the phrase you're reaching for I suspect, though that's neither here nor there. Or perhaps it is.

Either way, for me it isn't and wasn't normal. And therein lies the tale; even by the standards of an abnormal industry anyway, it hasn't been a remotely normal month. This should explain it with far more brevity & humour than yours truly is capable of. And because of it, I have been forced to ignore the other parts of my life. Leave aside books and blog posts, those will always be around, I haven't even seen some of my friends and loved ones in ages. This includes close friends who are a 10 minute auto ride away, and my grandma who lives 3 lanes away, for heaven's sake! Not to mention the fact that since the time I joined the current place, I have totally gone 2 months without visiting Pune, which is not a record I want.   

I took up the new job, full of optimism about doing great work and having more fun. It's been 3 months and all I can say is that my optimism was horribly misplaced. Along with energy, inspiration and hope, I have lost 3 kilos. And I'm pretty pint-sized as it is.

My days are either bad or worse. My weekends are no longer my own. More than once, I've fantasized about resigning and walking away from the shambles that masquerades as my workplace. This past Thursday, I was a 'Send' button click away from doing just that. And yet, here I am typing this, knowing that my hunched and defeated shoulders will present themselves in front of the attendance roster tomorrow.

There are many ways to look at this situation, one of which (and my favourite mantra right now) is that the job market is so bad that quitting without another job would be career suicide. Of course, there are plenty of people who can and do casually toss in the following:
  • Success requires some sacrifices
  • You'll get to learn so much
  • You knew it would be this crazy
  • This is the way it is everywhere
  • It will get better soon
And other similarly pithy catchphrases.

I don't know how to respond to these things. Perhaps that is just as well because right now, a reckless response, whether to hollow maxims or the strains of the job, would do me no good. Instead, it is time I took a leaf out of the book of a friend who, by his own confession, thinks things through.

Now is the time for pause, reflection and then, a decision... not that any decision would be carved in stone, though a little peace and quiet on the job front would be welcome. All I know is that I can't go on like this. On that note, ta for now.

Song for the moment: Walls fall down - Bedouin Soundclash           

Wednesday, February 19

Getaway

Okay, so that last post had a mild "Itna sannata kyun hai bhai?" feel, which I've been encouraged to eschew in favour of a totally believable, "C'mon Barbie, let's go party!" theme.

So I'll resume normal services and give some updates from the Gulag, also known in the local idiom as the place I work. The greenhorn putting in his papers was basically the signal for opening the doors to the Augean stables. Within a week, his senior on the account put in her papers citing a shattering of her confidence (her actual words). The girl hired to replace greenhorn number one experienced 2 days - Thursday & Friday, before failing to show up on the subsequent Monday, thereby giving the management a well-manicured middle finger.

Meanwhile, another client servicing cretin, who fancied perhaps that he'd signed up for a pleasure cruise, lasted exactly 1 day. I have a vague recollection of him pompously surveying the chaos engulfing this place on the day he joined and telling someone on the phone that there weren't even enough chairs for everyone (there are; just about) and sniffing fussily. The next thing we hear is that he'd allegedly suffered from hemolytic jaundice and had to be hospitalised; an affliction from which he made a Jesus-like recovery 2 days later, to rejoin his old workplace.

There's lots of hoopla on the creative side of the border too, what with 3 art directors quitting, 2 plotting their exits and numerous others gathering in corners to whisper stealthily. This is probably what the scene was like around the time old Julius was expressing his incredulity at the vigour and enthusiasm with which Brutus was letting him have it with a suitable pointy object. Which, if you think about it, could have been a pleasurable activity in those far-off Bacchanalian times. Sadly for Julius however... Anyway, you get the picture.

On top of all this, the clients are collectively behaving in the particularly delightful way that makes one hanker for the times when people could reach for their weapons and solve problems swiftly and definitely. It makes working here rather trying, particularly when people cheerfully remark "So advertising... must be wild and fun, right?" So, I wonder if it's like this in every ad firm, even as I begin to shimmy over to lurk in various corners, keeping my ear to the ground and formulating my plans for the future.       

Song for the moment: INXS - Listen like thieves          

Friday, February 14

Just Looking

Sometimes I will do this. 

Visit the blogs of people who are not on my reading list. 

Type out the addresses from memory and hit 'Return'. 

Wait. Knowing what I certainly know, yet I yearn.

Maybe I'll be proved right. That they don't write.

Or maybe, that they have.

When I see that last post. 

And find that it's a 3 year old ghost.

I become wistful. With a dash of melancholic, for taste.

Wondering why they stopped. Making judgements of lost potential in haste.

Could it be that they've moved to another ground?

To something like Whatsapp; more convenient, less profound?  

Perhaps staid routine claims another writer. 

Whose ink is fading, as the page grows whiter. 

I'll admit, the thought makes me sad. 

Though I know there's no use feeling bad. 

So, I'm going to fall back on that old standby; hope.

Visit old posts, reminisce and cope.

Wonder if the authors will ever rediscover the fun. 

And write again, even if it is a poem as basic as this one.

Song for the moment: Lamento - Melibea

Wednesday, January 29

Seek & Destroy

I am staring at an email sent to the entire office on the morning of 8th Jan. The mail was about welcoming a new employee to the agency. He was joining at a Junior Account Executive position, which, in industry parlance means Lower than Doormat; a guy who could, on average, expect to - be mercilessly badgered by his boss, be belittled by any creative teams he worked with and face a complete disruption of his eating and sleeping schedules. 

Of course, he need not expect this degrading experience at every agency he sends the resume to. The intensity of this treatment also differs between places. However, largely, starting out in a junior AE role is a thankless existence, something I feel all of Client Servicing is anyway.

I pulled up that particular email because I have just been told that he has quit. After a horror of a Monday, he didn't come into work yesterday and the rumour is that he was extremely stressed out, which caused his BP to plummet and him to faint. I am not surprised, either about him falling ill or him tendering his resignation. This agency has a pretty high turnover. Of employees, not revenue.

He was a nice guy. Earnest, eager to learn & please and anxious to not step on anyone's toes. He liked reading Manga. Given time, he could have become a success here. Who knows?
 
However, the 18 days that he worked here were probably the worst of his fledgling professional life. I can say with some confidence that it would require a jinx of enormous proportions for him to face this situation again. And yes, most agencies are structured to pressurise juniors - think of sugarcane being pressed for juice and you'll know what I mean. This place, in particular, certainly requires you to raise your game to stratospheric levels or strike it lucky and have a kind and understanding boss. Certainly, at his level, kindness and consideration would have helped.

But he was not a lucky guy. 

So here's wishing him well.

Song for the moment: Whiplash - Metallica

Thursday, January 16

Same old song and dance

The few and far readers of this blog, along with any dedicated online stalkers, may be wondering why I haven't posted in such a long time. The kinder minority may suggest that perhaps it was a splendid decision on my part to give the blathering a rest.

The simple truth of the matter is that I tried to make the most of December because it was my last month at (the now) previous work place. A well-known, or should I say infamous ad firm, in which I spent exactly 2 years, 1.5 of which were painfully crushing and miserable and 6 months that were bad. Ok, make that 5 months and 3 weeks. I am not exaggerating. By the end of the first week, I'd cottoned on to the fact that every single person in my department was as miserable as fuck, and unable to do a thing about it. It was like being the bunch of musicians who got stuck with the unfortunate role of providing music as the Titanic went down. The combination of an unhinged, non-creative Creative Director, a Stymphalian bird masquerading as the CEO and a bunch of ludicrous clients with incessantly foolish demands put paid to even the slightest zephyr of satisfaction struggling to rise from the place.

So it should come as no surprise that most people were looking out for opportunities to move elsewhere. I gave it a reluctant go, mainly because I am easily seduced by routine, but also because, for the last year, my only purpose for coming into work was trying to hang out with a colleague I had a supernova-level crush on. The things we do, I tell you. Jocularity apart, the truth is I wasn't good enough to move into mainline advertising, which is allegedly the meat to the bread that is direct marketing communications.

Eventually, at the end of November, the chance to move came along. Now you'd think, after the litany-filled paragraphs above that it would be a no-brainer, but things are a lot more complicated than they look, Watson. There were some sacrifices to be made, shekels to be considered and calculated and the belt tightened. I also knew that mainline advertising is notoriously hard work and long hours. The upside, I was led to believe, was that you had the chance to do something really creative and this in turn powered the dynamo of the professional joy machine. So, taking a "now or never" approach, I accepted the offer.

I prayed that, after two consecutively lousy work experiences totaling to about 4 years, I'd finally be in a decent place. And am I? Let's just say I've invented a new phrase - "From the frying pan, into the fire that's blazing between a rock and a hard place". More on this later.

Song for the moment: We only come out at night - The Smashing Pumpkins