Sunday, September 20

Just a gift

I am at work, in an office without windows.

It is 4:10 pm and the floor is buzzing quietly. Like the whole nation, the office is on its tea break.

In the canteen, I fill my mug with dishwater masquerading as tea, and am walking past a cubicle when I stop. I smell it first. And then see it. A familiar blue cardboard box on a new colleague's desk. She's from Poona too.

She catches me looking at the box in incredulity, smiles knowingly and tells me to open the box and take one. I'm still unsure if it's a prank but I open the box anyway.

And there they are, rows and rows of whitish biscuits with light brown edges.

I bite into the crisply convivial, buttery crust, and a tsunami of homesickness washes me away in a whirlpool, even before I can appreciate the taste.
 
And it is 4:10 pm. A different, quieter Poona.

I am cycling home on my red Hero Ranger.

The sky is blue, the sun is warmly friendly and a slight breeze brushes away the heat.

I have whizzed down the Abhimanshree Society slope, challenging myself to see how far I can go without pedalling.

Now, I take the turn into my lane and glide through the gate into the parking lot of my building, already off the bike and balancing one leg on the pedal.

I chain lock the bike, climb up the 2 flights of stairs and ring the bell. The door opens and I can smell the tea simmering on the stove and the aroma of curry leaves and coconut.

I wash up, sit on the couch before the TV and watch cartoons, eating dosas washed down with the tea.

I'm lost in the maelstrom of this memory spiralling around itself, day after day after day for many a year.

Is it the closest I will ever come to heaven?

I take another Shrewsbury biscuit.

Song for the moment: Summertime - Norah Jones  

Saturday, September 12

Outside looking in

So, here's something that happened to yours truly for the first time. After work on Thursday night, a few colleagues and I headed over to a popular new restobar nearby. None of us had been there before and it took us a while to find the place.

It was the last working day for one of the guys in my team and we wanted to celebrate it with a quiet drink and a good meal. My team-mates and I are all over 30. One of them is a father and another is about to get married in a few months. Though were dressed casually, all of us were in jeans or trousers and covered shoes. None of us looks remotely threatening.

Anyway, we get to the entrance and the guy at the door gives us a cursory glance and says "No stags allowed". I was nonplussed. And then, outraged. Because, there's two ways to look at what happened.

1. We were being punished for being single men / men not accompanied by ladies.
2. We weren't deemed acceptable enough to enter.

Indian men do not do themselves any favours. There's too many stories out there about guys getting drunk and creating pandemonium or misbehaving with other customers, usually women. So, in a way, my sympathies lie with long-suffering restaurateurs who have to deal with these assholes on a regular basis and watch their business suffer. However, I have a BIG problem with this blanket assumption that all single men are assholes. And I'm willing to bet that if we'd been single firang guys, we'd still have been let in.

Point 2, if anything, is worse. Any restaurant reserves the right of entry. And the fancier the restaurant, the snobbier the staff, particularly the ones at the door. But this place wasn't of the uppermost rung. If anything, their website claims that it's a place for artists and innovators to collaborate. And the average artist looks like a hobo. We were dressed well enough. On what basis were we deemed 'not good enough' to enter?

Is it because we weren't rich-looking? Or a few shades paler? Was it our beards? Our very normal clothes? The fact that none of us is tall and good-looking?

Needless to say, I called up the manager the next day and let him have it. Politely. Because, like I said before, I can sympathise. Single Indian men as a species is a problem. And there really is no way to separate the wheat from the chaff, of which there's a lot of. He told me what I'd expected - female patrons had complained regularly about being harassed, which forced the management to put a blanket ban on single guys. He also says that single guys are allowed but it's a judgement call. I wanted to ask how this worked without the potential patron being completely insulted but gave up. The guy then offered an apology and assured me that I'd be let in on my next visit.

But is this really the way to go? Instead of letting the doorman take arbitrary calls on who should be allowed in, or completely banning single guys, would it not be better to employ some extremely efficient bouncers who could deal with assholes? I'd suggest that the cops be rung immediately too, except for two problems. The cops usually hassle the restaurant. And the troublemaker can whip out the classic "Do you know who I am/my father is?" line, at which point the cops take cover.

Of course, the real solution and therefore the toughest is to ensure that guys know how to behave in public. But who am I kidding? So, should I try to not remain single simply to reassure restaurateurs? No guarantees there since boors are boors, regardless of status. Also, can I be surprised that the reputation of the average Indian male makes women vary?

No wonder, guys drinking at home is catching on.

Update: Discussed this issue with the sister, who agreed that arbitrary calls on which stag gets in are wrong. But, she agrees with the management that, till such time as a viable solution is found, a blanket ban is the only way to go. However, she also points out that ladies being at the table/part of the group doesn't stop guys behaving boorishly either. What a sorry bunch of bastards. 

Song for the moment: Victim or the crime - Grateful Dead