Sunday, December 27

Remember a day

X stood at the kerb, staring after the car that was pulling away. Slightly tipsy, slightly dazed, he blinked slowly, holding on to the fast-evaporating feeling of warmth as fiercely as he'd held on to her. 

"You okay?" asked a tenor voice behind him. Turning around, he saw the old man, silver hair askew in the wind, smiling. "Are you alright?" the man asked again. X wasn't sure, so he considered his reply. He'd joined a group of friends for dinner and they'd been drinking into the early hours of Christmas Eve. X thought he'd seen the old man in the restaurant, seated a few tables away, but wasn't sure. He'd been largely distracted and tongue-tied that evening. Every once in a while, he'd dare a glance at her; when she smiled or laughed, his breath would catch and he'd look away and take another sip. There were a lot of sips, that much he knew.

The old man was still there, waiting for an answer. "I guess" is all X could say. It wasn't much of an answer and he could see the man wasn't buying it. "Frustrating, isn't it?" the man asked, with a mischievous gleam in his eye. That expression gave X the shivers. There was something very odd about it, but in his drunken state he couldn't put his finger on what that was. Besides, the guy was right. It was frustrating, he admitted to himself. 

"What do you mean?" X retorted aloud. It came out gruffly, even though he didn't mean it.

"Well, you kind of look like you have girl trouble" the old dude said, with a low chuckle, unconcerned about the seemingly rude tone. 

"Yea, I sort of do", X replied. And was about to continue when he was interrupted.

"Listen, it's simple. Tell yourself that you only die once. Keep repeating it in your head and you'll understand why things become, er, dead simple. Especially the next time you meet her. It'll make it easier for you to ask her out." 

"Wait. What? How did you know...". 

"I told you. It's on your face. Besides, you're not the first guy who ever got cold feet. You won't be the last. But, repeat what I say and the fear goes away once in a while."

X was about to respond when he saw the woman approaching. The old man turned around and smiled. She smiled back and X's breath caught at how it transformed her face. Again, the familiarity of it made him very uneasy. Or was it the whisky?

"Let him figure it out" she said, mock-frowning at the man. Leading him away, X heard her say "I meet you at the New Year's, right?" The old man was shaking his head and gesticulating. X heard the old man say "... an idiot" and called out to them, but they were out of earshot. Or, chose to ignore him. Either way, a passing auto stopped and X got in. 

As the vehicle moved away, he heard the old man's voice.


"Happy birthday, kiddo."

X looked out the auto wildly, now certain there was something dreadfully strange going on. The road was deserted. A shadow moved under an approaching street lamp. As the rickshaw went past it, X saw them both. She was smiling again and X heard the wind whip away her words. "It was a nice hug..."

Song for the moment: Does anybody know what time it is - Chicago 

Saturday, December 26

Stone in my shoe

Numbers are the bane of my existence.

When I was a kid they loomed because my elders never let me forget that marks were important. 99 in Math was okay, but where did that 1 mark go? Coming second in a class of 75 (and man were we packed like sardines!) was reluctantly acceptable, but why didn't I come first?

Of course, Math itself became enemy no. 1 very soon. Try as I might, the subject never interested me and in many ways, bounced way over my head. I took to English like a duck to water, and to Math like a duck to foie gras. As a subject, History fascinated me, but the curriculum left the hows-and-whys by the roadside and question papers seemed largely about remembering various dates, names and how people escaped their enemies in crates of sweets or flowers.

By the time I was in college, another number began to haunt me - height. While everyone else was shooting up like the young Himalayas, I was emulating the Chota Nagpur plateau. In more ways than one. As if that wasn't depressing enough, I voluntarily chose to study statistics for 3 years, convinced that it would give me an edge when I finally became a psychologist. Which never happened because there were 10 General Category seats in the University and the top 10 were separated by decimal points. If there ever was a meaner mode of flagellation, I have yet to meet it. 

When marks finally stopped mattering, money took their place. I'd discovered the joy of buying second-hand books, but had to balance it with the cost of petrol for the bike. Then, GRE scores came into the picture, followed by the number of zeros it would cost at various universities in the U.S. Once again, numbers influenced my choice of university. And, once I reached the U.S., they also decided my lifestyle.

Once I started working, the number on offer letter decided everything. Where I stayed, how I lived, the kind of workplaces I'd choose. A salary cut took me to the field I wanted but set me back a few years in terms of lifestyle. Living in Bombay also made me conscious of train timings, bus numbers and estimated travel times. The number on the waistband started expanding. And of course, every year, family and friends would tell me that I wasn't getting any younger. From being thrilled about turning 18 or 21, I had begun telling myself that age was just a number; that every birthday wasn't toll of doom on the social/marital bell.

A few days ago another birthday came and went. Another mark, another age, another year. Sure as eggs are eggs, trouble with numbers were still stalking me. Because as I raised glass after glass in celebration, I didn't know (and still don't) know how to get her phone number.

Song for the moment: Ordinary Superman - The Himalayans       

Saturday, December 19

Behold! The Nightmare

One of the rarest creatures in Bombay is someone living by themselves. In a city plagued by inflated rents and insane population density, not sharing 1BHK or even that vile excuse for a residence, the 1RK, is considered a luxury. And the person is branded a spendthrift.

It's a facial expression that can't be missed. Tell someone you live by yourself and watch their bottom lip curl outwards and their head simultaneously do a wiggle. Their eyes have a teasing gleam; read between the iris lines and you can clearly see them mentally say "what an idiot". Having lived by myself for a while now, this familiar rigmarole jarred. Doubts started to creep in. Was I being foolish? Selfish? Was it healthy to not only live alone but also relish the feeling? 

Moving to the U.S was my first exposure to the sometimes Kafkaesque world of room-mates. Having neither the shekels nor the spunk to live by myself there, I learned to come to terms with their varied eccentricities. It was a valuable lesson in compromise, though random flashbacks of the filthy bathroom and kitchen make me break out into cold sweats occasionally. When I moved back to Bombay, once again money talked. And what it said wasn't pleasant to hear. However, I lucked out by finding a room-mate who happened to be a childhood buddy. It wasn't ideal but it worked smoothly until he left. After which things took such a nasty turn (you can read up on Norman Bates in my posts from 3 years ago) that I finally was pushed into finding my own place. 

While I enjoyed the relief and freedom of living alone, I could feel Bombay's eyebrow raised in disapproval. Until I landed up at a colleague's place in Andheri last night after the office end-of-year party. Or, to use its real moniker, the free booze and bitching session. Due to some complicated logistics of travel, returning home wasn't feasible. So, 3 of us landed up at my colleague's 1BHK.

The instant I entered the house, an extremely familiar feeling of horror began to crawl up my spine. Now, before I go any further let me just clarify that my colleague is the nicest guy in the world. A happy-go-lucky chap without a bad bone in his body. But his house was/is an abomination. It is the quintessential bachelor pad. Mysterious cartons and boxes all over the place; a sofa that hosted roaches, bedbugs and other assorted entomological nightmares; a clothes stand groaning under the weight of damp clothes; dodgy stains and cup rings on every conceivable surface; a persistent smell of old tobacco; doors that did not shut properly, a toilet from hell; and of course, some random blokes who also happened to land up there for the night, courtesy his other room mate. 

As an assorted menagerie of semi-clothed, wheezing guys kept walking out of the inner room, I seriously considered whether my colleague's room mate was Dr. Who, and his room the TARDIS. I just didn't see how they could all fit in there. Perhaps one or more slept in advanced Yoga poses. Anyway, the living room was already occupied by a heaving mass of flesh whose stentorian snores would have put the wildest of boars to shame. Having no other recourse, the rest of us crunched indignant limbs into positions that certainly weren't in the Kama Sutra and tried to snooze. Unfortunately, as the background score was Krakatoa in human form, I did not sleep a wink.

At 5 am, someone walked into the room, put on all the lights, proceeded to rummage through the clothes stand and the shelves, rooting for his stuff with all the finesse of a pig looking for truffles. After that, I curled up in a ball and waited for divine mercy, who arrived when Krakatoa rose (erupted, more like), put on the kettle for tea, roused my colleague and within 45 minutes, had us driving off to Pune in his car.

Much as I hated it, I will be eternally grateful for those few hours spent at my colleague's place. Because, I now know that it was a fantastic decision to live by myself. The next time I see the lip curl, I can confidently cock a snook at the morons and ignore their judgments. 

Someone once said that no man is an island. Well, he never said anything about choosing to live alone on one. Which is what I shall do with head held high, happy in the knowledge that for me, room mates are overrated.

Song for the moment: Bullet with butterfly wings - The Smashing Pumpkins

Tuesday, December 1

Cold Shot

Unable to stitch two coherent sentences together and shape a narrative (what a horrible word that has become thanks to the internet) I shamelessly resort to writing in points.

So, either bear with me (sounds like we're doing unmentionable things to an animal) or stop reading.

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Beer and rock feels like an 20s thing. Kiddish and earnest in a silly grin sort of way. To appreciate that ride, I need friends (of my age) around me, fuelled by our collective nostalgia and desperation to cling on to the last decade.

Whisky and rock fits way better now. Snug, is the word.

And, while a cigarette has an endless, dangerously cool appeal, there are still enough neurons firing to chastise you that the warm, acrid taste of tobacco heated by fire, flowing like mist into your mouth, kissing your insides and making your neck lean back of its own accord is... a bad, bad idea. 

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Waiting for the train today, I stood surrounded by guys in formal attire (minus the coat. This is Bombay, for crissakes.). Couldn't help but notice that each of them had a sizeable gut oozing out of their pants and hanging on for dear life somewhere near the belt line. I am in the same age bracket and though I dress like I'm in college (one of the supposed perks of my job) and kind of, sort of look like it too, I feel it too. This struggle against fat which attacks unannounced and transforms every morsel of food into a part of your own personal Krang (if you don't know who that is youngling, look it up.)

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People are quitting the place I work at more hastily than rats off a sinking ship. Oddly enough, this ship isn't sinking financially. Quite robust, in fact. On the other hand, it is a creative quicksand and getting an idea through the various levels of nincompoops is tougher than breaking down the great wall of China. With a toothpick. Anyway, with blokes rapidly exiting the scene, I'm starting to feel the pinch. After all, there's only so many ideas in the box on any given day and things outside the box aren't appreciated much.

However, when one's resume looks busier than a Bedouin's travel schedule, one has to pause and er, appreciate the cacti? Not sure this alleged oasis has much water left for me.

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Much as I abhor train travel in Bombay, I've come to the conclusion that it's far healthier than taking the road. In this city, there are no roads less travelled. A few days ago, a colleague gave me a ride to Santacruz. And, rather than be happy about not having to cram myself like a sardine on the train, I was left hypnotised by how dusty, hazy and downright polluted the air is. Fascinated horror. If Delhi is the most polluted place in India, surely Bombay can't be far behind?

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If you're Indian, in your 30s and single, you are basically the third wheel ALL THE TIME. And it is a bloody fierce struggle struggle to avoid situations where you're staring idly at the damp spot on the ceiling while your friends are making gooey eyes at each other and having moments or talking about stuff that just feels couply. A social limbo dance, where the bar keeps falling till you get: married, a hobby, an infectious disease or enough books, music and the stuff that cheers/inebriates to survive the infinite winter of this social siege.

Or, find friends as socially inept as you are and hang out with them all the time.

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The danger of writing under the influence is becoming maudlin and hankering after the supposed "good old days". I've said this before but booze (or whatever floats your boat) does help grease the rusty writing fingers and, more importantly, lowers inhibitions about whether it's "good enough".

Either way, this piece got written with a little grease so if you've read this far, "Cheers".

Song for the moment - No Rain - Blind Melon