Monday, July 3

Let her go

Have you noticed how we throw things out a lot more than before? Of course, city-dwellers like us have more, now that disposable incomes are the norm. Does it also allow us to dispose of things so easily? I was the object of much mirth/ridicule at work today because I wanted to get a golf umbrella repaired. One colleague wondered if it was worth the effort, another asked why I did not just buy a different one while others chuckled when they realised neither of these thoughts had occurred to me. I trudged off, wondering if they were right. What exactly was driving me to take the trouble?

I think back to to the 80s and living in my Thatha's (grandpa) house. Today's 'use-and-throw' culture would have shocked him to the core. The man was the epitome of prudence. Since we weren't exactly floating in doubloons, the family followed suit. Thatha wore the same watch for over 50 years. A small umbrella, bought by my mother with her first salary, was well on its way to becoming an heirloom, having seen and survived more than 25 monsoons. There's a clothes cane (you know, to hoist clothes onto a rope strung close to the ceiling in the verandah) which is older than me. I reckon it's in better shape than I am. And don't even get me started on how long those of us who internalised Thatha's spirit of frugality make our clothes last! That's a family disease.  

Anyhow, in Mumbai, a regular umbrella is as effective as an actual fig leaf. So, some years ago I paid up the subscription towards procuring a big piece that meant business. Undoubtedly it was slightly cumbersome to haul around but the protection offered made it worthwhile. Except at airports. In the jolly times we live in, suspicion is more common than sense and umbrellas of this size can no longer pass off as carry-on baggage. Since it does not fit in the check-in bag, it has to be declared separately and gets to travel as a solo piece of luggage. On a return flight from Madras last year, Go Air ensured that one umbrella reached Mumbai in two pieces. That's customer service for you right there.

I should have thrown it out. I mean, there are only so many things that can be salvaged. The canvas, certain anchoring hooks maybe. But the spinal column is asking for too much, right? Wrong, as it turns out. The thing about Mumbai's ridiculous population is that someone, somewhere still seems to be getting stuff refurbished. Cobblers moonlight as umbrella repairers and make a killing at this time of year. But no one was willing or able to mend one this size. Except a dude chilling out in a temporary, ramshackle, tarpaulin-roofed shop on D.N Road, wouldn't you know. 

What I adore about it... and by 'it' I mean the setup, the work, the transaction... is the utter casualness. There are no airs billowing around it, no attempt to project the repair of an umbrella as a cutesy, artisanal, "let's Instagram the shit out of this quaintness" style abomination that the urban world seems to be steeped in. It's absolutely no-nonsense. The man who repaired my umbrella was as phlegmatic as they come. His experienced eye gave it a once-over and he quietly named a price. The sliver of me that is still 80s middle-class did feebly raise an eyebrow but was quelled immediately by my present-day-pragmatic avatar. He rapidly took the umbrella apart, replaced the column, stitched it up and unfurled it a few times. I paid, awash in wonder and appreciation, confident that Thatha would have beamed in approval.

Don't get me wrong. Even I know some things cannot or should not be patched up. Others outlive their usefulness and can safely make their way out of my life. And maybe some therapy would help me get rid of old clothes instead of thinking of ways to turn them into scrap dishcloths. Hoarding is bad. But I am (surely not a minority) perfectly willing to take a bit of trouble if it will result in less nonchalant dumping. It means a perfectly good umbrella is now resting against a desk, ready to face the rains. 

Pity a battered heart isn't as easily mended.

Song for the moment: Do I wanna know? - Arctic Monkeys

Wednesday, June 21

Last of my kind

(This post hasn't come out as well as I wanted. But I'm still pissed off, so.)
 
Why do we have heroes? What is it about someone that triggers a decision to nail our colours to their mast? I don't have a neat answer so what you read from here on is both an explanation and an exploration. In a post-modern world driven by counter-points, certainty is a luxury.

I missed the boat when it came to India's ODI cricket madness. We moved abroad in the late 80s. When I left, my friends and I wanted to be Kapil, Kris or Sunil. When I returned, god was getting comfortable on his heavenly couch and all was right with a world I did not recognise. I had missed Sachin's opening batsman debut against New Zealand, the hullabaloo of the Hero Cup and other notable moments. So, I was interested in cricket, not any particular sportsman. Not even during the '96 World Cup. When India muffed it against Sri Lanka, I hurt for the team, not for a player.

Then came Dravid. And, personally, with him came Kumble. I had found my idols. And the inkwell of my idolatry is endless.

Why them? Why not Tendulkar? Here's the thing. Realise that Sachin is in a rarefied pantheon that cannot be touched. Even if the sun did not shine, no wings would allow any man to touch him. At the most, Sachin triggers a sense of awe. Sachin is salvation. He gave us hope but it would be foolish to hope to be him.

The stories of Dravid and Kumble are human ones. They stand for something simple - work hard, be sincere and stay disciplined. And be ready for the chips to fall in one's favour. Of course this 'simple' is very difficult to emulate. You look at their lives, their examples and understand that two choices exist. Either be defeated by the sheer power of what they stand for OR aspire to what they stand for. Because any human can. You cannot be Dravid but work at your batting long enough and you can hone your technique to a point where you bat like him. You cannot be Kumble but you can forge your inner fire into a bowling technique that will get you wickets.

Dravid and Kumble have gifted people something far more valuable than their feats. Their gift is the QED that talent, fortified by relentless passion, focus, patience and performance can win you a moment in the sun. How long that moment lasts depends on external factors too. But you can become an irresistible force and wait for the immovable object to blink first.

That's what they became you know... Dravid the Immovable fucking Object and Kumble the Irresistible fucking Force.

Think I'm exaggerating? Watch old clips of them batting or bowling. Watch the waltz of physics which, if there were any magic in this world, would scorch the turf as the ball kissed and caressed its way to the ropes. Watch the ball spit, dart and venomously arrow in on middle-and-leg and either york the poor fool in the way or thud into his pads.

Wipe the drool off your face. It's not dignified.

Then look into their eyes. Trace the outline of their set jaws. And take comfort in the fact that Dravid and Kumble played for India in your lifetime. They were great sportsmen. But they were and are inherently Decent men. In India, in the world, you can't put a price on something like that. If controversy is currency, Dravid and Kumble would be paupers. When they retired, I took it personally. When Kumble was forced to give up his NCA post over some wishywashy bullshit, I took it personally. When that m*****f****r Guha cast sneaky aspersions on Dravid's character over a conflict of interest, I took it personally. When the conflict between Kumble and Captain prima donna came to light, I took it personally. So, yea, Kumble being made to quit... you bet it's personal.

Dravid and Kumble's decency angers me. Their stoic dignity and modesty angers me. Their unwillingness to play games as well as they played the game angers me. Sachin was a god on the cricket ground. Dravid and Kumble are gods off it. And it's too much to bear.   

Cricketers of my generation would say they'd do their best. And we believed them. Today, an Indian cricketer says he'll get things done and we believe him. But first, he'll take a selfie. Pah! 

Song for the moment: Cuts like a knife - Bryan Adams

Do read the Puneri's take on this shit-show.  

Saturday, June 17

Wednesday, June 14

Achin' all the time

To live in a city is to exist on a purely man-made plane.
Sure, you can go ahead and say you're still in touch with Mama Nature by visiting the neighbourhood park.
But even you know that's a lie.
Let's face it... as far as the average city-dweller is concerned, "going back to my roots" really means adding more potato, ginger, carrot and maybe a turnip or two to your diet.

To live in a city is to hear it constantly.
Especially in a city like Mumbai, where a lonely wolf-like howl at night is only the local kulfi seller, yodelling his wares like his life depends on it.
Maybe it does too.

Mumbai is an orchestra of human sounds.
Being deftly conducted by an invisible Cacophonix.
Trains. Planes. Cars. Autos.
Hawkers. Pedlars. Hopers. Desperadoes.
People.
And Gujaratis.

The night has no pity to dispense.
In the quietest lanes live the noisiest dishwashers, the sound of clashing steel suggesting a battle is being fought with pots, pans and plates.
Or against them.

You hear children crying.
And do nothing.
You hear adults cussing and arguing.
And wonder if your own domestic disagreements can be heard just as clearly.

Pity the sounds of Love are on mute.

Sometime and somewhere, between the honking, blaring, shouting and murmuring, you go under.
Try to submerge yourself in your inner sea.
Only to discover, it is nothing more than a bathtub.
That is steadily letting your equanimity drain away.
Imagine that sucking sound.

The only revenge or respite you receive is when it rains.
Not the drizzle.
The all-silencing, roaring torrent of a Mumbai Monsoon.
When the sea becomes sky.
Which is as much a promise as it is a threat.

When you live a rat's life, there's always a chance you'll drown like one.

Song for the moment: Please - Ray Lamontagne

Wednesday, May 24

Gimme Shelter

Take the lid off of an Idli steamer, with a flourish because that's about all the drama there's left in your life, or with a snarled bit of invective which is equally effective when you've forgotten the feeling of hot metal on skin.

A cloud of vapour will rise, desperately seeking the heavens like Icarus on acid, so brave in the moonlight.

As an aside, if you ever wondered how a tree bark curls, now's the time to stick your arm above the vessel and watch your skin pucker, burn, peel and roll over like an obedient dog.

It should ruin the idli but curiosity demands sacrifice.

Anyway, steamed right, the idlis will be cooked perfectly.

Steamed wrong and it's your welcome to Bombay in the summer.

The city is a vessel on a medium flame, trapped within hand-made, self-constructed walls.

People drag themselves out of beds damp with sweat, the pungency an outcome of staleness rather than the spice of an erotic encounter.

Baths are taken, showers are stood under, heads bowed in forced penitence to the uselessness of the act.

The ads lied.

No soap, body-wash, deodorant or perfume can withstand the great sweat cataracts roaring and gushing from every pore and orifice.

Clothes cling to skins with the cloying longing of the one-night stand who does not leave.  

Commutes are simply about destinations where air conditioners, fans or both are hopefully waiting.

Everyone's fantasy involves the Liril Girl; not so much her as the waterfall she's under.

So humanity reaches offices in droves, wistfully wishing to bask in the cool, artificial air.

Together, the city stares listlessly at the day.

And those who can afford to, dream of the monsoon at night.

Song for the moment: Nightland - Droid Bishop 

Sunday, May 7

Playtime is over

Every river flows at its own pace. If you row long enough, its rhythm becomes yours. The muscle memory you develop helps navigate past cunning eddies, slack patches of water and even dangerous rocks hiding beneath the surface.

When you ford one river and face another, you must be patient. You have learned how to row but rhythm is something you must master all over again. You don't always take to it like a duck to water. Come what may, you must remember to take deep breaths and make peace with the fact that unknown rapids around a bend could capsize your craft in the blink of an eye.

Heavy figures of speech apart, tomorrow is when I must relearn rhythm. So far, I have been meandering along tributaries. Now, it's time for the River. All I can hope for is a good long ride, to the sea, not a rough one to a waterfall.

In keeping with the water theme, I wonder what goes through a swimmer's mind as he awaits the starting gun. What is he thinking about? The coldness of the water? His plunge? The competition? Or is he in the moment, trusting his arms and legs to just know what to do?

I wish I knew.

Song for the moment: Starman - David Bowie

Wednesday, May 3

Begin again

One of the great cataclysms of my life occurred in July 2013. Some genius at Big Broogle headquarters decided life was too good and pulled the plug on the best feed-reader ever developed - Google Reader.
One minute's silence while we shed a collective tear, heave a sigh of resignation, gather ourselves and find the strength to carry on.
Reader was everything a Rich Site Summary (RSS) collator should be; simple to use, easy on the eyes and dependable as a Swiss watch. An added benefit back when we were all perpetually signed into Google (which I now know was a bad, bad idea) was Reader's 1-click accessibility. Those truly were the glory days of feed-reading. Blogging was extremely popular, people wrote if not daily then at least bimonthly and the world's best RSS tool would faithfully keep us updated.

Of course, Chaucer certainly knew his onions when he coined the phrase "All good things must come to an end". And so, Reader did, mourned bitterly by loyal users but ruthlessly sacrificed to introduce the world to its repugnant heir, the new Eye of Sauron+.

Like most people, I moved to Feedly. It was... well, never mind what it was, that is, satisfactory at best. Critically, it just wasn't Reader and that fact basically doomed Feedly for me. I tolerated it more than I liked it. I always signed in filled with resentment, shaking my fist & railing against the unkind fates who... anyway you get the picture. I kept my Feedly subscription but used it only occasionally. That is, until yesterday, when the universe dusted off the hammer, selected a suitable nail and began knocking it into the coffin. Because that was when Feedly primly informed me that my ad blockers had to be disabled if I wanted to keep reading.

Many years ago, I developed a healthy horror of online ads, social media buttons and trackers which is why Ad Block Plus, Ad Guard and Disconnect are the first add-ons I install on any browser. Now, I understand Feedly's predicament. There's no such thing as a free lunch. A lot of time and effort have gone into offering this service to thankless bastards like me. The only way to keep the wolves from the door is advertising. But.

Which is when I wondered if there was a desktop feed-reader for Linux. It intrigued me because most tools designed for a Linux distro tend to be pretty spare. A little bit of searching led me to RSSOwl. Installing and setting it up was a piece of cake. And, if first impressions count for anything, I like it. It reminds me strongly of Reader. I don't need to sign into anything to use it. There are some handy tips & tweaks I will slowly try, though the basic version is good enough. So, it's time to read.

As an aside, migrating feed-readers always leaves me a bit sad because I discover just how many of the people I follow gave up the writing ghost a long time ago. Some links have been kept for nostalgia's sake while others have been discarded. Such it goes.

Song for the moment: As long as you follow - Fleetwood Mac

Monday, May 1

Hurt

One of the indisputable joys of my holiday has been the daily dose of cricket. The Puneri and I have been batting and bowling at and to each other for just about 15 years. But that is a different, mostly meditative experience. A regular game of neighbourhood cricket involves more people, excitement, gamesmanship and yes, fun too.

Being the supremely fit early 30s types, which is to say 'not', we play half-cricket with the kids in his society. Mercifully, this involves a tennis ball, one step chuck-bowling and fewer asthmatic huffs and puffs. So, balmy Pune evenings have been spent satisfactorily thwacking the ball to all parts and rediscovering lungs.

That is, until I attempted to take a catch, only to have the ball smash squarely into the top joint of an involuntarily bent index finger. If you've ever played any impact sport, you may have winced right now. As well you might. One minute, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and all was right with the world. This halcyon scene was swiftly eclipsed and the birds silenced by my squawk of agony. Signals were being urgently telegraphed to my brain that woe was about to be me.

Within a minute the finger had swollen up so fast, my other appendage should have been taking admiring notes. I took one look at joint which was heavily bruised and turning a shade that would put most sunsets to shame and did what the average guy would do; continued playing until the game was over, after which I iced the injury. Yes, I know... men are stupid like that. I then got home and taped it, hoping to straighten out the finger which, alarmingly enough, was now bending of its own volition.

I tried to correct the curve out once. Just once. Let me tell you now, dear reader, that I am no stranger to pain; a migraine is my bosom buddy. But this was an "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger... and you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee" level of agony.

After two days of watching the finger attempt to become a brinjal and me yelp every time a breeze wafted by, the pater indicated a doctor's visit was needed. The medico glanced at it and delivered his verdict with a nonchalance a la Eastwood in the best kind of Spaghetti Western - hairline fracture with the tendon possibly torn off the joint. He then told me I had to wear a Mallet Splint on the finger for 6 weeks or let it develop a hook more befitting a Stymphalian bird. 

There was only one problem. This particular splint must be the rarest bit of medical equipment in the greater Aundh-Baner area because the 17 pharmacies I visited in search of it... er... gave me the finger? (seems the most appropriate phrase here). They either shot llamaesque looks of scorn at my daring to even ask for the mallet splint or pulled out a variety of paraphernalia which were everything but what I needed. Of course.

With a temporary splint jury-rigged out of toothpicks and tape in the best MacGyver fashion, I type this, forced to make do until tomorrow when the search continues. I won't lie and say this injury hasn't dampened my holiday mood. Still, I comfort myself with the thought that my spirit may be bent but it surely will never be broken. My body has other ideas, however.

Song for the moment: This ain't the summer of love - Blue Öyster Cult

Friday, April 28

Without words

The origin of the phrase "No news is good news" can be traced back to 1616 and King James I. The bloke may have casually looked into a crystal ball, seen today's media malaise and Twitter madness and calmly prognosticated his advice, which I heartily subscribe to.

Why did I sign up for Twitter in 2011? A shamefully weak need to conform I suspect. I do not have a FB account, have disabled all of Google's social tentacles and felt the need to keep up with the happenings of the day. What it certainly wasn't for was the present's endless barrage of rumour-mongering, desperate embellishment of minor incidents, opinions and worst of all, opinions on opinions that plague and spread faster than viruses through the third world. 

And lest we forget, open letters, that vile class of 'content' that stands alone in its pretentious horror.

I vented my frustration at this state of affairs to a wise friend who has patience aplenty. He laughed gently and suggested I curate my Twitter feed better. I took his advice and failed miserably, simply because some of the allegedly well-meaning people I 'follow' simply don't know when to call it a day. I'll see an article they've written or retweeted and click on said link. It will be followed by a putrid torrent of similar pieces, every one of them separated by some barely minuscule differences and accompanied by the same fucking hashtag, lord help us! Yes, I read, understood and respect your position on a matter, your philosophy on the government, every avatar of '...archy', life, the universe and everything else. Is there any need to keep dancing gleefully on the corpse of your viewpoint until the end of the world?

Being rather cerebrally challenged, eons passed before I cottoned on to the fact that this cycle of content was making me anxious. Be it news or opinions, it seemed I could not swim, only sink rapidly into the internet morass. It was so addictive, it became part of my morning ritual to sign into Twitter and check in once an hour throughout the day.

I feel like most platforms are bubbles that usually only serve to reinforce one's cognitive biases. And what passes for news is manufactured controversy. A singer makes a comment about prayers, a girl says something about war, an actor discusses his worry or a politician points out how horrible economy class flights are and fin. That's all the media, trolls and other content churners need to distract all & sundry, sucking everyone into a whirlpool of commentary and outrage. Heck, even serious issues such as a Machiavellian universal ID system become noise when the well-intentioned keep squawking about it every hour of every day. Get a hobby, you guys.

This 2-week hiatus from normal life (what a tragedy life has become) has allowed me to experiment with staying off Twitter and away from any news. Completely. And you know what? I haven't missed out on anything. No friend or family member has peered at me, aghast that I have no knowledge of some fresh or stale perfidy or foolishness. And my anxiety is reducing. If anything, I am now determined to keep this state of grace going as long as possible, even after the customary Murine jog-trot commences in a week's time.

I reckon Thomas Gray wasn't too far off the mark in 1742 when he said "Ignorance is bliss".

Song for the moment: Gossip in the Grain - Ray Lamontagne

Wednesday, April 26

The shortest straw

I am in between jobs right now. Not jobless, though I've had the chance to experience that twice. No, between wrapping up at the previous workplace and joining the new one, I flimflammed and hoodwinked my way to a 2-week break.

Now here's the situation. I am 34, single, without any serious responsibilities and with a reasonable amount of doubloons in the bank. Most people in these shoes would have planned or simply trotted off on a nice vacation somewhere. I am not most people. And it is only now that I am experiencing the power of conditioning (not air conditioning... egads, this summer heat). You see, for 2 and something years, I've worked, without a break. I take my weekends seriously and made it known loud and clear that I was not prepared to hotfoot it to the office to show "commitment". Every now and then, official working weekends couldn't be helped, though any sharp-eared character could have heard my jaws grinding in irritation. Unofficially, I reckon there were almost none where some ideas or scripts did not have to be thought of or fleshed out. So, now that 2 actual work-free weeks have been presented to me, I don't know what to do.

Sure, I wake up latish, enjoy every sip of filter coffee with gusto and loll over breakfast. There are no trains to catch, mails to check or deadlines to meet. Yet, I can feel something gnawing at my gut. This scenario feels wrong. I know, I know... it's crazy and stupid but try talking my brain out of it. I wander about the house in the somnolent Pune afternoons, read books in various rooms, gulp down glasses of iced tea, water the plants and generally mooch around in the accepted fashion. God knows I need this vacation. But I'm not enjoying it 100%. That's frustrating the dickens out of me.

For one thing, everyone and their uncles asks the standard question "Oh, why aren't you taking a trip somewhere?" As if I were the village idiot to whom this idea never occurred. I flash the weary smile of a latter day Stylite and explain my predicament. There's no one to holiday with. My friends are busy working or simply do not have the time. And I'm rather fed up of doing things by myself. Alone. I live alone, I travel singly (though I am given the opportunity to get intimately acquainted with a variety of sweaty armpits and backs on the Bombay trains), I cook meals for one and yes, there's no one in bed except me. After a point, it begins to try a man's soul. Even one in admittedly as limited a supply as mine.

I used to enjoy taking solo trips. I have no problems eating in restaurants or watching movies by myself. Heck, some weekends I am happy as a clam to be left to my own devices. Par ab mujhse na ho payega. So, I am pottering around the house, playing cricket in the evenings, arranging to meet old friends for lunches or dinners, and yes, even blogging. But it isn't joy, jollity and song.

However, one unexpected benefaction of my time has been to my patti (grandmother). Her annual visit to Pune has coincided with mine. That does mean I cannot lurch home late at night smelling like a brewery (these old folks have noses that would put wolves out of business). Though that is the least of her worries at present. The change of weather has given her a nasty cold & cough. The pater is rather getting on in years himself and busy to boot and the sibling has balanced work and life to ensure absence from home for most of the day. This has left the resident dogsbody to perform the medication ministration, as it were. That's fine by me.

One of my earliest memories of childhood is of suffering from chickenpox at the age of 2. I vividly remember a fever that left me delirious and the acute pain of a sore throat. I lay in a much-washed, cotton-soft sari clad lap, being fed rasam-rice by hand. That was my patti. Over the years, there have been many occasions her love, care and cooking have soothed my illnesses away. Now, it's my turn. Not because there's a debt to repay but because love works in many a mysterious way.

Life has a funny way of coming full circle, what?

Song for the moment: Anthem - Leonard Cohen     

Monday, April 24

What's on my mind

The 10th anniversary of this blog went by in March. I'd thought of writing something on the day, about the occasion but was defeated by a score of genuine reasons and a handful of lazy excuses. I cannot actually comprehend just how much the world has changed since the afternoon I tentatively began typing the title of my first ever post. I don't even remember why.

There I was, proverbially dazed and confused in a university city in the deep South of the US. Lonely, homesick and unable to overcome the feeling that I'd committed a ghastly mistake by picking Birmingham. I was halfway through my second semester and filled with regret that I'd taken on an unbelievably difficult Law course (that I'd never use). That Spring, I'd visited friends and family in NYC, which added to the black depression I was under. NYC was everything Birmingham was not; loud, lively and crowded. Since I barely had the money to cover rent every month, taking an impromptu trip home was out of the question. So, I took comfort in the written word.

How different things were! Facebook was a brand new phenomenon, tentatively creeping across college campuses throughout the country. My roommates and friends, always more enthusiastic than me about anything except beer, dove into the experience with gusto. Heck, Google itself was only working its way to a state of omniscience. Phone cards were zealously compared and hoarded, Indian food was bought by walking 5 kilometers to a Chinese store and songs from the film Gangster and others by Himesh ruled many a private music play-list. Yep, truly bizarre. We had no cars and depended on the University bus service or the charity of senior Indian students to visit the far away Walmart and Sam's Club. And boy did we have to make those trips count.

We gave each other haircuts, cooked langar-scale meals and got wasted on weekends. It was a mindbogglingly simple life, yet filled with struggles every day. Some of my friends found their courses tough while others needed to work off-campus at night to make ends meet and have enough left over to pay their student loans. We had left our homes behind and had no idea what lay ahead. The horizon of the future seemed so far away then, I can honestly say that being 34, single and working as a copywriter in Bombay was not in the top 200 scenarios I'd considered. I'm sure I'd never even thought of so many possibilities. We were living day to day and everything seemed an adventure.

And what was I? A mix of too many things, most of which were temporary coping behaviours. I felt like a marionette, my every move and decision made in a stupefying haze. The US was a shock to my system but it was also the freedom to shake off the deadweight of who I'd been and find out who I actually could be.

Sometimes, I reread my old posts. Some make me cringe. Others bring a teary smile. And there's always a sentence or a turn of phrase so amazing, I wonder how I had the chops to write it.

Of course, over time my writing has changed. I have experimented with different styles, tried to please my audience occasionally and even poured my heart out using heavy doses of euphemism. There have been posts I have loved and those I have disliked. Many I should have not published and some I never did write. This blog is a chronicle of 10 years of me and my experiences and memories of the US, Cambodia, Pune and Bombay. It was started by a 24 year old boy in the computer lab of his department building on a Spring evening so sunny and beautiful, his heart ached. Today, it is being written by a 34 year old... someone, in the middle of the night in his home city. And, in a way his heart is still aching.  

This is blog post number 300. Only a handful of you may have read every one of them. Thank you for that. And, I am also grateful to the set of circumstances that led me to start this blog. It hasn't been the greatest ride. But it isn't over yet.

Song for the moment: Wish you were here - Pink Floyd

Hello, Goodbye

21st April was my last day at work. It was not easy to accept the finality. How could it be? You don't put your heart and soul into a place for 2-and-something years and walk off, nary a qualm. At least I don't.

I've quit two ad agencies prior to this and the only feeling I had both times was relief. At the end of 2013, I was determined to work in mainline, desperate to get away from a ship that was drifting and a captain whose obsessions and excoriations made Ahab look like a choirboy. The next workplace was in Fort and it was simply terrible. A sweatshop where I lost 6 kilos in 11 months and almost gave up on advertising as a career. I jumped that ship without a life-raft, lifebuoy or land in sight. I'd swim to safer shores or sink into another line of work. Just as the sharks began to give interested looks, my most recent workplace threw me a lifeline, for which I am and will be eternally grateful.

Having an eccentric, eclectic and sometimes downright brilliant yet moody boss has its own charms and challenges. I joined the best team in the office on 5th Jan 2015. We truly were the A-team, the group other juniors hankered to join. By the time I said my farewells, we had become the W-team, the people in our boat frantically rowing in unison but inching towards the lip of the waterfall nonetheless. Office politics can be brutal and I had grandstand box seats to the tragedy of a team casually broken apart by a leader with an absolute lust for power and control and all the charisma of a moldy cube of paneer.

But the office and my boss had saved my career. So, I gave it my all. Fighting with the servicing over ridiculous deadlines, berating the planning for a complete lack of any planning and chivvying my team-mates along to push us over the finish line. Day, week, month, year. My longest holiday was 2 days, initially because I just couldn't afford to take a break and later because I did not know how to. We saw some successful days and many more middling ones, the kind where we'd just want to get the assignment out of our collective hairs after one too many rounds of feedback from our clients.

This job can break you. I almost did go to pieces, sobbing uncontrollably in my boss's cabin on one memorable occasion. It doesn't even have to be anything big. Just a lot of small frustrations and stresses, piling up on your shoulders over time until an off-the-cuff remark punches a neat hole through your equanimity. You, your colleagues and your seniors can keep talking about not taking the job so seriously but try telling that to an Indian marketing manager or brand associate. I have yet to meet a more repulsive species of person in my line of work, though there are a few senior people in advertising who are no better. We seem to have replaced our 333 million gods with just one - money. And he is a powerful god, able to transform into the sword of Damocles within a minute.

"If this is how long the work takes, this will be the last time we will be working with you."

"Either do this job or I will call for an agency review."

"We're calling for a pitch."

"Client ne bola hai... karna hee hai."

These are the sentiments that grease the sprockets of the ad industry, never mind what one big-shot has written in his autobiography. If anything he's probably single-handedly responsible for clients thinking it is okay to ask for work at 10 pm or on the weekends. And while my agency personifies this subservient attitude to a high degree, there are many others who are slowly being sucked into the morass. Or walking into it voluntarily. Everyone needs the money.

I woke up this morning with a dreadful thought. That I've stepped off the train at a junction and am watching my colleagues wave to me, even as their lives move on. My path, struggle, journey and destination are no longer theirs. It's not as if I won't jump back into the bogie with them. I can't.

Many of my colleagues said they'd miss me. I did not know how to respond so I smiled awkwardly and mouthed empty platitudes. But the truth is, in my mind's eye, I am watching the train disappear in the distance.

And it feels like abandonment.

Song for the moment: Don't you forget about me - Simple Minds

Tuesday, April 4

Smiley Faces

A small room.
An absurdly minuscule kitchen.
Rows of vessels of different textures winking in the light.
Barani jars of mango pickles made in 4 ways.
Cylindrical aluminium patrams packed with the summer's quota of vadaam.
Stainless steel ones, some of which reveal home-made thattai, thengoyl and cheedai, if you're lucky. 
A stone grinder-mortar-pestle that weighs a ton and hasn't moved in years.
An ancient fridge in repose.
A large drum of water.
The floor of greenish tile.

On which a little boy sits cross-legged.
The small plate before him full of ice-cold mor-chadam.
Separated into morsels with his fingers.
Scooped up and held aloft. Waiting.
For his grandmother to smile and churn the vettal-koyambu with a karandi.
And let a few drops fall into the waiting palm.
Over and over.

What do we call this confluence of hot & cold, tangy & mild, solid & liquid?
This quiet intimacy of a mealtime ritual between a pati and her peran.
Every moment as delicious as the next.

A childhood pleasure. 
   
Song for the moment: Crazy - Ray Lamontagne (Original by Gnarls Barkley)

Tuesday, March 21

Think

They say you learn something new every day. 
They never tell you that every lesson isn't easy.
That some are hard to understand the first time.

And, many we never notice.

I learned something from a house plant. It was an innocuous specimen. Maroon and emerald shot through the veins of each large leaf. Packed in a plastic pouch, it stayed in a corner of the house till we could find a pot for it. Since our gardener had gone missing, it was left to me to figure out the details.

A year later, I was puzzled by the plant's stubborn refusal to grow. No new leaves, no increase in height, nothing. As if it were sulking. So, using a sickle, I gently dug around the roots, hoping to give it some air. And hit something that definitely wasn't organic. Further investigation led me to discover a minuscule plastic bucket-like contraption encasing the feeble roots. Completely covered in mud, it had cunningly masqueraded as a clod a year earlier and escaped scrutiny. I snipped the abominable piece off and re-potted the plant. Watered it, uttered a silent prayer (more of a cajoling threat, really) and mooched off.

Two weeks is all that plant needed. Freed of the choking plastic, it's now bursting with leaves and is even putting out a few tentative new tendrils. This episode made me think about how some people never seem to reach the dazzling heights of success/living we think they're destined for. Maybe they have some invisible collars choking them. Maybe we all do. And, perhaps it's time to examine, excavate and get rid of whatever is shackling us.

Easier said than done?

Song for the moment: Iron Sky - Paolo Nutini

Wednesday, January 4

These boots are made for walkin'

Today, I returned a pair of leather boots. And felt wonderful.

I don't know when I quietly began adjusting to shoes and clothes. A number of shirts and trousers in my wardrobe are a shade baggy. While I have no fanciful notions about tight tees and jeans that seem painted on (still don't get the point of slim fits), I am certainly not fond of garments billowing like the Spanish Armada either. Yet, anyone with reasonable vision only needs to glance in my direction to understand that I don't wear clothes as much as they envelop me. Shirts that are an inch too long. Trousers waists with interesting drag coefficients that cling limpet-like for dear life to various belts. And then, there's my ancient nemesis - shoes.

To say that I have a difficult relationship with shoes is like saying ice cubes have a troublesome time with heat. It's practically an independent branch of the occult arts. Take me to a shoe store. Ask me to pick a shoe. Then ask the sales chappie who has oiled over to find it in my size. He will confidently tell his junior associate (Raju, Chottu, Munna, etc.) to find it in the storeroom. I will spend the time perfecting my Dalai Lama expression. The rummaging will begin energetically and noisily enough. Within a minute though, it will begin to tail off until there is complete, sepulchral silence, so thick that Agatha Christie could easily slather generous portions of it onto her books. Said junior associate will then peep out of the storeroom, the light of defeat shining brightly and announce what I've known all along - it's not available in my size.

The salesman will smile helplessly. I will smile back. Full of desperate hope, he will suggest another shoe, something way more expensive and equally hideous. I'll look at the price tag, feel my kidney, then shrug and refuse. The salesman will let out a sigh and tootle off to his corner from where his eyes will then follow me as I root around the store, looking for something to salvage the day. 9 times out of 10, I won't find anything. On the 10th occasion, I'll discover another bearable option and we'll get back on the merry-go-round. It never fails.

In college, I realised life was not going to be kind to me in the shoe department. I'd spotted a pair of Reebok sneakers somewhere and decided to purchase them. The Camp store had them all right. In a bigger size. I bought them, brought them home and wore them. My mother dryly observed that I was a shoo-in (hehehe) for Clown College. Chastised, I returned them, hunting and haunting the J.M and F.C Road branches for a month before I found them in my size. Of course, they weren't available in the colour I wanted. I bought them anyway.

I had taken my first, inauspicious step on my shoe journey. It has left me footsore. Every now and then, I'll give in to a moment of weakness and order a pair online or try it in-store. And quietly return the pair the following day, promising to bring my optimism to heel. But it would seem there is still a sliver of hope buried deep within my sole. How else can I explain my recent interest in a pair of leather boots? It was sheer lunacy. But I bought them (in the smallest size available) anyway. The moment I slipped my foot in, I knew massive fuck-up-ery had happened again. They didn't fit right and were god-awfully uncomfortable. Rather like walking with a pair of weights tied to my feet. Weights that bit into my heels. It was a day of misery.

As I plodded home last night, wincing with every step, I thought about the stupidity of the situation. Here I was, an adult, making independent choices on a daily basis. Was I actually trying to convince myself that the pain and discomfort were worth it? I got home and eased the shoes off. The flood of relief that washed over me was, well... beyond words. Right then, it struck me - I didn't have to suffer this. The shoes could be returned. Life is too short to put up with, adjust to, compromise on many many things. I've started with shoes. What about you?

Song for the moment: I walk the line - Johnny Cash         

Monday, January 2

Break it down again

Lots of people would say the changing of the year is an artificial construct and serves no purpose. Part of me agrees.

Another part of me is flipping those people the bird. In the greater scheme of things, maybe there's nothing great about going from December to January, 6 to 7. In the greater scheme of things though, nothing really matters.

The changing of the year allows us to drop anchor. Close doors. Turn the page. It helps fool our minds. Considering how dangerously powerful the brain is, that's a good thing. Otherwise, what's stopping us from giving up? From staying on the stationary bicycle of bad habits, pedalling away to nowhere?

We / I need the changing of the year to want to make some difference in my life too. I'm not saying this will be the year I meet the girl of my dreams, come up with the kick-ass, award-winning ad campaign and finally achieve a measure of sustained satisfaction. But I want to try. And, if the new year is what it takes to fool myself that I can change myself and taste even a sliver of the cheese cake of happiness, why not?

2016 showed me a few things. About work, love, luck, foolishness and even making plans. Whether I learn anything from the milestones of the last year is something to see.

Sometimes, the main road was so damn smooth, I rode right past interesting side lanes.
Which was stupid.


Sometimes the dreams were so beautiful, waking up was the last thing on my mind.
Which was a pity.


But all that is history. Or so I like to tell myself. Either way, 2017 deserves a fair chance. All I can do is unfurl the sails and hope for fair winds and smooth seas. And the strength to endure.

Better new year everyone.

Song for the moment: Mad World - Tears for Fears / Paul Kalkbrenner Remix