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Wedding Bells (not mine) Part - 2

Dear Reader,

Was it mere chance that brought Baba Budan and the coffee bean, not to east, west or north but south India? Only if you don't have even a dollop of romance in your soul. I'd like to think it was destiny; an inexplicable, subsonic thrum, a collective call with the resonance of "Om" that bubbled and brewed for centuries, needing just a handful of dark, bitter beans to bring it to boil. Lord in heaven, the southern states love filter coffee. And why not? Walk into any (and I mean ANY) south-themed store in India and the smell that envelopes you in a warm embrace is that of ground coffee. Who amongst us doesn't hanker for a warm embrace? One that tastes delicious to boot.

Earthy, metallic, heady, with a promise of sourness, filter coffee is the only "no-bullshit" drink I know. Significant literary paeans have been sung about this lovely brew so I won't add to them. Suffice to say, I still think it's magical how you can add boiling wat…

Wedding Bells (Not mine) - Part 1

Dear Reader,

Before we proceed on the narratives of November, let's get a delightful little factoid out of the way - this is the first time since 2011 that I've written more than 24 posts in a year! Sure, life was different back then; more incidents, jocular moments and energy to pen them all down. Perhaps the most critical factors were that many friends weren't shanghaied by matrimony and our existential timetable was less regulated. But, I ask: surely the mark of a good writer is being able to conjure something out of nothing when the inkwell of anecdotes runs dry. By that yardstick, I'm no good because I have struggled to average 2 posts a month. On the other hand, life is filled with enough tension as it is, so why add blogging to it?

There was a wedding in the family recently. A close cousin decided to take the plunge and propose that the rent be shared on a more permanent basis. Happily, she acquiesced, mayhaps anxious to share the joyous moment with certain mem…

Waisa Bhi Hota Hai

Dear Reader,

This has been a weekend of discovery. Most of which would not make my pleasant Colgate Top 10, but then again, things rarely do. Still, like Sisyphus, I persevere so let's get to it.

Getting drunk no longer has an upside

I said "getting drunk" not drinking so don't chuck a frustrated "pshaw!" in my direction just yet. If my life experiences have taught anything, it's to keep a bottle handy when the twists & turns take on a fully hyper-bola level curve. And, if you've been reading this blog long enough, life most certainly does throw me a beautiful curveball ever so often. So, as I was saying, getting drunk. Being in the advertising racket, I do have friends on the wrong side of 30 (in my opinion) and whose idea of a good time is to hang out at bar-estaurants a lot fancier than ones I gave my custom to in my 20s. It so happened to be one of these friends' birthdays on Friday and the celebration was at one of these numerous wateri…

Only a Hobo

Part 2

Even as there was no let-up from the smartphone poltergeist, the food & drink sellers began making their rounds. The first one to come by was a chap who clearly could have learned a few tricks about volume and verve from the screech & preach enthusiast on the phone. For all intents and purposes, the Railways had given the job to a caffeine whisperer who would nurse traumatised cups of coffee and tea to health and strength. Or was modelling himself after the Ghost who Walks. Nothing else explained the reluctance to call out his wares, leaving most passengers to engage in an impromptu game of dumb charades. The mime was followed by a man hawking piping hot samosas and mirchi bajjis. They smelled delightfully salty and spicy but were coated in a veneer of oil so generous, my heart was ready to leap out of my throat and take an extended vacation. This penchant for healthy living is a bitch but then again, so are angioplasties and open-heart, triple bypass surgeries. Though …

Country Comforts

Part 1

With timing that was far more impeccable than their usual service, the MSRTC went on strike 2 days before Diwali over a pay dispute. I've traveled on their buses for close to 9 years and know full well just how popular they can be just before a major holiday. The chaotic crowd at Dadar is so dense, one would only need to introduce a few Naga sadhus into the mix and hey presto! we've got ourselves a brand new Kumbh Mela. Albeit one where getting out of Bombay ASAP is the only kind of salvation devotees seek. 

News and newspapers being what they are at present, I was unaware of the jolly bus crisis until Wednesday morning when a well-wisher asked how I proposed to go home for the holidays, flourishing the paper in my face with the reluctant panache of a small-town magician. Realising the gravity of the situation, I looked up train schedules and was stunned to find General category seats available on an outstation train departing later that afternoon. As far as I could see, …

The richest man in Babylon

Fixion - a Diwali story

Bad luck did not follow H. It was his shadow.
And, it was the shadow that was moved enough to tell me his story.

A promise was made in 2014, of good days. People were tired, so they voted. Everyone had had just about enough of open corruption, selective secularism and a Life that just would not get better, or maybe it was getting better too slowly. So they went and made their choice. Not for, but against.

Voting had made no sense to H. He did not want to choose one goon over another. So, he settled for hoping that things would actually get better, if not for the country, then just for him. And who, having lived in that country, would begrudge him that hope? Luckily for H, an uncle had recently croaked and left him a chunk of money. Not wanting to follow his friends and buy things he couldn't really afford, H considered investing it. And, the first thing to catch his eye was the 'Clean the Nation' campaign whose fervor was sweeping through the country…

Blue Condition

What happens when an 8 year old moves from a small house with tile floors to an enormous one with wall-to-wall carpeting? He develops acute dust allergies. So much so that he cannot remember NOT having a cold for more than 4 years.

God! those horrible days. A cavalcade of wheezing, a nose that arbitrarily leaked or blocked itself, agonizing steaming sessions and of course, the greasy fucking shit that is Vicks Vaporub. All these torments combined to wreck my nose completely. A deviated septum thanks to the incessant, beseeching blowing into the basin. An absolutely confused hormonal reaction to the steaming and vaporub periodically leaving my skin so oily, the U.S still considers invading. Not to mention a lifelong loathing for Vicks. And, an addiction to handkerchiefs.

Consider the handkerchief. I'd never used one before we moved to the UAE. After we did though, I could not go anywhere without one. A simple, 10x10 square cloth made of cotton that I folded and tucked into the poc…

Village People

This isn't a "tech" post, even though it's inspired by my learning curve with Linux.

Ubuntu was a good way to start in the Linux world. A user-friendly distro, it is easy to install & use and honestly requires a monumental level of idiocy to fuck up. There are great help forums for any tricky troubles you may encounter and I have only 2 real gripes with Ubuntu. One, that Canonical does want to track an insane amount of what you do and two, that newer editions of the OS keep popping up almost every 6 months.

Now, the first issue is one that anyone who isn't living under a rock is bound to face and, to be fair, you can disable all (I hope) of the tracking using the Activity Log Manager. But, the second is a bit annoying because some software just don't get updated unless you upgrade the OS. For example, Firefox was stuck on Version 44 on Ubuntu 14.04, which meant that I couldn't watch DRM content (Prime, Netflix, etc.) unless I got my hands on Version…

Night Boat

I usually don't write honest pieces. They're true to facts but I tend to lather my emotions and thoughts with a heavy dose of attempted humour or misdirection. This post deserves some raw emotional honesty, though.

Yesterday, 29th August, a Tuesday (or should I say, another Tuesday) was about me making choices. It was raining quite heavily when I left for office, sheeted down the windows of the train throughout the 1-hour journey to Churchgate and kept going with renewed intensity by the time I made it to the entrance, looking verily like something that had drowned in a gutter and lain there a while before being discovered by a cat and dragged in. I made the choice to go to work as I suspected my boss would be there and not because I wanted to go.

I was right about my boss but that cardiac fizz of being right flattened out rather rapidly once I realised, around 11:30 am, that no one else from my team of 20 had bothered to make a similar effort. And, some of these guys live 5 …

I still care for you

I cannot recall offhand the last time I wrote about football. But here goes nothing.

Like most anyone, I went through the "passionate fan" phase, donating an enormous amount of wishful prayers up & above to ensure that Manchester United won. The gods, being the smart cookies they undoubtedly are, seem to have spent their time answering prayers of the kind of people who peddle chaos on a daily basis, which is one way of understanding the state of the world today.

But man, was I into the whole EPL scene! Looking back, it seems rather droll that I cared so much, or at all. But, yes, it hurt when MU lost, particularly to Arsenal, Leeds or Liverpool (back then, there weren't too many other teams to worry about). I certainly felt a kick in the teeth when Chelsea won those 2 titles under JM. Watching the team get dismantled so casually in 2 Champions League finals made me sad though the pendulum swung the other way when Owen scored that spine-tingling last minute goal agai…

Cracks in the Pavement

When John Denver's voice hits the 'T' of "Take me home...", it's a force of nature coming to life. The melancholic and wistful lilt in that line supported by the lyrics of the song give it some serious flavour.

Why am I blathering on about Denver and country roads? Because I am home again. And while that may no longer bring about even so much as an eyebrow squiggle from you, the thought of being physically present in Pune makes me kind of happy. Seeing as how this world is rolling downhill steadily, I'll take that kind of happiness any day, thank you very much.

I've been making customary trips home since 2009. While the distance between Bombay and Pune is minuscule enough to not warrant much emotional hullabaloo, even I have to admit that the effort needed to get from point to point is increasingly exhausting. It's not as much a function of age as it is one of population. The number of people making the up-down journey on normal Sat-Suns alone is…

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 becom…

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, …

Mind Riot

Sometimes, all I have in me is a song for the moment:

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 …

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 …

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?…

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…

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 ha…

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…

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 reck…

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 …

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…

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 ne…

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 p…

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…