Friday, January 25, 2008

plane speaking

Now, I am not as lucky as Reno, so despite warning from well wishers I decided to fly Indian (now known as Air India). If you travel often, you get used to flight delays which these days are as common as bird flu. You would be surprised if it wasn’t delayed. However, the shiny new airlines with their smiling young things inform and apologize for the delay. As customers, we have matured over the last decade and expect at least that much. No more are we ‘swalpa adjust maadi’ with the public sector’s apathy to service. So I wasn’t really prepared for the no-information policy of Air India. Customers shouldn’t be told of anything. It’s a favour we are doing by flying you dude…remember that. The wait was for over 90 minutes and this was after security check. While all other airlines announced the status of their flights, we were left to God’s mercy.

Then all of a sudden we were on the bus to be carted to the craft. But wait, the passengers need to be ‘sweated’ while the crew ambles about. A free sauna, anyone? So forty odd people were packed in a shabby bus and left at the tarmac sweltering in the hot sun. No information again. Some more time later we board the craft and see that the tyres were being changed. Fine, safety above all else. We are ok with that. People all around me got busy on the phone to re-schedule all previously arranged appointments. One young man kept spewing fs and bs, as if that’s going to help any. But I guess all the airline personnel were his dad’s age and he was probably reluctant to take up the service issues with them. See, how the older retirement age works in their favour. Anyway, finally we took off smoothly. Thank you.

Mid-air the pilot apologized for the delay blah blah. Caged in an aluminum tinbox, thirty thousand feet above ground, there’s nothing much one can do but ignore the apology. Along came the food. Of course you don’t have a choice, we have only vegetarian. No thank you. I usually avoid airline food. But the man sitting across the aisle quickly asked, can I have hers? From the look of him, he didn’t look hungry, but what do ya know. Fine, I relax in my seat happy that I was alone in the three-seater.

But it didn’t last long. A young lady, with a new born infant in her arms asked me to move to the window seat. Just asked. No reason. No request. I move to the window quickly sensing her impatience. She settled at my aisle seat and turned towards my window and started suckling her baby. I suppose I was gaping. Not at her mammary but at the sheer ease with which she did it. I am a mother and I support breast feeding. But this was such a smooth operation. Quite like a FBI agent pulling a gun out of the holster in a TV show. Impressive. I was left with little choice but to look out at the toneless azure outside the window while the baby chuckled with delight. I am convinced that is a boy and thus begins his life long fascination with this particular woman’s appendage. Oh I am such a boor!

Anyway, coming back to the flight, we reached safely only to wait out at the tarmac once again after deplaning for another aircraft to take off before we could walk to the terminal building. But for the first time in my life, my baggage was the first to arrive on the conveyor. Halleluiah!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

empty spaces...

On the drive to work I was listening to a popular radio channel where the RJ was quizzing the listeners about space. You know, Space...The Final Frontier...zzzoooooppp! This was good, I thought. Finally they are talking about something sensible, instead of how to make your boyfriend jealous etc etc. Hope dies soon enough though. Ok Ok! Here are a few answers for you to decide whether Bangalore tops in the number of bozos per square kilometer.

RJ: What is a satellite?

Caller 1: Hmmm…it’s like the cable TV! (Whaaaat the @#%?)

Caller 2: Well….satellites are these space thingies that go round and round I think.
RJ: What is an orbit?
Caller 1: chewing gum!!! (O-M-G!)
Caller 2: Orbits are lines around which planets go round. (Dude??!!!)
RJ: What are asteroids?
Caller 1: They kill people…I don’t know how. (Shit#$$%)
Caller 2: Rocks in space…you know…they are parts of something huge I guess..
People! Wake up! I wanted to scream. But well it’s the radio you know, and no matter how much you scream at it, it just screams back with more giggles from the lady RJ. Before I smashed my radio, thankfully they switched to John Mayer’s Your Body is a Wonderland.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


It has been a tumultuous weekend. I was on the rollercoaster interfacing a sequence of actions that I could not grasp fully or react wholly. It’s like watching a movie with finger pressed in fast forward. It didn’t help to have Neelum Saran Gour’s Sikandar Chowk Park for distraction. It is a good book (I am sure) but the doses of desperation, despondency and decay require an equally conducive mental frame which was unfortunately missing. So I shall withhold my comment on the book till I read it completely in a more amicable mood.

I also spent my time doing a ‘housing project’ for Ro’s school assignment. He had wanted to make a tree house while I was telling him the merits of a tent (which is a far easier to make). Finally, we settled on a less complicated apartment block only to realize that he wanted a swimming pool and garden to go with it. So Sunday afternoon was spent shaping tricky thermacol sheets (you would know the pain if you have ever tried it!), colouring them suitably and pasting them with precision. It has been a long while since I have done this and unapologetically my back gave up before we could complete. Groan!

I spoke with someone after 18 months and we managed to have a civil conversation. This was uplifting in a strange way. This, promises to end a part of the acrimony that has been there for years now. We both have our guards up still but with time and dialogue we may learn to trust each other a little. In the process, I gave up things that hold some meaning. I learnt to let go too. With a new beginning, things would probably have more perspective than before now that we have to share responsibilities. The lessons from the past 10 years have been:

Never compromise on basic values.

Don’t be led by emotion alone.

Ensure you are heard when things are not right.

Don’t sulk. It achieves nothing.

No one can appease everybody. So don’t sacrifice yourself for greater good. There is no such thing.

Martyrdom isn’t a sure shot way to sainthood.

Have the balls to take tough decisions even when it hurts and don’t be afraid to be the bad guy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

who me?

We were having lunch on Saturday, when she said “You look like you party hard!” This caught me by surprise. I don’t exactly look the type. No, really I don't. I prefer solitary activities like reading and am pretty orthodox with my music, plus I am zero on fashion trends. Not your stereotypical party animal eh!? I wanted to ask her what gave her that impression. But I hardly know her to get into that kind of intimacy. Perhaps I should have asked. Just to be able to understand how the world at large views me. It’s not that I consciously cultivate many avatars, but they seem to exist nevertheless.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

we are like that only

The band was there. So were the twinkling lights and cameras, the little black dresses and the sequin sarees, the many hued cocktails and the fine scotch, meandering conversations and the mandatory 'siren' kids. It was my school alumni dinner.

Met a few batchmates, but remembered none. A few business cards but not a single familiar face. We talked about teachers and their pet peeves. We talked about secret crushes and hated bullies. We lived nostalgia.

Moment of the night: When the MC mentioned that ours was and still is the biggest school is Asia, Ro turns back open mouthed and looks at me with new respect.

Let down of the night: When S introduced a batchmate and he tom-tomed his superior ranking in our much-hated school practise of academic segregation. "Ohh!I was in D2", he said dismissingly. Everyone knows that D1 and D2 were supposed to be the 'brains' and their combatic spirit could easily put Ponting to shame. They were bred to be snooty, pompous, egotist fools whom the rest of us hated with zeal. Meeting one such specimen after so long brought back that odium. "Ohh! how nice. You must be in Microsoft's board by now. I heard a few from D1 has made it there." Bite me if you must, but I couldn't let him walk away with glee. Typically I am not such a bitch but some people just inspire.

A little more smiles and small talk over dinner. Then batch photos. A few byes and goodnights. Finally it was over.

This was my first concious effort to work on renewing old contacts and a promise made this year to network better.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The last two days I was in a city that I am getting to dislike immensely. With every visit the resentment grows. My disappointment stems from a couple of factors. (OK I AM biased and you can call me a bigot!)

Their regional pride nothwithstanding, the average man on the street is positively rude to visitors and hold the unreasonable expectation that he/she should know the local language. The autorickshaw drivers are known egotists. And this rule holds true in all Indian cities that have this species. But here, they are absolutely the best in class. First, they wouldn’t run their meters (I wonder why they even have them!) and anywhere in the city would cost in multiples of fifty, irrespective of the physical distance. 1 km = Rs.50/-. 2 kms = Rs.100/- (if he likes you!) so on and so forth. One fellow tells me that under ordinary circumstances he would charge Rs.50/; but since the route to my destination has traffic snarls, he would charge me 30% more. I asked him whether because of the traffic, the distance to the place has increased? Or, should I ask my destination to move to a less congested road? Or, should I visit my destination ONLY when the road is empty? This of course had no effect on him since he feigns to not comprehend my language. At this point, I actually stomp my feet to the amusement of the people standing at the nearby bus-stop. Finally, I get to where I had to go after a little drama and giving in to the fellows demands.

The city has no ‘josh’. Absolutely none. If one wishes to go and shake a leg or chill out, the options are limited unless you want to get stared at and share your space with locals who wear more gold on person than what my entire family owns. This is applicable to both genders. And I am not kidding. I had a co-passenger on my flight, who had all his fingers encased in gold. By gold I mean rings that are large enough to make the metal detector go crazy. Then he had a bracelet which was as thick as the steel pylon they use to hang suspension bridges. Then a necklace of equal thickness. Finally, he flashed a gold coloured Nokia! When we walked towards the terminal gate after disembarking, El Dorado walked with us shining like the second Sun. I was very tempted to ask him if I can take a picture with him but chickened out.

Last evening an old acquaintance who met after five years said “You haven’t changed!” I wanted to ask him what changes were he expecting! But thought it would rude.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

identity crisis and the loss of fame....

One of the highpoints of my visit to Hampi was being mistaken for a bengalee singing diva :)

We noticed that after the first day at the hotel, the service was exceptional. We barely entered the restaurant to have a host of service persons and the restaurant manager attending to our every need. They insisted on reserving our preferred table for every meal. My father was very impressed. He reveled in it and assigned it to his ability to befriend the ‘common man’(by which he means all living things!). This constant repetition of his celebrated PR skills peeved my mother no end. Every meal would begin with sermons on PR and “This is what all of you should develop as a life skill” and some such phrases. We all give him his due for he has been a ‘sales guy’ all his life, but his cheshire grin and self glory was getting a little out of hand and I feared an impending rejoinder from my mother that would quickly spiral things out of control.

But help came from the most unexpected quarter. On the last day of our stay, two of our regular waiters came to me with a note book asking me to give my autograph. Stunned, we all turn towards the now grinning duo. They call me by the celebrity’s name. My mother is the first to recover. “No she isn’t her, they just look similar”, she says suppressing a laugh. Ro isn’t going to give up so easily. “Sign it anyways Mommy” he whispers audibly nudging me a little. All this while I am trying to figure out what is the politically correct reaction. I decide that a polite smile would be the best in the situation. Realizing their mistake, the waiters leave apologizing shyly. My mother turns to my father and says, “So much for your PR skills!” Ro is openly gaping at my father’s face, waiting for a reaction that could immensely add to the morning’s entertainment. But is disappointed when my father passes the bait and goes back to his egg and toasts. I am grateful that we were spared a life long session of sermons. Breakfast done, we reach the car. Robbed of my 5 seconds of ‘almost fame’ I must have looked a little sad. Ro hugs me and says, “It’s OK Mommy. You are not that fat” Sharp kid this.

Monday, January 07, 2008

damp squib...

Saturday afternoon. Battling, by now legendary Bangalore traffic, we reach where we set out to reach. The colourful canopy, the dust, blaring loudspeakers, the smell of elephant excreta. They were all there. Which was very reassuring to say the least. Though the high ticket price left me a little surprised. Yes, Ro and I were at the Circus. Jumbo Russian Circus, no less! As for Jumbo, there were a few pachyderms doing the usual tricks. As for the Russian there was Zarina. All blonde and lithe having an enticing way with multiple hoolahoop rings that spun around her at a will of their own. For Ro, this was his first taste of a ‘live’ show. He loved the Fire Breather, but wasn’t too impressed with the Trapeze.

What was missing though was the innocence. The midgets weren’t funny. The animals looked strained. The gymnasts were able yet dispassionate. The commentary at best boring. Left me with a strange feeling that it was me who lost something over the years.

Friday, January 04, 2008

first rambling of the year

One of the things in my most wanted list has been a dimple on my cheek. Absurd yes but I wanted it nevertheless. My grandmother was a beautiful lady. Not in the classical Bengalee way but she had powerful, intelligent looks that made her look almost regal. Her oval face with almond-shaped eyes, a sharp straight nose and a small delicate mouth all exuding intelligence and a tinge of arrogance. And her honey-coloured skin remained as smooth and flawless till she died of cancer in her mid seventies. And she had a dimple on her right cheek that gave her disarming charm when she smiled.

She never spoke any tongue other than Bengali even with her Jewish American daughter-in-law. While all grandmothers gave their newborn grandchildren gold coins or at least silver bangles when welcoming the newborns to the family, she had given me a red rose from her garden saying “May your life be as beautiful as this flower...” (as narrated by my irked mother). But for someone who learned to read and write after marriage (tutored by my loving grandfather) she spoke rather well. I am sure if she was born in the current era and had the right exposure she would have rocked the corporate world.

Theirs was a love marriage. My grandfather’s eyes fell upon this non-traditional beauty frolicking in the village pond in Barishal (now in, Bangladesh) and fell in love. The fact that she was amply endowed and lissome had a lot to do with it too I guess (Amen!). My grandmother along with her other siblings were brought up in her maternal uncle’s household after her mother died and her father remarried. Her aunt and uncle were well heeled and childless and therefore there were no dearth of love and affection or good life in their household. My grandfather’s family wasn’t rich. In fact, their lone claim to fame was that he was the first graduate in his village. But education to a Bengalee was as valued as money itself if not more. Therefore, when his father approached her uncle with the proposal, it was a match made in heaven. They only got sneak peeks of each other on the path to the village pond and love happened, just like that. She told me when I was at an age to see boys, that she was completely enamoured by his strong, silent looks which later blossomed to love for the honest, principled and loving man. (Look for a man like that, she had said) And then they were married off.

I am yet to see two people more in love with each other than them. There was never any overt display but each took care of the slightest need of the other. He would make the morning tea for her and ensure that the cream from the fresh-boiled milk mixed with sugar was served to her everyday at lunch because she loved it. Rub Amratanjan on her forehead when her migraines became severe. Helping her to wrap her saree in the modern way when they had to go someplace in the city. Little acts of kindness. And they spoke louder than words. There was nothing that could separate them from each other. Not his cranky mother, not the hardship of rearing their eight children, or the frugal household budget nor his frequent transfers to remote villages (he served in the Police and retired as DGP). They stayed by each other till he died of Parkinson’s in his late eighties and she a year later.

Coming back to the dimple, two of my cousins, both younger than me, inherited her dimple though not her looks. I remember standing in front of a mirror and freezing my smile at an angle that gave a slight hint of a dimple. This I did for months without any visible effect and then blaming the Gene God for playing dirty and cheating me off my rightful inheritance.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

God bless us all...

Another year passed by. Quietly. But for the de reguier “What are you doing tonight?” and “What’s your New Year resolution?”

Answer to the first. I didn’t ‘do’ anything out of the ordinary last night. Worked through the day. Went home and spent time with folks. Drank a little wine and cooked a decent meal. Missed a few people in my life. Slept before the midnight hour with my mobile on silent. And I woke up minus any guilt of not ‘doing’ something special.

Answer to the second. God bless them who make resolutions and stick by them and even those who don’t. As for me, I have never made any resolutions, which is why I never have to stick to one :) Freedom eh?

There was a time when ‘New Year's Eve’ seemed like a special day with whirlwind of activities as we raced each other and the world to make the most of it. Parties. Friends old and new. Dancing through the night. Pounding hangover(groan!). You get the picture. It was a night that everyone talked about through the first weeks of the New Year. But somewhere over the years it stopped being the center of our existence.

Like this year. Close to the year-end, I spent a wonderful day with a friend. We talked. We bantered. We shared a take-away meal. We relaxed. We even planned an adult radio show together called ‘Lewd Rampart’ (don’t ask!). A complete useless day you might say. But easily one of my best days in many many years. Reconfirming my belief that any day can be special as long as you give it a shot.

So that was that. One more year down and one more year to live, love and celebrate.