Sunday, September 27, 2009

faux pas @ pondy

It was close to 3 in the afternoon. Two women in a car with a crazy chauffeur who claims to have changed his name recently. The place is near Beach Road, Pondicherry. The women are increasingly getting excited since the chauffeur is making no effort to ask for direction to their hotel. The streets aren't exactly crowded with 40C outside. They seem to be going in circles. Finally, one of the women spots a living soul on the side of the road. An old man completely engrossed in cleaning his fingernails. On her insistence the car screeches to a halt. Hell, she can do this...this is her car. The tinted window rolls down. She peers out and smiles at the old man on the road.
"Rue Saint Martin?" Her accent distinctly french.
"Rue Saint Martin?" she repeats loudly.
"Whaaat? Money exchange??" he asks with enthusiasm.
The woman turns red on the face. The other woman smiles and waves a thank you to the man before collapsing on the car seat. Both woman giggle hysterically leaving the madcap chauffeur perplexed.
Last heard one woman telling the other "Sweetie the French left loong ago, remember!"

Friday, September 18, 2009

of men

I rode an autorickshaw to work today. I thanked my luck when the first autorickshaw in sight agreed. Usually they dismiss me with such utter disdain that it completely erodes my self esteem, no less! So I hop in with delight and that delight doesn’t last long. The vehicle jerks off (yeah literally!) a few times, coughing black fumes and shudders and shakes. Then it moves forward. Slowly. And it keeps moving slowly, never going beyond 20kmph. The driver is an old man and he hums happily as I frantically look outside for hope. Maybe, just maybe, we are actually moving fast enough and I am not able to sense it. Speed is relative, right. So maybe the other vehicles are on turbo speed and hence zipping past in a flash. Then, the Wipro chappie from my apartment whizzes ahead on his bicycle. Yes, bicycle. No, this can’t be happening to me. I beg the old man to speed up but he gives me an injured look and says, ‘Whaaat madam…I am 74 years and you are asking me to speed!’ WTF? I am not asking you to run the marathon old man. Now, surely the rickshaw isn’t that old. I bite my lips. This feels like a toy train ride on the mountain rail to Darjeeling except I am not on a holiday and I have a meeting in 15 minutes. But it would have been good if the torment ended there.
While we stop at the Silk Board signal, Wipro chappie is right next to my rickshaw. He grins and pipes in, ‘May be you should come with me….’ Look fellow, bugger off ok. Just because I smile at you on the elevator doesn’t mean I am going to jump out and squeeze myself on the narrow crossbar of your cycle ok, even if I were to be slim enough to fit there. Listen, my-knight-in-neon-helmet, yours maybe a geared ATB, but it is no steed ok. So, vamoosh! What’s wrong with mankind this morning? And I mean man-kind. All I have is a pasted smile on my face. But Wipro chappie is relentless. ‘You work around MGs right?’ I nod. ‘Oh, it’s going to take a while for you to reach’ Thanks pal. Like I wouldn’t have known at all if it wasn’t for your brilliant insight.
Finally, oh finally, the lights turn green. Wipro chappie waves off with, ‘Bye, see you back home.’ Home? Yeah, like hell we will. May be I will figure out a way to let the air off your tyres eh. Don’t mess with me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

the time of my life

Do you feel this way? That a tiny part of you dying when you hear someone who had inspired you when you were young, died? I do not do condolence posts. But when I heard Patrick Swayze died yesterday, I felt I lost something precious from my youth. Over the years I have watched a few of his movies, can’t claim to be fan though. But it is Johnny Castle that’s embedded in my heart. I remember watching Dirty Dancing on a smuggled video tape in 1987, at a friend’s place. Agog and spellbound, Ruma and I watched him without speaking. We would have forgotten to breathe too, if it wasn’t for all the sniffling. We rewound the whole tape and watched it again back to back. For a gawky, bespectacled 15 year-old tom boy, Johnny became God. Till I met him I was convinced that I would never 'want' a man. Of course, the boys I knew, never considered me worthy of romantic attention since I was ‘one of them’. I was ‘eunached’ between a nerd and a tom boy. No tits, short hair, tanned brown with all the outdoorsy activities and better at hockey than the average Joe, wasn’t their definition of a wet-dream-woman. Therefore I never got torn chits filled with romantic notions nor chocolates or roses. I was the ‘un-girl’ they would watch a match with where they could swear and cuss, belch and fart to their heart’s content. I was the one nursing their bruised knees and broken hearts while they lusted after the ungodly creatures called PYTs. So Johnny was my first and only crush in high school. I fell head over heels in love like I have never known before. I took serious interest in dance which surprised Ma since till then I had to be coerced to attend the classical dance classes that all good bengalee girls must take. I told Ma, I wanted to grow my hair long, which pleased her enormously. Then I got myself a video tape of the movie and played it endlessly at home when no one was around and danced till my limbs were sore. To me, Johnny was what my man should be. Older and rugged with a sweet searing passion. And in being so, Johnny made me a woman. Till date, I get goose bumps whenever I hear the Dirty Dancing tracks. And now he is gone forever and along with it the first flush of my youth. Sigh!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dear Bro
This is to let you know that all of us are getting on with our lives and managing somehow. It’s been 5 years today. And finally, I think we are beginning to cope. I did catch Ma crying silently in the kitchen and trying desperately to hide it from the rest of us. Baba doesn’t talk as much as he used to. He made a brave effort to hide behind the newspaper this morning to avoid any talk. We tried to be as normal with each other today morning when I left for work. Ma made your favourite ‘kolkata noodles’ for breakfast. The one she always used to make for us back when we were kids, with lots of onions and eggs. Ro loves it too. We never discussed you. I will go back home this evening and I am sure we wouldn’t talk about you at all. Except for the garland of jasmine, there is no trace in the house of how much we miss you.
Last week, Ma asked me to pack up your coding books in a box over the weekend. For the last 5 years they have been in your bookcase and I hadn’t had the heart to suggest we pack those up and donate them. She suggested donating last week but Baba said the technology has changed so much that the books will be redundant. I think somewhere deep inside we are still refusing to let go. We have donated one of your computers to the blind school where we sponsor a meal on your birthday. The other one is still lying in your room and occasionally used by Ro for playing games. But I think we will have to give that away too soon because the configuration is too old. Your wardrobe now houses Ro’s clothes and toys. He didn’t want me to give away your fluorescent green windcheater. He says he will like to wear it when he grows up. Ugh! Such taste! Grin. He is also eying your black electric guitar and your tennis racquet. He was trying out your Nike the other day (the one that Baba had bought for you and which you hardly wore). He still has a long way to go to fit in those shoes but he is trying earnestly. Just so that you know.
This year the Pujo is in September instead of October just like the year you went away. Ro’s got a whole set of new clothes and is very excited about them. I bought a saree for Ma from Chennai last month. She never buys anything for herself since you left. Says she has enough. I am desperately trying to fill the empty hole you left in their lives. I am not doing it too well as you can see. They still miss you as much. Though they consciously try not to make it obvious. I miss you too, you know. But I haven’t still had the time to grieve. Since you left, my life went through several cart-wheels that left me breathless and distracted. I still feel you are always there, right around the corner and if I really call out, you will be here instantly. Just that maybe I don’t call you loud enough. I guess I will grieve at my own pace. Maybe I will never grieve. Because you never really left me. But I miss you. Your amazing voice. The strumming of your guitar. The sight of you sleeping like a baby in the morning. Our conversations that made no sense to anyone other than ourselves. Your broad shoulders to cry on. The assurance of always having you around because you worked from home. Your ability to make me laugh.
Ok, I goto run now before the tears turn into torrents. I too have million things to finish before I pack up for home. You keep smiling. And please please help us to cope.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

born to be wild!

I did something that I hadn’t done for a long while and honestly, it feels so gooood! Yeah! I bunked work, packed my bags, said bye to parents and child and took off to the hills with of course two friends for company. It all started on a Saturday drinking session at Indijoes. That’s where the idea spurted and over happy-hour beer and steak, we decided to take off to Coonoor. So there we were on M G Road, wrapped up in shawls on a cold windy Bangalore morning, huddled up in Dee’s car, frizzling with excitement like the first school picnic where you got to sit with your best friend in the bus. In anticipation, I slept fitfully through the previous night making endless lists in my head of millions of things that I might have forgotten to pack. I don’t remember being this excited since I went for a college picnic. (ahem!)

Since Dee had to be woken up from bed, (yes sir!) while we waited on M G Road, we didn’t start at the time we intended to. Therefore got caught in city traffic, till we reached the highway. The drive went on with the first stop at Maddur MTR where we stuffed ourselves for breakfast. We continued peacefully till Mysore where we decide to take a ‘never-before-taken’ Ring Road, bypassing the city. For once, the road sign led us to the right path and despite our skepticism and doubts we reached Ooty Road well on schedule. The drive through Bandipur and Madhumalai was beautiful. At one spot where the road narrowed down, we met a herd of elephants. Majestic creatures that they are can look quite threatening up close. We saw a host of monkeys skipping about by the side of the road and looking out for open car windows to hop in and scavenge for food.

The 36 hairpin bends to Ooty took a little effort and encouragement. Grin. Dee had apprehensions and we bribed him with a promise of a sexy back massage when we reach Coonoor. He did not know then, that a far scarier drive awaited him on the slopes of Coonoor. We did the bends, Dee gripping the wheel and Rach and me, muttering a prayer under our breaths. We counted each one of the bends and like a trained parrot I kept reminding Dee to honk before climbing each bend. I got teased amply for it later. Next stop was lunch at Nahars in Ooty. We reach there after some drama of reversing on a downward slope with Dee losing his cool for a bit. It started raining softly by then and we managed to move inside the restaurant where all unoccupied tables were waiting to be cleared of the earlier order. I wisely stuck to a South Indian thali while Rach and Dee took their chances on naan and aloo methi. What arrived though was boiled aloo sprinkled with fried methi leaves. Rach promptly christened it Crackling Methi but i goto admit, we felt better with food in our tummy. At Nahars we met Rach’s aunt and uncle. They live in Coonoor and were having lunch with their guests. In fact Rach’s uncle was instrumental to booking the guesthouse where we were to stay. After direction to guesthouse was drawn up on a paper napkin, we hurried off to Coonoor. We landed there only to realize there was another family staying there aswell. No problem we thought. We got the booze baby. The booze turned out to be an awful concoction called Vanilla Vodka. God bless the state of Tamilnadu where government-controlled wine stores leave no choice for the customer. So while the youngest of the other family hogged the TV watching cartoons, we made merry playing Pictionary. Oh! The squiggles caused laugh riots and I have preserved them for posterity. After dinner we sat around the porch listening to the rain and enjoying the strangeness of a mountain night. Day 1 ended with Dee thinking he heard croaking toads while Rach and I were sure they were crickets!

Day 2 began easy and slow. Rach and I lazed around in the garden talking mostly about Kolkata and food (yes, the too are intimately connected!). It’s so de-stressing to not have any pre-designed agenda on a holiday! The other family had left by mid morning so we hung around watching TV till late afternoon and working out the plan for the night’s binging. The caretaker Ramu was roped in to arrange for beer (any brand boss! Just get it!) and a pack of cards since Dee wanted to learn ‘teen patti’ (an Indian variant of the card game Flash). So while Ramu went about the arrangements, we ordered in lunch from Orchid Square. After lunch we pestered Dee to take us shopping – the usual knick knacks. Dee and I managed to fill the car with utterly useless things like a set of needles (my idea) to be gifted to our moms. We bought locally produced cheese and honey and Dee picked up hemp shirts for himself and bro on Rach’s suggestion. He also managed to twist his back while trying to open a display drawer in one of the shops. However, a stiffened back never stopped him from surveying the chick scene. Such a braveheart! In a split second, he claimed to have made lingering eye contact (no less!) with a pretty lady who zipped past in a Scorpio. Rach and I thought of debating the improbability, however, we never argue with a man who takes women shopping with very little persuasion.

On our way back, we dropped in at Rach’s uncle’s home. An eco-friendly home with a real fireplace and a pretty garden. Ashok uncle and Malu aunty is the most amazing couple I have ever met. The kind that make me wish for a warm pair of arms hugging me every morning. The kind that make me wish for someone to grow old with. mmmm. They filled the room with scintillating conversation that meandered from book reviews of one of their friends to their close encounter with a bigcat. Aunty gave us roses from her garden. A hitherto unprecedented act according to Rach, since Aunty is so passionate about her garden. However, Dee got a full-bloomed big pink rose, the prettiest of the lot! It will suffice to say Dee never lets go of a chance to pour his charm in generous measures. Enthused by their stories, we decided to venture out and drive around to the jungle. The scenery was breathtaking with the blue green mountains suddenly veiled by wispy shroud of grey clouds. The sun was setting and lights were fading fast. We decided to head for the guesthouse. But such was not to be. Rach mentioned an interesting cemetery and I suggested we take a look. Which led us to a road with no humanity in sight. On the way we stopped at the gate of Mansoor Khan’s (Amir Khan’s uncle) sprawling bungalow. The adventure ended abruptly a little further as the road constricted and we found ourselves stuck on a narrow ledge that doubled as a footpath barely wide enough for the car and hugging the steep mountain slope with nothing but tea bushes for company. We couldn’t move forward as there was no road in sight. The only option was to reverse the car. Reverse? Here? Rach and I got off the car to help Dee with 'navigation'. We tried reversing for a while with the front wheel narrowly missing the outer edge by a few inches on more than one occasion. This side is a 6000 ft sheer drop and the other a rockface bristling with thorny bushes. Our cellphones showed no signal. We were cut off from civilization and the jungles are known for bigcats and snakes. The lights were fading. We prayed we don’t get a puncture. As Dee cautiously inched backwards, the brakes let out strong whiffs of burnt rubber. We prayed for an opening where Dee could turn the car. With night approaching fast, it would be impossible to reverse the car all the way to civilization. Short of a kilometer of reversing, we found a grassy patch big enough for the car to turn around. Rach and I hopped in and hugged Dee for keeping his nerve and headed homeward to get to our well-deserved booze binge.

We reach the guesthouse to find uncle and aunty already there to check whether we have returned from our wild jaunt. Thus began an entire evening of surreal stories that ended with uncle driving us to a spot in the hills where we could see the whole Metupalayam valley, glittering like ‘stars below’ (Aunty’s words). The deafening silence of the night on a wet hill side greeted us as we peered into the valley praying desperately for the clouds to melt away. But we could only see the spidery moon, winking occasionally from behind the veiled grey of the clouds. A little disappointed, we got back to the guest house where the now-chilled beer awaited. Grin. Chilled beer on a chiller night. Awesome. It all started off peacefully enough. However, night was still young. As the night progressed, we sank into ribald debauchery. Two drunken women threatening to do a ‘channe ki kheth mey’ dance on the moonlit lawn in their night clothes at 2AM, requires the man to be enormously brave to survive. The talk got kinky and wild and the laugh got louder. Dee bore the brunt with his signature silence and occasional twinkling-naughty smile. By then, we were beyond redemption and huddled up on his bed leaving the poor fellow squeezed and begging to be allowed to sleep. But such was not the plan. We insisted on playing cards on his bed and bulldozed him to a game which was a version of strip poker, the stripper of course being Dee. Looking at the wild women, he had enough reason to panic and hugged his blanket like he was born in them while we dragged the sweater off him. This isn’t a family blog and I could have easily written about the raunchy details with glee except that Dee refused to shed any other piece of clothing and the two of us tired out of the effort of pulling a fat sweater off a grown man fell on either side, snoring. It was with the early morning ‘azan’ from a far off mosque that I sauntered to my room only to fall in bed restlessly with an aching arm caused by alcohol induced dehydration. Rach too woke up with a painful forefinger and kept asking ‘do you know what I did with this finger last night?’ Yeah baby, some things are better forgotten. Grin.

We filled the morning with endless chatter and Dee quoting my previous nights utterances. In all this, we overshot the time we had planned to start for Bangalore. Finally, we left the guesthouse around 2PM to discover that we have a flat tyre. Somehow we managed to hitch the car till the petrol bunk but being a Sunday, the few auto garages were all closed. We trekked down further to finally find a dirty shack that passed for an auto garage. They mauled the shinny new alloy wheel till I was ready to beat up the guy. Dee gave me the offending nail to be kept as keepsake. It took over an hour to repair. Then on, we reached Ooty without a hitch while it rained. On the downward drive through the hairpin bends, we had Ghalib’s beautiful words flowing in the car. We drove through the Bandipur-Madhumalai–Mysore stretch chasing stray cars. Yes, cars. Grin. It was 11 at night when I got dropped home. But it’s never over till its over. On the way from my home to Dee’s, the car ran out of gas and Rach and Dee had to push it to the nearest bunk. Finally, I got an alls well message at 12 with all of us slumped in our respective beds. So till we meet again....

'Get your motor runnin'

Head out on the highway

Lookin' for adventure

And whatever comes our way...'

Monday, September 07, 2009

My friend Dee

Dear Dee

Among all the silly and not-so-silly things that we do together and for each other, often what gets missed is expressed appreciation. But this is not a thank you post. This one is for posterity. I am hoping this post survives in some inconspicuous corner of this virtual world and may be some day either or both our grandchildren might trip on it and read. This is also for those times when we may not be ‘in’ each other’s lives as much as now. We don’t really know the future and I am not waiting till I turn 60 to tell you this.

So here goes.

I hope you know how wonderful you are, like many people whose lives you have touched in so many different ways, have vouched already. But I will not dwell on your generosity, your ability to make friends on the most unlikely circumstances, your humility, your deep concern for even those whom you know briefly, your faith in people, your passion for what you believe in, your protectiveness for those you love, your boisterous sense of humour and many more things that endear you to people. Because in these, I am not the lone beneficiary of your extraordinary nature.

But it is those unexpected and almost instinctive moments that melt my heart and often break it. I suppose those are best bud privileges only. Grin.

Like, I didn’t expect you to rouse yourself and step out groggily to help me search for my shawl because you thought I may not be able to sleep without it. That was so damn sweet.

How you seethed ‘can’t you keep the window rolled up when we drive through crowded areas?’ Thank you. I shall remember always. Despite the irritated tone and the slammed door, I know it stems from genuine concern.

I have never had anyone text me from his room to ask for tooth paste, where all he could have done is walked across to my room.

How you can joke, ‘so what, gaadi hai, dusri aajayegi’ when all I wanted was to hit the dirty mechanic who was molesting your shiny new alloy wheel.
I didn’t expect you to be so calm after the cemetery fiasco. I am awfully sorry for suggesting it. If I were reversing the car on that narrow ledge that passed for a path, we would have ended 6000ft below and even there I would have chewed off the head of the person who came up with the brilliant idea. You never cease to surprise me.
How you cackled that the baby monkey crossing the road looked as cute as me. The monkey and I are both grateful that you noticed us despite driving with a painfully troubled back.

Finally to offer yourself voluntarily to get teased incessantly by drunk women takes courage. Real courage. Grin. I would have clobbered them to death.

I wish for you to never change. I know there is one lucky girl waiting to get hitched to you. I wish for her to have the big heart to love you for all that you are.

Yours always,