Livinghigh: September 2004
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
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The question

Consider this, she said, leaning over the table, a smile curled around her lips as she did so, consider all this around us, and tell me that you wouldn't trade all of it for just a few seconds of bliss?

He was leaning back on the velvet of the iron grilled chair, as he observed her. He wasn't quite sure what to make of her, when she said that, and then settled back into her seat, re-arranged an imaginary stray strand of hair behind her left ear, and looked back at him. She was playing, he was sure, but how serious was her game he could not tell. If he answered yes, then would she take his hand and then repair outside in the balcony, or maybe to his car, where she would let him kiss her? If he answered no, would she marvel at his control, and then forego the kiss in the balcony for a nightcap - and more - when he dropped her home that night?

The question was: which one did he want more?

The question was: how ambitious was he?


She waited for his reply, all the while feeling the satin coverlet brush smoothly against her back. There was a strand of hair she brushed behind her left ear, but that did not distract her from the objective she had. It was him, she knew, he... he... he was the one, she knew beyond a doubt. But would he answer yes, and then she would lazily flick her cigarette ash in the ash tray, pretending to be unconcerned, all the while trembling like a leaf inside, wondering how his tongue would probe her soul later...? Or would he answer no, and she would sigh inwardly, but feel strangely secure, that he was not ready as yet (though he was very much the one), and she would re-assume her role as protector, priestess, mystery, ice all at once?

The question was: how weak was she really?

The question was: which role was her forte?

Monday, September 27, 2004
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That time again

It's that time of the day when you're glad your work is over, and you're itching to walk out those doors that signify the word 'office' in your brain, and yet you have not the slightest clue to your itinerary once you do cross that threshold. Think of it as something out of those deep, dark, sinister fairy tales where you have this portal to go through, and that will decide your destiny. Very much Tolkien, liberally diced with John Woo in the wok bowl.

So it's that time of day when Sharon peeps over onto the nosiy place called 'Desk' (mothership calling earth; come in earth, come in..) and then asks in her wan voice: 'Can we leave?' Yes, Sharonica, we can, I can, you can, but I'm still sitting here, behind my desk, simultaneously chatting with someone I met for a drink at one point of time in the past, and also typing (click! clack!) on this blog entry.

So the conversation goes like this: So hey, are you out there tonight? Naaaa - too LS for my taste, you shouldn't go either. I'm too broke, anyway.

Story of my life, screams the critic, and the curtains come down.

But the beat goes on, da da da da da dum... So it's that time of the day when I hunt out the closing rupee rates, and head home. After buying a dustbin for the flat, reminds mother goose.

Small things go a long way

Relived memories yesterday when off I went to Bandstand (ever wonder where the band stood there, on the beach, on the wharf, on the road, where?). It was nice, great catching up with friends I hadn't seen for over six months, just... goofing off, laughing, chatting. Gawd, wonder if I sound like your typical stressed-out Mumbaikar maniac who discovers childish joys at doing velaa things... scary thought.

A weekend spent at Bandra soothes me - it's nice to relax back in the lap of luxury which I know someone else is paying for - it's daunting to head back to your own place, and wonder how to bargain with your next-door neighbour who you're hoping to rope in as your maid, or how to call a plumber in an area dominated by istiri-wallahs, or how to find a shop that will duplicate your house keys for you, or 'how to...' a milion other things. Setting up shop, set up a home, become an MBA, pray for more money skywards, it's all in day's work.

But relived memories and a soothing weekend is what has helped me ease the strain. I'm hoping today will be one when I will not return to the flat and curse aloud this city, and wonder at what provoked me to come here in the first place. I'm hoping, today things will go smoother - that I will be able to get that maid, that plumber, buy those things I'm supposed to, get those keys duplicated, and sink into my bed with a rested frame of mind. Basically, I'm hoping that the god of small things is real.

Saturday, September 25, 2004
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So I have a house now. Or rather, for the sake of precise, medicinal clarity, I have a rented 1 bhk, on a paying guest agreement from a fat landlord who has a thriving computer hardware business and lives in a flashy apartment off Peddar Road. Does envy shine through clearly, as I meant it to?

sigh... but... I have a house, and leave us ignore the cynic within.

Like somebody told me - cynic, stop being a brat!

These little sycophantic, schizophrenic ramblings do good for the soul, methinks. Or at least, a part of me (SCHIZO!) thinks. I have a house - I have a house - a 1 bhk, in Parel, ten minutes from office by cab, and I have to buy sheets and pillows for the house, and get it cleaned up, and have the plumber come in, and the carpenter to fix the tight door, and I have to stop sounding like a 50's housewife in the US.

I have a house - period.

Thursday, September 23, 2004
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So tempting

So tempting to badmouth this city now , as I have been doing since yesterday. Never thought a pinch in my pockets could affect me so badly - here comes the mercenary, so all rise.. trumpets blare, eyes glare - money money money/ must be funny/ in a rich man's world... But even ABBA could hardly have foreseen the way I tossed and turned in bed last night, hours after I decided to trade in a sullen silence awake for a sullen doze lying prostrate in bed.

So tempting to badmouth this city, and its crowded, congested streets, teeming, teeming with people, running about helter skelter. Was walking through rush-hour Bombay stations, and something reminded me of a remark by somebody whose name I cannot (for the life of me) recall - about all those millions rushing past, one eyeball firmly fixed on watch, one eye on the ground so as not to lose footing and trip and thereby waste more time - rush, rush, rush (not Paula Abdul style)... and inevitably, I found myself this morning also looking down at my wrist watch.

So tempting to badmouth this city, when I recall flooded S V Road, after just an hour's shower, and open drains, and clustered stones on broken pavements and Dharavi shanties. Whoops - I'm a journalist, something tells me - I'm supposed to be sympathetic to people's woes and poverty, and shanty towns are supposed to be my avowed project to raise human dignity. But I do not want to live near a shanty town, and hell, I'd be a hypocrite if I said otherwise.

So tempting to badmouth this city, when I recall Lutyens' masterpiece, with green avenues and Connaught Place and .... sigh.

Friday, September 17, 2004
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Last night in Delhi

Last post in Delhi.
Felt it deserved some sort of a commemoration.

Current frame of mind: relief, trepidation, exhaustion, serenity.
Current environment: dawdling in a half-empty 'Portal', phones still tringing now and then, click-clack of the guy next seat in his love affair with his computer.
Current vestments: crumpled khaki shirt (South Extension), cheap Rs 400 jeans (Karol Bagh), dirt-cheap Rs 100 sandals (Chandni Chowk).
Last person I talked to on the phone: the person I firth thought I could fall in love with.
Current person I'm thinking about: the person who's birthday party I'm missing right now.

Somehow, this commemoration hardly embodies what I'm feeling.

Goodbye, Delhi - it was great knowing you - hope to bump into you soon.

Thursday, September 16, 2004
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My stop

All those words that I never assocate with myself come rushing back to my ears: nightcrawler, solitarist (is that even a word?), pretender, magician, mysterious. It is a different kind of trip I get when I'm like this, rushing through the city streets at night, and it doesn't matter if there are people around me in the bus or not. I live by myself on these trips, through myself. Sometimes, something in the trembling yellow light awakens me, and I look at the object that struck me, and I smile, or I wonder, or I stare.

That little girl in the red and gold lehenga, for example, one day in Chennai - it has been so many months since I last saw her, and yet, I cannot alight a bus without wondering about her, what she's doing, whether she's still pulling and punching at her dad's pock-marked cheeks, the way she was when I first saw her.

And over here, there is the music. A strange kind of background, jarring and yet, so completely melting into what I'm feeling. Harsh punjabi bhangra, mingled sometimes with the raunchiness of a Bollywood number, all of which are punctuated by the saucy voice of the deejay as she speaks in English to the turbaned bus driver who has just dipped his moustachios in a pitcher full of creamy lassi. Like the way I have just sucked the juice from my rabri-stuffed parantha... delicately, holding the steaming delicacy in both hands, nimbling at the crust, and then probing with my tongue till I feel the hot sweetness ooze into my mouth, and then I suck slowly, pulling in some more of it. In some strange, undecipherable way, I think of the parantha that I'd eaten just minutes before alighting this particular bus, and no, I would not have it any other way.

No other way, but to hear the fast tempo of the young men, tired and haggard-looking, in white pinstriped synthetic shirts who get on the bus and start chanting - they're selling a part of themsleves, I think, and cannot but help peer closely, almost indecently. A map of the city, complete with the knowledge any blue-blooded vampire would want to know of where the city's blood banks are, what any tireless sleeper would want to know of the bus routes that criss-cross the metropolis, promising always of something greater, more magnificent, more awe-inspiring - like this simple ride, next to a young man who looks old, tired from his day, who sits slumped in his seat, and I'm dreading the fact that, any second now, his head will fall onto my shoulder, and I still don't know how I'll react when that happens.

But I have my window. And my window has me. My window has memories for me. Of so many other bus rides in another city, where I sat there with a girl dozing next to me, her shoulders also slumped, her head tilted slightly back, resting on my torso, and my arms around her, holding her close so that she doesn't fall, so that she doesn't wake, and I am content merely to watch out of the window, at the waves in the distance, rolling by under the watchful blue moon, making little rustling noises as they kiss the shore, that I can hear even above the solitary roar of the bus, as it rambles its way through the dead of night, through the dead of the countryside.

Another time, another city, no other person next to me. I watch the clouds gather in battle formation overhead, grey and black and silver and blue and a strange shade of ochre, and I message the person I'm thinking of... I wish you were here, I punch in my cell phone, I wish you were here with me, and we were out in the rain, I wish I could kiss you, and then we could make love... as the imagined rain softly patters on the grass outside the bungalow. I wait for an answer to my message, that never comes.

What does come is another emaciated-looking young man, in the trademark white pinstriped synthetic shirt that sticks to his body, replete with the odor of a long day's tediousness. He's chanting those same lines again, about blood banks, and bus routes, and shopping malls, and old historic buildings in this old historic city - all of which can be purchased from him at the behest of a crumpled piece of paper bearing a bald old man's face on it - and I smile almost in mean spite to myself. You're too late, I want to tell him, the other one has already come and gone, you're just too late - and I'm mean, yes, but I melt too at the thought, and I wonder what it is he will do now, after his brilliant oratory is over, and he has finished passing his little books around, but they all come back to him, with nary a crumpled piece of currency?

Maybe he'll sigh, like I did, and hop off the bus, and try his luck in another one - 53A, from Uttam Nagar to Lal Qila, green and white and grey, DTC, Propelled by Clean Fuel, say the painted blue letters.

Damn! I ripped my pants on a nail, as I hurried to my feet.

I think this is my stop.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004
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Finding a house to live in is hard, and it's even harder when it's by remote-control. (I'm a creature who runs in circles sometimes, and so I have a tendency to repeat blog content, time and again.) Sitting and pondering over cubic metres is something I have never done before. Will there be a winding stair that embodies a gateway to independence, in case I go for a PG accomodation? Or, how do I choose the bank to rob, in order to pay the deposit amount for the flat I may eventually pick. (Might as well choose Citibank - some kind of strange glee in robbing my brother's bank)

Scenario !: hot, dusty Bombay lane, with dry sun shining down on me - smell of fish seeping up from somewhere, because (naturally) this happens to be adjacent to a fishing village somewhere in the ghettos of the city. There we have a tiny little room, on the first floor, door jamb doesn't work, tap in the bathroom gives a dirty brown liquid called water, and sunlight filtering through shattered window pane.

Kunal says petulantly: 'I told you we should have taken the hut in Dharavi!'

Wake up with a fright, too tired to dream of horror stories again.

Can imagine weekends in my boss' Bandstand apartment (sea-facing, but obviously), and throwing pebbles at SRK's Mannat next door. May even get arrested, or chased by dobermans, and I come running, bleeding, running to my humble little shack in a sad place called (of all things) Vakola, and collapse amid the tarpaulin on the floor that quadruples as carpet-bed-furniture-blanket.

That was scenario 2.


Monday, September 13, 2004
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Aboard Taj Express to Mars

Deciding to bunk a day at work to go sightseeing at the Taj is actually harder than when I first planned it. So many things to be considered, not least of all the precarious state of my finances. The same explains my cautiousness in looking for an apartment in Bombay - remote controlling a search for a house simply does not work for me - I know I'm liable to crib when I get down there, and that doesn't help matters either.

Awmigawd - I have an uncanny feeling this entry is going to turn into a whine-a-thon!!!

Nopes, nopes, nooooo - take deep breaths, calm, steady, steady, must not imitate Sharon, Nobody loves me yaaaa

There, I laughed. Somebody called me mean once, and I have no recollection now of who the grand prophet was. Ho hum... whine-a-thon TV slot over, and now it's time for the Great Bore-ier Reef. This channel does not seem to be very happening. For one, there are no bikini babes around, in teeny-weeny thongs. Sad. No money, where on earth will the bikini babes show up from?

Maybe from Mars(?)

Friday, September 10, 2004
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Carried away

I wrote a short story today after ages. A bit mushy, yes, but would appreciate comments, all the same.

Get carried away in love, the novels urge, and yet I wonder what they all mean, she thought, smoothening out her dress, straightening out her hair, arranging the flowers on the table. How do you get carried away in a love that is supposed to sweep you off by its own swift accord, pulling and tugging, till you have no breath left to resist, she questioned, untying the apron that clung to her starched grey dress. It was a gimmick, an illusion, she decided, and yet, how I long for that myself.


How I hated her for telling me she loved me, he thought, tugging on his tie, arranging an intricate knot around his throat. It was never meant to be, hours of conversation, yes, and hours of love-making, but never anything more than that. And yet, she moans out in my arms, when I least expect her to, she moans out, breathes out, whispers out, and worse, she means all of that - those three dangerous little words.

Terrifying, he thought, tying his shoelaces now. Terrifying, he thought, looking at the maid set the dahlias straight on the breakfast table outside. Terrifying, he thought, listening to his wife singing that croon of hers in the morning room. Why on earth did she have to do that?

She made me believe, and that was the problem, he thought now, frowning in the mirror. A hair was out of place, and he carefully, delicately, set it immaculate. Gleaming, glittering, that was how she had made love to him, how she had seemed to embody all of that he had never hoped to have... and as she went on, telling him, day after day, night after night, she loved him, she loved him, o, she loved him, I began to believe - he looked at himself in the hall mirror. I began to believe. And my crime was, that I did not really, truly love her, but I told her I did, and when I left her, I broke her heart, but I broke my own o, so very much. He plucked a dahlia out from the bunch on the table.


It was a lark, a joke, a fling, that liberated me, because it showed me a side of myself that I never thought was there, she thought, drinking vodka at nine am. I never wanted to do all that, but no, I did, because I loved doing it all with him, she faltered, staring out of the window, a glorious June morning, that even had that o-so cliched bird singing outside her window.

He was good looking, and I could not believe it when he showed such an obvious interest in me, when he wanted me, when he asked me to kiss him in the back of the cab, back from the party, when he asked me to be with him till the next day, when he wanted me to come to him, just then, just now, no delays, no putting off.

It was a kind of urgency we had, because we knew from the beginning it was not meant to be, and even though I knew it was not meant to be, never meant to be, I could not stop myself from tasting his self-assuredness, touching his frivolous peacock feathers and feeling the thrill that comes with exhibitionism. She touched the lace of her curtain, and sipped at the cold tea that lay on the low stool. The vodka bottle, small and silver, shaped like a bullet, with a sting that burnt and enflamed her core stood there like a burnished placebo now. And here she was, looking out of the window at a perfect morning, wondering whether she had ever been in love, whether she had lied when she had told him and herself that, given a few more weeks, she might have ended up being....

The car revved up and roared away, and she saw her husband's head of gleaming, immaculate hair through the half-open front-seat window. From somewhere, she could smell dahlias, and she thought, aaaa, thank heavens for that girl.


Get carried away in love, the novels urge, she thought, and yet here I am alone, because I was getting to want him too much. She took the leaves and the too-long stalks she had snipped with her little pair of gleaming scissors and went out into the garden to dispose of them. A beautiful morning, and a bird singing, and a world of sunlight, and yet, how does all of that measure up to the fact that the novels got it all wrong, she mused.

I told myself to be on guard when I first met him, I knew that he would go, that he would flit, and I would try to float along too, but would probably not manage, and so I warned myself to stay disaffected, away from him, away from what I could feel, what I knew I was capable of feeling. Was it that I was suddenly attracted to the idea of being with someone, doing things with someone, seeing movies, dark halls, holding hands, linking heads, touching in the dark, sipping coffee together, eating chocolate together, talking late into the night, pressed against his body, so that I could feel his heartbeat even louder than my own - when did all of that suddenly become so important to me, she mused.

She frowned now, and slowly sat down on the steps that led into the house, straightening her grey uniform, brushing her toes against each other inside her tapered black shoes. It was morning still, early morning, she meant to say, and she still had a single dahlia in her hand. Bright pink, furry, like an animal, slender like a rose, living like her heart.

He said he was not in the same space with me, as I was obviously so ready to be with him. He said, he could not imagine being serious with me, and yet when he said all that, I did not even cry a tear, while I cried buckets for that other young man who met me daily and took me to the movies and then to his bedroom. I had cried a lot then, she remembered, and her features softened suddenly at the thought of remembered emotions, and yet, why did I not react like that when he told me, last night, that it was over? I laughed then, I hugged him, I told him, I knew it would never work out long before – perhaps, because I did - and I left him. He called me, and I spoke to him, he called me his 'ex' and I asked him when we would go for that other movie at the Bistro, and yet, here I am, sitting on the steps, with a dahlia in my hand.

When, o when, will I get carried away in love, she wondered, sniffing the wan smell, hearing the woman on the first-floor landing snuffle slowly in her dressing gown, recognising the faint whiff of the vodka in the silver bullet.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004
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'Et tu..!'

Back to mourning, or is it half-mourning. Late nights of self-induced gung-ho, chit-chatting about office oddities and romances that went bust, never stood a chance, may yet be, are all very well, over a thumping beat of trance, hip hop and bubblegum pop... eating chocolate cubes, one by one, pretending to get that sugary high that never seemed to bestow excessive calories before and now seems vehement in their vengeance, it is a strange kind of surrealism. Imitate someone's walk or talk, and chortle in laughter, look forward to days of penury and dream of years of prosperity - all of it comes so very well to us. To me...

But I will miss this city - not the first time I said it, and I know it won't be the last, either. Crowded alleys and broad manicured highways, glittery people and fast-paced cars, the stench of money, the whiff of simple-minded honesty. Not all of it mean, or make, or are meant to mean or make, much sense... but there it is.

The scary thought of living alone, the scary thought of being surrounded by people you know; I crave anonymity, and yet wonder how on earth I would survive that state. Not anonymity, really - but rather what I want is the idea of letting go in a place where I can, where I do not know anybody from a past that seems sterile sometimes, to revel in a future that seems depraved sometimes. But they say, breaking free is not really all that hard. They say, anything can happen.

They say a lot of things. Listen to them, over the din of hip hop, trance and bubblegum pup, and through the haze of sugary chocolatey bliss.

Monday, September 06, 2004
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Workaholic on a compulsory break

Busy, busy, busy bee. Worker ant pauses, surprised almost at the fact he has a moment to spare. A moment worth absolutely of no consequence. He cannot call up the one person he's been thinking of all day, not least because of a certain monster atop his shoulder called Pride, and he has not the heart to talk to anyone else. So he listens, listens to the busy drone of the anthill about him - or is it bee-hive? Have got my species mixed up, suffice to say that we're all (ant, bee, human) much too busy to really care.

Lift a pebble, cart it home, lift an acorn, hope it'll stay till Winter, splurge on purse strings, and wonder as to the days of bread and water ahead.

It doesn't make much sense to anybody other than the busy bee/ant/humanoid. This moment of pause is too damn antiseptic, too compulsory, too imposed for me to savour it. Even God had to rest on the seventh day, they say - but what a drag! What is a moment of rest worth, if it is not of your own choosing?

Damn it - why on earth is that phone not ringing?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004
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Blind leading the blinds

Sitting here, thinking about not too many things, really. Just: what will I do tonight... cursing my haunted camera... wondering what to have for lunch today, but not really hungry (it's more like an academic pursuit with me)... happy in general... feel like seeing a movie, specifically, Shrek II... feel like licking my way through a mountain of ice cream, specifically, Almond Mocha...

Sitting here, thinking about too many things, realy.

I look up from my console and what greets me are these shuttered blinds that keep the sun out. I know I'm not exactly the summer-child of lore, forever deliriously happy to frolic in sunshine, but sometimes, I do amble over to take a peek outside. Pull on the pearl-strings, part the shades a bit, and the world of overhead tube-lights and droning printer recedes, to be replaced by a world of busy, busy Delhi below.

Congested Jhandewala, Anarkali bazaar which is usually always deserted (almost like you expect to see Anarkali's phantom flirting with Salim's behind some dingy stairway), narrow road lined with earth, OB vans with fancy contraptions overhead, the dust and the noice receding in the far distance, and you can see India Gate there, over the treetops, the giant Hanuman temple closer to you, and if you were outside, you could hear the sing-song, emanating from its precincts, battle for survival with the hoots of traffic surrounding it...

There's a rooftop garden below, on the fourth floor of Videocon Towers, and I sometimes look down on the green grass, so vaguely artificial and green in all the cement chaos, and there's even a little fountain, little seats for you to sit, little trees around a little green circle, manicured and clipped, perfectly maintained, made for you to flop down, and walk and simply sit and stare into space, or stare into the green carpet, but not treally seeing it, simply pentrating through, while you think of deeper things, or deeper people, or people who mean so much to you that you leave them behind.

Blink, and the blinds are firmly in place, however, and what greets me is the winking computer. Sitting here, thinking about too many things, realy.