Monday, January 31, 2005
An evening with Atlas
Spinning yarns in the air and I listen to a conversation taking place behind me. It's a strange girl who looks like Shirley Temple talking about the vagaries of the universe, and however much I try I cannot picture her as anything else but this gnome Reverend Mother from a science fiction thriller. (Note to all watchers: read Frank Herbert's Dune, if you're into fantasy) But I love her for her oddities, because who else in the world can understand my own oddities... it's a chain, we're a chain, and we propagate this chain of battiness because that is the key to understanding whatever we do.
Ergo, I am.
Last night was a trip down a year back. Five friends sitting at a cushy sofa and sipping on hot chocolate. I like the hot chocolate this particular joint makes - thick and foamy, capped with swirling whipped cream, sprinked with Hershey's syrup. I have a chocolate fetish and that indulges me to no end. There was conversation then, sprinkled (like the syrup) with pauses in which, one by one, the latecomers strolled in and were assimilated into the giant organism of sloth on the sofa. There were laughs and memories and, two hours later, we departed from the store, one great big gigantic slug on the pavement, yakking and yapping about what to do next, where to go next, Chinese, Italian, Indian, expensive, cheap, middle-class, how big are our wallets, how big are the hearts of the pieople who will treat us... A chain of battiness. It was fun.
I reached home much, much later with my flatmate, and sat watching television for awhile after that. It seemed we had been 'talked out' by the evening. Conversation seemed inane - what did you think about that/ the panini was excellent/ shit, the biryani was crap/ I think there's something going on between the two of them/ and the rest was history. Yawns and goodnight, quiet smiles exchanged - I have to wake up five hours later and scramble to work. I have to stare down my editor and starve for eight hours before I eat lunch (I skip breakfast). I have to hold the earth up, like a neo Atlas.
I shrug, sometimes, too.
Mirror Mirror #3: I have read the entire Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, and the preceding Empire and Robot series as well. I have even attempted writing a thesis on Asimov's theory of Universal Evolution, from earth to Empire to Foundation to earth. But I gave that up after deciding I was too completely awed by the entire vision in my head, to ever care about putting it down in paper for anybody's benefit.
Friday, January 28, 2005
I have written a new story. But I've realised that if I post entire stories in this blog, as I have done previously, the space tends to get filled up all too fast. So there you go - I'm going to make use of my parallel fiction blog, and promote it a bit - if any body is interested in fiction, that is. It's called The Gabbles (yea, cuz I gab, gab, gab, gab...) and there's a link to it on the left-hand side, under Storyteller's Nook (which also contains links to some other amazing fiction blogs I've come across, by the way)
So, anyway, here's an excerpt from the new story -
They were playing something on the radio that made his passenger hold herself tight and sigh over and over, and that drew his attention to her. He was an ordinary little man, too short for his age, too stout for his size, too mild for his profession. Or so he kept on chiding himself about. He hated his wife, hated her mother even more, but was in love with this yellow-and-black cab that he plied across the vast regime of Bombay that he liked to think, in some small way, was a part of him. A part of his territory, a part of his fief. And he liked to think of all the people therein, in some small way, connected to him.
He was a self-important little man. He knew that too about him, but he didn't really care.
And that woman's silent snifling drew his attention to her. So he looked into the rear view mirror and wondered what she was all about.
You can read the whole thing HERE.
Mirror Mirror #2: I used to be a sloppy eater when I was chhotu - though a highly independent one. I would refuse to be fed when I was a kid, and preferred to slap my hand into the food and slap it back on my face, managing to get some of it in my mouth in the process. In sharp contrast: I am a fastidious eater today, who leaves his plate cystal-clear, all the little katoris neatly arranged in a line, or one top of the other. I may have just become a greedier eater.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Some people I knew
I knew a person who has had countless impersonations of the way she used to come in early morning and pronounce "Good Morning!" with all the technical skills of an opera singer and all the zest of a newborn puppy! She was an enthusiastic creature, who would take all the teases and taunts in exceptionally good humour and come back early the next day (in clockwork precision) with that same opening line, to be greeted with the same tired looks of exasperation and/or bemused expressions.
I knew a person who would strut around corridors with a self-important swagger though he was by far the shortest man I ever saw, and curled up his chin defiantly if you dared to try short-side him, no pun intended. He would laugh about himself, and run circles around the tallest people around, hugely at ease with his size and hugely self-confident. But there were times when he would slink away and straddle the window sill, looking out, out and out... and the only thing to do then was to go sit by him, banter on about the silliest of things, till the two of you finally romp up for a cup of steaming coffee.
I knew a person who would sulk for days on end if she were not appeased in the silliest little fancies, and would preen with joy and caring if things went her way. She was a naive little girl, often an old woman in a frail body, often too tube-lightish to understand what was happening, and often too angry to see that she was not understanding! When she fell in love, she was intense. (Aren't we all?)
I knew a person who regarded tea as God's gift to mankind, who skipped on the road out of sheer joy when you least expected it, who would clamber up on a tree when the rest of us settled for chairs, who would hold long conversations with me into the night about the darndest things. He gave me ice cream and other food for thought. He coursed through the city on a bike that was supposed to give him nirvana. He twisted his face as he laughed, and spoke an outlandish dialect that made me laugh to hear it, and I soon acquired traces of him in my own laughter.
I knew a person who is the eternal chameleon: in one second at ease with himself and the slowing tide of the world, and in the next, a flurry of activity. He would project himself into the Arts and he would delve into the secret language of nano-technology. He would write letters to Camus and he would giggle at Calvin. He would stride down the road and examine me, and a part of me followed him in wistful curiousity. He was a giant among men.
In an aside, I have been inspired by some of the 100 things about me that I have come across - courtesy Sarah and Deepa - and so, that is enough for an innovation to the HIGH blog. However, like both of the lovely ladies, I love sitting on my ass far too much to ever hope or contemplate writing 100 such tidbits about me in any one or two or three sessions, so I have a compromise. Starting today, every post will have a single little factoid about me/ mua/ yours truly.
Mirror Mirror #1: I start with the easy thing first - I'm
Monday, January 24, 2005
The idea behind chocolates was to make you feel like a God. It's almost as if you're this grand old priest in some ancient culture that believes in chunky gold and heavyduty orgies and what-not, but since you can't have any of that in this modern day and age, you get a piece of chocolate (preferable with nougat and caramel) and you tell youreslf, I'm the King of the World!
Poor Leo never stood a chance next to me!
So it's a drug for me, then. Something that lets me rest back onto the pillows of my bed and read a book, turn page after page in a delicious haze, about people and their stories, and feel some strange tingle induced no doubt by that ethereal brown substance invented by said pagan priests. Or something that puts a skip back in my step when I'm walking home from work, all too aware of the traffic and chaos around me, but somehow being able to shut all of that aside and think about - things... while I bite into perhaps the commonest chocolate bar... I ingest heaven for Rs 10. How sexy is that!
Cross the street and peer at the people around me, and wonder what makes them tick. The watchman sitting sprawled outside his keep, his cap in his hands, and you're wondering where on earth he comes from. Strange beginnings, strange origins and even stranger middle paths - and somehow you wonder whether the end is really that important at all. That happened to me, the other day, when I held onto a hand and pushed through a crowd, revelling in the celebration around me, pointing to art pieces arranged on the sidewalk, or twiched my nose at the delicious street food that was on display. It seemed too much of a good thing to waste - the now, the then - too much of a good thing to mire in worries about whether there would be a future at the end of it. I walked down to the Gateway after that and longed to hear the lapping of the ocean waves, and yet could not - and that was the end of that train of thought.
Or was it ever there? Or was it simply induced by a bite of nougat (and caramel)? A drug to provoke the future and examine the present, to forego the past and channel one's energies in the most lethargic coma. An ending, I search for an ending - I hunt desperately, ravage my innards, seek to put a full stop with a clause or an event or a parting treatise, and find none. Too much fury, too little substance, or the opposite?
I struggle for an ending.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Scary Movie XXXXX
Write a story, write a plot, write a character.
Plan an event, plan a sequence, plan an outcome then.
Think about complications, throw in some passion, and an idea is aflame.
Make her beautiful beyond compare.
Enough to shatter mirrors, who are jealous beyond repair. (Did that rhyme? I didn't mean it to.)
Then sketch out the hero, make him strong and bold and fearless.
No pretty boys allowed please, and be liberal with the scars please, surface and mental both.
And then we have to think of a plot. ho hum. Aye, there's the rub. (Damn, that was Shakespeare.)
Perhaps there are three witches and a cauldron, perhaps there are three men in a tub.
Perhaps they could be rubbing their hands in glee and murmuring Rumpelstiltskin again and again.
Perhaps there's an old magician in some far-away portal who sends a giant reptile-bird to steal the princess away (yes, I know it sounds hackneyed, but what-the-hell!)
Let's see what we can think of next... O yes, hero with the scars has to go rescue her.
At this point, I shall settle back to paragraphed prose, as this threatens to get very long, otherwise.
Our intrepid hero sets off on his stallion, accompanied by his faithful servant Robin of the Hood, and they come to the pass of the Snowy Mountains. Gnomes then appear and start shooting poisoned arrows at them, so our hero has to run and hide. But at night, they come across an old hermit, who is pleased at their valour (also they give their food to the old beggar, which makes his tummy happy) and so tells them of an underground passage to the other side of the Mountains. So, off they burrow.
Lovely images of underground caverns flash acros the screen, until they come across a golden bird trapped in a cage, and Scarfaced hero recognises that it is the Bird of Truth, so he goes to possess it - but this makes the damn bird squeak like an elephant (if pachyderms could squeak) and so the gnomes come and attack them again. Scarry and Robin of the Hood run, but then the damn dart hits Scarry, and our prince falls in battle.
(Ta-da! Bet you never thought that would come so soon.)
So, obviously, focus shifts to ole Robin, who reaches the other side with Birdie in tow. He's a bit sad at first, but then thinks, hey, if I can kill off the old coot magician, I can get the girl AND the bird, so off he starts jaunting along again. Scarry's horse is still with him, so they make good time.
But the magician sees him coming and sends that other big reptile-bird to go kill Robin. The RB (reptile-bird) kills off the stallion, so poor Robin has to scurry for cover amid the woodlands with his Bird. (Bird has learnt to behave now, and not squawk like an elephant, so they're not discovered.) RB swallows the stallion whole in one gulp, and so thinks that Robin is also in his tummy - shows you why RBs have gone extinct today - and he goes back, happy and full to his lord and master, the magician.
Cut to cabaret sequence. Beautiful princess in a two-piece gold bikini (yes, her name is probably Leia) and she has to do the Beyonce Baby Boy beach jig for old man, who's very happy with all this attention he's getting. But then, our mirror-shattering princess is clever, so she makes old coot think she's gonna have kinky sex with him, ties him up and all, and runs away with his wand. She discovers the big RB and decides that it might as well serve her with the wand, and of they fly. On the way home, she spots poor Robin in the Hood with his truth Bird, and decides he's worth a shag or two and it's worth some tandoori masala, and picks them up, too.
They go back home to her castle, where she deposes her dad and mum with the help of her newfound magic wand and crowns herself Supreme Slut of the land. Her first conquest is Robin, and her second is old hermit who helped with the burrow under the Mountains.
(Did I hear you say yuck?)
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
So, I originally filed this under Chiens Sans Frontiers, but decided to post a copy here on the HIGH blog too. CSF happens to be a slightly more serious forum, and I'm just hoping that those guys don't think I'm being utterly flippant when they're all engaged about the US involvement in tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka.
One of the jokes that used to go around in journalism school was how journalists rarely got time to be clued in on the news. That happened to me, today. There I was, working on a story on ICICI Bank, when my boss asks me what the market dope is on Chidambaram saying that PSU banks will not be privatised, I gave a classic Dumb look and said, in my best reindeer imitation, that eternally meangingful intonation -
Damn. So, of course, I then did a five-minute crash course on what the Finance Minister had actually said, and what my eight-month experience in the field tells me about banks and banking stocks and market analysts and FIIs, and did an about-turn, as gracefully as I could manage, to my boss, and said - So, that really will not make much difference now, will it?... and was gratified to see her eyebrow's rise appreciably.
Getting back to the point about working journalists not having enough time to get clued in on the news breaking all around them, unless it were a tsunami or an alien landing, I wonder if it's true for most of you guys working out there, or it's just plain daft old me! How is it that I rarely have time to examine a newspaper from Page 1 to the Sports section these days (well, I never was one for the Sports, so forget that last one)? And before you scream Troll! Troll! and come after me with pitchforks, let me assure you that I rarely have time for Bombay Times either - thank heavens for small mercies!
No, I mostly spend my morning time fighting off blood paroxysms in a speeding cab, trying to get to work not too late, while listening to Good Morning Mumbai! on the radio, plugged in my ears.
Bubble me this
Luxury is a marvelous thing. Not so much a thing, though, as it is a state of mind. Like now, for instance. I'm sitting completely vella, my kurta sleeves all rolled up, legs crossed, my face a strange mix of attention and irreverence as I type down what promises to be a completely nonsensical account of how I banter and how I joust. And I am completely caught up in the luxury of it all. True, being chauffered in a C-class Merc while typing on an IBM Thinkpad would feel superb, but somehow I doubt it would add to the charm. Definitely, I would not be this vella in that case.
That was Thought Bubble Number 1.
Someone I used to date in what seems like a long, long time ago once told me that I think in such sporadic little bubbles and say exactly what I'm thinking when such an enclosed capsule of air and whatnot appears in my brain - I grinned at the observation, and marvelled at how well that person knew me. If I had a tail, I would probably have wagged it then, in perfect golden retriever style. It's true. I'm a Leo, a completely mad, sycophantic Leo, who would love people to banter along with him. Thankfully, there are other mad people in the world with me, and May The Force Be With You Too, kids.
So, Thought Bubble Number 2 was a no-brainer cosmetic piece. I'm very good at those.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The line of duty
It's terribly strange to realise, after working for around eight months at an organisation, that you will be the 'senior' guy at your work place. Everybody else has left. Or at least, all the people who were working there when you were a rank fresher.
So, all of a sudden, you're the one who knows how to file in a rupee report, and track the derivatives market and decipher company balance sheets in the middle of a roaring, bustling, disappointing Q3 results season. And you realise, that you're stuck in the thick of this mad-bad world of business reporting and doing the kind of stuff you'd be doing if you were working with a CRISIL or an ICRA or any one of the hundreds of brokerages that dot the Mumbai landscape. You're an... ugh... number cruncher!
So, when you turn and look around (and see that everyone else who was there when you were a rank fresher has left), you can't help but wonder at times what the f*@# you're still doing there...
No, this is not exactly a self-pity post. I'm not pitying or feeling sorry for myself. There's a bit of incredulity here, but that's about it. Somebody I know told me I'm here probably for the free internet access this job allows me, and I could not refute the argument convincingly enough - I didn't even try, actually. I'm not here for the stocks and shares - the Sensex can go all the way down to 2000 for all I care and I'd probably yawn in sheer boredom if that happened. I'm not here for fierce journalistic pride - I mean, let's be honest: how on earth is what I'm doing journalism? And hell, even if we were doing hardcore journo stuff, I doubt I'd be all fired up about it. Damn. I tell myself I'm not mercenary, but it seems more and more that I am one. I like money. I like comfort. I like having fun. All I want is fame and fortune, and I don't think that's too much to ask. I'm not terribly dedicated. I'm not terribly focused.
Heavens, do I need to grow up?!
Friday, January 14, 2005
The root cause
It's a question of being, as my mum never fails to stress enough, true to your roots. I'm a Bong. That much is pretty evident for miles around if you saw me today. I'm wearing this electric blue kurta, sleeves rolled up as any good Bong should have, with hugely prominent white blockprints that depict some modern art-meets aalpana* creation, over faded jeans - very much the archetypal college drop-out that people think is synonmous with the ever-old city of Calcutta. All I'm missing is a paunch and a moustache to twirl, as I walk down the road, confident in my Bong regalia, striding down that bastion of misplaced and ever-loudly reclaimed Marathi pride, the ever-(so-called)-young city of Bombay.
[I have a penchant for long sentences that tend to draw you on for miles before winding down to a tired and exhausted stop, to give you a moment's rest, before trundling up the very next hill of verbosity. I like to think I'm normal, but then, that little tidbit has already been the mischieveous little spark of much dawing-room debate in an earlier post.]
Back to my mum, then. A true-blue Bong if ever you saw one, though she has been schooled in one of the poshest boarding schools in India, and origially possessed a name that was much asked after, for its fashionable elegance as much as it was for its peculiarity, which she alas changed, soon after her marriage to my dad, to a more sedate Bong term since her in-laws could not understand head nor tail of it. So, from a Faye she became a Manjula. And despite her polished Ango-Indian self, she soon became familiar with the Bong things in life and tried to instill all of these into my brother and I, with that inescapable little term upon hearing which the two of us snigger uncontrollably and irrepresably. Be True to your roots!
Mum would probably beam with pride if she saw me today, in my attire. I can't help that. There are suddenly days that dawn when a long-repressed Bong gene flowers and envelops me in a cloud of pollen, and I gear up in sandals and faded jeans, a kurta with two buttons open at the throat, giving just a hint of hairy (= manly, for Bongs) chest, and stride down the road as if I were the Maharajah of Potoldanga, or some such old Bengal province which has long been consumed by the greedy growing city of British Calcutta. Contrary to the common perception of a Bong and his soulmate The Fish, I can steer clear from the stuff for quite a long period of time - I actually do not like hilsa, that celebrated species of much fanfare in the Bengali gourmet's poetry - but I still adore my luchi-maangsho (Bong style puris and mutton gravy).
My sweet tooth is my dead give-away. Bong sweets, Marwari sweets, Muslim sweets, chocolates, I love them all. My only reason for not touching alcohol for quite a long time was that I found it too bitter for my pampered sweet tooth, and even now, I cannot stand beer. But I do love vodka and rum nowadays, and my special favourite is capping a glass of rich Bacardi with a popper of milk chocolate stuffed with caramel. I'm liable to stand there for a while, knees slightly wobbly, close my eyes, maybe even flutter my lashes a tiny bit in an imitation of what the ideal orgasm ought to be like, and lick my lips, slowly, delectably, and make soft little murmurs, all the while feeling the heady richness of the caramel wreak havoc with my senses fueled by the strong burn of the white rum - Delightful death.
An electric-blue kurta with rolled-up sleeves has a special affinity for such delightful death. Ask the most seasoned drunk, and he will be true to his roots.
*Not just Bongs, many other communities also do this thing - make intricate patterns on the floor with a rice-based paste, which is supposed to be auspicious, usually before some puja.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Not yet a year old, but she's definitely getting there, LivingHIGH. I was reading this entry in Elixir's babe, and I wondered when on earth I had decided to start up this little forum for my thoughts - the answer turns out to be Tuesday, January 27, 2004, in a post titled Welcome to the rabbit hole.
Seeing that next week I'll be within spitting distance of my full year, and seeing that I have nothing better to do right now, I thought I'd recreate portions of that entry and comment on me, mua, myself and yours truly.
The post begins, There's a special attraction to doing the kind of thing you're told not to. That's like a universal truth. Surfing porn on the net just before leaving for college, so that when you finally do arrive, your friends marvel at the goofy grin on your face. Sitting on somebody else's computer chair in the lab when he/she's not there and writing silly messages on the desktop. That's fun - in a curious, demented, whacko-jacko kind of way.
I'm still whacko-jacko, albeit a mellower one. My goofy grin remains intact, thank heavens! I still love porn, though god knows that my consumption of the stuff has been pulled back to extinction these days! I like to think I'm more evolved now - thanks to my shitty job, I have my own computer chair, and there is no need to kidnap somebody else's!
And god, I'm ALL for WORLD PEACE!
So, carrying on, I start describing possibly the most influential guy in my life at that time - my roomie in Chennai - We have a kind of a war of words going on. I like to call him names, and he likes to hide my prescription pills. We like to call it a 'made-for-each-other' relationship. He's called Nelson and he's my libido's conscience-keeper.
I still had my computer in those days and I still had access to porn. Now, I have neither (sniff, sniff). But I remember those nightly walks that Nelly and I and our friend the Nut-cracker would take down the apartment grounds, talking about love and life and the myriads of things that come in between - I got some of the worst love-life advice possible in those walks, so of course they're special to me!
I like to think we're all 'living high'. I like to think we did an internship with the Buddha before joining ACJ and are experts on the Middle Path. I like to think I know the Art of Living to a tee. I like to think I'm normal.
Denial is still one of my strongest points.
Monday, January 10, 2005
The idea behind love eludes me still. To dispell loneliness? To make oneself feel 'at one' with someone else? To have somebody take care of you and be there for you when you need it? I wonder if I'm being selfish, I wonder if the world is selfish.
It is awful to realise that you are quite diffident towards somebody you thought you were in love with, only sometime back. To think that, diffidence is perhaps charity. I have realised today - not for the first time, mind you, but the realisation finally sunk in today - that the person strung me around earlier, deliberately provoking in me feelings of ardour and jealousy. Horrible, angry jealousy, that drove me to wonder at my own actions and question my own foundations. And to learn, beyond a doubt, that all of that could have been avoided, that the object of my jealous anger was contrived, a device to ensnare me further... it smarts.
To cut a long story short: The person I was seeing in Delhi invented a boyfriend. I was always made to feel, during our relationship, that I was the 'other man'. And now, I learn, there never was a boyfriend in the first place. All my anger and ire and plain-hot jealousy was provoked by a lie. I was the asshole.
Yes, diffidence is a charitable emotion.
I'm also having the jitters right now in a relationship I'm in. I'm not sure whether I'm being a first-rate cow, or whether I'm being smart. My significant other wants me in for the 'long haul', and I'm a bit nervous about that. It's not as if I plan to move to Delhi and Bangalore immediately, but that seems to be the reason I'm submitting for my jitters: I'm not ready yet, I have so many plans yet to live, I have to do more things, see more things, I don't think I can give the long haul to you...
And then, there are times when I think of that Delhi betrayal - I think: I was such an ass then! maybe I'm being an ass now... will I ever be able to find someone, the right someone...? Maybe I should just give in and say 'yes' to this relationship now...
I've added a short story to this blog here, which I wrote on Friday, and put the finishing touches only this morning. It's long. There, you have been duly warned.
PS: I think I should veer clear of subjects like L-O-V-E for awhile.
Short story. Ho hum.
A particular man
The boy out on the ledge next door stared back at the man in the window. The man in the window was contemplating that, contemplating the wide-eyed look of curiosity that gazed unabashedly at this strange new creature that had moved into the building. The man at the window was ordinary enough, the kind you saw strolling down G D Ambedkar Marg everyday, peering at the factory shops of the expensive brands, entering a couple of times, looking furtively at price tags and then walking out of the store within ten minutes to enter the shop next door. Not that he was cheap, he liked to think himself particular. I'm particular, thought the man in the window, sipping his coffee, looking at the boy out on the next-door ledge.
The radio was playing Downtown and he could almost nod his head in tune to that sappy, silly song that was so endearing to him. It seemed thoroughly out of place here, in this Parel colony building, the sounds of disquietingly loud English music, decidedly retro, blaring forth from the radio. A louder strain of Marathi film song would not have seemed so out-of-place, he mused, adjusting a book on the window shelf and sitting down on the seat beside the ledge. Not that he was a snob, not that he looked down upon Marathi film songs, he was simply new, with the curiously indifferent contempt that the new has for the established. He was reading a book about romance, about strangely found love among strange people, and he found that he couldn't really concentrate. He found that the little boy on the ledge simply would not let him, and so he let his open book remain on his lap and the music waft around him, but he looked out at the window, meeting the boy's eyes with his own.
They were exchanging notes that way, some sort of a grave confidence. He could hear the boy's mother busying herself in the background, not as if she was somewhere unseen in the next flat and he was on the other side of the building, but rather, as if he was standing next to the boy and the mother was clattering, crashing, cursing just a little way behind him, a little indistinct but so, so near. He almost thought it disquieting, because he knew that what he could sense about the boy, the boy could sense about him. He wasn't really sure whether it was a game, but he knew that they could both play it.
The man in the window seemed oddly familiar like that strange creature you see at 12 pm at night in front of the mewad ice cream man's stall, eating a faluda, which was fancy because it came in a glass mug and cost Rs 10, while everyone else merely wolfed down their Rs 5 kulfi cones. He would take his mug and his faluda and sit on the brick fence that was constructed over the flyover, so that he could eat while watching the cars whiz by. They were mostly taxis, because this was an out-of-the way area. Only if you were going towards Byculla, and there was a traffic jam over B A Ambedkar Marg, would you want to go through this road. They were building some skyscrapers on the other side, towards the main road, G D Ambedkar, and the man in the window, with his glass mug in his hand, would sometimes look up at the looming skeletons and probably wish he could live there. He would always have earphones attached, and you could hear the loud music from the little grey Walkman attached to his belt, as if he had lugged a heavy stereo with him out on the road. For the most part, he was ignored, but the boy on the ledge would never fail to gaze at him and wonder about him.
He never fails to wonder about me, the man with the book on his lap thought. The RJ was talking now and the music was interrupted. They were collecting funds for some orphans and wanted people to contribute. The man in the window smiled tightly and went back to his book, but he looked up again when the doorbell chimed.
"O, hullo, what are you doing here?" and he wondered whether what he had just said seemed rude to her.
The girl at the door smiled at him, however, so he supposed that she hadn't thought he was rude, and so he was glad. "I was just passing through, and thought I'd come in to say hi. Where's Tushar?"
"Ok, you were passing through? Ummm... Tushar's not here, though." Her eyebrows moved upwards, and so he smiled with a sigh and said, "He had some work at the office. I think, and after that, they'll have to run down for some interviews."
"Office? On a Saturday?"
"Yea - "
"Man, those bastards make you guys slog!"
"Yea - " Was she going to come in, was she going to come in, was she going to come in, was she going to come in - "Anyway, why don't you come in?"
"Alright - " Her bright eyes flashed now, and she smiled that grin he knew so well. She pulled her handbag closer to herself for some reason and stepped into the flat with a somewhat longer step than was necessary, and brightened with a somewhat greater degree of animation than was necessary - "Alright, I will step in - for a moment... So this is the place, is it?"
He closed the door, it closed smoothly without a noise, and showed her the window seat. She sat. "Yes, this is the place. You've been here before, haven't you?" Of course you have, I know you have. I discovered your little spotted hanky here on the window seat one night when I came back home, and when I looked again five minutes later, he had quietly slipped it inside his pant pockets. I know you've been here. I know you've sat there by the window, and I wonder whether you know that I sit here all the time myself.
"No, no. No. I've never been to your place. Tushar never brought me here. This is my first place. Nice place, though."
"So, what can I get you?" he rose and bustled towards the fridge. The radio was still on their Golden Oldies hour and Lynn Anderson was begging pardon about promising any rose gardens to unsuspecting and mistaken dolts, or something like that. The light from the fridge lamp seemed to warm his foot when it fell upon him, but that was ridiculous, of course. "We have Coke, and some sort of juice - " he squinted his eyes - "Orange juice. And of course there's coffee. I'm having coffee. Do you want coffee?"
He popped his head out from behind the fridge door with a comical quizzical look on his face. So she laughed and uncrossed, re-crossed her legs. "What - the 'boys' don't have anything stronger than coffee, is it?"
She was trying to make a joke. He hated the uneasy edge behind her humour, and tried to dissolve it by trying to appear as vulnerable and simple as he could. "No, babe. We're good little boys. It's you bad mommas who rob us from the cradles, remember?"
Squint. Bad joke.
But she still laughed. She was getting desperate. "No coffee for me, thank you. I'll go to the office now and catch your flatmate. I'm sure he'll take me out for coffee. Too much of that stuff and I'll become a nervous giggly wreck. I'll have some juice, thanks."
"Suit yourself. One juice coming up."
Tall glass. He would have liked to provide some sort of embellishment to it, but had no idea how. He was the strange man in the window, he remembered, and as he looked out of the kitchen window, he realized that the boy on the ledge was still there. The boy was nearer, it seemed, nearer even than the strains of Que Sera Sera floating in from the living room. He was gazing now at the pretty woman sitting on the window seat, and the man thought - how many other times has he sat there on the ledge, watching her sit on that seat, or perhaps lying down, with Tushar in the window. The idea was strangely voyeuristic, strangely thrilling, partly morbid and partly depressing. In the end, he was relieved. It was a link, a tenuous link, but a link nonetheless, between him and what he missed when he was not there and the two of them were together.
"I love this song," she said, when he handed her the juice. "It's one of my favourites."
He laughed easily now. It stirred a memory within him. "O my god, yea. Do you remember those evenings at the hostel?" and he laughed again, half afraid that she would say no and snub him, half afraid of a million other things, but then laughing all the same.
She squealed and licked her lips. "I always thought that Seema had this thing for you. As soon as she heard you sing Only You, she was gone for a toss! And you were like this major snake-in-the grass! You had such a major thing for her!"
She was pulling his leg, but he laughed along, content to let her believe in her own fiction. Seema was miles away now, and he hadn't thought about her since that last email where she had informed everyone grandly that she was going trekking in Gulmarg. He had no idea how good or bad the trek was and had never asked anyone about it. There were times Tushar tried to draw him out like this, too, but he never reacted. He always grinned, like this, and sipped a drink or looked at the wall clock for signs of Seema the Spider crawling up behind him.
Coffee was the ambrosia of the gods, at times like this. Billy Joel started singing Uptown Girl now, but the moment of easy humour and easy memories had passed. "So, were you guys supposed to go out today, you and Tushar?"
"Not really... this juice is divine. Dad was going into Marine Drive and I got down at Siddhi Vinayak. Hopped on a cab to surprise him." So she wasn't "in the neighbourhood" at all. "I thought he'd be home. It's a Saturday, for God's sake! I forgot that you guys are owned by a behemoth monster!" She grinned that lopsided thing that Tushar was crazy about, but which he found mildly patronising. "How come you're not at work too, by the way?"
"Different departments - " and he switched the radio off, because Golden Oldies was over and they would start making stupid jokes and handing out passes for movies soon, in return for silly antics on your part. He had done that himself once, and won two tickets to a play, for which had to sing a crass line from a crass Hindi song in a packed train. He imagined the boy on the ledge dancing wildly to that song, careening with laughter, wild and happy. Not on the ledge, where he still was, gazing fixedly at them.
"So what do you think about the flat?"
"O. O... it's - nice." He grinned. The stairs always took everyone by surprise. The flat was paradise, once you came inside the door and left the pan-stained stairs out of your life. But he was used to that now, and certainly, the children of the neighbouring flats who played in excitedly loud tones every evening on the landing barely noticed them. They would yell and scream and hide under the stairs as you climbed up and fumbled at the door with your keys, making you an unwitting and perhaps unwilling participant in the glorious drama of fairyland kings and queens that was being enacted there. The one of the ledge was always someone important in the game. He would be the king or the Superhero who had been waylaid, ambushed, trapped, betrayed, bamboozled by the evil minister of alien, whom he always managed to defeat in the end. It was fascinating, in a way, and sometimes he would purposely stand at the door, pretending to get his keys wrong, jangling them again and again, ears keenly waiting for the war cry that he knew would come and the bugle toots from the child designated the Imperial Footman.
"The crowd's pretty low-class, but the flat's cool. I like that. It came furnished. TV, Fridge, beds, chairs, tables, cupboards, gas stove, geyser. We hardly spent anything on that. Only shopped for food and supplies." He had no idea why he was talking to her like this. It wasn't as if she was interested. Her juice was finished and the empty glass was on the floor. He thought - do you want to see the bedroom? And then stopped with the thought, you've seen it already, I'm sure! And then he bit his lip. It hurt. He wondered if the little boy on the ledge could feel that too.
"Anyway, I have to leave," she got up now, gathering her silly little bag that was done up in absurd tufts of cloth and mirrors. "I want to catch Tushar at the office."
"O. Ok, then. Great to see you. Do stop by more often."
"I will. Bye. Love the flat. And the crowd's not that bad, at all - for Bombay" she smiled and he hated her when she did that. There was no music in the background now as they hugged and he thought there was something sad about that. There should be some grand finale to this meeting, he thought. There should be something that rent the air with some beautiful sad notes of a song that people died for in the days when they were young and remembered now only for their lost passions. "Goodbye," she said, and patted his hand fondly, and opened the door. A yell from the Superhero adventure filled the hall, and he gave an apologetic grin -
"It's like that, sometimes. Take care."
She stepped over the Imperial Trumpeter, all of two years old, sitting precariously on the top step with his silver paper clarinet, and hurried down the stairs.
The man in the window stepped away from the door and walked into the kitchen with a tall glass in his hand. The kitchen window was small and circular, and the little boy on the ledge could not see much through it. But he could hear the angry hiss of the opened tap, as if a volley of gnashing snakes had been let loose upon the man in the window, and he saw his hands furiously rubbing something, and so he imagined that he was washing something. His face was cold and passive, and especially so when he turned around to see him through the circular connection between them. They watched each other through wide eyes for a second, two, three, four, that dragged onto maybe a whole minute, and then he smiled, shook his head and walked away. Not in the living room, where the boy on the ledge could see him, but inside his cavern, his room, perhaps. He was a strange, particular man, the boy mused, who had strange particular desires on another strange particular man.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
The other day, I stepped out from my flat, scampered down the stairs, and it suddenly hit me from I-dunno-where: the imagined aroma of greasy, yellow biryani with oily, fried-to-a-crisp mutton chaap, cooked the way you will find nowhere else except at this seedy little corner shop - named, predictably enough, The Corner Shop - ten paces away from my house. Not Bombay. Calcutta.
So it hit me: I miss home.
Now that that teeny bit of self-realisation is through, I'm making plans for a little sojourn. I'm angling for a two-week break from work, one week in Delhi where I can lie in the lap of luxury at a friend's place and simply stare at beautiful-looking pieces of humanity (albeit Punjabi) strutting around in expensive attire, and another week in Calcutta where I can gorge on a variety of Bong* dishes I spend my nights drooling over these days.
One week for hectic socialising, party-animal style, bike-riding on my favourite Enticer, trips down to Connaught Place and getting lost amidst the pillars, bottoms-up at Blues while my ears get punctured to the tune of hard 80's rock, swaying my body sinfully to the wicked Punjabi-Bhangra remixes at Buzz, gawking at the Red Fort in all its old-world glory, traipsing down the gullies of Chandni Chawk and stopping by at the parantha-walli galli for some kheer-stuffed paranthas that no WAY can Bombay's Only Parathas ever replicate(!!!), holidaying at GK while ogling the sexy people and passing snide comments at their dumb antics, smiling like a saint as the strains of some archaic Haryanvi song comes wafting to my ears in the packed bus that's chug-chugging its way to Gurgaon... trading wild, scandalous, bitchy, naughty gossip! (Delhi)
One week for losing myself in my own bed and my own room, re-acquainting myself with my own computer, sitting to watch TV with my legs spread indolently but who gives a fuck(!), sinking my fangs into kabiraji cutlets** bought from the roadside stall yonder, sinking my fangs again and again into scrumptious rolls that are double the size of the Bombay frankies at half the price, watching the world go by from my vantage point in my favourite coffee shop in Hungerford Street, walking down Park Street surrounded by fancy hotels, fancy cars, fancy pimps, trundling down the spanking clean Metro station and bitching about Bombay trains, getting lost in the wilderness of Tollygunge***, then escaping that to get lost in the jungles of Salt Lake city***, hearing the neighbours go bonkers and my grandmother's eternal whining about them, walking down Freeschool Street flanked by second-hand books, second-hand LPs and hands-on pimps, shutting myself from the world in Globe Theatre and imagining what it must have looked like at the turn of 1900... being a Bong, root by root, leaf by leaf. (Calcutta)
Of course, my sentimental little sojourn depends on whether my boss lets me take leave. It depends even more on whether I can scrounge up the money to finance my trip. And here I was hoping that some hotshot publisher would pay me a HUGE advance for a novel and I'd be rich, rich, RICH! Damn.
But, shit - I'm going home, anyhow.
*what Bengalis are normally referred to in slang - how backward are you???
**a Bong street food - chicken/mutton/ fish cutlets batter-fried and fried with egg - delish!
***both are suburbs of Calcutta, Salt Lake is to the north, while Tolly is down south.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
I must wish myself a happy new year, and the best way to do that is to carry out the resolutions I have made myself mutter in the dark.
Number one on the list is to learn driving. Yes, I do not know, despite having walked the earth for 23-plus years. I guess, a sixth sense or something told me that since I had managed the walking bit and the whining bit, so well that someone else had to drive me around all the time, so well over the last 23 years, I could manage very well without knowing for some more time. Well, no. NOOOOooooooo. The buck stops here. I want a set of wheels. I will learn how to drive.
And I will improve my oratory skills so that I can coax, cajole, wheedle, whine, persuade, blackmail etc (etc etc) my brother to let me drive his car.
Number two is concentrating on the body beautiful. This one was bound to receive titters and giggles. But they still won't deter me. I was the one they called FatboySlim in Chennai, the one who lost 15 kg in his 10 month's stay down there, and now that I'm more or less the size my height dictates, I need to stop looking like a scrawny sapling and put on some of the right kind of weight. The hunt begins, for a reasonably priced gym in Parel or Worli or Lower Parel. On the flipside, the only gym I have located so far in this area that fits my requirements is the posh Crunch! in Kamala Mills, which charges an outrageous Rs 1500 per month (which happens to be dollops more than what my friend pays in Colaba).
And I thought resolutions were supposed to be easy - damn!
But apart from resolutions and all that jazz, today has been special. I got my first reject letter from a publisher, for an idea on a short story collection I had submitted a month or two back. My first rejection - somehow, it feels like I've joined an elitist club or something, Crunch! be damned!
Dear Mr Mitra,
Thank you for offering us the above book. We regret to inform you that we will not be able to publish it as it does not fit our publishing profile but wish you success with another publisher.
With best wishes, the Editorial Department.
Note: If you would like to have the manuscript back, please mail us a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Of course, I'm much too much an egoist to be severely crushed (or even crushed, for that matter), so this changes nothing at all. To tell the truth, as I looked at some of the pieces I'd sent in, I wondered why on earth I'd sent them in the first place. So, the hunt is very much on for rejection letters 2, 3, 4, 5.... till I get an acceptance. The novel is still brewing in my head, you see.
Now, dare I make that Resolution Number Three?
Monday, January 03, 2005
With Gay Abandon
Of the two notable things I did yesterday, both pertain to the homosexual world. The first happened because of the second, strangely enough. I visited the Inorbit Mall in Malad (a trip to that part of Bombay after ages and ages - my brother, who drove us there, calls it an 'out of Bombay trip', bless his sweet snooty soul!) to try for tickets of Alexander at Fame, and instead we walked into the Crossword store.
So I buy this book by Alan Hollinghurst, titled The Line of Beauty, which won the 2004 Mann-Booker Prize. And it's beautiful. It seriously is. It reads like a line out of my mind, and flirts with the things that every one of us deal with, cope with, or at any rate try to do so - I identified with the hero's life to such a frightening extent, I empathised with him, and I laughed with him. I like the writer. At the cost of sounding exceedingly egoistic (damnit, what have I to fear? - everyone who knows me knows I'm egoistic!), the author's style reminded me so much of my own. I have a novel of my own tucked away in a corner of the world, and it is freaky how close, how sinfully close, it is to The Line of Beauty.
I wish I could meet Alan Hollinghurst and shake his hand.
And now, I look back, and realise that I haven't really explained my reference to homosexuality - Hollinghurst's hero is a 21-year old gay scholar in Margaret Thatcher's England, and it spans the decade between 1983-1993, a potentially explosive story of private and public homosexuality. For the bigots among you, if there are any, don't knock it till you try it - the book is simply amazing.
The second thing, of course, is Alexander. The movie is breath-taking, purely for the size and scale of it. Colin Farrel's dye job is quite bad, I agree with the review, but he does show some strength in some scenes. The movie is not all bad, and comes through at times as a feat of tremendous effort. For that, I am inclined to forgive Oliver Stone, even though he snipped off the character of Porus and replaced him with some buck-toothed Persian princess, and killed off Alexander in battle, when everyone knows the bugger died of malaria or some-such-thing.
(But yes, the dying scene has a great battle with leaping elephants and horses, Matrix style!)
And of course, Stone makes Alexander gay. Forget bisexuality. There is a hint of a wife, true, but she remains only a hint, though she mouths some lines of dialogue here and there through clenched teeth. So there is Alexander's boyhood lover who becomes his manhood lover, and there is his Persian harem-boy who looks like Enrique Iglesias in a wig, and there is a skinny Indian boy with whom he has tantric sex. All in technicolour. Amazing, really, if a bit upsetting to my brother, who wanted to see some women onscreen, for a change. (Neither the buck-teethed Persian princess, nor the hint of a wife measured up to his snooty standards!)
But he was denied. Stone had his way. Alexander remained gay. The Greek lawyers decided the movie did not merit a lawsuit. I wonder who had the last laugh? Perhaps, me...