Wednesday, December 05, 2007

2

a lamp
rids the room of
darkness
and comfort

a girl
who smells of coco mademoiselle
weeps
staring into my eyes

an apology
which tastes of routine
destroys
any chance of resolution

a silence
that tells a story
of
six years and two lovers

sound sleep
with a dream about happiness
and
the bitter aftertaste of time
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Monday, November 05, 2007

For you S, a Thousand Times Over


"Question everything TS, even the conventional, because the root of conviction is validation, not belief."

S (1981 - )
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4th November, 2007:

19:30 - SMS from L: Dude, sorry for not replying to your message yesterday, it was a crazy day. But yes, we must do something for S's birthday tonight!

Reply: Ok, I'm driving right now so can't really talk. I'll call you once I'm home and we'll figure something out.

20:45 - SMS from L: TC Gurgaon, 22:30. There was no time for a surprise so I've kept S in the loop. MC is getting a cake from Big Chill.

Reply: OK, sounds good, though a surprise would've been fun. Anyway, call me when you're leaving Vasant Kunj. See ya.

5th November, 2007:

00:10 - I get a frantic call from L. He demands to know why I'm not there yet, considering the clock struck midnight 10 minutes or so ago. I tell him about the unavoidable delay, and the fact that I'm almost there. He tells me they're at Buzz, and not TC, which is great because I'm in the mood for bollywood.

00:23 - I walk into Buzz, where the DJ is doing an impressive job of mixing Soni De Nakhre and Ride the White Horse. Blinded by the disco lights and deafened by the speakers and the screams, I fall back on my sixth sense.

I see drunk people.

After a minute or so, I feel a hand clench my arm from behind so I turn. Its L. He motions for me to follow him to the far end of the club, where most of S's universe is standing at the bar. The moment I notice S, I almost run towards her.

What follows is a warm wish, a warmer hug and courtesy L, a hot, hot Sambuka shot.

S: I'm impressed TS, this is the third year in a row you've made it to my birthday!

Me: Well, if the last two 5th Novembers were anything to go by, I'll make my way to your birthday without fail every year. That, and the fact that you still remain one of my favourite people.

She smiles and looks away. I go back to my drink, knowing well that this is the fourth year in a row I'm there on her birthday.

*

When the music finally gives way to silence, an indication, perhaps, that we need to finish our drinks and get the hell out, I feel some thing is amiss. With M and V missing, the details of which I'd rather not get into, the circle feels incomplete.

In that moment of incompleteness, I try and seek refuge in a song. Not just any song, but one whose lyrics have earned a place on my epitaph, and perhaps the epitaphs of the people who are here for S tonight.

I play the song on my phone and wink at S and L.

Is it getting better or
Do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now
If you got someone to blame?

Soon enough, I attempt to hug the both of them together, as has become customary over the last couple of years, since we have laid claim to this song as our own. L steps forward and S makes the initial gesture of a hug, but then backs away and says, "no TS, this isn't our song..."

L and I back away, and the song fades into oblivion as I begin making conversation with an acquaintance from work.

*

The night finally ends at the Bristol parking lot around 6:00 in the morning. The effects of alcohol have long worn off, and the only thing lining our stomach is the three plates of bacon we have just devoured. L, S and I smoke one last cigarette as MC stands there freezing. A plan for Pushkar is finalized for the weekend after Diwali. Once the cigarettes are over, we make our way home.
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The last two 5th Novembers

2006:

Well, if the fact that I wrote six chapters about S's birthday weekend last year is anything to go by, you know how eventful it must have been.

***

2005:

Its 07:00 AM, and extremely chilly for an early November morning. The terrace I'm standing on is large and rectangular, outlined by a railing that reminds me of a house I once lived in during my childhood. There is plenty of light, but the sun hasn't, yet, shed its quilt.

Empty bottles and people are aplenty, scattered casually all over the available floorspace.

Two very close friends are trying to out-drink one another, with the more experienced one yelling "Bas? Ho Gaya?" at regular intervals, hoping to elicit surrender from the other one, who's obviously on the verge of throwing-up. (And to think that today these two shy away from making eye-contact)

A guy is perched on the bean bag, playing "Last Kiss" by Pearl Jam on his guitar. A few others are watching him play and revel in the attention. His girlfriend comes and sits right in front of him. He breaks into a grin and looks straight into her eyes as he ends the song, now only his fingers caressing the strings. Someone cheers them on and the girl blushes, not knowing what to do with all the attention. (This couple married sometime ago, only to separate within a month of their wedding)

Most others have passed out. On the cushions. In the bedroom. On the floor.

M, S and I are looking at the sky, sharing a cigarette. S asks me about plans for the day and I tell her I need to be at work in less than an hour. She looks at me in disbelief, while M immediately asks to confirm if I'm still dropping her half-way home. (M is an ex-colleague who now works for a high-end luxury and lifestyle magazine for teenagers. Every now and then, she also doubles up as a reality check for people like me and S)

*

That day, for the first time in over a year, I didn't show up for work. To make matters worse, I didn't even bother informing my manager, which ultimately led to the initiation of disciplinary action against me.
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Epilogue:

We share a special relationship, S and I.

It began in the October of 2004, when she trained me on the nuances of the English language, and we ended up spending over three weeks arguing over the correct pronunciation of the word 'govern'. Post which we graduated to casual acquaintance thanks to a common friend A, drinking all night, every now and then, at TC Delhi and Zaika. However, it wasn't until mid 2005, when all of us from work began frequenting TC Gurgaon and Buzz, that we actually started hitting it off, and I don't think we've looked back since.

The funny thing is, S and I don't talk on the phone, and neither do we meet, just her and I. Even so, in the last couple of years we have, thanks to common friends (especially M, L and V), we have managed to meet at least twice a week.

*

I want to use this space today to express my gratitude S. You've made the last three years something I never thought possible. Worthwile.

I also want you to know that the social landscape will continue to change in the years to come, like it has these last couple of years. People will come in and out of our lives, and we will continue to forgive, forget and move on, trying desperately to seek the happiness that we believe is ours. And though I hope not, there may even come a time when you and I may go on for years without as much a single thought about this chapter of our lives.

If that does happen, I hope all this comes back to us someday. Many, many years later. When we're old and unwanted. When the kids from the neighbourhood force themselves to listen to our stories only because we haven't paid them for mowing our lawns yet. When its early November, and the smell of the sunlit morning reminds us of a time we have long forgotten.

i want you think of me then and
let your eyes swell up a little
and if your pride permits
maybe even shed a tear

i also want you to hum that tune
the one you once let go of
because for every memory you've disowned
there is a forgotten song
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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sometime in July, I was being driven back to Gurgaon after a weekend spent at a runaway resort near Delhi called Neemrana.

The car I was traveling in was noisy, with the music blaring at an ear-shattering decibel level. And to add to that, Leon and Preetika were arguing about whether to make a stop for cigarettes or not, and both of them were trying to outdo not just each other, but the speakers as well. I really should have taken my car because right that moment, instead of the hard rock and the unnecessary argument, I could have been listening to something I enjoy a lot more. Silence.

Leon won, obviously, because he was the one driving.

We stopped.

That's when I got an SMS from my boss telling me that I would have to be in at work at eight the next morning and all of a sudden I realised things were going from bad to worse. The stress I had spent the last 48 hours trying to get rid of, was slowly crawling back up my spine. The entire setting was becoming familiar again. One of noise and chaos.

I was unhappy.

I spent the next two minutes staring at my mobile phone screen, desperately trying to key in a genuine excuse which would fit into 160 characters. To add madness to misery, I had to do this without using SMS lingo because I have this obsessive compulsive disorder which does not allow me to use abbreviations in any form of written text.

That's not all. As I sat there in my moment of madness, a couple of kids, beggars I guessed, came and stood RIGHT outside my window. I figured they would go away in a while, but they didn't.

That's when I lost it.

As I looked up and yelled "Kya Hai?," this is the sight that I saw:




Yes, my heart melted. I may not be nice, but COME on.

That's when I clicked the picture and asked them what they wanted, to which they replied "Ek Rupaiya." I obliged and gave them one one-rupee coin each. Preetika promptly handed them a bottle of Coke as well.

They ran off looking delighted and I went back to my mobile phone screen. As I punched in the letters, I couldn't help but think about the look on the faces of these boys. It was a look vaguely reminiscent of something I used to feel in a time I have now long forgotten. The look of contentment.

A couple of minutes later, once the cigarettes were bought, Leon got behind the wheel and we drove off. I gave Preetika a quick smile and went on to look out of the window in the direction of the setting sun.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Stories from Oblivion: Chapter Three: JU

So you pack your bags and leave for a place they call the Blue City.

You arrive at the station and drown in a sea of humanity.


And as you step out of the station, you light your first cigarette in twelve hours.


But something is missing. You look around, only to find a little boy holding a few glasses and a kettle, looking up at you, smiling ear to ear. Aah... chai.

As you sit on a stool, smoking a much needed cigarette and drinking an almost perfect cup of tea, you realise that even today, 'Titanic' is a style statement.

***
You reach your hotel room and review your schedule. You have four days in which to complete your work, so you work overtime and wrap it up in three. Afterall, what's the point of traveling if you can't see the sights, right?
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Umaid Bhavan Palace


Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia



Even though the palace looks stunning from a distance, it fails to charm you. Most of the palace has now been converted into a heritage hotel, and is not open to the public. Room tariff begins at 25000 INR and goes up to 1.5 Lac INR. A portion of the palace has been converted into a museum which documents the life of the members of the royal family through photographs.

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Mehrangarh Fort




The fort is situated 400 feet above the city on top of a hill, and is enclosed by huge, towering walls. Inside its territorial boundaries, there are several palaces and sprawling courtyards. The amazing thing is, it has taken over 400 years of construction to make Mehrangarh as breathtaking as it is today.
There is a lot of history associated with the fort as well and it takes almost an hour even for a quick tour. The wonderful thing is that they have a restaurant and a cafe located at strategic points of the tour so that you have access to much needed rehydration. And once you reach the rooftop courtyard, there is a counter where you can grab a beer or a coke and enjoy this view.


Picture Courtesy: Google Image Search


And why is it called the Blue City, you ask?

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People


The people of Jodhpur are warm and hospitable. And though they may prefer our caucasian counterparts when it comes to making a quick buck, they are, for the most part, eager to charm you with their rich heritage.
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The Royal Guard
The most charming personality in Jodhpur is the man in the photograph. He is a guard at the Mehrangarh Fort and is stationed in the upper floors, normally seen staring out of a window overlooking a courtyard. He wears a sleek pair of sunglasses and appears to be more on display than on duty. His style and body language makes Amitabh Bachhan in Eklavya look bland.
I was fascinated so I talked my guide into getting a couple of photographs with him. The guard was more than happy to oblige and even offered to pose. I was a little confused by his enthusiasm so I waved a fifty and asked the guide if this would involve a payment. The guide laughed and gestured for me to put the money back into my pocket.
After our little photograph session, we thanked him and made our way further up the fort. As we were climbng up a staircase, I interrupted my guide and asked him why he had told me that the guard was 'world-famous.' He smiled and asked me, "have you seen that Visa advertisement with Richard Gere?"
I nodded, and as that ad flashed in my mind, I got my answer.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

1

your room looks asleep
barely lit by the dying sun
i've never seen it like this before
so i stand there and watch

the last rays are running for shelter
the way you would if you
woke up naked one day
in the middle of a curious crowd

minutes go by and
i realise im smiling before
your wandering eyes find me
and invite me in

i enter and draw the curtains
desperate to give darkness the key
but you are sorry it ended this way
dusks reluctant romance with your room

i pour my tired body onto the bed
my troubled thoughts into oblivion
before i do something i have never done
lie

Monday, July 23, 2007

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond - II


You reached for the secret too soon,
You cried for the moon.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.

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Chapter Three

For the next few months, the three of us were inseparable. From going to college in one autorikshaw, to hanging out with the same set of people (one of whom was the infamous P), to watching porn stuffed inside the same cubicle of the local cyber cafe, to sitting at the same coffee shop for hours, to riding together on the same Kinetic Honda and going in search of Marijuana, to drinking ridiculous amounts of McDowell's No.1 on the sloping terrace of the hostel night after night, risking our lives, dissecting possibilities and fantasizing about what life had in store for us.

Ironically though, if you compared our basic character, we were three corners of a triangle.

Raktim was the alpha male. The kind of guy who ALWAYS had a plan. He was also the decision-maker, primarily because RK never opened his mouth and I was the local push-over. (And in case you've forgotten, he was the guy who walked around the hostel whose VIP underwear also doubled up as a head-band whenever he was wasted. He also flashed occasionally, for no reason whatsoever.)

RK, in contrast, like I mentioned, was the silent force. He was also a wannabe alcoholic. Come to think of it, all he said to us in those first few months was the phrase 'Shall we go drink?' The only other word I remember him uttering is 'yes' which he used when someone asked him if he wanted to go drink.

The only problem was that once RK was drunk, his 'yes' was said in response to Raktim's PLANS.

Lets learn more about Raktim's PLANS with the help of an example:

Raktim: Hey guys, you wanna smoke a few joints before we sleep?
Me: Errr, no yaa. We have class at nine. We'll never wake up!
RK: Yes.

Raktim (after the joints): Hey guys, you wanna wear your towels like capes and wake people up, pretending to be Superman?
Me: NO.
RK: Yes.

Raktim (after the joints and the cape crusade): Now do you want to put your undies on your heads like a headband and take a walk?
Me: Bhenchod, shutup and sleep.
RK: Yes.

Raktim (now lying in his bed after the eventful 'road trip'): Fuck man, I'm so wasted. I think I'm going to pass out. You guys should also sleep. We have to get up in few hours.
Me: Hmmm. Makes sense.
RK: Shall we go drink?

*That night the local security guard lodged a complaint with the Koramangla 4th Block society president that three boys from Sacred Heart Boys Hostel were seen racing in the colony lanes at 4 AM. And that, for some inexplicable reason they had hung towels from their back and were wearing underwears on their heads. The story was also confirmed by one of the residents, a doctor on his way back from the hospital, whose car was forcefully stopped by these boys who pestered him to find out if there was a place nearby from where large quantities of chocolate could be bought or stolen*
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Chapter Four

October 2004 -

P and I were going through some old college photographs, a friends birthday treat at an up-market ice-cream parlour sometime in September 2001. We were talking of the days gone by, days when we could eat 'death by chocolate' and 'litchi with cream' back to back without gaining an ounce.

We stumbled upon a picture where P was doing what she does best when there is ice-cream in the vicinity, devouring it as if there were no tomorrow. When I looked at the picture carefully, I noticed something that I had never noticed before. I pointed it out to P immediately.

On careful observation, you could see RK. He was smiling in the distance, leaning against the pillar, smoking a cigarette, his eyes dreamy and of course, planted firmly on P.

She stared at the picture for a brief moment, blushed and put it away.

"You know he was madly in love with you, right?"

"Yes TS, we've had this conversation before. Why must you always bring it up whenever we speak of him? Are you guilty still?"

"Me? Guilty? No way! When I realised he also liked you, I spoke to him about it. He told me very clearly that he would've never confessed his feelings to you. In fact he was the one who convinced me to leave Raksha and ask you out, because he felt you and I were 'made for each other'!"

"And you believed him?"

"Yes. Why wouldn't I? He knew me well. I was one of his best friends."

"Were you? Or was it the other way round? Think about it TS. Just think. Considering he convinced you to ask me out and not the other way round!"

"Achha fuck it, I don't want to have this conversation with you. "

"Why?"

"Because the two of you would never have happened anyway. He was everything you hated in a man. He was a spoilt brat who was destined to quit college and go back home. Remember how he was always either drunk or stoned? He never even attended his classes..."

"Neither did you in those first few months TS. The only reason they didn't throw you out of college because you managed to pass your term papers."

"P, do you really want to go down that road again? Can we, for once, be civil and drop the topic?"

"Fine. Fuck it."

Prolonged silence.
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Chapter Five


Half an hour later -

"TS, do you still have that white Park Avenue shirt he gave you?"

"Yup, its in my cupboard. I don't really fit into it anymore though. But the funny thing is it STILL smells of him, even after all these years. Remember that awful perfume he used to use, the one Rajnikant endorsed? Thats what it smells like."

"Maybe there's a reason why it STILL smells of him..."

"Oh, come on! I thought we agreed to drop the topic!" Why are you hell bent on making me feel like a lousy bastard? Whats happened to you?"

"Thats not what I was trying to..."

"See. See. You always do this P!"

"I refuse to listen to this. I want to go home. Now"

"So go. Who's stopping you?"

"You mean you're not dropping me?"

"No, not after everything you've said."

"Fuck you!"

"Whatever!"

---

*After P left, I spent the rest of the evening lying in bed, thinking of RK, Sacred Heart Boys Hostel, and that white Park Avenue shirt which RK had lent to me for my first date with P. For some reason I had never gotten around to returning it, much like the other things I had borrowed from him.

In the next few days I introspected a lot, trying my best to come to terms with the person that I once was.

My ability to be indifferent had taken me by surprise, and so I decided to do something about it. I spoke to Mom about the entire episode, and she was of the opinion that if the whole RK thing was disturbing me so much, the best thing to do would be to call him up speak to him about it. I told her that this was not something I wanted to sort out over a 'phone conversation.' I felt a need to to meet RK personally and talk about it.

And so it was decided that I would look him up the next time I was in Bangalore. I didn't have his cell-phone number, but I had an old e-mail address and home phone numbers of a couple of his close friends and relatives, which would suffice.*
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Chapter Six

I think I'm testimony that 'time is a healer.' Because I went to Bangalore quite a few times after that, but never once looked up RK.
---

In June of 2006, I got a surprise call from Asif, one of the many boys who had, back in the day, inhabited one of the many bunk beds of Sacred Heart Boys Hostel. He had managed to get my number from a friend of a friend. He sounded very excited to have tracked me down.

Even I was happy to speak with him. It felt nice that someone had made the effort to get in touch with me after all these years.

I asked him how he was doing and he gave me the usual updates. He was now back in Dubai, managing his dad's business. Something to do with medical systems and the sale of ambulances. He tld me his geeky days were long gone, and that he had even found himself a girlfriend. But more importantly, the fact that he had finally managed to lose the one thing that had hung on to him for dear life during his college years. His virginity.

I gave him a few updates from my end as well, post which we spoke about the only thing we had in common, the life and times of Sacred Heart Boys Hostel in the year 2001.

He reminded me of many things I had long forgotten, like the time he and I had studied for the English exam and he had outscored me. And the time he and I had gone to the 30 rupees all-you-can-eat Andhra restaurant and I had forced him to beg the server to pour ridiculous amounts of Ghee on my rice because I was wasted. And how he hated me for finishing off all the foodstuff his Mom used to to send for him.

We also spoke about our seniors and what they were doing now. He asked me who all I was in touch with and I told him no one in particular apart from P. He was happy to know we were still together.

He asked me what P was upto and I told him that she was in between jobs. He asked me about Raktim and I told him that I wasn't in touch with him, but that I knew he was studying Law at Delhi University. He was surprised to hear that Raktim and I were in the same town and hadn't even met once in 2 years. I told him that was the strange thing about life, and about people and how they move on, just as he had.

After a little while we started running out of things to talk about, and thats when I enquired about RK, in an attempt to keep the conversation going.

He fell silent. But since the noise in the background was clearly audible, I knew he was still on the line.

And when he finally spoke, after clearing his throat, all he could manage was:

"You don't know, do you?"

His tone of voice was quite strange for some reason, almost angry. But I didn't make much of it because all said and done, Asif was always a little sensitive.
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Epilogue

In June of 2005, Radhakrishna Dureswami and a friend decided to drive down to a 24-hour liquor shop on the highway in search of alcohol when their Honda City crashed head-on into a truck, whose headlights had malfunctioned. RK died on the spot, while his friend, Vivek, battled for life in the ICU for over a month.

Speaking to his friends and family shortly after regaining consciousness, Vivek claimed that he couldn't remember much except for the fact that 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' by Pink Floyd was playing in the car stereo.

A few months later he told an acquaintance from Delhi that he was almost certain that RK's last words were:


Shall we go drink?


Monday, July 16, 2007

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond - I


Remember when you were young,
You shone like the sun,
Shine on, you crazy diamond.
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Chapter One

So in June of 2001 when Radhakrishna Dureswami walked in on me while I was 'draining the main vein', my first reaction was a four-letter-word followed by a voice in my head telling me that I'd forgotten to lock the bathroom door. Realising it was a little late to do something about the unlocked door, I took evasive action and positioned myself with my back towards him and continued to pee.

What followed immediately after I made the adjustment was the shocking realization that Radhakrishna Dureswami for some inexplicable reason was still standing there, staring at me, almost transfixed. The look of curiosity on his face didn't help the situation either. He was obviously unaware that I could see him in the mirror.

Now I'm not homophobic. But I am a WEE bit wary of folks who like to hang around and watch me pee.

So once I finished the routine and zipped up my jeans, I turned towards him with what I'm guessing was a facial expression that conveyed: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STARING AT, BITCH?

No wait, make that: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STARING AT?

(BITCH makes it sound like I was up for the 'potentially' homosexual experience that was on offer.)

Even today, MOST people back off when I have that look on my face. However, Radhakrishna Dureswami, the boy that he was, chose not to respond and continued to stare, now with me looking at him straight in the eye.

That was when the voice in my head yelled: Psycho alert! Proceed to wash-basin, wash hands, get the fuck out!

And so I went about doing exactly that. Once I was out of the bathroom, and more importantly out of danger, I questioned my decision of choosing 'Sacred Heart Boys Hostel' as my place of residence in a city where I didn't know a soul. I also tried to figure out what would have happened if Radhakrishna Dureswami had attempted to violate my chastity? Who would I have ran to?

***

Looking back at that incident now I can't help but laugh my head off. Maybe I should've said something to him in the loo that day. Anything.

But then again, I hadn't the slightest idea that Radhakrishna Dureswami was going to play such an important role my college life.
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Chapter Two

The Next Evening:

It must have been close to midnight because I was tucked into bed, waiting to fall asleep when my roommate Raktim (pronounced: ROCK-TIM) walked into the room screaming out my name in his typical Assamese accent. He switched on the lights and stood with his hands on his waist. Just like those body-builders in American Muscle Magazine.

I looked up at him, partially blinded with the sudden light in the room. I noticed his eyes were bloodshot, and for some reason he was grinning like a donkey who had just been shagged.

He was drunk. But since he was standing without any support, I figured the situation was under control.

Thats when I noticed the VIP underwear he was using as a headband.

Raktim: Oye TS, I want you to meet my latest best friend Radhakrishna Dureswami. He just joined the hostel yesterday. He is from Erode in Tamil Nadu and his father is a bhery bhery bherrryyy rich textile merchant. You know how I know his father is bhery bhery bherrryyy rich???

Me (sarcastically): How R-a-k-t-i-m?

Raktim: Because his father just now paid for all my alcohol, food, cigarettes, Rajnigandha and everything! (Evil Laughter)

Me: Uh, ok. Very cool man. Where is he?

Raktim (yelling): Abe Radhakrishna Dureswami madarchod idhar aa (Translation: mother fucker, come here) and meet my another best friend TS!!!

Radhakrishna Dureswami walked in slowly, managing to look unsure and curious at the same time. When I placed him from the bathroom fiasco, I felt an immediate uneasiness. But THE MAN THAT I WAS, I managed what I think would qualify as an unsure but pleasant enough 'half-smile.'

Pee-watcher on the other hand, extended his arm and held out his hand. I wasn't sure if I was comfortable touching him just yet but being THE MAN THAT I WAS, I managed to complete the handshake.

Me: Nice to meet you R-a-d-h-a-k-r-i-s-h-n-a... err...

Radhakrishna Dureswami: Call me RK.

Raktim (yelling): Yes, call him RK!!! Or Madarchod, or Randi ke Jamai, or Bhootni Ke, or anything else. He doesn't understand Hindi. Can you believe our luck???

(More evil laughter)

Me (to Raktim): Abe is se bach ke, ye woh hi hai, pee-watcher. (Translation: Be careful with him, he's the same guy I was telling you about, the pee-watcher)

RK (oblivious to Raktim and me): Shall we go drink now?

***

That night, three first year students of Christ College, all from different parts of the country, with almost nothing in common, sat down and shared their life stories with each other, aided by the one common force that would continue to bind them in the years to come. Alcohol.
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

This is where 'The Wander Years' began, exactly one year ago.

Thank you P.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

20.4.2007

The setting was lavish. It had to be.

Red was splashed across the entire canvas. And white. And pink, but as an afterthought.

The band played old Hindi songs that spoke of love, life and the after-life.

Little kids dressed in silver suits and golden shoes and starch-white frocks were scattered across the hall, just like glitter. I felt under-dressed.

The families posed. The friends cheered. And the acquaintances, well, at least they ate.

There was no alcohol. There were rituals instead.

Loud Punjabi friends made sure that a select few were kept in 'high spirits.'

An uncle drank too much and break-danced on the dias.

Another uncle wrestled his way into every photograph that was clicked.

People laughed, heels snapped, new-borns cried.

I met an acquaintance who had lost 32 kilos since the last time we had met. I spent an hour with him trying to figure out exactly how he had managed it.

An old school friend showed up. The one who'd managed to finish his MBBS, but still went to bed believing that 'Cradle of Filth' and 'Godsmack' were the greatest musicians of all time.


Someone casually mentioned it was Hitler's birthday and International Weed Day as well. We decided to do something about the latter.
As a result, the rest of the evening was spent at the ice-cream counter.

A close friend wanted to leave early because someone wanted to have sex with him. We convinced him otherwise.

Also, in the middle of all this commotion, somehow, Abhishek and Vrinda managed to wed.


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At his wedding:

Abhishek: Listen TS. About what you asked me on Wednesday - there's a spare room in my new house.. you know.. like a guest room.. so that people can stay over if it gets too late.. or when relatives come over.. but there's just one problem.. Vrinda insists on calling it TS' room.

Me: Awww..

Abhishek: Achha, and about the bachelor party man... what exactly happened? I blacked out while talking to you and then the only image I have is the fucking bouncers trying to put me on a wheelchair!

Me: Oh, nothing yaa, you were like the show-stopper man! All those Saturday Night Fever moves.. I envy your dancing skills! You were completely doing your thing, chilling.. head-banging.. cracking outrageously funny jokes but then.. suddenly.. this.. this.. uh..

(I realized I wasn't doing a good job of fibbing because he was just staring away at me. So I took a deep breath and said the following with the straightest fucking face possible)

"This racoon came out of nowhere and knocked you unconscious."

(Prolonged silence & flashes of Joey)

Abhishek: Hmmm... I think that's what happened too.

(Sheepish grin, followed by hysterical laughter.)
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Still Owe Her Dinner

In the corporate world, farewell mails are commonplace. It is customery to thank your supervisors/peers/sub-ordinates and leave on a semi-nostalgic, cordial note. Who knows, you may have to work with them sooner than you think.

People who you have spent 10 hours of your weekdays with (God knows for how many months, maybe even years), gone out for drinks & dinner with, make their way out of your life with calculated ease. The push of the 'send' button and poof, all obligations are put to rest.

However, every now and then, a farewell mail comes along that strikes a chord. One in which the words written convey emotion, not social obligation.
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Yesterday was a co-worker and dear friend's last day at work. So when the expected farewell mail reached my inbox, I thought I had a fair idea of its content and intentions. However, after I read the mail I found myself sitting motionless, staring at my monitor, and at a complete loss for words. This one didn't just strike a chord, it strummed one hell of a sequence.

(Pasted is an excerpt. There were a few more personal messages but I've just added the part addressed to me.)

TS -

Thank you TS! For being the person you are- straightforwardly enigmatic, and for being the writer you are- simply brilliant! The Wander Years and TS will always hold a special place in my heart for inspiring me to write again. For all the contrsuctive criticism, for the uncomplicated friendship, for godknowshowmanydrinks, for the appropriately timed messages, for dancing rarely but oh-so-sweetly (haha!), for the hairband look (forever etched in my mind), for the books you will write and are already on my list of favourites (check Orkut!) and for taking punctuation to a whole new level… Of course, none of this changes the fact that YOU still owe ME dinner!!! Hehe… You’re the best. Much love. I know what kind of an idea you are…

WHAT KIND OF AN IDEA ARE YOU? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the 100th time, will change the world.
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When I saw her later that evening, there were a million things I wanted to thank her for...
  • for being there for me,
  • for the honest criticism of my articles,
  • for getting my left-feet moving (even though it meant taking my hand and dragging me to the dance floor),
  • for being the first one to NOT ridicule the hairband (and understanding that I was inspired by Farhan Akhtar and NOT Abhishek Bachhan),
  • for calling me DON,
  • for writing again (I may have wept after reading Teresa),
  • for teaching me how to mix lyrics and literature,
  • for making Friday's something to look forward to, and of course,
  • for letting me believe that I'm an idea...
But I didn't say any of that. Instead I smiled and said, "I still owe you dinner."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This One's For Me


I gave the sky a long, hard stare; and said to Him: “This one’s for me…”

Then I closed my eyes and took a deep, deep breath. While exhaling, as the air escaped my lungs, transformed, I allowed myself to drift into oblivion. Into one complete moment of nothingness.

Not surprisingly, that moment coincided with the change of track. Where do you think you’re going gave way to Tunnel of Love. My mind then drifted into the past. Images; some lucid, the others blurred. One particular image stayed in my mind, countless eyes conveying a desperate dream, a dream they were certain only I could realize. It was also my ticket to unquestionable immortality.

Someone patted my shoulder, in an attempt to bring me back into reality. I opened my eyes, took out the earphones and looked up. My partner was standing there, transfixed, but the look in his eyes said everything.

I nodded in familiar confirmation because I knew it was time.

The next five minutes were routine; one I had followed for over 18 years. Once I was ready, I gave my partner a quick glance and we started walking towards the stairway.

The walk was long, and the voices in my head were far louder than the cheer of the onlookers.

When we reached the pitch, while parting ways to walk towards the opposite ends, Viru punched me on my arm and whispered in my ear: “Leave this one to the rest of us...”
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Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar (born 24 April 1973) is an Indian cricketer who was rated in an article by Wisden in 2002 as the second greatest Test batsman ever, after Sir Don Bradman. He holds several key batting records, including the most Test centuries, most ODI centuries and the most runs in ODI cricket. He is also the most capped player currently playing international cricket. He received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, India's highest sporting honour, for 1997-1998, and the civilian award Padma Shri in 1999. Tendulkar was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1997. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen ever.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Framed on the wall of a club I frequent:

"There was a time during 1976-1977, when the record business went crazy. That was when Hotel California came out, and Saturday Night Fever, and also Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. That was the music business at its decadent zenith. I seem to remember that the wine was the best and the drugs were good and the women were beautiful and, man, we seemed to have an endless amount of energy. Endless stores of energy. Hangovers were conquered by Bloody Marys and Aspirin. You were resilient."

Glenn Frey


(I somehow relate to it a lot.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

T-10


Mid 2006:

And then we laughed.

Not because the point in question was funny, but because we had surprised ourselves with the confessions. And since the alcohol had left no room for straight faces, we fell back on laughter to rescue ourselves from the intensity of that moment.

“So now we both know. Wow!”

“Yes, we do.”

“ You know, TS, this is exactly why I’ve hated coffee, always. Why couldn’t we have just done this earlier?”

“Hmmm… maybe we should’ve. But how in the world was I to know you’re carrying as much baggage as I am?”

“Oh, c’mon! You knew it all along!”

“If I had known, wouldn’t I have skipped the coffee/conversation routine and jumped straight to the alcohol/confession bit?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. You men can be quite vague sometimes. Oh, by the way I’ve decided to stay here in India for good. I’m not going back to DC.”
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2004:

We hadn’t met in 3 years, but when T-10 came to Delhi that winter she tracked me down because she still remembered by old home phone number.

The phone conversation was quite formal and mechanical but we decided to catch up anyway. Despite our history, I was a little apprehensive because this was the first time we were meeting, if you know what I mean. She didn’t know I smoked, or drank, or did drugs, or that I had had a girlfriend for almost 3 years.

So for starters, to be on the safe side, I decided to be proper and meet her for a quick cup of coffee. The word quick gave us an easy escape route to both of us in case we felt ‘uncomfortable’ with the situation.

In the middle of that quick cup of coffee at Flavours:

Phone call.

“TS, I gotta rush! I’m staying at this girl’s house and she needs to go and so I need to stay in and she won’t be back till after dark and her dog needs to be fed and…”

“And?”

“Long story! I’ll tell you in the car. I hope you can drop me?”

“Yes, how else were you planning on going?”

That night I had a recurring dream, which I used to have up until 1998.
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1998:

Consumed by emotion, I decided to send her flowers on Valentine’s Day. I thought it would be the perfect day to formalize the relationship and let her know that I wanted to meet her, marry her, have kids with her.

I was 14, and a self-proclaimed adult. And for the last 3 years (2 years after she had changed her school), we had kept in touch through phone (she had managed to get my phone number from a common friend). It was always T-10 who called, every fortnight or so, and we would have these marathon phone conversations full of intimacy, laughter and baby talk until her parents would back from work.

I thought my case was pretty strong. To add to that, a casual conversation with my mother led me to believe that T-10 was my girlfriend because it was she who called me, and not the other way round. And that I had every right to send her flowers.

So I called the local flower delivery guy and had a dozen red roses delivered to her doorstep. I know she got them because for the next 6 months, she didn’t call. And when she did, this is the conversation that followed:

“TS, I know that my behaviour towards you may have led you to believe many things which weren’t necessarily true. Its not your fault but whatever happened wasn’t right! And I hope we can get past this little incident without denting our friendship.”

“Of course we can T-10. I’m sorry about the whole thing.”

"I'm sorry too."

"Listen I gotta rush right now so I'll call you over the weekend?"

"Sure. Bye."

I didn't know then that it would be 6 years before we would get to know each other all over again. When I look back, I keep asking myself why I never tried to call her myself considering I still remember that old phone number of hers.
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1992 and 1993:

By far the most significant years of my life (except for 2001, because that’s when I met my current girlfriend P).

(It was the year my family shifted to Sarita Vihar, our current place of residence. It is a DDA colony on the Southeast tip of New Delhi, and back then it was an almost suburban area of the ‘new’ New Delhi. When we moved there we left behind hardship, memories of my father and a hand-to-mouth lifestyle, which had haunted us in that cramped one bedroom flat of Lajpat Nagar.)

The most significant event was, of course, that this is the year I first met T-10. I call her T-10 because that was the new school-bus route assigned to me when I shifted to Sarita Vihar, and we got to know each other because she also traveled in the same bus.

In the first year that we traveled together, she and I became good friends. We would chat, play antakshari and do almost everything you can associate with a platonic relationship between two 8-year-olds. But secretly-secretly, I would look at her and smile to myself, thinking about the kids we would have someday.

God, however, had other plans for us.

During the second year of our friendship, she was made the head-girl of primary school. Out of the 4897238947238 girls in class V, they had chosen HER! And to add insult to injury, they decided not to make li'l old TS head-boy. WTF???

And even though I had decided she was the one, I went into denial and convinced myself otherwise. No head-girl was going to risk dating a sissy house-captain.

Everyday, until she changed schools in 1994, I loved her (yes, secretly-secretly). And when she finally left (without telling me), a very uncomfortable dream began to haunt my sleep.
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Yesterday:

“TS! Why aren’t you gay??? I’ve always wanted a gay best friend and you’d be sooo perfect!”

“And what makes you think that T-10???”

“I don’t know. I just have a feeling you’d make a perfect George!”

“Hey, HEY, H-E-Y!!! Just because I have a pair of pink boxer shorts does not mean I’m gay. Like someone once said, Metrosexual but Heterosexual!”

“Tracy, Meha! Don’t you think he’d fit the part?”

The two women conveniently looked away, allowing me to save that iota of self-respect that I had left.

There was a moment of silence. And then of course the alcohol took complete control of me and I blurted:

“Well if I were to sleep with a man, it would have to be Johnny Depp.”

There was another moment of silence.

The girls gave me a quick, rather puzzled look and immediately shifted their focus back to T-10 and her tale of woe.
---

At night, as I was trying to fall off to sleep, I couldn't help but think of everything T-10 has meant to me. A lot of first times of my life revolve around her existence. And no matter where life takes me, I know her presence in the happiest of my memories (the kinds that make you go Awww) will carry me through the most difficult of times in the years to come. That and how I will always love her deeply, simply because she was the first.
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Note from the author:

Dearest T-10, on a more personal note:


- Since I didn’t make you sound remotely psychotic (an adjective we both know describes you best), you simply MUST take me out to dinner.

- Oh, and the post miraculously omits any details of your RED stilettos. (Lets make that dinner AND JD shall we?)


- Also, there is no mention of the time you BIT me on my arm in class V. Do you know I still have to pass that scar off as a stretch mark to avoid becoming a locker room legend? (For this one, I will settle for no less than a mention on your epitaph.)

- And FYI, I still have that dream. You wouldn't happen to know any good shrinks, or would you?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

One Week in Calcutta: Unsettling


They should call it CABcutta.



There are more cabs in Calcutta than there are people. The cabs are potty yellow in colour and act as a constant reminder to your bowels that you forgot to appease them in the morning. The pollution from their exhaust reminds you of Delhi before the introduction of CNG. And for some very strange reason, ALL cab drivers are from Bihar. I didn't come across a single Bengali cab driver in the 20 odd trips that I made in the course of the week.
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Crossings, Crowds, and a whole lot of Chaos.



I may have underestimated the number of people per square kilometer when I made that statement about the number of cabs. In the picture to the left you can see the confluence of cabs, buses, private vehicles, trams and people. All this at a crossing where the signal doesn't work.
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Does this qualify as popularity?




While clicking one of the photos I realised someone from the crowd was waving at the lense hysterically. Since I was looking into my tiny cellphone screen, his appearance was extremely dwarfed and hence, unclear. I thought he was telling me to not invade people's personal space by walking around with a cellphone pointed towards them like a weapon. So very sheepishly I put the phone in my pocket and walked on.

A couple of seconds later, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I froze, out of the very natural fear of public humiliation, I think. Contrary to the verbal bashing I was expecting, I heard an extremely gentle voice say, "Tanmay, welcome to my city."

In the brief conversation that followed I learnt that 37 year-old Tilak had moved back to his hometown about a year ago. And even though he was working hard and earning little, he didn't mind Calcutta because it gave him the chance to be in the same city as his ex-wife (who he is still very much in love with even after 11 years of separation) and his children (talking about whom brings tears to his eyes).

I told him I was happy for him. He told me I had put on weight. We both smiled. And then of course with nothing left to talk about, we bid a quick, almost mechanical good-bye and went about getting lost in the crowd all over again.

To answer your question:
How do I know Tilak? I trained him during his brief stint in my company. He was one of the few people who put me in the spot by insisting on calling me 'Sir.' When I told him we were a company with a 'first name' culture, and the fact that he was 15 years older than me, he simply laughed and said he had a hotel management background and that there was no way he would call me anything other than 'Sir.'

When I reached my hotel room that night, I wondered why I didn't ask him for his phone number or e-mail ID.
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Taking C-Grade flicks to the next level.



(*Kaam Milan: Sexual Meetings)
(**Piyasi Dilruba: Thirsty Seductress)


O Mammi mammi, O Daddy Daddy
Jis se meri shaadi hogi
Aaj meine voh ladki dhoond li hai... ok ok I'll stop!

These were the first couple of movie posters I happened to set my eyes on.

You can also find movie posters of Bengali Films. The local film industry is called Tollywood. Imagine if their box-office lingo includes phrases like 'could you tollyrate the film?'



Apparently sequels of Nagina (Snake-Woman) are still setting the box office on fire.
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This one takes the cake.

This poster can be found at the entry of one of the city's finest hotels, The Park.




'Win' a date with 'heart-throb' Aryan Vaid?!? Really?!?

Where was I when he made the transition from a potential hero in 'Kaam Milan' to a 'heart-throb?'
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Call Girls

Come darkness and the city's pavements are flooded with prostitutes and pimps. An indication perhaps, of the average Bengali mentality? Or the cruel aftermath of an extended rule of the Left? I don't know. I want my friends from JNU to answer that one.

I think it was Wednesday when my colleague and I were approached by a pimp on Park Street. A thin, dark brown, middle-aged fellow with bulging eyes. He caught me by the hand and asked him very seriously:

"Excuse me Sir. Can I help you with College Girls? Nepalis?"

After a brief moment of silence AJ and I realised what he meant and we broke into hysterical laughter. I 'thanked' him for his generous offer but declined nevertheless.

As we continued walking, we tried to figure out why the pimp had approched only us out of the 20 odd people buying rolls at the food stall. Did we really look that horny? Was watching Fashion House every night getting to us? After a brief round of debate I convinced AJ that it was the look on his face that had instigated the fellow.

[On a more personal note, I'm more or less ok with the whole living in denial thing. I really don't care about what people do for a living as long as they get by with a full stomach and a couple of laughs. Even prostitution.

And no, I don't feel violated when a pimp approaches me. Or when my friends raise the Friday evening toast to 'Wine, Women and Prostitution.' Delhi and Bombay have red-light areas too. So do New York, Amsterdam and London.

In Calcutta, like any other place, prostitution was once a lifestyle. And for some sections of the city, it still is. But every set of eyes on the streets that invited me into the shadows told a story of a life lived in denial. Much like that disillusioned section of Calcutta's society, which is desperately trying to revive the lost glory from 'The Days of the Raj.'

And just why did Sona Gachi* let go, forcing a large number of its inhabitants into the by-lanes of the best known streets of the city to find their own way into tomorrow.

*Asia's largest brothel - located in the heart of old Calcutta

I don't know.

What is their story? Do they have a story? Or do I think too much?

If you're from Calcutta and can figure this out for me, let me know. I'm still unsettled.]

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stories from Oblivion: Chapter Two: BKN/UDZ

When you visit four cities in as many days, your idea of a room with a view becomes something like this:


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Karni Mata Temple


The Karni Mata Temple at Deshnok (Distt. Bikaner) is famous the world over because of the presence of over 3000 mice within the temple premises.


8th Wonder of the World or as Dr.Gonzo once said: RAT COUNTRY!


The mice are well fed and are free to roam about. When you enter the temple premises, you are advised to drag your feet so that you don't step on the mice by mistake!
Another unique thing is that not a single mouse leaves the temple premises even though the gates are always open.
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Bikaner

Apart from posters that read "Dharmendra: MISSING!" you can also see:


Junagarh Fort


Handcrafted ivory weapons



(Is there a support group for people who get turned on by this?)
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Udaipur

If you want to capture the essence of this majestic city, you really must carry a half-decent camera, maybe even an SLR.


The road to Sajjangarh fort.


Sajjangarh Fort


View from the north-side of the fort.


A passing cloud offers some much needed shade.
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More:



Beedi jalaye le?
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(Picture Courtesy: My Nokia 6600)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stories from Oblivion: Chapter One: JBP



The Spot

Dhuandar Falls near Bhedaghat, our very own version of Niagra thankyouverymuch.



The Sight

Paisa Vapas if it doesn't make your heart stop.



The Performer

Our man was lazing around in the warm winter sun when I approached him. The moment he realised he was going to be caught on camera he put his turban on his head, grabbed the snake-like stick and posed. Once I had taken the shot he looked at me straight in the eye and said "Ten Rupees for photo!"

I smiled and handed him a hundred. He didn't smile back.



The New-Age-Urban-Indian-Woman's idea of 'Cho Chweeet'

When was the last time you met a little boy called 'Bholu?'
Oh, and FYI... He makes the best cup of Masala Chai ever.



My King of the Road

Sumat: Himesh Reshammiya fan and driver par excellence.