Friday, February 23, 2007


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.”


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…”


“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.


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.

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.


“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?'

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.]