Monday, December 31, 2007

Open Letter to New-Years-Eve-Frantic-Partiers

Dear New-Years-Eve-Frantic-Partiers

It’s that time of the year again, where you want to drink lots of booze, dance with (and occasionally feel up) lots of hot chicks, outspend the neighbours in extravagance AND the frenzied fun quotient and live the next few months (if not the rest of the year) on the laurels of “I had such a blast at the New Years”.

However, call me a spoil sport if you will. But I do not like to have fun under a gunpoint – on call, on schedule, on a particular day. Chances are I am feeling maudlin of another year gone by, a few more figurative (and the odd actual, sighhhh) grey hairs, opportunities missed and the fact that I didn’t win the Nobel Prize (or any other prizes) this year either.

But the truth is, I would rather watch ‘Nach Baliye-3’ reruns of Rakhi Sawant rather than get jiggy with inebriated oily-middle-aged-men-with-their-stomachs-spilling-out-from-their-belts who look in the mirrors and see eighteen-year-old-studs-with-six-packs-who-can-dance-like-Hrithik under that waggling flab.

I object in principle to spend 10K to get my toes stepped on and my eardrums torn – I can get that from the husband-feller for free.

I really don’t want to go through one hour of traffic nightmare (gridlocks + crowds + horns + sweat) only to end up at another purgatory (parking gridlock + crowds + himesh +sweat).

Having said that, all adventurous souls who enjoy new years – great for you. But can you please desist from asking me every other day what my New Year plans are. I probably don’t have any. If at all I do, chances are that they don’t have the words –Hotel, Holidays or Yacht in them. It’s more likely to include Television, Take-out- menu and Twiddling thumbs-or maybe if am feeling particularly brave, Pals and Potluck.

I know this sends me right back into Hicksville, but since I was never even remotely close to Hepville, I am willing to live with that.

The last half a dozen years, I have been the recipient of looks of shame (‘how can we know someone who doesn’t like to PARTY’), pity (‘do you think her disease is contagious?‘), guilt ( ‘should we invite her – but she is really not a friend you know, just a colleague’) , awe (‘ man, I have heard of such creatures, but didn’t know they actually existed’) and disinterest ( 'well I am going to Athena /Polly Esther’s /Vie ( or whatever is the flavour of 'the month), who cares what she is doing) . So I thought its about time that I share the perspective of the New-Years-Eve-Non-Partiers.

Many thanks for your understanding and sympathy.

And wish you all a very Happy New Year. May you get very drunk, score with some hot femmes and have the biggest hangover since God invented alcohol.

Cynic in Wonderland

P.S. Happy New Year to everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Taare Zameen Pe

I don’t remember the last time I got teary eyed for a movie – maybe Life is beautiful. Hindi movies, NOTHING after Anjali. Till TZP.

A beautifully evocative movie about childhood – the real childhood. Not the precocious, cutesy kids that are dished out to us. The often cruel, non-celluloid, non-rose-tinted side of childhood – of bullying peers and impatient teachers, demanding parents and unremitting competition. And the resilient optimism which flourishes inspite of that.

The young protagonist Ishaan’s, is if nothing, real. Imaginative, defiant, vulnerable, torn, strong, childlike (Darsheel is absolutely stunning). There are strong traces of Calvin in the role– the brat who doesn’t fit, extremely imaginative and alternatively exasperating and endearing.

The story, simply and poignantly told. (Black which had a similar broad plot was so full of histrionics that it systematically killed any sympathy).

I loved the attention to little details – Ishaan’s bed – full of toy soldiers (most little boy’s bed usually will have toy soldiers or cars). The fact that he is at the beginning of the movie is always running (I have two little nephews who don’t know how to walk – their mode of commute IS running!). Sitting on the pot, dreaming, oblivious to the time. The fact that little boys will put their hands in gutters and their fingers in their nose and will watch with rapt attention, things which adults take for granted.

I appreciated the fact that Aamir Khan did not make an appearance till half the movie was over (SRK in anything but the first frame? Nah!) – And delivered an understated performance which didn’t overpower Darsheel or take over the movie – allowing Darsheel to be the real star (as an aside, even in the credits, Aamir's name is second!).

The music for most fits in and adds to the narrative rather than taking it on a tangent.

On the flip side, I thought the teachers were caricatures (which teacher has hair coming out of his ears now?) and the parents’ role marginalized a bit – especially after the discovery that he is dyslexic and the pace could have been faster.

But that is nitpicking.
All in all, a must watch film.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rock(et) Star Dude

I think I am in crush.
I was at a function yesterday where His Excellency APJ Abdul Kalam was the chief guest.

Love happened.

I thought I was way past the age of being smitten by people, and politicians least of all. But there is something about the man which is irresistible.

Maybe it’s the endearing way he smiles – which lights up his whole face.
Maybe it’s the fact that even when the audience isn’t listening to what he is saying, there is something about him which still makes one pay attention to him.
Maybe it’s the fact that inspite of being SO larger than life is he so NOT larger than life. Maybe it’s the genuine warmth which seeps through to each word he says.
Maybe it’s the incongruousness of the rock-star hair with the rocket-scientist brain.
Maybe it’s just being in the presence of a genuinely great person.

I have been behaving like a star-struck and love-sick teenager .
I can’t seem to stop gushing about him. I elbowed a few people out of the way in order to get a surreptitious (completely sackable offence- that) snap of him from my cell phone.
I have even tracked down the guestbook with his signature and photocopied it.


Monday, December 3, 2007

One small flying story (Or why Fact is stranger than Fiction)

The location:
On board of a flight say, from Mumbai to Delhi

The players of the drama:
The Captain of the plane. He ..ahem .. steps out from the cockpit to answer nature’s call.

The First Officer, who has just been served tea by the air hostess, realizes that it lacks sugar. So also steps out from the cockpit to ask her for the same.

The twist in the tale:
The door of the cockpit slams shut while both the gentlemen are outside and the plane is peacefully cruising on auto pilot.

The additional twist in the tale:
The cockpit doors apparently cannot be opened ordinarily from outside (in mid-flight) to prevent hijacking attempts.

The small window of opportunity:
The pilots are trained about a super secret method of opening the cockpit door exactly for eventualities like this one.

The small window of opportunity slams shut:
Both the pilots however, have unfortunately forgotten this method.

The solution:
Business class passengers are privileged to see the whole crew of the plane trying to batter down the cockpit door with a food trolley while BOTH the pilots stand outside twiddling their thumbs.

The postscript:
Apparently they WERE successful in opening the door somehow, which is why this is a comedy and not a tragedy.

This story was recounted to me by a friend – whose uncle was on the review board of airlines when this particular case came up. I don’t know anything about flying but I do know I am exceedingly glad I was not a Business class passenger on that particular flight.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


At my engagement, my mother was coming holding a plate with sweets towards me, when I overheard a voice of a distant relative suddenly stopping her in her tracks “No, you don’t go there – give it to me, I will give it to the priest” (the unsaid message was clearly “You are a widow – not auspicious”). Immediately, Ma’s face crumpled a bit but she stopped anyhow – for my sake.

Two things stopped me from physically assaulting that person in the middle of the function. One- a cousin who took a look at my face and forcibly held me back. Two- the priest (God bless him) who had heard this exchange quickly and pointedly said “YOU GIVE IT- You are her mother”.

My blood boils every time I think of that episode.
I cannot think of ANYONE in the universe who has my wellbeing more at heart than she does. And therefore cannot think of anyone who can be more auspicious in my life.

For the last eight years, ever since my father died, there have been sundry instances like this –the raised eyebrow, the whispered comment, the disapproving look. All of which I’ve ruthlessly annihilated. We have endured enough devastation at his death - without having to face THIS particular ordeal. So prima-facie, I don’t hear anything in this strain anymore.
But I suspect some instances still occur (which Ma hides from me). Fortunately for my peace of mind, she is temperamentally an upbeat, positive person; so she just shrugs it off.

And I know it’s not just my acquaintances - One very distressed friend told me that at her wedding, her mother was made to stand almost at the end of the hall and not participate in anything. Ironically, her wedding rituals were performed by her uncle – a widower, who sat with a supari (in lieu of his wife if you please) next to him for the ceremonies.

Someone else’s Gruhpravesh; the widowed mother was not invited at all – because the in-laws were against it. In that girls place, I would have probably boycotted the function altogether!

I find this absolutely appalling – that people, so called urbanized, educated, sophisticated people, can be so utterly blinded by superstition/rituals/whatever-it-is.

Maybe the more visible customs (the shorn head variety) might have disappeared. But there are other customs which still seem to have sneaked into this century – the whole taboo on brightly hued saris, glass bangles, participating in religious rituals. The raised eyebrows when the person laughs out louder-than-permissible-volume, or goes for a movie or even indulges in rich foods (yes, various levels of this still exist believe me.)

The movie “Dor” has depicted this with sensitivity and pathos – when the young widow Ayesha wots-her-name spontaneously breaks into a jig on hearing a popular ditty - and the sudden belated recollection that she is not allowed to dance anymore.

No one who has not suffered the loss of a spouse can probably understand what the woman is going through. And to add these subtle reminders everyday is just utterly insufferable.

The religion does not propagate this – I remember asking a priest once and he had said that most of the taboos are man-made. These are rituals which seem to have sprung into being maybe originally protecting women from unwanted advances (if they were drab and insignificant as possible, no one would look at them twice) or maybe from the insecure wives of men-with-roving-eyes

But the fact that they exist even today – I think is a matter of great, great shame to us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tipping Point

It all started about sixteen years ago – the first time I went into a fancy haircutting salon on my own. Till then the most of the hair cuts had been restricted to well-meaning ‘artistically’ inclined aunts who hacked (trimmed they called it) my hair. The fanciest cut was at the small neighbourhood salon where my mother took me every time she thought my tresses had been traumatized enough.

This was the first foray into a SALON. Those posh places where people discussed cuts and styles and face shapes and other grown up stuff.

So there I was, all set, hair neatly cut, quietly standing at the payment counter, content about navigating this passage into adulthood without any major faux pas when one overwhelmingly horrifying realization dawned on me. All the ladies in the queue in front of me, after settling their reckoning, were going back inside to TIP the stylists!

And there I was a gawky preteen, was facing for the first of many times, one of life’s enduring questions – the GREAT INDIAN TIPPING DILEMMA.

To this day – thousands of stylists, waiters, valets and bellboys later – I still struggle with the all important question. HOW MUCH TO TIP.

Wise people have muttered about the 5% rule. But that doesn’t work in my mind.

What if the service is terrible in a completely fancy restaurant – why would you want to pay 5% of the bill (a few hundred rupees say) to a snooty, condescending waiter who has completely ruined the meal for you?

God knows, I don’t want to under tip either – some work terribly hard to earn this money -which is why I invariably end up over-tipping – anything to avoid the reproachful, or in some cases my-god-she-is-so-cheap look.

So what IS the right balance? The standardized 5% rule does not work.

I think there are some learnings which can be borrowed from tax calculations.

The Total Tipping Liability ( the amount you need to shell out depending on Tippees effectiveness, venue ambiance, number of people the service is provided to, difficulty of providing service and so on)

And the Tipping Rebate (where you get a concession on your liability depending on factors such as Tippees bad attitude, wrong haircut, body odour and other experience-spoilers)

This will give you the NET TIPPING TAX – the amount you actually end up paying as a tip.

You might crib about it and talk about people who evade tipping and swear at the cost of tipping rates – but at least it will spare you the effort of standing there with the bill doing mental callisthenics to figure out how much is the money you shell out and sheepishly-defiantly trying to skulk away when you realize the Tippee was expecting much more.

You could even have Tip-o-meters where you feed in the variables and viola – out comes the tip amount all nicely calculated with no scope for dispute or guilt.

Now if only someone would design this. Hmmm.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Homeward bound for Diwali

It’s almost Diwali. My first one after getting married. The first Diwali away from my home – probably in my entire life.

And I am desperately, terribly homesick.

Nothing new actually. I have spent a considerable part of this year feeling homesick.

It’s really no reflection on marriage or married life – but to expect someone to be uprooted from one place and planted in another (irrespective of how good or bad the new place is) – there will be a part of one which WILL shrivel up (for a while at least).

I don’t know how females do it. I know many, many for whom the transition seems to have been painless. Females who seem to effortlessly morph into the dutiful bahu archetype. Maybe they are conditioned like that – and they view their parents home as the temporary abode and thus, moving out is just the natural progression they have expected all their lives.

I, however, was not raised like that. My home was my haven, my pocket of peace where I could come after fighting fires in the outside world. Even the couple of years I was not with my folks, it was my mental safe zone which I could run to as and when the need arose- and of course for festivals.

Now I don’t know where I belong anymore. Not quite there – because there is always the pressure of having to go back. Not quite here – well, because it’s new and all that.

Somehow, festivals always aggravate this sense of rootlessness. Maybe because you give up all the customs and little rituals you have done all your life and have to smilingly accept and do something else (especially if you marry into a different (albeit marginally different) community like I have) - and I suppose, festivals to most of us are the composite of many small rituals which we has done since time immemorial so any change in that takes away it’s essence and heart.

I do not think the in-laws will have the “Narkasur” effigy to be burnt the night before Diwali. Or the early morning (peculiarly Goan) spread of eight different pohas. Though they will have oil diyas – I am not sure they will smell quite the same as they do at home – the grainy, loamy smell of oil and fire and earth and childhood. I will miss climbing up precariously on wobbly stools to put the fiery flame coloured Akash-diya at exactly the right angle or crouching next to my mother as she sits with pots with multicoloured rangoli powders. A part of me will yearn for the pre sun-dawn bath with the ‘uthne’ and “haldi-coconut-milk’ followed by the traditional sandal soap. The smells and sounds and colors so interwoven with the Diwali of a cherished childhood.

In a few years perhaps, I will learn to look at the new customs as intrinsically mine – but till then, I think I will miss my Diwali.

May this year bring all of you much happiness, much color and much light.

Happy Diwali

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finding Neverland

There has been a question which I have been wondering about for the last few days.


Every few evenings, when I come down from my office and am deprived of the pleasure of the company (and more importantly the car) of the husband feller, I proceed towards the auto stand – which is oh-so-conveniently located just outside by office building.

So far, my strike rate in actually getting anyone to take me home has been abysmal. Then I walk one kilometre in both directions, cross the road try from that side; cite locations which are half-way to my place but ZILCH. Most don’t even condescend to stop.

At this point I could have cursed the place where we stay as being inaccessible and whatnot but I have realized that’s not the reason. Auto-walas are completely non-partisan in their refusal. It does not matter who wants the ride. Doesn’t even matter which corner of the city they want to go to. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. The answer is a consistent, big, fat NO.

I see them reclining on their seats with their feet propped up on the dashboard smoking beedis. I see them casually leaning against the rickshaw stand sign exchanging views on life. I also see them regularly emerge from the depths of the auto to ask prospective rickshaw-seeking-gullibly hopeful -commuters where they want to go – if only for the pleasure of refusing them.

So the question is what is this mysterious Xanadu they seek? Its not any where of the city – we have already established that. It’s not to their respective homes either – otherwise they wouldn’t be at the stand. It’s not even to the moon – I asked them that once.

The question has started to take over my mind now – I imagine covens on full moon nights where all rickshawalas gather to honk at the moon... I wonder about PUC incompliant smoke belched out from rickshaws and dim hazy bars with strip dancers do a sinuous gyrating around the rickshaw poles. I think about Pran-isque underground dens full of potholes with boiling brimstone.

(I also think I am watching too many bad Hindi movies)

But the question remains. Don’t think we will ever know. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shopophobics anonymous.

Axiom of the shopping God (Goddess??).
I am a female. Females like shopping. Therefore, I should like shopping.

Unfortunately somewhere in evolution progression, there was a genetic misfiring and an anomaly was born. A female who doesn't like to shop. Me.

I know that I am risking being expelled from the female species, but malls give me the heebie-jeebies. The thought of going to shop, rather than giving me pleasurable feelings of excitement and giggly glee usually gives me anything BUT that .Especially on Saturdays (which is the only day I realistically get to shop). The sheer swarms of people grabbing clothes and shoving each other makes me want to dig a hole and pull the cover right in after me.

My desire to own any piece of clothing is inversely proportional is to the exact same replicas present on the rack behind it. Somehow, it’s difficult to imagine how it will be humanly POSSIBLE to avoid meeting people wearing the same clothes.

Look at the odds…

(Clothes on rack X No of branches of mall)

(Number of female population in city/ Price of clothes)

Almost everyone in your likely social circle has a great chance of wearing EXACTLY the same thing as you are wearing.

And the trial rooms – I object on ethical grounds to mirrors which flatter only to deceive– slimming mirrors in malls if you please! One looks at the mirror and see a becomingly attired, comely version of oneself staring back – and then one goes home and God alone knows where the person in the mirror goes. Bah!

I know women who can spend hours and hours just browsing and trying on clothes – what is the POINT of Window shopping? For a few minutes you delude yourself that you are the owner of something? The whole effort of standing in queue for hours to get into a trial room and then try it on, only to not buy it because you really weren’t planning to in the first place strikes me as an inexplicable form of dementia.

And holiday seasons – Diwali, Dusserah – all that burden of buying! The exhibitions and the bargaining – I am completely unequipped to bargain, experience has taught me that looking at shopkeeper beseechingly just does not cut any ice.

Its not that I don’t like possessions – I love new things as much as the next person. But it’s the process of acquisition which I find excruciating.

And these days it’s so complicated – the whole mix and match thing. Heck, if I could mix and match, I would have been a fashion designer. Indians are NOT DIY kinds. We want simplicity. We want things which come with instructions – otherwise it’s just too much pressure to figure out the right algorithm. Does one go for coordination or contrast? Are these fabrics compatible? WHAT kind of occasion does one wear it for – with this trouser it’s formal, with this it’s light casual – so many decisions, so much stress!
And I believe that it’s the whole mix-n-match movement which has resulted in upside-down shopping behaviours. I know I have taken to picking up dupattas first and then trying to figure out what goes with it. I even had a distant relative who picked up petticoat first and tried to match a sari with it.

The whole anxiety of consumerism is starting to get to me now. I have people coming and looking at me as if I was an alien when I say I don’t like shopping. Colleagues are scandalized at how fast I decide I don’t want to buy anything in shops and bolt out for air. Wedding shopping is an agonizing punishment – after a point I am like the proverbial Nandi bull just nodding my head at anything which is shown to me.

So I have taken to lurking in small stores on weekdays with a list (like a grocery list) of things I ABSOLUTELY DESPERATELY NEED to buy.

I was contemplating the personal shopper phenomena one day, under the happy illusion that I could completely outsource the whole exercise. Until I was disabused by someone who told me that one needed to actually accompany the personal shopper.

They really should start my kind of personal shoppers – the ones who will actually buy the clothes that you want (the right look and color), in the right budget (if one can euphemistically call it that – sighhhh) at the right time- without me moving out of my house.

Any takers?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lunchroom lament

I have a lunch stalker. Well, he seems to want to stalk me at other times, but the cafeteria is his current favourite hunting ground.

The cafeteria is one of the great levellers in the work place. Where you stand with reference to other co-workers is sharply brought into focus – irrespective of rank, designation or money.

There are certain cues to figure out where you are in the lunch hierarchy.
Are you welcome at all tables or will people surreptitiously edge a lunch box on the empty chair so that it appears taken?
Do people wave at you to come and join them or do they avoid making eye contact the minute you walk in?
Is there a sudden drop in conversation the minute you approach a lunch table?
Do people, who till then look like they have roots growing under the table, gulp food and mutter ‘excuse me... work beckons’ the minute you join them?

My lunch stalker falls into the latter category (but of course!). Let’s call him Mr. X. As far as I can figure out Mr.X used to eat alone most of the times before I joined.

To give a brief background, he is a fairly senior (in the organizational hierarchy) gentleman of late middle age and overwhelmingly talent (if only in own head - His boss and others seem to disagree) and thus, he has a great sense of what is due to him and his consequence. Typical interactions will be liberally interspersed with many “when I was talking to MD’, ‘at the board meetings...’, ‘I can’t share this information because unfortunately what I do is so very confidential’. He has a disconcerting habit of starting conversation in with himself and then suddenly shifting gears and talking to the person in front of him (who of course, has no idea what the heck the topic is about).

As luck will have it, his cabin is a few feet away from my desk so I am in his direct line of vision.

His original strategy was to come and ask me completely arbitrary questions – from the spellings of words, to prices of mobile handsets to NASDAQ index and then proceed to propound his views on life for the next forty minutes until my eyes glazed over. So, I devised (quite clever I thought) solution to that – I put on headphones! This seemed to work reasonably well.

But lately, he has taken to ambushing me at lunch time. We have a small cafeteria – so I usually go early to grab a table, and like to chill out there with a book and occasionally with this other relatively new, co-worker.

Mr. X keeps an eye on my desk to see when I go for lunch (or so claims my boss, who has been watching these little tête-à-têtes with intensely sadistic amusement. So much so, that he has mandated that I sign a legal agreement promising not to quit because of persecution at lunch time). So whatever time I go, five minutes later Mr.X will come and sit on the table and talk and talk and oh God, TALK.

Yesterday, I thought I would quietly circumvent his attacks by going at the end of lunch hour. Mr. X already present (right at the front table where one couldn’t avoid him) saw me and desperately waved at his table. I shrugged and pointed out that there were dishes on his table so I would join the other regular co-worker. Before I knew what happened, Mr. X had jumped up from his table, gone to the pantry and ordered the kitchen fellow to clean the table so that I could sit there – after that basic courtesy mandated that I DO sit there.

Because of his self-importance, he has divided the office into people he deems worthy of interaction and those who are not. The former, from all I can see are almost without exception, overwhelmingly rude to him. In fact, one senior lady, having seen my unsuccessful efforts to extricate myself politely from his clutches came up to me and actually gave me a tutorial on “how to be rude to Mr. X’
I unfortunately CANNOT be overtly rude to people. There is some congenital flaw in my personality - which won’t allow me to walk off in the middle of conversations. Mr. X has figured this out and thus I provide him with easy prey. ( as I did in my earlier office, where without fail I would attract variations of Mr.X) I wouldn’t mind it so much if it was once in a while – but every SINGLE day – even when I am terribly busy or asocial or preoccupied.

As far as I can see the only way to stop him is by death or resignation. Maybe, my boss had a point after all.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


One of my dearest friends has just had a baby four days ago. I am very happy for her in the deeply, quiet way you can only be happy for people you care very much for.

There are other acquaintances and sundry classmates I know who have kids – but this is probably the first of the so-called inner circle.
The first time I have seen a tiny kidney bean shaped thingummy in the sonograph transform into an actual baby.
The first time I have heard about nausea and morning sickness and weepiness and sundry other physical metamorphosis at close quarters.
The first time I have gone to shops to look at baby-monitoring books and the first time in my life I have talked about maternity clothes and filed away baby names for reference.

I know at this point I should be gushing and cooing or at any rate, babbling incoherently (gushing and cooing is really not the kind of thing I do very well) in delirious maasi-like fervour but for some reason, I am not.

Perhaps that is because there is this other whole set of tangled emotions which are also happening simultaneously.

Predominant amongst them is awe. The fact that someone you know so well has actually gone over to the other side. A person who was the ordinary girl next door has suddenly, miraculously created a person. A person who will eventually be a human being with feelings and emotions and opinions and intelligence. Try as you might, the brain struggles to reconcile the friend you know so well as the person who has brought a human being into the world. There are these flashbacks of her standing on top of a desk in college to wolf-whistle or sprawled in someone’s house watching a sitcom or ganging up to tease about a boyfriend- which don’t gel very well with the mental image of what a mother is supposed to be like.

There is this sense of shared (can you call it voyeuristic?), overwhelming responsibility interspersed with periods of mind-numbingly blind panic – how will she protect the child from the world and its many hazards? How will she teach him right from wrong? How will she get up n number of times during the night? , how will she know when he is hungry, sleepy, unwell? How will she cope day in, day out for the next twenty years? What will she do if she is tired and needs a day off?

And there is a sense of wistfulness as well. No longer the “what are you doing in the evening- catch a movie?” No longer can we hang around in Barista till we are kicked out at three in the morning talking of nothing in particular.

I know when I meet the baby – I’ll be captivated. And I know just like we all ( my friends and I ) have moved through various other life altering changes of work, relocation and marriage, we will all make this transition too.

But one thing is for certain - Life, as we knew it, will never be the same.

Baby boy for you, there are so many hopes that I don’t know even where to begin.
A hope that you grow up in a safe, happy, healthy, cherished haven.
That love, hope and cheer always are your companions. God bless forever and ever.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conversations with Goddess (of the undomestic kind)

I have a maid who comes to clean at my house. Let’s call her Undomestic-Goddess-Amma (or Ugamma for short). I inherited Ugamma from the in-laws – she’s been going there for the last dozen years and has recently added me to her work portfolio. Quite the Family Retainer from the old English melodrama or our very own desi Ramu-chacha .So she enjoys all the privileges and benefits of the old retainer however in the minor matter of doing the actual work – she differs slightly – as in, she has an allergy to it. While at a broad philosophical level I do agree that one should get money without having to work for it, consistently becoming a victim of it is another story altogether.

We have the following very edifying conversations with marginally varying themes every other day.

Storm in the teacup
Me: “Ugamma –All the tea cups have this residual layer of tea after you have washed them- I had to wash all of them again last night”
Ugamma (in tones of polite interest): “Accha?”

Washing washbasins
Me: (Pointing to a wash basis where I am standing): “There is some dirt on this side of the basin – can you wash it please?”

Next day I go to the basin and the other bathroom and I see that resplendent in accumulated dirt.

Me: “Did you not wash the basin yesterday?”
Ugamma: (in deeply affronted tones): “Of course I did!”
Me: “Oh ..but its still dirty
Ugamma: (with quelling dignity) “I washed the OTHER basin”

Mental note to self – specify all the basins in the household that you want washed.

After a while I go to the other washbasin and I see though the previous days offending stain on the left side of the basin is gone, the dust on the right side continues to gloat at me.

Me: “Ugammaaaaaaaaaa” and wave at the offending spot
Ugamma: “I have CLEANED the side you told me to”

Continued note to self – list down ALL specific components of the wash basin you want washed. Note to self part 2 – WASH the damn thing again at night.

Desh ki dharti
Me: (Holding aloft a pair of trousers and with a shirt slung over my shoulder) “Ugamma – have you seen the trouser bottom edge– its carrying more mud than any trouser has any right to”
Ugamma: (in tones of munificence): “Well of course, I have not washed the rims of the trousers”
Me: “Er.. what have you washed?”
Ugamma : (triumphantly) "I have washed the MIDDLE part”
Me: “Well from tomorrow can you please wash the edges as well?”
Ugamma: (in the manner of someone humouring a developmentally-challenged child) “Accha theek hai”

Niagara clothes
Her usual washing clothes routine goes something like this.
She always appears to be in a rush to go to the bathroom to wash the clothes. She will disappear inside and firmly lock the doors. The door will remain locked for 5 -45 minutes depending on what her planned schedule for the day. Actual sounds of washing clothes however have been consistently timed at three and a half minutes (after merging the colors and the whites together to form one cheerful rainbow coloured liquid)

Then after a while when I walk into the drying balcony and slip on a mini lagoon

Me: (mournfully) “Ugamma – I nearly broke myself here – can’t u WRING the damn clothes even a little bit”
Ugamma: (very firmly) “This is linen (pointing at my very cotton-because-I-am-allergic-to-synthetic-clothes-salwar-kameez) – you cannot wring linen”
Me: (desperately squeezing clothes to avoid the indignity of being a Mandakini under the clothes line) “Doesn’t matter even if its linen, still wring it”
Ugamma sniffs disapprovingly and flaps a couple of clothes half heartedly

The MIL seems to be able to manage her pretty well – but then she has a completely different (autocratic) managerial style with the bais. I would need a personality transplant for that. But I have noticed that she (MIL) also needs to recourse to trailing behind the lady to ensure some of the stuff is being done.

I unfortunately, need to get myself to work by nine in the morning – getting myself up and jostling my brain cells into a state of semi-wakefulness is a full time task without shadowing the U-lady.

Sacking the lady is not an option – apart from the fact that she IS trustworthy – the task of getting another maid in these bai-famine times is too harrowing to contemplate.

So we shall continue at this merry stall-mate (check-mate actually if one REALLY comes to think of it) until such time I can come with a solution to this. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Misadventures of the Married Kind- II: Maika

(Continued from here...)

Hindi movies and soaps are abounding with tales of the coy, shy female going to the ‘maika’ from her ‘sasural’ and how she transforms back into the uninhibited girl that she was before she morphed into the dutiful bahu.

True enough. Most femmes do tend to be a little bit more carefree, a little bit more irresponsible and a lot lazier the minute they go to their old homes.

However, no Hindi programme seems to have depicted what transformation takes place in the jamai-feller the minute he goes to the wife’s house.

I have been closely studying this phenomenon and have observed a number of behavioral transformations which become suddenly visible.

One of the most interesting reactions to the maika is the change in a jamai-feller’s metabolism. A normally active verging on exhaustingly active) person suddenly seems to go into some kind of deep state of suspended animation.

Seemingly the only way to rouse this person from this comatose state is to initiate conversations about food. Suddenly one will witness a rapid increase in heart rate and salivary glands. Vocal chords are also activated – enough to list out the particular delicacies which are craved on that particular day.

A great degree of analysis and thought are involved in deciding the menu for the day. Dish x can be offered only on Fridays (after skipping an evening snack in order to have plenty of space for aforementioned Dish x). That should ideally be accompanied by dessert Y (and only Y – anything heavier than Y shall not be appreciated and anything less than dessert Y will be a waste of an opportunity). There is a great deal of debate and thought before foray on relative merits of Dish X versus other dishes- this analysis can start as much as a week in advance of advent into maika and HAS to be satisfactorily resolved in specimen’s head.

There is also a marked degree of increase in dependency on wife. A normally self sufficient, fully functional human being becomes dependent on wife for almost everything. – The roti (to the sofa where he lies comfortably reposed), kapda (to the bathroom when he wants to shower) and well, not makaan but the makaan ke fittings (‘increase the fan speed’/’close the lights’/’ switch on the hand-shower’)

Also there appears to be a distinct tendency to fall into a very deep, dreamless and long sleep – apparently disassociating his mind from the normal cares of daily routine – which one would expect in the girl going to her erstwhile home but is surprisingly very visible in the fellow also.

Another visible and completely inexplicable observed change is how the Nietzsche-Plato-Saki-Luce reader develops this incomprehensible fascination with Mumbai Mirror. Early mornings one can see him making a beeline for the same, sitting in a corner, beatifically reading about Kangana Ranaut and ‘How-a-squirrel-in-Toronto-steals-a-Mars-bar” and occasionally chortling to himself. This, I should add is a particularly baffling occurrence.

This is an on-going study, so additional findings will be published as and when discovered.

P.S. I have to add a word of gratitude to the jamai-feller here, for allowing me to write stuff like this in the first place.

P.P.S Incidentally, a friend of mine (who knows my er ..Idiosyncrasies) has plans to brainwash the self same jamai feller to start a blog where people (she!) can see his views of marriage and misadventures. Thank God, he hates typing!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Finding Francis

Eleven o clock on a dark wintry evening. Agent 011 with a frown on her face was sitting in the specially built, black-yellow supersonic car, clutching the documents close to herself.

Her mind flashed back to the conversation she had with her boss. Agent B. The Head of Intelligence operations in the organization and in the country.

The very ordinary, desiccated looking Agent B. Behind his rather inconsequential facade was a razor sharp mind that controlled some of the biggest brains in the country. The normally cynical and unflappable B was worried. One could see it by the way he paced up and down his cabin.

"This is the biggest thing to hit us in a long long time" he told Agent 011. "Have you any idea how big it is? Even the President is small change!"

The President. The mysterious man in the trademark hat. The man behind the scenes - the mastermind of the Organization. Second in command to the Chairman. One of the most powerful men the Organization has seen.

Agent B continued.” This has global implications. The future of our entire organization across the world is at stake." "Like us, ten countries across the world a similar top secret information collation has taken place. We need to get this information, the documents and the recording of the information to the global HQ in New York. Any errors, the documents falling into the hands of the enemy is curtains for us.”

"You need to identify the head of operations. Francis is his name and get this document and the evidence to him. Make sure you get it to HIS hands only and no one else. Francis is one of the cleverest people in the setup. He has been working undercover in **** (mentioned the codeword of the organization) He will ferry it to the right places. BUT" and a pause here.” You have to get it to him by midnight. By midnight, it has to reach him so that he can convey it to HQ by Friday. By midnight the shift also changes - so you will not be able to meet him and any delay spells doom."

"..And 011.."Agent 011 paused and looked up “It’s dangerous. There are spies everywhere. Be careful"

So here was Agent 011 sitting in the car going to pick up the recording from Agent 017 and Agent 021 who were at the top-secret underground estate located in an innocuous looking mill.

She looked up, out through the dark tinted glasses at the road. The terrain seemed unfamiliar.
Desolate and gloomy and a winding road that seemed to go nowhere.
A few minutes of panic. Could there be an infiltrator? Was the man driving the car - the enemy? Looked at him. She had carefully selected him from the line of supersonic cars because his face was familiar and she was certain she had used him on a mission earlier. Decided to cross check anyways – everyone had their price!

Rapped against his seat - “Where are you going?"

"The place where you told Me."

"This is not the road. Is there another entryway to the place? What are the directions I gave you?"

The driver replied "It’s the same place!"

A look at the directions printed on the wireless indicated that there are two such locations in the city. The driver had gone to the wrong one. (Murphy operates even in super secret missions). Clock was ticking. Hurried messaging exchanged between the two agents and the driver skid to a stop, and rushed back in the other direction.

As luck would have it the shortest route was fraught with many obstacles that had to be crossed, the road was riddled with some sort of big craters as if some enemy had destroyed the expressways. The roads were abuzz with people – civilians’ maybe. But she thought not – they were probably counter espionage agents trying to retard her progress. And even at that time of the night, there were hordes of vehicles on the street commuting in a completely erratic manner which suggested a desire to self destruct.

Suddenly the car screeched to a halt. Agent 011 glanced at her watch while simultaneously making a lunge for the door.

Agent 017 was pacing up and down the stairway smoking cigarettes like a chimney. Not a good sign at all.

“What’s the matter?” agent 011 managed to rasp out “Where are the documents?”

“That moron agent 021 – he has gone and done something to the software. Everything has come to a grinding halt. I am sure he is related to the President or something. There is no other way he could have got a job in this place else blah blah blah”

017 continued his diatribe. Normally agent 011 would have been more than happy to join him in bashing up agent 021 – an embarrassment to the agency-(he had single handedly managed to goof up almost ungoofable projects). But there was no time. Francis had to be caught.

She rushed to the InfoTech hub- the top secret state of the art facility housed in the most unlikely place. Agent 021 was making bleating noises standing behind another agent (unknown to 011) who looked anything but happy to have him there.

“What’s the status 021?”

021 jumped – startled. “Oh they have just managed to start it up again – but it means a delay of half an hour”

011 cursed fluently under her breath. And then cursed some more. “We DO NOT have the luxury of half an hour. WHY THE beep-beep did you not do this earlier?” Turns to the other agent.” I am sorry – but maximum time we have is seven minutes.”
Joins 017 in pacing outside. 017 is still continuing his soliloquy on the utter incompetence of 021. 011 is almost tempted to poach a cigarette off him though she doesn’t smoke. No one warned her about the stress of joining an intelligence agency.

Whips out her communicator instead and tries to dial Francis. As luck will have it Francis is missing in action. Calls up his deputy and tells him about the delay. The deputy, who apparently has not been briefed about the documents, insists that Francis cannot be found and does not seem to realize the importance of getting the parcel to global headquarters on time.
011 jumps back inside. Unknown agent, fingers flying over the keyboard is trying to crash a half an hour process into a few minutes. Seven minutes come and go. 011 tries Francis again on the communicator. No luck. Contemplates calling Agent B but decides against it. By some magic unknown agent has managed to finish the work (in a record eleven minutes). Grabs the documents from him and sprints to the supersonic car. Agent 017 runs behind her and jumps into the front seat.

With a squeal of tires the car takes off. Again the road seems to have been destroyed in some mission. Desperately tries to get the location of Francis on GPRS. Ten minutes. Each moment is nerve-wracking. 017 is busy urging the driver to hurry. Driver sensibly points out that he cannot fly. 011 is taking deep breaths and calling upon the names of every God known to mankind to come to their aid.

Entry into the maze where Francis operations are conducted from. A labyrinth like place in pitch darkness. One lone man in the corner. 017 jumps out and runs to ask him the way.
Seven minutes later – both agents make a spectacularly hurried entrance (jumping from a moving car) into operations center. The time -11.57.

Ask for Francis. The deputy there looks at the disheveled agents and says “I think Francis has left”

Heart stopping moments for the agents. Then miraculously luck (FINALLY) decides to favor them. Francis himself walks out. Documents safely given to him. The time 11:59.

The world and the organization apparently will live to see another day.

(This was written about three years ago. To put it in context, this was for a Global new business pitch worth well LOTS of money by advertising standards. Agent 011, in addition to the sundry tasks in getting the country strategy in place had the all-important work of catching the 12 o clock courier (The elusive Mr. Francis) – as usual advertising people will ALWAYS work at the nth moment so getting the presentation and the films/recording to the courier was fraught with tension – apparently more than usually so – the resulting trauma led to this post)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Identity crisis

What’s in a name said the old Bard feller. Well, if he had to change names - he might have sung a different tune.

I find myself suffering from writers’ cramp every time I write my name these days. The original name pretty much covered seventy percent of the alphabet – the addition of one more name causes a bit of a glut.

It all started when I got married. I have had the old handle for darn too long to willingly contemplate parting with it (its not even women’s lib or anything militantly feministic – just sheer familiarity.)

However, the materfamilias started their collective guilt-tripping – “HOW can you not take their name? They will get offended/hurt/ostracized!”/ “It will be a problem on your passport you know – your marital status will say married but will not reflect in your name” /”What will you do when you have kids – they will have problems with admissions” and much else in the same vein
(Incidentally the in-laws and outlaws have discreetly forborne to have ANY opinion on this.)

I countered with a - I have worked far too long. I have a reputation (sic!) in the industry – do you expect me to throw all that away and go back to being a fresher? Besides, all my official documents are all on the old name. And I am damned if I can remember one more signature (as it is I barely recall the old one).

So we settled on hyphenation. And therein starts the problem.

No one seems to want to use both the surnames. Most people chose whichever they want to depending on temperament and upbringing.

At work, my boss who is a disgruntled ex-advertising-feller-in-a-strange-alien-workplace (like me) usually uses my first surname. The Human resource female (who seems to have made it her life’s mission to remind me of my marital status – she comes wearing a wig of sindoor and has her wedding snaps as a screen saver) always uses the latter (using a prefix ‘Mrs” in all official communication – which incidentally annoys the shit out of me).The rest use one or the other or both or none (“oi there..c’mere”)

My official email id uses the earlier name. My business cards use both. My appointment letter uses the new one.

In Bombay I use the first name. In Pune (depending on who is within earshot) I use the other.

For the purpose of piety (temples) I use the latter (Actually I use only my first name and someone else adds the suffix) and for the profane (shopping!) I use the former.

This whole double identity thing is beginning to muddle my brains a little. I catch myself wondering what name to use when people ask for it these days - occasionally doing a mental inky-pinky-ponky to chose. I have tried using both – but usually by the time I am half way through the first name people lose interest in what I am saying. The other day I actually forgot both the names and stood there blankly for a few minutes. Then I had the happy thought of offering my christened name and sacrificing both the last names. I have toyed with the idea of converting myself into a south Indian and just using the initials (or better still abandon both the names and use the town)

The other day, after ranting on this for fifteen minutes on this I look expectantly at the hero. He grins at me and asks – “I forgot to ask you – what do you use as your middle name?”

Maybe ill just call myself Oi.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Death of an idealist

The other day we went home to see one of our neighbours forlornly sitting outside waiting for her family to come back to let her inside the house.

I do not know much about her – just the occasional smile in the foyer or elevator. She always appears to me like the archetype for the old socialist-journalist-rebel-evangelists – replete with loose male checked shirts and baggy ill-fitting trousers - right upto spectacles strung around the neck (the sort they used to depict in old arty movies).

S had told me once that he thought she and her husband were separated- which might be the case. At any rate it seems a strange sort of marriage – months pass before we see her interspersed with periods where she resides perfectly amicably with the family- albeit like a guest. Her school going children always have this slightly woebegone expression which lonely people wear- suffice to say it’s not your ordinary Mr and Mrs Kulkarni next-door-neighbour.

Anyways coming back to what I was saying - I invited her in till such time her family returned – the first time I ever spoke to her. She came in – after the initial warm up period she opened up. Turned out to be an exceedingly garrulous and opinionated person with ideas and views on pretty much everything – from the state of the building, to the proper way of collecting money for festivals, to disaster management, to the fact that she was going abroad for a year to study and had brought a flat in the building for an obscene amount of money on for no reason but sentiment (because the old owner who she idolized had died). Underlying the whole conversation was a core of absolute utter idealism such as one sees but rarely in today’s cynical age. This accompanied by the complete myopia of idealism - so caught up in the ideas and the thoughts of a better world that practicalities completely pass them by.

She stayed for almost two hours – kept on getting up to leave and would suddenly launch on to another pet peeve and continue for the next twenty minutes (I have to admit that after a long day at work, it was exceedingly taxing for both of us to politely listen - when all we actually wanted to do was eat dinner and unwind). After she finally went, the impression she left us with was someone who was completely passionate about the causes ( and people) she supported, verging on being eccentric, with few regards for social niceties and with a strong (if unexpected streak) of social snobbery.

So that was that we thought. But the next day another neighbour dropped by in the morning for some building work. She also sat down to talk and in the middle of her conversation emphatically said that the other lady was stark staring insane. A discomfited S, who was the recipient of this disclosure called me up to say that he felt like someone had told him that he had met a ghost the previous night. We discussed it for a while and wrote off the other lady (who had made this remark) as probably being a spiteful, vindictive neighbour.

A couple of days later – S happened to be talking to the idealist’s husband – he ALSO referred to his wife and accompanied it by tapping his head indicating that there was indeed some problem. (Which in retrospect was completely unforgivable of him – you don’t mockingly refer to your wife like that in front of a passing acquaintance)

We don’t know whether she indeed has disassociated herself from reality – or whether tragically, we live in a society where anyone who is an idealist is written off as insane.

If one thinks about it, the social crusades to change the world, passionate commitment to an ideology, getting fired up in the name of something – I wonder why we don’t see that anymore. Social consciousness if it exists – appears to be a more tepid version. Popular culture, television – one sees mobs yes, but they don’t’ seem to be mobs who want to make the world a better place (the opposite of that if at all).

The people who don’t crave for money and its trappings, or fame or power – how easy it is to write them off at best as anachronisms, misfits in a consumerist world or even people who have lost touch with reality- like our neighbour.

I look at myself – ten years I could call myself an idealist. I did have dreams of a better world. I did have a strong social consciousness. I did not worry about how and where money came from and went to. And I look at the change in myself and wonder. And I look at the change in the people around me and wonder some more.

I wonder whether collective idealism has finally been beaten out of us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pomes of wanderlust!

Goonda and I were doing some intense discussion on poetry and philosophy the other afternoon and we realized one shocking fact.
While there were reams and reams of word gushing from male poets on wanderlust and travel. There has been not even a whisper from any femmes. We decided to remedy this with our very own humble submission. (Mr. Yeats please don’t spin in your grave)

I will arise now and go and make some tea
And a small breakfast built of eggs and bread made
Nine baked beans will I have there and a hive for honey for the toast
And eat all this in some cozy tree-shade

And I shall have some juice there
For juice comes dripping slow
Dropping from the juicer into the tall big glass
Dripping after whales of effort
To where the bai groans

I will arise and go now
For always night and dayI hear sounds of the dhobi, milkman, maid
Banging on the door,
Or moping with low sounds by the floor

(P.S. I don't know why we butchered one of my all time favorite poems. Sigh. Nothing is sacrosanct any more)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Continued from here - ( since rediff has given up on me!)

All of last week has been chaotic – eighteen and twenty hour days and one memorable all-nighter at the agency.

This agency is located bang opposite a crematorium and if the people are to be believed, there is a spectral presence which haunts the ladies restroom.
During the night we spent there, it didn’t show its presence except for the fact that the AC in the conference room used to mysteriously be turned off every time the room was empty. The conclusion we drew therefore, was that it was an economical-minded ghost or someone with a low tolerance to cold (considering the way the damn room freezes, I am inclined to think it was the latter).

Strangely enough, my office (where I have also been working late) also has its own apparition – also in the ladies. (Apparently, the plot on which the buildings were built was an old gypsy burial ground). This lady haunts the last stall and consequently the plumbing never works (or so goes the myth).

One night I thought I would investigate – but when I went there, the place was in pitch darkness. So though I claim I don’t believe in ghosts, – I am not quite fool enough to be disproved (especially when I am the only person left in office)

Quite a curious coincidence I thought. That both the ghosts chose to favour the ladies room. So I did on online search and apparently it’s quite a common phenomenon across the globe – I saw articles of sightings in Japan, US, France.

So the question is why do lady ghosts like the ladies room?

Is it because the famed female narcissism spills over to the after life?
She-ghost: “Darling, do you think I am looking too pale and washed out today?”
He-ghost: “”

Is it because that’s where the most interesting gossip is swapped?

Is it because it provides the ideal balance of solitude and company?

Is it because they like to clean themselves?