Monday, December 03, 2007

Lofty Dreams and Little Ones

Dreams are either lofty or little ones. Some people think big and actually pursue their dreams. That separates them from the aam admi, the hoi polloi. Others are happy with their little dreams. Manjari Shukla, a classmate at the university, called up and asked me what I am doing with my life. Working for a corporate university. And why? Because I have a son to raise. So what's your dream? I don't have one. Why don't you write?

Yes, I've heard that from another Manjari (Manjari Rathi), my best buddy colleague ever. She is the most apolitical person I've ever met. Everybody in the office is a mini politician otherwise. The Bongs stick to the Bongs but backstab them, the Mallus are always going on and on in Malayalam. The Punjoos are always talking about Mrs Chopra's new sofa and Mr Chaddha's tax evasion strategies and the Gujjus about how tasty vegetarian food can be and how one makes better dhoklas than the other. Manjari isn't into any of this. Her ethnicity is hardly discernible because she comes across primarily as an Indian, which is such a welcome change. She is nice. She wants me to write too.

So does Christine. "You must write your memoirs," she wrote once. Christine was my boss earlier and I guess we connected for a brief period once. She feels I should write my memoirs. About how the urban Indian woman has changed from being absolutely inaccessible thirty years ago to someone who would sleep with you tonight and forget about you the next morning. How they have triumphantly crossed the virtual limits put around them by the misogynistic society of this subcontinent. How, despite facing a lot of discrimination at the workplace and otherwise, they are breaking all the barriers and coming out. This is nothing short of a revolution, only we haven't been able to accept it as one. We are afraid to accept that the girl student outscores and outshines the male counterpart by a few miles. And one such emancipated young girl walking to her apartment last evening spied three little children playing some weird games. She removed her ipod earplugs, went near them and realized they were playing "sex sex" with each other. Two girls and one boy, probably around seven or eight years old. Every new generation is shocking the earlier one out of their wits. Christine wants me to write about that because she thinks I am a new-age feminist. Because I was particularly polite with her, perhaps? I liked the compliment though. Who doesn't like compliments?

And like them, there are plenty of others who keep asking me to write. Only they forget that I am a person with little dreams. My lofty dreams of being a writer, a rally driver/rider, an actor, a blues harp player are just dreams. I love to live with my immediate, little dreams. What is the difference between the lofty and the little ones? If the lofty one is to be able to write fiction, the little one is to be able to express your immediate angst in a blog. Manini Chatterjee, the editor of The Telegraph (a Kolkata newspaper), once told me why she is not really happy. She has published a couple of books; she has won the Rabindra Puroshkar for her book Do and Die; has a son studying Philosophy and History at St Stephen's, New Delhi; has built a nice retreat up in the hills of Kumaon (remember Jim Corbett, anybody?), but is still not happy. She is content, but not happy. "You know why you and I feel we still have something more to do? That is because we haven't written fiction so far. Our lives will be unfulfilled if we don't get recognition as writers." It was very polite of her to include me in parentheses, but she is a writer and she will be able to write fiction some day. I cannot. Because my dreams are still little and I am talking to you here.

If the lofty one is to be able to beat Moudgil in the Raid de Himalayas next year, the little one is to be able to take my Royal Enfield out every weekend for a 300 km ride. How can you participate in a rally when you have to keep aside money for your son's school fees, your tax-saving investments, your mortgage payments, and other day-to-day expenses? You cannot. You can just buy a copy of the Bike magazine and read about Sachin Chavan, Moudgil, Prashant, Easha, riding up there and living their dreams. I have accepted that I cannot live up to those dreams so I want to live my little dreams of touring. The next little one is to ride all around India, leaving aside the extreme corners of course, alone. Achievable.

Aparna Sen will never know about me, but I feel I am so versatile. I lack any definite topography of face and can pass off as anything from a Korean to a Puerto Rican. I feel I can act. But can I? I can never find out, so that lofty dream has to take a backseat as I sit in my living room and watch Easy Rider, Motorcycle Diaries, Riding Solo to the Top of the World, Amelie, and think about my wrinkles. No little dreams here either. Maybe someday to strap a handycam to the gas tank and ride off, preaching salvation through a surfeit of something you desire for. A time comes when you don't want it that bad.

And my dreams are coming to an end now. The last one is to be a blues harp player. I think of visiting Peter Isaac one day and finding out from him how to think blues. You have to think blues but all I can think while playing is of John Denver, easy John Lennon, and Kishore Kumar. You have to learn to think the blues. That dream is strong, and will probably be the first one I will actually wake up and run after.

But for now, the little one is to be able to sit alone in the attic and hear the echo make my rendition of Chalte Chalte more soulful.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the real thing's missing

We all bribe. When I can't take Aaron out on his bike every day, I end up buying him a scaled-down VW Touareg over the weekend to make up for it.
That is as effective as having a fruit massage instead of eating those fruits. Cucumber, when eaten, is far more effective than when placed on your eyes. Time spent with your kids is a lot more precious than any expensive gifts you might buy them . . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Movies in Batches

I spent the last few months watching really nice movies borrowed from a frnd who has an enviable collection. She doesn't usually lend her movies to people, but thankfully I could impress her by returning the first set on time and stuff like that. She lends me on two conditions: I buy her tuna subs from Subway, and return the movies intact.

Last weekend I watched Crash and Amores Perros. Made by Paul Haggis, this was perhaps the movie I was waiting for for a long time.

Crash, as you know, won something at the Oscars in 2006, but that's not what I wanna talk about. Whether the judges at the Oscars like a movie or not doesn't make any difference to the inherent quality of the movie. If it is a good movie, it attracts a universal audience and doesn't have to win awards. Awards are forgotten the next year but the story remains in your mind and grows old with you. Crash is such a movie.

It has many little stories woven into one, and masterfully so. It captures the stereotypes in a typical American's mind sometimes subtly and sometimes in outrageous hues. A tattooed, hispanic locksmith fixing locks at this white DA's house is bound to sell the duplicate keys to his gang, right? Wrong. He quietly goes home to his daughter and tells her a story of how once an angel gave him a bulletproof cloak. African Americans are bound to always like hip hop? Some even enjoy country music. An apparently racist white cop risks his life saving a black American woman from a car crash, while a politically correct white cop ends up shooting a black guy thinking he is pulling out his gun.

I can't write well enough to do justice to the movie, but whoever has made it, has done a brilliant job. I watched it thrice and every time I enjoyed every bit of it. And each time I could sense even more clearly how it must be to belong to a religious minority in India. What are the stereotypes we have in our minds about Muslims? This theme can be borrowed and adapted to our scenario here. So easily.

We have seen Indian filmmakers telling us about the horrors of particular incidents (can think of Nihalni's Dev about the recent riots in Gujarat and also Aparna Sen's Mr and Mrs Iyer talking about how an urban Muslim guy is protected by a Tamil Brahmin woman by being given a Hindu identity) about the collective fear in our minds, but cannot think of a script that can match that of Crash's right now. There are many stories in many minds . . . is there a chance those stories can be brought together to form a nice script in our Indian context?

Like I wrote earlier, I also watched Amores Perros, a Spanish movie about various characters. This again is a pastiche of people woven brilliantly together, but it is more on an individual level, if you know what I mean. These are stories of individuals and does not address a greater menace like dangerous stereotypes in our minds. Of the two movies, Crash is still alive in my mind. I saved it for the last, and now I have finished watching all the movies in this batch, which also contained Amelie, Cinema Paradiso, Motorcycle Diaries and such biggies. I can't think of these movies as stories told in other languages. They all seem in English to me now that I think of them.

I owe this frnd a lot more tuna subs for helping me discover this moviegoer in me.
The next batch sounds more promising.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Malpe trip

If you are driving in India, you better beware of black cats crossing your path. It is supposed to be dangerous for your onward journey. I have to google for where this superstition came from, because it reeks of some medieval European superstition from the dark ages. Indians, however, being democratic in nature, have included cats of all colors, lest they feel left out. So, to modify my earlier statement, "If you are driving in India, you better beware of cats crossing your path." You are supposed to wait a little and let another vehicle pass you before you move.

However, in Malpe, you don't have the luxury of waiting because you will have cats crossing your path at least ten times a day. Malpe is this fishing town on the West coast of India, and the stench of fish all over this small town is so overpowering, that it draws cats, Mallus, and Bengalis alike. Unable to resist the smell, they run here and there in search of fish (raw for the cats and cooked for the Mallus and the Bengalis)... and are bound to cross your path more often than once. I pardoned the cats and drove on. Driving on and off the beach was our mantra for the four days we were at Malpe.

The trip was an unplanned one, although I had applied for leave on Friday much in advance. We have to go somewhere, but that "where" part was kinda undecided till Oct 31. When we left home early morning on Nov 1, we did not fight over the route much until we reached Nelmangla, 26 kms off Bangalore, on the Pune highway. I was all for driving to Shimoga and then to Gokarna, while Sayantani wanted to turn left toward Mangalore. Her parents must have been silently supporting their daughter sitting on the back seat, because, at Nelmangla my car suddenly veered to the left and went straight towards Hassan. So much for being the driver cum husband cum son-in-law . . . talk about being lonely in a crowded jeep.

The road vanished after crossing Sakleshpur. All the fast cars that had overtaken me earlier were stuck there, trying to negotiate the potholes. Pardon me, guys, for that faint smirk on my lips when I overtook all of them, did the bad roads at speeds of around 30 kph, and left them far behind. The road is nonexistent all the way to Mangalore, so they couldn't catch up with the Bolero even in their wet dreams. However, I must admit that I missed the 16" wheels of the Scorpio. There were some Terracans and Endeavors that didn't need to worry about the potholes at all, but those are real SUVs after all.

Shuvo told us of this really bargain place at Udupi that had big rooms on offer for only Rs 400 a night, but I was skeptical about Udupi being this religious town with only vegetarian food available. I was so mistaken! While I expected young, barebodied, tonsured Brahmins clad in dhoti roaming all around town, I got to see a very cosmopolitan crowd there. The food at Hotel Kediyoor was a wide choice from steaks and cold salads to delicious chicken kababs. Surprise of surprise, there was even a Bunts Hotel serving awesome pork sarpotel, the Catholic cuisine in Mangalore/Malpe. Bengalis always look for places that serve a lot of meat, and once we were satisfied with the menu, we headed toward Malpe beach, only 4 kms from Udupi.

We liked what we saw. The beach was clean and not very crowded. Not much of the local crowd, and not littered with poop either. The fisherfolk on the shores have constructed nice little bamboo toilets for themselves (could have been an NGO that constructed these for them), and we could sit there watching the odd couple making out in the sea. The sea is rough and you are not supposed to swim, but there were adventurous people who could be seen like black dots in a really dark sea till late in the night.

We had an awesome dinner at Paradise Isle Beach resort, facing the beach. They have a nice spread and if you like seafood, you have a lot of choice. At least we thought so until we discovered Hotel Karthick the next day. At Hotel Karthick, you get sting ray (called Torakkai) fried in a lot of masala. It was spicy and can serve as a fantastic starter with beer. One morning we thought of driving some 60 kms to Maravanthe, but had to come back after having traveled 20 kms. The roads were nonexistent as usual, and my in-laws didn't like being tossed around inside the vehicle. The first day they didn't have a choice, but this time round we had to drop the Maravanthe idea and head back to Malpe and Udupi.

We compensated for that by trying a ride on the water scooter. Aaron sat at the front, holding the handlebars and I sat behind the guy who drove it. It was just after sunset and there was a chill in the air that our lifejackets couldn't protect us from. And when this sexy little thing zoomed into the waves and was thrown high up into the air, I could feel my heart trying to come up to my mouth. With my mouth firmly closed I wondered how my little son was braving it, sitting way up front, the first one to take in all the sea water. The thing bounced and almost flew over the water and man, was it scary! We came back intact, thanks to the skilled driver (who tried all sorts of antics with them waves), and little Aaron wanted to do it again. I said it was getting dark and avoided a second trip, but was surprised to learn that while I was trying to hold on to dear life, he actually checked the speedo in that thing!

The route to take while coming back was something that put us in a spot. For the first time we all agreed that we should come back via Manipal, Perdoor, Agumbe, Shimoga. Asked around and even the local guys agreed that this was still an okay road. We started off on Nov 4 with our minds full of the waves, the beach, and the taste of seafood. And it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The road got better after Manipal, and although it was pretty narrow, the greenery all around made up for the slow speeds. We stopped for tea at this time-warped place called Perdoor, where a local gentleman chatted us up. People there seemed untouched by the urban hustle and were nice and smiling. Almost felt like we were back in the hills where people are hospitable and nice. We cheered up and moved on toward the Agumbe ghats. Stopped to click some pictures all through the route until we reached Shimoga. It took us four hours to do only 148 kms, but it was worth the time. Shimoga to Bangalore was the usual route, peppered with aggressive drivers with KA02 and KA03 numberplates. My jeep failed to keep up with the fast cars again as they were happily doing 160 kph, rushing back to the mad, modern world, scowling at life in general. I keep hoping Aaron will not be one of them, but for a guy who checks speedos at the age of five, one can never tell.

P.S. Do check out this video . . .

and for some more pictures, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/42521957@N00/sets/72157602938366911/

Thursday, September 13, 2007

July 2, 2007

We planned to go to Ooty to spend our tenth anniversary. After speculating a lot about the West coast, we realized it is gonna be hazardous to try going anywhere near the sea. There were thunderstorms anywhere and the memory of the tsunami was still fresh on our minds. Ooty again? Nobody liked the idea much, but what the heck!

This is not a travelogue. We reached Ooty and got nice rooms in Hotel Darshan. We could see the Ooty lake from our windows. The food was awesome, and because we mostly had to stay indoors because of the rains, we kept eating and planning the next meal. The only problem was the noise of people pounding up and down the stairs.

On the morning of the 2nd we heard someone screaming and running up the stairs. Very early in the morning. It was my sister, Suchi, running up to inform us about her mom-in-law's death. They had just been informed and we had to leave.

We rushed back to Bangalore airport in about six hours and they left for Kolkata.

Later when I downloaded the pictures from my camera, I realized that the first picture we clicked in Ooty was rather eerie. Uncanny coincidence, but rather scary if you think about it. Was that a hint that there was a death about to happen in the family? Check out the photo and tell me what you think.







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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sept 10, 2000

"Hello Shuvo" she sounded kinda faint over the phone

"Hey mom, where were you all these days?" I could hear my dad prompt her from the side. Then he came on to the phone, "hello?"

"Hi Baba, why don't you guys come over now? Do you want me to send the tickets?"

And they agreed to come over. I was feeling happy all of a sudden because I couldn't remember where my mom had been, and why I thought of buying just one ticket for my dad. She is coming after all.

When the dream ended, I woke up feeling a little sad that it isn't true after all. She is dead and gone.

A little later, while having breakfast, we were calculating this month's expenses and realized that we have run out of all the cash already. How do we manage? We have some Sodexho passes, and can withdraw from another dormant account, etc. were the solutions that came up.

"Fucking tenth of the month and we are broke, huh?"

And that's when it struck me that it is my mom's seventh death anniversary. Sept 10, 2000.
Is it eerie? Is she there? Did she come in a dream or did she really visit me?

I don't have an explanation today. I have a lot of work to finish during which I might even forget to ponder upon this, but I need an answer some time. Was it a remote calendar in my brain that sparked a reminder? The rationalist in me wants to believe that... but this hunger for a supernatural mystery wants me to believe she had come.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who can crush a dinosaur?

These days Aaron keeps quizzing me about everything. If he knows something, he asks me to check if I know the answer too. There is this fossilized corpse of a mosquito on the bedroom wall for many years now. I remember how I jumped and slapped it dead against the wall one evening. It has been there since then, just below the CFL bulb, almost resembling a sketch of a mosquito instead of a real one.

"Who crushed it?"

"I did."

"Can someone crush us against a wall like that?"

"Yeah, why not, an elephant can. A dinosaur could have." I offered.

"And who can crush a dinosaur?"

"Umm...nothing."

"You don't know."

"Who or what can possibly crush a dinosaur like that?"

"Why? What if a rock comes from Mars and falls on earth? Won't it crush the dinosaurs?"

And I wondered who came up with the theory of dinosaurs being destroyed by a large asteroid crashing into our earth. Someone with an unbridled imagination?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Trip

Hey,

You asked me if I ride now.

I used to ride a bicycle from 82 to 95.
And, when you are sleepy, that's where the story ends. When you are partly sleepy, you probably write a few more sentences about the time you went to see a dead Royal Bengal tiger hung from a tree by the villagers who killed her.

Poor girl just escaped from a circus. And looked for a jungle to escape to.

We were either three or five of us on our bikes. Hearing about the tiger in the morning, we went riding to a village some ten kilometers away. Could have been twenty, I won't know. We could ride on and on then and never heard of Tour de France. We could ride without water for hours. Racing each other. We were never tired. It was unheard of. And then played football in the afternoon.

I had a tape recorder that had an output of 2 watts. Sanyo. We would come back and listen to In Square Circle in that. The cassette was recorded from an LP. Stevie Wonder! What a guy, we would think...and then his famous chromatic harmonica. We also had Nat King Cole to listen to. English songs were almost frowned upon unless some really respectable, elderly uncle came and recommended them. Nobody recommended Stevie Wonder I remember. Those fat uncles hadn't heard him. Just Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra. So we got to hear some of their music. Couldn't figure most of what they sang, but we did sing along.

Dad had a Hero harmonica stashed away somewhere. It was a C. I started on that later. Much later, after I left school. Michael Jackson's Thriller was available too. Just one copy that changed hands. A cassette tape.

And Europe. The Final Countdown. Cyndi Lauper. All on the Sanyo.

You asked me if I ride now. I used to. Trip, that is.
Keep writing. And do sign in to chat too. You ride now, I know. I will join you like I joined my gang of little urchins every day. Just let my knees heal...

Me

Forgotten Names

When Bini died, I didn't go to see her. I could not look to the end of the street where her mom kept her body and was crying. I didn't see Bini when she was alive either, but her mom Aduri used to do the dishes at our place for a meagre sum of Rs 30 a month. This is way back in the 70s, so I guess she could make do with whatever amount she earned then. I just hope she could. I don't know. Like I never could get myself to go up to her and console her for her daughter's death, I couldn't look at the little hut they used to live in. The hut was so low, one would have to crawl inside. I would walk past. But I was pretty civil to Aduri. In fact loved it when she came over to clean the house. I wouldn't have to study then. I would just follow her from one room to another and listen to her speak.

I could speak her dialect. And she definitely took pride in that.

My mom, when she gottu know about Bini's ailment, paid for her treatment at our local hospital. But they couldn't save her. And I forget what happened to her. And cannot ask my mom either because mom too passed away some years back. And believe me, she has taken away with her some awesome recipes...of dishes that I grew up on. I miss her.

Aduri in Bengali means someone who is loved and cuddled all the time. Our Aduri definitely didn't have time for that. She was too busy working as a household help in some ten houses all through the day. And in the night her drunk husband would either beat her up or try to get her pregnant again. That is, unless she already was pregnant.

She was always pregnant. When I remembered Bini's death (just the faint wail of Aduri sitting at the corner of the street in front of her body) last night, I placed a hand on Aaron. He was trying one of his Z poses in his sleep as usual. He can be a great contortionist. One just has to make him sleep during the show.

And then I wondered how Aduri would have felt at her death. She couldn't cry her heart out...she didn't have time time. And then she had her other children to feed. Her eldest was a son, probably my age, a guy who played all day. Believe me, I envied him. I met him later when I was in senior school. I had gone to one of the local hooch shops to buy liquor for the first time in my life. Me and some friends of mine went up to the shop and bought some country liquor, saying it was for our dads! As if the guy selling the stuff cared who we were buying it for. I don't remember how much it was for, but we did fall short by ten rupees. And this fellow, Aduri's son, lent that money to me.

I never saw him after that. I eventually left Durgapur and then moved on to Banaras, Delhi, and then Bangalore and forgot all about him until last night. I remembered him because I remembered Bini. Or her death. But I don't remember his name. He must be grown up now, working somewhere. And I calculated how much I owe him back. Going by the sensex way back in 79 at 100 points, I should owe him a lot today. The sensex has breached the 15,000 mark, and those ten rupees would be? Rs 15,000.

I called up my friend in Durgapur today. He said he will find out about Aduri. She must be really old, probably still working as hard, scrubbing the plates, mopping the floors...how much do we actually owe her? Can I buy her a retirement package? Not with Rs 15,000 for sure. You can buy just a couple of standing wooden speakers from Sonodyne with that kinda money. And I've been eyeing the Sonodyne Sonus speakers for the last three years now.

What if I say I don't have that money? Will the wail stop coming back to me?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Trust


I'd been meaning to write about trust for a long time, but I guess I needed to be pushed into writing about this. There is this picture of a waiter passing a laden tray from one compartment of a train to another waiter in another compartment. The funny thing is, the train is moving, and they are hanging out of their respective compartment doors to reach out to each other, their lives depending on how strongly the handles are bolted to the door. Each handle is bolted to a door at two ends, with two bolts at each end. Enough to make you trust the strength of that handle. Enough for you to lean out and be sure you won't be thrown out onto the cactii in the fields.

We trust our machines. When I ride through the 40 kms stretch inside a jungle infested with elephants and even tigers, I trust my motorbike not to break down. I trust that any nail lying on the road would not pierce my tube and deflate it. Such is the strength of trust. And most people garner immense strength from their trust in various gods. When you don't have any gods to turn to, you have to trust yourself. I know my engine is sound enough not to break down now. I know the tyres and tubes are new and "shouldn't" ideally go flat, leaving me an easy prey to whoever is out there, waiting.

And being able to trust gives you a lot of strength. When you know you can close your eyes and just let go backward knowing someone's behind you to hold your fall, you feel powerful. You feel cushioned and safe. And we all need that cushion. And I am happy for all of you who have found your cushion in god/s. For others who do not have that luxury, there are other people. Like today if I want to talk my heart out to someone and I know I can trust one person, I am lucky.

Tomorrow, if that person spills my secrets to someone not even distantly related, you suddenly fall. It's like you were promised that you will be held from behind when you fell, but it was just a prank being played on you. Imagine someone cutting off your bungee ropes?

So, for people who haven't the luxury of sitting in front of some gods and pouring out their miseries, for people who have to turn to other people to even talk normally ... there's a fine catch. Can you trust an apparently trustworthy person? Someone who appears to be a wall, taking in all, can actually be like a dam on the other side, gushing everything out for public consumption.

It is absolutely okay when you don't find out. It is quite another when you do. Those are times you wish you allowed your neighbor to give you that labrador pup.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

hospitalis

I was walking out of the hospital reception when I overheard this conversation between the lady at the reception and a guy from Near East, probably a Turk:

"Afterr this you go to Radiology for Yax-Ray, saar, and then you had your breakfast with this coupon," said the nurse as she handed over a coupon to the guy.

"I haven't had my breakfast, madam," the guy was a little puzzled by now. He had probably come for his fasting blood sugar check up and now had to eat at the cafetaria upstairs. But the nurse insisted that he had had his breakfast already.

"Yes, yes...you go had yourrr breakfast now..."

At this point I had already reached the door and couldn't really stay back to hear the rest of the conversation and how it was eventually resolved, so I stepped out. I had given my blood for various kind of tests, but I was unsure whether these guys did an HIV test as well. So I approached the lady at the HCU desk, "Hi, does this VDRL also include HIV?"

"Uh? No, sir."

"Can I get an HIV test done?"

The lady went violet and looked away. As if I had asked her to come home for coffee.

"Hullo? I asked you something..." I tried again.

"Santoshaaa?" she screamed at the ward boy, "Idu pyapera nodi," she instructed him after handing him a sheet of paper, and walked away without replying.

I mean, where do you get an HIV test done if not at the Wockhardt Hospitals certified by the Harvard Medical Association?

P.S. And what shit was on the muzak?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Haloom

Meghadoot called up this morning and said Haloom. And then we went on how apart from being a tiger's roar in Bengali, it also can be a sondhi of Hello and Shalom.

After debating on how loud a Haloom should be for about five minutes, we discussed football. About Zidane and about a businessman who wants to send his son to Germany to learn football after he finishes school. He might say futbol, but at least won't call it soccer for no reason. What's wrong with the Americans?

Aaron and I were downstairs playing basketball when Meghadoot called. It soon changed to football because I was holding the phone in one hand. I hit him with the ball once. Not purposely though. I am bad at football. At basketball too. We couldn't slam dunk many times after that. There is this small basket at the basement. Belongs to Ashwin who plays tennis mostly.

Came up for Loknath Baba's payesh. My in-laws believe one Loknath Baba lived for 150 years. So they made payesh for him. Which we had to eat. Payesh is sweet. And harmful. No wonder Loknath Baba couldn't live beyond 150 years. He must've died of excessive sugar.

Now Aaron wants to go downstairs with the basketball which he will use as a football anyway. Babu and I kicked his football into the sea once. It came back but was soggy.

It happens to be my 36th birthday and I am still in my pajamas. And this keyboard downstairs at Babu's place sucks. But he has a faster net connection.

Now my mouth is sour from all the sweet payesh I had eaten just ten minutes back. Shit. What a birthday.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"A short dictionary of misunderstood words" (part two)

45% in MA English Literature: Just stand up and salute if you come across someone who has scored these marks from Calcutta University. Because, for all you know, this person can write ten dissertations on anything starting from Chaucer down to Saul Bellow or even Toni Morrisson. He/she is nothing short of a genius. This person will also tell you everything about one Zimmermann, and probably play the harmonica or the guitar better than your neighbor in California. This person will also put New Orleans to shame with his/her knowledge of jazz music. You see many of them working for The Statesman or The Telegraph. Such men are bearded and wear glasses. The women wear glasses and sport khadi kurtas.

Such a person will perpetually be found smoking rolled tobacco. They are Democrats.

Sourav Ganguly: My weakness too. Horribly sinned against by the rest of the regional cricket boards in India, this former captain of the Indian cricket team is very unIndian in his charisma and strength of character. Someday will be the Prime Minister of India. Amen.

Bearded fellow: While in the rest of India a beard is almost synonymous to being a Mussalman, in Calcutta it signifies the urge to be known as an intellectual. Anybody who wears a beard is either dabbling in poetry or the arts of some kind. Do not discourage them. At least that keeps them from being communal.

Poet: Everybody has tried poetry, so don't go around saying you are a poet. Everybody is a poet in Calcutta. And believe me, this is the only city where anthologies find buyers. Be it Bishnu De, Sunil Ganguly, Allen Ginsberg, or Jim Morrisson, Calcuttans read all poets.

Artist: Again...a generic plague. Everybody is an artist. Everybody can be seen doodling in class. Except for the ones who come to Calcutta to study engineering.

Books: I mean, if a book hasn't sold in Mexico? It will still find many buyers in Calcutta. They are suckers for the printed word.

Godmen: Conmen

America: God's own country

Calcutta: Now this is the toughest term, man. Every Calcuttan thinks Calcutta is very prominent in the world map. Like Sourav Ganguly, Calcutta was once the capital of British India. (Calcuttans love everything British btw. Even a Calcuttan who opens his umbrella when it rains in Beijing would love the idea of speaking perfect RP. Try telling him that RP is long dead, but nobody is listening.) And now, New Delhi, a place that belongs to nobody and is ruled by the aggressive, uneducated, and philistine Northies, happens to be the capital of India.

Someday, Calcuttans would love to bring it back to Calcutta. That status, the glory of being the only emancipated city in India.

"A short dictionary of misunderstood words" -- Milan Kundera

If you come to Calcutta in 2008, Strunk, here's a short dictionary of Bengali terms for you. It is not in any order and is in no way comprehensive. But a start, nonetheless.

Communication gap (occupational hazard for a Calcuttan): This happens quite often in Calcutta. The buses go on strike or the metrorail service between Tollygunge and Dumdum is suspended. People, who mostly use public transport, panic about a sudden communication gap. Otherwise, the communication inside Calcutta is pretty okay. Public communication, I mean.

Do not use the term "commute." You may be held as a CIA spy trying to find out about the Communists in Calcutta.


Presentation (n.): If you find someone fretting about what presentation to give, do not offer him/her any help. I know you would be tempted to from your vast experience in giving presentations everywhere from your college to all the STC conferences in the world, but you know zilch about how to give a presentation in Calcutta. In Calcutta, a presentation is a gift. And every wedding season you can find people scratching their heads about what presentation to give. Nothing to do with PowerPoint, lemme tell you.

Markin/Markini (adj): There will be many podia on which people can be seen calling America and George Bush names. Never go near those gatherings. In West Bengal you can get votes and stay in power for more than forty years if you keep shouting slogans against Markini Capitalism and Oppression. Markini is "American," by the way. Bengalis will side with the Cubans, the Talibans, the Bamiyans, the Iraqis, the Democrats, the Russians, the Chinese, but send their children only to Republican America to study and work. (I wonder what harm the Americans have done to the Bengali Communists. Can you find out?)

Samrajyabadi: The guys who talk about Samrajyabadi are most often seen at the foreign exchange counters selling the dollars sent by their children. I still haven't figured what it means, but it is used in a derog sense. If you are not begging on the streets or are not a laborer waiting outside a locked out factory, you are a samrajyabadi. And that is very bad, lemme tell you. Hey you, you have money? You are a samrajyabadi. (I agree with Russell Peters that being called Samrajyabadi is way better than being called a "fucking blow job" for which there is no good comeback, but being called samrajyabadi is almost equally bad.)

*someone translated for me: it means a capitalist. You do NOT wanna be called a capitalist in Communist Calcutta.


Jewish: Equivalent to Christians to Calcuttans.

"I put my daughter in The Jewish Girls' School."

"Oh, really? Good thing, bhai. She will learn good Christian values. They do have a chapel inside, I believe? With an organ? I am looking at the AG Mission school for my son. These Catholic missionary schools teach good English."

(And obviously you can see that the difference between Catholic and Protestant is lost to an average Calcuttan.)

White: Christian

European: Hippie/backpacker/Salvation Army Guest House

American: "You fucking Samrajyabadi!!"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lamda

I forget how a Lamda looks like and neither do I want to look it up on the net. But I cannot forget our Lamda, Amitava, who had a crazy monkey kinda smile. Dunno if he was called Lamda because of his stretched smile or because he always studied Math, but he was our Lamda. I hated him. I hated him because he was always with a girl whom I fancied since I was in standard V. They were just friends, but I just couldn't stand the sight of him. Look at the privileged bugger who always gets to go meet her. They often studied together as I cycled up and down their street in frustration waiting for a glimpse. There were many times when I could see her standing in the garden, but could never muster enough courage to look her in the eye. Lamda had no such worries. He wasn't in love with her and could just walk up to her, give her a pat on the bum, and sit with their Math.

Bloody Math. Why do you think I hate Math so much?

April, 1989. It was time for our higher secondary exam and an unknown fear gripped me. I hadn't studied as much as I had cycled in front of her house. My legs were strong by then but not my Physics and Chemistry. I had, by then, decided that Math was not for me and had taken up Biology, a subject I quite liked. And there were no Lamdas in Biology. Neither did our Lamda like the subject much. I had to somehow manage to pass Physics and Chemistry, but I was clueless about how.

The first day when I saw my allotted seat in the exam hall, I almost fainted. Had it been in a movie, I surely would have. I was on the first bench, seated next to Hyder Ali, someone I didn't quite look up to as far as studies were concerned. Hyder, unlike his namesake, was no fierce fighter even. He was a mild, dumb guy, who studied hard but couldn't fathom anything. That kind of placed both of us on the same boat. Two people who knew virtually nothing about Physics and Chemistry, seated next to each other, as if by Providence, on the first bench.

The first exam was on Bengali language and literature and I fared pretty well, although by now I was certain I would fail in the main exam. The next day was our English exam. Again, not much of a problem. After four days of that, on the 10th of April, 1989, was the Physics exam. There were guys like me praying before entering the hall. And I did not have anybody to pray to and felt rather helpless. I prayed to Hyder "please, help me pass, boss" and he gave me a puzzled look. He had kind of accepted his fate. He wouldn't cheat or copy from someone else. He knew he would fail. And keep trying to pass every year. The blank look in his eyes compounded my fear because after the chapter on Vectors, I had stopped going to school. The exam commenced and I slid toward Hyder and copied everything from him blindly. I must have written his answers in correct English at the most. But that day is still hazy in my mind. Fear can cloud your memory, take it from me. And the fear of failing board exams is bigger than the fear of being shot dead by a Taliban terrorist. Believe me, it was nothing short of death.

And Lamda died that night. I mean, he went all the way to Burdwan (some 60 kms from where we stayed) and committed suicide by laying his head before an oncoming train. When they later discovered his body, his hands were placed calmly on his chest. He hadn't made a last-ditch attempt to clamber away from the track. And they also found his head on the other side of the track, his eyes closed and his face determined.

We had four days before the next exam and news of Amitava's death had spread among all the students. I heard that my crush had even cried for those four days and couldn't study. But somehow my hatred for Amitava had vanished and I couldn't refer to him as Lamda any more.

I don't remember how the rest of the exams got over. But the invigilators were lenient. They wouldn't mind if I copied from Hyder or Sujoy from the second row. They didn't want another boy to die.

I passed, thanks to Hyder. Hyder failed, like he knew he would. And Amitava passed his Physics exam with really good marks. I want to meet and tell him that he passed and that he can come back from wherever he is. But he chose to go really far away, I think.

WFP

Crazy, you know, all this talk about the Himalayas melting and the polar ice caps melting one day soon. How can I ride a bicycle to the office? But if they are true, Aaron will witness a huge flood in his lifetime. And maybe many will survive because there will be another Noah.
How come all religions have a reference to a great flood? Did someone survive to tell the story?
Crazy fucking swimmers they musta been, what? Of swimming sir, there are these summer camps where they throw you deep into the water and make you utterly paranoid about water.

Learn to ride a tsunami, i guess. buy a surfboard and start practising.
WFP is the World Food Program. We will eat the vegetarians when there is an acute food shortage someday.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A ride to the land of beef momos



After our weekend trip to Bylakuppe, Sayantani and I want to convert to Buddhism, but Aaron doesn’t seem very convinced. Born to an atheist dad and a Hindu mom, and armed with a Jewish name, he cannot be more confused. His reason: that stall selling your dinner stinks. Don’t believe him, that curd-rice eater, because that stall selling our dinner smelled of awesome, fresh beef momos. (Tip to couples thinking of producing babies in Bangalore: do it at the risk of your child turning into a vegetarian!!)

We started on Saturday thinking we will come back from Mysore if Aaron can’t take the ride. At four years and 10 months, he is not yet a rider, even if he is strapped to me and sits in front holding the handlebar. He tends to fall asleep and that’s when our woes begin. But this time we started early, at around 5.45 a.m., and reached IndraDhanush (next to Shivali restaurant on Mysore Road) by 7.30.
There he got enough time to eat, relax, and even play around before we started toward Bylakuppe again at 8.30. It was a longish stop, but we owed him that much. He had to digest the idlis. We didn’t eat much, keeping our stomachs ready for the gastronomic delight awaiting us at Bylakuppe.

After Srirangapatna, the road turns right towards the Ranganthittu Bird (and Crocodile) Sanctuary. And that is the road leading to Madikeri, the locals told us. The speed came down drastically because the road is narrow and a single carriageway, but the beauty all around kept us absolutely cool. I mean “cool,” because for the next 20 kilometers we had huge trees on both sides of the road keeping the sun out. After that the road is almost made and we could make up for lost time doing good speeds till Hunsur and even beyond Hunsur. Just before Bylakuppe, say about a kilometer before, the bad road starts. It continues to be bad till Madikeri, as we discovered the next day.

Bylakuppe at 10.40 a.m. Not bad, the sun’s still not hot, we could keep our jackets on throughout the ride. Six kilometers inside the Tibetan camp is the Namdorling monastery, and the Paljor Dhorgey Ling guest house on the opposite side. Dhorgey is pronounced dorjey. The room we got was decent enough with two beds and a nice attached toilet. All for Rs 350. Now, that’s what I call sasta tikau. The lama at the reception, Dawa, doesn't smile much, but is pretty hospitable otherwise.

A frantic search for curd rice took us to an Indian restaurant downstairs, Shanthi (with the “h”). We fed Aaron there and rushed to look for momos. Inside the monastery there is a canteen that serves Tibetan food. We had our lunch there, but found better momos that evening at Yakar hotel (first camp, a kilometer inside the main gate).

Sunday we headed for Madikeri and both Sayantani and I came back with aching bones. The ride was very bumpy and Madikeri in the middle of the day is not as pretty as we remembered it from 2003. It is hot, sunny, and the view nothing spectacular. Took some boring pictures from Raja’s Seat and headed back. Again, for momos. Thank Lord Buddha for the MRF Nylogrip Meteor rear tyre I got for my bike. It is 4.3 inches wide and bore the brunt of the potholes.

Sunday afternoon was spent relaxing in the Tibetan camp, riding our bike throughout the camp and buying some Tibetan prayer items and CDs. I also bought a couple of nakli adidas tees, that wife thinks are too bright to be worn in Bangalore. But I will give them a try some time for sure.

After stuffing ourselves with almost 100 momos each in those two days (am exaggerating, musta been around 80 each), we headed back to Bangalore on Monday. Early morning, again. Reached Bangalore around 10.50 in the morning and called up office to say am not coming in. Why? Because I am still having momos in Bylakuppe. Shh!

P.S. Momos are dumplings with minced beef stuffed in them. Enough to make you want to be a Buddhist and support the cause of Tibet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What's the Point?

(this post has been removed by the author for unknown reasons...)