Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of slippers and slipping away

Have you seen those jute Osho sandals? They are cool, eco friendly, and loved by all the white tourists who come to India. Not just the hippies, but also the normal tourist who wants to wear flipflops and "feel" India. I bought a pair in 2005, but this story is about 1992, when I had no idea where these beautiful jute sandals came from. In Banaras I had seen the white tourists wear these and a disturbing urge of flicking a pair from someone was rearing its ugly head inside my mind. Where do you have sandals lying unattended? Outside a temple, of course. And which temple do most of the tourists visit? Why, it is our very own Sankatmochan!

"Meghadoot da, have you heard Dil Gira Dafatan? It is from Dilli 6." Now, among my musically inclined friends, mentioning AR gets me brickbats. AR Rahman produces stereotypes, and makes music for the musically challenged masses of India. Remember Muqabla? Well, that's what he is capable of. Talk about music, they will insist. But I took a chance. I had to tell Meghadoot da about AR's music in Dilli 6. Although it is at times signature AR, it is beautiful and various. It has the smell of Dilli in it, it has Masakkali, it has fresh voices like Ash King's or Mohit Chauhan's... it definitely has the poetry of Prasoon Joshi (who IS this guy and how many women are running after him now?), and AR has poured out his best in this album. His soul is captured in this album.
"You know... there's something about the tempo of this song... the fast guitar in the background and the magically slow vocals by Ash King in the foreground... which creates a temporal confusion in your brain...that's akin to being stoned after quality pot... I feel stoned every time I listen to that track.

"I also listened to Lopamudra's Krishnakali right after that, but after a while, I switched to Dilli 6 again. Is it because I can't understand Tagore's music? Why doesn't it appeal to me?

And then he told me about how, if you are not a singer with a range like Lata or Asha, you can't do justice to all kinds of Tagore's songs. The different moods, the variation in the tempo according to the mood, the absolute melancholy in one song that aligns with your grief today and the fresh hope in the next, is what Tagore is all about. Unfortunately, the new generation of singers have not been able to grasp and render that same variety in their albums. There's a whole dimension missing, that of the depth. The emotional depth. If one fails to do that, one fails to grasp the attention of a potential listener like me.

"Remember Sankatmochan?" I remembered Sankatmochan. This old temple with an expansive courtyard hosts a classical music conference every year. It is nothing like your Dover Lane Music Conference in Calcutta. It has a charm that is known to have waylaid many lay persons and made music lovers out of them. It is free, and it has the best classical musicians performing every year.

Knowing I would find the nice Osho sandals there, I went with some other students one night to the Sankatmochan temple. It is about a kilometer from the university entrance and we went barefeet, determined to get nice sandals for ourselves from the piled up footwear outside the main hall. The mood of the place made me curious. There were families from villages who had come from long distances on their bullock carts and there were hundreds of European tourists among the thousands of Banarasis. They were waiting for the stalwarts to perform.

"Yes, I remember Sankatmochan. I distinctly remember Pt V.G. Jog and Mme Sisirkana perform, and I also remember how Pt Jasraj started late in the night and sang the raga bhairavi to usher in the morning. But did I tell you about this, Meghadoot da? I liked Sisirkana's violin recital a lot more than VG Jog's. She used a viola, five strings, and would sometimes play two strings in harmony with each other. That made her rendition a lot more soulful. I couldn't identify the raga, am a layman, but the soul of her music still reverberates within. It is gonna be there for a long time."

Meghadoot da doesn't know perhaps that I went to flick a pair of Osho sandals from a music conference. But he also doesn't know that I came back barefeet that year. And every year after that till 1995, a potential thief, waylaid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tasmanian Devil

When you are married to someone whom you've known from school, you happen to act like schoolkids at times even though you are on the wrong side of 40. You cuddle, hug, pick them up, or sometimes dive into the bed together. These are mostly asexual acts, and can also pass off as wrestling maneuvers if the WWF bosses are asked to judge: "There, there, he has pinned her to the bed and what is this? What is this? She has kicked him in his balls. OOOOH, that must've hurt!" Moral of the story is, buy a bed with strong legs.
So, these things keep happening. I have seen my neighbors do it. I have seen their Labrador, Buddy, trying to snuggle in between his sparring human parents. And here sneaks in the subject of my article today. What if you have a hyphen at home? A hyphen that questions this public display of affection? Yesterday, during one such crazy moment, Aaron came in between us, pushed me away, and called me a Tasmanian Devil. If you are used to watching Looney Tunes, you know what a Tasmanian Devil is. It is this horrible beast that all animals in the jungle are scared of. Save Bugs Bunny, of course. He somehow manages to trick this Devil into submission.
But, despite being a real dumbass, it is a scary looking monster no doubt.

(image from www.webweaver.nu/clipart/cartoon2.shtml)

Now this guy is really afraid of the Tasmanian Devil. Every time the animals announce that the Devil is approaching, you can see him cower, cringe, and try to hide behind a curtain. To him, it is the ultimate fear factor. And he called me a Tasmanian Devil.

I tried telling him that it is a politically incorrect term and that the Tasmanians, if they could speak English, would have had serious reservations about this animal being called a Tasmanian. But to no avail. He wanted me to stay away from his mom. That got me thinking: how much show of affection is okay in front of kids? I know of one really horny couple who used to make out in front of their little kid, resulting in the kid turning out to be a real psycho. They happened to be Bengalis too, much to our embarrassment. When a kid sees his parents in an embrace or loving each other, it feels insecure and left out. But that doesn't mean you don't kiss or wrestle, right?

I called up our psychoanalyst Meghadoot da. Although he has a postgraduate degree in Horticulture, he seems to be really good with my brain. He has counseled me many times and I sincerely rely on his advice. For example, the time when I wanted to get admitted to a hospital to get a girl's attention, he dissuaded me from it, saying it won't really help. He also helped me find a girl of my mental level, which is difficult in a university of such repute. So, this urgent call to Meghadoot da found him in the midst of a drinking binge. He had mixed vodka and rum, and was flying when I called.
"Shuvo...did I tell you about Asha?"
"Ah...Asha? But how do you know about her? She works with us here."
"Ah, i mean Asha Puthli."
"Who is she? I don't seem to remember."
"A jazz great. She was hot on the music scene in the 70s. Find her out on youtube."

And there ended our conversation with Meghadoot da perhaps going back to his imaginary duet with her. But my question wasn't answered. How much display of affection in front of kids? A peck and not a kiss? How long? What about the times when you want to push her down the stairs? What about her kicking my ass? Aren't we supposed to do all this?

And then i found my answer. "Do as the Tasmanian Devil does," a divine voice inside my mind seemed to tell me. I picked him up and threw him into the bed. He sank into the pillows and by the time he could recover, I had thrown her into the bed as well.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Cross Dressing Woes of a Bengali Gentleman

Of all the occasions when I wore a woman's clothes, the first time was very involuntary. In fact I had no say about it at all. My mom bought me a couple of white, embroidered pennies to wear at home. There weren't any diapers those days and paddling all around the house wearing pennies meant I could pee anywhere, any time. What was a thing of convenience for my mom turned out to be something people like to call a psychological aberration today. Not that I always cross dress, but the sudden act of running around the house in my wife's negligee scares the holy almighty out of my son, for sure. Maybe one reason why he doesn't trust the gods too much. (I wonder if the first skeptic had a cross dresser dad too.)

My friends from all the different stages of my life have had the good fortune of seeing me cross dress for some reason or the other. You may remember the time I inadvertently wore a pair of panties to my office, but that was, as I said, inadvertent and completely unintentional. Panties, by their sheer flimsy nature, are not technically fit for men. And I am not referring to that episode at all. The first time I came out wearing a pair of jeans and a tee, dressed as a girl with short hair, was when I was about 14. The seeds that my mom sowed way back in 1971 were bearing healthy fruit, you can say, because apart from my cohorts, most of our other classmates were fooled hollow. Many of them tried to follow us (three boys and a new girl!) on their bicycles that evening. The secret was never revealed and if any of them are writing their autobiographies today, you may read about their first crush being a girl in a blue tee and fiery red lipstick. If they remember, she had a slight hint of boobs too, probably the size of ping pong balls. Poor guys.

Experimenting sexually with boys was very in, and although most of them have grown mustaches and are helping their wives make babies by the dozen now, we were a collective gay community those days. Everybody had measured everybody in that clandestine group and we were ready for the women. Unfortunately, girls were hard to come by. So we went back to measuring each other.

As we grew up and started transforming from boys to men, we were repulsed by each other. The feminine curves were gone, we sprouted hair at unwanted places, and suddenly we discovered the joys of cricket. Yuck, was our collective sigh, but by then the external tuition classes had started and the girls were within easy access. By access I mean to talk to. That high, believe me, was much more than what an entire bottle of Jack Daniels can give me today. Atasi, our principal's daughter, was yet to walk into puberty, but she was the only one who spoke with all the boys. We used to sit all around a cot on little cane stools, and while our teacher would try to teach us physics, almost a dozen legs would reach out for Atasi's under the cot. The silent melee that this resulted in under the cot, with all of us maintaining straight faces above it, was no less than a battle of Panipat. I don't remember who managed to reach Atasi's leg, but I never did. The max I had gone was upto Subham's legs, who enjoyed an hour-long tickle without protesting, thus giving me the idea that Atasi liked me a lot and would probably make babies with me later. Unfortunately, I could not find Subham later to give him a fitting reply.

By the time we reached the university, most of us had been able to do what all American boys are rumored to have achieved on their prom nights. We were men now, but much to my amusement, that strange streak of cross dressing hadn't left me yet. One winter day in Varanasi, as we waited for the girls to come and cut the fruits for Saraswati Puja, it struck me again. Soumitro was taller and I made him my boyfriend as I came out wearing a huge red sweater, a longish bandana and jeans. By now, the ping pongs had given way to earthen bhaars meant for curds. He held me by the waist as we sauntered around in the garden, waiting for the girls to make an entry. I was very curious to know their reaction as I could feel many pairs of eyes trying to check out my bottom through the long, red sweater.

This was a huge success because all the girls who had their eyes set on Soumitro were pretty much bothered. In fact, when I made a normal entry later, some of them asked me who the girl was. It was a strange moment for me. None of the girls were interested in me. I was trying to attract their attention. As another woman! It was time for introspection. What was I upto? Am I growing up all right? Do I need to sit with Meghadoot da for a counseling session?

Many years later we had an ethnic-wear day for one of our office parties. I nonchalantly took out one of my wife's kurta-churidar sets, donned a banjara cap, wore a necklace and went rather boldly to the party, expecting I would attract some attention. Many years of being in the oblivion of trousers and shirts had brought out the rebel in me. I made an entry. Almost in slo-mo, I walked into the huge ballroom of Leela. The crowd had gathered somewhere else. People were discussing something in hushed tones. The entire atmosphere of the place was pregnant with the possibility of a sudden outburst of laughter. A little more into the crowd and I saw what they were all about to laugh at. At the center of the hall was one of our Bengali colleagues, in a traditional Bengali kurta with some khajuraho paintings on it. It would have been a prized exhibit in the wardrobe of any woman, but on that guy, it looked downright hideous. It was a red kurta with a golden statuette painted on it. It was something all Bengali men wear whenever they want to look handsome. And mine was just a plain blue one with shirt collars.

And I realized, I was never a cross dresser. Always a true-blue Bengali.

Monday, March 02, 2009

More on Film Awards

But I would like some British humor do the talking instead:


My favorite hero, Sir Rowan Atkinson, says it all like nobody else can.