Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Friendship Drive

The friendship drive is something I have always secretly desired all these years. It is about touching base with all my friends in India, old and new. It would be a drive all around India, starting from Bangalore.
The drive from Bangalore to Calcutta (2000 kms) will take me about 2.5 days. In Calcutta I will meet four people:

Arup: a partner in crime since 1990, Arup and I are often mistaken as brothers. I can't tell you what all we did together in our hostel room. Even today when we start exchanging notes on various matters of interest, time flies by unnoticed. I love this guy. If I were gay, he would have been my (rather unfaithful) partner.

Gargi: a chat mate turned soul mate whom I met in 1999 in the Kolkata chatroom of 123india and have a long association since. We are what they call "poles apart" in our nature, outlook, and worldview. She is suave, sophisticated, in a black business suit, and never utters anything untoward, while I am just the opposite. We complement each other and thus are the best of friends.

Gora: from bunking school to watch porn to ogling at all the girls at the univ (where Arup joined us to form the unholy trinity) Gora and I have a strange association. Found him after a gap of 15 years in 2008. I hate him with all my heart at times for all his untimely spilling of beans, but can't think of not giving him a bear hug every time I meet.

Bubunda: (Lazyani, the blogger) this is the longest association, of 31 years... we grew up together, me trying to idolize and emulate him and never succeeding. My first cricket and football captain, and also my first hero. Bubunda also has the distinction of being the first one to tell me about sex.

then I move on to Durgapur, where I meet:

Meghadoot da: again from the university, Meghadoot da filled the void left by Bubunda when I went to Banaras. a musician from his heart (and a master esraaj player), an avid listener of hindustani classical and jazz, meghadoot da epitomized the craziness hiding in all of us. We still have one-hour phone calls almost every week, often with him singing from the other end and discussing music. Right now he is in love with Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, the Azerbaijani pianist and jazz vocalist. I just hope he never stops falling in love because that will be the end of him.

The Kolkata to Durgapur drive is only about two hours, so I next go all the way to Banaras, some 500 kms from Durgapur. There I meet:

Banibrat: A junior at the Univ, Banibrat Mahanta was one guy who had a lot of potential in him. A quiet, good student, Bani is now a prof of English at BHU. Have to have tea at Lanka with him.

Prof Vanashree Tripathi: A lady who had more faith in me than I myself did. She instilled in me a lot of confidence and also was a great friend. It is another matter that as a young student I had a mild crush on her. It was more awe than a crush. Am sure she was so busy discussing Michel Foucault that she didn't even realize.

From Banaras, it would be a trip to Delhi, some 800 kms away. This will take me an entire day.

The Delhi list is long, so I will keep the descriptions short:

Manini Chatterjee: she is famous, might not have time to meet me. But I have to buy her a copy of Da Vinci Code, which she deliberately never read.

Manjari Rathi: My "saaala" colleague. She saalas me and I saala her. The most apolitical colleague ever, she has a special place in my heart. She disapproves of everything I do and dislikes everything I write, but am sure will be grinning from ear to ear when she sees me in Delhi.

Ritu Malhotra: I have a love-hate relation with this girl (now a mother of two) since 1998. Having joined together as Assistant Editors at OUP, Ritu and I were friends with clashing egos. We fought about everything, but used to ride together in the Delhi rains. We have fond memories at work. Am very fond of her even now, but have a suspicion it might be more for her striking beauty than anything else :-P. We will meet for the OUP lunch at Berco's.

Sourav Dutta: This neo-Nazi guy has been a buddy since 1996. He is the famous blogger velvetgunther and has a very eclectic taste in history, art, music, and literature. He is a fascist of the first order and hates Asians of all hues. I share this hatred and love him for it. He also drives a Merc.

Dilreen Kaur: A brief 2-year association with Dilreen was enough to remember her for life. Clearly the most beautiful girl I've ever worked with, Dilreen was funny, gullible, and very feminine. Found her again in 2009. We will have lunch at Berco's, CP.

Soma Goswami: She made me start smoking again at the age of 27, ten years after I had quit. She and her husband Gaurav are the best hosts I have ever seen. We share a hatred for one particular boss, but we can't talk about her now. If Soma and I get together, we will bitch about Dilreen, Ritu, Hari, Mithlesh, Abhijeet, Mr Bhowmik, and a few others. And also get very very drunk in the process. Soma is in the UK now and says she will come down for that lunch at Berco's CP.

Shikha Gupta: Missing since 1999, she is an integral part of our OUP memories. Many of us swooned over her. And she would often come to my desk to be able to breathe (she sat in the same room with the boss). She was fond of the lightning-struck tree in the backyard of the YMCA building. We have to find her out and bring her for that lunch at Berco's, CP.

Arindam: My ever-enthu bro-in-law, who is closer to me than to his cousin (Sayantani)

Udayan: He is some bigshot with Penguin Books, so I can't possibly write that he resembles someone from the Italian mafia. But his is a strange face with the coldest eyes and the warmest smile you can imagine. Another foodie, we used to heap chicken bones on a separate plate as Smriti Vohra looked on. He was also our steady supplier of Tintin, Asterix, and hindi movies. Apparently he now has a lab called Pluto, whom I must hug too.

From Delhi...now this is a stretch because already am worrying about how many leaves I have left still... I must make a trip to Kumaon and one to Ludhiana and Manali.

In Kumaon, I want to meet:

Vinay Badola: the owner of www.otterreserves.com, Vinay was the first man to initiate me into Royal Enfields. Sourav and I rode with Vinay and Revati to the Himachal in 2000. Forever smiling, this pahari from Dehradoon is what a true leader is made of. He might be available near the Kali river in Kumaon.

In Ludhiana:

Mampi: a new friend from blogland, mampi's humor, enthusiasm, and absolutely punjabi approach to everything in life is very refreshing. She is a bad cook, apparently, so I will have a lassi at her place and also meet her family...she can yap, yap, and yap... a perfect match for me. She is a professor of English with Punjab Univ, but we won't discuss Jane Austen for sure.

In Manali, it will be:

Rimli Borooah: Clearly the Gwyneth of India, or Mary Stuart Masterson. quiet, beautiful, serene like the landscape of Manali, she can also be like the sea, I heard. Although I first saw her in 1998, our friendship started after I left Delhi in 2001, over emails. A foodie and a great pal to drink with. She is a writer and I envy her that.

Delhi to Bombay is a great drive, Anirban tells me. He had done it once in his Fiat Adventure in two days. In Bombay:

Anirban: Kind of like my Arup of DK days. Can talk about almost anything. Well read, passionate about cars and a gizmo freak. We, however, restrict our conversations to cars, women, absynthe, and Irish cream. He might join me in this drive.

Amala: Sweetheart of a woman. She has worked with Resul Pookutty and has also recorded the sound for Aamir Khan's Ghajini. A woman in a man's domain (sound recording), Amala was the first one who inspired me to walk in to Penguin Books for an interview in April 1997. I owe her a couple of large whiskies on the rocks.

Titin: A chat mate turned chum. She calls herself the universal mother, and apparently her friends agree. Met her once when she came to Bangalore and we drank till 3 in the morning with James. Will come to James later. In Bombay, we plan to drink till 4 in the morning. She might join Anirban and me in this drive.

Alpa: She goes by various names: Estelle, Wild Cat Charms, and a whole lot more. Neurotic, hippy, poet, fairy tale romance, poet, cold, sexy, psychic, clairvoyant, poet, are some words you can associate with her at various points in time. She will take me to Marine Drive.

Harikrishnan Menon: I met him probably only thrice in my life. But his was the first Royal Enfield that I rode inside the YMCA compound in New Delhi. He left OUP a little before Ritu and I joined, but used to keep coming to check out the hottest women in Delhi. We met again in Bangalore (we had rabbit meat at Ponnuswamy) and this time we want to have Ridley turtle fry in front of the Greenpeace activists in Bombay.

Ujjal and Benu: Out of all the times I played Cupid, only this succeeded. Ujjal and I were in BHU together, and I met Benu later at DK. Both were single, I passed the email IDs, and the next thing I knew, Benu flew to Calcutta to meet him!! They are yet to buy me a pair of Levi's, which was Cupid's contract.

And then, the 1000 km run back to Bangalore will start, probably alone because by then Anirban and Titin would have been dropped back to Bombay. I might just make a slight detour to Goa to meet:

Brian Mendonca: a friend, a poet (his second anthology being published now), a guitarist...Brian cooks awesome pork and lives like a hermit. He recently left Delhi for Goa, so it will be a poetry reading session on the beach some evening with him. With port, fenny, and fish fry.

In Bangalore, at LoR, I will meet the following:

(cartoon courtesy James)

James: ten years and still going strong, James and I have been to San Francisco together. Need I say more? This bugger is a guitarist, cartoonist, adventurer, and now a fitness freak. Great company, anywhere, anytime.

Shuvo (whom I spend all my weekends with): My bro whom I met in 96, on the streets of Calcutta, often bumping into each other at the same interview venue. His sense of humor is unparalleled and he has the class to lace even a bawdy joke with British humor that makes it sound very sophisticated. He married Sayantani's sister and we never mix his whisky with my vodka.

Raja da and Khukudi: Bubunda's cuz, Rajada and I were playmates as children and later met in Banaras again. We have also been together in Delhi and now he has come to Bangalore. Their's is one place I can go to without a prior appointment and still expect a great meal. Both of them excel in their culinary skills and both can drink like tanks, Khukudi in a more unassuming, matter-of-fact manner.

And then, I will go to meet my biking group buddies, probably the next weekend, on our bikes.

Rocky/Pal, Love, Prateek, and Doc: This is a close biking group, with Rocky and Pallavi being the initiators. They got us all together. And Rocky and Pallavi are probably going to grow old with us in Bangalore. Rocky is to me here what Bubunda was to me when I was a child. Rocky also made me fall in love with Mahindra's slow and steady workhorse, the Bolero. He went and picked up a faster, crde version later. Pallavi is my stand-up comedy partner.

Prateek rode with us to the Himalayas and that's when I realized what a great soul he is. A quiet, firm guy of principles, Prateek has done epic solo rides. He has the dubious distinction of owning two Enfield 500s!!

Love and Tana are young and sweet, and very much in love. Love has tattoos all over and is boisterous. Tana can match him. And I love to compete whenever we meet. We literally talk nonstop.

Doc, while extracting my teeth, never speaks of bikes, and while riding, never speaks of my cavities. I want to grow up to be like him, a steady, solo rider. He has done Ladakh alone on his Eliminator.

And then, one day on Church Street:

Atanu: He is back in Bangalore after two years in Pune. We worked in four companies together: Apex, OUP, DK, and Oracle. At Oracle, we became buddies, and our early morning tea sessions discussing everything from George Bush to Sourav Ganguly are to die for. He has a sweet tooth and even sweeter children. I will meet Atanu at Blossom Book Store on Church Street. He will buy some LPs, and then we will walk to Empire International for some succulent kababs.

And finally, back home, I will narrate my experiences to my best friends ever:
Sayantani and Aaron.

Sayantani will sulk for not taking her along, and Aaron will want to go out on a bike ride with me right then, but I will explain to them why it was necessary for me to touch base with all the others that I love. Life is too short, so I had to go ahead and say hello to all the people who matter to me in my life.

Disclaimer: sisters, cousins, children, wives, dads, moms, etc. are out of this because this is about friends only.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tights versus Pajamas

After the cycling helmet and the headlight, I naturally added cycling tights to my list. This met with vehement opposition from my wife, who felt it would be absolutely unnecessary to show the bulge around. Now that's one good way of reminding myself at this age that I am a man, I argued, but she wouldn't have any of it. She even cited an example of cycling shorts being banned in Utah for being obscene. Apparently, the Citizens for Decent Attire are trying to ban cycling shorts in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I was surprised to see this because in a country that hosts the World Naked Bike Ride, calling a pair of cycling tights indecent was taking things a bit too far. Undeterred by my wife's protests, I asked my bro (the anon who leaves cocky comments on my blog every now and then) to check out some cycling tights when he went to buy his tennis gear. He called saying there's one L, which he didn't think would fit me. According to him, my crotch would asphyxiate and die inside the L. Please don't get ideas as these tights are sold by the waist size and not any other size. Going by my waist size (or how it has become over the last couple of months), XL would be a safer bet, we both decided.

As children, most boys wanted to wear their briefs outside à la Superman. I was no exception. I spent numerous afternoons prancing around in front of our mirror dressed like that. My critics (mainly my dad and mom and later my wife) hold that this particular activity in front of the mirror for many years cost me my grades in school. I have always disagreed with them. You should ALWAYS disagree with someone who points out errors in you. After all, your life is too short to while away trying to conform to what others think is right. So I kept wearing my briefs outside, but never outdoors.

After having bought the bicycle I felt the time has come to live my childhood dream. If not briefs, at least through my cycling shorts. Beware Bangalore, SupAri has arrived. (this cartoon is courtesy James, who has always nurtured a clandestine desire to see me in the nude)

And so I finally went out in them one day, the bulge notwithstanding. Some people noticed, some didn't, some kids were bothered only about the "geared bike," and some others noticed only Aaron's Firefox with its headlights. The ultimate macho dad of Aaron was riding next to him, showing off his thighs and crotch, expecting all the moms in the neighborhood to swoon, when suddenly he was chased by a pack of hungry dogs who sensed something new in this attire. Whether the dogs chased my feminine legs or the bulge, I cannot tell, but riding away from them that day was my fastest run so far. It was so maddeningly fast, I can't even emulate it if you ask me to.

So now I don't wear them tights any more. I preserve whatever I have inside baggy shorts and ride next to the same dogs who don't even cock an ear when I ride by. Gone are the dreams of being Robin or Superman. I have settled to be a decent husband instead, fetching groceries on my bike like my dad used to many years back, wearing pajamas if possible.

Let the Ram Sene guys take over for all I care. At least I can send them a pack of wild pets if not pink panties.

(image from http://reviews.roadbikereview.com)
(for the MOST hilarious pic, check out http://www.funnycoolstuff.com/2006/09/18/why-bicycle-shorts-are-always-black/)