Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Alto K10: A Dhantenan Road Trip (log of days 2 and 3)

On Dec 25 we woke up at 4 in the morning, feeling like young gorillas. The Disprin had worked wonders with the fatigue and all the three of us were rearing to go. Aaron didn't have Disprins, but he too was excited to make up for the lost time the previous day. His sole aim was to reach Calcutta early, ring the doorbell, wait for his granny to open the door, and pounce on her. And for that to be achieved on time, we had to cover up a long distance on day 2.

Leaving Hotel Garuda Residency and finding NH-5 was pretty easy. We tanked up the car and set off. By the time we left the town, it was nearing 6.00 in the morning. My wife kept paying the toll along the way and saved the receipts. I will make a list of those as well. The road was fantastic like we found it between Naidupeta and Ongole. (On day 1 we found that between Ongole and Vijaywada, the road is being broadened, so you can expect the average speeds to come down a bit.)
After Vijaywada, the road in entire Andhra Pradesh is just amazing till the Orissa border, at Ichhapuram. We reached Ichhapuram around 3.00 in the afternoon. Before that we faced some stiff peak day traffic while crossing Vizag, but that wasn't much of a bother because Vizag is a beautiful town. It has the distinct smell of the sea from the right and the sight of the hills to the left. We could see boards pointing to the port and planned to visit it on our way back. Last time we did Vizag in 2007 Jan, we did a trip to Araku, but missed visiting the port.

Vizag is 386 km from Vijaywada and we reached around 11.30, clocking real good time. But it took us about 45 minutes to cross the town. We reached this distance in 25 liters of petrol. I was happy with the FE overall. Sayantani sounded pretty optimistic about doing Bhubaneswar, which is 429 km from Vizag. But memories of our last trip loomed large in our minds. Last time, in 2006 December, we suffered for about an hour at Ichhapuram, and to do Bhubaneswar, you have to cross Ichhapuram again. It was a chance we had to take.

As expected, at Ichhapuram, trucks entering Orissa had lined up and blocked the left side of the road. We had to move to the other side and keep going. Very soon we realized that even the other side is blocked by ongoing traffic. I really didn't understand how the oncoming traffic managed with their road being blocked as well, but for me, trying not to be sandwiched between those huge trucks was the primary concern. Luckily for us, this impasse lasted only ten minutes as the idle truckers doubled up as traffic cops and helped clear the traffic. All this without the help of the administration. The few policemen at the checkpost were busy getting their palms greased.

So we entered Orissa without much ado after all. What next? According to the map of the GQ http://nhai.org/gqmain_english.htm, only 37 km of the entire stretch is under construction and the rest is done. But if you cross Berhampore, you are suddenly taken off the road into a village that leads to another village. The condition of NH5 in Orissa is so pathetic, you wouldn't know where you are going. There are long traffic jams on narrow roads. There aren't any milestones to tell you where you are. The villages of Rambha, Balugaon, and Ganjam have three railway crossings between them, and getting stuck at any one of these can make life very miserable for you. By the time we crossed Ganjam, about 100 km from Berhampore, we realized that the NHAI map is seriously misleading. Bhubaneswar was still about 90 kms when we came back on the golden quad, but by then it was already 7.00 and very dark. We finally reached Bhubaneswar at 8.30 that night.

We should have listened to Arnab of IndiaHighways and checked in to Ridge Residency on the highway. The room they showed us was pretty rundown and we thought of finding a proper hotel inside the city and went in. Unfortunately, we missed out on the last room at Arya Residency, a decent hotel in downtown Bhubaneswar. What we eventually settled for was so pathetic, we ended up rather grumpy. The room was small, the toilet unusable, and the bedspread kinda creepy. The food came at 11.00 in the night and by the time we slept off, we had already started fighting with each other.

Day 3, Dec 26

The Disprins we had downed the previous night freshened us up the next day. We left early to avoid any more fights and the moment we hit the road again at 7.30 that morning, we felt very excited. According to our calculations, we had another 400 km to go. But hey, what does the milestone say? It says Calcutta is 493 km! How come? And then came many confusing milestones, one after the other, saying very contradictory things. The next one said 421, another 491, and yet another 405. Because all were pointing towards Calcutta, we kept going. And then the milestones got uniform.
We knew that the Orissa-Bengal border is also going to be a painful experience at Jaleshwar, but this time Jaleshwar was a breeze. The roads all the way from Bhubaneswar to Jaleshwar are being constructed, so do NOT believe the NHAI map at all. All you get is a single lane, with the other one being used by the local farmers to display their harvest.

After Jaleshwar, as we entered West Bengal, the roads were fantastic once more. But there was something strange that I noticed in this state. All the way from Andhra to Orissa, at all the toll gates, there are smiling, nice people collecting the fees. They wish you happy journey, smile generously when you say thanks, and make the next leg of the journey that much more pleasant for you. In West Bengal, somehow, NONE of the toll collectors had a smile on their face. They didn't make eye contact, they didn't respond to my "thank you sir" even once, and they had no helper standing outside to collect the toll and make the entire process more efficient. Poor Bengalis don't love the jobs they are doing because all of them perhaps think they are cut out for superior, intellectual things. Everyone is grumpy and full of some strange attitude, and the experience of an outsider is nothing short of entering a city infested by rude Parisians.

We reached Calcutta by 4.00 in the afternoon after a lazy day's drive. The Alto, as I mentioned in my first log, behaved superbly. It is a fill-it, shut-it, forget-it car, and responds to the throttle pretty quickly. For 3.93 lakhs on road in Bangalore, it is a real value-for-money, go-anywhere car. Now it has to take us back to where we really belong: Bangalore.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Alto K10: A Dhantenan Road Trip (log of day 1)

The last-minute change of vehicle meant drastic changes to our entire plans. The Alto K10 is new, faster than the jeep, but can we take it from Bangalore to Kolkata? And what will happen to all that luggage we packed for a road trip to South Africa? This is one of the smallest hatchbacks in India and the luggage is meant for a Bolero. My wife (who was about to pack for a one-year-long road trip) was very dejected at the proposal, but I was secretly excited for two reasons:

  • she will learn to pack lean
  • I will get to drive the young and peppy Alto K10, which forever wants to fly

I quickly took the Alto to the nearest accessories shop and got sun films for the windows, a local stereo, and an entry-level roof rack that I didn't intend to keep after this trip. We were supposed to start very early on December 24, but I spent a long time at the accessories shop at Tilaknagar and came home really tired. When I reached, I was shocked to see that the first bullet point hadn't been addressed at all.

"What man? I thought you were packing everything into one bag?"

She had an evil grin on her face: "But then you got a roof rack, didn't you? Don't worry, I unpacked your three pairs of shoes and offloaded all your trousers. You have to survive with only two pairs of jeans for 21 days."

"But why still four bags?"

She had no explanation. She had packed things from one bag into another and when she finished, the number of bags was still the same and so was the bulk. We went off to sleep really late with a lot of apprehension about the size of the car...will it go?

Dec 24: Our journey started at 5.30 instead of at 4.00, and by then the fog was setting in. We had decided to give Old Madras Road the skip and took Hosur Road instead. The drive till Dharmapuri was slow because of the fog, but after a bio-break, we reached Vellore around 9.00 in the morning. Our target was to go from Vellore to Chittoor, and then touch Naidupeta at least by 11.00 in the morning. That seemed absurd right now, but so far, the Alto K10 seemed to be doing faster speeds than the Bolero. It is very easy to maneuver and if you are negotiating a zigzag overtake of two vehicles, it manages it with elan. I would never even dream of doing such maneuvers in the Bolero given its high CG. After a quick breakfast at Vellore, we hit Ranipetta and took a left turn towards Chittoor. That little distance of 43 km between Ranipetta and Chittoor was beautiful and quick. Beautiful because of the landscape all around and the winding road. Quick because there was hardly any traffic. Before Chittoor, we took a right turn toward the Tirupati road (also known as Chittoor bypass). We finally reached Naidupeta at 1.00 (350 km from Bangalore), way behind our original schedule. Rajmundhry seemed impossible that day, but Vijaywada, another 386 from Naidupeta, was within reach.

We reached Vijaywada at around 6.00 and entered the town. That is an average of 77 km per hour, quite a bit more than we could achieve during our last trip to Calcutta in the Bolero GLX. By 6.30, we had checked in to Hotel Garuda Residency, which is bang opposite the star-rated Gateway Hotel. We had carried lunch on the first day, so the stops were mostly under trees. I gradually started appreciating the packing by then. Everything was neatly arranged and planned, from the route map, the food, to the medicines (we Bengalis frequently need digestive pills...some say even after a yawnful of oxygen intake) and back at the hotel the clothes to wear and slippers. The Alto K10 behaved pretty well during the journey and hit 100 kph at 3000 rpm very easily. Despite the load, it touched 120 kph at 3500 rpm, but then there are many toll booths on the entire stretch to not let you be very adventurous. The fuel economy was pretty decent at 16.49 kmpl, and given the frequent third-gear chases, I feel it is very, very frugal indeed.

The Alto K10 has an amazing third gear. The manual says you shouldn't go beyond 119 kmph in third gear. Keeping that in mind, I made it zoom till 100 kph in third gear, much to the shame of many SUVs on the road, who are all mostly aggressive drivers to say the least (I, for a change, am a "nice" SUV driver...I never am aggressive...I never nudge cars off the road...I never swerve towards other cars trying to overtake just to make them scrape the median and topple to the other side only to be thrown into the air by a truck...I never switch on all my six lights while driving on the wrong side, blinding oncoming traffic...chhheeeee!!). Opposed to that, if I gradually try to speed from 80 to 120 in fifth gear, it takes a few seconds longer. Such decent behavior will obviously return more than 20 km per liter of petrol. But for me, the thrill of the sudden lunging forward in the third gear is too tempting to resist.

The food that night was awesome: kalmi kebabs, butter naan, and daal, followed by a couple of usual digestive golis and a couple of Disprins. I will talk about the effect of the Disprins later. Now for some sleep.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


“although I don't know if I should send an email to this account of yours, here I am, sitting in front of this email window, composing an email, a letter, or whatever nomenclature we attach to it now. some people hyphenate e-mail, even we used to a couple of years back, until the American Heritage Dictionary said it's okay to use it without one. do I care?”

she: hey
me: hey
she: nothing, emni
me: I am in the middle of an email
she: writing? reading?
me: nobody writes to me. you know. I'm the one who writes to people. you saved all my emails in a CD once.
she: yes I did. nobody wrote such beautiful emails to me ever. so i saved them. and now you don't write.
me: I do.
she: but not for me.
me: brb

"I really don't know if I do. I don't know my preferences like I don't know my mind. Do I like the Congress or the BJP? Do I hate both? Do I like the Communists? Or do I like a socialist ideology? Am I a capitalist? A consumerist? I never have a stand. I squirm at the thought that I have to belong somewhere, in some group of likeminded people who flock together, drawing courage from the fact that I'm not alone. What are you, a conformist? You too, like me, seem so confused. Not about your gods perhaps, because you are clear in your belief. That's one thing I'm clear about as well, only we don't see eye to eye. But when you look me in the eye and say "go away" while am still trying to unbutton you, I don't understand you. I feel you don't mean it. And you ask me if that is all I wanted of you when you very well know that it isn't a destination by itself. That is a physical manifestation of what I feel for you always. What do I feel? A strong urge to be near you. And we have achieved that."

me: hey
she: yes?
me: what would be the noun form of unnecessary?
she: isn't it an adjective? like unwanted?
me: yeah, for example, I want to say Am sure about the unnecessariness of gods in my life. what do I use?
she: LOL
me: what?
she: you made gods sound like unwanted appendages.
me: to me, yes, but to others they are necessary for various reasons.
she: is a tail an appendage?
me: no, it is necessary. Huko Mukho Hyangla had two tails, but was continually perplexed about which one to use to swat the fly.
she: for him then?
me: for him, yes...one can be called an appendage.

"We have been together, read together, bought music together, had coffee, spent nights in each others' company. Okay perhaps not the last one, but because I've always been with you even when alone, that thin line between what has happened and what hasn't has dissolved.

right now, the picture of you standing there in your black skirt with your back to the wall is vivid in my mind. The image is so real, you are moving in it, asking me to stare at your ripe little breasts from a distance. "No, don't come near," you are pushing me away with your forefinger, "look at me from a distance." And as you are trying to gauge my reaction, watching me devour your beautiful body with my eyes, I keep looking at the watch because time is running out. Our time always runs out before it starts. When will our time start? And then it has to end one day, but why can't it start? I have already made a fool of myself inside you last time, so all I wanted was a kiss. A proper kiss without you moving your head away. Don't, don't, hold it still for a second and let your lips part. Am parched. There you go, nodding your head and swinging your hair, which lashes me on my face like long, thin whips, leaving invisible marks that will never go."

she: but then, can you swat a fly with your tail?
me: huh?
she: you said Huko swatted flies.
me: I said he didn't. He didn't know which one to use. Gimme a minute.
she: hmm

"I miss you. I miss being with you right now. I miss lying still on your lap and looking up into the leaves and the stars beyond. Where was it that we sat like that, under a tree? I could see the Pole star very clearly that night, giving me a feeling I was somewhere really up north.

me: hey, where's the Pole star located?
she: how do I know? Whom are you trying to impress? Nobody's that gullible anymore, am sure.
me: hmm

"But do you get to see the Pole star from the north? In my imagination, that is precisely the case. I miss you when you stay incommunicado, perhaps looking for your answers, perhaps looking into your daughter's eyes and wondering if this thing we share is worth it. See? In my imagination you already have a daughter. You already are married. You already are behind that spotless, impregnable sheet of Saint Gobain glass, so near yet beyond the reach of my fingers. But all I want to see now is you walking through my door, which is left ajar in anticipation. I know you will come, perhaps without knocking. You never need to knock because all I have is yours anyway."

she: hey, he wants a Jeep Nukizer.
me: what is that?
she: oh, the ultimate off-roading machine now that the Hummer's decommissioned.
me: really? lemme check.
me: WOW, it looks awesome. so he is buying one?
she: I said wants.
me: I will be all alone tonight, do you wanna come?
she: WHAT? are you out of your mind? We are over all that, so please don't be weird.
me: but I love you!
she: how fucking lame can you get?
me: brb

"It isn't worth a Jeep Nukizer, but then you never needed a jeep. You probably need a quiet study. Let me go build that now, it takes a few seconds..."

she: you get me worried at times. why don't you buy some sex? I can't sleep with a man who isn't ready to take it further. I was a fool once, but not any more. I thought we understood each other. You make me feel sick at times.

me: hold on, hold on...someone's ringing the bell...brb

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Road Tripping

I know you will go awww when you hear that it is again a road trip to Calcutta, but after my dad's passing away, we have left a lot of things unattended there. He left some farewell notes that he had been writing since March, but to us it seemed like he died in a hurry. There were things to be discussed, stories to be heard, history lessons from the subaltern's point of view, of how Haji Mastan was killed, of how the Japs bombed Calcutta during WWII because the Americans set up a base there, of how jazz came with them, and nightclubs sprung up. It would seem to you that he timed his death in a manner that had a finality to it. He just finished his last manuscript a couple of days before he passed away. Like full stop, am done, here I go.

So the road trip this time is to go again in search of his vast mind, stored in the form of newspaper clippings from way back in the fifties and sixties, books purchased and collected over a period of sixty years, old and yellow letters exchanged with his friends (some of whom are not there any more), some new books that I brought him during my Penguin and OUP days, my old books, the books that I flicked from the university library (which he never reprimanded me for), books of history, music, and poetry, of Latin American music and culture, of Italian short stories, Picasso, and a humongous collection of Russian literature. It will take time to reach 2000 kms by road, but even more time to sift through all the material in the little time that I have.

The jeep is ready. At 99000 km, the Mahindra Bolero GLX (with the XD3P Peugeot engine) still is strong as a war horse, quietly going about its duties. I don't hear a creak so far, but I can pat myself on the back for having treated it well. I got it new shoes at 47000 kms, rotated the tyres at every 5000 kms, got the suspension overhauled from time to time, kept changing the belts (there are four under this bonnet) and the various pipes at regular intervals. The nicks and cuts were tended to, it got regular touch-ups done, and now it has some new stickers too, and nice fog lamps. The upholstery is new and so are the alloys, so the overall experience is not that of driving a relatively old jeep.
This time the route will be almost the same as the last time, apart from a slight change on the first day. Instead of going via Old Madras Road, we will take the NICE corridor> Hosur Road> Krishnagiri> Vellore> Chittoor route. It will take us to Naidupeta via Tirupati and will be a tad longer than going via Kolar and Palamner, but because the Old Madras Road is being made now, we would like to stick to the Golden Quadrilateral as much as we can. We want to do Rajmundry (more than 800 kms) the first day (anticipating about 14 hours of driving), failing which we can stop even earlier at Eluru or Vijaywada. Photos and updates on Facebook will be done en route. There's a Belkin car adapter to power everything from a laptop to a mosquito repellent, so we even plan to have mobile tea, courtesy Sayantani, my navigator. She's been busy looking up the maps and surfing for hotels online, and has also managed to pack enough stuff for a journey all the way to South Africa. "You never know," says this lady who can be described in short as never-a-backpacker-when-you-can-carry-fourteen-pairs-of-shoes. How we will manage to put everything inside the jeep is another issue, and worse comes to worst we might even have to get a roof rack this week. A friend in Hyderabad has even been kind enough to offer his trailer to save my marriage.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. The luggage is well under control than it was last time. (For all you know, she might be reading this.)

The second day we would again like to cover a distance of about 750 kms, all the way to Bhubaneswar. Arnab Ganguly of IndiaHighways recently did this route and has posted some details of hotels and other resorts on the way, so am gonna keep his list handy. I have already passed on all the details to Sayantani. I received some good pointers about the first day's route from Raja Sekhar Kommu and Sriram Subramaniam of IndiaHighways, so those emails are being treated with more care than the Eicher atlas. Yes, we don't have a GPS device yet and probably will never need one in India. But then, we never wanted a cellphone either at one point!

So far so good. If we do Bhubaneswar on the second day, the third day's journey to Calcutta can be done in less than eight hours, giving us enough time to reach before sundown. Even if the first two days are a stretch, nothing can beat the beauty of the St Paul's Cathedral spire or the Victoria Memorial's dome catching the last orange rays of twilight. It will be sad to enter the vacant apartment my dad had so nicely maintained, but am sure he will be present in every particle of dust to have settled on the bookshelves.
Pics courtesy:
www.bl.uk for St Paul's Cathedral
rovinglight's photostream on Flickr for Victoria Memorial

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An Evening in India

"Shroff is Punjabi," Tulika said with a period.
"NOOOO, this guy is so not a Punjabi. He is a Kannadiga."
"We'll ask when he gets here then?"

We four were at Pecos, listening to Jerry Garcia, as the waiter came and refilled our mugs. Tzameena had come back to Bangalore after four years in the US, Tulika had come to meet her from Pune, and their friend Tever Peer was always in Bangalore. I knew only Tulika, and the other Ts I was meeting for the first time. Being the only guy with three girls, the idea of another guy joining us soon made me brighten up. I didn't quite care about what language he spoke, Punjabi or Kannada.

The girls were being themselves, their squeals and cackles making me feel like a distant observer. Observe I couldn't much because of my shades, which I had to wear to cover my infected red eyes. And Pecos is dark, pitch dark. Some say the food tastes good there mainly because you can't see it. Or you don't care because the draught has already started dancing with your senses.

"Even the loo is the same," Tulika remembered. I knew she got nostalgic, but this was the first time I saw someone getting nostalgic about the dingiest loo in the dingiest pub of Bangalore. I say "dingy" but that's where I go back to. It has this deliberately retro, rundown look, with deliberate Floyd, Grateful Dead, Doors playing from old audio cassettes, to remind you that the world was a lot more beautiful before the iPod generation set foot on it.

"Yes," I nodded in agreement. I had to go twice already to prevent the beer from screwing up my balance, so I knew what she meant. The loo definitely was still the same. And then I discovered popcorn in my beer. I've had corned beef. Liked it pretty much, I must say. But corned beer? I thought I will let it pass as merely a typo when something strange caught my attention. The girls were aiming at each other's necklines and dunking popcorn like those deft NBA blokes. I forgot about the popcorn in my beer and watched in utter horror. The people at the other table were busy head-banging to Bad Moon Rising and didn't seem to mind one bit. Eventually a few of those got dunked into my shirt and I got into the spirit of the game. By then the tacos and crabs were almost over and the free popcorn too.

Shroff came in late. Short, bearded, my liking for him was almost instant. Some might want to argue that it was mainly because I was craving for male company all this while, but then, let's not argue about the "why" now. Fact remains I liked him. We struck up a conversation and then in walked Roshni, another friend of a friend. The conversation grew, multiplied, criss-crossed, and soon looked like a busy underground network. Meanwhile, we somehow managed to move from Pecos to Koshy's and the group had gotten bigger. We could see Prof Ram Guha sitting alone for a while before being joined by two of his friends. I contemplated going up to him for an autograph, but didn't have a proper diary/notebook in which to take it. I don't want to disrespect India's best-known historian by asking him to put his signature on a piece of napkin. Mr Prem Koshy (who was there too, looking dapper in his shawl) perhaps wouldn't mind doing that given that the napkin would have Koshy's written on it, but Prof Guha? Nawww. Some other time, then.

Tzameena couldn't drink at Pecos (because she hates beer), so she was filling herself up like a tank in a hurry. Tever was quietly taking pictures. Shroff found himself in the unenviable situation of being between two beautiful ladies who had joined us later. I remember asking him which one he was seeing, but because the question was put bang in public, all he could manage was an "ummm" with both the girls curiously trying to lipread his mind. Roshni constantly came up with novel catch phrases and kept us entertained. She was narrating a story of how some huge blokes once chased her in Ohio and all I could manage was a stupid laugh! I think the laughter was because she talked about their "size" meaning "bulk" and me doing some instant napkin math. But then, you hardly want to analyze the reactions of someone in high spirits.

We discussed nothing in particular but then almost anything under the sun. It was a motley group of unconnected people sitting together and enjoying each others' company, exchanging notes on almost every topic. A gang of 25-40 year old urban Indians. And as I went to a distance and listened to the buzz, to the topics they were freely discussing, I realized that middle-class, urban India has had a paradigm shift in its thinking since I last witnessed it. From gay relationships, live-in relationships, jazz bands, Bertolucci's Dreamers, anti-rightist political leanings, jobs around the world, Mahasweta Devi, latest mobile apps, motorcycling adventures, cleavages, and the need to care for your parents while they are still there, these people were already open and aware. They knew what they wanted, they had their opinions, and even after having enjoyed one evening of revelry they will go back to their respective lives, chores, and influence others who are probably not so privileged with information. This is not a judgment about whether it is good, bad, sinful, or inadequate to be what we are today, but just a huge exclamation mark a few points bigger than the normal font. I changed some of the names here to make them race-agnostic, but even if I put the real ones, you would realize that this can be a scene from any city in the world. Am I trying to make a point here? What started off as just a casual description of one evening spent with known and unknown people suddenly took a serious turn, giving the impression that I am trying to make a point in this article. I am not. I am not saying anything new to you. You perhaps witnessed this change yourself. I perhaps hadn't, being busy changing diapers. I have a vague feeling it isn’t a change after all because all this was so part of the Delhi I saw ten years back. My parents would perhaps argue that this was the scene fifty years back in Calcutta as well, when the fervor of Mao, French cinema, and unreal idealism gripped the youth of an entire city. In Delhi, when I saw it ten years back, these groups were not common, not from the dregs. There was always emancipation in small pockets, restricted to the college campus or intellectual dos. This somehow seemed more generic, more everyday to me. Am I calling this emancipation? Maybe not. Maybe just a change in some direction. Maybe just the illusion of a change. Maybe there was no such evening, or many. I, unlike the people I met today, am scared to have an opinion of my own, living in the comfort of the dark alley between two houses where nobody asks you uncomfortable questions.

I came home and raised a silent toast to all the people I met today and also to the ones that came after us and sat at different tables. We finally forgot to ask Shroff if he was a Punjabi or a Coorgi. But that didn't make any difference to the evening.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Boredom spreads all over and around you like a blanket and gradually comes down to wrap you around. You're lucky if you have caught it in its flight towards you and escaped its reach. But if you're caught, you end up being infinitely bored. All you can say to her is "you make me want to floss." And then the jeep racks seem boring, the fabricator's nag sounds like a whine (doesn't help that his name is Nagraj), the emails piling up in gmail look like tripe, the available list of chatters look like people you can piss on, the upcoming meeting at 3.00 pm sounds like an invitation into the Colosseum, only you are not a spectator this time. And then you are reminded of Roman Holiday, Return of the Dragon, and Jumper and want to go to Rome. Not to the meeting.
How is the line "You make me want to floss"? If a woman makes you want to floss or use Listerine, if a woman makes you careful about the smell in your armpits, if a woman makes you want to wear socks for a change, can you just say these things blindly to impress her? Like hey, I don't wear socks, but then it's you, so...
What would you expect her to say? Will she react favorably, do you think?

And then the clock strikes three.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So there

I wanted to tell you how many of them came for your last journey, although I wish your face hadn't become altogether unrecognizable. It did occur to me get your dentures, which were lying gingerly on the chair next to the bed, but I discovered them only the next day. I couldn't recognize you at all and the entire exercise of going to meet you in that room full of corpses is something that will remain with me for a long time. I have tried to shake it off but it comes back. With time, the frequency of this imagery haunting me will reduce, perhaps, but I am looking forward to many more years of having to close my eyes, grind my teeth, and clench my fists to shake it off. Yes, you weren't a very pretty sight dead, but none of the other people lined up before and after you were pretty either. I distinctly remember all their faces although your last look is fast fading from my eyes. Anjanda and Chayanda were with you all through the day, Puja and Joy were there all through the night and so were Kaku and Jayanti di. And that day, as you had wished for, you were brought back to the cooperative society where people put some flowers all around you. You have probably seen all that from wherever you are, but because I don't believe in the concept of a trapped spirit hovering around, I am not taking chances and writing you this email. If not anything, you are definitely going to be online to check your email from time to time. Have you had the opportunity to meet Mr Russell up there? You got me, although everybody around me connects the name Russell with Russell Peters, the standup comedian. I bet Mr Bertrand Russell isn't any good with computers, so you have a good chance to impress him. I bet you are looking for one Mr Tagore whom you had worshipped all your life and more so towards the end of it, but then, I don't have any messages for him. Do tell him if you get to see him that I love his song Fuley Fuley used in Charulata. He has probably already met Mr Ray and the others, so am sure you will find that space rather crowded. Do they have a coffee shop too? Tell Mr Bishnu De that I'm reading his An Acre of Green Grass. Although I'm reading it more out of respect for you than for him, you don't have to tell him that. There are many things that are best left unsaid. Like I couldn't tell your publisher from Sumitra Prakashani that I don't like the quality of his production. Oh yes, he had come to the crematorium to see you. Initially I thought it was out of love and respect for you, but I have a sneaky feeling that he has some other reasons. He was really looking for that last manuscript you promised him. I wanted to tell him that his holier-than-thou attitude was highly suspect. And yes, I always wanted to tell you that all these holier-than-thou pansies that you had sucking up to you aren't the kind of people I can respect much. I think all those pseudo-intellectuals from Bengal should be given a free tour of how the rest of India has progressed. How long can you discuss Tagore's views on self-sustainable villages or his art? Or his cautioning of the world of the vices of nationalistic feelings? Well, Europe was ready to listen to him but then we had Hitler too. You despised that man, I know, but then the whole world did. I remember the paintings of Hitler that you showed me as a child and all those books on Nazi Germany you had. You never rated him highly as an author and didn't keep a copy of Mein Kampf either, but then I am an objective kind of man. I am not too passionate about anybody and am always ready to change my opinion. Something you should have tried doing yourself. It helps. It helps sometimes to accept that what I held as the sole truth all my growing years can crumble with one huge sweep of Perestroika. It helps to accept that I am wrong. I can do that from time to time. I can accept that my views on someone or something yesterday has changed today. And that yesterday I was wrong. Have you ever, in your lonely moments with yourself (I know you incessantly spoke with yourself), ever accepted that out of so many things that you stood for all your life, many weren't worth it? Were you always right? If you died thinking that, I guess you were very wrong. You weren't right in my eyes for various reasons. You weren't there as a dad although you were there for all the others who cried at the memorial service we held for you. I was your son, with no intellectual pretensions. I am a plain guy, but then you couldn't accept that, could you? Or that I married a plain woman who can't engage in a lengthy discourse about Abanindranath's water colors or Dinu Thakur's notations? But then, I am not complaining. I wish I could be there to at least give you an aspirin and make you come back because I felt you had many more years to go and many more books to write. Even if I didn't read them, people called in from far and away, just in case you are wondering. I saw you through their eyes and was left bewildered. What are they talking about, hello, I mean, he was MY dad, so what do you know better than me? They all knew better than me. They knew who you were and they said so. I, in the melee, forgot to ask you who you really were.

Monday, August 16, 2010

In and Out: the books in two trays (July-Aug 2010)

In the In tray I had almost a hundred-odd books, lying there gathering dust since my Penguin days. To that I had kept adding at random, books that I always wanted to read but couldn't find the time to. And there are some authors that you just pick up even if you aren't gonna read them right then. One of them is David Lodge, everything by whom I have read so far (except for Author Author, which is a biography of Henry James and very unlike what I'm used to reading), and another is Roald Dahl, of course.

Last month I started cleaning out the In tray by reading one book after another. I instinctively reached out for the British authors from the In tray. First to go was How Far Can You Go? by Lodge (yeah, you guessed), which is about growing up in the Catholic England of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The young ones who could not come to terms with the Church's teachings, about condoms being forbidden, about discovering the pleasures of sex and trying to have a balanced life but failing miserably. Most of the characters ended up having around four kids not because they could afford to have them but because the safe method was neither scientific nor safe. I learnt about rectal thermometers, much to my disgust, and kept wondering how I would have fared as a Catholic in the England of the 50s. Perhaps my faith would have evaporated a little too early, who knows. FYI, most of these guys fell out of faith eventually and couldn't care much about Sundays any more.

Then was the turn of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, published in 1995. Wicked, British, and a modern-day Catcher in the Rye, of lesser proportions. I got to know about bands that I didn't know existed and also fell in love with Nick's narrative style. Casual, matter-of-fact, and very bold.

Third was Nice Work, by Lodge again, a book I had read long back in the early nineties as a PG student. Or perhaps when I was a salesman in Calcutta. In this book the British universities, living off grants and government dole meet British industries, probably on the brink of a recession, through two people, Robyn Penrose and Vic Wilcox. They try hard to understand one another and eventually the book triumphs in being able to make each understand the world of the other. Robyn, belonging in her ideal world of socialism and equality can't figure why the dirty jobs in the factory are being done by the Asians and how unscrupulously the management can get rid of them without a single thought. Vic, on the other hand, is aghast at the way people while away their time over coffee in the universities, apparently working. For him, spending money studying arts is itself a huge waste for the government exchequer, an idea that I quite liked. Not to side with him, but the very thought and the way it is argued, is worth giving a dime for.

Yes, Lodge makes them sleep with each other, something that I couldn't understand the need for. But maybe that symbolized the mating of industry with higher education. And when Lodge wrote this novel in the late eighties, the universities were trying to make money and sustain themselves. Maggy Thatcher had cut the grants. Gone were those days of idyllic lounging in the vast open spaces thinking of Saussure and Derrida and refuting everything that's said because it isn't what it apparently seems. Semiotic theory was always confusing.

Fourth came Roald Dahl's Going Solo, a book I finished overnight. It is racy, it is from the pen of the master storyteller, and what a story it is! It is devoid of any symbolism, full of stories from the second world war, and replete with images of Africa. Black and green mambas, Tiger Moths and Hurricanes, ju88 bombers, 109s and 110s from the Germans, and one guy called David Coke, who would have been the Earl of Leicester had he not been killed in his Hurricane by the Germans. This story, a real one, was so vivid and so nicely told, I couldn't for a moment put down the book.
I loved it when he comes back to the arms of his mom. For a moment it made me think of my mom, whom I lost a decade back. It also made me reflect on my life, which has been so dull and actionless unlike his. But then who wants to grow up in the middle of a war? That's what I would call the ideal storybook.

Next in line are some more British favorites from the libraries of our parents, I guess: Gerald Durrell, Tolkien, and Jerome K. Jerome. Yes, you won't believe, but I haven't ever read them apart from snippets or paras here and there. And then I will re-read some Peter Mayle, another British author settled in France, whose novels are free and beautiful. You can feel Provence in his stories, as if you are there, good French wine, and crimes that seem almost Italian in their panache.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Abandoned Chapter

(This chapter has been bowdlerized from my "book" for being explicitly sexual in nature. So it can feature here.)

"I was about to come. Russell Peters calls it arriving but you know how it is when the act is hardly over and all you want to do is squirt it all inside. I slowed down and tried to savor everything about you. Your closed eyes, the muffled moans to not let your neighbors figure what was going on inside, the light jazz playing on your turntable, the moss-green satin bedspread, and the huge yellow cushions. I wasn't prepared for this and I had come to say hello and give you some imaginary flowers. White, I think. Or yellow, don't know. How did it start? I wanted to reconstruct how it all started but felt myself laterally expanding within you."

You can't really write an email explaining things after a lovemaking session goes horribly wrong. But that's precisely what I sat to do. Write to her about why I came so soon. Laterally expanding within a woman is a surefire indication of things coming to an end. And end it did, although it wasn't supposed to be over so soon. How long, five minutes? Maybe seven? What is wrong with you, Shuvo? And now she won't want to meet you a second time, I guess. Like all the others. Like Babli in Calcutta who was hardly warmed up by the time it was all over for me. And I didn't get a second chance.

"Hey, am in Calcutta next week, would you like to meet?"
"Oh, Shuvo, what a pathetic mistiming! I am leaving for a shoot today and won't be back in almost a month. How long are you here?"

Mistiming, indeed. It is all about getting your timing right. And that's where I went wrong from class 2 in school. Mrs Dhar couldn't make me learn to read time. "What time is given in the first diagram?" she would ask me, pointing to a diagram on the humongous blackboard that ran from one end of the classroom to another. Believe me, the clock turned into Donald Duck. And when I finally learned to read time, it wasn’t anything to show off because even Daffy could by then. So, my timing was wrong and so was everything else. I could manage to get a girl to bed, but would invariably abandon her when she was in midflight. And then she called. Not Babli, the woman from today.

"Am sorry, you know... I was so... unprepared"
"What are you sorry for Shu? I enjoyed every bit of it. Am just feeling bad about him. I shouldn't do this to him."
Okay, so she was trying another excuse about not meeting me again. Not bad, she almost sounds convincing.
"Don't worry, let's not do it again. I mean, I too didn't know it was all gonna happen. Just those ladies outside your lawn..."

When we were about to leave her house, we spotted some of her neighbors chatting outside her lawn. We both had to leave in a hurry, but were stuck inside. In consternation you hug. We hugged too and somehow this was a long one. She didn't stop my hands from sliding inside her kurta in search of gold. Her eyes were closed, breathing heavy, and as I tugged her kurta upwards, she lifted her arms. Before I knew it we were on her green bed, stark naked. And we made love, slowly, with caution, muffling our moans. It was pure, natural, missionary, and without any foreplay. The situation was our catalyst. It was all so lovely, so romantic; I just wanted it to last forever, forever. But then came this lateral expansion thingy almost like a Hun and ended it all for me. (Why do we associate Huns with everything bad?)

"Oh no Shu, it was lovely."
What was she saying? Does she want to..."Do you want to come over this week, sometime?" I almost regretted saying it.

There was a long pause, to end which I hastily added "I mean, to have coffee, perhaps, or Darjeeling tea, anything?"
"Did you like me so much, Shu? Do you?"

What can I say? She is really not making an excuse, is she? Is she, does she...I mean, really?

"You know I'm in love with you, don't you? I'm just wary of saying it. It will make both of us very neurotic. We will both want things we can't give each other. And you have a child."

"So do you, so do you..." her voice faded, as if she didn't want to believe in it for a while.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Total Effects

"Hello, mamia, shunte pachhen? Can you hear me?"
"Yes, shuvo, tell me. Why didn't you come over with your wife and child this time?"

I was in a supermarket, watching the queue at the counter grow, and I had to decide something very quickly. A call with mamia (our aunt in Delhi) doesn't end quickly as she always has a lot to say. Usually it is about why we are not moving back to Delhi asap. We try to tell her that the weather in Bangalore is way too good for us to move anywhere else, but her love for us is so heartfelt, we can't say no on her face. We end with "one day we will have to move back to Delhi, that's where we are from, after all."

We are not from Delhi. We are from an industrial town called Durgapur, which would remind you of the mining colonies from Lawrence's novels. When we were born, Durgapur was infested with medieval people who were still learning to button their pants. As with all Bengalis, all Durgapuris also had their share of intellectual hangups, which made them try their hand at theater and singing, stuff that upheld your Bengali "culture." There were some "bhodroloks" from Calcutta, Jamshedpur, or Ranchi, bastions of Bengali culture, and there were also those that upgraded from nearby districts of Bankura and Purulia, whom the bhodrolok Bongs looked down upon. People were segregated according to the dialects they spoke, and it was really a rich experience observing the capers. Some Durgapuris could still associate with it and felt they belonged there because of their schools, but I couldn't say the same about myself. Being an average student, I had to change three schools and hence felt no emotional association with Durgapur whatsoever. So, to mamia we would always say "will come back to Delhi." Because that was the first city I bonded with, the first city that acknowledged my presence, and the first city that seemed like the stories I had heard of the US of A, a land of dreams.

This rushed conversation with mamia was not about assuring her of our eventual moving back to Delhi. It was about something else altogether. I just blurted it out.

"Mamia, which Oil of Olay do you buy?"

She was zapped. She probably didn't know the context of my question. My sister, who'd recently been to visit mamia, came back with stories of how her complexion is glowing these days and how all her marks are gone. With cheeks full of acne scars, I happened to latch on to the conversation my sister had with my wife. They mentioned Olay somewhere in their conversation and I remembered that.

"Oil of Olay? I have an oily skin, why would I need to apply oil on top of that?" Mamia had a point there.

"So what is it that you use? Something that takes care of the wrinkles and also the acne spots?"

I suddenly noticed that some lady shoppers around me were curiously listening to my side of the conversation. I was standing in front of the cosmetics section, and seldom do you find men standing there.

"Oh, that's Olay total Effects, shuvo. It is very effective. But why would you want to use that? It is for women?"

"Ahem, umm... you know, am like 39 already? And my wrinkles are not fine lines any more, mamia. They are showing almost everywhere: under my eyes, on my forehead, next to my mouth... umm... so, I was thinking if I could use something?" At about this point in the conversation I noticed one little girl fiddling with my shoelaces! I stamped my feet to scare her and carried on with this long-distance call that wasn't promising to come to a conclusion very soon.

Mamia for a long while tried to convince me that when she last saw me I had impeccable skin and that I still look 25, but I wasn't ready to believe her. The mirror has something very sordid to say, and I better paid heed.

"So which Olay should I buy? I can see Total Effects, a moisturizer, and a whitener."

"Don't buy Olay. That's for women. Why don't you buy a Nivea Natural Whitening moisturizer instead? Your uncle uses that."

Luckily I could find Nivea nearby and started reading the instructions on the pack. Apparently it was for men who spent a lot of time out in the sun. It also whitens your skin and controls oil. That interested me because I have always had this secret desire to be white. All Bengalis want to be white like the Europeans, and the only thing we could do so far in that regard was to learn English as best as we could, but now it seemed there was a solution to the other desire of physically resembling the whites as well. I was always worried what people do neck down (you can't possibly apply fairness creme on your entire body) but resigned to the fact that the face should do for starters.

The Nivea pocketed, I thanked mamia, and started walking toward the counter. But my feet seemed paralyzed for a second and refused to listen to the instruction from my brains to walk. They stayed where they were, as my upper body nonchalantly tried to move on. You're right, before I could realize it, I nosedived to the floor. I actually landed on my nose because somebody had tied my shoelaces while I was on the phone with mamia. As I got up and felt the blood oozing out of nostrils, trying to figure out if my jaw was broken too, the shopgirl who helped me get up asked me "sir, are you all right?"

Some people were smirking, some looked genuinely concerned. Having forgotten about my desire to turn white, I kept my Nivea back where it belonged and picked up a bottle of Dettol instead.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Your Argentina or My Brazil?

I was thinking why we change loyalties or suddenly like one specific team. i don't know much about football, so i decided that all south americans (basically the Portuguese and Spanish colonies) are ppl to be looked down upon because they are unscrupulous, drug peddlers, and verminous like us Indians... and only the proper Caucasian Europeans (not ... See Morethe pirates from Spain and Portugal) have any real character. I hate Argentina because Maradona, despite being a great footballer, is not a trustworthy man. Can I idolize Tyson? NO. Likewise, we cannot idolize someone like Maradona, a man of dubious morals.

So, loyalties/hatred toward any team are often formed because of one hero or antihero. people loved Pele when he came to Calcutta and half of Calcutta became fans of Brazilian football. My frnd Meghadoot da follows European football for quite some time and he absolutely adores Platini and later Zidane. Hence his love for France. I support Germany, England, Denmark, Netherlands and again Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, and any Asian country. Why the English? They were our masters for a long time and the inertia of genuflection towards whites remains in me. It's a pity they left us in the hands of Indian politicians. A General Dwyer is perhaps less harmful than we Indians are to ourselves. Than the Congress has been to the Sikhs? The Brits also have the best sense of justice. Warren Hastings was tried for misappropriation of funds at one point, and Robert Clive was driven to suicide because of the probe against him after he left India. They built India and we all bloody know it. So support them.

Why the Germans? For the love and respect they have for their country. The way the Germans rebuilt their entire nation so strongly despite the aftermath of the World War, you naturally want to stand up and salute them. Even in business their love of the nation comes to the fore. SAP buys tickets from Lufthansa, Bosch buys SAP applications. They all buy Audi, BMW, or Merc, whereas we Indians buy Japanese or Korean. They love their nation, unlike us. And in football they might not have individual brilliance at the same level as the Argentinians or Brazilians, but they play as a unit, which is very beautiful to watch.

Why the Scandinavian countries? Somehow, the Nordic people seem to be the most caring about human life. In places like Sweden and Denmark, a citizen's medical expenses are forever free. That's the way they value human life. We can't come anywhere close (forget the USA). Hence, they are generally good people...so support their football teams too. Okay, I admit this is kinda lame.

Why the Africans? For Roger Milla, for Didier Drogba, for Asamoah Gyan, and also for all their authors. For Chimamanda Adichie, whom I discovered only recently. For their downtrodden status. For the hatred and racism they faced all these centuries. If an African nation wins, you have tears in your eyes. You stand up and salute.

Being Indians, and left with nobody to look up to but for Leander Paes, Vishy Anand, or Saina Nehwal, what choice do we have? You support your Argentina, me my Brazil. End of the day, we remain bloody Indians after all, with only a commercialized cricket team we can call our own.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To YOU: I'm Dead

I had to die. For you. And to you too.

When your hands brushed against mine, I couldn't sense the urgency in your fingers. It was natural, perhaps accidental. And then you started telling me the story of the princess. And I started talking about how you are beautiful and how beautiful you are.

"How much" was a spiel on the degree of your beauty and "how you are beautiful" was about my perception. I circled you, looked for that angle from which you are not that beautiful but couldn't find it, really. Piled up the books we collected and balanced your face on top of it to see which looked better. And I couldn't even remember the titles or the authors. You passed. Your overwhelming beauty made me gasp... for breath, and for reality to sink in at times. "Someone tell me she is a dream."

While I was wallowing in self pity about you, toying with the possibility of falling for you, trying to build up a story about you, you came running to me with that packet full of groceries dangling. I could see some tuna, some canned sardines, and celery. You are in love with me, you said. I didn't look at your face.

And I had to die. I had to leave that generic letter for nobody in particular. Much like our "to whomsoever it might concern" letters that are aimed at the air around us. I left it for the police. And for the person who will find my body eventually. I am not Pamuk's corpse though. I had to die because I wanted to quietly slink away from your mind that I'd been fucking for so long. And I did. I hid. I cooked up a body in my imagination and left it for them. And they were still looking for it while the doctor gave my death certificate almost in a trance. The insurance claims are already being processed. The house behind yours is vacant. The last place you will search for me.

Not sure I like being dead. Because I am alive. And my mothballed second identity has been brought out and dusted. The money, the money. The money has to come quick and I can't resist rubbing my hands against each other in anticipation. The only thing I can think of is travel. But I can't go very far from you either.

Why did you fall for me? I could live with me falling for you or anybody else, but why did you have to? I am not used to this, you know. Of people like you falling for me? Or people falling for me in general. They don't, with emaciated, yellow, wrinkled dogs. Harsh? I am. On myself, mostly, but then, that's twisted modesty if you read my mind. That's fishing. That's expecting you to say you want to make love to me although you are not attracted. But then you say you are in love.

Are you confusing me?

When I told the other woman about you, she threw a piece of brick through her window at me. She keeps solid bricks inside her house. To throw at passersby and dogs. Or for the kicks of it. She had thrown me out of her house when I hadn't held her with affection after we fucked. She too, like you, likes to call it making love. I prefer fuck. She wants to see me bruised but still wants me to forget you and go back. This is getting confessional so I will keep it private, but heart of hearts I haven't thought about making out with you. I have, but the thoughts couldn't grow into anything realizable. Some cop in my fantasies rejected them. I would prefer a walk down a jungle path, listening to your princess story. It was unfinished, if you remember. Yes, I would definitely love to hold on to your soft hands.

You wonder why I use words like "beautiful" and "soft" despite them being used ad nauseam, but even today, beautiful is just that, a superlative in its own right, and soft is just like a rabbit's bosom.

The house the house. Will it cage me in? The second identity, will it let me go far and wide?

The freedom from life, will it kill me in the end?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Green Mug Has a Flower on It

"Get up, we have to rush," urged Manjunath to his wife. They had to catch a bus to Tirupati where they wanted to ask for a son. Silpa was already pregnant for six months, so if they delayed this prayer trip to Tirupati, she might eventually have another daughter. Manju was obviously concerned. Being an autorickshaw driver, you didn't want daughters in Karnataka. Anywhere in India, he consoled himself. "Get up, like now!!"

Silpa was in this blissful state of having had a complete sleep with no hurry to wake up. She had asked for two days off from all the houses she worked in. And today was a paid leave for her and she wanted to enjoy it by waking up late.

"I don't want to go."

Manju pretended not to hear her. He always felt lucky to have found Silpa. She was beautiful, with big eyes and a round face. Her skin glowed like those foreign chocolates the babu's kids eat all day. And she had the best smile. It wasn't sensuous or inviting, but very charming. A little beguiling too because Manju couldn't make out if she genuinely liked him or if it was just an innocent smile. He was always in love with her, so couldn't believe his luck when finally their alliance was arranged by the families. So he pampered her. Dropped her to the colony every morning in his autorickshaw and waited till she and her shadows got engulfed by the huge buildings. Every day he waited for a few more minutes, wishing for her to come out and smile at him again, but she never came out. But that wait had become habitual.

"I said, I don't want to go."
"Come on, just get up and drink some tea, and we can catch the bus."

Their only daughter was with Silpa's mom for a few days and their mornings were usually free. Her mom sent little Usha to school everyday and the next one should ideally be a son, they all thought. Silpa, somehow, never talked about her preference. Manjunath had a sinking feeling that Silpa probably wants a daughter again, but he was too afraid to ask. After all, they had gone to the local temple and asked for a son and now it was time to please Lord Venkateswara. He didn't want to miss the bus today.

"I think I've already seen god, so I don't wanna go." Silpa was feeling the baby in her bump and fondling her. She knew it would be a daughter. And she had lost trust in day trips to Tirupati in the heat. The buses were crowded, the journey tiring, and the queues horribly long. That wasn't what she expected from a visit to god. And what do they say about Him being omnipresent? No, she doesn't want to go.

"I have already seen him."
"What are you talking about?" Manju was getting impatient and now she was talking nonsense. From the time she started working at the house of those North Indians, she's come back with a lot of strange stuff. They are Hindus but don't have any temple inside their house. The lady of the house smokes. And although they had given them an interest-free loan of Rs 5000 and also paid her a lot more than the other people in the colony, Manju didn't quite like them. And now she comes up with this new story.

"Guess what happened yesterday? These guys bought me a new tea mug."
"So what's the big deal in that? We are getting late for the bus, let's please go now?"
"No, no, listen to me first. Guess what happened after that. A new tea mug isn't what am talking about. They kept the mug in the same rack where they keep theirs. Can you believe it?"

For a moment Manju was not sure of what she talked about, but then it dawned on him. She kept talking about how she's treated in most of the houses: she has to keep their footwear in the shoe rack; her tea cup in most households would be a chipped or old one, kept on the window sill; one day an Oriya lady threatened to not let her into the colony for being late by thirty minutes...there were many such stories that the other girls glossed over. They had thickened their sensitivities and carried on. These rich bastards will die of plague one day...was a collective hope among her people. But Silpa didn't like to be treated like the others. She felt bad every time one of her employers raised her voice. Tears would well in her eyes and Manju would have to make do with no dinner those nights. Manju knew what she was talking about.

"They what?
"They kept your mug with theirs? Are you kidding me?"
"No, when I washed my mug yesterday and kept it on the window sill, sir came and kept it along with theirs, saying 'Silpa, why can't you keep your mug where we keep the other mugs?'
"I don't know Manju, but I could have cried there. You don't know what it means to me."

Manju was silent for a long time. He came and sat on the bed next to her. He had tears in his eyes too. So what if the madam smokes, they are not like the others at all. They acknowledged and smiled at him every time they met him on the roads, they treated them like human beings. He kept sitting there for a long time and heard Silpa say that if there's god, He has to come in human form. And that she has seen him already.

Tirupati didn't happen that day. They enjoyed their weekend, driving to Bannerghatta National Park in his auto. Just the two of them. It was bliss, and forgive me Lord for I enjoyed my time in Bangalore, thought Manju. The next day, Silpa came out a few seconds after entering the building and gave him a smile. It was like falling in love all over again. Maybe she is right about god and his human avatars…Manju thought as he said a silent prayer for the North Indian employers of Silpa.


Arka got Campari from Sri Lanka for us. "I didn't notice the 'bitter' part on the label when I picked it up from the duty-free," he quipped. The sun was setting and we were out on the balcony, savoring the last rays.

"How about some tea? I make a fine Darj brew. Wanna try it?" he offered.

"Awesome...I don't mind the guest making himself useful, but remember not to pick up the green mug."
"Which one, this green one with the flower on it? What's wrong with that?"

"Oh that belongs to our maid. We are a politically correct household, sir, can't you see?"

"Ahha, impressive! That must work wonders, huh? The one with the bump? She's hot, man...I hope the child ain't yours?" Arka laughed even as he suggested it.

"Lower your voice, bugger, Niharika will be here any minute."

It was a good joke that led to another and yet another. Evenings, as I always noticed, have this distinct advantage over days when it comes to turning memorable.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

David Davidar: My Hero

Since morning I received three calls and several messages from friends all over. And all were about David Davidar. Why did people remember me when they read about him in their morning newspapers baffles me because I left Penguin 13 years back after what can be called a really short stint. Well, the reason might be because I never stopped talking about David ever since. I have told the denizens of Bangalore about him, my common friends about him, my girlfriends about him, and pretty much everybody that I can remember. Even my wife, who's seen him from a distance like you see a luminary from the fringes of a social do, is at awe. Still.

What did I tell people about him? First that I looked up to him. Literally, because he was 6'3" in 1997 and I a mere 5'7". He would like "Hello" in his booming voice down at me, a scrawny, mongoloid, tongue-tied editorial assistant who was taking in everything he saw and heard. And second, that he was surrounded by a bevy of beauties, who never, ever complained about him trying to make a pass at them. Never. I know because I have been really close with some of them and they would generally complain about lecherous men to me. But nobody, ever, spoke about David. We were all, always, at awe of him. Third, because he would finish reading manuscripts overnight, or write for the Book Talk column (in The Hindu) in a flight! Fourth, because he was as handsome and charismatic as Vijay Amritraj, but never used his power or charms to go philandering about. The publishing world is very incestuous when it comes to wagging tongues and nobody talked about him slapping any woman's bottom or asking them to meet him after work.

I know Shobhaa De will write about this tomorrow. She, in her memoirs, has written about almost everybody, even about Sanjeev Kumar (whom we all have so much respect for) being a lecherous drunkard. But she always had good things to say about David.

David married a pretty lady called Rachna in 1998 after a longish affair. And what happened in the last 13 years that made him fall for someone like Lisa Rundle? Did he fall for her? Were they in a relationship? He says they were friends for three years, so what happened? Did she fall for him and didn't get a response? Is this her way of making some quick buck? At what expense?

I, even after 13 years, will have to stand by him and show my solidarity. Whatever version of truth comes out after the trial.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dilemma of Probashi Bengalis

More than resident Bengalis, the probashis (those living outside Bengal) try desperately to hold on to their bangaliana. As long as that includes Bengali khana (food) and gana (music), it is palatable and savory, but when it comes to their fanatical love of Sourav Ganguly, the problem arises. And the problem arises with the children of the probashis, who cannot fathom why all their parents worship him. I can understand though, because I am his die-hard fan, but my son finds it difficult to see why I support KKR of Calcutta although I studied in Banaras, found my first footing in Delhi, and currently work in Bangalore. It is as blasphemous as my Brahmin neighbor having to argue with his son about the existence of all the Hindu gods. That little brat didn’t wear the sacred thread, frustrated my neighbor by asking him to summon god to the puja room, listens to Linkin Park, and is a fan of Wayne Rooney. On a more serious note, he doesn’t even utter the Gayatri mantra, a must for every Brahmin worth his sacred thread. As a true-blue, die-hard Bengali, I find this unacceptable. And I’m not talking about my neighbor’s problem.

“Ghorer Shotru Bibhishon?” I asked my son the other day when he kept cheering Robin Uthappa, the upstart batter of Royal Challengers Bangalore, as he battered the KKR bowling attack.


“Bibhishon, Bibhishon, don’t you know your Ramayana?

“Bibhishon was the brother of Ravana, who decamped and joined Rama as a spy. He had all the vital information about Ravana’s capital, Lanka, and helped Rama win. Such betrayers, over the years, are called Bibhishon. Ki bhishon! And you, being a son of two true-blue Calcuttans, are supporting Rahul Dravid? The very man who plotted with Chappell to remove Sourav from the captain’s post?”

“But you yourself say you aren’t a bong, don’t you?” was my son’s prompt defense.

“Na, I mean I might not be a bong, but then, when it comes to Leander Paes and Sourav Ganguly, I am very much a bong. Just like I am a bong when it comes to Satyajit Ray, Jim Morrisson, Mark Knopfler, Robindronath, Usha Uthup, Arunlal, Dilip Doshi, Nandan’da, Roman Polanski, and Subhas Chandra Bose.”

Aaron wasn’t listening. His eyes gleamed with joy as mine glistened with the sadness of twin blows: that of KKR’s loss to RCB and the bigger loss of a Bengali son to an alien city. I wished I could tell him how the rest of India has always been plotting against us Bengalis. From Nehru and Gandhi plotting against Subhash Bose, Raj Singh Dungarpur plotting against Pankaj Roy, CV Raman plotting against Meghnad Saha, Sunil Gavaskar plotting against Dilip Doshi, Rahul Dravid plotting against Sourav, and Mahesh Bhupati plotting against Leander Paes, it has been a long history of subterfuge by lesser races against the Bengalis. But there are sad moments in Bengali history where one Bengali has plotted against another and ousted him, like Mir Zafar against Siraj’u’daullah, or David Gilmour against Roger Waters. Sometimes we hear rumors of Chet Atkins actually squeezing Mark Knopfler’s balls before quitting Dire Straits, but we don’t want to hear such trash about Bengalis. All this bad publicity is a ploy of the lesser races of the world to malign the only non-white humans of this world, the Bengalis.

But emotions apart, Sourav is losing his plot. His team is heavy on foreign names, who aren’t delivering except Angelo Mathews, and the local boys either don’t know cricket or lack the temperament to win a match for their team. Wriddhiman Saha never looked inspired in his entire career save behind the stumps, but he is called a batter. Manoj Tiwary and Laxmi Ratan Shukla are mediocre from all angles. There’s no Ashwin, no Vinay Kumar, or Ambati Rayadu who can turn around a match for the KKR. They are good in flashes, when Sourav or Chris Gayle shine. And when they don’t we hear Sourav losing his cool about how poorly his kids performed on the field.

Has the time come to turn our coats? Maybe support Punjab? Or Delhi? My mind is uncertain about all that save one thing: KKR will definitely lose their remaining matches, one thing I’m certain about. Would I want them to win? YES. Resounding yes. But do I trust them to win? Do I have faith in them? NO.


“Arijit, you there?”

“Yeah, tell me Atanu.”

“Thought I would share something really unfortunate with you.”

“What is it?” I was alarmed.

“My younger son has turned into a fan of MS Dhoni, of Chennai Super Kings. Am wondering how to bring him back to faith. Ki hobe bolo toe?”