Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Happiness is

A steaming mug of coffee (milk, no sugar) early in the morning, while the dew's still steaming up from leaves and daylight's still fresh and tentative...

Waking up on winter mornings to find a big, warm dog curled up in the crook of my knee. When I yawn and stretch, she also stretches, watching me out the corner of her eye for any sudden movement. If I sit up, she pushes me back down again, big paws on my shoulders, doggy weight settling on my chest as she studiously licks away my sleep. If I just turn over and snuggle back under the covers, she snuggles closer and goes back to chasing the birds in her dreams...

Meeting an old old old friend, losing all track of time and chatting till four in the a.m., waking up bleary but deeply satisfied, drugged with "do-you-remembers"...

Agatha Christie's autobiography (that woman is phenomenal).

The last few steps, coming in from the cold into the warmth and glow of home, my space.

Calling a friend when you're feeling blue... and ending the conversation laughing so hard that you pee...

The way my father's eyes gleam when he tells a joke...

Talking to home, hearing about the doggies' latest exploit and how they're still climbing onto the bed in the morning and waking my parents up...

That feeling of total faith in oneself and the world that comes upon me when I least expect and most need it - the feeling of "Oh. Well, that's alright then..." (Thank you, Douglas Adams)

A pat on the back at work after. (Means more than I like to admit!)

A day off, with sunshine windows, good books and pepper-tea...

A Saturday afternoon off to browse around book shops...

Happy new year. Here's to fame and fortune, peace and quiet, and everything in between.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Year End Black Funk

It's been a hard day's night.
For a year.

My sense of never-ending, ever-extending possibility is being trampled into slush in the grey fog of discarded illusions, as I get into my annual another-year-gone-by-and-what-have-I-achieved angst.

Every year, around this time, my insides start squirming around, to lead me to an overwhelming question (forgive me, TS: no, do not ask what is it).

In the matter of Universe Vs. Frog, the defendant stands accused of being an undisciplined, lethargic bum, a prefers-lying-around-reading-and disappearing-into-dreamworlds-to-getting-up-and-initiating-some-action hope-less, soul-less thrift-less, shift-less, drifting piece of human excrescence. And usually, judged by the high standards of this court, the defendant doesn't just lose - she's demolished, decapitated, de.

It begins like this. Suddenly, one afternoon at work, remembering that it's a friend's birthday, I send him a message. My mind works slowly during this run up to this epiphany. I'm going along, clicking my fingers, thinking, hey, wow, time really passes like that ... And suddenly, it hits me. December. End. Finito. New. Old. Shift. Change. Ding!

And so. I withdraw. I start thinking about the year. Can't be that I've accomplished / achieved nothing, it just can't. I can distinctly remember actually being nice to some people sometime during the year - surely that ought to count in my favour. I've refrained from eating potatoes for 150 (give or take) days out of 365 - that's gotta show some iron self control, huh? And, well, god knows I did well at work (even though somehow, these days, dragging myself out of bed in the morning to go to work is such a pain that I almost want to be diagnosed with some non-mortally-serious disease that demands bed-rest for a month, without too much imposition on people around, - a disease that also leads to steady - and rapid - weight loss without seriously impairing my energy / health... ).

I start drawing up hysterical sets of accounts, covering everything from the professional (Spear-headed the retail marketing initiative. Sassed the boss.) to the personal (Learnt a language. Forgot it.) and so on.

So this is due warning. All my posts over the next few weeks are likely to zig-zag wildly between foul moods and introspective calm. Bear up. This weather is likely to continue until, on New Year's Eve, I find a bonfire into whose embers I can stare thoughtfully, for hours, remembering and letting go and learning to live all over again.

Meanwhile, here's food for thought:

"The worst thing about the future is that it keeps turning into the present."
~ Calvin (Bill Watterson)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Another Proxy

Work piled all the way up to the stratosphere. Here's another transcription pretending to be a post. From years ago.

I came to your city
And you met me at that ungodly hour,
Wide-eyed and unsleepy.

You gave me your cactus to hold
Soft solky bristles small green in brown earth
Translucent blue pot
While you drove across town to give it to someone.
You took me home to your little room in a corner tucked away
Under roof, windows open on green and sunlight
Reminds me of home
And shared with me your city, your people, your smile.

And if only for half a day
I want to thank you for your cactus
Your little room
Your sudden smile.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Journey: 25th September, '99

This is something I wrote several years ago. On a train, travelling 3-tier sleeper to Bangalore, in search for a job and a life. Snowed in by work, so I figure this'll do for a while.

Here I am, stuck in this hell-train
Speeding towards my search for a new life.
And here are three cranky children in the same compartment as I,
Dropping coconut water on my clothes
Wiping their snot on Railways property.

I seek refuge in an upper bearth
From their reach, but
Not their clamour.

Doze the hot afternoon away.

And now, as I peer down and out of someone's window, I cannot make out
the coolness
on the platform we have stopped at is the shadow
Of rain-laden certainty of things to come

Or just any casual evening.

Friday, November 05, 2004

What Lies Waiting in Dank, Dark Corners...

Remember my earlier post about the wonders of cleaning?

Well, while cleaning out office space today, in order to move upstairs, I've stumbled upon this hoard of music that I never even knew I had. I mean, I know I had some music downloaded over long hours at the computer centre on campus, and ripped off other campus servers, but not this much. A couple of good CDs seems to have generated 5 more - all of them with great rock!

Nothing accompanies cleaning better than some Springsteen (Dancing in the Dark), Beatles (Strawberry Fields, for crying out loud) and Dylan (Everybody Must Get Stoned - a sentiment I heartily agree with!).

There's a learning to this. Henceforth, all my CDs will be stored in dark drawers and corners of cupboards. I'll never have to buy music again. Hurrah!

More later, from an altogether nicer office with natural light and a view of the sea - and great music!

PS: Coming up: Savage Garden, Cat Stevens, Dire Straits, Edie Brickell. Life couldn't get much better. Despite the blocked and runny nose. Smile. It's a glorious day!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Running Nose Blues

Never suffered from dust allergy before. But I blame dust for the all-pervading feeling of being unwell creeping through my bones today.

Here's how: I'm moving up the corporate ladder. Rather, staircase. Literally. Moving office 4 floors up, and as a result, have to go through and throw out much of the junk I've accumulated here over the past year and a half. Most of my colleagues shifted yesterday, and I thought perhaps I should make a move on the cleaning too... so started opening old storage spaces that haven't seen daylight in quite a while. To discover rich piles of junk. And rich piles of dust that jumped at the opportunity to swirl around and enter my nasal cavities.

5 hours of that, combined with the sudden burst of rain to which I was treated yesterday (all unawares and un-umbrella'ed), and (cheer-leader style) WHAT DO YOU GET? Phlegm. SAY IT AGAIN. PHLEGM. LOUDER. PHLEGM... And so on...

Speaking of school cheer leading, an old school chant comes to mind:
"I don't know but it's been said
All the others have heads of lead."

Well, sure as hell feels like I have a head of lead today. In fact, feels as though a heavy ball of lead just dropped into my skull from somewhere, and then some helpful person filled the remaining space in my cranial cavity with cement - which has, since, been pouring copiously out of my nose. Forcing me to complete my travails around office accompanied by a large and obtrusive roll of tissue paper.

Which completely justifies 3 things.
1. Copious quantities of steaming, hot coffee consumed throughout the day.
2. Loud music at work
3. And no intelligent posts for a while.

And before I leave, here's the question for the day. Ever heard the term, "Feed a cold, but starve a fever"? Well, what if one has both? What if I get fever tonight? Should I starve or feast?

And just in case you write in saying I should starve, I'm leaving early, to medicate myself with hot food at home.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Ad Absurdum

People keep asking me, "Why don't you read the papers?"

There's no real answer to that question. It's like being asked, "why aren't you married?" a question that Bong / Gujju families on trains are wont to ask single women like me when we get trapped into the same compartment with them.

Truth is, I don't know why. The morning newspapers have never held much thrall for me. Barring The Telegraph Quick Crossword and the funnies, nothing much else in the papers has seemed worth it. Of course, flash-in-the-pan periods have happened - during my MBA applications, I read The Economic Times, like all other aspirants to the IIMs. Not to mention Business Today, Business India, Business World, Business Week, Business Standard... And again, during the week prior to placements interviews, like everyone else, I was on a strict diet of The Economic Times and Fortune Magazine.

Still, it bothers me from time to time. It seems everyone I know has a morning ritual involving tea / coffee, morning newspapers and the toilet, and I worry about why I have no interest in even glancing through the broadsheets. My newspaper-wallah has strict instructions to deliver papers to my door only on the weekend, when they come armed with bytes from some noted columnists who write commentary, not news.

This morning, however, when I sat down with papers and coffee, I finally figured why it is that I don't indulge in them daily. (I knew there had to be something). "Veerappan's wife to sue Government for laying a meticulous trap for him," or something to that effect, say today's papers.

For the uninitiated, Veerappan (Koose Muniswamy), roamed the forests of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for years, and was wanted for slaughtering elephants without number, smuggling ivory and sandalwood worth billions (in USD), and killing in the range of about 130 men, including police officers and forest rangers. He may have single-handedly damaged the ecology of the Deccan, and endangered the survival of Indian elephants as a species.

And his wife wishes to sue the Government for hunting him down like a common criminal! And as though sueing the Government isn't enough, she then wants Government assistance with bringing up her children. Talk about biting the hand that may yet feed you.

I grant that it's not just the papers - art is a reflection of reality, after all, just as the papers reflect the world at large. Absurdity comes to our door, rolled up, every morning because the world supplies the presses with it every hour of every day. Somehow, that becomes a bit much to take. Which, perhaps, is why newspapers come equipped with comic relief too. If one can call it that.

A long-ago headline from the Times of India informed us, "Marital Law Declared in East Timor." Only that wasn't very comic either. The most recent winner of the Nobel peace prize, a woman who has planted 3 million trees in sub Saharan Africa, has had nothing to do with preserving or driving peace, and believes that HIV was created by evil scientists in order to do away with blacks. And a recent headline about the fight for American presidency states that the "hotness" quotient of candidates' wives and daughters is making a big difference to the race. God know that having a cute daughter is a matter of national importance, and the key factor to choosing the right candidate, and will certainly have a bearing on his understanding of the economy and foreign policy.

When mainstream news is this hysterical, it's a matter of debate why newspapers still maintain the Funnies section. But while they do, I'd prefer to get my laughs there. And only on weekends, please.

Until I decide to do a second MBA, that is.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Winter Air

Winter has climbed over the clouds and appeared - plonk - in the middle of Bombay. Sudden, unheralded and completely unexpected.

I should have noticed this a few days ago, when I didn't have to throw the sheets off me in a rage in the heat-sweltering dawn, but I didn't. Because in Bombay, there are no signs, really. No sunlight changing to the glow of sunshine, no yellow-ness of late afternoon warmth against walls and streets. No gradual shift, complete with falling leaves, the air growing thicker and thicker, as though it's concealing a secret until, one day, just as you feel you can't endure it any longer, it bursts open with dew and earthworm mounds on the school field and an explosion of white-and-orange shiuli flowers on the hard winter ground.

No, no signs at all. No brooding sense in the pit of my stomach, that something's-going-to-happen-I-don't-know-what-but-I'm-excited feeling. Suddenly, at dawn yesterday, it became too cold to sleep with the fan on. Get up, fan off, loo, drink water, look at time (5:00 a.m.), stagger back to bed, check alarm (set for 5:30) and switch it off, get under covers, snuggle up to A, drift back to sleep.

6:30 a.m. Daylight. Awaken slowly, dozily, rub eyes, squint, notice that the light is different, the air is different. There's a nip - Bombay's poor-cousin version of a nip, but a nip none-the-less - in the air. Outlines seem more distinct, as though the cold air has crystallised the edges of things, exploded vague stories and myths, made things cleaner, clearer. Stretch lazily, lie back in bed, staring through the window at the sky (white winter sky, gleaming). At the trees outside, ringing to the chuck-chuck-chirrik sounds of birds rushing about, busy with humming processions of insects (with "Bugs At Work" signs) drilling flowers and draining honey. At the leaves, a dew-washed fresh green, shining in the crisp new air.

Morning coffee (I'm not supposed to have it, but what the heck, some days are just ear-marked for a good steaming mug of caffeine), standing at the window sipping, looking at green-leaf-sunshine, I get goosebumps from the crisp air and the sense of potential about the day. There's something about winter that just gets me. It gets under my skin, whirls things around a bit, makes me giggle.

Long years ago, winter holidays, Ma and I (in one of her best "holiday projects" ever) would go walkabout in Calcutta. Math-and-coffee-mornings (Hall and Knight, Hall and Stevens), sandwich-and-oranges lunch, and then off to explore the city. Winter afternoon in a boat on the river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Cousins and aunts, oranges and chocolate, I-saw-a-Dolphin triggering rival "so-did-I"s, lulled by the blip-blip of the oar and our mothers' laughter. By bus to Nimtola Ghat, the Circular Rail to Princep Ghat, and back walking, after coffee and chicken pakoras in the Garden Cafe by the river. A morning at the zoo, an expedition with my cousin M, armed with flask and water and sandwiches, and peanuts for the elephants (Roshanara and something-something - can't believe I've forgotten the name - call my cousin in a frenzy to check if she remembers), an afternoon at all our shrines, gaping at the otter, gazing wistfully at the bears ("But why can't we keep one?") before finally taking the long way home, dusk and sunset, and gentle fog settling and back home, exhilarated, to coffee and hot baths and one more adventure under our belts.

Winter mornings at home are still magical. Ma and Baba sitting outside, under the beach-umbrella we bought years ago, that is defying all known laws of the universe by still remaining in one piece. Coffee, newspapers, The Telegraph quick crossword (by arrangement with The Guardian), neighbours and friends dropping by for coffee and staying for esoteric discussions -quantum mechanics and road trips, my dogs, resplendent - and preening somewhat - in their winter coats, running amok - chasing mice and birds and each other with equal enthusiasm before flopping down hufffffff, nose-under-chair - cocking their ears at morning activity - chirrik chirrik birds, pen scratching over paper, the car being washed, and someone collecting the masses of shiuli scattered on the ground, to heap onto a black stone plate, to place on a white marble table.

Coffee under my belt, the morning beckons. Gym, provisions-shopping, and the beach - across the street - in winter, with stony sea and white heads of foam. Coffee plans with P. Crisp air creeping through my windows, filling my soul. Sunshine on green leaves and long dangling stalks of wispy, cotton-y flowers, and Simon and Garfunkel singing I Am a Rock in the background. I clean my fans, dust the ceiling clean of cobwebs and settle into the beanbag with more coffee, as A sleeps on. Still looking out the window while the sunshine dapples the room. Bombay winters may not be a patch on Calcutta ones, but what the heck, I'll take these too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Cleaning Bug

It's the weekend again! Vive Maharashtra and her mid-week elections. And her civic-minded Government, that believes it ought to be a holiday, in order to provide all citizens with the opportunity to vote without shirking work. Vive vive vive!

Safe in the thought that tomorrow is a blessed holiday, I decide to take the time this evening to clean up my workspace. Blasting music and dancing around are therpeutic on their own, and if you're cleaning up something to boot - well, it's a magical world! So anyway, here I am, executing little pirouettes and twirls shredding paper and shoving things in the dustbin.

The office takes on a different aspect after and before hours. The emptier it is, the nicer it is, somehow. You can blast your music, do your own thing, and almost imagine that whatever work you're doing is making a difference to someone's life somewhere. Almost. And of course, you can blast Mission Impossible at work, and pretend to be Tom Cruise.

But coming back to cleaning and its wonders: If you don't enjoy cleaning, then you're clearly not a junk-person, like I am. All I have to do is open one drawer, and out pop a hundred different things, lost and forgotten, full of musty smells and memories, enough to completely derail the cleaning effort while I pore over them and get my fill...

Personal memorabilia... souvenirs carefully preserved over the years, till I no longer know why I preserved them, but am still loathe to throw away, in case they once meant something to me (yes, people, even though I no longer know why I've kept them). For instance, on several rounds of spring cleaning, I've come across a box, among my belongings, which contains programmes from several Nativity evenings in school. Understandable, since, over the course of a long career on the stage, I've played everything from the good sheep (pig, actually) in the field on the Holy Night to the good shepherd who saw them, to the Star in the east. Some memorabilia is definitely called for - I'm just glad I didn't save crumbs from the ceremonial brownies and samosas we used to be given at the end of the evening. But along with these programmes, I've also found some old chocolate wrappers. Cadbury's Crackle, if memory serves me right. For the life of me, I can't remember why I've kept them. Was it the first crackle I ever ate? In which case, why didn't I preserve other firsts? Did someone "special" give it to me? No clue, but on any of the three times I found the wrapper, did I throw it away? Of course not!

Or old photographs... they pop up in the most unexpected places, and instead of cleaning, I end up sipping my coffee and looking through them. I'm convinced that we show each other photographs only so that we have an excuse to look at them again themselves - there is nothing quite so fascinating, so endlessly interesting, as photographs of one's own life and times. Lives summed up by dog-eared pieces of stiff paper, fading and sepia-toned. And the retrospective revelations - this is who I was then, stupid, young, full of idealistic illusions, gullible... and this photograph was taken by so-and-so, at such-and-such place, and oh how lovely it was to gather there every Sunday... Every picture a world in itself, dragging you into orbit around it, leaving spring cleaning forgotten, duster and rag lying in a heap on the floor.

Then there are old letters and cards... carefully preserved, in a large bag, some tied together with ribbons, some hurriedly squashed and held together with a rubber band (now melted)...
Sometimes, even till you've forgotten who these people are whose letters you've preserved, or what incident they're referring to. Old letters always make for some hilarious reading - and some wistful moments too. But this is the happy sort of nostalgia - the kind that makes you smile and cry simultaneously, and think fondly of people misplaced in the mists of your past.

And books... nothing is as wonderful as taking out a cupboard-full of books to air and sun and dust (wait, this is not the wonderful part, this is the manual labour part)... and then putting them back in. Each time you do this, you can rearrange, redesign the grand scheme according to which your books are filed. If earlier, it was by genre (fiction, academia, non-fiction, humour, comics...), this time, you can do it solely by author's name. Firstname or last. Or chronologically - and here again, permutations and combinations - the order in which you read them, or in which they were written, or in which you obtained them (even if you didn't read them then...) The possibilities are endless. Happy afternoons of activity.

For those who know them, there are wonders untold to cleaning. Therapeutic properties (I'm patenting this), the wonder and mystery of old things found, and of course, the constant danger of wild animals appearing from the mess in the corner of your room that you haven't touched for 5 months.

And inevitably, somewhere along the course of the cleaning, you end up just gazing out the window at green-leaf-sunshine forever, without really seeing them, letting your thoughts wander. With a gently steaming cup of coffee at hand, half-forgotten, duster and rags and mop lying in a huddle on the floor, your hands black and grimy from the cleaning...

Which reminds me, the shredder's waiting...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


First, to S, T, P and S.

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It's no small thing when one's ooooooldest friend gets married. Some moral support, some solidarity, is called for. So, off I went to Delhi, along with some other friends, to help her get smashed (as all good friends must) and cry at the wedding (as all good women friends must).

And all I will say about this, at this juncture, is that helping someone do something can be a tricky thing. It can totally backfire on you before you know it. My advice to all of you out there is, when you're helping friends-about-to-be-married to get plastered, stick to lime juice yourself.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning... the nursery, where we began this journey. Most of us have been together, in school, since this nursery, though we weren't all conscious of each other at the time. That's not surprising - in nursery, we were conscious of only 2 things, and both were scary.

First: Buddhi Ayah - the bane of our existence. She towered above us in those days, and wore big, scary glasses, which magnified her eyes to the size of footballs. She had hard, scaly hands, red teeth, horns, and a tail, and she could change her size at will. She was fear personified.

Second: the Blue Box. A horrific, terrifying, un-name-able thing, the mere mention of it was enough to make us behave for days on end... The Blue Box was something we used to creep around, quietly, in case it awoke and devoured us... And if we'd done something really, shockingly bad - like call someone a "buddy basket", or push somebody off the jungle gym, we'd be made to sit on it... for hours and hours - while the rest of the class watched from a safe distance to catch the box open and engulf us.

In later years, of course, we saw both Buddhi Ayah and the Blue Box for what they were - a tiny, untiringly patient ayah, responsible for keeping 100 of us clean and hygienic, when all we wanted to do was wallow in the sand (yes, the same sand in which someone had experienced a slight umm... plumbing accident a few hours ago) - quietly in love with generations of children who would then grow up and send their kids back to her nursery. And a big wooden box, painted blue (different shades, over the years), shaded and hued with childish imagination, and grown into a legend over years of children's hushed whispers heaped one on top of one another.

So this is where we began our journey. A huge, old nursery with massive windows, sunshine-dappled, colourful rooms, filled with jungle gym, sandpit, a slide and a see-saw. An old piano, played by older fingers once a day, as generations of children, over the years, danced to Mrs. Lovery's tunes. A wendy house in the corner, colourful wooden chairs and tables, bearing the marks of our Camel crayons, rubbed into paper till it tore, leaving crayon marks on the tables, all manner of hideous scribblings proudly displayed as art. A large wooden table in the middle, for the teachers to have their tea and snacks at, while we ran off to tiffin rooms, or ignored the food and made for the see-saw. Mattresses on the floor, where we would gather around in wide-eyed wonder to listen to Mrs. Sarawgi's stories, or learn nursery rhymes from Mrs. Paul.

Nursery was sort of like being in a womb. We were never unprotected - never allowed to go anywhere without a swarm of teachers accompanying us, and when we did finally move up to higher classes (kindergarten!!!), where we were allowed to roam the school premises without adult supervision, small wonder that for the longest time, the one place we kept going back to was the nursery! On the shared pretense that we just wanted to check things out - but actually, because it was such a cheerful, happy, cozy place (if a hall so cavernous can be called cozy!), so full of wonder.

Strangely, my last day in school, too, was in the nursery - we wrote our final board examinations - our passports to the world - in those same sunshine rooms, with the afternoon sun slanting across the floor, and the piano gleaming black, the dolls house (whose doors we could no longer fit through) beckoning from the back of the room, as we laboured over differential equations and aldehyde formation, shakespeare and keynes. And all the while, our brains tripped to a different tune, recalling shadowy corners,hazy faces and incidents, and remembering, remembering. Singing, "Lord dismiss us with thy blessing, thanks for mercies past received..."

But in the beginning, before all that, there was only the big room, and the big windows, wooden tables and chairs, story time and the magic e. And the magic that went with us along our journey through school, and that has kept us together still.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Airports - Now and Then

Over days of not updating the blog, the words are battling, crowding up against my skin to tumble out. Days and days of stray thoughts - glimpses of things that made me go "hmmmm", neatly filed, to be left till called for, adventures and ideas that came my way packed in with them, all waiting for the floodgates to open.

The problem, though, with this sort of situation, is the plethora of choice. There's so much to write about that from that I don't know which stream to follow. My train of thought is fast approaching a collision with about 15 others. But here're some glimpses anyway.

So I went to the airport to see Someone off - he was leaving for the UK, and since I couldn't go along with him, I went up to the airport (this is called living life to the lees). Here's a thought about airports: they have changed since I was a kid! (This dates me, but life's like that.)

One of the biggest perceived treats of my childhood was each time my aunt and cousins came visiting from the UK. (I suspect this was because they came laden with large quantities of cheese and chocolates, since I couldn't really understand much that my cousins said to me at the time.) And each time they arrived / duly departed 6 weeks later, we would all troop to the airport - where we would enter with them almost up to the check-in counter, then wave tearful (or, in my case, cheese-stuffed-cheerful) goodbyes to them.

Then, as they headed off to check in, we would go up to the viewing gallery: a large, 3-sides-open second floor verandah, from where you could see vistas of runways, corridors snaking their way to parked aircraft, etc. From this wondrous place, you could wave to relatives and friends up to the point when they actually entered the airplane, then watch the plane taxi and take off. At age eight or so, it was all very thrilling.

Now, however, when you go to see people off at the airport, you have to say your goodbyes from the outside. No, wait, that's not true: you can go in - up to a distance of three whole feet. Imagine that! And, consider this - the fineprint: The poor dupes who actually pay 50 bucks to enter the airport along with their dearly departing, enter through a door on the right, while passengers enter through a door on the left. Then, passengers turn left and proceed to check-in, while the see-off-ers can turn right - not left, note, but in the opposite direction to the ones passengers are taking. Or, of course, they have the option of staying bunched up together like sardines, just inside the door, watching their friends/relatives march off to the check-in counters.

What's happened, I think, is that the magic has gone out of flying - out of the idea of flying. We're so uptight about security now (and not without reason either) that no 5-year old can ever again be taken to an airport viewing gallery to watch aircraft take off and land. (Of course, chances are today's 5-year old would rather fly the plane himself, taking off and landing with the aid of a simulation game on his itty-bitty i-mac.) Whereas, when I was a kid, watching airplanes was imbued with an immense sense of wonder and possibility... representative of an expanding horizon, I guess you could say. Even now, I spend half my holidays glued to my windows, watching helicopters and quaint little by-planes take off and land at the airstrip near by.

Speaking of which, I just realised I'm late to go meet a friend - whose flight will have already landed. Sheize. More from the trains of thought in the next post.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Astrology and Shooting Stars

So someone sent me this file, which claimed to define women, based on their zodiac signs. Like, if you're an Aries woman, you're tall, have a button nose with flaring nostrils (probably with a nose ring too), have hygiene issues, and your brain, while present, doesn't quite work the way it should. If you're a Saggi woman, you're dark, suffer from acne on your back, are never quite satisfied with the size of your butt - understandably, since it's way too large - and are prone to addictions of some sort - alcohol, nicotine, or out and out narcotics. If you're a Gemini woman, you probably suffer from a enhanced Electra complex - and speaking of enhancements, they wouldn't do you any harm, if you catch the thrust (heh!) of my gist.

Of course, I promptly sat down and opened The Capricorn Woman. Here's a glimpse:
Slim. (Har.)
Lacking in confidence. (Double har.)
Tactful. (Right. I have about as much tact as a fish is dry.).
Waist down, wraith-like in structure. (Sob!)
Oh, and my hot spots are my toes, knees and naval (!!!) cavity. (That's right, naval. Match that with "slim", if you can!)
And lest I forget: Saturdays are my lucky days. Woo-hooo! Never mind that Saturday is typically a lucky (hic) day for most people...

Also, for the men out there, in case you're interested: Gemini, Virgo, Taurus and Pisces men suit me best. Come to my boozalum, angel! If you're one of these signs, clearly we'll get along - even if you're anti-social, psychotic or just plain... ummm... mentally challenged (one must live up to one's reputation for tact).

I must warn you though: diamond, emerald and blue sapphire are my lucky gemstones. The stones I wear should never have been worn before (I presume this means I should change it on a daily, if not an hourly basis), and its weight should be related to my body weight and age. Now, since I'm getting older by the day, but not any lighter, and since I'm not quite as slim as my zodiac would have you believe, I'm gonna be an expensive proposition!

So anyway, having read through the full thing, after I finally got up and wiped away the tears pouring down my cheeks (mingled laughter at most of the stuff, and depression at not being slim!), I thought, hey, for those of you out there who believe in the zodiac, I'd write one for you.

Watch this space!

Monday, September 06, 2004

Water, Water Everywhere...

Did you know that green tea is actually green? That when you put a tea bag (a green-tea tea-bag - or is that a green-tea-bag?) into a cup of hot water, the resulting cloudy thing spreading murkily through the cup is honest-to-god green?

And, did you know that if you drink a lot of water - specifically when you're really hungry, and trying to quell the hunger pangs by drinking water - then you start feeling really really sick? (Urp.)

And, did you know that the best, most-filling liquid of all is apna home-grown (well, almost) nariyal pani?

If you're wondering how I know all this - three guesses will lead you to the fact that:

I'm on a liquid diet for 4 days. And I have to say, in all fairness, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

That's right. I'm sure when one is young (read: 2 hours old), a liquid diet is all very well, but at age 27... it's a bit of a stretch.

Of course, I should be thankful that I'm on a liquid diet by choice, and not but by force. I remember vividly days of yore, when I would refuse to eat lunch (I hated fish, and lunch typically comprised fish curry and rice). So, off my plate (with fish curry and rice and veggies all together) would go into the fridge...

And out it would come at the next meal, with the congealed food still on it, when the rest of the family would be eating mutton, or sausages and mash, or other totally delectable meals. If I refused to eat it, back the plate would go into the fridge - the only change it having undergone being the re-moulding of the congealed masses by a sullen child with a desultory spoon. Only to re-emerge at the next meal...

And this would go on, till the food were in imminent danger of rotting - or till my mother lost patience. Which is when she would dump the congealed, stirred-to-death-by-tearful-child mass in the mixie (a tool of much of our childhood horror - I hadn't yet learnt how to make mango shake in it, something that totally changed my equation with the blender!), then pour it straight from the liquidiser down our gullets. Luckily, Ma had a short fuse, so we never ended up eating rotted food. Which, I suppose, is a mercy, because god knows, if her children's discipline was at stake, and she thought they might grow up to be spoilt brats, she wouldn't have let a small thing like rotten food get in the way.

So anyway, here I am, back to liquidised food! Yesterday was spinach soup day (I'm popeye the sailor man, dum-dum). Today, it's chicken-and-veggie broth. And everyday, there's lots of coconut water - I expect to soon be growing palm fronds out my years, and coconuts on other parts of my anatomy.

But gotta run. This much liquid input calls for some amount of... ummm... output. And my fronds need sunlight.

Friday, September 03, 2004

A Man's World?

They say it's a man's world.

Sure enough, men have plenty going for them... No ballooning while menstruating - in fact, they don't even menstruate - no worrying about coming home late alone, no matter where they live, no crippling obsession with shoes, no taking hours to get dressed, no crying each time they watch ET. And they can pee standing up too! Seems like life's just not fair, huh?

However, there's one thing that men have been denied - and that's the comfort of having girlfriends. No, no, not girlfriends in terms of significant others - women friends, the true blues who accompany women through every joy and every unspeakable sorrow.

Take my friends, for example. Most of us have known each other from the time we were 10 - some from even earlier. I can barely remember a time when we didn't know each other. Where are we? Scattered across the world. A, T and S in Calcutta. P in Delhi. S in London. P in Bombay. B in Bangalore. Another P in Dubai.

Together, we've weathered a lot of what life has to offer - puberty, flunking classes in school, career choices, boyfriends over the years, weddings and marriages, the death of loved ones and pets. Together, we've fixed (and some of us have even beaten up) sleazeballs on the road who have passed nasty-suggestive remarks at us. We've drunk and we've sung and we've stayed up nights, talking and laughing about the world. We've told each other our worst secrets, and found there was no need - the rest already knew, without a word being said. We've fought and we've scratched, and we've made up with all our hearts. We've had the courage to tell one of us where we think she's making a mistake, trusting that this will not ruin our friendship. We've cried on each other's shoulders, dried our eyes on their handkerchiefs and drunk the coffee they've made us afterwards. We've made fun of each other's foibles, and defended each other like tigresses when others have done the same. We've held each other through illnesses, laughed each other out of the blues, and traversed the country to be with each other when we could.

In fact, we rarely get to meet. Some of us don't even mail regularly. And some anachronisms among us don't even have email addresses, for crying out loud! But when we do meet - it's the old magic. We don't have to do anything special - no need to dress up and go out and have a night out on the town. It's peaceful enough to just drink coffee in someone's kitchen, with her dog resting its head on your knees (no, most of us don't have kids yet, but we do have dogs!). Or to sit in someone's bedroom, snuggling under the covers and watching TV together. And we can still sleep 5 to a bed, like we've done years ago, and share blankets on cold winter nights.

You have to pity men - straight men - for never experiencing friendship like this. They have to make do with discussing the latest football game instead of fears, with handshakes instead of hugs. Catch a guy crying on his buddy's shoulder. Or rubbing his male friend's shoulders after said friend has been through a bad break-up. Or holding said friend while he cries, and wiping his tears away. HAR! The closest guys get to tactile bonding is an occasional playful pat on the butt and a handshake.

And as part of womanhood, who revel in the touch of friendship, I'm truly, truly sorry for you men. You don't know what you're missing, how warm and comfortable it is to have friends like this, to be able to settle back against a friend's chest and rest a moment, without having to explain.

In the balance, of course, you don't have to go through childbirth either. Weighing, weighing... naah, I'll take my friends.

And the shoes.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Answer is Still a Lemon

When I was 14, going through the worst pangs of adolescent angst, railing against the unfairness of the world in general and my parents in particular, I thought age would bring all the answers. "At 18, I'll know the answers," I'd breathe tearfully to myself each night.

But 9 years have passed since I turne d 18, and I still can't say I have the answers. Not only for the big questions - the whoppers - the "Why am I here"s and the "What's the meaning of life"s - but even for the small ones... the simple questions of why some people are the way they are, and why we aren't all happy and blithe, like Sunday's child, and why regardless of how much I gym, I don't seem to lose any weight.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "The world is so full of wonderful things, I'm sure we should all be happy as kings." Well put, Bob, but the world doesn't seem to be listening. Every magazine you read is full of the woes of the world. The Middle Eastern conflict. Hutus and Tutsis trying to wipe each other off the face of the planet. Manipur. Serbs and Croats. It seems to be endless.

And for what?
"The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one, again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nations stand
Which say to sacrifice a people for a land."

You're probably thinking, hey, where's my dose of humour for the week? All I can say is, dunno. It's one of those days when the world seems out of control and my head is filled with question marks. Stop this planet, I want to get off, I think. Regardless of the free trip around the sun.

In one of the Dirk Gently books, Dirk had this pocket calculator, which could only display results of 4 and below. The minute any computation got out of hand (read: > 4), the screen would display the line "A suffusion of yellow". So that's the answer. What's life all about? A suffusion of yellow.

In conclusion, I quote Calvin: "I think the surest sign that there's intelligent life out there is that none of it has made any attempt to contact us."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Life and Death in the City

It's rare that one gets time, in this frenetic place, to talk to a stranger.

In fact, this seems to be a city phenomenon. Even when I was growing up in Cal, I don't know how often I had the time or inclination to sit and talk to the guy who ran the chai stall, or who used to sit in our lane in the evenings, frying samosas and p(n)eyaji... but each trip to some smaller place, and we'd be talking to all the local people, asking about their lives, their livelihood, trying to blend into their reality.

So, a few days ago, when the auto-wala started chatting with me, I don't know what it was that made me respond. But we shared philosophy over 15 minutes of inching forward in the rain - wondering whether the only 2 places man feels peaceful are indeed, as my auto-wala claimed, the temple and the crematorium...

Walked the last few steps home, smiling to myself, thinking of philosophy in an rattle-trap auto. To hear that my neighbour - an 82 year old woman who lived alone - had passed away. Alone, and found by the maid.

How horrifying, how totally horrifying to be that old, and to live alone, and die alone. Our whole drive towards nuclear-ness... you have to wonder, if this is where it leads, is it worth it? I have this deep, driving fear that the more the world progresses, the more we're heading towards this same thing ourselves, in one form or another.

Question then is, which would you want to do? Would you want to live a full life, and do everything you can, until you're old and infirm and have to die alone? Or would you want to cut it short early, so that you never feel that loneliness that age aggravates even further? So that the losses are others', not your's? It's like asking, do you prefer it hot, or do you prefer it pink - a question that gives you choices you can't choose between.

I have middle English dirges playing in my mind today, and that's been enough melancholy for a day anyway. More when I have the answers.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

A Little Knowledge...

So I was traveling on work recently.

Now, there are 2 awful things about traveling on work. One: the early morning flights. Two: the company! I mean, on waking up bleary and hung over at four in the morning, you do NOT want to get a seat next to the CEO, and have to spend the next two hours talking to him about your departmental strategy for the year and how you're going to make the difference where the industry has failed. Of course, many would consider this the opportunity of a lifetime, but me? I'd rather strap myself in and drown in slumber for as long as possible.

And then there are the flight delays. Of course, when you're waking up at 4:00 a.m. to make it to the airport at 5:00 a.m. to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight, you're not really in a fit state (i.e., "sentient") to think of calling the airport to check on flight schedules. So, off you go... and spend the next 2 hours sitting on uncomfortable chairs in the lounge.

And finally, there is the small matter of who's keeping you company at that hour of the morning.

Me, I lucked out. Accompanying me on an early morning flight was an office colleague who must be the life and soul of every party. For starters, he's an analyst - which means he speaks with lots of corporations and gets the inside dope on stuff. And while we were sitting there, he told me oodles of it... stuff that will change my consumption habits forever!

Of course, these guys always begin soft... "These seats are so filthy... I wonder what we're sitting on, exactly, and who left it here," he'll casually say, pointing out the white streaks on all the seats in the lounge. And as you're trying to comfort yourself with the thought that if it's on all the seats, it's probably the material - that's it, it's a streaky material, he leans over and confides: "You know the whole thing about colas... well, actually, it gets worse - each bottle of cola has about 8 tea-spoons of sugar. I've stopped drinking the stuff. " And then, while you're sputtering and getting over that, the attack comes from another direction: "And milk - my god, it's crazy - I've stopped drinking that too." Hesitantly, you ask, "Why, what's the matter with milk?", and you're told, "90% of the cows in Mumbai have TB, that's what's wrong with the milk." And while you're trying to remember basic biology and figure out whether it's possible for a cow to transmit TB to a milk consumer, he tells you, "you wanna be the first to showcase a new medical crisis?" And you're thinking, "sure I can survive without milk - I'll just switch to soya."

And before you know it, your entire lifestyle has been wiped out... you're thinking feverishly about how soon you can get home and throw out all the provisions, about whether there's a business opportunity in raising unadulterated vegetables, and whether you can go back to the cave economy... Take it from me, it's simple: all you have to do is leave.

And when you do, leave the key under the mat. That way, I won't have to break in through a window when I rob your house.

Phobia and Irrationality (aka Fear of Flying)

Any writer's perpetual fear is that at some point, some day, people will actually read what she's writing.

Now, one might think that's a bit of an unreasonable fear, right? Isn't she writing precisely so that someone does read her writing? I mean, what's the point, otherwise? The answer (as with most answers that have anything to do with writers) is complex.

We're worried that nobody will read our writing, we're worried that the whole world will beat a path to our doors to demand sheets and sheets of it. We're worried that having done this, they'll hate whatever we've written (giving us no further reason to live) and we're worried that they'll love it, and that their expectations will get higher and higher, till eventually, woe is us, we'll fail them, and they'll hate us, and our lives will be over... and on and on in this vein. So you see, a writer's life is a traumatic one. Even pseudo writers like me suffer these pangs!

So all in all, it takes some of us a lot of courage to put stuff up in the public domain like this. And having screwed our courage to the sticking place, as it were, when you write in and tell us you like what we write... well, it makes us feel like snoopy - eyes closed, front paws clasped, dancing with his ears flapping in the wind, and little hearts all around. It makes us feel wonderful. It's as good as - no, it's better than sex.

So thank you, for writing in and telling me you like what I've written. Someday, when I've made my fortune, the drinks will be on me. :)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

It's Raining. It's Pouring.

Rain!!! Floods!!! City fathers debating where to dump the flood waters!!!

Takes me back years, to flooding in Cal.

One of the cool things about growing up in Cal (for me, at least), was that we lived really close to school - a stone's throw (for an Olympian discuss medalist). The upshot was that each time school closed due to rain (at least once each monsoon), we'd actually have gone all the way up to school, holding our schoolbags up out of the water and wading through a river of thigh-deep water on the roads, battling tidal waves caused by passing buses and trucks, and frequently losing balance and sitting down in the muck!

Having done all this, and got to school, we'd then find that it had been declared closed. Of course, those who had actually managed to reach school could stay, and have a day off (strange, very strange, to spend a day goofing off at school without your entire class there, let me tell you), but we usually chose to wade back home. Needless to say, home being so close to school, the "we" that left for school from my house multiplied manifold on the way back - we'd arrive back home surrounded by stranded friends and cousins - all dripping, all laughing hysterically and all in various stages of infection from the god-alone-knows-what-unhygienic-muck in the flood waters.

And did we, on reaching home, immediately change into warm dry clothes and warm ourselves around hot tea? Of course not - where's your sense of adventure?! We'd all keep traipsing out again in the rain - to buy provisions to feed the army, smokes for my dad, to catch the dogs (who would, by then, be having a blast in the rain, and would be dripping and mucky), and so on. By the time we changed for the final time, it would be afternoon, and lunch - a delicious, mouth-watering lunch of khichdi and ghee - would be ready. And for those who have never experienced it (people from Rajasthan come to mind), there is nothing- nothing - nicer than coming in from the wind and rain, with that exhilarated feeling, changing into warm, dry clothes, and sitting around and eating khichdi.

Every monsoon, for years and years, there would be at least one rain day like this, when the real world would come to a standstill, surrounded by swirling water (and, possibly, several people's body fluids). And every time, we followed more or less the same routine. (Minor changes took place with age - as we got older, we were sent out to buy alcohol for the adults too, and still later, we were offered some of it, but the theme remained the same.)

And in case you think that Bombay doesn't offer the same options - think again. All you need to do is lift a bunch of Calcuttans out of Cal, and set them down in Mumbai on a rain day - and voila! You're all set!

So - you from Cal? Want to share some khichdi on an exhilarating, stormy, rainy day? Come right over. And bring your own booze - I'm not stepping out again.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Rain in Spain, we are informed (by somewhat unreliable sources who break into song at the drop of a hat - or, perhaps, a flower), stays mainly in the Plain. No such generalities exist in the Indian subcontinent. The rain doesn't stay in the plains. It doesn't stay anywhere. In fact, it just plain doesn't, so there. That's the thing with rain here... the total unpredictability of it.

For the last 2 months, the rain gods at the met offices have been crying, "Lemuh-nade, Lemuh-nade..." from their towers, and been answered with replies of "nothing but a lemon". And finally, 2 months late and not in the least bit apologetic, the rains roar up, revving up their engines, growling and belching at the world at large, running amock across the country.

As with most things in India, there is no sense of moderation. Either it's dry as a bone, or there's a sea of rainwater through which you have to wade, morning and evening, to get to and from work (or, if you're among the blessed few, through which you watch people wade as they try to get to and from work).

This sort of meteorological uncertainty can lead to some rather desparate, frenetic, oscillatory activity for some people. Say, for example, you need to go buy cigarettes. You carefully observe the behaviour of the rain, put in some sophisticated analysis to test for the periods of rain and the periods of non-rain, check your hypotheses, run random number simulations, all to test when the next 20-minute break will be, when you can run out and buy cigarettes. Of course, you neglect to factor in the error caused by your never having attended a single stats class at college, which puts your analysis off rather badly: by the time you get your cigarettes, the rain has begun again with renewed fury, and both you and your cigarettes contract pneumonia.

Which brings us up to date with my condition. No, not the stepping out to buy cigarettes - the pneumonia. Bombay is the worst possible place in the world to get stuck in the pouring rain. To begin with, you have to brave streets which are rivers of flowing water (there's actually an undertow, a side-tow and every other type you can think of - including tow trucks). You try stepping gingerly through this seething, frothing channel into an auto - realising, only after you've sat down, that the seats are carrying at least half the water that could fit in your bathtub.

You resign yourself to a wet posterior, and get to the station, ignoring all the speculative looks cast in your direction. You don't sit while you wait for the train - hoping to... ummm... air yourself out, as it were. On the train, you realise that all your airing has been in vain - the train seats have absorbed the Ganga, and bring it gushing forth each time you attempt to sit on them. And did we mention that somewhere along the way, your umbrella turned itself inside out and broke into splinters in the howling wind? And that some road hog splashed your auto with a sheet of sludge, making you not only wet, but into the sort of thing your mother wouldn't allow inside the house?

And then, there's the office AC. I don't know how it is in other offices, but following the truly Indian ideal of "all or nothing", the AC in our office has only 2 settings: off (= muggy, claustrophobic) and Arctic (icicles start forming on our persons, and little penguins emerge from the drains and start sliding around the floors).

And the final cut: braving rain and storm, battling your own mortality to come into work, your boss tells you when you arrive, "But why did you come? You'll have to swim home."

So this may be my last post for a while. I'm striking out for sunny Espana, where there ain't no rain except on the plains. I'd stay, but they might find the boss's body.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Enter Nature

I've always throught of myself as a fairly outdoorsy person. I like walking, hiking, etc., I love natural surroundings (as opposed to the urban jungle) despite living in Bombay. And I always make it a point to leave my windows open, to commune, as it were, with nature.

But when nature comes through my windows to commune with me, I have a problem. Like last night. Early this morning, actually, about 4:00 a.m. Nature, in the form of a cockroach nymph (I've never figured out why ancient Greek maidens and disgusting, muck-crawling cockroaches that refuse to die are called by the same name) flew into my room and, having explored the rest of my bed, decided to explore my head. Which is when I woke up.

Normally, like most other people, I take some time to wake up. Bits of me wake up and, waiting for the other bits of me to wake up, go back to sleep again - so by the time I get all the bits to be conscious simultaneously, it's normally several minutes past the alarm. But place a cockroach on my head, and I wake up in nano seconds - pico seconds even (I forget which is smaller, but it doesn't matter, as long as you get the gist). In a flash, I'm bolt upright, totally conscious of imminent danger and totally grossed out.

Last night was no exception. It must have taken seconds for me to wake up, sweep the darn thing off my head, cross the room, switch on the light, get the bugspray (the first thing I bought when I moved house) from the kitchen, dust the sheets, find the cockroach and spray it dead, shrieking, "Die, you freak." (I know, after the last paragraph, you're probably thinking, "freak? here's a case of the pot and the kettle." All I can tell you is, you have no idea.)

The worst part of these situations, of course, is the cool-down. The time it takes to get your pulse and heart-rate and breathing down to normal again, the time it takes to go to sleep again, the strength it takes to avoid turning the entire room upside down to search for the brethren of the thing you just killed, or draw a circle of Hit around me, and sit cowering inside.

Then, you tell yourself that it's ridiculous for a woman, the pinnacle of evolution (and I say that advisedly), to cower in front of a cockroach, a remnant from the mesozoic. You're 500 times bigger than the cockroach, you tell yourself. Grow up, you tell yourself. And you feel really proud, getting yourself under control and being OK with OH GOD THERE'S ONE ON MY DESK EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKKK.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Fitness Mania

So I joined this gym called Cloud 9. Now, I'm a little confused about the nomenclature. I mean, is going to a gym and working your ass off (in my case, hopefully, literally) supposed to put you on Cloud 9? Or is climbing up to the gym supposed to be like ascending into heaven? Or, perhaps, they feel that the people they attract - flabby, bulging, etc. - resemble clouds (eww, this reminds me of the Michelin Man, something that really grosses me out!).

Anyway, I joined up, and my first visit was on Saturday morning. I was really charged about it... this would be my first time at a gym (as is evident when you see me). Now, I'd noticed a sign there earlier, saying that outside shoes were STRICTLY not allowed - so I didn't take my sneakers - obviously. Turns out it means that you're supposed to carry your sneakers with you, not wear them through the mucky streets to the gym.

Anyway, these minor catastrophes aside, I was assigned this trainer - a guy with a single ear-ring, called Vicky. Very helpful, and all that, but somewhat unclear on the concept, perhaps. For starters, every time he wanted me to lie down on the mat, or the bench, or wherever, he would say, "Now you sleep." By the end of the session, I was thinking, "if only...." Anyway, at some point, I got accustomed to the "Now you sleeps" sufficiently, to enable me to actually do what he was telling me to do. We went through free movements, weights, and all kinds of machines that make you pull up weights - first with your forearms, then with your upper arms, then with your calves, then with your thighs... I leave you to imagine the rest. I'm almost worried about what comes next. Will I end up lifting weights by my pinkies?

But working out on some of those machines has the potential to be totally humiliating. for instance, there's one on which you have to lie down on your stomach, at an incline - face down and butt reaching for the sky (or Cloud 9, as the case may be). Imagine getting stuck on one of those, unable to move or get off... you could start a riot on one of those things!

The first day's workout took me about an hour. And I left really proud of myself - proud of the fact that I'd managed to do everything I'd been assigned without collapsing with hamstring injuries and torn ligaments, a quivering mass of... ummm... cloud. It really hit me only the next morning, when I tried to get out of bed - a process that took me 3 straight days!

So, advice to all those of you who are planning on joining gyms in the near future... take a sabbatical, because you're sure as hell not going to be able to make it to work the next morning.

And then, screw the gym, just go take a holiday somewhere.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I like to be here when I can...

So I moved to my new place on Saturday. Spent all morning packing stuff to move, and then the rest of the weekend unpacking it and putting it all away. The real impact of all the hours of packing is felt in these situations, when one moves from one side of the railway track to the other - if you move cities, at least you feel like you've moved far away, and the time spent packing gets lost in the larger picture. Not so here.

But the larger picture, in this case, is that I finally have a place of my own. Yahooo! I feel like emitting red Indian war whoops and leaping over the furniture in the office in some kind of demented obstacle race. And, it must be said, any yearnings I have for leaping over furniture must be taken care of in office, cos at home, there's no furniture. (My minimalist leanings finally see the light of day.)

But back to the house. First, something I hadn't realised before, it's windows overlook a small airstrip - for a flying club. Gliders and choppers taking off and landing all day. I'm faintly disappointed that the airstrip is not a Coast Guard thingie (I was rejoicing in old, forgotten Famous-Five driven fantasies of catching smugglers red-handed, with the coast guard arriving just in time to pat me on the back), but the charming thing about growing older is that one sees more possibilities in other things also. The flying club that operates out of the airstrip offers intriguing possibilities too... At worst, I can always go and hang around there, offering to carry water for the pilots and do odd jobs around the place until, some day, I'm forced to take a plane up on my own for some earth-shatteringly important reason (national security will be at stake, naturally). On this occasion, I'll fly the aircraft brilliantly, save the planet from total destruction, and then crash land (and totally wreck) the aircraft, and be banned from the airstrip forever. (*Sigh* Not even my fantasies go right.)

I also suspect that I'm directly under the glide path for aircraft leaving from and heading towards Santa Cruz airport - the only traffic I hear are flights taking off and landing. (Oh, I LOVE how that sounds - so totally elitist. "So where do you live? Oh, you can hear ROAD traffic? How down-market. Now, where I live, darling, there's only air traffic."

But, generally, all I can hear is bird song. There's a huge tree outside my window, full of clusters of white flowers, and humming with birds and insects. It's wonderful, wonderful, to wake up to the sound of bird song, instead of traffic.

For that alone, this move has been worth it. So here's to my new house, where you can't swing a dead cat in the loo (not that I've ever wanted to - and if you're the kind of person who wants to do that, you have no business visiting my blog), but which is still a happy, happy place.

Oh, and house-warming gifts are more than welcome!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Last Waltz

An awful song I used to listen to when I was a kid was by Engelbert Humperdinck . Something about having the last waltz with you, two lonely people together, and so on. Awful music, awful words, totally dismal and melancholy, and not in a good way. Though, I imagine, if you got saddled with a name like that, you'd sing songs like that too.

The connection between Engelbert and this post is that the old gang recently had our last dance in a while. After Gokul's on Friday night, we hit a disc called Polyester - a rocking place. Retro music (70s and 80s, rock), crowded like local trains but otherwise altogether perfect. The best thing about a crowd is the support it gives you. You don't have to exert any energy to stay upright!

So anyway, driven by the music (I mean, where does one hear music ranging from the BeeGees to the Bangles to the Eurythmics to Aha to Tears for Fears to... you get my drift.), we danced non-stop from 12 midnight to 4:30 a.m. Insane, sweaty dancing in crowded, smoke-filled rooms where you're constantly running the risk of having someone inadvertantly stub out their cigarette on your arm and where you can't hear anything your companions say - what could be a bigger turn-on?!!

Finally weaved our way out, fully intending to go home and play scrabble. Unfortunately, as most of us fell asleep during the journey back to the burbs, that plan didn't quite work out. (This is when you find old age creeping up on you... a few years ago, we'd have been up for scrabble and more alcohol and more activity, even after such a night!)

Getting together and doing this after a significant period, it's good to see that we can still do it. That the music still sets us on fire, that we can still boogie anybody under the table, that we can still drink through the entire night without throwing up all over someone else's shoes!

So for those of you who are in Mumbai, and want to dance the night out to retro rock, and can't find people who want to do the same - gimme a buzz, and I'll be there with my hair in a braid, a la P. G. Wodehouse. All that's required is that you enjoy dancing. And if you're an idiot, it won't matter - I won't be able to hear what you say.

Friday, July 02, 2004

It's Late in the Evening...

Another heady Friday night. It's almost 9:00 and I'm still in office. But, but, but, not for long.

Tonight's the night we relive our AIESEC days. Of course, we've all come a long way since the time we lived on cheap beer and no food. We can now afford to drink much more, to drink better stuff and to dance all night at a disco instead of to dancing to MTV in our own house. Best of all, we can now travel by cab instead of lying on Marine Drive, waiting for the first train in the morning to go back home.

So here's the scene. Before Malli leaves the city sometime next week, tonight, we will go to all our old haunts. Tonight, nobody is allowed to say, "But I'm working tomorrow."

First stop: Gokul's. The first time I went to Gokul's, I treated it as one of the hotspots of Bombay and wrote about it to everyone... till my brother wrote back saying it was a noted gay pick up joint... at which point, I quietly retracted all statements about going there regularly. Strategically placed next to Bade Miyan's, the freakiest roll shop outside of Calcutta, Gokul's is a place we could afford in d.a. (Days of AIESEC), and where we didn't much care about the seedy old men thronging the place.

In the Days of AIESEC, we used to occasionally (read: whenever we had money) go get smashed at Gokul's. Then we would roll out and across the road to Bade Miyan's, where we would sit on the curb(there were hardly ever any chairs available) and eat baida roti and sheekh kabab rolls. Immediately, our drunkenness would abate somewhat, at which point we could head back into Gokuls. (This would have been a wonderful infinite loop, return to step one types, had it not been for the fact that even Gokul had to close its doors for some hours. And, of course, the fact that we'd have already used up our meagre resources!)

By which time we would have missed the last train back, so we would spend the night on Marine Drive and make it back by the first train in the morning. (And for those uninitiated into the mysteries of those Mumbai transportational wonders - even that first train at 4:00 a.m. is crowded.)

So tonight's gonna be another of those nights... Thank god for small mercies... that even with progress (read: moolah), we can still go back to Gokul's, and enjoy the seedy atmosphere, the boiled eggs and tiny pieces of cheese cubes skewered on toothpicks that are Gokul's choice of "snakes". That we realise that enjoyment is in the soul, not in the surroundings, and that if Bade Miyan was a 5 star restaurant, it wouldn't be any more attractive than it is now... And, most of all, that we'll be able to take a cab back, and not have to spend the night on Marine Drive. Fun as some things are, they're SO much better in one's memory than when they're relived.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

A Time to Sleep

That's all I dream of these days. Of course, I don't mean that literally. It's been a while since I dreamt of something. Possibly because it's been a while since I slept long enough to dream of something.

Managing a product launch has its own euphoria. You're driven by a sense of adrenaline (which is a good thing, because there's sure as hell no food or sleep that's driving you), carried on a wave of certainty that this is the product that's going to change the world.

Until you meet Sales, that is. Prospective interviewees never answer this question right at interviews... The true difference between marketing and sales is this: Marketing's objective is to say, "this is a great product that we're launching. I mean, naturally - we created it. It's worth millions. People will be knocking our doors down to get at it."

And all the while, Sales, standing right behind, is telling the world at large (and management in particular) that this product will never make it in the market, that nobody wants it, nobody understands it, even they don't understand it, for pete's sake, and that there will be negative sales of this one, so don't expect much volumes. Instead, make marketing work harder to come up with better products.

Ask anybody in marketing anywhere, and you'll see that this is true. (And by the way, if you use this in an interview somewhere, I want royalties. 10% of the CTC you're offered should do.)
So here's the thing: this launch is driving me insane, and at the same time, I'm thriving on those crazy schedules again. Therefore, no intelligent posts should be expected from me until I have finally staggered home after the launch on Thursday night, and slept for a straight 12 hours.

More marketing funda at that point. And yes, royalties apply to those too.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Burning the Midnight Oil (and how!)

It's been a while since I stayed at work till 2:00 in the a.m. A long long while. Having stayed today, I realise that of all the things I used to miss about work when I was doing my MBA, this was not one of them.

One by one over the course of the evening, my team-mates slunk out the door and out into the heady Friday night. (This is why "Stealth 101" should be a compulsory course at B School. More advanced courses could then be called "Sneaking Around 102" and finally, "Smooth Operator 102".)

Funny, actually. On the AIESEC in India MC, we used to spend nights on end in the office. 3 days in office without a break, and then 10 days at a conference - surviving on intravenous coffee and alcohol, and an hour of sleep a day, and gathering energy from the 20 odd cigarettes we'd smoke each day (there was never time to eat a decent meal - not to mention the fact that for the longest time, we starved from sheer bankruptcy!).

But here's the thing I miss most about the AIESEC MC office - we used to keep a sleeping bag, a sheet and a pillow in the office. Anytime we stayed late, or stayed over, or even felt sleepy post lunch, we would drag the ratty old things out, spread them out in the exact centre of the office (so that others working would have to keep jumping over us awkwardly) and drift off to dream land. THAT's what I truly miss.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Another One Bites the Dust

Just a few days ago, another old friend Tied The Knot. Took The Plunge. Did The Deed. Lost His Virginity. (Or, well, so we assume.) So many euphemsims for a single idea: he deserted those of us who are still single. In the undying words of Bridget, another one has become part of the Smug Married brigade.

Of course, I couldn't attend the wedding. That's what corporate life is about. You plan something, and plan something, and at the last minute, all your planning comes to nought, and you just wing it. (Of course, when you're reading this in reference to flying to someone's wedding, winging it can have very different connotations - "Look, Ma, I'm flying, I'm flying, I'm... THUD".)

Still, I saw the pics that another friend took and posted on the web. All those familiar faces together, the dearly beloved, gathered there... Takes me back years and years, to when they were pimply adolescents (I may or may not have been an adolescent but I deny ever having been pimply!) and we used to hang out outside school, trying to get to know the opposite sex without being seen to be trying!

Of course, that was the beginning. (WARNING WARNING WARNING Authoress about to get maudlin.) Much water has passed under the bridge since those days. We've spent 12 years seeing each other through tough times, from heart-break to moral support in the face of family when we've wanted to marry unsuitable people. 12 years of laughing together about no reason that any outsider (even the unsuitable people we've wanted to marry) would understand. (Sometimes, even we don't understood why we're laughing.)

So here's the thing. It's been years, and we've reached a stage where even when we want each other there through birthdays, weddings, and umm... afterwards ("Psst. I'm calling while she's in the loo. Quick, tell me, what goes where? And HOW?"), it's still OK if we can't make it - the people whose birthdays and weddings we miss understand the reasons, and forgive us for not being there.

Right, Sundeep? Sundeep? Now where did he go?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Words, all words

Here's a great quote I just came across:

One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter. - James Earl Jones, actor (1931- )

It's strange to see quotes of this nature from actors like James Earl Jones. My earliest memory of him is his role in Coming to America, where he played Eddie Murphy's father, the King of Burundi (or some such). As I recall, he was begging his son not to go off the straight and narrow to America, and offering to shower him (if shower is the word I'm looking for) with slinky women in the absolute. Just goes to show that you can never judge an actor by the roles he plays (yes, yes, schwarznaeggar is the exception).

More as the good times roll.

A Home at the End of the World

That's the name of a really freaky book I picked up from Crossword the first time I came to Bombay. I was 18, fresh out of school, applying to colleges in Pune. Bombay was this vast ocean, waiting to be explored. I was thrilled when I found my way back from VT to Pedder Road all on my own, even without being able to read Hindi numbers (on buses) to save my life. I thought I'd conquered the world. I wanted to exult, scream, dance in the streets.

And last night, for some reason, I felt the same way. Perhaps its because I paid my token deposit on the house? :)

I've been house hunting for the past couple of weeks, and by the end of it all, houses were beginning to blur in my mind. (Much like 4th term at IIMK, when I took 10 optional courses, and had to read up 5 cases per day, on average. I used to transpose facts and figures freely from case to case, much to my professors' total mystification!)
And finally, then, I came across this place. The perfect place - it spoke to me! A large room on the third floor, overlooking greenery, with a fully functional kitchen and loo. Lots of light and air coming in. Just off the main road, so close enough for convenience, and far enough not to be disturbed by traffic. Comes with some stuff (fridge and gas, sofa-come-bed (like a big mattress), etc. And a big chair, in which you can lean back peacefully and read. My only worry now is a place to hang wet clothes to dry, and how I'll be able to get a piano up those stairs into the room!

So. Paid the deposit. Drank some tea with the landlady-to-be. Came home prancing in the rain. Settled into my brand new bean bag. I was just so kicked with the idea that I'll have my own place again that I couldn't stop smiling!

This will be my home at the end of the world.

Meanwhile, if you can get a copy of "A home at the end of the world", by Michael Cunningham, please read it. :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Manic Mondays

Someone should ban Mondays. And by that, I mean that someone should ban Mondays. If you know what I mean.

Of course I don't mean ban the day itself, just the concept of coming back to work after a wonderful lazy weekend. And if you're thinking, "does that mean that we ban weekends?", I have to say, "you cretin - of course NOT."

It's the working week that needs to be erased from the surface of the planet, not the non-working weekend. It's a well known fact that stress kills, and Monday morning stress is the worst possible kind of stress (other kinds include Tuesday morning stress, Wednesday morning stress, Thursday morning stress, Friday morning stress, Sunday afternoon stress, Sunday evening stress, SUNDAY NIGHT MEGASTRESS).

In the words of Martin Luther King, I want a holiday. Oops, sorry, that wasn't Mr. King, that was someone else. But at times when Martin wasn't on the world stage talking about freedom, I'm sure that's what he was thinking. Even God wanted a holiday. And if god, el supremo, omniscient, omnipotent jehovah, wanted one day out of seven, surely us mortals need more than that - like, about six out of seven (no, not seven out of seven - no point in being greedy).

I misquote the Bible with gay abandon - see the lilies of the field - they something not, nor do they something. You get the picture. And, to almost paraphrase the Gita, you must do what you must do, and (BAD WORD THAT RHYMES WITH BREW) the consequences. Well, I must do what I must do, and I must take a sabbatical. I must go hunting around the Andes for old Inca remains, and I must trek to Machu Pichu. I must travel around Greece and Italy, and safari in the savannah. I must NOT, on the other hand, sit in a stupid office and make stupid plans like a stupid ass - my doctor strictly forbids it on account of it being an anti-stress-buster and severely injurious to my health. (The surgeon-general is expected to shortly issue a warning about work causing cancer, which all offices will mandatorily have to display on a LARGE sign board just above their entrance so that people may make informed choices about whether to fool around with their lives hanging in the balance.)

So, before my lungs collapse from all this atmosphere, and my brain goes into automatic pilot planner mode, it's time to make a quick run for it. And, to those of you who have made the other choice, you might be contagious, so I'm afraid we'll have to communicate only over the phone, henceforth.

That is, if the network follows me to Machu Pichu.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Mornings after

Can't tell you how it feels the morning after a drinking session like that. I'm feeling bleary and haggard.

Takes me back automatically to first year on the old campus at IIMK, where we would get smashed 2-3 times a week, out of sheer terror ("there's a MANAC quiz tomorrow, but nothing I can do will help me now, I'm doomed anyway, so I may as well drink" or out of despair ("There was a MANAC quiz today, in which my marks will go all the way down to the absolute zero, but there's no point in thinking about it now, so I may as well drink").

On each of these occasions, the drinking would happen at the main hostel (called, for some strange reason, the International Hostel), in Amit and Akalp's room. At some point in the wee hours of the morning, those of us who lived in other hostels would somehow wind our way out, carefully negotiating the steps and quadrangle we had to pass by hanging on to the wall for dear life (yes, this meant that we would go into rooms through doors that we passed, go all the way around the room, and come back out again, hanging on to the walls right through, but we took those as part of the obstacle course). Eventually, we would find our way out of IH, locate our bike keys somewhere in the recesses of our pockets, and (yes, I kid you not) clamber on to our respective bikes.

Then, a benevolent fate would intervene and ensure that we made it back to our own hostels in one piece, without killing each other or other people / animals on the road (not that there were many of these at those hours of the morning). The key thing to remember here is that the old campus was built just off a state highway, and a narrow road but with insanely fast traffic used to connect the various hostels - this is the road we would ride down in a sozzled state, without helmets and often without headlights. (I even remember getting a ride with someone whose headlights didn't work, and whose key kept falling out of the ignition, forcing us to go round and roung on a narrow road, looking for it.) Without brains is a given, I needn't even mention it.

Sometimes, just for fun, we would ride all the way to the CC (a good 3 KM), instead of going back to hostel. The only reason could have been fun, because we were certainly in no position to check our mail (I doubt we would have remembered our passwords, and if we did, we would have told them to each other, just for kicks).

Anyways, after a night like this, if god had been kind and the next day was a Sunday (no classes), there was of course no question of making it to breakfast. Typically, I would collapse in my room at 4 or 5 in the a.m., drunk beyond belief, and neither man nor beast could have woken me up before about 2:00 p.m., when I would wake up STARVING, and run to the mess before lunch finished... then back to sleep for the entire afternoon, and up, fit and fine, at 4.30 for 2 hours of sweaty, rigorous badminton, tea and conversations!

The point of this rambling post being that the morning after, I got up and came to work at normal time, and I wish I wish I wish I'd been back on campus, teleported back in time and space to those days when nothing really mattered (except that crazy OR case that had driven me to drink in the first place) and life was simple and easy.

Perhaps it's time to start thinking of doing an FPM, or some esoteric course from some random University in the US.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Weekday Debauchery

This is a story about why one should not drink on week days, and especially not with ex-AIESECers. We tend to overdo things. We con ourselves into believing that "at work we are animals, at parties we are beasts" still applies to us.

Our original plan last evening was to meet at Starters, have a drink, go have dinner somewhere. I mean, come on, we're all getting old-ish, we're all working, we all have important meetings early morning. So what if Malli and Nandu are quitting their jobs and going off to B schools in the US - they still
have to get to work in the mornings, right?

Anyway, as I said, that was the original plan. (Remember that little saying about noble intentions?)

So. We drank like fish. Each of us began (it being the last few minutes of happy hours) with 2 drinks. Then, since Malli is on extremely good terms with the management, we drank two more (with Happy Hours being extended just for us). Then 2 more. And then yet another 2. And so on... By 12, when we thought we should perhaps leave, Malli decided that we needed to "skoll" shots. So, regardless of what each of us had been drinking, he ordered some
highly suspect fluid which he insisted that we pour down our gullets.

Even though we could barely stand by then, we did the damn
shots. And then Malli ordered more. And more. And more. Turns out the bartenders are on Malli's personal payroll. (They worship his idol with incense, and appease him with offerings of the-drink-of-the-day and batter-fried peanuts.)

And then there was the karaoke. We discovered a new law: for every 2 songs we sing, 4 people leave the room. Empirical evidence was collected, random numbers generated and simulations run to check the law, and it turned out to be spot on! But it's tremendous how karaoke can bring people together.

To begin with, you have to be almost lip to lip to be able to get your voice on the mike at all. Then, all the people karaokeing are desparately trying to drown out the karaoke organiser, the one guy who can actually hold a tune so that you can hear your own voices - so there's some amount of empathy and team-feeling that grows there. (And, needless to say, only groups who have karaoke-ers cheer and clap after you karaoke, because they know that when they go maul some number, you're the only ones who'll cheer for them.)

[HR teams should learn from this. I am willing to elaborate on my theory of how embarassing activities that you would never perform in your right mind can create intense team spirit, and on how to harness this in organisational behaviour. At a fee, naturally, which we can discuss when you HR people call me.]

To cut an already very long story short, I managed to roll home at 2:00 a.m. Have somehow managed to make it into work on time today, but have 50,000 hammers beating every part of the inside of my head. Couldn't even sleep in the train cos the train noises kept time with the hammers and formed a full-percussion orchestra playing "50 ways..."

And Malli, the man who started it all? He didn't even make into work this morning!