Sunday, 15 May 2011

IIHM-A - An Abridged Version

We all have an inbuilt mechanism to make judgements, put people into categories. We like certain people and then there are some that we don't. Sometimes we struggle to find the category that they'll best fit in, only to find that they're in a class of their own. There are some that we're indifferent to(I'm indifferent to people who don't have an opinion, as is amply evident in my previous post). And there are some that you just can't keep out of your face.
I walked in to the college hostel to see people as different as Gems in a packet. There were people with different last names, accents, hairstyles, fashion sense and attitude. My Person-Category filing cabinet was a mess. I've always maintained that I'm a horrible judge of character and the first few weeks of college was the first time that I got wise to my own character flaw.
I became part of this bunch that was fun, diverse and typical. We'd hang out together, go for dinners and poke fun at people with funny accents and bad English. Most of us liked similar music, which was one of the primary reasons for us getting along and watched similar movies and shows.
On the other hand, there was a bunch of guys who seemed like 'bad boys'. Now, remember these were days that I was fresh outta the comfort of having grown up at home under the care and more importantly, the supervision, of mom and dad. The 'bad boys'in question were definitely smokers and drinkers and wore kurtas with 'Om' and 'Shiva'and other such pseudo-religious symbols and signs. We had a few run-ins sheerly because of the force of our personalities, but that was that. Nothing major.
Meanwhile, I was having a blast with my new-found friends and developing an active interest in one or two of the girls. My buddy, who is your corresponding roll number in the senior years, was a hottie, I'd earned some brownie points from the seniors cos I'd taken their ragging quite well and I was somehow voted Mr. Fresher and I was over the moon. Couldn't've asked for a better beginning to my life in college.
I also met this senior who was quite an amazing musician- he had a raspy, bluesy voice and fingers that'd wrap around the neck of the guitar and make it look like an extension of his hand. He took an active interest in teaching me the basics of guitar and always chastised me if I didn't show up for our appointments. The funny thing is these 'bad boys'were found hanging around him, every evening, just before I was to meet him for guitar class. I couldn't figure it out and we just ignored each others'presence.
A month or so down the line, I don't remember how, but things began to fall apart with my 'friends'and I pretty much couldn't get anywhere with the girls that I'd gotten interested in. To fill the void, I tried getting along with my two roomies and looking for others whose company I thought I'd enjoy. That kept me going for a bit, though I wasn't very happy, till I started spending time with this cute girl from the culinary course- a sweet, pretty, fresh smelling, curly haired Maharahstrian girl from Pune. We started spending pretty much all our time together after and before classes and were soon quite inseparable.
Meanwhile, back in the boys'hostel I'd begun to hear lots of stories of fights and plots and drugs and alcohol and I was pretty sure I wanted to stay away from it all. But, like most plans in my life, this one too, didn't quite stay the course.
There I was sitting in my room, minding my own business, when I was startled to hear a loud thumping on my door. I got off my bed, to open the door and as soon as I'd unlatched it, it burst open and in came 4-5 guys. These were from the bad boy category- smoking, drinking every day and listening to monotonous bass and treble music and indulging in all sorts of clandestine activities behind closed hostel doors. There was Gobnoxious- a loud, Delhi boy with a filthy mouth and an air of arrogance that reminded you of Reggie van Dough, Richie Rich's not so rich cousin; followed by Doofus, a short fat boy with hair like Salman's (from Tere Naam. To his credit, it hadn't released at the time)from Mumbai with origins in Mangalore; a tall lean brace-wearing Sardar called Smurfy and the last guy to enter the room suprised me. It was my guitar tutor. So Gobnoxious swaggers into the room, all red-eyed and with an aura of alcohol around him and asks me," Who put oeuf mayonnaise on Smurfy's bed?". I had no idea what he was talkin about and before I could deny any involvement, felt a sharp, blinding sting on my left cheek. I reflexively clenched my fist and let rip, connecting lightly with his jaw as he stumbled, and fell flat on his ass, disoriented. Before I could gain the upper hand, 4 strong hands gripped my shoulders and two more pushed me back on the bed. I was now cornered in my own room.
They kept asking me why I'd put oeuf mayonnaise on Smurfy's bed, I continued to deny it and after about 10 to 15 minutes, asked them to leave. But they were in no mood to listen. I began to understand that the oeufs were just an alibi for Gobnoxious to provoke me into fighting and to give me, what he hoped, a sound thrashing and a lesson in who NOT to mess with...EVER!
As Gobnoxious was readying himself for another attack, there was a knock on the door - a couple of do-gooders wanted to find out what was going on and to see if they could help me. I, in an act of bravado, refused their help and said I'd sort it out by myself. I don't know if this changed their opinion of me or scared them into thinking that someone else might walk-in or complaint to the hostel guards that there was trouble in room no. 5, but they gave me stern warnings and dirty looks and left.
A couple of days after this, Crickey, the quintessential boarder - he always wore track pants, polo shirts, a cap and sports shoes , walked up to me and said, " Bro, why don't you hang out with us? We'll be your friends." Coming from one of the best boarding schools in India, I'm sure he'd seen many people in my situation and had possibly been part of many groups of friends who'd helped those people.
I got introduced to the rest of the gang - NoFuneesh and Small, were his room-mates. NoFuneesh was a , smart, devout muslim boy from Pune and Small, an overly effeminate export from the Steel City.
Curly, who I'd met during the entrance exams for college, LongNose, a calcutta boy who fancied himself as one of the best looking and the most talented cricketers around; Jerky, a South Indian boy with a Mumbai upbringing who dropped out of engineering college in search of a less punishing course and lastly, Sumo, the big Parsi from the Steel City.
We bonded over music, cricket, girls, funny accents and mischief. I was taken in by the guys and we had a blast over the next few months.
I first got drunk after I downed a quarter of White Mischief, to prove a point. Soon, as the buzz was settling, we sat around a rickety steel table, with slippery and dirty, white plastic chairs placed on gravel with blades of wild grass peeking out from between the stones. The conversation moved to confessions and the boys began to fess up - about girls they'd been with, ones they'd like to be with, about lies they'd told each other and the negative thoughts they'd had about the other. When my turn came, I took a dramatic pause and said, " OK guys. I wanted to thank you guys for taking me in and helping me out, but I feel that you guys ignore me sometimes and I don't feel like I'm part of the bunch, yet." No one said anything about it, they just moved on to the next confession.
When it came to Crickey, he said, " Bro, you know why you feel ignored and not like you're part of the bunch? That's cos we try to lose you when we go smoke grass!"
I was stunned! "You guys smoke grass?!!"
"Yeah. What do you think we're doing at Playa's place when you're hanging around trying to learn guitar?"
I had no idea.
So that evening, after we went back to the hostel, I saw them smoke weed and have a great time, laughing their heads off at stuff I didn't find funny at all. It even got to a point when I was nearly in tears, feeling bad for how stupid they were, wasting their lives away smoking weed and enjoying it.
When Jerky began coring an apple, very carefully and everyone else shouting out instructions about how to do it, I got curious. I knew that one apple wouldn't be enough for everyone in the room, so he couldn't be coring it to eat. Before I could ask, Jerky began stuffing the hollowed out apple with a potent wad of weed and then finished it by stuffing the other end with a loosely rolled piece of card board. It was an Apple Chillum. The boys all drew deeply and blew thick, white smoke and raved about the flavour. The apple went around the room and just when it was with the person next to me, he asked, "Try karega?" . I politely refused, but then I really wanted to. Moment of Truth.
I took the Apple Chillum and pulled hard. I passed it on and everyone waited and watched - expecting me to cough my lungs out. I coolly exhaled a cloud of white smoke and made a face as if to say, "That tastes like shit!"
This was the beginning of my education. 1st year of college. I learnt so much in those 3-4 years, I don't think there'll ever be a phase where the learning curve will be so steep.
I began to listen to music by artists I'd only heard of, but never cared to pick up a cassette (CDs were prohibitively expensive then)to listen to, properly. I went from sharing the odd cigarette with one of the boys to making sure I had at least 5 in my pocket when I returned to the hostel and definitely one to smoke on the throne next morning. I had a cute looking girlfriend from Pune. We were crazy about each other. We all hung out with our girls, went drinking, on hikes to hillocks behind the hotel, borrowed bikes and rode with them to a little hill station close by, studied together before exams, discussed F&B and decided what we'd like to do after college and what we definitely wouldn't. We woke early Sunday mornings to play 20 over cricket matches and had the girls over, cheering for us and bringing us bottles of chilled lemonade. Life was good.
Life came full circle when many boys, named here and not, who'd fallen out in Year 1, ended up sitting in one room, sharing a bottle or a J. Gobnoxious was one among them. this space!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Confessions of the Opinionated

I'm not anything if not opinionated. I think its good to be opinionated. That's what I'm talking about.
I've seen far too many people without opinion than I'd like. Or at least who I presume are opinion-less, for lack of a better word(Maybe sans opinion!). I mean, I'm only half as opinionated as some people I know, but still I end up being the most, in many conversations I've had with most people I've met, of late. And it saddens me. It saddens me that people think knowing a little about the time lines of Indian history, world history, basic GK is stuff that makes you 'too serious'. Its annoying that people think being good at trivia is unnecessary and all you need to do is put a point across. No, you don't, not backed with your baseless opinion. But isn't that relative? Sure it is,but what matters is what you back your opinion up with, and how powerfully, and more importantly, convincingly its done!
There are things that people strive to be, and perfect, is one of them. I'm not one to even try. I know I'm flawed and accepting it is the best thing that I've done, besides marrying the girl I did, that is! More than accepting it, embracing it is what put into perspective, the things that make me flawed..and enjoy the fact that I don't celebrate being perfect or being in the pursuit of it.
One thing I don't like is people making a big deal of money. I don't mean BIG deal of money, I mean big deal of MONEY. People splitting bills down to the paisa, just so its 'fair and balanced'. Balanced? In the emperical sense, maybe, but fair? What's fair? I think its fair to've played an innings to the match's requirements as against playing an innings because you had no other choice. For example, the knock that Atherton played against SA in the '90s that saved the test and won the English the series.
But, I deviate, the point I'm trying to make is that money's something that one can never be sure of and the ritualists of the world try and make money as constant as is possible. Lets not forget how it all started. Besides, there are some things that cannot be counted. Like experience, or intensity.
Going back to opinions. What I've learnt and seen is that the stronger and more passionately you feel about an issue and the more articulate you are, your opinions end up sounding much more convincing than others. So its good to be opinionated, in my humble opinion. I've seen that I'm more receptive to actively resilient, determined and logical points of view than ones backed by newspaper and internet articles(for the 'widely read'), or just popular public opinion. Lets just say I'm not easily influenced.
But I've seen far too many and far too often, people who get inflenced by opinions of powerful personalities or by general consensus. The question is, what do they think about when they're taking a shit? Or when they're on a bus staring at open scenery and listening to random music that's either played on the bus, or ended up playing on their music players-ones that've never come up, cos shuffle has an annoying knack of playing the same songs and omitting the others over n over again.
I've found that learning is more and richer when it comes through a different and forceful,passionate medium. I have to confess that I put my case forward with more confidence than back-up, very often and it encourages really stimulating debate and information exchange.
I spoke to a few of my closest friends and they came to a unanimous conclusion- Opinions are always welcome. Only, there should be passion and information behind them.
Unopinionated people-Let's define them, for starters.
1. Unopinionated people or, for the comfort of the crowd in question, people who 'like to listen and take everything in' generally tend to stay quiet in discussions, often, not contributing to the information exchange.
2. They usually end up agreeing with one party or the other, not necessarily taking sides, but backing one of the many points of view that are in discussion, like that's their point of view as well.

Which it very well might be. All I'm saying is why didn't they think of it first, or if they did, why didn't they bring it to the table?

Being opinionated doesn't mean wanting to be right always, or being stubborn about it. It means that you have an opinion that you have built, using the information available to you and passing it through the circuitry that's made you what you are.

Being the 'taking in the conversations'kind could be because of many reasons within and out of their control. They could be shy, inhibited, intimidated by other personalities, not know how to express exactly what they're feeling, not have the knowledge to contribute or have an opinion or just plain not care about.

If you're the kind that doesn't care,then that is an opinion, too..unless you don't care about anything..

All I want to convey to the readers of this post is to spend a little time thinking about issues that matter to you. Irrespective of how trivial or useless other people might term them, these matters are yours to think about and have an opinion on.

I don't know if I'm coming across the way I want to, but I know people who want to understand, will.

Of course, that's only my opinion.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Bye Bye Dubai- Dubai, as I saw it

When I first thought of moving to Dubai, I was extremely excited because the only previous experience I'd had of Dubai was in '96-'97 right after my boards. Even though I'd just sprung a moustache and mom was my travel companion, I had a fantastic time. I saw a side of the Gulf region that I never thought existed. There were lovely, soft, carefully made up women walking around in carefully selected designer clothes, shoes and bags. Sleek, aerodynamic cars that purred at signals and roared out of them, tall buildings, the creek, with the lights of the towers and dhows shimmering on it. Well manicured patches of grass and landscaped roundabouts - the works.
I remember thinking of Dubai when I was in Muscat and it felt like how someone from Latur would feel when he thought of Mumbai. I probably wouldn't've felt that way if it weren't for some silly rule imposed by the company dad worked for, which stipulated that we couldn't get a road permit to go to Dubai. And flying was too expensive. As a result, Dubai was, for Mom, Chechi n Me the forbidden land.
Somehow, I got word through my brother-in-law that the Jumeirah Group in Dubai were looking to hire and asked me to get in touch with the Dir of HR at the Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa.
I was hired and then started a chapter of my life, that's quite inexplicable.
Dubai's a place that can either make you feel like a king or like a rhino beetle under a rock.
The population of the place comprises 26.1% Arabs, of which only 17% are Emirati. The rest are expatriates from all over the globe. They're the worker ants that keep the gears of Dubai's machinery grinding. Now, these worker ants are further segregated into several divisions or castes, by virtue of what they do and how much they earn.
At the lowest level of the pyramid, comes the South-Asian community that works for the municipality or construction. They're primarily Indian, Sri-Lankan, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Filipino. They work the hardest and longest, get paid a pittance and are pretty much looked down upon. Cumulatively, they're some of the highest remitters of foreign exchange into their respective countries.
The next level would be the drivers. Trucks, private cars, commercial and construction vehicles, taxis, private limousine services etc. They work hard and long, too, but their work and living conditions are not as bad as the previous group. They drive air conditioned cars, work on commissions or fixed salaries, have comparitively decent accommodation and they usually have no issues with their visas and such. But their lives aren't as great as I make it sound. They more often than not, are from poor regions of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kerala and they're here not to have a good time or to make a career, but to bring food to their large tables back home. Dubai has extremely stringent traffic laws and cabbies bear the brunt of these. They're fined by the 1000s of Dirhams and have to pay from their own pockets for these violations. They hate the cops in Dubai more than they hate the politicians that're ruining their countries. Most of them have word or two of advice about Dubai and most of them turn out to be extremely perceptive and helpful.
I remember sitting in cabs, piss drunk, slurring and insisting that the driver allow me to smoke in his cab, because it smells like somebody's already been smoking, and he said:
"Saab, agar aap cigarette piyenge to mujhe koi takleef nahi hai, fine bhi nahi bharna padega kyonki mein pulisswaalon ko jaanta hoon. Smell ka bhi dar nahi hai kyonki mere gaadi mein air freshener rehta hai.
Cabbbie:"Problem, sir, aapko hogi, jab aapka Doctor bolega ki agar ek aur cigarette piya, toh aap zindagi ka maza nahi utha payenge!"
The way he said it, confidently, with utter calm and an endearing smile on his face, made me forget my need for nicotine and go cold and sober.
Not that it stopped me from getting outta the cab and lighting up, but it did make me think. He didn't need to tell me that. It wasn't any of his business. It was prolly my condition that lead him to say it as darkly as he did.
My point is that evn though everyone looks out for themselves in a city like Dubai, there's comfort for everyone knowing that most people speak familiar languages and that most people lving there are outsiders. There's that illogical sense of belonging because there are so many of us expatriates living in and running Dubai for the locals.
I didn't mean to get too factual with the above paragraphs or try to sound like a features article, outlining the social structure of Dubai, but it was important to highlight and illustrate the pattern and fabric of Dubai's expatriate society to understand why the 3 year experience was such a mystery to me.
To me, Dubai's a cold and manufactured city. Its got no character, no warmth or romance. For the three years I was there, I don't once remember feeling euphoric and positive about life. I was always on edge and my personality changed drastically. A large part of me went missing and I became calculative and selfish. I made only 3 friends in 3 years and I know we'll be friends for the rest of our lives.
I only realised that I'd lost a part of me after coming back to Puna and revelling in the energies that I was enjoying.
But to be fair, I really enjoyed the luxury that was on offer in Dubai. Eating at some fine fine establishments, shopping for electronics and other things that're at least 50% more expensive in India, thanks to the tax structures etc. Professionally, too, it was a steep learning curve, experiencing the ever-climbing standards of service at hotels and restaurants. The levels of service in DXB have to be some of the best in the world. Most hotels offer the standard amenities, have great dining options with high quality ingredients, so there's a large pool of competition for any given category of restaurants. What sets them apart are the levels of personalised service, attention to detail, innovation and an ear on the ground to understand what the customer really wants. Hoteliers are quite powerful in Dubai because of the power-brokers that frequent them. Hotel staff make relationships with them(read personalised service and only that)and very often, national newspapers carry in-depth articles about hoteliers and their views,experiences and goals.
But I'm rambling, like someone visiting this blog said.
What I was getting at, was some of the things about DXB that I did enjoy. Like the time, I went to apply for Y's visa at the Dept. of Naturalisation and Residence in Dubai. I was dreading it, because I'd taken a couple of hours off work and knew I wouldn't be able to get back in the time I'd promised my boss. Once I reached the centre, my fears were confirmed, seeing the sheer number of people who were ahead. So, I settled down with my i-pod, not even looking at the digital counter displays cos I thought it'd take hours before my number came up. In about 5 minutes, I just scanned across all the displays and I found that I was next up. within another 5-7 mins, I had the visa.
Or even how easy it is to get a meal at almost any point of the day or night.
That's about all, I think.
But DXB was quite an experience, but given a chance, I wouldn't o back there to work. I'd love to o visit, yes, but definitely not to stay and work.
I'll mostly miss the food the friends I made there. But then, there's so much to look forward to, back home in India.
Well, Jumeirah,Karama, International City, Jebel Ali Club,MOE,DCC and all the cabbies in DXB, till I come back to haunt your pristine city, ma a'salama!

Monday, 18 January 2010

You'll know when you get there...

"Take this exit for The Dubai Mall","Smoking Prohibited, By Law.","Alight here for Sabarimala","Left hand drive, No hand signal". They're all over, everywhere, whether we like them, read them, follow them or not. Sometimes they appear so often that I wonder what it'd be like if there were no signs around, at all. People'd have no clue where they are, or where they're going, or meant to be going. Initially, at least, but like everything else usually works out, eventually, they'd find out.
Imagine if Sachin and Vinod had actually followed their coach, Mr. Achrekar's sign to declare, before going on to rack up a partnership of 664 (still a record in any form of cricket) or if Jinnah didn't pick up signs that there was an opportunity to be a 'Father of the Nation'. So much would be different today.
I mean, I remember when I was waiting eagerly for my 12th results to be declared, so I could apply to colleges that'd accept me with my marks. Results came, they weren't so bad, I thought the time was good to try and apply to a college with somewhat of a reputation like Wadia's in Pune or Xavier's in Mumbai. The thought of staying back in Chennai never crossed my mind. This was around June and the beginning of vacation season in Muscat. As soon as I got my results, I knew I'd to be on my way, scouting colleges outside Chennai if I wanted to be happy and close to the place of my birth, Mumbai or just Maharashtra. I hated Chennai with a passion and still do. Don't get me wrong, I've some real solid memories there, stuff burnt into my brain and consciousness. But it had nothin to do with the place, was just circumstance.
Getting back to the point, I was in Muscat that June and had to ask Dad to get my ticket to Mumbai booked as soon as possible, so I can go knockin on doors of colleges that I'd be proud to be associated with. Dad said, wait, hang on, you can go in a coupla weeks when your mother goes back. I protested, but since he's the decision maker and the financier, my protests didn't really hold up against his planned(?) decision making. When I finally did get back to India, I made mebbe 2 feeble attempts at getting admission into colleges and came back to Chennai to tell mom that they were all asking for 'donations' and I didn't want to enter any college that did. Actually, the World Cup was on and I missed the semi-final of the century where SA lost to AUS by a run or tied and lost because they'd lost before to AUS in the league stages. I had to get back to watch the finals in the comfort of home.
Soon, it was getting late in the year. If I didn't start somewhere soon, I'd miss a year. After a little discussing and strategising, we decided that it might be ok to miss a year to figure out exactly what I wanted to do and do everything necessary and in my power to make sure I get my admission formalities done well in advance and without anything going amiss.
The sign came in the form of an ad in The Hindu. The ad had a huge Taj logo in the middle and then, in a smaller font, the letters IIHM. The Indian Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad, backed by the Taj Group Hotels. Aurangabad? Where was that?? Before I could figure that out, I was already on my way to Pune, where we stopped off before heading to Aurangabad.
Life's changed impossibly since then. The sign was actually dad's irrational decision to keep me waiting for two weeks within which I could've done a little more than that feeble attempt at getting into some random college, doing a B.Com. and then settling into a bank job. I didn't know it at the time, but that WAS a sign.
Here I am now, as a deputy Head of Department in one of the finest hotels in one of the only cities in the world known for its offerings in luxury and the latest in ostentation and vanity.
The point is that the signs're all over, we know that they are, we know sometimes that we should follow the signs, but we just ignore them and do something that leaves us thinkin..What if..? Then we see more signs and then we turn our faces away and choose not to follow them..What if, again..?
The tragic irony of the whole thing is that these signs, that we ignore with a shake of the head, thinking "Naah, that's not gonna work" are what we actually end up looking back on and saying, "it was there, right in front of you, sayin THIS WAY UP!". And our friends and well-wishers, who didn't see those signs in the first place actually egg us on and make us think that ignoring those signs was the right thing to do. I mean, not thney in aat they mean us any harm or anything, just that ignoring those signs sent us on this nice comfortable journey with leather seats,great music, good company and a lovely landscape. What's wrong with that? Nothin. Its perfect. Except that we don't like where we're going.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


You know what I miss?
I miss the rains in Mumbai.
I miss the shiny streets after a shower.
I miss the smell of damp smoke in rooms full of laughter, whispers, assorted music, bonding sessions.
I miss the abundance of everything but food and money.
I miss waking up to friends standing over you, trying to wake you up because there's a plan. What? A Plan? With no money? Impossible. Think again. We do have a plan.
I miss meeting new people at new places and mulling over whether I like them or not.
I miss sharing knowing looks and charming new girls with old stories.
I miss the intense feelings of fear, anger, confusion, regret and the tummy-churn that comes along with them.
I miss feeling intensely happy, unperturbed, part of a whole, euphoric.
I miss the bad reputation that I created.
I miss walking for half hour and then taking a rickshaw because I knew if I walked that much I'd have just the right amount of coins to pay the fare.
I miss living alone and smoking black in chhota rizlas that'd last me days at a time.
I miss the hunger cramps I'd get cos I hadn't eaten.
I miss taking the train from BO to C and back to kill a coupla hours.
I miss not taking phone calls from family and well wishers cos I was too stoned.
I miss being ridiculed for hours on end for the way I was living my life and then being told about my talents and virtues.
I miss being asked to sing all night.
I miss seeing the respect and admiration in peoples' eyes fall after each meeting because I didn't live up to their expectations.
I miss apologising without thinking twice and meaning it every single time.
I miss my shamelessness and callousness.
I miss my arrogance without having anything to be arrogant about.
I miss rationalising and sorting out situations in my head way before they even arose.
I miss trying to tell the perfect lie.
I miss eating alone at station dhabas.
I miss hanging out of the C Fast and taking in the sunset at Marine Lines.
I miss the endless glasses of Ganna juice I drank at every station that I went to.
I miss travelling ticketless and not getting caught.
I miss the irony of leading all my friends to cross the bridge, ticketless and being the only one caught out of 7.
I miss the reliving the photo albums of memory after an evening of pub and house hopping.
I miss going through my phone book to find someone whom I haven't already asked for a loan from..and not finding any.
I miss waiting for the 304 from Ghatkopar to Andheri, having a cigarette and masala chai.
I miss preparing to watch the Simpsons everyday at 6.
I miss wandering off to different places while reading a book.
I miss trying to resist the urge to call friends I was not talking to.
I miss not spending money on smokes, saving up for a Bombay sandwich washed down with a chilled mountain dew.
I miss feeling rejected when people didn't invite me when they went to nice places cos I didn't have the money.
I miss people who came in my life like angels and loved me for what I was.
I miss trying to con people into buying me a beer.
I miss trying to rekindle broken or strained relationships. Time heals everything.
I miss hiding from dhobis and panwallahs cos my credit line with them has gone from 0-600 in 3 days.
I miss losing myself in the music my walkman gave me.I still have it.
I miss long train journeys in 3rd class with nothing but my music, something to smoke and a packet of 50-50.
I miss working out how much I could spend on that train so as to have enough to pay the auto to get home.
I miss those times where I felt that there actually IS someone pulling the strings, after all.
I miss reaching home and breaking down, tired and relieved to have a roof over my head.
I miss the food reviews chechi used to take me to.
I miss the occasional phone call I got when I was all but alone.
I miss the simplicity of having no money.
I miss being told off.
I miss my country.
I miss my friends.
I miss my aunts and uncles whom I lost through distance and misunderstanding.
I look forward to reliving it all..

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Sibling

Ever since I can remember, I've had more fights than conversation with my Chechi. She's a couple of years older than I am, but we're more or less the same age.

My earliest memory of the mischief that she got up to is of this one time when she asked me to try this real fun thing- putting my finger into an electrical socket and flipping the switch. She said it was good fun. She was there, right next to me, ready to turn it right off after I'd shocked myself, but to this day, I'm still scared of electricity, even lightning. I'm very comfortable with electronics and etc., and I'll happily connect, disconnect, take apart and mix and match things, but I'm just scared of electricity. Scared, being relative to my otherwise live-on-the-edge personality.

My affinity for tipple also was kick-started early, thanks to Chechi. Once, when dad and mom were away, she invited me to open this little display case, which was of just the right height, full with miniatures collected from Dad's travels abroad. So I opened it and we chose a bottle of Gordon's to try. We chose it because of it's colourless(thought to be harmless) contents,pristine white label and the dark berries on it. So she cracked the bottle cap off, took a swig and passed it to me. Not wanting to get caught in the act, I quickly took a swig myself and emptied the lil bastard. Before I knew what hit me, we both were in the bathroom with our mouths under open taps, gasping, coughing, spitting and laughing, our eyes watering. I still remember it burning my throat and how we promptly hit the bed and fell deep asleep, when usually, we'd be up late into the night playing games with imaginary people, situations and places. I couldn't've been more than 6.

There was also this one time when dad brought home a bunch of Bananas. Beautiful, green-tipped, golden bananas. All but one, which was slightly squished and black. I'd written my name on all except that one, on which I wrote Chechi's. That's because I loved bananas and Chechi wasn't overly fond of them. Later in the afternoon, I thought I'd have a banana or two and went to the dining table. What do I see?? All the bananas were gone except the one on which I'd written chechi's name. Serves me right for writing my name on fruits.

Later, when we moved to Muscat, we shared a room and we each had our own cupboards, study tables, side tables and beds. When we fought, we'd mark the carpet to divide the room into territories.The idea was to pick a fight by stepping into the other's territory, being warned not to, and doing it over and over again till physical contact was made. I'd get hammered most times, and she'd end up sitting on me and dangling threads of spit from her mouht over my face, till either I gave up or mom came and broke it up. No matter whose fault it was, we'd both get belted and then we'd sob, cry and apply cold cream to the welts we got after the belting. That kinda re-bonded us an made us one in our enmity against the punisher.But that arrangement would only last a day or two.

She's always told my folks all the secrets I've told her but I still don't learn. I still end up telling her stuff that my parents needn't know. And she still ends up using it against me. Its ceased to matter now, but its funny how we think we're intelligent and we keep telling others to learn from their mistakes, but when it comes to application, we just don't learn.

Later, when she had a boyfriend in school, she'd wait for my parents to leave to call him and whisper garbage while I just whiled away the time till it was time to hit the bed. But because she always told my parents everything I did or didn't do, I decided to threaten her to squeal. She begged and begged me to let her call and not tell my parents but I was adamant. Till she said that she'd do anything if I didn't tell. This was when I remembered this boy on our school bus who used to open up his fountain pen and drink the ink. I don't know if he did it for attention or because he plain liked it, but he did it anyway.

This was my chance to see how badly she wanted to make that call and what's the worst I can get her to do. I had plenty of sinister ideas, and I would've asked her to do one of them, but then I was scared that she'd do it and then something irreversible would happen and I'd be in deep shit!!

But I settled for asking her to have a swig of ink from the little pot of Pelican Royal blue ink, if she didn't want me to tell the folks of her secret affair. She did, she made the call and once she was done, went straight to the loo and started wretching and saying that her throat was burning. Having watched plenty of hindi movies and the actors' reactions to poisoning, I freaked out!! I apologised profusely and ran to the fridge to get her a cold drink of water. I promised I wouldn't tell, now that she'd done what I'd asked her to.

Later, she turned the tables by telling mom and dad that I'd asked her to drink ink and now she was having trouble swallowing, breathing, thinking, walking and every possible task.

After college, I moved to Mumbai to start work with Jet Airways as cabin crew. Suffice to say that I lost my way. For over a year when I was there, but I also learnt a lot of hard lessons which have made me the kind of person I am. Don't mistake this for bitterness, because I'm very comfortable with who I am. I'm glad I spent my time the way I did.
I lost a whole lot than just my way, when I was there. My family and friends'll know what I'm talking about.Then,I went to Chennai, where my sister was, with her husband.

This was exactly what I needed. She took care of me like no one else would've. She gave me a comfortable bed to sleep on, good food everyday, breakfast, coffee, music, even cigarette money. I started two jobs and ended up not going like I've mentioned in my previous blogs, but she continued to take care of me and make me feel like it was alright to be 24 and not have a life of one's own. She had a meagre salary at the time and she'd still manage to take me out for dinner, music concerts, give me money for the internet, my weed (of course she didn't know!Till I offered her some once in a while;0) my shrink, everything.
She'd get assigned to review some new eatery and most often, she'd take me, the times she didn't she'd feel horribly apologetic and get me a burger or a coke to keep my spirits up.
That side of my sister's, I've never seen before or after. My eyes well up when I think about those times and I hold them closest to my heart not because of anything else, but the fact that she forgot that she was my older sister and looked after and treated me as a friend. We used to have more laughs and conversation than fights.

But the one fight that changed my life and put me on track was when she asked me to leave the house in Goregaon on a rainy early morning in July 2005. I hadn't liked how she'd treated one of her friends who'd come in from Chennai, so I took him out to Toto's to drown our sorrows in beer and rock. What business was it of mine? It so happened that him and I'd become fast friends during my stay in Chennai. I hadn't liked it and I told her so in more words than were necessary and she asked me to leave the house. It was July in Mumbai. Any Mumbaikar will know what that means- RAIN.

I put my little bag on this concrete bench, put my cap on and tried to sleep in the dripping rain. I went to the watchman's alcove to have a cigarette and tea and he offered to let me sleep in his quarters. What a gesture, from someone I didn't even say hello to. It helped that I was extremely bitter about my sister, the tenant and even more so because I'd been drinking all evening and the bitterness was just flowing like the Mahim Creek.

But anyway, I spoke to my parents in the morning and they asked me to leave as well, and find my own way, so I called the only person who I could count on-my girl, now my wife. And I'd expected her not to offer, but there it was- straight off the bat, "Come on over to Pune, N, we'll figure something out!" So I left for pune that afternoon and since then, nothing but good has happened to me..I've done better and better in life and I've had pretty much everything favouring me.

For this and that time she took care of me and managed a household, I'm eternally grateful to my sister. She swooped in like an angel and nursed my out of a rough patch, then, donning the disguise of the Devil, she banished me into the oblivion of serious living.

Thanks Chechi.

Now, when you're in a spot of bother, I want to be able to help.

I want to be able to make you feel the difference between family and friends.

I hope now, I can return the good you've given me, once twice, for the rest of my life.

I want you to be able to relaxsssss, knowing thaaaat, I am aaaayyyyraaoundd!!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Of Friends In Need and other short stories..

I still remember sitting next to this dude with curly hair writing my entrance for what was going to change my life forever. I many people actually sign up to spend the rest of their lives working the hardest when the rest of the world is partying the hardest. I did that, and with me, another very curious young fellow.
It was at the Taj Coromandel in Chennai that this entrance test was held and just before sitting down to take the test, (a laughably easy one) I just asked him for a "rubber". He politely corrected me by saying, "You mean, an eraser?".
That was the start of the only love-hate relationship I've ever had or ever will. I used to laugh at people who used those words, love-hate. But to know Dr is to Love-Hate him.
A few months after this short conversation, I ran into him again at the Hostel. Ah, the Hostel. Some people probably get nightmares when they think about the hostel. But me, I get a feeling of warmth, with laughter bubbling up from my centre of gravity, ending up in a throaty cackle/laugh, only to be replaced by a long sigh and deep sense of loss. But I'll save that for another day.
So we kept running into each other more and more and exchanging(read giving one-sidedly) music. I remember, at one point, when I opened my drawer of tapes, I only found 4 or 5. A couple of Megadeth, an Ugly Kid Joe and a coupla nameless assorted tapes. This couldn't be happening. Besides my wit, charm and obvious eloquence, I'm nothing without my music. So I walk up to Dr.'s room and ask if I can have my tapes back. He responds by handing me two peices of plastic with a lot of casette tape wrapped around it and says, "I've got the rest as well, but they're all pretty much in the same condition. Do you still want them?" At that point, I'm thinking, "What do I wanna do with tapes that are not in their casing anyway?" But I shoulda known better. This is Dr. we're dealing with, here. He probably had kept them better than I ever did and made it part of his own private collection. Till I he got to see my CDs, that is.
Dr. is your typical mercurial madman/intellectual psychopath. I guess he's not so typical after all. But he is close to my heart. And this is an Ode to you Dr. The name Dr came about one rare evening when he actually sat up from his bed to roll a J. Rare because he barely did. Turns out, that when he did, he made fantastic, straight, cigarette like Js. These were consistently neat, standardised and a pleasure to toke. I mean, if you weren't in the room and you came in after it was lit, you'd know first by looking at it and then get assured when you smoked it. It was not so much the actual J that earned him the nickname, but his focus and organised preparation before and during the act. Like a scientist. Anyway, stories about Doc are plenty, but this one's about how he was by my side, during my toughest times. Like Bruno, the Doberman in Poona. I think our bond was stregthened when we went for our OJTs to the Taj Residency in Indore, for Kitchen and HK. We were the only ones who could relate to the other and we were both re-doing the year due to all reasons, but academic. Indore was crazy. We'd work hard and then party 42 times harder. Just the two of us. We even asked the HR Manager, whom we were sharing the flat with, by the way, for an advance on our stipends!!! He was like, "Hmmm..I've been in this industry now, 22 years and no trainee has ever asked me for his stipend in advance, but why not!!" And we got it! Bought a crate of beers, some good food and threw a party. We ran up bills with the STD booth, the internet cafe, the mithai waala, even the medic and we ended up telling everyone, "Nikhil paisa dega!" I'd go to one of these places and say the same thing and so would Doc. Now there was a third guy called Nikhil who never seemed to come in to pay these bills and we kept racking them up!! Hilarious. What a scam that was, huh, Doc!! I remember when I'd broken my wrist during a drunken, mock fist fight. Doc actually came to my room, asked me to get dressed and we took an auti to the hospital where they put my wrist in a cast and we came back to the Institute to convince everyone that we hadn't just bunked Front Office Theory class. There was a legitimate reason! Come to think of it, that might've been the reason he came, but it doesn't matter, cos I remember how that created a bond between us. He has been the same brash, foul-mouthed, callous prick throughout the time that I've known him, but times like this make me think. Another time, I got involved in a little drunken fight, which turned out to be not so little after all. I was hammered, complete, with a swollen, black eye and I couldn't raise my arm for over a month. Some nervous injury. Brachial Plexus or some other. He was the one who came with me to the hospital to do my tests. He'd offer to hold my books, pick up my chair, get me a smoke, a tray of food at the cafeteria. Doc just doesn't do stuff like that for people. Anyone.
Not that he's always been great and someone I can count on at all times, he's caused me quite a lotta damage as well, but that's just me blaming someone else for my errors in judgement.
Later, in Mumbai, we shared a few good laughs, fights and good, honest bloke talk and we still do. The occasional drunk dial and reminiscing about the good old days. The occasional wall post on FB.
We've even spoken about starting something together. Someday.
Doc, I know you'll agree with me when I say that this is one of the most biased opinions anyone has about you. Everyone else will prolly give you a lot less credit. And call you the prick you are. But then they don't know you as well as I do. Cheerio.