Sunday, August 23, 2009

Men In The Mirror

Everyday as I drive to office, I dread that one minute, the time to be spent in the lift. The lift in my office has reflecting surfaces on all four sides and on top.

Usually I am never alone in the lift. It’s a joy being the only person in that lift. You can look at yourself from all angles. Make faces. Plus there is that comfort of your own space. But such days are rare.

You keep waiting for lift to come down to the parking floor and by that time there are at least 5-6 fellow travelers who wait with you. You greet the ones whom you know. The doors of the lift open and everyone gets in. Nothing new about it. The process is similar almost everywhere.

But, we have reflecting walls in the lifts. Normal human beings, who greeted each other, now are in a very uncomfortable state. You can’t look anywhere. Six people entered the lift, but they find themselves surrounded by thirty virtual ones in various dimensions. Not only that, those thirty reflect each other and multiply exponentially. If you look straight, you would always find yourself staring at one of those many men/women. Quickly you turn your eyes and there it is, the same person from different angle. If the group that entered, has a mix of genders, things become even more embarrassing. Once, one of my reflections caught eyes of another’s reflection and both of them blushed and said “hi” to each other.

So, as a coping mechanism, a person tries to look at the digital display which shows the floor number the lift is currently on. But if you just see only that person in a video, he would look like an extremely nervous person, too anxious to get to his floor and only half trusting the lift to take him there.

Hence, follows the great guilt show. Everyone stares at the floor. Shameful, heads hung low, looking at their buttons/mobile/shoes/paunch. Once again, if you see this video, you would know that each one of them is sorry; sorry for their past deeds and sorry for bringing in so many intruders in that weird combination of real and virtual spaces. They feel, they shouldn’t have been there.

And whenever the lift door opens, it’s a feeling of liberation. Like a curse is broken. Even if it’s not your floor, you can still look outside the lift or look at those who enter and exit on the pretext of making space to stand. Then you notice the same phenomenon with the new entrants. They look all around for a fraction of second, get scared, and then look at the digital display and then finally join the guilt parade.

One day I entered quite defiantly in the lift resolving that I would not allow the circumstance to make a fool of me. So I stood upright that day. And as I looked at all those heads, I had to bit my lips real hard to stop myself from laughing. It was funny. And I asked myself :Why the guilt ?

Since then, I’ve learnt to hold my own and not be shameful for reasons beyond control. Repetition has taken the humor out of the situation. Instead, a spiritual feeling transcends every time I see all of us, and our reflections which seem to be having a life of their own. The way every one behaves, trying to be non-intrusive, thereby expecting the same from others, it leaves you feeling that deep down inside we are all one. Thoughts and experiences are different, but Mother Nature has nurtured us all on the same principles of evolution: mental, physical and emotional. We are all just another manifestation of the unique miracle called life.

I am sure,with time, a new perspective would replace this one and I would update this post when that happens :).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brought To You Bai

My maid is on leave this week.

Her absence is becoming noticeable day by day. Apart from executing her designated duties, she also acts as a worst-case-alarm for me every morning. That’s why she is not allowed to come on weekends.

She must be over 60. The previous resident of the house was a friend of mine and she told me that the bai (maid) can’t see properly but is very honest and her Hindi is strong enough to carry on commonly occurring work related conversations (e.g. Kapda kal karna). She called her Amma and so do I, with no urge of being original in matters which have been taking care of themselves with harmony.

But there was a period when this harmony was threatened. Let me begin with telling the morning routine on days when I am not inspired enough to wake up before 7, thereby allowing Amma to be my worst-case-alarm at 8. Usually 4 out of 5 days, she gets to discharge this additional duty. I never wake up between 7 and 8. (Never knew that this post would become so rich in numbers).

On such uninspired days, Amma rings up the bell and then she tries to peep through the translucent window-glass. I open the door and then go flat once again on the bed savoring my last 20 minutes on the bed guiltlessly (You can’t get ready for office with a maid roaming around in your house). It’s understood that she must broom and sweep, wash utensils if there are any, and then ask whether clothes should be washed today or tomorrow. I take that decision whimsically, with my eyes closed.

Four years ago, when my mom visited Bangalore for a week, she made me buy 6 big and small plates,6 spoons,6 katoris (bowls),6 glasses,5 jars, a pressure cooker, 2 frying pans, a mixer-grinder, a chakla-belan and all that is needed for a family of four to cook and eat. I even have a sandwich-toaster. The salt, spices, sugar and other such things brought four years ago survive till this day.

All that Amma gets to wash are 2 glasses, 2 spoons, a bowl and sometimes a tapela (bigger bowl) in which I store milk. That’s because I eat corn-flakes for breakfast. Once in a while, maggi is cooked which contributes a plate and one more tapela for washing. All other utensils just lay there, untouched. Or so I thought about a year ago.

It all began that night when I was slightly hungry and stepped into the kitchen to have a snack. There were just two chocolate biscuits, one less that expected. Though friends drop in sometimes, I attributed the missing biscuit to a slip in memory. Then a spoon went missing. I grew suspicious. I counted the katories. Only four. I felt bad for my mom.

I could still be not so sure that Amma was the culprit. After all, her honesty was sworn by the previous resident. May be I lost some utensils during shifting from the previous place. But the seed of doubt was planted. This played havoc with my guiltless sleep of 20 minutes during Amma’s stay. I paid surprise visits to the kitchen when she would be working. On lazier days, I would just slap the floor with hands, while still on bed, to create an illusion that I was coming.

The day of reckoning came. I remember that it was a Monday. Three empty cans of beer were sitting pretty on the kitchen stand. Amma rang the bell and then entered the kitchen. I heard her clearing the cans and putting them in polythene with other bottles and containers. She used to do that once or twice in a month : taking away empty containers of food, beer, cold drinks, honey etc.

Then she began cleaning the floor and came into the room in which I sleep. I had a slight hangover and weakness, and so I thought of having some water and honey. So I got up and went to the kitchen. There I saw all the cans and containers stuffed into a large black polythene. I looked for the bottle of honey. I couldn’t find it. I remembered that there wasn’t more than 2-3 spoonfuls of honey left in it and so Amma might have mistakenly put that bottle with other empty containers. But I was quite keen on honey and so I opened up the polythene.

A discovery, or solving of a puzzle that has been troubling you for days, usually brings joy and fulfillment to the heart. But my heart sank when I saw a glass and a spoon carefully hidden in the containers. Amma was still in another room. I was enraged, though not much. I quickly got over the shock and having absorbed the passion in it, I began thinking about solving the problem at hand.

“Should I confront her right now? Maybe I should put the glass and spoon back in the polythene and catch her red-handed when she is leaving with it. But what should I say?”

I lacked the courage to accuse someone (even if rightly) who is over 60 and on top of that, a woman. There was just too much shame involved from both sides in it. So I began manipulating myself.

“What good would come of humiliating and then firing her? The only reason to keep her employed despite sloppy work was that she had received high marks on honesty. If she steals, then why won’t her replacement do so? My 20 minutes of guiltless sleep is doomed. But what do I do now with this glass and spoon?”

Then, with a stroke of genius, I kept the glass and the spoon right beside the polythene, tied the polythene back and went back to my bed. After a minute, Amma entered the kitchen. My heart was beating fast. She continued with her work and then left with the polythene. I got up, went into the kitchen, and saw the two tokens of love from my mom still lying where I left them.

It’s been a year now since that incident. Nothing has gone missing after that. Not even the biscuits. Amma has stopped taking stuff in polythene. I have to throw the mountain of containers after every three months or so. But I get to blissfully sleep for those 20 minutes.

Not a word spoken, but a soul reformed.



You need to step into the other’s shoes to understand the reasons why Amma was perceived to be honest. She never stole money. For her, a hundred rupee note is a rarer thing than utensils and she thought that it wouldn’t matter to me if a couple of spoons and katoris went missing. Reverse was the truth. I wouldn’t notice if someone removed a hundred rupee note from my wallet. For Amma, utensils are daily things she deals with in abundance. But I still remember the day mom bought those 6 glasses and spoon from CMH road. The equations didn’t favor Amma.

I shouldn’t be perceived as too soft-hearted towards maids in general. In fact, while staying with four of my friends in Gurgaon, I was the one designated to scold and , at times, fire the house-helps. Hard-talk was my department.

My other responsibility was to get rid of cockroaches in the house. There were too many and they came back every week. I would go into the kitchen with HIT, and then shoot in all the corners. I felt like a ranger. The weak roaches were dead on the spot while the stronger ones would get out of their den and run hither-thither. Then Piyush and me would run with slippers in our hands and nail each one of them down. It was an excellent outlet to the hunter instincts suppressed for centuries within a man’s heart. Oh, the raw joys mankind has given up for this timid civilized life.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ghanshyams vs Fairbrothers, and Bala goes to Singapore

The Ghanshyams are at it again.Dark fat bastards. The barbarians hit each other harder and harder. Each blow brings a cry with pain and their shrieks are loud enough to rattle the windows.

They scared away poor little Fairbrothers. They always do.

Fairbrothers.White nimble darlings. Gently they move with heavenly grace. Always well behaved and quiet.

Right now, it is the grimy Ghanshyams who occupy the stage. But God, in his infinite wisdom, has ensured that they won’t survive for long. If they are lucky, they move away unharmed, with painful lethargy.

However, the movement only delays the inevitable for the doomed brethren. For, it is their fate to kill each other, to degenerate each other into the tiniest of pieces till the last drop of their blood spills over the ground beneath.

And when the massacre happens, the occasion is celebrated. Peacocks dance. Thirsty trees begin greening. The farmer Ramsakha from Bhusakhedi thanks God for the rain. The violent death of dark clouds nourishes life on earth.

Later, accompanied with cool wind, return the white clouds that were chased away by Ghanshyams. Then, even Ramsakha from Bhusakhedi, standing in his green fields, admires the Fairbrothers playing in the blue sky. For him, the only virtue in Ghanshyams is their immediate destruction, right in front of his eyes.

I call it God's own apartheid.

Added later: Many told me that this piece was confusing. So, to clarify, Ghanshyams are Dark Clouds while Fairbrothers are white.


That’s it. I’ve deleted the remaining drafts now and would make a fresh start from next post.

By the time I publish this post, my brother (nicknamed Bala) would be on his way to Singapore for his new job. I don’t have a family connection now with Mumbai anymore which saddens me. He has been there since last eight years.

Anyone who needs Gold Gym membership in Bandra at dirt cheap price, please leave a comment. You get to pump iron and run alongside Salman, Bipasha, Neha Dhupia and many models and actors.

Bala would be sending his Television to me. No matter how far I run away from the idiot box, it follows me with even greater fervor. Three years ago when I shifted to my new place, the owner was a friend and left the Television back. I dumped it at another friend’s place. A bigger irony was to follow. I got a job where they write software for set-top boxes and I have Televisions (fantastic digital ones) all around me in office. I can have Tata-sky or Airtel digital Tv connection for free as per the company policy. I must withstand the temptation if the blog has to survive, if my Yoga has to continue and a few more good ifs, because the presence of TV around me works like dementors. I loose all senses and numbly zap thorugh the channels for hours. I prefer youtube. That way I watch only that which is worthy of searching and waiting for the streaming through broadband at Indian speed.

Bala had posted his requirements for a residential stay in Singapore on various rental sites. His inbox is getting invitation to share apartments from females too and each such mail is duly forwarded to all his friends in Mumbai.All of a sudden each one of his friends has gone high on morals and culture; they are voicing concerns that Bala should not forget the Bhartiya Sanskriti.

Understandably, my parents are not in a jolly mood today. But the point is that for all practical purposes he has shifted closer to them. Earlier, he used to go by an overnight train to Dewas which took 13 hours. Now he would reach home in 7 hours since all of his travel would be via plane.

He visited Dewas last week. He went to the VT Railway station directly from his office and removed his shirt to wear a black T-shirt in the taxi itself. Then he rolled up his yellow cargo pants. He was going to remove the black leather shoes in train itself before going for sleep. At the gates of the railway station, security police stopped him and started checking his luggage. He was surprised and looked around for a clue. Then he caught sight of a mirror. His outfit and luggage looked exactly like none other than that of Kasab. To make matter worse, he was carrying passport and other papers for visa preparations. You can only sympathize with the growing suspicion in police-wallas. Bala was a regular at the aforementioned gym and has good body with biceps and all. He answered all their questions patiently, explained them that the metallic rectangle is an I-Pod and let them hear Eminem through it; they even asked him to explain about the book he carried: “Three Men in a Boat”.

You feel the distance more when the time-zones are very much separated. Then it feels as if you are in a different universe. While in US, I always found it difficult to communicate with my parents. There were very few eligible slabs for calling home, mostly at least one party would be sleeping or in office. But Singapore is just 2.5 hours ahead, which in fact gives a perfect offset given the lifestyle of my parents and Bala. Parents sleep at 10.30 while Bala doesn’t even think of going to bed before 12. At 8 o’clock when my mom would ask, “Khana kha liya?”, I would still be saying “Itne jaldi kaun khata hain” while Bala just had to truthfully answer “Haan”. But the best thing about Singapore is that it is so easy to pronounce.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Alchemistress

Stella was on the hospital bed. Her left leg plastered. This had to be the worst day she has had in years. She slipped over the stairs as she was leaving the school after checking out the result for a test which was very important for her. Her mind wandered to the scene in canteen two weeks before the accident:

“Not that trash again”, said Allan dismissively. Steve nodded in his support.

“Cynical fools ! I've experienced it before. Twice. The world did conspire against all odds to give me what I desired from the heart.” Stella was adamant in her reverence of Coelho.

“You fall too easily for selective statistics. For every successful person in favor of whom the world conspired, there are hundreds more who, too, were wishing from their hearts. But no one interviews all the failed ones.” Allan always caught the finer points.

“Maybe their desires weren’t strong enough. And abilities must justify the aspirations too”. Stella tried to spin the argument.

“That’s doublespeak. What’s left for the world to conspire if the need for ability is acknowledged?” Allan said impatiently.

“Cool it down guys. We have the test for the exchange program with the Paris school coming up in a week. Stella, you are dying to be there. But Allan is clearly the favorite to ace the test.” Steve intervened.

“That’s right. I want it so badly that I am sure luck shall take me to Paris. Allan you would be rotting here while I’ll be sipping the wines there”, Stella replied over-excitedly.

“I was planning to miss the test anyways. Got my band here. Paris is for the old hags anyway.” Allan said .

“NO ! I’ve been working my ass off for the test only to outdo you and others. Tell me what would make you sit for the test with all its seriousness” Stella spoke challengingly to Allan.

“Hmm..I love my band. We were planning for a few jigs during the summers. Hard to beat that. Let me think” Allan paused and then said as offhandedly as he could “If you promise to give me a lap-dance in case I top, maybe I would give my all for the test.”

“Done” Stella said resolutely.

“What!!! Are you nuts? No trip to Paris and becoming a Lap-dancer for the one who robbed you off the trip. That’s what you face if you lose. Screw Coelho.” Steve tried to put some sense into Stella.

“I have worked hard and I want the trip more badly than anyone else. Even more than a pervert’s desire for a free lap-dance. That’s all I know.” Stella looked possessed.

“I’ve already begin to appreciate Coelho. The deal is on.” Allan said slyly.

A knock on the door shook Stella out of those memories. Allan and Steve entered the hospital room, both grim faced.

“Hey Stella. Everything OK ?” said Steve sheepishly. Allan had his eyes on the floor.

“Thanks for coming guys. I’m good. They’ll discharge me tomorrow.” Stella did put up a brave face.

“Great !” Allan mustered enough courage.

“Yeah. And good luck for the trip to Paris”, Stella couldn’t hide the envy in her voice.

“I don’t think I’ll go. And that deal is off too.”Allan blurted out quickly.

“Thanks Allan. You’re such a sweetheart. I finished third. So the guy who stood second gets to go there.” Stella says.

“Yeah, that would be George. We have a party this saturday night in the school backyard. I got hold of a fake ID to buy the booze. You would be able to make it?” Steve changes the topic.

“Three weeks before the plaster is off. But do toast a drink for me, will you?” Stella says smiling. Her eyes twinkle.

Allan & Steve left after a while.

The Saturday night party was a riot by midnight. And that was when the students heard the siren. It was only the third time in five years that the high-school party with booze was busted. Cops took the students into custody for the night and let them go in the morning.

School authorities however were not that forgiving. Punishments followed. George was caught too. His Paris tour was cancelled which meant Stella goes to Paris. Allan and Steve agreed that the world really conspired to make Stella’s dream come true.

Stella returned to school after a few days. That day, just before leaving the school she caught hold of Allan in the empty corridor.

“I got to confess this to you. That night, I called the cops.” Stella said that in a single breathe.

“You are a super-bitch. Aren’t you!” Allan couldn’t hide the shock in his voice.

Stella stood silent, ashamed.

“That’s ok girl. You actually did a favor to me. I was having a hard time to explain the abandoning of trip to everyone. And look, you did get what your heart desired.” Allan continued with a chuckle.

“Really? So you are not cross with me?” Stella was so relieved.

“Of course not! I never wanted the trip anyway. You know what my heart desired” Allan let his eyes roam as he said this.

“And that desire shall be fulfilled. Who am I to falsify Coelho?” Stella pushed Allan into the abandoned classroom. Het top was off before Allan’s bottom touched the chair. The dance was without any music, but Allan didn’t mind this conspiracy of the world at all.

PS : I am cleaning up a few old drafts. Please bear with some average posts as mentioned in the previous post. I got to get a clean slate before fresh ones start coming.