Thursday, May 7, 2009

Twittering Facebook

A simple matter of getting friends together requires networking skills of mammoth proportions. 5 friends, 60 text messages, 24 emails to 9 email accounts, 18 Facebook messages, 10 Facebook pokes (the reason for which I am yet to fathom, will someone please tell me what it means and put me out of my misery), 15 emails sent via Blackberry, 8 messages sent via Facebook Mobile - yes just because they can, 7 messages left on mobile voicemail (that I discovered the day after the party), a gazillion twitters on Twitter, and there were probably a few posts left on other cyber communication spaces that I have yet to discover. And yet no one thought to make a phone call.

All this for one not very good party that started 2 hours late, ended an hour later and was inundated with confused and angry statements like:
'but I left you a message saying I couldn't pick you up'
'I texted you the directions. You didn't get it??'
'the invite was on My Space, you didn't check it out'
and my personal favourite:
'ofcourse I informed everyone this was a vegan party. I even put it up as a Facebook event'.

But if only the host had thought to pick up with phone and call us to let us know all of this, there would not have been such utter disappointment at finding Soya Chili Balls, Soya Nugget Curry Soya sticks and Soya Bean sauce at the table. Being vegan also meant that there was no alcohol, no salty snacks and no ice cream and so she really had nothing to improve spirits with and take it from me, soya really does nothing for intoxication. The host had forgotten to tag Forgiveness an invite. I heard one girl mumble to another - babe, when you took that wrong turn for the 4th time, you should have just continued down that road.

It had taken 5 avenues of technology to NOT get the message across.

When did picking up the phone and making a phone call get so un-cool? I can remember when it was THE cool thing to do. Getting an hour with the phone back in the days was the equivalent of getting your own Apple laptop today in a funky metallic red.

"What were you doing last night?"
"I was on the phone for an hour and I didn't even have to sneak into the closet with it."
"What were doing last night?"
"I was updating my profile page, after which I took 85 quizzes, wrote 106 comments, sent out 24 gifts, made 254 people my friends, then I twittered, looked through pictures of people I don't know, checked out pages of people I don't know and then cried my self to sleep when my hard drive crashed."

I twittered? It's become a verb now?

Do none of you find anything strange about this?

I went to listen to an Indian rock band the other night. Very good stuff, especially the cover versions. Mr. Too Cool For My Mike lead singer had the Axl Rose act perfected, right down to holding his crotch and staggering around the stage in an attempt to look like he was completely under the influence of the music and er, maybe a few other things (and maybe he was, who knows) . But the coolness factor took a beating when he all of a sudden looked genuinely excited and started pointing out to random people in the audience saying - hey, I know you from Facebook and you, I know you too from Facebook.

I mean, I ask you, would Axl Rose have ever done that?

Recently, a patient felt that it was okay to cancel his dental appointments on Facebook about an hour before he was due at the practice, despite me repeatedly telling him that it was impossible for me to practise dentistry and check Facebook updates at the same time. Sure it's okay, I told him later, but only if you're getting virtual dentistry done by Dr. Preeti Cyberspace-Sharma and as far as I know, she doesn't practise here. I was later very tempted to send him an itemised bill to his Facebook page and tag him on some close-up pictures of his teeth. How many of his girlfriends would still find him attractive when they discovered that he had four teeth with rotting food stuck and chronic gum disease.

Earlier when a wimp broke up with you, he would scrawl you a letter which you would then smell and touch and cry over till the ink smudged and then save it in a little envelope that you kept at the back of your underwear draw and you would take out and re-read it whenever they played Roxette's It Must Have Been Love on the radio. There was a certain ceremony to tragedy then. Now the wimp changes his status profile to single and that's that.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


When the dust has cleared

And the tear tracks have dried

We are not remembered by what we feared

But by what we tried

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sharps and Flats

I have signed up for piano classes. Why? Well, the most obvious reason being that my piano at home is developing muscular atrophy from disuse. And because I thought that it was high time I learned something fun apart from how to walk straight after an evening at the pub.

Mind you, the search for a piano teacher has been a longer and more treacherous road than you can imagine. I have come across piano teachers who only teach children below the age of 6…yeah I know, the kids would have to hold the milk bottle in one hand and play the piano with which ever was their non milk bottle holding hand. There was the teacher who promised to teach me to play but balked when I asked if she would provide the music books. She apparently taught her students to play without teaching them to read music!! Then there was the guy who promised to teach me to play but for what he was charging, I could hire a 10 member orchestra to serenade me every night! And how can I forget the woman who came so highly recommended. She wanted a joining fee and if I missed more than 3 classes in the ENTIRE YEAR, I would have to pay the joining fee again and a penalty fee…man, learning dentistry wasn’t this complicated or expensive.

My personal favourite though are the ones who say they teach the piano but what they actually teach is all versions of the keyboard. There is a difference my friends. One is the granddaddy of all music and the other is his pipsqueak bastard son. And so one morning I trudge all the way to Santacruz to check out this guy who says he can teach me the piano in 3 months flat. I walk into his room to meet him (he’s got dodgy eyes and all his fingers have rings with colored stones…my shackles are up immediately) and look around for the piano. In a room that is all of 50 sq ft, it should not be too hard to spot a piano, but no I still cannot see it. He then with a flourish unfurls a gunny sack that is covering a bundle on the floor to reveal a keyboard the size of a harmonium! No wonder he was going to teach me the ‘piano’ in 3 months…this instrument didn’t have more than 20 keys, each of which was smaller than my thumb and all combinations of these keys could be covered in five days flat.
“This is your piano?” I asked aghast.
“Madam, I never said piano, I said piano like,” he replies slowly, enunciating each word like he is talking to someone with an IQ of 30.
I know I have problems with memory ( I can rarely remember the things that I do wrong), but I am sure that I would remember if he had said “piano like”…though later a careful review of my hazy memory would throw up a sentence that he did say – Madam, I will teach you the piano like in 3 months.
If only I had then known where he put his punctuations in that sentence, I could have saved myself the trip.

I finally found a music school attached to a well known college close to home. It’s great because it makes me sound uber cool when I say that I am part of a music school; people mistakenly think that I can actually play an instrument. It’s also great because the school focuses on theory as well as practicals and so when I’m done from here I should be able to play anything including the telephone directory.

And so I show up for Day 1 piano class all excited and a bit over dressed. I climb up to the 4th floor on high rickety wooden stairs, praying that it does not end up being the case that I learn the piano but in the process break my neck. There is no esthetic quality to playing Beethovan in a neck brace. I finally totter up panting like a rabid dog. It takes me a while to finish the registration formalities because I need to gasp for breath every thirty seconds and blot the sweat that is dripping onto the tissue thin paper. The girl there finally asks me if I want some water. I nod gratefully and take huge gulps out of a bottle that looks like it’s been there since 1995 and that I wouldn’t normally cross the road to avoid.

Finally my tutor arrives. All my secret hopes of having a gorgeous guy teach me sweet music flies right out the window. She is youngish, looks strict, talks tough and does not crack a smile even when I trip on the uneven tiles on the floor.
“Can you play at all?” she asks, her whole body sighing with the question.
“Only a bit. I mean, I did learn but when I was very young,” I reply. And because she still looks at me as if I have not answered her question, I feel forced to continue, “I play a little by ear.”
“Okay, play something,” she commands.

Okay, so I have several problems with this. One, I can play only two measly tunes and not very well at that. Two, I learned both by myself by ear and so they sound like a nursery rhyme version of the original thing. Three, I get disoriented on any piano apart from my own, which really should not matter because, four, I have not played any piano in over a year.
I play Love Story. I play it very very badly. Nerves. And sweat.

“Did you put that together yourself or did someone help you with it?” she barks.
Er no, I butchered it all by myself, I want to say.
“It was very good,” she said.
That’s the good thing about joining a beginners’ class. Most other students play their first piece by banging their fist on the keys.
I bask in her compliment and beam. She still does not smile.
“But your finger notations are hopeless, wrist position is poor and you slouch,” she continues. Sigh, some people just don’t know how to compliment graciously. But then, she probably favours the truth.

Most of the class comprises of me practicing some finger exercises on the keys. While my brain understands what my fingers need to do, there seems to be some break down in communication between the two and hence my fingers do exactly what they want despite my brain screaming – stop that noise and learn to listen to me. It requires so much concentration that I can either play or breath. I definitely cannot do both together. One look at my tutor’s face and I forget about the breathing.

Midway through the class, the door opens and the cutest guy I have seen in a long time walks in. Dimples, gorgeous smile, crew cut, white t-shirt, blue jeans, a walk that is like a groove to a beat that only he can hear. Hmmm, I think, here is the reason I was destined for this class. At the end of the day, nothing motivates me quite like a cute guy. My vivid imagination is already conjuring images of us making sweet music, sitting side by side, elbow by elbow, at a baby grand (ofcourse, this is once I have mastered the art of breathing and playing simultaneously). Maybe we’ll even get together to practice after today’s class.

He smiles at me. I grin back, all cool and everything.
“Where’s the guitar class happening?” he asks my teacher.

And I tumble back to earth with a cry. Damn damn damn. Why do all the cute ones want to learn the guitar? I hide my disappointment by attacking the piano keys with a vengence. I learn half a book (don’t be impressed, it is a pre-beginner’s book…whatever that means…I suspect it is for 3 year olds). Finally I am playing the pieces correctly. I even try to move to the music (thank you Elton John) but it is impossibly difficult to head bang like a pop star to Old MacDonald, especially when I am still not breathing.

I come away from Day 1 feeling a bit like a driver who has just learned how to drive and cannot believe that he is driving without leaving injured bodies in his tyres’ wake. I am reading the notes right and playing them right, but it’s a surreal experience because I still know for sure that I cannot read music or play.
“Never mind,” says my un-smiling tutor when I confide in her. “You’ll know you can play when you’re up on stage performing.”
“Stage? Performing? There is something wrong with these words??” I stutter. Why on earth should I be on stage subjecting people to slow torture.
“Oh, didn’t you know?” she asks with raised eyebrows, “We’re a music school and we have an annual show when our students perform for a large audience.”
Being on stage is my idea of death. She looks at the unadulterated fear on my face and she finally smiles.
My mind is already reviewing excuses to get out of this disaster. Illness, especially carpel tunnel syndrome sounds great. Or maybe a small finger fracture. Let’s see, I have a year to plot my desertion.

I am supposed to practice atleast twenty minutes a day between my weekly classes. The first day just as I am about to open my piano, I remember that I have to water my dying plants and get sidetracked with the important business of saving life (the plant truly and completely dies the following day!). The second day it is reading a book that I had just gotten my hands onto. I mean I have three days to return the book and five more days to practice the piano. It is a no-brainer, duh. Finally in that entire week I practice all of ten minutes. Like my tutor says as she frowns and rolls her eyes (it’s more difficult than it sounds)– hopeless.

I can only hope that the next time you and I meet, I will be playing beautiful pieces effortlessly (that’s Preeti speak for minimum practice!).

Note: To be a piano maestro extraordinaire it takes about ten thousand hours of practice. I am only trying to figure out how many lifetimes this will mean for me…

Monday, April 13, 2009

Child's Play

The dreaded had happened. I had a face too maternal for my own good. There could be no other reason why I had been enlisted to look after a friend’s children. A 3-year old girl and a 5-year old boy. A note to the uninitiated - looking after children is like playing a dangerous game of poker; irrespective of the innocent face, the child always has the winning hand and you always end up having to pay dearly for your life and sanity. And this is never more evident than when you are looking after someone else’s child. Then the stakes are doubled. Not only does the child win every round but it becomes a game of bribery, cheating, turning a blind eye and lying…and you commit every possible vice with a smile on your face.

There must have been something about my face that made my friend think she could trust me with her two children for the weekend. She was off to Bangkok to celebrate her wedding anniversary and I was her salvation. She came over with a chicken casserole (I am easily bribed) and some wine (I am especially easy to bribe when under the influence of excellent wine – damn you Jacob’s Creek). She told me that it was only for three days. I agreed because I was in an altruistic mood and I genuinely thought some child-free days would do her good. Somehow the issue of my well being during this time never came to mind. There was also the minor problem of not being able to say no to a friend in need and so being the wimp that I was, I agreed with a huge smile plastered on my face.

I had a game plan. It was all down to precision planning, military style. I would let them colour, we would bake a cake, I would fill up the huge plastic water tub for some make-belief swimming, we would read stories…the list was endless and it was tacked up onto the refrigerator. As things got done, they would be ticked off with a large pink marker. Wow, wasn’t planning fun? Simple. Besides the truth of the matter was that I was really great with kids for short periods of time. I could entertain them, make faces, sing funny songs, and play silly games. In that short period of time, most kids were ready to adopt me. I had forgotten one minor point – after that short period of time was done, most kids wanted to get rid of me so bad, they would be ready to exchange me for a packet of soggy chips.

And so Friday morning bright and early, 5 year old boy and 3 year old girl were delivered to my doorstep. I gave them both a huge hug and patted their back in a faux motherly way, but it only made them look at each other suspiciously. I remembered belatedly that children can generally see through bullshit. Oh well, there went my game plan!

The first few hours went very smoothly. He ate cereal, she smashed egg in her hair, he drank juice, she spat it out all over the table. We chatted about school and superheroes and movie stars. All in all I considered breakfast a huge success. Nothing had broken, no one had been mortally wounded and I was still wearing my game face.

I took out some coloring books for them. 5-year old boy got the superman coloring book though he did inform me with some disdain that Power Rangers were so much cooler. 3-year old girl got the Dora coloring book and while she proceeded to stab a large black crayon over Dora’s face, she did comment that Barbie was ‘sexier’! I was obviously in the dark about so many important things. I then stepped out of the room for thirty seconds, but I came back to find that the children had found my old but nonetheless priceless silk carpet a better canvas for their art. 3-year old girl had drawn large black lopsided smileys on my 25-year old pale beige and pink silk carpet while 5-year old boy was tracing the flowers in red crayon.
“Oh shi…,” I screamed, not knowing what to concentrate on more, large black strange smileys on my carpet or my language.
“You said shit,” 5-year old boy says accusingly. “That’s a bad word.”
“No I didn’t,” I quickly refuted, all innocence. “I said shi.”
“There’s no word like shi. You said shit. SHIT SHIT SHIT,” He was thrilled. He had obviously spent way too long being deprived of that glorious word.
“You two spoiled my carpet,” I said through clenched teeth.
“My mom says it’s not good to get angry,” 5-year old boy said. “And you said shit.”
Round one to them.

I went to the next thing on my famed list. Fake swimming. This entailed me exercising my lungs to capacity by blowing huge quantities of air that went into the plastic structure and then just disappeared into it’s mysterious vastness. By the time the tub showed signs of air inside it, I was ready to pass out. But no, the kids were right next to me, egging me on by spewing out air and spittle. I decided that this was not the best time to faint and that I’d ignore the veins on my forehead were threatening to pop. It took me an hour to blow air into the various layers of the tub. I left the bottom un-inflated because I had had it with this inhaling-exhaling business. The deep breathing had left me light headed. Just as I lugged the 5 foot tub into the bathroom, 3-year old girl gently reminded me that I had forgotten about the bottom of the tub. I told her that it was better that way. No it wasn’t, she said in no uncertain terms. And I was back to blowing air into the tub again. Finally the tub was inflated to everyone’s satisfaction (I said a tiny prayer before showing it to my two tiny but lethal visitors). Everyone got into their swimming costumes and ‘dived’ into the ‘pool’ to ‘swim’. We splashed, we put heads underwater (okay to be honest, they put my head underwater which was a good thing because I was the only one who knew how to hold my breath when being held underwater in a death grip), we played with some floating rubber toys and then we all jumped out, ready for lunch. I was thrilled to have occupied them for so long without incident. I was sure we had been ‘swimming’ the entire afternoon. I was a pro. This was easy. A quick look at the clock brought me crashing back to earth. We had spent exactly ten minutes in that tub!

Later, 3-year old girl asked to play ‘mummy mummy’. For those of you blissfully unaware, this entailed the girl dressing up like her mom, giving you (her baby) a list of instructions and then trying to do something that has been done to her, like force feed you some food or put you to sleep or shout at you for bad behavior or something equally as thrilling (for the child, not for you). Whichever the case, it was a game best avoided. 3-year old girl convinced me to get her all dressed up the way her mommy did. Under duress, I put on some lipstick for her, all the while easing my conscience by telling her that little girls should not wear make-up. Mummy does it, she said confidently. Well, if it was good enough for her mother, it was good enough for me. And so I slathered it on. Lipstick (many coats to get the deep red colour), blush, some glitter. 5-year old boy came to investigate what we were upto. He gasped in horror.
Eeeek, mummy’s going to kill you,” he said in shock.
I wish he was talking to his sister, but then again, he was looking at me.
“She’s not allowed to wear make up at all. Mummy hates it,” he informed me.
“But you said your mom puts it for you all the time,” I looked accusingly to 3-year old girl.
She sighed loudly like she was dealing with an imbecile. “No, I said Mummy puts it all the time. I’m not allowed to wear lipstick,” she said it like she was talking to a one year old without a brain.
I turned for just one second to get the make up remover and her little chubby fingers had snatched my Mac lipstick tube and with super lightening speed, she had pierced her fingers into the soft expensive mass. I wanted to cry. And day 1 was not over yet.

The next day, I was devious. I decided to settle them in front of the tv. A little bit of television never hurt anyone. While I was rummaging through my DVD collection, there was silence in the room. And then I heard some sniggers. I slowly looked up to the screen to see what was on tv and realized that the kids were watching Joey and some girl (from Friends) kissing. The questions came like bullets. What are they doing? Er, displaying affection for each other. Why are they kissing? They like each other a lot. But why are they lying down on the sofa? Er, their backs were paining because of too much sitting up. Why doesn’t mummy let us watch all this kissing? Er, I don’t know but let’s not really mention this to your mom, okay.

Two minutes into the cartoon that I put on for them and the kids were fighting over who would sit where and who would hold the remote. I had the brilliant idea of threatening to switch off the tv if they didn’t settle down. And because they didn’t settle down and because by then I had already said a hundred times – I promise you this tv will go off if you don’t settled down – I finally had to actually switch the movie off. Which basically meant that I had shot myself in the foot. Reminder to self – next time, shut up and let them fight.

Book reading went a bit better, I mean who can screw up reading to a child. But I did make the mistake of telling them that I would read one story. Children take things literally and I mean LITERALLY. I had to read the one story – Jack and the Beanstalk – eleven times.

By day 3, I had given up. I had said shit more times than I cared to count. I told myself it no longer mattered since it was 5-year old boy’s new favorite word anyway. The tub was filled about five times a day just so that the kids could spend copious amounts of time tipping the water out at full speed so that it would spill out of the bathroom and into my bedroom. They were drinking ketchup straight from the bottle (much like an alcoholic does). I had given up hiding the chocolates. Twenty five chocolates in 3 days. That’s what we ate. Though I need to be honest here, about fifteen of those were eaten by me. After all, I needed to keep my energy up.

Finally the moment had arrived. Time for their mother to pick them up. I had spent the better part of the evening washing 3-year old girl’s hair to remove all the dried ketchup from it. I simultaneously tutored 5-year old boy to say ‘shucks’. It only worked when I told him that it was a far worse word than shit! When I opened the door, their mother saw two gleaming children and one bedraggled adult. I think the children were sorry to go (no one else had let them finish up ALL the cake batter before. No wonder I had a special place in their hearts) and surprisingly I was even sorrier to see them go (I know, I know, but they were growing on me. It was especially easy to miss them now that I knew they were going home!) But that was all taken care of when I remembered that I still had to mop all the water from beneath my bed.

As they left my front door, I could hear the kids excitedly tell their mom – we saw lots of kissing and we learned bad words and we held aunty up-side down in the pool (it was during the attempted drowning and no I was not up-side down in 2 feet of water, I was only head down!!!) and we drank so much ketchup and …. My friend did look back at me a little confused and I just shrugged my shoulders as if to say – sheesh, kids you know, what can I say….

My friend called the next day asking why 5-year old boy was saying “shicks” so much. He had obviously gotten his shit and shucks all mixed up but I did not see the need to worry her with trivial details.

Strangely, these kids have never been allowed to visit me again.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Memories From A Lost Age

There are some memories worth hanging on to. I’m not talking about the regular ones that everyone expects you to remember, milestones like graduation (or passing if you were particularly challenged), or marriage, or child birth (ha there’s no way memory cells are likely to let go of that little thing) or death (and no, I’m not talking about one’s own!).

I’m talking special memories here, little nuggets of flashback to take you away to a time in your life that is still special to you despite there not being any obvious-to-the-world reason why. I’m talking about memories that make your bones melt like warm honey, memories that make you catch your breath, or make you smile a wistful smile every single time you think of them. I’m talking first dance, best kiss, full throated praise from your anal retentive boss, a coming of age incident, family get togethers, that kind of stuff. My special memories seem to be about freedom, self realisation and a general mish mash of things that can still today eat into several minutes of my day and it is time I consider well spent.
Getting ten Nancy Drew novels for my tenth birthday. Complete unadulterated bliss. One new book to read a day for the next ten days. And the most exciting part was not in just getting these books but in being able to scour the bookstore all by myself for the better half of my birthday, select these books with no adult interference, read the backs of about a hundred books and the partial contents of an equal number and finally shortlist these ten books from about twenty ones that I was dying to read. To those of you obsessive about reading, you will understand why I say that this was bliss. Now looking back I realize the things that I didn’t know then. That this was when we had just moved abroad and before the open economy had come to India (yes it’s true, I really am that old)) and while we were reasonably well off, giving your ten year old child enough money and the freedom to choose ten books was a far bigger deal then than it will ever be today. That back in the days, reading was considered an indulgence by many, and I was never made to feel that it was a wasteful indulgence. That my mom knew that I would read these books in ten days flat (or eight days or six) and then probably not look at them again for a very very long time. And that was okay. Now many years later, I still have many of them.
The first time I attended a ‘party’ at a friend’s house, unchaperoned. All the cool kids from school went to these parties. Since I was significantly un-cool in those days (I'll have you know that I have since upped the coolness factor just a tad bit), I had never been to one of these. This one was however being held by one of today’s top Indian tennis players (no name dropping here, but he and I are family friends and we also went to the same school for a few years) and so I was allowed to go for it. It was all very Beverly Hills 90210 meets The Hills. There were hours of discussion on what to wear, stockings or no (I unfortunately chose yes), who would pick up whom, which guys were going to be there. All the life sustaining things that occupy a young teen’s mind. The party experience was so surreal for me, partly because I refused to go in my glasses and am a bit sight challenged without them. Well, I wasn’t blind enough to trip over someone, but I was blind enough to not be sure if someone standing twelve feet away was talking to me. Hence I spent the entire evening smiling ramdomly at people I did not know and looking right through the people I did. But the reason this party was so memorable was that it was the absolutely first time that a guy told me he liked me and would I agree to be his girlfriend. He was one of the coolest guys in school to boot. I have no idea what I said. I was probably trying to focus my vision to ascertain whether or not he was actually talking to me while simultaneously trying to pick my jaw up from the floor, but I do remember us dancing together for the rest of the evening and his friends whistling and cheering loudly (oh teenage boys, how subtlety eludes them).
Sunday mornings, about 5 years ago with Ro. Lazy Sunday mornings. Wake up naturally (for me that’s about eleven in the morning, precisely the reason why all things natural are not necessarily good. Er, slight correction here - between peels of laughter, I am being reminded that eleven was early for me in those days), put some John Mayer on loud, order in some breakfast and just lounge, lounge, lounge. Potter around the house doing absolutely nothing except the really important things like exchanging stories and slow dancing in the afternoon and falling asleep against his shoulder. And drinking beer and losing at Scrabble. Sometimes reading. Sometimes watching tv. Loved those days. Loved the indulgence of a spending the whole day in selective solitude. My sundays now are so busy, they actually make Mondays look good! I crave those lazy sundays with a quiet desperation.
First day at NYU. Adult+alone+U.S.= self discovery of the best kind. New York University College of Dentistry is the oldest and one of the best dental colleges in the country. Being there was like entering a surreal educational world. I knew I was there, but it was almost too good to be true. It was magical to feel Manhattan’s cold March wind blow across my face and to look all around me and see the most fashionable women in their work attire with full make up on. I’m talking foundation, eye shadow, blush, shimmer. I was so taken in with these women, I spent an extra hour the next day getting ready and yet compared to them, I still managed to look like something the cat dragged in. I loved first day of class. In fact I loved every single day of class. World class lecturers (and good looking ones too, which always helps in getting the class motivated about the biologic width of gingiva!) wooing me with their expertise in dentistry and in lecturing. Each lecture was a work of art, you just knew that hours had been spent lovingly pouring over each slide. And most importantly, that first day of class made me feel proud to be a dentist and made me passionate about it. I went to the library out of choice!!! But what I loved most of all was the Smell. I remember how when I was little, cousins would come visiting from the States. They would open their suitcase, and there it was – the Smell. The Smell would cling to their luggage, their clothes, their gifts, their skin. I remember not wanting to wash the clothes they gifted me because it would then lose the Smell. It was only when I started doing my own laundry in Manhattan, did I realize that the Smell was the smell of fabric conditioner, copious amounts of which were poured into the washing machine and this was the smell that I was in love with.
Attending class at Harvard Business School. Being surrounded by what was supposed to be the best of the best. Being in the same classrooms as those occupied by U.S. Presidents, business leaders and revolutionary thinkers. Drinking coffee in class (liberating), cold calls (scary), case studies (always appeared simple, very rarely was), eating in the cafeteria (competitive – everyone was health conscious, slim and good looking!), being able to give feedback on teachers (empowering), teachers who could recall verbatim what each student said even ten classes later (impressive). The entire time I was there, I spent in awe. Today this experience has other added advantages. For example, all I have to do is say – When I was at Harvard – and it never fails to stop all conversation!
My first dental patient. An elderly woman. I was so nervous, my hands were shaking. I was repeating post surgical instructions to myself just so that I wouldn't forget anything. I had to check with my instructor on several things right through the procedure. I finally finished the procedure, not quite sure if I had done the right things (besides there was plaster in my hair and instruments had been knocked to the floor). And then before leaving, she said thank you and kissed my hand. I felt like a complete and utter fraud. This memory is special because I realised that the only other profession where people would kiss my hand would be royalty!!
The day my grandfather was buried, about 5 years ago. He had finally lost his battle with lung cancer. That night, the house was filled with close family – my granddad’s siblings from around the world, his children (my mom and aunt), his grandchildren and friends who had been like family for over half a century. There was laughter, lots of conversation, memories being re-visited, incidences being recounted, his favourite songs being sung. People walked in crying and walked out smiling. My granddad lived for gatherings like this and everyone commented on how much he would have loved to be in the thick of it all, laughing quietly. I also knew that this would be one of the last times that the entire family and so many of his friends would sit together and talk about the man he was and how much he meant to us. It was not a night to waste mourning, there would be plenty of time for that later. This is a memory that often reminds me of why I am so proud to be a part of this family. We celebrate life, no matter what.
That’s the funny thing about memories. To share them is to keep them alive.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Loser Matchmaker

I decided to set two friends up on a blind date. It wasn't my fault really though in hindsight better sense should have prevailed. In hindsight I should have just stayed curled up in bed reading Twilight (yes, unfortunately I still qualify for young adult fiction) instead of picking up the phone and calling my friend Maya. Maya has been my partner in rhyme for a year now. We have graduated from having random conversations at common friends' houses to meeting at our own homes, writing dark poetry together and singing old country songs. So yes, we are good friends in that sense. She forgives me my poetry and I forgive her her awful howling that she passes off as singing.

For sometime now Maya has been moping about the lack of a love interest in her life. Her moping was of such high calibre that she actually managed to do the improbable - motivate me to do something drastic about it. Hence the phone call.

"Hey Maya, what you doing?" I ask.

"At eleven in the night, what do you think silly? Ofcourse I am indulging in my regular," she replies in her beautiful husky (like she's just smoked her 100th cigarette for the day) voice.

I am almost scared to ask what that might be. Maya is not the most predictable girl on the block. She is emotional beyond repair. She has also been known to talk to lizards, drink tea with flower petals floating in the cup and use beer to condition her hair. And this is just before 8 am. People at her office are convinced that she is a closet alcoholic thanks to the strong beer smell that lingers in her wake so early in the morning.

"I am connecting with my ancestors," she continues.

Ah ofcourse, why didn't I think of that!

I launch into a long commentary about this cute ad agency guy I know whom I think she will like.

She has only 3 questions:
1. Does he wear ultra tight shirts with his chest showing?
No, I say.
Pity, she says.

2. Does he use big words which require that a dictionary be the 3rd person at the table? Sometimes, I say.
Well, he'd better tone it down a notch because I have only 2 chairs at my table, she says.

3. Is he good at acrobatics?
Huh, I ask?
I like guys who bend over backwards trying to please me, she giggles.

This was ill fated from the start. But as with a really dumb person who refuses to see light, I march on like an ostrich in denial.

The next morning I call the potential man of Maya's dreams-Sam, and after an exchange of pleasantries (which generally entails me hearing about his sexy neighbour, his bowel movements and his latest priest-nun joke and all of this not necessarily in that order), I get down to the business at hand. I tell him about this interesting girl I know whom I think he would enjoy meeting.

He has only 2 questions:
1. Is she a Cameron Diaz look alike?
No, I say.
Pity, he says.

2. Would she be interested in investing in a home theatre system at my place?
And why would she want to do that, I sigh.
Because it could just be the thing she needs to start thinking outside the box, do something that is risky and wacky and fun, he says.

I can literally hear him grinning across the telephone lines. Yeah sure, a random girl investing in his entertainment system was all about how it would improve the quality of her life...I could see how he so easily made ads that sold stuff to all us suckers! Besides, if you ask me, speaking to her ancestors was wacky and risky enough.

Since I was the one point contact, all arrangements were being made through me. Where to meet? When to meet? What to wear? How would they recognise each other? Should he kiss her hello? Should she kiss him goodbye? Should she flirt? Can he eat her leftovers? I was doling out advice like a regular Agony Aunt. Yes he should peck her cheek at hello but only if he hasn't munched on some onion just before. Yes she should peck his cheek at goodbye but only if he has not indulged in any of his bowel movement stories. Yes she can flirt but with some decorum please. Yes he can eat her leftovers but only when she's not looking. Wow, I was really tripping on this advice business.

I have no idea how the date actually went. I only know what I heard from the two of them, all contradictory, all worry some. And apparently the restaurant staff are still not giving their tables out to couples even 3 days after the 'incident'.

I get a call at 12 30 that night on my cell phone.
"He's the one," wails Maya.
I hear the beep for another call coming in. It is Sam. I put Maya on hold.
"She's a psycho," yells Sam.

I go back to Maya. "He's my dream man. I think I'm in love," she's speaking in a combination of a wail and a gush (a wush, perhaps? Anyway, not to be tried at home).

I put her on hold again and go back to Sam.
"She's like a rottweiler on a bad hair day," he complains.
"Rottweiler's don't have hair," I remind him.
"This one does!" he says emphatically.

I go back to Maya. "I've been trying his surname out. It sounds great with my name," she sighs. "Maya, I think you should take this slowly," I try to caution her. But it was like I was speaking to myself. "I even got up on stage and sang him 2 love songs," she confesses. "And because he left to use the loo soon after I started, when he got back I sang them again!"

My head was beginning to pound. "So what else did you do?" I asked as casually as I could though my heart was pounding in the way that it does when I know I'm going to be hit by a truck (my imagination of a high stress situation, just for the record, I have never actually had a truck hit me).

"We talked a lot. I told him about how I speak to spirits, and that I'd teach him how to clean up his aura. We held hands and stared into each other's eyes. I think he really liked me because he got real quiet at that point and then said he needed to speak to you urgently. Oh and I took your advice and kissed him," she said gratefully.

"Oh no," I said weakly. No point in me getting all agitated now. I needed to conserve my energy for when I met her next so that I could wring her melodramatic neck.

I put her back on hold and switched to Sam.

"Okay I know you have some strange friends but this one, uh oh, she takes the cake," he sounded seriously pissed off. "For one, she held my hand tight and wouldn't let go even for me to use my napkin. I mean I ended up using both knife and fork with one bloody hand. Then she stared into my eyes for what must have been fifteen uninterrupted minutes. Sometime later I heard her mumble something under her breath and it appeared that she trying on my surname for size. What the hell."

But apparently the worst was yet to come. According to Maya they shared a kiss, it was nice though they both had their eyes open. According to Sam, she tripped over the table cloth while hurling herself at him, all the dinnerware crashed to the floor, the remnants of the roast chicken flew up in the air and the Bloody Marys splashed against the walls. Just as he put his hand out to steady her (or perhaps ward her off, he's not sure at this point) she grabbed him for dear life and engaged in a lip lock somewhere between his lip and his nose, while still staring at him with beady eyes. He stared back with eyes wide open in horror.

I don't know whom to believe and so I decide to call the restaurant the next day for - yes, they lost 2 cocktail glasses, 2 dinner plates, some serving dishes and the patrons at the adjacent table on whom the roast chicken deposited itself. Could I please pay for the bill plus damages because the couple in question made a quick getaway after this fiasco. I ofcourse hang up quickly.

The next few days pass in a blur. Maya cannot understand why he won't call. Sam cannot understand why has he has been getting blank calls late in the night, though realization does dawn on him when he hears faint chanting in the background. Maya calls me in tears two days later. "Why hasn't he called? I thought he liked me. Has he said anything to you?" Sam calls me a few hours later. "Don't you know me?" he demands, "Don't you know the kind of girl I like? You set me up with a stark raving lunatic, you idiot. Thanks for nothing"

I longed for the days when he would share with me his terrible priest-nun jokes.

And just like that, in one fell swoop, I lost two good friends.

A couple of days later, Maya calls me all excited, "I saw him outside his office. His aura is looking better already." How is it that I missed this strange part of her earlier? Or maybe my aura was just dandy and she hadn't seen any point in mentioning it. I asked her how come she was around where his office was? I didn't get an answer.

Then he calls me a few minutes later. (A totally unrelated observation - They may be unsuited for each other, but their calls to me were never more than two hours apart from each other.) "I've had to get a new phone number thanks to the endless blank calls that have been coming every hour on the hour. Infact last evening, one of those calls was late and I actually went to check if my phone was working fine! If you give her this new number, I will tell everyone that you have a crush on my boss" he threatens. And that is a serious threat. His boss is a 65 year old huge lecherous man who is generally avoided like the plague.

Very cool, Sam. Blackmail is definitely the way to go.

Things cooled down after that. Maya moped around and cried and cursed me in general for not getting Sam to call her. I did the best I could to contain her distress - I told her Sam had been transferred abroad! Meanwhile Sam grudgingly came over home for dinner with some other friends of mine and gave me the cold shoulder until, lo and behold, he spied another cute guest. Then it was only a matter of a few minutes before he was running circles around this awfully cute girlfriend of mine visiting from the U.S. To cut a long story short, I now hear that she gets daily updates on his bowel movements and he no longer notices his sexy neighbour. And most importantly, I have redeemed myself in his eyes. As for Maya, we never wrote poetry again (Well, it's only been ten days, but I can see this trend continuing). It is my educated guess that she is trying to refurbish her own aura.

This has been a lesson to me. While I have been able to read people perfectly when it comes to my relationships with them, my super powers of judgement fly out of the window when I need to pair other people up. Maybe he will like her gardening skills and nasal voice. Maybe she will like his bike fetish and vegan diet . I always imagine that people will like what I don't. And they never do. Lesson learned!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

twenty five

they sat across each other, the world ceased to exist
she looked like a dream, too beautiful to resist
he grinned at her, literally felt her heart melt
and the way she smiled at him, he would never forget

would you like to dance, he asked with hope
she gave him her hand, stepped under the strobe
as they swayed, hearts pounding against chest
he knew he’d be taking her back to his love nest

dinner was a blur, dessert a connoisseur’s delight
both of them swallowed without tasting a bite
conversation flowed, the laughs were all real
the electricity between them, you could actually feel

they stood up to leave, holding hands like teenagers
he quietly looked her way as if to gauge her
then the clock struck twelve and he whispered in her ear
thank you for being my wife for twenty five years

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mothers Of Sons

"It's a boy."

That one statement then sets off a series of unfortunate incidences - the automatic dispersal of the mother's apron strings which gently but tenaciously wind themselves around the tiny boy child's body with a ferocity that will never diminish, her heart beat resigns itself to be entirely dependant on his, her self worth will now be judged only by the sacrifices she makes for him and her heart vows to always cook his favourite foods, keep shrewd girls (in case you didn't get it, that includes all girls) away from him and to wash his clothes and keep track of his multiple fungal infections until her own body is being lowered six feet under. Her dying breath will bring thoughts not of her life and her deeds but about who will comb her baby boy's hair just right and who will heat his milk with tumeric for him every morning. She might even extend her dying breath to instruct the cook on how to adjust the milk and tumeric just the way her baby likes it. Meanwhile, the baby boy who may have just celebrated his 38th birthday will sit morosely wondering how he will make decisions without his mother and darn it, who will now take his clothes to the laundry and help him wash behind his ears. He may also realise with a sinking heart that he will have to start being nicer to his wife (yes, she does exist, but you wouldn't know it) because she would now have to go from being part of the wall paper, to being his surrogate mother!

I wonder about this. Mothers who are obsessed with their sons. I would have thought one would go to great lengths to hide this affliction, but obviously I know nothing about these things. To most of these mothers, it's a matter of huge pride to be head over heels in love with their son.

My friend Ashish's mother is a perfect example of this.

"I am telling Ashish to get married," so says Mrs. Girodia.

"Does he have a girl in mind?" I ask cautiously. Ashish's marriage is of huge concern to me, he is the designated odd man out who always gets invited so we can get our group's number right. Marriage would totally screw that.

"No, no, I only will select the girl for him. Problem is he is so good looking and smart, any girl will be so lucky to have him," she says and her eyes actually glaze over as if she has inhaled some Grade A cocaine.

I look at Ashish wondering if I just haven't taken a close enough look at him, but no, he still looks like a mouse with constipation. The last time he smiled with 2004, and because we weren't quick enough with a camera we have nothing to show for it.

"There are very few boys like him now," she says wistfully.

I think there are way too many boys like him, who are nothing more than average and cannot rise above it because their mothers have managed to convinced them that they are already the best. But I wisely nod and bite my tongue.

Ashish got married 8 months later and nothing has changed. His poor wife only looks downwards (she has a PhD in his ingrown toenails, me thinks) and his mother is still the ONLY woman in his life.

It's so much more pragmatic with girls. True, mothers are over protective. True, many mothers are obsessed with their daughters' virtue (sic). But there comes a point when mothers just let their daughters be. They are allowed to manage their own eating habits and hygiene issues, pack their own suitcases and make their own beds. Show me a twenty five year old fellow living at home, and I'll show you a mother who is still making his bed.

My friend Prerna is a few years older than I. Although she had a child very young, she recently got married to a man in his 40s. While she thought she knew everything about him, she ended up learning all the important things only after they were married.

- His mother irons his underwear.

- His mother goes with him for his physicals with the doctor, irrespective of the body part being examined.

- His mother decides when he needs privacy and when not. She questions why the door to his room stays locked so much more now!

- His mother needs to be the last person to hug him before he leaves the house. She says it brings him good luck. As far as Prerna can see, it has caused him to lose two jobs, one car and one expensive watch.

"Why is she so damn possessive of him," Prerna fumes as she folds her son's laundry. "Why does she insist on doing everything for him with such perfection."

I cannot answer because I am so distracted by what Prerna herself is doing. She is ironing her fourteen year old son's underwear. As he bounds into the room, she hands him a freshly ironed one, still hot to touch and looks at him with such abandon joy before he disappears to change. Why is it that mothers think their sons' underwear is like chappati, best when had fresh and hot. And since everyone is in the throes of maternal love, I decide against pointing out what warm underwear can do his sperm levels!!

And thus the precious circle of possessive and obsessive mothers continues.

Speaking of these mothers, they also say the darnest things:

" My Karan, he is so naughty you know. Always playful, always so affectionate."
Karan is a eight year old boy who was reprimanded for pinching his teacher's bottom!

"My son loves me very much. He doesn't trouble me like other boys do. He calls us every week from London."
Her son has been taking a truckload of money from her, claiming to study in a college that he has never enrolled in. His phone calls are all money requests, albeit camouflaged in a bit of "I miss ya, ma."

"All the girls who meet my son want to marry him. But that silly boy is so romantic. He is still looking for that special someone."
That 'silly boy' has been rejected by over twenty five girls because he proudly informs them that his mother still occasionally ties his shoe laces for him. One girl even asked him if his mother still changes his diaper for him.

They reject her just after she rejects them.

"Look at my son. So good looking. A little plump but still so handsome. Just the other day, Suresh mama was saying he looks just like me."
Mother and son are both 110 kgs. Nothing personal against weight, but I have yet to find a mother who says her 110kg daughter is so good looking, tsk tsk.

"My son always wants me around. He is so lazy. Without me, he is useless, you know."
He is actually useless at all times, but his mother will never get it.

A relative sums it up better than I ever could. She had a twenty eight year old son who travels the world, sits at board meetings, manages mind boggling and life threatening dating schedules. Yet, she needs to tell him when to change his bedsheets (Sheesh, one would have thought a Standford MBA means that you have enough common sense to tell a dirty sheet from a clean one) and then before he can move his lazy ass from his computer chair, she has already jumped up and done it for him and is basking in the thanks she imagines she can see in his eyes.

It is simple she says, "If I can do it, he cannot."

Famous last words from the proud momma.





the things we call love
are anything but.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The tale of the Tale End of the Stick

I started a love affair when I was very young. Just a child. Not yet out of diapers…I mean this literally. The object of my ardent affection and when I say ardent I mean I slurped over it, drooled over it and on occasion even peed on it in excitement, was books. I was less than a year old when my mom read me my first book. Apparently I stared wide eyed at the pictures, traced the letters with my then chubby fingers and bestowed upon it the highest honour I knew - I brought up some milk on it. By the time I was two, I was fooling people into thinking that I could read. I knew the words in my many books by heart so much so that when the reader reached the last word of each page, I would turn the page without missing a beat and people around me would be stunned into silence. Sometimes they would even break into applause! If I had the slightest business sense then, I would have charged people to watch this and become the richest self made toddler I know!

My fascination with writers and the process of writing started only much later. My idea of writing was a very romanticized version of someone looking like Kate Hudson or Drew Barrymore, dressed in their intellectual best (I could never decide between the PJs and T-shirt look or the jeans and cashmere sweater look), sitting at an oversized table containing a laptop, assorted papers, pictures and books, in a den or library which had many many more books, a comfortable couch and an oversized armchair to die for, and all of this bathed by the light of a modern lamp. And if this wasn’t enough inspiration, the room had full length glass windows overlooking Central Park or alternatively a beautiful beach (just so that you know, I am more partial to Central Park). Sigh. It’s true, my idea of writing had very little to do with writing.

Equally as alluring, I found good English writers to be very sexy people. Hey ho, no offence to writers of other languages, but English is the only language that I have any degree of proficiency in. You could read out to me the most brilliant prose in Urdu, but for all I know it could be the shopping list and this doubt renders it powerless to impress. In fact the only language this does not work is in French…Even the shopping list there sounds like poetry written just for me and ofcourse it’s all the more beautiful because I cannot understand a word of it. But I digress here. There is nothing more impressive than a person who can use words to perfectly convey his thoughts, who can capture imagination and affection through characters, imagery and plots simply by the way he strings words together. Sexy. And I wanted to be part of it.

“I am going to start writing”, I announce to my significant other.
"Fantastic. 2 mandarin vodkas, 1 Bombay Sapphire, 2 tonic waters...", he yells.
"Huh?"I say. Why is literary brilliance sounding so intoxicating?
"You can start by writing the liqour list for tonight's party", he grins back.
I throw my writing pad across the room and hit him right on the nose.

“I’m thinking of writing”, I said to my mom.
“To whom?” my mom asked.
“No one in particular,“ I said
“Oookkaayyy, writing what?”, my mom asked, looking a bit concerned.
“I’m not sure”, I replied thoughtfully.
Gee, I really had to work on my thirty second elevator speech.

And so a month later and still minus an elevator speech, I started this blog – The Tale End Of The Stick. I loved this name. it pains me to admit that the blog lived it’s first few days as
Growing Up Adventures (and if you make it through this, you can later move on to Enid Blyton)
The corner view (lame)
My Way (no way, too Frank Sinatra wannabe ish and typical)
I wasn’t happy with any of these. I wanted a name that was kind of witty so I could mislead (read fool) people into thinking that I was a kind of witty. And when I finally found it, it just fit.

My first couple of posts were full of what I had set out to do…write my heart out. I wrote stuff that I thought was inspiring. Used words that I liked. Tried and infused some intellect and some debate. There were only 3 people reading my blog. All 3 were friends who had been blackmailed into it! But as with evolution, the writing style and topics eventually changed. It became more personal, kind of satirical, definitely lighter, slightly poignant, a little funny, it became more like me because it became more about me and my world. I had found my groove and a few brave fans.

Topics were hard to come by initially. I would sit at the laptop and wait patiently, though I was not sure for what. I was somehow under the impression that matter (of the literary kind please) would just flow out of me effortlessly. Writers around the world had worthy things that they shared so beautifully, no reason for me to not be suitably capable. But some topics were too risqué, other too boring, many too personal and the rest not personal enough. For the most part, I would run out of things to say after the first page. Or worst still, I would be bored of it already. Most of you won’t believe me because the posts that I do put up are LONG, but these are the few that finally made it. If anyone wants a huge number of incomplete articles (though for what reason, I cannot fathom, except to use as artistic and non functional toilet paper) that are about a page long, I’m your girl.

Speaking of fans, there was then the business of how many people were actually reading my blog. I mean, what was the use of writing a blog if no one was reading it. I might as well have been writing on MS Word in a file in a hidden folder that was password protected. The first few posts I put up, I checked them every seven minutes. Disgusting, I know. Every comment made me feel warm and fuzzy, even the spam! I started reading other blogs. I disliked most of it. Really hated some of it. But what stupefied me was that some of the worst writing had some of the most comments. 25 comments. 63 comments. Even 105 comments. How? Were they giving out free T-shirts or free meals or free CDs? What could I give out? Free dental check ups?? Or maybe a free mouth mirror! But I also came across a few rare bloggems (blog gems, get it?) that kept me reading, laughing, thinking and re-reading. After a few posts, the desire to see who had commented was brought under strict control. I allowed myself to check only once in two waking hours…or twice in one hour if I knew I was going to be busy for the next few hours! The first time the blog hit 10 comments, I took a friend out for a celebratory drink.

“ I had 10 people comment on my blog,” I said with the pride of a new momma.
“You have a blog??” she asked, scrunching her face up in distaste.
See, even close friends did not know I was writing. I really really needed to get that elevator speech in order.
“I just started one. You should check it out,” I said
“Can’t,” she said, blowing bubbles in her cocktail “I have a life.”
I finished her drink for her.

Today, I am a happy camper in blogosphere. I have made my peace with it. I occasionally read my older posts and am amazed that I had the insight / wit / hysteria to write some of it. I am amazed I had the patience to write any of it. I now also know the truth about writing. It is a lot less glamorous when you do it on an unmade bed, with laundry all around you, and an army of over zealous electricians drilling for six straight hours in the apartment right above you. More tragically, me in my strappy T-shirt and PJs does not a Sarah Jessica Parker make.

But the good news is that I can write (self evaluation ofcourse. I am too chicken to ask anyone else for their opinion, but feel free to give it nonetheless). With the right topic, the right room temperature and with any luck the right amount of alcohol coursing through my veins, by gosh I can write. So, here’s raising a toast to more tales on The Tale End Of The Stick. Stick around folks (all puns intended).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Days Are Long And The Years Are Short

4 friends, 16 years of friendship, over a million conversations, over two million shared tears (to be mathematically precise about 1.999998 million tears between the two girls probably over the loss of a boyfriend, and 2 full tears shared between the two boys probably over the loss of a favorite Playboy magazine), close to five million laughs, about a eight thousand secrets, about a hundred items of shared clothing (the sharing of the underwear happened only between the boys, we girls had our standards) and oh, probably five thousand shared hopes and dreams.

Over the years, the four of us have stayed in touch – landline, cell phone, blackberry, email, snail mail, networking sites, flikr, alumni. Our friendship has not only stood the test of time, it has done something far more tenacious, it has kept up with technology, waited patiently through dropped signals, hung tight through lost cell phones, stayed alive while buried under spam, waded through multiple (and redundant) email addresses, found it’s way to new postal addresses and has lingered on through marriages, babies and divorce.

We were meeting again after 8 years. This was so exciting. Beyond exciting, it is exhilarating. While I know every little thing about these 3 people, seeing them in person after so long would be so much more gratifying than an email or a photo or even a phone conversation. I know their personalities like I know the back of my hand, I know what makes them tick, I know what makes them laugh and I know what makes them love. I know them.

There is Lila, tall, gorgeous, talkative, the most generous person I know and with a sense of humour that could make a comedian laugh had he not already been so completely occupied fantasizing about her.

There is Nishant, naughty, too cute for his own good, quick on the rebuttal, can tease you till you cry (or till you promise AND attempt some damage to his anatomy), he was the bad boy whom every girl with the slightest mothering instinct wanted to reform. He is still wonderfully incorrigible.

There is Rudy, affectionate, trustworthy, by far the best looking guy in class, Mr. Clooney meets Dr. Phil, the girls (er, some teachers included here) went to him with problems ranging from class politics to PMS, secretly hoping that he would stop being everyone’s best buddy and start being their special friend. Couch philosopher and Mr. Popular.

It is one warm winter’s evening (only in Mumbai!) when we all meet at my house. Nishant walks in first. The years have been very kind to him. He still is cute as hell, still boyish and ‘endearingly immature’ (he assures me that this is a well practiced act to get the attention of girls under 21, a fine art that can only be achieved by the very astute male and includes a bit of bad behavior, some corny jokes, outstanding pick up lines and a complete lack of responsibility except when it comes to protecting the girl of his attention from the attention of other bad boys) and still as irritating as a gnat. We hug. His 6 ft frame warmly envelopes my 5.2 ft one in a familiar embrace. It feels like coming home. Hug over, we punch each other in the gut, insult each other’s looks and settled down thrilled that we have not really grown up all that much.

We’ve just popped open a beer when Lila breezes in. Seeing her pictures on email or Facebook does not prepare me for seeing her in person again, her huge beaming smile, her dimples, her tremendous height, her infectious giggle and the unmistakable smell of 5th Avenue perfume that has surrounded her since 1993. Just seeing her can make me happy. I don’t mean just plain ole happy, I mean supremely happy, I mean a kind of happy which does not let me stop smiling. We hug, her 5.10 ft frame stooping down to literally lift me off my feet. What was it with me and tall friends anyway.

Hello my nymph, she grins. No it’s not what you think, you rotten reader, it’s got nothing to do with any nymphomaniacal sort of things, this nymph purely refers to the young cockroach that I probably resembled through much of my college days. She was the only one who could get away with calling me that. That’s another idiosyncrasy – my closest friends get to insult me the most and I love them all the more for it. Strange, huh.

I ask about her children, she asks about the love of my life. I tell her about life in Mumbai – exciting, satisfying, hurried, tiring. She tells me about life in Vermont – comfortable, happy, lonely, frustrating . I show her my love handles, she shows me her thighs (both equally as out of shape might I add). Nishant lets out a deep sigh of bliss. The friends’ reunion has officially kick started.

Drinks are poured, snacks are served, gossip is exchanged, we talk about old flames and new loves, marriages and deaths, old habits and new jokes. We unanimously agree that children are born to us only to teach us a lesson! We talk about old teachers who thought they were such hot stuff while they made our life living hell. In truth the only hot stuff about them was that they could make our lives living hell!

“Did you hear about Glen”, Lila asks? Glen was Lila true love right through 5 years of professional college. He was 3” shorter than she was and had a frame tiny enough to make him look like her son. Yet she had the worst case of puppy love.

“Turns out he got married to two women at the same time”, she says.

“What??”, Nishant and I exclaim. Nothing beats gossip like really hot and true gossip from someone who relishes telling it.

“Yes”, Lila says in trademark style with lips smacking and arms waving, “he first married the girlfriend, then married a girl that his mother found and finally got caught when they both wives showed up at his surprise birthday party!”

“Yup”, she says grinning, “the surprise birthday party turned out to be a surprise for all three of them. Apparently the official party organizer has not gotten a single referral from THAT party.”

“Oh oh oh, what about Josh”, quips Nishant. “Turns out he is gay.”

“No way”, I say vehemently.” Josh was ever so hot. And sensitive. And not callous like the rest of you low EQ bulls. And his personal hygiene was always so darn good.” (Don’t ask, I once shared rooms with him for 3 days for out of state inter-collegiate competition. I came back with encyclopedic knowledge about deodorants, nose hair trimmers and hand sanitizers).

“G-A-Y”, spells out Nishant. This from a man of the famed heterosexual variety who had once on a bet, worn the same underwear for a WEEK and then proceeded to dust it with talcum powder and wear it for another 3 days. God had obviously given him no appreciation for the finer points of life, clean underwear included.

“Excuse me”, I say, “you telling me that if you’re a guy and you’re caring and sensitive and clean and in general not a complete pain, it means that you are gay?”

“G-A-Y”, repeats Nishant.

This was obviously an argument I am not going to win.

“What about Rudy?” I ask quietly. Rudy had had it pretty bad the past few years. He had his marriage break down, he lost his brother, he lost his job, he was living testimony that sometimes not everything turns out fine despite being an absolute gem of a person. Shit happens. Even to the best of us. And Rudy is one of the best and one of us.
The door bell rings. I open the door to find Rudy outside. I don’t recognize this Rudy though. He is gaunt, with sunken eyes and a stooped back as if he has aged sixty years in the last sixteen. I hug him as tight as I can. He is close to 6 ft tall and yet I feel like the taller person. I have never seen him look so beaten. I search for the lively and fun person I know so well and come away empty handed. Lila hugs him. She doesn’t know what to say either. Sometimes mere kindness is grossly inadequate. And as we girls struggle to find the right thing to say, Nishant shouts “You bastard”, to Rudy and gives him a huge bear hug that lifts him off the floor and brings him close to suffocation. Rudy breaks into a huge smile and we all go back to being our normal abusive selves.

As Rudy takes us through what his life has been for the past five years, we all say what we can to try and make this just a tiny little bit better for him.

“Focus on the positive. You have a loving family, funds to support you for a while and a great personality. You will move on and you will come out stronger”. This is me, at my preacher’s best. It gets a weak smile from him.

“Ya, you still have fantastic sex appeal”. Ah, Lila. She always knows the most important thing to say to make you feel good about yourself. This gets a bashful smile from him.

“She just wasn’t right for you.” I say, but what I actually want to say is, “what kind of crazy woman would leave you? What? Was her brain eaten by locusts and her thought process now managed by her large intestine? How else could she leave you?”

“Forget not being right for you”, Nishant says as he struggles to find the right words, “she was also a little squint, walked like a wrestler and had a nasty snarl. Think about it, if you get a boxer terrier, you won’t notice she’s gone at all”. Nishant, Mr. Sensitive. But it gets Rudy to guffaw loudly and I think he finally sees the answer to getting through the worst phase of his life – a little love therapy, a smatter of bad jokes and some light truths.

Over 6 hours, 32 beers, 80 songs from the 1990s (yes, all hot numbers in our college days, and yes, I do plan well, thank you) and 45 cigarettes, we make new memories of the 4 of us. Older, not necessarily wiser, new personalities traits, some bad habits, some good mistakes, and yet the sense of friendship between us is stronger than ever. As we part, we make a promise to meet five years from now. I tell Lila that by then my love handles will probably be love pillows. She tells me that her thighs will probably obliterate her calves and extend to her toes. We decide to have a competition to see who will look more pathetic in five years. Nishant generously offered to check the said body parts in five years in order to judge this competition fairly. Rudy says he will play second judge and is open to extreme bribing, which sets off a whole new animated discussion about whether he is more susceptible to women or liquor, or would he prefer a new dictionary of swear words to greet Nishant with. I personally think he’s leaning towards the latter….

16 years of friendship, gone so soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Slippery Slope to Nothingness

(To those of you who really are not paying attention around here, I recently took a month off work and off other productive activities. It was a noble plan but one that refused to stick to the blueprint in my mind)

So are you one of those who think doing nothing is easy? It’s a cakewalk? Maybe you’ve even mentioned to someone that you’d love to live a life where you did absolutely nothing. BIG MISTAKE, my friend. I have just spent a month doing nothing, and I have news for all you do-nothing lovers. A month of nothing amounts to exactly that…nothing. Nothing to show for it, nothing to rejoice, nothing to bitch about, nothing to work towards and nothing to congratulate yourself for. Oh uh, I am sorry, I forgot, oh yes you do get something out of it, you get yourself a big fat ZERO.

The past month has been a death of sorts and a re-birth of an entirely different sort. When I decided to take one month off from work, it was meant to be the start of something monumentous. Okay, maybe to say that it was to be a ‘start’ is a bit optimistic, but at the very least it was meant to be a month’s hiatus from regular work craziness and a welcome to brief but supremely dazzling fun and excitement. I had even defined what the fun and excitement would be (albeit a bit randomly). I would learn something fantastic like jazz piano or karate (I know, I know). I would re-connect with nature…in Mumbai that would mean walks by the sea while listening to Katie Melua melt my heart or Usher making love in the club. I would have exotic cocktails and dinner parties at home, which would include (but not limited to, for all you lawyers out there!) a table set to perfection, music to suit the mood, an eclectic menu and great conversation. I was going to spend the month meditating and focusing on my positive affirmations. I was going to come out of this month a new and improved me, better health, better attitude. I was going to re-connect with old friends. Lunches, dinners, drinks, dancing, plays, drives, agony aunt, psychopathic counselor, I was going to do it all. I was going to read serious books (all those chick flicks could find another fan, I was going to defect over to the dark side). I was going to write. A piece a day…okay…let’s be honest, a piece every two days. Okay, lets’s be really really honest…a piece every five days. And finally, I was going to catch up on my sleep and tv watching. Now, for those of you who think I am being extremely superficial, welcome to the real me. And just for my ego, let me put this into perspective. I have not had a decent night’s sleep for longer than I care to remember (no funny thoughts here, please). And I barely watch a full episode of anything once a month. So no, as far as I am concerned, a full night’s sleep and watching tv are the Rolls Royce of luxury. I would even go as far as to say that I would swap a Swedish massage for these two. Er…actually on second thoughts, there’s no way that would happen, I take it back with immediate effect…the only thing I would put over sleep and senseless tv is a Swedish massage.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans. My plans invariably have a plan of their own. For starters, on the very first day, I re-invented the word ‘lounging’. Which means that I did nothing meaningful. I hung around at home. I was in my pajamas at 11 in the morning, at 4 in the evening, at 8 in the night. A month of finding myself was ahead of me. Sure I could take a day off to do nothing. I could find myself in the remaining 27 days. But as I quickly discovered, lounging is addictive. It’s a slippery slope. Even more so than tobacco, or alcohol or narcotics…it’s free and requires absolutely no application of any kind, mental or physical, no searching for suspicious looking dealers in shady bars, or guilty puffing on the footpath or stocking expensive scotch. No, all you need for this addiction is to keep your body still and turn the switch in your brain to the OFF position and you are all set. And so as with all things addictive, I lounged on day 2 , day 3 and day 4. By day 5, even my ever-ready-to- laze mind began to worry about this no-end-in-sight lounging.

So I finally pulled up my socks (I love the pun) and went for that long walk on Bandstand, right along the sea. The first round of walking was perfect. I looked at the setting sun and sighed with satisfaction – Ah, this is the life, the sea, the fresh air, the exercise, getting all those endorphins flowing, nodding to fellow walkers, timing the walk. Ofcourse, barely 3.5 seconds after this wonderful thought, I felt the first fat raindrop on my nose. It must be my own strange doing that the month I choose to take off to do all these great outdoor things is the wettest month of the year. Now walking in the rain sounds great. It even felt great initially. The first few seconds were so liberating, like as if I was finally taking a chance with life. But as the sweatshirt got drenched and water seeped into the socks, and starting making squeaky sounds, the rain started to fast loses its charm. And five minutes later there was no hope in sight, literally. There were no autorickshaws in sight on a road that is usually swarming with them. The rain was really coming down and I found myself cold and clammy with an entirely inadequate coconut tree for shelter. It rained nonstop for the next eight days. And I watched my walks literally go down the drain. It reiterates why I never ever plan on regular exercise. The plan inevitably gets jinxed….it’s all one big conspiracy to keep me from becoming any fitter / trimmer / any more gorgeous than I already am :-)

And so I decided to stay home and start some of that serious reading – I took the first important step towards that – I went shopping! I stocked myself with The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out, Surely Your Joking, Mr. Fenyman, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Tenderness of Wolves, Of Men and Mice, Paradise, Awaken the Giant Within. I stopped myself from picking up any cover with pink on it or with a remotely pleasant script. It was gut wrenching to choose war over psychological thrillers and science over sex, love and rock and roll. For the next few days I was nose deep in words that required a dictionary and thoughts that required a revolution. I am sure I emerged a more mature thinker and a better person somewhere deep down, but the process was not pretty. I loved some of the books and some I could not even finish. The bad ones were worse than watching paint dry but on a positive note, I had found a pretty effective cure for insomnia.

And for the bit that really got my goat: The rain would cause my Direct to Home television connection to go on the blink before the first drop even fell. It was so accurate that I began to wonder why the weather bureau didn’t link up with my tv service provider. My tv was able to predict rain far more accurately than the weatherman! My ultimate ambition of being a couch potato was proving to be far more difficult to achieve than I imagined.

So in the final analysis of things: There was no piano playing (too much work for what was meant to be time off from work). There was no learning something new (there was no way I was getting out into the rain to learn anything). There were no fantastic dinner parties (sure there were plenty of dinner parties, but regular drunken, dumb charade / Uno ones which do not qualify as fantastic). There was very little writing, for writing requires application of the mind and when the mind was as lazy as mine was, the only thing I my hand could produce were doodles of top caliber and I doubt anyone would want to decipher those. Friends who were normally free to hang out at a moment’s notice were completely indisposed that month – pregnancies, death in the family, freelance work, travel, ill health – you name it, they had it. As for the positive affirmations, I wrote exactly one down, it had something to do with being positive and living each moment to the fullest, which the month ended up being anything but. And seeing how everything else was going that month, I decided to not even bother with starting any meditation. I had seriously failed in being able to have serious fun.

But you know what, as the month came to an end, I gratefully embraced real life with both arms. The work and the running around like a headless chicken and the caring for people in my life and the confusion and the chaos and the laughter and the adventures and the craziness that is my life were so worth living for. It’s funny how it took a month of nothing for me to see it.

PS – I am quite sure that there is no word such as ‘nothingness’. I was aiming for the nothing equivalent of emptiness. So there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Marriage, Mayhem and Mysore

So it was that time again to visit people from the past. Well, not my past exactly but the past of someone close enough to me for me to have by virtue of sheer proximity, imbibed most of his past....I'm not talking about the rowdy been-there-done-that past which includes vast numbers of drunken nights passed out in one's own puke and the days spent shamelessly chasing any skirt in town, yes even the ones who had buck teeth and acne and squint eyes and had the unforgiving task of teaching anatomy to dental school nineteen years olds who acted like fourteen years olds in the throes of puberty. No, I've got plenty of that past myself and don't need anyone elses, thank you. I'm talking about, well, the joyous past of friends and bonding and ...I am quickly reminded here that there isn't much of that goody goody nonsense in his past, but what the hell, I've imbibed the minuscule amount that exists anyway.

While the official agenda involved attending a wedding of an old dental school classmate in Mysore, the unspoken plan was to play hooky away from work, play hooky from most of the wedding, gulp all the free drinks we could manage AND hit 140 on the Bangalore - Mysore highway (er, hopefully the drinking like a fish and the flying too low would not happen on the same day, but in my life I can never be too sure of coincidences like these) . It did occur to me that we were a couple of doctors who doing really well and who were acting like cut throat first year hostelites - following the free food, free drinks and high speed in the invincible way that only broke and hungry students can. Through the course of the next day, someone did mention something about "they can take you out of the hostel but can never take the hostel out of you". Ever notice how the really bad lines are the ones that ring true the most?

So anyway, we're off to Mysore, driving my dad's 2002 Honda City (the one with the nice gentlemanly shape) from Bangalore. We reached Mysore in record time thanks to some great roads and some even better acceleration. We checked into a hotel and started getting ready for the pre-wedding bash. I wore a multicoloured cowl neck top with skinny jeans and shiny high heels. This was an outfit chosen with great care. The cowl neck was to make my neck appear longer, the skinny jeans was to make me appear skinny (bet you didn't guess that!) and the high heels was to add to the glamour quotient. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this was what I thought was acceptable for a pre-wedding bash (not 'function', mind you, but 'bash' which to me and to all those who speak English means non formal, fun, time to let the hair down ). So we show up at the venue which is a large hall, 100 white tube lights, 10,000,000 flying insects and outdoor wash basins with cracked soap. I step out of the car and my stilettos sink into 2 inches of muck. As I struggle to free the heel without dismembering my foot, I look up to see a huge banner draped across the parking lot with blinking red and blue lights, which said with no absolutely ambiguity, in size 72 font letters-

Welcome to the Happy Weeding of Shivkumar and Shailaja.
Your present is presence enough.

We nearly tripped over ourselves with laughter. So much so that it took me a while to realise that I was kind of inappropriately dressed for this 'bash'. There were two kinds of dressers at the pre-'weeding' thing. Type A dressers - those who looked like they were out buying vegetables for dinner - faded white un-tucked shirt, open sandals, sari border 4 inches above the ground, plastic or cloth bag / pouch in hand, talcum powder on the face. Then there were type B dressers - heavy silk saris, gold by the kilo, cravats, jackets, berets. But there were no jeans, no slinky cowl necks and sure as hell there were no cleavages to be seen.

My companion looked at me and grinned gleefully.

You're the official skin show for the night, he laughed, adding: Who would have thought you'd be the designated Pamela Anderson of the evening, he whispered in my ear.

Well, you're no Tommy Lee, I hissed back.

And that took care of that!

But confident as I was, there is nothing more discomforting than being under dressed in the truest sense of the word in a over lit room with a neck line 3 inches lower than anyone other woman's and the only ones to keep me company in that department were the type A dressers, the guys with the untucked shirts who has 2 buttons open from the bottom and 3 buttons open from the top. Infact from what I could gather looking at the vast expanses of their hairy chests, their shirts were being held together by only one loose button in the middle. But in the final analysis, they were men and their chests were far less interesting. I did try briefly to find dark corners to hide in, but the only ones dark enough were right next to the outdoor loos which on closer inspection had no doors, just slightly convoluted entrances. So I did the next best thing. I squared my shoulders, pasted a smile on my face and went in search of alcohol. I came back with rum and warm coke in a plastic really does not get more hostel-like than this, believe me.

I was introduced to all his old friends. The smart ones who spoke a lot and the quiet ones who looked, looked away, then looked back again, the boisterous ones who back slapped too much, sloshing alcohol all over my toes and the middle aged ones who just plain depressed me. The last ones were the lot that worried me the most. They were my age and yet seemed middle aged in a depressing way. The back was slouched, the waist was ballooning, the pate was balding (no not in a sexy way, but in a way that looked like the head was the focal point for voluminous fungal growth), their colours of life were between cement and muck and their biggest adventure involved travelling to Bangalore for a weekend.

We finally bumped into Aby, close friend, experienced corrupter, he was the one who introduced the bulk of their class to alcohol in their 2nd year and a wearer of loud shirts in every neon colour that exists and a burper of competition calibre.

So how you doing in Bombay eh? he asks. He's on his 11th glass I think (to be fair though, the plastic glasses hold about three sips...)

I'm doing well, I say. Polite conversation is hard when you're swatting flying insects and covering the mouth of your glass so that none fall in. Life's real busy, I add with a 70 mm smile.

Aah ****, he said, spittle flying all over, he then paused to slurp/suck it all back into his mouth before he continued: You guys never come to visit. Gone to Bombay and then you have become too busy, he continues.

He thought for a moment and then said - now poor bugger Shiva, he is married, now he too will disappear, he will get busy, yevery time we will call him, he will say he cannot come, wife is saying no, work in the house, this and that. Poor bugger.

I smile at Aby ranting. He is the unlikely alpha male. He has a thick bushy mustache, a huge stomach, the mouth of a sailor, calls everyone (sorry, yevery one) bugger or you fool, or idiot or f****** depending on his mood and his biggest claim to fame is his favourite statement: I can stand in the middle of the road in Kottayam without a shirt and girls' parents will throw 3 crores at me just like that to marry their daughters, hehe.

Er, to bring a little perspective to this, in no way is he better shirtless, infact his stomach and the folds of skin around it are enough to cause a traffic accident. What he means that even when he behaves badly, he is confident that all Malayali homes are dying to have him for a son-in-law. All I can see is that Aby has been saying this for six years now - there's still no money or girl flying in his direction, or maybe he just has not taken off his shirt as yet :-) But in his defence, he is lovable in an very small quantities! And especially so if you don't mind burps, farts and warts.

The bash which was actually turned out to be a 'function' in disguise ended up being fun. I had gained quite the fan following by the end of it. My partner had gained a lot of envy. The dean of the dental college who was in attendance wanted to talk to me. The bridegroom wanted to talk to me. This was our short conversation:

Him: So how're you liking Mysore.

Me: It's great. So congratulations, you're getting married. (Duh)

Him: Ahhaha yes I am. I came to Bombay once.

Me: Did you like it?

Him: Na, too fast. Cannot enjoy in a place like that. I like it here only.

During the entire conversation, the bridegroom did not look me in the eye. It may not have been intentional though, he was only 5 ft tall in dress shoes.

It was then time to get introduced to my companion's ex-girlfriend, a girl who was very pretty in college but who had now metamorphosed into a slightly harassed, matronly looking woman chasing after two kids.

Good thing you didn't marry her, I said cattily. People may have mistaken you for her son.

That's okay, he grinned back. Right now people are mistaking you for Aby's daughter.

Did I mention that my companion and I are best friends with no holds barred....

A big bunch of us went back to our hotel room to finally drink some cold liquor, only to find that there was no electricity and the generator was not working. Aby said a few more f****, bastards, KLPDs, WTFs (Aby was the undisputed king of abusive abbreviations) and we drank some more warm liquor and talked about college days, cheating in the exams, always borrowing money that never got paid back, falling in love, writing love letters that fell in the wrong hands, bunking class, failing exams despite cheating, canteen food and forging the Dean's signature or the parents' signature depending on the situation.

And at 4 am when I thought we had run out of things to talk about, questions about Mumbai started popping up - Isn't it too crowded? Do you make lots of money, you bastards? Are the people unfriendly? Why are the girls so skinny? Don't they know being that skinny does not look nice?
It was so odd how they spoke of Mumbai like it was a universe away, like it was Vietnam or Hawaii or at the least Harlem. An alien land, a foreign country. Something they didn't know and didn't understand and hence didn't like and were loathe to visit.

The next day the wedding went off well. Or atleast I assume it did. We made it for last 30 minutes. The first 2 hours of it were lost in groggy sleep - thanks to the fact that XXX rum had stopped suiting me ten years ago. And then ofcourse, I had to drape a sari. A part of me wanted to show everyone - So what if I had dressed a little adventurously yesterday? I can also carry off Indian nari with equal panache (completely untrue, I cannot even drape a sari properly, it took four tries, but what the hell, whose counting anyway).

We finally showed up in time to wish the couple. I stood with our huge gift in a snaking line that had about 175 people. Thank God we had gotten them a gift and had not thought that our presence would be present enough!!! When we finally got onto the stage, no small feat considering that my heels got caught on the coir floor mat every step of the way and the pleats of the sari were slowly beginning to unravel, we wished the couple, handed over the ever important present, smiled for the camera and then just when I was congratulating myself on how well the morning had gone, I tripped on the stairs down and fell flat at the feet of the ex-girlfriend.

3 days later, I was back in Mumbai. I was back in the city of fast lives and skinny girls. The 'weeding' had been an eye opener of sorts. These are the lessons I learned the hard way:

1. When going to a wedding at a new place, dress like you think your mother would. It is better to be safe than sexy.

2. Limit interaction with the exes to the minimum. Grovelling at her feet is NOT becoming.

3. Do not call the Dean of the college by the wrong name. He will not turn a pretty shade of purple.

4. Carry a present no matter what the invitation says. A glittering banner at the venue may inform you otherwise.

5. Do not drink more than 1.5 glasses of XXX rum. If you can manage more than that without getting acquainted with the inside of the toilet bowl, you are a better man than I.

6. Wear a sari blouse that fits. You never know when you may fall and the sari may unravel to reveal a blouse borrowed from a friend who is 2 sizes too small.