November 30, 2008

The Last Vestiges of Sanity

It happened. Finally at my doorstep. The newspaper headlines that always seemed so distant happened just beside me; at the places I walk everyday. The Trident, The Taj, Leopold’s – everything was so much a part of the Mumbai I had come to live and love. Having my office in South Mumbai made me feel like a townie even after the travel every day on local trains. I felt I belonged. If it makes any sense to you, I felt like Shantaram.

I don’t know how many of you have read the book. Whether you love Mumbai or not you might love this book just for its story. I haven’t read many books which were written straight from the heart. I haven’t read many books where every word spoke of an emotional turmoil. Yes, maybe just maybe the author gets excited at the smallest of things. Maybe, his life is too exciting to be considered “normal” yet his loyalty, his friendship, his love and his heartbreaks are as real as it can get. I have seen my Karla, may be not at Colaba. I have been called back by Abdullah, maybe not at Hazi Ali, I have felt the Ecstasy of Mumbai, maybe not at his Bombay.

The characters – they were all so real. Karla, the woman for whom you bet everything - knowing fully well that behind her smiles the dagger is hidden. Lisa, the woman who loves you despite your faults. Abdullah, your friend who comes back for you from the dead and Khader – the superhero in your life for whom you have risked everything.

That night as calls started coming in, I started shaking. Every call was a reminder of what was going on. Every call told me that I could have been there. Fate, I do not know if she exists. But if she does, then she rolled the dice in my favour this time. I felt like a coward for being thankful that I wasn’t there and therefore every message that came in asking how I was seemed to mock at my impotency. For every message I sent out enquiring about friends and their families, there was at least ten whom I had forgotten. Have you seen “A Wednesday”? I kept remembering a scene where Naseeruddin Shah describes his shock at not seeing a familiar face one day in his regular compartment at the Local Train. I do not know when I return to Mumbai how many of such people I will not see.

They say everyone has their own way of dealing with trauma. I shrank back to my books. I re read Shantaram that night. I brought out the tub of ice cream after 7 long years from the refrigerator and in the chilly night of November, the afraid, impotent me read Shantaram and cried for the city I had come to love so much. Comfort food, sometimes, even that is of no use.
The next few days were horrible. Mumbai was everyone’s favourite topic. My cousin and one of my oldest friends was getting married and yet everyone was talking about Mumbai. My Mumbai, molested and left dying was the centre of every discussion. And I just kept silent.

The headache is terrible. The Crocin does not seem to have any effect. And yet there are words forming on my keyboard. Words that are asking me to go back as fast as I can, to stand once again at the Gateway and help my city stand up and be counted once again. Sometimes in hallucination we find our last vestiges of sanity.

November 21, 2008

The Massager and the Masseuse

Most Indian men’s fascination with the erotic begins with the dream of the Sandwich Massage in Bangkok. Taking the form of an urban legend, the exact details of what happens in such massages depends on who is telling you the story. Having only access to untrusted massage parlours and the Kerala clinics, men in India had to be content with knowing Phoebe Buffay as the most famous Masseuse in India but then she killed the fantasy out of the story. Anyway, what Indian youth, especially men, consider a massage to be has been brilliantly portrayed in The Inscrutable Americans so let me not dwell on that.

The best massage I have got has always been from my old barber. After pounding on the skulls of my grandfather and father, he loved to get my young tender head. I am sure that the reason behind my lack of intelligence can be attributed to those massages that must have shifted the Nobel Prize winning sections of my head. I still remember my last massage from him. When I came back from my second year in college looking like a well fed Lennon with an Elvis sideburn, my mom refused to allow me into the house. Dumping my bags, I moved out to search for my good old barber. Tears of joy rolled down his cheeks when he grabbed hold of my ‘mane’ and reduced me to a new recruit at the Army and played a Zakir Hussain number on my skull.

The often mentioned thing about CEOs is that they have a full understanding of the value chain. No one knows it better than me when it comes to football. I started by shouting my lungs out for Mohun Bagan and Germany when I was a kid. Then by virtue of my position as the class monitor I used to kick off the ball and be the striker in the matches at lunch break. That was Class 2 I guess. Good sense prevailed soon and I handled the mid field. By around Class 7 I was defending. Lothar Matthheus inspired a short Libero stint before I was a full back. Ultimately, just before the basketball bug bit me, I was happily guarding the goal. At this point, while working for the school team, I also handled the first aid box and because most school kids miss the ball and hit on the legs, I slowly learnt to give an awesome massage to hurt shins, thighs and calf muscles. Value chain can’t get better than this.

Anyway, so while I was at the Radisson, I had an option of choosing between a Balinese massage and the Sports Massage. My school days came back and I actually wanted to know how the real one goes. So, yes as illogical as it might sound I opted for the Sports Massage. As I entered the room and looked for the lady whose name I saw on my card, in came a man smiling profusely. It was not going to be a masseuse but a massager. I believe he gets similar looks like the one on my face. So he gives me a cherubic smile and leads me to the sacrificial table. If you have seen the Seinfeld episode where George finds his massage therapist is a man, you will get what I am talking about.

But, he was good. Real good. Sports Massage rocks and hurts a bit too.

November 17, 2008

Moving Out and Moving In

I have been in Mumbai on and off for about a year now. And most of the time has been spent with friends in this one particular apartment building. So it was finally time for me to explore the opportunities as the group slowly started moving out. Gladly, I did not have to go through the usual painful process of searching for a house in Mumbai, so this I guess is not a post about that ordeal which I know I have to face very soon.

Tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett had rightly said.

Anyway, the apartment I left was lovingly called the Wadala Sheraton. It had a lovely graveyard on one side, a hill on the other, and a rail track somewhere along the road. But I guess what made Wadala Sheraton so engrossing were the people you stayed with. People with whom you could chat up till late in the night, people who would call you up to get the numbers of the restaurants nearby, people who would wake you up from your pre sleep slumber at 10 in the night on Friday to take you to the disco.

Move on, as everyone always tells me.

My new house is nice. I have a great roommate. We don’t see each other often though as we are travelling most of the time. But we both seem to have similar cuteness quotient ratings for women we know in common. Also, like me, he’s a great follower of the Bro Code. So I have no issues in introducing the future hypothetical woman in my life to him, if need be. Most men I know are scared these days and the Bro Code is breaking down.

The greatest thing about the apartment is the amazing sofa cum bed (if you have watched Bachna Aye Haseno, remember the bed of Ranvir just before Bips moves in with him? Unfortunately no such luck here. The building is teeming with spoilt and irritating kids but no one who can hold a candle to Bips. But man lives in Hope.) and the amazing view that the window provides – a vast expanse of empty land. Incidentally that is something you get only if you are rich enough or lucky enough to afford a sea facing apartment in this city. So the smell in the morning not withstanding, it’s a great place. And it helps that a movie theatre is nearby. Not helpful on my wallet though as it’s turning out. Also the travel time to anywhere has increased exponentially. Such is life in Mumbai. You can never get everything.

A move is again on the cards soon. Let’s see where Siddhi Vinayak takes me.

November 05, 2008

The Answer

When we were together, we mostly played with words and tried to laugh away our best opportunities to see each other clearly… Whenever there is the least sign of the nest becoming a zealous rival of the sky, my mind, like a migrant bird, tries to take… flight to a distant shore.

Not my words. But I am too small a person to comment on this. Find out who said this to whom and it will give you new insights into relationships.

November 03, 2008

A Bong at a Tam Bram Wedding

I am often looking out for alternative professions. Not that I dislike my current job. In fact, I consider myself one of the most content soap sellers across the world, but then it always is nice to keep an option open. You never know when people decide they no longer need to take a bath.

So even though I may not be as hot as JLo and there are already too many relatives planning an Indian Wedding, I think I do have a future as a Wedding Lifter. Let me try to explain the concept of a lifter. In every Bong movie which has a wedding, at some point of time or the other there will be a scene where the haggard looking parents of the bride/groom will tell some friends (this friend might be the sacrificing hero/heroine), “Biyeta tule de.” This roughly translates as “ensure that everything goes off smoothly” but literally it translates to “Lift the wedding.” Having been in such a situation quite a few times in Bong weddings, of course never as the hero leave alone the sacrificing type, I consider myself a professional “Wedding Lifter”.

So when I made this sort of promise to myself that I will try and attend every wedding of my friends, I realized that my capabilities can now extend beyond Bengal. So I had been to hard core Traditional Indian weddings and numerous Fraud weddings but yet was to see a full blown Tam Bram Wedding.

Now two people deciding to bug each other for the rest of their lives seem to give an evil satisfaction to people all around who make the bride and the groom feel the same false sense of joy and they disregard my sane advice to run away from the wedding. Anyway, it helps me become a Pan Indian Wedding Lifter.

But a Bong and a Tam Bram wedding feels a little better than a fish out of water, just a little better, no more. Especially if the person is as callous about his dressing sense as I am, you begin to feel completely lost in the maze of Kanzivaram Sarees and glittering jewellery. The men however are not as bad. Thank God Tam men do not see normal Hindi movies. Everyone above the Vindhyas have heard Kajol say those prophetic words in K3G – something about men looking like a loser with out the Kurta of Lucknow or something like that. You get my point. I loved SRK’s reply. Like typical SRK, he comes along in the suggested dress and says,

“na lucknow da kurta na pathani salwar mard wo hai jo dil de warna hai bekaar”

He could be so smug. His dad bought helicopters in the movie like I buy Vada Pav at Mumbai Stations.

Anyway, this guy is a very good friend of mine so when he refused my last offer of running away from the wedding, I decided, “What the hell!!! Let me help him out a bit.” So I stood there behind him, doing something like the best man at the Christian Wedding, completely following the non verbal communication of the priest whose eyes seemed to disapprove of everything I did. I sincerely hope no body watches the video later and asks about me. Half of the time I wasn’t sure if I was to laugh or look solemn.

The best part, like any other Indian wedding, was however the beautiful traditions (ok, some of them can be considered chauvinist) and ceremonies that form such an integral part of what we are. The music, the chants, the fire and the similarities with other Indian weddings and yet, the quintessential Tamilian touch made it one of the best weddings I have attended. And of course the food and the filter coffee. As much a tea lover I am that I am wedded to a good cup of tea, filter coffee is like the extra marital affair which has its own charms. But let me not dwell on food.

I also think it’s unfair that in Indian weddings, no one gifts the guy anything. It’s always either the bride who has the gift or it’s a gift for them. Why is the guy so deprived?

And to think I went all the way to Chennai to attend a wedding. Chennai – the city I am mortally afraid of. But two things happened at Chennai. I finally stepped on the roads of T Nagar. Anyone who had gone through the rigmarole of Brilliant Tutorials in their 12th will know what I am talking about. And I did what was a dream for a long time. I actually interviewed someone from Mylapore. You see, for any soap seller worth his 100 g soap, the Ladies of Mylapore or the Mylapore Mamis as they are called remain the toughest nut to crack in the Indian consumer scenario. Luckily, once you speak to them, Chennai didn’t seem any scarier. After all, grand moms cutting across geographies and cultures love me.