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Monday, December 7, 2009

Mute Commute: Part 2

(To refresh your memory, this is my account of my journey to and from office - I love saying that word - everyday for 2 months this summer, in Bangalore)


And so I jump off the local bus, glad to be rid of all those stares, ready to embrace new ones. What is it with Indians and staring? I love staring back. Staring right into their eyes and then walking slowly towards them. But no, today will be a happy day, I've decided, so I will not start off on a sour note.

Kundahalli Gate bus stop is writhing like an anaconda around me. The air wants to leave this place - the noise and driving scare it away. There is no air left, only fumes and dust and busses. Busses of all shapes and sizes. It's nice to see who gets on which busses and how.

The shoe-less, scruffy haired villagers, heaving gunny bags full of vegetables climb aboard a bus named Super Deluxe A/C Volvo DVD Stereo Sleeper Deluxe Manju. The cleaner - a unique role in India, for he is the conductor, announcer and peace keeper - hangs off the side of the bus, tries to catch your eye unleashes his opera. He sings of far off bus stops and fair maidens. His song is enticing, his eyes beckon. A few weary men are charmed by his tale and reluctantly climb aboard - they've got places to be, I guess.

Off to my left, a drunk, slumped next to the corrugated iron door of the local bar, throws up over himself. People like this deserve to sleep with the dogs. The dog gets up and leaves.

The ladies and school kids and more civil folk take a local BMTC bus, like the one I've just gotten off. Ladies and school kids climb tenderly through the forward opening, the men grab whatever they can and swing themselves up onto the rear entrance platform, cramming the previous guy in, making space for the next. The system works, God knows how.

There is a French girl at this bus stop, whom I notice now. She is too pretty to be from anywhere else and too correctly dressed. What on earth is she doing here? Maybe she's Canad - oho, no time now, the Waalwo Buss-u is here.

I love seeing the red ticker tape destination lights of the Volvo bus as is slaloms its way past the sick, weak and newborns in the herd. It moves with the grace of a ballet dancer and accelerates like a swimmer. Each gear, a stroke; each stroke, a length ahead of everyone else. We proudly hail it. We, of course, being the ones in clean shirts and formal shoes and iPods and ties. Well not me, specifically, I am merely the commentator. I wear jeans and smile at the audacity of my words. Who am I to judge anyone? Whatever. My bus is here.

The conductor knows me now. He knows my thick, extravagant Panasonic headphones and lack of Kannada. There is no need for words between us - he knows where I'm going, I know what he's thinking. I pay the fare and lower the volume of my music, because I'm out of the outside, I'm inside where all is quiet and orderly.

Relief. My place is vacant. I get on quite early in the route. I know all those who get on after me and wonder where those get on before, live. There is a story for everyone, a story in my head that satisfies the way they look and talk and move and live. My seat is at the back, where the A/C is weak enough to be comfortable and there is more leg room. This is territory to be claimed and defended.

And so we hurtle along, insulated against the outside. Plasma screens display things no one pays attention to - I think they're there just to show you what you're paying for and who you are in society. I've seen entire families who take Volvo bus rides just for that luxurious feeling. The joy on the child's face as Tom and Jerry (yes, you read right) flashes across the flat screen TVs, the look of anxiety on the mother's face as she hopes her saaree is respected and of course the pride that radiates from the father. Today he will ride the Volvo Bus and he will enjoy the A/C and the driver's rear view camera-fed LCD screen and all the rest that comes with this shining beacon of status....its such a curious sight.

Out the window, I see a cleaning lady wearing one of those hilariously over-sized city-council jackets, cleaning the road side. She is cleansing the pavement of dust. But is she really? No. She is simply moving the dust from its current location to a pile on the corner, that will be blown away, probably back into its original place, by the time she gets back with the next pile. How do you remove dust? You can pack it tightly together and put it in a bucket but wherever you drop it, it will still be dust. It won't go away. And if you leave it unattended for long enough and there will be rain and the dust will become mud, worse yet. How do you expect normal people to fight such a foe?

All India does is move dust. There is no solution, only elaborate delay.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Suit and Tie.

Suit and tie and jacket and scarf. Shoes and pride and anxiety and awe.

I wore all of them the day I went to Canary Wharf in London, to interview at Morgan Stanley. I did the application. 3 of my friends got turned away at the first stage, but not me for some reason. I was invited to take some aptitude tests and attend a Q&A session at a placement that is rumoured to pay £35,000 a year. I was in dream land.

Maybe I was a somebody.

Cabot Square glistened like glacial treasure in the London twilight. This was a different personality of London. Not the low rise, crafted buildings you see in central London, with wrought-iron balconies you can only dream of. This was what Manhattan and Prague's child would look like. Those beige coloured architectural bimbos that London is famous for are still there, but they're draped in New York and Hong Kong's Autumn/Winter Collection. Stock ticker tapes dance across skirts of glass and metal, letting you know in no uncertain term what work goes on behind the grand revolving doors.

So, to 25 Cabot Square. I am taken up stairs, to a conference room full of other youngsters like myself. All dressed in suits, all eyeing everyone else up. Half are brown. What an interesting mix of people. I have no time to analyse though: I am a bit late. People were in exam mode; eyes glazed over with focus.

You could cut the competition in the air with a knife.

After the first test - some ridiculous test of 'accuracy' through matching numbers and letters - I glance across at the window. What a window. It was like one of those helicopter shots in action movies, to introduce Singapore or Tokyo or some futuristic metropolis. Goldman Sachs and Barclays stare back in their evening gowns and make-up. The artificial lights don't let the ladies down. At ground level, many a banker scrambles down the catwalk and into a train.

I return to exam mode. Beautiful hatred of the people all around me is pumped head to toe by my excited heart. It is hatred as short-lasting as my chance at Morgan Stanley.

2 weeks later a polite email tells me I am in fact a nobody.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Grass is just as Green on This Side.

Life is good.

People don't stop, take a deep breath and appreciate how good life can get. They only sink into their sofa and day dream of life getting better when things aren't going their way....we don't sink into the sofa and just smile. Because life is good. It's very very good. Not perfect, but I don't think life is meant to be perfect.


This summer was the greatest summer ever. It has rolled seamlessly on to being a wonderful year of university. Much, much better than last year. It will then merge into a delicious Xmas holiday in Bangalore and Goa, and then snowball into more happiness.

Life is good, so sip some chai, watch the rain and smile.

Friday, November 13, 2009

That House.

At the bar at the Taj West End, the Indians stand shoulder to shoulder with the foreigners. Every one can afford the cocktails. Tall thin girls are courted by tall thin guys - perfect features, perfectly dressed. The Old Monk is my guide in this alien land scape.

I am here because some part of me wants to compete with them. The other part of me knows I can, but questions the purpose of this wanton wallet weighing. It's such an enticing scam. The bar man somehow keeps a straight face as he spits out drink prices. 500 Rupees for a large Old Monk and coke. I don't know who these elderly priests are but they must be their pulpits sniggering away at the 2000% mark up. 500 Rupees for a disgraceful little Budweiser. A 330ml bottle of fizzy American mediocrity. 750 Rupees for a Mojito for girl who's attention must be bought. Some part of me probably wants it.

The dilemma is to spend or not to spend? To spend and achieve what? To not spend at what cost?

I didn't come alone though. I'm here with friends and acquaintances. After a while the urban royalty, whose company I share, decide we've been there long enough. This is the 3rd watering hole I've been swept along to, tonight. The Alpha males bring their Camry's and Civic's and 5 Series' round the front and whisk us off to a house where this most exclusive evening shall continue.

I'll never forget that house. That flat. Floors of marble, suede sofas and the works of Mr Bang and Mr Olufsen proudly displayed next to each power socket. Towering speakers rise from the floor like stalagmites of crystal sound. The terrace overlooks a city asleep. We disturb the slumber of the silent, purple night sky with fake laughter, electronic music and the sound of Whiskey hitting the rocks. There's enough Whiskey to sink a ship, in the black marble top bar. There's a MacBook Pro on the ledge, observing us (with some curiosity, I imagine).

I don't want to drink, just watch these people. I am angry at myself when I catch myself thinking "this is how the other half live". Where did that come from? Banish it.

Maybe talking to someone will bring me some comfort.

"Hey man, nice music. Do you like psytrance too?"
"GMS played at my house"

OK then.

He didn't mean it in an arrogant way- his face was honest and friendly. I just found his though process interesting.

I seek refuge with the smokers. They talk about normal things. As long as you can bear the smoke, they are always good for a chat. We talk of football, university and Goa. I pretend to know something about motorbikes. They pretend not to judge me when I say I like jazz music.


If I wanted it to, this could be me. I could ask for more money than I need and spend it on things that I don't. Yes, I could lay a claim to this life. "But what would it achieve?", I argue back, as I begin the slow auto ride home. I can see the lights of the penthouse fading, obscured by trees and my foggy contact lenses. This was an education.

Trying to compete is futile. This house, these people, this evening.....this is not me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mute Commute Part 1: Walk to the bus stop

I love my bubble: the pristine, serene, detached world of the gated complex. As I leave, at 8am, it is still very quiet, but for the drivers greeting their 'saars' as they open the car doors for them, and the children skipping along to the bus stop. There is a large gate that separates the 2 car households and fragrant lawns from India. From the outside, passing manual labourers and maids can catch a momentary glimpse of the villa-lives being led inside, through the gaps on either sides of the figurative port-cullis. The gossiping aunties, a white family, the antique Volkswagen sports car and of course, fellow labourers and maids all make for a wonderful study - the gated complex is complex. Ahh, the suburbs.

India hits you the second you step out of this neat and tidy world. On either side of Regent Place are open drains, choc-a-bloc with garbage and hopeful street dogs. Across the newly laid road are a plethora of modest, 2-3 storied buildings that have bakeries, garages or hardware stores on the ground floor and a few tiny rooms above. Muddy tracks run through these buildings - after the rains they glow red-brown. The Regent Place gate is tall enough to keep out jealous looks from the upper stories. At this time of morning, only the bakery is open.

Everything about the morning is so refreshing. Children eagerly await school buses on the road-side, freshly bathed. Their playful chatter breaks the silence that otherwise drapes this place. Some children are going to middle-class CBSE schools, some aren't wearing shoes and wait for appa on his TVS moped to take them to the local school - all of them poke fun at the street dogs who really don't want to get out of bed just yet. They are not like the children of Regent Place, who stand half asleep at the bus stop, waiting for the air conditioned Volvo bus. I smile and wonder, as I pass 3 tots praying in front of shrine that watches over this stretch of suburbia. They are praying hard - their eyes are closed as they frown, muttering words, earnestly, silently, under their breathe. The temple boy smiles at their mother, who returns it, as he gives them each the morining tikka on their foreheads. This is innoncence like you've never seen it. The obonoxious music from the temple nearby now reaches my ears.

I cross the estuary of a mud track now. I walk at a gentle pace, savouring the tranquil morning air - the sun will soon spoil it. On the corner, sit men. Men of all shapes and sizes, quietly going about their business. There are thin old men who smoke beedis and sit cross legged on the ledge, watching the world go by. There are fat middle aged men who chat loudly as they adjust their dhothis. There are young office workers who give the coconut-water vendor his day's first business. There are college guys my age, who run past me, towards the stop as they see a bus approaching; their slippers slap the road loudly as they run. All shapes and sizes sit below the small trees that occasionally line the road. All size me up as I pass. The morning air is cool and dry. The morning itself is rather uncharismatic - no sun, just cloud cover and gentle breeze.

The last thing I cross before I reach Thubarahalli bus stop is the ironing wala. His day has started. His business is run out of a wooden box the size of car stood on its front-lights. His iron is primitive, his brow drips with sweat. On the floor, sits his wife, folding clothes and staring affectionately at her daughter who finds entertainment this morning in an empty coconut husk.

And finally, after a near silent 5 minutes, I reach my stop. As with everywhere I go in India, I am stared at for a few seconds and then judged. Across the road from the bus stop is a large, unfinished gated complex. Skeletons of white marble villas rise intimidatingly out of the dusty ground. The gate and walls have already been erected, yet the work site is now still and silent. It has all the makings of your gated complex, yet the bubble is only half done. I wonder what has happened. It's like one of those deserted warehouses that kids explore in ghost movies or final fights take place in, in action flicks. There are 2 rows of dazzling white bungalows but not a worker to be seen. What has caused work to stop? It sits on prime land and will surely be a success when finished. But why is the job half done? India in a nut-shell.

The bus trudges towards the stop. I get on, pop a few coins into the impatient conductors hand and grab a railing. 20 stares cut into my thick skin.

So begins my mute commute.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mute Commute: Introduction

This summer I've been working. Interning, actually. At your standard, run-of-the-mill office. Therefore, each and every morning and evening I hop, alone, into a bus or an auto and join fellow office goers on a Mute Commute.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

MC Stammer

Ya. I have a stammer.

Some of you know, some of you haven't noticed. It's not a particularly bad stammer, but its there. It rears its ugly head every hour or so. My mum thinks she hates it more than me, but I hate it more than anyone.

So she got me to see this hypno-therapist whom she knows, to try and get to the root of it in the hopes that we find a way to get it out of my system. I was skeptical, like I always am before I try anything that I don't consider cold hard science (though my mum and her will obviously say it is cold hard science. What is cold hard science? Western medicine? I don't know. I had grouped hypnosis in the same field as nonsense like Astrology and Star Signs and all that. Anyways, these brackets have gone on for long enough, bye).

I was pleasantly surprised as Ahalya Shetty (my hypno therapist) was more like a counsellor than a magician. She was someone I could talk things out with - an adult, I could talk things out with. I think the talking was more therapeutic than anything. We spent a few sessions discussing stuff that stressed me and memories that irked me and the most memorable times I'd stammered and all of that.

Anyways, you're impatiently asking in your head, "screw all this, what was it like to be hypnotised???". Well, it's quite cool. It came as a shock to a doubting Thomas like myself but hey, I guess it worked. Basically, I was having trouble remembering certain memories and Ahalya told me to lay down on the recliner, close my eyes and breathe deeply. So I did. I must confess, after about 3 deep inhalations I began day dreaming. I don't remember too much about the incident other than her saying, "Shravan, when I snap my finger, you will go into a deep sleep". And how!

As soon as she clicked her fingers, something was different. My eyes were fused shut. I could open them, but I didn't want to. The patterns being made on the black nothingness of the inside of my eye lids were too captivating. I couldn't take my eyes of them! You know when you close your eyes and really stare at the abyss, you see these wispy colours floating around, like tadpoles in a psychedelic pond? These tadpoles were operating disco lights. It was very, very cool. Ahalya's words then gently entered my consciousness, telling me what to remember. And I remembered! I was surprised as how well I could recollect memories that were locked away in a dusty covered chest in my mind's attic. One could draw parallels to Dumbledore's Pensieve, in the Harry Potter books. I won't go into details as to the exact nature of the memories - else He Who Must Not Be Named may get ahold of them. The process was called an 'Age Regression' which sounds ominous, but don't worry, I'm not an 8 year old version of myself. Suffice to say, that session was a break through. We were able to pin point and discuss one or two crucial points in my life that could have induced/affected my stammering.

So anyways, that session ended. We'd discussed techniques to get myself to relax and remember that there is no need to stammer. "Great, this is going to work", I thought. I got into an auto and headed for MG Road Bus Stand. It was crowded and busy. Rush hour on Friday evening.

A Volvo bus pulled up to the stand, I had only a thousand ruppee note - the fare would be just 30. What to do? I ask the conductor of the bus if he has change for a thousand, as he hangs out the open door. He looks at me, irritated and curious. He didn't hear me the first time. I ask again. I am speaking Hindi of course - maybe his hindi isn't too good. Again, he gestures that he didn't hear me. Now his face sports a grimace. The bus has spent about 10 seconds at the stop, I am the only thing holding it up. I freeze up. My mind is a maelstrom of words - my mouth just the opposite. I'm a statue. No, a caricature. The conductor has lost his patience with me and barks, "where do you want to go?" The driver now looks at me, too. People on the stand are looking at me, people in the bus are looking at me, wondering what's causing this delay. The pressure is on, Shravan. I can see the word I want to say in the distance and I can see that I'm not going to be able to say it. The pressure is well and truly on. What are you waiting for, Shravan? Just say it. It's so easy. Kundalahalli Gate - two words, six syllables. Just say it. But it doesn't come. I can see the words in my head. They are painted out in my mind's eye. I can see the words, I can smell them, I can taste them. But I cannot speak them. My mouth will not say 'k'. It refuses. Time is ticking away. I stall. I don't stammer much in the conventional 's-s-s-sense'. Rather, I stall. I stall with 'uhhh's and 'ermmm's and 'aaaah's, until the cogs in my mind have clicked into place and I can say the word. It's pathetic. Alternatives begin popping up in my brain. I say "Marathalli Bridge" instead. The alternatives to the word always come out fine. The driver nods. I have lied - to him and to myself. The conductor laughs and mumbles something about me not knowing where I'm going.

I hand him the thousand ruppee note. He looks at it in disgust. Now that I've got the maha-stammer out of my system, I can speak clearly in Hindi. I tell him that I'd told him right from the get-go, that I had no change. He says he has none. I tell him to stop at the next stop and I hop off, in search for someone's who'll break my 1000. Sigh.

A fat lot of use that was then. Hypno therapy? Counselling? For what? I can't talk to a fucking bus driver.

You know what? I'm happy with my stammer. I know people born with massive hairy moles on their face or with a weak heart or with a deformed limb. I've got it alright, I reckon. I mean, it's not that bad. Everyone needs something to balance themselves out. I'm MC s-s-s-Stammer and, well, you can't touch this.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stereotypes.

Here goes nothing.

City: Bombay
Gender: Male
Name: Rohan, Rahul, Vikram or Aditya
Skin: Brown, nice tan.
Top: T-Shirt. Nautica. Tight.
Collar: Popped... biatch.
Bottoms: Billabong/corduroy/khaki shorts
Footwear: flip-flops
Hair: Gelled up in front/silly mohawk
Music: T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Akon.
Facial Expression: Let the haters hate.

Bombay guys are truly fascinating creatures. They spend afternoons and weekends driving past Cafe Coffee Day on Carter Road in daddy's Honda, pointing out to you which pedestrians they know and which they've dated. They spend 5 minutes at an eatery before wasting fuel driving to another. The mind-numbing pain of the car ride is intensified by the 'music'. Some of them are even Chelsea fans. Your average Bombay guy is 17 but acts 13.

City: Bombay
Gender: Female
Name: Reena, Meena, Teena or something filmy like Vridyanka.
Skin: Brown, nice tan.
Top: Pretentious 'message on my boobs' T-shirt. Usual messages go something like: Tell your pants its rude to point.
Shades: (fake) Versace
Bottoms: 'Message on my ass' shorts. Message along the lines of: Stop staring.
Footwear: whatever page 3 tells them.
Hair: Myeh, girls hair.
Music: Rihanna, PCD, Beyonce - basically commercial hiphop drivel.
Facial Expression: Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot, like, me?

Bombay Girls are even less interesting than Bombay guys - yes, that is possible. They talk in this ridiculous whiny accent that is a mixture of Alvin and the Chipmunks and a gay hair dresser - again, possible. Bombay girls are street smart, to make up for the guys. They are also pretty fit and take pride in displaying their 4 four word world views on their shirts and shorts. You can find them staggering out of night clubs saying things like "I'm so hungry, chal lets get a Chinese". She is 15 and acts 15.

I think Lil Wayne's eloquent chorus sums them up: Shorty want a thug, bottles in the club. Enough said.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
City: Delhi
Gender: Male
Name: Some hi-fi Hindi name like Ghatotkuch or Neelkanth or Abimanyu or Dronachariya.
Skin: White.
Top: Armani (Exchange)
Shades: Prada
Bottoms: Hilfiger jeans
Footwear: Diesel
Hair: Gelled up, but bearable.
Music: Himesh Reshamiyaaaaaaaaaaaooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooohhhh.
Facial Expression: Hoye!

Delhi guys. Ah, where to start. Daddy is a rich Marvadi industrialist, mummy is a rich Sindhi industrialist's daughter. The whole family is puuuuure bhej. Their dress sense is very ishtylish. Their clothes cost a lot of money so they must be good. The same applies to the unis they go to. The same applies to the cars they drive. The same applies to their girls they hang out with. The same....I'll stop. Delhi guys can easily be mistaken for foreigners, until they open their mouths. he is 18 and acts like a aristocrat.


City: Delhi
Gender: Female
Name: Pinky, Sweaty (pronounced Sweety), Damoney...I mean Damini. (no hard feelings :D )
Skin: Whiter than white peoples'.
Top: Gucci
Shades: Versace
Bottoms: Zara skirt
Footwear: Jimmy Choo
Hair: Filmy
Music: 50 cent.
Facial Expression: Hoye!

Delhi Girls are characters from the OC. Not much more really needs to be said (although it will be). A lot of them are punjabi which makes for bizarre accents while speaking Hindi. Even though they speak Hindi better than anyone, they try to put on a 'western' accent. This mixed with the Jalandar that courses through their veins makes for hilarity. They can't say 'th', they say 't'. They talk like the heroins in the 60's black and white Hindi movies. I wish I could put an audio on here but I can't. You'll just have to imagine it. They are hard-Kaur non veg, which is nice. I don't know where they hang out but I'm sure it costs a lot. In a few years they'll compare their son's universities. For now they compare iPhones. She is 18 but thinks she's 21.

Their world view can be succinctly summed up by the key operating phrase used in Dhilli: HOYE!?! It's a glorious word. It resembles the horn on Indian cars: a sound, a message, an idealogy. "Hoye" can express hatred, shock, disgust, love and improper fractions. Sound Horn OK Please?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

City: Bangalore
Gender: Male
Name: Varied south Indian names - Krishna, Kartik, Nandu, etc...
Skin: Daaaark.
Top: Black. loose fitting band-shirt of Lamb of God, Necrophagist, Behemoth or some such horrible death metal group.
Shades: fake Oakley sports shades
Bottoms: baggy. baggy jeans.
Footwear: Low-end nike trainers.
Hair: Long and pony-tailed OR short and curly.
Music: Death Metal, Black Metal, Atmospheric Black Metal, Stratospheric Vampire Metal, Sulphur Is a non-Metal, etc...
Facial Expression: Look how evil I am. Just look. Eyy, what are you looking at?

Bangalore guys are very hard to understand. Their slang has broken most axioms of the English language and has pretty much destroyed the concept of 'grammar'. Bangalore guys will stand outside a pub, smoking, leaning against the hoods of their cars and eyeing up other Bangalore guys who are also there doing the same thing. Bangalore guys pass time by telling stories. Let's pick a story up half way through:

....
Reddy: Macha owww I was clipping, in my new caah!
Kartik: Yes-uh?
Reddy: Yaaa, I was on Myyyysore eye-way....I was in my new Skoda, bob. Pasting and going da!
Kartik: Cops came, uh?
Reddy: Then what!
Kartik: Ehh bugger, what you said?
Reddy: I said I was with your mom (*lols ensue*). Paid the fucker a grand and ripped.
Kartik: Machaaa!
Reddy: Put the hand bob.
Kartik: *puts the hand*
....

Bangalore guys will eat at Empire every night, no matter what. Bangalore guys go to rock pubs, not dance clubs. Your average Bangalore guy is 26 but think he's 18.



City: Bangalore
Gender: Female
Name: Riya, Diya, Priya.... or Soundarya.
Skin: Unknown
Top: Unknown
Shades: Unknown
Bottoms: Unknown
Footwear: Unknown
Hair: Girl's hair, da, all the same.
Music: Unknown.
Facial Expression: Ew, he's so shady.

It is a widely accepted fact that Bangalore girls do not exist. I dispute this, as I have seen a few with my very eyes! They moves in packs, so as not to be seen by Krishna, Manju or Raju (the villagers who stand outside local bars drinking Koday's). Bangalore girls do not say the letter 'r' at the ends of words:
Sure - Shaw
Pure - Pyaww
Floor - Flaw.
Roar - Raw.
Pour - Paw
etc...
They are never allowed outside their houses past 9pm. They pass their time sitting in their rooms, with their 4 other girl friends, talking about how shady Bangalore is. No one knows how old they are or how old they act/think they are. They are ghosts in the system.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
So there you have it. You know I'm right, you know it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What Makes This City-Slicker Tick?


There are those who say they want to "get away from it all" and spend their time growing old in the country, picking tea leaves, getting oil massages and writings books no one is going to read. I glance at them from the back seat of an auto rickshaw, skeptical. There is nothing more intoxicating than the energy of the big city. 

There is that smell of a mixture of red earth before imminent rain, hookah smoke and sambar that you get walking along Church Street in Bangalore. Music to my nose. You stride along chaotic streets, phone in one hand, cigarette/Shawarma in the other. Traffic is dodged with an Indian pedestrian's expression etched on one's face: a peculiar combination of apathy, arrogance and disdain. It's 7pm and twilight and the evening rains are almost here. The cool, moist, air, the cacophony of a sub-continental road and the fading light seemingly join forces to flick a switch that changes the mood in the big city. The week is over. Friday night is at the door and wants a place to leave its shoes. Lamp lit sheesha bars and cafe's flicker into life from the carcasses of office blocks, like fresh green shoots from a burnt out forest floor. Indeed, those who flee the middle of town from the 9-5 desk jobs are burnt out. A new sentry is here for a new shift. 

The big city has many faces. A bus stand at 8am captures one such mood. Freshly bathed, the city roars into life. Packed local buses wreak havoc on already congested streets, yet the city slicker manages to slip between these blue-white behemoths to the shiny red Volvo bus. The posh man's bus. The bus for those who can pay Rs 20 extra for air conditioning, a place to sit and a rung up on the social ladder. The few women on the bus sit comfortably at the front. The men, hair oiled, awkwardly slide into seats at the back. The morning's air is still cool, as yet unharmed by the sun, as it rushes through the city. 

Lunch time on Cunningham road is another of the big city's personalities. Workers of all social strata and coffee consumption levels need refueling. There are the men, the women and the poor. The men strut. They pace through the now sweltering heat in search of some non-veg. Shirt sleeves folded up, sweat wiped from their foreheads, they find a table at Imperial and eat perhaps the best 'non-veg Thali' in town. At only Rs 100 per head, its the bread and butter of working lunches. The women slink. They move in herds. They are weary of the many male eyes that shamelessly scan any female body in this backward country. Some of them eat simple south-Indian food at Shanti Sagar. The more adventurous ones feed the Indian consumption juggernaut by spending Rs 200 per head at some classless rip-off franchised restaurant in an air conditioned mall. Though, paying a premium for AC in this heat is worth it, in this humble writer's opinion. And then you have the poor. The labourers who tar our 'roads' and the drivers who'll soon take their masters back to their 5 bedroom villas on the outskirts at 5:30. They eat hearty plates of rice and sambar costing a mere Rs 10 each. Food is cooked, served and consumed in a street corner sheltered from the evil sun only by torn tarpaulin. Customers arrive on bicycles or bare foot. Shoes for this scruffy lot, are optional. They are as vital an organ in the big city as any. They wash the dishes and sweep the streets and bring governments into power.

But now the city shows a different character. 7pm and us disillusioned youth are on the prowl. Bangalore's weather is back to being what its famous for; the drizzle that'll start any second chases the heat and stress out of the day. The rain here has such a profound effect, even before its fallen. Cinema's are full up with the young bourgeois....the new city slickers who inhale mall culture and exhale the dough. But that is not where we hang. We, the pretentious wealthy. The sons and daughters of CEOs, the urban royalty. The privileged few who'll go back to cushy foreign universities come September or international school on Monday morning. But Monday morning is a long way away. We hatch plans for the alcohol fueled night ahead as we slither through the big cities inside lanes. Cheap red wine is sipped, cheap local beer is gulped. The shadiness of the joint is inversely proportional to the prices - we don't want to be spending too much just yet. 

It's now officially night. Night: the most seductive of the city's spirits. Girls have been called, plans have been made. The city slickers flock to their temple: some characterless nightclub throbbing away against the will of the police outside. 20-something year old executives, the crowning achievement of top-down industralising India, throw money at the bar tender. English is the only language spoken, although an interesting accent will get you an audience with the barbie dolls of this land of make believe. But only an audience, nothing more. The Gods of the city are worshiped through liver sacrifices and electronic dance.

Alas, Bangalore is not one of those cities that doesn't sleep. It doesn't pretend to be either. The hour before it hits the sack, is this city slicker's favourite. The air is cool like the evening, but much drier. Moonlit terraces harbour tired urban royalty. Quiet words are exchanged over the night's final glasses of rum. One by one, princes and princesses head off home - ferried back to their palaces by their sambar sampling drivers. It is a time of peace. A time where the city reflects. The energy of the city has toyed and toiled and now, needs time to recuperate. Why would anyone want to leave this? The sweet scent of exhaust fumes. The heart-warming sight of a limbless beggar? The empathy and humility of the urban aristocracy? It's what I live for. You can get the countryside's peace in the city too. All you need to know is where to look. And when.

I'm a city guy till I die.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bus Driver Blues

Twilight and I'm on my way home. A decrepit, derelict BMTC (local) bus pulls up to the stop. It's completely empty. Tired eyes look down at me from the driver's seat. "Marathalli?", I ask. A grunt of affirmation somehow makes it way over the roar of the engine. I board and pay the driver who manages to change gears, tear me a ticket and give me change at the same time. Using one hand.

I take a seat right at the front so I can look out the front window. I'd never been on an empty bus before. A 9 rupee fare would take me a good 7-8km to my stop. No surprise that local buses in India are always full. The bus lurches forward as the driver accelerates. I've seen people age faster than that bus moved. 1st gear to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd. Auto-rickshaws fly past on both sides. Dogs trotted alongside, mocking. The driver looked like he wanted to die. He had absolutely no life force in him. No anger, no enthusiasm (well, he was a bus driver after all). A hint of desperation, but mostly apathy. Contagious apathy. The breeze from open windows carried his dreary mood over me.

He'd slow down at every stop. And every time, he'd be ruthlessly rejected by potential passengers. Why? For another bus, another route, another driver. Someone makes a bee line for the bus. For a second, his eyes light up. The person walks past the door and crosses the road. A sigh from the driver says it all. Better luck next stop. Stop after stop, no one gets on. No one wants to get on his bus. What is he doing wrong?

We cruise along the Ring Road. The bus reaches its top speed, which is akin to that at which grass grows. In the distance, at the next stop, a young lady stands, arm out-stretched. Someone is hailing his bus. His bus! He brakes and turns into the bus lane. He looks down at her from his seat. He is alive. "Varthur?", she asks. His face drops. He isn't going there. He has found a passenger - a willing passenger - but she doesn't want to go where he wants to go. He shakes his head and in doing so, shakes the life out of his eyes again. 1st gear to 2nd gear. The lonely bus drives on into polluted night. She wasn't going where he wanted to go.

What was he so down for? He had a passenger. A passenger who was going where he was going. A passenger who could pay the fare and wanted, needed to make the journey. But I wasn't good enough for him. I felt ignored. What was I doing wrong?

We reach my stop. As I alight, I pat him no the shoulder. He looks up, shocked. Shock changes to a smile he tries to hide. 1st gear to 2nd gear. This bus has life in it yet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Change!

Just watched The Obama Deception on youtube. 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAaQNACwaLw

My thoughts on the movie:
-the starting was a lot of fire and brimstone where the main dude acted like James Bond. All his rubbish of 'infiltrating the Marriott' and stuff. Yeah right, show me your Aston Martin! Some of the rhetoric used at the start is....just rhetoric. Meaningless accusations. You've gotta look past that. (Bless them, they're American)

-Once they get past their threats and shouting, they make some very provocative points. What about all the promises that the movie says Obama has gone back on? These are the points I've gathered from the movie, I don't know how true they are or not:

Guantanamo - he in fact endorses torture and abduction/detention without trial

Patriot Act - he voted FOR authorisation after going against it on his campagin trail

Iraq/Afghanistan - he is adding more troops and going from "taking troops out immediately" to taking SOME out after 23 months.

Bailing out banks - he says he understands people frustration with CEO's and 'rewarding failure' and he passes misleading legislation. The legislation he's passed only affects NEW deals and excludes BankOfAmerica, Citigroup, etc...

Hiring lobbyists and financial donors to places in his administration - look at who has has appointed. All have wall street connections

-The ending takes away a lot of credibility from the movie. They say global warming is a lie, they say Obama is building up a private army and will abolish gun rights in the US (like that's ever going to happen). Still, I think the film makes you think and question the Saviour! Obama has got a (unjustified, in my opinion) cult following.
----------------------------------------------------------
He seems to have defaulted on all most of not all of his promises.  Like every other politician in existence then? What do you make of it? I think this movie is partly true, in the the Federal Reserve and the other wall street oligarchs have America (and in turn, the world) by the balls but is Obama really as evil as they depict him? He's too nice to be evil. I'm hypnotised, sorry. I urge you to watch the movie with an open mind and tell me what you think. Everyone is a conspiracy theorist these days!

On a related note, you all HAVE to watch Zeitgeist Addendum. With an open mind, of course.

Things in America look grim, whichever way you look at it. I just hope India doesn't sell its soul to the devil, *cough private banks cough* like America did in the 30s. "The Federal Reserve is as federal as FedEx" as they say so many times in the movie. I'd hate for India to get suckered into such an idea - to let a private institution control the money supply. Especially one that is above the law and controlled by wall street moguls. Have I been swept along with the conspiracy propaganda? Let me know. I think the evidence is pretty damning (as I say, watch Zeitgeist Addendum).


So where does this leave me, the young idealist out of touch with reality and the big bad world? I'll tell you where. As far as saving America from itself, I have a selfish goal. The only thing I really care about, the only goal I want to achieve in my life time is to make a difference to the lives of as many underprivileged people as I can in India. That's all I care about. India. I want to do is see my country produce a good football team. I want to see us control population (like, but not using the exact same methods as China). I want to see us industrialise from the ground up, rather than from the top, up. As I said, I'm an idealist out of touch with reality. Still, improving living standards for people, stopping female infanticide and all those other impossible things are the thing I want to spend my life doing. 

Isn't there a government to do all this stuff? Not in India there isn't. The private sector - evil and profit orientated as they may be, the youth and the idealists are the ones who'll make the change. I only hope I can be part of this. Look how this has gone from a movie review to a soppy, patriotic ballad. Typical.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What university really teaches you...

My last exam is tomorrow, well technically, today. I need to sleep. Anyways, I've just done some relfection as to what university has really taught me. What are my parents paying $30,000 a year for? Do I know more about world politics? Definitely. Have I become better at maths? Not really. Am I better at drawing up financial documents? Sort of. Then I realised that leaving home and going to university is as much about learning about yourself as it is about learning the subjects you're being taught. So what have I learnt about myself? Alors...


I am the most patriotic person I know. I am so proud of anything India achieves. I always think 'in terms' of India. I think it arises out of having lived out of India for so long. I love telling people about the lovely things back home like having a maid and a driver and conveniently skipping over the power cuts, terrible police and larger social atrocities. We're rich so they don't affect us, right? I am quick to distinguish myself from the 'brit-Indians' here: the disillusioned, 2nd generation bunch of chav-dressing morons this city is filled with. Some of them are nice though. I'm far too passionate about where I come from.

This brings me swimmingly on to my next observation about myself. What started out as harmless humour has actually gotten ingrained in to my head and I find myself judging every single person I meet based on their skin colour and accent. I make assumptions about them 5 seconds after saying hi to them. It scares me. I love how different everyone is here, but then why do I always associate the worst qualities with someone of an ethnicity just based on their skin colour or accent? If someone is brown they're going to be boring and speak bad english, if someone is black they're going to be loud and talk in slang, if someone is chinese they'll be quiet and not talk at all and if someone is white they don't have time for me. Where have these weird reactions all come from? I don't know. I have some complexes I need to deal with.

Moving away from all this serious stuff, I realised how out of place I feel in a bookstore. I was never a reader. I read only what I have to, as a chore. In my LIFE I've read the following books: the harry potter series, Life of Pi, the Artemis Fowl series, The world is flat, a few Dan Browns, and Mr Nice. That's really it. Sure I've read loads more but they were for school. The other day I went to a bookstore with Thomas. He was browsing away for something he wanted....I was like my granddad in the Vodafone showroom. I walked in circles, looking for the few books I'd heard people talk about. I found some about various wars, told in Dan brown style. They looked alright but I'd wait for the movie. The movie is always better, you and I both know it. You sit there for 2 hours, completely engrossed in it. The stars, the action, the sets, the direction....it's magic. So why waste 3 months reading something? Anyways, whatever, I was in a bookstore, I had to fulfill my obligation to consume. I bought a book by Noam Chomsky about America in the middle east, a book about the Bid Laden family and a book by an American writer talking about how society in India is coping with the the changing face of the country. I think that sums a lot up.

Now for some myth busting. From what I'd seen in movies (!) and heard from people, university was all about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. But mostly about the first two. I came here and realised how little I care about either. It astounded me, but I am/was happy with myself. Society has vilified drugs and glorified sex. The government has vilified both, whilst pop culture have glorifies both. I was not going out of my way to find either - and I was content. Sure, I could have scored some pills and gotten laid but I thought about how I'd feel the next morning. And sure enough, the pessimistic side of me (who has been working out) won. I imagined my mums face if I died a cocaine overdose or gotten AIDS or something. That kept me on a steady keel. The image of my mums face. Gosh, I really am a kid.

On a somewhat similar point, I found out that I'm happier spending an evening alone at home, with heavenly internet speeds and sushi, than staggering around a pulsating nightclub eyeing girls I'm never going to get with, alongside guys I've gotten drunk with too many times. Yeah.

You don't appreciate people till you leave them. As my earlier post will show, I only really understood how cool my parents were once I left home. They do stuff on time, they plan things out, they know how to handle people and navigate situations....I have some way to go. When you go to a new country (albeit one you've previously lived in) you realise the value of home and people who will be there no matter what. It's that unconditional love I crave.

On a more humble note (or humourous, depending on which way you see it), I realised how average I am at football. Anyone who's been on this blog for more than a few seconds will know how much I love the sport and that I live, breathe and make love to it. However, after coming to England and to university, I was truly humbled by how much better the other lads are. In India, I used to play on the school team. I was one of the better players among the group of boys I played with in the compound on weekends. I was never quick or strong but skill and control got me by. Not so here. Oh no. I came here and got shoved off the ball by massive black guys, and then hilariously out-paced by some German guys and then nut-megged (where someone plays the ball through your legs - the ultimate humiliation. For any video-gamers reading this, its like getting knifed) by an Egyptian guy. And all on the same day! I had skill so I just about managed to escape ridicule but I have a long summer of gyming (haha, yeah right) and diet (more chance of North Korea disarming...) ahead of me.


I guess above all, university teaches you what life alone is like. How to do laundry. How to wash dishes. How to 'cook'. How to befriends strangers. How to talk to girls. How to plan one's day and more importantly, one's work. How to choose friends and know when someone is playing you. How to realise when you're playing someone. How to spend wisely and how to drink wisely - and how to face the consequences of not doing both. It's about creating a second home, somewhere else. I seemed to have made good ground in learning all those things. 

This post is too long, I know. I have an exam soon in which I'll be tested on how well I've learnt the things I was supposed to learn. Sigh. What my next few years of college will be like, I don't know. All I do know, is that I can't wait to get out into the REAL real world and start working and buying a motorcycle and all the other challenges that come with the next step of the way. 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sandeep Uncle's Red Mutton Curry

That Colaba house holds a lot of fond memories, for me. Somehow south Bombay's humid, searing, sultry atmosphere never penetrated the mesh-covered windows. Many a joyous Christmas or summer was spent there, in the company of my cousins, their pets and their wonderful maid.

At the end of a tiring day, Sandeep uncle would come home, exhausted, to lots of hugs from the whole family. He'd sit down on his wooden chair in front of the TV in the master bedroom and watch the news and cricket highlights of the day, along with me and Kartik, my cousin. The maid, Manjula, would bring in a tray with dinner as he took off his shoes and freshened up. For some reason, I remember this one mutton curry that he used to love. That curry can teleport me across time and space to that Colaba house and all the times I spent there.

Days were spent playing cricket in the garden or in my cousins room - something I'd look forward to doing all year. We'd be taken to see all of Bombay's new, trendy malls and cinemas and occasionally, for a sunset walk along the coastline. As kids, it was really a home away from home. My sister and I would wait for our cousins to come home from school, passing time watching TV or be entertained with games and stories from our grandparents.

The smell of that curry as the maid took it out of the kitchen and to the master bedroom filled the whole house. We'd already had dinner but this was like watching a celebrity walk down the road. We'd follow our noses to the room and take in the glory of that mutton curry. Sandeep looked like a king on his throne, savouring the evening meal after a hard day mediating a ferocious court.

It was a deep red-brown. The curry-meat ratio wasn't too high but what little sauce there was, was the perfect amount. Like icebergs on the ocean, the succulent, dark brown chunks of boneless mutton would protrude the surface. The rotis brought along with it were piping hot and the curry was crying out to be wrapped and consumed in them. He'd obviously give Kartik and I a taste.

It was mutton, wrapped in curry, wrapped in roti, wrapped in Bombay. The heat of the curry, tenderness of the meat and softness of the roti encapsulated the city and that house. One side of Bombay, to me, is synonymous with heat, gossip and hustle and bustle. South Bombay especially.....its all very cut to cut - no one stands still for a second, even in the searing heat. The people are always going somewhere or doing something. Their demeanour is rushed and their eyes are wild. The spicy, deep red of the curry summed that up.

Biting into the mutton itself was like jumping into a duvet. The mutton was massaging you in that tense spot. It was like Bandra....laid back and meant to be taken in slowly. It was so full of flavour but rushing into swallowing it was pure unforgivable sin. You have to throw it around in your mouth for a bit, then let the first of the juices escape. Then you chew slowly, fully grasping the majestic simplicity of a piece of well marinated, spicy meat. Don't bite, caress with your teeth. Don't zoom around Bandra in a car with preppy yuppies, go to a frankie stand and stroll along Carter Road and let the salty sea breeze season your roll.

The roti is the simple, hard working people of Bombay. The ones who you don't see outside Phoenix Mills or Cafe Coffee Day. The roti is the middle class. The accountants and the shop owners. The roti is soft but firm, hot but slightly sweet. It is what holds the meat in place, what holds the city together.

I'm hungry.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Birmingham





I left my flat and walked towards town, leaving the towers of my university behind. What a strange city this was. If it was deserted, it would look like any other city - concrete and glass and the occasional, refreshing, old English style building with gargoyles. But no, when the soul of a city, it's people are taken into account, it becomes a very strange and unique city indeed. Growing up, I've lived in and visited many cities around the world, but none with an identity as confused as Birmingham.

I was in England but it did not feel that way. At the street crossing next to Tesco, I saw one of the few white people I'd see on this mundane trek to Tesco. There were two adolescents, adorned in gloriously cheap, grey tacksuits wearing baseball caps and shiny white trainers. The boy had more gel on his scalp than hair. His short, wispy brown hair was slicked forward, over his forehead. The girl was blond and chubby and carried herself in a most lethargic manner. She was sucking on a lollipop, fiddling with the 'gold' chain around the boy's acne ridden neck. Young love. Their expressions were bored, their faces almost lifeless. I walked on.

I passed the bus-stop and saw a large group of brown teenage boys, all dressed the same. All with the same hair style. All talking in the same manner. All being loud, obnoxious and boisterous. All laughing and swearing without a care in the world for the nearby families, the children eyeing them nervously from behind their parent's legs, the disapproving old couples and me. I walked on.

I saw a black lady, struggling to manage her three curious and energetic children. The blustery spring afternoon made it all the more difficult for her to navigate the streets, steering her pram clear of on-coming traffic and trying desperately to get her children to stay in the same place. Her sigh spoke a thousand words and revealed emotions that perhaps cannot be emptied through the literary sieve and into this blog. She was a young woman, she must have been in her twenties; she looked far too young for this job. She looked out of ideas. She needed a hug. I walked on.

Two young Chinese women passed me. Eyes down, mouths shut, holding hands and walking at a furious pace. They were probably university students. Boy, were they far from home! The Chinese.....they seldom speak. This is my observation. I walked on.

I saw two, large, fat, black women ambling along in their elaborate African dresses and head-gear. They spoke in a tongue that was easy on the ear, in an accent that felt on the ears like blissfully relaxing shampoo on one's scalp at the hair-dressers before the cut itself. They walked slowly and labouriously but they were smiling and laughing all the way. The first happy people I'd seen. I walked on.

As I continued to walk down Corporation street towards Tesco, I realised just how varied the population of this city was. What was the spirit of this place? What people characterised this city? When I think of Birmingham, what face will pop into my mind? I cannot put my finger on it. It is a city of immigrants. I had never seen this many Pakistanis in the same place! I was dressed differently to most people. My suit jacket and sunglasses contrasted sharply with the hooded jackets, nylon raincoats and cotton tracksuits of most people. I must have passed 500 people on the way to the supermarket that afternoon - no more than 20 of them were white. This was the reality.

I saw a brown family walking in the same direction, just ahead of me. The high pitch voices of the children brought laughter to the faces of the parents, which brought a smile to mine. The children were as inquisitive as any, firing one question after the other at their father, while the mother rocked and sweet-talked the little bundle in her arms. They stopped so that the father could tie his son's shoe laces. I walked on.

Two construction workers were enjoying some gourmet English food outside a chip shop in the mid-April sunshine. Their reflective flourescent green jackets made me squint at one point. One was bald, fat and white. The other was thin and brown, mouse-faced with that same 'crown' hairstyle that most brown men here sported. They were exchanging stories, their laughter filled the air.

I had reached Tesco. It was 6pm. It was Sunday. It was closed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Open Letter to Mrs Preethi Menon

Dear Mrs Preethi,

How are you?

I caught myself day-dreaming last week; I was remembering English class. I remembered the class we had on the Monday afternoon, when it the heat outside was sweltering but the fans in our classroom lulled us into a subtle peace with their soft, constant whirring and the sympathetic breeze they let flow across the room. I remembered you talking about the deeper connotations of the themes discussed in 'Like Water for Chocolate'. You know I'm not a big reader but I really enjoyed that book and the way you explained it! It seems a long time ago and a long way away from where I am now, in the world and in my life. I felt compelled to write to you.

Do you remember Gautam Jain and how awake and alive and enthusiastic he was? Or how Tanay, Raj and co. would be 'taking notes' so furiously on their laptops? Or the impressive array of excuses Arun so expertly used to wriggle out of the classroom for those few extra seconds? Or (and no sarcasm here, just admiration) how refreshingly sincere Soudeh was with her work? Or how Karan would complain about the length and variety of the Russian names in Dr Zhivago (as well as his now well documented hand gestures)? What about how pedantic and cynical I was? What is your English class like now?

As I'm sure you do remember, I am at Aston University, in Birmingham, in England. I am studying Business and International Relations and really enjoying it - particularly the International Relations component. I try and continue my writing in my spare time. It offers me solace and is a great catalyst for reflection and self-examination. I am happy with my life and my university experience.

I miss my school days. I miss the friends I made and the teachers who helped shape my mind. Though I had many differences with the school and some of its policies - as any rebellious teenage boy is likely to have had - I wouldn't change a thing about that time in my life. I want to thank you and indeed all the people that make up Indus, in having a profound influence in who I am today.I remember all the 'anti-establishment' sentiments harboured by me and my peers but I do not regret them. Instead, I am glad that I can look back now and see why we felt that way and why what our superiors did was done with our futures in mind. I am an adult now (barely, though) and therefore I can look at my teachers as individuals and human beings, rather than the all-powerful masters of the universe they once were! I remember feeling a tremendous sense of injustice towards some of the actions taken by staff but now I can see that the staff too, were just human beings. They made mistakes, they were under pressure too. I have so many great memories that take place within the white-washed walls of Indus. I couldn't possibly be angry. I wouldn't change a thing!

Anyways, the theme of this letter isn't a negative one. It is one of reflection and acceptance. I smile when I think of how I grew from a chubby, spectacle wearing 9th grader who did a great Cantonese accent, to one of the taller, more sarcastic, apathetic students in my 12th grade class. I saw life-long friendships form, like those between me, Arun, Anirudh and some of other "not quite back benchers" in your English class! I watched with mixed emotions, guys and girls getting 'closer' - in the most adolescent context! I discovered my passion for writing as a result of being a frustrated, stressed 12th grader, buried under college applications and SAT practise papers. I remember the excitement and ecstasy of finding out I'd topped the IGCSE exams and the lazy but fun-filled year that followed it. I remember my disappointment at not even being nominated for a student council post in 11th and 12th grade - not that I'd have done a good job! I remember the comical frenzy of cleaning and tidying activity that followed someone running into a pig-sty of a classroom and yelling "Sarojini is coming!". I remember, perhaps most vividly of all, the feelings of sheer, boundless and all-conquering joy I felt as Prahlad, Arun, Anirudh and I would pry a football out of the clutches of Mr Singha and run onto the football pitch on a Friday afternoon. These memories will, hopefully, stay with me forever.

I smile in my sleep when I think of Anirudh and me doing the impersonations of all the teachers on the steps of the IB block on those sunny mornings! All the legendary Physics teachers we've had, Mr Arul with all his quirks, Colonel Rao and his interrogation techniques, Ms Selina's immaculate enunciation, Ms Sunanda's rather bizarre but nonetheless entertaining rants, Colonel Jasial's 'jokes' on our school trips, the battles for the most perfect Mallu accent (!) between Mr Vijay Thomas and the PE teacher Mr Dilip, Ms Vijayalakshmi's perplexing words of warning to the class, Mr Sudhakaran's fondness for Rushikesh, and so many more! Sadly, I don't think we ever got around to pin-pointing a succinct imitation of you!

But now I must stop reminiscing, before I lose my train of thought! I just want to wish you well and say that I am glad you were my English teacher. I'm sure the rest of our class wishes you the same, wherever in the world they may be. I thank you and Indus for the good times and bad. I hope this letter finds you in good spirits, because writing it has certainly left me in them.

Yours sincerely

Shravan

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Last Leaf



Winter has come and left the tree bare. All but one of the leaves has thrown itself into the cold wind of seasonal change. One clings on, defiant.

Silly leaf.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The 6am Smoker


The night is perfect. It is the best time of day. It is quiet and cool. No superficial people, just the optimistic chirps of birds. This is the domain of the 6am smoker.

I don't know what he's doing up at this time. I can see him from my ground floor window, sipping a cigarette. The night seems to get stiller with every exhalation. Winter has left but a single leaf on the naked tree next to him. I don't know his name but I'm tempted to go ask him what he's doing and why he chooses this time to grace the silent courtyard.

From a distance I see a profound sadness in his eyes. Perhaps he's reflecting on a day or a life. On what's gone well and what hasn't. I think he's thinking about someone because there is longing in his expression. His face is young but his demeanour is tired. Looks like he comes here to escape the world, his cigarette an ally. Early morning provides solace - but from what?

His sleeves are folded up, in defiance to the cold. After a while, a look of contentment spreads across his face. Maybe the cigarette has served its purpose. Maybe the exploration of his own mind has yielded some answers. While the rest of the world dreams about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, our hero is trying to out-stare the night. People are funny things.

I wonder who's lonelier- me or him?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Folks

Thank you. 

I look at the world and I see UN schools being bombed in Gaza. I see the (needless) media frenzy over someone as insignificant as Jane Goody. I see a corrupt monetary system. I see people generally not getting along. Where's the good? Where are the things that make you want to wake up the next day?

They exist. And I want to thank two of them. My parents.

When all those bad things overwhelm me (like after watching Zeitgeist, for example - a movie everyone should watch), I like to dream about my house in Bangalore and the warmth and unconditional love that radiate from it. I listen to my friends talk about how they're going to go visit their dad on the weekend and I feel thankful that mine loves my mum. I look at broken families and I smile when I remember my family on one of our signature holidays. You take them for granted till you leave them. My parents are the best people I know - and there's no hyperbole to be found here. Not a trace.

I look at some of my friends' parents with skepticism. The ones I used to think were cool because they let them do whatever they want and I'm grateful my parents were 'firm but fair'. This is one of those moments where the self-fulfilling prophecy of "you'll thank us when you're older" seems to have fulfilled itself. I look at some of my friends' parents who are on the other end of the scale. Treatment of teenage boys has never seen such polarity. Stalin could have learned a thing or two about totalitarian government from this lot. They were - if I said 'no disrespect here', I'd be lying - irrationally strict and in many ways, backward. They irked me because I could see the look of helplessness and anguish on their sons' faces and I couldn't do little about it. All I could do was come home and be happy that I was who I was thanks to my parents being who they were.

I'm 18 now. I've left the creche. I'm out in the real world where you have to be accountable for yourself and 'man up'. I am happy with who I am. I am happy with the product that the conveyor belt that was my childhood, has churned out. I know who I am and where I come from and where I want to go and I have no one but my parents to thank for this. Had they planned it all out this way? I don't know. Perhaps. Maybe I helped myself grow a little but I know they did the bulk of the footwork in that respect. 

I feel sorry for kids who didn't have a dad growing up. I know some and they are fine individuals, but would have been much better had they been provided with half the dad I got. I take after my dad a lot. I surprise myself by the amount I do. I have met a lot of people in my life but I don't think I've met a better planner and organiser than him. Sure, some people may be smarter (although the more I think about who exactly, the more I doubt that statement) but no one puts faith into the world like he does. Even when the world kicks him in the teeth. My dad has this amazing ability of starting out every task or project, with the belief that everyone in the world is a good person who will work as hard as he will. And living in India, when this IS the case, it's a pleasant surprise. When I see my dad bitter or angry it saddens me because I know why. I think he wishes everyone would keep to their word like he did. He isn't perfect and we have had our disagreements, but there's something about his attitude towards life that I've hopefully got a bit of and that is to go out into any endeavour and trust other people to do their best. It's an honesty you'd be hard pressed to find and I love him for it. I love when my dad puts on his reading glasses, gets a pen and paper, and draws up a table. It sums him up. Also, did mention that he knows everything?

I can't imagine my dad when he's older but I sure can picture my mum, say, 20 years down the line. She'll be sitting in our garden, reading Bliss Divine or some such text and smiling. My mum is always smiling. I have always been a big fan of my mum, right from a very early age. She will no doubt harp on about the various things I've said to/about her over the years in the comments box - I eagerly await them! I love when my mum gets angry. Her temper usually lasts for four to five minutes. It's triggered by something as trivial as my sister (I'm tempted to end this sentence here) wanting a different snack to what everyone else is being made. Soon after, it can be quelled by something like 'shikran' (a simple combination of chopped banana, sugar and milk). Then, she will float away to her office and leave us all smiling. My mum is the kind to walk into my sister's room when we're watching an Arsenal match and ask who's playing, and before we can answer, asking me to go across the street and get some bread. My mother is terrible with technology but I wouldn't have it any other way. I get cheap thrills by lapping up compliments from her/my sister/women in general (oooooh no he didn't!) when I've fixed the most minute technical difficulty. My mum has changed a lot ever since she found yoga but she hasn't really changed in her attitude towards raising me and my sister and I'm grateful. I can't wait to talk about philosophy with her this summer. I have never really sat and discussed deep  matters with my parents - not enough, anyway. This will change. 

I think now that I've grown up (or so I hope), I can look at my parents as individuals rather than my father and mother. I can understand better why they do things, why they make mistakes and what drives them. This has been fascinating because it was like meeting two new people. And they were amongst the most interesting people I've had the pleasure of knowing. My parents used to be these two godly figures whom I had no choice but to obey and I could only look at them as my parents, not as Vijay Bhat and Nilima Bhat. I see all the bad in the world and I think it is balanced by what I feel when I think of my family. They are the good in my world. Not the only good, but probably the biggest contributor. I don't think I'd change a thing about the way they've raised me. 

I'm glad we ate as a family. I'm glad you got angry at me when I lied. I'm glad you didn't force me to do things I didn't fully believe in. I'm glad you recognised what inexpressible joy football brings me. I'm glad you made us write those holiday reports. I wouldn't change a thing.

Thank you. For everything.


PS. I still think you over-reacted when I broke that window ;-)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A spiritual experience?

King's Cross station came and went. I was shocked and confused: how would I get to the stadium now?! Apparently it was over-crowded so the train wouldn't be stopping there! There was barely an hour left till kick-off! How would I get there in time now? I asked advice from fellow tube compartment passengers as to which was the quickest way to get to the Finsbury Park tube station. Some said the bus, some said to stay on the tube and change at the next stop and take a spectacular dog's leg and some said to get off at the next station and walk to another tube station. In the end, I chose to do the latter. I scurried through twilight lit (twilit?) central London on foot, from Farringdon tube station to Holburn, kind, savvy Londoners giving me directions every few hundred yards.

I finally got onto the tube heading northbound, squashed into a carriage with many more football fans, some Brazilian, some Italian, some (like me), just there to experience the spectacle. I heard flowing, easy going Portuguese and fast, harsh Italian being spoken and I saw as many blue scarves, as I did yellow ones. We got off at Finsbury Park station and sprinted to the stadium. Behind and in front of me, both sides of supporters were already singing songs dedicated to their national teams. I smiled as I ran, covered in a few layers of clothes and my trusted white scarf. It's quite a walk (or run, in this case) from the tube station to the magnificent Emirates Stadium so when we arrived at it's exterior, we were all out of breath and had trouble navigating through the crowd in search of our particular turnstiles. Still, the sight of this glowing masterpiece of architecture, almost pulsating with noise, was not lost on me, as I took a few seconds to stand and admire its beauty. I felt the same way when I looked at Kanjimjanga (or K2, the world's second tallest peak) back in 9th grade. It wasn't as good as the Taj Mahal, but then, few things are. Maybe Sashimi. 

I climbed the stairs to my seat in the upper tier, two at a time. I still hadn't emerged into the middle of the ground, I was still inside the stands, surrounded by ugly concrete. But then I walked through the narrow tunnel towards my block and emerged into heaven. The interior Emirates stadium is sight to behold during the day, but at night, under floodlights it really takes your breath away. My senses were overloaded. I asked the steward to direct me towards my seat and after jostling past people who were already there, I finally sat down. After spending the best part of an hour, zipping around Central London on foot or standing up in a train, I sat down. It was bliss. I had a chance to take in the aura of the place.

There were colours everywhere; I had never seen the stadium (albeit, after going for only 3 matches) like this before. There were the blue shirts of the Italian fans and the vibrant yellows and greens of the Brazilians, interspersed with the blacks coats of neutrals like me and the red and white of the decor of the stands. Camera flashes sparkled every few seconds. The pitch was the kind of green carpet any footballer dreams about. Not a divot in sight. The floodlights made the white lines and electronic advertising boards jump out, like glitter on a piece of paper. Oh and the sound. The Italian fans were pumping out battle-cries of "I-ta-lia, I-ta-lia" in a deafening chorus only to be matched but the various songs sent forth by the legions of Brazil fans. It was like a tennis match of song. It cold night air whipped past my now almost hairless head (I really should have taken my wooly hat after my haircut!) but I was too excited and happy to care. Someone started a Mexican wave that coursed around the stadium just as goosebumps coursed over my skin when Brazil scored. I felt a sense of joy and happiness, not because they had scored, but because I could experience this, this sensation. It was just like I'd imagined it, yet still surreal. Was this state of euphoria what they call a spiritual experience? Where you feel connected to an occasion or place or a point in time that is like nothing you've ever felt before and struggle to describe with words? To me, it may well have been.

The Brazil fans jumped to their feet and fist-pumped the air! A pretty Brazilian girl in front of me began doing some variation of the Samba - a tad distracting for a teenage guy, but hey, can't complain! Flags and banners were waved with new enthusiasm and the same songs that were sung before, had a whole new energy about them. Below me, the Brazilian players on the pitch came together in the far corner to celebrate while the Italians walked back to the halfway line, heads hung in disappointment. It was a goal of beauty, from a footballing purists stand point. One touch passing was capped off by a clinical finish. I was so taken up by the brilliance of the occasion, that I'd forgotten that the world's best player were meters away from me, playing the sport they and I love.

The Brazilians were magicians - Ronaldinho and Robinho in particular. They were here to please the crowd as much as they were here to win a football match. They were showmen. I remember Robinho tricking a pair of Italian defenders with some hyptonising step-overs, before threading a simple ball between the two of them! The crowd went wild and he acknowledged. Ronaldinho was at it all night long. He was doing clever flicks and picking out passes that I could barely pull off in my back garden, let alone in front of 60,000 people! He was out there to have fun - and the crowd were loving it. Brazil were running a clinic. Italy had no answer. Their star players, De Rossi and Pirlo both had off-nights and their famously water-tight defence, seemed no match for Brazil's cheeky attack. It was only a matter of time before the second goal came. It was if Robinho had planned 2 steps ahead of everyone else and was already thinking about beating the second defender before he'd embarrassed the first. He nicked the ball of a rather lazy Andrea Pirlo, dribbled around him, put in a couple of (now trademark) step-overs to flummox the second defender and fired a low shot into the far corner that had the world's best keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, beaten. 

The crowd exploded again. Italian fans behind me put their heads in their hands and acknowledged that they had seen a piece of magic. I bet that musicians feel this way when they go to see their favourite bands/musicians play live and witness talent that is infinitely greater than theirs, not with jealousy, but with sheer, dumb admiration. Robinho had been playing cheer-warranting back-heels and no-look flicks all game long, but this goal was on a different level. I can imagine him doing this to defenders at a school level, and still feeling the same joy now. How good were these guys? It humbles you to see the sheer mighty presence of Adriano, winning headers up front - he was built like a bull. The blistering pace of Marcello and Alexander Pato left me, traditionally the slowest player on the team, in shock. The passing of Italy's Andrea Pirlo even made me angry. How can someone look so indifferent when pinging a 60 yard ball to the feet of a team-mate? He did it at ease - it was like watching someone play him on the video game! You know how you always think, when watching matches on TV, "that looks easy, I could play for XYZ club!"? Well I no longer think that! Each player on show was a master at his trade - well, apart from Dossena (Liverpool fans will know what I'm talking about!)

I'd been to a few live Arsenal matches before this and they were great because I'm a huge Arsenal fan but this seemed like a different experience. This was the 5-time world cup winners, Brazil, going up against the 4-time, and current, world champions, Italy. Football is one of the things I live for - food, writing and family being the others. Was this as good as it gets? For me, yes.  This was one of the best things I have ever done. This was an unforgettable night and one that will provide me with happy dreams and memories, for years to come.