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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


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
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.