Hungree kya?

Me:

Do you want to be made to feel very hungry?

SNC:

No.

Me:

Look at this anyway.

SNC:

I don’t want to be made to feel hungry. I am hungry.

SFOS: *shaking hands with SNC*

I’m SFOS.

Life means more

24 hours just never seem to be enough in this city, you know? Every minute, every day feels like you’re running just 10 minutes behind. The one bit I really agreed with this otherwise horrific movie on, was the tightly managed shuffle for space and time. There’s a Rahul (Sharman Joshi) in every Mumbaiker. Managing a social life is always a joke – other people’s or your own!

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Careful planning makes it possible to strike up a close friendship, despite the stretched-to-snapping-point schedules. How? There’s the mammoth time-budgeting through the week for the one day when one can get out of office in time to reach place A at the same time as the other person. Of course place A is only the least inconvenient meeting spot for the two people, not necessarily delightful in its sights or other attractions. And then there’s the fact that this rendezvous may happens about 2 minutes away from what is euphemistically known as ‘the ungodly hours’.

But all efforts bear fruit as my date swishes onto the kerb Superman style just as my taxi pulls up or I jump onto the footboard (Spiderwoman like?) of the exact compartment in precisely the same train my friend is taking! Yes! Commuting is indeed a social occasion in Mumbai!

I appease my I-hate-Mondays whininess with the thought that I do after all have a whole lot of people I’m going to be meeting during the week. The fact is that I do. And how surprising is that in a city that’s known for its crowds? Mumbai doesn’t make me particularly religious except when it comes to the near-holy adage that

IdeaSmith proposes, Mumbai disposes

Thus work spillover cuts into drinks with friends, which must be compensated for on another day. But what the hell, there was the half-hour phone call in the middle of the day with buddy about a relationship emergency.

So drinks-with-friends on Tuesday turns into the Wednesday play that you had planned to review on the weekend. Fantastic, you’d never have managed tickets otherwise! That now leaves us with the problem of…ah, what to do with:

  1. Today’s original plans 
  2. Evening free on weekend
  3. Person who was supposed to accompany you to the play

You’re just going to have to shift that mid-week coffee with former colleague into an hour-long phone call on the commute tomorrow. And drop best friend a message to explain why your line’s going to be busy and to discuss her new dress with you on email instead.

The second is the least of anyone’s concerns…if a concern at all, since time, like space is at a premium in this city. The last– ah, that’s tricky.

  • Movie? (Nothing great showing. Who wants to see SRK’s abs again? And Ranbir Kapoor isn’t that cute)
  • Drinks? (Work the next day! “I don’t drink!”, no good pubs in the vicinity)
  • Shopping? Works very well if said friend is female. Works reasonably okay if said friend is male and in dire need of new clothes, gift for mum. We trade favours.
  • Dinner? Boring option, safe option, but always an option.
  • Watch the play again. Last resort but think of it as the price to pay for getting off the guilt of ditching them earlier and their not being able to catch it later.

That’s taken care of. Lock kar diya jaaye. So the first concrete block is laid on your weekend calendar. What of the rest? It’s amazing how quickly things fill up.

There’s the old school friend, now in town whom you haven’t managed to meet in 4 months.
There’s that non-promoted, surprisingly good movie that you must catch, even if you have to get up early to see the morning show.
There’s the city spot that you’ve been dying to visit ever since it stopped raining for photography.
There’s your grand-uncle who you want to sit down and write a real letter to, since email is only a word to him.
There’s shopping for a gift for a birthday around the corner.
There’s errands to be run, bills to be paid, cleaning to be done.
There are also a zillion books to be read and more getting written every day!!!! Honestly, sometimes I worry about how I’m going to find time to buy those books, let alone read them (never mind even afford all of them).
And finally…if there’s an hour free somewhere, there’s always somna for this sleep-deprived populace.

*Sigh* The thing about having a lot of options is that you don’t always get to exercise all of them! Life is about trying though. Always for more.

I Am Jill's Unfeminine Wiles

Jack’s eyes lazily scanned the room, taking in all, accommodating none.

Gillian paused mid-speech, in spite of herself and her breath stuck in her throat. Then she caught herself and smoothly moved on, ramming her words into each other to create an artful slip of tongue. The ripple of amusement that passed through her listeners washed away the traces of anyone noticing her real mistake.

From her peripheral vision, Gillian knew that he had moved into focus and was weaving his way slowly but definitely towards her group. She never did the ‘corner of the eye’ thing…it was too obvious and blatant, a real pathetic ‘I can’t help looking but I don’t want to be seen looking’ gesture. No sirree, she was never pathetic. No sidelong glances, no downcast gazes, no secret looks, she didn’t do those.

What Gillian did do was yoga. It kept her eyesight as flexible as her fingers, her mind as nimble as her feet while dancing. Yoga allowed conversations to become like dances. Where you could move, navigate and control without actually thinking or making an effort to. Doing without trying. And what Gillian was doing without trying was turning herself and her little knot of people into a Jack-magnet…by sheer non-magnetism.

The man on her right turned slightly to accommodate the newcomer. Jack was smiling as he looked at the guilelessness in the eyes that seemed to be focusing and finally noticing him. Interesting, he thought.

And then, inspite of herself, Gillian smiled. Graceleness was her art and artlessness was where she was most graceful.

yoga.jpg

* Yes, the title is an unabashed rip-off of “I am Jack’s cold sweat” from the movie Fight Club.

I am Jill’s unfeminine wiles

Jack’s eyes lazily scanned the room, taking in all, accommodating none.

Gillian paused mid-speech, in spite of herself and her breath stuck in her throat. Then she caught herself and smoothly moved on, ramming her words into each other to create an artful slip of tongue. The ripple of amusement that passed through her listeners washed away the traces of anyone noticing her real mistake.

From her peripheral vision, Gillian knew that he had moved into focus and was weaving his way slowly but definitely towards her group. She never did the ‘corner of the eye’ thing…it was too obvious and blatant, a real pathetic ‘I can’t help looking but I don’t want to be seen looking’ gesture. No sirree, she was never pathetic. No sidelong glances, no downcast gazes, no secret looks, she didn’t do those.

What Gillian did do was yoga. It kept her eyesight as flexible as her fingers, her mind as nimble as her feet while dancing. Yoga allowed conversations to become like dances. Where you could move, navigate and control without actually thinking or making an effort to. Doing without trying. And what Gillian was doing without trying was turning herself and her little knot of people into a Jack-magnet…by sheer non-magnetism.

The man on her right turned slightly to accommodate the newcomer. Jack was smiling as he looked at the guilelessness in the eyes that seemed to be focusing and finally noticing him. Interesting, he thought.

And then, inspite of herself, Gillian smiled. Graceleness was her art and artlessness was where she was most graceful.

yoga.jpg

* Yes, the title is an unabashed rip-off of “I am Jack’s cold sweat” from the movie Fight Club.

IdeaSmith's poison

I’m convinced that it must be my karmic destiny to live a reverse-life. To enjoy things that most people find boring or bizarre. And to agonize over things that ought to be fun. I’ve been racking and shelving and cupboarding (okay, I’ll stop!!) my brain to come up with something to write that is ‘different’ from my usual style.

What is ‘IdeaSmith’s style’ , incidentally? Weepy, sappy? Poetic and eloquent? Biting and sarcastic? Verbose? Narcissistic? Intelligent? Pretentious? Easy? Identify-with-able? And what is that supposed to mean?

*Sigh* And I thought this would be fun! Not a philosophical exercise!! Gah.

Poetry, how-tos, rants, fiction, cityscapes, causes, journaling…I’ve done these. What next? Oh okay…how about….a recipe? So here my ‘food’s-just-fuel’ gastrophobe self takes on a culinary recount…is that different enough? Here goes…

How to make a Bradtini (followed by an Ideatini)

You need:

60ml Bacardi Reserva rum
Half a glass of pineapple juice
A stirrer
2 ice cubes
A bottle of Tabasco sauce
A taste for spice

Do:

Pour the pineapple juice into the Reserva till it turns opaque but not quite as yellow as the pure juice.
Stir. Lick stirrer. (Yes, this is necessary).
Drop ice cubes in. Stir again. Lick stirrer clean. Keep aside.
Splash 2 drops of Tabasco sauce. Do NOT stir.
Taste. If you’ve licked the stirrer clean, the surface-lying pineapple juice would have left an aftertaste which is a great prelude to this drink.
If you can taste pineapple, add more Tabasco sauce.
Stop when you feel the sting on the tongue. Tabasco has a sneaky way of tasting really nice and then abruptly setting your tongue on fire. You want to be taken just to one second before combustion and then doused just in time by cold pineapple.
Drink up!

How to follow it up with an Ideatini

Substitute the pineapple juice in the Bradtini for gauva juice.
And add about 2 teaspoons less than the quantity of pineapple juice added to the previous drink. This results in a more full-bodied but lighter-flavoured drink.
If dragons roar within you too, you could use chili powder on the rim of the glass as well. SLUUURRRRRPPP!

Footnotes

If you want to experiment, try other fruit juices but only those that are thick-bodied and/or have a sharp tang like citruses. Watermelon doesn’t fit either description and makes a gawdawful concoction that I wouldn’t name after my worst enemy.

Alternately you could also try white rum; it doesn’t mate quite as soulfully with fruit juice as golden rum but its a workable combination. Steer clear of dark rum though, it doesn’t go well with the sunny nature of this drink.

And if you’re wondering, the A.E. introduced my uncultured palate to the first drink, whereupon I christened it after him. The second is my version of it and hence I pronounce that it goes by my name. Bottoms up!

Little reminders

Being my own best friend is probably even more powerful than it sounds. I’ve been groping in the dark for faith, for reason, for light. And then, I find this, written three years ago, or slightly longer…by me. And to think I’ve been brooding over bad traffic, space constraints and petty mind games. When I wrote this, my maternal uncle was battling cancer and the family plunging deeper and deeper into the despair of watching a second loved one dying before their eyes, in the space of 4 years. And I was encountering the disillusionment and vileness of the working world for the first time. Surprisingly, I pulled through. When did I forget how to?

This morning I thought that real rejuvenation could only come from the company of the young, untainted by cynicism, unbroken by disappointment. But I guess real inspiration comes from those who have weathered it already. I stand in awe of both, youth and old age.

14 October 2004

Yesterday was voting day and I left home early so I could register my vote before going to work. I felt a little silly especially since all my friends who were working shrugged and begged off and the lucky ones with a holiday decided to ‘enjoy it and chill out’. As I walked into the schoolroom, deserted as it was at the early hour, I realised I must be the only voter there below 50….and one of the few below 60.

Today I drifted back home wondering whether I’d missed a cycle and somehow the nightmare world had got interchanged with reality…I seem to be going through 18 hours in a dazed state and 8 hours in complete comprehension…instead of the other way round. I walked down the road, my vision a blur as I kept dabbing at my eyes and finally I broke down. For the first time in months I cried….and cried…and cried.

A little old lady in snow-white hair and a sleeveless terrycot dress ambled up to me, patted my shoulder and said

Are you feeling alright dear? Is there a problem? Are you not well? You can talk to me.

I managed to shake my head and indicate the phone in my hand. After the call I went to say thank you to her for caring enough to ask…and I had to stop and talk..and listen to her story. So many little things she told me….that she was 80 and loved people and life, that she had lost her husband to cancer 10 years ago and what a wonderful, loving man he had been and how much he loved her…her eyes gleamed as she said,

Cancer is a very bad thing. He was 80 years old when he died. I am 80 now.

She told me how she loved coming out for walk and talking to nice people like me, how her neighbor had taken over her house and was trying to oust her, how she cooked for herself, cleaned her house and walked and talked and was never sick.

Life has come to me in huge, overpowering waves recently.
I am watching a loved one sink into an abyss where no one can pull him out.
I am holding together like a dam against the flood of the grief of the people around me.
I am fighting battles that everyone says are routine but rough nevertheless.

Yes, there is a lot of pain in this world
There is injustice and grief and jealousy and manipulation and cruelty and sadism and weakness and terror.
But there is also hope, blind optimism perhaps but hope nevertheless
…I have seen it in slightly breathless but determined faces of the senior citizens who believe that this country is theirs to respect and run.

There is courage and compassion and inspiration….in the eyes of an 80-year old widow who fights worse battles than mine and more bravely.

Yes, life has its miracles.

Vacuum

2 October 2004

Sometimes life comes at you
like a thousand asteroids rocketing through space
And hits you,
one at a time and then more and more and more

Till the reality sinks in
That there is no planet, no sun or galaxy

All there is, is the vast, still brooding space
That you are.

Saccharine superheroes

I’m thinking of F who gave me my first lesson on my work at my interview. At an office lunch, shortly after, she skipped dessert. Diet, I assumed, till I saw the others pass on their plates to her for inspection before digging in. She liked looking at sweets and sometimes smelling them, she said. At the traditional cake-cutting ceremonies at office, F was the designated knife-handler since she was the only one who could be trusted to not gobble up the cake before the others got to it. F and I worked together for a year. Then she got married, moved to an overseas office, came back and resumed work. She recently delivered a baby boy. I hope her little one will inherit her impish grin and her warmth.

I’m thinking of my old tuition teacher, alternate mother. Aunty had a reputation for turning near-fail marks into top-of-class grades. She had been a regular housewife till her husband lost his job. And then she took her degree to use by starting to teach one kid. In ten years she had become the best tutor this side of town. Aunty was stern and effective. Dedicated to her calling. A frail little lady who seemed to tower over all us. Except on an occasional afternoon, when she’d apologize for failing health and proceed to take lessons lying flat on her back.

I’m thinking of my uncle, former bad boy, echoes of which still remain in the back pockets of his faded jeans. Mama was always a good cook. I’ve had such exotic things like authentic Italian pizzas, Chinese-style noodles (not Maggi!) and vegetable Stroganoff. Mama doesn’t eat most of these delights anymore. And his late nights/late morning brunches have dropped off. The wild one has come home.

I’m thinking of my thatha. Upright, honest government servant to the world. Doting grandfather to me. Terribly stubborn spirit to the rest of the family. My earliest memories of thatha are of going hand-in-hand with him to buy an ice-cream off one of the carts parked near India Gate. And badurshas at the sweet market. Rock sugar at home after the morning puja. Those were the early days. And once catching him scraping the remains from the ghee-making pan to eat with sugar. And wondering…when do you start policing those who’ve laid the law for you? Around the same time I learnt that his feet, eyes and kidneys were all susceptible to failure. All of them succumbed.

And finally, most of all I’m thinking of mum. Chef par excellence, wit beyond compare. I’m thinking of the puddings, diwali sweets, chocolate cakes and numerous other delicacies that churn out from her kitchen. I’m thinking of her fading eyesight. I’m thinking of her still-lean frame. I’m thinking of how she never touches the delights she makes for us. I’m thinking of the weekly reading on the meter. And the syringes stacked neatly in our ice-tray.

I’m thinking of all the people I know who are part of the statistic that calls India the world diabetes capital. And I’m thinking that among the many problems each of us face, some wage a daily war against their bodies every day. And live among us, spreading their brand of sweetness, unaided by sugar.

Today is World Diabetes Day. It isn’t an occasion to wish anyone. It isn’t a day to start movements. All it seems to be, is to think of some people. Do it anyway.

Home, beautiful home

Be it ever so dirty, polluted and crowded, there’s no place like amchi Mumbai!!!!!
Need I say more? If a picture speaks louder than a thousand words, here’s two thousand then!

gateway-by-moonlight.jpg

 

I forgot that I sometimes detest pink when I saw this…

 

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How to write

La Deb asks me to write about writing. Hell’s bells! Since I claim I’ll go to the ends of the earth to do what my friends ask of me, I’m bound. But what…would…I…know…about…writing? Moreover, whatever will I say that hasn’t been said by her, talent par excellence herself? :-(

Here goes nevertheless….

Writing is a conversation. So talk. Then again, most people don’t know how to talk. Let’s start again. Writing, like talking should be as simple as thinking. You don’t try to think. You just do. The ideas just appear in your head in pictures, in images, in sounds, in smells, in words. As you instinctively understand them without needing to string them together into coherent sentences, assume that your listeners and readers will do the same. You’ll be amazed at how easily people understand each other.

Writing is not a performance art. It is a technique, a medium of expression at best. And don’t look for ways to use a certain word. Maybe you really love that word. Rest assured that if your love is true, it will find a way into your expression without your having to engineer a sentence for it. Contrived ideas and sentences are painful. The effort shows and real class is in being, not in trying.

Writing is an art but a disciplined one. This is pretty basic but still true. Use correct grammar (but don’t agonize over it). Check your spellings (that’s what Spell Check and the dotted red lines are for). Try to use short sentences. This isn’t a definitive rule but try not to exceed more than 2 lines for a single sentence. And please, please, use paragraphs. It really makes reading easier and your writing more coherent.

Writing is the art of revealing and concealing thought. There is real power in saying something in fewer words. Short stories, advertisement taglines, joke punchlines all rely on this. Bloggers, do try fifty-five word stories. These are an excellent way to practise concise writing.

And finally, don’t ever forget that writing is expression. There are no rules about writing styles. Think of what makes you laugh: sarcasm, spoofs, mimicry, slapstick, nonsense, fantasy, irony. There are as many kinds of writing as there are people in the world. I think it is a grave mistake, at least in the beginning, to follow anybody else’s work. Find your own style and develop it.

I’d really like to hear these people’s thoughts on writing:

Neha Vishwanathan, because her writing is simple, straightforward and unaffected, celebrity-blogger status notwithstanding. Poetry, narratives, fiction-fragments, each post on Neha’s blog is a delight to read.

Alphabet Soup, because I’ve watched her writing grow practically at super-speed from basic potential to bestseller material. Her output never ceases to amaze me. How do you do it, girl?

N, because I have the good fortune to know her offline as well and I know that her expression is always top-quality. Neat, slick and impactful…these apply to her speech, emails and posts. Let’s hear it from the pro!

Manuscrypts, because no one can write a short story like he can!

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