Sunday, July 21, 2013

“When I was in the US….”

Let me point out something which is particularly and peculiarly Indian: the pre-occupation with going to the United States of America (“the US” in Indian parlance), or, having returned from either a short trip or a few months / years tenure, to try and make that fact the relevant pivot of every conversation.

There are Indians everywhere, in almost every country of the world. I’ve never heard of anyone speak with quite the same fervour, or intersperse every conversation with “When I was in Kazakhstan / Nigeria / Cambodia” the same way as they say “When I was in the US…”

 Let me run you through some examples: Mr Bhattacharya has just returned from a 6-month trip to North America. I say North America, because Mr Bhattacharya went to Canada and Mexico also, with his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, who’re based in New Jersey. So, I ask Mr Bhattacharya when he visits: “Good evening sir, would you like a cup of tea?” To which he promptly responds, “When I was in the US, I hardly drank any tea. We always drank coffee.” The collective ‘we’ could mean just Mr Bhattacharya, his family, the neighbourhood, or presumably all of ‘the US…’ I don’t know if ‘we’ in Canada and Mexico only drink coffee, or coffee and tea. 

Then there’s IT guy (cliché, I know), who’s just returned from a 3-month posting to Denver. A man of mixed Tamilian and Bengali parentage, he’s been abroad before, even spending 3 months in Japan. Now he has an accent, a propensity to speak with a nasal twang and rolls his ‘Rs’. We had lunch yesterday: “God I miss idli sam-burrr. When I was in the US, I just couldn’t get good idli sam-burrr.” He didn’t share any insights about the idli sambhar in Japan, sadly.

Then there are people I know of in real life, who’ve probably spent a year or two in the United States of America, but have been back in India for over a decade, who still force the accent. An example is Ash Chandler, who claims to be a comedian. His accent is funny, I’ll grant him that.

 For a nation whose people have collectively been subjected to repression and austerity, more out of the need to subsist on a pittance more than anything else, such a fascination is understandable, especially since the contrast is so stark. It amuses me every time when I accompany relatives who’re visiting from ‘the US’ who insist on paying in ‘daall-urrs’ at every little ethnic wear shop they visit. Of course, carting back salwar-kameez and chikan embroidered kurta-pyjamas for all and sundry is mandatory, especially since you “don’t get this kind of stuff in the US”, not so cheaply, of course.

I did a quick Wikipedia search, and it turns out that the United States of America is more than twice the size of India. Which means it’s a very big country indeed. Its history may be recent, but it has great cities, large industry and is blessed with plentiful natural resources. But I for one refuse to believe that such a large, seemingly bounteous land would be homogenous, such that people who live 3,000 kilometres apart, still refer to it as though it’s one small place, which it obviously isn’t. Just like Delhi is not the same as Chennai, or Indore is not the same as Srinagar, I refuse to believe that New York would be similar to San Francisco, or that Chicago and Denver are one and the same. I’ve met just the one family who tells me sincerely about the local food they ate while they lived there, or about the music and culture of the cities they travelled to. I wish more Indians did so too.

However, what amused me certainly, were two columns I read in yesterday’s edition of Mint Lounge. One was by a lady called Shoba Narayan rambling on a bit about shoes, her daughter’s first salary and Nirupa Roy. The column tries to link a child’s first salary with a parent’s benevolence and the teary-eyed mother perfected by Nirupa Roy, (which Narayan is definitely not). Somewhere, she digresses to feminism and stilletos, or ‘fuck-me’ shoes because “you could wear them to bed, but not to walk”, to quote Germaine Greer. However, even Narayan, a seasoned columnist couldn’t resist: “So last week, I took out the two pairs of high heels that I bought in a rash shopping spree in the US last year.” Wouldn’t have ‘rash shopping spree’ sufficed?
Next page, there’s Samar Halarnkar’s column on food. While mulling Eid feasts, India’s fast-reducing communal harmony and fondly remembering an indulgent Muslim lady who fed him to bursting, he suddenly intersperses a nicely crafted column with: “I have made Biryani only once before – in 1993, in the heart of Missouri, the American Midwest – “ Of course, Halarnkar had to give a full geographic description, lest anyone struggle to gather which place he was referring to. Area-wise, Missouri is a state just a little bit smaller than Halarnkar’s own Karnataka. If you must know, Halarnkar’s recipe for the day wasn’t even biryani, but the anecdote did establish the fact that he was ‘in the US’ for some point in time.

I haven’t been to ‘the US’ yet, but I plan to. I’ve read so much about the food, from turtles and crayfish to hot dogs and monstrous beef steaks. I’d love to see some bears and mountain lions in the wild, hike through some part of the Grand Canyon, sail down the Mississippi, visit the Smithsonian museum and take a picture atop the Empire State Building. Much of this sounds clichéd, I know, but I want to travel that wonderful country the only way it deserves to be seen – by road. Maybe when I’m back, I’ll regale you with stories, beginning with “When I was in the US…”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Walk tall

It’s dawn. I’m walking down Mumbai’s Marine Drive. It’s strangely warm, despite the drizzle. My left eyebrow itches. Suddenly, the Queen’s Necklace is switched off.
I turn to the sea. The Arabian ocean. It’s glassy, but somewhat revolting in appearance. I can’t understand it; I love the sea. I love the sheer sense of space – an expanse of wide open water. Today, it just seems so pale, like a corpse. There’s no colour to it. It’s a pasty body of water.
A million thoughts are running through my head right now. There’s no order to them, they’re random, popping up like conversation blurbs in a comic book.
I look down at my toes, I look at the bollards, I turn a full circle, taking in the odd morning walker. There’s a bum coiled up in a corner, a stray dog next to him.
This is Mumbai, capital of the world.
Dead on a Saturday morning.
I cough and spit out the sputum. I hate spitting, but I can’t keep it in either. One more thought: you’re contradicting your self. You hate people who spit. Oh please, shut the fuck up.
I’ve been smoking again.
There’s a slight breeze, but none of the early morning gusting I remember. Even the wind isn’t in a good mood. Somehow that sets the tone.
I try to arrange the thoughts.
I don’t want to be a martyr. But I don’t want to live in fear. I want to walk tall. Yeh mera desh hai, behenchod, I curse at no one in particular.
You can’t change the world, sonny boy. Your fists won’t solve every problem. My father’s voice echoes in my head. My ears are ringing with it.
I wish I could make a living monster out of all the things I hate, and beat it to death. With my bare fists.
But Dad is right. Dad is always right, isn’t he? He’s seen so many more moons. I’m his son.
I look down at my balls, and it makes me laugh. I adjust my underwear, more to reassure myself my testicles are still there. The same testicles which will one day sire a child of my own.
You’re the perfect candidate to leave this country, a well-meaning NRI told me as I dropped him to the airport on Thursday. No, I say, never. But why not? You can’t do much in India. You’ll be far more successful abroad. I can’t and I won’t I retort, because of some misplaced sense of patriotism.
That’s it then, isn’t it?
Some misplaced sense of patriotism.
I almost joined the army after high school. Fauj mein rakha kya hai, all the ex-army uncles told me. So did my Dad.
Then I went to engineering college. Graduated, and decided to become a cop. Laugh, oh how they laughed. Your career will be finished before you know it, they mocked me.
And now, here I am.
Scratching my balls on Marine Drive on a Saturday morning.
Fuck this shit.
I try and construct the monster. Pakistan; Nehru, if he were still alive; Raj and Bal, for a bit of ridiculousness; the IAS joker on tv; the stupid, over-hyped female journalist; those damned militants of course; and sundry other politicos and babus. A chaddar party would be perfect.
The bum is now awake. He fastidiously collects his meagre belongings, climbs over the promenade, picks his way among the bollards, and sits down to take a crap. Craps in the Arabian sea.
I sit on the promenade, perversely looking at him as he takes a leisurely crap, beedi in hand.
The little dog is now barking. Someone is walking a happy golden retriever. The retriever makes me smile, I see him often. As they pass, I whistle and he comes to me. It’s like a semi-ritual now. I scratch his ears, he licks my fingers and scampers off after the middle aged gentleman who owns him.
As I get up to leave, I hear a voice. Sir, can you please give me a cigarette? The bum asks in perfect English. He has wild hair and a wild beard, but he doesn’t look like the wretched beggars I see so often. He’s thin, but he looks like he eats regularly. And he’s standing ram rod straight.
I open the pack, and hand him one. He fishes for a matchbox in the waistband of his pants and lights it. Thank you, he says, looking me straight in the eye.
I hand him the pack. He thanks me again. There’s that eye contact once more.
He turns and walks away. He’s not hurrying, but he’s walking with purpose, the scruffy pooch at his heels.
He’s walking tall.

Friday, May 21, 2010


it stumbled. stalled. stuttered. sparked again
would it be all in vain?
he new it mattered little
but thoughts of walking away
caused too much pain
"you walk, and walk away, keep walking"
the voice told him
why should i care?
he thought for a moment
it was harder still, to stand the ground
songs of victory, AND memories of toil
"this is my land, my soil"
i will fight
stand my ground
"burn, ye heathen,
torched you shall be"
the vile lie vanquished
in truth, there's victory

Monday, March 22, 2010


Does Pathos inspire or conspire?

Is Time enough?

Does Guilt wane?

Does Hurt fade?

Is Forgiveness real?

Is Love everlasting?

Are Pain and Longing the same?

She, The Sacred Feminine


it needn't have been this way. it needn't have. oh, you fool.
the loss and longing
the courage and the cripple

the human male is but a drone. the progenitor of life, the maker of the home, the tender to the hearth and heart is Woman. and when you find her, cherish. relish her. love her. respect her. want her and make her feel wanted.

you, Man, exist but to be Hers. It is She who gives you worth. And meaning.

The Night of the Living Dead

the knot was tight
it closed around me
the emptiness

the crime, grave
the penalty, harsh

spoken in a moment
contemplated over time

the sentence was swift
the plea, over-ruled

the cell was cold
questions of heart and head
made no sense

the heart seemed alive
the head, dead

the dawn was slow
there weren't any pieces to pick up

the water was tepid
the shower, rapid

contemplation with the car keys...
u-turns made
and made again

the aimless drive
early morning sunlight

the door opened
She knew...

clasped to Her bosom
my tears seemed to flow

She wouldn't cry
She couldn't
She had to be strong

that tenderness was so poignant
it hurt even more...

i left
living, but felt dead.
From a million miles away
Like a waking hand
The touch of a sun's ray
A flower understands
Like a smile it opens wide
Blowin' rainbow kisses
To the skies...

- Sudheer


in between heartache and a kiss,
maybe there lies love, beauty, peace, truth...
for ours to find, ever

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Of shagmobiles and pointless wheeled crap

The car, or self-propelled carriage, is a relatively recent invention. But it has inspired more people than can be accounted for, it has changed the way the world travels, it has widened the common man's horizon, it has been art and beauty and technical brilliance. But, for something which at the end of the day still has only four bloody wheels and is used mostly to get about, we have plenty of variety. Take the engines for example. You could use petrol, or diesel, or even bio fuel, distilled from leftover cooking fat or made from plants. You could put the engine in the front, in the middle, or at the back. You could even turn it through ninety degrees. You could have 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or even 16 cylinders. And so on...
It could have 2-wheel drive, front or rear, or all wheel drive. It can have an automatic or a manual transmission, or even the arcade style flappy paddles.
You could put the steering wheel on the left, or on the right.
You could do so much with your car.
What then, seems to be the problem?
The problem is, we have too many 'big' cars. I mean who needs big saloons? Or huge SUVs with a gazillion horsepower? I have never understood the point of a Cayenne GTS, and probably never will. Don't even get me started on the X6. And before you even answer my question why BMW built it - "because they can" - and I'm sure there are plenty of idiots out there to whom this rotten piece of engineering debauchery appeals - let me say that it is worthless.
Thankfully, they cost a helluva lotta moolah, and so that helps, somewhat, in keeping their numbers low. But what about the big saloons?
Why do we have Honda Accords, Hyundai Sonatas, Toyota Camrys, Mercedes E Classes, BMW 5 Series', Audi A6s and so on? Why? 'Coz some genius thought that well, there might be people out there for whom an A4, 3 Series, Civic or Corolla was not good enough, but for whom an S Class, an A8 or Lexus LS was a bit much. Really? Don't get me wrong, you need a boot. And yes, if you're a big shot, you want a nice big and comfy saloon to be chauffeured around in.
I think the product planners - the engineers-turned-accountants - need to go back to their roots. Infinite differentiation and a bit of stickering and platform sharing will only get you thus far. And that's before I even start with the Germans and their hideous obsession with quantifying every 'new' generation of their cars in percentage terms. I quote: "The new Audi A4 has 13 % more torsional rigidity." Wow! Did you just say 13 % ?! wonder the older car was such rubbish around corners. "The new engines use more precisely controlled injection and valve timing for a 7 % increase in fuel economy and 3 % lower emissions." So, if the bloody car gave me 6kpl, 7 % better fuel economy would mean 0.42 kpl more. That really goes a long way in lightening my fuel bills and saving the planet.
But wait, I have a plan. I think all car makers should sign a pledge. No more technical redundancy. Keep it good, keep it simple, and instead focus on really improving the 'Car of Tomorrow'. Think about it. The time and energy invested in retooling a new plant; the obsolescence of older dies and fixtures in a manufacturing unit; the added complexity of wiring all the add-on electricals; and the stock-pile of outdated cars which are then flogged for huge discounts, losing the company and the retailers a chunk of money anyway. In the end, it's mostly a generic look which is propagated from one 'generation' to the next.
And then we have the pointlessness of certain designs - today's crash safety requirements mean most cars come with chunky A-pillars. Do we have data to collate how many accidents happen at junctions and roundabouts because of obscured vision? Can we prove, either way, then that these A-pillars proved beneficial?
Point is, there are only two types of cars which make any sense at all - compacts, and sports cars. You don't need more than an i10 or a Spark or an Alto for the bulk of your urban existence. You'll save time, consume less fuel, help the environment, cause less crammage on the streets and not seem like a cad the next time you pull up to a traffic light in your superfluous Accord.
For the weekends when you want to 'go for a drive', pull out your sports car. Buy yourself a shagmobile. A car which you will love, lust after, and cherish. Something with silly horsepower, a bright colour, and handling which truly makes your penis tingle.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Me, metrosexual

"Do you exfoliate?" she asked me.


"Do you use a scrub?" she enquired exasperatedly.

A scrub?

"Never mind." She sighed, the long whistling sigh.

I was getting the look. You know the one; it mixes maternal disapproval with boredom and a sense of 'why am I with this idiot'.

"You should use a scrub once every two days," she explained. "It removes the dead skin giving your face a fresh glow," she further elaborated.

Ah, so, I replied. But why do I need to? I'm sure it comes off when I shave anyway, I reasoned.

"Do you shave your forehead?" she retorted.

Realising that it was a pointless discussion, she turned back to the shelf marked 'care products'.

I made for the cold storage.

"No bacon. You're getting fat," she called over her shoulder.

This from a woman who calls me Fatty anyway…

I'd be damned if I was going to give up bacon and use a scrub to exfoliate.

Anyway, it's been years since that incident, but it serves to highlight one major point: I am not one given to 'taking care of myself'.

I eat too much, drink quite a bit, enjoy my cigarettes… but I have a bath twice a day. But I've started to use 'products'. It's not that I capitulated or anything, but women in general like a well-groomed man. And as a perfectly heterosexual man, if I needed to exfoliate to keep my woman happy, I damned well would.

Over time, I started to use shave foam and shampoo. Actually, it was the shampoo which started it all off. Said girlfriend at the time was appalled to discover one measly bar of soap in my bathroom. I used the same bar to bathe, wash my hair, and shave.

So it was that a bottle of shampoo found its way to my bathroom, followed by a can of shaving gel. Having a girlfriend who stayed over often meant that there was no escape. Shampoo and gel levels were monitored.

When I un-did my helmet, I realised it smelled flowery.

To be fair, I nicked myself less when I shaved.

But I couldn't get my head around the exfoliating.

Once, before lunch, she handed me a vegetable peeler and some carrots and cucumbers. I couldn't resist. "Honey, I exfoliated the veggies," I exclaimed gleefully, while admiring my handiwork. I nearly got stabbed!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bungalow Days

“O Shantaben….paani ochhoo vapro,” yodelled Tanay as he splashed out of the bathroom, leaving a dripping trail on his way to his room.
“Toh amhe nahiyye ke nai?” Shantaben screamed back from the servant’s quarters downstairs.
Vijyant meanwhile was preening in front of the little mirror, hair slickly combed back, as he proceeded to dab a sulphur-based medicated cream upon his pimply countenance.
“Ganja wait for me!” yelled Tanay again as he hurried to get ready lest he miss his lift to college on Vijyant’s (Ganja’s) bike. But Vijyant was almost out the front door.
Vijyant was the proud owner of a Hero Honda CBZ, the coolest bike back in the day. At the time, he was the only one with wheels in that bachelor pad, something he was immensely proud of, though he tried hard never to show it. Today though, he wasn’t going to wait for Tanay. Someone was surely waiting for a lift from the girl’s hostel to the hospital.
Barely had Tanay got one shoe on, when the CBZ was kicked into life. As Vijyant accelerated shakily up the slope, Tanay cursed under his breath. “Ketlo haraami chhe!” he told me with utter vehemence.
I looked on benignly from my newspaper. I had no college to go to. I had flunked out. I was a year down, or YD as they called it. The year was 2002, and we’d just moved into our bungalow.
The fourth character in this piece had just surfaced after all this commotion, and emerged into the sunlight on the terrace. “Madon, doodh puru thayu,” Persy informed me. Translation: ‘Bastard, you drank all of it.’ No I didn’t. It boiled over.
Persy was, and probably still is, one of those people who you never really knew. Some days, he was up with the rooster and off on a morning jaunt. Often, he slept till noon. Today though, he intended to sleep till noon. And the love ballad of Ganja and Gujju had put paid to that.
I returned leisurely to my paper.
Those days provided plenty of time for reflection. Life was strange. Yet simple.
I had been the only engineering student in the entire hostel of Bharati Vidyapeeth, or BVP.
One particularly lazy Sunday afternoon, over the excruciatingly stingy portion of chicken in my non-veg lunch, I observed the crowd around me. Most of them were living away from home for the first time. 18-year old boys would cry over the phone to their mothers. A lot of them walked scared, with shifty eyes that never rose from their toes. There was, however, one noisy one. His name was Tanay. Do you know the difference between a practical joker and a prankster? A practical joker engineers a situation to cause inconvenience to somebody; by contrast, a prankster is more of an opportunist. And nobody was a bigger opportunist than Tanay.
That day, an unfortunate soul found his pants around his ankles as he stood in the lunch line. It was a Sikh student, who’d washed his hair and left it open. Post bath, he was in the hostel for the Sunday feast, and now all of a sudden, he had a plate half-filled with food and no pants on. Worse, he probably hadn’t worn any underwear, for there stood Tanay guffawing and pointing to said victim’s crotch: “chootya ni polly jo!”
Till today, that incident sums up the boy.
Anyway, he walked up to me some days later and we got talking and then he introduced me to Persy who in turn introduced me to Vijyant and the rest as they say is history.
We searched high and low for a place to rent after we moved out of the hostel, settling on a derelict bungalow which hadn’t seen a lick of paint in probably a decade. Better still, it was supposed to be haunted. Over the next four years, 35/A Sai Krupa society became a sanatorium for madness.
There were barbeques, fights, all-night movie sessions, birthday parties, make out sessions and some voyeurism thrown in for good measure. Parents visited now and then. Floors were swept. Porn was carefully stashed. Ashtrays were hidden. Bottles were given to the raddiwallah.
We furnished it as we went along. So we got the fridge and electric stove. Then we got the big boombox and speakers from one of the peths. Essentials like beds and cupboards were rattly iron items purchased from second-hand bazaars.
“Bungalow people” as we came to be known, we had the coolest pad in all of BVP-dom.
It was those days when cell phones cost the earth.
I lived off 3500 rupees, inclusive of rent and food and all the debauchery I could get up to in that paltry sum. But we still partied. We still got drunk.
And then we sweated in the summer because we didn’t have money to pay the electricity bill. But then we’d sleep on the terrace, gazing at the stars as we drifted off…
We’d make movie plans 15 minutes before the film started, and race to catch it in time.
We’d stay in on Sundays and read.
We’d have eating competitions at Ashok dining hall.
Then cell rates became cheaper. We had free night calling. And free sms. Friends would sms from the front door: “darwaza khol” because at some level it was funny.
We’d prance on the terrace during the first rain, and haul out the eternally lazy Ganja and dump him in the rain.
We had a dog, Raul, who ate and drank everything we did. His name was even on the front door. When he mounted a Pomeranian in the neighbourhood, Ganja had to live with the joke that he was the only virgin in the bungalow.
We rode out to Mahabaleshwar and Mulshi and Lonavla and Matheran and Alibaug on countless weekends. We took Raul on the bike with us.
We chased chappals which floated away in a stream.
We crashed our motorcycles and cursed our friends as they cleaned our wounds.
We’d talk about movies and books and sometimes just sit and argue about almost nothing for hours. Tempers would flare. Sometimes, we almost came to blows. But we laughed. And of course it was everybody’s turn to get ragged.
Then life happened.
We graduated, and moved out.
Today, it’s all action plans and career moves and family time and finding the right woman.
Our parents have aged.
Our siblings have married.
We watch what we eat.
We curse less.
We’ve ‘grown up’. Damn.