Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Clichés aren't old hat

Twelfth grade English lectures were one of the high points of my otherwise humdrum school life. For one thing, English-Core was the easiest subject by a fair distance, at least for the scant few with the poor sense to opt for biology. For another, our classes were handled by a certain Miss Pretty. Miss Pretty, sadly, didn’t live up to her name, which, FYI, was due to her obsession with that annoying American usage whereby it is considered hip to replace ‘very’ with ‘pretty’ wherever possible and hipper(?) if you say it with a fake accent.

Argh, digressions. So where was I? Yes, Miss Pretty wasn’t pretty. Nor was she attractive by any stretch of imagination. But for the thousands of starved eyes that inhabited DAV Boys’ Gopalapuram, she was all that. And more. She was our answer to Rockford’s Nandita Das, the cute Chink from that Korean movie or the bikini clad lady from the Van Halen song. DAV Boys had more than its share of weirdos, each odder than the next, but if there was something that they shared despite all their bizarreness, it was a crush on Miss Pretty. The Bulk, of course, was an exception.

What made her classes all the more enjoyable, for me, was the rare distinction of Teacher’s Pet. She had her flaws too, like her annoying habit of referring to me as ‘Bella’. That apart, there were few who’d refute my position as her favourite student in 12A. The reasons weren’t too far to seek either. Miss Pretty and I shared a love for clichés, however tiresome everyone else found them. Long hours were spent in class with us firing clichés at each other, as I gradually took over as the apple of her eye.

My love for clichés, as the last line would have demonstrated, persists to this very day. It's all well and good to come up with new stuff, but I, for one, would rather take a riff on the familiar. Besides, expressions become clichés because they work and people like them, buy them and therefore writers use them. They don't become clichés because writers are lazy and it's easier to repeat the same thing over and over than to think up something different. On second thought, writers do use them because they are lazy, but that’s not the point. Love them or hate them, there is no denying the fact that every other day, we encounter a situation perfectly described by the very clichés we love to hate.

One of my personal favourites has always been, ‘so near, yet so far’, perhaps owing to the frequency with which I come across situations apt for its usage. Like how I made it all the way to London but could not take the 6-hour train to Manchester. I visited Emirates and Wembley, but that only made Old Trafford seem all the more elusive. Or the time I topped just about every subject only to be denied the Bulk’s magical tally of 493 by a dismal 84% in Hindi. All that notwithstanding, yesterday would go down as the cruelest instance of ‘so near, yet so far’.

Even as I type, The Dubai International Film Festival is on, with the likes of Salma Hayek, Kim Kardashian and Yvonne Strahovsky within striking distance of yours truly. As you would expect, I was there with the Timid Twins, hoping and praying for the 500-dirham entry pass to magically appear on our palms. A hundred yards ahead of us, a blonde strode elegantly on the red carpet. “Nicole Kidman”, informed the security guard, before rushing to get a closer glimpse himself, leaving us at the mercy of his Terrier. The blonde was safely inside by the time the Twins stopped cursing each other for not bringing along a pair of binoculars. “If only we could teleport,” exclaimed one. “Or get hold of Hiro Nakamura”, chipped in the other. The conversation went on for a while; my only contribution, though, was, “so near, yet so far”.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Society, you're a crazy breed

Only for the third time in seven years, I’m on the island I once called home. It is still home for all technical purposes, but a cancerous proliferation of concrete has left me all but an alien in the locality I grew up in, but I’ll get to that in another post. Bahrain, for the uninitiated, is the Middle-East’s answer to Las Vegas. That, of course, isn’t saying much, but for a person who has spent the last thirty-odd months in a ghetto with nothing remotely feminine within a two-mile radius, the Island of Pearls is no less than Paradise.

The prospect of spotting an East-European belly-dancer from your balcony, sadly, doesn’t appeal as much to the average forty-plus NRI housewife, leading them to engage in less-exciting pursuits such as the weekly desi get-together. Needless to add, attendance is compulsory.

A pool-side dinner, Himesh oooing away in the background, sugary tea and spicy achaar- desi get-togethers in this part of the globe are all the same. While the mums and dads make small talk on how much weight each of them has lost and the kids make the most of the trampoline in the backyard, the solitary 20-year-old is far from welcome.

Yesterday, thankfully, I had company in the form of a hexagenarian bachelor in bell-bottoms. Earlier in the day, Chel$ki had wriggled its way into the last 16 of the Champions League, Lindsay Lohan was spotted kissing in Vermont and Fox News was rife with pictures of Christiano Ronaldo’s new girlfriend. None of that, however, seemed appropriate for a conversation with a retired neurosurgeon, particularly one sporting a T-shirt that read, ‘Om Sweet Om’.

After the mandatory ‘who/what/why/where/how are you’s were exchanged, our conversation seemed to have hit a dead-end. Bell Bottoms seemed far from defeated, though. With topics of interest running dry, he hit upon an infallible technique to ensure our conversation’s continuity. Excerpts:

Bell-bottoms: “You lived in Bangalore, didn’t you?”
Me: “Yes I did.”
BB: “Do you know Random Guy1?”
Me: “No I don’t.”
BB: “Do you know Random Guy2?”
Me: “No.”
BB: “Do you know Random Guy3?”
Me: “No.”
And so it went on.

Two hundred and sixty two ‘no’s’ later,

BB: “Do you know Random Guy 265?”
Me: “Oh yes, he was my classmate in Kindergarten.”
BB: “He was my neighbour. Isn’t that amazing?”
In the meantime, our tête-à-tête was cut short by The Good Host, who seemed troubled that I didn’t seem bored. “So Bell-Bottoms,” he enquired, “you seem to be having a great time with Dela.” “The usual, you know, old friends catching up”, replied the man whom I still know only as Mr. Bell-Bottoms.