Saturday, 19 December 2009

'When' Diagrams

Bookstores always bring out the worst in me. An hour spent leafing through novels and comic books well beyond my modest budget is all it takes to send my vows of austerity up in flames, leaving me in a Gollum-esque trance that I am fast growing used to. I even devise a few 'get-rich-quick’ schemes on the journey back home. Thankfully, good sense and laziness have prevailed, and my plans of robbing Nescafe haven’t seen the light of day. Yet.

Rummaging through that wonderfully haphazard dump of paperbacks that is Midland Book Store, my eyes fell on a yellowing copy of Tom Sawyer. The jaunt down memory lane it incited was, perhaps, inevitable; for Mark Twain's magnum opus was the first book I’d ever read that wasn’t illustrated by Anant Pai. I spent a good portion of the next hour in the Kids section, fondly flipping through Enid Blytons and Robert Arthurs. Beyond a point, I don’t think it is possible to look back at any book without being transported to the world we lived in when we first read it and recalling the inchoate hopes and dreams that guided our lives then. Books, movies, songs- every experience in the world is partly controlled by an imperceptible parameter of time, what I plan to call the ‘when’ factor when I eventually publish a treatise on the subject.

I saw ‘Wake Up Sid’ a fortnight ago. Much to my own surprise, I ended up liking the movie. For once, Ranbir Kapoor’s dressing sense didn’t make my eyes bleed; worse, I even liked a few of his T-shirts. Miracles, indeed, shall never cease.

Monday, 7 December 2009

And so it goes

The Corniche on King Faisal Highway remains my favourite promenade in the world, with Thomason Marg and Nanda Talkies Road filling up the second and third spots respectively. The place is Bahrain's answer to the Bandstands and Palm Beaches of the world- one of the few saving graces for the otherwise barrenArabian landscape. Stretching from the Bait-al-Quran, a 6 storey-museum dedicated to the Quran, to the swank Financial Towers, the path is almost symbolic of the one the island country has taken in the last three decades on its road to development.

It has been seven years since the last time I took a walk down the Corniche. What was once a daily ritual is now no more than another bookmark in the yellowing pages of fading memory. Seven years. I was another person back then. I was even called another name by my friends and relatives. In all the million changes in me between then and now, the Corniche still remains just the way it was. I suppose we all have our own special spots in the world- places that serve as reminders of all that we've lost to the unforgiving march of time. The Corniche is my spot.

Faith is never a matter of choice. For some of us, it is the mere accident of birth that determines our eisegeses of heaven and hell. Then there are others who believe that nothing in our life follows a pre-ordained script, that all stories are essentially a series of coincidences. And yet, there are junctures in all our lives that even the most skeptical of us looks back at and wonders if the hand of a greater power was indeed at work. Sooner or later, we all realize that things we once took for chance were really inevitable or, as the great Danny Boyle would have put it, written. I have reached that point now, as I stand before a board adorned with notices of a strange shade of pink, still firmly in the clutches of unemployment.

Two weeks from now, I will return to Bahrain, with or without gainful employment. No matter how horribly the next two weeks pan out, life can never be too bad as long as I can still take walks along the Corniche.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Feline Fits

An estimated 2.41 lakh candidates are said to have registered for CAT this year, and yours truly had hoped to be the only one in that vast expanse of humanity with a naught in the 'effort put in' column. You know, beginner’s luck and all that tosh. Sadly, The Incredible Bulk’s stout defiance has meant that we will be sharing the honours. While four years in R-Land have made the otherwise daunting task of turning up for an examination blank appear fairly routine, to repeat the feat in the second biggest event in the life of an Indian kid is, even by the high standards I’ve set for myself, quite daring. It isn’t without regret that I narrate my tale, though. The stubborn refusal to hit the books that took flight on the lofty perches of ‘I won’t join the IIMs even if I make the cut’ has now fallen into the more familiar depths of ‘if only I’d started studying earlier.’ Not for the first time, the Department of Electrical Engineering has done all it possibly coiuld to make a nuisance of itself, by lining up tests right till the end of the month.

There is a Tamil proverb that compares marriage to a poisoned confection of some sort dangling just beyond the reach of a thousand hungry apes. The ones that manage to get their hands on the sweetmeat die of poisoning, while the ones that don’t die of starvation. Oh wait, I think it was a Kannada proverb. Either way, for some reason, the analogy always reminded me of the frenzy that surrounds entrance examinations in our billion-strong nation.

I was catching up with Smelly Cat the other day. There was a time when we were as close as two straight males could possibly be, oft drawing comparisons to two peas in the metaphorical pod. In recent years, though, the distance between R-Land and Pilani has erected a wall too high for GTalk or Facebook to scale. My chaapos are his treats, and my fokiaap his studgiri. Five minutes into the conversation, I knew that things could never be the same between us ever again. What started off as a friendly chit-chat on life, the universe and everything gradually turned into a drab monologue on Artificial Intelligence- my rare contributions coming in the form of grunts and monosyllables. I was willing to forgive the guy this one indulgence though. His internship, after all, was at MIT where he has a Ph.D lined up under the same professor. Yes, the MIT, where the M stands for Massachusetts and not Madras.

Ironically enough, our last conversation was in June 2006- a good portion of which was spent consoling him for not making the cut in the JEE. Those were the days, indeed. Throughout high school, I saw JEE as a magical doorway of some sort-all you had to do was clear three tests and the rest of your life would open up in ways you could scarcely imagine. Four years hence, here I am- without a job and with as much a chance of making it to the IIMs as Ibu Hatela.

I can only hope that the IIMs are just as overrated.

P.S: Any comments containing the words ‘sour grapes’ shall be promptly deleted.

P.P.S: It was only after I typed out the entire post that I came across this. Stole the words from my mouth, in more ways than one. That said, I still can’t picture Madhavan and that Sukhi guy as college students. I can always make an exception for Aamir Khan, though.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Bah, humbug

You can’t help but wonder how your life could possibly get any worse when you spend Diwali all by yourself mechanically swallowing an insipid breakfast of oat-porridge and milk. I have turned off my mobile phone and shut myself indoors, in the hope that solitude will provide some sort of solace. It doesn’t, and for the fourth consecutive year in a row, Diwali is spent longing for home.

My first trip to the ‘Pataaki Bazaar’ in Jayanagar came two months after my sixth birthday. Grandpa, a far cry from his usual grouchy self, decided it was time he introduced his grandson to the thrills of atom bombs, rockets and bijlis. True to our TamBram roots, we stayed off 12th Main Road to avoid the ghastly sight of KP Butcher Shop (Estd. 1932) and the lambs and goats that hung from its ceilings . The market was no more than a kilometre away from where we lived, though the aforementioned detour nearly doubled the distance.

The trip soon became an annual ritual- year after year, Grandpa and I would set off to the market on the eve of Diwali, with the day’s Hindu for company. While I mentally conjured a shopping list of sorts, Grandpa spent much of the journey cavilling about the downward spiral the country was on. For its part, the Indian political establishment seldom let him down, with one scam or the other taking up much of The Hindu’s dull frontpage time and again.

On D-day, every kid in the neighbourhood gathered at the courtyard with his booty. There was a lot of pride at stake, with each kid vying for top spot in the race for arms. Once the fireworks began, though, there wasn’t a sound to be heard apart from the booms of Sivakasi-made gunpowder. For the next two hours, one hundred eyes looked up to the skies in unison admiring the spectacular barrage of rockets, aerial bombs and whatnot. The rigmarole of daily life somehow seemed to take a backseat for those two wonderful hours. Even Grandpa didn’t seem too worried about the future of Indian democracy any more.

The rockets will light up the Bangalore sky once again tonight. For the twelfth successive Diwali, I will be elsewhere.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

To be or knot to be

It has been close to a month and a half since I last posted. The 40 odd days that have transpired between ‘Fifty and counting’ and now have been unusually eventful- at once both dream and nightmare for a blogger. That is one of the downsides of blogging, I suppose- you are prone to the odd pangs of guilt every time you let a potential-post pass. There was a time in my early blogging days when I maintained a blue scribbling pad where I jotted down every anecdote I wanted to post but didn’t. As the years went by, sanity was restored and the pad became another speck in the vast pile of garbage that lies beneath my bed. Had I still maintained it, though, I would have found that almost all my ‘nearly entries’ post-July were centred on the same theme- marriage.

There was a time when I felt quite strongly about all matters concerning the holy knot. Strongly against, of course. My four years in R-Land, sadly, have left me more confused than ever. While weddings, matrimonial websites and arranged marriages continue to baffle and repulse me (yes, thank you Sheldon Cooper), quotes such as this one have left me convinced that society is better off married than single.

The wedding bells back home will be kept busy this 2010, with three of my cousins set to reach the magic figure of 26. The wedding halls have been chosen, the outfits purchased and even the gifts decided- all that remains, of course, is the bride. I quite enjoy the run-up to The Great Indian Wedding. Aunts and grannies who seldom check their mailboxes suddenly look up Iyengar girls on and Facebook with a dexterity that would make HHH hang his head in shame. Feminists who spend most of their desolate lives lamenting the rampant voyeurism in our country can be found looking up profile pictures and passing comments that range from the thinly-veiled (“This one has a big nose.”) to the blunt (“She looks like a slut.”) While it’s all good fun watching others having their soulmates picked by an army of chittis, athais and paatis, picturing myself at the receiving end of the ritual does send a chill down the spine.

Old Man K’s betrothal was held earlier this month, cruelly reminding yours truly and the iPot that our own big nights might be less than half a decade away. In the meantime, The Pink Prophet added to the entire clamour with his prediction that I will one day end up getting killed by my better half. Oh wait, I think it was the other way around- I’ll end up killing her.

Either way, 26 seems far more daunting than 21.2.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Fifty. And Counting.

Mambakkam is a sleepy hamlet two hundred kilometers south of Chennai, smack in the heart of what was once the Pallava Empire. The five-hundred strong settlement is an Indian village straight out of a Bharatiraja movie- the idyllic picture complete with a large pond adorned with lilies of an enchanting shade of cream. Our own bungalow was a pleasant yellow- the only concrete structure in the vicinity apart from the Pillayar Kovil to be allowed the luxury of paint. The house was in a mesmerizing state of ruin, perennially sporting a captivating fragrance that was a fusion of agarbattis, moss and cow-dung.

My favourite part of the house was an unusually long verandah, no wider than a couple of metres. The walls on both sides were lined by portraits and photo-frames from over the ages haphazardly nailed on the bluish-white walls- a picture of Grandma’s wedding ceremony and another of her father's graduation stood cheek by jowl. There was a haunting feeling, a sense of defying death, perhaps, about those fifty-odd black-and-white images that never quite left me.

I have always found photography fascinating. It is strange how it only takes a piece of paper and some fancy equipment to freeze a moment in time, sealed from the drills of age and death that we mortals are put through. Summer after summer, I'd catch Granny spending hours looking up, misty-eyed, at the frames and smiling at the unseeing eyes; taking her own sweet jaunts down memory lane. Occasionally, I'd even spot a tear or two. Having seventy years of your life stare down at you from a wall can be a daunting experience, I suppose.

True to its coastal location, the rains haunt Mambakkam with a numbing regularity. Yet, strangely enough, the village is caught unawares every single time, welcoming each spurt as if it were the first. Nothing could have prepared the hamlet for the cyclone that struck it late last year, though. I always thought the telephone poles the Government installed all over the village in the late 90's were an anachronism- the only eyesores in an otherwise perfectly medieval setting. The poles did little to improve their standing in my eyes when one of them was uprooted by the cyclone and landed right in the middle of my ancestral home, taking with it the verandah and the images and stories it withheld.

Much to my own disbelief, it has been fifty posts since I first decided to encroach on a few megabytes of webspace (two posts were subsequently deleted, if you're wondering why the numbers on the right don't add up). As clichéd as it might sound, the last forty-nine posts have all, to varying degrees, been steps on that long journey to self-discovery. I have often been asked why I wrote- not always out of exasperation, I must add. A few even ventured explanations of their own; the Bulk's 'Glory-Blogger' theory undoubtedly the most popular of the lot. I, for one, believe the asnwer lay somewhere in that verandah. I have always felt an inexplicable sense of warmth while wallowing in nostalgia- that huge void inside slips into oblivion, for a few wonderful moments. I think my posts have all, in one way or another, been patchy attempts to recreate my beloved verandah. Some day, I will look back at all this. And smile.

Monday, 3 August 2009


I have always found the gulf between theory and practice quite annoying. On paper, I could write ballads on the backhand- from Steffi Graf’s one-handed sliced backhand to Safin’s perfectly controlled two-hander. Yet, when I stood holding a racquet for the very first time on R-Land’s concrete courts, I skied twelve consecutive balls over the 20-foot high fence and onto the adjacent football ground. In another sport, my strokes would have been lauded by all and dubbed homeruns, sixers and whatnot. Tennis, sadly, has never been the most logical of games.

Over the years, many a wide-eyed kid has called me his role model and thanked me no end for inspiring him to achieve whatever little he managed to achieve in his miserable life. Without a hint of sarcasm, mind you. The mantle of the role model fell on my shoulders again that forgettable Friday evening. A small crowd had gathered around to watch the barrage of projectiles that I was sending over the hedge with unerring accuracy. ‘Look! That guy is in 4th year and he’s still worse than us,’ I heard one of the kids whisper, clutching his racquet with a newfound vigour. I had half a mind to give the bloke a sermon on geriatric wisdom and how tennis wasn’t one of the many fields it encompassed. I decided against it though, lest the R-word be brought up all over again.

You know you are older than you'd like to be when your playlist has more songs of John Denver than Nirvana. I turned twenty one a fortnight ago. It feels like seventy one, to quote the words Darth Canine used on his twenty-first. It is a strange thing to say, but for the first time in life, I feel terribly old. It isn't the mature, coming-of-age old. It's more a nostalgic, 'those were the days' brand of old. More's the pity.

As I languidly empty the contents of my sixth cup of coffee in as many hours, the matkas in the neighbouring canopy are busy planning their campaigns for the impending elections. The PM household is going about doing their thing. A long-haired fresher is humming Linkin Park’s latest, twirling his fingers into a range of convoluted positions while he did so. A couple is recreating a scene straight out of a chicklit novel- giggles exchanged, hands entwined, sweet nothings whispered- the whole nine yards.

Ever the silent spectator, I watch the motley crowd go about their business, constantly reminded of that timeless dialogue from Lethal Weapon- ‘I’m too old for this stuff.’

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Story

"Some people pass through your life and you never think about them. And there are some you think about, and wonder "whatever happened to them"? Dentist, maybe. Gossip columnist. No - divorce lawyer. Some you wonder if they ever wondered what happened to you. And then there are those... you wish you never had to think about again. But you do."

I suppose there are days in all our lives that we look back at and wonder if the cruel parting of ways with the quilt first thing in the morning was worth the trouble. Lazy chumps like my brother probably have them practically all the time. Though not the most industrious soul alive, I treat my past less derisively and strive to find a silver lining in even the gloomiest of days. Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when there wasn't one.

It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon- the sun was up, the birds chirped and all seemed well. I left for the CCD on Lloyds' Road for my daily dose of caffeine only to run into Miss Muffet. 'Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,' I exclaimed, only to be condescendingly reminded by the waiter that neither was the place a gin joint nor was it mine. Bemoaning the drop in the IQ of waiters in these parts, I jostled my way past a horde of coochie-cooing couples and greeted the lady.

If she was even remotely pleased by this chance meeting, she concealed it brilliantly. Miss Muffet seemed to have put on a few pounds since we'd last met, but, in retroispect, telling her so was probably not the best way to kick start our tête-à-tête.

Strange really. Ever since the time I first set sight on Metro Goldwyn Mayer's roaring lion, Hollywood had drilled into me a notion that a meeting of ex-es was a sight to behold- you know, old sparks flying and all that rot. That fateful afternoon, though, the darned sparks didn't so much as budge. To cut a long story short, my huge hopes for the summer have come to all but nothing. I shall return to R-Land later this week with my feet firmly entrenched in bachelorhood, perhaps firmer than they have ever been.

Oh well. Que sera sera.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Getting the BALS Rolling

Anyone standing beside Delhi's renowned India Gate at dusk that evening would be forgiven for thinking that he was in a scene straight out of a Hollywood period drama- Peter Jackson's latest epic, prehaps. The weather was more forgiving than it had been all month, with temperatures hovering around the 30 degree mark. Yes, touch wood, fingers crossed and all that. Even amidst the chaos of traffic, dust and street-hawkers, the sunset was quite a spectacle. As was the case with most sunsets, I soon pictured myself walking into it with the lady of my life. On this occasion, it was Ana Ivanovic. 'God is the greatest director of them all', declared Dreamy Joe, cruelly ending my wondeful reverie, 'and the capital his maginificent canvas.' 'Nothing wrong with the sets or the director', I replied, 'but he could have done a better job picking his actors.'
I'll board the Tamilnadu Express four days from now, bringing down the curtains on a fairly eventful stint at the capital. Many of my notions about the city and its people have altered considerably, though not always for the better. For one thing, the place is hotter than I'd imagined. Nevertheless, I have spent a month amidst Delhi-ites without losing my sanity, which is a fairly pleasant surprise. One thing that i have learnt is that if you leave logic and etiquette by your bedside table, Delhi is a wonderful place to live in.
'Lodhi Road isn't actually a road,' the Boss informed me a month ago, 'it's a locality. To get there, you'll have to take a bus to Sarai Kale Khan, which isn't a Sarai, but a bus terminus', the conversation strangely reminescent of a scene from one of my favourite movies ('Tum jo ho woh tum nahi ho, tum woh ho. Woh jo hai, woh wo nahi hai, woh tum ho. Main jo hoon kya main hoon?' Does it ring a bell?)
Over the course of the past two months, many have wondered what I did at work. A couple even asked me if I took a pillow along. Flustered, I have decided to put you, dear reader, through my average working day- a day in the life of Dela, if you like.
7.15: The alarm rings. Put it on snooze and continue sleeping.
7.20: It rings again. Slam it on the table to see if that makes it stop.
8.10: Wake up.
8.50: Stand in the sun waiting for that blighted 323.
10.00: Try to come up with a credible excuse for turning up an hour late.
10.15: Realize that noone really cares.
10.30: Start Firefox and open 3 tabs- Gmail, Facebook and
10.45: Set off for a cup of coffee, hoping to run into an HR girl I'd been eyeing for a while.
10.48: Find noone there.
11.30: Boss walks in asking for a report I'd been assigned two days ago. I start talking about his tie instead, buying myself a few precious minutes.
12.15: Submit the report courtesy Messrs Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.
12.30: Another round of coffee. Still no sign of the HR Girl.
2.15: Lunch time. Walk to the cafeteria with my colleagues only to find Rajma Rice and Aloo Zeera on the menu.
2.18: Pretend to receive a phone call and slip away to Eatopia.
2.23: Gorge on the best fusilli ever made by man.
3.10: The boss walks in with another assignment. Once again, the conversation turns to his ruddy tie.
4.05: To the coffee machine again. HR Girl is there this time, putting forth her two pence-worth on the Rupee-$ rate, how it had to stabilize around 47 for an optimal exchange-rate, export advantages and all that jazz. My opinion is sought. The only 47 I know is the bus that got me here from Andrews Ganj, I tell her. HR Girl leaves with a grunt. I continue to sip my cup of Georgia Gold, still wondering whether or not she got the joke.
5.15: One last cup of coffee and I'm off for the day. As they say, all in a day's work .

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Meet the V's

A long conversation with the Balding Successor on life, the universe and everything earlier today left me at my pensive best. As I set about the task of setting right the many wrongs of the world, I couldn’t help but wonder how much lovelier a place the world would be if I’d inherited more from my kin than my family’s trademark wavy hair and a double chin. For over a decade now, the M family has marvelled in unison at how a ToI-reading cynic was born into a perfectly perfect TamBram family such as theirs. To be fair though, the feeling is mutual. My idea of a day well-spent is one with at least hundred miles between me and the nearest kinsman. Exceptions do exist, of course, in the form of my brother, my parents and a smattering of cousins, uncles and aunts from here and there.

I have always had a soft corner for Sister V, though. For one thing, she makes the best vengaaya sambar this side of the Vindyas. For another, the V’s are officially my guardians for my stay at R-Land. As rosy as it might all seem, setting off for their abode in Mayur Vihar Phase-1 is hardly the lovey-dovey homecoming it might seem. Nothing comes easy in life- and certainly not vengaaya sambar.

I have not seen a leech till date and hope I never do. When people narrate their encounters with the horrid creature, I try to picture the person in the V’s living room longingly eyeing the door. The V’s have an uncanny sense of hospitality, you see. No one is allowed to leave their abode until he/she is left gasping for freedom. Pleas, excuses, alibis and lies are all nonchalantly dismissed by Old Man V, capped off with one of his trademark apothegms. “Chandni Chowk is no longer the place it once was.” “Birthday parties are for toddlers.” “Weddings are for 30 year olds.” “Movies are for retards.” I once even claimed I wanted to visit the local temple only to be told by Old man V that temples in the North weren’t worth visiting, before setting off on his own version of the Canterbury Tales.

After delaying the inevitable for a month, I finally gave in and promised Sister V that I’d join them for dinner tonight. Reluctantly, I stand outside the Sector 19 telephone Exchange patiently awaiting the arrival of my beloved 323. I find I'm so agitated, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the agitation only an imprisoned man can feel, an imprisoned man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I don’t make it across the border. I hope Old Man V forgets that he even had a nephew named Dela. I hope the buildings in Mayur Vihar Phase-1 are yellower than they were in my nightmares. I hope.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Bigger, Longer, Uncut

Though hardly the haughty narcissist people often accuse me of being, I spend an unusual amount of time in front of the mirror. My average day begins with five whole minutes spent staring at my own visage, more often than not, analyzing my hairline with a deep sense of satisfaction. Considering that no male family member in living memory has crossed forty with his hairline intact, satisfaction could make way to a minor sense of triumph at having safely crossed the halfway mark if I chose to dwell on it. I don’t. Not today certainly. The battle wounds from the previous night’s momentary lapse of reason were still fresh and bare.

A rush of blood, an hour too many in the sun and I was off on a date with the nearest barber. ‘Cuting- Rs. 25; Shawing- Rs. 10’, the board declared in emphatic red text. I left the place twenty minutes later- some stubborn bargaining ensured that I was ‘cute’ and ‘shawen’ for as little as 30 bucks. I returned more than pleased with myself. And then it began. I still hadn't taken off my shoes. Even the aroma of the aftershave hadn’t yet died away completely. “What did you cut your hair with? A lawn mower?” enquired one. “Get yourself a native American head-dress,” suggested another.

More brickbats have followed over the course of the week. For my part, I still see nothing wrong with my haircut. We Tambis are simple folk, you see. Our mental faculties assess hair solely on a single parameter basis. It’s either long or it isn’t. My instructions to my barber too are plain and simple- "cut it short". The entire ’60 degrees from here, a furrow there, a ridge here' routine is well beyond me. The very profound, “Why is the world a wannabe?” springs to mind. 

I always found it fascinating that values, opinions and habits accrued over an entire lifetime could change in little over a second, or, as one lovely song put it, dafatan. The KFC incident, the Thomso conversation, the walk down Nanda Talkies Road last winter- my life is littered with epiphanies. I had another later that night.

Everton played Chelsea in a fairly one-sided FA Cup final at the new Wembley. For the first time in a while, I caught aglimpse of one Marouane Fellaini. My hair shall never be taken lightly ever again, I decided. 

Friday, 8 May 2009

Monkey see, monkey do

The penultimate in the long list of schools I’ve attended had an hour a week dedicated to ‘personality development’. It was a sham; I doubt if any of our personalities developed a great deal during those sessions spent staring blankly at trees (soul-searching, they told us) in the cruel Madduland sun. Then again, it was a welcome break from the rigmarole of classes, 'slip' tests, assignments and whatnot. Plus the course was taken by this sprightly old man named Mr. Srinivasan who was nice enough to create corny nicknames for all 38 of us. He even carried along a jar of toffees to distribute during classes, so all was well. “Be yourself!” was one of Mr. Srinivasan’s many catchphrases, which was inevitably followed by a “You are unique!” in his trademark Tambi accent, with ‘n’ inevitably replaced by its huskier cousin (as in ‘ta tha da dha NA’).

Over the years, this is a dogma that has been thrown at me time and again by every counselor worth his salt. I, for one, never really bought the idea. I am prone to hero-worship; at times, even mimicry (like most other Cancarians, Wiki tells me). The entire concept of individuality is a myth floated around new-age self-help gurus and modern babajis. Role models, heroes, idols- what are all these but euphemisms for the human mind’s basic tendency to ape those around it? For all the talk of evolution, the sixth sense and all that garbage, a part of us still believes in dropping our hats simply because the hat-seller did so too.

I have had my share of heroes- Dad, Sachin Tendulkar, (Sir?)Ryan Giggs and, of course, Holden Caulfield. Even so, never has my urge to ape been exposed in all its filth and ugliness as it was during my first few months in R-Land. Which brings me, at long last, to today's lunch and why I’ll be telling my grandchildren about it many moons from now. Surdy Pop, Lefty, The Hairy Scouser, Bang-bang and The Decayed Canine sit before me as I devour another round of Dynasty’s heavenly Paneer Kali Mirch. Pulki and his Milan jersey, sadly, are conspicuous by their absence. For a few fleeting seconds, I am a wide-eyed freshman again- awestruck by the men(?) who now sit before me; keen to mimic everything they did- their mannerisms, their repartees; even their profanities seemed classy in an inexplicably adolescent way. The following spring reinstilled some semblance of wisdom in me. I began to see the Canine for the overtly-profane pseudo-haddu he truly was. Lefty and Bang-bang had their falls from grace following their failed attempts at ditching the Jedi and finding themselves a missus. Surdy, I strongly suspect, never forgave me for hitting his girlfriend with a paper plane on that ill-fated Bhawan Day.

Lunches like these will join a trillion others in my ‘Those-were-the-days’chronicles. As I wrestle with my third naan, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that what was once a fairly routine affair will now become a thing of the sepia-tinted past. I could probably snatch a dinner or two with a couple of them. All at once? The optimist in me asks me to focus on the paneer instead.

The halo that once surrounded them has faded away, the fascination is all but gone. And yet, the five (six, including Pulki) still remain special, each in a way of their own. With them gone, R-Land will be bereft of heroes; there’ll be no faces to look for at Nesci on a sultry free-afti, no rooms to crash for a late-night session of South Park. As mushy as it might sound, life just won’t be the same again.

There is no charm in growing old, I tell you.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Sweet dreams are made of these

For all the fuss I make about my rejection of destiny, luck and all that jazz, my iconoclasm succeeds in eluding me in times of need. Pascal’s gambit, I suppose.

It was another of those Saturday afternoons. The ceremonial ablution had been completed, the watery dal swallowed and the Gmail account checked and re-checked. ‘Write editorial; Photocopy power systems notes; Prepare for instrumentation TS’ read the to-do list I’d super-glued to my wall earlier that day. They could all wait. Two more hours would have to be killed before the long overdue visit of the Two Moneymen. IPL it would be for now, I decided. Much to the delight of a good many of my darker brethren, the Deccan Chargers seemed poised for a mammoth score. Five minutes into my arrival, three wickets had fallen and 200 now seemed a distant dream. There. The minority Mumbai Indians crowd now looked at me with an added sense of respect. With Tendulkar dropping a sitter minutes ago, a new messiah was needed. And he was found in the long-forgotten corners of Azad Bhawan.

My rating further soared an hour later. Tendulkar got Mumbai off to a decent start, with Duminy and Dhawan still to come. However, a five minute spell saw the three men throw away their wickets cheaply and put Mumbai seemed all but beaten. As luck would have it, it was precisely during those five blighted minutes that I chose to make the long trip to Nesci for a cup of coffee- my fifth of the day. “How could you do this to us?” exclaimed one distraught supporter. A few Harbhajan swings and misses sealed Mumbai’s fate. It was a lost cause now- even my presence could do little to alter the course of the match. The minority Mumbai crowd was left heartbroken, though my promises of staying rooted to my seat for every Indians’ game for the rest of the tournament lifted their spirits a fair bit.

The rain-gods were my next target. I prayed for the Chennai-Kolkata match to be washed out, to save me the trouble of reasoning with Cautley's bonehead of a canteen-wallah. They duly obliged. It was my day all right.

Nothing, though, could have braced me for the next forty five minutes. I gave the first half of the United-Spurs game a miss, choosing to attend The Two Moneymen’s generous treat at CCD instead. 2-0 down, read the scoreline on my return to Azad. “I hate saying this but my hope is thinning with each passing game,” I texted the Maddu Minion. Again, my arrival turned things around in a manner that I hadn’t imagined possible even in the wildest of my wild dreams.

A superhuman performance from Wayne Rooney ensured that Heurelho Gomes’ goal was breached five times in the next forty-five minutes. 5-2, the final score.

Liverpool, Juventus, Bayern Munich 1999, Tottenham 2001, Everton 2007, Aston Villa 2009, Tottenham 2009. The catalogue of great United comebacks has entered another chapter. Football, bloody hell!

P.S: Another football post. Apologies, Al.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Monday Morning Blues

I have always been a huge fan of liquor adverts. McDowell’s and its uber-lame ‘make-it-large’ series apart, most breweries come up with fantastic stuff to coerce the teetotalling millions into giving their principles a break. My all-time favourite is the Royal Challenge advert that was aired in the late ‘90s- the one where a guy practices his golf on a flight. He pulls off a fabulous putt and looks around hoping for applause, only to find his co-passengers in various stages of stupor. The world would be a far more wonderful place if only you could somehow pick your audience for each moment- you scratch your nose and every pair of eyes at Nesci looks on in disgust; later the same day, you score a stunning volley from 15 yards out with only the hapless goalkeeper and a couple of defenders in attendance.

I had my Royal Challenge moment earlier tonight, a tête-à-tête that I would have liked all and Kondy to overhear. It had all the makings of a highly forgettable conversation- I was into the last few minutes of a highly forgettable weekend, United had just lost to Everton and HOG and his threats of a back were still looming large on the horizon. I was hardly in the mood for any human contact, let alone three halfwits that proudly called themselves ‘True-Blues’. The next thirty minutes were a pleasant surprise- a reconfirmation of my constant accusation of Chel$ki being the embodiment of all things ugly in the beautiful game.

I never thought I could ever come to loathe anything more than Tutti-Frutti ice-cream and Liverpool FC. Then again, for all our hostility, there is an undeniable undercurrent of mutual respect in the Manc-Scouse rivalry. With Chel$ki, though, it is plainly a case of pure, unadulterated hatred. Strange, indeed, that only eight years ago, I eagerly looked forward to our trips to Stamford Bridge. Though never a fan, I really enjoyed watching the likes of Zola, Gronkjaer and Gudjohnsen play. Along came Abrahamovic with his oil. Chelsea would never be the same again. Nor would the Chelsea supporter. With the arrival of a bottomless bank account and an all-new squad, a new Chelsea supporter was born- one who did not mind the drab football Mourinho’s men played week after week as long as they brought (bought?) the silverware home. A Chelsea fan who turned up well in advance for the United-Porto game but leisurely sipped the Azad canteen’s heavenly mango shake fifteen minutes into his team’s own quarterfinal against Liverpool. One who spent hours cooking up lame Gtalk status messages, all on the recurrent theme of ‘I hate Man. United’ (Try this for creativity- ‘Roses are red, violets are blue; whatever you say, I’ll say F-U M.U.). A Blue who did not care how shamelessly Drogba dived as long as he won the all-important penalty. A Stamford Bridge where all in attendance believed that the end justified the means, no matter how many careers were ruined along the way.

Tonight’s result left me gutted. Fingers will be raised as they indeed should be. Everton were by far the hungrier of the two sides. While Moyes rattled off instructions to his players minutes before the shootout, Fergie seemed to be asking Macheda what flavor of ice-cream he wanted for dinner. Even so, the kids did us proud; our youth squad tore apart the side that stands sixth on the league table, with nothing to show for it. The situation I faced was a hopeless one, though. How do you explain the importance of a youth academy to three ‘die-hard’ Chelsea fans? How do you make them understand that not every club bought all its players from West Ham and some still believed in grooming home-grown talent? How do you tell them that every player started off at a youth academy, gained experience, peaked and turned thirty before joining a club like Chelsea? Exasperated, I tried another argument. I asked them about Maniche, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve Sidwell and dozens of other talented players who were bought at the prime of their careers, only to be discarded a year or two later, no more than shadows of the players they were on arrival at the Bridge. ‘What have you got to say about Andriy Shevchenko?’ I asked them. ‘Or Carlo Cuducini?’ ‘Just three words,’ replied True Blue-I. ‘Manchester United sucks.’

I rest my case.