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.