Friday, April 29, 2011

The Outsider

He stood outside peering through the window. He saw himself amidst them. Throwing his head back he laughed out aloud, laughing alongside them, he raised his glass as they did theirs and he drank to their health. They spoke among themselves of this, that and sundry as he lingered like a ghost, haunting the borders of their friendship. The familiar stranger caught passing, fluttering laughter or glances by the wings and hid them like secrets in the dark cave of his cupped hand, their littlest gestures he treasured, yet they flowed out freely and fluidly like golden yellow grains of sand. They knew he lingered yet he was not their kind, his gestures were too scant or too many, theirs, always heavy with care. Yet he stood outside the ring alone waiting for a hand, an outsider forever he was and as an outside forever he must stand.

Everytime Calcutta has crushed my heart, tiny bits and crumbs of it has scattered here and there, in every silent by-lane of North Calcutta, in the clamorous gullys and amidst heaps of trumeric in Gariahat, in every adda, kaku or mashir round-the-corner cha-er dokan, every road dug up for pointless repair, in every traffic signal, I am leaving behind bits of my heart in every garland that adorns the picture of the dying hero in movie theatres, in Shiraz's biryani, in Puchkas, in the 'Chintu's Chiness Dragon fast food stalls', in Pestry shops and in the 'Ma Tara Medical Stores'...

That there can be found beauty in depredation, a certain meaning in chaos, coolness in unforgiving heat, friends, opinions and advice in the most unexpeced places, Calcutta teaches one like no other. Here, I have learnt to fall in love with women with beautiful eyes, with Tagore's songs in their breath and waft of jasmine and camphor in their hair, Mahalaya's sonorous incantations, of Dhaak and Kashor jubilating every heart and the slanting golden-orange sunrays of winter afternoons when pigeons sweeten the languorous hours with their subtle clamour.

This city has taught me, to find a corner for myself in the most alien of environs. So, even though I sometimes feel like an outsider, a probashi in my own city, in its sheer materialness, it is home. I live here.

Although in the forseeable future Pune is going to be my new home, well, new and old, it is in this dust ridden, sickeningly humid, bombed out looking, heap of a city where walls are adorned by Shiv, Durga and Kali, every verandah nurtures the prospect of a beautiful face and where every alleyway smells ofTelebhaja, where my heart will forever reside.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My maiden at Eden

On the Sunday that was 13th of March 2010, Eden Gardens not only bore testament to Kolkata’s unremitting support for their home team, the Kolkata Knight Riders but also set a new benchmark for the Bangali’s resilience to searing summer-afternoon heat and the city’s famously obdurate humidity.

As our car devoured the great Red Road leading to one of the most politically significant corners of the city housing the Raj Bhavan, Writer’s Building, the High Court, the Mohan Bagan football club premises (The Bangali’s somewhat equate football with their passion for Leftist governance therefore the distinguished mention among places of political importance), All India Radio office and the Eden Gardens, all scooped within a 3-4 Kilometer radius from the Tribunal; indications of a sporting event being held in the city became palpable.
Cotton hats held tightly in place by ribbons fastened underneath the chin, grown men hurried towards the stadium tugging their little ones behind them, who also had miniature cotton hats on their miniature heads. Whole families, grandparents, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons marched on either side of Red Road’s smooth asphalt heading towards Eden Gardens for the second Indian Premier League 20-20 cricket match pitting KKR against liquor maven, Vijay Mallaya’s Royal Challengers Bangalore.

I like to view The Indian Premier League as a fat, rich man visiting a poverty-stricken village. Everybody wanted to be associated with him, to do favors for him, to ingratiate themselves with him, they would travel impossible distances to see him and to propitiate his cash-rich kindheartedness and soon he would have his own little cabal of followers, yes-men whom he would happily exploit later to stuff his coffers.

Expectedly the traffic grew thicker and subsequently impenetrable as we neared the stadium and after attempting numerous permutations of trying to find the least crowded route and the best parking space our driver gave up and disembarked us at a walk-able distance from Entrance no. 11, our designated entry and drove off to find suitable parking space and a smoke.

Outside, we were just two heads in an ocean of thousands; like fungi pullulating on a piece of damp wood in a stagnant pond. I saw people as far as my eyes could take me. Heads with long, stretchable balloons tied around them, heads with Vodafone ZooZoo caps, heads with shiny, frilly paper hats meant for birthday parties, heads with inordinate amounts of hair, heads with no hair, heads with cotton hats and still more heads with cotton hats. Painted faces and purple-gold stippled the galaxy of crazed homo sapiens pouring in from every direction and route available.
They formed huge bottlenecks near the entrances enumerated by boards, hanging from above, flashing bold numbers in black. The Kolkata Police personnel were visibly having a hellish time. Standing lined up alongside the entrances to make sure the queues were straight and their constituents obedient, many of them got pushed around violently and sometimes cussed under collective breaths, affording a frustrated Bangali or two the opportunity of a lifetime to vent their resentment towards the law enforcing bullies unleashing as much violence on them as the overwhelming crowd pushing from behind could make available.
With dada out in the field today let’s see who contains the Bangali, I sniggered to myself when suddenly dad grabbed my hand and yanked me near him forcefully and almost immediately a huge KKR flag swooshed before me passing exactly through where I was standing, cutting through the air sibilantly!

It was a couple of youngsters, KKR’s acolytes on a motorcycle, two of KKR’s throngs, hordes of unsung and woefully insignificant foot soldiers, clad in purple and gold. They swayed the massive flag from one side to another and zoomed past the queues wailing out the team’s war cry, the passion inducing, “Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo Re” literally translated as, “We shall do, we shall fight, we shall win”; obviously not as peppy as it would sound in the Bangali tongue.

Nevertheless, dad and I managed to meander our way through the gates and over to the security counter about 30 meters from the entrance to the seating facility and as we entered a dull thump of speakers started to assail our eardrums. It only mean one thing, there was a DJ in the Stadium! Now, the security check, simply involved a famished looking boy running his hands all over your body, starting from the face, all the way down to your privates and finally stopping at your feet. No one checked me for cameras or other electronic pocket-equipment. Careless. Yet, I felt sickened at the thought of blaming the poor guy seeing the sheer thousands more he would have to molest after us.

We couldn’t avail Club house tickets like my father always did but we were able to manage the next best available, to my knowledge, the Rs 1200/- tickets. It so turned out that our seats weren’t “right at the front, just behind the fence’’ at Section - G as dad had earlier speculated. Our search began to take us all the way to the back, further and further away from the fence and under the shaded area. With every step ascended, our heart sank a little till we finally spotted our two little seats at the farthest row of the Section. Disappointing. Now, although we were far at the back, surprisingly the view of the field was remarkably clear and the shade was a bonus!

I was on my way to experiencing an IPL cricket match at a Stadium for the first time in my life! What a moment for a couch-potato!

Both teams practiced and limbered up on two opposite ends of the field. Covered in velvety, green grass, the spotless outfield had three pitches in the middle (the one in the middle, covered by a Tarpaulin sheet being the main one), also multitasking as an implied partition which both teams seemed to respect very much.

To my left were the boys in purple, the hometown heroes, KKR and to my right, the RCs, looking dapper in their bright red uniforms. In my opinion, this season’s KKR uniform is a tad tacky. It always was, ridiculously shiny and loud, in complete contrast to their performance on field. Although this year’s purple and gold proved to be a bit of a relief to the eyes, the previous uniform resembled the liveries an 18th century knight. ????I don’t have anything against gold on black or purple but I do not fancy seeing the combination on anything except for sarees and designer pens. Period.

The view was nothing short of breathtaking! If you have ever witnessed a carnival in progress from a slightly higher plane you will know precisely what I am trying to get at. Never before had I seen anything that measured up even closely to this. The music set the mood for the evening as dance numbers boomed and echoed across all four corners of the stadium from monster sized speakers. There were giant screens along the entire periphery of the field, some showed popular commercials and some highlights from previous matches.

A loud voice echoed across the stadium announcing the names of contest winners, sponsors and general safety measures to be taken when inside. The MC of course, did his bit to raise a notch higher, passions already running high among the crowd, “Joddin ache Dada, ke debe badha?” (As long as there is Dada, who can stop us?). Almost immediately a cacophony of pipes, horns and trumpets sounded from every corner of the crowd in acknowledgment, a loud, reassuring reciprocation to a mere mention of Dada’s name. Dada, the magical trick-word, aroused passions, buoyed hopes of a dazzling performance and promised to bring back the elusive glory to the Knights. People danced to the beat of drummers thumping away powerfully at big marching drums strapped on to their shoulders, there was colour, lights, firecrackers, paper rockets zig zagging from one seat to another, confetti. “Look, our boys!”, dad said to me; the crowd suddenly exploded in a deafening tumult and roared. Thousands of flags fluttered as the KKRs jogged gracefully up to the fence lines, their legs falling and retreating in perfect synchronization with each other’s. Every camera in our Section followed the men led by Saurav Ganguly as they finished their last lap and slowly headed back to the pavilion.

As if to compensate their departure, out came from nowhere, the Cheerleaders! And it was then that the Bangali almost entirely lost it…

The thumping of the speakers came close to becoming unbearable as these voluptuous belles, each befitting a lifeguard’s role in Baywatch pranced out in groups amidst earsplitting applause from all corners, running gracefully along the boundary, encircling the stadium and entrancing the Bangali. Although their attire now showed palpable signs of generous tailoring to suit Indian standards of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’, two virtues we Indians are richly endowed with and would lay down the lives of our countrymen protecting, quality is a virtue that cannot be concealed and these girls overflowed with it. What would the Bangali not give just to have a photograph taken with one of these dancers, what would he not forsake to shake a leg with these pom-pom sporting, blond nymphs, what would a Bangali not sacrifice just to stand next to one of these ethereal beings??

The Toss ensued shortly, declaring KKR as the winner who chose to bowl. It was a bowling wicket alright. An indication to which became apparent during Ishant Sharma’s bowling practice that we had the absolute pleasure of watching. His long tresses trailing behind him, the Goliath of a man hurtled down the runway like a speeding comet and reached the bowling crease within the bat of an eyelid. Like a Cobra poising its hood before a lethal strike, he rose high up in the air and landing back softly on the ground heaved the ball towards the wicket with all the force that six feet something frame could draw together. Almost immediately the wicket on the other end of the crease exploded with all three stumps bouncing off in different directions and bales spinning in the air like ejected cartridges from a machine gun, the interesting bit was, I never saw the ball, just a whizzing blur. Now, I wouldn’t want to be standing on the other end facing that!

Pre match interviews were quickly wrapped up as the crowds were getting impatient and typical Bangali sentiments rich with expletives started filling the air.

The screens that till now kept flashing images of Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif talking to important people and other Club house ornamentations amidst camera flashes, journalists, etc; suddenly began showing the KKR players pouring out into the field and assuming respective field positions. Dada marched out, eyes blinking, talking to Owais Shah, looking thoughtful as always as the crowds greeted their Messiah with another wave of deafening cacophony, flags, confetti, pipes, drums et all. The MC blathered all the adjectives his limited Bengali could afford him in welcoming KKR and Dada on to the field but was almost muted by the tumult. Seconds later, appeared heading for the batting pitch, were the two RC openers swinging their arms and jogging on their way. They were cheered for too, I just couldn’t hear it!

Suddenly everything went dead still, it almost seemed like someone had turned a giant volume knob somewhere. The batsmen were in position and so were the fielders, Ishant Sharma stood silently like a towering giant, heaving, waiting, the gleaming new Kookaburra sphere safely ensconced between his fingers in a fast-bowl grip.

The screens went blank for a second or two and immediately thereafter came to life showing the Umpire signaling Sharma. With an earsplitting bang, off went firecrackers blowing humongous and billowy clouds of silver and gold confetti into the air as Sharma commenced his hurtle of death down the runway. And so with it began my first IPL 20-20 experience!

Now, everything was rosy till the game actually began, what is interesting are the events which followed, which in a way also happens to be largely the intended subject of this blog entry.

Much has been said about Kolkatans at the Eden and what great sports they can be, they handle losses real well and refuse to leave without a burning, searing impression. But this time around there was a generous distribution of Biriyani chomping Kolkata Police personnel among the people to make sure that no such frivolities took place. Completely ignorant of the many unattended boxes and bags scattered around, our “Pooleesh-men” slouched on their shaded, back of the stadium seats, discolored napkins spread on the necks, demolishing mega size boxes of Biriyani.

I was just taking my mind off them when a bunch of teenagers rushed in from somewhere and noisily occupied the seats in front of us. Not only were they completely inebriated but all of them wore those longish ZooZoo hats. These annoying inflatable hats consist of a rubbery, tubular balloon meant to be worn around the head with a big, grinning ZooZoo over the forehead, a simple contraption capable of completely blocking out the view ahead of anybody seated behind the wearer. As if that weren’t enough they wouldn’t stop chattering and jumping on each other for no reason, which literally cut us off from the entire cricket match because now, not only could we not see, we couldn’t hear anything either. Dad and I joined forces with a gentleman seated next to us in sternly asking them to choose other seats as they were disturbing us. Instead, these hoodlums took their ZooZoo hats off and resumed their annoying prattle.

“Give us a Mexican Wave now..” echoed the MC’s booming voice and what a spectacular sight it was to watch the wave originate from the farthest end of the stadium where everybody, old and young, men and women alike rose up from their seats arms raised to make the wave. When it rushed at us, I did too. Dad just sat there sulking; “How did we end up with these seats? How did these bumkins get into this section, cant I even watch the match peacefully without asking people to sit down all the time, is this what I paid for..?” I convinced my father that it was a stadium and such things were expected, “It’s all a part of the experience!”, I said, slurping my Coke.

The RCs by now were limping on their way to not a winning but a face saving score which I speculated wouldn’t cross 110-115 by any means, wickets had fallen like nine pins and their batting had taken somewhat of a lackadaisical disposition. Ganguly, like the chief conspirator always shuttled between mid on and mid off, staying close to his bowlers and whispering into their ears every now and then. Jaques Kallis who had initially raised hopes for the RC by striking a boundary or two bandied the ball around a few times before getting dismissed and the other batsmen above and below him on the roll began following suit quickly. With their hero down the RC’s batting turned even more lackluster. In deep contrast to that was the mood in the stands….jubilant! That only meant that dad and I had to forsake our seats and start standing up just to get a clear view of the field. People just wouldn’t sit. Excited teenagers stood atop their seats at every boundary and gyrated their posteriors vulgarly to the music. We weighed our options; we could either keep standing up and sitting down with the crowd , that way we could at least see what is going on in the field or remain seated and be canopied by gyrating buttocks from all sides. Next boundary, we stood!

The first innings were over before schedule and there were around twenty minutes for KKR to come out to bat. The DJ pushed his music to overdrive, the MC commenced his nonsense and out came hopping, skipping and jumping the Cheerleaders and with them the IPL mascots; big, fluffy tigers called Hoogli. I imagined poor Bangalis trundling inside those heavy, tiger costumes, laboriously prancing and lolloping around in the heat, cursing the whole venture, swearing by the very succulence of the podda-ilish, what a confoundedly lousy job!

The RCs had managed a paltry 135 during their 20 overs and the public couldn’t wait for the second half to start, to watch Dada dear and his boys chew the heads off Mallaya’s RC. Dad and I quickly discarded our seats and raced downstairs to the lower areas, there were many unoccupied seats there and our aim was to get two corner ones, free from the prancing, screaming monkeys, two of whom, I saw, had already occupied our discarded seats above. It was safe as the match was already half way through and no one would check our tickets at that juncture, besides we would get a better, closer view of the field. The crowd there looked decent, at least not the type to act like lab monkeys on a testosterone overdose every time a four or six was hit!

The second innings had already begun under the day-like brightness of the floodlights when I reached our new spot with fresh supplies of chilled Coke and a couple of paper hats for dad and myself. We were no longer under the shade. Although it was post 5.30 pm and we didn’t really need those hats, I thought we should do our bit to blend in, be a part of the IPL fever, represent a more respectable, dignified audience who being very much a part of the revelry wouldn’t at any cost lose composure and discard self respect at the tiniest provocation and I was sure the hats would do it.

Our new location was a good 10 rows away from the fence. A TV camera propped up by a crane and manned by a camera man standing on the field, hovered over us like a bespectacled professor keeping a close eye on his students at an examination. It bothered me. I have always been rather ill at ease with things and more so, people hovering over me, keeping a close eye, observing and making copious notes of my behavior, my mannerisms.

Nevertheless, my reverie was broken when a loud crack assailed my eardrums; it was the percussive outcome of a Kookaburra ball meeting ninety eight centimeters and two kilos of pure willow. The harder the smack, the sharper the crack. The percussionist here, Hodge had executed a powerful lofty drive sending the ball shooting at an unfathomable pace hundreds of feet far into the evening sky like a missile. All of us strained our eyes and craned our necks to spot it but the floodlights made it impossible to do so, it reappeared again in our visual horizons as a miniscule white dot hurtling down from the gossamer tropospheric echelons over Eden Gardens, disrupting the flight path of a pair of eagles that scattered away in the sky, utterly bewildered by the speeding white comet, the Kookaburra ball began plummeting towards the stands assuring six runs to KKR’s scorecard. What a phenomenal knock! And as feared, the Bangali lost it again! Dad and I were complacent though, “there is good crowd here, they won’t get rowdy!”, dad told me. No sooner had he said that, Eden erupted and we were standing again!

An elbow butted in from the side and knocked off my coke and a thin boy of about fifteen whose elbow it was I presumed, leapt atop the seat like a frog and began jumping up and down noisily holding up a huge ‘Knight Riders’ banner between both his hands and he was not the only one to be doing so, Eden exploded with a uproar comparable to the proportions of a thermonuclear detonation to celebrate the ball’s homecoming from its great cosmic sojourn, firecrackers went off and there was confetti everywhere, the crowds were blanketed by fluttering flags and banners, THUMP..THUMP…THUMP…THUMP went the speakers, the MC began blabbering, out came the dancing beauties and the peripheral screens flashed funny exclamations. What a party!

The carousing had died down a little when I turned towards the culprit who had knocked off my Coke. He wasn’t there in the first place when we had taken those seats. I realized he had come down leaping over the rows behind us and had managed to noiselessly creep into our’s and of all other places had chosen the seat next to mine. I had no mood to chide the cretin for the Coke and neither did he apologize. He just sat there gaunt and proud, a bespectacled nerd, as thin as a reed with a faint, developing forestation above his upper lip and an oversized mobile phone hanging from a strap around his neck, a rolled up KKR banner in one hand and a half eaten sandwich in the other. A stereotypical marvel!

By now, knowing fully well which direction the match was heading for the KKR batsmen started taking it easy. The started missing a few balls here and there and ran tardily across the wickets. This was not acceptable to the Bangali and no sooner had Tiwari missed hitting a ball, “ Ei Bari ja!” (“Go home!”), “Kaavarta puro phanka, Kaavarta maar!!” (“The Cover is completely unguarded, hit it in the Cover!”), “Ei maar na!” (In exasperation, “Oh please, hit it!”) and other expressions of dismay started becoming audible.

The Knight Riders however were brought to a safe disposition with Hodge and Manoj Tiwari going on to score their respective 50s and Dada still duking it out. Now, it was his turn to disturb the peace by beautifully cover-driving the ball straight to the boundary for a four. Amidst the din; “Maa Maa Maa, akhon score holo eksho dui, aaro choutirish raan jetar jonno, tumi TV-te dekhchho to?!” (Mommy Mommy Mommy the present score is 102, 34 more runs to win, I hope you’re following it on the TV!!), the nerd said on his Walkie Talkie. Soon, there was another four, “Maaa Dada Char merechhe!” (Mommy Dada hit a four), thereafter, two runs, “Maa Maa Maa, duu raan, duu raan”, (Mommy Mommy two runs, two runs), I was just reaching the end of my tether when as if by divine intervention, on came a three minute Strategic Break.

As the peripheral screens showed the countdown I notice something odd. The seats around us had started filling up gradually and the very crowd we were running away from was slowly closing in on us. By then two very different, somewhat queer people came and parked themselves right in front of us. Both had unusually done up hair, definitely not something one would expect to find at a stadium. Their hairstyle reminded me of actresses from the 70s’ Eastman color Hindi movies era, hair bundled on top of the heads in a huge, flawless bun with thick spiraling strands bouncing up and down in front of the face. On the other hand those shoulders looked incredibly masculine and their voices, deep. One of them raised an arm for some reason and it was then that I noticed it, hair! Lots of it! Eunuchs! The only two Eunuchs at Eden Gardens and they sat right in front of dad and I and again, our view was blocked by two humongous mountains of hair! I looked up at the sky but there was no heaven over Kolkata.

The crowd began chanting… “Five…four….three...two…one!” Strategic break being over the game resumed. A snack vendor scurried past our row like a house-rat. He was trying to sell his wares and avoid been spotted by the Police, he bent as low as his backbone permitted and was in a great hurry. He had almost gone past us but the transmitters on nerd boy’s head spotted him right away; “Daadaa, daaadaaa, daadaa…Bhel Puri…Bhel Puri!” (Too annoying to translate!), he hollered, “Dada Badam dao badam, lonka dio na” (Hey, add lots of nuts, no chillies!); his plate passed through us, hand to hand from one end of the row to where His Majesty sat. He gazed at it for a bit, then with a disdainful expression and to my utter exasperation said, “O ma, sauce koi? Sauce dao sauce, Sauce Koi, daoni keno!” (How come there’s no sauce, gimme sauce, why is there no sauce, why didn’t you give me?!), the plate went back again from whence it came, passing from one hand to another all the way to the furious vendor who jerked a bottle of ketchup all over it and again placed the plate on the human conveyor belt. The payment also went to him the same way much to our chagrin and that of the others in the row.

With the consequentiality of the game being more or less known, the entertainment hungry Bangali waited impatiently for boundary hits as it was then that the young Cheerleaders would show up and once they did, there was no stopping these people;

Young and old alike stood boldly facing the Cheerleaders. Pot bellies, wobbling, arthritic knees, spectacles with magnifying glasses fitted in them, broken teeth, all swayed and jerked to the music. This section of the audience privileged enough to have obtained front-seat tickets cavorted with twice the conviviality and thrice the energy of the rest of the crowd.

The middle aged men resorted to a dance form I have keenly observed over the years as THE stereotypical ‘pot-bellied-middle-aged-man’s-dance’; a sort of ‘bastardized bhangra meets Shantiniketan’ approach you’ll observe at uncle & aunty parties after Ghazals give way to Hindi music and the whiskey begins to benumb senses, infusing the attendants with enough lightheartedness to abandon all inhibitions and with it their self respect. It is an interesting dance form which has, in fact, little to do with the tempo or rhythm of the music, it involves the dancer holding both his hands up in the air, slowly pushing them up and kicking his legs about gently, giving the billowing belly the leeway to swing and wobble like it were alive and had a name!

There’s another amusing dichotomy I noticed among the younger crowd at Eden. While the rather well-supplied, 50 Cent fed youngsters did what seemed as the Gangsta Rap moves; standing atop their seats they swayed from side to side with their legs wide apart, one hand on the crotch and the other in the air, replete with a bandana and shiny, long necklaces! The other somewhat less privileged youngsters with their bizarre, badly misplaced sense of style (often provoking embarrassing misunderstandings) , tight t-shirts, curly hair, painted nails and fake, blonde streaks interrupting an otherwise normal, black mane, swayed their arms and curled their wrists gently resembling sea weed in strong current. While with strange, feminine grace these youngsters expressed their pleasure at the lolloping, white skinned beauties, the former, the gangsta rappers decided to take over the reigns. One particularly enthusiastic guy stood on his seat and assiduously pointed his finger at the Cheerleaders gesturing at them as though he were taking dance classes, as though he was instructing them… “Comeonnowgirls, one, two, threefourfive, six, seven, eightnineten!”

With 18 more runs left to be fetched from 10 balls, the peripheral screens began showing a thumping heart symbolizing, quite unnecessarily though, a nervous finality. A dull mottle of red and pink, the appendage throbbed with a sound of “Dhuk Dhuk Dhuk”, cutting clearly through the now hushed crowd. They took the thumping seriously, it was time to chomp nails and blink eyes when a huge six by Dada set the ball rolling again. The sea weeds swayed; the gangsta rappers grabbed their crotches harder and began belting out dance instructions and the giant mounds of hair in front of us wobbled in delight.

Dad and I were standing again! Next ball, Dada was happily walking back to the pavilion swinging his bat to and fro.

I had noticed her soft, black hair through the wired fences before but couldn’t catch a proper glimpse of her face. I was not anxious initially but her facial contours, that kept playing hide and seek with me through her hair was increasingly becoming a diversion and I often felt tempted to look her way. Each time the wind blew into her face, it displaced some of her hair and fragments of her features started revealing themselves to me. High cheekbones gave way to a smooth, angular descent before ending in a pout, delicate lips, childlike, baby-pink, un-colored and un-spoilt by artificial, chemical hues promised prospects far dislodged from mediocrity. But I hadn’t felt the full impact of her radiant presence until she rose up from her seat, it was that the entire extent of her youthful resplendence unfurled before me like a rose in bloom. As she sashayed down the stairs towards the drinks counter I noticed her lissome body, a penumbral shape of a young woman somewhere between late teens and a generously bestowed adulthood, a flawless form of hand-drawing-like perfection, every stroke, shade, soft curve, a rare, fitting tribute to the ineffable artistic genius nature often reveals itself to be.

Her soft skin gave off an opalescent glow in the effulgent overhead lights and spangles of bright light dazzled from the tops of her thin shoulders like diamonds as she delicately raised both arms and with thin, long fingers and restored behind her delicately carved ears the wind blown hair from her face. She could not have possibly learnt that gait from anywhere or anybody and I could not imagine she would be the type to emulate those white skinned carcasses that cat-walked down ramps on Fashion TV but there was something definitely extraordinary about that walk. It was not much of a walk, really. Calling it one would wrongfully deny her grace, justice; it was more like an elegant dance, one that exuded overwhelming sensuality. Her fragile arms swung elegantly ahead and behind her hips as she walked, dainty step after step and her elbows danced freely with long forearms hanging gracefully there from. The clusters of hair hanging in front of her face rested in clumps over her shoulders and jumped gently every time she took a step and her large earrings dangled. They dangled, close to her cheeks, like they were best of friends with her cheekbones, why wouldn’t they?

Slowly and gracefully she disappeared inside and I was still gaping at the doorway long after she was gone when all of a sudden I awoke from my time-warp. The Cacophony and din of my real-world surroundings came rushing painfully back to my head and filled up the empty spaces like high tide at a rocky shore.

“ 3 more runs to go, 7 balls, don’t leave now stupid, we’ll be off pretty soon anyway, might as well see the boys through it!”, dad said as I was getting up to go downstairs. He made sense, as people had already lined up in long, serpentine queues making their way outside the stadium and it would be madness trying to get downstairs now. The object of my awestruck-ness had somehow managed to take her lithe self through the sweaty, hairy crowds but it was futile for me to try to look for her. She was lost. Lost like a fresh, minty breath in a giant, dark mouth. Like the Biriyani chomping policeman’s?

As for the hypocrites, whose enthusiasm popped as soon as the victory of their home team had become a certainty, started pouring out of the stadium by the hundreds. My father and I decided to sit till the winning score was secured and soon a blazing four struck by Owais Saha hammered the last nail in RC’s coffin. We felt the need to hang around till the last blow on RC was struck. We owed it to our Knights. Surprisingly there was hardly any din this time. Where were the pipes, where were the drums, the horns, flags? The winning run was secured wasn’t it?

Money’s worth had been redeemed and KKR had showed its big fun trick, Dada had saved the day with his 23 and so nobody wanted to hang around anymore. The award-ceremony didn’t matter a dime and nobody seemed to give it any more consideration then they would to a rodent’s posterior. The Cheerleaders with their flowing, golden hair were nowhere to be seen and the big, fluffy Hooglies lay deflated, propped up against the walls across the boundary and their inhabitants sat spread-legged on the field panting, gasping, trying to devour as much oxygen as their orifices could imbibe. I think I saw one of them retch, from inhaling for too long the fetid smell of their own perspiration.

The geek was gone, we didn’t see him go. He must have left the same way he came, bounding and leaping over the rows behind us. He left behind his half-eaten plate of Bhel Puri for his buzzing and whirring little friends who had already started making circles over it. The mounds of hair in front of us rose; gaudy dresses and hairy arms; looking back at us the both of them pouted their lips and one put his thick finger on the edge of his lower lip. They said something to each other in baritone whispers and then waddled away. The Gangsta rappers, distraught that their blonde, voluptuous, pom-pom sporting students on the field had been ushered away were now preparing to leave and so were the sea-weed, one of them started playing a popular Hindi film song from his huge and elaborately detailed Chinese made cell phone and for one last time did his waving-sea-weed-ocean-hydra move, grinning from ear to ear, only his white teeth visible under that explosion of curly gel-greased hair with shiny-blonde streaks.

Making sure the award ceremony had ended my father and I started our descent down the stairs, down to the refreshment floor, through the security check and further out into the open, out of Eden Gardens. I turned around to take one last look at the crowd that snaked out of Eden Garden’s belly. Deflated Zoozoos, crumpled clothes, wet armpits, disheveled hair and babies sleeping on their mother’s shoulders, all sauntered out into the evening air. I wondered if she was around. No, she wasn’t. She was gone and my heart sank a little.

The sound of hooves and gallops filled the air as a number of mounted policemen closed in tightly along the queues to prevent the crowd from entering the High Court premises which were almost next door to the Garden. The horses, with their crusted tails and muddy bottoms caused swift crinkles and ripples on their skins to keep out annoying flies that kept buzzing around the dried excrement and watched silently as the foot soldiers, the lesser Knights began pouring out into the night lamp-lit streets, heading home in the hundreds, back to their regular de-Knighted lives where missed busses, perspiration stains, flies, low pay, pot-holed roads, sleazy politics, slums, power and water shortage and not cheerleaders, confetti, pipes and fluffy tigers, were the reality.

A horse neighed and lowered its hairy, glistening neck to gnaw on something on the ground revealing a large hoarding. It showed Shah Rukh Khan in a dramatic poise with KKR Cricketers radiating out in every direction from behind him in a spangled explosion of purple and gold. It appeared as though they were reposing on a chariot that spurted stars and glowing orbs in the purple sky. The great corporate chariot whence mavens, barons, movie stars, millionaires, billionaires, gazillionaires and if there exists a kind beyond that, drove the populace, whipping them into coughing up ridiculous sums of money they could ill-afford, to buy a few hours of their product, a mini carnival-esque cricket match. These foot soldiers probably will never realize that while the real game transpired within the confines of board rooms and conference halls where billions changed hands and talent, new and old, measured, auctioned and sold; on the field there was no point being heartbroken every time their beloved teams lost by narrow margins, committed annoying mistakes, missed simple catches, scored ducks or ran tardily across wickets. The pain didn’t matter to anybody, neither the ones inside the boardrooms nor the ones outside, on the field.

IPL primarily remains that fat rich profligate man visiting a poverty-stricken village seeking propitiation of its people only to milk them later on of their own money.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

(This is a little something I had written ages back for an online rock magazine called; on browzing through it the other day I stumbled across this write up and decided to put it up for my readers here on
It talks in details about man's inherent sense of rhythm and the emergence and relevance of hand drumming all over the world. You wouldnt find the exact same article on the website as I have made a few grammatical and factual corrections here, nevertheless, in essence it remains the same.)
Those who have been brought up in one of the many traditional and musically inclined Indian joint families can surely identify with the indubitable fact that music, in whichever form it may be running down their respective family lineages, is and will always be a fundamental basis on which the family heritage survives. In India as well as in various other cultures, percussion, besides other forms of music have for years been such a channel through with rich tradition has been passed down from one generation to the next.
For centuries countless pairs of hands have been fashioned and perfected in order to master the art of laying down rhythms on resonant surfaces, the one important truth it has established is that, it is the hands that come first and then the surface on which it plays. Both are of paramount significance when we are talking about drumming. My point here is not the instruments or the tradition, not even the musicians, it is the two surfaces that create pure magic when they come together, the skins.
The following is a brief journey that’ll attempt to explore the importance of hand rhythms, their deep rooting in tradition and how they stand for man’s inner pulse;
Music, as I’ve always maintained, comes straight from one’s own inner self, it’s the manifestation of man’s undying hunger to express, therefore for the primitive man, drumming on a surface with his bare, naked palms came the closest to expressing what was hidden deep beneath. Physical contact with the instrument was needed to transfer thoughts into it, so it could proclaim in it’s own distinct lingo what its master had in mind. With the realization later on, that such hand drums could be used as outstanding sources of rhythm for backing up other musicians, the relevance of hand percussion started uncovering itself.
Even today more than half the world’s drums are played by hands. Traditionally one’s palms have been considered the best beaters for most drums save for the few others that had such skins and such build that needed and responded better to sticking, this resulted in various striking, finger rolling, muffling and slapping techniques to evolve gradually. Such techniques, very precisely, made the most of the various tonalities of a hand drum thereby attributing an intricate and detailed sound to any rhythm pattern. Such techniques are used widely today and many have been innovated upon and fashioned to suit the changing musical perspectives.
One shall notice that a rhythm played on a drum with the fingers and the palms have an altogether different feel to it, but it sounds totally different when laid down on the same instrument with sticks or mallets. This happens due to the difference in the surface area of a palm and that of the striking section of the mallet, i.e. the head. That’s why most hand drums sound differently on being played on by mallets and come out with their natural sounds when played on with the hands. This is the nature of hand drumming and this is where it’s power lies.
Most hand drums are of two kinds, the single surfaced or ‘headed’ ones and the double headed ones. Of the two surfaces of a double headed drum, one is normally the Base surface, on which the baser accents are played and the other one is the Treble surface on which, mostly finger rolling or slapping is used in order to construct a full beat pattern.
The Indian Tablas, for example are considered to be one of the most expressive instruments apart from the Iranian Tombaks. These are actually two separate, single-headed drums; with a black dot on each head called the Gab or Shyahi placed exactly at the center of the drumhead. These Gabs give the drums their distinct sound. The wooden pegs on the edges can be hammered and tightened to improve the tone. Most of these tones have traditional names such as, “ta”, “ki”, “Na” etc are called “bols” and can be sung or recited by the player. The range of the Tablas is basically two octaves. The Dholak, Dhol, Mridangam, Pakhawaj, on the other hand are two-headed hand drums played with the fingers. The Kanjira is another small, single headed lizard skin drum known for its raw base tone, has only one little zil or Jingle on its sides. The Ghatam, on the other hand, is a clay pot on which slapping techniques and finger dribbling is employed in order to bring out that characteristic ‘clattering’ sound, the mouth of the Ghatam can be covered with cupped hands in order to produce woofing base accents.
The Iranian Duffs, similar to the Arabic Riqs are traditional frame drums that have very similar playing techniques yet they are fundamentally different. In case of the former, rings are attached to the inner surface of the drum in order to give it a distinct raw sound, whereas the latter, has zils attached to it, like the Kanjira and it of course sounds different. Most small frame drums are gripped by either the right or the left hand from the bottom with the skin facing away from the player and the comparatively larger ones such as the Irish Bodhrans or the Tars are held under the arms or between the legs and can be played with a brush and hand combination.
Glen Velez, the Frame Drum maestro’s contribution to Frame Drumming has brought these traditional instruments to the forefront and into popular music today. He invented a drum set constituting only Frame Drums and was the first musician to master the brush and hand combo technique. Almost every country has it’s own set of Frame Drums, we’ve heard about the Indian ones, few of the other lesser known yet extremely time-honored and classy instruments are the Spanish Adufe (a double headed drum), the Brazilian Pandeiro, the Italian Tamburello and the Ghaval from Azerbaijan. Frame Drums with thin skins are finger sensitive and a variety of finger drumming techniques can be used on them but the ones with a thicker membrane need sticking. Fingernails, fingertips and sometimes knuckles can also be effectively used to make very high-pitched tones on few sections of the drum such as the drum shell or near the edges.
Arabic drumming is primarily based on three important tones i.e. ‘Doum, tak and kah’; but Persian drumming is slightly different from this as they use ‘snapping techniques’ to make high pitched sounds and don’t use the ‘Kah’.
The Middle Eastern Doumbeks or Tonbaks/Tombaks are another separate category of goblet shaped drums made of Ceramic or metal, held between the legs or underneath an arm and played with both palms in a ‘circular fashion’, in this technique the base of the palm and the fingers are mostly used in a cyclic motion to play rhythms on the drum surface. These methods of course have slight variations and differ from drum to drum.
Africa is another ‘world power’ as far as rhythm is concerned. Unlike the Middle Eastern system of rhythm that has a lot of similarities with the Indian one, one will find a lot of distinctions between the African rhythm system and that of India or the Middle East. The three basic tones in West African drumming are ‘Gun’,
‘Go’ and ‘Pa’, there are more, which only advanced players can produce from their drums. Few of the major drums of African origin are the Djembes, Kpanlogos, Bougarabous, Ashikos, Udu drums (similar to Ghatams), Talking drums, Bata drums, Djun Djuns and the stool drums. All of these are meant to be played with the hands (except for the Djun Djuns which can be also played by mallets) and are great for playing in Drum Circles, as they are loud, crisp and have an amazing reverberating effect. The African drumming methods stress more on striking the drumhead with the palm and the use of the fingers is limited, it also stresses heavily on power. The Talking Drum on the other hand is a unique contraption, as the ropes running down its body are to be squeezed by the player, holding the drum underneath his arms in order to change the pitch while playing. The depth to which music is embedded in Africa is revealed by a simple proverb of theirs, which says, ‘A village without music is a dead village’.
The Brazilian and Afro Cuban hand-drumming systems yet again are, parallel in many respects; The Congas and Bongos are the drumming mainstay in these regions and are also widely used all around the world for various kinds of music. The Bongos are very sweet sounding instruments and are played softly with the fingers, their Moroccan counterparts are made of Ceramic and have their bottoms sealed instead of opened. In the Caribbean, of the two Bongo drums, the smaller one is called the ‘Macho’ and the larger one, the ‘Hembra’. The late Carlos E. Landaeta came up with the first 5-key Bongo drums and research is on whether the Bongos can be traced back to ancient Africa. The Congas are often played in sets of 2 and 3 and are all differently pitched. From high to low these drums are called the ‘Tumba’, ‘Conga’ and ‘Qiunto’. These drums are played with palm heels and tips of the hands and of course, they differ from one playing style to the other. The Bongos are by and large played with the Congas as they compliment each other really well.
As for instruments purely of Brazilian origin that are hand played, we have the ‘Cuica’, which is a ‘Friction drum’. The player firmly rubs a wooden post attached to the center of the head inside the drum cavity with a cloth, to create an exceptional ‘chattering’ sound. Another instrument used for the most popular form of music in Brazil, the ‘Samba’ or the ‘Bossa Nova’ is the ‘Pandeiro’, the Pandeiro is similar to the Tambourine as it has a row of jingles attached to its sides and is played like a Frame Drum. Various other ‘Agogo Bells’ are also used widely but since they have a hard metallic surface, they usually need to be played on by sticks.
Hand percussion does not end with drums; there is a spectrum of different sound effects, including a variety of shakers, juju shakers, bells, bar chimes, Caxixis, Ghana bells, Castanets, Claves, Steel drums, Kalimbas and Jam blocks out there that can be used with the hands to produce brilliant, trance like sound effects for a percussion gig.
On a lighter note, one can self improvise by trying using sticks on hand drums or even drumming on various articles around the house like tables, vessels, buckets, empty plastic bottles and plastic containers filled with grains, used as a shaker; like various percussionists were known to have been doing when young!!! It’s real fun and in the process one can actually discover a lot of new tones and effects coming from these different and out of the ordinary sound sources.
Talking about odd sound sources, I guess its nothing new to see percussionists today drumming on their cheeks with their fingers to create a sound similar to wood blocks!!
This kind of experimentation with sound, where the body takes center stage has been christened ‘BODY PERCUSSION’. Further, a few ‘beyond the edge’ percussionists are known to have recorded and even played live on stage, sound samples by slapping their thighs, snapping, or even stomping their feet on various surfaces!!!!
Apparently the above ‘stomping’ and ‘slapping’ may not have anything to do with what I started off on i.e. the kinship between hand percussion and ones musical legacy but don’t you think it does take us back to one fact, and that is human beings still rely profoundly on their bodies to make music. Even after so many decades of technology invading the music scenario, by whose virtue almost all musical instruments today have wires going in and out of them and can be made to sound so unrealistic, man still recognizes this essential, natural chemistry between his own body and the music that naturally flows out of it; he still feels the need to be one with the surface he contacts in order to tap this music.
This natural impulse is somethin our predecessors, the apes, nomads or whatever they were called have bequeathed us; it is their legacy, their heritage, their religion, a religion called rhythm.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Hero’s daughter

Sitting on the cold wooden bench with none but the dark night for company, she watched the wagons drive by…
With nothing but daddy’s woolen coat she armed herself against the wind
alone she waited under the cold, dark night sky

Wide eyed she searched among all those who alighted,
none but strangers caught her sight
Hope had reached the end of its tether, yet she held on
held on with all her might

Daddy had promised he’d come home for Christmas,
daddy would come home for good
He would come back after the war was won
he had promised his little darling he would.

She waited for him all night long
she waited for him till winter was gone
She waited under the scorching summer sun
she waited for her daddy, she knew he would come.

But long was the battle won, for long the nation freed
Why wasn’t daddy home yet? His job was done indeed
They said daddy was a hero, they told tales of his gallantry
With none but a legion of hundred men he had set the nation free

With slender arms folded she prayed to the One above
“Keep daddy safe from the bullets” she implored, “keep him safe and keep him sound”
But a faint foreboding grew deep in her, like a serpent sinister and fierce
She feared she would never see daddy again, he was far, far from near

Then, one fine morning came a knock on her door, as lively and loud as can be….
“That’s him!!!” she said and ran outside but nowhere to be seen was he
There stood an officer with a letter and a folded flag and tears in his eyes hath he
“A parting shot from a fallen enemy soldier…” and not a word more said he

“Our motherland weeps for her slain child and her children, for a great hero fallen…”
“Our Captain, our champion has left us forever, oh what misfortune has befallen..”

That night as the nation rejoiced its newfound freedom and children danced in the rain
The hero’s daughter lay in bed clutching daddy’s woolen coat on her way to meet daddy again.

Friday, August 21, 2009


He stopped dead in his tracks, there she was, the crowded vegetable market was the last place in the world he had expected to see her at, yet there she was…!

It could only be her..

She bent attentively over a heap of lemon and chillies and sorted them with an outstretched forefinger, slender and unadorned. As she picked one lemon at a time and put it with great care inside a small cloth bag hanging precariously from her shoulder, the plastic bangles around her thin wrists jangled. She tied her hair in a messy pony tail and wore a dull cotton salwar. He could catch glimpses of her face from amidst her hair, he had noticed how hollow her cheeks looked.

She was younger than him by about two years; very pretty and sprightly, yet today she looked old and weary. The last time he had seen her was more than fifteen years back yet surprisingly enough it didn’t take him long to identify her amidst the crowded bazaar’s hustle and bustle.
She still retained most of her features. One of his sister’s good friends, she was a rather cheerful and extremely talkative young woman but it was with utmost surprise that he observed how astonishingly different she looked now. She looked grown up, worn-out, afflicted with an untimely maturity.

He hesitated to walk up to her and say hello but there was no telling how she would react. What would he do if she failed to recognise him? What would he do if she did? Would she remember?

As she sat on her hunches haggling with a shopkeeper he noticed a particular refinement in the accent with which she spoke Hindi, quite amusingly though, she failed to conceal it. Her attempts at making her pronunciations as pedestrian as possible amused him even more. Neena was such a delightful mismatch amidst the hordes of sweaty vegetable vendors and Sunday morning shoppers.



At his second beckoning she turned around and looked up at him wide eyed. She unplugged her walkman and staring into his eyes stood up slowly. He could tell she was trying hard to summon up as much recollection about him as possible and he could tell she was struggling with it. Deciding to save her from any further embarrassment he said;

“I am Ram, Nayantara’s elder brother, remember?”

Almost as if in a flash her expression altered and her eyes lit up. With a quivering voice, she exclaimed;

“Oh Ram……how have you been? It’s been……”

“About fifteen years” he interjected, smiling, continuing on his mission to aid her in her struggle down the memory lane.

“Yes Ram, fifteen years, fifteen years is such a long time and gosh you look so different…!”, she chuckled.

“Yeah, I keep getting that a lot and I could say the same about you, so what’s up Neena, never expected to see you here of all people, how is everyone at home?”

“Well, one can never tell where one drifts off to with time, I am doing okay, what’s new with you?”

“I am doing good too, not much of a shopper, dad is inside choosing the fish for today’s lunch and here I am talking to you…..!”

He looked into her eyes and an old, familiar feeling, hidden underneath a decade and a half’s worth of pain and memories began welling up inside him. His Neena stood right there in front of him and he couldn’t decide how to react, what an idiot he was. He wished he could freeze the moment, forget about time, place and consequence and just hold her, hold her close and he could have bet she knew about it and had possibly felt the same way, only, fifteen years back. Breaking the pause Ram asked;

“So Neena, how is everything at home? How are your parents? I hope they’re doing good!”

Neena looked away. She immediately lowered her bag, picked up a handful of chillies and lemon randomly and stuffed them in her bag as if in a great hurry and then pulling out a ten rupee note she paid the vendor and began walking towards the market exit. Ram followed her.

“Neena…Neena what’s wrong?!”

“Nothing, I need to get going now, there’s much work to be done around the house!”

“Tell me please!”

She looked at him as though she wanted to ask him what difference it made to him how her parents were and why at all was he bothered. Where was he all these years? With great difficulty Neena withheld an outburst and contained her tears. Ram waited.

“Papa is no more with us!”

The lump in her throat made it almost impossible for her to speak and she knew she would not be able to hold for long.

“The business wound up because of law suits and we lost our home soon after, one morning we found him in his bedroom…..” tears welled up in her eyes and she began to choke badly;

As shocked as he was, he knew the worst was on its way;

“Rat poison…” was all she could say before she broke down completely.

The words hit Ram with twenty times the force of a speeding train and he stood there, frozen. The mid-day heat burnt his skin and made it impossible to stand inside the stuffy bazaar.
He looked at the frail girl standing before him dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, fighting a brutal battle to control herself, the cloth bag had long slid down her shoulder and now lay near her feet with it’s contents strewn around. Ram bent down to pick up the lemon and chillies and Neena hastily wiped her eyes and joined him.
Suddenly everything about the Neena he saw before him began to make perfect sense and he stood looking at her picking up the last lemon from the ground and dusting it.

“How’s aunty dealing with it?”

“Oh…..”, her voice even more quivery, “…… hardly made a difference to her, she stopped recognising us, I mean, papa and I about two years back when she suffered her third stroke, it had a permanent damaging effect on her brain. Now she cant move a muscle….I give her a bath every morning, cook for her, feed her, wash the clothes, do the dishes and sweep the house…its all on my shoulders now Ram..”

A smile was something Ram had least expected from her after this but when she did, he couldn’t restrain himself any longer. He advanced towards her to embrace her, to assure her that she was not alone, that he had come, that destiny hadn’t crossed their paths again for nothing, she hesitated, stepping back immediately she looked around uncomfortably. Adjusting her cloth bag she said, “Raghav is waiting outside in the car, I need to get going now.”


“Yes, Raghav, we met last year at JU. He is pursuing the same Mass Communication course as I am. He is why I am alive Ram, he really keeps me happy. He is waiting outside at the parking lot.”


“I knew Ram, I always did, I saw it in your eyes all the time but it would’ve never worked between us, it wouldn’t have lasted very long, don’t ask me why but I knew it wouldn’t… was nice meeting you Ram, fifteen years is a long time...and you’re a big boy now!” , she said ruffling his hair.
“I should get going now…don’t miss me Ram, its not worth the heartache...what’s gone, is gone, things aren’t all that bad in my world now!”

Ram didn’t know what to say, although he stood there feeling miserable and wishing he hadn’t met her at all in the first place, his sadness was suddenly replaced by a strange feeling of confusion with Neena’s last sentences. What she said didn’t seem to make sense at all, neither did her great desperation to leave, yet he stood there smiling wryly at her as she waved her hand smiling sweetly at him. He waved back.

“Take care Neena, be in touch..!”

She didn’t look back at him.

Almost immediately, Ram’s father appeared out of nowhere with a Hilsha in each hand. Grinning widely he raised them up in the air for half the bazaar to see; “Call your mom and tell her to forget about the Chicken Chettinad, there shall be an Ilish-fest all through this week…!”

Before getting into the car Ram looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Neena and her boyfriend, they couldn’t have left the market place yet considering the crowd that had built up in the paltry parking space. He stood on his toes and craned his neck to see as far as possible but she was nowhere to be seen. They were gone. Surprising, one would need to grow wings to get out of that parking lot that soon. Nevertheless, with a heavy heart, Ram got inside the car.

“Baba, remember the Balsaras….Neena Balsara….Nayan’s friend?”

“Hmmm I do….why do you ask?”

“Nothing, been a long time, I suppose you know about her dad and her mom…”

“Yeah…sad….very sad….theirs was a happy family. Remember the time you and Nayan would go cycling with Neena?…such a sweet girl she used to be…but such a tragedy…both mother and daughter…”

“They are all alone now dad, you can imagine how difficult it must be for them…”

“What do you mean they are all alone…?”

“Obviously, since Mr. Balsara is no more……!!”

“Have you any idea what you are talking about..? Has no one told you? Hasn’t Nayan told you anything about what happened to the Balsaras..?”

“No dad, she didn’t even tell me about Neena’s father in the first place…but what is it that I missed?”

His father rolled his eyes and sighed….

“Ram, a couple of days after Vijay was discovered lying in his room dead, frothing in the mouth because of the rat poison he had consumed, Neena and her ailing mother disappeared. A lot of people say both mother and daughter had gone into hiding because of the constant harassment by the police and relatives, some even say both mother and daughter went mad, anyhow, they were nowhere to be seen for days until one night a police constable discovered two bodies floating around in the Corporation tank. It was poor Neena and Mrs. Balsara….poor Mrs. Balsara was literally crippled, it’s a mystery how she jumped into the tank. The issue was hushed up and soon the Balsaras were forgotten….”

The hair on Ram’s neck felt like pin pricks and even his father could notice the goosebumps on his skin as he sat horror-struck and wide eyed. It looked almost as if he had suffered a seizure.

“What’s the matter Ram?”, asked his father glimpsing at him while keeping an eye on the road, “Take it easy son, things like these happen all the time, be strong, learn to take them head on…lets go home soon and I’ll ask mommy to make us some nice coffee”

But coffe was the last thing on Ram's mind. He was looking outside with an expression of utter bafflement and fear, he suddenly turned pallor and his face turned a faint shade of blue. A thin film of perspiration appeared on his forehead and his face slowly contorted as he began to whimper. Alarmed, his father immediately pulled over. He grabbed Ram and shook him desperately, trying to get him to talk but Ram just sat there, his gaze fixed at something outside and he sobbed inconsolably. He convulsed like a terrified little cat and his teeth chattered as his eyes remained fixed with great focus at an isolated old banyan tree at a distance. He was looking at something, something that was scaring him a great deal, something he had never imagined he would ever be ill fated enough to see. His father looked in the tree's direction.

From amidst the thick leaf cover, branches and the long dangling roots of the old Banyan, frothing from the mouth like a mad dog, perched a young girl, her neck outstretched like a hyena and her filthy, unkempt hair hung all over her face. A tattered cloth bag with its contents, chillies and lime hung from one of the lower branches of the tree and dangled in the wind. She heaved, breathing angrily and thin, transparent strands of drool descended over her salwar from the edges of her lips. From amidst those leaf strewn, filthy, knotted strands of hair he saw her milky white eyes and in them he saw fury, the unearthly madness of a wayward specter.

A little way ahead of them, a speeding truck suddenly skidded and fell over on its side and hurtled towards the car in which a father and son sat whimpering like children, staring at an old, deserted Banyan tree.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The plightful Stag

S.T.A.G.; these four letters have haunted my social life ever since I turned old enough for the word to start gaining relevance in my life.

The very first time I was made privy to this chilling bit of reality was in my second year of college when after having been denied entry to a club for of not having an ‘arm-candy’ by my side I ventured out in the cold looking for single women, the objective being solely to gain entry to the disco as a couple. Once inside I would let the good lady go….yes, just let her off.
I eventually ended up finding a girl who seemed to have no qualms about holding my hand tight and marching right upto the bouncer at the door. Had it not been for my college senior that night who managed, right at the nook of time, to show up like brave Sir Galahad, I probably would have ended up with bone injuries to the skull and multiple lacerations all over the body as the concerned girl happened to be that very bouncer’s candy. As to why she agreed to come along with me remains a question. Sadism has its faces. I paid thrice the entrĂ©e fee and spent the rest of the night sulking by the bar with just about enough money left to buy myself a diet Coke.

We are an ostracised lot and highly misunderstood too. We are loathed and loved by pub and disco owners for equally germane reasons, loathed, because among other reasons, we ‘misbehave’ with women under the influence of alcohol or whatever it is we may be drinking and loved because we are always made to pay double, sometimes triple the entry charge everywhere we go! Thick would be his head who thought men-folk who show up at a disco with a significant other are safe customers and would never look at other women, leave alone indulging in alcohol induced misbehaviour and thicker would be his head who introduced this concept in restaurants!

Last week a few of my guy friends and I were sent out of a restaurant with an assertive, “Sorry Sir, no stags allowed inside!”
The month before that a friend and I had to balance our bottoms on uncomfortable bar-stools at a pub cum restaurant as the cosy lounge sofas were for ‘couples only’. Not only was I appalled, I was livid and I would have left the place immediately had I not needed that drink. I wonder what the homo fraternity would make of this? What stunt would a gay couple have to pull to prove to the lunkhead standing guard at the door that the two of them weren’t actually stags, without embarrassing themselves?

And what is with the nomenclature? How about we start calling single women ‘Hinds’ and debar them from entering any pub or restaurant unless they pay a fantastic amount of money? How about we paint them with the same generalised accusations that stags face every night and watch how they deal with the music?

There are more chances of hen growing teeth than Hinds being asked to pay, more so, denied free entry.

The world loves single women as much as it hates single men.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gods got a twisted sense of humour...

The worlds oldest woman, Sakhan Dosova lived in Kazhakhstan. She survived for years in terrible living conditions because of poverty. When she turned 130, the Kazakh Government gave her a flat as a celebratory gift. She slipped in the bathroom of her new flat, broke her hip and died.