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, “……..it 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…..it 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 entrée 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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An evening by the pool with James 'Bund'

(Babu da: If you are reading this I know you will sooner or later want to kill me but this is just to let you know that it is not my slightest intention to hurt or ridicule you, I love you and this is how I choose to show it!

Other readers: Seriously graphic content ahead, reader discretion advised, read on an empty stomach)

It must have been poor Babu’s turn when the angel at the ‘Hygiene-Sense’ department high up in heaven, deserted his post and went for a piss break, leaving the conveyor belt switched on. Babu passed right through, completely unsensitised and desanitised.

What many people don’t know about Babu is that, as a baby he was once picked up by a pack of wolves who had mistaken him for one of their cubs. He was dragged away into the dark woods where he survived for months among his new-found hairy friends until he was rescued. The ordeal took its toll and left a number of characteristic peculiarities in him which can be seen, felt, heard and smelled till date!

For the uninitiated, raise your glasses to the one and only Nilesh ‘Babu’ Sinha!

I have had the fortuity of knowing Nilesh and being associated with him as a brother, friend and junior in college for the last 5 odd years. What makes Nilesh appreciably different is the fact that there are an equal number of reasons to dislike him as there are to like him. Aside from being somewhat of a walking-talking brain, the man is pure genius with words, be it spoken or written. Enough has been said about his caustic tongue and his peculiar tendency to resort to Oriental martial art-esque poses (complete with sound effects) while throwing insults at people is legendary.
Nilesh is extremely kind hearted and has about fifteen and a half billion odd pet bacteria, microbes, germs and other micro organism in his clothes, in the words of a wise one, “Babu has an entire ecosystem existing in his socks alone!”

He has been seen barking at stray-dogs in the dark and deserted lanes of Noida in the dead of the night, there is video footage of him howling at the moon and what can we say, our man has a powerful fetish for women that strongly resemble retired Pakistani cricket players and Frankenstein himself, throw in a stray X-Chromosome or two and the faintest of likeliness to the feminine species and our man is ready for sweet-lovin’!
All said and done a great number of women did manage to look beyond Nilesh’s trademark blue shirt, black trousers (sometimes unwashed for months), muddy chappals and that endearing pong that sent many a victim scampering for fresh air, and recognise his blade-sharp intellect. This of course lead to a number of embarrassing sex scandals involving Nilesh, the particulars of which he would insist on describing to us, complete with noisy details that would set off disturbing images and even more disturbing thoughts in our young minds. To add to the bizarreness of it all he was extremely particular about using flavoured rubber protection. In his own words, “there are taste-buds everywhere!”

Perhaps all this explains his fixation with the name, James ‘Bund’ (Bund- pronounced; ‘Boond’, meaning; the female genitalia). Yes, it is extremely difficult to imagine what Martin Campbell, Terence Young and the likes saw in Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan!

I vividly remember an evening I had spent with Nilesh at the club that he used to frequent for swimming, truth be told, Karan and I tagged along hoping to check out girls. Those days Nilesh was on an aggressive weight loss mission. Having realised that as much as a mere pound or two more would probably necessitate the use of a size-D bra Nilesh was hell bent on shedding those pounds and he went about it zealously.
Inside the changing room while we looked around for girls Nilesh shed his clothes rapidly. Disappointed at the sight of shapeless and ridiculously hairy Sardarjis in colourful underwear Karan and I turned to Nilesh, we stood watching transfixed as the Michelin mascot himself stood before us in tiny black swimming-trunks. A set of teeth appeared from amidst his facial forestation and one eyebrow went right up as Nilesh in his deep voice said, “Whaddaya think lads?”
As he jogged towards the pool his belly jiggled gleefully in perfect rhythmic consonance with the upper half of his body and his torso resembled a fat man’s face with a wobbling mouth and bouncing eyes. Displacing much water and making much noise our man made his entry into the deep blue depths of the pool and plummeted right underneath; he almost crashed into the bottom of the pool when by some inexplicable force of gravity, rather the lack of it, he managed to make a perfect rebound and slowly headed back to the surface. As Karan and I gaped speechless, dripping from head to toe, Shamu soared above the surface of the water grabbing hold of the handle-bars and said……

“Whaddaya think lads?”

It was amazing how gracefully and deftly Nilesh managed to do his laps, each stroke followed the previous one after a considerable amount of time as he gunned back and forth huffing and puffing. Quite admirably after about an eternity our man managed to complete all his laps, as he proudly took the steps off the pool his grace reminded me of Ursula Andress emerging out of the sea in a bikini. A mind numbingly terrifying thought suddenly crossed my mind and the lovely Ursula Andress was replaced by an image of Nilesh emerging out of the pool in a bikini swishing and swaying his long hair and the fat man’s face and eyes wobbling in ultra-slow motion……

“Whaddaya think lads?”

I nearly suffered a seizure when thankfully the clouds cleared and my eyes opened up, Nilesh stood right in front grinning, the water had made his black trunks roll further down threatening a sudden disclosure any minute.

As Nilesh, Karan and I tottered back to the changing room chatting, I put my arm around Nilesh. I knew he would never realise how much I would miss him after he’d graduate and leave and the time was coming soon. I tried not to think of it. There were other urgent matters to take care of, like telling Nilesh that his trunks had now rolled way down and a few Sardars behind us were laughing at his exposed butt crack.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I absolutely dislike this Template and I'd like to change it immediately but...its too much work!
What was I thinking when I chose it?....yuck!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

“I don’t think I can do this Bikram!....I think I am gonna throw up….and my hands are so shaky…!
Iceman gave me one of his forced smiles and waddled away. The poor guy was in no less of a nervous breakdown-ish situation himself to dole out any courage. His teeth chattered and his voice was quivery. Our man on the rhythm guitar hadn’t taken his instrument off his shoulders all morning, I think he carried it to the bathroom too.
Jeetu was nowhere to be seen and neither was Sam. They must’ve wandered of somewhere with Lenold, although I hoped both the guys wouldn’t go and blow their vocal depths up in swirls of smoke, the chances were far from bleak. Both my vocalists needed to save that vocal pitch for the day.
Karan sat in a corner talking to the girls and Mayukh worked with the soundmen near the rings.
The fourth swig of whiskey backstage was clearly a bad idea. Although the freeze of the early February mornings in Pune made it more of a requirement than just ‘a rock thing’, we needed the buzz and what could do the job better than neat whiskey on an empty stomach? As the massive crowd roared outside, I paced up and down the backstage area going over all the cues and fills in my head over and over again, over and over again, I had to give this one gig my two hundred percent and if possible, three hundred and fifty percent!! Funnily, no matter how many times I rubbed by fingers against my jeans, they continued to be cold and frozen, both traits fatal for drummers, I couldn’t grip properly and my wrists locked.
“Firecrakers!” exclaimed Karan as loud reports echoed into the early morning sky outside indicating that the event had finally commenced. We watched as a group of dancers shot onto the stage one by one waving gold and silver pom-poms, the grandeur, the colour, the noise was absolutely intoxicating, captivating!
Our show being the main event for the evening wouldn’t start for another hour or so, as per plans a few speeches and dance performances were lined up before we’d get to take the stage, the sponsors had to be pleased. I saw it as a massive relief. I was in no state to go and start whacking away at those skins right away in front of all those people.
Speech after speech followed, followed by dreadfully elaborate dance performances and cheesy displays by sponsors. We sat in the pitch darkness at the wings nervous, waiting, watching.

And all of a sudden, it was time!

My stomach turned to water as all of us stood up facing the doorway leading into the stage; this was it!
A faint ray of light from outisde fell on the floor illuminating the threshold. As Jeetu and Sam appeared out of nowhere and bounded ahead, Iceman and Lenold exchanged last notes on chords and riffs, Karan, lost in his own thoughts walked slowly towards the doorway, head hung low. I walked by his side, drumsticks in one hand and my heart in the other. None of us spoke a word to each other.
Here I was at the brink of what could potentially be the biggest manifestation of our collective aspirations, the one objective we had cherished for years, nurtured and protected from numerous nay-sayers, circumstances, fate, criticism and our biggest nemesis, our own dissenting selves. The minute I walked out through the doorway crossing the threshold that divided the stage from the backstage area I felt like being sucked into a vacuum chamber of sorts. The massive crowd of a few hundreds roared as bright beams of light blinded us completely, my ears blocked out and all I could hear was a faint buzz in my head, the air was full of whistles, balloons and confetti. It was astounding how different the temperatures were just across the wall that divided the backstage and the stage area, it was freaking hot on stage and the lights made it worse! A few more loud bangs went off here and there and in the bat of an eyelid there we were facing a massive throng of raised hands, signboards and faces. An ocean of human beings.

As we headed for our individual weapons, I saw mine. She reclined on a raised platform placed right in the middle of the stage waiting, still and quiet, waiting to be stroked, to be turned on, to be brought to life. Canopied by a virtual encyclopaedia of gleaming golden metal she resembled a behemoth mechanised chariot, a massive amassment of detailed percussive paraphernalia comprising of metal, wood and skin. A brute bearing the power of a thousand horses yet the felinity and beauty of a jaguar.

Iceman plugged in his guitar and played around with the strings holding his plectrum between his teeth and Lenny made last minute adjustments to his distortion pedals. We took our positions like soldiers behind trenches waiting for the approaching enemy, as the warm rays of the morning sun emerged from behind the hills and washed up against the stage, an eerie silence fell among the crowd.
Almost as if heralding the new day, the warm sunshine, an electric guitar cried out loud sending echoes resonating into the morning sky and chills down my spine. Immediately like a hurricane after a prolonged lull, the crowd acknowledged Lenny’s statement with an applause of explosive nature. Iceman looked up into the sky one last time. As I raised my sticks high up in the air, I shut my eyes, memories trailed in leaving my heart bursting with a mad mix of emotions; exhilaration, trepidation, passion and unremitting love, this was going to be it, this WAS it!
As Jeetu and Sam grabbed their mikes, streaks of pyrotechnic fireworks rocketed across each other from either side of the stage with deafening reports, I grit my teeth and brought down my arms on the cymbals with all the physical might I could summon, then a series of bright, recurring flashes…. 24/B and the High-Bhais…Symbiosis garage…The Mag 7…Aarambh 1…Aarambh 2…Not Just Jazz…Battle of the Bands…Ehsaas...Laanat….the verandah in my old and now demolished house, There were violins in the air…NCC…the jams at Barista…Apache…the World Youth Aids Day gig...mom’s face!!

“Rono wake up…you’re getting late for work…get out of bed RIGHT NOW…its such a beautiful Monday outside, mummy has nice Quaker Oats and bananas for breakfast..now GET UP you lazybones..!"
I rolled out of bed like an overweight, disgruntled sea lion and tottered towards the bathroom. It was going to be a very bad day!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I asked her if she liked rock n roll and she said (verbatim); "What??!! Rock??!!...that shouting music?!"

I never called her again...!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Revisiting Pune...

So it’s been two days since I’ve gotten back to work at my chamber at Old P.O.Street, Kolkata and I still can’t concentrate. Life strolls by but I am yet to get up and put my running shoes on. Isn’t it funny how time slows down when you want it to jog and jogs when you want it to slow down?

The last two weeks trail blazed past like a rocket ship, everything happened at 100X speed and all of a sudden in a flash the lull is back. I know more than well that the next ten months shall take ages to pass yet I have started my countdown. The countdown to my next visit to Pune.
It just seems like the other day that I landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport, Mumbai a good one hour late. Hurrying through the massive airport pushing my trolley and trying to balance a Latte at the same time, I wondered if Karan Singh who had benevolently offered to come down all the way from his house in the city to pick me up, was getting pissed waiting. The afterthought that he might not even have started for the Airport from his house in the first place was subsequently confirmed when I gave him a call.
Sitting on my luggage trolley near the Departure exit point I sipped my Latte waiting for the Freak to show up. The anticipation was chocking me. I was in Bombay finally and in a few hours I’d be in Pune!! The next one hour saw considerable confusion and Karan and I kept looking for each other, running around in circles clueless-ly, directional miscommunication!
And then at last I found him, a bobbing mass of hair covering about 65% of his face and right underneath, a pair of oversized sunglasses covering another good 30%, the Freak had arrived! The man noticed my manic waving when he was exactly at conversational distance from me.
After a lousy breakfast of ‘fruit sandwich’ at one Balaji Restaurant located right next to the Airport and highly recommended by Karan, we boarded our bus to Pune. The agony of the four and half hour trip precipitated by an excruciatingly terrible movie being shown in the bus and the Freak’s constant chatter about the women in his life, new and old, began to ease when the outskirts of our city started coming into sight. The both of us were slightly put off at the sight of two desolate patches of land where ‘Tinku-Da-Dhaba’ and ‘Veer-Da-Dhaba’ once stood. We’d have to think of some other place to get sloshed at.

Jeetu’s spanking new, black Mahindra Classic rumbled in almost running over the Freak and me. Karan couldn’t have enough of hugging Jeetu and squeezing his cheeks as we steered through the Law College Road traffic heading in break neck speed for the NCC. I couldn’t help but notice the palpable change the city had seen since the last time I’d visited. The Commonwealth Games had caused the Government to wake up and build new flyovers everywhere, there were colourful flags and pictures and drawings of ‘Jigar’, the mascot for the Games on every wall.
Our good old NCC, as it became apparent to us as we climbed down the stairs, had also seen its share of change. A set of cardboard walls encapsulated a ‘smoking-zone’ from the ‘thank you for not smoking’ area. The spirit of NCC was murdered!

Sameer sat inside quietly alongside Shakunt blowing rings of smoke from his mouth.

The evening of 19th of December at Apache, FC Road is significant for me in more ways than one. Jeetu dropped a 10,000 lb bomb of a shocker on us by proclaiming a major decision of his life, well, at least it was shocking enough to make me down an entire mug of chilled Barman’s Red in a gulp, which saw me wheelchair-ing off to the Hospital in the next two days. Shakunt dropped an even deadlier one by declaring that he had given up drinking; my brain was too frozen by then for another bottoms up. Good old Sam was as happy as ever making faces and Mayukh da scouted the Menu for starters.
Later that night, there was more booze at Sam’s where eventually we all crashed, sozzled out of our minds. I don’t think I can remember the last time I passed out singing. Bikram left for the Andamans later that day for a vacation with his folks. I thought that was the last time I’d be seeing him as far as my trip was concerned.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Sanchari. I had met her online and gotten acquainted with her through her excellent blog, luckily for her, neither Babu nor Bikram were around that day. I was amazed at the way she moulded in with us that afternoon at NCC considering we’re not the easiest set of folks to gel with.
To get in our good books one must learn to tolerate us first, one has to permeate Babu da’s (if and when he is around) mindless, oft fabulously innovative and well meant insults, Jeetu’s motor mouth and Sam’s mischief-by-the-minute policy, not to mention Bikram’s chilling sarcasm, Karan’s guerilla shayari attacks and Mayukh da’s built-in gyaan dispensary. And last but not the least, a lot of our victims haven’t quite yet come across our close eigth associate, Shakunt Saumitra; my blog shall see an interesting update the day he sets his teeth on his first victim. I am usually the quiet guy in the corner collecting substance for his next blog.

During the long drive in Jeetu’s jeep later that evening we instinctively started singing, the same old songs we’ve sung for years, songs which we never seemed to get tired of, screaming our gullets out at people. During the course of the drive our man, Saluja nearly punctured Anupama’s thighs with his elbow thinking they were Karan’s and Sam who rode alongside us gave Shakunt the scare of his life. Later that night I wanted to call up my boss and ask him for an extension of the leave he’d allowed me, I didn’t want to leave. Little did I realise fate wouldn’t leave me with much of a choice.
The next morning Mayukh Da’s roommate rode me to Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital. I could barely walk and my legs gave away near the stairways when thankfully, a nurse noticed the state I was in and immediately had a wheelchair brought to me and off I headed to the ICU. Before I could make sense of what was going on, three nurses were fussing over me. I was pinned to a bed with an oxygen mask strapped to my face and a Nebulizer fitted to it. A heart monitor lead stuck to my finger like a clip and there were needles going into my arms every five minutes.
An ‘injection valve’- at least that’s what they called it, projected out of my right wrist like a space ray-gun or something like that, through which, all throughout the day and two days after that intravenous medication kept flowing into my veins.
During my stay at the Hospital dad informed me that he’d bought a flight ticket for me back to Kolkata for the 1st of January, ’09, mom wouldn’t let me stay a day longer in Pune; a cool six grands vapourized from my bank account like a drop of ether but sadly, there was more to go!
I have always wanted to go to a hospital all my five years in the city but it felt weird that I could actually manage it after leaving the city.
Late afternoon of the 26th I walked out of the hospital poorer by about another six precious thousand rupees, lighter by a kilo or two, my bank account reeled with about 17 grands gone in 7-8 days time but who cared, I was extremely happy; I was gonna spend the 31st in Pune with the guys! Well, before I go on to another aspect, I’d like to express my appreciation and gratitude to Sam, Mayukh and Shax for having extended selfless support to me during my days at the hospital and for bringing over those excellent Shawarmas from Casa LoLo.
The next 24 hours saw a shave, a monstrous lunch, an equally gigantic dinner, a much needed bath, a brush and a change of clothes and a dilemma! Jeetu sent a common SMS to all of us from Aurangabad suggesting that we all head for Mahabaleshwar with Smita Aunty and other relatives for the New Years. There was a ‘slight’ or might I say ‘teeny weeny’ hitch in the form of a further expenditure of 3 grands per head for the party!

The next few days were spent recuperating from the illness, I went into a massive health drive, ate only Dal-rice and boiled eggs for meals, the binge drinking gave way into a rare peg or two every now and then and cigarettes became a rarity. Then came the night when Karan, Shakunt, Mayukh and I went out for a drive and some beer and kebabs with Lalit, Karan’s old buddy. We ended up at this prominently lit Dhaba called ‘BAVDHAN CHAUPATI (a romantic spot….)’! the music blaring from this otherwise spaced out and breezy eatery was least said, bad enough to, after a point, impel any drunk to get up, walk to the edge of the hill where the Dhaba was unfortunately located and jump off.
One peculiar characteristic of most eateries around Pune serving Chinese food is that they have these little chink cooks and waiters, whether it is a sad attempt to render an Oriental feel to the restaurant or that there are just too many of these folks coming down from the North-East looking for jobs and it so happens that all they know is rustling up Chicken Shanghai Fried Rice or Egg Chicken noodles in the bat of an eyelid, is not clear but this Dhaba too had its fair share of little chinks tottering around.
I ended up getting ultra-sozzled after downing about a quart of Vodka and we were rolling all over the place over a certain culinary speciality of the Dhaba named, ‘Chicken Loppy Pops’, an obvious spelling faux pas but the alcohol made it difficult to maintain a straight face at that one, difference was, I kept repeating “Loppy pop, loppy pop….” deliriously inside the car and poor Lalit had to bear the brunt of driving us around. Later we ended up at Kiva’s with Anupama for more booze and rock n roll.
Another high point of the trip that cannot escape a mention are the developments in the Pashu system of legislation. As undemocratic and controversial as can be, few new principles saw formulation, namely; ‘Abhinay’ which means that if you get struck once because of cracking a lousy one and you react too much you get hit AGAIN! ‘Self Pashu’, for a change, something I’ve been vigorously trying to push through; meaning that if you are audacious enough to give yourself a Pashu you get hit by another member of the Mag 7 thrice! And finally a ray of democracy, the Grand Ayatollah being himself made subject to Pashastras if he cracks a horrible one.
One of the ill practices that I’d urge the Mag 7 to abstain from is spreading the spirit of Pashu outside the limits of the group. The Pashu systems of laws and punishments are applicable to the Mag7 and Associates only.
Come 30th of December and Jeetendra Singh Saluja showed up bright and early near CAFÉ COSTA in his black Mahindra Classic. I had no idea that it was the last time I’d be seeing him before leaving. He departed early with Sam after a coffee at COSTA and Mayukh and I headed over to Shax’s place where Karan would join us to watch Dil Chahta Hai. Till the very last minute that night I was pretty sure of going to Mahabaleshwar with Jeetu; Sam, Mayukh and Karan had also pretty much mentally prepared themselves for the trip but we weren’t able to get in touch with Bikram who was supposed to be returning from his long vacation at the Andamans that very night, we needed his decision. Then ensued an hour long of dramatic debating, lots of cross-communication, a wee little bit of miscommunication, frantic phone calls and sms-s, a long deep breath and a decision.

Early morning on 31st I was informed that Sam and Jeetu had already left for Mahabaleshwar. So it wasn’t going be the 6 of us spending New Years together after all.
All three of my penultimate/final days at Pune have been very interesting. The day I was leaving Pune for good sometime in May, 2008 I made sure I had breakfast at Good Luck, then came my trip in June when I guess I ate at Goodluck before catching my flight back to Kolkata and there we were at Café Good Luck once again, Mayukh, his roommates, Karan and I, wiping food off the table like we hadn’t seen food in days. The waiter broke a sweat running up and down from the kitchen to our table and back swearing under his breath in Marathi. The way those massive Bun Cheese Omlettes kept disappearing off Mayukh’s plate would have Ripley’s folks on the next flight to Pune. I must’ve alone devoured a quantity enough to feed a small village for a week, but it was Good Luck, where else would I get to stuff my face with Bun Cheese Omlettes, Bun Butter Cheese Omlettes, Bun Butter Cheeses, Bun Cheeses, Bun Butters, Bun Omlettes, Cheese Omlettes, Masala Omlettes, Cheese Omlettes, Double-Cheese Omlettes, just Omlettes and all other culinary permutations and combinations that tasted so freaking good?.....throw in the Bread Puddings and Fruit Funnys too! I looked up from my plate to wipe my forehead when I saw Bikram walking towards us; “Guys am back and I have news!”

As Bikram sat cross legged composing his song, polishing the edge his nails every now and then I was getting increasingly impatient to go to Furtados. Every second was so precious. My time in the city was running out, it was afternoon already and I still had so many things to do. I couldn’t afford to laze around. I was getting desperate.
The next couple of hours saw Karan Singh getting lost in the world of Grand Pianos raising a loud cacophony; Bikram trying to play all the guitars the store had at the same time and Mayukh, pulling a string here, beating a drum there. I reposed behind a beautiful orange-yellow, fade-finish Mapex Pro M struggling to play the simplest of grooves.
If you can imagine how an impoverished, starving child would behave if he were given a table full of his favourite dishes, everything from the first dish to the last, all for him to eat in all of 5 minutes…you would know our plight, that evening at Furtados I saw that little kid in Karan, Bikram and myself. We made so much noise that the security guys came in to check out what all the din was about; for those few minutes the three of us were torn between the desperate yearning to jam, seated at three extreme ends of the same store and our selfish, personal desires to make the most of those few minutes with the instruments we loved. The irony was painful.

I walked out of Furtados that evening with some Latin Percussion Salsa blocks and sundry drum gear, kicking myself that I couldn’t gather up the courage to go and speak to Talvin Singh’s drum technician who had also shown up at the store to buy some hardware for the world renowned percussionist’s performance in the city that evening.
Bikram, Karan and I got dropped off at Lalit’s place where we’d planned the New Years party to be held that night, after a brief pig out at Burger King.
Lalit’s story of ‘Vaasad’, the smelly guy had us rolling all over the place.
I tried to take a walk out of Lalit’s house and give a call to our travel agent and ask him if there were flight tickets available for the 2nd of January and if I could postpone my departure by a day. His phone never connected.

11.40 pm, 31st of December, 2008 froze my bones and possibly the marrow in them too! As Bikram’s motorcycle got off the main road and on to a sandy stretch on which Lalit’s house was situated, I breathed a sigh of respite, I was desperate to get off the bike and run to someplace warm. The ride from Mayukh’s place to Lalit’s in Baner was a freezer and I clung on to Bikram as tightly as possible throughout the journey to keep out the chill as much as possible. As Lalit’s house came into vision the faint thumping of distant morning trance assailed our ears. The house wasn’t exactly lit up very garishly, there were a few cars parked outside suggesting that a few guests had poured in already and a clear, thin strain of smoke rose from behind the fences high up into the night sky bringing about the comforting thought that some good soul was working on setting up a bonfire. Mayukh and Bikram were busy parking when I pulled out both the bottles of vodka we were carrying and looked at them, our contribution towards the party. Although I had sworn to down an entire Khamba that night if not more, I was getting increasingly itchy about the kind of people there’d be at the party, all of the other guys were only known to Karan and Lalit. I’d never really fancied spending New Years among complete strangers. Well, at least a few of my guys were gonna be around.

11.50 pm, the bonfire blazed with full gusto and the resplendent flames reached as high as about six feet. Although the morning trance, being supervised and DeeJayd by some guy, didn’t quite match the mood for the simple reason that it was after all night time, the atmosphere as a whole was quite cozy and nice. As the hour approached Karan, his college mates, Lalit, Mayukh, Bikram, the other strangers and I eventually closed in towards the bonfire and surrounded it.
In the next few minutes every one wished each other a happy and prosperous new year numerous times….as different watches told different times, whenever someone’s watch struck twelve he’d leap screaming, “Happy New Year…Happy New Year!” and the rest of us would follow suit. The sky lit up with firecrackers and I stood looking up, praying that 2009 should go well and go quick.

A couple of hours into the night and the music was blasting. Empty bottles of booze and plastic glasses reverberated on top of the table next to the DJ’s laptop, the crowd, quite expectedly, by then had gradually divided into little groups all around Lalit’s front yard and the DJ, stoned out of his wits kept making peculiar experiments with the music alone in a corner. Mayukh, presumably quite tipsy sat all alone facing the bonfire lost in his own thoughts while Karan hung with his college mates. Bikram and I slunk against Lalit’s car talking. During my visit I’d met Bikram so scarcely and besides, I knew I’d be leaving in the matter of a few hours so I wanted to make the most of the opportunity and speak my heart out.

During the course of the night the four of us kept separating and regrouping repeatedly and Karan tried his best to make the rest of us feel at home. I added my own colour to things by being the first guy in the party to start puking. Earlier that night, I had treated myself to a few large joints of an old, forgotten, herbal indulgence and had committed the gravest mistake of continuing to drink thereafter. Karan seemed extra enthusiastic about obtaining joints for me from here and there while he quite impressively abstained from it.

A certain individual whom I’d like to refer to as “flowerpot” made a theatrical and brilliantly comical entry half way through the party and began dirty dancing with all the men, making sure to give each of them individual attention. Lalit who was sporting sunglasses and marching up and down like a soldier to the music, wobbled up to me and said, “She’s giving everybody an erection and running away!”

I could barely stand straight after all the vomiting. Things were made worse by the loud woofers and sub-woofers that played sonic havoc on my empty stomach and before I knew it, it was five in the morning and time to go.
Karan decided to stay back so we shook hands and Bikram, Mayukh and I rode off into the darkness hoping too many cops wouldn’t be around. In the next half and hour we got back home un-arrested and I passed out.

All of the Iceman’s exits have been very typical, no drama, a quick goodbye and he rides off silently. He did the same on the morning of the 1st. Jeetu and Sam were inaccessible by phone for a good part of the morning so there was no point trying to call them anymore and I had already said my goodbyes to Karan the previous night.
Before boarding the auto I hugged Mayukh and thanked all his roommates for having put up with me for so many days and seen me through my days of sickness.

As the aircraft took to the evening sky, I strained my neck to catch a last glimpse of Pune far down below, as it rapidly transformed from a bustling city to a geographic landmass of high mountains and meandering rivers within seconds.
Warm rays of the evening sun penetrated the window pane and landed on my lap reassuringly and I laid my head back to rest. I felt a little weak, all these days I never realised that I was still recovering. I pulled out my iPOD and turned it on.
As the display came on, I smiled.
It showed, “Hum Kis Gali Ja Rahe Hai” by Aatif Aslam as the last played song, I immediately remembered that it was the last song I had heard before my flight landed in Bombay on the 19th of December! I chuckled at the sheer co-incidence of things; was the flight really taking me home?

“Hum Kis Gali Ja Rahe Hain…Hum Kis Gali Ja Rahe Hai…Apnaa koi thikanaa nahi!