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!