Sunday, November 23, 2008

If The Doors of Perception Were Cleansed...

A pack of six was pretty expensive, equivalent of Rs. 900. There were three of us, and we had two each. After 5 minutes, we came back to the shop - and I, in my oh-so-polite voice asked,

"By when should we start expecting an effect - nothing is really happening right now".

"Oh, I takes 35-40 minutes for anything to happen"

The three of us looked at each other, shrugged and left the shop. We came to a conclusion that we had been duped, but well, there was a drizzling snow, the marketplace was very crowded and in a while, we cheered up.

N went to get some fries. I didn't have a good feeling in my stomach, so I barely had a couple. We had been walking all day, and I was tired. For my sake, we trooped to the station looking for a waiting room. We staggered into a self-service cafe and selected a strategically positioned table where the cashier couldn't see us. Amidst chitchat about what to do if they ask us to leave for not buying anything or whether it is smart to call attention by getting just one cup of coffee, I put my head down.

I don't know when it started - but I remember feeling the voices of people around me all merging together in a song. There was English, Arabic, some French, and it all blended in a musical. And then there were the images - animations, cartoon of hills, cafes, my college, beaches and more - I don't remember a tenth of it. I got up and slurred:

"Guys, it is happening"

S looked at N and shrugged, "Atleast not to us." N added, "You are just tired. Rest for a while".

I didn't care much for their skepticism, and put my head down. And man oh man, I went through something amazing - there were animated versions of people I knew - my family, my friends, all the girls I liked but couldn't tell, some people I barely knew when I was 5-6, and me in various places, transformed into a cartoon. And best of all, it was all smiling, and nice and good memories. I tried to control the thoughts and take them in particular directions but they wouldn't yield. I quickly gave up, flowing with the ebb and tide of my visions

I think it was on for half and hour, before we had to move to catch a train. And in there, I couldn't stop laughing; I laughed till my jaws ached - actually. I had quietened down by time the train stopped.

We changed a train for home, and a couple came and sat next to us. The wife was around 60, hair bleached a weird pinkish red, heavily made up and with one of the most exotic pair of glasses I had ever seen.

I now know what the word serene means. That is what I was then.

N went to sleep, but I and S got to talking to her. She was a Chinese American, with an Indonesian husband living in Europe. We talked of Obama, and the coming to power of the right-wing parties in Europe. I told her about my political views - that I was a nationalist liberal, and she asked me to explain it to her. I started, - about the issues facing India, about the terrorism menace, about the need for a more hawkish foreign policy, about historical injustices, and then I suddenly started feeling very foolish.

Was what I was talking of really making so much sense to me either - wasn't it all labels, and propaganda and my opinion v/s someone else's. And who was I to have the right to say my opinion or ideology was better than anybody else's. Did I really need to push my view on to others.

And so I stopped. Instead we started discussing cinema, and music, and she started telling us about her life and experiences. It was a very very pleasant conversation, went for the better part of an hour, and her husband sat smiling quietly. I was almost as happy as I have ever been.

I never really loosen up (and that's another thing I worry about :)). Alcohol has never really helped - it just fogs the brain and most times, I have ended up looking very silly or sick - sometimes both. But this was different - I felt as if all the rough edges had been smoothed away into an even cadence.

It went away in a few more hours.

S said, "Do you want to go back and get some more? You know you won't get them after December 1st."

But I knew I didn't want any more. I had understood what it meant to be there, and I hoped I could be there on my own.

I just smiled and shrugged, "Doesn't matter".

Sunday, October 26, 2008

No Country for Young Men

His name was Jasbeer. He was from Gurgaon.

We had gone to a Sardarji's shop to figure out the cheapest place for getting a haircut. We were chatting about the fallen bridge at the Metro construction site in Delhi when he entered. The Sardarji pointed out to him and said, "Yeh lafanga le jayega tum ko". We left for a coiffure.

I told him I had been in Gurgaon for the last two years. That got him started:

"Where in Gurgaon were you living?"

"DLF Phase V"

"That's the one near the malls, or is it DLF Phase III"

He asked me the usual stuff around girlfriends, had I had any action, how the city had changed and so on.

"Tujhe pata, hai, aane se pehle main teen mahine tak roz Convergys ke paas mein jo dhaba hai wahan jaya karta tha. Jo ladkiyan aati thi, unhe chhedta tha, nahi aati thi to doston ke saath maggi khaake wapas aa jaya karta tha. Maa bhi kuch nahi kehti thi, kehti thi bas abhi to bahar jaa hi raha hai, thodi masti kar le"

And, what happened then?

"Main study visa pe aane ke chakkar mein tha. England jaana tha mujhko. Visa pe UKraine likha tha, mujhe laga UK ja rahe hain, wahan pe raine kar ke koi shahar hoga. Woh to jab Russia mein goron ki jutiyan padi to mujhe samajh mein aaya"

He was in a Ukraine prison for a year, and then slipped over to Poland, then to Germany and Netherlands. He had spent almost a year in a Dutch prison before slipping over to here.

"Jail walon ne pahadi pe le jake chhod diya, aur kaha bhag. Maine do din tak bin kuch khaye piye do pahadiyan chad kar Ukraine paar kiya"

He was working on a construction site here, work he had seen labourers do when he rode his scooter on the Gurgaon streets. Says, he knows the in and out of construction work now, would be very useful in Gurgaon, once he is able to get back.

And when is that, I asked.

"Yaar, abhi to do saal lagenge. Kaafi karza hai sardaarji ka. Woh chukaunga aur plane ki ticket lunga. Phir jaunga. UNO/Red Cross papers ka intezaam kar dete hain"

There were tears in his eyes,

"Yaar, main 21 ka tha jab main nikla tha, ab 26 ka ho gaya hoon. Ek saal tak ghar walon se phone pe baat bhi nahi ho payi thi. Main to zyada ke chakkar mein bilkul diwaliya ho gaya. Ab bas ghar wapas jaana hai, aur aaram se apne bistar pe sona hai."

"Yeh desh apne liye theek nahi hai. Apan to wahin pe achhe hain"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Trois Couleurs

The Good

I was walking down the street looking for an electronics repair shop. The malls are probably not the best part of town to look for one but that's the only market I knew. I had been walking for the better part of an hour and my feet were beginning to drag. I was also very hungry; breakfast had been bread with jam and it was now 2 in the afternoon. I saw a waffle shop on the street to my right and decided to try one. It was only an euro and a half. The first bite burnt my upper lip, but I didn't notice - the taste was exquisite. I devoured the entire thing as quickly as my lips would allow. Then, I got up; there was a spring in my step. I did manage to find the shop eventually :)

My flatmate came home early and we decided to cook dinner (I mean he did, I mostly stood and watched). Rice was no major issue, and we cooked dal too (procured from a Punjabi shopkeeper at ridiculous prices). And then he said, "Chal tadka lagate hain". I peeled and sliced the onion and tomato and we got the spices and the entire mixture on the frying pan, smelling heavenly. It was amazing - the best dal-chawal I have ever eaten. Today, it'll be my turn - I plan to have a pretty heavy lunch :D

The Bad

We haven't gotten an internet connection at home yet. We are getting unsecured wireless from some office near our home - but it is unreliable and erratic. I went to a center of the the office-approved ISP. After waiting for an hour and a half, I was told that it'll take 6-8 weeks to get the connection. Why this delay? Due to backlog of orders, unavailability of staff etc. Till then, unsecured wireless it is!

One would imagine that in times of the credit crunch, banks would be more than willing to accept new savings a/c. But no! I can't open an account till I get a rental agreement made. What about the fact that my flatmate has the rental agreement and my office is willing to furnish a letter saying I live where I live. That'll not do. So until then, I am getting my money transferred to my friend's account.

One would have it so much easier with these things back in desh. Am really surprised by the bureaucracy - didn't expect it.

The Ugly

It is next to impossible to have savings of the kind we have in India, in the West. The ratio of expenses required to maintain a certain standard of living to salaries is very high here. E.g. - Rent is upto 30% of salaries in many cases. And of course, people can't afford domestic help. Therefore, it is completely understandable why shorter working hours are required. When a guy gets back from work, he needs to cook his food, clean his house, get repairs etc that are needed around. There is no khana bananewale bhaiya or kaamwali bai here. Also, there are no 5 Rs. paranthes, or 10 Rs. DTC bus ticket, or 150 Rs. shirt you can get here. I mean the variation in living standards is very low and there are no low cost alternatives to many things.

We got some (actually a lot) of furniture from IKEA and fixed most of it over the weekend - 2 cupboards, 2 beds, 2 tables, 2 sofas, 1 shoe-rack, and a couple of chairs. We have 3 chairs remaining, which I guess I'll do over today and tomorrow. Having not worked with my hands in a long while, it was pretty tiring. I made many errors, cut my finger once, and broke a chair. Also, tried cooking and burnt the khichdi (and ate it nevertheless).

Am having the truly authentic firangi experience, I guess :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Been away from this space for 4 months now. Didn't have much to say - little of the earlier angst is there.

Meanwhile, some cosmetic changes - I have changed the title of the blog as well as the tagline. More in reflection of my current state of being.

Hopefully, will have more to say from now on.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A list of things...

I just completed reading "The Remains of The Day". I had seen this book several times with friends and the only reason I was turned off from buying it earlier, was that one of the friends who had earlier recommended it to me, was someone whose taste I didn't much appreciate. However, a few days earlier, I came across a list somewhere (I am a big one for lists btw), one of those "100 must-read books before you die" kind and this book was right at the top. Suitably intrigued, I got and purchased it; pleasantly surprised that it was pretty light (on the wallet too).

Why do I mention this?

Because one of the lines from the book has stayed with me and I thought it over many times today: "The evening is the best part of the day". To paraphrase, the idea that a man can only do so much and rather than struggling on when incapable, one should let go, leave and learn to enjoy the autumn of one's life. This thought has made quite an impact on me and I would count it to come back to me at various points of time in the future.

Which brings me to some other thoughts/snatches/ideas from other sources which have had a impact on me, on hearing or reading which I am moved even today (even though it might have been years since I originally encountered them):

1. The Shawshank's Redemption's "Hope is a good thing" bit

2. American Beauty's "I saw my life flashing in front of me" sequence

3. V for Vendetta's speech in which he telecasts to London "...words will always retain their power..."

4. Rang De Basanti's "Luka Chhuppi" and "Khoon Chala" songs

5. Several parts of the latter half of "The Crucible" and the last bit in "The Lord of the Flies"

7. The guitar crescendoes in the middle of the songs in "November Rain" and "Wonderful Tonight"

8. And of course, many many scenes from "The Wonder Years"

There are many more, but I guess these are the ones at the top of my head.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

One Long Rambling Post

In the few blogposts that I have written previously, most of the time, I have written the title beforehand and then changed it, after completing the post. I don't intend to do that this time.

I indulge in a lot of self-analysis and self-criticism. I like to think that I know very well, my character strengths and deficiencies. There are several "deficiencies" I am secretly proud of. For instance, every 6 months, in my job, I get an evaluation of my strengths, weaknesses and development plan. The latest one says (in the weakness areas):

1. Improve slide-writing skills
2. Improve ability to estimate time required for different activities
3. Be proactive in reaching out to superiors in case, deliverables are not clear
4. Make well-structured spreadsheets that are user-friendly

Now, 1, 3 and 4, I am secretly proud of, and don't intend to change as long as they don't become career-threatening. I personally don't believe in spending inordinate time in making good-looking slides and excels for the benefit of others as long as I know the answer, others be damned. Also, as for 2, I believe in giving myself impossible timelines so that I can make a simple task appear challenging, which might then make it more exciting to me. As for 2, I really hate admitting that I can't get something done and therefore delay going to people as long as I can manage. And am proud of that for my independence.

The above was just an example. In personal life too, I have received feedback around several facets of my character. I don't worry about most of them too much. However, there is something that has and continues to rankle me a lot.

It is that I am very self-involved. Now, this is something I am not at all proud of. Several friends who have known me closely for a long period of time have told me that. My parents have told me that. No, I am not joking. I first came to realise it, when a few years back, my mother complaining over the phone about the fact that I never called her up, said "Beta, tu bada nirmohi hai". At that time, I laughed it off, but to tell you the truth, this statement has come back to me several times.

In 8 odd years when I have been away, I never felt the need to call my parents up, unless I needed something. It is not as if I have something against them. My parents and I have a good understanding and a friendly relationship. We banter and we quarrel and behave like a normal small family (on a side note - now that both my elder sisters are married, I am equal party in all the decisions that are made in the family and since my parents generally end up disagreeing, my vote decides the matter). But I don't ever feel like talking to them - I mean, the thought never comes to my head.

The same goes for my sisters. I don't call them up, I find talking to them a bore. Similarly, I am not in touch with my friends through any of my own efforts. I scrap only when scrapped, and even then, sometimes, not.

I have had strong friendships and my share of personal relationships. When I am with people, I am passionate, worried, happy about/for them. But when I am away, there is no internal voice that tells me to be in touch, talk to someone and want to know what is going in his/her life.

Earlier I would imagine that it was all about finding the right person, and then you would learn to care, and be with that person. But I have realised that it doesn't hold true for me.

Now this worries me, and not a little bit. If I am so insular, what is going to happen to me. Relationships are quid pro quo and without my quid, I won't get any quo. But despite the worry, I can't bring myself to care for people. I mean, I love helping out people. I have the habit of taking people under my tutelage, making them my projects, mentoring them and seeing that they achieve the best. But do I really care for them, I don't think so. Even if those guys were replaced by someone else, it'd be the same.

Therefore, the question is, if one is a self-involved bastard and knows it and wants to change it, but can't bring himself to do something that doesn't come naturally to him, what would one do. Frankly, I don't know.

A few days back, one of my superiors was telling me the benefits of being an "insecure overachiever". I agreed with him, and got what he was talking about. It is "only the paranoid survive" theme. I used to be (and guess still am) insecure, and I don't take too much happiness in whatever I achieve/win. But in the last couple of years, there were several times when I took steps to chill out, you know, enjoy the journey, not the destination etc., but somewhere down the line, I realised that was not me. And I got back to being an insecure fighter.

I mean, I know (even though I hope against it) that I have modest skills and will need to go out of my skin to becoming anything of consequence, and pinning my hopes of happiness on success rather than personal life is a strategy that will fail, I can't bring myself to change. It's almost pathological.

Well, that's my rant. And I take some satisfaction from the fact that I have managed to maintain the title as it is.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cathatfished's Tag

So, it takes a tag for me to finally post something. Well, no such thing as a tag to revive this blog. Guess will start saying a few things from time-to-time. So here goes,

Last movie seen in a theatre?

Krazzy 4. Am not too proud of it.

What book are you reading?
Just started "The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce" - Paul Torday. His first book, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was amazingly funny. Just finished India after Gandhi.

Favourite board game?

Favorite Magazine:
The Economist, Brunch too

Favorite Smells:
Kerosene :D
The wind before rain

Favorite Sound:
Good music floating in the air. Not too loud, so that I can sing to it.

Worst Feeling In The World:
There is this bad feeling I get in the stomach/chest when I realise something is not going right and I can't do a lot about it.

What Is The First Thing You Think Of When You Wake?

What's the time?

Favorite Fast Food Place:

Future Child’s Name:
Girl - Varsha
Boy - Vardhaman

Finish This Statement. “If I Had A Lot Of Money I’d…”

Become powerful. Try to change the world...In that order.

Do You Drive Fast?
Don't know how to drive. Bicycles, well I crashed a lot, so soon gave up.

Do You Sleep With A Stuffed Animal?

Storms-Cool Or Scary?
Cool. Really cool.

Do You Eat The Stems On Broccoli?

If You Could Dye Your Hair Any Color, What Would Be Your Choice?
Brownish black

Name All The Different Cities/Towns You Have Lived In.
Simra, Kurseong, Delhi, Gurgaon

Favorite Sports To Watch:
Cricket, Age of Empires

One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You:
Hmm, that she tagged me. No, but seriously, would love to know her better.

What’s Under Your Bed?

Would You Like To Be Born As Yourself Again?

Morning Person Or Night Owl?
More night owl than morning person.

Over Easy Or Sunny Side Up?
Neither. Vegetarian.

Favorite Place To Relax
The sofa, with a good book

Favorite Pie:

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:
Black currant.

I tag Atish. Don't really known whether he still visits this place or not though.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Why am I here?

Where am I going?

Where did we all come from, ab initio?

Our existence is a bit like radiation, starting from one source, and radiating outwards, covering greater and greater area, intersecting with more and more similar radiating curves, affecting them, but dimming further and further in intensity until we slowly fade away, memories dull and we forget where we came from and where we started out for - or is that merely an illusion - the goal - and all we are doing is following a pre-defined path.

In college, I used to think, one day I would rule the world. As impractical as it sounds, I don't want the dream to die away - it has fired me time and again and kept me from falling into an abyss. But 1.5 years of professional life have blunted me, fattened me, made me lazy. The bluster is still there, but the intensity is going away. Political correctness, easy money, compromises have all made my spirit but a ghost of what it was.

Sometimes, I think it is better to be dead than be this way.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Life in a Metro

Due to some personal work, I have had a chance to take the metro almost every second day. A couple of observations:

1. A vast majority of the travellers are females. Understandably so, because they belong to the same economic strata where the males travel in scooters/bikes and small cars. But the sheer number does strike you (and you don't really mind).

2. The quietness in the station and within the trains. I mean, even people travelling together are not talking too much. Maybe, because the general ambience (the cleanliness and order) is too unnatural (otherworldly?), too forbidding to make people comfortable talking.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

As time goes by...

My new year resolution is...

...that I will not procrastinate.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers...

I left home at the age of 15. When I did, I wasn't too worried - for some reason, I had a quiet confidence in my own abilities to survive and thrive wherever life took me. Over the last 8 years, there have been several times when I have been faced with seemingly impossible situations which I have then successfully gotten out of. Many times, it has been my own resourcefulness - I have (very deservedly) the reputation of a scrounger and a "chussu" among my friends - but many more times, it has been the help of strangers, people I haven't met twice who have gotten me out of a mess.

The day I landed in Delhi for admission to school (alone - my father had been abroad for some work), I managed to lose the draft that paid for my school fees as well as was denied admission in school due to absence of my board results. I was basically, left stranded in a city where I didn't know anyone and didn't know what to do next. Then, I was helped by somebody from my own town who had come to drop his son. He took me to his relative's place where I stayed for 4-5 days (they also loaned me the money for my fees) until I managed to get admitted. I was never able to thank them properly/take their address or even manage to locate the uncle - but they are people I am much indebted to.

The other day, I was in an airport, flying from abroad, and an hour away from the departure time, realised I didn't have any money to pay for the airport tax - they wouldn't accept my currency, and there was no currency changer available. I then stood around requesting people one by one until an old lady from New Zealand obliged giving me the $20 required to board the flight and reach home. She never replied my thanks email and I guess she is also lost to me.

I don't know how to drive - my roommate drops me to my office, and when he doesn't, many days I stand outside my house asking for a lift. It surprises everyone I tell this to - but almost every fifth guy agrees - and many sometimes go out of their way to drop me to the right location. I was recently travelling alone in the South, and on the way navigated purely by asking people - and was never once sidetracked.

Since, every post needs to have some point (or atleast a semblance of one) this one's is - when in trouble, sometimes we just don't ask people around us - maybe it's some ego thing (or a fear of rejection) or insecurity of being taken advantage of, but my experience has been that, more often than not people are nice and helpful and in the worst case, indifferent.

Last night, I returned home at 11 to find that I had been locked out, and my roommate wasn't due to return till 3. But I didn't have to freeze in the Delhi chill because one of my neighbours (we hadn't laid eyes on each other before), took me in and gave me a gadda, pillow and rajai to sleep on until my roommate returned.

Obviously, when I narrated this to my room-mate, he took it as a one-off, but I have grown to believe that the stranger is a more helpful guy than we think, and when in trouble, we shouldn't hesitate in looking around, and saying "Please...".

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Sydney Test

I can choose to pretend it was just a bad dream and go about my life as I do everyday...

...but it did happen, and I am super pissed off.