Last year I travelled to Almaty in Kazhakistan, one of those break-away nations when USSR crumbled. It’s a quaint place, and I quite liked it; the flight to and fro (that too from Delhi) was anything but. While going they tortured us by being extremely stingy in serving water. On return, they upped the ante. We reached around midnight, exhausted, and sanguinely looking forward to crash into the bed before catching an early morning flight to Mumbai. In between, I had planned to slip away and visit parents; after all, it would be callous and criminal to be in Delhi and not visit them.
Finally, I found a house – albeit, a rented one, for now! But before I could reach here I had to undergo my share of the proverbial baptism by fire!
My search for a decent house to purchase went up right up to mid-April, when panic set in. Time had run out -I had to vacate the previous one by the month-end, and I was nowhere close to selecting, leave alone starting the cumbersome paper-work. Before I left for Delhi for a short-trip, I zeroed-in on a nice rental accommodation. On return, I went to pay the advance when the owner dropped a devastating bomb on my well-laid plans: the society will not allow bachelors to stay there. As he spoke those horrifying words the ground shifted beneath my feet, my mouth dried and I felt uncomfortably nauseous. Sitting in the owner’s obnoxiously claustrophobic office, I stammered some well-meaning arguments which fell with impotent futility on his iron-hard demeanor. The only words echoing in my mind were my promises to my then-current owner made just that morning, about vacating the next weekend, and they played relentlessly like a tape in an infinite spool.
Stepping out into the oppressive Mumbai humidity, I turned to my property consultant. I was too frustrated to even get angry at him who should have checked all these details beforehand. On his part, he apologized profusely and frantically dialed his contacts and lined up a few more.
The next few hours felt like a movie hurtled into a frenzied pace, without making any sense or logic – driving from one house to another, tiresomely waiting in the courtyard for keys to arrive, viewing some that befit haunted movies sets than living-in, negotiating with prospective owners (as suddenly I discovered I had to adjust my budget upward). And all this without having eaten either breakfast or lunch or having even a drop of water. Like a parched and shriveled leaf thrown into a gargantuan whirlpool, by the end of that terrifying noon I felt beaten and bruised.
In all this, the sun hammered with its unforgiving fury and the humidity sucked out the last of my waning energies.
I am on a house-hunt. Again. Last week, my landlady dropped the bomb that they needed the house returned; and this, after their broker had lulled me into believing the lease will be renewed. Apparently, that’s not the case. This, when (after all my doubts) I had actually started to love my current pad. I requested for a three-month buffer, and immediately dialed my regular broker. He all but groaned though nevertheless promised to help; after all, that’s his business.
I saw the first batch yesterday and like the previous two times, returned frustrated, grumpy & cribbing. Yesterday’s search added one more word from Bombay’s unique property lexicon: ‘converted homes’ ; and though I realize property is an unlisted but potent religion, still, the word flummoxed me, till the time I saw one such ‘convert’ . It means slicing an already tiny 1BHK into further two frustratingly tinier bedrooms; usually, the kitchen area is the sacrificial lamb in this sacrament, reduced to a mere apology of a sliver. In the first such house, I marveled at a family staying in this constricted space – consisting of a father, a couple *and* a huge dog!
I decided ‘Converted houses’ are not my cup of poison and I strictly forbade the broker to show me anymore such hybrids. Likewise, I also struck off any one-hall-kitchen; in one such home, I gaped with amusement at the kitchen (with a sink and gas stove) on one corner and the bed on the other. I crave my coffee cup early morning but to stagger sleepily out of bed and immediately face the gas-stove is stretching convenience even beyond my lazy limit.
Six months back, seeing me busy in a flurry of signing agreements & making fresh post-dated rental cheques, someone had remarked, “Oh, you are changing house?” I had laughed it off, “No, I am changing my landlord!” It was a good joke then, but it backfired quite soon. Looking back, I regret not making my own offer to the owner. The property prices were relatively low, and the house went off in what now retrospectively everyone sagely tells me in an unbelievably superb deal’. I was a fool. And more than that, scared. Buying a house in Mumbai is a Herculean task, and the thought of all those exorbitant installments & paperwork paralyzed me.
Ever since the house I lived in sold off, it was just a matter of counting days. While the new owner was magnanimous to allow lease extension, he had categorically stated that he ‘would need it back shortly’. The countdown had begun. But as the days went by, I slipped into a comfort zone.
My car’s front number plate has become a joke. If it had been a chain mail, it would have got forwarded the world over several times over. And perhaps (like all chain mails) return to me.
Some two-three months back, the number plate decided to loosen all its ties, and hang out adventurously. Rather, hang down. Like a good car-owner, I reprimanded it and took it to the repair-shop (one decrepit one, near my place) and replaced its screws (at an exorbitant price for the job that size). Obviously, the number plate didn’t like to get screwed. Next day, when I reached Lonavla (for a review, darlings, not for holiday – just in case you start off on how lucky I am, which I am not) I found that the number plate had again broken free, and was gleefully swinging like a trapeze artiste in a circus.
I thought I’d just leave it. Let the poor kid enjoy it’s living on the edge. (Well, procrastination and laziness were two other reasons, but I am not really going to confess that up, no m’dahlings? )
The Parsis celebrated Navroze on Wednesday 19th August this year. Till a few years back, I was quite oblivious of this festival, until I wrote a story which fleetingly had its mention. Then, I had done a bit of research to incorporate in the narrative. In Delhi, where Parsis are less than a handful, one never learns of this festival. Here, in Bombay, it is quite well celebrated, and we observe a holiday. Anyways, getting a mid-week off is always a welcome manna.
On this auspicious day, I embarked on the second phase of my Holy Grail’s quest – buying a record player. Having failed to find a good (and reasonably priced) three-speed player, I have finally settled to buy a Denon two-speed one, and had also learnt that the only shop that I could purchase it from is at Atria Mall, Worli – quite a distance from my residence (and a major reason for damning procrastrination). In between, I had bought a stand-alone Philips player, from a used-goods seller, but the sound quality turned out to be woefully pathetic, and I just packed it up, hoping to return it for whatever price I get to the same seller.
Before going to the shop on second floor, I parked the car at Atria Mall, and hailed a cab to check the shops at Heera Panna Shopping Center (near Haji Ali Dargah). I had heard much about it, but never could get time to pay a visit. The airconditioned market is a veritable maze of closely packed little shops selling electronics and leather goods and other trivia. In essence, it is much like Delhi’s underground Palika Bazaar – similar to the extent that both markets are known for their ‘gray market’ stuff, and were hugely popular in India’s pre-liberalizaton era. I walked the market’s criss-cross alleys taking in multifarious sights and smells, but I could discover nothing that held my interest.
We all know what it means. And I am sure no one can say they haven’t had their own small embarrassing moments – you know, the kind where you dash off a quick email stating ‘heartiest condolences’ at your friend’s uncle’s demise! Or, where you wish a person ‘Happy’ festival, when it is actually a martyr’s day of some prophet or guru!
In one classic instance, my ex-colleague G started to extol on the dumbness of a lady in front of an important official. As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew we were in serious trouble and kicked him hard on his shin below the table, and hurriedly broke in firmly stating that the lady was truly very hard working. She was now the wife of the official we were sitting with!
In another incident, a colleague called out to an abundant-attitude-charged peon as ‘Oye Vice President, come here’ – only to see our company’s Vice President alighting from the elevator from the opposite end!
It’s like a wave – the water recedes, seemingly never to return, and yet, the very next instant the deluge rushes forward, callously erasing away any footprints imprinted in the soggy sand.
I had thought I’d almost given up this space (not literally, but definitely figuratively). Perhaps, the biggest sign being I visited London and Scotland this year, and did not even once feel writing about the trip. Yes, I had kept the space ‘artificially alive’, for no other reason than nostalgic value – the way one keeps a momento cleaned and polished atop a showcase. But clearly, I hadn’t meant to keep it a well oiled machinery, the way it was in 2004-2005 and for some parts of 2007.
Many old friends have moved on. Many blogs have slipped into a numbing silence. Many links are invalid. The comments have dried. The visitors have thinned. The thoughts have perished. In short, the wave had retreated. Or, so I thought.
Yet, it never does.
A few days back, like a shocking jolt, out of nowhere and catching me absurdly unaware, the entire deluge came gushing and hurtling and howling down; deafening me in its thunderous roar, sweeping me in its force and hurting me with its impellent impact.
The wave had returned. And how! I spent the entire Independence Day weekend browsing through my own writings – amused at some, ashamed at others, and proud of quite a bulk (especially the stories). And like a wave, it brought back its own residues – twigs and dirt and pearls and seashells…those memories! The posts (both on this site and my previous one) are virtual age-lines on a tree-trunk; through them I could chronologically trace my life’s past five years. The happiness, the sadness, the silliness, the intelligence, the highness, the lowness of all those years are so firmly etched in this supposedly nebulous cyber-space (and what a range! From a routine walk through Kathmandu rains to an oh-so-intelligent discourse on living alone, these pages carry them all). And, it brought back that recurring dream. A dream I knew I had strangulated. A dream I thought I had rested. A dream I believed I had buried.
I read these pages with happiness. I read them with sadness. I read them – and I hate to admit this – with regret. Because, the trace ends two years back, when I shifted to Bombay. Woefully, the past two years are practically lost from these pages (other than a few odd posts here and there).
The wave had also washed off the resolute resolution of keeping creativity in check, and concentrating on life/work in its mundane form, the way the majority do. My imprints in the sand. No longer there.
I should have seen it coming. I should have immediately built a dam around it. After all, I had mentioned this space, not to one, but to two people in a span of few days. That triggered the return. Suddenly, once more, yesterday I was looking at words the way an artiste does his pallette. I saw them dancing impishly, waiting to be created into intelligible sentences. I watched them playfully tickle me to arrange them to form a page of thoughts. I noticed them mirroring my emotions and feelings. As I have often mentioned earlier, It’s that urge to write. That irrepressible bug within me. It’s awakening. It’s alive. It’s not that (in past two years) I haven’t tried to write. Truthfully speaking, there are a few unfinished posts lying on my master word file. However, the fact is, the impulse never exceeded its defined limit, and I always managed to curb and hold it at bay. Till a few days back. Till this wave.
But…but…can I afford to carry on? Can I allow the bug to take control again? Can I permit that dream to be exhumed and still expect it to breathe and provide fragrance?
Questions, to which I have no answers as yet. I will allow them to rest awhile.
Monday morning, and I was ready on time. Congratulating myself, I sipped the orange juice contentedly while checking email on my mobile. I sat on a slender but comfortable cane chair, with my back to the window that opens onto the small and cute balcony, a rarity in Mumbai flats. Outside the week expanded out in its soothing routine- a raddiwala cycled past asking for old newspapers, a wife bade goodbye to her husband, a neighbor admonished the car-cleaner to wash his car first, hurried footsteps rattled down the stairs, a few birds chirped, a car honked, an auto stuttered, a couple of security guards chattered animatedly.
I glanced at my watch, exited the email menu and gulped the last of the juice. Getting up, I placed the mobile on my top pocket, picked up the empty glass and with my other free hand, I inserted the little finger in my left ear to clear an irritation I felt.
Everything faded into silence. Or rather smothered by a dreary drone. It took a few seconds to comprehend the full impact. My left ear seemed blocked as if someone had shoved in a huge ball of cotton. The right one was fine. I would have ignored it, but the blockage’s irritation swept aside any sense of patience. I understood what had happened- ear wax must have got pushed into the canal.
Hurriedly, I dropped the empty glass into the kitchen sink, grabbed the laptop, swooped on the car keys and rushed out of home.
There is a chemist shop right below my apartment building. It usually opens early but today for some strange reason grim shutters greeted me.
I ran to my car, with the irritating blocked ear heavily feeling like a lead earring. I knew of a 24 hour chemist shop half a kilometre away.
Not trusting the volume of my own voice, I whispered for ear buds.
Back in the car, I ripped open the box, and pulled out an ear bud, while quickly reading the warning and instructions on the wrapper.
The buds provided no relief. I had to see a doctor!
While swiftly typing a ‘ I will be late ‘ sms to my boss, I tried to recall where I had seen a signage of an ENT specialist. I couldn’t remember. I slowly drove down the road, taking in all the doctor boards, ignoring the irritated horns of irate drivers behind me, the upside being I couldn’t really hear them in full blast.
Lots of dentists, a few general practitioners, a couple of gynaecs, but I couldn’t find any ENT specialist.
I stopped at another chemist and asked for one. He gave the address of a doctor, not far off, but with the Metro construction on in full swing, and the traffic at its peak hour, it took me an arduous fifteen-minutes to reach. Only to be met by a cheerless receptionist, eating sprouted dal, sitting in an eerily empty office.
‘I wish to see the doctor,’ I said.
‘He’s not in. He will come at 11.30′ she replied with a more than obvious disinterest in her job. She wouldn’t care or bother if he never came.
My heart sank.
‘Is there any other ENT doctor nearby’
Clearly this didn’t go down well with her. Curtly she said, ‘Idea nahi hai’ and went back to her sprouted dal.
Dejected, I stepped out. Opposite, there was an obesity clinic, and an eager looking youngster viewed me hopefully. Sorry buddy, I’m not your client. Not yet, at least.
Thereafter, for next one hour, my search for a suitable doctor began. Actually, not suitable. Any doctor.
Downed shutters and similar looking dour receptionists gave me similar answers.
What the hell??!? Don’t doctors wake up early here? Are they like just any other businessmen opening their shops at a leisurely pace. Mine was a small problem, but what if I had a genuinely serious emergency? I would have been dead by the time I found a medico in his shop…err, clinic. And it wasn’t that early either. It was nearing 10.30, dammit. And surely, dentist and cosmetic dentistry is damn lucrative business seeing the number of available clinics in this supposedly posh colony. I reckon, the rich have their own set of diseases. And convenient timings when they get afflicted.
Angry and frustrated, I started for office, with the faint hope of stopping en route at a newly inaugurated (by Amitabh Bachchan, no less) multi-speciality hospital and finding an ENT surgeon there at least. If not, any doctor would do who could fish out the damn wax obstinately stuck in the ear and giving immense discomfort.
If there is one woe common in India (and extended to Nepal since I have stayed there too) it’s that of the maids – especially those who work for bachelors, staying alone. I know the NRI’s will snigger that at least we get them pretty inexpensive here (unlike abroad, where they skim off your wallet by the hour!). But given the fact that labor is cheap here, and home-help is indeed abundant, let’s not deviate too much, and accept that hiring a maid is a necessary evil than luxury.
But their irregularity irritates & irks. And when they work for bachelors the excuse for not turning up is uncannily similar and non-innovative all across (at least it has been through the three cities that I have stayed) – ‘ we came but you had left by then!’ Simple! Who’s going to check whether they actually came or not! I don’t really keep a time-guard or attendance register outside my home.
Look at life’s irony – there was a time, on this very blog, when I had wanted to give it up all and walk away. During those crises-ridden days, I sought escape routes that were not available, and as lazy hours stared back with their longing eyes, I would return to this page, trying to form words out the creative stupor and nether that I was in.
Today, the scenario is diametrically opposite – I have so much to tell, yet I am not able to find those lazy hours (nay, moments) where I can sit leisurely to sort that jumble of thoughts and events and celebrations into a neat and tidy readable post(s). Here is, in capsule, all those posts that never saw the life on this blog, but could have been, and who knows, might also find themselves written sometime in future:
My experience with a diet program!
Plagiarism is not restricted to our films and music. It extends to our web world too. I found this diet program here, only to later discover that it was a word-to-word lift from the famous General Motors (GM) diet program, only that the beef was replaced by bean sprouts – and this, without any acknowledgement or byline! (There is a contention that this diet might not have anything to do with the car manufacture).
Anyways, let’s start from the beginning. One fine morning I got this cosmic enlightenment that I had to reduce weight, somehow, someway. As I searched options, all got crossed off: exercise, I read on the net – suddenly, the entire body formed a union and went off on strike, hassled and agitated. Reduce carbs – this time the taste buds protested vehemently, “you can’t leave that kachori, can you?” they screamed at the top of their lungs, while simultaneously coaxing the eyes to land on that sumptuous new Pizza Hut offer card. Err, umm, ok – not that. But somehow there has to be a beginning. Eat less – and the stomach groaned like an over-stuffed but always supposedly under-fed giant. Ok, OK, keep silent. Lemme think of something else.
The poor brain, like the poor management of public sector banks in India, was left pretty alone and deprived and tried to find a middle-solution. It’s then that this site came into the picture. It’s only for a week. And it allows you to stuff yourself. Plus, it mentions only a mild exercise. So, it should be ok. The body relented. Agreement reached. And General Motors (GM) diet begun! Be it GM diet or Santro diet or Volkswagen – what’s in a name anyways, as the Bard said!
If you remember this post, (and even if you don’t that’s why I am providing the link), you will recall my paranoia in shaving off my moustaches. Finally, one Sunday evening, while getting a shave at my friendly neighborhood barber, I told him to yank off the hair from above my upper lip – a rare on-the-spot decision, and it had to be that way only if it ever had to be accomplished. The reason for not updating this earlier ranged from I-might-not-like-it-and-will-return-to-the-original-look to the I-am-damn-lazy-and-writing-on-a-petty-mouche-doesn’t-serve-this-blog-good! Anyways, the point is that I haven’t grown them back, and am quite liking myself sans the extra hair. So, all ye who have seen me, be prepared to welcome the ‘new improved(?)’ DJ!
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Funny I read actor and former VJ Rahul Khanna’s fabuloulsy written post on encountering a cockroach just at the time when I am these days faced with similar problems – albeit involving a completely different species. Rahul’s tryst with a cockroach is funnily narrated. But my daily face-to-face with lizards hardly tickles my funny bones.
My enemies are not the cockroaches; I can bear them, and they look pretty mild, as compared to the animal that seems to be here, there and everywhere in my house – the lizard. When the mercury soared this month, I had to open the windows and doors; else I’d have died of suffocation and heat. But instead of any cool relief, all I got were these creepy crawly things running over the walls, and sometimes on the floors.
When the overtly abundant but rarely active traffic cops pulled over my car at the busy landmark intersection of St. John’s College, I wondered if, engrossed in the song playing on my stereo, I had jumped the signal. Traffic violations are so rampant in Agra that I have ceased to pay attention to the rules, finding it quite tough to adjust to the more stringent (though not the best) Delhi traffic rules. I saw cars rushing past mine, so I was sure I hadn’t broken any law. If any, I would be following a few extra ones, for example wearing a seat belt, which is not mandatory here, but I still fasten it just to keep the habit alive.
I am sure any self-respecting medical journal will give you pretty simple, doable and practical answers eat a light dinner, take a small walk, wear loose clothes, count till whatever number you can count till and many more.
But one very important advice they forget is something which I realized recently, and it actually confused me initially: keep your conscience clean and satisfied; because if you do not do so you are bound to pound the poor bed, turning and twisting the night long.
In my current job assignment I meet a lot of the government servant types (I cringe at the use of the word ‘servant’ , clearly an odious legacy from the British era). I have noticed that they are the ones who almost always have a very neat and cut out life.
Often they ask me about my family. And the surprise (or rather, the shock) on their face is more than visible when I state I am single. It is impossible for them to comprehend that I chose to stay this way, willingly and happily, after my divorce. Invariably, they will go on to list out the virtues of getting married and the need to be settled an argument which rankles me no end. Why can’t I be ‘settled’ without the burden of marriage?
But a more pertinent question is, why even be settled in life?
I am alone. I am lonely. Something is bothering the heart. I cannot place it. I am on this main road. A famous one. Darbar Marg. It is raining. It is night. There is no one on the road. Across, in the middle, there is a fountain. Somone is standing with an umbrella. I know that person. I dont go towards him. But sing aloud enough to attract attention. I want the person to know my presence but simultaneously dont want to talk to him.
Due to an unexpectedly late ‘monthly meet’ at office, I was back in Delhi for a consecutive weekend – a first ever since I shifted to Agra. It kept parents happy, though my car and me were extremely grim when we heard of the trip. You don’t have ‘monthly review’ meets when the next month is just ten days away from its own closure! But admittedly, the bigger concern was to get my lazy bones moving towards the tyre shop to get the burst one replaced. I postponed and procrastrinated till the very end, and eventually trudged to a nearby shop on Friday late evening. Since I had no experience of buying a tyre – and neither did any of my colleagues – so listened half heartedly to the talk given by the shop-owner about ‘double rubber’, ‘ZVT’ as just another sales pitch. The third hurdle was that to reach Delhi on time, I would have had to wake up at 4 in the morning. Which I did.
So, 2006 slipped into posterity and the New Year greets us with the same characteristic cheer and good-will as each new year does – till the time it settles into its own routine, beyond the flurry of congratulatory SMS’s, emails, phone-calls and messages.