Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Those days, back in 1987, I was undergoing a training in Taj Coromandel, Chennai. I got an afternoon off. Ask any trainee from those days and they will tell you how difficult it was to get even one afternoon away from the clutches of the hotel. 

Someone would question why and that was that. The fear of no getting through the campus interview just because of one negative feedback was so high and Taj being one among the three potential employers that you coveted in the entire hotel industry that you quietly went back to work and never asked for a few hours off ever again. 

But somehow, I got it. 

I went across to the nearest bus stand in Nungabakkam and waited in the sun. I had to be able to take a bus to St. Thomas Mount or to a nearby destination. Some minutes later, I was on my way. 

They dropped me off near the college that I had wanted to go to. Let's say XYZ college of Engineering. I asked my way to a particular hostel that I knew from the letter that I had. 

I remember the hostel exactly. Overgrown weeds in the garden. Me stepping over hypodermic needles. Smelly surroundings. Bunk beds. Rolled up beds. One scruffy looking red eyed guy motioning me ahead when I told the name of the student. 

I didn't find my friend there. They told me he'd gone off somewhere, where no one really knew. And they laughed hysterically at me. The group of four. 

That day I knew that my friend was prey for these seniors. And this college would scar him for life. 

And so it happened. 

I never saw this friend again in life. I know he's there in a town somewhere in India. But he doesn't meet people. Old friends, not at all. 

And you thought men have it easy?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Handbook to a seat anywhere

The first time I get into a local train at CST in Bombay (back then) I just look around at the fierce competition that takes place for a few seconds before all the seats are taken. The first time I walk into a Metro train at Tollygunge Metro station in Calcutta (back then), the same thing occurs. The sounds too nearly are the same. Or call it yells and thuds. Then, one day, at Howrah station before catching a local train to Andul, a small town in the Kharagpur line, I received a seat management lesson from a stalwart who was accompanying me that day. First is, the vision. You have to be crystal clear in your mind that you can achieve a seat. Then you have to see yourself at that particular seat in your mind. No other. That particular. It could be the left side first coupe middle seat to the right of the window. Or the window seat to the left of the window. Picture it. Clearly. Vividly. Accordingly place yourself on the platform for the shortest run to that seat. Don't imagine yourself pushing or pulling. No talking. Arguing or yelling. Cold focus on the seat. Loosen your muscles to make yourself as lean as possible. You have to move swiftly. Then train arrives. Empty. As it's the first station. Everyone waits for the doors to open or the doors to be there in front when the train stops. Stand your ground. Don't be pushed back by thronging crowds. Moral and mental strength should transfer to physical strength. Then, you get the opportunity. The doors open or the train door stops in front of you. Jump in. Run or walk with long strides. Don't look at people. Look at the seat with single minded devotion. That seat is yours. Don't vacillate between seats at the last second. You are not a millionaire. You don't have the luxury to plump for many seats. Just one. Only the one that you have already sat in, in your mind, back at the platform. Boom, it's your seat. Don't shift. Don't look around. It's your seat. Sit with your bag in hand first. Allow the whole compartment to calm down before you put your luggage in the overhead rack. Be safe and then do whatever else that you wish to do. You can smile and even do a thumbs up signal to your accomplice after the success. I took in the stalwart's words that day and never looked back in life. For it was not just about the train. And of course, the same rules apply to football and life too. It applies to even a holy dip in the Kumbh Mela. And to a burning pyre at the banks of Ganges in Varanasi.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Women. Eyes. Mumbai.

It's always the eyes, you know. Even before the lady starts speaking, her eyes do. Darting, measuring, scanning, assuring and finally giving. This is from a few months back. I meet her, a lawyer friend, in the Starbucks outside Mumbai domestic airport at Santa Cruz. I have a car waiting to take me to a place called Khanapur. Yes, that's a name. Go on, believe it. We meet at the door. I order whatever we decide upon and since Starbucks takes utmost pleasure in hollering out the name wrong, I even provide a short name to the barista before sitting down. And then the eyes start off. Finally, it's all done. I take a deep breath and we start our conversation. Since, the scrutiny is over, conversation is easy and slowly monopolized by her. I just have to sit back and contribute a tosser here and there. A laugh, a nod and a retort is fine enough for the flow to continue. Women find it comfortable to to talk about their routine. Yes, I have gathered this over time and over experiences. In this case, she chats on about her office and her recent moves professionally. There's barely any mention of anything else. In fact, they are more chatty about work and routine than men ever are. Men finish their talk about with a grunt and a "going on" phrase. End of story. Then, they either get to the point or talk Cricket or Football. She then relates the travails she has with a particular office thing that's lately happening. That too, takes some time. The clock ticks away. We finally get to the point somewhere near the fag end of the whole conversation. The coffee is sipped and over with. The eyes are back to screening me over the glass and the straw. We part. Assurances are done with. Future calls and meetings are promised. In the car, towards Navi Mumbai and beyond, there's a lingering thought. Mumbai is a very distinct city that way. Here's a woman, a complete professional, putting in the hours and getting paid top dollar. There's barely any mention of home and hearth. She is battling her way to the boardroom and seniority in every fair way she knows. But there's the innate womanliness of a middle class Marathi community. The idiom isn't destroyed. The faking hasn't happened. Nothing has coloured the women like it has coloured the men. In this town. I remember a vignette from far back. The train has stopped at Mumbai Central. I am near the window. All ready and packed to deboard at CST the final stop. I spot a lady who is all hassled coming in by local train from wherever. She goes into the waiting room. A minute later she's out again. Lipstick done up. Hair redone very fashionably. A new dress. Mangalsutra hidden away for the day. High heels now. She confidently walks off the platform. That transformation, daily, for women across the town. And yet there are children, a spouse and probably even aging parents they have to get back to, in the evening. Ooh! that confidence!! That confidence and those eyes. No wonder, men are a poor second in Mumbai.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bamboos and the man

1981. Some elections taking place in Bengal. My uncle in a fit of bravado has decided to stand in the election against the ruling red party. He goes out to canvas for himself and he does not come back. Those days, even phones weren't there in those villages in Medinipur district. So, there's no way of knowing where he is. The family asks the cousin brothers to help. Of course, they are card carrying members of the red party and in Bengal, back then, party was certainly bigger than family. So, they say yes to the family but actually don't do anything to search. Then, some eight days later, post the election, uncle comes back. All tattered and smelly. Skin and bones nearly. No food for days together also makes oneself a bit light in the head. So, he is a wee bit incoherent. Or so they say, when we find out later. Turns out, he had gone canvassing and was picked up by the party guys and taken to some spot in the bamboo jungles a few miles away from our village. He escaped from them and then stayed in the bamboos till the election was over. And yes, they were known guys and so it was impossible to come back and be alive and kicking if they came to know. When you stay in the bamboos, as any erstwhile Naxalite would also know, food has to be sought, plucked or caught, rationed and one correct assessment has to be done. Is this poisonous or if this can do the trick for the day's meal? Nothing else matters. No politics. No family. No fear matters. Only hunger and what can satiate the hunger. And also the fact that nothing can be cooked. As the fire can be spotted from miles. And you don't want to die, do you? He survived to tell the tale. Many didn't. Many still don't. The reds have turned into the blue and the saffron chaps. But the game is still the same. Now you know what the recent Panchayat election was all about! Don't you? Yeah, just a Panchayat election.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Learn from Houseflies

A flykiller contraption was installed in kitchen. Lights and electrified grill and all. Missus got up from sleep and went there straight to find out what's happened. Bad news. The houseflies were smart. They were risk averse. They were like Mallu friends after four glasses of toddy. They measured every flying mission they undertook throughout the night. They flew close to the contraption but chose never to touch it and see what's it about. Good news too. Houseflies can now be studied for Artificial intelligence by scientists and there may be something for humans there. Mallus have already learnt, it's why they are so successful in unknown lands. Last heard, they were setting up businesses and sending nurses to Libya. I bet that half of our country won't even be able to name it's capital. The housefly learning can be used to program the rest of the nation. How to save yourself from stonepelters, from beatings, from random murders or from smelly gutters. Houseflies do things right. Learn from Houseflies. Like Nirav Modi did.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Angrezon ke zamaane ke jailor

Hum angrezon ke zamaane ke jailor Hain! Remember the Sholay scene? Asrani, the jailor comes in and there are two lines of convicts standing in front. He squeals in delight. He makes those unusual facial expressions. Like a parody of Hitler. Strains each sentence so that he's heard well by the people in front of him. He's dressed in khaki but he has a pair of black gloves in his hand. He has a stick in his other hand. He loves beating his breast with that stick and keep telling the people in front about his exploits. He also finally tells the convicts, let's them know actually that "humaare jasoos Charon aur faile huye Hain!" It is a threat. Implicit one. To deter people from trying anything funny in the jail. And there is a jasoos, a spy, who is actually active. Hariram Naaai. Naaai is barber in Hindi. Keshto Mukherjee. The duo, Jai and Veeru, come to know about the spy. They make a plan. They go and stand near where the barber is doing his work as a barber. They discuss a tunnel building strategy from the jail to somewhere out. The barber runs to the jailor and reports it. The jailor arrives in great style. The convicts stand quietly as he smartly whips off a basket and sees a iron rod kept on the ground beneath the basket. He holds that and burns himself. But he does not scold or punish his spy. So Jai-Veeru do their stuff again. They talk among themselves about a gun in the jail within the earshot of the spy. The spy reports. Jailor arrives with his cavalry. Then comes the immortal line: Aadhey idhar jao, aadhey udhar jao, baaki mere peeche aao. He inspects the line of convicts searching for the gun by scrutinizing faces, of all things. He tried to invoke terror in people by making faces. No one is terrorized. He is, by a couple of them. Then, the inevitable happens. Veeru sticks a wooden stump at his back, says he has to quietly do their bidding and they take the jailor to his office where they get their belongings and leave the jail. They even shove the key of the main gate and the wooden stump through the main gate window as they leave to show how moronic the "angrezon ke zamaane ke jailor" is. Our government man, you know who. Internal security and external affairs with neighbors. Lately, Kashmir and Maldives. Same to same. Got it?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The topspinning curve

1 am in the night. Sleep in the eyes. Mind still processing what just happened. Absently, I pick up the remote. Then, hold it for a while and start scratching my arms with it. Mind still processing. Open up the phone to see tweets and messages and updates. Everybody agog. Keep the phone away. Mind still processing. I have now gone into the physics of the whole thing that I just saw. A man, nearly 24 yards out, stands to take a free kick. In front of him is a wall, a wall of about five defenders who will rise up to meet the ball that may or will be chipped over them to the right of the goal as that's the only angle that's available to the man. If he goes to the left, his curve would not allow the ball to remain within the posts. He stands eyes open, then eyes closed, the spectators join him in the silence. It's like a Buddhist in a monastery. Then, he unleashes the chip. The ball sails above the rising heads on the right top corner of the wall. The last head actually tries to meet the ball by tilting to nearly 90* when he is four feet above ground. He cannot. Then, the ball curves and swoops in defying all conventional physics, like a top spinning backhand in tennis. And enters the right corner of the net. The goalkeeper, of course, has no clue how that happened. 3-3. Match finishes in minutes. I am still wondering about the physics. Others will recall the magic of Chistiano Ronaldo over the coming years. Legend, it will be. Physics. Magic. Ronaldo.