Nothing Beats Reality

What if

The sweetest kiss you’ve had is one you haven’t yet tasted

You don’t really know love yet because you haven’t felt the full force of heartbreak

Your most meaningful conversation has not been deep and soul-satisfying

You are not alone in the fear you fear the most

What if

The dream you deny is the one that will come true

The pain you’ve felt is far from strongest pain you can feel

‘Hope is not a dangerous thing but a good thing that never dies’

Your thirst for the extraordinary has shadowed you from the beauty in the mundane

You think that

Hello only ends in goodbye

A drag always ends in addiction

A sip always ends in affliction

But what if you’re wrong…

What if life lies in between the two extremes and you are missing out?

Because nothing beats reality.

 

Thank you Sixto Rodriguez & Andy Dufresne

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An ode to best friends

You get pushed away, far away from what you call home – your close friends, your family

When you are pursuing a goal that takes most of your time, you’re always absent from the lives of your close ones for long durations for no fault of your own…

Life takes over and all that

Then it suddenly hits you

That gap.

That you’ve seemingly drifted away
Into an empty ocean and the shore is fading away

And then you have one of these spontaneous conversations with your best friend
That has all the ingredients to sum up your 20+ year friendship till now

You speak of an old memory that triggered, triggers and will trigger laughter for as long as you two know each other

You speak of the significant others in your life

You speak of ridiculously disgusting guy things

You bring up the dirt you have on each other
Because that’s what your friendship has been based on – a mutual collection of dirt

Then you make these fantastic plans
Which you know will never really work out

But still have so much power

And then you’re immediately pulled back to shore by the memories that become the bonds of affection.

To my best friend, who is going through a rough time. Here’s some dirt for you free of cost.

The Standing Man – synopsis

‘What would you do if you saw your drunk stepfather beat the living shit out of your mother? I smashed his head with his half-empty whisky bottle – that’s what I did.’

Bru is 17, and he’s angry. He has always been misunderstood all through his childhood and never really fit in. This Pune-boy with his bold behavior, flippant attitude and candid honesty towards life has always been the black sheep, the oddball, the ugly duckling and a constant victim of mental and physical abuse. He has often been the sty in the eye of society – unwanted it seemed, by those who were closest to him.

The book takes you through his various relationships with his abusive step-father, docile mother, astute shrink and the love of his life. He desperately needs to break this cycle of abuse before it’s too late. But can he?

This is a story of fifteen days. Fifteen days of depression, frustration and anger, peppered with moments of hope that formed his pursuit of freedom. These were fifteen days that turned his life upside down. This is his story…

The Woman with the Giant Egg

womans day

To an Iranian ‘gaari’or street vendor, the rugby ball was a melon. To your typical ‘Mardom-e-mamouli’or middle-classman, rugby was just another word for American football that he learned about from Hollywood movies of the fifties and sixties. But to Afareen, rugby was her life.

Her brush with the sport was brought about through an accidental meeting. Yet she developed an instant connection. One might even call it love at first sight.

Her class was on its way back from a field trip at the Eram Zoo when a bunch of tough muscular white-skins were knocking each other down in a complete testosterone fest. The girls relished this rare opportunity to ogle letch and feast their eyes on raw masculine beauty. Not Afareen, however. She was too curious about the odd shaped ball to even care about the men.

“Oi!” someone shouted to her.

She turned and was surprised at an egg-shaped ball being flung in her direction. She caught the ball without any hesitation.

“That’s pretty good lassie. Now let’s see you toss it back eh?” said a strange looking sun-burnt white-skinned man.

Afareen flung a wobbling pass back at the white-skin.

“It’s all in the wrist lassie. Guide with your left, spin with your right”, he said.

And they tossed the ball around a couple of more times.

“Yerr gettin better already”

“Thank you” Afareen said with a smile on her face.

“I’m Edward Wade – the rugby development officer for Iran. We getting a women’s team together and we need all the help we can get. Yer interested lassie?””

“Yes” she said without any hesitation.

“Practice starts at 7 am tomorrow. Don’t be late”

“Afareen! Get back in the bus!” shouted the headmistress, subsequent to two loud honks. As the bus set off for school again, the bus driver began venting out his frustrations of the blistering heat to the conductor.

“These bloody foreigners come here and corrupt our land. What is this rugby?”

“It looks like fun”

“It is not fun. It is the devils game. The foreigners are invading our culture with this sport. Allah! It was better under Ahmadinejad”

But the truth was far from it. The Ahmadinejad reign was corrupt and regressive, especially for women.  It was in 2004 that Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former president Ayatollah Akbar Rafsanjani, had initiated a rugby revolution by for the upliftment of Iranian women, only to succumb to the constant pressure of the government. The Ahmadinejad reign had set out to squash women’s sport completely and rugby was the first victim, much to the despair of Hashemi.

Growing up, Afareen had read a little bit about Hashemi’s activism, not that it left an indelible impression on her. But little did she know that destiny was just about to help her rekindle the passion for rugby that Hashemi had tried in vain to ignite.

Afareen had fallen in love with rugby the minute she passed the ball. She didn’t know why or how but she knew she had to play. But first, she had to convince her parents. She rang the bell seventeen times before the door was opened and went straight into her mother’s arms. She looked at her with her big cute eyes and smiled from ear to ear. Afareen always dolled herself up like this when she wanted. Her mother knew that look very well but could seldom resist. Her stubborn daughter managed to get her way yet again.

“I can go for rugby??”

“Yes but I am coming with you. I want to see your practice”

“Why do you have to come?”

“Now enough Afareen! Don’t argue… do you want me to convince daddy or no?”

“Ok Mumma… I love you” she said with a big smile on her face.

“Yes yes…” her mother said playfully. “Only when it’s convenient”

Afareen was too excited to sleep but still got up at the first ring of her alarm at 6 ‘o’ clock sharp and woke her mother up.

“Get up! We’ll be late! We can’t be late!”

“Yes yes… if only you showed this much enthusiasm for your studies”

She put on her hijab, wore her track suit, put on her football boots and left for the ground. They reached 15 minutes before time because Afareen, under no circumstances, wanted to be late. Ed Wade arrived in the next five minutes and greeted the two of them.

“Good to see you lassie. I knew you wouldn’t disappoint. Why don’t you take out a ball from that bag?” he said. “You must be Afareen’s mother, I’m Ed Wade. It’s great to see the support of the parents”

“I just came to see what this rugby is all about. You haven’t got my support yet”

“You’ve come here to watch the lassies play. That’s job half done”

“I do believe the sport is dangerous. People get hurt very badly. There is a chance of a serious injury no?”

“Just like when you’re driving a car, you might meet with an accident. Or if you’re in a plane and it crashes.  The odds of serious injuries are about the same. The other minor injuries you get in any other sport“

“Really?”

“There is a famous saying – Football is a game for gentlemen played by ruffians and Rugby is game for ruffians played by gentlemen… Anyway I can go on all bloody day talking about rugby. Why don’t you just see for yourself?”

And thus began Afareen’s first practice session. She did make a few mistakes on the technical front, but her enthusiasm knew no bounds. Being a football player at the state level she was not afraid of contact. And she took on a few full blooded tackles. Her mother winced with every challenge of physicality but Afareen got up, dusted herself off, smiled at her mother and then carried on playing. She listened intently when Ed explained the technicalities and strategies of the sport and seemed to apply herself well. She had always been a quick learner.

While the girls were cooling down, Ed Wade went over to Afareen’s mother.

“So miss, what did you think? Do we have yerr support?”

“I don’t know yet. I will have to speak to her father about this?”

“You do that miss, and tell him that he is welcome here anytime to come and watch a session”

“But please don’t keep your hopes up. You know how conservative this society is”

“Forget about my hopes, just look at that smile on your daughter’s face” Ed Wade said.

Afareen was beaming. They had run ten laps, five sprints, 20 suicides, but Afareen was too excited to be exhausted. At school, she slept through most of her lectures due to a mix of fatigue and boredom, but the very thought of the sport excited her. She was thrilled with the prospect of getting to know the mysterious stranger in her life, while her mother was pacing around the house nervously trying to find the right words to explain Afareen’s newfound fancy to her father.

“Salam Azizam Fareeda! I’m home…” the father announced in his sonorous voice. He was six feet tall, dark, robust and had a thick moustache to give off a heavily intimidating demeanour.

Fareeda didn’t give him the customary hug or the kiss on the cheek but just plainly told him to have a seat.

“What’s wrong?” he said, his forehead creasing with concern.

“Just hear me out” she said and went on to explain the situation with Afareen.

“There is no way in hell she is playing rugby of all sports. Are you mad! You of all people shouldn’t be encouraging her. You have burnt your own hands by sticking with your passion”

He was referring to the younger days of Fareeda when she was fighting a battle of her own. She was a swimming champion, a prodigy, already having broken all the national records, ready for the international stage, when the Islamic revolution came in the way of her career. Harsher laws forced her out of the sport for good. Just like that. She was quite naturally devastated. That incident changed her and she carried that sadness with her wherever she went. Afareen’s father was with her at the time and stood by her through the rollercoaster of her emotions. It took a lot of sacrifice. They fought, then got professional help and even went to the spiritual world for answers. He made sure she snapped out of her depressed phase.

“Times have changed darling. I was timid then. I don’t want my daughter to be the same” she said softly and walked away. She was hurt. The memories came screaming back. But she was not looking for confrontation.

Her husband was slowly but surely being eaten up by guilt. He regretted his words the minute they came out of his mouth. He slept alone that night on the couch. But he couldn’t sleep. So he went out for a drive.

The next morning, he got up and announced Afareen’s name in his deep resonant voice. Afareen woke up with a start. She knew that she was going to feel the full brunt of her father’s anger. She was always scared of his temper. Not that he hit her or anything. But he hardly ever got angry. So when he did, his eyes would turn a bloodshot red, one vein would pop out of his bald head and he would scream his lungs out. It was scary. And Afareen would cry.

She was readying herself for another tearful morning as she walked to the living room. She stood in front of him, head bowed down in respectful fear.

“Look at me” he said. “Take this”.

He tossed a rugby ball into her arms.

She ran straight into his arms and gave him the tightest hug possible. She did have a tearful morning after all. The good kind.

She was over the moon. From that day forward, she took the rugby ball wherever she went. It was an extended attachment of her arm. She took it with her through the streets past the beet-root salesmen, the artisans beating metal in the handicraft shops, the bazaar and its crowd and into the ‘chakunyeh’ – the Iranian tea shops – where she met with her friends. All stared in bewilderment. They all were talking about her and the odd shaped object that she carried around. She was On zan ba tokhme bozord –  ‘The woman with the giant egg’.

 

She got along well with her team. She was never a people’s person but she could talk nineteen to the dozen when it came to rugby. She often got on her mother’s nerves with her constant rugby chatter. The morning practice session was the highlight of her day. She never missed a session. She did, however, turn up late for a session once.

It was when her family had to travel to neighbouring Alborz for the weekend to celebrate Afareen’s uncle’s birthday. She begged and she pleaded, but to no avail. She couldn’t escape the trip. She had already missed a couple of days of practice and she had made it a point to attend Monday’s session even if was late. As soon as she reached home she grabbed her kit and rushed off to the ground. Against her father’s wishes, she travelled alone and not by the usual carpool system. As soon as she got off the bus and was crossing the road towards the ground she saw a young man in a hood walking towards her. She stopped. She saw another man. And another. Soon she was mobbed by ten people. They were all shouting at her to “GO HOME!”.

She was backed into a corner, panicked and in tears. She was petrified. One brute ripped the rugby ball off her and banged it into the ground. That same ball came back like a boomerang and knocked him at the back of the head. He turned to take a swing when he saw the massive six-foot five frame of Ed Wade standing in front of him.

“Is there a problem lads?” he looked straight into the eyes of the guy who stopped short of throwing a punch. Not blinking once.

Everyone shut up and walked away. Afareen was on the pavement crying. Ed Wade picked her up and took her home.

“Yerr ok lassie. They’re the cowards. They’re afraid of change” he said.

As soon as her mother opened the door, she ran into her arms and released a flood of tears. Her mother gave Ed Wade a gentle nod of thanks and sent him on his way, while consoling her daughter.

She took her straight to bed and tucked her in. Afareen continued to cry and her mother just held her tight in her arms. She explained the scene of events and then started crying some more. She seemed inconsolable and then she slept out of exhaustion.

Her mother decided against waking her up for lunch, seeing that she was sleeping so soundly.

It was evening by the time Afareen woke up. Her mum had made her favourite Ghormesabzi.

She sat by her side and began feeding her. Afareen was much calmer now. Her mother’s food always managed to change her mood.

“They were all so scary. Why did they do that? What did I do to them?”

“This is not your fault baby. You must understand. This world is filled with two kinds of people. People who strive to bring about change and those that are afraid of it. They are cowards, bullying you, criticising you, making you feel stupid because of their insecurities. It is during this time that you must have unerring belief in yourself”

Afareen smiled at her mother. She felt much better now.

“What was it like before the revolution Mumma?”

“It was so normal. We would walk about the streets without a worry. We weren’t bound by the hijab”

“When will those days come back?”

“It will take time. But you’re on the right track. I’m so proud of you. You must never worry ok? You father and I will stand behind you no matter what happens”

“Thanks Mumma” and Afareen embraced her mother again.

Afareen avoided travelling alone from that point on but carried on practice in full swing. She was improving by leaps and bounds. In a brief period of time, she reached the humble heights of unprecedented success. She was the captain of her club. In her debut state level tournament, she showed skill and speed that few foreign eyes had seen. Ed Wade was amazed. Afareen continued to impress in the nationals and when she was declared top scorer in the tournament, Wade found a saviour in Afareen, for the country to display a respectful level of competition for their debut tournament in Hong Kong.

The announcement of her selection for the national side was made on her 18th birthday. She could not have dreamed of a better gift. She was, naturally, forced into buying two cakes instead of one for her future teammates. She had carried on Hashemi’s fight successfully in her own small way, or so she thought.

Just as she was about to blow the candles, a short scrawny bearded man with haunting eyes barged in and identified himself as a rugby official.

‘You’, he pointed to Afareen, ‘are out of the team’, he said with a cruelly wry smile on his face. He threw a letter in her direction.

Miss Afareen Rangaswamy,

We regret to inform you that although you are a citizen of this country, your father – Rangaswamy N – possesses an Indian passport. Thus it would be against the rules to field you in any national squad. Kindly pack your bag and vacate the premises by the evening time. 

Her fight was far from over. ‘Ahmadinejad’ had come to spoil the party yet again.

She was devastated. A victim of cruel circumstance, she was shattered. The candle wilted away into the cake. The celebrations were over. She left the room for good.

Wade fought her case. He refused to give in. Both he and Afareen pleaded with the official but he would not budge.

“I just want to play rugby. Please give me a chance”

“I don’t care about your dreams. Rules are rules. Now get out before I throw you out”

Everything that she fought for, everything that was rightfully hers was taken away from her. She didn’t know how to react, so she did not react. She just sat in her room, depressed. She chose not to talk. She refused to eat.

Afareen just went through the motions. Her life had no purpose it seemed. It had been long since she had chai and gossiped with her friends about the cute rugby white-skins in the cozy ‘chakunyehs’. Since her friends were part of the rugby team, those days were virtually gone. And Afareen was lonely.

Down the streets of Tehran, she now walked she did not run, she stared blankly she did not smile and the giant egg was nowhere to be seen. She was angry. She vowed never to play the sport again.

The tears stopped gradually. As the days went by she avoided the sport completely and seemed to be doing a lot better. She was trying her best to forget, but that was not easy to do. She went to buy some groceries, once, to cook dinner. In the vegetable market, as she was about to buy some onions she ran into a familiar face. Familiar yet disconcerting. She was her old rugby teammate who began narrating the incidents of the inaugural rugby tournament in Hong Kong. The memories came screaming back and Afareen was on the brink of tears. She could not hold back. She started wailing right in the middle of the market. She had to be taken home by that same friend.

It was her father who opened the door this time and he was shattered to see his daughter in tears. He knew the drill. He put her to bed.

“What happened?” asked Fareeda.

“The same thing. It was her old teammate this time” her father said.

“Hai Allah!”

“This can’t go on Fareeda. Something needs to be done”

And something was. Rangaswamy decided that it was time for a fresh start for his family. If his adopted country was going to treat his family like strangers, he would shift to the city where he was born, where his daughter was born – his hometown of Pune.

Pune was nostalgic for him. He spent his childhood and almost all of his formative years there. It was in Pune that his family would be accepted. He had no doubt.

Fareeda was a bit taken aback by the sudden news and felt a certain amount of withdrawal. Iran, after all, was where she had her friends, her family, her life. But she was willing to make this sacrifice for her only daughter.

Afareen was still numb and unaffected. A year had passed but she could not seem to forget the heartache. The void that the cruel ‘Ahmadinejad’ had left in her life. She would feel the same heartache no matter where she was.

The Rangaswamy’s were welcomed by Pune’s general embrace of laziness. They managed to settle in comfortably as Rangaswamy already had his family living there. As for Afareen, her father enrolled her in Fergusson College, hoping that the atmosphere of freedom would take her mind off the pain. And it seemed to work to a certain extent.

Afareen welcomed the freedom – the hijab-less existence. She met new people. She hung out at Savera, Vaishali, Barista. She even met her first boyfriend there. He was a strong Iranian Psychology major – named Mosy. She liked Mosy. He made her laugh. He heard her cry. He fought with her. He apologised profusely. He took her on long rides down Khadakwasla on his Bullet. She was hardly ever happier.

He loved her. But she still loved rugby. He could see the pain in her eyes, no matter how much she tried to hide it. When she confided in him in her weak moments, she spoke about her days as a rugby player. She told him of the awards she achieved, her moments of glory, the love of her teammates, who she missed dearly, her favourite try and the intricate beauty of this aggressive sport. She had not talked to anyone about this before. He felt her pain and made it his mission in life to take it away.

He decided to surprise her after their evening coffee in Barista. He blindfolded her and took her to the ILS grounds on Law College road. When he opened the blindfold, she saw girls tossing around that old familiar rugby ball. She felt a rush of pain and her anger came screaming back. She stared in disbelief. Then she slapped Mosy with all her might, silenced the people on the ground and stormed off. He tried chasing her but in vain. He just sat there confused.

A bald, heavyset and extremely frightening man with a broken tooth then approached him. Mosy moved slowly behind in fear.

“Eh… What happened man?”

“Nothing sir”

“Why did she slap you? What did you do?”

And he went on to explain her story to this beastly yet endearing hulk of a man. He was Suhrud Khare – coach and President of Pune Rugby.

“Let me talk to her. Where does she stay?”, said Suhrud.

“Uh sir.. I can’t tell you that… it’s private”

“WHAT?”

“Aundh sir… Anand park… Chintaman nagar…”

“flat number?”

“11”

“Good lad”, he said.

Afareen was still heartbroken. She got the usual 17 missed calls from Mosy. She would usually feel bad and answered the 18th call. But that day, she switched her phone off.

She was back to her depressed self and she followed the same drill of sitting alone in her bed without talking to anyone. She was mad at Mosy. He ruined her spirit, she felt, after working so hard to forget about the game. She was back to square one. She lost her appetite. She even refused the Ghormesabzi her mother had made for her at night. She prepared for another restless night full of tears when the doorbell rang twice. She had a visitor. She changed her clothes and entered the living room, surprised to know what a man of that size would want with her. Surhud Khare apologised for the late arrival, explained himself and then spoke to her about rugby. He didn’t ask her anything about herself. He narrated his story. His story, of the birth of rugby in his life in South Africa – the country where he was born; the country that was ravaged by apartheid. He battled race discrimination, utter humiliation, fought natural urges of anger. He also quit the sport. But then realised it was his only salvation.

“You can’t live your whole life angry. You’d rather channelize that aggression little by little on the pitch. Imagine every single tackle to be into the f%^&*#g official. Trust me. All that anger will melt away once you touch the ball. You must play. And you must forgive that boy of yours. He’s a top bloke. We practise at 7 am and don’t tolerate tardiness”

He excused himself and left. She felt a weird sense of exhilaration. Something she hadn’t felt in a long time. So long that she forgot the feeling. She was still an insomniac, but now out of excitement. She decided to play.

“Thanks J”, she replied on the 19th call.

She was up at five in the morning jumping around, feeding her newfound excitement. She dusted off her shoes and wore them with nervous anticipation. She wore her hijab out of habit, paused, looked at herself in the mirror with a wide smile on her face and then proceeded to shed her skin. This was her new avatar. Pune – her place of birth – had now become her platform for revival. A love story rekindled.

It had been a little over two years since she played. She took a few initial hesitant steps towards the muddy pitch, more anxious than ever. She got crashed into by one of the big girls – customary initiation for the Pune ruggers. She just got up dusted herself off and smiled. She was back. The minute she had the ball in her hand, she took to the field like a fish to water. She moved, faked and fainted like she had never stopped. A full blooded tackle in her solar plexus and she still had a smile on her face.

“I told you the anger would melt after you stepped on the field, didn’t I?”, said Khare.

“You were wrong” she said. “It melted after you called my boy a top bloke”

Having to start from scratch didn’t bother her too much. Her love for the game was all that mattered to her.

She picked up from where she left off and began to impress her coach in no time. She repeated her rugby journey, but this time, with a new found freedom. It wasn’t long before Khare made her captain of the team. And she repaid his trust with talismanic performances in the national level tournaments. Few were able to match her speed, her skill was comparable to the best in the world and her passion knew no bounds. She received a call-up for the Indian sevens squad that was to participate in the Borneo sevens in Malaysia.

What a turnaround!

She was selected as the captain of the team. But she did not celebrate until the squad was officially announced. Every piece of paper would bring about major trepidation. Fortunately, all the drama was behind her. Or so she thought.

The first thing she did when she landed in Malaysia was to go to room number 245 where the Iranian rugby team had gathered, welcoming her with the same two cakes and 18 candles.

History had repeated itself.

‘Ahmadinejad’entered with another piece of paper in his hand.

“The Iranian federation is willing to make an exception in your case and take you back as a member of the Iranian national team”

“Really?”

“Yes”

“Tell them to go f%&* themselves. I belong in India now”

The Best Wedding Ever

IMG-20160111-WA0001The Kolkata wedding was a landmark wedding. Primarily because the bride is one of my closest friends. But also because I was meeting ‘The wife’ after a little more than a year. It was 14 months ago that we exchanged two hopelessly embarrassing, cringe worthy, texts full of emotion before he boarded his plane on his way to University in Melbourne – or as he calls it – ‘Mellbin’.

The annoying prick picked up from where he left off. Day after day he kept reminding me of how he bought his flight ticket for Rs 3000/- cheaper than I did, even though he booked it 3 weeks after I did. “I’m getting a free meal also!”, he added.  

After an uncomfortable flight, turbulent from the weather conditions and ‘the wife’s’ constant annoyances, we got into a yellow ambassador taxi on our way to the Hotel. The wife, twitchy from the lack of a cigarette, kept asking the driver stupid questions.

“Why does everything look so old?”

“Why is this place so dirty?”

“Who is the richest person in Kolkata?”

“Who is the most powerful person in Kolkata?”

“Why is this flyover only half constructed?”

The poor driver – just as soon he would get a voluptuous gutkha juice going with the blood red overflowing drop trickling down the side of his mouth, he would have to roll the window down and spit it all out to give an answer – incomprehensible owing to his pan-stained bengali accent. He had the good sense to swerve into a tiny by-lane right next to a cigarette shop.

We finally reached Hotel Hindustan International – the wedding venue – met the bride and family over a scrumptious brunch and then headed on back to our rooms to catch up on some much needed sleep. Before long, however, we were woken up for dance practice. We were to perform later in the evening and had forgotten all our steps. It was then that I met an old acquaintance from my college days. Anay – also a close friend of the bride – was a baby-faced sweet-heart of a guy who was being made fun of for his Gujarati polka dotted shirt that he had on. This former acquaintance would go on to become a very good friend by the end of the wedding.

The ring-ceremony that followed was an emotional one. Rings were exchanged – of course – followed by humourously sappy outpours from best men and bridesmaids. We danced, we ate and then we felt drained. What felt like 8 o clock was actually 6 30 pm. That was quite depressing. When it was finally 8 o clock, we headed to the pub for the party. The guys tanked up while the girls went up to change.

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Anay and I noticed, on our way to the pub, a man singing to the diners of the restaurant in what looked like a Karaoke set-up. Sufficiently drunk, the both of us decided that we wanted to sing a little bit. The same man was still singing. So we stopped him mid-song and told him that he had had enough turns and now we wanted to sing. “Sir, this is not a Karaoke”, he said, “I am a professional singer”. While I turned back  to head back to the pub, Anay – lawyer by profession – cajoled Majid the singer, after taking the manager’s permission, to let us have the floor. We started with ‘Knocking on heaven’s door’ (GnR). We were so good that Majid wanted to join in for the next song – Aerosmith’s I don’t want to miss a thing. After we welcomed the crowd to ‘Hotel California’, we even got a request…. for peace and quiet. But we carried on with ‘Radioactive’. It was then that Majid pleaded with us to stop. “I might lose my job guys”. We fed him some well earned whiskey and headed back to the party. Anay’s lawyering impressed me. From that point on I decided and made it clear to everyone on the dance floor that the babyfaced assassin was to be rechristened as Don Anay – who, like the rainbow coloured shots that we got drunk on that night, looked ever so innocent but had the potential to destroy you. I was quite destroyed by then and in came the girls.

We danced like maniacs and then I began an intensely philosophical conversation with a beautiful German girl. I carried on this conversation in the lobby seated next to her opposite the lift, when almost ridiculously, Bollywood ‘bad man’ Gulshan Grover came out of the lift. “Gulshan!” – I called out as if he was a long-lost friend I was seeing after years. He was nice enough to come over and have a chat. I went on to introduce him to my friend.

“He is the Kevin Spacey of Bollywood” – I said. Gulshan smiled, gave me a forearm handshake and walked away. A forearm handshake is where you apparently use the normal handshake approach but at the last minute clasp the forearm, then pause and look at the other person with big scary eyes to gauge his surprise.

Gulshan Grover – of all the people. He was in town for a political programme, he said. The night had ended there. It had to. We laboured to our rooms and plonked ourselves on the bed.

We attended the wedding the next morning, completely hungover, with our shades on to protect us from the piercing sun. We had to get ourselves back in shape, however, to fulfil our final duties as friends of the bride. We had to find the groom’s shoes. We weren’t too worried, however, with Jaideep the sniffer dog on our side. Jaideep is experienced in this trade, having found many-a-shoe in the 14-odd weddings he has attended in the past year. After we caught hold of some dodgy intel from Deepti Maami of the ‘white girl in yellow’ having hidden the shoe, we found out her name, duplicated her room key from the reception and sneaked into the room. While the rest of us looked in the most obvious of places, Jaideep paused, did a quick calculated scan of surroundings and then headed straight for mini-fridge and found the shoe.

That ended the power-packed weekend and we headed back to the airport. I showed my I-card and ticket to the policeman at the security gate and entered, waiting for the wife to follow. When he proceeded to enter, the policeman stopped him. “You have missed your flight sir. This is yesterday night’s booking”, he said. We both stared at each other in shock and then at the ticket.

Departure

Kolkata CCU

Terminal CCU

Sat 9 Jan 19:00 hours’

I found it too hard to hide my delight. I just dropped  my bags and started celebrating, laughing loudly. He had to book a new ticket and pay double the amount that he had initially spent for a two-way trip. After he booked his ticket, I asked him. ‘Did you get a free meal this time?’

I feel bad for not writing anything meaningful in the above post, about the actual wedding. So here is a bit about my best friend – the bride – Gauri Dhawan nee Pillai.

I have known Gauri for the last 11 years now. We knew of each other in school but really got to know one another when we travelled to college every day on my old, decrepit Kinetic Honda.

She was a misfit, especially in college,with her electric red curls. Our Psychology professor refused to start the lecture until she left class. “I have a heart condition”, he said. And Gauri’s hyperactive demeanour, he claimed, involuntarily and unfailingly made his blood pressure rise. She was bad for his health.

At wedding functions she always caught the eye of old aunties. There will be one aunty in every wedding who will call her over – pull her cheeks and say “You look like Barbie”

On the streets, people always try and put on a hi-fi accent and speak to her in a very weird-sounding English, assuming undoubtedly that she is a foreigner.

To her credit, she always takes these things with a pinch of salt. That, for me, is her best quality – that she has always been comfortable in her own skin, always been the bubbly, exuberant, unignorable Gauri with a big personality and an even bigger heart. She has outlived both my relationships and suffered through all the escapades in between – all the while listening patiently to my sob stories, reading all of my emotional writings and just generally being there-always.

All mothers love Gauri. She goes beyond herself to find her way into their hearts and then they unburden all of their children’s issues on her. This is quite an advantage sometimes and I have first hand experience in this respect. When concerned mothers have called her to ask about the empty cigarette packet they found in their son’s bag, she has lied through her teeth and assured them that it didn’t belong to their son, but to a friend and it mysteriously made its way into the inner pocket of the bag.

Gauri is one of the most indecisive people I have ever met. About what to eat for dinner, where to dine, what to pick to eat… about her career-hopping from Law to Advertising to Marketing, a U-turn to Hypnotherapy, another U-turn to sales and finally settling on PR.  In all these twists and turns one thing has remained steadfast – and that is her relationship with Anshul.

She has always been head-over-heels in love with him. I haven’t, unfortunately, had the chance to get to know Anshul as well, since we have lived in different cities. But Gauri through her constant love-struck chatter, has always waxed lyrical about their romance. Over the years, whenever, she speaks of Anshul, she speaks with the child-like excitement of someone having fallen in love over and over again. He is the calming influence to her constant excitement, her yin to his yang. She knew many years ago that she wanted to marry him and has been focusing all her energy to the day of their marriage.

I can’t think of two people better-suited for each other and I wish both of them all the happiness in the world.

   

 

 

Shades of Black

I grew up with my dog. We bought Koblar – our first black Labrador – when I was six. I still remember sitting on the steps of my playschool alone and disconsolate that my parents were almost an hour late to pick me up. My dejection turned magically into euphoria when I saw the black big-eared bundle of joy they had brought along.

We both were new to the world around us, curious in our own weird way. I used to like throwing matchboxes in the toilet. Koblar liked killing toads. Then we decided to team up. I would slip him all of those revolting green vegetables when Ma was not looking and he would devour them opportunely.

Then he grew twice my size, while I still remained a frail little boy who’s voice hadn’t broken yet. “Hello, Beena?” – Everytime I picked up the phone. In addition to that, I had to face the humiliation of being manhandled by my own dog. “You’re taking your dog for a walk or he is taking you?” – was the snide comment that I had become immune to. It was very irritating. And I resented Koblar for being stronger than me. But he never seemed to care. He was so damn psyched to see me walk through the door every single time. How could I remain angry?

We both loved the outdoors, freaked out on car-rides and were die-hard fans of our mother. Dogs always have a number one in the family. That spot was reserved for my mother. She took care of him like she did me. He was always so affected by her. Ma’s voice would wake Koblar up from his deepest slumber. He would raise his groggy head after the distinctive double honk of the Maruti 800 and go absolutely crazy after hearing two rings of the bell in quick succession.

He was also petrified of her. Once, when my mother and brother got into an epic fight, screaming their heads off at each other, Koblar got up from his deep sleep and ran and hid under the bed in extreme fear. I tried to slink into the room to go to sleep, but was shooed away by my angry brother. So I made my way to Koblar’s space and we both rode out the storm together.

He was always so forgiving. I accidentally had his tail trapped in the bathroom door, once, when I was first entrusted with the responsibility of giving him a bath. His tail started squirting blood and he screamed in anguish. I was crushed. I wept for an entire day – convincing my parents that Koblar would not love me anymore. He’d hate me for what I had done. But when I walked through that door reluctantly, he seemed psyched as usual, wagging his bandaged tail with the same intensity. What a guy!

He became an intrinsic part of my life like any other family member. And seeing him die right in front of my eyes was the hardest thing I ever experienced.

 I was 16 years old and inexperienced in matters of death. And on that dark day in February of 2006, when he lay down defeated, with stomach distended on the cold bathroom marble, I felt absolutely powerless. His tail that wagged with endless love for stranger and friend alike lay lifeless on the floor. His eyes that were forever quizzical were now small and weak. I didn’t want be there, watching him die. I couldn’t take the heartbreak. I just wanted to run away from that place. But I didn’t. He had showed me nothing but solidarity throughout his life. I couldn’t betray him, my mother explained to me. Not now. Not when he needed me the most. To comfort him on his journey alone into the unknown. And so his head was in my lap, struggling with every breath that was heavier that the last. Till he breathed his last.

My life was filled with a profound emptiness after he was gone. The chewed legs of the furniture, the scratch marks on the bedroom door for when he wanted to enter, those on the door for when he wanted to go for a walk, all made me break down into silent tears. I was so used to his presence. I looked at certain places and always just expected him to be there. But he wasn’t. And he was never going to be there. That hurt the most. It also hurt when people were so insensitive about it. ‘Buy another dog’ – they said. But it wasn’t that easy for me. Buying another dog just a few weeks after Koblar’s death felt like betrayal. I needed to go through an unadulterated grieving process. I didn’t want to forget about him. I wanted to talk about his quirks, those funny incidents and remember him for the lazy, goofy, loving legend that he was.  

It took a while, but Koblar’s memories became fond ones. I didn’t deflect the topic of my dog anymore. I wouldn’t get all choked up when anyone spoke of him. I remembered him for the good, loving soul that he was and earnestly narrated to all who were dear to me, stories of his amazing personality. With every dog that I met, with every Labrador that crossed my path, I began to melt a little. I started missing a dog in my life. And then I saw this video of a kid with down-syndrome being lulled into hugging his golden Labrador. That slayed me. So after 8 long years, I decided I was ready to have another dog.

I was hesitant to have another Koblar, however. It would bring back bitter-sweet memories, I thought. I looked at bull-dogs, Alsatians and Dalmatians. But they just didn’t cut it. My heart seemed to be set on Labrador. I checked out forn, golden, white, coffee but was involuntarily convinced by black. The decision practically made itself.

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And in walked Kyro. Curious as ever. He was oblivious to embarking on any sort of journey of the shoes he had to fill. He was just an innocent little puppy, freshly weaned off his mother, biting his way through the exploration of the new world around him.

It has only been a couple of weeks and the little rascal has already left his mark. On my bruised ankles, the chewed up furniture, the lace-less footwear, the remote control, my mobile cover, the mop… amongst other things.

I’m number one now. And he’s made sure I earn that spot. In his first week, he bit my nose and woke me up three times every night at 1, 4 and 7 am to the rank smell of his faecal matter. That’s not something anyone wants to wake up to. And I’ve been doing it almost every day – all day. Once, when I came back home drunk at midnight and settled on the couch with my snack to watch ‘Boston Legal’ – my nose was affected by that familiar fetidity. Undrunk, I held my puke in, grabbed toilet paper and plastic bag, nabbed the shit, over-turned the plastic bag, unpleasantly took in the soft texture of turd-piece and threw it in the dog bin. I then proceeded to disinfect the stained area and satisfactorily nestled in my spot and unpaused Alan Shore’s closing – when that same rotten smell made its way back into my nose. He shat again in the same place. And then he vomited in the hall.

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‘It’s all part of being number one’ – my mother said, laughing at my plight. But little Kyro makes all the bother worth it. That inimitable joy with which he greets me when I enter the house. That look of despair he has in his eyes, every time I leave the room. The peaceful trust with which he sleeps soundly on my torso. The way he follows me everywhere I go and waits patiently outside the bathroom for me till I finish. To see him sleep so peacefully on his orange cushion and to know that I have made a significant contribution to that picture of tranquillity is a good feeling.  

The void is being filled again, slowly but surely and I’m looking forward to many more memories. 

Mad City Delhi

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Tired but happy

 

“Do you promise not to judge me?” If I had a penny for how many times I’ve started my sentence with this line in these last 8 months in Delhi, I’d be a typically wealthy Delhiite.

As I was clutching the side-handles of the dangerously unstable cycle-rickshaw en route to my Friday night hangout, I began to reminisce my Delhi days. I realise that 8 months sounds like too short a time to reminisce, but these 8 months have felt so much longer than 240 odd days. Dog months.

So many beginnings and an equal number of conclusions. I’ve had a relationship start and end, twice over. With multiple people. I even got a divorce.

The wife left me. Delhi got the better of the poor bastard mentally and physically. He broke his leg in his final month and decided to call it quits. No evening Tang, no pointless fights, no burps on my face, no dinners at Qureshi’s (which FYI is owned by Huma Qureshi). I could almost picture a montage of all these wifely duties in slow motion with ‘Dost…Dost na raha’ playing in the background.

 

I was forced to shift house from the upmarket Greater Kailash 2 to the dog’s infected rectum that is Govindpuri. Govindpuri – where the roads smell of piss, traffic signals are a waste of metal and a flurry of screaming vehicles whiz dangerously passed lazy cows forever stationed right in the middle of the garbage riddled roads. When the screeching of the impatient cars dies down, the share-an-auto drivers are screaming random destinations in the ears of the passers-by.

By 9 pm, however, the traffic comes to a halt, the noise is negligible and the setting is solemn. This is in preparation for the rapes and robberies that take place at the dead of night. I, fortunately, have no first hand evidence of this – I’ve just been warned by many an auto driver. My initial reaction was that they all were exaggerating. I would know since, I’m a bit of an expert in that field. But then I saw this random guy standing on top of a relatively new Santro break the windshield with something that looked like a large brick. I looked at my auto guy in disbelief. He shrugged it off as just another usual occurrence.

The auto guys around my house are a nice bunch of guys – a rarity in Delhi. I know most of them by face. I just have to utter the words – metro, football or bar – and they know where to take me. I have never been one to experiment. I was on my way back from a drunken escapade once, when one the auto guys – Esrarji – blew my intoxicated mind.

I started a conversation with him, like I do with all auto/cab guys. I mentioned that I hail from Pune and his eyes lit up. He told me that he was an Osho follower and I couldn’t believe my ears. He asked me if I was married. Then he asked me if I have ever had sex. Then he shared his opinion on sex.

“Sex is not the destination, but the boat that takes you there. Marriage is against everything that I believe in now. But I am bound by responsibilities. My only other regret in life is that I had picked up Rajnishji’s book too late. If I was unmarried I would have all the sex I wanted so that I could finally reach my ‘dhyan’ – where you can talk to the trees and the stars”

Obviously, by this time, I had realised that his breath was a significant contributor to the stench of alcohol in that stuffy auto. But I didn’t care. When will I ever meet a forward-thinking auto guy again?

That’s one of the things I have loved about Delhi – the access and proximity to some amazing people. In one week, I talked football with the Maharaja of Tripura – he is a big Fernando Redondo fan – I had a beer with the owner of Salgaocar Football Club and met a guy who very nonchalantly narrated an incident of how he had been kidnapped in UP. I also had a drinking session with Rumboy Nicholas – one of the funniest people in the world. Amongst other disgraceful, disgusting yet hilarious guy-talk, RN educated me on the ‘Fart Theory’ while we slayed an old monk. “Macha, the louder the fart, the deeper the connection” – he told me. “There is a certain comfort factor with a willingly vociferous eructation. And that is the true test of a relationship. So let her rip!”, he said. We laughed our guts out.

And then I turned 25. I still don’t agree with the ‘quarter life crisis’ tag that comes with this number – at least not for us guys – but it does make you think about your life. When all your contemporaries are rattling off announcements of engagements and marriages and sometimes even babies – you do feel a little old. Like you’re on the brink of adulthood, on a cliff hanging by a thread that is getting weaker every day. You want cram a lot of craziness in the little time that you have left.

Luckily for me, I’ve been been doing that even before I turned 25. Delhi has been my hub of insanity. Never a dull moment. Many an unspeakable moment, I even wrote a song. But this mad city has always kept me at a safe distance from boredom. It has been exhausting, confounding yet exhilarating.

I got off the cycle-rickshaw aware of my intense fear of the rickety contraption and was calmed by heart-warming smile of the moustachioed door-keeper of 4S – my place of peace. It’s all good when you’re having a beer at 4S. I probably won’t settle down here but this will always be the place where I created the most memories. Oh and my moustache finally grew in Delhi.