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. 

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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.

 

Running on a Whim

The onset of November means that it’s running season of the marathon kind. The cool crisp air, moderate temperatures – the city has shed itself off all the heat and humidity and is in its accommodating phase of cordiality before the frigid winter takes over.

It welcomes the debutants with their mild morning practice, the motivated yet unfit lot who are on a spirited endeavour to complete 10 kms, the serious amateurs who are looking to beat their previous time in the half marathons and the seasoned lot that already have a few marathons under their belt. For the steely professionals, weather conditions matter little.    

With a couple of half-marathons under my belt, I form a part of the serious amateurs – or so I’d like to think. I’ve grudgingly half-followed the internet plans of early mornings, strict diets, progressive running strategies – an utterly disciplined lifestyle required to complete 21 full kilometres of road-running. That was for my first half-marathon and it was an amazing experience – a sentiment that will be echoed by other debutants. But it wasn’t a patch on the second one where I ran all of those 21 kilometres without training for a single day.

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In fact, it was quite the opposite of training. During my lethargic stint as a Mumbai journalist, I was living the unhealthiest of all lifestyles. On a diet of cheap beer, rum and oily junk food and with no inclination to run whatsoever, I completed 21 kilometres in 2 hours and 53 minutes. That was rebellious, intense and hardcore.

It all started with this beautiful Bawi girl that I was in love with. She was incredibly sweet, smart and had this cute little British-Indian Parsi accent when she spoke. And I would melt every time I was in front of her. That particular time, she slayed me at the NGO that she worked for when she convinced me to buy a Marathon bib for a little more than half my monthly salary. I agreed with no hesitation or care in the world – nodding away to everything she said. I agreed to run for her smile, and for the children of course.

My boss was quite happy when I told her this. Not happy enough to reimburse me for my foolishly vulnerable innocence, but happy that I’d now be able to run the first five kilometres of the marathon to get a feel of the atmosphere and add a whole new dimension to my article about the potential Olympian – Ram Singh Yadav – provided he made the qualification time. Experiential writing she called it. Boy, was she in for an experience.

Yes, as the junior-most, I had to sacrifice my Sunday morning sleep and report on the Mumbai Marathon. As far as running five kilometres was concerned, I was sure that I would be reeling at the end of 2.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen 5 am on a Sunday morning sober. All I knew was that I was depressed waking up to darkness and sure as hell wasn’t looking forward to running pre sun-up. But I put on my marathon gear – my lucky tight red bikini briefs (my ‘Marathong’ I call it), Nike skins – which protruded pregnantly at the stomach, my short shorts and running shoes and set out to the Bandra side of the sea link – the starting line.

I couldn’t reach the sea-link, however, because of the thousand odd people that had turned up. Within minutes, there were a couple of hundred people gathered behind me and the feeling was not unlike being inside a weekday morning local. I went where the crowd took me and awaited the flagging off 500 yards behind the starting line. Wiser from experience, I stood at the side and watched while the foolhardy beginners sprinted like they were competing in a 100 meter race. I jogged slowly, then paused before I saw the huge expanse of the sea link in front of me. The Marathon gives you the privilege of running on roads most people don’t get the chance to walk on and then to stop and stare at some breath-taking views of the city of Mumbai. I took my chance to enjoy the scene. And then I saw the early sprinters peeing off the bridge. Each one has their own pleasures I guess. Some were getting pictures clicked; others were on the phone with their loved ones attempting to describe the magnitude of the moment. I was alone. I carried on.

 The legs that were stiff and high-strung on that torturous morning were slowly warming up as I reached the half-way point on the sea-link. I was able to enjoy the energy of a thousand people. Two kilometres down and I was surprisingly sprightly yet circumspect with my strides. I decided to walk half of the third kilometre just to ensure I would make it to five and avoid embarrassment and humiliation of my friends and colleagues. I increased the pace slowly after and joined the crowd in speeding through the open toll gates. Nothing was going to stop us then. The Gujaratis, Marwadis, old or young, male or female, all were of a free spirit that day. Maybe the sprinters weren’t foolhardy after all. Maybe they were just propelled by the release of all their inhibitions. I, however, was still running on a whim. I continued at jogging pace through the fourth kilometre. I was giving it a little extra as it was time to wind down at 5, like I had planned, like my boss had told me too.

I reached the end of the sea-link, the end of my little stint and I began to come to a slow halt. Except that I didn’t really want to stop. I saw this sweet little girl running with a big smile on her face. An old fit man was jog-walking bare feet. I might not have had the energy but I certainly hadn’t run out adrenalin. And I estimated it to be another couple of kilometres before I would run out of steam completely. I’d still be able to catch up with Ramsingh after quitting at 7 km, I thought. So I began running again.

The next two km were a bit of a drag. We were to take a left at Worli, run all the way up to INS Trata circle, take a u-ey, and come all the way back to the end of the sea-link. I wasn’t satisfied with that so I continued running. Just up until Atria mall, I thought. Then I would call it quits for sure. I would have to, no?

No. I alternated between swift walks and slow jogs as the notorious Bombay sun slowly started to make its presence felt. I managed to trudge up to Worli dairy with Atria mall in sight when I heard my name being shouted out loud. I looked swiftly to the right and saw an open top bus full of my fellow journalists covering the event. I was cheered on by them. Another shot of adrenalin. I ran past Atria and on to the bridge towards Haji Ali.

The sun was now taking prime position to drain. And I was slowly falling victim. The Adrenalin tank was running on empty again and reality hit me with its brute force. I started cramping in my stomach. I slowed down and walked slowly. My thighs started to pull a little. I came to a halt. I had completed 14 kilometres and was contemplating quitting. There was also the matter of Ramsingh – potentially only the second Indian to qualify for the Olympics – tomorrow’s front page news.

Then I saw the old man again, jog-walking away at his consistent pace with single-minded focus and I said F**k it! I’m running.

At that point in time, I didn’t want to be caged by responsibilities, I had no intention of being the diligent hard-worker I always had been, the teacher’s pet. I felt like doing something outrageously crazy. Carelessly rebellious. I lost the plot completely. It was the most amazing feeling. I decided to complete the 21 kilometers.

I had absolutely no energy but I was propelled by my own release. I smiled at the old man. He didn’t bother responding. I jogged passed Haji Ali to the right and then stopped to walk again.

The stretch between 15-17 kilometres is the toughest. It’s the loneliest stretch of the race. You have no water to quench your thirst. You’re stomach growls intensely – crying for some food. You have nothing but the clothes on your back. The sun is now prime position to take away your reserve of energy. You’re looking for some solace in the smallest of things. I was. And I found it on Peddar Road – where my 8-year-old nephew spotted me, shouted “Kabir Mama!!”and ran towards me. I had never been so happy to see anyone in my life. I was cheered on by his parents as well. They stayed right on Peddar Road but they woke up that Sunday morning and participated. They were part of that Mumbai spirit that is such a vital fuel for long-distance running.

I waved goodbye and walked up the slope. I grabbed 14 Parle-G biscuits from the other enthusiastic little kids on the sidelines and devoured them all at one go. That biscuit had never tasted as good as it did then. The salivating juices in my mouth dissolved the biscuits into a succulent gooey mush. I had a mouth-orgasm. With Parle-G.

When I turned right into Marine Drive, the sun was at its scorching worst. The legs were weary and heavy as concrete blocks. My back was stiff. I could barely move my hands. I felt like I was just a stride or two away from dehydration. But my mind was somewhere else. At 18 kilometres, you involuntarily let your guard down and become a little crazy. I felt intoxicated with exhaustion. Then I was distracted by some screams on sea-facing side of the road. I saw two beautiful figures with mikes in hand addressing the crowd on a stage.

Then I found myself stopping and shouting “MONICA! NANDITA! I LOVE YOU!” – exclaiming my feelings for Dogra and Das all at once.

Some laughed at me. Other fellow half marathoners were dancing to the music playing in the background. There was an old bald fat man who stopped and started singing “Tum Hi Ho” and doing a little Hritik Roshan dance. Everyone had gone mad. Everyone was happy.

I turned left at the Oberoi and passed my work place. I had just run all the way to work. That was quite cool. Now the journey to the finish line – the last lap of the race that inevitably is the longest. I had nothing to distract me. I couldn’t help but focus on the pain. My legs were red and now screaming with pain. I could barely lift them. My stomach was cramping up. I sucked it up and continued towards the finish line that refused to arrive. My thigh pulled up again and I just began to walk slowly, not allowing the twister of a cramp to take over. I finally reached CST and the finish line came in sight. I was elated. And then it hit me. I hadn’t covered the marathon. I didn’t have my phone with me. The office would be expecting news right about now. I was hoping against hope that Ram Singh didn’t qualify. But a journalist friend I met at the finish line informed me that he did.

I took an empty train home. I rushed to my cell phone and found 39 missed calls – 28 from my boss and 11 from my two colleagues. I had to change immediately and make my second trip that morning to Express Towers, Nariman Point. Needless to say, my boss blew her top. My colleagues were venting their transference of anger from her. Life was hell on steroids for that day and the next two week – because of my act of defiance.

But I honestly didn’t care. I was still high on running on a whim. I felt undefeatable. If I had to, I would do it all over again. I’ve made it a habit to do something spontaneously combustible every now and then. And I believe that everyone must do something radically crazy at least once a year to keep themselves sane.

This one’s dedicated to the Bawi girl, who just announced her engagement last week.

 Here’s wishing you all the best as you set out on a marathon of your own. 

The Invite

It’s that time of the year again. Time to celebrate. Like all good celebrations, this one will begin with a tequila shot right at the door to Flat no 3, Dream Residency. That’s your entry, with cover.

You’ll probably be a little wobbly. You might slur a bit earlier than you expected. Even find yourself a little out of character. But you’ll fit right in. No one leaves the way they came in. You’ll have your first drink poured for you by The Big Man.

ImageHe’s big. Physically and emotionally. He’s a 6 foot 4 120-odd kg tub of love. And he’s responsible too. Even while puking. He will drink his vodka quarter in a record 8 and a half minutes, wolf down his biryani and then puke it all out in the commode. Not a drop outside. He will then clean the commode with Harpic. In between all this, he will never shirk his responsibility of getting others in the party intoxicated. A real reliable chap. Quite unlike GP.

GP always goes back on her word. She started out a sober one-drink girl. Then she came to the party, was introduced to the thrill of intoxication and literally started rolling on the floor laughing. Not one of those ROFL metaphors. Four full turns after a lame joke I narrated. Then out of embarrassment, she promised not to drink at the next party. At the next party – she downed 13 jellow shots, took my strawberry lip balm (yes strawberry, because I like the taste), went inside the God-closet, puckered her lips, smudged the balm all over her face and then pressed her lips together, thinking she had so gracefully applied lipstick. She isn’t the only one, however, that’s been corrupted by me and my parties. The biggest victim is M. Image

M,to begin with, was a sober Shetty – the rarest of rare. His preferred drink was Thums Up. That’s when I took it upon myself to aid him through his graduation to some port wine. Now, this lover of Shahrukh Khan and all things Bollywood, poisons himself with Gin, and dances like Hritik. Those same moves that he practices sober in front of the mirror at home. We often perform a number together and then he starts kissing things. He kisses me, kisses the air but mostly kisses the cheek of his girlfriend K.

K is one of my oldest friends. She is a tall slender beauty. Not a hair out of place. When she moves, when she talks, she is a picture of grace. She is elegant in her demeanour. Except when she is drunk. She strarts suttering. She loses her centre of gravity. And she keeps falling all over the place. Then she laughs at her own self. All her hair is out of place.

But we are not all boozards here at the party. Khajur is a tee totaller who will, at most, swallow half a tiny glass of wine only if he wants to impress a pretty girl or a not-so pretty girl. Otherwise, you can’t even force alcohol down his throat (We tried once, but in vain). The only entertainment he will engage is poking fun at the aforementioned specimens. Other than that, he is notorious for his serious ‘life’ talks. And I’m his favourite victim. I always get sucked in. We go off on topics like ‘the youth of today’, ‘business schools’, ‘marketing and sales’ and other such. That’s when The Wife comes in and joins our discussion.

ImageThe Wife stands there with folded arms and the most sincere look on his face. And then he pinches Khajur’s left nipple. Thus ends the boredom. The wife then goes on a nipple pinching spree. P hates it the most. Every time his nipple is pinched, he lets out a light screech and jumps like he has just been given a minor electrocution. He feels violated, humiliated even. Much like the humiliation he loves to subject Govardhan to. He loves taking Govardhan’s case – whether it is making fun of his English, repeatedly narrating his hilarious incidents or pulling his cheeks.

But Govardhan doesn’t care. He is a party animal who gets in the zone every time drink is involved. His zones are cute. He once got so smashed that he was about to pass out. His last words to the wife, who was holding him up, were “So mere saath”. (“Sleep with me”). His zones can be dangerous too, however. Once, when he was singing and shouting randomly, he ran into the balcony and shouted out to a police-van that had passed by the house. The van screeched to a halt, reversed, and parked outside the house. Everyone (the girls first) ran inside the room. Everyone except The Brother.

The Brother is the handler and more often than not the fixer of situations. He is the one who rejects the Rs 230 bribe that The Big Man offers, who slips the cops a slightly bigger amount, sometimes a bottle, and sends them away without creating too much of a situation. He faked a situation once when he told the girls in hiding that the cops had asked for their address and their parents’ phone numbers. One of the girls started crying initially and then she drank six more beers in relief.

ImageWe’ll have single women who will have been hit on at least once by me. You’ll then see me professing my love for Isabella. We will have discussions of opening a Hair-NGO, where the educated ‘Hair-stylists’ will organise an event to showcase free cutting techniques to the barbers to improve their skill. You’ll have old quarrels being solved through apologetic shoulder kisses on the steps. A whole lot of craziness.

So no more talk of quarter-life crisis and all. Come on Saturday for my 25th.

(Note: Isabella was created by Tanmayee Jhankar – one sweetest people and most accomplished young artists I know. And yes, she’ll also be there at the party)

Me and Isabella

Me and Isabella

Independence Day

In our 67th year of Independence, we are just about standing up straight as a nation despite the evils of deep-rooted corruption and backward thought pulling us down. We should be proud.

As a people, each one has his own definition of and perspective on independence that he strives for, to carve out an identity for himself in society. For the respect of society. In India, respect is the most powerful weapon and reverence – its favourite pastime.

As far as my own journey is concerned, this year has been crucial in terms of my independence. The experience of living in a strange city with few support systems has been enlightening to say the least. To venture away from the comfort of familiarity and be pushed towards the struggle of a new life alone has been tough yet illuminative. My battle with proud poverty has been constant. Pride, because you feel a sense of achievement for every month you survive with the money you earn. The initial jolt of having a three-digit bank account truly educates you about the value of earning a healthy amount of money. You need money to live. Otherwise, you just survive.

While managing a house, there is a constant outflow of money. You never really settle down. The bills just keep piling up. Rent keeps rearing its ugly mug every month, bleeding you dry.

The five odd months of this struggle has given me some sort of perspective with regards to the people in India – at least in the three metros – Pune, Mumbai and Delhi.

Delhi is innately aggressive in love and hatred. The people will either love you with all their heart or hate you with the same amount of malice. Much like the weather, the people oscillate between the extremities of hot and cold. They are an ambitious people and Delhi is extremely wealthy. It’s easier here if you have a lot of money.

Mumbai, on the other hand, is a land for every pocket. You can struggle comfortably there. Struggling is a given. You’re either a billionaire or part of the rest. And the rest have to take the impossibly crowded trains from the unbelievably filthy platforms. They have no choice but to wait patiently in the inescapable traffic jams. They have to wade through floods and fall prey to diseases and bear the incessantly scorching heat. There is no concept of winter. They must live far away from their work-place. They must shell out an exorbitant amount of money to live in a box. There are frustrations, but there are also avenues to vent. You have the Janta’s and the Gokul’s, where the atmosphere has the perfect mix of shady and safe. Dim lighting, ugly drunken brutes with an equal amount of respectable women. Everyone is accepted. This collusion of classes and cultures adds a certain amount of character to the city and makes it extremely accommodating.

Pune is getting there. It’s a baby Bombay. Pune is still a slow city, but has gotten and is getting progressively fast-paced over the years. It’s a city run by the teenagers and the orthodox settlers – a distinct point of difference from Delhi. In Pune, most women have to come out of the closet straight, while the boldness of the gay culture in Delhi is astounding. Certain cultures still have reservations about the openness of the Pune woman. But the teenagers are slowly rebelling. It is an exciting time to witness the result of this rebellion. This teenage struggle.

Struggle is a necessity. Struggle is your wisest teacher. The key is to learn to love struggle and all that comes with it. Take some risks. Strive to be the hero of your life at the risk of being a victim. Go for broke.      

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Lord don’t move the mountain,
But give me strength to climb it
Please don’t move that stumbling block,
But lead me Lord around it

The way may not be easy,
You didn’t say that it would be
For when our tribulations get too light,
We tend to stray from Thee.

–          Mahalia Jackson

The Pursuit of Happyness – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NoLh4xYp1Y

Gin Soaked Girl

ImageAditi Mutatkar is a sea-snake. She’s venomous when agitated, determined to move ahead despite the overwhelming resistance of the waves and generates electric energy with every forward march.

So how do I define Aditi Mutatkar?

It’s really hard to say. She is a badminton player, with superlative skill – that’s for sure. But you can’t really categorise her definitely. She is not a failed hero – she’s still aggressively pursuing personal stardom. She isn’t a total failure – she has achieved far too much. The 25-year-old isn’t a has-been – she still plays competitively. She has had a complicated relationship with the sport she loves unconditionally. It has brought out every heart-rending emotion in her.

At best, one can call her the grittiest of all comeback queens, most familiar with the drawing board – having gone back to it no less than three times in five professional years.  During this tough time, she battled severe trauma stemming from a weak knee, operated upon repeatedly. She remained stubborn, however, and got back on her feet every single time. Her recent comeback being the open nationals – where she beat the current India no 1 en route to her third place finish.

I had promised her a blog post on the condition of her victory. But her semi-final finish after close to two years of inaction seemed to be a victory in its own right. She thought so too. She was amazed at herself, shocked with her performance and then she released her emotions through tears of joy. Image

 In a career marred with injuries, she has often been forced to search for her own bandwidth of success, her own separate formula for motivation and that has been far from easy.

She started like any other star. She started like Saina. Bursting on to the scene, winning everything there was to win, dominating her age-group and others as well. She won all the possible national level events in the junior category. Like Saina. And then she met Saina as competition. She was uttered in the same breath as the current world no 3 for the first and only time. It was during the under – 16’s that both shared a back and forth of victories. Aditi had the last laugh when she thrashed Saina in the under – 16 national final. She still remains the only player in the Indian circuit to have beaten her. But things changed drastically from that point on.

Saina won her first international tournament and was heavily publicised in the media. Aditi had no such support for her victories. Looking back, that was a pivotal moment for Aditi. Maybe she was under the wrong Godfather. Maybe luck wasn’t on her side.

Whatever the reason, Saina slowly started pulling away. When Aditi won the minors, Saina won the majors. When Aditi was sneaking her way into sports pages, Saina was flashing out of front page headlines. Aditi took one step forward and Saina took two. She was a Roddick to Federer; Qaresma to Ronaldo; Frazier to Ali. She was in that scary space between good and great – close enough to take in the sweet scent of international glory, yet far away from achievement. 

Hard as it was, Aditi tried not to let it bother her. She focused on her own success and it seemed to work for her. In 2009, she performed well in international tournaments. After, arguably, her career-best performance of reaching the Bitburger Open final in Germany, she climbed up to 27 in the world rankings – her personal best. That was when disaster struck. She suffered a debilitatingknee injury.

The rehabilitation was unplanned and misguided. She received no help from the Badminton federation. She was discarded as if she was nothing. When she required professional help, financial assistance, she got nothing. At the seemingly prestigious position of being India’s no 2 shuttler, she was in the loneliest place on earth.

Her knee was operated upon and was never really the same after that. She was immature at the time and didn’t really know how to handle the immense pressure. She did not have the insulation of a psychologist or a personal trainer. She received ordinary treatment when professional consultation was the need of the hour.  

She felt demoralised but was persistent in achieving her goal. She cried her tears and then came back with renewed vigour. Only to find herself climbing a hill of grease. Thus began her roller coaster journey – her twisted bond with the cruel sport.

She practiced with maniacal dedication. Her discipline was unmatched and work ethic was something to admire. She kept coming back. But so did her injuries.

In 2010, when she made her first comeback, she seemed fearless. She had a good stint in the Vietnam tournament where she reached the quarterfinals. She built on that success and went on to win a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. She was selected for the Asian Games and reached the pre-quarterfinals when she injured her calf muscle. She had to be away from the sport again. She was angry, frustrated. She broke her rackets. She cried for days on end. She sought reassurance but only found pessimism. Then her coach told her to take a breath. Relax. Recover.

The injury healed as injuries do, but the scar still remained. She was tentative with her strokes and she favoured her knee every time she hit the shuttle. It took her time to get back to her aggressive intensity but once she did, she was unstoppable. She went on to miraculously win the senior open nationals, thus bagging every national title in each age-category. She is one of four women in the history of Indian badminton, who have managed to achieve this feat.

She was doing well – having reached semis and the quarterfinals of two international tournaments. After she came back, however, she suffered a triple blow when she injured her knee, twisted her ankle and tore her hamstring.

The doctor said that she didn’t have long to play. She was devastated. She contemplated retirement. She did nothing for two months, reached the limit of her frustration and then got a panic attack.

She decided to take a break. Get her mind away from badminton. A fresh start. She decided to travel. She revisited Germany without her rackets and found it to be a refreshing experience. She trekked across the hills of Kashmir, relaxed on the sandy beaches of Goa and spent fifteen full days bonding with her grandparents. She studied for the IAS, the GMAT and then worked in an NGO. Her mind was wandering, but wandering away from badminton.

ImageThen she started to the miss the sport again. But she wasn’t fully ready to get back on the court. So she took up tennis. She played for a week and then realised the sport was a poor substitute for her true love. She then got back on badminton court after a one and a half year hiatus. She took to the court like a fish to water. She was more relaxed. Her dreams had diluted into concrete practicality. Her expectations were minimal. She went back to the basics. She now played for the love of the game and nothing more. She surprised one and all with her third place finish in the nationals.

But Aditi knows better than most that third place finishes aren’t remembered for long. In India, after all, even second place counts for little in the long run. Aditi often looks back and wonders what would have happened if she received the same attention as Saina. But she also agrees that Saina is made of a different fibre. She is deserved of her Olympic bronze medal. She is envious, not malicious of her intentions towards Saina. When asked, however, if she ever wished she was in Saina’s shoes, she continues to say, “I’m still on my way there”.

Whenever the wave pushes her back, she sheds her skin, goes back to the drawing board and starts swimming again. The sea-snake.                  

“Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.” 
― China MiévilleThe Scar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czObluVLJPc

Why cuddle now?

ImageSex is the most complicated thing in the world.

Sex is that simple act that is intricately compound in nature. Sex is edgy, cool, straightforward and yet so contradictory in its various forms.

Sex is a bomb, a drug and a cure. Sex is abstinence and addiction; fake yet carnal; impure but indispensable. At times – natural and at others, unimaginably perverse. It’s a thrilling mystery and routine boredom.

Kids wonder what it is. Adolescents are increasingly curious. Teenagers want it more than anything in the world. Young adults get it by the pound. And then they think they’ve understood it, but that turns out be far from the truth. They enjoy sex while it lasts and then there is the inevitable stress of delay. Everyone walks the plank. With that sharp sword of worry prodding us closer to the sea of stress.  Few fall in, The rest are let off with a bloodcurdling warning.

 We continue to have sex. A little more cautiously. We are more in control. Everyone loves carefree sex. You make love in a relationship. You get bored. You bang a random friend. You’re brimming with machismo. Spontaneous sex is the best kind.

After that stressful day of work, or football, or if you’re just tired from doing nothing, sex is the perfect release. Till it’s not. 

Sex becomes devastating, violent and devious. Painful pleasure. Sex is a beautiful vice and an iniquitous sin. It takes the equation to another level. For some odd reason, emotions are attached to this outrageously physical act.

For some, sex breeds love. Love, unlike sex, is abstract, unconditional, truthful and pure in every form. For me, sex is sex. I love sex but I don’t fall in love because of it. I’m not stone-hearted. I have my romantic moments. Here and there. Now and then. But sex is physical. Sex is phenomenal. Till it lasts. And then it’s over. The deed is done. So why cuddle now?