The Ringside View

My attempts at writing have always been stacked up in old diaries and scraps of yellowing paper.Time,neglect and phylum insecta however, always ensured that the gibberish i scrawled, never would see the prying gaze of an alien eye.Years later, i still scribble once in a while - this time in word documents stored in some obscure folder somewhere in the innards of my C drive.I am unearthing some of them and opening them up for the interested.To get what i call - The Ringside view.

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Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stories for the gym.

The calorie reading flashed past on the dashboard. I visualized a slice of margarita with dollops of cheese I had for lunch, vanish like a genie in a Walt Disney movie. The big red button read Emergency stop or “Don’t torture yourself. Click here” or something to that effect. I ignored the lure. It was a pizza buffet lunch and the damage done was considerable; the calories to burn infinite. I increased gradient and kept running.

The gym was on the third floor and I could see the cobbled street below me open up like an opera. It was a different matter though that Debenhams, the super market round the corner had closed and there was not a soul in sight. So it was like an opera alrite’, but with no show. Curtains down. Empty balconies. Nothing happening.

What happens when there is nothing to entertain is this. The brain cells send a ‘Hi, how are you doing’, enquiry message to the rest of the body. The optic nerve nudges all and sundry around and picks up readings from the dashboard. ‘This freak’s running quite a bit today, eh’ it sends back to its well wisher back at the attic. ‘Hell, I am fuckin’ stretched’ respond the calf muscles. A board meeting of brain cells later a red button somewhere on the dashboard is clicked and a poor panting, gasping me is reclining in the comforts of a chair nearby.

But just when I was resigning for the cytological parody to unfold, something happened today. A young man dressed all in black came walking up the deserted street below. Resting against the Debenhems shop window, he kept speaking animatedly into his mobile phone. And minutes later, as though on a directors prompt, a girl in her teens also appeared from the opposite end. She looked around emptily for sometime and then rested against the same shop window a little away from where the young man stood.

Furtive glances exchanged and the girl uneasily tucked at her T-shirt. She fumbled inside her handbag and keyed some imaginary number into her mobile phone. I could see chemistry brewing; smoldering. I waited like at the movies for the young man to finish his call and Cupid to ignite the lull of the street below. A few moments and then a few more. The young man disconnected the call and the girl stood up. She walked back the same way she had come. The young man looked at his watch and walked the other way, without even a glance.

I looked at the empty Debenhems shop window; at the now empty cobbled street below. Was all that I saw mere fantasies fabricated in the mind. Somewhere, something transpired, a button in red got clicked and I……..

P.S: The author ran two miles and burnt 180 calories this nite :)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Go(karna) Go - A travelogue

The tickets to Gokarna were booked for tomorrow. And in the proverbial red bus to boot. ‘Have fun. Be fun. Be frugal’ was the mantra of the tour. No gastronomic splurges. No expensive hotels. No reclining comforters of the Volvos which screeched into the neighboring bus terminals. For us, it was just the free spirit of the true back packers that we so badly wanted to be. And that latent desire to be Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (The fact that that we hardly even possessed the ‘H’ of the hedonism of Kerouac and Cassidy was another matter altogether).

My cold had got worse over the last few days and innumerable inhalations with and without Vicks had not done what those ads did to kids with dripping noses and blazing temperatures. My voice too – changed baritone and then unrecognizable. Suri was christened spokesperson for the tour as we clinked bottles and guzzled mango juice for the road.

The red buses though were no longer red. They had turned chic. All those profits which the transport corporation was making were being invested on paint colours other than red for sure. But the luxuries denied in the buses of yore continued to be denied (so what if the buses were no longer red). Leg room for one was never an ergonomic consideration and it continued to be so. Railings on the window cramped elbow movement and Suri snuggled into a pose ‘half-Khajuraho half Lateita Casta’. But the bigger problem was what made us wait with bated breath. Our seats were part of a three-seater and the prospect of accommodating a stranger into our already uncomfortable abode was sure going to be a daunting task. But to hell with it. Backpackers don’t travel business class. Do they?

We waited.


The spokesperson took his job seriously. (making me ponder if we should have laid out a few rules to keep his responsibilities in check). There was a blatant exhibition of his command over the vernacular (which by the way was no command at all). Eclectic discussions with an equally eclectic cross section of people ensued, keeping me in constant fits of laughter and cough.

It was when the third round of negotiations with the ticket collector in swapping seats to a two-seater was looking promising when the Davanegere bound family entourage boarded. Two sets of ‘men and wives’, two adolescent girls and a young skinny prank. We heard the burly spectacled man shout out the seat number next to ours. We quickly sized up the family. South Indian conservatism would rule out the two young girls. Swish. The two women would prefer sitting together and gossip into the night. Swish. That would leave the two burly men and the skinny kid. If the men decided to sit together and discuss finances, matrimony and property rates at Davanegere – bingo!!!
(we would have the kid. We could even throw the skinny fellow out of the window before the bus hits Tumkur and sprawl over all that green leather.)


It worked out just the way we wanted. And we strengthened our Sicilian defense by making him comfortable with some needless child-like prattle. He seemed happy at first and then suddenly quipped – “Can I sit by the window”. He was going for the jugular right away, that little devil. “Illa. I need to vomit once the bus starts”, Suri retorted.

“Me too”, he replied, as though from a script.

“But I’ am bigger. I need to vomit more”, said Suri (those satanic horns easily visible now.) I choked; coughed. The kiddo looked the other way. The battle had been won. We soaked in the glory by sliding open the window and letting the gushing wind hit our faces as the bus set from Majestic bus terminal.


But the battle was what we had won. The war was lost. When you are a kid of six or seven, there is no way you can sit at the aisle. The window beckons like a candy bar lures the baby; like the neon lights of the strip clubs lure the young and like the wooden benches at the park lures the old. And when you are six or seven and the only male child in the family, you would nine times out of ten get the candy and the window seat as well. The burly spectacled father moved in beside me and I found myself choking again……but this time for space.

The next few hours were purely territorial in nature. We fought silent battles for comfort. Our conversations kept us awake. But it was not so for our adversary. He had to fight not just us. But also sleep. Tumkur flashed past us outside the window. A huge billboard proclaimed a ‘plastic free Tumkur’. We laughed it off like all socially responsibly young men should not. Probably was the sleep (or rather the lack of it) getting to us.

I leaned forward for a change in angle and lazily asked Suri – “Wonder how much the Indians made today?”

“Dhoni yeshtu hoditha”, a strange voice next to me suddenly quizzed. It was our adversary. And also the first overtures of friendship; of bonhomie; of connect. We blurted out a few numbers but he seemed better equipped with latest scores. Cricket, the unifier. And strangely, shortly there after we all found our comfortable reclining angles. Positions that suited everyone. (hey, wait a minute. I haven’t read Vatsayana’s work yet, but hope it does not sound similar. It’s a world where eighteen year olds are first paid a fortune for writing a novel and then ripped in public for ‘copying’ someone else. Why take a chance.)


In between fits of sleep, I saw small towns and groves of trees slid past. The changing imagery seemed surreal in the dark. And reality it seemed existed far away – in the small talk over coffee back at office; in the monotony of changing television channels at home; in alphanumeric gibberish plastered on plasma monitors in my cubicle. With every passing minute, the yawning gap between reality and me seemed to widen. And I didn’t mind it one bit.

The clock, I remember showed 5:45 when we boarded the bus. And it was forty-five minutes past five when we reached Tumkur. I strained my eyes and focused at the clock in the dark. It was pitch dark now. It said 5:45.

“What time do you reckon we’d reach Gokarna”, I asked Suri.

He rubbed the slumber off his eyes and enquired – “What’s the time now?”

“5:45”, I said.

“Oh…then I guess, we’d be there by………….5:45”, he replied and turned the other way.

I smiled and nestled deep into our time warp.


At sun dawn, the bus rolled into Sirsi. We jumped out to give our sore and twisted muscles a well deserved stretch. The reddish brown stone façade near the bus station invited exploration. A flight of stairs descended down into city square with only the odd mongrel strolling about an otherwise empty bus station. The obscurity of the small town was perfect for the early morning ‘open the eyes and you are not in the rat race’ feeling. A well groomed man with a baby in tow was checking the bus timings to Panjim.

“Are you guys on the bus to Panjim”, he enquired.

“No sir. This bus goes to Gokarna”, I replied.

“5:45 ko ayega na”

I stuttered. “Board me to yehi likha he”

I shuffled for the mobile in my trouser pocket. It was fifteen minutes past five!!! Suri and I walked around in search of the loo. And then finding none, pissed against the brick wall of a building which we later realized was the men’s rest room. There was a cool moist feel to the air and it thrilled me to believe we were heading the right way. Seaward.

The engine revved up and the ticket collector blew the shrill whistle. We abandoned our musings and boarded back into the bus. I looked up at the clock. 5:45. The young man would have probably found his bus to Panjim. I looked out of the window and he was standing there all alone, baby in tow. There was no sign of the bus. Was it late I wondered? Possibly not. We were back in our time warp. That’s all.


Kumta seemed like a larger town. And its scale of importance grew heavier when we realized that our Davanagere bound family was actually Kumta bound. “They hand over the collections here before heading to Gokarna. It should take not more than an hour from here”, smiled a ubiquitous South Kanara good samaritan. There was something genuinely warm about the people in this belt – that wide earnest grin or that extra word of advice to your concern of where to go or what to eat.

I got off the bus, persevered and found a loo. Suri did the same and found a cigarette. Back in the bus, I preferred staring out at the salt extraction plants lining the entire Kumta-Gokarna stretch while he stretched out and slumbered. An hour later, we hit destination one on our travel list – Gokarna.


Gokarna glistened in the mid April sun like yellow metal. We disembarked and were immediately accosted by two touts of the religious kind. The kind who play tourist guide whenever they do get time from their main job – seeking nirvana. It did not take long though, for them to realize that getting business out of us was only as difficult as seeking the elusive halo around their heads. The odd family or two standing around looked more promising and they left us to fend for ourselves.

I was not feigning cognizance of the mythological importance of Gokarna. In fact I hardly even knew if the place was Vaishnavik or Shaivik. This was the very me who harbored thoughts of learning all about Greek mythology oblivious of my limited local knowledge. (Like the me, who wanted to learn French when not knowing how to read or write in my mother tongue). Me, the hypocrite. Okay, now that’s it for negative shades. For the rest of this story, I am going to be this character worth being reproduced on screen (if at all it ever got to be reproduced) by some smart hunk from tinseltown. Nothing less.


Two main thoroughfares diverged from the bus station. We walked down one of them in search of the sea and cheap accommodation (the latter preferably overlooking the former). Five minutes into the walk, lodging was coming for as cheap as fifty rupees a day provided we compromised by looking into the bus yard instead of the sea from our bedroom window.

I wonder if it was the heat or practicality or lack of romanticism. We eventually settled for a restaurant called ‘Gokarna International’ with a twin bed, television set and a balcony to boot. It costed five times more than what the ginger bearded man who accosted us on the roads offered, but we took it all the same. And it did not even overlook the sea. It just happened to be the closest place at hand, when our tired bodies (bowels included) decided ‘Enough is enough’.


Brushed, washed and in better spirits we headed straight to the beach. A non-descript breakfast happened somewhere in the middle but as I mentioned, it is best described non-descript. Gokarna is a small town and there is no way one can get lost. We walked around the narrow streets lined with antique Mangalore tiled houses. An old man stood at the threshold of a house calling out to a lady selling vegetables. Both of them had creases on their faces that seemed antique as well. It looked like a weird experiment in anachronism. Like a world tucked away like a pearl in an oyster, away from the madness we called reality.

Gokarna, according to Hindu mythology is said to have got its name from the fact that Lord Shiva appeared here out of a bovine’s ear. And the bovine community sure did make their presence felt. They were unusually short in stature, with horns tailor made and razor sharp for good penetration and maximum damage. Soaking the old world charm and avoiding confrontations of the bovine kind we finally hit our first beach, Gokarna beach. I widened my gaze and smiled. Blue. And somewhere in the middle, sky became sea.


Little boys heaved plastic lines and waited till it turned taut. One of them held a polythene bag filled with small fish. Laurels for their labour in the hot mid-day sun. Suri chased a few crabs, picked a few sea shells and tried striking a conversation with the fishing boys. Respect was scant but he persevered. Holding a mackerel in his hands, he quipped: “Whoa, that’s the closest any one in my family ever got to non-vegetarianism”. When was the last time you did something for the first time, proclaimed an airline ad. He could have proudly said – Today!!!

“And you better return that back to those boys before they bait you to hunt a shark, you bastard”, I shouted.

April is off season for tourists and we walked in front of shacks proclaiming to be restaurants but looking as empty as a classroom after class time. We trespassed a few private properties and managed to successfully disorient ourselves. (Please ignore my earlier claims of it being impossible to lose yourself in a small town. Where there is a will, there is always a way). We stopped at a small shop and shrugged off the disorientation by asking a few locals for directions.

“Climb that hill you see there”, a young man told us, pointing to a hill jutting into the sea. “Kudle beach lies yonder. And two hills later you will find Om beach”. I splashed some water on my face and looked to see if the hill seemed closer. It did. I splashed some more and looked up. That’s all close it would get.


We walked up to the base of the hill that was pointed out to us in the distance, and surprisingly found a fleet of stairs leading up to a small shrine. Lord Ram and his faithful ape, Hanuman stood firm. We murmured a silent prayer and kept climbing. Half way up the cliff, another shrine awaited. Much smaller, more quaint and affording a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. We read a board claiming that the shrine was dedicated to Bharath, the royal brother of Ram, who was king of Ayodhya when the king-god was banished from the opulence of the kingdom. We sat at the threshold of Bharath’s temple and looked at the sea below. The climb was already reaping dividends. The sky merged into the sea at the far left and the greens of the coconut fronds took over to the right. Somewhere in the middle, the waves shied away into the sands like a bride into the hands of the bridegroom. The riot of colours intoxicated me, like elixir to the eye. A painter it seemed had colours to spare and had been liberal.

The senses can inspire and suddenly, every nerve and sinew is throbbing you ahead. Stones in my path are kicked in gay abandon and the sweat pouring down my back is labour expended for beauty returned. We set sights on distant citadels, a lone palm tree or a hawk shaped rock. Claiming to one another that the beach lies yonder. It never did.

At one such corner, I looked at Suri and said – “Down that bend and its Kudle.No doubts”. We approached in mock anticipation. And with every step it was clear that the beach it was not. A gorge carved into the mountain fought with the sea, its ferocious adversary like warriors in battle. We stood there like at the colosseum and listened to the roar below. It was only apt when Suri screamed - Zeus point.


Zeus, eight feet tall, stood on the precipice of the rock, facing the crimson sun. The reins from his hand extended to the rocky structures on either end of the gorge like prancing horses. His raised hand lashed a whip as thunder and streaks of lightening rivaled his menacing voice. Suri shuffled a bit and clicked an imaginary photograph from his imaginary Cybershot. Zeus himself was mere fantasy. Fabrications of the romantic mind. We knew he was there somewhere; overlooking the sea, unseen to the eye but visible to the spirit.

I stood on the precipice where Zeus stood in our mind’s eye a moment ago and dialed home. “Take care and be safe”, mom was screaming over the line from Bangalore. “Sure thing mom. Not to worry”, I mumbled, stepping back onto level ground.


The descent soon came and it turned out to be rocky. The beach of Kudle peeked amidst the foliage. We dug deep into our energy reserves and stumbled along maintaining balance and poise. The latter all of a sudden being more important, what with the hot European woman following our footsteps in the search for the elusive beach. Suri immediately christened her ‘Tan’ia. The one in search of the tan. We could easily see her flaunting her sun tanned body in some distant German café or British pub and claiming she holidayed in India this summer.

Many precarious moments later we hit ground zero. It did not matter that it led us directly into the kitchen area of a beach side restaurant. We walked right through the back door with all the panache that was worthy of a Hollywood starlet making a red carpet entry. The sea shimmered in the afternoon sun like a cauldron of boiling water. We put up our legs and skimmed through the menu. What happened next is but a blur. Gluttony, avarice and hunger were all equal partners in crime. An hour later, the very thought of food made us squirm.

We sat their like pythons after devouring a bigger prey than it should have devoured. Tan’ia meanwhile had her brown bread sandwich and fresh lime without soda and headed out to the beach. The flowery summer dress soon slid down and she was all one with the sea, sun and the sand. The pythons though continued to snore unmoved.


A few heavy hours wafted by in what seemed like a surreal dream. When I opened my eyes, the dream seemed to continue. Dreamland was right there and for real.

The cliffs ahead, the boys at the restaurant told us lead to Om beach and we set off, no questions asked. I remember seeing this travel show on television where this smart alec host once quipped – “You cease to be a traveler when you start becoming a tourist”. We had had our hours as the tourist back at the restaurant and now it was high time we shed that image.

Om beach is so called because it is shaped like the holy Hindu symbol of the same name. Not that we could validate that, because we hardly got an ariel view of it. But it sure was a fabulous beach. A tad more commercial I should mention but doesn’t beauty always bring attention, whether you be a pop diva, television star or even a harmless beach.

Om beach had more than the average share of Western tourists. This obviously meant - more than the average share of shacks serving pasta, pizzas and toast with peanut butter. We entered one of them for want of food and water and were treated as graciously as school boys who knock on every door for Christmas collections are treated back in my colony. The lemonade was luke-warm; like the store keeper’s attitude. And we trudged back to the beach discussing animatedly about the total lack of customer value.

Om is a tree lined beach and we sprawled on a straw mat that we found lying abandoned under the overhanging branches of a tree. The sun bathers swam around and then sprawled face down in the sun, only to get up and head seaward again. And we watched them change from peach to ebony and back to peach.

“Boating hogthera”, a voice asked us from behind.

“Illa boss”, quipped Suri with the nonchalance of one who owns a private yacht. I turned back to look at the owner of the voice. A young fisherman clad in a pair of shorts and t-shirt grinned seeing the weak link. “You get to see dolphins. And two private beaches that is tucked away round that corner”, he said pointing to a distant hill.

“How much”, I asked him like every gullible tourist would ask.

“250”, he said.

I looked at Suri and realized that he was searching for his double barrel Heckler and Koch. And I was pretty sure, if he had just one bullet, he’d have used it on me. “Are you crazy”, he bellowed. “Boss, I’m not asking you how much a dolphin costs”, he told the local. “get realistic and we’ll think of it”.

A few minutes of deliberations later we were on the high sea. And at this point of the story, the writer in me would like to step out and leave the reader with the image of the two of us sitting on either end of a trawler speed boat throttling away into the horizon; in total oneness to the sea and the sky.

Death of the hero.

The clouds seemed to play hide and seek as I boarded the bus back home. Trouble was brewing all over town they told me. The thespian is dead. The cardiac muscles of the hero, tired and then stopped. And he died once more; like a hundred other times, the only difference being - he wouldn’t get up this time, wiping the make up off his face.

But it was a life well lived and trouble for the rational did not make sense. But the shutters on the shops were all pulled down. And every street corner had garlanded pictures of the hero; some in memory, some in fear. I got off the bus and someone jokingly suggested – “Tomorrow guarantee holiday. There is bound to be riots”.

And well it was. You didn’t have to be Nostradamus’ second son to predict that. I sat on the couch surfing channels. Like fishermen who are advised not to venture into rough seas, I was ordered not to go out of home. The news channels beamed correspondents reporting amidst charred buses and rioting mobs. I looked out of my bedroom window to see the billowing smoke. I did not see any. I looked out to see if stones were being hurled at my bedroom window. They weren’t. But those images continued to flash on the screen. A police constable running out of a burning bus, with fear splashed all over his face; a few mindless men encircling him like in those games we played back at school. And those clenched fists ramming into his face as though it were but a pillow. Blood on the streets, fire in the air. And all because the cardiac muscles of the hero tired and then stopped? My neighbor had turned on the music full volume. His small world had not changed. I turned off the television set and read Dilbert. Isn’t this guy funny? My little world hadn’t changed either.

May the soul of the hero rest in peace.

These are a few of my favourite things?

I was filling in the questionnaire. It asked for ’10 things that you like doing the most (in order of preference)’. Phew!!!. Impossible. Let alone listing them in order of preference I don’t think I’ll even find 10 things that I like doing so much that they should be put down on paper. I tried though and I’ll try again (with more thought, minor refinements and a pinch of lunacy).

At one, is ‘philosophizing on long train journeys’ (I promised you the lunacy bit, didn’t I). ‘Philosophizing’ probably is an exaggerated description, but travel does induce thought. Wonder if it’s the fleeting imagery or the sense of movement (a sense of not belonging to any place in general; a sense of wafting over land and sea with the eye feeding the mind with truckloads of imagery to process, comprehend and make sense out of). That skewed interpretation not withstanding I’d still go ahead with ‘philosophizing on long train journeys’ in my top 10.

At two, is ‘Tucked up in bed, reading a Kundera or Seth, while rain drops hit your window pane’. It’s a pretty simple recipe for a great day. A Czech genius, an Indian poet and a few cumulo-nimbus clouds. There is a certain magic in reading stories set in grim Prague or cloudy London with looming clouds and slanting rainfall outside your bedroom window.

At an unearthly five ‘o’ clock every morning, I pull myself out of bed, denying myself those extra winks of sleep which is nothing short of paradise lost. Lucky are those souls who oblivious to the rising sun confine themselves to the warmth of their furry blankets. The others like me want to lose calories. The treadmill at the gym does not show the ‘calories lost’ count though. Neither does it show the time I have been running on it. I close my eyes to make little of the effort. And invariably, I always get visions of running through a tree lined boulevard. (wonder what Freud would have made of it). But despite the chilly December mornings and the sleep denied at three is – ‘Working out on the treadmill to attain fitness nirvana’.

This one puzzles me. Why is it that you always prefer tea from small shacks and stalls set in frugal settings but coffee only from swanky cafes - on the rocks and otherwise? It is a dichotomy I’ve never really understood. Sipping tea in small tapering glasses from propped up shacks and thermos flasks, with a sugared ‘biskoot’ to dip is quite an unparalleled bliss. Cigarette smoke, whirring fans and waiters who blurt out your bill, no pleasantries expended marks a smack on your face honesty that is blatantly refreshing. But when it comes to coffee it’s different. Air conditioned, wi-fi enabled glass walled bistros serving coffee with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and what have you. The setting irrespective, catching up with friends at meager tea stalls and swanky coffee bars sure do make my list at four.

‘Watch out for Mukund’, quipped an acquaintance of my friend. ‘Broke a few hands last season’, he continued as though realizing that I was beginning to feel weak in the knees. We were playing Josephs and I knew that the odds were not even. Bracing up against a fast, furious state under-19 bowler did not sound like a good Sunday afternoon past time. I padded up like a Roman soldier off for battle and walked up to the middle. There he was – my nemesis. Tall and lanky, exchanging pleasantries with the umpire. I mumbled a silent prayer and tried not to listen to the taunts of the slip cordon. Ball one - the cherry hurls past me like a bullet making me feel nude; unprotected; stupid. Ball two – raps into my pad like a cannon ball. I was convinced – I am nude; unprotected; stupid. Ball three – timber. One of the stumps goes cart wheeling into oblivion. I walked back not having felt the ball with the bat even once. Funny, I recounted this, but when the ball hits wood and in the middle, it feels good. So much so, that I’ll put it down on this list as well.

I stood there on the thirteenth floor balcony of a restaurant serving a sumptuous breakfast buffet. It’s Sunday morning and I stand god-like with a city awakening from its deep slumber beneath me, as I spread peach and apricot jam on my toasted bread. I wonder if it’s because it’s Sunday or the fact that we are obscenely early, the restaurant is largely empty. The only others to have got the better of their deep rooted somnia were two British women - soaking in the sun and news reports of England’s cricketing heroics in the third Ashes test at Edgbaston. A glass of fresh fruit juice with Portuguese croquettes and cheese omelets for starters; divine. It felt good having the Brit women around and they probably felt the same having us Indians around. A sense of global camaraderie in me devouring egg and bacon and muffins while they immersed succulent idlies and golden brown vadas in sambar and coconut chutney. So that’s that – breakfast buffets on a sunny Sunday morning. Idyllic, lazy, gastronomic and definitely on my list of ten enjoyable things to do.

My channel surfing invariably ends at number 18. Travel & Living. In fact if god were to appear before me – Biff!!! and ask – “Son, what is that one thing that you covet; one man whose job you so badly desire”, I’d say – Ian Wright or Jeremy Clarkson or Anthony Bourdain or Megan McCormack or….any of those modern day incarnations of Epicurus who eat, drink, travel and make merry for a living. “Give it to me, O God. Those backpacks, those plane tickets, those trekking shoes and cocky scripts, those unlimited travels into unseen lands magical and beckoning. Give me, O wise one, the undying spirit of the relentless traveler who travel for travel’s sake leaving behind footprints for others to chart. Ok, Almighty, give them my desk job in return; coffee vending machine, personal computers, grumpy bosses and ergonomic reclining chairs included”. Fair deal, I should say, but no one’s replying.

Bob volunteered to give us two continuous hours on a Saturday evening instead of the usual one hour-two days a week schedule. We were kicked. The guitar seemed a fairly simple six stringed instrument and we envisioned learning the nuances to cutting our first album to take roughly six months at the maximum. At 500 rupees a month, we had this irrepressible notion that Bob’s tutoring was over priced but when a few subtle changes from G major to D seven and back to C major, yielded our first song we soon forgot the finances. The joy though was short lived. I felt my fingers lacked the dexterity in sliding over from G major to C major. Producing musical strains of any quality all of a sudden seemed Herculean. To add to my woes, Samantha and Elizabeth (two smart girls who also came to Bob’s) played every chord and sang every song (from Dizzy Gillespie to Cher) making sure they made me feel like one of those autistic kids who landed in the wrong school. Weeks later, I found defeatism even in the lyrics of the song. (Lord, oh one; Lord, oh two; Lord oh three; Lord oh four; Lord I am five hundred miles away from home (and my first song I would instantly think)). That was a long time back though. I no longer go to Bob’s and ideas of the band have evaporated into thin air. But now there is a sense of joy in sliding my fingers from G major to C major, sans the fear of getting the chords wrong. The calluses on my ring finger suggest I am learning and probably…….. I am not that far away from home now.

I see words stringing together to form sentences, and sentences metamorphosising into paragraphs. The paragraphs would fill reams of paper and a hard bound collection of all the words that I have written would be sold in glass walled book houses for money. People would read for joy, for pleasure, when they are bored and when they are not; they would appreciate, criticize and live my words in their living rooms. I like a Greek god, will create and then kill characters at will, eating and drinking out of silver ware and golden goblets from the royalty that I am paid. When I walk on the streets, men would whisper into one another’s ears – “Here comes the creator of tales, the painter of dreams, the foreteller of your life and mine”. Okay. Too much. Fantasizing apart, writing, getting a work published and being hailed an author does figure in my wish list of ten things to do before I bid adieu.

Now am I not glad I mentioned the lunacy bit right up front. This write up has ended up like one of those kites gone astray. Meant to go one way and then eventually heading elsewhere surrendering to its own whims and fancies. I twiddle through the pages and take count. It’s nine. I try thinking and then decide against it. Let’s leave one for posterity; for future thought and reasoning; for all things incomplete are abstract. Intriguing. Exciting.

City Lights.

We were heading to Bombay and we were god damn excited. The romanticism of getting down at Victoria terminus, amidst all the Gothic style architecture, the dust and the squalor sure did make tinsel town stuff. In fact, we were born and brought up watching Hindi movies, where people board off Bombay headed trains, with a ‘thou(the city) art greater than all’ expression. So much so, we even practiced those expressions back in our bathroom mirror (why be frugal on the dramatics, I say). But the romanticism was not to be. Train tickets were at a premium and we found ourselves, stacked up on a 24 hour bus ride to the city of a thousand dreams.

But we were obstinate about not wasting the expression. Dry, arid shanty towns of Northern Karnataka were followed by the dry, arid shanty towns of Southern Maharashtra. We waited like a debutante actor for Bombay to appear in all glitz and glamour so that we can react like we so desperately wanted to react. It did not take us long though, to realize that there did not really exist any line of demarcation to separate Bombay from non Bombay. It merely looked like an extension of all those shanty towns we went past and to our disbelief they even called it Bombay. (these bastards would have brought us through the back door of the city for sure, Paaps told me. Whatever!!!).

But this is no travelogue this, so let me come to our story. We (we by the way is Paaps and me) caught up with a few friends of mine – a certain Matt and Bals (no pun intended) at the latter’s place. He was a tough man, this Bals. Had seen brawls and bloodshed he told us once. And considering our quiet, bloodless backgrounds we looked up at him with due reverence.

For Bals, manliness was in the swig of his whisky (no soda, three ice cubes please); in the number of rings that his cigarette smoke trailed (for others to count and keep records); in answering the calls of his testosterone surges (love is for the movies and the boys). For us, he was nothing short of a Hollywood star on vacation.

Pleasantries exchanged, drinks offered and Bals gets dressed in a jiffy. We were wondering what that meant, when he suddenly looked up at us and asked – ‘seen the nightlife yet?’

‘Er…Nope’ we replied in unison.

Twenty minutes down the line we were headed to a place Bals called ‘Chuck Naka’. And as though that didn’t sound mysterious enough he also added the ‘Don’t keep shouting out that word too often’ warning. Chuck Naka. Sounded like some magic word from Aladdin’s time. (repeat the magic word three times….genie appears….three wishes……I wonder what I’ll ask for……live happily ever after routine. Did not happen. We even tried).

We had traveled a fair distance by now and the auto finally stopped at a check post. It seemed to be the end of town for all practical reasons and it seemed like the forbidden land that lay yonder. Bals and Paaps were already waiting for us. ‘What took you guys this long’, he asked us and without waiting for a reply led us past the check post into forbidden land.


There was one thing that struck me immediately, once we were on the other side of the check post. The dust and grime on the roads seemed to have doubled, the meanness on people’s faces - tripled and our very own heart beats…….. had quadrupled. We were on another auto pretty soon and the ride was hardly a minute. We got off and stared at the hotel with a unicorn’s insignia. Chains of chrysanthemums adorned the entrance. The sentry promptly saluted and opened the door. Blink. Smoke on the dance floor. Blink. Girls on the dance floor. Blink. We were at the infamous Bombay dance bars.

There must have been about fifty girls on the floor. We weaved past them amidst glares that could easily have frozen any of us (bar Bals). Girls in skimpy clothes. Girls with mascara and red lip stick. Girls with small brothers back home, who do not know what they do for a living. Girls who remind me of similar faces back at up-town coffee shops. Girls who would end up in bed today with some cheap bloke with a big libido and a few extra rupees to spare.

We sat there transfixed for God knows how long. I would be lying if I say that I did not enjoy it one bit. Some of them looked gorgeous. And it felt good when they gave you more attention than you gave them. But I knew it was not because I looked like Brad Pitt. It was vulnerability, the desire to live life well at least in broad daylight.

I looked at the others. No one spoke. Not even Bals. It was about to strike twelve. Some good looking girls had disappeared. Others waited. We got up and weaved our way out to the door. We heard someone remark aloud – ‘It’s not even twelve and they’re leaving the old bastards’. I did not bother looking. The door adorned with chrysanthemums opened and we stepped back into the (un)real world.

More for less.

Picture this.
Scene 1: You walk in through the glass door. (In all probability, it’s called ‘Gentleman Saloon’ or something to that effect). It’s a modest one room enterprise with no pretensions what so ever. The clientele remain faithful and walk in every fifth Sunday and get their hair cut, the same way they have been getting it cut for god knows how long. The antique radio, the size of a desktop machine which once played songs of yore now play the latest movie songs with techno beats. But it’s the cosmetic shelf that fascinates me. Some of those talcum powder brands I scarcely believed existed any longer adorn the shelf with gay abandon. He changes blades these days though. Touchwood. I wait for my turn in anticipation. Tamil dailies in various stages of deterioration lie around waiting to be read. I pick one up and browse through the pictures. A couple of Anglo Indian kids shout profanities outside for the world to hear. Someone in the box seat gets up. My turn.

The barber wraps me up in a towel and matter-of-factly reaches out for the scissors. I know what’s coming. I do the unthinkable. I stop him midway in his stance and explain gibberish to him. A Mallu animatedly explaining in broken Tamil to a barber from the innards of Guntur can’t even qualify as globalization I guess. He hardly reciprocates, but I finish my lines with great gusto. The rest of the scene though is as per script. I pay him the twenty five bucks and walk back home with the same haircut that I have been sporting since god knows when. Five Sundays later I’ll probably even come back.


These days I get my hair dressed at Le Meridian. Minus all the unheard talcum powder brands; minus the old wooden radio box which plays songs of yore; minus all the talking gibberish and the filth spewing Anglo kids. And minus the uncomprehending innocence of my barber from Guntur. What’s more I even pay ten times more money. And for less. Lesser life, I mean.

Monsoon Musings.

Is it the rain that inspires muse or is it the proverbial ‘it’s raining because you’re doing muse’? I guess I’ll abstain from finding answers to that question. (Though I’d like to sincerely believe, it’s not the latter.) I’ve always felt that Bangalore is kinda incongruous in the Deccan plains, what with an English weather pattern to boot. It’s November. And though you might remind me of the great Indian monsoon cycles, the North Westerlies et al, I still don’t think this rain (and torrents of it) is substantiated.

Of late, it’s really been getting lonely in the city. All of them have headed West in search of green dollar bills and nirvana. I wonder why I did not leave with them. It’s a strange feeling. Like being left behind while all your folks have gone on an excursion. Like being made to stand sentry to your empty mansion lest someone burgle the god damn emptiness. Like the city, I’ am beginning to feel incongruous myself.


The rain excites, inspires and finally depresses. The smell of sand when the first rain drops fall. The sight of a blooming petunia in your backyard. The touch of the holy water on your face. Sensory orgasm. Excitement.

You grab a cup of hot cocoa and think – ‘Life’s great. Let’s do something’. You read Russian short stories. Write a few lines of poetry. Solve the crossword. 8 across. 11 letters. Inspiration.

It’s been raining non-stop for 24 hours and the newspapers talk about a looming depression in the Bay of Bengal. Suddenly, you have a hundred odd jobs to do and an irresistible craving to stay dry. You stand in the balcony, look up at the sky and mildly enquire – “When the fuck are you turning it off”.

Tea, Coffee and skewed analogies

It’s raining cats and dogs. Rainfall at this time of the year is pretty unusual. Or is it? If I can vaguely remember those geography classes back at school I think the North-Westerlies do bring rain round about this time. Anyway, like it matters. All that I care for at the moment is my glass of lemon tea.

I stare out of the window. It looks like the clouds are orchestrating their next act. People scurrying about in search of shelter. Umbrellas, raincoats, jackets. Newspapers double-timing as makeshift caps. Puddles, pebbles, broken roads. Honking cars, more rain and John Denver (for some unknown reason) playing country roads….take me home in some corner of my mind.

I shift me gaze to the lemon tea which has been duly placed on my table. There is a single lemon seed floating about, trying to settle down to the abysmal depths of the glass. But every time I stirred, it would bob up and struggle. Life’s like that I think. Running around in vicious circles searching for god knows what. What a skewed analogy – life’s like a lemon seed. It’s still raining. I think I need another tea.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Its forty bucks for hardly a full glass of cold coffee. But then, they promise a lot can happen over it. I wonder what. ‘Would you like chocolate sauce and whipped cream on your coffee, sir’ the barista fondly asks. I wait for him to finish and deliver. ‘I’d like mine straight. No add-ons please’. I love this part of it. Makes me feel like James Bond or something. Actually, I really wouldn’t mind the whipped cream or chocolate sauce or what have you if it were not for the extra bucks. I give a fictitious name at the counter and settle into one of those comfy chairs.

The donuts in the glass case look inviting. ‘With or without chocolate sauce, sir’, he might ask again. It’s the same with life too, isn’t it? You can either live it straight or with add-ons. I prefer living it straight, like James Bond. The coffee gets delivered on my table with bill boasts of tax enough to pay me neighbor’s latte. I take a swig and it’s bitter. Someone at the counter buying a donut with chocolate sauce. God bless.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Life between alarms

The six ‘o’ clock alarm buzzed. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. It was still dark. The window pane had cracked and the makeshift cloth curtain hardly let the feeble sun rays penetrate. I did the first mathematics for the morning. Two and a half minutes more of sleep!!!

Ten minutes later when I finally got out of bed, the clock had already won the first battle and my deadlines had already slipped. It was cold outside despite the jacket. Ten days to Christmas I reminded myself. If it weren’t to get cold now, when would it? The dogs were out, strutting about in great canine splendor, relishing the previous might’s histrionics. They were the lords of the night, no doubt and it was with great reluctance that they handed over the scepter of lordship to us stupid looking bipeds at sun dawn. Stupid indeed the early risers(by choice or otherwise) looked; walking in half sleep for their early morning shots of elixir – milk for coffee and the newspaper for all those sleazy gossip from tinsel town. I wonder who starts the newspaper from page one these days. At least, not me.

I did a few uncomfortable stretches at the gym. Should make more time for exercise, I prayed. Those extra ten minutes – the push ups could have easily been fifteen instead of ten and the calories dropped would have been lesser by a few ounces, (which would translate to lesser guilt while biting into a cheesecake later in the day). The clock by now was capitalizing on the early victories. I was well and truly late.

I rush back home and into the shower and by then the race is fully on. Breakfast is a farce and the shoes as usual unpolished. I wipe them against the back of my trouser as I rush out. Appearance really did not matter, for my cab promptly left at eight (with or without me). Tennyson probably had my cab driver in mind when he wrote ‘……for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever’.

Rush hour and a clogged airport road. A VVIP visit or a traffic cop in bad spirits? I neck out of the window – seems to be the former today. Flashing lights and an escort of cars later, the mere mortals are let to pass. But our driver is now an irate man and the odometer readings seem to reflect the emotion. I mumble a silent prayer for the next traffic jam which will bring us back to a grinding halt.

Office is incongruity. Endless cups of coffee, faulty code and having to wish people good morning matter-of-factly in mid afternoon over tele conferences. In fact, it makes you switch sides. You egg the clock to move faster; until its time once again to make the return trip back to square one. Traffic jams, VVIP visits, road rage all included.

Its half past nine when I throw the bag into a corner and spread out on the sofa. I try thinking and it’s a blur. I try writing and I think it’s also a blur. But what about tomorrow. It’s going to be a déjà vu’ and I possibly can’t write the same thing. I dim the light. The alarm might buzz any minute, I might miss out on a few extra stretches, the cab driver might leave (without me) and the code which was not working today might continue to not work tomorrow. But life I guess would go on. Period.

The six ’o’ clock alarm buzzed.