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, January 21, 2007

Of Big Brother and broken umbrellas

The clouds and the sun were scheming devious plots against Chronos, the god of time, who oblivious of the situation kept ticking away customarily. Or so it seemed. My alarm buzzed and I waked into pitch darkness. Winds blew hard, striking my well wrapped body like a battering ram. And oblique pencils of rain pierced down like arrows sent flying from a taut bow. I walked down, umbrella in hand like a battling soldier. Thank God, I had a new umbrella at last. The old one was battered, bruised and beyond repair. With flapping opposite ends and a couple of broken bars, it almost passed of as a new style in umbrella design (a Gucci or an Armani, if they were ever into designing them that is). But I soon realized that the utility card desperately needed to override all other and there was no way I could continue with the old horse.

And what a wise decision it was. The new one stood firm and arched like all good umbrellas should stand; battling the gale storms like a tried and tested warrior. I had floated the idea sometime back that crafty umbrella holding in extremely windy conditions is worthy of qualifying as an Olympic discipline. If at any time the idea sounded lofty and preposterous, it was sure to be quelled today. I flipped umbrella sides as deftly as a sailor would tilt the sails of his yacht to catch the drift. And every right maneuver swelled me with a sense of pride (and every wrong one left me as wet as a helpless fish).

But the rain had petered down to a drizzle when I eventually reached the gravel parking and joined the wet and waiting crowd. The wind undeterred though had pressed the pedal, pressing my new black stallion to struggle in order to not turn turtle. ‘Europe under siege’, newspapers had screamed amidst photographs of monster winds and rising tides. And the damage and the foul weather not withstanding it was a refreshing change to have something different on the British dailies. It was all about Big Brother and Shilpa Shetty the past couple of weeks, who for some unfathomable reason was getting called everything under the sun. But it had racial undertones was the global debate. ‘…the Indian’, I hear she was called (but wait a minute, isn’t she one anyways. ‘…a dog’, they continued (now that can’t be true. One, there’s a clear cut gender error and two, from what I see of her on the tele, she’s probably in contention for the Ramon Magsasay this year ( or probably and more realistically, atleast the Bafta).

So as Shilpa braves all the rough treatment and cries her way to a cool three crores in the confines of comfy big brother’s house, I stood there soaking in the lousy weather. Two souls ahead of me, a short stout country man had his broken wreck of an umbrella rise up like a crustacean; or like Marlyn Monroe’s skirt in that eternal video clip from yore. And as it folded up like a rising curtain, the man underneath surfaced, smiling sheepishly at all those who stared at him like in an Indian version of Mr. Bean. I muffled a snigger. The blonde standing in front of me laughed uninhibited. Now I wonder if that’s racist. Considering the times, it probably is.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities (cover version)

I stood there huge bags in tow with a sense of awe and anticipation. The marathon flight was done with. The official scrutiny of everything that was me from my birth date to health status was over. I was free. Like a prisoner released on parole, I felt strangely happy for nothing at all. To be free and alive to be looking out at the azure blue sky. To see cotton candy clouds skirting around in gay abandon.

‘This way’, Nicky called out reaching for one of my lighter bags. I struggled behind, all poetry flushed; keeping pace with life’s a labor scowl on my face. We got into the elevator and he pressed basement. And however, anti climatic it may have seemed to me we were heading underground for sure. So I wasn’t really going to walk into the middle of bustling London amidst red double decker buses and fancy head geared policemen. I was going underground. Deep, dark and as recognizable as any other city’s underbelly.

‘Can’t we take a taxi’, I pleaded innocently, hoping to hear him say ‘Oh yes we can’ and resurface over ground to where the sun beat down on a fine July evening.

‘Nah, nah’, he dismissed, as though I were but blabbering childish prattle. ‘We’ll get off at Holborn and then take the Central line to Stratford. The Piccadilly line has maintenance work this weekend I hear’. I nodded sheepishly making vain attempts at assimilating the profound tube jargon hurled at me. Big city this; London.

I had vivid pictures of London in my mind’s eye; sketched right from the time when I read Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’. Of muggy London through which the protagonist walked soaking in the melancholy of lost love and music. There was magic in the great man’s words that struck a chord somewhere deep down in me, instantly raising the city’s image on a pedestal. And here I was now, blank and dark though the pictures flashing out of the tube window may be, traveling through the throbbing undergrounds of that very same city.


Stratford resembled more Philadelphia or Frisco than my visions of London. A giant Olympics countdown timer ticked away at a huge quantum of time. Black youngsters walked around with that ‘Hey brudher’ swagger. Low baggy jeans, cut t-shirt, sculpted muscles et al. It almost looked as though I had been plucked out of ether and transported into the midst of a 50 cents music video.

“Nicky”, I blurted, “You’re sure this is London brudher (feigning authenticity). I almost feel you’re faking it. I’d rather go some place that makes me feel I am in god damn London. Some place I can instantly relate to and say “Ah ah, here I am”.


A McDonalds lunch later, I set out in the search for the real London. The one that I expected to give me that déjà vu, if I can call it that. We did Piccadilly Circus. And I stood there at the foot of the statue of Eros and stared at the great social pot pouri of culture at display. The TDK signboards were there, flashing like in all those Bollywood songs which I had seen streaming on the idiot box back at home. The Thames flowed; muddy and non-descript, evoking no poetry or romanticism; London bridge stood as normal as any other bridge may be, bearing unending traffic. Somewhere within me, images shattered. Of pictures which I so clearly remember etched on nursery books with the eternal ‘London Bridge is falling down’. Tower Bridge though provided solace, looking more London bridge than the actual London bridge itself. Confusing nomenclature, but I took it all the same. London it has to be, I tell myself. Hyde Park, green and spacious; like an extended version of the park of Lord Cubbon back at home. And finally Buckingham Palace. ‘Is this it?’, I asked, disappointed.

No replies forthcoming, I just stood there straining my eye to catch a glimpse of the Queen, just in case she pops out to dry her laundry.


We got off at Gare Du Nord, with vicious clouds greeting us like we never left London at all. Not that it came as a surprise though, since the weatherman had categorically proclaimed showers and unpleasant weather. Letting that not dampen spirits, we walked with a sense of purpose to the central station complex; where Christmas decorations were still intact to herald the New Year.

We stood at the metro ticket counters, me with my myth that English is a flash it anywhere language and my friend with his monosyllabic knowledge of French. At the end of the ordeal I was holding a zillion shards of my shattered myth and he was beaming with a swelling French ego and four metropolitan day passes. ‘the French don’t like us’, one of the folks back at office had told me. ‘….and we share the emotion. Talk to them in English and they’ll hardly get a word. Or at least they’ll try not to get it’. Considering the blank stares I got in reply to m questions in pristine English - probably true.

The Parisian metro stations were wider and dirtier. And so were the tubes. We barged into one of them which was headed in the direction which to us instinctively seemed correct. I stood there against the railing, staring at the tube map. An interesting analogy instantly occurred to me. The tube’s next stop, final station and where we were headed were all unpronounceable. Interesting indeed. ‘Pardone’, someone mumbled behind me, interrupting my profound inferences. I stood firm, tall and ignorant. ‘Pardone’, he hollered this time, the decibel levels clearly signifying much more than ‘excuse me’, I stepped aside and nearly dissipated in the cold stare. Welcome to France.

By now I was well and truly feeling like an alien from the spatial hinterlands. We got off at Trinite` d’Estienne d’Orves (how do you think I would not feel like one). But when I climbed up the stairs like Jack in the beanstalk tale, the first sight that greeted me was worth all the alienation. Baroque five storied buildings lined entire streets like in some medieval Hollywood film set. Balconies popped out into the road with potted petunias fluttering in the cool December breeze.

Paris; the high seat of art and culture. Images of all that I had ever read whizzed through my mind. It was the place to be, if you were an artist in the nineteenth century. Where Degas and Manet and Van Gogh met and painted and discussed art. Where Victor Hugo lived and wrote about the Hunchback of Notre Dame; where Queen Antoinette was beheaded for she knew not that people without bread have no cake either; where Mona Lisa sits in a long hall, mysterious and overlooked; where Napoleon conceived boulevards and giant fountains and lovers walked hands entwined over bridges that arched over placid river Seine.

Standing atop the Eiffel Tower that night, I marveled at all that the city glittering beneath me like a 22 carat jewel was. If there were visions I had in mind, of grandiose sculptures, beautiful fountains, pigeons fluttering amidst clear blue skies, they were all fitting in; like missing blocks in a jigsaw, consummating my vision.


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