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

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And you thought they were extinct

‘Auto’, I waved half heartedly. And as luck would have it, he stopped. ‘Domlur barthera? (‘Will you come to Domlur?)’, I asked gingerly. And stared, mute concentration and all that, for the response to unfold. Now what we’re talking about is a complex discipline I tell you; what with half the time, the response not even being verbal. Though you are likely to have subtle variations, there are a few I have managed to comprehend over the times. There is the ‘you are the scum of the earth’ kinda feeling inducing change the gear and rocket away response (which in auto driver parlance is a dismissive no). Then there is the look the other way and pretend you did not hear anything thingy (which is non verbal for ‘f**k you’ I gathered). You can have variations to this of course, where yours truly could end up staring at the khaki clad devil incarnate continue with his article in the Prajavani or pick away at his ear with a match stick. You melt away as a non entity and wonder what you did wrong. You also have the Clint Eastwoodian smile of derision (which roughly translates to ‘you really thought I would come, ya?’). And not to forget the very cocky but confident – ‘Yelli Domlura. Shivajinagar hogthaidhni (Where Domlur? I am heading towards Shivajinagar)’. I didn’t ask you for a drop godammit.

So there I was asking ‘Domlur Barthera’ and waiting. The ginger bearded man in the driver’s seat looked bored. He let my words sink in slowly as his mind contemplated the decision. It almost looked as though his mind was a separate entity altogether of which he was no part whatsoever. But despite appearing non committal, he flicked on the meter (which in auto driver parlance is – ‘hop right in, you lucky bastard. You just caught me in the right mood’). Surprising how communicative body language can sometimes get.

The new age Bangalore auto rickshaw’s I gathered now have nameplates. And the ginger bearded man answered the call of Akbar. I sat there peering at his curriculum vitae as he weaved through the maddening traffic. Every column duly filled in – from residential address to driver’s license validity. The only column unfilled was blood group!!! Fill that in, I wanted to yell out for christsake. And put mine in as well. Especially considering the way he was riding.


Traffic had grinded to a halt. Some bloke in a huge SUV had obviously thought that lane discipline does not apply to him. And stuck now, like a rabbit in the spotlight, he was getting the choicest abuses from all and sundry. Akbar necked out, shook his head in frustration and rendered a few neat ones addressed at his lineage.


The morning daily had laid out a table reminiscent of the Clark’s logarithmic table from school time. The oil prices per gallon had sky rocketed; claimed the government. Why should it reflect in auto fare hikes; retorted the opposition. How complex is the conversion table; worried me. From the look of things, it looked fairly complex. And intricately mathematical. Further more, all new rates seemed to diabolically end at such numbers that you had very little chance of getting any change back. But amidst all my worrying, we had suddenly found this unhindered stretch of road which Akbar gleefully lapped up in Schumacherian style. I jumped off the auto, mentally preparing myself for that culminating act of any typical auto commute – a WTF haggling session with the unscrupulous villain. The meter was reading a healthy 25 rupees. I handed Akbar a 50 and waited. He took his time; slowly rummaged in his pocket and handed me the change. Two notes of ten and a fiver!!! ‘Rate jasti agilva? (Has the rate not increased?)’ I enquired in disbelief. ‘Table thagondila saar (have not got my copy of the table yet sir)’, he replied in gentlemanly nonchalance. Agreed, it’s not just the giant pandas and the Olive Ridley turtles, but also gentleman auto drivers that are a rapidly turning extinct specie. But there is the odd glimmer of hope. May his tribe increase.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Goodbye and so long

I shuffled uneasily as dad asked for the 18th time if the passport was safe in the cabin luggage. ‘Don’t forget to take it out when you get to the ticket counter’, he continued. ‘And be safe with it’. I nodded; even monosyllabic replies were getting to be a drag. It was a couple of minutes past ten and the Asianet news bulletin was running without an audience. Today it was not a point of contention. The remote lay strangely orphaned. There was no me screaming for it to be switched to something less important; something more exciting; something that’s not red flagged protesters marching on the streets of Trivandrum in the name of news. But there was that strange ‘you watch what you want’ silence today that was uneasy. The tiff for television monopoly was better. Can I have it back please, I hoped. Leaving home can never be easy, can it?

I stared through the cab window as we whistled through the silent night. Familiar territories. And memories. All streaming past at 60 kilometers per hour. And in a jiffy they’d be all gone. And new landscapes will appear out of glass windows. Unfamiliar and alien.


There was a cool breeze in the air when I got off the cab. The sky inky blue and all that. More paranoid questions from dad. Let me go get my boarding pass and check in the luggage, I suggested to break the stifling silence. Baggage counters; the waiting for the validation and the printing of the boarding pass. Can I have a window seat please? Bored looking policemen on night shift. The news re-run streaming grainy on the television set. I am my dad’s son. Paranoia. I check if the ticket in my hand reads London as it should. Metal detectors. How I fuckin hate them. The buckle of my god damn belt and the beeping; and the frisking. I got no hash on me, I swear it. All clear and I get a move on. Dumbschmuck me now realizes that the outside world is cordoned off. I call mom on the mobile and tell her to take care. I shall be back. In a year. Or probably a bit longer. Tears probably welling up in her eyes and all that. I sit there in the airport lounge trying to concentrate on the television. It’s a blur.

[A year and a half later]

I rolled over and stared at the clock. The gloom outside, the fully drawn curtains and the lazy subconscious self had all plotted to betray the reality that was nine o clock. I tugged at the duvet and hoped today was not today. Why could it not be one of those normal days where nothing really happened; where you could go through the motions like in a well rehearsed play, knowing fully well what would happen next. A year and half is a long time. That ‘I think I should go back home’ moment had materialized. But like an actor who when its time for the curtains to be drawn, I had that ‘let me live on; don’t turn the lights off me’ feeling.

Tomorrow I shall be airborne and the day after I shall be home. And this brick walled house at the end of Hall Road will only be a place I once lived in. The eighty year old neighbour, whom I scarcely met, will probably never again be seen. And all those regular people, whom you crossed paths with but never spoke to, will dissolve from the memory like salt in water. There are bags to pack, goodbye’s to tell and a new life to look upto. And despite what they say about how you can come back to any place, can’t help but think - can I ever come back to this place in this time?


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Turning on the lights

November can be a nasty month. Not because it’s cold. But because it reminds you that it will get colder. You walk to work in the morning, and it’s dark and overcast. And it’s still dark and probably even raining, when you return back after all the inanities at office. Those little pockets of sunshine (if at all they happen) will very often go unnoticed. But not that you miss much. The sunshine that happens, is likely to be that impotent shining that has more potential to frustrate you than make you happy. So what do you do? Devise your own ways of staying chirpy – how about pulling down the blinds, stocking up on hot coffee and staring at sunny Barbados on the internet.

But then, it’s not all gloom in November outside of the internet. You apparently realize there is Christmas. Suddenly there is new vigor. Suddenly there is something to look forward to. There are jackets to buy and Christmas trees to deck up. Carols to practice and Christmas puddings to select from racks at Marks & Spencer. Can you believe it, there is even a ceremony to officially turn on the festive lights!!! So there I was - part of this happy, warm congregation of woolen wearing families in front of the council building, watching the mayor go through his little act of hogging the limelight. And the families were there in full attendance. Little ones in pink fleece jackets and chubby cheeks; incessantly asking their fathers ‘When will Santa Claus come?’. To which bespectacled fathers, with bed time story voices would reply ‘Very soon my love. Very soon’. The mothers meanwhile, would stand there with their pearly smiles smelling ever so brilliant in the latest pre Christmas offerings of Ghost and Calvin Klein.


As the itenary proclaimed, at the stroke of seven, the choir came out and did a rendition of ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’. It sounded as happy as happy can get. The third girl in the second row was hot. And as much eye candy as eye candy can be. Anyways, we digress. More songs happened; more festive fervor happened; and in a moment of unstoppable elation, the mayor pushed down the plunger and set the lights alight. Jarrolds stood there, shining like one of those Swarowski crystals it houses; Gentleman’s walk sparkling like the queen’s necklace; firecrackers lighting up the sky in magnanimous orchestrated splendor; confetti spraying down like snow flakes from heaven. How nice it is I tell you. I step into Marzano to pick up coffee and I could hear the mayor winding up his speech with Christmas wishes. Brown sugar or white, I deliberate. Or on second thoughts, why not try the sweetener? More deliberation and moments later - the lights are all twinkling and the streets are all empty. What the fuck happened I wonder. And to think that they’d be people on the streets today (other than drunken teenagers of course) after eight o clock. And to think that shops would be open well after sundown. And to think……fuck it; where are all the people, I can’t help but ask. Back at King’s Arms. Or Cricketer’s Nest. Or The Coachmakers. Or wherever they are serving beer and showing Manchester United play Aston Villa. That’s it for the ceremony. It’s another quiet night at the Blighty. And as for the lights…..well, they’ll be on till New Year’s, no worries. Merry Christmas. Hope Ronaldo scores.