Sunday, March 26, 2006

Come hither

Read about Duncan Grant and his fellow paedophile last week. Six years rigorous imprisonment is too little for Grant and his preying kind.
The court’s ruling reminded me of a ride home on the last train some months ago. A little urchin got in and sat near the door of the first-class compartment. Engrossed in my book, I barely noticed him.
Just when I was about to get down, the little guy, no more than seven, fixed his eyes on me. His left eyebrow went up a bit and an inviting glint shone in his eyes. Like a stain, a lascivious smile spread across his innocent face. Then, he looked away and looked back at me.
I’ll never forget that look; the chilling incongruousness of it, the twisted chain of events that leads to it.
25 years in this big, bad city and very few incidents have disturbed me as much as this one.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Grateful Gullet

Among the various people I curse silently during the course of a day are eateries that serve anonymous food in Mumbai. I don’t prefer eating out every day, but it’s an occupational hazard.
My city has a lot of places that serve unremarkable food, from Udipi joints that are seemingly located at every other corner to the bigger, fancier restaurants (I’m talking non-five-star restaurants here), which are hyped every Food-Page day by the city’s newspapers.
The worst part of the food in these places is not that it is bad, but it is the indifference that causes the bile in me to rise. They leave you with no memories, which is where they fail so miserably – all food, as someone once said, is just memory.
I’ve eaten at most of Mumbai’s restaurants – both the so-called institutions and the high-profile places – and I feel eateries in Calcutta beat them all hollow. I simply can’t fathom why Mumbaites sing praises of Lucky (Bandra) or Baghdadi (Colaba) or even Gajalee (Vile Parle, plus there’s an overpriced, upmarket version at Phoenix Mills at Lower Parel). There’s just lots of gunk with lots of oil.
If you ever find yourself in Cal, try Peter Cat or Shiraz. My gullet will forever remain grateful to the former’s Chelo Kabab.
I reckon it will be these grand meals in unsung places that’ll flash before my mind’s eye, bringing back oral memories, just before I flatline: of a Gujju thali in Junagadh, a Tandoori chicken untainted by colour somewhere in Punjab, fish curry and roti at my guide’s place in Mandu in MP, rice cooked in champagne in Turin and, how could I forget this, a fiery mutton curry at a government-run lodge in Rajgir in Bihar.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Instant Carma

Some seven years ago, when I was rotting column centimetre by column centimetre at the news desk of a business paper, Bijoy Kumar Y got me into his motoring magazine. All he asked me was whether I knew how to drive. So, I joined an automobile magazine knowing pathetically little about cars and also learnt, among other things, that the words strut and shaft lead double lives.
Many an inadvertent wheelspin and some heart-wrenching instances of scratched paintwork later, I managed to learn to write about cars, camouflaging my lack of knowledge with forced similies and indulgent prose. But the best part was I got to travel a fair bit, starting as I did a travel feature that lasted for over two and a half years.
Bijoy's a wonderful human being and the best boss I've worked under. He's also started blogging recently. His blog doesnt bore with you with yap about economic policy or the latest French art film he watched the other day. is about cars and if you've been thinking of buying a vehicle and need some expert opinion, head right there.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rule of thumb

Have you got the Jessica Lal SMS yet? The one that exhorts you to express your solidarity and register your protest at, I think, 6388 (NDTV)?As an apolitical, apathetic young Indian (31 is not too old, is it?), I quite like this medium of expression -- of angst, dissatisfaction, anger, all buried under layers of home loan documents, backpacking plans, credit card bills and plans for Saturday night.
There goes my text, marching towards Rashtrapati Bhavan, along with thousands of others. It's the one that's gonna beep the most. Will it make the prez order a relook into the case? I don't know. But it's convenient, innit? It doesn't disrupt the flow of my life, my work and my steady acquisition spree.
Countrymen and women, unite, you have nothing to lose but one buck.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Luck Fuck Duck Suck

My colleague, let's call him A, suffers from Tourette Syndrome and I can't tell you how intrigued I am by his affliction. TS is the practical joker and ventriloquist among diseases. It throws rubber snakes at the victim's synapses, yanks facial muscles from one end of the skull to the other, seeming clogs the throat with gunk and puts foul words into the mouth.
All of this happens with A.

11 am meeting at work: Ed: Seems like a nice story. Let's follow it up... A: Nice story, nice story, fuck you, COUGH. BELLOW.

Over the phone: Yes, yes, I'll be landing tomorrow in Delhi, thanks for arranging the (ejects abuse in Hindi)...

At his desk: Every 10 minutes I can see his eyes hit the roof of his head, his face compress and then expand and I also hear him whistle. The last is an attempt by A to calm himself down.

When I first heard about TS, I looked it up on the net. TS was described as an inherited neurological disorder characterised by tics -- involuntary, rapid, sudden movements or vocalisations that occur repeatedly in the same way. A TS sufferer describes the affliction as "something like an itch, you have to cough, clear your throat, abuse, you really have to."

Upon more reading up on the subject, I came across even more fascinating stuff. A's tendency to spit abuses at the most inopportune of moments is known as coprolalia. It's actually a trio of lalias, but thankfully, just around 20 percent of TS victims are troubled by the Lalia brothers; echolalia (repeating the words of others); and palilalia (repeating one's own words).
Certain words also get fished out by A from a random conversation, enter his brain's seedy alleys and come out sounding pretty colourful. So if someone around him says "luck", chances are that A can't resist saying "fuck".

For those of us who know him, A's great company, especially when we have visitors. The red faces, those startled expressions and the double-takes courtesy the different ways in which A commits social harakiri often has all of us in splits.

Goes without saying that, more often than not, life's a bitch for A, but he's handling it well--the man travels all over the country, writes decent features and every morning, paints the greys walls of our workplace a fiery, riotous yellow.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What If?

Am reading A Short History of Byzantium by the rather pompously named John Julius Norwich.
An elegant writer, Norwich, after describing Byzantium and the magical resonance of that place-name, writes:
Finally, the man: Constantine I, Emperor of Rome. No ruler in all history has ever more fully merited his title of 'the Great'; for within the short space of some fifteen years he took two decisions, either of which alone would have changed the future of the civilised world.

The first was to adopt Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire. The second was to transfer the capital of that Empire from Rome to the new city he was building on the site of old Byzantium... Together, these two decisions and their consequences have given him a serious claim to be considered--excepting only Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and the Prophet Mohammed--the most influential man in all history...

I don't remember if I've learnt that in school, but reading it now and thinking of the 'what ifs' gives me goosebumps. If Constantine had not adopted Christianity, that Jewish reform movement would probably have faded away, like tens of other religions that glowed for a brief while before either fading away or being stubbed out .
So, would the whole world have been Moslem? Imagine domes, cupolas and the muezzin's call in London, Paris and Rome. And also, no Crusades, no overdressed Popes and even the Iraq war?

Thursday, December 08, 2005


The Wait

Now that I've figured out the functions of the various Blogger icons on my 14-inch monitor and squandered time away--it's been three days since I logged on to my blog--let me begin at an end. This dark tapestry of thoughts is about death, more like waiting for it.
Three weeks back, my maternal uncle was diagnosed with both lung and bone cancer. In a chest X-ray of his, which I happened to see, there was nothing but a dark swirl where his left lung was supposed to be. The cancer had spread from his lungs to his bones, nibbled away at the disc on which our head rests and also rendered his spinal cord hollow. This man, who's now about 70, has been more like a grandfather and a friend to me (we both used to bum smokes from each other, share both good Scotch and sweet brandy and so on). I still remember how he once rendered my irate college principal, who once decided that he should have a talk with his ward's guardian about my general misdemeanours, absolutely speechless. His reply to the principal's rants was, "He's 19. If he doesn't bunk classes and chase women now, when will he do all this?"

When I went to meet him last week, he was lying on the bed. Physically, he looked OK, but I could sense his spirit had been squashed. I sat next to him, held his hand and chatted with his children. They were putting on a brave face and wanted his last days (the doctors say he doesn't have much time) to be anything but gloomy. His little grandchildren shrieked around the two-storeyed house and there was good food on the table.

But I could also sense that dispassionate, cold presence--in the hall, around his loving children, in the little garden outside. Most of all, I could see death's shadow shuffling silently behind my uncle.

It is not the finality that hit me, we all know we have to poof! some day, but it is the waiting that is agonising. A voracious reader, he's stopped reading the papers and seldom switches the TV on. All he does is wait, like we do at the ATM, at the train station and for our next raise.
It could end in three months or eight, but it's finally, incontrovertibly going to happen. It's so close, he can probably smell it.

Life mostly is all hype, great fodder for the evil men behind advertising. But death, ah, there's nothing at all like it.