Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Tale of Two People and a Little Hope

A Very Long Time Ago, in a city 1781 kilometres from here by train, there lived a MinCat. In those days her exciting pseudonym was something else, and she was a bright-eyed, bizarrely squirrel-like 20-year old.

One year, by a spate of terrible bad luck, or by just being a horrible person, she lost almost every close friend she had. She barely passed her last exam and ran home to lick her wounds. The next year she had, perforce to return and finish her degree. The first term she spent in the library and on her bed in the hostel, reading. The very nice girls in the hostel coaxed her back to some socialising, as did the very crazy people in the theatre club. A classmate invited her to come along and see a short play she was acting in at another college and sitting backstage she made friends with a lovely boy, whom, for the sake of discretion, we shall call Chica. He was very lovely, and played the guitar like a god. We began to hang out more and more.

The previous year I'd been co-opted as crew member for a trip to Bangalore, and had discovered my talent and love for backstage work. That year, when madness happened and the costume chief for the mid-term production went cuckoo, my friend, who was Joint-Secretary, asked me to step in. Three days of madness and esoteric costumes for an esoteric play (Tom Stoppard's Arcadia) that I had never read, sewing up people's chinos, while they were still in them, to make pantaloons, and fumbling in the dark backstage to redo the seams that had split managed to reorient me into college life, and soon Chica and I were fast friends.

Come November and we had to cast and execute the annual production, and during the long winter rehearsals of basking in the sun on the lawn I came to know Chica's friend, whom some readers already know as OOF. OOF was (and forgive me for this love) a not-tall, skinny boy with acne and wire-rimmed spectacles. He sang along well to Chica on the guitar, and soon enough the two of us became the three of us. People began to call Chica and OOF my left and right hands, only no-one know which was which. Many mornings, spent productively bunking classes that were so behind schedule that my revision was ahead of them, consisted of chai and the guitar sprawled on one of the lawns.

OOF was, irresistibly, sweet to me, He sent me smses - we even had one code one - and we talked about books, we bitched about the other girl who hung out with us, and giggled endlessly on long rickshaw rides to Chung Town. When I went home for the winter vacation, he wrote me emails almost every day, and we spent a lot of time chatting. This was the days of dial-up mind you. On New Year morning, I woke up to an email in my inbox, sent at 3.30am.

Dear MinCat
FIRST eMail I'm writing after getting back home: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

That's it, I was done for. For the first time in my life, I fell in love with someone, and he was only 18. I know, I know. He was also close to being my best friend, so when, one drunken night at a friend's house, she urged me to tell him, I did. He replied: I'm flattered. Right.

Time goes on, we're still close and we acquire a fourth person for the gang, whom y'all know as the Dragon, and she ended up with Chica. It was difficult to see them being a couple when OOF and I were patently not (or so I thought. I later discovered that rumour had us a couple). But we were very close, the four of us, and that's how we stayed.

March trawled around, and I didn't go home for study leave. The highlight of that month was one cellular service provider making incoming calls free a whole month before the rest - which meant OOF could call me and we could talk three hours a night. And we did. I was raised to be in bed at 9 and up by 6 and everyone knows that you're not allowed to call me after 11pm unless it's dire. When he called me every night at 12, I'd wake up and grab the phone and pretend to have been awake. It didn't help that my phone was temperamental, and the battery died halfway through the ring unless it was plugged in. My roommates, and all the people in the hostel who had to go through my room to get the loo got used to ducking to avoid the wire that hung across their path. They also teased me mercilessly about the phonecalls, once even chasing me all over the hostel making kissy noises at the phone. (Yes we were silly. Isn't that the point of college?)

These phonecalls were difficult, because OOF had several girlfriends through all this time, and he'd talk to me about them. Or about his first love. Or some friend of mine that he found irresistibly hot. And while I didn't want to hear about it, I knew that the only way I could not damage our friendship was to be his friend, because if I refused to listen to parts of his life then he'd slowly forget me. The phonecalls were also the highlight of my day, because we also just talked. About everything! Once he took me to breakfast. I was over the moon. At the cast party for that play, he kissed me. I couldn't believe it had happened, and he acted like it hadn't.

College was drawing to an end and it was breaking my heart. I had never been in a place that didn't penalise me for being an intelligent but conventionally unattractive woman, and it was exhilarating to be around people who DID read in their spare time, DID speak English and COULD do many things and excel academically at the same time. I was torn because I had a gang, these three people without whom I couldn't imagine life. But my academic interests were leading me back home and I couldn't imagine ever being happy like that again. And I couldn't imagine ever meeting anyone else who, once I had expressed my interest, wouldn't run screaming (which is what all of them pre-OOF did).

But I had to go. And things with OOF just got worse. He'd shower me with attention, and make promises to spend time with me, and then vanish because of another girl. He swore himself blue in the face he'd be there for my birthday, and then vanished to see another girl. He told everyone we both knew how much he missed me, but he wouldn't reply to my emails. I did some crazy stuff too, but nothing terrible given the periodic encouragement he gave me, besides, it's MY blog, I ain't gonna document it ;) There was more kissing followed by more ignoring. Everyone told me to cut him out of my life, because he was patently bad for me. But whenever I went back to visit, we had our gang and I couldn't break it up.

I went to spend New Year with them, and made them dinner in my friends' house. It was perfect, just the four of us. We ate, drank, talked, laughed, did our usual silly stuff. Then, about half an hour past midnight, OOF decided he must leave, because he wants to call his then girlfriend. We tried to convince him to stay, because it was supposed to be a gang reunion, and it wasn't the safest thing to be out driving past midnight on the 31st of December, but he wouldn't listen. Something snapped. I got up, walked to the front door and said, fine, leave. Slammed it behind him, locked it and collapsed in tears. I cried for hours that night and poor Chica and Dragon had to pet me and soothe me. I decided that the time had come, he was no longer my dependable friend, and I just could not handle how much it hurt every time he let me down anymore.

I went home the next day, and the next time he saw me on chat, he tried to apologise but I politely told him to have a happy life, and keep me out of it.

Time went by, and I was kept up to date on his antics. Suffice to say they were disturbing. Chica and the Dragon began to withdraw from him as well, and shook their heads saying they didn't know what to do. In August that year I had to go and visit. I was dreading it, because I was going to need a ride in his car, on his birthday. I decided to be polite. So very polite. "Thank you so much for giving me a ride, I really appreciate it." "I'm so sorry to impose, but I need a ride back to the Dragon's house. I had something else planned, but it fell through. I really hate to impose, but could you please give me a ride? Thank you so much." "Could you please pass my bag?" And so on, until one day he snapped, "STOP BEING SO POLITE". And then ranted all the way back. When I got home that day I was elated, because for the first time we'd had a conversation where he had been emotional and ranting, and I had been composed and distant.

The antics got worse. I won't detail them, because they aren't my stories. Suffice to say there were destructive, juvenile, selfish and very painful for people caught in them. I was even more grateful we were no longer friends.

A lot of time went by. I got over the scars, and stopped telling the story of the cruellest thing he said to me. I made other friends, met other boys, even fell in love a couple of times. We were in touch through the Dragon, and I was sardonically amused when he ended up working where my parents live, after breaking two promises to come visit me. I called him on his birthday and made fake promises to meet up that I fully planned to break. I delayed meeting him and his girlfriend. Then one day, I was desperately lonely and sad and decided that I needed to get out of the house. So I met them. And I LOVED his girlfriend. I went home and texted the Dragon: how the fuck does he land these incredible women when he's such a chhooth?

I went back to NY, and forgot about it. But then I came back and he was the only person I knew. He called me and said let's get a drink. I thought, what the hell. We had fun, because we're people who click. Then he called me again the following week. We went to karaoke, and sang college songs. We called the Dragon from the bar and she promptly came down to visit. We spent three days together, like college, except the two of them were discussing their true loves and the babies they wanted to have. It felt a bit weird, because they are both two years younger than I am. OOF came to my parents house and we had a long, alcoholic and hysterical sleepover. the Dragon went home. OOF and I started to hang out twice a week. I was cut off from the fairly full life I'd had in NY, it seemed I was unemployable, and his girlfriend was on a very long business trip. Every time I felt like I was going to burst, I'd text him: WEP? And he'd show up. He brought his friends to karaoke, and I brought mine. We all got along. Suddenly, he was my dependable close friend again. Suddenly, it was back to five years ago, except we were both grown up.

Today we are those kind of friends who are beyond fights. We can say and do almost anything (except talk of you-know-what after dark), and argue and lose our tempers, but it won't destroy what lies beneath. Not one of my friends from college and just after can believe that this relationship exits, heck OOF and I sometimes have to pinch ourselves. The last time I was in Delhi, I had to field four interrogations about him and deal with four sets of utter disbelief that we are friends again. And yet, here we are. A place where, no matter who told me I would be I wouldn't have believed them; a place where OOF and I would have been if we had never gotten derailed.

And every time we think about it, it gives us hope.

"MinCat, if you and I can be here, then anything is possible."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Say Thank You

We are a country in crisis at the moment. We might be far from Mumbai, we might be around the corner from Nariman house. We're tense, we're scared, we don't know what is going on. How did this happen? How could they not have known it was going to happen? How long will this go on?

We don't know. We don't know why the intelligence failed. And we are not likely to find out either because it's going to become politics and elections. We are not prepared for a crisis this size, we don't have the social systems in place to make it smooth and easy.

On TV people are hurling abuse, pointing fingers: the blame game has begun. Narendra Modi has indicated quite clearly that the priority is winning the elections; the politicians haven't even waited for the crisis to end. One group that has been blamed for this is the police.

I want to take a second to just say thank you to those same abused policemen. The army, the navy, the NSG, the RAF, the reserve police: Thank you all for your efforts. Nobody trained you for urban guerilla warfare with so many civilians in the crosshairs. Nobody gave you bulletproof vests or AK47s. The enemy looks like the civilians. The media is busy broadcasting your strategy internationally and the terrorists only need to switch to CNN IBN to be up to date. The terrorists can kill civilians, and you'll be blamed. You have to fix this. And you're doing it, no questions asked.

So thank you.

And send it on. Add to it. Let's try and get as many people who are grateful to the security forces to articulate it and acknowledge it, and maybe we can let the forces know as well.

Below this is a post by a blogger I love to read. It's a good point he's making.

Dear Mumbai Police and NSG

I know you guys are busy right now with the terrorists but I HAVE to draw this to your attention. I have just been watching a program on the Times Now channel where four people namely Alyque Padamsee, Farooq Sheikh, Shefali Shah and one guy named Sohail, I think were discussing the situation with the anchor, a bespectacled gawd-help-us whose name I could not catch.

These four people are ANGRY. Not with the terrorists, who they feel are only misguided souls doing what they've been told, and doing it rather well, thank you very much, but with YOU.

Yes, they feel that you don't know what you are doing.

How can you take SO MUCH TIME? snarls Shefali.

What EXACTLY have you been upto during the last 20 hours? snarls Sohail, who also wants to know why the Mumbai Police had to wait 8 hours before deciding to call for Army assistance. He feels, and who is to fault his crystal clear logic, that the Army should be called for any situation including a bad traffic day.

Farooq Shaikh wishes you people were atleast half as well prepared as the terrorists, calling your performance amateurish.

And Alyque Padamsee just ranted something in an impeccable accent. Probably doesn't like the way you people dress.

All four also blamed you for allowing this kind of thing to happen. Don't you people KNOW, they ask, that you are not supposed to let terrorists fire at people?

Shefali also expressed disgust at the cursory way her car is checked when she frequently goes to five star hotels. Just a mirror under the car and open the boot. What if she's carrying AK47's on the back seat? It's YOUR fault, she insinuates. You don't teach the five star hotel security ANYTHING!

So people, brave and fearless though you might be, and though all of you have fearlessly jumped into battle with opponents you know next to nothing about, other than that they are armed to the teeth with high explosives, we feel you need some expert coaching.

Why don't you take these four wonderful people and shove them into the corridor in the Taj or the Oberoi? I'm sure you would learn a lot!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What is happening to my country?

I don't have the words to express this bizarre combination of numbness and convoluted emotion that's in my head.

I had a whole string of lighthearted life things I wanted i talk about, and suddenly I feel shallow for even thinking them worthy of note.

Who are these people angry with? I think sometimes that freemarket capitalism and the Protestant work ethic have so much to pay for.

My country, and yes I say my, because it IS mine and I love it fiercely with and for all its flaws, MY country was a place of tolerance. It was a the cradle of ahimsa. It was the place where your religion didn't matter in the larger scheme of things, everyone rubbed along. Not to say there was never any trouble, but there were no guns. There were no teenagers in t-shirts and AK47s shooting other teenagers in tshirts at a local hangout.

Some people say it started with Babri masjid. Some people say we should kill all the bastards, storm the madrassas and punish the fucking muslims. Will that ever help? Can anything help? What makes these people feel so alienated by the world that they think death is the only solution?

And what of our famously corrupt police force with 10,000 rupee compensations (picking a figure out of the air), terrible pay, no social security and forced to be the eternal scapegoat? At the twin towers so many FDNY workers died, but they had something in life, unlike these men who live in the chawls of mumbai and die in its terrorist attacks. Some of the top cops in Mumbai are dead, and many of those bottom ones as well. And there are the army jawans. Many people join up because its a steady job, many join up because they want to fight for their country. I don't think anyone joins up and expects to die in a shootout against their own fellow citizens, or kill them for that matter.

Hugo Chavez once said that a strong source of motivation for his forming the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario was having to shoot the poor Venezuelans who were rioting because their daily wage was less than their daily bus fare after Carlos Andres Perez's reforms in February 1989. He said it made him realise that there was something wrong with the country if it turned its army on its citizens after pushing them to rioting by its policies.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recent Conversation at a Reception

Our kind and indulgent landlord invited us to his son's wedding reception, and never having been to a Hyderabadi Muslim wedding before, The Roommate and I eagerly accepted. I had the added thrill of finally having a place to wear my violently shiny yellow sari with the lovely blouse, and after convincing The Roommate that her ever so tasteful, restrained, exquisite handloom fabric sari would never do and bundled her into a fairly shiny sari, we hired a cab and took off.

Mistake #1
The invitation said 9.00 and we got there at 9.30.

Mistake #2
We didn't eat dinner beforehand, and so, by the time dinner was served at oh 1030pm, we were STARVING.

Mistake #3
Now I'm ambidextrous and usually eat left-handed, but I know how it upsets people and am fairly dextrous with the right hand as well, so I usually remember to eat right-handed at public gatherings. This time I forgot.

Cut to MinCat and The Roommate seated at a table of women, eating dinner.

Strange Lady on MinCat's Left: Why are you eating with your left hand?

MinCat: Er...I just do.

SL: Hmmm... Why aren't you eating any of the meat? (There were about 9 dishes at the table, the only vegetarian thing there was the Russian salad and we all know that doesn't count. Even the rotis were stuffed with mince.)

MC: Um... I'm vegetarian, I don't eat meat. *helping herself to green chicken that later turned out to be VERY well cooked mutton*

Old Lady on Strange LAdy's left (probably mother-in-law from the interaction): *loudly and waving a food-encrusted hand at me* seeeedhe haath se khana khaten hai!! (One eats food with the right hand!)

MC: *smiles politely* I've always eaten left-handed, from childhood.

OL: *screeching a bit* seedhe haath se khana khaten hai!!

MC: *ignoring*

SL: *stage whisper* nahi nahi, BRAHMAN hai, isliye! (she's a brahmin, that's why she eats left handed)

MC: *choking on her biryani* (since it's ever such a terrible thing to be left-handed among brahmins)

TR: *choking on her kabab*

MC and TR: *doing their best to keep straight face while whispering to each other in English*

SL: Are you from outside? (the country)

MC:'re from here...well I am, but she's from ---

SL: No you're talking in some language you see.

MC: mmmphhh

SL: So, are you Brahman?

MC: Who meee? I don't know. I'm Hindu though if that helps.

SL: No, I thought you were Brahman.

MC: We might be (knowing full well we are), I wouldn't know.

SL: So do you two share a room?

MC: *choking on her paneer*'s to say we share a flat, but we have separate rooms.

SL: Ah, so you and your family have one room and she and hers have the other.

MC:, it's just us. She has her room, and I have mine.

SL: And you have your men eh?

MC: *pretends not to understand* he he I didn't get that *turning to TR* TALK TO ME SO I DON'T HAVE TO TALK TO HER!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Things I've learnt on recent trips

  1. Even when an iPod is upside down, the volume control works the same way
  2. Never agree to switch seats in a chair-car train
  3. If you've only met someone once and you think you see them again when you're not wearing your glasses - don't bounce over to say hi, odds are it isn't them.
  4. Certain songs make my head spin by dragging me off into too many simultaneous spatially and chronologically distinct memories
  5. I miss The Roommate horribly if I don't see her once in three days :(
  6. Travelling madly and eating indiscriminately makes people think I've lost weight
  7. Delhi in the winter stirs my most deeply-suppressed ties to the city

Isn't it unnerving

how, when you have a crush on someone inaccessible, or perhaps you HAD a crush on them and it never had the chance to die out through normal interaction and revelation of ineligibility, that they are supremely unaware of it?

You enjoy each other's company, you laugh and joke and tease - only there are these awkward minutes when you're thinking DAMN I want to flirt, but you know you can't and they don't even seem to notice? Or they sneak up behind you and give you a full body hug from behind, causing your brain to short circuit and you to completely forget the events of the previous ten mintues, but their life just goes on.

Chemistry is two-directional mi culo considerable.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Quantum of Solace: Notes from a Short-Circuited Brain

I wanted to review Casino Royale so badly it hurt, but then I never got around to it and then I forgot all the things I wanted to say. So, having seen it in the morning yesterday, here's what sticks about Quantum of Solace.

For starters, JAISUS AITCH! How much hotness can one movie have! Daniel Craig as Bond is Daniel Craig as Bond, and I don't think anymore needs to be said. Especially after they brought back that navy-blue t-shirt. I wish they're brought back the linen pants too, but the skin-tight chinos were an excellent replacement. Then we come to the English rose, whose name I am told is Strawberry fields. Verra naice. But, the crowning, or should I say, head-explosion-invoking glory was, without doubt, Olga Watchamacallit. Google tells me she has nice white Russian skin and no Latin American blood, so I'm even more impressed by her accent the lovely tan the makeup people gave her. But my god, when she and Daniel Craig are in the same frame, it causes some serious short-circuiting of the brain cells.

OOF was confused, cos he hasn't seen Casino Royale (I know I know!!!). Chap from School (CFS) was "underwhlemed". But me, I was absolutely TRIPPING. More than anything, what amazes me about Craig's Bond is how much he has returned to Fleming's Bond. He's no slick, savvy, gadget-loaded robotic man with no feelings and an endless sexdrive. He can have most women with a smile (Strawberry Fields) but he falls in love every time, with a woman who's bad for him. She will break his heart; she will walk away; she will leave him for a boring man; she will do SOMETHING; but that love will always torment him. It's a kinda warped romance novel. That's part of the whole Bond novel structure anyway. And then he has to get over her in the next one.

Bond has emotions, and not just with women. He will use a friend if he must but he will mourn that friend. Bond is not infallible, he keeps fucking up. Bond doesn't escape unscathed, he hurts. Physically, it costs him to perform the heroic antics he does. It costs him to keep up with the fugitives; he only catches them by sheer grit. All this comes through beautifully. Every action sequence is gritty (yuck what a word) and earthy. Every thud as he falls off something and onto something has a grunt of pain and a millisecond to catch his breath. Every grab at a ledge and every second hanging from one makes his fingers hurt and his arms cramp. You can tell. Whether it's a measure of Craig's acting or something else I do not know, but Bond makes your heart squeeze, because you want to help him. You feel his pain. He might be a double-o, but he's a human being. He's like you and me. (There's a whole lot of cultural theory and dissection of the Bond figure that I can go into here, but I shall spare y'all :) His grief over Vesper is palpable almost until the end. His anger, from both sources, radiates out of him. He is human.

Go see it :)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The House of Bernada Alba

The house is dark. It lives in the middle of a teeming city – and it’s a nice neighbourhood. It is set back from the street, which makes it feel like it is an island of tranquillity amid the chaos of the mad rush.

It is night. A piano plays in the darkness; scales, up the scale and down the scale, and up the scale and down the scale, endlessly.

It is a house of women.

In the tower, all alone surrounded by gadgets, lies the visitor. Her body is curled under the sheet, and her hands shield her head – from what it does not know. She has only been there a week and yet the soft, yielding, enveloping mattress carries the imprint of her body from every night she had lain there. How does she breathe, wonders the house, wrapped in all those layers of mattress? Her sleep is sound, however.

On the ground floor, on the ground, lies the woman who helps. Tiny, and enveloped in her shawl, she could be a bolster that’s been tossed off the bed.

In the bedroom sleeps the injured one. Her broken leg is propped up on a cushion, and her sleep is broken and restless from the confinement of one position. The bed around her is piled with clothes and bags, almost as if she too were a parcel waiting to be put away in a cupboard.

And in the living room, at the piano sits Bernada Alba. Hers is the force that holds the house together. She is the spirit who rushes through at unearthly hours only to collapse in sleep for many more hours. Her hair hangs around her face, streaked with grey, as she plays the piano in the dark.


Up the scale.
Down the scale.
Up the scale.
Down the scale.

And the house sleeps.