Friday, February 23, 2007

As I lay next to you

I noticed how your skin creased mildly around the corner of your lips. How the smooth of your cheek merged into the valley of your neck- and the slight hairiness of it. How the follicles near your ear stood up each time you exhaled, and the incandescence of them in my dimly lit bedroom. I noticed the one nibbled nail of your middle finger- the one you raise to me every now and then, how the little calluses had formed around it. I realized that your recently straightened hair tickled me a lot more than the soft fluffy one before. I wondered whether my reply in the negative on your gaining weight question had anything to do with the peaceful look on your face as you slept. You should know- I've been around way too much to fall for that question.

And that before you had dozed off your last words were "There is no us."

They say that the in-betweens are always the best.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On Love

Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.

Just began reading Inheritance of Loss and liked this line quite a lot.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

¿recordarme mi amor?

Coming back from work, I was somewhat taken aback by the neatly lined six bouquets row of red roses outside the door. The timing was right- St. Valentine’s Day, and hence mildly embarrassing. Thankfully, I was coming home alone- not unusual for this day of the year. This day of the year, when even at thirty, one does feel a pang of guilt for not making the effort and asking someone out. Not that my choices were unlimited, but still it wasn’t such a long shot.

I looked around to check if anyone had noticed , and bent lower to check for the tags, half expecting to see someone else’s name and some cheesy verse. Instead, they were all addressed to me, in terrible handwriting. And each one of the bouquets carried an exquisite poem- lined up messily next to each other were Pushkin, Seth, Shelly, Phillip Larkin, Leonard Cohen and Whitman. I stayed, half knelt on my knees, a bit awestruck at the beauty of the moment and the careful choice of words. Some introductory, some thoughtful. One flirtatious, and yet another one deeply amorous.

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

The sound of a door being noisily opened made me stand up with a jerk. At that moment I felt the pangs of sweet pain course up my legs- a reminder of the mindless run I went for last evening, and more than that, of age catching up. It was only my kindly septuagenarian neighbour putting out her garbage bin for the creatures of the night to consume before the two-legged variety took it away next morning. How much trash can one old lady generate daily? I smiled a half cocked face knowing that she probably couldn’t make out anything in the dimly lit passage. Then I took everything inside- two at a time.

That night I sat next to my roses, feeling a little smug, and very, very curious. Running names in my head, I could come up with three or perhaps four possibilities, but each of them seemed quite remote. One was married with a kid, another one yet in faraway Tokyo, yet another had taken leave of the world as we know it to teach in a school in back of the beyond Leh, while the last, though once most apt, was too consumed by her career now to do anything like this.

A long weekend followed. Almost everyone I knew was headed out of town. Home, Goa, Panchgani, some even Bangkok. Loneliness assumes unusual incarnations over such periods. It occurs sipping coffee at a Bandstand breakfast, over picking up packs of ready to eat meals, over several solitary pegs of whiskey in a crowded bar. This time around it was compounded by the frequently occurring question- though mildly flattering, but discomforting nevertheless. It was almost as if I had been shaken out of a deep and cozy slumber, made to rub my eyes in bright streaks of sunshine. Who could it be? I half expected the phone to ring, and for my mystery lover to reveal herself, but it never happened. There was a remote possibility of a prank, but it was like I said, remote.

Then for a week nothing happened. Work caught up and laid its own questions thick in a way that everything else seemed frivolous and fanciful. Ponderousness was a luxury that I could hardly afford. I narrated the incident to someone I was in some sort of an open relationship with, and by consequence we made love a bit more passionately (her hips clasped me harder, and the scratches on my back stayed for weeks) for a few days.She laughed it off, non-chalantly. But the question emerged fleetingly as I rolled back to my side of the bed, each time after I had been spent.

Then again next Friday it was there. This time a single bouquet- seemingly my amour had had decided to be parsimonious. But nevertheless the poem was exquisite- one of my favourites from Eugene Onegin, the Pushkin classic:

“Whoever has loved will haunted be, by the ghosts of days ne’er to return”

It was almost reminiscent of a long distance lover, who unable to handpick the long stem roses had endowed her intimacy in the choice of verse instead.

The story repeated every Friday, for weeks on end. All attempts to discover the identity were fruitless. Numerous guarded phone calls, some of them very, very long shots, were fruitless. They were most obviously being delivered in third person. When the watchman offered to prevent the bearer to enter the premises, I refused. Slowly I sunk into the weird mix of discomfort and anticipation.

The trouble with being in relationship with a clutch of long stem roses is that it is non-recourse. While the lady in question has the choice of Frost, Whitman, Shelley and the occasional Keats, I had no chance at a repartee. For instance what does one do when faced with the following:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

The beauty of the verses often led me to search for them in my long forgotten and well-thumbed copy of Palgreaves. Sometimes I held the little card in my hand while I dozed off, wondering who this person could be. During the day I analyzed extra intently each of my encounters with women, subjecting them to an introspection which possibly made them uncomfortable. Surely it couldn’t be that girl who sat across my desk, and giggled uncontrollably at everything I said or did. Or that woman who smoked in the same corridor, almost at the same time, almost every day? Or could it?

At times the verse was topical, like the advent of spring or monsoon, sometimes whimsy, as if trying to play it all down and at times hopeful, almost as if sensing my curiosity. Her presence in my life, especially within the four walls of my house was overbearing. I began to wonder what she was like, and what she was doing at times like this. Was she married, had kids? A career? Or was she just a crazed junkie, who for no rhyme or reason pursued me with an unusual vigor. At times like this I was put back in place and reminded of the futility of the exercise with lines like this:

After a long and wretched flight
That stretched from daylight into night,
Where babies wept and tempers shattered
And the plane lurched and whiskey splattered
Over my plastic food, I came
To claim my bags from Baggage Claim

Around, the carousel went around
The anxious travelers sought and found
Their bags, intact or gently battered,
But to my foolish eyes what mattered
Was a brave suitcase, red and small,
That circled round, not mine at all.

I knew that bag. It must be hers.
We hadn’t met in seven years!
And as the metal plates squealed and clattered
My happy memories chimed and chattered.
An old man pulled it off the Claim.
My bags appeared: I did the same.

This went on for a good six months, and arguably were looked forward to immensely. Slowly I resigned myself to this weird nature of my romance. Not everyone’s life has a great love, why not let this be mine. It did take its toll on my real world relationships. But slowly the person realized that little could be done about it. I guess they way they saw it, it seemed mostly harmless.

Then six months later, after weeks of meticulous precision, I found six bouquets again of the most crimson variety at my doorstep. And this time each one carried a similar verse, by exactly the same poets who had been chosen for the first delivery. This time the notes were not in a scribble, but in a feminine slant, which was at the same time familiar and commonplace. And one of them read:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky:
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain, when with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, --
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise, and unbuild it again.

Somehow, the dubious finality of Shelley told me it was over. And I was right. Or was I?


[1] Larkin: Talking in Bed
[2] Keats: An Ode to Melancholy
[3] Seth: Round and Round
[4] Shelly: The Cloud

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Matter of Choice

A passion that doesn't consume is hardly worth having.

This post is inspired by the recent Indra Nooyi interview in ET. Possibly it is the best piece of reportage I have read in that daily in a long, long time.

The second and more interesting part of the interview is that which deals with her work- life balance.

I think, all of us, at some point of time or the other have been faced with opportunities, which present life-altering possibilities. Everyone around me has been faced with this question- where do I strike the balance: do I want to be a CEO? The biggest swinging dick on the trading floor? Do I want to be the greatest Dad ever? Or the best Son? Well…

When I was younger (read pre-30) I had the following view on life.

The thing about making it big in your career is that it takes a significant toll on your personal life. If you are going to try, you just have to go all the way, otherwise there is little point in even getting started- just remain content with pushing paper all your life, bettering the previous years’ performance by a miniscule delta. But going all the way… it has implications. It could mean losing people, even losing your sanity, spending sleepless nights burning in the fire of your obsessions. Going without food, sometimes drink. There were days when I would switch off from the trading desk and realize food had been placed next me hours ago, gone cold, that I had not even had a sip of water. That if I had remembered to breathe, it was just pure luck. It used to make me sad because it meant isolation. And it still does.

Now, to borrow a thought from Bukowski's Factotum, I realize that isolation is a gift. Everything else is just a test, a test of my endurance, or how much I really wanted to it. And once I get there it is just pure joy, and nothing quite compares to it. That it is what comes closest to perfection. The people I lose because of all this are the ones who do not realize what moves me, what matters. They do not realize that just because I love my career, I love them any less. That they do not understand me, that they reject me for that, it is my problem, but only to a lesser extent than it is theirs.

As we grow (and not just in age) we realize that most people don’t matter. You can get away by being just civil to them. But the ones that do, matter a huge fucking lot. And it is because of what Ms. Nooyi put so beautifully: “You know, people like us get very lonely, because you cannot share too much with other people.” Because these are the people who guess my stakes, who can take a load off my mind, knowing very little of what its all about. It is with these people that I must remember that on most days when I get back to them, “I should leave the crown in the car”, and just be myself. Husband, wife, partner, friend, whatever. Of course, they have to stand by me in my big moments, put up with my tantrums when I’m feeling fucked, when my mind is on fire in the middle of a sleepless night, but also share my moment of glory. They have to figure what makes me mad, drives me nuts, or simply elates me, even though they’ve never been there themselves. They have to realize that the most important things in your life are things that might just happen at the spur of a moment- and it is in that moment that I need their “being around” the most.

That brings me to another point in Ms. Nooyi’s interview. She says that if you have to do something on the spur of the moment, everybody helps you out to do things. But if you make that a habit, it just becomes a practice of running from pillar to post- and not a spur of the moment anymore. I realize that each time I make people run around to do such things it drains them, that I cannot make it a habit, and if I do then people value me a little less.

Anyway, it was great reading -stunningly frank and truly inspirational.

Monday, February 05, 2007

All It Takes

The good news is that now I have a comp at home. The bad news is that it doesn’t have the Net. Never mind- that should change soon.

I had approached a famous ISP for a broadband connection sometime back. After the initial calls they sent across someone to do the wiring, but finding the house locked those guys went back.

I managed to grab the sales guy again yesterday, and fired the shit out of him. When I was done, the guy first apologized for disappearing and said that it was in his interest to close this out since for every connection he closes he gets paid 175 rupees. 175 rupees??? Am I hearing right? Isn’t this circa 2007? Aren’t our minds and living rooms invaded with Technicolor projections of an Incredible India (or India Shining, or Rising India- depending on whose colours you wear)! And most importantly, isn’t this Bombay, and not some back of the beyond, mofussil town?

Yes, it was repeated, and I had heard it right. Immediately, I lowered my pitch, and remembered how enthusiastic the guy had been when he first came with the papers to my office, did the feasibility and all that- and how many calls he had made to me. All for 175 rupees? I didn’t know how to react- perhaps I should feel a little small admonishing him the way I had. But then wasn’t he in the wrong?

By the evening I had partly redeemed myself. When I narrated this incident to D, she wanted a connection as well. When I called to tell him so, I couldn’t believe how happy he sounded.

Later at night as D and I sat watching TV, feeling a little domesticated, and munched on our chicken rolls, I began to think how narrow our view of this world is. I recalled a recent post I had written some time back on the amazing things happening in India, on how steep forward income curves are and how everyone can takes loans for 10 years and repay them in 3. At that time my boss (a man of little hair, but lot of wisdom) shook his head and commented how little I knew of this world.

I remembered the absolute joy on the face of a juice seller in the night market in a remote Thailand village when we consumed juices worth 200 Baht in minutes. How they scurried to arrange plates for us, when there were none- it being a place where people just buy food from stalls and take it home to eat.

I remembered how affected my father was when he came back from the Valley after seeing what abject poverty the average Kashmiri lives in.

We live in a world where economic disparity is unimaginable. There are millions who live under the shroud of looming hunger, malnutrition and death. Basic amenities do not exist. If rural poverty is alarming their urban counterparts are no better off. Even in a place like Bombay every morning I pass by a bunch of kids who collect water from puddles outside of Haji Ali. And I see countless kids on their way to school walking bare feet.

Sometime back I tried reading the World Poverty Report form UNDP. I just couldn’t. I agree that unless we eradicate poverty, we will not be able to counter the scourge of terrorism, AIDS and so many other things.

Yet I realized one thing- while we can be philanthropic and all that and wait for the world to be a better place for everyone, for the time being we can make a difference in our little ways, mostly by being nice to people who live such difficult lives. And in return make that rare smile make our day.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Where there is a will…

I don't want to walk... I want to run!
I saw Guru recently. I think it was the first movie since Iqbal that I saw in a theatre. Its not that I don’t watch movies in halls, but just that my current company does not.

I thought it was about 40 minutes too long, the performances were a bit contrived- especially AR (more about that later), and Junior sounded just like papa in the closing soliloquy. Somehow the songs didn’t feel like Rehman (well if you ask me songs have no place in cinema- probably only background score). The sub-plot of a multiple sclerotic Vidya Balan, was a pathetic attempt at portraying an investigative journalist’s conscience. However, I still liked the movie.

The point is that with a subject line as powerful as this it is very difficult to not deliver a hit. Junior does a just about OK job, and his fiancĂ©e is plastic as ever. The highlights of the movie for me were the return to mainstream by Mithun-da in the role of Ramnath Goenka, the superb and justifiably irritating portrayal of S. Gurumurthy by Madhavan- I have noticed that he is particularly good at the role of a sometimes chocolate, sometimes irascible youngster- mostly a different breed of the angry young man. There were familiar references to political and business scions, the Bombay Club and so on… things we have only heard of so far.

I found the closing sequence slightly Ayn Rand-ish. It did remind me of the closing courtroom scene in Fountainhead, or the money monologue of Atlas Shrugged. I thought the script was particularly strong in that aspect. In ideology it was truly objectivist- in the way he defends himself by saying he did nothing wrong if all he did was meet the demand for an absolutely legit ptoduct.

However, I think the greatest take-away from the movie is that it enlightens the youth of today to our murky industrial past. How the so-called pioneers of Indian industry contributed to ensure monopoly, prices were manipulated, and the demand supply curves were completely out of whack. I mean where else in the world does one face a two-year waiting period to buy a two-wheeler. But it also shows that how a person who chooses to not to accept the word “No”, can succeed (and how) even in a world like that. That one is not always required to fight the system, but to go with the tide and make the best of it. That there nothing succeeds like success, and that in the endgame, the means are mostly meaningless. "Agar ek din mein kanoon ban sakta hai toh ek din mein badal bhi toh sakta hai"

Further, it is a testimony those who dare to dream, think big, and spare no efforts to make it happen. It is proof that even when socio-political climate was not ideal, those who took on the world, did manage to make it happen. And how!!!
Another important lesson from the movie is that this world is only as difficult as the people who make it up. Everyone has a soft spot, you just have to know where it hurts them the most. Whether it is a principled bureaucrat, or a spoilt scion of the country's leading industrial house. To have that killer instinct is very important.

It sometimes makes me sad that our film industry is so immature that it still offers roles of such infinite possibilities to a person such as Aishwarya Rai. Her performance, like the others before, is simply pathetic. Truly, in this world there is no limit to where looks can take you…
I am told women find Junior very hot, but I am sure even they could not have tolerated the absolutely gross close-ups in the hospital. I mean this guy needs a face job, and fast if he insists on giving these shots.
Final Verdict: It could've been a much better movie, but when your competition is the cheesy Salaam-e-Ishq, or whatever, it is hard to remain inspired.

"Why walk, when you can run???" Iacocca.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I remember you well...

Chelsea Hotel #2
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.

Those were the reasons and that was New York,
we were running for the money and the flesh.
And that was called love for the workers in song
probably still is for those of them left.
Ah but you got away, didn't you babe,
you just turned your back on the crowd,
you got away, I never once heard you say,
I need you, I don't need you,
I need you, I don't need you
and all of that jiving around.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."

And then you got away, didn't you babe...

I don't mean to suggest that I loved you the best,
I can't keep track of each fallen robin.
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
that's all, I don't even think of you that often.

~ Leonard Cohen, for Janis Joplin

Sometimes, and specifically at times like this, when I am listening to such music I envy you for being there... hope you're doing all this and more... no I don't mean giving head on an unmade bed**. But just being in the city that's "the world's largest open air theater". And this is the reason why-

Then I wonder if I'll ever stop missing you. It's stupid, I kick myself, and then get back to work.

"Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard"
~Mary Schmich

** On second thoughts, what's wrong with giving head on an unmade bed?