Death by Ice cream

We were waiting for the check to come. The dinner was fabulous, like it always is at Ranjith. Don’t let the middle aged South Indian man’s name come in the middle of your judgement. It’s an oxymoron, in the sense that it continues to remain a relatively unexplored uptown restaurant in the heart of the city, despite creating such food.Victorian set up, cosy yellow lights, jazz music that trickles in the backdrop, tuxedo clad waiters with friendly candour- it’s almost right out of a Woody Allen movie. So, the evening was well spent till that point with tête-à-tête over some great food. Well, almost. My friend started making endearing facial gestures that resembled spasms, the meaning behind which I dreaded from the bottom of my heart. And you cant’t blame me for being disturbed, for he’s got a smile that resembles a hungry crocodile. It was that part of his weekend ritual where he starts to emotionally blackmail to accompany him to this dessert place, to achieve climax to the evening’s dinner.

Before going further, a little character sketch about him would help. He’s this kind of a person who likes to explore new places rather proudly. Good thing, right? Yeah, only till he starts becoming all Colombus about it. Then with the same self assigned authority goes on to sign off on the place’s authenticity. Next he starts recommending it to acquaintances as means to their salvation; not before condescending their existing tastes and preferences. When they check out these places, little do these poor souls realise that they’ve signed on to become unwilling guinea pigs to his social experimentation. At the end of which he would sign off on their tastes, based on their opinions about his. This dessert parlour called Amadora is one such pet laboratory of his. I’ve seen him judge people as unambitious and discourteous based on the fact that they didn’t quite take up to the chocolate mint ice cream, the way he would’ve liked them to.

In a nutshell, he judges more than he winks and opines more than he breathes.

So we both walk into this property located in a pristine locality; he with a pride of booking a Tesla and me with a reluctance reserved for a bad date. The guy at the counter recognises him excitedly, like a separated dog  and they go about ice creams on display like one acclaimed filmmaker to another for several minutes, before my friend starts to sample almost everything on the display than the fly on the glass.  How they do this with new found enthusiasm, week after week, with the flavours remaining constant is beyond my comprehension. And it’s not even like they’re in love.

My friend picks a pale white ice cream as an outcome of the quarter hour exchange with the shopkeeper. Then comes the worst part. He starts to remind me of the sucker I’m for chocolate with an anticipatory look, I’ve become familiar with by now; a cue for me to get something as well. I play the “miss my late grandma” card after playing the “I feel guilty about malnutrition in Somalia in these kind of places” card to little effect, but he just wouldn’t budge.

So I cave in.

I sample at least four different variants of chocolate before rejecting five. When almost on the verge of renouncing ice creams, my eyes fixate on an empty trey with a board that reads,”Nutella”. This can’t go wrong.
I ask for a sample of it and what I get in return instead from the over enthusiastic owner is a lecture on the unit economics behind the particular flavour, till I gently remind him about not intending to hold any stake in his gourmet boutique.
Offended by my curtness, my prodigal friend nudges me into picking a flavour compulsorily. With very little choice I pick what seemed to be the lesser devil among all, a Chocolate Sorbet that seemed bitter enough to be an imposition in school. Like this, between the two of us, we had ordered two scoops of underwhelming ice creams that only costed us a little less than our kidneys would’ve in an organ racket.

We perch on tall wooden stools that belonged in tacky bars, from where I resort to condescending patrons around the counter over death by sorbet. After all,  laughing at our misery was the best way to go about according to this thirteenth century Tamil poet with a knee long beard.It was fascinating to notice pretentious people discussing and deconstructing ice creams with a verve reserved to Michelangelo’s work; guessing the epiphanies which would’ve lead into creating these melting art forms. All this, while my friend was enjoying his five bean vanilla ice cream that tasted like cold horlicks- closed eyed like in a Beatles concert -from the other end of the table.

As I dared to venture a helping from my cup, I began to realise that these gelatin grenades were in fact the most military ones out there, for they almost never melted. What bends before their resilience is the spoon with which we try to excavate, as they remain intact on the tongue forever.

Finally, as we made our way out, my friend couldn’t stop drawing superlative parallels to the frozen malt beverage he had had, notwithstanding my face buried in the phone’s display. Noticing my lukewarm response to his desserted orgasm, the ritual of him condescending my gourmet preference ensued. I smiled to myself at the sight of a light at the end of the road, which was from a ice cream joint I quite liked. After all, like all good things, bad things come to an end as well.


Epiphany in the woods

This piece is a deconstruction of a scene close to my heart. It shadows a rejected photographer, camping in a forest on the lookout for a trophy picture to amp up his portfolio. We travel with him until his eyes find an exotic bird, considered a phantom by the high priests of the fraternity operating the door to his entry. They widen with excitement as he captures the perched bird through his frame; when something happens that catches him unaware. It tweaks the full stop  into a comma at the end of his quest, that seemed like a means to his acceptance till then.

And just like that the bird that was pecking on the bark, spreads across its wings in a superfluous gesture to make for a breathtaking sight that overwhelms him. It shouts out to the sky- probably a prayer – as he slides against the tree behind, eyes welled up from confrontation with the nature’s glory. He walked into the forest in search of a bird, but found himself instead. His identity dissolves along with the last left traces of his ego, as he bares his soul naked in vogue with the ways of the wild.What seemed like a mere trophy object, feels like the manifestation of mother nature in all her glory.

The bird pushes a leaf down like in acknowledgement –  that spirals and waltz in the air -grieving separation while defying gravity on its descent. Chin up, his face moves in anticipation to the dispatched leaf, as its gentle passage comes to an end on his face. Eyes closed, he soaks in the moment as an avalanche of epiphanies hit shore, culminating in a state of infinite peace.The leaf is not so much a leaf as a badge of honour it has become to him.

Everyday Heroes

He was weaving through the Monday morning traffic callously, with a grace of a stumbling block. He was late yet again. Lattice had become an unwilling second shadow to him over the years. His clock off late felt like a flabby twenty six hour one till the eleventh hour came. After which his lackadaisical life would attain the kinetic energy of an ejected missile.

He had an interview at ten; twenty minutes from where he was. Not a stiff ask, if it weren’t for the constipated movement of the traffic. So he had already started manufacturing sheepish reasons to give his interviewer from a dead body procession to an unicorn sighting.

The morning sun wasn’t far behind in adding fuel to the…rather , fire to the fuel. It scorched open the sweat glands on his nape to set free rapid beads of perspiration to trickle down the spine to blunt the crisp crease of his baby pink shirt.

Yeah,baby pink instead of monochromatic blue for an interview! He was that kind of a person who felt that only a rare breed of men could pull off pink with virility and grace. He counted himself among the elusive herd, if the times he had worn the colour on first dates was an indicator. But the mood of a grumpy camp with men waiting to pry over professional competence wasn’t the same as pretty young things waiting to make small talks over overpriced caffeine.

The signals to wait to the place were growing fewer in number as the sun was blunting its sting with new found fondness. It was at this point that he saw a dog itching to scurry to the other end of the road, from his signal. The incoming traffic from the right before was making the big guy panicky. Kind faced,brown with white patches, he was quite the four legged charmer. He was kept on tenterhooks from the aisle of the platform, clueless about the multitude of vehicles approaching him with fierceness, reserved to the first few seconds succeeding the cry of a war bugle.

This guy had been a dog lover, ever since his “D for dogs” days. Unlike many others, the sight of a mangled dog carcass on a highway was something that wouldn’t go off his system as a sight, common place. He knew the wonderful friends they could be, all his life and the possibility of one being run over before him, didn’t seem like something he could turn a blind eye to. He immediately moved to the side of the signal and pulled over.
Next he scurried to the mutt. He got down to his knees; established eye contact while running his fingers on his furry head. And just like that, trust and warmth was made between the two, in a matter of few seconds. In a quick reflex, he picked up the dog as he crossed to the other end of the road with him cradled in his hands. Not generally used to being lifted, all the more in this fashion; the big guy’s face blushed with bafflement as his tail’s wagging grew incessant, commensurate to his head rush.

He bent down and deposited the animal on the other side of the road, safe and sound. After wagging its tail a few hundred times in gratitude, the big guy made his way into the adjoining street. A relieved man, he scuttled back to the bike as he continued to the interview, he was comfortably late by now. He was neither a movie star, a politician nor an overrated cricketing sensation.Yet somehow, his gesture left an impact on the minds of people on the road that morning , if their collective slowing down was anything to by. While most wouldn’t go on to replicate him, their brakes would at least come on with new found empathy at the sight of a dog trying to cross the road next time. Thus without much fuss, a selfless few minutes of a man pushed the moral compass of a bunch of men around him.

Life comes to us in oxygen patches made in trees, it’s in times like this when we step out of our comfort zones for someone outside of us, that we go on to elevate life from the realm of existence to living. In the process, becoming heroes unto ourselves to look up to.

Hits, flops and movie parlance like that

How do I embrace a painting when in front of one- through the intrigue held in its strokes, the embedded undercurrent of symbolism or it’s auction price?  What if its price is the only yardstick  to draw parallel with the other paintings on display or the previous works of the same creator? If so, the skewed leftovers of this apples & oranges comparison would leave me with nothing but price tags and wealth trivia; hardly an inference one would say.
Talking of apples and oranges-one’s penetratingly saccharine and crunchy, while the other is citrus and sour  . Different textures, different patrons. Though fruits, they’re as dissimilar the night and dawn. And they aren’t the only fruits in the vast ecosystem of fruits, each one unique and fascinating from the other. Born out of different plants branched out of different seeds sown into different geographies under  different conditions. So, how rational would my appreciation be if it was out of stock taking of the fortunes made by the orchards or the turnover done by the exporters dealing in them.

If you asked my grandpa to pick a movie indelibly etched in his mind, he would probably reminisce about a movie starring either Dilip Kumar or Sivaji Ganesan. The pink in his face would give away his fond nostalgia, as he would ruminate about the story or hum a line or two of a close song. If you asked my mom about a film from her teenage, she would either talk about a Kamal Haaasan classic or an Amitabh Bachchan movie from his “pre-angry young man” days. She would talk fondly about the visionary Balachander was, for his deft handling of volatile subjects with grace and poignance or about movies that stayed afloat in public memory on the sheer strength of Ilaiyaraja‘s magic. Movies meant memories to them, bookmarks to the chapters in their lives.
If one were to ask the same to my college going cousin, a movie buff mind you, he would proudly talk about the opening weekend collections of his star’s film along with painful statistics of the movies it toppled along its ascent to the top and how close it got to the elusive hundred crore club. He would probably remember songs by their placement in the aircheck or the I-tunes chart, if not by his ringtone. Not surprising given the- “loudest the rightest, quantity is quality”,  maxim of his generation.

Niches have faded into seclusion before the cliche churning behemoths of mass approval. Works of art that dial up introspection and epiphanies have gotten relegated to Netflix, as movie halls fill in as dams holding footfalls from the avalanche of promotions. The most promoted movies end up being the most preferred ones over the fate fashioning first weekend, not so surprising given the amnesiac span of attention of the audience that can only hold up the last flamboyant splash.
You don’t see men debating about the good parts and the bad parts of a movie long after the lights have come on. They instead make small talk about whether it would break even or end up losing money, when all that is left of their stake in the movie is a torn ticket and popcorn calories. Somehow the average internet denizen seems to have been stung by the box-office bug. Agreed that the air of capitalism is inundating and the producer’s parlance percolates till the very roots.But it’s not like the stock exchange, where one frantically tracks the movement of his share price. Maybe it is to do with the rudimentary head rush that comes with pitting things against each other- as dissimilar as they’re -to see as to which one among them goes the farthest north.

Probably the ubiquitous availability of too much information from a zillion box office tracking sites and trade analysts piques this misplaced fiduciary interest. They’re like the class teachers who announce the ranks alone, without going into the nitty gritty of any of the subjects. Can I just watch a wonderful movie at home ensconced before the box and leave it just at that? Well, not entirely. By night, I’ll have the summary of the TRP wars and where my movie stood, like a diligent annual report of a company I had put my money into.I just can’t stop with the knowledge of how the movie was, but also have to be informed about how it batted for the channel playing it. So next time I watch a gem like Manorama Six Feet Under on TV, I’ll watch and recommend it to a friend with an air of charity; instead of respect subconsciously. This dirty dichotomy of movies into hit or flop, instead of good or bad has left with us with “mass” produced movies targeted at a wider audience. But where’s the charm in finding demand to a newly opened arrack shop, in an island full of drunkards.

We can’t afford to have Tarentinos, Guy ritchies,Myskins and  Dibakar Banerjees as their audacious works are frowned upon by the high priests of the industry, the producers, for their movies only generate negligible profits that the trade pegs as sleeper hits or break evens. As a bunch of outlaws perceived to masturbate their heads out of in the name of movie-making, they barely find takers even among their target audience-the supposed creme de la creme . Yet we’ll find the balls to nonchalantly rave about Annie Hall, Birdman, Perks of being a wallflower and the impotency of the film industry to churn such films. Not just that, we would make religious beelines to Bhai films to only bitch about the stinking records they go on to make, while patiently waiting for a good torrent of the home grown “offbeat” movies these guys make. After all, its only fair to observe anomalies in isolation, right!

Another conundrum I’m yet to wrap my head around is the fracas around the youtube hits a trailer of a movie gets. It’s like trying to gauge the looks of a person by the number of people who had seen his silhouette. Like this isn’t embarrassing enough, every million views clocked is commemorated with paid trends on social media. The euphoria around a movie is inch-taped with these metrics, like buying a ticket was same as watching a minute long video.

 Legend has it that Nayagan didn’t exactly get off to a flying start at the box office in the first few days of its release, before good press and word of mouth caught on like fire and rest as they say is history. But we don’t have the luxury of a gestation period these days for such organic turnarounds to happen . It has to spike up northwards in its first weekend and break even by Sunday night or the trade would pronounce it dead the following Monday. Then a week later, we’ll have eulogies like the ones we had for Anbe Sivam deconstructing it into minute details. The salt to the wound wouldn’t stop there. Years after they let it plummet; they’ll call it a classic, put it up on their all time favorites list and even make merchandise out of it. But the producer wouldn’t dare to tread that path  as gratuitous columns and awards didn’t pay his interests the last time. With him will go another person to the other side – greener and blockbuster – to place art in the altar of commerce.

Saturday, Shatabdi and stuff like that

It was ten to five as I woke up to the screech of my attention seeking alarm- late yet again- what with the rerun of Friends occupying hours of my sleep, night after night these days. So couldn’t do the things I was planning  to do, like a few hundred burpees or push ups to appear, stiffer and thinner in the right places to turn befitting to a white linen shirt I had bought. Screw you Chandler.
I had a train at six to catch and here I was dazed, far from ending my night’s stand with the bed. Mom and caffeine got me on my feet- barely so – as I reluctantly slid into the Uber summoned to take me to the railway station.

This particular cabbie had a twisted sense of humour if his playlist was anything to go by, which took me a while to figure out. He started with M.S.Subalakshmi going, ” Punarapi jananam, Punarapi maranam…“(One is born again, One dies again…) and I was overwhelmed by the serenity of the rendition.Well, who wouldn’t be at that time of the day.As I continued to linger a little longer in my reverie, it segued in the cryptic existentialism of the next song-“Ponna usuru vandhuruchi…“(Life that went, came back..). And the way he was manoeuvring with disdain through speed-breakers and sharp turns;  he seemed quite determined to visit the town southwards of life. And I was being dragged along like a rag doll, before I rained in his parade.
All it took was a choice few words about his lineage, a gentle reminder about the possibility of him having to face the firing end of his employment and voila, the song and the gear changed! The buildings and trees stopped appearing like blurry-fleeting images from the window. Well, nothing works like swear words in this part of the world. It’s not like he drove like he had the prime minister  behind, but at least I stopped being able to count the bumps on the road with my back till the station came.

As I stepped into the station, little did I know that there was still some ammunition left in the morning which had already expended the adrenaline of a bungee jump by then.

The friend who was travelling with me to Bangalore called up from the coach and cut the call with a wry instruction,”Come fast“.This reasonable person had booked the tickets, wouldn’t give me the coach number of the train and was reminding me to up the ante to a train with twenty other coaches.
Running in crowded places in Chennai can be quite a task at times -as daunting as running against a sliding sand dune. While the outgoing crowd doesn’t make space, the incoming one competes and hinders. Finally with a few minutes left, sanity prevailed over him as he texted the coach number.

As I wove my way to my seat, the next scheduled entertainment for the morning was staring at me. Apparently my friend couldn’t find seats together to book as it was a last minute plan. After a failed attempt at asking this person to exchange his seat, my friend had perched next to a fragile looking septuagenarian whose face had more wrinkles than the pashmina shawl around his neck. I was left high and dry with this person next to me, who had Dravid‘s first session determination plastered across his face with a tacky film magazine in hand. This hirsute wouldn’t relent to my request to switch seats as well, even if it meant depriving two friends of their company and me of some space in my own seat.Man, was he big. He held in him meat enough for an entire hamlet to feast upon.

Talking of feasts, I had a rendezvous with what Indian Railways’s idea of one was. It started with a trolley that waltzed its way into my coach, with infinite red trays arranged symmetrically. My mouth welled up with saliva at the sight of this elaborate red herring till I saw what the tray contained-A single Marie Biscuit packed to perfection!
Marie biscuit on a red tray is not hospitality, but hostility. This is one thing we’ve learnt to dodge consistently during tea times at home and have deployed as an effective weapon against out of town relatives who dropped in without prior notice. In short Marie is the Indian middle class’s silent “fuck-off”. And here it was deconstructed into as many headcounts and circulated like one of these compulsory ads on youtube, that one had to   encounter first before the video he really wanted to watch.

Before the “Marie”-scar could heal, the breakfast made its grand entrance.

If bad karma was edible, it would’ve pretty much looked like my meal that consisted of pongal that resembled idli spread across a  vaster geography, chutney that resembled sambar and sambar that resembled rasam. Little did I anticipate this when I hopefully answered,”Vegetarian” in binary to a question about my meal preference.
But there were people who dealt differently with their meal like the cute kid opposite me, who without a clue was putting to practise principles of mergers and acquisitions, albeit on a smaller scale as she combined the isolated omelette with the vacant bread that tasted like feet, when everyone around were going for jam. Smart girl steered clear from the evil trinity of pongal, chutney and sambar.

Relief came much later after the tables were cleared,  in the form of packaged juice which seemed to obviously have escaped the chef’s intervention.

Whatever sensory satisfaction couldn’t possibly be achieved through my mouth, I was attempting with the eyes. After all the Chennai-Bangalore route is quite the picturesque stretch. But how was fate going to let my redemption be such a low hanging fruit if the turn of events since daybreak were anything to go by. I was gorging on the green strokes of the creator’s artistry as the morning’s culinary fiasco was starting to dissolve from my memory,till a fateful forearm came in my viewing perimeter. The density of the forest outside the window became a redundant sight before its miniature manifestation in the  hairy hands of the person next to me. He had all of Anil Kapoor‘s body hair in his forearms alone. So long to the audacity to sight see.

My train called itself a “Super Fast Express“. Yeah, it continued to do so with another hundred kilometres to cover, twenty minutes past the scheduled time of arrival. It was like going through one of my worst nightmare in exaggerated slow motion, without being able to wake up. Rahman came to my rescue briefly, when the Railways didn’t. I thankfully had made a playlist full of his songs which helped me slip into a blissful sleep. I was musing on a million things -internal and external, like my defeated taste buds on the tired tongue, the limbs that had forgotten to stretch; courtesy of the encroachment from the seat nearby, the promises the trip held ahead, the pretty woman who was wearing a sari relevant from her grandmother’s era and whether I would go on live till seventy five.

I woke up to the sonorous screech of the train. Never had anything been more music to the ears. The train had finally arrived at Bangalore. People were bursting out in all directions like stock characters in monster movies. But I was in no particular hurry, for I wanted to take a moment to ensconce in the full expanse of my seat for once, without having to contend for a piece of the arm rest with an entire village next to me. That epiphany, I got a slight inkling of how the first few minutes of the fifteenth night of August must have felt like in 1947.

A phony like Dhoni

Even gods had bad days at the office, their thunder bolts wouldn’t come off or the spouses ditched their sides to mortal planets, over moral stand-offs.  Some demi gods, as invincible as they were had weak links in their anatomy as well, like Achilles for instance. Their flaws and the comeuppance that followed lent pulp of relatability for tons of mythology to be woven into scaffolding for many a religion. Take for instance the Ramayana, without the long exile we wouldn’t have gotten a well rounded hero in a man who wept, sweated and bled; but with grace and dignity on the face of the worst jokes fate was spinning around him. There’s a certain charm that comes in chronicling the lives of great men, who wore their failures as a badge of honour, while holding fort in the eye of the storm. Their character is often the halo we bend before with reverence.

Biopics are the closest we get into the heads of some fascinating men who walked the face of the earth, as long as their travails aren’t manicured in the altar of mass acceptance.
Given the number of promotional gigs Dhoni has been a part(a number,little higher than the press conferences he’s attended in his tenure as a captain); not to mention his vested interest that extends to the production of the movie; my hopes of an half honest account nose dove like his recent form.

So to be fair, I went in to the movie with a good quantity of predisposition, but was pleasantly surprised by the cinematic translation of the underdog story I had read and heard, albeit with a few liberties. I especially loved the portions involving his childhood and how the little men around him had chipped in to become cogs to make this giant wheel roll ahead. But as the movie progressed, the earthy smell got replaced by something that resembled the stench of vanity  and characters who hitherto spoke and felt like laymen started making pronouncements- juxtaposed with cricketing metaphors -out of Robin Sharma books. Soon the movie resembled a Nelson Mandela biopic attempt with Will Smith in Bad Boys swagger.

After a point the movie goes on autopilot, resembling a compilation of “greatest ODI knocks episodes” on ESPN, only that we’ve got stock footage of Anupam Kher‘s reaction shots instead of Harsha Bhogle and a doppelganger instead of Dhoni to contend.
The hyperbole level is dialed up further, as we come across more stock characters-all devotedly white without a speck of grey- nobler than the noblest, naiver than naive. The two women who constitute his love interest with their strict no PDA rules that would make Madhubala look like a vamp are embarrassing cliches with similar scopes-montages, songs, valentine’s predicament, lost poodle eye roll and commitment pangs.Rinse. Repeat.

And why on earth did the family and well wishers who are shown eternally glued to their television sets on match days, never in any of his match venues? Probably because the director didn’t want to meddle with the collective over-idealism in the movie.Another cardinal sin the makers commit is making a biopic during the times of Dhoni, with his relevance intact. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a fairly well made(dramatised) biopic could leverage on the advantage that it was made decades after his time. It could afford to have a brawny Farhan Akhtar who looked nothing like Milkha play him, throw facts to the wind and milk his blurry distance from public memory. Same reason, the initial portions with Dhoni’s childhood resonate the best, as they’re far removed from his time, with nothing but anticipation to yardstick their authenticity.

Largely entertaining,imaginative and well intentioned, it’s a tight rope walk between movie making and manipulation that the director manages to pull off, but when the heart of the protagonist is compromised, what we’re left with is the cry of an invigorating background score, instead of the rhythm of his heart.

We didn’t expect a chest-splayed-out-in-the-open account in the first place, but at least a banian level of honesty, with a doff of hat to cautious diplomacy. But we instead get seven layers of expensive clothes, all trying to pass off as his righteous skin.In the end as we begin to realise the vanity spin off the movie turned out to be,Sushant Singh appears like a metaphor to the movie; better looking,well built and ultra polished than the man himself.