A four Kilometre life lesson on a sunny afternoon

What does three seconds mean? Probably  one twentieth of a minute, if not anything significant in particular. Well that is how much it meant for me as well, till today’s afternoon. I was zooming past at 72 kmph to work- when in a matter of few seconds,three to be precise -the speed went from that to zero. I had driven without petrol for the past few days. And my Pulsar- older than sum of all my functional relationships put together -diplomatically protests in these kind of non verbal ways. Especially in routes with no semblance of a fuel station for the next few kilometres from all four sides, to gently remind me to not take it for a ride.

So here I was with a bike with a vapid tank, weighing just the same at the Madhya Kailash to Tidel Park stretch. For the uninitiated non-Chennaites, this particular stretch is notorious for its stagnating traffic. If that opening scene from La La Land was to be recreated, this stretch would be a top contender, notwithstanding Bangalore and Mumbai. And did I mention it was in the afternoon? A humid, sweaty one. With the pores in my body over-timing to compensate for the lack of dampness in the air. And it really didn’t help that I was wearing a white translucent shirt.

And like that, the afternoon’s journey had passed from warm wind blowing against the face to trudging in search of the nearest fuel station. And to add salt to the wound, the Talaash songs were still playing on my earphones. Karma’s a bitch.

It was not until I was at the end of a two kilometres dead rubber walk, did I get my first rendezvous with humanity. There was this gentleman, in cheap clothes, on his bike who seemed to be stalking me from a few metres on his bike. I stopped. And he came from the side and offered to toe my bike to the nearest station; still a kilometre and a half away.
Wow! I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the gesture for a moment. To actually offer a ride to a sweaty stranger while he pulls his bike from the side is no mean thing. One, it’s inconvenient. Two, it makes you look silly. And three, I wasn’t even his friend for him to go through the inconvenience or silliness. Yet he did. I certainly wouldn’t have, not even to a friend had I seen him drag along on a Thursday afternoon. I profusely thanked him and continued to drag along.

By now, bathed in my own sweat, I was beginning to vicariously go through Christ’s last moments uphill; just that I was dragging a bike instead of a crucifix with absolute certainty of not turning God to a new faith. That’s when the second intervention happened. The station though not in the viewing perimeter was under a kilometre away, when an auto slowed on my side to offer to toe till the station. The driver was a dark man, with a stern but kind face. He had a passenger, yet he offered to chip in. I politely refused his generosity and thanked him. Not someone to take a “no”, he insisted again and I thanked and continued to drag. Disappointed he drove past. He must have thought of me to either be high handed or a masochist. Rightfully, so. To me, this was as moving as the former gesture. Actually, a little more considering the fact that he had a passenger and was still willing to do this. Guilt was eclipsing me as I thought of the number of times I’d condescended auto-drivers for the low lives they were on road.

I’ve fed pets, given money to homeless elders and sometimes even offered them a ride on my bike. I’ve always thought of myself to be a good person on the basis of these rudimentary acts. Yet there I was stranded, ego crushed, never having felt smaller. These men who stepped out of their comfort zone for an absolute stranger, were way better men than me. Maybe the rights and wrongs I was seeing from the high horse of my moral compass were ill founded from the vantage of my comfort zone. While I’ve frequently chipped in for someone from the warmth of my comfort, not once have I left it to lent a shoulder to someone outside of it. Maybe I needed to come down, introspect, learn and more importantly unlearn from better people like them.

Reality had dawned upon me before the fuel station could. Coming to think, the entire afternoon was after all not about getting petrol alone. Obviously, I’ll be more vigilant over the fuel meter. But that was just a ruse to a more pertinent internal journey. A reality check of sorts to become a better person. Baptism under the sun if I may.

Luck by chance

A couple barely familiar to each other- “barely” only if knowledge of names,horoscope compatibility and positive sign off on conduct by respective households alone doesn’t constitute familiarity – decide to give a shot at matrimony.So life started like that, out of a chance taken three decades before. XY it was, a guy I was.

In hindsight most things in life- both,fascinating and commonplace have happened, because of chances I took and chances that were taken with me. Something as rudimentary as my alma mater happened because the cousin I absolutely loathe now, passed by it when the applications were flying out for admission. My education was cultivated from a premier institution because my mom took a chance, when she stood in the beeline. What about my ability to sketch well? It was born from a moment of utter insignificance. I was a three year old intrigued by the sight of a brass elephant. I had to recreate it on paper. I just had to. That urge lead to my first sketch and a bunch of baffled adults who flattered incessantly. Had no one been around or the ones who were there, turned out to be grumps like me, the flattery wouldn’t have happened. The artist in me wouldn’t have as well.

An ex-girlfriend was the first girl child in ages in her family. Again, a case of a close call between X and Y. Had it been Y, I wouldn’t have stalked her in the first place- I’m straight -leave alone send out a request. Still we had a lot of mutual friends, maybe we would’ve been good friends and played a lot of gully cricket. But it was X, she was dusky ,unconventionally beautiful, from the same city and took a chance with me. And I found love in her, made love to her, took her love for granted and in the end, fell out of love with her, actually with love itself.

Every event in life, every bit of our identity now has been a culmination point of a chance  taken. It’s laid out like a board game, life, with every decision point born out of a chance taken. While that chance takes you down a certain path, it takes you away from another, probably less risky, had the former not been taken. With time, what happens in these respective paths- the dividends earned, opportunities lost, relationships made, wisdom accumulated – fashions our appetite for peeping beyond conventions. In the end, we are product of the chances taken.A number where the dice stopped. Sometimes the dice. Sometimes the hands that rolled the dice.

Ari Gold cravings

I’m seeing someone“, Melissa blurts coldly.
Ari breaks down to tears instantly.
Aren’t you going to  say something?
What is there to say?

Well, for the uninitiated Ari Gold‘s a character from the series, Entourage and Melissa’s his wife. The above is an excerpt from their conversation, when their wedlock hits a roadblock. Entourage’s a vivid fly on the wall account about Hollywood actors, their shenanigans, the psyche of the entourage that sticks to them, the men who run the showbiz and the hardball they play to levitate their image.
Ari rates amongst my most favourite men, alongside Kamal Haasan and Chandler. This notwithstanding the unabashed bastard he is. Foul mouthed and irreverent, he would be Osama if political incorrectness was terrorism. But there’s something endearing about all this. Below all the pungency, the pompousness, he’s a nice guy.

Maybe there’s more to my adulation. I identify with him or immodestly put, he’s a lot like me. I’m aware and have been told when I haven’t been, what a human repellent I’m. All my life, I’ve barely been the guy to be found kind or considerate at first sight. Just like Ari, I’m a jack fruit kind of personality, with my thorny exterior being a red herring to the sweetness within.
It is quite fascinating when a favourite character and alter ego merge. Even more, when he goes through the same things you’ve been through once. The fourth wall breaks. You just don’t root for him to be alright. You emote with him; actually like him after a point.
This is exactly where I found myself through the final season of the entourage.

Ari’s wife leaves him over his incessant cussing and mercurial temper.Suddenly his trigger mouthed persona is reduced to a moping bundle, who seeks solace in mediocre gatherings. It took me back to days when I was going through the motions in life post my break up, with every iota of desire sucked from within. She told me about how embarrassed she was before her friends, every time I would use cuss words. Embarrassed?!
Wasn’t she supposed to embrace me for the foulmouthed asshole I was. It stung. I could empathize with him, when he got dumped. The vantage point we gave to our sweethearts, only to be shot from there.

She needed a break from me to discover new things, when I begged her to take me back, months after my break up. I couldn’t believe the low hanging fruit, my self respect had turned in the name of love. My king sized ego, self respect…whatever had become a luxury I couldn’t afford anymore. Beggars couldn’t pick.  Just like me, Ari too was left high and dry.
Bitch found some one else! I’m sorry. But I couldn’t see the man I revered, shrink in humiliation. God, at forty something he’s still quite the women killer and yet he had to go through all this. I remembered the shame I felt to my very soul when I came to know from her, my sweetheart of five years, that she was considering someone. Apparently he was an antithesis of the aberration I was. Fuck, has her lips that belonged to me been tasted by another man? Has her beautiful body made love to another man? The very thought was reducing me to an insecure shadow of myself. I knew logically that we weren’t working, this had to happen and we had to move on, but this was insulting and I just couldn’t swallow the bitter pill life was shoving up my throat.

Like Ari’s wife she was the calmer person between the two of us. All the years, I didn’t know about the implosion happening beneath that calm demeanor, much like him. The break-up, brought out years of pent up anger from their system.The roles reversed, it was our turn to bear the brunt. If he was asked to stay away from their house, I was kicked out of her church in public display.
It was strange to see a character in a TV show, going through his break-up, beat by beat, just like me. Worlds apart, we were the same lines dipping southwards in the graph of love.

What happened in the final episode put a tear or two under my eye, drew a wide grin across my face. He was heard, she took him back.  Notwithstanding the fact that it was a rerun, I was as affected by the magnitude of that moment, just like the first time. Unlike me, Ari wouldn’t become cynical about love. Unlike me, he got another shot. It was magical to vicariously live a different outcome to a similar story through an alter ego. If only, life was written by TV writers.

Lost in a sea of thoughts

There’s a boy on the tip of the shore,
Perched on a rock, wave kissed.
Like the rock, he’s there by chance.
The raucous waves wouldn’t give him a moment,
To drench in the gorgeous sight before,
Of a saffron sun bathed in seascape.
But the waves wouldn’t let him be.
They would bring ruckus, conchs and rubbish to him,
Like an anxious dog to its master.

A day passed. Actually a few did.

There’s the boy, same one as last time.
The rock’s way behind,
The water’s tepid and at knee length, from there. 
Adulthood’s embraced him,
Going by the hair on his sinewy wet legs.
Couldn’t really tell if it was the boisterous waves,
That had become well behaved
Or was it him who had begun to endear them?
He was musing on the same sight,
The sea was between.
Of a sun bathed seascape,
Adorning sepia strokes like a new tiara. 
He seemed calm in the chaos.

Like bread from a toaster,
Sun and moon kept popping out,
as days effluxed into weeks.

There’s the boy, wait, he’s a man.
The shore is a speck from where he is.
His face is a sore thumb sticking out from water,
He a flotsam in the heart of the sea.
Inundated by solitude and sea from all sides,
He for once misses the waves, that had kept him company.
He’s closer than ever before to the sight of his life,
But as far as he’s ever been from it.
The view from the shore was an artifice after all.
The sky and sea never got along.
The innocence that came with childhood,
covered the fault lines in everything beautiful.
The urge that came with age,
just activated them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty Sixteen- bookmarked chapters

Unlike last year which had things like floods to wax eloquently about survival instinct and the spirit of Chennai, albeit at a cost tad too high, this year has been quite tranquil as far as the city is concerned till December. It started with the news of the CM’s death, I thought that this would be the equivalent of last year’s floods in terms of being a logistical nightmare or at least cause a small amount of law and order ruckus, given our tendencies to vent emotions by taking to the streets. But to my utter surprise it was the most well behaved funeral mourning in recent times. So much so that the only breakage in the city  during this period came from households with mischievous kids or butterfingered adults.  Just when I thought that, it was pretty much the length and breadth of the excitement for the year, a cyclone tore its way into attention. If last year, the nature’s fury resembled overflowing water, this year it looked like howling wind.

Hmmm..since this is meant to be more about myself, enough about Chennai for now. Moving on to some developments in my life over the last dozen months or so.

Found a new god in Woody Allen to prostrate before. I figured how delicious sarcastic depictions of follies in human relations can get in the hands of a great auteur. Learnt the extent of leverage available to be drawn from seemingly commonplaces. Sad that Kamal had no releases this year. But Bhai made up for it with Sultan. Had a whale of a time in the theatres screaming to his shenanigans in baby ko base pasand hai.

On the writing front, the work on the manuscript seems to be never ending, but at least I now know how the skeleton looks. Writing feels therapeutic and almost flows like second nature. From being a cool thing to flaunt, it’s increasingly starting to feel like an expression of my ungarbed soul.

The nihilism within, which was lurking passively is slowly starting to percolate into words and action.  Even as a child I’ve always been selective about fashioning my inner circle, friend by friend. I’ve always known an acquaintance from a friend, courtesy from care. But off late I’m able to look through a person; through a conversation right at the intention underneath. Often than not what I see there is not what I heard or saw.   Probably I’m slowly tilting towards misanthropy, OD-ed on Woody Allen movies. But few things come close to the hilarity of people with 897 friends on Facebook making sincere attempts at sending wedding invitations to all “friends”, on the eve of their wedding. Probably a group of friends checking in from a restroom of a multiplex on the weekend of a popular release beats that. But the sunny side to all this social condescension is the predictability that it lends, bringing patience when dealing with people. When you know the where-they’re- headed-to part, the what-they’re-getting-at part starts to make sense.

Was almost on the verge of finding love, but backed out intimidated by the proximity.Felt guilty about kind of leading on a close one. Yup, did that hideous act of crushing someone’s heart. Earned myself truckloads of bad karma in the process. Towed the route of promiscuity for a brief detour to distract, to only find myself on the threshold of love, yet again. Somehow in the most unlikely of circumstances, either I’ve found love or been found by it. This time around, it started platonic to grow into something more significant, more passionate than any relationship I’ve found myself in. There’s something about corresponding in love; you express with words and find yourself getting entangled with each other over every anecdote exchanged, every thought provoked. It’s the purest form in my opinion, given the entirely nonphysical chemistry stimulated. All the more for someone like me who believes strongly in the physical expression of love or attraction.
Touch wood.

This year is the first time in the last decade I’ve not lifted a dumbbell or anything that resembled it for more than six months. I read somewhere about how a trainer stopped his training and diet for six months to see how much he could push his limit, to get back in shape in under three months. So gave it a shot and the results were beyond just physical. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fit into my muscle fits and slim fits; but what I didn’t know was I wouldn’t fit into the cordiality of some people as well.
After this phase I can safely say, “Grow a few pounds thicker around your waist to figure the decent from the rest.
Now that the social experiment’s done, I’m in the process of getting back in shape by the end of year. This abandon of something as personal as gyming, did bring with it, its share of side effects. I stopped going to the temple I’ve been since the last twelve years. I let go off my faith, took a holiday from the display of gratitude. Here too, like fitness I was trying to push the ambit of my faith, to see as to what kind of a person I would turn into in the process. Through this phase I saw my compassion dry barren as I stopped caring for close ones beyond my comfort zone. My selfishness just shot up and I found myself high. Probably these were the things the stone statue and the sanctum sanctorum were keeping at bay without me being aware all these years.

And the biggest of them all, my baby sister got engaged this year. I tried my best to dissuade, but in vain. She’s not been in a relation of any kind all her life and the first one she’s going to get into comes with a promise of lasting a lifetime. I’m anxious and excited at the thought of her first adult endeavor. Since I’ve not known a life without her since childhood, the coming months without her are going to be interesting. Over the past few months have figured one thing; that I absolutely suck at this In-Law dynamic.
But if there’s a moment that’ll stay on with me, it’s that of seeing my grandpa breakdown into tears as she exchanged garlands with her fiance. He had held my mother as a cotyledon of life, then given her away in marriage and here he was seeing his grand daughter on the verge of marital bliss in his second childhood. Life had a come a full circle.
Probably Woody Allen wouldn’t endorse such thoughts, but people aren’t so bad after all.   Ditto about relationships.

That’s as far as I can remember from the top of my head. Let’s see how 2017 pans out.

 

On the road to romance

It was a damp night, mind you damp and not wet. Chennai’s weather of late has been blowing hot and cold; with almost hot afternoons packed in humid sweat and reluctant drizzles well shy of being holistic downpours in the nights. So it was one of those nights and I was coming from a night show, to find my bike seat gently kissed by several raindrops, that had deceived the sky’s vigil. One of the primary cons of riding a bike during such times is, you can’t wear your lighter trousers. One, the raindrops leave an impression, not a good one- a wet smudge on the sitting area. And two, even if you vigilantly wipe your way off the previous possibility to preserve tushy dignity, there’s no way you can go unscathed, as the several puddles and inconsiderate vehicles on the way would somehow come together to leave a graffiti on the trousers.
Anyways I was wearing a pair of black trousers that night and it held very little consequence to the other happening of the night, primarily about which this piece is .This one’s about the route I took on my way back and the the trip it took me down the memory lane.

While coming back from the theatre, there are two routes to my place. One that goes through a residential  area and the other one that comes a little ahead, connecting me to the main road.  Over the last few years I’ve consciously and later subconsciously been ignoring the former stretch to take the latter. Initially, it felt like a can filled with worms, waiting to be opened up. Worms waiting to feed on my peace of mind. Then with efflux of time, I had grown oblivious and numb to this stretch’s magnetic negativity. It had come to only be a detour and the route that led to the main road had become an obvious choice.
But today was different, I was itching to take the former route. Not to confront the can of worms, but to take stock of my quality of peace. Curiosity had the better of me and there I was in the stretch I had forbidden as a sort of reality check. This trip was straddling between literal and figurative, for so much in my life had transpired in this L shaped stretch, the gravitas of which was getting to me as I was rumbling through it, metre by metre.

A few hundred metres into this road- painted in shadows of the trees behind -came this compound wall on the left. There was nothing fancy about it, just another neglected-marshy structure raised to mark the periphery of the house. But to me, it marked a new beginning. Back then it was always enveloped from the road by a fleet of school vans parked in front of it. It was our second date, I had just kissed her for the first time inside a deserted Mcrennett a little ahead on the corner of the road. She was pink with amusement and I was a cat, who had had a taste of meat for the first time. We soon left hand-in-hand to take a stroll, incidentally my first walk with someone from the fairer sex. She was a bundle of nerves, obviously given that her folks stayed not far away from there and she was walking with a person who had just earmarked her left cheek with his saliva. Fairly educated on each other’s favourites, we had run out of topics and were in a mood for something non-verbal. The secluded compound wall on the right, stood there with in anticipation and we got the cue. I lifted and perched her on it facing me, as I placed my hands on either side of her on the wall. Before we realised, I was kissing all over her face like a caveman, rocking back and forth like a push up in a near state of trance. Together we had debased base one here.

As I drove ahead, came the Mcrennett I had mentioned a little earlier on the corner of the road. Apart from being the unwilling witness and stage to our first sacrilege, it had seen a lot of us. It used to be a favourite spot for it didn’t pinch on my wallet hard and it served the best cheese puff known to humanity. We’ve spoken about movies, debated about choice of careers, stolen kisses when no one’s around and have even gone for each other’s necks when arguments turned futile.

We were sparrows constructing nests on unnoticed loft corners of houses with little information to its owners, raising our own little monuments in common places of others surreptitiously.

As I turned right came this place, preceded by a newly fitted majestic metal gate. Back then, there used be no gate. It was just a long winding driveway that led to a nursery school. We fondly called it “nursery”. Only both of us knew what nursery meant, when among a group of friends. So why were two grown-ups frequenting a nursery? This under lit place became uninhabited in the evening and the unregulated driveway that preceded the nursery, with tall trees on either side, became a tantalising prospect for long walks and the accoutrements that ensued.
Here, we became night creatures that made merry after sunset. Unlike the owls, we couldn’t see too well, but we didn’t complain. We could feel and listen to each other like  in no other place with heightened awareness- finding rhythm in our heartbeats, warmth in our touches, wetness in our lips and dexterity in the fingers to render clothes vestigial. This is where we caught up every time before being away for a while and this is where we came together after being away. This was our ersatz room, before we got a real one.

A few second later came this stretch inundated by tall walls that belonged in fortresses, baring faces of the neighbourhood politician and not so subtle slogans in fluorescent font. I could see a younger me targeting the wall, as I discharged my bladder’s content in a blissful fountain. She was seated on the bike behind, embarrassed about my unconventional way of answering the nature’s call. As I got on the bike, proud and relieved, my comeuppance came as she twisted my ear till I twirled along with it in tandem.

I pulled over my bike to take a leak. I was all alone by myself, , with no one waiting behind to play mother as I sat to ride.

The L of the stretch was coming to an end as the subway in the end was becoming visible. She used to come out of this from the other side of the road, as I restlessly waited near it. I would check myself on the bike’s mirror a hundred times and would strike the best pose on , as she would pop out of the subway onto my bike in a hurry, to employ the harness. After dropping her back late in the evening, I would wait by it till she surfaced from the other side of the subway in one piece.Our days were in short bookbounded by this subway.

Over a decision, things that were very life itself had turned into distant memories I could only live vicariously. I  could revisit them, without craving to recreate. This stretch was like a black box that survived a crash. The drive was like going back to the place of accident after recovering- as a healed person – grateful about the second chance, stronger and peaceful. If I’ve learnt one thing over the years, it’s that there’s no such thing as good or bad in life as every experience culminates systematically in a memory. Good and bad are transitory, a mere reflection of the state of the mind from the time of impact.

It felt like a place I was leaving place from, not one I was coming into.As I turned left to climb the flyover, I felt like Superman  emerging out of Krypton stronger than before. Life was one fear short.

Tirupati Musing

There was a personal thing which I was hoping against hope to not happen and vowed a trip to Tirupati in barter for its inoccurrence. Sometimes as rational as we portray ourselves to bd, all it takes is an uncontrollable situation to manifest, to make us seek means to mitigate it from the very space.

As cool as I felt tom-toming about being an atheist and an agnostic for a while after that, I could always sense crops of faith grow on the fields of my indifference. I felt humbled to wake up to the cry of self realisation emerging out of the pretentious molar of false ego. Meanwhile,my wish was granted and it was my turn to keep my end of the deal. So I was on the first bus to Tirupathi, an hour into the news.

I was prostrating to a superstition, finally. Was I?

To some touching the nose tip before switching on the desktop every time, to some adjusting the abdomen guard while the bowler was in his run up and to others a visit to a temple. It probably wasn’t as cool as saying stuff like, “hardwork’s my religion” with a poker face. So what?
Superstition is after all a speck of sentiment that snowballs under the impetus of emotions into existence. It isn’t chivalrous to live in denial of one’s emotional identity; for the heart derives the very fabric of empathy from here to turn this otherwise collage of organs into what is generically called a human.

A few years before I swore to never return to this cash cow of a temple, peeved by the impersonal vice of commercialism inundating its air. This time around the place was as cold as last time with fog & commerce, tonsured adults sweating it up to make a fortnightly bather like me feel secure about hygiene. But this trip wasn’t about ego satiation or ideal massage,this was for a favour bestowed upon in a timely manner-a display of gratitude.

The person didn’t change, so did the centuries old place. But what changed was the perspective. Perspective that has managed to make the holocaust of an entire race humane to some,consumption of fish vegetarian to some and fasting religious to some others.From seeing a stone in a deity , I could see hope & gratitude this time.

In Tirupati, you witness this paradox of free men encaging themselves for hours together with the enthusiasm of a draught struck farmer to the first drop of rain. Call it subservience to the unreasonable ways of  another unquestioned faith, but the meditated air of euphoria in the most challenging of conditions for just a few fleeting seconds before the deity is just contagious.

The almighty is a good place to invest gratitude, provided the faith isn’t gullible to relish indulgence in a way of life, overlooking the very reason that led to it.Every trip embarked with an open mind unearths a hidden facet from within, often than not. This one ended adding sanctity to the prayer on dad’s office wall that goes-

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.