Share auto love stories

I’m riding peacefully at one in the afternoon, notwithstanding the unwilling pan that my city has turned under the heat, nope wrath of the Sun. The vehicles- beyond, before and behind seemed to going smooth. All of us were hitting steady pace, happy about each others engines and mileage, when the SUV before me came to a screeching halt, in acknowledgement of a share auto that had pulled over to drop a passenger. Caught midway in our trajectory,  we were back to cursing each other’s parents for consummating decades before and the State Government for letting the Sun go unregulated. It’s not the first instance of a share auto screwing up the rhythm of a busy road, you see. They’re omnipresent across roads, insignificant till the point of collusion reminds us of the influence they wield. They’re apostles of karma on road, that administer sweet caution and danger in uneven pockets, to spice up “just-another” days on road.

Better looking then a rickshaw and too ugly to be an auto, they’re cursed anomalies- love children of manufacturing defect and passenger commerce.

Thinking of share-autos, this line from an Amitabh starrer springs to my mind in which he says the line begins from where he stands. Share autos are like that. No respect to traffic conventions. No regards to the syntax of driving. While a bus commuter’s journey ends at stops, the share auto stops where the commuter’s journey ends.

To understand the turmoil of caged hens that are carried in trucks, one needs to step into a share auto, at peak time. You’ll know how gas chambers were and where to look for Hitler’s spirit the next time. Its’ the most egalitarian of places, with people of different social standing, faith, size and shapes fitted exactly in homogenous spaces. So there are people in seats, people in leg space and people perched in places meant for spare tyres.
The icing on the cake is the front, where the driver sits. There are two men strategically placed sidewards on either side of him, that their formation resembles the three lions in our coins emerging from the same set of buttocks. Before population can be controlled in the country, it needs to be in these vehicles.

The price of privacy in an average Indian household

It’s pretty much like the conundrum of whether the chicken came first or the egg; the influence of movies on the society and the society’s influence on movies.It was in the mid nineties when, Sooraj Barjatya in North and Vikraman in the south spearheaded the renaissance of placing family before individual, making a virtue out of it. In the process killing privacy as a collateral necessity, making a vice out of it.You’ll see families in this movie walk in horizontal human chains- members on left and right extremes spilling out of every frame -even to modest places like blood donation camps, invading each other’s bed rooms spreading cutesy and going on picnics together. In this ecosystem, family was no mere crowd, but therapeutic. These movies talked about the trauma of being alone, establishing solitude as a comeuppance if someone dared to stray to the other side in the name of self discovery or love.

If you’re someone who had been raised on a firm diet of Tamil movies in the nineties, chances of having missed this spectacle called Suryavamsam are bleak. For the uninitiated it is one of the several evolutionary-anomaly Sarathkumar movies in which grandfather,father and son all look the same and get played by him. In a pivotal scene in the movie, the son’s kicked out of his house with his share of wealth for daring to get married to the love of his life. Notwithstanding the condescending nature of his overbearing dad, he somehow doesn’t part with the wealth to a farther haven.Because, it is hard after all, for an illiterate man pushing forty to choose between his hateful dad and an extended family that only acknowledges his existence while buying anti-fit khadicraft shirts on birthdays alone, on one side and a prosperous life with a loved one on the other. His rather prosperous stay apart from his colony sized family is made to look like a stint at Shawshank, throughout the movie’s running time.

The thing about these movies is that the individual always put himself, his love, aspirations behind his family’s and dissolved in its well being. One off movies like an Unnal Mudiyum Thambi were rare, where the son at ideological loggerheads with his father abandoned ship. Such movies appealed to a niche, because they didn’t pander to popular beliefs and were seen as isolated Utopian instances.

The resounding success of these kind of conservative- and regressive -family films reiterated the moral code of most families across the board. The elders identified with what was sold off as non negotiable virtues and the youngsters were naive to believe idiosyncrasies to be traditions. These were strictly above-the-belt movies that would sermonize on vanilla values that were digestible, inoffensive and non-debatable. Even when it came to couples, they never went beyond the tropes of innocent stalking, crass duets, wedding ceremony and the coy first night sequence when the shy camera would pan up at the prospect of below the belt activity about to ensue once the couple were done establishing chemistry over cold milk and ghee sweets. This attitude to over preach sentiments as values and push icky topics below the carpet has systematically percolated from one generation to another to create elders who didn’t respect the post puberty phase of a grown up. For instance If a teenager’s found whispering on landline, the parental instinct would be to launch into stealth mode. Pick the extension from another room and eavesdrop; for it might be a member from the opposite sex. Obviously the nefarious act had to be stopped. You can’t afford to be friends with him and joke about his flirting skills, right. It doesn’t fall under the Suryavamsam family code.

Another dreaded recurring occurrence in most Indian households must be the Sunday morning special visits. That’s when an out of town relative would come unannounced into our life like a pimple. But that or their amusingly large breakfast appetite wouldn’t even form the primary concern. Like a frog run over by a lorry, we would peacefully be sleeping in the safe confines of our bedroom in an awkward position when mom would come to wake us up to say, “hello”. Even before your brain can begin to process, a lecture about how showing courtesy to a guest is more important than precious life would begin. This would go on for several minutes. And it would only be a matter of time before her persistence would take the form of a loud scream, promise of a bad lunch or the most dangerous face expression before emotional blackmail. That’s the time when you would know that you’ve got no way out. Your eyes would detest. Your entire body would resent. But you’ll somehow drag yourself to only say that dreadful, “hello” and go back to bed in the hope of better karma.And just when you thought that the misery would be over with the thirty painful seconds, the relative incapable of understanding body language or silent “fuck offs”, would endeavor to stretch your tenure with one sensitive question after another. By the time he/ she gets done with you, you would start hearing the liver churning bile from within.

The sudden invasion of a dad or uncle into bedroom while generating handmade pleasure is one of the most disturbing things to happen to an average Indian teenager. What’s more disturbing than the ocular exchange between the two, would be the awkward silence that follows, as he contemplates euthanizing and the elder behaves like having walked into a satanic mating ritual. The sexual curiosity of the youth, his coming to terms with his own body that’s looking different with each passing day and his sudden mooning over girls his age is something the elders diligently push under the carpet, courtesy the  Suryavamsam family code.

We in this part of the world never really acknowledge the importance of an individual’s identity. His coming of age, his love, lust, failures, successes and how they shape him as a person. His dreams, aspiration, yearning to create a legacy of his own. His alone time. His spiritual growth. Notwithstanding all this, all that matters is that he has to be married at a certain age. And she has to be married as well by a certain age that often comes a few years before. The dreams can wait, goals can and aspirations…stop joking..are certainly not as important as creating a family at the right time.

Most elders operate with the sole purpose of getting an individual deeper and deeper into the institution of family, drifting him further and further away from himself. Not every flower needs to get into a bouquet, some can look beautiful by themselves. An individual’s privacy has to be respected. His personal space has to be acknowledged after a certain age. And more importantly his values have to be let the place to fashion themselves into something independent, not necessarily agreeable.

 

 

The art of wedding crashing

India wastes up to Rs 58000 crore of agriculture produce, that accounts for almost 40% of the total produce screams a statistic. And the remaining unwasted 60%, comes with sweet inflation attached to only get wasted in fat Indian weddings. In most weddings after the guests have left and the last member of the catering crew has grown thicker in the waist, there’s still food left. Not left over, but perfectly good food, enough to feed a needy slum to slavery. Wait…wait…the tone’s changing with the prologue. Almost got carried away there. Well this piece by any stretch isn’t  about waste management, vigilante justice or any kind of gentlemanly intention. Sorry if you got that impression.This is in fact a first person account of my shenanigans and the guilty pleasures I’ve derived over the years at the expense of several clueless couples.

I’ve always believed that most of us have a dormant side- by ‘us’ I’m referring to the movie buffs -that gets instigated by some movies. Though I’ve always been pretty good with numbers, I’ve never got that part of me tickled after Good Will Hunting. But there’s been this cheapskate within, waiting to be unleashed. Wedding Crashers was the Aladdin that got him out. It was a movie that glamourised the entire shindig of crashing weddings-celebration, music, food and women. And it has been one hell of a ride ever since. A continuous learning experience of sorts. Sometimes I’ve learnt about rituals. Sometimes about cuisines. And sometimes even discovered new things about myself, like the fact that my appetite improves incrementally in the sitting position than the standing one.

In a convoluted way, it’s an act of altruism where  you do your bit to make someone look good. The common complaint at the end of most weddings- in this part of the world – is of the turnout not matching the invited ball park number. This is where, we the uninvited lot step in, to cover up for the invited. By beefing up the headcount and filling the hall, we make the host feel and the event look good. It’s quite easy to spot the tribe, especially in the dining area. While the legit ones would eat quietly, the crashers like empty vessels would make more noise.They would be conspicuous by the number of times they ask for a starter or a refill of a gravy. They would often be found occupying corner positions in a row and munching with the desperation of a famine hit refugee. Check their faces in the wash, it would be plastered with a post coital relief. For it’s just not about relishing good food, but also the relief of not being caught in the act.

Crashing is a gift that keeps giving and can be therapeutic in more ways than one. Some times when you just don’t want to be alone, it becomes the perfectly crowded excuse to get lost. During month ends, it serves as a multi cuisine alternative to save on dinner spend. And if you get a tad shallow, you get to sport those expensive jackets in your wardrobe that have hitherto been cultivating cobwebs. While it is a prerequisite to be well dressed, attention is to be paid to not turn up overdressed. Never go wearing a crown to an uninvited coronation.

There are times you can always improvise like how I once threw a birthday treat at a respectable wedding reception. Or another time when I took a date to a midnight wedding. It’s up to you to have something in hand for the sake of effect while making an entrance , like a gift wrapped empty carton or a fancy envelope. I’ve always adhered to the “empty handed” school of thought myself, while a friend likes to carry an envelope with a limerick scribbled on the back side of a random invoice. Since it boils down to one’s cheap thrill, subjectivity of the modus operandi has to be respected when with a co-crasher.

With time, like with most habits, we tend to develop  an unique signature of completion. While the most common one in wedding crashing is leaving with a return gift, mine’s a little different. My ritual comes to its closure with a picture with the couple. I go up the stage when it’s crowded, wish them quickly and leave after getting a picture. The sheer thought of the bewildered look on the couple’s faces guessing my identity- while going through the photos -alone is priceless.

I would like to think of this as a batman kind of alter ego if you will, that responds to the crime of lavish weddings. Misplaced reasoning apart, most of us in our childhood couldn’t have resisted the lure of a low hanging mango in the compound nearby. We would’ve flicked a pebble and fled with the stolen fruit. It’s not like we couldn’t afford to buy one. Just the pleasure of the stolen mango is something else. As adults, some of us continue to preserve this child in us. I’m just one among them.

To be or not to be

The movie was to begin in a few moments. I was ensconced in a seat by the wall corner, all by myself, relishing the comforts of the recliner with my boneless under. No wonder wall corners are the most bidded parts in a theatre once the reservation opens, for if you’re someone who’s looking for an experience beyond the movie, then they’re the designated parts for salacious crimes or narcissistic indulgences.I was there for the latter. A loner by choice, left to myself to pick, I would any day pick a night by myself over hanging out with a bunch of friends. My alone times are special for they let me peep into myself for a start. Another reason is I get to walk the entire length of an experience till its last inch – be it great food, movie or a long drive – without having another person to partake in its pleasure. I wanted to be alone this Saturday and decided to go for a movie. The movie was quite engaging and I was liking it even more from the from the vantage of the theatre’s balcony. There are few things that come close to the escapist peace the experience of watching a good movie from a good place in a good theatre-  while gobbling along some sinful butter popcorn -brings with it. I was paying obeisance to the god of small things as I left my seat during the intermission. So far so good.

This particular theatre is notorious for its overstretched intermissions in which it tries to cramp in as many advertisements as possible, to an extent that the jingles from the ad films go on to subconsciously register in that  part of the head hitherto inhabited by three tables and alphabets. As I was returning to my seat with more things to make my waist thicker, my eyes befell a seat behind me that was unoccupied. Maybe it was taken and its rightful owner was stuck in the beeline before the food counter. The movie had started. A song came few minutes into the second half, that was enough for me to check my phone and the seat behind to see if it was occupied. It wasn’t.

And just like that, my well assimilated peace tumbled in a restless rubble as I sat there discontent. There I was in one of the best seats in the house, with an amazing view, fingers greased from the butter on the popcorn. Yet the empty seat behind was teasing my imagination. I was in B row and if I had learnt anything from a lifetime of systematic conditioning to grading system, A was greater than B. My seat had lost its charm, for it was B grade after all, despite being behind twenty rows before me. Like an unfaithful man nitpicking on his wife’s cooking to validate his infidelity, I was starting to notice things about my seat that were not right- like how I had excess leg space and the hairy hands of the old man next to me were touching mine. By now, I was too distracted to watch the movie and started picking on it. I was having issues with the facial hair of the hero, couldn’t he buy a trimmer when he could go on to buy an Enfield, despite the entire village being under 5 km radius.

I was facing Hamlet’s conundrum albeit under different circumstances, “To be or not to be.”

I was positively itching to go. I knew I had to go past the seven gentlemen in my row, while almost smudging their faces with my bottom. God, these wall corner seats are such a pain in the ass! From love to hate, my love affair with wall corners had come a whole circle .
I was sugarcoating my shallow pursuit as an antidote to restore my equilibrium, that had gone down the drain long before. Lord of the rings started making sense to me more than ever. I exactly knew what was running in Gollum‘s head over the centuries of separation from “his precious” and why he did the things he did to get to it. Wait! Why was I empathising with Gollum?Hmmm… a new low by my fairly low standards.

I dropped anchor and decided to watch the movie from where I was. It was really hard not to succumb to the lure, but I chose the comforts of my home to the mistress’s.
Like the eclipse lifting off the moon, my evening’s peace was restored as rapidly as it was taken. I became invested in the movie again, despite having missed a good twenty minutes. The hero’s extensive facial hair felt like a favour, for he would’ve looked quite pathetic without it. The movie got over and I rose from my seat to leave.

There’s a certain charm that accompanies things that we don’t have. It’s not innate necessarily, its just the elusiveness the mind craves to conquer than the eluding object itself.

As I was making my way out I turned to look at the empty seat that had almost managed to possess my soul.  We exchanged cold glances at each other for one last time. No doubt I had had the better of the empty seat this bout, but only by a whisker. Yet another empty seat awaits in another circumstance to tantalise. Let’s see how that one goes.

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.