Vegetarian woes on a Sunday morning

 

Peeeeee Peeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww, I was honking my presence felt, with the thumb on the shrill vocal button of my sister’s Activa— that was already kind enough to carry a person heavier than it — unempathetically navigating it on a particularly slushy stretch at northwards of 60kmph. Early morning winds blowing against one’s face, while uncombing his hair is only as pleasurable as one’s mind lets it be, which at times turns way too turn cynical to acknowledge anything other than deep slumber behind closed doors as being beautiful. At that moment I was hoping I had learnt to drive a car, my mind wasn’t exactly taking to nature’s expressions of sunshine and zephyrs with open arms.

It was five shy of six in the morning at the Anna Salai stretch. I was riding home from a sleepover at a friend’s. The roads are usually modestly occupied at this time, but it was a Sunday morning. Or the aftermath of a Saturday night to put things into context. Most people taking the road at this time aren’t going as much as returning home. And there were those commercial trucks plying to and from markets, to accommodate the spike in consumption that was typically anticipated from the day.

I was at midway point, a few hundred metres before Gemini flyover, when I saw this bike before me. It had a pillion space, wider than an average bike, covered with a green coir sheet that was wrapped over what appeared to be a sizable heap.
Sometimes the most affecting incidents in life unfurl in a languorous manner, like toothpaste emerging out of a squeezed tube. No dramatic contraptions, just impact enough to pierce the most naked part of the soul.

A leftward bound gust of strong wind, lifted the coir sheet along with the normalcy of the morning. Lying below the sheet were pale mammal carcasses— goats most likely —one above the other. Aghast with a lump in the throat, I had to pull over to avoid getting any closer to the bike. It’s not like I was seeing meat for the first time. I’ve been around meat eating people, without making faces about erstwhile living being floating in their gravy boats.

Just that I’ve  always been this frail-hearted person without an appetite for seeing, say mangled animal carcasses on a busy highway, run over by vehicles . Or a suspended headless corpse hanging on the entrance of a shawarma parlour. I tend to cringe, reimagining the pain the creature would’ve gone through under the tyres of a speeding heavy vehicle or a swinging butcher’s knife. It could’ve probably been easier I were a vegetarian alone, but I was a hopeless animal lover.

Over the years I’ve learnt to come to terms with the world around me, in which meat eating people comfortably outnumber the non-meat eaters. I’m no stranger to the killing and their place in a parallel food chain—  that lets cruelty and cooking coexist — I’m not a part of. Just that the sight of the absolute insensitivity with which it is carried about is deeply unsettling. Like the guy on the bike before, who was carrying them like a batch of gunny bags with absolute disdain. The dispassionate conditioning of his mind to see them as mere raw materials was a painful sight to witness.

I started several seconds after the morgue bike had disappeared over the flyover. I was trying to undo what I saw by focusing on things a tad more pleasant like the sight of crisp vadas blooming on a frying pan of a tea shop, a neurotic dog cleansing itself with it’s eager tongue and an elderly couple jogging together on the pavement. And just when the mood was starting to lighten up like that, a truck overtook me from the signal.

It was carrying cages— arranged in columns —with hundreds of hapless hens, suffocating against each other from within. Here was a colony of birds, most of them aware about their impending end. Some were screaming resiliently, some were protesting at the cage doors, while some were still, having given up already. If they thought the commute to the butcher’s was the painful part, they had no clue of what was coming their way. The eyes with which they saw their first sights after hatching out, would be plucked out as waste. The beaks with which they made conversation and consumption, would be no different. As if this wasn’t gruesome enough there were a few dead ones scattered across the floor, like rotten vegetables, next to the feet of the men overseeing the shindig.

History unforgivingly remembers the ones who oversaw the holocaust of thousands of their kind to upkeep the whim of their patriotism, ethnicity and creed. Yet the violence perpetrated to usher every Sunday, that too in a city alone is enough to pale every significant genocide to insignificance as a blob in history. “Livestock” to me is the worst euphemism that there is.The churn in the belly left a bigger ripple this time as the lorry went past. At the back of my mind I felt a guilt colored helplessness about not being able to do anything about all this, than just feel bad  But I was glad that home was only a minute away. Wish I could tell the same about humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patience and guys serving ice cream

 

From the time I’d learnt to understand temperature from places other than my under-chin, I’ve known Chennai to be this hot place, humidly so. On an afternoon, all one would just need is water,vessel and some suspension of shame to prepare Maggi on a terrace. I don’t actually need a widget on the phone or a news flash to know that I live in a city where the sun’s love fluctuates between 42 to 45 degrees. I just need to observe as to how long it takes for the beads of precipitation to form around my neck to go on and smoothen my shirt’s creases, moments after I step out. So not much of a surprise that Chennai has always been this hotbed for all forms of ice-cream activities.

So I was outside Cream Stone, one of the better places carrying out such activities. I had initially found their ice creams to lack that character. The character that elevated some ice creams from a flavour to a favour. But like in a mature relationship with an average looking person were one slowly starts noticing the other good stuff, with time their cold stone preparations started growing on me as an acquired taste. I felt like a composer inspiring an orchestra with his stick’s wield; each time I told them to add more nuts, mash up a chocolate or leave the ice cream stiff from the other side of the counter.

It was a calm Wednesday night, well past eleven. Not the time of the day you expect to stand behind a multitude of men out to get their dessert fix for the week. But there I was, one among two dozen patrons, most of whom— I’m sure —didn’t go out to vote in the last election to avoid crowds. Probably getting an ice cream is far more rewarding than a chief minister.

So after elbowing past a few hapless gentlemen, I managed to make eye contact with my friend behind the counter.
French vanilla and dark chocolate, right?“, he yells to be heard over the raucous.
As always.“, I smile back.

In the next few seconds, roasted almonds and cashews get thrown into the cold pyre of ice cream without their consent, before a Ferrero rocher can further contribute to the collective identity crisis. And like that my favourite dish is prepared the way I like it on a priority basis without even having to intervene once. I smile again at my friend and he waves back as I walk out with my sin on a waffle.

Coming to think, things weren’t this Jarvis and Stark like between us some time back. In fact on my first visit, I was this standard template asshole who expected to be treated like royalty for stepping into a new franchise and he was this new guy from another part of the country, learning his job and the shenanigans of a new demography on the go. So what happened next was what usually happens, when high handed consumerism comes face to face with lackluster soft skills of cheap labour- Shopfloor friction. I lectured his manager about how to run a shop. Threw a tantrum. Created a scene that almost would’ve prompted a demigod to intervene as a civilian, only to walk away with a half paid bill.
A few hours later, I felt embarrassed by my performance earlier, especially the soliloquy on “customer is God”. I especially felt bad for cornering the poor guy who had served me.

He’s my first or on a really unethical meal day my second ice cream maker in a week. But I’m like his 100th bickering customer since morning, who’s been waving an invoice copy at his face with entitlement. Think about your favourite ice cream flavours. Now think about them surrounding your work station. You can do a lot of things with them: scoop them, whip them up, refill them, adorn them, take in their flavor, conduct an inter-flavour marriage and ogle even; but not have them. How thankless should a life be where all you do is deal in myriad flavours of ice creams with exotic toppings for a day job, only to give the resultant work of art to a person who’s riding the high wave of capitalism. And still we go about wondering how the crime rate keeps going up.

I could’ve handled it so much more better.

The next time I went there, few months later, I was conscious. I didn’t want an encore. I went up to the same guy who I had picked on last time. Don’t know if it was the number of people he had attended to in the past few months or the fact that the composition of my facial hair had changed since then; but he somehow couldn’t place me as the charlatan from last time.

I started the transaction with a sheepish wide smile. He smiled back. Then I audited the flavours and made started making some small talk.

“Where are you from?”
“Guntoor sir”
“I thought you were from the north, given your Hindi.” 
“I was in Hyderabad for a few years. That’s where I picked it.”
“So have you seen Bahubali?”

A movie buff, I’ve often felt the way to a man’s heart is through inquiry about movies in the language he speaks.

“8 times already. Will watch again.”, his face lit up like Anupam Kher on a Newshour debate.
“I can totally relate to it.”

And like that we became acquainted over Telugu movies and Hyderabad landmarks. This was so much out of character, initiating conversation and all. But I was glad I did that. And it felt nice talking to him.

That tête-à-tête not only made my portion bigger that day, it went on to establish a bond between us. Be it tossing in a few nuts, suggesting a new flavour to try, giving preference during peak time; he started doing these little things to make my visit special ever since. And I continued to ask him about things other than the ice creams, like his shift timings, his girlfriend or the last movie he had watched.

All I had to do was just step a little, a tiny weenie beyond the line of “just-business” from where I could wipe the designation to see the person behind . From there I could see an anxious sweet guy who had left behind his friends and family, in the hope of a better life here. Not just another ice cream-sculpting- pixie who was supposed to attend to my cravings within a reasonable window. This shift in perspective definitely didn’t make me a bigger person, won’t flatter myself about that. If anything, a lesser asshole than I was. A better version of myself. The one I should’ve been since much before.

Patience and parents

Ask for Luxe cinemas on the second floor. I’m standing right next to it
I was giving directions to my dad, who was at the basement car park. I had reached the mall before him. We had come to shop clothes for the two of us, for my sister’s wedding. A loner, I’ve always liked to do most of the stuff alone including shopping. But this time dad insisted on both of us going together, as he trusted my taste and wanted me to assist him look sharp on the D-day. And I couldn’t say no.

Fifteen minutes had gone past and he was nowhere in my viewing perimeter. I had by then already checked out of two shops- hiding a few good shirts in not so noticeable parts of the racks to come back, making mental notes of the price range and condescending a few patrons who came out of the trial room for the want of a quick sport.

My instructions were quite water tight to be there under five minutes. Yet fifteen minutes later, he’s neither at Luxe or the second floor.What’s he up to? Has he turned dyslexic or what?

I was starting to get worked up. I called him again.

“Where are you pa?! I’m getting late to work.”
“I’m on the second floor.”
“Finally. Tell me the name of the shop next to you. I’ll come there.”
“Louis Philippe.”
“I’m coming.”

I walked in long strides towards the Louis Philippe showroom at the other end of the second floor, 150 calories away from where I was. En-route I was cursing the health of the next generation of every individual who was blocking my way, in pursuit of a selfie or stood there making unhurried small talk in the narrow corridor I was trying to weave a way through.
A few moments later, I could see dad appear on my viewing perimeter. Closer I got to him something strange started happening.I was starting to get engulfed in an endless supply of guilt. He was on the bridge connecting the two corridors. He appeared dazed by the hustle and bustle around him, if I were to go by the look on his face that resembled that of a child lost in a festival. Probably all of this was a making of my head and he was quite sorted. But somehow I felt disturbed. The sight of my father standing alone as people kept emerging from all directions around him, made me realize how vulnerable he had become in the world I was an adult. All the angry words I had told him over the years, came screaming back. For all my entitlement and claims of self awareness there I was as one of the worst people I knew.

Sorry raja. I didn’t hear you properly. There’s a theater there. Did you ask me to come  there?” ,sheepishly he asked pointing in the direction from where I had just come.

What do you think Luxe is pa?”, I smiled, embarrassed and guilty at once. “Let’s go, get you some clothes.”

He hadn’t heard me properly. What would he have done I wasn’t here. He neither seems to know the place or fashion. I should hang out with him more. He needs me more than he likes to admit. Fuck my “I’m a loner” rhetoric. And god, I need to be more patient with him.

Every time I’m on the cusp of an outburst with my dad, I hope god or sanity has the better of me. Each time I use a cuss word- that would sound ugly in a roadside brawl even, at him -the guilt sinks in from the very next second. But by then I’m already on a free fall, mind and mouth incongruent to each other.
Whatever the reason be, he’s lived my life’s duration twice and a couple of years more. Unlike me, he’s unconditionally loved me always. His heart is now a soft place, softened by the fatigue of a myriad experiences and his proximity to a second childhood. While mine’s still a hard place, hardened by overbearing confidence and distant memory of a first childhood. It’s my turn to be the bigger man.

When I can be patient in a traffic signal under the afternoon sun; patient with an eternally unreasonable boss at workplace and summon patience in a painfully boring movie just for an actor I like; I can bloody well afford to be patience with this man.
This man who was patient till I uttered my first words. Who patiently ran along side with me, till I started to riding my bicycle without his support. And patiently supported me till I could take care of myself.

I can never give him back enough. But I can definitely be patient with him and gracefully so.

 

 

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.

Together & Apart

 

Born in the dichotomy of inhaling and exhaling is life. For how would intake of oxygen seem relevant, without the punctuated venting of carbon dioxide. A bonding is as special as the tenure of separation that preceded it.

Our times seems to be characterized by the epidemic of overdone togetherness. where we see a couple invade righteously into each other’s personal space in the name of love. Ironically, love stories of the yore that happened over correspondence with civil wars at the back drop,seemed to have endured the test of changing times more resiliently in comparison to today’s Whatsapp relations,set in a world with a rapidly shrinking radius,

That was an era when platonic was revered fervently, a time where the lover’s picture in the wallet was solace enough unlike our Instagram times.There is something magical about separation in a relation. It makes you miss the aura of your partner, long for their body’s warmth, vicariously live those cherished moments in the mind while realizing the way they completed you.

While the time together might tempt you to take your partner for granted, the time away would more often than not make you realize their value. Togetherness might breed complacency, while solitude would lend respect to a relation.

Move a foot away from a tree, you would see the tree better. Move a few more feet,you may see the garden it is a part of and move a few more feet, you would see the entire house it belongs to.

The figurative distance from your partner lends objectivity to your relationship. You tend to appreciate facets in them, which you might not have been able to with the forced proximity. We are what we dream of, what we aspire and what we stand for. One’s individuality is his signature.A relationship is nutrition for his soul, for it inspires him to look up to another day with purpose.

A relationship born on the death of one’s individuality can be likened to the predicament of a person so overwhelmed by his vehicle to embark on a journey with it.

With most people around submitting to romance or marriage, timing difference apart, we are going to be no exceptions to the eventuality. So neither would we be the first or the last to be in a relation with a person we love. The lure to over-sanctify the institution of marriage or romance from being a designation in the visiting card, to our visiting place itself would naturally inundate us. Just remember when you’re together, it’s love for each other. When apart, that’s love as well, for yourself. It’s always the case of self love activating love beyond self and not the other way around.

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.