Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May I help you?

Don’t take the title seriously. I have no intention of listening to your troubles, as I feel I have a tadpole in my brain trying to grow into a frog. Okay, it wasn’t meant to be that graphic, but I have, for the first time been a recipient of that thing called a ‘classic headache,’ as my boss enlightened me in his infinite wisdom.

My reading of the situation is slow death by information overdose. It’s not just this magnum opus day after day. It is a collective of magnum opuses from friends, family, and some randoms that I have to process at an alarming rate.

Let me make it simple. When the mother wants to talk to the brother, she talks to me. When the father wants to talk to the mother, he talks to me. When the brother wants to talk to the mother, he talks to me. When the sister wants to vent on space and other peeves, she talks to me.

Then there are half a dozen friends who have to update me on their love-life (existent or non-existent), career woes and other existential dilemmas. When a townie wants to hang out in Bandra, he calls me to check, “What are the new cool places?”
Then there are people who call me to find out where jute coasters are available or where does one get Auroville pottery in Bombay.

And you know what? After all that, it is a major effort to pick up the phone and talk to anyone. Sometimes, ‘not talking’ is the best conversation you can have, I told a friend when she complained that I was not in touch. But then I got a lecture on the merits of Vipassana and how I was finally ready for it.

Now I am plotting on how to make it known to people that I have switched off, but I don’t seem to have success there, as they ramble on anyway. I am constantly amazed at how people around me, sometimes total strangers, take me into confidence and tell me their stories with deleted scenes and extra features. Recently on a ride to town with a new acquaintance, I was narrated the graphic details of his love life and also that of his ex-girl friend. And all I asked him was, “Have you found a new apartment?”

My friends were a little hurt at my posting a sequence of “phone fatigue,” “who invented talking,” and “contents under pressure” on my gmail. One of them (the daily download) instantly posted a message saying, “Is sms and chatting okay?”

The funny thing is, the last time I looked in the mirror, I didn’t look particularly benevolent. Neither did do I have a samaritan aura. That is the sister’s department, not mine. She is the healer. But it was she who told me, “You are actually a good listener. It’s true you look distracted, but you also hear what is not told.”

Good listener? I have the attention span of a five year old.

And to top it all, there are the acquaintances who emerge out of hibernation one fine day to call and ask you, "Wassup?"

The next time someone does that, I am going to say, “My blood pressure”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Typecast

“Ah! So you are the type who writes about men,” said the guy with a glimmer in his eye, seated next to me at dinner a few weeks ago.

The problem with saying yes to a close friend’s impromptu bash is not knowing who will show up. And no one has really mastered the art of table seating, so like Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.

I ran a quick mental check of my last few columns in which, amongst other things, I wrote about my extended family, my cats, some crows, my mother, my father, my beau, my maid, my watchman and some... How did this get classified as “writing about men”?

May be that’s not what he meant, I thought. May be the subtext was “are you a feminist?”

Feminist I am not. I love it when men open doors, pay bills and act protective. I also have no inclination to burn my bra.

May be the tag is a hangover of my last job as being the practically lone female voice in a Men’s magazine. But even then, I got quizzical looks from people who asked me questions like, “Hmm..so you must be meeting a lot of hot guys?”
“Err..excuse me, didn’t you know that ours is an intellectual men’s magazine,” I would say.

They would roll their eyes in disbelief.

But this is not the first time I have got typecast, and like it or not, all of us wear tags all the time, some that we are not even aware of.

Then there is the “salad type” tag I get at work, simply because I make a big ceremony of chomping my salad. What they don’t see is that I chomp it before I eat my gargantuan meal. Because I never know when I am destined to eat the latter.

“So you are the arty type,” said people about my theatre stint, something I did so I could watch more and more plays, and escape the mania and frequent drudgery of my advertising job.

“The activist type,” said some, when I raised a hue and cry about a tree that was being chopped in broad daylight in full public view in front of my hostel.

Of my need to rescue strays and bring them home, many said, “she is the PETA type.”

Of my subliminal urge to conserve natural resources, and plug leaking taps, and “switching off fans when not required,” even when leaving even a local train, they said “So you are the environmental type..”

To most of my friends whose idea of exercising is the flicking of a remote or the opening and closing of lift doors, I am the ‘fitness freak' type.

To my yoga instructor, who is never quite happy with the grip of my knee cap or the extension between my hip and my ankle, I am “the media type—all noise, no power…”

To the spiritually inclined poetess friend who seems to be close to nirvana, I am the girl who can ‘do the real world’

To the super-stoic, best friend, I am so the Sex and the City type.

If you ask me, I am just the type who speaks her mind and makes no bones about it. Oops, that would make me a "don’t mess with me" type.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Glory, gory..

Until a few months ago, Manchester was just a drab, cold airport I was stuck at, having missed my return flight from Paris to London. Today, Manchester United (Man U, for the afflicted) is a looming presence in my life—usually something that competes for my time with my object of affection—and wins!

I guess it is one of those functional disorders of dating an alpha male (and enough has been written, some by me, about the lack of them in this universe).

Although, by his own classification, the beau is a simple guy with minimal obsessions —Kingfisher beer, XL t-shirts, mutton do pyaza, Final Fantasy II and Manchester United (not necessarily in that order), it isn’t really as simple as that.

I sense the first alarming signs when “watching a Man U match” is deftly planted as one of those ‘fun things’ you can do when you are together.

Ok, I can deal with 90 minutes of testosterone overdrive, I tell myself. I have no idea what I am walking into.

Next, weird things happen. I leave restaurants with my bladder full (on my own accord) just so that the significant other can catch a few more minutes of the game. I apologise for not carrying football listings in my paper. I scream, “Die Chelsea, die! ” or worse, “Glory, glory, Manchester United” at the TV with the passion of a soccer (sorry, football) fan. I find myself looking at sports pages to find out when the next match is, wondering when one could really have quality time with the beau. Turns out, they are always playing, even if they lose. I don’t get it. (He does try to explain the complicated logic of the whole thing—what was that again?)

I soon resign myself to the fact that Man U will always have to be factored into our lives, and any rendezvous (or lack thereof) would depend on whether or not Man U was playing that night.

I find myself in a strange place. I try to get us to watch Fever Pitch (superb adaptation of Nick Hornby’s classic) in the hope that Drew Barrymore would speak my mind to Jimmy Fallon, and the message would get across. But the americanisation of football (book) to baseball(movie) doesn’t quite work in my favour. And then the power goes off, and that’s a sign, I think..

So then, I go on this spree of knowing my enemy. A few days ago, I solitarily watch the whole game of AC Milan Vs Man U (he misses it, and is peeved at being suspended 30000 feet up above during the ‘biggest game of the season’). With much trepidation, I text him the score. I write, “We lost”.
We? I used the royal ‘we’ for Manchester United? Me, who has never subscribed to the collective pronoun? I need to see a shrink.

Anyway, I am ensconced in the glory (!) that since the “biggest match of the season” is over, life will be back to normal. Little do I know that every match is the “biggest match of the season.”

May be I’ll turn into one of those people who writes letters to agony aunts saying, “I lost my man to another man… make that eleven men..”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My family and other paparazzi

Surprise, surprise! At a recent wedding reception of my cousin, the discussion point was not my singledom or my ‘settling down’. It was my column!

Practically everyone worth his grey moustache or bald pate or diabetic eye or bypassed heart had something to say. And it was all very interesting, as none of them, except one, may be had anything to do with the print/publishing/journalism industry.
They were all readers! That magical, mystical species.

Aunty No. 1 said she knew who idli-face was.
Uncle No 1 accosted me in front of my dad, and said in his I-know-what-you've-been-upto voice, "Did you know she stole your cigarettes?”
Dad and I had the last laugh.
Aunty No 2 told me she never knew I was so traumatised by my hair. She also said she was happy I made women look good.
Uncle No 2 said he was proud that I gave maximum footage to my mother and not my father. I stared at him.. what paper was he reading exactly?
Uncle No 3 moaned that his vendor gave him HT minus Café (Marketing, are you listening?), so he still hasn’t read anything, but gets regular ‘updates’.
Uncle No 4 said DNA gave him a better deal.
Uncle No 5 said he likes the way I spice my articles up, and that he was very proud of me. Spice? Now wait a minute. Now what was that about? Didn’t he know that in the case of our family, truth is stranger than fiction.
Uncle No 6 wanted my visiting card.
Uncle No 7 dropped names of big daddies in HT and asked me if I knew them. I mumbled something about ‘I will, when I have the time’.
Prim and propah Aunty No 3told me her kids also tried smoking and quit. She was amused that an independent woman like me still gets vishukanni from my mother.
Uncle No 8 wondered if Café was going the Bombay Times way, because he saw Pooja Bedi in a bikini on the cover(!). He gave me a mini lecture on how HT should maintain its niche by not doing so.
Uncle No 9 felt that I had finally arrived, as I was working with none other than Khalid Mohamed, and reminded me how he had got me inducted into his film reviews. (Go KM, go!)
Uncle No10 felt that I should be writing my travelogues in the paper, we should be doing more sports features and less gossip.
Uncle No 11, a paper expert wanted to know more about our press and our gsm.
Uncle No 12 dropped some more names.

What baffled me was there was nothing from the ‘young ones.’ Obviously, no one is reading (knock, knock, marketing!). I began to wonder if ours was a geriatric paper.

But what intrigued me the most was that no one asked me who was the significant other I refer to.
May be I had drawn my boundaries of ‘space’ a little too tight. May be there's too much of the 'don't mess with me' hangover I seem to have left behind.
Ho hum!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Oh! To be a smoker……

I am in awe of smokers. I am intrigued by the natural choreography their bodies assume as they pull out their packs, wrench out a solitary cigarette, look purposefully for a lighter, put the ciggy to their mouths, light it with a flourish, and emit a heavenly sigh.
Before they choke you, that is.

What’s fascinating is that the entire sequence takes less than twenty seconds. And it happens with the same languid aesthetic time after time after time.

I tried to do the same thing one (sorry dad, I stole from your pack) and looked so gauche, it wasn’t funny. First of all, the cigarette came out crooked, then the lighter didn’t obey me at the first flick, so I went at it with a vengeance till the entire room smelt like a gas chamber. Then I choked and spluttered, and then felt as if a part of my interiors was sucked out by vacuum.

Gosh, this was really complicated. Beats me how most of my team at work, my friends, my dad and my significant other do it with so much élan.

It intrigues me how the mere act of smoking can transform a gauche body into something that has rhythm and purpose. Take TV soaps, or even plays for example— I always find it odd when eight people stand in a semi-circle and have a conversation. No, I don’t watch them— I only did once when a friend of mine was playing a blue-eyed villain who plots to kill everyone from his wife to his daughter to his daughter’s lover… and stares at a fish tank while plotting his next move, smoking, and blowing rings on to a green-eyed siren. It worked, as he had something to do with his hands.
Yes, I agree. A cigarette is a good prop.

There are other uses too—smoking makes you look engaged, even if you are doing nothing. It gives you an exit option from potential psychos in a random gathering, with a, “Hey, I am stepping out for a smoke.”

What does someone like me say? “ Hey, I have to go munch a carrot”. Not cool.

No wonder I thought my dad was the coolest guy on earth while was growing up, and the only cool uncle I had was the one who smoked (I got a kick going and buying ciggies for him when I was eight or ten, although my grandma thought it was most unladylike for me to do so, and most ungentlemanly for him to ask me..)
As for the rest of the gentry, they were all vibhuti-wearing, sandhyavandanam-chanting, curd-rice eating, sabarimala-going, non-smoking uncles, who ironically, are all ageing gracelessly.

Instead my dad wore tees and jeans, smoked, played bridge (and tried hard to teach us)…and challenged us to the spelling of exorbitant and itinerary. I mean how cool can it get?

Soon, my brother and I went into wheezing zones, and dad was relegated to non-cool status, but he still goes on smoking…although he now lurks in corridors while doing so.

Years later, when I was on a backpacking spree in the hills of Nepal, our mountain-boy guide took us to his ramshackle hut up above, and fed us on rice wine, dal-rice and some local nepalese cigarettes.. I had a reluctant second puff, and felt as weird as I did years ago. It just didn’t work for me.

I resigned myself to the fact that a cigarette doesn’t go with my look. Also I am happy in the knowledge that my lungs are not being coated with stuff that I don’t want, and besides, I like breathing… The challenge is how not to smoke and still look cool.

And oh, btw—cigarette smoking is injurious to health… before I get sued by someone.