They were still holding hands

On M.G. Road last week – between the long stretch of utility building and barton centre, I was hurrying to get to a dinner I was already 2 hours late for. When I eventually got there, my bag felt heavier – buckling under the weight of my carelessness and what my mother irritatedly calls ‘taking life like a joke’. It was too late to even walk in casually because this was a fancy restaurant – one that can get away with having extremely small tables cramped together in an even smaller terrace. Tall and short glasses were clinking daintily so my bag and I quietly bolted.

Walking back to my bike woefully, angrily, I saw a boy and a girl holding hands and walking towards me. The girl was wearing a purple sweater – the kind of purple that makes walking on MG road on cold nights seem like it is New York. She stopped next to a two-wheeler and took a peek at the small mirror on the bike’s handle. The boy was holding a Magnolia Bakery cover and looking straight ahead, not looking like he was even a little interrupted by her detour. They were still holding hands.

When she came up for air, she demanded to know why he hadn’t bothered to tell her that her hair was all over the place and that she looked like a monkey walking on M.G. fucking Road. He only said no baby, and they walked on.

They were still holding hands.

No scene from any film has had this much mood-lifting spirit.

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On good hair days, there are springs in bum also

I want to remember today because I am grateful for it and want to be just as grateful when it ends at 11:59 PM. I woke up at 5:45 in the morning and knew I had slept well because I hadn’t heard the cats crying at 3 am, like I had heard them the night before. I snuggled back into my bed after giving a good shite. I dreamt restlessly and woke up an hour later, having missed the first show of sunlight in my room.

At 7, I went down to clean the kitchen. An hour later, father was getting ready to leave for the railway station. I was afraid. I am afraid when they leave home. They are now in the age where I must feel afraid. But then it’s also that I am in the age where I must feel afraid.

Mother wants sachets of Equal sugar free which are on the top shelf. I haul the green stool and stand on top of it. My father is in the kitchen, telling us that years ago, before leaving for a Delhi trip every other month, he’d give 2000 Rs to the office staff and now, post retirement, he barely has any for himself. He is laughing but his eyes are singing the song of how times have changed. I feel a parental urge to hug him and tell him that whatever he wants in the world is his.

We have never hugged.

I go back to my room carrying a wound which I am worried will become smaller through the day, In fact by 1 pm, it’d have become so small that I might not have any recollection of the morning, and the railway station and the 2000 Rs, and all that would remain is only the faint memory of thinking it would be nice to message father and ask if he’s reached.

I come to my table at work and feel arrested by the sudden sunlight the day has found at 9:30. I attended a zoom meeting calmly while putting on pinkish purple nail polish. I have an hour to prep for my horror fiction class. Read Cortazar and want to keep reading him. I think of my long ago love for Keret and feel renewed.

Read another story by Cortazar where a girl vomits rabbits. Felt surprised and then happy that I still have it in me to feel surprised.

Then I see my hair on top in the dept bathroom mirror and love how it is standing? sitting? being? — am taken over by the sense and the truth and the fact that I will never be as young or old as I am today. Feel a great urge to appreciate today.

My only black pair of jeans goes well with the olive green canvas shoes which goes well with my loose white shirt. Feel richly alive and there is spring in my bum when I totter off to class.

In class, I don’t have a sense of how time runs. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the rules of time don’t matter when a good class happens. I leave class feeling new and more alive than I was when I’d entered.

I want to spend all day reading Cortazar.

At 1:30, I messaged father to ask him if he’d reached. He said he will reach in 20 mins.

Zigzag

Al, Deepika Padukone in Gehraiyaan repeatedly wondering, dreading, living her mother’s fear of being stuck. It echoes in the smallest of frames – taking trash down and putting it near the gate of her apartment building – standing there and examining her life from afar, from her eyes, possibly even her mother’s – wondering – is this the beginning of what stuck feels like?

Same place, many scenes later – running home, having survived, watching a man she loves change into a monster, then losing him to his own accidental death, discovering that he had wanted to murder her – all in a span of one night. Then standing under the shower, losing the last few traces of this man, weeping, knowing – this is what stuck feels like.

Even more poignantly, a little earlier when she discovers that her fiancé is more gutless than she always suspected him to be – the different ways in which people make it possible to become infidel is visible. He launches a string of attacks on her incompetence (since she is an ordinary yoga instructor and “writing is real work – it’s not like saying breathe in breathe out in front of four south Bombay aunties”) – Al remembers her mother in bed with her, weeping to herself saying “I am so stuck beta”

****

I was valuing General English papers last week, always fun, always making me return to the truth about why I teach. One answer made me cry, the next made me giggle and fall about.

To a question about whether the student had ever purchased something they didn’t need, someone wrote about going for a walk in the early days of the pandemic and passing by a small grocery store, visibly going out of business. The owner – an old man with sad eyes was sitting outside and smiling. The student went in to buy half a litre of milk that he didn’t need. After that, every time, the student passed by the store, he bought something or the other. A small, unspoken friendship built itself between them, and then after the pandemic, the student returned to his life, and the owner to his. Now, he says, when he passes by the store occasionally, the man remembers him and smiles. They wave at each other.

To a question about what gift they would like to give a classmate, the same student wrote about his friend’s useless mouse and how much he wants to throw it out and scream. He would like to gift him a new mouse, he says, because his friend’s old mouse is dabba and doesn’t work. If he won’t accept it, he’ll probably give him a classic Indian gift, i.e, a mug. I don’t know why this was funny. Probably because I was curious to understand how a question prompted a teenaged boy to think about his friend’s dabba computer mouse.

I thought back to all the allegations the most intelligent people from the sciences and commerce make about our questions papers. “No sense, anybody can answer your question papers, what is the point, just trying to be cool and stylish to impress students, chumma making it complicated for no reason” — I replayed each of these in my mind when I was reading this student’s answers. I was smiling, like some of my colleagues do when they correct papers. How many science/commerce teachers can afford to smile or laugh like this while reading an answer paper?

I’d like to know.

*****

One morning, walking around the park listening to David foster Wallace’s short story, Good People – I listened to the line It felt like a muscle he did not have with my eyes open, then closed, then opened quickly again. The boy David Wallace writes about in this story does not have the courage to tell the girl he’s made pregnant that he does not love her. I played with the word muscle in my head for a while. Didion mentions something about moral nerve in Self respect: its source its power. I walked faster.

*****

I was watching Freddy with my nephew one evening. I watched Freddy Ginwala when he was kicked and beaten around by his lover’s boyfriend. Lover and her boyfriend both trick him into killing her abusive husband. When Freddy finds out, he sits in the restaurant now owned by the woman and orders a falooda. It is brought to him and he calmly watches the woman and her boyfriend and drinks his falooda. They begin making out in front of him, hoping it will make him go away. It doesn’t. The waiter takes away the empty glass and Freddy says, “repeat” – woman and boyfriend are now irritated. They stop making out. Freddy cannot stop watching them. The waiter brings the falooda and the boyfriend grabs it, spits in it and bangs it on the table. Freddy drinks it, finishes it and calmly says – again – repeat.

My nephew and I burst out laughing.

My nephew’s pizza comes, he finishes eating it and asks me if the sachet packets need to be thrown away along with the empty box. I tell him to keep the sachets aside. What about the bill, he asks me. I say throw the bill away. Ayyo, why, he asks. What to do with it, I ask back. Okay, he tells me, then changes his mind and keeps the bill with the sachets. Why? Bill is paapa no? he tells me. I say okay must be.

We continue watching Freddy.

*****

Mumbai police called Freddy’s lover’s gym-going boyfriend “protein shake” and I couldn’t stop laughing.

*****

Smol mercies

I’ve been waking up early everyday these last couple of weeks to catch the boy who mistakenly puts Rajasthani Patrika outside our home. It’s supposed to be for the family with a baby on the first floor. The family was informed but the paper didn’t stop coming here.

I don’t know why it bothered me. Probably because it made me feel powerless that the newspaper kept piling up outside our door, getting wet in the rain, becoming my job to discard it. I began clocking his time. It was definitely sometime before 7 am but after 6:30 am. Even after figuring out this 30 min interval, I was still not able to catch him.

I was watering the terrace early one morning and missed the boy by a few seconds (went running after him and all) – he had already left by then and I could only see the top of his head exiting the gate. After that, the sight of the newspaper lying like newly made chapati on the floor everyday made me grit my teeth. It reminded me of Ram Gopal Verma’s Apples in Darna Mana Hai – very cute, very innocent and paapa minding its own business and all; but its villainy was ultimately only known to those who didn’t eat it.

I was in the bathroom once when I heard the lift coming up. It was 6:40 am. I raced out in a hurry only to have missed him again. It was surreal. I thought of giving up. I might have been enjoying the slow thrill of waking up early to catch the boy every morning in one sado way. Even so – I was beginning to think – so what if it’s coming here? If the people downstairs care one day, they’ll come up and pick it up or inform the boy. What goes of my father?

Yesterday, I was araam se doing my business in the bathroom. It was 6:30. On instinct I thought to myself, why am I sitting in the bathroom for so long, especially when it makes hemorrhoids worse? I got up and decided I’ll sit and drink water outside the lift. As it had to happen, the moment I stood in front of the lift, it began coming up. I was excited. Was it really him? Was I finally going to see the boi? Was I going to scream or do passive-aggression? What if he’s young and cries? What if he’s young and throws attitude? I waited calmly to see if the lift would stop on the first or second floor. It didn’t. It had to be him.

When the door opened, I saw a young boy ready to throw a newspaper. I smiled. No idea where smile came from. He smiled back. I asked him if what he was holding was the Rajasthan Patrika, he said yes. I said not here – first floor. He looked surprised and said ok. I said thank you. He said no problem, you are welcome. Then we smiled and he went away.

I felt immediately productive after that and thought all is well in the world again. Then I felt a pinch. Why hadn’t it occurred to me to bring the bloody newspaper inside and read it at least once? Just to get a taste of someone’s life, someone’s state, someone’s language? What kind of a fuckall writer misses an opportunity to learn something new like this? I’ll tell you what kind – a fuckall one.

I had to do something with all the uselessness no? So I came here to write this while my other two deadlines are waiting with their hands crossed, one foot urgently tapping.

Mulled wine in Ooru’s December

I did many grown up things this weekend. But I didn’t recognise them when I was doing them. First of all, I should prep more for my events. Second of all, although I love my yellow jacket, I need a new look. Third of all, I should drink more.

After the talk on Saturday, I dragged my friend around half of Indiranagar looking for Mulled wine. Sanchez bloody has mulled wine on the menu, not in real life. But ate nice shrimp dumplings and enchiladas. Then we went to cafe max which made me want to go there more. The mulled wine was in a mug and I drank two before tottering off home in the rain.

At work, I convinced two people to try the mulled wine at Koshy’s. Their faces were fun to watch, just like last year’s faces. It’s an irony to drink mulled wine and feel grown up when I am aaram se ignoring all the work I’ve been given free time to do.

Mulled wine is here to stay comrades, drink it before gross summer comes.

Animals ko dekho – Part two

After that year, not many animals came because we only became animals but that is another story. So I will tell you the next significant animal story which is the rat story that happened last month. So basically ever since this semester began, we have all been wondering why we are like this. Morning to evening everything is bish fish bish. In the skin of the evening, some relief begins to come in the form of chai and aloo bondas. Life was going on like this only. If one evening, we are swallowed by old videos, another evening by a new ajji who makes best vades.

Then came the rat.

Sometime in the beginning of October, Mini Ma’am said that a rat is eating all her food. Arul sah saw one big box behind her table and said there are rats. Etienne sir said that he hears them chewing things all day.

Then one day, there was proof. Someone gave Mini Ma’am 2 big bars of Amul chocolate. Next morning, one of them had been taken tabiyat se. Byavarsi rat had eaten the whole bar leaving only the cover for ma’am. The other bar had bite marks but looked like by the time it finished the first bar, the bootha of marx might have told the rat to saak maadu. It had no energy left to eat the second one so it gave up. Like this only, one one day, one one thing it was eating and going.

We wondered if the rat was coming in through the bathroom window so we began locking it up. Then for a few days, we forgot about the door and rat. 

One evening after polishing off whatever food and chai was there, Sah, Pranava, and I were sitting and wondering why Pranava couldn’t stop talking about Shweta Philip’s periods. At some point, Sah’s ears got signal that rat is chewing something in the big box so Pranava began to remove the books from the top of the box. Little by little, Mini Ma’am’s world was becoming smaller because rat had chewed through her badminton shoes, books, cards, and a packet of dates also.

Every time sah said it’s here it’s here, Pranava jumped one inch up in the air and came back. Every time Pranava removed one more thing from the box, he jumped two inches in the air and came back. Every time Pranava made noise, he got scared because of his own noise, jumped three inches in the air and came back. Like this he was doing and sah was just sitting and laughing and I was bravely standing by the box.

Sah was saying byavarsi rat would have drilled two holes in the box – one to enter and one to escape. So by the time we got to the box, it would’ve probably escaped and is now probably sitting somewhere and watching all of us. The minute he said this, Pranava’s heart began doing dab dab and little bit I also got scared because the image of a rat watching us go mad while we looked for it made it somewhat hitchcocky and bitchcocky also.

Pranava continued digging and after a long minute, he suddenly turned to sah and cried, “Why you had to say that sah? Now I can’t stop thinking about that rat watching us” – sah said “You worry about the rat’s feelings for you later.” Just after he said this, Pranava jumped fourteen inches up in the air because he sensed the rat scuttling between some books. I was bravely standing only but for safety reasons I stood on top of a chair. First of all, I was worried that Pranava was having a fit, second of all I was wearing an ankle-length dress so if the rat climbed up, I would be hacked to death by Pranava while sah would sit dreamily in the background stroking his beard saying hmmmm.

Pranava got tired of jumping so many times so we dragged the box towards the entrance. But because the box was almost empty, and we were so close to the mission, Pranava’s heart was doing full dub dub and I was bravely standing, so sah kept digging. We discovered more books, edges and all chewed properly by the rat. 

My copy of Ralph Waldo Ellison was found and just when I was giggling at the irony of looking for an eli and finding Eli’s son instead, Pranava screamed aieeeeeeee, launched himself outside the department, and ran around squealing it’s here it’s here. Apparently the rat had taken one look at him and gone back in.

Sah began digging aggressively, the rat jumped out and launched itself like pranava had only seconds ago. But because of Pranava’s incessant screaming, we couldn’t tell if it went inside the department or outside on the corridor. To be on the safer side, we dragged the box out. Sah hissed at Pranava to bring something to hit the rat with. He ran inside and I closed the door in case the rat wanted to follow its brother. 

Sah doubled down laughing maniacally when Pranava started screaming from inside saying don’t lock me in with the rat and started banging the door. Boy loses his shit before shit loses him. Sah opened the door and laughed in his face and then laughed more when he saw what Pranava had found to beat the rat – 2 copper water bottles. Sah took the plastic sword students had made for Upstage and said go man this is better.

In this manner, one mental boy with 2 bottles, one mad man with a sword, and one elegant, graceful, and brave lady carrying herself with profound dignity ran around the corridor chasing after the rat which, as we discovered had leapt behind the dustbin. From there, it scurried towards the labs where it disappeared behind the cupboard. Pranava ran to see if it had escaped from the window.

We were prepared to give up at this point but then he started laughing. Pranava, not the rat. Apparently the rat had heaved itself onto the skirting of the wall and was now standing there, one leg on each side of the wall, one paw on each side of the wall – like that lady from Tom & Jerry who climbs random things when she sees Jerry (this irony fest is a marvel film, I say)

At this point Sah hissed at Pranava to go bring the stick next to my table to thwack it on the rat. Sah was giving fotherly smile to byavarsi rat. Stick came, pranava fought bravely against the darkness, rat showed its bum and escaped towards the dustbin. Sah ran like Milkha Singh, somewhat dignified only but like jogging on a treadmill so it looked like he was standing in the same place running.

Pranava saw sah running and went dancing behind him like coyote from that road runner show. His chappals were getting in the way so he threw them and ran. He caught up with the rat and landed one tappak then threw the stick in one corner, screamed like tweety and ran away.

Sah took the stick and landed many tappaks. Rat there only spottu. In the middle of all this, tweety pranava suddenly turns up from nowhere and tries to cover my eyes saying madam I am here to protect you. Many bad words came to mouth but because I am a dignified, graceful, elegant, and brave lady – I kept them to myself.

Then Calvin came and we told him everything that had happened. Running after the byavarsi rat, killing it, and achieving all of this with tweety screaming every now then had made us hungry so we discarded the rat some 3 kms away and went to Khazana to belt biryani, veal kebabs, and phal.

Three people will tell you three versions of the story but please remember gentle reader that the most sincere, honest, truthful, and accurate account is the one you read here from Lady Whistledown herself.

On some winter evenings, I wonder what it would be like to see an audio-less CCTV footage of this whole thing.

Bhayankara.

Animals ko dekho – Part one

First of all, animals are not new to the department. Second of all, one afternoon in 2014, during one of those nice June days when college had just reopened, I was paapa sitting at my table and minding my own business. There was a GE meeting going on in the little corner that was CA, ER, MMB, and AM’s tables. Everybody except one other colleague and I, was in the meeting. 

I was paapa listening to Amelie and typing so I couldn’t hear what was happening but then I saw a hand waving in the distance. It was waving at me and kept moving rapidly and then it waved at several other things. That hand was my colleague’s hand and I removed my earphones to ask her why she was handing me. She pointed to 2 squirrels – one on my shoulder, the other on my lap. I didn’t know where to look first but I screamed and those creatures whisked themselves away before I could show them how violated they made me feel. It was humiliating because first of all squirrels are scared of everything in life, second of all despite this fear, they treated me like furniture and decided to climb on top of me. No maryadhe only.

When the colleague and I jumped up and down screaming squirrel squirrel, the meeting was interrupted but no one looked interrupted. Arul sah snorted and Cheriyan sir brushed his hand casually, didn’t even uncross his legs and declared, “squirrels don’t do anything.” Then like that only, he went back to discuss PSA General English. Colleague and I grimly walked out and began jumping up and down in the corridor.

****

Then many weeks later, one monkey came. In life there are many monkeys but the monkey that came was a real monkey – it was big and its tail was oranger than the rest of its body. First of all it walked into the department aaram se as if it was coming to get feedback for writing. Second of all, it stood and growled at all of us. Mini Ma’am said “Arool Arool, there is a monkey here Arool”. Arool Sah started giggling as if the monkey was proposing to him. Etienne sir looked puzzled and came to investigate. Then he put both his hands in both his pockets, leaned against the bookshelf and looked at it. I have seen him do this when he is getting ready to talk about postcolonialism. Cheriyan sir, legs crossed, declared, “monkeys don’t do anything” and went back to drinking tea. 

I clutched my heart and went to class. When I came back, I saw that a line of colleagues was standing a little away from my table, smiling at it as if Shah Rukh Khan was sitting there. I looked and it was the bastard monkey sitting on my chair, drinking my leftover tea from my tea mug. After everything in life, it also had the bloody gall to spit out my tea and walk away, as if it didn’t approve. Cheriyan sir told us that he once saw on Discovery Channel that monkeys are afraid of male aggression so Mini Ma’am, and him ran after the monkey, stomping their feet. Monkey walked aaram se to the fourth floor.

Arul sah was sitting at his table seeing all of this and enjoying like anything. When I went to him with my mouth open, he said “don’t feel bad vj, it’s probably because your tea didn’t have sugar”. I closed my mouth and went back to my table.

****

In the Staff Seminar Hall later that same year, there was a meeting happening. I was sitting in the last row because it is closest to the exit. The squirrel-colleague was sitting next to me and Cheriyan sir was sitting in the first row. We were discussing some HRD syllabus and right when someone said this is the only way to do it, a pigeon flew into the staff seminar hall, startling me and my squirrel-colleague. It flew over our heads, bloody wings flapping near our ears. We screamed. The speaker said damn these pigeons and Cheriyan sir, without even turning back, without even uncrossing his legs, looked sideways and declared, “pigeons don’t do anything”

My heart was clutched once again.

****

Six years later, a couple of girls and I went to investigate the newly renovated department. The girls were excited to see the new department. I was seeing old wine in new bottle so I was in some different mood only. We were sitting in the Dean’s chambers and I wanted to demonstrate my full appreciation of the chambers. Nice vyoo was there outside Dean sir’s window also – sky and skyline, garden and clothesline and all.

See outside means one pigeon is hanging there. It was a dead pigeon hanging by a kite thread and oscillating to and fro in its life-like stillness. I said aa aa aa, and pointed at the window. Akanksha leapt across the aisle, ran away from all of us and started weeping for the dead pigeon. Naziti couldn’t stop laughing and called it Lalit from House of Secrets. I had just watched that documentary so although I could appreciate her mad wit and charming presence of mind, the pigeon looked more and more life-like the more we looked at it – freaking all of us out. Shireen made some dead baby type jokes, Chrisitini wanted to slap everybody. I said Karma and sent them all home.

Next morning, Dean sir is calling snakes, the manager to inform him of this most urgent matter. Snakes comes in, sees it, nods at all of us, says “100% suicide case”, and walks off like CID.

Exactly a year after that, I came here to tell you that all this happened.