If I were to tell you

We are on top of the Koules Fortress ( or  Castello a Mare, “Fort on the Sea” in Italian, says Wikipedia) in Crete. The place is surrounded by a high wall with large window like structures, the kind you see on castles? Some of these face the Aegean sea. The breeze from the sea is unbelievable, extremely strong, so strong it is not a breeze, it is wind. You don’t feel it because of the wall. But when you go to these windows, it pushes you so hard, so hard, you have to make an attempt to stand straight. Or even breathe. It is not easy. So I put my hands out and stand there. Zo stands next to me, her tiny body finding it even tougher to fight against the wind. We don’t fight. We stand. The Dude takes a picture from behind us. If I were to tell you about happiness, I would talk of this moment.

We are in this very shady room in a very shady hotel in this tiny place called Ramtek.  The room has bright pink walls. The tubelight is dim, almost flickering and is reminiscent of the old days where we had ‘power fluctuations’. The flush in the bathroom doesn’t function, and the bathroom doesn’t lock either. It is not nice. So we take out the Bacardi we have brought along (or Vodka? I think Bacardi). We order a couple of cokes (which come in the old glass bottles of yore), and something called ‘Lasun fry’ (fried garlic, we were curious), which turned out to be exactly that – garlic cloves fried and sprinkled with salt and chili. We eat, we drink, and we forget about the dingy hotel room and sleep comfortably till the next morning, when we continue our drive to Pench. Turns out I didn’t seem to think this was anything fascinating back then, but now, if I were to talk of all the fun times I have had, I wouldn’t forget to mention this.

We drive down to Goa, starting early and make it there post noon. We check-in, dump our stuff, change into shorts, and head to the shack on the beach. Zo has just turned 2 a month ago. I am here for my 31st. We settle down, order a couple of beers, a plate of prawns. Zo sits next to my chair and gets busy with the sand, thrilled beyond belief, because now that I think of it, it is her first visit to a sandy beach where she is allowed to play in sand. The afternoon is bright, but doesn’t hurt. The sea breeze is brilliant. There is no where to rush to, nothing to do, everything seems just right. If I were to talk of content, what I felt at that moment would describe it best.

It is pouring heavily, the roads are flooded, but we have been made to go to school. My sister and I, in raincoats, hers pink, mine blue, are in a near empty school bus. We reach school, and it is closed. ‘School closed due to heavy rain’, a board outside says. The bus turns back, only it takes a relatively longer route. To escape water-logging, maybe? But I am not sure. The few of us in the bus are thrilled. It’s like a picnic! A couple of more daring boys stand near the door. We remain seated. The bus goes over puddles splashing water everywhere, water’s spraying us through the windows, and it is amazing. Sometime on ride back, we open our tiffin boxes and eat, expecting to take much longer to reach home. We are home in another 10 minutes. But if I were to tell you of the adventures I have had, I would tell you this story too.

There is this movie we want to see, and it is playing at Apsara theatre, which we checked in the Dainik Jagaran borrowed from our neighbours. The four of us reach there early, so that we can get tickets. We do, quite fast, and there is still an hour to the movie. ‘Let’s go eat Kulfi Falooda‘, my dad says. I don’t know what it is, but I am quite thrilled. We walk to this famous place near Ghanta Ghar, and my dad orders four plates. They are massive chunks of kulfi, covered with dollops of falooda. We dig in greedily. It is delicious. Halfway through, I realise that this is going to take long. And I wonder if there is enough time to finish, and then walk back to theatre before the movie starts. My parents tell me not to worry, they would take care of everything. I feel better, and concentrate on my eating.  If I were to tell you about how amazingly simple childhood is, this is a tale I would recount.

I sit for more than a week, wondering why there seems to be nothing I can talk about. I try my hand at funny, I try my hand at venting, even general rambling, but nothing works. I give up. I stop stressing. I stop thinking about writing anything at all. And then, as I am reading through my feed, I come across this blog post. It is talking about seagulls. I remember this one day, when I saw this one seagull and I comment about it on her post. And a flood of memories from that day come rushing to me. And I start writing this post.  If I were to tell you, that all it takes is one memory, one thought, to counter your writer’s block, I would be darn well telling you the truth.

If only

Nostalgia is a double edged sword. On one hand, it reminds of you of all the good things that were, and how lucky you were to have them. On the other, it makes you realise that for everyone, however awesome, time will pass. And all that you will be left with is vague memories, glimpses of events that were, some blog posts if you have been particular about writing back then, some photos – all of them making you all misty-eyed. Misty-eyed and wondering whether you did justice to that awesome time that was presented to you back then? And maybe, just maybe, if you were aware of how much things would change, you would have enjoyed it so much better?

Fact is, I don’t think you would. I think it would have been exactly the same. In fact, I feel, that sometimes we give less credit to ourselves than we deserve – and that we did what we would, or anybody would in the situation when it happened. In retrospect, you might feel that you are much older, wiser, experienced now and that you would react totally differently to the way you did – but I really doubt you would. Retrospective introspection I feel, is no different from a third-party opinion of how someone else is handling something, and how they would do it differently. Because you don’t know how you will act, until you are the one undergoing that experience. And that applies to your opinions on your own past actions too.

I got thinking about this when I was reading my 2004 posts all of a sudden – I do it at times, that’s why I wrote these posts yes? I was 21 then. My problems revolved around exams that were coming up and I wasn’t prepared for, an extremely low balance in my cell phone, the fact that I would not be able to make it to the IIMK-IIMB sports meet because the dates would clash with my presentations. My immediate reaction was to chide myself for not realising just how basic these issues were, and not being grateful enough to have a life where the sole worries were studies and cell-phone recharges. But then I wondered if that was fair at all. I was 21 then. Twenty-fricking-one. And the very expectation from me was to study well, get a job, and value the money that I had. And looks like I was doing just that. So not too off what was expected yes?

Which brings me to my point that whatever this retrospection makes you feel, the fact remains that what you felt back then, or did back then, was what you thought was right back then. And this assumption that if you go back, you will handle everything differently, will hold true only if your state of mind remains status quo. That is, if you go back but you hold on to this truckload of experiences and results and life’s many moments that you have already lived through, that you are already aware of. And that, doesn’t happen.

Plus, even if it did, what’s the fun in it?

M is for Meerut

We moved to Meerut from Ghaziabad in the summer of ’91, when I had just started Class 4. I remember, with alarming clarity, the day we were loading our belongings into a truck, leaving the place that had been home for a little more than 2 years. We had family friends who were seeing us off (The Saxenas if I am not wrong), whose kids we were friends with. Except that their son bit me on my hand one time in the midst of a fight (which was more name calling than anything) because I called him an ‘Ullu ka pattha‘. While he had called me a lot of bad things before, apparently this warranted a bit because I was calling his Dad an owl. Fair enough.

Anyway, this family was also  moving to another house in a colony called ‘Govindpuram’ and they thought the name of the colony we were moving to (Pallavpuram), was so so funny, they couldn’t stop laughing. And I also remember trying to say their colony’s name was as funny, but it didn’t work at all, because it was not. Anyhow, we left the city in that very truck and reached the city which would be pretty much my entire childhood.

I remember only happy times in Meerut. You can attribute to childhood, because it all seems very rosy and shiny when I look back. The typical town with glimpses of the city, just because it was close to the capital; but a town nevertheless. The row houses, the big park with the Peepal tree that were apparently 80 years old, the shared autos we called ‘tempos’ or ‘Vikrams’, everything on hindsight seems as quaint as it can get. While I did move away in 9 years, the parents stayed on. That ensured there were visits, that started with a frequency of ‘whenever you have some time off’ to ‘college vacations’ to ‘festivals’ to annual visits during Diwali.

Fortunately for me, I ensured that every time I visited, I did the ritual of things I associated Meerut with. The walk down Sadar Bazaar, the pit stop at the chaat waala we always frequented, the shopping for ‘dress material’ in the shops of Abulane, then going to ‘Punjab tailors’ for getting them stitched, and picking up the coconut macaroons from King Bakers. I even ensured that The Dude visited an old favorite, Dilli Chole Bhature, and savored the amazing chole bhature in the place just like we did when younger. During Diwali, we ensured we visited the market areas to see the ‘lighting’ and listen to the speakers blare the deals of the day. I would bump into classmates, make plans to meet friends, and neighbors who had known us forever would drop by.

When the parents decided to move closer to us 2 years, while a part of me rejoiced at the thought of being able to see them whenever possible, a part of me was sad, because that would severe the last few ties I had with the place I grown up at. Our home was sold off just around Zo was born, so I made one visit with her to the place, so that she could experience it too, so what if she was a month and half old? And I am glad she did, because I would have hated for her to have never stepped into the place I associated my entire childhood with.

Which is why M is for Meerut. My hometown. That’s how I like to think of it, and though it’s no longer the city I have lived for the longest in, it’s still the place I have the most beautiful memories of.


Peace out

I am a staunch believer in revenge. As in, I think it absolutely makes sense to return the malice or hatred someone doles out to you intentionally. I also believe in Karma, but for an impatient soul like me, waiting for her to strike back at morons who do bad to me, doesn’t cut it. Also, the poor thing has so many people to get back at, I believe in lending her a helping hand and doing the dirty work myself.

I am also very particular about giving back the exact same portions of ‘love’ to the one you’ve received it from. For me, ‘an eye for an eye’ is the concept that rules my actions. And to the additional piece of wisdom doled out by Mahatma Gandhi (or as Sonam Kapoor said – Robert De Niro), I would just say that I would obviously prefer a blind world to one where I am sitting moping in a dark room, while the evil guy who poked my eye is watching a movie and thinking – Thank God for Gandhi. Erm, thanks, but I don’t think so?

Fortunately, for the recipients, life hasn’t given me enough opportunities of physical reciprocation and most of my getting back has been bitter (albeit classy, ok, sometimes not so classy) remarks in response to personal comments that I do not appreciate. Words I wouldn’t utter otherwise, things I wouldn’t say. Things I believe are true but too nasty to mention. Things I do not believe at all but saying them seems right because the person who hurt me deserves them. Sometimes immediately, mostly as an afterthought, because God hasn’t granted me a quick retort system.

But there have been a few cases where I have actually gotten back in action.

One such situation I remember very clearly, more so because my mother does, and quotes it every time she thinks I have rage issues, which I don’t, is from when I was back in the B-school. So our hostel being in Kerala had those sloping, tiled roofs, and on the highest level of each hostel building was the washing area. By which I mean 3 fully automatic front load washing machines were placed in this area (very posh and smart investment I think) and also several clothes lines to dry the almost dry clothes that came out. These 3 machines were to be used by the 40+ students residing in said building.

Anyway, the process we followed was, take your clothes and detergents to the top, load the available washing machine, start it, and then place the empty bucket next to it before leaving. Reason being, the cycle would go on for about 90 minutes, and most of us would put the clothes in before leaving for class. In the meantime, if someone else comes up and the run has completed, by default, they would put the clothes out in the bucket and load theirs. You could dry your set when you were back. All fair.

Back to said day, I had put my clothes for a run first thing in the morning, when all the machines were empty and there were only day old dry clothes on the clothes line and left for class. I returned probably around 4 hours later. Now on a regular day this would mean that assuming someone else walked in to wash their clothes after mine were done, my damp clothes would be in the bucket. But no.

My clothes were on the floor. And they were not damp, they were soaking wet. Which was weird, because as far as I knew you could not unlock the door, until the cycle was complete, till the drying bit. But someone had managed to open the door midway through my wash. Not only that, they had unceremoniously dumped my clothes on the ground instead of in the bucket.

I swear I saw red. I say this because the next few minutes passed quite fast. So I did a quick survey to see that at the moment, the other two machines were occupied and running. Also, the machine I had used was empty. Which meant that the person who emptied the machine had used it (most probably) and had also removed their clothes. Probably.

Which meant said clothes would actually be on the clothes line now. I did not wait to analyse any further, but blindly pulled down all the clothes in a semi dry state off the clothes line and dumped them on the floor which was quite wet. I then took additional pains to crumple them, stomp on them, and only when I felt a bit relieved did I stop to put my clothes back in the machine for a second wash. This time of course I kept time.

I really didn’t bother to find out who did it, or whose clothes I screwed up, or if I was right in my half-baked theories to assume the attacked clothes were actually the right ones. It was more for satisfaction for the moment and it worked amazingly well.

Moral of the story is there is no moral of the story. The thing is, I still think what I did was right. The thing is that if the same thing happened again today, I would do exactly the same thing, perhaps a little better because now I know the situation. The thing is when Zo comes back and tells me someone hit her at school, my first reaction is to ask her if she hit the kid back because God forbid she gets bullied, but I bite it back and ask her if she told the teacher. And when she says she did but the teacher did not say anything (which could be true, or not), I ask her if she hit the kid back anyway.

I wonder if that makes me a bad parent, but honestly, I don’t care if it does. I know, one might think that is wrong, this is what is wrong with the world. But no, as long as we are venting out at the person who caused us pain in the first place, it is justified in my case. Because how much ever Zen you are, what goes in, will somehow come out. Better hit the person it is intended for, than a random by passer. And yes, while I understand that stooping to low levels just because someone else did doesn’t make sense to many, if it hurts me personally, I would rather get it out of my system than bottle it up hoping and wishing that in some manner the universe will fix things for me. It’s just so much faster, and more convenient.

And it’s also the only way I can sleep peacefully at night.

Tales of the road

My dad bought me my first two-wheeler when I was in Class 9. Motorized. While this might classify me as a spoilt brat in most opinions, truth is I needed it mainly to propel my geek-dom further, because the whole point behind the bike was this way I could attend after-school maths classes in 10th and get amazing marks. Which was difficult if I missed my school bus back home, the only alternate mode of transport being a ‘tempo’ also known as shared auto, and a 2 km walk each way. This would also eat into, yes, you’re right, study time and I couldn’t have that, so I got my two-wheeler. And also, amazing marks in Maths.

Anyway, when my Dad offered to buy me the vehicle, I by default chose a Luna Super. Yes, the trusty old moped which would not cross 40 kmph if you set fire to it. My Dad offered to buy me a ‘Kinetic Pride’ at that time, relatively more expensive, and definitely better looking but I turned it down because another friend in school had a Luna (Class 8 onwards, I know I am not helping my bratty case here). I however did not accept this reasoning in my head until yet another friend, who bought a Kinetic Pride very pointedly (and rather rudely) said that I just followed whatever friend number one did. I was pretty pissed at the allegation and did not retort because I knew she was right.

So Class 10 came and I started taking the moped to school which was a good 8 kms away. I even started taking my little sister, then in Class 7 along. It was well and good until one eventful morning in April, just about 15 odd days into all this awesomeness, I rode full on into this stationary ‘tempo’ while humming ‘ Gaate the pehle akele’ from the film Khamoshi. I do not hum that song while on a bike since then.

I fell, and so did my sister, and our bags and stuff and a group of people gathered around us and for a few minutes I was too dazed and then I saw this huge gash on my knee and panicked. Before I  proceed I need to tell you that panic is my favorite form of reaction and my first choice for any situation. And most often for reasons other than what technically would be priority for others.

This case was no different and while my primary reason for stressing should have been ‘Oh My God, is my sister ok? Have I broken any bones, followed by ‘Oh My God look at that gash, it’s going to need stitches!’, it actually was ‘Oh My God my dad is not going to let me ride this to school anymore!’ So when one of the people in crowd asked me my phone number, I gave it pretty reluctantly, adding vehemently that he was NOT supposed to call my parents. No, I did not pause to think what else he would use my number for. And no, I did not think if the by-standers were worried if I had hurt my head.

So I tied a handkerchief (or the cleaning cloth for the tempo, I swear I couldn’t care), and wait for this, rode to school. I had fallen mid-way between school and home. And I chose to ride to school where from I thought, I would call home and calmly inform them of a slight fall that had happened and I don’t know, wish for them to never notice that 2 inch deep wound on my knee where I swear I could see my bone.

I reached school and called them back, only to have my grandmom pick the call and tell me that they were on their way to school. I cursed the well-wisher dude and sat back and waited. They came over, calmly inspected the situation (not the wound thankfully), and took me to a doctor The doctor had a look at it and pronounced that I needed stitches. And thanks to anesthesia (whose concept I seem to have been alien to apparently, cos I kept asking him if it would hurt, to which he kept saying ofcourse it would, moron) I never knew when it got done.

Long story short, (ok, not so short I guess) I live to tell the tale with the scar still apparent on knee. Three stitches which could have changed the course of my life. Ok, that’s way too much exaggeration, but it could definitely have changed my mode of transportation, which sucked cos hello, I wasn’t taking a tempo everyday! But somewhere during the summer vacations (which started soon), I re-convinced my Dad to let me go to school on the moped and he agreed much to the annoyance of my mom.

Between then and now I have changed 3 two-wheelers. The Luna, followed by a Scooty in college to an Aviator I ride to work today. I have fallen multiple times, maintaining an average of a fall per year, minor scratches that hurt for an hour, to scars that still show. Lived through skids that happened just because they hadn’t in a while, to falls that happened because a stupid dog ran behind the vehicle barking his guts out, only to give a look and walk away when I finally fell while taking a turn without reducing speed (no, I don’t wish he had fulfilled his karma and bitten me, but I hate purposeless noise). Ridden on narrow lanes in Meerut and big roads in Hyderabad and broken ones in Pune. So the road is no alien to me thanks to my mighty scooter.

But looks it was the mighty scooter doing all the work all this while because last week I finally joined car driving classes and it is not the same. Not even close. Firstly, there aren’t 400 things to manage like in this case. Just because we have two hands and two feet and two eyes doesn’t mean you have a job defined for all of them simultaneously. Also, 7:30 AM for some people really means 7:30 AM for some people, and 20 minutes does not mean 5 minutes and these seem to be difficult to digest concepts for my driving instructors. In any case I am trying, and it has just been 6 days so I am hoping things improve soon. So if you see an out-of-control red i10 around Magarpatta City in Pune anytime, and a frowning (albeit very cool if you ignore her disheveled look) 31 year old at the wheel who seems to be trying hard to not whack the guy sitting next to her, come say hi.

Or don’t. I might just knock you over.