Friday, December 20, 2013

Part 5 - A Friday Evening, In a December

I do hereby solemnly swear that I am up to no good

I am in no mood to move out of my house. I have no intention to meet this girl. Woman now, really. Why did I put myself in this situation, I wonder.

What's done is done. I am not the guy who makes plans and never shows up.

I am just the fool who makes some really stupid plans.

I get dressed quickly and pick up my stuff. I make sure I am carrying somethings that root me in my life. My watch and my cigarettes. These are the sole witnesses to my life. My totems, I guess one could call them. I am not sad. I am the fool who made stupid plans.

I pick up my overcoat trying to recall where I bought it. If it was with this girl, or worse still, if it was a gift from her, it could be construed as something it is  not. Try hard as it may, I can't recall. Forget it, I say to myself. It's not like I have any other protection against the December cold. I really need to go out someday and shop for some clothes.

And shoes. I realize, as I pick up my battered sneakers. The only good pair of shoes I have is the one I wear to office. And that's the case only because I get a hard time from the people who's sole objective in life is picking up a conversation. About anything. I have been part of the most inane conversations. Hell, I have started some too. I don't know the guy who goes to work every morning. That conformist is not me. I am me.

Every morning, while in the cab to office, I feel I go through a portal. The guy who enters that portal is me, but one who comes out is a version of me. I don't like him too much.

The one here with battered shoes, torn jeans (thank God that's not very unfashionable these days) and a single overcoat for protection against the Delhi winter, this is me.

With my faith affirmed in my identity (can't ever get enough of that, can you?) I step out of the house. My car is parked in some godforsaken corner. Yes, the city is struggling with too many cars. What surprises me, however, is that people say the city has a parking problem! Although that is factually correct, it doesn't paint the true picture. We can triple the total parking space in this city and within a couple of years that would fall short. So the real problem is the number of cars, isn't it?

I step into my car begrudgingly. In some parts of the world people love driving. I don't. In this city driving is a life threat. There are guys out there itching to pick up a fight. There is anger surging in this capital. Driving puts people in touch with their angst. It brings out the worst in people. All we need for peace, a simple minded person would say, is public transport. I am many things but simple minded is not one of them.

I drive to Hauz Khas Village (HKV). She is supposed to meet me there. I had offered to pick her up, thinking I should offer the deception of gentlemanly behavior. But the offer had lacked conviction. She has a keen ear (or eye, since we were chatting) for BS.

I reach HKV in 10 minutes. I park my car in 20. I am expected to get used to this. The day that happens, I will need a whole new identity for the new me.

I walk towards Imperfecto. Let me be clear. She chose the place. Not me.

Let me be clear, why I need to clarify that. It's a place that selectively picks up one dimension of conversation between two people and kindles it. It's the one called romance. The curtains, the candles, the moonlight, the wine, the tiny portions of food that you can't spill or make a mess with.

How do I know that? I have been there once before. With Karan. We ended up talking about our shared past. Quite sentimentally, at that. It was not a typical guy evening. It was really, really nice.

I see her walking towards Imperfecto, ahead of me. She hasn't seen me yet. In her dress, she looks exquisite. Her face, from afar, looks very different from how I remembered her. Or how Facebook shows it. She has gained a new composure in her strides. She exudes a confidence that was always so unique to her. If it was possible, the years have been very kind to her.

I better be very careful at this dinner.

I will look like a beast next to her.

Maybe then she needs to be careful. I shrug my shoulders and begin my march.

Mischief Managed

Monday, December 16, 2013

Part 4 - A Friday Evening, In A December

I do hereby solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

As I am about to hit the "H" to start typing and say "Hi" to the guys, I notice a name on the chat panel on the left side of the gmail page. It's the girl I used to like back in my college. In a sudden surge of memories that cloud my mind, I start feeling a little disoriented. Meanwhile, the index finger on my right hand has run to hit the escape button, closing the current chat window.

So it's decided, I am not going for the movie after all. I ask my index finger. I have had just two beers but I could swear I saw the finger nod. It's not the first time I have had a conversation with my index finger. Check it here: A Promise to Die For

Any way, I ask my finger what does it plan to do next? I was hoping that the finger could rope in his other nine buddies and converse with the girl by themselves. As if reading my mind, the index goes down into my palm and asks his buddy on his right to stand up to greet me.

"Fuck you too, buddy" I say to my hand. I know it was too much to expect, but that does not justify name calling!

I stare at the name for some time. Choosing to delve deeper in my memories and relive the past. It provides me an escape from the boring present. A valve to let off some steam.

As if magically, a chat window with her name on the top pops open. My heart starts racing and I immediately check if any  of my fingers were being mischievous again. That wasn't the case. I look back at the screen and saw a "Hi" from the girl. She wants to talk to me too. I feel there is a warmth that starts spreading in my chest. Like a wide grin of the stupid heart. I shake my head to let the bugger know who's in charge. It's always my mind. I'll have it no other way.

"Hi," she is saying. The tab name on the top of the window is flashing her name intermittently with 'Inbox (0 Unread)'. There used to be a time when she was in my inbox, I think. The top page displays 20 emails at a time and of that 10 would be from her. We used to talk about all and sundry. There would be multiple conversation threads alive at a time. The to and fro of information from both us used to happen all the time. Now if I search with her name, the mailbox will take me at least two years back. In an inbox, that's a lot of time. 

I realize I am shaking a little. I haven't been able to resolve all the emotions from that time. Doesn't take a genius to figure that out. I had thought it was over it. It was way back in the past. Time, I believed, had healed me. But as it turned out, all that time had done was put a bandage over the wound. The moment that bandage was removed the wound down there was as fresh as ever. The raw, exposed wound stung like a thorn.

I pull my eyes from the blinking chat window with her name and stare at the wall. I know I am not poised enough to talk to her right now. I should just kill the window. I can apologize later that I didn't see her ping. I can say that I did not get a notification and it went straight to the archives. These excuses of bad internet connections still worked, I thought. They had somehow never vanished from our dictionary even after the internet had improved.

"Aah, what the hell..." said the voice of brashness in my head. The heart. I knew the devil would resurface. It has never conceded defeat to reason. 

"Hi," I wrote back.

Girl - It took you a while to write back.

Me - Yeah, I just saw your ping. Whatsup?

I refused to get on the defensive at the start of the conversation. Can't guarantee that for the rest of it.

Girl - No problem. 

I haven't apologized, I wanted to write. With one of the smileys that roll their eyes. I knew I wouldn't be able to find the smiley even if I had 10 minutes to reply. So I just waited.

Girl - I am in Delhi for a project. Last I heard you were here too. 

Me - Yeah. I am in Delhi. How long have you been here?

I knew the answer to that. I knew the precise date. But why let her in on that? 

Girl - I came here late last month. And I am here another week. At least.

Me - That's nice. Are you liking it?

Girl - Yes and no. But this isn't my first time here. So it's OK.

Me - Yes, of course. But it's just quite cold here right now. Isn't it?

Aah, weather. The quintessential small talk!

Girl - Not really. It's better than last year, I heard.

Me - Yes, that's true. I quite like the whether right now. It's nice and sunny during the day. I sometimes get to catch lunch outside. It's really nice.

Girl - Weather*

Oops. I thought.

Me - :P

Girl - :P you'll never learn!

That's the first time in the course of this conversation either of us has acknowledged our shared past. Not a good sign. Come on, think of something else. Quick!

Girl - Anyway, do you have plans for this evening?

I heard the hammer come down. This is the trickiest bit. I mean it's one thing to let your friends know you haven't got any plans for a Friday. But it's a whole another thing to let this girl know...

Me - Umm, yeah. I was planning to watch a movie.

I lied.

Girl - Nice. Hobbit? Who are you going with? Is there anyone I know?

What now? She wants to join in for the movie? No, I can't deduce that from that. Look at me, even my thoughts are less articulate. Brain freeze!

Me - No. I don't think so. It's not the college junta.

I lied again. Damn. Why am I doing this!

Girl - Ohh, cool. Let me know how you find it.

Me - Yes, sure thing. 

Then with shaking hands, I added - Anyway, what are your plans for the evening?

Girl - Nothing yet. I was supposed to be working late preparing for a meeting on Monday. But that got cancelled just now and my evening just freed up.

Damn it. Why couldn't I think of that! She's good. 

Me - Ohh, that's nice. And not nice. 

What am I saying! I shook my head. Not for the first time that night. Is it the beer? No, can't be. I've had just two.

Girl - I know what you mean.

Ok, so she still gets my gibberish. She always could look through the improperly constructed phrases and get the essence behind the words. Me, I am quite stuck up in this regard. I need the communication to be unequivocal and articulate. Normally I am that way. This is a special situation where my mind has slowed down and my heart and motor muscles are leading the way. This gibberish is exactly what happens when logic takes a back seat, I told my heart.

Girl - I heard Hauz Khas Village has really come up. I wanted to go and check it out.

Me - Yeah. It has some really nice places to eat now. You must check it out.

Girl - Yup, I'll try. 
Enjoy your movie.

Was she trying to get me to ask her out? It certainly does seem that way. Although, if I put it that way it does not seem right. She was never that way. But that was also a long time ago.

A sudden urge to see her gripped my heart. It could also be harmless. There would be nothing wrong in meeting her as an old friend. Would there? All horror stories begin like that... what's the worst that could happen? I have learned to not use that line of reason. It never pans out well.

But there is also the fact that I need to resolve the emotions pertaining to her. Clearly I had failed to do that over the last couple of years. Maybe meeting her would make that possible.

Me - Do you want to catch up for dinner?

Woah! I was surprised the speed at which that came out. Seemed slightly involuntary to my mind. I would have to go about explaining what happened to the movie. I'll manage. I have scraped through tougher situations in the past...

It made me wonder if the order of the chronological order of the 2 reasons above was reversed, what would the outcome be. 

This moment in the making, is one of those moments where destiny splits into two paths. But we walk only one. The other becomes hypothetical, but we often visit these moments when we look back at our lives. 

I wondered if the future me will look at this point with joy or regret.

Mischief managed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Part 3 - A Friday Evening, In A December

I do hereby solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

I stub my cigarette and flick it into the distance. Watching it make its way, twisting and turning in the air, my gaze fixes on grown woman. She looks like the mother of one of the kids playing down below. She is watching me. Not looking. Watching. Does she have a look of disgust on her face? I'll never know. It's too dark to make out facial expressions. I find myself hoping she doesn't think me a pedophile. I want to explain to her that I harbor no evil thoughts. A man like me cannot and does not bring about havoc in other people's life. Only in his own.

I shake my head. Who cares what she thinks. Nothing I can do about it! 

I head back inside my study and shut the glass paneled door behind me. For good measure, I draw the curtains. I shut myself from the gaze of kids and their mothers. I can't stand to be judged by them.

It's late evening now. I click open the bookmyshow app on my phone to check what new movies are playing today. Hobbit seems promising. The first part was good, I think. But too formulaic after the amazing LOTR movies. Peter Jackson should find something more challenging to do. A director of his talent is wasted in the profit seeking production house economics.

Speaking of wasted talent... "Shut up!", I tell the voice in my head.

Should I go for the movie? I think pushing aside the pre-poned mid life crisis. Or is it an identity crisis? May be it's existential?

The movie. Yes. Should I go alone? It hasn't been bad experience by any means when I have tried that before. Many times before. Anyway I don't like talking to people during the movie. It's really random how people collectively experience movies. I will never understand the benefits of physical proximity in a what is otherwise a very individual experience by design.

It's too much of an effort to call up or email people to coordinate a movie viewing. But it is also very bullshitting to be judged by groups of friends, lovers in arms and families at the theater.

Indecisiveness. More than once I have been told by the few who care that I over-think and over analyze everything. Over-thinking leads to indecisiveness. Over analysis leads to paralysis.

People say the strangest things. Maybe it's they who need to think more before they go about the business of preaching.

Movieee? I hear the thought return with a renewed vehemence. Woah, I say out loud. Calm down brother. I am here. I have to allow myself a little bit of meandering with my thoughts. What's to kill time if not that? 

I log back into my laptop. Action, in any direction, helps calm down the thoughts. It's quite disturbing how the mind gets so easily fooled. All it needs is a preoccupation. Let it idle for some time and it starts going nuts. Or bonkers. I like that word better.

The gmail window is open on the browser. I start a hangout and add my friends on it. My fingers sway like a drunkard over the keyboard. To type or not to type? 

Mischief managed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Part 2 - A Friday Evening, In A December

I do hereby solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

Slightly more comfortable in my bean bag now, I open Whataspp. Karan had made a group for us buddies a few months back.

I check the last post 29 September 2013 it says in gray font over the last post. It was Karan who had posted for trying to arrange for us all to get together for a lunch in Khan Market that Sunday afternoon.

"But their beer license has been revoked! Don't see what fun we could possibly have there!!!" Aman had replied. There had been no activity after that. I try to remember if we had met that day or not. It's getting hard to recollect such things now.

I drink up what is left of my second beer and light another cigarette. I step out onto my balcony and look out at kids running in the playground below. It's dark. I am reminded of the days when I would try and steal a few more hours of play, cursing the sun for setting too soon. Even when it was the longest day of the year.

I see the face of a little kid. He running is ahead of a pack of kids being chased or hunted down. His laughter comes out in gasps as he tries to catch his breath. He tries hard to suppress the laughing, but it only serves to tire him more. His face must be red with the blood rush from too much running, I think to myself remembering such days in the not so long, but lost, past. It's too dark and I am too far away to ascertain that for sure. There is sweat dripping at the forehead, which I am sure about, because he rubs his sweater  sleeve on his forehead more than once in the minute that I have been watching him.

The kid looks up to my balcony. I hide my cigarette below the opaque railing. Instinct.

I look at myself from the eyes of the kid. A grown up man in formal clothes. Alone. A cigarette for company. I know I wasn't successful in hiding the damn thing fast enough. Damn the slow reaction time. Damn the beer. My peripheral vision tells me there is a cloud of smoke around the balcony. It's a particularly cold post-evening with haze settling in over the windless city. The bloody smoke does not blow away as fast and as far as it used to in the autumn.

I had a vision of myself as a kid. A cool guy. No formals, always a smile on the face. Always a joke to be told. Always making people laugh around me. A disappointment attempts to set in begging the age old rhetorical - 'What have I become?' I shrug off the inane thought. I am too old to rethink the teenage dilemma over for the hundredth time. I know now that these dreams about self hardly ever pan out the way a child's imagination helps him hope.

"Bah, humbug!" I say out loud. Not loud enough for the child to hear though, I hope. He has now resumed his run and has probably forgotten about me. I am the ghost of Christmas past.

Mischief managed.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Part 1 - A Friday Evening, In A December

I do hereby solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

I take out my new smartphone on a Friday evening. I had just got the GPS repaired in the afternoon. Google maps should work now, I hear myself thinking. I click open the app. Sitting in the cab, on my way home from office, I follow the blue dot moving on the screen. Inching slowly towards a location marked home.

I can't help but wonder how magical the idea is. Yes, magic! And I am not exaggerating. Well, not yet at least. It's the muggle world equivalent of a marauder's map. In my hands. A faint smile appears on my face. I know that because at the very instant, the driver of the cab looks at me in the rear view mirror and makes a face that says "What's that creepy smile for?"

Not letting the driver's reaction dampen my mood, I proceed to check out Google Latitude. I add a few of my friends on the map and I am surprised to see them accept my location sharing request instantaneously. I see new little dots with little images of their faces moving on the map. My map was now complete.

Ever since I have read the Harry Potter books, I have dreamed - on and off, sometimes in the day, sometimes at night - of possessing a wand, an invisibility cloak and the marauder's map. 1 down, I thought. 2 more to go.

As I get off the cab, I click off the display on my phone and wake up from the dream.

I climb up the stairs, thinking about the things I need to do today. There is some left over work from office that needs to be completed tonight and some leftover beer from last night. Seems like a good evening.

I open the door and walk into my apartment. I hook my laptop to my music system and hit the play button on the music player. It plays the playlist which I had prepared back in my college days and haven't had the motivation to update. A familiar song starts playing from mid-sentence. I don't bother to make the effort to play it from the start.

I head to the fridge to get the beer. To my surprise there is some pizza there too. I pick up the box and sniff. Doesn't smell harmful, my nose tells me. My stomach will tell me tomorrow.

I check the pockets of my jeans, carelessly thrown at the bed. I find some cigarettes and a lighter. This is a really really good evening.

In my study, I sit bent over my laptop finishing my work. The familiarity with the music does not allow for it to register to my conscious thought. The familiarity with the cigarette smoke does not allow for me to take notice of the burning sensation in my eyes and the irritation in my nostrils. The familiarity with the beer does not allow for it to make me high and the that with stale food does not allow for my stomach's rumbling noises to incite any reaction.

Two hours later, I have sent my work to my folks at the office. I have moved over to my bean bag with another bottle of beer in my hands.

I open google maps once more. Neither of my friendly dots are moving. They are all at home. Maybe I should call them, organize a get together. Maybe I will call them, I think to myself...

I shift on my bean bag to be slightly more comfortable. The bean inside has been dead for too long now.

Mischief managed.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling: A Review

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

JK Rowling brings out her troubled and broken (physically and mentally) detective Strike in this first book of a series. I found nothing truly unique in the detective story.

That being said, it does endeavor to bring out the lives of modelling and the industry's burden on individuals. The conflicts within the individuals that come with the public and media eye on a chosen few at all times.

The book does not bring London to life, as well as I thought it could be done. As well as the back jacket proclaims to. Probably the only thing that I found could have been done better. There are no threads to pick on apart from Strike's personal life and the plot itself.

The state of mind of the protagonist, however, was very well written and I could relate to Strike as the story progressed. Even the mystery itself was well written but seemed contrived at some points. Also, a few loop holes suddenly turned the reading experience slightly sour for me.

However, the book has Rowling's stamp all over the book which is why I picked it up in the first place.

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How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia: A Review

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaHow to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I will caveat here that I have loved Moth Smoke and Reluctant Fundamentalist for too long and harbored a desire to read another one of Hamid's book for some time now. No wonder then that I picked this book at its launch.

The book lived, unread, in my book-shelf for sometime before it got its due. The self-help masquerade of the book prevented me from picking it up immediately and devouring it. It seemed to be slightly conceited from the couple of pages I had managed to go through at the book shop and it was only with a heavy heart that I made the purchase.

That being said, after reading it I found the writing in second person truly unique. It takes a writer of caliber to write authentically to put the reader as a protagonist. It worked well for me at least - an Asian boy. I am not sure how universal or contextual this authenticity is.

The self-help masquerade does not really work well, but if you consider that as a commentary on how self-help books rarely help the reader - I think the message is very well conceptualized.

Every chapter starts with a self-help-ish idea and then it goes into a variety of things not remotely related to the idea of the chapter! To me it seemed like a clever ploy in criticism of the genre. Every writer is coming from a unique life circumstances and his story will not have the answers for readers. Point taken, Mr. Hamid.

What struck me about the book was the honest to heart narrative written with a lot of, well, heart. Some of the things he says in this book seem like a rehash of things that he said so beautifully in Moth Smoke. But I liked it when I read those parts again. Like the contrast between the people of either side of the economic divide. The aspirations of the poor to pole-vault the divide to reach the other side. The trade-offs, the compromises and the death bed - where none of these matters but only what you loved, who you loved and whose love did you receive.

Maybe I am a sucker for this stuff, but I really enjoyed the short and sweet latest co-creation exercise from Mohsin Hamid.

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Man in the Dark: A Review

Man in the DarkMan in the Dark by Paul Auster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first Paul Auster book. I loved how he interweaves several short stories, analysis into a single novel(la) - all of them bearing a common thread. Each of the stories holds a mirror to a major event in the protagonist's (August Brill) life. Things that he does not want to touch (mentally), like Pandora's boxes. Over the course of an insomniac night, he is compelled to reveal these extremely violent and gruesome events which have rendered him in this state of insomnia.

There is a lovely story about love that offers an anchor to the narrative and the protagonist. The contrasting personalities of the people involved and their shared motivations and purposes brings about a war, a tempest which Brill makes a lot of effort to rectify, but makes do with the broken shards of what was once complete.

The book strikes me as being anti-war, but very uniquely so. I couldn't help but draw parallels with Vonnegut's Slaughter House 5. That's a commentary on WWII, and this a commentary on the more recent war in Iraq.

The graphic imagery of the finale is not for the weak stomachs. I found it very hard to digest myself. But it makes sense just the way it is and I would not have wanted anything else in its stead. As he very aptly says - "...although it wouldn't be hard to find a less brutal outcome, what would be the point? My subject tonight is war, and now that war has entered this house, I feel I would be insulting Katya and Titus if I softened the blow... Piss on earth, good will towards none. This is the heart of it, the black center of the dead night..."

It is bold criticism since it spells out Bush's name as the chief architect of the war. Like Brille, he imagined the whole war in his head. Auster does not shy away from it and does not bother with creating a fictitious name. He creates an alternate reality with a civil war in America, orchestrated by Bush again. War is the only thing constant between the 2 worlds and the only thing different is where the war is happening.

I loved how he brings out the parallel between the insomniac nights he is living through (with another war, a civil one, in his mind) and the dark times of the American war in Iraq.

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