Sunday, July 18, 2010

Love Thy Neigbour..

Talking of personality types,i am the guy who far too often brings out the extremes in people i come across...a  fact that has been reinforced over many years of  finding strangers who got acquainted,tolerated, befriended, loved, hated, bitched, bled, protected, tried to beat the living daylights out of, took care of, lent money to (and never asked for it back), took money from (and never bothered to return it) , shared a beer with, threw a brick at, stalked, stopped talking to, forgot and the case of a truly demented and brave woman........married....... me.

All said and done I have been blessed to be around wonderful people who let me into their lives and are happy to be a part of mine...until now! To cut a long story short, currently my life as i would want to live it, is in a different city and i am living the life i don't want to, in Calcutta. Forced bachelorhood, too many airline meals and take out dinners and weekend sachets of happiness with unimportant times in between.

Part of this disaster involved taking up another place in Calcutta where i could sleep, dump my stuff and spend the rest of the unimportant times. Now this place is a work of art of middle class kolkata bong attitudes. 20 flats of government defined Middle Income Group dimensions, rules, sub rules, corollaries and notices on everything from going to the terrace, to usage of the 5'X5' plot of brown earth the residents delusionally refer to as "the lawn", locking and unlocking of entrances, women visitors, male visitors, loudness or the lack of it of music being played if any, puja donations, resident committee meetings (there are two every week!), AC fittings, blah blah blah. 

The silver lining was that the place was cheap and being the fifth floor of a elevator-less building i was the only resident in the whole floor of four flats. Perfect for me being out of everybody's way and hopefully vice versa.And the compulsory exercise wouldn't hurt!Well, the best laid plans of mice and men go awry and i am nothing special. After a few days of smiles on the staircase, the vice president of the committee (they have 12 office holders and 8 members for a population of 17 families..go figure)  comes up for a introduction. I might have forgotten some of it due to shock but here's the condensed review.

Friendly Neighbour: Hello, you are new here. You did not bother to introduce yourself so i thought i should take the inititiave and make you familiar with us.I am the VP of  RCOM (that's Resident's Committee by the way). By the way you owe Rs. 150 for maintenance.

Me: Hi. Nice to meet you. Please come in. Er..I did pay it to the landlord with the deposit.

FN: NO, No, no....thats his contribution. You have to pay another 150 for tenancy.

Me. Oh! so i pay twice for the same flat? 

FN: Yes, the rules are there on the notice board for your benefit. We usually discuss these important matters during introduction but you never came.

Me: That's alright. Its not a bother. Would you like something to drink?

FN: NO, No, no...i have seen you bringing beer. You should be more reserved when you bring such items to the building.

Me: I meant water or Juice.

FN: Oh! I will have Frooti.

Me: Um...sorry i don't have that, but i do have mango juice from Real.

FN: NO, No, no.....water is fine.

A minute of uncomfortable silence later (maybe we were paying our respect to the demise of civility)...

FN: I heard you are travelling a lot. Where do you work. You are married, no? where is your wife. Why don't you have a sofa in the living room?

Bewildered Me: Um..i am married. Wife's in Bangalore, I travel on work and to catch up with her. I work for XYZ...And i like these bean bags better.

FN; Oh...US Company? No security. How much do you earn? Does you wife work? How much does she earn? You young people are always running after money. How will you have children if you are apart all the time. And when you do have children they will be spoilt because of the  lack of parental attention. By the way, when do you plan to have children. Have two of them . It's better for their personalities.

Flabbergasted Me: What??? I am not really inclined to answer these questions. Is there anything i can do for you?

FN: NO, No, no....i was just giving you some advice. Hope to see you in the meetings.And please bring in the money then.

Impatient Me: Can i give it to you now. After all, you are the VP of RCOM. I really don't think i can make it to the meetings, I am usually late for work and most weekends i am travelling.

FN: This is a big departure from the RCOM rules but i will manage. Remember, next time when i ask for something, you will have to accept responsibility. And make sure you read the rules on the notice board or you might face problems in the future.

'Trying to get out of this nightmare' Me: Ok. Thanks. Bye.

A few months of careful planning by me made sure i didn't have any more interactions till it all came crashing down this weekend. Enjoy my misery:

FRIDAY: After a visit from my newly married childhood friend and his wife over the week gone by during which we hung out in eataries and pubs, watched a couple of movies in multipexes and spent a few hours at my flat, i was feeling tired and a little lonely and dealt with it by flirting with copius amounts of red wine, salami and pink floyd...and dozing off at four in the morning...or was it three?

SATURDAY: Woke up at an obscene hour,cancelled a couple of plans with friends. Cleaned the mess from last night. Vegetated..Spent two and half hours and lost half of my mind to get to a friend's party.Had a great time there culminating into a late night session of low stakes teen patti. Got out after midnight after losing a princely sum of 400 rupees, reached home and realised i had lost my keys to the entrance gate. FAAAAACCK!! But then, there's a glimmer of hope. Friendly Neighbour's lights are on. YAY!! And since i was sober, I strutted up, put my hands through the grill and rang his doorbell.

FN (to himself): Who is it at this godforsaken hour. Some people have the nerve &$@##!&....

FN (to me): OH!! its you....(suddenly stops recognising me)...who are you??

'With a sinking feeling' Me: Uncle its me..flat no. 18. I am the guy who didn't pay the maintenance and didn't have Frooti. The guy you did a big favour for. Could you do me another favour and please open the gate. I lost my key. Am very sorry to bother you so late. I saw the light was on and figured you would be awake so took a chance.

Indignant FN: I dont have the keys to the gate either. I think i lost it this morning and cant find it ever since. and what do you mean you took a chance. It's past midnight. The lights are on because my son has his class VII exams in 63 days and we are all awake studying. You would not understand such discipline. Partying out and drinking till midnight. Your generation is ruining the bengali culture.

Mrs. FN (from inside the house): You are always late. Last week you came around 11pm three times and you brought a girl with you once. This is a building of "bhadrolok". we will not tolerate such practices.

Pissed off Me: Didn't you notice her frigging husband with me? And its none of your business. Anyway, please open the gate. If you don't have the key to the entrance, let me pass through your home. (INFO: their flat is on the ground floor and opens to the "lawn " on one side and the rear door open inside to the building)

FN and Mrs. FN in chorus : WHAT?? NO NO NO No No no no..we don't let strangers inside. Come back tomorrow morning The secretary of RCOM will open the gate in the morning as usual.

Am so pissed at myself for being so careless and at the FN 'cause he's awake AND GOT the F***ING KEYS and still wont open the door because of some twisted delusional sense of self importance and medieval propriety.Calm myself and go out in search of a "cheap" hotel. End up at "The Park".Get informed that "only suites are available sir" 'cause a marriage party is coming the next morning at seven and they booked all rooms. Yeah, Right. Hand my card to the bloodsucker and spend the month's rent for 6 hours of sleep and a complimentary breakfast ...CRASH into bed...

SUNDAY: Wake up still pissed. Make plans to cause major bodily harm to FN. Get bored of it in 10 mins. Laugh at the incredible stupidity of it all. Check out. Come back to the temple of propriety. 

Write a blog entry ....for closure.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happiness is a beach front hotel...

As a pimply faced teenager, i fantasised about life as a "well settled" man. A decent paychecque, living a life where i was well fed, well appreciated and well entertained and hopefully sharing that joy and that occasional hiccup with that elusive perfect someone.That, I imagined would be perfect happiness. Now, at an age when i am being called 'uncle" with alarming and annoying regularity by the all new and improved gen-next, "well settled" seems a lifetime away.

i look back and realise that i am an electrical engineer ( graduate..there's a difference...the former actually know how to make stuff work!) who interned at a research laboratory, specialised in designing electrical power systems, migrated from small town to a big bad city, had that invariable stint in a BPO, got bored and joined the mba herd, pretended to specialise in marketing and systems, then worked in a bank and now am paid to manage money for people who have worked long and hard to earn potloads of it but for some reason seem comfortable in trusting it to someone who hasn't a fraction of it himself. Five addresses in four years, acquaintances posing as friends and 10 kgs later, nomadic is still what i am.

"Decent" paycheque and being a bigger better rat in the race is a life long mirage, the chase of which has left other pursuits on the wayside and the perfect someone i was supernaturally lucky to find, a two and half hour flight away for  20 days a month. Happy is a state of mind achieved with the next car, club membership or scotch and Happiness is a luxury which is bought over a weekend, begged from your boss and stolen from the updated blackberry calender.

Well, a few days ago, the heavens conspired and i experienced what i now know is pure unadultrated happiness...

...the look in her eyes when i walked in after a fortnight away
...Sharing a song with her at midnight
...acknowledging that the young woman i treat as a kid is all grown up...and how!
....watching my friend turn to family
....great food and better wine
....a spectacular drive with great music , good humour, constant chatter and unapologetic syrupy romance
....arriving at the destination and discovering that the place is exactly how you expected and hoped it would be
....coolest people some of whom just happen to be family and and others who feel like them
....Sun, sea and sand and fun!
....greed, sloth, lust and gluttony...sinful? you bet!
....beautiful memories

The sights, sounds, touch and feel  of the painstakingly planned and over all too soon couple of days and hopefully their frequent recurrence  is what keeps me sane and well,....settled.

Perfect and happiness rarely occur together nowadays.Well just for once they did...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cricket is dead. Long Live Cricket...

Let’s face it. In India, you are a lonely person at a sports bar if you don’t like cricket. Well, I never liked being alone and fate made sure I was born to parents who passed on the DNA of a cricket fanatic to me. My earliest memories of a TV were of a box with plywood shutters which slid open to reveal a blue tinted screen on which funny men in starched white clothes ran amok after a small ball all over the field while funnier men kept running towards and away from each other on a small track in the centre as if their life depended on it. That I am from the definition of a small town (still can’t find my birth place on the map…Up yours Google!) with us owning one of the few and far between TV sets ensured that each match was a community experience with the whole neighbourhood in the living room with endless cups of tea, roshogollas and “Nimki”. Every man the self appointed expert and the women looking suitably interested while discussing more important things. The reference to a diary does not make me think of Anne Frank or conversations with myself but umpteen ball by ball scoresheets maintained in diaries Dad got as gifts. We were familiar with dot balls long before it became a part of daily conversation. I also learnt my first slogan…”Ravi Shastri Hai Hai”….thanks to the sport.

Cricket also taught me how to plan and prioritize my calendar. I just followed Dad’s example. He never missed a day of work in those days but come a India-Pakistan match it was understood that he would use up one of his precious PSU allotted Casual Leaves. Since I had no such luxuries at school, I made sure I was the neighborhood “doctor uncle’s” favourite so the medical certificates would keep rolling in. Am sure glad that analytics was not one of the strong points of my class teacher.

Life, as it is, ensured that the better set of genes was passed on to my younger brother. While he excelled on the field and played at the highest levels Assam as a state and mom’s watchful eye over academics would allow, I took on a more cerebral role. While I followed and understood cricket and enjoyed its nuances and idiosyncracies, I just wasn’t too good at playing it. In my head I was a tearaway fast bowler and explosive batsman. Reality was a “little” different. I had my moments though. After hitting the peak of my career where I made it to the winning team….......of the inter-hostel tournament…… the first year of engg. College…… a 12th man……....for one match, I hung up my playing boots and followed the sport as a spectator ….and a passionate one at that.

Which brings me back to cricket itself. By the time we grew up to a self respecting generation of fanatics, after initial jitters, One Dayers in the sun or under lights and Test Cricket were co-existing in harmony and being enjoyed equally. Then came T20 and it brought an even larger audience back to stadiums. That India with it richest cricket board became world champions ( ..although calling a competition a “world cup” in a sport where the number of nations playing it competently can be counted on your fingers is stretching the term a considerable bit..) made the format instantly acceptable. I mean one billion followers, give or take a few million can’t be wrong! And then it happened…The powers that be spawned a shylock who smelt the money in billion pockets and thought of the IPL...Well not really…ICL happened but Mr. Modi just had more money and the bureaucracy with him and he promptly raped and pillaged the idea.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of seriously good cricket gets played in the IPL. It has also led to exciting new innovations. Shots over the back of your head, slower bouncers, reverse sweep version 2.0, strike rates of 250 and a complete suite of slower balls. Just wound up watching a nail biting IPL encounter between Punjab and Chennai. It had all the elements of a classic cricket face off. Incisive bowling, innovative batting, inspired fielding and balls of steel when put in the spot. At the end the end of tied 20 over encounter, followed by a super over which itself had more unlikely twists and turns than a james hadley chase novel or a Abbas-Mustan potboiler (remember RACE??)..the spectators and TV audience (basing this conclusion on a sample size of!)..were left happy or disappointed depending on whom they are rooting for ...but certainly spent by the sudden release of tension at the end of a nailbiter.

However, the sheer experience of watching the sometimes brilliant cricket is mind numbing. Sample this, Ravi Shastri (looking more like a fossil each passing day) can’t seem to get rid of clich├ęs…”the deccan chargers are charged!!” he exclaims….or Harsha Bhogle commenting on everything from Robin Utthappa losing weight to Romesh Powar or Yuvraj gaining a little more but zilch on the actual cricket being played. Maybe it’s something to do with his heightened self image now that he has hair again...The rest of the pack keep piling on more of the same inane conversations…

Come to think of it, there are no good shots or great catches anymore. There are only DLF maximums or Karbonn Kamaal Catches ( BTW what’s the deal with Akshay Kumar’s Laugh??)… No Turning points in the match only “Shitty Moments of success”…The marketing geniuses have even managed to show ads in between deliveries of an over…The cameras just focus on the electronic screen on the ground…The strategic timeout takes the cake though. Its such a disrupting concept that the captains don’t go for the two and a half minute break even when its due….What does Shylock do…Make it compulsory at the end of predetermined overs….so you can enjoy the zoozoos or poopoos or whatever is the flavour of the day…And in case you are feeling lonely you can meet the cheerleaders….just sms or call the number on the screen…

A recent trip to Eden Gardens proved that the cricket viewing experience at the stadium is equally moronic..with DJs exhorting the crowds to do one more Mexican wave than the other city the previous night…and crowds focusing attention and cameras on cheerleaders rather than players…

There’s going to be more teams and an international edition of the IPL as early as next year…With more money pouring in..IPl is gonna be the place to be for the players…..Test Duty would be too much work ….We will have many more Symonds and Nannes in the days to come…I just hope IPL doesn’t turn Cricket into what WWE turned wrestling to….barely recognizable sport in a shiny new grotesque package of entertainment…

Maybe I should stick to watching just football…

P.S. With Chelsea having a miserable week and the worst playing form in some time, maybe its time for yet another sport. Checkers, anyone??