Essay

Livin’ da Virar Local

Posted on May 13, 2013. Filed under: Essay, Funny, Short Story | Tags: , , |

“Where are you going?” Aai asked her. She did not reply.

“Tyala bhetayla? (To meet him?)“. Again no reply.

Aai resignedly said, “Will tell the driver to get ready ..”

She said, “Nako (Don’t)! Will take the train..”

Her mom looked as though she was about to say something, but changed her mind at the last minute. She scowled at her mom’s omniscience and shut the door behind her.

Rain was lashing Mumbai. She almost cancelled her plan, but decided against it. She had left things languishing for far too long. She waited on the street for the bus to Dadar station. The bus when it came, was relatively empty. She got in and saw a ladies seat empty. She plopped herself down on it. The window was down because of the rain. Through the dirt smeared plastic, she saw the sea. Haji Ali mosque stood like a lone figure enduring the swell of the enraged waves around it. The skies were grey. She lifted the window and felt the wind on her face. She breathed in lungfuls of it. Despite the unpleasant task lying ahead of her, a small smile played on her lips. Every day of her 28 year old life, she had been filled by joy after glimpsing the sea just outside her window.The bus took a turn. The view of the sea was lost. She became aware that her lap had become damp because of the rain water. She pushed down her window and immediately regretted it. With the monsoon breeze shut out, she felt claustrophobic. The bus trundled on towards Dadar. She felt irritated, the best part of her journey was over and the worst awaited her.

********

She stood on the platform at Dadar station. The downpour continued. A huge crowd of commuters milled around her.She felt good that she had a first class ticket. She saw the train pull into the station. To her dismay, the first class ladies compartment was overflowing! She barely made it into the train. As she got in, she got the wind knocked out of her by an umbrella. When someone stamped on her toe, her flimsy but fashionable sandals did not offer any protection. She stood awkwardly, in the throng of women getting squelched from all sides, her foot smarting. “This must be hell!” She thought. Stench of sweat made more putrid by being soaked in rain, seemed all pervading. She swore to herself, this was the last time.

Why had she liked him in the first place? Was it the good looks. Maybe. Was it to rebel against her mom? She remembered her mom’s words,

“Had he been living in Andheri, Vile Parle would’ve been acceptable. But he stays in god forsaken Virar!! How are we supposed to go there? You have grown up all your life in the town side and are used to a certain level of sophistication. Do you think you can adjust … there?”

How she hated it, her mom had been proven right. The worst part of the relationship, was the sickening commute. And 3 months ago, he had gone and gotten his foot broken playing gully cricket. (Her mom – “30 yr old man playing gully cricket?! How very LS.”) The last many Saturdays, she had been going through this gut wrenching commute, to spend a few minutes with him. Things had started to go downhill. The last few times, they always had had a fight, since she would always be in a foul temper after the horrendous train ride. Yet she had avoided taking her father’s car and chauffeur lest he feel insecure. Despite her attempts to make it work, she had failed, the relationship was a disaster. Today’s rain soaked journey was the last straw. She had to break up with him.

********

She jogged to the extent her flimsy shoes and umbrella allowed. She had to make it back by the 6:14 train and she was already late. She was angry.Their meeting had gone just as she had expected. There had been resentful words punctuated by hateful silences. But now she ran to catch the train that would take her away from Virar, for good, forever. Aghast, she saw the train beginning to pull away when she reached the platform. The ladies dabba was far away, she was going to miss the train!! Just then she had a brain wave, she hopped into the gents 1st class bogey. It was the opposite direction so there was little crowd. She stood a little inwards, to avoid the spray of the rain but outside enough to feel the wind in her hair. She was relieved that she had made it and her return had begun. A bespectacled man, stood facing her immersed in his phone humming a dated tune to himself. To her annoyance it sounded like a 90s Ricky Martin track.

Just then her own phone buzzed. Aai calling.

“Where have you been?” her mom began shrilly. “Do you have no sense of time? We have been worried sick. The train service is about to get cancelled! You have always been so irresponsible..”

She barked into the phone – “Aai, mi kukkula baal nahiye. I am not a baby anymore” and hung up.

Angry tears were flowing down her cheeks. The emotion of the day overwhelmed her, and she began sobbing uncontrollably. The more she tried to control the sobs, the harder she cried. The man in front of her looked alarmed. Through her sobs, she waved to him dismissively.

“Sorry, do not mind me, Just having a bad day, you know commuting to Virar during peak hours.”

He replied, “Aah! Livin’ da Virar local!”

“Sorry?!”

He laughed sheepishly. “Just a forward I got in email. You remember the old Ricky Martin song Livin’ la vida loca? Someone has made a clever little play on it – Livin da Virar local” 

Despite herself, she smiled.

********

The train came to a grinding halt at Andheri. The rain had abated, however the train service had stopped until the water receded from the tracks.

“Looks like we are stuck in Andheri for a while”The bespectacled man said. “Ithe ek McDonalds aahe. Softie?”

She knew that he had overheard her conversation with her mom and so was talking to her in the same language that she spoke.

She mulled it over, then finally shrugged and said“Ho Chaalel.(Yes, will do)” She hesitated then. “Umm. Aapla naav? (Your name?)”

He smiled and said, “Oh sorry, mi Shrinivasan Mulye.”

“Shrinivasan Mulye??”

“Ho Baba Kobra. Aai Tamil. Matunga (Dad is Kokanastha brahmin, Mom Tamil)”

She laughed at that, and suddenly felt light and relaxed. Funny how a small but genuine laugh can brighten your day!

 ********

She enjoyed that evening with Shri. Strangely, she did not realize when she started calling him that. He was smart and funny. She smiled to herself when she thought about what her mom would say about him, probably would not be too happy about his Tamil mom and dark complexion. And Matunga, that was a stone’s throw away from where she lived. A very very convenient commute! She felt amazed at how well the day was about to end. The train service started. They got into the gents first dabba again to continue their conversation.

She asked him, “So are you getting off at Matunga?”

He said, “Oh we no longer stay in Matunga. I am just here visiting a few friends. We moved a long time back. I am getting off at Santa Cruz, to catch a flight back home. Hope its not cancelled in this dreadful weather. Had forgotten how Mumbai rains can be!”

She felt her heart sink. She asked him, her voice shaking, “So where do you stay?”

He replied brightly “In a town called Mysore in Karnataka. You should come visit sometime. There’s a beautiful palace there.”

********
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The girl …

Posted on September 23, 2010. Filed under: Book Review, Essay | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

With the dragon tattoo

Who played with fire

And kicked the hornet’s nest!

Quite an enigmatic beginning to a simple old book review, don’t you think so? These are three crime novels by a Swedish author, Stieg Larsson and are part of a trilogy called Millennium. I, of course, read their English translation. Oh, before I forget, SPOILER ALERT.  I

promise not to give away the endings, but I will reveal a large amount of the plot.

What made me take it up in the first place? Simple, The movie! The buzz surrounding the movie made on the first book, piqued my curiosity. I read the book review in NYTimes, and the books promised to be one masochistic journey, but the plot continued to draw me.I started reading ‘The Dragon Tattoo’ and was hooked for good. I am still in the process of reading ‘The Hornet’s nest’ and am nearing the end. I am sad that the journey is over, and though a little painful, it was largely enjoyable.

.. Dragon tattoo‘ is almost reminiscent of Agatha Christie. Our hero, Michael Blomquist (a journalist and a minor celebrity), is asked to investigate the disappearance of the missing heiress of a Swedish old money family.  He uncovers much more than a  cupboard full of skeletons, to put it mildly. He is assisted in this quest by our girl, The girl, Lisbeth Salander. Words cannot express how much I loved her character. She is this semi goth, semi punk girl, with piercings, tattoos. Ominous clues about her past are given and we can guess that she has been a victim of abuse of several years. She is not socially adept, probably because of the abuse she has suffered and she is also suspected to have Asperger’s syndrome. In the book itself, she becomes the victim of a brutal rape. However, she does not report to the authorities (presumably because she has been badly treated by them before and also because she is universally detested and looked down upon.) She exacts revenge in an equally brutal manner on the perpetrator.  Thus she has no sense of right and wrong, as perceived by normal people. However, she is a brilliant hacker and also has a photographic memory.  Her character reminded me of Chanda from Dev D. A girl who is grossly misunderstood, a victim of societal norms and yet ever so spunky! Someone who makes lemonade out of the lemons life throws her way, in her own strange style.

Anyways so Michael and Lisbeth, get to the bottom of the mystery by doing Google searches. Michael comes close to getting himself killed and Lisbeth saves him. She also uses her hacking skills and helps Michael get even with his old enemy. Blomquist is shown to be the editor of a magazine called Millenium. The 3 books describe the intricacies of publishing a magazine and I enjoyed reading about them.  Michael is shown to believe that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Lisbeth believes him to be a naive fool and fights her battles with a can of Mace, a Taser and a tattoo gun.

The second novel  ‘..Played with Fire‘ is more over the top than ‘..Dragon Tattoo‘. It has larger than life action. Lisbeth escapes miraculously from many of her trysts with danger. More light is thrown upon Lisbeth’s ghastly childhood.  The plot is that, there are 3 murders in Stockholm and somehow all of them point to Lisbeth. Somehow these murders are also related to a story Millennium and Blomquist were working on. So it is upto Micke (short for Michael in Swedish) to exonerate his buddy Salander.  At the end of this book, Lisbeth’s utterly dysfunctional family members (a euphemism for psychopathic) try to kill her. This time Michael saves her.

In the third book, ‘ .. kicked Hornet’s nest’, Lisbeth has not just kicked a hornet’s nest, she has become hopelessly entangled in it. Powerful people are her enemies. However a few faithful friends are still behind her. Blomquist is fighting for her in the only way he can, by writing a story in Millennium.  There also are many subplots some of which do not contribute to the pace of the story. However, it still remains entertaining. In the end, after a farcical trial (seriously Swedish courts are that bad?) Lisbeth gets a happy ending. Well, sort of! Thankfully, Michael and Lisbeth do not walk hand in hand into the Aurora Borealis (It’s Sweden guys, no romantic sunsets there!).

What I loved about these books:

1.       Lisbeth Salander- Amongst all the books I have read recently, she is definitely the freshest take on the contemporary woman. If we pity her, it is only fleetingly. We just wait for her to bounce back in her own quirky way.

2.       Description of the day to day workings of a magazine – What research goes on behind a story, when is the right time to publish, when should you kill a story. Loved reading about it!

What I did not like as much:

1.       The character of Michael – A cad to the hilt! Tells all the women he sleeps with, I cannot be faithful to you, and all the women still melt! He never feels threatened by the women he dates (they are all shown to be strong, successful and independent) and never questions himself.  He is Mr. Righteousness and a great stickler for rules! In short, I did not believe him, he is not flawed enough. He is shown to be so irresistible that even Salander ends up in love with him. Rolling eyes emoticon here.

2.       The subplots within subplots do meander and drag down the pace of the narrative.

3.       Other characters – They have no personal lives. They drink coffee endlessly. Their lives are devoted to their work. Some of them are so oversexed, despite their advanced ages. Michal himself is nearing 50 and regularly sleeps around with his colleague and friend Erika. What more, this relationship is blessed by Erika’s husband!  Rolling eyes again!

All in all, a big thumbs up from me! Loved this dalliance with Nordic noir.

PS: Would love some book recommendations in comments!

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Who said to whom?

Posted on August 31, 2010. Filed under: Essay | Tags: , , , |

Below, we have excerpts from three conversations, each between two individuals. Let us call the first pair A and B, the second C and D and the last E and F. (Yes, highly imaginative names!).  Anyways, here goes!

A saying to B:

“You know the way he cooks potatoes. He does not peel them. Just dices them as is and puts them in the pan. At home, we don’t make them that way. We peel them carefully first ..” (What A meant: The potato peeler and thus his family are so stingy that to save a few slivers of potatoes, they don’t peel them and A’s family does not worry about such trivial details.)

C saying to D (D was soon to be married):

“So, (in your wedding) wearing a pure silk madisar and all huh?” (madisar a traditional nine yard saree worn by the bride in a Tamil wedding.) (What C meant: Apparently a pure silk madisar is the sign of great affluence. So, C wanted to find out if D’s in-laws/parents are rich enough to buy her one.)

E saying to F:

“Oh this t-shirt that you are wearing, is it new? I’ve never seen you wear it before. Did you buy it from Bebe?” (E asked me this, because the t-shirt that I was wearing had the graphic of sparkly stuff on its front, common to many Bebe t-shirts)

Now comes the question. What are the genders of A, C and E?

I am sure if you had to guess,

  • A would be a lady in her 20s-30s, probably dishing out the typical invective against in-laws.
  • C would be probably be in her 20s again, jealous of the ‘alleged’ affluence of D.
  • E would be one of F’s girl friends keenly observing F’s daily attire and drawing surmises.

What would you say, if I were to tell you all the above guesses are WRONG! Yes indeed they are all wrong.

B, D and F are one and the same person, and that person is me. That was easy enough. A, C and E also refer to the same person, but it is not a She. It is a He!  He is my age (late 20s). He is educated, works for a highly respectable software firm in the USA. He is not a figment of my imagination but is someone I know personally. The potato peeler in the first conversation was his roommate. All these are true conversations between the two of us.

So why were none of us able to hazard the right answer? It is because of the society we live in and because we are so tightly wound up in prejudices. A woman only talks about fashion, petty gossip and always is jealous. A man only talks about his accomplishments at work, trekking, gadgets and cars.  A person’s being spiteful, hysterical, gossipy, competent is not related to his or her gender or race or sexual orientation!

None of these stereotypes hold true today. Alas, we the people, are still wound up in them as before!

PS: So since I blogged this, many of my friends (needless to say male) are asking me if I have decided to take up activism to build a political career.  1 post about gender equality is enough to qualify me as a pot throwing, belan toting, man eating activist. Jeez!

PPS: Inspired by this post from IHM.

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My ‘Classical’ Love Affair

Posted on August 3, 2010. Filed under: Essay | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Summer vacations were going on. I must have been 9 or 10 years old. That one glorious year, we were living on the 5th floor in a building just beside a comparatively secluded part of Juhu beach. Everybody at home was asleep. Somehow I was awake. I still remember the day quite vividly. I was listlessly moving around from one room to another looking for something to do. For some unbeknownst reason, I opened one of the rusting Godrej cupboards and began rummaging through it. And there it was – a veritable treasure trove. No it was not a gateway to Narnia, but to another world that I discovered.  Abridged versions of English classics! They had been textbooks of my dad and aunt and had been stowed away for so many years.  At that instant, I was unaware that my love affair with classics had begun.

I took the Count of Monte Cristo and began reading. I read with horror as Dantes was wrongly accused of treason and carted off to Chateau D’If.  The book took me to France and Italy, amidst rocky seas and grim prison islands, to beautiful women and treacherous men. I devoured it all up in one sitting. Probably since it was a kiddie book it ended as a happy ending. Edmond escapes from the prison, gets his treasure and is reunited with Mercedez. I lived in this ignorance caused bliss. I did not read the revenge saga until I became an adult.

Of course, this post would be incomplete without the mention of Pride and Prejudice. There is something about Mr. Darcy.  All my friends who have read this book are still in love with him. Something about his haughty demeanor yet kind heart. Maybe psychologists and psychoanalysts may have something to say about women’s fixation for Mr. Darcy. A must read for all girls of all ages.

Many years have now passed after that summer. My fervor in books has lessened because of the pressures of making a living. I am less adventurous now, when I choose authors. But with most classics I have never gone wrong.

I dove into To Kill a Mocking bird with a clean frame of mind. I did not know its story, but I knew that it was a Pulitzer winning book. I was not disappointed. Every page I turned, I found myself being enthralled more and more.  The escapades of Scout and Jem, reminded me of my own misadventures with my sisters. The unfortunate events by which they ‘come of age’ filled me with sorrow, but at the end I felt optimistic about the inherent goodness of human beings.  I would definitely recommend it to someone who wants to begin reading, because it is a great story written in a lucid way. (I tried it on #win, but he has not yet read it to my dismay.)

Another delightful classic is Catch 22. I remember clutching my sides and laughing while I was reading it. But the next instant I would realize the grief that the comedy tries to veil, albeit thinly. An example is this guy who strives to make his life boring because being bored gives you an illusion of time having slowed down, and time slowing down makes your impending death seem farther (it is a story of disillusioned aircraft pilots, fighting a futile war). A long-ish book, but each and every page is a delight.

Another classic with a ‘catch’ is A Catcher in the Rye. I had a hard time reading it because of its strange prose style. Probably because of this staccato style, the effect on the reader is so great. I remember being disturbed for days on end after reading it.  This story of an angst ridden teenager struck a chord really close to my heart.  I would not want to read it again, but I am sure everyone will find a piece of themselves in that book.

So, what is on my reading list now? Ulysses, Lolita, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, A Brave New World, Howard’s End… If you have read any or all of these, do let me know your opinions. Happy reading!

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Who Said It?

Posted on July 20, 2010. Filed under: Essay, Information, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Cut back to January 2010. A popular Indian super star made comments about India’s esteemed neighbors and their goodness and all hell broke loose. A right wing political party obviously took offense at the said superstar’s comments and as usual resorted to their half baked threats against the star and his upcoming movie. This episode had all the makings of a super duper hit – Bollywood, Cricket and Politics. At the end, the political party got face-time in all sorts of media outlets making their opinion heard. This political party has time and again lost crucial elections and their opinion basically amounts to nought, so this face-time was quite important to them, probably. The superstar got fokat ka (free) publicity for his movie (we all know how ‘good’ it was). And they lived happily ever after ..

Wait, still some players in the saga have to be discussed. The Indian media and Us . I am a part of the minority of Indians who watches English language news channels to get my daily dose of news. As this episode unfolded, I was flipping through channels. To me, all the channels seemed to converge into one. “Mumbai belongs to all of us“, who said it? Was it Sachin Tendulkar or Shah Rukh Khan? Or was it Pranoy or Rajdeep? Was it CNN-IBN or Times Now?

“Who said it? Was it Sachin Tendulkar or Shah Rukh Khan? Or was it Pranoy or Rajdeep? Was it CNN-IBN or Times Now?”

I could not distinguish Barkha from Sagarika from Arnab. Each and every channel was quoting oft repeated platitudes. The said political party was being made the punching bag, the star was being raised to pedestals. All the channels and their presenters professed the same opinion. Each of these channels featured an opinion poll on the lines of –“Do you support Sena’s bandh against the showing of My Name is Khan? SMS Yes or No“. Each of the channels were displaying the ‘Tweets ticker’ – displaying related tweets updated on the clock.  (Probably these channels do not know about Twitter Search, Trending Topics and hash tags). The same people appeared on every channel voicing their stale opinions. After all, there should be something to fill time when the channel’s claim is ‘News 24X7‘.

That leaves the fourth player – We the people. Or namely, Me (since the opinions in this blog are solely my own and not my employers’ or my relatives’). I am quite dense when it comes to really serious matters such as –

1. Whether the media is allowed to have an opinion? Whether the anchors should use their channels as platforms to foist their opinion on the public or whether they should portray truth in an unbiased way and let the public form an opinion of their own?

2. Whether it is okay to divulge information on national television that may threaten national or individual security because it sensationalizes news?

Nopes, these are weighty matters that better be left to those who are qualified to weigh upon them. But it never ceases to amaze me, how our news anchors, who are scholars from St. Stephens and Oxford, cannot see this glaring and blaring sameness in all the channels? The public is so immersed in ennui, that even blockbusters with Bollywood, Cricket and Politics do not excite us. I do understand that it is important to play to the galleries in this mad rush for ratings. However, I have to ask – Does boring to death sell so much? Well, yea, probably it does because we see Daya breaking the darwaza and Pradyuman twirling his finger every single day of our miserable lives.

Note from author: This is an entry for this BlogAdda Contest whose sponsors are Pringoo.

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