30 March, 2009

My World Goes Up & Down

Raosaheb Mane looked down the crease of his grey trouser of the uniform he wore. On his way to work a commuter from a passing bus had spat beetle juice from the open window. It had barely missed him but a few red spots had gathered from the ricocheting missile on his trousers. They were barely noticeable but the habits of his fellow citizens left him with disgust. The city had changed around him from Bombay to Mumbai in the 26 years of his service. He had graduated from an ex-serviceman of the Indian army on short commission, to beingthe security guard of Mehra Chambers in South Bombay. Today his advanced age saw him as a liftman, a position he occupied for the last 3 years.

Earlier he had stood outside near the gate of the building keeping watch and today he operated the lift inside it. The elevator was recently changed from the old clatter-trap ribbed cage to the swanky steel cubicle in the building renovation. The tenor of the building too had changed though most of the original occupants were the same. These were companies in financial services, broking houses and a few engaged in the textile business amongst others. Modernization had seen that the offices above became air-conditioned including the lobby and the occupying staff growing younger by the day. He was retained by the managing committee of the building. Nobody likes rampant change and it is still a comfort to see a familiar cheerful face from old times and Raosaheb’s was one such. He never talked much but smiled a welcome and nodded when someone wished him back. His sons had often teased him about his job and what had he seen of life when all he did was stand in one place; Both when he was in security to now when he was virtually inside a steel box of nine feet by six feet. He just smiled to himself on the callowness of youth. Was it really necessary to have travelled the world to see it? He had seen it zip past his station as a security guard and now it came to him inside his box. Oh, his world too was rich in its tapestry; one only needs to be a discreet yet respectful observer to view its vividness.

Just in the morning today hadn’t he seen Mr. Sinha from 1402 make eyes at Ms. Seema from 1218 over the crowded elevator to meet him for dinner and she had nodded with a smile. This was a romance that had blossomed under Raosaheb’s keen eyes and began in the elevator four months ago, progressed from half smiles and polite though interested nods to a dinner date tonight. They made a good couple and he wished them well. His associations with people were their office numbers and he had been relatively good at figures. This did not mean that all figures that went up or down were presentable.

There came Mrs. Gupta rolling across the lobby in her sari and he was horrified to see a crowd of young staffers on their way up. The capacity was 13 persons including the liftman and Mrs. Gupta was person number 12. Predictably she squeezed in and stood beside him and rammed his face against the far wall. His glasses started slipping down and her corpulent arm was against his shoulder. He almost fainted from the fragrance emmmited by her raised arm resting against the elevator door,despite the air conditioning she sweated buckets and the shoulder of his uniform had a wet stain on it as they swept to 5th floor where she stumbled out. Suddenly the atmosphere inside the elevator lightened and one typist quite cutely asked another “kitney yards ki sari lagti hogi usey?”And they started giggling. Youth has no mercy as he stifled a smile. Another such incident had happened with the heartthrob of the building Ms. Rosie the PA to Mr. Damani. Rosie was an extremely comely girl who wore short skirts on a good pair of legs.The young wolves of the building and even a few old dogs would time their entries to hers. To be in the same elevator as hers was a good omen for the day. Raj the joker had made a comment when the building was being painted and everybody got white dust on their shoes. Rosie too got her share of the dust and after she alighted he said to his companion, “Today she isn’t wearing anything under that skirt, did you notice?” What? Aghast his companion had enviously looked at Raj, "Did you actually see?" "Nope" said Raj, "But I did see the dandruff on her shoes" and his laughter echoed in the lift all the way up to the 14th floor.Nasty and below the belt is also another sign of youth, tolerance comes with age. But that devil did have sensational timing and a wicked choice of words, he thought to himself.

On the 18th floor where the lift emptied out its last passenger out, in came Lakhan Dhumalia the peon of 1805 with some papers to be delivered to their second office on 7th floor. A sweetly minty flavor of his chewing tobacco tickled his nostrils. On 17th floor Chunni the sweeper came in and Lakhan started flirting with her. She too gave him the glad eye till he extended his luck and fondled her rear when she shrieked and gave him one resounding slap followed by a few choice words invoking his mother and sister. Raosaheb stared steadfastly at the buttons of the controls and the polished steel surface reflected the action behind him. Lakhan was nonplussed but nudged her again and smiled shamelessly at her;she too pinched his waist. This was a routine as he slipped a hand around her waist and dragged her close and gave her a kiss. This time his watchful eye was on the approaching floor.When the doors opened on the 7th floor he had slapped her rear & very smartly jumped out with a victorious smirk. A swear word followed his laughing back. She too coyly fidgeted as the lift reached the basement where she collected her things and moved to the next building. Raosaheb knew these two; they were sleeping partners in an apparently amorous joint-venture.

Rangya Patil the driver of the Mercedes belonging to Mr. Shah in 1705 came on over from his car park. Raosaheb and Rangya were friends and he fished out an amla supari and offered to him. Raosaheb took a couple and chewing on the same chit chatted a while till someone called the lift up. Three sub-brokers were on their way to lunch and were discussing the solid gains made by one on "Reliance" which he had “shorted”. He planned to double his position when they were back by playing long. The secretary group from 16th floor came on down and one had discovered the super store where they got genuine leather purses at 40% discounted prices and the lift was full of the din of their shrieks. He enjoyed this noise, it was happiness in action. The doors opened on the ground floor & their shrieks suddenly stopped as their GM Mr. Kamath stood quietly with a stern expression. The girls had been transformed into mute mice who speedily in a file escaped the building. Kamath was an old hand and he enquired about Raosaheb as he stood up from his stool and greeted him. Without another word he departed into his office. He was stern but kindly and he actually was fond of his tribe of secretaries but he could never let them know it. Raosaheb saw it all. Mr. Bhupen Choksey was waiting on the 15th and as soon as he entered the lift he gave a resounding fart that bounced across the steel walls and Raosaheb reacted instantly. His yoga helped him hold his breath all the way to the ground floor, where he for the first time since morning, got out of the elevator and exhaled. Then he kept the doors open to air the compartment. Looked like Bhupenbhai’s wife had packed in a solid lunch full of spuds and he in his own unique fashion had announced the menu. The one who said a job of a liftman was safer than the army had definitely not endured this bizarre stink attack in closed confines. It was a daily hazard and unpredictable, some didnt even purr a warning, they just hit you.

He put the elevator on auto-mode in which it would function over the next half hour. He unwrapped his lunch and sat in the maintenance room and chewed on the roti subzi with pleasure. It was 3.30 in the afternoon and a bunch of young sales executives came down for their tea and smokes and they talked about the latest movie in town. The ecosystem in the elevator was always rich and he saw his slice of the world all sitting on his stool till 8.30pm every day. Silently he would lock his elevator from the manual to the auto-mode and make his way out following those working late in the building. His life had a routine but within that routine existed an excitement that he savored. Would he ever be able to articulate this thrilling side of his job to his sons, as they sat and teased him over their one meal together in the night? Possibly never, thought he as he lay down to rest in front of their new color TV.

26 March, 2009

Series : Two Birds & a Ghost

I never believed in ghosts, but three months from the date I was cremated at the Shivaji Park crematorium at Dadar, Mumbai, am still here. Contrary to popular belief was not an unsatisfied soul either. I had seen the crows gorge on the symbolic rice cakes within seconds. Had always found this ritual pretty silly in life and the crow was a singularly intelligent bird. No crow that I knew and knew plenty of them personally now, would ever refuse a ghee laden rice cake. The only time they didn’t touch them was when people used government sanctioned (Ration) rice and rancid ghee. This seemed to be a trick played by the priests quite often, Ramlakhan the grey feathered old one cawed to me. When they saw the family was fairly well heeled, a touch of the rancid ghee was added and for hours the crows wouldn’t touch it till no other food being in sight and being famished would peck at it. Then a lot of rituals would get added for soul purifying and its peaceful passage to the other world. It was a game like many others played by capricious humans for the lure of the lucre.

Why was I still here, then? Was it to spy on my family and friends on how much they missed me, now that physically I was no more? I put this thought away too as had lived a satisfying life and may have hurt people by my brash conduct sometimes but had left behind no real enemies. Even my earnings had been well organized and the solicitors had carried out my instructions to the letter. Here too had not perceived many unexpected reactions or unhappy faces. The family had been left well provided for and materially they would want for nothing was the care taken. I had been pretty meticulous about all matters related to money. This was despite the happily disorganized exterior and boisterous buffoonery that had been my earthly persona.

The boss of all spirits had asked me when I would be joining his team. Now this looked suspiciously like a recruiting process and I asked him what my options are? He said there are several options, you can join my team. We have lots of positions vacant for experienced and qualified souls. After the work is done there are exotic conferences where all departed spirits gather. Here we educate them in the new ways of the afterworld followed by parties and organized excursions which can be fun. The other is you can choose to be a free spirit and wander at will but here you may not really come in to contact with many qualified spirits from my team. So it’s rather a lonely option, you may have some animals and birds for company who are associated with our world like crows, ravens, vultures, cats, wolves and dogs amongst others and other free spirits. Does it affect my status as a spirit in my powers, I asked him? Well this is a good question, actually no. But the learnings in the latest developments have to be acquired by you on your own. Can one change ones status from a free spirit to a bonded spirit? This seemed to annoy him and rather testily he said that there are no bonded spirits but yes in the larger team the rules are different and my authority is absolute. But the laws are uniform for all and we are fair. What do you choose? I want to have the free spirit option. He looked disappointed and as a last ditch attempt showed me the luxurious quarters in the cloudy enclave and the latest models of sky mobiles to the fume filled earth below. No prizes for guessing which option was chosen by and how I came to be sitting here with Ramlakhan on top of the old TV tower at Worli.

We enjoyed each other’s company as he like me enjoyed a good laugh. His grey feathers went in several different directions when he guffawed. He used to fondly address me as PHS (permanently high spirit) and had often mentioned that should I decide to become matter again, come to me inside a bottle as a liquid. Our humor was rather spiritual hence there is a possibility it may escape the readers. 

He reintroduced to me the city that I had lived & passed away, from a much different angle. The aerial outside perspective and it seemed like a completely different place from the one I knew. Ramlakhan was the chief of his tribe of black and grey crows and the 72 ravens in the city. Once in a while he would link up with his counterpart from the depleting tribe of vultures at Malabar Hill. Rustom, the chief of Vultures was a mangy middling aged bird with countless folds in his neck on a bald head, fierce red eyes, a nasty curved beak and a huge wing span. Feasting on the dead Parsees of Mumbai had made him rather peculiar in his ways. He was fastidious about food (he ate only Parsees) punctilious about time, had a mad sense of fun and was extremely far sighted on the fate of his tribe. He blamed their dwindling to the archaic customs of the Parsee Panchayat which until recently had not done much to add to the number of Parsees in the world. He hoped to increase his tribe too now that rules for remaining a Parsee had been slackened slightly. There was more food available. 

Ramlakhan, Rustom and I- PHS would keep to heights when we flew together. Rustom envied my invisible status to the human eyes as they would throw stones at him. Once after a long flight from checking up on his branch office at Pune, for a breather, he landed up on a kitchen window sill at Malabar hill. The vegetarian maharaj who was cooking in the Marwari household frying something saw Rustom and almost became a spirit himself, he with the ladle clutched crumpled into a faint on the floor. The next time Rustom flew past that window he saw a different person doing the cooking; apparently the first one is still recovering from his fright at his native place. Despite his not exactly movie star looks, Rustom is a warm lovable bird but wisely decided that live human company was not for him. 

I enjoyed our chats sitting at the Tower of Silence of Malabar Hill. He and Ramlakhan though both born in Bombay had travelled across several countries. In the last quarter, I had seen my city differently seen all the sights I missed while I had slept for 1/3rd of my life. This city truly never did sleep. Saw the Good, Bad & Ugly side of the metropolis at all times of the day or night. I had a distinct plan to accomplish all that would not have been possible in one lifetime. And with the speed of thought was sitting on top of Mt. Everest, Did not feel the cold but the sight was enough to please me. These were the places that Rustom and Ramlakhan could not accompany me to. But we had planned a trip around the world together and we would do it in the next season. I liked being a free spirit and enjoyed my new pals and was wondering what I should label our world tour. The Adventures of the Ghost & the Scavengers or had it been a C-grade Bollywood film would it have been “Kauvey, Giddhh aur Bhoot ki ajeeb dastaan”? Who knows maybe one of us is at this moment watching you read this and deciding the aptness of the title from your reaction. Until later…watch this space. ( to be continued )

24 March, 2009

Sweeping Dreams ; Phuli's Fable

Phuli squatted besides the railway track adjoining her slum in the darkness. It was just before dawn. Her water filled tin to wash off, clutched in her hand to her right. This was the only time permissible for the women in the slum to answer nature’s calls. She had a favorite spot behind a bush which overlooked the track on a rise where from she could see the trains pass by. Today she was happy and was humming a song to herself. The humming was lost as a train thundered by and she started to think how lucky she was in all of her 21 years.

It was one such train that had brought her here to the city of dreams – Bombay, from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. Phuli was born Phoolmati into the house of Laloo Bhangi and was the sixth girl child to be born after her brother. Both her mother and father had cried when she was born. After Minnat her brother they thought they had discovered the secret position and measured strokes to procreate only male children, and then there was Phuli. She didn’t know any of this until an elderly aunt told her. At age 7 she had barely understood. Phuli was a happy child who had liked and been able to go to school. She was a pretty decent student too. She passed out of the ninth standard, but matriculation cost money & her parents couldn’t afford this. Bhangi is a caste who sweep and clean. And even amongst them Laloo' and his family were amongst the poorest, little wonder with so many young ones. Every able hand was put to work.

Her schoolmaster Radha Kishan Pandeyji a Brahman of higher caste, was open of thought and believed in meritocracy.This caste system did not stand high in his thoughts . He was genuinely sad that Phuli would have to leave school soon. It was inevitable with the children of his school and area. Here the parents didn’t spend on education but availed it till it was free and no more. He gave Phuli the same advice he had given to many students earlier "(Beta, Kam me dil lagao wohi tumhara suchaa saathi hai aur bahut duur le jayegaa) 'whatever you do, love your work, make it your best friend.Work done well is its own reward and shall definitely take you far in life. "Yes Master ji" Phuli had said with folded hands.

The same day coming back from school, on the road she had found a folded ten rupee note that she quietly tucked into her lehenga. She would have given it to her mother otherwise but for the last week there was a fair on in the village ground. Along also had come a travelling cinema and ducking work she had gone and bought a Rs.5 ticket to see “Dilwaley Dulhaniya Le Jayenge”. Phuli had never seen cinema before and she was lost in the magical world of Kajol and Shahrukh Khan. This movie changed Phuli forever. Though what stayed on in her memory were not the young and passionate romance of the lead pair but the extremely clean platforms and trains of "Foreign" (London). She had never seen clean trains in her life. Once they had travelled to Jaunpur to Lucknow the train bogey she had boarded with her family had betel nut stains on the walls and the compartments stank of stale sweat and urine.

Again and again she marveled at the stations and began to dream of the amount of work required to keep the stations so. She dreamt about being a part of that labor force which created cleanliness and hygiene. Dreams too have a funny way of flexing themselves around ones own frame of reference.

At eighteen, she like all girls there received a proposal for marriage .When she saw the groom, she was horrified. He was nearing 50 years and was Okayed by her parents because he was paying them money rather than demanding a dowry. She cried into her pillow long through the night. She bundled up her three lehengas and two blouses in a chunri, stole 200 rupees from her father’s shirt and ran away to the station and boarded the first train away.

When she disembarked at VT station after three days she was astounded at the size of this city Bombay or Bambaai as the locals pronounced it. Speaking with people and asking for jobs, it was now three years that she had settled in the slums of Matunga. She worked as sweeper for a few societies in the mornings. The rest of the day time , she doubled up as a substitute for a municipal sweeper. He parted with a portion of his wages while he ran a travel and manpower agency sending people abroad. Ganpat, the man whose work she did was mighty happy with her unlike the other sweepers because Phuli never slacked and did her job with diligence. Her roads did not need to be even inspected on his way back they would be spotlessly clean the garbage bins cleaned and lidded and a smiling Phuli would be there to receive her daily wages from him. Phuli also did not ask for a raise in his three years when she worked. He would on his own, give her more each year and she was happy. One day he had asked her what she wanted in life, wouldn’t she want marriage or kids and she quietly shook her head. Then what is your wish? He asked. Saab aap hasogey nahi to bataati hoon( if you dont laugh, shall tell you ), and her foreign dream of sweeping in London came tumbling out. The tone in her voice and her tentativeness reached out to Ganpat and touched him deep. Ration card hai? He asked her..haan saab said she..tu fikar nako karoos let me see what can be done. Angootha laga sakegi na? Phuli surprised him by saying Saab main sign karungi aur angreji bhi jaanti hoon “little little I speak. I am ninth standard pass. But I am bhangee”."Wahan yeh sub koi nahi dekhta hai...dont worry" he assured.

Ganpat in the next few months got her to sign a few papers.One day he was waiting for her,beaming. "Take this and keep it very safe" he thrust a blue colored booklet Phuli "Yeh tera passport hai". Phuli was thrilled and he told her "Agley mahiney tereko ek lot ke saath hum London bhejenge. Wahan humko labour contract milaa hai..tum saaf safai ke team ke saath jaaogi". Phuli burst out crying as no one had done so much for her and she touched his feet and he said fondly pagli.."Yeh teraa kaam tujhey aagey le ja raha hai". The words of her teacher came back to her and she sniffled. "Ganpatji you have done so much for a mere sweeper, a bhangee". Remember, said he solemnly “Just because one has roots isn’t one allowed to have wings? They aren’t mutually exclusive you know”. Then in a warm gruff voice “Be ready we leave tomorrow night".

She finished the water as she washed and got up with a huge smile as the sun rose in the sky heralding a bright new day. The clacking wheels of the passing train created a special rhythm, the melody of a bright new future.

17 March, 2009

Morning Walk - The First Day

The morning didn’t begin exactly well, woke up with a start to a sore posterior. By the time the sleep befuddled mind was clearing up saw the missus drawing back her foot. Holy cow… had been kicked awake by a determined face all geared up in her exercise mode finery. Had promised the wife that would be joining her for the daily regimen over a few weeks but “procrastination” was the culprit. I justified my laziness using a huge word. The morning slumber is precious. Having to give it up & the lovely dreams approaching their climaxes for sweat and pain was not my idea of fun. But not only had my deadline passed but had exceeded the grace period as well, which explained the aching rear end. I tried using my charm as she came back with a T-Shirt, Track pant and running shoes all in a bundle which she hurled at my head. The shoes hurt. “Don’t u bloody well bat those eyes or give me that oh so innocent expression” she growled "you are coming and that’s final and in five minutes too", with this ultimatum the bedroom door slammed.

Grudgingly agreed that had put on a few pounds (ok ok more than just a few !!!) but didn’t the Chinese respect a man with a belly? I asked her. She fumbled through our document drawer and something blue flashed before my face as I hurriedly laced up my shoes. It was my passport, “Are you Chinese?” she hissed. I knew when i was licked and mustering up whatever dignity left, we started for the ground nearby. It had a walking track and a green patch.

Jeezzz, it was 6.10 am as I looked at my watch. The cool air removed the last vestiges of sleep on me.There were some known faces from the neighborhood that were on their way back having completed their routines. Some cheerfully smiled at me. One cheekily even asked me “Out for a change is it?” I pasted a weak smile on my face and trudged along. Mornings are not my favorite times but when the better half has so majestically decreed, the not so better half is left with no option. As we reached the track the missus streamed ahead getting into her rhythm and moving past other walkers nodding to some, yet not slackening pace. Now that I was here, put my “serious man on a mission face” and start walking. This was the external profile; the somber expression but my eyes were taking in this whole scene out here. It looked like it would be fun, not my walk, mind you, but the experience.

This track is a musical jogging track (whatever that means, in the lamp columns there are speakers which spew music from some distantly placed music system). A light devotional song was playing in the praise of the lord. It was 6.27am. I kept walking and the very minute the minute hand touched 6.30am Bappi Lahiri’s voice jumped out of the speakers “ Yaar Bina Cheyn Kaha Re eyyyyy” this was too hilarious for words. I stood for a moment in surprise and got bumped into by the walkers from behind as I could not hold my laughter. Annoyed, somebody jostled me from behind “if you want to laugh get on the green the laughter club is at the other end” and sure enough a group of 25-30 people were swaying their hands like maniacs and laughing uproariously. This was supposed to some kind of a therapy and the seriousness with which it was being practiced was a unique sight for me. Why would respectable people from middle class backgrounds with varying ages from 20-80 yrs act like certifiable locos in public, under the name of therapeutic exercise ? Was I the only sane person left in a world gone nuts, I wondered. I plodded on.

An elderly man was walking his dog on the track ahead of me. The dog was a mixed breed. Pets are family to most owners but how do they acquire the features of their owners is an occurrence that has me beaten. It may be due to co-habitation, my mind tried to create a pseudo-scientific explanation to this phenomenon. Observing the serious faced dog marching in the centre while his master struggled to stay on the track made it obvious that it was the dog walking the man. On the green grass there were some who were doing vigorous stretches and a group was practicing yoga.

Suddenly a lovely young woman was walking beside me . My shoulders automatically squared and even the pace picked up a bit. The natural instincts of the animal kingdom took over and the peacock in me tried to unfurl his imaginary colorful tail to do the mating dance. But she seemed like a veteran here and before the tail was fully unfurled she had zipped past at a furious pace. I was left behind watching the waddling adipose of an extremely obese lady huffing ahead in a sari. Each step had some part of hers jiggling in a different direction. It was almost as if a triple sized bean bag had been animated and forced onto the track. I gently edged past her and heaved a sigh. As I approached the end of the circuit, from the return side the missus with her eagle eyes waved three fingers indicating that the target was three rounds. Near the end of the track were a temple and a paper stand where it curved to create a parallel return path. Here there were vendors who marketed their wares. A man was selling herbal juices. This was with a menu card highlighting the medicinal benefits of the colorful potions inside each glass bottle on display. Wheat grass seemed to be the flavor of the day. People who had finished their walks/runs were drinking from small measure cups costing Rs.15 to Rs.30. I passed this sight and was looking at the embankment. Here groups of senior citizens were having animated discussions. It seemed like they were having fun too cackling and jostling each other like schoolboys.

Just ahead of me was a person who was a walking endorsement board. He seemed to be wearing all brands that are probably possible to display on oneself. Nike footwear, Adidas vest, Blackberry on one side of his belt and an Apple I-pod on the other, he was communicating with someone. It was a business call being taken in a style that all around here his busy and connected state of affairs was advertised. “Goddammit, I want this done’ screamed he into the speaker that had a few old people jumping out of his way. The sound & the tone was quite like that of a canine whose tail is accidentally stepped upon. My competitive instincts saw my hand groping for my cell phone only to realise it was at home. Then again who in my network would ever call me at this ungodly hour? All would be snoring away inside their warm beds while I sweated. The feeling of righteous nobility at my health focused industry started and blossomed up inside me. On this self important feeling alone I breezed through one full circle. Only one more circle to go now.

New people joined in while those who had finished were leaving. The Diaspora of faces was changing every hour and I could now spot a cluster of three very attractive ladies casually walking ahead of me. Two were sari clad while the third one was wearing attire similar to mine. Again the spring returned to my step and was breezing past making eyes. One of them even noticed and giggled. Hmmm now the track was looking promising enough to return again tomorrow. The wife was sitting on the stone bench near the entrance watching my lecherous performance with a smile. I grinned back and reached her as she said’ having fun you dog? See I told you it’s not all that bad. Now come home and I shall make us a huge pot of tea without sugar and since you have been such a good boy, you can even eat one Shrewsbury biscuit as a reward." I just turned my face to her and said “woof woof madam". She punched my arm, her eyes twinkling, as we walked back home.

14 March, 2009

The Beatles -One Memorable Number

The road was straight and empty and the trees whizzed past with a blur. It had been a long day and had to cover 20 odd miles more to home. It was a sultry 97degF in the shade & had rolled down the windows. The wind whipped past my ears, tore through the hair and kept me awake. The radio was spluttering some gobbledygook as the jockey went on and on…some time back had stopped listening closely. Utterly bored with the chatter tried another station and a familiar string reached out. Raised up the volume by several notches…it was the unmistakable sound of the Beatles…

Well, she was just 17

You know what I mean
And the way she looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another (Ooh)
When I saw her standing there

Boredom vanished, the years rolled back, the hot sultry weather disappeared and I was back in the courtyard of my College. Rolling up the windows I lost myself into the lyrics written and sung by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This was my special song, the one which played in my ears every single time I saw her from the time I had walked into the II year Mechanical Engineering class and spotted her in the second row from the front. A long flowing patterned skirt and a ruffled peacock blue blouse covered her lissome frame. The complexion was peach…no no let me correct myself, it was the exact hue of peach iced tea and the look was that of a fresh blossom.Sparkling eyes and long hair freshly washed. This was the vision that blocked out the frame of Mr. Venugopal Ramamoorthy our "Strength of Mechanics" Professor. He had patented this expression of satirical malice, Bushy eyebrows raised, an expression of fake surprise complete with a startle. He knew very well that I was in his class just to meet the mandatory attendance norm. “Kind Saar, said he, voice oozing sarcasm with every word, have you lost your way, this happens to be a classroom. How come we are graced with your presence today?” The classroom erupted into giggles and fuming I walked in and took my place.

Rajat my neighbor, the virtual encyclopedia of anything remotely female on the campus, followed my gaze & started whispering “Ayesha Wirk”, direct admission into second year, just her third week in our college, wears skirts always, Father - Hindu Punjabi & a Doctor with the WHO, Mother - Muslim-Sunni and also a Doctor in Medicine, Ayesha is an only child & has a purebred Labrador named Coffee, goes to the canteen and the library in her time on the campus, is pretty studious and not your type”. Amazed and irritated I looked at this mole with a withering look that said "your job is to chronicle the data and not make an analysis, much less dispense out half baked theories as if they are solid facts". Not my type…what did he know of the Beatles song playing in my head? Lennon -McCartney went on

Well, my heart went "boom"

When I crossed that room
And I held her hand in mine...

Funny, how a single song can evoke a string of memories. Ayesha succeeded where a score and two teachers had failed all of last year. She had me attending classes and before long had worked up the nerve to sit beside her. When she smiled the Beatles rocked away and I was hitting a high note that no guitar string had yet known. There was something very pristine and pure about her that had me near her but just there, no further. Months flew by in a similar fashion and my one sided passion flourished. It was soon the time of the annual cultural festival and its crowning event - The Rock Show. The cultural committee had spent a bomb this time and had as performers a band called “Rock Machine” they I remember became “Indus Creed” later and then faded away. But that summer evening they rocked away playing one lovely number after another, till they came to the song which in my mind was our song and I just grabbed Ayesha and danced away…The Beatles timelessly sang through the mouths and strings of Rock Machine…

(Whooh), We danced through the night
And we held each other tight
And before too long I fell in love with her
Now I'll never dance with another (Whooh)
Since I saw her standing there

The summer ended and as I looked forward to seeing her back, the pest Rajat informed me. “Father deputed to Kenya as the Director-In-Charge of the African Sector-WHO and the family has migrated”. Ayesha faded away from the memory just as quickly. The heart of a young collegian can be impressionable yet at the same instance, very resilient. Its quick to recover and replace the object of affection with an alacrity that’s remarkable. But something sweet does stay back in the memory locked away. The key to my trove of memory was this song. A wistful smile played on my lips, all the distance had been covered and I was turning into the gates of my apartment complex as the final string of the number faded away.

07 March, 2009

Kheema : Dill Se

Dill Se re…Dill se
We tried out a different Kheema (mince) recipe. It is similar to the way Parsees treat their mutton with the herb Dill ( Shepu in Marathi).It turned out quite yummy. We did serve it to our friends who had come over. This is a green Kheema recipe that has a sharp and cool aftertaste but can light up a fire inside, so go easy on the chilly.

  • Meat (mutton or lamb) mince ½ kg
  • Red onions finely chopped 200gms about 4 medium sized onions
  • Ginger paste 2 tbsp
  • Garlic paste 2 tbsp
  • Fresh mint leaves 15-20 sprigs
  • Dill leaves…finely chopped 20 -25 sprigs
  • Green chili’s 6-7 small sized
  • Fresh green Coriander 15-20 sprigs
  • Curry leaves 2-3 sprigs
  • Whole black peppercorns 6-8
  • Cardamom 2-3 cloves
  • Cinnamon ½ an inch bark
  • Bay leaves 2-3 small size
  • Garam Masala 1 tsp
  • Asafetida (Hing) ½ tsp or a small pinch
  • Turmeric Powder ½ tsp
  • Salt to taste &
  • Cooking Oil 5-7 tbsp (Groundnut, Sunflower-- strictly no corn oil)
Cooking method:
Heat the oil in pan on a medium flame. Add the asafetida and turmeric powders and add finely chopped onions. Sauté/ shallow fry for two minutes till steam forms then add ginger garlic pastes .
Cover the pan and allow it to cook on low flame while stirring from time to time, such that onions do not stick to the pan. Fry till onions get a translucent texture. Add mince; fry for 2 to 3 min’s to mix ingredients thoroughly on high flame. Cover the pan and lower the flame allowing the mince to cook in its own juices. While meat cooks…grind coriander, mint green chilies, curry leaves, pepper corns, cinnamon, cardamom and Garam masala and bay leaf. Dry grind it until fine. Add the ground masala when the meat is half cooked. Mix thoroughly cover and cook on low flame in its own juices. When meat starts to leave oil in the pan…add finely chopped dill leaves and mix. Cook till meat is completely done. When it is well done the juices separate and remain as thick greasy gravy in the Kheema.

Serving Instructions:
Dish out the cooked Kheema from the pan into a serving dish or a bowl. Garnish with finely chopped raw Dill leaves/Mint. Serve with thinly sliced fresh onion rings & quartered boiled eggs. Tastes best with Pau or baked loaves but can be served with pan baked Indian breads (Chapatti’s, Roti, Nan, and... Kulchas). Can be mixed with a portion of rice and had as a mince pilaf

01 March, 2009

The Hunt : Honour Regained

“As time goes by” wafted up to my ears from the ancient Steinway Grand. It surprised me as Sam had been told never to play it. looking up I saw her as she walked into my bar. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine " She looked just the same as she did in my memory. The last I had seen her was in Paris, when the Germans wore grey and she had worn blue.

Sam never played this tune when she was away, but now he did and she silently acknowledged it. The cool eyes glacial from earlier suddenly became a warm grey and shone as they rested on Sam. His black face split into a smile as the tune tapered off. “Play it again Sam” said she…

I lit a cigarette and through the curling smoke spiral Bogey in black & white stared at me from the mirror behind the bar.

Something was wrong with the tune now as Rick Blaine ( me ??? ) with his saturnine expression looked back at the mirror with the trademark tiny crease on the wide brow… Ilsa too turned ..It was a persistent buzzing sound.

Znnnnnnhmmm went the drone. The Jerries would never attack Morrocco or would they, and as this thought flew thru my head processing the next course of action I felt the sting. I brushed it away. This is the irony of my life, just as she walks into my life again and I see her face it fogs into fuzziness. Znnnnnhmmmm again the sound and again a sharp sting. Ilsa faded away and my eyes fluttered open to a dark room. As the eyes adjusted to the dark, she was lightly snoring beside me but the Znnnnnhmmmm sound persisted. My hand furiously scratched the place where I felt the sting. It itched gloriously now and the scratching had a rasping sound and gave such exquisite relief, almost pleasurable.Why aren’t you sleeping? The voice of my wife came out of the sleeping form beside me and my world suddenly opened out in technicolor.

It was a dream and not a bullet from a German gun. A pesky mosquito who had not only stung me but also taken me away from Ingrid Bergman, just when she was within my grasp. The wife murmured something about me dreaming again of Ingrid and turned her back and started snoring lightly.
Hot rage hit my head at the pesky mosquito who in a flash had converted this situation from the gloriously momentous to the absolutely ridiculous. I am gonna get him or them. Dharamendra from Sholay got into me : “Chun Chun ke maarunga” ( Individually would select each blighter and annihilate him ) and the hunt began. Patiently my eyes sought out all the possible spaces where the villain was likely to be sitting with his posterior full of my life giving fluid. In my heightened state of aggravation I thought that the pest has exhibited no respect even for my blood. He stores it in his ass for crissakes. I am going to definitely get him & then spotted him.

He was resting on the handle of my wardrobe bobbing his tail up and down. What did he think it was, a bottle of guava nectar that carried a line “shake well before you pour”, that he needed to do that? Irritation mounting I allowed him to settle down. His butt jig finished, the pest had achieved a state of perfect repose. This was a hunt reminiscent of the greatest of the safari’s . Let no one fool you that hunting mosquitoes is easy. It’s an art form as I was going to amply demonstrate to all beginners. I could just as easily have sprayed him with Baygon or some such chemical. But principally I am against chemical warfare. The battle had to have honour. Mano-O-Mosquito ( can’t say man to man can I? ) one on one, it had to be this way. He had drawn first blood and thought the battle was over. Silly guy. Today he would know who he was dealing with, unfortunately for him this learning would come to him in the very last moments of his life. These thoughts running in my mind, I closed in on him. The mosquito was sitting on the slim long steel handle of the wardrobe and I could not use the wide handed smack. The approach needed to be absolutely subtle, no shadow to be disturbed no wind to be cut in the swipe. This was a truly profound battle strategy, the Art of War, in the best traditions of Sun Tzu.

I curled the fingers of my right hand into the palm and stretched out the middle finger, long and straight out. The gesture universal in its understanding was to be used as a battle weapon. It was fitting. Anyone who separates me from my Ilsa, to be murmured and snored at ignonimously after the awakening, was a grave slight on my honour. The weapon not only had to finish him but strip him of his pride hence the middle finger.

Closing in down, swiftly sent the weapon like a lance & cleaved through the enemy in a splash of blood. Success in a single swipe, this was pure class. Seeing the pesky one squashed against my middle finger was sweet retribution. Honour was regained and proudly I returned puffed up back to bed. The wife turned over put her arm across me and murmured in my ear.."had your fun, now go back to sleep, one of these days you will break the finger, it has its uses too you know darling.Sleep. Now okay?"..Snrrrrr went the sound in my ears as the eyes started to close.