no room for nostalgia

1287-20130125-NostalgiaOldDays

I have nothing that I can call my own

I wish I hadn’t grown

My music is on spotify

I have nothing to glorify

My granny’s recipes are on youtube

Sorry dear cousin, I now know you aren’t the best on the rubik’s cube

Sorry Mom, I’m throwing away that book of kolam design,

It was only yours, but it can’t only be mine,

Dear Uncle, Don’t ask me what you want back from the states,

Those times have gone,

Hershey’s is available down the corner, and so is Toblerone,

Do you remember my colony friends?

How we used to pool in money and get video cassettes on rent,

It’s now a click away on this awesome site called Torrent,

Dear School friends,

Our favorite hangout, the idlis and by-two-coffee we used to share,

They have busted it on Burrp, Zomato and Foursquare,

We have nothing now we can call our own,

They say we’re not young anymore,

We’ve grown.

Our favorite waiters in our favorite bars have moved on from that drudgery,

They now say that you can find them in a micro-brewery,

Dear friend, remember that fight we had when I asked you to return my cassette,

and you didn’t care,

They now have a simple button for that problem,

It’s called ‘share’.

My old photographs are all stuck to each other

and get ripped apart if i try

Like they are all shy

they’re either blur or out of frame

but i know they’re dying out of shame

crying and screaming “damn!”

why weren’t we taken with those fancy filters on instagram

my scrabble, monopoly and every other board game

in front of temple run and fruit ninja seem so lame

even that brilliant binoculars seems to have no room

now that i have a smart phone with 10x zoom

but when im all about to throw these things away,

they look at me in this peculiar sort of way

and ask me one thing for which i have no answer

are you sure all this new stuff will give you something that is nice to remember?

I’ll get myself a hundred new shelves to keep these things so dear

Because it is only this question that I fear.

the only question i fear.

The Bell v/s The Bull

(Recently, and after a long long time, I went through my last portfolio that is now 7 years old. And the first ad that I saw in it rang a bell. A loud loud bell. A loud fucking cycle bell.

This story will keep bloody digressing at every other point. I honestly know no other way to narrate it. I confess that I fib a lot in most of my stories, just to make it seem more exciting than it actually was. But this one’s true all the way. Not that the truth of this is exciting, but I can’t think of any better bullshit than its actual truth. So, here it is….just the way it was.)

Twenty minutes had passed and I was still staring at the first question in the paper,

“Is advertising an art or a science? Explain with arguments.” 30 Marks.

The invigilator kept pacing up and down beside me. My paper was blanker than my mind. I looked around. The silence kept reminding me about the importance of the event. I felt like an idiot to be answering this idiotic question after having spent 7 fucking years in advertising. Frankly I had no clue. Had I not been in it, maybe I could have written seven pages of academic bullshit. But experience had mind-fucked me so badly, that trying to find an answer that sounded true to myself was getting to be impossible. Because I knew that truth would fetch me no marks. Advertising was exactly the opposite of whatever text books made it out to be. I was trying hard to forget my experience and recollect the crap that the author of the prescribed textbook had written, who I was sure had never ever been in an agency.

As I kept pondering over that question, I was shadowed by a bigger question that was looming large over my head.

“Why the fuck am I writing this exam?”.

I spent some time thinking about this new improved question. Soon the question spiraled out of proportion and started to creep into every nook of my brain which was till then trying to find a simple answer to that stupid question in the paper.

I snapped out. And stared at that question again.

“It’s just plain fluke”

I scratched it out faster than I wrote it.

That was the truth. But too true to fetch me an MBA degree.

And I tried to think hard like the innocent ignorant MBA aspirants around me who were trying hard to remember the author’s attempt at this impossible question.

And then I heard a bell. A loud bell. No…..it wasn’t the exam bell. It was a shitty cycle bell ringing loud in my brain. A bell that drowned every other thought from creeping in. A bell that sounded much more important than the bullshit I was trying to craft.

Ok…Now come the digressions that I warned you about.

What the fuck is a cycle bell doing in this useless story?

Or more importantly or futilely,

Why was I giving an MBA exam after seven years in advertising?

Well, both are equally fuckall in their backstories. But let me start with the latter since my father plays a role in it. And I love my father. (So appa, this is for you. A story that I am sure you’ll never read. You would not care about. And you’ll certainly not be proud to know.)

After spending seven glorious years in servicing (yes, I was in servicing about six years back for about seven years. That’s a long time back but spending even a day doing that job makes it unforgettable) it struck me one day that I had been a bad student at college. It took me seven years of working to understand this. And I thought it would be important to get an MBA before they discover that I am not only bad at my job but also have a pathetic academic record. This insecurity eventually gave birth to wisdom and I decided to enroll myself into the cheapest, easiest and most non-interfering MBA programme available on the planet. People around convinced me that those 3 letters beside my name can actually help camoflage my incapability.

And my father had always instilled fear in me that my job was a transitionary illusionary phase. And soon the world will discover that I am neither qualified nor talented to do the kind of work that I was doing (Yes. I’m to be blamed. I had convinced him that it was as important as space research).

These mixed emotions attracted me to an M.B.A. degree offered by Symbiosis Centre for Distant Learning. A centre that was the answer to my father’s dreams which by then was getting equally distant. The fee was cheap shit. It offered those 3 letters. And yes. I had heard of Symbi…..and Symbi sounded cool to me.

I chose to do it. And cleared the first two semesters which I have no idea or memory as to how did that exactly happen. My father was ecstatic. Even more happy than me having gotten myself a job. That too, a job that was legal and that payed. But he had always been paranoid that the world will soon discover everything else about me that only he knew about. So this MBA was important for him. A kind of a shield that his son is earning to survive in this competent world, which he strongly believed, had no space for mediocrity.

But after clearing my 2nd semester, my brain started to generate new wisdom.

To join creative.

It commanded a lot of respect. And what was even better was that you could fake it. It was easy. You were granted that title by just being an appreciator of it. Which wasn’t possible on the other side. How much ever you appreciated mathematics, you still needed to be good at it to be respected. But with creativity it was easier. You just needed to passionate about it. And you could get away with it for a longer time. And no. You didn’t need no jack degrees to prove it. All you needed to do was moan and groan at every great piece of creative that you saw. And somehow you start sharing the credit for having created it.

I liked this concept. It seemed easier than the MBA mindfuck that I was going through.

I convinced the world that I was creative by faking orgasms over commercials that I barely understood. By appreciating art that I secretly puked on. And by having a strong opinion on any piece of creative that I was exposed to. I talked about performances, music, lighting and editing with authority. And yes it worked. I started to blend in with the creative crowd.

The planets rearranged themselves and soon I was in the creative department. Freely imagining any rubbish that I wanted to. It needed nothing. No MBA. No degrees. No shit. And I loved it. And I forgot all about the 2 remaining semesters and ofcourse those 3 important letters.

But my father did not.

“I don’t need this MBA anymore appa. I am now in creative.”

“I don’t care. A post-graduate degree is very essential to survive in today’s world. So you bloody well complete this course.”

Like all good advice, I found this uncool.

“But I took it up on my own. And I’m ditching it on my own. So why are you so concerned now. I am now in the creative department. They don’t give a shit even if you haven’t passed your tenth. So even if I do this shit, it won’t make jack of a difference.”

My father already hated this department which had no regard for logic, knowledge and precious education.

“It will. Even if it makes no difference to anyone, it will to me. I can atleast feel proud of my son. You cannot now give up in the 3rd semester.”

“But what is stopping you from feeling proud about me now. I have a job.”

The silence that followed made all the gas that I had been giving him all these years, evaporate into nothingness. He really didn’t believe that I was saving the planet. No. Not even the country, Not even my city. Not even my locality. Not even my street. No…..Not even his trust in me (why do I get this feeling that the last one broke the progression of the descending order?).

So there I was back at my MBA. Writing the exams for the 3rd semester.

Writing the paper on advertising. And I hated it. I hated it because my head was blank. After having spent 7 fucking years, I didn’t know if advertising was an art or a science. I mean, after seven years, who the hell cared what advertising was all about. It was about chasing artworks, negotiating deadlines and indulging in screaming matches. And ads were born out of confusion and clashing egos. It had no academic answer.

Advertising was all about guessing and gassing.

The guess was the art. And the gas was the science. And sometimes vice-versa.

This was the answer experience had taught me. And I had not bothered to read what the text book version of this was.

I couldn’t get beyond the first damn question.

But I still had to fill that answer sheet with some shit. Something. Anything, so that my father could believe that I was actually fit enough to do what I was doing.

But the cycle bell kept coming in the way. Ringing louder and louder. Till my brain went deaf and my pen went dumb.

Yes. Now to digression No. 2.

What the fuck is a useless cycle bell doing in this useless story?

Vivek Kakkad. The bastard who wanted a cycle bell. A cycle bell in the middle of my exam. The exam of my life.

Vivek Kakkad was an art director. An art director who was genuinely creative. He was so good at his job, that he had earned the license to be a bastard. A bastard who knew that the world loved his work. And would do anything to get their stupid ideas art directed by him and elevate them out of their mediocrity. He could make crap look good. And he eventually decided to only make good look even better. He was choosy and strongly opinionated. He would never work on something that he did not believe in. It seems like a good virtue, but only to those who weren’t victims to his high standards.

Kakkad had built a good portfolio. He also got himself some awards. He got himself a deadly job in Mumbai. And he was all set to go.

And being a good art director he knew how to paint a great picture of the world outside. And it is dangerous to hang around with people who are serving their notice period. They suddenly begin to look great. They seem wanted in this world. And you seem unwanted. And slowly this difference begins to grow in gigantic proportions, till the point where you begin to hate yourself.

I always felt Kakkad sniggering whenever he passed by. He would look at that shitty dangler that you were working on while he was busy packing up for the day with an expression on his face that read “Rot in hell you fuckers. I’m off….”

I had only one desire to be fulfilled before Kakkad left. He was yet to art direct an idea that I had come up with, which he had surprisingly liked.

About a month earlier I had told him about an idea that I was scamming on.

“Dude. It’s for cycles. You know….what’s the good thing about cycling. You see more stuff around you. You notice those little things that bring a smile to your face. Like some kids playing in the park. Or some stupid dog chasing its tail. So we just show these small joyful everyday scenes that happen around us and sign off “Life looks beautiful on a cycle”.

Kakkad took a long drag from his cigarette and smiled.

“It’s sexy man. I like it. I’ll art direct it for you.”

I was thrilled to bits. This was the first time that Kakkad had actually liked an idea of mine. It was like a Cannes moment.

“We could do it for Hero Cycles or some such thing. And send it to them and see what happens.”

“Ya.”

We spoke about this idea in great detail. So much that it had lost all thrill and juice. And what remained was only getting down to do it. Which was invariably the most boring part.

Kakkad kept pushing it. I kept reminding him. And it later seemed like he had now lost interest in the idea.

And he was leaving in a day. Forever.

And just before I walked into the exam hall my phone rang. It was Kakkad. And it was a Saturday.

“Dude. I’m in the office.”

“So?”

“I have come all the way to execute your idea. The cycle one.”

“Fuck dude! Finally. Thanks man.”

“Ya. Screw your thanks. Shut the fuck up and get here with a cycle bell.”

“A cycle bell. For what?”

“I want to sign off with the visual of a cycle bell with The Hero Cycles logo on it. It’s got a good feeling about it.”

“Ya…it’s a nice idea…but I’m about to enter an exam hall man.”

“I don’t care dude. If you get here in the next hour with a bell, I’ll do the ad for you or you can pedal your cycle to some other art director….ha ha ha ha ha”.

Kakkad had now become an expert in being a bastard. And it was a trait that he was proud of. And when he makes mean statements like these you never know if he’s joking or serious. And it is always serious when you think otherwise.

To me suddenly this little cycle idea become the most important one in my portfolio. It seemed like my passport to stardom. I picturised my portfolio beginning with it. And imagined creative directors going gaga over it. It even reached the Cannes podium. I knew that I had to get it done.

But I was there sitting in the middle of an exam, sitting and staring at the first question.

Is advertising an art or a science?

Right now it was a bully. A bully named Kakkad.

The answer to the question could fetch me an MBA degree that my pop needed for reasons best known to nobody. And getting out of that exam hall and buying a cycle bell meant a fancier job. Fame. More money.

I timed myself. For 45 minutes. And wrote whatever the fuck I pleased.

And ran out of the hall. And reached office with the prescribed cycle bell, infact 4 options of it.

Kakkad looked at it and smiled.

“I like this bell. By the way, what fucking exam was that?”

“My MBA crap dude”

“Ha ha…so what paper was it today?”

“Advertising”

Kakkad laughed till he fell off his chair.

I realized why he laughed so much, much later.

I cleared my MBA but got the least marks for advertising.

Maybe it was because of all the bull I wrote.

But I got a fancier job with a fancier pay.

And maybe it was because of The Bell.

The damn cycle bell.

One small love is all it takes

“It’s Valentine’s.”

There’s a tone of voice attached to that…like ‘hey, It’s party time’.

There used to be a time when it mattered to ‘Us’. ‘Us’ is a club of losers who remained single whatever shit you did, however hard you tried. Which I think is now a fast vanishing tribe. Everyone seems to be hooked up. And if they are not, it only means that they have managed to get out of one. And back in the game.

But to Us it was more like ‘Shit, it’s Valentine’s man…again.”

It was something strange that came from nowhere and hit us. Probably leaked along with a pair of Nike shoes and Toblerone Chocolates that some rich bum brought back with him, after visiting his cousin in the US. And unleashed on innocent folks like Us who suddenly had to buck up and find ways to be a part of this cool thing.

Nobody had a freaking clue of what this was all about. And when we did, the pressure started to build. And to add to it was the ‘Archies Gallery’ chaps who flaunted red banners outside their hideous looking shops, stuffed with so much mush that could even make Cyrus Broacha turn romantic.

Inside ‘Archies’ was…..broadly two sections. The “Will you be my Valentine?” section and the ‘To my Valentine” section. Obviously the first one was more crowded with more people and lesser cards. And even more obviously, we’d be the ones standing there, peeping on to the other section, scanning the faces of the fellows there, and wondering what part of ours went wrong.

The florists would stock up bunches of red roses and sell them at prices of gold. All for some miscellaneous chick to chuck it back at your face. Or take it out of pity, or worse still because she considers you like a brother. The concept was new, and so the confusion gave birth to some strange cases. Suddenly, Valentines started to double up for Rakhi…another occasion to express brotherly love. Conveniently, some of them refused to get the simple concept that brothers don’t buy roses for sisters, especially paying a hundred bucks for a bunch.

We expected bombs in return but we only ended up spending one.

The love in the air funda got all that air by borrowing the wind it took off Us.

So, like what most would refer to as cheap loafers on the street, we roamed around with a bunch of cards and roses and chocolates and speeded away in some random direction, looking purposeful, and expecting…..well nothing. When you do that for 3 years in a row, it kind of becomes an accepted practice that this is a festival to give love and not necessarily get it back.

The fever would start about a week before the event. It was more or less a day to realize that noone in the world gives a fuck about you. And it reaches a finality when the clock strikes 12:01 on Feb 15th. Ya, we’d secretly hope for miracles to happen and give it time till the last second of that night.

But it was sadder for those who had a date. It’s like, if it’s Christmas and there is only one Christian in your gang, everyone would go out together so that he can celebrate his Christmas. The same concept was extended to this festival too…so about 5 of us would tag ourselves to that one lone couple in the gang, and follow them everywhere…..or atleast till the entrance of “Time and Again’ disco at Brigade Road. A disc that reminded us time and again that it’s entry for ‘couples only’. So the 5 singletons would be identified and stopped at the entrance, and the only couple in the gang would make their way inside and we’d stand there to get a glimpse of how ‘hundred inflated heart shaped balloons’ looked like together. The thick door would slam shut the voice of a dozen chicks going berserk to a remix of ‘Unbreak my heart’. And we’d scatter away in different directions, because it was still better to be spotted being single alone, than being singles in plural.

What’s even more disgusting is if you are playing mediator. Or Cupid. Or stupid. The chap who has nothing better to do than transport love notes and other love accessories between two lovers. Between the guy you hate, and the girl you wanted to date.

The only way to play that role is to find every possible way to convince yourself that the girl is ‘not so hot’ afterall. And the guy is an asshole who deserved no better. It’s a lonely training session between yourself and yourself.

And yes!! This is also the day when you realize that among all the people you know, there are more numbers in your gender than the other. The women you knew were the same women everyone else knew. And you spend a good week lowering your expectations and then realize that the even the one at the bottom of your list is taken. Either by some mysterious boyfriend, her parents, her grandparents or some aunt who lives in an unreachable address.

And then there was this disgusting series of ‘Everlasting Love songs…Volume 1 to Volume 28”. Loaded with numbers by Boyz II Men, Boyzone and other nauseating boys who wailed in heart wrenching pitches, waiting to be ejected out of your tape deck and passed on to some lovestruck chick you are unable to locate. But the tapes remained with us. Till they got twisted and tangled and strangled and the same boys now dragged and cried in unbearable variations.

I still remember the junk. “I’ve been waiting for a girl like you’ by Foreigner. Or ‘End of the Road’ by Boyz II Men. In pink, mauve and purple covers with sickening graphics of flowers and silhouettes of men and women by the sunset, that resembled the posters on the walls of some ‘Welcome Lodge’. We’d sing along with these pricks who were still pretending to be boys, alone in the afternoons in some locked up room, to some imaginary women, who never surfaced. And then these tapes later became embarrassing pieces in our music collection.

And movies like Maine Pyar Kiya and Dil and QSQT would release around the same time, mind fucking us a little more. I am sure that this Bokadia chap and his variety were even bigger asses of their generation than we were in ours. They packaged all their fantasies and passed it on to us and we followed it like a text book. And we’d watch these, replacing the heroine with some hazy woman in our heads, so that we could replicate whatever the Khans were teaching us to do. We never found them…and we’d sleep better that night by concluding that it was actually ‘them who are not finding us’ or some such idiotic theory.

You don’t have a Valentine, you are uncool. And if you are uncool, you don’t get a Valentine. It was a loop that you could never get out of.

Now the scene is different. Everyone single takes learnings from those going around. And remain skeptical. It’s almost cool to be single now.

We never had anyone around to take any learnings from. And if anyone fucked up, we were more than willing to step in and correct it all.

There was no commitmentphobia or jack like that. We could have been committed to a tree.

We’d spend sleepless nights thinking of every possible reason for ‘how did that jerk of an asshole of a ‘the latest bad word’ land up with a chick like that??????’

It’d have been fine if we had not seen all those miraculous cases, where some dumb looking dodo would zip past us with the hottest chick clinging on to his designer shirt from ‘Sona’s Men’s Favorite Shop’. These chaps kicked back the hope within. And we’d follow them on our mopeds on this mission armed with love ammunitions and take the longest possible route to nowhere.

On the night of Valentine’s, all the bums would gather  again to discuss the fundamental reasons for failure. More or less a summary of everything that they have analyzed over the week that passed by….

“You need a bike man…that’s the problem.”

“Balls man. You need dough.”

“No man…It’s not that…the bottom of it is that we are truly ‘fucked up’.

Now when I see a million women sending pink chaddis, I can’t help but wonder where were they all then?

The problem now seems to have taken a different turn….. noone’s allowing these poor lovemakers to dance beyond 11:00 pm and spread the message of love.

How I wish we were blessed with such agonies!!

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Two dicks in Thailand

We somehow felt like we were sitting in a shack at Goa. Even the Singha tasted like Kingfisher. Or maybe after 9 pints, a Singha is suppose to taste whatever you want it to taste like. Slowly it began to resemble someplace in India.

We felt like how tourists would feel in our country. After getting drunk. And getting duped. And getting drunk again for getting duped.

And we always thought such things only happen in India. But the word had probably spread. To a far off island in Thailand called Hua Hin.

We smelt something fishy in the air, and it was not just the Thai sauce.

It was late evening. The mood in the shack was merry for most of them. Except for Das and Me.

A local band was playing the Thai version of Hotel California specially dedicated to the two of us. After a few minutes we figured out that he was actually singing in English. We were sitting at a table right in front of the loudest conked speaker. The singer was trying his best to impress us. And we tried to pay full attention, since Das had invited upon us this torture.

For the entire evening Das had tried requesting for various numbers, starting with the most bizarre ones like ‘Countdown to extinction’ and gradually scaled down his expectations, finally settling for ‘Metallica’s Unforgiven’.

“What do you mean they don’t know Megadeth….ok..what about Metallica?” Das had screamed back at the innocent looking waiter. I don’t know if he was innocent, but to me all Thais look innocent.

It was now upto the band members to justify the difference between the cost price of the beer and the amount that the shack was charging for it.

The band consisted of some simple Thai folks who probably sang Thai folk. But unable to handle the pressure they faced from our table, the band attempted ‘Hotel California’.

The lead singer kept looking at Das to make it clear that this number was dedicated specially for him to ‘shut the fuck up’.

To them Hotel California or Unforgiven made no diff, it was all the same shit…they were both English songs, so one could easily substitute the other.

The band boys unforgivingly rendered their version of it. The guy on the guitars was the only one providing clues as to what they were actually playing.

But our minds were occupied. And our eyes roved to spot the bastard, LEON. It was 2am. We were leaving Hua Hin the next morning, back to Bangkok and back to Bangalore.

“I swear, that the bastard told me that he owns this damn place.” Das screamed over the music after 40 minutes of posing in pensive silence.

“You want mole singhaaaaa…..”a cute looking waiter whined beside us ready to uncap two more pints.

“No, we want Leon?” Das replied in as Mallu a manner, that could give any Thai chap a heart attack.

“What Leon…..I told you….no Leon…i dunno no Leon.’

“But he said that he owns this place.”

“No no…no Leon….only Singha and Tigel” the waiter made a face and left, deciding to stock up Leon beer the next time.

At that point, we couldn’t make out what was giving us that strange buzz in the head…was it the Singa, that chap on the mike, the stink of fish, the fact that this trip was coming to an end, or that Leon the bastard was absconding.

‘You can checklaa any thime you lie, buth you can nevel leeee’ The chap on the mike yowled, reassuring us that He was responsible for the buzz.

Das lifted his brow as much as he could, to prevent his headache from penetrating “Now what do we do? How do the hell do we settle this bill?” he tossed the bar bill for 4,000 baths on the table, that instantly bought down half the buzz in the head.

I waited for the drummer to finish banging his sticks, so that I could think of a solution in some peace.

We had been sitting in this shack for about 4 hours with every beer blurring our vision and adding clarity to the fact that we were nothing more than mere fools.

The shack was situated right outside The Hyatt, Hua Hin, a heavenly 5 star beach resort where Das and Me were sent on a mind expanding creative workshop.

Das is one of the best art directors I have ever worked with. His sense of design is absolutely twisted. His style is evil, that pays no regard to any copy that surrounds it. And most often rightfully so, because you later realize that his design needs more space and prominence than your two shitty bits of copy. His design is so overpoweringly stunning that any copywriter can get away with murder. And yes, he somehow manages to make any copy look good, in the odd chance when he decides to make it visible. Or sometimes if he really thinks you’ve done a good job, he’ll put your lines in the most artistic fonts that are only available on his Mac. And suddenly all those lines that looked like piss on your MS Word begin to look like they were written by Neil French.

I think I’ll shut up now. He runs his own company. I still work for a meagre salary.

So Das was sent here because of everything that he’d done so far. He was easily the most promising art director they could pick at that time. And I was sent to stop doing everything that I was.

It was a seven day workshop. The workshop was packed with every conceivable technique to disprove that creativity cannot be taught. We had different sessions that covered everything from music to art to writing, followed by assignments.

They decided to teach us everything that we hadn’t learnt in 25 years, in 7 days. Like a super crash course in creativity, so that we could step out of the workshop straight onto the Cannes podium. Delegates with different skin tones and eye shapes from every part of Asia congregated for this HR experiment.

But the worst part was that the workshop was so packed that it felt like we were imprisoned. Even after 5 days, our cameras were only filled with pictures of the resort we never explored, the rooms we never slept in, the pool we never dived into, and a few fountains here and there, and ofcourse a ready portfolio for Benetton of assorted faces from various regions. It would have been a shame to return with only these memories. Well the agenda for the agency was to make us return with ‘New Improved’ star blurbs above our heads. But we still had our personal agendas. To explore around. To come back and boast that we had been abroad. It was also our first foreign trip. Spending all the time in a resort seemed like a criminal waste.

So, after a few more of those creative sessions, we expanded our minds and then slowly our boundaries and meandered away outside the resort, to this shack, the first available tourist spot within walkable distance.

Das being the more creative of us two, had stepped out two days earlier.

“I want you to meet his guy dah I met!!. He’s my friend. Very nice guy dah!! His name is Leon!!” Das built up some excitement as we walked towards the shack, bunking an assignment of our sessions.

“Who’s he?”

“He owns this place dude, a shack right outside….it’s like Brittos in Goa,…and he’s a really chilled out chap. He’s our age dah…he’s like us machaan….very friendly and nice dah…”

However experimental you might want to be in life, you always love meeting people who are exactly like you.

So we reached the shack, and Das went inside and returned with the host of honour…Mr. Leon.

A young smart looking chap walked out staggering with a bottle of Singha and thrust it in my hand. “Hey…how la u doing?”

“Fine….thanks.” I received the bottle with not much gratitude. I was getting used to being served free expensive alcohol of different varieties for the past few days at the hotel, that this free beer had lost all its worth.

Das beamed with pride and emotion looking at this union, and added a few words of praise while introducing us to each other.

“You too flom India?” Leon asked me.

“Ya”

“I Love India.”

“You’ve been there?”

“No. But want to. Taj Mahal…..Indian women….beautiful.”

This was the sixth person who had the same (p)references when you mentioned India.

“I take you alound. And when I come to India….you take me alound…ok….deal”

“Ya…..deal” I replied imagining playing host to him. (….but what if he landed up for real. Probably he’d pile on to Das more than me. Anyway Das knew more women than me, and Taj Mahal…He really didn’t look like he was the sort who’d want to see Taj Mahal….it was probably the only trivia he knew about India…..)

“I just come.” he announced.

Leon reappeared with his 2 wheeler, a variation of Honda Street. And strapped on his helmet ready to take on the role of a tourist guide, and the 3 of us squeezed ourselves, and rattled away on his moped to town.

I was excited to meet Leon. Leon looked like a nice guy at first glance. Just like how you would picturise a Thai to be after reading up travel books….nice, hospitable, friendly, polite and other complementing adjectives. More importantly it felt good inside to have a friend in some other land, just to feel more popular.

I was feeling liberated (even though I had my nose jammed against Leon’s sweaty back) to be on this little sight seeing tour after a grueling session the whole day, rather the whole week.

The whole day I was stuck in a smoky room trying to generate some ideas with my team members. Anyway, they hated me. Ok, even I hated them. They hated me because I knew English, or they didn’t know enough of it to know that I didn’t know it too well. They all came from different countries. The organisers had teamed us in such a manner, that each member belonged to a different country. My group had a Chinese, a Japanese, a Vietnamese, a Thai, a Lankan and a Pakistani. And they expected us to do this global collaboration and come up with a campaign for Nike. Forget the campaign, we couldn’t manage to even crack communicating with each other. They had bombed 5 of my ideas, because I spoke in English. There was one Chinki Art Chick who kept saying “I don’t aglee” for anything I said. I kept arguing with her, trying every possible tone of voice. But she just went on ” I don’t aglee” and once she said “I don’t aglee” even before I said anything. That’s when I knew that she didn’t aglee with me, not my ideas. It was pointless, so I walked out.

And they continued talking to each other in sign language after I left.

So Leon rode us through the narrow streets of an unknown land getting us acquainted to his little town. And we keenly watched out for every little difference in the topography that separated it from our country. The people were different. The pigs looked different. The huts looked different. And yes even the chicken looked different.

“I take you to malket. You get good stuff, like cheap stuff…and also some good stleeet food.” Leon announced the itinerary for the evening.

Das was keen on eating frogs and beetles. Though I’m quite sure that they served it back in the hotel, but it was so sophisticatedly disguised that it stole away all the adventure associated with it. It’s not quite the same, like eating them on the road, served along with some risk.

So, we rode past everything. Everything looked interesting around. Even the Pepsi hoardings looked different endorsed by some Thai star. He had a funkier haircut, funkier clothes and a crazier pose. The art direction was supreme with barely any copy. So good that in India it could have only been possible in a scam ad. I thought to myself that the Chinki Chick was justified in not ‘agleeing’ to whatever I had said. Right now for some reason, everything around me seemed like it was art directed by her. Das got a mini orgasm with every hoarding that passed by and blamed copywriters for not letting him do designs like that, and burdening him with useless lines. I blamed him for not being able to think of copy as a part of design. And we ended the argument by jointly blaming our clients.

The other fascinating thing was that they sold beer everywhere. In all kinds of shops. Just so ordinarily. Ya, we had seen a lot of scenic things around, but this was above all those attractions…getting beer anywhere and at anytime. Like typical Indian tourists, we felt the need to be excited about anything we saw, and compared them to our own country and condemned ourselves for being so uncool.

But Leon zipped past all these subjects of no importance to the market that was the pride of the place.

A market that sold dicks. Ya, a market dedicated to dicks. Like a dick bazaar.

Apparently in Thailand they worship dicks. And as a tribute to this organ, the craftsmen adapted them to key chains, pendants, bracelets and other variations so that they could occupy more prominent positions in your body.

We went touring this bazaar that stocked replicas of this in various forms, shapes and intimidating sizes.

The entire bazaar was filled with it. It was amusing no doubt, but going stall after stall verifying the reproduction and comparing it to the original was sickening. Some seemed too unreal that it put you in doubt and contemplation for the next few minutes.

“What is this dah..it’s funny shit man!!” Das gasped looking at the range.

“How much?”

“400 baht” said the shopkeeper.

“No…No…bring it down”

“No cannot……this made of steel ok…”

I guess it was improper asking him to bring it down. The conversation was idiotic that you could not help but be amused.

“…you go fol wooden one…I give cheap. …You can put this on your neck….”

And he dangled a garland  around Das’ neck. The shopkeeper beamed with pride, and gave Das an impressive look like as if he had just transformed him into Brad Pitt or Jackie Chan maybe, with this additional accessory.

“Vely nice..”  the man sighed.

Das took it off and returned it.

“No..No…we cannot wear this in our country.”

“No..No…it looking good.” the man put the garland back on his neck. I don’t know what was he not understanding…the concept of our country or our English.

“How bout this…it got 100 of them ok…nice.” He removed another garland that had twice the number and put it around my neck.

I stuck my neck out reluctantly to be garlanded with this embarrassment.

Das laughed forgetting he had one on his neck too.

“They’re dicking around too much daaaah….” Das whispered and we cracked up silly.

We haggled around for sometime. Just to keep them happy Das and me bought ourselves a key chain each of these humiliating curios.

(Pic above: Leon, Das and shopkeeper)

Leon was disappointed with our lack of interest in this subject, object…whatever you can call it.

“You get mole ok….down this load” and pointed to a narrow street. “You want to go. I take you ok.”

“No. No. Is it the same like these?”

“Ya. but mole valiety…ok. you like it….ok…mole good looking….”

We were just not interested in seeing anymore innovative forms of these, trying to picturise how could they ever make it look any better.

“No…isn’t there anything else?’

Leon hung his head down feeling ashamed that the people of his town only specialized in this craft.

“No…it’s nice. It’s just that we don’t have much time left.” we tried consoling him.

“No…I know…you no liking it. ok…no ploblem..I now take you for some good food.”

“Ya…that would be good.”

We returned to the parking lot. And we were shocked to see that Leon’s vehicle had a flat tire.

I immediately sucked in my stomach to balance the blame.

“Oh no!!” Leon panicked.

“Oh shit!! We’re sorry Leon”

“No. No….that’s ok.”

“No…it happened because of us.”

“No. No…so what? Anyway the tyle too old.”

‘No …we’ll pay for this.”

“No. You my guests…. I cannot make you pay.”

“No. We’ll pay. Please.”

Me and Das took turns in pleading guilty.

We pushed the vehicle to a nearby mechanic.

And Leon conversed with the mechanic in Thai and he got on to repair  the bike.

“Anyway, the bike need lot of lepailing, the blakees no wolk, the chain no wolk…all gone” Leon comforted us.

We sat there on a bench, sipping a local beer and seeing Leon’s bike slowly take a new shape. Leon kept us distracted by ensuring a supply of strange dishes from a nearby cart. We had no clue of what we were biting into, or what was going to bite us.

First came a new tube.

Then new tyres.

Then a new chain.

Then new brake pads.

And then a new seat cover.

We patiently watched Leon’s bike getting a makeover. Das and me gulped our beers and burped together. We looked at each other in horror wondering what the total of this bill is going to be.

The bike mechanic answered it for us.

“5,000 baht”

Leon dug his wallet before we could reach out for ours. And gave us an innocent look.

“Oh no. I am not callying so much money. You give me ok . I give you back when we leach the shack. ok. ”

“No problem dude. I mean we’ll pay for all of this.’

“No. No. please dont. I get angleeee…….. NO”

“Ok”

“No ploblem? Is it ok?”

“No. No. No problem.”

“I give you in shack.”

“Ya cool. No problem.”

We paid up. Das and I split the damage and we rode back on his machine with new improved pick up. Back to the shack.

Leon disappeared inside and returned in a few minutes.

“Oh Shit!! The cashiel not thel. You come back in one houl or …or you can sit hele and have a beeel. no ploblem no….ok?”

“No. thanks but I think we’ll come back after dinner. We have to go. Today is the last day, so they have this special dinner…..”

“Oh! Ok. Today is last day. Ill miss you guys…”

And Leon hugged us tight, and we parted…and returned in a few seconds and hugged again emotionally bonding over all the ‘Bs’ he’d introduced us to….the Booze, the Bazaar, the Bugs and Beetles, and his Bike, leaving behind one ‘B’ for us to discover later. The ‘Bastard’ that he was.

**************************************************************************

We were probably the only two customers left in the shack. It was closing time. Even the band started surprising us with numbers that could actually be worse than their previous ones.

“I’m a bigger ass than you.” Das confessed after a final swig.

“Why?”

“I lent Leon 4,000 bahts on the first day I met him.”

“What the fuck are you saying?”

“Ya, the bastard said that he was running short of money. He said that he had no change to pay back a customer.”

“4,000 bahts is not change. It’s close to 5,000 bucks you fuck…..”

“Ya…I know Dah. But what to do? I just gave it to him. I was drunk dah.”

“Ya, so what do we do now?”

We had spent the entire evening scanning every face around to see if it looked like Leon’s. Even though most of them looked like Leon, none of them owned up.

The guy on the mike sang the worst composition of the evening in Thai that could only translate as “Pay the bill and get the fuck out, you jerks”.

We were too drunk and we still needed to save up a little bit of our senses to walk back to the resort.

The bill on the table was staring at us waiting to be settled.

“4,000 Bahts.”

Das put his hand in the pocket to pull out the cash. And I dug into mine.

But all that came out was a couple of keychains….a cheap wooden one and another in steel, that was downsized.

We chucked them on the table and Das mumbled under his breath.

“huh….two Dicks.”

A day with Jim Morrison

P1060692I was standing there staring at the board in front of me ‘PERE LECHAISE CEMETERY’. A burial ground for the rich and famous in Paris. I was still wondering how I ended up being here on a hot tuesday afternoon. An arrow on the board pointed out, ‘YOU ARE HERE’.

And I was thinking to myself “WHY?’

Everyone in advertising dreams of going to Cannes, atleast once in their career. And almost everyone when they do go, also end up extending their trip to cover more of Europe in as less Euros as possible. We were no different. Rajiv and I.

Rajiv, the only servicing guy who managed to make himself worthy enough for this trip of a lifetime. But Rajiv is more like the creative types. Sees good films. Listens to good music. Reads good books. And mostly speaks good english. Appreciates good food. Has an enviable collection of music. And has posters of inspirational people on his bedroom walls. For him it was genuine interest. For me, it was more of an occupational hazard for being in creative. I have always wondered why we needed to expose ourselves to such great pieces of work, for doing the crap that we do. Otherwise, maybe we’d be feeling much nicer about what we were doing.

Rajiv, for the way he was, it was a perfect way to spend his afternoon. And for me and my fucked up luck, this seemed like a perfect way to spend mine as well.

We had arrived in Paris the previous night from Cannes. And thrown our luggage at a cheap hotel, since this part of the programme was not being sponsored by the office. The only good thing was that we no longer had to bother collecting every single bubblegum bill or make the French understand that we needed food bills for the booze we drank. We were here on our own money, and all we had to do was blow it, without keeping a tab. And in Paris, all you need to do is take a cab, the metro, have a cola, some peanuts and take a piss at a public lavatory, and yes you’ve blown it all.

We made grand plans of taking a detour to Norway and do whale hunting, or hire Harleys and take off on some beer trail, or go to London and pile on some unlucky friend we had spotted on facebook. After all the google searches. After all the free reading up of lonely planets at bookstores. After all those advices from lucky art directors who had managed umpteen trips to Europe to shoot some undies indoors “Oh you must visit Cinque Terre in Italy, it’s breathtaking’……we were now at a cemetery, ya breathtaking of a different kind I guess.

All it took was one call from the office “There’s a pitch, so the two of you better get back to office.”

Ok, they were kind enough to grant us 2 more days.

So here is how we spent a good part of one of those two precious days in Paris.

It was Rajiv’s idea. Like this one visit would make up for all those places we didn’t.

I was here only because Rajiv woke up about 15 minutes before me. And blamed me for ruining his day by waking up late. And he took complete advantage of the guilt I was going through and tricked me into this. Before I knew where we were headed, I was bundled off into a metro and we were here…in front of a cemetery.

P1060666

A little gate lead us into this exhibition of graves. A big board that resembled a BDA site allocation at the entrance gave us a rough idea of whose corpse lay where. We stood there, staring at the board trying to locate Rajiv’s favorite dead men.

“Jim Morrison is here.” he pointed after studying the board for about half an hour.

“Oscar Wilde is here” he pointed at the other end of the board, after staring at it for another 29 minutes, leaving just another 8 hours and 1 minute for our flight back home.

“Who is Oscar Wilde?’

“What the fuck are you saying? You don’t know Oscar Wilde?” Rajiv asked like it were the first question in the copy test for any copywriter.

“Ya, I have kinda heard of him. He writes, right?’

“You are pathetic dude. He is considered as the God of playwrights and poems.”

“He can’t be God, now that he’s here.”

“It’s not funny chooth.”

“Ok. Don’t get wild.”

“I told you it’s not funny.”

“Hey relax bugger, that one was not a joke. It just happened.”

“Shut the fuck up”

“So he wrote poems!!”

“Ya. Poems. Any student of English Literature ought to know his poetry by heart. He’s that fuckin great.”

“Ok” I tried to look as ashamed as possible. Rajiv had become a different guy ever since he’d stepped here. This should have ideally been an excursion with his classmates of English literature. But destiny had made me his companion.

I took a snap of the board so that we could use it to navigate our way through this morbid maze. And we proceeded in the rough direction of where Jim Morrison was resting. Detailed maps were on sale for 20€, but not worth it for locating a couple of dead men.

I had heard of Jim Morrison. I knew two of his songs decently well enough. ‘Road house blues’ and ‘Riders on the storm’. Oh one more…’L.A. Woman’. They were nice. I liked the first one more than the others, maybe because the local bands played that more often. But I knew that I do not qualify as a true fan unless my favorite number of his is something that nobody’s heard of. I had a rough idea of how he looked. I had seen his pictures on the walls of many advertising folks. A skinny shirtless chap who had just one picture of his in circulation, where he looked like Steve Tyler from far, with maybe a smaller mouth and of course younger. Somehow to me, most people with long hair looked like each other. I knew that he was an important man to like if you were in advertising. Even the most cynical of them found him deserving enough to be included into their drunken discussions.

But all this information wasn’t enough to make me feel for him. Now that I was here, I had to make this visit purposeful for myself. I decided to become his true fan by the time I reached his grave. I plugged in my ipod and started listening to every other number of his. Ya, the ones that only get picked up in shuffle, and last till you manage to reach the skip button. I had no time for it to grow on me. I had to fall in love with it instantly. It was getting difficult. You know…I had a (I hate the pun but)…..deadline. I kept skipping to get a quick update of his discography. Most of them sounded good. Or maybe at that time, I just had no option but to make them sound good, for my own good.

Appreciating English numbers is an occupation by itself. First you spend time in figuring out what the words are. Then memorise them. And since they don’t necessarily believe in rhymes or a regular meter, it’s that much harder to remember them. Then after that, you practise them and start to like them more. Eventually you google the lyrics only to find out that whatever you’ve been singing all along, is all wrong. You then undo the lyrics in your head and rehearse the right ones. And since you have spent considerable time and effort, you now try to understand what they actually mean. But each of them come with a unique context. God knows what! There’s a hell lot of trivia attached to every line. You then research the context and try connecting the words with the context. It still makes no sense, because it’s mostly written by the writer when he’s smashed on weed. So you need a good dose of it yourself to get closer to what the damn thing actually means. Somewhere you give up and get back to your initial interpretation of what this was all about. I know that this may not be true with most of them, but with me it’s mostly like this. Maybe I’m trivialising it, but yes, it is all about the trivia. Hindi numbers have no such problems. They are either about love or not finding love, and in case you get stuck, all you probably need is a legal drink. Nothing more.

Rajiv walked ahead purposefully scanning every epitaph on the way. And I was trailing behind getting acquainted with the man that I had to mourn for. I really wanted his death and his music to affect me. I had to get a rush when I see him lying in his grave. Because I knew Rajiv was going to get it. And his day will be made. I had to make mine too.

I decided to become a Jim Morrison fan after returning. A late Jim Morisson fan maybe. Coming to think of it, I don’t even know where they buried Kishore Kumar.

On the way I saw many other graves of kings, queens, mathematicians, actors,  dentists and archeologists and taxidermists and other miscellaneous french people who seemed to have graves, sometimes as big as a three bedroom bungalow.

P1060667

There was one bombshell who’s statue towered above the rest, appropriately drop dead gorgeous. One look and I immediately felt sad that she was no more. I was wondering why it should take such an effort for Jim Morrison. In my head, Jim Morrison still seemed to be the most famous celeb in that place because he was the only guy I had heard of over there. So I assumed that he’d have had the grandest cremation out here.

I fantasized his grave to be the showstopper. One that the others would die again for. I imagined a huge statue of him, welcoming you with outstretched arms, with huge speakers around, belting out his numbers, and hoped that one of them is Road House Blues so that I could sing along. I was losing it, but was imagining it in the best possible way just to keep myself motivated.

Ya, there was Oscar Wilde as well. But Morrison seemed easier of the two. Even if you don’t understand it all, you could settle with just liking the tune of his song.

We had now walked for about 3 hours. We had no clue where we were going. I kept referring to the snap in my camera, but it was as good as searching for Kakinada in the world map.

But Rajiv kept walking in a particular direction like Morrison’s spirit was calling him. The cemetery seemed endless. It looked like every famous man in the world who was dead, was buried here. I was wondering if there were a lot of creative clashes among the spirits at night. They would feel so helpless that they can’t even kill each other over it. I derived a little moral of the story for myself ‘No matter how rich and famous you may be, at the end of it you die.’ I decided to craft that better after getting a lowdown on Oscar Wilde.

We saw no human being or rather no human being who could speak English. The only ones who knew, were probably six feet under. So we walked like zombies hoping to meet someone who could lead us to the grave of grave importance.

We rarely met anyone on the way. And even when we did, it was useless. If they had the 20€ map, they wouldn’t know English. And if they knew English, they wouldn’t have the map.

But Rajiv looked like he was prepared to die searching for his grave. At every pit stop he’d give me anecdotes of Jim, just to create a mystery around this dead soul.

“You know Morrison used to pass a bowl among the audience where they could do anything in it like spit into it, piss into it, pour beer, tap their ash or do whatever they pleased”

“For what joy?”

“And he would drink it at the end of the show.”

“Why would he do something like that?”

“Fucker. That’s how much he loved his fans.”

Just like Morrison, even I found this hard to digest.

I had bought a little guide to Paris and peeked into it to see what all I was missing, sitting here in this burial ground. Thankfully there was nothing in it that I was passionately attached to. But even if there was, I could do little about it. I had no clue how to get out of here. And the only way to was to have shelled out 20€ at the beginning. I was trapped in the middle of a million crosses.

After meandering here and there, we finally found a tribe who also happened to be searching for Jim’s Soul. Thankfully they were the ones who valued their time a lot and had invested 20€ for this search. So we hung around like friendly tourists and followed them wherever they went.

And in a few moments, we managed to reach where Jim Morrison lay peacefully. Until then.

It was nothing like I had imagined. He was tucked away into an obscure corner. An insignificant looking grave with the inscriptions “James Douglas Morrison’ with a few dried up roses on the marble, and some assorted cigarettes tossed around by his fans, for Morrison to smoke up incase he woke up at night.

There was another big monument of an unpronounceable French chap that blocked half the view. You had to kind of lean over from the side to get a glimpse of his grave. You could barely read the inscriptions on it. Rajiv put on his zoom lens and took a gloomy picture in grey.

I felt cheated. I had walked the whole afternoon. This wasn’t enough for a 3 hour old fan. I started doubting his popularity. Surely his fans could have done something better after all the piss that he drank. But Rajiv looked composed. He shut his eyes and murmured a prayer. There were three other fans around him, who did the same. Between their meditations, they kept looking at each other. Noone was sure that having coming here all the way, what were they exactly supposed to do now. They took pictures of each other. In all combinations possible.P1060674

Rajiv asked one of them, a funny looking oriental guy, “You’re a Doors fan?”

I paid attention to the reply only to know if there was another idiot who was here for the same reason like me, ‘just like that’.

The chap placed his hand on the chest and said “Truly brother. Truly. Jim Morrison all the way.”

And leaned over and loudly sang a verse of his number and screamed ‘You rock dude….you fucking rock’. His voice was so croaked that I could almost see Jim Morrison turning in his grave. He then pulled out his cigarette pack and casually chucked half a dozen sticks on his tomb to pay homage.

I looked at Rajiv to see if he would follow suit. It was a challenge to his fanaticism. He took out a pack of Gold Flake Kings and dragged out seven sticks. But then it was the last pack. He took a good look and decided that he needed it more than Morrison, maybe. He waited till his challenger turned away, and quietly slid back 5 into the pack and quickly tossed two for Morrison. He was emotional, but was Indian for far too long to get carried away.

With this, I thought the condolence ritual was over.  But no, we just hung around. Like people at a funeral, who just feel obligated to hang around. Nobody seemed to be wanting to leave. Like Morrison might just rise again and start giving them a posthumous performance.

So we waited like unsatisfied fans who refuse to leave even after the rock show has come to an end…hoping that the singer might suddenly get back on stage and scream ‘You want more.”

The moroseness of the situation was getting to me.

“Shall we go?”

“Wait man!!”

“For what?”

“Don’t be so insensitive dude. Hang on.” Rajiv barked back.

“For what? He’s dead man.”

Everyone around me glared at me like I killed him.

Rajiv walked around behaving in a strange manner. I then noticed carefully. The guy was actually humming a song for his idol, who lay beneath the stone, deaf. For a second I wanted to swap places with Morrison. We had spent over 4 hours in this stupid graveyard. I was getting sick of this. I had just 2 days in Paris. In fucking Paris. The only way to come back to Paris meant winning a Cannes. Every minute was precious. I didn’t know where to go. But I atleast knew that i didn’t want to be here anymore, listening to a madman closing his eyes and singing back a song to a man who wrote it. It was like torturing him back to life.

I waited patiently for about half an hour waiting for Rajiv to finish his cover versions.

“Ok. Let’s leave.” Rajiv announced finally parting himself from the departed, and walked away from the scene as fast as he could.

“Where now?’

“Oscar Wilde.”

“Do you really really want to go? Do you actually love his poems so much? I mean, can I not just gift you an entire collection of his poetry or whatever else he wrote.”

“You can go wherever you want to but I’m going to meet him.”

He made it seem like the two of them were going out for a beer.

“Ok man. Can you tell me a poem he wrote….like a kickass one. So that even I feel like meeting him.”

“OK, have you heard of Athanasia…..

O that gaunt House of Art which lacks for naught
Of all the great things men have saved from Time,
The withered body of a girl was brought……”

“What does that mean….?”

“It means……..” Rajiv lead the way to introduce Oscar Wilde to his latest fan.

By the way, Happy Birthday Rajiv.

To hell and back-The final post

We took the turn that the hunters prescribed. A narrow opening just before the first bridge. The hunters had put it across very mildly. 

It was not a turn. It was an incline that was almost 90 degrees. Like 89 or 88 maybe. Ok not less than 87 for sure.

Even Jackie Chan would have used a stunt double for this. It seemed like a joke. We threw another glance at the other way out. The monotonous rail track which we were familiar with. The very idea of walking back 13 kilometers like a herd of sheep seemed worse than death. 

Jeeva decided to give this escape route a fair chance. And ventured first, followed by Aslam. The rest of us waited for a few minutes. And as expected the two of them came tumbling down. 

“Ok guys. We gotta choose. Either we go on and on, on that same wretched rail track. Or we somehow cross this nonsense, and get the fuck outta here as quickly as possible. What do you all want to do?” Jeeva took charge, reminding himself and the others that he was the leader of the pack.

Thoughts crossed our minds. Maybe the incline was only in the initial stage. Maybe after that initial bit, it might suddenly clear into a plateau of greenery. Maybe the highway is just around the corner. Maybe we could end this nightmare in a few hours. We knew we were fooling ourselves into believing all that, but we couldn’t help being tempted that it might just turn out to be true. It was difficult to get rid of our foolishness so fast. So we motivated ourselves by remembering poems from our English class like ‘The road not taken’ and shit like that, took a deep breath, and embarked on this height of stupidity.crossroads

“OK. lets go for this.” we echoed, trying to gather enough conviction to match the volume of the chorus.

We jumped and clung on to the first rock in that opening, pulled ourselves up and crawled on our bellies, scratching our faces and rubbing our noses to the moss and mud. We heaved and puffed and pulled our bodies with all might. We exerted so much that we could taste everything that we had eaten in our lives with our nostrils. 

A few metres above and it was too late to give up. We were all hanging, clinging on to some tree, shrub, creeper and anything else that our hands could reach out to grab. 

I had no idea how Bonda was managing, but he somehow seemed to be doing it.

After sometime, the incline did reduce, but it was still steep to be fully relieved.

We progressed with an amazing speed of 100 metres an hour. 

Guru stopped and leaned against a tree. He opened his bag, took a good look, and made a decision that he should have made earlier in life. He realised the key to survival was to get rid of physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology and other bullshit that weighed him down from leading an assured life. He understood the difference between wisdom and knowledge.

One after another, these worthless pieces of information went rolling down the cliff, making him lighter and wiser, and giving his life a second chance.

Further down, somebody else took a leaf out his books. And soon we heard the kerosene stove rolling down, without even an explosion to give us a momentary thrill.

The wisdom was infectious. The utensils followed.

Everyone started reducing their load, merrily polluting the environment that had been unkind to us. 

Clothes, undergarments, tiny sleeping mats, leftover food…we renounced anything and everything to feel lighter. 

We gulped the last few drops from the final bottle and flung it far away to degrade a thousand years hence.

After this small display of magnificence, we continued our journey with rejuvenated sprits.

But by then, we had lost track of each other. Separated by our varied degrees of agility. 

Each person followed objects that were renounced by the previous guy, hoping that whoever is leading this trail, has attained nirvana somewhere up above. 

We were all alone. Breathless, panting and crying in pain, under some tree. Fallen on some rock. Bruised and bleeding all over. Even the joy of seeing your fellow mates groan in misery had been taken away.

Now and then the skies would echo some familiar voice screaming in pain, and we kept ourselves engaged in a little game by guessing who it might be. 

It was gloomy and it began to pour. Thankfully, we had set out early in the morning, and it was only noon. So, we still had the entire day to figure out the way to freedom.

After about 4 hours of solitary meandering, we miraculously congregated at one point. Each entry, swaying and staggering and finally collapsing on a rock, facing some random direction, exposing their backs to the rain like stray donkeys.

Noone spoke to each other. We hadn’t communicated to each other for more than six hours, but allowed the silence to exchange the mutual misery without seeking any solace in return.

We were drenched. We were sick. We were hungry. We had nothing left. No food. No water. No cigarettes. No bags. No nothing. Just ourselves in some wrecked clothing. The only thing that still remained was Bobby’s equipment, which he chose to retain, over common sense. 

All our parent’s and teacher’s advices started to find meaning here. We secretly decided to become ‘good boys’ when we returned. 

The reason why everyone stopped here was because it had a reason. It was at this junction that life decided to offer us an unwanted choice. The path diverged into three narrower paths, each promising to be more unpromising than the other. 

Arrows“Fucked trekkers you all are. I am a chuth to come with you all.” Bonda uttered his first sentence with utmost clarity.

Aslam lifted himself up, took a small run up and kicked him hard.

Bonda rolled down and screamed in pain.

“Maathar chodh…..” Aslam gave him another kick.

Nobody knew why Aslam reacted like that. But Bonda’s pain came much later in our long list, after our aching body parts, for anyone to be bothered.  

Bobby put down his tripod at the junction, pulled out a gigantic binocular and peeked into them.

He rotated his head and peeked into it again.

And then rotated it further pointing it to the route of the first path and peeked into it once more.

Since nobody seemed inquisitive about his queer behaviour, Mr Sherlock Holmes decided to divulge the findings of his little experiment, himself.

“I have just seen all the three paths. I think we must go down this path.” Bobby declared, pointing to route 2.

“Why?” 

“I can see coconut trees at the end of this direction.”

“So”

Bobby: “You ignorant asses. Coconut trees only grow in civilisation.”

Aslam: “Balls to your theory man. The first route seems most clear. It seems most used.” 

The rest of them found it appropriate to spend some time in depression than debate. As expected, Jeeva decided to take Bobby’s path, as it at least made sense in the long term. We chose to keep our opinions insignificant, and blindly went with Bobby’s recco.

A kilometer down, the path ended at an elephant trap.

Aslam snatched Bobby’s tripod and flung it into a bush, inviting him to participate in a wrestle match behind it. They both disappeared and for sometime nobody cared to intervene.

Soon, Jeeva realised the importance of his role, and reluctantly went behind and brought them back alive.

We retraced our path back, and this time, we went with Aslam’s choice.

The path ended at a violent stream.

Aslam and Bobby continued their unfinished match behind a new bush. This time Jeeva intervened earlier as he had discovered that Bobby needed faster help. 

We retraced our path back, and finally chose the least chosen path.

We walked and walked. And walked. And walked.

And came back to the same spot where we started from.

It was 3 pm. We had reached a stage where we were willingly preparing ourselves to end our lives. Balls to our conviction. Balls to the brave and mighty. Balls to Wordsworth, Frost and their kind who decieved us into this. Balls to Mother Nature and her tricks for wooing us into this mess. 

We formed a huddle and cried together. 

“Ok guys. I have given up on my life. I don’t care if I live or die anymore. I cannot think of anything else but crossing that stream.”

“Ya, atleast let’s die trying.”

“Think about it. Its 4 pm. Soon it will be dark. We have no torches. No food. No nothing. It’s do or die.”

Neil came staggering back with a huge branch fallen nearby. 

“Lets hold on to this and walk. If we make it, we make it. Or we die.”

Jeeva removed his jeans and wore it on his neck. A gesture which was once a symbol of guts and glory, had now become a uniform for suckers. 

We all followed. In tandem we removed our jeans, and adorned it on our necks, and proceeded towards the stream, moronically marching in our undies.

The roar of the stream didn’t frighten us anymore. We stepped into it with an attitude of suicide bombers. 

Jeeva stood first. Followed by Guru. Then Bonda. Then Bobby. Then Neil. Then Aslam and me. This was decided according to our swimming capabilities. 

Jeeva, Guru and me knew how to swim. Aslam and Neil thought they knew how to swim. Bonda and Bobby were sure that they didn’t.

The stream was about 200 metres wide and gushing wild with rage.

Jeeva had a stick that he checked the depth with. The rocks were slippery. We took measured steps and waded into the danger.

I think we walked further with the power of our eyelashes, hair and stubble as they were the only parts in our body that were not yet aching.

We took that huge branch and chucked it in the middle of the stream till it got interlocked between the rocks.

We muttered a hurried prayer and clung on to that branch hoping that it would not give way and waded through the ice cold stream lashing on to our bodies.

The branch gave way every now and then making us lose our balance, and choke out water from our nostrils.

Once we covered the length of the branch, we’d lift it and push it further ahead, and continue on this death mission.

In about an hour, we managed to get over to the other side. Surprisingly, the head count remained the same.

We hugged and celebrated like as if we’d swam the Suez canal.

A few yards down we spotted a little hut. A 60 watt bulb flickered, dimly lighting up the courtyard that had been flattened and plastered with cow dung, with an elaborate rangoli inviting us. A few plantain trees, and a guava tree laden with fruits stood at the entrance, waiting to be devastated. 

Our eyes were filled with tears of emotion, accompanied by a vague sense of deja vu on seeing these evidences that belonged to a civilisation, that we were once familiar with.  

In less than a minute we were on top of the tree. We spared no fruit, not even the ones that were on the way of becoming one. 

A young lady opened the door. And she was shocked to see her flimsy tree infested with seven malnourished monkeys in underwear, raiding her fruits of labour.

She retreated with a piercing scream that summoned the rest of the inmates which included her mother-in-law and two kids.

They surrounded the tree looking at us like we were aliens. We were unmoved. We continued eating. We couldn’t have cared even if they had guns.

After some heated exchange within themselves, they finally settled at being amused.

The lady took pity and asked “Coffee kuditheera?’

By then, Neil had had his fill to answer that. And with an untimely display of politeness he replied…”Illa aunty…it’s ok. No problem.”

The ladies shrugged their shoulders, went back inside and slammed the door.

Soon, we dived down and six of us threw Neil on the ground and were all set to slay him alive.

Just then the lady opened the door again and was shocked to see this sudden repositioning of the primates. 

monkeys

Jeeva sheepishly looked up and begged “Seven cups coffee. We haven’t had anything since last night. Sorry……….aunty.’

The lady returned with seven steel tumblers of steaming coffee.

Foaming_filter_coffee

We plonked ourselves on the courtyard and sent out a strong signal by sucking the last drops as loudly as we could, forcing the lady to bestow more kindness.

She returned with a plate of bananas.

As we were busy gobbling up the bananas, we heard a honk.

It didn’t strike us at first. Then suddenly Bobby jumped up and shouted in a banana voice…

“Did you hear that?’

“What?”

“You asses. That was a truck man, a bloody truck. Which means we are next to the highway.”

It then slowly dawned upon us. 

Jeeva collapsed on the floor.

Aslam did a war dance.

Neil combed back his hair.

Bobby finally dismantled his camera.

Guru secretly pocketed a plantain or two.

Bonda gurgled his saliva

And I was drenching in jubilance.

We couldn’t believe that this journey actually had an end. 

Hitch_Hike_Alright_by_tizzy_busy_idiotSoon, the seven of us stood again in a single file, holding our thumbs out to hitch a ride back to earth.

Ofcourse, in our underwears.

(It’s a different matter that we hitched a ride to the nearest bus stand, and waited for 13 hours at the bus stop to get a bus back home. Ya, but i don’t want to spend anymore time reminiscing this trip. I just want to get back to celebrating that I’m alive.)

To hell and back-Part 4

Finally, we were in Yedakumeri. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express that feeling. So in the interest of finishing this story, I’ll just skip that part.

The damn rail tracks finally ended. So we were finally relieved of our shameful position. After a long time we held our heads high and looked around.

It was a cute little station. It was about 3 am I guess. Jeeva flashed the torch around to show us a glimpse of our home for the following two days.

A tiny platform on one side with a few benches. A ticket booth with ‘Tickets’ painted above. Two loos with “Gents’ and “Ladies’ boards painted above them. An enclosed area with 3/4th wall, which I guess was the waiting area. And other railway signs all over. And a wash basin that still worked. TrekkingProhibited

We untied the rope on our waists, flung our bags as far as we could, and tumbled into the platform. And rolled on the floor from one side to the other, making orgasmic noises, like we were enacting the role of slaves, in a music video on God Channel.

Bonda hugged a pole like it was his mother’s bosom and cried like a baby, making some embarrassing sounds for his size.

Jeeva opened a quarter of rum, and downed a quarter of it in a gulp.

Aslam sarcastically remarked “Uski maa Jeeva, woh chinaal ka photographer ko bol , uska bhayankar machine ko assemble kar leku, photu kheenchne ko….ek chodku sab kheenchne ko bol, manje uska ek photu kheenchne ka bas, uski maa, usko maarke haar daalne ke vaaste ek photu hona manje bas.’

Bobby: “What’d he just say?’

Bonda cackled like a hyena. Bobby picked himself up and kicked Bonda inaccurately on his groin.

Aslam then turned towards Guru and continued: “Oye student, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, le ba torch, jaake padh…wahan peepal ke ped ke neeche jaake padh beta. Tere pappa ko first rank leke dikha……suvar ki chuth…..’

After a long time, we remembered how to laugh. And we celebrated this discovery. We laughed and laughed and passed out abruptly somewhere in the middle.

We slept through the cold. The hunger. The wetness. Hoping that somehow we would remember to not die and wake up the next day.

I think we slept for about 12 hours. When we opened our eyes, we found ourselves in weird positions, shamelessly revealing the designs and holes on our underwear.

We now got a complete glimpse of the station, that we had only seen in portions so far. We ran around like kids, displaying all emotions that we failed to display on arrival.

We stood on a parapet that was hanging at the edge of the cliff. And screamed any bullshit that came to our minds.

Soon we  got down to making the rest of the stay pleasurable and set up our kitchen. We found a dry corner in the enclosure and arranged all the goods there. A good one hour was spent in re-assembling the stove that had dismantled itself like a Lego toy. And each of us were assigned one spare part which we scrubbed till it was dry. After about an hour  we finally managed to light up that stupid kerosene stove. (Yes, we carried a conventional kerosene stove on a trek, but I think I already explained how senseless we all were).

And soon we had our first cup of steaming coffee and some toast, that brought us back to our senses.

It seemed like Yedakumeri had a lot more variety than bridges and tunnels. There were narrow openings between the bushes that led to infinite such openings.

A lot more living beings apart from bats and snakes began to show up. Strange birds that seemed ordinary in the distance that they kept, frogs, earthworms, butterflies, snails, grasshoppers and other such insignificant creatures. We expected to see elephants, boars, panthers, dolphins, white peacocks, polar bears and a nine coloured rainbow after all this fuss.

But no.

ugly_frogJust an ugly dotted frog stopped by to be photographed by Bobby.  I guess even he was not patient enough, and Bobby spent half the time chasing him with his tripod.

We forced ourselves to appreciate what we saw. The beauty of nature and its creations, to justify the torture we’d been through to get there.

We posed before every little trickle of water between the rocks. 2335093350059349299lRSmYZ_phWe examined every wild flower. Every leaf. Every tree. Every little thing that had poetic connections. We kept searching for valid reasons and larger meanings to be there. And continued to try being one with nature. Forcing ourselves to react to them like William Blake and Wordsworth, and elevate them out of their ordinariness. The sound of birds chirping, the rustle of the leaves, the morning dew and all these wonders of nature had little effect. We had lost all judgement and appreciation for such worldly desires, that even Sri Sri Ravishankarji couldn’t have revived it back. But we explored further hoping to find a new shade of crimson in the sunset, a melody in those noisy birds and a breath of fresh air in the fresh air.

Just for effect, Bobby oohed and aahed about every frog and spider he saw. Bonda would scare them away by making silly noises. And Neil would stand in place of them, and get himself clicked not losing focus of the purpose of his visit.

We couldn’t help wondering how and why did we get ourselves there. This nonsense continued till the sunset relieved us of this drudgery.

We returned to our base camp, took a good look at each other, and faded into darkness. But we were so sick of seeing each other, that we were quite pleased with this impairment.

2323697-Kerosene-Stove-1

Cooking dinner was an event in itself. We decided to make egg noodles, without the eggs of course.

The place was more windy than being amidst a hundred windmills. And we only had one mighty torch to deal with the situation. Everyone held on whatever remained of their sleeping mats, and stood in a circle, forming a wall around the stove. By this time, only Jeeva’s torch was functioning. And we had to use it judiciously. So, Jeeva would switch it on, and we would all grab the required ingredients for the dish and place it around.

Jeeva would then switch it off, giving everyone time to regain themselves in the darkness. He would switch it on again, till one of them took position with the knife and the vegetable that had to be cut.

The one of them was me.

Jeeva would wait till my cutting got into a rhythm. And promptly switch it off when he believed that I had got a hang of what I was doing.

Every time I cut my finger, Jeeva would flash the torch for a few seconds as a gesture of courtesy that he had to get over with.

The rest of the recipe progressed in this fade in, fade out technique.

Once the dish was ready, we would all seat ourselves around it, empty the contents on to the sleeping mat (we had forgotten plates), turn off the torch and grapple like blind men hoping to get a good handful of the meal. We ate mud, twigs, leaves, insects and if we got lucky, a little food.

Neil began another of his boring stories. We gulped down a few shots of the alcohol we carried, and left him like an abandoned radio that had picked up news of some inane station.

On day 2, we continued exploring the place for more exciting locations. We returned for lunch after wandering aimlessly.

On our return we found the shock element we were looking for, or rather not looking for. We were sick of each other, and we didn’t want anything now that demanded interaction. But this trek was a powerful curse.

The entire place was wrecked. Our little stock of booze had been ransacked. Our cigarette stock was reduced by half. Wrappers of the short eats we carried, were strewn all over. We cautiously followed this debris to its terminus, and froze.

Two veerappan look alikes were seated on the corner of the platform, drinking from one of our bottles, smoking our ciggies, munching our snacks and conversing in a strange dialect of Kannada.

They were wearing tiny shorts, hawaii chappals, torn t-shirts and carried a gun each.

They spotted us spotting them.

We did not know how to react. I guess even they didn’t. The only difference was that we were scared, and they weren’t bothered.

One of them took a gulp of rum with no remorse, and asked ‘Ee samaan nimmade?’ in a strange kannada dialect that meant ‘Does all this belong to you?’.

We nodded and let them take another shot, to appear hospitable.

They had no qualms in accepting the invitation. They downed another quarter of rum in a few minutes.

They were curious to know what we city breds were doing in their province. Bonda said something that we didn’t understand, but they seemed to.

We stood at a distance gaping at them like dumb spectators. Neil returned with another bottle of rum and graciously bribed them with it.

The alcohol bridged the friendship.

They were local bushmen, who were out to hunt some wild boars or deer. What was amazing was that they seemed so unprepared for it. All they had was a little cloth bag with some rice in it, and a small steel vessel. A tiny bottle of ground spices in one of their pockets. A belt around their waist that contained bullets. And a torch each.

“Leeches?” We questioned.

They explained that they already had smeared salt on their feet and they were quite use to it. If it still bothered them, they would simply burn it down.

We were enchanted with the way they had reduced this macho hunting game into such a casual chore that they had to perform once in two months.

“Won’t wild animals attack you in the night?”

“Oh no!! We can sense them from far, and we know how to avoid the paths that they usually prowl in.”

“And what do you hunt?”

“Boars. Deer. Bisons. Rabbits. But we try and get something big that could sustain us for atleast a month.”

“And how do you carry them back?”

“Once we are done, we get back to the village and collect a few others, and carry it back it on a wooden pole.”

This seemed straight out of an asterix comic, without the glamour of the gauls.

“Would you like to join us?’

“Oh yeah! but we have to be back by tomorrow morning. We’re leaving.”

“That we cannot promise. We never return empty handed. So, if we don’t manage to get anything by then, we go deeper into the jungle.”

By now we had a better idea of our fitness levels. We realised that being adventurous without the stamina was nothing but plain stupidity. Any ideas that remained were dropped, the minute we saw Guru, Bonda and Bobby sweating in their brow.

“We are bored with this trek. Can you  tell us a more exciting route to get back. We don’t want to do this rail track anymore.”

“Ya there are ways to get out. But it is a little steep. Will you be able to manage? Ya, it is shorter. Only about 5 kms.”

That sounded easy. We jumped at this escape route.

“After the first tunnel, you’ll find a narrow path on your right, between the bushes. Get into it. And just follow the path. You’ll reach a highway after about 5 kms.”

Bobby assembled his evidence machine. And took a group snap for posterity, just in case we were venturing into a path of no return.

To be contd….