Kosambari

kosumbari1I have always felt that this dish should have shot to fame with brands trying to patent it. It’s my own stupid notion, but I feel that it suffers from its own simplicity and modesty. Much like the women who make it

Cucumber, coriander, coconut, split green gram dal, green chillies, salt and a dash of asofotieda. Its all too simple to be celebrate it.

But it’s special because simple isn’t that simple.

The sixty odd year old lady opposite my house probably knew something that she never told me  about.

‘Manjunath Aunty Mane Kosambari’ (Manujunath Aunty’s House’ Kosumbari) has something that I can never ever recreate.

Maybe it was the perfume of the Nandi Diamond Agarbatti engulfing her house. Or the smell of jasmine flowers that crept into those pulses from her puja room.

Or the fact that despite the enitre colony changing their floor tiles, she still chose to shine her red oxide floor every month with coconut oil and coconut fibre.

Maybe it has to do something about her house being the only house in the entire colony that still rests only on the ground floor. (There’s something about an only ground floor house with ivory window panes).

Maybe it was the Bhimsen Joshi’s cassette on her tape recorder blaring ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma’ that did the trick.

When the food is good, you start to like everything around it. The person who makes it, the flooring, the color of the walls of that house, the curtains, the plates, the spoons

I would wait for ‘Ganesha Habba’ to arrive, when she would call me over to her house to see the decorated ‘Ganesha’ idol in her house, and seek the lord’s blessings. And I would jump at the opportunity only because I could get a taste of ‘Manjunath Aunty Mane Kosambari’.

Uneven pieces of cucumber, chillies smashed on stone, abundantly chopped coriander with stem, roots, mud and all, coconut carelessly grated with the traditional hand-grater, along with splinters of its shell, mixed with split green gram dal soaked overnight, and rock salt, mixed in a manner that proved that she never prepared it with the kind of love that mothers are now famous for.

traditional coconut csrapper

She never bothered to respond to my compliments “Aunty, kosambari thumba channagide’ (Aunty, the kosambari is superb). It had little to do with modesty, and more to do with lack of experience on ‘How to handle praise?’.

She would turn red behind her ears whenever I praised her humble dish. (It’s not like she made some special basmati rice vegetable pulao cooked on slow fire for hours. It was just a random salad that every ‘kannadiga’ household should be able to make with their eyes closed).

I could never understand why these women would behave this way. Infact, a lot of kannadiga folk are pretty much like these. Its not in their ritual to invite guests over for a feast every other day.

Guests would arrive only during festivals, dussera, diwali, sankranthi and ganesha. Apart from these it would only be a random visit to invite them over for the thread ceremeony of their child, or a grihapravesham or a wedding. It wasn’t a ritual for guests to pop over for dinner or without any other agenda.

The talk would mainly consist of the host coaxing them for a tea. Or a coffee. Or a uppittu.

And it is expected of the guest to say “no no…we are full. Just now we had coffee and snacks in Latha’s house”

And the host would coax further saying “swalpa thogoli …swalpa”

And the guest would say “ok..half plate..or quarter tumbler coffeee”

And the host would return with a full tumbler and a full plate of snacks.

And the rest of the conversation would only be spent on coaxing and cajoling from the host’s side and the guest slowly giving in to the delicious snacks.

This however, would never graduate to the guest praising the dishes anymore than a customary “thumba channagide”.

It was complicated. Because if the guest praises anything more than that, he is hinting at ‘give me more’, which would mean ‘I’m a glutton’. Because he had just declared that he had eaten to his full, in some random ‘latha’s’ house.

And the host would silently conclude that ‘her dish wasn’t good enough otherwise they would have asked for more.’

I feel a million dishes that deserve praise have been lost in this ritual of modesty.

And the host would ignore the praise and coax them to have some more.

But I still find this ritual charming and endearing.

I would wait for Manjunath Aunty to disappear into the kitchen before puckering my lips and shooting mini-darts of the coconut shell chips into obscure shadows on the red oxide. And crunch on her muddy coraindered kosambari.  And scream for help till I could no longer take that lonely chilli that arrived in my mouth without warning.

She would reappear from her dingy kitchen with a tall steel tumbler of water. Just in time to rescue my watering tongue, eyes and nose from her inconsiderately imbalanced chillies.

“ayyo paapa, sorry, nimmagilla idu tumba ne kaara alla?’ (oh poor you, sorry, you people aren’t used to so much spice right?) she would express her concern, suggesting that her dish isn’t up to the mark.

I loved the spice. The sting on my tongue. But I probably could never express it.

I would gulp the water and then seek blessings from her ‘Ganesha’ idol, before I dived back into the kosumbari container that was called ‘dhonne’, a cup made from dried banana leaves. 

Yes, the ‘dhonne’ had its part to play in the taste too. I could smell that faint scent of raw bananas as I slurped the watery residue of the kosambari. A kind of summary of all the flavours that went into it. A magic potion that was a heady mix of all the ingredients. The part I hated the most. Not because I didn’t enjoy it. But because it signalled to me, that the dish was now over.

It’s been many years now since I have tasted “Manjunath Aunty’s Kosambari”.

I have tried it many times now. I have googled recipes and followed them to the tee.

I’ve tried preparing them carelessly, carefully, artistically, intuitively, meditatively, and every other ….ly.

And then served it to myself in the humble ‘dhonne’.

They all taste sexy.

But it just doesn’t taste like ‘Manjunath Aunty Mane’ Kosamabri’.

Every time I sip that juice in the end, I realise that there is something missing in it. One tiny little thing. But I can’t put my tongue on it.

I realise that the identity of every state lies in its simplest of dishes. Dishes that follow the same recipes and add the same ingredients. And dishes that are so simple that it forces the cook to add a little something to it just to gain a satisfaction of having done something ‘extra’ to it to deserve all that much advertised ‘mother’s love’.

Something so little, that if it were to be taken away from them, it would be such a bland world.

I’m happy that I can never ever crack that recipe.

One day I will…..

116I was standing there on the top of some mountain in Cape Town. The view around me was absolutely stunning. So instead of just cocking up and just enjoying the breeze and having a beer, I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures. I pointed it…framed it and took a picture. Then moved it a few millimeters here and there and took another picture. Then walked a few millimeters ahead and took a picture. And a few millimeters behind and took another picture. Then i scanned all the pictures to see which was the best. They were all good, but which was the best? I couldn’t tell. Then I thought to myself, suppose I were to take a print of this, which of these 4 would I take a print of? Maybe I should see it on a larger screen and then decide. So I kept all 4 of them, so that ONE DAY…ill go through all of them and decide on which one is the best and then send it to make a big print. And then get it framed and put it in a room. A room of a house which I will buy, ONE DAY. And then put this picture there….actually not just this picture. Infact Ill create a wall of nostalgia….ONE DAY and frame many such pictures of stuff that I have taken all my life.

b7d14f843407ccb1ed2f09ef15f7e907I remember, suddenly ONE DAY, I took my camera and went to this adda of mine many many years ago, and clicked pictures, random pictures of all the assholes who I hung around with, and wrote notes behind these photographs, and thought to myself, ONE DAY, when I’m doing nothing spectacular, I’ll pull out all these pictures and stare at them, and read all these stupid notes, pour myself a drink and think about these bums. Just for the fuck of it.

ONE DAY, many years ago, I walked into blossoms ( a bookstore in Bangalore, that gives you this feeling of ONE DAY…I’ll sit and read all these books), and stumbled upon some Amar Chitra Katha Comics. I saw one comic ‘Kesari, the flying thief’. I knew I had read this. Like ‘oh fuck-Kesari the flying thief…like Kesari the flying thief’ kind of reaction. I had forgotten the story of the comic that I returned to the library with a fine of 2 rupees, after 2 weeks. And I had forgotten the story. This was not on. I picked it up immediately to quickly recover from this severe amnesia. And what I do I see below it…”Chittarandan Das’. Ya….I think I remember him too. Was it the comic or was it my history book? Anyway, it was seriously sad that I did not know Chittarandan Das’ story…someone important in our history and noone even wants to make a cool movie on him. OK…Chittarnadan Das..I wont let you down. I wont let you remain unforgotten. Rani of Jhansi..shit….what was this now? I remember a school teacher of mine had dressed up like her in a school play of mine with background music like ‘woh toh jhaansi waali rani thi…’ I need to know more. Oh no…Tales of Shiva, Gandhari, The fool and his disciples, Tyagaraja, Birbal the just, Tenali Raman….no. I cannot exist without remembering these stories. I needed to read all of them. Again. Why? Why..because maybe there are many mini mini ads in them that I can whack…or make full blown stories….remix them and make them unrecognizable and do some feature film. Fuck the purpose…I took all of them. Some 300 of them, so that ONE DAY, I can sit and read them all at one go…and become a super improved version of myself.

I had preserved the ticket of the Metallica concert that I attended. A bit torn …but so what. Why? Dude, it’s Metallica…and I need to profess my absolute love for them. This is not a ticket…it’s the ticket of the first rock band that I truly fell in love with. I head banged alone at home, playing their tapes every afternoon, on the loudest speakers that mankind had invented (ahuja). These tickets need to framed and mounted with 10 inches of white space all around them and hung on that same nostalgic wall of mine in that room of that house that I am going to buy…ONE DAY.metallica

I had by now accumulated several of these ONE DAY items.

ONE DAY..I’ll plant these seeds of this special Cactii (that I picked up in that trip to Rajasthan…or was it Himachal…or no no..it was Soul Santhe) that brings peace into the house.

ONE DAY…I’ll restore these vinyls that I had inherited from my father-in-law.

ONE DAY…I’ll visit these restaurants bookmarked on my Zomato

ONE DAY…all these recipes my mother had handwritten taking notes from my grandmother on this special pink book.

ONE DAY…I’ll repaint all these cashew tin boxes that I have collected from Indigo Airlines, with quotes from Bruce Lee and Gandhi and Bob Marley and make them into cool looking visiting card holders. Ok..ONE DAY I’ll have a cooler visiting card and that ONE DAY…I’ll learn how to paint…and then ONE DAY..I’ll learn how to take off the paint from tin boxes and repaint on them. I have Youtube videos saved in ‘watch later’ for that.

My pop sent me to this cricket coaching camp conducted by Syed Kirmani. I sucked big time. Bowling was pathetic. batting was okay. So all they made me do was fielding. I was good at fielding…but who cares if you field well. Its assumed that you are supposed to field well. And then I see Rajyavardhan Rathore pick up gold at the Olympics for shooting. Fucking shit…maybe I am damn good at shooting. Ya…that’s my calling. How would I know, if I have never shot from a rifle ever. So…ONE DAY…I’m going to just try my hand at Shooting. Or rowing. Or squash. Ok…shooting it is…you dont need to move around too much. So ONE DAY..I’m going to go and try shooting…or maybe Archery? Fuck…why did my school not have anything to do with Archery.

I have recorded this program on my Tata Sky Plus….’Trading with the stocks for beginners’. Maybe, ONE DAY, I’ll watch it and figure out how to make more money than the chaps at Infosys, who just overnight got a 200% increase in their salaries. And then they print their figures in dollars, so that you can take out your calculator and multiply it by 62 or whatever….I mean its great that they are doing this. But why publish it? For what joy? OK…so ONE DAY..I’ll watch this program and figure out how to become a multi millionaire.

one dayONE DAY…I’ll assemble this 6000 piece Lego Fire Station, that I picked up ONE DAY.

ONE DAY…I’ll go to the racecourse to figure out what the fuck exactly happens there.

ONE DAY…I’ll try this cocktail that I have saved on my evernote.

ONE DAY…I’ll open all these apps that I have saved on my cellphone and give them a good shot.

ONE DAY..I’ll do a movie marathon of all these dvds that I have filled half my house with.

ONE DAY…I’ll attend this heritage Bangalore walk at 6:30 am to figure out what is this heritage that I dont know about?

ONE DAY…I’ll open this 3000 page book on ‘How things work?’, a book a salesman sold to me 12 years back because he wanted to pay his college fees with the commission he earns from these sales.

ONE DAY…I want to know what the fuck happens at Bangalore Theosophical Society?

ONE DAY..I want to google and figure out what is exactly asafetida….a salt, a mineral, a fruit or a vegetable?

Then ONE DAY….I saw this article, in Times of India supplement, yes, that glossy supplement with aloe vera and power yoga and new trending stuff articles.

Staycation.

That was one new article.

A vacation where you just stay at home. Don’t go anywhere and just sit at home and do stuff that you always wanted to do…..ONE DAY.

So…I decided to take off for 20 days and dedicate it to this sole purpose.

‘THE ONE DAY I’LL DO THIS….STAYCATION’

Did it work?

no room for nostalgia

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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.

The lonely roller coaster ride-part 2

Kannan, his assistant and I bundled into an Omni along with Kannan’s paraphernalia, looking like an ad for Omni’s spacious interiors. He had brought enough equipment to shoot the flora and fauna of The Amazon. I was feeling disgusted that all this drama was for some crappy brochure. I felt guilty. And I’d have stopped myself from feeling that way if I knew that this guilt would slowly graduate to pity.

I had spent a lot of time hating Kannan and had gotten bored, so just for variation I changed it from hatred to pity for a little while.

After all he was just a passionate guy going about his job. I had no reason to be pissed off.

The journey to Niladri amusement park was about 2 hours. I had stayed awake the previous night thinking about ‘what the fuck to talk about during the journey’ and had narrowed down on a few topics that could maybe work.

“So you like Bollywood?” I started with my favorite topic.

“No”

With this answer Kannan had straightaway knocked out the conversations I had planned for half the journey.

This left me with only two other topics. ‘How did I land up in advertising?’ or ‘How did he land up in photography?’.

I instinctively knew that he cared two hoots about the first one. And I was scared approaching the second.

So I saved them for later. And spent time looking out of the window at Shilpa Medicals and Chandu Tailors and New Modern Hair Drassars and other shop boards to keep myself occupied. Kannan kept polishing his lenses one by one throughout the journey. And Kannan’s assistant polished them again before packing them back in their cases. I wish they’d let me polish them too since they made it look so engrossing.

I waited till we hit the highway. The sign boards were fewer. And I had memorized every pattern of the seats inside the van. And Kannan had finished polishing every single spare part in his bag.

I decided to launch the topic that I had kept reserved.

“So Kannan, how did you end up being a photographer?”

Kannan’s adam’s apple moved up and down to clear the lump in his throat. And he looked like he was going to burst into tears.

“I believe that destiny chooses you. Not you choose your destiny.”

By the time I could find the connection between the answer and the question, the driver jammed his brakes for a speed breaker. Kannan gave me a look which made me feel the need to probe further to unearth the wisdom in those lines.

“So how did it all happen?”

“I thought I just told you”

“Ok…destiny chose you….how?”

“Ask destiny”

I had half a mind to tell him “Fuck it man. I wish I had destiny as my companion. Instead I have you…so cock up and answer.” but “Ha ha…you are so right” is all that I could say for the sake of that shitty brochure that was on my lap waiting to transform itself into an artwork in two days.

“I hope there is someone there to guide us” Kannan spoke to the roof of the vehicle.

“Ya. I guess while destiny always chooses a different path it still expects us to be its guide.” I replied trying to sound as close to the lyrics of his favorite song.

“I’m talking about Niladri Park…is there someone out there to guide us?”

“Oh…ok…ya there is someone.”

That’s the problem of being an AE. People think you have no right to intrude into worldly wise discussions. You are not allowed to speak anything outside of your joblist.

My pity for him ended and I reverted to the initial emotion.

I hated Kannan. And I could not admit that I hated Kannan. Just like I could not admit that I hated that brochure. That client. My job. Niladri Water Park. The Omni I was travelling in. The driver who kept jamming his brakes. And Kannan’s assistant’s red ears. NO. My job was to not just conceal my hatred but also make it seem we were off bungee jumping to the alps.

“I think the shoot will be fun, don’t you think so?” It sounded like shit after I said it.

”      ” kannan replied.

I spent some time remembering motivational quotes on perseverance and hard work and positive attitude and other such jazz written by people who were lucky enough to escape from it.

These self development techniques helped me kill some time before we reached the amusement park that was waiting for the jokers to arrive.

Niladri opened its gates for the first time to any visitor. It was still under completion though most of the rides were already installed.

Kannan got straight to work. He inspected the tiles in close quarters and mid quarters with some yogic poses.

And I inspected the rides in the amusement park in close quarters, mid quarters and more quarters than Kannan examined the tiles. According to me my job was over. The next job in my list was to arrange lunch. Ofcourse I had other parental tasks of calling the client periodically to assure him that his brochure was being looked after.

So while Kannan was unpacking his 967 items, out of which only 2 or 3 were needed, I took a stroll around the amusement park.

There was a water slide. And another massive roller coaster with a track that took you to a great height and then plunged into a pool of water. And a giant tora tora. And some dashing boats. And some other exciting rides.

It was empty with not a soul in sight. I returned from this little investigation back to the most boring spot in the location. The part where Kannan stood.

He looked like a killjoy amidst all these joy rides. I sat down nearby watching him assemble his camera that had more parts than a Lego toy.

Kannan’s assistant was handing him over the parts one by one. And then I suddenly remembered that I had never heard his voice. I didn’t know how it sounded. Did he have a booming voice inside that skeleton? Or was his voice squeaky?

I tried exploring this pastime and went up to him.

“Are you hungry?’

He nodded his head in a manner that could have meant a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or a ‘I hate you because my boss hates you’.

“Shall I get something to eat?”

He repeated the same action.

He had no idea how important it was for me to hear his voice. I took a special interest in him. I relied on his company for the rest of the day.

Kannan barked back ‘no we have eaten’ which sounded like ‘leave us alone’.

I walked back and took a seat in the parapet.

Kannan had finally finished assembling half of his father’s earnings. And took the aperture readings.

And he suddenly started to look gloomy.

I was worried, and then I realised that it was not him this time, but the weather.

Kannan looked above, and before he could start weeping, the skies broke open and it began to rain.

Kannan’s assistant dived and rescued the machine as Kannan and me ran for cover.

It poured and poured like mad. And the three of us stood under a nearby ledge that extended about 5 ft.

The next shelter was around 500 meters away.

We watched the rain like we were watching a movie. Kannan stood in the corner balancing himself from not getting drenched and at the same time making sure he did not brush against any part of my body.

“Oh no. What rains!” I restarted conversation.

Silence.

“This is crazy”

Silence

“I mean it was so sunny and suddenly such rains. This is crazy.”

Silence.

I had found a new relief with this popular topic of bonding. The weather. And still noone wanted to participate. I had never seen this topic fail so miserably before. I continued trying to save the interestingness of rains.

“I hope we will be able to complete the shoot”

Silence

“Outdoor shoots are so risky. You can never tell.”

Silence

“Wow. Such nice weather. It would be great to have some hot tea.”

Silence

“The trees look so beautiful in the rains”

Silence

I tried cutting the weather in every possible angle. But nothing seemed to work.

Kannan put a cigarette in his mouth and reached out for a matchbox. His matches were wet. And I had a lighter in my pocket. I waited for him to ask me.

Kannan kept smoking his unlit cigarette. And I took out my lighter and tried lighting it up for him. And the lighter failed. And so did the opportunity of bringing back conversation into our stupid lives.

Being cramped in that space, every minute felt like an hour. And suddenly Kannan spoke.

“Do you realize?”

“Realize what?”

“Probably even God is in disagreement. This is his way of making us realize that we are doing something wrong. And that’s why He’s stopping us from doing it.”

Approximately 6 blood vessels burst inside my head. I thought that the battle was over. But Kannan’s brain was severely damaged.

“So what do you want to shoot?’

“Nothing. I don’t think we have given this enough thought. I can promise you that I will not be able to give you a picture that I’m satisfied with.”

“Ok. So give me one that you aren’t satisfied with.”

“Listen pal, this is not just a camera. It does not take pictures. It is a machine that paints my imaginations. I worship it. And I will not misuse it.”

It was only then I realised that Kannan was not suicidal. He had a strong desire to be murdered.

“You should not have taken up this project if you weren’t convinced.”

“Yes. You are right. I should not have taken up this project.”

“So is the shoot cancelled?’

“No. I will give you what you want. But I will take no money from you.”

I had no idea how to respond to this philanthropic offering. It was too long a journey to go searching for my conscience. It was the first thing that had been frisked off me when I took up this job.

So I tried dealing with the situation without one.

“Ok. Cool.”

It also sounded cool.

The rain suddenly stopped like God was in agreement with this settlement.

And Kannan got back to work. And started setting up all over again.

“Now you decide what you want me to shoot? And I’ll just shoot it.”

I think that line was meant to move me to tears and make me grovel with shame.

“Ok”

“Oh. So you’re ok.”

“Yes. I’m Ok with that.”

And Kannan continued setting up his imagination painting machine.

But the rain had created puddles all over. And we had to wait for it to dry up.

With silence as company.

Kannan’s assistant and me yawned at each other. Even with this, Kannan made sure to not bond by suppressing the yawns inside his elongated face.

A horrible looking frog hopped by making me notice his species after a long time. I started to fall in love with the frog.

I followed it like an inquisitive seeker to get away from the situation.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

“What’s this?’ I asked the first human being I spotted in the environment after a long time.

“It’s a water slide” the human being replied. The human being was an employee of Niladri water park, whose job was to hang around till the water park declared itself open to public. He looked bored. I looked bored. And we kept giving the ‘so what do we do?’ type look to each other.

“This trolley goes up all the way, and then comes down in full speed and plunges into this pool of water” The human being explained the funda behind the contraption.

It sounded exciting. I was getting tempted. But wasn’t sure if this was the right time to indulge in any form of entertainment. Kannan had so badly infected the air with his funereal mood strongly banning any form of joy from entering the premises.

But I also got a strange joy from seeing him depressed. I had had enough. This was one of those rare moments where I could slip into joy without being noticed. I had no boss around. I had no client around. It was like ‘Joy’ was making me a limited period offer.

“Want a ride?” the human being asked me noticing the deprivation of happiness in my life.

I nodded.

Kannan, his assistant and the tiles surrounding him zoomed out in my vision as I sat in the trolley that took me high up above. I realized that sometimes true joy meant distancing yourself from depression more than anything else.

I sat there in a roller coaster, all by myself, with the wind blowing on my face. The world beneath me looked like a tiny speck. As an AE, I had no option but to take refuge in these momentary metaphorical delusions of life. I felt like a king.

I could faintly hear Kannan’s assistant screaming something below.

The trolley now reacted to gravity and all the weight that was weighing me down got thrown around in a blur. As I momentarily freed myself away from deadlines, clients, brochures, creativity and other such idiotic entrapments.

It was the most exhilarating feeling. I screamed loudly in a decibel that would have matched a fully loaded roller coaster. I felt happy to be probably the only man who went on a roller coaster ride all alone.

Splash.

I had water all over my face and body. I was cleansed from the misery that this project brought along with it.

Suddenly I cared a fuck about anything and everything that I was responsible for.

I could hear Kannan’s assistant louder and clearer now.

He stood beside me mumbling some crap. It took a while before I could make out what he was saying.

“Sir, Boss says that if you are not there he will have to bill you for this project.”

“So, let him bill me.”

Yes. I realized that Kannan was taking me on a ride. But he had no clue how much I enjoyed it.

The lonely roller coaster ride-part 1

Kannan. Was that his name?? No. But I’ll keep it that way even though I remember everything about him quite distinctly, except whether the mole on his face was on the left side or the right. Actually I think I even know that.

Kannan was a photographer that anybody would like to forget. His brain was forever engaged in finding different answers for the ‘What am I doing in life?’ question. Which then progressed to the ‘What is life all about?” question. And then the “Who am I? ” question. And other such fashionable problems.

But Kannan wasn’t convinced till he had found his own answer.

His pop had given him a big bungalow and pots of cash to do what he pleased. But Kannan had chosen to waste his time on a topic like this that shouldn’t have concerned his life.

I strongly believed at that point, that the sole rights to this topic belonged to AEs. (For all those not in advertising, AE is Account Executive. Again for all those not in advertising, you are wasting your time reading this, because I assume you have a life. Leave now…. Go to ebay and order a nice book.)

Where was I? Oh yes….according to me AEs had patented this topic, and I had a problem with Kannan stealing my topic, my question, my problem. Yes I was an AE that time. And a pretty bad AE. Ok a very bad one. Ok a horrible one (…keep going down in that order).

I had spent many nights thinking about this nonsense. And then to suddenly meet someone else pondering over this crap made me feel cheated.

I was possessive about this state of mind.

You know as AEs we competed on a different platform. We had our own little competition. A competition involving our screwed up lives. Where the point system was based on the quantity and the degree of screw-ups that you were in the middle of. The more screwed your life, the higher the points you got.

Now getting a photographer intrude into this space was unacceptable. I mean, he had no reason to crib. He had no clients breathing down his neck. No artworks to chase. No hotels to book. No bookings to cancel. No couriers to despatch. No nothing. All he had to do was frame a picture. And shoot.

And on top of that he was rich.

Like most photographers, he had a nice looking studio with nice white walls, till he decided to spoil them with enlarged prints of the pictures he’d taken. Morbid, dark and desolate pictures that forced you to contemplate and participate in the depressing mystery that surrounded it. But all you were entitled to say were nice things like “hmm..interesting” and “Hmmm..deep” and ‘hmmm…aha” or some intelligent sounding variation of that.

The pictures were scary and put you in doubt about your own understanding of life and why it hadn’t reached such levels of inner search.

Like a nude women with a half bitten apple wrapped in barbed wire and staring at a pigeon.

Or another lady in tattered clothes sitting on a borewell, holding a spinning globe. And yes, only the globe was in colour.

Or another lady painting a rat trap. Or something that was somewhere between a rat trap and a steam engine.

And more such insane concepts that brought together women and unrelated props to suit Kannan’s gloomy introspections. Where each prop was burdened with some hidden meanings that only Kannan could explain.

Every picture was a teaser that taunted you, so that Kannan could launch into his tragic stories, about how life had been so unfair to him. The explanations were suicidal in nature.

“You’ll come. You’ll get your picture taken. And you will leave. And what you are taking with you is a part of my soul. That’s the reason I choose to keep my studio empty. So that I can start everyday with this emptiness. Photography is not an art anymore. It’s just business. Where I sell my soul everyday.”

That was the explanation he offered for the first picture.

“Where is the loo?” I asked.

After he gauged my reaction, he decided to divulge his discoveries of life only to someone who could understand his inner suffering. A kind of pathos which he believed only a creative person had.

This was his little canvas with which he tried to convey the ‘look what I can do, and instead look at what I am doing’ feeling.

So, Kannan was a creative guy. Who chose photography as his canvas to portray his creativity.

And I was the servicing guy. Who chose advertising as my canvas to exhibit my stupidity.

And destiny had decided to make us meet. Advertising is perhaps the only place that encourages such experiments and also expects great results out of it.

Kannan had compiled some of his inexplicable pictures, added some dates to it in 90% black on black so that it could become a calendar. And had sent it to all agencies expecting these modern day puzzles to find connect with some art director in distress.

I had seen many such calendars arrive in the agency.

And noticed the minuteness with which art directors would critically review these pictures, and comment about the mood, the lighting, the lensing and debate endlessly before deciding to part with that assignment of a tabletop shot of a mixie.

Ya, but they were a strange lot.

Creative guys were always very fussy about the kind of calendars that they put up on their desks. They would not change the month if they didn’t like the next picture. So, it would always be on the wrong month, but always on the right picture.

We AEs gave a damn. We’d proudly display every freebie on our desks even if it carried some loud branding of some printing press. Or for that matter even if it was the picture of the printing press. Nothing really mattered. And if we hadn’t yet changed the month, it was only because we hadn’t returned back to our desks from the studio.

As an AE you only lived for these perks. Free calendars, magazines, passes and discounts on the brands you handle. And ofcourse that free sweet dabba during Diwali from Kanti sweets, that some vendor had sent, so that we can trace his long pending invoice that was lost within the agency.

So in the middle of all this, Kannan’s calendar landed on my desk. I hated all the pictures. But the only thing I loved about it was the timing of its arrival.

I had a project to be shot. The kind that noone would want to shoot.

A project to shoot tiles. Outdoor tiles.

It was not the tiles that were boring. It was the fact that it was only the tiles. Just the tiles and nothing else.

Plain outdoor tiles with no women in satin gowns caressing it.

No photographer who’d have wanted to be called one, would have touched a project like this. But Kannan had yawned enough in his empty studio feeding his assistant and listening to French and German opera on his Bose surround speakers. He’d invested enough in the studio, and promised enough women a portfolio that could change their lives. But soon he realised that if he had to make a living, he had to shoot generators, pumpsets, UPS machines, cement bags and probably tiles to make enough money to keep those models returning to his studio. And ofcourse continue feeding his starved assistant.

Kannan was the most boring man I had ever met in my life. Even more boring than the tiles that he was meant to shoot. He was the perfect explanation for why it was called ‘menopause’ and not ‘womenopause’.

He suffered from intense depression after he had decoded the meaning of all the lyrics that he had been listening to in all those alien languages. And to add to that he had a huge collection of movies from around the world that carried complicated human stories inside those seemingly innocent titles.

All this exposure had pulled him down so badly that nothing could bring him back to life.

But Kannan was convinced that some art director in this universe would have mind-fucked himself similarly, with whom he could bond and share his sickening hallucinations. And they could sit together in Neptune and discuss their experiences in a language that is not understood by mediocre earthlings.

But No.

All he got from all those calendars was a cheapie AE who came to him only because he got a free calendar. And he also had a disputed deadline with an art director who cared more for mankind and world peace and harmony than a brochure deadline.

It was me. With my orphaned brochure that had no room for any value additions from anyone who was remotely creative.

Kannan had accidentally sent me his calendar of nude women, irritatingly concealed by his sense of aesthetics in the hope of getting some job.

And as he should have liked it, I came to him with a job, following the address in his calendar which was in 2 point size.

Kannan opened the door himself. And I looked out for Kannan hoping that the man who opened the door was not him.

He had a drooping moustache with a symmetric mouth drooping underneath. That created an effect on his face that put immense pressure on the other person to make the conversation interesting. And since he spoke little and refused to emote, anything you said was greeted with this default expression on his face. Even when he smiled, his mouth curved downwards.

Since I was facing his face for the first time, I spent 30 minutes before I discovered its limitations. I had wasted some of my best jokes and ice breaking techniques in that time.

But Kannan sat there like a ‘I’m sad’ emoticon.

And the worst part was that I had not even given him the bad news.

“Hmm…Who’s the art person?” Kannan enquired figuring out that I wasn’t one.

“Noone”

“Hmm…What’s the job?”

“We need to shoot tiles.”

“Hmm….What’s the concept?”

“The concept is to show tiles.”

“That’s not a concept.”

“Ok. We need to show our tiles without any concept.”

Kannan was sad.

He was in no mood to accept any project that did not explore everything that his SLR’s ‘operation manual’ had to offer.

“How can you not have an art person? And how can you not have a concept?” Kannan asked me like he had been absent from reality for a while.

I proved to him that such a thing was possible, by showing him a copy of the brochure that the client had orgasmed over. An approved dummy made by the art director who had gone on leave because it had got approved.

An 8 page brochure that had different tiles arranged from page one to page eight. The cover shot was the most innovative of the lot, where the client had allowed us to show something more than the tiles. Like the mud and grass surrounding it. It was a shot of the tiles in location. A picture to indicate its usage.

It had taken us 18 attempts to arrive at this supreme masterpiece. The previous 17 were bombed because the creative folks, instead of doing their jobs, had tried to be creative with it. It took us 18 meetings of prolonged discussions on cinema, music, art, culture, food, dolphins and freedom fighters to conclude that this brochure had to refrain from anything discussed during those meetings.

The copywriter had started with poetry. And the client had shot it down and replaced them with about a hundred bullet points.

I tried making Kannan appreciate the simplicity of the task in hand.

“Well, this is what it is. They are outdoor tiles. And we need a cover shot that shows where these tiles can be used.”

And then we observed a ten minute silence. Perhaps, it was for the death of creativity. In that ten minutes Kannan demonstrated the other variations of depression his face had practiced.

“How uninspiring” Kannan tossed the brochure aside and increased the volume on his Bose that was playing some soul stirring orchestra from Buddha Bar, to create a mood where creativity could prevail.

Kannan ordered his Somalian assistant to get some beers from the refrigerator.

“I come from a middle class background. My father passed away at a young age. They sold my ancestral home at Kerala. My mother brought me up. I never listened to her. I still don’t. She has not yet visited my studio. But I know that she loves me.”

I was waiting for the part that connected this heart wrenching story to the job in discussion. I had to invent a new emotion that masked my bewilderment, anxiety and boredom together. I swallowed a fake lump in my throat, gave a half grin and raised my eyebrows to look interested.

Kannan had a connection. “These tiles resemble the ones that we had in our courtyard. You know what. Don’t look at them as mere tiles…..give them wings. You understand imagination….!!” he asked me, missing that creative person who could have appreciated his sarcasm.

Kannan’s assistant brought the beers to intoxicate me back to the world of creativity.

Kannan opened up his beer, and started giving wings to his imagination that got more and more eccentric with every sip.

By the end of five beers the tiles were soaring high, and had travelled across mountains, forests, oceans and were now taking the shape of sand dunes in a desert.

“Just like the sand in the desert, it takes on patterns that men cannot dream of…..ah!…..you know we always lose when we want to compete with God.”

I posed for him with my jaws open. I let him think it was awe. But it was more to be in a ready position to guzzle the free beer.

Kannan’s assistant opened bottles after bottles as Kannan saw in me a perfect listener who had no disagreements with his point of view on life, advertising, creativity, music, tiles and everything in general.

Yes, even I was getting high. But I wasn’t allowed to trip along with him….however much I wanted to.

I had learnt that an AE’s job was to listen. And shut his trap. A previous boss had given me this dumb advice to be dumb. “Remember, an AE who does not open his mouth, gets his job done. Pretend like you don’t understand what they are saying, even if you do. It’s a trap that they are laying out. Don’t give in. And don’t argue. Because if you do, they will win. Every great quote of wisdom favors them. All that the great wise men have said before, happen to take their side. You are alone. Your only weapon is your dumbness. And believe me, it is the strongest weapon you have. In reality, dumbness works like nothing else does. It’s sad that there have been no great dumb people. In spite of so much dumbness around you. But the truth is that we rule. They are the underdogs, wanting, craving and dying to be the exceptions in this world. Thankfully, we have no such illusions.”

So I reran this little motivational speech in my head and sat there patiently travelling with Kannan’s mind journey. I sat there trying to be quiet.

“These tiles are not just tiles. They are like ..like..clay..waiting to be moulded by imagination. What do you say….see customers are not dumb, they’ll get it.” Kannan continued with enthusiasm.

Customers are not dumb. I had heard this line a million times in the first few years of advertising. I was beginning to lose my patience. The perennial argument. It was getting impossible to find new words everytime to fight the same old battle.

I explained to Kannan that the very fact that the customers had to shell out twice the money of a regular tile already meant that they had to be dumb. I tried convincing him that in this particular case, the target audience was anyone who is dumb. And since they are dumb already, the brochure needs to be equally dumb. So that they can relate to it. And that was my insight.

“Dumb guys respond to dumbness. And you are being smart by recognizing this dumbness. Look around you. How many guys do you come across who you think are dumb? See even I am dumb.”

Kannan hated this indisputable logic. He missed a creative person on the job even more than I missed one.

But I had to protect this brochure from getting corrupted by creativity. I had to stop Kannan’s music, movies, ancestral property and every other influencing force that was driving him.

I explained to Kannan that the brochure was nothing more than a visual guide for anyone to know where they could use these tiles. And since these tiles were outdoor tiles, the client had decided to show its usage on the cover, by putting a picture of the tiles laid out in an amusement park called Niladri Water Park, somewhere in the outskirts of the city.

“Niladri Water Park!!” Kannan gasped like I was asking him to shoot in the public loo of Kalasipalya.

“Ya…that’s the place. It’s an amusement park that is opening soon. And the place has these tiles all over. It kind of gives an idea to customers on where they can use it.”

“In an amusement park?”

“Ya…this is an amusement park..but it more or less tells you where you could use them. Like in your garden, parking lot etc.”

“Why the heck would you want to go all the way there to shoot these goddamn tiles…oh this is bizarre.”

Kannan believed that this outright denial to be a part of common sense would automatically slot him alongside Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

“For Christ’s sake..why would you want to do something like that?” Kannan called upon a cooler Lord to intervene.

Kannan brushed his long hair back and walked towards the window and drew the curtains letting in a shaft of light and posed against it…resembling a shot I had seen in one of his calendars.

And sulked for the next 15 minutes.

And calmed himself down with the hymns of Buddha that were playing on the speakers, and finally gave in. Probably the hymns translated as “there is money in it…and Kannan you need the money now.”

After about 20 minutes of pensive silence, Kannan returned with this shameful wisdom.

“OK. I’ll do it. When do we have to go?”

“In a day or two”

“Done”

Now that the deal was sealed, I relaxed and began to enjoy the music without any pressure of being concluded as an appreciator of creativity and suffer the risks associated with it.

“Can I borrow this CD?”

“You like it??” Kannan jumped back in the hope that his rejected imaginations could find their way back into this brochure.

“No No…it’s ok actually. Do you listen to Baba Sehgal?”

“Let’s keep the shoot for day after”

………………To be contd.

(This story is part fiction and part facts. And all the portions that sound like bullshit are facts.)


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.