Category Archives: Bhubaneswar

BACK TO BHUBANESWAR

You know what I love most about train journeys? The fact that you really get to meet so many people. I know this is a cliché, but this is more true about train journeys than any other. Now, bus journeys are spent in bumping into people and feeling to see if your wallet is still there. Flights are too short. But in a train, you spend over a day in other people’s company, getting to know them, see their little quirks.

So anyway, I met some really interesting people on the journey (one man who had worked as a cinematographer with Satyajit Ray, another man who devised a way to smoke in Rajdhani Express without getting caught – “Blow your smoke inside the commode”, and a child who cried continuous for
seven hours). After enduring many such people, I finally reached New Delhi.

I know this has been spoken about a number of times, but the truly amazing thing about Delhi is the abuses that people dole out to each other. I got a sample of this even before I had gotten down at the station. I was adjusting my hair in front of the mirror when I heard a voice say, “Oye hero, bas kar”

I turned back to see a small chai selling boy who was waiting to get down behind me. Once I got down at the platform, it was a string of b****chods and m*****chods flung around without a care in the world. I think there is a sense of camaraderie among the people that gives them the confidence to shower such abuses without being taken seriously. So anyway, I then got into a metro, and the door closed centimetres away from my face, giving me memories of Shoorpanaka, from The Ramayana. And since it was so congested and I was carrying two bags, I put my hand behind me to feel if my wallet was intact from time to time.

On one such attempt, a papaji standing on one of my feet turned around to give me an uncomfortable glare when my hand grazed his derriere.

“Kya kar raha hai?”, he says.

“Bhaiyya jagah nahi hai.”

“Meri ***** mein haath daal de, bahut jagah hai.” he retorts, to loud cheers among co-passengers.

Things do not happen like that in Bhubaneswar. Here, one abuse about a family member could give you two black eyes. And another thing I notice about the place is that nothing really changes around here. After reaching the platform, I recognised three people in five minutes straight. It’s not because there are less people, but I think the same people hang out in the same places all the time.

But then, that’s the thing I love about the place. There are no people rushing, no worried brows on people’s faces. People here are more calm, more laid-back, and ( I think) more spiritual. You will never find people here talking about work, fussing about targets. The discussions would revolve more around bitching, and who did what to whom at what time and where, and other such important stuff.

Another thing that is amazing about this place is the creativity that goes into naming their businesses. Where else can you find a saloon called ‘Curl up and Dye’? Or a shop that is named ‘Omm Licky – A gift shop’? Or ‘Bichi Communication’? And just yesterday, I noticed one that was painted on a wall. It went:

Homeopathy Clinic, Backside of Pappu Saloon, Front of Shauchalaya.

Not exactly the best image you are trying to give out, my friend.

But it doesn’t take long for someone who has been even four months away from here to realise what it is about the place that one misses the most. We do not have IT parks and amazing pubs and all that. But we have the best goddamned junk food in the entire bloody world. For those who have had paani puri in other places and believe that is the real thing, you are light years away from the truth. Pani puri is supposed to have potato in it, not matar/chana/other crap. And there is no point having pani puri in one of those hygienic places where the people wear gloves and stuff. There is no fun in that.

The actual taste is at those places where bacteria would have a blast and the Dettol guy who goes about giving gyan to people would faint. The potato is mashed with the hand, and the puri is smashed with the finger, and then dipped in the pani, and then served. I know it sounds a little odd, but when you eat it, you realise how much of a difference the personal touch of the maker makes.

Then there is Aludam Dahibara. This is another junk food item that is probably only found here. Aludam Dahibara sellers tie two steel pots to the rods of their cycle. If you look at it from the front, it gives the impression that the cycle has got hydrocele. One of the pots contains dahi vada and the other contains alu dam – a red spicy potato curry with gravy that’s so hot it would qualify as rocket fuel. The man first rolls up his sleeve, dips his hand into the dahi, takes out the vada,puts them in the plate, and presses them down, cleanliness can take a well deserved holiday. He then takes out a ladle, dips it into the curry and pours pieces of potato, along with the red, shiny gravy on top of the dahi vada. He then gives you a small toothpick like stick that you dip into the vadas and potato pieces and eat. The flavour created when the vadas mix with the red hot gravy is out of the world. Once you are done with the second or third helping, he takes a small katori and pours dahi, and on top of that the red gravy. You mix all of it, and slurrrp it up. Your stomach is full, your immunity to germs increases several notches, and it just costs you ten bucks.

Then there’s the chaat. Before I begin to describe Orissa’s chaat, I have to mention what passes off as chaat in Hyderabad. It’s got matar, and some onions and tomatoes and a lot of whatnots. The taste treads a thin balancing line between sour, spicy and shitty and costs four times what it costs here. That, my friends, is not chaat. It is bullshit. To have real chaat, you have to come to one of the small shops here. Again, the big ones are corrupted by consumerism and go all out to give hygiene a priority, thus negating the meaning of junk food in the first place. It’s JUNK FOOD, dodos. If you want to wear gloves, go play Shaktimaan somewhere.

Anyway, the chaat is a red, orangy assortment of all things spicy. He piles it up on your plate, and then crushes some papad with his bare hands, and adds a lot of tomato (?) sauce on it. He will ask you if you want to add the dahi vada on it as well, which you have to politely refuse, as it kills the taste a wee bit. You then proceed to eat it, making small talk with the seller about the weather, the rising costs, or anything else under the sun. You can ask for more of anything you please, and he would definitely give it to you.

Then there are the rolls. They are called frankies everywhere else. But before I begin, I have a message for the Frankie sellers of Hyderabad:

The things you sell suck. Big Time. You can take your frankie and shove it up your crankie. Fuck you!

The rolls you get here actually have stuff in them. So, if it is a chicken roll, there is more than just the smell of chicken in it. The rolls are cooked on a large black, flat plate. The person adds four to five naans/parathas on the plate and cooks them simultaneously. He then flips them over, and brings them on to the small slab of marble tile that is in front of him. Again, with his own ungloved hand, he adds fried onions, tomatoes, and pieces of chicken/panneer, and sprinkles it with dry onions and tomato sauce. The rolls here make the frankies everywhere else seem malnourished and poor. The ones here are thick, and bursting at the seams with stuffing.

This has led me to the conclusion, that it is the bacteria and germs that make junk food tasty. As soon as you try to become hygienic, you lose it. The thing is, if it was sold in expensive hotels by waiters dressed like Rin models, it wouldn’t be junk food. The junk food sellers in Orissa understand this and operate on a business model that is more volume based than margin based (whatever that is). And yeah, they are generous with the bacteria.

DIVING WITH CHICKS AND SWIMMING WITH THE FISHES

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I was in Sambalpur a few weeks back and we’d gone to a picnic spot beside a lake. While everyone was playing in the water, I was basking in the sun near the bank. They proceeded deeper and deeper into the water, diving down and raising their arm to show how deep the water was. I was playing with pebbles, splashing water, trying to act busy. But not for long. “Don’t you want to come inside the water? There’s no fun just sitting there!” No response. “Are you like, scared of water or something?”

******

I know Pamela Anderson is the most famous Baywatch girl. But for me, she will always remain second to Yasmine Bleeth. I had caught a glimpse on an episode on one of the lucky afternoons in my summer holidays. I know this has been talked about many times, but there is something about the beach, the sea, and red swimsuits that sends teenage hormones on a sprint.

Swimming was among the cool things on my list of cool things since that day. But I had never got the opportunity to learn it. I finally decided to learn in my XI standard.

I registered myself at a swimming coaching class. What I dint know that the oldest guy in the batch was eleven years old. After bearing the ignobility of standing in my briefs with kids who reached up to my knee, I quit the coaching.

A few months later, we went to Balasore, my father’s native place. There is a pond behind our house and the kids all learn swimming in it. My father called me to the pond with the promise that he would teach me swimming. He told me how he and his five brothers had learnt swimming on their own. It was just something you learnt while growing up. “We learnt it on out own, in a month. We just dived into the water and learnt it”.

When I gingerly stepped into the water, I was expecting my father to come in behind me. I was already in the water and to my horror, I realised he was going to teach me swimming the way he had learnt it. “Paddle your feet and move your arms.” How easy it sounds, like “Switch off the lights and close the windows.” I was unable to move a muscle. After a few minutes of struggle, I gave up. I could see my father on the edge, egging me to go on with his hand raised. Looking like Rocky Balboa’s coach when he was badly beaten in the eye. Seconds later, my cousin brother jumped in to the water and pulled me out to safety. I came out of the pond, shaken, and shivering. Strike 1.

Just about 2 weeks later, I went to my bodo bapa’s house. There is a canal that flows right next to my uncle’s house where people bathe. Bathing is a community event. You came in groups with your friends, swam a bit, bathed, and went home. My cousin brother Raja Bhai had taken me along with him to bathe. I think there is something about the people of Balasore and has to do with their helpful nature. When he learnt I didn’t know how to, he offered to teach me how to swim. After some insisting, he took me into the water holding my hand. I waded into the water, my legs in the water, my hand in Raja Bhai’s and my heart in my mouth. Once we were a little inside, he left my hand, asked me to paddle, and turned to speak to his friend. Same result. That sinking feeling again. When he turned, he saw my hand struggling above the water and pulled me to safety. Strike 2

A few months later, I was at Puri. I had gone with a few friends to the beach and we were playing in the water. While the rest were diving into the water, I was playing safe, staying well behind the others and tamely splashing water like the Gopis do in those ISCKON pictures.

After a while, we noticed a girl in a red swimsuit nearby. Now, it is difficult to find anyone below 75 kilos in a swimsuit in Puri. And she was young and pretty. The sight of her caused an exodus among the guys on the beach and everyone including out group gradually moved a little closer.

They would wait for the girl to look in their direction, and then with a loud “Yaaaaaaay” dive into the water. I joined them for a number of reasons. Adrenaline rush, peer pressure, memories of Yasmine Bleeth. Red swimsuit.

“Yaaaaaaaay” and Splash! I went diving into one of the waves. The next wave was a bigger one, and I dived right into it, and when it was going back, I realised I couldn’t feel any sand below my feet. The red swimsuit girl was among the first to notice me screaming. “Somebody, pull him out. He doesn’t know how to swim”. The same sight again, a haze of brown and water getting into my mouth and ears. A bihari guy jumped into the water and pulled me out. Even within the water, I could hear him screaming out to me not to pull him in too. The last thing I remember was a light brown colour everywhere around me and water entering into my eyes, nose, and mouth.

When I opened my eyes, I saw the beard of a man who looked like Sivapathacus from our history text book, inches from my face. Yes, I had drowned again. Yes, I had been given CPR by that early old man. Strike 3.

*****

“No, no. Nothing like that. You guys go enjoy! I’ll just sit here and relax.” If ever that proverbial situation comes when I have to choose between the devil and the dark sea, I will embrace the Devil and try to bargain with him!

Maharaja Talkies

Nothing remarkable happened on 24.7.2002, it was just another Wednesday. But it was a red letter day for me. It was the first time I went to a cinema hall to watch a movie. Considering I was born in 1986, which was 2 decades back, it had to be special.

As a child, I was not allowed to watch movies even on television. The hottest woman I saw on television was Tara of Chandrakanta. My mother had even shut down the TV when the Draupadi Vastraharan scene was going on in Mahabharat, so you can imagine the levels of deprivation I was going through. The logic was simple. Going to movies was not in the list of activities that would help you to go to heaven. And so I was never taken to a cinema hall. I tried hinting about it a few times, but I might have as well asked for a trip to the moon.

Not that I hadn’t watched movies. We were shown films in our hostel. Mostly English films. And in the rare moments that my mother wasn’t at home or I was at someone else’s home, I used to catch whatever little on the existing movie channels. So, by the time I had finished my Class 10, I had watched a total of four hindi movies in my life.

Maine Pyar Kiya: (Being Diwali, my mother was busy in Puja),
HatimTai: (I remember Jitendra surrounded by girls doing aerobics holding duffs. Additional bonus, Dimple Kapadia in an item number).
Lagaan: Shown at school, with the Madhuban song edited out. Frustrated lot as we were, they might have wanted to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
Avatar: Rajesh Khanna is a mechanic who loses his hand while repairing an Ambasador and teaches his sons a lesson in caring for parents, with one hand. This emotional prostitute of a film was followed by a discourse on how children today do not care about their parents.

The idea of watching a film in a cinema hall thrilled me. My friends at school had described what the inside was like. I was told about the stall, the balcony, the whistling and hooting. It seemed like wonderland.

I returned home early and rushed on my bicycle to a cinema near my house that was screening Devdas – the bumper hit at that time. By the time I reached the hall, about 30 minutes had lapsed. I reached the ticket counter was looking left and right to check if anyone I knew was around. But all the people I knew were the kinds who spent Saturday evenings in Bhajans and would never come to watch a movie about a drunkard who falls in love with a prostitute and dies in front of his married lover’s gate.

The usher standing in front of the grill with his torch noticed me loitering around and asked me if i wanted a ticket. I said yes and he asked me to shell out 40 rs. If I had looked at the ticket counter, I’d have seen that the costliest ticket at that time was 22 Rs. But anyway, I was entering the hall for the first time and it seemed too good to be true. It was like a magical place. There were statues of fairies and posters of other films that were to be released soon. Even while climbing the stairs, I could faintly hear the dialogues. It felt like I belonged here.

I recalled my friends’ description of the balcony and the stall. Strangely, the man seemed to keep walking to the front rows. He kept walking till he reached the first row in the entire hall. He pulled a wooden bench from the side and asked me to sit. By then, I realised I had been royally duped. But what the heck? I was in a cinema hall.

I had to crane my neck up to look at the screen. Since I was closest to the screen, I felt like a fly sitting on people’s faces whenever they came on screen. SRK’s nose looked the size of a blackboard and everything else seemed magnified beyond recognition. If someone was at the left of the screen, I had to turn my head to the left and then look to the right again. Within 15 minutes, my neck began to hurt. I turned to look behind me. I was expecting to see people staring at the screen in awe. What I saw was a bunch of rickshaw walas and coolies, some of them drunk, the others showering Aishwarya Rai with a string of abuses I did not know the meaning of. It felt like a 3D, larger than life experience, the hero was drinking bottles of booze and the area around me stank of it too.

After 2 long hours, Aishwarya realises SRK is outside her gates and runs to meet him. After what seems like a 200 m relay race, she reaches the gates, only for it to be shut on her face. The hero lies dead, mumbling her name. The end credits roll. I stand up.

Only to be pulled back to my seat by my shirt. “Bose, sola. Hero uthibo”. (Sit down, brother in law. The hero will get up). After about 2 minutes, they realised hero wouldn’t get up. This was followed by another string of abuses directed at the hero’s ancestral lineage. The lights got switched on. Someone had thrown something at the screen and people were making a rush for the exit. And a fight broke out. No fight in Orissa is considered big enough till someone screams out ‘Maaaaghiyaaaa’. Someone sounded the war cry and a riot broke out.

I struggled my way out, losing two buttons in the process.

I haven’t forgiven SRK to date.

The ‘FAMILY’

I was in college, hopping jobs and looking for easy money. Painting t-shirts, odd jobs at call centres, part time stints and freelancing.

One morning, I was having chai at the stall near my house and talking to someone when this person overheard me and introduced himself. He was in formals, clean clothes, ready smile, and spoke in a syrupy-sweet manner.

“Do you want to change your life?”

What sort of a lame question is that? Who doesn’t want that?

“Yes.”

“Come with me, give me just half an hour and if you think it was worthwhile, well and good. Otherwise, it is completely your wish.”

He made me sit behind his scooter. It is always uncomfortable sitting behind someone in a scooter. Scooters do not have long seats like bikes. There are two seats – one for the rider and one for the pillion, with the oil tank in between you both. And everytime the rider brakes, you brush against him. I half wondered if he was some sort of paedophile. But he was not.

He took me to his home. He had a wife and a little son. He took me to his room and proudly showed me a photo of himself and his wife in Goa. I am a ‘Diamond Member’, we get one fully-paid holiday in a year, he said with pride. You can become a Gold Member within six months; I can see future in you”.

For the next half an hour, I was completely lost in his talk. He told me how things worked. It was about exposing people to the luxury of good products. The investment needed was marginal. And if I worked hard, I could earn anything within 6,000 to 8,000 a month. I was already beginning to dream of what I would do with all the money. After an hour I was completely brain-dry cleaned. This was easy shit, I could do this.

“Don’t worry. For any support, I am with you. After all, we should join hands and help each other improve our lives together”. He asked me to attend a meeting conference for all members of the ‘Family’. I was thrilled.

I attended the conference. Though I felt like some distant, long forgotten cousin in the family, it was fun. People, many of them married women, clapped loudly when the speaker spoke about how his life had changed since he joined the ‘family’. The food was great and I met my mentor too. “Ah, come come.” he said, and made me meet some other people who all had smiled pasted to their faces. “Welcome Mr. Ranjan, the latest star in the block”. This was good, man. Even my own family wasn’t so proud of me.

The next week was a Monday. I was itching to begin. But who do I contact? I couldn’t even think of selling my sister anything. By default, she thinks that I am upto some kind of suspicious business. I tried selling it to my neighbour, Pintu Bhai.

I called him to the terrace to speak to him about it. “Do you want to change your life?”

He looked at me suspiciously and nodded.

I began the ‘life-changing’ sermon. After 20 minutes, I was convinced he wanted to extend his hand so that we could improve our lives together too. I explained to him about the products, how they were the means for thousands of people around us to change their lives. I explained about the marginal investment he had to make the loads of products he could get, that were far superior to the ones that were available in the market.

“How much does the toothpaste cost?”
“100 rs.”
“And do they give anything free? Like a toothbrush or white-meter?”
“No. But the product is much better than Colgate and Pepsodent.”

I could see he was sinking by the minute. When I was done, he said he would ‘let me know’. I smiled, stood up and extended his hand, and he gave me an amused look. We played cricket together, and knew each other since childhood. But we had never shaken hands. “Let us hold hands and improve our lives together”. My dialogue seemed as original as Rakhi Sawant’s assets, but I was mouthing them just the same.

This was a good feeling, helping people use better products, become independent and transform their lives in the process. I felt I was doing mankind a service, redeeming people from their lives. For the next two weeks, in every conversation with people around me, I shook hands. Whenever I met Pintu Bhai, he would say he had some work, or change the topic. My mentor would call me to his house now and then and show me more photos of him and his wife in Goa. “This year, we are going to Himachal”, he said, looking at his wife with an endearing look that I could only give to a sizzling brownie.

A month had passed since I had transformed my life. I noticed that Pintu Bhai rarely met me these days. My conversations with the guys at work were slowly becomingly shorter. I spoke to my mentor about it. He warned me that the initial days could be a little taxing, but there was no substitute for hard work if I wanted to enjoy my life to the fullest.

After about 2 weeks, I cornered Pintu Bhai and asked him about his plans. He told me why he wasn’t up for it. He explained the reason. And I understood why.

We always hear the phrase “We don’t sell products, we sell dreams”. This company was actually selling dreams. The shit-expensive, arty-farty sounding trash was just by-products. No one wanted to use the products, or even spoke about them. They were just means to a better life. You joined the queue, found a bakra, bullshat him, dumped unwanted crap on his head and told him he was changing his life.

I looked in my room. I had a toothpaste, a shaving cream, a car and bike (both of which I dint have) polishing solution, a dishwashing cream, four powders that could make me look like Saahil Khan. And a wallet that was lighter by 4,000 bucks.

Even now, I don’t like people who ask me if I want to improve my life, or who shake hands with me. I am happy with my life, thank you very much. I don’t want your crap, and I don’t have a fat wife nagging me to take her to Himachal. Pretty soon, I got kicked out of the family, but I got my life back.

Sardarji and his son


Is watching a match in the stadium really an experience better than watching it at home on television?

We had gone to watch the match against Sri Lanka that was played in Cuttack. We took our seats in the stands by 12.00 and the match was set to begin around 2.00 PM.

The waiting for the match can be quite frustrating, and people were kind of getting restless, waiting for the match to start. We guys had taken chart paper and sketch pens and were ready with our placards (“Dhoni, We miss you”, “Sorry, boss. I have fever”, “Plant Trees”).

A Sardar and his son were in the row in front of us. The son was young, must be 10 years old, around class 4. Around the age when you collect posters and cards, with nothing much more on your mind. They were one of the first persons to arrive and you could see that he was really interested in cricket.

The thing is, the day your luck is fucked, it is fucked. You can’t do much about it.

When the match was about to begin, some policemen came and started making people settle down. There was this couple of guys. One of them was dark and bulky, and looked like the Before of a “Before After’ in a Zambian weight-loss infomercial. The other guy was lanky. These guys had been standing for quite sometime and finally the policeman found an empty chair. The one in front of Sardarji’s son. But there is only one chair? No problemo!

The hefty guy, a veritable Duryodhan, offered his friend to sit on his lap. And After readily obliged.

And just like that, the poor boy’s vision was completely blocked. For the entire match! But ‘Before After’ hardly noticed. When one thigh ached, Before would make After stand up briefly, and then sit in on his other thigh. The poor boy wore a smug the entire match.

As it is, Oriya people are rather interesting. You will never find us sitting idle, ideating, thinking of world peace, that kind of crap. There is always something or the other going on in our minds.

To add to Sardarji & Son’s misery, all of a sudden a man hops in front of them, takes out his mobile phone and brings it in front of Sardarji’s face.

We were sitting behind them so we couldn’t see their expressions, but I am sure it must have been one of pure horror. And he takes a picture of Sardarji. He then looked at his phone, put it in his pocket and smiled.

“I have a friend. In Punjab. Vijay Singh. Bilkul aap ke jaisa dikhta hai.” The day your luck is screwed, it is screwed.

Now, gradually the match progressed. India was well on its way to a victory. When India was fielding, you should have seen the crowd’s behaviour. Sachin was fielding in the boundary near us, and the adulation had to be seen to be believed. Every time he so much as turned his head, the entire gallery would stand up and scream out his name. However, there was a Jekyl-Hyde kind of transformation when the Sri Lankan team came to field. Some of them had come up with innovative one-liners and would scream it out. One went,

“Malinga… tujhe ch*denga” (in the tune of the usual “India….India…”). Someone in the galleries above us must have gotten a little bored, so he decided to start throwing things at the people sitting below. It began in the form of paper rockets.

We looked up, pointed at it and laughed. After a while, a banana peel comes flying and landed on the head of one of the persons in the stands. Not funny. He throws it back and with a detailed chronology of the person’s ancestors.

What ensued next can only be called a water pouch/samosa/banana peel/biriyani packet slinging duel between the stands and the galleries. After a while, we saw that the same thing was going on in the other galleries as well.

It looked like a scene from those black and white comedy movies where people start hurling cakes at each other’s faces. Only, it wasn’t funny. By the time the innings reached the 40th over, the people who had come with families had left. The last I saw Sardarji and his son; they were getting up from their chairs. The war ensued till the end of the match and by the time it was over, the entire stand was empty but for a handful of us.

Coming back to the question I asked in the beginning. If a ten year old was asked the same question, he would say it is much better to sit at home, and enjoy the match with smoking hot parathas and tandoori chicken.

Bribing Sunday Baba

In Bhubaneswar, there is a strange practice prevalent. The begging is pretty organised. They have studied the market and choose to venture out only on weekends. As a result, you will always come across a beggar on a weekend morning.

And the sad part is that they sing. And loudly at that. One such person who would frequent me was a Baba who spread the gospel of Shirdi Sai Baba on Sunday afternoons. Now, being a baba is better than being unemployed. You will never be denied food anywhere. Partly because how foolish superstitious people are. Or someone will take pity on you. Or probably just give you something so that you leave.

As a result, you get to see a lot of interesting babas. There was this one guy who would go about shouting. Yes, shouting. He would keep screaming at the top of his lungs. And what was most astonishing. He would scream for hours on end, and absolute gibberish! Imagine screaming yourself hoarse for hours, and actually not making any sense.
And then there was this baba whom you could see near the railway station. He would sit on a mat on the footpath next to the highway and do the unthinkable. And then there is this baba who waltzes in and out of babadom whenever he feels like. He is actually a “ranga mistri” – a labourer who paints houses. But whenever he feels, he stops shaving and becomes a baba. And hard times make him come back to the world. So he just shaves, and is off to painting houses again. People in the area call him Sansari baba.

Now this baba, whom I like to call Sunday baba blesses our locality only on Sundays. I first noticed him on a lazy, sleepy Sunday. I had just had lunch and was on the threshold of beautiful sleep, when I was startled out of my senses when I heard a voice. “Sai Baba Aae, Sai Baba Aae….” I initially thought someone was standing next to me and started screaming. On opening my eyes, I realised it was someone on the road outside. It was like the sound of a loudspeaker tied to your head in a cruel punishment. When I went out to see, I saw it was just one guy.

He had one irritating voice. And he would come every Sunday. And sing the same damn song.

After tolerating him for about 3 months, I decided to do something about it. I waited at the chhak around the time he would come there. Before he entered the lane, I walked up to him. You could hear him from a mile anyway. Only when I stood about a metre from him and stared at him for a full five minutes did he shut up.

Baba, I have a request.

He gave me the “Ah, come my son. You have come to the right person look”.

“Ah…tell me. Sai is the answer to all problems.”

“Baba, my grandmother is unwell and you are very loud. When you pass our house, she jolts out of her wits. So please do not sing when you are in front of our house.”

You should have seen the look on his face. As if I had surgically removed his vocal chords, he gave me a disgusting look and said. “We are here to do Baba’s work. No one can stop us in this.”

If I hadn’t left after the ten minutes of requesting, he would have pushed me away. Finally, I took out a 50 note and put it in his plate. “Baba, please. We are devotees of Baba. My grandmother would love it. And I also would.”

He gave me one last disgusting look and walked away to the next lane. It has been two weeks, and we do get to listen to him on Sunday afternoons. But only like someone is playing a radio (a badly screwed one) nearby. And that too when he is in the next lane!

It seems a relief. But Sharad Pawar has announced that sugar prices might go up to 100 rupees. I wonder how long the offer will last!

JACKASS of a fruit

Have you ever had a jack fruit? Its a big fruit whose outer surface looks like it has had a bad case of acne. The inside is sticky and yellow with big seeds. Some people eat the fruit as it is. Some cook the seeds to make it a curry.

I have always hated the fruit. I remember during the summers in my childhood, our house would always reek of a strong smell of jack fruit. I felt like I was in a concentration camp. Jack fruit is probably the only fruit that has got such a terrible smell. And flaunts it so that anyone in a radius of fifty feet can smell it. I had to bear the smell as my mother loved it. She used eat entire jack fruits herself.

How she got hooked on to jack fruit is a very interesting story. My mom is Telugu and had never been to my dad’s village. When she went there for the first time, she was tensed. She did not know if the people would accept her or not.

She was made to sit in the centre and was surrounded by women. You know how it is in villages, there is no privacy. Your business is the business of the entire village. So my mom was sitting there surrounded by the women. After the initial niceties, they brought a huge thing and placed it in front of her.

“Eat”, was the instruction.

My mother had no clue what the thing was. The ladies had a hearty laugh and then cut it open for her and gave her a piece. My mother loved it. Without a word, she proceeded to eat the entire fruit as the women watched with their open mouths! It took about two hours but she finished it. The jack fruit broke the ice with them. From then on, my uncle would send jack fruits for us every summer. People still refer her in my village as ‘that jack fruit eating girl”.

I have not met another single person who likes jack fruits. Near our house in Unit-9, there was a man who was very stingy. He had a lot of trees and drove us out if we tried to pluck any fruit. But there was one exception. Every summer, he would land up at our doorstep, with a fake smile on his face and a huge, ugly jack fruit that looked like the carcass of an alien baby. I’d be asked to bring the damn thing inside. My attempts to suggest that guavas and mangoes were tasty too always failed.

BAD HAIR DAYS?? Not Anymore


Someone once said that we get the politicians we deserve.He forgot to mention we also get the barbers we deserve. Barbers set low standards for themselves and then consistently outsurpass themselves.

I have had some bad experience with barbers. And then some more.The problem with barbers is that you have to convey exactly what you want, otherwise you take what he gives you.

I have always had long hair. I don’t know why. I mean long hair. If you kept it in front of my face, it used to reach my mouth. In 2003, when Tere Naam released, I even had my hair like that for a few months. I also got into crazy pacts with my friends to cut my hair once a year with them.

The result was that I always had a large mop of hair in front of my eyes.

For 6 years, I tolerated taunts ( Girls telling me “Tere baal mere se lambe hai ” ), sarcasm ( My dad – “This hairstyle was very popular in the 70’s…. like Shashi Kapoor and all”) and dirty looks ( my maid and all the shopkeepers I used to buy hairbands from).

I had to use lots of hairgel and shampoos and conditioners. And my right hand was always pushing the hair from the front of my eyes and keeping it behind the ear ( It’s so girlish I am squirming even while writing about it ). Whenever I got wet in the rain, it inevitably meant cold and headaches.

On Sunday morning , I woke up and realised I was stupid. I had to get a hair-cut.

Coming back to barbers, there are 2 kinds : The foolish ones and the Absolute morons.

Since I keep on changing my barbers, I hav seen the entire range from absurd to asinine. There was this one guy who would ask me again and agian how exactly he should cut every part. And when he was done, I realised he had done whatever the hell he wanted to my hair. And there was this other guy who always sang a lot while cutting my hair. Imagine, a guy has a blade on your neck and he’s singing “Main hoon Don..” !!

The worst part is, since I have to take off my specs, I can’t even monitor how he’s cutting it. I was completely at the barber’s mercy.

This time I found a salon called ”Curl Up ‘n’ Dye”. I wanted to just check out the place because I was intriuged by the name. It was pretty decent.

My instructions were precise : “You see all this hair? Chop it all off. Please don’t make me look stupid”. He switched on the music system and a song started playing. “Main duniya bhula doonga…”

After he was done, I looked into the mirror and I couldn’t recognise myself. I ran my hand over my head. This felt good.

So how did he cut my hair ? I don’t know. I am enjoying the freedom right now.

But so that you get a brief idea, I will post some of the opinions ( with my comments) here for you.

Akka : It’s such a relief to see you like this.You look like a kid (Thanks, that’s so touching !!!)

Shruti :”Send me a pic…(I’ll see)…Nautanki mat kar, and send me a pic”

Pooja : “Ab insaan ki tarah lag raha hai”.(“What was I with long hair then?Greek God?)

Sarmistha : “Hehehe..hehe…(*#@*#!…)

Amamma : “He cut a little more than required. Your grandfather had long hair, you know. But
anyway, this is also nice”(She can never find any flaw in me)

Prashant : “Finally, dude.Congrats. But its like a part of you is missing. I have always seen you
with lots of hair.

Anil : “He should have cut a little lesser. You almost look stupid, man.”(If you weren’t so
tall, I’d have bashed you up

The Barber: “Mast hai saab, ekdum hero.”(I was speechless, didn’t know what to say!)

I don’t know whose opinion to believe.

But anyway, if you still have long hair, get a life. (And then a haircut)
?

PRAVEEN ICE CREAM ( MIX BADAM )

It’s a little shop in the market near my house. A Bihari man runs the shop and is helped by his apprentice, a 14 year old called ‘Golu’.

He gives amazing Kulfi cone ice cream for 6 bucks and badam shake for 12 bucks. No prizes for guessing which one I have !

The place is a very interesting one. Positioned strategically at the entry gate of the market to ensure maximum visibility, the stall is visited by people of all ages, genders, and income groups. I once saw a man get down from an Audi and take 20 ice creams as ‘parcel’. The shop is also resort to jobless,pennyless vagabonds like me.

The Bihari guy has been here for 12 years and proudly says that the rates have been hiked only twice since then.For more than a decade now, he has been dishing out slurpy kulfi to people at affordable prices. He also dishes out dollops of sarcasm, mostly directed at Golu.

His assistant, Golu, has picked up the tricks of the trade but is never given the cresit by his boss.The other day I had a kulfi cone and asked for change for 50 bucks. Rajesh promptly handed the note to Golu and gave me the cone.

Golu put the note in the cash box and cautiously started counting the change he needed to give me back. Before handing me the money, he asked

‘Chauvvalis rupay de raha hoon..” he said,half to me and half to Rajesh, probably to show he knew how to count.

‘Nahi, poore Pachaas lauta de.Saab dost hai humaare…’

The smile on Golu’s face vanished and was replaced by a scowl.

I can always sympathise with someone whose Maths is bad, considering that I once answered a sum in which the son’s age was 12 years more than the dad’s age.

‘Bachha hai woh.Seekhne do usey…’ I told Rajesh.

‘Nahi, saab. Gobar bhara hai uske dimaag mein.Bahut saara gobar’ he said, knocking on the sides of his head.

Poor Golu, my boss seemed like Lady Diana compared to his.

The shop is also interesting for another reason.Rajesh can speak perfect Oriya. But everybody who visits the shop speaks to him in Hindi. No matter how broken, pathetic or Godforsaken their Hindi is, a sudden, inexplicable love for the National language dawns on them when they reach Praveen Ice cream ( Mix Badam).

A few days back, a hefty man aged about 40 who looked like he should have quit ice creams long back,landed at his shop.

‘Ram Ram, Bhaiyya’ he greeted Rajesh. Quite unnecassary, but he probably wanted to show that he knew Hindi, or had Hindi speaking friends.

‘Kya doon,saab?’

‘ 2 shake do, ‘phool’ wala ‘

‘Phool wala nahi hai, saab. Pista, Badam, chocolate…kaun sa doon?’

‘Chocolate do,phool’

‘sirf chocolate hai,saab…chocolate phool nahi hai’

‘Arey nahi,mujhe phool do,half nahi’

‘Oh, ‘full’ doon,saab?’

I am not sure but I think that the permanent smile on his face had a smirk-ish twitch to it !!!

GOODBYE,HOUSE !!!!

Is it possible to get attached to a house? To four walls and a roof? I realized it is.

We have been living in this house for 23 years. I was born here (in the hospital, actually. But I was later on brought here.) And this house has many fond memories.

As a kid, I used to scribble on the walls with a pencil. There are markings on the wall to record my height (was I really 3 feet 8 inches at some time?). There are the paint marks where, in my excitement I had started painting the windows too. There is the corner where I had hidden all the matchboxes (when my mother asked me why, I told her I collect them for the jokes written at the back). There’s the kitchen, the location for numerous experiments with different cuisines (some were good, most were horrible) the terrace where I was caught drunk by Akka on Diwali (she seemed to notice that all the crackers were bursting in my hands itself. When she asked me, I said “Happy Diwali” with a wide smile. That’d be my last smile for weeks to come!!)

And what’s a house without neighbours? The lady downstairs who was perennially pissed off. The lady next door who washes the stairs thrice a day. The old, bearded Postman chacha who has been delivering letters to the locality for 30 years now. The girl who is now is 9th standard that Pintu Bhai can’t take his eyes off (“Her face is like the moon…”). The road in front of our house and the cricket matches played there (I hold the record for bowling 14 wides in over)

This house has been with us through thick and thin. When the Super Cyclone was ravaging the region, my sister and mom were happily eating Dosa and Milkmaid!!

The balcony where I’d stand after a work-out, trying to show off my nearly invisible biceps. And the place where my grandmother would leave a few grains of rice everyday for the crows.

The jackfruit tree right in front of our balcony that the miserly owners would neither have themselves nor let anyone else has any.

The one person who made my life beautiful, Pintu Bhai. I remember the innumerable times I’ve appeared at his doorstep asking for toothpaste because I was drunk.

I have said goodbye to this house many times. After every holiday or when I left home to stay alone.

We are leaving this house permanently. It’s hard to believe that this house will not be home anymore. It’s only befitting that we are shifting on Friendship Day.

This house has been a very good friend.