Wednesday, October 14, 2015

 

Pilgrimage



It was a dark and stormy night. Actually no. The night was, if anything, particularly starry. The waves were gently lapping against the perfect crescent-shaped Palolem beach, emanating the silvery moonshine that many a pair of hearts that beat as one long for. The beach itself was dotted by an eclectic mix- nirvana seekers from Israel and Eastern Europe, corporates unwinding after a long day or week, undergraduates just excited to be there, shack owners and workers looking on in that bemused indifferent manner that is unique to shacks in Goa. Self was oblivious to all of this- copious amounts of the poison of choice had been had and the moon, when glancing lovingly at this gift to mankind, would have observed one Lefty happily ensconced on an unoccupied deck chair in a deserted corner, sleeping away as the revelries wore on. Hours before, Sumedh had called to let us know that he’d made it to IIM-B, and we’d ensured celebrations did the achievement justice. A couple of hours later, as the sun was still contemplating how to say ’ssup to the world, I opened my eyes to find a canine on top of me. Apparently, the deserted deck-chair was its regular sleeping spot and fortunately, this particular best friend of man had decided to be accommodating instead of marking its territory. It was that sort of night.
***
The poori-sabzi at Plantain Leaf was a treat for ravenous souls. Also a welcome break from the daily dose of seafood we’d happily been partaking for the last couple of days. It was somewhere between my 15th and 20th poori that Gogo rang- Joka it was to be. Some minutes, excited phone-calls and several pooris later, Sumedh called. The Dry Campus had done the inevitable and extended the admission offer to him. On the way back from Fort Aguada that day, Sajal got to know that his LBS waitlist had been converted. Paths ahead had firmly been charted. The Dominos and Baskin Robbins on the Fort Aguada road will forever remain the final notes of the perfect swansong that Goa provided. It was that sort of trip.
***
Infantaria had been recommended for its cheap beer and frequent promotional offers that made it even cheaper. An ideal place to celebrate employment offers and more importantly, to celebrate the memorable experience that Joka had been. Except that human beings will continue to remain irrational and order rum based cocktails in a place known for cheap beer. As was wont at the time, the bill exceeded the cash that our collective selves had and the responsible BigD was dispatched to the nearby ATM to cough up the balance. The night ended with hard-nosed newly deemed managers allowing themselves enough emotion to make inebriated speeches on how everyone loved everyone. And the house remained firmly divided on the important subject of whether or not Neha Dhupia had visited Brito’s the night before, or whether Flambay’s was indeed the best restaurant in Goa. It was that sort of discussion.
***
No one could have anticipated how special the years at A-202 would be. In one of my more ambitious moods, I had planned to pen another of my ‘those were the days’ posts when DebD handed over the keys to the apartment. That didn’t materialize, but a trip to Goa during those years did. The years of living the carefree campus life, with the important distinction of having enough money in your pocket to do whatever you wanted. Looking back, Goa was perhaps the only trip that all 6 of us managed. Guess it just had to be Goa. A quick two-day break, 2 cottages at Palolem, sumptuous lunches at Margaon and broken side-view mirrors en route to the airport. It was that sort of weekend.
***
Curly’s was happening. So happening we couldn’t get a table and had to sit on the mattresses outside. My eyes had decided to play spoilsport that very weekend and a nasty headache persisted. The resort at Miramar had been a find. We’d initially planned more exotic locations to escape to before Sajal was solemnized into the dark side but things could finally not work out. The trip was too short, too unplanned and too unspectacular; however, it will forever remain a footnote on the chapter that I could call my best friend’s wedding. You could take someone out of Goa but not Goa out of someone. It was that sort of realization.
***
In less than 24 hours from now, I’ll find myself in the familiar environs of my favourite holiday destination once again. The trip- retreat in this case, couldn’t be more different from the previous ones- a unique blend of the professional and personal worlds. Faces that made the earlier avatar of the retreat so memorable will be conspicuous by absence, another stark reminder of how loneliness is an unwelcome companion to the firm journeyman. As I pack my bags tonight and glance through Yo Yo videos in a last-ditch attempt to try and pick up some dance steps, the prospect of going back to that corner of India will trigger sepia-tinted memory jaunts. There are many moments to be added yet, to the Goa-labelled Pensieve in my life. We decided long ago that Goa much more than a trip, vacation or journey. It will be that sort of pilgrimage.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

 

My best friend's wedding


I'd honestly thought you were supposed to wear floaters when donning a kurta and a Nehru jacket. Apparently, closed shoes are the norm.

*******

Caffeine is the kind of place in Hauz Khas village that is the pride and joy of those who frequent it. There's barely space for 20, and you usually find yourself sharing a table (or two) with a set of complete strangers. There are a couple of young 'uns playing the kind of music that gets you in a trance- the kind of trance that makes you hobnob affectionately with the hitherto strangers you were sharing a table with, and after a pint or two, makes you bff's. It was a brilliant idea to have Caffeine perform at Sector 44. Perhaps too brilliant. No one told them where to draw the line. Some songs are better left unplayed.

*******

Broadly (and I mean very broadly) there are 4 kinds of whiskeys- single malts, blended, bourbon and Irish. The first 2 would probably account for ~90% of global whiskey consumption. I've realised that while I may claim to be a single malt aficionado, when it comes to gulping with the best of them, there's something about JD and coke. The spirit of the farmhouse was missing- a man needed a best friend. 

*******

Weddings are traditionally family affairs. Sometimes however, you don't feel out of place not sharing a surname with the 6-odd people who're sitting on the dining table when everyone else has left. Memorable visits to all Hangover destinations might have something to do with it. Or perhaps it's the independent bond (however tenuous) that you share with each of the co-survivors, irrespective of the groom, that makes you feel you belong.

*******

Broadly (and I mean very broadly) there are 4 kinds of whiskeys- single malts, blended, bourbon and Irish.Where the hell are you supposed to classify RC and RS then?

*******

It's incredibly sweet when people ask you why you've turned up alone for a pre-wedding function. It's a million times more embarrassing when Caffeine plays Raabata, couples start dancing, and your thoughts stray to someone other than the beautiful girl you met not less than 3 months ago. There were so many songs that would have been played during those stolen nights at the Farmhouse...

*******

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar retired from test cricket as 2013 drew to a close. People who considered themselves adults shed more than a tear. Yours truly might have been one of them- there was a definite realisation that childhood had come to an end. Lives changed that day. One life realised that a greater change had probably dawned a couple of hours ago. Tears shed were insignificant compared to when 2013 drew to a close. Nothing more or less than a rounding-off error.

*******

Tutun tutun. Talent*. Ohhhhh and Aaaaaah. Paradox. Seemingly non-sequitur.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

 

The pursuit of Centum



You really couldn’t have called it love at first sight. For the better part of my wonder years, Maths and I didn’t get along. There was a mutual respect for each other I’m sure- difficult for it not to have been, given one hailed from a family where everyone from the earlier generation seemed to have had a nasty hobby of getting 100% in any and every Maths paper they sat for. Where most kids are recounted tales of truant uncles and their misdemeanors, Lefty’s lot peppered his bedtime stories with tales of that Chacha ending his paper an hour before schedule and maxing it or that other Chacha looking at the question paper, blinking and his answer sheet suddenly metamorphing into a Euclid treatise (ok maybe I’m stretching it slightly). The annual ritual of getting a report card, therefore, would usually be followed by solitary question- what was the Maths score? Needless to say, I almost always disappointed. One particular incident stands out- when I aced pretty much every paper, even the formidable Sanskrit, only to get a 70-odd in Maths. It was like the other subjects didn’t even count.

There are defining moments and defining people in everyone’s lives. I find it fittingly symbolic, that mine pretty much coincided with my teenage. Just about a month before I turned 13, a gentleman called GP Sahay walked into my life and the rest as some would say, was history. The folks had given me an ultimatum- improve your Maths scores or private tuitions. Self grappled for all of two days, got yet another 70-odd score and the summer holidays announced the onset of the man who would dictate how my life would eventually turn out. Mr Sahay was not a slave-driver, he was just an exceedingly simple man who expected that what he asked be done. And he asked for some 100 numerical problems to be solved every week. The association lasted just about a year- a year of some 10 notebooks being filled with algebra, geometry, ratios and trigonometry, a year of scores jumping from the mediocre 70s to the scarcely believable high 90s and a year of a teenager discovering the most unromantic first love imaginable. By the time our move to the national capital was announced, a new world had opened in front of my eyes.

It now seemed only a matter of time when I too would go down in my family’s unofficial hall of fame as having attained Centum, that perfect score in an examination of some consequence in the sole subject that mattered. I wish it were that simple. Forget the full 100-mark exams, even the minor unit tests seemed intent on denying me my holy grail. Amity had this system of 4 unit tests for every subject in a year, plus two term examinations. I couldn’t crack a single one in my 4 years of high-school. I remember at least two 29.5/30s and at least one 98.5+ score but never the shat pratishat. Teased, tricked, tortured- I persevered to no end but it was just not meant to be. CBSE and I never got along. I wrote my Xth and XIIth boards believing (and a part of me still does) that I’d finally cracked the code but the published scores always suggested otherwise and the pleas for a re-evaluation would always return the same verdict.

The two years of preparing for the entrances ignited the kind of ardour I would scarcely have thought possible. There were new challenges at every step- complexities to be championed, nuances to be navigated, subtleties to be savoured. A band of brothers was formed to make the quest all the more enjoyable, or perhaps just to help survive it. There were days of mentally grappling with a problem, only for it to gloriously culminate in one eureka moment, often in the middle of the night. The analytical bent of mind cultivated through years of courtship helped make sense of those other adversaries as well- Physics the Plenipotentiary and Chemistry the Cunning. Maxing any exam here was of course a distant dream, yet it seems cruelly ironic that Maths was eventually the one where I just about scraped through.

College came and went with the complete lack of any academic endeavor whatsoever. The less said about performances in Maths-related papers, the better. I thought I’d got a fresh lease of life and one final opportunity when I entered B-school- that last lap of most academic lives. There was Statistics- a reasonably close cousin of my lady love. The mid-sem paper seemed so simple. And it was multiple-choice or binary marking- always my forte. The stage seemed set. This surely had to be it. Self ticked-off the boxes and filled in the blanks with aplomb, checked and double-checked every answer, triangulated most with any other method possible and even managed to hand in the paper a tad before the scheduled time just to finish things off with panache. 20 minutes of glorious hope followed, after which a chance remark by one of the others indicated that one question had been bungled. Yet again. So near and yet so far.

Yes, you couldn’t call it love at first sight. But unrequited love might painfully fit the bill.

Monday, June 23, 2014

 

Melodious memories

I’m sitting at the Bagdogra airport as I write this, on the brink of ending a memorable week-long vacation at Sikkim and North Bengal (Poschimbongo?). This was a mega family trip- 11 of us driving through the breath-taking hills and sheer valleys of Darjeeling and Gangtok. The distribution was simple- aged relatives in one SUV, hep youngsters in another. The latter had come equipped with all kinds of electronic contraptions to ensure a steady flow of musical numbers. At Rahil’s repeated requests, the songs Monta re and Manmarziyaan from Lootera found themselves being played multiple times, including a couple of renditions by the soon to be college boy himself. As a result, these two songs are now synonymous with the trip in my mind- the opening chords immediately bring to mind pictures of lush green tea-estates, serene lakes nestled between cloud-kissed hill-tops and the solitary cactus garden thrown in for good measure.

As I mentally sang kaagaz ke do pankh liye for the umpteenth time, my mind did one of those once frequent thought-provoking jaunts that end up finding their way onto the orange backdrop of this soon to be dormant blog. Memories, I realised, have a number of signposts, each evocative in its own unique way. Photographs, of course, have a way of tugging heartstrings like few other things. Small unheard-of towns have this tendency to light up faces of the select few who have forged eternal bonds with them. Gajar ka halwa and aloo ke paranthe are the evergreen copyright of the Bollywood Maa, yet to progress to Mutton Biryani or bread pizzas like her real life counterpart. Similarly, the journey of life can well be one long playlist, with us shuffling from one tune to another. And it’s a worthwhile thought experiment to try to reproduce your own playlist and see what memory is attached to which melody, which chord is a collective recollection and which sound is a sole smile-bringer.

My own playlist will always have Jungle jungle pata chala hai as a reminder of idylic childhood Sundays. Mere khwaabon me jo aaye will always be preceded by shuru karo antaakshari, lekar Hari ka naam- the memory usually also accompanied by load-shedding and punctuated by tic-tic ones. Didi tera dewar deewana and Ek pal ka jeena will be throwbacks to that still-practiced nuanced form of child-abuse euphemistically known as New Year dance programmes. Chingaari koi bhadke will eternally be the beloved Nani’s soulful humming, a memory cruelly not shared by adulthood. I’ve a feeling I’ve mentioned this before, but Paayega jo lakshya hai tera will be reminiscent of the drive from Amity to the FIIJTEE coaching centre after writing the JEE screening exam, an in a larger sense, reminiscent of the two years of slogging away with the IE Irodovs and ML Khannas of this world.

Numb and Aadat stand cheek by jowl as custodians of the tapestry of first year of college memories, to culminate in the eminently groove-able Let the music play as the fest gets underway. The bottle of RS will be incomplete without Sumedh’s insistence on playing Superchor or Sajal’s discovery of the Darbari mix. The heartbreak of leaving college will somehow be inextricably linked to American Pie and Leaving on a Jet Plane. Come B-school and the memories will be incomplete without Iktara or a combination of Alif Allah chambay di booti and Nahi re nahi on an infinite loop on PJ’s speakers.

The playlist acquires an international setting with time. Let it be is an entire pub in Singapore, chorusing away over mugs of San Miguel. The Euro-trip is incomplete without Fireflies being played on Victor’s laptop, waking up an ever-asleep Lefty snug in his sleeping bag. The first-ever seen flakes of snow, illuminated by the streetlamp in Louvian-la-Neuve, were all the more ethereal because they were falling down gracefully to the tunes of Sweet child of mine. Mujhe to teri lat lag gayi is a beautiful girl waltzing away without a care in the world on a starry night in Thailand, or possibly a mirage caused by one glass too many of the choice of poison. The picture-prefect roads of far-off Tasmania are best viewed in a sedan driven at well over 150 kph with Abhijit insisting on playing Daaru desi again. Zambia and Mexico both share the paradoxical meaning of life discovered with a little bit of help from Mary Jane and friends as Ik bagal and Raat ke musafir play discretely on in the background.

And then of course, there is always Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya

My flight is almost at Delhi now, bringing to an end both the mega family trip and this particular thought excursion. The melody is far from over obviously. New notes will find their way into the playlist of life, set against lands new and old, sung by people who give meaning to the music. Just like looking at old photographs is a treasured family pastime, this playlist too will find its own unique way into becoming a musical Pensieve that lights up dreary November evenings. The greatest joy however, will always be that particular song unexpectedly played on FM, when navigating the ever-worsening Capital traffic, replacing the curse imminent on ones lips with a nostalgic smile. The uncouth idiots of this world will, for however short an instant, cease to exist as one dives into the musical Pensieve and relives that stolen moment. A tune, a thrill, a tear- what more does a man want, before the idiot behind him honks to gesture that the light is now green and like the bitter-sweet symphony that’s life, he too must move on.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

 

Of weddings and reunions



The car-ride wasn’t a typical one. The trio was the same that had shared many a jaunt up and down NH-58 in a parallel universe. Here though, Sajal, Sumedh and I were almost on calls throughout. A house had to be constructed, a website design needed refining, a CEO wanted answers- everyday problems that our everyday work selves deal with. Except that this day was not your everyday- we were in the middle of the country, having extricated ourselves from our work lives with varying degrees of difficulty, on our way to celebrate and mourn, in unequal measure, Tyagi’s foray into holy matrimony. I guess there are some bonds of friendship which demand bhangra in baaraats. Bhopal had asked and the world had answered.

We might well have been teleported to the magical Farmhouse as we crossed the door into our room at RK Residency. Suddenly, the calls had ceased and the unperturbed undergraduates metamorphed from the cloaks of entrepreneurship and employment. There was Rapu, as Rapu-esque as ever, sporting a hairdo that sat very well on his 65 million year old head. The glasses- they were heartwarmingly the same. Was it their sepia tint that made me suddenly recall that day more than 5 years ago when 2 excuses for materials engineers had discussed polarisation at length with a hapless optician while purchasing the very pair? A night of revelry remained with Ballu before he too follows Tyagi to the solemnised dark side in February. And can any jahaan chaar yaar mil jaayein moment be complete without everyone’s favourite Suar. The man was there to declare Baaraat aage… nahi jaayegi before traversing the many miles and excess baggage charges to start anew in Florida. Jai had turned up too- S-81 RJB was well and truly represented.

The hairlines had receded, the waistlines expanded. The glasses were actually made of glass this time and not the plastic disposable ones that we were usually accustomed too. The bottle might not have said RS but in everything else that mattered, we were back where we belonged. Rapu was the only one who’d got shaving gel along, Sajal had packed 3 ties and yours truly still needed back support. There was a Discussion too- the Indian tax system and cost of living in India vs aborad being the hallowed topics for those stolen moments. We’d almost reached ‘its all about perception’ when the call to stop the tomfoolery and get ready for the baaraat came.

The baaraat saw a reunion with SriP. We could dance carefree on the roads now- the Bhopali underworld was there to protect us. The eight of us performed our solemn duty to the tunes of Hookah Bar, Disco Deewaane and much to my delight, Julie Julie. Three hours and a bunch of Mere yaar ki shaaid hai’s later, we reached the venue. Dinner had been earned. The golgappes and jalebis demanded attention.

Over the course of the night, regaling tales were recounted, fond memories revisited and madcap exuberance restored. SriP overcame her deprived childhood by finally wintessing a full North-Indian wedding, the farmhouse got a new First Lady and two hearts were ritualised as one. A bunch of people took a bunch of pictures- hopefully I’ll get to see them. As eight people lined up on the stage to wish the long-legged groom and the radiant bride, the dreamer in me wondered if somewhere in the recesses of a faraway wing in R-land, the bits of our souls that we’ve all left behind were enjoying their own slivery séance. Four years of fast friendship had spawned a promise and the four years since of remaining in touch- of google hangouts and NYC layovers, of Delhi winters and McLeodganj trips, of student exchanges and California trainings, had kept the promise from fading. I beamed for the umpteenth time at the visible and invisible cameras, thanked God yet again for Those Four Years and hoped for the camaraderie to forever continue. The moment was ephemeral as always- four hours later, I forlonly sat at my adopted home these days, beginning the wait of the 12 hours and 4 flights that would take me from Lefty to Saagar again.

February and Jodhpur it’ll be now.

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