Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Weight and watch!

Is it possible for a person to gain a few kilos and NOT notice it? Not notice the frantic tussle with the recalcitrant jeans zipper? Not notice the snug fit of the once comfortable T-shirt? Not notice the extra chin bobbing under one’s face?

Well, most people seem to think, no, BELIEVE that people who pile on the pounds are completely and blissfully unaware of this fact. What’s more, they believe it’s their duty to immediately bring this to the burgeoning friend’s attention.

“You’ve put on SO much weight!,”
they’ll exclaim loudly, their eyes darting to the thickening parts of the poor ‘fatty’s’ anatomy.

Wait a minute, was that too subtle? Could fatty have not got the message? To be doubly sure, the helpful folks will extend elbows outwards, hunch shoulders and puff up cheeks, giving fatty a pretty good clue of what he looks like.

I haven’t come across a single person who isn’t sensitive about his or her weight. And yet, most will gleefully seize the opportunity to prod another’s soft (fleshy) spot.

Recently, Art Partner was buttonholed by a ‘helpful’ colleague, who said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you that you've been putting on a lot of weight in the last few months.”

Art Partner wryly replied, “Considering I’m five months pregnant, that’s expected, isn't it?"

My weight’s hardly fluctuated in the last couple of years, so I simply disregard all the ‘helpful’ observations. Still I was surprised when an elderly neighbour, who I barely exchange pleasantries with, said to me, “You’ve put on!” For a few seconds, I wasn’t even sure what he meant, until he made the above-mentioned simian gestures!

Then there are those who willingly proffer their weighty information. “I’ve put on SO much weight”, they’ll wail, grabbing a handful of flesh from their midriff, so that you can’t miss the sight. They do this for two reasons, I’ve surmised. One, to pre-empt any helpful observations and two, to kick themselves for not refusing all those second helpings.

I’ve developed a simple strategy to deal with weighty matters. I refrain from pointing out any weight gain and if someone persists with, “But don’t you think I’ve put on weight?” I say contemplatively (and sometimes not too truthfully), “Not that I’ve noticed.”

If weighing scales can be inaccurate, well, so can I.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Gentleman Pandu

One of the advantages of me living in the far-flung suburbs is that it brings out the chivalrous side of ‘gentlemen’ colleagues and friends. “How are you planning to go home?,” they ask, solicitously, after a long evening at work or a late night movie.

“By train,” is my unvarying answer.

Eyebrows shoot up. “But is it safe to go alone?!”

“Who’s alone?,” I counter. “Pandu will keep me company.”

Pandu, of course, has been my dutiful travelling companion for a few years now. The moment I spot his reassuring khakhi presence in the near empty ladies compartment, I immediately feel secure. And knowing that he’s keeping watch, I lose myself in a book, and on occasion, even grab some shut-eye.

Pandu has given me the freedom and confidence to travel on my own. But I can’t help wondering: Does Pandu really relish his role as ‘Protector of the Non-Peak Hour Female Traveller’?

For starters, he has to travel the entire rail strip thrice every night, in a compartment that says, ‘LADIES ONLY FOR ALL 24 HOURS”. Secondly, he has a ringside view of ladies at their un-ladylike best. He has to helplessly watch their graceless lunging and clambering, clawing and fighting, shoving and shrieking… Why, if he isn’t nimble enough, he might just get steamrolled by the juggernaut at each station!

Pandu’s presence serves as a deterrent for urchins, vagrants and other dubious sorts. But exceeding his role as an impassive guardian can sometimes prove awkward. I once watched Pandu help a ticketless traveller with two small children and two large suitcases into an already cramped compartment. The resentful women unleashed such a tirade that a lesser man would have flung himself in front of a passing train. But not Pandu! Despite their venomous looks and vicious taunts, he stood by the lady and even helped her alight at her stop.

Recently, I got into a conversation with Pandu. I had dozed off and when I awoke I found Pandu observing me nervously.

“Where are you getting off?”, he asked politely. When I told him, at the last stop, he looked relieved and said, “I didn’t want you to miss your station.”

To my surprise, he then apologised for asking that question. “Some women think I’m being nosy and snap at me. But I only don’t want them to go beyond their stop.”

We got talking and the different facets of a railway constable’s life tumbled out. I learned that he had to do 15 days railway duty in a month. And that after an entire evening of shepherding women home safely, he had to spend the night on the platform.

Sensing my interest, Pandu went on to tell me about his life, his training, even of the time he single-handedly nabbed a notorious, elusive criminal. The train pulled in at my station just as he finished his account.

As I thanked him and got ready to leave, he politely asked me, “Can I have your number?”

I was dumbstruck for a moment, but then old conditioning set in. I mumbled a hasty apology and retreated, feeling vaguely guilty for suspecting the motives of someone I regularly trusted to escort me home. Better safe than sorry, I reassured myself feebly. Perhaps Pandu would understand after all…

Monday, January 19, 2004

Er... Blog?

The world, I am convinced, is divided into two kinds of people: those who blog (or atleast know of blogs) and those who don’t.

98% of people I know fall into the latter grouping!

Blog?!? My friends' reactions have ranged from bafflement to polite interest to total stupefaction…

“YOU WHAAAAT!” exclaimed a flabbergasted friend when I told her I’m doing a blog.

It took a few minutes to convince her I wasn’t going in for ‘blonde’ highlights. And another few minutes to explain exactly what blogs were.

B-l-o-g. I’ve had to spell it out for friends who hear ‘blong’, ‘block’, ‘blob’ and yes, ‘blonde’. I’ll admit it IS a rather clunky un-mellifluous word, requiring a certain adroitness of jaw to render the 1 ½ syllables optimally.

But the boo-boos aren’t just in the area of enunciation.

A friend to whom I’d sent the link to my blog, called back puzzled. ‘I read a bit,’ she said, ‘but I don’t get it. There’s no connection between the pieces.’

I seized the opportunity to expound on the unmitigated freedom of blogging. No word limits, no thought censorship, no grammatical correctness, no nothing… I tried telling her. No big deal, was the expression I read in her face.

Another friend used to call me up every week to ask for the link. ‘The url is a little tricky’, she complained. Until I pointed out that she could simply add the link to Favourites. ‘Ohhhhh…’ she said, as illumination flooded the room. With my meagre info, I still manage to pass off as a geek, thanks to friends like these.

Blog evangelising is a tricky business, I’ve discovered. Beyond a point, it’s like explaining a sunset to someone who’s never seen one before. Words are a mangy substitute for experience. For how do you explain blog friends? How do you explain knowing someone’s innermost thoughts without knowing anything else about them? How do you explain hours melting away when you’re plowing through blogdom?

Like I said, there are two distinct kinds of people in this world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Indigestible logic!

‘Have you been to the Canteen yet?!!’, asked S, my co-worker. It was my first day at work in my current company.

Something in her tone suggested that it was more than a question. Her eyes had turned large and round, and her eyebrows were about to vanish into her hairline.

‘Is it good?’, I asked tentatively.

In reply, she insisted I accompany her for lunch. As we entered the lift, I wondered what to expect. In my previous offices, the food ranged from burp-worthy to revolting to UFO-garnished (Unidentified Furry Objects!) So despite S’s vanishing eyebrows, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

We stepped into an incredible cacophony of clattering spoons, clanking trays and raucous lunch room chatter.

At the food counter, attendants in spiffy aprons and caps were efficiently ladling the contents of enormous vessels onto steel trays. I was so mesmerised by the spread, I just nodded to all their queries.

Rice? (nod), Roti? (nod), Dal? (nod), Vegetable in gravy? (nod), Gravy in vegetable? (nod), Boiled egg? (nod), Gravy for boiled egg? (nod)

And I was just halfway down the line!

Attendant No. 2 took over…

Sambar? (nod), Vegetable (dry)? (nod), Buttermilk (nod), Papad (nod), Pickle (nod), Dessert (nod), Banana (shook head from side to side)

Anyone would think I was preparing for winter!

‘How much?’,
I asked

Attendant No. 2 surveyed the hill on my plate and said, ‘Two rupees’. And then almost immediately. ‘No banana… that’s. Rs. 1.50.’

I’d only heard stories of subsidised canteens. This was the first time I was eating in one! I couldn’t wait to gloat to all my ex-colleagues who were still reeling from canteen bills.

But at the end of one week, three things became clear:

a. My innards, convalescing from a virulent ailment, couldn’t stomach this oil and spice rich fodder.
b. I’d have to re-start my old dabba
c. There’d never be anything like a free lunch!

A month ago, I was surprised to find a new addition to the menu.

Sprouts with lettuce
Russian Salad

About time, I whooped to myself, as I helped myself to the salad.

A few days ago, another counter and another sign came up: LESS OILY AND LESS SPICY FOOD.

Someone was doing their bestest to woo me, I thought delightedly. I sailed across to the counter.

Salad (nod)
Sunny yellow dal (nod)
Green vegetables, not doused in flaming red gravy (nod nod)
Fat, fluffy puris (pause)

Were these the oil-free cousins of the usual variety, I wondered. But no, a closer examination revealed big, gleaming beads of oil.

The girl in front of me pounced on this aberration. ‘Why are you serving these oily puris here? Isn’t this an oil-free counter?’

The attendant had perfected his reply. ‘If you don’t take them, they’re not oily!’

I struggled with that logic a bit before I sat down to my old dabba.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

A Star is (Still)Born!

There was something familiar about the scene at Phoenix Mills when I walked in the other day.

A generator van with its sonorous drone. Thick black wires crisscrossing the path. Huge metal plates mounted on stands. An untidy perimeter of people with craned necks and identical zombie-like gaze. It HAD to be a film shoot in progress.

As I walked past the outdoor cafĂ© set that had been erected, there was a sudden trickle of old memories. Not of the shoots I’d worked on in my ad agency days. But of my first tryst with filmdom.

* Flashback *

Scene 1: The Olde College

I’d just walked into College when my friends, F and G, ran up with the news…

F: ‘There’s an ad film shoot'…

G: '...and they want college students'…

F: ‘650 bucks for the day.’

650 bucks meant a lot of books at the Second Hand Bookstore. But even better, it meant seeing oneself on TV! Of being recognized on the road! Of perhaps even signing autographs… I made a U-turn and with my friends in tow, headed for Film City.

Scene 2: Film City

We tried not to look too awed as we told the guard ‘Studio 2’. It was like stepping into another world. We passed by the cast of a mythological serial who looked decidedly unreal with soft drink bottles and cigarettes, we spotted models and bit actors, costumed dancers and technicians and even the actress Tabu, as she whizzed by in her car.

At some point, the starry aura pervaded our feather heads. We became hopeful that after seeing our ‘acting talent’ in the ad film, we would be besieged with roles. Unknowingly, our walk developed a certain sway. And with a coy toss of the head, we sashayed all the way to Studio 2. (We were impressionable 17-year olds, after all!)

Scene 3: Studio 2

There was no fawning crew to receive us. In fact, except for a group of labourers and a production assistant barking at them, there was no one around. Perhaps, the production assistant would be the person to ask about the ‘script’, we decided. But he took one look at us and said tersely, ‘Extras, wait on the lawn outside!’

From celebrities-in-waiting to extras! We mustered the tattered remnants of our pride and joined the dozen or so forlorn looking ‘extras’ on the lawn.

We waited for 5 unbelievably long hours for the set to be erected; the lights to be set up; the director to decide camera angles; for the ‘real’ model to emerge from the make up van… And in the course of that wait, a good deal of stardust flew out of our eyes.

We’d almost dozed off when an excited buzz began. The ‘model’ (better known today as Mahima Chowdhary) had emerged. We couldn’t help noticing how pretty she looked even with her hair in curlers. What followed was three hours of relentless takes where we had to fake cheesy expressions when the director called ‘Action!’

At one point the director called out, ‘Move out the background’. And the production assistant waved us away! From ‘extras’ to ‘background’, could they rub it in any further? I couldn’t wait to leave.

As we queued up for payment, the producer called the three of us aside and said, ‘Look, we have more shots tomorrow and we need a few girls. It’s just a half day shoot. Can you make it?

We looked at each other, the travails of the day mirrored on our faces. But suddenly there was a leap of hope from an almost dry wellspring. Perhaps tomorrow would be the day when we would be ‘discovered’.

We nodded unanimously and walked back with a sway in our step.

P.S. I caught the ad ONCE on TV and spotted the pink blur that was me!
P.P.S. As for the product itself, I found out that it failed in the test markets!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Ghost Town

The closest that Bombay came to resembling a ghost town was on January 2 this year.

Three friends and I had decided to meet. B and A were on vacation from their universities abroad. So, it fell upon P and me - the locals - to show the out-of-towners just what they’d been missing.

Our first halt was Hawaiian Shack, an unpretentious, inexpensive nightspot tucked away in a bylane in Bandra. Also one of the few places which played undiluted, ear-numbing Rock, minus the annoying remixes. Naturally, people swarmed the place until there was no room to stand. Why, on a Saturday night, you could pass out cold and still not hit the floor!

‘It’s going to get real crowded’, I warned A and B with the air of a regular.

‘I LIKE THIS PLACE!’, hollered B over Bon Jovi. I gave him a pitying smile and looked at my watch. It was 11 pm. The hour when all differences between the Shack and a peak-hour Virar local cease to exist. But hang on! The floor was uncharacteristically empty. There were empty tables. And the usually harassed looking waitress was actually humming along with Bon Jovi. I hoped A and B were wasted enough to not notice the absence of the promised hordes.

‘Let’s check out this other place,’ P piped up. ‘My company is allowed free entry there.’ We were taking turns to show off. The ‘other place’ was a celebrity hangout with the extremely hep, extremely phoren name, Tres Botas Tapas Y Musica!

‘Is it pronounced Tres Botas or Thray Bota?,’ asked A, not wanting to make a gaffe. But she needn’t have bothered. The place was Tres Empty! Except for two sots at the bar and one bored female dj.

‘Either this place is usually like this or we’re missing one heck of a party somewhere else,’ murmured B. He was less wasted than I expected.

We decided on one last halt before calling it a night. At 80s - The nostalgia bar. Just the setting for old friends. By now, we’d gotten used to walking into near empty watering holes. The manager looked almost grateful when we entered. His smile faltered a little though when P suddenly announced, ‘Soup! I want soup.’ His face fell further when she added, ‘Make it one-by-two.’ But the poor fellow hadn’t a choice. We could have asked the waiters to tap dance on the table and gotten away with it that day.

As we tittered, B pointed out that we’d all met first at a college festival in Madras, exactly 10 years ago! We marvelled at the discovery. There was no ‘how time has flown’, no ‘gosh, we’re getting old’…. Just a thrilling sense of timelessness.

So while Bombay’s die hard party animals recovered from the excesses of year-end jamborees, 4 old friends lived it up that night.