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Monday, March 28, 2011

Madness at Mohali

OK, I gotta deal with this. The big event's coming up and Wednesday's already been declared a holiday in Pakistan. In India, where we do things more deviously, it's National Sick Leave Day. Those who just cannot manage to catch AIDS or a fleeting cancer in time for the match will have to fill applications in triplicate to be part of National Live Stream Day.

Warning: Do not tweet links to good live stream sites. They will collapse. Trust me, I know.

So, anyway, the good citizens of India are doing all they can to ensure victory:

They are breaking coconuts on their own heads.

They are taking vows not to cut their nails for another 20 years

... even if it means not wiping arse for as long.

They're refusing to trim their super luxuriant ear hair etc, etc.

All of which goes to show that we are a nation of nutters... that sometimes plays good cricket.

Our esteemed prime minister in a fit of March madness has invited his counterpart Monsieur Gilani to occupy really bloody good seats at Mohali. If either of them gets shot it will be by someone who's been parked in Chandigarh for the last week and still hasn't managed a ticket for himself.

"Where's the toilet, yaar?"

Other worthies who might be at the stadium include

LK Advani, whose been denied his er birthright,

Narendra Modi, Supreme Commander of, well, never mind,

and Rahul Gandhi, who looks set to be done out of his birthright

Aside: Sometimes God himself decides to throw on a turban. But mostly he wears his halo when he's playing so that's okay.

Also lurking in the crowd is Saeed Naqvi,

"I swear the knife in my back was that big"

Assange in Goldilocks avatar (He is Aussie, ok, he knows about cricket),

and Veena Malik and Ashmit Patel in burkhas so they can get boso kinar, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, in the press room, Chunnu and Munnu are putting on the show of their lives.

Both are of course, tattiing in their pants. If Pakistan doesn't win

a public lashing awaits.

If India doesn't win

some rioting, destruction of public property and general mc-bcgiri awaits.

The only thing that can save the ah honour of the two countries now is if some shady deal is done.

Oops, I didn't mean that. No, seriously, I didn't. PC was supposed to turn up in the list of peeps occupying the best seats at government expense.

Oh, OK, he's decided to stand throughout instead. Good show.

Meanwhile, Pak interior minister Rehman Malik is missing ALL the fun cos he's personally gathering intelligence on the Pakistani cricketers and the "position of their telephones".

What can I say, I'm shitting bored of the whole damn thing already!

Nope, nope, nope, Manjula Narayan hasn't clicked any of these pictures. She's shamelessly pulled them off the net and bunged in the words. Gawd knows, with this tension, she needs all the damn laughs she can get.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fighting baby hunger

The strange thing about baby hunger. It can strike you anytime. I first had a bad bout of it when I was in my early twenties. The sight of an infant would transform me into a cooing, silly-face-and-sound-making idiot, a follower of new mothers in the street and a compulsive sniffer of baby scalps. Finding someone reckless enough to impregnate me became a full time preoccupation. And since I was one of those rare impractical young Indians who absolutely believed she'd never find true love within a tick-all-the-right-boxes arranged marriage, life was complicated for a while.

Eventually, though, I found a suitable someone who went shopping for pregnancy tests with me and pushed me into the local gynaecologist's waiting room. Pregnancy was an exciting project and I noted every change in my physical self with fascination: That first flutter in my womb, the way my taste buds changed, how my always formidable sense of smell now became a superpower (problematic while journeying over Mumbai's Mahim creek), the sudden mad urge for specific foods - bombay duck, jamuns, Nestle Milkmaid! Everyone seemed willing to fulfill my food fantasies. At 11pm one night, I had only to mention a craving for vanilla ice cream for a visiting relative to rush out and get me a bucket. I looked good too, in the dazzling shiny way that women do during a happy pregnancy.

The delicate perfume of the bombay duck

I can't say I enjoyed labour. When the pain kicked in there were times when I thought I would die. I begged the doctor, a wise old woman who'd brought a thousand wailing children into the world, for an epidural, a numbing injection to the spine. I couldn't read her thought bubble then but it would probably have said "What are you, a wailing whimpering MAN to ask for a painkiller?" Some women doctors are terribly macho.

Finally my son was out and I couldn't believe the minute perfection of him. The fully formed nails with their half moons, the shiny mop of deep black hair and the straight nose. I had never fallen in love like that before. But it happened again three years later when my younger son arrived.

I loved looking after the babies, singing them to sleep, feeding them, potty training them and making them their favoured gourmet meal, stewed fruit mixed with milky Marie. All thoughts of a career, even a thriving life of the mind vanished. I took on jobs that wouldn't require me to contribute too much of myself. I don't think I read a book through for at least five years. But I was happy. Babies are so helpless and dependent and so unconditional in their love. There's something heart wrenching about the way they look up at you with their huge clear eyes, how they hold tight to your finger, how they cry brokenheartedly when you leave for the grocery store without them and how absolutely delirious with joy they are when you return 10 minutes later.

As they grow older, your children surprise you with their personalities, with their new talents, their sense of humour, with how like you they are and how unlike. My sons have taught me to be more forgiving of men, to look at them without that white hot rage that used to sometimes consume me earlier in my life. They've taught me that some sorts of male behavior are intrinsic and that other sorts definitely need to be yelled and nagged out of existence. Every day, I learn something new from them about what it means to be a woman.

Recently, though, I've returned to that uncomfortable place I was in my twenties. I thought I was done with that messy procreation yearning but quite unexpectedly I find myself cooing at strange babies again. Every time I see one I feel afresh that need to have a little perfect person for whom I am the world. I can understand that Octomom, her greed. Having babies is fulfilling in an unexplainable instinctual way. But this time, my hunger is abject and hopeless. The Hum do, hamaare do family planning campaign was so successful in changing the way we think that it is now rare to find an Indian family of a certain socioeconomic background with more than two children. It doesn't mean, though, that all of us want only two, just that a whole generation has decided very sensibly to stop at that number even if we continue to be haunted by thoughts of a third phantom child.

My rational mind knows I shouldn't go back to that love hormone-suffused space of the new mother. I have important things to do, that college fund to build, the rejuvenated career to nourish. But on some days, it's difficult to convince my instinctual self of the real importance of those intellectual and economic imperatives, to not daydream about being a kind of modern day Venus of Willendorf.

All boob, no brain

Ah, it really is time for me to get a dog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's a gas, gas, gas!

Dude, I was just hanging around giving the sexy Bong intellectual vibe

when this chicklet says she wants to "do serious cinema".

Er, I'm the sorta guy who likes the girls-who-read types. You know the Simone de Beauvoirs,

the Amrita Shergils,

the Arundhatis...

Basically, arty, tortured, hand-wringy feminists.

Oh, I can be all that, she whispered huskily.

So then we become buddies. No, no, not Bollywood 'good friends' buddies, just buddies, OK? She tells me about her broken heart. I tell her about my marriage. We bond.

No, not like that. I swear.

Soon, we're having these long-long conversations about feelings and stuff and we exchange secrets. I get a free extra therapist, she's trying for a role in my next flick. I think she'll be perfect as the sexy corpse who dies in Scene 1 and she's working hard to perfect her sexy-corpseness. And we're texting and chatting and poking on Facebook and all.

Oops, wrong picture.

Where was I? Ya, we were at the borderline sex-text ha-blah stage, whoops, did I say that? and one day, after she gives this brilliant performance as the corpse in Scene 1, I land up at her house and we gravitate towards the couch.

So I say to her, "Let me see your stomach ya... just to see if you'll make a nice corpse. I want a special sort of corpse, you know? Just any old corpse won't do.

But she had some stomach problem that day. I was wondering if I should offer her Digene or Pudin hara but then I had to rush off. The wife was calling,

my therapist, the one I pay shitloads to, was calling,

my personal assistant was calling.

Who the fuck invented the smartphone?

Then I'm thinking corpse in Scene 1 with stomach problems not happening, boss, so I cut chicklet from the script. Arre, I'm the creator, no? I'm the master of my universe, no? What's the point of being a big shit director if I can't drop a couple of corpses here and there?

Next thing I know, I'm the new Madhur Bhandarkar in town.

I hate the guy's movies.

Now, I'm afraid to go home cos the wife's pissed off ("Whaddya mean you can't stay faithful, jerk? Tell me all their names NOW!")

That is some serious shit, that sword.

And my mum's pissed off as well.

"I laabh you but I am bheri disappointed," she said.

But you know what breaks my heart? No intellectual babe's gonna look in my direction after this... for a whole damn week maybe.

FML, felled by a farting corpse, just when I really had it made!

(Nope, Manjula Narayan didn't take any of these pictures. She's not even the one talking in the piece though these are her words)

Friday, March 11, 2011

A different life

This is a recurring daydream: I chuck my job and retire to a bungalow on a sunny beach somewhere, preferably Goa, and spend my days painting and getting stoned. It is a fantasy that’s unlikely to ever come true and not just because I rarely paint and the last time I got utterly stoned was back in college oh, very many moons ago, when I inhaled rather too deeply and then proceeded to freak my companions out with my paranoia: “Oh my God, my mother will know, she WILL know, she ALWAYS knows,” I ranted before gracefully puking all over the nice boy who was attempting a chance pe dance. I swear I didn’t do it on purpose.

Anyway, that beach side bungalow is my idea of blissful freedom. Why I’ll never really try to achieve it is one of those quirks of my cussed character. Even as I write this I’m thinking of the reasons why retiring to a perennially sunny place where the waves provide the background music and the quaint colonial abode is wreathed in the scent of honest organic substances wouldn’t be such a good idea: I’d be so happy I’d spend far too much time clicking pictures of cornices and old style loos to put up on Facebook; I’d hardly get outside because I’d be so busy tweeting about absofuggingnothing; I’d end up adopting too many cats and they’d set off the kids’ asthma (even though by the time I make it to that beach, they would have left me for nubile young women who agree to pick up their underwear and so, probably, would the devoted husband -- I say this on the eve of our 14th wedding anniversary, by the way -- you know how it is, vocalise your fears and damn, they won’t come true. He’ll probably leave me for something less humiliating like pyorrhoea or borborygmus. Phew.) and I’d start watching daytime soaps and consequently, dressing like one of those women just to feel real. Honestly, did anyone ever wear sindoor in that particularly aggressive way before Ekta Kapoor unleashed her talent on the world?

Help! I'm chumming

Talking of Ekta Kapoor reminds me of the one time I was in the same room with her, breathing in the same toxic Bombay air. It was Bombay back then. She was still just white-shoe Jeetendra’s kid and I was a deluded Masters student who thought she could make enough money to fund a foreign trip through, of all things, modelling. Not that I was a crashing beauty or tall or whatever it is that models are supposed to be. But a friend had had a modicum of success at it and so I talked myself into at least attempting it. Like that Doors song “You gotta try everything once, you better take out some insurance...”

A flurry of photo sessions, video tests and calender shoots followed. It was at a video test for a TV programme that Ms Kapoor and I gulped the same air. She left quickly. The test went very well with the camera man asking me to do take after take while the other girls with their mummies in tow tut-tutted impatiently. It looked like I’d get the deal and then, whey-hey I’d be jetting off to foreign lands. After the audition, the director walked me down and asked me in an exceedingly friendly way if I’d like to go shoe shopping. “Shoe shopping? Why ever would I want to do that? I have too many shoes as it is,” I said hopping onto a crowded BEST bus to Grant Road station. They never called me. I don't think the programme was ever made. About a decade later, I read an article about the casting couch lingo of old Bollywood. Apparently, “shopping for shoes” is code for “Plis will you sleep with me?” I still wonder if Ekta’s exit was hastened by the director asking her if she wanted to shop for a pair of white shoes.

So, yeah, it’s just the great fear that I’d end up dressing like the women in one of those killer TV soaps that's standing between me and my fantasy life in a bungalow by the sea. Told you I was cussed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Remembering my father

Some people you never forget, however old you become or long they've been gone. Today is my father's 23rd death anniversary. That's a whole lifetime but I still occasionally find myself bumping into him as I wander through dark dream chambers, or having conversations with him in my head.

At 14, he left home, a small village in Kerala, and headed for Bombay, where he passed himself off as 17 to join what was then the Royal Navy. "The English officers always thought we looked younger than we actually were so they believed me when I said I was old enough," he said. It was something he had to do as the eldest son to protect his mother and the large brood of siblings ("Actually, there were 9 of us but the sister who was closest to me died at 13 and another baby died as soon as it was born. Nobody knew why.") from a life of poverty. As a teenager, I never understood why he kept sending money home to his mother right until he died at 57, long after the youngest brother had grown up and the littlest sister had been married. Now I know that's the traditional Indian way, and that my father was the epitome of the good son. Sometimes I'm proud of that. At other times, I think he'd have lived much longer if he hadn't been so dutiful.

Though he only ever studied up to Standard 10, he was one of the most well read men I've ever met and dinner table conversations in our house invariably touched on politics, society, history, literature and that endlessly fascinating subject for me, his life as a boy sailor who travelled the world. ("The ship had to wait there because a whole herd of whales was passing. It's fantastic to see them breathing and spouting through the blowhole on their heads when they come to the surface."; "Malayalam was the code language during the Bombay Mutiny (Naval Uprising in the history books now) of 1946."; "In Liverpool, there were these two good looking half Chinese sisters...") Sadly, I never managed to prise out enough information about his adventures with the half Chinese sisters, one of whom called him "Curly".

Some people you never forget, however old you become. I'm glad. I still laugh at some of the things my father said. A good way to remember a good man.

(First put up this piece as a fb note on 2 Jan 2011.)