Sunday, May 21, 2006

Inconsequential personal musings

Sunday evening with only my laptop for company. Durrant’s Bar in Chennai. Apparently Charles Durrant, may his tribe increase, was the first recorded wine merchant in this city. Radhakrishnan and Kamaraj look on, stony-faced, from their portraits on the far wall. I don’t think they’re happy here. Judging from their expressions, “den of iniquity” would be the mildest phrase that crossed their minds.

A corner table and a faux antique book-case with one volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1986 Book of the Year, since you didn’t ask) and seven vo\umes of “Castes and Tribes of Southern India” (A. Thurston and K. Rangachari, but I can’t access it because the case is locked). Is this a recent addition in view of the current furore, or did ITC Welcomgroup have a premonition that this would be the most gripping read for travelling tipplers? Another seven volumes - “Crimes and Punishment”. Why don’t Fyodor’s* descendants make a fuss about this one, eh? Poor Kaavya, she was a patsy.

Somehow I can’t relate to Chennai. My apologies. I know there’s at least one Chennai resident who drops by, but there is a huge disconnect. Even more so than with South Delhi, and that’s saying a lot. So I sit by my window and I watch the cars roll by … This is the down-side of travelling on work, the monotony of hotel rooms and the alienation of strange gyms where one has to hunt out the barbell rack. So much better if I could sit at a tea-stall in Azamgarh in the chill of early winter and compare angochha prices with a leather-faced farmer.

An old Brit on the adjoining sofa snorts out loud at something he reads in the paper, winks at me, then pulls out his cell-phone and carries on a loud and long conversation. So much for “propah”. Behind me, a 20-something couple discuss the Most Important Issues in the world in subdued tones. He leans back to look nonchalant. The effect is spoilt when he fumbles for her hand and she draws it back in embarrassment. I’m glad I’m no longer young.

The maitre’d leads in another young couple, seats them with an Oily Bird on the other side of the room. Loud greetings and animated conversation. I wish I could at least understand Tamil. It would also have made the morning dose of Radio Mirchi (driving in from the airport) more fun. (Why do Radio Mirchi RJs talk so much? The only one I can stand is Mir, but perhaps I’m biased there.)

I’d thought I would belly up (stop sniggering, I’ve lost a full kilo, and no, “drop in the ocean” is not the epitome of wit here) to the bar and talk to the bartender. Ranjith, however, is a fresh-faced hotel management trainee who also has to run the tables. I can’t shoot the breeze with him. In any case, bartenders in India don’t seem to have mastered the fine art of being surrogate shrinks. They think that juggling bottles and lighting up the rims of cocktail glasses is where it’s at.

Stranger still, I haven’t come across any blog by a bartender. Considering that a bouncer and a waiter are among the more popular blogs I read, one would have expected a bartender to show up somewhere in what the Griff calls “blog pradesh”. But no, none that I have found yet. One reads that barkeeps are the default confidantes of lonely men in shirt-sleeves leaning over counters, they should have a stock of good stories they could work into a blog and later into the El Dorado of a book deal. Where are they? Any volunteers?

The vodka martini is good. One more should spin me over the edge into sleep. I desperately need it after starting the day at half three, taking a budget flight with cramped seating, hunting an elusive and confused client around two hotels and a university and then slogging around two separate (and disappointing) campuses in mid-day heat approaching 40 Celsius. The plus points of finishing early – an ESPN documentary on the 1990 and ’94 World Cups and Chhupa Rustam, a surprisingly good hidden camera show on NDTV. So now I shall nurse this second drink till my head hums with sleep, then return to my room (very nice room too), put up “Do Not Disturb” signs everywhere and tuck in my laptop and myself. And hope I don’t wake up at 2 a.m. to channel-surf while my mouth gets sour.

Tomorrow will be tough enough anyway, starting with a morning meeting, going on to a city that I’ve never visited before and ending in a third.

Good night, sweet prince, and may the angels / choir you to your rest. This attendant lord needs his bed.

**** ****

* - Thank you, Marauder


Ph said...

What is perhaps missing is some company for the evening.

WishfulThinker said...

Yeah, some company would have been good, Especially some company from Madras! My city can be quite boring when compared to Bombay or B'lore but it ain't that bad yo! ;)

bongopondit said...

A Vodka Martini.....

I am disappointed...irrespective of the preferences of numerically nomenclatured super heroes with carte blanche to terminate.....a 'martini' has to be made with gin...

"sen"sational said...

NDTV has 'Chhupa rustam'??? I thought it was a 'Star plus' show....

km said...

Seven volumes of "Castes and Tribes of Southern India"

Wow. Dullest showcase book ever.

Cyberswami said...

Seven volumes of "Castes and Tribes of Southern India", and eight other books.

o wonder of wonders, that's less than 50 per cent!

tomorrow will see the place burnt down for not adhering to the 69 per cent quota for Those Castes and Tribes.

progressive chennai.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy the warm climate in Chennai :P.

In JAP's defence, there's a Vodka Martini too, a variation of Martini.

Rohini said...

Vodka Martini. Yummy! I know what I am having the next time I go to a bar - whenever that may be...

Sue said...

But Madras reminded me of Cal so much, I felt right at home from the start.

I guess you're elsewhere by now. Hope you're having more fun.

Me, I miss Madras in fits and bursts, even though it never was my city in that sense.

scout said...

Disconnect with South Delhi? Pray explain, or has this been captured in an earlier post? I take great offence to that, South Delhi being my idea of a refuge from the world - maybe you need to be given a proper tour of the area; which includes bars where the bartenders actually talk and give the occasional word of advice and the waters are as funny and sarcastic as the dude at waiter rant.

HutumpaNcha said...

"So I sit by my window and I watch the cars roll by.." thats indeed the down-side of travelling on work.
I don't appreciate Chennai much, and am here more out of compulsion than choice...but given a choice to compare on-job travelling, travel within India is much beter than without

Veena said...

JAPda: I am not exactly a great fan of Chennai myself but interestingly enough, when I visited Cal, the city it most reminded me of was Madras. Both of them are a little provincial when compared to other bog cities which sort of contributes to their charm methinks.

Kaushik said...

Forget Madras. Take off for Coorg.

casey said...

What is with this

--[if !supportEmptyParas]-[endif]

cropping up all over the blog like a summer rash?

panu said...

well, JAP has got a hit of lonelineshh... looking at the sights and sounds with curious envy and reluctant resignation, reminds me of preludes I - living in the "burnt out ends of smoky days"...

The Marauder's Map said...

Er, apropos Crime and Punishment, did you not mean Doestoevsky's descendants or even ol' Fyodor's, and not Leo's? Correct me if I got it wrong and do forgive the impertinence :D

neha vish said...

So desultory. Cities they change when you end up there on work. Your entire day swells with office-tea, random handshakes and the like. The evening then you walk into the guesthouse or the hotel - and slump onto a chair.

Loved this post JAP.

eM said...

oh, i loved this post, the lone-man-sitting-by-the-bar-reading thing. very tom's diner, and piano man. i strive hard to be lone-woman-sitting-by-the-bar but it's hard to keep your solitude when you know everyone in your haunts.

Rita said... you found your way to Durrant's bar in Chennai, huh?
And yes, I do not relate to Chennai either. I agree with your opinion on South Delhi as well. The whole of Delhi, in fact.

Wild Reeds said...

Hey cool post!

silverine said...

Try the Kerala kallu shaaps for an 'authentic experience'. If you know mallu, then the bar tender (usualy the owner) will double up as agony ungle and shrink.

GhostOfTomJoad said...

Hmm, Piano Man-esque :-)

Alhugh it was a really long time ago, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. And, to answer a question you asked then, if it is still relevant, no, I have never commented as "M". I only started commenting when I had a blog. But why would you think I did?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ph – what YOU is perhaps missing is that that was The Whole Point.

W Thinker – most cities are dull without the right company. Some cities are more fun when you’re alone.

Pondit – I don’t fancy gin. They didn’t have Campari

Sen – You may be right (and how I wish they’d played that one)

KM – you never know, it might have salacious ethnological details a la Margaret Mead

Swami – good point, we must tell Arjun

Zero – thanks for the defence


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Rohini – such faith in my taste is touching. Thank you.

Sue, Veena – you have a point

Scout – I’m in Delhi every month, do give me some tips

Hutum – depends where you’re travelling to

Kaushik – not everyone gets a month off every year

Panu – “Preludes” is a personal favourite

Marauder – thanks. Corrected. Blame it on the martinis plus senile decay.

Neha – thanks. Panu sums it up, I think.

eM – if I have my friends around me, why would I need to go to a bar?

Rita – why don’t you move to Cal, then?

Wild Reeds – honoured

Silverine – I have to find them first. Guide?

Tom Joad – M is a film-maker. Articulate, like you. Unlike you, rather detached and dispassionate.