Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Curioser and ...

Yesterday … a very polite letter from a Mr. J*. “Wonder if you remember, we’ve met a few times, hope you are well, I happened to take a photograph of your wife and you, here it is” (framed, even). Very nice of him, I’m sure.

Except that the couple in the photo are total strangers to me.


Today … a colleague retires, a ‘farewell’ thingy is organised. Another colleague rises to ‘speak on the occasion’. In totally mangled Bangla, with an Oriya accent as thick as peanut butter, he expounds upon (i) how he’s looking forward to retiring himself so that people can say nice things about HIM (ii) what Ouillem Blacko (William Blake, gerrit?) said about tigers (iii)‘the bourne whence no traveler returns’ (the man is retiring, not DYING!) (iv) how the study of philosophy is a prerequisite for government service (or the natural outcome?)

And all this while I sit at the head of the tale, nodding gravely and occasionally making faces to disguise the storms of laughter that roil my abs.


Who needs marijuana?!

Things to do

1. Cut out about 80% of my Bloglines feeds.

2. Take Bloglines off my Bookmarks.

3. Block Bloglines.

4. Get a life.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

... and smells of steaks in passage-ways ..

This is about an evening last December or thereabouts, dug out from 'Drafts' because of a wunnerful time last Wednesday evening.

A non-evening in a Delhi non-winter. With the up-side of finally meeting the Babu, whose writing I like enough to qualify as a bona fide … ummm, fan, even. And meeting again the Babu’s Other Half, who is intimidatingly sharp, depressingly cool and had minor rock star status in Cal some decades ago. Worth it for that alone, not counting the bonus of seeing in the flesh (rather more of it than one recalled, actually) a certain celebrity stripper from the Ananda spa.

Raj Kamal Jha has written another book. His third, and apparently a good one. His first was such a stylistic miscegenation – Amit Chaudhuri sets up Arundhati Ray (you can already make out I didn’t like Jha’s first, can’t you? Go on, say it, I’m biased!) on a blind date with John Irving. Awful stuff from a good writer. But “Fireproof” has been appreciated by Learned Persons who Understand Literature, so I shall buy it and hope it’s not, as the name suggests, a future Night Shyamalan script.

Said book was launched at the India International Centre, where one rolled up in search of like-minded company. And soothed internal issues about freeloading by sipping only soda. Such restraint. No wait, I had three fish fingers – should I send Picador a cheque? I knew precisely two people there. The Babu, once we were introduced, was the third. (And a bit of a disappointment, because my mental image of somebody plump, squat, square-jawed and shawl-wrapped was totally off the mark.) There was a BYT who led me to the venue, but sadly enough, she did not stop to chit-chat once we were in.

Chatted with the Dilton for a while, while he pointed out in quick succession (a) a poet (b) Ruchir Joshi and (c) Kanika Gehlot. Hysteria-inducing account of the reaction in Delhi to her tell-all book, but if even DD does not remember the name, it must have been quite awful. (DD remembers everything. Or at least used to, when he still quizzed. OK, qualified statement – he remembered everything as long as he was stoned. Now do you see why he was a rock star on the quiz circuit?) Kanika Gehlot needs to see an orthodontist, no no, not SEE in that way, CONSULT, as in use the services of. The ORTHODONTIST’S services, boys and girls, let’s not be smutty here. I don’t know her from Eve, but I remember a piece she wrote some months ago. Nasty piece of work.

In the meantime, one PYT markedly pushed off from DD’s side the moment I hove into view; another rushed up to us and breathlessly asked if she could “borrow a cigarette”. Say what? Borrow? What does she do, hand back the stub? This cigarette thingy was repeated in various versions over the next 20 minutes (which was all I stayed, since I ended up with nobody to talk to). I spent some time in a wicker chair, sipping my soda and watching the fauna of literate Delhi.

A young lady looked at me, whispered in her swain’s ear, looked at me again. Did I resemble somebody she’d seen on a post-office wall? No, I thought I knew the reason. Sure enough, she came over and asked for a cigarette. What is it with Delhi, is this the “khoo” thing these days?

Then I got tired of it all and went back to my room and slept fitfully, with unpleasant dreams that woke me up but vanished from my memory.

**** ****

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Interesting company on my flight to Delhi yesterday. Embarrassing too. I squirmed in my seat while a (supposedly) venerable Additional Director-General of police discussed, in a Very Loud Voice,

(a) Intimate details of his brother-in-law’s anatomy (said b-i-l has been rechristened Long Doodoong Doong, need I say more?)

(b) The unfortunate case of B- B-, until recently a feared Superintendent of Police, who made two mistakes. One, he was unwary during a dark night in camp, resulting in an Intimate Encounter that was worse than piles. Secondly, he actually went and cried to his colleagues about it. Any day now some gangster under interrogation may smirk and ask him whether he’s still sore.

(c) Internal memos (on yellow Post-It pads) about the appropriate place to file the proceedings of a long meeting chaired by an Even More Senior Policeman. Said (very rude) memos being circulated during the meeting. I don’t remember having done that since college.

(d) Graphic descriptions of the appearance and morals of certain senior police officers and their political patrons, with glosses on their past lives. I shuddered.

(e) The digestive problems of an academically-minded officer whose room was 300 feet up the hill in Katesar Castle and who would be perennially caught short around half eleven. Whereupon he would borrow this ADG’s room key for the necessary relief. Until the day ADG unscrewed the bolt on the bathroom door and invited half a dozen friends to watch the performance.

And a little gem … A.N.Jha Block in the Academy, one night in October of 197_. Two officers in training, one in the IPS and the other in the IAS, are meditating in the privacy of their (shared) room. One of them is just back from Delhi and has been Given Some LSD. Wherefore they have popped a pill apiece and, some time having passed, are comparing notes.

‘Do you see a pinkish haze?’

‘Music … music would be awesome now.’

‘Right, I can feel this HUGE high coming.’

More time passes. The haze – pinkish or otherwise – does not deepen. No psychedelic houris or dancing dragons, no learning to fly.

‘It’s not all that strong, is it?’

‘You think we should have another one each?’

‘F*%#@, what company sells it packaged like this anyway?’

The foil pack is examined with bleary eyes.

‘Vitamin C supplement – Celin 500 mg’.

Pink haze indeed.

**** ****

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The week that was

In no particular order … tennis, Delhi, quizzing, gormandising, hating my job, and a truly awful jamboree.

Dr. Naveen Jayakumar of Chennai came up to Cal to run a quiz at the Saturday Club. I haven’t enjoyed a quiz quite so much in years. Quizzing is mostly a puerile exercise, driven by the deep-seated juvenile urge to put one’s fingers beside the ears and waggle them while intoning in nasal fashion ‘I know more than YOU know, nyaah nyaah nyaah!’ Taking it beyond the capitals and dates and quotations of classroom quizzes run by bored teachers, there’s the challenge. It’s not easy to set a quiz that is interesting, informative and balanced. Balance is important, participants are quick to curse inequity in the standard of questions.

The best quiz questions, of course, are those that can be worked out. Dr. Jayakumar’s quiz just about made the transition from information to knowledge. He had one beauty that linked the father of the Virgin Mary to the modern dollar [1]. Go figure. To cite another one of his questions as an example of work-outability –

“In 1952 K.R. Khardekar, Principal of Raja Ram College in Kolhapur, made a sacrifice in the cause of Indian sport that has gone sadly unsung. It should be lauded now and henceforth – but what was it?”

The clues are there. 1952, an Olympic year. Kolhapur, Maharashtra, ’52 Olympics … leading to Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, bronze medallist in wrestling (bantamweight) at Helsinki, India’s first individual medallist since Norman Pritchard. All that remained was to figure out the sacrifice, and there a faint memory stirred. Khardekar had mortgaged his house to raise funds for Jadhav to participate. More details here.

By the way, guess who won the quiz? Gergovia, it’s Gergovia all over again!


Sunday I was sulking in Delhi, for no particular reason other than having to spend a holiday away from VSP. Fortunately, my preparations for Monday’s ordeal were over in time to catch the second set of one of the all-time great Wimbledon finals. The third set was an even better contest. Foot-speed, power, touch, shot-making, sheer grit. All on display from both players. You could sense Federer’s frustration with the way Nadal just kept coming at him, his occasional bewilderment at the loop of Rafa’s top-spin. The speed and precision of the racquet-head when Rafa connects on that forehand cross-court, that’s a muscular magic. Matched only by the precision of Roger’s serve.

The fourth set raised the bar. Nadal broke twice, raced ahead. And FedEx decided he had nothing to lose, just went for broke. Shorter rallies but oh, what sublime finishes. Two-all as they went into the decider and – fortunately for Roger and his fans – FedEx’s berserker mood took him through. He was coming at the net like a Viking out of a longboat, you could see the red in his eyes and the sweat-froth under the winged helmet. That fine fury, and his serve, took him to Title #5. It was awesome tennis in terms of the physicality, the endurance, gladiators slugging it out and waiting for the mental disintegration, the fatigue that leaves the opening for the kill. FedEx broke through, but it gets closer every year. Next year it could be Rafa. And he’ll be only 21 years old.


One of those National Day celebrations (you can work out which one, from the month) turned out to be traumatic. More fool me for making a concession to the dress code (‘Lounge Suit / National Dress’) and donning a jacket. The survival instinct prompted a tab collar (unbuttoned) instead of a tie, or else I might have had to be carried out of there feet-first. The banquet hall was large, good wine flowed, there were some excellent cheeses on offer. But there were about 700 people in a space meant for 400, there was a milling mass of oiks three-deep at the bar, and fighting one’s way to the cheese counter was like the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Dinner? People were actually queued up! I found an occasional table, lit a pensive cigarillo and thought deep dark thoughts. Only to be assailed by a primal yowling from the dais – the foreign contingent were expressing their solidarity with India by belting out ‘An Evening in Paris’. Totally off-key and out of tune, but backed by 5000 watts. My nerve broke, I gathered in the Better Half and bolted for the door.


Which led to an altogether more pleasant part of the evening. Thanks to this fine young man (who is an amazingly solicitous host) and the hospitality of his parents, we were wined (vodka with peach schnapps, highly recommended), dined (of which more anon) and regaled. In addition, Fine Young Man bestowed upon me riches beyond the dreams of avarice – Hitchcock, the Goon Show, Monty Python, Robin Williams and something called Weeds. Now I find I need to download codecs to play them. One perseveres.


Glorious excess. Friday dinner, Russell dhaba. Daal tarka with slathers of butter, chicken bharta, mutton butter masala (NO tomato puree, another reason to love them). Lassi and chai for the ladies. Saturday lunch, Mocambo. Our set menu. Devilled crab, chilli chicken (which is an entirely different experience at Mocambo), fish meuniere, chicken paprika and fish a la Diana. Of course we slept in the car on the way back! Saturday dinner (mentioned in passing, above) was gargantuan ilish and rui. Sunday lunch was the buffet at Oh Calcutta. The potol malai curry, rui shorshey and chingri chichingey deserve special mention. There is a special debauched satisfaction derived from indulging in excess.

Goodbye, lithe and limber Orsino. I fear I shall have to resign myself to being Falstaffian [2].


[1] - Silver mines in Bohemia were named after the father of the Virgin, St. Joachim. The valley came to be known as Joachimsthaler or Joachim's valley. Eventually, coins struck there in 1518 were also referred to as Joachimsthalers. This led to the more common thaler. Which, as we know, is the origin of the word 'dollar'.

[2] - Hence the footnotes at the slightest excuse.

Friday, July 13, 2007


A supremely supercilious friend pointed me towards this debate in the Guardian. Much joy comes.

No prizes for guessing which side I’m on. Or at least which side I like to imagine I’m on.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Brian May * ...

... be entitled to his view, but it's not always about fat-bottomed girls.

Some slim ladies are just so hot.

P.S. - Kaku, more on the other blog. Helpful pipples, I have a koshchens there. Pliss to haylpe?

* - thanks to llcoolj in the commentspace for pointing out my dementia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I have been tagged by a Large Lady with an Even Larger Stick. So I acquiesce (which could be the sequel to that Montgomery Clift movie, know which one I mean? Ask Amit). I have hitherto tried to keep this blog free of issues that are entirely personal (travelogues don’t count) and put personal stuff on my other blog. In view of the Large Stick, however, I shall cross-post this (oo-er, that does sound like a Serious Blogger. Next you know, I’ll have figured out how to put up a sticky – no, not fingers, Prof, just a ‘sticky’)

You know, 8 terrible things about me, passing it on to 8 people etc. (It’s also a no-brainer post, ups my frequency) Here goes.

1. I have my own eccentricity about how I climb stairs. No, I won’t tell you what it is.

2. I cannot get through a day without talcum and deo / cologne. Just can’t. Comes of being a Bong, methinks.

3. I’m anal about what I wear to office or to a formal do. Clothes have to be ironed, shoes have to be polished. (Haven’t worn lace-ups for several years now, who wants to bend down if it can be avoided?) And matching socks. Which somebody Already Knows. But that’s about it for my fashion-sense, except that I never ever do the standard fuglies like brown-with-black or casual shirt with formal trousers. The USA was traumatic that way. Folks on campus just didn’t seem to care.

4. When I was about 9, I learnt Kathak for a year or so. At Children’s Little Theatre under the Dhakuria flyover. The basic step was ­­TA-dhin-dhin-na, TA-dhin-dhin-na and the trick was to start the second cycle on the same foot as the 4th step of the first cycle. All very easy when done slowly, but when it speeded up I’d lose track and just stand there drumming my feet furiously on the floor. At the ‘Annual Function’ I was carefully hidden in the back row. I saw a photo of the performance – a sea of small overweight Bangali brats with their baby fat quivering in quite disgusting fashion. I refused to go from the next week. But the library was nice. Very nice. I remember I was there when an earthquake hit Calcutta and a large bound collection of Life boogied slowly off my table.

5. A lot of people (including international cricketers, to judge from Cricinfo quoting Ryan Sidebottom) collect those miniature toiletries from hotel rooms. I go a step further. I swipe the really small face towels. (Never more than one per visit.) They’re just perfect for when I play squash, or in the car on a hot day when the AC takes a little time to kick in.

6. My very first appearance on the big screen is something I’m yet to live down. Never again shall I do something that can prompt a “Saaar, I saw you in that phillim yesterday (smirk smirk) Bhery good acting you hab done, Saaar (turn away to hide growing grin)”. Gah. I am, however, open to offers of roles as Suave Villain who Quite Undoes Beauteous Heroine (Cath Z-J or Winona Ryder for choice, though Chitrangada Singh would do) [1]

7. When I’m really serious about something, I can only communicate in English, as on the rare occasions when I’m well and truly mad. Which can be stupid and totally pointless. I remember being icy-cold and cutting with a sweaty political muscle-man on a station platform. I hope the rage showed through.

8. I can pinpoint the exact day I realised I’d grown old. 31st December 1996, the lawns of the CC&FC half an hour before midnight. Any number of PYTs in Very Little Dresses, and instead of leching in healthy fashion, my first reaction was ‘Those poor kids will catch their death of cold!’ The bottoms of my trousers rolled, I fear.

Tag eight people? Wouldn’t make a diff, because they’re not likely to drop by here. Consider yourself tagged.

Hope this keeps The Stick off.

[1] I'm also open to being the Straight Guy who is Quite Undone by the Devious Seductress – preferrably played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Or Mallika Sarabai.

**** ****

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

That city

A swelling plume of smoke links a spindly chimney to the blanket of clouds above. I can see the light-towers of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, round-shouldered against the horizon. A crow perches on a nondescript cable looped from tree to tree on the other side of the road, looks around, clears its throat and emits a tentative caw. Concrete piles emerge from a sea of green, shaking the foliage off their shoulders, blinking.

Damn this meeting. I’ve woken far too early. From a bizarre dream, my uber-boss berating me for not getting the right break-up of dahi vadas for the balance sheet, the Finance Ministry is bound to object. This could point to anxiety about the AGM today, coupled with regret over dining on an insubstantial Caesar salad last night. But don’t ask me, I only dreamed it.

The clouds on my right are turning pink. Then … I remember an Amar Chitra Katha cover, young Hanuman leaping at the sun. He’d have to be quick to catch this one. Huge, orange, lowering, it rolls above the horizon and springs into the cloud-bank, a minute’s worth (or two) of colours flaming like a ‘70s Bolly wood poster. Nice entry, bud. Hope you can top that when you go off-stage in the evening.

Headed towards the airport. The AGM went off surpassing smooth, the proceedings have been packaged and presented for approval. I can afford to relax and hitch a lazy eye over the car window. For the second evening in a row, I wonder at the greenery of Hauz Khas. It must be a magic jungle in the winter. I should … but I know that I won’t venture beyond Nehru Park.

There ARE things about this city that I like. It’s just that the unpleasantness takes front and centre in my memories. Must work on that.

Meanwhile, the sun that tortured me this afternoon has skulked off behind the clouds. No airport sunset. Welsher.

Friday, July 06, 2007


The trouble with non-specific depression is that you don't know WHY you're depressed.

It's worse when you're supposed to be an airhead who doesn't get depressed anyway. Nobody believes you can be depressed.

Including yourself.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Those rooms

His face gleamed with a thin sheen of sweat. Behind him was a wall, green-painted, with a crack running diagonally up to one corner. I remember that wall, that room. Or its twin. The camera did not move from the BDO’s face, but I know that just outside the camera frame there is a warped wooden window with bars across it, and somewhere above that window there lurks a fat gecko. A foot from the ceiling is a concrete shelf piled with old registers, receipt-books, booklets on seed-kits and polio eradication, a small trunk once used for cash, two mysterious polythene bags slick with some kind of grease, and a set of tubes and iron thingies that were apparently part of a tube-well assembly.

I know those rooms. I used to hate them. The smell of damp would mingle with the smell of sweat and the smell of hopelessness as I fought to stay awake through one futile meeting after another. That was when I started smoking, each carefully-spaced cigarette a milestone, something to alleviate the stupefying monotony of the working day. The setting sun would bring fat Murmu with his jeep, a promise of deliverance that speeded up my ‘disposal of files’. Sometimes the lights would go off as evening fell. Then ego would battle with irritation – should I clear the whole damn bunch while mosquitoes pinged in my ears and sweat trickled uneasily inside my shirt? Or should I ride off in the jeep with one foot out on the running-board to catch the breeze, leaving the files to moulder till the next day?

For the first few kilometres of the homeward journey we would rush down the tunnel of the jeep’s headlights. Far out beyond the silent dark of the fields there would be scattered lights, marking houses and huts where unknown families blew conch-shells for the evening prayer or gathered round a flickering television. But the road itself would be dark until we reached the highway. Once across the highway, the station road was crowded and lit almost to the point of brightness. At the station I would lounge in the jump-seat or potter around buying fruit, perhaps smoke my last cigarette of the day while I waited for the Better Half to appear, one of the hundred-odd dark shapes streaming off the 7:10 from the city.

Years later, there would be other rooms, other drives, other days meandering into tired sticky evenings that itched under the skin. There would be others in the BDO's chair, some young and earnest, some old and secure in the knowledge of their own limited options. I like to think that the memories of my three months as BDO shaped my interactions with them. I hope the pity did not show.

Monday, July 02, 2007

We don't know when we're lucky

I had a beef about flying from Calcutta to Ahmedabad. There is no conveniently timed direct flight. I have to fly via Delhi or Jaipur and then hustle to catch the direct flight back in the evening. To put that in perspective, it’s more than 3 hrs. if I take the hopping flight.

Now my friend V (of the Laphroaig evening mentioned earlier) is visiting again. He’s moved to Portland, Oregon (from Brazil – the man is mad!). If HE needs to fly to New York, he has to change at LA. To put THAT in perspective, it’s 3 hrs. to LA and then a further 5 hrs. plus to NYC. Add transit time and it's 12 hrs. on an average.

I shan’t crib any more.

Just saying.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


WTF moment of the day –

Jency Jacob, CNN-IBN correspondent, somewhere on the Western Express Highway – ‘So we are here … traffic is not moving … there is a bus full of foreigners here … they have come from abroad … ’ (Brilliant, that. His eagle eye immediately discerns that these are NOT foreigners from Ghatkopar) Climbs aboard the bus and sticks his mike in the face of an elderly man. ‘Sir, can you please tell us where you are from and where you are going?’

Elderly man, with great grace in the face of adversity (also with euphonious accent) - ‘We are from Spain and we were going to Goa, but our flight was at 2:35 p.m. so now we are looking for a hotel ….’

Jency Jacob, apropos nothing-at-all – ‘Sir, will all of you please sing us a song?’


(They DID sing. The entire busload. Gerfuck!)

(This is the channel that's ripped off Billy Joel's We didn't start the fire for their promo. We should have known.)