Friday, October 19, 2007

Tribulation Of An Arranged Marriage - The Setting

When I was younger, I had deadlines. Guy friends left at nine promptly; if I was out I needed to be home by ten, tell them where I am every 45 minutes and no car ever. Now if I’m with a PH (Prospective Husband Type) I get the car, no curfew and complete privacy. If I ever make the mistake of calling home, I’m told to hang up immediately as I was offending our esteemed guests. Sometimes I get the distinct impressing, if I was ever kidnapped by one of the PHs, my folks would take solace in the fact that he would get to spend some more time with me.

So when they put my profiles online, I was in trauma. I enjoy the occasional glass of wine. I enjoy photography, movies, theatre and museums. All of which was flatly ignored. I was portrayed as a “homely” girl who likes to cook, and doesn’t touch tobacco and alcohol. I should have realized the trouble I was gonna get in, from right there. I didn’t. I know better now.

The routine was simple. They look for a guy, they match horoscopes, if that matches then we talk on the phone, the parents come home, If the dude is in the same city, we meet, we see how it goes. If he doesn’t, we talk until we meet. If all’s well, we get engaged, If not, we say our shaloms to each other to each other, wish each other all the best and move on with out respective lives.

When the boy’s folks decide come over, there is an entire orchestrated exercise. My usually spotless abode then looks like the inside of a surgical ward at Breach Candy. The house is cleaned and recleaned with a feverish aggression. Every window grille washed, every corner dusted, AC’s serviced, fans cleaned, every single sheet of crystal polished, every little bit if glass was squeakily cleaned, first with a glass cleaner , then with newspaper, washrooms scrubbed till you can eat off them, TONS of food made, clothes folded and ironed, washcloths folded and ironed, bed linen upholstery and curtains all changed. The family pet terrapin, Nefertiti, would be scrubbed lovingly, her nails clipped, her shell waxed, her tub changed and she would be put in a small bathroom for the duration of the visit. My brother would be told to behave himself and sent off to get a haircut. Asha, our domestic help, usually well turned out at the best of times, ends up looking spectacular. If my mom had her way, they would have the apartment and the building repainted.

This was nothing compared to the wonders that it did for the Sachidanandan family life and it’s morale. The family, sarcastic and unintentionally amusing at the best of times, morph into shrill loud paranoid monsters. I would be asked to clean out my cupboard, drawers, refile all my papers, and rearrange all my books and DVD’s. After a long day of work, this particular set of chores is never on my list of evening plans. Result? War.

Clothes were an issue of course. I would want to wear jeans; my mom has set aside a saree for just this occasion and would insist that if I didn’t, I was even more ungrateful than she thought. Only tarts wore jeans when a boy came to see them. My question, why would a boy come to see a tart? This is also about the time that I would seriously start contemplating hiring a lawyer and getting emancipated from my family. Matricide was another option. My long suffering daddy would finally step in and we would compromise on kurta and jeans. Every single time. All this for a two hour visit.

By this time, my blood pressure is dangerously high, my tolerance levels dangerously low. I have a hatchet hidden under the bed (polished, of course) and I hope I never have to repeat this charade again.

But I do.
More soon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wonderland, Interrupted

She walks in beauty. I noticed her at the Lakme Fashion Week and wondered how I could have forgotten she was going to be there. She has the characteristic stride of someone who has been doing this a while. I loved the way she held a pose and whipped around to walk back. But something had changed.

I loved a lot of things about her. I loved the way she swung her shoulders back confidently and sashayed down. I loved the expression in her light eyes because they were completely open and honest. Most of all, I loved the innocence in her face because I knew it was genuine.

I used to know her a long time ago. In a way, she and I kind of grew up together. Our fathers worked in the same place and they were close friends. So it was natural that I meet her at the occasional office party.

When we were younger, I would wonder about this light skinned girl who was always lost in her happy little world. A pampered spoilt child slightly older than i was, she was treated well at home even if the world took liberties with her. Her semi foreign lineage, white skin and frail figure got her noticed and college and at the grand old age of 17, she was a ramp model. With her globetrotting and mine, I hadn’t seen her for about ten years by then,

The next time I met her, I was a struggling junior journalist and she was trying to get a foothold in the industry. I was to interview her. She recognized me immediately and we got chatting. I remember her telling me that her becoming a model was one way of telling all the people who tormented her to take a hike. Why would people torment her? She was quiet, she was naïve and she wasn’t the bright spark in the class. Peers can be cruel. For them, she was just someone to tease all day, never realizing that the sheltered girl was sensitive and often went home in tears. Was she angry with them? Oh no. They were nice. She just didn’t understand the jokes and was scared of them.

I had a grudging respect for her. Although she wasn’t the best looker, she had managed a glamorous career. She was nowhere near famous but she had managed to stabilize herself in this fickle industry. She didn’t sleep her way to the top and the sudden fame and money had nothing to change her. As the token ugly ducking everywhere, I was in awe and just a bit of envy. But as the years went by, we lost touch again.

I was invited to her wedding but I didn’t go. I wasn’t in the country at the time. My folks were away too. She was marrying this foreign academician and was to have a lovely future. She was to move back into the country of her mother and start anew there. She was to be very happy.

A few months ago, I heard from the radar that she was back. Divorced and with a kid. Her husband has beaten her up repeatedly. I longed to call her and ask her how she was. But it had been 6 years since we’d spoken. I wasn’t sure if she’s recognize me if I passed her on the street. I was right. She didn’t.

I was standing outside the NCPA hall when she passed me. In full make up, she was obviously on her way somewhere. She swept up the stairs and bumped right into me. For one minute, she looked at me and I saw the spark of a sudden familiarity in her face. The I realised what had changed. The innocent had lost its openness, its warmth. They had acquired a hard steely quality which can only be described as ruthless. We stared at each other for a minute and then someone yelled out to her. She was due for hair. She apologized for bumping and went by. That well of innocence that had been inside that child was lost.

I saw her again that evening. She was walking the ramp for a famous designer. I thought about the guts that it has taken this fundamentally shy and naïve child to abandon a brutal husband and move back home with a child. Into a society that already judges her because she’s a model, that judges her because she’s divorced, that tormented her as a child. I saw her put away her hopes and dreams and start life anew. I saw her go home to her baby after a show and not stay to party with her fellow models. I saw all of those sacrifices.

As she walked, shoulders squared, pelvis pushed out, looking more beautiful than I have ever seen her, she looked straight in front. She held a pose, whipped around and strode back into the wings.

The child is gone.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Arrange Marriage Tribulations. The Beginning

(This one’s got several parts. Watch this space)

Apart from the complete mortification of admitting that you haven’t met someone by yourself and letting your folks find a guy for you, there is so much more to arranged marriages. More mortification. One of the subjects they should teach in school is how to nab someone and hold on to him. I'm sure this will save much trauma and therapy in later years. For the age old tradition of arranged marriage is seriously one of the most humiliating experiences in the world.

People you know and love end up making you feel incomplete, like you were born without a nose or half a brain. The family you adore looks at you with pity and compassion. The guys THEY pick out look at you like you’re a side of beef. The boy’s relatives look down laundry lists of dos and don'ts that the girl absolutely must posses. You look in the mirror and seriously wonder if there is something wrong with you that your loved ones have politely overlooked for so many years. In my opinion, the Indian woman who has braved the arranged marriage is a brave species. Nothing but nothing can surpass this intense misery. I wish I’m kidding.


For the uninitiated, here’s some background. I come from conservative south Indian stock. I have lived all over the world, I read, I write I travel, I watch movies, I don’t party much, I’m learning to dance, I’m into content management and I’m a aspiring writer. I have Masters in English Literature; I hope to attain a PhD and an MBA eventually. I have a business Diploma in German and I hope to learn other languages. I work in a fairly decent position in a very fancy company. I enjoy long walks, beaches, foreign movies, learning languages and food.

It all started when I turned 24. A good age generally, a bad age if you aren’t seeing someone seriously. I wasn’t.

Before they stared looking, we had a family conference. They asked me what I'd like in a guy. My needs were simple. I wanted someone presentable with not too much of an age difference, who had a nice job, was emotionally mature and financially secure, from a metropolitan, with whom I had at least one interest in common. Love for traveling is mandatory. I wanted someone who wouldn’t suffocate or restrict me. I didn’t want anyone with dietary or lifestyle restrictions. They carefully wrote all of this down and promptly disregard it to date.

Then it was my turn. They then told me what my shortcomings were.
A)I wasn’t professionally qualified, I wasn’t a lawyer, doctor, engineer or even an MBA (This coming from the people who REFUSED to let me do an MBA because it was time to get married) therefore I shouldn’t expect a fancy job or a moneyed someone.
B)I have all the trappings of someone who lived in Mumbai and abroad so I shouldn’t expect a looker, I have a sharp tongue and a sharper pen so I shouldnt expect somene kind or patient.
C)Not anyone rich as we're not rich. (My dad has enough stowed away to put three generations through Harvard and still live but thats another story)
D)I am a girl therefore I shouldnt have too many interests. If I don’t have interests then I can cultivate the interests that my husband already has.
E)People don’t have the time to read these days so nobody intellectual. So let’s just see what we end up with.
F) Also i may or may not be a manglik, which is another booboo.

One complacent step at a time, the beloved family meticulously the quarter of a century that i have lived. Sobering thought.

Then, the entire looking process happens. Quite a difficult task but my mom manages just fine. I think my mom actually enjoys looking for guys for me. After breakfast is done, my mom perches her glasses on her nose and starts looking. She enthusiastically sifts through thousands of photographs of “eligible” men and short list several hundreds a day. Online matrimonial sites, bureaus, references, you name it. Every evening come, I’m promptly given a list of encrypted codes and photographs. Photographs of all the people she has shortlisted on the basis of horoscope, family background, educational qualification and looks, in that order.

Now see, there is a huge problem right there. My mom’s idea of good looks is my idea of a hairy scary troll. In true Malayalee style, the man needs to sport a mustache, which for me is highly avoidable. Of course, looks aren’t the only thing to life. There are others.

Sure, he may have a fancy job but speaks really badly. He may speak well but will only want vegetarians. He may have everything i look for but will want someone who will sit in a remote village in kerala and take care of the family business while he works on another continent. (This actually happened) He wants someone below the age of 26 while he is running his mid forties. Another one wants to be "friends". (on a matrimonial site?)They all want beautiful", working, fair, and homely. Everyone but everyone"of them is committment phobic. If I complain about the attitudes of their profiles, I'm given a line that came right out of an 80's Hindi flick, that im a girl and shouldnt expect anything.

Like i said, we're a hardy lot.

Read on. More soon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My happy times and places and things and people...


"Simply put this together as i keep forgetting what they are. Will keep updating this one.

The 3 o clock show at the planetarium
Worli Sea face in the monsoon
Chai and samosas for tea
Paani puri anywhere anytime
The crunch of snow under snow boots
Thick woolen socks on a winter evening
Filter coffee and Upma from Mani
Beaches
The book beaches””
A full nights sleep
Secrets
My mother’s humming of classical carnatic tunes.
Windy evenings
Winter mornings
Museums and Art galleries
Movie halls and theatres
I pods and long walks
Sound of Music
Eiderdowns
Movies
Comfortable shoes
A baby laughing
My mates in town
Late night movies
Comfortable silences
A hard days work
The first few days of being in crush
Long night drives
The sound of the surf
Respectful Silences
Impromptu plans
Horror movies with close friends
Letters
Freshly cut hair
Pedicures
A fireplace, a book and hot chocolate
Sunday afternoons with friends and F.R.I.E.N.D.S
Dimples
Retail Therapy
Boots
Brushed steel flatware and crockery
Bang and Olufsen sound systems
“Baby’s Day out”with the family
Kareoke evenings at Jazz
New bottles of perfume.
Unexpected phone calls.
Prawns, Mussels and Neer Dosas with a friend. you know who you are.
Good days at work
Post It nosts in different colours
Stationary
Photographs
Camera
Old Showtunes
Working to music in the late evenings
Stories
Animated Movies'

Lemonade
Sol Kadi
Aam panna
Iced Tea
Subway's Italian BMT salad
Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters"and Googoo Doll's ""Ïris""

Monday, June 18, 2007

Superman's Daughter

I miss my daddy. We live in the same house in the same city. I see him every day, we share a meal together but I miss him terribly. Like I mentioned before I hate growing up.

Achchan is Malayalam for father. My father never let us call him anything but that. For the longest time, my achchan was my hero, my Superman. Still is. He’ll probably scoff if he read this but its true. Maybe its because I’ve never ever experienced the crash that happens to children when they realize that their dad isn’t the perfect man. My daddy still holds strong to that one childhood fantasy. He has never let me down in any way. At the grand old age of 26, I’m still sent back to my room to “wear something that covers you up” and still told to eat my vegetables. Last month I bumped my head on the corner of the table while bending down to fetch something (I’m a klutz.). When I came back home that evening, he has taped Styrofoam to all the potential hazard areas in my room. He is a fine man and a brave one. In a way, he’s ruined all men for me. He is my yardstick for men and every single guy I have dated has fallen miserably short.

But of course all stories begin in childhood. At 5’8, he was the tallest man, I’d seen through my adoring eyes. I refused to believe that my uncle was taller by at least 6 inches even though I could see it plainly. I actually remember a time when I was sitting on my dad’s belly in a red frilly dress while a child and tugging at his beard. In retrospect, that red dress was tossed before I turned three so this memory happened while I was about two. I don’t know if that even possible but I know I remember it.

He used to work with an airline and to my child eyes that was the only way to be. He has a scar that looks a little bit like an airplane over one eyebrow and eyebrows that looked like jets, where else could he work? I remember him taking me to the beach so I wouldn’t be afraid of the water anymore. During my boogeyman phase, he would wearily wake up every night when nature called me so I wouldn’t be afraid of the dark. He taught me the joys of reading and music. He would bring me cough syrup every hour of the night when I had a horrible cough and dutifully forgot birthdays, There was one time when I was 6, when after a particularly sound drubbing from my mom, I was crying in a corner, my daddy tucked me into bed and rubbed my back till my fell asleep forsaking his dinner for my sorrow. He gave my first champagne and later gave me a cold shower and put me to bed when I was tiddly as an owl. He taught me my first physics lesson and bought my my first bike. Of course his word was law. If my dad said, that the White House was fuchsia with yellow dots, then it was. No questions. Such was my belief system.

Of course all the memories aren’t rosy, especially through the eyes of a child. We aren’t the most demonstrative family and he wasn’t the most affectionate or physical father. He rarely smiled or talked. He was always traveling or working. He was never there at PTA’s. There were more no’s than yes’s. was woken up at 6 am even on weekends. Television was limited. Curfews were stricter than everyone else’s. Expectations were high. Clothes were limited. He was just never around. I could never get over that. I was a rebellious child and I wanted my way or I’d move heaven and earth until I got it. My mom often bore the brunt of my fury.



Of course I disappointed him. Still do. In a million ways. The choice I made always bothered him. For him, I was always the little girl who was to be protected. Maybe he was right. But the complete exuberance of youth usually disregards parents. Thousands of times I was told to hold my tongue. Several times I was pleaded with to be a little more obedient. He patiently and sadly withstood the turbulent relationship I had with my mom while I was growing up. But he never stopped me from doing anything. Apart from the usual curfews and clothing limitations, absolutely nothing was off limits. Even when I decided to move around for a while, a truly drastic situation for south Indian girl's parents, he didn’t even stop me. My mom screamed and raged and brought the house down. All my father said: If she needs to do this, she needs to.” But his face told a different story. I have never seen so much sadness in one face. That lasted a couple of years.

I wonder if he ever knows how much he taught me without realizing it. Of the virtue of being non-judgmental, of forgiveness, of silence, of unconditional love, of the sheer power of hard work. He started out in the world with not a penny and worked his way to the top. But he’s had ups and downs as well. He joined as a technician and worked his way into Engineering. My dad has a severe phobia of public speech. Five times he walked out of the interview although having topped the written bit. The fifth time is when he mustered enough courage to even answer the questions put to him. I wonder if he’s ever realized that whenever his heart broke a little, mine broke a lot more. Although we’d argue incessantly, I made sure he never knew how much it hurt me. He never knew that an off hand word of praise would put me over the moon for a week. I made sure he didn’t.

Now that we’re all grown up, he lets us live our lives. We’re supposed to make our own decisions. But I’m not sure I can handle it. I’m not sure if I want t either. I want to be told what to do again; I want the assurance of knowing that I cannot be wrong. I’d do anything in the whole world, literally anything to be a kid again and go back in time to do this all over. Hurt him a little less, spend more time with him, and perhaps acquire a few more boogeyman that he can scare off for me.

Most of all, I want the courage that comes with being a child. To tell my achchan I love him to bits, that he is my sanity anchor and that I’m sorry for all the million times I broke his ailing heart, To hope that I’m not much of a disappointment. Not too much of one.


Of course I can never say that out loud. We are an emotionally suppressed community and ours isn’t a demonstrative family. I don’t think he even knows I write a blog. But I’m gonna hope and pray that he stumbles upon this someday and reads it. Of course knowing him, he’ll never mention it to me. But I really hope he reads this someday. I’m Superman’s daughter and its only fair that he knows it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

F.R.I.E.N.D.S

On my to work a bit ago, I bumped into a whole bunch of giggling kids who had scurried away from college to catch an early show. Obviously brand new at the bunking college enterprise, they were giggling more of nervousness than anything. Metal mouths snickering between conversation, downy fuzz on their upper lip, wearing tiny tees for the first time, they were meticulously counting out change just to see if they could pay for the movie, all the being ridiculously loud and attention seeking. They were making a complete nuisance of themselves and I wasn’t the only one burning in envy.

Man, the worst thing that can happen to a person is to grow up. For me, doomsday arrived the day I finished my education and I have yearned for it ever since.

I hate being a responsible adult, hating having to worry about grown up things. They say when you die and hopefully get to heaven; you will live your life when you were the happiest. I would probably be living my college life all over again. Not that I went to a fancy college or anything. All through school I made a horrendous fuss about going to a “cool” college but my overprotective parents wouldn’t hear of it and sent me off to a geek college. Ruparel College, Ruia College, Mumbai University, Max Mueller Bhavan, hardly cool material places. But I met the coolest people out there. For the first time, I made friends for life, people who taught me something and didn’t judge me by the clothes I wore and the language I spoke. They didn’t bother with the fact that I still hadn’t decided who I wanted to be as a person and they didn’t care. They didn’t judge.

I did meet people outside college obviously. People at work, people I generally know, my roommates, workmates and so many more. But these were among my oldest closest friends. Still are.

A mutual hatred for the college brought us together and we stayed together. There were additions and subtractions to the core gang, boyfriends and girlfriends came and went, some fo the times we stayed away from each other but we all came back together. Drifted apart, yelled, called each other names, cursed each to oblivion and came right back together.

Of course, we had common interests. Books, movies, sarcasm, life were always scrutinized, whined and bitched out and finally immolated in three drinks. But they stayed.

There were some who were came into my life just by chance meetings and stayed on and others who’d been there from day one till date.
There’s one friend who I met for the first time while she was going through an apoplexy in Hindi class.
Another who was introduced through a friend and we 20 questioned our way to a close friendship.
One I met on the second day of college. I complimented her milky pink nail colour. She took the bottle out of her bag and offered it to me. That simple.
One I was already friends with before I met her. We had both heard tons about each other.
One is a former workmate at IE.
One I met in a freelancer meeting exactly twice and we’ve stayed friends since although he isn’t in the country.
One joined college, hung out with us for a week, quit college but never stopped hanging.
One was a just a guy in college that spoke English.

Although most of them seem very normal to the disinterested observer, they are extremely talented and phenomenal people in their right. They all took their own different paths but always paused to see if any of their mates needed help and actually did help. Anytime I faltered, they would all protectively swoop down on me, scrape me off the floor, put me back together and sent me on my way. They saw me through most things in life, supported my decisions whether idiotic or not. Most were.

Right now, most of them are scattered around different parts of the globe and we never really get together. I see them very rarely. Emails are rare, sometimes not there at all. Although when I do see them, there is a familiar connection, I’m left wondering. Everytime I meet them, they’ve evolved beyond belief and once in a while I end up wondering if the magic is gone. For a long time, I didn’t get any answer about that one.

Then one day I did. July 11 2006. The day of the train blasts. I happened to be the only one in the city at the time. Also among the luck who didn’t step out of home. A viral or something, if I remember. The minute the phone lines came back on, I got 11 frantic phone calls demanding to know where I was. Yep, the magic was still there.

So, here’s to my buddies, you know who you are. Thank you for being you.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ode to a Stranger

It was a long Geneva- Rome – Delhi – Bombay flight. I was 12 and bored. Sitting in a completely different part of the airplane, far away from my parents and brother, my ADHD ridden mind was going completely haywire. I remember having finished Anna Karenina and the in-flight magazine and three glasses of juice and being irritated out of my skull. We were stranded in Rome for about an hour and everyone was edgy. People kept telling us that someone’s luggage hadn’t been loaded in and we were being held up because of that. Sitting in the first class of a fancy airline, the very propah crowd kept murmuring about people who had no consideration for other’s feelings. There were plenty of empty seats around, including the one next to mine.

I sighed and looked out of the window for some excitement. A heavy sigh made me around. A corpulent Indian old man, sweaty and tired, with a grim face and a bushy mustache had flopped into the seat to my right. He made quite a meal of putting away his luggage and getting a drink and sighing loudly. Perfect. That’s all I needed. I took a second book out and began to read. Five minutes into it, I heard a “harrumph” and Mr. Growl. Looked at me and said, “Is that for school?” I was an arrogant kid. I tried my best to look down at him and said, “No, it’s for me. I read for school in school.” (Don’t think I was a wiseass, I was brought up on communist literature. Enid Blyton came later.) He looked surprised and said, “Isn’t that a bit high for you?” I just looked at him funny. He took the hint. I went back to my book. “You know, that’s one of my favorite books.” Now he got my attention.

“Really? Why?”
“Sure, he was the hallmark of social democracy”
“Really?”

This led to an entire discussion on the demarcation of social democratic parties and movements and democratic socialist ones. Marxism, Socialism, Kapital among others. Of course other writers came into the picture. Apart from other Maxim Gorky works, we slaughtered Greene, Pushkin, Chekov, even children’s books by Russians. I had never met anyone who could explain the nuances of books to me. That gentleman brought the dusty streets of Russia and the communist strain to life for me. I could see the chucking uncle and the golden bodied mistress through the eyes of young Gorky as clearly as I could see the snow topped mountains. Looking back, this was probably the first time I thought I could study books for the rest of my life.

“So how do you know all of this?” I wanted to know.
“Same way that you do. Books travel, age…”
“Where do you live?”
“Bulgaria. Have you heard of it?”
Of course. The capital is Sofia. The major crops are wheat sunflower grapes cucumbers..”
“Okay, how do you know this?”
“I studied it for a U.N test.”
“Oh, but that’s not all. It was a part of a medieval empire…”

And we were off again. The UN and NATO were discussed to bits, maps, drawn on tea cosies, flags discussed, topographies compared, a huge thrill for someone so young and naïve. But now when I think about it, I marvel at the sheer patience of a man who spent more than 16 hours talking to a 12 year old, only because he wanted to. He showed me pictures of his family, his two daughters, the dogs, the gifts he bought for them, the hundreds pf movies and books he was carrying with him. That old gentleman is single handedly responsible for my nearly religious interest in movies, books and writing today.

In all that time, not once did he talk to me like I was only seven. For the first time ever, I was given credit for being a person and my intelligence was challenged. I was given credit for using my head and for airing my opinions, however immature they may have been. And believe me, they were. But the greatness of that gentleman lay in the fact that he didn’t laugh, snicker, or do the”kids-these-days” headshake either. If he thought I was being an idiot, he explained his point of view and then would listen to mine. If there wasn’t a mutual meeting point, we agreed to disagree. We talked about deadlines, curfews, dating, boys, martial arts, traveling, languages, romantic languages, religious texts, eclipses, food, paintings, popular culture, you name it. We talked through three transits and two continents.

In the meantime, my mother came along to check on me, saw me jabbering away and leaned down to say hello. I still remember that conversation clearly.

“Hello. I’m Renu. I hope my daughter isn’t bothering you.’
“Not at all. She’s quite a smart kid. Knows a lot.”
“If you want to shut up, you can just tell her to. She knows she can be painful. “
“Why would I want her to shut up. Children have the best perspective. They look at life untarnished.”

That was his take on the unending trauma that is the conversations of a pre teen. I of course didn’t make anything of it. At Mumbai, we made our farewells, exchanged numbers and waited for respective cars together, When his car did arrive, I looked at it appreciatively.
“Nice car.”
“Thanks. One of the perks of the job.”
“Oh yeah, what do you do anyway?”
“I’m the Indian Diplomat to Bulgaria.”

I didn’t know anything about that except that it’s a fancy job. So I shrugged noncommittally. My mother’s jaw dropped to the floor. He got in his car, offered a ride and sped away. That’s the last I ever saw of him. I have no name or no number. That has completely slipped my memory.

I hope and pray that I meet him someday, that I recognize him. I want to tell him that he has influenced my life in ways I haven’t even known, he cultivated half my interests and fired my appetite for art of all kinds. Someday I hope to meet him and thank him. Someday I hope to talk to him about Bermuda Triangle and the Aghoris, to tell him about the little temple I found in a nook somewhere. I want him to explain the Tiger Valley theory for me, tell him I finally saw the Picassos but not the Louvre. Above all, I want to thank him. For listening to me. For acknowledging me. For validating me for the first time.

So, if by some happy serendipity, if you’re out there reading this, sir, with my hand on my heart, I thank you. Profusely.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Smruthy

It was a friend who triggered the thought, the excited phone crackle of a first time mom talking about her new baby’s first step. Yes, EspritNoir (www.espritnoir.wordpress.com) it right. It’s true enough. We do focus on all the firsts. Some may say it’s the inherent nature of being positive. Perhaps. But anyone who knows me will agree that I am far from positive. I am cynical and fatalistic about most things. But even in my confessed negativity, I think there is something to be said for keeping conscious tabs on things that could very possibly be something you will do for the last time. True, you don’t necessarily know. But sometimes you do. More often than not, you do know.

It’s funny how the human mind functions. Something so important and steeped in the sub conscious can be triggered off by such mundane things. For me, memories lie curled up within smells. Nearly every memory has a smell or a distinctive fragrance that is attached to it. So strong and so distinctive that I can nearly taste the air at the time. Life, the smell of the first rain always brings back a certain string swing under an elinjee flower tree, red soil slushing along the by lanes and the smell of damp wood and wet coir heavy in the air.

Another strong smell memory is that of Nina Ricci’s Jasmine. It always brings back a memory of the airport lobby of King Fahad International Airport for me, my home for a couple of years. Close my eyes and I can still smell the perfume and see the glassed in immigration area and the airport activity of a typical international red eye waiting area. The perfume, which my mom had dabbed behind my ears, was a gift from whom we termed family in an alien land. That smell is first thing that brings back the blurry memory of waving to the small crowd waiting outside the departure area, knowing I may never see the land or the people ever again.

The metallic smell of gin always brings back images of giddy evenings celebrating youth and success and the sheer joy of being alive. Expensive perfume, smoky lashes, too white teeth dimples and cocktail glasses. Promise of much flirting and mischief. The knowledge of a headache tomorrow morning. Time spent with people you love, friends long forgotten.

Another familiar smell is that of floor antiseptic. A friend in a coma, people pacing outside. A janitor cleaning the hallway. The smell of pine scented Lysol stinging my nose. He wasn’t expected to survive the night. We should all say our goodbyes. I remember sitting there on the metal stool talking to him. Talking about the good times and better, never knowing if he could hear me or not. Telling him to take care and we all love him. Holding the gauze covered hand and knowing that this was one hand I would never be able to hold again. A friend gone too soon.

Of course, these things aren’t always nostalgic; I can still smell the tangy bite of Kool Aid. Knees scruffy and bloodied in the dirt of a foreign land. Accented jeers and a twisted arm. Books scattered on the playground, lunch spattered against the wall. My first taste of racial discrimination. Not fun.

Another was in the smell of too heavy Dubai Attar. Arranged marriage setting, stressful at the best of times. My cousin bedecked in flowers and jewels, being rejected by a guy because she didn’t have the right shade of white to be a suitable wife to a coal black loser. The smell of humiliation and defeat. Of fervency and despair. I went down on my knees that day to ensure he burned in hell.

Of course, there are other giddy memories. The cold smell of ice cream of a first date, the minty fragrance of foot lotion for a particularly relaxing foot massage, the smell of olive oil heavy in the air when I broke the large bottle, knowing I was going to be smacked the minute my folks got home, the salty smell of the sea air mixed with that of paani puri.

Of course for me, the most memorable smell will be that of mild Hovet and the slightly sour smell of pool chlorine. The olive eyes of a beautiful stranger, the heady intoxication of twilight, the dimples and a smile that stayed in the eyes long after it left the face, the timbered scent of excitement and anticipation, of something new and uncertain, of being a teenager in crush for the first time.

Life. What would it be without the sense of smell?