Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Everybody loved her because everybody could be somebody when they talked to her. She would laugh at their jokes, respond with the ‘ahans” and the “ohs” that made their story not just heard but felt. She would agree with your opinions mostly but sometimes also pause and look askance, as if reflecting on what you just said, weighing your words – and you would wait in anticipation for “out” or “not out”. When it would be an “out” it would be so tentatively, softly, still leaving some room for negotiation, making you feel that you were talking to a real person and not an interactive, smart program on the other side of the line. Sometimes, after you had reaffirmed your intellectual superiority, legitimized your actions in front of her and consequently in front of yourself, you would go from feeling like a superstar to feeling like a complete idiot who just stripped naked in front of someone to realize that she was still fully clothed. You feel violated. Like a dream where who you thought was your lover was a ghoul disguised as your lover. How do you know that in your dreams? It’s the coldness in the eye, the deathliness in the touch. But her eyes are still warm, and her touch still affectionate. You want to shake her up and ask her who she is. She is the boundary between familiar and unfamiliar, between the self and the other, between friend and enemy. It makes you uncomfortable, if only this minute. Boundaries can be anything. It excites you, if only this minute. Is she the much poeticised “enigmatic woman” that keeps drawing thirsty discoverers to her, men and women alike? Conscious now of yourself and of her, you restrain your talking about yourself and strain your ears for the slightest sound she would make about herself. But it is too late. She has seen your pitiable nakedness and knows the consequences of stripping. She will hold her shawl around herself tightly. But she being who she is, she doesn’t want to break your heart. So she will take her socks off, hesitatingly but in earnest, holding the promise of tomorrow. And tomorrow again, as today, you will fall prey to your vanity, your insecurities. Tomorrow again you will itch to reaffirm your intellectual superiority, to legitimize your actions in front of her, and consequently in front of yourself, and go from being a superstar to feeling naked.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Mad man!
What is your truth?
How can you see yellow
when we all see red?
when it is red?
Mad Mad Mad!
In a finite world
there is room
for only one truth-
the truth of numbers

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to be an 'Entrepreneur' in Ten Easy Steps

If I could tell you that I wouldn't be jobless and writing this!
Life wasn’t too complicated when the word 'Entrepreneur' didn’t exist in our vocabularies. Back in the nineties we used to call them business wallahs. Our salaried, government employed parents would utter the term business wallahs with the same disdain as they would riksha wallahs or pan wallahs. The prototypical business wallah would be a pot-bellied glutton making pig-like noises as he would count his pilfered money beneath his desk. At least that was the image we would conjure up. So no surprises The Family convulsed, repulsed as if I was Sleeping Beauty turned werewolf and my shoes were turning into wolf-knuckles and my body into the pot-bellied pig-like glutton, when the first time I decided to ‘do-business’. This notwithstanding that this was 2007 and by then the IT companies had changed the middle class Indian vocabulary from business wallah to Entrepreneur. Mom, it’s not muck-eating pig we are talking about but a handsome, black stallion galloping inexorably forward in the grasslands, mane flowing with the wind a la Bryan Adams’ Spirit of Stallion. It’s beautiful! It’s..err.. uber cool! It’s Entrepreneur, Ma! Say it with a French accent!
So what does it take to be this Entrepreneur? The zillions of How-To books and gazillions of How-He-Did-It newspaper articles will tell you that it takes a brilliant idea, tons of midnight oil to burn, and belief in the ‘power’ of your idea. They warn you that there are going to be some gnats who’ll tell you your business isn’t worth half a cow’s manure but don’t let the gnats stray you off your course, young stallion! They will fry their feet and put them in their mouths when they see how wrong they were about you! Your chest swells with pride and self-worth at reading these things. Revenge of the underdog! And so I was already imagining imaginary critics writhing in remorse while imaginary photographers were clicking a picture of me sitting with great poise on a Chippendale sofa with an 18th century painting in the background in my Indo-western-merging-cultures outfit flanked by some of my other handpicked brethren in business suits, all posing for the article “Giant Shoulders of Young India: How Ten Indian Entrepreneurs are Changing the Face of the Economy”.
Here is what is too unglamorous and unsexy to be published in any media that takes itself seriously. There will be the day when you quit your blood sucking job. If you were not too much of a prick (which I was) to your now ex-boss, there will be a farewell party with all your colleagues asking you half-jokingly for a job and secretly thinking you to be Don Quixote making a fool of yourself who will have to come back to them later for a job but at the same time envying you for your confidence and boldness despite being the silly ass they think you are. You on your part will act all shy and humble about their mock job seeking overtures, secretly pitying them for being dogs on leashes who will never taste blood on street (that didn’t sound very appetizing, did it?). Thus an evening of pretences shall be played out and you will go home feeling like Google in the making. There will be the morning after when you will be ebullient, ecstatic even, at your first brush with freedom. You will wake up, read the news paper after ages over a cup of tea which you will have leisurely brewed for full fifteen minutes. You will whiff it, sniff it, sip it, let it sink in that you are finally free to take your time. What shall I do! Join that dance class, take that week long holiday to the Himalayas to begin my enlightenment, re-bond with The Family, buy new jogging shoes? It is like a dream where you just realized that it is a dream and there is still fifteen milliseconds of sleep time (5 minutes of dream time if you have seen Inception) to go before the dream comes crumbling down and you can do whatever you want in these 15 milliseconds. You are like the crazy shopper in those crazy shopping games where you pick all that you can in a minute.
Soon the euphoria gives way to mild anxiety. The alarm will start ringing somewhere far off, but surely penetrating the dream. Of course you were going to start burning the midnight oil that it takes to be one of the ten entrepreneurs changing the face of the economy. It’s just that you don’t know where or how or what to begin. Did you say what to begin? But you just quit your job knowing what to begin! It seemed right then. Yes it wasn’t exactly detailed down to a T because they (popular wisdom, zindagi milegi na dobara) said it’s now or never and so just do it. So you just did it. And here you are, morning teas getting longer, colder. Newspaper readings prolonged till all that is left is classifieds. A couple of hours of Facebook which you tell yourself is business networking. You know at the back of your mind that maybe you should do this or do that. But something mind-bogglingly self destructive in you keeps you from just doing that. Mornings spill over to afternoons, afternoons to tea time again. More tea. More keeping yourself busy with things that do not really matter. Sun sets with a thud as does your heart and night spreads over like the guilt of a wasted day. That is when a reproaching part of your self will try to shake you up and get you doing some real work. So from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m you will try and salvage whatever you can. The morning after will be when the sun is already ninety degrees. The mysterious, insidious spiral of strange inertia and fear is winding its arms around you. Shadowy dreams half bright half smokey tease you- sometimes pushing you into mad, frenetic activity to fight..fight what?..your own self? Sometimes sucking you deep into miasmic zones of confusion. Before you know you will start getting strange requests from your aunt, wife, husband, mother-in-law, grandfather, neighbour’s son. Why don’t you pick up the sari from the dry cleaner’s? Why don’t you wash a few clothes while you mentally refine your B-Plan? Why don’t you represent The Family at Guddu’s wedding since..well..everyone else is busy (has a real job). Since you are ‘working from home’ anyway, it won’t hurt to have the house painted. And if you are a married woman you might as well have a few kids now that you ‘have the time’. This is as far as it gets from the strapping black stallion prancing away in the green fields. This is more like a goat bleating away in the backyard. This is like all the sexiness in the word ‘Entrepreneur’ accelerating at dangerous speed to thunder-thigh-auntiness!
Maybe there are different kinds of Entrepreneurs. Or let’s just say people who quit their jobs to start something of their own. The ones who are running towards something and the ones running away from something; the kinds who work like a clockwork and the kinds who write pointless pieces of anecdotes like this when you should be pitching to clients; the merciless swords that cut through and blaze their path and the dandiyas that play to whatever tune is playing. Before my metaphors get more obscure, I should get to the point, which is that.. well I don’t really have a great moral of the story. Just that there is some distance to be covered between quitting jobs and becoming an ‘Entrepreneur’. The inexplicable self-defeating tendencies that need everyday management, the little to-dos of the day, the waking up doing potty on time sort of seven good habits of highly disciplined children are the real unromantic challenges they won’t write about in bestsellers.  Perhaps the ‘Real Entrepreneurs’ of the first kind do not need to be aware of these ‘personal hygiene’ practices. Like Maybelline maybe they are born with it. But for those who need to make that journey from left-my-job to Spirit-of-Stallion-Entrepreneur, unfortunately it isn’t going to be a frictionless world where one Newtonian push of inspiration can keep you going. Failure may not be as glamorous as “Oh I had a great idea but no funds” or “I gave up too soon and now look at the other guy” or “There were some ideological conflicts between us”. It may be as embarrassing as “Well I just sort of didn’t do the important stuff because I was feeling a bit odd and kinda lost my way somewhere..dunno”.  Of course a lot of disorder and moodiness gets passed off as ‘Mad Genius’ – the script of an erratic, whimsical, flamboyant, ruthless, undisciplined guy around which many in the Creative Industry try to orchestrate their lives. Some people also like to call it ‘Artistic Genius’. Indeed at the risk of treading the fine line between ‘Mad Genius’ and simply mad, I am rather tempted to shift from being the uber smooth ‘Entrepreneur’ to the ‘Mad Genius’ since I’m somewhat a natural at erraticness and indiscipline anyway. I can wait for my moments of creative sparks, while I watch The Simpsons for inspiration. Only this time my imaginary claim-to-fame article will need some heading-change - “Method in Madness: Ten Creative Geniuses who Dared to Do Things Differently”! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


It was a bad start to the morning. Returning from my dance class, I realized that I did not have the keys to my place. Irritated, I decided to call my husband, mentally cooking up all sorts of arguments to hold him responsible for my forgetfulness. Yes he did remind me to carry my set of keys to the class, but couldn’t he have made sure they were there in my bag? With arguments as incontrovertible as this seething in my bosom, I dialled his number only to be told in Gujarati by a saccharine coated voice that my phone was out of balance. Why did they assume I was Gujarati? Why did they not warn me! This morning, indeed, all the flaws in the world were gaping out like blisters hanging in the air, and I was the sole victim of the grand sloppiness.

A blob of Dalai Lama popped in my head and asked me to cool down and make the best of my situation. My recent reads have that effect on me till, like a carping designer trained to find faults with everything, I find a fault in them. So I decided to go to my workplace (which happens to be a design institute), notwithstanding the bathroom chappals I was wearing and the fried pakoda I was resembling after the dance class. I scurried past all the eyes that I felt upon me, as if tsk-tsking, speaking in hushed tones “there goes an example of bad design” (talk about ego-centricness). I quickly ensconced myself to my little, dark, familiar cabin. A smart woman is not one who smarts in a hostile situation but one who uses smart technology to make smart choices (why should I not join the increasing queue of people abusing the word ‘smart’?) I decided to first recharge my phone using a friendly, neighborhood online mobile phone recharge service.

It just was one of those days. My bank, concerned about my security, decided to send me a one-time password on my mobile phone, which I was supposed to use to transact online this one time. This one time I could really do without their solicitousness. I had changed my mobile number recently and forgotten to update it on my bank account, for which, by the way, you had to physically go to the bank. Or that was the case at least until a few months back. Yet, keeping my faith in modernity and its promise of offering many choices, I tried to find another way to recharge my phone. My friendly, neighborhood online recharge service provider gave me another option of using my debit card details. How thoughtful! I punched in the details, my nerves a little frayed by now, which is perhaps why when it asked me for my ATM pin, at that moment - Plop! It slipped my mind like it was never there! My four digit ATM pin, which I was as sure of never forgetting as I was sure of never landing up in a lunatic asylum, I could not remember it! I typed in some numbers, only to be menacingly warned by my bank that if I did that one more time my account would be blocked.

The Dalai Lama blob was shrinking and militant forces against unknown faces representing all things technological and financial were rising. And the carping designer in me was at her complaining best, or worst if you prefer.

When frustrated, our species runs to the hallowed chai-gate, the St. Peter’s gate’s equivalent of our institute, where the problems of the world are identified, judgements pronounced, the guilty imaginarily hanged and the deserving allowed to participate in the tea-drinking ceremony. Not caring anymore about the disaster I was looking, I parked myself in the thick of the crowd, R.E.M playing “it’s been a bad day, please don’t take our pictures” in my head. It is funny how when you have declared your day to be bad you feel a sense of entitlement to all sensual pleasures - in my case, the gustatory pleasure of chai and a plate of cold idlis. I looked up listlessly at the ancient tree underneath which I now sat and casually wondered how bored it must be witnessing all these years tirades of frustration, malice and ennui. How predictable it all must seem to it. I could imagine it making faces, mimicking and burlesquing all the designerly talk. Certainly I was projecting my sour mood on it, but what the heck! My gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a cup of chai thrusted in my hand, by what in hindsight was nothing less than the invisible hand of God. Just like that famous experiment where the poor dog learns to salivate when the mischievous scientists ring a bell, my nerves have learned to ease out when the tannin hits my tongue. The ginger in the tea rang a bell in my head, and I remembered Vijay Bhai. Vijay Bhai was the smart solution to many everyday hiccups - from recharging phones to finding a place to live in.  Even though I did not have enough cash upon me (since continuing the series of misfortunes today, the ATM machine in the institute was not working), it took him less than half a minute to recharge my phone, and yes, I could pay him later.

Thank God that Mr. Fixit is still a guy of flesh and blood and not just ethereal computerized codes. That he knows me by my face, demeanour and action to be able to make judgments better than any artificial intelligence. In a country which has learnt to find its way around despite systemic malfunctions, there is always an inroad in the offing. It is not to paint a dystopian picture of technology or systems, for indeed facilities like online banking, when go right, make life simpler. Admittedly, in the final analysis it was technology that helped me, as Vijay Bhai used his mobile phone to recharge mine. But what works is the fact that for the various digital interfaces that we encounter, there exists a supporting structure of human interfaces, having the potential of a good partnership of complementary abilities. In other words, I like to carry my smart-phone powered by google maps, but I would like to keep the option of rolling down my car window and asking a perfect stranger where the next petrol pump is.

So much fuss over something as mundane as a phone recharge? On a normal day, the many options and safeguards designed for the purpose would have in all probability worked. But today was different from a probabilistically normal day, when anything that can go wrong did go wrong. It was a day when nearly perfect and well meaning technology met an imperfect user - a user who defers visits to bank to update her mobile number and forgets her ATM pin number just like that, just when she shouldn’t. Not to mention someone who forgets keys despite being reminded. And on a day like this, I am glad that when we borrowed the creme-brule version of technology, we did not rule out a chutnified vechnology version of it as well, for those of us who have a propensity to land up in a soup!

Friday, September 28, 2012


The sincere and the cynic
were trapped in the same boat
flung into nowhere waters
into a primordial time of no rules
The ground beneath their feet
was a curious sensation
of solid and shaky
such that they never before had felt
At least not where no land was in sight

No warmth from the bodies
of men or concrete
No passion to possess
Nothing to hate
No albatross to confess
Were they alive?
They had each other to confirm

Yet apparitions of ‘the other’ within
were beginning to usurp the throne of the ‘self’
pelting the weakened walls with stones
The peremptory waves now jolting the boat
like war drones or revolution song

“I have heard tales
of your heart that swells
with the might of what they call
the ‘human spirit’
Your will, indomitable, can it not cut
through the sea, the beyond of beyond?”

“What would I not have given
to have you ask this of me
when home was still nigh
I would have verily walked on water
But these are not waters
in the company of soil - compromised, simulacra
Nah! what you see
is elemental fury
the eternal agony
of nothingness
What do I know of nothingness?”

Through the rising mists of climax
the zap of lightning between them
looked like an umblical cord
Was it destroying one
to create the other?
Did it transfer matter?
Energy? Souls? Destinies?
Subject to the laws of thermodynamics?
Never may that be known
for the haze was coalescing
into a blurring film of water
into beads of sweat
freshly soaking the bed
still dank from what?
The sincere slept on
one storm was over

While the city was rising
to another mundane morning
making the usual noises
of beginning again
The cynic rose, drew the curtains apart
It was business as usual
an unusual night

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

pulpy orange

beyond recognition
bludgeoned till the bones are pulped
till veins flow in blood
a tsunami against form
a crusade proselytizing all faiths to pure matter
where then will be you?
where then will be i?
where then will be the time to change?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Orange Air

Twenty and two storeys high,
I stretch my arms to touch the sky
The orange panes will soon turn blue
My eyes will meet my eyes in rue
From here do we the birds of prey
Watch the mundane twilight-play

Shoulders take a break from bags
Burning the day's worries in the day's last fags
The music slowly ups its beat
In Coffee Days they discuss Tweets
Numbers start to come to life
Swipe cards turn to mistresses and wives

Rickshaws worm through gaps in-between
Trying to turn red fates to green
Temples resound in evening prayers
Pockets of hope in urban despair
Neon fantasies faintly glow
Pinching their skirts up, suggestively so

A plot played out to be hopelessly same
I am the lone audience, behind orange panes
My corporate shirt stoically resists
the creases that beg to let go of checklists
Rapunzel wants to let down her hair
Down to the streets and breathe the orange air

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Go(a)ing beyond...

“Let’s go to Goa!”, J exclaimed. I tried to match the excitement in his voice and said, “Yes!”

How many times have I heard this proposition from my friends. How many times have I faked wistfulness. And how many times have I heaved a sigh of relief when the plans have flopped. Goa to me was a cliché. An urban myth equivalent of the Fountain of Youth : All the young and the yippee at heart head straight to Goa because Goa is what Dil Chahta hai. Every story traveling from Goa had the same elements- booze, beach, babes and Bollywood. Bollywood because what you did at Goa seemed to me heavily inspired by what Bollywood projects as the cool things urban youth does when it holidays.

So it wasn’t the Goa factor that excited me. It was going on a holiday with J that did. I would not have minded Jhumari Talaiyya either.

Beginning Goa with a traditional Goan wedding was a good way to start as it was very far removed from the Goa of clichéd images. It was J’s friend’s wedding and to make things even better, the wedding was a small affair. No wedding choreographers, no staged performances, no fuss over toothpicks and tissues. The ceremony did not take forever and people could soon move on to what mattered most- food. A large steel bowl of gelusil-pink liquid lay at the entrance of the food court. Veritably, it was called Sol Curry – Curry for the soul, I interpreted. Seven glasses of the pink curry down, Goa began getting rosier. Booze is only half the story they tell you.

In the evening we rented a scooter. Six years of life in metros had made me completely forget the joy of gliding down the road, wind kissing the skin. For the first few hours we must have stopped twenty times only to feel the freedom of stopping wherever we wanted to- something we cannot do with autos and buses. Stop! There’s a pastry shop! There’s a coffee shop! What if we miss a place? We can turn around and go back! Scooter was freedom for the middle class us and Goa was beginning to be the open sky.

Going to the beaches in Goa is like the char-dham –yatra: you cannot miss any. With only three days in Goa, the long checklist for beaches would have left us with just enough time to teko our matthas at each. Or worse, click a good we-were-here facebook picture and fool ourselves into thinking that we really were there. But the good part about holidaying with J is not worrying about checklists. Carpe diem we say, seize the day as it comes! We had barely dipped our toes into the sea, when something else seized me – my fear of water-bodies. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t anticipated it. It’s just that I had made the unreasonable plan of sitting at the beach and reading a book and J could wallow as much in brine as he wished. Apparently J did not appreciate this plan and dragged me shoulder deep into the sea, despite my protests. I told him I would die! He gave me some scientific theory about saline water and wave motion making it difficult to die. I didn’t care a damn about science! Science is based on assumptions!  What if we are discounting some factor? I had never even been waist deep into the swimming pool and here was a monstrous sea, threatening to swallow me up!  He asked me to look around and take inspiration from children half my size riding the waves. I wanted to advise him never to make a career from motivational talks as they were only irritating me. But before I could open my mouth to tell him that, something twice my strength pushed me. The wave was affronted.This was it! Goodbye world! 

I was going down and under when my crash landing was saved by a hand – J’s. In Hindi movies this sequence is usually accompanied by a moment of manufactured silence followed by the romantic strumming of guitars. In my ears I could only hear the loud pounding of my heart and the high frequency sound you hear when you’re going to faint. Followed by a highly amused laughter – J’s laughter. He asked me, “maza aya?”  I wanted to tell him something very filmy like, “tumhe marna mazaak lagta hai?”. Instead I said, “haan”.  Perhaps for similar reasons why I said yes to going to Goa in the first place. Seize the moment, I told myself. Seize the fear. We spent the whole afternoon in the sea, he frolicking in the waves, I between fight and flight reactions. To say that I overcame my fear would be an overstatement. That’s the stuff that happens in movies, followed by symphonies of triumph. But I did have some kind of a confrontation with my fear- sometimes managing it, sometimes panicking. And I confess that in some little corner of my heart, my chicken sense of adventure did have a good time. Goa was about becoming who I wanted to – a braver me.

Goa is also about becoming who you cannot otherwise, about living your taboos. Young women in shorts who are probably dupatta clad back home, a little self-conscious, but very pleased with their men flaunting them. Mummies, papas, bhabhis, bhaiyyas soaked in playfulness. The sea seemed to dissolve all inhibitions and social barriers.

In the beginning I mentioned my distaste for the Goa of clichéd images – where everyone comes back with the same stories of having lived ‘the cool life’. These stories smacked of wannabeishness to me. Three days in Goa and my distaste was dissolving into something more palatable, even enjoyable. To see us all become someone we wanted to, whether Kareena on the beach or hippie on the rocks, made me realize something that changed my outlook. That we were all enjoying our little acts while we could, however unoriginal they may seem to be. As I looked around at the firangs wearing hare-rama-hare-krishna on their sleeves, at teenagers flaunting tattoos on their butts, at young married couples canoodling amidst the sea, I felt as if we all knew that little bits of freedom can be claimed only in these little acts, in a stage geographically and psychologically far removed from the home-context. The beauty of Goa , perhaps lies in being the stage that allows the other side of our selves to manifest.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


a lump of black hollowness
knotting into a noose within
burning hot ears
skin peeling
from the mocking air
i am being watched
can they see me?
bones turning into glass
can they see inside
rush.. flight
go home
shut the door
dig yourself a bed
bury yourself inside
can they still hear me?
i can hear myself
i am the actor
i am the audience
i split
i cease to be
i cease to feel
to be or to see?
sorrow dies thus
a staged death

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You and I, In This Beautiful, Imperfect World of Ours

Somethings stand the test of time. Some friendships are like that. You may think this statement to be one of the most cliched ones I've ever made. If that is so, for once, I do not give a damn.

Thank you for still reading on. The last few days have been reunion times - with some old friends, some not so old ones. As I went to meet them, there were some uncertainties in my mind. Will it still be as we left it? Will I still be able to be myself, carefree with them? Will they feel the same about me? We are still fairly the same as voices over the telephone. But would the re-embodiment of our voices evoke a different response from our nervous systems? 

There is the initial warm-up time, just like how some muscles in your body seem a little strained when you decide to exercise on the new-year's day after four years of hibernation. It almost always begins with a much abused, "so what's up", graduating to factual, non-sentimental recap of 'events thus far', sprinkled with a dash of some old-time humour to put us on the same track, gradually metamorphosing to things we really care about, things we were dying to talk about. Apparently, both my friends and I went through the same initial hesitation to slowly find Time where we left it. Like a song, it almost always comes back to the sam. Thank God!

As I am growing up, I am rediscovering or rather redefining the meaning of friendship. I used to think that the true test of friendship is how often a friend is there for you, how much is still common between you. I now realize that there is no true test of friendship. To put it to any test would be to dishonour it. The only test there is to pass is the one within my own self. Am I willing to love without trying to hold? It is a weird kind of love - both self-centered and self-abnegating at the same time. It is self-centered because I realize that after my family, it is only my friends that I can count on, that I am even fond of. In that sense, I need them. It is self-abnegating because it is the only kind of love that teaches you to love without trying to possess, without trying to label as "mine only". Because you understand that your own need for your friends is inherently self-centered, you also understand that it is equally valid for your friend's need for you to be self-centered too. And this, paradoxically, makes it much easier for you to give without keeping a count of take, to let go of grudges and larger-than-life expectations. The self-centered love leads to and coexists with the self-abnegating love. A beautiful contradiction that allows for the imperfections that are so much part of being human.

What about out of sight out of mind? As time passes by and distances separate with diligent ferocity, despite revolutions in communication technology, do friendships take a hit? If I expect to find back the same person I left behind when we were still playing Ludo, I can rest assured of disappointment. The test does not lie in the distance but within myself. Can I  accept the change in them and the change in me as a new dimension, adding to the beautiful complexity of our relationship? Or do I see the changes as markers of the end of a bygone era? As I am growing up and redefining what friendship means to me, I am beginning to think of it as two waves with a phase difference (pardon the lack of exactitude in physics) , dancing rhythmically with each other as well as separately from each other, sometimes to add up, sometimes to subtract and bring down. It is this phase difference where together and separate, love-you and love-myself, you-first and me-first coexist, which makes friendship different from anything else - not the promise of everlasting love but the happiness of being part of each other's lives; not the solemnness of sacrifice but the sincerity of doing one's best.

(I will hit the post button without reading this twice, lest I decide against it for being too sentimental and keep it forever to myself, as we so often and regrettably do)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hairy Scary

There goes a saying in Hindi, "Bhookhe bhajan na hoye gopala" , which means that when you are hungry you can hardly sing prayers. Likewise, on a bad hair day, I can hardly be philosophical. So this one is going to be about beauty, hair and all things frivolous. All things that matter.

I was always warned by my mother to not get haircuts on Saturdays. Apparently Shani dev does not take too kindly to it. And why would he? It is the one day beauty salons are so busy, that chances are that your hair will not be done justice too. If you ask me, Shani Dev is probably the most pragmatic guys we have up there, unlike the whimsical image they paint of him.

But the incorrigible rebel in me just had to get a haircut on a Saturday, precisely because they asked me not to. The modern rationalist in me reasoned, "I am going to the best hair salon in town. Three out of five women with gorgeous hair cuts recommended them. They are expensive, which is an obvious affirmation of their being the best. There is nothing about the day that stands between my hair and their scissors."

So spring in my feet and wind in my hair, I waltzed away to the salon with my housemate and friend. Believe you me, the excitement in anticipation of the dream-haircut is more palpable than the excitement of meeting a potential dream-date. There was just one problem. Those who know me will second its gravity. My hair, well, are not exactly very docile. They defy gravity and spread out in all directions, they love playing tug of war with the comb, and make a mockery of hair serums by having a mind of their own. Indeed, some have likened me to the mythical Medusa. My heart goes out to the poor woman. But, allow me to digress, I have a theory for this.

Recently, in one of my infrequent 'knowledge-enhancement' phases, I happened to watch a TED Talk about 'fractals'. My little understanding of it is that the parts are a miniature copy of the whole - a concept called self-similarity. Extending that logic to my hair, if my hair are indeed copies of my self, then it is only too obvious for them to be so delinquent. 
Coming back to the original story, as I waited for my turn in the salon, I watched women with poker straight hair enter and women with hair with a straight line equation so perfect that I suspected they were computer generated, leave. This was not a good sign. Going by my previous experience, it meant in all probability that the beauty parlour had a standard, stereotypical, media generated notion of 'good hair' = 'straight hair' and 'beauty' = 'orderliness'. 

There are some other tell-tale signs that spell doom. The most common one is when the moment the hair dresser touches your hair, she grimaces, as if it was a wild boar that she touched, and says something like, "what shampoo do you use?". If you aren't using the shampoo that they sell, till the moment you pay up at the counter you shall have heard a thousand horror stories of how your next ten generations are going to be born bald. Then there is the standard, "your hair is not washed properly". My advice to you. Straight hair or funny hair, when you hear that run for your life because you have entered a money making machine which only wants to charge you an extra 200 bucks for hair-wash! Proof? My poor housemate fell for this trap and got her hair washed by Person A. In the flurry of Saturday rush, Person A forgets that she herself had given her a wash. When Miss A comes for her blow-drying she tells her again, "your hair is not washed properly", much to the puzzlement of my friend. They say, never tell a lie for it is easily forgotten.

Despite the universe trying to paint signs for me in red, bold and font size 100, I overlooked them. My implicit faith in the goodness of womankind and their empathetic understanding of hair-matters got the better of me. I had scarcely placed my optimistic rear on the hot-seat, when my hair dresser asks me, "what shampoo do you use?". Warning bells are ringing! I battle them and say, "Head and Shoulders". That name always gets you a disapproving look, the same kind of look working mothers get when they tell their non-working friends how they leave their babies with nannies. Yes, Head and Shoulders is downmarket. But it works for my urchin, vagrant hair much better than Lo-ho-re-hal.  

I then say, in defense of H&S, "It's not the shampoo. I was born with those hair." She says with the air of the patronizing psychiatrist who knows when her patient is bluffing, "You should try our Hair Mask Therapy. It makes the hair smoother. At this rate your hair will become so brittle...", she left the rest to imagination. She then asked, "How do you want me to cut your hair?" I told her exactly what a brilliant hairdresser had done to my hair the only one time I got the perfect hair cut. (Unfortunately I lost her number. Very important moral: When you meet your dream hair dresser, you might want to take her entire family's number. Just to be sure.) She shook her head in disagreement and said, "That is going to make your hair look messy. Already they are so...er... curly." If I had any sense in me I should have darted out of that place. How many times have I heard incompetent hair-dressers blame the hair and not their scissors for their lack of both skills and imagination to turn what they have into something that is 'in character'? I mean, if someone has wild hair, it does not take a DNA scientist to ask them to get their hair straightened. But it does take some creativity to leverage their 'true nature' and turn them into something beautiful, instead of altering their biology. If you cannot, what am I paying exorbitant prices for?

I took a deep breath and repeated exactly what my ex-brilliant-hair-dresser had told me when I fell in love with her, "There is nothing like good or bad hair type. Each person is different and so is their hair. We can bring out the best in the hair by letting them retain their character." All that was missing from my motivational speech which sounded more like a pitch for an NGO was, 'together we can!'. I think the gyan hit her skull and bounced back to hit mine, because then she said, "Er.. that's right. But what you are saying is not in fashion. These days what is in fashion is to..." I had stopped listening. My fight or flight systems were seriously competing now. Fight won. In retrospect, that is usually a bad thing. In my final attempt to educate her, I emphatically said, "It is not about fashion! My hair is different! A standard formula of what is in vogue and what is not is not going to work!" I think she saw in the redness of my face the loss of one customer, so she quickly added, "Alright! Just let me try what I understand from your description, ok?" And then came one of those moments in your life when you have no idea why you said, "Yes".

She cut my hair like she were cutting grass. No pins. No attention either. I nearly choked when I saw her casually cropping my hair off while she incessantly conversed with her assistant, managing the Saturday Rush. Multitasking is the greatest myth computers have propagated. If only our minds worked like that. They don't. It's a simple lesson: You cannot cut hair looking away. It is not like driving cars that you do it automatically after experience. Specially when you have a challenging countryside track like my hair.

What happened then? My friend will probably pin her hair till they grow long enough for another cut. I will leave them open as bad publicity against the salon. In the dry state of Gujarat, the only thing she and I could drown our sorrow in was a good old cup of coffee at Shambhu's.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

To Power. To Hope.

There is something about struggle. Perhaps it gives meaning to life. Perhaps it makes me feel that I shall "earn" the fruits, and enjoy them without guilt. And even if I do not get the fruits I was waiting for, I hope that somewhere in the grand cosmic balance-sheet, my returns are due.

In struggle is hope.

However, that the struggle yields to the fruition of my desires, is not in my control. But that it leads to a change in character, is in my hands.

In struggle is power.

Come 2012! I have walked into the furnace. Now, by all means use the hammer. Mould me until perfection. Beat, till i'm strong within. Grind, till you remove all that is unworthy. And yet, like a skilled artisan, leave me malleable enough to not break when forces of change arrive.

2012. To power, to hope.