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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Musings of a Desi Dog

I am that dog round the corner of your house you may have seen for years, hanging around the garbage dump, licking scraps from your left-overs, cleaning up some of the mess you have made in your surroundings. Yes, I am it (not he or she, for you don't care about those details). I know that some of you might actually notice me for the first time, although I may not, even now, be worthy of being considered an entity. I know you have never considered the fact that while you switch on your air-conditioners and can't stand a moment without your instant power back-up, I am panting around the street just looking for some water to drink. What I get is mostly water contaminated with the filth you throw around, or the sewage you have failed to treat, and I often fall ill despite my robust immune system created by years of eating from your very own neighbourhood garbage dump. Yes, I'm that creature that you kick every time you are walking on the street and have nothing better to do, or hurl a stone at just because you saw one lying around. There are many like me. Some of us live near garbage dumps, the lucky ones near restaurants, and the really unlucky ones on the highways. You may have seen a shattered skull or some pulled out intestines on your way to work, or maybe not because you were too busy formulating that report you had to send to your boss before 10 AM. There was a friend of mine who lay there on the street, with two broken legs, run over by a car driven by someone who hadn't woken up on time and hence was rushing to work. He lay there whimpering and trying to crawl to safety, lying there on the highway for almost twenty minutes. Some of you swerved, some of you braked and changed lanes before you drove on, until someone had had enough of the traffic jam being caused by this broken-legged nuisance lying on the road and ran over his head, putting an end to his misery. Maybe I should be thankful that he did that; it may have been better that way.

You love your speed, but we love our lives too. I'm sure your drunken driving can be kept under control if you really care. I saw one of you, who had run over my sister and my mother together when I was very young, as he was zooming by in his BMW on MG road, and he pulled up a little further down the road and got out. I was naive then and thought that he would call for some help, as my mother lay thrashing about on the road - she could have been saved if help had been called, but he got out, walked around to the other car,and said to his friend, "Oye Baench*d Bumper Thuk Gayi Yaar! Insurance bhi nahin milega". He then glanced towards us angrily, hurled a few more expletives about how we had become a menace everywhere, climbed back into his car and drove on, as I ran about helplessly, witnessing death for the first time - merely 3 months old. Some of us die and remain bloated on the sidewalk for days or weeks, eaten by the vultures and crows, till some day a minister or a VIP is to ride down that road and hence the rotten carcass is lifted from the road and thrown into the nearest garbage dump. Some of us are left on the road, run over again and again till our bones become the road and our fur becomes the carpet. There are still some dog-made carpets on most highways you will ply on. You just need to look closely; not all those bumps are made of tar. The next time you're stuck in a traffic jam, look and maybe you'll find one of us, identifiable by some faded fur sticking out of some mud in the middle of the road. You say there are too many of us, but then there are too many of you as well. Do you deal with our issue just like you deal with yours? We have babies too; yes, we have many of them and we can't help it; they're not in our control. We don't know how to use birth control pills, we don't know how to control our urge to procreate. Yes, we have babies who need to be fed. While the mother goes out hunting for food, sometimes you chase her away, sometimes you beat her with sticks, sometimes you scare her onto the road, where she is run-over by a car or a truck. The babies cannot feed themselves. Their eyes and ears don't open until they are two weeks old. They die without their mothers, or they die without food. They did not choose this life; it was thrust upon them. Does this mean anything to you, you who cry looking at 'cute' pictures of puppies on your laptop, and press 'like' on almost every picture that might get you some attention from some pretty girls or just to feel a sense of self-esteem?

Some of you are nice to us; you give us food and water, and most importantly, you give us your love. We like that the most of all; to be loved, to be petted, to be cuddled. Some of you even take us with you and give us a home - god bless you guys, but there are so few of you. The rest consider us too dirty, but they don't bathe us, or even give us an environment to keep ourselves clean. They think that all of us have rabies by default. Sometimes, that's a good thing, because at least that fear keeps them away. Some of you come and spay us. When you spay the males, you're actually chopping their balls off, and thus taking their manhood away. When you spay the female, you take away her uterus, but at least leave her ovaries behind, so that she can mate again! And then you chop off a part of our ear just so you don't catch hold of us and spay us all over again! A lot of us are taken to animal shelters too. Yes, a whole bunch of us live there, mostly in conditions so despicable that we'd rather be on the street where we were born. At least we're free to run around and to fend for ourselves, and not locked up in cages where we barely have enough space to turn twice before we lie down, something we love doing all the time. Some of us are locked together with others, where we fight for space and territory, wound and sometimes even kill each other, till we're tired and fall asleep in the pool of our own shit and blood. Sounds sexy, doesn't it? Yes, this is the life we live. What can you do about it? Well, for a start, think about it. Turn your attention away from whatsapps and the facebooks and the twitters and your androids and your iphones and your blackberries and your PPTs and your excel sheets, and give us a second glance; think about what the solution is. We don't want your food, though a bone every now and then would be awesome! We would love to have your time, but I know that is too much to ask. All we need is some respect, something we feel we deserve as fellow denizens of this planet. We know we don't have your IQ and your nuclear bombs and shit, but maybe that's because we never wanted them. We take one look at your lives and we are sometimes glad that we live a dog's life and not a human's!

The next time you see one of us, we'd like it if you don't kick us around. If you see some of us living in deplorable conditions because of the mess you've made, try and do something about that if you can. The next time your son or your daughter or your aunt or your uncle or anyone asks for a dog, instead of calling up that cocky breeder from Chattarpur for the super-expensive Dalmatian or Retriever or Terrier, try and pick one of us. We are just about as intelligent and will probably be more loyal to you. We may not be as 'cute' and 'cuddly' but we are sturdier. We live longer and we don't fall ill, because our genes and our immune systems have not been artificially messed around with. We don't have breathing problems like Boxers, back problems like Dachshunds and Alsatians, and don't suffer from obesity like Golden Retrievers. We don't shed as much hair as Pomeranians or Spaniels and can survive on roti and milk or even dal-chawal; yes, we don't need to be fed Pedigree or the likes of them! We know that you're going to take a huge hit in your social circle because Mr. Sharma is going to look down upon you and say that your desi is no comparison to his Rottweiler, and Mr. Singh from Punjabi Bagh is going to smugly point towards his chained up Bull Mastiff and talk to you about the benefits of having a big dog like that, chained up and without exercise, depressed and without company, and Mrs. Chopra, Chihuahua in hand, is going to taunt your wife that you guys don't have a Pug or a Spitz, but if you can for once in this lifetime look past the superficiality of your oh-so-lovely social circle and look at the real benefits of having a pair of loving eyes looking up to you, waiting eagerly for you to come back home, the wagging tail welcoming you with a happiness neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bhatia can fake when they see you, when you hear us bark at night and gladly put our own lives at risk to protect yours, when you truly witness that true love that only a desi dog can give, you might change your opinion about us and tell Mr. Iyer from Defence Colony and Mrs. Bose from C.R. Park, that if you yourself are a desi, then why can't your dog be one too?


Time propels itself forward,
Word after word,
From cause to effect,
Stimulus to response,
A flickering freedom wheezes away
With every gasp of breath
That unveils the sentence.
Confusion guffaws
At a crucified will that merely dents
The overall frame of things -
A restless soul,
Copulating with a restless mind,
Spewing out thoughts
From a different universe,
Seeking order in a pragmatic chaos,
Choosing words carefully,
From those that remain
Licking leftovers
From the previous word's supper.

A brightness blinds the Eye,
Demeans it, tortures it,
Just like absolute silence does,
Deafening the senses,
Whipping it with a sense of solitude -
Unmeasured, unmeasurable,
Stuck & carved in it's own demise;
Motion sculpted in concrete.
Till the muse lends a hand and
Chemical waves erupt, engulf,
Like a squeezed out peel of lemon,
Washed ashore, gasping for breath,
Escape isn't an option
But in the surreal;
Words are the only way out
Till the final release,
Into the next stage
Of this eternal video game.

There is a greater light,
One that frees mind & soul.
The end of the search -
A surge that swells and dips,
The thirst that can't be quenched,
Borne not of excess,
but by a constant seeking,
Through a funnel that empties as it fills,
Invading the bones,
The very grains - the whole;
In search of that which completes, confirms
This claustrophobic world, the blindness
That stifles the mind's eye,
Which cannot open but in another world.
It beckons the truth - the elixir
That key to the grand exit.

Meanwhile inside, the shapes get longer;
Shadows darkening the twilight;
A solitary soul cloaked in flesh
Awaits sunrise and unexpected horizons,
Deviant paths unforeseen -
A blind man groping his way
Through the cosmic web, the labyrinth
Woven by destiny, peppered with freewill,
Incentives for an imbecile consciousness.
What can a word choose, except it's own existence
Willed by an alien soul,
Tethered to its position?
Bound to the horizontal by gravity
The search never-ending;
A scarf flying a million miles,
And another million - till eternity,
Never reaching its goal,
A cosmic soul wandering in search of its creator
In the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth;
A speck of bloated identity
Here to play it's part;
A cog in the wheel of timelessness.

How can it cease to be,
Except by being one With the whole,
That insatiable void?
One with existence, truth and meaning;
That infinitesimal black hole
Where there is no thirst,
Meaning itself dissolving into inconsequence,
Devoid of doubt,
That eternal freedom, peace and bliss,
Motionlessness as stone;
The only thing turning
Waltzing with time
At peace with longing,
The source and purpose of meaning
That unknown quantum of solace
To which none but a few have transcended;
To that which is and will be,
Forever and forever
The I beyond the I
The One and the Only
The Uni Verse
So be it...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tales of Moni - Chapter IV

We were done with our food and decided to go up to Moni's room to complete the conversation. Just as we were about to exit the place, a group of really cute Manipuri girls walked in, and Moni's face changed shape - his eyebrows went from straight to parabolic, curving to form two little question marks above his eyes, what began as a frown progressed into a look of complaint and dismay, and a whine escaped his mouth before he said, holding on to my arm, his fingers digging into my flesh and his face buried into his own arm, "It's the story of my life man!" he groaned, and kept groaning and whining all the way back up to his room, refusing to even look at the several cute girls who passed by, till one of them actually stopped and said hi. She was an old friend of his from school, a cute Assamese girl who lived two rows away. They had a brief conversation as I went to the grocery store to buy some Hajmola, and when I returned, there was another guy with them. The girl introduced him as  her boyfriend and said that they were going out for a movie and left. Moni was even more heartbroken now; "Why can't I find a good girl like her, man? All the losers on this planet have girlfriends and the only girl I love doesn't even want to talk to me!" He hurried into his lane, opened the lock on the iron gate downstairs, and walked upstairs with heavy footsteps, still groaning and complaining and mumbling something that only he could hear. "It always happens with me man. Everyone gets the girl, except me! That's what happened in Bombay too!"

Andy stayed had studied in Welham boys. He was a good friend, was a lot of fun, was always partying away, running after women, and was a total faff. "He could lie till his pants fall off; he used to talk absolute crapshit, and he used to get all the girls, man!", Moni said, all of this in half a groan and half a whine. Andy was actually a Bengali guy whose actual name was Anand, but people called him Andy. Andy stayed in Moni's room for all three years of their graduation, and loved organising parties and was always the life of get-togethers. If anyone wanted to score some hash, or coke or anything else, he was the one to go and get it for them. He would organise everything and do a good job of it; all people had to do was give him the money.  He used to be found stoned in someone or the other's car most of the time. He was a fun person to be around, except when Moni was broke and did not have enough money to buy some beer or score some hash, Andy would just not be around anywhere; plus he got all the women. So Moni was not particularly happy talking about him. "Crapshit!", he he exclaimed, clenching his fist at an imaginary collar in front of him, a look of anger and misery coupled with a smile on his face. Andy was known to be a smooth talker and could talk a whole lot of nonsense about anything under the sun. "He could talk about the Indian Army and their deepest secrets, about the CIA like someone from Langley had actually called him and told him about them!" That night he was hanging out with Jigme's girlfriend, Naina, who like we have mentioned earlier, was a beautiful girl, much like Aphrodite. She had curly hair that ran up to her shoulders and was an Indian version of Demi Moore, and like with Medusa, one look at her was enough to make most men hard as stone. Andy was hanging out with her and Moni, having heard stories about Naina, wanted to put an end to all speculation and figure out if she really was cheating on Jigme or not.

"Let's go for a walk", she had come and whispered in Moni's ear that night, but before Moni could respond to the request, Andy volunteered to pitch in, so all three of them went for a walk. They were drunk and it was 11 PM, and most places had shut by then. Naina was wearing white that night, a sleeveless dress that hugged her as the sea-breeze blew against her, defining her well-formed contours that Moni couldn't stop looking at. She knew the attention she was getting and would smile each time she caught Moni staring at her dress with that puppy dog  look on his face, like a dog who just spotted the juiciest bone, only to see it being licked and taken away by a faster and smarter dog. Then it started raining. They got a little drenched as they stood under a tree for a while before they ran into the Oberoi and sat in the lounge area till the rain stopped. Naina was quite drenched by then, but since it was summer time, she just let it be, enjoying the effect she was having on the men, with her white dress drenched in the first shower of the monsoon. By the time the rain stopped, Andy and Naina were pretty cozy on a couch, looking at pictures of each other on their phones, while Moni sat on the couch opposite to them, and flicked through a copy of a travel magazine and a couple of other coffe table books kept over there. He didn't know whether he should hang around or if he should leave. Finally, he decided to tell the two of them that he was sleepy and wanted to go back to his hostel. Andy did not insist, but Naina did. She wanted him to hang around, but Moni was in no mood to stay; hurt as he was witnessing his close friend's girlfriend leaning over Andy's shoulder, scrolling on his touchscreen phone. 

As Moni walked back, he thought about the previous night, when he had had his first encounter with the Bombay cops. They had just left Aby's place, a guy who had messed up his life completely by getting addicted to Spasmoproxyvon and Nitrosun. "If you're on Spasmo and Nitro, your life is ruined. If you're hooked on to these, you're like the biggest loser on the planet", he said thinking about Aby. "He was so messed up that he was scared of leaving his room, man!!". They had gone to check on him - five of them. Andy, Wang, a couple of other guys from college and Moni. They tried to convince him to go see a psychiatrist, but he was adamant that he was okay, and wanted them to leave immediately. So they left him at his house and went back to their bikes. Those were the days when petrol used to be 20 rupees a litre (1998/99). Moni, Wang and Andy had come there on Dorji's Yamaha RXZ, which had a flat tyre when they got out of Aby's house. The other two friends (Riz a Maurtian guy and Alok from Bangalore) had their own bike, so they decided that they would ride back while the other three would walk back to the hostel, enjoying the evening breeze over some whiskey. They were carrying Wang's pocket music system and had a bottle of Royal Stag which they purchased from a theka nearby. they walked past the Tower of Silence near the Walkeshwar Hanging Gardens, and tresspassed intro the forested  areas there, walking around the forbidden zone for nearly two hours with a bottle of whiskey. He kept telling Andy to not make much noise, but Andy was the carefree type except when actually in trouble. He behaved like he knew all the powerful people in the city and that no one would dare to even come close to him if he didn't want them to. Thus he sat there making a racket, singing songs, talking out loud, shouting and yelling. He even broke the bottle of whiskey on some rocks near the stream they were sitting next to, their feet dipped into its cool water and enjoying the joys of a forest in the heart of Bombay! 

When they finally got out of the enclosure, they were too drunk to want to keep walking any more. Plus they were walking uphill for a while. They trudged on for a couple of kilometres when they saw two bikes parked on the roadside - a BSA Bantam Sports and another dirt bike, and both of them had their handlebars unlocked. Moni doesn't remember if it was Wang or Andy who had that idea, but they wanted to  ride the bikes downhill, which was about another three kilometres, and then leave the bikes there and carry on. Moni kept dissuading them saying that one can't just take someone else's bikes downhill and leave them there, but they called him a chicken and asked him to build some courage and and take things on when life gave him chances. They told him that's why he never got Naina, because he was always worried about what was right and what was wrong and would never take the practical way out. That was it! Mention a pretty girl's name to a drunken man and any remnants of reason, caution and common sense fly out the nearest window available. Wang and Andy got on to the BSA and asked Moni to imagine that he had Naina with him on his bike and to just take her downhill because she was tired and her feet were hurting. Moni could not let that happen of course, the chivalrous knight that he was - the eternal Kshatriya. They got onto the bikes and started pretending they were racing, with their feet still on thee ground, making vroom-vrooom noises with their vocal chords and tilting the bike left and right. They still hadn't taken the bikes downhill, when two men came by,and asked them what they were doing on the bikes. Fearless Andy got off and asked them if the bikes were theirs. They replied in the negative, but told them they weren't supposed to just sit on someone else's bike. Moni, who didn't want the imaginary Naina to feel that he was chickenshit, got off and hurled a bunch of abuses on the guys and asked them to disappear before they made him angry. He also caught hold of one guy's collar and was about to push him when he produced his identity card - Jadhav Waghmare - Constable,   Malabar Hills; and then the imaginary Naina flew away, and so did Andy's confidence. All three of them started apologising to them, but the cops asked them to come with the police station. "Police pe haat uthata hai? Bike Chori Karta Hai? Bhadve Saale!" Turning to Moni, he said, "Tu hai inka Ring Leader?". All the three of them could do was apologise and call him Mama throughout the journey to the police station. Moni had another friend whose local guardians stayed right opposite the police station at Malabar Hills, and he started thinking of how he could get in touch with him in case things went really out of hand. "He was calling me a ring leader, man! What Crapshit!"

Malabar Hills was one of the areas where Mumbai's elite stayed, and Moni was confident that the policemen stationed over there would at least know how to deal with educated folk. He was hopeful that he wouldn't find someone who was an encounter specialist or a totally uneducated rascal just out there to vent his frustration on criminals.He hoped he would run into a kind and loving soul. When they walked into the police station, the officer in charge there "looked like Kumbhakaran, with curly and oily hair; a saand of a character, like a character from Durga Pooja!!", in Moni's words, as he lay there on his bed in his 1 BHK flat in Humayunpur, wrapped in a towl, wearing a VIP baniyaan, trying to decide if he wanted to have a bath first or complete the story first. He decided to go on with the story. They frisked all of them, confiscated their phones, and asked them to produce their wallets. The other guys' wallets were clear, but Moni's wallet produced certain questionable substances, and the following scene took place, which can only best be described as a one-act play. Moni, throughout this conversation had a look on his face akin to that of a dog that has just been caught tearing apart his master's favourite shoe, and is being questioned about it - droopy eyes, wrinkled forehead, plaintive tone, etc.

Officer in Charge (OiC): (Pulling out a pouch with some powder inside) Yeh kya hai?
Moni: Yeh Kumkum powder hai
OIC: Kumkum powder? Kahan se aaya?
Moni: Woh Tirupati gaya tha darshan ke liye, wahan se leke aaya, Meenaxi Temple se
OIC: Tu Brahmin Hai?
Moni: Nahin, Kshatriya
OIC: To Tirupati kyon gaya tha?
Moni: Darshan ke liye gaya tha

The OIC gave him a bemused look, still stern and angry though, and pulled out the next item.

OIC: Yeh kya hai? (Pulling out a dried stem of marijuana that Moni had kept with him just for a rainy day, when they couldn't find any hash or weed to smoke.
Moni: YEh Shivji ka prasad hai
OIC: Bahut prasad khaat hai tu haan? tirupati jaata hai, Shivji ke paas bhi jaata hai! Hawalaat mein jaega kya?
Moni: Nahin sir, sahi mein prasad hai

The OIC continues diggin into Moni's wallet, and this time pulls out a condom

OIC: Yeh Nirodh kay ke waaste?
Moni: mmmmmm
OIC: Randi ke paas jaata hai?
Moni: Nahin randi ke paas nahin jaata hun
OIC: Phir yeh kay ke liye hai? 
Moni: Woh mere gaon mein meri mageytar rehti hai
OIC: Toh? Yeh kay ke liye rakhta hai tu?
Moni: Woh men kabhi gaon jaata hun to usse milta hun
OIC: Kay ke waaste milta hai re Nirodh leke?
Moni: Nahin sir, waisi baat nahin hai
OIC: Bhadwa saale! Chutya banaata hai? Bol, Randi ke paas jaat ahia ki nai?
Moni: Nahin sir, Randi ke paas nahin jaat hun
OIC (Slaps him on the head): Bol. 'Jaata Hun!'
Moni (his hands on his cheek, speaking in a really low volume now): Haan sir, jaata hun
OIC: Gullfreynd hai teri?
Moni: Nahin hai, sir
OIC: (Another slap on his head) Bol, 'Hai!'
Moni: Hai sir
OIC: Jinz pehenti hai teri gullfreynd?
Moni: Haan sir, Jeans pehenti hai
OIC: Tu park mein jaake taple dabaata hai uske?
Moni: Nahin sir, nahin dabaat hun, (As the OIC raised his hand again) Haan sir, dabaata hun.
OIC: Syaana hai re tu! Kahaan ka rehne waala hai tu?
Moni: Sir Assam ka
OIC: Baap kya karta hai tera?
Moni: Tamil Nadu mein chai ke bageeche mein kaam karta hai
OIC: Tu abhi toh bola mereko to Assam ka hai? Tu Taamil Nadu ka hai?
Moni: Nahin sir, mere pitaji wahan kaam karte hain
OIC: (looking at Andy) Tera baap kya karta hai?
Andy: Mera baap bhi iske baap jaisa hi hai
OIC: Iske baap jaisa matlab?
Andy: Chai kle bagaan mein kaam karta hai
OIC: Taamil Nadu mein?
Andy: Nahin sir, Assam Mein
OIC: Tu Assam ka hai?
Andy: Nahin sir, Tamil Nadu ka
OIC: Saala, khopdi phirata hai! (then looks at Wang) Ai, tu kahaan ka hai be, Assam ki Taamil Nadu ki Nepal ki Nagaland ki kahan se hai?
Wang: Sir, mein Bhutan ka hun
OIC: Woh kahaan pe hai?
Wang: Nepal ke baaju mein
OIC: Baap kya karta hai tera?
Wang: Woh aapke jaisa hai?
OIC: Mere jaisa? Kya matlab?
Wang: Sir, woh police officer hai
OIC: (In a harsh and sarcastic tone) Kahaan pe? Taamil Nadu mein?
Wang: Nahin sir, Bhutan mein

Then the OIC went to the barrack room inside, a room that looked straight out of the 18th century, with canes and batons kept in a rack along one wall, a wooden chair with straps on it, reminding Moni of torture scenes from several movies, a bench, a light bulb dangling over a solitary table, and a drunk constable lying on the bench with just a shawl for a mattress. The OIC and woke up a constable who was sleeping there. The constable was drunk and reeking of alcohol, and came outside, extremely pissed about the fact that he had been woken up. He came out, folded his shawl and threw it on a vacant chair, scratched his hairy chest through his unbuttoned shirt first, then his armpits, and then ran his hands down his pants, scratched his balls, sniffed his fingers and then pulled out a pen from his pocket. They made them write a confession stating that they were walking around drinking alcohol in public and that they were a ring of thieves and that Moni was their ring leader. they slapped them on their heads a couple of times, as they laughed and joked amongst themselves. They made them re-write their confessions six or seven times, a they did not like the way it was worded. Wang was also behaving like it was all a joke, laughing and talking to them even when they were slapping him around, but  the situation got a little tenser when Moni refused to write a confession stating that he was the ring leader. "Saale day time student, night time ring leader! Encounter kar dun kya tera yahin pech?" They made him confess a whole bunch of crimes orally as they laughed about, slapping him on the head every now and then to ensure that he didn't forget that this was still an interrogation, and this went on till Wang distracted one of them, who saw him standing and staring at the photographs of wanted criminals in a board near the entrance of the police station. The OIC walked up to him:

OIC: Kya dekh raha hai be?
Wang: Yeh photo dekh raha hun
OIC: Inmein se dekha hai kya kisi ko tu?
Wang: Haan, isko dekha hai shaayad (pointing at a guy who it turned out had an amount of 1 lakh rupees on his head)
OIC: (getting a wee bit excited) Kahaan pe dekha tu isko?
Wang: Chowpatty mein dekha
OIC: Chowpatty mein? Kya kar raha tha yeh chowpatty mein?
Wang: Pani Puri khaa raha tha
OIC: (Turning around when he thought he heard a stifled laugh emanate from Moni, and then back to Wang) Kaise pehchaana tu isko (Now looking closely at the guy's picture, considering the possibility of Wang actually having seen him)
Wang: Iska Moonch hai na, usse pehchaana
OIC: (Looking carefully at all the pictures on the board, slapping Wang on the head) Abbe, Moonch toh saare photo mein hain sabke!
Wang: Haan, woh toh meine dekha hi nahin, shaayad galti ho gayi

That was it! Kumbhakaran's hand came down with all its force on little Wang's cheek, and it brought tears to Wang's eyes, and when the first tear drop flowed out of his eyes, almost magically, as the last falling leaf of Autumn beckons the song of the cuckoo, the teardrop brought a loud guffaw out of the officer's mouth. The cops spent the next 3-4 hours lecturing them about morals and cultures, joking and finally let them go at 6 in the morning. All this flashed by in front of Moni's eyes as he walked back towards his hostel by himself, while Andy and Naina were headed towards Marine Drive. "It can't be. Naina is not that kind of girl, man. I can see love in her eyes!", he exclaimed to himself as he decided that he had had enough. He did not want to be in love with a girl without finding out who she actually was. Were all those rumours about her true? He decided that he must find out right then, as he turned around and walked back in the direction Andy and Naina had taken, as a cocktail of fear and hope enveloped him, running through his veins and making his heart race and his blood boil (To be continued...)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tales of Moni - Chapter III

Bombay, the fourth most populous city of the world, is the city of dreams, a city that can make a millionaire out of a pauper, and yet a city with an underbelly that can swallow you whole without even belching after ingesting you, as the locals put it, "Khaake dhakaar bhi nai leti!" The city that never sleeps, a sobriquet earned on account of its fast paced life and the ever-bustling crowd, no matter which hour you happen to chance upon it, has been a fatal attraction for many and also been the elixir that made several non-entities a part of day-to-day folklore. Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan & Sachin Tendulkar are only a few examples in this star-studded city that smells of fish at any point of time in the day or the year.. Yes, that is the first overwhelming experience people get when they visit this city - the smell of Bombil - or the Bombay Duck  - a fish that is dried and salted before it is consumed, and hence fills the entire city with a pervasive stench, along with the other varieties of sea-food, and especially if you are anywhere near Crawford market, it is so strong that you can get high on it. Be it through Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, Dawood Ibrahim and the underworld, or Govinda, Mithun and the other film-stars of Bollywood, Mumbai, as it is now called, after the Koli goddess Mumbadevi, has always been a constant source of enchantment for people all across India. A city that is made up of 7 islands and is the commercial and the entertainment capital of the country, Mumbai could well be the most sought-after place in this country for all, from the eager, bursting adolescent raring to take on the world to the drooping middle-aged man whipped by the rigours of time, an eternal lure for many ambitious millions.

"Call it Bombay! It will always be Bombay for me!" said Moni, full of passion and emotion, like someone who has been greatly wronged in love. He landed there for the first time in 1996, the year it was re-christened as Mumbai, by the Shiv Sena. There were anti-British sentiments involved in the re-christening, a pan Maratha sentiment, in that Bombay needed to be eliminated, as it reeked of a smell worse than that of fish - that of colonial residue, although it originated from the era of Portuguese colonisation  (meaning the good bay in Portuguese). "Call it Bombay, or you're not getting my story!". Hence, we will call her Bombay from here on. He first heard about her when he was really young, playing in the tea gardens of Dibrugarh, he would meet older children who had gone to study in public schools. The tea-garden employees and their children were hardly in contact with the locals; and they had an entire social set-up of their own. There was not many really good public school in Assam (Mount Carmel being the best), so most of the kids from the tea-estates went to Public Schools like St. Edmund's Shillong, St. Paul's Darjeeling, Lawrence School Sanawar, BCS Shimla, Doon School or Mayo college Ajmer, where they stressed the importance of social etiquette, forms of ball-room dancing, and dressing  appropriately by wearing jackets complete with a cummerbund around their waist. The girls were taught several skills as well, like tatting with buttons, cross-stitching, embroidery, etc. Thus it seemed like it was a complete colonial set-up oozing with colonial residue! Once they completed their schooling, the would go on to good colleges in Delhi, Kolkata, Pune or Bombay, and it was when they came back for their vacations that a young Moni would meet them and interact with the culture they had assimilated while in their respective cities. "I always found the Bombay crowd to be the coolest", said Moni, reminiscing about the first time he had heard tracks by Queen and some of his favourite bands, Radio Gaga and Walk Like an Egyptian in particular. They would throw pool parties at their houses, and a 12 year old Moni would go and hear these songs and be really impressed, aiming to go to Bombay to study some day. Whether it was the song, 'Ai Dil Mushkil Jeena Yahan' or all the Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar movies aired all across India on DD - 1, the only TV channel in operation then, Moni was always fascinated by the idea of being able to one day visit Bombay, so when he actually got a chance, he just took his back-pack, booked a train ticket, and went! It was for his graduation, for which he did not even have a confirmed seat in a college when he reached there. After running around for a week, he realised that it was too difficult to be able to get admission in Sydenham, or any other college without knowing someone powerful or influential, since he was already late in applying. So, he sat there on a bench in Marine Drive, looking at the sea trying to climb on to the land, its tentacle like waves just not influential enough to climb on to the land and take possession. He decided to walk up to a minister's office and take an appointment.

He got in touch with the then health minister's office and went in and waited there for 5 hours. He sat on a bench in the corridor outside the main office, as the khaki clad peon with a khaki cap on his head and a white handkerchief sticking out of his pocket walked in and out of the office. He was offered some tea, which he accepted, and then got into a conversation with the peon. After almost 2 hours of talking, the peon told him that he would get him an appointment with the minister, which he did a couple of hours later.. He entered the room, which had a red carpet with patterns of grass embroidered on it, and a table in the far end, where a bespectacled guy in his late forties was sitting, reading some files and drinking a cup of tea. It was around 4 o clock in the evening when Moni entered the room, asked if he could walk up to the desk, pulled one of the wooden chairs with the nylon crisscrossed pattern netting for a seat, and explained his situation. The minister looked at him, his spectacles at the end of his nose and still pointing towards the file he was reading. He took them off, wiped his lips with the back of his palm and listened, increasingly amused at the fact that a total stranger had come all the way from Assam and come to him to seek help with admissions. He wanted him to get him a seat in any college in Mumbai, just like that! No contacts, no references, no relationship - just walked into the office with a file full of documents and a heart full of expectations. The minister took his papers and said he would look into the matter when he had the time. Within two weeks, he got a call from Sydenham, asking him to submit his documents and pay the fees. Thus begun his tryst with that wonderful city, with a small yet the first of his many adventures in the city.

His Thukpa had arrived in the meantime, extra soupy as he had ordered it. It was May and the Delhi heat was getting unbearable, with people dying in the heat wave, with even some air-conditioners giving up in despair. Thankfully, the one at Rosang was quite effective, although customers kept walking in and out, letting the heat in, swirling in and entering us through our nostrils, the first organ to sense the invasion. When the door opened again, Moni looked towards it to check if a cute girl had walked in, and was disappointed that it was only a guy with a laptop bag on his shoulder, who was there to order some momos His focus went back to the Thukpa as he continued his story. He had been in Bombay for a year or so when he met some juniors from Bhutan, a tiny country to the north of India well known for its picturesque landscape, peace-loving culture, and their king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, famous for his coining of the term ‘rgyal-yongs dga’a-skyid dpal-‘dzoms’, which translates to Gross National Happiness, a term he used to evaluate the quality of lives of his subjects, as opposed to the GDP, which was his way of showing his his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Moni used to hang out a lot with the Bhutanese crowd, and was quite comfortable in the city by now, and used to show the guys around and take them to his favourite hang outs around Colaba. He used to even stay as an illegal guest in the International Students Hostel, as he used to pass himself off as a Tibetan or a Bhutanese student. Once they were sitting at Gokul - Asia's largest selling bar at that time, opposite Bade Miya. There were three of them there - Jigme, Dorji and Wangchuk - along with Moni. Once they had had a few beers there, they picked up 5 bottles of beer and started wallking toward the Gateway of India. The sat by the sea near the gateway and started rolling a joint and drinking the beer, when some cops arrived at the scene. Moni was done with his beer by then and rolled his bottle towards the sea, but Jigme and Dorji still had their bottles in their hands. The cops started asking them where they were from and what they were doing there. "Charas peeta hai?" they asked them, noticing the joint that Wangchuk was holding in his hand. "The sad part was that none of us had any money in our wallets except me, and even I had only 50 rupees", said Moni, chomping away at his Thukpa. This essentially meant that they couldn't pay their way out of this mess.

Wangchuk was a cute looking guy with an innocent face. but known to do crazy things like smashing an aerosol can and asking his friend to light a fire as soon as he smashed it. He nearly burnt his eyes as the flame erupted and went straight for his face. He put his hand across his eyes just in time and ended up with a burnt forearm and a thin horizontal burn mark on his forehead that didn't go for many months after that. His girlfriend was a petite Sikkimese girl whose local guardian was Danny Denzongpa. She was Hera, the faithful, always by Wangchuk's side, waiting for him, tolerating all his nonsense; she loved Wang, as he was called by his friends, very much. Dorji was a stout guy, about five feet eight inches, almost as tall as Moni was, but was built like an ox. He could bench weights of 100 kilos, worked out regularly and played football. Although all the Bhutanese guys played football, Dorji had played for his school and for the university. He was never with the same woman for more than three months and loved rising bikes and cars. He had a CBZ that he would rip down Marine drive in the evenings, along with some of his racer friends on their bikes. Jigme was the quiet one. He never spoke much, except when he was required to, and would sit and read philosophy books, and had read everything from Plato to Derrida to Wittgenstein. He had an extremely well-endowed girlfriend from Chandigarh who was quite his opposite. She was Aphrodite, about five feet five and with a body to die for, and she was a complete flirt. She dated Jigme, but rumour had it that she had been around with almost everyone in that group, except Moni. Moni, of course knew about this, but since Jigme was not very appreciative of any conversation that portrayed her as a flirtatious character, he never brought up the topic when he was with him. He did find her attractive, and all his friends would often tease him as the only guy who hasn't been with her, but Moni had his principles, or at least he had a few of them. "I am a man of few principles, but when I have one, I have one!" he'd say, even as he watched the other guys take turns taking Jigme's girlfriend out, while Jigme stayed seemingly oblivious of this, immersed in his books. Moni even suspected that he knew, especially when Jigme sometimes spoke about Kierkegaard's ideology about women, that it is only in a negative relationship with a woman that a man can truly arrive at the realm of essence and ideality; of how if you got a woman, then you became the general of an army, but if you didn't get the woman you loved, or especially if she cheated on you, you became not just a mere general, but a hero, much like Achiilles or Alexander!

There were two cops, one fat and chubby with a pot belly that made it impossible for him to look at his own toes without bending forward, and another malnourished looking guy with a lathi in his hand. It seemed like one ate all the food while the other just sat and watched, by the looks of it. They looked a lot like the ghati version of Laurel and Hardy, and Moni would have laughed out loud if the situation had been any less serious. They put all of them in the patrol van, which Laurel was driving and drove them all around Bombay that night. they even picked up a petty thief on the way, slapped him on the head a couple times, because he had been pick-pocketing a lot of late, and then let him off at another gully nearby. "He must have been a local informant or something", said Moni, checking to see if a cute girl walked in this time. It wasn't this time either. It was just one of the cooks coming in for his shift. "Nepal ke ho?" Hardy asked them, taking them around the red light areas, inside the network of small roads and by-lanes, as the prostitutes stared into the van, looking at who these oriental guys in the van were, throwing kisses at them and biting their lips, trying to entice them. One of them even pulled her blouse down a little bit for a better view. Wangchuk's father was the police chief of Bhutan and he knew how to deal with cops. He had also studied in Calimpong during his school years, and could therefore speak good Hindi too. They asked him if he had ever been to one of these brothels, and he said he hadn't. "Randi ke paas nai jaata hai toh phir kya karta hai? Gullfreynd hai kya?" Hardy asked. They somehow managed to answer all the questions without being able to piss the Hardy off. They drove around all night, patrolling the city, and then dropped them off at daybreak. They still had one bottle of beer in their hands, and the cops wanted them to throw it away. Moni asked them to keep it if they liked, or to let them take it with them, as he did not want to waste it. "Paisa bhi nahin hai. Jugaad karke khareeda. Phenkne mat boliye. Aap hi pee leejiye chahiye to" he said. "Padhai karne aata hai aur jugaad karke daru khareedta hai binechot! Pee isko abhi! Gatak daal saara ka saara abheech!" Hardy made Moni gulp down the entire bottle in one go, and whacked him on the butt with a lathi while he did it, before they let them go. This was Moni's second encounter with the Bombay Police. (To be continued…)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Musings of a Rape Survivor

I recently read a scathing article by a girl who signed off as an 18 year old feminist, the main gist of which was that when women get raped, we shouldn't even begin to to talk about how they should dress, what they should do, how they should be able to protect themselves, etc. While I do not completely agree that women should not take precautions considering what a savage city Delhi has become, there is certainly a point in what the girl is saying. If I were to focus and channel my energy somewhere, then it must not be so much on how the victim can prevent the rape, but how I can stop the culprit from not committing the crime. This made me question the whole concept of rape. What is rape? Is it merely the forceful insertion of the penis into the vagina, or is it more than that? Is molestation, groping, passing lewd comments, etc. also rape? If we merely consider the physical act of it, rape is not such a bad deal. Two bodies have sex - one mind enjoys it, the other resists, struggles, but then when it is done, in most cases, both bodies leave the scene, and in a few days, traces of the event's occurrence are barely visible. So, if it's a physical thing, then it really isn't such a big deal! Then what is rape? I checked the Cambridge website and it defines rape as "to force someone to have sex when he or she is unwilling" Then it also says, "Rape also means to damage or destroy something by using it in an unsuitable way" - E.g. Developers are raping the countryside. For me, rape is 'when one unit of consciousness, or many of these at times, impose themselves on another (or others) without the latter's approval'. Yes, we can rape the environment too, some units of which aren't necessarily conscious, may not have a sense of identity, or may not even be alive, but here I'd like to focus on the rape of one human being by another, and it isn't, for me, only about sex. So let's look at Delhi - the rape capital of India. Does this sobriquet surprise me? Not one bit. Then I thought to myself, WHY DOESN'T THIS SURPRISE ME? Isn't there something really wrong in the fact that a city where I've lived for the last 12-odd years is the rape capital of the country and I AM NOT SURPRISED? This got me thinking about why I was not surprised. What was it about the city that made me accept this as a fact without even raising an eyebrow? It was then that it dawned on me.

A few years ago, I was going from North Campus to Gurgaon in a regular non-airconditioned bus when a man climbed on to the bus and asked if the bus went to Rajouri. The bus driver and the conductor, who was right in front at that time, replied, "Abbe chal utar! Nahin jaegi, saale Bihari!" The guy got agitated and said, "Gaali kyon de raha ho bhai?" in a Bihari accented Hindi. The bus driver replied, saying "Abbe gaali kahaan de raha hun, Bihari hi to bol raha hun!" I laughed at that point of time, because it was funny. A few years later, when I first met the lady (a Bihari) who worked in my house as the domestic help  for nearly 5 years, she told me that her son got really upset and would start hitting the other kids if they called him a Bihari, and so I had to sit him down and explain how he should be proud of his identity, of where he came from, and who he was, etc.  Anyway, as I read the 18-year old's scathing article on men, and thought about these two incidents, it somehow seemed to connect. She had written about a 5-year old who got repeatedly raped by her neighbour. She's right, the little girl could not have provoked the rape, or even 'asked for it', so the solution is defintely not there. It lies somewhere else. 

They say that it is not about sex, it's about power - the feminists do; and I think I agree. It is about power, about an inflated ego,  the lack of genuine empathy. In a city where every step makes you feel vulnerable unless you're one of them, lurking around, looking for someone to make fun of, someone to tease, and if you get challenged, go out of your way to whatever extent possible to squash that source of opposition that challenged your authority to do absolutely anything you want! Yes, the mind and one's identity get raped almost every time one steps out. It's not just the women getting raped. That is of course the absolute nadir that this primitive mindset can drag people down to, but I get raped mentally and spiritually several times every day. I was travelling on a really crowded DTC bus for my first job interview in Gurgaon, wearing a tweed coat I had bought from Daryanganj for 100 rupees, shampooed, conditioned hair, scrubbed, clean-shaven face when a group of teenagers next to me weren't letting me stand properly. When I requested them to make some space, they started hurling expletives at me, and when I tried to make some space for myself, one of them pulled my poney-tail! I think I know what it feels like to be raped, because I can imagine and extrapolate -  a skill necessary for being able to empathise. A few years back still, during my first few years in Delhi, on a DTC bus yet again, a man vacated a 'ladies only' seat and another man jumped onto it, while a 60 year old lady, along with her teenage daughter, stood there, trying to make her way to the vacant seat. No one complained, no one seemed to care. I thought for a few seconds and then went up to the guy and asked him why he was sitting in a ladies only seat, and that he should vacate it for the lady standing right next to him. His reply was "Saale teri maa lagti hai ke? Gaad doonga tanne yahin pe! Chup karle nahin toh pit jaego yahin pe!" I looked around for some support from the 50 odd other men there, some sitting, some standing, but got no response - a look of amusement and curiosity from a few at best. Some even asked me to move on and avoid starting a fight; and I thought to myself that maybe I was expecting too much, that maybe this was the norm, that this is how it worked here!

I was scared, just like a woman is when she encounters the possibility of getting raped. The thought of being beaten up, abused, their identity being violated. It is all about identity, isn't it? A stone doesn't get hurt even if you break it to pieces or turn it to dust, at least not apparently to the human senses, and this is because it does not have a sense of identity. A tree may get hurt, but doesn't scream because it does not have a voice. I'm not sure if a tree has a sense of identity.When we slaughter animals, slap a weaker person or kick the stray dog on the street, we are violating their sense of identity. Identity is, in a way the source of all problems. If we did not have a sense of identity, we would not have a problem even if someone came and stabbed us with a knife! However, until everyone in this world attains Nirvana (which from the current state of mental and spiritual evolution of the average human being must take at least a few zillion aeons to acheive), this is a problem that will always exist. So, eliminating the sense of identity is not really an option. The solution, though, is related to the sense of identity. In fact, it is an important part of my definition of rape. Rape is when we violate anyone's sense of identity, or we invade it without their approval.

If we want rape to stop, maybe we should change these little things in the way people treat us. If we want a woman to stand up and fight when she gets molested or raped, think about what we can do when when a person completely unknown to us passes a comment on something that doesn't concern him at all, on the fact that you have tattoos and piercings, or that you have long hair, or that your eyes are slanted, or that you have dark skin, or that you are walking with a girl on the street. Yes, we are constantly getting raped each time this happens. I was walking my dogs in my neighbourhood last week when a random guy walking on the road went, "Abbe yeh kaise desi kutte paal rakhe hain?" I just got raped right there! When I go to a grocery shop and ask for something the guy does not have, and he just gestures me away without even looking at me, I get raped right there. When I see a rickshaw puller being slapped by a local for asking for too much money, or by a cop for parking in a no-parking zone, I witness rape right there! When I went to a police station once to save a drunk friend from being beaten up by the cops, trying to reason with him and with the cops, and one of the cops turned around and slapped me,I was raped right there! When a north-eastern guy is called 'Bahadur' or a south Indian guy is called 'Madrasi' or when a Bihari guy is called 'Bihari' (yes, of course he is a Bihari, but it's not the word; it's the tone!), we are raped right there! What we can do about this is not something I'd like to venture into, as the purpose of writing this is more to kindle the idea of us being raped everyday without even knowing it, and not to dictate a solution, as I don't really have one. Maybe we can talk about it, write about it or act upon it, but the next time someone invades our right to exist peacefully by attacking our identity, I hope we see the face of a rapist right there in front of us and act accordingly...

Sunday, April 14, 2013


[A poem about finding one's true meaning & purpose in life]

Propelled by an unknown force - it's own,
A scarf flies in the windless sky;
With a need to find a horizon,
A desire to be at unease;
To beat the solitude of silence
(That lack of motion
That can suffocate and swallow,
Corrode and Erode,
Defeat and destroy);
Overcoming the fear,
Wearing down time,
Minute by minute,
Till the fortress is felled;
Sheer perseverance and will
Digging away,
Wondering what brings tomorrow,
Where this goes,
Till every last bit is chiselled
And broken to dust,
Shredding the layers bit by bit,
Penetrating the unknown,
Rummaging through the endless abyss
Of timelessness
Till it finds that one thing
That defines it, and conquers all meaning;
That true eternal purpose
Of an otherwise undignified existence.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Love Me Some More

You twirl your chips and look away.
Barely good for a chase,
I wonder what you hold in your hand
Behind your poker face.
I try to spot a grimace, a blush
But all I get is a stare;
You play like you have a Royal Flush
When all I've got is a pair.

Wait! Hold On!
You gotta love me some more!
Wait! Hold On!
You gotta love me some more!

I don't know how I can beat the odds
When you think I'm a joke;
You treat me like a deuce, a duck,
Sipping whiskey & coke.
You take a drag as you see the flop
And puff right into my face
And when I think I've called your bluff
Pull out your King and Ace.

Wait! Hold On!
You gotta love me some more!
Wait! Hold On!
You gotta love me some more!

You never stop to contemplate
You just deal and you burn,
Play your game like it's worth the wait
Till the river or the turn.
I try to check but I'm all-in n broke
Coz you keep raising the stakes,
We started out as you n me
Now it's just me n my mistakes...

Wait! Hold On!
You gotta love me some more!
Wait! Hold On!
You gotta love me some more!

Tales of Moni - Chapter II

I met him the following week near his house in Humayunpur, a suburban village near Safdarjung Enclave. He was sitting at Rosang, a small restaurant run by a Paite couple, where they served all kinds of North-east Indian, Tibetan and Chinese cuisine, with framed pictures of their culture hung on their walls, along with some cultural artefacts like shawls, traditional hunting spears and knives, pipes, etc. One of the Zomi tribes of Burmese origin, Paites are one of the 33 officially recognised scheduled tribes of Manipur. The restaurant did pretty well in that area, since there were a lot of students from North-East India who stayed in the locality, and had an appetite for some good food from back home. We sat on a corner table and he ordered his favourite pork chop while I ordered an egg chowmein as we sat there and exchanged details of what transpired after we were separated at the police station. "I just wanted to quieten him down, so that I could take him out of there" he said, wrinkles appearing on his forehead. It turns out that he was in the middle, trying to negotiate with him, when Ranbir struck a cop again and all the policemen converged in on them. He got slapped and kicked in the middle, but he kept quiet and ran to the nearest wall and spread his arms above his head and stood there facing the wall, much like a seductive Urmila Matondkar from Rangeela or Madhuri Dixit in Tezaab, except there was only self-defense on the agenda instead of seduction. Once they pinned Ranbir down and put him behind bars and they took us into separate rooms behind the head constable's desk, he knew they were in no mood to listen. "Every police station has an old, much-respected constable. If you can get him onto your side, the rest of them will not lay a finger on you", he said, the wrinkles on his forehead growing deeper. In that room behind the desk, an old constable, about the age of his father, with greying hair and a scar that ran across his ear, had walked up to him and asked him where he was from. "Aap toh acche aadmi dikhte ho. Yeh kaise dost banaa rakhe hain aapne?" he asked. "Charas pee rakhi hai kya isne? Yeh lambe baal waala firangi charas bechta hai isko?"

He sat there speaking to the old constable, calling him Veerji, and offered him a pack of Shikhar. When the constablke had reached his hand out for it, Moni saw that he had only half of the little finger on his left hand left on him. "He definitely must have been involved in a few scuffles with petty criminals", he thought to himself, While  Ranbir was busy abusing everyone who passed by the lock-up he was in, and even abused a lady constable who was sitting there, I was sulking in the room because a constable had slapped me for trying to be reasonable, and Moni was making up all kinds of stories right there, ranging from how his grandfather was a childhood friend of the Hooda family, and how he was invited to the chief minister's sons wedding, but couldn't go for it, to how the Haryana Police was one of the best police units in India, comparing them to the corrupt UP Police and to the even more corrupt police force back home. By the end of it, he won the old constable over, as was apparent when the gypsy arrived to take us for the medical check-up, for we were ushered in, Moni walked out behind us, but the old constable yelled at him and sent him back into the room. As the Gypsy drove away, Moni considered the possibility of being manhandled severely, now that he was all by himself. The lady constable, whom Ranbir had called all sorts of names, walked up to him, red in the face, with so much anger that there were tears in her eyes, "Yeh dost the aapke?" He knew right then that he had to choose his words carefully. In a tone akin to that used by a class four student being confronted by the principal over a broken window pane in a classroom, he said "Nahin, yeh toh mere office mein kaam karte hain. Who lambe baal wala mera dost hai. Is jaanvar ko toh main jaanta bhi nahin hun." The lady was ready to strike him on the face, but hearing what he said, she calmed down and walked off. He sat there for nearly three hours after that. He once tried taking his cell phone from the table, but when the head constable ordered him to put it back, he quietly complied and sat in the room for a while.

After a while, the sub-inspector of the station arrived. A couple of local politicians happened to be there to witness the fag end of Ranbir's defiance, and they narrated the incident to the sub-inspector. The sub-inspector walked up to Moni and said with a smile on his face, "Mere thane me aake, mere police waale ko thappad maarke gaya hai woh. Main hota toh uske g**nd mein goli maar deta". The lady police joined in, saying that if she filed a report about the things he had said to her, he would be jailed for at least seven years. (They would have actually done that if Ranbir's wife hadn't come later in the evening with their 9 year-old son and pleaded with them for mercy). Moni's only POA all this while was to nod and agree with everything anyone in there said. Soon, they seemed to forget that he was present there, getting involved in a couple of other cases that were being reported. An hour or so after this, Moni picked up his phone again, and the constable didn't stop him this time. He went out and called three of his friends and told them to come to the police station with their lawyer if he didn't call them within an hour and a half. The inspector joined him outside and offered him a smoke, saying, "Yeh to aapki zubaan ne aapko bachaa liya aaj". He then spoke to the sub-inspector about several issues, ranging from the degeneration of the modern youth, to the POTA in Assam, and how dangerous the situation there was, and how many of the people he knew were languishing in prison for years without even a fair enquiry. Fifteen minutes later, the sub inspector asked him to take his belongings and leave. With this, Moni nodded his head in compliance, collected his empty wallet and his bag, and left the police station. On his way out, he stopped by at the tea stall at the gate and ordered a cup of tea and a double-egg bread-omelette. When he was done, he asked the chai wala to put it on the police station's tab, and waved at the sub inspector. The sub inspector waved back at him, and that was it. He had just walked out of a potential night in jail and turned it into a free breakfast buffet!

The jail was an hour's drive away from sector 56, where all this action took place. As we approached the driveway. it looked like we were heading into one of the top universities in the country, till we reached the huge iron gate guarded by cops with guns, the check-point as soon as you enter the gate, where they could make you strip naked and even probe your orifices if they wished to, or if the cops who got you there gave in a 'special word' about you. Thankfully, Ranbir had quietened down once he realised that he was inside the jail (I don't know if it was owing to his growing sobriety or if his better sense prevailed, but I was glad either way), and even when the constable he had been messing with throughout the day delivered a couple of well-aimed kicks on his backside, he took it in good spirit, and so the cops inside did not frisk us more than was necessary. Once this was done, they made us sweep the floor till they deemed it clean. There were some others who were doing this as well, and we found out later that some of them had been at it for more than two hours. We even got kicked on our buttocks a couple of times while doing this. Post this, we waited in a long corridor for them to make a record of us, watching many criminals being brought in and taken out - some bleeding, some limping, some with a look of complete resignation. I waited nervously for close to two hours before we were summoned and the formalities were completed. It was twilight and getting dark very quickly when we were eventually escorted for the medical examination, where our blood pressure levels, height and weight were measured and form that took note of our medical history, ailments, allergies, etc. was to be filled up, and the resident doctor okayed us to proceed. We were then moved to our respective wards, where Ranbir and I met the warden, a life-sentenced prisoner himself, with his salt-and-pepper hair, clad in a brown khadi kurta and a pair of jodhpuris. He was in there for having shot his brother-in-law over a property dispute. We discovered that he had already spent ten years in there, and had been appointed as the warden in return for his good behaviour. He was even allowed to leave the jail every now and then, when he went to meet his family over the weekend, and return to resume his duties on Monday. He had been appealing for a pardon in the Supreme Court for the last few years, and when he heard that I knew a certain magistrate in the Supreme Court in person (something Ranbir started announcing to everybody as soon as we entered the campus), he was extremely nice to us. The night was relatively uneventful, except for the greasy dal, the unbreakable rotis that had to be softened with saliva for them to be eaten, and the scary gossip doing the rounds in the room, amidst all of which we slept off, as a strange sense of loneliness crept in under the blankets, caressing, licking and wrapping itself around me, much like a flame or smoke, bringing about a perspective that a lifetime of education may not be able to bring. Those last few hours of consciousness drifted into stony silence, through a varied field of contemplation in that near-dark, moonlit room, as I closed my eyes and wondered what fate would fetch for us the following morning.

We were woken up at 6 o clock with a whistle and the sound of a gong. I don't remember if there was a place to bathe; maybe it was quite far away. Either way, I didn't bother to explore that option. Once we washed our faces and had been to the toilet, breakfast with similar levels of grease as the dinner from the previous night was served. However, before we could pick up the greasy plates from the night before and make a crazy attempt to wipe them clean, the warden whisked us into his room, where he had laid out three plates and asked us to sup with him. His food was much better in taste and hygeine and felt like haute cuisine in coparison. He instructed us to remain in the room post that, and we soon found out why. One by one, various groups of workers would come in and take the prisoners with them - some to break rocks, some to pluck weed, some to sweep the campus, etc. The strongest and fittest looking ones went first, followed by the feeble ones. It somehow reminded me of the camel fair in Pushkar. From the safety of the wardens room, we these parties go their respective ways, after which the warden took us with him to show us around the campus. This is when we realised that the ward we were kept in was for the petty criminals who had to spend less than two days in prison, or where the graver sinners were kept only for the first two days. Post this, across the huge play field where the prisoners came out to play all kinds of sports in the evening, they were taken to the main prison cell, which is where most of the disturbing action took place. We were, as we realised, just at the base camp, so to say, with a wonderful view of the Everest, and that was about as far as we wanted to go. He told us how he spent ten years of his life in there for just a spur-of-the-moment reaction, where he pulled out a gun and shot his brother-in-law three times. He said that a lot had changed in those ten years, and that he was not even the same person who pulled the trigger anymore. "Zindagi mein har cheez badi soch samajh ke karna. Ek galti zindagi chheen sakti hai, aur kabhi dubaara mauka bhi nahin deti", he said, with the voice and demeanor of a person humbled by time, by age, by an environment that could squeeze the childhood out of anyone. I imagined how it would feel to have to spend ten whole years in there, and I was almost glad that I had come in there, for it made me a whole lot more thankful to have all the blessings in life that we so take for granted and often abuse. Ten years without friends or family, where all you have for company is goons and hooligans, trapped within the four walls of this fortress, a prisoner of the state. I shook myself out of this reverie, shook the tears that had welled up in my eyes and thanked my stars that I was getting out of there soon. Yes, soon it was, for by evening that day, Ranbir's wife had found us, and so had my friends, and having hired a lawyer together, they bailed us out of that mess.

Maybe it was pure luck that had saved Moni out that day, but maybe there was something he had learned from experience, something he had done just right. "You were being an ass that day!" he said looking his bowl of pork, and then suddenly turned towards the waiter and asked him to get some fermented bamboo shoot from the kitchen. "You should have just shut up and agreed with whatever they said, but you went on about policemen and their responsibilities towards citizens and how they should not have slapped you because you hadn't done anything. There is basically just one rule with all policemen, particularly when you are in a police station - 'The police are always right!'. I had to learn it the hard way during my college days in Bombay." He seemed to go into a trance for a couple of minutes after that, as if he were reliving some of those experiences in his head, eyes wide open and gazing into the distance of a decade. He then picked up his bowl, emptied its remnants down his throat, and ordered a bowl of Thukpa to follow it up. "Olop paatla ku ri bi" he said to the little Naga waiter in Nagamese, a creole based on Assamese that is widely used in Nagaland, a state inhabited by several tribes that speak mutually unintelligible dialects. He looked at me and realised that I was eagerly awaiting his story, so he took out his handkerchief, wiped his moustache and his lips clean, and took me back in time - to his college years and his several encounters with the Mumbai Police. (to be continued...)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tales of Moni - Chapter I

A night spent in jail can teach you a lot, put in perspective a lot of things you take for granted, and can make you be a lot more thankful for the smallest of blessings life has to offer in abundance each passing day. It can make a monk out of you just as easily as it can make a warrior out of you - the greasy plates that stay greasy no matter how much you scrub them without any soap or Scotch Brite, the mess of thalis from which you have to pick up your greasy piece of stainless steel without knowing who has used it before you, or what his medical history or even his current medical condition is, the dal that looks like it was cooked in grease, the rotis with an elasticity that test your deltoids, the bedbug-ridden blankets laid on next to another, slept on by numerous unwashed people before you, the hard, matressless floor beneath these dusty blankets, the thought of sleeping in a room where the average inhabitant has been to jail more times that you visited the college library, the dreadful stories you hear in the 'gossip' going around the room or the guy who's been there most often telling you ways to stab a person without getting more than 6 months of imprisonment, with his favourite takiyakalam being "g**nd kabhi mari hai? subah dholo phir hari bhari hai!" - yes, it can definitely at least begin to make a warrior out of you.

This brings us to the story of our hero, a warrior by birth - an Ahom Kshatriya. Kshatriyas are the warrior clan according to the Hindu Social Order prescribed by the Vedas and the Laws of Manu. These were the fighters of the community and were in charge of protecting the people of a society during war, or guarding the city during peace. They were thus supposed to be extremely brave people with a penchant for adventure. Our hero could easily fit into this description, although we will strip him of his warrior outfit and adorn him with a pair of jeans and a Tshirt, and a pair of floaters. His noble steed would be replaced by a Royal Enfield and the warrior-like physique could be replaced by a pot-belly and a roly-poly appearance, and when he laughed, his whole body would tremor - not like the ground did when a herd of elephants rampaged around the tea gardens of Assam, but more like jelly. We will discover more about our Ahom hero as our story progresses. Ahoms are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people who descended into the Brahmaputra Valley in AD 1228. The kingdom established by the Ahoms gave the Indian state of Assam its name. Our hero was thus one of them, born there and brought up in tea gardens across Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and travelled widely across North-East India, with a knowledge of the region unparalleled amongst the people I've met. He had a passion for History and Geography, but like most confused Indian youth, he went on to major in something he had no affinity towards. We shall enquire into this a little later, but first, as all heroes must, ours too must have a name, so we shall give him one.

He was called Moni Barooah. "Moni means Pearl, and Barooah means a leader of 3000 men!", he would guffaw after a few bottles of beer, half choking and half squealing with a peculiar laugh that I haven't witnessed on any other person thus far. I first met Moni at my workplace, where he had applied to be a voice and accent trainer. This was when I used to work for IBM Daksh, a global BPO corporation. We used to train graduates with or without experience on neutralising their regional accent to be able to communicate with people across the world, and on basic customer service etiquette. There was a team of trainers that did this, and whenever a new trainer joined, they had to undergo a train the trainer (TTT) programme to learn the nuances of the job. So in walked Moni in one such batch (which I was conducting), an hour or so after the batch had begun, with a moustache and a balding head and a goofy smile, the warrior's muscles molten into pork-like fat owing to years of inaction and several tonnes of beer that had percolated into his bones. As he walked in and introduced himself, at first he appeared to be an extremely shy character with not much to say. We could hardly hear the words that were coming out of his mouth in his low pitched, muffled voice, but even then I knew from the spark in his eyes that he had lived many stories to tell. It took him a few days to open up, but once he did, there was no stopping him. He was all over the place, making people laugh till they cried, performing crazy antics in the activity sessions during the batch, and being grossly underprepared for each of his teachback sessions. He said he had nightmares about a personified Grammar coming over to him and examining him at gunpoint while he was asleep, asking him all sorts of questions.

"Aapne kabhi jail nahin dekha? Chalo ek baar zaroor dekhna. Wahan ki social life bhi badi alag hi hoti hai" were the words of a police constable ringing in my ear as we drove into the jail campus just outside Gurgaon. I had thrashed around all day like a Sitol caught in a net, trying to escape this episode, but eventually succumbed to the fate much like a panic-stricken deer that has been pierced in the foot by the hunter's arrow, or a victim of sodomy who has just realised the futility of resistance, closing their eyes to painfully await the end of the trauma. There I was standing in front of the Bhondsi Jail, about to spend the next 24 hours in there. I can't begin to talk about all the chemical imbalances my body was going through right then, and I'd rather not.

Several months had passed since the batch had graduated, and each of them had progressed to their respective processes, providing VASS (Voice, Accent and Soft Skills) support to the tele-agents on the floor, and I had moved on to training several more batches. Nearly a year later, we were out drinking on a Friday night - a few trainers and I, outside 444, one of our office buildings. After a few drinks, I called up Moni and he said that he would be free only at 3 AM. It had been a long time since we had met, and I was happy to be able to meet him that night. Little did I know of the adventures that would follow! We went and picked him up along with some more beer and came back to an isolated street near 444 and continued drinking. I was carrying my guitar that night for some reason, and hence we started singing, till 5 or 6 in the morning, stopping only to order paranthas from the redi next to the office. We were five of us - Akhil, Ranbir, Moni and I were trainers, and we were joined by a north eastern guy called Patrick from 444 as well. While Akhil left early, the rest of us continued for a while and then decided to leave. However, just as we were about to leave, I realised that I couldn't find my bike keys, and after some searching and some more contemplation, figured out that they must be in Akhil's car. We tried calling him, but he wouldn't answer. So Ranbir offered to take us to Akhil's house in his Maruti Alto with a Sylvester Stallone quote on his rear windscreen. All of us hopped in and after 20 minutes of what seemed like a roller-coaster ride, the four of us reached what Ranbir claimed was Akhil's apartment. Only, it turned out it wasn't.

An account of what followed must be preceeded by a brief description of Ranbir Chawla. Ranbir was a married man with a wife and a kid, very unhappy in his marrriage, had had an affair or two at work and been busted by his wife as well. He was a rugged guy with a stubbled face and a powerful voice which could sound like Amitabh Bachchan when he spoke in Hindi, or Sylvester Stallone when he spoke in English. His diction was very filmy, very angry-young-man-like, and when he was drunk, he could become quite a force to reckon with, as we found out that day. What started as an altercation with the guard of that locality escalated into an argument with a policeman the guard managed to summon, followed by four policeman, till finally a patrol van arrived and took Ranbir to the Sector 56 police station nearby. The other three of us did not know what to do, but we were sure that with his "Tum saalon ki aukaad hi kya hai, do kaudi ke vardi waale!" and "This is the khakhi shit that flows down the veins of our country!" and many other dialogues in both Hindi and English, he wasn't going to be treated too kindly at the police station. So we followed Ranbir into the station to try and reason with the police. Let me take a moment out here to tell everyone who's reading this. Please do not ever attempt this. Reasoning with cops, especially when you're drunk and your friend is behaving like the crassest ass-hole in town, and particularly if you have long hair, is not a good idea, as we soon found out.

I had to spend a night in the Bhondsi jail with Ranbir before some friends and his family came to bail us out. What happened with us is an entirely different story altogether, but the important point here is that only two of us went to jail that day - Ranbir, for being a total jerk, and I, as I later found out, for having long hair and a poney tail. The cops actually thought that Ranbir was on drugs and that I was the supplier who dealt those drugs to him. So much for perception management. Coming back to the story though, Patrick was probably the smartest of us, for he took one peek into the police station, and this roly poly Mizo guy from our office, who was grossly overweight at that time, ran with my laptop bag and my guitar on his back all the way to 444, which was at least 11 kms away from there. How he managed to do that is still something that cracks us up when we remember this episode. Moni, however, was inside the police station with me, and while I was being a stubborn principled prick about how the policemen should behave, and being slapped around for questioning their behaviour, Moni quietly sat down and waited for the situation to calm down. He offered some Khaini to one of the cops, and started speaking about the hometown, and how the Haryana Police was much better than the UP police or even the police back home. "Aap toh mere pita samaan hain sir. Aap maarenge toh bhi mein khushi se khaa lunga" is one of the lines I remember. It turned out that he sweet-talked his way out of the police station, and the cops even bought him breakfast and a cup of tea! All this while Ranbir and I spent the next four hours discovering the procedure to be sent to jail. That was also the day I was educated about the difference between a lock-up and a jail. Well, we got out the next day, after having experienced a night in  jail, which I'd actually wanted to for quite a while, though not for something as stupid as having long hair!

We met a lot of interesting characters in there - mostly petty criminals who were regulars, a couple of prisoners serving life sentences who were given the responsibility of prison wardens, an African guy who was arrested for buying and selling someone else's debit card, etc. We threw around the names of a couple of magistrates in the Supreme court that we knew of, and so we got special treatment in there. The life-sentenced warden was nice to us and didn't let us sleep with the regular criminals, but had a couple of mattresses laid out for us in his room. The funniest bit was that there was an India-Pakistan match on that day, which we watched in the tele in his room, while our cricket-crazy friends were looking for us, trying to trace us, hearing stories of Ranbir's dramatics at the police station, the medical check up centre (where Ranbir refused to have his blood checked till four cops pinned him down and injected a tranquiliser on his butt), and the district court (where Ranbir yelled out at the top of his voice that the judge was a 'sore loser'). One of my friends even got into trouble at work for not showing up, because he was busy searching for me. These friends had heard of the episode through Patrick, who had been smart enough to inform a few people that I had been arrested. Moni, however, was nowhere to be found for a few days, and it is only a week later that I met him to hear about what had transpired at the police station in our absence, and how he had managed to find his way out, and that too with a complimentary breakfast. (to be continued...)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How I met my maid

Since I blogged about my current neighbours who happen to be hookers of a kind, and in that post I also mentioned the year when I stayed in a place where my neighbours were truck drivers, carpenters and guards, I thought I'd elaborate a bit on that little phase of my life. I had two dogs then - Stuart and Lisa. Yeah, Lisa was still alive; I had taken her from college and she was with me for about two years, before her uterus started developing problems and I had to get her operated, which wasn't too successful, and she eventually succumbed to it. I found her lying next to the road, a little distance from the house, as if she had come a distance looking for me before her body gave way. I sometimes feel that I let her down in more ways than one. Lisa was buried outside the courtyard of that house anda flower sapling was planted on her grave, and this reminds me that I should go and check on it sometime soon. Lisa was the sweetheart of college. She used to attend classes with my roommate Karan and me, but well, more about Lisa later.

This place was a hostel for labourers of sorts. It had about 54 rooms, and each room had a tiny attached bathroom and a sad excuse for a kitchen, and there were 54 of them one next to the other, in two floors. Each room was 2500 rupees. Most of the rooms were occupied by carpenters, truck drivers, plumbers, guards, etc. and there were usually between 5-10 people sharing one room, with several mattresses on the floor. Since I needed some open space for the dogs, and a lot of landlords weren't okay keeping dogs, I decided to try this setup for a while. I was somewhat of a superstar over there, as I had taken up two rooms there all by myself, had a motorbike, and could speak in English as well! The landlord's name was Babbal, a true Jaat. This house was bordering DLF phase 3, one of the last houses in the bordering Nathupur village. There was a Bangladeshi basti nearby, where Babbal and his brothers would go each day with a bottle or two of whiskey to hunt for some young bangla women. They were usually successful, as some drunk Bangla would readily exchange a bottle of whiskey for a night with his daughter, and when they didn't, the brothers used force, coz they had the whole village behind them. It is said that once some policemen made the mistake of coming to question them because of a report written by someone, and they got thrashed and pelted with stones till they had to run. No policeman was seen in the vicinity post that.

There was also a guard who use to take care of the entire complex, and his name was Kaushal. Kaushal used to work for Babbal, and if he didn't do his work well, used to get locked in a vacant room and thrashed with either a belt or a hawaii chappal, whichever was more easily accessible at that moment. Kaushal used to open the gate when I came back home at night, fill water in the underwater tank, and do odd jobs for me when I asked him to. He also took care of my dogs when I was not there. I made a lot of friends while I lived there. One was called Kundan, an electrician from Bihar who used to work as a contractor with DLF, fixing electrical wires in DLF buildings. There was another called Bablu, who along with Kaushal had a fancy for two single ladies who had rented one of the rooms by themelves. One of them was a Manipuri girl who was having an affair with a married Jaat from the village, and the other was a single mother called Meera, whose husband had left her with a son and run away with another woman. Bablu used to work with Maruti at that time. I was still in touch with him many years from then. Another crazy character I met over there was Bipin, a taxi driver from Haryana who used to work crazy hours and go with barely any sleep for days together. He was working for his sister's wedding, and had to save up as much as he could by driving as many hours as he could.

Being friends with him had its benefits, as he used to pick me up from the railway station each time I got back from my visit home (although he had to accept a fare for it), and then we would have fun talking about all sorts of stuff sitting in his car. It was from him that I heard the word 'Gashti' for the first time, and all I could think of at that time was that it had a strange resonance with the word 'Geisha', and they both kinda had a similar meaning. We would talk about his village, my hometown, our dreams, philosophies of life, etc. His philosophy was very simple. He was out there to have fun, and was always looking to get a pretty girl to his room while his roommates were out on duty. Once he even got a girl in there, and Kaushal and I made life hell for him by repeatedly banging at the door while he was at it inside. He obviously wasn't very happy about it and didn't speak to us for a few days. We also used to tease Meera's son, Siddhant, who was a cocky lad of 4, and had been spending a lot of time in the Bangla basti and had picked up abuses in three langauges - Hindi, Haryanvi and Bangla. He would not listen to his mother at all, and if she tried to hit him, he would just abuse the hell out of her. So we used to wait for times when we found him alone, and then either lock him in the car or douse him with water from the hose, till he would cry and apologise for being such a spoilt brat.

Babbal and his brothers, Bipin, Bablu, Kaushal and I would also play cricket on the weekend evenings with a tennis ball, and later Babbal would tell us about how Gurgaon was 20 years ago, and how, with the arrival of the corporates, the land rates shot up overnight, and all the farmers became millionares. He was one such beneficiary, uneducated and rich, had 5 or 6 cars in his courtyard, and owned several other plots of land besides the arrangement we stayed in. He would tell us about how powerful his family was and how no one could dare to lay a finger on him. He would also get really drunk on some days and when he couldn't (or didn't want to) find a Bangla girl, would sometimes try to get into the room where the two single ladies stayed. They would therefore lock themselves in every evening before he got too drunk, and then just refuse to open the door no matter how much he insisted. Somehow, when a lot of the tenants would come out to witness the commotion, he would decide to let go and head off to the basti instead. Kaushal and Bablu, like I said had a thing for Meera, the single mom, and somehow, Kaushal had his way with her before Bablu did. Kaushal one day told me that Meera had quit the factory where she knit sweaters, and asked me asked me if I needed omeone to cook and clean for me, and when I replied in the affirmative, he brought her over to cook for me. She made some delicious potato fry and some fresh poori which I hogged, and she was thus employed. Since she had a thing going on with Kaushal, and Kaushal used to call me bhaiyya, she, by extension, became Bhabhiji, as she is still known to my friends and family.

I lived in that setup for about a year, post which I had had too much of Gurgaon and its frequent 18 hour power cuts, murky hard water, polluted air, congested traffic and lack of a cultural life. So I moved to Vasant Kunj with my former crazy roommate - Samir Krishnamurti - stories of whom must eventually follow as well. After a year or so of staying there, Kaushal called me up and said that Bhabhiji had quit another job in a factory and couldn't pay the rent where she lived. Moreover, Babbal was getting more and more menacing since she hadn't paid the rent for the previous month. So he asked me if I could keep her as a domestic help where I lived. I consulted my roommates, who were glad about having domestic help, and so she arrived, and worked for me for the next 5 years. I had a tough time schooling Siddhant and ridding him of all his bad habits. It took a while for me to make him learn to read and write enough for him to be able to go to school. He joined school a couple of years later, much older than his classmates, and struggled intially, but with time and a lot of additional tutoring, he moved on to class 3, at which point Bhabhiji got an offer from one of her friends to join a call centre (before you gasp in disbelief, let me tell you that she joined them as a lady guard). They were paying her more than I could, and she felt it was a better choice for her.

This is the story of my maid, Bhabhiji, who I met during an interesting phase of my life, and the reason I kept her for so long was because she was really good to the dogs, and loved them like her own children. I could leave the house and go for months together on my foreign trips with IBM, and not really worry about how the dogs were. I spoke to her a few days ago and she said that she has enrolled Siddhant in another school, but was afraid that she might not be able to afford his education. I have left the option of returning open for her and her son. The rest of course is yet to transpire...