About me A bachelor living in Delhi, a city he loves and loathes, documents his experiences on this page. He is erratic, opinionated and lazy, loves his women, wine and song - what more do you need to know?
Wherever I go I have to face questions like, "Do women come out in the streets in Patna?" or "How can you allow a Rabri to rule the state?" and jokes like "Lets give Bihar to Pakistan and then give them Kashmir too" or the one where Laloo tells the Japanese that he would turn Japan into Bihar in a jiffy. Ha! Ha! Good one... except its all not funny beyond a point.
Its true that the state has fallen into an abyss and the politicians are crooks. But remember, what happened in Gujarat has NEVER happened in Bihar; Jayalalitha is no less a crook than Laloo; Mayawati is no more polished than Rabri; Sonia does not have greater credibility than any Bihari politician... and most importantly the average Bihari that you meet is neither a Laloo nor a Rabri and we hate those swine more than anyone else.
Most of us educated Biharis have to look out for opportunities and its not easy for us to give up our roots and settle in alien cities. And, now, our folks (most of them poor labourers) are killed in Assam and threatened by that Big Goon Thackarey in Mumbai. No wonder we can identify the most with vitriolic attacks on Indian expats like in Germany, Malaysia and the US.
Please take time to read this article by a Bihari journalist, M J Akbar, on the plight of the Bihari. And please treat the next Bihari you meet on his/ her merits and not on their provincial affiliation.
*Bihari: Inhabitant of Bihar, an eastern Indian state. Historically, Bihar has given a great contribution to the composite Indian culture as we know it today. Gautam Buddha, Mahavira and Chanakya were born there. The ancient glorious cities of Pataliputra and Rajagriha, world-famous university of Nalanda, the first republic in the world at Vaishali - they are all there. Over time and due to economic reasons Bihar is now one of India's least developed provinces with low literacy and high infant-mortality levels.
My darling sister, who shared this apartment with me for last 3 years and ran it almost like clockwork, got married last month and is now off to her in-laws. While she was here she used to chide me on how I'd miss her when she's gone and I used to laugh it away saying, "What is it that you do and I can't?"
Now, as I type this, I look around and feel stupid. There is an ashtray (well, actually, a bowl... the real ashtray is full to the brim and lurking somewhere in the shadows of the window sill) next to my worktable, a bottle of J&B giving it company, my clothes from last 4 days are occupying prime real estate on the bed and my books are lazing around in blissful disharmony. The maid had come in yesterday but I had to turn her away since it was too early in the morning (about ) and now I am waiting for her to return today in time for me to leave for office at 9.
I have always wanted to live alone, if only to enjoy ‘freedom’ but after I have got it for the first time, I wonder who or what this ‘freedom’ is from. Those of you who know me from my previous blog will know that I have spent most of my life in hostels – impersonal institutions where you either share a room, or a balcony or at least the toilet. When I began working, I wanted to live in a high-end area and my salary wouldn’t allow me to, so I had to share a flat. Then I moved to Delhi and my sister was studying here to it meant we would live together.
On the brighter side, (a) I can now invite all my bachelor friends for a session of drunken revelry followed by a decadent orgy; (b) I can get home that elusive aunty who I had been planning a trip to Kathmandu with; (c) I can wear my birthday suit while I do the household chores. But these possibilities look remote as (a) I’m not one for orgies; (b) I haven’t found that aunty and (c) its too cold in Delhi to even think of peeling off your clothes!
So, here I am at home alone. Guess I’ll get married now. That I’m “30 and counting” helps.
I am amazed at people who can talk for long over the phone. In turn, these people think I have no etiquette and am completely unsocial.
We Indians take a while to come to the point, and we attribute this trait of ours to our 'inherent warmth'. A typical conversation between two typical Indians goes something like:
Caller : Hi R, this is XYZ...how are you?
Receiver: I'm fine, except my dog is having loose motions and my neighbours' newspaper was not delivered today.
Caller : Oh! Give your dog a mixture of banana paste and haldi (turmeric). When my cousin's dog had loose motions last month, she didn't give him the mix and it took the poor beast ages to recover. Oh, how sad it was...looking at the jolly dog sulking in the corner with a forlorn look in his watery eyes.
Receiver: Really? Just a second... (covering her mouthpiece slightly)... Ramu-kaka, jara kuchh kele le aana aur thodi si haldi...
Caller : And don't give your neighbour your Indian Express if he comes asking for it. Remember when your paper was soiled last time by rain and he hadn't given you his paper? Bugger deserves to not read the news today!
Receiver: Yeah, I know. And what's up with you?
This goes on for about ten minutes before the Caller lets in the real purpose of her call..
Caller : You know, my maid called in sick today, can you ask yours to drop by once she is through at your place?
I cannot stand such conversation. So my only recourse is to gently slip away everytime my sister makes or receives a call! This holds true in office too. Most of my colleagues will make small talk for an inordinately long time before they ask the other person what they actually called to ask about.
My standard opening line when I call someone is:
"Hi XYZ, this is R. How are you doing?"
XYZ will typically go:
"I am good, except my dog..."
Then, I am like:
"Great, so listen, can you mail me the presentation you made to V last Thursday?"
When I am called, the conversation is even shorter:
Me: “Hi Sanjay, how are you doing?”
Sanjay: “I am good, except my dog…”
Me: “Haan, batao, how can I help you?”
I have been told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that I come across at cold, aloof and clinical on the phone. Why am I like that when in ‘real life’ I am “so warm, involved and outgoing” (sic)?
The truth is I can’t talk to a gadget. I need someone in flesh and blood to let go of my reserve. It’s even worse when I know that the other person is simultaneously checking her email and/or painting her toe-nails while I am talking away to the phallic instrument in my hand. I can’t be the one that helps alleviate the other person’s boredom by wasting the time I could gainfully utilize by checking my emails and/or digging my toe-nails (not painting them, please note!).
So, if you happen to call me, please ask me what you have to ask me within 10 seconds of my answering the phone. And if I call you, I would appreciate if you didn’t tell me about the malfunctioning of your pet’s bowels. Call me whatever you feel like, but please keep the call short.
Was it because of Melodrama? Have I been sleeping like the notorious Kumbhakarna1? Or was I simply lost?
Real reason: I was bored. I was feeling like a loser. Imagine in the middle of a busy workday, I was checking up on other blogs, editing mine and responding to those who left messages. I was worried that I was becoming one of the idiots 'intellectual' magazines (like Newsweek!) keep talking about - dysfunctional human beings whose primary refuge is the net. So, I decided to go into a self-imposed exile for two months.
Now, I am not half as good or famous as my friends Gorgeous and Alpha, whose absence the whole blog-world laments and who are literally begged by many to return, so I did not leave a post to this effect! I knew I would not be missed much.
The two months are over (and I can't say I was totally off because I was indeed checking up on some of my favourites without, of course, succumbing to the temptation to comment).
A lot has happened in the time gone by...will post updates soon.
1 Kumbhakarna, brother of the king Ravana, known for his ability to sleep for 6 months and then wake up for just a day before he returned to his slumber.
The Preamble: I came into blogging because I wanted (needed?) an anonymous existence for at least some part of my daily rigour. This was where I could let myself loose on people who had never known me in real life and be whatever I wanted to be. While the reason still stands, over time, one has developed this virtual chemistry with some people…I met one such person last weekend!
The Home Work: I was to be in Kolkata for a few hours and I just casually mentioned this to a fellow blogger who lives there. She and I have had a few non-blog-related exchanges in the past (mainly relating to the Quiz at IITIIM) and I have found her to be interesting, intelligent and very in-your-face. She immediately responded to my suggestion of a rendezvous and we talked over phone the same day. And the date was set!!
The Day: I almost didn’t make it to the City of Joy (Lapierre’s, not mine) and even after I did, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to meet her. If ever I have got butterflies in my stomach, that was the day. Yet I re-confirmed out meeting and she suggested we meet up in front of a music shop and informed me that she’d be wearing a sleeveless white top (!)and gave me details about her appearance. So there I was before the appointed hour, waiting for my unseen unheard unknown friend to drop in!
The First Encounter: I was looking around for an intellectual-looking (you’d know what I mean if you have been to Kolkata!), serious kind of a 27-year old in a sleeveless white top but there was none. Then my heart skipped a beat. I saw a beautiful girl who was also scanning the mass of humanity on the busy Park Street. And, indeed, she was wearing a sleeveless white top!! So I walk across and tap her on her bare shoulder! This was the point where our blog identities dissolved and a real identity emerged.
The Lunch: She took me to one of her favourite joints, one she has written about before and I was impressed with the reception she got…bowing doorman, gushing hostess and very attentive steward who did not give us the alcohol menu because he assumed the lady does not approve of anything but chaste water! Imagine she had been visiting this place for over 3 years and she didn’t even know they served booze…thanks to my inquisitive self, now she does!!!!!
We had no first-time blushes or pregnant pauses…it seemed as if I had known her for years. We found out about people, places and situations we both knew. We discussed the merits and nuances of blogging (I always knew she was an intellectual!!) and talked about the various categories of bloggers (the Great, the Barely Tolerable, the Outright Trash). We even decided to do a joint Quiz for IITIIM.
Then we proceeded to have a superb meal of prawns and rice (she, the gastronome will have more to write on that!). All this while I could not take my eyes off her animated face (and she noticed…she said there were some people who’d look at your face and then immediately at your boobs (sic!)…hope she did not mean me!!!).
It struck me how our writing need not automatically reflect our public persona. There she is, a tigress on her blog, calling a spade a spade, and if you meet her in a public setting, she is modest, soft-spoken and, in some ways, even docile! The people we have come to know through our blogs and theirs are all unique and they let out aspects of their personalities which they want to and can hide whatever they do not want others to know of. This is our own private canvas where we can paint our own masterpieces without fearing a Michelangelo-like backlash.
My last post was boring, incomplete and essentially stupid (now are all my posts like that?). From the responses it elicited my worst fears were confirmed (few people could make head or tail out of it, and so left comments just because they thought it was the done thing).
The first time I was exposed to the stock market was in the early '90s when one of my father's colleagues came home one evening and started howling. He had lost most of his life's savings on a stock named Nagarjuna Fertilisers. Over the hour or so he was at our place, he abused God, Harshad Mehta, the Birlas, his wife, his broker - almost everyone other than himself.
When I began earning in 1995, at 21, an age when you think you know EVERYTHING, I bought my first shares - RPPL - much to my father's chagrin. This led to an addition of about 15 minutes to my daily morning newspaper routine. I would check the opening price, closing price, highs, lows of RPPL on every stock exchange in the country.
At B-school, stocks were the in thing. No one had much money to put into shares but we had these 'dummy' portfolios that we used to track zealously. Almost everyone knew everyone else's portfolio and we used to run "Mock Stock" contests. Some of us used to make more money on these contests than we would ever get to make on the bourses!
After MBA was the first time I started making serious money. Around the same time, the government took away almost all tax benefits if your income was over a certain limit and the bank interest rates fell to ridiculous levels. One started seeing one-third of one's salary going down in taxes. And then was born Me, the investor!!
I have been known to take risks in everything I do. My upbringing in a strict boarding school and in a very traditional middle class family has made me strive to be 'different' in all my actions, and I take pains to break out of the mould. These traits came in handy in the stock market! So here I was putting money in PSUs when the market was going gaga over IT...while I lost some big money right at the outset, I quickly made up my losses when the divestment story came to the fore. As I learnt the tricks of trading, technology took giant leaps. Gone were the days of physically handing over share certificates to the slimy neighbourhood broker; I could buy and sell from my desk.
Today, I spend at least and hour everyday on stocks. It just happens that my working hours coincide with the market timing, and so my employer pays for my profiteering!! It’s a thrill when you make money and a pain when you lose. And I'm sure they reflect on my work. But I can't give it up now.
From where I sit, I can see tiny and not so tiny dots of light flitting around a largish nucleus more or less in an orderly fashion, like a disciplined army of fireflies coming from different directions to a central point and then dispersing on to their own different ways.
It’s funny how the view from the top is so different from what you see at the ground level.
Do you notice that our impression of things is based less on what they actually are than on what they appear to be? Do you realise the role of SIZE in forming our perceptions? Or how distance can annihilate most of our negative feelings?
I have a morbid fear of heights. My palms and soles break into sweat whenever I look up to a REALLY tall building, or when I see (on TV!!) some idiosyncratic adventurer cycling on a thin rope strung between two cliffs. But from my office I laugh at the nearby slabs of concrete which happen to be 15 stories high. No sweat! When I am driving, an erratic driver who weaves in ahead of me provokes anger. The same chap from up here is just another ‘firefly’!
Delhi by night is a beautiful city, especially from where I am seeing it. Right across the busy Barakhamba Road is the tall yet naked PlayerTowers which has remained unfinished for the last decade and more due to some litigation. It overlooks the Ranjit Singh flyover which leads to the Inter Continental and the infamous red-light area of G. B. Road. If I look further north, I can see the dome of the Jama Masjid and the sprawling ramparts of the recently sanitized Red Fort.
On the way back to the here and now, I graze my sight over the dense woods adjoining the Yamuna which house the famous dead (Mahatma Gandhi, assorted Nehrus, the odd Zail Singh). Then I notice the extremely slow moving traffic around the ITO crossing. But what pleases me most is the immaculately manicured lawns of ModernSchool and the blue water of their Olympic-size swimming (no, I am daydreaming here; I can’t see any water at night).
Then I turn to face the concentric circles collectively known as Connaught Place. The yellowing (or graying) low-rises are home to some of the hottest nightspots, old and famous eateries and also to established shops facing the onslaught of young and trendy super-malls. From here it’s just a solid circle of light peppered generously with moving shadows.
If I walk around to the other corner of my office, the sight can be both elevating and disturbing, depending on whether I am looking up or down.
On the horizon is the poorly-lit but beautifully shaped Qutab Minar some 10 kilometers as the crow flies. One could not see so far in Delhi some months back but the introduction of CNG-fuelled buses and some strict enforcement of pollution norms have seen reduction in smog levels. That’s the reason why I can even see the LotusTemple which is well-illuminated at night. Closer up, there is India Gate which still has the Independence Day lighting of saffron, white and green that looks awesome from here. I wish I could see Rashtrapati Bhawan but the British Library is blocking my view.
I do not want to look down, but I have to. There are the parking lots which have a zillion cars parked bumper to bumper. If you have not seen the parking attendants in Delhi at work, you have missed something in life. They are like kung-fu masters who operate on razor-thin margins of error. They will scare even seasoned daredevil drivers when they sit in your car and park it. And now they are busy un-clogging the mess they have cleared in the morning.
That reminds me I have put in my mandatory hours of paid inactivity and I have to go down to become one of them ‘fireflies’.
Last night I saw someone crash to the concrete under the pedestal I had put him on.
Anyone with a passing interest in Indian classical music would have heard of Mukul Shivputra (MS) or at least his legendary father, the late Pandit Kumar Gandharva (PKG). I have been a diehard fan of PKG's inspiring, innovative and captivating singing style. The son has followed in the father's footsteps, grasping the finer nuances and then effortlessly re-interpreting them whichever way he wants to. He is a creative genius if ever there was one.
MS has been known to live a reclusive life. He has forsaken most worldly possessions and lives somewhere near Dewas with his disciples and his music for company. He gives few concerts and these occasions are eagerly awaited by all his devoted fans. Yesterday was one such event.
He sauntered in, as is his style, as if walking on a thin film of ice. He sat down, tuned his accompanists' instruments (only a tanpura and tabla, as he does not use any harmonium or sarangi). Then he gave his crooked smile seemingly full of disdain for the audience, and the audience in turn lapped it up, as always.
The very first note he picked up was a disaster....he could not sustain it long enough to create an impact. Some listeners thought this was another of the games he loves to play. So we waited for the next...and it was worse. As he went through the motions of the concert his worshipful listeners were moved to sorrow and then to tears. Once or twice, once saw those sparks of his genius that we knew of but they were lost in the all-enveloping darkness of mediocrity that rapidly filled the auditorium.
No, it was not as if you were listening to a newcomer who could not handle notes. It was like Isa Khan sculpting another Taj Mahal and not getting the symmetry of the minarets right... it was like a skillful surgeon failing to open up a simple blister... it was like a van Gogh failing to evoke any sentiment from his canvas.
And our Isa Khan, our van Gogh, our surgeon, our very beloved and hugely respected MS was too drunk to even notice. He just got up and left when he thought it was enough. I had been hearing of his slowly slipping into the abyss for a while now; but it still hit me hard when I actually saw the results.
One can argue that his art is his own and no one has any business either deifying him or criticising him. He has got his genes from his father, his talent from the One Above and then he has polished his craft with his own perseverance and hard work. So, even if he does not come upto our expectations, its none of his problems. He is not a monkey in a circus who has to always please the ticket-paying public.
But, unfortunately, the issue is a little more complicated. However much it sounds presumptuous, he is a custodian of our shared heritage. He has chosen to take up a profession where has picked up the outcome of years of laboured effort by countless individuals. He cannot mess with it. I will not go far enough to pass judgment about his handling of his own genius (which I think is criminal) but I would say he should stop practicing the art which he cannot add any value to.
My words may or may not be able to amply describe my grief as I write this but last night was one which I would like to quickly forget. Quite like those who saw the majestic towers of the World Trade Centre simply crumble to the ground on 9/11.
p.s. Hopes die last. He is singing again on the 10th. I’ll give my favourite singer another chance. If he fails me again, I have all his albums.