Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three Memories

Since it is only a matter of weeks before I start gushing or grumbling about college (If I can get into one, that is), here is a little more nostalgia:



Skunky: Hey, want to see something nice? Here, come closer.

Me: (Stupid fool that I am) What what? Are you going to offer me a piece of your orange?

Skunky: NO! (squeezes peel of orange very quickly into my eye, so that a spray of something very sharp hits my face, making me cry out. Through watering eyes I catch her grinning, the air in the bus smelling of oranges)

Me: Aaaaaargh!This means war.

(We take turns squirting orange-peel poison at each other, and then wonder whether we should try it on the driver. We decide against it. We are young, but we're not that idiotic)

Skunky: Hey, you want to practice throwing the peels into the windows of passing vehicles? Ten points if you get it in.

It was only later that we found out what "Don't Pollute The Environment" meant. And, to our credit, we did manage to chuck most of the peels into the buses. So the roads remained clean.


PUJO 2007

We come to a corner, turn it, and are on the road. Cars come at us in whooshes of bright light, and our laughter sounds harsher and nearer, as if it were ricocheting off their flashing bodies.

A group of people walk towards us in Pujo finery - big earrings, mismatched purses, shiny new shoes that have nothing to do with the rest of the outfits, the works. We try to look inconspicuous and fail, especially since quite a few of us are cackling insanely and the other half are, well, tottering.

Hiju: Do you realise that these people are walking towards us?

[I stare blankly]

Hiju: No, they're walking the other way. We're the only people walking forwards. The whole world's against us. (eyes her shoes tragically)

[Well, we tried not to die laughing]

The Narcissist: (gasps for breath and finds her voice) you know, I love you guys. I really do. This is fun. Oooh, look, a crossing! We're going to cross the street, yay!

[She's like that in real life too, yes.]

Me: I'm not crossing the street.

The Shrew: Why not?

Me: Because I'll die. (am encountered with blank look, and proceed to explain) I just know I will. Some car will mow me down and I'll be a stain on the road. Bloody cars. What do they think of themselves? They're just tin boxes on wheels, for the love of God. They MUST NOT kill me.

The Shrew: So they won't kill you. Come on, cross!

Me: No, I'll die. Did I not just explain it to you?

The Shrew: This isn't the time, really. I can't handle you like this.

Me: You prissy spoilsport! Can't you see I'll DIE if I cross the street? I'm only eighteen, I don't want to die while I'm still eighteen! Lemmego Lemmego! I'll die. You want your friend to DIE?

I was dragged across the street and was able to stomach a huge dinner thereafter. And I'm here writing this, so it's obvious I lived to tell the tale. But I'm still afraid of cars. Bloody cars.



Me: Hey, stop doing that schoolwork.. listen to me.

The Gollum: (puts pen down, eyes me wearily) Yes?

Me: Did you know that when you're cremated the only part of you that remains afterwards is your bellybutton?

The Gollum: You mean when a person is cremated. I've never been.

Me: Don't distract me. So your naabhi is the only thing that remains?

The Gollum: So I've heard.

Me: So where do all the discarded bellybuttons go? There must be someone who collects them.

The Gollum: (Doesn't bat an eyelid - proof of the superhuman levels of endurance she's now reached) No, I think they just lie there. And then maybe they're swept away.

Me: Where's your sense? Of course someone collects them! The Naabhi Collector! He collects bellybuttons.

The Gollum: Okay, fine. The sooner this ends the better. So what does this Naabhi Collector do with the bellybuttons?

Me: He strings them into necklaces, of course. And wears them. Or maybe he makes things out of them. Showpieces maybe.

The Gollum: You're twisted. I don't want to buy any decorative items for a while now.

Me (bristling) : Oh, so you find the Naabhi Collector sick, but you can buy those fake Made-In-China things? They have bone powder in them, I've heard.

The Gollum: Bone China does not have bone powder in it.

Me: It might.

The Gollum: So you're telling me it's better to have a showpiece with some long-dead person's bellybutton in it instead of bone china?

Me (as if stating the obvious): Yes!

The Gollum: In that case, Naabhi Showpieces it is. Somewhere in my house is a bellybutton. Hey... (suddenly becomes interested) do you think he has a patent for it?

Me: Dhat. I've always hated showpieces. Don't you have to finish your work?

And no, I did not get murdered for that.

Bless you, my friends.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

If you want to know why I'm the way I am, there's a simple answer: It's Genetic.

“See, the thing is…”


“I have this pain in my tooth, and I couldn’t sleep all night because it gave me a headache, and…”


“So, I’ve been thinking…”

“That you should go to the dentist?”

“Oh, thank God, I knew you’d come with me to the dentist!”

“Yeah, well – Hey! Wait a minute! What do you mean, come with you?”

Ladies and Gentlemen, the dentist’s chamber again. Overlook the fact that I was there to, quite metaphorically, hold my mother’s hand while the dentist excavated her mouth, and the main problem was that I was back. This is the same clinic I thought I’d never have to see again once my braces came off, and here I was again a couple of years later, revisiting old memories. Cold white tubelights, check. Impersonal marble tiles, check. Everything that precise shade of sterile white, check. How I hate that shade of white. And oh, in case I forgot to mention, nervous mother telling me all about how she hates people putting their hands inside her mouth? Check.

I, of course, am a veteran. I see nothing wrong with the dentist pulling on his gloves and picking up that spoonlike mirror, but my mother’s looking ready to faint. He tells her to open her mouth and sticks the mirror in, and she gags. He tries to prise her mouth open, and she gags again, apologising profusely afterwards. He then tells her to go and get an X-ray since he can’t figure out what’s wrong. Because she won’t let him.

I sit outside the X-ray room, waiting for her to come out. I expect a scared mother, I expect a creeped-out mother wanting to pour Harpic into her mouth (she has an obsessive-compulsive thing about cleanliness and germs, yes), but I do not expect a sheepish-looking mater.



“What do you mean, nothing? I know something happened. You drag me all the way here and deprive me of all the fun?”

“You call this fun?” From an observer’s angle, yes. I’ve been a victim too many times.

“What happened?”

“You know how they put this metal plate in your mouth and hold it in place with their fingers?”

“Yes, and they ask you to bite on the plate, then their finger, and then you have to push the button on the machine so that the X-ray happens. Go on, what happened?”

“You know all this? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know I had to. What happened?”

“Well, I told the chap I had a gagging problem, but he put the metal plate in anyway. And then he told me what to do, but I bit the plate too hard because I wanted to get over with it, and the plate was ruined.”

“You ruined a plate?” That’s heresy in the dental world.

“Then the second time he put the plate in I didn’t want to bite his finger, so I pushed the button in a hurry, and the X-ray didn’t happen because there was no pressure compressing the teeth into the plate.”

“I’m assuming there’s a third time,” I say, eyeing her warily.

“Well, this time I wanted the X-ray to be over and done with, so when he told me to bite, I, er, bit him too hard.”

I stare at my mother fascinatedly. This is too good to be true.

“You bit the assistant? You bit him?”

“He told me to! I also, er, spat into his hand instead of the spittoon.”

"You bit him, and then you drooled all over him?” Yes, I know what that sounds like, but I said it all the same.

“Well, there’s no need to laugh all that much. At least the X-ray was done.” And two plates were ruined in the process.

“I feel like puking. Oh god, can I buy a toothbrush somewhere? I’m feeling sick. I’ll get germs. Do you think I’ll get infected?”

I surface from my convulsions to say “Don’t you think it’s more likely the X-ray guy got infected since you bit him?”

There’s no way my mother’s glare will work. This is better than any of my dental misadventures.

The X-ray guy seems to have warned the doctor. He coughs a little and explains to my mother that she has a gagging complex, purely psychological of course, but she needs scaling done and possibly a wisdom tooth extraction (this time I don’t blame my mother for going grey in the face) so wouldn’t it be more convenient to consult a top-notch world-famous-in-Kolkata dental surgeon?

Literal translation: Go turn him into a werewolf, you.

So we left, and I begged my mother to let me accompany her on all her dental appointments with the hotshot surgeon (who has no idea of what he’s in for), and she grudgingly agreed. That was on Saturday. Today, on Mother’s Day, I handed her a packet and said, “This is for yesterday.” As a former dental victim, I can laugh at her experiences, but I can also sympathise. After the laughing’s done with, that is. She opened it to find a pair of earrings.

“I expected Listerine” she said cryptically.

And then, before she left the room, this parting shot – “Oh, I forgot to tell you, you have an appointment on Thursday with Dr. Surana, I made it before we left the clinic. Just a check-up, of course.”

Dr. Surana is my orthodontist - or at least he was, till two years ago - who does not know that there’s still some dental cement and wire holding my four front teeth together that should have been removed ages ago. I ground my teeth, and I swear I could see an evil grin on the mater’s face. I am now looking forward to witnessing her wisdom tooth extraction.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


So if a land is because of its people, here is Kerala.

They grin.

And grin some more.

They seem to enjoy work. Miracle it is.

And they make watching the world go by seem like the most desirable thing ever.

And we went during the wrong season, but there was colour everywhere.


Tudo o que quiser

(Everything you want)
Tem que entender
(You've got to understand)
Nas palmas da mão
(In the palms of the hand)
Se tiver porquê
(If there is a reason)
Frágil nessa terra
(Fragile in this land)
Fácil derrubou
(Easy it fell)
Quando jogou fora
(When you threw it away)
Tudo acabou
(Everything ended)

It's Portuguese, but what the heck. Nitin Sawhney has answers to everything. Especially for people who can't write holiday posts.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I Grow Old, OR, Why I Hate Quizzing.

It creates normal, unassuming human beings into egomaniacs on stage who have to get the better of the question marks. It promotes superciliousness, smugness and all other forms of general asshole-ness. It does not come with a warning sign that says “Addictive”. It got me Student Council posts in school that I didn’t want. It also gets me worked up.

Today the MP Birla Smarak Kosh Quiz took place. I have attended it for the past five years and it keeps getting better. The quizmaster, CP, always asks kindred questions (kindred questions being, of course, the ones we can answer) and Annesha and I were in the fourth row, two boisterous girls squirming in our seats at the terrible guesses being made onstage. We notched up our own points and won it in the audience, laughed more than we used to laugh onstage, and cursed the fact that we never got to participate in SK. And somewhere between it all I felt strange, because I’d never be at a quiz in my school uniform again.

Long ago before we became the cool kids who went festing, and long before people found out that all we did at the fests was quiz (and then we weren’t cool anymore), I was your average vegetable. Then someone sent me for a quiz with two people I absolutely detested. We bickered through the first quiz, guessed through the next, and then started winning. And then my teammates became my best friends. Then we realized we weren’t really quizzers. We knew nothing. We were there for the food packets.

We guessed, wildly. We laughed at our own guesses even more wildly. We thumped each others’ backs and created minor stage accidents with mineral water bottles and microphones when we found out the guesses were correct. And then our school, which had just woken up to the fact that a quiz club existed, decided that most of the good quizzes simply weren’t worth going to. So the metamorphosis happened – we became quiz spectators. We went to quizzes to watch them, and we yelled out answers from the audience, and grinned inanely when chocolates were thrown at us. As if they were roses. Encore. We applauded ourselves. Above all, we enjoyed ourselves more than when we were onstage.

But today I felt like Prufrock. There they were, kids in class ten and eleven, taller than me by almost two feet, and they got to be onstage. And here I was, five three or thereabouts, getting all excited because I knew that Oprah could recite Bible verses as a kid. Quizzing is the one thing I had to prove that my irrelevance mattered. I might not have been a good student, but my vagueness paid off. I could connect answers. I could identify paintings. It was the only place I got to be a know-it-all, and now I’ve passed out and can’t be superior when I’m afraid of getting ragged in college. School quizzes are fun and sporting. Open quizzing is ruthless, cold, and the only thing I have left, apart from college quizzing, which scares me now because, well, will the teammates laugh on stage if we make a stupid mistake? Will I get on a team at all?

And then we shuffled out amidst some patriotic programme outside Madhusudan Mancha where grotesquely costumed people were waving flags manically to "I love my India". Didn't improve my mood. To make it worse, I had to pass by my old para to collect some wayward mail, and the buildings were all newly painted in colours I couldn’t recognize. And then the old phuchkawala (he’s told me everything but his name) informed me that his son’s off to Amreeka. To be a phuchkawala there. And that made me feel terrible in the everyone’s-growing-up kind of way, and I walked into my house muttering darkly “Do you know what Dustin Hoffman’s mother called him when he was a kid?”

“No”, my mother said.

“Tootsie” I growled, and then started laughing hysterically. For a whole five minutes. Quizzing has been my bane and my crusade, and I never could figure out why I ran around school trying to get the team invited to quizzes when the organisers had no idea our school even existed. No one in school cared. We didn’t even win all that many. And I hate it. I hate it because it’s the closest I can get to being passionate about a sport. As a spectator and an ex-player.

Oh, and to top it all it seems I can no longer sit on the swings in the play area because there’s a sign there that says “Kebol Shishuder Jonno

Excuse me while I go hit my head against the wall.