Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bella Ciao !

On my first visit to her place, we spent an hour gaffing whilst she made tea for me putting sugar into it absentmindedly, and then profusely apologizing. I had to explain to her several times that it wasn’t such a disaster after all because I usually feel run down in the evenings and have to suck on a toffee to replenish the dangerously dipping blood sugar. The place is still bare, worse off than my place initially where the company had sent a truckload of furniture, and may remain so till things are bought and installed. But I am sure that under a woman’s hands a vacant flat takes up the appearance of a home much faster than under a man’s control. My place after four months still looks like a refugee camp even to me. So metamorphosis of her place would surely be faster.

It was planned that we meet at her office, one of the major offices hardly five or six KMs from my place in the evening around 4.00pm, so I turned up there earlier and went for a long walk to stretch my legs since sitting in the office or driving both give me a cramped up feeling. She sent a series of SMSes saying there was delay so I got another hour to walk around and get a feel of the area which is rather congested, though bordering on the main Poonamallee highway sort of road. Finally she came out and we drove down to her place as planned by the time we reached I think the sun was setting. Thus it was almost eight-ish when we set out for the visit to the beach that is close enough from her flat to make one hear the sounds of the sea. From the terrace one can glimpse the Bay of Bengal, but it was too late to see anything by the time we made it.

A long walk on the beach made me tired so I sat down on the edge of a precipice like structure, since erosion has been taking place wherever the high tide comes and does things, I guess. She preferred to stand by me and talk down rather than sit side by side. I didn’t pay much attention to it, for she had refused to sit down on the mattress that lay in her bedroom, and with two or three pillows I had to use it for rest.
On the way back, I happened to see a signboard yelling Bella Ciao! It explained that it was an Italian restaurant. I was in the mood to try out something exotic, and she seemed glad to join me in the merry making since she is definitely more informed about the continental cuisine…I usually don’t bother to remember their exotic names and trivia that goes along with them, but I enjoy the cuisine anyway. We decided to try out some pasta that she says she loves, lasagna if I didn’t mind, of course I didn’t –but the seafood part we decided to go and check upon.

It turned out to be a huge bungalow with its entire garden converted into a rather well landscaped restaurant. There were these hut-like encampments with lights and even an electric fan [something that must be redundant since the seashore is so breezy all the time]. As we sat down, a squall turned up suddenly as if Nature’s invisible band had struck up a noisy but warm welcome for us. We were both amused indeed, and soon issued orders for the food since it was getting late.

The food was indeed great, we had squids after crab soup which tasted worlds apart from my sturdy Chettinaad soup indeed. Then pasta with lasagna and lamp slices with white sauce and things… it was pretty good. There were no drinks on the menu, so I took it for granted that alcohol may not be served. As if reading my mind she said white wine would go with the stuff we were having…and this bombshell felled me instantly.
“ Do you drink?” I asked incredulously.
“ Some times. On special occasions. Wedding and things, and suchlike.”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what to say because the waiter informed us that indeed they had white wine and could be served… she refused of course, and I let the matter hang.

On the way back we were intercepted by the rather friendly owner, an Italian young man in his mid thirties with a pretty wife who looked like she were a peasant from the countryside, very focused on her supervision of the kitchen and pantry, and the small army of waiters. The man, I forget the name Ricardo or something was thrilled to give a copy of the menu to her because she wanted to be able to order food from home. Not a bad idea, but she said it would be possible only on some event, something special.
“ I’d rather walk down here and eat,” I said.
“ Me too,” she agreed, and chatted with the Italian owner who spoke in rapid-fire Italian that she failed to understand. He shrugged his shoulders and made a wry face at me, saying she only told him she had learnt Italian… we made small talk and congratulated him on dreaming up such a fine place with such fine items on the menu too. He seemed enthralled indeed and bade us a warm goodbye.
“ You should write about this in your blog,” she suggested. Indeed, I reassured her, that I would be doing that, “ shall we go and ask him his name, it would be good publicity for him-“ the marketing person in her often springs forward like a hidden side of a bipolar person. I said it didn’t really matter because millions were not thronging at my blog site as yet.

As we walked back another tiny squall came and hit us, this time we were fully exposed and had to seek shelter under a tree. A watchman from a nearby building with pitying looks kept watching us, but the squall ended as abruptly as it had come. Lightly wet, feeling buoyed up we walked back slightly faster to her apartment and I bade her goodnight from the parking lot where the Beast was waiting for me patiently, silently and reliably. I had no problems in working my way out of her locality. It was only in Adyar that I took a wrong turn and managed to get hopelessly lost in Nugambakkam area. It took me an hour and a half to be home, and in five minutes the phone rang. She asked me if I had reached home safely, so I explained my predicament and bade her good night again. I crashed in my bed immediately and slept the sleep of the dead. It had been a long day.

© Max Babi 080806

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Kuppuswami -The Sky Is His Roof...

Kuppusami is a short, wizened old man. Like an extra-smart micro-organism he has built himself a pseudo-house on a side of the road. It is not a house at all… it is just a two feet by five by five feet parcel of odds and ends. He keeps his stuff there, may be those are ply-wood sheet samples for business, may be leftovers. He has used kilometers of plastic sheets for wrapping and winding it all up.

He lives on the pavement, that is, he keeps wandering around in our street –which is the holy of the holies as far as streets go in Anna Nagar, East – a stone’s throw from Roundtana. The current minister occupies a palatial mansion three houses down the lane, and every time I see this man surviving kilometers below the poverty line, right next to ministers and lawyers and doctors rolling in sheer affluence and luxury, I smile.

Perhaps the very rich man staying in the house where Kuppusami’s three wheeler, the human powered tricycle with a very clean, neat and well-maintained carriage that may be something like four feet by four feet, is parked forever, is a soft-hearted creature. God knows why everytime I look beyond this old man into the affluent mansion behind his rickety holdall and the tricycle that serves as bed at night, an incidence flashes through my mind…. I had been to a tiny hotel for a beer and had emerged onto the lane that spurts into wild action every five or ten minutes. Traffic like uncontrollable dam waters gushes into the lane in four to five rows, two wheelers taking unnecessary risks and blowing their horns as if celebrating the latest college election victory. Two wheelers tend to make old men in their sixties and seventies behave like teenage school boys here, I have noticed. They especially are rapists of the horn.

Disgusted with the traffic, I was walking on the edge of the road, when I crossed the first junction and saw a man lying under a tree. Drunk, I thought in a mild haze of slightly speeded up thinking after the beer. I tend to write good poetry with a bottle or two, after that I turn into an introvert, not giving a damn about anything. As I inched closer I saw a passerby stop at the man, feel his chest, convince himself he was alive and slip in a twenty rupees or fifty rupee note into the shirt pocket. He got up and was leaving when I stopped near him. He seemed a little shellshocked to find a man stopping because the city folks with their impenetrable apathy never do that… a slight tremor went through the good man, I noticed.
Dead?” I asked.
“No,” he said breezily,” he is breathing.
“ Drunk.” I said ironically realizing I was talking to a sober man.
“Perhaps exhausted. City life can cripple you if you are sloppy about your food habits…may be he walked too long, may be he hasn’t had food to eat….” Thanking me, he left on his errand, our good Samaritan.
Hesitantly, I too bent put ten rupees in the shirt pocket of a man who seemed to be sleeping the sleep of the dead.

I have often thought of giving some money to Kupusami, whose eyes light up in a smile the moment he sees me…and our relationship is four months old now. I am scared of talking to him because people of his class, those clinging to the bottom of the lowest rungs in society usually know only Tamil and my vocabulary may be insufficient to extract sense out of whatever philosophical utterings he may have for me. The song and dance routine some follow does not really offer any substance. But then I feel nervous about doing such a thing –there’s the unmistakable gleam of pride in his shrewd little eyes. His smiling eyes that stare at you a moment longer than ordinary, and if you happen to harbor even an iota of guilt like most of these hangers-on at the honorable minister’s place do, you may find his scrutiny voyeuristic, even transgressional.

It rained one balmy evening in May, an unseasonable squall some one told me, since rainy season was months away. As I rushed past the three-wheeler parked on one side, on my quick errand –I noticed the old man was missing. But the carriage had turned into an impromptu tent of plastic sheets off-greenish in color, seemingly as wizened and weather-beaten as his own face. He had obviously put up two wood posts and turned the plastic sheet into a great little tent. There’s a professional neatness in everything he does, I have noticed, an inbuilt elegance which teeters on being artistic. As he is usually in bed long before eight o’ clock, curling up in that tiny four by four carriage like a satiated pup, I can imagine, and since we have an early sunrise well before six in the morning –I see him up pretty early. By the way we have vicious little mosquitoes in here, that’s another reason for the plastic tent, it occurs to me now. He wears a turban kind of headgear that makes his head look more bandaged than dressed up for an occasion, for rituals or out of sheer habit.

He sits smoking a bidi, a tobacco leaf rolled into a flattened cigarillo sort of a thing, with his rheumy mole-like eyes staring at nothing. A couple of times he has smiled at me in an absentminded manner, perhaps there is a sense of brotherhood between us. Both are bearded in an unkempt way, that’s the only link between that jumps to my mind. Or he thinks I am a foreigner, which is a very common reason for folks on the streets to smile and offer help, perhaps all foreigners look helpless and lost I suspect. I have been bailed out of sticky situations just for that reason, so I am not complaining.

© Max Babi 080806.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Antidote to loneliness

Some weeks ago a lady chatting with me asked me how could I manage to handle 450 friends at Ryze network [I didn't tell her about my 352 friends at Gather network], and I vaguely answered they don't write to me nor chat with me daily. Some haven't written for two years... thus friend management is easy.

Since I have failed to make a single friend from the opposite sex here for the past four month, I mean the sort of friend who could accompany me to places, enjoy Chettinaad cuisine, discuss books and music, perhaps share her latest writings with me, go for walks on the beach, so on and so forth, I shall refer to her as 'She'. There is no other 'she' in my group of friends as yet.

Little did I realize that she was herself planning to be the antidote for my loneliness. It worked out very fast indeed... in a matter of few weeks she was already here, having joined India's largest software company in its travel and hospitality section. No that is neither Wipro nor Infosys. Well, during a chat she mentioned she may perhaps be the only family I have here, and I said the same to her too. To cap it all, she can speak Gujarati since her Dad is one, though she has not learnt Konkani which her Mom speaks. But looks like once she gets her kitchen going I am going to be treated royally with Guju dishes, especially Guju Muslim delicacies like Khichdo. Wow, thinking about it makes my mouth water. That's as close to a family as it can get, I presume.

Went to the airport to fetch her, and having once had coffee with her at Mumbai during my last disastrous trip that began with the bomb blasts, we clicked as anticipated. Took her to a Chettinaad restaurant en route to her hotel in Nungambakkam but she kept nibbling at the food, seemingly worked up about lack of accommodation. Having no house to live in for nearly six weeks didn't drive me up trees as three days of staying in a hotel did to her. Set me thinking, and I told her too, women are homemakers and they can think straight only when they are at home... give a man most uncomfortable quarters with an interesting day job and he will scarcely notice. Generalizations are dangerous I know but he means me here and she means her. The rest if the homo sapiens has gone to sleep.

Since she was traveling light we saw no point in driving to her hotel just to dump two small suitcases there. We therefore drove off to Thiruvanmiyur onwards to her office at Karapakkam, in the fabled IT corridor. I chose not to get inside for the high security and other irritants. Having driven quite some distance, my limbs needed stretching so I went for a walk and a coffee. A mobile demo van was exhibiting Lenovo laptops, with fancy music and decor, the whole setting on the highway was so full of incongruity, I wished for a camera...must buy one soon. I am missing some real action that I could have captured on digital scape for the posterity. Youngsters or geeks with jaws dropping, blank expression behind thick glasses -ravenously ogling the laptops, with the dhabas selling snacks and savories in their wholly unorganized glory right behind them...what a scene.

She finished her courtesy call and we drove off to meet a colleague who didn't actually meet us but sent us to see a flat that may be getting vacated, in Jayaram street, in Thiruvanmiyur. It took us quite a while to locate it. By then my poor back was in need of a longer rest, after having driven for nearly a hundred kilometers so far... the owner of the flat and his wife were very sweet to her, who went and explained her predicament. I guess the only unforced faux pas on her part was that she told them she loved the smell of fish coming from the sea hardly five minute's walk and that she would cook non vegetarian meals herself once in a while. This was received by the chatty hosts with a chilling silence and looks that could penetrate inches of steel. I thought the chance was gone, she was hopeful.

Finally we went for a walk to the beach. It was fairly clean, though in some place it stank of human shit since there was a village of fisherfolk that we had driven through by mistake, having missed the cluster of flats with copious greenery hiding its own name too. We walked about for half an hour and I had to finally sit on the slightly wet sand as she stood and tried to fathom the sea... inbetween her long spurts of chatting and loud thinking. By the time we returned to the car parked off the road it was probably eight in the night and we still had to find our way back to the heart of the city.

The drive back was nearly a nightmare, we had to stop at a hundred places and ask for directions. I usually switch my mind off on such occasions, tending to suffer from low sugar problems. It seemed like ages, driving through the maddening traffic that plagues the mid city in areas like T.Nagar, Teynampet and on to Nungambakkam. We found the hotel, she checked in and after freshening up we decided not to go for another walk with the horrid traffic outside the hotel. We crossed the road into a fast food joint and had some quick food over a leisurely chat.

Bidding her goodbye, I drove back home, managing to lose my way from Nungambakkam and turning up at Ashok Nagar and reaching home when it was nearly midnight. I just crashed into bed, realizing the antidote to loneliness had sapped my strength in a way. I had nice dreams, for a change, I thought.