Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Thousand-Fifty Emraan Hashmis for a Hundred-Five

I’ve just been sitting at home for the past two months now, preparing for a couple of papers, which have ruined all my November-Decembers and the subsequent May-Junes ever since movies like Krrazy 4 and Race tried their luck at the Box Office. I graduated from school in early 2008, and have had at least four sets of exams to give every year since then. College and CA papers infest and suck on my Novembers and Mays like the lice which live on Mahesh Bhatt’s back since Pooja Bhatt hit puberty. Yes, those little blood sucking parasites which make Mr. Bhatt reach remote areas of his back and then the grey jungles of his torso every time that he is interviewed on TV. I’m sure he must’ve had a hard time at first. To make the licey-micey play hide and seek with him all over his body while the whole world tried to take him seriously. He must’ve probably just covered it up with nothing but an embarrassed smile at first. The enquiries to his trials for the mascot of The Simpson’s “Itchy Scratchy Land” must’ve made him feel awkward. He must’ve explained how it was just a temporary itch, and he’d be back to give a more impressive itch-free interview the next time that the TV channels would call him. But all those promises were forgotten as time passed by.
Losing some hair on his pate wasn’t any solace, as the lice seemed to multiply with time. And so did my exams. Junes and Decembers get sucked on by CS and CWA papers. It was difficult initially. College trips with the girlfriend were given up for the first time with a promise to not let it happen again. Birthday parties were missed and there would be nothing more than a photo dedication on facebook as well as a 1000 characters long poem on sms to the birthday boy/girl to compensate for the absence from the party. A promise to relieve myself of the unbearable itch that my exams gave me throughout the year would make me keep alive the Hakuna Matata look on my face all through. But gradually, I got so used to the itch that missing trips and parties didn’t seem important anymore. Mr. Bhatt, I’ve joined your clan.
“B******d! Jab bhi poochho tere exams hote hain saal bhar. Saale, kabhi toh aa jaaya kar milne.”
“I’m sorry, man. Let these papers get over in another month and we’re definitely making a scene together.”
But old itches die hard.

I thought the idea of giving up on some sleep to catch up with a few nocturnal friends on the phone every night could be an artificial resuscitation technique to the dying state of my social interaction. Emraan Hashmi revived the Bhatt Production house from its slow death. The “Serial Kisser” was just a tag to glamorize his actual work of a life saver. He would breathe oxygen into the movies from the Bhatt camp through his mouth. It was not just his monkey ancestor who was proud of his ape-like lips, but also the Bhatts, for whom he was nothing less than a messenger from a monkey God. Yes! I had found my Emraan Hashmi too! (That kinda sounds wrong. I mean it in a straight guy way, ok?) In the Vodafone night minutes I saw my horny little messiah.

“Dude! 105 bucks for a thousand-and-fifty minutes on the phone! Do your math, man”, I told Rahat, as the tariff rate of 10 paise per minute gleamed in front of me like the dollar signs in Hannah Barbera’s Big Bad Wolf’s eyes. Vodafone brought me the stubbled chumma-chaati boy so that my Murder-ed social life could soon change into Jannat.

I scratched the little card and punched the 14 digits on my phone.
*Dear Customer, you have 1050 local Vodafone to Vodafone night minutes (11pm to 6am) valid till whenever-the-frig-you-can-make-them-last-you-filthy-night-talker*

Soon enough, I could see my friendships revive like Shahrukh Khan’s face during the shooting of Don. The night minutes did to my life, what Hashmi saab did (to) his co-stars. Pure unadulterated pleasure! Conversations with friends who seemed to have got far left behind became as frequent as the number of times Radio Mirchi played Bheegey Honth on your car radio in 2006. The smile on my face was as permanent as the Mallika Sherawat poster that your local barber had put up in his shop to attract customers. Times in the future seemed as bright as the body oil that Celina Jaitley had bathed in during her bikini sequences in Jawani Deewani. Ah! Didn’t you all love it? If you’re shaking your head and saying “No”, let me go back to your internet history from the time you were in school, and see how many times you had suffixed an actress’ name with the word “MMS” on Google (after obviously turning the Search Filter off).

So, Mr. Hashmi’s movies did sell. The tickets sold no less than your chemist’s most sold item. You sang songs in praise of Mallika Sherawat’s moist lips with your school friends when the teacher would leave the classroom. You sang it in your head during your maths exam, when all you could see on the paper were two big round zeroes (No innuendos here. Don’t purposely look for one). Emraan never seemed to disappoint you. He’d bring you video after another that would make you sing Aashiq Banaya Aapne, without even caring to see if it was actually Himesh Reshammiya on screen or Tanushree Dutta. Vodafone Night Minutes did just as much good to the sultry social butterfly, who was a personification of my sense of social satisfaction.

But, don’t you remember changing the channel as soon as your mum would walk into the room? All that you saw on screen was real entertainment. You knew it much before Vidya Balan could tell you about it in The Dirty Picture. It was there for you to see, but only when you were alone. You remember sitting with your family watching TV when the song sprang up on your 48 inch Plasma screen. You didn’t have the guts to change the channel or to ask anyone else to do it. You just stared at the screen feeling more embarrassed than happy, praying for someone to start a conversation that would turn all heads towards the communicator and away from the TV screen. Your mum would get reminded of some work in the kitchen suddenly and she would rush. Your sister would get up and leave behind her. Now, even though you were sitting with your dad, you were not man enough to have a man to man talk. We all remember it and we all should know that the night minutes are no less of an Emraan Hashmi in our lives.

I switch off the lights in my room and dial a number. No, wait. You do it too. Let me rephrase this.

You switch off the lights in your room and dial a number. You talk in a little whisper and crack mute laughter that makes your stomach hurt. You talk till wee hours in the morning. And, no. You’re not talking to someone who belongs to the same sex. You talk to those who belong to your sex type not later than 1 am. You may call that girl a bro, but I bet your real bro can’t keep you up, talking till 5 am. Even football discussions between bros don’t go beyond 2 am, so don’t even try that excuse. You enjoy the night conversations like Mr. Hashmi’s videos. You quickly hang up on the slightest sound of anyone in your house waking up. You check for if everyone’s asleep, and you resume your “fun-filled” conversations. Your mind tells you: “Dude, this is real. This is life. Talk to her. You’re doing nothing wrong.” You have to go to college the following day. Or worse, to the office. Or worse, prepare for an exam that’s coming up in a week. But you choose to give it a manly: “Eh, f*** it!”

The conversation ends right before sunrise, and you feel happy for living a life, which literally goes from Twilight to Breaking Dawn. “All girls like vampires, dude. They’re hot. They live long lives. They stay up all night”…zzzz… And, you wake up at 8.30 to another characteristic. “Hell yeah, they’re all monsters.”

So you curse yourself for staying up the previous night. You wash your vampire turned zombie face, as you’re left with no time to take a bath. Your head pumps like the woofers in a Rajouri Garden wali black Santro. You keep dozing off on your work pile the whole day. You look Droopy eyed and swear to sleep early the following night. But that magical voice on the other side of the phone will remind you of how Cartoon Network’s Droopy dog had all the girls drooling over him. It’s no longer just your night minutes which resemble Emraan Hashmi. Your face does, too. And you hate it. You fall into this trap from which you won’t ever be able to come out. Your life will never be able to get itself a role in a Yashraj family movie. You’ll be stuck with your Bhatt camp and the like. Yes, you get pleasure out of it. But some day, you’ll realize that what still sells after a disastrous movie like Ra.One, is the name Shah Rukh Khan, and not your beloved Emraan Hashmi.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eat. Poop. Text.

Holla, hypothetical reader! I’ve got news more celebration worthy than Aishwarya Rai’s baby girl being born. The CA exams that I was preparing for the past one month finally got over today. The sigh of relief just got coupled with some gas being passed (courtesy: Chilli Garlic Noodles from the local Chinese van).

It was for the first time that I had a whole month to sit at home and prepare for a set of papers. And I think I am pretty hopeful about getting a decent enough result. But that’s not the point. The point is: I got a whole friggin’ month to sit at home!

If you’re one of those junior friends of mine from college, you’d probably not know how awesome it feels to get such a time to yourself after passing out from college. And, if you’re one of my batch-mates who didn’t get a placement and are still looking for a job, I’m sorry, bro. I didn’t mean it like that.

I think I’m over-estimating my audience. So yes, you little school kid who’s really excited at the beginning of the summer break, but starts hating his art/cookery/music/tennis/whatever-other-summer-hobby-class within two weeks of joining it. I think you know how crappy a month long time at home can feel like. But, things for me were different.

I had three papers to appear for, and about thirty days to prepare. Leave aside two days for Diwali, and four Sundays (when it’s hard as hell to study ‘cuz everyone’s at home, moving from one room to the other, making apparently cute but annoying conversations like an excited tellytubby), you’re left with twenty four days at hand. Eight days per subject.

The end result of the calculation seems like a pretty generous figure to the one unitiated to the course that we call CA. But if you’re one of those who has a boyfriend/girlfriend enrolled with the ICAI as a student, you know that one “I love you” in six months is any day a more generous figure. So, I naturally had to freak out.

Day Zero: Books are opened, pages counted, chapters listed down, and after five hours of concentrated hard work, a time table comes into place. You look at it with amazement and realize that all it will take for the next twenty-four days is just twelve hours of study per day for you to squeeze through the passing line. Seems like a daunting task, and you sleep like an ostrich for the next nineteen hours that day.

Day One: Your alarm wakes you up at 7 a.m. sharp, and surprisingly you don’t snooze it even once. You poop and think of giving your wang some play time. The party gets over in another seven minutes, and you stand naked in the shower like you’re being watched by exactly the number of people who went for Ra.One first day first show. It’s a shameless feeling. But you just stand there and stare into nothingness. The fact that you’ve to put in twelve hours of study time starting in the next twenty minutes remains just as undigested as the half flushed piece of crap that floats in the commode. As the water turns from hot to warm and then cold, you slowly turn off the knob and get dressed to give your books some quality time. You slowly begin to read, and as you do, you underline. You don’t care for breakfast and you don’t care for lunch. Neither do you care for your crush who happens to be texting you since morning. You make your sleeping butt move from the depressed chair cushion at six in the evening and go off to sleep for the next half an hour. Oh, correction: You try to sleep, while your brain worries about when exactly will the half an hour get over and you can finish your target for the day. Dinner is served at the study table at your request, and as the clock strikes 10, you jump up with a feeling of joy. You give yourself a mental hi-five for finally being able to pull off what you thought you couldn’t. Your phone gets your first glance of the day, and just when it is about to vibrate with the kind of happiness that you desired in your last relationship, you wish it a good night and hit the sack.

Day Two: *copy-paste Day One minus half an hour*

Day Three: *copy-paste Day Two minus an hour and a half*

Day Four: *copy-paste Day Three minus one hour of texting and talking on the phone, an hour of day time sleep, an hour of evening walk and forty minutes of scattered facebooking through the day*

Day Five and onwards: *No more subtractions, bitch. I’ve to clear my exams too!*

By the end of Day Five, you’ve learnt how to be a multi-tasker like your ‘saath wale ghar ki badi aunty’. She sits with her best friends from the neighbourhood in her back verandah throughout the day, knitting sweaters for her daughter’s new born twins, peeling oranges, cutting bhindi, discussing colony gossip, ordering the maid to cook lunch, consoling her crying grandchildren, and sipping on the nariyal pani that the non-lungi clad, non-South Indian guy comes to sell in your back lane every evening. So yes, you’ve also squeezed in time to observe her from your balcony every day, and shake your head in approval of the fact that all dadi’s born in Pakistan are the same.

Um, but I think my dadi does things more endearing than just peeling oranges and knitting sweaters with her best friends throughout the year. She gives up on all her colony ki saheliyan to come over and stay with me every few months when I go on a preparatory leave for a set of exams. She makes me tea, coffee, fruit chaat and sandwiches every few hours to ensure that I don’t have to get up from my studies for want of food while my parents are away at the office. She stares at the clock religiously to wake me up in exactly half an hour from the time that I hit the bed for my afternoon nap. She shifts the landline to another room so that none of her calls are of even the slightest disturbance to me while I’m concentrating on my books. She leaves a bottle of water at my bed side before going to sleep at night. And, she prays an extra hour in the evening just so that my exams go well. In short, she’s one of the nicest members in my family despite her repetitive stories about how one of her nanad ki devrani ki mausi ko pata nahi kaunse paise ka raub hai.


Studying is hard work, man. It’s a sedentary job. You sit for hours at a stretch and have a loving dadi who keeps getting you something healthy to munch on the whole day. Work on some cause and effect relationship here and you have an overworked man sitting on the pot for a minimum of ten minutes, ten times a day. Now that you’ve decided to be a good lover to your phone and not ignore it for a month, you try to take out whatever little time you can for it during the day. So, you take it to the loo with you every time that you make a trip. You wait for some abdominal muscles to work on making you feel lighter, while your finger muscles work on replying to messages and checking your facebook account. Ah, I almost forgot. You reply to whatsapp messages. And then wait for the single check sign to turn into a double-tick. The wait seems endless and your body refuses to leave the hollow seat it has chosen to sit on till your message gets delivered and you get a reply.

Your family slowly begins to notice your way too frequent walks to the washroom and begin to wonder what’s wrong. It leads to you being told that you won’t get to eat the dal makhni that has been cooked for dinner because it’s not good for an upset stomach. No one realizes that they upset your soul by keeping you away from your favorite dish, just because your little stomach could no longer be seen upset. Your family feeds on buttered dal while you move your tongue around in a mouthful of khichdi. Matters get worse ‘cuz you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone that you were texting and facebooking from the bathroom while they thought you were shitting away to glory. Soon, it’s not the fruit salad and crazy number of cups of coffee that lead you to your den with your phone. The ‘cause’ in the relationship changes. Your mind, saturated with concepts in accounts and auditing, slowly begins to recognize the unisex poop/cleaning room in your house as the text-room. Every time that you have to reply to a few messages, you run to the loo, take your pants down, and text away on sms, gtalk, whatsapp and facebook. You get up to see no poop, but you flush nevertheless and return to your study table. Your family thinks you’ve gone crazy and refer to the loo as your “head office”. But you’re thankful that your parents are more supportive than a friend’s mother, who would bang the bathroom door and shout, “Stop masturbating and come out.”

Slowly the fruit chaat and coffee mugs get accompanied by handfuls of dry fruit every day. And you realize that Diwali is just around the corner. You don’t care two hoots for all the guests who’ll be visiting your house and taking away your study time. You just sulk over the fact that not just all Diwali card parties, but also all your friends’ birthdays fall just a week or two before your CA exams. You politely keep refusing invitations to all parties inspite of the creatively framed convincing phrases thrown towards you like, “What fun is a party without you!” For once, it’s not the party food that you’re sad on missing. It’s the idea of missing out on meeting so many pretty girls dressed in Indian wear. You pop a kaju or two down your throat and ask your brain to suck it up for making the decision to prepare for CA.

Did I say “all your friends’ birthdays”? Great! You see how preparing for CA makes you forget about your own friggin’ birthday which mattered so much to you till last year. You reply to messages asking you about your birthday plans with “CA exams coming up, man. I’ll be partying with my books all day.” Then you’re called names like “Old man” and “Boring”, but you just have nothing more than a straight face emote to send in reply.

Go shawty! It’s your birthday! Pick up your books ‘cuz it’s your birthday!

Finally comes the birthday and you just smile like an idiot when you get a hundred messages and more than seventy of them say, “Tried rhyming a few words, dude. But sorry, couldn’t match the way you wish people a happy birthday. A very happy birthday to you. I mean it in just as special a way. :)” You laugh at how everyone writes the same thing sprinkled with a “party hard” or “may you have a rocking year ahead.” And just when you thought that it was going to be another study day, you get surprise flowers delivered to your doorsteps and a car loaded with friends drops in the evening to make you feel special. You sleep like Aurora-kissed-by-the-prince-but-still-asleep that night and wake up to a mountain pile of syllabus still to work on.

The food somehow becomes a very important part of your study leave. You switch on the TV during lunch time and all there’s worth watching is Masterchef Australia. You eat while your eyes gorge on the pretty ladies on screen making delicious looking edible porn. You realize that one of your ex girlfriends is leaving for the US in another month to be a pastry chef and you pray that she doesn’t star in Masterchef America ‘cuz that’ll just make you fall in love with her again.

While you think of more food and your new found love for Monica Dogra, some idiot whose texts and calls you’ve been avoiding with the excuse that you’re “on study leave”, will message you and enquire why you’re not studying and are seen commenting on everyone’s pictures on facebook the whole day. You choose to ignore it again under the pretext that you’re “studying”, but your mind gets into the defense mode and explains to your soul, “Dude, I’m actually studying, ok! It’s not an excuse.” You get reminded of all the jerks from college who would go: “Oh, I don’t even touch my books. I’m so shameless” whenever you would throw a “Bohot padhta hai, saale” on their face. But, if you ever tell them that they should get their ass to studying, they involuntarily reply with a: “I’m studying, ok! I’m not wasting time like you. I’m through half my course.” Suckers!

The dreaded day of the exam arrives and you find yourself sitting amidst a bunch of “dyoods” who are praying to the Shani Maharaj to send atleast one girl into the room where they’ll be writing their exam in a few minutes. A plain Jane walks in with her plaited hair and a tight t-shirt that reads “Being Human” (yeah, they’re still not over it!), which makes the dyoods jump in excitement and exclaim “Tota!” You soon realize that you’ve gotten yourself into a course meant for the underconfident and insecure. If you think you’re a plain looking girl, join CA ‘cuz you’ll get enough male attention to make you feel like Kim Kardashian at the exam centre. And if you’re a guy, study hard, bro. ‘Cuz the dyood sitting next to me remarked, “Bhai, CA bann jaao toh saale bandiyon ki line lag jaati hai.

Your exams get over and you listen to music while on your way back home. You try too hard to relate to it, but eventually give up 'cuz it's only Baby by Justin Bieber. You enjoy the beat and bob your head to the music, while people in the Metro stare at you. You enjoy the song not caring for if the whole world hates it. You enjoyed it throughout the past one month, and you enjoy it now 'cuz your exams went off better than you expected. You get back home, eat, poop, text and open your laptop. There were enough things that you wanted to write about on your blog while you were preparing for these exams over the last few weeks. But, as soon as you're done with the task of punching some keys that night, you realize that all you ended up writing is a rant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Diwali














The lights in my house do twinkle,
They shine so bright tonight.
Beautifully flickering candles,
Little diyas with their golden lights.
It's Diwali time again,
As I sit with a throat so sore.
The exams that call for my attention,
On the study table do snore.
The Kurkure ke dibbe,
Are not this time to be seen.
But the juices and chocolates and cookie jars,
In my room themselves do preen.
So I eat and eat, and eat some more.
With each bite, there's a wish for you.
May good luck be showered on your family,
Lots of health and wealth be, too.
I wish you sparkle with a beaming lovely face,
Everyday of your life with joy.
And may you succeed like the do sau ka rocket,
That goes up up up in the sky.
May you be the WhatsApp in everyone's life,
And not the sucker of a thing that's Voda.
May you be as rich as.. um, the dry fruit.
And wise like the green old Yoda.
May your happiness be never ending,
Just like Sarthak's perennial exams.
And your days be as chilled out as the hippies,
Who smoke up at the cafe of Sam's.
With this my cookies are over,
But the after taste remains.
So, may you be the Section 54 ke provisions,
And there be no tax on your capital gains :D

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halva, Poori and Embarrassment


You know how there are certain things about our families that we think are queer. Certain routine behaviors, traditions, customs and beliefs. Things that we as kids perceive to be weird, but grow into following on our own one day. I’m not from a very superstitious family. A very general level of Indian superstition is what my parents, grandparents and other elders believe in. Things like, I was told not to go over any of my little cousins lying on the bed. Apparently, doing this would hamper their growth and they won’t grow any taller. I grew up with such little lessons on conduct just like all my other friends. It used to be fun to discuss such beliefs and family teachings with each other during classroom chats in school. But there were certain things, which even though not that queer, people chose to stay mum about. “Kanjak” was one such thing.

The last day of the navratras, I think, is called the Ashtmi Puja day. I always knew it by the name “Kanjak”. I would get up early in the morning to the aroma of pooris, halva and channe being cooked in the kitchen. Getting ready for the day when a new stock of colorful lunch boxes and stationery pouches would hit my shelf never seemed like a chore. I knew I had to dress up in a white kurta-pyjama and part my hair from the side. Those were days when my mum hated it if I tried to look like Shah Rukh Khan from Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai and tried to puff my hair up by parting it a little from the centre.

My mum and chachi were no different from the other “colony ki aunties” when it came to buying gifts for the little lehnga clad girls who’d visit our home the following morning. Lunch boxes, pens, pencil boxes, crayons and chocolates were the usual favorites, and would sell in the market on the previous night just like Kurkure and Tropicana boxes do around Diwali time.

Mumma, Dexter wala lunch-box laana.” I would tell my mum an evening before, and she would always keep my glint-eyed request in mind while she shopped. Dadi would keep a bowl of milk ready to wash the little girls’ feet. It was one puja that I waited for every year (or six months, if that’s the frequency) eagerly. I was five, and my feet used to be washed too. Knowing that there was no threat to my receiving kanjak gifts, I asked my dadi why my feet were also washed despite me being a boy, and therefore definitely not a "kanjak". “Kanjakon ke saath ek boy bhi hona chahiye. Woh hanumanji ka roop hota hai. It’s his responsibility to take care of all the other girls and ensure that no harm comes to them”, was her valid reply and it left me beaming. I would happily go to the “neighbor aunty’s” house on my dadi’s orders and ask her to send the kanjaks to our place once she was done with the puja.

The puja used to end with me sitting on the dining table in the afternoon, looking at the food that came from all the houses in the neighborhood for my sister, who could eat nothing but Cerelac at that time. I would open a box and compare the texture of the pooris, the look of the channe and the stickiness of the halva with those from other containers. People who gifted identical lunch boxes as we would, and whose parshad items would taste like the food that my mum, chachi or dadi cooked used to win a special place in my heart. I would picture them having a lifestyle just like ours, and the next time that I would see the aunty from that house in the colony, my “Namaste aunty” would be accompanied by a wider smile.

But we all grow up from being kids into becoming bigger kids once we cross the 7 years’ age mark. I used to think why some festivals like Baisakhi called for a special assembly in school, but not the colloquial “Kanjak”. It must not be a festival then. It’s just a custom that people in my colony follow, but is otherwise unheard of by the masses, which included all the boys in my cool gang of friends. The best way to avoid being ridiculed was to stay shut about it in school. The much awaited Kanjak-day started falling on week days, and that meant I would get to play my game of food comparison only after getting back home from school.

I waited for my school bus at the bus stop, and rubbed off the “tika” from my forehead as soon as my dad drove back home after dropping me there. Hoping that there was not even a hint of redness on my forehead, I boarded the bus to the sight of a couple of red marked foreheads playing Pokemon cards. They were mostly children from the area around my place, so it wasn’t hard to accept that they were from families which belonged to the same cult that celebrated Kanjak in my colony twice every year. The red marks were nowhere to be seen in school. It was evident that I was moving among the non-cult children now, in front of whom it’d be shameful to even talk about what my family was doing back at home while they discussed last evening’s episode of Duck Tales. The break was the time when everyone opened their lunch-boxes. Halva, poori and channe in a friend’s box caught my attention. He had got exactly what my lunch box concealed. He noticed the contents of my new lunch box too, and then there was an unsaid understanding that resulted in a pact that required us not to discuss the customs of our families when among the other friends.

Another apparently popular guy in class had a “tika” though. It brought a smile on my face, and I asked him as I headed towards the school bus that afternoon, “So, you wore a tika today? Haha. Why?”
Yaar, there was a puja at my place.”
“What puja?”
“I don’t know. It was some Ashtmi Puja.

I asked my bua that evening about what Ashtmi Puja meant, and figured out that it was the same as what my family conveniently called “Kanjak”. There was an epiphany that hit me then, a sudden realization of what even the families of the cool guys did on the last day of the navratras while their kids boasted about their new G-Shock watches in school. And surprisingly, no one would mention it in school. I had managed to understand a little secret that prevailed in my all boys’ school. A feeling of embarrassment from accepting that Ashtmi Puja was a known and religiously practiced exercise in one’s family.

I grew older. Ashtmi Puja slowly turned into even more of an embarrassment. Embarrassment not for the family, but for every family member individually. My mum doesn’t go shopping for lunch boxes anymore. Chocolates and cookies have replaced the durable, unbreakable, colorful plastic containers, which earlier sold like audio cassettes for everyone’s hip walkman. I wake up on the Puja day, hoping that I do not get to see the sight of food from different kitchens that would make me play my old game. My sister’s 16 now, and has not stepped out on the Puja morning for the last 6 years. She takes a bath at her usual time, not caring for mumma’s constant, “Go take a bath. It’s Kanjak day.” No longer do we have kids in our neighborhood visiting each other’s homes. My mum tells the maid to fetch some kids from the neighbor’s house, while another lady staying two houses away, shouts out loud to her best friend staying across the street. “Sunita! Bachon ko mere ghar bhej dena!

Our maid gets a couple of children from a construction site two blocks away. Little girls dressed in Indian suits enter the house with polythene bags full of pooris and quickly fetched out ten rupee notes. My mum gives them each a fruit, chocolates and cookies along with the usual halva-poori combination and bids them farewell, feeling content about the puja having gone well. Her questions, which preceded their departure, related to which school or class the kids studied in remained unanswered by eyes which just longed for more food to fill in their polythene bags and head back to the construction site that they called home.

“Sarthak, I have to send Ashvi and Shreya’s parshad to them. Please go and deliver it to their homes”, my mum orders me. I try to act like I didn’t listen and the words are repeated again. Nicely laid plates full of halva, channe, poori, chocolates and some money are handed over to me for delivery to our neighbors.
“Are you going to go like this?” is what comes next.
“What’s wrong with whatever is –this-?”
“You’re not going in your shorts is what I mean.”
“What’s wrong with my shorts?”
“Shut up. Just go wear your jeans or something. You’re getting out of the house. Look decent atleast!”

To save my parents from the embarrassment of a son with unwaxed legs, I go and put on “decent” clothes. The two minute trip to the adjoining house seems like an hour long. Well, it turns into one literally.

Namaste, aunty. Mumma ne Ashvi ke liye parshad bheja hai.
Arrey aao beta. Come, sit down.”
“No thanks, aunty. It’s ok.”
Aise kaise ok? Aao baitho.
This follows a sight of another household with the same visitors who gave us darshan at our house a few minutes back. The lady rushes to get me a glass of coke and then asks me to wait while she packs some parshad for my sister. I awkwardly look at the glass, whose contents I wish to gulp down in an instant and run back home. But my parents would be embarrassed if they got to know that I did that. So I sit there, sipping on the liquid like it’s red wine. The parshad for my sister arrives, and I know my chore is not over. There’s probably a glass of awkward Frooti waiting for me two houses away.

Ashtmi Puja doesn’t feel like the good old Kanjak-day anymore. I don’t expect my sister’s friends to post “Happy Kanjak” on her facebook wall like they post “Happy Teddy Day” or “Happy Rose Day”, but in this age when on a person’s death, his facebook profile fills up with RIP messages from friends, I wouldn’t mind some “Happy Kanjak” to pop up on social networking sites so that the little puja ceremony doesn’t fall any more a victim to a feeling called embarrassment.

P.S. Who’s in the picture?
That’s me dressed for a little morning assembly on Raksha Bandhan in 2nd grade. Now talk of embarrassment :P

Sunday, October 2, 2011

(Un)Comfortable Communicators


September is a crazy month at all CA offices throughout the country. 30th September being the last day for filing of some Income Tax Returns, the past month seemed like 30 consecutive Tuesdays. There was always a grumpy Monday feeling behind me, and a silent consciousness of 80% of a work week still to go. I realized a couple of things during this time though. One, I can happily live on Channa Masala and Kadhi from the local Aunty Ka Dhaba in Old Rajinder Nagar for dinner every day of my life, not caring for the meal’s timing being 1 a.m. and the following bowel movements reminding me of the little vibrations that Delhi felt because of an earthquake that hit the city about two weeks back. And two, that a lot of people don’t realize that their diction changes depending on the person they’re talking to.

Bhaiya, aap green tea lega ya normal wala?” the office boy asked me. “Mere liye hamesha green hi banane ko bola na. Green hi mangta.” I replied.

I felt really comfortable saying that to him, but felt a little weird about fifteen seconds later. There was nothing weird about my demand for green tea. It just felt like I was talking more like a Bengali/Goan/Tamil/any other non-Hindi speaking dude who thinks he can make grammatically correct conversation in the language as fluently as Akon in the song Chammak Challo.

The office boy is a Bengali chap, and I had started to talk in broken Hindi just like him. Not with the clients or with my colleagues, but definitely with him. “Tu abhi Bengal jaayega aur shaadi mana ke aayega girlfriend ke saath?” I enquired, while munching on the extra jalebi in the office pantry, hoping that one of the girls gets freaked out on realizing that it was 7.30 already and starts making nervous visits to the bosses’ rooms trying to stop being a chicken and asking for permission to leave for the day ‘cuz “she has to go to another end of the city and her daddy gets really angry if she reaches home after dark”. She gets permission to leave in the next five minutes, and I get to grab her share of the samosa. (Yes, I do that at my own parents’ office, and I’m shameless)

Tum abhi Bengal jaayega aur shaadi mana ke aayega?” my mum asked a client’s accountant who was telling her about his unavailability at work for a week during Durga Puja, as he had to visit his hometown, Kolkata.

That’s not the kind of Hindi she normally uses. It got me thinking how my parents and I unconsciously change our tone and adulterate the purity of our already vanaspati-ly pure Hindi during conversations with people who are not too fluent with the language. With those who’d find it hard to believe that the word “darwaaza” is to “shudh Hindi” what the cylindrical yellow plastic container with green coconut trees and “Dalda” printed on it is to the banner that reads “Pure desi ghee sweets sold here.”

Aww, nanu baby. Mele chaat makit jaaoge?
Translation (in words not incomprehensible because of an overflow of love): Aww, *some word that you think describes cute* baby. Will you go to the market with me?”

I was subjected to such words of love till not age two, but age six. Words that would make a five year old want to give diction lessons to a thirty-two year old. That is what happens everyday to the first kid in a joint family. No one believes that you’re no longer a baby until another bald, pudgy looking, drooling, tooth-less wonder hits your family. But thankfully, all the kids in my family have grown up now, with the youngest cousin turning twelve in another three months.

With no more babies in the family, and no more a girlfriend to call me one, the only time I get to hear “baby” is when I plug in my earphones and Justin Bieber appears in shuffle mode. (My sister put that song there, not me. Go judge her if you want)

But last week, my dadi came over to our place and seemed a little upset on having missed her favorite tv soap that day. Her face clearly showed the extent to which she was missing the sight of some Haryanvi Ammaji woman. She’d have to wait till the following afternoon to catch on the repeat telecast. Her face looked like she couldn’t meet her best friend that day. The best friend whom she’d look at on the tv set day after day and mumble Punjabi curses at under her breath. So to distract her from missing her Ammaji, I started on a mission to entertain her by showing her some features in my new phone. Technologically challenged that she is, showing her the predictive text feature would have been enough to leave her in awe and say stuff like: “Dekha science ne kitni tarakki ki hai. Ab yeh fan ko hi dekho. Kisne socha tha ki ek button dabaao aur pankha chal padega!” My job was as easy as that, but it wouldn’t have kept her mind off the Haryanvi superstar for more than five minutes. My phone had to give competition to her best friend. I clicked on the Talking Tom application and handed her the phone. “Yeh lo, dadi. Yeh dekho kya cool cheez hai!

Yeh lo dadi. Yeh dekho kya cool cheez hai!” Tom spoke back. And when I entered the room half an hour later, dadi was still on the phone, with a look that showed how she wanted to put a nappy around Tom’s waist. “Aww le le, Namaste kalega? Dadiji ko Namaste kalega?” she was speaking out loud just to hear him say it back to her. Then she would slap him a little for being a “bad boy” and he would fall down. And then there was more of “Aww le le…” and similar sounding phrases playing in a loop the whole day. Dadi had missed talking to her baby grandchildren in a cute lisp and changing their nappies more than she could ever miss that Haryanvi woman. “And you thought you could take our place in our dadi’s heart, you Ammaji big-ass?” popped my thought bubble on behalf of all my cousins in the Ahuja family.

It’s nice to see how people, including yours truly, change their pronunciation, diction, tone and mannerisms unknowingly to make the other person feel more comfortable. Or probably try to get into their good books. Or just flatter them. But believe me, all of that –making the other feel comfortable jazz- fades off in two situations. Situations where the communicator makes it unbearably uncomfortable for the recipient to say anything in reply.

One, after you’ve completed six months in a romantic relationship, which you thought was the happy ending to your love story. Grow up, man. All the Hakuna Matata gets over when awkward pauses start hitting your conversations which were earlier full of incessant laughing sessions. No one gives a shit about how comfortable the other is once those feelings of love fizzle out. One of the two tries to break the awkwardness, the other gets more awkward, the couple breaks up. And life goes on.

The second situation is just as tragic as the first. It’s when you get an sms that reads “Heyyy…… hws u?? i m gng 2 da mrkt wid mah sis… u wanna cum alng?........ lolzzz..!!”

Now, I’d have loved to go with two pretty girls to the market. But sorry, your message just made me kick myself in the butt for knowing you.  If you were really trying to save on characters in your sms, why put those extra Y’s in the “Hey”? It makes you look like a Sajid Khan fan, and I judge you now.

I wish you’d have sent me that message when I was participating in a poster designing competition in 8th grade. The theme of the day was Rural Health Awareness. Your extra dots would’ve made me win the competition by making me choose “TB ka samay par ilaaj”, and intelligently quoting “TB se bachne ke liye -dots- apnaayen” in different shades of color sprawled across my work.

And let me tell you, “da” sounds funny only when you put it after the word “Bappi”. Don’t try to be no FiddyCent, mah nigga!

Ah! That brings me to “mah”. There’s a page on facebook, whose link I am dying to paste on your wall. “Saale, my ko mah bolne se angrez nai ban jaayega.

You know, I’d love to cum. But you’ve ruined your chances of making me do that, irrespective of how much my fully structured replies make you do.

I’m not done yet, you piece of filthy text message. There’s nothing funny about me wanting to come with you to the market. I’ve danced to Choli Ke Peechhe at all DU college fests, but that doesn’t mean I’ll try on women’s clothing for you in the ladies section of the store that you’re planning on visiting. So yes, not funny. Stop typing LOL when you’re not even laughing out loud, but have just typed it ‘cuz it’s your substitute for a full stop. And, “lolzzz!” Seriously? What in hell does that mean? Are you a comic strip character who goes off to sleep while laughing out loud?

Last, but not the least, the two exclamation signs after two full stops to conclude the message. Personally, I’ve just noticed this in text messages from girls. It’s like they’re practicing the expressions they would give their future husbands some years from now, while arguing with them on the silliest of things. The first full stop tells that she’s finished saying what she wanted to. The second follows to inform the recipient that she has actually finished with what she wanted to say and is now expecting a reply. The first exclamation communicates surprise at having got no reaction, and the second rhetorically states: “Do you even listen to me!”

For heaven’s sake, woman! Send that handicapped message with unnecessary character transplants first if you expect a reply. And since you’ve typed it like that, don’t be pissed off that my phone’s outbox didn’t care to send you a message back. Your message makes it feel awkward, and leaves it with nothing to say. The “It’s not you, it’s me” line won’t work either. It’s breaking up with your ugly text. Oh sorry, wrong analogy. They were never even together!! Yes, that is something that actually deserves two exclamation signs in the end.

While I type these last few sentences, a dog barks in the street outside like it’s caught the seasonal cough. It’s pissing off. I should run to the balcony and bark back at him. I hope it’ll make him feel more comfortable and shut up.

Image Source: brainstuck.com

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Your BlackBerry Is Actually Bappi Lahiri In Disguise


“You know what, Sarthak? I have to get a message pack for my phone only because of you.”

“I didn’t ask you to.”

“Shut up! Why don’t you just go get yourself a BlackBerry. It’s so cool, man. Then we’ll be able to BBM the whole day. It’s so much fun.”

I’ve been pulled into such conversations by atleast 63 people since everyone from my dad to the guy who delivers milk at my place in the morning got himself a BlackBerry. I don’t see the whole obsession with it. It looks like the kind of shit Bappi Lahiri should own, and I’m really happy not being associated with it. I really mean the Bappi Lahiri part.

I remember rushing home from school in my 2nd grade. “Jaao kapde change karo and khaana khaane aao”, my dadi ordered. I ran into my room, changed into my black kurta, stretched my school belt to its maximum length and buckled a little cushion on my belly. “Yeh kya kara hai?”, my dadi inquired with a look that showed a fear of believing that a little boy could know of pregnancy at such an early age. “All boys’ schools do this to little kids. He should’ve been put into a co-ed”, she must’ve told my parents that night. Having believed that I knew of “it”, no one wanted to embarrass himself with the inquiry. Well, the topic might also not have been raised because my family thought that I was just trying to act like a fat man, but I choose to believe in the former.

I was something cooler than a pregnant lady. I was Bappi Lahiri. Being Bappi was easy. I just needed two kurtas. A black one, and another in white. I couldn’t give up on the cushion and the school belt since my mum had lost all hope in making me a healthy boy, after spending like a zillion bucks on a weird cherry flavored syrup called “Mom, I’m hungry”. My tauji had got me a really cool pair of multi-colored Mickey Mouse –goggles- from Disneyland, which proved handy in times when I wished to enjoy Bappihood. A few safety pins joined together worked perfectly well for the gold chain, as I had proudly learnt of white gold by then.

“Bappi Lehri” I would call myself and feel awesome all day. Little did I know that the guy who sang in a roshogulla-baritone looked more like the phone which most of my friends would love to carry fifteen years from then.

“Hey, which BB did you get yourself?”, a friend of mine asked another in college. “Bold”, the latter pronounced with his chest so pumped up that I feared he’d turn into Vidya Balan from The Dirty Picture. “Dude, the Curve’s good too”, said a third chap, and I realized that it wasn’t just his chest that reminded me of the voluptuous actress. The friggin’ phone did too! It’s huge, man. The BB curves like Bappi’s quadruple-chin and is bold like the gold which attracts more eyeballs to that lump of fat which houses in itself a pitcher full of sondesh.

“You got your BBM activated?”, barged in a girl who jumped like she was going to hook up with the new BB owner on the Instant Messenger. “No, man. I’ll get it done today. I don’t have enough balance to do it right now.” “How much do you need?”, I asked, ready to show them how I could transfer some talktime on Vodafone. “Dude, it’s 599 for the whole pack.” “Whaa?! Is that a pack of gold plated STD protection latex you’re ordering for on your phone?”, I replied. (Well, obviously not in the same words. This blog is for family audiences, you see.) That’s the kind of luxury, I believe, only Bappi can afford. I got an internet recharge on my phone for 95 that day, and my email as well as facebook account was at easy access. I spent about half a grand on food that evening, not feeling even the slightest bit of pain that pocket money below the reorder level could give me on other days.

Birthday celebrations are not something that the elders at my place believe in a lot. “Dadi, aaj toh aapka birthday hai! Yay! Aaj party karoge”, I would tell my dadi with joy on the 17th of February every year. “Arrey, birthday toh bachon ka manaate hain. Mujhe koi birthday nai manana” used to be the usual reply year after year. I stopped asking after I turned 15, I think, but I should give my luck a shot in 2012. My parents are no different. Their birthdays mean just ordering for food. No cake. Uncool birthday! Mummy’s birthday this year involved no cake cutting as usual, but my dad got her a BlackBerry. Her phone rang the vintage phone ringtone to the first call that she received on it. Now, this is your signature tone, Mr. BB? With Airtel pitching in A. R. Rehman to make a jingle for them, and Nokia having a signature tone too, I was shocked at how the dudes at RIM chose to stick to the true roots of telephone communication just like Bappi sticks to bongo beats and sitar like electric guitar music in the name of Disco. Having had to deal with transferring contacts, mumma gave up on her new possession. Dad started using it, and like I said, anything related to a birthday celebration goes to waste for the elders in my family.

But my birthdays have been fun in their own simple way. Being the eldest child in the family is the best thing ever. It gets you the maximum number of kid pictures, the most amount of pampering, and the maximum number of arguments among elders when it comes to giving you a name. Sarthak is what they chose for me, pretty obviously. But there are some who’s parents haven’t been kind enough to give them a name to be proud of. Take Bappa Lahiri for example. I’m sure his playschool classmates must’ve spent their time reciting Bappa Bappa Black Sheep all through till they passed their twelfth grade. Poor kid has had to deal with his dad’s fixation with his own name. Ah, that gets me back to your darling BlackBerry. First came the Curve, and then the Curve 3G! I'll give a tie to both Bappi and BB for the My-Vocabulary-Is-Confined-To-My-Name-And-The-Word-Sucks Award for innovation in naming their successors.

I finally got myself an Android last month. My email notifications are as prompt as sanitary pad advertisements during dinner time and the Whatsapp Messenger works faster than your BBM. The Skype app keeps me in touch with my friends staying far away from home, while you struggle to find a download for your Curve. Swype makes texting on a touchscreen easy, and Blogger makes me put up posts like the one you're reading straight on the website from my phone.

So you can go ahead and tease me with your BappiBerry, ‘cuz neither do I care for its BlackBerryMessenger nor BadBappiMusic.

Image Source: IDontCareTwoHootsForIfBappiLahiriWantsToSueMe.com

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bhaisaab! Yeh Address Batana Toh


“Sarthu! I can never call you a man. You’re still a boy.”, my friend Aanchal told me once. “Shut up, LittleGirl! I’m THE man, ok?”, I shouted back on text.

I must clarify that Aanchal isn’t too much in love with me to think of me as her little baby and address me as  “SarthuBoy”. She thinks of me the way most of my other friends do. I’m a short man, I must tell you. Not very short, but short nevertheless. 5 feet 7 inches. My nani blames my mum for it. “Raising kids in an apartment is not good for their health, growth and development of their social skills”, she complains to my mum. “They should have easy access to some place where they can cycle, play and exercise. You’ve turned your kids into book-worms.” I get the not-playing part, but social skills? Really? Nani surely hasn’t checked out my facebook profile.

I was always the third or fourth guy from the front in the school’s morning assembly line. I came into college, and things changed a little. I wasn’t called short any more, but was told repeatedly how I looked younger than my actual age. “Oh yeah, baby. I’ll be doing TV commercials when you guys will be getting botox injected in your cheeks”, I’d reply, and throw imaginary Rajnikanth shades on my eyes. I feel happy looking young, but gradually I realized that it wasn’t the look. It’s the way I talk, behave and jump around that gives the impression of a “boy”. I wouldn’t complain about that either. I still love going to the local general store and buying myself a lollipop every once in a while. If you think of it, a lollipop is one of the best forms in which you can get to enjoy a candy. Put the pop in your mouth and the stick thingy sticks out from between your teeth. I believe it makes me look like a cowboy who macho-ly chews on a thin piece of straw. Rugged and sexy! How am I better off than my Texan counterpart? My straw has a juicy, sugary and yummily fruity candy at one end, leaving itself concealed from the world, happily on my tongue. A pop not just makes me look cool, it’s a very practical way of enjoying your sugary favorites. It so happens that every time that I let loose a nice candy on my tastebuds, my sister gets something more tempting to eat. Or probably something that stands at an equal rank by taste, but makes me crave for it at that moment. I bite into the candy hurriedly, and ruthlessly end its beautiful life so that I can munch on the substitute. Not fair. A candy gone to waste. But the inventor of the pop must’ve been an intelligent man. He attached a stick to it, so that whenever his sister would get a tube of Pringles to munch on, he would easily be able to take it out of his mouth, wrap it into an aluminium foil, and enjoy it once he’d be done munching on the chips. A hi5 to you, Mr. Lollipop inventor. I’m sure you rest in heaven.

You know what’s more fun than enjoying a Parle Mango Bite or a Hajmola Imli Candy? It’s talking like Mojo Jojo or the villain dude from Phineas & Ferb after filling your tummy with candy juice. If this is why I’m called a “boy”, I love being a BOY.

On a hot Delhi summer afternoon, I sat at home in my track shorts and an old t-shirt that I wore to bed every night. My friend Anirudh was in Delhi from his hostel for his summer break, and I called him on his phone. “Yo Bro!”, I shouted in a robot voice when he answered the call. “Meet up, man. Chal kuchh kha ke aate hain.” He murmured something in agreement and I strolled towards his place in my chilled out night clothes.

A car stopped close to me and the man driving called out, “Excuse me! Could you please tell me the way to Mother Dairy?” “Sure. Just go straight down this road, take the second left. Keep going straight and turn right from the Paan-wala. It’s just about 4 shops away from there.”, I said with confidence. Somehow, it feels like I’m the savior of anyone who wishes to look for an address in a new locality. I feel like a guide, and it leaves me with a sense of goodness in my heart.

I had hardly walked 10 more steps when an Auto steered through the lane on my right and halted in front of me. “Bhaisaab, yeh address batana toh.

Pata nahi”, I said, and walked away. My mind immediately transported me to a parallel universe where I could see myself burst into the Indian Slim Shady and give the auto-wala a piece of my mind.Bhains ki aankh, “bhaisaab” hoga tera baap! Do I friggin’ look like a bhaisaab? Do you see me wearing an untucked half-sleeved shirt over my ghee-belly and leather chappals with formal trousers? Do you think I take a stainless steel triple-decker khaane ka dabba to office every day? Do you think I smell more of Pan Parag than the Ponds Talcum Powder which I would love to smear all over my body right up till my chin? Do you see me eating kachoris at the local Aggarwal Sweet Corner, with the aalu ki sabzi dripping down my lips? How in frig’s name do you think you could get away with calling me a ‘bhaisaab’? Tere gaaon mein saare bhaisaab branded track shorts pehen ke walk pe nikalte hain?”

I wish he could try a little “Behenji, yeh address batana toh” with the girl walking just 5 steps away from me. Even Snoop Dogg would feel less embarrassed being called “bhaisaab”. With a little more curses down parallel universe, I was back into the physical world, satisfied for having not let him get away with calling me that weird old man word.

I even freak out when some of my lady friends misspell the word “bhayi” while texting in Hindi, and type it as “bhai”. No bhai, man. I’m good being a bhai to the dudes. Watching your spellings is important. And don’t you dare ever write me a text with multiple dots after every phrase and put up a 50 Cent by typing “the” as “da”! I should stop. This topic deserves a whole new post in itself.

It’s now been months since the bhaisaab incident. I’ve started working now. I got myself some custom tailored formals to wear to the office two weeks back. I wore one of the new shirts yesterday and spent some twenty minutes preening myself in the bathroom. I took off my glasses, gave two-fingered flying kisses to the parallel universe audience which I could see in the bathroom mirror. I felt like I could go and attend a nice seminar at the Meridien that day. I could in the parallel universe atleast. It’s a great place to visit every once in a while. I put forward my hand to the sophisticated lady during the high tea at the seminar. “Sarthak Ahuja”, I introduced myself in a James Bond voice that would put Barney Stinson to shame. The alarm on my phone rang and it was time for me to leave for office. Back from parallel land, I left my house. My office is really close to where I stay. A ten minute walk is all it takes to get there. Hoping that the hot air-hostess neighbor would check me out that morning, I walked with both hands in my pocket. A tennis ball suddenly sprang in front of me. It fell from a house’s terrace where a couple of school kids were playing cricket. “Out hai!”, one of the kids shouted as he rushed to the edge of the roof. I stopped to pick up the ball, but even before I could bend down to reach it, “Uncle, woh ball dena toh!

Image Source: automotivehorizon.sulekha.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Art of Spices


One of my friends just completed her graduation in English (Hons.) from Delhi University. I thought she might appear for some entrances for a post-grad in Mass Media and Mass Communication or Journalism, as there weren’t any post-college plans that she had informed me about till a few months back. “Your life’s so chilled out, man”, I would tell her. “Just get yourself a seat in Amity University, fall in love with a dude with a Mercedes or a Jaguar, get married in about two-three years, and your life’s taken care of.”

“Yeah, right, Sarthak Ahuja! You think my dad would let me have such an easy life?” she’d fire back every time. “I want to go to New York and be a Pastry Chef!”

The next that I heard from her, she had applied for a course at the Culinary Institute of America and her dad had consented to her taking it up. Her session starts in January 2012. Till then, she’s interning in the kitchen of one of the top hotels in Delhi. She tells me about her day at work, and it no longer seems like an easy life. If I’m trying to learn the Art of Tax Management and Financial Planning at a CA office, she’s working towards mastering the Culinary Arts. Respect.

While there are some who learn the arts in America, there are others who develop them in shady lanes. It’s the Art of Spices!

The Art of Spices! Sounds nice. So much, that I didn’t wish to give this post another fancy sounding, witty title. It’s fancy in itself.

A small room with a short man making lachha paranthas on a big pan. Smoke rises up from the stove into his eyes and also of those who stand at a distance of not more than a foot from him. Smoke from the 13 odd cigarettes mixes with that from the stove while he rolls chicken, eggs and paneer into the paranthas. Doesn’t sound fancy, does it? But this is THE “Art of Spices”.

The Karol Bagh Metro Station in Delhi is one of the busiest Metro stations in the capital. The Karol Bagh Market has caused it to be so. The Art of Spices is a small eating joint in a back-lane pretty close to the station, but I doubt that even 1% of the people who travel to Karol Bagh in the Metro for work every day would know of it. It’s down a shady alley, which comes to life when the sun sets. Life for it is around fifty people smoking, actively or passively, with sounds of “Bhaiya, ek Double-Chicken Roll” echoing through it till late at night. The place is as famous for rolls as it is for its “shady appeal”. Chicken Roll. Paneer Roll. Egg Roll. Veg Roll. Aalu Roll. Double Chicken. Double Paneer. Egg Chicken. It boasts of more than 30 varieties of rolls, which are mostly permutations and combinations of their basic 4 fillings rolled into a juicy lachha parantha.

I had heard a lot about the place from a couple of my friends who’d be thrilled by the thought of going there and stuffing themselves till they would bloat up and roll back home. I finally made my first visit to it about 4 years back. There are three kinds of people normally spotted there. One, guys who wear slim fit jeans, pointy leather shoes/colored canvas keds, and t-shirts that read “Being Human”. You can easily picture them wearing fitted shirts with click-buttons and a slim neck tie hanging right till the end of their fly. Two, guys who have rippling biceps, tattoos of spokes, roses and skulls adorning their fore arms and who follow Zayed Khan when it comes to hairstyles. Three, guys wearing formals, who come for a little snack after a hard day at work. The third category of people are not very frequent visitors, but don’t mind catching up on a fag with friends every once in a while. Where are the girls?! Oh, they’re sitting inside the cars of the rippling muscles guys.

There’s a fourth kind too. The owner. A young man of about 26 years of age. Rippling muscles again, but sans tattoos. “He could try his luck at modeling”, a friend suggested. But I think he’s better off doing what he is currently occupied with. I bet he’s making more by selling Rolls and ThumsUp than he would by walking the ramp or posing with some Deepika Padukone look-alike.

There are two cooks right behind the big pan on the stove. One makes the lachha paranthas, while the other blankets the filling with the former’s creation. The manufacturing process has an estimated speed of um, two rolls and a quarter per minute.

Being a vegetarian, I’ve just got to put my jaws on the Paneer Roll and the Aalu Roll. If I were asked to put it like every Indian travel show host does, “It is out of the world!” The chunks of paneer are huge! The masala and the pyaaz add to the paneer’s tenderness and sex appeal. Yes, the rolls are “sexy”. I can’t use a better word for them. I cannot expect more enjoyment in less than 50 bucks as long as I’m single. The Aalu Roll is outstanding, too. It’s fried after being marinated in lemon juice, I believe. Makes me do a little Govinda dance. You have to, Have To, HAVE TO try it out. But ofcourse, if you’re a non-vegetarian, the Double-Chicken Roll would be the best option. I trust my friends when they tell me that.

I’m proud that I can shove two rolls and a ThumsUp down my throat on an empty stomach. It’s not that easy, baby. I can challenge you to do it.

The day following my trip to the Art of Spices is not the most pleasant, I would say. My friends haven’t complained of it, but every trip that I have made to my favorite rolls place has been followed with twice the normal number of trips to the loo during the next 24 hours. “There’s something in the paneer that makes your stomach go crazy, man”, says my friend, “The chicken’s quality is good, yaar. Yeh saala paneer ghatiya daalta hoga. Tu Chicken Roll kha ke dekh ek baar”.

The joint is closed on Tuesdays. The owner is a devout Hanuman-bhakt, I believe. There are two more Rolls joints that have opened right next to AOS recently. One of them is Chowringee Lane, and I’m sure it doesn’t need to be specially introduced to all Delhi-ites atleast.

Over-occupied with thoughts of work, I went to the shady lane with my friend one day, not realizing that it was a Tuesday. I didn’t wish to go back home empty stomach, so we thought of settling for a Paneer Roll from Chowringee. To our astonishment, it tasted just the same! I could not tell the difference in taste from the roll that I get on all other days at the adjoining, ruling roll-maker. I was satisfied. “Let’s see how many times you’ll run to the loo tomorrow”, said my friend jokingly. Next day’s toilet-count: Two. “That’s pretty normal by my standards”, I told my friend Rahat. “Chal, sayi hai. Aage se Chowringee pe hi khaayenge phir”, is how he concluded it.

There are certain not so appealing habits of your partner that you don’t mind overlooking. You love them enough to not bother yourself with some little flaws. I love the Art of Spices. “I’m a one roll man, dude”, I told Rahat. I won’t give up on the Paneer Roll that the sweaty cook makes at my lover babe. I’m not eating at Chowringee the next time I go there. The AOS Roll makes me smile a clairvoyant’s smile when I sit on the john a few extra times after a visit. I love Art of Spices too much to mind the smoke, the first two kinds of people, the long hours spent sitting on the john, and the occasional fart of spices.

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