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.

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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!

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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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