“Back in the day” stuff.

You know you’re getting older when you can’t stop thinking about “back in the day” stuff.

We’ve all aged prematurely during the pandemic, and constantly ponder over, how things were before shit hit the fan six months ago.

Lets talk “Underwear”, for instance. It seems like a whole generation has woken up from a long sleep, rummaged through their lockers, got confused by a strange, small piece of clothing with a “victorias secret” label and come to a conclusion that it was something we put around our nose and mouth. Yes, everyone and his pet dog seems to have caught on with the style statement, and we’ve come to define the “new normal” as the practice of wearing underwear on our face.

Talking of Underwear – have you noticed that they have somehow become “optional” these days, and the “new normal”, morning rush around the living room, seems to be around watching obese “back in the day” corporate types, chomping down on a “pav-bhaaji” breakfast meal just delivered by a shy, orange clad, overworked “swiggy” delivery boy- “Oh gawd, how many more morons do i need to see walking around in formal shirts, boxer shorts and barefeet?”

“arre shweety, i cant find my silky, red boxers you got me last week?… you know the one with the hulk picture in front? Also where is my wallet yaar, I need to pay this swiggy guy”

You walk into a mall and the “Jockey” stores seem strangely to be closing down or running short of XXL briefs. Everyone seems to be focussed on dressing from the waist up only for Video Conference calls, and consequently queues at the makeup counters are getting longer and more impatient.

“maybelline Blush hai? 10 deh doh madam. jhaldee”

Job losses are a sad reality of the pandemic, and one unlikely hit is the “iron-wallah”- poor chap, he used to strut along into the apartment building like he owned the penthouse- bribing the watchman and sometimes even didnt pick up your call down the weekend, and you almost hugged him when he agreed to do a set of formals for monday morning as a “special case”. Now? The guy is walking aimlessly outside the apartment gate watching teary-eyed at the “maamies” who seem to have deleted him from their “speed-dial” list and now just wriggle their noses at him and go “huh?” while continuing to dry endless lines of boxers, banian, “kerchief” and an occasional “no wrinkle” shirt.

“Back in the day” we queued up at the petrol pumps, to fill up our vehicles. Now? With everyone working from home, most folks seem to be going there to buy bubble gum and weasel in some free air, and if we decide to actually fill up gas, the attendants treat you like a mini celebrity and almost want to give you a shoulder massage as you both wait endlessly to hear the last drop of your 500 rupee worth of petrol, hit the bottom of your tank”

On the flip side, the pandemic is an opportunity for “fathers of the bride”. No more having extra long walks down the weekend to avoid your “little girl” broach the subject of marriage, and the prospect of watching your lifetime savings go bust, feeding 500 “near-strangers”, warm rasogollas and 12 varieties of “chaat”.

Now we have the “doting father no.1” sitting slyly on the sofa with newspaper in hand every morning, jumping up when his almost “ready-to-be-wed” girl walks in…. “betti. the astrologer says its a good time for weddings … and this good phase would only last for the next 90 days” he adds with a wicked smile. hmmm. yes its a “good time” especially when theres a restriction on the number of people that can gather together, and the “agile thinking parents” are falling over each other to get their daughters married off during the pandemic and saving lakhs on wedding expenses.

if you’re a dad, blessed with a fat, ugly daughter of marriageable age on the other hand- fret not, this is a double whammy, and you could save money, while also peddling off your ugly daughters while insisting she wears a mask and pointing fingers at the pandemic as a cause for her obesity.

Successful people are those who see opportunity in the face of adversity- your time is now.

Go for it I say!

Life lessons from a dog named Max- Part 2.

My dog max was trained by a police dog trainer, so… don’t be judgemental.

Infact he was so well trained, he had 3 gears when he wanted to poop- “Green”- when he had the thought locked in, but the reflex muscles were still sitting on the couch, teary-eyed and watching the “Lion King” scene where simbas dad is trampled to death. We lived in a community of row houses those days and he would bring his leash in his mouth at 5:30am, wait for you to carry the plastic bag and take him for a walk.

“Amber”, was when sphincter muscles had raised their “kanban” card like a “just-in-time”, manufacturing plant of Toyota. At such times he would give you a ” I dont think you can walk this emergency- just open the door”. He would run 50 meters in the early morning darkness to the community front gate, go to the main road, waking up the street dogs in the process, who’s startled barking would be just enough to relax his sphincter muscles and do his job smoothly.

He would reach a state of nirvana post that, and walk himself back home using the longest, slowest walk possible- stopping at our neighbours front door and drinking the small plate of milk kept their for the cat.

Once in a while though he would be having his afternoon “siesta”, all stretched out on the living room, and he would suddenly jump up with a crazy look on his face- like he’s seen a ghost, look down to make sure he didn’t soil himself, then goes skating through the living room and shoots into the neighbours garden shouting, “RED, RED, RED”, crap there and run back home in slow-motion- like he’s in a Bollywood dream sequence.

We all do that dont we?

Its been a while since I’ve given up on organized religion- but not long enough to forget that of the 10 commandments, two were focussed around maintaining good neighbourly relationships. My take though is if you dont get distracted by the mentions of ox, and man servant, etc, in the script, all it says is “Don’t be a jerk of a neighbour. Make it easy for him to love you”

Many of us though, take a dump in our neighbours garden every morning (okay not literally, that would be gross), but figuratively. In this totally connected world, the definition of “neighbour”, extends beyond the one who shares a physical wall with you. Everytime we make a stupid post on FB, or put up a hurtful comment, we are literally taking a dump in our neighbours garden.

And don’t blame the dog.

Comfortably numb.

It’s going to be 25 years since kavitha and I got married, and it’s like someone dropped off a pile of wood at our front door along with 2 small allenkeys and a 1 page instructions manual from ikea to get on a study table and chair project.

We spent the first few years of our marriage sitting on the floor, just flipping the instruction sheet, staring a hundred times at the picture on the box and rummaging through the carton wondering if ikea forgot to include a few important parts and contemplating a trip back for a refund. Family members and friends would walk past shaking their heads and whispering at each other.

The next few years we seem to have gotten into a rhythm, and things moved at a brisk pace, and people walking past stopped by, complimented us on the progress, my handyman skills and for some strange reason, kavithas brains. 🤨 not mine?

I was sure i mixed up a few of the little nuts and bolts, but everything looked good, and I even shored up courage to sit on the chair, staring confused at 3 nuts and a washer still not fimdimg a place in the project, while shifting my weight uncomfortably from this end to that… hmmm. a little squeak here- nothing a can of WD40 would not fix.

Kavitha and I have been sitting on these chairs for what seems like a whole afternoon now, dreaming of swedish meatballs and raspberry sauce. aah! The chairs are very functional though, needs an extra cushion sometimes, no fuss” and literally zero maintenance. The only thing you need to do is make sure you keep that custom allen key set and those 2 extra nuts and washer in a safe spot.

We’ve had bigger and more expensive furniture over the years, and that ikea set seems to have move further into the background, but we smile and shake our head every time we walk past this simple, unpretentious, comfortable and warm ikea set thats seen it all and continues to hold its own.

Life is shorter than you think it is- smile and get some comfortable and warm furniture that makes living better.

Now wheres that can of WD40.

Nostalgia in a tea cup!

I grew up during a time when we didn’t have internet, and we actually had to wait for 7- 10 years to get a phone connection at home.

The “landline”/ phone and thick directory were usually delivered months in advance of the connection actually being activated, and we continued to clean that dead phone every day with pride, anticipation and a feeling that we’ve finally made it in life.

I still remember my mom sitting at the dining table, spending hours, flipping through the phone directory looking for “contacts”, which she would mark with a ball-point pen- a reminder of calls that needed to be made once the phone was actually activated. My dad too spent many a weekend afternoon, looking at the yellow pages for automobile parts shops, etc. We kids didn’t have too much browsing to do because our friends circle lived within 100 meters of our home.

Closer to the activation date, the “line man” came with a tester peeping out of his pocket, parked his cycle in front of our house, pulled out a connection confirmation list and sadistically just fixed the junction box and left, without actually activating anything.

We spent the next few days randomly picking up the receiver over 10 times a day, in hopes that we would hear the freaking, “ring tone”, and arguing between us over the placement of the phone in the living room.

It had to be at a prominent place in the living room that required a lot of furniture shifting and brought into play my dads interior decoration skills, ensuring all the visitors could admire it, and we could run without tripping over the wire, to make sure we picked it up “before the 3rd ring”.

For a long period before that phone entered our living room, the only option we had to communicate in an emergency situation, required us to take a 20 minute bus ride to the general post office, 10 kilometres away, wait in line at midnight, when the charges were the lowest and send a telegram.

You paid by the word, so you had to communicate like you were “tweeting” bad news. “Thatha passed away” (hmmm. Cant we just use “died” and save some money?). “Funeral tomorrow.”.

Receiving telegrams was a totally different ball game too. Not sure why but most telegrams were delivered at night (probably because someone else was also saving cash).

You were most probably in deep sleep, when you hear your dog growl, and then the sound of someone clicking the stand of a cycle in your garden.. then you heard someone stub his toe on the flower pot near the entrance, and curse in Tamil, before dragging a snapped “chappal” onto the front door steps and start groping the wall in the dark, trying to find your doorbell. Finally a voice in the darkness goes- “Saar. telegram”.

That’s it- the dog jumps into “beast” mode, all the lights in the house would turn on at the same time, my dad would spring out of bed, like an athlete on steroids, and catch the postman with a brown checked shawl around his head, making an entry in the register with a torchlight.

The rest of the night was all about dunking endless cups of strong chai and talking about the departed.

The “STD booths”, (no. It’s not what you’re thinking) came in a bit later, and around the same time we saw, “xerox/ fax” shops popping up in the neighbourhood. It was usually manned by a person with special needs, who had bribed his way into a government job. The booth was a place you went to, when we had to deliver well-curated, intercity or overseas calls at the top of our voices and at a high speed. Given the high cost of ISD calls, these were reserved for extraordinary circumstances only- like wanting to reconfirm the flight details of a relative landing a month from now.

If it was bad news that had to be passed on to family members within the city limits, we had designated family members who were given the task- usually the most sad-faced, non-controversial, religious and boring relative, who owned a bike, was assigned the task.

As soon as you saw this “angel of death”… this “harbinger of bad news” as it were, outside your house, you went “ohOH”, and the faces of all the old people in your family tree started flashing in your mind, like a slot machine- “oh gawd. who’s it going to be THIS time?”

Anyway this guy usually came across as too shy to even ring the bell, or he was too drunk. Either ways he was invariable in a confused state of mind, and standing outside our next door neighbours door, trying to explain the physical descriptions of all the members in our family – providing them with all our “pet names” (dippy? Anil? Sunil?) we were assigned within the family. Once we “uncle” him in, he walks slowly into the house, asks for “dad or mom” and a glass of water. He was usually upgraded to a mandatory cup of lukewarm, over-sweet tea and glucose biscuits, which he nibbles at, while patting our head with sadness.

The “elders” (usually my dad in front , with my mom nervously hiding behind him) walk in, and before my dad could make a humorous, inappropriate remark, to start off proceedings, my mom would jump out, with outstretched arms, “yaaru? Yaaru?”

And then all hell usually broke loose, with a lot of crying. Coffee gets neglected along with the half-eaten Glucose biscuit, which our dogs would start showing interest in. If there were any of our friends playing caroms in our room- they started hugging the walls like a swat team on an episode of “Cops”, and start slowly slipping out of the house in stealth-mode. Funeral details are shared and all our evening plans went for a toss.

Sigh!

These days the “drama” in communication seems to have been lost for ever. I miss the emotional “slow burn”, when emoticons and smiley faces were actual people. Not for me the real-time, updates by over enthusiastic “maamis” in the family whatsapp group, that elbow “Thathas” spirit trying to get past the rooftop on the ether highway.

Like Powder to the back of your head.

I remember growing up and going to the local “barber shop” for a haircut. When the guy is done with your head, he’ll dab some powder on your neck, like he’s trying to cover up some errors and blood stains, brings out a mirror and stands behind you like a magicians assistant, letting you have a look at his handiwork, and areas of your anatomy you haven’t seen in months, through a reflection on the mirror in front of you.

You give your head a good look like goldilocks would have (“my. What big ears you have grandmother”) and before you could Identify any flaws, the rascal quickly shifts to the other side, and you nod hesitatingly, letting him know it’s “a okay” – like we had any choice at that point.

Sadly “barber shops” like many small business owners, are taking a big hit in this lockdown, and the mirrors seem sadly to have turned, and it sight doesn’t look good.

I hope small business owners hang in there though and make a come back post the lockdown. I for one have pledged to use their services as far as possible once we’re back to normal mode- you should too.

Take precautions, and go back to that “chai walla”… go back to that 2 seater “hair saloons”… drop by at that family run restaurants …encourage the home bakers…. shop at your local “Kirana” store for basic essentials … encourage local artists…

If you’re afraid these small “barber shops” are going to screw up your hair style- trust me, I’ve seen all your selfies- that ship has passed. 😂 just do it!

Stay safe! 🙏

Pillow talk!

There’s a pillow somewhere that has your name on it. The right height. Softness, and a “memory” that’s non judgemental and guaranteed to wake you up energized. Everytime.

You’ll know it when you find her. Sometimes staring seductively from the edge of the king size bed as you enter your hotel room. You drop your head and immediately everything you were doing stops, and the world seems to move in slow motion, and you dig in deeper, turn to the left, the right and it feels perfect, and you enjoy parts of her that could sue Disneyland for claiming to be the happiest place on earth. Aah!

Some hotels have a whole bunch for you to choose from too, and even ask you about your preference at booking or checkin, and you blurt out your preference embarrassingly, only to realize how important that call was, because I’ve sometimes felt like checking out of a hotel staring lovingly at the pillow from last night in arm and wondering if I broke any biblical laws.

Come to think of it, a pillow is not a complex contraption at all – no fancy electronics, simple utility value, no false promises and that’s what makes her endearing. You can dress her up in fancy colours and throw her on the couch, fold, tuck, works well in groups of 2 or 3, especially helpful when you want to lighten up a party (pillow fights).

So there you have it. Wipe that grin off your face and go get yourself one. 🤦‍♂️

Hollywood Squares

This pandemic has exposed our soft under bellies like no other. A bunch of sissies cowering in the confines of our homes, while sending each other selfies of our last meal.

Last evening one of my enthusiastic cousins, messages the “cousins” whatsapp group a picture of a very gentle- looking old lady and mentions, she’s no more. I put on my reading glasses, zoom in on the photo trying to recognize a feature- unfortunately I’m not able to make any connections in my memory. I try zooming in on the 2 others on the photos… Nope.

Anyways too polite to ask who it was, I put in a sad face and craft a condolence message and send it back. A flurry of “sincere condolences” messages start shuttling across the ether – each trying to outdo the other in speed and emotion for a gentle “paatimaa” we fail to recognize.

I go to bed in a melancholic mood, even consider having a round of “black label” to mourn the passing away of our late “paatimaa”. Anyways late in the night, cousin number 2, wakes up on the other side of the globe and contradicts the relationship of our sweet old, “paatimaa”, and puts her squarely on the opposite side of the family tree. “Paatimaa” seems to be a little more familiar with this side, and nods a friendly hello to other occupants like a participant on “Hollywood squares”.

Hello? 🤷‍♂️

That’s when I lose it – who are these people to play with my emotions when I’m at my most vulnerable? Who is this “paatimaa” that I’ve been drinking to? The debate goes on – but then these are challenging times, and there’s a lockdown and I have only a limited supply of “black label” and the least you can do is plot my family tree properly, and clarify the source of my sadness.

Till then- RIP “Paatimaa” and may the softness of your smile forever inspire us to reach deep within our souls and find happy places in these challenging times. 🙏