Monday, January 29, 2007

Goodbye, Dear Home

If you scroll down a bit, immediately after this post, you will find two videos showing me doing the backbend. In yoga, they call the pose urdhva dhanurasana or chakrasana. Last evening, I recorded myself approaching these poses and uploaded them on, and was so fascinated by the results that I not only shared them with some friends but also -- as you can see now -- posted them on my blog. One of the friends, who is a yoga instructor in foreign land, scolded me: "Why do you have to show off?"

There is no denying I am showing off, if at all there is anything to show off, that is. But the real purpose of taking these videos was to capture -- and perhaps immortalise -- the gentle glow of my bachelor's pad which nourished me for six years. In another two days, I shall shift to a new home, after spending exactly 365 x 6 days in my current dwelling. I moved in here on February 1, 2001, after having spent 15 days in a 'mansion' on Natesan Street, which is the nucleus of a lively, crowded planet called T. Nagar. And coming February 1, I shall move out. Is the timing a coincidence or part of some cosmic conspiracy?

When I moved in, I had a suitcase full of clothes, my two-in-one, a huge collection of cassettes. The same afternoon, I went to Pondy Bazaar and boughts two plastic mats, six cushions with red velvet covers, one six-inch high single mattress and a pillow. And one dismantleable plastic table to set up my music system. The books came a few weeks later from Delhi in a huge steel trunk.

"Very lucky house," the landlord and his wife, who lived on the next street, told me every time I went to pay the rent. I never doubted it. In Delhi, I was just a reporter chasing politicians and trying to fork two words out of their mouths so that I could turn them into a 500-word story. I did not even have a proper house of my own there, in the sense it was just a dwelling in a concrete jungle of apartments in Mayur Vihar. It could have been a lodge or a retiring room. Most of my time was spent in the field or in the office, where I stayed on till about 2 in the night exploring the pleasures of internet.

In Chennai, in this house, life began to chase me. I was born again. The skills that I had acquired in cut-throat Delhi, when tempered with the lazy pace of Chennai, worked wonders. I read, I wrote, I travelled, I... well, I did everything I had always wanted to do -- and in great style.

As a musician friend of mine keeps telling people in my presence: "Only if his mattress could speak!" Well, my mattress can't speak because it doesn't have a mouth, but it does have a hole: one night I slept off with a burning cigarette between my fingers, and was rudely woken up to find a blue circle of light on my bed. I quickly poured water, but a hole was punched on the mattress and a scar left above my left elbow.

Next morning I turned the mattress upside down and life went on. If it did have a mouth and could dictate the events it has witnessed, I could write five Henry Miller-type novels -- accounting for each year of my stay here. By the sixth year I had bought a Kurl-On mattress and subsequently -- after marriage -- a proper bed. The old mattress came to the hall on which I reclined and blogged -- which I am doing even now, typing with just one finger.

The best part about living in a one-bedroom flat is that you are never really lonely even if alone, and if you have company, even if unwilling, the cosiness of the place eventually drives you to desired results. Resistance becomes very difficult when you are confined within the glow of soft lights, andd with alcohol in your bloodstream and R.D. Burman or George Baker playing in the background. And the resistance was not always on part of the woman.

But there have been many, many occasions when I have felt lonely -- mentally and physically -- in spite of the cosiness. In fact, when alone, I've always slept with a bedside lamp on -- unless I've been too tired or drunk to be scared of darkness. But when I had company, the same darkness emitted an erotic glow which would either lull or exhaust me to sleep.

This is the house where I discovered Somerset Maugham and where, after reading his books, I stared at his hypnotic eyes on the back cover for hours in drunken stupor, hoping to bring him alive by my gaze and make him bless me to write as beautifully as him. This is the house where I wrote and rewrote, a million times, the first chapter of my proposed novel. It is a different matter that I never progressed beyond the first chapter. And this is also the house where my dream of writing a book came to the doorstep of reality -- too sad that the dream would actually be executed in the new house.

And this is also the house that found me a wife. Left to my own devices, I could have never found one: either there were too many to choose from, or no one to choose from. Either way, I suffered. But the kind souls that haunt my flat paved my path: and even before I realised, I was married.

"The foundation stone of this building was laid by the Shankaracharya of Kamakoti," a neighbour recently told me. She was referring to Chandrashekhar Saraswati, a truly holy and gentle soul compared to his successor, Jayendra Saraswati. "People who stay here automatically have his blessing. Anybody who has stayed in this building has been very lucky."

I knew what she meant, and the very thought of leaving the building just because I had to find a bigger house just because I was now married, was heart-wrenching. But call it the blessing of the late Shankaracharya or a conspiracy of cosmic forces, I found a bigger flat within the same building. That's where I will be moving in two days from now. The flat I lived in all this while is numbered 'K', and the flat I am going to live in now is numbered 'L'. Is that a cosmic indication that I've progressed a step further in life? I don't know yet.

More backbend
When I'm pushed up the wall

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Tonga Comes To A Halt

He was truly the last of the original pillars that had propped up the Hindi music industry. Naushad died recently. Anil Biswas, who introduced Mukesh and Talat Mehmood to playback singing, died quite recently. And today, O.P. Nayyar passed away too.

People, especially politicians, when they condole such deaths, often say: "His (or her) passing away has left a vacuum in the film industry." Nothing can be more wrong. People like Naushad and Nayyar left a vacuum long ago when they retired, and their places were quickly taken by others, so much so that they faded away and no one even remembered them. Both tried to make comebacks, but the attempts didn't work out and they returned to oblivion. So no vacuum. The real vacuum would happen when their existing music disappears from or is not available in the music shops, which is often the case.

Still, in their deaths, they do leave a vacuum, in the sense that their deaths are like the death of a grandfather, who might not contribute much to a family, but he is still there in a corner -- as the link to the generation that has passed away, as the testimonial to history. Your father might be rich because he is earning the cash, but your grandfather is richer because he has the anecdotes. Money can secure the future, but it can't buy the time that has passed by.

Only a few weeks ago, Nayyar saab dispensed with dollops of the past era to fellow journalist Bhumika, who was perhaps the last reporter to have interviewed the great composer. From the interview, it is clear that Nayyar kept his spine erect with the trademark I-give-a-damn attitude. While the world flocked to Lata Mangeshkar, he stuck to Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle. Long after retirement, a stage when lesser mortals live at the kindness of the industry or their kin, Nayyar lived in style in a Mumbai hotel, practising homoeopathy and even returned to make music for Andaaz Apna Apna. Almost till the end he savoured his two whiskies and boiled eggs.

It was clearly a lifestyle that matched his music -- clip-clop, clip-clop... the gentle pace of a tonga, or horse cart. His was music in motion. Almost all his biggest hits were filmed on situations where the actors were moving on a 'gentle' vehicle, such as a tonga or a boat, or even the good, old Willy's jeep (Pukarta chala hoon main from Mere Sanam).

And for Guru Dutt's movies, no vehicle was required to picturise a song: the actor's eyes were restless and naughty enough to match the speed of a tonga or a jeep, and therefore you have all the songs you have today: be they from Mr and Mrs 55 or Aar Paar. O.P. Nayyar, for that matter, was also responsible for making Johnny Walker a star comedian by giving him all the fabulous songs. Sadly, Johnny Walker passed away too a few years ago. Jagdeep is still there though -- not only as a witness of the Guru Dutt-O.P. Nayyar era but also as a participant of the Amitabh Bachchan-Ramesh Sippy era. Please celebrate him while he is still there, rather than write fake tributes in the past tense.

Anyway, I feel very sad today. The composer of all the songs my mother loves is dead today, and my mother is not even aware. That's because she probably doesn't know those songs were composed by him: most people just listen to songs and toast the singer. Not many care about the composer or the lyricist. That is why Majrooh Sultanpuri died unsung a few years ago, even though Bollywood's most famous songs were penned by him, be it for O.P. Nayyar or R.D. Burman.

But O.P. Nayyar was not a music director whose tunes could be mistaken for anyone else's. His was music in motion, and it shall remain that way, no matter who lent voices to those tunes -- Rafi or Kishore, Geeta or Asha. And as long as he was alive, one could easily get a passport to that clip-clop era. But now, no chance! The clock is ticking -- that's the message from his death.

But at times the clock stops, like the moment I was face to face with her, sometime ago, on an elaborate dinner table laid out under the star-lit sky. Everytime our eyes met, the song Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishara ho gaya (from CID) rang in my ears. And in spite of being love-lorn, I remembered to remember that the song was composed by O.P. Nayyar. May his soul rest in peace.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Greatest No. 2

Manohari Singh, the long-standing assistant of Pancham, plays the title music of Sholay. Enjoy!

The Greatest

Of course you recognise the man in white suit. The bald man is late Arun Paudwal (husband of Anuradha Paudwal), who was Bappi's assistant and conductor.

Friday, January 19, 2007

This Life

Today was one of those days, when my mind was deeply troubled apropos of nothing. So troubled that every woman I know seemed to be a bitch, and every man son of a bitch. I felt like screaming my lungs out, or practising some pace-bowling on the nets till the last bit of energy deserted me or, simply, punching a hole on my laptop screen. Sanity and circumstances did not permit either, so I logged on to Blogger, hoping to soothe my nerves with some writing. But nothing struck, making me even more angry.

Helplessly, I rested my head in the lap of my library. I pulled out One Man's Chorus, the collection of mind-blowing essays by Anthony Burgess. Mind-blowing, because they makes me marvel at his grip of the language and history. A writer is incomplete without a sense of history, and history will decay unless it is rescued by style.

So resting my head on the bolster, I turned the pages of the book, reading paragraphs at random. Suddenly a yellow slip came out flying from it and landed on my chest. It was a debit card receipt, for Rs 1,600, dated the day I had bought the book: 6 October 2005. The time: 8.20 pm. The mind, which was highly agitated till then, tamely went back to that evening:

S and I were on the prowl in Landmark at Spencer Plaza, competing with each other to lay our hands on the best catch thrown up by the annual sale. Whoever lay his hands on a book first became its owner -- it did not matter whose eye it caught first. After an hour, we had about five books each in our hands, and we were looking for more.

While digging for the right books, S would ask every now and then, "Did you get the SMS?" I would reply, "Not yet." The SMS mattered, because if it did not come, we would have to leave all the books behind: we barely had Rs 200 between us. The SMS was to come from UTI Bank, to tell us that the salary has hit our accounts. Soon enough, the phone vibrated in my pocket, and we laughed our way to the billing counter. Faith had paid off.

We then laughed our way to the ATM and then, carrying those heavy packets, entered a dingy, dirty TASMAC bar -- our regular haunt. (For non-residents of Chennai: TASMAC shops are the state government-run booze shops, which usually have an attached room or open space that serve as the bar).

Those were the days when I lived for 'today' -- which meant living like a king for first half of the month and in self-induced poverty for the rest. Poverty, self-induced or forced, is stark. But forced poverty usually teaches you a lesson and in many cases, victims of such poverty have gone on to become rich.

But self-induced poverty, which is basically a result of careless spending, does not teach you anything. That's because you are technically not poor, even though you don't have even Rs 50 in you wallet. It's poverty nonetheless, and I've faced it for years -- and happily so. Now I am married and all, and those days -- of luxury in poverty -- are behind me. But I miss them at times, and maybe that's why my mind gets agitated at times.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Kolkata Chromosome

It’s past midnight, when the average Bengali has been asleep for hours — the quilt firmly secured around his neck to protect against the January chill — and dreaming of social change.

But in Shisha Bar, one of the poshest nightclubs of Kolkata, the evening is just warming up. It is a weekday and people are trooping in late, and it is 12.30 by the time we hit the dance floor.

My energy comes mainly from deprivation —- in Chennai you don’t know, at any given point of time, whether a nightclub is functioning or has become the victim of the city/moral police. I am, however, clueless about the source of energy of my fellow rice-eaters. Perhaps it is the quest for good life: Bongs love, rather relish, the good life, and for their Gen Next, nightlife seems to be part of the package.

No one in the gang whines as we hop from one hangout to the other — from Park Hotel’s Someplace Else and then Roxy to the newly-opened Venom and now to the Shisha Bar. And while at Shisha, we make plans where to go next.

After dancing for a while, I need to go to the rest room. As I make my way through the dancing couples and crowded tables, a question springs to my mind: which city am I in? For a few moments, my mind goes blank — much to my horror. I suddenly find myself in a nameless place — it could have been anywhere in Chennai or Bangalore or Delhi or Bombay.

There is no one else in the rest room except a young man, who is gripping a mobile phone between his neck and an ear as he relieves himself. “No, no,” he says in English, “not 10 am your time, but 10 am IST.” Then, after a pause, he tells the person on the other end with trademark Bengali sarcasm: “Luck? Aamar luck to kuttar luck (Luck? My luck is as good as a dog’s)!” Ah, I am in Kolkata. But for such region-specific sarcasm and expletives, it would be very difficult to tell one city from another in a globalised world.


Kolkata has been celebrated in the West for its poverty and squalour. But standing at Park Street in the evening, with the cold New Year breeze brushing your cheeks, you could be in London: well-dressed, good-looking people walking by or having coffee in one of the restaurants with huge windows, tastefully-decorated shops, handsome buildings, the tolerant traffic.

The darkness and the pleasant weather had put a blanket over the poverty and had transformed Park Circus into Piccadilly Circus.

For a pilgrimage to the era when India was remote-controlled by London, it is mandatory to pay a visit to Flury’s, where you can spend hours discussing anything from politics to sex over tea and pastries. But the place was renovated a couple of years ago, and these days you could spend hours waiting to get a place there.

We waited for a while in the swank new Flury's, but soon moved across the street to The Tea Table, or T3, where the ghost of the old Flury’s resides. Even the furniture was shifted from there. I had Darjeeling tea, omelette and toast, and a rum pastry. After which I lit a cigarette — for the sheer pleasure of being able to do so without attracting frowns from neighbouring seats. I haven’t had such a wonderful evening in a long time.


At a music shop in City Centre, a sprawling mall in the Salt Lake area, I was looking for some albums of Salil Chowdhury. When I named a few albums and asked the attendant if they had any of them, a voice from behind replied: “Aagey cassette aashto. Akhon aar aashena (Earlier they came in cassettes. Now they’ve stopped coming).” I turned around: it was a Sardarji, the owner of the shop.

Postscript: I was all set to return to Chennai with nice stories about Kolkata when, on the final day of my visit, the Opposition parties led by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, suddenly called for a 24-hour bandh. I ended up driving around empty streets and roaming around an empty New Market. Some things will never change in Kolkata. (The picture shows Chowringhee on the bandh day).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Toe Talk

This afternoon, while at work, I was chatting with a friend who I had not seen online for some time. After the where-have-you-been, how-have-you-been and all that, she enquired about my yoga practice.

"Are you still doing it?" she asked.

"Not very regular these days," I replied, with a sad smiley.

"Do you know about the camel-toe?" she asked.

"You mean the camel pose?" I asked, all set to type away how good I am with ushtra asana, or the camel pose.

"No, no, camel-toe," she insisted.

I was still wondering whether that's a yoga pose unknown to me, or a medical condition, when she sent me this link.

Monday, January 01, 2007

10-Point New Year

A very happy new year, dear reader.

May 2007 bring you all the things you've been lusting for. But things are not going to fall on your lap if you are the way you are (or else they would have been yours by now), so the idea is to make reasonable resolutions and stick to them.

I too have made some for 2007, and my resolution no. 1: I shall stick to my resolutions. The rest are as under, in order of priority:

2. Quit smoking. Quit drinking. Saves me about Rs 6000 a month -- a lot of money!

3. With the money saved, go on weekend trips to the hills.

4. Read for an hour before I sleep. And meditate for an hour after I wake up.

5. Have lots of sex. When practiced as a sport, and not as an obligation or duty or routine, sex is an excellent cardio and tummy-trimmer. Why sweat it out in the gym when you can sweat in the comfort of your bed and feel good?

6. Still, will sign up with a gym. Use the combination of weight-training, yoga and sex to achieve a Brad Pitt-type body. (I know that's a sign of advancing age: at 36, the biggest compliment is someone telling you, "My God, 36? And I thought you were 28 or 29." So far I thought such lines work only on women. By the way, there are some women I know who look 25 even at 40, and I've told them so and, in case they are reading this, I want them to know that I meant it).

7. Try to be a good husband. Often I forget that I am one.

8. Resist watching other men's wives: too many guys are putting up pictures and MMS clips of their bedroom and bathroom on the internet, and that takes too much of my time.

9. Hand-write my stories with a fountain pen, like I used to do before, instead of sitting at the laptop. Will keep me from seeing evil.

10. Publish a book. On travel.