It was in June 2005, if my memory serves right, that I first visited Bangalore. I wasn't married then, I hadn't started this blog yet, I didn't know I would be writing books in the immediate future, I wrote a weekly column for the Sunday magazine of the paper and the occasional cover story, Gmail/Gtalk had only just arrived and I was still using Yahoo mail/messenger, and, above all, I had recently bought a laptop and got internet connection at home.
In short, those were the good, carefree days when I had all the time in the world and no worries. As soon as I would get home I would sign into Yahoo messenger and chat, at times all night, with friends who were online. Occasionally, I would log on to the public chatrooms of Yahoo, and mostly go to the Chennai rooms, to fish for someone interesting.
By 2005, though, the novelty of chatrooms was wearing off and they were only flooded with men desperately looking for an erotic chat or to hook up with willing women. Hardly any woman signed in unless equally desperate, which is something rare. This wasn't the case, though, in the early years of the decade when chatting with strangers on the internet had suddenly become the new pastime of computer-friendly Indians and you could run into some of the most intelligent and well-read women in these chatrooms.
So that night, a few hours before I was to take the Shatabdi Express to Bangalore, I logged on to public chat and went to one of the Bangalore 'rooms', hoping to find an additional reason to look forward to the visit. Luck was on my side. I found Ms X who, the moment I pinged her, was kind enough to leave aside other men she might have been chatting with and pay attention to me. We got talking. In an hour or so, the conversation shifted from the internet to the phone. In about another hour, we had planned when and where to meet up in Bangalore once I arrived. Throughout the conversation, she kept on repeating, "But you must know, I am not that kind of a girl." To which I kept replying, "When did I ever say you were that kind of a girl?" Whatever 'that' meant.
What happened next, many people who read me in New Sunday Express might remember. But for the benefit of those who did not, I'll do a quick rewind.
So I met Ms X in Bangalore the next evening. She was good-looking and all, but if I were to describe her in one word, it would be buxom. We had coffee and cutlets at a restaurant, after which she had ice-cream. Then we found ourselves at Bangalore Central, the mall. I looked at shirts and jeans, but found nothing that I would badly want to possess. As we were leaving, I asked her if she wanted to buy something.
"I will buy it for you."
"No, nothing. Let's go."
"Are you sure?"
"I want a pair of black trousers. That's the only thing I don't have. But I couldn't find them here."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I was looking around. They don't have it."
So we left Bangalore Central and proceeded to Brigade Road. There, we entered a shop where I bought myself a T-shirt and again asked her if she would like to buy something. She fancied a particular pink top, and I bought it for her. It was expensive, but never mind. After all, I was the one who suggested that we meet. I was now all set to say, "So it was nice meeting you" and was itching to get back to my hosts in Bangalore who had planned out the rest of the evening for me.
But as we climbed down the steps of the shop, Ms X said, "But this pink top, it will go best with black trousers. Will you get me black trousers too?"
The question aroused the sadist in me. I wanted to punish myself for having got into the situation. And so, that evening and the evening after were spent in search of a pair of black trousers for Ms X. We did not miss out any shop on Brigade Road and Commercial Street, yet we failed to find a pair of black trousers for her.
The problem was her waist size, which she said was 36 inches. But size 36 turned out to be too tight in the wrong places, while size 38, which very few shops stocked, was too loose. Oh, the torture of waiting outside the trial room as she tried out one pair of trouser after the other, in one shop after the other. We took the search into lanes branching off these roads, yet no luck. The search eventually ended a few months later in Pondy Bazaar in Chennai, but that's another story.
Upon returning to Chennai, I wrote about my trouser-hunting experience in the paper. The next morning, my phone was flooded with text messages by the time I woke up. "So the next time I want to buy clothes, I know who to ask," teased one friend. "Can't believe that an assistant editor of a paper is writing about all this," fumed another. By and large, people were amused and so was I.
Today, however, I would shudder at the thought of reading such a piece under my own byline. How could I seek the company of a total stranger, and then write about the encounter, that too in the paper! Today I wouldn't describe such an encounter even on my blog. There are times when I visit the archives of Ganga Mail for some reason or the other, and find myself quite surprised reading some of the stuff I've written in the past.
Marriage, I think, acts as a filter. Today if I happen to go to Bangalore alone and seek an encounter with a strange women, I am not going to write about it unless I've lost the desire to live. But that's the only filter that marriage introduces as you transform your thoughts into words -- the personalised becomes generalised. Otherwise, even after being married, I've written lengthy posts on subjects such as love, sex, marriage, fidelity and infidelity (or the inevitability of it). And it irritates me no end when, from time to time, well-meaning people ask me if my wife reads my blog. When I tell them she does, some ask, "Does she say anything?" Others ask, "Doesn't she say anything?"
But the real reason why I feel horrified or embarrassed at the thought that I could write something like that back then, lies in a three-letter word that most people dread: age. Today, even if I were not married, I would not go to a public chatroom and waste time there, least of all to seek the company of a stranger in a strange city. Initially, the idea of meeting a buxom beauty (and the possiblities such a meeting may hold) may be exciting, but soon the thought tires you out. What for -- I would ask myself. And even if I were to undertake such an adventure, I would never write about it. What for -- I would ask myself again.
I can feel the age. When I arrived in Chennai a decade ago, I was only a few days older than 30. I was new to the city, the city was new to Yahoo messenger -- it was so much fun. But whenever I signed into a chatroom, where one is expected to give out age/sex/location so that the other person could decide whether to respond to you or not, I would always identity myself as '29/m/Chennai', or '29/m/new to Chennai'. I was finding it very difficult to accept the fact that the first digit of my age should now begin with '3'. Even though the ages of 29 and 30 are separated by merely 365 days, the psychological impact on you (as well on the person you are seeking to chat with on the internet or elsewhere) can be tremendous. For a very long time I remained 29.
Today I don't have the slightest desire to cling on to 39. I am looking at 40 with my chest wide open: "Come, stab me! Kill my 30s and take me along with you." Forty is so much fun. That's when you realise the importance of having fun and actually work towards it.
The idea of fun, though, might differ. At 40, it no longer matters how many people you are with, but who you are with. The circle of people you know might expand but the number of friends shrinks drastically. Above all, you no longer brag or boast, but would have learned the art of discretion.