Friday, March 30, 2007

Household Matters

The latest in the household saga. S and P continue to put up a stiff fight against returning to their own quarters next to the kitchen and insist they be allowed to use the recreation room at night. Then when one of us needs to work on the computer or wants to watch TV after ten, P harrumps and snorts and makes other noises of disapproval and disgust to indicate that her sleep is being disturbed. Last week when Sudha (who is acting as mediator) asked them why they refused to move to their own room, they said it was because years ago part of the ceiling had collapsed and P had narrowly missed being squashed by a slab of cement. So they were duly informed that at the time the entire house had been in a state of disrepair due to bad materials used by the builder and that not only P but all of us had been at risk. However in the last couple of years the ceiling in all parts of the house has been checked and the weaker areas have been reinforced. Now there is no more danger of it coming down on anybody's head.

So they pulled out a second reason for not sleeping in that room. It was dirty they said, and cockroaches got out of the drain at night and they didn't like to think of them crawling over their beds. Right. So at that point we suggested they gird up their loins and clean up their own room (which is supposed to be "the cleaning woman V's job"). If necessary they could enlist T's help (the odd job boy who comes in every day to fix all broken things and clean the windows and stuff). They listened somewhat sullenly and a couple of days ago T came to me with the third reason the two ladies did not want to spend the night in their room. Ghosts. The place is apparently haunted. They hear voices at night and a lady jangling her bangles and I don't know what else and altogether there is "bad energy" in the room.

Hmmm. Jyotsna has good advice on this point. She says, "Call in a priest to do a puja. Or better still call in somebody to do a little chilli burning around the place. Undertake the thing with seriousness and then clap your hands and say ok now you can sleep in peace here. You can also sleep there a night or two and hold P's left hand and S's right hand . Before putting off the light say "Courage Mon Braves" and start snoring."

If anybody else has any good tips please let me know. I'm waiting.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Week Of The Visitor

Ruth sitting next to Asha a bit of whose arm you see in the pic

This evening we're off to have dinner with Veronika who is visiting from Frankfurt. It's been the week of the visitor. Jyotsna was here from Pune a few days back, to get a couple of visas done and a day after she left Ruth returned from Goa, on her way back to Germany. Ruth, with her rainbow coloured dresses and shock of gold hair flowing down her back. She was to have flown out of Bombay on the 9th of March but decided to prolong her stay in Goa by two weeks, giving me the job of getting her ticket extended.

Air India might have been okay to fly with but getting changes of any sort made is a royal pain. Poor J. who was anyway headed for town the other day agreed to take Ruth's ticket along, to get the new date endorsed. When she reached the AI office she was told that she would have to wait 2 hours in the queue. There were about 50 people already there before her. Why should it take so long for AI to service their customers? Who knows? Like all good government employees maybe they break frequently for tea or intercept their work with long telephone exchanges or friendly chats with their colleagues like the sales people at Cottage Industries do when you're hanging around the counter waiting for them to finish writing out your bill. Anyway good old J. achieved the impossible and returned home triumphantly with the new date endorsed on Ruth's ticket.

Otherwise life's pretty much the same. Am slowly getting back to climbing stairs and now and then I toy with the idea of going for a haircut but still haven't got down to it. I look more and more like Sai Baba. Maybe the day someone actually mistakes me for him I'll call up my hairdresser and go over. Or maybe I'll just play along and pretend to be him. It will be a new and interesting occupation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Domestic Peace Keeping Attempts

Much time in the last few weeks has gone into figuring out how to keep the peace at home. It is not easy to live with others, especially if the "others" are people like S and P the two maids whom I inherited along with my grandmother's flat when she died a year and a half back. S, fortyish, is the younger of the two and happens to be P's niece. S sulks at the drop of a hat but when you make fierce noises at her she does her work reasonably efficiently (mainly fix my breakfast and evening tea and a few other equally simple chores) . P sulks but does not work even at the point of a gun. In fact before you can hold up your gun she fires her own back at you. So in the past couple of days a lot of verbal fire has been exchanged resulting in P threatening to leave after being with my grandmother for thirty three years - which I have now told her she is welcome to do.

The problem is in trying desperately to keep everyone happy including myself and it doesn't seem to be working. I am looking for some kind of equality between us all but the idea has backfired, with P having elevated herself to the position of "chief of all equals." In the past few months she has taken to sleeping in the recreation room which has the TV and my computer and every time she wants to rest, tries to boot out whoever happens to be watching TV because she wants to sleep in peace. My suggestion that she find some other place to sleep (she has her own room next to the kitchen, for example) was met with huge indignation and I was told not to shout and insult her (which I would hardly think of doing!) So now she scowls at me every time our paths cross and I am wondering how long I will be able to stand it. What if she doesn't leave!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

An inside look at "Crorepati"

Sheila M. dropped in for tea last week along with her friends Ashok and Moyna with whom she was staying, in Bandra. A whole lot of people in the film industry are bound to know Sheila who has been visiting India for over thirty years now. She first came here through my aunt Chitra, with whom she attended the East West University in Hawaii in the early seventies.

Sheila is one of those Americans who knows the Indian film industry inside out and is able to make erudite comments on every movie from Mother India starring Nargis and Sunil Dutt to the antics of modern heroes like Shahrouk or Saif Ali Khan. Don't ask me how she manages it without knowing any Hindi but she can follow every little detail in an Indian film without the slightest problem.

Well during this particular trip to India she got it into her head to try and wangle a pass for the shooting of "Kaon banega Crorepati" - the quiz show which Shahrouk has taken over from His Holiness Amitabh and is currently filling up with his coy dimpled smiles. So apparently Khalid M organised one for her. We got to know from Sheila that the whole shooting is anything but a simple direct affair. The one hour show (with commercial breaks) lasts over three hours during which time nobody is allowed to leave the hall. I dont know what would happen if you needed urgently to pee, maybe you could find a way to crawl to the exit, without anyone seeing you and breaking up the shoot. And they also do shots over again I found out, if the first shot isn't right. So the guy who won 50 lakhs was supposed to do a second take and to try not to act like he knew he'd just won that huge amount which means, he was obliged to produce the same gasp of wild surprise at seeing how far he'd come.

I don't normally watch Croreopati but I decided to, on this occasion. I kept looking out for Sheila in the audience but didn't catch the smallest glimpse of her - or even anybody looking like her. But I had the satisfaction of watching the lucky participant act surprised when he won his fifty lakh rupees at the end. Maybe Yash Chopra or Rakesh Roshan will now offer him a role in the next blockbuster they come up with.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Air Kiss

I woke up this morning to the sight of Liz Hurley and Shilpa Shetty exchanging an air kiss at a party. I normally sleepwalk to the dining table a little before eight in the mornings, spread out the morning papers before me and between the first and the twelfth sip of coffee (depending on how I've slept the night before) my brain snaps open to register the first few photographs or headlines of the day. Sometimes it is an old man feeding pigeons by the seashore, sometimes it's a dog indulging in a leisurely scratch on a park bench. This morning it happened to be the air kiss. Both Liz and Shilpa stood a few centimetres from each other, eyes shut and lips puckered as if each expected the other to bridge the short distance between them in order for mouth to meet cheek. Whether the kiss actually materialised, I am unable to say. Not that it matters.

I have to confess, I was actually thinking of writing a sarcastic piece on the party hosted last night by Mrs. P. Godrej for the most celebrated newly wed couple in recent times but a titbit that caught my eye shortly after the air kiss, made me change my mind. It had to do with Chateau Latour wine. I thought to myself, "I SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!" because I can't think of anyone else who would appreciate a bottle of Chateau Latour (or any other good wine for that matter) more than me. Besides, whenever there is fine wine flowing at a party there are also fine canapés to go with it, ranging from Caviar to Pate de fois gras, which I also love.

Well, it so happens that I wasn't invited to this exclusive party and I think I know why. Apart from the fact that our paths in life have somehow not managed to cross till now, Mrs. G's and mine, it was because the reception for the royal newly weds was a "black tie" affair and Mrs. P. Godrej's secret service men had informed her that I don't own a black tie. I don't own a blue or a yellow one either for that matter. Nor do I have a pair of black trousers at the moment (I've outgrown the last pair I bought), but what the hell. I have a red spotted bandana which I fling around my neck for formal occasions (which could help me pass of as Rajnikant's female side kick) and a pair of dark blue jeans which by candlelight could be taken for black by tired eyes.

Some other time, Mrs. G. I'll start shopping for appropriate party apparel right away. Meanwhile, apart from the Caviar and imported cheese and the Chateau Latour what I missed was the police crackdown on the premises following complaints from residents that the blare from the loudspeakers had exceeded the 10 O'clock deadline. Several guests interviewed by the local press claimed that they had no idea they were disturbing the entire neighbourhood with their shindig. Frankly I wouldn't have known either, even if I'd been to the party.

By half past ten, having polished off as much of the wine and canapés as I could have held in me not so little tummy, I'd have made my way home and with some luck would have been curled up in bed by then letting myself be seduced into the world of alternative dreams by a CD which, though far from new, happens to be my current favourite: "The Serpent's Egg" by Dead Can Dance.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Peaceful Day

Holi passed off mercifully quietly. As I do every year I had got out my scruffiest clothes but I needn't have bothered. I could have dressed like a queen for all the attention I attracted, adverse or otherwise. Except for Sudha who stayed over from the Saturday evening session there were no other guests. It was quiet in the building as well and the little bit of noise and fun I could catch a glimpse of, was all in the shanties adjoining our building. About the only real disturbance was in the late afternoon when a couple of loudspeakers started to blare out Hindi film music dominated by the usual squeaky tones of the top female singers.

I'm not complaining. This is one festival I can't say I am particularly fond of, which as a child I thought was positively grotesque. Suppose it's all a matter of upbringing?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Budget and Other Snacks

I woke up this morning feeling a shade depressed and wondering why. I don’t often feel that way but yes, some mornings it’s as if the gray smog outside my window in Bombay fills up not only my lungs and eyes but seeps into my mind as well.

When I reached the breakfast table I found the budget report splashed across the front page of the morning papers. Then I knew it. The reason I felt depressed was the budget. I couldn’t understand it. Over the next few days some would say it was good, some would say it was bad and I would sit here scratching my head.

Scanning the papers I discovered that the budget was not the only thing I didn’t understand. There was stuff about Baghdad and Egypt and the CIA in Europe. I realized that in general I didn’t understand politics and economics and never had. It is depressing to find out that there is apparently something that makes the world of human beings go round and you can’t understand it. It robs you of your self importance.

There was a time in my early twenties though when I pretended to understand all these things, and managed to con not only myself but a number of other people into believing I did, through having mastered what had earlier seemed like totally incomprehensible themes. I started devouring newspaper editorials and books on political theory and began to bone up on international affairs and modern Indian politics and before long found myself using a lot of very important sounding words and phrases which I would give anything to remember now so as to reproduce them here and make you believe me. People began to look at me with new respect and the more admiration I got the more determined I became to plow through even more chunky tomes and articles to back up my impressive “grasp” of politics.

But then you see, the reason I got started on the road to politics was not because politics or economics interested me per se but because a handful of individuals I’d got to know at the time and whom I was trying desperately to befriend, were themselves deep into Marx and Mao or things like the Balfour Declaration (wow, I’m patting myself on the back for remembering that one!) and all kinds of really intellectually meaty stuff which provided us with so many hours of rich conversation over beer and kebabs in the evening.

So what went wrong? Did the beer lose its appeal? Was I waylaid by other interests? No. I think what happened was this. I realized one day in the midst of one of my really wise sounding statements on the future of Chinese agricultural reforms or something similar, that I was walking on thin ice. Although we seemed to be making a lot of sense to each other, I hadn’t a clue as to what I was saying. I had just become very (really very!) good at putting words and concepts and some basic information together on topics which my friends wanted to discuss, without knowing what I meant. I panicked to think that at any moment I might be found out. I felt a little like Frank Abagnale Jr . (Catch Me If You Can) attempting to pass himself off as the various people he really wasn’t.

Then I thought to myself, if I don’t know what I’m talking about, do the others? I couldn’t be that sure. I felt my entire world of ideas collapse about me. And to this day I am not convinced that people who spout clever sounding theories which remain inaccessible to the common man, really know what they are saying. I ask myself whether they are not being clever out of a deep rooted need to command the world’s attention the way I found myself doing years ago, rather than from a genuine concern for mankind. Because let’s face it, with such a large pool of intellectual talent at the world’s disposal and so many knowledgeable individuals in positions of power wherever you look, you would expect a lot more to happen in the way of peace, and economic justice than what you see happening.

So at the end of the day I am left with the feeling that real change comes from a source other than politics or the kind of economics that we are familiar with today. It comes from how we feel about each other, and - maybe it sounds naïve to say this - but it has to do with how much we really care about each other and the world we live in. It doesn’t have to do with theories, it doesn’t have to do with weighty explanations about how the system works. The trouble with that is, it means you and me having to look at ourselves and at the changes possible for us to make as individuals, instead of constantly discussing the lives and pronouncements of other people threadbare.

I guess that’s why we prefer to bury our heads in the sands of abstractions which are meaningful only to an exclusive club of intellectuals and not to the ordinary people who make up the world. Oh well. Now you’re going to tell me that I shouldn’t be so judgmental and that all those debates and arguments and sermons do have their place in life. I know, I know. I agree with you totally, they do. Sigh. They go really well with beer and kebabs in the evenings.