I’ll-stare-Crowley

Talking about the weather is such a human thing to do.

You may point out to me rather rightfully here that talking itself is a rather human thing to do, and conversation being denied to many other life forms that share webspace with homo sapiens on the earth, its is perhaps superfluous to bring attention to this most basic of facts.

Yet, out of all the topics that grab out attention on a daily basis, it is the weather that is among the most universal. Everywhere in the world, two strangers or nodding acquaintances (or G8 diplomats) will talk about the weather, discuss its mood swings, talk lovingly of how it was in the old days, talk with relish about the horrors of the new age, talk of deluges, of drought, of cold thaws and hot flashes.

It makes climate change actually old news, if you were to look at it that way.

Nowhere is this obsessive interest in the fluctuating fortunes of the weather more apparent in India than during the end of summer and the beginning of monsoon.

Random acquaintances perched on seats no. 21 and 22 of a private bus from mofussil town to mofussil town will start a conversation with “you think it’ll be late this year?”, and take it up from there.

The monsoon is like an old friend, dropping in at around the same time every year, but delaying travel plans until the very last minute. Some years it is in form, and some others it is just tepid and weak…

 

Enough of that.

It is the 12th of June in Poona now, and the rains are nowhere in sight. We had a shower earlier in the day, and the night breeze is cool and calm, yet the morning after will bring only freshly washed roads and the hot sun in a cloudless sky.

Kerala, meanwhile, is inundated, I hear.

I want to introduce to you now a terrorist crow that has been plaguing my existence for a while now. Bald and sparsely feathered, he is the guardian of the open terrace that is just across the hall from my office. Every time I go out on to the terrace, he is there, wild-eyed and choleric, hurling abuse; or worse still, he fixes me with a gimlet stare with his beady eyes. His antics would make the Spanish inquisitador smile, would make Alistair Crowley pat him on the back and beam.

How can I be so sure that my own Crowley here is a He? Well, for one, raucous voice, and quarrelsome nature.

But that, as many of my cynical friends would point out, is no grounds for such assumptions. If anything, they would note bitterly, it seems to go against the established gender stereotypes. Well, he seems to have a faint smattering of fluff on his upper lip. That also, they would pipe up, is no clincher. Well, he swoops in from time to time and tries to shoo me away from the terrace, whenever I go out there to attend a call. He looks at me with his malevolent stare and caws with the most raucous of voices. He hops on the ledge just outside the terrace, and makes ineffectual little flying loops when I shoo him away, only to come back again and caw, more irritated now that there has been an attempt to oust him from his perch. His vindictiveness is perhaps feminine, but his aggression is male.

So here is Crowley, lord of all he surveys, monarch of the north-facing terrace, irascible potentate of the sun-kissed balcony, resident of the deciduous tree in front. Bald and ugly, he would win no prizes in a beauty contest for ugly crows. There is a patch of missing down on his neck, surrounded with straggly plumage, a small landing strip of naked asphalt that stretches itself and looks veiny and coarse every time he croaks. He has an ugly, heavy beak and ruffled, unkempt feathers, all covering a corpulent torso that supports itself on his two dandy legs. Crowley is no looker, this is something that he realized early on in life, and the constant blows and slings and arrows that he had to bear through life have embittered him. He complements his hideous visage with a horrible personality, irascible and mean, swooping down on random strangers if they so much as stepped into his terrace. His impudence is extreme, because after al, it is not his terrace, as much as it is not mine. But there must be some way by which we both can co-habit with minimum confrontation and fuss?

Evidently there is not. Every telephone call that I take in the terrace is punctuated by a series of harsh croaks, and the unsettling sight of Crowley with his beady eyes, hopping just beyond arm’s length. A violent Shoo-Shoo elicits the barest minimum respect, a single swoop through the air to come and rest in the same position, and with renewed bouts of caw-cawing. And then, the coup de grace. Crowley flies off, and just when u think that are rid of the little blighter, he swoops back over ure head, low and close, brushing by you and giving the fright of ure life, before pausing to alight at exactly the same perch as before, and renewing his verbal assault on ure senses. Then he holds you in his hypnotic gaze, and reprimands you for the sins committed in past lives, while questioning ure continued following of this one.

Truly, I’ll-stare-crowley is a formidable foe.

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Cupcake!

I want to introduce today one of my friends, Cupcake. He works as a consultant, employed for his indepth knowledge of the inscrutable workings of the government system. Thus, he is an inside man, one of the genuine cogs in the machinery, who has now been spit out by a soot-belching engine, free to roam the earth, rolling downhill and floating upstream at will. He has been taken into another organisation for his intimate knowledge of how the wheels move, and how the different levers click and hum and churn together in total synchrony.

Cupcake, however, is a man of mysterious motive, a man who moves to the beat of his own drummer, a largely tone-deaf percussionist who follows occasional drum rolls with gentle taps on the camel-hide. Sometimes, the drummer is absolutely still, stopping to admire the daisies, and then Cupcake gives it all up too, lurching forward with his characteristic bucolic air. For a considerable period of time, this man held the health of millions in his podgy hands, a careless stroke of his pen deciding the fate of hundreds of doctors, thousands of students, and lakhs of people suffering indescribable miseries, waiting for deliverance from the circle of birth and rebirth. The experience does not seem to have filled him with the sense of gravity that it should have.

Cupcake is still calm and unruffled, seemingly unimpressed by the onus of his position. For a while last year, he was chasing mosquitoes across Maharashtra, aided by a white car with a red flashing light on top. Sometimes, during the long summer days, he still talks wistfully of the car.

But it is the Cupcake of the now, the ab, that I am obsessed with.

His telephone is one of the gadgets in his life that attracts maximum interest and attention. Mystified by the workings of a machine that hitherto was confined to the universe of heavy bakelite handles and rotating dials, Cupcake is simultaneously fascinated and scared of the smooth slick nokia that nestles in his pocket.

Its every message beep sends Cupcake into a paroxysmal reaction, when he scrambles madly to get it out of his pocket and hold it to his ear, with an efficient ‘allo? Only that there is no answering how d’you? The lights are on, but of course noone’s home. So Cupcake looks at the screen, now died down to its dark default display, and, mystified, presses the “accept call” button. The phone still stays silent. But sometimes, in a ruthless display of personal efficiency and perseverance, he presses the button again.

Now as any self respecting nokia user knows, pressing the green button twice sends a call directly to the last number dialled.

And this is exactly what happens. So there are a few anxious moments as unidentified caller and Cupcake exchange was-it-yous and it-wasn’t-mes, before Cupcake, with characteristic style and panache, launches into some other convenient topic, chasing down another rabbit hole now that the beep quandary has been resolved.

Sometime last month, an errant rock flicked by a passing autorikshaw struck Cupcake’s leg, making a deep wound across his ankle, a gash oozing blood and about the size of a monocle across, half a monocle’s thickness in depth.

That was a while back, but Cupcake was scarcely ruffled. Treating it with the same amount of nonchalance with which he treated much of life, Cupcake ignored the wound, letting it pass from innocuous gash to deep ulcer, with ugly serrated margins and an angry black base. He sprayed spray-on bandages over the wound, and when people berated him for that, he washed it with water and lovingly rubbed betadine into the wound. Then, afraid that his inaction may aggravate the wound, he diligently rubbed fair and lovely into the ulcer.

And then some.

Soon, people began to notice the wound; the more sensitive olfactory bulbs began to sniff it out. There were embarrassed questions, dirty looks at the dog, and general all round consternation. The source of putrefaction was discovered, eventually, and public opprobrium and uproar forced Cupcake to do something, and to do it fast.

And so he did.

The next few weeks were filled with visits to the doctor (always an old friend, one whose history linked him to Cupcake in some mysterious way, whose rapid ascent to his position of prominence was in some way indebted to Cupcake’s munificence) and enormous doses of powerful antibiotics. The mornings were now consumed with a detailed examination of his ankle, his universe riveted on his medial tuberosity, almost willing it to heal under his benign E.T.-like gaze.

Cupcake gives a new dimension to the phrase “contemplating my ankle”. He has beheld the world on the tip of his phallus, heaven in a recalcitrant spurt, he has held infinity on the side of his talus, and eternity in the ankle that’s hurt.  

idylls of the king

The idyllic prettiness of villages is a myth, thrust upon us by deluded bollywood directors and picture postcard companies in faraway la-la land. The sweeping meadows, the picturesque houses, the brooks babbling over random bends, the cuckoos singing dreamily, nestled far far up in the trees, the trees: tall and sturdy, having withstood a thousand years of human habitation with gentle forbearance, with benign silence, all are lies hoisted upon an unsuspecting (and largely, uncaring) urban population.

Realities are more grim, and if not grim, at least far more grimy. The cute chicks that are expected to be cavorting in the village ponds are usually replaced by farting buffalos that crap their guts out as their owners scrub their broad backs. The women at the river’s edge are irritated and edgy, their backs bent over with the task of having to wash the vessels in the water, their stomachs twisted under the effect of the long tapeworms twisting and squirming inside their cavernous guts, their countenances screwed up because of their worm-infested bowels.

The roads are dusty, the children dirty and snot-nosed, the villagers are constantly eaten up by the twin forces of yearning for greener shores and superciliousness for their city slicker cousins.

The shops are cheap and tawdry, they are pale imitations of what sells in the nearby cities, in the close by towns, and cheap muslin cloth jostles for space among the racks and racks of faux silk.

There are vehicles all round, belching thick black smoke into the air, poisoning the glorious village air with carbon monoxide and lead.

Yes, lead, because the fuel is most likely bought at a local bootlegger who pours everything from kerosene to ethanol into it. At any rate, the old and defunct engines probably would spew as much toxins into the atmosphere even if the petrol were lead free.

The people may be kind and benign and welcoming and nice, but this is only so far as u are prepared to behave like a cretin with no knowledge of their customs, and a child-like trust in everything they tell u. apart from the disturbing patriarchy there, the moment u let up that u know a bit more abt wat is going on than the average city slicker/out of towner, then be prepared to see all the friendliness vanish.

Again, it helps if u look like a total outsider, the curiousity value of the tapir at the local zoo, but gawd help u if u look like the local populace, talk like them, but say things that they don’t like to hear. (like saying all men were created equal, and that its barbaric to have a different well for people living in the same village, a well that is open and runs dangerously close to the shitting grounds)

Bigotry is an old rural pastime, as is insularity and chauvinism.

Trust me, I work with an organisation that tries to convince junta not to marry off their daughters at 13-14 years age so that they may not be taken by their husbands every night in utter darkness and stifled sobs even as their fathers in law snore nearby and their mothers in law listen in satisfied silence. The task is difficult. Most people would rather that their daughters be sent into possible partial starvation and definite marital rape every night by their boorish husbands who would ignore them for the whole day until just before they proceed to penetrate them just because their tradition and custom taught them so.

(Also because u are from the city, u wud never know, so much for universal human rights.)

I am sure that this is not de rigeur for every village in the country, I’m not even saying it’s the rule for most, but I’m saying there is a sizeable majority that works in this manner, and it would do good to keep that in mind when u watch the next inanely idyllic bollywood flick extolling the village’s virtues.

jammin’

Yesterday, I got caught in my first rush hour traffic jam, on Kharadi road.

It was awful.

Helmetless, I sweated and swore in a brown haze, blinking my eyes to keep out the rising grime, the swirling dust. My left hand, flexed permanently in a sweaty clasp over the tight clutch, began to hurt, its slippery surface sliding away under my frantic grip. My lumbricals, flexed permanently in a claw-like impersonation, were beginning to show the first sign of fatigue; every few minutes, I would dorsiflex my left foot and move the bike to idling, its neutrality a poor substitute for my own heat and anger.

A single bead of sweat had formed on my neck, spontaneously coalescing over C5-C6-C7, and forming a cheery raindrop perched above my atlas. Then suddenly, thousands of beads sprouted all over my back, and as the sun beat down more fiercely, they grew some more. Goddess Sita at her most lacrymal, bursting forth from the dusty brown earth. I flexed my shoulders, and suddenly the shirt was wet, its surface suddenly dotted with dozens of prickly dots, starbursts over the dull grey, their aura spreading all over, the shirt suddenly soaked with salty spray, with grimy sweat.

Some moron up ahead had taken his truck through the one way on the bridge, and similar morons had followed him like sheep. Soon there was a pile up at the mouth of the bridge where the onrushing traffic was not giving anything away, and the truck was in no position to reverse because of the idiots honking behind him urging him forward. Then some cycles, some bikes, some scooters and an army of autos came and piled up behind them and we had a full fledged jam. It piled up right behind this particular point also, all the way from the bridge-across-the-river to the bridge-across-the-railway-tracks. Almost two kilometres of idling metal, baking in the hot sun, swearing and cursing and shaking their fists at each other. The junta in the small shanty houses by the side of the road had dropped out of their houses to see the fun, inhaling lungfuls of carbon monoxide-meets-sooty arsenic fumes and caking their alveoli with a fine film of grime and dirt.

Kids were playing on the side of the road, the solitary cow was munching by the highway, stopping in between to let a long snaky rope of dung fall elegantly onto the road, folded neatly into itself. Somewhere in the middle of the mess, an idling car stalled, and created its own tiny pile-up right there, which was watched with renewed interest by the onlookers.

I inched forward some more, then sweating, I stopped and rested my vehicle on an outstretched left leg, the gears on neutral, the wheels absolutely still. Random stuntmen rejected from the latest Jackie Chan flick audition navigated the side paths in front of me, weaving their way over dung heaps and mud ditches, their bikes shuddering with the thrill of having stolen a few inches over their static companions.

The universal Indian traffic pecking order was reversed; the cyclists were laughing at the bike-wallahs, the bike wallahs were laughing at the car-men, the Carmen were cheekily putting their tongues out at the truckers, and the truckers? Well, they were just chewing their paan and watching the fun, their irritation arcing itself out of their mouths in long streaks of finely chewed betel.

Ptoooeeii.

Just like that.