Thursday, 23 March 2017

Belonged!

     If I were to ask you to make a list of acts that you would consider to be very intimate, what all would you put down in the list? You would, perhaps, most definitely put down sex. Well, sex might make it sound crude, and so let us say the act of making love. You would also, perhaps, put down the kiss. Then, perhaps, the warm hug. For a lot of us, the list would, more or less, end there. But, would you laugh at me if I said that the act of someone running their fingers through my hair would be an act of intimacy for me? Probably. Probably not. Eitherway, it does not matter, because the list is mine.

     It has been over a month and a half since I got my hair cut (In fact, it's just a week short of two months). They've grown too much and now its difficult for me to handle them. The last time I had gotten it cut, she had said, "why are you so obsessed with cutting non-existent hair?" Ans so I had said, "okay, next time i'll get it cut only when you ask me to." Funnily enough, that will never happen. But, that is a different story for a different time. So, yeah, they've grown so much that I find it hard to handle them. And so, here I am now, in the barber's shop.

     The barber is a young fellow. Probably of my age or a little older. I like him. I've got my hair cut by him a couple of times, earlier.. I don't know his name, though. Why do I like him? maybe because he is almost of my age and therefore will know the kind of hairstyle that would suit me. Also, I like him for a fact that he is quite sarcastic and on-the-face types. But, still I do not know his name.

     Anyway, I sit on the 'hot-seat' and tell him how I want my hair cut. He sets about his business and starts off with the spray of cold water. As he starts cutting my hair, I realise that he is struggling with a bad case of the common cold. He coughs intermittently and. grossly enough, without bothering to cover his mouth. The Lifebuoy ad starts playing in my head everytime he coughs (I can picture the animated germs flying out of his mouth).  But I do not say anything. I never say anything, anyway. After a while, someone brings a packed of friend fish wrapped in a sheet of newspaper. But before I could see what was brought in, I saw, in the mirror, the boy's face light up in pure joy. It would not be exaggeration if I said that I haven't seen such pure joy on anybody's face in a long, long time. He immediately reaches for the packet and I cringe in my seat. First the cough, and now the hands full of meat traces. Luckily, before he could completely bury his hands into the fish fry, the boss barber shouts at him and asks him to get back to work. Disappointment replaces joy as he returns to groom my hair. What also returns is his cough. Every 2 minutes or so, he coughs and I instantaneously cringe. I try hard to not make it evident, lest i hurt his feelings. 

     While he went about his business of cutting my hair (and coughing), I realised that the way the comb felt, when it brushed my hair, felt very good! Heights of desperation, you say? Guilty as charged, i'll say (I have tried combing my hair hoping to feel good, but it just never worked). I say it again-it felt really good. And that is when the light bulb flashed in my head. I pitied and hated myself simultaneously for thinking that way. I thought, "why not get a head massage?" If the comb running though my hair could feel this good, imagine how good human fingers could feel!

     And so, I go on to ask him to give me a head massage. I think he is pissed a little because he says, "itna kaafi hoga na? Paise bahut lagega." (Inn't this much enough? It is going to cost you more) I pretend like I have a bad headache and say, "chalega." (That is okay) He then goes and gets packets of Navratna Thanda, Thanda, Cool, Cool oil. By now, I have, like always and with everything, mentally imagined how relaxing it is going to be. He starts off. The starting isn't anywhere close to what I had imagined. As always. And within a few seconds into the massage, I've realised that he sucks at it. Sigh. Disappointment here also. 

     But then, out of nowhere, he asks, "bahut darad kar raha hai kya?" (Is it hurting a lot?) I nod. And, with my eyes closed, i try fooling my mind into believing that the massage felt awesome. That it was someone whom I loved and who loved me back who was running her fingers through my hair telling me, "it's okay, I am here for you." I try fooling my mind into believing that I am perfectly fine and happy, and not lonely at all. All this while he beat my head with the cliched massage techniques. 

Okay, this is where you either gross out or have a tear in your eye. 

     Anyway, after about 10 minutes, he stops and I am relieved. I am, by now, disgusted with my desperation (and not to mention, the sucky massage).He takes some newspaper and wipes it on my face! And id all the gross-ity wasn't enough, my face now looks oily and smudged with black sooty colour from the newspaper. But, as ever, I say nothing. 

     There is more to come. One week later, I was going to find out that I have been contaminated and am down with a bad cold. Was that because of him or was it a co-incidence, I will never know. Also, I will have to visit another barber very soon because he hadn't cut it right.
     Oh what the heck! Who cares? I felt belonged. So, it's okay, I guess. 

     

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Dangal: A Message to the Future Self

     Have you watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Do you remember the opening scene? The one that shows this guy, Walter Mitty, living a parallel life in his head? One where he is, in his head, of course, the hero, performing supernatural acts of heroism and saving the lives of the innocent? Well, were you able to relate to the movie? Don't you think that we all tend to do the same? Don't we have a parallel image of ourselves where we are the ideal that we always aspire to become? Alfred Adler, a Neo-Freudian, termed this as Fictional Finalism (but later claimed that he preferred the term Guiding Self-Ideal. However, I prefer the former. It has a little martyr-ish tone to it, no? After all, it is something that we want ourselves to become but never are able to completely achieve it).

     I feel that I am digressing here. I was supposed to talk about the movie, Dangal. Yes, so let us talk about it. Well, 3 quick fact-checks before we get to it.

Fact 1: Dangal released on the 23rd of December, 2016. It is a movie about respect, about passion, about wrestling, about vindication, about girl-power and most importantly, about patriotism.  
Fact 2: The supreme court of India recently passed a directive to all the cinema operators to air the national anthem before the beginning of a movie. 
Fact 3: The supreme court directive also makes it mandatory for all those present in the hall to respect the national anthem and the national flag and stand for the duration of the anthem. This is in line with the Article 51A(a) of the Constitution. However, section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 (as amended in 2005) does not make any such mandate. It does not specify whether one should be sitting or standing when the anthem is being played or sung, The only criteria is that there is no disrespect that is willfully shown. 

     So, yes. We are in the cinema hall. It is 10 PM on a Saturday evening, on the eve of Christmas. The movie begins with the national anthem being played. This is my first visit to a cinema hall, post the court's ruling. I stand with the audience. There is passionate hollering in the audience, indicating their patriotism for their motherland. Commendable. A guy to my left takes out his phone, turns on the video mode (with the flashlight on) and begins to record the hall in a sweeping motion. At the end of the anthem, there is more hollering. I have mixed feelings of contempt and benevolence. Contempt for the hypocrisy that I assume in them and benevolence for allowing them the space to feel the patriotism that they thought they possessed. The movie begins.

     Fast forward to the end of the movie where the protagonist is victorious and wins a medal for India on an international stage. Three people in front of us stand up. I assume that they want to leave. After about 5 seconds, they are still standing and that is when my friend asks them to either leave or sit. One of them coolly turns and says, "it's the national anthem. Stand up." The national anthem isn't yet playing on the screen. Clearly, this is not their first time watching Dangal.
"When the anthem starts, we will stand," my friend replies.
"If it starts what shall I do to you?" comes the immediate threat. By then the national anthem has begun on the screen, in the movie. The protagonist is being awarded the medal. The anthem ends and there is crazy hollering in the audience. Bharat Mata ki Jai, they scream.

     In these 30 odd seconds, I do something that gives me the real lesson of the movie. I do not stand for the anthem. I sit in my place. Still. My heart is beating wildly, but the rebel inside me, the moral snob, if you will, is trying to assert its independence over the herd mentality and, at the same time, marking its protest against it. When the anthem ends, nothing happens. I am safe. The videos that had gone viral, of people being targeted for not standing, must have been stray incidents, I tell myself.

Alas.

    As the audience is taking its seat, my friend's friend, referring to the three guys in front, says, "what a show-off." The rest unfolds in a blur of incidents. The guy in front immediately turns back and begins to jump from his seat trying to grab hold of the guy who passed the comment. I am still seated, calculating if an intervention is required. And then, suddenly, my friend gets whacked from someone in the back. Two guys march to our seats, from the back and being demanding: Why did I not stand? Why could my friend (who stood) not ask me to show respect and ask me to stand?

Whack!

     A palm lands on my left cheek. I think it would be better to say that it landed on the left side of my face because it definitely did not feel like a mere slap. More abuses. More allegations of my traitorship. They speak in the local language and broken English so that we know what they are saying. Since I know the local language, I begin talking to them. I am busy trying to explain that I was following the rules. I am also trying to get my friend and his two friends to not intervene since they do not know the language and that can only get them in trouble. He, nevertheless, tries saying something and

Whack!

     Another palm lands on his right side of the face. "Keep your hi-fi English to yourself. You, bloody people, eat the food of this country...(insert the choicest of abuses of your choice)"

     This one guy with a fancy hairdo grabs me by my collar and tries to drag me from my seat. At that moment, I have my epiphany. I realise that this could be the moment when I would be done for.  It is interesting, in hindsight, obviously, that despite the gravity of my situation, I manage to make a mental note of the fancy hairdo. He is barely able to keep his eyes open. Was he drunk? Doped? I do not know. What I did know, at that moment, was that things were going to get very bad, very soon. That did not stop me from trying to stand my ground, however hopelessly it may have been. To my surprise, things begin to die down just as quickly as they had sparked off. Maybe they have had their fill of showing their patriotism and fighting against the traitors. Maybe me speaking in the local language mellowed them down a bit, or maybe someone from the management intervened. Either way, they begin to push each other off and take control over one another. Not before I have my hair pulled, slapped probably one more time and spat upon (the fancy-haired-drunk/doped-guy. He was so out of his sense that he tried spitting but was not able to get any saliva out. This, too, I made a note of it, in the middle of the action. Weird, you say?).

     "Learn to stand up for the anthem. If everybody is doing it, learn to do it," is what I am advised as a parting gift. I see the credits rolling and I realise that I had come to watch a movie and that I missed the ending. The real photographs of the athlete who brought real glory to the country are being shown. There is nobody watching that. Everybody has left. The guy who slapped us included.

    The hall empties. The attendant is clearing the underside of the seats. He casually comes and informs us that the movie is over like as if nothing had happened. Maybe this is normal. I slowly bring my attention to the rest of the three people. We all are quiet, dazed by the awareness that was sinking in: It was a miraculous escape. It would have been unfair to say that we were fighting a losing battle. There was no battle in the first place. It was mob justice and we were the criminals. Justice would have been served. But we were let go with a warning.

     I spoke about Walter Mitty in the beginning. About how, in his imagination, he is a superhero doing superhero things. What I did not speak about, is that in real life, Walter Mitty is nothing of that sort (at least in the beginning of the movie). He is almost the exact opposite of what he imagines himself to be. And that was our lesson from the movie Dangal. I had these wild emotions of anger surfacing when I had watched the videos of such incidents on the internet. I had imagined myself standing up to the goons. Of defending the defenceless. Of being the hero on the side of the right. Well, that imagination was grabbed by its collar, raised in the air and slammed on the ground just like the way Aamir grabs his daughter and slams her to the ground (oops, spoiler alert).

     Would I do things differently? I would like to believe not. I am proud that we stood our ground and we gave a voice to our rights. However, in the light of the evidence of how close I had gotten to real trouble, I am willing to reconsider. I am willing to listen to George Orwell and accept that it is not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage. At least, not everywhere.

PS- You should go watch Dangal. Despite a few cliches, you will not be disappointed.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Learning to fall in line

"You should put up their flag on your car. Even if you are scared, do not show it on your face," I said.  "It might not guarantee your safety, but it will definitely help. It'll prove your allegiance and, more importantly, help you get home."

     Things had suddenly gotten worse. The city was just recovering from rebellion and things were just getting back to normal. We had gotten together for a peaceful gathering. Things were just fine in the morning when I was on my bicycle. Now that I think about it, things were fine because nobody had expected anything to happen in this part of the country. We were a relatively safe city. However, things had suddenly gotten worse.

     We decided to leave immediately. We were having our meal when we first got to know that they have started to burn things down. We have no clue what spurred this sudden air of tension and that is why, the urgency does not dawn on me immediately. Since I had traveled from far, I, along with a couple others, decide to not take any chance and leave immediately.

     The Swastika flags had already started to go up on the buildings. People had begun to shut their shops. People were busy pouring out on the pavement, heading home. To safety. They would not care much if they were angry. The only way was to show them that we were with them. It did not matter if you actually were with them or not. It did not matter whether they were doing the right thing. What mattered was your safety. And the flag served as your shield. It only required one person to trigger a crazy paranoia among others. My neighbour has put up the flag! What if they see that I have not and attack me? It is best that I too put up the flag. And so, as I was cycling, I saw that the yellow-red Karnataka flags had already started going up on the buildings.

Swastika flags, Karnataka Flags. What's the difference?


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Bowled!

     I was walking down the stairs when I first caught a glimpse of her. And for the first time, I was not the only one. She too looked at me as she was walking past the pillar. It was sudden and the pull was so strong that we both were not able to pull away from looking at each other. I kept walking and so did she. We were both heading towards one another. It was then that I realised that her dad was walking with her. She did not seem to mind that her dad was there, but all of a sudden, I pulled away my gaze and looked at her dad who was looking at me. I gave a quick smile that was intended at nobody in particular and walked away. I have always had a bad experience when it comes to parents. Dads especially.
     I was not sure as to what was it that got her so hooked to me. She stayed on my mind for a while before other thoughts took over. There was a lot to be done and I had just woken up. I headed to the grocery shop. I finished making the purchase and was heading out when bang, she walked in! And this time she was so stupefied seeing me that her legs froze and inertia made her lose her balance. If it were not for her father, she would have fallen down. It all happened in one swift motion. I kept walking and she kept staring at me. She did not blink. Should I have stopped? Should I have braved her dad and done something?
     Nah. I have better things to do in life, I thought to myself. There was hardly any chance of anything coming out of it. For the first time in my life, I had managed to get a girl to freeze looking at me. It was good feeling. Let it remain that way, I told myself. I managed to bowl a girl over (with my looks?).

So what if it was just a 2 year old? Today was my day and nothing could change that.

I walk away looking smug.

YOLO

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Backpacker

“But I just got here! Please don’t ask me to move,” I cried out loud. The thought of having to pack my stuff and move out, looking for someone to welcome me into their lives was, as you can tell, too much to bear.

“I am sorry, but can you not see that they do not need you anymore?” asked the new tenant.

“Yeah, I can see that,” I agreed. I had seen this coming for a while now. After having moved out so many times, one can begin to see the pattern and predict the outcome well in advance. But, you see, I chose to not see it; to not accept it. However, it was too late for that now. I should decide to leave with whatever little dignity that is left in me because, very soon, they will hate everything about me.

That is how it has always been, now that I think about it. I am welcomed in their lives with a shy first few days/weeks. I am always promised that I will be made to stay forever. Like I said, after having moved in and moved out so many times, I know that I must not get my hopes up by getting too excited with my new hosts. But, when in my place, you would see that it is hard not to. In fact, sometimes I feel that the initial excitement makes up for the mess at the end. Only sometimes, though. Most of the times, however, I absolutely loathe having to pack up.

Pack up. That is what I am doing now, with the new tenant watching over me. This will be his place soon. Very soon. And most likely, he will stay longer than I did. And guess what, it is the same guy who always comes to take my place in the house. I wonder why. In any case, I never bother asking. I mind my own business. I pack up.

But you see, I don’t never learn from my past. Back then, I never knew that I would be shifting so much! I would have 2, sometimes 3 large suitcases. I would carry around a lot of things that I thought I would need in the next place that I stay. What makes it tougher is that I am never allowed to leave anything back at home, while leaving. Slowly, when it got too painful to carry the large suitcases, I began to throw away things as I would walk the streets, looking for someone to take me in. And before I knew it, things that I thought I cared a lot about in my life were lying in the dumpsters, in the sewers... Anywhere but in my bag. Sometimes I think if I should have kept some of them. Maybe that thing that made me feel secure? Or the thing that made me sleep comfortably at night, even when I was alone. But if I had, I would not have been able to move out as quickly as I can now because I have a bad habit of leaving things in the weirdest places in the house. The couch, the closet in the bathroom, under the pillows, over the roof, the floor, well, you get the idea. And once I leave, it is impossible for me to come back to take it back. Sometimes, it remains there for a long time and my owners hate me for that. I think it is rude sometimes, because when I stay with them, they absolutely love the little surprises that I leave for them in the corners of the house. But when they are done with me…

My backpack is packed. I wonder when or where I will next find a shelter above my head. You would not want me, would you? Thought so. Anyway, my owners are not at home. They rarely are nowadays. Not together, anyways. It is time for me to leave. I take a look it one last time. I am sure I would have forgotten things in this place as well. I am sure a time will come when I will stop leaving things behind for I will carry nothing with me. I am at the door. The new guy is there. He smiles to me.

“Goodbye, Love.”
“Goodbye, Loneliness. Good luck with your new home.”