Thursday, March 22, 2007

Kal-El, Son of Jor-El

I think superheroes are socialist propaganda in disguise (All that red in the costumes always made me suspicious). Not only are most of them disgustingly nationalistic (Captain America, for crying out loud), they charge no fee for their services. Come on, a cheque now and then wouldn't hurt, would it? Besides, why do they have to adopt alter-egos to earn a living? Disclose your identity, bask in the mindless adulation that is bound to follow, copyright your insignia, your costume and everything else that's got to do with you, start selling memorabilia and rake in the moolah while you go about saving the world. Nobody's going to bother. Unless, unless and until you, the superhero, are a commie. And think about how everything Superman stands for goes against the concept of democracy, federalism and capitalism. All that power concentrated in one place. Hah! So much for the moon mission. If you take comicbook heroes as the metric, the Russians won the cold war hands down. I was over the moon with this brainwave until I got suspicious about my own thought processes. Google gave me this which is as comprehensive a conspiracy theory as any. And while you're at it, check the date on that. Am I behind the times or what? Oh well, never mind.

Of course, if I had the chance to be Superman ...
  1. Dear Mr. President, The attachment contains the invoice for all services rendered for the month of February. 798732 lives saved at a special price of $1 each ...
  2. What do you mean I'm late?
  3. What do you mean I can't get a driving license?
  4. No Lois, no, don't get me wrong, I wasn't looking ... I turned off the x-ray vision, I swear, you've got to believe me.
  5. Stop saying that everytime, you morons. Can't you tell I'm not a bird or a plane? Idiots. All of you.
  6. Now, which one of you rascals stole my underwear? I'm gonna count upto three ...
  7. What's a guy got to do to get a drink over here? Save some lives?
  8. Listen Lex, I'm telling you for the last time -- get a wig, okay? Forget Kryptonite, that glare is killing me already.
  9. Don't get wise on me now. I know what Bruce gets paid for his ads.
  10. If it's my movie, why the hell can't I act in it? Besides, I do my own stunts.
  11. Hi, you've reached Superman. If your emergency can wait a couple of weeks, please leave a message after the beep and I'll get back to you after my vacation. However, if your life is on the line, dial 911 now. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, March 12, 2007

The little known joys of a weekend

Friday evening.

I'm inside the lift, on my way home from work. Along with me are three middle-aged firangs in business suits, from the office across the corridor. One of them is going on about a house-warming ceremony, drawing parallels across cultures. The guy he's talking to nods, apparently very interested. The third one wears glasses and stands too close to the door, head hung, lost in thought.

The lift stops. Mr. 3 almost steps out. The talkative guy restrains him, "No, not here. This is the third floor. Still three left."

He then turns to Noddy, "Statisticians need bodyguards, you know."

Laughter erupts. Mr.3 goes red in the face. I smile sympathetically at him.

I can so see this happening to me a few years from now.


Saturday morning.

The alarm clock wails. I smack it down with disdain, wake up and loll about in bed, staring at the ceiling, looking out the window, thinking about the long weekend stretching out lazily in front of me.

And then I go back to sleep again.


Sunday morning.

Nila kaigiradhu at 6 A.M. on the terrace. Harini, A. R. Rahman and my MP3 player.



Sunday afternoon.

Home-cooked lunch and then shooting the breeze with a friend.

Warm nostalgia.


Sunday evening.

The soft, furry feel of a brand-new tennis ball nestling in the hollow of my palms; a catch well taken.



Life is good.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Rite of passage

Years vanish down the drain without as much as a blip on the memory. And then one night, or one day, can hold enough memories for a lifetime, memories which mould your identity in ways you don’t understand. After all we are not the day-jobs we hold, the clothes, the electronic cards and the annual vacations; defined by all those places inside our minds we secretly visit, shaped by all that we feel but can’t articulate, we are ultimately a zero-sum of our days and thoughts and actions. And, of course, our memories.

The TV plays in the otherwise dark room, casting flashes of uncertain light. A commercial break. A little girl appears, all milk teeth and pony-tail, dressed in a doctor’s coat. Her father smiles at her. Insurance policies. For children.

He reaches across the divan for the remote control, his thumb already on the mute button before his mind can record the need for silence. It’s like that sometimes. You know what you want before you can think it through.

There are times when I have no questions, times when I seek no answers. These are times when there is no trepidation, when peace stretches every second into a tranquil eternity, when life is a maze without walls, holding no more mysteries, when I am the tongue that speaks every language, the hands that reincarnate, the eyes that see everything.

She lies silently beside him, her round face looking – and not looking – at him. The TV lights one half of her face, the other half in the shadows equally delicate and beautiful. His fingers trace the ridges of her cheeks, the bridge of her nose, the symmetry of her lips, engraving on his memory the geography of her face, the contours of her body. He ventures north – to the arrows of her eyebrows - and then south – to the cleft in her chin, to the undulation of her throat - and then back up into the soft mess of her hair. He kisses her eyelids, her neck, her shoulders … she pulls him up towards her.

Every now and then, a story settles in the corners of your mind,
In the corners of your mind like cosmic dust caught in a cobweb.
And then you have to write,
Write about eagles and hunters and deserts and gypsies,
About old men and young women, about love in the afternoon sun …
And when you’re done writing,
Done writing the story, you don’t know.
Don’t know if you lived and wrote,
Or wrote and lived…

She breaks away, a little breathless, her lips a little softer now. The game-show is back on. She turns away from him, pulling the woolen blanket up to her chin, and reaches for the remote.

“Shall I lock it?”

The host’s voice booms into the room, the glassy silence shatters into a thousand tiny slivers, retreating to the four corners of the room. Reality intrudes into the privacy of their physicality, pounding at the tenuous link between their heartbeats.

She looks at the screen without registering, without acknowledging the truth of the past few minutes. She ignores the warmth she can feel rising inside her. She had been there, had had the choice and she had made it. Made a choice she thought she wouldn’t choose. Now she had another choice to make.

The audience laughs; another contestant done away with. The host simpers, and ushers in another commercial break. She switches off the TV, turns, and looks at him.

There are times when questions plague my heart, when the answers ravage my carefully developed certainty, when the rat race becomes a refuge. These are times of anxiety and anticipation, a period of doubt waiting for my faiths to turn into my future, when life lies thrown open riddled with choices, when my courage seeks companionship, when I am the sheep that could so easily get lost, when I am the shepherdess who doesn’t know if she wants to be one.

She can see him in the dark, smiling at her, his eyes all crinkled up. It gave his face an odd mixture of youth and experience, an attractive blend of the sanguine and the sad. She lies on her side, facing him, feeling him under his shirt, running her hand along the side of his face, playing with his hair. She is amused by how familiar their bodies have become to each other, how some places are visited as a matter of routine, how certain touches are expected and received, amused by how natural it is to want without knowing.

He caresses her body under the blanket. They kiss again, eagerly, tongues and lips, hands and fingers, legs and thighs, teeth and nails, exploring, engaging, exhuming long-dead emotions. The clothes come off quickly. And they make love. Man and woman.

There is time, I tell him,
To ponder theory and technique and perfection,
To discuss postmodernism and Neruda and evolution.
But hurry now, for it will soon dawn,
And the night, quickly gone.

Tell me a story, sing me a song,
Make it haunting, make it long,
And wait for me to sing along.

Tell me how the earth smells where you come from,
How it rains, how the roads lead up into the hills.
Tell me about forest fires and famine and fever,
About your lovers and the temperature of your evenings,
Tell me about old men and young women,
About wine in the afternoon and lazy love under the sun …

He stops. They are making too much noise, he realizes; the landlord might wake up. He reaches urgently under the pillow for the remote, switches on the TV, turns the volume up, watching the green counter on the screen increment from right to left. 30 … 42 … 58 … he turns towards her.

Kaise Bataaoon Kis Kis Tarah Se Pal Pal Mujhe Tu Sataati …

Kishore Kumar sings. Dev Anand. Waheeda Rehman. Prem Pujari. She giggles, breathing under his weight, shifting to help him settle comfortably on her. He grins at her, at the ridiculousness of the moment.

Tere Hi Sapne Lekar Ke Soya Teri Hi Yaadon Mein Jaaga … he whispers into her ears, singing softly, tickling her ear-lobes ... Lena Hoga Janam Hameh Kayi Kayi Baar

The TV goes off the blink -- power-cut. The fan grinds to a halt. They giggle, unmindful of the interruption and return to their love-making, oblivious to their noise.

Be patient, my dear.
Did I tell you I once was a sailor? A voyager
Into the vocabulary of the heart,
Dropping anchor in time-trapped islands;
Islands populated by mermaids with long green hair
And unblinking eyes.
Mermaids who looked inside you and sang in a strange tongue,
Bewitching sailors
Who lost their way and never returned home.*

Be patient, dearest,
While I say my story and sing you a song.
I’ll make it enchanting, I’ll make it long.
I’ll wait for you to sing along.

Let me tell you
About boats and broken nets, about storms and sticky seaweed,
About men trapped
In the nobility of their ambitions.
Let me explain my secrets, my promises,
The bargains I struck with my dreams.
And then let me tell you
About wheat fields in the wind and rain-rusted ploughs,
About forgiveness in the dusty shade of a church,
About the flame in the villages that never dies,
About the songs of old men and young women,
Who sip wine in the afternoon and make love under the sun …

They lie on the mattress, a mass of naked skin, sweat and urgent breathing, engulfed in the quiet afterglow of their union, sated, spent, speechless, love-bites all over their bodies.

She lies on top of him, her hair sprawled across his face and chest. She tells him she thinks their bodies fit well. Like always. And he, like always, laughs at her.

He lifts her gently from him, sits up and reaches for the alarm clock. She reaches out swiftly, grabs his wrist and pulls him down. He looks at her quizzically.

“What is it?” he whispers.

“Happy Birthday,” she says, and smiling weakly, plants a kiss on his forehead.


* - The Mermaid reference influenced by Ulysses, with all due respect to Homer.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Bad Music Junkie

“Picture of you in my mind” plays on the ipod. It’s a nice song when you’re walking. I wouldn’t admit listening to it normally. I have taste, you know. But yes, I like that part where it goes, “Why did it take me so long …?” Know what I mean?

I swing out of the office gates and stride right into rush hour on Mount Road.

Mount Road at twilight. Surreal. Gemini flyover dominates the landscape, soaring in and out of glitzy billboards which make me giddy with their glare. The people, the cars, the purple, the lime green, the nylon white, the breeze that dips and lifts, the fast food joints and the smell of oil, all that light and noise … totally hypnotic. I could stand there all night, watching the traffic go by and not get bored. That said it is so unlike Madras. At least the Madras I knew once. Someday I’ll show you a picture.

Bipasha Basu beams down at me from a height of hundred feet. “Cruise with me,” she invites. Thanks lady, but no thanks. Don't let hair-care advertisements take over the imagination, I admonish myself and join a waiting group at the pedestrian crossing.

I see her straightaway.

“Words” shuffles itself nicely into play. She’s looking from right to left, assessing the traffic. Shapely eyes. Nice swing of the head. Pretty. Instant heartache.

She’s almost as tall as me. Short hair falls gracefully on her swimmer-like shoulders; a few strands are a little frazzled at the top and the sides, but nothing a shampoo can’t fix -- Bips would vouch for that. Mustard coloured short-top, “wheatish” complexion, dark jeans that hug her hips and flare out fashionably at the bottom.

The light turns green and I fall in line behind her. A silver-coloured watch hangs daintily on her wrist…and she can walk, oh yes.

She’s talking into her mobile phone. I hear her voice rise above Boyzone. “No, I didn’t” … “When?” Nice voice too, I nod in appreciation. Not too girly. A little more base and it would be perfect. But then you can’t have everything. She ups the pace and I quicken my step.

The breeze picks up and that’s when the perfume hits me. Christian Dior. Poison. So, she likes to be classy, but not too classy as yet. I hesitate and then go right ahead with a deep breath, losing a little bit of myself in the process. Yeah, right! Poison, indeed. I slow down a little, letting her get ahead of me, shaking my head free of the scent. “From the coast of Ipanema to the island of Capri”, Enrique quavers into my ears and I grin sheepishly as I start following her.

Who is she talking to? Is it her boyfriend? Guilt grabs my throat and jealousy sprouts its green weeds somewhere in my heart soil. No, she looks like a level-headed woman. She would know that love is too much trouble. Probably reads more than one newspaper and wants to head her own business before she starts looking around. I cheer up, and start catching up with her. Maybe there’s time yet. Hope is an eternal spring, you know. Maybe she likes Enrique too. I say hi to Mr. Christian Dior again.

“Where does mom want to go?” Ah, it’s her dad probably. I picture an old man with gold-rimmed glasses who wears Polo shirts and goes golfing on Sundays. Yes, it would be her father. Has to be. I'm certain. She’s too sensible for boyfriends. They’re leaving on a trip tomorrow. They even have an SUV parked in the garage. I bet she has a dog as well. She looks the type.

Traffic on the other side of the flyover. We stop. Now it’s just the two of us. And she starts to step back as the traffic roars by, too close for comfort. My pulse quickens and starts to race. I don’t think she’s noticed me yet. That gives me a stupid little thrill. A yellow blur of an auto-rickshaw whips past nastily, and she jumps back, almost bumping into me. I hold my breath. Poison can wait. “I will stand by you forever … you … can … take … my breath away”. Enrique again. The idiot. Shut up dude.

We stand in the shadow of the flyover, watching the headlights whiz past, immersed in our own worlds. She’s at the edge of the kerb and I’m on the impossibly little footpath, playing stalker. The traffic thins and she ventures forth again. The sodium vapour lamps light her up, like sentries paying tribute. Christ, she’s beautiful.

I stand on the pavement, wondering what to do. Maybe I should go after her. Do I know you from somewhere? Oh sorry, you looked like someone I once knew. Where are you going anyway? Oh, I‘m from there too. Mind if I walk with you? Naa, that’s too old, wouldn’t work. How about I thought I should let you know that you look stunning? Might work if I just walk away abruptly; she might get curious about me. Like hell she would! Might get a tight little slap as well. Oh, she’s getting away. Quick! Do something! Where’s a poem when you need one? She’s near the median. I jump right out onto the road and a bus screeches to my left. Rubber burns. Curses mount. I can hear my origins being questioned. I run out.

Too late, she’s already on the other side, a sea of traffic sandwiched between us now. I'm stranded in the middle of the road, watching her white slippers turn around a bend.

And then she’s gone. Just like that. I stand with the drone of the traffic drowning the music in my ears. What are the possibilities of you seeing her again? I rue in hindsight.

Bye bye Poison.

That’s when I see her.

Long hair, proud jaw line, purposeful stride.

I catch her eye. “There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me...” -- Ronan Keating purrs into the earphones. Man for the moment.

I laugh into the night and quickly cross the road. Maybe there’s time yet.