A space odyssey

This has nothing in common with the famous Clarke novel and any resemblance is entirely your figment of imagination.

I suffer from what I call a space-o-phobia, which starts by me being uncomfortable at the beginning, quickly feeling miserable and ultimately in a rage, when my personal space is violated, ah that is a strong word, let me say, invaded by general junta.

We, Indians don’t understand the concept of space- literally or figuratively. Let me give you some everyday examples.

There are always people at the railway station, and airports and temples and parks and other places of common interest in India, who love to sit heavily down so close to you that you can tell what they ate last summer, and if you had a bio-sensor, you could tell their blood pressure by the stench of sweat. Sometimes they lean over you to reach the dustbin, ugh, I mean, it is ok you did not take a bath, or even that you consumed garlic bread, but the bench is 5 ft long and there are only three people sitting and mathematically we can leave at least 6 inches between when I end and where you begin. But they don’t get it even when you make the inward move-meant-to-move-away to avoid the edge of the bag they are holding on their knees, which is digging into my thighs without permission. And then a finger rummages inside a nostril, comes out and wipes itself on the bag, and I quickly get up and leave, running away from the invisible germs chasing me.

Then of course, our famous q culture, and we are clueless, ruthless and queue-less around it. In a bus q (which I haven’t tried for decades now), or an airport q (the most recent encounter) or a q in a washroom or a q to exit from a plane, the people behind stick to me actually, all their protruding parts trying to fit seamlessly into me and me moving forward instinctively only to be dissuaded by the vast bottom and the backpack of the person in front. Saying “excuse me” believing that it will miraculously create space in the mass of humanity, fails. My awkward motion to create some gap, only results in others moving forward to occupy all the space available, quite like the definition of gaseous material, which by the way, is available in abundance in all such locations, and you feel suffocated. No, keep your bosom away, pls and then being hit by the whack of the backpack being slung over the shoulder, or a boot stepping on my toe and my screams drowned in the giggles of the uncaring children around- don’t you have eyes at the back of your head, or a mouth that can mouth sorry! By the time I reach home, I feel quite like having passed through a sugarcane juicer.

I sometimes wish someone should invent a space-ial invisible magnetic wall around me, so as soon as an ass tries to come within the no-man’s-land, they get a shock of their lives and are forced to back off. I mean I do have a right to my personal space- including my bruised toe, and any attempt invasion should be legally prohibited. Maybe there can be a restraining order by default, nobody comes within 1 ft of another human being. Look at Norway, country with basic minimal set of people and abundance of personal space.

The third kind who make a space-tacle of themselves is the nosey public- typically the elderly auntie whose only interest in life is to ensure they get to see all the dirty linen before it is washed. They have to know when is x getting married, and when are y having their kid (with graphic details), what is my salary, where do I live, who ran away with whom and why am my travelling and more. And that is after I am trying to hide behind the large spectacles having suddenly developed an wild interest in a book, or pretending to be asleep and only responding in monosyllables. They would size me up and down and come to conclusion about how cheap my clothes are and what parlour I go to, and that my Gucci watch is a fake, quite like the robot reading my vital statistics – “Caucasian female, ht 160 cm…”, in that monotonous intonation. They are also the ones who always know why India played badly in the last match, or what Trump should do differently, what is Kareena doing these days and they insist on giving me all the gyan, uninvited and unwelcome. Come on, give me some space! Oh, why didn’t God say, Let there be space! I need air!

Another group of people who I find utterly cringeworthy are the ones who talk extra loud on the phone or listen to the infamous videos on speaker in public places and then laugh even louder. Gone are the days when you needed to shout on the phone. If you have detective instincts, you will soon know what goods the fellow sells and at what rate, why his son failed in exams, his wife is cooking brinjals tonight and that he loves Kapil jokes. I am really trying hard to respect your privacy; now do I need to wear earphones in order to avoid hearing you. I mean the damn thing was invented so you could listen to your shit while I listened to mine and the waves don’t cross each other’s path and mutual interference could be avoided. I am totally disinterested in the menu of the last wedding you attended or what is the latest in the soap- Nagiin.

Ah, at such times, I so prefer the younger generation, who with their headphones and heads down into their mobiles are fully occupied in a room full of strangers or family and our communication is limited to “food?” “yeah” and “all good?”. Likes are the most impersonal means of communication, you declare your presence and leave it at that, comments are good too, you can choose to respond if and when you want. And since people do not get their fingers up their noses on media, it is quite tolerable.  Sometimes cyber space is best crafted to get away and really get some space! I mean, I have heard from solid sources that giving “the look” makes people respect your space, but whenever I have tried that, it fails miserably and I normally get worse looks or the finger or a blasphemy back. That takes me into an introspective mode trying to determine why my looks don’t kill with a laser beam! Would getting into my shell work? Or do I need a space suit suitable for my space?

Cabbie Cabbie

8.15 pm. Land in Mumbai. And let me begin by bragging- from a business class flight, – you know what that means, you have your own bed in the sky and a clean toilet, so no cattle class woes .. (Did I say that too soon?)

8.40 pm. cleared immigration. Fun of coming in business class that you can move forward while the rest commoners have to toil through the long q.

8.45 pm. waiting for luggage.

9.15 pm. Still waiting for luggage.

9.30 pm. Continue waiting for luggage. 45 minutes now. Whatever happened to the “priority” tag? I thought I would get my luggage like this (with a flick of the finger) and head home.

9.45 pm. fuming now. What the blisters are they doing? The entire world is waiting, so it can’t be lost luggage. And my car must be here by now. I had told them to reach by 9.40 pm. There it comes, finally I can see the pink lace, earmarking my suitcase. (thank God, nobody here knew I came from the elitist class!)

9.45 pm. Call driver. Phone busy. Hmmm, why do I have multiple cabbie/ driver numbers?

9.46 pm. Call again. Are you Sharad? Driver says, Yes, but I am not coming, call the other number. What, why? I am in Pune, it is the other guy. Sigh.

9.47 pm. Call the other driver. Phone busy. What is with the phone busy!

9.48 pm. Call once again. Are you Kesar? No, I am Sandeep. Hain? From the cab service? Yes.

Me: where are you?

He: outside the airport.

Me: why aren’t you here?

He: I will come when you land.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. (you idiot)

He: oh ok, have you landed madam?

Me: No, I am calling from mid-flight. (sarcasm drooling)

He: ok, tell me when you have landed.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. Why aren’t you in the parking? By when will you reach?

He: Oh, you have landed madam, good, I will be there in 5 minutes. Please wait next to chai point.

10.00 pm. Call again. Phone busy.

10.01 pm. Call once again.

Me: where are you, 10 minutes gone!

He: coming madam, there is traffic. Will be there in 2 minutes. pls wait near chai point.

Me: !@#$%, Already there for past 10 minutes.

10.15 pm. Call twice again.

Me: It is half an hour! You still have no reached. You had to be here before 9.40.

He: coming madam. 2 minutes only.

10.30 pm. Call thrice again.

Me: 45 minutes over! What happened?

He: in parking madam, will just come and get you.

10.45 pm. Call fourth time again.

Me: will you come or not? It is 15 minutes past when you said you are in the parking.

He: coming madam.

10.50 pm. Call cabbie agency.

Me: your driver is really late. Been saying coming in 2 minutes for the past 45 minutes!

He: Let me check, madam. I will call you back.

Me: chai point beckoning. think maybe I will finally drink chai from chai point since driver will not come for another “2 minutes” at least. Me stands in queue.

10.55 pm.

He calling: madam, where are you?

Me: Where you told me. Chai point.

He: Can’t see you madam.

Me: look at me dancing away!!! (well not really)

Found each other. Gave him an earful. Heard some sorry madam’s. Too much traffic madams. Let us go, madam’s.

Reached the car. Key inserted in boot. Boot refuses to open. Trying left, right, press, pull, shove. Doesn’t work.

Me: forget the boot, we can keep suitcase inside. Let us go.

He:  madam, key is not coming out, I need the key to start the car!

Me: !@#$

Another 20 minutes of push, pull, shove, kick, press. Finally, he jumped on the car boot and jumped on it till, key finally came out. Phew. Let us go to Pune now please.

20 minutes later, car stopped on side.

11.15 pm.

He: Madam, can you give me 1000 rs now and rest when I drop you?

Me: Why the hell should I, you come an hour late and now you want money, will give only when I reach.

He: No madam, can’t go, I have to give some money to him, (pointing at the other guy,) then I can take you.

11.16 pm.

Me calling cabbie agency

Me: I am not giving him money; I am angry and frustrated.

He: madam, please give na. it is the same amount only, before or after, how does it matter?

Me: rubbing my eyes, what choice do I have at 11.15 in the night. Need to get home as I have meetings. Ok, take it.

We move on. He on the phone. Time noted- from about 11.30 pm till about 12.30 am. Man, the guy can talk. Who is on the other side, I wonder?

We reach the ghats. He keeps the phone down. And is suddenly enegrised. Accelerates from Starts 80 to 120 kmph. Twists and turns. I hold on for dear life.

We cross the ghats. He stops at mid-way.

1.45 pm.

He: Madam, 2 minutes only. Bathroom.

Me: ok.

1.20 pm. Half hour later, I see him standing and drinking chai. If he had to drink chai, I could have done that also, why did he say 2 minutes! @#$ People who make me miss chai are like…

1.25 pm. Driver back. Drives on at 140 kmph. Now I am scared. Is he angry because I showed my anger at Mumbai? Should I call the police?

Me: Bhaiya (in my sugar coated tone), can you pls drive slowly. There is no urgency.

He slows down. To 120 kmph.

After some time, he begins watching whatsapp videos while driving.

Me: !@#$. Which was worse, being on phone, or driving at 140 kmph, or watching videos?

Me: Bhaiya (sweetness personified), pls don’t watch videos while driving.

He complies. Finally lands me home.

2.30 am.

He: madam, see I got you home on time.

Me: (!@#$,) bhaiya, your driving is too rash, but then I am in no state to give you feedback.

5.30 am.

Heart palpitations subside. I drift off to sleep.

6.30 am.

Alarm rings. It is Monday morning. Work day begins.

Maa- Few memories

My first memories of Maa are of a woman in a Taant saree, wrapped in Bong style, fussing around the home. Always associated delicious aromas with her. Cooking up a warm meal for us in the cold Jodhpur evenings, Dadabhai and I would finish the chapatis before the next one came down from the stove. She was not a great cook in the strict sense of the word, but she fed us enough and proper, home cooked, rice in the day, chapati in the night, even when I try I still can’t get the same taste. I guess she poured a dose full of love in her creations.

Maa 1
The beauty of the youth

Maa, beautiful and declared incompetent, mostly because she bore the brunt of Baba’s wrath, was a philosopher and quiet personality. Her passions in life were literature, drama, music and God. A person who went about her tasks quietly, unlike most other Indian females of that generation, but who was mentally strong enough to fight with her husband for her rights and later with Cancer. A person of few words, she could act, write, recite, direct and sing beautifully in multiple languages. Quite an opposite personality to the extrovert Baba, she would be mostly found immersed in a book or smiling indulgently at his loud bong jokes. As I grew into my primary school days, I adored her multiple facets. She was a fantastic storyteller. Her recitation of Tagore had me mesmerised and at times I would cry uncontrollably as the story ended, feeling the pain of the characters along with the undulations of her voice. I wish I had recorded that treasure house. The next generation in our family was equally blessed with her stories of “Ek Haath lamba Aadmi” (The man as tall as the arm) and so many others.

Maa 3
In her college days

A few years later I started taking advantage of her gullible nature. She could never say no to me, I would play for ever, lie to her face, did whatever I wanted and she indulged me. But at times influenced by the interfering neighbours, she had this incredible vision of a docile daughter. One day, she stated, today you are not going to play with the boys, sit at home like a girl. I fell from the seventh heaven, what happened to my docile Maa, what’s wrong with you?  I begged, cried, please, I must go; my friends are waiting. But she was determined. Finally, when all means of persuasion failed, I was dramatic enough to fall on her feet (actually) and begged her to let me go, today is the last day of my happiness, I am ready to stay a prisoner for the rest of my childhood. She just laughed her hyena laugh (at least that is what It felt that time) and proclaimed, No. To hell with all niceties, I got up, opened the front door and walked out to play. She still never said anything. I sometimes think she was incapable of scolding us kids. When Dadabhai and I used to fight, she would come and make a feeble attempt at scolding us and we would start laughing and forgot the reason why we were fighting in the first place.

Maa 2
Playing an old woman in her thirties

The Banerjee family had the tradition of falling ill one after another, first I would start with the cough, followed by Dadabhai running away with his nose. Interestingly, when we got the flu, as they say, we would be firmly put in bed, covered with three blankets up to the neck, temperature measured every 3 hours with the thermometer stuck into the mouth between coughs and sneezes; while Maa would be coughing away, cover herself with a thick shawl and stagger to the kitchen to cook up something bland for us. And then my dear Baba, would fall sick, all he would do is hold Maa’s hand and cry that this time he was definitely dying and he wanted his entire family around him for his last few precious moments. I guess he got the man-flu that made him sicker than the rest of us mere mortals. But finally when Maa succumbed, we all would have recovered and just left her to tend for herself. What a selfish family we were!

Maa 8
The Banerjee’s in the 70’s

I used to share everything with her. The bond that we had can’t be explained. We spoke about sex, love, philosophy, books, life, anything under the sun, no taboos. In the 70’s and 80’s, where majority of India was so prude, I had such a great thing going where I could ask my questions to my friend, philosopher and guide. I learnt compassion from her, the caring nature that she implicitly had, I got in my genes. Now people say I also look like her, that is probably the best compliment I can get. There are times when we did not need words to communicate. We just understood and the eyes would twinkle, and lips slightly curl.

Of course she had her weaknesses. She was hopelessly inadept in household work, couldn’t see dust under her nose. Had no idea of how to manage money, having been patriarchally shielded by my grandfather earlier and later by Baba. A working woman throughout her life, first as an English teacher in school and later in a college. M.A twice over, she never knew how much she earned, never bought jewellery in her entire life and rarely bought expensive sarees. As I grew older, she started relying on me to manage gifts for relations, buying a bra for her, getting household items, because she would not go to the market to buy for herself. She was superstitious to the S, sit down, if you have sneezed, black cat crossing types. Any gift had to be vetted for a week. If anything, even slightly negative happened, the gift would be wrapped up and go into the extreme gut of the almirah, never to be seen again.

Maa 4
An epitome of simplicity- even on her daughter’s wedding day

She was so into culture and literature, I gave her a rude shock when I declared I wanted to marry my now husband. Her first and strongest reaction was “How can you marry a non-Bengali?” In her mind it was clear that there were only two classes- Bongs and the rest of the world. And of course, Bengalis are the elite ones, how can anyone even think of competing with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Uttam Kumar, Shuchitra Sen, the literature and एकला चोलो रे and the rich history? How could I stoop low enough to give up the cultural heritage and other such blahs for matters of the heart? When I said it doesn’t matter to me- she could not believe her ears- are you my daughter? Is this the संस्कार that I taught you?  Her next problem was “he is so dark; your kids will not be fair”. Long story short, she relented after a long time and was quite happy with the prodigy produced.

Maa 5
One of my most treasured moments- smiling away

Oh, I love her so much. When she looked after me, and when I looked after her. When I lived with her and when she lived with me. When I was her child, and when she was my child. I don’t want to talk about her later years. She lost interest in God after multiple illnesses that ate her away. She would say, if God did this to me, enough though I prayed all my life, I am denouncing God. And she did. She stopped praying, looking at the idols. She stopped crying. But she felt, how she felt, her looks said it, her writing said it, she was strong enough never to break down. She lived on and fought on for almost a decade. Fought on till her last breath. Then she gave in. Last year. The morning after Dusshera. But never once did she say I am in pain, always “bhalo achi” (I am good).

The day I decide to work

I am a hard core lazy person. I am the kind of lazy that can put Association of Laziest to shame. The kind that asks you to remove the fly from my nose, the kind who is happy to stay thirsty if water is not within arm’s reach, the kind who can survive on dry snacks in the kitchen, when the maid is on a furlough. And who doesn’t answer the phone simply because- I am too lazy to move my mouth.

Most days I am happy if I am up by 9.00, maximum by 8.30. In case I need to be up at 7.00 (with a conference call scheduled at 8.00), I am already sleepy as soon as I am up since I slept for a couple of hours only- from 11.00 in the night to 7.00 in the morning, and wonder when will I meet my bed and pillow again. The whole day I keep missing the bed abandoned by me during the sleep infancy stage with a strong feeling of guilt.

But then there are those days which begins with the Sun in the west and ends with a blue moon. That is when I decide to exercise my muscles and limbs. Mostly such a sinister idea is materialised only when I am in a bad temper, after having fought with my husband for no reason whatsoever, and to top it, discovering he is not sorry (doesn’t matter he didn’t find a reason), but then husbands are supposed to say sorry, no matter what. That is when I decide to ignore him and focus on housework.

Invariably if I am dusting, I will end up breaking something. Mumbling over by breath with everyone around to hear “this maid is lazy”, I sweep ferociously with a clean cloth and marvel at how dirty it turned instantaneously, and then realise that the toy airplane from Turkey had crash landed and shattered irrepairably. With a big bang. The whole house rushes in to figure out what disaster I caused, yet again, and then shake their head in despair and go back to their respective chores – lazing on the bed or watching TV. A trifle mollified, I am now more careful and try my better, not to break some of the more expensive things. Breaking stuff does have a placebo effect.

If you haven’t sorted papers for a week, they pile up and crop up anywhere, vague random places, newspaper in the bathroom, dining table full of torn envelopes from which worthless paper bills had evolved. What is the light bill doing here? What offer is this, this is expired, let us throw it. What do I do with this year old bill? This share paper is worthless, or is it? Now where papers are concerned, I bow to the supreme belief that my husband is surely going to find an urgent need for it immediately after I have thrown it away. So invariably, I collate every piece of worthless paper that I find, which is not stuffed inside the cupboard, and dump it in front of my husband relaxing with his Sunday newspaper. Hands on my waist, I tell him- now that I am working, you better do your share too. Which he dare not ignore, for he has experienced I will forever remember and make his holidays hell for the rest of my life. Trust me, he doesn’t even like me removing the week old newspaper because there was some news he wanted to take an image of and add to the whatsapp clutter.

Now with a sense of accomplishment, a few broken artefacts and loose papers collected and piled in front of a bored husband, I relax with a cup of tea.

That blissful day I decide to find issues with everything my maids do. Why is this corner not clean, scrub well, at least do something without my standing on your head! They look at each other and sigh, maybe she has pms, one of those dreaded days when she turns into a fault finder, aka bitch. And then if they decide to ask me for money that day, they have had it. I remind them of every cup they have broken and every cloth which ran colour till they give up. There are days I have gone to an extreme and told them- trust me I am not dependent on you – the biggest lie ever told in the world of lies.

And then maybe I decide to cook too. Now for a person seldom entering the kitchen, who doesn’t like to cook standard meal, I have to plan for something exotic- which my family always eyes with suspicion and put in their mouths with trepidation. The fact that nothing turns out the way it is shown in the you tube video is a smaller problem than the fact that I always manage to cut or burn myself, merely small symbols of the hard work and suffering put in by womankind. I am almost feeling like Padmawat(i). Hopefully it is no longer a taboo to use that i.

With a brave look, I show my husband I have cut my finger and he suitably tch tch es while his eyes ask, why the hell do you enter the kitchen anyway? Stay out of trouble, or did he mean trouble to stay out of kitchen. Now the cut may be a mere scratch, you need to look with a magnifying glass, but ah, the feeling of sacrifice, toil, blood and sweat is what makes the day.

After all the hard work, have you ever observed how noble we feel, as if we have just saved the girl child, and in that Mother Teresa avatar, we always look down our noses upon mere mortals who spend the day reading the Times from one end to another and watching the forever T-20.  And finally end the day by keeping the aforementioned pile of  papers in a bundle and inside a cupboard, to be sorted some time in future. (which is never or till the cupboard overflows and then you throw it away anyway).

Satisfaction of a day well spent. Fight, breaking things, finding faults and migrating waste from one location to another. Now back to laziness till the next such upheaval.

What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

IMG_1963

Gym-nasty

Like I always say, once you enter the fourth decade of mortal existence, life takes on a whole new meaning.  You stop worrying about wearing the most unsuitable clothes and show off creaky venous old knees; you color hair not to hide the white showing through, but to get a brunette look.  And among some of the other weird things I have no wish to expose just yet; I also enrolled myself into a gym.

Yeah, so I did. I can’t fathom what on earth prompted me, after successfully giving it a miss for all of my forty and five years and suddenly here I was, struggling into tights and t-shirt and trying to get rid of my belly fat and other protruding anatomical juxtapositions which don’t look right (yeah, the fat would have looked better a few inches above). I guess too much time on my hands and a desire not to feel totally lethargic and waste yet. So, lo and behold, I was ready to take a swing at things I had not attempted before.

The gym is pretty close to where I stay, so walked over. Went inside to ear blasting music and a plethora of machines all around. I with my weary eyes had to look where I walked else I would be the first to fall flat on a dumbbell thrown carelessly around, or the jutting leg of a legpress. I was given a tour of all the contraptions and re-learnt all the muscle names forgotten in class VIII, triceps and biceps and hamstrings and which one is smaller and larger. I also got an overloaded with names of machines and exercises which I didn’t remember five minutes beyond. I could see several trainers repeating basic math- one, two, three, buck up, back straight and I fondly remembered my PT instructor.

Since I was not put off the place during my first visit, I decided to pay the fees and hoped that would prompt me to continue. Day 1. A baldy instructor confronted – why does everyone I encounter have to be bald?? Gods have something seriously against me. At least my gym instructor could have been a treat to the eyes. Sigh, he isn’t, doesn’t look a hunk from any direction (including upside down), looks more like a soft spoken teacher or a government servant. He started off rattling something in Marathi and I had to stop him mid way through his monologue, Hindi please, or English, I asked doubtfully. Yes madam. Then he started my routine. By the time he finished with me, I was almost dead, all limbs creaking and trembling, wondering whether I needed a stretcher to go home.

In my dotage, the way I exercise is my break time is almost equal to my exercise time. The fun during the breaks while I struggle to get my breath back is to look around and see the blatant display of chiseled torsos and muscular wealth. The day I joined, all the folks turned and glanced at the old woman gone crazy, took one look and disdainfully went back to their routines. So much so for my hotness! At least I can see a hot Dwayne smiling or a desi Hrithik looking at me sideways from the wall, and a surly looking uninspiring female body builder who gives a smirk.

Over a period of time, I learnt to use some of the machines, lift some weights, and perform some basic workout though it pains me to see guys lifting so much weight while I was struggling with the lightest dumbbell. Going overboard and trying extra would cause a “sweet and sour pain” in my glutes for the next two days as my instructor keeps repeating. He hurts my muscles more than my sentiments, and I walk out in a weird gait (resembling a three-legged-walk) since everything was sore, feeling distinctly old and in need for oiling.

Over a period of time, as I interestingly watched the steamy sweaty bodies and listened to Mika screaming “shake that booty” at the top of his voice, I realized there are basically five kinds of creatures infesting the gym.

  • The “hen-pecked-husband” whose wife doesn’t let him sit along with his pot belly in front of the idiot box, and packs him off to get a six pack. Poor harassed fellow, he finds it so tough to slide into most of the machines, which are really designed for human size. Huffing and puffing, his painstaking attempts at lifting weights and then taking half an hour of break with open mouth struggling to breathe in air right in front of the TV.
  • The “self-obsessed-and-proclaimed-hunk” wearing tight shorts who spends fifteen minutes lifting weights making alien guttural sounds and faces and then walks with a forced swagger and spends next fifteen in front of the wall length mirror looking at his jutting muscles from all possible angles and showing (off) to all the trainers around and measuring the micrometer change in his biceps. The mindless body and his gymfies on Instagram and Facebook lives. God save him!
  • The “I-have-time-and-clothes” girl who adorns yoga pants and sports bra (only thing everyone noticed) and something insignificant on top which is completely superfluous, with a ponytail and a mouth that can literally move mountains, and a magnetic personality, pulling all sweaty bodies towards it. With bobbing boobs and behind as she treads the mill, all trainers (including mine) fall all over themselves to train her and look at her with gaping mouths and rising heart rate.
  • The “exceptionally athletic Superman” who is actually focused on just building muscles and totally oblivious to the rest of the world around him. The guy who pushes every machine to its limits and cribs that they were not strong enough, and who spends daily 2-3 hours just exercising. And the walk, reeking of self confidence! But I wonder, he is already there, then why make the rest of us all look and feel nobodies.
  • The “aiming-to-impress-girlfriend” sweaty smelly thin fellow, the pea-brained nincompoop who wants to build brawns and not brains, with silky hair, big phone and glares and thin spidery legs, squatting away to glory, face straining hard to avoid the gaseous excretions towards his fellow folks.

Ideally I should qualify myself into a sixth category, who last squat was only during the last Indian style loo visit, but then being a unique specimen, I am not sure there are many like me around. In the past year, I have started enjoying the one hour stint at the gym every day (well, almost). And my top three reasons of visiting the same place regularly happen to be

  • After working out, I don’t feel guilty about not working out and the cake tastes so much better, especially with the icing (and I wonder why I am still putting on weight?)
  • That hot dapper who always comes in at the same time and is a temptation of magnificent proportions.
  • Enjoying my favorite mind exercise of judging and categorizing people.

Maal-eficient

This started when I was labeled JMMT which I didn’t quite understand at first, hence the clarification “Jhil Mil Maal Thi”. I wondered whether to be angry due to the inappropriate use of the word “Maal” or because of inappropriate use of past tense.  These days, when even “sexy” is considered pornographic and the कमाल माहौल with all feminists around, I wasn’t sure whether a smiley or an angry emoji made sense. The thought lingered and I decided to decode and shred the word that has so many connotations in the great Indian middle class context. Delete middle class, I seem to have a fixation with it. I have not checked whether the word has found its way into the oxford dictionary yet, but even as I count on my fingers, these spring to mind almost immediately.

I think the most traditional use of the word “माल” would be for goods or things. And most frequently used in transportation and businesses where large amounts of goods are moving inward or outward. God, this is beginning to sound like a thesis, which was not the thought I started this with at all, so the antithesis has to begin now.

Directly from things is derived the “expensive माल”.  As the मालदार “Lion” of 70’s Bollywood fame used to say, to his “Mona Darling”, “Mona, हमारा माल कहाँ पंहुचा?” “मालिक, सारा माल पुलिस ने पकड़ लिया”, here, like we all know we are talking about contraband and Pirates of Caribbean and National Treasure and the visualization is that of crates full of gold biscuits and ornaments, stashes of green and pink currency and underground temples when lighted up revealing precious stones and idols and more.

There is also the tasty माल that refers to awesome food, the ones you hog over in great Indian weddings and in hotels only at company expense, (without even burping) like the dry fruits and कचोरी and समोसा and sweets that are smashing but brutal for the तोंद . Which makes me wonder why “maal-nutritioned” means the opposite of what it should mean? All the rich brats are actually well stuffed with माल and not the skinny ones from Sudan.

Now, if you talk to the students of Symbiosis and other NRI-class schools where neo-rich kids with their expensive cars are sent to get a quart of education but instead get a pint of rum and a pinch of the stuff up their nostrils, “yeah, this is good shit, man, ये माल कहाँ से लाया”.  Here the माल, low in quantity, high on quality and has to be stuffed up noses or intra-venous, forever banned dope in Indian homes and can kill Bill too (or two, aaah, doesn’t matter)

And then you have the malls where all the imported माल is displayed, even the Indian माल is displayed in a way to appeal best to फिरंगीs, much to the dismay of the poor and the tired, who can look but not buy; and the rich and the famous who buy without a look, where you and me go to enjoy an afternoon of conditioned air instead of raising the home electricity bill in this scorching heat. A Sunday afternoon well spent on ogling all the stuff you will never need, with a cup of coffee costing three times more than it should, and then spending some bucks in getting worthless things just for the heck of it.

And then of course the maal, from where this whole train started. “A sexy woman” or “hottie babe” as some sites literally translated. Derogatory and anti-feminist. All feminists are advised against reading this blog, to avoid what is almost blasphemy to them. But really they shouldn’t worry. All this no-bra-fad will prevent them from actually being labeled as maal, does anyone really like juggling balls except for jugglers (oops, faux pas).

I read this interesting question on Quora

“My boyfriend in Indian, from UP, and if he is with people he doesn’t know, he tells them that I am his ‘maal’. We have been together for 3 years. Does ‘maal’ mean girlfriend, is it ok to use, or do I need to beat him? 🙂 His English is quite good, but he never uses the word girlfriend…

I am learning Hindi but it takes time, so your thoughts are really helpful. (I am English).”

And one of the interesting responses was

“In fact “MAAL” was an indecent word used earlier, in those days even “SEXY” was indecent word and if any one uses this would be considered equal to rapist. Nowadays in hitech and modern society these words are quite normal and don’t stand the meaning what these earlier used to have. If the guy is good, these don’t matter…. in current fast forward culture.” (Took the liberty of correcting the grammar, but not the lingo)

BTW, the JMMT guy later modified his statement and said “ABMH” meaning अभी भी माल हैं, much to my satisfaction.

Which makes me wonder, when I was sixteen and two, I would have flipped my lid, if someone called me sexy, my middle class upbringing has strict objections to use of such words in public, would have literally felt abused. Today it doesn’t make a difference. Maybe because I am middle class plus, or just plain forty plus. Actually any plus size woman would probably be happy being labeled sexy or maal, yeah, I still have it in me to attract eyes. Is it my tolerance or my experience or my complex talking?

With my latest fad at creating jh-ictionary, I thought since the word could not really be understood without context, and only causes गोलमाल, we could make a different word for each context, so here is an attempt to add few new words, to avoid the confusion in the minds of neo-urban-but-desi folks.

So, to wit,

knormaal: /nor-maal/ Simple and normal goods or things (The k was just to confuse you)

dealmaal:/deel-maal/ a smuggler is a dealer who deals in maal, hence proved (stretch of imagination by far, readers are invited to provide better words)

maalnourish:/ has been explained before, the over-fed, obnoxious, nourished by maal, obese generation

narcomaal:/narco-mal/  narco grade maal that can blow you away and give you highs and lows.

Mall-a-maal:/mal-a-mal/ Mall of the maal. The over-priced, over hyped buildings housing stuff that you buy, don’t use for six months and then olx them away.

Desimaal:/deci-mal/ literally meaning you know exactly what), but she is sure to get confused, you can always explain she is petite and simple J. Trust me, she will go out on the date with you.