Sunday, June 20, 2021

Bottle Episode

I use the phrase "There was a time" way too much for someone barely past 30 years of age (fine, fine - 336 days, to be precise). But there was indeed a time, when our greatest epiphanies were recorded either on the nearest scrap of paper nearby, or often on a hastily-opened Document1.docx.

Remember that one where I was worried about losing my sense of wonder while walking through LKP? Thank God that hasn't happened yet. And I ran back to the library, opened up a Document1, forgetting about an upcoming surprise quiz, just to scribble that down. Or this one, written with more lactic acid than blood in my calves, after a peak-winter pre-dawn cycle race that in hindsight, sounds like the kind of madness that happens in sitcoms about community college and not real educational institutions. (Obligatory #SixSeasonsAndAMovie callout)

In somehow managing to become both busier and lazier over the years, I've lost the habit of recording these little anecdotes. I've moaned about unfinished drafts before, but even a draft takes some effort to put down. But thankfully, those great epiphanies haven't dried up - they still rear their wispy heads up in the middle of long walks, or longer Whatsapp conversations.

It was in the middle of one of the latter that I realised I hadn't had my regular identity crises for a while. The one that hits every time I'm forced to introduce myself to new people at work - my name's Murty, and I'm basically from - umm... Vizag? Somewhere near Delhi? Wait, I identify most with Delhi, but not the one you love to hate now, the Delhi from the 90s was different. We had blue skies and Appu Ghar! Oh, you want me to move on with the presentation? Right, so, yeah, market share's going down, like my sense of being...

Locked down at home for another year has meant not meeting as many new people, even at work. Or even the little stone-in-stomach moments on the way to work - I don't have to apologise for not speaking Kannada to cab drivers, and slipping into Telugu worse than 3rd generation Bangaloreans'. Worrying at work that my English sounds too Delhi, and on the way back that my Hindi does just as much. What should my accent be? Am I more me when I extend my vowels, or am I more acceptable if I pronounce "H" as "hetch"?

Over the last 18 months, I've made more puns in Marathi than I've watched Telugu movies - here's a punch-by-punch summary:

  • How do you ask for a quickie in Marathi? Laukar love kar.
  • Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya was beautiful, and made me regret not being to Aruku yet again.
  • What do you call a hipster crowd in Marathi? Avant gardi.

Asking myself what those stats mean, and how I should reframe myself, hasn't been a challenge in the past few months. To think that was one of my biggest challenges in the last one year, and not a bottom-of-Maslow's-pyramid struggle, was probably the thing I was most grateful for during the past 15 months at home. That, and realising I couldn't really care less what the food delivery executive or the chief marketing officer I spoke to in a mish-mash of unambiguously Bollywood Hindi and ambiguously-accidented English made of it. As long as I said it with a smile, and a lilt-laden thank you at the end.

So, when things open up, and we're out and about again, that's going to be one thing I worry less about. Now, on to figuring out this writing mess again...

P.S. - About the Marathi puns - I only started doing those to improve my retention of the words I heard everyday at home for 15 months, with the good wife and her mom. I know they're cringe-inducing, but Prema saathi kaay pun. :)

Friday, February 5, 2021

Half done

It's a whole different story as to why my insignificant words live on via an ancient medium like Blogger, when there's modern blogger tools like Medium. That's not a very interesting story, though. I've not published here for the better half of a decade, but that's not because there's been a dearth of interesting stories - there's at least 5 from the past 2 years that lie catching dust in my drafts folder.


After a lot of pointless thought since I last posted here, I'd decided to practice in my writing three often-opposing tenets: catch the reader's attention at the beginning with an intriguing opening, encapsulate the essence of the story in the same opening, and call back to said opening in the conclusion. In short, well-begun is half done. So, what I have in that drafts folder is what I think are at least 5 good openings to a story and no complete stories. C'est la vie, I guess.

As recently as December 2020, I wanted to tell you about the influence of Shah Rukh Khan's movies and the surrounding pop culture on shaping a Delhi kid's values, all aboard the Chaiyya Chaiyya train. In March 2019, I was about to draw parallels between my undergraduate cohort's emergence from adolescence to Sasha Grey's career trajectory - both of which had more jerks than usual. Going further back to August 2015, the winding roads up the eastern end of the Himalayas in North Bengal were generously littered with the Border Roads Organisation's hilarious signs, but I wanted to tell you how the joke was on me, forlornly staring at them while grappling with loneliness on my first job.

If I were being poetic, I'd say something to the effect of "But, as adulthood intervened, those promising openings remained unclosed chapters in a book filled with bluster and promise, but no end-result." However as I've lamented before, I am no poet. In words I'm a lot more comfortable with than I'd like: there were a lot of unmet OKRs w.r.t. my writing output.


Good writing tends to prosper in virtuous cycles. Remember when all you people featured on the right pane were prolific bloggers? Reading well-written pieces begat further good writing. Even though I've failed every single Goodreads Reading Challenge I've signed up for in the last decade, I've still managed to read some excellent long-form writing that's flourished online. I'm pretty certain that every time each of those openings were written in the wake of reading a great piece on the Guardian Long Read, a recommendation from the brilliant Pocket community or anything by Samanth Subramanian.

Just this morning, in fact, I read a banging oral history of Panjabi MC's Mundian To Bach Ke Rahi. The story opens by exploring the opening of the song - "that infectious ting-titing-titing-titing tune that carves itself into the brain" -  I was immediately engrossed. So, there it was - in the middle of a working day, a 30-year-old boy who hadn't written anything substantial for at least 5 years, frantically trying to remember the URL to his blog, to put down another great opening to a story he had in mind. All he could remember was that it was hosted on Blogger. Why his insignificant words still lived on via that ancient medium was a whole different story...

Saturday, December 24, 2016

So long

Wow. Twitter has killed blogging, they say. This page adds to the growing evidence for this thesis from the widget on the right. The 1/n rants over there seem to act as a convenient replacement for the poorly punctuated and pathetically proofread essays from here. Surely, though, there were more stories to narrate than the year-long silence suggests, weren't there?

Maybe the big bad machine called Work has finally gotten the better of us. Or Twitter and Facebook's offering of brevity is the sole channel for our wit. There will still be some stories where we'll have to paint a picture, though, rather than post it. That paint may have been slowly running dry as we spend progressively lesser time on these laptop screens, but I'm certain our words will return to attempt pleasing you, dear readers, and offer a different window into these stubborn hearts.

Until then, and onwards, long live our blogs - capsules of nostalgia.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tempus Fugit

I don't quite remember what car we were in; the trusty Maruti 800 doesn't fit as well into the mental picture I have as the hospital's Omni ambulance does. To be honest, I don't remember much at all – it was, after all, well past my bedtime, almost two decades back. What I haven't forgotten is being dazzled by the lights outside when Ma woke me up. We were about to reach the airport.

I rubbed my eyes vigorously, trying to wrest open my eyelids through sheer force of curiosity, as my mind sought to put an image to the roaring blast of airplanes taking off. One that had landed, though, was what we were waiting for, and the promise of Pa's invigorating hug got me out of my drowsiness. Plus the prospect of the amazing gifts he'd brought from the exotic foreign lands he was returning from, of course.

I don't remember most of the other gifts, but the second time I was to be dazzled that night was when my brother and I got our final presents – original Mickey Mouse and Goofy watches. My brother chose first, and I got Goofy.


The routineness of a school-going child's life had the effect of rendering the concept of keeping time redundant. Pre-recess, you'd wish teachers a good morning and the three 40-minute lessons after the noon's recess, you wished them… you get the idea. Cartoons for an hour after lunch at home were followed by playing in the parks outside till sundown. Catching up with parents when they got back from work passed time till dinner, which was swiftly followed by bedtime. So, it seemed only appropriate that we kids use the accessory of a wrist watch only when going out for special occasions – events that broke from the routine.
Watches were our ice-picks in the snow; tools a nifty turn of which would often be an invaluable way to get out of sticky situations, and dependable accessories in the wild terrain of unplanned events.


I almost never wore a watch to school – the few times I did, it lay pristine on my wrist till I had to stuff it into my bag before games. Ma gave me two, though, when dropping me off at Roorkee for the first year there. Use it well, and don't forget to take if off before you bathe, I was told. For the first month, it hung precariously on the hooks on the bathroom doors almost every day.

It was to prove invaluable, as the time I'd leave for breakfast before an 8 am class changed gradually from half past seven to not at all because I landed in class in my pyjamas a good ten minutes after it started. Various tunes like Violin Sonata No. 14 (by unknown), the Pirates of the Caribbean theme and Adele's Rolling in the Deep blasting away in the form of alarms ensured I saw the time every morning - or often afternoon - on a mobile screen first. But it was the watches I turned to surreptitiously in classes, dangerously on cycles, gingerly in the pouring rain, and as quickly as possible even in the unforgiving Roorkee winter.


The routine of work over the past few months, and my laziness to get those two old watches fixed meant I got used to going through days without the need to keep time again.
Yet, after I finally got new batteries for them, and wore one proudly last fortnight, I was horrified by myself when I instinctively lunged for my phone in the car to see if I was on time for a meeting. My mind slowly flashed to those early days in Roorkee, to those boring birthday party conversations I got out of by giving the watch a third glance, and, of course, to the magical night at the Delhi airport.

The wistful flick of the wrist that followed gave the watch a new, if only fleeting function, of time travel.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Calling the fall

I spent almost six months listening to Coldplay's The Hardest Part daily that year. Being the lunatic romantic that I was then, I didn't deem it just coincidental that I first heard its opening lines the night of the call.

… And the hardest part - was letting go, not taking part.

'Twas the hardest part.


A little under three years back, I sat at the top edge of a U-shaped classroom, on the precipice of an exciting new social milieu. The air was full of pre-emptive judgement - every single garment, hairstyle, word and activity was being fed into a mixer-grinder in each of those ninety-odd brains to churn out early opinions. For example, despite assertions of being a wanderlust-afflicted lover of philosophical discussions, the patch of hair dyed blonde above his forehead lent one man the stubborn, if not imaginative, nickname Blaundie. As an articulate gentleman earned awe by mere mention of his work with the government and a masterfully controlled motion of hands as he spoke, time flew before the spotlight came to my seat. The recently-oiled rotating chairs didn't creak, but I could feel every single turn of all those chairs as if they were tightening the knots in my stomach. I tried breaking the tension of the momentary silence by quickly narrating my funnily long full name, and then managed to muster just one more sentence - I like finding out the origins of words and phrases.


Editing sessions for the college literary magazine mostly didn't even bother pretending to be that - we'd traipse in well after the agreed meeting time, and proceed to chat about everything in the world save the stories, poems and book reviews nobody would read the next month. It was in one such meeting, staring into a ceiling dotted artistically with used teabags, that I wondered aloud - Why do you think the phrase falling in love came to be? The conversation swung wildly - from the physics of love as a gravitational force, to the semantics of love as a state of being, via countless crude jokes. We never reached a conclusion - even a couple of minutes of Googling didn't particularly help - but the armchair etymologists all seemed to agree on the presumption that much like love itself, the explanation would probably seem fairly irrational.


If the only words you've ever spoken to a girl are "That wasn't Barbie - I think it was Batman.", it's a real stretch to say you had fallen in love. But, as Chris Martin's voice achingly explained, falling is easy. Once you're in the act of it, the ground beneath your feet quickly disappearing, your body quickly passing control to a fickle force, and your eyes feeling the cold slap of flying time, letting go is the hardest part.

The call began the fall, so it was only poetic that an SMS was the dull thud that signalled its break. The real sign of progress, though, isn't just failing and falling, but being in a state to be back up for the next fall. Over another phone call a few years later, I was in love again. But that's fodder for another story…

P.S. - A batchmate from A has started an e-zine that intends to publish a bunch of articles every weekend. Do check it out here. I'm hoping this post should go up on that sometime this week or next.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Winter Nights

After an early winter sunset, our cab screamed past Gurgaon's towers and South Delhi's wide boulevards, hurtling through the capital's northern part's patchwork roads before emerging onto the smooth National Highway - 1. Kilometres of shimmering dew-covered fields and highway motels were covered in a few hundred seconds. I couldn't wait for a warm bed and the promise of a night's sleep far, far away from Kolkata.

The body wasn't prepared for winter in the northern plains, though, after more than half a year near the east coast. My feet froze even before I could locate my room on the windy tenth floor. The blanket felt colder than the floor, and as I wrapped myself like a mummy within it, I wondered what a long night it was going to be…


I hate this place. A scandalously overcharging rickshaw driver and a swindling cartel of a marketplace might have played their role in forming that opinion, but the few conversations I had had with what were to be people I'd have to see for the next 4-5 years firmed up that opinion. My parents reassured me that what I'd seen was definitely an unrepresentative sample - and like Visakhapatnam so warmly did, maybe Roorkee would grow on me, too.

A week of uninspiring lectures save one, mounting examples of administrative nincompoopery and a hostel full of late teenagers making the ugliest most of their new-found independence meant my daily calls home became ever more frantic. I can still make it to DCE's counselling! I'll write the JEE again, or just apply to DU like I first wanted to!

The rains came and went in a flash, and after a disastrous first set of exams and a brief trip home, winter was coming. The ceiling I stared at every night was no longer painted by a creaky fan whose rotations I counted to sleep - just three dusty blades Pa implored me to sweep clean every day. The trusty bedsheet I invariably knocked down to the floor each night was replaced by a fleece quilt I didn't trust to help me survive the sub-Himalayan plains.

But the cold was a common enemy. We bonded in the wing, our motley crew - crouching around that one hot-air blower, fighting for the last hot rotis, braving the icy winds for paranthas and Maggi and playing cricket in the corridor. Winter mornings got by faster, as I moved from the stationary fan to figure out ways to get the lizards off my ceiling.
In an extremely weird instance of camaraderie, many of us chose to forsake baths for as long as a week during the semester-ending NCC Camp, whose 6 a.m. aerobics sessions were a source of much comic relief. In the subsequent holidays back in Vizag, I was fed like a temple elephant to regain the 17-odd kilograms I'd shed. Waiting eagerly for the delicacies to come, I also thought of the serious writing I needed to get done to impress an Arbit Prat, and to maybe finally winning a quiz, that one connect from school. And, of course, rip that perfect off-break in the corridor…


Trucks with Bollywood tunes for horns honked away on the highway below, and a fancy, shiny, golden-coloured fan gleamed motionlessly above. I'd be getting up for some corporate mumbo-jumbo in a factory, instead of uninspiring lectures, 6 a.m. aerobics or corridor cricket. But I knew there were tougher winters I'd gotten through, and it was with warm thoughts about Roorkee winters that I fell dreamlessly asleep.

The next morning had paranthas for breakfast. Oh, it's good to be back!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

New Slang

"Gold teeth and a curse for this town - were all in my mouth.

Only I don't know how, they got out, dear."

The Shins' most popular song played perfect background accompaniment to Natalie Portman's varying degrees of smiles. That scene from Garden State always tends to light me up. She passes him the headset predicting this song "will change your life". It's a magic pill, a suggestion that comes across as most ironical as they're both in the waiting line outside a psychiatrist's office. But in the moment that the headset's noise cancellation kicks in, blocking out the rest of the world's waves, the only sounds are of those acoustic guitars in harmony, and the overriding image of a most beautiful woman smiling nervously as she waits, hoping you like that song she just recommended.


"Turn me back into the pet; I was when we met.

I was happier then, with no mind-set."

Princess V (I don't choose all the names here) and I often looked back at Roorkee as a place where things were simpler. Despite hindsight being rose-tinted, I'd say it probably was easier then. For starters, I spent a majority of that time as a teenager, when making mistakes was not only welcome, it was encouraged. Thinking about the future usually meant deciding where to have dinner. And most of the time, placements was what many disagreed with one MS Dhoni on.

Ahmedabad was a bit more complicated - and the change came at you suddenly. Classmates fretted deeply over failed careers three months into a two-year course. Professors and alumni continuously reminded you of your ability to change the world if you wanted to, while some also sagely suggested you do only what makes you happy. And most of the time, placements decided who you were friends with.

Despite that, troubling questions of who you are and what you're meant to do prevailed more in R-land. It was the kind of place where you could spend days thinking about them - classes could be missed guilt-free, and you'd stay staring at your laptop screen all day until it was dark enough for you to consider getting up to switch the light on.


"And if you took to me like a gull takes to the wind,

I'd have jumped… and danced like the king of the eyesores."

It was in times like those that you needed Natalie Portman to light you up; her smile and James Mercer's voice telling you that you could do whatever you wanted, and the rest of our lives would've fared well. She never disappoints - even as Roorkee looks like heaven relative to Kolkata, and as the mall downstairs lit up for Christmas starts shining through the window. I know I have to stop typing, and get up to switch the light on now.

I love that song.