Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Iron"ing my flaws

“Golf is an expensive sport”, is what my ex boss said after I expressed an interest in pursuing it as a hobby. She claimed to have lost a fair amount of money on buying new golf balls as she'd lose them either in the woods or in the water hazards. Thankfully, losing golf balls hasn’t been a problem for me so far. It’s hard to lose something that dribbles barely a few feet away after I whack it with my driver. My lack of golfing skill makes me feel really lame. I'm someone who literally has a high golf handicap. My golf handicap is so high that I should be allowed to park in spots which are reserved for handicapped persons.

In golf, unlike cricket, a 100 next to your name on the scorecard is not appreciated. Yet I’ve developed a love for the game. And it is not because I am aspiring to become the next Tiger Woods (after all that fame, fortune and women, who’d want to be in his shoes!). The only time that I prowl like a tiger is when my golf ball dribbles amongst the dense Bermuda grass. I call this act “prowling like a tiger” because I try to keep out of sight while hunting for something which has rolled barely a few feet away from the tee (as mentioned above). To keep my game simple, I stick to a basic philosophy of, “swing hard in case you hit it”. I guess it’s the same adage that Tiger’s enraged wife used when she attacked him with a 9 iron after learning of his infidelity.

Back in the days, I used to enjoy taking long walks in the woods. But doing that to search for a ball which has sliced off the driver is another thing altogether. Since we are on the subject of slicing a golf ball, the only positive thing resulting from that bad shot is that (a) I’ve managed to connect the club with the ball (b) They say walking in the woods is good for health. A miss hit in the opposite direction of a slice is called a “hook”. I manage to pull that off with some regularity if I really concentrate hard and try to hit the ball straight. But after seeing a golf t-shirt with the slogan, “are you a slicer or a hooker”, I thought I’d call all my miss hits “slices”. The person who said, “I’m not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they’d come up sliced” would have been in my current position.

But I digress. I decided to improve my game because, with all due respect, golf isn’t really a sport. It’s a game. An expensive form of playing marbles (something that I sucked at as a kid). I’d trade the odd sore back for all those pulled hamstrings and twisted ankles that I’ve suffered over the years by playing real sports like soccer or tennis. Also, while playing those sports, carrying a can of beer on the greens would have been frowned upon. Golf also gives me an opportunity to interact with matured people. And by matured, I mean folks for who words like “hole in one” does not generate a snigger or elbow poking. And I guess drinking and driving is only acceptable when it is restricted to a golf cart or golf swing.

A couple of colleagues invited me to play in a charity golf tournament (yeah I know it sounds fancy). They must have been short on volunteers to actually invite me. The only charity that I expected was that they be discrete with their sneering and chuckling while I played. They did the needful and yet I felt forlorn. Someone once said that “while playing golf today I hit two good balls. I stepped on a rake”. I’m sure that it would not have been as painful as my hurting ego.

Now back to the part where I’ve been trying to improve my game. Lately, I’ve been frequenting the driving range to practice. For the past three months the people who practice around me have been giving me driving tips (sometimes) and sympathetic looks (mostly). The question that I’m asked multiple times at each session is, “first time?” I don’t take this question as badly as most people think I might. My dates have been asking me the same question about my “kissing” for over a decade now. My answer is always the same: “I’m working on it”. I guess that is why someone said that “sex and golf are the two things you can enjoy even if you’re not good at them”.

- Chaitanya

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alpha Tau Kappa Tau: Fraternities and Sororities in India

Many of my American students ask me whether I was a part of a Fraternity during my undergrad years at Mumbai University. Or if Indian universities even have fraternities or sororities in the first place. I usually smile at such questions and close my eyes for a brief moment. My mind goes in flashback mode as I recollect those by gone years. Ah those were the days….

Yes, I am an alumnus of a very popular fraternity. It still has chapters in each university across India. I am sure most of my readers are alumnus of this frat as well. Remember the “alpha tau kappa tau”? For some of you living in denial, does “kappa tau” ring a bell? I’m sure you don’t have to be Socrates to decipher the English alphabets. For you nerds out there who have no clue what it is despite cramming The Odyssey, let me ease your pain. It’s my American name for ATKT i.e. “allowed to keep terms”. Or more practically, “after trying keep trying”.

Well, you will be pleased to know that even today biannual meetings are conducted without fail. The turnout for such meetings is phenomenal to say the least. I was an active member of this frat. During my school years, I made it a point to attend each and every meeting. Come rain or shine, I was there. I was the unofficial president of the Mumbai University chapter.

I explain to my students that the goal of the fraternity is to allow a young student to understand himself. He is given an opportunity to understand his own strengths and weaknesses. It inculcates a desire to learn, to value education and to realize that you are human. It helps you identify what’s humanly possible and what is just beyond your reach. Many a career decision has been made at such frat meetings.

These regular networking sessions helped me develop a strong bond with my fellow students. Yes, like any self respecting frat boys, we were like brothers. Or more like “XYZ bhai”. We had pledged loyalty to each other. We always made it a point to help each other in times of need. At times, unscrupulous means were employed for this purpose. But as it’s said, “the end justifies the means”.

Yes, there are certain restrictions to the induction process. The student has to be of a certain caliber to be a part of his hallowed club. In the first year, most of the students feel that they won’t make it in. They feel it is beyond them. However, like any other educational program in India, there is a certain cut off score to get in. These marks may vary depending on the college. At my university, the cut off was below 40 on a 100 marks exam.

And yes, there exists hazing. Or “ragging”, as we call it in India. However, unlike in the US, the brothers do not involve themselves in hazing. The professors and examination proctors do it instead. Initially, you feel mortified. “Spare me the humiliation” or “why me”, are some common thoughts. Then you get used to it. You learn to take the pain. After a point you actually start enjoying it. After graduation, you laugh over such incidents. However, somewhere deep inside there brims the sadistic urge to know what the new inductees are going through.

When I catch up with my brothers even after all these years, the conversation quickly veers to our personal experiences with kappa tau. The fraternity which made our present tense and future perfect. Cheers to alpha tau kappa tau!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


- Have no expectations from anything or anyone. This way you will cherish what you get and not be disappointed if things go wrong.

- Never feel inferior to anyone in any respect.

- Stay only amongst positive people and root the negative elements out of your life.

- Respect a person for his actions towards you and not necessarily his achievements.

- Prefer short term happiness since nobody can predict the future.

- Never waste time around people whom you do not like.

- Take life as it comes and enjoy the challenge.

- At times just shedding tears can help clear confusion.

- Do not allow your own academics or money to define you.

- Stay away from people who are jealous of you.

- Always believe in the unconditional love of your family.

- Believe in God and ignore people who don’t.

- Share knowledge only with those who value it.

- Speak your mind in a politically correct manner.

- Take pride in your skills and keep practicing so they do not stagnate.

- Keep trying something new and keep pushing the boundaries.

- Enjoy your own company. If you are bored of yourself, get the hint as to why you are alone.

- Develop interest in things round you.

- Never look down on someone whom you can’t help up.

- Make the most of your resources.

- Remember if there are a million ahead of you, there are a billion behind you in the rat race.

- Do not allow criticism to affect you.

- Do not waste time with people who do not agree with you. Just pray they rid themselves of ignorance before leaving the world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


The sun beat down harshly, immediately distorting the contour of my expression. With crinkled eyelids I stared blankly at the Arabian Sea below as a whiff of smoke escaped my tanned pursed lips. I paced around slowly. The brain was ticking and the lungs were puffing.

The terrace of my office building was an ideal place for my “brainstorming breaks”. Creative ideas blended with a dash of black coffee and a hint of smoke made a magic potion. The potion on which I believed my modeling agency thrived on. Minutes would turn to hours at times; thinking of the next fashion show or the next magazine shoot.

Faces of fashion photographers, choreographers, designers, stylists and models would emerge through the smoke and spin in my head like a jackpot machine. The risks and benefits of every combination would be calculated in my head. Suddenly there would be a glimpse of light in my clouded mind and I’d run down to break the plan of action to my team.

My mind was focused on a print shoot for a ladies' denim commercial for the Middle East. I had already zeroed in on the photographer. The only bone of contention was which young ladies to select. They had to look beautiful, nothing else, simply gorgeous. Tall, slim, good features, nice long hair and fair. The industry demanded fair girls for print shoots. Dusky girls with average features were useless for this. They were good enough for the ramp if they were tall and slim enough. But even they were taken grudgingly. I was an integral part of a shallow world. But that shallow world paid for the comfortable lifestyle which I led. Changing the world or people’s perception wasn’t my concern.

My mind shifted to the numerous aspiring models that came to me for work. I didn’t give a hoot about their “talents”. If they did not fit the “conventional” look, I offered them tea; chit chatted, took their photographs and assured them that someone from my office would get in touch with them. I didn’t have the heart to say, “You are no good. Your looks will never work. Please go back home and do something else.” The pictures were immediately confined to the welcoming bosom of my trash can.

I still wasn’t part of the shallow world though. After every such meeting, I needed a drag to get over the uneasiness. It was the hope in those eyes. The hope and trust which would haunt me. The hope and trust which I strangled, the moment the pictures touched the bin.

Then slowly I turned cold. I assimilated myself in that world. My job was to sell dreams. I started living in a dream myself. My smile became my mask. I became a parody of myself. I started disliking people who were not good looking. I felt that they were coming to office to waste my time. The same time which I could dedicate to “deserving” people. At times I made it a point to tell them that. Mostly I did it in a politically correct manner. Sometimes I was blunt. But I didn’t care. I had a business to run and salaries to pay.

Gradually the sight of bad features, bad hair, bad dressing started making me uneasy. My soul turned shallow, then dry and finally I could feel it die. I know it died because I felt empty. It lay buried somewhere between the four walls of my agency. I never quite realized the subtle transition of my soul into arrogance. The only thing that remained of my previous self was my “carton of 20”. The hopeful eyes still haunted me though. But I knew a drag was all it took to cloud those thoughts away.

Outside the office, I was myself again. Maybe that’s why I always liked going to the terrace to think. The fresh sea breeze felt liberating. It allowed me to think in peace without being disturbed. My soul felt alive again. It was the only place where I could be at ease with my “oral companion”.

A trickle of sweat ran down my neck and made me wince. Another drag before I shifted base to the cooler confines under the parapet on which the water tank rested. It was when I moved there that I realized that I was not alone.

My soot stained lips broke into a genuine smile on seeing her pudgy, dusky features. However, the hint of coldness in my heart screamed, “For that skin tone, at least use a hint of bronzer to liven it up”. Her hair was tied neatly in a tight pony tail, a far cry from the cute step cuts which were in vogue. Her simple denims and tee did not make any attempt to hide her ample frame. In my office, a girl looking like that would have been spurned. I disliked bulky people. I felt that they were too lazy to exercise. “I hate people who abuse their bodies”, I would tell my near and dear ones even as an extra layer of soot collected over my lungs. “How many times have I said no wearing sneakers on flared denims!” my heart wailed. She was a stark contrast to the girls who visited my agency and those who worked there. But that day she did not flash her pearly whites on seeing me.

She worked in the office next to mine. We would often meet in the corridor or elevator and exchange pleasantries. Then we started having brief conversations since the car park where I kept my car and her bus stop were in the same direction. She was a well read girl and we would discuss books for that brief period. She was sharp with her words and fluent in Hindi and English. She could think on the spot and had a ready wit. I called her a walking talking lexicon. These qualities helped her become an accomplished telemarketer. At the end of each month, she would proudly tell me that she had exceeded her sales targets. I always appreciated and related more to such self made people.

Despite being a star performer at work, she never quite knew why her boss didn’t ask her to meet clients in person. Such direct sales offered a higher financial reward and a better networking opportunity to further ones career. She was definitely capable of pulling it off. I expressed my curiosity to her boss when I bumped into him in the elevator one day. He smirked and patted my shoulder. “We sell high end perfumes, son. I don’t want to scare away my clients”. He gave a chuckle. “You know what she looks like. And her dressing, she needs some tips from your staff!” We had reached the floor to our respective offices as he completed his sentence. My soul always disappeared on that floor. I smirked and chuckled harder than him. My own stupidity amused me.

I walked up to her. My grin was genuine and my mind was clear of the modeling world. “Hey. And how are we doing today? Good girls shouldn’t be sitting in such “shady” places all by themselves”. I ruffled her hair playfully and sat down on the cement flooring next to her. She gave me a blank look; her eyes were of a crimson hue. She’d always been cheerful whenever I’d met her before. This was something that I wasn’t used to.

She sniffled and looked me in the eye. “Got another drag?” I crossed my eyebrows. I wasn’t expecting that. “Yeah I do. I didn’t know that you smoke. I don’t think you should.” She eased the stub out of my fingers and took a deep puff. Her eyes burned with a sanguine radiance as the smoke hissed out of her lips over my face. Then she coughed and tears ran down her dark cheeks. Immediately taking the stub out of her hand, I extinguished it on the floor. I put my arm round her comfortingly and smiled lightly. “Don’t worry. I’m here for you. Let those tears flow and it’ll make you feel better.” My shoulder got wet as tears flowed on it. I sat still, not knowing how to react. I needed to think. To think I needed a quick drag.

I stroked her hair comfortingly while my brain raced. “Maybe she’s had a fight with her boyfriend”, I said to myself. Immediately a voice from within smirked, “Do you really think that she’ll have a boyfriend. I mean look at her. I wouldn’t date her if she was the last woman on this planet”. “Love is blind”, I countered. “Of course it is. Else ugly people would never be loved.” I quickly pulled out a cigarette and popped it between my lips. With slightly shaking hands, I flicked open my Zippo and readily inhaled the soothing draft of air. It had a magical effect and squabble within me ceased immediately.

She moved her face off my shoulder. I gazed into her pink orbs and smiled lightly. I could see pain, hurt, confusion and embarrassment all rolled in one look. I handed her my cigarette. That was the only cure which I could vouch for and the only one which was on hand. “Thanks”, she muttered coldly before closing her eyes and taking a drag. A tear rolled down the side of her eye as I lit a cigarette for myself.

Weeping girls made me panic. Most of the girls I knew could open a faucet within themselves at the drop of a hat. They could use those tears as a weapon to attack you or as a shield to defend their actions. Either way men had no chance of fighting back. Reasoning was always futile; I had learnt the hard way.
I glanced at her. The nicotine in her blood stream seemed to have a calming effect on her. Balancing the cigarette in my lips I pulled out my handkerchief and handed it to her. I took her hand gently in mine and took a drag before speaking in a low voice, “Hey, thank God you don’t wear any makeup, these tear stains would have definitely ruined your pretty face”.

“Pretty ! Pretty ! You think that this face is pretty !”, she exploded. She hadn’t released the smoke before screaming and her words were drowned in a bought of heavy coughing. She jerked her hand out of mine and gave me a hard look. “You bloody well know that I’m not pretty. And it’s no secret either. I’m ugly, goddamit and you would be the first person to notice that”. My eyes widened and I took a couple of quick puffs to calm down. What she said wasn’t completely untrue. It wasn’t what she said that shocked me, but the way in which she said it.

“Who the hell told you that? Of course you are pretty”, I spoke calmly. “You’ve got a wonderful personality and you are a good person and it shows on your face……In your body language. Trust me, I’m your friend.” I smiled lightly as I watch her aggression subsiding.

“Then why the hell do guys reject me for marriage on the basis of my looks?” she mutter meekly. For that I had no answer. I did not even know that her family was out looking for prospective suitors. Marriage was an alien concept to me and it hardly ever crossed my mind.

“Each time I meet someone, the reply on the very next day is the same. NO. My parents are too embarrassed to tell me, but I’m not stupid. I understand. My parents drop subtle hints, asking me to lose weight. I can do it for health reasons, but why should I change myself for someone else?” Tears started bulging under her eyes again and I quickly gestured towards the handkerchief.

“I’ve never even had a boyfriend. I know it’s my looks. But how can I help it if I was born this way? I have dreams too; I want to have a family. I want to have kids. But everywhere I go, I get a look and I know what it means. Guys want fair, slim girls. Why is dark considered ugly in this country?”

I listened quietly. I had never imagined girls could face such problems. Why an independent and intelligent young lady was being reduced to tears because of a frivolous thing like marriage was beyond me. But again it was a question of priorities. She wanted a family and kids of her own, and I respected her priorities.

“I wanted some good photographs, remember? I’d come to you and you said that you’d get back to me regarding that. You never did. I wanted them for a matrimonial website and I’d heard you bragging about making people look prettier than they were”. I cringed. I remembered that meeting and how I had reacted. I always felt shooting someone ugly was an insult to my skill and my camera. I was an artist and I chose whom I wanted to shoot. Despite being avarice, I’d rather give a monetary loan to somebody than shoot pictures of a person with average looks. “You know how busy I’ve been”, I muttered timidly.

I managed a smile and took her hand again. “Forget the photographs for now. You don’t need all that. You are an amazing girl and that’s what’s important. You don’t look ugly. You’ve got lovely features; you just need to smile and show off your pearly white teeth to accentuate them. And there is nothing that a nice haircut can’t fix. We just need to change your dressing slightly and you’ll be physically all ready to have guys drooling when you walk. And don’t feel as if I’m changing you, you’ll still be yourself. I’m just suggesting some minor tweaks. And don’t feel as if you are doing it for a stranger; just think that you are doing it for me”.

“Once that is taken care of, you’ve got everything a guy would want in a girl. You are intelligent. You can talk on varied subjects. And have I told you that I love your sense of humor? You are the only one who makes me laugh so much after a long day at work. And your poems are some of the best which I’ve heard in ages. And you have a way with words which is very flattering. I love the way you speak sweetly over the phone with your clients”. She had tossed the cigarette aside and was gazing at me and listening intently as I spoke about her. I highlighted all her positives and it took a while since she really was talented. I mentioned how good she was around people and how she made everyone comfortable in her presence. We continued to talk for almost an hour after that. She smiled and finally she was laughing again.
I glanced at my watch. I had a client to meet in office downstairs and even she had been away from her desk for a while. As the sun started setting in the sea across our building, the sky was filled with a crimson hue. It was the same hue which was visible in her eyes an hour ago. As the day was coming closer to its conclusion, so was our conversation. We got up and took the stairs down to our office floor. I was repeating all her qualities to drive them in her brain and boost her confidence. She was smiling and she seemed to be in high spirits again. I could see the joy in her eyes, something which I hadn’t seen for ages. I tossed the cigarette aside. I could feel good without it.

Just one more flight of stairs down and we would have reached our destination. Words were flowing consistently through my lips. “So anyone who says no to you isn’t worth your time because you are precious. And you know….Any guy who marries you will be the luckiest guy in this whole world….And…” “She grabbed my hand and turned me to face her. Her hope filled gaze was fixed on mine. She spoke in a low expectant voice, “Will you marry me?”

My soul always disappeared on that floor. I turned cold. My job was to sell dreams. It was the hope in those eyes. The hope and trust which would haunt me forever. “No”, I said coldly.

The hopeful eyes still haunt me. Even a drag isn’t enough now to cloud those thoughts away.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Losing your way....

Date: Some Saturday night, 2000. Time: 11:00 pm.
Venue: Wilderness

“You never ask for directions”, she wailed. “You never listen to me. You can’t find the place because you just aren’t interested in going. You never like partying with my friends…..”

I think she was paying way too much attention in the business communications class. No wonder she was using a “you” in every sentence and totally ignoring the “I”. Using “you” lays more emphasis on what you wish communicate. So the book said. Either way, her tone was laying emphasis on all the words. Thankfully my brain’s auto locking mode was activated and her words bounced off a force field round my ears. Guys have that built in feature which girls realize much later in the relationship.

“How much do I mean to you”, she snapped at me out of the blue, looking me squarely in the eye and smacking my leg. That immediately broke the force field. It is meant to protect guys from sharp words, not feminine physical abuse. The stare was an antithesis to the natural softness of her voice.

I’ve read somewhere that strong men don’t cry. So I managed a smile. I bravely gazed in the hazel reflection and mumbled, “You are the best there is……(her gaze softened, maybe I caught a hint of smile. Damn I’m good at this)……The best there was (surely that can’t be a frown again)…….And the best there ever will be (did that cold gaze even disappear within that split second).

“You said there wasn’t anyone before me! So how do you know I’m the best there was!” (Those words taught me an important lesson in my late teens, “Never lie unless you have a good memory or are smart with words). The look of suspicion reminded me of my 7th grade class teacher when she’d discovered three pastries missing before the Christmas party. No prizes for guessing that all eyes were on the fattest kid in class. How I hated being fat! And a message to my plump brethren: We are lazy body abusers who aren’t adding any value to our body through our large calorie intake.

“How do you know ‘ever will be’! Are you seeing someone else?” (For a second, that accusation made me feel like Brad Pitt. But it definitely wasn’t a compliment). “Take me home right now!” It’s funny how the context of exactly the same words changes on either side of a date. The fact that we were lost and I did not know the way home was lost on her.

Date: Some Saturday night, 2008. Time: 11:00 pm.
Venue: Chicago

“Turn right”, she said in her smooth voice, as I pulled into the parking lot of my house. I smiled lightly as I gazed at her radiant face. It had been that way all evening. She showed tremendous understanding despite the fact that I still drove like an Indian on American streets. Not once did she scream when I was nanoseconds away from banging into a car or millimeters from scraping the car’s bumper against the sidewalk while parking.

That evening had been a dream. She was the best guide to me in the new city. She answered all my questions about the city, however stupid they seemed. She never screamed and abused me if I headed in the wrong direction by mistake. She wanted me to see as much of the city as I could in my short trip.

She told me about the best restaurants to dine in, which I later did. She spoke multiple languages so I could learn a lot from her. She was very talkative in the car so I was thoroughly entertained. She was a fountain of knowledge. That’s a trait which I appreciate. By the time I had turned the ignition off, I was totally in love. And the best thing was that she had not asked about my past or future experiences!

I gently helped her out of the car and took her inside the house. I was humming to myself as I entered the dark living room before flicking on the lights. Laying her on the couch, I gazed her and admired her sleek form. A GPS system for navigation is such a boon.

Talking of navigation, my roommates have totally “lost it” in the past few months. Cleanliness has gone out of the window. Our kitchen has started to resemble a garbage disposal site. On the bright side, despite being in the US for almost a year, we have not moved away from our Indian roots. We still treat our home in small town Bethlehem, PA, like our beloved Mumbai. So we just toss chocolate wrappers on the floor, beer cans in the corner of the room/ under the couch, unwashed plates in the refrigerator, coffee mugs on the couch etcetera; akin to what a majority of the population does back in our homeland. Before any jingoistic retards start abusing me, I would advise them to stop living in denial, get out of their ivory towers and walk the streets of Mumbai.

I am using the terminology “we” with regards to the trash at home despite me not contributing to the mess (I use the trash can outside the house). Because whatever my story may be, they will have their own version. And as we all know, every story has 3 sides: my side, their side and the truth. But on the brighter side, all this mess has helped me develop a fascination for realistic photography. I remember “renowned” photographers getting awards for capturing the civic plight of Mumbai. They usually title such photographs on the lines of “colors of India”. It was a long standing dream of mine to shift from my forte of “shallow” fashion photography, where I objectified beautiful humans. I wanted to do something “hard hitting”, “gritty”, “realistic” that would create an impact. Something that is not meant for the weak hearted. I wish to put forth my nomination for the next photography awards.


Maybe we could contest in the “World’s Most Amazing Games”. We could have contest for the tallest pile of trash in a bin. Well, we have cleared the bin by a good 200%. That’s going to take some beating. It reminds me of the race to build the world’s tallest building, which I heard about during my visit to the Sear’s Towers in Chicago.

Since I do not wish to cook in that kitchen again, I’ve given up cooking on the whole. With all due respect to my culinary proficiency, I’m sure my roomies have breathed a bigger sigh of relief than me. Now the only edible thing we share in the house is beer. On most occasions beer is the lowest common factor which unites people and end wars.

Besides losing their minds, my roomies seem to have lost their ability to aim at the toilet pot. It’s amazing to miss something with a diameter of that size from barely a foot away. They would have definitely sucked at basketball a lot more than they suck at basic civic sense. Their d***s seem to act like a bat who has a conked off SONAR; flapping around aimlessly. I told them this in exactly the same words. It evoked laughter on the lines of when I begged them not to try and “compete” with the Niagara Falls at 3:00 am since the “maid of the mist” there was not a domestic help who would clean it up later. It was laughter that would have made any standup comedian proud. At times, trying to spread social awareness through humor is such a vice.

In India, we are fed a steady diet of social awareness messages which tell us not to complain, but take concrete action to improve civic sense. Well I will if someone just tells me what action I should take in this respect. Should I hold it for them? Or invent something for them to prop it on? Or ask them to use the bathtub (if they miss that, I’ll hang myself). Well in simple words, I won’t do it! I will act like a typical middleclass English speaking city bred aloof non voting Indian and use the other toilet. Period.

While we are on this topic of “manhood”, I remember my trip to Washington DC. The Washington Monument did not give me an inferiority complex as most guys claims it gives them. I remember one of my favorite comedians, Jeff Dunham’s quip about it being “an ode to Bill Clinton”. Now that’s apt! We did take some photographs there. We posed in positions which satisfied our male ego and generated unbridled laughter from the other tourists.

Abe Lincoln didn’t seem too pleased with our actions. His face bore an admonishing look when we went over to his statue. Or maybe it was a sign of pure disgust. I’d be disgusted too if I’d been made to sit and stare at a phallus like structure for decades.

An ode to Bill Clinton !
Disgust ????

And finally, this summer, I fulfilled my parent’s long standing dream of getting into MIT. They always said they would be proud to see me there. I am sure they are happy that I finally got through and made it. As a tourist in Boston, notwithstanding.


Monday, December 24, 2007

End of Semester

The past 5 months in the US have made me believe I’m God. And by God, I’m not talking about my divine experiences of floating in air or walking on water by the grace of the Holy Spirit called Smirnoff. That’s a different story and hard to pen down since all my friends have a different take on that.

The cause of this godly sensation is because I have read in the Bible that 'You shall not put God to the test’. Well paying heed to the Holy book, my university did not test me with a single exam this semester. My belief in my divine abilities were confirmed when a friend heard about the situation in my school and commented in a tone of reverence, “You are in heaven, dude”. Duh, of course, you mere mortal, where else does God reside anyway!

This conversation took my mind to one of my favorite songs “stairway to heaven”. All I want to say is that if you want to take the stairway to a university in heaven like mine, I’d recommend you slog your ass off under the supervision of a verny devil in hell called Mumbai University for 4 years and bear the scourge called Mechanical engineering. Toss in another 3 years of working in the city and you’ve won the devil’s sympathy to be granted parole in heaven for 2 years.

Thanksgiving was a day when I really thanked the Lord for showering his blessings in the guise of a “Sale”. As a part of my “cultural integration” drive here, I decided to combat the biting cold and stand in line outside a store from 12 am to 6 am.

Later that day I felt like Marlon Brando from the Godfather (big paunch, wheezy voice et al), who had just got an offer he couldn’t resist. As I sat proudly amongst my spoils, my friend complimented the strength of my character to stand constantly for 6 hours, beat the elements and return like a conqueror. I smirked at the compliment and boasted about the advantages of eating right to develop a rock solid mind, body, heart and soul. My ex girlfriends will vouch for the rock solid heart, I’m sure.

In my boastful exuberance, as I sat up, the hot water bottle under my sore lower back changed position and I winced immediately. My kind friend, offered me a hand and propped my limp frame back in position before pulling a blanket over my numb frostbitten toes and legs.

“Next time wear a scarf you dimwit so you won’t get that irritating wheezy voice”, a voice chided me from within. It was the same voice which played spoilsport when I poured honey over my peanut butter sandwiches and whenever I gave the treadmill a convenient miss. Thankfully the deafening bout of my sneezing and coughing smothered the goody two shoed voice.

“I never knew my first time would be this good”, I said as I handed the pretty blonde girl some bills. She gave a smile and said “come again” before handing me my denims, belt and shoes. I gave her one more look as I walked out of the door feeling rejuvenated. After almost 5 months of self control I needed this. The urge to resist temptation is too great for a single young man to bear. I’d made a promise to my soul before coming here that I would not indulge myself in such acts. But some pleasures come at a price and every person has to pay a price for that. For someone in a distant land, such prices are usually paid either in cash or card.

I’m not ashamed to say my friend had recommended the place to me. He said it was where students usually went to seek “solace”. As I entered and looked around, I knew it would be addictive. Everything about the place was enticing. “Retail therapy never killed anyone”, I smirked as I came out swinging my shopping bags.

I was chatting with my friend the other day and she proclaimed something on the lines of “dancing is more of a mental skill than a physical one”. Now before I contest this statement, let me clarify that I suffer from a syndrome called “dancing dyslexia”. I just cannot read the steps which are being taught. I shamelessly admit that I fractured my ankle while learning to jive. The only person who showed no hint of sympathy was my dance partner. To her the “accident” was a blessing in disguise since she had already suffered sore toes because of my flat footed stomping, almost had her arm ripped off a couple of times and narrowly missed crashing into a pillar when I spun her round.

But before I dwell too much on the dark ages of my youth, back to the mental aspect of dancing. Well I believe if dancing is such a mental activity, Einstein would have been an award winning choreographer. Also, Shakira would have made an amazing physics professor. Not that you’ll ever hear a whimper of a complaint for the latter. Some purists may argue that Shakira lacks the communication skills and knowledge required to teach the subject. Such purists have definitely not attended lectures in Mumbai University then.

I’ve been here for quite a while now and have been picking up some local terminologies. Americans have a habit of saying “I’m good” akin to our “No, thank you”. For example if you are asked by a host “do you want another drink and pastry”, the polite thing to do is smile sweetly and say “I’m good”. I know I don’t do that for such invitations, but it’s just an example.

Now in my native country “Hinglish” is the new age national language. Whilst conversing in it, at times you have no idea whether you are conversing in English or Hindi. So saying “I’m good”, if not interpreted correctly, gets a look of scorn from the conservatives, quaking in the boots by the conformists and a whoop of joy from members of the Indian Gay Society (or whatever it’s called).

Had a kind Indian lady ask me the other day, “so beta, do you want me to help you find a nice Indian bride after your graduation”. Instinctively I gave a sweet smile and replied seconds before I saw palpitations for the first time in life, “thanks auntyji, I’m good”.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Life Goes On....

The Indian economy is on an upward curve and showing a tremendous growth at 9%. Well my girth is doing exactly the same, though I feel my growth rate is much more. Talk of being a true representative of your country on foreign soil!

What can be more Indian than a game of cricket. Well I finally played a match last month, something I was looking forward to since the day I arrived here. I had this personal ambition of seeing a 100 next to my name on the score card. I was right on track while touching 40, before the captain pulled me out of the bowling attack after 3 overs. He made it pretty clear to me that the 100 looks better next to your name while batting, not bowling. Whatever! I clearly remember hearing commentators saying “A hundred is a hundred in any form of cricket”. Shooting down aspirations of budding sportsmen is such an Indian trait. The captain thus displayed his "Indianness"!

I was chatting with a friend and he asked me “So have you scored in the US as yet?” I was a bit ashamed of my batting performance, but being an honest soul, I said, “Yeah it was pretty tough, but I managed 5”. Knowing every honest bone in my body, he gave me a phone call within 30 seconds of me sending the message in. “So how were they? Americans or Indians? How did you manage so quickly? Damn, 5 chicks in 3 months is rocking! Wish I’d studied there!” Maybe this is the communication gap between virtual teams that the professor warned us about in class. No wonder most people say that MBA education is majorly based on real life situations.

Back to the point, I did not have the heart to act like my captain and curtail someone’s excitement. But after a few seconds of listening to a running commentary of his own exploits, I let the bubble burst and told him I meant cricket. Suddenly I was flooded with comments of how busy he was, how late in the night it was for him and how he really had to hang up.

Since I’m on the topic of sports, I have to mention my experience in a bowling alley. Now my bowling in the alley isn’t as accomplished as that on a cricket pitch. So by the time we were half way through the game, the screen displaying scores appeared like a chart of naughts and crosses. I had most of the naughts because of innumerable gutter balls and my friends had the crosses because of perfect strikes. One of them asked me “Bet you’ll never manage 3 straight crosses?” Well I could have shown him a few sheets with my name and lots of crosses under that. Too bad Mumbai University does not return our engineering answer sheets. But the score sheet surely evoked nostalgia of my engineering tests, with the crosses, and the zeros right next to them.

Attended a Halloween party were I wore a ghost’s mask. Had a few comments on how scary I looked without the mask and that I should keep it on at all times. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you freaking spoilsports! You guys score a 0/10 for originality.

Before the party, I saw a guy at the bus stop on campus. He was tall with a light stubble and long blonde peroxide hair wearing black boots, black stockings, black PVC miniskirt, a white top and glares. I complimented him on the attire and asked him what he was dressed as and what time he would attend the party. Thankfully he couldn’t gauge my exact words because of my heavily accented language. With a feminine squeal he thanked me on complimenting his dressing style, said he would attend the party in an hour and all he had to do was to go home and change into his costume. I almost fainted with fear and remembered the age old adage of “never talk to strangers”. This guy was stranger in more ways than one.

I woke up at 11:00 am on the day every Indian was wishing each other a Happy Diwali. I got nostalgic as I remembered the fireworks I lit as a child and how much I detested an early morning shower. Well across the 7 seas, I finally got what I had always wanted back in India. Well not exactly, but something on those lines.

After waking up my friend casually informed me that the landlord had come in at 9:00 am and dismantled the drainage pipes. Hence we were not allowed to use the bathroom or sink for the next two days. Fireworks flew immediately as I rang up my landlord. The skipped bath was put on the back burner.

As I dressed up meticulously in my thermal, tshirt, sweater and jacket, one of my roomies asked me where I was off to. I managed to answer in a neutral voice, “to the laboratory. To answer the call of nature.” Well not exactly those words. I spiced the words up a bit in Hindi with irritation.

But things aren’t all that bleak. I think I’ve finally learnt to cook now and my roomies have heaved a sigh of relief. Well I don’t blame them. If the cook doesn’t eat his own food, it surely does provide food for thought to the others. Well I’m proud to state my cooking has reached a stage where I can satiate my own taste buds.

Well where I lack in cooking skills, I more than make up for with my hair cutting proficiencies. My room mate gives me complete freedom to trim his hair using an electric shaver. I finally asked him to reciprocate my gesture and he promptly agreed. It did turn a bit messy in the bathroom, but the final result was pure magic. I think it is the best haircut I’ve ever had (this isn’t the case of sour grapes by the way, it genuinely looks good). It may boil down to beginners luck, but as long as my trusted bottle of hair gel is on my table, I can fix any hair problems pronto.

My MBA is really helping me develop entrepreneurial ideas. Since setting foot here, I have evaluated the odds of starting my own photography studio, piano classes and now a hair styling saloon. Maybe in the near future.

Was chatting with one of my friends yesterday and she asked me,”You’ve been there for almost 3 months, what was the most difficult thing you found fitting into”. I read it and I bit my lower lip with regret. That question hit me where it really hurt. An honest answer was typed back. “My denims”.