The Day I Turned Ninety

Saturday, November 26, 2011 will always remain etched in my memory as a historic occasion, a day to remember and revere as I try to live out the remainder of my days painfully. I aged dramatically that day and it reminded me of The Last Crusade, where the bad guy drinks from the wrong cup and turns into an aged, shriveled skeleton in a matter of seconds.

It was a really bad decision to play a professional cricket match with no practice.

I used to play a lot of cricket as a kid. Played for the school and college teams and garnered a bit of pro experience here and there. I wasn’t a great cricketer, but I wasn’t too bad either. I could hold my own against the real professionals. But, its been an awfully long time since I’ve played competitive, professional cricket, and I’ve been woefully out of touch and practice. I have put on a few extra kilos around the middle and I don’t move as quickly as I used to. I had completely forgotten what a grueling ordeal it is to be out on a cricket field on a hot and humid day for six hours.

As I started with my warm-up stretches in the morning, I wondered whether the exercises had become tougher over the past few years. I soon realized that my body was resisting it after being accustomed to comfortable couches and soft beds. I forced myself to finish the work-out and to my horror, found out that the match had already started, that my team was batting first and that I was to bat at Number 3. For those who are uninitiated into the sport of cricket, if you’re third in the batting order, then you go out to bat as soon as the first wicket falls.

I padded up in a hurry, went out to bat when the first wicket fell and was clean bowled first ball. I didn’t seem to notice the ball zooming past my bat and my sluggish head was still trying to decide what to do about it, while I made the long walk back to the pavilion.

When it was our turn to field, I shuttled from one end of the field to the other after each over and by the time we were halfway through, I was ready to drop dead. I prayed for a natural disaster to disrupt the match, I prayed for the opposition to knock off the runs quickly and I prayed for an excuse that would allow me to get off the field with a feigned ‘injury’.

By the end of the day, after we had lost spectacularly, my feet were beyond pain and I had to remove my shoes and carry them with me as I hopped painfully into a cab to come back home. My entire body was one big bruise. I ached in places I didn’t know could ache. Muscles that I didn’t know I had, hurt each time I did something trivial. It was painful for me to spray deodorant on myself because my finger hurt when I squeezed the can.

The whole of yesterday was spent in recuperating at home, in bed, with timely cups of hot tea.

Saturday, November 26, 2011. The day I stopped being twenty-eight.

The day I turned ninety.

Great Eggspectations!

Of all the curious things I’ve noticed about Mumbai, perhaps the strangest is the love this city has for eggs. Everywhere I go, I see a cart laden with egg cartons and a guy standing behind it, making omlettes and burji and toast. I come from the South, and people don’t really like eggs down there. Very rarely do I come across an egg cart in Bangalore. Over here, you throw a stone in the air, it is bound to land on an egg.

Mumbai Egg Guy

I walked up to one of these egg carts the other evening and ordered an omelet sandwich. As I munched on the little piece of heaven that seemed to melt in my mouth, I heard a voice behind me say, “You’re Nikhil, aren’t you?”

It was a woman’s voice and it sounded a bit angry, laden with attitude. My hand was frozen midway between the plate and my open mouth as I turned to face the voice. It was a strange sight that met me. A withered, old, toothless woman stood there grinning, with a heavy plastic bag in one hand and an empty bucket in the other. She was draped in a heavy shawl, too heavy for the weather here in the city, and a pair of the thickest glasses perched on her nose. Her bat-like eyes stared at me from behind those glass walls and her toothless grin grew wider as I turned. She looked vaguely familiar.

“How you are, child?” she asked me in broken English and I knew who she was. She lived across the hallway from my apartment, had three kids, four grand kids, and was married to a filthy rich younger guy, who was also the treasurer of our housing society. I had seen her around once in a while, when putting the garbage out or picking up my newspaper, and had smiled occasionally at her.

“Yes, I am,” I said giving her half a smile.

“Egg eating, are you?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“You eat egg at home, no?” she asked, suspiciously, furrowing her brows.

“Uhh, yes. I eat eggs at home,” I said, wondering what her issue was and why she was even talking to me.

“Ok, now. You eat egg at home and you do not throw egg shells in my kitchen!” she yelled. “Throw egg shell in garbage, child,” she added in a softer voice, with a smile and hobbled away down the road.

I stood there, stunned by her bipolar onslaught. I thought back to remember if I had ever thrown egg shells into her kitchen. Of course I hadn’t. I keep to myself as a rule when living alone in a strange city, and I had no good reason, yet, to throw egg shells into my neighbors’ houses.

So, that makes two curiosities in Mumbai that caught my attention so far – the love this city has for eggs and very eggcentric, crazy, old neighbors.

Locked Out & Lack Of Clothes

Regular readers of my blog would know that a year or so ago, I had been given the rare distinction of being God’s yo-yo. Funny things kept happening to me, things that had no logical explanations. There was the time I managed to get trapped in an ATM vestibule and minutes later, a DHL courier fellow sniffed my butt. Then there was the time when a vengeful airport taxi driver sneakily followed me around town to beat me up. Or the time when an idiot almost forced me into the Idiots Club of India. I have gotten into the weirdest situations possible and for the more curious reader, here’s a ready reckoner of search results.

I’ve been careful with my life for a long time now and haven’t gotten into any embarrassing or potentially life-threatening situations of late. Last night, it all came rushing back. With interest.

I took a strange decision last evening to get ALL my clothes ironed. So, I emptied my wardrobe, dumped them all in a makeshift basket and took it down the road to the dry cleaner. If he was surprised at seeing underwear among the clothes, he didn’t show it. I then happily sauntered off to a mall nearby and started searching for donuts. I was told that a very popular donut chain was operating out of this mall, and I spent a long time hunting. I finally found the little shop and stood there in front of the lighted glass case, drooling and mesmerized at the sight of those sweet dollops of heaven arrayed in front of me. I went wild and ordered an assorted box of a dozen of their favorites and as I walked out of the mall, I thought the world was so beautiful and nothing could ever go wrong. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

It took me a good fifteen minutes to flag down an auto rickshaw  (I could never call it a tuk-tuk) and by the time we navigated through the inching traffic at nine in the night, and reached my dry cleaner, he had shut shop. For a second, I thought I was at the wrong place. After all, who closes down at nine in Mumbai, right? Well, turns out, this fellow does. So, I sat there in the rickshaw, stunned and wondering what to do. I got off and walked slowly back home, thinking of the consequences of the situation. No clothes to wear to work the next day. Forget that, no fresh clothes at all, except for a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. I reached home troubled. According to the painted sign in front of the shutter, the dry cleaner’s operating hours started at 9 in the morning. I would have to go there and pick up my clothes early in the morning as soon as he opened, come back home, get changed and leave for work. It was a workable plan.

So, I calmed myself a bit and came home, dropped my donut box on the couch and went into my bedroom. Well, at least I tried to get into my bedroom. The door had one of those round knobs with a button on the inside to lock it when pulled shut. Unless I had a key, I couldn’t get into the room. Of course I didn’t have the key. I could feel a horrible cold hand creeping up my spine and my head felt the initial anxiety attacks of being bounced up and down on a cruel wire. I could hear God laughing his Evil laugh as he played with his favorite yo-yo.

I searched around for a locksmith and found one who was wrapping up for the night. In my broken Hindi, I convinced him to come home and open the lock for me and I don’t know how he did it, but he convinced me that it was a good idea to pay him double. Eventually, I got back into my bedroom at ten-thirty, was too tired and frustrated to eat more than three donuts and went to sleep as soon as I could.

I did get my clothes back this morning after waiting for an hour for the guy to open his shop and reached work a bit later than usual. I can’t help but feel a cold presence around me now, like a cold wire wrapped around me, waiting to be jerked up and down when He fancies. I shudder.

Fashionably Amused

I am no exception to the Rule of Omission, which states that a straight guy, when surrounded by ten or more beautiful women, will subconsciously omit everything else from his field of vision. A similar situation arose last night. A long lost sister of mine coerced forced invited me to attend the shooting of the grand finale of a high-end reality fashion show, which was promised to be oozing with glamor. I took up the invitation reluctantly and only because of my brotherly protective instincts, which she managed to evoke quite deftly. How can a chivalrous guy like me let his kid sister wander the outskirt streets of a  city like Mumbai alone at midnight and beyond?

So, I went as bodyguard and guest, and sat through two hours of boring social etiquette, while sexy women in breathtaking dresses paraded in front of me. As part of the audience, sitting in my usual torn jeans and ill-fitting shirt, I was the most under-dressed of the lot. And that is saying something. Everyone around me was dressed in lovely evening attire, dresses flowing freely on some and body-hugging some. Curves all around. I was in straight guy heaven.

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The event itself was mediocre. The concept was not too unique and the contestants in the beauty pageant behaved exactly as they were expected to – pretty but dumb. There was the obligatory ‘world-peace’ speech from one of the girls and the cliched ‘stop-terrorism’ plea from another. There were four judges for the event (it could have been five, I’m not sure) – an ex-beauty queen, two or three Bollywood actors and a fashion designer. Apparently these people were celebrities and supposed to be quite the household name. I had never heard of them.

A 23-year old friend of mine who had accompanied us on this adventure became quite depressed halfway through the evening when my sister told her that she looked 28. The rest of the evening passed by in a blur for me, caught in between the incessant ‘Do I look 28?’ chants on one side and stunning women on the other. The buffet spread was passable at best, and a few social niceties later, we said skadoosh and hit the road. The place where this event was being held was called Madh Island (pronounced ‘Mud’, like in mud and dirt), which was a good hour away from the city proper, and in a secluded, forested  beachfront. Quite a charming place in daylight and definitely not for the weak-hearted and paranoid in moonlight. We were lucky enough to find a cab at the gates, without having to do too much walking around, and reached our respective houses close to 1:00 in the morning.

It was quite a night. Now I know where all the hot women hang out.

PS: Why is looking the right age so important for women in their twenties when they don’t act their age?

PPS: Using ‘freshly pressed’ as a tag on your posts won’t get you featured on the WordPress homepage. I discovered this the hard way, in my previous post.

Once Upon A Time In Mumbai

A few days ago, I braved the cold, early morning drizzle and freezing winds of Bangalore and made the 40-minute commute to the airport. Against my better half’s better judgment, I boarded a flight to Mumbai, and two hours later, at 7 in the morning, I sat on the pavement of India’s busiest city, drenched in my own sweat and stinking of fear and indecision. I took a decision that could potentially affect the lives of everyone I knew, and I did it with half an optimistic mind. At times like these, I usually look back on all the bad decisions I’ve made in my life and weigh them against the one I just made, and whichever is the lesser of the evils, I defend.  As I sat on the Mumbai sidewalk, waiting for a friend to pick me up, I questioned my reasons for being there.

Was it a career move? Most probably, yes. Also, this is the only rational explanation for which, I won’t hate myself. Was it a move based on a rapidly depleting sex life? Not really. I’ve been quite active and I didn’t need to come to Mumbai to get laid. Was it something that I was running away from? Probably not, because I’m just ninety minutes away, and not too far for my fears to hunt me down here. Was it the search for independence? Could be. To an extent, and definitely a few months later, I would be independent. Was it the incessant need to prove my worth to myself? A definite no. Was it a move that was rooted in long-term self-loathing due to twists of fate that prevented me from staying in a job for more than six months at a time? Might be, to a very small extent. But then again, all my so-called career moves in the past have made perfect sense to me.

Forty-five minutes later, I was sitting in my friend’s living room, talking to him about this and that, and I still did not have an answer. I went through quite a few misadventures in Mumbai, starting from a thirty-minute wait for an auto-rickshaw in the middle of the night to getting lost in roads that all looked alike. The fact that my body is not accustomed to the humidity of the island made matters worse, and I must have lost close to a kilo in body weight through sweat.

I am still searching for an answer. Meanwhile, the city that has the reputation of sapping people’s energies and leaving them soulless zombies getting pushed around from one corner to another on local trains, has been quite good to me. I like it.