Reflections On Mankind: An Introduction

crowd of peoplePeople all over the world are clutching their falling pants and wiping their runny noses while trying to hold back tears of joy. That’s all I’m going to say about my vanishing act and my subsequent return today. I’m back. Let’s not read too much into that.

During this hiatus, I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve thought about the way fans turn and cigarettes burn. I’ve thought about a lot of things that people seem to have forgotten – the fact that vehicles on the road are actually driven by people. One of the best things that could have happened to me, happened this morning, as I was fighting for my life on the roads of Bangalore. I was locked in a fight to the death on my bike with three buses on a road that was wide enough for just one of them. Just as I narrowly avoided killing one of the buses with my not-so-well-aimed kick and sped through the rapidly-closing gap between another bus and the road divider, the image of a family of giraffes dressed in human clothes floated into my head.

Giraffe wearing clothesNow, it is a strange enough image to float through one’s head at any other point of time, but images that float through heads know no Earthly rules of propriety and timing. They are very rude, inviting themselves in unannounced. As it happened, this particular floating image called itself into existence seemingly out of nowhere, and lodged itself permanently (for the time being) in my peripheral vision.

I urged the bike to race ahead, leaving the three buses to fight among themselves, and for the remainder of my ride, tried to decipher the meaning of a family of giraffes who were dressed in human clothes. I arrived at a satisfying explanation after a few minutes:

Maybe Earth as we know it, is a zoo. A big, very big zoo. And all of us are the inhabitants. Maybe there’s a planet out there inhabited solely by monkeys. Another planet inhabited by elephants. And so on and so forth. Someone decided to take a few specimens of each of these species and put them all together in a vast zoo, and charge a fee to visit us and view how we’ve learned to live together. A very cool version of Noah’s Ark, without the drama. Maybe the little giraffe in the red baseball cap wanted to visit the zoo for his birthday.

If you’re wondering what you just read, and wondering if I still serve any purpose as a funny guy, then I don’t blame you. When you reflect on mankind, you start seeing a lot of strange things where logic and reason cease to exist.

Over the next few days/weeks/months, I’ll outline in detail my view on humanity and everything that matters, and I hope to demonstrate a pattern of ridiculousness that we have come to accept as our natural state of being. I do this in the hope of convincing a few of you to join me in the quest for insanity.

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2011: Acknowledgements & Year In Review

2011 Year in ReviewIt’s been a long-drawn battle with time, and I finally won. A crappy year ends and a hopeful, new one begins. There were so many instances in 2011 when I thought that things couldn’t get worse, and each time I was proven wrong. I have laughed, cried, fought, patched up, been cheated, cheated myself, been lied to, lied myself and finally, searched for the eternal peace which has seemed just barely out of reach for so long. The past year has had occasions of absolute bliss and considerable misery for me, and I will very glad to end this year on a good note, with friends, lovely strangers and a lot of well-earned alcohol.

2011 began for me on a fairly good note, with a job offer at a promising firm. Just a couple of months down the line, I realized my mistake and it was too late to rectify it. The company turned out to be a nightmarish hell-hole managed by lesser mortals and run by an insect. After being sucked dry, my will to go forth and survive took over and I quit the garage (yeah, it was a communications firm being run out of a garage) and started managing my own firm, which had been neglected so far.

I did that for a few months and made some absolutely lovely friends in the process. Here’s a shout out to Satish and everyone at Design Esthetics. A couple of more months saw me take up scuba diving as a pseudo profession. But, as luck may have it, the dive center for whom I was doing the marketing, was run by another insect who turned out to be a bastard of the highest order who cheated all his employees out of their hard-earned money and respect. It’s only sweet justice that his business is ruined and he has nowhere left to run. Oh, I’m waiting to see the asshole’s face in the papers when he gets arrested for fraud.

Things got really interesting after that, and I reached a point where I had to dip into my savings for the first time in five years, just to survive. A year-long courting ritual with a well-known and respected multinational communications firm finally reached fruition and I made the decision to move to Mumbai, tentatively at first, to check out the playing field. It was a decision that I have not regretted and I’m pretty sure I won’t regret for a few more years.

On the personal front, things couldn’t get more strange than they did in 2011. I had a lot of illusions shattered this year when the woman I was in love with turned out to be nothing more than that – an illusion. I made a few bad decisions, I agree, but when two people love each other, they are capable of both pain and pleasure. I realized that money plays a vital role in deciding how long you can love someone. So, on a fateful day in November this year, I lost someone very close to me and made me wonder if she ever was capable of loving someone for who they are and not how much their wallets can carry.

Just when I thought I’d give up hope on 2011 being a good year, I rediscovered what it was to fall in love with someone totally unexpected. A fresh feeling of puppy love, evolving into lust and desire and at this point of time, to a steady state of mutual understanding, trust and faith, made me a believer again. Here’s a warm bear hug to the woman I’m in love with – the hottest mallu chick in the world. Yeah, I’m dating a mallu, and if anyone’s got a problem with that, you can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass when your number’s called.

If I were to send one message to 2011 and all it’s incidents and people, all it’s merry and misery, it would be this: Good riddance to bad rubbish.I can’t wait to enter the new year. I’m ever the optimist, cautiously pessimistic and according to my girlfriend, annoyingly pragmatic.

All the people who have made my 2011 bearable: Rohit Nayak, for his constant support and encouragement; Pavan Attavar, for making sure I never got drunk alone; Mum & Dad, for their support through financial famines; Satish, for his trust and belief in my limited abilities; Nargis Namazi, for making the transition to Mumbai that much more easy; Sagar Pandey, for his warmth, generosity, hospitality and for allowing me to use his PS3; Mark Monteiro, for ensuring that I didn’t kill the asshole dive center owner by replacing the air in his tank with rat poison; Mahesh Bajaj, my newest friend who took the leap of faith and is hopefully in a better state of mind after Gokarna; Renuka Balachandran and Niveditha Singh, who made my days in the godforsaken garage bearable; Nitin Kumar and Pooja Rao, for their steady supply of sex scandals, movies, television shows and porn; Gitanjali More, for making sure that I got my steady supply of interesting conversations; and finally, a very special mention of my new-found sister, Aishwarya, without whose support and love, I would not have been able to settle into Mumbai.

My love to you all and I hope 2012 will be a fantastic year for all of you.

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.

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.

Metallica! The Wait Is Over!

Metalica! Live In India

“You’ve waited long enough, India!” said the legendary James Hetfield, vocalist and guitarist of Metallica. “And so have we! Thank you for your support, loyalty and patience!”

With these words, Metallica performed live in Bangalore yesterday, October 30, 2011. It was an evening to remember. A concert that had more than 100,000 people attending from all corners of the country, a few thousands from abroad. It was a concert like no other. Everyone who attended went home stunned, upbeat and reliving each second of it. The energy that coursed through the pulsating sea of raised arms and jumping bodies was unmistakable, undeniable and absolutely unbelievable. Even hardened concert veterans like myself could not help but rise up with the crowd, which became one organism – living, breathing and pulsating with the music.

Metallica has been a rock band that has denied India the pleasure of a live show for two decades. A twenty-year wait in which original fans grew up, grew old and passed on the legacy of some of the most memorable rock songs in human history to the next generation. A twenty-year wait in which the support and loyalty for their music never died and never reduced. A twenty-year wait, which ended yesterday and made martyrs of all those who were there.

A few years ago, when Iron Maiden performed in India, it was said that the crowd went berserk, the die-hard fans couldn’t get enough of the music and one newspaper even touted it as the musical event of the decade. But not anymore. Not after yesterday’s performance by the Gods of Rock. It was hard to decide what was the clincher – the unbelievable pyrotechnics, the songs that most people grew up with, the crowd singing the lyrics along with the band or the sheer brilliance of Metallica’s stage presence.

I am still in the hangover of the show. Here’s a glimpse of what I was a part of. \m/

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The 46-Rupee Meal

Ten years ago, when the world was a nicer place to live in, I was just getting out of high school, full of misdirected ambitions of making a difference in the world. Of the many things that were ideal back then, I liked the fact that I could have a hearty meal for less than ten rupees. That’s about 5 cents. Maybe not a ‘hearty’ meal, but certainly a couple of idlis and a vada for eight rupees. For the uninitiated, an idli is a white colored, steamed rice cake, about the size and shape of a BlackBerry Curve and a vada is a brown colored doughnut-shaped (and sized), deep-fried eatable that goes perfectly well with an idli. Ten years ago, a pair of idlis and a vada together used to cost eight rupees.

Today, ten years later, I realized that there has been a 475% increase in the cost of the same meal. A pair of idlis and a vada, today, costs 46 rupees.

Idli Vada
Two Idlis and a Vada - The 46-Rupee Meal

That’s still less than a dollar, but for someone who’s spent the better part of his life here in India, that’s daylight robbery. The strangest part of the entire experience today over lunch was not that I was fretting about the astronomical increase in the rate, but the equally enormous decrease in the quantity and taste.

The sizes of the idlis and vadas have reduced so much that its hard to spot them when you put them on a plate. You have to have a pair of really good binoculars to identify where they are and make sure that your spoon hits the mark. No, I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea. And the taste, well, I have eaten pieces of cardboard (for free) that have been tastier.

I hate to call this inflation, because the term ‘inflation’ has a definition, a universally-accepted identity. I would call this phenomenon a gross negligence on the part of the Indian public, who have allowed this kind of injustice to penetrate every aspect of their lives. Our lives. Commonplace examples – a tennis ball that used to cost ten rupees now costs thirty. A piece of chewing gum that was half a rupee is now three rupees. A toothbrush that used to cost around four to five rupees is now thirty-five.

How I wish I were living in the stone ages, where all I had to worry about was the next critter I caught for dinner and the next female I slept with. If wishes were horses, I’d be a very rich, sexually-gratified stable boy.

Scuba Diving: My First Time

Yeah, I did it. After three years of deliberation, I finally got a chance to dive! I took PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving session in Bangalore through Planet Scuba India. This will be just 4 pictures and not much text, but remember not to laugh. I couldn’t find a wetsuit that fit me, so I had to dive in my vest. I looked like a pink baby whale.

I'm in the background, with my instructor in the foreground

 

That's me and Anamda, giving the "OK" sign. See, I look like a whale / walrus!

 

I'm in the background, racing with Atul for the finish line! I'm winning. Really, I am.
And there's Atul, giving me the finger.

It was the best 40 minutes of my life!