Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

candlelight dinnerShe wore a very pretty, pink, long-sleeved sweater that hugged her body and showed off her curves quite well. Her jeans were a couple of sizes too small, which was perfect for me, for obvious aesthetic reasons. She walked towards me from across the crowded bar, with a lovely smile on her lips – blood-red lips that broke into an easy smile that wrinkled the corners of her hazel eyes and made her look that much more beautiful. She was a little under 5’10” tall, and easily one of the tallest women in the room.

She moved with a graceful, relaxed-yet-sexy walk, with her brown-streaked curls bouncing up and down with each step she took. She walked over to me, her smile widened as I stood up and hugged her tightly for a couple of seconds, and held out a chair for her. My fingers deliberately brushed her shoulders and her waist as I helped her into her seat, leaving no doubts in her mind what my intentions were.

“A gentleman,” she said. “You guys are hard to find these days.”

Her voice was sweetness personified.The lilting tones put my head into overdrive and even before I could say anything, I felt a stirring in my loins, an almost animalistic urge to pounce on her and take her roughly, right there in the crowded bar.

I smiled my best smile and said, “Then I’m glad you found me.”

We spoke of this and that, made small talk, and flirted quite a bit. I think my best line was, “I wish I knew Braille.” Since it was a blind date,  she got my meaning, and blushed deeply. Her lovely face turned bright crimson when I said it. We ordered a couple of drinks and a bite to eat. I reached my hand over to hers and held it there for a few minutes. She didn’t retract her hand. Instead, she locked her fingers between mine and we sat there, looking into each others’ eyes. Was this love at first sight? Was I really doing this? Meeting this beautiful woman, holding her hand, looking into her eyes and steadily falling in love?

The waiter handed me the bill, and just as I was about to pay, she reached over and snatched the bill away from me.

“I’m paying,” she said with a sweet smile.

I couldn’t react because I had seen something that had sent a shiver down my spine and in an instant, filled my very soul with terror. I wish I hadn’t seen it and I hoped I had imagined it, but I knew it was wishful thinking. I had seen the most terrifying sight that threatened to make me into a sniveling coward.

“Uh,” I said. “Look, I – I have to go. I am running late for a meeting.”

She stared at me coldly, stunned, unable to comprehend. Even before she recovered, I stood up, hastily threw down some money on the table and muttered something about it being my treat, stammered an apology and like a fool, I stumbled out of the bar and ran for my life. I did not take a cab, I did not even bother looking for my bike that I had parked close  by. I ran the three blocks to my house, in full sprint, not looking back. I was scared and I was not going to stop until I reached home.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached my front door, out of breath and wheezing heavily. I rang the doorbell and almost collapsed into my roommate’s arms. Being one of my closest friends, he was obviously shocked and worried. He helped me into the chair, gave me some water and helped me calm myself down. My kid sister, who was also home, came out of the room and stared at me. I looked a total mess. They asked me what happened and demanded an explanation. They even offered to call the cops, thinking I had been mugged.

“No, don’t call the cops. They won’t be able to do anything,”  I managed to say between deep breaths.

“Nikhil, you’re scaring me,” said my sister. “What happened!?”

I looked into their faces – my sister and my best friend – anxiously looking at me, and waiting for an explanation. So, I told them my story about how I had met the perfect woman, the wonderful time we had had, the drinks and the dinner and the conversations. Then I reached the point of the story where the bill arrived and she had reached out to snatch it from my hand.

“What happened? Why did you run when she took the bill??” asked my roommate.

“Dude,” I said. “She had body hair!”

***

Second Chances: Best Non-Fiction?

Something interesting just happened. A story that I had written more than four years ago just won the APAC Regional Literary Award for best non-fiction. I don’t get any money, its just a recognition. And I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was completely fictitious. Anyway, here’s the story.

PS: Special thanks to Shruti Srivatsan for the nefarious idea and the inspiration.

SECOND CHANCES

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.”

 – Elie Wiesel
American Author
Nobel Peace Prize 1986

second chances One of the greatest attributes of life is its ability to deny us what we really want and give us what we really need. My life has been a constant game of badly-played chess, with every move as unplanned and sometimes, as stupid as it can get. Talking about friends and how they helped me reconstruct a broken foundation takes me back three years – a time when I almost convinced myself that I was a burden to everyone around me and decided that there isn’t anything else that I can offer to the world.

My time here was up, and I had to make a quick exit – to end my life and escape to that blissful afterworld where there’re no more complaints, no more angry glances, no more walking into a room filled with people who stop in mid-sentence and look at me as though I’m an unwanted piece of garbage, no more hints and subtle suggestions about me being a loser – and I chose the tried and tested path of a blade to the wrist in a bathroom alone at night.

It was in my second year of undergrad course that I found out I was really a loser. The faculty treated me with disdain as if they were teaching me only because they were forced to, and my classmates never even acknowledged my presence, let alone talk to me. What was the point to all this, I thought. Why am I here? I don’t belong here because I am not wanted.

The situation at home wasn’t any different as my parents never really had the time to sit with me and talk about anything. There was a big pile of unopened progress reports on the refrigerator, and every day I looked at them in the hope that at least one of them would be opened. My grades were good but not great, and I just wanted my parents to know about the time I got a 25 on 25 in math or the time when I cleared the physics paper. I wasn’t asking for a pat on the back and I wasn’t asking for a present in return. All I wanted was for them to smile at me occasionally, or at least look at me. I returned every day to an empty house and an emptier home. My time was up.

There was only one person in whom I could confide everything and he was the only one whom I could call a friend, in the truest sense of the word. Aziz was a fellow undergrad in my school and we’d met each other during the first semester in the English class. He was also an introvert and this is what drew me to him. I looked at him and realized that we had a lot of things in common. He never spoke in class and was always very calm and quiet and kept mostly to himself. The friendship began with a mutual smile and a lunch.

We talked about school work and girls and chess (we both had the dream of playing for the school chess team) and how we never could muster the courage to enroll. We became good friends and met up as often as we could and as frequently as our very different class schedules allowed us. I could call him a friend.

There’re times in life when we expect something, and something totally different happens. A better way to put it would be, “Things never happen as planned.”

After a month of fighting with myself, I finally decided to confide in Aziz. I picked up the phone and called him. It was perhaps the most important phone call I’d ever make. Holding the blade tightly in my hand, I was crouching in the corner of my room, and watching the thin rivulets of blood dripping through my fingers from the force with which I clutched the blade, when the call went through and he answered.

Today, as I sit here in Buffalo, NY and write about this, I feel tears weighing my eyes down. The journey from being a hopeless loser to crossing the Atlantic and arriving in USA for a Masters has been entirely due to that phone call. Aziz spoke to me over the phone for three hours even though it was almost two in the morning, and spoke to me about things so important that I’d never really considered. Being twenty-one years of age and ending my life would never allow me to discover myself. There’s a solution for every crisis, and it’s not suicide. Life has so many things to show us and teach us and it will, only if we give it a chance to do so.

Ending one’s life is so easy, but re-building it isn’t.

Aziz died on June 27th, 2006 in Bangalore, India, after being diagnosed with a malignant type of blood cancer. I held his hand in the hospital on the 26th and told him that I’d got an admission into SUNY Buffalo to do my Masters’. He smiled through his pain and squeezed my hand tightly. He had lost his speech a week ago, but I knew what he wanted to say. “You’ve given life a chance to show you the world; don’t take that chance away.”

It’s been almost a month since I’ve come to the USA and every minute I spend here, I owe it to him. In a strangely ironic twist of fate, I landed myself an on-campus job at the Roswell Park Cancer Center. There’re people like Aziz in all of us and there’re people like the old me in all of us as well. It’s important that we make the right choice.

I did, and I’m thankful for it. It’s worth these tears. He’s worth it.

People-Watching At A Coffee Shop

Every grown person whose above the age of 18 believes that ‘people-watching’ is a favorite hobby of theirs. No matter who they are or what they do, when you ask them what their favorite pastime is, they will answer, “People watching.”

It’s no secret that everyone wants to be cool. I have been there myself and done those stupid things in the hope of being considered one of the cool ones. Fortunately for me, I did not have to try too hard. Surprisingly, a large number of my friends tried too hard and crashed and burned spectacularly. One of the things I’ve never tried to do, or claim to have done, is people-watching at a coffee shop.

“How could you not? You’re an author. Don’t you ‘observe’ people and use them for your characters? It’s almost second nature for an author to people-watch!” said a stricken friend of mine, who just could not believe her ears when I told her of my indifference to the sport. So, to soothe her, and more importantly, to see what the fuss was all about, I decided to try it out. I went to a coffee shop in town where I normally hang out, and sat in a corner by myself. I ordered up some fries and a soda and got down to people-watching.

I saw a couple in the other corner cuddling and whispering sweet nothings into each others’ ears. The guy was ugly and the woman didn’t warrant a second glance. The owner of the cafe, a cool-guy-wannabe, sat at another table with a bunch of his friends and talked loudly about the traffic and the government’s indifference. The waiter was one of those North-eastern implants who didn’t know a word of either English, Hindi or Kannada. I used a complicated hand gesture and ordered a chicken sandwich.

An hour became two and two became three. There was just one guy who entered the coffee shop and he looked as malnourished as a piece of chalk. The lovelorn couple got tired of their foreplay and left in a hurry for some privacy, I’m sure. And then, nothing happened.

I lost a perfectly good evening of my life, trying to do something that was supposed to be interesting. I should stick to abusing people and slandering them on my blog. That’s what makes me cool.

Maturity At Midnight

It’s 10:01 in the night, on August 19, 2011.

In a little less than two hours, I will hope to attain certain levels of mental and emotional maturity. In vain, as I’m sure it will turn out to be. I’m nearing the end of my twenty-sixth year as a son, a brother, a friend, a lover, an enemy, an employee, an employer, a writer, a blogger, an asshole and a jolly, fat man. It’s not something that I’m particularly happy about, turning a year older, but to quote another jolly, fat man, “When you stop running and bend down to smell the roses, the terrific rip you hear is the seam of your trousers tearing away your modesty.”

I feel like I mooned the entire world for these years.

It’s 10:12 now, and I’m staring out the window into the inky night, picturing the leaden sky, when a light turns on in my neighbor’s backyard. The housewife next door comes out with some wet clothes and starts hanging them out to dry. I quickly look away, because she’s so ugly that I’m afraid that if I stare at her long enough, I’ll die. I hear the fan whine as it goes through the motions, countless times a minute. I hear a ping and I see a reminder icon flashing on my desktop tray, warning me of the various people I need to pay off. My phone vibrates next to me and I see an official email about a meeting we were supposed to have today. I sit and stare at the blank text box and wonder what to write.

How do I express what I’m feeling right now. It’s been such a fantastic journey with ups and downs, trials and tribulations, rights and wrongs, fights and friendships, love and hate, greed and generosity, intelligence and utter stupidity. I don’t think I can make it all up even if I wanted to. If I were given an opportunity to undo just one thing in my life so far, I wouldn’t do it. I would make the same mistakes again, I would have the same experiences again and I wouldn’t regret one second of it.

I have made some fabulous friends along the way and I have made some venomous enemies too. I have loved and lost and am yet hopeful. I have lived in sheer happiness and I have been depressed beyond measure. I have written and I have tried to. I have no regrets.

It has taken me a little less than two hours to write these four hundred words. It’s midnight.

I am 27.

Image Courtesy: Isilmetriel

Mind If I ‘Tag’ Along? :)

I know, I know… It’s about bloody time, right? 😀

Here are the three tags that have been sitting in my drafts for a long long time, and I finally get the time to post it! I hope I don’t humiliate myself. Here goes:

Deeps tagged me for this one, and its probably the cutest tag ever! 😀

Six simple words that seems connected and somehow describe you.

Classic Case Of Multiple Personality Disorder! 😀

Arvind and Vishesh tagged me for this very interesting one.

The 5 cadres of people whom i love to hate.

1. The Crocodiles – who cry for no apparent reason to get their job done, and more often than not, it’s fake tears.

2. The Wolfs – who seem to take a sadistic pleasure in spreading rumors and make others’ lives miserable.

3. The Pity Sponges – who just can’t seem to get over the fact that they are the biggest mistake that even happened, and need constant attention, saying, “Look at me, pity me, I’m so miserable!”

4. The Politicians – not the ones who are actually in the profession (well, some of them, yes) but I mean the people who are career people, working normal 9-5 jobs and think that they work in a bloody government office and feel the need to mix business and pleasure politics.

5. The Losers – who think that they are no-good and that suicide is the best thing that can happen to them. For them, I have a glorious piece of advice that a very dear friend once told me: “Each one of us is like a cigarette lighter – we all strike constantly against the rock of Life, we all have a Spark, but only when there’s Spirit within, do we ignite and Light the way for other!”

Poonam tagged me for the Expansionist Meme! Here goes:

One religious work from a non-familiar tradition you’ll read:
I would have to say The Bible.

One music video that you like from your “least likely to listen to’ genre:
I don’t normally listen to gip-hop, but this one new song by David Jordan called Sun Goes Down, i just simply awesome!

A book from a genre you almost never read, that you have read, or you will read (promise!):
I rarely read poetry collections, but recently I bought a collection of William Blake’s poems, and he is just too good!

Somewhere you’d never thought to go on holiday/vacation, and why it might be fun to go there?
Bhilai, for specific reasons! 😉

A specific food you’ve never tried, but will because of this meme, honest!:
Idiyappam! Time I got the spelling and pronunciation right! 😀

A sport or game you really hate, or haven’t tried yet, but are willing to give one more go:
I would say Hockey!

A style of dance you probably won’t try (we won’t make you promise on this one):
Phew! Square dancing!

A career job you don’t feel you’re suited for, and why:
I am not suited for career jobs! 😀

An item that’s “thinking out of the box” for this meme that hadn’t been included:
I would have to say meeting the kind of people whom you would normally would ignore! 😀

That’ll be a task!

It’s there’s one thing in life you wanted to do, and will do because of this meme, what will it be?
Go to a specific table on MG Road’s Barista, order a cappuccino and rethink where my life is headed! 🙂

Cash Back! :)

There’s one in every family!

I’m sure most of you have had this experience before. There’s this freaky guy whom I have had the misfortune of having a friendship with. According to him, we’re the “best-est of friends” and according to me, he’s an unwanted piece of garbage who just doesn’t know when he’s not needed and just doesn’t understand the fact that he’s a burden on this earth! I pity him. If you look at his face, the word “dumb” pops in your mind. His body fat is unevenly distributed, his eyes are lop-sided, his brain is in the wrong place, and he would be automatically entered into the mentally-challenged Olympics if he went anywhere near the venue! If he wasn’t dropped on his head as a child, I seriously wonder what sort of parenting he had to go through to turn out as he has.

I may be a bit too harsh on him, but that’s the way he is. I can’t help it. Would you believe that I’m actually down-playing this mentally-challenged embarrassment to nature who thinks I am his friend? 😀

Anyway, I had lent this guy two hundred bucks, a small amount considering the amount of money I make. This was over a month ago. He promptly forgot about it until I gently reminded him that he owes me. He immediately made out a check (cheque?) for two hundred bucks and gave it to me. Now, this was the first time I was handling a check for so less an amount and I was like, “Dude, it’s just two hundred! You can give me the cash when you have it. No hurry!”

So, he said, “No man, take it. I don’t want to keep you waiting!” I was surprised but hey, money’s money. So, I took the check and deposited it in my bank the next day. A week later, the check bounced! 😀

The bank charged me an extra penalty of 25 bucks for the bad check and I was mad with rage. I called up the dumb freak and said that his check had bounced and that he now owes me 225 bucks, for which he asked me, “What do you mean the check bounced?”

“There was no money in your account, you moron! The check bounced!” I said.

“Oh, ok,” he said and told me to come near some godforsaken building on some highway to collect the money.  I was a bit scared and was wondering if he was going to kill me in that secluded place and make it look like an accident or something. I had no idea how his under-developed mind worked. He finally showed up after making me wait an hour and handed the money over to me. I asked him why he called me so far away from civilization. Instead of replying, he put his hand inside his pocket and the gesture made me freak out. I was about to shout bloody murder, when he took out a cigarette and said, “For smoking, man! My folks don’t know I smoke so I come here often to smoke.”

I smoked one cigarette with the demented freak and went home, where my mom told me that she had gone to some wedding that day and that the demented guy’s family is related to us in some far far distant way! 😀

As I said, there’s one in every family, where the process of evolution stops for good!! 😀

Second Chances

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.”

– Elie Wiesel,
American Author,
Nobel Peace Prize 1986

One of the greatest attributes of life is its ability to deny us what we really want and give us what we really need. His life has been a constant game of badly-played chess, with every move as unplanned and sometimes, as stupid as it can get. Talking about friends and how they helped him reconstruct a broken foundation takes him back three years – a time when he almost convinced himself that he was a burden to everyone around him and decided that there wasn’t anything else that he could offer to the world. His time here was up, and he had to make a quick exit – to end his life and escape to that blissful afterworld where there’re no more complaints, no more angry glances, no more walking into a room filled with people who stop in mid-sentence and look at him as though he’s an unwanted piece of garbage, no more hints and subtle suggestions about him being a loser – and he chose the tried and tested path of a blade to the wrist in a bathroom alone at night.

It was in his second year of undergrad that he found out he was really a loser. The faculty treated him with disdain as if they were teaching him only because they were forced to, and his classmates never even acknowledged his presence, let alone talk to him. What was the point to all this, he thought. Why am I here? I don’t belong here because I am not wanted.

The situation at home wasn’t any different as his parents never really had the time to sit with him and talk about anything. There was a big pile of unopened progress reports on the refrigerator, and every day he looked at them in the hope that at least one of them would be opened. His grades were good but not great, and he just wanted his parents to know about the time he got a 25 on 25 in math or the time when he cleared the physics term paper. He wasn’t asking for a pat on the back and he wasn’t asking for a present in return. All he wanted was for them to smile at him occasionally, or at least look at him. He returned every day to an empty house and an emptier home. His time was up.

The person who helped him get through his hurdles – Aziz – died on May 4th, 2006 in Bangalore, India, after being diagnosed with a malignant type of blood cancer. He held his hand in the hospital on the third and told him that he’s going to live in San Jose, California, and that he owed his life to Aziz, because if it weren’t for him, there would have been no second chances.

This post is in memory of Aziz Muhammed, who celebrates his 2-year death anniversary today – a fact I was reminded of by an email from San Jose this morning, an email that gave me the permission to write these words and make his story known to the world. I had had only one cup of tea with Aziz, three years ago, and at that time, Chuckie, who was with me, said, “Life has so many things to show us and teach us and it will, only if we give it a chance to do so.”  Aziz smiled and made me smell the hot steam rising from the cup of tea. I dismissed him as a junkie at that time.

Now, I always smell my tea before drinking it.