Monday, February 18, 2008

Ten Things I learnt from Jodhaa-Akbar

(1) "Arranged" marriages eventually work out to be just fine. It just takes an awful long time to consummate, however.

(2) If your name is Hemu, you should at least always sport plastic sunglasses.

(3) If your name is Hemu, and you have over 100 (literally) decorated elephants, and you are fighting for your life- you send 99 of them to another direction. Then you head along to the thick segment of the opponent army alone.

(4) Surendra Paul is alive!!! He still does noncommittally bombastic characters like Dronacharya.

(5) If you have an orphaned nephew with attitude, think twice before helping him.

(6) A Hindu wife does not utter her husband's name, unless she is married to a Muslim.

(7) Poonam Sinha is a huge vacuum with a smile, the shape and form of which do not change irrespective of whether her on-screen son was just hit by a poisonous arrow or her daughter-in-law steps into her home the very first time.

(8) Even though the newly wed Princess was given what surely would have been the largest suite one could have seen, every single word of her prayer could still be heard by just about everyone in the (technically) far-off royal court for commons (Diwan-e-Aam). Perhaps another reason the marriage was not consummated sooner.

(9) If you had a fight with your wife, and she heads for her parents', and once you are there she clearly does not want to see your body hair --- the first thing you should do in the morning after waking up is to invite her to a sword fight.

(10) This is the first-time after "Joshilaay" Rajesh Vivek rode a horse.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ten Years I am Living Next Door - Part 5

The Sins

"You are never drunk enough till you stop realizing that what is coming out of your bladder is not only drowning thousands of little annoying black ants around Olypub urinals, but could make a few of them intoxicated too."

-Late 80's Calcutta Proverb

My grandmother, the best ever omelette maker in the universe, passed away at a time Shakti Samata, the then Censor board chairman was busy reviewing various Karishma Kapoor gyrations and we were being introduced to Gyroscopes - the Guttenberg Bible for Mechanical Engineers - at college. It was Summer, 1994. Even the last Kiran More-from-behind-the-wicket-shout "RaaaajoooooooooWwww" was heard more than four months ago. Life was like an 'Only Vimal' shirt sticking to the itchy skin within a crowded mini-bus - one could just feel it without too much optimism or joy. Narsimha Rao's speeches in parliament were shorter than Dilip Kumar's grunts in "Yehudi" and were less appealing than a waxed trio of Chunkey Pandey-Naseeruddin Shah-Aditya Pancholi cavorting as teenage chicks in "Tehelka". Even "Fantasy" magazine - the one that promised to ram hard into "Debonair" heights and whose old copies typically sold for more than the printed price because an entire generation was trying to figure out how a nubile Delhi 'lawyer' could look without, say, her robes -was losing its sheen. So I accompanied my family to a road trip to my grandmom's place for her funeral. I had to come back soon, though. I had an all important class test on Maths 2J. My parents and brother stayed back for about a week more.


Back to Calcutta, my first action was to rush to JU. Between the time I set foot and another samosa was sold from Nathuda's canteen, everyone around knew I was "home alone". More importantly, my parents left me with a good sum of money to last a week. Details escape me today, but the next day -- May 10, 1994 - was declared a "Chao" (from chaos) day at my place. Rumors have it that cyclostyled handbills were distributed at two of the three university gates telling people about the occasion. It was unanimously decided that booze will be purchased the very same day - 2 big bottles (known as "750" for their volume) of every type of spirits - and brands thereof - containing more than 42% alcohol.

However, it was also discovered that my mother had locked the VCR inside before leaving. Having a functional VCR on such a home alone day is as essential as watching sunrise from Tiger Hill on your first Darjeeling visit, and I was almost lynched by a rough crowd as I breached the unavailability of a cubical aluminum box that can rotate tapes that are as wide as Silk Smita's love handles. As someone had said, if life was a VCR, Dimple Kapadia would have had only one frame at it - the one where Juhu breeze would prove to be a too worthy competitor to a "Bombay Dying" towel.

There comes a character in every generation that - like Ghonada -goes unsung, but changes the lives and times of everyone around him. He was the one Wright brothers looked to when the plane was ready but perhaps a permit was needed to not keep both feet on the ground. He would be the one who -- seeing Hrithik has six fingers -- ask him not to ever accelerate too fast on a motorcycle. He could be the one who wrote a letter to Archimedes that had the word 'Eureka' seven times in it before the bald guy found he could float on a bathtub. So, I turned to Sudhha to resolve VCR issue. The way the problem was solved would put the biggest jail breaks to shame! He would simply lift their VCR from his home when his father is not there, wrap it in a towel, put a couple of thick, old pujabarshikis where the VCR were till then, cover it with another towel, take a taxi and deliver it to me. Suddha, like all true visionaries, however has a bit of problem understanding the context of mundane everyday things.

On May 10 morning - when many people were slowly entering for classes - thus a yellow taxi screeched to stop in front of Mechanical engineering building. A tall, unshaven and unknown youth carrying a cubical thing wrapped in yellow bath-towel (still somewhat wet!) surreptitiously came out. Paid the fare to the cabbie. Carefully flipped a zippo lighter and lit a 555 and started ascending the four stories. I was in my first class of the day, and was waiting for it to get over so I could go home and collect the VCR. Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the door. Without waiting for any reply whatsoever from inside, Suddha's stubbly face peeked in and - in front of the teacher and about fifty odd people inside, and some curious onlookers outside - boomed- "VCR enechi" (Got the VCR). It was, perhaps, just a wee bit less declarative than Rembrant's "Moses with the Tablets". But then the tablets were not exactly wrapped in some smelly bath towels either!

Gupta, Dasgupta

Jadavpur P.S. was also Jadavpur B.S. (bus stop). It is the pinnacle of secularism, as Prince Anwar Shah Road starts off at a right angle to a Raja S.C.Mullick Road. As one walks away from the thana, towards North, on the left side - after a few yards - would be a certain shop named "Dasgupta". Like other liquor shops in Calcutta, a cast iron grill over quite tall reinforced concrete pillar separated the substance from the abusers. Still, one had to step up couple of stairs, and stretch the legs a bit, just to get over to the lower part of the grill to order. Once ordered, the helper inside would fetch the bottle, wrap it with the seventh page of a month old "The Statesman", open a drawer that the buyer could not see from the other side of the grill, take out a pitch black plastic bag, put the bottle inside the bag and with a swift but accurate motion would get the bottle out through one of the two holes on the grill used to exchange money and soon to be Puke. Apparently, the idea behind the newspaper and black plastic was to hide the fact that even people wearing trousers could belittle themselves to fetch their alcohol. Problem was - no other substance in at least a 52 mile radius ever was packed in that kind of black plastic bag. In fact, I guess the black plastic bags too were manufactured by Shaw Wallace etc.

Our shopping list was something like -

(unit in 750s - large bottles) -

2 Vodkas -Smirnoff had just arrived.
2 Gin - London Lime was popular.
8 or 9 Beer

(unit in 375s - small bottles) -

2 Whiskeys - A particular brand used to give "free" drinking glasses. That was the motivation.
4 rums -

The shopper - a non-local - was explicitly told before taking off from my home to only go and buy things like Kurkure etc if and only if all these can be purchased first. We were not sure how many will eventually turn up, but there were about nine people to start with. My neighbors - who knew very well my parents were away - must have been thinking we have a tough exam ahead to see so many of us quietly slipping into my place at a ripe 2PM.

Another friend, let's call him AD, was sent to scour for a certain video cassette starting from Four Star Video (nested well inside Jodhpur Park) to Gupta Video (Golpark, just below the gaze of a charged Swami Vivekananda). Someone brought the news that "top Pakistani stars" did something very, very interesting in some super-clandestine party in London and the video was a raze in places like Dubai. The premise was promising, but the problem was the title of the video. We heard it was "code named", perhaps to avoid customs and crazy cops as it was smuggled within the country, "NUDE MUJRAS IN LONDON"!!

Now, those of you who never have been around Golpark around 3PM-ish would never know what a strong crowd of school or "South Point" returned kids and their moms get back to their homes at that hour. Also, a very sizable portion of that crowd often enters "Mouchak" and caters themselves to sweet relishes and sometimes picks up likes of "Bambi", "Lion King" or even "Gupi Gyne, Bagha Byne" from "Gupta Video" for the evening. When AD was met with blank stares at the whispering mention of the video title at "Four Star Video", he got on to an Auto rickshaw and went to Golpark. Once inside "Gupta Video", he realized the ratio between kids and adults in the shop would have been exactly ONE, had it not been for himself and the two mustached, spectacled, stony faced owners.

Most of the kids, just like in any other days, were apparently with their moms or grand parents. When it was AD's turn to ask for what he wants, he took his face down and mumbled something. The elder brother of the owners did not even bat an eyelid. He asked - in a super normal tone - "What is the name again"? AD perhaps tried a different tone and it did not work. The other guy on that side of the counter now got a bit impatient seeing so many kids are waiting in queue. He asked -- from quite a distance -- "Kon boita chai dada?" (What movie it was again?). AD, already feeling an enormous time pressure, blurted - with enough velocity and pitch in his baritone to carry the words across the room to the other guy - "N.U.D.E. MUJRAS IN LONDON". Legend has it while there was a pin-drop silence in the room as the mothers and grandparents tried to either hide or rush away from the shop, the counter guy coolly told his brother "Shelf 12, number 3". AD was then asked his name - so they could enter the VHS in the register. AD was carrying my membership card. He magnanimously retained the same decibel level to say MY name! From that day, I never ever went to Golpark with anything that could distinguish me.

Celebrations XXX

Get no hint, please. That is the name of a good rum brand.

Back in my place, there was a shortage of glasses. Someone suggested Sudhha be given a baalti (bucket) to drink from. He was hurt and did not drink at all and left soon. Since I was the host, I decided to drink straight from a long bottle of Vodka. Drinking sessions were going on in three rooms. The living room, by then, had the VCR running. The first bedroom had one future award winning scientist dishing out one romantic song after another gazal. The second bedroom had a couple of folks generally chatting easily with drinks and smoking. Every room had at least 4-5 people, except the room with the VCR where people lost all counts. After a while, I stopped trying to figure out if I knew this guy at all or he was just a party crasher. ST was sitting about an inch away from our ONIDA tv blocking the exit from the room. As SG, after a bit of drinking, tried to exit to the bathroom -- ST attacked SG. ST demanded "do whatever you want to do HERE"!! I was by the middle of the Vodka and already got so bored to leave that and start the Whiskey's or may be the Rum's - don't remember.

After a while I woke up in absolute silence. Oh sorry - there was the so-called "Pakistani Stars" moaning next room. I was in one of the bedrooms, royally spread over the entire bed as a whole bunch of onlookers were - very anxiously - staring at me from near the door. I pulled myself up and started throwing up on the left side of the bed. By the time I stopped the moaning did too.

Next time I woke up I saw fewer people in the room. But they were busy cleaning up the left side of the bed with one holding a bucket, another a broom and another trying to figure out where else to remove stain from. I did not want to waste their effort. This time I threw up on the right side. Just before passing out I heard some loud knocks on our door.

What happened then defined a big part of how I would be known among my relatives. I of course heard and later pieced it together as it had happened. Hearing the knocks our would-be scientist peeped through the hole and saw a bunch of my relatives standing outside the main door. He was after 4th or 5th shot of Rum, and for some odd reason considered himself to be in "control". Coming back to the living room - very next to the main door - he whispered to everyone watching the "movie" - to go and hide in the farthest bedroom. My relatives standing outside were hearing feeble moans that turned into thuds of about fifteen or so people trying to scuttle away on concrete floor - some of them falling on various furniture in the ensuing melee. My relatives, concerned, knocked again. My scientist friend opened the door ajar and just took out his face, that smelt VERY strongly of cheap rum, to announce that I was feeling ill and cannot see them right then. My relatives came to see if I was doing OK without my parents. After all they heard from outside and after being told by a fluffy, drunken, unknown face from inside *my* house that I am not well, they somehow did not insist to see me anymore. They left. One of them did not even show up for my wedding more than a decade later.

When I gained consciousness hours later, except a bit of stuffy smell I could not tell if anything happened in the house. With my true friends overzealousness even the old dishes I ate the night before were clean. Someone apparently was more drunk than I was! I still had over two hundred rupees left. I still had four more days. And I had to think, fast, of a good spin for the entire event that day for folks at college, my relatives, my neighbors and for my father's friend who actually saw a guy exiting from our place with many empty liquor bottles and dumping it in the trash area! Feeling the tremendous pressure and hating everything that was happening to my body, I passed out again.