I suppose I write to keep myself sane. Everything makes sense; things fall into place. Not like the hazy words that frame my mind and the random sentences that crop up without reason – they are like hailstones that hurt and obscure. They rain on me every now and then, and I try to keep up, I do, trying to decipher them before they hit the ground and melt into oblivion. But I fail. That is why I write.
I write so I can force them to come together, bound by the rigid rules of grammar and punctuation, come under scrutiny and direction, so I can stop the never ending tip-tap, tip-tap, the chatter that never breaks.
And when I don’t, when I can’t bring myself to rein them, they seep down into the very core of my being and turn into a murky moor that engulfs me. The quicksand of broken thoughts and emotions suck me in.
There is hope yet.
I sit down and throw my soul a length of rope, crafted with syllables, strengthened with the bold strokes of allegories, similes and rhymes. A string, a song, a story.
I recently discovered that my regular eyeliner is a waste of time compared to the costly gel variant. The lady behind the Maybelline counter was quick to get to work on my eyes with a dexterity achieved by years of customer service and the result, I’ve got to say, is impressive.
But would I be able to recreate the same?
But then it’s waterproof, so I figured I’ll just not wash my face again.
In the past two weeks, I had two interesting rendezvouses with the general topic of barbers – neither on a personal account.
The first was a movie, Savarakathi (The Barber’s Knife), a fine piece of black comedy that emerged from Tamil cinema. It was hysterically scripted and executed with ace. Needless to mention, it suffered severe losses at the box office front as all masterpieces are bound to do. In the meantime a cheap commercial flick with neither content nor aesthetics continues to run in full houses. Go figure.
The second one, which actually prompted this post emerged in a class on human resources management. The lecture/discussion was successfully lulling me to sleep when she decided to take a detour from types of recruitment interviews, which in addition to tests and walk-in interviews may also be skill based, and enlighten us with examples. In the recruitment to the post of drivers, where you would be required to drive the examiner around certain roads and he would rate the your skill at driving in addition to the way you handle the vehicle and take precautions. And then, of course, the barber.
Our institute has the official post of a barber within the campus and the recruitment process is apparently quite interesting. A senior professor happened to be present at the last one. Each of the applicants were asked to demonstrate their skills at shaving with the help of shaving gel, knife and the hairy right cheek of a institute volunteer. One by one, they came in with their respective instruments, shaved away with abandon and exited.
Except one fellow. Once he was done, he wrapped up his kit and requested the volunteer (a professor himself, I should imagine) to meet him again once the recruitment tests were over. He wanted to finish up his work on the left cheek as well. Now, that’s professionalism!
Had I written this post earlier like my fingers itched to, the proposed title of this post would have missed a certain three letter word. My plan of revenge a.k.a. annihilating the multinational company with one post in a blog with less than 200 followers was probably a bit much, but then my frustration was such.
Maybe I should start with some background information.
I am getting married soon. This may come as a bit of a shock to some of my readers who may recall something I wrote less than a year ago, pledging solidarity with singledom and giving whimsical details about my reasons and strategies to remain so for all eternity. (No? None of you remember that marvellous piece I whipped up? Shame on you. You may achieve redemption by clicking here).
As these matters go, society has certain set rules as how to achieve the privileged status of being married. Holding on to a guy till death do you part has pretty much nothing to do with it. Oh no. You need to make sure that you adequately shout out to the entire world about the oncoming process. Thousands of people get married on a daily basis around the world, but somehow humanity never fails to get excited by the fiasco. All the married folks who cautioned you against following their path are suddenly jubilant to have you join the club. All those who are not married are jubilant that it is happening to you, not them. All those who are single are jubilant about the prospect of free food and meeting prospective partners. General air of jubilance, to sum it up.
So it came to be that unconditional love was not enough to solemnise a marriage – you needed truckloads of cash as well. Hence I have effectively depleted all my savings on the purchase of multiple glittering attires, ornaments and decorative paraphernalia that I can’t possibly scavenge and religiously put my future at risk as expected of me, thereby bringing the whole family to tear up for once in pride and contentment.
Now the one thing, perhaps the only thing, in all this chaotic humbug that I felt deserves real attention is the pair of rings. Wedding bands. After all, that is the one thing I will be carrying on my self for all eternity, so it is imperative that it should encompass and adequately symbolise our love for each other.. and of course, go with all my varied outfits. Which is why I took the pains to go to every major jewellery showroom in town (trust me, there are a LOT) and finally landed up in Tanishq. Mr Beloved was sweet enough to accompany me once the first round of screening was done. Stylish and innovative designs from a reputed company – we were happy enough to take our pick from the many options.
So we found the ring of our choice, paid the amount and were promised delivery well in advance of the betrothal date. All was well.
Until they called up to say there was a MINOR change in the design. So minor that you can’t make it out with your eyes closed. Apparently the heart engraving that we had asked for couldn’t be done on a machine-cut ring so they decided to do it by hand, and humans do things a little differently. I tried to contain my hyperventilation and inquired if it was possible to get the original done again. Oh yes, they said, it would only take 15 days. That would work wonderfully, I chimed, seeing that the engagement date was in 10 days. Silence. Apologetic faces glanced sideways at each other as my face grew redder. They sent me home after promising to make a call the next day after sorting out the mess.
The bad news is that I was entirely skeptical of anything happening and spent the night spewing expletives in every direction and into every pair of ears that were willing to listen to the utter wrongs done by me and to consumers at large, in a moving dramatic rendering, with a finesse expected of a bride-to-be that years of watching chick flicks granted me. I’d go to court. Oh yes, I would. Okay, maybe I’d wait till after the wedding was done, but I so would.
The good part is that all that was completely unnecessary; they called me up the next day and promised to deliver the ring of our choice in less than a week.
And they did.
Okay, so maybe these large companies are not always horrible conniving sly people who care nothing of the rights of the consumer.
The weather proved to be rather histrionic on our way back. It continued to be cool even after noon, and we stopped to munch on apples after riding for an hour. That was when the sky suddenly erupted out of the blue. I had packed two raincoats and we quickly rode on. The helmet which had been tucked safely inside the boot was brought out to brave the heavy raindrops. I enjoyed clicking a few more pictures as he rode. And ten minutes later, the sun was out and we were donning sunglasses to beat the heat.
It was nealy 3:30 by the time we reached Pondy and lunch was long overdue. I took him to one of my favourite places, Space Bar, close to where I live. Food was gone within moments of arrival, with only a pause in between for clicks.
Back in my room, we fell on to the bed. The next thing I remember is him poking me and enquiring about dinner. I peered at the phone – it was 10 at night. By the time we actually walked out the door, it was 10:30. I had planned to take him to a band playing at a restaurant by the beach, but Google informed me that I was a useless imbecile for sleeping six hours straight in the evening because all good restaurants close at 10. Yaay. After putting in one name after the other, I got a hit at Spice Route – apparently those people have no life and are open till 11:45. Good enough for me!
Christmas Eve proved to be quite a lively affair; a lot many people were on the road. The few churches that dotted the streets were lit up and brimming with people. We made our way to Spice Route by 11:00 and as we triumphantly crossed the threshold, we were informed that they were closed for the day. Now that was the second time Google was cheating us in a day. Bad server, no cookies for you.
Thankfully, the adjoining Pizza Hut let us in. Neither of are crazy about pizzas (I know, I know, there must be something wrong with us), so we ordered pasta, garlic bread and chicken wings. I did wonder later about the possible idiocy in placing an order for pasta at a pizza place, but the food turned out to be quite good. We rang the bell twice on our way out.
The Rock Beach was bustling as usual. The festive time guaranteed that a lot more people were inebriated though. The sea breeze was laden with a heady mix of beer and tobacco as it passed us by. We walked the entire length of the beach in search of ice cream for him, before realizing that the shop was on the other end.
We finally settled on the rocks facing the sea with a scoop of Russian Flair from Gelateria Montecatini Terme for company. The mix of apple, milk and vodka was a pleasant twang on our tongues as we watched the waves.
A few sky lanterns rose in the distance and slowly burned their way into oblivion. Someone danced on the sand with a stranger, both drunk and euphoric, laughter and song erupting from within. The waves crashed, spraying foamy greetings. It was Christmas.
Cousin K is with me for Christmas for his virgin visit to Pondicherry and the fact that both of us had three free days made me get down to ardent planning. Pondy, though a favoured tourist spot for Indians and foreigners alike, does not offer much in the way of scenic enclaves. Food and booze with more than a couple of beaches thrown in – that pretty much sums up the place. Which is why I decided that this would be an ideal time for a road trip to Traquebar, the mispronounced English name for Tharangambadi, an ancient Danish settlement 120 km away that looked good enough on Google for me to plan said trip. Since the only piece of motorised vehicular contraption that I own is a scooter, it was chosen to be our choice of cheap transportation.
The itinerary was thus – we would leave in the early hours, around 6, and beat the morning traffic to reach Pichavaram Mangrove Forest at 8. We would take the very first row boat for an hour, grab a bite and set off again to reach Traquebar at noon. The afternoon would be spent taking in the marvellous view, the sea, the forts, museums and the glorious piece of history they offer and then we would ride back to reach Pondy by night.
It was a great plan perfectly amenable to execution, but we screwed up on various levels.
Firstly, we did not leave at 6. Hell, we did not even get up at 6. By the time we actually crawled out of bed and managed to head on our way, it was 7:30. But thankfully, owing to the holidays, the morning traffic that plagued the road to Cuddalore was rather tame. The air was crisp and cool. I was in a sweatshirt and still felt the bite of the December weather. The monsoons had wreaked havoc on Pondicherry roads, but once we were out of the town it was an extremely pleasant ride; the terrain of Tamil Nadu is all plains and the roads stretch on as far as the eye can see, broad and smooth.
Once we crossed the town of Cuddalore, it got even better. The bit of East Coast Road between Cuddalore and Chidambaram is flanked by paddy fields on either side. These too stretched far and wide, large even hectares of ripe green land.
Figures of men and women dotted the fields, weeding and replanting the paddy saplings.
Although I have traversed this route multiple times, this was the first time I was doing it on a bike, and we made multiple stops to take in the view and click pictures.
It is a largely rural area and bullock carts were a common sight on the roads. It was interesting to note though that these had large rubber tyres as wheels instead of the old wooden ones. Things change, even when they seem to remain the same.
Google Maps was our guide, and that turned out to be the second thing that went wrong. Pichavaram Eco-Tourism Centre that was supposed to be 58 kilometres away was nowhere in sight even as we crossed 90. After religiously following the instructions of ‘The Voice’, we followed a rough trail through abandoned unpaved roads to reach a random village in the middle of nowhere and hear her declare that we had reached our destination. Two boys came out of a thatched house and asked if we were tourists looking for the boating centre. We nodded. Wrong route, one shrugged. Must be Google Maps, the other added. Apparently, we were not the first ones to land here. They instructed us to go back the way we came and ask people for directions this time. We had to laugh. So much for technology.
“The way back” proved to be 20 kilometres and by the time we reached Pichavaram it was 10:30 and the place was crowded. There was a long queue at the billing counter and people yelling at each other about having to wait in queues. I reached the counter and asked for a row for two, pushing across a 500 rupee note. I had figured out they might not accept cards and had come armed with cash. Even that was not enough. 200 rupees, the lady said firmly, you have to pay in change. Great.
We walked to a building across the parking lot that said something about a resort and unlimited adventure and food. Food sounded like a good idea. Plus, we could get small change. We had forgotten about breakfast and were fairly hungry at this point. The restaurant turned out to be a small hall with a couple of tables and chairs. We sat down and looked expectantly towards the waiter. The restaurant is only for guests who stay, he duly informed, but you may get a plate of assorted items for 100 bucks. Good enough. He brought us a large plate laden with two idlis, three puris, a dollop of Pongal, and a generous amount of chutney and potato curry to go with it. It tasted like heaven to us hungry souls and we gobbled everything up in no time.
We had our fill, we had our change; finally good to go.
The queue, of course had gotten longer while we were away. I got us the tickets for a row boat for an hour, showed them at the next counter and were promptly assigned a rower. After donning the ceremonious life jackets that were centuries old, torn, wet and definitely not in any condition to save lives if ever called upon to do so, we climbed aboard.
I wrote about Pichavaram in a post earlier this year, so I will not go into that again. The weather was pleasant enough, cool even at noon, and there was a mild drizzle for a while, but the forests were enchanting as always. We were quiet for the most part. Birds crooned in the silence and we spotted a few in the distance.
An hour passed quickly. We decided to head back home.
My father has always been a rather distant entity in my life. Always there, but never really. I’ve never exactly been petted by him, as is the case with most fathers in the Indian scenario. But two things that I hold fast to my heart till date are cards and carroms – games I shared with him, and those he excelled at.
It was pure joy to watch him deal a hand, shuffling them this way and that, and even more so for a child. He is a leftie which was unique itself then – the way he held his deck and flung them out in triumph. We’d sit in a circle, Father, his friends, their kids and I, and we’d play for hours even as our mothers chided us in the background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose; he was great at cheating even. And carrom! He would always make the first strike, hitting the coins exactly at that sweet spot that never revealed itself to me even after years of persistent practice; I can still recall the awe I’d feel when he sent coins flying in four directions with that single strike, bagging four coins at once. Two blacks and two whites. And of course, the red queen would land in his lap in no time.
He had a drinking problem, and managed to gamble away a lot of money. As time went on, responsibilities and liabilities grew and Father quietened down. I cannot ascertain if the change was abrupt or gradual.. He refused to play with us anymore even when we pleaded. Maybe one round of rummy once in a while, but then those too stopped. Even as the drinking came down and he started getting a hold on his life, he was not the same fun person he used to be, and I do remember that I often wished he’d just drink, just so he’d look happy. The cards lay unused and gradually disappeared in the way things do, and the carrom board came to life infrequently when I had a random cousin or friend come over. Cracks developed on the board and the wood pealed at places and it was quietly put away. I too grew up.
A few days ago, some friends came together and organised a little party for Christmas on the roof of their house. Someone brought along a few decks of cards, and as I spread my share in my hand after more than a decade, I was reminded of the rare laughter and fun and frolic that I shared with Father. Fragile times. A huff and a puff and it all fell down. My childhood really was a house of cards.
When I left the party, I held on to a deck and took it back with me. For home.