Saturday, November 29, 2008

Time and again...

I seem to be intoxicated, not so much by the Dom Perignon 1953 bubbling in the flute in my hand, but by the three hawt beauties that adorn me. A blonde, a brunette and an Asian- mind you, I have the world's best diversity wrapped around my arms. They are engrossed in conversation, enrapt by my charming description of my latest novella, so much so that they ignore Daniel Craig's lascivious eyes that corner them as he passes by, waving me an envious Hi.

"What's the blonde's name, again?", I ask my memory, slurring, as I survey the pool in which nubile wannabe stars are already flirting with water and the Hollywood whos-who. But I don't really care, because I've found all the answers, I'm in heaven, honobbing with the A-list at this ultra-glamourous Oscars bash at the Sunset Tower Hotel, Hollywood.

I excuse myself from the beauties and stroll to the bar, and as I impatiently wait for my Grand Mojito Martini, I feel a pleasant tap on my shoulder and sense overwhelming beauty in my vicinity. I turn around, and lo and behold!

I'm still beholding, awed, speechless, overwhelmed at God's sexiest creation which currently is within touching distance, frantically trying to capture every bit of her with my two small eyes, which seem to roll over and over, fidgeting between her flowing hair, her expressive eyes and other things. How much can they ogle after all!! But, finally, Scarlet Johansson decides to break the ice, and, we go into slow motion here, I follow her inviting pout transform into luscious lips that create beautiful speech, and soon its my ears who are in for a treat as she voices a sweet......

"Tring Tring"

Jolt, shudder, even more frantic roll of the eyes. The intoxication is gone, but this is a bad hangover. Did I hear that right? and as if to answer,

"Tring Tring" again.

The body's natural reaction to such mishaps is to reach out to press a Green button somewhere. I promptly do that.

"Suuuuuuuuumiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit beta (kid)!!", says a gruff, ruthless voice which has an unmistakeable sense of mischief. Its my Dad. The ears revolt. The eyes frown. The decrepitation of the reverie is now complete.

I push the pillow up and prop my spine against it, mumble a "Hello" and look at my watch. 3:30 am. @%*^&@!

My dad never had a sense of timing. When he dabbled in the stock markets, he bought high and sold low and contributed in his own little way to the Indian stock market's bull run. He disowned me just before I got into IIM, and then promptly had to reown me. He watched cricket games right till the end when India lost and shut the TV prematurely when India pulled off last-gasp wins.

But an international sense of timing is a totally different level. Since I moved to London, I gave the folks a crash course in timing. -4:30 usually, and -5:30 in winter, due to daylight saving. I chose the wrong words. The daylight saving had them very curious, and caused immense confusion. "But, whyyyyy?", crooned my Mom, and the Dad's creativity abolished its boundaries and devoted itself to the creation of hypothetical scenarios, "What if you are catching a flight at 2 am on the 2nd weekend of Nov, if you were 1 hr late would you be on time?" Arrgggh. Give up.

My lifestyle hours have only compounded matters. Even when I was in India, we were time zones apart, they operating 5 am to 9 pm and me doing 9 am to 5 am. The tradeoff of accompanying them for a family function was thus complicated by the jet lag involved. And here, it has only worsened, now that I'm no longer under their strict eye, and so I've often got up at 4 pm on Sundays and called home, only to have had a tough time explaining why I haven't had breakfast when they have just finished dinner!

Anyways, so back to the call, because Mehta Sr. is waiting. We exchange pleasantries. And then comes the time bomb, "Mummy's asking, did you have lunch???!!!" I don't understand my Mom's obsession with my appetite, but of course I find it very sweet. However, a part of me thinks its only her way of finding out the time. Like, "did you have lunch?", "Arre, I had lunch 5 hrs back, its dinner time now", "Aah! thought as much."Clever.

But thankfully, she has better sense than my Dad, because I hear her voice in the background, shouting "He must be sleeping now! How many times have I told you not to get confused between London and Singapore!" If only confusion was a matter of will, but I hope my Dad has a better response. But you see, thats an additional confusion, because my sister lives in S'pore, and having 1 kid at +2:30 hrs and another at -4:30 hrs has had the Mehta Sr. swimming in a pool of confusion 8 hours wide. I don't blame him, honestly.

So he realizes his error, mumbles a few things like, "Oh what time is it?", Me: "3:32 am", Him: "Oh you must be sleeping then?", Me: "YEAH!", Him: "Ah, its not a Saturday, no wonder I got confused, last week you were wide awake this time, even though slurring your words!" @£$&&. One can never win, I shrug, say Goodbye, promise to call back at a more convenient time, hang up and re-engage myself in invoking the divine spirit of Ms. Johansson.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Homeward Bound

The day is etched firmly in my mind. London had victoriously wooed me away from Bombay, and as I tearlessly packed my bags, and bade my parents an abrupt good bye, I was aware of the lack of emotion in me. In one moment, it impressed me, in another it scared me. How had I become so stone-hearted for ambition?

But, as I realized a return trip later, there was no emotion simply because there was no loss. Or, more accurately, no acceptance of a loss. Because somewhere in my heart I knew myself well- I am a romanticiser of places. Unlike others who miss people, my memories are linked to places. Which suits me fine, as people can sometimes go away or, worse, they can change, but places stay where they are, weathered by the forces of nature and progress, forever losing their exteriors but keeping their interiors.

And so I knew that wherever I went, I'd never lose the Bombay that was mine. Deep ensconced in a cobwebby corner of my vital organ, it would live on, adding juxtaposial layers to itself with my every frequent visit back. And so, on that gloomy Sunday of the twenty fifth of September 2005, I ventured out of my house, my city and my country, with a sprightly and adventurous step into life as a Londoner.

If anyone doubted my resolve to revisit and renourish my India roots as frequently as possible, they were proved wrong after barely 90 days. Just as family had begin to convert my room into a much-needed storage area, and friends had started to resign my phone numbers to the Etcetera list, there was I, punctually standing at Bbay airport, excitedly calling everyone to announce that "Yeah, you heard it right, I'm BACK!". My mom, disgusted at being deprived of a proper nostalgia, gruntled, "Khota sikka" (false coin, literally, basically meaning someone who doesn't live true to his word". I grinned.

And it has thus continued over the years- friends' weddings, house-hunting and renunion Goa trips all providing the necessary excuse- and the surprise turned gradually into annoyance. Quippy friends asked whether I'd procured a lifetime all-seasons ticket, and gradually even the familial luxury was stopped. On my 1st visit, I'd found the family driver proudly waiting to pick me up in the dusty Maruti and excitedly enquiring about London on the way back, but the next few times that seemed to be replaced by a frustating nonchalance...and last year I'd been politely informed, "Sorry beta (child), the driver's got some urgent work, so could you please take a cab instead?".

So by now, the India routine has been well-polished and tried-and-tested. As I finish dealing with betel-nut-chewing customs officers whose purpose in life is harassment, and venture out into the polluted Bbay air, unheralded and unnoticed except by opportunistic cabbies, I feel I have arrived. Of course I have, silly, but I mean, my instant ability to relate to my suddenly-different surroundings sends congratulatory blood to my head. The unconfused dual life, the balancing act- it all gives me a kick. I'm as home here as I was in London 8 hours and 7200 km ago. With these thoughts I hail an autorickshaw, for-the-heck-of-it'ly haggle the cost of a trip to Mankhurd and settle down comfortably into a very uncomfortable, shifting seat, looking forward to watching grime, odours, noises and the Bombay evening engulf me through the rickshaw's open windows. For a Bombay lover, its undiscriminating discomfort is itself its most comforting aspect.

(Not-so) soon, I reach home. Everything looks familiar and I even know the people on the streets- the baais (maids) still huddle around, kids still play cricket on the streets and cars still run into each other. But as the heart leaps in comforting joy, exclaiming, "I still haven't lost you, Bombay!", the futility of it all suddenly reveals itself to me on the subsequent landing.

Isn't all the frequent visiting an unending race to play catch up? With India growing and transforming itself in leaps and bounds, isn't what I really fear is losing touch with the beloved city, of having a generation gap with one's own childhood friend? And then I realize it, at the base of it all is my endeavour to keep unshaken my delicate faith in the constancy of places.

But I needn't worry, I relaxedly tell myself, as "Sumeeeeeettt, dinner is ready!", my mom's voice sails through the cool December air, like it always used to, rising above the latest item number blared by the neighbour's proud imported amplifiers, as they always did, and the shrill shrieks of the newest contingent of building (Indian slang for an apartment complex) kids. But I'm busy reading the girl's emails from London, and at the same time making clubbing plans for the night, waiting to explore the side of Bbay that I previously couldn't afford to- Oh boy, isn't it great to be home!