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Encounter in the Train


This mind numbing morning when I wanted nothing but empty thoughts, I was accosted by an old Chinese guy at the CTA station wearing the ubiquitous yellow Burberry hat. He walked up to me to strike a conversation.

‘You Indian?’ he asked knowledgably.

Friggin hell, how the heck did he figure out? Surely not my brown skin or thick black hair or the distinct Indian features could have given it away. No way! How come no one asks me if I am Norwegian?

'Mmm’, I nodded not wanting to encourage a tea stall conversation. Any other day, I would have shown some courtesy and found out why Chinese loved the Burberry pattern, whether it was in their tie, socks, handbag or tongue cleaner. But today was not the day.

Not at all discouraged by the cold easterly winds emanating from my direction, Sherlock Holmes proceeded to explain that he knew 3 languages, which included Japanese (He turned out to be Japanese and not Chinese- so much for my detective skills). “I don’t know Indian, too bad. But I know Geography very well. All the capitals of all countries. You ask, I will answer.’

Is he kidding me? What is this, a quiz program that I was unwillingly getting steered into? I hope he isn’t mistaking me for another Indian, Siddharth Basu. Please God, let the train come.

Train came. Halleluiah!

I rushed inside and sat right next to another hopefully sober person even though I prefer sitting on empty seats. A small sacrifice for mental peace, I decided.

But my comrade didn’t falter even for a second. He apparently got some friendly vibes from me, trotted up to my seat and declared, ‘I don’t mind standing. I will stand near you and answer your questions. I can start. You want to know capital of Armenia? It is tough one. Starts with Y.’

I couldn’t care less if it was Gumidipindi. I just wanted to cry. He was like a 7-year old, a really over enthusiastic annoying 7-year old whom you couldn’t even slap.

‘I don’t know.’ I conceded half hoping he would lose interest in the dim-witted soul that spelt M-E and move on to that bright looking blonde with green highlights in pink shoes touching up her make-up.

‘No, it’s Ok. You couldn’t have known anyway, it is tough. It’s Yerevan!! Ask some more. This is fun.’ He shouted in glee almost clapping his hands and hugging me.

We played this for 7 stations, during which, he asked and answered capitals to countries I hadn’t even heard of while I grunted and nodded and shifted uneasily. If body language was anything to go by, I might have been mistaken for someone who needed to use the toilet badly.

Anyway, there was a silver lining to this extremely dark nimbus cloud. It was the fact that he stopped showing off his capitals and moved on. ‘There are many religions. I am Buddhist. There is Christians and Hindus and Jews and… I forget one more..’

‘Moslems?’ I smiled, finally warming up to him.

‘No..no..no…mmm…wait...wait..Islam..yes, Islam!’ he jumped up in sheer happiness.

I congratulated him.

‘You know Islam religion is very violent. All these terrorists are Islams.’ He added not in very hushed tones.

I froze with shock. What the heck is this guy up to? Trying to get me killed? Jeez man!! I tried my best to salvage the situation looking around apologetically at fellow passengers, ‘No, Islam is not like that.’

Luckily for me, he decided the matter wasn’t worth pursuing. He clearly wasn’t into discussions (only monologues involving general knowledge). Phew!


‘You know there is a famous Indian man I know in History. I’ll tell ok. You don’t tell. Wait’

After a long pause and immense deliberation,

‘Wait wait…don’t tell…don’t tell’, he protested even as I sat calmly not really wanting to participate.

After more time and agony, he agreed to let me divulge the name.

‘Gandhi?’ I prompted.

No no…I’m not getting it. Starts with the letter M, I’m very sure.’


'Mahatma Gandhi?’

‘Right Right! Mahatma Gandhi. What a great man he was.’

Great man indeed! If not for him, some violence would have taken place for sure (of me hurling myself out of a moving train).


Footnote: Rhyncus has written this story from the old man's perspective. Hilarious.


SOS! Stop overdoing surprises

 

Surprise Birthday Parties. Everyone in my huge group of friends has had one and continues to have one every year, which means that I’m attending a SBP almost every month (make that every week). Somehow the novelty has not waned and has almost become a part of our lives- an obsession. The spouse will go to lengths to make it surprising enough by altering some modus operandi that had been previously employed by another so much so that not getting a SBP has become the recent surprising factor. Usually parties in the weekend that were much preferred by us working class have been brutally shifted to weekdays so that the birthday person can get sufficiently surprised by the fact that some suckers would take precious rest time off and drive miles away to say “SURPRISE!”. Weekday evenings not being surprising anymore, weekday midnights are being preferred. The bar, the food, the ambience can all go out of the window as long as a group of friends congregate secretly and manage to shock the living daylights of the birthday person. The higher the shock levels the better. I have seen it all- Theme parks, ski resorts, strip clubs, basket ball games, old age homes…

 

A week before the event, the dreadful email generally goes like this:

 

People, it’s Victim’s birthday on A date. Please try and be at this B place at sharp C pm and not a second later. As usual follow the protocol for SBP.


Yours,


Harassed Spouse of Victim (if only previous SBP hadn’t set the bar so high... Up yours! Suffer next spouse!)

 

The protocol for invitees-

-Do not utter a word to the victim about his impending disaster and casually allude to other places you are likely to be at the date in question

-Mentally prepare yourself to spend on something you really don't care for just to prove your friendship and for that sweet element of revenge.

-Leave everything you are doing or would have loved to do at that time and rush to the venue as nonchalantly as possible.

-If you are the designated cake bearer, rush to the nearest bakery and pick up any random cake…after all it’s not your birthday and you are dieting.

-Coordinate with the other forty people by cell phone till your ears melt.

-Even as professional adults, hide behind bar stools and stay as stationary as possible trying to filter out other people’s stares. 


Protocol for birthday person-


-Do not allude to the fact that impending disaster is very well known and innocently add that birthday celebrations may include a nice dinner at home (hopes you have kiddo)

-Do not plan anything personal for the week and get whisked away as nonchalantly as possible. Make minimal drama to create aura that you were not really prepared to get whisked away.

-Ask spouse what to wear. Depending on where the surprise is going to take place, you better make sure you don’t end up in a skating rink with a bathing suit. It has happened.

-Try to pop some Valium before embarking on this journey. You may not like the place or the people and you may be required to smile.

-Act sufficiently surprised when everyone pops out of his or her hiding places and hug everyone in sheer ecstasy. It is a practiced art.

-Keep at the hugging till people are convinced that their efforts were well worth it.

-Look fondly at spouse- keep curses at low decibels.

-Pop more pills and stay cool. You have it coming next year too.


It's Pi's birthday next and I am in panic mode!!! HELP! I want to start a petition and stop this cruel practice so that the future generations will be spared. They might even build a pedestal for me and shower my feet with rose petals. But the thought of being considered a non-loving wife is clashing with my principles. I think that a party in Las Vegas will be great. Everyone can appear from the skies in hot air balloons and yell "SURPRISE!"


On my favorite ice-cream


Khoob ladi mardani, woh tho NOT ME thi!


I don’t know why I remembered Rajshekar today. Cute, chubby, quite and always blushing Rajshekar. Rajshekar was my classmate when I was an overzealous kid in 5th grade. We weren’t close or anything nor were we enemies. I liked Rajshekar for his sweet disposition and he liked me for everything I stood for (actually that fact can not be determined). Let’s just assume he had neutral feelings towards me.


Poor Rajshekar was asked a very tough question (note point) in Hindi class. He stood there looking dazed and chewing his finger nails. A stern look from Balwan Singh sir had him sweating in no time turning him beet red. I felt nothing for him as I had come to realize that everybody in the world isn’t smart.


The teacher, whom I had great respect for, asked me to answer the same question. I rattled off the answer feeling very proud indeed. I looked around to see if everyone had their eyes glazed with adulation for me. I forget what I actually saw.


‘Good Alpha. Go slap Rajshekar!’ instructed my Hindi sir calmly.


‘Sir?’ I recoiled in horror. Never had I expected this to turn against me.


‘Yes, you heard me right. Slap him. That is his punishment and your reward.’


What a sadist, I thought. ‘Sir, you punish him. I can not do that and will not hurt him as he didn’t harm me in any way. Now I am feeling bad for answering a question. Not fair.’ I began my righteous speech. Poor Rajshekar was standing there, almost in tears feeling like he shouldn’t be existing at all.


‘You slap him, or I’ll have to send you out of the class. Now get out as I need to continue with the lesson.’ threatened my nut case of a teacher who was getting rather impatient and irritated about this drama unfolding.


What? Why? No way should I be punished according to any code of ethics. Unwilling to put my exalted self through any discomfiture, I walked up to Rajshekar and gave him a tight one (after the wimpy slap, which wasn't upto our teacher's standards) on his melting cheeks and he muttered something like ‘Sorry you had to slap me.’


After the slap I was very uneasy about two things

-That I had slapped someone for no reason

-That Hindi would no longer be my favorite subject and the teacher…forget it! bah!

Then Balwan Singh sir said something I would never forget in my life.


‘If you stuck by your principles and walked out of that door, my esteem for you would have gone up multifold. It is easy to answer silly questions and get A’s in class, but to secure your A’s in life, you need to stand up for your friends and yourself. You don’t have the Jhansi ki Rani instinct in you.’


What?!! This was an impromptu personality test? I had been violated! It made a bigger impact on me as we were just done with the long poem on Jhansi ki Rani that I could proudly recite verbatim while feeling the young queen’s anger and valor. I really felt that I was this close to being like her and I blew it! I felt rotten.


Rajshekar, if you happen to read my blog, dude, I am truly sorry to have put you through those agonizing “Will she slap me or not?” moments. I should have just done the deed as soon as I was told. At least Hitler would have been proud.


Heard these books?


Every single day I wring the telephone cord around my neck and choke myself. I don’t really do that but I do something even worse. I drive everyday to work and back spending net worth of two hours. I have given myself 15 minutes slack time for all the accidents, tickets, gas-burnouts, battery downs, locking-myself-out scenarios that take place (once in a while) to combat monotony. Two hours of my life just passes by mundanely in the traffic with no notable achievements to report. The rest of day (when I am not driving), I have no motivation to achieve anything! I could have found the anti-virus for HIV in those two hours.


So here I am wasting the formative years of my life in a car when radio gets cheesy, music gets repetitive, sceneries don’t exist and I can’t sleep (why would I say that if I haven’t tried?). So to amuse myself, I got hold of Books on CD from my local library. You have got to try out new things, however preposterous. It worked out real well for me as I heard through Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter, Passage to India and many other such books that would intimidate me under normal circumstances. The books were classics of course (books that usually are prescribed as a supplement reader in High School), but the narrators are awesome and I didn’t contemplate about the HIV virus even once. Destination would appear sooner than usual as if I had suddenly discovered a shortcut route. To finish the particular chapter that held me in such gripping suspense, I would have to go around my office parking lot a few more times. Taking another long journey back home in the evenings delighted me immensely and I was quickly saddened as home approached. I just couldn't switch the book off. So I'd go back to the library and borrow the same books I was listening to so that I could continue reading from where I had left listening. (erm..complicated sentence that!)


Once I had exhausted the fiction titles (the library needs desperate improvement, darn those rich patrons!), I walked skeptically over to the non-fiction part and picked up some self improvement CD on finances. I knew this would be the end to my CD career and I would have to revert back to making risky phone calls while driving to keep boredom at bay. But no, I was hooked and excited to know that I was putting myself to better use to mankind (only my household) by knowing my finances. It didn’t help me in becoming the millionaire I had set my standards to be, but it did make me less apprehensive about another self-improvement CD. I enthusiastically picked the one on Hinduism. Might as well understand my religion better, especially now that I am in a foreign country.


I have lived to regret that decision. Hinduism, taught by an American professor with a southern accent, was akin to understanding the phonetics of a ‘bray’ from a coyote. It was like a guessing game; ‘kashatriyas’ was the easy one.


‘Jetti’ (underwear in Tamil) had me palpitating by the time I figured it was jati (caste). All the God/Godesses names were a holy mess. Couldn’t tell from Varna and Varuna, Somwar and Soma, Arien and Aryan… till I gave up my quest in seeking the ‘Way of Devotion’ and decided to personally meet up with Professor Mark W. Muesse, and ask him to send some fiction CDs to my library.


Do you do the b-word?

 

'Do you blog?', emailed my girlfriend out of the blue. Taken aback and thrown out of my coordinates for a single second, I wondered if she knew. How could she have known? That stupid whoever-told-her needs to be pulverized! Freakin hell! My identity is being compromised and I have nowhere to hide. What will I do? What will I do? Frantically, I ran through my blog for blasphemous contents about her (like big-mouth, self-absorbed, bimbo-like, etc etc.) and deleted them in a zest. Randomly pasted some nice comments (like...umm.. some nice ones did come up at that time) all over my blog.


A trap was being laid. Proceed with caution, I told myself.


‘Do you?’ I asked gingerly, trying to be mysterious and vague.


‘Yes, I do and guess what?! I have been at it for a while.’ She responded in obvious delight of a little boy who was displaying his first work of art.


So that’s the whole deal! Shameless plug, I thought.


‘You little rascal’, I breathed, ‘How dare you not tell me? How long has it been?’


‘2 weeks now! Here is my blog. You should blog too.’


Ahem. Oh well.


What can I say, we bonded on a different level. A friend turned blogger- that's a new one.


Blog on, girl! Never believe anything I say here (not that you have ever, anyway). Yeah ok, my blog is kinda lame (no true comments will be appreciated here). By the way, I be your blog senior...if seniority means anything to you. Gratisgab (trust you to come up with obscure names like this), good to know you are putting your brilliant writing to good use (like me, of course).


Committee to Protect Bloggers



Today is supposedly the Free Mojtaba and Arash day. Let your voice be heard too.

(Thanks Fillerman, for pointing it out. If it is a big scam, I'll hunt you down and pulverize you.)

Be mine, Valentine. Now you are mine, what Valentine?

‘He is such a romantic. My man surprised me with candles leading from the doorstep to the dinning table on which the delicious food that he had cooked with his very own hands was laid out so artistically that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Rose petals were strewn from the dining table to the bedroom, which was decorated in red and on the bed was this big box and 2-dozen red roses. I opened the box and it was a huge diamond ring. I burst out crying. While I was crying, I could hear water run in the bathroom. I was touched beyond words to find out that he was making a bath for me complete with rose petals and candles and an oil massage. I was ready to choke.’

 

So was I… on my pizza! What??!! A single guy did all this for a single girl? The guy ought to be ashamed of bringing other women to tears too! Just the question I was dreading from my obviously smug co-worker, ‘So Alpha, what did Pi get you for Valentine’s day?’

 

The truth or the lies?

 

Decided it was Ok to lie just this once, ‘Oh Pi was such a daaaahling…he bought me a single rose from the grocery store and took me out to Mc Donald’s. Then he let me play the music I wanted on the drive back.’ *waiting for rest of girly junta to go "awwww"*

 

Truth be told, Pi announced that he was boycotting Valentine’s Day without consulting me! ‘I will not endorse any Hallmark holiday. Utter bull crap, stupid marketing gimmick. I don't have to prove that I love you once every year.’

 

Thus, the 14th day of February came and went and no one in my household winced. We decided to put the saved up money in our grandkid’s Valentine’s day fund.

 

Mr. Saint Valentine sir, you sacrificed your life for a vain cause. I’m truly sorry for Pi’s despicable behavior. Hope your batakti aathma (restless soul- in case you don't understand) haunts him every year, a week before February 14th.


By Hook or by Cook

I think we both are Tom and Jerry in our cartoon lives, the products of some remnants of the Kurukshetra war. We pick up fights, scheming and plotting against each other at every opportunity nature provides. Even if we are not in the confines of nature, we go scouting elsewhere for issues to disagree upon. His being married to me is just a coincidence.

Take this cooking issue for instance…

Noteworthy points

-My man likes to eat, a lot…and it usually doesn’t come as a surprise when you set your eyes on him.
-He is perpetually hungry.
-He likes fresh (unhealthy) food and would rather eat out than eat yesterday’s sambar rice.
-We can’t afford to eat out everyday, I have sensitive stomach and an even more sensitive bank account.

I took cooking responsibilities way back in our relationship to show off my cooking skills and win the man’s heart through his stomach. Stomach was happy, heart was won over and his mind connived into deciding that I would continue to cook that till I become old and bedridden. At that point, he probably would seek a young nubile maid to take care of his palate.

I like to think I am the smarter species and hence, wouldn’t let him get away that easy. His job was to clean the vessels. I would use 6 spoons to taste and throw them in the sink for him to scrub. I agree it is not an easy job without a dishwasher and dish overuse, but this job still has its perks compared to cooking.

-Washing is not time dependent.
-You could pile up vessels for the whole weekend.
-No need to think about a new recipes everyday and no need to baby sit gajar-ka-halwa for 2 hours.
-Lastly, no freaking skill involved. Ever heard of washing classes? Or the washing network? Or the washing-recipe?

To be frank, it’s a dirty job and Pi was true to his work. Vessels would get cleaned though not in a timely manner. So I cribbed. To counter my cribs, he would come up with stuff like this, ‘ I do so much work in the house like washing all these vessels. All you’ve got to do is whip up some things together and call it food!’

*censored scenes*

That did it! It hit me right where it shouldn’t have! HMPF! I felt I got the raw end of the deal like always and fought tooth and nail to bring a reform in my household. From now on, Pi would have to cook and I would clean. He obviously sucumbed. Any reluctance on his part would have made me go, "AHA!" Nice work Alpha, I thought! *pat on my own back*

That evening, it was nice to just wash a few vessels, lie on the recliner reading magazines and watching ‘Bachelor’ while Pi slaved in the kitchen. Wah wah… what bliss!

2 seconds later,

"Alpha!!!!! Come here quick na… It’s an emergency!" I ran to the kitchen. He looked like he'd been wrestling with a grizzly, "How do you cut these onions without crying? I’m not sure about the mustard seeds spluttering on my face? Do I need protective glasses? What is rawa?"

"Here, let the culinary expert show you the path" I confidently said, deftly picking up the knife and the ladle and before I knew it, I had finished the cooking all by myself while hubby dear was sprawled on the couch chatting with his buddies on international issues such as football.

*censored scenes*

Next day, I came back from work late, but no food was prepared! Very calmly he said that he couldn’t cook as I hadn’t washed the particular vessel he wanted to use! *censored word* I washed it in a huff (took me 30 seconds including the censored word!), went to the recliner to read magazines and watch ‘Apprentice’ while Pi slaved in the kitchen. Wah wah… what bliss!

After three hours, resisting my urge to go to the kitchen lest he would ask me to help, combating with mind-numbing hunger, conjuring up tasty images from the Sanjeev Kapoor recipe book I had handed to him, I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally food!!!

‘Oh wow…beans curry! Yipee! What else, sweety?" I asked with all effusive sweetness I could muster gritting my teeth. Mind you, this was frozen cut beans which he just had to thaw and add spices to.

"Oh, there is frozen parathas to go with it and if you want you could make rice", he states and throws a dozen vessels into the sink, most of them burnt.

*censored scenes*

Third day, I go to the groceries and bring the most exotic kinds of vegetables, vegetables that would require much more effort than just thawing. Fresh Cabbage (cut, dear cut), tinda, colocasia, yam..etc. Serves him right! Till he falls on my feet and begs to reconsider this deal and confesses that cooking is a tough job....*evil bitchy laugh reverberates in the grocery store shaking all the jam bottles*

Hoping to do a pre dinner nagging session with Pi and explain the virtues of fresh produce, I found him nowhere in the house. Tried the cell phone "Alphu baby, Guess what? I am at White Elephant Thai restaurant."

 "Jeez man! How dare you abandon me and start hogging. What about the calocasia you are supposed to make. Get your ass here! People will think we are dysfunctional." I yelled through the phone to make sure those Thai waitresses would know they are not supposed to be serving him Tofu Ma Pao Pad Hak or whatever he was eating.

"What? You forgot!! *sulk* It’s our fifth proposal anniversary day and I was just about to order your favorite Red curry." I could even hear him drool.

Awww...*melt melt* How thoughful! Wait a sec, Proposal Anniversary? What the heck is that? I’m too numb (make that dumb) to even do the math.

S-U-C-K-E-R (M-E).


Rainy and Rainier

‘I hope and pray it is sunny so that you can see the mountains as you guys are such outdoor enthusiasts.’ says our co-passenger who kept us company in the long flight to Seattle.

The next day, we were woken up brutally by my friend who asked us to run out to check out the sun. ‘You lucked out, its bright today. Don’t just sleep there, get going and check out the Cascade range in the horizon’.

Yes indeed! It was the prettiest sight. Just driving out of the parking lot of my brother’s apartment complex, we could witness snowcapped mountains in the distant east and violet shorter mountains all around. What a place!

Before I could say Ahhh!, it fogged up and the mountains just disappeared behind a haze of fog and clouds. ‘That’s where I believe Mount Rainier is’, said my helpful brother pointing to the white horizon. ‘It’s a wonderful sight and most of the road accidents occur because drivers can’t peel their eyes off that mountain. I nodded in agreement imagining the snowcapped volcano I had seen in some breathtaking pictures, standing alone, high above the rest at 14,409 ft.

We drove all the way to Paradise Ranger Station at 5,400 ft after which climbers go on foot to conquer the peak, a difficult feat even for the well prepared. All through the drive, we were amazed at the moss covered forest, the large ferns, the cascading waterfalls, the tall pine trees…but disappointed beyond words that we couldn’t catch a peek of the peak, which certainly did pique my interest no bounds. The fog was like the curtain that is drawn in the temple when the deity gets adorned and decorated for the puja while the starving devotees wait bated breath to catch a glimpse of their Lord.

We were not devoted enough, I guess. Climbing was sure out of question when visibility was close to zero. My brother was wishful in thinking that the day would clear up and recounted his memories of the spectacular sights when he visited last. I had to make do with the scaled down model of Mt Rainier at the Visitor’s center. The postcards made me wonder if the photographers sit all day, 365 days, waiting for the perfect moment to click. They must be the most patient photographers in the world.

I was told to come back some other time of the year and hope and pray that the day is sunny. Like the proverbial fox, we decided this mountain was not appealing enough for us to climb. The gloom outside couldn't match the one I had within.

Though we had a wonderful time in Seattle checking out the nearby Snoqualmie Falls, reconnecting with my brother, walking around the chic Seattle downtown, the regret of not seeing rainier was lurking in the back of my head.

We took off and I glanced out of the window for what may be called the ‘last ditch effort’. I should have realized…white gloom everywhere and cloudy skies galore. We shot through the clouds and reached a clearing above the fluffy clouds. Oh My God! (said very slowly in a whisper, stressing every syllable)

It had to be! The massive peak of Mt Rainier staring at me from really close quarters. I swear I could have died of sheer happiness.


Someday, I will climb Mount Rainier.


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