Friday, 18 October 2013

The Morning After

There's something about mornings. They have a way of jerking you out of your reverie, shattering your heart dreams and leaving you to deal with withdrawal symptoms of a sleep unfinished. But the worst is when the morning rips off the curtain of uncertainty and forces you to face the horror of what transpired the previous night. And no amount of rethinking or telling yourself the memory was only a dream (nightmare) changes anything.

I fell prey to one such morning lurking behind the kitchen door when I was still groggy and with eyes that wouldn't completely open. Before I get into the gory details of how the morning led the attack, let me take you 9 hours back in time...

I was watching the telly with one of my friends (Friend-A) who lives in a rented flat and sifting simultaneously through scores of beautiful pictures of Japan that another friend had uploaded on her Facebook album. And this is when Friend-B padded into the bedroom, wearing an angelic smile and holding a giant metal pot, "Here. Have some. Sorry, we don't have anything else at home." The dry noodle-cakes looked like they were broken straight out of the packet, untouched by water or any cooking ingredient. "We're too lazy to cook. But it tastes even better this way!" Friend-C jumped into the bed, lifted a handful of dry-noodle-strands and crunched away.

I was touched. I knew they'd normally skip dinner (out of laziness) if they didn't manage to eat at office, but here they were, offering me the biggest piece of their humble pie! :) All four of us ate out of that big pot of uncooked, factory-packed noodles. And I must say, it was quite tasty! We joked, and laughed, and gaped at the clean streets of Kyoto (on the laptop, of course) and ended the night with rich, creamy, hazelnut and chocolate ice cream (courtesy: London Dairy). It was half past 1 when I could balance my head on my shoulders no more and lapsed into deep slumber.

Back to the morning... I sauntered into the brightly lit kitchen, looking for some water when my eyes fell on the empty packets of Wai Wai noodles. I have this crazy habit of reading the fine-print of every packet/brochure/manual that comes my way. I even read the bits in other languages (I can manage some amount of Cyrillic along with the regular Roman scripts) whether or not I understand a word of it. 

So I thought of the previous night's dinner as I got closer to the noodle-packets on the granite counter, and recounted the community-eating experience. It is said that in the old days, tribes ate together, out of the same dish, and that fostered brotherhood and friendship. The raw-noodle-meal had certainly brought the four of us a lot closer, if only for a couple of hours. It was Monday today, and we'd all go back to work, to our own lives, to getting busy and never seeing each other's faces for many days to come. I picked up one of the packets and stared in disbelief!

"Chicken flavoured", it said in big, red letters. My heartbeat quickened. This couldn't be! All my friends knew I was vegetarian for over 13 years now. They always got eggless cakes and asked for veg pizzas when ordering for me. They would even tease me that I was a fake Bong as true-blue Bengalis never desert their fish. They could NOT forget that I was vegetarian! They would NOT deceive me so cruelly! It is one thing to make me eat a dessert containing egg, but quite another to feed me a potful of noodles smothered in dead-meat! I grabbed at the empty packets and turned them over to see if my eyes were tricking me. But I could clearly see the big brown dot that stood for 'non-veg'. 

The rooms of Friend-B and Friend-C were locked, and screaming at Friend-A would be futile for the poor soul was vegetarian too and a victim in this case. I clutched at my stomach and felt like I too was a perpetrator of this crime. The minced, dead pieces of innocent chicken lay soaked in the digestive juices that my gall bladder had happily sprayed the night before. I took a deep breath. A strong fragrance wafted out of Friend-B's bedroom. So, the culprit was getting ready for work! I was about to barge into that room and demand an explanation, but I stopped just outside the door, and thought.

Would that argument bring the chicken back from the dead? Would Friend-B (or even Friend-C for that matter) be able to take me back in time so I could be sure to check the ingredients of what I was about to eat? Would it be right of me to create so much bitterness when they had been so sweet at night? Would one chicken-meal really make me non-vegetarian? Had anything really changed? I was still an animal-lover and would still fight for their right to live, against human-apathy and greed.

Does one single night really change much? So what if you got a little drunk, threw-up on somebody's new bedsheet, said a few things you shouldn't have, spilled some rum on the marble floor, spoiled somebody's game and somebody else's sleep and clung shamelessly to a person whose date looked you squarely in the eye with her arms folded!* Does that really change the person you are? The person you've always been? Can you not go back to being normal? Can you not bury the past and look ahead at your future?

That morning I learnt an important lesson in forgiveness. As I stood outside Friend-B's door, I forgave not only my friends but also myself. It wasn't my fault I ate a living being, and no matter how many times I went back to the memories of that night, I would not be able to change a thing. I'd just have to let go. And move on. Move on to being a better person this morning... tonight... and the morning after.

~  ~  ~

* That wasn't me! :P The paragraph is for the purpose of illustration only and does not serve as a tool for finger-pointing.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Dancing is all Street & Latin to Me - II

This is the sequel to my rant on dancing here.

One of my New Year resolutions for 2013 was to learn to dance. And this time, something more to the tune of salsa. Now, when I sifted through various dance-class flyers & online ads, the image in my head was something like this:-

Sabrina & Louis on Dancing with the Stars
And this:-

I was mortified by the thought of what appeared to be "climbing" on guys, like a vine would on a ladder. What was this? Legalized infidelity!? Fortunately, my horror was quelled when I actually attended a trial class for Ballroom Level-1. And reality looked more like this:-


I heaved a sigh of relief and immediately signed up for the lessons. But I'm guessing the steps are mild only in the first few Levels. "Man-climbing" probably surfaces in Level-10.

Before I begin my discourse on the funny-bits about the classes, I'd like you to appreciate the beauty of Latin dances. The music, oh! It makes you swoon! When the songs play, your mind pauses and turns into mush. The tracks are so lovely, your body starts swaying on its own. You don't even need alcohol to get intoxicated! THAT'S how powerful latin music is! (On a separate note, you might want to read this excerpt from my latest short story and see where the inspiration came from!)

The people who attend these classes are quite intriguing themselves. Most leave their husbands/wives/girlfriends/boyfriends home when they come to shimmy in the night. (And I'm not very proud to say I do the same. But it's not technically or financially feasible to fly-in your significant-other from a politically-sensitive South-Indian city for an hour of dance each week, more so if he balks at the very mention of dancing.) Also, because I'm no better myself, I have no right to wonder why people with partners in the same city (and sometimes, under the same roof) don't bring them along.

Anyway, getting back to the topic of dancing, I won't tell you what Wikipedia will. We'll talk about stuff "they" won't tell you anywhere. When I first started in Jan, the system felt like speed-dating (not that I've been to any speed-dating-events). Random women are paired with random men; they're expected to dance for 2 minutes; and after the buzzer beeps (this'll be the dance-teacher's instruction), the ladies move to the partners to their right. Of course, in a speed-date event, the man gets up from one table and walks over to the next. But then again, this is dancing, and shouldn't be compared with dating (speed or no-speed). Also, here, the motive is not to find Mr./Ms. Right but to find your own self.

In the process of "finding myself", I found many interesting characters in the form of dance-partners. (What will follow is a slight variation of my style of caricaturing, like I've done before.)

  • The John Abraham - Yes, we had a John Abraham! I bet your dance class doesn't have one! :-P So, on my first day, I moved over to this man and he introduced himself, "Hi. John Abraham." (To this day, I can't figure out if that's his real name.) And I replied, "Bipasha Basu Oindrila." Like his namesake, he had a firm grip (again, the comparison is out of place as I've never danced with the real John Abraham) and a gruff voice... AND was quite outspoken when he said at the 2nd class, "I'm glad you came." (and instantly made me regret my decision).

  • The Genius-learns-to-Jive - This one is the nation's pride; the pure, rare & eternal... no, wait! That's platinum! Let's start over - This one is the nation's pride; the heavily accented engineer from Aye.Aye.Tee Bombay! *Whistles & fake round of applause.* He'll always wear IIT-B branded clothes so the girls know who they're dancing with. (*Now, I assume my ready-to-mock, high-pitched excited tone* Of course, of course! All we girls ever want to do in life is ensnare engineers from premier institutes 'cuz we've nothing better to bide our time with.) If only you could remember your steps a little better and remember to show-off a little lesser! You wouldn't be so bad afterall.

  • The Rogue Leader - Remember how the man always leads and the woman follows, in ballroom dances? (Such a patriarchal society this is!) Well, some dancers take this a bit too seriously and try to wield their power on the dance-floor. They always signal for the switch-turn and keep you turning till your head spins. And when you suggest you'd like a New York or Cuban rocks or arm-lock, they vainly say to you, "Hey, I give you the lead. I get to decide." And when you go all class-monitor on him and look to your dance-instructor for help, all you get is, "He's the man. He leads. You must follow." *grrrr*

  • The Pseudo-Follower - Quite a pleasant chap to dance with! Mostly 'cuz he let's you lead (or at least gives you the signal you ask for) and follows your every wish as his command! :-D He even goes on to tell the couples next to you how he'd be nowhere without your leadership skills (aww!! :-) Hey, B-schools, didya hear that!) The only words that leave his mouth are "Yes, m'lady...", "Do your magic...", "There's my girl!" (Oh, wait! Why do all those phrases suddenly sound so wrong? :-o )

  • The True Dance-Divo - (FYI, Divo is Italian for male-diva.) Here's a real man who brings his girlfriend along (I salute thee!). And his only aim is to dance. He remembers his steps (why of course! Unlike the rest of us, he gets to practise with this partner everyday), holds you just right... not too close, not too tight (but then again, going by the pictures at the top of this article, I can't say whether there's any limit to how close you can hold your partner), and dancing with him is a delight! (didn't mean to say that. It's just that delight rhymes with right & tight :-P )
Did I tell you when I joined the class, I joined with the sole intention of learning the Latin art, and did not want to know about people or let them know anything about me? I wanted to dance in oblivion. It was simpler with strangers. Knowing people would only complicate things. Every time someone asked me my name or what I did or where I lived, my forehead furrowed. Why couldn't they just shut up and dance!? But the questions kept coming. And with time, they changed forms - "What are you doing this weekend?"; "They have this _____ concert tonight at IIT. Wanna come?" (aye-aye-tee-guy bides his time by asking engineers out?! :-o ); "busy tomorrow? Sunday, maybe? Or next weekend?" (dude, get the hint!) See why it's easier to dance with strangers? Unfortunately, strangers don't remain strangers for long.

Oh, why the pin-drop silence? You don't read my blog without giggling (just a little bit)! So, I present you double entendre-phrases that can be heard in a latin dance class (N.B.: All this is Latin-dance-jargon and routinely used by any good instructor.):-

  • Man, give her the hair-brush.
  • Girl, don't resist.
  • Flip her hand and place it on your shoulder.
  • You're too stiff. Sway with me.
  • Man, flip the girl and hold the Titanic-position.
  • Girl, don't stand straight; lean on me.
  • Take her into a cuddle.
  • Come a little closer. (No, wait. Nobody says that anymore. They just pull you forward.)
I cannot say goodbye to you without leaving you with a song, now can I? So here's Michael Buble and The Pussycat Dolls' rendition of Sway.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Dancing is all Street & Latin to Me

If you ever become an angry, Bengali mum (remind me to do a post on How To Become an Angry Bengali Mum) who holds the Indian culture in high regard, you'll probably certainly send your daughters to dance classes with strict dance teachers who not only teach you one of the many classical Indian dances, but also frown on you when you wear western outfits to the class. 

I was an innocent little girl of 6 when I was first whisked off to Bharatanatyam classes. I was the youngest student in a class of all girls who wore pink salwar-kameez with a matching dupatta, pinned into place. I was too small to understand the significance of any of this in my future (I still am), and also clueless as to why I was woken so early on Sunday mornings to stamp my bare feet on the floor as our guru hollered "taa digi digi thai". My sister got off easy as she was only 4 and could barely eat without dropping almost all the food on the floor. 

4 years later, my mum found a Kathak teacher for us (and this time my sister had no way out :-D ) and despite our crying and cribbing, we were enrolled into another Indian-Classical dance class. Things were tougher this time around- the ghungroos were heavier and had to be wound around pink (Why is it always pink!)- knee-pad-like things that were worn not on the knees but above the ankle. I suddenly missed the strap-on ghungroos of Bharatanatyam. The instructor was even stricter, and made us repeat each step till we perfected every expression and intricate-gesture. We could sleep on Sunday mornings but could never catch 40 winks on Tuesday & Thursday afternoons. But this was nothing compared to all the layers of heel-skin that would peel off with all the spinning after each "tig dha dig dig thai". (Why don't they ever let you wear shoes in Indian dances?!) We pleaded & protested, but our mum was adamant. We were Bengali, "cultured" daughters, and it was our duty to know to dance (and sing, and paint, and score cent-percent in Math, and be good debaters, yada... yada...). So, our daddy-dearest came up with an incentive- he'd contribute to our piggy-bank (Yes, we learnt the art of saving early in life. I should've known then that I was cut out for the Banking industry.) the same amount as our dance-fee if we diligently attended the classes. Now, how could we say "no" to that!

This was not all. My mum, who's trained in Bengali classical style of dance, would choreograph dance pieces for us kids in the colony and make us perform at every Indian festival. I could never fathom what pleasure she got out of getting us dressed in white sarees with red border (that made us look VERY fat, by the way, and cost us potential boyfriends...Yes, in Mumbai the dating-scene develops fairly early :-P )

By the time I turned twelve, I had had enough of my mum bossing over me. I put my foot down and declared I was leaving classical-Indian dancing for good. (Now that I've "grown up", I can see what a favour my mum was doing us. But I can't blame my old self for doing what I did.) I dabbled with western-dancing (meaning mostly Bollywood & Hollywood-pop) for a year. That was actually nice. I knew the music. I understood the steps (everyone from Shakira to Shilpa Shetty did the steps we were doing! :-) ). And our dance-costumes were always kickass! Diwali & Christmas parties were the perfect occasions to show off our moves to starry-eyed boys in their teens (and mentally tell ourselves we nailed them it :-P ).

This was followed by a long hiatus from dancing, owing to exams- 10th & 12th Board and then 4 years of University exams. The Indian education system is quite a social-life killer, and the fact that your parents won't take anything less than stellar scores (Truth be told, I'm not that good. But a little bragging is essential to make this article sound dramatic :-P), really adds to the fear of poor-scores-cuz-i-was-busy-enriching-my-personality

Cut to the present, and I'm learning Rumba, Cha-cha, Waltz (English & Viennese), Merengue, Rock-n-Roll, International Jive, Salsa & Bachata. Phew. :-D How am I doing all of this? We'll find out in my next post!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Football Shootball Hai Rabba!

It all started with one little thought... "Why should boys have all the fun?"

*  *  *

Last month, a bunch of football enthusiasts at my office decided to have a tournament for the entire floor, and a sprightly girl pal of mine suggested there should be a match for the women too. What at first seemed like a passing thought, quickly turned into a movement. That friend and I pestered, pleaded, then pressurized (when the 1st two tactics didn't work) every girl that passed us by to participate in what would be our firm's first ever all-girls football match.

We couldn't contain our excitement once we had 16 ladies on board, so we gathered in a conference room and worked on the specifics. By what seemed like mutual consent (or probably the reluctance to lead in a sport none had played before), that sprightly friend (let's call her Sweetheart, shall we? She has a similar sounding name, by the way :-P ) and I were declared the captains of the two teams. We split the girls by lottery (because there's no better way to choose when most are your friends, and sensitive), and started discussing the most important aspect of the game - the jerseys! (:-P Hey, you gotta look good and play good! Lorena from The Brothers Garcia taught me that when I was only twelve.)

We were not the only excited people at my department. The men too shared our excitement and volunteered to coach us. Now, coaching a dozen-odd girls who also happen to be first-timers in football is no mean feat! You have to remind them that ballerina-flats can't substitute for sports-shoes, let alone soccer-studs. The training sessions were the most exhilarating moments we had that week (if you exclude the actual match, which was a cracker!). And more so because of the July-rains, which are always heavy. We all had been so apprehensive about playing in the rains. (We could catch a cold or get pneumonia!) But when we started warming up and getting a hang of running in the downpour, we began enjoying it.

The coaches taught us everything- 

  • how to warm up (the most important thing to do before playing the game, if you don't want your muscles to cry after the match)

  • the rules of the game (that included side-kick, goal-kick, penalty shoot-out)

  • how to kick the ball (very, very important). Most of us didn't know we'd break our toe if we kicked the way we were kicking... and that we all have a sweet-spot on our stronger-foot that takes the ball farther than any other spot will. Also, the fact that the secret to an accurate kick lies in positioning the weaker (non-kicking) foot towards your goal.

  • how to decide our positions (good runners would be mid-fielders, girls with strong and accurate kicks would be the strikers, etc.)

  • and even football jargon (that was a typically corporate-thing to do!) like fallback, mark-your-players, carry-the-ball (a cute little lady picked up the ball with her hands and carried it when our coach ordered her to "carry" the ball...LOL)!
Hours after the first practice-session when we sat at our desks in office, the muscle-cramps kicked in. It was a herculean task to walk over to the water-cooler. Even crossing our legs required lifting the thigh with our hands. We were crying out of pain by the time we were home. That's when a random guy snickered "You girls are playing WHAT?! You play like GIRLS indeed!" That did it for us! We had to shut him up! We were gonna work hard and show 'em we had a mean kick!

Practice apart, we had plenty of other interesting things to do- picking jersey-colours, choosing names for our teams and finalizing the logos. Only that kind guy (who volunteered to arrange our jerseys) knows what we put him through! My team's colour had to be something between pink and purple with a hint of maroon. My girls had so many issues with the colour! :-P ("...I'm NOT wearing pink! It is too girly"; "...dark won't look bright at night when we have the match"; " of the boys' teams has maroon. We can't have the same colour"; "...the other team has striped sleeves and a V-neck. Round-neck makes me look fat!")

That Friday was the D-day! The match would be after office hours, and we kept telling each other it was just a friendly-match and we shouldn't work ourselves up. But excitement got the better of us and we had to strategize! Word soon got out that both the teams were having strategy-meets after lunch, and the guys offered to share their pearls of wisdom with us. One man even suggested, albeit in jest, we should poison the opposition's striker!

The strategy-meet that I called for my team has been till date, the most invigorating meeting I have ever chaired! I must've taken my captaincy a bit too seriously, because I got an easel-mounted white-board and coloured marker pens to illustrate our game-plan to the entire team (and two men who played managers) seated around the conference-table. It was so much fun drawing the football field and putting crosses for every player. We had carefully decided our rotating positions for the 6-a-side match. The aim was to keep our forwards fresh throughout the game and at the same time, maintain a strong defence. For the 20-minute game, we would play offensive (5 minutes- to try and score a goal early in the game so the team's spirits stayed up) - defensive (next 10 minutes - to keep the other team from scoring a goal) - offensive (last 5 minutes - to manage an emergency-goal at the last moment in case we slipped up). The rotation-plan was fantastic as it ensured all our players played for the maximum time possible and we used every girl's potential to the hilt. We even had a provision to handle (God forbid) injured players. We were not going to tackle, as we still had sisterly-affection for the other team and couldn't make anyone cry.

Locker Room Conversation (random phrases in random order, to lighten the tone of this post):-

"Does my ass look fat in this?" (This never gets old! :-P)

"Are these shorts too short?"
"Honey, those aren't shorts. Those are hot-pants!"

"My socks won't come up."
"Yeah. We're all wearing ankle-length socks. No wonder, we can't wear shin-guards! (prerequisite for tackling)"

"We'd better win this match. I paid 4 grands for these shoes even after a 50% discount!"
"I too had to shop for socks." (And you still managed ankle-length! :-P)

"Quick! We're getting late!"
"Sure. Just let me wear my lipstick."
"It'll be dark in the evening. The colour won't be visible! And anyway, it's raining."
"Oh, shit! Let me remove my eye-liner. I'll have black lines running down my face otherwise."

Awaiting our turn

The Captain's Last-minute Checklist:-
  1. Print out rotation-plan & hand it over to the team-manager - Check
  2. Get all the players out of the changing rooms and on the way to the venue - Check
  3. Make everybody warm-up for 15 minutes even if they bicker - Check
  4. Stop thinking about the salsa-class that you are missing - Check

The final match was like a dream-sequence! The synthetic Astroturf that we played on had cage-netting and overlooked the entire business-park area. It had a beautiful view of the residential buildings and the mountains that lay beyond. We felt like stars running across the floodlit field which also had shock-absorbing rubber-infills. We did not realize when the 20 minutes passed and we emerged victorious. Victorious, not because my fabulous team scored a goal and the strong defense and nimble goalkeeper (I was the GK for the 1st 10 minutes :-D ) managed good saves, but because all the women from both the teams really stunned the men forever. There would be no more snide remarks. Only amazed and proud looks, thanks to the terrific game we played with only 3 practice-sessions spread over a week!

Posing with the people with deep pockets who made this happen

Friday, 9 August 2013

Caution: Men at Work #3

The previous posts in this series can be accessed here and here.

After weeks of being in a solemn mood (to do justice to the short story that I finished last Fri), it's time again for me to indulge in some light banter. I will pick up from where I left last time, and give you five more specimen to add to the male-trail! :-D

*  *  *

Exhibit - 6 (The Mint Factory):

Whadya say? He mints money for the firm and makes enough to feed his next seven generations? Oh, quite the opposite! He spends what seems like every penny on packs and packs of ci****ttes (yes, that's a cuss word!) and roams the streets corridors chewing endlessly. I always thought these people were aiming to be "cash cows", what with all that ruminating/chewing the cud! Or perhaps following Kareena Kapoor's last-season-diet (eat small meals every hour)? Only in this case, they pop like-a tiny meal every few minutes.

But I was brought out of my ignorance one fine day when this guy begged me for a chocolate 'cuz he was starving. (Say, how do you starve with such subsidized food options at the office-cafe?!) He reiterated how badly he needed to eat something, told me what he had wasn't good enough, and pulled open his middle-drawer. I can swear that in all my 13 months here, I haven't seen anything scarier in anybody else's drawer! Every space in that 20cm*40cm*60cm drawer was filled with packs of mint. He might as well have shown me skeletons hanging in his closet! That guy was hoarding chewing gum like it was gold flake (pun unintended). He gave me a toothy smile and I fled in the direction of (what I presumed would be) safer drawers.

Don't even ask me why I'm wary of smokers! For a girl who's been haunted by asthmatic bronchitis since she was 7, any devil human who takes a drag (or gives you the second-hand version) is synonymous with a murderer. Seriously dude, if you wanna die, go die! Why're you taking me with you?!

Exhibit - 7 (The Closet Dancer):

He looks harmless and keeps a low profile on a daily basis. But invite him to a party, play some I'll-never-be-caught-dead-listening-to-this-type music and let him have three drinks (just three, please!), and he'll burn the dance-floor! There'll be arms flapping everywhere (and other party-goers moving away in fright), shirt ends (which are so very crisply tucked in at work) coming out of the pants, and buttons bursting off the shirt! He'll dance like no one's watching (as the others watch like no one else is dancing). He gets all fired up if there's a prop (usually the bottle he emptied). All my sympathies lie with the guy who acts like a David to the Goliath and tries to calm the dancing-demon (we all know he'll be smashed into a wall as the next dance move involves spinning with the bottle). But then again, drunk-dancers are always better than drunk-drivers.

Exhibit - 8 (The Metrosexual Man):

He was a rarity when this term gained popularity (in India) and I was still in high school. But today, the offices are teeming with this type. He has a man-purse/briefcase-ish bag so chic that it makes me wanna trash mine. He asks for a spare lip-balm after he's done eating and makes us girls wonder why we don't gloss up often. He also keeps up with the latest hairstyle-trends and tweets pictures of him pouting (oh wait, guys don't pout! Or do they?) with the just-in look (this time, I really didn't mean the pun :-p).

You can see he can be a good shopping companion as he whispers to you how that lady's shoes don't match her skirt. He can also tell what brand of shirt you're wearing (and that's scary because women's shirts don't have monograms like men's actually need to read the buttons to tell the Allen Sollies & Van Heusens apart). The best thing about the metro-man is his ability to notice little things. It feels wonderful when he compliments you on your new shoe instantly (which your girl-friends notice only after the compliment), or when he can tell you the new hairdo looks better than the old one. (I bet, my boyfriend won't be able to tell any difference if I went bald!)

Exhibit - 9 (The Dude-on-a-Diet):

He comes in all shapes and sizes but with only one resolve: to keep off the calories. He counts calories like they're hickeys (Note to self: Keep the blog clean) scores on a 100-mark Math paper, or tells you he'll skip breakfast as his dinner was too heavy.

True-incident alert:

So this happened during my first month at the first full-time paid job (I really wonder why the guys at internship-firms aren't as entertaining). I was walking with my food tray across the cafeteria in the hope of finding an empty table or at least a familiar face I could sit next to. I spotted a bunch of guys who were training with me. Only one kind guy nodded in approval (as the others looked up from their plates, gave me zombie looks, and got back to poking at the food) when I asked if I could join them. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, the table was creepily quiet. I noticed then that all but one guy had little other than salad and soup on their trays. I've never felt fat lunching with celery-chewing girls but the guys made me feel like I was obese. What was I doing eating carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals AND roughage - all in a single meal?! They looked at my plate and I showed off my rotis by dunking them for an extra second in the yellow-dal. The lone guy with a complete meal on this tray smiled at me as if he understood the joke that the others would never get.

It's obvious why most girls survive on bird-food, but the men?! What forces them into this act of abnegation comparable to self-flagellation? Have all the girls suddenly started digging size-zero men? Is bulking up dying a slow death? Are those men auditioning to model for Abercrombie & Fitch? (not Fitch-the credit rating agency, you banking-snob!)

Exhibit - 10 (The Shy-Guy):

Now this one's my favourite type - The classic omega-male! He keeps away from women like they're wet paint. He avoids eye contact and conversations and walks all the way around the conference table so he can sit away from any girl of suspect character. By comparison, he makes all girls look like coquettes. (Thanks, Anand Mahindra, for the vocabulary lesson :-P) But there's the man who brings out all the "alpha"ness in me and makes me wanna slam the meeting-room door shut, un-clip my hair, let all the curls lose and go "and where do you think YOU'RE going, young man?" :-P (Disclaimer: The previous line is for special effects only and must not be misconstrued in anyway to be held against me.)

*  *  *

This post ends my cheekiness towards men. I can only hope they spare me the caustic remarks and choleric looks when they run into me tomorrow! :-P

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Bonus Chapter

This is a special chapter with alternate endings to the short story. You might want to read Chapter IChapter IIChapter IIIChapter IV and Chapter V to make better sense of this.

1. Bollywood-Style Ending:-

...I felt tears knotting in my throat and a pain singeing my heart, but I gathered myself and walked out of the night club. It thundered outside but there still was no rain. I walked as fast as my legs would carry me while thick, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. And then it started raining, and I stopped. But the raindrops miraculously missed me. I looked up to find a dark green umbrella shielding me from the sky. Tushhar had left the club and come after me.

"Won't you hear my friend mix some numbers for you? She's one of the finest DJs here."

I turned my face away from him and discreetly wiped my tears. I had no answer, and certainly no strength to deliver if I had one. I looked ahead- the the road looked long, endless and dark. The rain fell mercilessly on the ground, dragged all the filth from the sidewalk with it and turned the street into a vast mud-lake. Tusshar and I stood alone, like two ghosts hiding from the light, on the pink pavement, protected by its elevation from the road, under the green umbrella that stopped not only the raindrops but also time.

And then, he took me by surprise by folding the umbrella close and placing it on the pavement. The night poured on us like there was no tomorrow. Tushhar gave me a determined smile and offered his right hand, "Can I have this dance?" My left hand seemed to have a mind of its own as it floated over to his outstretched palm. He lifted my left hand and placed it on his right shoulder as he held my right in his left. 

We danced to the music of the rain as it consumed us, body and soul. Tushhar tightened his grip on me as it got harder to dance on the wet sidewalk and he held me closer than he had ever done at the foxtrot class. Our clothes clung to our skin and outlined our shapes even in the dark of the night. We were ghosts no more; we had forms. Clear and distinct. We were alive.

~  ~  ~

2. Hollywood-Style Ending:-

Erm... my blog is only 3 years old. It's underage. I can't do adult content yet. :-P

3. My first choice for the ending:-

...Sunday morning brought with it some sunshine. I slid open the window of my bedroom. The air was fresh and the skies, clear. The rains last night had washed the entire city clean. I carried my broken heeled-shoes to the trash can. If only broken hearts were as easy to dispose. I brushed by teeth and had some coffee. Java Beans, the sachet said. I laughed a hollow laugh. The bananas in the fruit-basket were ripe and yellow. Why was I so blue? I tore a banana off the bunch and looked for my running shoes. I might as well grab a run while the sky looks so clean.

I was looking at a cloudless sky after a long time. It had exhausted all its waters last night, giving me company as I cried my heart out. I too had no tears left in my glands. Tushhar was a beautiful song in my musical that delighted me for a long while. But the song would have to end somewhere for the musical to proceed. This was that inevitable "change" that I would have to face some day. And that day was here. 

My lungs drew more air as I picked up my pace. I closed my eyes and let the wind brush against my face. I felt light. I felt strong. I was ready for my life to take a new turn. I opened my eyes, and smiled.

~  ~  ~

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter V

This is the concluding chapter from the short story, and follows Chapter IChapter IIChapter III and Chapter IV.

It was Saturday. And surprisingly calm and breezy. I finished pinning up my bouffant and twirled before the mirror. My midnight-blue evening dress went well with my sparkling black dancing shoes. I felt an immense sense of gratitude towards Ricardo, the dance-maestro, who taught me to turn with every few steps and unknowingly showed me how to turn my back on unpleasant feelings. He taught me that "change" was inevitable and I would have to learn to dance in every new situation in life. I was glad to have danced with all my fellow dance-partners who patiently matched their rhythm with mine, offered their shoulder and gestured "I've-got-your-back" every time I finished a turn. But most of all, I was thankful to Tushhar, who stirred my heart, brought a sparkle in my eyes and gently danced us out of our loneliness.

I beamed with happiness as I entered the club where the lights were dimmed. I joined some familiar faces on the dance floor with my eyes on the entrance. Tusshar entered, looking happier than I had ever seen him before. He held hands with a girl who smiled as she walked in. She flipped her long, black hair to reveal a white off-one shoulder satin dress that ended above her knees. I looked on helplessly as he led her to the bar after she whispered something in his ear.

I felt tears knotting in my throat and a pain singeing my heart, but I gathered myself and walked out of the night club. It thundered outside but there still was no rain. I walked as fast as my legs would carry me while thick, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. And then it rained, mercilessly. I did not reach for my umbrella. It was as if the sky felt my anguish and sent down a curtain of showers to hide my tears. My bouffant flattened in the downpour, the sidewalk turned muddy and my pencil-heeled shoes sank in the swampy ground. The road stretched like a large mud-lake and I hoped the waters would dissolve me if not my pain.

*  *  *

Sunday morning brought with it some sunshine. I slid open the window of my bedroom. The air was fresh and the skies, clear. The rains last night had washed the entire city clean. I boiled water in the saucepan for coffee and turned on my laptop. I took a deep breath and went to Tushhar's blog, for one last time. I was surprised to see a new post.

He wrote about a girl he met some months back, and how he ran into her time and again, but could make no conversation with her till a false fire-alarm woke him from his slumber. That night, he had followed her to a strange room full of music and waited forty minutes before being a man and stepping into the hall. And till date, he hasn't been fully able to come out of that room.

~  ~  ~

Secrets of the Story:-

This is my second short story on this blog. The first one can be found here. Many have asked me if this is a true story. This piece draws its elements from reality. The setting is real in most scenes. The emotions of the characters are very real. However, not every real story ends this way. Some end in tragedy and tears and some last many years. 

When I finished the first chapter, one of the first few readers asked me why I refer to the central male character as a "ghost". I hope he found his answer in the third chapter. But this final chapter makes us question whether it is really the guy who is the ghost in this story. 

There's also the mystery behind the "mud lake". Is it just the road that submerged in the downpour and dirt? Or is it a real place with a real name? To know the answers to these and other questions that you may have, please write to me by commenting under this post. 

And if you prod me a little more, I will reveal to you the alternate ending to this story that I initially had in mind. It is with that ending that I began writing this piece.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter IV

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter IChapter II and Chapter III.

My eyes fell on my I-card that spelled out my name in big, bold, blue letters. That explained it! Had I really thought Tushhar needed help? I was in more need of it. I stared at the thick, white fumes that whistled out of the fire extinguisher, and pitied the poor volunteer who tottered about with the red, cylindrical apparatus. It looked like he was tap-dancing. And that reminded me – I had my first foxtrot session that day. I had realized I needed to get some fresh air and bring in some change in my life, so I had enrolled myself for a ballroom dance course on Monday.

*  *  *

At half past seven, I found myself at Ricardo’s Dance Studio. I admired the spacious room that had mirrors on all sides and a steel bar fixed horizontally on one. For stretching before the dance, I thought. I saw a dozen other people waiting on the benches that lay on one side of the hall. “Good evening, everyone! My name is Ricardo Terez” – a baritone broke the din. “I am the foxtrot instructor here.” I traced the voice to a tall, sturdy frame with a cheerful face. His smile calmed my tense nerves.

He started by making us count the four beats in every bar of the music he played. Then we did a round of introduction. We were a good mix of college-goers and working professionals. We learnt some basic footwork next. As we practised after Ricardo, he told us how foxtrot originated in the United States. It was a slow dance, quite similar to waltz. After six rounds of the basic footwork with and without music, he asked us to take partners. To everyone’s surprise, the men outnumbered the women in the room. But that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as all the ladies would have to dance with every gentleman in rotation.

Ricardo played I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra as he showed us how the dance partners were to hold each other. All the pairs on the dance floor clumsily held their positions and tried tuning their steps to Sinatra’s music. After every two minutes of dancing, Ricardo would holler – “Change!“, and the women would move clockwise to the next man. After several rounds of dancing, I felt elated and liberated from all the thoughts that had earlier disturbed me. It was only when we took a break that I realized it was 8:10.

We formed three rows to copy the new steps that our instructor would teach us. This is when Tushhar walked in and muttered a quick apology to Ricardo.

My legs turned into jelly. Two major coincidences in a day! This was more than my sensitive little self could take. The tranquil atmosphere that Sinatra’s song had managed to create did not even take a second to shatter under Tushhar’s presence. I listlessly repeated the steps after Ricardo and was terrified when he said, “Take your partners, everyone.”

We only had 10 minutes to go, and I prayed with all my strength for the class to be over before it was my turn to dance with Tushhar. And for once, my prayer was answered, I noted with some disappointment. I quickly made my escape before he’d have a chance to notice me. But how long would I keep up my game of hide-and-seek? He’d surely see me next Thursday!

*  *  *

It did not take very long for the next Thursday to arrive. Ricardo started the class by revising the previous week's footwork, then showing us some new steps. As each of us started taking partners, he told us to keep our chin up and look over our dance-partner's right shoulder. "In ballroom dancing", he said, "we do not stare at our partner." He played Colbie Caillat's Bubbly

One of my favourites, I smiled. Ricardo offered me his hand. He was quite obviously the best dancer in the room. "Man, remember to give your lead. Only then will the woman follow." This was met with giggles. "Change!" I glanced to my right to see who I'd next dance with. Tushhar!

We exchanged smiles and took our positions. Caillat's song flowed through the air like a river gushing through a valley. It filled all the empty space between Tushhar and me till we were drenched in its melody. I breathed the musk notes that betrayed a hint of cedar. He smelled of deep, dark woods that make one lose one's sense of direction. His hands were soft and he held me gently. I disregarded Ricardo's instructions and stole a few looks at my dance-partner. His skin was smooth and his nose, aquiline. I noticed his eyes were the colour of mahogany when his met mine. "Change!"

*  *  *

I leaped from one Thursday to another with the other days forgotten in office-work and evening-jogs. It always poured heavily at 7:15 in the eve, as if to deter me from attending my dance-lessons. But in the mirrored enclosure of the dance studio, foxtrot set me free, and I would look forward to my Thursdays with Tushhar.

It was September before I even realized we were about to finish our course. I was amazed at the progress we had all made. Most of us had started with two left feet and could now dance just as easily as we could walk. Ricardo had invited us all to a club the Saturday after the next, to celebrate the completion of our lessons in basic foxtrot.

The last session was the best of all for we danced for two straight hours to continuous music. When I fox-trotted with Tushhar, I noticed how much he had changed from the days I would see him in the office parking-lots and across my lift. Something seemed to have washed his sorrows away and he greeted me with open arms, if only to hold the fox-trot position. Ricardo played Can I Have This Dance by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter III

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter I and Chapter II.

The next few months passed as swiftly as my pocket-money fled my wallet. I had survived the torturous exams and emerged a graduate. Farewells to homeward-bound friends and frenemies; interviews with IT giants and startups; and scrounging the internet for dirt-cheap vacation-packages kept my summer occupied. The sun was strong but not enough to penetrate my heart that stayed frozen on the words I had read a hundred days ago. It was late in June that a phone call made my heart thaw.

I was offered full-time employment at the firm I was longing to hear from. And the fact that my office was in the same building as his, worked like heat-therapy on a sprained muscle. The heavens pronounced their approval with a light drizzle the day I joined office. I was more nervous at the prospect of seeing him than I was about my first day at work. I had never been as alert in school as I was that day. I expected to see him around every corner. My breath stopped and ears pricked at every sound that floated by me. I was exhausted, despite having done no work, when I got back home. However, as luck would have it, I did not chance upon him.

My black and white story would have a few days of colour when I would catch him in the lift across mine. My eyes would stay transfixed on his for the entire duration of seven seconds that both the lift-doors stayed open, and I would not blink until the two stainless steel halves cut him off from my dazed self. I would also find him at the parking lot sometimes- lost, in a world so removed from the one we walked in, that it seemed impossible he'd ever come back. He was the ghost of the jilted lover, shrouded in the trauma that refused to leave him. Each time he passed by, the ripples of the his shock would reach me for reasons unbeknownst to me. I hadn't figured out my feelings for him but I knew he had sensed my presence at every chance encounter.

He had held my gaze each time with an unspoken purposefulness, as if asking for something indecipherable. I had tried many times to begin a conversation with him to break the eerie silence that would wrap the two of us every time we saw each other, but to no avail. My throat would go dry whenever I had the presence of mind to speak, and he would have long gone by the time I regained my voice. We would have gone on with our deaf-and-mute act had it not been for the divine intervention of Fate.

Our golden chance to break our silence came in the guise of a fire-drill. All the eight odd offices in our building were to participate in the drill that aimed to bring us out of our cubicles and into the fresh outdoors. The exercise was amusing, even if saving oneself from a life-threatening scenario could hardly be counted as a means of amusement. All the employees were made to stand in rows facing the security-expert as she explained the dos and don'ts in a fire-scenario. The corporate services team had the foresight to station water-coolers at the back of all the rows. I filled a paper cup with water that sparkled in the sun and turned to find Tushhar standing behind me.

I moved to the left to make way for him.

"Hi", he said as he pressed the blue lever for cold water. 

"Hello", I replied, glad my voice hadn't deserted me.

"I've seen you around. You must've joined a few weeks back." His cup was almost full now.

I looked up to make eye contact. "Yeah. It's been a couple of months since I started." He had brown eyes and his honey-coloured skin glowed in the sun. I sipped on my water as I noticed the skin around his eyes had caramelized into a darker shade of brown. Lack of sleep, I guessed.

"Do you live nearby?" Honey was not only the colour of his skin but also the texture of his voice.

"Yes. My place is not too far. You do too?" Well of course, he did! I wondered why I asked him that.

"Oh, my flat is 10 minutes from here!" He said with pride. I noticed how his pink lips turned thin as they curved into a smile.

"See you, then!" I finished the last drop off my cup and proceeded to rejoin my colleagues.

"Sure, Praneetee!" 

And yet again, he managed to make me go numb. How did he do that every single time? I didn't remember telling him my name! The fire-safety instructions were of no use to me when I was burning under his glare. I walked towards my row with a heart that threatened to break out of my rib-cage if I did not chain it right there.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Caution: Men at Work #2

The first post in this series can be accessed here.

Some introspection has revealed that I spend way too much time singing praises of the boys and mocking the fairer sex (well, at least on my blog). So, today I will endeavour to take the mickey out of the men at the workplace! This post will be similar to the ones I wrote on women (which you can read here and here).

*  *  *

Exhibit - 1 (The Beach Babe):

No, he does not have washboard abs or a bronzed complexion. He's probably never gone surfing either. But he's got a mind boggling collection of floral shirts, mostly of the beach-variety. It isn't very hard to spot the big, bright patterns on his shirt that flutters nonchalantly among the stiff whites and blues. His sartorial experiments lead him where even women fear to tread. (Really, no sane woman would be caught dead with so many flowers on her self!) His very presence makes me hear the sound of ukuleles and I imagine he'll break into a hula-dance. The only prop missing on him is a Hawaiian garland. With that sorted, he'd be all set to go to a luau!

Exhibit - 2 (The Gadget Ghoul):

A technology-freak, he has impatience written on his forehead. I once made the mistake of making him wait for 5 minutes and I found him playing on his PlayStation Portable-2 as he composed a text message on his phone with the voice command while also listening to something on his iPod. I forgot to add, his iPad rested on his lap and the office computer (with 3 monitors) on his desk. The glowing red mute button on his IP phone let me know he was on a conference call at the same time. The gadget-ghoul is a classic multitasker but displays unearthly behaviour that gives you the creeps. He is also a man of few words and will only talk in tech-speak.

Exhibit - 3 (The Ladies' Man):

We all know this one. And every school/college/office has one. (In fact, most places have multiple ladies' men these days!) He'll wink at you from 20 yards away. And of course, you'll look away and pretend he's winking at someone else. But he'll walk towards you with swift strides and you'll frantically search for a turn in the corridor you can escape into. But we all know such escape routes never materialize when you want them to. So, you'll tell yourself he's caught something in his eye and is not really winking (as he continues to hold that wink). But lord, what do you make of that unmistakably frisky smile that accompanies his wink!

This exhibit has some varieties. There'll be one who'll block your path and force you into a conversation even as you wear your I-have-tons-of-work-and-really-need-to-get-back-to-my-desk look. Another one who'll throw a random one-liner in your first language and lean on a wall with his hands folded and a smirk plastered on his face, in anticipation of a response from you. This reminds me of a funny incident from college that I MUST share with you (excuse my digression)-

*  *  *

So, I was walking past a bulletin board near my classroom and this decent-looking guy tossed a full Bengali sentence in my direction (a complex and grammatically correct one at that!) as he stood grinning with a friend of his. I politely complimented him on his flawless delivery of a foreign tongue. That's when he said he was Bengali too and threw another Bangla line in his defence. And believe you me, I gave him quite an earful about how a couple of sentences won't make him Bengali and he should stop messing with me! He recoiled at my angry outburst and helplessly tried to convince me he wasn't telling lies. What followed was a barrage of questions that I threw at him to verify his claim. And that poor soul patiently replied and got all the answers right. It was my turn to look guilty. I sheepishly apologised to the guy who gave me his it's-OK-I-won't-kill-you look.

*  *  *

I know you're getting bored and want me to move to the next exhibit, but please allow me to speak about just one more variety of this kind: this one will drag you to have breakfast with him (and later confess he has already had his). He will joke about the dishes and ask you if you miss your fish-and-rice (to which I will squarely reply that I'm vegetarian). And then he'll tell you his ex was Bengali too and how much she loved her meat and fish (and you'll really not know what to make of it or where the conversation is going).

The ladies' man makes women giggle as the other men frown and plot his murder. But his disease is contagious (which is why we have more and more of this type with every passing season).

Exhibit - 4 (The Gym Junkie):

We've all seen biceps threatening to bulge out of shirts (at least on TV? C'mon!) and gym-bags slung over the right shoulder as the office-bag hangs from the left. But have you seen those really-serious-gym-goers who will not stop an extra second in the elevator to say goodbye to you? They just HAVE to clock their 60 minutes of cardio/weight/circuit training! And some will go the extra mile and throw in a football practice AND a game of squash to make sure their muscles don't slack for even a minute. This exhibit's dizzying workout routine makes me wonder if even his jawline will become muscular and talking, synonymous with flexing his cheeks. I always expect the gym-junkie to drop dead in front of me (he never does).

Exhibit - 5 (The Gossip Guy):

I've always thought ladies are the queens of the gossip-club, but the men have proved me wrong! There's an entire breed of men who love to talk (mostly about people). I remember this quote for some reason:
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
(Oh wait! Did you just classify me as a "small mind" because I'm discussing characters here?! :-| ) Anyhow, gossip-guys are plentiful and scattered all over the work premise. You'll find them huddled at a table in the cafeteria, in their restrooms as they do their "business" (NO, of course I haven't been there! I have have guy friends who tell me some things sometimes), near the coffee machines and water coolers, and obviously at their desks. How do you tell if they're gossiping or having a random civil chat? Well, you watch their expressions. They'll wear a funny smile (if I get time, I'll write a blog post on "smiles" to educate you about the different kinds) and laugh snootily. The gossip-guys don't even leave the digital world alone as their back-fence talk spills into social media and Whatsapp group-chats (sometimes in the presence of the very people they slander).

*  *  *

So much inside scoop should be enough for you to digest for today. There's more, of course. But we'll hear that some other time. So long, fellas!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Timeless Tunes (Lessons from the Bong Bard #3)

You may read the first and the second posts in this series, ahead of the third one here.

Before I begin, I'd like you to listen to this beautiful English song based on a poem, "Song. To Cecilia" written by Ben Jonson in 1616. (Don't worry, this'll be a short article. So, go ahead and hit the PLAY button.)

Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes in the voice of Laura Wright:-

Today, I finish two months of Rabindra Sangeet riyaaz (practice). It's a different matter that I've barely done 12 hours of actual singing all this while. When I started, I thought I'd have to transform myself into a demure,  tant-saree-clad Bengali girl of that era, in puffed sleeves and long, plaited hair, to do justice to the emotions that should flow with the music. I thought my ears would have to get adjusted to the sound of the harmonium to make my voice one with the melody that played out of it. But Tagore showed me how narrow minded I was being.

Lesson - 3

Kobiguru Tagore's music transcends the man-made boundaries of countries and cultures. The great poet was well travelled and had the open mind and big heart to accommodate styles from the Western world. Many of his songs are set to tunes borrowed from England, Ireland and Scotland. The mark of a great man (excuse my patriarchal choice of word here) lies in his ability to accept diverse ideas and develop his own line of thoughts over those.

The world today is a global village, they say. Why is it then that we sully the repute of our generation by comparing cultures, fighting over traditions and competing to keep our own on a pedestal above the rest? Why can't we expand our hearts just a little to admire the beauty of all that is around us? What stops us from falling in love with the multitude of melodies, rhythms, languages and people we come across in our journey through this life?

Tagore lived, loved and wrote in the 19th century. His works, however, are timeless. His music never feels anachronic even as I hear them in the 21st century. The tunes blend well with the piano, the sitar, the harmonium, the violin and most other musical instruments you can think of. The versatility of his compositions leaves everyone the liberty to pair his melodies with classical Bengali dance forms and Western ballroom styles alike. I close my article today with the bard's rendition of the song we heard in the beginning. 

Kotobaro Bhebechinu (I've Mused Many a Times . . .) in Srikanto Acharya's baritone:-

This is one of Tagore's many songs perfect for a round of English Waltz.

P.S. To know the meaning of the the Bengali lyrics, drop me a line :-)

P.P.S. For a round of waltz with me, drop me another one! ;-)

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter II

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter I.

My face was flushed from its prolonged exposure to the blazing sun. I had been standing at the bus stop for almost half an hour, waiting for a bus that would take me home. Neither the heat nor the wait bothered me. If I was restless it was only because I was going to meet him today!

I reached home at half past six and hit the shower. I stuffed a mini-granola bar into my mouth and tightened my shoelaces. I was all set to make my first appearance in front of him!

It was 7:30 when I reached the park just outside his office. He would leave at eight. The buildings had two exit gates, 20 metres apart. The only way to run into him was to keep running from one exit point to another. I took off my scrunchy and retied my hair. I did some stretches to warm up before the run that would last only God knew how long. I started running at 7:55. The sun had set by then, and this made my task of identifying him even more difficult. I ran faster as I saw the steady flow of office goers crowding up the street. It would be 8:30 in a few minutes and I’d miss him again! My pace dropped to a walk. And I screened every man that walked my way. It was 8:35. I felt defeated. I went tired to the park and sat on a green patch of grass. My white T-shirt was damp with my sweat, but I wouldn’t let my spirit be. I was going to try and find where he lived.

I knew where to start. I got up and started for Tipsy Feet. The doorman eyed me with contempt. I ignored him and climbed three flights of stairs, two steps at a time. I stopped before the ebony tinted glass door and had a good look at my reflection. Black ankle length socks peeped out of my white sneakers. My phone made the left pocket of my mustard shorts bulge out of proportion. White cords snaked across my white tee, split into two at my collar bone and culminated into a pair of earplugs that played Powerless by Nelly Furtado.

... this life is too short to live it just for you

I stepped into the pub. It was still too early for the regulars to come in.  There was only one group of three girls and two guys laughing at a corner table. I stood on my toes to see the faces of the guys. I could only manage to see the wild curls of the guy on the right. Nope, not him. And then, the guy on the left stood up.

... But when you feel so powerless what are you gonna do

Almost reflexively, I turned around and ran out of the bar with my heart thumping loudly. I did not stop till I reached home. I was too terrified of letting him see me to wait to identify him. I could only remember his dark hair and big forehead. Had I been running from a stranger? Or had I really seen him? I could not sleep that night despite the tossing and turning. I yielded and sat up on my bed. It was time to make use of my social engineering skills.

I booted my laptop and searched for Tushhar Naipaul. His LinkedIn profile led me to his blog on Tumblr. I wasn’t interested in the Harley-Davidsons that cluttered his page. I had to read his private pages. I would have to hack into his account. I asked my conscience to shut up and launched a series of attacks on his account. All the workshops on information security I had attended over the years finally paid off; and after 27 minutes of battling against digital protection, I discovered Tushhar was a tech-virgin. It wasn’t fair to label him so. After all, most of my professors at the university couldn’t hold their own against my hack-attacks. I only hoped his private posts would be worth my effort. My eyelids were heavy at 1:48 AM. My first lecture at college next morning was on Distributed Computing, scheduled for 9:15. I’d never make it in time if I went through the 18 hidden posts on his blog. I yawned loudly and decided to read anyway.

His writing was slow, smooth and engrossing... like a John Williams composition. His was a story of unrequited love. He had met his object of affection at Mandarin classes four years ago. He would sit next to her every afternoon on the wooden bench at the extreme right corner of the room and watch her practise the 20 new characters they’d learn each day. He would struggle with the nib of his ink pen and speak to her on the pretext of borrowing hers. The soft touch of her fingers as they brushed against his; the dewy look in her eyes as she pitied his ineptitude in Mandarin; her gentle smile as she offered her spare pen... these made it easy for him to sit through the two-hour class that put most students to sleep.

They spent an entire year learning Mandarin Level-1, during which they advanced from sitting beside each other to sharing smoothies, with two straws at first to only one by mid-year. They would look into each other’s eyes when Ms. Liu would screen a Chinese movie and ask the class to pay attention to the accent. He thought of her every time they made Chinese at the canteen, and also every time they didn’t. His mind drifted to thoughts of her every time he held anything that was made in China, and almost everything was.

It was on the day they passed their basic Mandarin test that he saw her kiss a guy who looked like he could be her boyfriend. He was shattered. He recounted the poignancy with no trace of bitterness for the girl. He told himself that it was an error of judgement on his part and the girl had never been at fault. He tried to forget everything but he could never forget how she had looked on Chinese New Year, in her red and gold qípáo made of silk.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks as I finished reading his last post. I had a done a terrible thing by hacking into his account.