Cheap Thrills

Irrespective of the gruelling and gut-wrenching angst I feel about the condition of the wage-earners, now, more than ever, I cannot but be grateful about my privileges which include food, water, shelter, company, sanitation and broadband. Yet, after doing all one can in one's capacity, one cannot be unhappy and not count the blessings in the form of cheap thrills, can they?

Having outgrown carefully coated nail-polish shades and the excitement of home-cooked pizza from the scratch, I have realised such moments of happiness are rather short-lived. They turn into habits in our control. But cheap thrills continue. Like landing upon movies as are Dum Maaro Dum and Fatso. And suddenly discovering that one had reserved a blob of butter in the deep corners of the freezer. Or be prepared and walk up to the sink to see there are no dishes awaiting a wash! Mine comes in the form of Diljit's commentary over his cooking and Karan's (my cinematic father) children.

While I am an attested fan of Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi (and his father), the Johar twins are way too much fun! Around lunch thrice or sometimes everyday in a week, they blabber their way in their father's closet, or loo, and make a cute case-study for how children can take their parents' case rather unwittingly, and lovingly :)

As for Diljit, always a fan of his outlandish yet symphonic styling and his profuse humility, every night, whether or not I have my dinner, I religiously follow his amazingly simple cooking, made delicious with his expert commentary which regularly feature the love life of Jeera and Asafoetida, the social distancing of Haldi, Namak, Laal Maerch, and the god-like presence of tomato-coriander-chilli blended into a paste. It all simmers up to the grand lesson of (hold your breath), "MAH SABZEE-MAH RULEZ".

I shouldn't be saying this, but gosh I will miss these once the lockdown is over (quickly covering my coy face from your holy attack).


Flavour of the Lockdown

Will it be too harsh if I titillate your palette in such rationed times? Well, forgive me, without a drop of amber to relish, without a strict diet to follow, all I can think of is the joy of planning what to cook, prepping for it and eventually eating. It is indeed deeply meditative.

Not one to have tried Dalgona or sourdough or even any three-ingredient wonder cake, I discovered talents erstwhile unknown to me. So long satisfied only with my knife skills and patience, I will share with you my journey with wheat flour.

While Assam and Bengal should have cemented my commitment towards rice, it was actually an uncharacteristic affinity towards the smell of freshly made roti (that always came from elsewhere, and not my home) which drew me towards it. Over time, of the many things I developed I also grew lactose intolerant -- later routed to the relationship between the gut and the mood. Yet, the smell was one which stirred in me an undisputed hunger. I had also tried to learn the skill from my mother, I won't lie, but realising the number of steps involved and the amount of perfection required to master a perfect circle, I gave up. Yes, without trying. I mean, you got rotis everywhere, anyway!

When we had a house-help to cook for us in Delhi, I had the choicest of soft, small and deliciously made rotis. The size was often called out by my esteemed colleagues too, yet, I cared a fig. And then, lockdown happened. Lovely readers, I wouldn't be exaggerating if I declared that I found the zen-like equivalent of playing Candy Crush in kneading a dough. Caressing it with the right amount of water, or oil, to build a baby dough is as satisfying as the endless Instagram videos on clay/play dough. What I intend to say is, suddenly, the long process seems to have been absolved by the sheer enchantment of rolling out shapes (began from states of India, to triangles, went to somewhat a circle, and has now reached a circle). To those who have often told me what is the difference between a watch worth 1k and one which is upwards of 20k, because they both show time, well, so does your roti! Don't complain of its shape, it will taste the same. But who am I to kid? I swear there is a difference in taste.

Dear ones, over these last weeks, I have become a fan of the modest wheat flour mixed with the versatile semolina, seasoned and fried well. Without a doubt, it dishes out the fluffiest, crispiest smiles.




I thought and debated, on whether or not to write on this, and finally decided to do it. Ever since March 1st, I have been home, with the exception of 10th March (which was Holi). So, until yesterday it was roughly already 60+ days of "staying home", "staying safe"; basically doing everything that has been deemed correct. In fact, we have been obeying everything so much so that all shopping and getting things indoor have also been done to the t (we sanitize everything at the main door itself). I have been downstairs once every week to take the car for a spin within the block, which has been exceptionally cautious about maintaining social distance, and decorum in all the three parks. The day before, I had an anxiety attack about life in general, and thankfully, I surfaced. Things were going on well yesterday morning, when, undeclared, an event unfolded.

Tending to my plants in the veranda, I loitered about to overhear the unnatural number of people assembled downstairs. With my superior curiosity and affable social skills, I, of course asked around, very casually, "what happened there?" The lady in the opposite balcony replied, "Not there, over you." Dear readers, someone tested Covid positive in our next building. By the time I could respond, the shock of it being right there hit me hard. Over the next twenty minutes, as if in fast forward motion, I accumulated too much uncomfortable information, including "quarantined", "barricaded", "sealed" etc. etc. The patient was already at a hospital, and her family members tested negative.

Dear readers, if you thought this was going to be a rant about "my quarantine life", you are mistaken. This is an out and loud appreciation post on the community kindness I witnessed thereafter. Within a span of maximum two hours, the said building and two on either of its side (Delhi buildings share walls), resembled a crime scene from one of the many thriller movies I have seen. The bright yellow Delhi Police barricades screamed out in the achingly silent zone. The women leaders of the RWA efficiently created a WhatsApp group with all members of the three buildings. The group also has our SHO and the local inspector. Every instruction in being conveyed and acted upon in the group with the response time of under 1 minute.

To be frank, I was sure to touch 100+ days of self-quarantine. Yet, this morning when I woke up to see the PPE angels arriving on site to sanitize the buildings, our cars, our parks, I gulped the gravity of it all. Even our garbage has been mandated to be disposed off in a particular way. Not one to reveal my political inclinations, I reiterate the democratic support that these unknown neighbours have been lending at such an abstract time. True, our world is undergoing healing, and we will emerge more empathetic and compassionate than ever before.

Till then, watch the Malayalam movie "Virus", and be assured, we are safe and being well taken care of!


Naming of the Shrew

On the strangest of Saturday afternoons, of no high-school, no tuition, no TV, Bhargavi made the strangest of observations: people hardly try to belong to other sun-signs, Maths is useless in real life, rain is over-romanticized. All of 15 then, she never lived in her present, Bhargavi perused now. She had sketchy memories of her school days, but strong ones of her many misadventures. Like the time, she wrote a letter to a boy named Pallav, overwhelmed with the beauty of his name. When she needed loud music to immerse herself in. Her first kiss inside a car with the neighbour's visiting grandson. Childhood remained in sepia-toned pages of an album lost in heaps of gathering dust.

Bhargavi's smile faded when in one of her first online chat sessions she came to know that an extremely fancy "Cadbury_Boy" was actually Gokul Roy. For her, it was a worse than the stale equivalent of Neha and Puja and Priyanka, and Sandip and Arindam and Saurav. Where do people with fancy names reside? With whom? While she did settle for "Sindbad_the_Sinner" who turned out to be a Rishi, her heart went back to Gokul. What could she do now? She was having stimulating exchanges with him, both intellectual and otherwise. Yet, she couldn't allow herself a Gokul in her life.

Cut to three years later, in an inordinately decked mandap where Bhargavi was taking the ceremonious seven rounds with Gokul. In her mind, she was listening to conversations of the guests.

What an awfully loud person she has settled for!
She went for the package. Do you really think she loves her?
Her make-up is too casual for a wedding.
Their age difference is terrible.
What an awful name! 

Unable to concentrate, she hardly had any honeymoon, and slided into a habit. She resumed her chat sessions under a new name, "ColdCoffee" for herself and settled for "Disco_Dancer" and "Hot-Chocolate". Aware of her virtually successful infidelity and crushed by the raging good governance from her now husband, Bhargavi was twice distanced and thrice dead already. She needed a change, a new detachment to attach herself to. Ably, she fought and also won herself the divorce.

With no Gokul in her life now, she did not need to alter his persona. Instead, with a very deep look at herself, she rechristened as Jennifer. Truth could often kill with its kindness.


Love-Letter (LXVI)


I have been spending hours at a stretch on the silly screen of the smart phone, till angles, plains, shapes, patterns started speaking in circles with me. As I maximize efficiency in chores, my observation highlights the inherent nature of your science underlying everywhere, and the fuel of my artistry which sets it in motion.

In the delicious blend of a cocktail, or the alignment in the clothesline, the brunoise and batonnet for a given recipe, or the placement of curtains so that sun-rays are blocked but sunshine isn't, I think of billions of reasons why I don't take your calls anymore. This crisis has certainly made us independent. While social messages speak of familial ties, and spending time with loved ones, I am relieved that I have been blessed with my own space, with none of your 7498261 asks of the day, and night to bother me with a face and a smile to put up.

As the first round of the lockdown neared, I feverishly prayed wishing for it to extend. The mirror stands garlanded in fairy lights, as I solemnize my being without you, as I learn from my mistakes of youth, and as I prepare for a resolute next-term. It is surprising when we survive social expectations only to be outwitted by our own feelings, our deepest demons. Do you remember Malti, our morning maid? We share same lives, partners abusing us relentlessly, shamelessly and continuously. What have we done to deserve it? If it is love, it isn't enough, and it isn't love.

Hence, this stays written to you, to celebrate a life with love for oneself, and enough letters to convey that your share is erased. Do not return to break the symphony of my geometric life.

No more yours,


Be Careful of What You Wish For

Gurkeerat and Ekalavya's love challenged their cultural divide. It was what modern legacies were made of. Sailing through college fests, stalking social media, incessant cups of coffee dates and dinners later, they moved in together. There was no question of marriage, as neither family would understand. It would lose them precious time, and with their full-time jobs, they couldn't afford the drama of anticipation, exaltation, and lack of resolution. Having spent a winter together, spring announced the extended lockdown. 

Their Sunday was same, uneventful. Their Sunday nap was same too, shared with a common dream. The field was shining golden, and the sky was swaying with green leaves. From afar, they could both see each other on the field together, racing towards a well. The rusting bucket yielded them with two unassuming India-Post envelopes. Addressed "Gur" and "Luv", the neatly handwritten names took them by surprise. Who could know them by the names they called each other?

'ASK FOR A SUPERPOWER AT YOUR BEHEST.' Gurkeerat, tight-fisted, clasped her eyes shut to look for clarity.

'ASK FOR A SUPERPOWER AT YOUR BEHEST.' Ekalavya, tight-fisted, smiled at his own clarity. 

"Are you ready to ask, Gur?"

"Let's, Luv."

Luv asked for freedom. He could think of nothing better at that time. Gurkeerat completed hers.

The evening had spread out with no deliberations of an ensuing Monday. With the second sip of tea, they found out about their same dream. Mildly taken aback, and not knowing whether to believe the other, they stretched into time's silence.

"So what did you ask for?" He hurriedly added, "I bet you said something like flying, or becoming invisible, my sweet Gur?"

Sure, just like with your commie attitude you couldn't have thought of anything better than elusive freedom! As Gurkeerat smiled, Luv interrupted, "Oh wait! I know what you are thinking!" 

"Tell me, Luv, what was I thinking?"

Luv enacted out her mannerism, "Luv knows me best! Should I really tell him that I did ask for my favorite superpower - to become invisible!"

Gurkeerat broke into a riot of laughter. Her prayer was, "Luv should never be able to read my mind."

Do dreams come true?

Sweet Gur was going to ensure a peaceful end of lockdown where Luv didn't have the slightest inkling about her long phone-calls with Hasan. And once it was over, Luv would have his freedom from the web of lies she had weaved. Be careful of what you wish for.



I remember certain memories from my childhood rather vividly, one where my biggest victory was in finding means to avoid studies, spending afternoons on the terrace counting colourful kites, cycling into lanes and by-lanes, playing cricket with cousins and breaking numerous window-panes (and being thrashed by mother thereafter), participating in quizzes just to get out of my girls' school and meet the Don Bosco and VKV boys, have  Re 1/- Tasty ice-candies'; sneaking into the kitchen at midnight to sketch on pumpkins, gourds and eggs weird expressions in an attempt to scare my mother, the next morning! And, waiting for the weekend to travel one hour on super-fast buses to the other town to meet grandma (for the first hour) and sit (like a princess for the rest) in my uncle's shop, on a wooden bar-stool kind of seat of honour.

While at my uncle's stop (fancily named "Three Leaves" but renowned as "Babul Da'r Dukaan" [in Assamese]), it would fascinate me to observe the variety of small talks customers would have with my uncle, or his assistant. Once they left, I would urge them to tell me more about the customer. My favorite thing in the shop was not the glassed-Cabdury box, nor the variously sized jars holding various candies. They were the many-sized brown paper bags upon which I would unendingly doodle as I listened to the conversations. Yes, they were my formative years in gathering gossip, amidst learning how to pack tea (he was also a tea wholesaler), and expertly opening caps of Gold Spot, Thums Up, Limca. The giggling girls of Womens' College would crowd at our shop for their daily quota of drinks. I think it gave them a high to have a drink at the college Librarian's husband's shop. His shop was the smallest on that road, but the busiest, and in retrospect, I conclude it was because he has been a great conversationalist. That impressed me too. From my mother side of business, shoes are their specialization, and I used to be engrossed in watching the sales-guys pulling out exactly the pair from the dark and mysterious godown behind the well-lit showroom (another fancy name "Half & Half"). As I kept cash here, I could not understand the maths of profit, and remained fixated at how happy and content a customer would leave with a new pair!

While academics happened to me, I would love to believe that business runs in my blood. No, I am not good at bargaining with vendors (primarily because I respect them way too much, literally putting myself in their shoes), nor am I good at calculations.Yet, I think I do have a certain art of negotiation needed for the most democratic act of conducting business. It is my dream, and now in spite of my degrees, my aim is to own an all-purpose store where customer is god. S/he isn't discriminated on the basis of religion, caste, nationality, gender and/or hierarchy.

With over a dozen years in the service industry, the being answerable part is extremely demanding. In shops, people come, ask, take goods, pay money, leave. Additionally, for the writer in me, they'd bring in as many stories :) If you disbelieve my story, this photo below is from one lunch break at my last office. I never smiled this bright during my tenure there.

Alas, good results ruined my life. 

Cheap Thrills

Irrespective of the gruelling and gut-wrenching angst I feel about the condition of the wage-earners, now, more than ever, I cannot but be ...