Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who knows?

A year ago, my two cousins (my Aunt’s daughters) were in splits about a competition one of them had participated in with her husband. Apparently it was some kind of ‘how well you know your spouse’ contest against a few other couples. The couple who came first got a perfect score, a 25 on 25 (if I remember correctly) and my cousin and her husband got 1 on 25. She said she was very upset with her husband because they even got the ‘where did you meet each other first’ question wrong.
Though I laughed along, I inadvertently started wondering how well I would fare in such a competition. I’ve known my husband since 1999, and I like to think - extremely well. But who really discusses their favorite colors barring adolescent girls? (“My name’s Britney, my favorite color’s pink, what’s yours, Whitney?” “Pink too! That’s, like, SUCH a coincidence!” (giggle and jump about, holding hands.)
Favourite flower? People actually have a favourite flower?? Shouldn’t wives be worried if their husbands have a favourite flower? Bearded man says solemnly in a deep baritone: “My favorite flower is the lily, which is also what my alter ego is called.” I comforted myself that maybe we would’ve got two on 25 because we both remember where we met first, viz, JU.
It’s not only about knowing your husband’s favourites. What deeply troubles me is that I have no idea what my own favourite color is. Is it red, is it black? Who knows? I wonder if that says something about me. Favourite food? How much time do you have? Favourite actor? Anyone who dresses up in spandex and gets a stuntman to jump off buildings for him. Favourite book? I can name my top 20 maybe…but my head would explode if I had to come up with one. And so on.
All this ‘favourite’ business doesn’t take into account that a person is always evolving. That every single day something happens that changes you forever, however slightly. I think asking someone what her favourite is, is just another way of labeling that person. People have this pathological desire to pigeon-hole other people. Needless to say it annoys me extremely. Probably if I say my favourite color’s ‘blue’ they’ll call me a closet man behind my back, I don’t know. I have in my lifetime, been declared ‘outgoing’, ‘very reserved’; ‘good with kids’, ’bad with kids’, ‘good blog writer’ ‘bad blog writer’, (I would like to point out, in my defence, that the person who made this observation, is inordinately proud of her own blog which, to put it diplomatically, sucks big time.) . ‘soft-spoken’, and ’demon bitch from hell’. And take it from me, I’ve been ALL those things at one point of time or the other.

So let’s add ‘confused’ to all those other epithets, shall we?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ushasi by any other name, is just as sweet?

31 years ago, my mother gave me a lovely name: Ushasi. I still think it’s lovely of course, but living with a name like this has its disadvantages. In Calcutta, amongst my own people, my name was wrestled with constantly. Apart for the usual “Urvashi” or “Ushashree” mistakes, my very first poem printed in the school magazine, to my extreme dismay, was attributed to (in beautiful curly-wurly letters ) one "Mahasi Sen".

University was smoother, except for one stupid know-all senior who lectured me about how there IS no such name, and that I should let my mother know. He even told a friend of mine that he wondered at parents who give their children nonsense names. Of course he didn’t know what he was talking about, which is the case with most pompous assholes who presume to lecture others about things that don't concern them.
My name has a meaning of course, it means “Dawn”. When people ask me what it means and I say “Dawn”; it’s met by gales of laughter because they think I said “Don.”

Really the world is FULL of idiots.

Then came my move to the South. My first stop was Hyderabad for a little under two years. People at my first job, a tiny ad agency, began to call me Usha. I was NOT cool with that, but they didn’t particularly care. I didn’t feel like an Usha at all. So I made sure the moment I switched jobs and made new friends that I would be called Shashi instead. This new organization, who's famous for (among other things) their concern for employee comfort, took to ‘Shashi’ with a vengeance; and I was quite happy with my new name.

That was of course, until I got married and moved to Bangalore. My first job HERE, was a nightmarish sweat shop of a publishing company. And not surprisingly, it was “Usha” again. In fact, some Bangali and Assamese colleagues of mine freely discussed private things around me in their mother tongues, because they thought I was “Usha Singh”. When the bells ringing (for start-of-work, lunch time, and end of work) got too much for me, I brought a rifle to work. (JUST kidding—I felt like it but never did it). Not surprisingly, when I quit that sorry place and moved on to a high-end merchandising website, which I have good memories of, I was “Shashi” again.

Now that I’m in an investment bank, people swing between “Shashi” and “Ushasi”; which I’m fine with. Of course they pronounce it all wrong (like they're sneezing); but still its much better than plain Usha.

However, the curse is not entirely gone; I have been called various things over the last 3 years:
1. "Ushani"
2. "Ushasai"
3. "Usha C. Basu"
4. "Basu"
5. "U-u-u-u", and various other variations like "you there" or "Jeet's wife"(Grrr.).
6. And the best one so far, at a nearby hospital --“Ushaji”.

If I ever have a daughter, I’m calling her Tina.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lessons I’ve learnt from Horror movies

I believe you can learn from anything. I mean even the pulpiest piece of trash fiction can teach you, if not anything else, that even the worst writers can get themselves published – so not to despair.
Similarly, as I am a martyr to my husband’s taste for scary movies, I decided I should turn this into an opportunity to grow as a person. And by that I do not only mean the weight I put on from sheer fright.

So here they are, things you would’ve had to learn the hard way, if I hadn’t just handed them to you on a plate.

1. One basic rule is, if you’re out house hunting do not, I repeat do NOT fall for the whole rickety old house for a throwaway price racket. All these real estate brokers are on the take from shady old ghosts who give good money to have their houses filled with brand new inhabitants to scare shitless. So if your spouse hasn’t read my blog and sighs ‘I have fallen in love with this grand old house, I don’t know why…and look how cheap it is!” just scoop him or her up and run all the way to a spanking new, one bedroom flat over a very noisy bar – preferably at a very bad bargain.

2. If you have ignored my first rule and happen to have taken a big old rambling house in a deserted part of town with coyotes/wolves howling and owls hooting aggressively in the background – do not fear (yet) there are several other rules that can save you. Do NOT make friends with your neighbours. Throw their cake-bringing, ‘welcome to the neighbourhood’ asses out the door the minute they try to step into your house—they are devil worshippers feeding you up for their bi-weekly sacrifice, or worse – totally innocent people who will come to your rescue just a couple of minutes too late; therefore useless.

3. On the first night in your new house, if you’re suddenly woken up by a weird noise downstairs, I beg of you, just curl up into a foetal position, draw the blanket over your head and cry yourself to sleep again. Nothing good has ever come from an excruciating trip down the creaky stairs.

4. If you MUST go down the stairs at the dead of night to investigate doors banging and growling noises; at LEAST switch all the lights on first. I mean, DUH.

5. If the lights inexplicably do not work please don’t go down to the basement to check the fuse box thingummy. Please. Which is why I say, stay in bed – that way you won’t NEED lights.

6. If however, you are so monumentally stupid that you have done the above, atleast heave something heavy against the door so that it doesn’t slam closed after you --leaving you in the pitch dark.

7. If the lights start flickering on and off, don’t feel relieved. You were better off not being able to see what’s crawling towards you in a white nightdress.

8. “Hello, is anybody there?” is not the appropriate conversation opener in such a case. I would advise something like “Eeeeeeaaaaagh…get off me get off me get off meeee” or, if you pride yourself on your negotiation skills “ I’m new here. I was not the one who locked you in this basement 40 years ago, and honestly, I don’t see the sense of such an action, I totally understand if you’re frustrated.”

9. IF that works, which I doubt, but sometimes it does – and the door swings open and the lights turn on and you get up to bed alright – do not waste time researching the history of the house and trying to convince your spouse/psychiatrist/devil-worshipping neighbor of what you saw. They will all behave like they disbelieve you and lock you up in the loony bin, or even worse -- the basement. All the while, holding secret ‘Sacrifice that stupid cow’ meetings over cake and coffee.

10. If you survive all of the above, I repeat, run all the way to a spanking new, one bedroom flat over a very noisy bar – preferably at a very bad bargain. Better late than never.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


The phoenix is rising from the ashes...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Other Animals - Part II

Sorry it took me so long to write this next part – I was catching up on lost sleep.

Once we realized it was the owls, we started seeing them every night and hearing them through the day. Much like ghosts. I’m not saying the owls were like ghosts (they were, but I’m not making that point HERE.) I’m saying, it’s like when the protagonist (usually a young, pretty single mother in those movies we watch through the cracks in our fingers all the time) finally REALIZES there’s a ghost in the house that the ghost seems to gain in confidence and does its thing. Similarly my owls.

So now with our eyes newly opened to the owl situation; we saw them grunt and wheeze all night and day on our windowsills or on our balcony and wheel about overhead. I thought owls were dignified loners but these were ‘party till we drop’ owls on STEROIDS.

“Dude, that note you hit on C Major is SICK. Can you teach me how to DO that??”


“Ha-ha (sniff). That reverb is AWESOME.”

“Hey, a little birdie told me this chubby human has a meeting tomorrow morning. Shall we leave her alone and party on some other balcony tonight?

(Raucous avian laughter)

“Yeah RRRIGHT! Where’s the beer??”

And so on.

But we started to get used to it, and would tsk-tsk resignedly much like an elderly couple with a bunch of gregarious single people next door.

That was of course until our guests came. (Humans).

While one guest looked startled when he saw me walking around one afternoon, and exclaimed,“You’re awake! What’s that noise? I thought all day yesterday that it was you snoring!” (Which was offensive on several levels. First of all that I would snore that loud, and that he thought I’d slept all day when I palpably had not.)

I warned another guest too late and she spent the first night wide awake, wondering if one of us was having fits of some sort, or if the flat was haunted; and in agonies of indecision on what to do in each case.

Just as, it seems, we learnt to drift off to sleep accompanied by the wheezing and hootings of ‘our owls’; one day it just stopped. “The owls are quiet today” we said the first day and several days after that, craning our necks out the window to see if we could spot one.

And that was that. It’s been over a month now that they’ve gone, and for all the complaining we did about our owls, we kinda miss them now.

Nothing like a posse of owls to brighten the workaday lives of a city couple. I take comfort in the fact that they’re out there somewhere keeping other people awake and poohing on their windowsills in some other neighbourhood, or state. And perhaps they think of us sometimes.

Perhaps they do, and will turn up again sometime in the future, to give us a sleepless night or two.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Other Animals.

If you were to look up as you, say, approached my building on foot; you would see largish things circling the various tiled roofs of our building, occasionally flying silhouetted against the moon.

Once you got closer, you would hear the occasional scream and the whump whump whump of massive wings coming from above. No we haven’t settled in Mordor (“Go left from Sauron’s fort, past the Orc kindergarten, and turn into the blue gate next to the Nazgul enclosure”), but close enough.

It started tamely enough a few months back. Our area was thick with pigeons which went ghuuu ghuuu in that bubbly orgasmic way of theirs. One night we heard an asthmatic wheezing on our windowsill very late at night. “Poor baby pigeon doesn’t have much longer. Awww.” We said.

Turns out it lived very long and wasn’t much of a baby pigeon, unless a rampaging horde of big-assed owls can be considered 'a dying baby pigeon'.

That’s right. I’m angry.

First we had the whole monkey episode, and then big black hairy buffaloes began to chase cars down the streets. My theory is that stray dogs thought outnumbering us humans two to one wasn’t bad enough; they had to introduce these otherwise docile, water loving animals to the joys of cantering down the streets of our neighbourhood and snapping at the tyres of panic-stricken vehicles.

Then the pigeons with pigeon poo and feathers flying everywhere; and now this.

To get back to the story at hand, we withstood the death rattle of the dying pigeon (as we innocently thought it was) for a sleepless week or so. Then one day, I came home from work and thought I saw a white shape leaning against the railing in our balcony. It gave me quite a scare, it did, because (a) my husband inflicts ghost movie after ghost movie on me, which can make the bravest person jumpy, and (b) it was a white shape leaning against the banister, in a most affectedly casual manner.

After I’d done being startled, I walked over to the French windows to get a closer look and was amazed and very relieved to see a HUGE white owl sitting on the banister with its wings crossed behind its back, looking for all the world like an elderly portly gentleman taking the air on a full moon night.

More like the little girl in “The Omen”, I decided, as the bird rotated its head all the way round to blink at me ominously.

So we had an owl, how delightful. I resolved to take picturesque photos and show them around proudly. "See how we live in the lap of nature", I would say.

Next day the dying pigeon started up again and I staggered out of bed at the dead of night with every intention of ending its misery. Imagine my surprise, when not one baby pigeon (at death's door or otherwise) but two owls freakishly spun their necks around to regard me curiously. "Hoosh" I whispered and flapped my hand at them feebly. (Sleep deprivation). They just cocked their heads at each other and smirked as if to say “Check out this human. Does it think we are a dying pigeon to hoosh at us?”

And believe me I huffed and puffed and flapped my arms and called them names, but all they did was spin their heads around like the freaks they were from less than a foot away.

Then it dawned on me and my husband that we had wasted sympathy on nothing while these strapping owls in the pink of health wheezed and panted through our sleepless nights and occasional fitful nightmares.

(To be Continued)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bag Life

Today, I was putting on earrings in the office loo, and dropped one of them. Initially I was hopeful as I looked around everywhere, on the floor, in the basin, even behind the (blech) dustbin. But when I came up with nothing, a horrible thought dawned on me.
It could’ve fallen into my bag. I mourned my lost earring with misty eyes, it had been my favorite pair, and went with everything.

See, my bag is no ordinary bag. It is a black hole.

As I write this and clean my bag simultaneously ( I have amazingly limber toes, especially on Fridays) I have found and thrown out:

a receipt for my box of chewing gum they confiscated two months ago at the movie theater, and which I felt too tired to retrieve after the movie.
A bill from 3 months ago at the parlor (When will it be fashionable to be hirsute again? I mean, not only will it be saving 100s in parlour bills it’ll save us the trouble of buying warm clothing.)
Some dusty green globules rolling around at the bottom of my voluminous bag, which I presume is Pudin Hara that popped out of the metal leaf that contained it. (yup, just found the leaf, poor thing…looks bereft.)
One hairbrush, one eye-pencil (sometimes I carry two of each of these items if I’m doubtful of finding the other one), several lipsticks, one shade of which I hate.
Lots of paper bills of smaller denominations, including a torn one rejected by auto drivers in three cities across India. (I would never try to give it to anyone else.)

Clean or full of the vestiges of the last 6 months of my life, all the handbags I’ve used throughout my life have followed a particular pattern. To start with it’ll be innocent -- eager to please. The bag will hold out helpfully anything I might be looking for; with dewy eyes and a simper.

Then the descent into surliness begins, the zips refuse to open, the bag hides from you in an unlikely closet when you’re late for work and desperately looking for it.

To outright disobedience: the bag will drop heavily into the fold of your elbow when you’re carrying a particularly orange gravy, splashing it lavishly on a new outfit, or worse-- on somebody else’s.

There comes a phase in every bag’s life, when it indulges in random violence: it lies in wait around corners or in the middle of the living room when the lights are turned out, and trip you with their noose-like arms. One particularly aggressive specimen had gone so far as to turn on an innocent victim; and regrettably nearly tripped up a waiter laden with food at a wedding I went to.

But then the bag matures, and gets frayed around the edges, the buttons and zips lose their shine, and the whole effect is kinda ropey and threadbare. That is when its true malevolence comes to the fore. Knowing that the violence of its youth had served little purpose, it turns to passive disobedience. And that, my dears, is the shittiest phase, as the British would no doubt tell you.

Having acquired, with great age and long association, the ability to read its owner’s mind; it will hide from her the very thing she desperately rummages for. At this stage, the owner can be often found down on her hands and knees in the corridor in front of a violently overturned yet smug-looking bag -- while lipsticks and pens and coins roll crazily everywhere. If you were to approach her, she might babble incoherently about finding every key she ever owned but the one to the front door, and could she please use your restroom?

Similarly, the said person’s colleagues will see her weeping quietly to herself at her workstation. On further investigation, it will turn out that she’s already 10 minutes late for a meeting which she can’t attend until she finds her desk key and gets her notes.

But it’s not only the bag that gets smarter with time. If a lady (and owners of man-bags) have long experience of owning bags, she will eventually learn how to bend them to her will. Since the bag is a master of reading minds, she can trick them by looking for the desk key when she stands at the locked door of her flat, and of the expired sachet of ‘eno’ first thing in the morning when she wants her desk key, and so on.

Once that happens, the bag loses the will to cross swords with its owner and becomes quite complaisant. The only problem is, by the time a person has broken a bag in, it’s broken. Death comes in a variety of ways – the strap snaps and the bag dashes to the ground as a last gesture of defiance. Or, it fades away in a few weeks, a bedraggled embarrassment to one and all.

One can’t help feel a pang of loss as one goes out to buy a new one. For all the difficulty each bag gives you, there’s also the thrill of besting a worthy adversary, the grudging respect that one has for the other.

That day hasn’t come for my latest bag yet, though it’s now in the mind reader stage, so the end isn’t too far off.

I shall now go and look for a torn ATM receipt from December. (It’s actually the earring, but don’t let’s talk about it.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lesson # 12

Happy Endings are not a myth. I see them everywhere.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Respect the Bubble.

I have a thing about personal space.

When I was in college this girl would come over and stroke my back, and one day I’d strenuously objected on several grounds, the main being “I have a bubble of personal space. THIS is my bubble right here.” (Indicating a wide arc.)

“I will penetrate your bubble” she’d said.

But we digress.

Needless to say I hate it when a strange person in a public place trots up and companionably stands on your foot like it’s the most natural place to rest from all that walking. She will look adoringly into your face with a “This is nice and cosy, innit?” expression until you beat her off with your umbrella. She will then wander off to find a more hospitable foot -- only to have another one take her place. By the fifth one you lose all interest in life, and let them have their way with you.

Then there are those who think, while standing in line, it’s mandatory to keep some physical connection with the person ahead of them. Like it won’t be considered a queue unless their palms are flat against your back or their arms folded across your shoulders.

What about those people who grab your shoulders and push you aside when you’re (unknowingly) blocking the way? Ever heard of “Excuse me”, *&^%ers? “ssSide plisss” even?

A friend and I were discussing this recently and she said her pet peeve is when strange guys in clubs put their arms around her waist and move her around. I’ve never encountered that, and don’t think they do it for the same reason the others mentioned above do it, viz, ignorance about personal boundaries and stupidity. (Well maybe, but not the same KIND. Creepiness is material for a different post.)

Perceiving my lack of enthusiasm for that one, (“I KNOW, right?…erm…actually come to think of it…is it the same thing?…I don’t think so…), she came up with an example much closer to home. She talked about an ex-colleague we shared who had the habit of bringing her face two inches away from yours if she had anything to say to you. Like everything she said was a secret. With every word you would inch away, hoping to put some distance between you and the head talking up your nose. By the middle of the conversation you would be up against the far wall of the room, eyes darting around madly in search of an escape route.

Needless to say people can rarely remember anything about her anecdotes, except that they’re stressful.

Which is why I say -- Respect the Bubble, people. Evolution has given us tongues in our heads for precisely that purpose.

Wishing all my readers a happy and push-free New Year!