Me and a friend are walking down the main market street in Seattle. It’s the main street in sector 17, Vashi. She’s telling me how Madonna has returned to her hometown — Seattle — after the divorce. She’s taken it really hard she says. So hard, that she’s become an undead.
Just then, we see Madonna walking across the street. She’s terribly pale and her jet black hair hangs around her face.
“See! I told you she’s become an undead,” my friend says. “Not Goth. Undead.”
She goes in through a door in Chedda Crescent building.
“That’s the Undead club. They all hang out there,” says this friend I do not recognise.
I cross the road purposefully and head for the club door. I’m going to talk some sense into Madonna.
Inside is a hushed reception area. She’s talking to a manager-type when I catch her by the elbow. “You don’t have to do this,” I tell her, “You’re MADONNA! I know you have to re-invent yourself every two years, but don’t go undead. It’s not healthy.”
She just smiles a sad enigmatic smile, and opens the glass doors with aluminium frames and goes out to the ocean.
“See this is where the undead sunbathe,” says my friend who is now invisible and in my head. “They’ve bewitched the sky so that it’s always overcast. They can’t go out in the sun.”
Sure enough, it’s a cloudy sky and Madonna is heading into the sea.
“Stop! Stop Madonna!” I cry out and wade in after her, but the waves expel me to the shore. The sky grows darker and Neptune comes out of the sea — a gigantic merman with a flowing white beard, crown and staff.
“You are not undead,” he thunders. “You cannot come into my sea.”
Oh shut your self-righteous dissent. You don’t have a fata-hua speaker parked under your window playing songs from Karma. A tape, no less. So while my mind tries to go under in the waters of slumber, the ears keep turning back because Lata Mangeshkar sounds like train ki Lata.
A patriotic sentiment brought to you by *Debu from Amarica.
My nose piercing closed again. My sister got married last month and it was specifically for the ceremony that I had my nose attacked. I wore my grandmother’s nath.
I had bought a diamond stud to wear for the reception, but didn’t have the time to change into the diamond.
The universe is unyielding on a contract.
“We remember you specifically saying nath. You didn’t say life-long adornment. We’ll have to close now. Tissue, begin regeneration. Vessels, counter-attack metal with blood. Call pus for back-up.”
My body is trying to tell me something, but I’d rather listen to you:
1. Shifty touts come up to us and offer “couples private rooms”. Man, I’m in a car with a drooling dog. Do I look like I’m here for a weekend of rampant sex?
Romantically inclined couples do not look us. Let’s spot the signs, shall we?
New couple: Usually, the girl is dressed in a co-ordinated holiday outfit. Matching tracks and hoodie, etc. The man gets out of the car and approaches the tout with authority. The girl sits in the car and pretends not to know what’s going on. In her head, she’s repeating her defensive quotes or picking a fake name to sign under. The man strikes a deal, gets into the car and drives to the place. He may stop for birth control apparatus.
Long term couple: Woman gets out of the car while man mutters about impossible parking; he hollers after her to hurry back. He hopes she takes long enough for a smoke.
She’s things she hopes to throw into the hotel’s bin. The hair is windblown, but not artistically so. Both of them look exasperated and want to get through the vacation with minimal screaming. The only time they’ll jump at the chance of “private, couples room” is so that no one sees them burying the body at night.
They decide no price is big enough for warm water and the company of middle-aged and retired people
2. In Mahabaleshwar, I change into shorts and tee to go to the market. We’d planned a beach holiday and had packed accordingly. We find ourselves ill-equipped for the hills.
People wonder if I’m cold. Dude, I live in Bombay. Freezing to death would be a pleasure. Every other similarly dressed person passes with a slight nod: How hard-core are we!
3. The people in the monkey cap, wearing every item of winter clothing they own, have to be from my city. The ones wearing cowboy hats and multi-pocketed canvas jackets, from Pune. Milind Gunaji is very popular there.
4. I could walk naked through a market if I had my dog with me. The fucker is quite intimidating. Not when he makes that face, of course.
5. The food at Mahabaleshwar caters to the Jain-Gujju crowd. Even the non-veg. TB spent an excruciating three meals without meat before we charged into a Mughlai joint and then ran back out.
On our way back to the hotel, we chanced into a Parsi joint that sold all things essential for the Zarthoshti life:
Meat and potatoes
I fear they have your nose revoked if you don’t subscribe to any of the above.
There was a eucalyptus tree behind the watchman’s cabin at one entrance to the school. I used that entrance more than any other because I was dropped there my father in the mornings and took a private bus home in the afternoons. For that reason, it was more special to me than other paths. I walked in through it long before the most children came. A whole school, its paths, trees, chalks and blackboards at my disposal.
In winter, the tree sprouted new leaves which were transparent and red. When the evening sun shone through them, they looked gold. I learnt what that tree was and would tear off leaves to crush and smell. Amazed each time. I couldn’t pluck them when they were gold.
I remember standing one day after school on the path that sloped towards that gate. It was during exams, which meant that school ended early but the buses came at the usual time, giving us a cherished hour or 45 minutes to play in the chill. The best time of the year.
I was stopped in my tracks by the pressure of the moment. It was one of those times you can feel a memory being made. A memory that will stab your heart — two, 10 or forty years later.
The noise of children in the playgrounds on the left and right, who have no use for sweaters. Groups of friends stumbling out of classes, laughing, crouching against the wind, discussing the papers. Older girls parading, watching the boys shoot hoops. Boys shooting hoops and exaggerating their disappointment for the girls.
Me in the centre in my white jacket with brush splats of purple and pink. Breeze on my 10-year-old calves. The tree glowing. Anticipating the flavour of the Hit biscuits in my backpack. Sad that the moment would be gone as soon as I moved.
I was at Bombay’s “beloved” Taj a few weeks before the terror attack. As I passed through the security gate, the lady at the door kindly held my purse. She gave it to me, without screening it, when I stepped out the other end. If I had a cartoonic bundle of red sticks labelled DYNAMITE, she wouldn’t know it.
I expect the government to be negligent. But you, Mr Tata, you lack neither the money nor the know-how to protect your jewel. You are not shackled by bureaucratic or lack of funds or agencies.
Just because you were a victim, doesn’t mean you weren’t responsible.