Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guess who’s coming to dinner

Doctor, I’m having bad dreams.

(Published on October 14, 2017 in Business Standard)

Doctor, I’ve been having these bad dreams. 

I’m having a dinner party. My guests are Aung San Suu Kyi, celebrated leader from Myanmar; Harvey Weinstein, madly powerful Hollywood producer; Honeypreet, devoted daughter of convict Gurmeet Singh; Jay Shah, quiet Gujarati businessman; Nandan Nilekani, mastermind of Aadhaar; and government contract worker @FollowedByPM2019.

What? I like meeting new people.

8pm. Ding dong!

Me: Welcome, Suu Kyi. I visited Myanmar in the 1990s, and walked by where you lived under house arrest as a beacon of democratic dissent, political prisoner of the brutal junta. Look at your gold Nobel Peace Prize medal! Wait, is it looking like rusted tin because of the Rohi—

Suu Kyi: If you say the word ‘Rohingya’, I’m going to leave. I’m very cool and elegant and adored, and everything is very complicated, and you don’t understand anything.

Me: This is disappointing, but familiar. Our PM does that same trick if you ask him a question about 2002. 

8.06pm. Ding dong!

Me: Good evening, Mr Weinstein. Please take your hand off my butt. Take your hand off her butt too, wtf is wrong with you?

H. Weinstein: When I was growing up, that was just the culture. I hope you know that I can end your dinner parties in this town. I’m off to rehab, where they will help me focus on how madly powerful Hollywood sex offenders get to go to rehab instead of jail.

8.07pm. Ding dong!

Me: May I help you? Oh, is that you, @FollowedByPM2019? I was expecting a grey egg. 

@FollowedByPM2019: You %*#?@ presstitute, you’re just sore because your perks and &$%^&* gravy train have ended after 70 years of $%^& Italian paymasters, you $$&% omg is that Harvey Weinstein? Sir, you’re my hero, sir! Wanna mentally undress these two out loud?

8.08pm. Ding dong!

Me: Nice to meet you Mr Nilekani, please come in.

N. Nilekani: First link your Aadhaar to your bank account and mobile phone and hairdryer. Otherwise I’m blocking your doorway in accordance with a government directive.

9.45pm. Ding dong!

Me: You’re just in time, Mr Shah—dinner is served. Would you like some cheese?

J. Shah: Of course not! The Quint’s sources say I’m a health freak. And an obedient son. And a doting father. And I bring my parents khakra.

Me: I’m very impressed with these touching human details, much like The Quint.

J. Shah: The Quint’s sources say I’m a sanskari son who will think a 100 times before violating any rule. Okay I’ve thought about it, I’ll have 16,000 helpings. 


J. Shah: Do you need anyone I know to help you pass the cheese?

Me: Here’s all the cheese. 

Me: Honeypreet! I didn’t hear the doorbell, how did you—oh, don’t worry about the hole in the floor. Let me show you the washroom so you can clean off all the mud.

Suu Kyi: Does she always tunnel in to dinner parties like that?

Honeypreet: It started with a bit of PTSD in a courtroom, but now it’s just habit. Excuse me, I’m just going to look for a hiding place for my cash and weapons. Must hide. Must hide. Must—

Me: Sit down, Honeypreet, relax, have a drink. Mr Weinstein, take your hand off her butt. And his butt.

@FollowedByPM2019: I like b&%*@es who drink whisky even though I’m afraid of them. I have much to learn from Harvey sir.

N. Nilekani: Guys, let me stack the plates on your biometrics.

Me: *Throws them all down the tunnel. Muffled shouting, scuffling. Goes to bed exhausted, afraid to fall asleep and dream.*

Dinner party Napoleon

I’m sorry for all the shade I threw at the PM

(Published on September 30, 2017 in Business Standard)

My new home is in a tucked-away pocket of the city, so easy to get to that nobody can find it. I invariably send elaborate directions; my friends invariably ignore them; everyone invariably staggers in an hour late with mud-streaked clothes and twigs sticking out of their hair, swearing. In hosting these chaotic dissenters, I’ve had an insight that has blown up all my convictions, and imperils my identity. It’s like seeing the Matrix in all its horrible magnificence, and realising that you are Agent Smith.

My siblings used to call me Napoleon, because I was short and headstrong. I don’t know what they were trying to say cough*control freak*cough but it seems to me that Napoleon achieved greatness because he was not burdened by any democratic nonsense. The fastest way to the history books is to be captain of the ship, with a great vision and absolute power to implement it.

Today, at large in my own ship, my quirks have gone rogue. I’ve become Captain Whatshisface with the octopus tentacle beard, on the Flying Dutchman—a hopped-up monstrosity of hubris. Today, in my house, not only do I wash my own hands and wipe away crumbs compulsively and place towels just so, but I have also caught myself following my visitors around, discreetly snooping on them to make sure they’re also doing things my way or, to use the technical term, the right way. (Okay once or twice, they caught me.) When they’re not doing it right, I become much less discreet and have been known to snatch things away, ban certain behaviours, and supply a lot of one-way commentary. 

For example, I cannot abide sticky and/or oily fingers touching taps and drawer handles, or being wiped on a cloth that was meant to dry dishes. I cannot abide cutting juicy or smelly things on the kitchen slab minus chopping board. I am baffled to notice that people often don’t follow my rules—which, by the way, are in place because they are the best way to do things—even when I’ve stated them clearly. I’m trying love and compassion instead of throwing people off the balcony, but I am aware that the latter is more efficient.

Meanwhile, I’m considering issuing visitors some kind of biometric ID card so I can hunt down each oily, sticky fingerprint and help them re-orient their thinking for the greater cleanliness of the household. It’s for their own good. It’s okay if people misunderstand me in the short term; many important historical figures were reviled in their time by those too blind to see.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it: I would like to extend a heartfelt mea culpa to Mr Modi and his associates. I’m sorry for having been so critical—I didn’t know, I didn’t know… I finally understand that there is nothing as intoxicating as the cocktail of dogma and dominion. I finally understand why someone might behave like a micro-managing, know-it-all autocrat: In our heads it is obvious, and right, and good.

Sometimes I lie awake worrying that nothing short of a stake in the heart is going to save me from the path I am on. But most other times I lie awake thinking up snappy acronyms and Twitter trends like #JeSuisModi. Maybe I’ll make my friends give me their fingerprints before I give them directions. Mitron, I’ll tell them, the sky is the limit in my #NewPlace.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Some rooms of one’s own

The curious case of being like Benjamin Button

(Published on September 16, 2017 in Business Standard)

A sense of the weird—weird supernatural, not weird awkward—has lately dawned upon me. I’m afraid to tell anyone because they’ll think I’m losing my marbles, so this is just between you and me. Here it is: I’m living my life backwards, like Benjamin Button. It is upsetting to realise that my whole existence is patterned on an incredibly annoying Brad Pitt film, but the day we look away from truth is the day we could have been perfectly happy in a comforting lie but no, you had to be all goody two-shoes.

The fact is that while my chronological age is proceeding—apace, you might say—as per normal schedule, my temperament and actions have been steadily reversing the normal schedule. I began life as a detached, contemplative child who was happy to read and knit. I spent my twenties struggling with mortality; my thirties striving to stay fit, and my early forties being unruly in bars. Now, in middle age, I have moved into my own place for the very first time. You see the trend? When people say, ‘Where do you see yourself in the future?’ I will have to say, Going back to school, then throwing things at my siblings, and finally crawling around sticking my baby fingers in electrical sockets. I suppose my mother will have to stick around to de-raise me.

Speaking of my mother, she was naturally shattered that, after living with her for so long, I’d found and moved into this place so suddenly, while she was travelling. I went to visit her when she returned, guilt-ridden from anticipating her grief in the howling void of my absence.

‘Hello,’ she said, ‘Make sure you empty your cupboards, because I’m turning your room into a guest room and plan to have lots of visitors come and stay.’ It was a poignant moment. I thought to myself, How fast they grow. She also came to visit me in my new house, and began several sentences with “When I come to spend the night…” That woman is all about revenge.

So here I am, solo householder, writing down how much I spent on eggs and Harpic (et voilĂ , breakfast), engaging in intriguing cat-and-mouse games with electricians and plumbers, severely curtailing my drinks budget, and battling an army of ants so relentless and unreasonable that I think they might be on Twitter. I’m saving used tea leaves to put in potted plants. I walk into kitchen stores and quietly take leave of my senses because even though I’m a crappy cook I am helpless in the face of kitchen porn. My neighbour picks up my newspaper for me and sweetly sticks it in my door. People WhatsApp photos of crumbling plaster and seepage to each other instead of screaming up the stairwell. It’s just grand.

I’m told householding gets really old, really soon, but it’s only been a couple of weeks, so my castle and I are still very much in the honeymoon phase. I walk around admiring the light—buttery in the morning, honey gold in the afternoon; and the space—not too big, not too small; and the comfort of my bed—not too long, not too short; the sweet kitchen—not too complicated, not too simple; and the endless, endless cupboard space, of which I have pretended to occupy three cubby shelves by spreading stuff around thinly. The maid said, You’re going to bring more clothes, right? and I said, Hahahaha, have you met me?

My mother calls it my Goldilocks house, just right for me. That probably means I could very well wake up one day and find the place full of bears. But that’s life in reverse.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Something fishy about the kettle

It turns out that sometimes tea is not just tea

(Published on September 02, 2017 in Business Standard)

This week I bring you an important public service announcement: You know the handy electric kettle in your hotel room, the one placed on the tea and coffee tray? Well, according to a report in The Independent, some guests may have boiled their underwear in that kettle, leaving a residue of nasty, potentially deadly, bacteria in there.

It’s an upsetting read. All my life I’ve walked into hotel rooms and headed straight to the tea tray to make myself cup after relaxing cup of tea in that kettle, never once considering that somebody may have boiled their undies in it. Well, the only stupid person is the person who refuses to learn, and that ends today: I’m never packing extra underwear again, this kettle thing is genius. As for the toxins, if so many of us wear underwear so filthy that it has to be boiled, we’re probably already resistant to a large variety of harmful substances. 

A kettle is efficient, and anyway, what are the options? Don’t say the hotel laundry service—who trusts hotel laundries? They probably just have a giant kettle down there. You could hand wash things in the bathroom sink, but that would mean putting your phone down, and that’s just crazy talk. No, the kettle is still winning. 

It’s also environment friendly. Remember that the wars of the future will be fought not over whether or not the finale of Season 7 of Game of Thrones was disappointing, but over water scarcity. That may sound unlikely when Houston and Mumbai are drowning, but flood and drought are flip sides of the same climate change coin, and climate change is upon us, good people. We must all do our bit to save the planet. My father once told me that when he was a young man, living in a rented box room and always in a hurry to get to work, he often saved time and resources by shaving with the same water in which he boiled his eggs. I think there’s an important lesson there that can be applied to underwear and teabags. The teabags would give the underwear a nice sepia colour, or just even out the sepia colour you’ve already given it, and panty backwash might add that missing je ne sais quoi to your tea.

Just kidding! It’s gross and dangerous, people, don’t boil your freaking knickers in the freaking communal tea kettle that other people are going to use for tea! I can’t freaking believe that we’ve got space probes analysing Jupiter, and chips the size of pinheads running the world, and we still have to write sentences like that.

On the other hand, as Jean-Paul Sartre and Marvin the Paranoid Android knew, humans are inexhaustibly horrible and disgusting, and they seem to become more horrible and disgusting when they’re at hotels and restaurants. Waiters spit in the soup, housekeeping staff wipe drinking glasses with the same cloth as the sink and sofa; guests defecate in wardrobe drawers, urinate in minibar bottles they leave in the minibar, leave unspeakable fluids on their mattresses, and poop in their towels; annoyed housekeeping might clean your bathroom floor with your bath towel; one person clogged up the toilet by sticking an entire rotisserie chicken into it, and one guy killed a monkey in his room. And those are just the stories that do get told.

What I'm saying is, the kettle is not necessarily the filthiest thing your hotel room has ever seen, but it could be the most dangerous. The obvious fix is to avoid tea and coffee altogether, and just pack your own hip flask. You can wrap it in lots of extra underwear.