Who knows what these rings have witnessed? It has seen history unfold. It has heard the wind tell it stories over many moons. Many seasons. Many years. The ages.
Father. Brother. Husband. Son.
Boss. Colleague. Businessman. Friend.
This I am.
A guy who can play the fool.
At times, a complete fool.
Middle aged, greying. Yet childish.
This, too, I am.
Capable of reading anything. Anything.
What if I could move home?
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently hanging out with my oldest buddies. We’ve been sitting hours. No phones, no iPads, no books even! Music’s okay, as long as it’s not too distracting. But, outsiders – no way! It’s almost like a very exclusive club, a band of brothers, a secret society. One for all and all for one kind of thing.
We’re thick, the three of us. Often chilling together. Making small talk about anything under the sun that catches our fancy, sometimes engaging in deep, meaningful conversation, laughing at a private joke. Of course, we don’t talk talk, as in don’t actually speak aloud, no words are said, but each one seamlessly understands what the other is saying. Telepathy, you know? It’s cool most times; we enjoy our days. We’re pretty sync-ed. We’re easy going. Since we’ve been together long enough, we know who’s what.
Of course, there are squabbles, disagreements. Strong ones. Then it’s hell. Because, you see, we occupy the same space. So I can’t get away from them even I wanted to. Impossible! And then it becomes too much – three cantankerous, intransigent voices inside one head! A ménage a trois of temporary frenemies in the mind. But it’s good that way. There’s a pushback, “naaah, doesn’t work!”. Alternate points of view. Different opinions. And once the confusion and din fades, oh, the clarity!
Our best times are when no one’s around. Early mornings, late nights, a few moments during the day. We do a quick catch up and run through things. See how it’s going, help things along, share stuff, secrets, disappointments & delight, pull the other guy up if he’s feeling down, or simply spread the cheer. Could be anything. Work, issues, botherations, or like I said, even happiness!
And I am happy. Real happy to have Me and Myself around as my BFFs. Because if we stick around as one triptych, ain’t nothing that can shake us.
Go ahead, try it. I insist… you really must! Just ask Yourself and You to spend more time with You. And you’ll never ever be alone.
We’re all measured in digits. Adjectival words no longer have any worth, we’ve been reduced to numbers, where a denomination determines your value.
People look at your pay cheque. Your bank balance. Your net worth. The dimensions of your flat. Your pin code. The size of your car. Its engine displacement, top speed, acceleration. The price tag. The size of your waist. Your butt. Biceps. TV. And phone. The number of servants. The number of girlfriends and your “score”. Your children’s marks. Their rank at school. Their IQ (but never your’s). How many MB that flashy gizmo of yours packs. The number of hits your site generates, the number of friends and followers. The karats in that ring. The air miles you clocked last year. The books that are part of your at-home library (“my God, you still read books?”), the number of pages in their on-display coffee table books (which they’ve never read).
And in their mind it all comes down to just two numbers. 1 and 0. So either you’re a numero uno, a 10/10. Or a big, fat zero.
I say: status can perhaps be counted, but can true class be quantified?
Since life’s a stage and all that, and we’re all dramatis personae…
I enter the auditorium through the back door. Dimly lit alleyways leading to the Green Room. Where we, all actors on this great stage, change into our roles, prepare for the gallery.
The Makeup Artist is waiting, as is my costume. Dialogues memorized, moves rehearsed, I put on the first set of clothes. There are a couple of changes, a few props, all kept ready. Paint is dabbed on my face, to accentuate expressions I have been asked to wear. It’s a part I’m playing, I remind myself. It’s not me as I am. But to put in a good performance, I need to get into the skin of each of my characters. The Director, famous man that he is, is shouting last minute instructions to us.
It’s a multiple role I’m assaying. At various times it’s high drama, there’s action, elements of tragedy and there’s comic relief, interacting with different performers in different scenes. How I got up here, I’m not sure. I didn’t even audition. But I’ve practiced hard to perfect every expression, every move, every nuance. I was nervous at the Premiere. But now, the stage is my world. And tonight – like every other night – is the big night.
I’m not the lead, more a bit player with a few powerful lines. On cue, I periodically enter through the wings, have two minutes on centrestage under the spotlight and then retreat back into being the supporting cast. No fanfare, no drumroll. Yes, the name in big letters is someone else’s, in the credits I’m somewhere down the middle, the main man is the box office draw. But I’m a professional, I enact what I’m expected to, day in and day out. Mouth my piece, exaggerate a few flourishes and exit left of stage.
Let me not undermine myself – the entire theatrical experience is a culmination of all parts coming together, isn’t it? The script, as written by someone who as yet doesn’t know who will enact it out on stage. The Director, who brings his vision to production. The lead actors, the support cast, the technicians, the crew, all the guys behind the scenes, the entire production unit…
The theatre is packed, the crowds come in like every other night. It’s a performance they come to see. An escape from their own reality, enacted by actors who play someone other than themselves! So we put on a show. In front of people we can’t really see but who have paid to see us.
The final scene is played out, the climax, things always end on a high. The lights go out, the curtain falls. And they applaud. A standing ovation. The cast takes a collective bow. And exits together, into the darkness of the backstage. Where the masks, the make up, the make believe are peeled off. While the audience disperses, heading for coffee to critique what they’ve just seen and enjoyed.
The next day, I look forward to the review in the papers. Have I been noticed, have I been panned? Thespians that we all are in real life, acclaim is what we live for.
The stage is set again. I prepare myself for the evening’s encore in the theatre of life.
Late-November. Evening lapses into grays with vivid orange flashes of dusk. Driving towards a long-standing desire. Where different millennia are juxtaposed in one single geography.
Destination reached, I park and alight. And take the bridge across time. Continue reading →
The cock crows. Jassi awakens. The alarm rings, Simi arises. Without either spouse, they sleep alone at night. His is no more, her’s abroad. Away is away, whether permanently or temporarily, right?
He gets the sigri going to make himself some chai. She beckons the maid for her morning cuppa. He hitches his lungi and trudges to the milk booth for a plastic mug-full of the wholesome white stuff, while on the other side of the tracks, she changes into her Reeboks for her morning walk. Breakfast for him is poha, for her, pancakes.
At eight o’clock, with the city ready to rock, he nestles one child under his arm, takes the other by the hand and places them on the charpoy outside his hovel. He lights a bidi and watches the trains carrying commuters to work. The start of an arduous day. She summons her chauffeur, “upar aao, gaadi bahar nikalo” and sends her maid off to the supermarket. It’s a long shopping list, what with the party tonight. Perhaps the houseboy and the driver alone won’t suffice to carry all those bags, they might need to ask for a delivery boy as well.
By nine, he gets restless. Packs off his younger child to the neighbours’ for them to mind. So what if they’ve got six of their own, they all work, don’t they? The older one, all of five years old, takes along an old cycle tyre rim and a rod to play with among assorted garbage, a few fowl and a couple of loitering strays, as Jassi picks up a grimy old sack and is off to work, collecting scraps from rubbish dumps to resell. Simi gets ready for her day ahead, as well. But women like her must look nice before they step outside. So she heads for the salon, where while getting coiffed and manicured, she explains how she and her husband lead too hectic a life to find the time for children.
Before you know it, it’s lunch. Maybe a couple of sukha rotis with pickle for him (lime, for a change) – that much is still affordable. If he’s lucky and makes it to the where the subzi-wallah is clearing week-old vegetables, add some bhaaji. Oh, her lunch is simple, too. Some steamed broccoli and cottage cheese. After all, nightly binges do take their toll.
As the sun bears down, Jassi settles down under the superstructure of an upcoming flyover. Flies mill all over and crows hanker and scrape, but at least there’s shade. And he improves his vocabulary with every swearword directed at the heat, dust and traffic as cars swerve past.
Simi, in the meanwhile, has had to use those very same words (albeit in English, of course, and delivered in a sophisticated accent), while explaining to her cook what needs to be done for the night. She’s ensconsed in her air-conditioned room, talking to her friend on the phone – it is so hard finding good domestic help nowadays.
They both labour through the rest of the day. He’s found a few metal cans, some cardboard containers. She’s helped unpack a couple of cartons and open a few tins of foodstuff. Night falls. He impatiently smacks one child to sleep because he refuses to stop crying. The damn kid thinks he’s hungry? Look at his father, he’s been hungry 30 years! She scolds her poodle who’s been naughty by clambering onto the sofas before the last of the guests have left.
He’s tired, she’s tired. He opens his bottle of hooch, lights another bidi and gazes up at the moon and stars above. She pours herself a cognac, lights her Cartier and looks down at the world from her duplex. They both ponder awhile. Jassi, that it’s a dog’s life, Simi as to why wretched s.o.b.’s like him have to spoil the fair face of this city in the first place.
One’s a faceless entity, a no-namer in a crowd of millions who don’t matter. The other, a DINK, a yuppie, call her what you will, but call her you must ‘coz she thinks she’s a personality, one of the elite. They fall asleep and they dream their own dreams. He, Jassi – Just A StatiStIc and she, Simi – Socially Influential, Moneyed Individual.
C’est la vie. Another day in paradise. Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan. Que sera sera. Who gives a damn anyways?