Monthly Archives: August 2010

ONE TIME TOO MANY

I hate haggling. I really do. I find it rather draining. And also that it complicates matters , in what otherwise would have been a very simple transaction. And as I invariably find myself baffled when faced with complexity of any kind , I try to avoid haggling at any costs.

However , I have found that , there are many people who love haggling. And they can haggle and do haggle everywhere . It is almost like an addiction. They seem to get a high out of it. The entire process of negotiation , going back and forth , trying to get the upper hand , gaining ground , strategically retreating at times , – you know , this entire process seems to have an appeal for so many people. And no I am not talking about people , who want to pay a fair price , for the wares they just bought. I am talking about an entirely different kind of species here.

These specimen ,they haggle for the sake of haggling. For them shopping and haggling are two inseparable processes. One is incomplete without the other. Be it shopping at the grocery store round the corner , or a shopping mall ,  haggling would be there. In fact , am sure of them embark on the process of shopping , just for the pure fun of indulging in a bit of haggling. I mean , there are places you haggle and places you don’t. There are some places , where you walk in  , pick up stuff , ask for the price ,pay and get out. You don’t start haggling  there. For instance , you don’t walk into Pizza Hut and say, “ Is large Pepperoni Pizza pe , kuch kum ho sakta hai kya?” . It just doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t work that way. But not for these specimens. If they could have , they would have indulged in it even here .”Yaar , isi daam main , pizza ke saath , garlic bread bhi daal de naa. Yaar..kya yaar…itna bhi nahi de sakte?” And when refused , they act all righteously indignant , as though they are being denied their rightful claim.

“I know how much the bread and the meat and the vegetables cost ok.  Bevakoof samjha hai kya. You guys make so much profit , aur itna rote ho , thoda garlic bread dene ke lliye.”

I have always wondered why. I mean , what is it that drives people like this to haggle. I have had the opportunity , to observe , a few of these specimens up close , and also the misfortune  of having to shop with them. And apart from loving haggling for it’s own sake , they also very strongly believe that , if you don’t haggle , you are losing out , being taken for a ride by the shop keeper. In other words , it is smart to haggle , dumb not to. And the more you haggle , the more of a smart shopper you are. And not haggling , is akin to bending over and handing your posterior over to the shopkeeper. Now , I have no idea whether this is true or not. But in my quest and in my desire , to keep things simple , I am perfectly willing to bend over , if it means no haggling. “No jell-o , you say , no problem , just use the oil and get it done with.”, I would say. And would protest strongly only , when a dry run is mentioned. So strong is my disinclination to haggling.

And the experience of shopping with such specimens, is well, an experience. That is the only way I can put it. It has an entire rainbow of emotions associated with it. Fun , embarrassment , relief , anger , greed , a sense of victory , a sense of futility and sometimes an aversion to life in general and a revulsion for that person in particular. Let me explain.

There is this gentleman, who I am acquainted with. A perfectly nice gentleman, in fact a wonderfully decent human being. When I had moved to the city that I am currently in ,around an year back , he was my neighbor. Very friendly and helpful. Helped me settle down and stuff. Unfortunately , he belonged to that species. He was the dreaded specimen. He was a haggler. And a haggler , of the worst kind. He had a wife , who was in awe of his haggling skills. (And also two kids , who though were cute , were also annoying , but I digress). Now my mother , was very impressed with this guy. Why not? He could talk very intelligently about , how much tadka had to go in daal , or what proportions of salt and pepper , had to be used , in that particular curry.  He tried to interest me in these things , but I once bluntly told him , that I couldn’t even brew a decent coffee , and I did not even care enough to learn. Anyways , this combined with the haggling skills , was enough to impress my mother. And when , we had to buy furniture for the house , he insisted on helping us shop and my mother was more than happy to accept. And I not knowing , him to be a specimen , innocently agreed.

We walk into a furniture showroom. This showroom is part of a national chain of showrooms , a trusted brand , reputed to sell good quality wares. The staff is friendly and polite and helpful. We see a sofa set we like, and ask for the price.

“How much is this?” ,. I ask .

“25 K , sir”, the guy replies.

“Why 25 K “ , the haggler asks. He has a smile on his face.

That guy is stumped. He doesn’t know what to say. He must have been thinking , what does he mean , why 25K? Does he want to know how we arrive at prices? Does he want that entire calculation of margins and stuff?

“Well sir ….”, he mumbles , “quality and brand ..” , his voice trails away.

“Don’t tell me all this ,” , the haggler cuts in brusquely , “I know brand and all. This wont be 25K. Tell me how much will you give it for.”

“Well sir , there is a discount of 10% ,” , the guy says weakly.

The haggler laughs out loud. And there so much derision in this laughter , that any self respecting person , would have wanted to go home and cry himself into a puddle.  I myself felt sorry for the shop guy.

“Don’t bullshit me “, the haggler says , “Give it to me for 15k”

It was my turn to be shocked. 25K was what was quoted. This guy was asking it for 15K. Shittt…how can anyone to do that , I thought.

I was so embarrassed , I developed a sudden interest in the carpet , and resolutely kept staring at it. I could feel the glances , of the shop guy , mutely asking for help , but I refused to look up. I just couldn’t find it within me , to do that .

“Actually , it will be only 12k , but since , you are branded and all , I am asking for 15K” , the haggler generously peppers insult on injury now.

At this  , the shop guy smiled and called for his senior. I was terrified. I was sure , they were all going to stand around us in a circle , and start laughing at us. “Get out of here “, my brain screamed.

Thankfully , nothing of that sort happened. The junior guy merely explained the situation to the senior guy and the senior guy took over from there.

“No sir,” , he said firmly , “not possible” .

“I can get it for lesser outside.”, the haggler was threatening.

“Fine sir , “, the guy said.

“Now , now , how can you treat valuable customers like this . Tell me how much you will give to me for.” , the haggler.

“23K sir “, the guy.

“Why 23K ?”, haggler with a smile. And it all started over again. It went on and on , until finally I had to step in. The deal was stuck at 22,500. Clearly , it was victory for the store , and the haggler was not happy.

The bill was drawn , and logistics of delivery were being discussed.

“Sir , the delivery charges are Rs. 500 “, the shop guy said looking only at me , and refusing to look at the haggler.

“Why 500?”, the haggler said with a smile.

I jumped out of their glass frontage , shattering the glass , and ran and ran and ran.

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OF OLD , FAT AND UGLY MEN

I am a sensitive soul. It is a fact. My friends will attest to this.  So, when in the recent past a certain series of incidents took place , I must admit to have been shaken by them. And the fact that , they took place on the same day , I suppose is too significant to be dismissed as mere coincidence ,rather it looks like a cosmic conspiracy , designed specifically , to be insensitive of my sensibilities and to push me into a depression of sorts.. You might say , that I suffer from delusions of grandeur . I must admit , you are not very far from the truth when you say that , however , allow me to relate these incidents to you , and then may be you can decide for yourself , whether or not I am wrong in feeling the way I am.

On that fateful day , I was in Hyderabad. We had concluded a meeting earlier in the evening. Me and a colleague of mine , who also happens to be a good friend – we were getting bored in the hotel we were put up at. And we were thinking of something to do. Not being the wildly, imaginative types , we promptly landed up at one of those shopping mall cum multiplex thingies in the city. And that , I suppose , was the fatal mistake. It was the first one , in what was to be a series of bad decisions that day. Now that I look back at it , it all seems almost predestined.  Anyways , we landed up at that place. And we decided to check out the movies that were on show. That happened to be the second mistake. As we were standing a little away from the ticket counter , checking out the posters , and the small screens upon which they display the movies and the show timings , it happened.

There was this young person . I estimate her to be around 20 years of age. She was good looking . She had been loitering around the ticket counter for a while. I noticed her . She looked at me. We looked at each other for a while. Then  I looked away and started looking at the posters again. After a while , I noticed that she was looking at me again. It is always a pleasant sensation to have good looking girls , look at you , and if they look at you for more than a 15-20 seconds , it is even better. So I smiled at her. She smiled back , and started walking towards me. Us , actually , as my friend was also present. Now this was totally unexpected . I am not used to girls looking at me for more than 15 seconds , and I am definitely not used  to having , good looking stranger girls , walking up to me voluntarily of their own accord.  She came nearer , within talking distance. She was still smiling. And I must admit , I was feeling really pleasant. The world was my home , and I loved all human beings. And then , the reverie was shattered.

“Uncle , Uncle , I have two extra tickets for Inception. My friends did not turn up , would you want to buy them from me please.” , she said.

I don’t think I was so cold to any body before in the past , nor will I put on such an icy demeanor for anyone in the future.

The way I said “No,  thank you” , would have been enough to chill the bones of even the warmest of persons. And that’s what I did.

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I was justifiably depressed after this incident. My good friend , who was witness to this incident , was trying hard not to laugh. An icy glare fixed all that.

Seeing that I was indeed depressed , he suggested a “Retail Therapy” , as he called it. In other words , we decided to go shopping , as  even the very idea of watching the movie Inception , was painful now.

And this turned out to be the second fatal mistake.

We walked into one of the branded jeans stores , to buy a pair of jeans for myself.

“What is you  size sir?” , the attendant asked.

“Err.. 34 , I think” , I said.

The attendant looked suspiciously skeptical.

“Should I take a measurement sir ,?”  , he asked , in a tone which suggested an incredible mixture of politeness and sarcasm.

At this point , I decided to bring back , the icy glare into action.

“No “, I said ,”I am sure it is 34. I will try it out.”

10 minutes later , I came out of the trial room , huffing and puffing ,with the effort , to put on a jeans that was several sizes too small . Needless to say it wouldn’t fit.

I sheepishly asked the attendant to take a measurement now.

He smiled . At that point , I wanted to knock him down cold so badly.

He proceeded to take the measurements , and said , “Sir , it is 3- “, in a loud voice.

I wanted to forcefully close his mouth , so as to muffle his voice.

“So” , I said , “give me a jeans that size”

“I am sorry sir , we don’t deal in jeans that size.” , he said , and then helpfully added , “why don’t you try Brand X. You know , these sizes are different for different brands . I am not sure , but may be you will get something.”

I walked out of the shop in a huff.

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I looked at my friend. He was not laughing this time. I was really depressed now. So I asked him, “ Do I really look that old , and am I really that fat.?”

He looked at me and said , “ You know , how does it matter ? It does not at all matter if you are old or fat or ugly .”

“Ugly “, I was shocked. ,”Who said anything about ugly? What do you mean?” , I asked.

“I mean , I was just saying “, he said sheepishly.

No body , no body should have to endure all of this on a single day.

INDIAN …ALL TOO INDIAN

“I am proud to be an Indian”  – there is something about this statement that I have never been able to fully comprehend. And I have heard it said by so many different people on so many different occasions , that I am a little concerned as to my intelligence. But then , my intelligence was always a concern so we will let that go. Anyways , my anxiety really peaked , around 4  days back , on August 15 , which also happened to be a Sunday. And everyone on TV  (by everyone , I mean bollywood actors , I watch mostly bollywood channels, movies ,songs –you know the works ) , was mouthing it. And I said to myself , that if even , Riya Sen and Celina Jaitley , could understand it , then may be there is something really wrong with me. And the reason for this post is to share my anxiety with you , dear reader.

Allow me to express to you ,my problems in the comprehension of the statement. And please , before you jump to any conclusions , my problem with the statement is not along lines of – “What is there to be proud of  – the poverty? The caste divide etc.” . Oh no. I am neither that dramatic , nor that boring. While I understand that , that would a very valid line of argument , that’s not my line right now. So we will leave it for a later point in time , though I frankly feel that ,  that line of argument has become rather clichéd and boring. My problem is much simpler.

Consider the following imaginary conversation.

Super Patriot :-  “I am proud to be an Indian”

Me:-  “Great. What have you done to be proud about it?”

Super Patriot :- (Pause) “Well….I was born here”

And that is exactly my problem.

What exactly have you done to be Indian, except of course being born here? You know, I can understand if someone says, “I am proud I have a six pack”, I can understand. You have worked towards it, and now that you have it , you are justifiably proud. Similarly,”I am proud I know everything that is there to know about Katrina Kaif” . Sounds creepy , and makes you also sound like a loser , but then , again , you have worked hard to gather that knowledge and you can justifiably be proud about it.

But now , how exactly do you get to be an Indian? What exactly do you do to be one and what makes you so proud? I mean , it was just plain accident , that you were born here ,right? Are you saying , you are proud of an accident?

Imagine someone saying , “Proud to be a Taurean” , or “Proud to be born at 6:23 AM  on a Tuesday ,in Mahalaxmi general hospital.” .How does that sound? Is “proud to be an Indian” any different?

What is that people are saying when they say, “Proud to be an Indian” ? Perhaps , what we are looking to say is , “I am happy to be Indian . Its got this rich culture and vast heritage and I like it.” . But even then , it was only an accident that you were an Indian. I mean would you have been any less happier , say , if you were Turkish. Don’t jump to say yes , you don’t know what actually being Turkish is , – you only know what being Turksih is , from the point of view of an Indian. And unless and until , you are born Turkish , you wouldn’t actually know what being Turkish is. So ,may be we should think about it. Would we have been any less happier , if we were Turkish , and any less appreciative of culture ? I think not.

I believe that , the phrase , “I am proud to be Indian” , is bandied about quite a bit ,without a real understanding of what it means. Its almost like a barometer of your patriotism , and I have heard it being used so much , that it is almost a cliché . And it actually does not end here. We seem to have a tendency to be proud ,about things we are not responsible for. Religion , caste , just to name two. I personally have heard people proclaiming pride , on belonging to this or that caste and to a particular religion. And perhaps , if we stopped being so damned proud about things , we might be a lot more tolerant bunch of people. Misplaced and irrational pride , I guess , breeds intolerance. Or may be I am just not loyal and patriotic enough.

For my part , if anyone is going to ask me , next time , how it feels to be an Indian , am going to tell them , “No complaints. I like it so far”

THE VACATION

He had been looking forward to this vacation for a very long time now. It had been almost a couple of years since he had taken a break from work , and he badly wanted one. Not that he worked extraordinarily hard while at work , in fact quite the contrary- actually it was the idea of  a vacation that appealed to him, just like it was the idea of work , rather than the work itself , that appealed to him at the office.

He had begun planning for this vacation ,almost two months before he was due to take it. He informed his boss , his colleagues , his office mates , and anyone who cared to listen , that he was going to be on vacation for a period of 10 days , two months hence , and that he was not to be disturbed during this time. And would they please not leave things for the last minute , and bring up any issues at work that would have been pending from his side? The first time , he had asked that question there were a welter of issues that were brought to his notice. He first felt slightly depressed at the thought of his being neglectful at work , and then he felt elated at the amount of work he was actually expected to do. He suddenly felt very fatigued . As said before , the idea of work was much more powerful and appealing to him , than the work itself. And ,with the sudden fatigue that had overwhelmed him , the vacation was sounding more and more like a great idea.

And so it continued. All through the two months before the vacation , he couldn’t and wouldn’t talk about anything else. The vacation had been elevated to almost the status of a Rubicon. It was as though , his entire life could be divided into two eras , BV and AV , before vacation and after vacation. He would always reply to people , even in cases where it was irrelevant , in terms of the vacation he was taking. He would lecture people on why vacations are important , how he had not taken a vacation in the last two years , and why that was a mistake and so on.

And finally the big day arrived . The day ,he had been waiting for , planning for and talking about endlessly. He had decided that he would simply stay put at home ,during this period. He would laze around , he thought at first. And then rejected the idea .Vacations were too important to laze around , he told himself . After all , he had the entire time at work to do that. No he wouldn’t laze around. He would catch up on his reading , he told himself. Yes that sounded better . He should definitely be catching up on the reading. And perhaps write a bit too. Yeah , that sounded even better . He would read a great deal , and write a little . And perhaps , he should also be taking those daily exercises , that he had always been promising himself to do. Yes , he would go jogging in the mornings . Early morning , every day., he thought . Then he thought about it some more , and decided , evenings would be better. And then told himself , he should start with walking first , and then graduate to jogging . Yeah , walking every alternate day during the vacation in the evenings . So it was all settled – he would read , he would write,and he would go out for walks every alternate day. And of course , he also decided that he would not check his mails , nor would he take any phone calls from work.

And so started day one of the vacation. He sat down to read a book that he had been wanting to finish for a while. He read through it for half an hour , and then decided to take a break. He switched the tv on , and started flipping through the channels. There was an interesting movie that was on. He started watching it . And before he knew it , three hours had flown by. When he noticed the time , he cursed himself . He had spent only half an hour on the book and around 3 hours on the movie. This was not on , he told himself. He had decided to spend this vacation well , and spend it well , he would , he thought with resolve. He would read , write and walk. Definitely yes , he said it loud. From tomorrow. He still had 9 more days to go , he could  afford take it easy today. And so the day went.

He woke up the next day , determined to make the most of his vacation. He managed to read for around an hour , before he fell asleep. And when he got up after 3 hours , he cursed himself again. This is not the way to have fun on  a vacation , he told himself. No , he would spend it better the next day , he thought.

The next day ,he woke up feeling a little miserable. Two days of his vacation had gone by , and he hadn’t spent them at all well. He started reading again. But he was feeling miserable that he had lost two days of his vacation , and would keep cursing himself intermittently.  After a while , his misery got so great , that he decided to sleep it off. And ofcourse , he was very surprised , when he woke up ,. To find that his misery had only increased.

On the fourth day , he could not even read , he was feeling so miserable. He tried to take a nap , but he had difficulty , even falling asleep or even watching tv. The only thought , he had in mind , was how he had let the last three days go by.

On the fifth day , one of his old friends called him up and invited him to stay at his place for a couple of days. He had heard he was on vacation , and the he too was on a break , so could you join me ? , he had asked.

It was a tempting offer , and a great way of spending one’ vacation , but after thinking about it for a while , he refused. He was sorry , he had spent the last four days badly , and he was determined to make up for it.

The sixth and seventh days were ofcourse , spent feeling miserable that , he had refused his friend’s offer.

The eighth day , was the most fruitful of them all. He was able to read for a couple of hours , and even write for a while. He even took a walk that day. But at the end of the day , when he was feeling very happy about himself , and the day in general , it dawned on him , that the next day was the last day of the vacation. That ensured that the overwhelming misery crept back in again.

The ninth day needless to say , was spent agonizing over , having to go to work the next day , and feeling miserable about the vacation in general.

He got up on the tenth day , and went to work.

THE DEVIL

It was a horrific accident Really horrific. And I was in it. The details of the accident are not very relevant to the story , so I shall spare myself  , the ordeal of recounting them .You should thank me for it. As it would have been an ordeal for you too to listen to me describe the grisly details. Anyways , suffice to say , that the accident was horrific, and I was in it and that I was dying.

Now the realization that I was dying had a strange certainty to it. It had dawned on me just a few seconds ago and I was strangely at peace with the thought. I mean after the initial panic , confusion and the excruciating pain , this realization was almost like a relief. In those last moments , I actually felt proud of myself , for not panicking at the thought of death. I was resigned to it , and in a way looking forward to it even.

I was not thinking about the life that I was leaving behind , but thinking about what lay ahead in store for me. I have always had a religious and spiritual bent , and I started praying , taking the name of the God , I had always worshipped. This made me feel even prouder about myself . I died , thus , the name of the Lord on my lips.

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“What do you mean , its all the same?” , I yelled at him for what seemed like the hundredth time.

He smiled again in a superior fashion. He was an incredibly handsome man. He was standing at almost 6.5 , had sharp features , a handsome goatee , and a luxuriant , wavy head of hair.

He was dressed completely in black , in some kind of a suit , which seemed to have been made from a single cloth.

He stood ramrod upright before me , and was smiling down on me.

They had led to me to him , directly as soon as I had arrived here after my death.

After I had  died , there was a period of complete darkness and nothingness , that I had experienced . How long it had lasted ,  I have no way of knowing .

All I can recall is that , after that period , I found myself standing before two huge gates ,of what looked like a huge castle beyond them.

I had asked the guard at the gate , the way to heaven , and I was promptly led here to this man dressed in black , who was now sneering at me.

He had introduced himself as the devil. I was taken aback . I had always been religious  , prayed regularly , had been good , never gave in to temptations , had never taken the Lord’s name in vain . In other words , I was destined for heaven. And why was I meeting with the devil then ? And that too , when I had specifically asked for Heaven. Was all this some kind of an elaborate joke?

I asked the devil pretty much the same. I told him ,that I always had been the loyal servant of the Lord. And that I deserved to be in Heaven , not here with him.

To this the devil laughed , and said , “Its all the same”.

I was confused . I thought may be there was a mistake of some sorts , and that he hadn’t heard me clearly enough , so I asked what he meant by that , and repeated myself all over again.

Again the devil had replied , “Its all the same.”

And that’s when I had lost it and yelled at him.

To which the devil laughed even more.

He said , “Your soul belongs to me anyways”

This was even more of a shock. What the hell did he mean by that?

“But “, I said , “I am not a sinner. I have never given in to any temptation of any sort. Why would my soul belong to you. Or have I ,unknown to myself , committed any sins or given in to any temptations? “

“No no”, the devil said laughing , “you have been a perfectly good boy down on earth. You never were tempted by anything , you always prayed , and no you did not commit any sins.”

“Then ..why would my soul belong to you,” , I asked , “ I am not among those who sold their souls to you , by giving in to temptations. In return for a grand life on earth , they give up their soul to you , and burn for eternity . I am not one of them. I actually prayed and suffered on earth, so that I get a better afterlife.”

“And that is why I pity you . People who sold their souls to me , atleast had great lives on earth. But you , suffered on earth , and still your soul belongs to me.”, he said laughing.

I was positively trembling now. Was this a test? Some sort of a final test of strength?

So I summoned up all my courage and demanded that the devil explain himself.

The devil obliged.

“How do you think I get all the souls that I need.? “ , he asked. “By tempting people into the path of darkness? How many do you think I can get like that? And do you have any idea how much of a hard work it is.? But nevertheless , it is one source , albeit not my main one , it does help me in capturing a segment of the soul market.”

“Then what is your main source?”, I asked.

“People like you.. You know believers. People , as you said , who never give in to temptation. Who pray everyday. “, he said smiling.

“You see, the temptation part is just designed for a particular type of souls. But , you know what about the rest of them. How do I get them.? So , what do I do? I simply create an entity , that people will pray to. I make him look good. I make him the anti thesis of what I stand for. You call him God , and flock to him. You pray to him , ask for your souls to be redeemed , pledge your eternal faith to him. And while you were doing all that , who do you think you were actually pledging your allegiance to.? It was me all the time. In a way you were easy . You were the mass market . You just flocked to this God. The others who wouldn’t pray were in fact ,more difficult , I had to follow them , tempt them , work on them and what not. Personally I would prefer , that all people prayed and be good and never give in to temptations. I don’t have to work , and either ways your soul belongs to me.”

I was dumbstruck.

“Yes , my dear friend , I have heard you people saying that , the greatest trick , the devil has pulled is to convince people he doesn’t exist. That’s not quite it , I am afraid. The greatest trick , I have pulled is to convince people that God exists.”

“Now off you go to the fires of hell.” , he bellowed.

NOT A CHILD , NOT YET AN OLD MAN

Orhan Pamuk says this about Black in his novel , ‘My name is Red’ . “I looked at the world , Not a child , not yet an old man.”.

On the same day I read these lines , by some coincidence , me and a good friend of mine , were having our usual discussions on career , midlife crisis , how life did not turn out as we wanted it to , how in a couple of years we will turn 30 and we don’t  really know what we want to do  and so on. We do this regularly . Like , two addicts , who confess to each other how hopeless their addiction is . And then we promise each other , that we will do something about it.  We do this every time even though we haven’t done anything about it yet , perhaps to draw solace from the fact that , each of us is not alone in feeling that way. It’s like we have lived around 28 years of our lives , and we are clueless as to whether we spent them all well , as much as we are clueless what to do with the next 40-45 years.

I would love to be younger again , not for anything else , but because of the fact that , being younger means having more hope. When I was young , I had a lot of hope. Age was on my side. And I could fly into bouts of fantasy , and had even the luxury of hoping it to turn to reality , just because I had age on my side. I am only 18 , I would tell myself , that meant a lot of life to live , and that meant enough time for any fantasy to be turned into reality. It was incredibly naïve but , it was also a great source of strength –this hope. I remember agonizing over spending two rupees more , to buy an express bus ticket , instead of the slower ones. I more so remember telling myself , on those occasions , that by 25 , I will have Mercedes at my disposal. I am 28 , and no I don’t have a Mercedes , but yeah that hope , helped me get through.

Similarly , I could always get an incredibly beautiful , smart girl who would be oh so totally devoted to me , I would be world famous , I would have established a business empire and so on. All fantasies , all naïve , but all of them represented hope for the future , and gave a certain strength to face it.

And as one grows older , the flights of fantasy are toned down , as one sees more of the world and how it works. As life passes you by , you not only realize that your fantasies and hopes were rather naïve , you also find yourself unable now to fantasize with the same vigor ,when you were younger , perhaps just a child in a certain sense. At a certain age , your hope is slowly replaced by a fear for the future.  You have lived a certain life so far , and either you make your peace with that way of life ,or panic.

But when I read the lines I mentioned in the beginning , it kind of got me thinking. I am not a child anymore , and while those flights of fantasies were great , they give one hope , but they just don’t work. At a certain age , you are not only in a position to see them for the childish stuff that they actually were , but more importantly , also remember the strength that they gave you . You are still in a position to hope , because you are not yet an old man , but old enough to understand and see the world and your life in it , for what it is. Your hope is now tempered by a certain experience of the world , and you are all the more better for it. You can perhaps now enjoy the world , for what it is , rather than what you want it to be and hope to find your special place in it and perhaps even hope to change it a little.

Yes , Not to be a child and not yet to be an old man , I guess that’s the ideal state in life.

Is that why they say ,life begins at 30 ? Or was it 40?

THE PROPOSAL

It was the most fashionable restaurant in the town. It had recently opened shop around three months ago and had become quite the talk of the town already. It was the kind of restaurant that the small town had never seen before. Before this one, they had only two restaurants in the town – The Navbharat House of Tiffins (We also do catering for weddings and deaths) and Ganesh Fast Foods. In fact they called them restaurants for lack of a better word , they were more like your regular idly and dosa centers. They had a few tables scattered around , you paid money at the counter out at front , told him what you wanted and took a ‘token’ . You presented this token , to the cook at the back , collected your dish and ate it standing at one of the tables. Navbharat, ofcourse , was slightly evolved , it had a “FAMILY ROOM”  , where there tables and chairs to sit in front of the tables. You had a waiter attending on you , if you sat at one of those tables. You paid a little more than you would if you had simply taken one of those tokens , and on Sunday evenings , you could see the family room full.

But this one was very different from the rest. It was called “Eatzz and Drinkzzz”. It was a theme restaurant. And its theme was yesteryear  Hindi movies. And this actually increased the novelty factor , in that south Indian town , where anything north Indian was looked at as being exotic. You had pictures of yesteryear heroes and heroines ,hanging all across the room , and old hindi songs playing in the background. There were uniformed waiters ,  decked in white shirts and yellow turbans (albeit a little soiled ones) and there was none of this token non sense. And ofcourse they served both South Indian and North Indian “CUSEENS” , as the restaurant called it.

Very soon , it had become the haunt of the more fashionable folk in the town  for eg.  the theater owner  and his wife , who wore a lot of lipstick and high heels , and was the scandal of the town for a long time , because she had called her husband ‘darling’ in public. Sometimes , even the inspector of the town could be seen there ,with his wife and in laws . Needless to say , he got the best service of them all. It had become the place to go to for all , almost aspirational in a sense. Only the English lecturer in the local college bemoaned of “CUSEENS” , and refused to go there , but was the first to land up there , when the outgoing principal was hosting a party. This place was the most fashionable place in the entire town and if you wanted to impress someone , you simply told them how you had just been to EATZZZ and DRINKZZZ.

And this is where S wanted to take J to. He wanted to impress her before he married her. He worked in the local cooperative bank as a cashier , and his parents , had looked up J , as a matrimonial alliance for him , through the traditional channels. She had finished her BA from the local college , could cook and clean , was good looking and was from a decent family. S’ parents were happy even with the dowry that was being offered. All seemed settled , and when a muhurat was being set for the engagement , S dropped a bomb shell on everyone.

“I want to get to know her ,before I marry her” , he told his parents. Now while this was unusual , it was not quite unheard of. And J’s parents were kind of ok with it , as long as they got to know each other , under their watchful eyes . So they said , no problem , he could come to our house a few times , and talk to her.  And then he dropped another bomb shell , “I want to take her out on a date” . This was too much to bear for J’s parents. And they told S , they were a decent family and their girl was a decent girl , who didn’t do “the date stuff” . S was insistent. “Only then will I marry her” , he announced. J’s parents wouldn’t budge. They were even ready to call the wedding off. But J stepped in. She liked S , and wanted to get married to him. So she reasoned with her father. Her father also saw that , S was perhaps one of the more eligible grooms in the town , and after a lot of persuasion , finally gave in.  And J’s parents , gave her a lot of lessons on proper conduct during a date , right from how she should drape her sari to  and down to what she should talk. They specifically warned her of avoiding any physical contact. It was at this point that her mother had broken down into tears.

Finally the day of the date arrived.. Her mother wished her a tearful farewell and adjusted her sari for the hundredth time. Her father dropped her off at the restaurant. S was waiting for her at the entrance. He was told brusquely by her father that , he would be back in an hour. S nodded obediently. Then , he took her inside and they both sat at a corner table. Her father , wanting to keep an eye on them , just hovered outside the entrance.

Now , S actually had different plans. He had not asked for the date , to get to know her . He already liked her. But he wanted to propose to her , like he had seen in many Hollywood movies. He only half understood those movies , but he watched them regularly on cable television. And he always saw the woman cry and say yes , and everybody around clapping , when the man proposed. And this is exactly what he wanted to. It had been a long standing fantasy of his and besides he also wanted to sweep her off her feet before he married her. And he already had made arrangements for that.

He was friends with the owner of the restaurant and had discussed this thoroughly with him. In the movies , the guy would drop the ring , in a glass of champagne , and when the girl picked up the glass to drink , she noticed the ring , would say yes and cry tears of happiness. But then , he was a good Brahmin , so there would be no champagne. So they decided to settle for a glass of Coke. The waiter would bring two glasses of coke , he would ask her to pick it up and drink it , and the rest would logically follow. He had even arranged for the clapping . The waiters would do it. It all seemed so simple yet brilliant. He was so happy with himself.

And so , according to the plan , a while after they were seated . He asked for coke. She said she didn’t like coke. He was taken aback. He hadn’t anticipated this. He had decided on coke , because it was dark enough , to conceal the ring , he didn’t want her to see it too soon. He started at her stupidly for a while , and asked how about pepsi. She said no to that also. She didn’t not like soft drinks , just water will do , she said. The plan was more and more in danger of falling apart now. He was nervous , he fidgeted for a while , and then an idea struck him. If the water was brought in a glass , she might see the ring , so he asked the waiter to bring the water , in a steel glass, which she couldn’t see through. Though he knew , she was thinking he was weird , he had no other choice.

And so water was brought in a steel glasses , and one of them had a ring in it. The one with the ring was placed before her.  And that’s when he made a fatal mistake. In his excitement and a desire to perfectly imitate the movies he had seen, he leaned over towards her , and slightly touched her hand. He wanted to hold her hand , and make a statement of sorts.

Now unfortunately , she was so conditioned not to allow physical contact , that , when she felt his hand touching hers , she suddenly jerked her hand away. And this had the doubly unfortunate effect , of knocking over the flower vase , at the center of the table , which in turn knocked over her glass of water.

He saw this . He sprung into action . The ring had fallen down to the floor , and she hadn’t noticed it yet. So he leapt out of his chair and fell down to the floor to retrieve it before she could see it. Unfortunately the ring , had fallen near her feet. And he started groping on the floor , near her feet , and in his excitement to retrieve it , he forgot everything , and lifted the hem of her saree just a teeny weeny bit , for a better view near her feet.

She was shocked. The guy , she wanted to marry , a pervert!!!! He had tried to touch her hand , and when she hadn’t allowed it , was lifting her sari!!!! She jerked upright and tried to stand all at once. She had tears in her eyes. Unfortunately , in her sudden movement , the table got knocked over ,with all the cutlery on it falling to the ground making a huge clang .

Hearing the sound , her ever alert father , rushed into the restaurant. And J , who had been standing upright , with S at her feet. , saw her father and tears streamed down her eyes. Her fiancé was a pervert , and she had defied her father to come on a date with him . And seeing him now , she wasn’t able to control herself anymore and started crying.

The waiters , who had rushed forward , to set the table upright , saw that J was crying and S was kneeling before her , holding the ring , which he had managed to retrieve.

They had been told many times , by S before , that this was their cue to clap , when they saw J crying.

And they started clapping.

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Last heard , the wedding was called off.

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