Night at the stadium

The IPL season was on and everyday lunch table conversations revolved around it in office. It came as no surprise when one of the guys suggested watching the semi-final live at the stadium and the others jumped at it. Me? Not really. The tickets cost a bomb and I was penurious from a recently-joined art class and a recently-attended friend’s wedding. The team I had been rooting for was not a part of this game. Moreover, None of the few cricketers I knew were playing in the qualified teams(Kolkata Knight Riders and Sun Risers Hyderabad), except Yuvraj Singh. 

But I had never been to a cricket stadium or watched a game in action before(neither did I want to be a wet blanket to their plans). I promised myself that I will curb my dessert cravings for a while and make up for the ticket cost (spoiler – lame consolation. Never happens). I agreed to join them.

The day of the game arrived. We wrapped up work early and by 7.30 pm, we were on our way to the stadium. I felt excitement gush through me as I walked up the steps leading to the stadium. The bright floodlights swamped the area with light, giving the delusion of a sunny afternoon, and the crowd eagerly chit-chatted away while the food vendors noisily hawked Lays and vada-pavs in the background.

The players entered the ground and the crowd broke into thrilled applause and whistles. The first ball was bowled and the shouts grew louder. I sat there, wide-eyed, like a kid watching the circus for the first time. 

While the guys concentrated on the technical aspects of the game (a few words I caught were offside, mid wicket, good pitch,…….vada pav, Lays, samosa), I was looking at the smaller unnecessary details. Wouldn’t the player standing near the boundary be bored? Did the cheer leaders run to the podium every time there was a six? Does the umpire stand still throughout the game? Will the spider cam fall on a player’s head? How is it balanced on thin strings from the beams? Was that multicolored hair or was it a wig? It was natural that I missed all the important wickets and a couple of sixes. Bummer, there were no replays.

Two wickets down and Yuvraj walked onto the field. The atmosphere turned electric with shouts of “Yuvi! Yuvii!”. Ten balls down, he walked off the field. There was a brief minute when the camera concentrated on Shah Rukh Khan waving and I spent the rest of the game trying to spot him in the crowd. I did successfully spot him (or rather an insect-sized version of a person wearing the same color dress  who I conveniently assumed to be him) at the other end of the stadium.

The first innings were coming to a close and that’s when we noticed it. The winds brought with them a thin white fog – the first signs of a downpour. The drizzle grew stronger and the players sprinted to the safety of their changing rooms while ground workers rushed to cover the play areas with tarpaulin sheets. We stepped out into the cafeteria to grab something to eat.

The place was overcrowded with hungry people hurriedly wolfing down pizzas before the second innings started. A needless worry, they would discover later. The guys discussed the game in great detail while I intently listened to the drumming of rain on the aluminium sheets. 

An hour later, we went back to our seats to see people inspecting the ground and rollers with sponge wheels on standby. The torrent reduced to a drizzle and the ground was abuzz with activity, with people on the stands hollering with relief. The ground workers got cheers as loud as the ones Yuvi got. The sheets were removed, the central pitch was broomed, the ground was inspected by the umpires and the sponge rollers got to work. I was fascinated by the whole process and how the ground seemed clear of any sign of wetness. The guys educated me about the draining system beneath the green carpet and how some football fields had a heater underneath to melt and drain snow (general knowledge dose for the day). 

The final sheet was removed and the crowds went crazy. The rain gods must have heard it and misinterpreted it as cry for more rain. To everyone’s dismay, the shower started again, with more intensity this time. One hour down and the skies showed no signs of stopping. It was 11 pm and people started walking out. 15 minutes later, we followed suit, grumbling about the wasted money. 

As I walked back on the dimly-lit streets under the drizzle, I felt oddly content at the memories made from the day. The rain had played spoilsport for some, for me- it had enriched my stadium experience. The scenes from the day flashed before me as I hit the bed – the cheering crowds, Yuvi at the crease, Shah Rukh Khan waving, the ground being cleared, the sound of rain drumming- and I drifted off to sleep.

(PS. We came to know that the match resumed an hour after we left. So much for waiting out for hours on end)


Brunching with the girls

Our house is right opposite to a much-celebrated breakfast cafe thronged by hip, jean-clad-goggle-wearing spirited youngsters on weekends. Located in a posh neighborhood in the center of the city, it attracts people from the remotest corners. My friends have travelled 20 Kms and gladly stood by the street until the cafe opened- just to bite into the juicy burgers, relish the maple-syrup-dripping-pancakes and drown in the whipped-cream-loaded-waffles.

After a year of peeping through the windows and stealing stealthy glances at fashionable people patiently waiting in the hot sun for a table, we decided to find out what the big deal about this place was.

The smart folks that we were, we cleverly planned of beating the afternoon crowd by going in as early as 8 am. After multiple failed attempts at waking up 3 sleepy/grumpy girls on a Sunday morning, I was hoping to atleast join the afternoon crowd. We finally crossed the street and made it to the coveted place at 1 pm and to our table at 2 pm.

It was a quaint little bungalow with a small garden and colorful pots that had been converted into the present American cafe with an old world charm. The wall was painted bright yellow and adorned with American pop star caricatures, movie posters and cute food phrases in colored chalk.A winding wooden stairway led to the terrace dining area. Our table was near the garden beside an attractive wind chime dancing to the soft tunes of the warm afternoon breeze and glowing in the smooth sunlight streaming in.

After ordering waffles, pancakes and burgers, we settled into our girly gossips of who-is-wearing-what and whose-colleagues-are-nastier.

The waffles arrived and everyone fished out their phones and started clicking away merrily. In the flurry of activity that followed, a water glass toppled over the burger and a maelstrom erupted with 4 pairs of hands frantically grabbing tissues and stopping the water drifting over the table, while the waiter rushed over to help us.

By this time, the entire restaurant was looking in our direction, wondering what the fiasco was. We were red-faced with embarrassment. Then, one of us started laughing at the scene we had just created. Laughter erupted with people recounting accounts of personal embarrassment – from dropping cutlery at a 5-star hotel to wardrobe malfunction during a vacation, each of us had our fair share of embarrassments.

We devoured on gossips and feasted on the food. As I looked around at the girls dropping sauce on their jeans, struggling to handle the knives-forks, stuffing their mouths with food messily, testing maple syrup’s adhesive capabilities and complaining to the waiter about the quantity, I felt oddly at ease. Here was a bunch that didn’t throw airs, act sophisticated but danced in pajamas and face-packs and made sure we had a good time. I walked out, glad that I was part of this happy-silly goofball club.

(P.S. This is the wily(and delicious!) mango-cream waffle that resulted in the toppling of the hapless water glass)

Home is where the heart is!

Found this little surprise post in my drafts from over a year ago (2015) when I was in my first job, away from home for the first time. Though I have become headstrong now, I can relate to this younger-naiver-me. Here goes a blast-from-the-past post from the archives-

First job -> New city -> New friends ->Independence ->Excitement!

Fast Forward 3 months : Long working hours -> Alien city -> Indifferent people -> Melancholy.

From excitement to disappointment, from dreams to nightmares, from hope to despair. Been there. Done that! The initial elation at finally being able to earn and sutain myself was soon deflated by the dawn of reality that corporate life is very different from the blithe college life when people were more innocent and less avaricious.  The occasional showers on this barren land are the monthly visits home.

The whole journey is nothing short of an adventure.Starting from the hassle of booking tickets to the teary-eyed return back to the concrete jungle, every task can be made into a high-octane emotion-laden Bollywood movie.

Preparations: The preparations start with the booking of tickets. The custom calls for calling up all your friends(from childhood to school/college)  and enquiring about their home-visiting plans. If, by coincidence, both your plans match then as per the unwritten rule-book, you book tickets together.

The D-day: Excitement creeps in a couple of days before the eventful Friday. The day starts early, with the packing of unwashed clothes and goodies from the month’s shopping. The entire office has happy smiley faces on Fridays. And on such days, I readily add to the cheer! 😀 

 As the clock ticks 6 pm, I make arrangements to leave. The scene usually starts with a meek me requesting for permission to leave early and then a high-speed sprint to board the overcrowded bus. This journey usually lasts a couple of hours post which McDonalds gives me refuge until 11 pm, when my bus is scheduled. On days with monstrous traffic/days when my manager is less considerate, I skip dinner and dash to the bus stop, a heavy rucksack on my shoulders and a massive handbag in my hand, disheveled hair and panic-stricken eyes( I must have been quite a sight).

The trouble of travelling a long distance in a bulging-at-the-seams bus fueled with the traffic and tension and just managing to hop onto the bus is totally worth the affection I feel at home. After all, I survive the month by feeding on the weekend affection that I accumulate over these 2 days. 

I doze off in the bus – a peaceful, self-satisfied sleep with the realization that at the dawn of morning, I will get the chance to look at familiar faces that smile back at me and welcome me back to where I belong. Home is where I truly belong. Home is bliss. Home is where my heart is.

Beauty is the beast

I was in the “quest for perfect gift” phase that everyone goes through when their friend gets married. I did a clean-sweep of the limited operating parts of my brain and ended up with ‘bouquet’. When the 3rd page of google wouldn’t throw passable results, I called on my girl friends to pick on their brains. This endeavor led me to believe that owning a Victoria’s Secret product was every girl’s zealous desire.

The next couple of days were spent on finding the cheapest(read 1000 bucks) VS product on Amazon. I finally settled on a perfumed body lotion (with a fanciful name – love spell) but to my dismay, the delivery would take longer than expected. This prompted me to take a stroll to the nearby beauty shop.

Enter beauty shop. Aisles and aisles, rows and rows, tubes and tubes of whitening creams and body products.There was foundation in 100 different shades, then a tinted moisturizer, bb cream (lighter than foundation but better than moisturizer),cc , dd creams and a zillion other products of these combinations. And this was just a small corner of the “Face” section.

 I was disconcerted by the assortment and expanse of products. Beauty products were supposed to enhance our looks, not force fit it into an actress’s look. Earlier, multani metti and gram flour face masks were used before important events like weddings. Now, concealers and mascaras are used everyday.

Cosmetic industry’s advent in India started in the early 1990s and is expected to grow by ~20% each year. 1990s – does it ring a bell? Flashback 1994 – Miss world pageant when Aishwarya Rai won is alleged to be a corporate move by the cosmetic industry to penetrate the Indian market. Well, seems to have worked perfectly well for them.

What is the need to live up to the set standards of beauty? Why strive to reach there artificially ? Why even set standards in the first place? I am who I am. If I try to look like someone else, won’t I lose my identity? If all girls are tall-legged, slim, fair, powdered ‘beauties’, won’t that make this world a delicate, sculpted doll-house? Time to teach ourselves to invest more in self-development rather than temporary appearance. Time to feel confident about ourselves and how we look. Time to embrace who we are. Time to accept our looks with pride. Time to love ourselves.

(P.S. I walked out without Victoria Secret’s Love Spell that day. Apparently, it wasn’t part of the gazillion products they sell, but “we have similar ones – passion spell,love struck – in other brands , madam!”. Phew. I will never understand this beauty game. So much for the gift hunt)

Interesting people

This post is about the interesting life of normal people we come across, glance at and walk past in our everyday life. This post is a reminder for me to pause, breathe and observe the little details in life and be more compassionate towards people.

1. The lorry driver

The other day when I took an Uber to work, I gave directions to the driver and plugged in my earphones as usual. I was surprised when the driver tried to make conversation about the weather. I answered that I can’t speak the local language and re-plugged the earphones. 

The driver asked ,”What language do you know-Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, English, Bengali? I know all of this”. I was intrigued. A little bit of “hmm” and a fair amount of nodding later, I was privy to the last 30 years of his life.

 He used to be a lorry cleaner who then bought a lorry of his own(reminded me of Indian movies: break of song- peniless hero ; end of song – millionaire). His lorry transported jackfruits from Kerala, apples from Kashmir and onions from Karnataka. During long journeys, he placed a brick on the accelerator to ease his foot pain.

His brother-in-law was a Pepsi contractor who bought cartons of the soft drink and sold it to pubs on credit. He had enticed the driver with a business offer and the naive fellow sold his lorry to invest in it.

Only later did he realize that the “business venture” was IPL betting clubs. The brother-in-law lost all the money and they foiled his suicide attempt, post which he’s chilling at his village.The driver bought a car with the left-over money and is running a cab service, with hopes of saving enough to buy a lorry again.

I admired his grit and courage to start over from the bottom again. Needles to say, he got a 5 star rating.

2. The lady selling peanut chikkis

It was a scorching hot afternoon and the signal was long. Just as I was rolling up the windows of the car to switch on the AC, I saw an old lady on the pedestrian walk,huffing and sweating. She carried 2 big jute bags that seemed heavy given her discomfort.

As soon as the vehicles came to a halt, she limped across and displayed packets of peanut chikkis to the passengers. When she reached my car, I bought 2 packets and paid her.

She broke into a heartfelt smile and showed me a picture of a young girl and a marksheet. She told me with pride that her grand-daughter is a topper in her class and she is selling chikkis to fund her education. She blessed me for buying from her.

The signal turned green and I drove away, thinking how progressive and hardworking the woman is. While most educated people prevent their daughters from pursuing a career or masters degree, here she was – doing what she could to help the girl compete her education. More power to people like her!

3. The wife with extravagant tastes

A friendly cab driver was once lamenting about the traffic and the toll it was taking on his health. When I asked him why he would not settle for something less stressful, he started narrating stories about his wife.

She was the kind of person who found happiness in other’s approval (no different from my generation that spends time figuring out ways to get 100 likes on a picture). She forced him to sell his run-down Indica and buy a sedan because it added more weight to her stature. She also made sure it was a fancy color.

Every time she wanted to buy groceries, she went to the neighborhood market in the air conditioned sedan. Every weekend, the car was washed in the street at a time chosen based on when the neighbors were present to watch the event. She wouldn’t let him sell the car and start a small grocery shop.

The poor guy’s entertaining account of his wife amused me. It also made me ponder over the unmerited importance we give to other’s opinions. Well, that topic is for another day, another post.

4. The maid’s granddaughter

We have a maid at our place who washes utensils and cleans the house everyday. She had an alcoholic son who wasted away all the hard-earned money. Her daughter-in-law had been diagnosed with throat cancer a few months back and the family was struggling to make both ends meet.

One day, she brought her 16-year old grand daughter along for work and all of us objected saying she should complete her education and we can’t allow (almost) child labor. She pacified us saying that it was summer vacation, the girl had completed her class 12 board exams and scored 60%. 

I congratulated the girl, to which she replied with a meek “I could have done better, akka”. When I asked her what she wanted to do next, she replied,” I want to become a Telugu teacher. I am from a Telugu medium school and my teacher says I am good at writing essays, akka. I will teach children how to read and write Telugu”.

I was touched at the girl’s simple heart. Not a doctor. Not a software engineer. Not anything fancy. A straight-forward, unpretentious ambition.Telugu teacher. I gave her a  pack of my faviurote cookies and told her to never, ever give up her dreams no matter what. Because that is exactly what is going to define you as a person and shape your life. And it’s very important to have the harness to your life in your hands – something that following your dream will teach you.

Silver lining of traffic

The infamous metropolitan traffic. My workplace is 5 kms away from where I stay and I consider myself lucky if I cover that distance in an hour. 

One day, when I was running late for a meeting (goes without saying that I was stuck in a cab during a logjam), I realized that I have better things to fret about than traffic jams – like the just-ended sale on the dress I wanted or the popped-out-of-nowhere pimple. 

That’s when it dawned on me that traffic is not so bad, after all. Don’t think so? Allow me to explain how traffic helps us have a better life:

1. Socializing

Have you seen two random auto drivers strike up a conversation during a road block? I have seen guys in my carpooled cab discover common interests through music playing on the radio and plan on attending a concert together. I have had exclusive access to cooking , beauty tips and sale details by overhearing phone conversations on buses. Traffic jams help you connect, spend time and make friends with people.

2. Exploring the city

When my auto-driver senses an impending congestion ahead, he takes a sharp turn into one of those narrow lanes whose existence I wasn’t aware of. Tucked away in those narrow lanes are unexplored quaint art shops and boutiques that don’t charge a bomb. Touring the city is all the more relevant with “Murphy’s law of shared cabs” – Irrespective of when you board the cab, you will be the last one to get dropped.

3. Appreciating humanity

Only during times of distress does humanity shine. Like the person who let my car sneak into the main road’s long queue through a side lane. There was a traffic policeman who held the shivering hands of an old lady and helped her cross the road. There was a an old man selling peanut biscuits at a signal to fund his grand-daughter’s education. There was a businessman who stepped out of his air-conditioned Audi and volunteered to clear a deadlocked congestion. Traffic lets you witness such moments of humanity.

4. Developing patience

In this fast-paced world of 2-minute noodles, traffic forces you to cultivate and develop the virtue of patience. This is primarily because, well….you don’t have a choice.

5. Quality me-time

The time spent in travel gives me the much-needed alone time when I can read my favourite book, listen to music or introspect on my life. Bus drivers in my city use this time to stay updated with the world by reading newspapers.

6. Helping stay fit  

How does traffic help fitness? When you decide to cover the final 2km stretch to office by walking for 30 minutes instead of waiting for an hour.

7. Maintaining relationships

I spend my travel time in replying to messages, emails and greeting friends on their birthdays/anniversaries(or their children’s birthdays). Traffic gives you ample time in your busy work life to catch up with friends and relatives.

8. Increasing sense of alertness 

If you are a pedestrian on the side-walk, you develop the art of being on high-alert sub-consciously. Because you have to dutifully jump out of a motorist’s path and avoid bumping into a fellow mobile phone-engrossed pedestrian, like a real-life subway surfer.

9. Increasing co-ordination

Traffic requires you to inherently co-ordinate with all the other people on the road by a wave of the hand or the flicker of an eye – asking them to pass or understanding the time they need to cross.

10. Making us believe in spirituality 

When everything else fails, you invoke the Almighty to help you reach office on time. Or to Bless you with just one flying bat mobile. Or to endow you with superpowers that let your car pass through objects. The obnoxious traffic. Sigh!

Summer holidays

Summer is here. And so are the watermelons, mangoes, ads for prickly heat powders and soft drinks. As I lay in bed reading an e-book on my kindle, the warm afternoon light stroking the edges of my bed and the curtains dancing to the tunes of a high-speed fan, I find myself reminiscing about summers 15 years ago.

Summers meant long holidays. As kids, the day used to start with gathering all our friends in the neighborhood much against the protest of our exasperated mothers warning us against the health hazards of playing in the hot sun. I used to eagerly wait for someone to shout my name from the street so that I could run out in my bright-colored frock and join the fun lineup of our routine games- woodpecker, hide and seek, lock and key,  enactment of husband-wife-children(complete with tiny kitchen vessels and fights about inedible food cooked by the wife with a hungry toddler wailing in the background), etc.

The games were halted when lunch sirens(mothers screaming for their kids) were heard. Panting and sweating, we would drag ourselves home on our exhausted little knees. Short afternoon naps were forced on us. I distinctly remember the quiet afternoons when I would be lying in bed, listening to the rumble of the fan and the melodramatic music from a 90s movie playing on TV, interspersed with the occasional honking of vehicles and crying of babies in the neighborhood – the only worry on my little mind being whether I would wake up in time for our evening games.

The naps were followed by treats of Rasna or chilled lemonade. The ice-cream seller with his yellow cap and goofy jokes was the children’s favorite person . He used to lure children like a pied piper using a ‘ding-ding’ bell on his modified cycle attached with a cooler box.  The tiny tots used to throng him, a dozen hands raised in anticipation of orange sticks and ice cream in plastic balls.

 There used to be jubilation when grandpa walked in lugging a huge watermelon. My excited cousins and I used to sit around him in a circle and wait impatiently to gobble the juicy red pieces with a loud slurp. More often that not, this ended in a squabble attributed to our competition-‘fastest watermelon eater’.

On occasional days when my mother and aunt got bored of relentless gossip sessions, they tried their hands at making homemade kulfis and ice creams. The kids weren’t allowed near the kitchen for the whole day as there was impending danger of the mischievous bunch breaking the essence bottles and toppling over the ice cream powders. At the end of the long day’s wait, we would be served chilled flavored milkshake.

Another favorite pass-time was feeding the goats out on an evening stroll with leaves from the garden plants.  This was followed by a game of cards, carom or a cricket match on TV. The day would end with quiet dinners of piping hot dosas and flame red tomato chutney.

Gone are those days. We spend afternoons hooked to our xboxes and kindles now. The ice cream man is replaced by the fancy dessert Parlour. The lemonades are replaced by soft drinks. The goats are replaced by swarms of vehicles. A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I wrote this with a smile on my face. I miss the innocence and simplicity of those days. I miss summer vacations, the way I know it.