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Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

So, we’ve been here all of fifteen days when one of our neighbours, an American, invites us for dinner….at five in the evening! My stomach lurches at the thought of eating a full meal at five and not only because I’ve had a relatively late Nandini thali lunch. So I am like, are you sure it’s dinner, and not high tea? I mean I know Americans eat early but even by their standards five is a tad too early.

But then the hubby educates me, a North America-virgin, on the concept of Thanksgiving. He tells me that the women have usually been slaving all day long and it’s usually the first meal of the day which is served any time it’s ready. In this case it happens to be five. All of a sudden a certain Friends episode starts to make sense (the one where they force Monica to cook a thanksgiving spread and then ditch her to go do other pressing things like watch ball game).

So we walk to the party, dutifully clutching a bottle of Old Monk. The American loves the drink and understandably so. It’s the only Indian hooch that’s worth having. Other than Kingfisher, of course (the one bottled in/near Mumbai. The Delhi Kingfisher is the pits).

The American promptly takes the Old Monk and starts swigging straight from the bottle. It makes me think of the Hindi film dialogue, agar mard a bachcha hai to seedha botal se peeke dikhga.

The party consists of an eclectic mix of people. Artists and animators from America, one of whom looks like a skinny HOG, complete with a bandana and boots and tattoos. There’s a young couple engaged to be married. Then there’s an American of Malloo origin and the host straightaway asks me if I like Malloos. The Malloo and I, both are taken aback by the bluntness of the question. 

“What about Malloo Christians?” the American persists mischievously. Both the Malloo and I blush and look away from each other. “They’re all right,” I mumble.

It’s embarrassing as a people to be so transparent to others. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a very astute person to deduce that no one likes anyone from another state in India.

Everybody at the party has been there since noon. The men have been watching a ball game and the women, well, like all good wives, they have been slaving in the kitchen, helping the hostess arrange the potluck dinner. The common theme, though, is that everyone has been drinking. Like, a lot. This makes them indiscreet and share confidences of a personal nature with us.

The female half of the engaged couple wonders if people can see them have sex ’cos they don’t have curtains. The women stop whatever it is we were doing (what were we doing? Ah yes, drinking). We look at each other, our bloodshot eyes containing the same query. OMG, did she really say that? A part of me (the sensationalist writer/immature attention seeker part) is envious that it was someone else who brought the party to a halt.

I want to say, “Well if they couldn’t earlier, they will certainly try harder now,” but I don’t.

More tomorrow…

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Meanwhile, a little later, I’m kinda alone with the male half of the engaged couple, trying to fill that thing called the uncomfortable silence.

As usually happens in such situations (it’s practically a blueprint. Notice it next time), we begin the social interaction by swigging from our bottles and smiling at each other dorkishly. Then we both speak at the same time.

 “So…”

 “So…”

 “You first,” he invites.

 I open my mouth to speak, only to realise I don’t really have anything to say. Meanwhile, he’s looking at me expectantly. So I rack my brains…except the pressure of situation gets to me and my mind goes blank.

 For God’s sake, it’s not like I was on the stage in front of a room full of people! Just say something clever and witty and….

“So, you have sex with your curtains open?” I blurt out.

 And noncommittal.

 Before my horrified eyes, the guy squints at me and says, “Sorry?”

 Is that sorry as in I can’t believe you said that or sorry as in I didn’t catch ya?

 It is possible that he didn’t hear me. What with the music, the ball game and screaming kids, it is pretty loud. Thankfully, it is the latter. One would think that having been granted a reprieve like that I would make amends. Not me, no, sir.

“Why are you getting married?” I ask next.

After he overcomes his initial shock over such a bald question, he gazes into the distance as he ponders the imponderable.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I say hastily.

His mouth forms into an O as he thoughtfully exhales. “No, no, you’re right. I don’t know why I’m getting married. I don’t want to.” And he goes on to talk about the redundancy of the institution called marriage.

Crap.

I can see the woman hovering nearby. Out of the corner of my eyes I see her approaching. I start panicking. “Oh no, no, no.”

“No, you’re right. Marriage is a fucked up institution. I’m going to tell her after the party that I need more time.”

“Oh my God!” 

Too late.

We both turn around to see the woman behind us, staring at us, her face ashen with shock.

Before you judge me, you’ve got to understand, I spend most of day, alone. Sometimes (very rarely), when the work is going along great, I’m happy, but mostly, I’m in a bad mood.  I have no conversations with any human beings apart from my maid, cook, gardener and the car wash guy. Which is a good thing because they are the perfect targets for my ire. Besides my work comprises thinking of ways to subject my heroines to potentially humiliating situations. So, is it any wonder that I have zero social skills?

Anyway, to drag a long story longer, my faux pass (is that the plural for faux pas?) don’t stop there. Meanwhile, after having swigged a half bottle of Old Monk (on top of the beer he’d been slugging since noon), the host decides the time is just right for a moonlit motorbike drive. Apparently he’s some kind of a bike aficionado ’cos he has a garage full of bikes. He invites me to take my pick of the bike or ride pillion, whatever I fancy. I fancy staying out, I tell him. He shrugs his shoulders and calls me a loser. He then similarly dares the men, and men being men, cannot resist a challenge.

 I saunter back to terrace to join the women folk.

 “You didn’t join them?” The hostess wants to know.

 “Are you crazy? With them being so drunk and all?”

 Her eyes widen in horror. She starts hyperventilating and rushes to talk to her hubby. To no avail. As any woman will tell you, reasoning with a sober man is next to impossible. Add booze to the equation and you have a better hope of India wining the world cup. She rushes back and glares at me balefully. “I need an intervention.” (how American’s love this intervention business.)

 So all the women rush downstairs but by then the men have already left. They return after a nail biting two hours. We hear that the host, sloshed as he was, fell off his bike a couple of times on the kuchcha road and knocked over the society barricades for which he was fines 500 bucks. But other than that he was none the worse for wear. And thus ends our eventful thanksgiving.

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Okay, I’m back after a looooong break. In my defence, there are extenuating factors. I was in the process of shifting cities and, like settling into any new place, it took me while to find my feet in Bangalore. That’s right, I am now a resident of namma Bengaluru. Actually I’m in a far flung suburb of Bengaluru called Whitefield where, initially, I rubbed shoulders with goras and celebrated Thanksgiving (more on that later) and Christmas (more on that later still).

How did that go? How does any interaction with they proudly display their (that’s assimilation into Indian culture by casually discussing THE place for best dosa (it’s not) and equally nonchalantly bitch about Raja with equal vehemence.

But then we moved out of Palm Meadows and into a more Indianised community where, reassuringly, we’re planning a bhang-filled Holi party (definitely more on that later).

I’ve been to the city called Bengaluru six times, seven, including the time I went to UB City to see Led Zepp (lica, as it turned out). More on that later.

I’ve seen precisely one movie (in a theatre). Otherwise my run rate of at least a movie a day continues. And since you ask, it was Band Baaja Baaraat, or as they write here, Band Baaja Bharath.

Let’s see, what else have I been up to?  I’ve been rechristened, Smitha.

And, oh yes, this appeared in a paper in Sweden. Google translation.

That’s right, I’ve been farting. A lot.

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I’m back after a holiday (yes, another one) which saw me travelling through the length and breadth of Italy. The reason for this extravagance was my approaching birthday and my hubby’s (hereafter referred to as MH) desire to make it special. Otherwise three holidays in a year in quick succession is bit much even for a sybarite like myself.

We arrived upon Italy as the destination based upon several considerations. One, it is in Europe and I absolutely adore Europe and two, we hadn’t been to Italy. The most compelling considerations for us cheap Indians however, was that fact Italy being a part of PIIGS, and reeling under the severest of recessions should be cheaper. Perhaps the stable and ever appreciating Euro (a veritable mystery) should’ve have alerted us otherwise, in any case, the notion was soon dispelled. At an average room rate of € 100 per day, where the fuck was the recession?

After a whole lot of research a tentative itinerary was chalked out. Starting out in Rome, our travels were to take us through Tuscany, to Siena, Volterra, Lucca and Florence and end in Vicenza, a modest-sized industrial town in northern Italy.

July 30

We left Mumbai on July 30 and flew Lufthansa into Frankfurt which is also where we cleared immigration. Apparently, to get a Schengen via the Italian Embassy is a royal pain in the ass and so we got ours from the Swiss Embassy. The flight itself was uneventful as all my flights are. I think it’s my good karma to which MH retorts, “Only if the spirits you imbibe in copious amounts are called good karma.”

We landed at Fiumicino Airport, Rome, or as the locals indignantly point out, “Roma! There’s no such place as Rome,” at twelve thirty on July 30. As promised by Laura, the hostess of our B&B, there was a car waiting for us. It was weird to see a man, spiffier than the relationship manager at my bank drag my strolley to the car. I struggled with the urge to grab my stuff back and had to constantly remind myself that he was the driver and that I was paying him to do that. And, at €30, handsomely too.

Initially when Laura offered to arrange a pick up or us, I thought the price tag of €30 a little pricey. However, a quick glance at the rates on romashuttle.com – FYI, there was nothing available for less than €45 – and I accepted with alacrity. 

In Roma, we stayed at a charming B&B called Villa Urbani, a five-seven minute walk from Trastevere. Many tourists prefer staying in the centre of Rome, near Termini station, in and around post code 184 area. While that is certainly close to the sights, the happening area is Trastevere, literally translated as ‘across the Tiber.’ This area is full of bars and restaurants and buzzing with activity till the wee hours of the morning. And if that isn’t enough to convince anyone, this is where Romans like to hang out.

We were lucky to find Villa Urbani too. The rooms and bathrooms are huge, clean and bright and the air conditioning works. If you think the last bit about the aircon is weird, read some reviews on Tripadvisor. Most bad reviews are about over booking and faulty air conditioning. I reckon we could have found something closer, for the same price (€100 per day), something in the heart of Trastevere but the room quality (more importantly, the bathroom quality) would’ve been dodgy at best. Anyone who’s ever travelled in Europe will tell you that rooms tend to be poky at the best of hotels.

Besides did we really want to be in the heart of Trastevere? A few years ago, maybe. Now, I’m sufficiently advanced in age to appreciate quiet, restful sleep at night and Villa Urbani was far enough to guarantee just that.

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And as I write this heading above, the chicklit writer in me can’t resist adding: Which means fabulous. Okay so I also feel exhausted from too much exercise, faint from too little food, asphyxiated from too many cigarettes…but I’m thin. As the wise Kate Moss said, articulating what women worldwide know to be the gospel truth, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

However, that is not what this post is about. Earlier this week I felt that that Piggies’ publicity needed another push. So I logged into Gmail, opened the chat window and wrote to my PR person (henceforth known as AT).

I began the conversation with my usual, I’m not feeling the love. Which I think it’s a cute opening salvo. AT, however, complains, saying she feels I’m doing diva act. The whole I’m-throwing-a-tantrum-because-I’m feeling-ignored which, frankly, is as far from the truth as John Abraham is from making it to the A list.

I am not a diva. I don’t demand round the clock attendance. Okay, so she can call me once a day and affirm to me that my books are selling like hot cakes and that I’m the best there is. And occasionally, just occasionally, like once a day, she can send me a compilation of press clippings also affirming the same.

Oh dear. In my defence, I said I’m not a diva. I didn’t say I’m not a neurotic writer.

Anyway, coming back to the Piggies publicity push, I mean it was topping all bestseller lists and everything but that’s precisely why I felt we needed to prod it along NOW. “Stoke the fire while it’s burning and all that, old girl,” I said.

I was taken aback when she agreed. “Quelle surprise,” I said, jumping across the English channels, if only linguistically.

She said that she had already contacted numerous publications and arranged for me to comment on a host of issues for various publications. Then she logged out of chat and called me on my cell. “Hold on,” she said. “D just called me. She’s on the other line. I’ll conference you.”

“Hey, D,” she said after a while. “So as I was saying why don’t you get Smita’s views on Handy Investment Tips for Housewives?”

Now AT had either forgotten to tell D she had conferenced me, or she’d told her, but had also encouraged her to be free with her opinion about me. Fire the gun from someone else’s shoulder and all that. I’m leaning towards the latter.

“Smita Jain? But she’s a…chicklit writer!” The way D said the last sentence, with a pause after a as though she was looking for the right word, and a kind of squealy emphasis on the word chicklit, left me in no doubt that she didn’t exactly mean it was like asking Einstein to comment on high school physics.

Derision. From a journo who’d just last week written that the French Open final was played between Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros! This was almost too much to bear.

I was left fuming. As Kasthuri says in Chapter One, “if (s)he thought (s)he was dealing with a brainless twit (s)he had another think coming. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him(her)  about my excellent, eighty-percent-plus-all-the-way academic record, and multiple degrees in economics and finance just to drive home the point.”

But of course I didn’t. I didn’t want to upset D. I didn’t want her writing Smita Jain’s latest novel Piggies on the Railway is based on a popular nursery rhyme, did I?

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I wrote about The Comedy Store sometime ago. At the time they had flown down three comedians for a limited number of shows held at different venues. This event was a forerunner to the launch of the Indian Edition of The Comedy Store.

 Well, it finally happened. The Comedy Store has opened in Palladium, High Street Phoenix. As a part of their opening ceremony celebrations last week they were giving away free passes to the show. I got them, courtesy a friend who’s an investment banker.

“So how did you get the passes?” I asked.

“Oh well, I’m in business with them,” he answered suitably vaguely.

“Oh so you’re extorting money from them?” I quipped.

He wasn’t amused. “I’ve got equity in the club.”

Seeing a show my earlier quip fell flat, I resisted the urge to say, Same diff. Extortion *squealed in high soprano*. “Since when do private equity guys invest in comedy clubs?” I asked instead. “Don’t you have a more serious internet business model with no foreseeable revenue stream to finance?”

“Just because internet business models have a long gestation period doesn’t mean they are not viable business,” he said.

Have I illustrated the point several times already or what? Then again, you don’t have to have a huge appetite to invest in a restaurant.

Anyway, I went in with high expectations and it is with regret that I have to say that I was kinda disappointed. For one, the first comic and the emcee, Paul Tomkinson (?) repeated many jokes from his earlier performance at the Grand Maratha Sheraton. I hadn’t taken to his brand of comedy even then, and to have it repeated almost verbatim was, well, intolerable.

The second comic was even more insipid. And to illustrate the point I can’t remember a single joke he cracked. The third comic was a Canadian who was obsessed with Indians carving nude female statues on temples. I laughed at his jokes but only because he had the look of a madman and scared me little bit.

Afterwards, I remember feeling grouchy. That was royal waste of time and money. Okay, the passes were free but the cab cost me a whopping three hundred each way. And the three Margaritas I downed weren’t on the house either.  

I tried to analyse why I wasn’t tickled. I’m easy to please. I still laugh at fart jokes. And I had gone there ready to laugh. Did I mention the Margaritas? If that’s not priming for laughter, I don’t know what is.

And then it occurred to me like a blinding flash on a dark night. The problem was with the material. Observational humour about the Indian accent and Indians scratching their bellies and-slash-or crossing the road at whim, boring *also in high soprano*. Hack attack. Done to death in films and TV shows. (oh, come on, these days? When one Indian character is mandatory?)

However, but club should take heart from the fact that the rest of the people were, to use internet speak, ROTFLTAO. I looked around to see if it was just me who was left cold. Nope, my friends were too. My conclusion: People who’ve seen a fair amount of stand-up comedy will find it considerably short of awesome.  

PS: The Comedy Store is having an open mic night this coming Saturday. People who are interested in forging a career in stand-up comedy can contact The Comedy Store.

PPS: No, I don’t have their numbers. Get off your ass and look it up yourself.

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I am a die-hard Alfred Hitchcock fan. But even so, I always thought of Birds as kind of lame-assed. A town being terrorized by killer birds! And they were not even the eagle type predatory birds. I mean it was as bad as being terrorized by a renegade car! However, I’ve changed my mind. I now fully endorse Mr Hitchcock’s views that normally gentle aerial creatures can be killers too.

It happened yesterday when I went running. I went to the park and after performing a few perfunctory stretches, took to the dirt track at a leisurely pace. Suddenly, I felt a swoosh down the back of my neck, like a bird flying past awfully close. I turned around to see it was a crow. Now crows are kind of intrepid, but even for a crow that was a bit too aggressive. Strange as it was, I shrugged it off as a freak occurrence. But then it happened again. And again. I look around to check whether others at the park were similarly troubled. Nope. It was just me. And then the lone terrorist was joined by two compatriots, then another two. Soon there were a gazillion of them circling overhead.

Great. So now the crows have got a vendetta against me. Why, for God’s sake? I’m nice to birds. Actually, I’m nice to all animals, but I’m especially nice to birds. I feed them bread crumbs and morsels of roti and regularly put out water in the summer months. I sometimes even put out a feast for them comprising leftover pizza or biryani. A hospitality that mostly crows avail of, I might add. So why then the ingratitude? Unless…it had something to do with the leftover dosa I’d laid out for them one day recently. I remember feeling very…well, philanthropic, thinking I was doing a good deed, treating them to a new flavour. But perhaps it had caused them food poisoning? I had, after all, forgotten to put it in the fridge last night before. Omigod, what if someone had died? Their chief perhaps? Perhaps they were exacting revenge, patiently biding their time, looking for a chance to attack me? Were crows vengeful? I thought not. But then I also thought one didn’t need injections in the stomach anymore following a dog bite. A notion that I’ve had to revise painfully in the recent times.

While one part of me was, to put it eloquently, crapping in my pants with fear, another part of me couldn’t quite get over how cool it all would be if this bizarre behaviour was because of some unexplained phenomena. The most obvious one that occurred to me was that the crows were devil’s minions. The universe was being taken over by Satan and I was the only threat to an otherwise assured takeover bid by the horned one. The less obvious, and more X-filesy, was that the crows were a part of a primitive, alien civilisation.

While I was loath to abort my run, continuing down the path was fraught with peril. Just as images from The Omen and Birds assailed my mind, one of them swooped down, pecked viciously at the top of my head and flew off. And then he did it again. He was followed by another and another. I swear the last flew off with a chunk of my hair. That was it! The crows flying away with bits of my flesh and bone I can live with. But hair, no sir, I wasn’t ready to lose my hair just yet.

Thoroughly spooked, I flailed my reams above my head and ran to the track keeper screaming, “Help!” I belatedly remembered the advice that if you’re ever in any danger, screaming “fire” is likely to elicit more facilitatory action than screaming “help” is going to. But with trees felled to clear the field for the track, and the fledgling grass green from the pre-monsoon showers, there was no way the threat of fire was going to rouse anyone, least of all, a snoozing track keeper into action.

Then the weirdest thing happened. The track keeper jumped up and charged down the track. Only, instead of scaring the birds away, he shooed me! “Get off the track from there.” And, as though that wasn’t enough to convince me that the world had gone mad, he shouted, “Are you blind?”

What the fuck? I felt hysteria bubble inside me. “Not yet, but soon if the birds continue like this.”

He pointed to a black thing in the middle of the track. “Can’t you see that thing?”

“Yeah, it’s a little rock. So?”

“It’s a wounded hatchling.”

I peered closer at the furry ball “That’s a live thing?!”

For God’s sake, not only did it not look alive, it didn’t even look like a crow. It looked like a…a mynah. And what was with the whole crow kingdom protecting it? What was it, little orphan Annie? Or some kind of a messiah?

He looked at me with me like he would at a suspected paedophile – with a mixture of disgust and suspicion. “Yeah. The crows are just trying to protect it from predators.”

“But I’m not…I”

“Look just keep off the track on this side and you should be fine.” Although it made sense, I wasn’t about to risk my well-being on the track keeper’s less then precise *you should be fine* assurances. Not even for a scintillating blog post. So I left. And that was the major excitement in my life last week. And here you didn’t believe writers led dull lives.

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