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Monday, April 25, 2011

Bhai-giri

The train sounded its siren, and they hugged each other just like all those who love each other do, on separation. My father and I swiftly turned our heads in every other direction, him staring hard at a bulb, me discovering sudden fascination for a dust bin. They might be married, but that’s no reason for us to be unfazed, or at unperturbed ease when my sister hugs her husband. We are like that only.

But this is not that story. It is of a phone call, between two siblings.

That day as I picked up the phone, she greeted me with the familiar ‘Stinks’. It is a nickname we religiously refer to each other with. Sometimes, I respond back with a ‘hey Double Stinks’. When she asked me if I had time at hand to talk, I stared at the gmail chat blinking furiously, and ignored it.

“I have news for you.”

“You have finally realized that I am superior to you, and have come to beg for forgiveness?”

“It’s amazing how consistently bad your jokes are.”

“Tell me what you have to say. There is a community of women bawling out there because I am not replying to their chat messages.”

“Neeraj .... I like someone.”


It is difficult to crack a joke, or be narcissistic, when your sister says that.

Remember Rocky Balbao in Rocky Balboa? Spraying the villains with thousands of bullets?
Remember smashing a wall to smithereens with your fist? No? Oh that was Sunny Deol. Okay,remember defeating your sister at arm wrestling?

I suppose there comes a time in every man’s life when his younger sister tells him that. And when she does, he must close his eyes, concentrate, and try replacing those mental images of sledge hammers with sheep, raging infernos with flowering meadows, Genghiz Khan with Vinobha Bhave. He must take off that striking Indian male cloak sewed with a thread called possessiveness and expose a vest tagged growing up.

The situation demands poise and manner. He must know all that is essential about that other man. It is a tricky affair, he must ask sensible, pertinent questions. Understand the culture, the background, the values this rhododendron comes from. It is his sister, after all.

“Umm does he play cricket?”

“Haha, I knew you would ask that first up {laughs more}. I told him you would. You are so predictable, stinks”

“You haven’t answered the question.”
A little more steel in the voice.

He does. He’s played up till university level.”

“Err gulp university?
” You go back to the day when they did not select you even for the University probables list. “Bet he wasn’t the best fielder of his college team.”

Hahaha, I am sure my brother is the better player of the two.” And sometimes that’s all that girls need to get their way through boys. We are a defeated gender. I looked quite content after that.

“Hmm.”

“I am so glad that you are cool about this. Apu and Bhavna {cousins} are waiting to know your reaction.”

“ Well, it’s not as if you’ll stop seeing him if I ask you to, will you?”

“Of course not! As if I’d listen to you.”

“Err idiot, at least you could have let me feel that I had some hold in this matter.”

“Please! I’ll kick your ass. Oh you know, ……………”


I met him a few months later. Then, two years later in October 2009, they got married in Palakkad, Kerala. It was not as grand as Shashi Tharoor’s wedding a year later in the same town, but I never saw two people laugh and smile so much on stage as them while getting married. When I look at them, him following her around the house, I know of no two people who love each other more. It reminds me of happiness, of something, of someone. It makes me glad she chose him for he is everything he should be.

As long as I am better at cricket.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Adam versus madam - railgaadi feat.

“Dude, F 21, getting in at the next stop!”

I opened a curious eye from under my blanket and looked below. A group of boys, all in the age bracket of 20 to 22 sat hunched in a circle on the lower berths. In perfect synchronization, the train sounded its siren in the background, to give this all important piece of information, the aura and atmosphere it so richly deserved.

“Dude, how does one impress a girl?”

I was fully awake now. It wouldn’t be right to lie down when such worldly noble matters were being discussed. And it really was a question of the ages, one that had troubled most of mankind throughout evolution.

Dude, you need to be different. She should think you are cool. For eg. Tell her you are a dirt biker or a salsa dancer, she’ll fall head over heels for you”, said one of the species.

I wanted to tell him that all he looked like was a dirty broker but stopped short when the yokel began to gyrate his hips in a supposed seductive fashion. I do not want to be harsh to a young man but I could testify in a court of law that the copulation process between two giant pandas in full heat would be comparatively more graceful than what we were now being witness to.

“No man, who is interested in a biker? One has to be an achiever in college, like a sportsman or an accomplished musician.” I liked this second fellow, he seemed to be talking about people like me. Immediately, I was transported back to my engineering days, aaah the days when I lead my branch team to victories galore. Strangely none of those sequences had any women trying to molest me, nor even tear off their clothes and scream my name in joyful ecstasy, not even give me as much as a platonic hug. Pushing cricket behind, I moved my reverie to the college stage, the platform where I had moved my body just like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy insisted we all should. But then again. Of course, there was the occasional girl who smiled at me in the corridor, but mostly I was only waltzing with Bashir, or Rohan or Sanjay or Muthuswamy. I was positively glum now.

It is all in the mind, brothers”, a third hero declared, raising one eyebrow condescendingly. With one eyebrow raised high up on the forehead, he looked like a cross between the Rock and a cock. The poultry variety, not talking of err weapons here. “One should plays the game ofs the minds with the womans.” With that kind of grammar, he was playing good games with my mind too.

I don’t know what’s wrong with all you guys. Can’t you ever stop talking about women?” the fourth guy denounced. There is always one fellow in every group who believes that by rebelling against popular culture, he can appear cooler. He was nodding his head in a knowing way, agreeing with whatever he had just said himself. Usually, such men take no more than thirty three seconds to keep their hearts on the platform whenever anything remotely close to the xx chromosome walks by. Che Guevera looked on grimly from the tee. The others kept quiet desperately trying to come up with some other topic.

“Anjali Bhatia”, said the one who had masterfully scanned the charts, in a sad voice. “Bhatia? Same surname as mine!” exclaimed the rebel. He was already seeing himself get wedded to her, I just knew it. Che Guevera cannot ever win over Shahrukh in India.

At that moment, she walked into the compartment and so pretty was she it seemed as if time had stilled forever. It was actually the train that had stopped but such occasions demand better metaphors. The rebel had completely given up his stance, and had closed his eyes in blissful submission to the fragrance that had suddenly overwhelmed the surroundings. A gentle breeze started from somewhere under our feet and swirled gently around our cheeks. Outside, a man was screaming at another, but it sounded like twenty one year old Lata Mangeshkar was singing at an opera.

And that’s when a man walked into the compartment, and held her hand. “Brother .. must be brother” each one of us were screaming inside our heads. The ‘brother’ now put his bag next to hers and they sat in a small space that rightfully should have been hers alone. They were not paying any attention to us. Instead, it seemed as if they were oblivious of the entire world, and only had eyes for each other. Must be long separated brothers and sisters. Strangely, the breeze and the fragrance had disappeared too.

I lay back on my berth, and the world was a monstrous place again.

------------------------------------------

Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy Days

That first night, I looked into the pit, and he stared back at me intently. In that brief interlude, as we sized up each other, I knew that he had been named rightly. ‘Hector’, I whispered. A little bigger than my palm now, he’d grow up to be as valiant and handsome as Homer’s Prince of Troy, my heart said so.

I scooped him up from the big Videocon box that was meant to be his bed, and laid him on my pillow. As he tossed and turned and succeeded in pushing his butt up my nose, I hugged him. Minutes later, we both lay with our backs on the mattress, breathing equally heavily and occasionally kicking at the air in protest as and when a scene changed in our respective dreams. Tintin and Snowy never looked so macho together.

Remember the part where I prophesized he would be an epitome of courage as he grew up? I have never been more wrong in life. The next morning amma referred to him as ‘gullu’ and the name stuck on forever.

To understand his importance in our lives, firstly one has to know love, and secondly, speculate if the Narayanan family is sound in the head. For how else do you explain a girl (Nishi Narayanan) who’s leaving her home and city for the first time in her life, in pursuit of a post graduation, suddenly turn back from the gate, and run towards a now emotional mother and brother standing with outstretched arms, but push her way past them to hug the little pooch and burst into gallons of tears? I must insist that it was with the greatest dexterity that I slammed my embarassed arms back to their rightful positions (beside my frame) as soon as the first pangs of foolishness seeped in.

It is my belief that he would have been a forceful, assertive lad if we had spent more time together, but my moving to Belgaum for my engineering, and an over exposure to mother-daughter conversations made him a complete pansy. When I did return for the holidays, I did try to convince him that punching the air and snarling was more the stuff of what real men were made of, but he preferred rolling on his back and being tickled. I suppose I could consider this very ungainly of positions with all his organs in glaring public display and lying out in the open at gravity’s mercy as a sign of cheap, undignified and therefore, manly behavior. Good boy, Gullu.

As the days passed and he entrenched himself in our hearts and souls, we realized that there was absolutely nothing he was good at except for probably being, a physical manifestation of anything that is good in this world. He was never asked to perform any duties as a watchdog because when we did try to broach the subject, he snored even louder than normal. When I was scolded by my parents, and expected him to understand intuitively and come comfort me just like all those intelligent dogs did in story books, he would saunter around the house or gnaw at his bone with even more dedication. In our WWE games, I ‘choke slammed’ him every day but instead of feeling insulted and arousing pride to beat the crap out of me, he’d lick me as soon as his ears got out of his eyes’ way. The only time he looked positively embarrassed was when Air India refused to let us carry him in the passenger space, and hours later, he was brought out in the luggage trail with the rest of the suitcases, bristling with indignation.

A few months back, the doctors said he had a tumour. It may or may not be cancerous, we do not know yet, but somewhere the thought that something like that could touch him makes me furious with whoever’s up there. I will strike my bargains.

As I look at him now, I wonder if it’s possible that the little imp takes more space on the mattress than my six-foot father lying next to him. ‘Little’ he isn’t any longer, for he is twelve years old now, an old boy, and that gives him the license to be excused for not chasing cats even if they are sitting on his head, or not being the first to reach the door when the bell rings, sometimes not hear it ring at all.

As I tickle his stomach, amma asks me to ‘let the poor baby be’. He might be twelve, but he is still a baby? Maybe nothing has changed, even if it has. We still give him new names every day, and we still play with him like we did when we were ourselves children. We are still as fascinated by him as we were when he first came in.

You were named Hector, stud boy, beat that tumour till it begs for mercy.

‘The appearance of a furry head from under a chair is often all that a man needs to realize how much that one ‘okay’ added to his family.'

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stand up, for the champions, for the champions, stand up!


If only you knew Sachu, how I felt, when you held the cup in your hands and ran joyfully past me. Up in Sachin Tendulkar Stand, every single person screamed your name as hoarsely as they could, but I just stood there, mute and stunned, the world a blur. For that one moment, you did not hear me chant your name, neither did you see me close my eyes, but that is how we have always been. If only you knew how my heart cried and sang with happiness. April 2nd, 2011 stands frozen in time


The previous night, as I boarded the train to Mumbai, all that I carried was the ‘Cricket Revolucion’ tee and my flag, in the hope that if India won, I’d sprint to Marine Drive from wherever my television was, and join in the celebrations. Then 330 in night, Aneesh Madani told me that he was going to the Wankhede in the morning in a last ditch effort to try for tickets, and I could join him.

My heart was leaping even when our ‘local’ crossed Marine Lines and reached Churchgate. At 7 in the morning, the only people that stood outside the stadium were the caterers. Staring at the edifice, I wondered if I could ever enter it. Apparently not, because every broker was selling his tickets between Rs 40,000 to 1 lakh. At nine, the Mumbai police pushed us out of the road and we roamed helplessly around the sea front. As time wore on, and the clock struck eleven, I was getting desperate and ready to throw the entire 30k I had in my bank account. An hour later, a pan-chewing dog-eared fellow offered two East Stand tickets for 55,000. Somewhere down the road, a father was coating his son’s face with orange, white and green, and minutes later the son returned the favour. It looked magical but for the first time in my life, I wanted to become a pickpocket and run for my life with those two tickets.

“When you truly love something, the whole world conspires for you to achieve it.” At one, at our wit’s end, an IPL manager called Aneesh and told us he could offer us two tickets. We flew to the Trident Oberoi, and as Aneesh readied himself in the loo before meeting the man, I felt like kicking him for taking so much time. Later, my ticket read ‘P-374, Level 2, Sachin Tendulkar Stand’. Sachin Tendulkar Stand. How apt.

We ran to the stadium, calling up everyone we could to tell them of the news. I don’t know if I have ever enjoyed standing so much in a line that had over five thousand people representing it.

The Wankhede is beautiful.

For all the discomfort that an average Indian has had to endure to get into a stadium, it becomes all worth it once you are inside. We danced with the music, we sang with the music, we made every Lankan in the field know how much we despised him albeit only for the day. We let every single Indian know how much we loved him, even Sreesanth. With every run the Indian batsmen hit, our voices grew louder. Every time someone hit a boundary, Santosh shook his hips with an abandon that only Shilpa Shetty can match and if his id had not read “Security Officer Mumbai Police’, I would never have guessed so. It was also nice to know that police constables do have facebook profiles, and I will be featuring in one such photo album my hip as curvaceous as Santosh’s.

My father insists that we should not confuse sports with patriotism, but I fail miserably to heed his words. In my immature mind, sport has everything to do with loyalty and patriotism and whenever A R Rahman’s ‘Vande Mataram’ reverberated through the stadium, we looked skywards and sang with so much emotion that our very bodies arced backwards, and I felt goose pimples rippling through my flesh.

And then Dhoni hit his six and we were world champions. For 19 years, I had been waiting for this moment. For 19 years, I have been declaring before every world cup that ‘this time India will win’. For 19 years, I have felt hurt even angry when people poke jokes at my team, or call them ‘fixers’ or ‘chokers’, any single word against my team. If only you knew, India, that every time you have stepped onto a cricket ground, I have supported you as faithfully as I have loved. When I looked around, I knew there were several hundreds like me, each taking in the moment individually.

When Dhoni hit his six, a nation went wild. All I could was close my eyes, and soak in the moment. A dream has come true, in silence lay my feelings, and I felt numbed. A minute later, we were all hugging each other as tightly as Yuvraj had held on to Dhoni mid-pitch, some smiling, some crying and some hurling expletives at the rest of the world, pumping their fists in glorious aggression. And then Sachin Tendulkar came running out into the ground smiling, and in that one movement the entire thirty thousand plus in the Wankhede forgot every other emotion they were experiencing and the whole crowd chanted his name unitedly with a happiness that only he has received on a play ground. Later, as the team took the victory lap,as Yuvraj became all emotional and egged on the crowd to scream louder, the crowd roared madly. There was so much fire in his eyes, one knew how much it meant to him. There is so much one can say about a man by the way he plays his sport. I will never forget those moments ever.

As we packed into the crowded corridors on the way out, there was not an inch of space and we moved at a snail’s pace. Then someone from the back broke out singing, “We are the champions”, and every body in that hall joined in, making it the biggest chorus in Mumbai ever. The policewalas who had looked so tense and therefore rude, earlier in the morning, smiled broadly now, and the crowd hugged every single CPRF and Mumbai policeman on our way out. Out at Marine Drive, a city went ballistic in its celebrations, bikes, cars, roofs of card adorned with people and flags. It seemed as if the whole city had come out on one road and had gone berserk in its joy. We stood on top of police posts and waved our flags, we hopped moving cars’ roofs and sang, we went mad. What a shot Dhoni, tu stud hai yaar!

Hours later, when I finally returned to Bandra at 7 in the morning, they were still showing people celebration on television. Tomorrow, they will reward all the players obscenely, hold interviews with their families, friends, chaiwalas; ask celebrities what they think of India’s win; show countless repeats of the match; ask ex-players what they think; hold state functions and give honorary positions to players which they have no clue about. Dhoni knows it as well as we do, that it is a fickle country and we reward only when we win, never to improve. But that is tomorrow. Today let us just dance on the road with the man who walked out of the stadium, or the one who came all the way from Singapore just to see this game, or the one who ran till Marine Drive from his slum after the match - who does not even know where Sri Lanka is, but is dancing because their country is now world champions. From the other room, I could hear Aneesh hum the song “stand up for the champions

Two days later, the song still refuses to leave me.

"I was built to be the best
Number one and nothing less
Leave me to my destiny
I have waited patiently
I have vision' oh I believe
I know I can count on me
So stand up, for the champions
For the champions stand up…”


We did it, Sachu.I can now rest in peace.