Friday, 21 October 2011

Pune diaries - A road less potholed

   Life is not one smooth journey, there's no denying that, but need the roads echo that sentiment too? After spending 2 months here, I can claim that Pune is a wonderful city - with pleasant weather, lot of greenery, cosmopolitan crowds, good cuisine, and a rapid rate of urbanization, thanks to the arrival of the corporate giants.But the travel woes here are another story.
    All the gainfully employed people travelling to the IT hub of the city, Hinjewadi, have also gained a backache for free. Whatever mode of transport you choose, public tempos and buses, or two-wheelers and cars, the lunar landscape of the roads leading there seem to spare no one. Having arrived here during the monsoons, it was pitiful to see the conditions of the roads. It seemed as though the employees were returning from some paddy planting in the fields rather than an air-conditioned office, thanks to the dirt and slush on their clothes and shoes.Few of my friends were even discussing the number of times they had been splashed on by muddy water due to a passing car. I gathered that dry-cleaners must surely be having a jolly good business season.
     A petition to the mayor was doing the rounds, and as a responsible citizen witness to the plight of my husband and friends facing the potholed menace day in and day out, I signed it. It had come down to the corporates having offices in this area thinking about pooling in their own resources to construct the road. But that would only be a one-time activity. The civic authorities had to step in for the maintenance. And it is ironical, that the region which is generating the most revenue for the authorities remains neglected.At this time it was also brought to my notice that some areas on the outskirts of Pune city, Hinjewadi being one of them, were not under the jurisdiction of the city municipality but were taken care of by local gram panchayats, indirectly the cause of sparse funding and failed infrastructure.
     With the monsoons abating, we hoped things would look up and repair work would start.Wishful thinking!
Hinjewadi roads remain dried up craters, while those in some other adjoining areas have just been filled over with grit and stones, a new nuisance for pedestrians. Well, just a matter of time and these will be dispersed exposing the pockmarked surfaces again. It is high time that our petition reached the mayor!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Of Roommates and Conundrum

     They can be fat, slim, tall, short, dirty, sneaky, cheesy, serious, sober, geeky….I am falling short of adjectives here. People who have ever shared a room with a stranger know that you can never know-it-all, when it comes to roommates. I have a Seinfeld fixture, so cannot help quoting from it: 

Jerry: They didn't have roommates in the middle ages.
George: How do you know?
Jerry: Well, for one thing, they didn't have apartments”

Apartment or hostel, those of you who think that they are lucky they never had any roommates, let me tell you, you have missed out on one of life’s greatest adventures. It can be a joyride and a nightmare, all at once. It can churn out the best of friends and the worst of foes.

    Miss A and Miss X are allocated the same room in a hostel. Miss A believes they would keep their room spic and span, be entertaining guests, and be good friends. Miss X, on the other hand, has different plans. She wants to top her class, so she intends to keep the room messy and totally free of visitors. She devices a unique method to achieve this. She keeps her clothes and books on the table while she sleeps, and dumps them on the bed when she studies at her table. She throws chocolate and biscuit wrappers on the floor. Miss A is a cleanliness freak, so she’s miffed. She tries explaining to Miss X how her approach is wrong and how she ought to lead a good lifestyle. Needless to say, good advice is rather frowned upon, and Miss X lends a deaf ear to it. Miss A cleans up the room during the vacations, and shoots another e-mail ‘advisory’ to Miss X, warning her to mend her ways. She does pay heed this time, and marches away to another room, much to the delight of Miss S1, who is one of Miss A’s closest friends, also fed up of her messy roommate and looking to move in with Miss A.

     Miss A and Miss S1 move in together, and they live happily ever after. The happy stories aren’t that interesting, so I shall skip them for the moment.

       Habits are such strange things, they make or break a relationship, especially that with a roommate. Two people may be best of friends, but not necessarily good roommates. One may be an early riser while the other may like to stay up late, one may be very hygienic while the other may revel in messy surroundings. One may be loud and boisterous, the other introvert and shy. What comes out from all these combinations is rather spectacular. Generally, roommates have a lot of influence over each other, and may completely change each other’s personalities, for better or worse, as the case may be. A cheesy roommate may giggle and hug you for every thing you say, and you may start to do the same, even without realizing how ridiculous you both look to others.
     Gender bender – I have actually found more girls complaining about roommates than boys. Maybe it means boys are more tolerant, or indifferent. I do not wish to be a judge of that. Females, on the other hand, scrutinize every action of another of their kind. If a girl gets 20 calls in a day, she is either a cry baby talking to her mommy about every meal, every class - in short, every sob and sniffle, or a bimbo trying to attract attention.
      As the saying goes – “You can choose your friends, but not your family” most cases not your roommate either. You were destined to be together. Recall Miss A, who I told you about earlier. She passes out of college, works at a particular location, gets an awesome roommate (Miss S2) there. Happy story, so let’s move on.   

    She moves to a new city and is on the lookout for a place to stay. This time she decides to try an apartment instead of living as a paying guest. This would entail more freedom, she presumes. She rents an apartment along with four other girls. They are very friendly and make her feel at home almost immediately. She unpacks and settles down to sleep. Suddenly, there are noises, someone is crying; the pitch increases and so does the swearing. Moments later Miss A sees a light in the kitchen. One of the girls is burning something .She is terrified at the thought of a fire breaking out, or the gas cylinder exploding on her very first night in that house. She says a silent prayer and goes to sleep.

   It is a weekend, and people are relaxing. Conversation flows, and Miss A’s new roommate Miss Y, is too impressed with her. She starts discussing how many prospects she has met, each one’s salary, qualifications, and even goes through each one’s Facebook page. First Miss A is all smiles, but after the third groom, things start looking alarming. So she excuses herself to take a nap. Later in the day, she sees her roommate applying some strange looking ointments and oils.  A asks if she is taking some kind of beauty treatment, usually a favorite pastime on weekends. What comes next shakes Miss A to the core. Her roommate suffers from a serious skin disease from the past year, and she is depressed and even contemplates suicide at times. She has had several roommates, and considers it some kind of coincidence that most of them leave the apartment and move somewhere else. The disease, mind you, is ‘mostly’ non-communicable. For the next two months A is subjected to some of the worst experiences in her life. She tries to offer sympathy, but the girl seems to be adamant not to take it. What’s worse is that all the other inhabitants of the flat come up and tell Miss A they would have never taken the room if they were in her place, how ironical was that? A was going bonkers, looking for a new place to move into.

    It was a Sunday, and World Cup cricket championships were going on. Someone was fighting on the phone with their boyfriend, okay, routine stuff. Wait, what was that loud ‘bang’ and ‘thud’? Words which remind me of Tinkle “Kalia the crow” comic strip. Miss A rushes out to find one of her flat mates had slammed a door, and broken a rather large piece of wall. There was also a plate of food on the floor, with its contents up on the ceiling!

    Dear Miss A began to have serious doubts, were these people crazy, or was she herself too ‘normal’. Birds of a feather flock together, that was the case here, or how could anyone put up with such chaos. She decided she’d had enough. Sanity needed to be restored. A new residence was sought and finalized at war footing.

   Miss A now has a new roommate. It has been a month, and she is keeping her fingers crossed. They have a laugh now and then, and share some movies and music, but you never know when the tides may turn. Going purely by past statistics, that is.

   I now wish to list some annoying ‘roomie’ attributes, shared by Miss A, purely on her own discretion: 
-         Mentioning the word ‘Roomie’ more than once in a sentence.
-         Assuming that you both are the best roommates and showing off to others.
-         Being extra polite, saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Sorry’ numerous times.
-         Asking permission every time to use your spoon, when you don’t need it at that moment.
-         Leaving their clothes on the pegs in the washroom, and leaving no space for you to hang yours.
-         Saying ‘sweet nothings’ to their boyfriends in a loud voice, when you are trying to sleep.
-         Telling their family members over phone how good a roommate she has got. They, in turn, calling you to check on their ward’s whereabouts.
-         Asking advice on six short-listed prospects and which one to marry.

    It would be unfair to some great people if the happy stories remained untold. Miss A urges me to write about Miss S1, her roommate in college. They shared a room for three years, and there never was a day of misunderstanding. They were perfectly tuned. Although their habits differed, they lived in perfect harmony. S1 was this mature person always offering support to A in tough times. They had a lot of fun, and were very proud of their beautiful room.

      Miss S2, A’s roommate when she had joined her job, was a cool customer. A vivid personality with many talents, she stuck by A through thick and thin. They have also bonded for life, although they shared a room for just over eight months.

     The chances of getting a good roommate are rather skewed, but they do come by. Have you found yours already?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Finding Forrester - an anecdote

   Movies, I believe, are a manifestion of imagination with a figment of reality. So often, it happens that we watch a movie and experience some kind of Deja vu."Finding Forrester" a movie about an Afro-American teen writing prodigy played by Rob Brown, who finds a mentor in a reclusive author,played by a grey-haired Sean Connery.Watching it reminded me so much of someone I was very close to.Since she is no longer alive,I was kind of apologetic that I had not thought of her for so long.

     We had moved house, and were still getting to know our neighbours, when the lady in question announced herself. She was an old frail woman dressed in a worn out saree, a white one with a red border.She looked ill,and walked with a limp.We actually thought she had come to ask for charity. She introduced herself as a distant relation of our landlord, and then unraveled some facts about herself which almost left us gaping in wonder.She lived alone, had retired from a senior position in a government department, never married, had studied medicine for a year before abandoning it due to health reasons.She had had multiple fractures, the reason behind her limp. She had been hit by a car and lay in hospital for months with none of her relations knowing or caring. She said with absolute frankness that she was guarding a lot of heirlooms, and people were forever trying to dupe her.We thought, like all old people, she had gotten a little delirious and irritating.She said that my brother and I reminded her of her grand nieces and nephews.

     The visits became frequent, and once she landed up with an oatmeal porridge for me.I was around 10 years old then.I desisted it, but as a polite gesture, I had to taste it - and to my great surprise, it  was yummy!She had prepared it with date jaggery, an awesome experiment.So my tummy sent some good signals to my heart.My 2 year old brother had correctly guessed that she was too old to be an aunt, so he suggested we call her 'Thakuma'(paternal grandma in Bengali).She was delighted.

    She would spend hours chatting with my mother, offering her some words of wisdom, telling her some medical facts, and sharing hundreds of stories. She seemed like an enclyclopaedia. This was the time when my parents were quite busy to help me with my studies,and once, my mother suggested that I ask Thakuma to clear my doubts.I was sceptical - she was so old, I thought, what would she know of the latest curriculum?Forget know, the lady was competant enough to give my teachers a run for their money.She corrected my grammar exercise and numericals with utmost precision and gave me some great tips.Another lesson in humility.

   She gave long sermons on the use of grammar and language,one discussion led to another,and I ended up writing loads of stuff.I would leave my notebooks at home when I went to school, and came home to find comments and suggestions scribbled in red ink on them.Informally though, she had become my mentor.For my now impressionable teenage mind, I could see beyond her shabby exterior.I started visiting her home, which was more like a storehouse for furniture with her tiny little kitchen, where she would cook up some tidbits for me.We discussed all kinds of topics,more like friends than anything else.I would actually look forward to her visits now.

    I was doing well in school, and she would always say that she looked forward to seeing me take the Civil Services exam.Around this time, she had another rough patch with her health, a fracture and she was confined to bed for a few months. We would go visit her from time to time.Our association was now almost into its seventh year, and there was some talk of shifting into a new locality.In course of time we moved, and saw less and less of Thakuma now.It was difficult for her to take the numerous steps leading to our new home, so she would call us.But she did not miss my 10th Board results, and landed at our doorstep with the newspaper announcing my results and a box of sweets.

    Two more years, and I got busy with my exams,tutions, and saw her once in a blue moon.I met her before leaving for my engineering course.She was not entirely convinced that I was sure of what I was doing, but encouraged me nonetheless.From time to time I would get news of her from my mother, she was totally bedridden now, and some of her relations had finally taken pity on her.And then she left us forever.

   It is strange how people you least imagine can leave their mark in your life.For her selfless affection and all the knowledge she shared, I dedicate this to her.And thank you CC, for telling me to watch the movie.