Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Bumming Around

Right. Unemployed for more than a month now. Not looking for a job. Its been different.

This was not my original intention. I was looking to switch jobs. Two or three interviews later, I decided to screw it. I am forty years old and discovered the thought of remaining a honourable salaryman for the rest of my life repellent.

But being jobless leaves an eight hour hole in your day – and surprisingly, it hasn’t been too difficult to fill that gap. The first couple of days, I was at a loss. I used to drive around. I hung around at coffee shops smoking endless cigarettes and watching people come and go. I hit the gym again, after years. Spent hours at bookshops, reading stories of the green lantern corps.

Played games. Naturally. Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed, The Force Unleashed, Mass Effect (1 & 2). DA:O.

I reread the Wheel of Time. I would sit on a stone bench at the Independence Day park and lose myself in Randland. Compare Brandon Sanderson’s books with RJs. Reread TGS and TOM over and over. Make lists of plot threads needing resolution.

I reread Robert Fisk’s fantastic The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East . Artemis Fowl. Identity and Violence. Most of Grant Morrison’s Batman run.  Even got used to the idea of Damien Wayne as Robin. Oh and Edgar Wallace – The Iron Grip. The Feathered Serpent. The Four Just Men. The Council of Justice. The Law of the Four Just Men. The Reeder books. The Avenger. The Traitor’s Gate. Reread my favourite James Bond books. OHMSS. Casino Royale. You Only Live Twice. Read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Tripped on the verses in Sylvie and Bruno. The Hunting of the Snark. My Lucky Lukes and Asterixes.

I watched BtVS, every episode from Season 1 to Season 7, from “Welcome to the Hellmouth” to  “Chosen”.
Watched “Hush” and “Something Blue” and “Nightmares” and “School Hard” and “The Pack” multiple times. I watched “The Prisoner”. The Star Wars  six pack. Jeeves and Wooster. And the Astaire/Rogers eight pack. Avatar, The Last Airbender. (The DiMartino/Konietzko masterpiece, not Shyamalan's dreck movie version)

Listened to music. Listened in a way I hadn’t listened to music for a long time. To stuff I hadn’t heard in years. Love. Fairport Convention. Traffic. Supertramp. Roy Orbison. Watched all my Springsteen Videos – from the early Rosalita recordings to the London Calling at Hyde Park. More on that later.

Started cycling. Madras in January is wonderful for cycling. Went around the city, listening to 80s songs, the synthesized sweetness of OMD and TFF and Madonna gently offset by the tearing in my thighs. Went to the Marina beach in the morning and stood in the water, playing like a child in the waves.  Riding around with nowhere to go makes even the worst gridlocks and traffic signals enjoyable.

Spent four days at an ashram. Meditating and yoga and other new agey stuff. Watched a concurrent sunrise and moonset. Spent more time at peace with myself than I have before.

Of course, its not all been roses and fractals. Its not exactly pleasurable to deal with parents who make no secret of their displeasure at your unemployed status, or a sister who wields guilt like a scalpel, in conjunction to a mother who prefers the spiked club approach. Its no fun to hear melodramatic sniffs that you are meant to hear. Its irritating to be told how your cousin – who’s been respectably employed in Oracle for a decade, is now planning his sons’ upanayanams. It’s painful to hear the bile in your mother’s voice when she discusses the US employed or the newly married members of the family, with a meaning look in her eye. It’s frustrating to listen to sister who asks if my current status means that she has to prepare herself to take care of a fading parent – if such a thing is necessary, of course. And all this is over and above your own self doubt and all the questions you have no answers for. Maybe I will have to go crawling back to one of my old bosses and beg for a job. Maybe I am doomed to cubicle hell. Maybe what I think I want is completely screwed up. Maybe I’ve fallen for too many homilies and platitudes. So many maybes…

But then, there are all those lyrics -

Little doubts, little doubts, they keep coming round. Carry On. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time, its easy. It's my direction, it's my proposal, it's so hard it's leading me astray...

So I don’t know. On balance, there has been beauty and grace – a great deal more in my world since I quit my job. It should do, for now. Even if the mermaids do not sing to me, its cool that I hear their song.  

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Revisiting Buffy

I’m sitting here, watching Phineas and FerbGot Game, and all the stuff about the F games got me thinking.

When Buffy was shown in India – it was the turn of the century – liberalization was well underway, Cable TV had pretty much penetrated the cities and I was in my second job.

I had come to satellite TV late and probably the only thing that I watched was reruns of M.A.S.H, which was considerably softer than the movie I loved. I remember seeing promo ads for Buffy, and dismissing it as another 90210.

I usually watch TV while I eat – Daljit Dhaliwal on the BBC World news during breakfast was a regular, and one diner, I channel surfed to see a guy in monster makeup chanting “The Sleeper will wake” in front of a pool of some kind.

The scene cut away and there was this pretty little blonde examining dresses in front of the mirror – “Hi, I’m an enormous slut”. I grinned. I was interested, despite being sure that I should be looking down at this and thinking “Ah, for the days of good British Comedy”. . What followed seemed to be mom/teen stuff, until the blonde says something like “Oh, I plan to hang out with the living”?. (WTF, Necrophilia? Really interested now). By the time the encounter with mysterious stud who gives her a cross and tells her that she needed to kill them all, I was into it.

And so I watched the attempted staking of Cordelia, Rupert Giles (Rupert? Really?) thumping the thud book with “VAMPYR” on its cover, chuckled at this exchange

Buffy: Oh, please! Look at his jacket. He's got the sleeves rolled up, and the shirt! Deal with that outfit for a moment.
Giles: It's dated?
Buffy: It's carbon dated. Trust me, only someone living underground for ten years would think that was still the look.

and watched the Master rise and ask for “something young”. I watched Willow try to seize the moment and end up in the master’s crypt with Darla and Jessie and watched Buffy really kick ass until Luke appears and do some ass whipping of his own, till the Batman style ending.

Thankfully, the next episode came right up. The Harvest. “Sunrise”. “….in about nine hours, moron”. 

It was the show I waited for. “The Witch” was OK, as was “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”. I never got to see “Angel”. Consecutive power cuts drove me to my sister’s house for the repeat, but wouldn’t you know, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board got in ahead of me just as I entered her apartment.

It’s funny, but the show was the only thing I could talk about. My evangelism was always met with rolling eyes and snorts at work. “You and your Buffy!” my co-workers would say.  I even tried to push it on my coworkers when I was in Italy – and I remember Sergio telling me – “It was nice, but nothing great” after watching Teacher’s Pet.

I couldn’t explain why I enjoyed the show so much. This was when the internet was something that was as ubiquitous in India as it is now. Even at work. Not for the first two seasons. I began to think that this must be some kind of shameful trip – like  - searching the internet for topless photos of Marina Sirtis.

It was only when Buffy was in the 4th season on the US and on hiatus in India that I started visiting websites for my Buffy fixes. I mean, if you’ve just finished seeing season 2, you need your fix pretty desperately right? You’ve watched some 88 minutes of the most amazing TV ever – Becoming, parts 1 & 2 – with those unforgettable lines about Happy Meals with Legs, Spike and Joyce on the sofa – “You hit me on the head with an axe…” and the whole heartbreaking climactic swordfight.

So, it was,,, and almost every site I could find. Lurking, of course. But with the comforting feeling that there was this whole group of people who were as rabidly obsessed as I was.

So anyway, here I am, several years after the series finale, going through all my DVDs, scrounged from various amazons and still squeeing like fangirl teen at the familiar scenes, still cheering at that rousing Nerf Herder score trying to come up with a top ten.

In no particular order



The Body

Fool for Love

The Gift

The Pack


Something Blue


Once More, With Feeling

Oh, there are sure to be so many more, but at this point of time….

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Girl with the White Parasol

One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.

Bernstein, Citizen Kane

The point Bernstein makes is about how memory works, but there’s another – it’s something that every guy has experienced. Or at least something that every guy has experienced.  The girl you saw, somewhere – maybe when you were a teen or a twentysomething – a theatre, a bar, a shop, an airport or a railway station.

One of my friends described one such incident – involving the Triplicane Parthasarathy temple just after dawn during Margazhi. He talked about the dark blue sari she wore, and the flowers in her hair – jasmines, if I remember right. He called the experience holy.

Mine features a woman in white, as well. It was when Nilgiris was the only “supermarket” – if you can call a place with room to park no more than four cars that. This girl walked in with her boyfriend – or her husband or whatever. Oval face, shoulder length hair, small dash of ash on her forehead, lovely eyes, soft voice. She bought some stuff – dal, milk, chips and some fruit. I don’t think I gawked, but I remember moving through the aisles so that I could keep looking at her.  She paid for her stuff – or the boyfriend did, and she went away on his bike.

She must have been a local, I thought. But I never saw her again. And like Bernstein, not a month has gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl – twenty years now.