Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ooh - I just love that pink!

Last week, my friend Vani sent out a characteristically strange and flourishy email announcing her decision to hold 'Mural making' art classes. She felt it was time to let loose her more creative side, as a weekend release from the corporate grind, and unleash it upon us lesser mortals. After threatening that she was very expensive and that there would be no discounts for so-called 'friends', she managed to get three confirmations for her first class. She had invited around 200 people but seemed happy at the 'positive response'.

I was one of the three and felt, rather enthusiastically, that this was my chance to rediscover my own creative side. I have always borne a grudge against my art teacher in school, with whom I had to part ways after I apparently 'indisciplined' with him. You wouldn't blame me, if you knew how irritating it was to have a bearded old crony pop up at your shoulder every time you were trying to paint a tree (the only form you could manage), to ask you in a quavering emotional voice 'So what do you want to be when you grow up?'. After changing my answer every class, three times, I lost it and finally told him 'A Woodcutter', which was the only thing that occured to me while painting a tree. After lecture that ensued from behind that quavering beard, I walked out in a huff, never to return or to paint again.

Until Vani, of course. Of course, I had very serious doubts about the whole affair when she sent a subsequent email announcing that the name of the classes would be 'Vani's Arty Tarties' ( I had loudly appealed to get her to change it, but without success), and these would begin at the unearthly hour of 9 a.m. on a Saturday. But my adventurous side prevailed and I went along to her place this morning.

I discovered that the only other student Vani had was Harman, as the third student had got cold feet and needed one more week to 'mentally prepare'. Little Harman had landed up on time, an hour before me, and was sitting on a cushion in the balcony, finishing a colorful painting consisting mostly of large blue stars. She was very proud of it and Vani was quite encouraging. She said 'Oh, I love the fact that there is absolutely no logic to your painting... It doesn't matter that it is daytime and that there are stars in the sky, on the ground....Very nice'. I personally felt that this was a disguised barb but Harman beamed and refused to do any more after that. Vani tried hard to get her to paint something else, but by this time, she had lost interest and preferred to talk on her phone and generally flip through a few art books. 'I am absorbing this', she explained, while listlessly turning the pages and throwing the books aside, one by one. She finally came across one she liked and said to me 'Look, Yash-this 'Nude in Sunlight'. See the way the sunlight is playing over her? Fantastic. She looks ...nude sunlight'. I agreed, because it was indeed a penetratingly accurate observation.

In the meantime, my own 'painting' was getting done. I had announced at the beginning that it would be a gift for my husband and there was a sigh of 'so sweet!' from both of them. When I told her that it would have a window as a main theme, Vani thought it was a great idea. But after talking about it for half an hour, I found I was still staring blankly at a blank sheet of paper. Some encouragement led me to make the first stroke and I began to draw a window. Vani panicked when she saw me draw two straight lines and said quickly opened one of her books to show me 'Look at this, Yash, look - some artists actually use abstraction to represent forms - see this bed here? No straight lines..and here, this one looks like an impression of the outside and inside, without there being a physical window'. I glanced at it and realised that this was her kind but vaguely pathetic attempt at hinting that I clearly sucked. I hesistantly began to start on a fresh sheet of paper, but she must have sensed my disappointment because she then asked me to continue with what I had started. So I happily painted away for the next hour.

Vani's husband, Pranay, who had been despatched to buy vegetables to stay out of her way, returned presently. He said hi from afar and then came up to observe what Harman and I were doing. He recoiled a bit when he saw our creations and then said the only sensible thing 'Wow! It's a real riot of colours out here!' and then retreated hastily, and stayed far away for the rest of the time.

Mostly, Vani pretty much let us do our own thing, saying we were both very creative, and she didn't really have to do anything, and these classes were easier than she thought. Then came the matter of remuneration. When she named her asking price, Harman and I scoffed loudly, reminded her of how creative we were and how she was not doing anything really, and unkindly added that we might as well buy fabulous professional paintings for that much. A bit crestfallen, she reduced her price and without much more bargaining, we agreed. I personally feel it is important to encourage these young folks when they are starting out on new ventures.

Towards the end, Harman announced 'I have decided I can only do abstract' and Vani assured her that it was more difficult to be abstract than to have forms to play with. She then gave us a long list of materials to buy for the 'Actual Murals' - I was a bit disappointed to learn that today's attempt was only a rough version and the actual would be much larger and using a variety of different materials (outside of crayon and poster colours that were so comfortable to use). But I hid my feelings well, and agreed that a 3*3 feet board would probably be more impactful than a crumpled, stained chart paper as a 'mural'. I was further reassured I was a creative genius by Vani exclaiming 'How did you get that wonderful shade of Pink over there, Yash?'. My doubtful response of 'I mixed the red and white together?' met with a serious, silent nod and then a round of uncontrollable giggles.

So the two of us left with promises of returning next week, and happy with the illusion that we can now paint. And Vani, simply by virtue of having created that illusion successfully, earned every bit of the ridiculous price she is charging us.

It's kind of nice when everybody's a winner.

And it really was a pretty shade of pink.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can you please not shake the hall?

It is not often that I go out for movies with my friends.

And yesterday reminded me why.

After a hard day at work ( well...), we felt we deserved a little recreational entertainment. So a bunch of us decided to go for the movie 'Eklavya'.

The movie goers, in no particular order of insanity:

- Harman: Long haired girl from Chandigarh. Bubbles over continuously with unnecessary enthusiasm. Architect of the movie plan.
- Vani: Strange Indian Girl referred to in earlier posts. Possessor of most clear and penetrating voice in the world.
- Atul: Harassed, mild mannered young man. Always surrounded by powerful women and girl trainees.
- Ruchika: Girl trainee of Atul. In terms of whiny-voice-quotient, beats even Vani.
- My husband: Yet another hapless victim who got pulled along.
- Me: The heroine of the story and all-round good-gal - because I get to write it.

So off we went - Vani, my husband and I went ahead to buy the tickets, and the remaining three promised to follow in ten minutes - which stretched to twenty and caused us to miss many trailers.

Vani and I, offended, bombarded Atul with phone calls and abusive SMS's continuously.

Unbeknownst ( I love that word!) to us, Atul had been accosted, while leaving, by the Head of Sales, and was getting screamed at (What you need to understand about Atul is that it's not just the women that harass him).

Sales Head: Atul! What's happening? Sales are down, shares are down, why is this happening? What's going on? What are you doing about it? I need an immediate review of performance across categories, as well as the correction plans for the next three months. This is apalling performance and I am just not seeing enough accountability amongst the individuals in this system. Well?

Atul (desperately trying to hide buzzing phone behind his back): Uhhh...Boss! I'll talk to you tomorrow, I have to go for a movie now.

Somehow, they made it to the hall after the movie had started. And that's when the real fun began.

I was absorbed in the storyline and wondering how Amitabh can still run up stairs so fast at his age, when the other three landed up, disturbing as many people as humanly possible. They then insisted on saying Hi to each of us individually and demanded to be filled in on the story so far.

Vani obliged penetratingly, getting most of the facts wrong and leaving out the crux of the story. I gritted my teeth and kept watching.

We discovered that the new entity Ruchika, (Atul's trainee) was a talkative young woman who in fact, looked upon this little outing as a chance to socialize rather than merely paying attention to a screen. Every two minutes, there would be a comment from her in a whiny voice, which Vani would happily respond to and take to a full length conversation.

Ruchika was then admonished by the women in the seats in front of us - 'Can you please not shake your legs, my seat is shaking'. Ruchika was naturally aghast at this unfair accusation and retorted 'But the entire hall is shaking. I am not shaking the hall' and then proceeded to loudly protest her innocence every few minutes, and Vani staunchly supported her 'Of course, you were not shaking your legs - the whole hall is shaking. My seat is also shaking'. What Vani didn't realise was that at least her shaking seat was due to my sitting next to her with hands quivering with the desire to strangle the both of them.

It continued, with every tense and important scene punctuated by giggles ( at the emotional scenes), gasps of surprise (minutes after the relevant scene) and inane comments (evenly spread across scenes) from my female companions. At the interval, I cooled off in a corner with a Mangola and was restored to blissful hope that the second half would be better.

This hope was ruined around five minutes after the second half began. I was nervously sipping my drink and watching Amitabh's splendid display of distraught anger as the most key revelation of the movie was made. But the excitement of this scene seemed to make Harman, sitting at the very furthest end of the chain from me, thirsty - because she suddenly shouted in a moment of dead silence 'Hey! Thoda Mangola baccha hai kya?'. I heard her and tried to ignore it and concentrate on the scene, but this was rendered impossible by the fact that this question was then repeated equally loudly by Ruchika, and then by Vani, who turned to face me inquiringly, almost accusingly. I thrust the blasted drink into her hand, and it was passed along to thirsty Harman, who slurped it noisily, shouted 'Thanks'. The bottle ( now left with two drops in it) was then passed back along the group, accompanied by two loudly whispered explanations of 'Mangola'.

The scene was over. I sighed and settled back to more of the same. The second half was as disastrous as the first. A good movie had been ruined. And then we went home.

This experience has placed me in bit of a thoughtful dilemma. I have often gone for movies when other people have been insensitive, loud and brash. In typical style, I have never had a problem with indignantly and righteously telling them where to go. But it's never actually been my own friends who I have wanted to murder.

So perhaps I am taking movie-watching too literally as 'watching the movie'. Maybe it's not about that. Maybe it's about obtaining the DVD first, watching it alone in the peace and quiet of your own home, and then proceeding to the hall in order to loudly exclaim important dialogues a split second before the actors, or chat with your friends, and generally make a nuisance of yourself.

Yes, maybe it's time for me to adjust to a new way of experiencing movies in the hall. In the meantime, the idiot box has begun to look pretty attractive again. So it may be quite a while before I go for the next movie. But probably even longer before I drink a Mangola again.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Idiot Box: Understatement of the Century

No, seriously. The more I watch, the stupider I get. I can feel it happening. I can literally feel the grey cells disintegrating.

But it's so difficult to stop...the easiest thing in the world after you come home from work is to plonk onto your comfortable blue sofa, which, by now, has a gentle, comforting concave indentation in the exact shape of your bottom, and switch on the TV and wait expectantly for your life to become Jinga-la-la..

TV just has to stop for me, though. And these are some of the reasons why:

a. I know who won the Roadies on MTV. I watched the finals.

(SOB! All right! I lied! I watched the finals TWICE!)

b. I derive great pleasure from watching deluded Americans get rejected on American Idol.

(Psychotic wannabe introducing himself to judges (American Drawl): I'm like a singer..dancer..superstar..
Simon (clipped English accent): Hang on a minute they-ah. I can undah-stand you saying you're a singer and dancer. But how can you call youself a superstah?
Psycho: Oh, you can ask anyone...mah friends...mah of mah therapists...
Simon: Hang on, hang on. Just how many therapists do you have?
Psycho (unconcerned about the impression he's making): I have, like, two..

Needless to say, he was rejected within .3 seconds of starting his 'song')

c. I have watched the Friends reruns so many times that I laugh before the joke is made.

And sometimes, I don't laugh at all..but still continue to stare at the TV blankly. I just can't switch it off! It's not an option!

d. I sat and waited one Monday at 9 p.m. to watch the first episode of KBC 3 on Star Plus

And then actually discussed with other people the next day as to how Shah Rukh had performed..Ewwwww...

e. I watched 'America's Next Top model' for six continuous episodes (and even saw 'I wanna Be a Soapstar' twice)

I knew the model's NAMES. Their NAMES! Brittany..Tiffany...Blasphemy!!

f. I watched one episode of Big Boss.

There was some girl on the show called Rupali, who actually made Rakhi Sawant look tolerable. Are you hearing me? I just called Rakhi Sawant TOLERABLE in comparison to someone.
And I saw Rahul Roy on TV! After 10 years! And I know he WON!

You'd think that Big Boss was the lowest I have sunk to. But NOO...for, do not forget, while I am watching these shows, I am also exposed to around a thousand ads per day. And as a marketeer, I KNOW how damaging that can be to the brain.

I Hate TV. I Hate Tata Sky. I Hate Life Jinga-la-la. I am going to read a book tonight. That's it. I'm serious. No, seriously, I am. No wise-crack ending to this post. No, SIR. Sorry to disappoint you.

And it's going to be a good book, too.

And I suggest you also read something worthwhile instead of this blog. (Now, that , you know, I don't mean).

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Ladiess OKAYY!

It was a balmy evening in Colombo. Our team from office was there for some arbit meeting. (Literally: it was a Regional Brand Team meeting, or RBT for short, or Arbit for slightly- longer-but-more-accurate).

Anyway, after we finished the meeting, it was time to experience Sri Lanka's capital in all it's glory. We realised that we had only twenty minutes to do our shopping at Odel, one of the higher priced malls in Sri Lanka, where the stuff is still low priced when you compare it to India (wow!). Our group of seven people descended unabashedly like a pack of hungry wolves onto the merchandise at 7:40 p.m. and emerged flushed and triumphant, laden with bags, at 8 p.m.

Now, it was time to PARTY.

Except, we didn't know where. We had never partied in Colombo before. But hey, we thought, our driver will know the hip and happening joints.

We had this one monster-van type taxi, driven by a constrastingly mousy driver, who understood no language that we could speak. But this has never deterred us in the past, and it never will. We drove off and this is what ensued.

Anand (sitting in front seat and thus naturally assuming leadership of situation, says to driver): You take us good place? Dinner?

Driver: (Blank look)

Anand: Dinner? Food? (signals eating)

Driver: (Dawn breaking over the horizon) Raja-bhoju! Famous restaurant.

Me (protesting, from the back seat) : Raja-Bhoju? No Raja-Bhoju! Sounds shady. Do we even get drinks there?

Anand (attempting to help): Drinks? Drinks? (signals drinking)

Driver: (Silent Conspiratorial nod: Seems to interpret this gesture as 'the loud lady in the backseat is a tad drunk').

Rakesh (is next to Anand on front seat, leans over to talk to driver and clarify): Drinks, drinks, Rajabhoju? (Waggling hands around unnecessarily, as usual)

Driver (Seems scandalized at this blasphemy): No drinks Raja-bhoju. Pure vegetarian restaurant, good food. Famous.

(Immediate groan at this from the group as a whole)

Ashwani pipes up ( Is from Lucknow, but despite this, a rather rude specimen on most days): Look...listen...Boss! Boss! You take us to some good place, with food PLUS drinks, that is, BOTH, so to say. ( Believes in being clear on these issues).

Driver: (Very perplexed) Raja-bhoju going?

Everyone in chorus: No! No Raja-bhoju!

The driver, clearly hurt, but determined to earn his tip, continues to drive around Colombo. At various intervals, he keeps pointing out restaurants, bars, pubs, discs to us -but we keep rejecting them on the basis of their looking suspiciously like garages.

Finally, we spot one garage from which multi-colored lights are emanating. We point to it and ask the driver 'What about this one?'.

The driver pulls over and looks askance at the proposed establishment which we now notice has a small crooked sign near the front which says 'Pier 3 boat'. His already shady demeanour now takes on a deeper shade of shadiness. He looks meaningfully at Anand and says 'Drinks, yes, yes this place...but you want go here?'.

Something in his manner makes us all a little wary. What kind of place is this joint, anyway, we wonder? After hurried whispered conference, we nominate Anand (for a variety of reasons, better left unmentioned) to clarify whether the place is 'respectable' enough for all of us, especially the female contingent, which typically needs to be 'protected' in such situations.

But in typical, unique style, Anand chooses to pose his question about whether the place is suitable for us women, in the following manner:

Leaning in closer to the driver, lowering his voice to a whisper, sticking out his right hand in a Thumbs-up gesture, he asks

' Ladies OK?'

The driver (delighted and relieved expression at being understood correctly - mirrors Anand's gesture - in fact, holds both hands out in Thumbs up, and affirms loud and clear, with a leering expression):

'Ladiess, OKAYY!'

Now, Anand seems quite satisfied with this and says to the rest of us 'Let's go!' and bounds out of the vehicle, bustling Rakesh out with him.

The rest of us take a minute or two to recover from the shock of witnessing this surreal interaction and then call him back

'Hello? Did you see the way he just said ''Ladies, okay?'' ...
'What kind of question was that anyway! It's clearly a shady place!'...
'Forget it, let's just go somewhere else..'

But Anand is adamant on checking out the place. He doesn't perceive his way of phrasing his question as objectionable. He says he will look inside and then tell us whether it is indeed 'Ladies, OK' or in fact, 'Ladiess, Okaayyy!'.

He re-appears after a minute and says 'Chalo. It's fine. I told you, it's an okay place'.

We hesitate, wavering. He insists 'Come on! There are families there - I saw children too'. Now we are reassured, and clamber out of the car and head in to the garage.

The garage entry opens out into a small bar, which actually is on the lakeside and therefore offering a decent view. But once we settle into our seats around a large-ish table, we gradually take in our surroundings and many events follow:

a. We see that there are no children and/or families for miles around. The 'one small child' that Anand claims later that he saw turns out to be our small and offensive waiter.

b. We quickly notice that the ladiess there are definitely Okayyy - and on the lookout for business. They are obscenely dressed and made up and delighted to see the fairly affluent-looking men amongst our group and send them coy, inviting smiles, occasionally breaking into strange contortions in the name of dance. They think it's going to be a good night, but little do they know.

c. The music is decent enough in the beginning, english retro stuff - but soon after our entry, it is changed to Hindi film music. Despite all our protests, we are forced to listen to Bollywood songs, which seem to be centered around Mithun's works.

d. The small waiter seems taken aback when we try to order food. Apparently the menu was just for show as food is hardly the main source of business for them. It takes him twenty minutes to understand the order, and then he ends up taking the whole evening to provide us with what is essentially a plate of cucumber sandwiches, which incidentally, arrives after we have paid the bill.

e. The menu itself makes for interesting reading because it contains obscure items, which the disgruntled small waiter, is most unwilling to explain for our benefit. These include things like 'Brakages - charge Rs.300'. We are left to the mercy of our own imaginations, which is never a good thing.

f. The high point of the evening is when we noticed that the pictures Ashwani is taking of us, actually contains less of our group and more of the ladiess behind us. (He thought he could get away with it, but didn't reckon for the technological advancement of digital cameras). Ashwani is promptly demoted from position of cameraman and retires hurt.

g. The other high point is when a scantily clad woman sidles up to Sunil, asking if she can have a cigarette. She waits, clearly expecting him to jump up and light it for her. What she has not reckoned for is Sunil's innate suavity and charm in such situations, and overridingly, his innate laziness, which causes him to coolly roll his eyes towards the table and say 'Help yourself'. She does, and leaves a tad upset, much to the delight of the less mature at our table (all the other men).

In short: we ended up having a great time, despite the incredibly shady environment. As we finally wrapped up a fun filled evening and headed out towards our shady, smirking driver, we couldn't help but feel grateful for our night out in Colombo.

After all, it could have been much worse - We could have gone to Raja-bhoju.

Maybe next time.