Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Drinking with friends

I saw this movie 'Superbad' a few weeks ago and I loved it . Not that it has an exceptional storyline but the script-writer and the director have done a wonderful job narrating the experience of 3 teenagers trying to attend a 'happening' party. The only reason they are invited is that they have proclaimed that they can buy alcohol for the party. The entire movie is based on the events of that one night and their attempts to get alcohol. I am sure it struck a chord with most of the people who saw that movie, since every underage drinker must have been able to relate to it.

The first time, I and my friends tried to experiment with alcohol is still so fresh in my memory. Let me clear something up before I proceed. Personally, I and most of my drinking friends don't consider beer as alcohol. It just is not in the same league as Rum, Vodka, Whiskey and the likes. So yes, I did have beer once or twice before my initiation to hard liquor but it was very disappointing. You ingest all that bitter liquid and for what? Nothing except a bloated belly, beer breath and a need to pee like its going out of fashion. No thank you, I will settle for a rum anyday - a little bit goes a long way. I like efficiency. Very little input and a lots of output.

Anyway, we had planned on drinking at a friend's place since he lived alone. This friend, whom we shall call DK, was sporting enough to let us use his place. Frankly speaking, I think his curiousity might have been bigger than his sporting nature. Buying the liquor was a big exercise in planning and execution that would have put the best in the business to shame. We obviously could not buy it from anywhere close by for fear of getting recognized by the countless 'uncles' and 'aunties' (read friends of parents) of our neighbourhood. So the plan was to buy it from another neighbourhood which was a 20-25 minute walk away. Even though the plan was to drink the night away, we had planned on buying the alcohol in the afternoon, the reasoning behind it being that streets are least populated when the unflinching high afternoon sun is roasting you, slowly sapping your life-forces. Also we had decided that all 5 of us would go in to buy it and buy it confidently like seasoned-pros as if we bathed in liquor 3 times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The actual act of buying the liquor at the shop was not a problem at all, since unlike the US, during those days shopkeepers in Bombay had absolutely no problem selling it to you even if you were 10. In fact you would most likely get an encouraging smile, twinkling eyes silently congratulating you on your first step hopefully towards a long and enjoyable journey with Somdev ( सोमदेव - the Hindu god of wine) since Bacchus, Somdev's Greek counterpart was a continent away. Thankfully, everything went according to plan and we were able to buy some whiskey without problems. The only embarassing points in the almost clinical execution of our plan were that (1) none of us knew what a good mixer for whiskey was and we ended up staring blankly at the shopkeeper who had raised the question. Finally someone said coke and the shopkeeper gave us a disapproving look which said "what kind of people are you to mix whiskey with coke?". But as the old Indian saying goes, 'an arrow shot from a bow and a word uttered cannot be taken back', sure enough we stuck with coke. (2) the plastic bag given to us did not offer the best padding and the bottles kept clinking as we walked. Anyone with half a brain could have guessed what was inside the plastic bag, which was black in colour as liquor bags usually were.

We felt a huge sense of accomplishment when we finally climbed the four flights of stairs and stashed away the alcohol in a safe place inside DK's apartment. That night of drunken revelry revealed quite a few interesting things about my friends. DK delves into poetry when drunk , which unfortunately then was wasted on 4 drunk boys. YG loves chinese food and the girl who lives in flat # 002 of the adjacent building, in that order. VM, the shy and polite friend's favourite position from the Kamasutra is not the missionary one. AP can move his neck over the side of the bed to throw up without moving the rest of his body.

After that first time, there was no looking back and over the next many years I had the opportunity to drink with friends, friends of friends and complete strangers. I had a room-mate RC (even his initials stand for Royal Challenge whiskey) who belonged to the school of thought that puking your guts out was not to be construed as a sign of your body suggesting that you stop filling it up with alcohol. He merely treated it like a quality problem in the whole alcohol-ingestion operations process in which the previous batch of liquor which went into his body had some minor problems. So he would just continue drinking right where he left. Then there was the other roommate DS who would dance in his underwear, scarring us for life. Oh wait, he did that even when he was sober!

More or less, drinkers fit into a few basic moulds. There is always the talkative-when-sober guy who goes silent as soon as the alcohol kicks in. Then there is someone on the other extreme. The free advice-disburser who can give you advice on anything from matters of the heart to how to brush your teeth. The complete stranger, who will walk into your table, sit with you and buy you a drink or have you buy him a drink. The giggling fellow who finds mirth in the most mundane of things, the hot-blooded chap who is raring for a brawl etc etc. I fall under the talkative, laughing, giggling and definitely non-violent mould. I remember once I had offered some food to a drunk angry man who had got into a fight with some of my equally drunk friends at a bar. I was extremely hungry and completely plastered and wanted to eat the last of the 'daal' (दाल) but was not sure if anyone else wanted it. I may have been drunk but I had not lost any of my manners. So I went around asking my friends (they were many, definitely more than 10 ) if they wanted any of it and since this guy was also standing there, fists twitching, ready for action, I ended up asking him too. I did not want to have him feel left-out. It sounds far-fetched but he actually replied to me very politely that his stomach was full and he could not eat anything else. Anyway, the situation was soon diffused thanks to all the waiters (20 or so, I was amazed that place had so many waiters) and the rumour of a police van around the corner.

Drinking alone by myself has never been appealing to me. If the company is right, drinking can be a lot of fun. And I have been lucky enough to have had very good company most of the time. Looking back at all these fun-filled memories, I have realised that alcohol has had a minute role to play in it. It was the whole experience of sharing it with friends which makes it so memorable -the conversations and the stupid things you do, giving you an opportunity to laugh at yourself later, that makes it so appealing. Without friends to share it, the same alcohol would have amounted to nothing. In a way, a drink without friends is like watching a foreign movie without subtitles. You can definitely do it but you are not going to have a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Indian Movie Patron

Over the many hours of my life, wasted or well-spent at different movie theatres across India watching Hindi movies, I (and surely most of the people who also have been there) have noticed not only the action taking place on the screen but also off of it - the patrons, who are entertainers by their own right. This is my humble attempt to categorise some of the interesting types of the Indian Movie-theatre-patron. So here goes:

The snob: He thinks that no one else besides him has got the meaning of the movie. This kind is usually found in urban Indian theatres and can be visually recognised by their noses which are turned up all the time at the rest of the world.

The reviewer: He analyses the story, script, camera angles etc to death. He will announce his reviews loudly after (thankfully) the movie for the enlightenment of the masses, who according to him, are just plain lucky to be hearing his profound thoughts.

The virtual sidekick: He thinks he is part of the movie and tries to help the hero in action scenes by throwing stones (or other objects) at the villain on the screen. Usually found in remote rural Indian theatres. And that is why, boys and girls, you should never sit in the front rows in rural theatres.

The smart-aleck: He feels it is his sacred duty to "entertain" the public by making "funny" comments evey now and then. He usually starts off by mouthing remarks at lower decibel levels just for the benefit of his 2-3 friends. A few encouraging laughs from his buddies and he feels the need to share his jokes with the entire theatre. This kind is ubiquitous and has been known to plague every kind of theatre, be it rural, urban, swanky or cheap.

The dancers: Their single-minded goal in life is to extract full value for their money spent at the theatre. They will break into impromptu dances during songs (yes, most Hindi movies have songs) blissfully oblivious and unmindful of the fact that they are not transparent and are blocking other people's vision. These kind are usually teenaged or in their early twenties and are always found in groups. They seem to enjoy themselves no matter how crappy the movie is.

The opportunist: He comes to a movie with a partner only because its dark and there is no other place for him which offers as much privacy as the 2 corner seats in the last row. Usually he has his own movie going on in which he is the lead actor. Has been known to evoke interest from other patrons if the movie (the one on the screen) is crappy.

The team-person: He thinks that everyone should enjoy it as much as he does and he wants to make sure you are, by asking you "Did you see that?" every now and then. Or repeating the last line of the last dialogue just to make sure you got it.

The bully: He is bound by the code for bullies to keep his foot on the headrest of the person in front and to pick a fight with that person if he objects. Can liven up a bad movie if the person he picks the fight with is an even match.

The gang: Usually boys in their late teens full of testosterone. Members of this category could also fall in the 'dancer' group mentioned above. Patrons get full value for their money if someone from the 'bully' category messes with someone from this group.

The family with the crying-baby: They have to bring a 1 year old baby to the theatre so that he can appreciate the finer nuances of cinema early in life. Usually, the would-be-child-prodigy expresses his opinions about the movie by wailing loudly. This category is usually the inspiration for some of the 'smart-aleck' comments.

The cell-phone talker: Relatively new category since cell phones were invented not so long ago. Their calls are important and they have to make sure that others in the theatre get the same message.

Before I stop this post (because I have bored myself), I must confess that I have been a part of the 'smart-aleck', 'dancer' and 'gang' category at different times in my teens. Let me say in my defense that I danced only because I was not very sober and none of my friends were sober and the movie was really really bad. Unfortunately, the movie went on to become the biggest blockbuster of that year. That should tell you the taste of the average Hindi movie watcher. Do I sound like a snob?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I read this article about multi-lingual babies http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16455841/ and I realised very sadly that I am no longer a baby.

My parents came to Bombay from Kerala and so their first language was Malayalam and thats what we communicated in at home. I learnt Hindi (India's national language) by way of my interactions with others outside our home. Marathi was the local language of Bombay and it was mandatorily taught in school. English was the medium of instruction in school, so you learnt it automatically. So the result of all this in some ways was that I became a jack-of-all-languages, master of none. I have an accent in every language I speak. The moment I speak English, you know English is not my first language and people can guess that I am somewhere from the Indian sub-continent. The moment I speak Hindi, purists cringe listening to my completely grammatically-erroneous but extremely cool Bombay Hindi (बम्बैय्या हिंदी). Marathi speakers know I don't speak Marathi at home and when I speak Malayalam, the souls of ancient Malayalam scholars writhe in agony at my butchery of their beloved language. But not everything is bad.

I remember an incident which took place many years ago near Victoria Terminus. My friend ,whom I shall mysteriously call AP (I have a better name for him but he won't like it) and I were shopping for a haversack for him. There were all these street vendors, many of them from Kerala, selling their wares just outside Siddharth Law college. AP liked a particular Nike bag and was quoted a price of Rs. 350. Us being college students and all, there was no way AP could afford it. So we tried to bring it down a bit - all conversation being in Hindi all along. So the seller consulted with his partner in Malayalam about what he should do. His partner replied in Malayalam that even if he got 100, he would still be making a good profit. So the seller told us , "I could bring it down to 200, but thats the lowest I can go to. After all even I have to eke out a living". We (AP knows Malayalam too) started laughing and asked him in Malayalam , "Didn't your partner just say that 100 would still be a good price?" He was crest-fallen, embarassed, surprised, happy all at once to see some fellow-Malayalam-speakers in Bombay. Anyway, we paid him about 120 or so for the bag and left. A few other such incidents have taken place every now and then to show me the brighter side of being multi-lingual.

Another advantage I have noticed is that I can pick up sounds and pronunciations of languages much faster than an average uni-lingual person. So I am assuming this is true for most multi-lingual people. I pity all the people who make fun of accents and pronunciations because they are displaying the level of their intellect by making fun of someone who probably speaks one language more than them. Its like a mentally-challenged person making fun of a sane person. You can only feel pity.

I want to learn Spanish. I have a feeling it will come easy to me. It may be a false sense of confidence that I have, but I like the feeling nevertheless. Till then, Adios amigos.

Monday, September 3, 2007


Wikipedia defines Airspace as “the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a particular country on top of its territory”. I came to understand the concept of airspace when I was very very young…..much before children usually think about such things. Not that I was a child prodigy in affairs of military strategy - but life teaches you a few things as you grow older and this was a very early lesson that I learnt.

As a child, I have always liked to cuddle with my near and dear ones. Although there have been some transmission losses in my cuddling tendencies on my path to adulthood, I have still retained a lot of it, which I am sure, my wife is very happy about. And if my wife is reading this, I would like to take this opportunity to remind her how lucky she is and what a wonderful, wise, kind, funny, noble, generous, good-looking husband she has. Anyway, I realised very early that cuddling, as a gesture could be used for the good of mankind as well as an effective weapon to irritate my older brother.

I specifically remember one instance when he was lying on a bed reading some book. I had nothing to read, nothing to do. So of course, I had to pass my time irritating him. I lay down next to him and put my arm around him, knowing very well that he hated it. He asked me very tersely to stay away. I moved my arm a little bit but still touched him.
“Don’t touch me”, he said.
“Why not?” I questioned, the ever curious child.
“Because I don’t like it”
“I like it”, I reiterated my stance on touching irritated older brothers.
“I won’t say it again. Do not touch me”, he growled.

Some doubts started creeping in my mind now about the feasibility of my current venture. So I moved my hand away except that I left a little finger touch his arm, just to see if I could get away with that. That would leave my pride intact as well as make him feel better. But I was just too optimistic. My brother put down his book and gave my offending finger a piece of his mind, except that he preferred action and not words to convey his message to my finger. I lay there for a few minutes, wincing in pain, nursing my finger and my wounded pride and also plotting my next plan of action to salvage something out of this situation.

That’s when I hit upon a brilliant idea. At least, at that time I thought it was brilliant. Since he had told me not to touch him, I circled my arm around him except that I hung it above him in the air without touching him. He cast a dirty look at me. I was so pleased with myself because not only was I exploiting a loophole in his directives and accomplishing my mission, but my arm was also blocking his vision and so he could not read. Anyway, before he could say anything, I offered my explanation that I was not touching him, so he should have no reason to complain. He said that I was violating his airspace. Naïve that I was, I replied in my innocence, “What do you mean? You can’t claim air.”
He did not say anything. My brother was a man of few words. Why waste time on words when you can do something much faster by action. This time, it hurt a lot more and I got the message very quickly. The meaning of airspace became clear to me. I had attained a kind of mini-nirvana.

I must say though that a few doubts still remained in my mind. I did voice my doubts later on when things had cooled off a bit. But I did not get any answers. I asked him “What happens if I do some shadow-boxing in my airspace and you happen to be in my airspace and my fists hit you. Can I be held at fault for that?” No answer, just a menacing look to discourage any such ideas.
“How much air can I claim as my airspace. Is there a standard?” No answer.
Coming to think of it on a larger scale, I wonder, vertically up to what height in the atmosphere can a country claim as its airspace? Do satellites violate airspace regulations? Or is airspace only limited to a height where air exists? Wikipedia says “There is no international agreement on the vertical extent of sovereign airspace (the boundary between outer space— which is not subject to national jurisdiction— and national airspace), with suggestions ranging from about 30 km (the extent of the highest aircraft and balloons) to about 160 km (the lowest extent of short-term stable orbits).” And so my questions shall remain unanswered.

My first post

My first post. I don't have anything interesting to say in this post, but this lucky post will be the one to deflower my blog !