Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cogito, ergo sum


I wake up at 9… Early for a Caturday… After half an hour of deep Zen, I call Pallavi. We had plans to go shopping today.

When Pallavi came to India a month back, her husband was moving to another location within the US, so she had packed all their glassware into one carton, padding it with most of her clothes, for safety. After one or two apartment moves, hubby misplaced the whole carton somehow. So now most of her clothes were gone, and she needed to do a fair bit of clothes shopping.

They had a lot of fruitless argument, and she concluded – “I’ve learnt my lesson. Next time, I use his clothes.”

I asked her how she was going to afford it, because they are on a rather tight budget.

“Oh, he’ll think of something” she said airily. I looked at her face, and felt certain that he would.

I was just going with her to shop vicariously. She asks when we should meet. I say, afternoon 1 pm, optimistically speaking (Once I have reached deep Zen, it takes hours to shift me). She knows me. She says 11:30. I say OK, but don’t start till I tell you so.

9.30 now – means I have to start in an hour. I immediately start doing something irrelevant, read some stuff, watch some sitcom, play a violent game, run some music, mostly at the same time. Then I have a silent communion with my soul on whether its lucky day has come. Apparently it has, cause I take a bathe. I decide I am hungry and get some tea and eat whatever is in the house (yesterdays dosas) and I’m ready… at 11:30 sharp. I call Pallavi and tell her I started. She says ok, she will take her bathe now. I am deeply hurted, but I get over it.

I find the slowest bus to our destination, optimistically named “Express” and get in. In Chennai, male female seating arrangements are fairly rigid (hallelujah!) and guys generally don’t sit next to women in the women’s section. The bus gets a bit crowded and a few guys are standing. The seat next to me and next to the woman in front of me are both empty. In situ like these I generally get off my seat and move to the seat in front of me. So a couple of guys can have my seat.

I get up and move. None of the still-standing guys budge, my ex-seat remains empty…Jeez, its annoying being noble these days! Meanwhile the woman in front seat jumps as I drop into the seat beside her. She looks at me suspiciously and looks behind at the seat vacated. It looks like a perfectly good seat and its empty(). She stares hard at me. She is certain something is up, am I a man in disguise, after her virtue, her purse or her life? I could be...

I can feel my lip twitching and I know that if I turn and look at her, I am going to grin and grin hard. So I carefully look at the scenery outside. She doesn’t relent. She has turned fully to look at me and is giving me the squint eye in all its glory. I regretfully fight down the unholy urge to put my arms around her and blow in her ear.

She finally gets bored, gives up, figures I’m just another crackpot (true story), and gets back to ignoring me. At length she to gets off the damn toy-bus showing us the city. I am done with embarrassing seat changing stunts. Morons must Stand.

I move to the window and stare outside with the iPod on full blast. The bus stops at a petrol bunk. Imagine a city bus in Chennai, with fifty passengers, suddenly leaving its regular route for no apparent reason. There was widespread unrest. I got 9/11 flashbacks (I was in bed during 9/11 but I swear I FELT something… perhaps it was my dinner, perhaps … a FEELING) …

Anyway I thought the driver was trying to kidnap us; I looked hard at our sorry bunch and then yet again, maybe not. He wouldn’t get much out of us. My net current worth was 10000 Rs. Including the kidneys and my hyper-myopic eyes. I looked at the window speculatively and tried to judge if I could wriggle out of it and drop to the ground if it came to violence (The doors were shut). Probably. While I was planning my commando moves, one earnest guy who had to get somewhere quick, asked the driver if he could open the doors. Driver (crackpot #2) refused. Apparently, we must all be incarcerated during re-fuelling.

The guy doesn’t get it and is getting mad. The other passengers have figured that refueling is just an act of God, and with classic indian acceptance, are just ignoring further proceedings and waiting patiently. Anyway, before our hero blew a gasket, the bus refueled and we were thundering downtown at 5kmph.

The bus stops at a signal. There is a man scratching himself as he walks past. He sees me looking at him and grabs himself suggestively (He probably figured I find crotch-scratching irresistible). I have seen far too much of men in India to react in any way to his idea of Nirvana. I just stare at him blankly, its neither interesting nor shocking nor anything. Its just there. You have a penis just like all other guys. Get over it. He gets bored with my noncompliance and walks off.

I think of what his life might be like, if what he does for kicks is grabbing himself for 5 minutes in the sun during burning noon to get some random broad in a passing bus to react. It is rather depressing. Perhaps I should have oohed a little…

The bus meanwhile is still sitting at the signal, examining its nails and looking bored. Pallavi calls. Should she start? I tell her, I’m stuck in a jam, I’ll call her once I get somewhere close by. She lives very close to T.Nagar where we are going shopping and can get there in about 10 minutes. I live on another planet.

I finish the first leg of my journey and wait for an auto to take me the rest of the way. A bus comes heading for T.Nagar. In a moment of rash stupidity I get in. I swear all buses kick back and pull out a drink with an umbrella in it the minute I show up. So as this bus immediately slowed down I called Pallavi and told her to start. After another interminable journey (God Chennai is HOT!! And I don’t mean the good hot.)

We finally meet. I am tired already and thirsty as hell. We enter an air-conditioned mall with lots of clothes and accessories (Ooooo…shinyy!) and I make a miraculous recovery. It is 1pm. We both carefully refrain from noticing it. I have my pride, you know!

We try on 15 different T-Shirts each, critique each others choices, make witty remarks at the expense of frilly denim cargo pants (they’re the latest rage, and look hideous, like they were made for porcupines). Pallavi buys cargoes and a T-Shirt. I buy about twenty each. When I go shopping, I have neither taste nor bargaining skills. When I am in a rapacious mood, like today, buying everything I see, I can see the Grand National Debt and raise it a Defense Budget or two.

So while I have already bought myself most of what she came here to buy, she looks pitifully at her single pair of cargoes and T-Shirt and wonders – “Where did I go wrong?” Its all in the color blindness honey!

We have shopped for three straight hours before realizing neither of us have eaten lunch. While she is a skinny being who regards food as an accessory, I worship at the temple of Cheese. So doubly shocking that I forgot food too! We go to Murugan Idly Shop, which has become our favorite eatery (Real ghee on the dosas, just the right amount of sugar in the coffee, I’m getting old). We pig.

I wonder whether the banana leaf that we ate our dosas on was edible, because I think I scraped some in with the last bite. Getting my stomach’s subtle hint, I am just considering ordering another dosa., when Pallavi gets a call from her brother. He has locked out her laptop with the wrong password. She shouts out her password thrice to a roomful of uninterested strangers and calls her brother some loving names.

We head back for round 2. We are searching for a jacket for her. She is not sure what she wants, so I buy 5 more shirts in passing shops while she figures out Karma and stuff. We look at a couple of jackets, but they aren’t what she wants. Not that she knows what it is. It is all very Zen.

By now we have evolved a process. We walk into stores, hand over our burgeoning booty of shopping bags (mostly mine) to the doorman and get a token.

Pallavi then asks a salesman – “Do you have any women’s jackets? Semi-formal? Formal is also okay. But a little casual. Not too formal”. While he digests that, I have already headed for the cash counter at a dead run, grabbing everything on hangers in between, and billing them at top speed, before the sky falls on our heads.

After three more hours, I see a skirt. Beautiful in shades of light blue and purple, and clingy, the colors remind me of blackmagicwoman’s paintings. Looks like something a mermaid would wear. I try it on. The material is soft and feminine and really rather neat. I look at myself in the mirror. I don’t look like a mermaid, I look more like a bulldog in a tutu. But I feel like a mermaid, dammit, dats good enough! Pallavi sees the same skirt in a different shade and tries it on too.
Pallavi is a little self-conscious in the skirt– “This thing makes my hips look bigger. I don’t want it, its depressing.”

I am dismissive “Perhaps you’re re-entering puberty? You’re a damn stick! Now get it, it looks great” She is four years younger and half my size for heavens sake! She finally does get it and we make a promise to wear it on the same day together for a Laurel and Hardy comeback.

We are wrapping up our marathon when I notice a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt on the wall– “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she is in hot water” – I tell her we should amend “hot water” to “a shopping mall”. She glances at our 15 bags that we have patiently marched with for the past seven hours nearly and agrees. By then her tally has steadily increased. No competition for me obviously, but she finally has bought half as much as me…

We bid tired farewells and I catch an auto home and so does she. On the way back, in the crawling traffic, I see one of those cars to my right, with an antenna waving on its ass. I always have the urge to pull at antennas waggling at the backs of cars, its quite irresistible.

But I am a big girl now, so instead, I wonder if I could tell this to a shrink. It would probably have phallic implications. I chortle to myself as I think of two or three different ways it can have phallic implications. The auto driver looks at me in the rear view mirror, chortling to myself at a car antenna, and shakes his head in disgust. Crackpot.

I look to my left, there’s a family on a motorbike. Daddy, the Helmet, Mommy at the back and baby girl in front. Mommy is eating a cut pineapple. I start drooling in about 3 seconds looking at it. Mommy gives one to the little girl and she too starts eating. Mommy tries to push one at the Helmet. The Helmet shakes it off impatiently.

The little girl turns to look at me. She has really beautiful eyes. I look swiftly at Mommy. Naah, baby didn’t get those eyes from there. The helmet is also unhelpful. I look at the little girl again. She is staring at me now. Really lovely eyes, with long lashes. She’s gonna be a heartbreaker someday. I smile and wink at her. She stares back not sure what to make of me. Then turns away self-consciously with a hint of a smile.

The traffic signal changes and I am zooming again. I get home around 10pm and get an SMS from Pallavi – “Hubby called. He found the missing clothes carton”. Amen.


  1. Madhuri! time you get yourself a publisher! and when u do, do remember to send me an autographed copy of your first book....;)

    its so darn risible that i read it twice over.

  2. Whoever antigone is, I completely agree! Your pen wields magic babe! I even forwarded it to Odit - "yaam petra inbam peruga ivvayagam" :)

    I come to your blog when I'm down and in need of a laugh or when I'm restless and don't feel like moving away from my computer, or when I'm waiting for things to finish compiling, or just like that.

  3. Antigone, words fail me, thank you :) You made my otherwise bleak day :) ...And the same to you!! Your latest poem keeps running in my head...But I searched for it in ur blog and I dont see it :(((

  4. Madhu mydea, THANK YOU :)!! do keep reading, it keeps me going!!!!.... I love ur stuff too, u write far too little :( ...

  5. @Antigone - Got it! This is the one i meant in my last comment... The Random Thoughts one... This one... I will read every now and then... whenever I slip into complacence....

  6. madhuri...honestly u got me looking up the thesaurus to find some words to thank u with....:) and :) again...