Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jingle all the way.....

Four days from today is Christmas, a day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. As with all festivals, we celebrate the occasion with a lot of fervour, enthusiasm and alcohol in India.The colourful lights, music of the soothing Christmas carols adding on to the mirth and festivity of this joyous occasion. 

Rewinding the tape of life by three years, I'd like to share with all of you my experiences of the first Christmas that I spent in England. It goes somewhat like this:

Christmas Eve: The office ended and the bars opened half a day earlier than usual. With office anyway functioning at quarter strength, only some people who had bid items on ebay could get some useful work done during the morning hours.  The bars witnessed animated discussions as it was full of married men, most of whom had curiously forgotten to inform their wives that it was a half day at office. By 6 pm it was time for them to head back home but not before they came up with a good reason that could be attributable for their drunken shapes.  As uniformity in the version of  stories is supremely important in such matters of connivance, most agreed that they would say that it was the birthday party of a dear friend and inspite of their unwillingness to go were dragged into the same and made to drink.If we left the unwillingness bit, this story was completely true if they actually added one small insignificant detail that this dear friend of theirs was actually born around two thousand and five years back.  

At the Stroke of Christmas: Four of us bachelors, two of whom unfortunately no longer share the same marital status, decided to bring in the Christmas in style and thought of hitting the discotheque at the stroke of midnight where surely blondes would get drunk and behave as drunk blondes are expected to.
Two such heavily built mean looking creatures guarded the entrance of the disco, that we were almost discouraged in our plans but we took the chance anyway. These descendants of Goliath are very aptly called Bouncers for if you were to ever fall in their bad books, they could, easily making pulp of all your bones, turn you into a rubbery substance which when kicked once, would continue bouncing till eternity. 
Usually free on other nights, there was a cover charge of £10 in the disco that night which we willingly paid. More than the enthusiasm to enjoy the disco, the fear of being beaten up by the two men contributing to our quick parting with the money.
As we climbed the stairs, we were all spiked with the anticipation of the thrill awaiting us as the vision of drunk blondes started floating once again and we winked at each other. This is going to be a night to remember.
We rushed and pushed open the gates and sounds of some heavy music greeted us as we entered the huge disco.  Bring it on England we cheered !!!
The music stopped and expressions altered.
We looked around ourselves and realised that apart from three middle-aged male bar-tenders , we were the only ones inside the discotheque !!! Our first reaction was that this was the way they greeted all new entrants and then the whole crowd would now descend upon us from all directions pushing and shoving us into the grind of the dance floor where we would then dance our hearts out.

Such hopes were to remain confined to our imaginations, for even half and hour later, there were just two new joinees and both belonging to a gender that did not interest us. The invisible DJ played out some unbearably loud and crass music and the dance floor remained virgin on that night. At the stroke of midnight, we wished Jesus a very happy birthday and left the disco with heavy hearts and lighter wallets. A night to remember it indeed was.
An old Hindi saying which comes as a four letter acronym  starting with 'K' that describes the treachery to an upright object would have aptly described the situation here.

OK, so it did not turn out the way we wanted it to. So what?  It was Christmas the next day. Hurrah. We would have a blast and compensate for all that we missed at the discotheque. With such optimism in mind and beer in stomach, we slept off.

Christmas : Woke up early the next day for I was really enthusiastic to see how a Christmas day would be like in this country. Strangely I had not seen any of those colourful paper stars hanging outside the houses here and wondered if that was something typical to our Indian way of celebrating Christmas I ventured into the streets and my first reaction left me speechless. 
Ah no it was not the scale of the festivity which induced this reaction. It was the fact that I was the ONLY LIVING SOUL standing there with no sign of any other life in my vicinity. For a brief moment I felt like Tom Cruise in the War of the Worlds. But soon I saw myself on a shop window and the moment vanished. Damn the law of reflection.
Questions were whizzing around in my mind. Had the aliens finally struck and annihilated all life ? Was I the only man alive and if yes then had they spared Heidi Klum too , or Jessica Alba, okay Scarllet Johannson then? I saw my reflection again, bringing sanity back to such chain of thoughts.
But truly I was at my wits end (which is fairly easy to reach anyway)  trying to find an explanation to this extreme oddity of complete lifelessness on Christmas day. Priyanka Chopra maybe ?
The shops were all closed which was kind of okay as people would want to take a break for the occasion. 
But the fact that there was absolutely no vehicular traffic at all was what contributed to the eerie chillness in the whole environment. I roamed around the town centre in search of some semblance of humanity but there was none to be found. Completely baffled I made my way back to the house half hoping actually half wishing to find my roommates sucked away by some alien spaceship. But that joy, I was to be deprived of.
I came to know that all public transportation remains closed on Christmas day and being a day of family get-togethers most preferred to stay indoors which explained the lack of cars in the roads.
But this was crazy !! It was Christmas day and in the absence of a car, here we were stuck inside the house with no laptops, no stock of beer, one DVD of Gadar and a DVD player with a lost remote which meant that one could only watch Disc 1 where the focus defaulted when you turned it on. Awesome !! 
And if you are wondering why didn't we try out TV then you should actually watch the programmes dished out on the 4 free to view channels. Butchering you with boredom is an art they pride themselves with.
Thus I spent my first Christmas in the UK.

Boxing Day I am kind of quite hungry now so will quickly wrap this up. It snowed on Boxing Day and we clicked pictures like madmen. Tried to make snowmen but the snow wasn't that thick and mostly we ended up with distorted snowfrogs. Tomatoes and carrots which we had brought out to make the eyes and noses of snowmen with, went back into the refrigerator. 
Trains were back on so we thought of making the shopping trip to Blue Waters which we had heard was the largest shopping mall of UK and Boxing Day was supposed to the day of heavy discounts much like Thanksgiving in the US. This surely could not go wrong. Took us four trains and two hours to reach. Our combined shopping at the end of the day was a 30ml bottle of perfume as nothing else was affordable.
Nearly froze to death on our way back as the snow started melting sucking away all the heat from the atmosphere. Cursed the country for no fault of hers. 
Four trains later we were back home, with each of us swearing upon each other that this would be the last Christmas that we would be spending in this country.

Next week, it would incidentally be my fourth consecutive Christmas in this country. 
But thankfully the first year had taught me my lessons well and I have stayed better prepared for the holidays since.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year ahead.
C'mon 2009 lets see what you got in store !!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Of Marriages, Bengalis and Rosogollas

The annual hunting season is coming to its climax in India. 
And like every year there is much jubilation in the camps which have come home with their prized hunts, some captured after a lot of perseverance and months of dedicated stalking.

Yes it is the marriage season in India when many a worthy warrior of the bachelor camp, having fought off captivity valiantly over the years will finally succumb to the emotional blackmails of concerned mothers, to the shrewd manipulation of match making aunts, to the appearance of a bi-coloured band in the girlfriend's pregnancy test strip or sometimes to some whimsical thought of doing something different in life, often such ideas emerging under the influence of alcohol or some other intoxicating substance.

While people here in the west tone down the affairs to a certain degree in respect of the distraught sensibilities of the soon-to-be-caged, marriages in India compete to give the word ostentation a whole new meaning. 
This being the tenth year that I am out of home for padhai and rozi roti, I have been attending most marriages belated through photographs now and it I must tell you that missing marriages is really a huge huge loss.
While its stomach-breaking to hear of the menu over phone while you are chewing 'not-at-all-ready-to-eats' thawed in a microwave, it breaks a lot of other things when you see the photographs of all those dazzling femme-fatales giggling away in borrowed sarees.

Describing a typical middle class Bengali marriage and the various rites and rituals that accompany it would probably require Wikipedia to buy a few new servers to host all the information. 
In this post I merely attempt to give short descriptions of the various entities that give a Bengali marriage its typical flavour.

The Kaku-Jethu-Mesho huddle- Usually men in their late fifties and sixties talking about their common gastrointestinal problems and the latest ayurvedic herb which eases the motions. This discussion is followed by what their kids are doing now, which nobody gets a chance to complete anyway as someone would surely jump in mid way to share what their own kids have been doing. With an underlying intent to prove that their offsprings are doing better than the rest, this leads to animated discussions interrupted by wives bringing in digestive tonics, blood pressure medicines, waist belts etc. 
This group would suddenly thin out, giving the impression that they have retired for the night.
Then the orders for fried fish would start and sounds of laughter would ring out well into the night. The marriage continues somewhere in the background.

The Kakima-Jethima-Mashima Sammelan - This group of ladies form the most active party in the whole wedding with everyone seeming to be running around with the most urgent task at hand and if you happen to fall in their path then either you would be admonished for your carelessness or be immediately packed away on an errand to get that something  without which it would seem that the rituals of the marriage just wont proceed. 
Damn the clan of Pundits and their continuous chattering with God ! 
Anyway these women have another very important task in the marriage. That of spotting newbakras for their next match making opportunity and suddenly mothers with kids in marriageable age are thronged with attention. Sentences such as ' When is Joy next coming home ?' or 'Your daughter has completed her post graduation isn't it. That's wonderful' usually have an ulterior motive not visible to unsuspecting eyes. Seeds of many a future marriage are sown here while bachelors unaware of the predicament being arranged would be blissfully spending time guzzling beer and playing PS3 in some corner of the world. Idiots!! 

The Char-annas (kids) - This genre run amok in all directions unaware of what they should be breaking or where they should be peeing . Some gentler ones would be sticking close to their mothers while the notorious brigade would be thinking of plans of burning some firecrackers up the grooms dhoti-covered-ass. As if the poor soul is not already destined for graver injuries in life.

The Bhai-Bons -The lot sharing the common ancestry with the groom probably enjoy the most in the marriage. With no work or responsibility other than looking good themselves, they spend most of the time hunting out potential flirtable entities in the bride's camp and having found one would be seen constantly hanging around these entities, well unconcerned of that brother of theirs who sitting in front of the fire had made this all possible and who an hour back had wished to know the score of the Liverpool-Chelsea match. Sacrificial animals need to be left alone in their last hours, so they believe.
In sharp contrast, the bride's party would traditionally be at their best behaviours  camouflaging the glee of finally being able to get rid of the sister behind a facade of solemnity portraying the 'sorrow' of having to give her away. Sniff.

The Bandhobis - The female friends decked up in resplendent sarees and jewellery. Add to the glamour quotient of the marriage and usually keep the bride updated with all the gossip of whats happening in the marriage elsewhere. The unmarried ones pass fleeting glances at the handsome specimens of the group described below while the married ones rue a day very similar to this one which had snatched away their freedom to do so.

The Bondhugon - Mostly unmarried friends in suits representing the grooms friend brigade. Keep a watchful eye on the above group, interpreting smiles as invitation for dates and spend most of the time eating and doing nothing useful. They arrange on-the-stop rosogolla-eating-contests leading to an invariable shortage of the same and while nowhere to be seen when the need to drop an old relative back home arises, would suddenly emerge in full force as soon as they realise that the old relative is the father of the most dazzling lady from the above mentioned group.

All in all, I would say that a marriage is a lot of fun, but just as long as you yourself are not the one getting married. 
My folks complete 33 years of marriage today while my cousin sister completes her first. Wishing them many many more years of a happily married life.

P.S. If this post reeks of a chauvinistic approach trying to highlight the plight of the groom while completely disregarding the feelings of the lady involved then I sincerely apologise to my female readers. Like all men I have very little idea of the female psychology and thus did not wish to tread on an unfamiliar terrain.

Leo Tolstoy was brave when he said :
"When I have one foot in the grave, I will tell the whole truth about women. I shall tell it, jump into my coffin, pull the lid over me and say, 'Do what you like now'."