Social parachutes

We’ve all been there: there are so many awkward situations we face that it is impossible for us to think on our feet in all of them. We’re bound to slip up. We better come up with some cheat-sheets cataloging the prototypes of various awkward situations and the ways we can parachute out of them salvaging a smidgen of dignity. Of course, if you’re getting life lessons from a blogger of questionable social judgment and ethics, chances are that dignity isn’t a priority for you. There! I have insulted the minuscule readership I have. But wait, you’re still reading? What are you made of? Huhhh…lemme go on then. Looks like nothing will budge you. Okay. Here’s a list of some of the awkward situations I (or friends of mine) have faced, and dealt with to satisfaction. Now I know some of you out there have never had a faux pas, or know the perfect things to say in every situation, but the rest of us are fun! Sounds like something to think about on those lonely Saturday nights with a Haagen Dazs and an insufferable Meg Ryan movie.  But now that you’re here, read on…

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Eulogy – Part II

(This is the concluding part of a two-part series. Please read Eulogy – Part 1 before you read this.)

He yawned loudly. Somehow he always remembered to cover his mouth when he yawned. Even in private. She had reformed his bohemian ways a long time ago: her eyes large as saucers and an admonishment of ‘be polite’, with her hand gently covering his mouth. He wryly wondered how she expected him to improve such behavior while she doled out such delicious punishments. Nothing like that now. He was still drawing a blank. There was nothing he could think of that was profound enough to be said at a podium, but impersonal enough that it could be shared without causing any embarrassment.

His family had been extremely cooperative and understanding. His wife had stopped scowling at him, and had interrupted him only once to announce that the Fedex package he’d made her track would arrive only on Monday. Damn! The stuff that R had left for him would probably have steam-rollered through his writers’ block.

When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you, and all that I so wanna give you, is only a heartbeat away…

What a freakish Karan Joharesque coincidence that the radio would blare out this song while he was thinking about her! She had sung this song to him once in expression of her love. True romantic that he was he had pointed out how the tune of the song was exactly like tumse milke, aisa laga tumse milke…. Her reply, of course, was less than charitable.

“Idiot! That song is a copy of the English one.”

“Oh! I thought you had composed the lyrics of this one for me, and simply Anu Malik-ed the tune!”

Anyone else at any other time would have assumed that the song was merely being alluded to, but the sheer spontaneity of R coupled with her literary promise allowed no such conclusions. If anything, one was more inclined to believe that she had extemporaneously composed the whole thing.

Again, that moment was too trivial to be shared. Also, no one else would understand what he felt there. Without any warning, his writers’ block dissolved and thoughts words started flowing in his head. He started scribbling furiously like he did during history exams whenever he was afraid that the answer would simply evaporate from his head.

He read and re-read it to make sure it was just the way she would have wanted it, which was an irony in itself. From then on, it was like someone had pressed a fast-forward button; the next moment of coherence he experienced was at the podium, in front of her weeping family, the staid-expressioned extended family, and the various acquaintances to whom this was merely another social call. It was an out-of-body experience as though he could float over the happenings and actually observe the man in the blue suit giving a sweet eulogy.

“The fact that you’re all here in no way means that R meant equally to all of you. In fact, knowing R as I did, I’m sure some of you are here to make sure she’s really gone.” There were small knowing smiles among the family and friends, and looks of pure horror on the acquaintances’ faces.

“R and I were very intimate at one point of time and drifted apart rather cynically. We were never in touch and surprisingly her probate attorney contacted me with her wish that I give this eulogy. This surprised me in two ways. One: I did not think I meant so much to her after all this time, and two: she was an extremely private person who had opened up to me very slowly. The thought that she would want a speech inspired by one of her most intimate life-periods to be made in front of (quite frankly) pure strangers would have been ludicrous to me fifteen years ago. I suppose she changed a lot in these years, but then, you know her more than I do now. What I do know, is what she was then. I would like to talk about something from that space-time.”

Her eleven-year old or so daughter was staring at him at this point with those very eyes…

“Of all the moments we shared, and we shared some great ones as friends and many more as a couple, the unlikeliest choice for this occasion would be the time we parted ways. For some reason, as I thought about what epitomized her personality; this somehow allows me to convey the most while saying the least.

It was a warm night in Manhattan. (Those things come once in a while!) I remember her eyes burning a hole in mine. She had the ability to appear ice-cold while seething and fuming inside. She said, ‘I love you and a part of me always will. This is just not working out. No matter how much we are attracted to each other, and how much we miss each other when away, we can’t seem to allow the other to breathe freely when together. I am unhappy in a quiet desperate way without you, and I am kicking and screaming while crying myself to sleep when I’m with you. There just seems to be no solution here. I love you a lot and want more than anything else for you to be happy. Neither one of us is happy when we’re together, and no matter how much we pretend otherwise, we both know that our relationship is volcanic and tempestuous, sans stability. Now that we’re parting ways, I am going to feel like I made a ridiculous mistake, and that being without you is like slowly choking to death, but this is a feeling I can overcome, and I will move on. I am sure it will be even easier for you.’

She said that and walked away slowly. I knew she would not turn back to look at me even once. The amazing part of this woman was not that her resolve never weakened. It was that she anticipated those moments and took precautionary measures. I just kept watching her leave until she became a humanoid speck on the horizon and then nothingness. Her last words lingered like an eerie echo. ‘…I will move on. It will be even easier for you.’

Friends and well-wishers, as we say goodbye to a truly exceptional human being, all I can say is, ‘She was wrong.’

He climbed down the podium tearfully and walked straight into his wife’s embrace. It was a beautifully conducted funeral.

The next day Fedex brought over the package that should have arrived on Saturday. It contained an old love letter he had given her, and a neatly printed-out letter he had never seen before. Written above the heading, in that scrawl he had loved so much were the words, ‘This is the eulogy I want you to give. It is nice enough, and has nothing personal. I have loved you all these years.’

He laughed through his tears at the control-freak he now missed so much.

THE END

PS: Snafu celebrates its 100th post! I hope to keep writing, and writing more frequently. A warm thanks to all readers.

Eulogy – Part 1

“Sit up straight.” he still heard her voice in his head. R had had a booming voice—feminine, but strong. He chuckled at how she would have responded to this description. Come on, he scolded himself, you’re a writer; this should come naturally to you.

He had fought with his wife early that morning. Twelve years into a marriage, fights and quarrels were commonplace, but this one was weird off the bat. Unlike other fights, in this one, he knew she was right even though he kept fighting with her. The reason was obvious when you thought about it. Everything started the previous evening, around 6 pm.

He winced as soon as he heard someone knock on his door. He had warned his secretary, “No calls!” Well, if she had still let someone through, it had to be important. Damn it! He didn’t want anything important to disturb his Friday evening reverie. “Come in”, he said, hoping his unwelcoming tone would make things obvious to the intruder.

A wiry, bespectacled man entered wearing a hand tailored suit. It was exquisite. The man kept it short. He was a probate lawyer for R. Probate and R in the same sentence could mean only one thing. How did it happen, he asked. Automobile incident was the lawyerly reply. Why could these legal bozos never say simple words like road accident? So, why was this attorney here? Well, R had left him some special things and a dying request. “What things, and what request?” he asked and immediately regretted the order of his questions.

The lawyer responded that the items were in a box which would be Fedexed to him the next day. She requested that he give her eulogy. This Sunday? Yes. In two days. Shouldn’t be too hard for a writer. The lawyer left with as much discreetness as he had entered.

The sun came blazing through the open window and drenched his table in golden luminescence. He was doing that circling thing with his pen again. An observant friend in school had pointed out that he moved his pen in circles only when pondering something about rotation or uniform circular motion.

He strained his eyes to concentrate. He was sitting with a pen and paper for an hour now, with no words yet. The only words he had come up with were, “words cannot describe the impression she made on my life.” She was an ex, but more than that. He had been in three relationships before his marriage, each one with their own versions of pain. This one was strange. There was a didactic tone to this one. She taught him: something the others had not done. This was without doubt the most educational relationship he had been in. He could not say that: how was anyone to understand what that even meant? He could not even explain to his wife the importance that another woman held in his life. Understandably, she had pouted for about two hours before ‘allowing’ him to give the eulogy.

He remembered that evening in Manhattan. He hated walking in TriBeCa but she dragged him as always.  She had a keen eye, and spotted what looked like a presidential dollar coin on the sidewalk. As she tried to pick it up, there was a scream of April fool! as she realized that the coin was stuck to the ground. He laughed spontaneously and she did too, but as the joke grew on her, a tear started to roll down her eye. He realized that a reprimand was coming. She was the one person he knew who could combine maturity and  petulance into one mood. As he pacified her, he realized that this high-maintenance female was exactly what he wanted and she made him happy. He couldn’t write about this either. Too trivial an incident and no way someone else would see the meaning in it.

What to do then? He sipped his coffee and closed his eyes. Maybe a nap would do him good. The evening might be better. After all most of his best works were a product of a tearing hurry caused by an impending deadline, and the more desperation the better.

Eulogy Part 2

The precipice

“Hey man…can you come over in an hour?”
“Ya sure…what’s up?”
“Aa jana phir batata hoon.” (I’ll tell you when you get here.)
“Okay, see you in an hour.”
“Accha sun, quarter leke aana.” (Bring a quarter liter of whiskey)
“Sure…Royal Stag?”
“Abbe kanjoos, abhi to note chaapne laga hai…bring JD at least!” (Cheapo! You’re making good money now. At least bring a Jack Daniels.)
Forty five minutes later…
“Early as usual!”
“Well, quarter ghar mein padi thi (I had some whiskey at home)…and traffic was low…”
“So, you came via Panch Pakhadi?”
“Yeah, but with a few unorthodox detours on the bike, I managed to avoid traffic…now tell me”
“Arre…let me make a small one first…soda for you?”
“Make mine with Coke, by the way, go slow, I brought only one quarter…”
Arre mera to on the rocks hone wala hai (dude, mine’s gonna be on the rocks)…I took the liberty of ordering some Chicken biryani…”
“Is this discussion gonna be about your job or relationship?”
“Oddly enough, both. You see, I got a promotion…did you watch the match?”
“Congrats! Yeah I saw, in spite of Ponting’s century, Aussies lost…but unka to time aa gaya hai (but their time has come)…what is your new designation?”
“Associate Sales Head for Mumbai division; it means a lot more money and some real responsibilites for a change…by the way I ordered the biryani from that guy Khurshid in Talao pali...”
“That is amazing, so your career is finally taking off…Khurshid is ok…it is Rashid whose biryani is amazing…how does this affect your relationship though?”
“June 2006, third Sunday…I had called you and told you that she has given me a ultimatum…remember?”
“How you remember dates and days with such feminine accuracy I will never understand…but yeah I remember the ultimatum, and come on…you guys have been together for 4 years now and there seems to be no serious problem…other than your usual committophobia!”
“Why thank you, I seem to recall you siding with her even then. Anyway, do you remember how I had warded her off?”
“Yeah something about you not being in the place you need to be career-wise, and waiting for a promotion to some post…oh…so the time of reckoning hath arrived?”
“Exactly yaar, is promotion ne maa-behen ek kar di meri! (This promotion has screwed me over) I don’t know whether to be excited or not.”
“The way I see it, you love this post, what are you thinking about…take the promotion and don’t tell her anything…so you will be safe..”
“Nahi yaar…she is a part of the legal team which we had contracted for these two years…another pair pe kulhaadi (self-sabotage) from yours truly…she will definitely hear about this…I have to take the promotion and I have to commit to her now.”
“Or, of course, you can break it off…are you ready to do that?”
“No dude…everything is fine now…we meet often, and we are both saving money, and I definitely see marriage in the future for us, but not now…I am only 29 damn it!”
“Only 29! Half our graduating class has had their first progeny…forget that, what do your parents think?”
“Same old same old…they tell me to do whatever I want…but in reality they want to see me saddled and bridled right now.”
“Why don’t you look at commitment as empowering instead of imprisoning?”
“Why don’t you look for your testicles in your wife’s purse…commitment is empowering!
“Chubbe…chal repeat bana.” (Shut up…make me another drink.”
“Sure…the reason I called you is that I want you to take stock of my relationship and tell me what you see…”
“I see a smart, good-looking person wasting time with a good-for-nothing useless dickhead.”
“Oh come on! Help me out man…”
“Sorry yaar, I’d rather crack String theory than explain this shit to you…you claim to love this female, and yet you do not want to commit to her, is there someone else?”
“No…I haven’t looked at another girl all this time…well except Tanya, that sales rep we had hired last week…”
“Or Seema, the HDFC bank girl whose useless personal loan you almost took…”
“Yeah but…”
“Or Rekha, that hot neighbor of yours..”
“She’s married!”
“Like you care…or Romila that cute girl your girlfriend carpools with…”
Pagal hai kya (Are you nuts?), one wrong stare and she will destroy me…”
“What about Sameera, that tall wanna-be model you give occasional lifts to…”
” Well, we work in the same building…”
“Or Reena…aaah Reena..”
“Can we get back to the topic at hand?”
“How many times have I told you never interrupt me when I’m picturing Reena?”
“Sometimes I wonder how logically stunted I must be that I ask your advice!”
“Okay chill dude…look, the way I see it, you are being an ass…she loves you and by your own admission you love her…why not just take a few days’ break and think over what it is that is preventing you from making the ultimate committment, if there is a genuine answer, you might consider breaking up with her…or swallow your fear and go ahead because that is probably what you want deep down.”
“Just when I completely give up on you, you reach down into that abscess you call a heart and come up with something pretty pragmatic.”
“Well, I’m drunk enough to give a rat’s ass about your problems and sober enough to make sense!”
“Let’s stop here then…I am taking a week off and going to Kerala to meet my grandparents…who knows meeting elders or even the journey itself might lead to some quality introspection…”
“Promotion milte hee chutti le raha hai (taking time off right after getting a promotion)…employee of the month!”

Kilimanjaro

He wiped his brow and frowned. This was going to be a long climb. His muscles had started to ache. This was more due to inaction than actual strain. Working whole days and some nights punching on a keyboard wiped his body by the end of his week. The weekends, when not working, were filled with mental fatigue and angry snappy remarks at good natured advice to slow things down. He looked up and calculated the number of paces he would need to take to reach his destination.

As was the norm whenever he felt any physical stress, he swore to start gymming. He needed to get in shape. He was the fittest of all the software engineers working on his side of the block, but that wasn’t really saying much. He was sweating profusely now. There are some climbs that one must undertake alone, he thought. Some battles that need to be fought alone, no matter what. Ever since the breakup, he constantly found himself subjecting his body to all kinds of punishment. He knew it was not his fault, but there was some culpability. He knew she did not love him, but he was still trying to get over her. The pain of loving someone with full confidence at no returns is unbearable and indescribable, and he needed physical, dull pain to counter it.

He was not a person given to suicidal thoughts, and this was no different situation. In fact, despite his situation, he knew he had a certain joi de vivre which prevented him from completely drowning in morose thoughts. His self-imposed tasks simply required more stamina, but his body simply refused almost as though his frequent pants and poohs were his body’s way of saying, “Are you kidding me!”

His legs were starting to burn now. Maybe she never loved him; maybe it was all an illusion to her. She probably thought she loved him a lot, but once the initial attraction faded, she simply saw the light. Too bad for him though, he knew where he stood during the whole time: he wanted to make a life with her, a life that would not happen now. Somehow, even though his disappointment was too much, he managed to understand that it was for the best. One can never forget one’s first love: that adage would be tested in time. For all he knew, she was having some trouble getting over him too.

He was so naïve, when he actually heard the four ugliest words in the Engligh language, “I wanna break up.” He contrasted them with the three ugliest words he had once heard, “I am pregnant.” It had turned out to be a false alarm, but his heart had skipped several successive beats. He remembered the stoic expression she had had on her face as she said it; as if probing him to see his most instinctive reaction to the news. In any case, she had gotten her period the next day, and both of them heaved a sigh of relief and doubled their protective measures.

He had to sit down now. This level of exertion was just not correct for a person of his poor fitness. He breathed heavily, with his heart pounding, and just collapsed on the ground. He swore, the next time the power went out, he would wait for it to return, instead of foolishly attempting to climb up to the 23rd floor.

Fate

He looked at her again and sighed. How he longed to look at her without having to pretend to look elsewhere! Smiling, she rearranged her dupatta.

“So, are you coming?” the annoying sidekick asked. Every pretty girl has a sidekick—an average looking, boring and sorta unintelligent one hanging around. Maybe it was for sheer contrast, to make the pretty one more desirable, he thought.

He looked from the sidekick to the belle. She paused. His heart pounded. She said, “No thanks. I will go with him.”

He had no idea how to deal with such happiness. He grinned like an idiot. Which he hid behind a cough.

Actually, he was praying for this for many days by then…to get some alone time with her. Now that he got it though, he was apprehensive. He wanted to say many things, but instead chatted idly about the weather and the upcoming Chem II test.

God! How his friends would hate him now! They would disown him. After all the moaning and groaning he did in front of them about her beauty and allure, here he was – a golden opportunity for an intimate conversation, and he was blowing it away on Divesh sir’s exams, and the rain, which is a topic on which every Mumbaiite can speak volumes.

Finally, he exhaled heavily; curses himself and decided to take the plunge. He inhaled deeply, held his breath and said the three words.

She stared at him; he turned. He had never seen such a poker-face. He was afraid and yet excited to hear the answer.

He had his back to her now, too apprehensive to know the answer. He turned to her, and heard her say, and saw her mouth the inevitable words. He had known the answer all along, but he had to ask.