Sunday, October 09, 2005

I Am Beautifully Challenged.

It is one of the places where I spend the least time and money. It is one of the places that makes me feel as estranged as a student of history would feel in a class of bosons and fermions. No wonder, all I do is stupidly gawk at the people in amazement whenever I go there.

It is a Beauty Parlor.

As far as beauty awareness goes, the world has already entered the jet age while I am still marveling at the usefulness of the bullock cart. We fortunately have a dressing table at home. And every time I try on some make up, my mind gets discombobulated amidst the bottles of creams and lotions and face packs. I would not know one bottle from another. My mom and grand mom and my little sister know a hundred times more than I do.

Okay, I do have a fetish for soaps and shampoos. I wash my face and brush my teeth twice a day. I comb my hair and apply a little bit of liner under the eyes, not to mention some lip gloss. I even know the names of some internationally famous brands. But when it comes down to powders and lotions and mudpacks and lipsticks, I feel as lost as I would probably if I were on the moon.

I was recently at one such place, ready to get a new hair style. Not that the length of my hair would allow much scope for a variety of coiffure. And given the mad rush for the pujas, I could not even make an appointment the first day. So they asked me to come back the next day early in the morning. And here I thought that appointments were made only before meeting the CEOs.

Reluctantly, I went there the next morning. I was made to wait for almost an hour, since a huge crowd already needed to be attended to. So for 60 minutes, I waited there, trying to take in the flurry of activities going on besides me.

Two women as old as my grandma were half lying with some yellow face pack and slices of cucumber on their eyes. And for all the time I stayed, they remained that way, reminding me of Egyptian mummies.

A woman with waist length hair was having something like curd applied to her hair. It is later on that I learnt she was coloring her hair. And she was not coloring it white. It is the usual color of the paste.

In between, a young lady breezed in and asked, “Phesial ka kitna charge?” And her mom asked, “Hair color ka kitna aur henna ka kitna?” (Hair color ka Rs.1,000 and henna ka Rs.250). And just when I thought she was ready to make an about turn and never come back again, she agreed to color her hair. Half an hour later, I saw her sitting on a chair with 3 women attending to her; one at her feet immersed in scented water, revealing hairy calves, one filing her finger nails, and one attending to her hair. The daughter was besides her with the “phesial” stuff. Man, what a sight !

In the meantime, my turn finally came. The lady wrapped me with a dozen plastic sheets and asked me, “Kya karna hai? Hair highlighting? Henna? Facial? Manicure?”

I looked at my neat nails, my simple hands still sans those 8 diamonds, and said, “Just give me a simple, neat hair cut. I do not want the tresses falling on my eyes”.

She looked as if she had seen a ghost. It took her a good 10 minutes to give me what I needed. And all the while, she was like, yeh kijiye na, woh kijiye na, yeh lagaiye na, apne eyebrows thread kijiye na !

For the first time in 24 years, she made me thread my eyebrows. It hurt like hell, probably like the way it did when I broke my leg or had that wisdom tooth pulled out. So much for wisdom! She kept on hurting me, paining me, and she kept on urging me not to move. What did she think, was I a pachyderm not to feel the pain?

So that was 5 more minutes. And this makes it 10+5=15 minutes of grooming up. Just a 15 minutes compared to hours women spend at the beauty parlors. And she charged me some 143 rupees (all taxes included) for a 15 minutes job and an hour’s wait. No hair colors, no mud packs on the face and cucumbers on the eyes. Just a simple hair cut and a painful eyebrow thread.

After looking at me, mom said I looked like my cousin Oishi, a three and a half year old kid.

On my way back, I thought about how the world has progressed while I am still lagging behind. With these thoughts, I fiddled with my purse for some money for the bus fare. And there, I found a paper the lady at the beauty parlor had thrust in my hands with the cash receipt.

“10% discount on all services including bridal make up and hair coloring. Offer valid till 31st December.”

Well, I am not getting married this year. And I am not coloring my hair either. So maybe, I will not need those offers after all.

I rolled those papers into balls and threw them out of the window.

And till date, my eyebrows hurt.

Maybe I am one of those “beautifully challenged” people.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Day In The Life Of A Metro Commuter.

Welcome to Calcutta Metro Railway. Calcutta Metro Railway aapka swagat karta hai. Kolkata Metro Railway aapnader shagoto janaye.

These are the pre-recorded welcome lines you will hear whenever you take the Kolkata metro from any of the terminal stations.

Specklessly clean paltforms and trains arriving exactly on time is what makes Kolkata metro. It is fast, safe, less time consuming and much more convenient. Spanning a length of about 17 km and 17 stations, you can connect south (Tollygunge) to north (Dum Dum) in just 33 minutes. The maximum permissible speed is 55km/hr and the average speed is about 30km/hr.

No, I am not using this post to advertise Kolkata metro. The Indian Railways still hasn’t paid me for that. This post is meant to delineate particular categories of people I find travelling in metro everyday. The typically funny categories. When you love to study people, you will be amazed to notice how much facial expressions and body language speaks about someone. And even if you have been regularly commuting like me for years, there will always be something new to see every time you take that train.

The Clan Of Milkha Singh.

If I am to direct a remake of the movie Daud or Run, I would cast them. The moment the sliding doors open, they will come jostling for seats and in the process, they will stamp on someone with arthritis, accidentally sit on other people's laps (well, almost) and collide head on with people trying to get down.

And then they are the ones who will come running down the stairs and wave to the motorman, even if the doors have been shut close. From the stairs to the ticket counters to the escalators and then to the train, they will run and collide with a dozen people. Not that they are the really busy people on whose shoulders lies the progress of India. They might be found sleeping in their offices and chatting for hours over cups of coffee. I wonder if they try doing their bit of physical exercise with this running act.

The Unenergetic, Sedentary Types.

Just opposite to the previous category, these are the ones (mainly women) ever in need of that one glass of Bournvita everyday to give them the necessary horsepower. They will sit on seats with legs spread apart and exactly keep a distance of 15cm from the sides. And they will pay no heed to the women who complain, “Shorey boshun”. And then you literally have to push them with your bums to close that 15cm gap.

Platform Mein Timepass

They loiter about in platforms for hours till the blue uniformed men come and drive them away. Some constantly spit pan and throw pan parag wrappers on the railway tracks. They will ask you the time despite the huge digital clock hanging prominently. And every two minutes, they will dangerously lean on the tracks to see if the train is coming.

The Deceptive Types.

These are the most dangerous category of people. For every 10 seconds, she will adjust her saree and rearrange her bag, as if she is just about to get down at the next station. And then she opens her side bag and brings out a hand bag, opens its zip, and all the while lures you into believing that she must be digging for her ticket inside ‘coz she has to get down. And then she brings out a hanky from the deepest recesses of her purse, stylishly wipes off the beads of sweat, careful not to damage her make up, drinks some water, and gives you a look that tells you she knew all the while that you thought she was ready to get off. For all that you know, she gets down at Dum Dum or Tollygunge (the two terminal stations), and leaves you standing and needing your own hanky all the while.

The Sleepyheads.

They do not get to sleep at home, thanks to cantankerous spouses and obstreperous children. So they catch up on all the sleep in the metro, sometimes even standing. And in this process, they invariably fall on other people and irritate them to the extent that people would want to stick a bamboo pole into their nostrils. Well, anything to wake them up. I wonder how they never miss the station they are supposed to get down at.

The Phoney Category.

No, they might not be phoney in the real sense. But all that they do in their metro sojourn is fiddle with their mobile phones, play games, send sms, and play ring tones, totally oblivious to everything happening around them.

“Blessed By Cupid” Types.

They are the oblivious lovebirds you find hidden behind the station pillars and in the vestibules. They will not take a seat even if they could. And you just have to see them trying to defy Newton’s first law of motion. For they would never hold on to the steel hand rails and would love to stumble on each other every time the motorman does the brakes.

The Gynophilous Variety.

Not that this word exists. But splitting it etymologically will give you gynos+philous = lover of women. Needless to say, they are men who prefer standing in front of the ladies seats and gawking at women. They will not mind being jostled by women in a crowded metro. Some of them would always prefer to sit on the ladies seats. And they just will not get up until and unless you stick your fingers into their nose, bend their head upwards, and show them the L-A-D-I-E-S sign printed in bold red. And then they will make a face as if they have done you a favor by vacating the seat, expecting you to be thankful to them for the rest of your life (and I am referring to those young men who do it on purpose).

The Adventurous Escalating Types.

They fear the escalators like anything. But they will never take the stairs. So on a busy morning, you will find them standing in front of the escalators, almost putting their right foot on it but pulling it back at the last moment. This will happen till the other commuters start yelling. And then, one of the braver ones would just hold their hand and drag them up. And in the meantime, I’d be scared shitless, wondering what if they lost balance and toppled over me? Apna to ram ram satya ho jaayega.

And I must not forget to mention those unruly children and jobless adults who while their time moving unnecessarily up and down the escalators while waiting for the train.

The Alices In Wonderlands.

They see the train entering the platform, the doors opening, and just when the doors begin to close, they make some stunts and hop in. And they sit comfortably in the metro while the doors open and then they suddenly jump off their seats and make a headway for the doors. No wonder I have seen office bags being stuck in between doors and slippers left behind on the platform while the owner manages to get into the train at the nick of time.

Ghar Grihasthi Waale Gregarious Behenjis.

They get on the train with trunks and suitcases and a bunch of children. And they will stumble and fall, unable to decide on where to sit. And then there are moms with school going kids who empty the kids’ school bags, take out the copies, discuss homework with the other moms, force their kid to eat the unfinished tiffin, and scream “jashna jashna” (don’t run around) while the kids would run around and punch each other. And they would discuss their mom-in-law and the daily khit pits at home. Not to mention how Qazi Taukeer manages to get junta’s vote every time, the latest updates on Jassi and Armaan, and how the k-bahus always manage to look so prim and proper.

Yeh Seat Sirf Mera Hai.

Think of a seat of 8 where 7 not so thin people are already sitting. So maybe a kid or a pet dog could barely fit in. And then a big, fat lady comes, scans the seats, and demands, “Shore Boshun” (make space for me). The other 7 twist and turn and make some space that will not even accommodate half her ass. Imagine a big fat lady sitting with a tithe of her ass touching the seat, and the rest of it hanging in mid air, cursing the rest 7. Well, anything to get that seat !


Monday, October 03, 2005

The Ten Things To Do This Pujas.

(Not necessarily in any order).
1. To unleash the Bengali in me and to learn to wear a sari the Bengali way.
2. To catch up on all the Bollywood movies I have missed out recently.
3. To finally start cleaning up the mess in my room.
4. To get loads of beauty naps.
5. To read all the books I have been collecting the last 5 years or so, with no time to read.
6. To gawk at all the good looking guys.
7. To promise not to say "no" to sweets for the 5 long days. Never mind if I have to diet for the rest of the year. Ma Durga would never want her children to diet during the pujas.
8. To go find myself that man who will give me those eight diamonds happily.
9. To go pandal hopping and watch lots of puja. I wasn't enthusiastic enough the last year. But this year will be different. So I will hop on to my bed, grab a bowl of pop corn, put on some good local channel like Star Anondo, and watch lots of pujas on the TV with grandma (Naah, you can't really convince me to go pandal hopping amidst all the crowd and commotion).
10. To finally cut down on chatting and blogging those 5 days of pujas.


Something Is In The Air....

I was shaken out of my slumber by the sounds of “ghanta” and “shankh” very early this morning. It was drizzling all night and the cold winds made me long to get back to my covers, cuddle the pillow close, and go back to sleep. As I tried to shake off the last remnants of sleep (I am a very early riser) and to bring my world into focus once again, I remember that Durga Puja is just a week away. Seems Ma Durga and her clan of Gods and Goddesses (and Mahisasura as well) are busy getting spruced up for the pujas.
The whole city seems to have suddenly come to life again. The scent of pujas is in the air. And I see it everywhere. I see it on the faces of people. I see it in the scaffolds of the still incomplete puja pandals. I see it in those craftsmen working diligently to add the final touches of paint on Ma Durga. For pujas is not just a 5 day event when you wear new clothes, gorge in kilos of sweets, and go pandal hopping. It’s emotional, and it's a celebration that starts weeks before and lingers like sweet nostalgia even when it is all over.

Kolkata is a city with a soul. I hardly liked it when I first came to live here 8 years back. But with time, the city grew on me. There is an undeniable magic, an aura that emanates, a feeling of being home that begins to grow on you with time. For a city is not merely impressive buildings and shopping malls and prospering industries. It is essentially the people.

And God knows I still get goosebumps at the sounds of the dhaak. It seems as if my blood rings and my soul sings to the drum beats. And you have to be a pretty insensitive pachyderm not to feel the magic suffusing the air when dhaakis play the dhaak (for the uninitiated, watch Parineeta).

Being a “Probashi Bangali” (one who is not born or brought up in Bengal), Durga Puja wasn’t any different to me than say Christmas, or Eid. I had seen Puja outside Bengal, and it meant all the same to me.... decorative pandals, people in new clothes, cultural functions, and loudspeakers honking with the recent hindi movie songs. So I could never comprehend why people said, “You have to be in Kolkata to get the real feel of the Pujas”.

But I got this real feel when I came to Kolkata. And from then on, I’ve waited each and every year for the pujas to come. Right now, the whole of me is awash with joyous anticipation. There is something in the air that drastically enlivens me. Though there are so many things I am equally scared of.

I am so scared of the Q factor. And these days, I find it everywhere. I see queues in metro station ticket counters, in front of shops, in restaurants, in pandals. I do not see the logic why people would like to stand in queues for hours to buy a pair of shoes or to get into a pandal. And the metro has never been more crowded. It is funny seeing people carrying half a dozen packets of clothes and sweets and what not. And even cranky children screaming out for attention or complaining husbands cannot deter the spirits of the Bengali woman on her shopping spree. I do not see people stinting and scrimping on their shopping budget. Every body seems to be basking in the imperial glory despite the financial strata they belong to.

I see the shops dazzling with lights and people, discount boards hung everywhere, food joints filled to capacity, thousands of people laughing and shopping and eating, the kids dancing and screaming around. I see the passion of the cheerful crowds, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression. And I see the bacchanalia everyday, everywhere, on every face, be it a kid or a 70 year old. Every body seems to be thriving on buckets of Bournvita that gives them all the energy and enthusiasm for a celebration of this level. Even the bad weather during the last few years and the low pressure and the constant drizzling and water logged streets and traffic snarls has been unable to dampen the spirits of the Calcuttan.

And then you see love birds exchanging hushed glances and sheepish smiles. So many love relationships are made in the meeting grounds of Maddox Square by the grace of Goddess Durga every year. Never mind whether they make it to the altar or not. Sometimes, an innocuous fling is good enough a change from the dull, drab life, that leaves sweet memories for years to come.

On that note, happy puja.