Saturday, November 16, 2013

New and crisp, only.

Burma never came up in too many conversations during my childhood. There was merely gossip of a sixty-year old cousin twice removed eloping with a hideous Burmese woman and spending the remainder of his life peddling bike spark plugs in Rangoon. It was an enterprising dream – traveling to an unknown land and trading in the comfort of a South Delhi bungalow for subjugation under a crippling military regime. But the dream was short-lived when after a minor scuffle between a military general and a man on a motorbike, the regime decided to outlaw motorbikes in Rangoon altogether.

So in my head, the Burmese picture postcard was the monochrome still of a wrinkly Punjabi man, in his tatty vest and jailbird striped pyjamas, sitting on a low stool in front of a rundown shophouse, sipping tea and staring at his mound of unsold bike spark plugs.

Myanmar (onetime Burma) was an odd place in my head. Sitting in a nameless tea shop on 21st Street, Yangon (today’s Rangoon) I could tell little had changed.   


The last time someone pursed their lips together and sent a piercing air-smooch my way I was at an autorickshaw stand in Bombay. In Yangon an entire language has evolved from kissing thin air with a vocabulary ranging from come hither to how much is that doggie in the window? Pitch, tone, frequency, intonation – they all played their part. So it was mildly embarrassing at the local tea shop when instead of kissing for the bill, I smooched and summoned the little waiter boy to light my nonexistent cigarette. He stood there in his ‘OBurma for Burma’ propaganda vest, clicking the lighter before giving up, disappointed.

And I thought it ironical that a nation sporting a fully fledged kiss-lexicon, would place PDA only behind touching a monk’s head in its list of absolute no-nos.

I would have paid more attention to the offending cacophony but was distracted by the food at the table; or what seemed like food.

To say that Burmese cuisine is oily would be a lie. Waging wars over the minor oil deposit in the yellow plastic bowl with curry of suspect origin would be justified though. No No, our tour guide from Myanmar’s north-eastern province Shan, explained that since meals were cooked only once daily, a layer of fat was added to prevent contamination, spoilage and any general attempts at eating the curry. One could tell that eking out the solitary piece of lamb at the bottom of the bowl risked a tiny oil-spill. And if the curry wasn’t satisfying, there was the borrowed Indian Samoosa and an unconventional tea leaf salad – both of which reminded me of meals I did not want to be reminded of.

Which is why I have a fail-safe when traveling in Asia.  

A thumb rule for all Asian travel is that noodles, broth and meat in any permutation – the ice cold Naengmyeon with hand-made buckwheat noodles in a chilled beef broth with slices of boiled egg and beef, Ramen with wheat noodles served in a piping hot meat broth infused with miso or the staple Vietnamese Pho – constitute a good meal, at times with flavor worth killing kin for. The Burmese equivalent, Mohinga, vermicelli rice noodles in a fish soup with the occasional fritters, proved me wrong. It was a saffron yellow soup that resembled a turmeric concoction I was force-fed as a sick child, and it had the distinct flavor of nothing. All the herbs, spices and meat fused together to mother nothing.    

I was not disappointed that Mohinga on its best days is bland and with a slightly discernible texture; I was disappointed that if ever I’m not sure of what to eat in a foreign country, I do not have a fail-safe food option anymore.

No No in many ways reminded me of Suu Kyi – a calm woman with a stubborn will to persist and break those not prepared to listen. As we advanced into inner Myanmar fatigue, a condition alien to No No and presumably Suu Kyi, set in and any trip recommendations from her were met with obvious indifference. She tried hard to sell a day-trip to a weaving village where women spent over a year weaving a single shirt and a visit to a monastery famous for cats that at some indistinct moment in the past had jumped through hoops. She found it difficult to comprehend how the burning heat, foot sores or an afternoon beer could come between traveler and weaver.

No No resorted to hyperbole, “But if you miss weaving, you miss everything!”  

It seemed odd that she refused to take no for an answer. It was odd that I was still indifferent to the country. According to the biography of Myanmar that I read on my way to Yangon, the lack of a deep international understanding of Myanmar was due to a ‘singularly ahistorical’ view towards the nation. I was told that to understand its present, we needed to delve into its past. (The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint U)
 
I delved. And the recurrent waves of conquest, war and colonization do offer a fair explanation to the palpable xenophobia and to perhaps - ‘Why are so many homes forted in by barbed wire?’ But to conquer and be conquered by Siam (present day Thailand) time and again and still not learn the importance of lemongrass in curry – I cannot understand. 

Which is why I cannot elope to Burma.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Move like rock, river flow around you


I was molested in Saigon last month. 

Mildly. 

I am not used to getting a massage, especially the ones I’m expected to pay for. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve seriously dated a girl long enough to say, “It’s been 15 dates. Can I have my free massage now, bitch? Please.”

To men, a relationship is like stamps on a loyalty card – one is entitled to a goody every third date. I hold your hand after the 3rd date, kiss you on the 6th, request to see your chest on the 9th, see it on the 12th and get my free massage on the 15th. If any of the dates involve the purchase of alcohol, I am entitled to a random bonus goody depending on how much rum is drunk. If you do not respect the rules of the loyalty card, I will be disloyal.    

The point is, my only spa experience before Saigon was a fully robed, zero skin-to-skin contact, significantly over priced massage from fairly ugly Thai woman in her early eighties.

So before a massage in Vietnam, when I was asked to undress and wear only a loin cloth, I was sufficiently shocked. For there is something about a grown man, naked but for a loin cloth, standing alone in a room with an 'Asian' girl that has dodgy porn video written all over it. 

The petite Asian ‘masseuse’ lays you belly-down on bed before dousing you with a gallon of oil. You are then rubbed gently from head to toe in a cyclical manner, with her hands choosing to take accidental detours around your waistline now and again. 

Dodgy porn video.

Just to be perfectly scientific about the dodginess – when a near naked heterosexual man, is put on a bed in a dark room and caressed piecemeal by a woman, there is bound to be natural response to dodgy stimuli. The sort of response that becomes evident when asked to turn over. The sort of response that causes tenting

Nether loin tenting. 

You turn over.

This moment - of a man turning over to face a masseuse - is possibly the period of maximum activity ever encountered by the human brain. In those three seconds, you first focus all cerebral energy to try and raze the tent. You fill your mind with as much disgust there is in the world, in the hope that since the mind is sufficiently distracted, the tent would collapse. Car pile-ups. Carcasses. Mick Jagger’s lips. A Camel on a treadmill. Dismemberment. Curb stomping. Michael Jackson. Rattlesnake. Rattlesnake. Rattlesnake. Ferret in a gunny bag. Industrial revolution.Michael Jackson’s carcass 

In the very good chance that it doesn’t, your mind then shifts gears while hurtling through a new set of questions – Can she see it? Well, I hope she can’t. Wouldn’t I feel really small if she can’t see it? She should be able to see it, right? I’m sure she’s seen this before? Of course she has. It’s her job, damn it! To turn men on? Why is she giggling? What did that mean in Vietnamese? Was that a giggle, or more like a snigger or a laugh? She wouldn’t laugh. What’s there to laugh about? A giggle – well sure. Not a laugh. Hah! Laugh it seems. What a hoot! Why is she talking through the walls to the other masseuse? Is she commenting? Judging? What did the other masseuse say? Why is she laughing again? What’s the joke? Share. Please. Share. Okay. Listen. I just happen to be a little more sensitive to foreign touch you know. I don’t mean foreign-foreign. Just anyone who is not me. Not anyone. I meant any woman. Any woman who is not me. But between the age of 18 and 40. Okay maybe 50. It’s the oil. And the music. Stop giggling you cheap masseuse whore. Stop!   

If you aren’t sufficiently mortified by now, she proceeds to straddle your lower body before beginning the rubbing cycles again. Only this time, she’s conveniently perched around the aforementioned loin cloth and I’ve become the pommel horse on which she performs her crude calisthenics. Given that she’s wearing a dress, not trousers, we have now graduated to generous amounts of thigh to thigh contact. My face has become the canvas which her hair strokes back and forth attempting to paint an abstract masterpiece.

She has me in a modestly uncomfortable position, I think. She has my clothes. She has my money. If she decides to run, I am a near naked, turned-on man, running down the streets of Saigon searching for a thieving massage girl.

I won’t look good. 

On my flight back to Singapore (which, my dear readers, is my new home) I’m left wondering what had I paid for. It didn’t look good. I had sex. Only I didn’t. I got a massage. Only I didn’t. 

30 dollars for dodgy foreplay and subtle molestation. 

Sounds just about right, I think. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Same same but different



I am a fairly non-violent person. The only people I ever want to harm or, at the very least, maim are the vegetarians – the ‘by choice’ idiots, not the my-God-says-so ones. But after backpacking through Cambodia, I wanted to bludgeon every communist in the world to death.

In high school the only thing I made of communism was that all commies had hammers and sickles for hands, ate the same boiled oats, wore the same grey pinafores and jute bras fashioned from gunnysacks, were all named Lenin or Svetlana. They were convinced that man did not deserve the luxury of choice or opinion. Commies had sex only when they ran out of Lenins to work in the field. Chess was their only vice.  

There was this other brand of communism that I was unaware of, active in Cambodia in the late 70’s. It involved a retarded man deciding that everyone in his country should be marched to the countryside to dig holes. If you protested, and were lucky, you were shot immediately. If not, you were specimen B for some grim experiment at a concentration camp. You did not attempt to escape the country for you would be blown to bits by one of the ten million landmines that this communist genius dotted his own country with. 10 million mines for 7 million people. In four years of communist regime, the population of Phnom Penh fell from 850,000 to a mind-numbing seven (not thousand).

Not just the commies. A visit to Cambodia and you would want to personally decapitate Henry Kissinger, the most astute diplomat since the guy who tried to come up with a partition plan for India. At his behest, just under 3 million tons of bombs were sneakily dropped across southern Cambodia in an attempt to kill Vietnamese guerilla forces that might have taken shelter there. 3 million tons of artillery as a ‘just in case’ seems fair enough, right?

I am not a fan of the rest of America either. Especially the sixty year old, pot bellied, sun tanned, ignorant pricks who travel to Asia looking for true love in the form of an underage, Asian, budget prostitute. I say Asian and not Cambodian, Thai or Vietnamese, because to an American they’re all the same – Thai.


“If you're a previously unemployable ex-convenience store clerk from Leeds or Tulsa, a guy with no conscience and no chance of ever knowing the love of an un-intoxicated woman, then Cambodia can be a paradise.”

– A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain

This ‘paradise’ leaves you a depressed traveler. You’re not sure what to make of the bus load of Cambodians laughing away at an inane TV skit only a fraction as funny as the Teletubbies. How pained does one have to be to find even this funny? Or the swarms of kids who surround you asking for a dollar for every knickknack you relieve them of. Or the prostitute who promises to love you long time. You cannot help but wonder if it’s allegorical that the biggest club in Phnom Penh is called the Heart of Darkness?

In a country playing catch up with the rest of Asia, however, it’s of some consolation to meet Hak, the 23 year old backpacker lodge owner who will give you the best room in the world that 5 dollars can buy. Serai, the 20 year old hawker who takes your email-id ‘just in case’ she learns how to use a computer in the future or Seah, a twenty something waitress at a rundown shack who wants to learn English so she can be my tour guide the next time I visit Cambodia.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be a next time Seah.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Boundaries

To Punjaban. To everything platonic. To Plato. To gin and tonic. To fraud sardarni, Amrita Pritam and Grace Slick. To Jasbir.  

I've moved.

I am no longer a citizen of Chandigarh.

A striking impression I leave with is how the people here are like ostriches. They've dug a giant hole in the ground and stuck their heads into it, conveniently assuming that nobody can see them. Only, the hole is called Chandigarh and their version of the world is not the same as yours or mine.

This is their world.



Punjaban once asked if there was a song or verse that I thought could sum up the people here. I had to wait till boarding my last flight out before I could think of one.

Don't see what I do not want to see,
you don't hear what I don't say.
Won't be what I don't want to be,
I continue in my way. 
- A Song for Jeffrey, Jethro Tull

Surprisingly enough, I would not be completely opposed to the idea of a trip back. 

In a while. 

Give it say, ten years.

P.S. JA - thanks for converting my in-flight art into the sheer brilliance that is the map.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Prostate



I have the most terrible problems with my sex life. It all boils down to the fact that I have no sex life. At least not with another person.” - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

I have not had sex for 2 months and 77 days. 

When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to eat chocolates. It was because I suffered from a medical condition called My Mother. At school, all the kids would molest bars of chocolates. Molten chocolate would trickle down the sides of their mouths. Cocoa droplets would gather around at the tip of their chins, coagulate and then nosedive onto their shirts. 

One day, I had visions of being marooned in a field of ├ęclair shaped dogs. Later that day, I was caught sucking on my coffee colored dachshund’s neck. He was taken to the doctor and so was I. It wasn’t of much use. Every ink-blot shown during my sessions looked like a pair of cocoa encrusted lips to me. At any given time, I knew that everyone was devouring chocolate, but me.   

Twenty years on, my involuntary celibacy has me convinced that everyone is having hot, throbbing, casual, committed, dominating, submissive, masochistic, mattress trembling, eagle spreading, bed post unhinging, roof dropping, earth shattering, automobile rocking, neighborhood awakening, multi-orgasmic, vigorous sex. You are, aren’t you? You horny little bitch! While I, on the other hand – and quite literally so, am looking up synonyms for shake and vigor.

Discussing my sexual drought has become material for engrossing dinner table conversation. “What’s that new brand of rubber you’re using? Abstinen-what?” “Oh, leave him alone for God’s sake. The last time the poor fellow had sex, animal horns were still generally acceptable as condoms.” “You realize that traveling abroad on the ‘pretext’ of meeting your ex still qualifies as sex-tourism, right?” “Yo Mamma’s so ugly. Yet, surprisingly, she’s getting it on more than you are!”  

I see wicked people. 

I ran into some boys who’re studying at my alma mater. It’s been quite a while since I left college, but I wasn’t surprised to be recognized. I always knew that my rustic charm, vibrant spirit, stellar personality and raw magnetism are stuff legends are made of. 

I was wrong. 

Apparently they remembered me from a DIY manual I had written and that is still alive on campus – “How to make the perfect Bong”.

When you think me, think narcotics. Deftness with narcotics. 

Isn’t it preposterous that I have no control over my own infamy?

Soon enough I’ll be moving out of this lovely commode, Chandigarhbut I will not be forgotten. I will be remembered as The Virgin or perhaps, The Man Who Grew His Virginity Back.

I have only myself to blame. By the time I’ve composed an astute ‘Can you drink coffee?’ text, the woman is already knocked up with her second child from her third husband. If I was around when Roger Waters was composing Time, he’d probably have written – 

“Tired of stealing peeks up her hemline, you stay at home and wait in vain.
Then you think – “I’m young and life’s long, so what she’s not in bed today!”
And then one day you find, ten others have got behind her.
No one told you she was a nun, you missed a slutty one.”

Took too long. If otherwise, did not last very long anyway.

Monday, July 18, 2011

No soup for you!

A dinner date is always a pressure test for the man. Will I be getting into her pants tonight? It might look like I’m deeply interested in her story about spending a summer teaching Telugu to a bunch of homeless, dyslexic Chinese kids in Guatemala, but all I’m actually doing is wondering if I’ll be getting into her pants. And what heightens the pressure is that only she knows the answer to that question even before the date begins.
    
What makes the dinner date even more difficult is if the woman across the table was born with cutlery for arms, someone who can descale, devein and debone hilsa with a butter knife. And you, on the other hand, are the dining equivalent of a monkey trying to type out Macbeth*, someone who finds it difficult to digest any form of dining etiquette. 

Pressure of being deft with cutlery added to the conventional date stress. 

There is too much tension.

If you do not know a salad fork from a pitchfork and are trying hard to get it on with Edwardina Forkhands, you will only end up biting off more (foil) than you can chew. True story.

Really, why do chefs wrap the foot of a Tandoori Chicken in aluminium foil? Are they being humane by wanting to bandage, albeit in shiny foil, the amputated chicken leg? Really, why?

There is too much pretension. 

Last night I was served verbose literature for dinner at Punjab Grill. The level of pomposity and pretension in the menu made the Bible look like a marginally long Aesop fable.


What in God’s name is “Free Range” Chicken? 
“Sir, we set the chickens free to run about in a farm and be merry,” said the server. 
But still, magically, stripped of her freedom, she ends up on my plate, dead. 
“You’re absolutely right, sir!”


The management has clearly taken it upon itself to educate its patrons on trivial snippets of historical and geographical trifle. I’m finicky when I have to decide on an order, but thanks to the Cook Swap Treaty signed immediately after the Treaty of Mangalore I am no longer undecided. For now I have a piece of history on my side (plate?). After all who can resist a meal where one does not even have to so much as chew?


My travel agent once misunderstood my request for a ticket to Chandigarh. I had lazily abbreviated it as CDG and was almost booked on a flight to Paris (Charles de Gaulle). I hope she never dines in this restaurant. I do not want to be flown to Lahore because she learnt that it’s the Paris of the East and not the Abottabad of the South as I had taught her.


Even if I let the onion misspelling pass, I am neither comfortable with the usage of 'kid' in my meal nor with the suggestion that I must consider sharing my meal with a certain 'Ratanjot'

When the main course arrives, I have no idea which dish is which. All the dishes seem to be engaged in a competition of towering verticality. They've been arranged like they’re sections of a ridiculous architecture exhibition diorama. The lamb-chop is delicately balanced on end, ready to take a swan dive into its broth which I’m told originated on a dangerous hunting expedition involving Maharaja Ranjit Singh and some herbs. I am sure. 

My date for the night thinks that perhaps Punjabi Cuisine is moving towards minimalism – which is apparently meant to explain the lone towering structure in an otherwise vacant plate. “Just like the iPhone,” she says, “where less is more. It’s minimal and functional.” Just like your brain. Strange. 

The kitschiness had diseased my dessert as well. The kulfi was suggestively erect, swimming in a pool of corn flour ‘noodles’ and flecked with microscopic dollops of something pink. “Just like a piece of installation art that surprises you by being complex and simple at the same time.”

I have a headache. 

I need to lie down.

So that I can go here, where WYSIWYG.


*

Friday, June 17, 2011

The thing about holes

(I’ve been playing Golf for a while now. For those of you who don’t know a lot about it, here’s Golf for dummies.
What it is – A joke. Not a sport. Not a game. A joke, and a very bad one at that.
What it is not - 500 white people following a black guy take a walk in the park.
Objective – To get a dimpled, white ball from a garden in Scotland, across the Dead Sea, into a hole in Yemen in less than a lifetime. Remember, the hole is always smaller than the ball. Always.
How – By using 14 wood and iron hockey stick shaped hockey sticks called clubs.)

Just so we’re clear - Golf is just wrong.

It just is.

When you play it, you’re like a boy who’s having sex for the first time.

You begin with your tee-off. But when you start, the position of the hole is pretty vague. You’re not sure where exactly it is. If you’re persistent enough you might get close to it, but a hole in one would be nothing short of a miracle. You’re not even sure if you’re using the right tool to get you there. Is your wood really the right choice? What if you land in the rough? Have you practiced your swing enough?

You then get into a position that is most unnatural – surprisingly unlike what you practiced at home. You swing. You miss.

You miss again.

Under watchful gaze, missing becomes a habit you cannot shirk off. When you finally do manage a semblance of contact, you’re not even sure if you got it right.

Yet at the end of it, you’re so bloody spent. And you’ve got a sore back because you tried to play in a position that is so out of your league.

Been there. Done that. True Fact!

Golf is just so very wrong. If a man’s sex life was a blob and you flattened it out to two-dimensions, it would look like a golf course.

Even if I miss the first hole, I always have the next one, right? After all there are 18 of them.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

The next hole is always like the slut you dump your girl for. She tantalizes you, draws you in, makes you forget about the last one. You know she means trouble but you can’t keep away from her. Before you know it, you’re hooked but the bitch never lives up to her promise.

And you miss, yet again.

A golfer always lies about his scores to a fellow golfer. Always.

The number of women a man tells you he has slept with, is always somewhere in-between the truth and wishful thinking. Ten means four and four means one and one means none. True Fact!

Ahem… Tiger! Those are my balls on the green.

You never touch another man’s balls – voluntarily, “accidentally” or sub-consciously, on the golf course or off it. I couldn’t care less that you were happy or confused or both. You just don’t.

Have you tried Golf?

Someone asking you to play Golf for the first time is like a woman suggesting, “Let’s be friends, with benefits?” It is masochism in disguise – you think it’s just a walk in the park, but you just end up hitting your foot with an iron stick, repeatedly. You’re in pain but you can’t stop.

Anything that is analogous to a man’s sex life cannot be right.

These are not the only things wrong with Golf.

I hate Koreans. (Actually, I don’t. Maybe Kim Jong Il, not the rest of them. They have the best food in Asia. So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume I do.) So yes, I hate Koreans. At any point of time if you counted the number of Koreans on all the golf courses in the world, it would be more than the population of Korea, both South and North. The biggest killer of Koreans after Lung Cancer and Kimchi Poisoning is Golf Course Lightning Strikes.







There is something about looking at 7 Hyundai cars parked in a line at the parking-lot of a golf course that makes me want to vandalize them with a golf club. Something, I’m not quite sure what though.

The other problem is that I was taught the game by a woman. She claims to be the 63rd best female golfer in India. I don’t think there are more than 6 female golfers in India but that’s beside the point. The problem is the innate inability of a man to follow someone else’s command, let alone that of a woman. It’s impossible for me to follow – “Stand 5 feet behind me and check out my swing” to the dot.

Let me make this absolutely clear – no heterosexual man is capable of standing behind a woman and checking out her 'swing'. Period.


Also, Golf gives women, the section of the human species incapable of deciding, the luxury of choice. Should I go for the 7-Iron or the 6 on this shot? I think it will roll off the green, don’t you think? I think the wind is blowing from the south-west and the north-east, don’t you think so?

The wind CANNOT blow from the south-west AND the north-east you woman! It is scientifically impossible for you to make a choice or the wind to blow in two different directions.

Never go golfing with your girlfriend. Most marriage proposals are bartered in return for a woman to decide on a shot in less than 2 hours.

True Fact!

P.S. A wise man on the course once told me – “You know why they call it Golf? Cos fuck was already taken.”