I crashed party after party; night after night I crashed at home, alone, because, I guess, boys who drop other boys’ names don’t get girls to drop their knickers for them - only for other boys.
On Diwali eve, 2011, I arrived home to India after spending 14 years in the United States. I had left India originally to attend engineering graduate school in Virginia and by the time I left the States I had completed just over 6 years of being a writer and performer in New York City. Upon my homecoming, I scandalized friends and family who, it seems, were expecting me to return with suitcases bulging with $100 bills - wealth accumulated in proportion to my drawn-out stay in the land of milk and honey. Instead, their disbelief and disappointment at my ignominious bank balance was compounded by their chancing upon a large suitcase full of shoes I had brought home with me. “SHOES?!,” they asked. “What kind of a guy owns so many shoes?” But I was very proud of my motley collection of shoes that I had picked out discriminatingly over the years at two of my favorite thrift stores in New York City.
In Indian tradition, a garland of shoes is put publicly around a person who has disgraced himself in the eyes of society.
I lost my phone recently: an older iPhone model. I used to audio record my notes into it. The way they are scattered all over the place, disjointed and out of context, the guy who has my phone now would well be within reason to ask of me, Why is this guy out on the streets and not in jail? But I continue to lose sleep over some sharp unseen guy piecing those notes all together adroitly and, given my never-ending procrastination, beating me to my own magnum opus.
If India were ever again to become the great civilization it evidently once was, nobody would be more surprised, nobody more thrilled. Because can you tell what should be a more realistic catchphrase to lure far-flung tourists to the country’s shores today? Let me help you out: India, because did you know we are better than Saudi Arabia! Yeah, that.
Not only were Indians throwing skinny-dipping pool parties way back then but they were actually not being shy one bit in going ahead and commissioning frank records of those parties.
But a few days ago at the Bhauji Dad Lad Museum in Bombay, I was being quite shy as I clicked away hurriedly at my camera. I didn’t want anyone there to think I was a creep. So, sorry about the unclear photo. But I can assure you the ladies in the miniature painting looked quite butt naked. More important, they looked quite happy.
5 Things That Drive Me Crazy When My Father Drives In Jaipur And Other Family Dysfunctions.
1. No sooner does my father get on a 2-lane road moving in one direction than it becomes a 3-lane road moving in one direction. He HAS to straddle that dashed white line. I don’t know whether he is a trailblazer or a middle of the roader or, oxymoronically, both.
2. Even when he knows way in advance that he’ll shortly have to make a left turn he won’t bother one bit to start moving to the leftmost lane (or vice-versa). He’ll execute this turn directly from at least one lane farther out instead, oncoming traffic in the intervening lane(s) be damned.
3. He honks and honks and honks and honks some more!
4.When his cell phone goes off he doesn’t just let it ring and keep on driving; he HAS to get to the phone right away, which is clipped to his trousers’ belt at his right hip. This means he has to reach his left hand all the way near there, fumble for a few excruciating seconds, un-click his seat belt, fumble with his left hand again, find whatever shitty phone he is using at the time, and finally pull to the side to answer the phone - all the while steering the car with a lone right hand. Lately, he has made a refreshing change to this tedious rigmarole: everything stays the same minus the pulling-to-the-side part - now he simply hands the phone to me to answer.
5. When he says the name of the minuscule car’s model he drives - a ‘Zen’ - he pronounces it as if an American were saying ‘Jain’, which is what you call a member of purportedly the world’s least violent religion. Even in less- than-rarefied circles in India, mixing up your z and j sounds is a dead giveaway that you’re a hillbilly, a dehati.
All this makes me quite mad. But sitting next to my father I never try to correct him. I just stew and stew and stew some more. At the most I’d mutter something even I don’t understand. But when my mother is in the car, too, then it’s a very different story. Because then I try to point out everything of his I find objectionable. As if on cue, my mother wholeheartedly agrees. She begins to berate my father. Then I pile on. It’s cathartic. Then my father gets defensive before he begins to explain himself:
# 1 “Because I want to encourage the most efficient use of the space on the road. Too many vehicles, too few roads. Besides, better to be in the middle and have more time to react if a beast or a human jumps out suddenly from either side.”
# 2 “This is physics. Pure and simple. The farther out I make the turn from, the more leverage I’ve. In other words the turn is smoother, not to mention my shoulders less tired. And it’s not as if I don’t have the turn signal on.”
# 3 “Are you kidding me? This is India!! If I don’t honk and honk and honk and honk some more I’ll be invisible, and all the other vehicles and pedestrians will soon be on top of me.”
# 4 Whatever is my father’s explanation for not waiting to return his calls until later we don’t really want to hear because we strongly suspect it has everything to do with all incoming calls and only incoming calls being FREE in India.
Almost a year and a half ago I came back to India after playing truant here for 10 years straight. And from my time here before that period I don’t ever recall my father’s pronunciation of our car’s model that off the mark. My theory is that he has ‘regressed’, especially over the years since his retirement from his job as an engineer at an aluminum factory. My mother seconds my theory and adds that the ‘regression’ started once they moved out of the small company town and into a bigger city to live in close proximity to relatives. My father’s relatives, that is. Still, knowing my father as only I’d know, my sneaking suspicion is that he deliberately mangles the pronunciation a whole lot worse. Because he knows that, of all things, THIS is what really annoys us most. I wouldn’t be wrong to think that’s his way of getting back at us.
I am waiting for my train at a New Delhi metro station. A security guy comes by and tells a guy sitting on the stairs to remove himself from there since this is clearly forbidden. The guy ignores him and won’t budge. The security guy tries warning him again, in vain, then walks off. I think I know what’s going on. The security guy must be thinking, I shouldn’t try to enforce it anymore - kya pata kis bade baap ki aulad ho! The guy sitting on the stairs is likely thinking, Baithe raho, is sale guard ki kya aukat. I grow depressed.
Now I see another commuter walk up to the guy sitting on the stairs and confront him, Arey suna nahi ki yaha baithna allow nahi hai? I am thrilled! The guy sitting on stairs looks up from his iPhone and, as his right hand makes what looks like a quick underhand bowling action, replies, TU KAUN?? TERA BAAP, bellows the impromptu vigilante. Now the guy is no longer sitting on the stairs. Both men stand close facing each other, like lovers about to wildly make out, but they only have bloodlust in their eyes. Each stands his ground, trading insults and dares with the other. Kya karega tu? Tu hath utha phir batata hoo! No physical combat, just this. After a while of playing who will blink first, the guy with the iPhone walks away, mumbling.
Even though he is in the wrong I admire his nerve for not turning tail immediately as the other guy is bigger and taller. The scofflaw looks decidedly upper middle class, North Indian. The guy who has taken it upon himself to police the metro could be Tibetan, Nepali, or from one of India’s Northeastern states. His appearance doesn’t suggest he could easily afford an iPhone. I walk over to him and congratulate and thank him. My train pulls in and I step inside. But just moments later I am struck with a sense of deep regret: I should have gotten that guy’s contact information! We could both don balaclavas and together go around town beating the shit out of bad guys, especially the ones who are never sorry - my lifelong dream.