Waking up in summers across the world means different things. In Delhi, if you sleep on the roof in a mosquito net, you wake up drowning in your sweat. On a jute string cot in Khategaon district in Madhya Pradesh, you wake up at 5 to flies droning loudly around your face. The flies must've been explorers in their last incarnation. They love the uncharted territory of your nostrils. In Sweden, you can see the Sun. Isn't that nice!? The Sun is not much of a problem here, in Bengaluru like it is say, in Hyderabad.
Waking up in Bengaluru summers can be like waking up in a season different from the one in which you slept. I remember my first day in the new flat I rented. The landlord overlooked putting the fans up. It was a sultry night. Opening all the windows helped with ventilation a little, at least from the sides where a building doesn't stand at a handshake distance. The one hallway in the flat, between the bedroom and living room seemed coolest. That's where I spread my sleeping bag to sleep on. The sleeping bag has seen a lot of dirt on my camping trips. Never before though was it subject to such streams of sweat trickling off my neck and ankles as it was that night. Packs of dogs screamed and howled between their panting. It was a three inch dangling dog tongue night. Sleep drew over me while regret over having picked this flat bounced around the block.
A little over six hours later, I woke up in Spring. The sleeping bag gobbled me in overnight. A breeze cooled off my neighbourhood. As I sat up in the sleeping bag, I didn't let its mouth sag to my waist. I liked my own warmth cocooning me. What a contrast from last night! Washing away the warm aura in a bath sounded like a terrible idea. A little akin to handing over your favourite, worn down, stringy T-shirt to no one in particular.
I stood for a moment, which my watch told me later was ten minutes, in peace, contemplating absolutely nothing, in my empty flat in a cool stream of air. Only the Koyal sang summer to me. The decision had been made. I would delay the bath. To justify this pig-like behavior (as I remembered Amma calling it), I decided to go get a haircut. Sunday promised to be the right day to get one.
I sauntered through rugged gravel roads. Through traffic consisted of rickety old Atlas Goldline bicycles, Audis, Ford Explorers and Renaults. As you stride, listening to a podcast, a 150cc motorcycle zips past, inches from you and about a foot away from a pothole. At the main road, one walks with a confidence that there can be no accidents in traffic. Vehicles, just never reach that critical speed. Pedestrians, dogs, cows, two wheelers and BMWs share the same footpathless, two-way, 20 ft road in a slow and clamorous crawl.
Exhaust and horns sweep away that comfortable aura I woke up in. A mantle of living among people, lot's of people remains. And thus I reached the saloon.
Yes, a saloon. That term that middle class southerners in the US cringe from, adorns this barber's shop. It's a smallish room with large wall to wall mirrors, oppositely placed at waist height. A really old, tinny looking vacuum tube type television is poised precariously at one corner of the mirror. There was no one there. Nor was there electricity. It's already that time of the day when the word 'sunshine' ceases to evoke joy. I break a sweat in this 'saloon'. I've known barbers to be moody. They step out once in a while for a cup of tea and a chat with the neighboring storekeeper. Our hero, the owner of this saloon, is missing. While I wait for his return I settle down into a little nest of magazines. Our hero has an odd choice of leisurely reading. There is a collection of ancient Cosmopolitan and Femina issues with some Sports Star magazines piled at one end of the bench. The clientele here must have very broad interests to read a woman's views on a "hundred ways to please your man" and then to peruse the happenings in the Indian Premiere League. Or they just like to look at pictures. Who am I to judge... or even care?
The smells from the gutters outside start perking up with the sun climbing the sky. A little dog stands at the door, panting. It is two inch dangling dog tongue right now. It pants and looks at me and blinks its half closed eyes. The smell and heat fail bring out any love for this fellow being. I look at the opposite end of the room where a curtained door stood. Something seemed to ruffle the curtains. But no sound or human emerged.
A generator whirred from the shop next door. Diesel vapors and exhaust wafted in. I like that smell. It feels clean somehow. It felt like a time to read some commentary on Australian players in the IPL after having defeated Indians in the World Cup semifinals. No, it felt like a time to just stay occupied without getting excited.
A couple of Sports Stars later, and an hour that felt like two later, I looked over at the dog in the door.. It slept in the door like it owned the place. As people walked past, it barely opened an eye. I figured it was the reason the barber has such confidence in the security of his establishment. The dog's attitude though, was similar to the lackadaisiacal master of this house. He was still not to be seen. It was near lunch time. But then, the man himself, appeared in the flesh. He smiled so widely that I could think no ill of him. Behind him though followed a little boy who didn't want to step over the dog. The barber nudged the dog with his foot. It walked over to the next shop, and slept right in front of its door. What compels a dog to be in the way, all the time, is anyone's guess. The boy walked in and so did his Daddy behind him. "Uh Oh!" I thought. Part of the beauty of respecting age is that you have to be benevolent to tiny twerps, even if you have the right of first service. This is what the Dad was going to ask of me: To let this poor little boy get a haircut please, because, afterall, he has a small head and the haircut would take no time. The dad exactly this, with one facial expression that lasted a second. I looked down at the boy, his eyes open wide looking at me. I felt big hearted in that moment, and fooled in the next, when I let him get his haircut. But anyway... whaddyegonnado?
I put myself in the place of that boy for a second. Before a haircut, the spray of water on one's head on days like these, felt so grand. Part tickling and part relaxing. My barber back then would spray a couple more times for my enjoyment. That fun of sitting in a spray hasn't gone away though. It's still a lot of fun. The memory was also helping me survive this steady stream of perspiration at joints of all appendages. I wished dearly the barber had invested in another fan in stead of this tiny, tinny TV which had been on for a while now. Psychologists would love the behavioral effects of this device on our hero. It was quite amazing. It was amazing in the British sense of the word, not the sense across the pond. The TV extended a certain pull on this man, chopping hair off the little boys head with special scissors. Such hypnosis is rarely seen. The crappy daytime rerun of a drama had a vice like grip on the barber. He'd snip some hair for less than a minute and then look up at the screen. Within seconds the look turned into a stare and his eyes suddenly lost all emotion. The scissors and comb remained suspended in air all this while. And then, definitely not in response to the woman crying on screen for her cheating husband, he giggled and came back to the hair in front of him and started cutting again. He started cutting and kept at it for another two minutes before the same behavior repeated itself. He'd stop cutting, look up the screen, space out, giggle and get back to planet earth. The longest stretch of cutting hair that I marked on him, between the TV meditations, was about four minutes. After a few rounds of making contact with his alien master, or whatever he was doing, the barber looked out the window and gave another exceptionally warm smile. Even the word warm made my stomach turn because it was that hot right then. In walked the hero's friend, his sidekick and partner in television hyponses! This man... or boy... or man-boy is a fixture at this shop. He's a little like the welcome sign outside the shop: Perfectly useless, but always there. He came in sat in the nest of print media.
The addition of another person to that steam pot of a room was suffocating. It was past lunchtime. I was hungry. A cup of tea from a neighbouring shop sounded like a good idea. It was hot, and a hot tea was still the way to go.
The told the barber I'd be back in one minute. That's how long I estimated it'll take him to finish the little boy's haircut: fifteen minutes. My tone may have been sharp. Pleasantness had drained away from the day which was on its second leg. The second leg of a Sunday, is traditional nap time in my family. But here I was just looking onto a lazy street with little traffic right now. I heard someone speaking in Marathi two doors down. I love being able to listen in on conversations and appear as though I haven't a clue what's being said. Most conversations are mundane, something about there not being enough water in tank or the car being parked too close to the gate. I feel no guilt on that account. Besides, it's some relief from this boredom our hero has put me through.
At the shop, I was fully prepared to find the boy and his dad having left, the barber and his bud lost in the timeless beauty of that shitty television. And yet, the man was at work. At least in that brief window of time when that saw my coming. In the chair in front of him, sat not the sweet boy, but someone he might grow into. The barber no longer had scissors and a comb in his hand, but a razor. The father of the child, was now getting a shave. The barber looked at me as if I caught him cheating with him my wife. The Dad looked as though he were my wife. We exchanged stares for a good minute. And then, the Dad did that thing... that pathetic, second long, expression that so very clearly says to all us Indians, just another minute, please adjust.
I silenced a wail in my head. As my gut bayed and chest shrank, my mouth stretched, trying desperately to effect a smile. I figured it's alright. The barber can't space out during a shave. A confrontation demanded more energy than this was worth.
I sat at the end of the bench where the nest was not. The sidekick was asleep, snoring, in fact. The barber seemed to focus on the man in front of him completely. There were swift swoops on the face cleaning away chunks of foam. The cheeks were done, the neck was done, the mustache swept clean off the face. The neanderthal looking Dad, was now baby faced. He got up, paid and left with his son. This had to be the quickest occurrence of the whole damn day! The barber looked at me. I got up. I almost did. My breath was heavy and I couldn't move. I couldn't move a muscle. "Saar!" called out the hero. I breathed heavily and felt trapped. I could not move. My breath got heavier. So much so, I was going to suffocate. Was this a heart attack? Could smoking really give me a heart attack at 30? I heard a snore from myself. It wasn't a snort, but a snore. The second time it happened, I opened my eyes. Damn dream! The dad's shave was done. The friend was settling into the chair for a haircut.
Without uttering a word, I was on my way to the flat. The whole city had the aura of a bad omelette: Icky, sticky and smelly. The decision to never return to this "Saloon" had just been made. A resolution to not see another barber for a whole damn year was made too. My head swam in the heat. At my mirrorless flat, I dumped a pale of water on my head and in a woefully painful succession of strokes, shaved my head.
Deeptanu admits it to me in confidence. He's lonely. One can only admit this over a drink and despondency. So do about ten other friends who are literally half a world away from home, who aren't married yet. He was morose over beers yesterday. Years ago, we'd sit around lustily admiring girls who're smart and beautiful from a distance. The distance has been self imposed and self enforced. Deeptanu, the stupid bum gets attached easily and blames Bollywood movies and shayari for carrying his heart on his sleeve. Hence the distance. Never having seen real romance between adults, he bit the bullet and decided to experiment with online dating, six months ago. Which may not have been a good time, really. He couldn't have known.
It was a whirlwind online romance. They started talking on a Wednesday and Deeptanu had her phone number by Thursday afternoon. Deeptanu was suspicious of how quickly this had progressed. He in fact wanted to Skype to make sure he was talking to the same girl from the picture. It is uncharacteristic of online interactions to go from messages directly to Skype. Deeptanu didn't use the phone number, but got a call Friday night. He was out so he dind't talk at all. He got a call on Saturday afternoon too. They spoke for an hour. The conversation went so well that Deeptanu was suspicious again. But when you like talking to someone, caution gets thrown to the wind.
Here's an example of why he enjoyed talking to her. He asked what the view is like from her office. She said it was a concrete jungle and a few sad pigeons walking on the ledge. Very much the imaginative being he is, Deeptanu goes " You mean their feathers look ruffled and their eyes are crazy? Other white pigeons with beautiful feathers strut about like they have somewhere to be. The sad rock pigeons look like their dog just died, their wives just left them and their truck broke down."
She laughed and went... "Yes, the pigeon's truck broke down.." and then went into peels of laughter... "And he picked up a banjo and started drinking" she added.
The connection of silliness between two people clicks instantaneously. Laughing without contempt at the absurd comes from an acceptance of existence as it is. Sometimes that acceptance is cosmetic: beneath it seethes a complete and utter discontent. Deeptanu has seen it before. He is afraid he's seeing it again. She even said on saturday, "I can see us together, happy forever after". Deeptanu said to me "This situation resembled this other fickle crazy I knew, fell in love with in spite of my guard being on high alert, and got jilted.". "Her smarts and sense of humor were assets, among others, and the online one was turning out to be the same." And like before, the conversation never seemed to end! Quite literally. On Saturday and Sunday they spent the equivalent of a workday on the phone. He didn't mind that she kept receiving texts at the frequency she did. "She's either very popular, or I'm not the only one she's talking to." he thought, but gave her the benefit of the doubt, like he did another crazy from over a decade ago. They talked about books, family, friends, art, traveling, writing and stories... Here was an audience to whom every single one of his stories was new. She would be his canvas to color in with tales.
Deeptanu was a couple Knob Creeks into his story. He raised the glass to ceiling lamp, watching the potent bourbon glint. "Knob Creek, she liked this drink..." but realizing he was talking about someone else altogether, brought his glass back down. As if nothing had happened he went on "She called me when she was driving home from work on Monday. She said she liked me because she thinks I can be trained. I wondered what she thought I am, a dog?" They spoke for a bit and she had to get into her apartment and shower, she told him. She texted a little later saying she was out of the shower. Her citrus body wash made every pore on her body feel fresh. Deeptanu tells me, when he's that into a girl, a mere allusion like that puts a vivid, borderline graphic, image in his head. He doesn't let in on though. She calls and they talked into ungodly hours of the night.
Deeptanu wondered on Tuesday morning if she was able to work during the day at all. He held his cool. So far, he hadn't been the first person to text. He heard somewhere 'To deny a desire is to defeat it.'. Deeptanu has always been a semi-pompous ass that way: quoting one liners in context, such that the story seems bigger than it is. Bengalis can be like that. Sometimes, the lines seem to work events around themselves. This one time he was telling me about his father at the hospital. He was the supervising doctor for that shift. A couple of young doctors watched a corpse being wheeled away on a gurney and joked about it. Deeptanu's father was miffed at this lack of respect for the deceased. One of the junior doctors is supposed to have said "You get used to seeing corpses in a hospital." to which his Dad is supposed to have replied "I've been in this hospital for twenty years and I'm not used to it. How can you be?". A passionate scene, this does evoke. I'm sure something similar must have happened. This scene also happens to be right out of an Amitabh Bacchan movie.
But this is his story, so I convey it you as it was told. On Teusday evening he kept looking at his phone for her texts. None came. He looked for things to do, but couldn't settle on anything. The phone was unusually inert that day. Yes, unusually so. Long conversations, even a couple of them, become 'usual' before you can acknowledge it to yourself. He didn't text her. He knows that once he starts, his texting her, will become the new 'usual'. The first text is all it takes. He knows himself well. So he tosses and turns in bed and glides into somnolence at yet another ungodly hour, speaking to no one, like he did five nights ago. Whether it was anticipation, or the coffee he had at 5pm, one cannot say. Again, Bengalis!
He spent Wednesday waiting for the sun to set. She called on her commute from work. He is surprised he doesn't remember what it exactly was they spoke of. He usual does. Whether the conversation was boring, or that the question why she hadn't called on Tuesday, lurked at the back of his mind, he didn't tell me. They spoke again after her shower. The words 'breasts and thighs' were used later. Deeptanu cursed himself for having a Y chromosome. He managed to stay focussed on a clean conversation however. She later offered that she was talking to other men the night before. Deeptanu felt special that he had her exclusive attention of the past couple of days.
I count this as a red flag, but clearly Deeptanu didn't at the time. That night, she told him of all the previous men she had been with, even texting him pictures of them, disclosing details about their lives that sane people try to protect. The details of her escapades with them, drove the back and forth into an... adults only direction. At this point Deeptanu whipped out his phone showed me pics, not of the exes, but her, in her... naturalist moods. Let us say their talk reached a mutually beneficial climax.
Six Knob creeks will do that to a man. He shares more than warranted.
Thursday morning, put a brake on Deeptanu's teenage dream. News from home was ominous. His father had just had a a heart attack and Deeptanu would have to leave for home very soon, for good. Thursday evening as spoke with her over the phone again, his enthusiasm was subdued. Right before she was about to fall asleep, he mentioned what had happened and its consequence on his future plans. He added that he's understand if wouldn't consider moving to India with him. She said " I never said I wouldn't consider it. One of my friends of Indian descent who grew up to be a doctor here, decided to marry and move to India. They are happy there." For a second Deeptanu wondered, is this sleep talk or did he just become a really lucky man! He found out next night.
This is what he heard "Do you really think, I'd give up a happy life here in the land where I was brought up to go to new a place, that really isn't mine!? My parents maybe, but me?! Are you crazy? I know what you did. Nothing has happened to your father. You're making things up. I bet you couldn't stay anyway and wanted a last hurrah! Look, my family and I are above this! We don't need people like you among us. You make me sick. You come from a filthy land and just want to have fun. What happens in America stays in America right! How dare you toy with my hopes and emotions. You f^&*ing liar! You disgust me. I hate people like you. You have no right to be here..." The barrage of insults was unceasing. Deeptanu went numb. His face felt cold. He didn't know what to say! No one in her state, is ready to talk logically or even accept truths. He could never had dreamt of her ever sounding like this. And yet, he couldn't hang up, for the same reason as he kept looking at his phone a few evenings ago. In less than twelve hours, everything that seemed peachy, wilted. "...And just remember, you played with my emotions and I hope you suffer."
Deeptanu was stunned by events, stung by her vitriol and stumped by what he'd do next. Eight friggin' Knob Creeks! They make a grown man cry.
He went back to his apartment and wept some more I imagine. He's preparing to head back home. He's definitely never dating online anymore, or so he says. People like him, are always looking, but she never comes into their life for very long.
He could be a carefree player that hops from girl to girl or juggles many girls at a time, which is very appealing on screen. You need to be shallow with the emotional attention span of a gecko to pull it off. Thankfully, I have no such friends.
Incidents, events, sights and conversations from the past, both enthrall and torment me. None more so than those from my time in Dallas. I'd say it was because they are the most recent, but I'd be failing to acknowledge their vast spectrum. My mindscape has seen seasons of all feelings. My brain tends to filter in good memories. I wanted to process and air brush Dallas in my head as soon as possible. The past couple of months in Kansas City with my brother have helped me unwind and given me that familiness I really needed.
They say reliving and reinforcing memories can change them. I see nothing wrong in using this phenomenon to my advantage. By choosing to do my favorite things in Dallas, I reinforced the happiness they brought me. By omitting things I disliked, I'd bury those memories without an obituary.
Ze Milonga: Big D's Tango scene has remained pretty consistent over the years: Big, and fairly unchanging. I remember a new out of town dancer saying, she felt "attacked by hawks" on the dance floor. Not that leaders were misbehaving, they just couldn't wait to dance with a new comer. No longer being "Fresh meat" I didn't get that much attention. This gave me all the time in the world to dance with people I have always enjoyed dancing with and vice versa. Ideally, I'd be an immersed in dancing, like a four legged tangoing animal. I wasn't. The other feature of the Dallas Tango scene are people who think they are great shakes but end up being helicopters on the dance floor: violently sweeping other couples to the side. They are as annoying as housefly climbing into your nostrils. But hey! They are so part of Dallas Tango, that I'll keep them in my brain register. The register has in it some fabulous dances with people I have loved dancing with over the years. They've followed every minutia of my lead so delicately that I want holograms of each them to dance with wherever I go. It's a different glee. Very memorable!
Trinity Hall: My favorite Irish Pub. So much so, I haven't really been to many others since second year. Tastefully sized old painting, books and busts in ebony and gold decor were the first attraction. The company of my best friends inside or on the patio, every Sunday for three consecutive years has to be the second. Servers recognizing me and asking me if I want "the usual" to this day, comes third. Cheese Fries with scallions and Belhaven Scottish Stout being my "usual" a close fourth. Trinity Hall has seen me in every mood. I have seen all moods and seasons at Trinity Hall. The lilting notes of Irish music sync with my heartbeats and lead them. They also remind me of ecstasy and a deplorable, yet indelible misadventure. TH will forget me. But it has gained a long term lease on real estate on my mindscape.
Katy Trail: Runs on Katy trail got my heart racing and not just because of the physical exertion. Andrey must have run five hundred miles over the years on this 3.5 mi long paved trail. It runs parallel to uptown, to the side of the RICH Highland park and attracts the well endowed people, financially and otherwise. We had a rating system. The aim was to run long enough to have a 24 carat run. Each pretty lady was a carat. We varied the name to a 'carrot' to add an additional layer of ratings. There'd be Central Market Carrots, Whole Foods carrots, Walmart carrots and Rio Grande carrots. There was once, and only once a lady who we agreed earned two Central Market Carrots. Damn, I can still picture her smile at us as she walked her golden retriever as we ran past. Before anyone cries foul about the objectification of women, let's not kid ourselves. If we aren't talking to or will ever speak to or come in contact with people, they are all objects to be viewed from a distance. That's partially what tourism and anthropology is about.
I have a memory associated with almost every mile marker on Katy trail. Each one, definitely worth a special mention in my mental ledger.
These were places that I have loved in Dallas. I couldn't go to Fadi's or White rock lake. They would have been fun. But I didn't because I was in the company of worthy people. It was touching. I've seen ups and downs of life with them. I've had ups and downs in life with them. These are the people that matter: Ones that you miss even when you've left the place. Talking about them is the subject for a book. Someday, maybe.
In such a manner, I performed the last rites of my memories from Dallas. I can spend an idle moment in peace without listening to a Podcast or watching Netflix to distract me. Let's make some more memories, somewhere else.