Thursday, October 9, 2008

Drinking and Dialling

We have all done it - Had a few more drinks than necessary, looked around and seen happy couples, reacted to 'that song' which happened to play at just the right time and wondered where we had screwed up. Because we were alone despite all the chances we had had in our short lives. We tend to forget the details of the exact scenario, who had said or done what to whom, whose 'fault' it was... all those details become hazy in the fugue created by alcoholic fumes and romantic melodies and you reach for the phone.


Even as you scroll down to the number that you should ideally have deleted a long time ago, you know it's a move that you'll regret the next morning, but blaring more loudly in the foreground of that doubt is the thought, "If not now, then when? If not like this, then how?" Yes, at heart, I'm probably a chicken-shit, and without a generous amount of dutch courage flowing through my arteries, am only too happy pushing things under the proverbial carpet.

Last night, surrounded by a few friends and several acquaintances, something snapped inside me. I was coasting along, singing the songs, smiling and laughing when suddenly a voice from my 8-year-ago-love-past pinged me. "Hi, am in Pune. Was thinking of you. I still love you." Love? Really? It made me wonder if i even knew what it meant anymore. And quick on the heels of that particular thought, came the memory of another boy whom I had truly loved... enough to have let him walk away, and not shut down access lines. So, surrounded by youngsters who were playing the guitar and singing love songs, i picked up the phone and pinged him - "Right now. This minute. I miss you. I miss us."

Sweet, right? Atleast i'd like to believe so. He responded. I pinged back. And the next morning, when I woke up and read the other, increasingly maudlin messages I had sent, that screamed of loneliness and sadness, I was mortified. How could I? For someone who has been a proponent of the "I'll Survive" school of thought, what a terrible admission of frailty.

So the next day, i went red-faced with the effort of sweeping said mortification under yet another carpet and met a friend who sat me down and told me to get a grip on myself. His judgement was : "So you leaned on someone in a moment of weakness. So what? It means you're human." Yes i know it's human... but ... why him? Why a person whom i'd loved and lost? Why can't it be someone who is around, right now, right here? "Because you don't stick around long enough for someone to be around you."

Aww.. crap. Last thing i needed in this state was a reality check. The fact that he was kinda right is no excuse. To make a reeeaaalllly long story very short: boy met girl, got girl, dumped girl; then girl met boy, got boy, dumped boy, etc etc. This went on for a while until finally, girl figured that any guy she meets and gets is probably not the right guy for her. So as soon as she senses that she may get a boy, she bolts. Leaving her alone at parties wondering why she's alone.

Okay, yes i know the "The solution: don't bolt" theory. But the real situation is this: My whole life i've taken a fairly large section of responsibility for my actions. And hence, their consequences. So when faced with empirical evidence of multiple failures of a particular "fall in love first and ask questions later" strategy, I opted for the "ask questions first and then fall in love" modus operandi.


Because now, since i was already analytical about a person and a situation, just "feeling and going with the flow" was impossible. So we now had a girl who believed she could see through people, their pathetic attempts at 'wooing' her, the various pick-her-up strategies that ranged from "I'm such a cute cuddly guy" to "i'm such a super smart brainiac" to "i don't want you but you want me" to "sex is ok, after all this is the 21st century"... It was exhausting to constantly question and probe and seek the truth about peoples motivations - what do you truly want from me? Validation? Sex? Friendship? Sweetness? Devotion? What??? The bad news was that this MO provided no fool-proof clear-cut answers either and hence my analytical approach rejected them all. And it was impossible to stop.

So when i was drinking and dialling, surrounded by youngsters and music, i was actually reaching back to a time of my life, to a person who had just been, who had let me be, who had loved me and made no secret of the fact, whose assurance had carried us when my own was shaky, who took our future for granted, whom i never ever considered giving 'no' for an answer. It was a time of ease and of confidence in ourselves, not tainted by fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of our own fallibility.

It was a time of youth. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When You Gotta Go...

I smoke sometimes. Sometimes I smoke a lot. I also go for weeks without. This isn't a post about whether i'm an 'addicted' chain smoker or not. But i do get a few stares every now and then from people. One of the recent starers was a young thing at work. As i inhaled deeply while trying to solve the problems of the world in my mind by looking out of a grimy window, she said, "You mustn't smoke. It's not good for you." Usually i respond with a "I know. I'll stop soon." But that day, i actually envied her her whole assurance that she knew the answers, that she knew for certain that some things are good and some things are bad and there can be no compromise. I hated the fact that i used to be her at some point, and now i wasn't, and no matter how hard i try, i never will be.

So I asked her why she felt smoking was so bad. She looked surprised that in today's day and age, any educated person would even dare question that axiom of life. Her entire expression communicated 'what an idiot' - her judgement of me. I don't blame her. But she was young and i'm almost her boss, so she seemed hesitant about stating the obvious.

I said, "Do you smoke?
Do you drink?
Do you drive rashly?
No, i don't even drive! (giggle)
Do you eat red meat?
I am a vegetarian
Very good. Do you do drugs?
(gasp!!) Never!
Not even combiflam? (i was smiling)
Ohh.. like that.. i thought you know....
Yes, I know. You are right. You live a clean, healthy, perfect life.
She nodded vigorously.
And yet, you too shall die.

The change of her expression is usually the stuff that the best jokes are made of. But as she stared at me as if I was some crazy woman who had poured my hopelessness into her, i felt bad. I laughed, and she laughed too, and i went back to smoking, and she went back indoors to her computer, but i know that there was no need for me to dump on her like that.

Yesterday i attended my uncle's funeral. It's the first funeral i have ever been a part of. We weren't very close, but he was a warm person in whose company i have spent a few blissful hours. I am infact very close to his sisters and his kids - my cousins - which would explain my presence there (apart from the usual "family" thing). He smoked heavily for the last 45 years of his life. Predictably, his lungs gave up on him. There is a ring of 'karmic bells' but then i've seen my grandfather die - a healthy man who, at the age of 75, was stronger than most people my age - of throat cancer. I also have a friend who had a heart attack when he was 27, and another person i almost knew who died while mountain climbing.

My point? When it's time, it's time. There's not much one can do about that, despite age miracles and stem-cell whatchamacallits. But we can do a lot for the living. At my uncle's funeral, there was deep grief, many tears, AND rolling-on-the-floor-telling-hysterical-jokes-and-laughing. It's probably due to the fact that my family's average IQ is in the 140s, or probably because it was too soon for us to really react 'appropriately'. Whatever be the case, what was fantastic was that we were all in this together, for better or worse. I am not kidding, my family is who i would want around me if the sky fell on my head.

Because when i die - be it of lung cancer, or breast cancer (now, that would be ironic), liver disease or chronic old age - i hope it's in my sleep and that i leave behind a family that would get drunk and laugh that day and stiff my credit card company for it.