9 Oct 2015


There’s a waiter at Kerala Hotel, tallish, fair, thick of moustache, forever not so much rubbing as lovingly caressing his considerable belly.

Greets me with the broadest smile of acknowledgement, even if he’s in the middle of taking an order, almost as though he’s been expecting me.

Slows down ever so slightly on his way to place his order, rolls off the day’s specials, rounds them off with a “what will it be today?”, and he’s off.

Comes tearing back from the kitchen holding up four, sometimes five, fingers in the air- one for each day since my last visit. “Decided?” Almost a challenge.

I ask him what’s good. He chooses from a variety of digressions. “You smell like a bar!” “Should’ve seen the group of girls here for lunch!”   

I say I’ll have dosa with prawn curry, or parotta and beef roast. “Good choice,” he says, “why do we make anything else?” Ambles away, hurt.

Mid-meal, he wants me to know there’s someone traveling to Kerala the next day. Do I need to send anything home?

There’s another gentleman making his way here from Kerala if I’d like anything sent this side? Pickle? Chips? One can never have too many chips.

He goes to great lengths to establish these friendly mules as men of great character, as though I might be in the business of gold or spices.

And if the Samaritan happens to be a woman: “do I need say anything else?” This is said with a pointed shrug of the shoulders; checkmate.

I brought this up one day –the hushed tones and the declarations of faith- and he told me, “you shouldn’t just let anybody into your home”.

I tell him today I’m having trouble finding a flatmate. “A Malayalee would be best,” he says, almost to himself, “I know just the guy.”

He affects one last roguish grin at a young woman sat across the room –“Used to be a nun. Now training to be a nurse.”- and turns to me.

“I’ll let you know about the boy,” he says, and hands me the bill, “you’re on Whatsapp?”

Nicest Nepalese man I know.  

21 Sep 2015

The Straight Bro's Guide To A Respectful Relationship

It's the breast of times and the worst of times for the straight (is there any other kind?) bro. TV, church, hell even Instagram...they're everywhere, these breasts, flaunting their perky political correctness in our faces and making us doubt what is and isn't acceptable dating behaviour. Here are 15 golden rules to make sure the righteous bro is never cockblocked by accidental misogyny again.  

1. Many women feel a first date is a bit like putting their life in the hands of a total stranger. Put them at ease straight away by broaching the subject sincerely and practically: "I don't want you to feel any pressure about how this night will turn out, ok? We'll just get you nice and liqoured up and see how it goes from there."

2. Women like compliments on their sexual prowess, too. Try: "you should just do this for a living".

3. Let her know you're as concerned about last night's unprotected sex as you are: "The i-pill? Pfft. I've already added you as a beneficiary on my loyalty card at the clinic..."

4. But remember when it comes to her body, she has the same rights to decision-making you do. Chicks just love that equality stuff, period: "Well of course I’ll go pick up the pill right now at 7 in the morning if you insist though the ad specifically says take it any time in the 24 hours after unprotected sex. We'll just split the bill later, ok?"  

5. Meeting her best girl pal for the first time? Take a healthy interest in their relationship. Try: "So have you two ever got it on?"

6. Show them you're no flash in the pan by pursuing said healthy interest with passion. The drunker you are, the better: "Come on, all girls get it on with each other!"

7. After meeting her gang for the first time, let her know you're comfortable with how touchy all her male friends are: "I mean clearly, you’ve seen all of them naked, right?"

8. Women have been saying it for years: all they really want from men is honesty. Couch every piece of encouragement in a little reality: "Of course you should pursue a career in music. If by career, you mean hobby."  

9. Men hear what they want to hear. Women barely listen, but they hear everything. While honesty is important, conflict-free conversation is all about using the right words: "Of course not. Even that skirt looks tiny around your bum."

10. Keep the spark alive. Spice up a game of Truth Or Dare with a Truth that's actually a Dare or vice versa: "So which of "our" songs/ jokes/ terms of endearment are hand-me-downs from a previous relationship?"

11. Remember gender roles exist for a reason: to put women in their rightful place. Let your girlfriend know she will always be the more creative of the two of you: "So I've published a novel or two. Pfft. The way you pick exactly the right Instagram filter for every meal you eat..."

12. Remember, Girlfriends' Parents don't just detect bullshit; they expect bullshit. They may appreciate a great story, but they'll respect a true story. "How did we meet? Oh you guys have got to try this app called Bang A Stranger..."

13. Successful relationshipping is really just setting realistic goals. Avoid unreasonable expectations like "don't tell anybody about my debilitating need for paternal validation." Try: "honey, I really need this to stay between us and at most, three Whatsapp groups of not more than 7 members each, ok?"
14. Convince her parents you're the right man for their little girl with just the right mix of indulgence and tough love: "Sure she's taking things a little easy career-wise right now, but she's going to be a right little soldier after marriage. No more of this save-the-world NGO bullshit, no Sir."

15. Remember the highest compliment you can pay your girlfriend is "You're almost as good as my mother at X/ Y/ Z". Except for that thing she let you do in bed that other night. Only whores do that.

                                                        Spiritualized - Come Together

25 Jun 2015


It's your special day,
And I am
At best,
An unpleasant memory.

So I remembered,
then reminded
Myself to put away,
All the wonderful things I wish for you,
And bought myself a little something
To help me forget.

17 Feb 2015

Tuesdays With Fatboy

To say Fatboy has a penchant for drama is like saying Hrithik Roshan is not crazy about defeat. He actively pursues opportunities for unleashing said histrionic tendencies too, which is why I hadn't been looking forward to Fatboy's impending visit. But he seems pensive somehow, almost distracted. "You want to tell me about your hand, bro?" I ask, finally.

Fatboy looks down absently. His thumb is in a cast that appears to have been modelled on one of those foam fingers you see American sports fans waving at whatever they call that game that's actually just cricket in baseball jerseys. "Oh this," he says, "Tinder-thumb." Like that's a totally real thing. I suppress the urge to comment that it's only his right hand that seems to have been affected.

Miley Cyrus famously raising awareness about Tinder-thumb. 
"I heard you quit your job," I try again. "Oh that, yeah," he scratches his chin, "I have an idea for an app. Look, you want to talk about what happened or not?" Here comes the pain. "There's nothing to talk about bro," I say, "she and I went out, we broke up, and you and I are not talking about it." Fatboy crosses his legs and assumes position. "I mean, she could have broken up with me in person," I say. Fatboy nods encouragingly. "She says she's been writing me this email to explain everything," I continue, "she'd never have just stopped answering my calls otherwise. Or texts. Or the door."

I watch Fatboy as he shifts in his seat. Something is up with the guy, and it's not my love life. "Not that," he says, "what I texted you about." He's kidding. There's no way in hell... He raises a hand, presumably to stop my train of thought but it just looks like his thumb is giving me a giant go-ahead. "I understand your moral reservation, I do," he says, "which is why I think you should start small. Among an intimate circle of friends, perhaps? Maybe you could even start with just me." The bastard. "You want me to send you nudes of my ex?" I ask, just to make sure. He nods sagely, and departs to the loo.

I flip through the pictures on my phone. She and I, at Monkey Bar. The three of us, that night we ended up at HUDCO park after some gig or the other. How long does it take to type a bloody email, anyway? Picture after picture, grotesquely shiny tableaux of what never was. I hover over one particularly fond memory, and hit 'Share'. Seconds later, a "whoop" emanates from the loo that can only be the guttural liberation of forbidden lust. Revenge porn. This is my lowest moment, yet.  

Fatboy steps out of the loo and buckles his belt pointedly, Tinder-thumb and all. "You did the right thing," he says. I shrug off the hand he places on my shoulder and take a sip of my beer: "You liked that did you, Tinderella?" Fatboy bows theatrically. "Congratulations," I say, "you're the first man to jerk off to a picture of my butt."

Icy Highs's Video Reco: #DefeatDefeat (Hrithik Roashan)
Hrithik Roshan hates defeat so much he will defeat it. 

14 Jan 2015


I look around, and pause again to take them all in, as I have done numerous times on this trip. We're all here, the original gang of four, chilling like it's 1999, like numerous summer vacations spent lounging under rubber trees in our paternal home playing made-up games and swapping made-up stories of bravado and discovery. We don't have to fib about body hair or school yard heroics any more; the pube-counter has been abandoned years ago, and we're not as fascinated by Bruce Lee movies or Steven Segal fight sequences as we used to be. Of course, not having to fib and doing it anyway are two different things- the playground may have changed but the games remain the same.

We're alike in ways only brothers can be: the dip of our shoulders, the chicken legs, the predilection for deep-fried-anything, mouths arched in permanent readiness for a good laugh. We like to have a good time, and we're good people who like to believe we're good people. My brothers have all brought women with them- life partners in various stages of permanence. They point out more distinguishing features of the group: the eagerness to be liked, the lack of get-up-and-go, the mishmash of good intentions and inertia. But they say this with affection, with almost-motherly indulgence, and we are perhaps more pleased than we should be.
Back in the long-ago, when we were still children, we used to have this tradition of prolonging every game of Donkey till the last possible second. Come end of summer, we'd all go our different ways from our grandparents' home, driven away to the closest railway station or airport by some accommodating relative or the other. This meant picking up the deck of cards from our usual spot on the veranda and carrying the hand in play all the way up to the top of the slope where the ancestral Ambassador car lay in wait, honking impatiently, glinting ominously in the sun. The end has come early, abruptly, this holiday. We're still splashing about in the little creek we found; still waiting for another joint to be rolled. We're still upholding tradition, still playing till we absolutely have to leave, till the taxi turns up, because it's the only way we know to deal with parting. But we're trying out a new game. It's called "Waiting For Grandma To Die".

Thank God she fell ill-er last night, when we had already moved to Agonda Beach blessed with signals our phones can intercept and a secure 3G line over which tickets can be booked at the last minute. Thank God she didn't steal away in the middle of the night when we were still on wind-swept, grid-less Cola Beach, chosen painstakingly to liberate us from emails and Whatsapp and con-calls, if only for a couple of nights. Because when you reach a certain age, when the pube-counter makes way for the grey-counter or the baldness quotient, it's all you can do to assuage the guilt of not-being-reachable. The grandparents who were always in touch somehow throughout our childhood with promises of kappa-irachi and Alphonsa mangoes the next time we visit would never forgive us if we didn't show up to say goodbye because we had no network.

7 Apr 2014

Something Corporate

When I first watched Cinema Paradiso as a ten year old boy, this much was clear: much like the chosen savior of a clan here, a princess there in the many martial arts movies that populated my VHS collection, I would have to save Cinema. Not in terms of making good cinema or acting in one, but in the presentation. It probably says something about me that even at that age, I was more enamored by Alfredo the projectionist's love for cinema than by the six year old Toto's sense of adventure; Alfredo's contentment in worshiping the art and making it accessible to as wide an audience as possible as opposed to Toto's ambitious experiments with his home movie camera.      

Consequently, it was never enough for me to just watch a film. I had to experience the journey. And because Alfredo waged his war against censorship and a philistine government in post-World War II Italy while I lived in comfortably middle class, culturally vibrant 90s Trivandrum, I would often have to create my own excitement: I would accompany our driver on his designated Friday evening trip to the cinema hall to score us tickets for the latest blockbuster. My father's secretary would have called ahead to make the reservations, but I'd make believe we were on a race against time: the fate of all pop culture lay in the automated arms of the next traffic signal. And once at the ticket stall, getting pushed and pulled along by the suffocating long lines of Trivandrum's ardent film-goers, or better still, jumping headfirst into a crowd of Mohanlal fans getting lathi-charged by policemen, I could finally feel like I was part of a movement.

In time, I would make my peace with the fact that cinema, at least in Kerala, was in no grave danger I could rescue it from, but until well past high school, I would draw umpteen models of what my Archie comics-inspired drive-in cinema would like and plot impromptu screenings of If Lucy Fell projected on the walls of my house for the benefit of our neighbor, an American-returned girl who was a couple of years older than me and hopelessly out of sorts with the world and was also named Lucy. So while growing up perhaps took the romance out of cinema, cinema certainly put the romance in me- a sense of right and wrong, of some imagined utopia in which bureaucrats and their minions alike could escape from the tedium of real life for a while and roll up their sleeves and laugh heartily at Jagathy's mishaps or shed copious tears at the fate of star-crossed lovers on screen.

Fast forward to thirteen years later:

I'm raging. I'm hemorrhaging internally from all the rage because PVR Cinemas in Cochin has just short-changed me. Despite the fact that it's in a mall and everybody dresses like they're at a club, I'm here because tickets only cost an almost-reasonable hundred bucks, and thanks to the juggernaut-like growth of multiplexes, the grand tradition of independent cinema houses is in its last days. The last ones standing survive on regional blockbusters and sheer will power; they're certainly not going to screen Noah in 3D. Besides, PVR offers unlimited refills on Pepsi and we happen to be in ownership of a bottle of rum that will no doubt be consumed furtively and in full over the course of the movie with generous helpings of Pepsi. I'm not even drinking, but it feels like a victory.

Till this moron stepped up to the Pepsi counter a few seconds ago.
"What do you mean "no more re-fills"?", I say, "It says "unlimited re-fills" on the sign behind your head!"
"Yes, but the sign made a mistake," he tells me, "no re-fill today."
"The sign made a...Look, the movie's going to start in a minute; I don't have time for this nonsense."
"Sir, I will have to ask you to watch your language."
"Ok I was out of line. Please top up my drink like your sign promises you will, so I can go watch my movie."
"What? Why? Look, is there someone else I can talk to?"
"Sir, if you continue to behave in this fashion, I will be forced to call the manager."
"Why do you talk like a textbook? But yes, that'd be great. Please call your manager."
"That was not an empty threat, sir. I will call my manager."
"Yes, please call your manager. You understand he's not also my manager, right?"
"I'm warning you: The manager will not be pleased to be interrupted in the middle of dinner."
"Oh great. Your manager's at home while he lets you robots run the show here? Fine, call him."
"No, the manager is eating his dinner at the food court on the next floor."

At this point, my friend tells me the movie is only a couple of seconds from starting. "This is not over," I tell the Pepsi guy as I turn to leave, "I'll be back." "I look forward to it," he replies, "perhaps next time, I can introduce you to our loyalty programs."

Icy Highs's Music Recco : Asaf Avidan- One day we'll be old 



16 Mar 2014

I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)

Usually at this hour, we'd be bouncing over by-roads and ghosting through residential lanes. Not today though. Today, I'm sober- and consequently, the designated driver- so we're taking the high road, both moral and physical. I'm quite looking forward to being stopped by one of the many policemen stationed on Cochin's roads to stop drunk drivers. It's not everyday I get to drive away from a cop without considerably lightening my wallet.

The guys have been drinking all evening, and are just as excited as I am. I encourage them to act as riotously as they please; for a change, we have the law on our side. We haven't been on MG Road five minutes when predictably, a couple of cops wave us down. I slow down, pull over to the side, and watch one of them approach my car in the mirror. He clocks the number plate, and visibly brightens up. I can't wait to wipe the grin off his face. I've been waiting for this moment for so long. 

I roll down my window and smile. The cop looks right through me, and inside the car: the usual suspects. By now, one of us would usually have stepped out of the car, muttering apologies and dropping names, pressing a five hundred rupee note into his palm. I can see he's a little shaken by our apparent stoicism. "Have you been drinking?" he asks. I want to answer calmly, gracefully, but my hand goes up like a first-bencher in school with all the answers. "I haven't been drinking, " I announce. "Suck-up," says one of the guys in the back and I admit to myself that he's probably right. A night without drink, and my inner nerd is in full swing. 

"You won't mind a breathalyzer test then," he says and gestures to the cop behind us. "Not at all," I say and struggle to keep the class-monitor out of my voice. I watch the other cop in the mirror; I haven't dealt with him before. He has a slow, meaningful gait, an almost-strut, and somehow inspires flashes of that old terror of the law in my mind as he plants heavy feet wide apart and comes to a standstill outside my window. He has some kind of apparatus strapped to his crotch, with a tube-like contraption sticking out of it like a surprised penis. "Blow it," he orders, and the guys cheer, despite themselves, like hypnotized Heartlanders at a Salman Khan movie.        

"I don't think you understand," I say, "I haven't been drinking. You can put that thing away now." The guys are really getting into the flow of things. "Blow it! Blow it!", they chant. "If you haven't been drinking, you won't have a problem," says the cop, "blow." Now sexual innuendos aside, I have a genuine problem with intimacy hygiene. Drunk driving is policed so comprehensively in Cochin that even by the most conservative of estimates, that apparatus must have kissed at least fifty mouths tonight. I can't even shake hands with strangers. There's no way that thing is going anywhere near my mouth. 

"You know what," I say, "I have been drinking. I'm really sorry, and I'll just pay whatever-"
But the guys have other plans. This is their moment too. "BLOW IT! BLOW IT!" they chant. "What are you waiting for?" yells one, "show them!" The old Us versus Them. I've been a man long enough to know that you can't back down in an Us versus Them situation. It's just not an option. I reach in the general direction of the apparatus and wipe its head clean. 

"Do it already!" mutters the first cop. So headlights in my eyes, the guys chanting pornographic war cries in my ears, I lower my face onto the cop's crotch and blow. Passing, less anarchic cars honk in approval. I think I can taste vomit, smell cigarettes and alcohol. I pull back and come up for air just as I realize the cop's hand is actually stroking my head in approval. The guys cheer and applaud. I don't wait for the policeman to check the meter. I roll up my window and drive straight home to wash my mouth clean of the sweet taste of victory.           

Icy Highs's Music Recco: The Drunken Whaler- Copilot