In an austerity bid that would have made Chidambaram proud, I cut down on some frills last month and cancelled cable, internet, my subscription to The Hindu, and pretty much all social commitments that involved leaving the house. The last part naturally necessitated some maneuvering, so as to avoid hurting the feelings of certain grown-ass men and women who -in my totally unbiased opinion- set too much store by what they do and who with on their birthdays. Still, maneuver I did, and expertly at that, by simply hijacking all birthday/anniversary/other-assorted-event celebrations on the horizon with a simple text sent out every Monday morning to pretty much all my contacts: "This is a big one for you-know-who, guys; party at my place all wknd. BYOD!"
The first couple of weeks were fun, with people inevitably crashing for a few more days, calling friends over, ordering enough take-out to spare me the trouble, setting up wi-fi hotspots, poker tournaments, the works. But the novelty wore off when I started having to field phone calls from concerned spouses, parents and even somebody's boss. Not to mention the realization that there would always be demand for anything-goes bachelor pads in Bombay; that there would always be suffocated spouses, pill peddlers and psychopaths who celebrate two birthdays a year, looking for a place to get their twerk on. I'd have to choose between having a life and staying alive.
Tramps evicted, trash bagged, and sanity restored, I decided I needed some sort of project to keep from crashing. Which is how I decided to turn Raju, our Bihari cook, on to a different kind of drug, one that greater men than I had been burnt, consumed and immolated by: the English language. I had noticed him trying to speak to my friends in broken English, struggling but never shy, and it seemed as worthy a reason as any to withdraw from society: I'd play Jesus to his Disciple, and on the third day (or whenever my book advance shows up) I'd rise again and presumably hover a few feet above Totos for a little facetime with Bandra before descending straight down for a pint.
Oh it was all fun and games at first. I drew little posters full of apples and tomatoes and oranges that all looked like bananas, I underlined words on tetra-packs and shampoo bottles for him to memorize, I even promised to introduce him to the miracle that is "Facebooks". But the initial excitement can only take you so far: three days, to be exact. To keep Raju's thirst for knowledge satiated, I realized, would take commitment, selflessness, dedication. Hey, you try making meaningful, easy-to-understand sentences with every random word a non-speaker of the language throws at you. "Conditioner!", he'd yell, and "Pasteurized!". "Dandruff!". "Deodorant!". "Refrigerated!".
In my desperation to help, and my aversion to putting too much effort into it, I had myself a little "What would Jesus do?" moment. And then I knew. The solution had been staring at me in the face- a medium that will continue to introduce Raju to new material without danger of him losing interest, without my having to exercise my brain or mind; the baby-food of English 101: Hollywood. Without further ado, I popped into Bru World next door, googled and copy-pasted five A4s worth of "famous lines from Hollywood movies" and dropped the printouts on his lap.
The household is certainly richer for Raju's penchant for practice- he never lets slip an opportunity to use one of the lines in conversation. When I wake him up these days with a bout of midnight munchies, he doesn't grumble or feign sleep. He hurries to the kitchen instead, returns with a bowl of cocoa-puffs and cold milk or a packet of Bourbons, and declares, "Life is like a box of chocolates." He won't so much as go to the bathroom without announcing, "I'll be back". Things have been going so well in fact that I got quite the shock today when I asked him to tidy up the living room. He held my gaze for a second, surveyed the mess around us, and secure in the knowledge that the English-speaking world is full of hopeless romantics and idealists and vigilantes- a world that he is now part of- made his first foray into the land of the empowered. "Help me help you," he said. I promptly rushed back to Bru World and posted an ad for a new cook.
Icy Highs's Music Recco: Brahama- My Sleeping Karma