Monday, July 13, 2009

Big Bizarred

OK. Future Group is huge. They have Dhoni campaigning for them. All malls have Big Bazaar. But still I detest going to them. It has nothing to do with the quality of clothes there (You might end up buying a shirt which the guy on the next square is already wearing. Poor you, there go you 500 bucks!). The high end range might just get you free admits to the costume party or the nearest Gujju Dandiya Night (Manager ni cabin kya chhe?). And I’m also not talking about the fact there is almost never a size available for you, when you happen to like something. Or about the jeans, which makes you look like India’s answer to 50 Cent. I have personally had two experiences which make me want to avoid the place always. And they happened on the same day.

It happened 4 years ago, during the days of yore, the fresh green days of youth and the energy and vitality of college years (and Wordsworth and Shelley turn in their graves). Well, I was in my first year at engineering college in Nagpur. During that time, Big Bazaar was the only mall in the city. Yes, go ahead and laugh. But malls emerge slowly, taking over one city at a time. And the “Winter Capital of Maharashtra” figured a bit late in the list. We had ragging and all that jazz in college, so a weekend out was like a dream. Somehow, we managed to get out and go out shopping (like girls, I might add). We were three friends and after trying out a small outlet, my friend had the bright idea to go to Big Bazaar. We grabbed an auto, and after haggling with him, got to the place.

Now, I must tell you one thing. I hail from Mumbai, where the greenery and the natural beauty are quite stunning. I’m not talking about the trees. I’m talking bird watching, and not of the Dr. Salim Ali’s interest. Engineering colleges are one of the most deprived places when it comes to the female species, and Nagpur isn’t exactly the Mecca of anything, for the birds to flock there (except maybe for oranges). So Big Bazaar was like a double bonanza. Cheap clothes are always a necessity when you live in a hostel and have to manage your expenses in order to accommodate some (ahem) miscellaneous expenses. And the birds, of course.

No sooner do we enter, we all start looking around as if we were lost, which is not possible because there is only one way. Up. We went up the lift, and there she was. A pretty (very pretty, whatever, beautiful, gorgeous and all those adjectives) girl standing all alone (Do we see a chance here? Hah, who are we kidding) on the first floor while the lift moves to the second (Damn, the shop had to be on a different floor). I was completely lost. With my gaze fixed on her, I walked out of the lift, not knowing that a certain aunty (I do happen to get into a lot of trouble with them) was standing right at the door. I crashed into her, while in a hurry to get out and all her shopping items fall onto the floor. To make matters worse, I even stepped on one of her son’s shirt, which now bore a huge Reebok boot printed logo (Yay! Reebok tee!). I didn’t know what to say (I’m kind of socially challenged) and we just scrammed from there with my friends laughing there hearts out. Serves me right for staring. But the lift troubles were far from over.

After my friend finished shopping (and I kept looking over my shoulder to see if a vengeful aunty was about somewhere), we again got into the lift. This time, I stood right in the corner. Three women got in. One of them very, very fat. Six people, small lift. Overload buzzes. Now, my friend, who didn’t know the aunties had gotten in, remarked, while still looking down,” Arre kaun hai yaar. Lift pe reham karo. Overload ho gaya.” He had meant it for us, in a friendly teasing kind of way. But the aunties took it offensively. I swear we didn’t mean the comment for them. We didn’t even know and we are not that rude.

Aunt # 1 says,” Badtameez! Sharam nahi aati?”

Stunned silence. I hadn’t even realised what had happened.

I asked,” Hum?”

Aunt # 2, in English,” Don’t you respect womans? You youngsters have no respect for elders. What college do you study in?”

Us: “VNIT.”

Aunt # 2: “Toh kya par aa gaye tumhare? I will complaint you to the police.”

I snigger at the faux pas, and the obvious lack of grammar. It was funny. Wrong, but funny. If she didn’t know English, she shouldn’t have spoken in it then. I know. We are bad people.

My friend was stunned. He said,” Auntyji (He’s from Delhi), maine aapko nahi kahaa. Main to aise hi apne doston se keh raha tha. Mujhe toh pata bhi nahi tha aap lift main hain. We are sorry.”

Aunty refused to budge. She just went on and on. As the lift door opens, we run out like criminals, but not after having said,” Bye, aunty. Sorry. Thanda maaro.” My friend just couldn't keep shut, having been wrongly accused.

With bloodshot eyes, I’m sure she wanted to give a tight one to each of us. Her face haunts me to this very day. And that is why I hate going to Big Bazaar.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I always thought I was an above average guy. I mean, I never did badly on my tests in school, though I wasn’t really top of the class. My mother always wanted me to be the best student and all that jazz, but I was so lazy (and perhaps not as brilliant as some people) that I never managed to be anything in particular in school, be it the star performer, the sports guy, the hunk, the prankster, or even the geek or the loser. I was just your plain average Ramu.

Come college time and I didn’t give a second thought to my career. I went straight for IIT coaching, and like a majority of the buggers, failed miserably in the attempt. After pretending to be upset for a few hours, I had to get my act together for the AIEEE exam. Otherwise, I would have had to suffer the wrath of my parents and the horrible necessity of travelling every day to college in Mumbai. Somehow, I managed to score something in the exams and I got a seat in a good NIT. Mom happy, practically gleaming with pride that son was off to study in an 'REC'. Dad was something to that effect too. All the aunties in the colony were looking up to me to be a role model or something for their kids (who by the way, were still in school and had no idea what was about to hit them).

I went into the NIT. And reality struck me. I was not at all into engineering. I scored decently on tests, considering I hardly ever studied anything. I roamed around all day, playing football, playing the guitar, having a band, reading books and everything else except engineering. But writing was what I really wanted. Inspired by many friends, I started blogging. Heck, I even became the editor of the Institute magazine. I got placed in a decent company, again, much to the delight of the folks at home. But recession was to snare its deadly paws upon my job.

Left jobless, I was relieved that I at least had the time to think over my choice of career. While nosing around for some interesting jobs, I found one at JAM and got through as a full time writer. Now, the funny part. People can change in an instant. I was now the outcast, the rebel, the ugly duckling of the pack.

Mom: Oh my god! You want to write? Enough. I have had enough. You seem to have lost your mind, going to an NIT. It would have been better if you were here.

Neeche wali aunty (in a typical pitying and downgrading Maya Sarabhai tone): What happened beta? TCS didn’t come for placement? My brother's daughter has got her letter. Even my brother’s cousin has…

Me: No, aunty. IT is not my area of interest. I had a job, but recession, so….

I completed my sentence with the only word she could understand.

Neeche wali aunty: Oh. That is so bad. It’s ok. 

With a smirk on her face, she turns to my mother,"Why doesn’t he go for GRE? My nephew has 'given' GRE and is going to the US.”

Me: I have got a job though, aunty. At JAM. It’s a youth magazine.

Neeche wali aunty: What? You are an engineer, na? What is with this jam wam? Aapka beta to patrakar ban gaya. Beta kuch karo. Nahi to tum peeche reh jaoge.

And I murder the woman. In my mind. The real neechewali aunty leaves with hurried goodbyes.

When we return home, mom is already red with anger. “What is wrong with you? Why didn’t you give GRE? Everybody’s going to the US.” Circa next day, and mom watches a news programme on how the US is cutting down on jobs heavily.

Mom (on watching programme): You give MBA exams beta. Apply to all universities. I won’t let you sit idle.

Me: Fine. MBA it is (though it is one of my preferred options to get into the media). I joined a test series for MBA. Since I had joined full-time, I couldn’t help out with the household chores and the bank trips as much. So mom was cursing me every single minute.

Mom (muttering loud enough so that I could hear): You have turned out to be useless to me. God knows what will happen during my old age. Khana to khila hi dega shayad?

I laughed at the question. Big mistake. Mom sulked for the whole day. When I informed her that I was going to join JAM, she was still hoping that L&T would send its own letter. She showed me the weird astrologer on a Hindi news channel who predicted that my job would change in a few days.

Me: How can that be? I have just joined. I’m not changing anything.

A lesson learnt the hard way. Details shall not be revealed. Avoid spilling out your thoughts as a retort. Things can get bad.

Uncle arrives on the scene after a few days and mom says to him, "This boy has gone astray. Everything is falling apart. He says he wants to write articles. What will I tell the colony people? When they ask for the name of the company, I can’t even tell them."

Uncle: What is this new thing? You can write if you want, but get a job first.

What was JAM, I asked? A job which paid me to write. Uncle says nothing else. He has given up on me, calling me arrogant (which I do accept as one of my shortcomings) and adamant.

Me (smiling, to Mom): Anyways, you think I have gone nuts. Might as well tell them that I have flunked and am still waiting to complete college.

I narrowly avoided the utensil flung at my face.

As the D-day drew near, mom softened (as all mothers do).

Mom: How much are they paying you?

Me: Ten thousand, for now.

Mom: That’s it? Neeche wali aunty’s beti is in TCS and they are paying her more than 20. Why don’t you join a company, whose name I can at least take proudly in front of others?

Mom was getting more and more irrational as the days passed. I tried the subtle humour approach.

Me: Good for her. Nice package, na? Plus, she doesn’t have any expenses, because the bus picks her up from the gate.

Wrong again. I was not helping my case at all with my ill-timed jokes. I tried citing examples of people from my college who had ventured into creative fields. Mom ignores them completely, dismissing them and labelling them as ‘cracked’.

After first day on the job, we went to buy some clothes for my younger brother. Mom puts in a sly taunt, "Next time, anna will pay for your clothes. His paycheck is due next month, isn’t it?” I agree. Even if it is less compared to my engineering counterparts, I’ll gladly spend the whole of it on my family. 

Mom: Do they have an office? And employees?

Me: No, amma. We work in a makeshift shed powered by a line stolen from light poles. And employees? Are you kidding me? I am the sole guy working there. We sit and chat like girls and write at whim.

I avoid another missile launched at me. I have to avoid getting confrontational.

Mom: How come you wear jeans at your office?
Me (seriously, for a change): They are very flexible. They don’t care what I wear as long as I get my work done. Good, na? (expectantly waiting for a positive answer)

Mom: God save me from this weird company. How can they let people wear jeans at an office. An office means you wear full shirts and cotton trousers and...

I left the house in a hurry as I had to catch my train to work.

PS: Mom has slowly gotten used to the fact that I now work at JAM. Of course, I’m still preparing for my MBA. And she still hopes that L & T sends the goddamned letter.