Sunday, June 12, 2011

The King of Fruits

Despite the recent aging processes I have been going through due to which I am quickly turning into a spectacularly boring old fella, I still retain a childlike enthusiasm for certain things in life. Window seats and mangoes being the two which come to mind instantly.

I hadn't partied or imbibed the spirits for a while, and the Saturday night plan at a friend's place seemed just like what I wanted after a tiring, travel-filled month. Just as I'd settled down and was waiting to open a beer bottle, she announced that she had some mangoes and maybe we could have a snack before we got started. And that was that. A huge, stupid smile covered my face as she got them out. I tucked into them with an enthusiasm rarely seen for anything else, and within 15 minutes, all my grand plans of having a fun night with the usual gang had turned into a sleepy evening with a fruit-filled belly. I lay back on the sofa, a content smile on my face. The booze seemed boring now, something that would ruin the taste in my mouth. It was supposed to be a party, so I tried. But after just a few drinks, I was done. All those mangoes were making me feel distinctly sleepy. They'd kinda ruined my party, but then, there's no way I'd choose anything else over them. Mangoes, you see, are my weak point.

There's a deep, emotional connect between Maharashtrian Brahmin families and the yellow fruit. Atleast with the ones who originate from Kokan, that spectacular coastal strip of land second only to Kerala in peninsular India. We really dig into the stuff. Come mango season, and we'll have them chopped, depeeled and whole, in semi-solid form with chapatis in meal (something which really stumps other people), in milk-shakes and what not. Of course, it's not just any mango, but the alphonso, the king of the king of fruits. It's quite inexplicable, this obsession. The darn thing is, one, costly as hell. Two, its as fragile as any fruit can be, and can find a variety of silly reasons to turn overnight into a ghastly black mess. Even more annoyingly, this often does not manifest itself on the exterior, so you need to have a prayer on your lips if you're pulping a plural number of mangoes into a common container. Three, they are fattening, more than the choicest dairy products put together. Now this isn't a concern for me, thankfully, but even I notice a perceptible bulge in the tummy region a few weeks into mango season. Four, they produce enough body heat to ensure that you enjoy all the ill-effects of teenage times without the associated joys - namely, boils and pimples, large, ghastly, yellow coloured ones. Despite this, there is an irrational obsession with the darn fruit amongst us, and I take this to a completely new level.

Show me a bunch of good, quality alphonso mangoes - heck, even mediocre quality ones - and watch me go week-kneed with sheer anticipation and delight. It's.. a bit creepy, I think, that I should feel this kind of attraction for a.... fruit. It's quite funny. In my new place in Mumbai, my roommate got a 2 dozen pack of the choicest alphonsoes as a gift from somebody. One look at the box and it was love at first sight. The box said that it shouldn't be opened till 3 days from then, and I spent those days in a mixture of agony and anticipation which drove me up the wall. And then, when the moment arrived, I opened it... and I think I don't quite remembered what happened after that! Oh dear. I think I am going to have to keep the darn corporate jobs for a while just to feed this rather expensive taste. The non-profits will have to wait for a while. Unless that's an additional component to my CTC!

I dread the day when my arch-enemy decides to send a hot chick to seduce me for some ulterior gain (the arch-enemy part is essential because part two of the above sentence ain't happening out of any lady's free will - other than the one that love has made blind, of course). No, I will shout, I shall not cheat on the love of my life. Nothing shall make me do that, least not a pretty young thing in a teeny-weeny. And that shall be the moment when I see the evil glint in her eyes, as she fumbles with her large backpack. I will recoil in horror as I realize the magnitude of evil that resides in my arch-enemy. I make a run for it, but before I am out of nose-shot, the heavenly aroma of the choicest, 'A'-grade alphonso mangoes reaches my olfactory glands. And then... I can always claim I don't remember what happened afterwards!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Life seems to have an unerring tendency to do two things which lead me to the rather megalomanic conclusion that they've deputed somebody up there just to mess around with me. Since the almighty is considered powerful beyond measure, I can convince myself about the practicality of such an eventuality. One, it makes me do exactly what I have declared that I would never do, to myself and the world at large. Two, it picks and chooses from the things I am damn worried about and turns things around so that one fine day, I find myself right in the middle of that damn thing, wondering how I ended up there. Sometimes, when it really wants to have fun, it does both together. And that's how Mumbai has happened to me.

It might seem strange to be scared of a city, particularly a metropolis like Mumbai, especially when the darn thing is just a hundred or so kilometers from the place you've lived most of your life. And yet, fear is the emotion that comes first to my mind when I think of Mumbai. Seven months in the city has taken the edge off a bit of that feeling, but I still feeling an intense wave of restlessness whenever I come back from anywhere else.

So when I'd got into the IIMs, I'd made one promise to myself, and to a few close friends, in the vain hope that telling somebody else about it would make me keep my word to myself even more. I'd said that no matter what happened, I would not take up a job in Mumbai. I'd take a pay cut, a hefty one, but I wouldn't come here. And I continued in the same vein all through the MBA, baffling a fair number of people. After all, around half of the batch from any B-School ends up in Mumbai. As things happened, I did end up away from it, landing up in Bangalore. Unfortunately, as things also turned out, within a few months I realized that that wasn't quite the role I wanted to be in. And left with little choice and a lot of trepidation, I decided to haul my ass over the big bad city, scared out of my wits.

Seven months have passed by since, and I still don't understand this city. It's like a parallel India, one which exists in it's own universe. Mumbai is to India what the US is to the world - everything outside its boundaries is just an annoyance, to be 'managed'. Its residents live in astonishing ignorance and indifference to world that surrounds it. Its residents live in unbelievable squalor, grime and congestion. And yet, they choose to continue living here, of their own will and accord. As I said, I don't really hate all that Mumbai is - I just don't understand it. Why? Why would anybody choose to live the way they live here?

I've never cared too much about money. I've always respected it and been careful about it, but I've never lusted after it. Two weeks in Mumbai and you realize that if you do want to live a decent life here, all such silly theories have to go out of the window. 'Money is the lubricant of life', I said to myself one fine evening, and was instantly appalled by what I said. And yet, that cannot be more true anywhere than in Mumbai. Nothing else really matters in this place. You either have the stuff - and therefore the choice of getting what a decent life demands - or you go about trying to eke out a miserable existence, commuting like a tinned sardine for hours, living in rooms the size of closets, in buildings with no facilities, no conveniences, held together by an outside structure covered in grime and the black stuff which covers any undisturbed surface during the months of the monsoon. You just need to visit another city - and it hits you. You gotta be daft to actively choose this place. And yet, so many people do. You fear what you do not understand, and this is exactly that.

You have to be very clear about life in Mumbai. It's straightforward. You earn lots of money, and you live comfortably. And the scary part is that the city starts changing you bit by bit, by driving home the same thought every day, an insidious little worm of thought that keeps going on and on and on. It's not overnight, it's not perceptible, until one fine day you wake up and realize that everything that you've held sacred in life is slowly looking silly or unnecessary, that the only thought you have is how to earn more, save more, so that you can probably buy a house at an atrocious price and use the rest of your otherwise useless life in paying back the loan. Your hobbies, interests, dreams all get rudely chopped at the extremities and fitted into one sanitized, neutralized heap of crap.

So here I am, seven months down the line, settling uncomfortably and edgily into the place. Winter, surprisingly pleasant, has gone. So has the dreaded summer, the insane heat and humidity. Now comes the last part of the lap, the crazy monsoon. Today is day 2. They say you've gotta experience the rains to really experience Mumbai. So well, here we go. After resisting and fighting for 27 years, I sit in my room and wait for the crazy showers to take over. And then once it all ends, I fervently hope that the I see the next monsoon in more hospitable climes, though that is more of a desperate wish than a feasible reality. Mumbai, you have me by the scruff of the neck for a bit. Damn. Me and my stooopid proclamations.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Corporate Douchebagization of an erstwhile decent old chappie

I guess it had to happen sooner or later. It's just how systematic and step by step the process is, that gets to me. The corporatization of an individual, that's what I am talking about.

I've always been a sort of a scraggly, unkempt kind of person. Not unhygienic or smelly (clarified with whoever I can ask such a thing!), mind you, just not somebody who liked to keep every strand of hair in its place and be all prim and proper all the time. Sort of bored me, the whole thing. Especially because coupled with my completely unspectacular looks, that sort of a thing would have made me look completely boring. Atleast this way I could get some attention, even if it was on the lines of 'How could he have hair like that?!!'

B-school was perfect for something like that. I grew my hair for months, and the omnipresent humidity of coastal Kerala (is there a non-coastal Kerala?!) made it turn into curls till I had difficulty convincing people that, I had, umm, straight hair. Yes, perfectly straight, not a wee bit curly. And there it was all round and round, till I had people asking me what did I do to make it look like that because they wanted to do it too. Guys. Don't ask. So I had this majestic basket of curls in Term 5, and it looked awesome.

I never really bothered too much with clothes too. I mean yes, I did try to look presentable, but I was too bored, not to mention stingy, to go out and buy really good clothes. And so I wore the same old faded tees and bored jeans and a couple of comparatively jazzier 'party' shirts which I repeated for every goddamn party on campus, till I started having trouble remembering which was which when I saw the pics. Until Term 5, of course, when the length of my hair made things pretty clear. Some forceful cajoling by some batchmates did add a whiff of fresh air to my wardrobe, but I got bored of maintaining those darn things. I mean who's going to troop half a mile to give the thing for ironing and then troop back the other way, when I could sleep instead and wear it crumpled. All of it looked the same after a couple of ones anyway. Even to the others! Worst, on the rare occasions that I did give it for ironing, I promptly forgot everything about it, only to turn my room upside down trying to look for it when there was a occasion for which it was the *only* decent thing by miles. That was followed by a visit to the ironing place, where I would find it in some dusty corner, looking much worse than it would have in the first place if I hadn't bothered. In short, it was all too much work, I didn't particularly care, people around me did not too, and all was well in life.

Until, I came back into the corporate world.

Now, Mu Sigma wasn't that bad a place for this. Sure, there were a bunch of folks who really dressed up and came looking all swanky, but most of them were just overworked, bored freshers (add a year or 2 for some) who had enough trouble keeping up with the official formals from Monday to Thursday rule. Interpretations of the same were fairly liberal, and that kept things easy for me. Just a bit of a nip and tuck and I was fine.

Alas, L&T is a completely different ball-game. Not that I was expecting anything different, particularly in the Corporate Strategy team, but what I had not reckoned for was the fact we would also have a fair number of consultants from all those fancy firms swirling all around us, in their fancy shoes and never heard of labels, looking all chic and suave. And next to them were specimens like yours truly and Sanket Bhale. These scallywags raised the stakes considerably, and sooner or later I knew that I had to fall in line. Not that I agreed with it in principle, mind you, for I simply do not see the point in dressing up just to come to office, unless you have clients to meet. Looks all a bit like a fancy dress party to me, to be honest, dressing up only for the usual office people. Kinda pointless. Anyway, so things inexorably started moving that way.

First came the hair. I came out of b-school with the fierce determination that I'd regrow all that I'd chopped off for placements, and whoever had a problem who do the whole bridge thingy. Well, too much talk and too little action. It all went off in a few weeks. The few times that I did manage to grow them beyond a couple of months, the bloody things started twirling towards their ends, no, not like proper curls that I had on campus, but just an inch or a half towards the end, which made me look, to save on adjectives, really silly. Imagine a fella who's supposed to be helping you out with your Working Capital or something similar having hair which kind of bobbed when he moved. Bad idea. And so, with a silent sigh, I subjected them to the barber, who gleefully asked 'Shorter?' with a broad grin every 5 minutes or so, until all I had left was a fine sprinkling of stubby growth on my pate. Now, to counter the mess that the top was, I'd also grown a sort of a goatee. Unfortunately, that also decided to stop behaving itself and grow all over the place, until I started looking like I had a kitchen sink cleaner attached to my chin. Again, does not go so well with the whole image I was supposed to have. Out that went too, after a 3 month struggle in taming it.

And then, how could I forget the clothes? Now I have somewhat decent clothes, nothing exceptional (refer para above. I do NOT see the point). Unfortunately, the few costly brand shirts I did have, had the amazing tendency to look like I'd worn them straight out of the washing machine, a few hours into the day. Even when I'd actually got the darn things ironed (I do iron all formals, I'd be stretching things too far if I didn't!). Amongst other clothes, I had a combination of shirts with their collars scuffed (doesn't it hide behind the hair? No, I learnt, especially when you have a sodding hair cut), a few ones with slightly weird colours (gifts) and a variety of trousers of various lengths. I have trousers which can fold up and reach my knees, ones which mysteriously shrunk the week after I got them (unless I miraculously grew a couple of inches at the age of 27), trousers which looked smashing when I buy them and then catch all the lint in the world with every single wash. What I have also realized that the bottom of the class from tailoring schools goes to altering departments in malls all over India. And so, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to join the club, simply because I was too bored to worry about something like this all the time. This is perfect fodder for a neurotic soul like me :| I proceeded on a shopping spree and got some fairly good looking stuff.

Last came the accessories and habits. No, not good looking belts and I-just-made-another-species-extinct leather wallets. But stuff like the small comb which you keep in your back pocket. The habit of actually using shirt pockets to keep stuff like boarding passes, bills, and other random paraphernalia. Switching from a nice informal-looking, actually useful and really comfortable backpack to a stupid, pain-inducing shoulder laptop bag.

In short, I have been reduced to a well-dressed, decent-looking, clean-shaven guy with short hair, a laptop bag, and a small comb lurking out of my back pocket. The lowest point was when somebody at work actually complimented me for looking really good today. I, Harshad Karandikar, am now officially a Corporate Douchebag. Aaaaaargh.