I had bought a motorbike in Bangalore in mid-2000. If you are familiar with the lay of Bangalore, you will know that Brigade Road is one-way in its most glamorous section and two-way in a section that few people know even exists – the place in front of All Saints Bakery / Sparks / Urban Edge. My office happened to be in Raheja Chancery, the building opposite All Saints. To get there you would have to pass All Saints, take a U-turn and go about 50m. Or you could cheat and go about 10m on the wrong side of the road, thereby saving yourself around 100m of driving distance. So, with a new bike and nary a care, I cheated. And then a traffic cop stopped me. A lot of Indian traffic cops are out to make a quick buck and would not hesitate to fine you (or take a bribe) even if you have done no wrong. I was a clear offender, so I knew I had it coming. What ensued next was the most interesting conversation
Cop: What were you doing?
Me: I was in a hurry
Me: So I thought that I maybe I could take the short cut…
Me: Well, there was no traffic coming in this direction and it was only around 10m
Cop: Are you educated or uneducated?
If you are wondering, the small font is not a formatting error. It is just that my deep baritone voice had become more mouse-like than I thought humanly possible. And after the last question I had no voice left. I have been called a lot of things in my life, but somehow this was worse than everything else put together. I could only look on sheepishly as the cop let me off without even a fine. After that incident I haven’t ever driven on the wrong side of the road – even if there is nobody watching.
At IIT-D we used to have a concept called “Socials”, which, to the uninitiated will appear extremely weird.It involved girls of some college in Delhi visiting a boys hostel for an evening of socializing. Several among us thought of it as a rite of passage. Several among us looked at it as an evening of unbridled ogling. And several of us simply felt it was a waste of time. Typically a person would have belonged to all three categories in the course of 4 years. I did participate in the socials once – during my fourth semester, when the visiting college was Indraprastha. I did manage to befriend someone and called her up the following weekend.
The socials happened the weekend before 14th Feb and we had exams from 12th to 14th Feb. So I happened to be calling her on the day right after Valentine’s Day. We talked for a while, then came the topic of what we did on our respective Valentine’s Days. I complained about being stuck in an exam. And then:
She: Oh, I did not do anything. I am not … Valentine
Me: Yeah, precisely.
She: (a long pause)
Me (thinking): Oh S***!! Did I really say that?
The “…” is because I could not understand what she had said at that point. This is often the case with old payphones in India – the slightest disturbance in the phone’s machinery can result in an onslaught of static. I responded with what seemed like an absolutely reasonable response. It is only during her pause that I figured out what was said in the ellipsis. She had said, “I am not anybody’s idea of a perfect Valentine”. It goes without saying that we didn’t have any further conversations after that.
Maria Sharapova once remarked regarding her clay-court play: “I am like a cow on ice”. You could probably apply the same analogy to my dancing. During a Deloitte party in Hyderabad I was asked by a lady to dance with her. In spite of my protestations regarding my complete lack of grace in this department, she dragged me on to the dance floor. Compounding the situation was the fact that I was wearing a kurta-pyjama and chappals. A little while later she burst out laughing at my discomfort and kindly accompanied me off the floor. Since she was a friend of mine I didn’t have to endure any embarrassing remarks from her.
Somehow the instinct that makes you want to dance is completely absent in me. As a result I have had to learn some typical dance moves that help me live to die of shame some other day. Folks might be familiar with the roti belna (where you pretend you are using a rolling pin to flatten out dough, then pretend to toss the flattened dough from one hand to the other), kite flying (where you imagine that you are holding the twine for flying a kite and tug at it over your head first on the right side and then on the left), toweling dry (where you think that you are holding a towel in both your hands and wiping your back dry) and some other such moves.
I was, however, certified a disaster on the dance floor long before I learnt the face-saving moves. During my first Rendezvous in 1996 I was generally impressed with the droves of young ladies paying a visit to the IIT-D cultural festival. My friends and I would hear some guy bragging about how well he it it off with some visitor and would privately wish that guy a slow, painful and girl-free death. Come the last day of Rendezvous, it was time for some drastic measures. My friend Ahuja and I were dancing at the podium, hoping to spot some unsuspecting girls whom we could subject to our torturous dancing. We did manage to find one such pair and danced for about 10 minutes, after which they excused themselves. We high-fived our way back to the hostel, finally having something to brag about.
The next day I bicycled to class, while Ahuja took the bus. Lo and behold! Who should he see there, but the two people who we danced with! One of the girls happened to spot Ahuja and immediately started talking loudly enough for him to hear:
You know ya? We were at the podium last night and these two guys came up to us and asked for a dance. Those two had no clue about what they were doing and were clapping their hands and pumping their fists as though they were happy to see us dance. Those dumbos didn’t know how to dance at all.
Naturally I heard this by proxy, but it was embarrassing enough to be told to the whole hostel. I remain a dumbo to this day – Tanuka will vouch for that.