In party mood and wanna bring the house down! Meghna’s birthday in Mumbai and the Maximum city will sing, ‘It’s your birthday and let’s party. Yesh! I didn’t forget her birthday after learning my lessons the hard way and like a good boy, Madam’s birthday saved on the Ipad calendar not to bear her brunt.
A special post on M’s special day for we’ve known each other for more than 10 years having studied together in Pune at Fergusson College and caught up quite a bit later when both of us moved to Mumbai. She is one of my closest friends and turns to her for almost anything be it my anxiety issues and like last year was unsure whether I should go for the iPhone. She said life is short. Decision was taken in a jiffy and glad I did. I remember her as one of the sweetest, cutest and shyest person in college. Remember A telling me once if you go and speak to her, she might just run away. Ha! Guess! That’s not true. Well! Almost! But, not anymore.
The first time Madam snapped at me was in class when I asked her phone number which she gave, not without telling me, ‘Don’t just call for any reason’ and I didn’t for the fear of waking up Goddess Durga dormant in her. See! She has a history of shouting at me and another time before leaving India, we clicked a couple of pictures at Andheri when she told, “Vishal! If I ever see my pictures on Facebook, I will never ever speak to you.” The never ever sounded like female version of Arnab Goswami but then didn’t know this man existed.
Time can be buried in the relics of the past. Now, that everyone is literally on WhatsApp, we were the Gchat babies, sitting and chatting forever, whining about our miseries. I used to call her my ‘Internet Girl Friend’. She has seen me closely, at my bad and worse when I was struggling with getting a proper job, the super dark phase and the breakup time in Mumbai. I was literally on alcohol the whole night and she called a couple of times during that week when the slurred voice missing S in the breakup phase. She sweetly chided, “Piyo! Piyo! You are becoming Devdas!” Yes, Meghna! This fancy pen that you gifted me with the tag intact and called Mr Personality is still lying on the table and so what it’s inkless after a decade-plus, I ain’t parting away and still hide it from everyone. Priceless gift from priceless friend.
Megs, Meggo and Megh! She preferred Meggo as her pet name and at times calling her Megs but Megh is a killer name. No prize for guessing! Desi flavor. She knows quite a bit about my embarrassing moments and no spilling the beans here for some reason or the other. And, our secret profession that both of us could have been? In the time of no Whatsapp, we were forever on Gchat, witnessing our darkest secrets.
In the heydays, I turned into a prankster and calling her total loss for not asking that guy S out…nah not spilling the beans for what happens in the past…well stays in the past. Funny how when she crushed on her current boyfriend T she pinged and wow, that was breaking news. She was like I’m telling something and don’t say anything. Our hilarious G talk when she did all the talking and me staying mum, listening. And to think she always complained about how I keep blabbering and constantly telling to eat my food. Those days!
We spoke on phonewa today and endlessly on birthday gal plans! I know everything, you see and hope to see ya soon when I land in Amchi Mumbai. Hope you like this virtual birthday wala gift! Don’t fire me, alrighty.
Happy birthday Meghna and not calling you M on this post for you could have been a gossip columnist. Do you remember Flute?
Ganesh Chaturthichya Hardik Shubheccha! Happy Ganesh Chaturthi and may Bappa sprinkle blessing, showering abundance of love, wisdom, wealth, intellect, health and peace on everyone. Ganpati has always been my childhood friend and as a kid, grew up to venerate and praying to the adorable lord. The eyes would never leave the Ganpati idol that wore a tremendous impact on me, revelling in the story surrounding the legend of the courageous warrior and protector standing to the mighty Shiva while his mother was bathing and doing the round of his parents while his brother Karthik’s raced around the world. There is not an Indian child who was never told the story of Ganpati by parents.
Over the years, I stopped believing in rituals and my belief verges more towards agnosticism but Bappa represents a powerful energy drawn to as a friend, loved by millions not just in India but across the globe. It’s my personal equation with Ganpati. I sorely miss the celebration in India and particularly, in Maharashtra, Mumbai and Pune, the dholak, wild dance and loud music till the wee hours in the morning. The endearing quality surrounding Bappa celebration is unique in the way it brings the people together, irrespective of caste, class, race or gender echoing One identity, India. Ganpati is a symbol of unity and One nation-theory. There is a certain political symbol behind Ganesh Chaturthi in India and the era when the country was ushering into its Independence and the celebration was a protest against the then rulers.
There is something beautiful about the grandiose celebration in India, the countless pandals splayed in every nook-and-corner, sprinkling of colors and the massive crowd adds to the ubiquitous charm. The ten days fervor in Maharashtra is forever captured in the heart and soul that afford us the opportunity to relive in the memory, something to be experienced and lived with grandeur, if you’ve never been to Maharashtra. The belief in Bappa is something very personal. A moment to wait with bated breath and welcoming the Lord in the house for ten years before swirling one’s way to the Visarjan. Girgaon Chowpatty, in SoBo always comes to the mind.
Being out of India and based in a country with a large Indian population made the Ganpati celebration endearing and though done on a small-scale, people welcome the Lord in beautifully decorated pandals in their homes which devotees visit during the festival. This time, I went with Mom to two homes to pay my respect to Bappa and guests are welcomed with sweets, the favorite Modak and meal to the visitors after the prayer arati. One pandal which stood tall to my eyes and beautifully carved with decorations, flowers and offerings surrounded the idols reverberating with the glitter of divinity, owing to the amount of hard work, dedication and passion. For me, this is pure energy and one doesn’t need to be believer to feel the powerful vibes flowing. You will always find a Ganpati idol on the home desk of this agnostic!
A headbutt volleying its way on someone’s stomach, ouch it must have hurt with France flavor Zinedine Zidane slugging it out with Italy’s Materazzi. A cherished and unusual monsoon spooking me eternally. Windy burst ruffled my unkempt hair. The rebellious days. Final exams were over and riding over the anguish of waiting for the results or the time to say taa taa Pune, Mumbai was next on the list to quench the thirst of aspirations and perils of becoming famous that never happened. World Cup final, Maharashtra went berserk, a ‘friend’ bidding farewell and hunting for food reminded there was no dearth of drama both in the city and the state making for an anti-climax.
June 2006, the day World Cup final played as I huddled alone in the room, munching snacks-must be Lays with alcohol-either Vodka or Imperial Blue whiskey, the only thing that was had in those days. I may have struggled to get myself alcohol on that day or stole it from Adi’s bottle, something can’t even remember.
Uncle, Adi’s Dad, ditched me on the day when he told of plans to watch the finale together in the studio apartment, where Adi shifted with his then-girlfriend and later I would join him in the spacious space jutting to a sprawling balcony, large enough to be converted into a cricket pitch. The living space was above Adi’s Dad shop dealing into interiors, curtains, linen and bed sheets at Shivaji Nagar, near SB Road and the same area where Crossword is nestled at ICC Convention Centre, which was just launched at SB Road in 2006.
It started early morning. Adi’s girlfriend in those days was moving back to her home and had to catch a plane from Mumbai when tensions suddenly cropped and aired on TV. Buses were torched at Dadar early morning and goons went on a destruction spree in the city with the risk of curfew looming large. Poor girl was getting hyped about missing her flight and frantic calls were made to the Volvo bus or airport to inquire about flight or bus service, who must have told to wait and see. The planes were running as scheduled. During the night, some idiots blackened the statue of Matoshree, Bala Saheb Thackeray’s wife at Dadar where all buses have to wade through in this part of the city always boiling, forever on the kerfuffle of political and social anger. The dice was thrown and every reason for the Sainiks to go on a rampage spree. A common sight for us in the city and but someone had to board the flight. The violence reached Pune with stone pelting on shops, eateries and outside cinema theatres that made it a real struggle to get food. Even Pizza hut pulled down the shutters putting our lunch fate in limbo.
Finally, we got food at a nearby shop dabbling into room rental, pool and alcohol that saved us from starving to death. I think we managed some Pizza as well through Neraj who came to visit. This room has quite a personal story to tell when one unusual day, the two occupants went into a deep slumber and after bang fisted, I accepted defeat that the door would not open to welcome me anytime soon. Every single day was spent plodding my feet to FC Road at our hang out spot Savera and the time I came, was dying to sleep but had no choice than slouching outside on the huge balcony for more than an hour or two. It made for quite an experience to nap in the open and the blistering sun shining on my face. When the two woke up, they broke into peals of laughter on how I ended up on the concrete cement and ignored my aching back after being stuck like glue to the wall.
It often takes a wise man to allay fears with our friend whining about how she is going to miss the plane but Adi’s Dad convinced us that hired goons are thriving on 200 bucks and cheap desi daru to break everything which means they will go to the slums to sleep or having sex with whoever they do it with. By the time, the bus will reach Mumbai, everything will be pretty sorted out. Quite entertaining to See Adi arguing with his Dad and both bringing their fair share of logic, often heating up things. Decision was taken and finally, Adi and his then-girlfriend agreed traveling to Mumbai airport. The coach bus slowly ambled its way in front of the house between three to four PM and heavy luggage filled with shopping stuffs descending the staircase, a hug and both of them leaving for the airport. The time they reached, I buzzed and Adi told me things are fine in Mumbai which means they are safe. Uncle was right and that’s how it has always been in Mumbai.
The gate at the shop-cum-studio was always locked at night. The routine thing that we did was jump the fence to be on the road and coming back in the same fashion, holding on the brick wall separating the road and the property. I made sure to order some food at the same place that saved us in the morning and post 7 p.m was the time to be on the safe side avoiding being high on alcohol and not without food. The match started at midnight and forever waiting for Uncle who never turned up. I was alone with alcohol, my hatred for the France team and celebrated Zidane’s red card after the famous headbutt. It called for another peg and a smoke but was quite a dry day with goalless post extra time. Penalty time was pray time answered after Italy has just won it. Another smoke and an extra peg to celebrate the Italian job.
I dozed immediately after that. What a day it’s been! Wrestled out of the bed when Adi fist pound roared on the door and shouting, “Fucker! Get up!” to realize its’ morning, the time I hurtled to our college hang out Savera, meeting every Fergussonians and post exams and the final days in the city, waking up time meant heading to one single direction. I hailed the rickshaw to the hang out for smoke, filter coffee and animated conversations with our friends turned experts point of view’ on the World Cup. There was no lack of pundits among us on what could have been the final outcome. I turned into a Christiano Ronaldo hater during the World Cup 2006, since he played a dirty game on Rooney that got him sent off in the quarters since was an England supporter in those days, doesn’t matter their drab style hasn’t changed at all.
This time belonged to France who retributed themselves last Sunday as champion and as I watched the match with my scotch, the mind hovered to those Pune days, the last World Cup watched in India and the Shiv Sena drama that vividly resurfaced in the mind so much that a brand new Pune memoirs chapter had to sweep its way on the blog.
The halcyon days of near perfection, fights, cackle of laughter, aspirations and leg pulling. Ah! Those silly pranks. The whining about how horrible we (were) are to each other to sit together the next morning and huddled for a common cause. Bitching about each other with each other. The college days where we nurtured rebellion, innocent crushes, falling in love and slugging out, ticklish in the name of thrill or pretending to ignore or not talking to each other.
Time heals or perhaps, we compromise with each other, accepting flaws or differences as a sign of maturity or growing old up. An entire lifetime seems to be wiped off and memories cherished in a box confined in some ruined corners, looking at the 12 years that flitted. The defining years that made us real and not flinching in expressing emotions, anger, sadness or happiness. For sure, it is a long time. Neraj, his wife, and two kids came down for holiday from Nepal. A reunion where we made new memories for spending two days together, reminiscing about the lost years, laughing and making silly pranks that give the feeling that nothing has changed after all those years. The entire gang who were together in Pune met at the house of Manish, his wife and little daughter. The college get together with many of us who kicked off with dinner and staying over night with Manish’s brother Gaurav and cousin joining the fun.
There was a time in Pune when all of us were students who used to stay together and often crashing-Neraj and I-at Manish’s place. I used to be flatmates with Manish and Kusum for a year and left for a new house but kept spending my time with them. The friendship stayed intact. Human interaction can be quirky and amusing at the same time when I met another guy, a former flatmate with whom I wasn’t in talking terms for two years of my life. Initially, I was apprehensive but glad that the ice was broken as we spoke about respective careers and experience in Pune.
I was in for a shock when he told me that one of our first flatmates during our first year committed suicide in 2007. It made me feel uneasy for a moment when you didn’t realize that fact, assuming people must be getting on their own lives. I mean, we were not friends and didn’t spoke much or saw each other. But, it does take away something from us.
We boozed till the wee hours in the morning. A silly prank was played on me by Neraj like it used to be during the carefree days. Manish called me in the kitchen to choose the whisky bottle to be opened and zeroed on the Chivas Regal. I got the honor to open the bottle and was serving everyone to realize that my iPhone 8 went missing. I almost lost the head, trying to recollect where it was kept but remembered crisply well it was just with me a second away. Neraj was the mastermind who asked Manish’s wife to hide the phone. The only difference was that I wasn’t angry unlike in those days where an outburst would have been my legitimate reaction.
A cigar followed. Neraj was forced to have a second peg that he resisted initially since the wife and children were waiting for him in the room. He turned out to be quite the family man who gave up on the fag and alcohol makes him once in a blue moon type. The best thing is that he is still the same fun-loving man and never shy in making the silly jokes or laughing the loudest, making some bizarre sound with his mouth. The morning, breakfast time and tea session just felt like in Pune as Manish’s wife aptly read my feeling. It reminded me of the wintery morning in the kitchen when tea brew and the near perfect moments when we would be laughing, running and pulling silly pranks on each other in Pune. The only person missing in the picture is Adi.
We recreated memories, accompanying Neraj, his wife R and two kids, Jagrit and his cute little munchkin just 10 months old who simply touched the heart. Lunch followed and I bonded with the son who has turned into such a fine young man. I love his inquisitive nature of exploring things and the thirst for knowledge. We bonded. Of course, his baby daughter is so adorable and the moment you take her in your arms, she will rest her tender head on your shoulder. It’s amazing how a toddler can trust you with her life. It feels divine for a bachelor like me and bizarre at the same time since I am one of the rare ones, unmarried minus children.
The pictures clicked together and there are lots of them on the smartphones. There was a time we all owned a modest camera and some used to have a digicam to shoot all of us in action. Today, at a click, the phone conjures all the tricks. The two days spent and renewing the bonding with friends made me realize that we hardly met and time to catch up more often. Quality time doesn’t mean seeing each other every alternate moment but those two days strengthened the belief what friendship is all about and we can still make memories remaining entrenched in our lives forever.
The way I saw Neraj in college and never in my most crazy imagination would imagine meeting him years later as an affectionate husband, doting husband to his two children and a changed man for good and better. I told him so on the phone and was amazed to see how we can change in more than one ways for life is never constant.
We met in another country and quite an emotional goodbye to each other, hugging and of course, the baby also embraced her elder but new friends. Isn’t it interesting how as babies we may never know the people whom we met or places we saw? Yet, there is an emotional connect. I almost pushed Neraj inside the car before getting emotional. The time I went back home on the day it was raining and realized that we weathered the cyclone and stormy weather to happily hang out together. The positive mood triggered some past emotions in my heart and veering to the day which defined our lives, thinking how some people are bound to meet or overcome conflicts. We had quite a few disagreements but he reached out to me a couple of years back. We decided to close the chapter and moved on to being good friends.
Guess what, he got me some Nepali chai, tokla and a shawl for Mom which is very thoughtful since he never met Mom. I made Mom chide him for not coming home and he promised of making amends the next time. I am dying to visit Nepal and would be a wonderful opportunity to explore not just the place but also the spiritual side of life. Another time, another place…chartering new memories as I have already to miss the days that makes a perfect framed moment.
Some relationships are just meant to be like lemon twist and the splash bubble that grow sweet and sour with maturity. Today, Ajitabh Bhaiya called me from Jamshedpur after reading a status on how I loathed Jacqueline Fernandez act in the new version of Madhuri Dixit’s Ek do teen, something he showed to his sister who is a seasoned journalist in Bihar who related to what I expressed. A lovely conversation I happened to have with Anni Didi and spoke to aunty in Jamshedpur. Anni Didi is a Chief reporter for Hindi news channel in Jamshedpur and we connected on one common link, national issues in the country, journalism and the common brother, Ajitabh. At the stroke of a phone call, I can feel the bond with the entire family of Ajitabh Bhaiya in Bihar, the place we hail from and a strong realization just struck on the roots percolating in the heart and soul through the pure relationship nurtured in Pune.
I remember meeting Ajitabh Bhaiya for the first time at Savera one Sunday morning while sitting for breakfast with one of his friend and college senior S, an affable and cheerful girl with whom I became friends. A group of our seniors, both boys and girls would always randomly sit on the last table cheering and singing with a birthday cake that was their way to celebrate friendship. S was part of the enthusiastic group and some girls passed me a piece of cake, telling that it was no one’s birthday. A simple way to celebrate randomness, friendship, changing weather and the state of being. So much for being alive and makes me wonder why we celebrate less about everything worth living. That’s how I became friends with S and we sat at Savera a couple of times having chai, coffee and gupshut or taking walks.
She introduced me to Ajitabh Bhaiya who was dressed formally and we exchanged Hi, a few pleasantries. He was doing his Masters at SP College and once I met them on the way at FC Road which is always teeming with activities after coming straight from the small Ayurvedic clinic after buying sleeping pills since there was anxiety pang afflicting the soul and body. The man who became a good friend over the days, months and years told me that being sleep deprived happens when we think too much. The words worked like a magic pill that night when I slept peacefully like a kid. The hazy days when he took me as a subject to SP college as part of some Psychology department experiment and we had tea in the stall outside his PG institute is a fond remembrance of those moments of elated joy. Or another instance, when I was sitting with another senior Bhakti and he came along, both asking each other how do you know him, alluding to me. They answered in chorus, ‘He is my friend’ and laughed. I felt like a balloon being tossed in the air.
One thing led to the other and friendship was carved between smoke blown in the air, soulful and deeply intense philosophy conversation, chai aur coffee and boozing next door at Namaskar. There wasn’t a minute when we didn’t laugh at every mundane moment and making me mouth the favourite Amitabh Bachchan dialogue since I was Bachchan for friends. One morning, I walked inside Savera for a place to sit that was over packed and casually said, ‘Jaga Nahin hai baithne ke Liye bhenchod.’” Ajitabh Bhaiya would always say how I am very pyare (sweet) mouthing the Hindi cuss words that must have happened by chilling with the gang. We almost ended up acting in a short film that our friend Kaku was planning and Chanda would always say that Bachchan (me) asks too much questions. Doctor Sahab just said that it is our karma to ask questions since we are actors. But, the film never got to be made with us but was ultimately was canned, the time I left Pune.
Whatever conversations we always had was laden with Ajitabh Bhaiya’s own inimitable style that made me laugh about it and seems so vivid as if the ear just heard them. Once Chanda was driving in his car to college and saw an accident happening at Deep Bangla Chowk which he found funny in the way the vehicles banged. Ajitabh Bhaiya just came and popped something that irked him. “Haan Chandi, kahani sunao (continue the story),” Ajitabh quipped in a funny tone. Chanda was like, ‘It’s no story fucker but reality.”
He would always blame me for not being able to make a new girl friend since I keep calling him ‘Bhaiya’ (brother) in college and the girls who sit with us have started calling him that. I was the one to be blamed. We all laughed in jest. It was Bachchan’s fault, after all. That’s me. Our boozing parties were made of legendary stuff and he is one truly honest dude who would tell me the reality on my face on what I am lacking or getting a bit over-the-top after a couple of drinks.
In my heightened booze state, I would always say, ‘Ajitabh tu aata hai jaata hai, mamla kya hai ( You just come, meet us and go). Probably, because he was always in a hurry during the day, coming for a smoke, his personal brand was either four square or small Wills stick and to disappear suddenly in the distance like a UFO. It’s another story that he was the much sought after person everywhere, in our surrounding, the external environment, cosmic and beyond for the deep conversation that sucks us into his world. The way he would play with his hand and glint in the eyes doing the theatrics and acting moved us into a world of dreams where nothing was impossible in life. The bunch of us vowed to make it big in music and films where he would casually remark that we don’t need to go to Mumbai to make it big creatively but the city of dreams would one day come to us.
The last time we met was in the same old Pune at Namaskar and recalled at that time, there were some tensions brewing among close friends. I was also going through a terrible heart break in Mumbai that compelled me to withdraw into a sullen mood but somehow, our vibes were lost in translation. The conversation was very less except for a snippet of conversation that Ajitabh Bhaiya made with a genuine smile on his face to dilute the tension. But, I suddenly grew distant and cold. Call it my immaturity but certain friendships have to take a leap back, wear thin on the sleeve to regain its strength. Like all deeply connected ties, we weathered the storms and connected again last year after a decade plus.
But, many years back, I sensed that we were destined for reaching out to each other. I happened to be in Pune towards the end of 2011 and was having a joint with A and S when they told that Ajitabh Bhaiya happened to face a major accident in Pune where he fell down and his parents came to take him back. He was in a serious condition but he is fine. It came as a jolt. On that day, I passed out on the ground but don’t know whether it was the effect of ganja or focussing my mind too much on his accident, like my dear friend A said.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I straddled my way to the college hang out at Savera for the cuppa tea ritual but this outing was beyond ordinary that would change my life forever in the company of friends. The road was always pocked with people in the evening and the gaze fixed at the cool crowd teeming their way for tea, coffee, and snacks. Of course, our eyes were fixed to the college building watching people hopping past the gate for evenings walk, the sound or sight of vehicles screeching and honking or the favorite pastime of watching chicks thronging their way with friends or gallant company.
The first time I explored ganja in full public glare that happened in the nick of time. I sashayed my way outside the restaurant entrance that felt like an inlet, surrounded by the line up of bamboo, flower pots and to huddle on the pavement. Someone in our group asked if I am game to smoke up and vaguely remember sometimes back I obstinately refused a friend A asking the same past noon at the same place. The crime was committed in less than 10 minutes, exchange filter that passed different hands and we bask into the glory of the puff and scent of the leaves. Ganja has a golden rule that newly initiated like me discovered: Once you take a puff or two, it must be passed in the circle pretty much like the childhood games to everyone in regular interval till the roll is done and dissected with.
I was ballooning in the air and the throat felt suddenly dry as we lingered on the pavement watching in wonderment at our college that stood tall like a rock solid human made of steel that nobody could touch or harm. I stood in deference right in front of the alma mater’s gate.
Alcohol and the first brush of ganja do things to me, getting swayed by emotions high on adrenaline and feeling the wind blowing in ruffling burst. I felt like leaping and being carried by an unknown force to fly in the air. The feeling of unusual happiness has always made me feel good and smoking up parachuted in me in a universe where no dreams are too big a path to tread.
We took leave of each other since the boys had to go home after the traditional hug bonding us forever during the last year in college. I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about the world and took herky-jerky steps straight to the room. A bottle of water was kept by the side of the mattress lying on the floor and hunger pang was felt.
For one moment, I almost forget about the dinner with Adi, M, K and a bunch of new people. It was almost six when Adi sms-ed with the typical, ‘When are you coming?’ It felt like quite an effort to type with a simple, ‘sum time…will get ready.’ I got up and swiped left and right on the feet, trying to strike a balance to stand straight. After all, the smoking up and a couple of drag didn’t seem to wane away. Half a bottle of Bisleri was gulped to dilute the effect. I was feeling good being high but had to cross the busy road to reach the apartment of my friends at the other end. I went back slouching on the mattress and trying to close the eyes. After some time, I not only felt better but saw a couple of missed calls from the chums. It was time to go. I washed the face and scampered my way down the stairs. I stopped at the pan wallah to buy a couple of cigarettes and crossed the road to again trudge on the stairs to reach my friends’ apartment. M’s younger brother G greeted me and as soon as I entered made a u-turn into flaneur mode back on the jam-packed road since the folks wanted to buy stuff to cook. We stopped at the small Kirana shop, halted for a smoke and got some paan since the dude wanted to have a taste in the evening. Of course, the bhaiya in me would never miss an occasion to munch on the banarasi.
We got back to the apartment and Adi who was on his way out asked whether I have an extra fag on me. I flipped open the box. Trying not to speak and silently praying that he would buzz off since I didn’t want to be caught and subjected to his irritating sermons like the holy priest. But, some people have the dog’s luck and sniff! He was watching my mouth and casually asking, “What are you having?” ‘Paan’, came my answer. Dude sniggered and called me ‘weird’ before disappearing. He came back in a short while and pulled a fast one on me, making a joke on who eats paan before dinner. Well! I do.
Post dinner, we were roaming in the night a bit high on alcohol and smoking up stuff in his Dad’s brand new Maruti Swift that I loved to death. Now, you know why yours truly is hooked to the Swift that goes a long time back to connect the dots of friendship. Now, I don’t know what got into him or us as we drove from the Peth area at leisurely pace till Aundh. What happened afterward made me reel into embarrassment which was the entire doing of our dear friend. I shouldered the blame and kicked myself in the ass for popping the question of exams where the conversation was routine in the middle of the night at Aundh village, smoking and having alcohol which we got from the wine shop. Exams were round the corner. We whined on how we didn’t study and there was barely enough time to wrap up the whole thing as the finale was fast approaching.
Lord Voldemort was our staple diet in those days. He had to spoil everything. “Did G gave back your notes?”, he doggedly asked. I tried to avert the question with a chilled out, she will give it back. But, no, Mister decided to have his way and funnily enough to be concerned for Xerox notes in a subject that he wasn’t doing in the first place, Economics general. There was no way that I could avoid his pressing and he dialed her number from my mobile. The phone was ringing and finally, she picked up. Now, this guy was pinching and tickling me in the car. I had no option after saying Hi to ask in a hesitating tone about the notes but think she said something about giving it back to me on Monday in college. But, no, asshole had to speak and make his voice louder at the back of the conversation clearing saying something like, ‘ask her…you need it now.’
Pure hell. It felt like the end of the world for me. This Abhay Deol feeling of the funniest situation in Socha Na Tha just happened to me and couldn’t believe that a chosen victim was born in my soul. G was pissed and legitimately so. She just fired while Adi pulled the trigger. “Please tell Adi if he has some problem, speak directly or tell it to my face.” I was crestfallen and felt like being caught in a war zone. Fucker had the nerves to steer the engine and stationed right in front of G’s gate and casually ordering me to press the bell to take the notes. Can you imagine my plight? I tiptoed on my foot and walked the slowest praying the building gets into blackout mode. It would have been the saving grace. Nothing of that sort happened.
I landed in front of the door when Adi suddenly buzzed and telling, “Press the bell fucker.” What timing! I did it out of fear and G opened the door to hand me the notes. I apologized more than 10 times and made a silly face. She gave a wry smile in return, ‘that’s alright.’ But, I could make out that she was majorly pissed off. This story of losing face goes back to one year back when I had a huge crush on her and proposed on sms with 1, 4, 3-it was Adi’s idea by the way-but we remained good friends after that. But, suspense had to be triggered towards the end of it by one of my closest buddies to create unnecessary drama. Deep inside, I knew that gotta mend things out but, somehow, we were drifting apart which was not Adi’s doing but mine.
Love bell was tinkling inside the heart. A new crush and an old flame were surfacing in my life. I love Saturdays when one evening, path was crossed with K outside CCD on FC Road and she was wearing a saree. I instinctively complimented her saying that she looked like Rekha. The smile was divine and the drums started to dance inside the heart. Well! Adi believes that such compliments during evenings can be lusty.
Splatter of mist and icy cold morning felt like a chimera conspiring with forces to unwrap a perfect adventure this January as the wind fluttered in ruffling burst dripping the long, unkempt hair off the straight head into a mound. Cold seeped through the pained legs thrust on its own and plodding heavily at a stretch from FC Road to finally land right in front of India’s premier film institute, FTII. I strode past the gate with a triumphant air like an image flash pan on the face. I was broke. I didn’t stand a chance to hail a rickshaw but passion drove me on the feet for three consecutive days. The perks of turning into an Assistant Director for a diploma film shoot overrode all money consideration. I swayed to the tune of breaking bones, broke, tired but passionate.
A couple of days back, a magic sms landed in my inbox and Gyanesh, now a sound engineer in the film industry, asked me to come to the institute to discuss a diploma project. Films was my life and aspirations. I walked inside to meet Gyanesh and was introduced to Shailesh Sir, the short film’s director. The dreams almost went for a toss when asked if I hail from communications background. Clearly, I wasn’t but made the cut for being friends with Gyanesh, with whom I worked on a diploma project a year earlier.
I was elated to be part of the crew. Early morning, we hopped on the bus straight to the hospital in Warje. Life has strange way to throw you in the high tide sea to swim and turning into an early bird that felt like a miraculous lullaby. I remember tottering with the huge film equipments from the van towards the spacious hospital’s floor upstairs. Convinced that I have to make it as an Assistant Director whose job is to ensure crew and equipments are in place, I wouldn’t give a tinker’s curse. Shailesh Sir handed the continuity sheet in my hand and briefed me on ticks and notes to be penned once a shot is canned for the next schedule, actors’ lines and the follow up. I was living a dream and couldn’t believe everything craved for was becoming true. Three days of awesomeness, waking up to the lark , to push myself to the edge and almost spending an exhaustive journey till the wee hours at the hospital surrounded by actors and medical students scampering their way for the shoot to look the part.
There was tiredness in my soles and knees but the inner determination made me sail through when I realized that if one has passion in the belly, the sky is the limit to make work fun. Days when we wrapped the shoot past midnight and crashing at FTII made the last year in college bliss. We couldn’t afford being bored or amused on Day One for I remember some kids storming towards me asking, “Hero kaun hai (who is the hero?) I smiled and said, it’s a short diploma project but they were adamant and convinced that some big star will come. To get rid of them, I vaguely remembering telling them SRK and Aishwarya Rai will soon join before sneaking away.
Of course, some very cute girls and medical students wearing the white coat traipsed their way to look the authentic part. I remember some FTII crew asking their friends about my identity since I was never seen at the institute and hearing Assistant for AD made me almost leap with joy and marveled in silence. During the break, I remember overhearing someone-he must have been below 17 and with the look of a kid telling in hushed tone how I don’t have it in me to become an actor. It was amusing and irked me at the same time. But, now as I hark back, I smile at the incident for he was right and yours truly never made it due to the dearth of initiatives. I remember A who is a Marathi film actor once urged me during our chai conversation in Savera to try for more diploma projects to create a platform for myself.
Day one was also the time I met and made a good friend in Anuya Bhagwat who was a student of acting at FTII and who essayed the role of a doctor in the short film. I remember the first thing she asked me was whether I had tea or something to eat. It’s another thing that we spoke only a few words at the shoot but became friends at Savera for I didn’t realize we had common friends outside the world of films. Today, I look with pride when I see her going great guns as a leading lady in Tamil cinema and she also appeared in the Big Boss regional version.One thing which I enjoyed doing as an AD was to stroll among the crew and offering tea to everyone, traipsing at length of the hospital’s sprawling surface.
The best thing about the three days was dabbling into so many things, doing the running around, following instructions by standing behind my director, smoke break, sitting in a corner on the stairs to relieve the feet and turning into the boom operator panning the equipment to hover precisely above the actor’s head. It was a hospital sequence. The actor was Anurag Singh whom you may have seen acting opposite Anil Kapoor as the main lead in Subhash Ghai’s Black and White. During the short film and diploma project, Anurag played a terminally ill patient. Over the few days, we became good friends bonding over one love, cinema. The scene vividly struck the mind. Anurag was lying on the bed and opposite to him was a child playing a blind girl. I placed some yummy apples on the bed as part of the scene. The dialogue read in Hindi, ‘Walk slowly, make three to four steps, stop and sit,” Anurag mouthed in a gentle and emphatic manner to the child. There is a genuineness in the dude and one could see it in the subtle scene which reflects on the soul doing it for acting is a medium that brings you closer to divinity and humanity. I remember Anurag offering me an apple to munch and we were in the middle of the shoot. The arm was paining and was chided by my director for the lack of concentration that pushed me to make an excruciating effort to raise and hunch the boom above Anurag’s head with flash and sound panning towards his mouth.
I realized how the innocence in kids equips them with the flair to deliver a natural performance and unfazed by camera or flashes. The child obeyed the director’s instruction and responded to Anurag’s dialogue interaction but was never intimidated. It’s sheer beauty and divinity. The first time I came close to the nitty-gritty, the film process of the director wielding the megaphone to shout, ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ and to get the scene right with, ‘Repetition’ to assuage voices and whispers with, ‘Silence.’ Yes, the timid guy in me got to shout at people outside the room who disturbed the scene. It was the last day of shoot or one day before.
Probably, on the last day of the shoot, I was able to observe more closely a doyen of acting and a genius who contributed immensely to Marathi television and films, the late Smita Talwalkar. Ma’am played the mother of Anurag. I remember the scene and the day right now. A Monday. It was the last scene where actors donning the white dress as doctors and rushing in the middle of herky-jerky camera movements. Smita-ji effortlessly played the role of a mother who lost her son, succumbing to cancer in the last shot. It was pure education watching her perform, the subtlety and intensity in her eyes expressing grief and tears dropping. I had a very brief chat with the lady and remember on the first day of shoot, she returned my greeting with a genuine and affable smile. I was too afraid to strike a conversation with the TV csar, perhaps because of the star aura and the respect she commanded as an artist.
There was one guy I remember at the shoot with whom I became friends with and we would wade out, walk at length to smoke since it wasn’t allowed inside the hospital premise. We spoke about cinema and the future of acting, genre and how a door was blown open for us at FTII. The bus trip back to the institute after the scenes were canned turned out to be long, caught in the traffic swirl but made smooth with singing and jokes inside the bus, which flitted past a wedding and me in enthusiastic mood told Shailesh Sir that we could have gone there for food. In jolly mood, he said that they will ask who are you. I was like, ‘A star matlab banne wala hai cineme ka bohot bade star (I will become a huge superstar). The silly banter ended with him telling me we won’t be let in and the marriage folks will tell, “Pehle star bana tab aana (First you become a star and then you come.”
It took us to the last day of the shoot on Monday past the graveyard shift and we packed up beyond 2 a.m. Tired like hell. I could never imagine to sustain throughout the full stretch but did. It showed that passion can take us through the thick and thin, beating all thoughts of boredom. During one of those shoots past might, there was one senior person called Mama and with whom we would hang around after shoot time in the bus and at FTII. Mama was talkative, high and a jolly good fellow who could sense the potential in me. We are speaking in a circle with smoke in hand and he told everyone that I have it in me to become an actor and a director. He was truthful and saw the passion through my eyes. But, you know the story, right. Kuch nahin hua! The best was another guy who was already sloshed, a student at the institute and constantly cussing in Hindi to bitch at everyone person who wasn’t there. Someone remarked that something is wrong with this dude, spouting venoms, finding fault with everyone and seems there is no good human on earth. I remarked in a jolly spirit, “Usko mandir leke jao, acha insaan milega (He should visit a temple to meet a good soul).
The starry night ended in style like the climax of a heart-pounding film. A tall shadow sashayed in front of us and the towering persona blessed with a baritone voice tightly shook the hands. I almost fainted and couldn’t believe it was true. The late Tom Alter who was one of FTII’s patron inquired about our film shoot in the blink-of-an-eye appearance and speaking in pure, shuddh Hindi before disappearing not before telling he will go back to Mumbai tomorrow but will be around. The night and shoot ended in style. I crashed at FTII in Gyanesh’s room on the night and surrounded by huge trees sprawling over the windows blown wide open.
The shoot remains one of my most prized memory in Pune which I fondly remember. Mama-ji and Shailesh Sir wanted to shoot a video of mine, mouthing the dialogues of Amitabh Bachchan but never happened. Neither did the party post the film shoot. I became busy with college and stuff. Once, I remember meeting Anurag on his bike at Deccan and he called me out, asking to visit the institute sometimes. I could have built up on that but shall not mull over things that never happened. Regret is the antidote to hope and passion. Cinema lives forever in my veins. Never say never for I shall never hang out my boots. I am forever acting in my mind. Grateful to the world and friends in Pune is one thing that shall stay forever.