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Short Story: Through Thick and Thin


Babies haven’t any hair:
Old men’s heads are just as bare;
From the cradle to the grave
Lies a haircut and a shave.
 – Samuel Goodman Hoffenstein

 Stages of Hair

Nakul and I are not too different.

We have been friends forever. And we’ve been forever obsessed with our hair.

It all started in Primary school, when the blue eyed Aarthi told both of us how much she liked our hair and how nice it smelled. Our families did not realize that there was something wrong, until Dad’s aftershave, Mom’s skin lotion, the expensive perfume that was gifted for their wedding, started disappearing mysteriously. Nakul’s mom once even complained of losing the Phenol bottle from their bathroom. It was only when my mother broke 3 combs while combing my hair, and Nakul’s mother found his head smelling like the toilet, that they realized that something was wrong. Of course some violence at home ensured that we were back to our normal self, and Aarthi went on to like the tonsured Prabhu. But then, that was the start of a lifelong obsession.

I hated taking a shower as I was scared, I would wash off my hair. My mother, a very qualified 5th Grade Science teacher, educated me that it was common for us to lose hair every day. I knew how dumb the Class 5 guys of my school were and hence did not trust her at all. Nakul told me that he would collect all the hair he lost and then ‘re-insert’ them back. I tried it too, but it was too difficult to keep the head still or risk the inserted hair falling off. I ditched the idea and decided to stop combing my hair completely.

There were two things that I absolutely hated as a kid. One was the vacation trips to Tirupathi, and monthly haircuts. I had nothing against God, trust me. Considering the daily prayers I chanted to keep my mane strong, dense and healthy, I had the utmost respect for the almighty. But I cringed at the thought of offering hair to God. I considered it as evil as sacrificing animals in the name of God. I tried fighting off the trip, but then parents are parents. Every year, for 2 months after the vacation, I would wear a new, super cool cap that an Uncle had bought me from ‘Foreign’. Nakul would vouch for me every time and make the kids feel as if I was cool, even though he knew that the most distant relative I ever had was working in a bank in Bangalore. But then, what are friends for? As if this wasn’t enough punishment once a year, every month I was duly forced into the Barber shop down the street. Sasi Anna was only just learning the ropes from his father there, and Nakul and I were his favorite ‘lab rats’. But then with the years, the three of us grew very close to each other, and in our early teens, we became very very choosy with the way we wanted our hair cut. In fact, we became sort of the in house experts as far as hair style was concerned, and Sasi Anna’s customers began seeking our suggestions. We learnt a bit of the trade too, and once, I even tried cutting my Dad’s hair. That it had serious repercussions, is another story altogether.

Also, I hated my Dad… Seriously. He was definitely the most greatest father any boy could have growing up and my most trusted friend after Nakul. But then his receding hairline kept rubbing it in, that hair loss was hereditary in my family. Every time, he would comb over those few strands of mane to cover the barren patch over his forehead, tears would roll down my eyes watching my future laugh at me. The Autumn of my crown, wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to. I also realized later that Appa was as angry with his Dad because of the very same thing. The bald portraits of grand old men hanging in the hall was a testament that the men in my family were blessed with hair loss. And that’s when I decided to become a genetic scientist and find a permanent cure for hair loss, and save the men of this world from insanity.

Sadly the world then taught me, that having an ambition alone doesn’t really help unless you have the brains for it. Nakul was no Einstein either. Thus sitting in the last bench of our class in the Computer Science building, we pursued the 3 year Bachelor of Science course for 5 years. We were the cool dudes of our college. Our silky black, shoulder length flowing mane was the talk of the campus. Our HOD loved our hair so much that he would run his fingers through them, grab them and drag us out of the class, every day, for no reason at all. We hated him for it, but then that’s what a college kid is supposed to do. We wore tight, black t-shirts, cool shades, and were practically Rockstars.

Everything was cool until that day in the theater when, a friendly neighborhood Romeo, sitting behind Nakul tried to run his fingers through his hair, mistaking ‘him’ to be a ‘her’, only for Nakul to turn back and give him a heart attack. Not just the Romeo, the girls in the college loved us too. It kind of got a little strange, when we realized that we were beginning to be surrounded by them much more than we really liked. It reached a new low when this first year girl walked up to me and asked in full public view of the entire male population of the college for any tips to keep hair strong and shiny. As flattering as that short conversation was, it also bordered on ‘total damage’ to our Guy ego. Nakul who stood a few steps away from this incident, apparently, bunked the next 2 hours to run off to the Barber Shop. Sasi Anna told me later, that he cried as much as I did when I went there in the evening for the same reason.

After college, I began to work in a small company that didn’t pay too handsomely as some of the other ones did. The work was equally less too, so I didn’t really mind. “Less tension, less hairloss” was what I cited as a reason when somebody questioned my choice of job. That I couldn’t clear any of the interviews in the other big companies was strictly between Nakul, Dad, the old bald interviewers and Me. 🙂 Nakul fared well in this aspect though and landed a job in an MNC with a handsome pay. I was happy for him. Happy that there was someone now who could sponsor those costly hair lotions for me. Working around serious 30 somethings at work, who were just getting started with the fall season of their heads, can be a terrifying experience, you see.

And then slowly, what we had dreaded began happening. It was in no way instant, but hit us slowly like age. In fact it was exactly that – age.

Don’t get me wrong, but both of us were not exactly, what you’d call old. Creeping up on the wrong side of 20’s this was when our families tossed the dreaded ‘M’-word around. Photos were requested, and I went deep into research to find out the angle of the photo that showed the most amount of hair on my head. I honestly felt it odd that my parents screamed, when I gave them a photo of me in a helmet on my bike.

Ah Helmet… Us and that wretched thing go back a long way too. As with any normal guys, we also had the best bikes that we could emotionally blackmail our parents into buying for us, as soon as we entered college. Little did we realize, that with great power, came a stupid responsibility. Helmets… My parents wouldn’t let me touch the bike without a helmet. But there was this sinister, urban legend about the helmets that scared us out of our skins. Apparently there was this powerful curse that anyone wearing a helmet would lose hair faster than you could say ‘aiyayoo’. Just to please Mom and Dad, I would wear one till I left the gates of the apartment, after which it would proudly sit on the fuel tank. I knew it wasn’t safe to drive without a helmet, but I never crossed 45kmph in the city traffic. I was scared, the wind and pollution would blow off my hair. 🙂

But then, one fine day, it became a law to wear a helmet. Nakul and I had this thing for challenging the rules, and we were promptly stopped by this ‘abdominally unchallenged’ traffic cop near the Mount Road signal. It would have been easy if we had just nodded to the sermon administered on road safety and importance of helmets, and paid the 500 Rupees fees for it, but no… As soon as the cop took off his cap and advised us that life was more important than hair, Nakul winced his eyes, put on his shades, looked at the shining second Sun before us and said as sarcastically as humanly possible – “Oh yeah, you would know, won’t you…”. 2 hours and 2000 Rupees later, we were still not convinced that we were wrong. At least we did not land in the jail. 🙂

And as time passed, life moved on, barren patches of experience began dotting the lush thicket of youth, and we began to accept the changes. I married Lakshmi and settled down in Chennai. Nakul on the other hand moved to London with Suja. We kept in touch with each other on Facebook, and rejoiced in watching photos of each other seeing who had more hair. Gradually, a good ‘hair day’ became as simple as having enough strands on the head that day.

And after a good three years he landed in Chennai. We decided we will meet at the beach, our regular hang out. I drove in to the parking lot, helmet and all, checked the hair and marched to meet someone who had seen through the thick and thin with me. Nakul stepped out of the car looking dapper and with much more hair than I expected. We shook hands, grabbed a coffee from the nearby stall and walked towards the beach. 3 years was a long time, and there was way too much to talk. It was a delight to again be hanging out like a bunch of teenagers. Friendship was in the air.

And then, without warning, a strong gust of ‘unfriendly’ wind blew.

Few minutes later, after we fetched our ‘stuff’ from the sand that the cruel wind had knocked down, we looked sheepishly at each other. We were silent for a while and then laughed our hearts out. No, Nakul and I weren’t too different at all.

I don’t consider myself bald, I’m just taller than my hair.
 – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

-x-

Fly Away Hair

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Chronicles of a ‘Non-Drinker’ (Hic!)


I studied (well, so they say) for my engineering degree in Pondichery. Four glorious years of my life were spent in this beautiful Union Territory, of pristine beaches, French architecture, tranquil places, and sweet people. And that’s not all what Pondicherry is famous for. Well, if you are even remotely aware of Pondichery, you would be pretty sure what I am coming on to. Liquor. ( Booze / ThanniMadhira )

Call me a wasted, tasteless bloke, who doesn’t know to enjoy life. But I have to admit that I have never tasted that amber liquid yet (nor have any plans for it in the future), inspite of being surrounded by bottles of thanni. Proud to be a teetotaller. “Yeah right” if that’s what you are saying now, don’t worry, because I get that line (and different tamil equivalents of it) all the time. But then that’s the truth, no cigarettes as well. Perhaps the biggest achievement during my college days ( Next to getting my B.E degree of course 🙂 ) was to resist these very temptations even on being away from home and staying in perhaps the holy ground of drinkers. Well frankly, wasn’t much of a temptation either. Never did like booze and its manifestations on mortals (blame it on Pankaj Udhas if you want) or the smoke and things it does to the people around.

Alright. Before I chase away the perennial drinkers viewing my blog (and they are quite a substantial lot), let me clarify. This is not a lecture on the harmful effects of booze. Well.. not exactly atleast. You see, being a non-drinker among a heap of drinkers, does have some perks attached to it. This is just a harmless recollection of a few.

They say – When in Rome, be a Roman. Well I tried to. A Pondicherian that is. But, remembering the brands and suggesting the side dish was the maximum I could go to. Well, you can’t be less educated than that if all your roomies are part of the tippler gang. The inhabitant of my room, were a bunch of wonderful guys, with hearts of gold. Alas, hearts that can be melted by a bottle of beer. (Ya ya I know, beer is a cool drink. I’ve been told that a zillion times too. Hey wasn’t whiskey recently added to that list. Ow come on, give me a break…) They say that a few sips (or gulps) of the fluid harms no one. But then, a college goers mind understands “moderation”, only as much it understands the “Theory of Computation” lecture. So a college goer party’s liquor requirements at that time were either ‘Fulls’ or ‘Crates’ (Well.. it depended on the financial constraints as well). And it was those times, when I got reduced to the role of a bar-tender inside my own house. The reason for me being conferred the honorable role of a vending machine was apparently because I was impartial in the allotment of resources. Yeah right. It was one of those days, when I had loads of Pepsi to drink, and a huge variety of side dish to feast on, as I sat back watching the wonderful sight of a pack of perfectly normal men being turned into clowns and monsters in succession by an innocent looking smelly liquid. Hmm, I was in heaven. 🙂

There is something to this spirit that brings transformation to men. Once inside those craving stomachs of mortals, it just frees the mind and elevates it to a different plane altogether. And trust me, it is quite a funny ‘plane’. You may never see the amount of emotional outpouring anywhere else than you can when a man is drunk. For some reason, one loses the inability to lie with a sufficient amount of booze inside. I wonder how long, before a polygraph is replaced by a mini-bar. And confessions of friendship, unrequited love for a friend, and life pledges for a fellow drinker are as customary in that situation as Mango Pickles are to a glass of MC. Romeo may have never professed love to Juliet as much as a drunk Raghu would do on a Saturday night to a sloshed Rajesh. “Machaan, nee enoda friend da.” (Dude, you are my friend) I cannot remember how many times I have been told this by the dude sitting next to me, just for passing him that half empty bottle of soda. If only everyone was as courteous when sober, wouldn’t we be the politest race to walk on this planet. And if you are the ‘un-drunk’ among these tipsy crowd, you’ll have a hard time remembering the love stories and crushes that everybody utters. Some with pain, some with utmost happiness. In simpler words, they provide you with the blackmail material when you desperately need a bike to go downtown, or you need somebody to buy you lunch from cafeteria. 🙂 Like I said, it has its perks.

But out of my own experience of losing my pocket FM radio, I can say for sure that booze and technology don’t mix at all. If you are unfortunate enough to have a stereo, tv, radio, computer, a mobile, a whistle or even remotely anything that can play a tune – Beware. These guys can create a raucous, loud enough to wake up Pakistan. Ask my neighbors at Pondicherry. I guess  they must have been the happiest souls to see us leave. Maybe their neighbors too. And if you are unfortunate enough to be at the helm of operating these gadgets at these times, get ready for some harrowing times. A DJ wouldn’t have change music that many time in an hour, as many you would in five minutes. I had a beautiful pocket size FM radio sacrificed to the fury of a ‘high’ roomie of mine, just because it did not play ‘Althota Boopathi’ when he wanted it to. Thank God, I did not have an iPod then. Occasionally you may be asked to turn to ‘Raj Sports’, ‘Channel Free’ (I later realized in the final year, that they had meant Channel[V]. However Raj Sports – I am still not sure) on the TV. What was I to do, launch a new channel? Their dance can put the nimblest of bollywood hips to shame. Shakira, move over. It’s the perfect comedy material for a dull Monday, if you can record it and save it. Although your computer / mobile can then become the target of many an evil eye, if word of your possession of their Saturday night jig, comes out. Or worse, your life may be at risk, if you even remotely mention about this to a girl.

Atleast these aforementioned atrocities were confined to the four walls of a room. But it becomes a serious pain in the neck when you are the only sober guy with a bunch of intoxicated maharajas on the streets of Pondy, each one, thinking of himself as the king of the world. I am always inducted in this gang, some times threatened into it, as I am by default assigned the task of bringing the sheep home. Atleast for that night, I become their Guardian Angel, herding them in an auto, explaining to the bemused onlookers, shutting up these chatterboxes shouting at the hero in the cinema theater, consoling the auto driver as somebody won’t stop giving directions to him from behind, I’ve done them all. In other words protecting the general public from these bunch of inebriated men who had beer flowing in their veins that night. Well, actually, vice-versa.

And then on having these guided these rudderless ships safely into the harbor, with the efficiency of a skilled seaman, I am sometimes more tired than them. After having laid down these spirit-filled bodies, in the nearest unoccupied ground space, I can only lay down next to them. And unmindful of the smell of whisky, beer, rum, cigarette smoke surrounding me, and the odd limbs of my neighbor resting on my aching chest, I can only sleep like a log, hoping fervently, that tomorrow will be a better day.

Usually, I am the last one to get up the following day, last one to wake up and see the sober bunch clinging to their heads with a bad hangover. Someone would give me a sly smile, and ask me – “what’s with you dude? Were you drunk yesterday as well.” I would have buried him alive at the very place, but then somebody else would interrupt. “Hey come on guys, he was the one who brought us safely home. We should thank him. Machi, lets have a thanni party tonight at t…”

Usually, at this point, I am either knocking the lights off my fellow room-mate who was bright enough to give that idea, or out at the bus stop trying to catch a bus to Chennai for the weekend. But I believe it is usually the latter. May God save the ‘non-drinker’. May God save this ounce of sanity in this insane world. Hic.…

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Love Thy (English) Neighbor!


It was the usual, cold evening in London in the first week of May when the protagonist of the story – Maks and his friends were swinging to some Tamil gaana songs in an up-market suburban flat in the outskirts of London. Now the British are generally very sweet people. They will go from 60 to 0 in their shiny new cars in under 6 seconds flat, just to let you cross the road even before you think about doing so (Now wouldn’t we do just the opposite here). Like I said – sweet. But, beware. Any disturbance to their daily schedule could get them as angry as… well… as not having their cup of tea in the morning. The flavor of which, some of us savored in that cold, May evening in London.

Our abode was a 2 bed room flat on the first floor, sandwiched between a rich (his large screen plasma TV and the brand new PlayStation3 confirmed this adjective for me), bachelor, Pakistani student (who had an eccentric taste for loud, heavy metal music) in the ground floor, and a middle-aged British couple in the second floor. The apartment had wooden floors, which meant that you could wake up the entire building if someone sneezed a bit loud in the night. But, we realized all this late, as we were used to our sound proof, concrete flats, back in Chennai.

‘Loud’ is a word which is, perhaps, as subjective as the word ‘music’. And that was precisely what was playing that night. We had a big amplifier connected to a couple of huge speakers in our flat which, had they been in India, would have found excellent use in any of the marriage ceremonies back in Chennai. The volume was miniscule by our standards, as we were grooving to some popular Tamil hits, when we heard a knock at our door. Initially it was drowned in the percussion coming out of speakers, lost in those thumping beats of A.R.Rehman. But then, when we realized that the vibration on the walls was not because of the music, but because somebody was trying to break the door, we muted the volume wondering who the visitor was.

Maks went on to answer the door, as we were getting our ears adjusted to that unusual noiselessness. In that silence we could hear a sleepy, unhappy, angry British voice, in a tone that sounded similar to an employee complaining after his appraisals. He sounded distraught and fed-up, and we already knew why. Then we heard our John Doe saying in the politest way possible – “Mates, what’s happening here? Do you know what the bloody time is now?”

There was a sudden rush of footsteps and a huge commotion that followed, before Maks rushed inside the room like a raging bull. He was searching the room like a man searching for a weapon to defend himself from a gang of thugs. We were under the impression that Maks was getting beaten and rushed to the door to save him.

We found a middle-aged man, in his thirties, standing at our door in his night-pants. I recognized him to be our neighbor from the second floor, as I had caught him looking at me several times, as if I was from another planet, whenever I passed by him in the stairs. His unkempt hair and reddish eyes clearly showed that he was trying to get some sleep with little success. Seeing so many of us standing there, his anger changed to more of an appeal, as he again said the same thing – “Do you guys know what time it is?”

I was about to say – “We are really sorry Sir. We promise to keep the music down. This will not happen again”, when suddenly, Maks rushed in, pushing us behind, with the enthusiasm of a kid who had just found a bag of chocolates. In his hand was a digital alarm clock that he had found in one of the drawers. Before we could realize what was happening, Maks thrust the digital clock on his face and said, with a tone of achievement and absolute innocence – “Nine Thirty!”…

We tried our best to control our laughter, but couldn’t hold back. We were rolling on the floor with laughter, as the poor guy walked back to his flat with utmost disgust, murmuring that he had to get up at 4 AM the next day, with Maks standing at the door, clock in hand, this time shouting “Nine Thirty-one”… 😀

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P.S: This is one of my very old posts. But I repost it here for my dear friend Mahesh, who’s leaving office next week to start fresh in yet another IT ‘factory’. Remembered this, thanks to his latest goodbye-post. This one almost made a mini celebrity out of him. The major part of it is indeed true, but a couple of lines, may have been manufactured out of pure ‘creative liberties’. 😛 Will miss writing about your adventures Maks. You Rock dude. 😀

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