Stereotypes, Street-Fights and Indian Values

On a warm winter afternoon, I received a phone call from Chotu, “Yaar, Niraj has asked us to vacate our flat. Apparently neighbours have complained about your lady friends who go up to the balcony and smoke and scream till the early hours of the morning.”

The door to our apartment was one of those old models which would get locked from the inside, and you were fucked if you didn’t have the keys to the apartment. As Chotu and Mama were both forgetful jerks who’d almost always misplace chargers and cell phones, I was the one who’d usually carry the keys. The three of us, who lived in an apartment with seven balconies, were a combination destined to fail. Unwashed plates would pile up for weeks, and we’d walk around the countless cigarette butts or packets of chips lying around on our floors. We wouldn’t bother about the utensils, until the leftover food had become a breeding ground for fungi and their subsequent generations. We’d party like animals, drinking and smoking up until four in the morning – blaring music loud enough to keep our neighbours up with us. Of course, being a conservative neighbourhood – they did not take too kindly to us. To top it off, our female friends who’d smoke in the balconies would sent them into fits. I mean come on! That was totally unacceptable!

Our flat owner a certain Mr K, maintained a low profile. As such, he’d send his broker and bodyguard, Niraj – an overweight man of ill disposition, who panted like an over fed dog, to deal with us. Niraj’s entertainment was regularly checking our WhatsApp profile pictures, or getting photos of our apartment clicked in our absence. He’d make his cowardly Odiya cook carry out his evil propaganda – a thin, trembling little man who’d run at the first sight of Mama.

[For future reference, Mama is a terrible sleeper. We shared the master bedroom, and he took the definition a tad too seriously. He’d begin rolling towards me for the entire duration of the night, until I’d discover that half the bed was vacant and his arms and legs would be spread lovingly over me. This would be followed by innumerable conversations about the art of sleeping decently, with respect for your fellow human beings. Of course, all that fell on deaf ears.]

So when Sampriti came over to our apartment, we made sure she arrived in the wee hours of the morning, when God fearing, judgemental and watchful middle aged women of our neighbourhood would be fast asleep. The tough part was of course not the drinking or the music, but what would follow afterwards – when Mama and Chotu tacitly left us the master bedroom, after sharing gentlemanly nods and meaningful glances that meant “Good Luck” in men’s language. I acknowledged, respectfully. With due respect to my flatmates and our neighbours, Sampriti and I engaged in our act with discretion, using sign language and whispers to communicate. It wasn’t entirely successful, as conversations like the following happened:

“You look very pretty, honey.”
“What? Why would you have pity on me?”

“Did you check the doors?”
“I love that you love rock, but I am not playing The Doors in the middle of all of this!”

Anyway, after two days that went by in a flash, she left for Calcutta. I updated my WhatsApp picture with a brilliant shot of ours, shot by Mama.

The next week, Niraj called me up, saying I had taken apart the sanctity of the neighbourhood by inviting my several lady friends over to the apartment who smoked like shameless women in the balconies. This act of defiance of centuries of Hindu culture had reduced our God fearing righteous neighbours to tears, and in their distress – they had come to the consensus that heretics like us were not to be allowed in the society, unless we promised to not allow creatures of the opposite sex into our apartment. I shot him down, as did Chotu – we could not let an over fed, hypocritical asshole dictate our lifestyles. He made matters worse, when he shared pictures of our female colleagues on the group – clicked by one of the many sanctimonious neighbours who believed in upholding the values of the neighbourhood by furtively clicking pictures of women without their knowledge. You generally find their likes on the streets of Uttar Pradesh these days, clicking pictures of couples, harassing them and shitting over all forms of decency.

[Mama has a long history of needling people until they are reduced to tears. Take for instance, his irrepressible need to smoke after he’s had a few. He’s picked up beefs with almost every cab driver in Chennai. And in most of the cases, I have been in the backseat – listening to conversations that have ranged from why smoking is injurious to health, how we have utter disregard for our families and the likes. And in almost all of the cases, I have been the one to break up the fights that have ensued – and on one off occasions, participated as well (on being called an audacious North Indian, when I was clearly from the East.) Olacabs have probably blacklisted Mama as a rider by now.]

Niraj crossed all limits of decency when he shared the pics on our WhatsApp group. When I answered Mama’s call, I listened silently and then leaned back on my chair, knowing full well what was to follow. In the next few minutes, right in the middle of the road, in broad daylight – he had Niraj’s handyman cornered. We were asked to vacate the flat in the next two weeks, and in return, we asked that the photos be deleted right then.

As is with men who are visionaries, most of the world always misunderstood this lanky, dark fellow, who was ready to lay down his life for his friends, happy to hang around the rest of us, without an iota of demand for himself. All he loved, was his music, his whiskey and a laugh here and now.

The next day, were seated in front of the HR head of our organisation, (Mr K had visited her and had brought to her notice the reddened eyes of his thin handyman), who reminded and apprised us of the importance of not getting into fights in the middle of the road, like we often get to see in movies. So this was the conversation that I basically imagined:

“We are a frigging hospital, for Christ’s sake! We treat people, not hit them. What’s wrong with you guys?! What if you get beaten up?”

“Well, Mama can run very fast, Chotu is small so he can dodge people.”
“What about you?”
“I have very strong genes on my mother’s side.”
With her head in her hand, she said, “No more fights. You are the talk of the organisation.”

By the next week, I moved into a small, one room apartment that reeked of cat litter, Chotu moved in with a colleague and Mama found a lavish one BHK in the heart of Chennai.

The washroom resembled a solitary cell where you send inmates when they’ve misbehaved. The room had a double bunk bed, thus giving me the option to sleep on the top bunk, when I was bored with sleeping in the bottom bunk and there was an amazing couch. The couch, was the reason, I maintain till this date, why I moved in without a second’s thought. The tap in the washroom would fall off in the middle of the night, and I’d wake up to a flooded room in the morning. The description of the accommodation is best captured in Jayati’s expression and words. She walked in, put her hand to her mouth, looked at me in utter disbelief and said, “How do you live here?!” It was a warehouse at best, as she pointed out later.

Then there were the two complete assholes of cats that decided to move in with me.

Often times at night, when I have been busy watching cinema (or educational videos involving women at it), I have looked up to notice a pair of heads watching me intently from the bunk bed above. Their stares penetrate you right to your soul, and you are forced to cease such nefarious and immoral activities immediately. They have an immense ability to guilt trip you. Their favourite activities involve – throwing my belongings off the top bunk, chewing on my magazines, peeing on my clothes and my couch, and sleeping inside my office bag. On bad days, the fawn coloured feline loves to sleep on the bed, the white one curls up on the centre of the couch, and I am forced to sleep on the floor. They are hungry at the oddest of times. They will meow, murder the couch, pee on it – and finally pat you on the face if you do not give into their demands. And sometimes, they will stare at the walls intently; on a cold, dark night when you’ve come home after watching the horror movie, it can give you the chills. They also disapprove of my smoking habits – as such, I have been forced to smoke inside the washroom (where my best friend and co-author from school created a mini flood, when the hungover lad broke my tap, knocked over the cistern and emerged covered in water from head to toe, desperately asking for help.)

These days, I wake up to the balls of fur curling right on my chest – as the sunlight begins to stream in through the window in the kitchen. The mornings are beautiful and windy – the evenings quiet, peaceful and kind. The afternoons are incredibly warm. The cats have begun to talk a lot more (which is a headache during the night) and the bus conductor holds the door open when I climb onto the bus. Despite certain sections of the road caving in and swallowing buses whole – the man at the juice shop begins to grind the apples as soon as I walk in. And the creamy shredded chicken that I always wanted to make for a year, has finally turned out to be delicious. The weekends are spent several miles away in a small village (she’s not going to take it too kindly) where my cousin stays with her husband and her four year old daughter. The evenings are spent in the community park, watching my niece hurtle through slides and roll around in dirt. Sometimes I wonder if I should forewarn her about how life is going to unfold, and how things are going to get incredibly complicated as she grows up – but then that’d totally make for uninteresting conversations when she decides to write her blog like me.

Until, funnier things happen in life.

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