Last week, I was at the house of a rich and famous person in Ahmedabad (it was work related). As we settled down for a chat, the couple insisted that I should have a cup of tea. I generally refrain from having tea in people’s house as I am not particularly fond of having milk tea and most people in India have this fascination for overboiled sugary tea with excess milk. The couple kept on telling, “Deepika, you must have tea at our place. We serve very good tea. The tea is exotic in our house.” Being a tea-lover (I aspire to be a tea sommelier some time in my life), I thought I would get a chance to savor some sweet sakura tea or a cup of lapsang souchong. After much ‘you must have our tea’ talk, finally I settled down for a cuppa. It was Twinning Earl Grey Tea. I blurted out, “Oh, this is what I have been drinking since 1996. Never thought it to be exotic (Trust me not to do aggressive marketing for my kind of lifestyle). This blog is inspired by that ‘couple’ act on a muggy July evening.
I was in Grade III, when a nagging little friend of mine kept on telling, “Oh Deepika, you don’t have a slacks in your wardrobe (Slacks in those days was what lycra leggings are now).” Her father was an engineer (read corrupt) and that definitely gave her an edge in terms of wardrobe. Immediately, I asked her, “Do you know who’s Piloo Modi?” I don’t know why I blurted out Piloo Modi’s name (I had heard of my father discussing something about Piloo Modi). Trust me, with that AK47 shot, I silenced Miss Slacks for all times to come. Retrospectively speaking, I had by then learnt the art of reverse snobbery. Unknowingly.
I was a ranker throughout my academic career and also quite good in elocution, essay-writing and the like (I wish I should have learnt music, dance or pottery). So, there I was with my limited shoe-skirt collection— a person with whom no one would like to pick up a fight. Coz she knew how to deal with morons. With my father’s limited government salary, I always felt like a millionaire’s daughter. In every sense of the term. Knowledge was asset in my balance sheet. I scored high on that.
Getting into the high-brow world of JNU was an icing on my cake called reverse snobbery. (If you don’t know then here’s a piece of information for you — Jawaharlal Nehru University is the best university in the country, according to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council which has given the university a grade of 3.9 out of 4, the highest grade awarded to any educational institution in the country). Believe it or not, till now I have not seen Dilwale Dulhniya Le Jayenge (but I love SRK). Well, we all in our refined snobbery saw all international films — Iranian, Korean, French, Japanese and the like. Once in a while, we saw movies like Bazaar, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon aata hai in the campus. Of course, I must add that Bollywood was not so all pervasive as it’s now. We thought we were the style icons of the world with our colorful kurtas from Khadi Bhandar and kolhapuri chappals. We didn’t think twice before entering into plush Vasant Continental (it changed its name afterwards) in our so very ‘desi’ avatar. We seriously thought we are God’s gift to India and the country should be proud to have us as its young thinking critical minds. We had the arrogance of Karl Marx, Fukuyama and Noam Chomsky. We didn’t have a care in the world. I also believe that the world outside (read petty bourgeoise) dismissed us as ‘pseudo intellectuals. When we felt rich, we ordered a plate of American chopsuey and hot steaming pork momos from an eatery in the campus. After a bottle of Old Monk, everything tasted divine. We were content in our own world. Money was a clear loser in our world of fine grey cells. Nothing was absolute. Neither love nor break-ups. With a Wills Navycut in our hand, a look from the corner of our eyes was enough to dismiss mundane souls who were not qualified to be a part of our world.
Even when I became a journalist, the same attitude travelled with me from the campus to my working desk. We never thought that we had less money (our payslips were pathetic). We worked long hours, did feature stories (in addition to our regular work)— less for bylines, more for the money. Many evenings were dedicated to endless conversations, vodka, rice and chicken curry. Delhi felt secure and comfortable in our glasses. Frequent night-shifts made sure that we didn’t have a very active social life (hence less spending on outings too) and colleagues became close friends.
I don’t know why and when life changed for me. And as the Odiya saying goes,“Even cats will bite soft iron.” I don’t remember when and why I became like soft iron (which the cats just love biting). I don’t know when did my ‘Great Decline’ start? Was it because I saw my mom’s battle against cancer? Or was it because a part of me died seeing my father sccumbing to a long painful battle which was so very unfair for a brilliant and creative person like him. Suddenly I felt as if my world has crumbled around me. And in that desolate sense of mind, I allowed a lot of mediocre men and women in my life. I allowed catty remarks, fake sympathy to seep into my life. I forgot what my dad brought me up to be. As my long-time intellectual friend says, “When did you accumulate all these cobwebs in your life, darling?” That’s right, dear.
Right now, I am in a mood to take a retro look and once again embrace my original self. Today, I feel the power of my beautiful intelligent curious mind. Dad, this is is for you.
So, I m going back to my Grade III. I don’t drive a car but do you know about El Nino or carbon footprints? Moron, go and get a life. Let me turn to Murakami. With a cup of Earl Grey tea.
P S: Interestingly, 20 minutes after writing this post, I lost my mobile phone. I see it as a message from the Universe. To permanently delete the morons from my contact list. I am not even trying to get those numbers. A cleansing act for cobwebs.