The fitness dream.

The fitness dream.

I had become unfit – horribly so. Especially post Covid. My strength was sapped, neither motivation nor desire to do much. I lazed in bed all day watching weird web series & eating. A lot of eating. Junk, fast food, sweets even ice-creams (a complete no-no for covid). Now, having broken my new year resolution in record time, i was stuck. My fitness dream was fast becoming just that. A dream.

Now the weight showed, I felt bloated & unhealthy. But that didn’t stop me. Till i realised something else.

Bloated!

I had stopped writing.

I need to do something man, i told H over the phone.

Dai! H admonished me. I heard him, made the right noises before i hung up. I closed my eyes. What H said made sense. I needed to do something – but how? The watch-eat-sleep-repeat vortex had consumed me.

My eyes shut; i imagined an eagle circling the skies. It soared around refusing to land. Scared that once it sits, it may not fly again. I had to make a move.  

Get fit

Should get new clothes–, H heard me out as i reached out to him again, –that will break the jinx, i said barely convinced myself.

Without judging me, H told me where to get them from. F street –  despite the pandemic, it was open. Old city, old school, narrow by lanes – in that it was another narrow lane – very risqué, dangerous. Hence, very alive. Just what i needed.  

I didn’t waste time, got into a train. I continued talking to H, he had given me directions. Soon i found myself in the narrow lane. There i found this clothes cart. Something H has spoken about. Or maybe not. Who cares? Here i was, in this narrow lane, at the cart with clothes.

A young man stood there – side parting hair, t-shirt, gold chain, brown skin. Bling, glib, smooth talking. Mr Snake-oil. 25 years ago, I knew someone else exactly like him. Me.

I smiled at him. He nodded, asked me what i wanted. I eyed the goods – white shirts & denim jeans. Not exactly fitness clothes. Still, i didn’t want to argue. Not now, not with him or H.  

Confession – there was another reason i didn’t move away. In a day was M’s birthday. M was my ex. Maybe we would meet. Even though i had to steer clear of her. But that’s not how it works.

Anything in size 40? I asked.

You need a 44 – he said without missing a beat.  

You sure? I wanted to ask. But i didn’t ask. Because i didn’t want to know.

You won’t get that size easily–, he confided, -this is a young man’s market. I looked around; people milling around, all in T’s, caps-denims, showing muscles, vigour. Most were young, most were men. and yes – most were fit.

I know just the  place, he said as i turned to leave.

Take me there & i will give you 200 to just do that, I cracked a one-liner. He heard me, laughed, said – wait a while. So, i did.

I watched Mr. Snake-oil at work. He kept directing customers to a particular shop called Reliance. He never sold anything himself. Still a lot of stuffed white envelopes came his way. He nodded at the men who got it to him before pocketing it. The men were all wearing a white t’s-denims & caps. On their T-shirt was the alphabet R.

I was getting hungry, restless. I wanted to sit down. no chance on that busy street. So, i waited. Even though I didn’t really want to.

Follow me, he abruptly said. Then he got up, began walking away. I had no choice but to follow. His shop was left just like that, unattended. But i knew just like him – nothing would be missing.

We entered narrow lanes, funny shops with fuzzy names. They all seemed to be selling whites & denims.  Till we reached the corner. And there it was.

Now the corner wasn’t so narrow. A wide highway ran next to it. At the curb was the building. Its name board caught the winter sun & shone – Reliance.

Oh, oh! it’s closed.

Mr Snake-oil’s words shook me. looked closely at the shut shutters. Dejected I turned to go. Wordlessly we walked back to the narrow lane. To a tea-shop. He ordered tea. I drank, he didn’t. He didn’t disturb me as i took my first sip. Then he said –

The 200 you promised.

I looked up. He was smiling.

Yeah right – I didn’t smile. Then i finished my tea, got up to leave.

You said it not me, he chided me. I shook my head. Turned to walk away cursing him, cursing Reliance, cursing….

Cursing the dark, i opened my eyes. In my room the darkness refused to die. But i knew it was over. In the distance my laptop lay shut.  

Write fit!

The morning sun rose as i finished writing this piece, . In my fitness dream, i did pay Mr Snake-oil. Not just two hundred but three hundred. Because now i had written. All thanks to him. And thanks to my fitness dream.

New year new plans.

November – journey begins

All the planning was about this journey through the length breadth of the country . Two months of bus, train, cars and what have you journeys to conduct in person interviews with artists across the land wow . Really looking forward to this and cannot wait to show the new year plans unfold. Until…

December end,

Last two months on the road – people & places, sights & souls. All that i could imagine and so much more.  . I travelled, saw, met, learnt, did everything that could possibly be done by me to be happy. Feeling blessed. And then…

Jan beginning

Happy new year!

Was at a special place with special people to bring in the new year I had all these big plans for new year’s, both personally and professionally.  There is a new blog in the offing (keep you posted), a new pet care venture in invested in, plus looking for freelance writing gigs again. Plus would be shifting houses and plan to date again.  going to start being out there again. Mu tickets to get back to my city are confirmed. Wishing me all the luck. Yet…

Jan 8th .

I’m in my room  it’s the third day after travel  The folks are out  u haven’t written a word or transcribed any of the work I did last year. No, i have not spoken to anyone for new work either. All I have been doing is gorging on food  and binge watching stuff on Netflix.

Because i got Covid .

Not to worry I’m fine. I got the report yesterday. This is my third time- asymptomatic – been there done that kind of feeling. 

I still got a smile on my face. Still feeling blessed. I know the best of plans can be sidelined. And am okay with it. Another one of life lessons. The fact is that i. Am writing this blog again and thats good reason for the smile. I know one thing – if I’m writing, it’s all good. Everything will come back in line. It’s all good.

Once again a happy new year folks and hope to read write love and be loved all over again this year!!

7 rules of CHANGE.

This is about pocket change. But it is also about change. Looking at change through lessons learnt from handling pocket change with a slice of humour. That’s what i have called it 7 rules of pocket change.

Me – How much?

Fruit seller (FS) – 25

Me – 20

FS – 25

We locked eyes. like stubborn lovers, neither budged.

Me – last 22.

FS (sighs)- 23 & it’s yours.

I won. I extracted my wallet to give him 22 bucks which I knew he would accept despite his protests. I searched in my wallet – came up with a 50. SHIT. 

I hand over the money. He looked at it, said –

FS – change nahi hai.

Now he had the upper hand. He took my 50 & handed back 27. He won. And that is the first rule –

Rule no 1: CHANGE always – or someone else will have the upper hand.

Buying small stuff for home early morning is always a pain. Just as I would be getting out of the house the requests would fly –

Get milk

Apples for dad

Get curds!

Early morning, vendors like brisk business, no room for negotiations. So, I would round off the amount to the nearest ten digit. Example –

Me – How much for the eggs?

Eggs guy – 67 for 6

Me –(in best no-nonsense voice) 12 for 120. I don’t have change.

Take it or leave it. I would put my carry bag forward. Nine times out of 10 he would give in.

Rule No 2:  Say NO CHANGE to make others see your way.

She – Use G-pay.

She, my regular veggie vendor was at least 70. I was out shopping for tomatoes. It came to 18 rupees for half a kg. Of course, 7.30 she didn’t have change.

Me – You have G-pay?

She showed me her QR code, hidden behind the pumpkins. Phrases like data protection, privacy violation, support local- pay cash flew around in my head. Reality – she had google pay. I did not.

ME – All these app companies are not good.

She – It’s great! They solve this CHANGE problem once & for all.

I bent lower to get closer, intimidatingly so & lowered my voice;

ME – Today they have your change. Tomorrow they sell your veggies.

I heard the gears turn in her brain- stop -CLICK. Her eyes shine.

ME – Will come back later, saying that I begin to leave.

Wait, she stopped me. Retrieved a small purse from within her blouse. Threw me a dirty look & gave me change. PHEW!

NO 3: Don’t let apps change you.

As a child, mom would often send me out to run errands at the local grocery store owned by a Marwari guy. She would give me a 100 with strict instructions to get the exact change back.

But if bought goods worth 48 and gave him a 50 rupee, I would expect 2 rupees back. The thrifty shopkeeper instead of handing me change we would give me candy worth 2 bucks. Now which kid in his right mind would refuse candy?

I’d go back home & show mom the candy. She isn’t so thrilled, but what can she do? Later after lunch she would give me the candy. Shopkeeper happy, me happy. Which brings us to –

No 4 – When people expect CHANGE it’s an opportunity.

Auto-rickshaw guy – Don’t have change for his.

ME – Your fare is 300. I am giving you 500. That’s more than half your bill.

I stood my ground. He sighs, mutters stuff – finally reaches for his wallet & extracts change. So again –

No 5 – You get CHANGE only if you bring value to the table. ‘

As a kid I was never given pocket money. I would end up stealing change. I had turned pinching change from my mom’s till or Dad wallet into an art form. I would leave the big notes only pocket the change. This went on for some time. In a while I had enough change & got greedy. Now I wanted it converted to a 10 rupee note.

I asked another known crime master – my elder brother. Without exchanging a word, he knew this was a secret deal, no parents involved. On the house terrace, I handed over 10 rupees worth of change. He handed over cash – one 5 rupee, & two 2-rupee notes – added up to 9.

Me – Where’s one rupee?

Bro – Commission.

5 Slaps 3 blows 1 continuous wail & 1 irate dad later – change gone; money gone in exchange for a sound thrashing plus being branded a thief. Hard lesson but has to be said

No6 – CHANGE has to come the right way

I was at a sandwich guy near the bank. A little girl with her mother were about to enter it when the mother stopped & turned to the daughter. As mother & daughter were wearing masks, I could only see the eyes & hear the angry voice of the mother. I only caught the end portion which sounded like –

Mother – Grhgo!!! ## Go! @#$#& !!! WHY you brought it !!@@##% GET IT %@&#!!!

Mother entered bank leaving the little girl outside. Then in noticed the transparent plastic bag in her hand. She looked around before heading towards the same sandwich guy where I was standing. The man was busy on the phone. I saw the contents of the bag – Change – loads of it. All 5- & 10-rupee coins. \

In all probability her mother had asked her to change the coins outside the bank. She twiddles her feet – looks at me, I pretend to not notice. She peered at the sandwich fellow still busy on the phone. She felt conscious – clutched her coin, & ran back into the bank. At that minute the sandwich fellow (SF)turns –

Me – That small girl was waiting for you.

Sandwich fellow (SF) see the girl disappear into the bank.

Sf – What? Did she need a sandwich?

Me – She had change in her hands, wanted it exchanged.

SF smiled, shrugged.

Me – How much?

SF – 90.

I extract my wallet. I have 1 hundred & then all five hundred. I know if I give him 500, he will give me change. I’m good for that. I hand it over

SF – Don’t have change?

All I had to say was a simple NO. Instead, I said –

Me – I have. But if I give you, I don’t have any left. Don’t you have any change.

SF (lies easy)- Sorry sir, what to do? No change.

And that was that. that’s when it hit me –

No 7: Sometimes it’s better to wait for change.

Bent at the knees.

A year gone by!

I know we have not been posting for a few days now. I have been traveling on other assignments & that took up time. But today a year’s up. a year of writing, of pure joy & telling stories the way we like it. I will try and update the blog through the rest of the year – meanwhile Season’s greetings & enjoy reading!

I looked at the watch – 9.20, shouted, Dad, hurry up!

Am ready – pat came his reply.

Dad’s reply surprised me. Post-surgery, he used to take his time and then some. Bottom line – i wasn’t ready for him being ready. I had just fired a warning shot- it backfired. This time he got ready real-quick for his dentist appointment. Now I wasn’t ready. I jumped into the shower. There i heard him say – I’m going. You come.

Quickly i showered, dressed & headed out of the building. Dad was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, the dentist’s clinic was down the road, very close to our home. I knew he would be walking ahead towards the clinic. In order to reach him, I began walking briskly.

While I walked, I thought of my planned trip out of the city. I had to leave the next day. It was dad’s dentist appointment because of which I had postponed it. The same one he had left for without me.

Before the surgery, dad couldn’t walk long distances, had to sit down & rest at short intervals. The surgery had worked wonders & he walked without stopping. He only needed help while climbing steps. Somehow, he had picked up pace & was nowhere to be seen. I have mixed feelings about this. I really quickened my steps.

At the corner right outside the society gates, I finally saw him. I shouted – Dad! The veggie vendor at the curb, the lady shopping stared at me – in salt-pepper beard, bloated paunch, long hair-shouting Daddy! Daddy!

After three full throated calls he turns, sees me & smiles. I run up to him.

Earlier I couldn’t walk so much, dad admits.

Well done! I compliment dad – knowing that was exactly what he wanted to hear. His smile grew wider.

Now I just am scared of climbing steps – his steps slow down. From then on, his walk actually slows down.

He waved at the chemist. The middle-aged uncle waved back from his chair where he sits all day & watched tv serials on his mobile.

You know I used to trek hills each day – dad adds.

We are at the market square – the old vegetable seller lady squats down. I wave- don’t catch her eye. Quickly I put my hand down hoping the other hawkers haven’t seen it. 

I nod – you would get up at 4 to do that.  

He smiles – That’s what’s helping me now. I agree. His walk though has really slowed. I ponder whether I should get a rickshaw. The distance is barely 20 meters. Still.

I heard a commotion – looked sideways. A fruitwalla had caught a rat in a trap. He was fooling around scaring other hawkers. The younger ones were busy dodging him while the older ones threatened him with dire consequences. Looking at the young ones, I felt jealous at their agility. I vowed to get back to my walks. Soon.

I forgot my health issues as Dad just stopped abruptly. He reached out and held my hand. A rickshaw slowed down next to us. I put my hand out to stop it. He immediately pulled my hand down.

It’s just gas -, he said sheepishly. As I smiled the rickshaw guy grunted & zoomed away.

I laughed, he joined me. We walked slow, our knees in solidarity with the gas.

Earlier before you were born, I used to walk with your mom to the market – he commented about walking long distances from the house. To save money–, he admitted, –and that helped us stay fit.

I thought of all the money I have spent on gym memberships & online fitness classes. And still am in the shape I am in.  This man at 83 bounces back from spine surgery with just gas trouble – wow.

We are here. he pointed to the dentist’s clinic. And I move ahead of him. do the one thing for which he needs me – to climb up the one step where he still feels it’s a burden. That’s it. He walks into the clinic. I hear good morning’s exchanged, the doctors cabin door closes, i sit down to rest my knees.

Forest. Witness.

Forest floor is wet. Grey clouds pack sky. Air is nippy. Toes sink into mud, happy as elephants in mud-pools.

Chonky maze.

Birds are loud here, humans not so. Avian sounds filter through leaves. Thick canopy hides unless moving.

Lovers use thick trunks to hide behind and find nooks for nooky. Guards use long laathis to tap thick trunk and untangle skin from bark. Bark is worse than bite though, lovers elope back into their nooks as guard whistles at next trunk.

A place to rest. A frame to see through.

Trees have own smells. Acute smell, delicate smell, ambiguous smell; nose is overworked and brain out of depth. Hoping bees and birds are biting!

Clouds get thinner. Light filters through tree tops. Rays of light dance as beams and drops of rain shine on cobwebs. Magical shapes and colours in midst of city.

About to worship the ground it rose from.

City is this too, though human administrators did try to make residential blocks where tamarind trees stand tall in their grove and stoop to worship ground. Current residents witness all.

Trees, birds, insects and dogs can be seen. Snakes, bats — rest — seem to be resting in this cold. Bamboo, thick, impenetrable, seems perfect home as does tall palm.

Home.

Much like that, invisible stalks botanical gardens where we are. Vikaas wants lateral entry having failed to navigate bureaucratic hierarchy. From toes that sink into floor to people who wish to raze it to floor, forest witnesses all.

Going up.

All in

Finally started work on the teeth on knowing there was some money available. Thankfully, there were teeth available to work with. Phew!

There’s three molars missing and one molar is a milk tooth. For a meat-eater’s teeth, this is near-terminal. The others have been worn and the last dentist had said, “You’ll be lucky if you have any teeth left by 60.” Uuhhh….

One root canal, two fillings and three bridges, followed by making a guard to keep from grinding the teeth while i slept.

It started in early October. The Brother told me, “Once it begins, there’s no going back. You’ll have to do all of it.” “Okay, daa.”

Two months later, the bridges are finally in, the fillings have been done, the root canal is complete and the mouth is getting used to new teeth, a different shape and a new structure. The guard will be made next week.

There’s so much of the body that i am not attentive to that it speaks louder and louder till i, hopefully, listen.

The root canal took a week to complete. It was surprisingly painless.

“Metal or ceramic?” “First two ceramic, third one metal.” “Okay.”

The first set of molars separated by a canyon readily accepted the bridge. Beginner’s luck! The next set, directly above them, refused the second bridge’s overtures. Even after grinding the bridge some more, they refused to fit. Back they went to the studio to be moulded along with a more detailed reconstruction of the teeth.

A week and two sittings later, “We’ll fit these with a temporary adhesive for now. If it feels fine, we’ll keep them in there till it comes off on its own and then put a permanent adhesive.” Okay then. The bridge came off three weeks later in a friend’s kitchen, when i was washing up after dinner. My first thought was, “There were no nuts in the food!” Followed by, “Oh, teeth.”

The third bridge on the opposite ridge took the longest as the other teeth decided to join in on the fun. On trying the third bridge, the doctor asked, “Do you feel anything in your way?” “Uh huh,” followed by nodding.

Out came the tiny mirror. The lips were raised and teeth checked like a dogs. I had a strong urge to go, “Rrrrrrr.” Then started the grinding of the bridge with the tiny drill of doom. “Eeeeeeeee…..” That wail brought all the nerves in my head to life, even though it was two feet away.

The seventeenth time this happened, i did go, “Rrrrrr,” to myself. The carbon paper was brought out and my discipline was now being checked. “Open.” Paper placed on tooth. “Close.” Paper chomped by teeth. “Open.” Placed. “Close.” Chomped. “Open.” Placed. “Close.” Chomped.

This game continued for a while. There were no rewards at the end of eqch game, just some grinding by the drill followed by another game. “Do you want to send it to the studio again?” “Yes.”

Four days and a postponement later — it was me — the bridge was fitted, but not before more grinding. “We’ll do the night guard next week after these teeth set properly.”

Finally, they were all in. The Brother’s words rang true, we had almost done all of it over these past two months. I could chew easier, but the toothy, lop-sided grin remained. Thank goodness for that.

Now to find out if i’ll have teeth left over by 60. For that i’ll have to stick around till then. Oh well . .

Chicken Sagar sagas – vaccination philosophies.

The germ for this idea happened around the month of August, but somehow did not translate into a blog piece. In the pandemic era I find the vaccination debates still raging. At the same time, people are grudgingly accepting that they have to take it for varied reasons – whatever gives them comfort. That’s when I decided that there still is time for a satire piece on vaccines & who better to do it then with the Chicken Sagar saga series. Enjoy!

As soon as I reached the shop we got down to business. I ordered 2 boneless breast pieces, about one kilogram of poultry bred broiler chicken.

Hhhrmph – Chicken Sagar’s grunt – acknowledgment that he heard me.

Then he passed the order to his assistant. Better known as Chicken Sagar’s assistant. That’s when I observed his matrix avatar.

Chicken Sagar’s counter faced his favourite chicken coupes at all times. When he took my order, he shifted his body weight on the heel of his left leg by exactly 45 degrees and shouted – Don breast, boneless – medium dee’

At this point when he shouted, he had me & the chickens with one eye & his other eye held captive half of his assistant. He need not have worried – Chicken Sagar’s assistant was busy cutting chickens – never acknowledged his orders, nor argued, kept working at cutting chickens. But on rare occasions he did speak. And then everyone including Chicken Sagar listened.  

Maashe! – ek number!!

Startled at these words, I looked behind me where they had come from. I didn’t have to go far. There was a man sitting on the stool placed right between Chicken Sagar’s two shops- chicken shop & wine shop. The main door of the wine shop always remained shut because Chicken Sagar only kept the back door open. That gave it a very illegal & slippery feel. This despite having the license to run it. And because the shutter was shut, men like the one on the stool used to flock to the place.

Back to the man whose words translated to ‘awesome’. One look at his grumpy face made me realise he was being sarcastic.

What patrao – Chicken Sagar asked the man, –early morning what is so ek number?

It was past 12 noon. But it wasn’t really the time to point it out to Chicken Sagar.

The man didn’t respond to Chicken Sagar. Instead he fixed his gaze at me & asked – 

Where do you stay?

Eva villas – hearing the name of the brand that had brought up half his village made his face grumpier.

And where are you from?

I told him. his eyes told me what he saw – an outsider. He folded his hands against his chest.

Patrao took his vaccine shot yesterday, said Chicken Sagar’s assistant. The wise man’s words had Chicken Sagar raise his eyebrows in admiration.

How could they do this? Insist that all of us take vaccines – Where is the data? that Where are the human trials? It’s a conspiracy – culling – pollution control – tackle global warming. Everyone is in on it – WHO, big pharma, UN, governments….

Aiy, aiy,aiy Patrao stop, for a full minute Chicken Sagar let Patrao rant before he intervened. Seeing that it had no effect, he looked at me embarrassed & said – ‘this is because he has a place to sit & people to hear’. He looked towards his assistant turning full 180 away from his chickens, ‘Take that stool away-‘ he told his assistant pointing to the stool before turning back.  

I was stunned – kept looking at the man on the stool. In a faded Mohammed Ali boxing t-shirt & brown Bermudas, he looked like a simpleton. I would have never taken him to be an expert on the vaccine. Something must have really hit him hard that he acquired all this knowledge – knows so many things. Perhaps he tested positive, it must have been difficult. Worse – he must have lost a dear one.

Tell me Sagar, this is just not done! Said the man when Chicken Sagar got up himself to get the stool. Hearing the pain in his voice Chicken Sagar spoke –

See –vaccine is what? Just injection or drops. My chicken get injected in the farm – all of them, no exceptions. It makes them grow big & healthy. True – some cannot take it, but most do. Then they come here & live healthy lives.

I heard this against the backdrop of Chicken Sagar’s assistants holding a knife in one hand & the healthy vaccinated chicken’s throat in the other. These pearls of wisdom from Chicken Sagar also made Patrao get up from the stool. It was that kind of moment.

Also go the back & have a drink – Chicken Sagar told Patrao. Suddenly the grumpy face disappeared, all doubts on vaccine vanished. He turned to go then made one half ditched effort at resistance –

You are not supposed to drink after the vaccine, the doctor –

Till now you had problems with the vaccine-, Chicken Sagar interrupted him,  ‘-now you have a problem with my drink’.

Chicken Sagar’s drinks were beyond doubts – Patrao knew that as he had been a steady client for the past 15 years.

Plus, the vaccine can give you fever-, Chicken Sagar added, –and you alcohol can give only acidity, it kills fever.

That was all it took. Vaccination won. Patrao happily left to get a drink. Chicken Sagar wisely took the stool away. Chicken Sagar’s assistant handed me my order. I paid & left from the place still pondering over Chicken Sagar’s vaccination philosophies.

Conversations overheard in a coffee shop.

The young girl behind the order kiosk of the famous coffee chain looked hard at my bill. Other than charges for coffee it had charges under a multiple heading that could give anyone a headache. She was young a fresher & struggling with the bill.

I took a guess, asked in Marathi– Is there a problem?

No Sir, she replied but in Hindi!

Mariachi band music played on the speakers, another staffer spoke in Kannada, two housewives gossiped in English at the table. 15 years back this place used to be all farm land. Like the girl staffer, everyone spoke Marathi.  

Will this app work?

Of course, sir!

How many people can you get to join ….?

The ‘of course sir’ guy leaned back – saying a lot without saying it. The ‘questions’ guy stared at him. He was dressed very differently from the other, his mac was open to an excel with digits all over. There was a third guy with them who observed the play between the two men while enjoying his cold mocha shot.

It will work sir – don’t worry.

The third man said it. The others had a worried look after that. They left soon after – the questions guy didn’t touch his capuchin no. Even though he paid the bill.

He – Will you have your usual?

She – Just no sugar. I’m trying to –

He left before she could complete the sentence.

The housekeeping guy swept close to her feet. She shot him a look; he backed away without looking at her kept sweeping backwards all the way to the service area.  

She – What took so long?

He – Que.

He stood for a second with his mask on & the tray still in his hands while he answered. Something I couldn’t hear. They left in a while. The housekeeping guy took extra care to clean all traces from their seats.

When did you get back to India?

A couple of months ago.

They were middle aged – one in khaki shorts, other in blue jeans – trying hard to be casual.

Are you going back?

I can but I won’t.

He looked at him. They smiled. Both knew that wasn’t true.

Can we sit here? he asked.

He was wearing a silver-grey golfing t-shirt a size larger than his frail size. She was in a colourful cotton salwar kameez white with green & red motifs.

This place is for people to work – she said.

But we are retired – he was tired of standing – so he sat down anyways.

We can sit here – she assured him and sat next to him to give company. 

Even if we don’t work – he smiled at her as he looked at a girl lost in her laptop on the other side.

They laughed at their joke without worrying about work.

Why are you sitting here?

They looked at a younger version of them towering over them.

What happened? He asked

This is for people who are working. We can sit on the other side.

We are happy here – he said.

But we can sit there by ourselves.

Come on let’s go – she said

But we just sat down – he protested.  

She got up. their younger version stared. Finally, he relented. They went to the corner where people who don’t work sit down.

The shops are filling up again

Good

Means more people will use the rest room

Good

More work for us

Doesn’t make a difference.

I heard them while I was getting into the loo – talking in Marathi. They stood outside the divided rooms marked gents & ladies. Masks on chin, grey in their hair, gloves on their hands, they stood next to each other and waited for people to leave so they cou

In a while I saw them before the coffee shop. A giant glass façade separated us. If I changed my angle the coffee logo hid their faces. I sipped on my coffee, watched them before I got down to write this piece when I looked up , they were gone. All I saw is the lady staffer struggling to read yet another bill..

The old man who loves street dogs & holy smokes.

This was at my dad’s place a while back. Early morning, I was out for a walk/run, when I saw the old man for the first time. He was sitting near a large tree, petting street dogs while enjoying a smoke. Problem was the tree & where he was sitting. Read on…..

The fitness bug had bitten – three days of straight exercise.  Walks, Surya namaskars, yoga stretches – you name it. It got to a point where in 24 hours I went for a run the night before & the next morning I did it again. Experts normally would shake their heads at this kind of routine – but I was no expert. Besides all the stuff I do is light, just about 20-30 minutes. And am really glad about these two runs, especially the one in the morning.  

I was running around dad’s place, a gated community of sorts. Because the gates are always open & the security stopped nobody! Still, its nice inside as the buildings bunch up at a distance cutting out the noise & pollution from the main roads. There is a line of trees planted around the periphery of the society that surround the entire space forming a natural walking track. Though at places the road is uneven, patches of gravel & dirt with potholes. Still beats running on dusty polluted roads outside with traffic swinging from both sides.

Another unique thing about our place are its street dogs. There are quite a few staying both inside the colonies & on the track outside. Kind folks from the apartments feed them, kids play & most importantly they can sleep or take shelter under parked cars without anybody chasing them away. Sure, they gang up & create a ruckus when home dogs come out for a walk but otherwise, they are very friendly & wise.

I had befriended a couple of them – both black coated skins, one a young rogue with patches of white, the other older one was an even black pure as silk skin. They would come happily nodding their tails at me. it was during the run that I also kept an eye out for them. that’s when I saw the holy smoke.

At a turn I spotted one, ran towards him. Usually he spots me & runs towards me. This time he didn’t see me. I thought that’s because his attention was diverted someplace else. I made whistling sounds – mistake. My breath got all caught up in the whistle, I began wheezing that lead to bout of coughing. Had to stop running as the coughs refused to go away. As I coughed, I looked up. now the dog was missing from my view. All I could see towards the side was a parked van & beyond that was a tree.

The van parked was obstructing the full view of the tree. My first guess was one of the dogs or both were underneath the van -maybe eating something. But as I neared the van, I saw white smoke rising from beyond it & near the tree.

It was an old tree – griped & grey with veins sprouting all around. It looked graceful & majestic. People had tied religious white threads around it, a raised circular platform was built around it. On the platform were little frames & idols of different gods & goddesses. There were steps leading to the raised platform, even a place to sit. Here, I discovered the reason for the smoke & the disappearance of my friends.

My first guess was right, both my friends were missing because of food. They were eating biscuits that a balding old man was feeding them. The reason for the smoke was his lit cigarette that he had kept to one side. While he was lovingly feeding the dogs who didn’t mind the nicotine or its rising flames one bit the smoke was busy paying homage to the gods & spreading tobacco love all around. The old man didn’t so much as glance at me as I continued to run.

I was hurt. Forget the old man – my four-legged friends had so betrayed me – all for a packet of Marie biscuits! The hurt must have shown as the big aunty who walks 10 rounds each day stared at me. The helpers at grocery store smiled, the security personnel waved, I kept scowling. The words treachery, traitors, trolls, and al lot of other T’s crossed my mind as I ran to again reach that corner with the tree.

How old men just don't give a damn.

The old man was busy reading his newspaper. He had put the cigarette out. Again, he didn’t look up. I slowed down to take a closer look at him. The grey specks of a two-day beard were showing, his t-shirt was shabby, hair unkept & his sandals were worn out.  I took a couple of pictures from a respectable distance without being intrusive. He didn’t notice as I walked away. As I did, one of my friends came up to me. I stood to the side. He looked up at me, then looked towards the old man. Went and sat at his feet. I moved on.

After my run, I asked the security guard I knew. He told me that was the old man’s routine. Said he spoke very little to anyone. That people left him alone & that he also kept to himself. At home I recollected the old man again. I thought of his eyes –  he had dog eyes, the same like my four-legged friends. He did care – but not for those that walked & ran around to stay fit. He was beyond all that. his eyes saw things the same way the dog’s eyes did. Live, love & let go – everything else is just Holy smoke.

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